After the Race, by Pamela Dae

ATR COVER

I am thrilled to announce my debut novel is now available for sale on Amazon! Today is the first day it’s available so if you want to be among the first to read After the Race, order it today! https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578618346/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=after+the+race+dae&qid=1581906554&sr=8-1

Alexandra is the daughter of a true Southern belle, a beauty of the Eisenhower era, who raises Alex with the mantra “First Lady First,” hoping her only daughter can realize the goal of becoming First Lady that she herself never did. At the same time, Alex has the voices of women’s liberation resounding in her ears. During a summer in Washington and her final year in college, Alexandra faces the challenges of her generation of women coming of age in the 1980s: weighing tradition and innovation to find a way forward. At the same time, she finds herself engaged to one man and in love with another.

This novel is about 15 years in the making. As a special gift to subscribers and readers of daeandwrite, here’s the first chapter. In the coming days, I will be posting a playlist, a menu, recipes for Dottie’s Texas Omelette, Aunt Trudy’s baked chicken, and much much more.

Chapter One

April 1983

Bloomington, Indiana

Alexandra watched her reflection in the Clairol make-up mirror as she applied another layer of mascara and glimpsed the Gamma Chi Omega paddle hanging on the wall behind her. “To Alex, Love Your Hoosier Mama.” She offered a silent thank you to God and her daddy for abetting her escape from Vassar in a way preventing her mother’s complaints. It was the end of her junior year at Indiana University and she’d followed all the precepts of the First Lady Plan.

“Jackie Kennedy,” Jane Ann had reiterated one week prior to her daughter’s graduation from Atlanta’s most prestigious private high school as Alex slung her book bag into the backseat of her mother’s new 1982 Jaguar XJ6. “Do not lose sight of the goal.”

They were on the way to another First Lady lesson instead of the Piedmont Driving Club pool, where the Trolls were no doubt already whooping and hollering.  Alex knew the point was beyond arguing, Jane Ann never yielded. Alex hoped this session was equitation or tennis instead of etiquette, or God forbid, sailing. She would prefer dance class but those were on Saturday mornings.

“What is it today?” Alexandra slouched against the door, grateful for the convertible and at least ten minutes of sunshine.

“Alexandra King Alt.” Jane Ann ignored the question, pulling a pair of huge, black Nina Ricci sunglass over her eyes. “One does not reach perfection by accident.” She tossed her mane of untamed red hair and steered the car down West Paces Ferry, humming along with Air Supply on the radio.

The convertible shot past a string of white-pillared mansions toward Northside Parkway. So they were going to the stables. At least Atoka could canter away from Jane Ann. “Did you bring my gear? Anything to eat?”

“Of course.” Jane Ann pointed to the monogrammed duffle and velvet helmet sitting in the back seat. “I packed your pink breeches and a white tank top. You can get some sun on your arms. And I brought carrots and apples for the horse, you can have one of those.” She gave her daughter a sweeping glance, head to toe. “You’re going to have to start watching your weight next year. I won’t have you coming home from college with the freshman ten, you hear me? I still weigh the same as I did the day I married your daddy and it’s not from eating like a hog.”

“Yes, Momma.” Alex shook out her ponytail, letting her hair trail along the wind currents. “What are you going to do while I’m riding? I’ve got homework tonight and I can’t really do it at the barn.”

“Homework? Italian or French? Je t’aime, mon amour.”

“No, trig. I want to get an A on the final.”

“Whatever for? Math is so dreadful and boring and … unladylike.”

“Nevertheless.” Alex rolled her eyes, careful to turn her back on her mother first.

“Since we’re leaving for Sea Island right after you get out of school, I thought I’d run into Davidson’s to see if they have that sweet Lilly dress in coral for you. And some Pappagallo’s to match. Which reminds me, have you packed? Don’t forget your tennis dress and those Courreges shifts we bought at Bergdorf’s over spring break.”

“Yes, Momma. Just don’t be late. I have to write graduation thank you notes too, and if you want me to use that blue Smythson paper, you need to get me more.”

“Check.” Jane Ann signaled her turn into the stables. “Anything else, Madam?”

“Momma, I’m just trying to follow your directions. You are always crystal clear.”

Jane Ann pulled the gearshift into park, blocking the front of the cream and brown low-slung building where the horses lived between visits from their owners. Nickers, whinnies, the deliberate stamping of hooves, and the woody scent of fresh manure wafted toward the convertible. Jane Ann examined her face in the rear view mirror and ran an index finger across the top of her perfect lips. “I’m so glad we agree. Have fun, I’ll be back in two hours.”

Alex’s saddle oxfords crunched the dry gravel. The tartan plaid skirt of her Westminster Prep uniform whipped in the breeze. She grabbed the helmet and kit bag from the back of the car and whirled toward the clapboard barn where Atoka waiting.

“First lady first.” Jane Ann’s words, both promise and threat, streamed behind the car’s exhaust on a jet of Joy-perfumed air.

Three years from that date and 500 miles away from her mother, Alexandra stared into the lighted mirror considering Jane Ann’s educational objectives. Other than mascara, I don’t think I’ll need any of the First Lady training today. I’m about as far away from the White House as possible. The opening bars of Jack & Diane boomed from a radio down the hall, “Two American kids growing up in the heartland.” With that, all thoughts of her mother slid right out of Alex’s head.

Slathering her upturned nose with zinc oxide, Meg Swenson turned from her own makeup mirror. “Don’t forget sunscreen,” Meg said. She pulled a blue and white Gamma Chi Omega sorority visor over her short, dark hair to screen her fair skin.

“Meg, I am not going to the social event of the year with a white nose. I tan anyway, I don’t burn. It’s you Yankee girls that have to worry.”

“Jane Ann isn’t opposed to tanning for First Ladies to-be?”

“Men love seeing a healthy glow on a girl.” Alex imitated her mother’s sugary, Southern voice. “It makes them feel virile and virile means nuptial.”

“I really think your mother could rival Phil Donahue with her own daytime talk show. Sort of a Southern etiquette-dating-fashion expert and Dear Abby all in one.”

“She would adore that. You should offer to be her producer.”

“I’m so sure.” Meg laughed.  “What team are you for today?”

“Celts, I guess. You?”

Meg nodded agreement. “The party will be definitely be more fun if the men of Chi Lambda Tau win.”

Alex checked her teeth in the mirror then turned to approve the rear view of her new Girbaud jeans with the white tab on the fly, a GCO t-shirt and Reeboks. Good. She stuffed her college ID, the Little 500 ticket, and a five-dollar bill in her pocket. From outside Becky Boone’s room, they heard John Cougar ending the song and Alex joined in the refrain, “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”

“I never get that line,” Meg said.

“Maybe Cougar himself’ll be at the race and you can ask him to explain it. Becks!”

Becky emerged splashed with a cloud of Jean Nate, her hair falling in luxurious blonde Farrah Fawcett wings and curls. “Ready!” Becky’s voice rose an octave on the last word and the three left in a fit of giggles, hair spray, and perfume.

The day was all blue sky and soft spring air. The only colors brighter than the emerging flowers were the shirts of the riders nervously pacing the track. When the University President instructed the men to “Mount Your Roadmaster Bicycles,” the crowd erupted and thirty-three guys hit their bikes to ride one parade lap around the stadium in formation. On the last turn of the track, the crowd held its breath. Every man on the track started looking for a lane, an edge. The group picked up speed and at the starting line, all hell broke loose. Someone broke out in front, maybe the Phi Delt rider, and the core pack of riders formed behind him.

Only one bike and four guys per team. The CELT’s first rider, Amos, rode the first twenty laps with Coors riding second, Moose third and then Banner, Jake Banwell, their anchor rider. Alex knew Andy Manning, ‘Amos,’ from journalism classes, and Bruce Davis, ‘Moose,’ dated Katie Ketcham. She’d only heard of Coors by reputation. He was famous for drinking two cases of beer during pledge initiation. And of course, Banner was infamous. He’d broken more hearts on campus than Bobby Knight’s Final Four losses.

On lap 51, the CELT’s back tire blew on the far side of the track and Coors rode to the pit on the rim. He leapt off the bike as soon as he hit the margin and the pit crew grabbed the bike, slammed it on the rack. Two guys pulled the blown tire off and another two were ready with a new one. The whole thing took ten seconds, but Alex and Meg exchanged a worried look. Ten seconds was enough to affect the results.

Lap 160-something, Moose whirled around the final turn, cinder track crunching beneath the wheels. Banner stood in the pit, hopping from foot to foot, ready for the exchange but Moose wasn’t slowing. The bike closed, cinders flying up onto Banner’s legs as he took four steps beside the spinning wheels and put his hands on the bars behind Moose’s. Just as Moose shifted his weight to the right, Banner launched airborne, flying into the saddle and catching the bars on his way down to the seat in perfect execution.

His legs pumped and the wheels churned. Thirty-three wheels within inches of each other, the men breathing, pedaling, leaning together. It sounded like a train running loose down a track disintegrating under the wheels. On turns, the pedaling stopped for a whirr of smooth noise for two or three seconds before the pumping restarted.

The next time Alex checked the board, there were ten laps left and the Phi Delt Olympic hopeful and Banner, the CELT, were dueling for the lead. But when the checkered flag waved signaling the last lap, Banner had fallen to finish sixth. As sweat rivered from his face, pooling beneath the wheels of his bike, Alexandra watched Banner’s heart break.

Will he cry? No. Too tough for that in public. He buried his face in a kelly green towel for several seconds. He’s put his game face back on, his jaw tight. Such a ride. “Tough break. He was so close.” Meg’s voice knocked Alex out of her own thoughts. “What a race though. The world’s greatest college weekend, huh?”

“It includes the party. Let’s go change.” The Gamma Chis paired with the CELT’s for the event; Alex wanted to congratulate the team.

But Jake Banwell was nowhere to be found at the CELT’s victory party. Alex danced anyway, infused with the day and the night and the music, she shagged and whirled and sang the classic words along “them good ol’ boys were drinking whiskey and rye, and singing this’ll be the day that I die. This’ll be the day that I die.” Her dance partner looked hopeful as the strains of Foreigner’s “Girl Like You” began, so Alex preemptively said good night and turned to go.

She was interrupted.

“Hey.” Jake Banwell appeared in front of her smiling with a cocky assurance as if she had been waiting for him all night. “Where’ve you been all night?”

At his touch, Alex felt a small jolt of electric current and jumped slightly. She looked into his eyes to see if he noticed. Eyes the color of the Sea Island ocean on a clear summer day gazed at her, giving away nothing. A lopsided grin meant to be irresistible, twin dimples and straight, white teeth.

But Alex was determined to be different. She extracted her hand. “I’ve been here all night.” She glanced at the bike team jacket he wore with the nickname “Banner” embroidered on it. “And you?  Did you go to the race?”

He laughed, removed the jacket with exaggerated care and tossed it onto a chair revealing a white t-shirt. Alex liked the way it looked with his ripped blue jeans and cowboy boots. “Yeah,” he said, “did you?”

A vision of Jake bent double over the bike, his legs rotating so fast you couldn’t separate the movement, and the second of heartbreak on his face at the finish line when he found out he was third. “Yeah,” she admitted. “Nice ride.”

The same disappointed look shimmered across his face before he replaced it with another grin. He put an arm on her waist and held out his hand in the classic slow dance posture. This time, she was less surprised by the frisson of contact. His eyes opened wider though and he peered closely at Alexandra, reexamining her face, more thoughtfully considering her features. He pursed his lips and knitted his eyebrows before putting one booted foot on either side of hers and drawing her closer to his body. “I’ve been waiting for a girl like you, to come into my life.”

His chin rested on the top of her head for several moments but then he whispered, “screw this.” He wrapped both arms around her, connected his hip and legs to hers, molded her body to his. A river of slow, delicious caramel oozed through Alexandra’s veins. The overhead lights seemed to dim and the music grew distant, the smells of beer and perfume fell away. She searched for his eyes and found them: steady, reassuring lights in a dark universe. He pressed the flat of his hand down the length of her spine.

Jake halted the circling of the dance and only his fingers moved to reach her face. His thumbs brushed her cheekbones, his fingers massaged her skull. I know all of him and none of him. He brought his mouth so close she felt a caress of breath escape his mouth to cross her own.

Then someone jostled them and though Foreigner was still wailing about the love that will survive, that dance ended. The smell of beer invaded, the lights brightened, and she moved an inch or two from his body. When the song was over, he said he would get her a drink.

Alex shook her head, clearing it of shiny angel clouds and looked around. I have a journalism paper due on Monday morning. It’s late. Meg is gone. I need to go, not only because Jane Ann would disapprove of this sexy, Midwestern, boot-wearing, blue-jeaned bad-ass who does not appear to ever be in the running for President of the United States.

During her ten-minute walk back to the sorority house, Alex congratulated herself on running as fast as she could from the cool guy and the fire he caused inside her. She didn’t intend to be his next broken-heart, and she had to admit that Jake Banwell would fall well short of every one of Jane Ann’s husband requirements.

But by the time she arrived home, she wasn’t so sure she should have left.