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Winning the race doesn't equal winning at life.

After receiving a classic racing bike for his birthday, Barry Sloane discovers that he has the makings of a top-notch bike racer. If things work out right, he could even go to the Olympics some day.

Of course, there are other attractions: the young women racers, and particularly Daphne Turner, who can kick Barry’s butt on a bike any day of the week.

Another discovery, though, puts him at odds with his best friend, and soon Barry has to choose between pursuing his Olympic dream and being the kind of friend he always imagined himself to be.

(excerpt)

Chapter One

The complications of being sixteen actually started the day before my birthday, when Kurt called to say he couldn’t go to Magic Mountain. We’d been planning the trip for weeks—just Kurt and me, alone, on our first big excursion since Kurt got his driver’s license.

We’d leave San Diego at six o’clock in the morning to avoid the worst of the Los Angeles rush hour gridlock. After the four-hour drive, we’d be ready for some serious roller-coasting and girl-watching. We’d scope out the scene and find a couple of pretty girls to flirt with and hopefully end up hanging out with. Maybe I’d get a birthday kiss, even.

Then, the night before, the phone rang. I snatched it up, half expecting it to be my dad making his traditional birthday call, but it was Kurt.

“Barry, I can’t go tomorrow.”

“What? Why...?”

“I’ll tell you later. Sonia...Steve...I gotta go.”

And that was it. My whole birthday shot in all of ten seconds. Disappointment warred with anger. How could Kurt ruin my most important birthday?

Before long, the phone rang again, and it really was Dad this time.

“Happy birthday!” Dad and his wife, Sherry, said together, then sang the song.

“Thanks,” I said, and I couldn’t help smiling. They sounded so dumb, but they did it anyway. I couldn’t tell Mom, but I had to admit that I liked Sherry okay. She was a lot younger than Mom, but really fun to be around. She did silly things—like making Dad sing Happy Birthday to me over the phone—and whenever I went to San Francisco to visit, she treated me like a friend. Once I overheard her tell someone she couldn’t imagine herself being the mother of a kid my age, but she didn’t say it in a mean way or anything.

“Well, Barry,” Dad said, “I thought we’d call tonight since you’re going out of town with Kurt tomorrow.”

“No,” I interrupted him, “I’m not.”

“You’re not? Your mother didn’t say anything about that.”

I gulped. “Um, I haven’t told her yet. Kurt just called a few minutes ago to say he can’t go.”

“Well, that’s too bad. I know you were looking forward to this. Why can’t he go?”

“I dunno. He didn’t say. I think he might have said something about Steve, and maybe Sonia, but he hung up on me.”

“Steve? That’s his little brother, right?”

I rolled my eyes. Dad could never keep anything about me or my friends straight. “No. Steve’s older than Kurt. And Sonia is Kurt’s girlfriend. But I don’t know what’s going on. I guess I’ll find out later.”

“Hmm. Well, I hope that Sherry and I have the right antidote for you. How does a new bike sound?”

I drooped a little in disappointment. I’d kind of hoped he’d give me a car, even an old used one. Still, insurance was expensive, so I hadn’t really expected it. But a bike wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe a shiny new mountain bike to replace the ancient BMX I’d outgrown years ago. Dad usually gave me stupid things: ties and sports coats or big thick biographies about people I couldn’t care less about, like Genghis Khan, Henry VIII, and Edgar Allen Poe. Maybe this year would be different.

Dad was going on. “I arranged this with your mother a few weeks ago. Sherry used to race—” uh oh; that didn’t sound like a mountain bike “—and she was pretty good.”

“Even went to the National Championships one year,” Sherry broke in. “I don’t ride anymore, but I had a really good racing bike.”

“So we fixed it up and sent it down for you.”

“Oh, thanks.” I tried not to sound disappointed. “That’s really great.”

It better not be pink. I mean, talk about adding insult to injury.

“I really hope you like it,” Sherry said. “It’s a nice little bike—almost won me a medal at Nationals. I’m sure you’ll like riding it.”

“I’m sure, too.” I wasn’t, but it wouldn’t hurt to be polite.

“And now you can take it for a spin tomorrow,” Dad said.

“Yeah. That’ll be great. Thanks.” I hoped they were fooled by my attempt to sound enthusiastic.

They chatted on for a bit, then finally said goodbye.

I hung up the phone and sighed. No trip to Magic Mountain. No car. Not even a mountain bike. It wasn’t fair.

I went into the front room and found Mom sipping iced tea and watching Jeopardy. I told her about Kurt’s call.

“Well, we can go if you want, just you and me.”

I shook my head. That was definitely not how I wanted to spend my sixteenth birthday.

“Okay, if you’re sure. If you change your mind, let me know. I have the day off work.” Her face brightened a little. “Hey, you want to see the bike your dad sent?”

“Nah. Not right now, okay, Mom?”

She looked at me for a moment. “Okay, Barry. Tell you what. Let’s go out to your favorite restaurant for dinner. That’ll cheer you up.”

I really didn’t think it would, but she was trying hard, so I nodded.