It was the beginning of June when Marnie arrived in Atlanta. She wasn’t in a good mood at all; her flight had been delayed for three hours, security was a nightmare and she almost lost her luggage at the airport. Plus, it was so hot in the South compared to upstate New York where she had lived all her life. She thought her skin would come melting off her body along with all her sweat and she would be reduced to a puddle by the end of her first week.
Standing at the edge of the driveway of her aunt and uncle’s house, she took off her wayfarer sunglasses and leaned over so her hair would fall, then flipped it back up so she could tie her long ombré hair back into a tight ponytail. For her, when she pulled her hair back and lifted her chin up, she felt like she had gathered the strength to attack anything she knew was unpleasant, but she had to deal with anyway.
She grabbed her suitcases and walked up to the front door, hearing three dogs barking immediately after she had rang the doorbell. It wasn’t long before she heard the locks switch open and the door opened in front of her. She was face to face with her aunt whom she hadn’t seen since she was in elementary school.
“Marnie!” Her aunt Judith exclaimed upon opening the door. “So good to see you.” She tacked on the end, stepping aside and inviting Marnie inside. Marnie gave a friendly smile and stepped inside, reaching down to pet the three dogs barking and jumping at her feet. The air inside the house wasn’t any cooler than the air outside. Everything down here was impossibly hot, it was hard for her to wrap her head around it all.
“Your uncle Rick is out back doing some gardening. Go get yourself unpacked, then come down when you’re ready. We’ll have some lemonade and catch up. What do you say?” She asked with her heavy southern drawl.
“Yeah. That sounds great.” Marnie answered, trying to sound thankful and maybe even enthusiastic before turning and walking up the stairs. The last thing she wanted was for them to think she lived up to the claims her parents made about her- disrespectful and rude- just because she was cranky from her travels. She knew that wasn’t who she was, and her parents knew nothing about her true character.
Marnie hadn’t been in the house since she was 9 years old, and now that she was almost 19, it felt familiarly foreign. She took her time walking down the upstairs hallway, struggling to remember the details of the house as they appeared in her memory. She did remember where her room was, and successfully made her way there, trying to soak up the new details along the way.
She stepped into her room and she realized though other things had changed, and her memory wasn’t helpful, nothing in that room had changed in ten years. It was clean, but nothing else had been moved. The same wallpaper was still stuck to the walls, her crayon drawings hanging there as well. She put her suitcases down by the door before she sat on the bed and tried to take a rest and let the reality of the situation become real to her.
She knew she really shouldn’t be there right now; it wasn’t her fault anyway. Though, she wasn’t feeling relieved she was away from her parents for three months just because of the significance of why she was so far away from them. It was like no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape their grip. Of course, her aunt and uncle were well informed on the topic of why she was here, and she had a feeling they were disguising their opinion of her well- to a certain point. Marnie knew that her uncle and aunt wanted to say she was so great, and she could never be what her parents told them she was, but they knew a person could change in ten years and for all they know, she really could be the delinquent they were told to host for the summer. She was going to try to prove she wasn’t what her parents thought of her.
Marnie slowly put her clothes away into the drawers, thinking about the many ways this summer could go. She didn’t think of what was thrown at her, she wouldn’t have been able to guess it in a million years.
When she went back downstairs, the three dogs jumped all over her in excitement once more. She crouched down to pet them all thoroughly before she walked out to the back porch where her aunt Judith was sitting with a glass of ice-cold lemonade. The dogs followed, and Marnie finally understood what it meant to be a dog in the heat.
Marnie was very quiet for the first week and a half, saying only please and thank you, and answering the questions she was asked. She was treading very lightly with her situation at hand, trying to keep her distance as much as possible. Marnie was trying to get a feel for her aunt and uncle’s personality and their thoughts on the situation before she tried to act. She wasn’t much of a conversation starter, at least not these days.
Marnie still hadn’t gotten used to the heat, and she didn’t think she ever would. She felt like the ice in her drink couldn’t possibly be cold enough and that the coldest shower water setting was still only lukewarm. Every fan only blew hot, humid air straight onto her face at high speeds and there was nothing she could do to alleviate the heat. As well as the climate, she had to get used to the environment she was going to be living in. Sure, parts of Georgia were downright gorgeous, but all she could see for miles was marsh land and all she could hear were the cicadas. Constantly. A whole summer here would feel nothing short of a lifetime.
Nights were much cooler than the day, but so incredibly hot, she always found herself lying flat on top of the bed, no sheets or blankets. She would only need the light cotton throw blanket if Hell had frozen over or there was a cold front, and Hell freezing over seemed more likely.
At the end of the second week, Marnie heard a knock at her door. She put aside her laptop and invited the knocker in. It was her uncle Rick.
“Hi Uncle Rick. What’s up?” She asked, pushing the chair back from her desk and closing her laptop. She had been checking her email and scrolling through her newsfeed.
“Tomorrow morning, be down in the kitchen by six sharp. We start your summer project tomorrow.”
“What is it, may I ask?” She asked, her New York accent as thick as his southern drawl.
“One of my old buddies is very into stock car racing and everything of that sort. He owes me a favor. You’ll see tomorrow.” He vaguely answered before walking out of her room and wishing her a goodnight.
Marnie had no idea what any of that meant. What was she going to do? Was she going to have to do something incredibly embarrassing? She stayed up late thinking about it until she fell asleep at around three in the morning. She woke up at 5:30 to take a shower and get ready for the day ahead of her that she was severely unrested for.
She was down in the kitchen at 6. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but Marnie and Rick sure had, and Rick was making breakfast. They ate silently, which Marnie was thankful for. She didn’t have much to say, and he was a man of few words.
It was just before 6:30 when they loaded themselves up into Rick’s truck. Marnie didn’t have any idea what kind of punishment lay ahead on the road in front of her, but she was about to find out. He had pulled up and parked at the Atlanta Motorway.
The sun had broken rays of orange on the dark horizon, shining down on the racetrack, illuminating the morning haze above it. Marnie got out of the truck last, examining what this was. Her uncle Rick talked to his buddy who he had met towards the entrance, then waved for her to come out. She unbuckled her seatbelt and slid out of the truck, closing the door behind her with a metallic clang. She walked towards her uncle and his friend, and Rick introduced her to his buddy, Alan. Rick left soon after.
“I don’t know what Rick told you, Marnie, but you’ve got a summer project. My racetrack has been given the pleasure of hosting Danny Ricci for the summer, but it’s been hard with him here so far. He doesn’t know where to find himself. Hopefully, you’ll help him get his driving passion back, because he’s been consistently losing races. We’ve tried everything, but we think you’re what he needs.”
“So, what am I supposed to do? How could I possibly be what he needs? Maybe he just needs a vacation and not someone to babysit him. I honestly don’t know what you’re expecting from me out of this, and I don’t know how to give you what you’re asking me to.”
“Just give it a try. We’re not going to be angry at you, and no one is grading you. Just do whatever you think it may take.” He answered plainly before stopping, and turning into one of the car bays. There, a tall, tan and handsome Australian with curly black hair and a five o’ clock shadow was sitting, the hood of his car propped open next to him. He had grease on his hands along with a wrench, and a dirty rag hanging out of his back pocket. When they entered, he looked up at them, and Marnie met his beautiful, soulful amber eyes. He didn’t smile.
“Danny, meet Marnie. You two are going to be paired up for the summer. We’ve been told she needs to learn some work ethic and responsibility, and you need to get your spark back. Make it work.” Rick explained before heading back up to his office. There was so much silence between Danny and Marnie.
“Hey.” She awkwardly greeted, hitch got immediate repercussions from him.
“Listen, I don’t want to talk, I’m already upset about all of this. I don’t want to be here and I sure as hell don’t need a 16-year-old babysitter.”
“You know, that’s what I said too, but there’s nothing I can do to get out of this now.” She answered, taking a deep breath and then looking around. “I guess I’ll just sit here, then. By the way, I’m nearly 19.”
“Yeah. You’re a kid. Listen, Marley, and I hope you get this because I’m only saying it once: I do not give one single shit.” he responded before slamming the hood of his car down, causing Marnie to jump out of her seat from the startling noise. Danny then left, unlocking his shiny black BMW and getting in. Marnie was alone and decided to snoop around in the garage and dig up whatever she could find about him online.
She scrolled through Instagram, Twitter and Google and got his profile, sending it all to her best friend, Jai, who wanted to make sure she was alright.
“Marnie, I haven’t heard a single thing from you. You ok?” Jai texted her.
“Yeah I’m good, Jai. Bad flight, trying to get used to things.”
“What are you going to be doing all summer?! I’m going to miss you like crazy at the bonfires and parties.”
“Glad you asked, I’m paired up with the biggest douchebag in the world.”
“Yeah, and you’d know, your last boyfriend was the captain of the douche canoe.”
“Nope. He’s like a cabin boy compared to this guy.”
“Who. Is. He. Some rando?”
“Not at all. It’s Danny Ricci.”
“The GORGEOUS racecar driver?!?”
“The one and only. Check it out.” She responded, sending all the info she had gathered so far.
“How is this guy a douche though? He seems alright.”
“He thought I was 16, he called me by the wrong name and followed it with “I don’t give one shit about this” and drove off in a brand-new BMW. I just saw it in his eyes, too. There’s something really off putting about him.”
“Gee, way to make a first impression.”
“Yeah, and I’ve got an entire summer with him, all day, every day.”
“If he can drive off, why can’t you?”
“That’s exactly how to prove that my parents were right about me, Jai. I swear to god I’m sticking with this. And if it kills me, that’s just a bonus.” Marnie said before Jai declared that she had to go, and the conversation was put on pause. Marnie set her phone down and sighed, trying to decide if she was going to play the same game he was or if she was going to try to help him.
Eventually it came to her that she wasn’t going to be walked on all summer. If he wasn’t going to play fairly, neither was she.