Chapter 1: Maybe He’s just an A-hole
Ten Years Ago
The only one defining your worth is yourself.
It was the one thing I was the most certain of. The one thing I deemed as true as the night. “The only one defining your worth is yourself, Flo. Remember. It’s you. All you.”
I took a deep breath and ran a hand through my hair, the clacking of my boots on the marble ground a distraction from my thoughts.
“Miss Nyx.” A male voice echoed through the hallway. “Please, come in.”
It’s all you, Flo. All you.
The security guard shot me a kind smile before he waved his hand through the open door. I could tell he was trying to be polite, but the thin smile on his face showed he wanted me to hurry.
“Thank you.” I knew time was money, and especially in this business it was obvious how fast things needed to proceed. And so I had no choice but to take another deep breath before I stepped through the door with a smile, shoulders squared and head upright as I approached the man at the other end of the room.
“Florence! It’s so nice to finally meet you in person.” The tall man with dark skin and a wide grin on his face stretched out his hand to me, and I couldn’t help but smile at the warmth in his blue eyes. “I’m Salim Miller, the recruit coordinator of Azure Racing Team Formula 1... Oh, wow. You have a firm handshake.”
“I do.” I couldn’t help but join in his laughter. “It’s nice to meet you too, Mr. Miller.”
“Oh, please.” He laughed. “Call me Salim. We don’t really do the formal crap in this office.”
A smile played on my lips from that revelation. “Okay. Thank you, Salim.”
“Sure. Please, take a seat.” He gestured for the chair in front of me before he laid back on his own. “So, Florence. You applied for our internship program — that’s amazing. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“You did?” I furrowed my brows at that statement. “You mean you heard a lot about my dad. He’s the world champion, not me.”
“Well, yes, he is. He’s a brilliant driver, and if there’s one thing I know about him it’s that his children are his pride and joy.” The smile on his lips was sincere, but I didn’t like the implication that this interview was made possible solely by the use of my last name.
“We try our best.” It was the only thing I knew to say without coming off as rude to the man in front of me.
“Oh, and you succeed. Your brother already secured his spot at the Formula 2 paddock for the upcoming season. Unusual, for a nineteen-year-old.”
“Well, I’m not surprised. He’s got talent.”
“He does.” Salim nodded. “Do you, too? Have talent, I mean.”
His question startled me for a moment, but I found the right answer within a split second. “Yes. I’m not a driver, but I’m a damn good mechanic.”
Amusement danced in Salim’s eyes, and I did my best to hold his intrigued gaze as he studied me for an excruciatingly long moment. I could tell this was a test; I could tell he wanted to know how I would work in a male-dominated environment like this, and I wasn’t about to fail him.
“You aren’t even a mechanic yet — You just finished high school.”
“True.” I shrugged. “But if I’m this confident about my abilities right now, imagine how high I’ll fly once I get my degree...”
“Or you’re just arrogant.” He narrowed his eyes at me, and even though I could tell he enjoyed this banter as much as I did, I saw a flicker of fear cross his features as he probably realized who he was talking to, and what the ramification of his words could mean to his team.
“Oh, I’m arrogant.” I laughed. “But I’m also a damn good mechanic.”
He stared at me for a long moment, and I almost thought I went a step too far when suddenly he bursted into laughter, the sound echoing through the entire room. “Damn. You’re good.”
“I am.” I grinned. Getting an internship would be easy for someone with my last name. I knew that. I also knew I wouldn’t have to work as hard as others did to get a spot, but I still did. I wanted to shine by being who I am, and not by who my last name made me out to be. Convincing Salim, even if it’s through an amused chat where I laid it all out on the table, was my job, and I took it seriously.
“So... Does that mean I get the internship?” I knew I was playing with fire. But the flames called out to me, and I wasn’t afraid to get burned.
Salim’s laughter slowly subsided, and silence settled in the room as a heavy sigh left his lips. “Look. We know the experience you have already is astounding.” He waved a bunch of papers in his hands, and it took me a second to realize it was my application he had right in front of him. “You obviously are ambitious as hell, and I absolutely respect that...”
“—But...” I continued his sentence, already sensing a condition following his statement.
A smirk appeared on his lips as he threw the papers on the desk, his elbows now resting on the glass top as he leaned over. ”But this is a team sport. Yes, we send one driver out on the track, but behind the scenes... It’s hundreds of people working together. Azure Racing is one of the newer teams, and we’re still making a name for ourselves. We need team players, people who rely on each other without fail. Because in our job, failures either lead to the loss of sponsors, or terrible accidents.”
I swallowed from his words. This business was dangerous; I knew that. Mom and I spent most of our weekends glued to the screen, praying each time that both my dad and my brother would cross the finish line safely. It’s a sport that comes with a risk, one you had to be willing to take to be the best at what you do.
“I can do that.”
“Can you?” Salim raised an eyebrow at me, his glance now back at the papers on his desk. “Because what I see here are good grades, a whole arsenal of internships and jobs you did to get the experience. You made it to acrobatic regional finals, you got multiple awards for creative writing contests... What I don’t see is a team effort. No team sport, no academic decathlons, no group projects. All I see is you. A brilliant girl doing the work she has to, to get to where she wants to be.”
Again, silence settled between us. I knew he was right; what he said made perfect sense, and yet I felt so, so insulted. I worked hard all my life to achieve what I always knew I wanted to do. I put in a hell of an effort to even get the chance at an internship like this one, another spot on my résumé that needs to be filled to achieve my goals. He’s making it sound like I did something wrong by going all in. By giving it my all.
The only one defining your worth is yourself, Flo.
“Can I be honest with you?” I gathered the rest of my confidence, sitting up straight.
Salim seemed startled by my request, but nodded in response. “Of course.”
“I think all you see is this.” I pointed at my résumé on the table. “That’s just ink on a piece of paper. If you only judge me by what you see on there, you are no better than I am. I told you I can be a team player, and I meant it. You just need to give me the chance to prove it to you.”
I made a hell of an effort to keep my posture up, to show this man that I want this even more than he could ever think. This wasn’t just an internship to me; this was the first step of something much, much bigger. Becoming a Formula 1 mechanic wasn’t a childhood dream I pursued because of my father’s success. The sport called for me, and I knew I was amazing at what I did. I knew I belonged there.
“Why would I choose you over the countless others who have no issues showing their ability to be a team player?”
“Because you need me.” I didn’t give him a chance to think about his own question. “You don’t know it yet, but you’ll need me. Trust me when I say I’ll be an asset to your team.”
He looked at me for a long moment, and I could tell he was trying hard to stay cool, to not show how surprised he was by my bold words. Because let’s be real here -- I was going all in, with a thundering heart and sweaty palms I was trying to convince this man that I was the person he wanted in his team. Even if it was just for an internship.
“Okay, Florence.” He laughed and ran a hand through his hair. “It’s very hard to say no to that. You got the internship.” The smile on Salim’s lips ignited a whole firework of excitement within me, but the explosions dampened when he added, “But you won’t do it alone.”
“Sorry?” I blinked a few times. “I thought there was only one spot?”
“Only one mechanic spot, yes. You will share your experience with the contestant for the driver’s internship. I haven’t decided on that position yet, the interviews will follow later today. I will—” The ringing of his phone interrupted his explanation. “Excuse me...” He shot me an apologetic smile as he picked up the phone. “I’m in the middle of... What? Phoenix did what?” The person at the other end of the line explained something to him, and the stress that immediately flooded his features almost had me scared for the poor guy. Something was obviously not going his way today. “Fuck.” He glanced over at me for a quick second before he heaved a sigh. “Yeah. Tell Michael he can send him here. I’ll have a talk with him he won’t forget.”
Salim slammed his phone on the desk and ran a hand over his face, an action that made him look much older than he probably was.
I’d done my research on the team, and I knew Salim, as most employees outside of the executive board, was in his mid-twenties. He was young, but at this moment he looked like he had already spent a century in this business.
When he didn’t say anything for a while, I felt the need to break the silence. “Are you okay?”
He shot me a smile, and I couldn’t help but reciprocate it when he explained, “Yeah. Sorry. Just Formula 2 business I need to take care of... We run a tight ship here, and being in both Formula 1 and Formula 2 means all our gears need to interlock. That’s why we’re so big on teamwork. We need to be at the top of our game if we want to compete with the other teams in both leagues.”
Formula 2 was a lower, less extravagant league of the sport. It was the stepping board for Formula 1, mostly, and Azure Racing groomed their drivers in the cheaper league, making sure they got the best of the best in Formula 1.
But even with the stress this two-league system brought to the team, it was obvious Salim cared about his job. I couldn’t help but appreciate the fire that obviously burned within him for this sport.
“I understand. I promise, Salim. I won’t disappoint you.”
“Good. That’s what I’d expect from a Nyx.” He winked, and even though I once again didn’t like the way my last name sounded, like a weapon he was ready to fire, I stayed silent. Instead, I listened carefully as he explained how I would spend the next eight weeks, and tried my hardest to remember every detail he offered. I’d have to work and spend time with the other intern, meaning we’d share meals, write reports and work on assignments together, and generally had to make sure we had each other’s backs.
Basically, we had to stick together. No matter what.
I already didn’t like that condition.
“Salim,” the security guard interrupted our conversation, “He’s here.”
“Already?” Salim glanced at his watch. “That was fast...”
“What shall I do with him?”
The guard regarded us with furrowed brows, but Salim didn’t make any effort to speed things up, his posture casual as he leaned back in his chair. “Let him wait. If he thinks he can act like an idiot, he can wait like one, too.”
A smirk played on my lips as I tried to peek through the door, but all I could see was the back of a head full of dark brown hair before the guard disappeared in the hallway again.
“What did he do?” Curiosity got the better of me when I turned around, but Salim only responded with a shake of his head.
He opened his mouth to speak, but a commotion from outside the door made both of us turn around, just in time for it to fly open.
A guy my age with dark hair and almost darker green eyes appeared in the doorway. “Salim!” he yelled, “What the fuck?! You can’t just let me wait out there!”
“Phoenix...” Salim’s voice was a warning. “I’m in the middle of something here.”
The guy named Phoenix crossed his arms in front of his chest, causing his dark leather jacket to strain around his shoulders as he countered, “I don’t care! I won’t let you—”
“Well, I do care,” I interrupted him. “This is my interview and I don’t appreciate you disturbing it.”
Phoenix’s eyes widened as he squared himself up to full height, obviously trying to assert some sort of dominance here. His gaze held a raging fire as he stepped further into the room, jaw clenched until he spat, “And who are you that you think your time is more valuable than mine?”
This guy was serious about his words — that much was clear. And I didn’t know why, but something about the way he looked at that moment; ready to burst into flames from being told off in front of his boss, just made this entire situation ridiculous to me.
The longer he looked at me, expecting an answer as if I owed him anything, the harder it got to stifle the laugh in my throat. I ended up snorting awkwardly and shook my head as I retorted, “I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
I could tell he was about ready to explode, and somehow that knowledge filled me with a sense of complacency.
“I’m pretty sure you don’t—”
“Phoenix, that’s enough.” Salim’s firm words made both of us turn to look at our boss, his stare fixed on the man at the other end of the room. “Florence and I are having a conversation right now. Wait outside or go home. I won’t have you acting that way in my office.”
Phoenix seemed startled by that order, his gaze flicking between Salim and me. I wondered if these two had a closer relationship than they showed; The way he behaved definitely suggested he was either a gigantic asshole or Salim cut him too much slack...
“No. I won’t say it again. Don’t make me escort you out of here. I’m sure Harold over here is able to carry you with one hand.”
“I am, sir.” the security guard nodded with a smirk.
Suppressing another snort, I ended up coughing awkwardly, watching with great pleasure how Phoenix shot me another long glare and then stepped out of the room. He threw the door shut behind him and even though I expected that move, I couldn’t help but flinch from the noise.
“Fucking hell...” Salim sighed. “I’m sorry. He’s just... He’s... Honestly, I can’t even tell you what he is. He’s a mess, that’s what.”
Something about the way he ran a hand through his hair, stress, and worry written all over his features, made me think that this Phoenix guy, whoever he was exactly, was either very important to the team, or very important to Salim.
“What did he do?” I asked again, suddenly curious about the gossip laid out in front of me.
“I don’t know the whole story. All I know is it wasn’t pretty.” He sighed and opened the drawer beneath his desk before he pulled out a set of papers. “Anyway... Let’s get back to business, shall we?”
I let go of the topic with a nod, knowing full-well I had no choice but to accept his decision. “Okay.”
“Alright. This is the contract for your internship.” He slid the papers in front of me with a smile, pointing out the multiple non-disclosure abstracts I’d had to sign. “... but I suggest you read it carefully. Maybe take it home and let your mom look over it, or—”
“I don’t need that.” I furrowed my brows. “I’m eighteen. I know what I’m doing.”
“I wasn’t trying to be degrading, Florence. But this is business. Make sure you know what you’re signing up for before you leave your name on the dotted line. It means something.”
I nodded in response, once again wishing people would stop treating me like a child. But I had to act like an adult if I wanted that dream to come true. And I’d better started now.
“Okay. I will have it back to you tomorrow morning.”
“Perfect. You’ll get your itinerary then, too.” He got up from his chair, and I took that as a sign to stand up as well.
“Thank you.” The smile on my lips was genuine when I shook his hand. I feared worse when I got here today, but at the end of all things... I got the job. That’s what matters.
“Take care, Florence. I’ll see you in a week.”
“Can’t wait.” I laughed as I released his handshake and steered for the door.
“Oh, and Florence?” Salim called out just when I reached the end of the room, and I turned around to find him looking at me with a smile on his lips. “Kick some ass.”
A grin spread on my lips. Shooting him another wink, I stepped out of the room, glancing left and right for any sight of the rude guy or Harold the security guard. Not seeing anyone, I sighed when the click of the door behind me echoed through the hallway.
I stopped dead in my tracks and took a deep breath, my thoughts racing at a hundred miles per hour.
This is happening. Oh my god. This is happening.
“This is happening!” I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. “Fucking hell, Flo... You actually did it, you crazy bitch.”
Closing my eyes, I just stood there for a minute, just letting this moment seep straight into my bones. My heart was still hammering in my chest from the excitement of this day, and it was hard to suppress the fresh onset of tears in my eyes.
I had worked hard to get to this point, and I knew I deserved it. I had a right to be here.
“You defined your worth, Flo,” I whispered as I got back up, wiping a stray tear off my cheek.
A familiar ringtone startled me out of my thoughts, and I opened my eyes while fishing out my phone, finding my best friend’s name on the display staring right back at me.
“Amara!” I almost screamed down the line with how excited I was. “I’ll be right out. I just need to...” Someone stepped into my peripheral, and I glanced up to find the same guy from mere minutes before glaring straight at me.
He didn’t say a word, though, he just positioned himself right in front of me, every inch of him looking ready for a fight. There was something unsettling in his dark stare, in the way he blatantly searched my eyes for something I didn’t know was missing yet, and I hated that I had such a hard time avoiding his gaze.
“I’ll be right out,” I finally muttered and hung up the phone, looking back at the boy who now raised an eyebrow, almost as if he was mocking me for existing.
I held his gaze, but didn’t fail to notice the dark disheveled hair on his head that looked like he had run his fingers through it a few times in the recent past. He looked familiar, suddenly, but with his judging glare I knew I either didn’t want to know him, or I was mistaken in my assumption. Or maybe he was just an asshole. Who knows?
“Can I help you?” I snapped at him, agitated by his presence in my way.
“Wouldn’t know how,” he scoffed.
“And why exactly are you acting like an asshole, then?”
“I was just standing here.”
“And stared.” I added.
He narrowed his eyes at me, and for a second I thought he was actually about to approach me when he untangled his arms from his chest. “Do you mean to tell me where I can and cannot look?”
“If it’s unsettling to the other person, then yes, I mean to do just that.”
The fire in his gaze flickered, almost like I hit a nerve with my statement. He gritted his teeth and opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t even get a word out before we got interrupted.
“Phoenix!” Salim’s familiar voice boomed through the hallway, and the guy in front of me suddenly lost an inch or two as he recognized the man at the other end of the hall. “Get your ass in here! Now!”
Phoenix took a deep breath, the fury still visible on his features as he exhaled slowly. “Fine...” he muttered and stepped away from me, not without bumping into my shoulder as he stormed down the hallway.
“Asshole...” I murmured, watching how the guy disappeared behind the closing door.
The sudden urge to get the hell out of here flooded me, and I took a few large steps until I reached the exit, preparing for the warm spring air.
Raising my hand to protect me from the brightness outside, I pushed open the front door and made my way into the parking lot. The gentle sun warmed me up instantly, and again I remembered why the end of spring will always be my favorite time of the year. It’s the warm but crisp air, the blooming trees and flowers at every corner... It’s the most stunning time of the year.
“So?” Amara’s voice traveled through the entire parking lot, and I wasn’t surprised to see her running in my direction when I removed the hand from my face. “Did you get it?”
I tried keeping a neutral face, but excitement got the better of me and conjured a wide grin on my lips the second I reached my best friend. “I did!”
“Ahh!” Amara’s scream almost deafened me when she embraced me in a tight hug. “Of course you did! Of course you fucking did!”
Her laugh was contagious, and so we just stood there for a moment, only the sound of our happiness engulfing us. “Man, I’m so damn proud of you.”
“No, thank you for being so freaking amazing!” Amara’s happiness seeped straight into my bones, and I found myself loving my best friend even more, merely from the way she soaked up my successes like they were her own. “In fact, you’re so amazing, I knew you’d be getting this damn internship, so I came prepared,” she said while walking back to her car.
I watched how she tied her dark locks into a messy bun, the brand new white tattoo on the back of her neck piercing through her dark skin as she turned around to open the trunk of her car.
“Don’t tell me you—oh my god, you did!” A gasp escaped my lips when she handed me a travel mug and a brown paperback that smelled a lot like my favorite cinnamon rolls, the ones you could get from one place and one place only.
“So I know these are not as good as the freshly baked ones, but I kept your disgusting milkshake in the travel mug so it would stay cold, and we can only hope it’s hot enough today for the cinnamon rolls to stay warm...”
I took a sip of the milkshake in my hands, and I couldn’t help the sigh from my lips as I realized this was exactly what I needed right now. “Hmm... There’s nothing better than a chocolate milkshake with cinnamon and double whipped cream.”
“There’s a lot that’s better than...that,” Amara quipped with a scrunched nose, but her teasing only widened the grin on my lips.
“And yet you bought it for me!”
“Yeah, I got them before I picked you up this morning. I’m surprised they survived the two-hour drive it took to get here.”
Both Amara and I were loyal customers to our local diner, knowing the town we lived in was so small that we could be happy even having a place like Betty’s to go to. We did everything we could to support that place instead of the coffee chains you see in big cities. Haselton was a lot, but with 3500 souls it was anything but crowded.
“It was definitely worth it. Thank you.” I gave her a side hug before we climbed onto the hood of her car, and for a long moment we just sat there, letting the sun seep straight into our bones.
Amara’s family moved to Haselton when she was in kindergarten, which is exactly where I met the impulsive but shy Nigerian girl. Her father opened up a business, and within a few years Haselton was unthinkable without the small African restaurant at the town border. It was part of our identity now, and I couldn’t be happier about the way my best friend had stumbled into my life.
“Man, what am I going to do without you?” Amara sighed, and I glanced over to find her studying with me with furrowed brows. “Haselton won’t be the same without you.”
“You’re leaving in a few weeks too,” I couldn’t help but comment, although I knew what she meant. It was hard to find friends in a town as small and old as Haselton. “And I’ll be joining you in Yale soon enough.”
“True. I just mean...it’ll just be weird. I’ll survive though.” She smiled and squeezed my hand. “Now, tell me, how did the interview go? What was the guy’s name? Salim something? Was he nice?”
I laughed at her endless questions and turned so I could face her as I explained, “He was nice enough, yeah. And the interview was great, I’d say. Apart from the interruption,” I muttered. “It’s just... I won’t be doing the internship on my own, apparently.”
“Really?” Amara munched on her muffin, and I responded by throwing a piece of cinnamon roll in my mouth.
“Really,” I muttered while chewing on the sweet dough, “I’ll have to team up with some guy from the driver’s internship.”
“But don’t they, like... Do completely different stuff than you do?”
“Yeah, they do. But we’re supposed to help each other, so we get an insight into both parts — Both mechanics and drivers. They’re big into “team-play”, apparently.” I air-quoted the word with a roll of my eyes. “So that means I’ll have to be nice to the guy.”
I could tell Amara was stifling a laugh, puffed cheeks and wide eyes directed at me. “Wow... That’s...”
“Kinda funny though. Can’t wait to see how that turns out.” She laughed out loud. “Remember, I’m broke. I can’t bail you out if you kill someone.”
“You’re supposed to help me hide the body so I don’t go to jail in the first place, Ames!”
We both broke into laughter, and I couldn’t help but hug my best friend once more, a sudden gratefulness taking over my mind. “Thanks for being here. I seriously wouldn’t know what to do without you.”
“Ah... You’d probably be—”
The sound of a howling engine interrupted our conversation, and we both turned to the direction the commotion was coming from. A dark blue McLaren spun around the corner and sped toward us, the roaring engine still vibrating through the lot. I shielded my eyes with a raised palm, and as the shiny sports car passed us at a speed that was less than legal within the limits of a parking lot, I couldn’t help but glance inside. A familiar pair of dark green eyes stared right back at me, and I had to swallow from the pure aversion in his glare as he finally passed us.
With a blink of an eye, the familiar guy and his shiny McLaren were gone, and left was Amara and me with wide eyes as we watched the car swerve onto the road.
“Damn. What was his problem?” she asked with furrowed brows, but I still watched the car until it disappeared in the distance.
“No idea...” I took a deep breath and shrugged off the weird incident. “Maybe he’s on his way to hide a body.”
“Maybe.” Amara laughed. “Or maybe he’s just an asshole.”
I couldn’t help but grin at her, remembering the thought I had earlier today. “Yeah, you’re right. Maybe he’s just an asshole...”
Hello and welcome to my new adventure, folks!
Most of you know Florence from Whispered Desires, although she is a few years older over there. ;) I have had this story in my mind since I started writing on Wattpad, and damn I’m happy to have it out now.
Really can’t hear what you’ll say about this one, it might be a little different and a little out there, but hey. Those who don’t dare to try new things will die from boredom, huh?
Have fun reading, and thank you so so so much for the endless patience and support.
You all are deadass the best. Not even lying.
Lots of love to every single one of you,