Chapter 2: Sunflower Seeds
I was eight years old when my dad came home with a handful of sunflower seeds.
He had been gone for almost the entire season, and I missed him so much that I cried for days until he finally held me in his arms again. That moment felt like coming home, even though he was the one who left for a couple of months.
"I'm here now, Florence. No need to cry," he whispered and picked me up, my arms still tightly wrapped around his torso.
"Bu-bu-but... You will leave again!"
I cried into his neck, but my father simply responded by opening his fist in front of me. "That's why I brought these."
Curiosity got the better of me, and I opened my teary eyes to find about a dozen tiny black spots in my dad's hands. "What is that?" I asked, studying the unknown substance in front of me with furrowed brows.
"Here. I'll show you." He carried me up the stairs and into my room, where a few clay pots filled with soil were waiting on my windowsill. I wondered how they got there, but my father's voice diminished any doubt as he said, "Now, see these?" He held up his hand again, where still a bunch of small black crumbs rested on his skin. "These are sunflower seeds. Take one and put it into your pot, just like this."
I watched with wide eyes how he pressed his fingertips onto the seeds and gently placed one into the soil. Lifting his palm up to my face, he gestured for me to repeat his motion, and even though I had no idea what exactly was happening at that moment, I just did what he asked me to. I took a pinch of the seeds and let one fall into my pot before I placed it next to his own on my windowsill.
"What will happen now?" I asked as Dad swept a bit more soil on top of them.
"Now we wait and shower them with love and water. By the time I leave for next season, these seeds will have turned into tiny sunflowers, and you will be able to see them day and night."
I nodded as if I understood what he was saying, but the message behind his actions was still unclear to me.
"What will I do with them?"
Dad smiled at me, and I felt just how much he appreciated that question as he answered it lovingly, "You will know that no matter where I am, these flowers will grow from the sunlight we live with every single day. It's the same sun I see all around the globe. And whenever you miss me too much, you can just look at these flowers and remember that warmth is always with you, no matter how far away I may seem."
I took a moment to let those words settle, but I still couldn't quite grasp the concept of his message. "But you still won't be with me," I sniffed, and my father responded with a kiss on my head.
"Yes I will. I'm always with you, Sunflower. Don't you ever forget that."
"Connor Williams?" I groaned.
"Yes, Florence. Connor Williams. He's the intern who'll be joining you for the next eight weeks," Salim explained with a sigh. Even through the phone I could tell he was tired; he sounded like he had one hell of a week.
"But, like... Connor Williams as in the son of Sebastian Williams? Vice world champion the same year my dad won the title?"
Silence settled between us, and I already knew I was right about my assumption. "Yes. Connor Williams, son of Sebastian Williams. He just finished high school, just like you." He paused and I could tell he wanted me to say something, but I only sighed as he added, "He's a good guy, Florence. He's trying hard."
My brows furrowed at those words. I didn't know much about Connor Williams, but I knew his father was an insufferable human being. At least if we wanted to believe my dad, which I always did.
"Look, you know what I said—"
"Yeah, I know. Teamwork is key." I rolled my eyes, suddenly glad this is just a phone call and not a one-on-one meeting. "Don't worry, Salim. I'll be nice. I promised, right?"
"Right." He laughed. "Okay. Listen, I still have about a million things to do, but I will see you at the paddock in two days, alright? Email me if you need anything."
"Will do, boss."
"Sorry." I cleared my throat. "Will do, Salim."
"Alright. See you at the paddock."
"See ya!" I hung up the phone, and for a moment I just stood there in silence, letting this moment dawn on me. Sebastian Williams and my dad drove for the same team for two years, and their rivalry was one for the books. It all ended when Dad won the world championship before him, which William obviously couldn't stomach. He threw a fit, and his behavior got so bad that they kicked him out of the team the following year. He never returned as a driver after that, instead he acted as an investor for many other Formula teams.
My guess was Azure Racing was one of them.
God. What the hell do I do now?
The question became redundant seconds later, since I knew there was only one person I could talk to about this.
"Flo!" My father's face appeared on my phone, the same green-blue eyes I see in the mirror every day looking straight back at me. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Can I not just call my dad because I feel like it?"
"Well, you can, and you do, but it's nine in the morning. I expected you'd still be half asleep in bed." He shot me a wink, and once again I appreciated the way my dad always tried to show me how much he knows about me.
As a Formula 1 driver, he obviously spent most of his time out on the track. He rarely visited home during the season, but he always made an effort to call every night and morning, just to see his children and wife as often as he could. I missed him, sure, but I knew this made him happy. How could I be angry at him for doing what he loved?
"Okay, I need your opinion on something," I said with a smile.
"Alright, hit me!"
"Okay. So. I told you Azure Racing said I'd have to partner up with someone during my internship, right?"
"Yes." He nodded. "I know Michael and Chris have some weird new principles on board... I guess that's what happens in the younger teams."
I couldn't help but laugh at my father, the man who always claimed he was the youngest dad in the paddock. "Right... The younger teams," I quipped, but quickly continued before he could chime in, "Anyway, so, Salim just called and told me about my partner."
"Oh, that's exciting! Who is it?"
"It's Connor Williams." I shot out the answer, part of me afraid of his response.
But my dad wouldn't be my dad if he didn't stay cool as a cucumber. Nothing about his behavior indicated he was dissatisfied with that information when he tapped his chin as if he was thinking super hard. "Well, in that case... We know who's gonna be Salim's favorite, huh? It surely won't be the Irish boy."
"Dad!" I couldn't help but laugh. "We don't need favorites here. In fact, I'm supposed to get along with him. That won't work if I'm favored by the boss."
My father took a deep breath, and I already knew I was about to be served one of his legendary life lessons, the ones he loved to share as often as he could.
"Now, Florence, listen to me." He raised his index in front of the camera, as if he was getting ready to scold me. "I know this is not a competition between the two of you, but you still need to leave a lasting impression if this is where you want to be. You have to fight for your success."
A sigh escaped my lips, but I nodded at my father's words. I knew he was right, and I knew the Formula sport was a business full of money and intrigues. It was obvious I had to up my game if I wanted to be able to keep up in the industry and make a name for myself.
Myself, and not my father.
"I know, Pa." I smiled, noticing the concerned look on my father's face. "This is my dream. You know that."
"I know. That's why I'm just looking out for you, Sunflower." He tapped the camera with his thumb as if he was tapping my nose, and suddenly I felt like a little kid again. The nine-year-old girl who missed her dad so much that she called him in the middle of the night, and he'd just remind her of the flowers on her windowsill, told her to remember that he was always right by my side.
"Now, what's the strategy?" His question startled me out of my thoughts, and as I looked at my father, the man who would work so hard to make sure I achieved what I wanted under my own volition, I suddenly knew what I had to do.
"Well... Guess we'll have to leave a lasting expression, huh?"
The grin on his lips was contagious, and I found myself wanting to hug the man behind the camera when he said, "That's my girl. You go and get 'em. Shine for all of us, Flo."
"Will do, Dad. Will do."
"I'm telling your father to retire, and what do you do? Follow him onto the track. Increíble," my mother muttered something unintelligible, but I guessed it was a row of Spanish curses at the fact that both her children went after their father in their love for fast cars.
She'd always wished for me to become anything but car-obsessed, but that hope went up in flames when I started playing with cars before I even knew what they did. It just ran in my blood, through every fiber of my being. This was what I lived for, and I knew I'd work hard for the rest of my life to become better and better and better, until one day I'd be excellent at what I did.
"You'll be fine, Mom. Amara already said she'll come over for race weekends." I gave my mom a hug, and she held onto me so tightly that I knew she'd be missing me more than she let on. Parents always tried to stay strong for their children, but I couldn't even imagine the strength my mother must have had every single day. A husband and a son on the race track, and now a daughter who chases a dream that was so far out of reach.
"Yeah, Ms Navarrez, I'll be right with you." She bumped my mother's shoulder and then pulled her in for a group hug. The three of us just stood there at the airport for a long moment, saying goodbye the best way we knew: by hugging it out.
"I love you guys," I choked out the words and pulled them closer once more.
"I'll miss you so much." Amara squeezed me tightly before she let go, and my mother gave me one last kiss on the cheek.
"Cuídate mucho, hija.//Take care of yourself, kiddo." Mom shot me another sad smile, and I reciprocated the motion as I slung my messenger bag over my shoulder.
"Siempre, Mamma.//Always, Mom." I waved them goodbye and stepped through the boarding pass check, but not without turning around once more. "Don't worry so much! I'll call you when I land!"
"You bet your ass you will, I'll come after you if you don't!" Amara yelled through the entire gate, and I couldn't help but laugh at the stern look on her face, the fierceness on her features still visible in my mind as I stepped through the tunnel toward the plane.
A kind flight attendant led me to my seat in first class, a luxury I was used to, but that still didn't cease to amaze me every damn time I sat down on the super comfortable armchairs. "Drinks will be served as soon as we're in the air. Do you need anything else before the start?" she asked with a smile as I cuddled into the window seat, internally thanking whoever booked this flight for letting me sit on the quiet side of the plane.
"No, that's okay. I'm good, thanks."
The attendant shot me another smile before she left, and I got comfortable in my seat, pulling out my book and headphones with a sigh. I hoped the seat next to me stayed empty, knowing that even though we had more space between us than usual, unpleasant passengers could get on anyone's nerves, no matter what class you sat in.
As I got ready to dig into my newest find of the fantasy book world, my headphones already settled on my ears, I got startled by a commotion at the other end of the plane, multiple voices now resonating through the aisles.
I couldn't make out what they were saying, and even as I turned around like most of the other passengers, I couldn't see a thing. A few seconds later two men were shoved down the aisle, the action making me jump in my seat as I tried to scramble and not seem like I was watching them. Which, as we knew, I obviously was.
"I won't say it again," the taller of the two grumbled, but the other one simply flipped him the bird as he stalked down the aisle with another airline employee by his side. They went straight in my direction, so I quickly sunk in my seat and raised the book in front of my nose, not wanting to be caught staring like the gawker I was.
To my delight, the flight attendant led the guy into the seat in the middle set of seats, meaning there was still an empty spot and an aisle left between the stranger and me.
"Thanks," he muttered, and I couldn't help but watch their interaction as the flight attendant hurried away from him. I regretted that action immediately, because as soon as the blue uniform disappeared down the aisle, a pair of brown eyes stared straight back at me, obviously noticing my stares. "Florence Nyx," the stranger said with a smirk.
I raised an eyebrow at the guy who seemed about my age, suddenly afraid of the connection he could've had to me. "Do I know you?"
"I don't know, do you?" The Irish accent weighed heavily on his tongue, and as I took another look at the ginger-haired boy in front of me, I suddenly realized...
"Connor Williams." I didn't even register my words until they fled my lips, and the stranger showed off a toothy grin in response.
"The one and only." He leaned over and stretched out his hand to me, and even though everything about this guy screamed hostility and arrogance, I knew I had to follow the rules if I wanted to make my dreams come true.
And so I mirrored his movement with the best smile I could muster up, but just as I moved my arm to meet his handshake, a shadow cast upon us. The presence of another person made me move back, and when I glanced up at the man who crossed our paths, I almost gasped at the intense green eyes that stared straight at me.
It was the same guy who tried to intimidate me at the Azure headquarters the other day, and he looked just as unimpressed as he did back then.
"This is your seat, sir," the same flight attendant who showed me to my seat now waved the familiar guy into the seat right next to me, and I couldn't help but groan internally.
Great. Of course I wouldn't sit on my own.
"Absolutely not." The guy's words made me arch my brows. He simply stared at me though, as if glaring at me would make me disappear.
The attendant seemed just as startled when she explained, "Sir, this is the only seat left. The flight is fully booked, and I need you to take a seat now."
I was impressed by the tightness of her words and mentally applauded the woman for not even acting like she was backing down for the guy in front of her. It only took a long moment of silence for her to add, "If you take any longer I'm afraid I'll have to escort you out, sir."
Don't fuck with the flight attendant. Noted.
His green eyes still bored straight into mine, and I held his gaze as well as I could, intent on not even giving him a chance to stare me down. A question danced in his irises, although I couldn't read if it was intimidation he was trying to assert, or if curiosity got the better of him when his eyes searched mine.
"Fine..." He gave in with a grumble and averted his gaze, and I almost laughed at the way the flight attendant basically shoved him into the seat. She definitely didn't want to waste another second on him.
I watched how he got comfortable in his seat, unable to take my eyes off this guy, for some godforsaken reason. I wondered what frustrated him so much, why he was so hellbent on being an asshole to anyone in his way.
"Can I help you?" he grumbled, suddenly trying his best not to look at me.
A laugh escaped my lips at the familiarity of those words, and I shook my head as I glanced back at my book and responded, "No, I'm good. I apologize if I made you uncomfortable."
I saw him furrow his brows at me, but before I had a chance to meet his gaze, he already averted it again, now focusing on the phone in his hands.
"Don't mind him, Florence. Phoenix is just pissed he has to be here," Connor suddenly chimed him, reminding me that I almost forgot about his presence.
"Has to be here? What—"
"Connor," Phoenix, whose name I remembered now, grumbled at the Irish's statement. "What did I tell you?"
Connor shrugged in response and pulled out a slim laptop from his sleek leather bag. "Whatever. Just stay clear of him, Florence."
"I don't remember asking you to tell me what to do." I couldn't stop the comment from my lips, and immediately threw a hand on my mouth. "Shit. Sorry. I didn't mean it that way."
Well, I did. And usually, I wouldn't have apologized. But this was Connor Williams, and I knew I had to keep my mouth in check if I wanted all of this to work out. He gave off a weird vibe, something about him just didn't sit right with me, and I always trusted my gut instinct. But again... This was business.
"You're good." His laugh made me sigh in relief, and I shot him one last smile before I redirected my attention to the book in my hands, trying my hardest to ignore Phoenix's stares.
But even as I ran my fingers over the hardcover front, the words The Daughter's Curse pressing against my fingertips, I couldn't focus enough to forget his eyes on me.
Looking back up, I'm surprised when he holds our gaze without even flinching. It was like he was trying to ask me something without saying the question out loud, like he was expecting me to understand. A sigh fled his lips before he focused back on the phone in his hands, brows furrowed as he vigorously tapped away on it.
God, what the hell was his issue?
Suppressing an eye-roll at his childish behavior, I used the momentum to glance back at the hardcover in my hands. I opened the book, and as soon as I saw ink on paper, the written word painted on its canvas, I forgot all about reality and the mayhem it brought.
It was time to start a new chapter, to begin this journey I was waiting my whole life for.
I was ready to make a name for myself.
Florence Nyx, the girl who watched the sun.