Chapter 20: It IS hot in here
While Monaco gave us rain when we didn't expect it, Silverstone graced us with a hell of a lot of sun, even though we wished for the storm.
We saw what the car could do under wet conditions, so of course that's what we're aiming for. But now, with 35 degrees Celsius or 100 degrees Fahrenheit, every single member of the team was running for the shade.
It was Friday, and during the first practice session of this weekend, I ran off to get some much-needed rest from the heat by hiding out in the back offices. Jin said he wouldn't need me for the session itself, only afterward, but didn't specify what I'd have to do. He just said I'd enjoy it, though the grin on his face told me differently.
"So that's where you're hiding, Sunflower!" The familiar voice to my right made me open my eyes, and I pushed myself off the wall as soon as I recognized Dad coming my way.
"Hey, old man." I threw my arms around him, shaking my head as I noticed him in his racing gear. "Two questions: Why aren't you in the car, and why are you wearing this suit if you aren't? In case you haven't noticed, it's fucking hot!"
My dad's eyes widened before he laughed out loud, one hand running through his damp hair. "Wow. What the hell happened to you?"
A blush crept into my cheeks from his insinuation, but I swallowed it quickly, hoping he'd just blame the sun and not the memory of a certain dark-haired driver. "Nothing. I'm just sweating profusely and don't understand how you aren't."
"Guess that's what decades in a racing suit do to you." He shrugged. "But I'm here for a very different reason."
"Oh?" That sparked my interest. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine." He ruffled my hair but scrunched his nose soon after.
"What? I told you I'm sweaty!"
"No, no." He laughed. "That's not it. It's just... It's different seeing you with this haircut. I haven't gotten used to it yet." His eyes skimmed over my head, almost as if he was trying to find the off button for my new hairstyle.
I was pretty sure he was missing my long hair since he was the one who taught me how to braid it at a young age. It was something we bonded over, but please don't judge. Race drivers really came with the weirdest set of skills.
"It'll grow back. This is just more practical."
"And it suits you," he quipped. "It just makes you look more... grown up. I don't know if I like that."
"Aww, Dad." I smiled and pressed a kiss on his cheeks, watching the emotion dance in his eyes. "You know I'll always be your little sunflower by heart."
He kissed the top of my head and squeezed my side before looking down at me, a smile now playing on his lips as well. "I know. That's exactly why I came here."
"Okay..." I raised a brow at him while sipping my cinnamon iced coffee. "So, what's going on?"
Dad glanced around the area, his gaze now more cautious than jaunty. "Come on, let's take a walk."
"But who's driving your car?" I leaned over, trying to glance into his garage.
"Oh, that's our third driver. I figured he deserved a chance as well. Now, come on."
That excuse was weird to me, but I decided against asking further, considering this seemed like a serious matter.
We made our way through the offices and out of the paddock, heading straight for a small hill behind the crowded areas. My father lowered himself on the grass as soon as we reached the top, and I followed him with a frown.
"Dad, you're scaring me. What's going on?"
He shot me a smile that was brighter than I'd seen it in a long while, though something in his eyes made my heart ache. "It's nothing bad, promise." Nudging my shoulder, he zipped open his suit and let it fall over his hips, probably regretting the decision to put this thing on when he wasn't even driving. "But I'm honestly not too sure what you'll think of it, so I'm a little scared."
I never cried. Literally, never cried. But suddenly, something within me wanted to sob my heart out. My father wasn't the kind of person that scared. Not of anything. "Dad, please just tell me. I can handle it, whatever it is."
"Well," he started with a sigh, "I just talked to Franz."
Uh oh. Franz was his team principal. So this was either big good news, or big bad news.
"And he agreed to let me leave the sport by next season."
"What?" My hand flew to my mouth, and I just looked at my father for a moment, watching the smile spread on his lips. "You're retiring?"
He nodded. "Yeah."
"But you're the best. You literally stand for this sport, what are they going to do without—"
"They'll give those who aspire to achieve great things a chance, Sunflower. I already did that. I won the championship, started the developmental programs, and pushed for the evolution to make this sport as environmentally friendly as it can get. Those are all things I can continue doing from behind the scenes."
"But you won't be out on the field..." I frowned. Something about the mere thought of this paddock existing without him broke my heart. "You belong here. This is your home."
"And that's where you're wrong, sweetheart." He threw his arm over my shoulder and pulled me in, letting me rest against his chest. "This is my passion, my life, yes. But home... Home is where you are, where your brother is, but most importantly, where your mom is. She suffered through enough in the twenty-five years we're together. It's her turn now."
From the outside, you wouldn't understand what he was saying. We had enough money to live a good life with financial security. We had a family who loved us, even though my brother and I didn't always see eye-to-eye. We respected each other, but with my father being gone for most of the year, my mother had to carry a huge load.
She had to be mother and father, even though we technically had them both.
And one thing I would probably always remember was the prayer she spoke before each race, whether it was my dad's or my brother's. The fear she must've felt each time... It's intense.
"I get it." Only when I spoke did I realize I shed a tear, so I quickly wiped it away. "It's just... This sport isn't the same without you."
"And maybe it's good that way. Maybe this sport needs a change. I've seen the potential of all those young drivers doing their test rounds during the first practice sessions. They're good, talented, and come with new ideas — That's what this sport needs. Hell, life itself needs it." He smiled and pulled me closer. "But now your mom needs me. And she fully deserves my attention."
It's obvious he was right. My mother suffered through more than two decades of his husband racing his heart out. It was time for a change.
"She does. I'm proud of you, Dad."
His laughter vibrated straight through me, and he pulled back to shoot me a grin. "That's what you're proud of me for? For retiring? Not for the countless races I won?"
I shook my head with a chuckle, poking into his side. "You're so smug."
"So are you. But we have every right to be."
My mouth flew open. "Damn. Rude to your own daughter..."
"That's not rude, that's just the truth. And as we both know..."
I rolled my eyes, but continued his sentence, "...The truth is only rude if you're an asshole."
Silence fell around us as we watched the cars speed by in the distance, their engines roaring even from all those miles away.
This was the end of an era — the end of my life as I knew it. And I couldn't tell yet if I was looking forward to it or not.
"So, there's only one question left," Dad broke the silence. "Will you help me tell your mom?"
Still shocked from Dad's revelation, I spent the rest of our ninety-minute practice session in the garage, just watching the cars do their rounds from a distance. I'd put on my snapback to protect me from the sun — and my own mind— but didn't feel like taking it off, even though we were inside.
Something about that thing gave me peace, and peace was something I could use now.
I'd known Dad would retire eventually. I'd just hoped it'd be a bit later so that I could actively work on track with him...
But I'd learned not to let life knock me down. I embraced the storm, channeled my inner Xenia, and fought back. The only way I could get to where I wanted to be was by pushing through, even if that meant Dad wouldn't be right here with me.
Because I had no doubt he'd be everywhere else.
Watching how Felipe's car returned to the box, I worked on autopilot as I lifted up the cables, making space for the guys who rolled him in backward. I pulled down the monitor so Felipe could see his race times, statistics, and any issues he had on track. It was common so drivers knew what to avoid on their next stint, but also gave them protection from the hundreds of cameras waiting to catch a glimpse of them.
A tap on my shoulder made me zap back to reality, and I spun around to find Phoenix staring at me with a raised brow. "You okay?" he asked.
I blinked a few times. Did he know about my dad? We agreed not to tell anyone until Mom knew, so it was kind of impossible. Unless he was in talks with Dad's team?
"Flo," Phoenix spoke again, waving a hand in front of my face. "You need to lift the monitor back up, the practice session is over." He chuckled. "I'm sure Felipe would like to get out of the car so he can talk things through with his engineers in the office."
"Oh!" I almost jumped from that realization. That explanation made a lot more sense. "Right. Sorry." Shaking my head, I reattached the monitor to its rightful place before I stepped aside, giving Felipe space to leave his car.
Felipe got out, pulled off his helmet, and laughed out loud. "Miss Nyx, do you need some coffee?"
"Already had two," I replied with a chuckle. "Thanks, though. Sorry, again. I was just in my head."
He slapped my shoulder, a thin smile on his lips as he said, "Don't you worry. Just don't overwork yourself."
I nodded in response, relishing the fact that most people probably would excuse my mentally absent behavior with the amount of work I'd been doing. It prided me to know that that's what I stood for, especially since it was nothing but the truth. The amount of time I spent in the garage was astronomical, but it was necessary to get the job done.
And, the best thing about it was that I loved doing it. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute I spent here.
"Flo, is everything—"
"Ah, there you two are," Jin interrupted Phoenix and stood between the two of us. I still felt like I was packed in cotton, so it took a second longer than it usually would for me to catch on. "Now, I have a great task for you. Come on, follow me."
Jin walked ahead, and Phoenix and I followed him through the garage until we reached the backdoor, leading us straight to the other side of the paddock. A cart stacked with tires stood by the side, and while Phoenix groaned at the sight, my lips twitched up into a bright grin.
"Really?" Phoenix asked with a raised brow. "Tires? Again?"
"But wait!" Jin chimed in, reaching for the two hoses attached to the wall. "You get to clean them, this time. That's so much fun, isn't it?"
His fake amusement made me laugh out loud, and suddenly, I felt a little better.
"I love it, Jin," I replied with a smirk. "Thank you for this gracious opportunity."
"I knew I could count on you." He shot me a wink. "Now get to work. Sponges and towels are over there, cleaning supplies right beneath the trolley. Have fun!"
And just like that, he left. It was only Phoenix and me now, apart from some other employees who rushed past us and to their own workplaces.
"Are you okay?" Phoenix asked again, but I just shot him a quick smile.
"Yeah. Just tired." There was no use in talking to him about it, especially since I promised Dad to stay quiet. "No pun intended."
Phoenix smirked skeptically but didn't say much more.
Deciding there was no use in standing around much longer, I grabbed one of the tires to lift it off the top rack, but he already appeared by my side. "Let me do that."
I glanced up at him, squinting my eyes from the sun. It was hard not to notice how rough he looked with sweaty and disheveled hair that poked through his cap, the sunlight only heightening the green flecks in his irises. "Um, no."
"Um, yes," he mimicked my voice, and I only tightened my grip on the tire we both held onto now.
"I can pick up a tire, Phoenix. You've seen me do it a hundred times when this all started."
His brows furrowed before he pulled the tire in his direction and off the cart, but again, I pushed right against him. "But that was before—" He sighed. "You know what? Fine. Carry that tire."
He dropped the tire without warning, and I struggled hard to not let it smash to the ground. Instead, I somehow held my balance and let it drop as gently as I could, but unfortunately, it landed on my foot. "Ow. Fuck."
Phoenix's snort made me look over at him, and I narrowed my eyes when I realized he was holding back a laugh. "This is funny to you?" I asked, rolling the tire over to my water hose.
"Not really funny, but, you know..." He shrugged before rolling the tire over to his spot, about five feet away from me. "You wanted that tire."
I rolled my eyes and grabbed the cleaning supplies before I started the water, soaking the whole wheel as well as I could. I'd never cleaned tires before, but I've seen it done and knew the team did it to preserve them properly. After we cleaned them, they'd also shave off the rest of the rubber to make the rubber as smooth as they could for tomorrow's session.
My feet were soaked within a few minutes, not that I minded. The sun already burned through my being, so a little water was a relief more than anything else.
It took longer than I thought to soak the tire and scrub it clean, and by the time the first tire was done and I had put it back on the cart to grab a new one, it became hard to keep my eyes open.
"Fuck. Where the hell are my sunglasses..." I muttered, glancing around the area. Obviously, they wouldn't be here, but my dehydrated and sunburnt brain still hadn't jump-started itself after Dad's big news.
"You could also just use this..." Phoenix's voice to my right startled me, and before I knew it, he twisted the cap on my head, letting the snap sit on the front.
I blinked a few times, adjusting to the newly given eyesight. "Wow. I totally forgot I had that on my head."
Phoenix smirked as he grabbed another tire from the cart and put it between his legs. "It suits you."
I was not blushing. Definitely not.
"Thanks. It kinda ruins the snapback mood, though..."
"The snapback mood?" He raised an eyebrow as he picked up the other tire from the top rack and pushed it over to me, nodding in my direction so I'd know to catch it.
The feminist within me wanted to protest him doing my work, but my drained body didn't have enough energy to interject. And so I welcomed the tire with open arms — literally — and shot Phoenix a thankful smile.
"Yeah. The snapback mood. It's protecting my wild brain."
His laugh seeped straight into my heart as he rolled the next tire over to his spot at the wall again, shaking his head as he started the water. "Well, this way it also protects your eyes."
It was hard not to enjoy his behavior today, or in general since we'd had that one night. With him in the simulator and me working all day and night, we hadn't seen each other that much, unfortunately. But every time we did, I discovered more parts of him I enjoyed, more nuances I didn't think he'd have, and I'd learned that Phoenix McCoy was not the man I thought he was.
He became significantly kinder the closer we got, but never lost his edge, which for some godforsaken reason only pushed me closer to him.
"Look at you taking care of me," I quipped as I rubbed the sponge over the rims, scrubbing off the dirt of the track.
Phoenix's eyes widened for a split second before he focused back on the task at hand."Honestly? I think you've gone insane with the way you're acting right now, so I'm just protecting myself. It's good to have the lunatic on your side."
I almost gasped from that remark, but the laugh that fled his lips was contagious. "You asshole!" I bellowed. "It's just the heat."
"Yeah. Keep telling yourself that."
I steadied myself against the tire, doing my best to shoot him a glare. Phoenix looked straight back at me, though I could tell he had a hard time suppressing his amusement as he got back to his work.
Waiting for him to forget about my presence, I slowly reached down and grabbed the hose from the ground, which I then aimed directly at him. "Hey, dickhead!"
He looked up, and that's when I pulled the trigger. A stream of water shot straight at him, soaking his entire shirt and probably the rest of his outfit.
I stopped the water and almost fell to the ground from laughter — the mere look on his face was priceless.
"Did you just—" But I didn't let him finish, I just lowered the water pressure and shot another round, this time aiming straight for his face. With the low pressure I almost missed him, but got enough for me to stop the stream and start laughing again.
I couldn't remember the last time I laughed that hard, honestly.
Fuck. I was really starting to enjoy this version of Phoenix McCoy.
Ducking behind the tire, I was both hiding from Phoenix and the multiple glances we got from other employees even though there were just a few. Most of them I barely knew, but I was still trying desperately to conserve my reputation.
People won't think you're a bad mechanic if you have a little fun every now and then, right?
"Ouch!" Phoenix's exclamation made me jump up, but before I could even ask if he hurt himself, I was hit with a stream of water coming from his direction. "Ha! Gotcha."
"That's so not fair!" I called out when he stopped the water, wiping a hand over my wet face. "You can't trick me like that!"
He shrugged, but I didn't miss the massive grin on his lips as he waved his hose around, almost like he was spinning a weapon in his hand. "But I did."
And that was all it took.
Phoenix started a war.
I started my next round, but Phoenix did the same, and so we just ended up shooting each other with streams of water, soaking not only us but also innocent bystanders.
It didn't take long for more people to join us, most of them wanting a cooldown from the heat, and we were more than welcome to give it to them. At one point, Phoenix and I even became a team, trying to hit as many people as possible. We were wasting water, yes, but we were doing it sustainably.
At least that's what we told ourselves.
"Alright, you get Marlene and Jen just leaving the garage to our left, and I'll cover Ron and Clarence walking past on the right," he whispered, not that anyone would hear us.
"Copy." I stifled a laugh, trying to go with the act. "Three... Two...."
We fired our shots, but as I aimed for Marlene, who escaped my attack with a laugh, I accidentally hit someone else leaving the garage. I turned off the hose and looked up at the guy who just walked out, and suddenly... "Uh-oh."
"What?" Phoenix said, looking over my shoulder. "Oh. Fuck that."
"No, wait." I nudged his shoulder. "Let's have fun with that."
He glanced over to me, his entire being drenched and so close to me that I had a hard time not closing the distance, but I kept myself together. "Okay," he finally gave in, stretching out his hand to help me back up. I got up with my hand still in his, and forced myself to let go of it as soon as we were out in the open again.
My gaze fell on Liam Drexler, and the closer he got to us, the harder it became to not laugh at his outfit. He was dressed in camo shorts, paired with a white polo shirt, and on the top of his head, he wore a dark green visor which was turned upside-down. His sunglasses looked like they time-traveled from the nineties, their rainbow-steel color instantly giving me a headache.
"Hey!" he called out, pointing his finger at us. "What are you guys doing?"
"We're cleaning tires." I played the innocent, pointing at the four tires we managed to clean in the last hour or so.
"Cleaning tires? Are you dumb?" He laughed. "Why would you clean them? They get dirty on the track anyway!"
"That's kind of the point..." Phoenix muttered.
I stifled a laugh, but wasn't too surprised that Liam of all people didn't know shit about this sport.
"Well, I guess you're right." I scratched the back of my head, ignoring Phoenix's curious stare. "This was a dumb idea. But you know what's a really great idea?"
Liam reached into his fanny pack and pulled out a vape pen, sticking it between his lips before he took a long drag. A cloud of smoke evaporated above him, and he motioned to take another drag as he said, "What?"
After a quick glance around the area, making sure not too many bystanders saw what I was about to do, I sprayed Liam Drexler straight into his vape-pen smoking face.
It was just for a second, but that was long enough for his sunglasses to drop, right with his e-cigarette.
"Are you actually insane?" He yelled across the yard. "This is a diamond Juul with pina colada flavor! And you just shot down my tactical sunglasses!"
Phoenix snorted. "Well, they can't be that tactical, then..."
"Is there a grownup around here?" Liam asked, picking up his glasses and then glancing around. "Michael? Salim? Someone needs to do something!"
From the corner of my eye, I noticed how a head full of dark hair peeked through the fence.
"Shit. Phoenix, go. Act like you're working." I nodded toward his tire before I walked back to mine, soaking the whole thing up again before I started scrubbing.
"Hello-oh?" Liam called out in a sing-song voice, "Why is no one— ah, there you are, Salim! Finally!"
Salim arrived at the scene of the crime, his eyebrows raised as he glanced around. "What the hell happened here?"
"They shot me! Or, well, the Nyx girl did!" Liam pointed his finger at me, but I kept working, scrubbing away the last of the dirt.
"Flo?" Salim called out for me, and I glanced up to look at him. "Did you shoot water at Liam?"
I didn't miss the hint of a smile on his lips, but tried my hardest to stay serious.
Fuck. If only I were a great liar.
"No, I didn't! Or, well, it must've been an accident. You know, with the tires and all... Things get slippery."
Salim raised an eyebrow, and now I was certain he was stifling a laugh as he shook his head and glanced back at Liam. "Well, sorry Liam, but if you didn't get hurt and your belongings didn't break, there's nothing to investigate here. It's a "he said she said" situation, so there's not much I can do..."
"No, it's not!" Liam interjected, waving around the area. "You all saw! Didn't you?"
But everyone around him shrugged, saying they had no clue what he was on about.
"I'm afraid I can't do anything, Liam. Why don't you go back to your corner and I'll come see you in a minute, alright? We can talk more then. Let's not disrupt the working people."
Liam huffed and crossed his arms in front of his chest, then finally waltzed off.
But before I could let out a sigh of relief, Salim called out to us, once more. "Phoenix, see me in my office when you're done here, okay?"
I stared at the two of them, all amusement suddenly washed away. Phoenix was visibly tense, and Salim seemed like something was on his mind, as well. It wasn't my place to ask, but the implication that something went wrong just now made me freeze.
"Shit, did I fuck things up?" I asked, suddenly realizing I might've poked the bear with the attack on Liam.
To my surprise, Phoenix didn't say anything. Instead, he got up from his spot, walked over to me, and grabbed my hand before he pulled me through the paddock area.
"What are you doing?" I stumbled behind him, glancing over his shoulder to see where we're going. "What do you want to do in the—Phoenix!" I almost squealed when he picked me up and shoved me into the supply closet, locking the door behind us.
I barely saw him with the dim light that only shone through a tiny open window at the ceiling, but still every ounce of his energy seeped straight into my heart. A shadow cast upon me, and I felt how my snapback was lifted from my head before it landed somewhere in the room, the quiet thud of its landing no comparison to my thundering heart.
His hand framed my face, and I felt his heavy breathing tickle my skin as he inched closer to me. We stood like this for a moment, my hands curled into fists with his soaking shirt until Phoenix finally whispered, "I really need to kiss you now, Flo." I barely felt his wet lips move against my own, but it was enough to short-circuit my entire thought process.
And with my mouth as dry as the desert, I could only nod. Luckily, he felt my approval with his fingertips, so it was only a matter of time before he crashed his lips against mine.
I stumbled back into the shelves behind us, but Phoenix held me tightly, reducing the space between us. He must've jumpstarted my heart with that kiss, because soon enough I was yearning to regain control, my hands now traveling up his drenched shirt.
Curling my fingers around his neck, I pulled him closer to me, the sudden urge to feel more of him taking over every sense in my body. The dangerous scent of his musk aftershave and rubber lingered around us, basically clouding my mind.
This wasn't me. I didn't ditch work to make out with a guy in a supply closet.
And yet, not a single fiber of my being wanted me to leave. I felt like I belonged here, right in his arms.
For whatever fucking reason...
"Shit." Phoenix broke the kiss with a deep breath, his forehead leaning against mine. "Fuck... Sorry. You... That was..."
"...intense?" I chuckled breathlessly, resting my head back against the shelf.
"Yeah. That's one word to describe it."
And even though I didn't properly see him, I could feel the fire in his eyes. It was the same flame that burned inside of me, and slowly but surely, it was starting to get out of control.
"We can't do that again. Not here," I finally said.
He nodded. "I know. I'm sorry, I just—"
But it was no use. I had to kiss him again. It was like I was addicted as soon as he opened that damn mouth of his.
"Sorry," I muttered as we broke apart. "But while we're in here..."
His quiet laugh echoed in the room, and I could feel how he shook his wet hair, the droplets landing straight on my skin. "Don't apologize for that."
"Okay... Then I'm sorry for poking the bear," I added. "Sorry if you're in trouble with Salim now. Your history with Liam is rocky anyway and I—"
"Shut up, please, would you?" He kissed me again. Short but rough. "We're not in trouble."
"So Salim believed me?" I asked, even though I knew the answer already.
"Hell no." Phoenix laughed, and I slapped his arm in response. I knew it'd come, but I didn't appreciate it anyway. "I said it before and I'll say it again: You're a horrible liar."
Silence lingered between us for a moment, and I didn't miss the insinuation behind his words. He knew something was up, but I just couldn't tell him.
"Don't worry," he finally rejoined. "Salim hates Liam as much as I do. He won't say a word."
"But Liam might." God. Fuck, why did I do that again?
Phoenix's hand cupped my jaw, and he ducked his head to look at me, even though we were merely a few inches apart. "Hey. Calm down. You'll be good."
For some reason, and there were many explanations for it that I didn't want to uncover, I trusted him.
"Yeah, I know. And if I won't, then I'll just have to face the storm."
"I have a feeling you know just how to do that, Florence Nyx."
I'm on a roll, so enjoy this pretty long chapter. It's a more light-hearted one, but I knew you'd enjoy seeing Liam shot in the face with a water hose. ;)
So, we're slowly paving the way to the breaking point of this story. Any guesses on how things will transpire? Do you know who'll play a part in everything? There are quite a few people involved, after all...
Have a great day, and stay safe as always