Chapter 21: Falling
Truth be told, I wasn't looking forward to whatever he had to say. It wasn't even his fault, but the reality was that the closer I got to Florence, the less I wanted to play this entire scheme.
It wasn't a game to me, and I just wished people would understand that, too.
Unfortunately, that wasn't how the sport worked, and so I had no choice but to play along.
"Alright, so." Salim handed me an energy drink, courtesy of the team's biggest sponsor, and settled back in his chair. "I've got good news, and... well, good news."
I raised a brow at him. "What?"
"Yeah, well, I can't tell you about everything. I would, but there are contractual obligations, and I—"
"If I don't need to know, then I don't want to know. Just tell me what's going on."
He nodded, though I could tell he didn't appreciate my harsh interruption. "Alright then... So, Michael said he's open to discuss a seat for you next season."
My eyes widened at his revelation. "Did you just say—"
"Yup, I did." The grin on Salim's lips was contagious, and I leaned back in my chair, letting that message sink in.
"How? Why?" The questions plowed through my head. Last time we'd discussed this, it had sounded almost impossible to wrap up the conditions Azure Racing asked of me. But when I saw the look in Salim's eyes right that moment, I knew he wasn't telling the full truth. "Salim, what's going on?"
He sighed and took a sip of his black tea, the scent filling his entire office. "As I said, I can't tell you everything. But... We do still need that tech company as your sponsor. Henry already has a plan in motion to achieve that though, so as long as you keep doing what you're doing, you should be good."
My brows furrowed. "Keep doing what I'm doing?"
"Yeah, you know. Show yourself. Your little stunt with Flo today was great, too."
"That wasn't a stunt, Salim. We were just messing around." I should've known that's what he thought I was doing. In the end, it's what I was here for, in a way. But things changed, and the mere thought of playing Florence like that didn't fit right with me.
I could tell how scared she was that she fucked something up today when we provoked Liam, and from what I'd gotten to know about her, Flo wasn't the kind of woman that got scared over nothing. She valued her career and worked hard to let her reputation speak for itself, which was more than most others in the paddock could say about themselves.
Seeing that fear didn't sit right with me, and if whatever my management had planned could sabotage her career, then that would simply be unfair.
"Well, whatever the reason, it's great. Your mood seems to have improved enough for others to notice, which means more attention for you."
"I don't want the damn attention, Salim." A sigh fled my lips. "I just want to race."
His gaze found my own, and the longer he looked at me, the more I knew he realized what was going on. Even with the current tension, he was still my friend, and he knew me better than anyone out here. "I know you do. And you will."
"How?" I asked. "What exactly does Henry have planned? He's my manager and can decide things, but I want to know what the hell he's doing behind my back."
Truth was, I didn't trust Henry not to overstep boundaries, and for the first time ever, that actually scared me.
"You have to trust him, Phoenix." Salim read my mind. "You hired him to make your career, and that's what he does."
He wasn't wrong, and yet something in my gut told me Henry was up to no good. "I didn't hire him to meddle with my life, though. You need to assure me nothing goes public without my knowledge; This is my life, not his."
A smile spread on Salim's lips as he leaned back in his chair, but I could only narrow my eyes at him. "What?" I spat.
"Nothing..." He chuckled. "I just realized there's more to you and her than meets the eye, isn't there?"
I was silent for a moment. Was there more to it than met the eye? Yeah, probably. Well, let's be real. There was definitely a lot more going on.
Would I have cared about Florence's career a few weeks back, when this whole thing started? Hell no.
Formula 1 was a team sport, yes, but in the end, we all fended for ourselves. It was neither smart nor logical to let her involvement impact my career in any way. But I couldn't help it; I cared about her.
He smiled. "Okay, so I know you're not a man of many words, but dude... If you need to talk about it, I'm here. I'm happy to help."
The familiar sympathy in his eyes reminded me of the years we'd spent together, the adventures we'd lived through as a team. We weren't meant to become friends, but he was just there. So even if I was skeptical about all the schemes and games that played around me, I knew I could trust him.
"I honestly don't know what to say," I conceded.
"Don't need to say much to see you're falling for someone, my friend."
I barely knew her, and yet it felt like I'd met her years ago. The connection was there from day one, even if it showed as repulsion at first. There was just something between us I couldn't identify, but it drew me closer to her, day by day.
"It's such a bad fucking idea, Salim."
"I've seen worse." He chuckled. "But let me give you one piece of advice, please."
I raised a brow at him. Salim never talked about women or any partners he could've had, so I had no idea just how much he knew about it. Even so, he was my friend, so the least I could do was listen to him.
"Talk to her. Don't leave her in the darkness with this whole deal. You know how that'll turn out..."
"Even if talking to her jeopardizes my career?"
His laugh echoed through the room and I shot him a frown, but he quickly composed himself. "Dude... You're kidding yourself if you think it could get any worse than it is."
"Wow." I scoffed. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."
Salim chuckled and leaned over, his features more solemn now. "In all honesty... Keep in mind who she is; We've all seen the effect she has on people. But, and this is even more important, also keep in mind who you are, Phoenix. That's what matters, in the end."
I nodded, trying to understand his point.
But deep inside, all I could think was... What was more important? My career or hers?
Walking into the garage the next morning, I had a hard time looking away from Flo as she worked on the car, furrowed brows and scrunched nose highlighting her intense thought process. She huffed a stray hair out of her face and inched closer to the front wing, studying it closely.
"Lucien damaged his wing in this morning's Practice session," Jin explained in a whisper. "She's trying to fix it before Qualifying."
I raised a brow, turning slightly to look at the front-end mechanic who'd spent more time with Flo than anyone else. "Won't you give him a new wing anyway?"
He shrugged. "Probably. But this is great practice for the times where we don't have a wing left, or when a simple fix is quicker than replacing the wing during the race."
"Hm." That made a lot more sense.
"Also, and I don't know if you even care about that, but the front and rear wings come at about 500,000 dollars, so..."
Of course, I knew Formula 1 was a multi-billion-dollar industry, but half a million dollars seemed just a tad extreme for something seemingly as simple as a front and rear wing... "Didn't know that," I conceded.
"Figured." Jin laughed and pat my shoulder before he walked over to Flo, but I used the moment to slip away unnoticed.
I still hadn't figured out how to deal with her after my talk with Salim, and so I kept my distance, so far that I even missed our usual breakfast together. Granted, we sat at the table with about a dozen other people most of the time, but still.
The vibrating phone in my pocket made me sigh, and yet I fished it out of my jeans as I walked to the back offices of the garage.
It wasn't the first time this week, and I'd bet it wouldn't be the last time, but my mind has been occupied enough. I didn't need to deal with this on top of everything, too.
Muting the call, I slipped the phone back in my pocket and walked toward Michael's room. Salim set up a meeting with him to talk about a preliminary third-driver position since one of the three active right now would leave the team, apparently. I didn't know who, and I didn't know where they'd go, but I knew the most important thing: A spot was opening up.
"Hey!" Flo's voice echoed through the hallway, and I instantly stopped in my tracks. Her furrowed brows were the first thing I noticed as she approached me, the rest of her being wild as ever when she basically jumped in my way. "Don't run off!"
"I'm not running anywhere."
She raised a brow at me. "Uh-uh. Sure."
With her arms crossed in front of her chest, I was sure she was ready to teach me a lesson or two, and I almost got ready for it, too. But she didn't say anything. Instead, she just stared at me, demanding answers to whatever questions she had in her head.
It was sexy as hell — as she usually was — especially in her overall, looking professional as ever.
"Are you okay?" she asked, her demeanor now slightly changing, though confusion was still written in her irises.
All I wanted to do was kiss her so hard she'd forget whatever question she wanted to ask, and instead searched for the answers deep within myself.
Unfortunately, that was not an option.
At least not right now.
"Yeah," I replied.
"And you say I'm a terrible liar..."
"You are." I was well aware she hid something from me, too.
"But you skipped breakfast." She cocked a brow at me, obviously waiting for an explanation.
I'd known Flo wouldn't just let that go, but this morning, it'd seemed like the right choice. Seeing her standing in front of me now, I wondered how the fuck I ever got to that thought.
"Remember when I told you staying silent was a boring way to avoid conflict?"
Her question made me smirk, the mere memory of that bus ride seemed so long ago, now. "I do."
The way she rolled her eyes at me almost made me laugh. With all the tension going on, I had a lot of fun testing her patience.
"You're so insufferable..." she muttered and turned around, but I grabbed her hand to stop her from leaving.
"Sorry," I retorted with a chuckle. "I was just busy."
She stared at me for a long moment, and the longer our gazes locked, the more I longed for her. There was something about the way her eyes danced when she looked at me, like they were waltzing straight into my heart at any sacrifice.
Well, fuck that. She was already right there.
"Okay." Her voice brought me back to reality. "Would be nice if you'd let me know next time. Just so I don't wait up."
Shit. I didn't really think about that. I also didn't expect her to not ask any further...
"Oh. Yeah. Right..."
God. It would be so easy to just pin her against this damn wall, or hell, let her do that...
"Give me your phone," she demanded, hand stretched out to me.
"Just give me your damn phone, will you?"
For whatever reason, I reached into my pocket and did as she asked, but right as I placed the phone in her palm, it started to vibrate.
I quickly declined the call before I placed the unlocked phone back into her hands, trying my hardest not to look at her again. I knew she'd ask what was going on, and I'd probably tell her, too. This wasn't the time, though.
But of course Florence Nyx wouldn't carry her name if she didn't surprise the hell out of me by what she did next; She simply typed in a number and saved it under her name before she clicked the call button, which was followed by a ringing from her overall.
"There. All done. Now you can let me know if you decide to stand up my glorious company for breakfast." Handing the phone back to me, I couldn't help but hold on to her hand a moment longer.
Her gaze held a lot more than it usually did — There was a raging fire in her eyes, but somehow the flame flickered with a sympathy that made me want to tell her everything and more. She had an incredible ability to make me talk, somehow.
"Thanks." I cleared my throat, trying to regain traction. "And sorry. I'll get you dinner sometime to make up for it."
The way her cheeks filled with heat made me smile; it happened rarely, which didn't surprise me with a woman like her, but when it did... Fuck, did I enjoy it.
"I'll take you up on that." She finally grinned, and I did the same.
"I'm sure you will."
The way she squeezed my hand made my heart jump, and the second she left my grasp, I felt cold as hell. She really was fire impersonated.
"Okay. I have to go now," she whispered. "And I know you don't want to hear it... But maybe just listen to her. Parents just sometimes do things that seem irrational to us, but when you look deep enough, you might find she's not the villain, after all."
I didn't know why, but for some reason, what she said made sense to me. "I'll keep it in mind."
"Good." She smiled. "See you for breakfast, then."
"See you for breakfast, Florence."
My talk with Michael was nothing like I expected.
Mostly, because it didn't happen at all.
The FIA called all team principals for an emergency meeting — something about an issue with the Dutch Grand Prix in three weeks. It'd be our last Grand Prix with the intern program, so maybe that was a factor, too. But in the end, I had no idea.
All I knew was that my talk was postponed to next week, and so I used my spare time before Qualifying started to get some food in. Or at least that's what I had planned.
But today seemed to be the day for unexpected things.
Because when I stood in line for lunch at one of the sandwich joints next to the paddock, my phone rang, yet again.
For what seemed like the hundredth time today, I stared at the screen, watching my mother's picture look right back at me. But this time, my thumb had a mind on its own when it slid over the screen and accepted the call.
"Phoenix?" My mother sounded concerned, and instantly, my heart ached. "Oh, finally. I was trying to reach you. I thought something happened..."
I had to swallow from the worry in her voice; it was the last thing I ever wanted for her. But damn, I was so conflicted...
"Sorry, Ma. I'm okay. Just busy."
The line went silent for a moment, but my mom didn't waste much time before she asked, "Sweetheart, can we... talk?"
And as I looked down at the race track, watching the cars do their last rounds of practice, I felt like maybe, things could be different.
Life was a race, after all. And I was used to fight for my win.
"Yeah, Mom. We can."
Hope you enjoy the daily updates, lol. My mind is on fire, much like #Flonix is haha.
So, quick question to you all: Do all of you know what a Formula 1 paddock and garage looks like? Would you like me to add some pictures with next chapter to make it more visual? I've grown up with Formula 1, so for me everything is so clear, but I just realized that even though I try to explain everything as well as I can, some of you might not have the slightest idea what the hell I'm actually talking about all the time :D
So please let me know if you want some visual support for the story. I usually don't like to do it since I want my readers to imagine the scene, but Formula 1 is so hectic and complex that I might just make an exception ;) Inkitt readers would need to check my social media since we unfortunately can’t upload pictures here. Let me know either!
Lots of love as always, and stay safe.