Chapter 29: Breaking
I could feel it in my bones.
This was going to be one hell of a day.
Every muscle ached as Jin and I sat down for lunch, both of us gotten as little as 2 hours of sleep after the all-nighter we had to pull on Felipe's car. Who could've known his car would take much longer than Phoenix's, which looked like a bunch of scrap metal by the time it got to the garage?
Luckily, Phoenix's repairs were mostly superficial. The power unit itself still did what it was supposed to, while Felipe's car decided just to crumble beneath our fingers.
"I can't believe we made that happen," Jin groaned as he placed the tray on the table, letting his head rest right next to it.
"Yeah, me neither..." I rotated my neck, letting the sore muscles crack from my uncomfortable night on the bench in the staff room. "Has Felipe gone out yet?"
He shook his head. "Not yet. I'd reckon by the time we're back, he'll have done a few laps and will be able to say how he feels about it."
"I swear to god, if he doesn't feel good about the twelve hours of work we put into it, I'll lose my shit..."
Jin's laughter echoed through the canteen as he squeezed my shoulder, shooting me a sympathetic look. "I'd say you've done enough work as is, Flo. Let us handle the rest, if there is more to come."
I couldn't help but smile at my teacher, my mentor, my friend. It was a privilege to call him any of those things, and I'd be forever grateful for the chances he'd offered during my time here..
"Thanks, but no thanks. It's my last day, and I'll keep working until that checkered flag relieves me from my duties."
"Of course you will." The grin on his lips was contagious, and he chuckled once more when I nudged his shoulder. "I'll miss working with you, Nyx. You've been the best student I ever had, not gonna lie. You really belong here."
My eyes widened at his remark, and I looked over to the man who'd been by my side through every fraction of this internship, more than anyone else. His face was void of any deception I could've feared; he was simply stating the truth. "Thank you, that means a lot," I whispered, swallowing hard to not let emotions overwhelm me.
The past twenty four hours must've been the most turbulent I'd had since... Well, forever, probably. From the lack of sleep, over to Phoenix and I sharing experiences that have my heart in a puddle, and ending with Jin telling me things like these... It's been a lot to handle, and I was starting to sweep together the last bits and pieces of strength to get this day over with.
I didn't want the internship to end, but I knew I had to move forward. I had other goals: Starting my studies in mechanical engineering, an apprenticeship to become a mechanic, seeing the world and learning as much as I could possibly soak up... It all waited for me, and I knew I wanted every single bit of it.
The remaining question was: Could I find a way to combine all of that with what I found in Phoenix?
"Of course." Jin brought me back to reality. "I already know you'll do a great job later. People will be begging you to work for them."
"Well, duh..." The voice to my right made the hair on my neck stand up, and I turned to find Liam Drexler taking a seat next to me, Juul in one hand and a manila folder in the other. "She's the world champion's daughter, she'll get any job she wants."
Great. Just what I needed after the night I'd had...
"I mean, that's the only reason you're here, right? Daddy made sure you—"
"Could you shut the fuck up?" Venom lingered on my tongue as I squared up in front of him. "My brain cells are too valuable for the shit coming out of your mouth."
Liam stared at me for a moment, narrowed eyes now showing his disapproval. "You're such an arrogant little bitch, you know that?"
"Excuse me?" It was Jin who approached him now, eyes wide and shoulders squared as far as he could, given his rather slender figure. I placed a hand on his arm, nudging him to sit down again. His glance found my own before it landed back on Liam, but he finally obliged and got back on the bench, glare still directed at the man to my right.
"Drexler." I turned around to face him again, opening and closing my fist to not lose my cool. Truth be told, I was pretty sure there wasn't any cool left within me. I was raging hot fire, and this fucking guy really wanted me to burn him. "I don't know what the hell your problem is, but if I ever hear you call any woman a bitch again, I'll bash your fucking head in." His eyes widened when I leaned closer to him, fists pressed against the small part of the bench between us, and stared straight into his pathetic being. "Don't underestimate what I can do to you, and don't forget what my name means in this business. You said it yourself, I'm the world champion's daughter, and I can fucking ruin you with a snap of my fingers if you so much as utter an insult to me again. Your daddy's millions don't mean shit to anyone here, not compared to the pull my family has."
Again... I didn't like using my name, but with assholes like him, it was satisfying as hell.
His glare was meant to scare me, but all it did was rile me up further. The mere fact that he was still sitting next to me made me want to throw my fist in his face. "Now get the fuck up and vape in the corner, Drexler," I added for good measure.
He studied me for another long moment, and then, to my surprise, he actually stood up. "You know... When I found this," he wiggled the manila folder in his hands, "I actually felt sorry for you. Maybe just for a minute, but I did. Right now, I really don't give a fuck, though. If anything, I shouldn't give it to you, just to see you drown in the mess you're in."
I blinked a few times, glancing from the folder to him and back. The name on the cardboard made me swallow, erasing all witty comebacks I had in store.
"But honestly, the son of a bitch had it coming for him. I hate him more than you, that's your advantage, I guess." Liam threw the folder in my lap, and I caught it before it could slip to the ground. "And before you say it's fake; it's not. Ask Salim if you need to, he knows it's true."
With that, he moved away from the bench, took a drag of his vape pen, and shot me a grin, exhaling a cloud of smoke. "Sebastian was right. It's so much fun ruining the Nyx family."
And then he left. Just like that.
My eyes landed on the folder in my hands, and I stared at it for a long moment, reading every letter with care.
Phoenix McCoy - Sponsorship Terms
What the hell?
I opened the folder and found a few papers in there, each of them holding the trademark Azure Racing stamp on the bottom. The majority was dated to a couple of days before I'd started my internship. My eyes ran over the pages, trying to figure out what exactly this was supposed to tell me, when suddenly, I saw it.
PR opportunities - Florence Nyx
Non-negotiable: Sponsor OnTech wants relationship with Florence
Get her to show up with Phoenix in public
Connection to Florence to improve business with Connor
PR stunt; Kiss for magazines? Phoenix will know where cameras are to stage it
Sexual relationship would be an advantage, offers more opportunities to explore later on
I thought I was going to be sick.
This was what he'd wanted to talk to me about? That I was just a mission on a piece of paper?
The longer I flipped through the folder, the more I found my name, plastered on every remaining page, telling him how he could use me and my father to make his name.
His career had been dependent on mine.
Focus on had been. He'd gotten what he wanted now.
He got the seat.
He got my trust.
He got all of me.
"Flo..." Jin's voice made me glance up at him, concern written all over his features. "Come on, let's get you out of here." He took my hand, the one that didn't cling to the folder like my life depended on it, and pulled me up.
With my mind racing at a hundred miles an hour, I didn't have the mental capacity to decide what I needed or should do. I just followed Jin, trusted him to take me somewhere I could process things.
As I stumbled after him and through the paddock, the closed folder now clenched between my fingers, I literally felt how my little friend called Fear roared in laughter. This was exactly what he warned me about.
I should've listened to him the first time he showed up. I've never been afraid of the fire, so I stepped right into it.
And now I was burning to the ground.
"Hey, Flo, look at me." I barely heard Jin as he stopped in front of the staff room, his face blurry in front of mine. My view zoomed in and out, trying to find my focus again.
God, I wish I had my snapback.
"Florence!" The use of my full name brought me out of my dissociating spell, and I looked up at my friend, his eyes filled with fury and rage as he sat me down on the same bench I slept on earlier.
"God, I'm such a fucking idiot..." I finally sighed, running a hand through my hair.
"Oh, shut up." Jin's words made me sit up straight, the unusual choice of language a big red warning sign for someone as quiet as him. "The Florence Nyx I know wouldn't call herself an idiot. Especially not over some dumbass like him."
All I could do was stare at him for a long moment, giving my mind the opportunity to sort itself.
Jin was right. I didn't depend on anyone, and especially not on someone who used me as a pawn in this twisted little game called Formula 1.
I'd always known the industry was ruthless, but this was something I definitely hadn't expected.
And part of me didn't want to believe it, either.
It seemed so unlike Phoenix to pull something like this, to blatantly lie to my face for weeks. Besides, I was the one who kissed him first, not the other way around...
I'd have to talk to him, ask if these documents were legit, and if they were, why the hell he didn't tell me sooner. Yeah, he'd tried telling me something over the past days, but if this was it, then I didn't even know what to do.
How could I get over that?
The whirring of wheel guns zapped me back to reality, and I stared out of the staff room into the garage, watching the mechanics work on last minute fixes on Felipe's car.
"The only one defining your worth is yourself," I said, seeing the work I loved doing so damn much happening right in front of me.
My gaze found Jin's, who now shot me a smile that told me he knew I'd snap out of whatever spell I was just in. "Damn right, Flo."
And as I got up from the bench, the manila folder now rolled up in my hand, I felt it deep in my bones.
No matter what exactly was going on, no matter what this day held in store for me...
Only I could define my worth.
"Are you okay, Sunflower?" Dad held his helmet in his hand, looking down at the starting grid. It'd only be a few minutes before the race started, and the cars had already parked on the track to wait for the countdown.
I glanced up at my father, the worried expression on his face hurting my heart. No way would I let him drive thinking I was in trouble. "I'm good, pa."
He gave me a side hug but raised a brow at me. "You know you're a terrible liar, Florence Lucia."
"And you're a pain in the ass, Jeremiah Bartholomew."
His laughter dulled the ache in my chest, and I caught myself grinning at the man next to me. It was safe to say he was the only one able to bring a smile on my face right now, and I loved him all the more for it.
"Well, guess that's nothing new, at least."
"Not at all."
We both snorted and stared down the race track, watching how mechanics, drivers, and personal coaches rushed up and down the asphalt. The last minor adjustments were always the most stressful ones, and for once, I was glad that I didn't have to be a part of it all.
Dad and I stood further down, hiding away from anyone who could disturb our peace. I had the feeling he knew something was up the second he'd laid eyes on me, which was probably why he'd walked so far down, ignoring his trainer's disapproving glances.
"You can tell me if something's going on, you know that, right?" His arm wrapped around my waist, pulling me against his chest. "You come first. Always."
Tears stung in my eyes from the sudden closeness, from the familiarity of my father's embrace, and for once, I couldn't swallow them. I was too exhausted, the emotions too overwhelming.
"Oh, Florence..." He glanced around the area and then wrapped his other arm around me as well, protecting me from the numerous cameras and spectators lurking around.
I was glad when he didn't say anything and just held me for a while, his large hands caressing my hair with a gentleness that made my heart ache even more. Every inch of me hated crying, but right now, it had a cleansing and strengthening effect.
"It's okay, Dad." I cleared my throat and took a deep breath, running my fingers beneath my eyes to diminish any trace of my outburst. My glance fell on the large Rolex clock at the starting lights, showing it was almost time for the formation lap. "Fuck. Sorry, Dad, you need to get in your car."
"No, really. I'm good." I mustered up a smile and pressed a kiss on my father's cheek, hoping he'd believe me. "We'll talk more after the race, okay?" He still didn't seem convinced, and so I added, "I'm just sad this all is over now. That's all."
His brows furrowed, but when his trainer showed up behind me, he probably realized there was no time to discuss things any further. Instead, he pulled me into another hug, holding on tightly as he whispered, "I love you, Sunflower, you know that, right?"
I nodded, pulling away from him before the tears would start again. "I know, Dad. I love you too. Now drive safely, please."
"I will." With another kiss on my cheek, Dad then disappeared down the starting grid, but not without glancing back once more. He shot me a wave and smiled, though it didn't quite reach his eyes.
From the distance, I watched how he talked to his mechanics once more, probably discussing the last minute changes that'd been made. Most of the drivers were already settling down, and even though I didn't want to look for him...
I couldn't help but notice that he wasn't there.
"Flo." The voice right behind me made my heart stop.
So that's where he was.
I instantly started walking, not even looking at him.
"Hey, wait!" His hand reached for mine, but I pulled it back quickly, distancing myself from the cars. "Florence! What's going on?"
I spun around on my heel the second I reached the last car on the grid.
Phoenix stared at me wide-eyed, hair disheveled and looking wild as ever. I hated how attractive he was, how much this damn racing suit fit his figure. He belonged here, not that I ever doubted that.
"Talk to me, please," he whispered, our common friend Fear now visible on his features. But I could only stare at his lips, wondering how many damn lies they told. He'd always been the better liar, and I never had an issue with that.
His eyes told me he knew something was wrong, but still he stepped forward, trying to reach me.
I walked back, raising my palm. "Please don't, Phoenix." My heart broke just from seeing him, from knowing how much I already gave to him. "I don't— I can't even look at you right now. Please, just... Go." Turning around, I aimed for the entrance to the pit lane, which was really just a gap between the fences at the starting grid. I almost made it to the wall before Phoenix grabbed my hand and spun me around again, forcing me to look at him.
The anxiety in his eyes made my heart ache, but I hated that it did. "What happened? Just tell me, Flo, we can talk about it, we can—"
"I don't want to talk about how our relationship was non-negotiable! Not here, not now." My voice was hoarse, but I tried to get my point across with as much confidence as I could all while not making a scene. I wouldn't let him do this here.
His brows furrowed for a moment, but I could literally hear the pin drop when his eyes widened, a solemn expression now on his face. "No, please, Flo, you have to listen to me. That's not what—"
"I don't give a fuck, Phoenix." I whisper-yelled at him, my gaze landing on the cameras around us. "There's no way in hell I am talking to you about this here, with everyone watching. Or is that what you want? Do you want me to make a scene, to get your name out there?"
He inhaled a deep breath, his lips turning into a thin line as he said, "That's not fair, and you know it."
A laugh fled my lips, and I shook my head in disbelief. "Yeah. 'Cause you can talk about fairness." I knew I wasn't thinking rationally right now, but I was angry. So fucking angry.
Phoenix stared at me for a long moment, long enough for me to notice that the rest of the drivers were getting into their cars. I sighed in defeat, swallowed my anger, and nodded to the starting grid. "You should get in the car. Formation lap is starting in a few minutes."
Phoenix didn't follow my motion, instead he stepped closer to me, forcing me to walk backward against the wall. The pain was visible in his irises as he stared at me, silently telling me to listen to him. "Promise me," he said, despair dancing on his features. "Promise me you won't make up your mind about us before you talk to me."
My eyes flicked to the starting grid, where I now saw a bunch of Azure Racing people rushing our way. I knew how stubborn Phoenix was, and I knew he probably wouldn't get in the damn car if I didn't do what he said. It wasn't just him I was worried about; it was the whole team. We needed the points, and me bringing personal drama into team business was the last thing I should do today.
"Okay." I bit my tongue, trying to hide my lie. "I promise. Now go, please."
He looked at me again, but before he could respond, his trainer and a few other mechanics had reached him, telling him he needed to go.
"You promise?" Phoenix asked again, and I nodded.
Our gazes locked once more, but then he heaved a sigh and finally turned around, jogging toward his car.
I jumped through the opening in the fence and found my spot by the pit wall, where I could watch the start first hand instead of on TV. Something within me told me to stay here instead of joining the others in the garage. Watching the cars in front of me was a great distraction from the otherwise quiet garage.
Michael shot me a weird look, but luckily didn't protest me being here, which wasn't exactly by-the-book, either. I was glad he didn't say anything, though, instead he nodded to the spot to his left, where I could see the start without disturbing any of the other teams.
The Formation lap ended, the lights went out, and the engines revved. Chaos unfolded during the first lap, a few of the cars going off track, but none of them far enough to be out of the race. Felipe lost two positions, and when I looked to my left, I saw Dad coming out of the corner in eighth, and Phoenix in ninth position.
They both sped past the start-finish straight at high speed, almost shoulder to shoulder by the time the steep Tarzan corner came into their view.
Dad was outside by now, steering right to turn in the corner, but he didn't slow down.
He didn't brake.
Phoenix, not expecting that move and already being half-a-car ahead of him, slammed the brakes, but it was too late.
Dad already T-boned him, hitting Phoenix's left bottom side of the car.
My heart stopped as I watched them spin around, both of them declining the steep curve, with Dad even rolling over his head and down the hill. They crashed into the barriers, with the bottom of Dad's car pressed against the wall, while Phoenix's left side collided with Dad's rear wing. The sound of the impact silenced all of my thoughts, and suddenly, everything went quiet.
The tranquility around me was deafening, the blood in my ears rushing at high speed.
I stared at the wreck about a mile away, and suddenly... Life stood still.
Everything went numb, and I didn't hear or feel anything.
All I could think of was that one rule.
Get out of the car.
But they didn't. Neither of them.
And so I ran.
"Phoenix, are you okay?" Juan's concern was obvious, even through the crackling radio.
I groaned in response, rolling my neck to get the life back in me. "Ugh. Fuck..."
"Are you okay, Phoenix?" He repeated.
"Yeah... Yeah. Fuck. That one hurt." I opened my eyes, taking in the scene in front of me. It took a moment for my vision to focus, the blurriness becoming lighter the more often I blinked.
Something white appeared in my peripheral, and I narrowed my eyes to understand exactly what had happened in front of me.
But then I saw it. "Oh, shit..."
My hands moved on their own as they removed the seatbelt from me, shoving off the shoulder pad and steering wheel. I jumped out, ignoring the pain in every single limb of my body as I sprinted toward Jeremiah's car, which was hanging sideways against the wall.
I opened his visor the second I got to him, making him look at me.
"Jeremiah!" I yelled, and he finally opened his eyes, blinking a few times.
"Fucking hell..." He groaned, but I barely heard him with the engines around us.
"You need to get out!" All I could do was yell again, but I got the feeling he didn't hear me properly.
Finally, the stewards appeared next to me, five of them, none of which looked like they knew what to do. I reached over and tried to help him unclasp the shoulder pads, but one of the guys pushed me aside, waving his hands no!
I knew why — I knew you weren't supposed to move the car until you were sure it was safe to touch, considering the entire damn thing was just a mountain of electricity waiting to zap you.
I didn't give a shit, though. This just wasn't happening.
Jeremiah helped me unclasp his shoulder pad and I removed his steering wheel before I leaned over, trying to help him out of the car. But just as I had his arm beneath my fingertips... I heard her.
"Dad!" Flo's scream pierced even through my helmet, and I saw her sprinting up behind the barriers, shoving away any of the stewards who tried to stop her.
"Shit..." I grabbed one of the guys next to me and shoved him to Jeremiah. "Get him the fuck out!"
He nodded and got to work instantly, which I took as my sign to get the hell out of here. I jumped over the barriers just in time for her to reach them, and instantly grabbed her by the shoulders. I'd always known she was strong, but the way she fought against me now broke my heart. It was hard to keep my grasp on her, especially when she started kicking, but I finally found a way to wrap my arms around her tightly, keeping her in place.
"Flo! Stop!" I called out, hoping she'd hear me.
"No!" she screamed, watching how the stewards got her dad out of the car and onto the grass.
Fuck. He wasn't walking.
"Flo, look at me!" Spinning her in my arms, I now had her in front of me, but her glassy eyes still didn't meet mine. "They'll help him. He's out of the car."
She shook her head vigorously, looking from her father, who was now transferred to the ambulance, to me. I somehow managed to get my helmet and mask off, trying my hardest to get her attention.
"Look at me!" I shouted above the noise, cupping her face with my hands.
Everything around us seemed to disappear when she finally met my gaze, her entire being radiating panic and fear. She stared at me for a moment, her chest heaving with ragged breaths. "Phoenix... He— I— Oh my god. He didn't get out of the car."
"He did, Flo. He did. He's out." I didn't mention the fact that he had to be carried out and was now lying on a stretcher in the ambulance.
Her breathing calmed a bit as she removed my hands from her face, looking over at the stewards helping her dad. "I need to go with him."
"No, Phoenix. I need to." The way her voice cracked shattered me, and even though every single inch of me wanted to hold on to her, wanted to keep her in my arms... I knew I had to let her go.
There was no way I'd be stopping her, anyway. Not that I had the right to.
I didn't hold her back when she leaned on the barrier. Instead, I jumped over with her, making sure she'd stay clear of the cars still circling around us. She talked to, or rather yelled at, one of the stewards who was trying to keep her away. The poor guy didn't know what was happening to him when she demanded he'd let her drive to the hospital with her dad, not even asking for it, just stating the facts.
She'd go with him, I already knew that. No force of this earth could stop her from doing that, that much was clear. But still, when I watched her jump into the back of the ambulance, waiting for her to look at me once more, I didn't want her to go.
Because my heart broke the second our gazes met.
She once said my attempt to try and read her was futile. Now that I'd gotten to know her, had the privilege of falling in love with her, I started to understand what she meant.
I could read her, now. I could tell what she was thinking, what she wanted me to do.
Stay away from me.
It was written all over her face, but not a single fiber of my being wanted to believe it.
You promised, I thought.
You did, too, her soul replied.
But when she reached out, her fingers grabbing the ambulance door handle, I just knew.
I knew that when she shut those doors, she'd shut ours, too.
And my heart would shatter into pieces.
I mean, this kinda sucked writing.
I'll go and enjoy some time with my students now to cheer me up lol. Next chapter should be out soon.
Love you all,