Chasing Lights

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Chapter 35: Familia

Florence

The familiar gate opened with a quiet buzz, and I drove up the driveway, taking in the scenery. Rimmy followed my notion and glanced out the window with curious eyes.

“It’s pretty, huh?” I chuckled, ruffling his ears as I stopped the car in front of the garage.

His snout was pressed to the windowpane and he huffed, eyeing the front door warily. “Woof?”

“That’s home, yeah,” I answered his questioning bark with a laugh.

Stepping out of my car, I walked over to Rimmy’s side, who jumped out the second I opened the door for him. He landed straight on his face, underestimating the height of my electric car, as he always did.

After helping him back up and adjusting his wheels, we made our way over to the door, where Rimmy already sped up the ramp I’d installed all those years ago. I smirked at the memory of that certain piece of metal beneath my feet, but shrugged it off when the door opened right in front of me.

“Flor!” Mom greeted me with her signature smile, the potency of it as always taking my breath away. She was the most beautiful woman walking this earth to me, even — or especially — now that grey strands graced her dark hair. Her naturally tanned skin glimmered in the morning sun, and I beamed at the happiness in her green-blue eyes when she pulled me in for a hug. “I did not expect you this early! I thought you said lunch?”

I shrugged and squeezed her tightly, bathing in her motherly warmth. “I couldn’t sleep and figured I might as well just start driving. Hope that’s okay.”

“Naturalmente,” she hummed, kissing my cheek. “Come in, we can—”

“Rroof!” Rimmy’s bark interrupted our exchange, and Mom jumped a little, glancing behind me to find the culprit.

“Who is—Oh!” She spotted him between her feet, where Rimmy now looked up at her, mouth twitched up into a smile. I never knew if dogs actually smiled, but it certainly looked like it to me, so this would be my reality. He smiled.

“Oh, yeah.” I laughed, bending down to pick him up. “This is our newest family member. Rimmy, this is Isla Navarrez, aka Mom. Mom, this is Rimmy.”

My mother looked from the dog to me, wide eyes telling me I’d have to tell her this story with every detail later on. “Rimmy?”

The name sounded even prettier with her Spanish accent. “Yes, Rimmy. He’s… special.”

“I can see that.” She laughed her motherly laugh, cautiously reaching out for him. I appreciated her questioning gaze and nodded in response, telling her she could pet him if she’d liked. I had a feeling Rimmy wouldn’t mind her touch, and my suspicions were confirmed when he met her halfway with closed eyes, letting her scratch his ears.

Something about the way he leaned into her touch warmed my heart — and Mom’s too, apparently. She beamed at the pup, leaning over and using both hands to give him the best scratches possible.

“What’s going on here?” Dad’s voice echoed from behind Mom, but she was still too engrossed by my dog to mind him.

Excitement flooded my veins, and I nudged Rimmy in her arms, gesturing for her to take him. She agreed happily, now cuddling my dog, who had no interest in me the second my mother laid her hands on him.

“Dad!” I squeezed past Mom and the door frame, watching how he pushed himself into the hallway from the far back.

We were a few feet away, but his grin was prominent enough for me to make it out from the distance. “Sunflower!”

I didn’t even hesitate — My feet bounced off the tiles as I sprinted over to him, almost falling to my knees when I wrapped my arms around his torso. He reciprocated the motion, tightening the embrace with a quiet sigh.

“I missed you,” I muttered into his neck, resting my head on his shoulder.

Dad rubbed my back, letting the moment linger a little longer before he responded, “Missed you too, sweetheart. How are things?”

We heard the door close and pulled back from each other just in time for Mom to waltz in. Her eyes were still on Rimmy until she glanced over to us, a wide smile on her lips.

I laughed at her behavior — almost like I just gave her their first grandchild, and not a dog.

Rimmy turned in Mom’s arms, his gaze now directed at my father next to me. He almost seemed confused as he studied the man in a wheelchair.

“Well, good! I uh… I got a dog,” I explained with a shrug, opening my arms as I walked over to Mom, wanting to take him from her.

But Rimmy had other ideas. Before any of us could stop him, he jumped out of Mom’s arms and to the ground, the loud clatter of his heels on the floor making me cringe. I couldn’t even blink with how fast he sped over to Dad, stood right in front of his feet, and looked up.

It was a comical, if not poetic, sight; just now did I realize that Rimmy’s wheel covers had the dark blue as Dad’s. The subconscious definitely worked wonders.

“He’s cute,” Dad commented, bending down to let Rimmy sniff his fingers.

“His name is Rimmy.” Mom beamed at my father, arms propped on her hips.

“Rimmy?” He asked with a laugh, scratching my dog’s head. “I like it.”

A bark followed his response, and Rimmy climbed onto Dad’s feet, expectantly looking up to him. I shrugged while nodding at my pup, telling Dad to pick him up, which he then did. He held him in his lap and looked down at him, patting his head.

“He likes you too.”

Dad grinned. “It’s hard not to.”

I rolled my eyes at his response, but couldn’t help the smirk on my lips. With everything going on, Dad had never lost his spirit. I’d be eternally thankful for that.

Mom walked over to me, her arm wrapping around my waist as she grinned at me. “So, what do you say? Breakfast?”

***

Taking a sip of my coffee, I leaned back in my chair, rubbing my full stomach in content. “Man, I’ve missed your pancakes, Ma.”

“So that’s why you came?” She laughed but smiled proudly before getting up from her chair.

My hand flew to her wrist the second she tried to grab my plate, a scolding look on my face. “Mom, stop. Let me clean up, please.”

“But I—”

“Ma.” I warned again, nodding toward Rimmy, who had been pacing around the room for a few minutes now. “You can take Rimmy out back, if you want. I’m sure he’d love to run around in the yard a little.”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “If he poops on my lawn I—”

“Then I’ll take care of it.” I laughed, nudging her again. “Now go. Dad and I will clean the rest of this.”

With another disapproving glance, Mom finally made her way down the hall, opening the terrace door. I whistled through my teeth, gaining Rimmy’s attention instantly. He looked up at me curiously when I pointed at my feet, waiting for him to get to me. I’d tried training him in the past weeks, but Rimmy was stubborn as all hell.

Maybe that’s why a smile broke out on my face when he actually listened, wide eyes looking up at me as he sat between my feet. I took off his still dry diapers and folded them so I could use them again later, and nodded toward the door at the far end of the hall, where Mom was already waiting for him.

Rimmy looked up at me again, as if silently asking me if I was sure. I nodded once more, and within a split second, he was sprinting down the hall.

We waited until the terrace door fell shut before we cleaned the table in silence, with Dad stacking the plates on his lap while I grabbed the mugs and cutlery to carry into the kitchen. He loaded everything into the dishwasher while I wiped the table and grabbed the coffeepot, bringing it back into the kitchen.

Washing my hands in the sink, I felt Dad approach me, his presence making me look over at him.

“Thank you,” he said, not needing to elaborate.

“Of course.”

We both knew how much Mom did for him, and how desperately she deserved a break from being a caretaker and housewife in one. I was thankful that Dad was able to take care of himself mostly, but the dynamic has shifted in the past decade.

Sometimes, I underestimated just how much.

Ten Years Ago

A groan fled my lips while I squinted my eyes, slowly taking in my surroundings. I was at home in my own bed, and alone. The moon shone through the window, illuminating me in its own calm way. It took a second for reality to settle in, and I sat up, watching the sunflowers in our yard dance in the wind.

Last week’s encounter with Phoenix was still running through my veins, but I swallowed the pain as quickly as it came.

He hadn’t messaged.

He hadn’t called.

With a sigh, I checked my phone again, not really knowing what for. He’d told me if he left me that day, it’d be forever. I knew he was serious, but part of me still held onto that sliver of hope.

The hope that would break my heart in the following months over and over again.

I hoped that maybe, just maybe, he really was a great liar…

“Shit!” Dad’s exclamation stumbled me out of my thoughts.

I rushed out of bed and opened my door, storming down the stairs to my parents’ bedroom. We moved it here before Dad came back home, trying to make things easier on him.

“Dad?” I whispered, blinking as I tried to make things out in the dark hallway.

My hand wandered up the wall, trying to find the light switch, but my father’s voice stopped me. “Don’t!” he hushed, and I spotted him in the doorway to the living room. “Don’t turn the lights on. Mom’s sleeping.”

I walked over to him with furrowed brows, following his gaze.

My mother lay on the couch, holding on to the blanket as a quiet snore left her lips. Dad always said it was a trait she gave down to me, not that I’d asked for it.

“What are you doing?” I whispered, placing a hand on his shoulders.

He didn’t respond; his gaze was simply set on Mom, watching how she slept peacefully for a few minutes. I didn’t say anything, didn’t want to interrupt his painfully loud thoughts. Both of my parents held themselves together in front of the other, always wanting to be the stronger of the two. It was obvious to me and Rafi, who could see beneath their stoic facades, but I had a feeling they were convinced that if they just kept acting that way, reality would catch up. Maybe life would get easier if they pretended it was just that. Easy.

Dad turned his wheelchair, his hand finding my own as he moved away from the doorway and down the hall. I followed him silently, waiting until he stopped at the terrace door. He opened it, letting in the crisp night air with a sigh.

Pulling out a chair from the small desk to our right, I took a seat next to him, letting the silence engulf us.

“I wanted to bring her to bed,” he finally whispered, staring out into the backyard.

My eyes searched his own, but he was still staring out into the yard. “What do you mean?”

He remained silent for another moment, almost unnoticeably shaking his head. “I mean, I wanted to carry her upstairs into our old bedroom. That’s what I’ve done all my life when she fell asleep on the couch like that.”

If I thought my heart broke from the conversation with Phoenix a week ago, I definitely underestimated just how much it would shatter at my father’s words. The pain was so blatant in his voice. The agony scarred his facial features like he’d caused it himself.

“Dad…” I swallowed hard, trying not to let the tears fall. His hand tugged at my own, and I instantly recognized the motion from my childhood days. Without saying a word, I moved over and sat down in his lap, snaking my arm around his shoulders.

Dad embraced me from the side, intertwining his hands at my hips before he buried his head in the crook of my neck just the way I always did when I was still a kid. My heart shattered into tiny little pieces when he shuddered visibly, exhaling a shaky breath while he clung onto me.

It took a moment for me to realize he’d started crying, his wet cheek pressed against my neck. “Shhh…” I didn’t know what else to say without sobbing myself. “It’ll be okay.” My voice broke despite all efforts to keep it together. Dad’s muffled sob pierced straight into my heart; I physically felt the ache in my chest, that’s how much his pain was my own. “I’m sorry, Dad. So sorry…”

Shaking his head, he pulled away from me. His hands ran over his wet cheeks before they framed my face, making me look at him. “Florence, no.”

I swallowed from the sincerity of his voice, from the way his glassy eyes studied my own with great intent.

He cleared his throat before focusing on me again, determination replacing the sorrow on his features. “This wasn’t your fault. The car failed me. It happens and has nothing to do with you.”

“But—”

“No, I don’t want to hear it.” His demeanor changed dramatically. If it weren’t for the residue of tears pooling in his eyes, you wouldn’t know we shared an emotional outburst just seconds before. “This is on me. I chose this career. I chose this life. You didn’t.”

I stared at him, letting his eyes search my own. “But I love this life,” I whispered.

It was the truth; Despite everything, I loved the life my family gave to me. It hadn’t always been easy, but it gave me so much more than it asked of me. I had the best family anyone could’ve asked for, and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

Dad’s smile caught me off guard. When he ran his hand through my hair, I couldn’t help but lean onto his shoulder, hiding in the crook of his neck. “I love this life, too. I’m sorry if I’ve made you feel differently just now.”

I glanced up at him with furrowed brows. “It’s ok—”

“No, it’s not okay.” His response was stern, one hand still wiping my wet cheek. “I’m your father. I’m supposed to make you laugh, not cry.”

“I’m eighteen.”

“You’re still my daughter,” he quipped back, raising a brow. “You’ll always be the girl who blew bubbles in our backyard before she danced with the flowers. You’ll always be the girl who fell from her bike a dozen times and never even winced before she got back up. You’ve always been too strong for your own good, and maybe I am at fault for that, but it stops. Now. You don’t need to be strong for me anymore.”

Tears welled in my eyes again, but I blinked them away, studying my father intently. He’d always tried to protect me from everything. He’d always loved me unconditionally.

“I don’t know what to be if not strong,” I admitted, averting my gaze.

He nodded. “You’ll learn, Sunflower. And until then, you’ll be strong for someone else.”

My gaze fell on the hallway behind us, where the living room door was still wide open, showing a glimpse of my mother on the couch. Dad turned his head with me, and we both focused on the woman who’d always glued this family together with everything that she was, without fail.

“She didn’t sign up for any of this,” he finally whispered. “If anyone deserves your strength, it’s her.”

And as I watched how my mother slept peacefully, I made a promise to myself, one I’d never break in all my life.

I’d protect her with all that I had, for eternity.

“I’m proud of you, you know.” Dad’s voice brought me back to reality.

I blinked a few times, having a hard time shaking the memory of that day as I took a seat on the recliner in the living room. We had a different couch by now, but the image in my head still made me stay away.

“Michael talked to me,” he added. “You deserve that job. You know that, right?”

His hand found my own and gave it a squeeze, making me look up at my father, the man who supported me every step of the way. It hadn’t been easy, but he’d done everything he could to make sure I got the best education. He’d made sure I could follow my dreams.

“I do,” I replied truthfully. The work I put into my career spoke for itself, and I knew I deserved every ounce of success I was starting to reap now. “It’s still a little unreal, though.”

Dad shot me a bright smile, nodding. “Yeah, I know. It’ll get more real once you’re there.”

The thought of the season start in a week sparked a rush of excitement within me. I’d spent every damn minute since I’d signed the contract at the factory, making sure I got a good look at all components to understand what I was dealing with. Azure Racing had made some very uncharacteristic last-time calls this year, which meant I was under a ton of pressure to get everything on track in time.

Even Phoenix getting a seat so shortly before the season start was weird; though I hadn’t asked him how he got it, either. Truth be told, we’d barely spoken to each other after that meeting in the pub. I still didn’t know what to think of him in my team, and thus in my proximity. My mind hadn’t taken the time to sort through those emotions yet.

My job came first.

“I just hope I can get into things quickly enough,” I admitted. “I still haven’t met all of my mechanics, and I need to get to know them to be a good leader.”

“You’ll be fantastic, Sunflower. Don’t you worry.”

A grin spread across my lips. “I know. I’ll kick ass.”

“Always so arrogant.” My brother’s voice resonated through the room, and I turned around, spotting him in the living room doorway.

“Says you.” I laughed, waving him over.

His dark corkscrew curls fell into his face as he approached me, grinning from ear to ear. He grabbed my hand and pulled me up, engulfing me in his brotherly embrace. “Congratulations, Miss Head Mechanic.”

I laughed into his hug, squeezing him tightly before we broke apart. His blue eyes sparkled in the midday sun shining through the windows, and I bathed in the pride etched into his features.

“Thanks, Mister Formula 1 driver.”

Rafi had driven for one of the smaller Formula 1 teams for a while before he got an Indycar offer that was too good to refuse. After spending a few years there, he’d been offered a seat at one of Formula 1’s top teams in the middle of last season, which meant I’d be seeing a lot of him over the course of this year.

“So, can I use you as an informant?” he quipped. “You’ll let me know about any secrets that’ll make me faster, right?”

A laugh fled my lips as I shook my head, nudging his shoulder. “No way in hell. You know I want to win.”

“Yeah, well, so do I.”

My brother and I had always been competitive, though it’d rarely affected our lives. With our career going in different directions, our fights had been solved with some karting rounds, or a proper game of paintball.

He’d never gone easy on me, but I’d never wanted him to, either.

“Guess you’ll have to beat me, then.” I finally shrugged, shooting him another playful grin.

“Guess I will.”

“Guys,” Dad chimed in, shooting us an amused but fatherly look. “Don’t overdo it. I won’t tolerate any family drama over this.”

Both Rafi and I rolled our eyes, instinctively falling into a side hug. “Calm down, Pa. We’re just playing.”

“Yeah,” I agreed, “We’re grownups, after all.”

The tapping of paws on marble made me spin around, and I watched how Rimmy ran into the room, panting but looking happy as ever as he nudged my legs.

“What the fuck?” Rafi raised a brow, studying the French bulldog by my feet. “Who’s that?”

“It’s the dog who pooped on my lawn.” Mom entered the room with a shake of her head, scowling at Rimmy.

“He’s a dog, Ma. You gave him pancakes and then let him run around in your garden. Of course he’ll poop.” I couldn’t help but laugh at her exasperated look. “But don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. Let me just put some diapers on him first.”

“He has diapers?” Rafi asked, still studying my pup with his head cocked to the side.

I nodded, scooping Rimmy up. “When he’s inside, yeah. I try to keep it minimal, but it’s unavoidable sometimes… Besides, he looks cool with overalls.”

My father’s laugh echoed through the room. “You bought him overalls?”

“Yeah. He’ll be at the paddock with me, so it’s important people know he belongs to me.”

Rafi failed at stifling his laugh next to me. “Since when are you so cute about shit?”

“Have you looked at him?” I asked, pointing at Rimmy who had his eyes closed and rested his head on my arm, almost falling asleep. “He’s too wholesome for his own good.”

“He really is.” Mom agreed, heaving a sigh with a glance at my arms. “Can I keep him when you’re gone for too long?”

I smiled at my mom, the woman who’d always refused to get a dog because she knew she’d been the one to take care of it, in the end. She’d been right, of course, but as a child, I hadn’t understood why we couldn’t just get one. I got it now, but her offering to take Rimmy when I didn’t know if taking him to the paddock would do more harm than good was a relief.

“Of course. Thank you.” I scratched his ears. When I’d taken him home that day, I’d promised to always take him with me, but after talking to the vet and dog trainers, I realized it wouldn’t be as easy as I’d liked. His health would always come first, after all.

“Alright, I think it’s time to celebrate,” Rafi said and disappeared in the hallway, only to come back out with a bottle of champagne in one hand and four glass flutes in the other.

“What do we celebrate?” Mom seemed confused, and I shot Dad a questioning look, asking if he hadn’t told her yet. He shook his head in response.

And even though I wasn’t a fan of being the center of attention, I couldn’t deny that I was glad as hell that I could tell her about it myself. I didn’t mind with Dad and Rafi, since it was almost impossible to hide anything about the sport from them. They had connections and knew things before I did, anyway.

Mom had always been the one to stay at home with me, help me with my homework, keep me company when I missed Dad… She’d supported me through and through, and never once judged me for not being the girly-girl so many mothers wished for. She’d always accepted who I was, what I was working toward, and where I wanted to go.

So when she looked up at me with that glimmer in her eyes, I physically felt how pride bloomed in my chest. “I’m Azure Racing’s head mechanic.”

“Ah!” Mom gasped and shrieked at the same time, a hand flying to her mouth. “Oh, Flor!” She ran into my arms without hesitation, ignoring the dog between us as she tightened the embrace. “That is fantastic news! Oh, my. I am so proud of you, hija.”

A yelp from Rimmy between us made her pull back, but she didn’t even regard the dog. Her hands came to my cheeks and she cupped them gently, staring at me with intent.

The warmth in her eyes made me swallow, emotions threatening to get the best of me. This was my dream, and she of all people knew just how hard I’d worked over the past decade to get here. Taking care of Dad, being there for my Mom, and supporting Rafi had taken a toll on me, but I’d do it all over again without blinking twice.

This was my family. No matter the sacrifice, they’d always come first.

“You’ve done well, Florence,” my mother said.

“So have you.”

Ignoring Rimmy’s protest, she pulled me in for another hug. “Te quiero, hija,” she whispered, only for me to hear.

I pressed a kiss on her cheek. “Al sol y de vuelta, mamma.”

To the sun and back.

Author’s Note

Hey, folks!

Thanks for being patient. The past week was turbulent as hell but I’ve made it through, and here I am! Next chapter is already in the works so I hope you’ll enjoy that one soon, too.

This one made me all emotional for many reasons, and I hope I handled the topic with care and sensitivity.

Stay safe and take care of yourselves.

Lots of love,

xx Jane

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