Chasing Lights

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Chapter 37: All I Need

Florence

“How does it feel?” I asked, closing my palms around the headphones on my ears.

Chris and Alain, Phoenix’s and Felipe’s race engineers, glanced over at me, but Michael shot them a look that made them focus back on their screens.

Felipe shot past the pit wall, his engine revving as he turned into the next corner. We only had a little over a week until the season started, and just three days of testing to adjust the car if necessary.

“It’s good,” Felipe answered through the radio, “But it’s hard to find grip. I have massive understeer.”

That meant he’d slide wide in the corner, which could become dangerous in real race situations.

“Shit...” I muttered, glancing at Alain’s screen. He was typing away, looking into the different settings to help with the issue. “How does the front wing feel?”

Alain shot me a weird look, pointing at his screen with the recorded data. I suppressed an eye-roll, considering this guy acted like I didn’t know I could have a look at the numbers. It wasn’t just about stats, though. It was about what the drivers felt while driving. They were the ones sitting in the damn car, after all.

“I don’t know,” Felipe responded as he drove past us again. “It honestly feels like it’s missing something.”

Nodding, I scribbled down on my notepad, trying to solve the puzzle. “Got it. Thanks, Felipe.” I lifted the headphones, looking at Alain. “Let him do a few more laps so I have enough data. I’ll see what Phoenix says — maybe it’s a material issue.”

As if on cue, Phoenix’s voice rang through my ear just as I put the headphones back on. “Man, I have a shit ton of understeer. It wasn’t this bad in the simulator.”

“Cause this is an actual car, not a simulator...” I muttered, rolling my eyes as Phoenix’s car sped past us.

“I’m well aware, Nyx.” Phoenix’s amused tone made me glance up, and I saw Chris and Michael smirking at me, pointing at the now purple radio button on the pit wall, indicating we were live to all participants.

Great.

“Well, stop whining and tell me what you feel, then.” I cleared my throat, focusing on the task at hand while watching him through the dash cam facing his helmet. Part of me wished I could see his face, just to see the smug smirk on his lips he probably had from catching me off guard.

“I feel heavy,” he explained, taking a turn. “Like the aerodynamics are off. The front feels hard and immobile.”

“How does it feel when you hit the kerbs a little more aggressively?”

And as if to prove the answer to my question, he hit the bumpers on the ground framing the race track. This time, his rear — the back of the car — slid across the asphalt and almost out of the track, but he managed to remain in control and steer the car back on track.

“Does that answer your question?” he asked, amusement audible in his voice.

“Shut up,” I grumbled, though I couldn’t help the smirk on my lips. Taking off my headphones and hanging them on the pit wall, I faced Michael. “Alright. I have an idea of what the issue is. Just let me check with the data before I take care of anything... I might have to call an old friend to take care of stuff, though.”

Michael nodded, a hand on my shoulder. “I know you’ll figure it out.” His smile seemed genuine, but his usually stoic yet relaxed facade seemed to crumble. There was a concern in his eyes that made me wonder what was going on inside his head.

I didn’t push it, though, knowing Michael wasn’t the kind of person you could just force to tell you something if they didn’t want to. He’d always been stubborn, maybe even more than me, and I respected that.

***

Taking a deep breath, I huffed a strand of hair out of my face, wondering how the fuck it still ended up right in front of my eyes when it was as short as it was. “Fuck off,” I muttered, putting the screwdriver between my teeth so I could clip my hair back again.

I was tired. Really damn tired, but yesterday’s testing session was a nightmare, so I didn’t really have a choice. I’d sent my guys up shortly after dinner, knowing they wouldn’t be of much help if I let them overwork themselves.

The car was my responsibility, and so I’d take care of it. I spent most of the night comparing the adjustments to the notes I made earlier, hoping I got the measurements right.

Grabbing the laptop from my right, I ran a test on the system, making sure I installed the right configurations. I was so engrossed that I barely noticed the person entering the garage, a large frame now leaning against the wall.

“I’m busy,” I said, not even looking at them.

A dark orange light rose in the room, announcing that it was already morning, and I groaned at the thought of not getting any sleep today.

“I can see that.” The dark voice made me look up, and my heart did a little jump when I spotted Phoenix in a tank top and gym shorts, eyes fixed on me. The rising sun painted him in a warm glow, and I couldn’t help but look at him for a moment longer. Ever since we’d ran into each other, I noticed new features on him every single day. I was actively looking for them, too. By now it has become a whole game of Where’s Waldo.

Today, it was the large scar running up the side of his calf, ending right beneath his knee. It was already healed, but still looked fresh enough to not be older than a year or two. My guess was it came from his accident about a year ago.

Said leg moving from the wall ripped me out of my thoughts, and I watched how Phoenix stepped closer to his car, and thus myself. Raising a questioning eyebrow, he just stood there, studying me curiously.

I was sitting on the ground, surrounded by papers and tools and my laptop, when I looked up at him. “What?” I asked, though I already knew what was going through his mind.

That was something that hasn’t changed about him, about us.

I still didn’t need him to tell me what he was thinking. I just knew.

“I think it was the wing setup mixed with the downforce issue,” I answered his unspoken questions. “It should be better now. We’ll find out later, I guess.” I shrugged, trying to hide the frustration this ordeal sparked within me. “Why are you up already?” I asked instead.

“I just was.” Phoenix shrugged and lowered himself on the ground next to me, pushing a bunch of papers aside.

“Hey!” I slapped his arm. “Don’t move my puzzle.”

“Puzzle?”

“Yeah. It helps when I set up my notes like a puzzle I pieced together. Makes me see the parts for what they are.”

He raised a brow, but moved further toward me, using the tiny free spot to my left to not disturb the picture. His shoulder pressed against mine as he leaned against the wall behind us, and I hated the way my body reacted to his touch, to his scent, hell, even to his damn voice...

“Makes sense,” he said, glancing at the papers in front of me.

“It does?”

Phoenix seemed amused by my disbelief, his head nodding as he glanced over at me with a smirk. Something about the way he looked at me, at eye-level and with a gentle curiosity that sparked so many things inside of me, made me realize this was the first time we were actively alone together since we’d met again.

Well, apart from that brief moment in the gym. A moment I still was thankful for, in hindsight.

“You’ve always loved a good puzzle.” That statement made me focus back on his emerald eyes, the scar above his eyebrow somehow more prominent now than it was ten years ago.

I couldn’t help but smile at him. “Of course you remember that.”

The look in his eyes stopped my heart. A vulnerability lay within his forest-green irises, vulnerability hidden beneath the clouds of a storm that was so damn ready to wreak havoc on my life.

“I do,” he said, starting his very own thunder syllable after syllable. “I remember it all.”

Outwardly, Phoenix seemed calm, but I could sense the mayhem brewing inside his mind.

The way he looked at me, with a want and need I felt deep in my bones, was life-threatening.

The way he felt next to me, like lightning sparking my flames, set me alight.

But it was the way he spoke to me that showed just how potent his chaos was. His words were short, his message simple. He didn’t bother elaborating, either, because deep inside, he knew I saw who he was and what he craved.

At this moment, it was me.

“Listen, Flo, I—”

“Nyx!” The familiar voice made me flinch.

Definitely not what I needed now.

Rubbing my forehead, I prayed to hell and back that our visitor wouldn’t find us. I did not have the nerve for this guy now.

“Florence!” He called out again, and Phoenix’s eyes widened.

“Is that—” I pressed my palm on his lips, needing him to stay quiet. No one should be in the garage now, and aside from the back door Phoenix walked through earlier, all entrances should be locked. As a marketing employee, he wouldn’t have a key.

“What a stupid idea to hire her as head mechanic...” The voice wandered off, leaving a trail of cotton candy smoke in the air that fled through the closed door.

Only when his footsteps subsided did I inhale a deep breath, releasing my hand from Phoenix’s lips. Their imprint still lingered on my fingers as I ran them through my hair, causing a bunch of clips to loosen and send dark strands into my face.

Phoenix’s eyes followed the motion, and even though I barely noticed, I was sure he moved to tuck the hair back behind my air, but stopped himself midway. He used the hand to run it through his own hair, pulling at it before it effortlessly fell back into place.

Another difference caught my eye. His hair had a chestnut tone now, though I wasn’t sure if it was the orange light that caused it, or too many years spent in the sun.

“Was that Liam Drexler?” Phoenix asked, surprisingly calm.

“It was.” I nodded. I’d been so damn glad when he didn’t show up for the meeting the other day, only sending that idiot Jonathan as his replacement.

But I knew I’d have to face him, eventually. It wasn’t that I was afraid of him or anything like that. I just couldn’t stand seeing his face.

Phoenix’s silence spoke volumes, and so I elaborated. “He’s the marketing coordinator. The interface between F1 and F2, so to speak.”

“Of course he is,” he grumbled, rolling his eyes.

I couldn’t help but smile at the difference of reactions between present-Phoenix and past-Phoenix. He was a lot calmer now, or maybe he just learned how to hide his chaos.

“It’s not funny,” Phoenix said.

“No, it’s not.” I agreed, glad as hell I’d never told him who I got that damn folder from all those years ago.

And as I looked at the handsome driver next to me, I suddenly realized just how many words were left unspoken between us. How many secrets, how many explanations, how many feelings hadn’t we shared?

I still knew who he had been, yes, but I had no idea who he’d turned into.

What scared me most, though, was that I wanted to find out.

What a stupid fucking idea, Flo...

“I have to go,” I said without thinking, blinking at my wristwatch. Four-thirty. Damn.

Without saying more, I pushed myself up on my feet, ignoring the cold sensation on my shoulder from not having him next to me anymore.

“Florence, wait—”

“I’ll see you for testing at eight,” I cut him off, not even bothering to pick up my notes before I slid through the back door. I’d be here before the rest of them, anyway. All I needed was two hours of sleep.

Yes. That was definitely all I needed...

***

Australia.

The country where basically everything wanted to kill you.

It was also the country that hosted this season’s Formula 1 Grand Prix opening.

“Man, the Aussies are so weird,” Rafi said, glancing over at a man eating Marmite on his toast for breakfast.

We’d arrived a day early to celebrate the start of the season in our very own way. Life as the children of a Formula 1 driver was hectic as hell, and so whenever we could, Dad would fly us out with him a day early just so we could enjoy a “normal” breakfast with him and Mom. It was our very own weird family tradition, one that my brother and I now carried on.

“The TimTams are addictive, though.” I laughed and took a sip of my cinnamon latte, leaning back in my lounge chair just as a parrot flew over my head. We’d opted for a place far enough away from the paddock to give us a slower mind, and when we found the small café in an alleyway surrounded by palm trees, I knew we were at our destination.

“So, how did testing go?” he asked, glancing over at me.

“Raf.” My brows furrowed. “No car talk, please.”

Especially not with how the testing phase went for us. I’d taken care of the most obvious issue, the understeering, but both Phoenix and Felipe said something didn’t feel right about the car. They had a hard time pinpointing what it was, though, so right now we were playing Whack-A-Mole, hoping to find the error, to make the car steadier.

Tomorrow’s practice session would tell us a lot more, considering we could compare to the other cars then, see how they worked and what setups they used.

“What else would we talk about? Your entire life revolves around cars,” Rafi said, and he wasn’t exactly wrong about that. My previous stream of thoughts just proved it, but still.

It was the principle.

For a moment, I contemplated asking him about Amara, considering I’d noticed him smiling at his phone when texts had chimed in a few times today, but I stayed quiet. I’d always promised not to interfere, and I’d keep that promise as long as they wanted me to.

“We can talk about what we can get Mom and Dad for their anniversary.”

Thirty years is a damn long time to be married, and my parents, of all people, deserve to be celebrated for it.

My brother grinned at me, taking his time sipping the black tea in his hands. “You can always give her your dog. She likes him.”

I frowned, glancing down at my feet where Rimmy was missing. The vet and I had decided not to bring him to Australia. The flight was extremely long, and given that the next two races would take place in Asia, the climate difference might’ve become too much for him. He’d be with me for the Miami Grand Prix at the fourth race of the season, though.

“She won’t get my dog,” I grumbled.

“Well, maybe we could get her a different one?”

That wasn’t the worst idea, I guess. “You think Dad will go for it?”

Rafi shrugged, finishing his tea. “We both know he’d do anything for her. Including getting a dog.”

“True... Besides, she was the one always refusing to get one when we were kids. I still remember when you stole the neighbor’s dog and said they gave it to us.”

His brown locks tumbled into his face as he laughed out loud, shaking his head. “Wow, I almost forgot about that. Mom was furious.”

“And the neighbors hated us after that. They blamed Dad, as always.”

“As always,” he agreed with a chuckle. Luckily, we’d learned to deal with people judging our lifestyle very early on. Dad had always made sure we’d known not to take their comments too seriously.

People gossiped for two reasons, and two reasons only.

One: They envied you for what you had and didn’t think you deserved it.

Two: Their own life was too shallow to entertain them, and so they looked elsewhere to satisfy themselves.

“Okay, so we get a dog?” Rafi asked for confirmation.

“Yeah.” The idea of Rimmy having a companion for the time he spent with my parents warmed my heart, and I knew any dog would have a great home with them. They were the kindest people I knew.

“And maybe skydiving?” The idea randomly popped into my head. Dad had told me about the idea way back when, before his accident. Nothing about his current lifestyle would stop him from doing it, but he still hadn’t gone for it yet.

Maybe it was time.

My brother laughed out loud. “Skydiving? Mom?”

I cackled right with him, but shrugged. “Yeah. She’s a badass. And, you know, Dad isn’t the only one who’d do anything for the other.”

“True...” Rafi smirked. “She’ll kill us, though.”

“She might,” I agreed with a laugh, but our conversation got interrupted by a familiar face blinking on my screen.

My brother nodded, silently telling me to pick up the call, which I did with a grin.

“What’s up, bitch?” I snickered, pulling the phone back so Jasmine could see me properly.

The first thing I noticed was her wild red hair, followed by Kilian next to her. “G’day, mate!” He tried an Australian accent, failing spectacularly.

Rafi and I both laughed out loud, shaking our heads. I glanced over at him, suppressing another comment about him smiling at his phone. This guy was still falling head over heels...

“Oh my God...” Jas snorted at her husband, gaining my attention.

Kilian stared at her incredulously. “What? That’s what they say, right?”

“Not really, no,” I chimed in, shaking my head. An announcement echoed through their background, and I cocked my head to the side, furrowing my brows. “What are you guys up to?”

“Well...” She turned the phone in response, letting the camera wander to her surroundings. My eyes landed on the wooden wall with large silver letters adorning the surface. It seemed familiar, and only when the camera focused on the letters did I realize what she was telling me.

“You’re in Melbourne?” I almost screeched.

“Fuck yeah!” She laughed. “Now, you picking us up, or what?”


Author’s Note

Yay - Three chapters in three days!

I hope you enjoyed this chapter, I know I did. I would love to just jump in and have all chapters with just Flo and Phoenix since I love their chemistry so damn much, but you gotta be patient. Haha.

Considering I’d split this book if I were to ever publish it, we’re only at chapter 7 of the second book, so... *shrug* haha

Please let me know if it gets too technical for your liking. I wouldn’t change the course of the story, but I like to know if I need to add more descriptions to the parts those of you who don’t watch F1 wouldn’t understand otherwise. It’s complicated, I know. lol.

Oh, and also, I try to stick to reality as much as I can here, but for the sake of the story, some logistics, locations and/or race strategies may differ from what you know. Just for the other F1 buffs out there, lol. This is still fiction, after all.

Alright, folks, hope you have a great Wednesday. What are y’all up to?

Lots of love as always,

xx Jane

Additional technical note:

Okay, I’d tried to explain it in the story, but for those of you who still didn’t understand what the hell I was trying to say, here are a few points for future chapters:

- Apex: The perfect line to drive in the corner. The Apex is basically the “climax” of the corner. The widest point so the driver doesn’t have to brake as much and keep the speed up.

- Understeer: Usually means the front of the car slides out from underneath the driver, meaning he cannot control the car with the steering wheel. The car would go right, the driver would turn left, but the car would keep going right. Pretty annoying.

- Kerbs: They’re basically the limits of the track, but they're often elevated to ensure drivers don’t overuse them. Most try to drive over them so they can use as much of the track as possible.

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