Chasing Lights

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Chapter 5: Tired of the BS

Florence

Salim said Phoenix and I would meet in the foyer this morning. One of the managers was supposed to pick us up and show us the entrance to the garage.

Not much to my surprise, Phoenix didn’t show up. After waiting for fifteen minutes, the manager and I left, heading straight for the garage. I didn’t know why exactly Phoenix thought everyone should lay at his feet, but I knew I wouldn’t let myself be bothered by it.

Let him be an asshole. I’d take care of my career.

“Hey, Jin!” I waved into the garage, fixing up the team overalls I got first thing this morning.

“Hey, Florence. Please, come in.” Jin shot me a polite smile and put away the electric drill in his hands.

Walking up next to him, I stared at the space in front of me. Every inch of this place looked scrubbed clean, the white and blue on the walls showing off the shiny Azure Racing logo. Drawers were installed all around the garage, basically circling the one thing everyone seemed to be working on: The car.

In the middle of the garage, parked in a rectangular box with the number 45 peeking out at the front. The car itself was covered in a blue drape, probably hiding away the most precious piece of the garage for any intruders.

“Wow, the garage looks much smaller on TV... But also much shinier,” I muttered.

“I thought you might know them already?” Jin asked. I could tell he didn’t mean to bring up the relationship with my father but that it was genuine interest in my knowledge about this place. And I couldn’t blame him, really, knowing my last name would come with a set of expectations as well.

“No. I mean... yes, I’ve spent a lot of time out here, but you know as much as I do, the garage is the holy grail of a paddock.” I laughed, knowing just how secretive the teams are about their cars. I remember once running into here and being shooed out by a very angry race engineer. “I spent most of my time in the background, watching from the screens in the staff rooms. Dad never wanted me to be too close to the danger.”

“Looks like that didn’t work out, huh?” he quipped with a nod to the car in front of us.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, yeah. My mother always hoped I wouldn’t follow in his footsteps, but Dad gave up pretty early on. Probably when I started sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night to sniff around his garage.”

Jin’s smile broadened, and he ran a hand through his thick black hair as he responded, “He must be very proud of you.”

“Well, he better be. I know I am.” I shrugged.

We shared another amused glance, and I came to the conclusion that I already liked Jin Tanaki. He seemed like a good guy, one that made it very far at a very young age and still managed to keep his integrity.

“Are we done soulsearching?” The dark voice startled my thoughts, and without having to look, I just knew whose presence would disrupt my morning already.

When I spun around, I found Phoenix leaning against the doorway as if he’d been waiting there his whole life. The blue and white staff polo shirt seemed off on his otherwise dark appearance, but still fit him too well for my liking. I caught myself looking a second longer than I should’ve.

“You’re late,” I stated.

“And you’re up in my business again,” he snapped back, pushing himself off the wall.

“Well,” I stepped further toward him, not giving him a chance to exert any male dominance, “You’re up in mine. It’s the first day, after all. Can’t you show some respect?”

Phoenix squared himself up to full height and stepped so close to me that I could smell his lime aftershave. “You—”

“Guys...” Jin chimed in, hands raised as he stepped between the two of us. “Calm down. Please.” His plea seemed genuine, the look in his eyes showing not only that he didn’t like confrontation, but also that this situation overwhelmed him.

I glanced at Phoenix again, the darkness in his green eyes suddenly so potent and alluring that I found myself shaking my head to get my thoughts back on track.

You’re here to follow your dream, Florence. Don’t let anyone stop you from doing that.

“Fine.” I sighed. “Let’s get started. What’s first on the list?” I felt Phoenix’s glare on me, but also knew I couldn’t give in to his provocations.

Jin seemed a little out of place, his kind soul so unmatching the hectic and threatening vibes of the garage as he said, “Um, well, actually... Just...” He took a deep breath and averted his gaze from Phoenix’s. “You know what? Just follow me.”

He walked us through the garage, introducing us to other mechanics while showing us the ins and outs of the garage. The level of security was beyond anything I had experienced yet, and I’d stopped counting the unknown faces in Azure Racing gear greeting me politely at every corner. “Man, it’s crowded here.”

“Oh, yes.” Jin laughed. “Get used to that. With mechanics, media teams, security, performance coaches, management, and of course the drivers as well as the team principals... This place tends to get a bit busy.”

“How many work here on a normal weekend?” I asked as we stepped out of the garage and into the warm morning sun. It was hard not to get distracted by the people bustling around us, multiple rival team members greeting us with more respect than I expected. Formula 1 was one big competition, after all.

I even caught Phoenix glancing around a few times, the luxury of Formula 1 probably even catching up to him. Formula 2 teams got barely 10% of the financial funding Formula 1 got, so even though they raced the same tracks, the experience was a lot different. The sparkling shine laid across the entire pit lane; brand new cars and shiny helmets wherever you looked definitely set the luxurious vibe Formula 1 was known for.

“Well, if you count who’s here, present...” Jin’s response made me focus back on him as he waved at a few mechanics from other teams, his voice almost drowning in the sound of engines revving and electric drills whirring around the paddock. “I’d say about a hundred. But it’s important to remember the folks out at the factory, working their ass off every single day for the rest of the year. They are the ones making this possible by giving us a car we can work with.”

It was easy to forget just how many gears needed to interlock for a Formula 1 race to take place. Jin did an amazing job showing the importance of those who didn’t get the attention on camera, or handshakes and celebrations after a race. Salim was right when he said this was a team effort, but the team was way bigger than I expected.

We spent another half hour being introduced to other racing teams and their employees until we came to a halt right in front of a brand new container with Azure Racing’s logo on it. The bright blue A stared right at me as Jin let us in, and I looked around, wondering what exactly we were supposed to do here. This place was mostly empty, apart from a few dozen tires scattered all around the room.

“Alright... Well, here we are,” he said with a clearing of his throat, waiting for us to respond.

“So... Cool?” I asked with a raise of my brow. “We’ll be looking at tires?”

“No. You’ll be sorting them.”

“Wait, what?” Phoenix, who had been silent since we left the garage, suddenly chimed in. “You want us to sort tires?”

“Well, not me, really, but yes.” Jin nodded in response. “I’ll show you how to do it in a second, but it’s important you order them by the name and serial numbers written on the inside, alright? We don’t want the wrong tires for the wrong driver when it comes to it.”

The information took a moment to sink in, and I ended up staring at both Jin and the tires before I muttered, “How long do we have for that? This must be about a hundred tires...” My eyes widened as I realized just how many of them there were. I was well aware that Formula 1 tires were way bigger than normal ones, but standing in front of dozens of them was kind of overwhelming.

“Should be eighty, in fact. And you’ll have as long as you need today, even if it takes until midnight. We need those sorted by tomorrow morning.”

“That’s why I’m here?” Phoenix waved around the room, the annoyance in his voice thick as ever. “To sort out tires? I barely saw an inch of the garage today. It’s the sole reason I’m here. What the hell do I learn from sorting tires?”

“I can only repeat...” Jin sighed. “This wasn’t my idea. Please, just do it. It needs to be done, and I need to know I can count on you to do it.” He seemed genuinely sorry for the task at hand, but the glance at his watch also told me he had somewhere else to be. In the end, he was the one with a real job here, while we were here for our own gain... or I was, at least.

“That’s okay. Just show us what we need to focus on, and we’ll get to work.” I shot him a smile, trying my hardest to avoid Phoenix’s disapproving glare.

“Alright, then.” Jin shuffled around and grabbed a few tires, showing us the differences — the most obvious one being the color stripes on the front — and what we needed to watch out for while sorting them. Who knew tires would be so confusing, and that every driver had their own set?

The longer I listened to Jin, the more I realized I was nowhere near knowing as much as I thought I did, even with my father talking so much about his work whenever he’d been home. I knew it’d be a challenge, but the magnitude of new experience I would face was slowly creeping up on me with every tire I inspected, with every conversation I overheard from the people outside.

Phoenix didn’t say much more after Jin left, and even though I had no desire to make any sort of conversation with him, I groaned internally at the silence lingering between us. We split the work in half, with me taking care of one driver’s set while Phoenix took the other, but still we were bound to run into each other.

Running my fingertips over the hard rubber, I studied every particle of this tire. Feeling the different mixtures, the softer versions versions the hard ones... It became clear to me why it mattered so much which tire you had on your car. From the outside, it never looked like much, but seeing the difference first hand made me realize just how much these people had to keep in mind when they worked on the track.

Even Phoenix inspected tire after tire, all while not saying a single word. After a while I decided to break the silence and slipped the phone out of my back pocket, sifting through my music until I found something fitting for the occasion.

Placing the phone on a stack of tires, it didn’t take long for Phoenix to notice the alternative rock coming from my speakers, furrowed brows and a disapproving glare thrown in my direction. “What the hell is that?” he asked.

“Uh... music?”

“I know it’s music,” he hissed, “I just want to know why you turned it on.”

I raised an eyebrow at him, giving my hardest not to laugh at the frustrated expression on his face. “Because you’re acting all mysterious and... well... boring. I don’t like boring. I like music.”

Phoenix stared at me for a moment, his glance switching from the phone to me and back. It almost seemed like he was about to say something but held himself back, and instead forced himself to mutter something unintelligible under his breath as he turned around.

“If you wanna say something, just do it.” I shrugged as I inspected a tire from the ground. I was sick of people talking behind my back — it’s what happened my whole life. And even though I knew Formula 1 held more gossip than any high school in the states, I also wanted to fight it.

“I just think you do what you want anyway.”

I couldn’t help but laugh as I threw the tire on the stack I started, reaching down for the next one. After realizing it belonged to Phoenix’s side of the room, I picked it up and waltzed in his direction. “Says the one who was late to literally his first day on the job...”

He grabbed the tire from my hands, his green eyes holding hostility I hadn’t seen before. “You didn’t even know why I was late.”

“It’s not like you offered an explanation,” I retorted. We stared at each other for a long moment, and I practically felt the irritation seeping off of him; the feelings were definitely mutual between us.

Taking a deep breath, I let go of the tire and spun back around, ignoring the way my heart tumbled in my chest from the confrontation. For some reason, my encounters with this boy kept stealing my breath, and it became harder and harder not to tell him where exactly he could stick that tire if he didn’t start getting it together soon.

As I bent over, I realized the tire in front of me belonged in Phoenix’s corner, yet again. Because of course it did. Turning around with the tire in my hand, I almost slammed into the tall dark-haired guy who kept grinding my nerves with every word he said, his hands coming around the tire and stopping me in my tracks. With one step further, he pinned me against the wall, the tire wedged between our chests.

“I think you’re making a hell lot of assumptions you have no business making,” he growled, the vibration of his voice traveling straight into my body. The way he looked at me was predatory, and only now did I realize he had a scar running beneath his eyebrows — an attribute that made him less threatening in my eyes.

Unfortunately, it made him even more alluring.

Focus, Florence. Focus on the task at hand.

“The only assumption I made is that you’re disrespecting people in their workplace. Though it’s not an assumption, really, considering you act around the staff like you’re better than them.” My heart hammered against my ribcage and straight onto the tire pressed to my chest, the exhilaration of this moment making me tighten my grip on the rubber beneath my fingertips.

Phoenix’s eyes widened at my comment, but he quickly composed himself and scoffed, “That’s big coming from the world champion’s daughter...”

Of course he had to pull that card.

How original.

His behavior had already irritated me, but the words from his lips sparked a whole new level of fury within me, suddenly. I hadn’t even survived the first day without being judged for my name. A name that stood for success, loyalty, and hard work, at that.

“Who’s making assumptions now, huh?” I pushed against the tire with a force even I didn’t expect, and Phoenix stumbled backwards into his section of the storage unit. “Might be time to listen to your own words, McCoy.”

Without shooting him another glance, I turned back around and paid attention to the task at hand. Phoenix wouldn’t be the one distracting me from my work, that much I had to make clear.

To my surprise, he stayed silent afterwards. All I heard was the occasional muttered curse or a tire that fell to the ground. These things were heavy — heavier than I thought — and even though I was in rather good shape, I couldn’t deny I too was rather exhausted by the time lunch rolled around.

I only had a few more tires to sort through when footsteps echoed through the container, and Phoenix muttered a quiet “Thank fucking god.”

Glancing around, I saw Salim approaching us with a broad smile, wearing the same Azure Racing polo shirt I’ve seen all over the paddock, his dark hair hidden beneath a blue cap. “Flo, Phoenix. How’s the first day treating you?”

Shaking out my arms, I couldn’t help but laugh as I realized they were covered in black dirty streaks, a sight I’ve gotten used to while working with and around cars. “Well, it’s... interesting, for sure.”

Salim chuckled at my remark, his glance falling on Phoenix, who I realized had almost finished the ten sets of tires he needed. “What about you, Phoenix? Did everything work out this morning?”

I wanted to laugh at the look Phoenix threw my way, as if he was asking me not to say anything about his late morning. First he wanted to judge me, and then I should cover his back?

“Yeah. Everything was fine,” he responded, still gazing straight at me. Something about his stare cemented my feet to the ground, and I found it hard to say anything to the matter, not that I was asked to begin with.

If Salim questioned me, I sure as hell wouldn’t hold back.

“Well, that’s great.” Salim didn’t seem to notice the tension. “I see you’re almost done, Phoenix. Go on and help Flo when you’re ready, alright? After that it’s time to meet the race drivers.”

“Oh,” I blurted out, “I almost forgot about them.”

His laughter rang through the room, and Salim’s eyes widened and he asked, “You forgot about them? The drivers? The ones who bring the car on track?”

“If I remember correctly, it’s the mechanics and engineers who bring the car on track... The driver is the one bringing it back into the garage,” I quipped with a shrug.

Phoenix and Salim both threw me a confused look, almost as if I talked in a different language to them, until Salim finally exclaimed, “Well, guess you’re right. Anyways, let’s get this done so you can meet those who bring the car back to the garage, alright? You might’ve forgotten them, but the rest of the world hasn’t.” He laughed.

And even though I plastered a smile on my lips, I somehow felt nothing but boredom at the thought of meeting the drivers. I was here for the car, not for the entertainment, after all.

Guess it was just fate that I was stuck with a race driver of all people, when that’s exactly what I wanted to avoid...

But I promised I would behave, that I would give my best to work with the team, even if that meant sorting tires with an arrogant driver who couldn’t stop acting like an asshole.

Seemed like it was time to start this journey once and for all...

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