Chasing Lights

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Chapter 7: Peace and Quiet

Florence

I knew I was overreacting with Phoenix.

Yeah, he’d acted like a dickhead. Yeah, he’d been late to work.

I still didn’t need to lay it on so hard, though. He just caused a turmoil of emotions when he looked at me, his gaze so self-assured and obstinate that it was hard not to lose myself in it.

But all of that didn’t matter. It couldn’t.

What mattered was that everywhere I looked, I was judged based on my last name. People whispered behind my back already, and it was only Saturday evening. It felt like school all over again, only that not everyone in school even knew what Formula 1 was. It’s not as big a hype in the U.S. as it is in Europe, which is also why Dad didn’t want us to move there.

Our American hometown gave us a flicker of peace in a world as fast and stormy as Dad’s, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

“Flo, can you hand me that tape over there?” Jin’s question startled me out of my thoughts, and it took me a second to realize I was still in the garage, helping Jin and his team fix up Lucien’s car; The one he crashed during Qualifying today.

“Yeah. Sorry. Here.” I grabbed the tape from the drawer behind me and threw it at Jin, who thanked me with a wink.

Walking over to him, I got back to the notepad in my hands, taking notes on everything I saw they worked on. The interns were under strict orders not to interrupt the repair process, simply because the car needed to be ready for race day tomorrow. But I had so many questions.

My dad had always said Formula 1 cars were more like space ships than actual cars, and even though I’d believed him before, I definitely saw what he meant now. I didn’t understand half of what they were saying, partly because I didn’t know the technical jargon yet, and partly because I simply didn’t know how these things were built.

With furrowed brows, I watched how Jin put some tape on multiple spots on the car. Yet another thing I had to learn about…

“It’s to cover the brake ducts,” Phoenix whispered, and I almost jumped out of my stance when I found him standing right behind me.

He glanced over my shoulder, reading more of the notes I took until now. Pressing the notepad against my chest, I spun around to face him.

“What?”

A smirk played on his lips as he leaned back a bit, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “The tape. It’s to cover the brake ducts and any other minor openings. Seal them so no particles get in there before they start the car tomorrow morning.”

I furrowed my brows at him, wondering where the hell this hospitality was coming from, suddenly. He’d been quiet ever since we had lunch with the drivers, even though we’d spent almost every waking minute together. I almost thought I forgot what he sounded like, his baritone voice still startling me.

“Why are you telling me this?”

His smirk broadened into a grin as he raised an eyebrow at me, and I couldn’t help but stare at the dimples forming at the corner of his mouth. This was a different Phoenix, one that actually mustered up a smile if it helped him. I couldn’t tell if I liked this version or not.

Probably not.

“Because you look like you’re about to explode from all the questions,” he quipped, waving his hand in front of his face as if he mirrored my facial expressions. “Also, that notepad has seen better days too, I bet.”

I stared at the paper in my hands, blue ink covering every inch, some words circled while others had big question marks written next to them. “Well, I’m trying to learn something here,” I hushed back, turning around to face the car in front of us again.

I didn’t know what game he was playing, but I surely wouldn’t be a part of it. His jumpy character had been more than exhausting already, and I’d only known him a few days. God, there would be so many more weeks of this…

“Just trying to help,” he said.

It was practically impossible not to feel the way he rolled his eyes behind my back.

“Yeah. Thanks.” Redirecting my attention to the notepad, I wrote down a few more questions I had, even though I was already out of the loop from this brief conversation. Formula 1 was fast-paced, and I’d better not forget that.

The fact that I didn’t listen to him anymore seemed to annoy Phoenix, his muttered curses or loud sighs distracting me from my thoughts yet again. I wondered what exactly his issue was, but didn’t ask any further as I continued to scribble down notes, flipping page after page to make sure I got every detail I could’ve missed otherwise.

“Flo, it’s ten p.m. already. Why don’t you guys go and get some rest?” Jin wiped his sleeve across his forehead, leaving dark oil stains on his pale skin as he shot me a smile.

I couldn’t help but laugh at the way he looked at that moment; sweaty and oily and exactly what I’d imagined a mechanic to look like.

“I don’t mind staying,” I retorted with a chuckle. “It’s interesting.”

Some mechanics looked up at me, furrowed brows probably asking why the hell I was here on my own free will when I could also get the night off. Truth was, I really didn’t mind staying. Going back now meant I’d have to be alone with Phoenix, or maybe I’d stumble into Connor or the other drivers. None of those things were on my to do list today.

I just wanted some peace, and the best way I knew how to get it was by doing what I loved most: working with cars.

“Well, I’ll be out of your hair,” Phoenix chimed in with a raised brow, throwing his leather jacket over his arm. He waved at the mechanics before he turned back around, glancing straight at me. A question lingered in his irises as he stared at me for a long moment, almost as if he was waiting for me to follow him.

“Goodnight, Florence,” he said.

I nodded in response, holding his intriguing gaze for a moment longer. Something within me wanted to defy him, wanted to make sure he knew I was here for one reason and one reason only: Because I was great at what I did.

“Night, Phoenix.”

***

It was three a.m. by the time I laid down on my bed. Part of me was exhausted from the long day I’ve had, but another part was restless, exhilarated, and so damn awake that I could feel every inch of my body.

This experience was already more than I bargained for, and even though I felt the restlessness rushing through my veins, I was also content as fuck, suddenly. This was my dream, and I was ready to live it.

Feeling the need to share my thunderous train of thoughts, I didn’t think much before I picked up my phone and dialed the familiar number, letting it ring twice before it finally picked up.

“Hello?” The groggy voice calmed my soul instantly, and I smiled to myself as I listened to Amara clear her throat on the other end of the line.

“Hey. Sorry if I woke you. Or like… not really.” I chuckled, staring up at the dark ceiling of my room.

“No, that’s okay… even though it’s like four in the morning,” she quipped. “Everything okay?”

It took me a moment to find my voice again, the sudden urge to be close to my best friend growing in the pit of my stomach. “Yeah, I just… I don’t know. Things are weird. Good. But weird. I mean… I don’t know what to think.”

Silence settled between us, and I could hear how Amara was shifting in her bed before my phone vibrated again, showing her name as a video call on the screen. I picked up the phone and placed it next to my pillow, leaving the two of us staring at each other with a smile.

“You look like shit,” she said with a grin.

“Thanks. I just spent 15 hours in the paddock.” I ran a hand over my face, still feeling the residue of motor oil beneath my fingertips. I hadn’t been allowed to do much today, but it was impossible to stay clean in the garage. That much I learned already.

“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Amara asked, folding her hands beneath her cheek.

Her question made me think for a second, but the answer came quicker than I’d thought. “A good thing. Definitely.”

“Then what’s bothering you?”

A sigh fled my lips as I thought back to the day. “I don’t know. There were a lot of people around today.”

“But you like being around people.”

“I like being around people I like. I don’t want to be around people who act like I don’t exist, or like I only exist because Dad brought me there.”

Amara furrowed her brows, and I could tell she had a lot to say about that revelation. To my surprise, she didn’t say much, though. “Well, we knew this would happen, didn’t we?”

“Just because I knew this would happen doesn’t mean I’m okay with it.” I sighed. “Sorry, but can you, like… Can you just let me talk? I don’t want advice, I just want to be annoyed.”

A smile spread on her lips as she nodded, getting more comfortable on her pillow. “Definitely. I keep telling you to feel your emotions, girl. Rant ahead.”

So that’s exactly what I did. For about an hour I ranted my heart out, letting free of all the stress, frustration, annoyance, and fear. This job was my dream, one I would be ready to go to great lengths for, but I was still a human being. I didn’t enjoy having to fake my kindness around others, because that was not who I was.

But it was part of the job; A part I’d have to get used to if I really wanted to pursue this career. And if there was one thing I knew from the bottom of my heart, it was that I wanted to be here. I belonged here.

Even if my body didn’t think so.

Because as I woke up the next morning, exhausted and tired as hell, I realized I hadn’t heard my alarm, or it didn’t go off.

Whatever the reason, I jolted awake with a pounding heart, realizing I was probably late for the first meeting with the entire paddock crew. “Shit…” I muttered, grabbing my phone. “Eight a.m?! Fuck!”

I jumped out of bed, tying my hair into a ponytail as I staggered into the Azure Racing uniform laid out on the couch. Grabbing my keycard and ID, I rushed down the stairs while trying to straighten up the collar of my polo shirt. “This is not how you achieve your dreams, Flo…” I mumbled, stumbling into the staff room.

Silence fell as I opened the door, and I could physically feel every single pair of eyes on my skin as I closed it behind me, trying my hardest to be subtle about my lack of punctuality.

“Florence Nyx! How kind of you to grace us with your presence.”

It took a second to recognize the voice, but as I glanced up at the clock, realizing I’ve been merely five minutes late, my eyes also landed on someone I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Someone I really did not want to see.

“Did your father hold you up?” Sebastian Williams raised an eyebrow at me, a wide grin plastered on his lips. Amusement sparkled in his blue eyes, eyes looking so much like Connor’s that you might’ve thought it was just an older version of him staring back at you.

“No.” I cleared my throat and squared myself up to full height, already sensing my fight-or-flight instincts kicking in. “Pretty sure my father is busy driving his Formula 1 car right now. It is race day, after all…”

A snort came from the corner of the room, but with the dozens of people in here it was impossible to see who it was. All I saw was Sebastian Williams clearing his throat as he sat up straight, throwing me a glare that made me realize I might have just overstepped a line. I knew I was being petty for rubbing it in, but then again… I really didn’t care.

“My alarm didn’t kick in,” I added nonetheless, addressing my boss now. “Sorry.”

“That’s alright. Let’s just get the meeting started.” Michael, our team principal, nodded in response. “Now, first things first: Let’s say a huge thank you to Jin and his team for fixing up Lucien’s car in time for the race.”

A row of applause rumbled through the room, and I watched how Jin and his mechanics stood there with wide grins on their faces. I released a shrill whistle, suddenly feeling proud as hell for just having been allowed to watch them work their magic. I could deal with a missed alarm in return.

And as I bathed in the sense of appreciation around me, I realized what exactly Salim meant when he said this job required a hell of a lot of teamwork. It only needed one person missing, one mechanic making a mistake, one driver missing the braking point, and the whole weekend could be ruined.

Maybe that was the reason I wasn’t too flustered by Connor’s dad’s presence today.

Yes, he annoyed me. Yes, he was a real pain in the ass.

But in the end… I was here to live my dream. And he wouldn’t stop me from doing that.

It was about an hour later that the meeting ended and we were all brought up to speed on today’s tasks. I was thrown back into the storm, not knowing what I could or couldn’t do, and yet I loved every single second of it.

“Why are we running?” I jogged behind Jin, following his path through the pit lane.

“Because we need to get spare parts from the trailer. The whole ordeal with Lucien’s car has us running low now.”

“Why didn’t you do that when you finished the car last night?” It was Phoenix’s comment that made Jin slow his run into a walk, glancing back at his intern who couldn’t keep his mouth shut.

“God, you’re such an asshole, you know that?” I couldn’t help my remark.

Phoenix raised an eyebrow at me. “What? It’s only logical to get it done as soon as possible… It’s their job, after all.”

“Well, it would be the driver’s job not to wreck the car, wouldn’t it?” Jin retorted, and I almost gasped out loud from the venom in his voice. Jin was usually really kind and quiet. This was a different side to him, one I couldn’t deny I liked.

“I mean… Yeah,” Phoenix muttered with a quiet chuckle as we reached the trailer. His admission surprised me, given this seemed like the first time he actually tried to understand what a mechanic’s job was and how much a driver depended on it.

Jin led us over to a secluded section of the trailer that held a few dozen drawers of different sizes, all of them arranged by numbers. “Alright, guys. Here’s the list.” He gave each of us two pages worth of components.. “It says what part we need and what drawer you’ll find it in. Don’t worry, there’s only ever one part in a drawer, so it’d be hard to get something wrong.”

Looking at the sheet in my hands, I recognized a few of the parts they used yesterday. This shouldn’t be too hard. “Alright, how long do we have?”

Jin glanced at his watch before he said, “Well, would be great if you got it done yesterday.”

“Got it.” I laughed. “Let’s get going, then.”

So that’s what we did — Phoenix and I split the list and got to work, fetching all the needed parts and tools before throwing them into the trolley behind us. It was the type of work I loved doing sometimes, just sorting things and getting to know different components.

It was low effort, and yet important as hell.

“Fuck,” Phoenix muttered, and I glanced over to find him staring at one of the larger drawers.

“What is it?”

He regarded me for a moment before he stared at the parts in front of him again. “Nothing. It’s just… There are two parts in here, I don’t know which is which.”

Walking over to him, I glanced at the paper to figure out what exactly he was looking for before I studied the drawer. “Oh, the pull rod is the longer one.”

Picking up the longer rod of the two, he stared at it for a moment before his gaze met mine. “I don’t know if I trust you on that. I would’ve thought it was the shorter one…”

I rolled my eyes at his response. Of course he wouldn’t want advice from me. What a surprise. “You should trust the one who spent the night with the mechanics fixing up a car… But really, your choice. You don’t seem like you’d care if it was wrong either way.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” He raised an eyebrow while placing the rod into the trolley.

“It means you’re reckless. It means you don’t respect the hard work that goes into this entire sport for one bit. If you did, you would’ve stayed and tried to learn something.”

I could basically see his thundering pulse, his chest heaving with deeper and more ragged breaths now. “You’re the one who was late this morning.”

“Well, I apologize for being three minutes late after getting four hours of sleep,” I quipped back with a huff.

“Four hours?”

“Yeah.” I shrugged while grabbing another part from a drawer. “And I left before the rest of them did. They really worked some magic there.”

Again, he stared at me for a long moment, almost as if he was waiting for me to tell him I was joking. “Damn… Didn’t think it’d take them that long.”

“Well, Lucien wrecked the front of the car, suspension and all. That’s how I know what a pull rod is.” I shot him a wink before I got back to work, still feeling his gaze on me. “You should get going, we don’t have much time…”

“Right,” he mumbled, scratching the back of his head.

We got to work for a while, but I could still feel his gaze on me, as if he was waiting to say something but didn’t know how to. “You know,” he finally proved my point, “for what it’s worth… I can’t stand Sebastian Williams either.”

His comment made me laugh out loud, my amusement now echoing through the trailer. “Hah. Yeah. He’s hard to like.”

A thin smile appeared on his lips as he crossed off another item on his list. “Yeah, that’s an understatement and a half…” he muttered, reaching for another drawer.

“What did the guy do to you?” I couldn’t help my curiosity, even though I really should’ve tried to keep my distance from Phoenix McCoy. Every inch of my body told me he was bad news, and that I’d get in serious trouble if I ever let him anywhere near me, yet I couldn’t help but wonder about his dark nature.

“It’s not important,” he dismissed me with a grumble, obviously being back to his surly self as he crossed off the last item on his list. “I’m done. What about you?”

Leaning against the trolley, I couldn’t help but smirk. “Have been for a while now.”

“Of course… You were probably a straight-A student in school too, right?”

Judgment laced his voice, and yet again I straightened myself up. “Only when it brought me closer to my goal.” I shrugged, starting to push the trolley out of the trailer so I could avoid another snarky comment about my father and his influence.

Phoenix obviously thought I only got this spot because I carried Dad’s last name. Or maybe he just thought I didn’t belong here — who knew. All I knew was that I didn’t owe an explanation to anyone. I was sailing my own ship, and I wouldn’t stray off course, no matter how stormy the sea got.

Phoenix appeared by my side when I struggled with the trolley, surprising the hell out of me by not commenting on my previous statement. Instead, his hands came around the handle, leaving only a few inches between us as he helped me push what felt like a hundred pounds through the pit lane.

“So what has Williams done to you? Apart from being your dad’s rival, of course…” he asked.

“I don’t know if that’s any of your business,” I quipped back, unable to suppress a smirk.

Phoenix joined my amusement, a crooked grin now playing on his lips as he shook his head at me. “Damn. Using my own words against me… That’s smart.”

“Well, I was a straight-A student, so…” I chuckled as we reached the Azure Racing garage. Another mechanic grabbed the trolley from our hands and rolled it inside, leaving Phoenix and us in the pit lane as we tried to catch our breath.

I laughed when he leaned over, bracing his hands on his elbows as he took a deep breath. “Is that all you got, McCoy?”

“Shut up.” He rolled his eyes at me, but soon followed with another one of his crooked grins as he added, “I’m surprised you’re not gasping your lungs out.”

“It wasn’t that bad.” I snickered.

“Fuck yes it was,” he retorted with a quiet chuckle, standing up straight now. The way he looked at that moment made my mouth go dry, his stormy gaze teamed up with a breathless grin that was made to make any woman swoon for him.

“Well,” I cleared my throat, “Guess that tells you something, doesn’t it?”

He quirked an eyebrow at me and crossed his arms in front of his chest, obviously ready for the challenge. “And what is that?”

I was the one grinning now, proud as fuck that I finally got the upper hand with the guy who annoyed the shit out of me. “It tells you that you should really learn not to underestimate me.”

Because in the end… I was Florence Nyx. And I wouldn’t allow anyone to make me feel anything less than that.

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