Chasing Lights

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Chapter 8: Grand Prix

Florence

It was the day everyone was working towards, the day that mattered in the end.

Sunday, aka grand-prix-day, had arrived, and the entire team moved in a fast but controlled manner to get everything ready for the red lights to go out.

“Florence, do you have a minute?” Salim moved one side of the headset off his ear while waving a hand at me, his glance stern but polite.

I stumbled through the back of the garage, avoiding people left and right until I reached Salim at the command center. “Yeah, sure. What’s up?”

“Alright, listen. Quick question that needs a quick answer: Do you want to watch the race with the mechanics?”

My mind froze for a moment; I’d just been about to run into the drivers’ rooms to watch the race from behind the scenes. I knew they only allowed a certain number of people into the other rooms to avoid any traffic with the upcoming pit stops, so this question surprised me.

“Wait, what? Am I allowed to?”

“Flo,” Salim warned me with a smirk, “Quick answer, please.”

“Oh, yes, okay. Fuck, yeah! Of course I do!”

A grind spread on Salim’s lips, and he gave me a slap on the shoulder as he said, “Well, good. Because they saved you a spot. Go and grab it.”

“Yes! Thank you!” I laughed and embraced him in a swift hug before something else crossed my mind. “But what about Connor and Phoenix? Will they be there too?”

His eyes widened as he crossed his arms in front of his chest, a chuckle rolling from his lips as he exclaimed, “Would you look at that. You’re not that bad at this team thing after all, huh?”

For some reason, I felt the blood rush into my cheeks. I surprised myself by even thinking of these two, given I’d wished so often just to get a break from their constant nagging over the past days.

“I mean… I told you I’m an asset.” I shrugged, regaining my composure. “And I just did as you asked.”

Salim laughed as he put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around, steering me in the direction of the large screen the mechanics will be looking at later. “Well, I’m asking you to not care about them now, okay? Just get in there. You know what they say: If you carry the torch too long, you might just get burned!”

“What? Who says that?” I laughed. “Literally no one says that.”

“Michael does. You know those Germans are weird.” He gave me a push in toward the screen. “But they also know what they’re talking about. Now go!”

Shaking my head, I yelled another “Thank you!” through the garage before I took my place by the side, not wanting to stand in anyone’s way. The screen showed how the mechanics left their spot at the starting grid, rushing to get back behind the barriers while the cars started the formation lap.

Felipe was in third position and Lucien in fifth. This wasn’t the first race of the season, so they already established their role in the racing world, even though Felipe did a better job than Lucien in that regard. The French man had no chance against his teammate, unfortunately.

I found myself leaning over, eyes glued to the screen as I watched the cars drive toward the start and finish line. Someone handed me a headset which I subconsciously put on, and immediately I heard the commentator’s voice in my ears.

The cars are getting into their starting positions! With the last drivers stopping in their box, the lights are now ready… And lights are on! Five… Four… Three… Two… Lights are out, and the Mexican Grand Prix has started!

The car in pole position had a poor start, so Felipe managed to sneak past him and take the second position, while Lucien was stuck in fourth. I watched how Felipe tried to attack the race leader, but never seemed to get the right pace, while Lucien now battled for the fourth position. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the screen, the tension in the room spiking with every person who joined us, with every mechanic who started tipping their chairs or muttered under their breath. There was something thrilling about the way they all cheered their drivers on, applauding every overtake maneuver or groaning when they lost a position.

The faint sound of the roaring engines a couple hundred feet away from us almost became nothing but background noise when suddenly a bunch of mechanics jumped from their seats, almost bumping helmets as they rushed out into the pit lane. I watched them grab the tires Phoenix and I sorted just a couple of days earlier, the red stripes now bright as ever as the mechanics positioned themselves at the pit lane in their spot.

That’s Felipe Gonzalez coming in for his first pit stop, and what a pit stop that is! In only 2,1 seconds the Azure Racing team fitted him with a new set of soft tires that are now paving their way out the pit lane. Will Gonzalez be able to defend his spot?

Pit stops had always fascinated me. The way how all gears interlocked, how flawless communication, a great set of skills, and a bunch of very expensive tools made it possible to change all four tires within seconds was always so magical to me. As soon as the car was back out on track, the mechanics were out of the picture. The star of the race was the driver, while everyone inside the garage knew he’d get nowhere without a professional team.

“Oh, look, that’s you.” A female voice to my right caused me to turn around, redirecting my gaze from the pit lane to the screen in front of me. “Are you Jeremiah Nyx’s daughter?”

I could only blink at the screen, thrown off by seeing myself on there, all of a sudden. The commentator said something about my dad, and right at that moment a banner appeared beneath me.

Florence Nyx - Daughter of world champion Jeremiah Nyx

Great job keeping it at a down-low, Flo. With the uniform and all, too…

A sigh fled my lips as I nodded, not even looking at the woman next to me. “Yup.”

The scene switched from me to the race, now showing my father speeding down the asphalt in eighth position. His team wasn’t as fast as Azure Racing was, but he still managed to stay in the top ten, bringing home some points for his folks.

“Well, must suck to be you,” the woman suddenly quipped.

“Excuse me?!” I spun around, ready to fight the woman who blatantly insulted my family. It took a second to adjust to her uncanny sight; dark brown eyes contrasting her pale skin and her head of bright blue hair. With a clearing of my throat I focused on the uniform she wore, the same one I put on this morning. “What is that supposed to mean?” I finally asked, crossing my arms in front of my chest.

“No, I mean, like… You didn’t seem too pleased by being announced like that.”

“Well, I didn’t.”

She shot me a long questioning look, her eyes narrowed as she raised a brow at me. “Okay then…”

I watched how she got back to scribbling something into her notebook, always watching the mechanics as well as the TV, especially when Lucien was on.

Another glance around the room made me think of my task at hand: Connecting to people. And in a sport as patriarchal and misogynistic as Formula 1, I really should’ve started supporting women, and not talk back to them when I’m in a bad mood.

“I’m sorry,” I sighed. “I just don’t like being on TV. Makes me feel weird.”

“Oh, that’s alright. I figured.” Her smile was genuine when she clicked her pen and left it on the notebook, leaving her hand stretched out to me.

“Hi, I’m… Well, as you probably know now, I’m Florence.”

“I’m Viola. My friends back home call me Vi, so whatever works for you…”

“Alright then, Vi,” I laughed while letting go of her hand. “And where’s back home for you?”

“I’m from France. I’m here for Lucien.”

“Oh! Are you his girlfriend?”

A laugh escaped her lips, and she threw a hand on her mouth as she coughed awkwardly. “Oh, god, no. I’m just… I’m his press agent.”

Coming from a Formula 1 family, I knew just how many people were involved in a driver’s life, and yet it surprised me every time someone new introduced themselves to me. “Of course. Sorry. There’s so many new faces here.”

“Yeah, I know. I felt the same way.”

And that’s Jeremiah Nyx coming into the box now. Will his overcut work?

I glanced out into the pit lane again, not seeing the pit stop itself but just my dad driving by, his white car disappearing as quickly as it came.

“Don’t hate me, but what is an overcut again?” Viola asked with a hush, glancing around the room full of mechanics or other Azure Racing personnel.

A laugh escaped my lips as I whispered back, “How long are you doing your job now?”

“I started this season - don’t blame me!”

Shaking my head, I glanced back at the screen, where we could now see my dad leaving the pit exit so he could get back on the racetrack. “Well, see the green car that’s now coming close to him? That’s his opponent. He already got new tires a few lops ago. My dad stayed out when the other guy came in, thinking his tires were still good enough to let him drive a few more fast laps. So while Nokali, the guy in green, hoped he could bring his tires up to the right temperature in time, my dad tried pushing his own to the limit by driving as fast as he could before he got into the box. It’s all about treating the tires and finding the right moment to come into the box.”

Viola stared at me with wide eyes, but I simply nodded at the screen in response, seeing how my father was now ahead of Nokali. “See? He got past his opponent. He was behind him before he got into the pit, but now he’s in front of him. He just made up for lost time when he was stuck behind him.”

A grin spread on Vi’s lips. “Damn. Impressive. You surely know a lot.”

“Meh. It’s not that hard, really. Those are just the basics.”

“Basics I still don’t know anything about,” she retorted.

“Well, you’ll learn. I can teach you, it’s really not that much to know.”

She studied me for a long moment, her glance quickly on the TV and then back on me as she said, “Alright then, let’s get started right now, teacher!”

So that’s what I did; Viola and I spent most of the race talking through Formula 1 strategy things, and whatever she needed to know to do her job right. She was fun to be around, and even with all the hostility around me, things started to feel just a bit calmer, suddenly.

At the end of the day we hadn’t won the race, but we scored some important points. And although Phoenix, Connor, and I got pushed around a lot until we finally arrived by the new track on Wednesday the next week, the tension between the three of us never spiked.

It almost seemed like things finally got quiet.

“Don’t say that!” Jin groaned and ripped me out of my thoughts.

“Say what?” A yawn fled my lips from the jet lag still lingering in my bones. With the next race taking place in Spain, I still hadn’t caught up on sleep that vanished somewhere across the ocean.

“Say it’s quiet. Formula 1 isn’t supposed to be quiet. Now it will get chaotic!”

I snorted at his response, leaning back and resting against the tire behind me as I took a bite of my avocado sandwich. “That’s superstitious, Jin. Don’t worry so much.”

“Besides,” Connor chimed in now, “isn’t it a Chinese saying, something about turning misfortune into fortune?”

“That’s a Japanese saying,” Jin retorted with a roll of his eyes. “You do realize they are not the same, right?”

Connor raised his hands in response, sitting down next to us on the garage floor. I was surprised by his presence and wondered why he didn’t eat lunch at the cafeteria as he usually did, but didn’t have the time to think much about it. “I know that. I was just saying…”

“You were just saying you’re unable to grasp the concept of two countries being different from each other?” I raised an eyebrow at him, unimpressed by his behavior. I knew Connor thought he wasn’t racist, but that didn’t mean his mind wasn’t wired to stereotype people with certain backgrounds.

He sighed, and I could feel the frustration in his glance as he glared at me. “You’re really difficult, you know that?”

“I’m not difficult. I’m just using my brain.” I shrugged. “If that makes me difficult... Then I really don’t mind.”

“Right.” For the second time today, Connor surprised me when a smirk appeared on his freckled face. “Well, anyway, Flo—”

“It’s Florence.”

“Yes, Florence…” With a clearing of his throat, Connor glanced up at me in a way that made the hairs on my neck stand up. Something about his gaze unsettled me, the arrogance and confidence seeming off on him, somehow. “What I wanted to ask, Florence, is if you wanted to go out tonight.”

I almost spat out my coffee at his question, coughing awkwardly with a slap on my chest as I asked, “Wait… What? Go out to do what?”

“I don’t know. To have dinner or something. Or a beer. Whatever you like.”

“I don’t drink,” I retorted, “And I seriously hope you’re not asking me out on a date, Connor.”

“Well, but I am.” He crossed his arms in front of his chest now, turning around to face me properly. “I’m asking you out on a date. So, what do you say?”

***

“So, what did you say?”

“I said hell fucking no,” I exclaimed, clutching the phone between my shoulder and ear as I jumped into my boots.

“Okay, so I know you’re my best friend and all… But I really hope you didn’t say exactly that,” Amara quipped with a laugh.

“No, I didn’t say exactly that. I just said I wouldn’t go on a date with anyone from work since that’s not what I do. I don’t even have the time for that.”

“But you’re going out with Viola tonight.” I could basically hear the way she raised her brow, calling me out on whatever bullshit she suspected.

I grabbed my keys and leather jacket with a sigh, throwing it over my arm as I rushed out the door. “I’m not going out on a date. I’m going out to have fun and get something to eat.”

“Sounds like a date to me.”

“Oh, shut up. Just you wait until— Ow!” Something hard smashed right into me, and it took me a moment to find my footing again as I muttered, “For fuck’s sake, can’t you watch?!”

Glancing up, I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Phoenix right in front of me, his dark being looking stormy as ever when he raised a brow at me. A gym shirt and some shorts stuck to his sweaty skin, his chest rising and falling with heavy breaths as he leaned against the wall. “If I remember correctly, you’re the one who didn’t look up when she left her door,” he retorted with a crooked smirk on his lips.

It was hard to look away from him, his dark hair sticking to his forehead as sweat trickled down his temple, waiting for me to respond.

“Is that Phoenix?” Amara’s voice startled me out of my hormone-induced stare. “I bet he’s hot. Well, okay, I gotta admit I looked him up, I know he’s—”

“Oh my god, shut up!” I yelled.

Phoenix’s eyes widened and he leaned back a bit, muttering, “Did you just tell me to shut up?”

“Not you,” I groaned, holding the phone up to his face. “Her. Amara, shut up. I’ll call you later.”

“Have fun on your date!”

“Fuck’s sake…” I muttered while hanging up the phone. “She’s a nosy one.”

Again, that trademark crooked smirk played on his lips as he mumbled a simple “Uh-huh.”

I’ve learned already that Phoenix wasn’t a man of many words, and yet I was startled by his lack of them right this moment. There was something about this version of him, compared to who he seemed to be in the beginning, that felt even more dangerous than he already did.

“Anyway…” I cleared my throat with a glance at my watch. “I gotta go. I’ll see you at the meeting tomorrow morning, right?”

He nodded in response, running a hand through his wet hair. “Yeah. See you then.”

I rushed past him and steered for the staircase, but I couldn’t help but turn back once more, only to find that right as I glanced down the hallway, he did the same. Our gazes locked, the green in his eyes seeming more alive than ever, suddenly, and even though I didn’t know it at that moment, I already sensed the storm coming.

Because one thing was as clear as the night already: Phoenix McCoy wasn’t just stormy. He was chaos itself, uprooting every inch of my life until I found a new sense of living.

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