Authors: Laura Langston
Yawning, I head upstairs to bed. I'm full, I'm tired and I'm relaxed. For once, I have a plan. For once, Logan isn't anywhere around. And for once I don't turn on the computer. Instead I go straight to bed.
Straight to sleep.
I'm waiting at the garage when Ray drives up before eight the next morning.
“What the hell?” His checkered shirt catches on the steering wheel as he twists out of his classic Mustang. In street clothes, he's almost skinny. Except for his beer gut. “You off school today?”
“No, my first class is in twenty minutes. But I need to talk to you.”
He fumbles with his keys before finding the right one and unlocking the pull-down door. “I don't talk to anybody before I've had my first cup of coffee.” The door clatters when it hits the top of the frame.
“I'm short on time and you need to hear this.”
Ray flips on the light and bolts for the coffee machine, weaving between a way-cool Nissan Skyline and a yellow Miata. “Oh yeah?”
“I'm going back to racing.”
He turns around. A grin splits his face. “I knew you couldn't resist.”
“On a couple of conditions.”
“What kind of conditions?”
“If I win Sunday, I get the six grand, I keep my car and you wipe out my debt.” He stares at me, his grin slowly fading. I pull a sheet of paper from my pocket. “Plus you sign this saying the Acura is mine, free and clear.”
He scowls. “Are you on drugs or what? I'm not signing nothing.” He takes the coffee pot to the sink, fills it with water. “I told you yesterday, you go back to racing, I'll give you a few more months to pay me back. And I'll forgive a thousand dollars of your debt. That's enough.”
It's not. This isn't about me or my car. Not anymore. It's about Mom. Our house. About fixing the mess I created. I need more. And I'm determined to get it.
“Forget it then.” I shrug, like I don't care. “But just so you know, I've told everybody how you're putting the screws to me. Nobody's going to race my car, Ray. You won't get your business back. Not without me behind the wheel.” I head for the door.
“Hold on to your bloody shirt, will ya?”
I settle on a stool and watch him make coffee.
When he's finished, he asks, “What's your bottom line?”
If I tell him, he'll weasel me lower. “I need money fast,” I say instead. Something close to sympathy flickers in his black squirrel eyes. “And I need you to wipe out my debt.”
He pulls a cigarette from his pocket. “Wipe out fourteen grand?” He snorts. “I don't think so.”
I pretend to think. “Then give me two years to pay you back. And put it in writing.” I'm not settling for a verbal agreement.
“A year,” he counters as he lights up and takes a drag.
“Twelve months, but I still want it in writing.”
“I don't do signatures.”
“It's a deal breaker, Ray. I need something signed.”
“Fine,” he mutters after a minute. “Whatever.”
“And I want that six grand when I win.”
“Okay.” My heart's pounding as I stand up. “Deal's off.”
“Don't be an ass, Shields.”
I'm no hero. I know that. I can't wipe out my entire medical bill. I can't save the house if Mom decides to sell it. But I want to hand Mom five grand by the end of December. And I want a nice chunk of change from Sunday's race.
“I'll give you a grand,” Ray says.
It's tempting, but not enough. “Nope.” I start to walk.
“Two then,” Ray snarls.
Two grand. Oh manâ¦my heart's thudding so hard that if I looked down, I'm pretty sure I'd see my chest moving. I keep walking.
“Give it to me, Shields,” Ray yells. “Your bottom line.”
I stop. “Five grand.”
on drugs. I'm putting up three grand. Why should I walk away with a thousand bucks?”
I turn around. “Think of it as an investment.”
His face is stained an angry red. “An investment?”
“In our racing partnership.”
Ray stares at me so long I'm afraid I've blown it. Finally he says, “Three and three. I break even. You're ahead. You get your damned signed piece of paper. And you keep racing. That's my final offer, Shields. Take it or leave it.”
I pretend to consider. “Okay. But I don't start paying you back the fourteen grand until February.”
“For Christ's sake, when did you turn into such a hard-ass?”
“When I started working for you.”
A look of grudging respect flares in his eyes. “You got yourself a deal.”
Hard-ass. Badass. He can call me what he wants. I'll have three grand on Sunday. Getting another two grand by the end of December will be a cake walk.
Friday's rotation means Hannah and I don't have any classes together. Good, because I don't know what I'll say to her about the racing thing. If I'm lucky, maybe she'll never find out.
I can dream, right?
I avoid her all morning. At lunch, I'm dumping my books in my locker and planning to escape to DQ for a burger when I hear her voice behind me.
“There you are.”
I slam my locker shut, twirl my combination. “Hey.” She's standing way too close, her thin fingers clutching her books. I stare at them instead of her face. Heat creeps into my cheeks when I think about how they touched me in the hospital. I glance up at her lips. The flush spreads to my ears.
“Yeah, fine.” People stream down the hall behind us, laughing and talking, relieved that the weekend is almost here. I smell pepperoni. Someone has unwrapped a sandwich.
“I'm glad I caught you.”
She's glad she caught me. Maybe she'll ask me out again. Without Amy this time. Maybe we can go to a movie or for a walk and I can explain why I'm going to race againâ¦
“I dropped an invitation off at your place the other night. For Logan's party.” She's not looking at me. She's looking over her shoulder and down the hall.
“I got it. Thanks.”
“Okay. Good.” Her head snaps back to mine. “That's all I wanted to know. Will you at least think about it?”
I don't need to think about it. I'm not going to a party for a guy I killed. But guilt about going back to racing makes me say, “Sure.”
Delight sweeps her face. “That's great!” She lurches forward, and for a second I imagine she's going to kiss me, but instead she grabs my arm and squeezes. “I hope you come.”
Will you feel that way when you find
out I'm racing again
, I wonder.
“Oh, there's Cole.” She flashes me a second smile. “I'll talk to you later, 'kay?”
As she flies down the hall toward him, the sweet smell of cherry Twizzlers hits my nose. A familiar prickle crawls up the back of my neck. I glimpse ink-black hair.
My breath stops. Logan.
Timeâ¦peopleâ¦everything moves in slow motion.
He's there and then he's gone. I gulp in fast, shallow breaths as I search the crowd for him. Nothing. My breath starts to slow. I was imagining things.
Hannah reaches Cole's side. He pulls her into the crook of his arm and kisses her temple. My heart lurches.
They're just friends.
Movement flickers off to my left. The Twizzlers smell is almost overpowering. Another prickle hits my neck. I whirl around just in time to see Logan's frown, to see that familiar dip of his head toward Hannah and Cole.
I blink. And he's gone.
But in that second, everything falls into place like a piston sliding into its cylinder. Logan isn't pissed that I killed him. He's pissed that I have the hots for Hannah. He's telling me to leave her alone. He's telling me that she belongs with Cole.
I should be happy. Everything's working out.
I'm keeping my car. I'll have five grand by the end of December, easy. Except, Hannah and Cole? What's good about that?
I keep a low profile for the next couple of days. I don't play pool with the guys Friday night. I don't answer their text about the status of my car. I even skip Luc's party Saturday. I drive to the airstrip instead.
I need to get used to the track. I drive the runways for a couple of hours, memorizing bumps and surface flaws and thinking through possible moves. By the time I'm finished, I have every angle covered.
Sunday dawns cold and wet. It pours all morning. By lunch the rain eases to drizzle, but the temperature drops. When I look out the window at one point, snow is mixed with the rain. Nerves clutch my stomach. The race can't be canceled.
Just before dinner, the weather breaks. An hour later, I get word that the race is on. I'm golden. I'm pumped. I have a race to win!
The temperature is near freezing when I head out around eight. I can't see stars. I know the sky is still overcast. As long as the rain holds off for another few hours. That's all I care about.
Adrenaline surges when I drive through the broken gate at the old airstrip. Several hundred people have shown up. My mouth is suddenly dry. There have to be fifty or sixty cars here.
I pull up left of the orange cones that mark the starting line. Lucas slaps me on the back when I join them. “Welcome back, Shields. Ray told us you'd be here.”
My heart starts to hammer. “He did?” Does Hannah know?
It doesn't matter
, my badass self taunts.
She's with Cole,
I pop the hood on my car and spend the next fifteen minutes answering questions about my modifications. When Ray comes by, I give him full credit. A few minutes before race time, I'm about to slide behind the wheel when a familiar voice calls my name.
I look over my shoulder. My knees turn to putty. Hannah is heading straight for me. Her hair's a mess, and the collar on her jean jacket is sticking up at a weird angle. Like she dressed in a hurry.
“I came to see if it was true,” she says when she reaches my side. I glance past her for Cole, but he's not there. “To see if you're really racing again.”
My tongue won't work. What am I supposed to say? Yes, I'm racing, but it's none of your business. You're with Cole. Or you should be. “I didn't want you to find out this way.”
“Oh, really?” She angles her hands on her hips. “How did you want me to find out?”
I didn't. But I can't tell her that.
She stares at me like I'm a piece of toxic waste. “I cannot believe it.”
“Look, it'sâ” I stop.
. But I don't have time to explain. “There's a reason I'm here. A bunch of stuff is going on. You don't know the whole story.”
“Story?” She takes a sharp, ragged breath and shuts her eyes. When she opens them, they shine like dark chocolate. “The only story I know is that Logan is dead because you challenged him to a race.”
I can't afford to think about Logan. I can't get rattled right now.
“And now you're doing it again,” Hannah adds.
As if on cue, Santiago pulls his white Boxster up to the starting line.
“This is different.” I incline my head. “He wants to be here. That's one of my rules. No racing someone who doesn'tâ”
She cuts me off. “I don't want to know.”
Santiago gets out of his car, gives us a curious look. I turn my back to him. “I need money. For myâ”
She stops me a second time. “It's just an excuse.”
“It's not.” My hands are shaking. I feel like I'm going to puke. It shouldn't matter what Hannah thinks. But it does.
She rolls her eyes. “It is. You'll never change. You'll never stop.”
“Yes, I will! I'mâ”
“Then stop,” she says. “Right now. Don't race.”
I can't. I just stare at her.
Her lip curls. “I knew it.” She stalks off.
Santiago wanders over. He's wearing a leather jacket and a huge ring on his pinky finger. “Nice ass,” he says, gazing after her.
His comment slams me like a fist to the gut. “She's taken.” I can't think about Hannah right now. I have a race to win. I get in my car and pull up beside the Boxster. There's a pair of cars ahead of us. We're second.
Santiago smirks and gives me a little salute as he gets behind the wheel. The guy's an idiot. He has money and attitude but no racing smarts. I look over at his competition tires. They're dangerous. A stupid choice for this kind of weather. Ray's a jerk for conning him out of three grand. Making him think he can win. I feel a stab of guilt for going along with it.