Christmas was a pale airstrip and a hanger of cars, the morning light glowing peach through the windows of the GT40 Mk II.
"How's that gearbox?" Shelby asked from the passenger seat, over the rumble of the engine.
"Bit sticky," Ken said, downshifting and cornering neatly.
While everyone else was at home, including Mollie and Peter, they were out test driving.
The world went by not in a blur, but a smear of colors, like some impressionistic painting. Each turn was an assured brush-stroke from Ken. He was a master, Shelby knew. The thought didn't just make him feel safe, but comforted. An odd feeling to have at 200 miles per hour, when they could experience brake failure and go up in flames. But hell, Shelby wasn't getting any younger, and neither was his heart.
This was his one dirty secret: he'd never quit racing, not really, not if building sports cars to race, and now heading one of Ford's racing teams, were any indicators. He worried over his heart, but at the end of the day didn't give a damn about it if the right pair of wheels, or driver, or in this case both, showed up.
They were edging towards the redline and Shelby wasn't going to say anything if Ken crossed it, because he wouldn't mind feeling the vehicle they so loved fade, become weightless, disappearing, leaving two bodies gliding through space and time. He wouldn't mind experiencing that with Ken.
He should have been timing but he looked at Ken as he spun one hundred and eighty degrees. Shelby's heart snapped a little, and then suddenly it felt like having a car rolled over his chest.
"Shit," he hissed, feeding himself nitroglycerin pills as spasms wracked his heart.
Ken didn't seem to acknowledge. He did speed up, breaking so abruptly at the hanger it almost threw the pair of them through the windshield. Shelby waited for him to open the passenger door, all the while clutching his chest.
It was embarrassing. Bulldog throwing that blanket down on the concrete floor (again) and lying next to him (again), rubbing his chest as if that would god damn help (though it kind of did, just in a soothing way, not an aleve the choking pain way). It wasn't embarrassing to be weak and fragile as tissue paper, to be helpless. That he couldn't do a thing about.
It was embarrassing to think, with each constricted heartbeat: I am going to die. He wasn't afraid. He just didn't want Ken to see him like that.
Ken took his free hand and squeezed it tightly.
"You better stay with me Shel," he warned.
"Tryin'," Shelby coughed.
"We're going to Le Mans, you bastard."
And suddenly Ken's face was close, forehead to forehead.
"Talk me through the track at Le Mans," he murmured.
He wished he could punch Ken, because he was already gasping.
"Told you," Shelby managed. "So . . . many times."
"Talk me through the track again," Ken said.
At first Shelby was silent because the pain wracking him felt too great. Then, slowly, one consonant and one vowel at a time, Shelby told him. A windy struggle, and Ken held his hand and listened with a fondness that Shelby so rarely saw in his face. He felt his heart, that disjointed muscle, relax at last and his whole body with it, aching.
They lay side by side, as they had at times, only naked, and it occurred to Shelby he wouldn't mind if Ken were there at his death.
"Got you something for Christmas," Ken said after awhile.
"Oh?" Shelby asked, still winded.
"Be right back," Ken rose. "Just lie there."
Shelby glowered as he left.
He wondered what it was about Ken that made him soft and vulnerable. He wasn't a "classically handsome" man, with that goofy grin and flexible forehead. There was something child-like about him. It was true that he was a great driver, the best. But it was his heart, that damnable heart, which made Carroll Shelby love him. It was a vast, wild heart, a generous enough heart, a loving towards his son and wife heart. A heart that brought back Christmas presents when the only present which had been declared was a joint test drive.
Ken reappeared as Shelby pushed himself into a sitting position. Something flashed between his fingers.
"That's . . . a piece of tinfoil," Shelby said.
Ken crouched so he was facing Shelby.
"What you on about, Shel? It's a lovely bit of mistletoe."
"Is that . . . so?"
"Yeah. See, we hold it over our heads and --"
Shelby now couldn't catch his breath because Ken was kissing him. Far too gently, but Shelby didn't mind that, didn't mind the tender way Ken sucked his lower lip, or the hot graze of tongues.
They broke the kiss and Ken was grinning from one cheek to the other.
"Yeah, don't be so . . . damn smug," Shelby drawled.
"You're not half bad yourself," Ken said.
Shelby didn't know how to respond to that except a terse laugh.
"Well, Merry fuckin' Christmas," Shelby said eventually.