Actions

Work Header

Girl, You Ain't Nothin' but a Raw Ramp

Chapter Text


::

About forty hours after Niki left Jaime to sulk in her hotel room, Jaime’s mood had lifted high up on top of her hard-stolen first place victory and she’d already had a couple drinks to celebrate. She was piggy-backing a university boy around the parking lot while trying to hackle one of his mates into getting a pair of shoes out of his car to show off his tap-dancing skills, and hadn’t noticed the relative quiet.

When Clay grabbed at her insistently on the way into the hotel, a brief swerve of irritation made her pull back sharply just as he said, “You’re making a fool of yourself acting like it’s any other night, Hunt.”

“What’s gotten into you?” Jaime sniggered and did a pinching shake at his cheeks to pull his mouth into a pucker.

There was a dangerous tension in the way he dragged her hand off. “For fuck sake. Do you not know what’s going on with Niki?”

“Right, she had a bit of a shunt.” Jaime waved this off. “She’s had little breaks before, and they always exaggerate these things—”

“Jaime—”

“She’ll be fine, Clay,” she said, her tone going more honest as she noticed the depth of his concern, and then the lobby seemed to slow to some icy truth when she finally focused past her own drunkenness, on his face. But just then he shook his head, not in the mood to be patient with her, and stormed off.

She stole away from the guys and found out quickly where his room was, whispering, “Oh shit,” to herself as she knocked on the door. “Oh shit, oh come on. So fucking stupid.”

When he opened with a grunt of surprise, she shouldered past him and into the room.

“How bad is it?”

“What do you want? Ask anyone else. Anyone.”

“How bad?” she repeated, shouting this time.

“What do you think?...The whole car exploded into flames and she was trapped for about a minute in there. Third degree burns, toxic fumes, lung damage.” He met her stunned paralysis with his darkly bitter glance for a moment, probably realizing how slowly this was taking to sink in when he said, “It would be a miracle if she’s still alive in the morning.”

Jaime noticed that the clock on his nightstand was off and thought that she should point that out to him. She remembered, out of nowhere, that she still hadn’t sent her sister any of the postcards she’d promised. A couple more thoughts just barely hiccuped out of nowhere, and then she poshly said, “Excuse me,” and backed up to run into his bathroom and throw up.

He brought her a glass with ice in it, a wan look giving away he’d rather be alone even as he crossed his arms and patiently waited for her to wash her mouth out and then fill up the glass to drink. It took her a second to speak without some weird gulping noise coming up first. “God, of all people...”

“You honestly didn’t hear anything?”

“Sure, I knew there was a wreck, but there are wrecks all the time. Niki just isn’t the type to go and get herself killed.”

Clay made a small cold snort, earning a slow glare from Jaime.

“And what is all this righteous knight stuff anyway?” Jaime gulped down most of the water on her way out of the bathroom.

“What?”

“Oh, come on.” She set the glass down in a blunt tang of sound, turned on him. “You’ve got some neck, you know, putting on the superior Lauda pal act? After you threw her under the bus last year?”

She expected the same script of defensiveness he’d been giving the magazines, the new and improved stubborn arsehole edition you got behind closed doors with every one of these pricks; but as soon as she’d said it there was a chastised sigh, his mouth opening as if to the temptation to admit something, before he put on some forced indifference and was probably about to start hinting that she should leave.

“What?” Jaime demanded, and a heavy indecision seemed to come over him, so she stepped a bit closer. “Clay. What?”

Accepting that this was not the type of night for dishonesty, Clay’s frown took on a different quality, and he said, “We’d better sit down for a while.”

Jaime did sit down for about half the story, but after only a couple minutes she was pacing around the table by the window, raking her hair out of her eyes again and again. “What time was this?”

“I don’t think I could remember. Late. The only reason I hadn’t gone in was because I’d misplaced my keys. I was heading back to the garage to look for them there when I saw somebody leaving. Two men; that’s all I could tell.”

“But—”

“Didn’t think anything of it at the time. But I do remember, in the morning, Niki asked one of the guys—Moretti, I think—what he’d done to the car. He was only confused, and I’m sure he’d done nothing. See, they must have been in a hurry...”

“Something about the car wasn’t like she’d left it.”

“But of course she thought it was no big thing at first. And when I overheard that, I didn’t even think about the night before.”

“But then I presume, because you’re not some useless son of a bitch, that you mentioned it later?” Jaime was raising her eyebrows, but it wasn’t really sarcasm. She still wasn’t sure where the hell this story was leading.

“I was right there next to Niki after the inspection was on. I told her...” This was where the regret came over him again. “The first thing she said was, ‘Don’t tell anyone else. No one. I’ll handle it.’”

Jaime matched his exhaustion. “And?”

“And I’d already said something to Luca at that point. By the time they’d pulled the inspection he probably was on the phone to Ferrari, and next thing I know I’m getting urgently pulled away from the track to return this phone call from Enzo, who tells me I’m out of a job if I kick up a stink about any of this.”

Jaime’s consternation flattened her mind away for a moment until, blinking, she said, “What?” Clay searched for what to say, but was interrupted. “But you were both at the top. You win, she wins, it’s good for him either way. Did he assume they'd inspect your car even closer and find something? Did he think you had something to do with it, with your convenient story? Why the hell would he...?”

“Not with him, it isn't 'good either way,' you don't understand. He never had much use for me beforehand of that season of course, but when it was between having me as the winning face of Ferrari, and Lauda? Giving her the power, the advertising deals, the image?” Clay met Jaime’s astonishment with a sour shake of his head. “Enzo has always loathed Niki. It’s always been personal, but it’s never been fair.”

“Then why take her on in the first place?”

“Because he could see she knew how to make a car into something...godly.” Regazzoni’s accent thickened there a little with his expressive gestures, all frustrated and sort of begrudgingly reverent in a way Jaime had never seen in how he talked about Niki before; an antenna went up in her mind. “He was sure she’d be just bad enough in the seat that he could bully her into accepting some mechanic’s or assistant designer’s position for more of a salary than she could afford to pass up; and after that first season she couldn’t, she could not afford it, but she gave him the fuck-off anyway, finally started winning races, and now she’s far too good to let go. But he won't let her go that way, not with her getting to win; he wants her under his thumb.”

Jaime’s stunned quiet gave him a chance to anxiously light another cigarette.

“When he first met her,” Clay reflected after a bit, “it was good she didn’t know much Italian, though I don’t really think he’d have censored himself if he thought she could understand. I never told her this, but the name?...Enzo doesn’t exactly keep up with the amateurs, not the ones he doesn’t know; if her first name had given her away as a girl, she never would have been invited for a test drive at all, and since I’d made the recommendation...he kicked up this drama, like I was playing a joke on him. You’d think I had brought him a pile of dog shit wrapped up like a bouquet of flowers. 'Can she handle a gear change without breaking an arm off?'...And I thought she was doomed. I thought there was no way, and to tell you the truth, I never really did think much of women being able to win races, I thought what I was doing was giving her the fair chance to crash and burn, but...that made me want her to win. It really did.”

A moment stuck in silence as she reached to borrow his lighter, sighing. Finally she said, “Christ, and all this time I thought you two had had some tiff over you wanting into her knickers or something.”

This hadn’t been anything that Jaime had seriously considered, but the flicker of ruefulness in his pause was the reaction she’d been looking for.

“Hmm, though maybe I wasn’t far off?” Jaime helped herself to a fag from his pack. “I should have given you more credit.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’ve got at least as much brass as I’ve got with an extra spit of stupidity thrown in if you’ve got the nerve to ask her out, that’s all I’m saying.” And far more interesting taste than she would’ve guessed, but she couldn’t admit to thinking that, not even now, especially not now.

“Why do you say that?” He was genuinely surprised.

“Because...” Overwhelmed throw of her hands up in the air. “I mean, it’s Niki. Nothing ever makes her happy.”

“Maybe somebody would. But she just gave me some line about thinking it was a bad idea to be seen dating a teammate, that they’d assume it was that from the start that got her the recommendation. Which would seem reasonable, if she ever gave a damn what anybody else thinks.”

Jaime swallowed heavily even before her response tried to come out flippant. “That was no line. She’d have come right out and said it if she just didn’t like your ‘tache. And it wasn’t about what people think about her, it’s about what some kid at home in front of the TV who hopes she’s got a chance at doing something like this might assume about how Niki got to where she is.”

“...I guess a kid like that would have learned a hell of a cautionary lesson today,” Clay said. Jaime put her cigarette in the ashtray and hung her head in her hands, breathing in and out for a long moment.

When she put her head back up, she said, “You know what I’m going to ask you to do.” Before he could say anything she leaned forward, interrupted, “Yes. Come on, Clay, she is on her deathbed, we could destroy with this right now.”

She could see as he dismissed his own protests, one by one, before they met his mouth. Finally he said, “But...”

“Wait right here.”

It took her half an hour to track down Ian Phillips, the only potentially useful person she’d seen hanging around the hubbub; it wasn’t an altogether positive history she had with him, but that was better than nothing when she was coming to bang on the door of his hotel room only a couple hours before sunrise.

“Ian?” she shouted in. “It’s Jaime Hunt.”

“...What time is it!?”

“Just open up, will you, mate?”

“I swear if you don’t have that money you owe me from your little tricks in Brazil—”

“Quit being a baby and grab your tapes. I’ve got the story of a lifetime, and if you don’t want to take it you can find me another journalist who does.”

::

Niki had to count her reasons for dealing with the pain on a daily basis. It was a plodding mental effort on a couple of those mornings to even open her eyes.

Somehow the first time after the accident had been relatively easy. They’d expected her to die; to prove them wrong was a triumph. But the days after that were just learning how close she’d come, her body constantly demanding, Why did you even bother? Her lungs screamed their protest as the doctor flushed the wreckage out, that tube lodged down her throat seeming to promise a slow and thorough evacuation of some part of her that could negotiate its way through this. But as soon as it was over or the steadying voices said, “Just another moment now,” she found that she was alright. She’d never been persuaded that a completely unshakeable spirit could be of much use, as long as you kept a good head on your shoulders. “Do it again,” she told the doctors.

Her mother circulated, crying and blaming, leaving the room when the sight of her daughter wasn't much to cling to as comfort that she was alright. There were times when she’d come in when Niki felt a weird, nearly childish sort of relief at the sight of someone, but only a few minutes later she would feel about as fiercely that she just wanted to be left alone.

After a while she stopped paying much attention to anyone, but still the nights were the worst, too quiet except for when there was a reason for disturbance which was even worse than the quiet. One morning she rose up out of dreams of searing blinding pain and panic to suddenly make out the article that was folded between a vase of flowers and a glass of water on the stand next to the bed. She had to wipe at the watery smudge collecting constantly over her eyesight and slowly reach and pick it up to make out the headline:

POTENTIAL CONSPIRACY IN LAUDA’S ’75 DISQUALIFICATION; REGAZZONI BLOWS THE WHISTLE ON FERRARI’S CIVIL WAR.

She felt a sting that was her brow trying to rise to the ceiling, before she let out enough of a bemused cough of a laugh for one of the nurses to come curiously poking her head in.

She was moved into the family home for the remainder of her care, and the noises and smells of her girlhood house, surreal and jarring to her now, made it harder to sleep. Still, the air through the open window was beginning to cool to fall, and she’d learned to ignore the reality of the press holding vigil outside the house. They would swoop to catch the first photo of how she looked now the very second she approached a window or door; sooner or later her face would be out there, she said to her mother, so why doesn’t she just go outside and give them what they want and maybe they’ll go away? Her mother did not comprehend that this was mostly a joke, but just the same, Niki wanted to see how her lungs could handle a walk and was getting impatient with this new perversely earned fame.

Finally, during the last weekend of August, a nurse came up with a smile that gave away confusion and amusement, sharing that somebody seemed to be giving hell to one of the cameramen downstairs. Mother blinked in slight horror when somebody’s obscenities were shouted loudly enough to travel up through the cracked window.

“What did they look like?” Niki asked.

“Some blond woman. English, I think,” the nurse said. “From what I saw I...I think she destroyed somebody’s camera. Like they wanted a picture of her.”

“I think that would be Jaime Hunt,” Niki said in a simple thoughtful way, after a moment.

“Well, what does she want?” Mama demanded with affront.

“If you don’t mind going out there,” Niki said, still speaking to the nurse, “please invite her in.”

::

Jaime had tried penning several different telegrams that could convey anything worthwhile ever since they’d heard—several days after the fact, having concluded it might be possible simply because she hadn’t died yet—that it was looking like Lauda was going to make it after all. The news had run into the middle of a low-key drunken gathering on the balcony of Jody’s hotel room in Styria. Somebody with connections to Niki’s father had been the one to blab it to the media; the bizarre way of the family insisting on this type of quiet over the matter of their daughter's survival was touched on in gossipy refrains, but for the most part it made the party float up in relief.

Jaime took Clay aside to air once again her frustrations that the article had only served to sully—probably on a temporary basis—the already commonly disliked Enzo Ferrari, that the judges had made tactfully regretful comments about the matter but hadn’t uttered a thing about potentially pulling Lauda from disqualification retroactively. And, though this was less unexpected, there had been only the most noncommittal of statements about looking into who had actually done the tampering which amounted mostly to a cautionary warning about who was allowed into the garages.

Clay had done his usual easygoing in his attempt to soothe her frustration. “Be realistic, Jaime...I never expected anything from the FIA besides an acknowledgement of the possibility of tampering, but this has turned a lot of people cold for a time...They’ll have to be more careful about impartiality. And there’s no way something like this could happen again.”

“Right, no way at all, even though they made off with it,” Jaime said in bitter sarcasm. “We’ll never even know who actually did it.”

“Well, you never really expected more than that...”

But after a bit she turned to him and said, almost dearly in her charmer mood now, “But she’s all right?” Her voice was caught on something, quiet.

“I heard she was giving a lot of attitude when Luca tried to contact her about some business,” Clay said. “Serves him right. He wasn’t exactly resisting the idea to replace her so early.”

“He was probably just after the gossip,” Jaime said through her gradual grin.

She had a laugh over a couple other things before Clay said he had some people to call. But once she was alone again, she ran a bath and got in and then cried for a little while, still feeling like she had something rough and shamefully unspoken lodged inside of her.

Later Clay was the one who lent her the money to get on a plane, though he seemed confused by the compulsive timing, as if Jaime had any reason to assume she’d be asked to stay for a while; it was just as well the next race was in a couple days. In the end, she was a little surprised she didn’t turn right back around rather than manage to actually knock on the door, but once confronted with those paparazzi bastards she ended up channeling the nerves into a swift kick to the camera of the first one who'd made like he was coming right up the front steps after her. Not the wisest course: if any of them could decipher who was behind the flat blond mess of bed hair and aviator sunglasses, her picture would be in the next issue with whatever speculation they would come up with for the reason for her visit.

But she was saved by this shy white vision of a nurse who for some reason was cause enough for at least some respectful distance from the front garden, and Jaime only realized she’d actually been invited in when she was receiving the gentle suggestion that she leave her shoes next to the mat in the foyer. The entire house seemed to carry the old-book smell Jaime kind of liked, but it had a stern reminder about it of the paper factories that had made their fortunes; here Jaime felt Niki’s spare sense of humor thrown into emphasis by contrast with a home that boasted no object you would find in a paper bag, not one knick-knack that wouldn’t cost more than Jaime ever managed to beg off with in a good month after the bills were paid—or her daughter even did, for that matter, if the rumors had it that she’d been cut off.

Niki and her mother’s bickering in German was loud enough to precede the sight of them from long down the hallway: Niki’s was a voice scratched down to half its usual vigor but quickly recognizable, while her mother’s tenor had an energy that seemed both musically opaque and aristocratically hushed: a well-trained personality of wanting everyone to hear that she was not to be heard.

When Jaime came into the room, Niki was bent over to adjust her socks, responding in her singular confidence to some protest that appeared to have something to do with Jaime’s company. She gave a decided yank of the woolen sock, tucked the leg back under her blanket which she adjusted as bluntly, said something insistent and dismissive with a look towards her mother like a gavel banging down. The impact of the moment resonated off of Jaime in a wobbly echo:

Her face. There could have been no preparing for it. Both the Laudas stopped talking in realization of this inevitable acknowledgment, and it was partly for that horrid veneer of patience coming off Niki's mother that Jaime didn't flinch or look down—in hindsight, she was probably so shocked that it was only that defiance that could have made her not react. Still, it was Niki she knew she hadn't fooled. There was something she couldn't stop from passing through her eyes that she could see was perceived, almost studiously without bitterness, in Niki's.

Niki seemed altogether grateful for a reason to get her mother out of the room. Jaime couldn't help some amusement at the weirdly non-maternal power juggle of their mutual scolding, until finally the woman took her exit, walking by Jaime with not a single polite word, and she took the implicit invitation to properly come in.

As she came by her to go sit on the chair close by the window, she steadied herself by acting on a strange impulse: her hand squeezed shortly at the pointed butte of Niki's toes under the comforter, muttering, "Caught you shoeless."

"There's plenty of room for dignity in my socks," Niki retorted, her voice almost soft, matter-of-fact. "As for you, I can't believe you'd even walk into an airport looking like that."

"I know, I know, I should be locked up." Jaime lingered in the middle of lighting a cigarette; she couldn't imagine Mrs. Lauda being alright with it, but Niki gave an indifferent gesture and she went for a steep inhale, looked back out the window at the sky—she couldn't quite see down at whether the crowd had died off—sat down in the chair next to the view and took a couple minutes before wondering what to say.

"I might guess you're expecting some gratitude for going after Clay's honor,'' Niki finally said, conversational.

Jaime shrugged. ''No...Didn't think you even knew that had anything to do with me."

"I got a telegram from him about the whole thing..." Niki's mouth twisted. "He said he was hoping I wouldn't try to thank him just for doing the right thing. When you see him next, tell him the idea never crossed my mind."

"He probably meant that as an apology, somehow," Jaime said, hedging, "just like I think you meant to say thanks when you brought it up." Her tone wasn't as teasing as it could have been because she was genuinely convinced of and confused by this.

"You never did like talking in riddles."

Jaime thought suddenly of the last time they'd spoken before the accident, and admitted in a way that was both bold and evasive, "I do when I'm hurt."

"So now you have me at the advantage. Are you still angry?"

"What?" Jaime coughed oddly, and got loud. "I wasn't angry the next morning. I came all this way to tell you that I'm sorry."

Niki took the pains to adjust herself so she could look more directly at Jaime, but then just nodded down at her hands. "There's no need."

Jaime's apology was more of a plea. "I felt awful. I felt responsible."

"You were right about a couple things that night. You said strike or no strike, it was still my choice to get in the car. And I still did."

"I know, but it's never that simple. And sometimes I just feel like..." She broke out in a reluctant scoff.

Niki waited a moment to finally push. "What?"

"Look. I'll never give them the story they want about the two of us. I was never your friend and I never wanted to be, but...maybe there are just moments, here and there, when I wonder why we're not. There's a kind of chivalry about what we do, I think; it's not supposed to be this nasty sport, you know, we're supposed to support each other. And—" She sensed Niki wanting to interject. "No, I know I never gave you reason to expect I would be willing to look out for you, but that's just where the problem got so out of hand, I think, because...maybe we needed some of that from each other most of all, but we wanted it from each other the least. I'm not even sure anymore of my own reasons for that."

Niki's pained half-smirk made a hint before she finally articulated, "Jaime, you wanted all the attention. That is why."

Jaime slouched lower but then sat up to stretch her arm over the back of her chair. “God. Am I even allowed to argue?"

"You keep looking for some grudge," Niki observed, surprised. "Is only the truth. And that's what always bothered me, because you wanted to have the good part—all the attention for being good at this 'for a woman,' or 'the first woman who...' But the moment I have any reason to remind you that a woman is what you are, and that means something, oh well, that's not as fun."

"I wasn't, though," Jaime said, after a second. "The only one. Or the first one. And you got some of that without even being nice to anybody."

Niki's mouth turned up again, with a streak of true attitude this time. "So stop being nice."

Jaime stammered, sighed in good humor. "I can't argue with you. But I’m trying to say...all that bullshit about chivalry, if you only knew..."

"What?" Niki looked out through the doorway, made a limp motion to wave off the nurse, and looked back expectantly, not really gauging Jaime's reluctance.

"It's just that...when I was small, I loved a good King Arthur tale?” She gave an expression that was half a wince, half reminiscent smile. “All the stuff about tournaments and jousting? And my favorite was the ones with the mysterious knights who could show up to the tourneys, or even challenge another knight in the middle of the woods, without ever taking their helmet off until the end—I mean, you almost always knew in that case that they would win. But that always felt sort of—divinely truthful, or something. I..."

Jaime shifted, put out her cigarette.

"You may know Tony, that friend of mine from my F3 days? We first met when he stopped to look out for me after I'd shunted right into the lake that time—I went under, right, it was weirdly lucky I wasn't stuck in the water and drowned. And the last time I talked to him we got to laughing and he said, 'Do you know, I was late to get on the track that day? And I hadn't considered for a second that it might have been a girl in that car.' I think that was...when it got real for me, that this wasn’t just something I was doing to prove that I could do it, to pay the bills, to...it was something I could do and they wouldn’t see me, and I didn’t have to be a woman or a man, it just didn’t matter. They wouldn’t see Blonde And Long Legs. They’d see this...gallantry. And the truth is if I could ever have that back, instead of all this smile-and-wave, Union Jack pin-up girl stuff...I’d take it, I’d take that kind of attention instead, in a heartbeat.”

A small moment passed in silence, and then Niki pulled in a long breath, one that had to hurt, but only conveyed a kind of resigned path of thoughts. “Jaime,” she finally said, “that was some of the most insufferably English stuff I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Jaime began to giggle, her nervousness boiling over and keening her into the small table where she’d spun her lighter. Finally she caught her sense back enough to ask, “Hey, where’s the loo in here? I’m about to piss myself.”

“You passed it, by the stairs...‘Chivalry,’” Niki scoffed to herself, but her eyes were laughing with her. “Don’t forget that with or without that armor suit you’ve still got more than a fair share of fans.”

“Please,” Jaime dismissed, and then all but seduced Niki out of a long-hardened stubborn something on her way trodding barefoot out into the hall, by flippantly saying, “They want to shag me. They want to be you.”

::

Jaime had ruined everything. Niki had been all set for the self-inflicted endurance of coming back for the race, for delivering herself back into the sport that nearly killed her while her wounds were still fresh and burning, her eye ducts giving her blurry vision every few minutes, just to prove she wasn't down. The thought of it made her blood sing: it would be the first real exhilaration to prove to herself once and for all that she'd survived.

But Jaime’s visit had left this strange freewheeling kindness behind, like a tool Niki had never considered and was now picking up off the table to turn inward, an odd feeling considering that Jaime would hardly have been encouraged the same way herself, but: it occurred to her like such a fact of the sky clouding over, that that big comeback seemed like such a man’s thing to do. She didn't have anything to prove. And she was so, so tired.

She was allowed to be tired. No one would allow her this except herself; even her mother, under the pretense of whisking her back into the family home, would only offer any comforts of getting better under the assumption that Niki was done with the dangerous business. She wasn't done with it, it definitely wasn't the thing she was tired of. Quite the opposite: it had alarmed Niki, in some slow way that churned at the bottom of her fitful painful recovery, how unafraid she remained. She wanted to slow down and think, work out whether she was really doing this for the right reasons. If there ever could be a remotely sensible reason.

Jaime had brought it up, of course. “Aren’t you going to come back, as soon as you’re able? Ferrari’s replaced you, but they couldn’t save face by turning you away now, after everything.”

As soon as she was able. That was as soon or as far away as she wanted it to be, and nobody would call her weak even if it took her a while still to get back into the car, surely. And as much as it was tempting to rub Enzo Ferrari’s nose into his own scandal by offering her fame up to him with a hugely higher value now, it turned out, when she actually got a message from Luca asking whether she would attempt to finish the season, her answer could easily be summed up as one word; showing a brief brush of wordiness, she chose two that also sufficed.

The fact was, if Enzo had hated her for all those fair reasons, for what she did, for her arrogance and stubborn demands and disinterest in the social fluff at the press junkets, to make him get his boots stuck in the mud of her all over again would have been satisfying. But Enzo also hated her for what she was, and there was as much satisfaction in trying to push against that as there was any in walking out the door.

But the recklessness of it was the main thing. It wasn’t so much that her mother’s fearful scolding had finally gotten under her skin or that the accident had blown her nerve away; no, neither of those felt true. It was, simply, the realization that nothing really did get under Niki’s skin ever, and how naked that made her. She didn’t have that kind of armor that made for a hard limit on just how far she was willing to go: if there was another race like Nürburgring, and no union strike as there usually wouldn't be, she’d run the stupid risk all over again and it was because there was no face she’d see, no warm memory she was afraid would fizzle out in a blast to her brain’s last blink of thought. Fear or sadness was not the point of this fact, or the thing that kept her pacing around the house with her tea in the first days she had all alone after the crash; it was only something that removed self-trust so absolutely, and could not be unfurled to its smaller components soon enough to be examined.

No one in her life that particularly inspired her to be careful. There was only what kept her on the track, which was whatever parody of intimacy she held with Jaime over words like “I need you in second,” a phrase which was only significant as a playful refrain now that the media would be breathing down the necks of the FIA to be fair to either of them.

She liked all of that; she wanted to keep it. But this year she was festering with isolation that she wasn’t quite sure how to even want to fix, and that vulnerability made her lay out her choices: She could stay here gazing out in the bright frame of her window and let that melancholy pull around her until it became its own calloused sort of armor. Or she could book a flight to Japan, get herself a good seat next to the pits, and watch Jaime win.

::