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Driven (Page 87)

My hope, which has been rising despite my trying to control it, crashes back down. “I don’t understand. I just—”

“What?” Colton says distracted, talking to a voice I hear in the background. “Saved by the bell! I’m needed on the track right now. More fine tuning.” I can hear the relief in his voice, happy to have an out from our conversation.

“Oh. Okay.” Disappointment fills me. I want to finish this conversation.

“No hard feelings then? I’ll see you at the track on Sunday?”

I momentarily close my eyes, fortifying my voice with false nonchalance. “Sure. No hard feelings. See you on Sunday.”

“See ya, Ryles.”

The phone clicks and the dial tone fills my ear. I sit there not hearing it. Does he realize that he used his defense mechanism right now? Hurt me to keep me at arm’s length from him? Put me in my place so that he can have all the control.

I’m unsettled. I want to finish our conversation. Tell him that it doesn’t have to be this way. I want to comfort him. Ease the panic that laces his voice. Tell him that he makes me feel again after being numb for so very long. Confess that I want to be with him despite knowing deep down I will be destroyed emotionally in the end.

I pick up my phone, pondering what I’m going to say. In the end, all I text is:

Be safe on the track Ace!

He responds quickly.

Always. You know I’ve got great hands.

I smile sadly. My heart wanting so much that my head knows is never going to happen.

CHAPTER 19

The limo bus pulls through the gates of Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. The boys are buzzing with excitement, eyes wide as saucers taking in the sheer size of the complex. They have put on their shirts and all access lanyards that one of Colton’s staff has left aboard the bus for them. Their wide smiles and their constant oohs and aahs fill the bus and fill my heart with pure elation. Zander bounces unexpectedly on the seat, vibrating with an obvious energy that takes me by surprise. I look at Jackson and Dane, my fellow counselors, and note that they see it too.

For the first time in almost a week, I feel like I can truly smile, and ironically, it’s Colton that has vicariously caused me to. I’m thankful to him for the little touches he has added for the boys: a personalized letter, the shirts, the lanyards, and glossy magazines with his car on the cover. Things that make them feel special. Important.

Our bus is directed down a tunnel under the stands before driving on to the infield. I didn’t think it possible, but the boys’ hooting and hollering becomes even louder at this new development. We come to a stop and the doors open. Within moments a man hops on the bus, bounding with enthusiasm. He directs us off of the bus and has us follow him to a meeting room where we he tells us we will meet up with Colton.

I feel small walking in the midst of this large arena. To the south of us, a large grandstand juts up to towering heights while the banked oval of the track encompasses the entire field around us. I can hear engines revving and see people scurrying to and fro in a garage on my right. With each step we take, my anxiety at seeing Colton again increases. How is he going to react after his telephone confession to me? Will it be business as usual or will there still be that magnetic pull between us? Or will he be indifferent to me? Despite my anxiety, I’m also excited to see Colton in action. To watch him take part in his passion. To watch him in his element.

We arrive at a brick building and our facilitator, whom we’ve learned on our walk is named Davis, leads us into a room with an opened red door. We heed his advice to gather around, the boys chattering excitedly, overwhelmed by our surroundings. They call out random questions to Davis who patiently answers to them.

When they settle down somewhat, Davis explains the reason for testing a car. “When we’re testing, a lot of time goes into tweaking the car. Little adjustments here and there that makes the car go faster or handle better. These changes are essential to the overall performance of the car when the season starts in late March. Along with these tweaks are little meetings where Colton meets with his crew chief, Beckett Daniels, and reviews what they are working on in testing. That is where Colton currently is now, discussing—”

“Not anymore.” Chills dance up my spine as I hear the rumble of Colton’s voice at my back as he enters the room. Whoops go up all around me as the boys say various forms of greeting to him. I look down at Zander and the wide, genuine grin on his face causes my heart to lodge in my throat.

“Hey, guys!” he throws back at them, “So glad you’re here! Are you guys ready for a fun day?”

The cheers go up again as I inhale deeply, preparing myself to turn around and face him. When I do, my heart squeezes tightly in my chest. Colton is on his haunches, eye level with the little guys of our group, and ruffling the hair on their heads playfully. He laughs sincerely at something Scooter says and then stands slowly, lifting his eyes, locking them with mine.

All thoughts leave my head as I drink him in. He’s wearing a red fire safety suit, the top portion unzipped and tied around his waist to reveal a snug-fitting white t-shirt with a faded logo across the chest and a small hole in the left shoulder. His hair is a spiked mess and his jaw sports the shadow of a day’s missed shave. My thoughts immediately veer to how much I’d love to run my tongue over his lips and fist my hands in his hair.

I bite my bottom lip, the quick pain a reminder that this is not going to happen—we’re not going to happen—and to help me resist any urges that I might have of thinking otherwise. Colton’s eyes stay locked on mine as the boys I love surround him. A slow, lazy grin spreads on his face.

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