“Is that an invitation to smash your car up?” He laughs.
“Sure. Why not? It’s about time I got a new one.” My lip lifts at the corner in a half smile.
He laughs again. I really like hearing him laugh. It makes me feel like we’re taking positive steps forward, and it’s not at all about the way his laugh makes me feel inside.
One more deep breath, he punches the key into the ignition and turns it over without a moment’s hesitation.
I watch his eyes close as my car rumbles to life.
His hands are wrapped around the steering wheel, his knuckles white from his tight grip.
“How do you feel?” I ask softly.
“Better than I did last night.” He opens one eye and looks at me, a touch of a smile on his lips.
“Damn, so I won’t get a new car out of this.”
He chuckles, and I can feel the tension already leaving his body.
He closes his eyes again. Hands still on the steering wheel, he rests his head back against the seat and blows out a breath.
We sit like that for a long moment. Leandro acclimating himself to his environment. Me watching him, assessing if a panic attack might be about to happen.
But his breathing seems even, and his grip on the steering wheel has relaxed a little.
“When I woke up in the hospital, I know I should have felt relieved to be alive. And I guess a part of me did. But a bigger part of me wished I’d died in that crash…because I knew, right then and there, that I wouldn’t be able to get back in a car. And if I wasn’t racing, then I might as well be dead.” Opening his eyes, he tilts his head my way and stares at me. “I know you probably don’t understand that, but racing is my whole life. It’s all I ever wanted to do, all I was ever good at. Losing it…it’s killing me slowly.”
“You’ll get it back,” I tell him with surety. Then, I do something I never, ever do. I make him a promise. “I’ll help you get it back. I promise you.” Before I can stop myself, I lay my hand on his arm.
“Thank you.” His words are soft as he looks back out the windshield where small droplets of rain have started to appear.
And I retract my burning hand, knowing I need to find my professional balance here.
MY PHONE BUZZES IN MY POCKET. Pulling it out, I see it’s Carrick.
“I’m in the taxi and on my way. I’m just running late. I had a meeting earlier at Lissa.” Lissa is my team headquarters. Tilting the phone away from my mouth, I give the driver the address to the restaurant.
Over this last month, I’ve been working a lot with her at getting used to being back inside a car. India has been taking me out on drives. First, we started with me sitting in the back and then moved up to me sitting in the passenger seat. I haven’t driven yet, but I no longer freak out at being in a car or the sound of the engine running.
Sounds lame considering what I do for a living, but I have to take it slow. Those are India’s words. She says if I rush it, I might end up hindering myself and risk an anxiety attack, taking myself back steps.
I don’t want that.
To a degree, this whole baby-steps shit is frustrating because I want nothing more than to be able to drive a car. But I trust her, and it’s clearly working as I don’t feel like I’m going to lose my shit in this taxi right now or panic like a little bitch when I sit behind the wheel of a car, like I would have done before she started helping me.
“Just checking that you didn’t forget.” Carrick chuckles.
“Like I would.”
“Yeah, sure. Just like you didn’t forget the last time.”
“I’m never going to live that down, am I?”
I forgot because I was drunk and holed up in some chick’s apartment, fucking the night away. I’d met her at the supermarket where I was buying a bottle of whiskey. We’d ended up taking it back to her place, drinking it, and—well, you know the rest.
I felt like a complete shit because I’d let my friends down.
“No, because Andressa had to explain to the date she brought for you that you hadn’t stood her up.”
“Because I hadn’t known she was bringing a date for me.”
Even if I’d known she brought me a date, it probably wouldn’t have changed the way that day and night went. Dates want more than one night.
Then, it dawns on me why he’s actually ringing.
“Please tell me that Andi hasn’t brought another date for me tonight?”
And his silence speaks volumes.
“Oh god,” I groan. “She has, hasn’t she?” I groan. “There’s no way you’d be checking up on me like a woman if she hadn’t. Andi made you call me, right?”
“God, you’re so pussy-whipped.”
“There’s a lot to be said for being whipped.”
“You’re a dick. And if I didn’t platonically love your wife, then I’d be calling her a pain in my ass right now.”
“She just wants you to be happy.”
“Jesus, why didn’t she learn from the first time she set me up? Dates and me don’t go together.”
The first dinner we had together when I moved back to London, Andi brought along a date for me. Her hairdresser. Granted, the date didn’t go too badly because I ended up taking the hairdresser back to her place and fucking her. Problem was, that was all it was—a fuck. Sadly, she wanted more and didn’t take my rejection too well. Andi had to find a new hairdresser.
So, God knows why she’s insistent on constantly trying to set me up with people she knows.