Rivals by Stephanie Nichole

 

Prologue

Rathe

I pace back and forth in my trailer, pop another Sour Patch Kids gummy into my mouth and continue my pacing. My fire suit is tied around my waist as I wait for the time to head to the pit. My stomach churns with adrenaline and excitement. It’s so strong. I can almost reach out, feel it, grab and hold on to it. I run my hands through my hair as I grab another Sour Patch Kid gummy with my free hand. This is my day. This is my race. I’ve worked so hard for this moment. To win the Grand Prix in my rookie year would be the perfect way to end the race season. I’m good enough to do it. I’m better than every other racer on that track. Maybe, that’s cocky of me to think, but I know it’s true. I was born to do this.

There’s a knock on my door and I don’t have to open it to know it’s my best friend Maxton and probably my twin sister, Ryann. The other two-thirds of the three musketeers. We’ve been inseparable our entire lives and it’ll always be like that. No matter what I can rely on those two through thick and thin. The door opens and Maxton pops his head in. “Time to go,” he announces. I see Ryann bouncing on the balls of her feet behind him.

I grab a couple more Sour Patch Kids gummies and toss them into my mouth before I grab my Revv-It Racing Team ball cap and a pair of sunglasses. I head down the steps and feel the energy grow tenfold. These are the moments that are so addicting to me. I crave this energy. It’s that natural high that nothing else will ever come close to. I see the nerves settle in Ryann’s eyes and I wrap an arm around her shoulder. “Don’t get that look or I’ll have to move you to sit with mom and dad in the stands,” I tease her.

She elbows me in the ribs. “That’s not funny. I just worry about you.”

Maxton steps up on the other side of Ryann and wraps his arm around her shoulders as well. “Ryann, don’t worry about Rathe. He’s got this.”

“Damn right,” I tell him, as I lift my hand for us to bump fists.

Ryann shakes her head and steps away from us. “I’ll never understand the male gender.”

“That goes both ways, babe,” Maxton tells her.

She scoffs. “You know I hate that damn pet name. It’s annoying as hell.”

“I’m well aware.” He starts to laugh and jumps away as she slaps him.

I start to walk away while listening to them bicker. “You two have fun. I have a race to go win.”

“Good luck man!” Maxton calls out to me.

I turn around and give them my signature smirk. “This doesn’t have anything to do with luck. It’s all about the skill and blood, brother,” I tell them, as I wink before continuing to the pit.

The turquoise of Revv-It Racing is easy to spot. It’s a bright spot in the sea of red, blue, black and yellow. Those seem to be what I call the safe colors. Tucker, my crew chief comes up to me and extends my helmet out to me. “Are you ready for this?”

I take the helmet and pat him on the shoulder. “I’ve been dreaming of this day for years.” I take off my ball cap and sunglasses and hand them over. I listen as Tucker gives me all the advice he can about this track. Being a rookie in the Indy race world means I’ve never driven on any of these tracks before, so I listen as he gives me the rundown of his experience. He’s got years on these tracks and he’s been like a second father to me throughout this year. As good as I am behind the wheel, I know that I couldn’t have won all of the races I did without him. “Thanks, Tucker. It’s going to be a hell of a race.”

“I’m sure it will be. It’s been an honor to have been your crew chief this season,” he tells me.

“The honor has been all mine.” I pull my fire suit into place and place my helmet on my head. Tucker double checks everything to make sure it’s secure then we head to the car. I slide into the car and get comfortable. Tucker gives me a few last words of wisdom and then I’m out of the pit and to the starting line. If someone had told me that at twenty-four, I’d be driving in the Indy race world and just had an almost undefeated rookie year I would have laughed at them, but I guess sometimes things work out. The stars align or fate steps in...whatever it is you believe in that causes every little piece to fall in place.

The sun beats down and the crowd is energetic. I can feel the blood in my veins pounding with eagerness. I’m ready for this. I take my spot and wait. When the flag drops, we all take off and it’s like I’m flying, or at least I think this must be what it feels like to fly. The first few laps are steady. As I inch closer and closer to the top spot, car after car I maneuver and pass. Tucker guides me in my blind spots but it’s all coming together. I can visualize the win. It’s so close I can almost taste it but first I need a pit stop.

Four cars ahead of me, the leader of the pack right now, my Revv-It Racing teammate Chris Ziglar drifts too close to the wall and it’s as if I’m watching a movie play out in front of me in slow motion. His car scrapes along the wall and then time speeds up. He spins out of control, smoke fills the air, visibility is gone. Tucker hollers in my ear that he can’t see a thing. My heart jumps into my throat and I send up a prayer to something I never believed in before. I’m blind. I have no clue what I’m driving into but there’s no time to stop.

More cars join in on the crash and by the time I reach the middle of the smoke-filled haze I start to relax. I’ve made it through the worst of it or so I think. Just as my grip on the steering wheel loosens, I see a flash of red coming towards my driver’s side. There’s no time to react before it slams into me, knocking me into the wall. I spin out of control and make the rookie mistake of trying to control the spin. Another car slams into me from behind and the next thing I know I’m rolling. Everything flashes before my eyes just before it all goes dark.