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Home > Aflame (Fall Away #4)(3)

Aflame (Fall Away #4)(3)
Author: Penelope Douglas

He pinched his eyebrows together, his freckled nose scrunching up. “It is?”

“Yes,” I lied, the hot California sun beating down on my black-T-shirt-clad shoulders. “You wore it when we flipped in the buggy three weeks ago. It kept you safe.”

“I thought I was wearing the blue one.”

“Nope. The black,” I lied again. I really had no idea what color he’d been wearing.

I should feel bad about lying, but I didn’t. When children got more reasonable, I could stop resorting to rocket science to get them to do what I wanted them to do. “Hurry up,” I shouted, hearing little go-kart motors fill the air. “They’re going to leave without you.”

He ran for the other side of the gate to the shelves of helmets, snatching up the black one. I watched as all the kids, ranging in age from five to eight, strapped themselves in and shot each other excited little thumbs-ups. They gripped their steering wheels, their thin arms tense, and I felt a grin pull at the corners of my mouth.

This was the part that wasn’t so bad.

Crossing my arms over my chest, I watched with pride as they took off, each kid handling his or her car with increasing precision every week they came here. Their shiny helmets glistened in the early summer sunshine as the tiny engines zoomed around the bend and echoed in the distance as they sped off. Some kids were still pushing the pedal to the metal for the entire race, but others were learning to measure their time and assess the road ahead. Patience was hard to muster when you just wanted to be in front the entire race, but some quickly caught on that a good defense was the best offense. It wasn’t just about getting ahead of that car; it was also about staying ahead of the cars already behind you.

And more than just learning, they were also having fun. If only a place like this had existed when I was that age.

But even at twenty-two, I was still grateful for it.

When these kids first walked through my door they knew next to nothing, and now they handled the track like it was a walk in the park. Thanks to me and the other volunteers. They were always happy to be here, full of smiles, and looking to me with anticipation.

They actually wanted to be around me.

What the hell for, I didn’t know, but I was certain of one thing. As much as I complained or escaped to my office, struggling to scrape up just a little more patience, I absolutely, without a doubt, wanted to be around them, too. Some of them were pretty cool little shits.

When I wasn’t traveling and working the circuit, racing with my own team, I was here, helping with the kids program.

Of course, it wasn’t just a go-kart track. There was a garage and a shop, and lots of drivers and their girlfriends hung out, working on bikes and shooting the shit.

Godsmack’s “Something Different” played over the speakers, and I looked up at the sky, seeing the sun beat down, blinding me.

It was probably raining back home today. June was big on summer thunderstorms in Shelburne Falls.

“Here,” Pasha ordered, shoving a clipboard into my chest. “Sign these.”

I grabbed it, scowling at my black-and-purple-haired assistant from under my sunglasses as the go-karts roared past.

“What is it?” I unclipped the pen and looked at what appeared to be a purchase order.

She watched the track, answering me. “One is an order for your bike parts. I’m just having them shipped to Texas. Your crew can sort through it when you get there in August—”

I dropped my arms to my sides. “That’s two months away,” I shot out. “How do you know that shit’s still going to be there when I get there?”

Austin was going to be my first stop when I went back out on the road racing after my break. I understood her logic. I didn’t need the equipment until then, but it was thousands of dollars’ worth of parts that someone else could get their hands on. I’d rather have it here with me in California than three states away, unprotected.

But she just shot me a glare, looking like I’d put mustard on her pancakes. “The other two are forms faxed over from your accountant,” she went on, ignoring my concern. “Paperwork to do with establishing JT Racing.” And then she peered over at me, looking inquisitive. “Kind of vain, don’t you think? Giving your business your initials?”

I dropped my eyes back down to the papers and began signing. “They’re not my initials,” I mumbled. “And I don’t pay you to have an opinion about everything, and I certainly don’t pay you to get on my nerves.”

I handed over the clipboard, and she took it with a smile. “No, you pay me to remember your mom’s birthday,” she threw back. “You also pay me to keep your iPod fresh with new music, your bills paid, your motorcycles safe, your schedule on your phone, your flights booked, your favorite foods in your refrigerator, and my personal favorite: I’m to call you thirty minutes after you’ve been forced to go to some function or party and give you a dire excuse as to why you need to leave said social gathering, because you hate people, right?” Her tone dripped with cockiness, and I was suddenly glad I didn’t grow up with a sister.

I didn’t hate people.

Okay, yes. I hated most people.

She continued, “I schedule your haircuts, I run this place and your Facebook page—I do love all the topless photos chicks send you, by the way—and I’m the first person you seek out when you want someone to yell at.” She planted her hands on her hips, squinting at me. “Now, I forget. What don’t you pay me to do again?”

My chest inflated with a heavy breath, and I chewed the corner of my mouth until she took the hint and left. I could practically smell her smug smile as she made her way back to the shop.

She knew she was priceless, and I’d walked into that one. I might take a lot of sass from her, but she was right. She took a lot of it from me, too.

Pasha was my age and the daughter of the man I co-owned this bike shop with. Although the old man, Drake Weingarten, was a racing legend on the motorcycle circuits, he chose to be a silent partner and enjoy his retirement in the pool hall down the street when he was in town or in his cabin near Tahoe when he wasn’t.

I liked having this as a home base near the action in Pomona, and I’d found I actually took an interest in the kids program he sponsored here when I started hanging around the motorcycle shop almost two years ago. When he’d asked if I wanted to plant some roots and buy into this place, it was the perfect timing.

There was nothing left for me back home. My life was here now.

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