"So I have to learn how to drive a stick shift? How on earth am I going to do that?"
Taylor shrugs. "Don't worry, I'll teach you. And besides, stick shifts drive faster than regular cars. This car gives you a better chance at winning."
I cross my arms. "If you say so."
Taylor smiled. "I do. Now get in the car."
Reluctantly, I open the door and get in the car. Flashbacks from the accident run through my mind. My vision starts turning red as I hear screeching tires and screaming metal. I start screaming as dad pushes me out of the car. I fall to the asphalt, crying and screaming. I feel Taylor’s arms on my shoulders, trying to pick me up. I pull away and keep thrashing around on the ground.
“Rhi! Rhi, it’s okay! You’re okay! You’re fine! There’s nothing here to hurt you!”
With tears streaming down my face, I press myself against the track. “Dad! Dad, don’t leave me!
Taylor picks me up and turned me to face him. “Rhi, you’re dad is gone. He’s been gone for the past eleven years. The car accident wasn’t today. It’s not now.”
I look up into Taylor’s brown eyes. “Taylor, I can’t drive that car. I can’t race in it.”
Taylor pulls me close and hugs me. “We’ll figure something out, Rhi. I promise.”
Mrs. Rose walks out the back door. “So how’s the training…what’s going on? Rhi, are you okay?”
Taylor nods. “She’s fine, Mrs. Rose. She got into the car and fell out in hysterics. But I think she’s okay now.”
Taylor lets go of me. I still have my arms tightly wrapped around him. I know the second I let go of him, I’ll fall to the ground. I’m trembling, the echoes of the past still loud in my head. Mrs. Rose gently pulls me off of Taylor.
She puts her arm around my shoulder and leads me inside. “Rhi, it’s okay. We’re going to go inside and get you something to drink.”
I slowly walk inside, my entire body numb. Taylor is behind me, his hand on my back. When we get inside, Mrs. Rose leads me to the couch. I lay down. Taylor stands next to the couch. Mrs. Rose walks into the kitchen. I can hear her opening and closing cabinets. She’s doing what she usually does whenever I have an episode like this, getting a wet rag scented with crushed basil and rosemary to help clear my head. She walks out of the kitchen and into the sitting room. Gently, she lays the soft fabric across my forehead.
Taylor squeezes my hand. “Are you okay, Rhi?”
I nod shakily. “I can’t get back in that car. I just can’t, Taylor.”
Taylor nods. “It’s okay, you don’t have to. I’ll find a loophole and you’ll race in another car. We’ll get you another car.”
Mrs. Rose shoos some other orphans away from the room so it’s just me and Taylor. Taylor brushes a stray tear from my cheek.
“So what are we going to do about the car?”
Taylor shrugs. “I’m not sure. But we’ll figure something out, okay? You won’t have to drive in the Acura.”
“Good. Take it away, I don’t even want to see it anymore.”
Taylor nods. “Okay. I’ll take it away.”
He stands up to leave.
He turns around.
“Don’t leave me. Get rid of the car later. I…I can’t be alone when I’m like this. Last time this happened, I almost killed myself. Don’t leave me.”
Taylor comes back and sits on the edge of the couch. “So that episode was because…”
“Of my dad. We used to have a car just like that. We were in an accident and he was killed. I only survived because he pushed me out of the car just before the truck hit us.”
Taylor nods. “Is there anything else that makes you act like that?”
“Baseball bats. Glass bottles. Alcoholics. Moms. Loving dads. Valentine’s Day.”
Taylor nods. “Why the first four?”
I pull the cloth off my face. “Because my mom married a guy who didn’t want kids. He found me and beat me. My mom chose him and dropped me off here on the front door.”
Taylor takes the cloth and sets it on his knee. “So you’ve had a rough life.”
I nod. “Sure have. And that’s why I’ve been suicidal. My dad is the only one who’s ever really loved me, and he’s dead. That’s why part of me doesn’t want to do this race, so I’d die and be with him again. But then I see how much Mrs. Rose cares and I know that she’d be heartbroken if I ever died. I can’t do that to her.”
Taylor nods. “And I care about you.”
Taylor looks at me. “I care about you, too. I used to live in this orphanage, remember? I tried to talk to you, but you were always in your own world, grief-locked. I could never get through to you.”
It takes me a minute, but I remember. Taylor did use to live here. And I can remember a few times when he’d try to talk to me, but I was always too grief-consumed to listen.
“I still want to be in your world, Rhi. Can you let me do that?”
Before I can answer, Taylor leans down and presses his lips against mine. Just as suddenly, he’s gone. When I open my eyes, Taylor’s gone and I’m alone in the room. I look around, confused. What just happened?