I LOOK UP AT MY MUM. She looks worried, and she’s holding my hand tight. She always does this when Dad’s racing, but I don’t mind. I know she gets nervous, so I let her squish the life out of my hand because I know holding it makes her feel better.
I don’t know why she gets nervous though. I don’t get nervous, ever, simply because my dad is the best driver in the world. He’s the champion, and he’s about to be the champion again.
I wriggle my fingers a little as they start to feel funny.
“Sorry, darling.” Mum smiles down at me. It’s a tight, worried smile.
I wish she wouldn’t worry so much.
I smile up at her, trying to make her feel better.
She’s really beautiful, my mum, and very tall. She used to be a model, but she gave it up when she had me.
I’m going to be tall like her. I’m already tall for my age. I hate it. I’m ten and taller than most of the boys in my class. I’m all limbs and gangly. Ugh. I wish I were small and petite, like the other girls in my class.
Everyone says that I look just like my mum though, which is a nice thing because she’s the most beautiful person in the world.
My dad says I look like her, too, and that he’s in for a nightmare when I grow up. Apparently, he’s going to keep a cricket bat by the front door to beat away any boyfriends I might have.
He’s crazy. Like I’ll ever have a boyfriend. I won’t have time for boys when I’m older.
I want to race like Dad does or maybe even be a mechanic like Uncle John. He’s not my real uncle, but I always call him that. He’s my dad’s best friend and my godfather.
I love when Uncle John lets me work on the cars with him, and I get all covered in oil and dirt. Mum gets mad though when I get it on my clothes, but I don’t care.
Mum doesn’t say it, but I know she doesn’t want me to work on cars, and she definitely won’t want me to race. I think she’d be happy if I did what she used to—be a model.
But I’m not into pretty things like her. I’m like my dad. I love cars.
And Dad says I can do anything I want as long as I put my mind to it and work hard in school.
“And he’s set to do it! Coming in on the final lap!”
At the sound of the announcer’s voice, I look up at the screens and see that my dad is on the last lap, leading and heading for the finish line.
I get that excited feeling in my stomach like I always do when I see him racing, and I start jigging on the spot.
“Our reigning champion, William Wolfe, is set to take home the trophy again. Wait—something’s happening. Wrong…oh God, no. There-there looks to be a problem with the car. Fire’s coming from the back of his car…”
I watch helplessly as my dad’s car tailspins out of control, the back end on fire, and he crashes into the barrier.
I feel his impact like it’s my own body hitting that barrier.
Then, everything happens so fast yet so incredibly slow.
I can hear Mum screaming. And people are yelling. On the screens above, I see the marshals running to his car.
I can’t move. I don’t want to move or look away from the screens in case I miss anything.
Please be okay, Daddy. Please.
Then, without warning, I’m being picked up from behind and carried away.
He turns me in his arms, pressing my face into his chest, so I can’t see anything. He moves quickly through the garage, taking me away from the screens, away from the track.
Away from my dad.
I’m yelling, “No!”
I’m trying to fight him. I have to be here. I have to see that my dad is okay.
Then, I hear the bang. It’s so loud that it hurts my ears through my headphones.
Uncle John stops moving.
He slowly turns with me in his arms. Every muscle in his body goes rigid.
Fighting free, I look at the screens, and that’s when I see it.
My dad’s car is gone.
Replaced with flames. And smoke.
Thick black smoke, billowing up into the sky above.
“I’M GOING TO MISS YOU SO MUCH, DARLING.”
The emotional edge in my mother’s voice has my lips wobbling and my eyes misting with tears.
“I’m going to miss you, too.” I hug her tighter.
Leaning back, she takes my face in her hands, staring into my eyes. She’s crying. I hate seeing her cry.
“Are you absolutely sure you have to go?”
We’ve had this conversation a lot over the past few weeks. I know I’m hurting her—I hate that I am—but I have to do this. If I don’t, I know I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.
“Mum, this is an amazing opportunity for me,” I say softly. “I know you’re worried, but I’ll be fine. I’ll be with Uncle John, and it’s not like I’m actually getting in the race cars and driving them.”
“I know…” She sighs.
It’s a worrisome sigh, and I know where it comes from. I know my leaving is hurting her for many reasons—mostly because she’s going to miss me, but largely because of where I’m going. It’s stirring up painful memories for her.
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” I say softly. “I just…I have to do this.”
“I know.” She kisses my forehead. “You are so much like your father. He would be so proud of you, you know.”
Well, that just sets me off, and a tear spills down my cheek.
Mum wipes it away with her thumb. “I’m just being a silly clucky mother. I don’t want to let my baby girl go.”
“I’m coming back,” I reassure her. “I’m not leaving forever.”
“I know. Just take care of yourself, and be careful. You’re going to be in a lot of strange countries. You have that rape alarm I bought for you?”
“Yes. It’s in my bag.”
“And you won’t walk anywhere alone, especially at night.”
“And if you must take a cab, then check that it’s a city-approved cab.”
“And you’ll check in with me every day?”
“I will. I promise.” I give her another tight squeeze. “Don’t worry.” I pick up my bag from the floor, hanging it on my shoulder. “I’m going to go. Otherwise, I’ll miss check-in.”
“Okay.” She stifles her tears. “Bye, darling. Have a safe flight.”
“I’ll be home for a visit as soon as I can. I love y