Her foot revs the engine as those memories awaken. Ellie closes her eyes, gripping the steering wheel tighter. This is her punishment/pain before tasting that addictive thrill circulating through her body. The sensation is the only thing that gives her life nowadays.
To keep up with her tradition, Ellie jumps straight into phase three, regret. She was so naive all those years ago. It’s staggering how much Ellie complained about nothing at all. She never once saw how fortunate she was, just the tight chain her Dad kept her on.
The red light on the side of the track turns green, and Ellie hits the gas, skyrocketing the car into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, then 4th gear in a matter of seconds.
It wasn’t his fault. Simply talking to him about what was bothering her could have cleared things up. Now...now...she doesn’t have the chance to talk with him. If she had done it years ago, maybe things wouldn’t have ended in such an imperfect place.
Ellie laps around the track in record time, increasing her speed with every pass of that checkered line. After leaving for Langston, she wanted things to be settled between them, but they still hovered in that awkward place. Of all the ways she could have gotten her Dad’s attention, she chose the one that broke his heart. That look in his eyes...that night…is burned into her head. She’ll never forget it.
A horn goes off as Ellie wraps the track one last time...and she already misses this. She approaches the pit area, bringing the car to an appropriate stop, but remains in the seat a bit longer, allowing her hands to linger on the steering wheel as her eyes fall shut, listening to her racing heart. Ellie really does love this.
“Hey!”. Tapping on the glass of the driver’s side window breaks the trance. She opens her eyes and blows out a breath, cutting the engine. The...complaints start the moment she opens the door. “How many times do I have to tell you to watch your freaking speed!”.
She offers Howe, the track manager, an innocent smile, producing the car’s key. “I didn’t go as fast as last time.”. Ellie made sure to keep the speed one kilometer lower.
“Oh, please!”. He snatches the keys from her, not bothering to care for the spit he just shot her way. “You were tearing up the track like some pro race car driver.”. She watches his eyes traveling her...crap. “And the safety gear is mandatory!”.
Ellie was in a hurry today and didn’t bother with it, meaning she’ll have to plead with him. “Only for today can we overlook this?”. Howe’s glare suggests otherwise. This would make the last track closest to her school that she’d be banned from…it’s not like she purposely breaks the rules. Sometimes...most times...okay, all the time, she gets caught up in her head, and her body takes over. Her heart starts thumping...she can’t not drive like this, or she’ll go crazy. “Howe, I’m sorry. I promise to follow every rule in the future.”. His glare eases some because the sound of heels clicking against the pavement is heading their way.
They both glance up at the tall bright red-haired woman approaching them. Howe...starts squirming, making Ellie snicker. She’s been coming here long enough to see how he changes in front of...women...women who care about their appearance. She’ll admit she’s let her…upkeep go over the years. School and work were all she had time for, so if anything wasn’t one of the two, it fell out of her mind.
“I was expecting to find a tiny man or some meathead with a speed problem behind the wheel, but you aren’t either.”. Ellie looks up at the tall woman...even without the heels, she would still tower over her. The woman is in all black from head to toe, in a pair of slim-fitted jeans and a t-shirt, with a worn leather jacket. “That cute baby face was the farthest thing from my mind.”.
Cute...Ellie can’t remember the last time someone used that word to describe her. Sure her size and weight haven’t changed much over the years, but she’s twenty-eight now. There should be some wrinkles somewhere...or her face should, at least, look tired...cute...there’s no way that was true. Her blond hair has gotten a little length, but those bangs had to go. She’s thought about cutting it short but can’t decide if she’ll like it or not. It’ll be easier to maintain, but if she regrets it...it’s not worth the risk...plus that’s why ponytails were created. Ellie always has her hair up in one...one way or another. The woman smiles when Ellie locks her gaze with her demanding green eyes.
“...Thanks.”. She looks to Howe, wondering how long she stood there...absently looking at the woman. “Can I return tomorrow?”.
The slight squint of his eyes doesn’t agree with the smile on his face. “Yes.”.
Ellie grins. She’ll take it.
“You come here often?”.
She nods at the woman, reaching for her vibrating phone in her back pocket. “Hello, Ingrid.”. Ellie says a silent goodbye to those two before moving away from the track.
“Where are you?”.
She quickly runs down her schedule, trying to remember if she forgot some plans they’ve made. “I’m about to catch a quick dinner before work. Why?”.
“No need. I’m at your place.”.
Ingrid hangs up, and Ellie smiles, switching her phone to her rideshare app. By the time she reaches the track’s entrance, her ride is set up, but as she waits...those clicking heels are heading her way...she sighs internally.
“I was curious about what kind of car Ellie Wheeler would have been driving.”. Ellie locks her phone, looking up at the woman, who smiles at her expression. “There isn’t a need for all the suspicion. I asked Howe for your name.”.
She moves her eyes back to her phone when it beeps, alerting her that her driver is approaching. “I don’t drive...or I’m not nearly as young as I look.”.
“I can tell. There’s this tint over your eyes that only people with regrets have.”.
The woman just hit that on the head. Ellie watches her. Does she know of her short brush with the law? Those records are supposed to be sealed, but why would a small gang name follow her way out here? The past ten years should have been enough to erase any connection to them. This woman obviously wants something Ellie isn’t in the mood for. “How can I help you?”. The woman grins down at her. It’s one thing to gain someone’s interest, but because of things in her past…these situations wary her.
Making friends has been on Ellie’s shortlist as well. The lies from Logan...the crew...and Jason…even her own guilt in it all hit hard freshman year. That freedom she dreamed of diminished the moment her actions caught up to her. Life was supposed to return to its ordinary roots, but the quiet brought thoughts that created this bundle of nerves. Nearly dying twice in one night...staring down the barrel of a gun…Mona…saving her…flipping her car…all those freight train memories hit her one night. The close brushes with death…gunfire, that phone call, everything became this crippling weight. Anxiety and grief firmly took hold, so Ingrid suggested therapy, which Ellie attended, but the results only made her withdraw from people. The medication kept her from spiraling, but after her Dad…died, she just implanted herself into her studies. Ellie knew what needed to be done to make him proud of her again.
“Ellie Wheeler?”. The woman and Ellie move their eyes to the new voice. A heavily tattooed man stands outside his car, wearing a tank top, ripped jeans, and big black boots. His arms are folded, heightening the size of his muscles. Ellie...isn’t sure if she should respond, but he’s looking directly at her. “You called for a driver?”.
Her eyes dart to the car. It’s a beautiful metallic dark green with all the decals of a...street racer. The dot on her app says the driver is right in front of her. The picture…this man somewhat looks like the one on her app. The license plates match, and Ellie can see the bares of the newer Chevrolet Camaro underneath all the paint. It’s…been years since she’s gotten into a car like this.
“I can offer you a ride...then we could continue this conversation.”.
Ellie is eager to get away from both of them. It wouldn’t take much to hack an app to kidnap her….. She shakes her head at how paranoid she can be at times. Who in their right mind would want to take her. Her eyes move to the woman. “I have a dinner date to get to, rain check on that.”. The woman doesn’t outwardly react or anything, so Ellie turns her attention to the driver, Ralph. “Your Camaro looks awesome!”.
“She’s my pride and joy.”.
He smiles, releasing his arms from that hold as Ellie offers a polite goodbye to the woman while she moves to the rear passenger seat. “Sorry for the confusion. Today has been…stressful.”. Once she hops in, her eyes land on the woman still standing there.
“My name is Nessa, and I’ll be seeing you again.”.
Ralph gets them moving...what does that mean? Ellie is already digging through her bag for her medication. After swallowing a pill, her eyes lock on Ralph’s in the rearview mirror...his dart away...she shifts hers out of the window. This will be fine…nothing will happen. “What’s her name?”.
Ellie moves her gaze back to the mirror. “The car.”.
As Ralph happily launches into the origins of Lucinda, her attention is drawn elsewhere. A group of motorcycles has pulled up next to them, and by default, she sees the look on Colt’s face that day by the cliff. Ellie rests her head against the glass as the red light they’ve been sitting at turns green, and the bikes speed off. Now the day she got her license comes to mind. She sighs, slouching in her seat. Today is one of those days that her memories will haunt her. The fond parts of those times always turn sour the moment her Dad enters the mix. The door she’s leaning on pops open, and Ellie shuffles to the other side of the car.
“We’ve been sitting here for five minutes.”..........
She looks behind Ralph...they are indeed outside of her tiny apartment building. Zoning out this much is new. “Sorry.”. Ellie slides out, eyeing the street as he closes the door behind her. “I’m having one of those deja vu days.”.
“…I hope it gets better for you.”.
He is back in his car and pulling off when Ellie’s eyes make it to where he just stood. She feels awful, and as she makes her way to the third floor, she adjusts his tip within the app. The usual sound of her rowdy neighbors fills the hall as she reaches her apartment door. Ingrid’s voice...whoever she’s tearing into, Ellie officially feels sorry for them. She unlocks the door stepping in as Ingrid barks out her last...command.
“Gladis, if Eric has anything else to add, he knows how to reach me.”.
Her phone thuds against the small dining room table when Ellie reaches her. The apartment isn’t much space-wise, but the tiny living room, dining room, closet-size bathroom, and kitchen are enough for her. The spacious bedroom makes up for everything, in her opinion. Ingrid turns her head...she plants a quick kiss on her cheek before dropping down on the remaining chair of the three-piece dinette set.
“How long do you have?”.
Ellie glances at the clock above her TV. “About forty minutes.”. She scoops some Thai noodles on a spare plate before digging in.
“Then I won’t get into why you live in this rat box, where your two neighbors are engaged in the worst music battle I’ve ever heard.”.
Ellie smiles at the contrast. Benny loves his country, while Mike can’t get enough of his rap music, but the funny thing is that they both love to compete on who can play it the loudest and the longest. “I haven’t seen a rat yet, and I’m not here long enough to pick a side.”.
“I have.”. Ingrid doesn’t elaborate, but Ellie knows she’ll remove them in the friendliest way possible. She snickers when Ingrid rolls her eyes. “I’m not as terrible as you’re making me out to be.”.
Ellie swallows her food before smiling up at her. “Oh, I know.”. She shakes her head as she checks her ringing phone, glaring at it before answering. Ellie tucks into her food listening to Ingrid berate yet another person. Law was what she chose, and that came as a surprise to Ellie. She imagined they’d still battle it out in the engineering and science departments, but Ingrid changed...a lot. Every bit of the powerful lawyer who doesn’t care about being liked is Ingrid Delaney. Her charm is still there when needed, but she doesn’t bother with meaningless relationships anymore. The hard-ass lawyer is what many people get, but to Ellie...she’s the only person in her life she can lean on. They don’t talk, if any, about the past, which she likes. Ingrid graduated three years ago and flew to Florida for a job she had lined up.
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