After Alex’s mentor Cole dies in a wreck at the speedway, Alex takes his truck and trailer to his wife, then goes back to the track, where his grief overcomes him and he collapses.
For a long time, I lay on that wet asphalt, wishing I was dead. It’s like I’m not even here, like the hurt’s so big I disappear in it. Something soft brushes my shoulder, near the base of my neck. Pain knifes through me, and I choke on a sob. Then I feel that touch again. I lurch up off the track to look around. Nothing.
I’m soaked, numb clear through, but the chill don’t do a thing to dull the fire of losing Cole. That wells up so big and powerful, I can’t hold it back. I scream as loud as I can, till I’m still yelling, but no sound comes out.
I can’t do this. No way can I go back to how things were. Didn’t I do all I could to make sure nothing like this would happen? All them lies I told, why couldn’t they keep him safe?
I shove the wet hair from my eyes and go get my bike. I rip out of the parking lot hard and fast, daring the cops to come after me, hoping I skid under the wheels of some car.
I got no idea where I’m going, but I wind up at Ivan’s Automotive, the shop where I work. Soon as I pull into the lot, the answer comes. My bike might not’ve done me in, but I know something that will.
I find a piston in the scrap bin outside and use it to bust the glass in the back door. When I get in, I turn on the office light, but leave the rest of the place dark. Don’t want nobody calling the cops before I finish this.
I pick the ’89 Taurus ’cause emission standards aren’t so strict for a car that old. Once I got the keys, I grab one of the hoses we use to vent exhaust from the shop. I stick one end on the tail pipe and put the key in the ignition so I can roll the window down a little. I snake the other end through till it’s resting on the passenger side floorboards. There’s a big gap, so I find some towels and cram ’em in to stop it up.
When I crank the engine, I have one thought of Momma, but the pain’s so big and deep it chases even that away. I close my eyes. For a second, I wonder if I’ll see Cole, or if it’ll just be over, but either way it don’t matter.
There’s this whir, and all four windows start going down. What the hell? I jab the master control to raise ’em. The second I take my finger off, they head south again. Are you kidding me? Real quick, I roll ’em up, kill the engine, and get out of the car to pull the fuse. Whatever’s going on, them windows can’t work if they don’t have no juice.
I get back in and crank the starter. The engine revs for just a second before it dies. I try again. The car sputters and stalls. One more shot, and this time it won’t run for nothing. Pissed, I twist the key and don’t let go until the starter sucks every bit of life out of the battery.
“Son of a bitch!” I slam my fist against the wheel, beating it again and again. Finally, I got nothing left. A sob grabs my throat and I slump forward, pain crashing down in waves that want to drown me.
Then something touches my shoulder. I jump and swing around. This time I see him, right beside me.
Cole. Only not Cole—he’s sorta sunk down into the seat a little, and the fabric shows right through him.
The shock stops my breath. I stare at him and he stares back, sadder than I ever seen him. That look is so damn Cole it rips a hole in me. I got no doubt that if he could, he’d take every bit of my pain and carry it himself.
When he puts his hand out, I feel that feather touch again.
“I’m sorry, Ace,” he says, “but I can’t let you do this.”