Come As You Are

by H.P. Lovecock (力。下。愛ちんちん)
illustrated by melanofly

another round of Smells Like Teen Spirit

Why is Ben so nervous?

THURSDAY

The cityscape glimmers and winks past him outside the car window. The misty night refracts light strangely and blurs the details of East Melbourne’s Victorian edifices: flashes of parkland green painted gold in modern LED lights, sweeping, shadowed neoclassical porticos, the distant glow of highrises through the stormy night.

Ben Robinson sits in profile, slumped in the back of the roomy town car, scowling, looking but not really seeing the rainy night outside. His long, black hair is tied back in an effortless messiness, his statuesque profile, his strong brow give him a handsome brooding look without even trying, but tonight I can see his cloudy mood plainly as the weather outside.

“You’re being moody,” I say from the other side of the car.

Ben’s head snaps and fixes me with a scorching glare. “Yeah? And you’re being a little bitch.”

I roll my eyes and turn to stare outside the window, wondering why I agreed to this at all. To Ben’s credit he’s immediately contrite, although he gets my attention again by swatting at my leg.

“Sorry, Bee,” he says, lowering his voice. “I’m being a dickhead. He just really gets to me. I appreciate you coming.”

“Okay.”

“‘Don’t worr-ee about eet, Ben,’” he mutters in a sickly sweet impression of me; horrible French accent. “‘Always ’appy to be zere for you.’”

“I mean, yeah,” I give him a confused shrug. “I was there for you after Jeddah when we–”

He slaps my leg and flicks his eyes towards the back of the driver’s head.

“–finished at the press conference and you were all mopey,” I say. I pull my phone out of my pocket, type “I wasn’t gonna say sex stuff,” and text it to him.

He looks at his phone and shakes his head, “Fuck’s sake, Chevalier…”

The car pulls up to the curb in front of a beautiful white townhouse with sweeping neoclassical arches, bright light pouring out from the downstairs windows.

“Here we are, fellas,” the driver, a middle-aged, ruddy-faced Australian man, calls back to us, then clears his throat. “I hate to ask, but my kids would kill me if I didn’t bug you for an autograph.”

“No worries, mate!” Ben says, friendly and charming in an instant, like someone flicked a switch. The guy produces a couple of sky-blue Pride F1 hats, Ben’s team, and a royal blue Duvalier one for me and hands them back to us with a sharpie–it’d been okayed by Ben’s people so we weren’t surprised.

“Give ’em hell on Sunday, Robinson,” the driver calls after us as we climb out. Ben grins and fist bumps the guy through the driver’s window, but the second he turns away his face falls, his expression grim and uncertain.

As we walk up the short pathway Ben grabs my shoulder and holds me back.

“Okay, so here’s the game plan,” he mutters as we go. “Don’t bring up F1. But you can talk about it if he brings it up. Let him ask about the season. If he even bothers…”

“Alright.”

“Don’t bring up my mom. Definitely don’t bring up Jessica Origliasso–”

“–I don’t even know who that is–”

“–But you can talk about your mom. He likes your mom.”

“Sure.”

“You can ask about his work. But don’t be too interested. He hates when white people do that.”

“Uh… okay.”

“You can ask him about teaching, or his fucking charity work or whatever, but he’ll never shut up about how much of a bloody fucking saint he is bringing his genius to the unwashed fucking masses. Oh, and don’t ask about our old mongrel. He was heartbroken when we had to put her down.”

“That’s a lot of rules, Ben.”

“Okay…” We stop at the door and Ben takes a deep breath. “Should’ve gotten pissed for this.”

He rings the doorbell, and a tall, slim older man with a long, curly jack black mane of hair and dark brown skin answers, silhouetted by light pouring out into the misty evening. He shares Ben’s strong jawline and frowning brow, only where Ben turns on the warmth without even thinking the middle aged man in front of us has a permanent frosty, critical gaze. He wears a colourful patterned shirt and a dark pair of slacks that gives him a look that’s somehow at once bohemian and formal.

Kirdana…” Ben says cautiously.

Ngalapi.”

Ben’s dad gestures us in, and as we step inside I hear my fellow rookie driver mutter under his breath, “Here we fucking go.”

*

The shapes remind me of eye floaters, the little transparent lines and squiggles in your eyes, shadows of little structures and cell debris projected onto the retina from the vitreous. Only these shapes are all flakes of bright pinks and sunset oranges and dark lipstick-reds, and clustered together in little strings like pearls, or chaotic lines of rose petals. There’s an emergence of forms the longer I stare at it, but I’m squinting at it trying to figure out if they actually are anything, or if it’s just a healthy helping of pareidolia. I’m concentrating so hard I don’t hear the question Ben’s dad asks from the kitchen doorway. I jump a little, startled when I realize he’s addressing me.

“I asked if you like that one.”

I take a step back from the huge painting that runs the length of the dining room, from waist height almost up to the ceiling. It dominates the space, which is otherwise sparsely decorated and minimalist. I probably got way too close.

“Um, am I… allowed to talk about it?” I lower my voice and ask nervously.

“Of course,” Ben’s dad responds, giving me a worried look. “I asked, didn’t I?”

“Ben said you don’t like white people asking you about your art.”

Ben’s dad throws his head back and lets out a deep, barking laugh. It’s the first time since we walked through the door of his townhouse that I’ve actually seen a little bit of Ben in him, but then he’s composed and scrutinizing me again. It makes me feel like I’m a piece of art and he’s assessing how he feels about me. Kuparr Robinson is one of Australia’s most famous living Aboriginal painters, so that’s terrifying. “I will honour you with an official pass tonight, mate.”

“Um, thank you.”

“Plus it’s not my work,” he adds, stepping into the room to stand beside me, holding a glass of sparkling water, I watch his eyes as they run over the painting lovingly, an affectionate smile on his face. Okay, maybe there’s a little more Ben in him than I thought. “It’s not my piece, anyways, it was painted by Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Have you heard of her?”

“Uh, no.”

“I guess since I gave you a pass I can’t hold that against you,” Ben’s dad says dryly. “She’s a virtuoso from Alhalkere in the north. She’s a great woman, and my mentor.”

“Cool,” I say, wishing Ben were here. “Is she going to be at the race on Sunday?”

Once again he throws his head back and gives a deep, barking laugh. “I wouldn’t count on it, mate, even in spirit. She died more than a decade before you were born.”

I consider throwing myself out the window. I wish I’d taken Ben’s advice and just not talked about anything.

“So, do you like it?” he asks again, smiling slyly at me as I study the painting, as if this nice woman’s brush strokes will form into an acceptable answer.

“Mom says studying art’s not really about liking it or not,” I say, and he hums in appreciation.

“Smart woman, your ma.”

But I can tell by the way he leaves it hanging that my answer isn’t complete. “I don’t know if I understand it, but I think it’s beautiful. Almost like cherry blossoms or willow branches.

He nods his head, then turns and passes me the glass of sparkling water. I feel like I’ve passed a test. “She did a lot of paintings like this about her people’s homeland, so even if it’s not blossoms or branches the natural world observation is astute. Where I’m from we call the world she accesses in her art Jukurrpa, ‘The Dreamtime’, the creation of the world. Painting for her was a ritualistic reenactment. I like to think she painted the world that she saw as she walked in the footsteps of her ancestors.”

I nod my head enthusiastically, really, really hoping he keeps talking and doesn’t ask me another question.

“Emily Kame was an incredible woman, I was lucky to call her a mentor, just as I was getting started, she didn’t start painting until she was into her seventies.”

Ben’s voice comes from the same doorway his dad was just standing in. His voice is teasing, but there’s an aggressive edge to it I know all too well. “That how long it’s going to take for you to paint something good?”

“My son, the racecar driver,” Ben’s dad says dryly. “As adept in art criticism as he is behind the wheel.”

Ben tosses a bowl of salad onto the table haphazardly. “I like those paintings with titties,” Ben says dismissively, and I’m starting to realize that there’s some sort of war going on between Ben and his dad with every word, like they keep trying to overtake one another. It’s like they’re insulting each other, and everyone knows it’s just joking, but it’s actually not. “You should get more of those around here.”

“A wholly Westernized appreciation of art,” his dad says lightly as he breezes past Ben back into the kitchen to bring out more dishes. Ben does a mocking impression that’s pretty much dead on.

Kuparr serves us grilled fish and I compliment him on it, but Ben points out that all of the components were prepared by his dad’s housekeeper, he just had to toss it on the “barbie.” Kuparr asks a bunch of questions about how my mom is doing, and I can watch Ben tense up more and more as we get through the courses. Ben very pointedly brings up his mom–which I thought was against the rules–and how she came to the race in Jeddah–also against the rules–which gets a couple of polite but terse questions from Kuparr. Ben reaches for the bottle of wine in front of his dad, who pulls it away.

“I didn’t think you were supposed to drink on race weekends, Bunji,” Kuparr says, like he’s talking to a child.

Ben’s scowl is petulant, and I can feel a shift. I sip my sparkling water and sink down in my chair a little.

“Didn’t realize you were suddenly so interested in my racing career,” Ben says, words laced with venom.

“I’ve been following along,” his dad says, pointedly turning toward me. “You’ve done very well for someone who came into the season as a reserve driver.”

“Thank you,” I say, so quiet it’s almost a whisper. I can see in my periphery that Ben’s hunched over the table like an animal about to strike.

“You’ve scored how many points already?” Kuparr asks.

“Three…”

“Three!” Ben’s dad says in awe. “Pretty impressive performance, as I understand it, for a rookie.”

“Yeah,” Ben growls from the other side of the dining room table. “He’s a real fuckin’ talented bloke. You have no idea.”

My face flushes a deeper pink at the insinuation, but Kuparr doesn’t seem to pick up on it.

“Well, not surprising given your mother, and her skill and expertise, and tenacity,” Kuparr admits, sitting back in his chair and pouring himself another glass of wine.

Now, I struggle with the whole… “being a human” thing. I’m the first person to admit that I’m socially awkward. I’m quiet, I’m shy, I’m bad at picking up on social cues that seem to come easy to most people. But even me, in that moment; even without the kind of experience with a father that Ben has. Even I pick up on the question that hangs in the air like it’s neon bright and burning between them: Bastien got his parents’ talent… So why didn’t you, Ben Robinson?

I don’t even dare look at Ben. I know that if I do he’s going to explode. I pretend to be very, very interested in the dessert spoon in front of me. My brain is in hyperdrive going through the list of approved topics Ben laid out earlier. “Ben said you’ve been doing, uh, charity work?”

Ben’s dad shakes his head, tsking, but I can tell by how his eyes flick towards Ben the disapproval is not directed at me, “I wouldn’t call connecting with our community and sharing art practices ‘charity’.”

I decide to never speak again.

“I’ve been travelling up to Mparntwe and doing workshops with local communities,” Kuparr says, smiling affectionately. “I get to travel around and visit different Aboriginal folks, practice my craft and learn from them. Our people understand the beauty of this land better than anyone ever could, and it’s a privilege to share that with them, and exchange skills. I wish we could get more Warlpiri artists out, but I like to think I’m contributing in my own little way.”

“What a fucking hero,” Ben spits at his father, and Kuparr turns his attention to his son, expression gone cool and critical.

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand, Ngalapi,” Kuparr says, picking up his wine glass. “We both live our own lives, we contribute in our own ways. You’re busy with your modelling and race car driving. You’re certainly a role model, in your own way. I’ve always been honest with how I feel about the way the career you’ve chosen engages with imperialist powers–”

“Imperialist powers!” Ben snorts, turning to me. “This dickhead talks like he’s some revolutionary from the bush,” then turns back to his father, “You’ve got a fucking penthouse in Sydney, mate! You take grants from the fucking Australian government! You’ve got a bloody posh little fucking accent!

Kuparr turns to me, his tone like we’re talking about a child at the table throwing a tantrum. “Bunji knows I’ve always been honest with myself about the system’s limitations, and I don’t hesitate to criticize that system and look for ways to work beyond it. That’s one of the privileges of being an artist.”

“Oh? Oh yeah?!” Ben says, a feral grin on his face, jeering at Kuparr and making a rude and suggestive gesture. “You can take your artistic privileges and bugger yourself with them you pompous cunt. Bee, we’re leaving.”

“Such a pleasure as always, Bunji,” his dad says, sounding exasperated. “Bastien, please tell your mother I said–”

Ben’s already out the dining room door, stalking toward the entryway, and I give a half-bow, half-wave to Kuparr as I scurry after him, my face flushed with secondhand embarrassment, and shame of just witnessing that, and a little bit of anger, although I’m not sure if it’s at Ben for dragging me there, his dad for being such a dick to his only son, or myself for not standing up for my friend.

*

I catch up to Ben a block later in an alley between a block of Victorian houses and the tall brick wall of someone’s backyard. His face is in the shadows of the dark, misty night, a guilty scowl on his face, hands jammed in the pockets of his dark slacks. I jog up to him and walk over to lean against the wall beside him.

“Sorry you had to see that, mate,” Ben grumbles. I just nod as he pushes off the wall, takes a few steps away, and then in a flash he lashes out and punches the stucco wall across from us. I sigh and move over to where he’s shaking his fist and hissing in pain. “Fuck! I thought that would feel a lot better than it did! Fucking fuck!

“You thought punching a wall would feel better?” I ask, deadpan. I take his hand in both of mine and hold his knuckles up into the light of a nearby streetlamp. They’re scratched up and bloodied but nothing’s messed up as far as I can tell. “It’s race weekend, you should be more careful.”

I slip a tall glass out of my coat pocket. It sloshed around and most of it’s gone, soaking the lower right hand pocket of my jacket, but there’s enough left for me to dump the remainder of the sparkling water on Ben’s knuckles. He hisses and swears, but stares at the glass, confused.

“We should get you some soap and bandaids for this,” I say. “Can you call our ride?”

“Wait. Wait, wait, wait,” he flicks the empty glass in my hand with the fingers of his good hand. “You brought this with you?!

“I kind of… panicked?” I say, mortified. I didn’t realize I was still clenching it in my hand until I was out on the street, and by that point I was already pulling my coat on, way behind and chasing after Ben, so I just shoved it into my pocket like a total moron. “I can take it back if you–”

Ben takes the empty glass with his good hand, considers it a moment, then whips it at the brick wall opposite. I barely flinch as I see the glass disappear into the shadows against the far wall, listen to the shards patter down on the wet pavement of the alley. I turn back to glare at Ben, but then gasp as his strong, callused hands take my face between them and he tilts my face up for my lips to meet his.

Then I leap up onto him and wrap my legs around his waist as our tongues start to push against each other.

I feel a disorienting tilt and almost jump off, until I feel my back slam against the opposite brick wall. I gasp as Ben pins me there with his hips grinding into me, and his lips dance down to the side of my neck and he starts nibbling.

Mon dieu…” I gasp. “You better, mm, not give me… a hickey!”

“I love the thought that his stupid fucking glass set is ruined,” Ben growls into my ear, and then he bites my ear lobe the way he knows I like and I become a moaning mess in his arms. God, I hate his guts…

Ben grinding into me has the usual effect. I can feel his erection, I’m practically sitting on it where it’s wedged against my ass. Mine is even less comfortable, fighting for space in the chaos of fabric folds pressed between us. But I have tricks of my own and I’ve got to get back at him, so I reach up under his open coat and untuck his tight little dress shirt. I push my hands up under his undershirt and rake my nails down the back, feeling my fingers run through the little swirls of dark hair that I love, right where his muscular back meets his tight, fuzzy ass. I do it really hard. Ben gasps into my ear, and I smile to myself, until he grinds me up against the rough brick wall, leans in and bites my neck hard, laughing as I swear at him.

So I do it again, even harder. Ben groans in my ear, “I’m gonna mess you up, Chevalier.”

“You’d… better not…” I hear my voice trembling. As usual, I hate how much I really, really want him to mess me up.

He’s just about to say something when we both jump in surprise at someone whistling from the mouth of the alley a dozen feet away. “Save a little of that spunk for Mardi Gras, lads!” A man with a deep, guttural, slurring Australian accent says as he passes the alley with a woman on his arm. The two of them giggle drunkenly and we hear the woman chastise him as they continue down the sidewalk out of sight.

“Fuckin’ dropkick,” Ben mutters as he eases up and lets me lower my legs to the ground. He pulls away, looking a little uncomfortable. “Mardi Gras was last fucking month.”

I’m standing there trying to figure out why people in Australia care so much about a thing that happens in New Orleans. Then I realize we were doing gay stuff in public, where anyone could see, and I feel my face flush.

Ben sighs and says he’ll call us a ride as he ambles over to plop down on the curb. I head over and sit down beside him, and we both stare up at the bruise-purple clouds roiling above Melbourne, underlit by the glow of the city in the misty night.

“He’s not wrong, though,” Ben grumbles.

I think for a moment. “About Mardi Gras?”

“What?!” Ben glares at me, then throws his head back and gives a barking, derisive laugh. “No, you fucking wanker! I meant pa.”

“Right about what?”

“About the points, mate,” Ben sighs. “I haven’t scored a single fucking point.”

“It’s only been two races…” I say, feeling uncomfortable. “You didn’t even get a chance in Jeddah.”

“Yeah, because I put my car in the wall like an absolutely fucking dumbass.”

“Because you were tagged.”

The Jeddah Corniche Circuit is a tight and high speed street race, one of the fastest on the calendar, six kilometres of straights and tight, sweeping corners, threading the needle between walls to within fractions of an inch under the artificial sunlight of thousands of LED lights on the coast of Saudi Arabia. In the second race weekend of the year we both managed to get through to Q2 again, I was P12 and Ben 13, so we were in a pretty good position. Both of us were up on the verge of scoring points, occasionally trading places back and forth as we fought each other for position.

Ben’s a speed demon, he drove a great race… right up until Izzy Gauthier, one of Horus F1’s drivers, went for a late stage tyre change to undercut the rest of the front pack and get in a better position for the final stint of the race. I watched the replays after, as Izzy came out behind Ben, followed him through the twists and turns of four through twelve perpendicular to the Arabian coast. Ben maybe shouldn’t have defended as aggressively as he did. His fight wasn’t with the front pack teams. With a faster car Izzy took a lunge coming out of turn twelve to get by, but Ben didn’t give up an inch.

In the scrape, the Horus car lost most of its front wing and Ben’s Pride car twitched and slammed into the wall, tearing off the right hand tyres. There was an immediate red flag stopping the race to clear Ben’s car and the debris from the track that allowed Izzy to limp back to the pitlane. But a red flag basically means a free pit stop for everyone, tyres can be changed and damaged parts replaced. So with the change in fortunes that negated Izzy’s earlier stop the Canadian driver only managed P6, and it cost Pride millions of dollars in repairs when they should’ve been in the running to score points.

Afterwards Horus’ fans blamed Ben for not giving Izzy room. Mom said it dominated a news cycle and had a lot of people questioning if the “rookie Australian driver was mature enough for a seat.”

“It was a fucking stupid mistake, Bee,” Ben grumbles from the curb beside me.

“Okay, then don’t make stupid mistakes.”

Ben glares at me. I just shrug.

“I’m better than that, I know I am,” Ben sighs. “But they’ve taken rookies out of seats mid-season for less–and don’t you dare say ‘Zen bee bet-err’ or I’ll strangle you and leave you here dead in the gutter.”

“Then be better,” I say, leaning over and bumping Ben with my shoulder the way he does to me sometimes. I don’t know why I like it so much, but I do, it sort of makes my stomach flutter like I’m dizzy and lightheaded but in a good way. Ben leans over and bumps me back in response. We sit there in silence for a moment and I clear my throat. “We could go make out over there some more if it would make you feel better?”

Ben gives me a disbelieving stare and I look up at the clouds, feigning innocence. But our car pulls up, the ruddy-faced Australian man waving at us, probably confused about why we’re a block north from where we were supposed to be.

Ben dusts off his slacks as he stands up. “Alright, guess I’ll be fucking better. After we get some food though, I’m fucking starving, and this guy looks like he knows where we could get a good burger.”

 

FRIDAY

The Albert Park Grand Prix Circuit paddock is a row of modular white hospitality pavilions under the canopy of a line of elm trees, lush and explosively green against the bright blue Australian sky. The trees are both beautiful and functional, the path that runs the length of the paddock, the modest patios in front of the suites are shaded by the natural awning. Shade’s a precious thing on the stifling hot day in Melbourne, it’s a record breaking temperature for a F1 session, and I need to get suited up in about three layers of flame retardant race kit, including a balaclava and helmet. My trainer and I have been doing a lot of heat endurance, but even folks in shorts are questioning if it’s safe to send us out. Still, we get suited up and Mom keeps me wrapped in ice vests in the shade of Duvalier’s facilities.

“You’d be a little cooler if we cut your hair, chouchou,” she says dryly in the garage. My Mom, Geneviève Desrosiers, the last woman to drive a full season in Formula One, is also my manager. It’s a bit of a whole thing.

I pull my shaggy, auburn brown hair up into a very short ponytail. It’s not quite long enough for it to be satisfying, but it’s getting there! “I like it long,” I say as Roxane Dubois, one of Duvalier’s strategists, and my race engineer, Ed Masson, approach us to go over the Free Practice plan one more time.

Eventually the cooling vest comes off and Mom helps me finish getting suited up. I’m already sweating by the time I climb up and slide into the tight monocoque, cradled by a cocoon of carbon fibre, my vision bisected by the titanium band, the protective halo, encircling the cockpit. Mom hands me my gloves and helmet, and once I have them on, she leans over the halo into the cockpit, pressing her forehead to my helmet. “Bonne courage, chouchou.”

I nod and lean back into the subtle hum of the V6 hybrid engine. Mom steps back and the cockpit is enveloped by mechanics and engineers as we make sure I’m strapped in, we go through some pre-drive checks, a couple of short test fire-ups to see how the engine feels. I see a mechanic standing in front of the car hold up her arms and step to the side, waving me down the pit lane. The mechanics lift the tyre blankets and I peel out of the Duvalier garage. I’m sitting, sweating at the exit of the pit lane when Ed’s voice, concise and officious as always, comes through my earpieces.

DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Okay, radio check.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Radio check good.
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): We have a green flag. Have fun out there.

There’s three hour-long free practice sessions over the weekend. Free practice is a chance for teams to see how their cars perform on the track, collect data on different tyre compounds, make adjustments in between sessions in the leadup to qualifying on Saturday, which determines the race order for Sunday. Every track is a little different beyond the layout; things like whether it’s a permanent track, like Bahrain, or a race on actual in-use streets like in Jeddah and Albert Park, ambient and atmospheric conditions depending on the destination, even the exact makeup of materials used to lay down a course, it’s all like the fingerprint of the individual track.

Albert Park is a bumpy track based on its temporary nature–actual in-use roads around the titular park–but there are multiple series on the track over a grand prix weekend, F3 and F2 races. Once cars have been running on it enough rubber gets laid down and makes a slippery track a little more grippy. The grid is a ten minute walk up from the beach of Middle Park, so wind coming off the coast can be a factor. A hot track makes warming the tyres up, getting them into their window of ideal performance, a lot easier, but also means the softer grade tyres will be used up quicker as the grip of the track peels the rubber away. Cooling the car–the brakes, the engine–is more difficult in hot weather, which impacts the ability to follow close behind other cars; the heat coming off them exacerbates your own car’s temperature. In a motorsport like F1 where cars and drivers are performing on the limit every little detail matters. So we collect data and pour over it like mediaeval scribes.

It’s the best.

Albert Park is one of the faster tracks on the calendar, especially with four straights that make use of the Drag Reduction System, the DRS, allowing us to flip the back wings on the cars open and really fly along the straights. Full throttle for seventy percent of an entire run. I roar through the first half dozen turns and then flip my back wings open, the sun blazing overhead, the palms and grandstands a blur of colour. Everything falls away except me and the furious rumble of the engine. It’s like music.

I’m the first one out on the track, just the way I like, and I weave back and forth on the straights, building heat up in the tyres, ridiculous as that sounds on a boiling hot day. I glance in my rearviews as I hit the brakes on turn 11 and see a flash of a sky blue car.

DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Who’s behind?
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): That’s… Robinson.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Copy.

Ben came out right behind me… in free practice? Pride’s car is better on a grippier track, so they usually wait to come out after a bunch of us are already on hot laps.

He’s trying something different. I feel a smile tug at the corner of my mouth as I set up my line, pulling my car around the long ninety-degree turn 14.

DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Hot lap go.
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Copy that.

I’ve driven Albert Park in Formula Three, and been in the simulator so much I could drive the track with my eyes closed. Even with all that knowledge I’m not ready for the g-force pushing my back into my seat as I get up to speed, pushing 330 kmh, or how fast my car hits the hundred metres mark towards the end of the pit straight. Formula One cars are entirely different beasts.

When I hit the little kink at turns 6-7, a quick right-left switch, the first of three sectors, I can’t help but push the button on my radio.

DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): What was Robinson’s time on sector one?
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Checking… 28.39, half second off you.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Copy.
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Friendly wager?
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Going to finish a second ahead of him.

The usually stoic Ed laughs at that and says he’ll keep me updated on Ben’s sector times. After all, we are B&B, karting besties. From our karting days to now, the entire formula racing world has always loved the friendly rivalry between us. It used to be for show, we used to hate each other. I mean, we still do. But we can actually stomach being around each other now, instead of just doing it for the cameras. Plus we do sex stuff. But he likes it a lot more than I do. I just do it because I read that sex stuff releases endorphins and oxytocin, which improves mood and relieves stress. It’s performance enhancing.

DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Robinson’s sector two, .31 on you.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): What?!
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Better make it up for that full second.

Ugh, Ben. The worst. Just thinking about him is distracting me. I’ve got to focus.

When FP1 wraps up I grab a quick shower and then my teammate and I are whisked off to a quick technical debrief with the team leads. We pour over the data, I make some suggestions about downforce adjustments. When the technical director and my lead mechanic nod enthusiastically I feel my face flush and Mom pats my hand proudly under the table. The team listens to me. Even more than that, they’ve been saying I give good feedback, that I’m precise and insightful! Knowledgeable! A F1 team thinks that I’m knowledgeable! Duvalier boasts the youngest driver on the grid, me, and the oldest, my teammate Ken De Jong, a scary fortysomething South African man. He gives me a fist bump on the way out of the meeting and I almost faint.

The team’s social director, Charlie Allard–a super friendly woman who’s also from Nice, just like Mom and I–meets us at the door with some security and directs us to some cars for a fan event. I chug water and cram a sandwich into my mouth, voracious after driving despite the heat. I’m still not used to the fans screaming my name on the way into one of the circuit’s entertainment stages, or the roar of excitement that greets us as Ken and I step out on stage to be interviewed. My stomach flip flops, I regret the sandwich. Charlie and Mom are waiting for me off stage with another bottle of water, and I’m dying for the bathroom but have to hold it until we head back to the paddock for a signing. Mom pulls me out of that the second the event is over, because we have to head back into Duvalier’s pavilion so I can stretch and get ready for Free Practice 2. More driving, Ben and I keep pushing each other’s times up the board. Fans scream my name from the hospitality suites above the garages as I step out to chat to Ed on the pit wall. I give them an awkward wave.

Another shower, another technical briefing, then Charlie takes over to discuss the sponsor dinner in the hospitality suites, and I realize other than in my car or the bathroom I haven’t been alone since I woke up this morning. Training, meetings, sponsor breakfast, interviews.

I realize… I’m weirdly enjoying it. I’m having fun. Even if crowds are terrifying.

“What else is happening over the weekend?” I ask. We quickly run through the schedule, the usual training, technical briefings, meet and greets, signings, a couple more sponsor events. A careful itinerary scheduled down to the last minute, save an early-ish night before qualifying. I wonder if Ben is doing anything, Melbourne’s his home, after all.

“Oh, he has an invite to the ‘Pride on the Grid’ event,” Mom says, rolling her eyes and shaking her head towards Charlie. There are a few titters from the others.

“What’s that?” I say, and every head in the room snaps in my direction.

Charlie leans in, dropping her voice. “It’s a Pride F1, uh, GLBT event nearby. One of the drivers was complaining about racing in homophobic countries. And how there should be more programming for gay F1 fans. Pride apparently took the challenge.”

“Must be the name,” our team principal, M. Pierre Moulin, a deep-voiced, serious fellow Frenchman, says across the table from us, and there are a few more titters.

They’re… maybe not uncomfortable, but Charlie chooses her words carefully and seems like she wishes we could be talking about anything else. She seems uncomfortable for everyone else. My mom’s rolling her eyes again and murmuring something to Ed. A couple of the technical team and strategists clear their throats. Right, I have to remind myself what Ben told me in Jeddah: There’s a bunch of gay people and also a bunch of people who don’t like gay people, and then a bunch of people who want to look progressive but don’t like to think about sex and don’t really want to actually do anything about any of the problems in the world.

“That sounds kind of fun,” I say, and the room goes quiet. I suddenly feel like shrinking down in my seat.

“You want to go to a gay bar?” Mom asks, deadpan.

“Sure, why not? Is Ben going?” I ask, rallying my courage. I take out my phone and go on Instagram to message him.

“Well, you’re not going to a bar the night before qualifying,” Mom states definitively.

Charlie clears her throat nervously, and now the room’s attention snaps to her. “It’s actually an after-dinner event. It’s ticketed. It may actually not be a bad idea… ‘Duvalier driver supports diversity initiative’.”

“At a gay bar!” Mom states, glowering at Charlie from our end of the table, then mutters: “Mon dieu, quelle folie!

“Ben’s going,” I say, looking up from my phone, trying to face down Mom’s furious glare. “I want to go. I think it sounds fun.”

Moulin clears his throat. “Uh, I think we can wrap things up there.”

The room clears faster than usual, Mom goes to say something to me but I pretend I don’t hear her, hopping out of my chair to catch Charlie. “Um, how would I go about finding a, uh, stylist?”

“A stylist?” Charlie asks with a quizzical smile.

“Yeah, I want to… um… ‘turn a lewk’?”

*

The expression on Ben’s face is worth all the time spent being attacked by eyeliner and hair product, and the slightly see-through shirt, and the wedgie from the skin-tight pants. Maybe even all of the press cameras pointed at me, and the screams of a sea of people up and down the sidewalk, and all their phones pointed at me as I walk from my ride to the bar door.

Ben’s in a sort of metallic, deep blue blazer, sleeves pushed up, and matching pants, a black v-neck tee under it with a few platinum chain accessories, long black hair tied back in a deliberately messy bun. He, of course, makes it look completely effortless. Still, his jaw drops open when I step through the door, directed towards a section where a few of the other drivers mill about, all eyes on me. Izzy Gauthier cackles and points his phone at me, screaming, “Yass queen!”

Ben looks me up and down, then–over the blaring, pumping music–blurts out, “What the fuck are you wearing, mate?”

I feel myself flush with embarrassment. In all honesty, I felt the same way when I looked in the mirror back at the hotel. Charlie connected me with an emergency stylist. With absolutely no idea of what to ask for, I sent a couple of reference pictures, but my one direction was: Ziggy Stardust.

The stylist arrived and put me in a sheer glittering golden sleeveless top and a pair of skin-tight black jeans with some subtle gold threading. He slicked my tawny brown hair back and, over the eyeliner, mascara and eyeshadow, gave me the iconic lightning bolt, in gold and Duvalier’s royal blue as a subtle nod to the team. They even did my nails, a matte gold. I didn’t really recognize myself in the mirror. But I liked it.

Ben catches my pained grimace and waves his hands. “No! I mean, you look… good! It’s just… not your usual team polo and slacks combo.”

I can’t help the smug smile. Ben’s usually not the one who’s tongue-tied. “I wanted to try something different.”

Ben looks me up and down again, appraising me, and I recognize the hungry look in his eye. I’ve gotten used to it over the past few weeks. Like when he made me wear that lacey stuff in Bahrain. But he nods, impressed. “Well, they’ve got a meet-and-greet pen for photos. Let’s go blast the dicks off these gays.”

“What?!”

By the fifteen-minute mark I’m overstimulated and basically just nodding and saying “Yeah!” a lot as an endless parade of fans is escorted into the photo area, bubbling over us, then the flash of the camera and they’re whisked away, only for another pair or group to take their place. Luckily Ben, being the local boy, gets the brunt of their attention, and he’s insufferable about it–chest puffed out, soaking up the fawning and flirtation, giving it right back to them. Although at one point a pair of women, both French, come up and say they travel to every race they can and are cheering me on to be a world champion. That means a lot. Ben lets me have that one.

Herman Schulz, Ben’s teammate, another Aussie, joins us in the photo area for a minute. He’s lost his shirt, like usual, deep brown tan and a mane of golden hair. But his attention strays and then he’s out on the dance floor ringed in by a bunch of screaming fans, dancing to a rap artist I don’t know, but just hearing the lyrics–“I don’t like no whips and chains and you can’t tie me down, / But you can whip your lovin’ on me”–make me blush.

Back in the VIP area Ben pushes a shot into my hand and I study it dubiously. “It’s qualifying night.”

He glares at me in disbelief, “Mate, we have almost a full fucking day until qualifying. I think you’ll recover from a single shot.”

He clinks my shot glass with his and downs it, then lets out a satisfied “Whoop!” My face scrunches up from indecisiveness but, just as I’m about to hand it back to him, I surprise myself by throwing it back. It’s like drinking gasoline with a hint of sickly sweet fruit that burns as it goes down my throat. I cough and bowl over, and can hear Ben laughing.

“Yukon Jack, baby! Oh, by the way, that was a double!”

Connard!” I punch his arm as hard as I can, but he just laughs.

“Welcome to Australia, mate!”

Suddenly Ben and Izzy are pulling me by the arms out onto the dance floor. Herman, sweaty and shirtless, screams in excitement as we join him, and I don’t really know the songs but I’m doing my best step right, step left shuffle to the thumping beat. I glance up and see Ben’s snuck away to talk to the DJ. I feel immediately self-conscious, like everyone’s staring at me–which I guess they are. Then Ben skips across the dance floor back to us, and a familiar bass line starts.

“Under Pressure”?!

“IT’S ‘UNDER PRESSURE’!” I scream at him and slap his arm in excitement as he gets back to us. He just laughs.

Then my best guess is that the alcohol hits hard and I lose myself in the music, everyone’s just a fluid blur and I’m a part of it. It’s glorious, it feels like a religious experience. I’ve never felt less self-conscious, drinking is amazing! Plus Bowie and Freddie Mercury!

The song ends and I’ve danced so hard in those four minutes I feel like collapsing into a laughing, blissful heap. Ben grabs me by the wrist and pulls me off towards the bar. “Come on, fuckwit, let’s get you some water!”

“Drinking is so fun!” I cry out as the crowd parts for us. “We should do it all the time!”

“Yeah, righto big fella,” Ben says as he practically pours a big, cool cup of water down my throat. It’s so cold and delicious. How can water be so satisfying? He presses another one into my hand. I grab it and only manage to splash a little down my front as I gulp the rest. “Maybe a Snake Bite double was a bit much for your first drink in Melbourne.”

I lean against the bar and find myself smiling affectionately at him. Wow, I think, this guy drives me nuts. Ben’s so insufferable I’d love to just make out with him. That’d show him.

“I wanna do stuff!” I call out over the music.

Ben almost chokes on water he’s sipping at.

He pulls me into the bathroom and tells me to splash some water on my face. I whine about messing up the makeup, but he makes me look in the mirror, and dancing has already given me a head start on that. I pout as I dunk my head in the sink. That makes me feel a little more clear headed.

“You back with us, Bee? Or are you still a fucking Spice Girl?”

“Wow, did alcohol make me do all that?” I ask, the words clumsy and a little slurred as I fight to speak coherent English.

“Lowered inhibitions, mate,” Ben shoots a finger gun at me. “We just got to see Bastien Chevalier without a massive, rigid stick up his ass.”

Maybe I’m not back to normal yet, because I sidle over and press myself against Ben, pushing him against a flimsy stall. “I still wanna do stuff.”

He narrows his eyes at me, then glances over at the door. “You off your nut, mate?”

I reach down and feel something bulging in his slacks and give him the biggest, dopiest grin. He rolls his eyes and pulls me around the corner, into the stall. He closes the door carefully behind him and locks it.

“Okay, Bee… you got me in a poofter loo, what are you gonna–”

As he turns around I practically jump onto him, pressing my lips to his. We slam against the stall door. Ben doesn’t even hesitate, he swings me around and presses me against the wall, his hands roaming up under the back of my shimmering gold shirt. I let out a whimper as he runs his nails down my back, writhing against him, grinding back into him as he presses me against the wall.

In the frenzy Ben somehow got his coat off and hung it on the toilet flush handle. He peels my sweaty, glimmering shirt off and that joins his coat. I look down as he runs his hand over my chest, the glittering gold makeup’s gotten all over me. This must be what David Bowie felt like, all dirty and sexy and glittery.

I spin Ben around so he’s against the wall, and my hands fumble for his belt.

“We’re really doing this, huh?” Ben laughs to himself as I finally unbuckle him and pop his fly open. I crouch down so I’m eye level with his crotch and pull everything down, tucking it under his balls. His dick springs out, almost takes out my eye. I wrap my hands around it. I never really thought a guy’s dick could be… I don’t know, pretty? But Ben’s is, he’s all trimmed and neat, it looks… I don’t know if “nice” is how you typically describe another guy’s junk. I hear myself giggle as I wrap my hands around his hardon–feels so velvety smooth and warm in my hand. I feel like I should tie a little bow around it.

“What are you laughing about down there?” Ben growls, and I look up at him. He’s smirking down at me, and I feel a little shiver of fear. He takes his dick and slaps it against my face, that gets a soft moan. “Open up, bitch, you won’t be laughing in a second.”

I gasp and open my mouth, still looking up at him, and he gives a lustful grunt. I don’t know why being down between his legs feels so nasty and right. He holds his dick out and I run my tongue up the underside. There’s a slightly salty but not unpleasant taste, his pre is beading on the end now so I lick again. I’m not sure if it’s the taste that makes it so delicious, or the muffled moan as he presses his face into the crook of his arm.

Ben, my nemesis, one of my closest friends, taught me how to do this, and I feel this desperate, consuming urge to make him feel good. I wrap my hand around his dick and slide it across my tongue. I only gag a little as it hits the back of my throat. I’ve read up a little on that, the first time I tried was… not great. Then I’m focused on the task of bobbing my head up and down. He hisses.

“Goddamnit, Bee, what did I say about teeth?!”

I start to say, “Sorry, Ben,” but it occurs to me this isn’t the best time to apologize. It kind of comes out as “War-be-bwen.”

It’s just like driving a car. Or playing music. It takes training. And practice. Lots of practice.

I’m so lost in the feeling of Ben’s cock in my mouth, the rhythmic bobbing, his occasional growls and commands and moans, the mind breaking feeling of his hand running through my hair, grabbing a handful and pushing himself down my throat, my own whimpers of submission and the hums of pleasure, that I forget where we are.

Until I hear the door bang open. I practically throw myself backwards in shock. That’s when I realize…

I’m blowing Ben in a public bathroom. Not only are we doing a sex thing, anyone could look under the stall and see us. And that would probably get back to our teams, and my Mom. Merde.

“Yeah mate, I’m at the gay F1 thing!” the guy on the other side of the stall slurs, and over the distant thumping of music I can hear the buzz of someone speaking to him on the phone. “Yeah! There’s actual F1 drivers here! At the bar! It’s bloody mad!”

I try to pull off but Ben’s hand holds me in place. I glance upward and see him shaking his head, but smirking. It takes everything in my power to stifle a terrified groan of pleasure. We listen as the guy unzips his pants, and then the sprinkle of a stream hitting the water in the urinal on the other side of the stall.

“Don’t you dare fucking stop,” Ben growls barely loud enough for me to hear. My body practically convulses with the full body shiver that sends through me. I start bobbing my head again, doing everything I can not to gag or slurp as he pumps his cock down my throat.

“Yeah, mate, Herman fucking Schulz, my future husband, ehh?” the guy on the other side laughs.

Ben’s now got both hands grasping the back of my head, bucking his hips, all I can do is concentrate on not gagging. He’s doing most of the work now. I feel so humiliated and used, so degraded. I’m only stroking myself through my jeans because it feels so hot and nasty. Only reason, I swear. Why? Why does it feel so good?! Why does it have to be Ben?! It just has to be Ben fucking Robinson who makes me do these awful, sexy things!

“Who knows, mate?” The guy lets out a booming laugh as we hear the urinal flush and the sound of splashing sink water. “Maybe he’ll want a blowie in the loo if I ask nicely!”

That’s when I feel Ben unload down my throat.

 

SATURDAY

The next day things get… weird.

Fans are camped outside our hotel at six in the morning. Usually there’s a small crowd hoping that drivers will pass by and do some selfies or signings on the way to our car, but never this many this early in the morning, especially for me outside of France. When they see my trainer and I step outside for a run they start to scream and rush forward. The couple of sleepy security guards at the barriers on either side are suddenly faced with this screaming mass of mostly young girls, and they wave us back inside. We have to wait for a security team in shorts and tees to show up and jog with us, like I’m le président or something.

Mom barely talks over breakfast. She just goes over what we did in training that morning and then the couple of commitments we have before FP3. I wonder if maybe she didn’t have a good sleep, she gets insomnia when we travel a lot.

So I check my phone. My friends in France have texted me a bunch of teasing abuse about the outfit, but they’ve sent me a bunch of weird stuff from social media they think is hilarious. Pictures of me from yesterday. But photoshopped so I look way too pretty? Memes that are a picture of me in my team polo at the track and then my outfit that say, like, “Phil Collins in the streets, Ziggy Stardust in the sheets.” Why are strangers on the Internet so obsessed with what I wear all of a sudden?

There are even more fans waiting by the time we’re ready to leave for the track, enough that we have to meet a car at the back of the building and drive out of the parking lot on the opposite side. There are even more fans waiting at the track. They have signs. For me. A bunch of them have blue and gold lightning bolts painted on their faces. Charlie meets us at the paddock entrance and she seems ecstatic. She says Duvalier hasn’t gotten such incredible press attention for years.

“They’ve got nicknames for you!” Charlie says, bubbly, typing away manically on her phone.

“Nicknames?” I ask, dumbfounded.

“‘Blue Lightning’, that’s a cute one,” she says, not even looking up. “My favourite’s ‘Ziggy’! There are hashtags! They’re trending!”

Mom seems more and more grumpy every step of the way.

We’re heading down the shaded paddock path when I see Ben passing by with his trainer, so I break off and we do the usual paddock bro hug thing.

“Dude, people are losing their minds over the damn Bowie cosplay,” Ben says, then he glances past me. “Hey Ms. Desrosier.”

“Hi Ben,” Mom says from behind me. She reaches up and puts a hand on my shoulder, gently nudging me towards the Duvalier paddock home. “Bastien, we’re on a schedule.”

I shrug away from her hand. “I know, I’m just going to talk with Ben for a minute.”

Mom’s eyes narrow and I can see her temper rising in real time, but she glances to her right, and I realize that a bunch of media folks with paddock passes have formed a wall of camera lenses not too far away. Mom snaps at me in an impossibly fast, clipped French, but it’s cold and quiet. “Bonne, donc nous pouvons oublier votre carrière et tu peut passer du temps avec vos glandu amis.

She stalks away muttering to herself, and Ben stares after her, looking a little terrified like anyone faced with the ire of Geneviève Desrosiers.

I’m shocked to find that I am not one of those people. When did that happen?

Ben looks at me, but I just shrug. “Uh, yeah. I almost got mobbed when I tried to go for a jog this morning. It’s weird.”

Ben flips his phone around and shows me a stream of articles on Bluesky. Blog posts and news stories… about an outfit?! “People are calling you a ‘bi icon’.”

“Oh,” I feel a little queasy as I start to realize just how out of hand this has gotten. “Uh… am I?”

Ben snorts and starts to say something, but then a handful of giggling girls with paddock passes approach us. One of them, the leader, steps forward, “Oh my God, I am so sorry to bug you, but can we get a selfie?”

Ben grins, “For sure.”

I step back and away, I know the drill. Except to my surprise the girls crowd around me and the leader holds her phone up. I kind of make a face that I guess could maybe be a smile. Then they thank me and scurry away, giggling to themselves. I have no idea what just happened.

I have never in my life seen Ben Robinson look as appalled as he does in that moment. I almost want to laugh, except I feel something happen with the force of a car slamming into a wall.

“Uh, I should get going,” Ben points toward the garages. “Later, mate.”

“Yeah, later.”

Ben slouches off towards the Pride garages, and I stand there by myself in the path, until two middle-aged Japanese women approach me for a selfie.

*

As usual before qualifying or racing, anything where there are real stakes and the need to be at the top of my game, I have a little mini-meltdown. Like clockwork. I’m in my prep room, spiralling out when Mom comes in and we go through our pre-session ritual, mantras about fear. “I’ll feel the fear and do it anyway.” As usual, it helps.

Usually Mom sticks around as I do my stretches, but she just confirms that my car’s lead mechanic is ready for me and then she steps out. I don’t go back into a spiral, I’m able to calibrate my anxiety like a laser, honed in, keeping myself focused, in the zone, on the edge, but as I pop my earpods in and queue up some Hendrix, start my stretches, a little background hum of anxiety remains.

I’m no good with people. I really wish humans were more like cars sometimes. With a car, even if it has some weird and seemingly impossible to pinpoint problem, you can pour over data, run diagnostics, disassemble it down to its smallest components until you pinpoint the issue, or make enough changes that it’s sorted, or else remake the whole thing entirely. There’s no spreadsheets to help understand emotions, there’s no stress testing conversations, or aero-tunnels to help make interacting with people smoother. With people things are so messy and esoteric. Sometimes I have trouble reading someone’s mood, or their facial expressions, so I just try to fake my way through. Sometimes people will say one thing, but mean the opposite. I feel like a broken robot, trying to parse something I only understand theoretically.

How does it feel?” Jimi croons in my ear, that amazing, wandering live cover of the classic Bob Dylan song. He’s right. Music, I get music. Music’s like driving; there’s time, rhythm, lyrics. Music brings sense to the inscrutable. When you have a problem in life, turn to the classics. So: how does it feel?

Ben’s song is easier, even if he’s impossible: “Something” by The Beatles, that kind of dreamy, floating melody, the psychedelic guitar riffs rising and falling, the slow, gooey, tumbling drum beats. I mean, I wouldn’t describe what we have as “love,” he’s still the worst. But it’s like there was this door to this whole other world and Ben unlocked it for me. When we’re together, just the two of us, the fact that we’re two kids in Formula One makes sense, because he’s here with me. And he just seems to know stuff about me… 

Something in the way she knows / And all I have to do is think of her / Something in the things she shows me

Yeah.

He makes me want to give up this tightly wound thing I’m constantly gripping in my hand so hard it hurts. He makes me want to give up control, because I feel so out of control with him, and it feels good.

Mom’s more difficult, I run through my favourite albums. But my mind keeps coming back to my favourite Bowie song, the classic, “Space Oddity”. The procedural nature of the song, the buildup, the journey:

This is Major Tom to Ground Control, / I’m stepping through the door / And I’m floating in a most peculiar way, / And the stars look very different today.

The fact that Ground Control loses contact with Major Tom. Is that what I want? The thought makes me dizzy.

I flinch at a gentle but assertive knock on my door. My voice breaks as I get out: “Come in!”

Ed pokes his long, bespectacled nose through the door. Something feels so weird about it, and I realize that, for the life of me, I don’t remember anyone except Mom ever even opening the door to my prep room. Ed looks guilty, like he’s sorry for interrupting something. I pop an earpod out.

“Uh, we are ready for you in the garage,” Ed says, sounding apologetic. I glance at the clock on the wall and realize I’m way past due. I was lost in my thoughts and Hendrix’s epic guitar rifts.

“Sorry!” I reach my arms back, pulling my race suit up and on. It’s clumsy, Mom’s usually here helping me with it. “I’ll be right there!”

Ed nods, looking relieved, and pulls the door closed. I shake my head at myself.

I hum “Space Oddity” to myself as I pop my earpods back into their case and put my phone down. Then a memory hits me out of nowhere, like getting sideswiped. We’re in our living room in Nice in the late afternoon, the patio doors are open, a warm, sweet summer breeze. Mom’s dancing, waving her arms slowly to Bowie’s moony lyrics, a wine glass in one hand, lit up by the sun blazing through the westerly window. She’s laughing. The scratchy, warm sound of the record comes through the big high fidelity speakers, the music turned up louder than it should be.

Dad’s records. We still have them. He’s dancing with her, making goofy faces.

Then they both turn and hold their arms open for me to join them. I don’t even know if the memory is real or something my mind’s pieced together. I have no idea where it came from.

*

Qualifying is brutal. The record breaking heat breaks its own record, and even some of the drivers are starting to question if it’s safe to drive. The first eighteen-minute session is dragged out by two separate red flag incidents, which throws off the usual rhythm of quali. Our car is suited to the track, but Ken and I barely squeak by into Q2, slotting into P12 and P13, respectively.

Ben spends the last seconds of Q1 right on the cusp of getting knocked out when Arnie Xavier-Cortez from the Weston Arbour team finishes a lap and pushes him down to P16, into the slowest five cars that’ll get knocked out. My heart kind of sinks when I see that, until Xavier-Cortez’s lap gets deleted for exceeding track limits–going over the carefully guarded track lines, monitored with laser precision. So Ben is moved back up to P15 and moves onto Q2, but just barely.

I get pulled into the garage, mechanics slapping cooling pumps onto the ports of the car to try to get the heat under control. Someone passes me a little hand fan, I sit in the monocoque sweating through my suit, my helmet visor up, the only relief is a few inches of my face getting what feels like warm air blown in, but even that is a welcome relief.

Ed keeps me updated, a couple drivers are critical of the racing conditions and think that qualifying should be suspended. But Mom always says the F1 gods have a sense of humour, because in the minutes between Q1 and Q2, clouds roll in from the ocean. The sky goes almost nighttime-black, the track cools, the air pressure changes, I can feel it.

DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Rain expected to hit the main straight in two and a half minutes.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Get me out!
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): We are discussing wait-and-see for intermediates. Standby.

I want to argue with Ed. Getting on the track with rain incoming is a massive gamble that can massively pay off. Once the track is even lightly misted with rain, the dry weather tyres become slippery and lose their grip completely. Heavy rain and you might as well drive on a slip-and-slide. But if I could get a lap on the board before the rain starts… then everyone else is forced to make their laps on the grippy but heavier and slower wet weather tyres. I could even make it through to Q3 for the first time. Ashamed as I am to even think it, my mind goes where it often does these days: What would Ben Robinson do?

Then I see the flash of a red Altomare car peeling down the pitlane, so I say exactly what I’m thinking, Ben Robinson style.

DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Ed! ******* get me out there!

There’s a stunned silence, only a second at most but in F1 time it stretches out. I picture Ed on the pit wall looking to our team principal, who gives a begrudging nod.

DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Copy. Q2 green flag. You are good to go.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Thanks.
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): And Pierre reminds you to mind your language, as we are on international broadcast.

He sounds amused, but I just imagine M. Moulin on the pit wall with him, Mom in the garage–I’m going to get a lecture after this, I deserve it, swearing at my race engineer. As I’m pulling out of the garage a flash of sky blue zips by ahead of me.

I don’t have to ask Ed whose car it is. Ben’s taking the same gamble as me but, not only that, he’s put himself between me and the start of my flying lap. He’s trying something different, again. This time I’m not smiling.

I feel myself tensed up as my car trundles down the pit lane, following Ben’s. He’s done this on purpose, he’s rolling slowly towards the pit exit as he lets the Altomare car ahead of him build some distance. Quali’s about putting down the fastest lap, which means driving through the cleanest air. I see him upshift and speed up the pitlane exit, watch him disappear around the first right hand turn, and I’m forced to do the same thing, inch down the pitlane and let him build some distance, putting me agonizing seconds closer to the rain.

I take my setup lap as fast as I can. Angry, grey-black clouds roil overhead as I take the slow 70 degree turn 13, and I see Ben’s car disappear up the main straight. Ed’s been updating me about track-level temperature changes and my gap to Ben, and how we are the only three cars out on track. Lights are coming on around the track, that’s just how dark it is, like a switch was flipped.

DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): We are seeing some light rain in the pit lane.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Copy. Gap to Ben okay?
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): A-firm. You are free to start a flying lap.

As my car pulls around the final corner onto the long main straight running perpendicular to the pit lane I feel a small snap as the back tyres step out, struggling to find the grip as rain droplets mist my visor. I grunt in frustration, I’m not going to get my top speed as I barrel down the straight, I’ll have to be more careful if the track is wet ahead. I flip open the DRS back wings then make sure to go generous on the brakes as my car swings around the first right hander at the end of the straight. I feel the car slip across the kerb. Both the brakes and the kerb are going to cost me time.

Ed keeps me updated as I finish the first sector, I’m doing okay but not great. I’m behind on Ben’s time, he must’ve got his first sector in just ahead of the rain. I do better on sector two, the long left hand pull around the opposite side of the lake that switches back into a shorter right hand heading into the final sector. The track is a blur of green palms and grey fence under the stormy sky. Then my lap starts really going off the rails in the final four corners. The rain’s beginning to wash down over the track. I might’ve been okay on intermediates–the kind between dry tyres and full wets–but on dry tyres my car starts to fight me as it planes across the slicked wet track.

In the final corner I hit the green and yellow striped kerb on the right hand side and feel the tyres slip out as I pull around to the opposite side. The car judders as my back tyres tap the opposite wall and it takes all of my concentration to fight the car back on course. By the time I cross the line I’m P3… out of three cars that made a run. My time is down almost a second on Ben and even more on the Altomare car ahead of him. I feel a full body nausea pushing against the adrenaline coursing through my veins.

DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Think I hit the wall on the last corner… Any damage?
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): We are checking. Box for intermediate tyres.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Copy.

Cars on inters are now streaming out of the pit lane, hoping to get a lap in before full wets become necessary. I’m heading back out of the pit and setting up my out lap on my own intermediate tyres. Then I get the dreaded call.

DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Sorry, Bastien. We believe there may be some suspension damage, we need to check. Box, box. Please confirm.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): … A-firm… coming back in.

I get to spend the rest of Q2 sitting in my car in the garage, watching as I tumble down the running to Q15 by the end of the session. With his excellent lap ahead of me on dry tyres, Ben sits at P6 and moves on into Q3. The first time either of us have made it that far this season.

*

The door is open, a flip flop wedged in just enough that it’s not automatically locked, so I let myself in.

“I figured you’d stop in!” Ben calls from somewhere in the hotel suite. I lock the door behind me. I’m not sure how this is going to go.

F1 drivers spend almost the entire year going from hotel to hotel. Between training, testing, plus sponsor and team obligations, we’re lucky if we get a couple of weeks at home. The rest of the time, we’ve got trailers, jet cabins and hotel room after hotel room. Duvalier usually opts for comfortable but cost effective rooms in slightly upscale hotels. Ben, of course, is staying in a luxury hotel practically within eyesight of Albert Park.

The room is all white-panelled walls, lush modern furnishings and dark wood accents. As I kick off my shoes in the entryway, I blink in confusion when I realize there’s a staircase leading upstairs. At the top is a landing with a large, king size bed, but still no sign of Ben. Then I hear a gentle movement of water echoing on tile and realize he’s probably in the bathroom, through the door beyond the loft bed that’s wide open.

“Don’t just stand there, you fuckwit!” Ben calls out affectionately from the bathroom, his voice echoing off the tile and marble out through the door. “Get your ass in here.”

I step in and immediately cover my eyes. Ben is laying back in a huge, deep freestanding tub that takes up the entirety of one end of the bathroom. I hear him scoff. “You’re covering your eyes because…”

“You’re naked,” I state, and he laughs.

“You’ve been inside me, mate.”

I force myself to lower my hand and glare at him from the doorway. He’s smirking at me, his head lolling on the rim of the tub, long dark hair tied up in a messy bun. “Yeah, but that’s sex stuff. That’s different.”

He pushes some loose strands of hair out of his eyes, then turns his body and rests his arms on the side of the tub, pulling himself up slightly. I catch a glimpse of his muscular torso as it rises out of the water. He catches me catching the glimpse. “So, what brings you by?”

I feel my fists clench at my sides. It takes everything not to fold my arms defensively. As usual, he’s the one who’s totally naked but it leaves me feeling like the vulnerable one.

“You did that on purpose,” I state, a little more fury in my voice than I intended. Ben raises an eyebrow.

“I do a lot of things on purpose, mate. Want to be a little more specific?” he says. I open my mouth but he holds up a finger. “Actually, why don’t you come over?”

He nods his head to the opposite end of the tub, then lays back, the water sloshing around from the movement. I glare at him, but he just sighs in contentment, sinking down into the tub a little more. So I walk over and go to sit on the edge of the tub, trying–and failing–not to sneak a peek.

“Take your clothes off,” Ben says–no, commands. I look at him, confused. “Wouldn’t want to send you home in wet clothes.”

I exhale in frustration, but peel my tee off, then unbutton my cargo shorts and kick them off along with my socks. I turn to sit on the edge of the tub again, but he shakes his head.

“All of them.”

I shiver a little as I grab the band of my boxer briefs and push them down. Again, it takes all my willpower not to cover myself up, feeling self-conscious. It’s just Ben. He’s seen me naked before.

“I’m surprised you didn’t wear a slutty little pair of panties over to see me,” Ben laughs to himself as I kick my underwear off my ankle.

“I didn’t come over for sex stuff,” I state. I sit on the edge of the tub, feeling the cool ceramic on my butt, and the warmth radiating from the water.

“Dip your feet in, turn around and face me,” I sigh in frustration as lift my butt and slip my legs into the warm water. I feel Ben’s feet nudge between my calves and he pulls my legs open with his. I look away furiously. Then I feel something warm, wet and rough press against my dick. I whimper and glance down to see Ben running the pad of his foot up and down my erection. “Seems like this little guy disagrees.”

“That’s your fault,” I say, biting my lip as he continues to stroke me gently with his foot. “Just like quali.”

“Yeah, your P15,” Ben grins wolfishly. “You sucked shit, dude.”

Ben takes his foot away and I think he’s done screwing around with me, until I feel his toes on the inside of my thigh. I shiver, my knuckles going white gripping the edge of the tub as I brace myself.

He raises his foot up, in one graceful motion until it’s pointed at my face. He gives me a look as he’s lying back in the tub, he doesn’t need to tell me what he wants, I know it.

“I’m… not going to kiss your foot…”

“Oh, you get to tell me what you want now?” Ben asks. I glare at him, the corner of his mouth curls up in a cruel smile. He’s laid back in the tub, his lean, muscular body, that perfectly manicured treasure trail leading down to his dick, slightly hard bobbing in the water, all of it dancing in the ripples of water. I lean in and kiss the top of his foot, just above his toes. He lowers his leg back so it’s brushing the inside of my thigh. My traitorous dick twitches. “Tell me what I did to you.”

“You totally… mm, screwed me up…” I say, hearing my voice waver as his toes brush further and further up the inside of my leg. I gasp when he lowers it, sit there twitching as he watches. “Coming out when you did.”

“Fucking right I did, Bee,” Ben twists himself around in the tub and pulls himself over so he’s right between my legs. He braces himself on my knees, then reaches up, grasps my dick and starts to stroke me. I groan and squeeze my eyes shut. “And now… I’m going to screw you again.”

I shiver a little, open up and look down. Ben’s there, smirking up at me, braced on my legs, hand slowly pumping up and down. “What are you going to do to me?”

“I said I’m going to screw you, mate,” Ben growls, and I bite my lip. “You play so innocent, so let’s fucking do something about that.”

“You can’t do that…” I say, even if I’ve been… requesting it from Ben over the past couple of weeks. “I haven’t, you know, done the butt preparation stuff.”

“I’m not too worried,” Ben throws his head back and laughs. “Little shivering chihuahua like you.”

I moan, then Ben lets go of my dick and I almost whine until he gives it a slap, which makes me wince and gasp. Why do I like when he’s so mean to me? So demeaning…

Ben lets me go, and I hear him pull the plug as the bath starts to gurgle and empty. “Go get me a towel.”

I jump out of the tub, my feet slipping a little on the tile as I scramble to grab him one. I come back and Ben stands up in the middle of the tub. He gives me another look and I glower at him, and then step behind him and start to towel him off, delicately dabbing the water off his back, then his arms, one at a time, right, then left. I’m at least satisfied to see that by the time I get to his waist he has a full on erection… I wonder if he wants me to suck him off, like yesterday in the bathroom.

“Legs too,” Ben commands, and I pat down his legs one at a time, right, then left. “Bed. All fours.”

“Ben, I…” I bite my lip. This has been my experience with trying new things, sex. It feels so good… and it’s a little scary.

“Bed. All fours.”

I moan and practically run out the bathroom door. I put the towel down on the creamy white duvet–always put down a towel for butt stuff, Ben taught me that–and climb up onto the edge of the bed. Getting on all fours like some dog or something… Waiting. I hear Ben in the bathroom, whistling–I have trouble picking out the song, but then I remember, “La gazza ladra,” The Thieving Magpie, Rossini, I think I heard it on a soundtrack or something. I sit there on my hands and knees, feeling the dampness of the towel, shivering. He’s making me wait. What a bastard.

Finally, I see him stroll out of the bathroom in the periphery of my vision, still naked, carrying the bottle of lube that he has because he’s a total horndog. He steps behind me and I flinch as I feel his hand cup my right butt cheek. He laughs to himself as he caresses it, laughs at me, then he takes his hand off. I’m waiting for what comes next when I feel him swat me across the cheek with his palm, hard. I gasp and then hear myself groan.

“You locked the door?”

“Of course I did,” I say, insulted that he thinks I’m so stupid. Then I feel another swat. I gasp and groan again. I drop my head, I wonder if it’s going to leave a mark. I watch as a big drop of pre drips off my dick.

“You don’t get to talk back like that,” Ben growls, amused. Then I feel something cool press against my hole. It’s his fingers, two of them, covered in lube.

Mon dieu,” I gasp as he presses them in, feel my face scrunch up. I’ve maybe experimented a little bit on my own… it was an experiment, I just wanted to see what it felt like. But when it’s not your own fingers. It’s a painful sort of stretching feeling… but good pain. I feel fuller as he slowly slides the two thick fingers in. My jaw drops open as I concentrate on the feeling. 

“Deep breaths,” Ben commands. “Relax.”

“O-okay…” I shiver as I feel the other fingers, the one outside me, brush against my balls. His fingers are all the way in.

“Nothing to worry about at all,” Ben says, laughing again as he pulls his fingers out, then pushes them back in, a little more forceful this time. “Good boy.”

I whimper, practically sob when he calls me that, I have to bite my lip to keep from crying out for him to call me that again.

I like being a good boy.

He fingers me for what feels like forever, but is probably just a couple of minutes, until I can make myself relax enough and I’m stretched that he can slide them in and out easier. I’m going to lose my butt virginity to Ben Robinson of all people, ugh! Why do I do this to myself?

“B-Ben?”

“Yes, slut?”

I groan quietly at that. “C-can we put on some… music?”

Ben gives an exaggerated sigh. Then I hear the familiar riff on his portable speakers, the third song off Nevermind, those lyrics: “Take your time, hurry up, / Choice is yours, don’t be late…

I’m going to lose my butt virginity to Nirvana!

I feel Ben’s hands press against the inside of my thighs, then he pushes them apart and I fall forward a little, my legs splayed behind me. I groan again. Then I feel something pressing at my hole.

“You’re going to want to take some deep breaths and really, really relax,” Ben states. “And do not, I repeat, do not clench. Otherwise this is going to hurt a lot, mate.”

“M-maybe I want it to hurt,” I state, my voice trembling, as I feel Ben’s hand press into the curve of my lower back. Ben just laughs to himself as he presses harder.

I feel something pop in. That snaps me out of the fantasy. It hurts, I feel stretched to the max. I start focusing on my breath. In, then out, relax… relax… I make a sound I didn’t even know I was capable of as he fills me a little more.

Come doused in mud, soaked in bleach / As I want you to be.” 

“Are you… in?!” I gasp, dropping my head and trying to see.

Ben laughs, grunting as I move. That’s its own strange sensation, feeling his dick a little upturned inside me. “I’m like… maybe an inch inside you.”

An inch?! He is NOT small! How does he make taking it look so easy?!

“More lube please!”

Ben pushes a little further inside me and I groan in pain… but it’s not exactly bad pain. It’s not the sort of focused, warm pleasure of being the penetrating partner; feeling that tight, full body sensation, the urge to use what you’re inside of until you’re sated. It hurts, but it hurts good. Not even in the same way as being spanked, or like when Ben grabs my hair. I always thought sex was this one distracting thing, but it turns out it’s an infinite amount of equally distracting different things you can do in different configurations, and they all have their own pleasure output. Fascinating.

“Lube!” I groan, then Ben grabs my hair and pulls my head back, making me arch my back as he pushes in a little further. He knew exactly what to do, I’m not begging for lube anymore. I’m begging for more of him.

“That’s right, you little fucking bitch,” he growls. In the pandemonium of sensations–pain, pleasure, a combination of both, the physical feeling of my body being pushed to a limit–I feel his hips press against me. He’s all the way in. It feels like it. I’m being split in two. “I thought you, mm, wanted it to hurt?”

“I… do…” I sigh, barely a whisper. Then he starts to pull out. That’s it’s own experience. The sudden pleasurable absence of it. I don’t know if I’m relieved or regretful about it. Then he presses back in, and I feel myself fill up again. That same pleasure, that same pain. This is why it feels so good.

“You do what?” Ben asks, pulling my hair hard as he pushes in.

“I… want it to hurt…” I grunt out, moaning as I feel him press all the way in again. The little rational person in my brain who’s still driving recognizes that I don’t even need to focus on my breathing anymore. I’m getting the hang of this.

“Say, ‘I want it to hurt,’” Ben leaves that hanging in the air, and I’m about to repeat it when he says: “‘I want it to hurt… Daddy.’”

Daddy?!

Memoria, memoria…

He stops. He can feel the subtle shift in energy as I try to process that one. He’s thrust into me the whole way again, he’s buried inside me. I’m trying to parse this out. He wants me to call him “Daddy”?

“B-but… we’re the same age?” I grunt out. He pulls my hair. Hard. Pulls me up against him, wraps the arm that had been grasping my hip. I feel his hard dick inside of me shift around. I feel like it’s stirring my insides. My eyes roll into the back of my head as I feel his hot breath in my ear.

“You call me what I tell you, bitch,” Ben growls, then releases me and throws me back down onto the bed. 

“Yes… mon dieu… Yes, Daddy!” Yes, of course, I’ll call him anything he wants. He’s picked up the pace. He’s sliding in and out of me so fast that the two sensations blur together into this incoherent, pulverizing technicolour.

Then he says the magic words: “Good boy!”

I sort of lose track of myself for a bit. I say some things. I don’t take responsibility for the string of profanities that come out of my mouth.

I come back to myself when I hear a change of pitch in Ben’s grunting with each thrust; the tightening grasp of his strong hands on my hips as he pulls me onto him; the way his thrusts become more frantic, almost desperate.

“You want it… inside of you… bitch?!” Ben growls. I make some urgent moaning noise in the affirmative. “Tell me!”

“I want it!” I moan.

“I said tell me, you fucking slut!”

“I want it… inside me… Daddy!”

He grunts and I’m moaning out with each frenzied thrust as I feel something leak out of me. Ben falls over me, bracing himself on the bed, shuddering. A couple more half-hearted thrusts, a couple of shuddering breaths. I realize I’m covered in sweat. My body feels battered. My ass stings from where he smacked it a few more times. I feel ecstatic.

Until he pulls out of me, then I just feel empty.

“Get the fuck out,” Ben mutters.

I try to manoeuvre my body to turn and face him in some way that doesn’t aggravate the more tender, abused parts and also doesn’t let his come go spilling out of me. I feel like a total mess down there. “Uh. Huh? What?”

“I said get the fuck out,” Ben growls, and there’s a venom in his voice that I haven’t heard for awhile. “Get the fuck out of my room.”

“But I haven’t–” I hiss from the tender feeling as I close my legs. “I’m… I feel–”

“The fuck do I care?” Ben asks, more as a statement. He goes into the bathroom, splattering come on his legs, on the floor as his softening dick flops back and forth. He reappears in the doorway and throws my bundle of clothes at me. “This is so fucking stupid. This whole fucking thing. Stupid.”

“Bee,” I bite my lip as I struggle to pull on my boxer briefs, sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to keep the towel between my butt and the duvet. “What about–”

“Get the fuck out,” Ben says. “What did I say before? Guess what? I screwed you. Now fuck off, Bastien.”

Ben stands there staring at me as I’m getting dressed. I can tell he’s serious. I feel something well up inside of me as I pull on my socks and wobble over to the stairs. I want to turn back and say something but I know if I hear him tell me to “get the fuck out” one more time I’ll start crying. 

It feels weird to wobble down the stairs, to bend over to pull my shoes on, my ass hurts, but most of all I feel empty. Both the emptiness of having his dick stretching me out a mere two minutes ago, but also the empty, lonely realization that I like sex with Ben Robinson. It’s fun, it feels good, it’s easy, it’s like he knows what I want before I even know it. I like sex with Ben Robinson, but the sex isn’t my favourite part. It’s when we lay in bed together afterwards tangled up in each other’s arms and legs, all sweaty and messy, checking Instagram together, watching videos, talking about racing, him teasing me, laughing together at the stupidest stuff, maybe the occasional kiss. That’s the part that I love. Ben knew that, of course he knew that I feel that way.

Now I know what it feels like to really be screwed over.

*

“Bastien Chevalier! Where have you been?!”

I sigh as I push my hotel door open. I’m exhausted. I just want to take a shower and go to bed. I want things to go back to making sense again. They will in the morning. Training, race prep, briefings… All of that makes sense.

Mom sticks her foot in the hotel door before it closes completely. I’m already halfway across the room. I stop in the bathroom doorway and glare back at her. She looks furious. Actually furious, without her public face on. She’s in a t-shirt and a pair of yoga pants, her strawberry-blonde hair is up in a messy ponytail, she has no makeup on. She’s not Geneviève Desrosiers. She’s not my driving manager. She’s my mom.

“I was trying to find you. And no one knew where you were. On race night,” she states, angry and exasperated, as if nothing more outrageous had ever happened in the history of the universe. “Sneaking out on race night? And tell me where you were exactly?!”

“With Ben,” I murmur.

“With Ben. Of course. Always Ben,” she throws her hands up in the air. I feel my heart rate kick up, but it’s not because I’m afraid. It’s because I’m annoyed. Mom is being annoying and I want her to go away. “Ben, who I thought you couldn’t stand. Ben, who we made a media plan about. Together. Which you threw away because now he’s your best friend. Fine. But on race night. You look like a mess. Were you drinking?! What is our number one rule? On race night you–”

“We don’t have a rule.”

Mom blinks, opens her mouth to say something, closes it, then opens it again. “Excuse me?”

“We don’t have a rule,” I state again. “There’s never been a rule about race night. I’ve just always stayed in. I went out tonight.”

I watch in real time as Mom’s body language changes. She looks more hunched over, more angular, her face is pulled taut in a simmering, barely contained fury. “You don’t. Go out. On race night.”

“It’s not even nine o’clock, Maman…” I sigh, turning towards the bathroom. I hear her stomp across the hotel carpet. She’s in sneakers. She was standing at her door waiting for me in sneakers. Ugh!

“Bastien, it doesn’t matter what time it is!” she snaps. I feel my heart beating in my throat. “What if something important came up? What if someone needed to find you? Or what if something happened to you? You weren’t answering your phone! You weren’t answering texts!”

“What if I wanted to do my own thing for once?”

I don’t raise my voice, I don’t have to. She locks eyes with me in the bathroom mirror. I’m bracing myself against the counter, glaring at her. My ass hurts. I just want to take a shower and get in bed. I want her to leave. There’s this thing sitting between us and I realize like a wave crashing over me that it’s hatred. But I can’t hate my own Mom… Can I?

“Bastien,” she closes her eyes and rubs her temples. She’s talking to me like I’m a kid. “You have responsibilities. You have an entire team that’s relying on you to show up at your best. Better than your best. Do you know how quickly this opportunity could be taken away from you?”

“I don’t even know if I want to be here, Maman,” I mutter, with no idea where the words came from, and not ready for how true they are as I say them out loud. “I started competing because you wanted me to. I did F4 and F3 and F2 because you got me sponsors and contracts. You got me the spot as Duvalier’s lead driver.”

Mom’s face is inscrutable. “I did those things because I’m your manager, Bastien. I asked you… if you wanted to compete–”

“Yeah, I liked karting, sure,” I say to her in the mirror. “I liked it because it was the only place I had friends I got to see regularly. Because we were never home. Because of your work. And because you wanted me to race like you did.”

Mom’s staring at me like I’m a stranger who just barged in on her.

Papa didn’t even want me racing,” I mutter.

I see Mom wipe at her eyes in the periphery of my vision in the mirror. I think she’s going to say something else, but she just turns around and walks out of my room, I hear the door clunk behind her, locked.

I take my shirt off and look at myself in the mirror. I really am a mess. I look pale, my hair is all tangled and oily, my eyes look tired. I am tired. I look at my neck. Not a single mark, no hickeys. Ben didn’t kiss me once.

I take off the rest of my clothes, take a long, hot shower, climb into bed, set my alarm for training tomorrow, I lay there in the dark staring up at the stucco ceiling in the dark, all in total silence.

I don’t even feel like listening to music.

 

SUNDAY

Charlie convinced Mr. Moulin to squeeze an Australian talk show in between morning training and our full team meeting in the Duvalier pavilion, and then an interview with a reporter from Rolling Stone Australia before a sponsor meet and greet, and the driver parade. Our social director and the communications team want to capitalize on a “brand moment.” I’ve always known that brands and sponsors were a huge thing with Formula motorsports, but I just let myself get carted around from sponsor event to sponsor event, put on the team polo, stand in front of the camera, it all just seemed to be the same noise. I’m in a foul mood. I feel like a walking billboard. I never understood why Kurt Cobain was so depressed until another boring, obnoxious cryptocurrency executive is telling me I’m a rockstar.

And everywhere we go there are huge crowds of fans screaming under the blazing Australian sun. Signs, blue lightning bolts, screaming.

The talk show people hate me. I find them exhausting, so positive, and they talk so much without actually saying anything. They try to get me to explain what Bowie means to me as a gender bending sex symbol. I tell them I just think Mick Ronson is a musical genius, they don’t even know who he is.

“What’s your favourite Bowie song?” one of the hosts, a guy who reeks of hairspray and whose teeth are frighteningly white, asks me.

I blink, “‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’.”

The interview wraps up not long after that.

The conversation with the Rolling Stone journalist goes a little better, she actually knows what she’s talking about. We just spend twenty minutes talking about music. I want to ask her if I can just spend the rest of the day with her. Charlie seems exhilarated from all the media action and makes sure I always have some bottled water and my hair and clothes look right, but I realize it could be me or a poodle in a team polo, she’s just there to pack me up and move me to the next thing while she stands around on her phone with a bunch of other people standing around on their phones. Mom makes sure I have my itinerary for the day, makes sure I get from place to place, but otherwise she hangs back in the paddock. The day’s so jam packed busy that no one else picks up on that.

Ben doesn’t message me once. When we pass by each other in the paddock he pretends he’s talking to his manager so he doesn’t have to acknowledge me.

I get deposited in a big temporary garage tent. Ten Phaeton Chariots–classic Australian convertibles made by the auto manufacturer sponsor of Pride F1–painted in each team’s colours, are waiting to be loaded up for the driver parade. I tuck myself between a pile of car covers and one of the flatbed transport trucks, my head between my knees, trying to focus on my breathing, trying to convince myself that I can survive the day, when I see someone step in front of me.

I look up expecting to see Ben, but it’s my teammate, leathery and weathered Ken De Jong. The oldest F1 driver on the grid. Ken “The Robot” De Jong, who is infamous for once threatening to bite the ear off of a journalist who asked him a stupid question after a poor qualifying. Ken De Jong, who once crashed out at the Monaco Grand Prix and jumped a fence, walked down to the harbour and climbed into the hot tub on his yacht. Ken De Jong, who has a remorseless reputation for crashing people out, then explaining that they were “just racing.” Ken, who’s never said a word to me and terrifies me more than any other human on Earth, asks: “Okay there, bra?”

I blink. I’m so surprised at him talking to me I’m temporarily snapped out of my spiralling mood. Especially when he sits down next to me on the edge of some storage staging.

“Um, bad day, Ken.”

He nods his head sagely. “Ag, shame, man!” We sit there a moment in a strangely comfortable silence. The absence of Mom not standing behind me, of Ben not just a message away, making fun of me and calling me a slut, hits home because of how good it feels just to have another human beside me for a bit. Even if it is Ken De Jong, who scares the living hell out of me.

After a moment of us watching the madcap chaos of F1 drivers getting corralled to their cars by a hundred fussy people who are either clutching tablets or smartphones, Ken De Jong gives my back a pat, then ruffles my hair affectionately as he stands up. “Least we get to race today, ja?”

He sticks his hands in his pockets and ambles away. I look around to see if anyone noticed, because I’m not sure I believe it happened myself.

*

Oh God, oh God, oh God. What am I doing?

I can’t do this.

I’m all alone. Ben’s done with me. I haven’t seen Mom since the pre-race brief. They’ve left me. I have to do this all by myself. I’m going to fail. I’m going to let the whole team down.

My head hangs between my knees as I gasp for air, trying to focus on my breathing and ward off a full blown panic attack. But I’m spinning out. If I have to race like this I’m going to be a mess. Everyone’s going to see I’m just a scared little boy. I picture the whole team comforting me but dispirited after a run of good racing, I picture the wall of cameras that wait for me on the other side, of Mom turning away, of getting kicked off the team and never seeing Ben again. I’m going to let them all down.

The door opens and I turn my head slightly. I see Mom’s sneakers slip into the room and close the door behind her.

She sits next to me and puts her arm around me, pulling me close. We sit there for a moment with me just taking heaving, sobbing breaths.

“Fear and uncertainty is completely normal,” she says quietly, though I can barely hear it over the blood pounding in my ears.

I take a gasping breath and get out in a rushed, jumbled French, “Fear and uncertainty is completely normal.”

“Focus on your breathing,” Mom says, almost whispering. I try to take a slow breath in, counting to eight. “I am not afraid. Fear does not rule me.”

“I am… not afraid…” I say, my voice breathy, shaky as I exhale. “Fear… does not… rule me.”

“I am a person with fears,” Mom continues, and as I focus on my breath and her voice, the ritual of repetition, I feel my spiral levelling out. “Everyone has fears.”

“I am a person with fears… Everyone has fears.”

Mom’s hand drops until it’s rubbing circles on my back. I focus on that too. “I will feel the fear and do it anyway.”

“I will… feel the fear and do it anyway,” I repeat, bracing myself on my knees and lifting my head, eyes closed.

“I am meant to be here,” she says, hand going slow and clockwise. Same direction as Albert Park.

“I am meant to be here,” I say, even if I don’t entirely believe it.

“Better?” Mom asks gently.

“A little,” I say. Usually she’d hand me my airpods and I’d get up and stretch, but we just sit there, her squeezing me close. I put my head on her shoulder.

“You get your nerves from me,” Mom says after a minute or so. “Your papa was the only one who could wind me down. He was one of the most infuriatingly calm people I’ve ever met.”

I smile at that.

“We haven’t talked about him in a while,” Mom says, and I can tell she means me bringing him up last night.

“I think about him all the time,” I say.

“Me too,” Mom whispers. “You got the good stuff from him, how sweet he was, how much he loved music. How he loved to play.”

“I got some good stuff from you,” I whisper back, and Mom turns and presses her lips against the top of my head.

“Bastien, if you don’t want to race…” I sit there in my Mom’s arms, thinking about what it would mean not to race. I don’t even know what my life would look like, I’d still probably do the simulator a lot. There’s so much I love about it, the focus, the precision. Playing music is the only other thing I do that makes life just fall away in the same way.

I probably wouldn’t see Ben much anymore. That thought kind of scares me.

I can tell Mom is sitting there, waiting for me to say something. She’s scared too. Probably scared to hear me say that I don’t want to race anymore. What that would mean to her, this is her entire life. But it’s my life too. I didn’t get here just because my Mom is Geneviève Desrosiers. That opened a lot of doors, definitely. But so did I, because I’m good at it, and because I work hard.

“Can I, um, take some guitar lessons?”

Mom’s quiet, she seems puzzled. I anticipate her response. There’s just not enough time, I should be focused on my training, I can’t get distracted.

“We could hire someone,” she wonders out loud. “To the team. If you want in-person lessons.”

“Um, maybe…” I say, a little intimidated by the thought of adding another person to the huge network of people around me. “Online lessons would be fine too, we could buy a good mic.”

“Okay.”

“I want to learn to skateboard too.”

Mom turns her head and gives me an exasperated look. “Skateboarding?!”

“I think it looks cool,” I say. “I want to roll into the paddock on a skateboard.”

Mom laughs to herself. “That’d give them something to talk about.”

I wait for Mom to tell me that it’s time to start stretching, but she just sits there with me.

“I let it all get jumbled up,” she says after another minute or so. “Mom, manager, former F1 driver… I don’t know if I’d be any good at untangling them. It’s the same with you. You’re my son, and my job, and my little boy, but you’re also a young man.”

I nod against her shoulder.

“I get scared seeing you change so quickly,” she continues. “I convinced myself it was because I was afraid you wouldn’t need your Mom anymore–”

I shake my head at that.

“–but it might be because I need my little boy,” she says. “It’s scary to let go of something you’ve clung so tightly to through all of the troubles of life.”

“Yeah…” I sigh.

“I also have to recognize… When you’re in this world of ours, and you’re not like every other one of your peers,” she gives an exasperated, exhausted sigh. “I had to be perfect. I couldn’t be angry, or stressed out, or sad. I had to show up to the grid and be the perfect driver, because if I wasn’t perfect I was just ‘the woman driver’. And I still didn’t get more than a year. I don’t know what I’m trying to say…”

I wait, just happy to be there, talking with her.

“I put so much on you. And I get scared because you’re my little boy. I get scared that people are going to treat you the same if you aren’t the perfect driver,” she gives a grunting laugh. “Lot of good that did me.”

After another moment I say, “I want to finish out the season, at least. Um, can we talk again when we start thinking about a contract for next year?”

“Of course,” Mom murmurs.

“If they even bother keeping me…”

“They would be foolish not to,” Mom says, sounding like the imperious, impervious Geneviève Desrosiers, the woman I’ve always idolized and also been a little bit intimidated by. “If you want to keep your seat and they want to get rid of you… They’ll have to go through your manager first.”

I smile at that too. Mom gives me a squeeze and then lets go, we both know I should start stretching. She hands me my earpods.

“But as your manager,” Mom says, “if you ever swear at your race engineer again we are going to have a long, unpleasant conversation about team radio etiquette. You don’t have to be perfect, but you’re not going to act like all these other hooligans.”

“Yes, Maman…”

“Good, chouchou,” Mom says as she stands up, although she stops and looks apologetic. “Sorry, I should probably stop calling you that around the track.”

“You can keep calling me that.”

Mom gives me a teasing smile. “Not Ziggy?”

I groan. Mom grins and gives my shoulder an affectionate squeeze before heading for the door, shaking her head and laughing to herself, “Skateboarding?! Mon dieu… donne-moi ta force!

*

Formula One is about pushing our machines, our minds, our bodies to the limit. By lap 54 out of 58 the Australian Grand Prix is pushing me to my limits.

High-speed course that Albert Park is, a red flag isn’t out of the ordinary. We’re up to our third: full race stop, go and sit in the pit lane in the blazing hot Australian day until the track is cleaned, tyre barriers are fixed, busted-up chassis are trucked off. A red flag or two is hard enough, to keep your focus, your race mindset. Blinders on, peak performance, no mistakes. Each subsequent red flag drains us all a little more, throws us off the natural rhythm of a race, tosses carefully planned strategy to the wind.

The first lap red flag is unfortunate but not unexpected. One of the Altomare cars gets tapped by a Weston Arbour on the first corner, sends the driver spinning off into the gravel trap where he flounders for a moment before his team calls it. He’s in too dangerous a place for us to keep racing and track marshals need to get the car and clean up a bit, so we all pull into the pitlane and are forced to restart the race after a wait.

Lap seven Ben’s teammate Herman Schultz has a snap of oversteer coming around the strange little kink of turns six and seven. His back wheels bounce off the kerb and just keep going, pulling the car out of control. He smashes into the wall, wheels brakes off. He’s shaken but okay, but also heartbroken. To crash out on your home race…

There’s even more heartbreak for other drivers. The safety car comes out, it collects the cars and slows the race pace behind it while track marshals get to work. The entire field is slowed so pitting under a safety car is considered “cheaper,” you lose less time because everyone else is slower. So a few cars pit, come back out on new tyres in anticipation of getting racing again… and then the race gets red flagged, which essentially negates their cheap pit stop and screws them out of position. Casimiro Torres had been running in P1 and gets dropped back to P6. Ricky Brathwaite, similarly, P5 to P11. Brutal.

On lap 18 one of the Weston Arbour team cars catches fire, a mechanical failure probably not at all helped by the heat. He’s fine, pulls over, gets out. That gets a virtual safety car, making the front car, Izzy Gauthier’s Horus, the effective safety car. Another car eaten up by Albert Park.

The strange thing is that, through all of this, I’m doing incredible. I started in P15 and made up a few places in the chaos of the first lap before the race was red flagged. By our second red flag I make up a couple of more places and am up to P10, just ahead of Torres after he gets screwed over by the safety car turned red flag.

Ben’s not faring so well, I get to watch the entire race in chunks as we’re waiting for the track to be cleared under the successive red flags. He’d lost positions under the chaos. He’d come in for a tyre change under the safety car as well, so screwed out of a free pit stop under the eventual red flag. He’s back in P15 by the time the virtual safety car comes around one lap 18. Fifteen out of seventeen, which is not where he wanted to be. I wish I could say I felt pity for him being in the unenviable position of the only Australian driver in the Australian Grand Prix and running out of the points… But after how much he’d hurt me, how much thinking about the way what he did was getting to me.

It’s a distraction, I need to focus.

A bunch of other drivers come in for tyre changes under the virtual safety car as well, but I’d switched over to the hard compound tyres under the second red flag, and they’d come alive so I was in a great position and found myself all the way up to P4. I knew that fortune wouldn’t last, the faster cars on fresher tyres would catch up to me. My fight wasn’t with them anyways. Our goal, our projections put me at P8 with a late race tyre change, and we could even improve on that under another safety car or red flag. Our fight was with Power Max, Cortez… and Pride F1, Ben’s team.

DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Wolff is 1.4 seconds behind you. Don’t fight him too hard.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Copy.
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): You are doing a very good job.

I’m ahead of seven-time world champion Hartwin Wolff! A month ago I was signed on as a reserve driver! How is this my life?!

As expected, Wolff passes me a couple of laps later, followed by the cars of a few other front pack teams. Still, I’m running comfortably in P8, with Ken right behind me in P9. We were told to maintain position. I’ll keep Ken within a second of me so he gets the benefit of DRS, but in exchange he won’t challenge me and risk us scrapping and crashing out. It’s a solid, defensive strategy and, if we hold on until the chequered flag, an excellent result for the team.

Then I watch a car in front of me get turned to flakes of carbon fibre.

We’re flying down the main straight and pass the line heading into lap 54. I brake and pull around the tight right hander of turn one with Ken following me into the longer flowing left hand turn two. We are just coming up on some of the back pack cars, about to lap them. My eyes flick down to check my fuel delta, F1 cars drive on minimum fuel when possible to forgo the extra weight and we’d been managing, but what I had in the tank would take me to the finish line. When my eyes flick back up I watch the scarlet Lamberti car I’m chasing and about to overtake go too wide and touch the wall, which throws the car out of control.

Like it’s happening in slow motion, I watch the back end wobble before throwing itself into the wall. The right hand tyres are sheared off, the front wing crackles into a cloud of carbon fibre and the remains of the car skid across the road shedding more carbon fibre as it tears itself apart. One of the tyres soars in a high arc and slams against my halo, all the while I’m laser focused on the few feet of track that doesn’t have a self-destructing machine skidding along at a hundred kilometres an hour. I pull hard to the right as carbon fibre rains down on me, narrowly missing the remains of the car. I glance back in my rearviews and see the dark blue livery of my fellow Duvalier driver’s car follow me through. Seconds later my steering wheel begins to flash yellow. Yellow flags, sector one. I slow heading towards the end of the sector. I force myself to breathe.

Merde.

DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): You are okay?
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Yeah… Wow. Who was that?
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): Carpenter. He is okay, talking to his engineer.
DUVALIER RADIO (Chevalier): Good. Wow.
DUVALIER RADIO (Masson): We are expecting another red flag…

And sure enough, the safety car comes out, we follow it for a lap, but there’s just too much debris on the track for the marshals to clean with cars still on the track. I groan. Red flag number three. At this rate we’ll be pushing the three-hour maximum time limit for a race.

So we pull back into the pit lane once again as the golden-orange Australian sun hangs low over Melbourne. The good news is that it’s a free pit stop; my mechanics change me over to soft compound tyres. Those will take me to the chequered flag, assuming we don’t get another half dozen red flags in the next four laps.

Mom meets me inside the garage with a cooling vest, a humongous bottle of water and I get parked in front of a huge fan. At least I’m able to take my helmet and balaclava off, strip out of the top of my race suit for a bit. I pour half the bottle over my head. Mom hands me a towel.

“Good driving, chouchou,” Mom says, a slightly strained expression on her face. She knows the dangers but still doesn’t like seeing me so close to a crash. “How’re you doing?”

“Really, really, really thirsty,” I manage to croak out.

As I’m chugging water I check the standing. I’m behind the remaining Altomare car of Cesare Lecce. I glance further down, Ken after me in P9, then the two Cortez cars, then the remaining Pride F1 car down in P12. So tantalizingly close to the points in his home race, but overtaking two cars in the final laps of the race is a tall order, even for Ben Robinson.

Eventually we get called back out for the last two laps. It seems ridiculous to trundle around to sit on the grid, sixteen of the original twenty cars. I figure it’ll be a procedural finish.

But Mom does say the F1 gods have a sense of humour.

For the third time that day I watch the five starting lights flash on one after another, then all go dark. My reaction time isn’t as good as usual, I’m exhausted. I’m side by side with Ken going into turn one, the entire pack bunched up with the restart. We all jockey for positions. Another few points are possible if someone’s aggressive and daring enough. The pack is still tight as we roar around right handed turn three, left handed turn four. Coming around the shallow right hander of turn five I watch a huge puff of smoke and then somewhere not far ahead I see a car jump and spin, contact somewhere. I pull right to avoid the mess ahead.

Then something slams into the right side of my car. I watch as my wing gets peeled away, flakes of dark blue carbon fibre pepper my visor, my car bounces along and slams into the wall and I watch my left hand tyres get torn off as I spin around and slam into something. Hard.

*

“Hey Bee… I don’t know if you can hear me.”

I do. I hear the voice somewhere far away. I focus on it. Follow it back to consciousness.

“I really fucked up. I wish I could tell you that… but you know how much of a fuckwit I am. I can’t admit I’m wrong. But I was. I am. I’m a mess, honestly. With how shitty the season’s been. All the criticism. Then I see you, you know, rocking it. This shit with dad’s just got me homicidal. I got jealous. I was selfish. I got obsessed with how well you were doing. But I’m actually just so angry about how shitty I’m doing. I blamed you, but I’m the problem…”

I open my eyes and Ben is sitting in a chair right beside my hospital bed. Right beside, pulled up close, inches away. He’s braced his arms on the side of the bed but his head is hanging down. He’s still in his race kit, the top of his race suit is rolled down and tied around his waist. He’s just in a light blue long sleeved baselayer shirt.

“Did you rush to the side of my hospital bed?” I ask, a little groggy. Ben’s head snaps up and he looks furious. “Like in the movies?”

“What the fuck, Bee?!” Ben looks like he wants to strangle me. “They put you on a stretcher! You got taken off the track in an ambulance! I knew you weren’t dead, but your Mom is standing outside talking to the doctor and she just nodded at your room, didn’t say anything! You looked like you were in a fucking coma when I walked in!”

“She’s just sad I’m out for a couple races. They were just being careful,” I say, wincing a little as I shift in bed. “A couple of bruised ribs. They gave me a couple of Advil. I was just resting. Can you grab me another ice pack?”

Ben comes back a couple minutes later looking like wants to chuck the ice pack at my head.

“Can you grab my phone?” I ask, raising my right arm gingerly and pointing at the bed table that’s been rolled down to the end of the bed.

“Yes taskmaster,” Ben grumbles, stomping over to the table and then shoving it into my hands. “Anything else? I could go toss a burger on the barbie if you want some dinner? Or maybe do a little song and dance for you? Some Nirvana karaoke?”

“No thanks,” I say, pulling up a video on YouTube. “I already have some entertainment.”

I press play and hand my phone to Ben. I listen to the team radio audio play from the clip.

PRIDE F1 RADIO (Robinson): Is Bastien okay?!
PRIDE F1 RADIO (Nguyen): Red flag. Please stand by, Ben.
PRIDE F1 RADIO (Robinson): For ***** sake, Olly! Is Bastien ******* okay?!

“You sounded really worried,” I say, my voice sickly sweet. “I think you might be a little sweet on me, no?”

“You cunt,” Ben says, groaning and sliding down in his seat.

“I think you said, in your words: ‘I’m the problem’?” I ask, beaming at him as I press the ice pack to my ribs.

“‘I zink you zaid, een your wor-ads,’” Ben grumbles, doing the bad imitation of me he loves doing, covering his face with his arm. “Of course you heard of all that shit…”

“I did.”

“So… yeah. I fucking suck…”

“You do. You suck shit.”

“And I’m, you know… sorry or whatever,” he mutters. “I’m a fucking mess.”

“You are,” I say, smiling. “You got some points.”

I watched what happened afterwards. The third restart was chaos. Everyone was pushing for position. Casimiro Torres tapped the remaining Altomare car, that was the puff of smoke and the car that spun out ahead of us. The scrap forced the cars behind them to one side of the track to avoid the collision. In the milliseconds he had to react Ken tried to pull ahead, probably hoping to make up a couple of spots in the mess, probably hoping that I’d brake and let him through. Maybe the late afternoon sun was in my eyes, maybe I just didn’t react in time, but we slammed into each other and both of us smashed against the left hand wall, both Duvalier cars out of the race in the final couple of laps.

Ben almost got swept up into the mess. One of the Cortez cars behind us pulled hard to the right to avoid our crash and tapped his partner, sending him into the opposite wall. Ben, somehow, managed to thread the needle between both crashes and zipped ahead, making up four places in a matter of milliseconds. Two Duvaliers and a Cortez car out, the other far behind him, he finished the race in P8, taking his first four points in F1, in his home race.

“Yay for me,” Ben grumbles. “P8 only because I managed not to eat complete shit in those final laps…”

“Points are points,” I say, shrugging, and then immediately regretting it. I hiss at the tender feeling on my side. Ben’s face twists in worry. He catches me catch his concern. I grin and he rolls his eyes.

“I… you know, really am sorry. Actually. I was a dick,” Ben says, leaning on the side of the bed right beside my head. I can turn my head to look him in the eye. That doesn’t hurt too much.

“Yeah, you’re kind of the worst,” I say affectionately. Ben smiles at me, leans in and gives me a quick peck on the cheek. We may hate each other, and he may be a total bastard sometimes… often… but Ben cares about me. I guess I kind of care about him too. Just a little. “I wish I could’ve been there to celebrate. Was your team happy?”

He stares away pointedly. He doesn’t even really know. He came here as soon as he could. He doesn’t need to say it. I guess I know him a little too.

“Yeah, well, next time I want to take those points from you fair and square,” he says. “You crashing out just so I can have some points in my home race. Totally lame.”

“I did not!” I say, then wince at the feeling of raising my voice.

“‘I deed naht!’” he mimics me again, poorly. I glare at him. Okay, back to hating his guts.

He leans back in his chair and glances out the window. The sky outside is turning from a pale purple to the clear deep blue of a light polluted city sky. I always told myself that the handsome brooding look didn’t really get to me. I’ve known Ben Robinson so long, I convinced myself that I was immune to his charms. But he does look really handsome sitting there, gazing thoughtfully out at the clear evening sky.

“So… I was thinking,” he says after a moment, “since you probably need to rest a few days before flying out…”

 

THURSDAY

I’ve never seen a sky so shimmering, shockingly blue as it is over Port Phillip Bay. The teal of the bay’s water, the green of the trees that line the path down to the beach pop against the supersaturated crayon blue of the sky.

Ben waves to me as he walks up the path that leads down to the semi-private beach. I wave back from the back porch of the small cottage. I’ve been a little crabby. I’m mostly fine, but it’s only the first week of recovery, I’m not allowed to train, I’m being forced to take it easy. Maybe racing is where I’m supposed to be, because sitting still so much is torture. I’m jealous. Ben still gets to wake up and train. He’s going to race in Japan. I’m probably going to be stuck watching from the garage.

But it’s also been kind of fun being a kid. Ben and I have been staying at his mom’s Portsea cottage with a rotating cast of his Melbourne friends coming and going. A lot of them are in college or university. Ben and I are between races. I’m recovering. So we sit around and game, or watch movies, or laze around on the back porch, or the beach. I feel like a blob. That’s kind of fun in its own way.

Ben climbs up the porch. “Alright, ya fucking invalid. We’ve got everything set up. Let’s get you changed and down to the water.”

“I can walk down a path, Bee…” I grumble, being careful as I stand up. At least recovering is its own kind of regimen. Painkillers, ice packs and breathing exercises. Mom’s been having me complete a recovery journal, or maybe she’s doing that as my manager? We both want to get me back to racing as soon as possible. But she’s working back at the Duvalier offices in Auxerre. She’s let me stay behind to rest for a bit. That’s a pretty big step for us.

Ben follows me into the bedroom, snickering as he gets the doors for me, heading in ahead of me. “I can get changed on my own, you ass!”

When I step into the bedroom I realize why he’s being so weird.

“You want me to wear that?!”

“I don’t want you to wear this,” Ben says, a shiteating grin on his face. “You’re going to wear this.”

I feel my face go pale. “Your friends are going to see.”

“That’s the idea, slut!”

I shiver a little at that and shoo him out of the room, staring at what he left me on the edge of the bed.

He doesn’t let me wear anything other than the swimsuit, a pair of sunglasses and “thongs”–what the civilized world calls flip-flops–down to the beach. He makes a huge deal out of it as I walk slowly down the path. I’m already completely red from head to toe before I’ve even stepped around the last corner of the path in sight of his friends.

“Drumroll please!” Ben announces, and all of his friends start making noises that barely approximate drums. “Ladies and gentlemen: Bastien Chevalier’s first pair of budgie smugglers!”

I step around the corner of the path to cheers and wolf whistles. The pair of speedos are tiny, tropical-patterned, pink, and leave almost nothing to the imagination. I would feel less exposed if I just went naked. That’s why Ben’s making me do this…

Once Ben’s got me laid down comfortably on a long deckchair they brought down to the beach just for me, he straddles my chair and starts playing some sexy R&B on his phone. Everyone cheers, one of his “mates” throws a couple dollar bills at him as Ben does a strip tease down to a matching pair of sky blue “budgie smugglers.” I pull one of the bags we brought down to the beach in my lap, pretending to take some time to dig out the sunscreen, still probably completely red. He looks… good. Too good.

He doesn’t help at all when he insists on climbing on top of me to rub sunscreen all over. There’s a lot of skin to cover in the tiny speedos. I do my best not to make any noises. I’ve gotten used to how lewd he is in front of his friends. They’re all even worse than he is when they all get together. Australians…

“Be careful with my ribs,” I sigh as he works my shoulders.

“Nervous nelly,” Ben leans down and murmurs in my ear as he works down my back, “I’ve got something special planned for you tonight, Bee.”

I shiver a little at that, too.

Eventually one of the girls pulls out her guitar and the group takes turns picking songs I don’t really know, but she’s really good. I wish I was good with humans and could remember her name. I keep meaning to summon up the courage to ask her for her Instagram, or at least do it through Ben.

After a few songs Ben lowers his sunglasses and wiggles his eyebrows at me before announcing: “You know… Bastien plays.”

I glare at him, “I mean, I’m only okay–”

“He’s really good,” Ben states, grinning. “He sings too.”

“What?!” his friend gasps and jumps to her feet. “Mate, you have to play! I’ve never had a F1 driver serenade me!”

Everyone cheers and starts to chant my name, which is even worse than the idea of singing. Ugh, peer pressure. This is why I don’t hang out with actual teenagers. I cave and take the guitar from her just to get them to shut up. Will this humiliation never cease?!

I carefully sit up and give the guitar a couple strums. It’s a good one, a decent accoustic Yamaha. Singing’s a bit of a challenge with the bruised ribs so it’ll have to be something a little more lowkey. I start to pick at the strings and fall into the music like warm water, everything drops away. I pick out one of my favourite simple guitar melodies.

Yours was the first face that I saw,
I think I was blind before I met you,
And I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where I’ve been,
But I know where I want to go,
And so I thought I’d let you know,
Yeah, these things take forever, I especially am slow,
But I realized that I need you,
And I wondered if I could come home…

As I finish the last few chords of the song everyone’s gone really quiet. I glance up and they’re all looking back and forth, nodding. Ben’s giving me a really weird look from his towel. Then that silence breaks and everyone’s screaming at me to do something called “Slim Dusty.”

Everyone gets me back up to the house. We all say our goodbyes. I ask Ben’s friend for her Instagram. Then it’s just Ben and I in the cottage. He gets me to go into my bedroom–okay, our bedroom–tells me not to take off my swimsuit, just to lay back. He steps into the room with a dramatic flourish.

“Bastien Chevalier!” he announces, “Tonight, I am your servant! You get whatever you want!”

“You’re an ass,” I say, deadpan.

“Oh, you want some ass?” Ben says, smirking. He starts to gyrate his hips, spinning around in a circle. He grabs the waistband of his speedos and wiggles the band back and forth, inching them down his hips. He laughs and turns back around, but I just stare at him.

“I didn’t say stop.”

Ben gives me a feral grin and leaps up onto the bed, straddling me. I hiss a little, more cautionary than out of any pain. He hums cheesy stripper music as he slowly works his speedos down. Finally in one motion, with a flick of his ankle he kicks them off across the room. He stands over me, his boner wobbling back and forth.

I’m drooling a little, I will not lie.

I glance down. I’m practically falling out of my Speedos with my own hardon. Ben doesn’t need to be told. He leaps off the bed with an athlete’s grace and drops between my legs, splayed off the side of the bed. He grabs the waistband of my speedos and starts to tug them down, agonizingly slow. Once it’s cleared the band my dick flops up, splattering pre all over my tummy. Ben looks like he’s drooling now at the sight of that.

The trip to the beach and the action so far has me exhausted. “Um, can we take a break? Just for a minute.”

“As you wish,” Ben says, standing between my legs.

“Um, but you can cuddle me,” I say. Ben rolls his eyes and climbs up onto the bed beside me. “And we can make out a little.”

So we do that.

I’m laying there with Ben curled up against me. He’s playing with my hair. The golden late afternoon sun is glancing through the windows. This is nice.

“Um, I have a weird question,” I say.

“Weird because it’s weird, or weird because we both have semis?” Ben asks, his mouth close to my ear.

“Um, both.”

“Shoot.”

I think about how to word it. “Do you… hate your dad?”

“Oh yeah, this is weird that we both have semis,” Ben mumbles. “Yeah, of course.”

“Oh.”

That hangs in the air for a second, but then Ben gives an exasperated sigh. “I also love him. It’s complicated.”

“So you can love someone and hate someone at the same time,” I wonder out loud.

Ben raises himself up, leaning on his arm. “Your mom?”

I nod.

Ben lays back down and is quiet for a moment. “He’s got a lot of trauma. He’s put up with a lot of shit. A lot of racist colonial bullshit and, you know, white people acting like they’re lifting him out of some tragic impoverished aboriginal life. But he’s still a fucking asshole.”

I think about that for a moment. “I just… don’t even really remember what it feels like to have a dad. So I can’t really imagine.”

Ben stirs beside me, I can tell he feels a little uncomfortable. I’m afraid he’s about to say something nice but annoying like, “I’m so sorry,” but he knows me well enough.

“Like… that fucking sucks, dude,” he mumurs. “Like, dead dad. Fuck.”

“Yeah.”

“I remember when it happened,” he says, sounding nervous. “But I never really… you know…”

“Car accident,” I say, sort of feeling a weird, distant feeling whenever I think about it. Like I’m talking about someone else’s life. “Normal car. Obviously. Just a wrong-place-wrong-time thing.”

“Shit,” Ben says. That’s all he needs to say.

“It happened when we were four,” I say. It feels nice to just talk to someone other than Mom or a therapist about it for once.

“Yeah, I don’t remember much about him, but I remember he was a cool dude,” Ben says.

“Yeah,” I smile, watching dust motes float through the beams of light. “He was.”

We lay in silence for a while, listening to the distant wash of waves, birdsong from the trees, music playing from somewhere else. Ben starts to play with my hair again after a bit. That has the usual effect.

“I haven’t really been able to–” I make a motion with my hand. “With the ribs. Too sore.”

“Damn, from… you know, all that to choking the chicken,” Ben says, teasing. “I’m aware, mate. You’re a humper in your sleep. I’ve felt that you haven’t really been able to.”

He reaches up and grasps my dick, strokes it slowly. I toss my head back and cover my mouth, whimpering, moaning.

“No need to be quiet, Bee,” he growls as he slides down between my legs again. “No one around. I want to hear you. Tell me what you want.”

“I want…” I gasp out, trying to form a coherent thought. The ribs have kept us from being… amorous. We’ve been intimate, sure, but especially with what happened last Saturday I’ve been building up my confidence to be with Ben again. Except for when I’m asleep, apparently… “I want you to put on Nirvana.”

“And?” Ben asks, drawing the word out. He picks up his phone, he must’ve been ready, knew exactly what I wanted. That dirty, sexy riff, song number three on Nevermind, starts playing. Ben’s stroking me way too slowly…

“I want you to, you know…”

–as you are, as you were, as I want you to be--”

“Do I know?” he drawls.

“Suck me off… Daddy.”

He leans in and presses my shaft against his cheek, lapping at my balls. “Your wish is my command, slut.”

“And…”

–doused in mud, soaked in bleach–

“And… ?”

“Call me a ‘good boy.’”

Ben gives a mocking laugh as I feel the rough texture of his tongue travel up the underside of my cock. “Such a good boy. You’re Daddy’s good boy…” he groans.

I let out a sound that’s something between an exaggerated female porn star and a wounded animal. I don’t hold back. Whatever Daddy wants.

Ben runs his lips over the tip of my dick, tongue lapping at my pre, tasting me. I want to run my hands through his thick, curly hair. He said I get what I want, so as he starts to bob his head on me, taking my dick down his throat, I grasp the back of his head, my fingers get lost in his gorgeous mane of dark hair. I get lost in the sensations of his mouth, of the tangle of curls and the sweat in his hair.

I pull him off, his hand immediately finds my hard dick and strokes me without missing a beat. I’m so close. I don’t need to say anything, Ben knows exactly what I want. He always does.

“You’re my good boy.”

He slides my dick back into his mouth in one fluid motion, strokes me with his hand as his lips milk me. I’m pent up, I haven’t had any release for days. I’m so close…

Ben lifts his mouth off me for half a second. “Be a good boy for me. You gonna come for Daddy?”

His mouth finds me again. Hearing him say it again, it’s too much…

Memoria, memoria…

“Yeah, mon dieu, I’m… I’m gonna… come–”

Love5
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2 thoughts on “Come As You Are

  1. Nice to see these two again being simultaneously better and worse. Bastien and his mum seem to have made some real progress, but I fear for when he comes out to her some day.

  2. Time for more high-octane action both on and off the track! Seeing some of Ben’s side of Complicated Family Stuff was really interesting, since it puts some perspective on his behavior and personality that we’ve only been able to guess at through Bastien. The accident felt inevitable without being dully predictable, given all the buildup before then, and works as a sort of catharsis for both Bastien pushing himself behind the wheel and him and Ben stretching their ever-changing relationship until it risks snapping. I also liked the detail of Bastien not being in an Injury Coma but simply taking a nap after receiving treatment for his ribs. Sometimes things in life aren’t *that* dramatic.

    The art, of course, is fantastic. Great companion piece with the original “manga cover” look!

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