Poles apart, p.26
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       Poles Apart, p.26
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           Kirsty Moseley

  starting position.

  People from his team milled around him, talking to him, holding his bike still with some chunky metal thing on wheels. My eyes wandered over him slowly in his little blue outfit. The way he looked in it, even with his head covered with a helmet, made me shift from one foot to the other as my skin seemed to come alive with desire. When they pulled the chunky little metal thing from behind his back tyre, I frowned and started to gnaw on my lip. I knew the start was approaching. People in the stands waved their flags and their foam hands as the drivers prepared to race. The sound inside the family area was just general chitchat, though, so the walls had to have been made with some sort of sound-reducing glass.

  Just as the team members with each driver started to make their way off the track and in through a little gate on the side, someone stepped up next to me. I turned, smiling gratefully, expecting it to be the waiter back with a drink for me. Instead, a smiling lady in her mid-thirties stood there. I gulped, suddenly nervous because I hadn’t actually expected anyone to approach me.

  “Hello, you must be Emma. I’ve heard so much about you from Carson,” she greeted.

  I recoiled, trying to keep one eye on the track but talk to her at the same time; I didn’t want to miss the start. “Um, yeah, I am. Sorry, I don’t…” I shook my head as a blush crept over my cheeks. I had no idea who she was.

  She laughed a high, tinkering laugh and held her hand out to me. “I’m Stuart’s wife, Katrina. We’re co-team supporters, you and I. We head up the wives’ club for our team,” she joked, winking at me as I shook her hand politely. “It’s nice to finally have someone here for Carson so I can have a girlie gossip while we watch the race. Usually, I’m alone at these things. Some of the other wives can be a little…” she turned her nose up distastefully, “snobby,” she finished.

  I chuckled awkwardly, hoping this wasn’t some kind of test I was about to fail. “Yeah, I kind of guessed that,” I admitted. “I’m kind of used to that reaction to me now, though; it happens a lot.”

  She rolled her eyes and perched herself on one of the stools, crossing one trousered leg over the other. “Who cares? We all have to make a living. Ignore them. They’re all just jealous because their behinds don’t look as cute as your tiny little booty does in those jeans.” She winked at me jokingly and patted the seat next to hers. “Sit down, I won’t bite.”

  I slid onto the stool, chuckling awkwardly. The waiter came over then, setting a glass of Pepsi in front of me. I chewed on my lip, looking back down to Carson. Suddenly, the pre-race lap started, and all the bikes moved forward. Carson took a few seconds to go, though, seeming hesitant as the others all breezed past him. I’d seen the start of a few of these races, so I knew he never really pushed it hard on this lap, just travelled at a leisurely speed around the track. Within seconds, the bikes were all out of sight and I twisted in my seat, watching the TV screen instead so I could see them all find their groove around the track. This lap was just to warm up their bikes and tyres, so there was no real rush or competition.

  “You ever been to a race before?” Katrina asked, picking up a set of headphones hooked on the rail near my knees.

  I shook my head in response. “No. I’m not sure I’ll like it,” I admitted.

  She chuckled and nodded, picking up another set of chunky black headphones and holding them out to me. “I never used to like watching, either. You get used to it as time goes by. Want to listen to the commentary?”

  Hesitantly, I took the offered headgear, watching as she covered her ears with hers but left the overhead strap thing under her chin – probably so it wouldn’t mess up her hair. I did the same, pressing mine to my ears, listening to the commentator who usually did the voice over on the races. He was talking about form and who needed what points today. He announced that if Carson won this race he’d be uncatchable on the leader board, meaning he would win the championship for the year. I smiled at that and silently crossed my fingers.

  When the bikes had done a full lap, they came back into view again, all of them stopping on their respective marks on the ground. My chest was tight as I watched, and I could barely sit still. The race was twenty laps, which Carson said would be about forty minutes in duration. I couldn’t wait for it to end. My nerves and excitement about telling him I loved him back was actually starting to overtake the worry which usually plagued me during race time.

  Once all the racers were settled on their positions, the family members all crowded around the window, taking their seats and looking at their loved ones excitedly. My eyes were trained on Carson as I gripped the edge of the seat tightly, willing him to do well. When the green light flashed, the sound through the headphones was momentarily deafening as the bikes screeched off their lines in a cloud of smoke and exhaust fumes. No longer able to sit, I jumped up, looking down with wide eyes as Carson immediately blasted past two other racers, weaving in and out on his heavy-looking bike, taking the inside edge of the track and bumping up to seventh place in an instant. A couple of other people switched positions, too, but my eyes were firmly fixed on my fiancé.

  “Go, baby! Kick some arse! You got this!” I shouted before I could stop myself.

  Katrina chuckled next to me, but I noticed no one else was standing or shouting. Heat spread across my cheeks as the group of bikes rounded the corner and were out of sight again. The distasteful, disapproving look on some of their faces was enough to make me cringe back into my seat.

  As the dust and smoke settled, it was clear that one of the drivers had incurred a problem during the start. He still sat in his starting position as his team ran out to him, taking his bike. The guy threw his hands up in exasperation, gesturing wildly at his bike before stomping out of the gate and off the racetrack.

  “Well, Sinead won’t be a happy bunny. Shame,” Katrina said beside me, giggling and nudging me in the ribs, nodding toward one of the more haughty-looking women sitting in the row at the end. Sinead stood, scowling down from the window before she made a disapproving scoffing sound and stormed out of the room. Clearly, that was her husband or partner, and judging by the look on her face, she wasn’t impressed that he hadn’t even started.

  I shared a conspiratorial smile with Katrina before turning my attention to the television screens, watching as the cameras followed the lead group around. In my ears, the commentator was busy analysing their form and bikes. When the camera cut to Carson as he went around the corner, I gasped and averted my eyes, not wanting to see how close his bike and body got to the ground as he leant in. I immediately doubted my ability to watch this race. My stomach was churning; my heart was in my throat, and my palms were slick with sweat. Internally, I was counting down the minutes, listening to the laps ticking by, thinking that each lap brought me one step closer to seeing him and saying those words I’d longed to say to him for three years.

  Within ten minutes, Carson had crept up another three places and was now in fourth. I had barely watched any of it but was listening avidly to the commentary through my headphones. It appeared Carson wasn’t having a good race today according to the experts. They’d already slammed him for an earlier move where he undershot a corner and lost time when he cut into the grass.

  “Oh, what was that? He didn’t even see that coming! Carson Matthews just conceded a place. Martin Bashing just took that easily!” the commentator yelled excitedly in my ear. I frowned. “It seems like something is wrong with Carson today. His mind seems to be elsewhere. On each of the last three laps, he’s lost four tenths of a second. The distance time is growing between him and the leader. If he wants that first place, he’s going to have to work for it.”

  “That’s right, Simon. He doesn’t look like the Carson we’ve come to expect.”

  I frowned, looking up at Katrina to see she was frowning, too. I flicked my eyes up to the television screens, seeing Carson there. He was heading toward a corner. As the others in front of him were braking, he wasn’t. He caught up with them quickly, his brak
e light finally flickering as he slowed down for the corner. My eyes widened as he suddenly pulled to the right-hand side of the track, narrowly avoiding the back of the bike in front of him. He accelerated and leant into the corner, squeezing into an almost non-existent gap, forcing the other bike over so they didn’t collide. The two hulking bikes were level now, but by squeezing into the gap, Carson now had the inside edge. As they straightened up, Carson was just ahead and gunned his engine, blasting down the straight and finally overtaking the other driver who immediately veered to the right. He was looking to overtake again but Carson veered to the right, too, thwarting his attempt.

  I groaned and covered my mouth with my hand. I was pretty sure I would never get used to seeing him do this.

  “Oh, that was a risky move. Matthews is lucky he didn’t take them both out doing that. Bashing won’t be happy with him at all,” the commentator observed. “Carson certainly isn’t himself today. That was a rookie, dangerous overtake, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the youngster put himself or others in danger like that. His mind really isn’t on task today at all.”

  Suddenly, it hit me what this was about and why he was driving so differently today. Just before the race we’d had a huge argument, he’d told me he loved me, and I hadn’t said it back. He wasn’t concentrating properly on the race now because of me and what had transpired between us earlier.

  I covered my mouth and shook my head, hating myself for not managing to say the words back before he left the room. He was driving badly today because of me. If he lost this race due to lack of concentration, it would be entirely my fault.

  The television cameras left Carson and cut back to the three race leaders who were going around a particularly sharp-looking bend the commentators called The Loop. As I watched them, hating myself because Carson was obviously upset, shocked voices burst through my headphones.

  “He’s off! Carson Matthews has just crashed out of the race!”

  The words made my heart stop as my mouth popped open in shock. Time seemed to stand still as their words washed over me like a bucket of cold water. I jumped to my feet, staring at the screen in disbelief.

  “I can’t see what’s happened. Medics are on their way,” the commentator said.

  The cameras cut to pieces of Carson’s bike strewn everywhere. Tyre tracks stained the road and trailed across the grass. People in white jumpsuits were running toward a sign, which had been smashed and lay in a pile along with Carson’s bike. When I saw legs in that tangled mess, a loud whimper left my lips.

  No. No. No. This can’t be happening. Please, no.

  “Let’s get a replay of what happened.” The camera changed, showing Carson’s bike bypassing the pit lane, still cutting off every attempt the guy behind him made to overtake. When he approached the bend, the guy behind him slowed marginally and backed off, but Carson again left it later to brake. As he approached the corner, it looked like he was going too fast and as he leant into the turn, he lost control and the bike wobbled before clipping the ground. Carson was flicked over the top of it, smashing into the ground and bouncing like a rag doll, rolling a couple of times with his arms flailing everywhere before skidding along the road and hitting the barriers on the left-hand side of the track. Horrifyingly, his bike was skidding along behind him so as he hit the barrier, his bike smashed into him, too.

  “No! Oh, God, No!” I shouted, covering my mouth with my hands.

  “NO, HE CAN’T HAVE. THAT’S NOT…” I shook my head, my eyes glued to the screen. My legs swayed, and I bumped into the stool behind me, sending it clattering to the ground. The whole room had gone quiet, and everyone was staring at me. The TV replayed it over and over, slowing it down; showing Carson flick over the handlebars of his bike, showing his body hit the ground. In slow motion, I saw his helmet hit the road before it bounced back up again. His shoulder smashed into the tarmac, and his arm twisted behind him before he started skidding along the track with pieces of his bike whizzing past him.

  My lungs constricted as my heart squeezed in my chest. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen, watching it over and over. The voices in my headphones were talking, but I couldn’t understand a single word they were saying. My head was muffled; my vision swam before me as my eyes filled my tears.

  Carson’s legs weren’t moving. He wasn’t moving at all. People were trying to dig him out, pulling pieces of the wooden sign off him, throwing them to the side carelessly. It took two of them to drag his bike off his body. I watched it all, knowing I’d caused this accident because of the argument we’d had and by me not admitting my feelings for him. And now it was too late. He had crashed and died, and he would never, ever know I loved him more than life itself, that I had always loved him and would give my life for his in a heartbeat. He would never know he was my whole world.

  Suddenly, the cameras flicked back to the race. That was when I finally snapped back into reality. I pulled my headphones off, dropping them carelessly on the floor. “What do I do?” I cried, turning to Katrina and grabbing her elbow to steady myself as my legs almost buckled. “I need to go there. How do I get there?”

  Her eyes were sympathetic as she looked over my shoulder. I glanced in that direction, seeing two men walking toward me, both wearing staff T-shirts. I gulped, swiping my tears as they started to stream down my face. My whole world was disappearing into nothingness around me as I realised I might never get to see his smile again, never get to look into his eyes or feel his skin under my fingertips.

  “Miss Bancroft, there’s been an accident. Carson’s with the medics right now. Would you like us to take you to him?”

  I nodded quickly, stumbling forward as my heart began to hammer in my chest. “Yes,” I whimpered. “Is he okay? It looked so bad. He wasn’t moving, please… is he going to be all right?” I gripped the man’s sleeve as my chin wobbled. I needed an answer. I needed him to reassure me I wasn’t going to have to tell my little girl that the daddy she’d only just met and fell in love with had left to go up to Heaven. I didn’t want to have to say those words. I couldn’t.

  The guy smiled sadly and motioned toward the door with his spare hand. “I don’t know any details, miss. They just told me to bring you down.” His hand closed over my elbow as he started guiding me through the room. As we walked past people, I saw their sullen, sympathetic faces. The distaste was now gone from them; now I was one of them, and they felt empathy for me. In that moment, my past and my job didn’t matter because they could feel my pain.

  “He’ll be okay. He’ll be okay.” Repeating it as we walked out of the building and out to a golf buggy didn’t help at all. “Where is he? How long will it take to get to him?” I mumbled, wringing my hands.

  Without answering my question, the guy helped me in and then slid beside me as someone else jumped into the front and pulled out. The little road we were on ran alongside the track, and spectator stands stood to my left. People continued to shout and cheer. The other drivers whizzed past us on the other side of the fence, their engines making such a loud noise it made my ears ring. Everything was carrying on as normal, completely oblivious that my whole life was over and my world had stopped turning.

  Suddenly, the guy holding my arm put his hand up to his ear before turning back to me. “He’s alive. They’re assessing him now, but he’s conscious.”

  My heart leapt at his words and I closed my eyes, silently sending up thanks to whoever was watching over him. “He is?” My voice didn’t even sound like mine as my whole body sagged with relief. “Is he all right? How long will it take to get there?”

  I didn’t need him to answer my question though because, in front of me, I could see two ambulances, a fire engine, a large crowd of people and security, and some of Carson’s team all milling around. To my right, on the track, I could see the remains of Carson’s bike and the rubble he’d caused when he’d smashed into the sign and the fence beyond. My mouth popped open, seeing the wreckage and carnage left in his wake. A whimper left m
y lips as the terrifying truth hit me head-on. I had no idea what I was going to see as the golf buggy skidded to a stop next to the ambulance.

  I jumped out, stumbling and just managing to catch myself as panic took over. I needed to get there, I needed to see him. There was no time to lose because the wreckage I’d just seen was so severe he wouldn’t survive. He couldn’t survive that. I’d inadvertently killed him.

  As I ran toward the large crowd of staff and emergency response teams, a security guard stepped in front of me, throwing his arm in front of me and stopping my panic-stricken attempt to get to Carson. “No public!” he barked, shaking his head adamantly.

  I whimpered and struggled, trying to get out of his hold. “I need to see him, let go of me!” I cried, unashamedly aiming a kick into his shins. “Get off me!” I shouted. Anger was simmering in my veins. He was wasting valuable seconds.

  “Phil, Phil, let her go!” someone called behind me.

  I didn’t stop to look who it was as the arms suddenly loosened around me. Instead, I pushed myself away from him and ran, weaving through the five-people-deep crowd. They all seemed to be looking in the same direction. I could hear them whispering. Terms like ‘lucky’ and ‘close call’ filled my ears. I didn’t stop to try and digest them, though, just pushed my way through the crowd toward the ambulance parked with its doors open.

  As I shoved myself past the last person, my eyes landed on him. Carson. He was alive, just like the guy had told me. He was lying on a gurney, a thick white brace covering his neck and holding his head in place. Black smudges marred his face, and his leather jumpsuit was scratched up and ripped in places. They’d taken it half off, leaving it loose around his waist. He had his eyes closed and was wincing in pain as the paramedic poked and prodded at him.

  I choked on a sob, feeling relief and gratitude wash over me. He was alive. I hadn’t lost him. And, surprisingly, he didn’t look in terrible shape, either. My mind was whirling as I hesitantly stepped forward, my whole body shaking and my legs barely supporting my weight. The pain of losing him and thinking he was dead haunted me still, and I knew it would take me a long time to get over that feeling completely. It still sat in my stomach, churning, mixing with the relief I felt because he was alive and relatively unscathed.

  As I stopped at his side, he opened his eyes, looking up at me. The blue of his eyes caught me off-guard, as it did every time I saw them. My breathing faltered, and my legs finally gave out. I sank to my knees in front of him and burst into tears, pressing my face into his stomach and sobbing uncontrollably.

  One of his hands touched the back of my head as my body shook with sobs. “Em, shh… it’s all right. I’m okay,” he croaked somewhat breathlessly. “Don’t cry, come on,” he whispered.

  I sniffed and pulled back, looking up at him as my chin trembled and my breathing hitched. “You’re okay? That looked,” I shook my head, not having the right words to describe the terrifying, soul-shattering accident I’d watched on repeat on the television, “awful,” I finished.

  He reached over and brushed the back of his fingers across my cheek before doing the same to the other, wiping my tears away. “I have a few knocks. Something funky has definitely happened to my arm, but I’m not too bad. I was lucky,” he answered.

  I swallowed around the lump in my throat. I had no words to tell him how much he’d frightened me, how terrified I was, how guilty I felt for being the cause of his lack of concentration. “It’s lucky your guardian angel could keep up with you,” I mumbled, echoing the words of the tattoo he had on his side.

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