Everything I Left Unsaid
The crowd on the other side of the rusty chain link fence was mean. You could hear it in their voices. They kept throwing shit on the dirt track. Beer bottles and hamburger wrappers. Some kid’s stuffed dog.
Holy shit. Who brings their kid to a race like this?
The crowd wanted an accident. Smoke in the air. Blood in the dirt.
The full moon was skewered on the trees in the distance.
“I got a bad feeling about this.” It was Max, standing at the window of the Acura we’d stolen downtown two months ago. Over the last month I’d tweaked the transmission and gear heads, and the thing shifted like a monster. If I got clear road, I’d be gone. I’d be in the ocean before anyone could touch me.
“You’ve got a bad feeling about everything these days,” I yelled.
Some asshole at the fence tore off his shirt and started screaming, pressing his fat, white belly against the chain link until the skin turned red and white.
“This is fucking Mad Max shit right here,” my brother said. He finally looked down through the window at me. “You scared? Because it’s not too late—”
“It is too late. The race is starting.”
Max wouldn’t believe the truth if I told him. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t scared.
I was alive.
Like totally alive.
Inside, I was that maniac with his shirt off, his belly against the chain link—too high on adrenaline to feel any pain.
“Get off the track!” someone behind us yelled, and Max flipped him the bird.
“I’m talking to my brother!”
“Like I give a shit—”
“Go, Max,” I yelled over the roar of four engines. “Shit’s about to start.”
He clapped me on the shoulder. One of those big After School Special kind of moments. Or maybe it would be, between any brothers but us.
“Don’t be stupid,” he said.
“Too late,” I laughed.
“If something happens to you I’m going to kill Rabbit!”
“Nothing is going to happen,” I said. I stuck out my tongue and revved the engine, giving him my best version of Mom’s crazy eyes.
He smiled, which was the point, but his worry still rolled off him like stink.
“Good luck, hermano,” he said and he was gone.
The track was a dirt quarter-mile oval. The far edge of it was muddy, thanks to the swamp not too far away. That part would be tricky. But the rest of it—it was like back roads. And I knew back roads. I was the king of them.
I got this.
Some incredibly hot and brave lady wearing short shorts and a tank top stepped out onto the track a few feet in front of us. Her blond hair blew in the wind and she pulled it off her face, holding it with one hand at her neck.
“Ten laps!” she yelled, and we all gunned our engines in answer.
“First one over the finish line wins. If no one finishes, no one wins.”
Again we gunned our engines.
According to Rabbit, one of the other drivers used to race on the NASCAR circuit, in the bottom of the second-tier league. I couldn’t tell by looking at anyone. We all wore helmets and whatever pieces of fire-resistant suits we could find.
“Here we go, boys!” the girl said, and lifted her arms. In one hand she had a red flag hanging from a plastic pole. It was torn and muddy and had seen better days, but in that moment it was the brightest thing I’d ever seen in my life.
Like looking at the center of the sun.
She dropped the flag, and the four cars leapt from the start line like beasts.
The souped-up Subaru sedan got out in front, and I wrestled past the Honda to get on the guy’s bumper.
After that… I don’t know. It was all just reaction and adjustment. Dirt. Mud. I bit my tongue hard enough to taste blood until I clenched my jaw shut.
Someone rammed me from behind. Another guy clipped my rear wheel.
My arms ached with the effort of keeping the car in line.
The Honda was bumping me. Not a lot, just enough to try and get under my skin.
He was going to have to work a whole lot harder than that.
Everything shimmied. The car, my body. My eyesight.
Three laps went by in a blur, and the Subaru was not giving me any chance to get around him.
And the Honda would not stop pestering me.
The fucker bumped me again, and this time I bumped back, and we crashed into each other hard enough that there were sparks and the whine of metal on metal. The track changed just as we were coming out of the mud and the car jerked and shook on the harder surface, tugging sideways.
Everything in the car was pulling right, and I felt that fine edge of control blurring in the dust and dirt. I was fishtailing like crazy.
Behind me I heard the crunch and squeal of metal, and I felt my entire car shimmy and lurch.
It took everything—every muscle I had, every bit of power at my command—to bring the machine back under control. Every force that was pulling the car into chaos worked against me.
The difference between control and out of control was me. Was my will.
And I was stronger.
As abruptly as it started it ended, and I had the car back under my control, the tires solid on the dirt.
My mouth was open, and in the roar of noise inside the car I didn’t know if I was laughing or screaming. The adrenaline made me high. Powerful. I could feel the road practically under my feet.
There wasn’t anything but dust in my rearview, but the Honda wasn’t bumping me anymore. Was that a crash? Were the other two out?
I regained my speed and got right back on the tail of that Subaru.
My jaw ached, my body hurt. I had cramps in my hands and I was swimming in sweat in the damn suit.
We made another lap, and the dark burning blur I saw in the middle of the track was the other two cars. They were out.
It was me and Subaru, and I had learned something really powerful. I’d found the edge of control on this machine, and it was a long way away.
I pushed away fear. Worry. Doubt.
And I waited for my chance.
It came in our eighth lap. The Subaru took the wide turn higher than the last time, and there was room. Not much, and it was risky, but I shifted and shoved the car through the crack. The Subaru fought back, but the changes I’d made to the engine responded and the Acura roared.
The Subaru didn’t stand a chance.
I held onto the lead and crossed the finish line, slowing down before we got to the sand pit.
Pulling off the hot-as-hell helmet, I leapt out of the car, into the acrid taste and smell of the smoke from my tires.
I was yanked into a familiar hug.
“Holy shit. I mean… holy shit. Holy fucking shit…” Max was saying over and over again. My mouth was so dry I couldn’t say anything. Someone put a Bud in my hand and I gulped it down.
“Wow,” I breathed. And then I started laughing, and Max was laughing too. And it was about as perfect a moment as I’d ever had. I clutched Max to me, happy he was happy.
The world was pretty fucking happy.
I got a tap on the shoulder, and hoping for the hot blonde that had started the race, I turned to see a dude in racing gear. The Subaru driver.
And he was like a hundred years old.
“Jesus Christ, boy, how old are you?” he asked.
“Old enough,” I said, and he laughed.
“I’ll say,” he said. He smiled, and all the dust and sweat on his face cracked. “That was a hell of a show you put on.”
“Thank you,” I said. “I didn’t think I was gonna beat you.”
“I didn’t either, and you can bet I won’t make that mistake again.” He shook my hand. “The name is Miguel.”
“You the guy that drove in that NASCAR league?”
“I spent some years there, yeah.”
“Oh my god, I have so many questions—”
“Another time, kid.” He laughed and walked off to his crew and friends.
I turned back to see Max watching me.
“What?” I asked and finished the beer. I needed more. Like seven hundred more beers.
“Sometimes I can’t believe you came from Mom and Dad,” he said.
“The fuck? Stop being weird. Go get beer.”
Rabbit showed up, grinning through his yellow teeth.
“That’s my boy,” he said, slapping me on the back. “That was a huge fucking payout, kid. Not only did you win, but you beat the favorite. The odds were shit on you, and I fucking cleaned up.”
He did a weird white-boy dance, and Max and I rolled our eyes at each other.
“Give us our cut and we’re gonna get out of here,” Max said. I started looking around for that blonde woman. I didn’t want to leave before we had a moment. Or something. I was the king of the night.
“Everyone here is talking about your brother,” Rabbit said to Max.
“No one needs to be talking about my brother,” Max said.
“Well, when they’re not talking about your brother they’re talking about your mom or your old man. Seems to me, Max, you’re the boring guy in the family.”
“Just give us our cut and we’ll be gone.”
“We need to talk about the next race,” Rabbit said.
“The deal was one race. One,” Max said. “These fucking races get busted all the time. And tonight one of those drivers ended up in the hospital.”
“But you saw our boy,” Rabbit said. “He’s got a gift—”
“The deal was one,” Max said in that voice that meant shut the fuck up or prepare to get a beat down.
“Dylan?” Rabbit said. “Are you interested in making more money?”
Max pushed off the car and grabbed the neck of Rabbit’s leather coat. “I told you, asshole. I handle this shit. He’s a kid.”
Max wasn’t big, but there was something about him when he was like this that made him seem seven hundred feet tall.
“Give me our money,” Max said, giving Rabbit a little shake. “And we’re done. Fucking done.”
There were a ton of eyes on them. Everyone, it seemed, was looking, and the mean crowd who’d wanted blood on the dirt of the race track would gladly settle for a fight.
“Max,” I sighed. “You know we need more money.”
“Listen to your brother,” Rabbit said. He’d lost the joking-around quality, and now he was sounding pissed. We did not need a pissed Rabbit added to the shit storm of stuff we had on our backs right now.
Max slowly, carefully stepped away. He patted down the rumpled edge of Rabbit’s vest. Rabbit reared up and cocked Max in the face. “Don’t you ever pull that shit on me again, you hear me, you lowlife piece of shit—”
Max roared and launched himself back at Rabbit, but I got in the way. Bigger. Wider. Stronger. But just barely. I was always between Max and something.
“Calm the fuck down,” I spat at my brother.
I stayed right where I was, between the two, until the bloodlust faded from Max’s eyes. So much like Mom. Too much. All temper. No Plan B. The dude could never see past being pissed.
“Tell me about the other races,” I said to Rabbit.
“I know a guy outside of Panama City, runs a few races. I supply the car, you supply the skill, and we split whatever you win 70/30.”
“60/40 of the money I win and the money you win betting against me, and you got a deal,” I said, ignoring Max, who was swearing behind me.
Rabbit smiled, revealing his mouth full of rotten teeth.
“Give us our money for tonight,” I said.
“Sure thing.” Rabbit put on his nice-guy act, which was about as believable as all of my own mom’s promises to stay clean. He grabbed a dirty envelope from the back of his pants and held it out to me.
“You know,” Rabbit said, handing me the envelope but holding onto his end. “You’d do better if you lost the dead weight.” Rabbit glanced over my shoulder at Max.
“You’d do better if you brushed your fucking teeth,” I said and tore the envelope out of Rabbit’s hand.
Rabbit laughed. “You’re the funny one, I can tell.” His eyes were snake-mean. Dead. They were dead eyes. “I’ll call you about that race. Okay?”
“Yeah,” I said. Rabbit vanished into the crowd, and Max and I leaned back against the car. Max was pissed. Really pissed.
“The fuck are you thinking?” he asked.
“We need that money. Mom—”
“Mom ain’t never gonna change, Dylan!” Max cried. “You know how many times I paid to get her into rehab.”
“But with this money it could be a good one. A real good one. One where she stays for a while.”
Max laughed. “Dad already borrowed money from the club years ago to get her into one of those places. Shit don’t work with her. She’s a fucking addict, and you need to think of yourself.”
“Yeah?” I asked, shoving him. “Is that what you’re doing, Max? Thinking of yourself? Is that why you’re never home? Why you’re never around anymore?”
“Yeah, Dylan. That’s right. I’ve been to jail once already, I don’t need to go back.”
“Then what the fuck are we doing stealing cars?”
Max’s dark eyes were like black holes in his face. I couldn’t see a single thing in them. Not hate, not fear, not anything. Least of all my brother.
“I never asked you to do that with me.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “But if I didn’t do that with you, than I’d never fucking see you.”
Max sighed, stepping away from me and the car, like I was just a kid and Max didn’t have to listen. But I had a fat wad of money in my back pocket and the opportunity to earn a shit ton more.
I’d more than earned my say.
“No, man,” I said. “You’ve been a fucking dick since you got back, and if you’re so worried about going back to jail, what the fuck are we doing stealing cars?”
“Because Dad owes money to like…everyone. And if we don’t make that money, he’s going to end up dead.”
“You…you don’t know that.”
“Remember Burnsy?” Max asked. Burnsy had been a guy who hung around the club a few years ago. He died not too long ago. “Yeah. Burnsy owed the same assholes money, and look what happened to him.”
“But…how? How did Dad get in so much trouble…” But I knew. Of course I knew. Everyone in our world knew. Mom. Mom and drugs. And Dad… Dad diving off every deep end to try and save her. And then getting so pissed when it never worked.
Because it never worked.
Max clapped a hand on my shoulder, and for a second it was like we used to be. It was us, taking care of our folks. It was us. Just us. Like it had been all along.
“What are we going to do?” I asked. The high from winning was crashing hard. All that adrenaline and triumph turning to lead in my stomach.
“We’re going to make the money that Dad owes.”
“That will happen a whole lot faster if you let me race.”
“Dylan,” Max sighed.
“You know I’ll win.” I smiled, and after a long second Max’s lip kicked up.
“You are fast.”
“Fucking right, I’m fast!”
“Okay, a few more,” Max said. “But I’m going with you.”
That sounded great to me. It sounded perfect.
“Now, let’s see if that blonde with the flags has a blow job for the winner,” Max said, slinging an arm over my shoulder.
And life was so good.