Chapter Five


About The Brown Cars

Toby left the refreshment tent, driving towards the section of training ground reserved for the brown cars. As he drove, winding his way between a motorcycle and the length of a stretch limousine, he caught sight of something pink in the corner of his eye. He eased his car to one side, slowed down to almost stand-still, and looked to the side. Sure enough, there was a small pink car with Clarissa driving. She noticed him, and began to wave madly.

A man was crossing the road in front of Clarissa, she noticed at the last moment, swerved to avoid him, there was a squeal of brakes, and the pink car came to a screeching stop in a hedge. Toby watched in horror, his mouth open. He stopped his own car, and raced across the road.

Clarissa was sitting very still, her eyes wide. She blinked, then collapsed into giggles.

“Oh dear, oh dear, did you see?” she said, her words breathless as she fought to control her laughter. “I am such a bad driver still! I saw you, and forgot all about steering. Oh dear! What a disaster!”

Toby thought that she did not sound worried at all. The man she had avoided was glaring at them from across the road. Toby waved at him, the man pursed his lips and strode away.

“Are you all right?” said Toby, turning back to Clarissa. Her cheeks were as pink as her car and her eyes were shining. She climbed out of the car and walked to the front.

“I seem to have acquired a few extra scratches,” she said. “But to be honest, it’s hard to tell, I had so many scratches already. How is your driving coming on?” she asked, looking towards Toby’s car. “Have you raced at all?”

“No,” said Toby, shaking his head. “Not at all, but that’s about to change, I’m going to join the brown cars.”

“Oh!” said Clarissa.

There was something about the way she spoke, a sort of darkening of her mood, that made Toby wonder what was wrong. “Don’t you like the brown cars?” he said. “They seem to take training very seriously, I think they’ll be very prepared for the real track, when their log books run out. I think I will learn lots there.”

“Maybe you will,” said Clarissa, her voice light. But she had turned away, and was no longer looking at Toby.

“What aren’t you saying?” said Toby, wanting to know.

“Nothing. It’s just that. . .” Clarissa paused.

“Just what?”

“Well,” said Clarissa at last, as if she had made up her mind and decided to be honest, “if the real track is full of drivers like the brown car drivers, then I’m not sure that I want to go there anyway.”

“You don’t want to go to the real track?” repeated Toby, shocked. “But that’s the whole point, that’s why we’re training, so that we’re ready.”

“Yes, I know that now,” said Clarissa, nodding. “And I have been training, I joined the special features drivers, and they have a training track in their area, and we race, and I’m getting better.” She glanced at the front of her car, jammed into the branches of the hedge. “I’m getting better but I still make the occasional mistake,” she continued. “But honestly Toby, if the brown car drivers are like most of the drivers at the real track, then I would rather stay here. They seem so. . . dismal.”

Toby stared at her. Clarissa shook her head, and her hair tumbled and bounced on her shoulders, and her eyes – which Toby realised were very pretty eyes – were serious and stubborn and staring straight back at him, as if challenging him to disagree.

“Well,” said Toby, thinking hard, “I think the brown cars will give me the best training, but I will think about what you have said. And I will try very hard not to become dismal.”

Clarissa flashed a smile at him, her teeth were very white and straight, and it was, thought Toby, an excellent smile. One that he would like to see more often.

“Here,” said Clarissa, opening the door to her car and delving inside. Her voice bubbled up to Toby as he waited, watching her back.“If you’re determined to go, at least take this. I bought it for myself, but I can go back and get another one, and you won’t have time if you’re training with the brown cars.” She was stooped, rummaging on the floor behind the driver’s seat, digging into a bag. “Where is it? I’m sure I put it in here somewhere. . . Ah! Got it!”

She emerged from the car, and handed Toby a heavy bag with blue and white stripes.

Toby took the package, and opened it. Inside was a book. A very large, heavy, book.

“It’s a training manual,” said Clarissa, “the latest version. We have modern cars, so we need the manual for new cars. It has hints about the sort of speeds we should be aiming for, how to take corners; as well as lots of advice about when to top up the oil, when to recharge, that sort of thing. You can have it, as a gift. A good luck, try not to become dismal gift!”

“Thank you – I think!” said Toby, grinning at her. “Listen, I’m meeting my mentor, Percy, back at the refreshment tent next week. Why don’t you come too? You can check whether I’m getting dismal or not.”

Clarissa grinned back at him. “Sure, I will.”

She climbed back into her car, and started the engine. Toby stood to one side, watching for traffic as Clarissa reversed, very slowly, out of the hedge. She waved, grinned, and drove away, stray leaves floating down behind her as she picked up speed. Toby watched her go.

To be continued. . .

Anne E. Thompson
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