The pounding on the door was what woke Davide. He groggily stared at his alarm clock and realised he was late. Again. That was why someone was pounding on his door: he should have been at training an hour ago. He waited for the flash of panic and guilt at running late…
…and was surprised when he felt simply nothing.
He frowned. Sitting up, he looked around his bedroom, taking in the expensive clothing and lavish touches. He should feel pride for having earned them. Shouldn’t he? But there was no pride, either. Instead, there was a slowly growing realisation that this was not his life. Oh, he’d earned everything he could see, but this wasn’t his dream. Had never been his dream.
He heard the sound of keys in his door lock. A moment later the door opened and then came the inevitable sound of running footsteps and his father boiled into the room.
There was ranting and shouting and cursing and for the first time in Davide’s life, he felt no fear. No shame. When his father paused for breath, he simply said, “I’m not doing it.”
His father, face florid with anger, stared. “What do you mean?”
“I mean: I’m not doing it. I’m not training today. I’m not racing next week.” Davide paused. “I’m announcing my retirement.”
“What?” His father stared, his face so purple Davide half expected the older man to drop dead of a cardiac event. “What do you mean retiring? You’ve just achieved your dream–“
“Your dream,” said Davide mildly. “I’ve achieved your dream. I don’t know what my dream is. You’ve never let me have one.”
This time there was no reply. Instead his father’s jaw flapped silently in astonishment.
“I’ll speak to the team,” Davide continued. “I’ll buy out my contract, if I have to, but either way, this ends now. Today.” He paused. “Please leave.”
“You can’t do this!” His father had finally found his voice.
“I can.” Davide swung his legs out of bed and reached for the mobile phone on the nightstand. To no great surprise he saw thirty missed calls, all from his father. Interestingly, there was nothing from the team hierarchy, who had surely also noted his absence from training.
His father lunged for him. “You can’t do this! You can’t spoil this now! You’ve worked so hard and–“
“I have worked so hard so I get to say when it’s done,” Davide retorted. “Now please. Leave. Before I make my first phone call the police to remove a trespasser.”
His father froze. Davide could see the realisation dawning. “You wouldn’t– Your own father?”
“Try me,” Davide retorted, feeling his own anger finally surfacing. His finger hovered over the phone icon. “Leave.”
This time, his father did leave. Davide waited until he heard his front door close again and only then did he call the team management.
“You’re late for training,” said Eddie, but there was something in his tone. Something knowing.
“I’m not coming.”
“I thought maybe you wouldn’t.” Eddie did know something. How did Eddie know?
“I’m retiring. I’m sorry it’s so close to the season–“
“I have the paperwork all ready and space booked for the press conference,” said Eddie calmly. Kindly.
The warmth in the tone affected Davide far more than his father’s anger. He felt a lump in his throat. An unaccustomed feeling. “How did you know?”
Eddie chuckled. “I’ve been in this business a long time. I half expected it before Christmas and when I saw you last week, well.” There was a momentary pause. “Have you told your father?”
“I assume he didn’t take it well?”
Davide snorted. “No. I…had to threaten to call the police.”
There was a sound, almost an audible wince, from Eddie and his next words were spoken with a little more urgency. “Then get down to the offices here and we’ll get this done as quick as possible. Before–“
“He can’t stop me, can he?”
“No, but he can be a nuisance,” said Eddie. “I’ll notify security, just to be on the safe side, though.”
An hour later, with no sign of his father, Davide signed the papers severing his contract with the team. Eddie, it seemed, had put a clause in his most recent contract allowing for just such a no-notice release.
“How long have you known?” Davide asked, after the paper work was completed.
Eddie leaned back in his chair. “I’ve been in this business a long time. I’ve always known this wasn’t really your idea. Don’t get me wrong, you’re hugely talented and a hard worker and I’ve loved having you on the team and, sometimes, I’ve wondered if maybe I was wrong and this was more than just your father living vicariously, but I’m not wrong. Am I?”
Silently, Davide shook his head.
“Then let me give you some advice – for old time’s sake.” Eddie flashed a smile. “Don’t rush into anything new. Take a break. Take the time to work out what you really want. Your life’s revolved around training and the track since you were small and it’s going to feel scary tomorrow when you wake up and that’s not you any more, but that’s okay. You’ll find a path. And maybe, in time, that will be media work or coaching, but don’t just take the first thing that you’re offered because there is more to life than training and track.” Eddie paused. “What was your favourite subject in school?”
Davide winced. “I didn’t do well in school. I was mostly…” He gestured vaguely. “Here.” And while he didn’t specifically mean Eddie’s office, it seemed his team boss understood him completely.
“Then maybe that’s where you start,” he said. “Take some online classes. Read some history or science. Learn to paint–“
“I couldn’t paint my way out of a wet paperbag,” Davide cut in. “I remember that much from school.”
Eddie grinned. “Perhaps not. But you get the idea, yeah?”
Davide nodded. “I do.”
“And if you ever want to chat, you have my number. Though,” Eddie added, “maybe don’t call me on a race day.”
At that, Davide laughed. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
The press conference was a scrum, as might have been expected. Everyone who was anyone was there. The tabloid shills asked all the personal questions Davide had expected and was able to easily bat away with PR non-answers and smiles. The couple of ex-racers turned journalists and broadsheet hacks had more searching questions which received better answers, though still couched heavily in the language of public relations. And then it was over.
The ranks of journalists filed out of the room and Davide sighed with relief.
“So that’s that.”
“Perhaps not entirely that,” said Eddie. “I expect there’ll be a few interview requests over the next couple of weeks. Once it’s sunk in with people. But the good thing is, not being under contract, you can tell them all to get stuffed, if you like.”
Davide grinned. “I can.” The new sense of freedom felt amazing. “Though there’s a couple I’ll talk to. Alex. Drew. Vicky. I know they’ll report what I actually say and not what their editors want me to have said.”
Eddie laughed. “You’re still sore about that Guardian misprint, aren’t you?”
“Still not convinced it was a misprint.”
Eddie shook his head. “Well, either way. You get to decide now. And now I get to tell Ant he’s stepping up.”
“He’ll do well. Better than me.”
“Don’t do yourself down. What you’ve been is bloody good,” said Eddie firmly.
“Maybe.” Davide smiled. “But Ant wants this.”
A week later, Davide taped up the last moving box, ready for the removal men to carry away. He heard a throat clear behind him and he turned to see his father standing behind him. One of the removal men must have let him in and Davide opened his mouth to demand his father leave again, only to realise this was a very different meeting.
For the first time, despite their relative positions, his father no longer towered over him. In fact, his father seemed diminished and instead of an order to depart, Davide simply said, “Dad. What are you doing here?”
“Did you mean what you said?”
“The interview. With Drew.”
The request had come in before Davide had got home from Eddie’s office and Davide had granted it easily. It had rapidly turned no holds barred. “Yes. I did.”
“You…I…only wanted what was best,” said his father. “I didn’t mean…”
“That’s just it, dad,” said Davide with patience. “You wanted what was best for you. You never once asked what I’d like.”
“One day you’ll have kids. You’ll understand then. You have to guide them. Teach them–“
“Terrify them?” Davide asked. “Make them train six hours a day? Travel all over Europe? Miss school so much they never actually graduate, they just get a little slip of paper telling them not to come back?”
His father flinched. “You weren’t academic.”
“I wasn’t allowed to be academic. There’s a difference.” Davide slowly got to his feet. “When you understand that, we’ll talk. Until you do, we have nothing more to say.”
This time his father didn’t argue with the implied command to leave. Instead he silently headed out and Davide suspected it would be a long time before he saw the older man again. He felt a pang of guilt and sorrow. The guilt was ingrained and something he was working to ignore, but the sorrow surprised him for a moment until he realised it wasn’t sadness over the death of their relationship, it was mourning for the relationship he’d never had. The normal father-son relationship he’d seen other people have.
Davide swallowed and turned his attention back to the process of clearing the flat.
Two days later, with boxes everywhere, Davide looked around the little apartment he’d bought in southern France. He’d owned the property for three years, but had never done more than spend the occasional night there. Too busy either training or racing or travelling.
It was well appointed – he’d had it renovated when he’d first purchased it – but otherwise was a largely blank canvas. He could set it up however he liked. He could decorate. He could line the walls with shelves of trophies…except that was probably the one box he wouldn’t unpack. The trophies represented his old life. The apartment, though it was bought with his earnings, represented the new.
Maybe the apartment wasn’t the only blank canvas.
Davide smiled. It was time to start filling both canvases with some colours and seeing what worked.