Rivals: Prologue

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"Good luck, Kathrin!"

"Thank you so much!"

"You're the best, Kathrin!"

"I appreciate it!"

"Do your best, Müller!"

"I'll try!"

Kathrin Müller could not contain her excitement or her smile. Her father always told her to never show such emotions, although that could be chocked up to concern towards his daughter after they moved back to Germany from spending her early years in the United States. But how could she not be excited for such an occasion, modesty be damned?

"Müller," a boy walked up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder. "Please be careful."

"I will, Ingo," she replied. The young man patted her on the shoulder and walked back over to his desk, right near the window. Kathrin sat back in hers, gripping her knee-length skirt with anticipation. She couldn't wait for the week to be over with. She wanted to graduate high school right now.

The day could not go fast enough for the 18-year-old. The teachers' constant droning put her to sleep several times. She could almost imagine herself in her new duty. She roared down the track in her car, passing the losers by and crossing the start/finish line for the victory. No, she is not going to become a teen idol.

She was going to be a race car driver.

"Müller! Pay attention!" her teacher caught her dozing off and she bolted upright and looked straight forward. The other students laughed at her and she blushed in her embarrassment.

To the right of her, another girl giggled but not mockingly like the others. It was enough to make Kathrin smile, reassured. She turned back to the chalkboard while her teacher droned on and on about the Pythagorean Theorem. She would let her team deal with the math.

Around lunch time, she took out her bento box to eat, but that had to wait. A crowd of students, including first-years, rushed into the classroom to get a glimpse of their new celebrity. She actually enjoyed the attention. Even she couldn't believe how she was able to be signed to a major German Formula 3 team at only 18. One would have thought that'd she'd just won the Monaco or German Grand Prix. But she hadn't.

The best part was that she had an opportunity to race in the biggest race in the world, the Indianapolis 500. How could she not be giddy? She nervously brushed some of her shoulder-length brown hair behind her ear

"So, do they turn right and left at Indianapolis?" asked one of her classmates.

"No, not in the Indianapolis 500," she replied, "It's left-turn only. It's two-and-a-half mile track with four corners and four straightaways, and it's shaped like a rectangle. But there is a road course in the infield."

"Oh, I did not know that," her classmate said.

"Are you sure you're going there?" asked another classmate.

"To be honest, it's not guaranteed yet," she said, scratching her cheek, "But my mom is talking to some teams who might be able to get me a ride in IndyCar."

"What about your boyfriend?"

"Oh, that's right! Thomas!" Her boyfriend Thomas would no doubt be excited to hear about this… at least that's what everyone would think. In her haste, she stood up rather quickly. But she stood in front of everyone for a moment. "I must apologize, everyone," she said excitedly. "But I must tell my boyfriend about this!"

The crowd acknowledged her request and she ran out of the classroom.

Voices of other students echoed through halls while she looked for her boyfriend's classroom. They were all voices of encouragement; for her to do her best and to win every single race she ran. She wasn't sure about the latter, but the former was definitely something she was going to do.

Her boyfriend was sitting in his classroom looking out the window. Kathrin talked to a person at the entrance and waited. Her boyfriend sighed while he stood and walked back to the doorway.

"What do you want?" he asked in a rather hostile tone.

"I need to talk to you," she replied, "Can we talk on the roof?"

Her boyfriend sighed and rubbed the back of his head. "Sure," he said.

They were outside the school a few minutes later. Kathrin watcher her boyfriend while he stared out over the cityscape of Frankfurt. Thomas looked between the city and Kathrin every now and then, not even trying to end the awkward silence that had fallen between them. "I think I know what you're here to do," he finally said.

She didn't say anything. She just stood and stared at him stone-faced, aware of the meaning behind his words. "Yes," she replied.

"I take it it's not just your racing career," he said. He scoffed. "I never liked that to begin with."

"Too bad," she replied, "I'm going to enter the German Formula Three Championship before I go to the IndyCar series."

He scoffed again. "You couldn't go to NASCAR or F1? Pathetic."

"Please stop being dismissive," she said. "I wanted to race at Indianapolis since I was little. This is my big chance."

"Sure," he said, "But don't keep beating around the bush. I know the other reason for this."

She didn't say anything at all. But she knew what he meant. "I did not want to be some accessory to you," he continued, "If you wanted to hide it, you should have picked a better fake boyfriend."

"As I recall, you agreed enthusiastically," she replied.

"I was lying," he replied.

"Either way, we have to end this," she replied, "My career—"

"Everything is about you!" he interrupted, "What about me?"

"I'm thinking about you!" Kathrin replied, "Why do you think I'm ending this?"

"Because you're selfish," he said, "All you talk about is yourself when you're around me." He brushed some of his short brown hair out of his eyes while he glared at her. "Besides, you haven't even signed an IndyCar contract yet. You're a liar."

"And you're a dummkopf," she replied.

"Is that the best you can do, Kathrin?" he replied, "What makes you think you can actually win? Another woman already tried and she's failed miserably each and every time. What makes you different?"

"I'm good," she growled.

"No, you're not," he replied, "You're a talentless, hard-headed, no-good bi—" She punched his left cheek before he could even finish his sentence. She looked down at him on the ground, her fist and teeth clenched in fury.

"If you felt that way about me the whole time, then you should've come out and said it at the beginning!"

"And you should've have come out of the closet before you started dating me, you kesser Vater!"

"FUCK YOU!" She kicked him in his jaw and stormed off to get back to class before the 20-minute break ended.

She didn't talk to anyone for the rest of the day. Because of this, no one really knew why she was in such a poor mood when she should not be. But they couldn't get anywhere near her. Part of the reason was a scowl so intimidating that it not only confirmed the stereotypical "serious" German to foreigners, but would intimidate a Bundeswehr commander.

A boy tried to walk up to her close to the end of the school day. He tried to speak to her, but she snapped her head towards him. The look she gave him nearly traumatized the poor guy.

And when the day ended, she packed up her bag and stormed out of the school. No one was really sure what was going on, but seeing her push Thomas out of the way was a good and clear indication that something had gone on between the two.

Another girl followed Kathrin as soon as she saw her leaving.

"Dummkopf," Kathrin growled while she walked the streets heading home. She kicked the ground, scattering some rocks about. "I'll show him! I'll show everyone!"

"Kathrin!"

Kathrin's head perked up and she turned around. There was another girl, around her age, but smaller and prettier looking coming her way.

"Annie?"

Annie Krieger ran up to Kathrin and stopped, panting heavily. "Kathrin, you're a fast walker!" she said.

"Sorry," Kathrin laughed. "What is it?"

"That's what I wanted to ask you!" Annie replied. Annie as a bit petite and had assort of slender face about her. Her curly dark blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail that had slipped off her shoulder. Green eyes looked up at Kathrin in a pondering way.

Unlike Kathrin, who, under that long turtleneck, had an athletic but slender build, which helped her fit into the small cockpits of open-wheeled racecars. She had a face that was slender just like Annie's but had a subtly tomboyish look to it. Had she not had long brown hair, it would have been less subtle. And Kathrin's brown eyes looked at Annie's green ones.

Those green eyes bore into Kathrin's being, She couldn't bear being dishonest with this girl for some reason. No, wait, there was a reason.

She was her best friend.

"It's Thomas," she said, "He insulted me in so many ways I don't even want to repeat one of them. But he said I was talentless." She rubbed her face, her fair skin turning red in shame, embarrassment and anger.

She felt a soft hand on her shoulder. She removed her hand to see Annie smiling at her.

"He's a dummkopf," she said.

Kathrin snorted and broke into laughter. "Mein Gott," she said, "I forgot how spontaneous you can be."

"What's that supposed to mean!?" Annie accused, tapping her friend on her shoulder.

"Sorry," said Kathrin, "But I needed a laugh."

"Oh." Annie paused and laughed again. Now both of them were laughing and Annie wrapped her arms around Kathrin and the (slightly) taller girl did the same. "Fuck him," she said. "And fuck your haters."

"Thanks, Annie," said Kathrin. "By the way, how is your mom doing? I need more of her pretzels…"

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Kathrin's new Formula 3 team had a garage outside of Frankfurt in a nice suburb. Her mother drove her to the garage and waited in the entrance while Kathrin walked in to see her new car. Kathrin's eyes were emotionless, but steel-eyed as she walked in. She knew this was a temporary ride, but she wanted to see how it looked, nonetheless.

It was a good car, and she could tell from looking at it. She walked up to it, eyeing its blue-and-white livery, her sponsor plastered on the front of the nose. "How does it look, Kathrin?" asked an engineer.

She didn't say anything, but she kept examining the car closely, tracing the decals and lines of paint on the chassis and side pods. Her mouth, which was straight as a line at first, began to curve ever-so-subtle and gradually. It looked like a fantastic machine.

"Do you like it?" asked the man who would be her crew chief, a slightly athletic, middle-aged man with a small bald spot in his dark hair by the name of Hans Gunther.

"I love it," she said. For an obviously temporary ride, it had already grown on her.

"I'm glad you do," said Hans, "But why IndyCar? Why not F1?"

"Have you seen IndyCar?" she asked. She turned to him and gave him a smile with a competitive fire burning in her eyes, "I have. And the racing is the best I've ever seen. F1 doesn't even come close to how good the racing is over there."

Hans shrugged, clearly not caring what his driver thought. "If that's the case, then the best of luck," he said. "Now why don't you get a helmet on and climb in?"

"Gladly," she said. A crewmember handed a helmet and HANS device to her. She strapped the HANS device on, but was having some apparent trouble with her hair, trying to stuff it into the helmet. The expression on her face told them everything.

When she finally got the helmet on, she attached it to the device and climbed into the cockpit. It may not have been built for it, but she felt nice and snug in her seat. It was just the perfect thing to prepare for IndyCar.

She pressed and played around with the buttons on the steering wheel. She had to memorize each button while she was getting ready. After all, preparation is vital, especially in motorsport.

She was done and lifted herself out of the ca, tearing her helmet off as quickly—but safely—as possible. A crewmember removed the HANS device while she shook out her hair.

"How does it feel?" asked the human Hans.

"I can't wait to drive it," she said with a smile. "Ugh, my hair is so annoying!"

"Are you alright?" asked another crewmember, "Because you look unhappy."

"It's nothing," she replied, an obvious lie. Her crewmembers did not say anything, but the expressions on their faces were loud enough. "What?" she asked when she saw this.

"Something's wrong," said Hans, "It's written all over your face."

"I'm fine!" she said.

"It's Thomas, isn't it?" asked Hans.

"That bastard said I had no talent!" she snapped.

"I knew it," said Hans. "You are going to have to let that go if you are going to be successful, you know."

"He insulted me!" Kathrin replied.

"Then turn it into fuel!" said Hans, "Prove him wrong!"

Kathrin was about to respond, but she actually thought about his words.

And he was right.

"Well?" asked Hans.

"Thank you Hans," she said, "But I think I need a haircut.

"Whatever you need," said Hans.

"Just you watch," she said, "I'm going to get that IndyCar ride!"

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End chapter