8. Someday. I promise
Chick Hicks, still an htB racer, smiled smugly while Lightning, as if by instinct, hid Sally behind his rear bumper. She was a little surprised but didn’t protest. She just stared at the green car covered in stickers with distaste―the one for which Lightning had sacrificed his first Cup.
“What’s my most hated rival doing here on the track?” Hicks continued, “Does it bite your conscience that you didn’t go with Dinoco when you had the chance?” Lightning gritted his teeth, but he didn’t answer and tried to avoid Chick and a couple of bad guys who had joined him from behind. “Easy, Ka-Chow, it seems you made the right decision.”
Sally’s warning not to react came late―Lightning could not restrain himself any longer.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Chick!” he replied, turning with a mischievous expression. “Maybe you could have taken advantage of that tire I dropped, don’t you think?”
To the despair of Sally, who watched everything from the sidelines, Lightning’s old enemy seemed to gloat as he realized he had gotten what he wanted.
“Please, McQueen!” He hissed, amused. “Don’t tell me you’re so fond of old Tex–He’s just another money-grubbing businessman who only thinks of himself, like everyone else–”
“That’s why your team wanted to take him down. Am I wrong?” Then Sally intervened, seeking to nip that absurd argument in the bud. “Like everyone else…”
And, eloquently pushing Lightning, she urged him to leave. But what neither of them expected was to hear the next thing that came out of Chick’s lips:
“You stay out of it, girl”, and when the couple turned around as one, clearly offended, he added with heartburn. “Your grudge with your ex goes aside of all this.”
As Sally watched him, dumbfounded and not knowing where such a character had gotten that information, Lightning immediately noticed how his whole interior was heating up with rage.
“Don’t even think about talking to her like that, Chick,” he mumbled angrily, facing his enemy.
This one was far from being scared and seemed to find the situation even more comical.
“And who’s gonna stop me, McQueen?” He scoffed, looking up and down the youngest racer with disdain. “You?”
“Lightning, let’s go,” urged Sally again, without looking at Chick again.
However, he no longer saw or heard anything that did not come from the green lips of the htB corridor.
“You can swear on that”, he threatened. “If you ever think of it again–”
“Hey, Lightning, Sally”, Naya was calling them from the barrier, breaking the sudden tension of the moment. “It’s time to go.”
Lightning took a deep breath and left after a few seconds of hesitation, trying to ignore Chick’s smug smile as he did so.
“Your friend Tex will end up behind bars, McQueen,” he sneered as Sally and her boyfriend walked away into the street flooded with reporters. “Mark my words!”
But Lightning had stopped listening to him, especially when reporters came to him to ask about Chick’s statement. As he entered, the racer consulted the decision again in silence with Sally. But to his surprise, she looked away from him at once and focused on Naya. She was rolling on the other side―what was going on?
From the surprise, the racer was barely aware that it was the Weathers who were saving his skin, taking over. Lynda was the one who, with her side, managed to fully parapet Lightning and get him out of the maelstrom. When Naya saw that everyone was then out of camera range, she smiled sadly.
“Come on”, she said, “let’s all go to my house for dinner,” before making an eloquent gesture to Lightning and adding, “there’s someone who wants to meet you.”
Lightning returned the same grimace, grateful.
“Thank you, Naya. I appreciate it”, so, obedient, the two couples followed Naya down the road to the lower Chevrolet Hills. Then Lightning turned to Sally and asked, “Hey, is everything okay?”
But she gave him a blank stare before she replied, annoyed:
“Why did you do that? Huh? Tell me.”
Lightning almost got stuck in the place, stunned―what was Sally talking about? What happened? When he recovered, he accelerated to catch up with her again since she had not deigned to stop and had continued after Naya, without looking back.
“Sally! Hey!”, by shouting, he got her to turn around and slow down a bit, which allowed him to lean forward, cutting her way slightly. “What are you talking about? What did I do?”
Sally took a deep breath in, looking at him with certain darkness lodged behind her green eyes that made Lightning’s spark plug to the top.
“Really? You don’t know?”
The racer denied with his nose, ignorant. Sally, for her part, shook the hood and rolled her eyes as she whispered something that sounded like “men”, and which only made Lightning angry.
“Hey, hey: now don’t play mysterious with me. I know you’re not going through a good time, but–”
“But what?” She interrupted him. “Go on, say it.”
Lightning opened the hood, unsure.
“Well. I don’t fully get why you’re taking it out on me now. What did I do for it?” He repeated in pain.
Sally for the first time in all that, looked down and sighed, exhausted.
“You don’t have to defend me like I’m a helpless girl, okay?” She rebuked. “I’m able to fight my own battles since long ago.”
The racer felt the gasoline boil―how could she tell him these things? Was it because of the argument with Chick? Had he acted wrong? He was just trying to protect her, but she didn’t realize that it was all about her―because he couldn’t bear to see her suffer.
However, he was only able to turn around, hurt, and mumble:
“Yeah, that’s what I thought back in court.”
Sally opened her eyes and the hood, surprised and hurt by the one who least expected it, as Lightning turned around and followed Naya and the Weathers up the hill. They had stopped a few hundred yards away, not knowing why the couple had braked, and McQueen felt very embarrassed that they had been seen arguing with everything that was already happening. The higher he climbed, and even the moment he had the door of the De La Vega mansion in front of him, he couldn’t help but ruminate on how unfair it was―but there was also a hint of guilt in his heart. Maybe, just maybe he had overreacted to Chick. He was able to drive him so far out of his mind–
At that moment, Lightning saw out of the corner of his eye how Sally was passing through the garden gate with Naya, who was looking at her with a certain sadness and trying to cheer her up without succeeding. Neither of them looked at the racer while the retinue entered the enclosure, and they were received by the De La Vega couple, Naya’s parents. Educated, she introduced Lightning to her parents, and they both covered him with praise before leading all the guests to an open-air dining room located on the west side of the house.
From there, one could see the beginning of the Pacific sunset as everyone ate and exchanged impressions about the trial. Andrés De la Vega, Naya’s father, had as little sympathy for Mustang as his daughter. But when the attorney’s name came up, Lightning could only observe Sally’s reactions. However, his girlfriend’s mind seemed to be far from there―somewhere over the sea. It was clear that she was listening because every once in a while she made a note of the conversation. But, as soon as it lost interest, her gaze became an empty well again.
When the butler and the maid picked up everything on the table, several of those present including her boyfriend was surprised that the young Porsche excused herself to enter the mansion. Naya’s mother, Natalia, cheered her on with a smile.
“Of course, my dear. You know this is your home whenever you need it.”
Sally returned the gesture, restrained.
“Thank you, Mrs. De La Vega. I know.”
As soon as she left, the looks flew furtively towards Lightning. However, he nodded in the direction of Naya, and she immediately captured the intention, starting a new conversation with feigned joy. Anything that would break the uncomfortable silence and allow the racer to meditate on what to do next. He smiled briefly and grateful at Naya, and she winked at him, accomplice. A while later, when the older couples decided to step out onto the back porch to enjoy the sunset breeze, Lightning sneaked inside the mansion. And, as he passed Naya, she whispered to him:
“The library. East Wing, bottom right.”
The racer nodded briefly.
“Thank you, Naya.”
The other one hit a wheel with him before he walked away.
Following her directions and dodging some servants who were coming and going, Lightning headed for the designated area of the house. It was more secluded and quieter―perfect for the study area. As he entered a somewhat dim hallway, the racer glimpsed a crack of light that looked like an open door.
When he reached the end of the corridor, he could see it in all its splendor: double leaf forged metal knobs and carved wood up to the ceiling. On the other side there was an area of about one hundred square meters with the walls lined with shelves full of books. A chandelier hung in the center of the room. Under it, a table of something that looked like oak stretched out in a wide circle, reflecting the light from the bulbs like a mirror. But beside it, there was someone who reflected them too, even if she didn’t want to.
Sally was engaged in reading a thick manual when he came in. She looked up, her eyes crossed, and a tense silence settled between them two. Lightning swallowed oil before deciding to take the plunge.
“Sal, I’m sorry,” he muttered, laden with remorse. “You were right. I shouldn’t have acted like that, but Chick made me angry and–”
She sighed, causing him to pause and stand in suspense, awaiting her response―something that was not long in coming.
“I’m sorry, too, Stickers,” she admitted. “I shouldn’t have gotten like that either. But,” she snorted wearily and turned to the shelves with nostalgia. “This is going beyond me already―Alex, the trial, my parents– Everything,” she paused while she looked at the books and then confessed. “You know, when I was a little girl and felt sad, I always came to this place–Here or at my parents’ place,” she touched a volume nearby with her left front wheel. “Reading and studying helped me not think about what they expected of me in other life areas.”
Lightning showed half a smile.
“Back at home, I remember there were books too, but I never paid much attention to them,” he admitted, making Sally turn to him, curious. “Being at home was a torment, so I preferred to go for a run,” he cautiously approached his girlfriend. “Hey, Sal. What I told you on the way over here–I’m truly sorry. I’m no one to judge how you feel or how you deal with your past,” he said. “I know you love me, and that should be enough.”
Sally, after a moment of hesitation, also smiled halfheartedly.
“That you should never doubt,” she came in turn. “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a long time.”
Lightning approached his fender to brush against hers, and it reassured him that Sally wouldn’t leave. But it was then that he first noticed the photograph on the nearest shelf and approached it for a closer look. Two young girls in caps and black robes were smiling at the camera with their front wheels tightly packed. One, grey, had four rings on her nose and almost silver paint. And the other, sky blue, with green eyes and a red and yellow plate on the nose tip.
“That’s me and Naya,” Sally confirmed wistfully. “It seems like yesterday, and it’s been almost an eternity–It was when we graduated from college,” she sighed with some regret. “When the end began–”
Lightning turned and stroked her again, tentatively, not knowing if she would turn away again. Fortunately, it seemed that the storm had passed, for she accepted the mime again and without complaint. With the plates together, the two of them stayed a few seconds looking at the photo, each one immersed in his thoughts. At least, until Lightning asked:
“Someday you’ll tell me what happened with Alex?”
And Sally, after a moment’s hesitation, responded with a half-smile of love.
“Someday, Stickers. I promise.”