9. No pain, no gain
Lightning and Sally came out of the library laughing and talking quietly. Naya, who was entering the back porch door at that moment saw them approaching, unable to avoid a sudden burst of tenderness. Despite everything, she loved to see her best friend happy. In that, neither of them had changed.
When they were just a few meters away, the couple discovered that they were being watched, and they parted suddenly, somewhat embarrassed. But Naya approached them with a half-smile, without saying anything.
“Hey, Naya,” Lightning tried to break the ice. “Thanks for dinner.
Everything was delicious.”
The young Hispanic car pretended to gaze at the compliment.
“It was nothing, I can assure you. But I would also ask you to accept our hospitality for as long as you wish.”
Her two interlocutors were left speechless, not knowing what to say at first. At least, until Sally got her babble on:
“Naya…you are so kind, but–It’s not necessary…We–”, and in front of her best friend’s inquisitive windshield, she clarified: “We don’t want to impose. We can still pay for the suite or a hotel room if–”
But she was interrupted when the other girl made a negation gesture with a wheel, while she did not lose the half-smile that barely concealed her excitement at having that opportunity.
“Please, Granger,” she poked her with her college nickname. “Don’t tell me you’re going to turn down your second childhood home for a hotel,” Sally twisted her nose sarcastically as Lightning flashed a windshield in her direction, curiously, but Naya hadn’t finished. “Seriously, I have no way of thanking you for all you are doing to help me,” she made an ironic gesture and added, “Let’s be honest, it’ll be great to have you ‘kidnapped’ for a while. Bookworm.”
Sally giggled and shook her nose, amused.
“Alright,” she finally said after exchanging a meaningful glance with Lightning. “But I appeal to my free will, Your Honor,” she joked, “or am I under ‘house arrest’?”
Naya laughed and the other two went along with it unhelpfully. But soon the seriousness returned as soon as Lightning asked Naya where the phone was―he had just remembered that he had to make an important call. To the curiosity of the two girls, he only explained that it had to do with the case, and, after a millisecond of doubt, her hostess kindly indicated where she could find the mentioned device. He thanked her and turned in that direction, leaving the girls to stare at his trunk until he disappeared behind a corner.
A silence installed then in the hall. At least, until Naya sighed with an indefinite expression, letting out a brief chuckle, before turning back to the porch and going out into the cool of the night. Sally raised her windshield in surprise.
“What?” She was interested without pungency, putting herself on a par with her best friend.
Naya on the other hand took a few moments to look at the moon before opening the hood again.
“Can I–ask you something?” She asked gently.
“Of course,” Sally encouraged her. “We still trust each other, right?”
Perhaps, of all that happened, that was what Sally feared most. The fact that because of her the strong bond she had with Naya in her day, forged through laughter and tears throughout her childhood and youth, would have been broken to the point of no return. But for her peace of mind, Naya showed no reservations and remained as open as ever.
“You love him badly, don’t you?”
Sally had to confess that that question surprised her, to begin with. She had stopped talking about her feelings since she left Los Angeles five years earlier; maybe only with Lightning, she might show herself as she truly was. But Nayara de la Vega’s dark eyes did not hide any hidden motives, just–genuine curiosity.
“Of course I do,” replied the owner of the Cozy Cone without hesitation, a millisecond later, after she had recovered. “Why do you ask?”
To her surprise, Naya inhaled deeply and showed half a smile that the young Porsche knew well.
“Because if that’s the case, I’d start lowering the barrier and let it take care of me a bit, baby,” she advised her.
Sally squinted at that direct statement.
“What do you mean?” She asked, suspicious.
Naya made an eye gesture as if the other girl was missing something fundamental.
“Ok, let’s put it straight, honey. Since I’ve known you, you’ve always been the most independent thing a dealership has ever made,” she said, making the other one look away with an embarrassed laugh. “But believe me,” Naya suddenly became serious. “I can see a mile off when a man feels like betting on a relationship.”
Sally sighed, having to admit that Naya was right. Except for her first three days of running into each other at Radiator Springs, Lightning had turned out to be an open book.
“And what about you? What’s become of you over the years?” She asked, wishing to deflect the subject from her body.
Naya rolled her eyes and snorted, showing no sign that the change of subject bothered her.
“Whoa, don’t even ask. Not one of them worked out for me,” she said with false annoyance.
“Didn’t you like Aston?” Sally wanted to know then, biting.
Naya opened her eyes like a plate and almost shouted back:
“Are you kidding?! That waxy stutterer?” Sally looked at her with a mocking smile and Naya recoiled even more. “No, no way!”
“Come on, girl,” the other car took a chance and couldn’t help herself. “He wasn’t so ugly either, and you could tell he had a crush on you at the firm…”
But what the blue Porsche didn’t like was the next gesture Naya composed, which was much more unpleasant.
“I see you haven’t heard, then.”
Sally imitated her, alert.
“That your ‘dear’ Aston is the new assistant of who “you and I” know…”
Sally composed a grimace of disappointment.
“No–Are you kidding?”
“I wish,” Naya’s twisted her gesture. “I think he followed in your footsteps shortly after you left–”
“Well, I’ll be damned–He’s already lost points.”
Naya sighed, agreeing.
“But yeah, I admit it,” she added in a moment. “I can’t deny that he is very handsome, and I have to admit that his babbling has improved considerably in recent years,” she paused, smiling ironically to herself. “And–he’s rich, too.”
“Oh, right! Like you’re short of money,” Sally ironized.
“Don’t call the devil–“, Naya sneered, before getting serious again and looking up at the top of Chevrolet Hills. “You know, all of us Lightning fans were jealous of seeing him with you over the years.”
Sally waved a windshield, curious.
“So you knew where I was–” she said cautiously.
“Of course, I knew!” Naya confirmed as if it were self-evident. “And… I admit that for a long time I also hated you for it.”
“And, why…?” Sally attempted, but she chose to bite her tongue in time.
It wasn’t the time to rummage in old wounds. However, Naya read between the lines without a problem and composed a smile filled with a certain resignation.
“As I told you, I know you never do anything for no reason. And―what do I know! I ended up assuming that if I hadn’t heard from you again, it was because I wasn’t part of your life anymore,” she acknowledged. “That you were happier that way–”
“Naya, please don’t say that!” Sally was shocked, her heart shrunk. “I’ve never forgiven myself for not coming back for you. But… For the Car!” She cursed helplessly. “It was so painful just the thought of seeing this city again…”
Naya was silent, deep in nostalgia and understanding of what her friend wanted to say.
“Then maybe we have fate to thank for your boyfriend bringing us back together, huh?” She ironized.
Sally smiled, confident.
“Maybe. Although,” she added, sarcastically, “I hope you don’t still hate me for falling, you know… ‘into his net’…
The other lawyer snapped her tongue in amusement.
“Tsch…No, I’d give you that. To be honest. When I found out you were with someone mediatic, I was almost more worried…You know…That you’d make the same mistake again “ ―and under the grateful gaze, but somewhat tarnished by Sally’s memories, she added―, “but now, seeing how he looks at you, how he wants to take care of you…Yes, I still envy you, I won’t lie–but because I’d love to find someone like that for myself.”
Sally was silent, chewing on what her friend had just told her. If she had to be honest with herself, she couldn’t do anything but agree.
“Yeah, it’s true,” he said, “Lightning is all love with me, and he goes out of his way to care for the people he worries about. I think that’s what I admire most,” and what I love the most, something she didn’t say aloud― “from him”.
“Well, that’s it, then,” said Naya, sternly. “Don’t let him get away, you hear me?”.
“But I don’t want him to suffer because of me, Nay,” Sally countered, worried. “I don’t want my past mistakes to fall on him,” she lowered her voice and whispered in pain. “I couldn’t even think of it.”
Nayara de la Vega watched her for a few seconds, weighing how to tell her what was going on in her head.
“Let’s see. Let’s focus, crazy head,” she chided her lovingly and applied another of her favorite nicknames. “Do you think he would be here if he wasn’t fully aware that this could splatter him?” Sally opened her mouth to respond, only to realize right away that she had nothing to refute it. “There are things you can see with the naked eye, honey. And one of them, here and now, is that McQueen will never let anything bad happen to you or suffer if he can stop it. Even though it may affect him.”
Sally bit her lip, undecided.
“I don’t want to hurt him, Nay. I really couldn’t bear it–Even if I didn’t do it on purpose.”
The alluded one, on the other hand, smiled tenderly and affirmed:
“You won’t, and he knows it. He trusts you more than yourself, I’m telling you.”
After a few seconds of internal debate in which her rational and protective side struggled with the desire that he would never be separated from her, not at all in the world, Sally smiled slightly. There was a truce between the two sides, and she knew well the reason of it.
“It’s possible,” she admitted before joking. “I see your powers of observation are still intact–”
“Gotta have some grace in me, right?” Naya chanted before laughing.
After the tension had passed, they both laughed for a while like two schoolgirls before a red figure appeared behind them in the hall again.
“Hi, Stickers,” Sally greeted him with unusual effusiveness, making the racer strangely look at Naya as if apologizing in advance. “Is everything all right?”
Lightning, for his part, parted from his girlfriend and smiled confidently.
“I hope so.”
And then he told them in a hairy way about the conversation he had just had on the phone. When he finished, the two lawyers looked at each other with a special glow in their eyes.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Asked Sally, excited.
To which Naya responded:
“I sure do.”
If everything went as it seemed, that could be his final case. But there were still two days to go.
However, the biggest surprise for Lightning came when the two grateful guests were left alone in the room they had reserved for them. With the lights off, Sally huddled against him in a way he hadn’t noticed in a long time.
“Stickers…”, she said then.
“Yes, Sal?,” replied Lightning lovingly, rhythmically stroking her fender as if it were something learned.
“Thank you,” she muttered after a while. “Thank you for being there when I need you.”
To which he smiled, feeling his entire chassis vibrate, before responding:
“Always, Sally. Don’t ever doubt it.”
And if I can make your monsters disappear with this case, he thought as she slept soundly, I swear I will.