Keep On Truckin'
(sequel to IMYOR62)
There was something about the way her sponsor's decals looked these days that made Mack realize that Vee was starting to put on weight.
"It's called bloating," she assured him for the dozenth time that day. "Doc says it's normal." A forklift from her pit crew approached with a variety tray of Ensure protein shakes. "These things are pretty fattening," she commented before pouring half the tray down her throat in a matter of seconds. Mack watched this with a mixture of awe and disgust.
"But if you're so worried about me gaining weight, I suppose I could cut back." At her gesture, the forklift set the rest aside and left.
"You're supposed to gain weight," Mack spoke up once he'd gone. "All I'm saying is, you're definitely starting to show now. But not that much!" he added quickly before Vee could glare at him. He glanced around, making sure they were truly alone, then lowered his voice. "And you know you did say you'd stop before then. Remember?"
Vee sighed heavily and drove up the ramp into her trailer. "Yeah, I know, but… but this doesn't really count," she said, looking in the mirror at her slightly curved side. "Most of it's water weight. You saw the chart in Doc's office. The baby's no longer than a hubcap at this point."
Mack looked her over doubtfully. "Whose hubcap are we talking about here? Yours or mine?"
Vee backed down the ramp with a scowl. "Let's not forget who's responsible for this!" she snapped.
Mack smirked at her. "Last I heard, it takes two to make a baby."
Vee smirked back. "Last I heard, it only takes one to slip up, and you weren't exactly playing it safe that night, now were you?"
"Ohoho! Don't you try pinning this on me! You're the one who neglected to take your pills. Plus you seduced me!"
Vee snorted and grabbed another Ensure shake, retreating once more into her trailer. "Now you're just trying to piss me off. And don't think you can charm your way out of a good beating later. I've got hormones on my side."
Mack stifled a laugh. A voice over the intercom called for racers to take their place at the starting line in exactly five minutes. The big rig immediately sobered up on hearing the announcement. He peered into the trailer at his best friend and wife, watching grimly as she fussed over a pealing decal on her side.
"Pssh, I can't tell if this says 'Velvalube' or 'valve lube'," she muttered, trying fruitlessly to smooth it down with a tire. "Can you get this for me?"
Mack hesitated. "I dunno. You and your hormones aren't gonna castrate me if I mess it up, are you?"
Vee's smirk was more like a sneer. "Keep talking and we'll just see how it goes." She grumbled something else that he didn't quite catch, though he was pretty sure the jist of it had something to do with which exact head men did their thinking with.
"Oookay, I'm just gonna pretend I didn't hear that and go grab a beer from the concession stand. Want one? Oh, wait, I forgot. You can't have any!" he teased.
His snickering was cut short by a full quart-sized can of oil that flew out of the trailer and bounced off his right wheel well.
"OW! Jeez, babe, can't you take a joke?"
"Sure I can, if you can take another one of these upside your grille!"
Mack dodged the second one just in time. Someone chuckled behind him.
"Only married a month and already you're behaving like a seasoned couple."
Mack turned to see Doc Hudson driving toward him. The elder car's benign smile faded as he peered past the truck into the trailer. "She still planning to race?" he asked Mack, though quite loud enough for Vee to hear too.
"Yes, she is," the Chrysler announced airily as she descended the ramp. "And this racecar is not listening to either one of you, so you can both save your breaths." When she turned to face the two men, she immediately regretted her haughty tone. She didn't know which made her feel worse, Doc's stern glare or Mack's worried pout. She sighed and shook her hood.
"Look, this is going to be my last race until after the baby's born. The very last one. There'll be no more after this one. I swear."
"That's what you said last time," Mack said.
"I know, but… but this time, I mean it."
"You said that last time, too."
Vee sighed again. "I know, but I really, really mean it this time." Here she hesitated a moment, suddenly shy. She looked away, hiding a small smile. "I can feel it now," she said quietly, almost a whisper. Mack looked at her questioningly. She gazed up at him and smiled openly. "The baby. It started moving this morning. I mean, I started to feel it finally. It's like it's trying to tell me this is for real."
"Really?" Mack grinned and rushed forward to press a tire to her side.
Vee giggled, rather girlishly, he thought, which he found both cute and creepy. Hormones, he told himself.
"It's not moving right now, thank Dodge. Can't have any distractions on the track. But there really is a baby in there, and I can't deny that anymore." Vee turned to Doc with a firm nod. "I'm not going to do anything crazy. Just one more race, then maternity leave. I promise."
The old Hornet just stared hard at her for a moment, then nodded back. "All right. But if you so much as utter the word 'race' after today, I'm notifying NASCAR about your condition. Got that?"
"Okay, okay. I promise," Vee replied, knowing full well that Doc never made an idle threat. Less than a day after informing her that she was pregnant, he had explained how this new condition would disqualify her from the remainder of the racing season. On learning this, Vee had been quite upset, but not for long. After some research she discovered a few loopholes that could potentially minimize damage to her track record, should her condition ever become public.
If, indeed, it did become public knowledge at this particular point, only her placement in her two most recent races could be rescinded. And, of course, she would not be allowed to race again until after her pregnancy ended. If, however, she quit after today and managed to stay discreet about it, she would be able to maintain her record as it stood presently.
Ever since learning of her pregnancy, Doc had taken to accompanying her to all of her races. Early on his pretense had been merely to coach his two young protégés (Vee and Lightning both), but he quickly shed that pretense as his concern for Vee grew along with her baby. Nowadays both Doc and Mack (and Lightning, too, whenever he was present and could be coerced by the other two) habitually begged, bullied, pleaded and pestered her to withdraw from the upcoming race. Rather than make her feel guilty, it was starting to drive her insane.
"ATTENTION ALL RACECARS! PLEASE TAKE YOUR PLACE AT THE STARTING LINE!"
At the announcement, Mack and Doc both turned on Vee with identical expressions of concern. She resisted a chuckle, and instead gave them a reassuring smile. "We'll be fine," she said, coasting forward.
Something large and heavy was laid on her trunk, stopping her in her tracks. Vee looked back at Mack, whose enormous tire held her firmly in place. His expression was unreadable. It chilled her to look into his eyes just then.
"Please don't do this." He spoke so quietly, she almost couldn't hear him over the soft purr of her own engine. His green eyes shimmered beautifully, as if with the beginnings of tears. "Every time I watch you race, my own heart races, but… not always in a good way."
"I have to do this," she told him, her voice almost as low. "Just one more race. I have to. Just one more." She wriggled out from under his tire and turned to face him fully. "Please don't worry, Mack. It's not good for either of us."
Instead of arguing or pleading, Mack did the only rational thing he could think of: wrapping both front tires around her, he pulled her crushingly close to himself and kissed her passionately for a very long moment.
"ALL RACECARS PLEASE TAKE YOUR PLACE AT THE STARTING LINE!"
At those words, Vee ended the kiss with an indecipherable murmur and pulled away. It took an astounding amount of willpower for Mack to let her go. She sped off toward the tracks without looking back.
"I love you!" Mack shouted just a split second before she disappeared around a corner.
All day long he had prayed for her success, he had prayed for her safety, and now he prayed that the only reason she hadn't said "I love you" back was because she hadn't heard him.
* * *
Vee tailgated the pace car, waiting tensely for the signal for the start of the race. The summer heat was sweltering. It warped the air like gasoline vapors rising up from the tracks. The cramps that she had 'conveniently forgotten' to mention to Doc clenched her abdomen like the jaws of a ravenous beast. At least they were ignorable, for the most part. Other things weren't nearly as easy to ignore.
Knowing that Chick Hicks was in the same race, she half expected him to get in some last-minute pestering before the green flag was waved. Sure enough, the stickered stock car was already muscling his way up to her from his original position six cars back.
"Well hello, Vee-ronica," he purred, now cruising along beside her. Vee rolled her eyes, but said nothing. "So, how's the hubby?" he asked casually.
That did it. Vee nearly braked right then and there, but just narrowly saved her composure. "And who says I'm married?" she asked coolly while keeping her eyes straight ahead.
"Same person who told me you got knocked up by your driver. Is that who you married? Or is it some other guy?"
"For your information, I stopped seeing more than one guy the day I left Ford's," Vee growled. "Also, I don't know where you're getting all this BS, but I am not pregnant."
Chick guffawed. "So you did marry your driver! Well, how do you like that? Hey, didn't he used to be McQueen's driver? The big red guy? What's his name – Mark?"
"Mack, and yes, I married him. What's it to you?"
"Oh, nothin'," Chick murmured. "But I could've sworn you were knocked up too."
Vee revved her engine loudly to match her equally loud growl. "You've really got to stop believing every little thing you hear. Haven't those stupid tabloids taught you anything? Or need I remind you what they said about you just a few years back?" Of course, a good chunk of what they'd printed about him had been supplied by Vee herself.
Chick acted as though he didn't remember that particular fact. "True, but I gotta say, you do kinda look like you're glowing, Dollface." He eyed her with a cheesy grin.
Vee snorted. "It's the middle of July and a hundred freaking degrees out. Everyone's glowing."
Chick laughed. "I am pretty damn hot, if I do say so myself. And I do! You're not so bad yourself, although," he looked her over, "I think you've put on a few pounds since L.A.."
Vee scowled, but bit her tongue. This was no time to lose her temper. 'Jeez, first Mack, then Doc, now Chick. Why does everyone have to make it so damn hard for me to run one simple little race?' She tried tuning him out, but the mention of a particular name nearly made her brake in her tracks yet again.
"Darla? You're still seeing that – that woman?" she demanded, restraining herself from using a far less favorable term for her old rival.
"Of course!" He veered closer to Vee and lowered his voice to a seductive purr. "Aw, don't be jealous, babe. You know I'd still be seeing you too if you'd just let ol' Thunder roll once in a while."
'Okay, Vee. Stay cool. Don't let him win now. Not the race, and not this either'. She tried to convince herself that it was her hormones that were irritating her and not Chick, but to no avail. She tried again to tune him out, but all too often some suggestive or otherwise provocative sentence fragment managed to snag her attention.
"…weren't as good as you, though… all night long… pretty hot the way you… couldn't get enough…"
'Dodge, when will he learn to quit?' Vee wondered, temper flaring and ebbing as the beast continued to worry at her belly. 'Chrysler, could it be any hotter out here?' The baby rolled over, squirming as it settled into place. All around her, engines revved at an earsplitting decibel, and beside her, Chick rambled on and on about "the good old days back in L.A.." It was all enough to make her see red. A smooth tire brushed against her own just then, sending her straight over the edge.
"GAH, SHUT UP, CHICK!" Vee shrieked, just as the flag went down. "AND LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE!" With a deafening roar of her engine, she was gone, leaving her rival behind in a cloud of exhaust.
* * *
Seventy-three laps down, two-hundred twenty-seven to go. There was no way she was going to make it. Not without a dozen pit stops. 'Why do they call it morning sickness when it lasts all freaking day?' Eighteenth place wasn't so bad, not when there were more than twice that many competitors. But it was bad for Veronica Vroom, who claimed a place somewhere in the top ten in nearly every single race. 'Damn it, kid, why'd you have to pick today to make your presence known? Give Mommy a break!'
"I hate to say it, Darrell, but Vroom's not looking so hot today."
"For once, I actually hate to agree with you, Bob, but you're right. I don't know what it is, but that gal's got something weighing her down big time."
Vee rolled her eyes. Normally Bob Cutlass and Darrell Cartrip were her favorite commentators, but today they were nothing short of effing annoying. Especially when they mentioned either "Vroom" or "number fourteen."
"If she doesn't get her head into the game soon, ol' 'Last Place' Laramie's gonna overtake her for the— ooh! Too late, he just did."
'Yeah, thanks for the heads-up, Darrell. You're really helping me out here.'
Ahead of her by three laps already, Chick approached Vee from behind, and she readied herself for his inevitable snide remarks as he began to pass her up for the fourth time that day. Instead, he hung back, cruising leisurely beside her as he began once again to boast of his self-perceived greatness.
"I told ya before this ain't no girl's game," he teased, veering in uncomfortably close as he did so.
"Uh-huh. Then what about Sonia Alexa?" Vee reminded him of the recently retired female racing legend from Greece. "She's won more cups than you can even count. Forget about her already, did you?"
Chick snorted. "Drag queen, obviously."
"What are you up to, Chick?" demanded Lightning, suddenly appearing on the stock car's other side.
"And you're a real drag, McQueen," Chick replied smartly.
Not having arrived soon enough to get the joke, Lightning ignored this remark. "Don't you have some catching up to do?" he asked coolly. "Or need I remind you that you're six laps behind me!"
Chick growled at this, but let it pass. "Beat it, McQueen. Can't you see Thunder's on cruise control right now?" He winked at Vee, who shoved him aside rather violently and accelerated, leaving him behind.
"Whoa!" Chick skidded a little before righting himself with a curse.
Lightning laughed. "What, cruising for babes, or cruisin' for a bruisin'?" He sped ahead to catch up to Vee. Doc had asked him to be watchful of her during the race, and even though he knew nothing of her past with Chick, he knew from experience that a certain green stock car wasn't to be trusted on the tracks.
"He giving you trouble?" he asked her, noticing how flushed she appeared. Her paintjob looked more hot pink than lavender.
"Eh, nothing I can't han— HEY!"
Both Vee and Lightning jumped at the sudden intrusion of Chick Hicks squeezing in between them.
"Do you mind?" Lightning growled. "We were talking!"
"Take a hike, Queenie boy," Chick growled back, nudging him aside. Lightning lost momentum and fell back a ways.
"Damn it, Chick!" Vee shouted. "That was rude! How would you like it if I started doing that to you?"
Chick chuckled darkly. "If it was you doin' it, I'd say, bring it on, baby! Show ol' Thunder what you've got!" And to show that he was serious he bumped her side playfully.
Vee's on-and-off cramps were starting up again, and that little bump, harmless though it was, in her mind's eye only intensified her discomfort. She bumped him back, harder, but Chick merely laughed and pressed himself up against her, slowly but surely pushing her toward the outer wall. Vee gritted her teeth and slowly started pushing back, now driving Chick towards the inner field. He laughed and growled and purred intermittently as he pushed back. The two cars looked like a pair of slow dancers as they swept back and forth, side by side, across the tracks.
From somewhere behind Vee could hear Lightning's protests, and over the loudspeaker Darrell Cartrip joking about "Hicks and Vroom waltzing around the second turn." Vee decided it was high time to give up this pointless tactic and finish the race. She peeled herself, quite literally, away from Chick.
"Chrysler, why are you always so sticky?" she demanded, feeling certain that the two had exchanged a few decals when they separated. Why, oh why did he always stick to her so easily? If it wasn't the cheap spray-on body glitter he always made her wear on their dates, it was the damnable Gatorade residue he never washed off after a race. Even now, in the absence of both, it was his stickers. Constantly peeling off, new ones being added all the time… Chick was nothing more than an embarrassing bumper sticker she couldn't get off her ass, no matter how hard she tried.
"Why are you always so sexy?" he countered, veering toward her again.
She saw him coming in her mirror and swerved just in time to avoid contact with him. "Seriously, Chick, do I need to report you for sexual harassment? Because I will! Those days are over. I'm not putting up with your BS anymore!"
Taken aback by this, Chick stared at her in surprise. "Well, I'm sorry you can't take a compliment, babe, but this ain't sexual harassment when I do it to everyone here!" he said as he once again bumped her side.
Vee growled and bumped him back much harder, so much harder, in fact, that it sent him momentarily spinning out of control. Three car-lengths back, Lightning swerved just in time to avoid being taken out by the green car.
"Hoo boy! Can you believe that, Bob?" Darrell commented gleefully. "Vroom's starting to get aggressive. I think a little of Hicks rubbed off on her, literally! She's got some smooth moves right there. Ow! Is it hot in here, or is it just me?"
"I don't know, Darrell, but if it wasn't already hot enough down there on the tracks, it looks like things are heating up fast for that femme fatale. She is not letting Hicks through if she has anything to say about it."
And Bob was right. Vee was no longer shying away from Chick's advances – personal or otherwise. Any time he got near enough to pass her, she swooped into his path suddenly, forcing him to fall back. No one else was letting him through, either. Frustrated, he bided his time, watching for his chance. And there it was. He surged forward, throwing himself headlong at the sudden opening he saw between Vee and Lightning. But there wasn't quite enough room to make it through.
Chick's immediate solution to this was to catch Lightning off-guard with a slam to the back bumper, but just as he was about to do so, Vee cut in close and knocked him back when her own rear bumper swung in and smacked the side of his hood. Affronted by this, Chick threw himself forward again, aiming straight for her license plate.
It was only meant to be a harmless retaliation tactic. You know, maybe knock her off her tires for a second. Toss her out of the running for a minute or two. Nothing serious. But the fourth turn was coming up fast, and she was already hugging the outer wall. And it didn't help that McQueen was veering over to try to stop him, not when he already had all that momentum behind him. Because of that sudden interference, Chick was forced to change angles, and to change angles by even a single degree can drastically change the outcome.
He struck Vee on the corner of her back bumper. She jolted and started to skid toward the infield, then bounced off another car and shot straight back toward the outer wall. She hit it, rolled up it, then back down, landing on her roof. But it wasn't over yet. She fell directly into the path of another racecar, who could not swerve in time to avoid hitting her. She spun wildly back toward the infield, colliding with three other cars on the way. When she stopped, another car came skidding in, but could not stop or swerve in time, either. He sent her cartwheeling over two other wrecked cars into the center of the track, where she finally came to rest, unconscious and leaking various fluids, on her roof.
Lightning was the first to reach her. Two other racecars were next, followed by the medics. In all, nineteen cars had gotten caught up in the crash, thirteen of which only sustained minor injuries and were already struggling through the wreckage to continue racing. Vee was being loaded into an ambulance by the time Doc arrived at the site. He told the ambulance he was Vee's personal physician and that he would accompany her to the hospital.
"Doc! Wait!" Lightning shouted, hobbling after him. "I'm going, too!"
Doc stopped and shook his hood firmly. "No, kid. You stay here and finish the race."
"No buts. Vee wouldn't want you losing because of her. Now go get that tire fixed and then get back out there!" And without another word, the Hornet took off after the ambulance.
Numb from the whole ordeal, Lightning looked down at the tire he'd flattened running over Vee's broken mirror. He wouldn't be able to chase an ambulance OR race if he didn't get it taken care of right away. There was a yellow flag waving, and nearly everyone was taking advantage of it. As he headed into the pits, he caught a glimpse of Mack's horrified face amid the Velvalube team, and his heart lurched.
Chapter Fourteen: [link]
* * *
A/N: Yeah, I know I messed up the pic. Cars are supposed to race in the OTHER direction. D'oh!