She couldn't believe the words she had just heard. It felt like the Earth started to spin in other direction. If that was true... But no. No, it couldn't be. It was so irrational, so ridiculous... yet so enticing.
She slowly turned around and looked into the eyes of the man in front of her. She wanted to find a trace of ribbing on his face, a sign of joking, but she wasn't able to. He was absolutely serious; his calmness was giving her the creeps.
"I don't believe you," she said finally, swallowing. "How can you say such nonsense?"
"Listen, it's not nonsense, it's-" the man tried to reply but the girl interrupted him.
"Rex is DEAD!" she almost shouted. "I've been at his funeral, I've seen his coffin!" she yelled in a single breath. "You mustn't say such things," she finished, looking at him with fury in her eyes.
Her companion shook his head. "You don't understand anything. At all. He was an idiot, an asshole, and a dork, but why would he kill himself?"
A second later he started to regret his words. The young woman immediately went on him and her fist landed on his left cheek. He stepped back and touched his face. He smirked then, and eventually started to laugh.
"Don't you ever dare speaking badly about Rex," she hissed with fire in the eyes.
Racer X laughed even louder and shook his head again. "That's my girl."
"I'm not your girl," she protested, "and I'll never be."
"You have always been, and you will always be," the man said, smiling.
She snorted. "Listen, I- I don't know what you've taken, but you've clearly lost your mind. Poor thing, you think you're Rex Racer, right?" she asked him nastily with an evil grin on her lips.
"You don't believe in a single word of mine, do you?" the man's eyes started to flood with tears; small at first, then big and copious.
"No, of course I don't. I buried Rex almost four years ago, and I'm not convinced you're his next incarnation," she explained. Then she sighed. "It- It will be best if I leave you here now," the girl finished and turned around, walking away from her companion.
"I can prove you this." the man stepped forward, following the woman. "14th September 2028. Remember the date?" he shouted in her direction.
She stopped half-step but didn't turn. She bit her lower lip. "Yeah, why?"
"I can tell you everything about that day," he said, coming closer. "The question is, would you like to listen."
She closed her eyes, trying to remember all the events, faces, feelings, and he started to write the story on the blank page of her mind again...
Late afternoon. Thunderhead track is empty - almost. There are only two young people on its premises. They are children no longer, but they play and laugh just as they were school kids. The boy in a blue shirt chases the girl; she tries to escape and avoid his grip. Finally, he catches her. She squirms and laughs in his arms as he lifts her up and spins around. She wags her legs in the air and, eventually, he puts her back on the ground. The girl steps back with a wide smile on her full lips.
"Come on, Rex!" she shouts, "Let's go for a ride."
Her friend shakes his head. "We've been driving for last hour and it's still not enough for you?" he asks.
The girl bites her lip. "Well... YOU have been driving, "she finally says, not looking at Rex. "I'd like to try, too."
"But why?" she inquires.
"It's dangerous. You could crash the car and hurt both of us," he explains. "Besides, there is only one person who drives Mach," he makes a pause, "Me."
"And what about Speed?" his companion teases.
"Speed?" Rex snorts. "Speed STEERS."
"Oh, really?" she marvels. "Okay, fine." She crosses arms on her chest. "I'll be STEERING. How about that, Mister Racer?"
He smirks in response. "All right, but there's one problem..." he pauses again and gazes at the girl. "When Speed steers, he always sits on my knees."
She smiles. "I see no problem in this. Do you?" she turns towards Rex and looks deeply into his eyes.
The boy shakes his head, smiling back, then turns around and walks towards a red automobile parking nearby. He opens the door and gets inside. Then he looks at his mate, giving her a questioning look. "You coming or not?"
The girl grins, steps forward and sits down on the boy's knees. He closes the door and belts them up. He touches his cheek to hers and whispers to her ear "You see this object before you? That's the steering wheel."
"Oh, save it for yourself!" she bops him. "I've got license."
"Sure," he admits, "I'm just bantering with you. Now drive."
"I thought I was supposed to STEER."
"Hey, now you don't push it!"
She cracks up, then engages first gear. Rex has already pressed the clutch, so the car starts to roll. A few moments later she shifts to second gear, then third.
"Nice." he nods.
The girl smirks. "You better wait. I'm just getting started..."
Indeed, Rex has got a reason to be impressed. At first he watches her carefully, pays attention to every detail and stays focused. Later, he starts to take things easy and simply enjoy the ride. He doesn't even notice when she gently pushes his feet from pedals and actually drives on her own. The only thing he does is trying to respire as he witnesses a breathtaking series of professional moves. All the turns, spins, even the big jump are perfect. His friend seems to know the exact way to handle Mach. They're like one body and one soul – all three of them. He still can't believe the things he has just seen when the girl brakes at the finish line after few laps, undoes the belt and jumps out of the automobile. She stretches and takes several deep breaths.
"Oh my," she finally exclaims, "that was spanking! This vehicle is spanking! I had no idea you drive a real piece of art," she continues, turning around. "Hey, what's wrong? Are you okay?" she asks, watching her friend carefully.
"All's fine." he opens his eyes and looks at the girl. "I'm simply amazed how great you have been driving."
"Hold on... Did you say 'driving'?"
"Oh, come on," he sighs, getting up. "You did on wonderful and you know it."
"Yeah, I do," she admits and leans against the car, next to Rex. "But she turned up trumps today, too." She pats the red bodywork, gazing at the machine. "We were both made for each other, Mach and me, I mean. I should have known this before," she carried on, looking at the boy's face.
"Well, two women always settle any of their differences, correct?" she chuckles softly.
He accompanies her with laugh. Then he sinks his look into her eyes for several long moments. He opens his mouth to say something, but he closes it. He eventually explores his pockets and after a second he finds what he is looking for.
"I've got something for you," he says, handing her a small, inconspicuous box. She grabs it and opens it hesitantly. Inside, there is a silver ring, rather narrow but thick. It has some verdigris on it, yet its appearance suggests someone has been taking care of it for a past few years, or at least months.
"What's that, Rex?" the curious girl inquires.
"It's the only remaining part of Mach 1, the first racing automobile ever built by Racers," he says proudly. "It was built by my grandfather years ago. A great car, but one day grandpa crashed it on a track. This is the only part of it he managed to save. It's sacrosanct for my family, a true relic of the past; the monument of our racing tradition and passion," he makes a pause, looking at her again. "I want you to take it and wear it everywhere," he finishes, grasps the ring and puts it on the girl's finger. "It shall remain there forever," he gently clenches her fist, then gazes into her irises with a serious look on his face.
"But why?" she asks, a bit stunned with the situation.
"That's why," he replies, puts his both palms on her face and links their lips in a long, sultry kiss. She doesn't protest, so he carries on and becomes more and more urgent. They start to move their lips in one rhythm, feeling increasing pleasure running through their entire bodies, pacing the beats of their hearts that now become one single powerful throb.
When they finally pull away from each other, they're both breathing heavily. She closes her eyes and leans her forehead against Rex's chest. He wraps his arms around her and listens to her breath, now calm and steady.
The sun is setting. Everything is quiet – only Rex's soul is shouting mutely, wanting to share his happiness with the entire world.
She opened her eyes, now full of tears. Racer X was standing right in front of her, gazing at her. His dark irises were sparkling as well. He compressed his lips, but it didn't really help and he could feel teardrops flowing down his cheeks. He dried his eyes with a quick move of his hand. Yet, he wasn't quick enough not to let the woman see this. She lowered her gaze and sighed, wiping her face. She licked her chops, then she straightened up and touched tenuous chain on her neck. She seized it and pulled it out from her cleavage. At the very end of it, there was a small, silver ring covered with verdigris.
If not years of training, Racer X would break down and cry at that moment, recognizing the ring he had given to her that special day. Somehow he managed to keep poker face and he kept watching his love, watching and waiting...
"It is you..." she finally spoke, looking into his eyes, "It's really you, Rex..."
He didn't respond. He just kept staring at her.
"My God," she whispered. "I- I don't- That means I-" she wasn't able to finish the sentence. She slumped down on the ground and hid her face in her hands, weeping quietly.
She had no idea how much Rex wanted to crouch beside her, hug her, caress her bright skin and console her; tell her how much he loved her, how much he cared; ensure her that everything would be fine now and that they can start a whole new life together; yet, he knew that's not the time, not the place to do this. First, he had to tell her the truth, make a confession. Then she could decide, as it was her call. For now, he could do nothing but avow and wait for the verdict.
After several minutes the woman seemed to get over the shocking news, so the man sighed and squatted next to her. He bit his lip, "I know you've got hundreds of questions crowding in your mind, and I promise you: I'll do my best to answer all of them. All time I've got left today is yours to take," he whispered, smiling weakly.
The woman raised her eyes and looked at her companion. She nodded slightly, sighed and inquired the crucial question, "Why?"
"This was the only way," she heard a simple answer.
"The only way to make us all despairing? Yes, I have to admit this was the only way."
"It's not what I meant. This was the only way to protect all of you."
Rex rose and took a deep breath. Then he turned around. "Rather from who."
"From who then?" she was tenacious.
He sighed and closed his eyes. "It was while I had still been driving for Pops when I've found out about the corruption of corporations and companies. They all knew the winner of Grand Prix even before the season started," he started to pace around. "One day, Inspector Detector visited me. He warned me about the other driver's intentions to whack me in the first race of the upcoming season. Then, he made a proposal to me. I would be supposed to leave Racer Motors and start working for one of the corporations, trying to find corrupted drivers and help them in being thrown to jail. In return, he'd protect my family... and you." He made a pause and licked his lips. "I agreed."
"So that's why you've left us? To protect us?"
The man turned his face to her. "If I had stayed, you would have probably been killed or abducted, and it would have been all my fault. I couldn't let this happen, I couldn't lose you..." He heaved a sigh. "Well, actually, I've lost you either way."
The girl got up and stood face to face with Racer X. She took a look at him, "I've heard many things, Rex. About you threatening other drivers, bulldozing them from tracks, attacking them after races..." she shook her head. "Was it true, Rex? Tell me."
"I've never killed anyone or made any serious injury to any of them. I had to convince them somehow to turn in themselves and their supervisors."
"So that was all true..." she couldn't believe the words she'd just whispered.
He turned away, "That was my job. There was no-"
"-other way, I see."
The man bit his lip. "Another reason for me to fake my death."
The woman closed her eyes. "I'm somehow able to understand why you've left us, but faking your death...? How could you do this to your parents, to Spritle, Sparky, Speed...?" she paused. "How could you do this to me, Rex?" she finally inquired.
The man said nothing, so the girl carried on, "I loved you once, Rex..." she swallowed. "I really did..." she shook her head. "You haven't got a clue how many tears I cried for you at your funeral." She laughed bitterly. "Your funeral..." she snorted, "The best part is – it wasn't your funeral. The coffin was empty!" she yelled, spreading her arms and spinning. "You weren't there. I wept for no one."
"I was there," Rex said slowly, looking at his companion. "I saw you there, among my friends and my family... I saw your tears," he let out a sigh. "You have no idea how much I cried that day. For my brothers, for Mom and Pops, for you..." he closed his eyes and shook his head. "I wish you'd never have to be in such an awful situation like I was; knowing I could never talk to my family as Rex Racer again; knowing I'm dead for them; knowing I've lost them forever," he lifted his eyelids and gazed at the young woman in front of him. "But it wasn't the worst. The worst was, I would never be able to tell them about all this... Neither them nor you."
"So why are you telling me this now?" she asked, looking into his eyes.
He returned the look, "Because I love you, girl. I always have," he explained the simple truth, "And my love for you is different from my love for my family. Maybe it's not bigger, but... it's different. You see," he stepped towards her, "I'm able to lie through my teeth to Speed, my dearest brother, but I'm not able to lie to you. I'm not able to hold all this inside anymore."
She was listening to him with mixed feelings. His version was quite credible, yet it had been four years... She decided not to interrupt him, though. She couldn't find any words to express how she was feeling that moment.
Rex carried on, "I thought that after faking my death and all this plastic surgery, I'd be able to forget about you. I almost have, not seeing you for years. But then, I saw you at my family's, tattling and laughing... and I had to pretend I didn't know you; pretend I wasn't crying..." he paused and walked away from the girl. He looked at Thunderhead, visible way off in the distance, "Since then, I've been seeing you in my every dream, every night," he whispered. Then he uttered a sigh, "No. I wasn't able to forget about you. I wasn't... and I will never be."
The woman approached him hesitantly and stood right beside him. He lowered his eyes and bit his lip, then turned towards her, grabbed her palms with his big, masculine hands and said, looking into her eyes, "It's your choice. Tonight we can start again. We can be together, just like the old times," he stopped short, then continued, "Just say the word."
She sighed, closing her eyes and not knowing what to say. She had never suspected anything like this in her life. Yet, it was happening, and she had to orientate herself.
"I- I don't know," she finally spoke with her eyes opened. "I can't decide this instant. I need some time to think things over," she sighed, "I mean... It's been five years since I buried Rex Racer, my Rex Racer. And I'm afraid there may be no place for Rex Racer in my life now. You see, I've got some engagements to fulfill, promises to keep..."
That was when Rex felt it just under his fingertips. He knew what was that at once, but he had to have a look, to check... Indeed, there it was: a gold ring with diamond, all sparkling. He was boiling inside, lost for words. She had found someone. Who, when, he didn't care. The only thing he cared about that moment, was the ring on his companion's finger.
"Engagements, huh?" he asked as calm as he could be, "You mean" he lifted her left hand at her eye's level, "these engagements?"
"Inter alia," she replied dryly, pulling her palm and hiding it behind her.
"What did the guy do to you?"
"He did a lot of good things to me. He's simply a good man."
For Rex, 'good things' had only one meaning. He had to know who had been touching his girl, then make sure he would... have an 'accident', "Who is he?" he asked sharply, "This twerp Greg, who had been throwing himself at you since high school? Pete, who used to draw your naked portraits? Or maybe Johnny, this pathetic little asshole, who didn't even know how to spell his name?"
"None of them, for Christ's sake!" she cried out loud. "Don't resent now! You left me when you decided to fight the crime. What I was supposed to do?" she snorted, stepping back, "I wanted to have my own life, with loving husband and a covey of kids, and I wasn't able to execute the plan with a dead man!"
Rex closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to calm himself down. After some seconds he managed to do this and lifted his eyelids. Then he placed his gaze at the girl, "I'm asking you right now, like there would be no tomorrow: would you start a whole new life, from now on, with me?"
"I told you I don't know yet. I need time."
The man closed his eyes again and heaved a sigh, deep in thoughts. When he opened them, though, he knew what he was going to say, "In this case, let me know when you'll figure out the answer to this question," and after these words, he turned around and walked away. She didn't stop him or follow him, so she didn't see the teardrops filling his eyes, running down his face, making it difficult for him to breathe or talk.
When the woman was alone, she sat on the ground and hid her face in her hands. She didn't cry, though. Then, she slipped one ring from her finger and removed the chain with the other one from her neck. She put the ring from her fiancé in the left palm and the one from Rex in the right palm. Then, she lowered her eyelids and clenched fingers of both hands, weighting the rings up.
Lifting the eyelids, she already knew the answer.
Thunderhead. Empty, as usually out of racing season. Well – almost empty. There was only one car on the track. A yellow and black automobile with number nine on it kept driving in circles all over the place, as the motorist would like to poke the hole in the pavement. The vehicle seemed to be absolutely calm and static, despite moving all the time; calm and static, unlike the man behind the wheel.
She had a point. He had left, and now he came back and laid claim to her. He had no right to do it, neither to complain. It was his decision to leave. He had simply chosen wrong time to sow and now, he had nothing to reap. He had missed so much, from life of both his family and hers, and the only one he could blame for this was himself.
Now he could only watch her life, do window-shopping. He imagined her wedding, then his love being pregnant, having two wonderful girls with her hazel eyes. Maybe she would trust him enough to let him take them to school sometimes. They would run to the building, all happy and joyful, and they would never know how much he would want them to be his daughters...
He put the pedal to the metal. The car dashed forward, moving faster than before. He closed his eyes and listened to the machine. She was trying to encourage him to drive more swiftly and fiercely. In response, the man fondled the steering wheel reflectively. This solution – could he call this a solution at all? – seemed like a good way to sort things out; clean, quick and easy. All he had to do was gather the maximum momentum and rotate the wheel; first left, then right, then left again... He wouldn't have to worry about the rest; Mother Gravity and laws of physics would take care of it.
He opened his eyes, ready to carry out his intention, when he saw someone on the track, just at the finish line. It took him a split second to recognize the person. He ground to a halt with a loud screech of smoking tires, almost running over his spectator.
When his machine was finally standing absolutely still, he lifted his gaze and put it on on the woman in front of him. He got out of the car and leaned against the vehicle, crossing his arms and watching her carefully with no emotions visible on his face.
"What do you want?" he asked, as blandly as he could in this awkward situation.
The girl didn't say anything. She bit her lower lip and approached the automobile. She extended her hand and caressed the bodywork tenderly. "She's nice," she finally claimed, following the palm with her look. "You've always had a great taste for cars," she encapsulated, smiling weakly.
"What do you want?" the man was starting to grow impatient. Did she come here just to smooch with his set of wheels?
She placed her gaze on him. "A drive," she answered his question, "Simply a drive."
"Fine," he replied, stepping aside. "She's all yours."
"Thanks," Rex heard in response as the woman got in the vehicle, fastened her seatbelt and started the engine. Then she took a quick look at him, and asked, with a truly innocent smile on her lips, "Would you accompany me?"
The man sighed deeply but opened the automobile's other door and placed himself inside. As they started accelerating, he noticed a smirk on her face that disappeared right away.
Of course, she was driving perfectly; what else could he possibly expect from her? With every new turn they entered, every spin they exited, he felt like someone was crumbling his heart with a crusher and pushing it up, towards his throat. He had no idea what was happening to him, yet he knew what, or rather who was causing it.
He wanted to have a glance at her, he wanted this so badly; just for a moment, a minute, eternity... He knew he shouldn't if he didn't want to bring himself more pain, but this desire was a desire no more. It became a need, a necessity; something he wasn't able to exist without. If someone had told him in that moment he would better give this up, he would put him down immediately. It would be like telling him he would better breathe underwater. He knew what can cause him seeing her ring, but he decided to try to avoid it and bypass it with his gaze.
When he finally decided to execute the plan, naturally, he had to meet her palm on the way. What was his surprise when he realized it wasn't her engagement ring sparkling on her finger. It was the one given to her by him once; his ring. He looked at his companion's face with his jaw dropped, still not able to believe the thing he had just seen.
The woman must had not found out his feelings yet as she kept driving as nothing had happened. Well, for a second he could see her smirking, but it lasted for so short that he wasn't really sure whether she truly had smiled or he had just imagined himself this.
As they were approaching the finish line, he calmly asked, "Please, stop."
She followed the order and after breaking sharply, the car was in motion no more. The girl watched Rex as he leaned his forehead against his hand and sighed, closing his eyes. His shoulders started to shake slightly and she could hear him sniffing.
There was no doubt he was sobbing.
"Rex...?" she inquired hesitantly, not really knowing what to do in this situation, "Rex..."
Hearing his name, the man couldn't stop himself anymore and turned on the waterworks. Now she really didn't know what to do. She bit her lip, then touched his chin gently and lifted it with her fingers. He took a look at her. When she saw his face, she immediately knew this was her Rex. There was no other option. She had seen Rex crying only once; on the day he had left, during their farewell, and she had never forgotten the look on his face that day. Now, the same looking face was gazing at her, and despite it was Racer X's face, it had Rex's look on it; his tears running down his cheeks, his glued eyelashes.
In a fit of emotions, she started to blubber as well. Then she drew near him, almost touching her nose to his, and started to peck the tears from Rex's face. She astonished him with this gesture greatly, causing him to stop weeping. Yet she continued, going lower and lower; from his eyes down to his both cheeks, nose, chin. Finally, she skimmed his lips, and after this nothing could stop him.
He took her in his arms and started to kiss her passionately, forgetting about the entire world and everything connected with it, including breathing. He was imbibing with sweet air from her lungs, trying to wrap his arms around her more tightly, hold her more firmly, keep her closer, even despite she was as close as possible. Her nimble fingers were traveling through his hair, caressing his strongly marked jaw and driving him to the very edge of sanity. Nothing mattered; neither the past nor the future. It was only now and here.
Out of the corner of his half-opened eyes, he could see a big, red circle of the setting sun, illuminating them with its shafts, showing them the direction of their lives.
Yeah. It was just like the old times.