Chapter Five

When the crowd had dispersed and gone, he and Lightning drove together to the pits. Each had wanted to talk about something on their mind.

"How, really, were you able to get past the dirt? Lightning asked.

"I really can't say," Francesco said. "So, who are your-a new friends? I don't think I've seen them before."

"Oh, the twins are Mia and Tia," Lightning started. "Both of them are Mazda Miatas, I think." His eyes looked up thoughtfully. "And the Audi R8 with us—you know, the dark silver one—is my best friend-girl, Marlene Stevenson."

"Really?" Francesco blinked, although he was extremely interested in finding out about Marlene. "They seem nice."

"Yeah, the two are a handful, but Marlene seems serious about the event."

"Why? And why should she be with-a you?"

"She's got this article to write, you see, about the WGP using firsthand experience on what it is and what it means to be in and to be a team, and then some. Her editor told her to do this for her magazine.

"She's an old friend of mine—a friend before Mater, actually." Lightning looked up wistfully.. "She's not as close…anymore…as Sally, but we've been through a lot together, so Sally said, 'Fine, go ahead and be friends'." He shrugged.

"What exactly is so special about her?" he asked out of the blue. Lightning was startled by the question, but answered anyway. This was something Francesco can know, surely?

"I don't exactly know, but she's really amazing when she's become close friends with you, I mean someone, I mean, you get the point." Francesco laughed at his friend's stammering. "Anyhow, she's fun and exciting to be with, and always starts a lively chatter, especially concerning racing."

Francesco was amazed. How could a girl like her like racing? Most girls liked today's fashion or cosmetics or jewelry, but how can a sexy car like her like such a rugged interest, i.e. racing? "She likes-a racing?" he gasped.

"Oh, yes. She's all about the races. Racing season, racers' preferred settings, improvement of a racer's performance on the track, even doing a race herself! Although she doesn't have the body to do it, that's for sure," he added. He was proud of his friend, and this was the moment to make her famous…in a way. "She could be a crew chief with the experience she has, but she just sticks to writing and I don't know why."

"You said she does a race herself. When was that?"

"We were young and robust and wild then, and we used to race in this old abandoned track, going as much as five laps every two days or so. We were neighbors then, and the only thing we had to play with was, well, that old track." Lightning shrugged. "Our parents were into racing—my parents racers themselves—and the pastime has been passed to our generation. It's in our blood, I guess.

"She loved the track, you know, and still loves it to this day. She says that adrenaline that courses though her lines keeps her on her toes. Although I don't know how she keeps this up, but she's mysterious all the same."

Francesco nodded. So this was why she was here! She loved racing, just as he did. But how can she not know him, the greatest international Formula racer of all time?

"So, after her writing, what-a will she do now?" he asked Lightning slowly.

"Well, she hasn't really thought about it much, although I know she's always thinking about it, she's looking for that significant other."

"'Significant other'?" Francesco wondered, inwardly encouraging Lightning to go on.

"Yeah, you know, like a boyfriend or something. She's always saying no to the courtiers that approach her with gifts, claiming they don't have the excitement she wants."

"Oh?"

"M-hm. I mean, she can find a car that she wants in all of the United States, but she has one special condition: she wants that thrill when racing. I mean, I don't think it's specifically in racing alone, but still, she wants the excitement. How can you find a car like that who's totally available and who's devoted enough to be in a relationship? Handling Sally and the season and the team and my friends are hassles alone, let alone Marlene's added bonus of traveling around the world doing articles and her stubbornness to match! I'm not mad or anything, but I think she's waay over her head in that condition."

Francesco only laughed. "Sometimes, McQueen, nothing is impossible," he soothed his friend, effectively ending the conversation as they spotted their pits up ahead.

When they rounded to corner to Lightning's pit, both racers were surprised to find Marlene cleaning up, Francesco more than Lightning. How could such a car like her—a car with a body like hers—do chores meant for the lower class like that?

"Why are you still here?" Lightning called. "Isn't Sarge supposed to—"

"it's part of my article," she cut him short. "Oh, and I'm sorry for the outburst earlier tonight," she added, glancing upwards quickly. "It was just so impossible to hear you didn't have a strategy."

Francesco nodded slowly, cautiously. Perhaps she was right; it was absurd to hear a racer didn't have a strategy. But all the same, why should she embarrass him? What was the reason behind all that? Was the contempt true or false?

"What do you really think of me, signorina?" he blurted out curiously.

"You strike me as a car who just wants all the fame and fortune, always living life in the fast lane, no time or thought to settle down." She blinked, and he sank on his chassis. That was the worst that could ever happen to him, but maybe she was joking. …was she?

He gave a laugh. "Seriously, signorina?"

She looked up at him once more, fury in her mint gaze. "Does it look like I'm joking?" she spat, then turned to Lightning. "You guys better go," she murmured. "I'm sure the rest of your teams are looking for you."

He sighed inwardly. Was this some ploy to get him away from her, some plan to have some peace? Did she really hate him that much, that she would plainly send him away right to his face? No. That will never happen.

Fury stuck in his throat. This…this rotten excuse for a car wasn't supposed to be allowed in society, much less out of her own home! She should be locked up in a mental hospital, wherever she belongs, and she should stay there! She hurts far too many cars to count, and she will never see the light of him, ever.

"You're almost finished anyway," Lightning replied. "We'll wait for you."

Francesco only stared at her, letting her image fuel his resentment. He may be available to women, but not this one. Never to this one.