Stayed home sick for the third day. I'm going into work tomorrow, sick or not. The team is going to Smokey's BBQ AND I AM NOT MISSING THAT. Also, didn't realize I'd only posted 2 chapters….oops. I've had the next 3 written out already…
CHAPTER 3"They're going to transfer you to a hospital closer to us in Arizona tomorrow," Sally announced with a sigh, dropping down into her usual chair by her bed and pulling a small brown bag from her purse. She handed it over to Lightning, who couldn't help but crack a small smile at the hastily written To Lightning Love RS on the front.
"How long until I can go home?" Lightning pressed, pulling a foil wrapped burger from the bag and setting it on the lunch tray hovering above his legs.
Sally sighed. "It won't be more than another week or so," she said. "Especially if you do well during the transfer, but a car ride is going to be a lot worse than an ambulance ride, Light."
Lightning only grunted and bit into his food.
"Mater wanted to put peanut butter on that," she murmured, pulling out her own food from a separate bag.
Lightning froze and lifted the edge of the bun to inspect. "Why?"
"To make sure you could still taste things," Sally chuckled.
"I have memory problems, not sensory problems," Lightning grumbled bitterly. "Who do I have to thank?"
"Everyone within earshot."
Lightning nodded solemnly.
The silence of the room wrapped around them thickly, and Sally struggled, not for the first time, trying to find something to say to break it. It had quickly become the norm for these awkward silences to occur. Maybe they were only awkward for her, because she could see him struggling to cope, but couldn't figure out and effective way to help.
"Do you want me here tomorrow?"
"Hmm?" Lightning paused his eating to look up at her.
"I can't ride in the ambulance with you, but—"
"Go home," he said earnestly. "You've been sleeping in a hotel for over a week, you've been here every day. Go home. Sleep in your own bed."
"You're sure?" The idea was something she'd craved—her own pillows and blankets and sounds. Familiarity. Something to help her feel like thinks were going to be normal, so she could feel more confident when she told Lightning that.
"Yeah, I'm sure." Lightning smiled genuinely. "I'll see you in Flagstaff tomorrow, and you can bring me more lunch from the café."
Sally chuckled. "Sans peanut butter."
Lightning groaned. "If he had done that and you didn't warn me, I would have died."
"Please don't joke like that."
"I would have. My soul would have left my body, and I'd be stuck wandering these halls for eternity."
"Because Mater put peanut butter on a burger."
Lightning shoved the last of the burger in his mouth and nodded. "You can't taint the best burger in Arizona like that. It's treason."
Sally hummed and leaned back in her chair, glad he was having a good day. "Well, I'll try to sneak you more at the hospital in Flagstaff, but no promises. Their rules about outside food might not be as lax as it is here."
"I'm sure I can work something out with the staff." He pulled out his phone and she saw him pull up Twitter.
"Your announcement made some big waves last night."
"I forgot I posted something," he mumbled, pulling up his own timeline and hastily scanning the thread he'd posted around nine the night before. When he finished, he scrolled down to all the replies. Very few negative comments, which was surprising for Twitter. He never paid much mind to comments, most were usually trolls.
Lots of photos of him posing with fans. Hundreds. Over six thousand replies, nearly all hoping for a speedy recovery.
"I told you that you would still have fans," Sally murmured.
Lightning swallowed hard. "Yeah. You did."
"This isn't the fifties anymore. What happened to Doc was a product of the times. Out of sight, out of mind. It was easier for him to be forgotten, unfortunately. With the internet, everything is so close and instant, there was no way people were going to forget you overnight."
"Do you really think this is possible?" he whispered, scrolling through the comments still, liking every comment he could.
Lightning pressed his lips together for a moment and scrolled back to the top where Junior had replied with a stupid photo of their group when they were trapped on the side of a cliff a few years before and Lightning had taken to Twitter for help. Glad to hear you're okay, man. Thinking of you from NC, he'd written.
They'd been forgotten by the industry, despite what Sally was trying to tell him. None of his friends had been able to hold onto their sponsors. Just like Doc…
Sally watched over the next two weeks Lightning was in the hospital. While he grew stronger physically, his left arm still in a cast, but leaving the sling, trips around the hospital in a wheel chair—Sally watched as he seemed to slip through her fingers mentally. He had his ups and downs, but the downs were low and the ups were never very high.
He wasn't necessarily a shell of the Lightning she knew, he just seemed so utterly lost that she didn't know what to do with him or how to help him. Mater was the best at getting his spirits uplifted, and it made her smile to watch how effortlessly that man could do it without even trying. She found herself asking him to accompany her on a lot of her visits.
"Come on, Bud," Mater grinned, adjusting the tattered ball cap on his head. "Smile a bit. You're finally leaving this place. We don't gotta slip you food no more."
Lightning let out a low chuckle as he slid from bed into the wheelchair Sally was holding steady with a small cringe, lips pressed into a thin line. When he was finally in the chair and Sally was working on fixing the contraption under his leg he said, "You have no idea how much I appreciated that, Mater."
"Yeah, well, that whatever-it-was they was servin' you didn't look nearly as good as the burgers Flo was makin' us," Mater mumbled with a solid nod. "But got damn this place can make some jell-o."
Sally let out a laugh at that one. "Well, when we get home Flo can make you whatever you want."
"Fries," Lightning sighed, leaning back to look up at her. "Fries and the messiest bar-b-que sandwich I can get my hands on."
"Oh! And some of them mashed taters she makes with the bacon—"
"Yes!" Lightning cut him off, snapping a finger at Mater in more excitement than Sally had seen from him all week. "Those, too."
"There ya go!" Mater grinned, following Sally as she pushed Lightning out into the hall towards the nurse's station. "We'll get you some real food, then you can go sleep as much as you want."
Lightning pursed his lips as Sally stopped and stepped up to the counter to hand him some forms to sign. "Food sounds great, but I was hoping to see my car after."
Sally and Mater froze, sharing a look.
But it was Mater who spoke up. "Bud, I would be more 'an happy to show you, but are you sure—"
"Positive," Lightning interrupted firmly, humor gone from his face for a second before he forced a smile back on. "I want to get it out of the way, see what I'm dealing with."
Lightning pushed the clipboard of signed release forms up onto the counter. "I'm going to be out of commission for a while, Sal," he explained softly. "It's not some masochistic thing to try and put myself down. I can't even push myself around for a few more weeks. I'm going to need something to occupy my time for a bit."
As a lawyer, Sally knew she could argue that—and win—but decided against it. "Just promise me you'll take it one step at a time."
He blinked at her for a long second before looking down at his leg for another beat, then back to her. "I don't think there's any other way I can physically do that right now except one step at a time," he said to her seriously. Sally stared at him blankly for a moment trying to figure out if he was serious until the corner of his mouth lifted up in a lopsided grin.
She swatted his good arm lightly. "I'm serious."
"I know," he chuckled. "One step at a time. Well, first step is to go home. I'm sick of this place."
She moved behind his wheelchair and began to push him towards the doors. "I know, I am, too."
He hadn't taken the sight of his car as hard as she thought he would. He'd been silent for a long moment as they stood in the entrance to Mater's lot. His car was up front, easily recognizable as twisted pieces of bright red and yellow metal. He'd asked Sally quietly to wheel him around to the other side, closer, and ran his hand along a few parts.
"It might take a bit for me to be able to get two hands on it and see what kind of damage we're really dealing with on the inside," he was muttering, leaning dangerously far over the side of the wheelchair to try and peek under the hood.
"Engine is completely intact," Mater said from behind him, hands shoved in his jean's pockets. "Might look perty bad on the outside, but them insides did not take as big of a beating."
Lightning shot him a look. "Speak for yourself," he grumbled, glancing at his casts.
Sally hummed, crossing her arms. "The doctor thinks you hit your head when the car hit the wall and you passed out for the rest of the crash. Being unconscious, your limbs weren't tense so it ended up doing more damage."
"I heard his crack pot theory," Lightning mumbled, using his good arm to pull the wheel chair down along the side of the car towards the driver window. "That's not how it happened."
"Oh?" Sally prompted, but Lightning didn't elaborate and she sighed.
"There's some perty bad damage to the frame," Mater added in as Lightning pushed away finally. "We'll have to strip it down and repair that before worrying about the insides anyways."
Lightning let out a loud breath. "This car was a pain in the ass to get all the parts for the first time," he muttered, scratching the scruff on his chin.
"Yeah, well, you wasn't famous then," Mater reminded him, turning to leave. "I already got some places calling me."
"You?" Lightning looked surprised, motioning helplessly to Sally, asking to follow him as he walked away. "What do you mean people are contacting you?"
"Well, I'm your mechanic," Mater stated as they caught up to him.
"Doc was my mechanic," Lightning challenged. Doc had been the only other person he'd trusted to touch the inside of that car. Since his passing, he hadn't let anyone else even try. Maybe that's why it had started not performing as well as it had been…
"Bud, I don't mean nothin' by it, but when everyone saw me haulin' your car off the track…"
"It's what we told the officials to get them to leave Mater alone," Sally explained gently. "With all the press nearby by then, any one of them could have overheard."
Lightning still looked disgruntled. "That's not even the point," Mater declared.
"Then what's the point, Mater?" Lightning asked dryly as they walked up to Flo's.
Mater held open the door for Sally to push Lightning in. "You've got all kinds of places offering to donate parts. And new parts at that!"
"Cal and Junior have both called me personally to let you know they're willing to help in any way they can," Sally told him as they stopped at a table in the corner.
Lightning stood suddenly on his good leg, using the table to steady himself, and swung onto the bench so that his casted foot dangled off the end. "Neither of them are even racing anymore," he grunted, adjusting himself so his back was against the window. "Cal's working with The King at that camp of theirs in North Carolina."
"Yeah," Sally nodded, sliding in next to Mater on the other side of the booth. "But Cal and his uncle are working on cars, he said they've been tricking out some people's mustangs and stuff. They'd be able to help you track down whatever parts you need."
"We'll see," he grumbled. "I built that car on my own when I was like seventeen. I don't think they even make some of those parts anymore." His face turned sour and Sally frowned. "All those newer cars with their stupid tech…"
"Don't get so worked up about it right now," she advised as Flo made her way towards them. "You still have a long recovery ahead of you and a team of people willing to help."
"You keep reminding me," he mumbled quietly, leaning his chin in his hand on the table.
"I don't want you to forget," she smirked before turning her attention to a beaming Flo.
"Now look who we have here," she said with a grin. "You're looking better than the last time saw you, Honey."
Lightning lifted a shoulder in response, but Sally was content that he at least made an effort to look friendly towards her. "Thanks for all the food Sally and Mater snuck me," he told her. "Might have starved otherwise."
Flo put her hands on her hips. "Oh, they're just lucky I didn't get a peek at what they were serving you."
"Well, I appreciate all the help from everyone," he said honestly.
"Honey, without you, this place would have closed up years ago," she declared, gesturing to the restaurant around them. "Your racing career has saved this place, I'll be damned if I don't do something to repay you for what you did for all of us."
"I messed up your road," Lightning said flatly.
"Oh, pshh," Mater waved. "You done fixed that already."
Flo let out a laugh anyways. "Well, we've long forgiven that, Hun. We got more outta you coming to us than we lost." She winked at Sally. "Some of us more than others."
"Oh, god, Flo," Sally sighed, running her hands down her face.
Flo ignored her and turned back to Lightning. "What'll you have today? Anything you want."
"Pulled pork sandwich, fries, coke," he listed off bore sitting up to reach awkwardly for the ketchup bottle near his shoulder and shaking it. "More ketchup."
Flo nodded slowly and looked at Sally and Mater. "I'll have what he's having!" Mater declared.
"I'm fine," Sally waved Flo's expectant look away. "I'll just pick at his fries. I ate before we picked him up."
"Don't touch my fries," Lightning warned and Sally rolled her eyes. "She's right here, order your own fries."
"I'm fine," Sally reiterated for Flo, who let out a laugh as she walked away to put their orders into the kitchen. Lightning sighed.
"You know, you're lucky you have a good personality," he said flippantly, leaning into his palm again.
"Doesn't hurt that I'm pretty cute, too." She winked at him, playing along, and gave him a playful finger gun. "Kachow."
"Not as cute as me, though," Mater said proudly.
"Of course, Mater," Sally laughed. Lightning only offered a smile behind his fingers and Sally pursed her lips. His mood was tanking fast. She was pleased he'd been having a good day thus far, but really wondered how long that would last. The first couple of days after the wreck were the hardest, but he'd had more good days than bad, but his bad days were bad.
Lightning and Mater prattled on about this and that, and Sally just took to listening to him talk, noting the slightly bored, almost disinterested tone despite the smile plastered on his face. The fingers dangling from the cast slung to his chest twitched occasionally, and she wondered if he was beginning to get antsy.
Day one of many, many weeks of recovery. She knew it would be rough, but she had at least expected the first day to be the easiest mood-wise. Maybe she had just not thought about the fact Lightning would be figuring everything out in one day. A new routine, a new method to doing everything he used to do on a daily basis at home.
Flo returned to their table with drinks, and then a second time with two plates she slid in front of the men. She saw Mater frown, eyes flicking from Lightning's plate back to his own.
"Hey, how come I ain't got them baby buns?" he asked, looking up at Flo.
"Honey, you can use both hands," she laughed. "I gave Lightning sliders so he could use one hand."
Lightning did just that, picking up one of the three mini pulled pork sandwiches with one hand. "I appreciate it," he said with probably the first genuine grin he'd put on his face in days. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. Lightning would need to figure things out, but she clearly did, too.