Chapter 28: Relief

As June came to a close and July arrived, everyone started thinking more of the camping trip, which would happen on the fourth, Independence Day. This time, Impala would come along too, and VB's owner would drive him, while Impala's owner drove VB with the camper. The baby (who was now a year old) and two of the other kids rode in Impala, and everyone else rode in VB. This time, it would probably be slightly easier for VB, because he would be carrying less people and less supplies, since Impala would be carrying as much as he could in his trunk. And they would be going to Ames Brook Campground. Again.

Anxiety crawled around in VB's gas tank almost the whole night before the trip. Would the "dreams" return? Would Impala experience them too? Should he warn the unknowing car, his best friend? Or would the cocky Chevy just laugh it off? Thinking some more, he realized that Impala wouldn't experience the bad part of the "dreams" (if anything at all) because he wasn't equipped for towing. Only larger vehicles like vans, trucks, and SUVs were ever tested on. So VB really would seem like an idiot if he he talked to him about it; Impala simply wouldn't believe him unless, possibly, if he explained the whole situation as well as he could and managed to convince Impala to believe him. But, there would be no time for that tomorrow, because they would be leaving, and he wasn't going to wake him up to explain everything tonight. He decided to just get some peaceful sleep, because he would be towing tomorrow, and this was probably the last peaceful sleep he was going to get until the vacation was over.

The morning came fast, and with it the stresses of getting hitched up to the camper (after a gas fill-up). Impala left first, and VB pulled out a few minutes later. As they were leaving, their owner figured out that the right brake light on the trailer wasn't working, so he pulled VB and the trailer into a store parking lot so he could buy one. Impala and the others stopped there too.

The heat was unbearable. It was well over ninety degrees, and they were in direct sunlight. Impala's slick black paint would've burned whatever touched it, even VB's white paint might have. But, Impala's interior was nice and cool (he had his air conditioner on) and the baby napped inside.

After the owners installed the light bulb, they realized that one of the camper's tires on the left side had a leak, so they took it off and put the extra one on. Then, finally, they could leave.

After a few minutes of driving with the A/C on, VB's interior grew cool too, which was somewhat relieving, although the rest of him was burning hot. He felt his transmission fluid rushing through his cooler lines, trying to cool him down, but the old, tired parts could no longer work as they used to, especially with fluid that was due for a change. If the fluid was being cooled at all, he couldn't feel a difference. Still, though the blissful feeling of the fluid rushing through him swept through him and pushed everything away. His mighty V8 engine powered through it all, even if his transmission wasn't feeling it. He easily achieved 65-70 miles an hour on the highways, which was something he didn't know if many vehicles towing this much were capable of. The trailer, which weighed around six thousand pounds when loaded, was about seven hundred pounds lower than his towing capacity. It may not be much to heavy duty pickup trucks, but it was the equivalent of a truck who was capable of towing ten thousand pounds towing a nine thousand, three hundred pound trailer.

An hour in, he started to notice his rear left tire feeling funny, itchy almost, and it began to bother him. That was when the high wore off, then everything started to hurt. And it was worse than ever before.

Throbbing pain pulsated through his cooler lines as they strained to suck in what they could of his dirt-filled, smoldered transmission fluid. The fluid was sucked to a fan located just behind his grill and in front of his radiator, but, as much as the fan tried blowing down his fluid, it was too far gone, and he noticed no change in its temperature.

His intake manifold sucked air into his cylinders as fast as it could, and he was now panting heavily, but nothing ceased the pain and stress on his mechanical parts. He still had at least another hour to go. Maybe I'll catch another high again, he thought, and I won't feel the pain anymore. But, he figured that was hopeless. That had never happened before, so why would it happen now, when he needed it the most?

The trip to New Hampshire was usually a lot harder than the trip back home, because he was more used to it by the second trip. It's going to be a helluva lot harder next time, he thought, thinking of his trip that would happen next summer. If there is a next time. The thought slammed right through his engine. I'm not gonna make it! he thought. My transmission, or maybe even my engine, is going to give in! I can't do this!

VB thought of Ella and his kids back home. He thought of his friends, past and present, Impala, Cameron, Matt, CV. Then he thought of his owners. If he let any of his parts give out, he would injure at least one of them, maybe even kill all of them! He wouldn't let his transmission stop working, he wouldn't allow it to fail, as much as he wanted to. He was going to persevere, for the sake of his owners and everyone he loved. Pain is only temporary, he told himself. It's just a feeling, and I can power through it. I'm towing a 6,000 pound trailer! I'm strong, I'm confident. Then, just like that, his owner put him in overdrive just in the nick of time, and the blissful feeling came back. Now that he was in overdrive, his transmission wouldn't be changing gears, and it wouldn't be working as hard, so it wouldn't hurt so badly. His owner then turned his radio up, and he felt on top of the world. If only temporarily.

When he arrived at the campground and managed to park the trailer, every single gear in his transmission felt like mush. It burned and throbbed, just plain felt horrible, but VB was so worn out he fell asleep regardless. He dreamed he was sinking in boiling hot water, and, no matter how hard he tried, he could not spin his tires and escape. Suddenly he was being shaken, shoved strongly, as if there was an invisible force under the water.

He awoke to Impala nudging him. "Wake up, stupid oaf," he said.

VB groaned and blinked his headlights on, growing accustomed to the darkness. The figure of a white Honda CRV (an SUV) from 2012 to 2015 appeared in front of him. Oh no! he thought. She's gathering cars to test on!

"I already explained myself to the Chevy," she said, "and I don't want to explain again, but it looks like I'm going to have to."

"No," said VB. "I've been here multiple times, you don't have to explain anything. Impala, don't listen to her and don't follow her."

"VB," Impala said. "Is this because your momma told you not to talk to strangers?" he teased. "There's just gonna be a bunch of cars gathering at a campsite at night and having a good time. It'll be fun."

"No," said VB. "For you, maybe, but not for me. Just don't follow her. I'm not."

Impala sighed. "I don't know what's wrong with him," he told the Honda. "Show us where the place is. We're both going."

"Pull out in front of me," she said. "Just go straight until you see a sharp left turn down a thin dirt path."

Impala pulled out, and the CRV just sat there waiting. "Go in front of me," she said to VB. "Honestly, I don't know what you're worried about, but you're kind of a wuss. Especially for a trailer hauler. It was you who towed the trailer, right, and not the Chevy Impala?"

"Of course it was me!" he snorted, pulling in front of her angrily. Sure, he would go to their meeting. Sure, he would sit there and act like he was having a grand old time, maybe he even would have a grand old time, but he would not follow the other trucks out back when they had their transmissions tortured. He didn't even know if he could make it back to Massachusetts towing again, and he sure as hell couldn't make it through one of their tests. For all I know I could be imagining the tests, he thought. He never remembered being hitched to whatever was behind him, and he never remembered coming home. Maybe it was all a mind game, but he wasn't sticking around long enough to find out. He would be out of there before the Sierra started to call out all the tow vehicles.

He pulled into the woodland clearing, disdainfully scowling in his mind when he saw the 2016 GMC Sierra 2500. He didn't let his headlights focus anywhere near the truck, who he hated with everything he had.

"Nice spot to hang out right here," said Impala. "Is this side of the campground abandoned?"

"It is," responded the CRV.

VB, feeling hot and irritated, parked several feet away from Impala and the white SUV, and a little away from everybody. He did not want anyone to strike up a conversation with him, either, he was in no mood for that today. He just wanted to plan how he would get out of here so he could go back to his campsite and sleep. His transmission gears hadn't totally cooled down yet and still ached with soreness, and he needed to rest.

So, as was expected, it really ticked him off when someone parked near him. Not bothering to look who it was, and not caring either, he said rudely, "Do you mind?"

"VB," said the car.

He looked at her. A jet black sedan, a newer-looking one. And a Dodge. A Dodge Dart. She rung a bell. It was tiny and faint, but it rung, that was for sure. Where do I know her? he asked himself.

"It's me, Cyra, remember?" she continued.

Cyra, of course! VB thought. She had been the one camping here before, two years ago, the heartbroken little Dart. How could he have forgotten?

"How are you?" he asked, suddenly feeling nervous when he remembered how the last time they had spoke had been. She had told him, "I love you," and he hadn't replied, not knowing what to say. Had anything changed now?

"I'm okay," Cyra answered, sighing. VB guessed, judging by her response, that she was still in the same boat. "We should get out of here," she said suddenly.

"W-what do you mean by that?" VB asked.

"Remember we sat at the vacant campsite down the other way, and just talked? That made me happy. You make me happy. I didn't think I'd ever see you again, but you make me feel like I've got someone who cares about me. And nobody else does."

VB shivered, glad that the conversations happening around them drowned out their voices.

"Besides," continued the car, "if we don't get out of here soon, they'll take you away again."

Then, a louder voice spoke, distracting VB from what Cyra was telling him. "Come on, trucks, vans, and SUVs capable of towing over three thousand pounds, follow me." It was the brown GMC Sierra. His headlights met VB's, and he didn't look the other way. He snickered at him. "You again," he said, barely louder than a whisper (so only VB could hear him), "apologize to your transmission for me, when you get a chance. I'm not soft-hearted enough for things like that."

Suddenly, Impala was by VB's side. "You can tow six thousand pounds, man," he said. "Go follow the truck. You can talk all about towing. You'll enjoy yourself."

VB didn't move. The voices around him grew blurry. Then, he saw the big RV glaring at him and knew he would have to follow the other trucks. As he drove after them, feeling horrible, ready to spew out all his engine oil, he saw Cyra leave quickly and disappear somewhere out of sight. Where is she going? he wondered.

There wasn't time to wonder. There wasn't time to think. He felt totally, completely sick.

They gathered around after a few minutes of driving, everyone talking, seemingly happy, but him. He was the only one who knew what was coming next. Then, he grew dizzy with anxiety, the voices around him grew faint, and the few minutes he sat there could have been hours or seconds, he couldn't tell. Then, that was it. The Sierra was calling him off as other vehicles dispersed as well, being called away by other trucks who must have been members of LTC.

He followed the brown truck. He didn't feel as though he had a choice. He couldn't turn the other way because the big RV was there, blocking it.

As soon as he got into another forest clearing, things grew very, very foggy. He didn't remember anyone hitching him up to a weight, but he was, he couldn't remember wanting to pull on it with all his strength, as if it would suddenly help now, but it did. And, now, he couldn't remember ever coming back to his campsite; he couldn't even imagine it considering the pain he was in, but here he was.

"You okay, buddy?" a voice snapped him into reality. It was Impala parked beside him.

"Okay?" he repeated. "Am I okay?"

"Yeah. Don't take it the wrong way, old man."

"No, I'm not okay. My transmission feels like I've got rocks flowing through the gears instead of fluid."

"Oh, well, sorry. I'm afraid I can't help you with that. Towing's rough."

"It's not just towing. It's tugging on a trailer that weighs a hundred thousand pounds until my engine and transmission feel like they've melted into each other and become one big mess of fiery hot pain."

"VB, this camper is under your towing capacity," Impala continued. "If you feel like that after towing it you should have a mechanic check you out."

"I'm not talking about this camper. I'm talking about whatever they hitched me up to in the middle of the woods." And then, word for word, he explained the whole story to Impala.

"I-I had no idea," he muttered. "Sorry Veebs." He shuffled his tires. "But do you remember driving back to our campsite this time?"

"No. Did you see me?"

"No. I came here before you and fell asleep. The drive to New Hampshire tired me out a bit. Just don't follow them anymore, okay?"

"I wish it were that simple, Impala, but I'm always tricked or forced into it somehow. I try not to let it ruin every camping trip we go on, but it's hard."

"Well, just remember that this time I got your back old pal," the car said.

"Thanks Imp," VB responded. "It means a lot to me."

The next night, as the sun set, VB tried not to dread what the night may bring. Earlier that day, the owner of the white CRV had been giving VB's owners trouble because she was annoyed with all the kids, so he was sure the CRV would hate him even more than she already did for that reason.

Impala slept deeply beside him, not bothered or worried, with no reason to be, VB envied how calm and relaxed Impala could be. He wished he could be carefree enough to actually enjoy vacations again. Sleep soon overtook him.

A calm, quiet voice awoke him from his dreams. The night was still black. Oh no, he thought.

"VB," the voice whispered. He was relieved. It was Cyra.

"Cyra," he said. "Thank goodness it's just you. What are you doing here so late at night?"

"I wanted to talk to you," she said. "Follow me."

The two drove a little ways before finding a vacant campsite with plenty of room for them to both park comfortably.

"I saw what happened," was the first thing Cyra told him. "I sneaked out back, on a path I discovered that leads to the clearing where they had you hitched up to that massive trailer. By the time I arrived, I saw you trying with all your strength to pull it, but you couldn't. I left before they let you go, so I didn't see you drive back to your campsite. I was too worried I'd be spotted."

"I wish you had seen more, Cyra," VB said. "I wish I could understand this. But that confirms that it is real… I guess..."

"You cannot let them take you back there," continued the black Dart. "It's too much strain on your transmission. The LTC will be driving around soon, choosing which cars to take. We have to stay here until they're gone."

"When do they leave?" VB asked.

"Probably within the next five minutes," she said.

"Okay."

Silence followed. VB turned his tires slightly in the dirt, just to break the stillness that had crept over them. A distant owl hooted, its call almost muffled by the quiet brook that bubbled nearby.

"VB," Cyra said. "I still love you."

His transmission shuddered from deep inside, then the shudder worked its way outward, rattling his whole frame.

"Don't throw a rod, now," she said. "Is everything okay?"

"Yes," he answered quickly. "Everything's fine." I have to tell her, he thought. She needs to know I'm married. I just can't ignore her anymore. He tried desperately to find the words to say, but his mind went blank.

"I know we live miles away from each other," she continued. "But-but I think we could make this work. Because-"

"No, Cyra, we can't," VB said. "I'm married."

Cyra stared at him. She didn't say a word, she just stared, blankly. Then, she started her engine, switched into drive, and drove away. VB watched her go, wondering whether or not he made the right decision, wishing he didn't have to make any. Why did other cars have to chase after him like this? Ella was the one he loved. Then, he rumbled back to his campsite, hoping he wouldn't awaken Impala. He really didn't want to explain any of this to anybody.

Lucky for him, Impala remained asleep as he pulled into the empty space beside him. He was tired, he wanted nothing more than to fall asleep, but his left rear tire was irritating him and it prevented him from sleeping. Or was it his tire? It wasn't. He had to be honest with himself: his conversation with Cyra, (or lack of) was what kept him awake, not his tire. Why did she have to love him? Why did he have to care? Why couldn't he just let this go? He was sure Impala would, if he was ever in the situation VB was in now. So why couldn't he be just a little more like Impala, and a little less like himself, just for tonight?

He imagined if he was in the same situation as the heartbroken Dodge Dart, torn apart from the one car he truly loved, certain he would never see her again. He wished with all his might he could help Cyra, but it was impossible.

The LTC never came for him tonight, but he still didn't sleep soundly, his mind filled with worried dreams of Cyra.

The next day, VB awoke bright and early to happy birds caroling loudly in the crisp morning air. He let the joy of the calming campground, and another adventure-filled day ahead of him, keep his mind at ease despite all that had happened last night. Although Cyra still stayed at the back of his mind, he pushed the thoughts of her away until they were too blurry to make out.

Towards the new time, Impala's owner took VB (with most of the kids) to the arcade they always went to in New Hampshire. He drove VB because there wasn't enough room in Impala for everyone who was coming along.

The drive was rather long, but enjoyable, and VB's transmission didn't bother him at all, luckily.

After sitting in the parking lot for a few hours, he drove everyone back to the campsite, feeling refreshed by the cooler evening air moving in. The whole time he hadn't thought of Cyra at all, and she didn't even cross his mind now, as he was sleeping peacefully. For once.

He awoke.

"I know I'm a pain," said a voice, "but I need to talk to you."

He turned his headlights on and the shape of a small black car appeared in front of him. Cyra, he thought.

"I'm not mad at you," she said softly, glancing at Impala, who was fast asleep. "Just shift into neutral and roll out of here."

He switched into neutral and rolled after Cyra, who had not turned her engine on at all, so he decided not to either. The campground roads, sometimes on top of hills, let their weight roll them along.

They reached the same vacant site they had sat at the night before, and parked in it.

"They say everything happens for a reason," said Cyra. "And I think there was a big reason for me meeting you."

"What's the reason?"

"I don't know yet. I know you'll give me one, though."

"That's not easy for me to do," VB replied. "Although I do think you're right that everything happens for a reason. I also believe you can find good in the bad."

"I-I just don't know what to do, VB," Cyra said. "I'm stuck. When I met you, that's the first hope I felt in years. I could almost forget about the other truck, and all the grief inside me slowly melted away."

"And I ruined that, didn't I?"

She let out a troubled sigh. "No. I ruined about it by even caring about you to begin with. I'm trying not to feel the same heartbreak all over again."

VB felt pained and troubled, knowing how terrible she felt and knowing no way to help her. "Cyra, you said you met me for a reason, well I'm going to try my hardest to give you a reason. I care about your well-being, we're friends, and it yanks at my wiring to even try to imagine how awful what you're going through must be. But I want to give you some advice." He sensed her perk up a little, and could tell some tension was off her springs. That's a start, he thought before continuing. "We all have different outlooks on the world. There are those of us who see it as a great, happy place, and when things go long, there's always some good to be found at the end. That's how I try to be. There are others who complain about every minor complication, even if there's a good outcome when it's all over. They pout at all the awful things happening to them, and never notice when the sun is shining right on them because they're too busy staring at yesterday's storm clouds. They waste their lives waiting and wanting circumstances to change around them when they don't spin a tire to do it themselves. Those cars are never truly happy. Now, I'm not saying you're one of them, you actually seem to fall somewhere in between, I'm just telling you to try to change your view on the world, or else it'll change you."

"I can't though, VB. I can't change the awful things happening in my life. It's impossible."

"You're right. But do you know what you can change? The way you interpret them inside. Would you rather waste days, maybe even months, feeling sad and depressed about me, or move on and find someone who can make you happy. There are plenty of cars out there, so take a risk. Do something you wouldn't normally do. Go talk to a complete stranger, just like you did with me. Because you never know when it could change your life."

She pressed her tire against his. "Thank you," she whispered. "This is the reason we met. You changed my life."