"Well, look on the bright side, Ms. President," Sour Bill droned. "At least this gives you an opportunity to really catch up on matters of national diplomacy."
Vanellope slumped in her throne, thumbing through a huge folder full of some inane new parking law she was supposed to be considering. "Yeah, thanks, Bill," she muttered. "That makes me feel all better."
Litwak's Arcade was open for business again, and Vanellope was stuck in her castle, still stewing over her wipeout while Taffyta raced around the candy-coated countryside. The scene kept playing over and over in her mind, no matter how much she tried to make herself forget about it. If only she hadn't jerked the wheel so hard…if only she'd seen Taffyta a moment sooner…if only she'd paid closer attention…
She threw the folder into Sour Bill's nonexistent arms. "I can't focus on this right now," she groused. "I've gotta go out and clear my head."
"Don't forget," Bill called as Vanellope marched out of the throne room, "you've got that meeting at 2:00 on the issue of drilling for hot fudge in Candy Cane Forest!"
"Yeah, yeah," Vanellope grumbled, slamming the door behind her.
The tiny candy train rumbled along its sleek electrical track. Vanellope was its only passenger. She had thought about going for a drive around her country to collect her thoughts, but somehow she felt like that would only be masking the real issue. She really wanted to talk to somebody, and she knew exactly who that somebody was.
The train docked, and Vanellope hopped out and ventured into the bright lights of Game Central Station. It was mostly deserted; as the arcade was open, pretty much everybody was hard at work in their individual games. The only sounds came from the faint hum of electrical current surging through the walls and from the incessant yammer of Sonic the Hedgehog's public service announcement kiosk. At the far end of the atrium, the electric blue Surge Protector paced back and forth, keeping an eye out for suspicious activity.
Vanellope glanced at the outlet that led to Fix-It Felix Jr. There was no "Now Playing" message flashing on the sign above the entrance.
Perfect, Vanellope thought, as she broke into a run.
"That could've been me."
From her position on the roof of Niceland Apartments, Vanellope could see the Sugar Rush screen clearly. The young girl currently in the driver's seat had just won a race, and Taffyta leapt up and down on the victory screen, proudly clutching a massive silver trophy. The sight of it made Vanellope's skin crawl.
Ralph patted a humongous hand on Vanellope's itty-bitty shoulder in a consoling way. "Aw, I know you're bummed out," he said. "But hey, it's only one day. You'll beat her tonight, I know it."
Vanellope sighed. "That was the worst crash I've ever had, y'know. I coulda won that race if I'd been on top of my game. She cut me off out of nowhere, I thought for sure I'd left her in the dust…"
And then a horrible thought rose unbidden to the forefront of Vanellope's mind.
"It wouldn't have happened if I'd been able to glitch out from behind Taffyta's car," she said, more to herself than to Ralph. "What if she's right? What if I really am only a good racer when I can blink ahead of everyone else?"
Ralph looked stunned.
"Don't ever let yourself think that!" he said. "You've always been a great racer, the best in the game! You've got that souped-up car, you got the highest stats – your picture's on the cabinet, for Miyamoto's sake! You said it yourself, racing's in your code!"
Vanellope stared off at nothing in particular.
"Hey," Ralph continued, "even the best of us don't win all the time. I mean, look at Felix. Sure, he's got that magic hammer and those pies that make him invincible, but that doesn't mean he always beats me! In 30 years, you know how many times I've beaned him with a mound of bricks or dropped a refrigerator on him? But he never takes it personal. It's just part of life."
Vanellope put her hands in the pockets of her hoodie. "That's not really the same, though, is it?" she asked. "I mean, when Felix loses, it's 'cause somebody else is controlling him. But that race…that was just me…"
Her voice trailed off as she glanced at the Sugar Rush screen again. The girl in the driver's seat was selecting her character for the next race. She picked Taffyta again.
"Look, Vanellope, you can't let this haunt you forever. I know you, you're stronger than that. You survived fifteen years of Turbo locking you out of your own game. You could have sat and moped about it, but you didn't – you took action. And now look where you are! President of Sugar Rush, and everybody's favorite racer! You're not gonna let Taffyta get inside your head this easily, are you?"
Vanellope turned away from the screen and looked up at her broad-shouldered friend. Ralph smiled down at her hopefully.
A small fire seemed to flare up again inside her gut. She felt the corners of her mouth tense into a smile of her own.
"You're right, Ralphie," she said. "I can't let myself get hung up on this. So what if I lost one race out of a million? Doesn't mean I'm losing my touch! If Taffyta thinks that she's gonna knock me down for good, then she doesn't know President Vanellope Von Schweetz!"
"That's the little street punk I remember!" Ralph beamed. "C'mon, top shelf!"
The two of them bumped fists. Then Vanellope lunged forth and hugged Ralph around the waist.
"Thanks for snappin' me outta my funk, Stinkbrain," she said. "I knew there was a reason I liked ya."
"No problem, ya little fireball, you," Ralph replied, tousling Vanellope's candy-filled hair.
A large shadow fell over them. They looked up to see a kid on the other side of the screen, counting out a handful of quarters.
"Well, looks like I gotta get back to work," Ralph said jovially. "Let's get you back on terra firma, huh?"
Vanellope jumped up and hung on to Ralph's massive shoulders. Ralph leapt nimbly from the roof, grabbing the sill of one of the penthouse windows with one hand and swinging from landing to landing like a highly skilled ape. Touching down on the ground with a thud, he placed Vanellope off to the side, out of view of the action.
"See you at the race tonight?" she asked, grinning.
"Wouldn't miss it for all the cherries in Pac-Man," Ralph smirked, flashing a thumbs-up.
The game's start-up music filled the air. A giant speech balloon appeared over Ralph's head. "I'm gonna wreck it!" he bellowed.
Vanellope giggled, then ran off back to the train station, her heart filled with confidence once again.