Casey Daniels let out a whooping, "Yeehaww!" as her modified Jeep topped over the second of three hills. Her super swampers kissed the mud goodbye and she felt like a bird on the wind as she sailed off the ground. Three seconds later she landed with a splash. Keeping her foot on the gas, she split a 15 foot mud trench wide open.
"That's what I'm talkin' bout."
She shifted gears and then flipped the wipers on. Nothing but blue skies ahead. A quick glance in her rearview mirror and she could almost taste victory. And boy, was it sweet. Casey was the only female in the sport and she had caused quite a stir among the other drivers. Good or bad, it didn't seem to phase her any. So what if it wasn't the most girly thing to do?she was passionate about off-roading and she was good at it. One more quick glance to her mirror and she triumphantly chuckled out loud as her competitors struggled to keep up with her.
"What'sa matter boys?one woman too much for ya?"
Her ever vigilant eyes caught sight of the giant rocks ahead and she quickly downshifted. In an instant she was upon the opaque limestone. Her body bounced and jerked as the 4x4 climbed the well placed giants. Quick thinking and a little bit of luck got her through it without calamity.
Once again she led the pack.
This was the fifth race this season and it looked as if she would be taking her third win. She rounded the tight corner and began her climb over the last hill. The incline was treacherously steep and Casey knew that if she could just make this final hill and not roll over, victory would be hers.
Come on girl keep it together?you're almost there?almost there?
Her fingers gripped the steering wheel. The taste of sweat and mud lingered on her lips as woman and machine tackled the last man-made obstacle. The thick tread on her tires dug in and did what they did best. She could feel the torque of the horses running wild underneath the hood. It made her blood race.
She let out a deep breath and allowed her compact body to sink back into the comfort of her seat. Somewhere, in the back of her mind, she recognized an airplane passing over just as she neared the zenith. She crested the hill in record time and the checkered flag welcomed her across the finish line. She was victorious.
She pumped her fist and let out a "Yes!" as her foot let off the accelerator and the mud covered vehicle slowed down. It had been one killer of a race and this put Casey and her crew in good standing for the championship. Slowly, she veered off the track and headed towards the pit. The crowd was going wild and she knew her crew would be ready to party.
The mud encrusted Jeep came to a sloshing stop. She watched as a swarm of reporters filtered through the chain link fence separating the pit from the grandstand. It was a feeding frenzy and Casey knew she was tonight's main course. At times, she could not believe the attention she received from the press. It was down right mind-boggling.
Nimble fingers reached for the safety release on her harness and grabbed hold of the roll bar to help pull herself out of the carriage. She slid off the side and onto the ground. Her crew all ready dousing her with beer.
God that stuff stinks.
She pulled her racing gloves off and stuffed them in her back pocket. Removing her helmet revealed a grin stretched from ear to ear and short blonde hair that stuck up in all directions. Her racing team congratulated her and she found herself giving high fives and hugs as she made her way towards the press. It had occurred to Casey on more than one occasion that the media were even more fierce than some of her competitors on the track.
Speaking of competitors?
Casey watched with dubious eyes as the other racers began filtering in to the pits. She couldn't believe some of the looks she received. A few were indifferent, others were filled with respect and admiration but most were down right venomous. Her gut instinct told her that someone, on more than one occasion, had attempted to sabotage her rig but, so far, without success. Her Jeep was her baby and if anything happened to it, she would most definitely get restitution?one way or the other. But she would deal with that later.
"Ms. Daniels, how do you feel?
"Casey, what's it like knowing you are the points leader and way ahead of the other drivers?
"Rumor has it you're leaving the sport, Daniels, care to comment?"
The mud covered woman grinned as she walked behind the conference table. A large banner, filled with the names of numerous sponsors of this event, hung behind her. She sat down and held her hand up in an effort to slow down the barrage of questions.
"First let me say?I feel great. It's awesome to know I'm leading in points but that can change at any time. And, Harold?I don't know where you get your information, but the only way I'm leaving this sport is if they take me out kickin' and screamin?"
A loud cheer went up as Casey finished her last statement. She smiled and waved as the flash of several cameras filled her eyes. She stayed as long as she could and, as promised, answered every question directed her way. Slowly she stood and started making her way towards the garage that housed her vehicle and crew.
On her way there, she was stopped by several young kids with pit passes asking for autographs. This was her favorite part?other than the actual racing. Seeing the looks on these kids' faces was priceless. Casey took her time and spoke to each one of them. She never failed to mention the importance of staying in school and keeping away from drugs.
One last autograph to go and then she could hit the shower. After that, she would be making her way home?alone. It was true that she had developed quite a name for herself as a playgirl. Casey would be the first to admit that she loved to flirt and there were more than enough women willing to be hers for a night or two. Everyday she heard a new, juicy rumor about her and some groupie. But the truth was she had never taken a woman back to her room. She wondered just how shocked her crew would be to know that.
She shook hands with a couple more kids before heading towards the garage.
Casey sighed as she felt her shoulders slump. Her body was exhausted and ached in places she had forgotten about. All she wanted at this moment was to get clean and grab something good to eat. Still, she managed to put a smile on her face as she turned to face one last person.
Oh my goodness?
Casey felt like her soul had just ignited and the heat from the flames had scorched her heart. Her mouth went dry and the only thing to possibly quench that everlasting thirst stood just beyond the fence, a few steps away. Suddenly, her body didn't feel so tired any more. Slowly, she walked to where the siren stood.
"Ms. Daniels?congratulations on a well deserved win. I'm sorry to keep you from your victory celebration. I just need to speak with you?please?it's very important."
The enchantress stood tall and even though her hair was pulled up, Casey could tell that it was long. Blue eyes sparkled like diamonds behind very chic, black glasses and her clothes made it clear that this woman didn't visit the racetrack often. Casey was intrigued. Not to mention that the melancholy tone in this woman's voice tugged at Casey's heart.
"I have time to spare..."
And even if I didn't I would make time...
The woman watched as Casey's eyes drifted to the left and then the right. She was about to ask what Casey was looking for when the mud-covered driver gripped the fence and jumped over it. Casey smiled up at the startled woman and shrugged her shoulders.
"I didn't see a gate."
The woman returned the smile and then took on a serious expression. Casey noticed the change and motioned for them to sit down on a nearby picnic table.
"So what can I do for you, Miss?"
"Sanders?Josephine Sanders. But please call me Jo."
Casey smiled inwardly at the old fashioned name that this beautiful woman shared with her grandma.
"All right?Jo it is. And you can call me Casey."
Now that Jo had this woman all to herself, she found it hard to speak. When she had been asked to approach the racer, she thought it would be much harder than this to gain an audience with her. But now here they were. Jo felt a blanket of warmth tuck around her as she shared a smile with the muddy driver. A smile that seemed to reach all the way to Jo's soul. One blink and she realized Casey was waiting for her to speak.
"I'm sorry?.it's just?"
Even as the words rolled off her lips she couldn't believe she had spoken them.
"You are very beautiful?"
Casey watched the embarrassed woman duck her head. She even felt her own cheeks burn from the compliment and that did not happen very often.
Casey waited for the flushed woman to look up. She wanted to tease her further but, instead, she tried to redirect their conversation in an effort to not embarrass the woman further. But it was so hard not to.
"So?I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that you didn't come all the way down here, in that skirt, to this mud hole, to tell me I'm beautiful?"
Josephine sighed deeply as the rosy blush on her cheeks lingered . There was a reason she had come here. A very good reason and she needed to focus.
"No, Miss Daniels?I didn't."
Jo took a deep breath and continued.
"I work in the James Cancer Hospital at the Ohio State University Medical Center here in Columbus."
Casey nodded as she listened.
"Part of my job is helping to make wishes come true for kids with life threatening illnesses."
Casey sat completely spellbound. She watched as tears filled the dismal eyes across from her. She couldn't explain it but she felt an overpowering urge to keep those tears from falling.
"There is a young girl in my unit?her name is Emma?she's 9 years old."
Finally, a smile.
"She is such a tomboy and she really likes four wheel drives and monster trucks and so on. But she loves you and your mud buggy."
Casey grinned at the expression.
The two women smiled as the conversation continued.
"It is her wish that you might come and see her?maybe bring her a t-shirt?an autograph?maybe just spend some time with her?before?"
Jo couldn't finish the words though Casey knew exactly what she meant.
Before she dies.
Casey wiped her muddy hands on the top of her legs which really didn't help at all. She reached out and took Jo's trembling hands into her own. That was all it took. Josephine broke into tears.
"I'm so sorry?"
Casey squeezed the soft hands she held.
"It's ok, Josephine?go on?let it out."
The crying woman held on to those two muddy hands like they were her salvation. And maybe, for just this moment, they were. For weeks she had held back the frustration and helplessness she felt while working with Emma. The doctors had told Josephine that the chances of the girl overcoming the cancer were slim to none. She believed she had accepted that. But watching Emma slowly lose the battle had taken more of a toll on Josephine than she could admit, until now. Her body shook as she thought of Emma and all the pain she had endured.
The noxious disease had slowly made its way through the little girl's body, robbing her of long curly red locks and her youthful energy. Her smooth yet freckled fair skin became ghostly white, but her spirit?even in the face of death, Emma's spirit was alive and well.
There had been a moment of hope though. Three weeks ago, the silent killer just seemed to stop?leaving everyone in limbo. The medical team assigned to Emma were reluctant to diagnose remission, but that was exactly what everyone had prayed and hoped for. Then yesterday Emma had taken a turn for the worst. There had been talk of amputating the young girl's legs, but the osteosarcoma had spread so quickly that amputation was no longer an option.
Casey silently offered all she could to the tormented woman facing her. She willed her own emotional strength to envelop the crying woman and, hopefully, give Jo a sense of peace and stillness from the storm within. An overwhelming need to take Jo into her arms astounded Casey. But she didn't know this woman?she didn't know how Jo would react to a stranger wrapping her arms around her; plus, Casey was covered in mud. Finally, the crying came to a stop.
"Jo?I'll do whatever I can. I promise. I'll do it?"
Josephine slowly nodded her head as she pulled her hands free in an attempt to wipe her eyes. She could only laugh at the mud now covering her fingers. She started to use the back of her hand but, once again, she encountered mud.
Casey jumped up and ran to the nearest concession stand and grabbed a handful of napkins. She came back and sat down next to Jo.
Jo wiped the tears from her eyes.
"I'm so sorry, Miss Daniels?I didn't mean to?"
"Hey?don't worry about it. I'm gonna do whatever I can for you and for Emma."
Josephine sniffed as she reached for another napkin.
"And I told you?call me Casey."
The next day Casey found herself walking the halls of the James Cancer Center inside the Ohio State Medical facility. She carried a bag of miscellaneous items that never really seemed anything more than money makers to her. T-shirts, caps, pictures, a few mugs and, of course, there was one special item she had worked on earlier this morning.
Her eyes drifted over the multi-colored walls. There were murals of unicorns, knights and dragons, and all sorts of fairy tail creatures for kids. There was so much to take in. Everything in the children's unit was geared for those young and young at heart; it was incredible and she loved it.
A slow grin spread across her face as she spotted Josephine at the end of the hall. Suddenly Casey's steps became a little quicker. She shivered as she caught the fast appraisal she had been given. And by the look on Jo's face, her mud free appearance had been well received.
"Hey Jo?how are you?"
Casey felt enraptured as Josephine looped their arms together.
"Much better now. Oh?let me tell you?I have got one excited little girl on my hands?"
That you do Josephine?
Jo led them down the corridor and around the corner. Not once did Josephine think of releasing her hold on the gorgeous woman next to her. They came to a door covered in posters of mud racers, 4x4's and a few pictures of Casey. She grinned as her eyes came to rest on a small poster of Xena.
Looks like I'm in good company.
"I guess this is it?"
"Are you ready?"
Casey nodded and Jo pushed the door open. The two women were met by one wide-eyed little girl eating ice-cream and surrounded by family.
"Emma?look who is here to see you."
Casey walked in and nodded as she said a few hellos to those sitting around the room. She made eye contact with everyone before her apprehensive eyes came to rest on Emma. Casey made no attempt to look at the machines or any of the sterile hospital gadgets hooked to the young girl. She walked over to the hospital bed and pulled up a chair. The enamored young girl handed her bowl to her mom and simply stared at Casey who eyed the Jeep do-rag wrapped around Emma's head.
"Nice?I happen to like Jeep myself."
A small giggle escaped Emma and it was music to everyone's ears. Still, she couldn't believe Casey Daniels was standing right in front of her. The queen of off-road mud racing was right here. All she could do was grin. For a moment Casey was at a loss for words, but that moment disappeared quickly as Emma opened her mouth and a slew of fervent questions came tumbling out.
"What's it like going through all that mud?have you ever wiped out?do you get scared going up those hills?"
Casey cast a quick glance toward Josephine then back to the question machine in front of her. She couldn't help but laugh out loud. The young girl knew her stuff which impressed Casey to no end. They talked about the races, the mods and all the things that went on in the pit. They laughed and smiled as family took an endless amount of pictures. It had been just what Emma needed to lift her spirits.
The nurses came in several times, much to Emma's dismay, to make sure she wasn't over doing it. She wasn't.
Casey explained the difficulty of getting mud out of her ears which brought about laughter from everyone. She was having the time of her life and could have stayed longer but she could tell that Emma was growing tired.
As Casey stood, she took the young girl by the hand.
"It's almost time for me to go?"
Emma tried to keep a smile on her face but it was hard to disguise the disappointment in her exhausted eyes.
"But before I do?I have a little something special, just for you."
Casey reached deep inside the canvas bag she had brought with her and rummaged around. Josephine smiled at the antics of the racer. Casey really knew how to make a show of things.
"Now where did I put that?"
All eyes were on Casey as she pulled out a DVD.
"Ahhh. Here it is."
She reached over and handed it to Emma as she explained.
"This is a video of my last race?but not just any video. This came from the camera mounted inside my Jeep and you, my friend, are the first one to get a look at it."
Emma's eyes brightened once more.
"You'll get to see everything the way I see it. And any time you wanna go riding with me?just pop this in and we'll be on our way."
"Thanks Casey! This is the best ever!"
Casey leaned down and hugged Emma goodbye. With a grievous heart, Casey promised the sick girl that she would come back and see her if she got a chance. Jo watched Emma and Casey with extraordinary fondness. Jo felt the window to her heart open and Casey Daniels perch on the sill. It felt peculiar, but right.
There is so much more to you, Casey Daniels, than mud and racing?and I hope I get to know just how much more.
Casey waved goodbye one last time and headed out the door. She felt ecstatic. Actually she felt more than ecstatic. She couldn't remember the last time her heart felt so light. It was a feeling she had longed for?a serenity that took its place deep inside her soul. The day had been more than she had dreamed it could be and it wasn't even for her.
Ahhhh yes?The voice of an angel. Another reason I feel so good.
Casey turned towards Jo's voice?a mischievous smile crossed her soft features as she shrugged her shoulders and threw her hands up in the air. All the while smiling at the beautiful woman walking her way.
"Call me crazy?but I'm pretty sure I told you to call me Casey."
Casey laughed as Josephine, looking a bit sheepish, agreed.
"That you did."
A comfortable silence settled between them as they made their way down the corridor. It never occurred to either of them that Jo had no real reason to escort Casey back down the hall.
"Thank you for coming today."
"I wouldn't have missed it for anything."
All too soon, they were standing in front of the elevator.
Casey smiled up at Jo and watched as she fidgeted with the clipboard in her hands. There were so many things that Casey wanted to say.
"This is my stop."
"So it is?"
Why do you steal my breath away, Casey Daniels?
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Two people got off?but no one got on. Another ding and the doors slid closed. Jo raised a single eyebrow at the amused look on the face in front of her.
"Guess you'll get the next one?"
"Yeah?that one was a little crowded."
That caused a smile to spread across Jo's face and it was that smile that prompted Casey's next words.
"Josephine Sanders?there is an elevator on its way back up here to get me. And I don't want to get on it unless I know you'll have dinner with me?"
Ding. The elevator doors opened. Josephine quickly reached into her coat pocket and pulled out a business card. She turned it over and scribbled down her cell phone number and handed it to Casey who let out an exhilarated sigh.
"Ahhh?now I can go..."
Casey stepped onto the elevator and made a wish that the doors would somehow jam, and she could continue standing there looking at the beauty before her. But she knew that wouldn't happen.
She raised the card in the air and grinned.
"I'll call you."
"I can't wait."
Jo's words had carried an undertone that made Casey a little lightheaded. Even though Jo's flirting was subtle it had made Casey's insides do flip-flops. The doors closed and she fell against the cool metal wall of the elevator. It did nothing to cool her rising temperature. The way Jo had looked at her left Casey flabbergasted.
I've died and gone to paradise.
The doors opened and one deliriously happy Casey stepped off of the elevator. For a moment she thought she would just float the rest of the way home. She quickly looked down.
Nope?my feet are still on the ground.
Slowly, she made her way toward the revolving door. She took a deep breath and waited. Casey's head was already spinning and she wasn't sure she could maneuver the beastly door in the state she was in. After a few calming breaths, she walked through the door and out into the cool evening air. The sun had not gone down completely, but it was low enough to cause the parking lot lights to come on.
Without delay, two of the hospital shuttles arrived. Casey hopped on board the bus that would take her back to the parking garage. Her mind slowly began to process the events of the day. She sent up a silent prayer for Emma and hoped that she would be able to visit her again before she passed.
Then her thoughts drifted to Josephine. Casey knew Jo's heart was an endless reservoir of compassion. That was apparent. The way Jo had gone beyond protocol to help make Emma's last days peaceful and joyous touched Casey. She was eager to get to know Jo further.
The shuttle came to a stop and Casey hurriedly stepped off. Her fingers softly caressing the business card that held Jo's number. Casey grinned as she reached her truck. She was a deliriously happy woman on a mission. She would find the best restaurant in town if she had to call every listing in the yellow-pages. With any luck, Josephine Sanders would be swept right off her feet.
Oh yeah?things are about to get very interesting?
Thanks for reading!! I would love to know what you thought?so please feed the bard!! Loubug@zoomnet.net