“The Power of 3”
By Kellyanne Lynch
22 April 2003, 12:30 PM – 29 December 2003, 11:30 AM

14 – The Ambulance Ride

With Harley at his heels, Steve rushed behind the paramedics that carried his teammates out of the house on stretchers. Sirens and lights and tinny shouts assaulted his senses. Steve stumbled in his pursuit of the two EMTs toting Michael. Regaining his footing, he hopped into the back of an ambulance. As Harley jumped into the cabin behind his master, a paramedic scuttled to the double doors. The scruffy-haired man in aqua scrubs made eye contact with the Winston Cup driver.


Steve’s eyes widened. Pointing an open palm at his friend, he begged, “Please, just let me…”

The EMT’s mane ruffled as he yanked the doors shut. “Please sit!” He gestured to the grey car seat to his right.

Steve dove into the chair as the ambulance roared to life. The vehicle rumbled down a windy pathway, into the night. Rocks clunked beneath its wheels. Medical equipment and the walls of the ambulance rattled.

The racer buckled his seatbelt, his dog settling at his feet. Steve stared at the one-story prison, at the whirling red and blue lights and navy clad figures, and watched it shrink from sight. Within seconds, trees hid the cottage, and the forest whirred past the window. Dark green and russet streaks blurred across Steve’s sights. The driver closed his eyes, and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“You’re going to be okay.”

Steve glanced at the EMT, who loomed over Michael’s torso. The paramedic held a wad of bloody gauze above the wound, and ran his free hand along the side of the rip in the fire suit. “The bullet must have ricocheted. It lacerated the skin, but didn’t penetrate through to any vital organs. A few stitches or so should help it heal nicely.”

Drawing a hand to his chest, Steve released a sigh.

Michael smirked. “Well that’s great news,” he replied.

Steve caught his teammate’s wince as the paramedic dabbed at the wound. Wagging his head, he murmured, “I can’t believe you did that.”

Cocking his head to the side, Michael furrowed his brows. “What’s that, bud?” He narrowed his sights on his friend.

“I can’t believe you risked your life!” Steve exclaimed. Holding his head in his hands, he glanced at Harley, lying at his feet. He looked to Michael. “You took on a man with a gun to save my dog!”

“I didn’t really take him on!” Michael replied, drawing the corners of his lips toward his nose. “You would have done the same for Beavis!” Clenching his jaw, he added, “I know how much Harley means to you, buddy.”

Steve smiled. He held his eyes shut as he nodded. “Harley means a lot to me,” he stated. He looked into his friend’s eyes. “And so do you, Michael. There’s no way I could ever repay you for what you did for me and my dog back there…”

“It’s just what Christians do for each other,” Michael closed his eyes and wagged his head. “And you’ve done things for me… so many things for me. Steve, I bet you don’t even realise the half of it! I mean, sometimes I just talk and talk, and you’re always there listening…” He coughed. “Like when Dale died,” he whispered, tears in his eyes. “Your comfort and support meant the world to me, and my whole family. I’m not sure how we would have gotten through that time without you. As always, you listened, and that was so important to us.” Michael pursed his lips and gulped. “With everything that happened in there, I just got to thinking about all that, and I had to tell you.”

Clearing his throat, Steve lowered his head. He scanned the metal flooring before his sights slid over his Labrador’s face. Harley whimpered. The dog rose, and lapped at his master’s cheek. Steve pulled away.

“Is there any chance I could call my wife when we get to the hospital?” Michael’s voice carried to the Pennzoil driver’s ears. “I’d like to let her know I’m all right.”

The paramedic cleared his throat. “Um…”

“I’ll do it, Mike,” Steve offered, folding his hands over his mouth.

“Why, thanks, Steve!” Michael smiled. The EMT pressed the gauze into his torso, and he closed his eyes. “You’re a good man.”

A shock panged at Steve’s heart. Clutching his chest, the driver frowned. He sat back in his chair, and stared out the window. Guard rails lined his vision, with open fields just beyond. Steve’s sights lingered on the hills, and slipped out of focus. Feeling another watching him, the driver turned. Michael gazed back with furrowed brows, his jaw clenched in a grimace. The DEI drivers looked into one another’s eyes.

The paramedic slipped a metal clip over the injured driver’s middle finger. The machine over Michael’s head beeped; a red line zigzagged across its monitor. With a glance at the monitor, the EMT raised the wrist with the clipped finger. “Hold this in place,” he instructed, lowering Michael’s hand onto the gauze that covered his midsection. “Make sure you apply pressure to slow down the bleeding, okay?”

Steve watched his teammate nod. His sights drifted to the paramedic, and followed the man in scrubs to the front of the ambulance. The EMT disappeared behind the vehicle’s passenger’s seat. The driver glanced back at his friend, and found the other’s eyes fixed on him.

“What is it, Steve?” Michael whispered.

Steve shook his head. “It’s just…” he released a heavy breath. “You’ve been saying all these positive things about me, and I don’t think I can believe it. I don’t know how you can say that I’m good after what happened in there. I lost it, Michael! I was so angry that I let it just take over! I was a mad man!” The driver sank his face into his hands.

“Everybody makes mistakes, brother.” Steve’s teammate replied. Sirens and clattering medical equipment filled his ears after the last word. The driver stared into the burnt sierra abyss of the palms clasped over his eyes, observing his breath. His inhalations quickened the longer he thought about them. They strained against his lungs, and stung his esophagus.

Harley whined, and nudged his head into Steve’s elbows. The hands dropped from his eyes. His blurred sights met with Michael’s.

“Don’t you realise why you were susceptible to that temptation?” Michael questioned his teammate, who shook his head. “It’s because you’re a good person! You didn’t get angry with the abuse that you got in there. You were upset about the letters, and rightly so. I mean, I can’t believe…” Michael swallowed hard. “The point is that what you really got angry about was the way those guys treated me, Harley, and Junior. If you weren’t such a caring person, you wouldn’t have been so rattled by what happened with us.”

“I know I could have handled it better…” Steve murmured.

Michael grimaced. “Maybe so, but it already happened; it can’t be redone. Pray about the things you shouldn’t have done, take it as a lesson, and move on.”

Lines formed across Steve’s forehead. “Move on,” he mumbled. He pursed his lips, and shook his head. “Now how do I do that?”

“Well…” Michael trailed. Inhaling a lungful of breath, his mouth hung open. He withheld the air in his frame. “I don’t… I don’t know.” The words spilled over a sigh, lightly breaking through the hum of the ambulance’s engine. Michael’s sights fell from Steve’s, and dropped to his feet.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to race anywhere else,” Steve stated. Locking sights with Michael, he held a hand to his chest. “Mike, I’ve spent six years of my life with DEI. This team is where I belong… Or maybe it’s where I used to belong,” he whispered. “Maybe I am washed up.”

Heaving a sigh, Steve shook his head. His sights fixed on his teammate’s bright blue eyes, which narrowed and darkened the longer he looked. Steve’s back stiffened.

“Is that really what you came back for, Steve?” Michael frowned. “I seem to recall a determined racer lay up in a hospital telling me that he wasn’t going to quit until he was back at the track. The pole at Fontana last weekend was definitely an incredible accomplishment, but is that really what you meant when you told me you’d be back in Victory Lane? Is that all you wanted out of going through all the pain of rehabilitation and physical therapy?”

“Maybe I can’t do it, Michael!” Steve snapped. “Maybe I was kidding myself when I thought that I could.”

“Then maybe you weren’t ever a racer in the first place.”

Steve’s mouth hung open. Raising his shoulders, he stared at the other.

Michael shook his head. “You see? I didn’t think so either. So why are you so ready to call it quits, and to blame yourself for what happened? You know as well as I do that success means more than a talented driver. It’s a team effort, and I don’t think everyone working with the Pennzoil Chevy was ever on the same page. So much changed while you were gone, and I don’t think y’all ever really had enough time to get a chemistry going. Maybe there just wasn’t one.

“You never really got a fair shake,” Michael continued, “hassled by the media last season and this about not being ready to return or about whatever other criticisms folks come up with. They don’t truly understand that it’s a team effort in racing, but that’s no reason for you to buy into their misconceptions. I don’t see any reason for you not to go prove them all wrong.” He took in a deep breath. “There’s so much of Steve Park that has yet to shine.”

Leaning into his seat’s back cushion, Steve drew his hands to his head. His fingers made a couple rounds through his oily brown locks before sinking their nails into his scalp. The driver stared at the ambulance ceiling. “How am I supposed to do good without my friends?” he questioned. “I mean, so many of the people I rely on are connected to DEI. Not just racing…” Heaving a sigh, he lowered his hand from his head, and pressed his index finger and thumb into either side of his nose.

“The contract had to do with a ride, not with friendships,” Michael voiced. Steve gazed over the top of his knuckles at his teammate. “You may not have everything you had before, but you’ve got everyone. You’re not going it alone. You’re not going to forget that, are ya, Steve?” Michael scrunched his eyebrows. “Hey, you remember our date?”

A lopsided smile spanned Steve’s jaw. “I wish you’d quit telling people about that!” he snorted. “We just hung out for the day, and it doesn’t sound right the way that you say it.”

“Well whatever that was, I expect more of those!” Raising a hand from the gauze, Michael pointed a finger at his friend. “You drop by the motor coach any chance you get, and we’ll go golfing or exploring some more caves or hang out with Buffy and the kids. You hear?”

Pursing his grinning lips, Steve nodded. “Anything you say, Michael!”

“Well you’d better!” Michael widened his eyes, and wagged his finger at Steve. He lowered his hand to his torso. Picking at the corner of the gauze with his thumb, he raised the cloth. He peaked beneath it, pressing his chin into his sternum. “I bet I don’t even need stitches for this thing,” he spoke into his chest. A broad smile swept his lips, and the driver made eye contact with Steve. “It looks like it looks a lot worse than it is.”

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