As the car slowed in the garage he pulled his helmet off and set it upside down the metal slab next to him in the car. Gloves came next and were shoved into the opening of the helmet for safe keeping. He would keep them in a special spot and get a new pair. Something this important needed to have at least one memento saved from it.
Though he wasn't watching really what was going on around him, he caught the sounds of the hood being flipped up and the sound of the net next to his head being taken down. He took a deep breath and reached for the steering wheel to take it out of his way and as he turned back to see about coming out of the car he saw a stark white towel being shoved in towards him so that he could wipe his face.
"Thanks," he muttered to the unknown guardian angel then proceeded to clean his face. He covered his eyes and cheeks with his hands and the towel. It had been sitting in an ice box he guessed somewhere in the pit. A tiny spray of water before it had gone in, made the cloth into one big pliable ice cube and relieved some of the heat that had been trapped along with him in the car.
It wasn't just the cool cloth on his face that calmed him. The darkness of the moment calmed him almost more than the change of temperature. He wanted to cry, not in defeat, but with the joy that came with knowing that he'd crossed the first hurdle of his return to the business. He was back. Not full speed of course, that would come later, but getting through it all without a disqualification was saying something.
When he pulled the towel over his head a few times trying to get some of the sweat off of him. One hand held the towel against his face as the other blindly unzipped his fire suit to the waist. As he lifted the towel away from his hot cheeks he found a bottle of water being held out in front of him. It took had been in the ice box and he felt for a moment as if he was drooling like a cartoon character that hadn't seen water in days.
It hadn't occurred to him to pay attention to who was handing him all of this, but when he saw a manicured hand instead of the grease stained hand of one of the mechanics he turned his eyes up and found the eyes of a woman looking back down at him.
"You ready to get out?" she asked.
If this was the way he was going to be greeted after every race, he needed to start paying attention.
He took the water from her and took a long drink of it before her hand motioned to take it back from him. "Yep."
Leaning, he slithered out of the car like a snake, stopping for a moment to sit on the edge of the door, he leaned towards the car and put his forearms down on the top of the car. Setting his head onto his folded arms he closed his eyes and shivered. the heat of the car had gotten to him a little more than he'd expected and even though they were in the garage now, the breeze blowing through the garage chilled him to the bone.
He could hear people in the background saying his name, calling out to him, and the distant memory of camera's clicking and shuffling feet greeted his exit from the car.
"You ok?" the woman asked from behind him. He couldn't feel her touch him anywhere, but somehow he felt that she was beside and behind him a bit, hovering in a protective manner that should have soothed him, but he only found irritating.
"Yeah," he said and kept his back towards her as he moved to lift his legs out of the car so that he could stand. As his legs took his full weight he found that they'd turned to jell-o. Pressing on the pedals all afternoon had used up what strength he had in his calf muscles and his legs started to buckle.
His eyes blinked a few times. "Whoa," he mumbled and reached for his head with one hand and the car with the other to steady himself, "Whoa."
"Bubba!" The woman's voice seemed way more stressed than it should have been.
He didn't need all this attention. He hadn't won the race, hadn't placed all that well considering his racing history, but somehow all eyes were now on him. He tried to lift an arm to wave off Bubba and let him work on the car or do whatever job he should have been doing at the time, but was stopped when the small arm of a woman slipped around him and he soon found his arm being draped over someone's shoulders.
"Dusty, you ok?" he heard from behind him.
He tried to answer, but couldn't get the words out. Moments before his mouth had been wet with the drink that she'd provided, but now it was dry and rough and his mouth couldn't form the words that he wanted to say. His lips felt asleep, felt glued in place, stuck to his teeth and gums and when he swallowed his throat seemed to stick shut.
He found himself being plopped down onto a metal folding chair. His eyes weren't focusing well so he closed them. It was only the clanking of the chair against the concrete floor in the garage that told him where he was sitting and it was reinforced as the cool metal back of the chair could be felt through his damp fire suit.
"Call the Medics."
"N-" He started to refuse the help, but couldn't get the word out.
"Dusty?" Bubba's voice was now in his ear. "Kid talk to me. You ok?"
He felt hands on his shoulders and soon an icy wet towel was wrapped over the back of his neck. It sent a shockwave through his body and he arched his back trying to shake it loose.
"There we go kid," Bubba said. He knew that tone in his voice. He'd heard that tone earlier when the crash had happened and he'd been spinning around. That same worry told him that this was a lot more serious than he thought it might be and that when the smoke cleared and he got back on track that someone would explain everything to him.
There was some loud clapping of hands near his head as he started to slump in his chair. "Kid talk to me."
"Here." Someone said beyond the little dark haven he'd crawled into.
A few seconds later he smelled the worst smell he'd ever smelled in his life. His eyes shot open and suddenly he was wide awake and aware of everything. When he turned to his right he saw medics taping what looked to be an IV to his hand. They'd inserted the needle into the vein and he hadn't felt a thing, but now to see it in his arm he found himself wanting to shake it loose.
"There we go," Bubba said. "There's a little fight left in ya."
"Wh-at hap-pe-ned,?" he stuttered out as shivers ran up his arm across his shoulders and down the other arm. He could feel the cool liquid in the IV starting to mix into his system. It made his skin crawl to think of what he'd just missed out on because he'd been so clouded in darkness.
A uniformed medic was holding an IV bag above his head and holding onto Dusty's arm as if he knew that Dusty would want to move away from the needle when he saw it.
When the plastic mask with oxygen was pressed to his face he finally focused. "You gave us a little scare there Dusty," the uniformed medic who was sitting in front of him said. "I know you wanted to make a good impression on your first day back and all, but I don't think is the way that anyone would want it to happen."
He didn't get it. He understood that he was weak and didn't feel well, but he didn't understand how all of a sudden a crowd had formed around him and the faces of over twenty people were looking at him as if he was half dead. "What--?"
"Tell him what's going on," the female voice said. "Tell him."
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