The Road is Never Long Between Friends


Kentucky Speedway
Northern Kentucky
August 1st

“Okay, Marty.”  Diana Lynch tapped her pen on the table.  “Stops in Angola, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Abilene, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Atlanta, Georgia for personal appearances.  Also, you have me scheduled for an appearance at Road Atlanta.  Kind of a mixed-up itinerary!  Then I can head back to Sleepyside, right?”  She glanced at the electronic calendar on the computer screen in front of her.  “It’s only thirteen days until our Bob-White reunion on the 14th.  Are you sure we can work everything in?  I don’t want to take a chance of missing my friends.”

“Diana, this is part of paying your dues,” her manager barked.  “If you do well as a spokesman for the Racing to Read program, you may have a shot at snagging a bigtime sponsor like Cherry Coke or Starbucks.  You’ve been driving—what?  Four years?  You’ve got to be willing to give up some personal life if you want to make it in racing.”

Diana and her manager were meeting in the headquarters of Hot Wheels Racing, Incorporated, based at the Kentucky Speedway in Northern Kentucky.  As the newest driver and the only female on the team, she had recently been introduced to the expectation of the team owners that she perform publicity during the interludes in her racing schedule.  Since the end of May she had raced every weekend, and now, at the beginning of August, she faced a short lull in her calendar.

“All right, all right!”  She clutched handfuls of her ebony hair.  “I get it, Marty.  If my  face isn’t out there, if I’m not promoting my sponsors whenever I’m not driving, they’re going to drop me.  But is it too much to ask for one lousy weekend?”   She sighed.  “It’ll be a working trip anyway.  You’ve got me signed up to give an interview to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, etc. as well as my appearances at schools and bookstores.”

“You’ll have an escort at the Mall of America.  Otherwise you’d never find the Barnes and Noble,” Marty said.  “That place has 400-500 stores; it’s ungodly how huge it is.  She’ll meet you at the airport and take you to the bookstore.”

“What a relief,” Diana sighed.  “But I was hoping to meet up with one of my sorority sisters for some shopping and dinner before I go on to my next stop.  Will that work?”

“Sorority, fun-dority.”  He snorted.   “How about priority?  Get your priorities  straight, Di.”  He turned to as if leave, but stopped short and clapped her on the shoulder.  “You’re scheduled to appear from five p.m. until seven p.m. Central time, and you might be able to do something with your friend before or afterwards.  That’s tomorrow.  First thing in the morning, you’d better head on up the road to Cincinnati for your TV appearance, and you’re supposed to hit Angola by noon—one o’clock by their time.  You have an hour and a half at the Carnegie library there, and then you head for Fort Wayne and catch your flight to Minneapolis.” 

“I just wish I’d had some warning of the itinerary,” Diana said.  “I’m not complaining, really I’m not.  I’m thankful to have the chance to travel to different areas of the country.  But if I’d had a little more warning, I’d have been able to line up some visits as well as the ones you guys scheduled for me.  I could do more to promote the Racing to Read program, because a lot of my sorority sisters are teachers, and they’re spread all over the country.”

“Whatever.  Jim will take you to the car rental agency and he’ll download a GPS app for your phone, if you don’t have one already.”

“I do.  I’m a driver, not a total airhead.”  Her eyes flashed with annoyance for a moment.  “I’m sorry, Marty.  But you guys don’t always have to take care of me.  I’m a big girl and I can find my way out of a paper bag.”

“Of course you can.”  His scowl turned into a grin.  “I can’t help it, kid.  You’re an exciting driver, you’re smart and you’ve got a personality.  You have potential to do great things for our whole team, and my job is to help you be as effective as possible.  That’s job security for all of us.”

“After Minneapolis, will I fly to Texas or drive?”

“Your escort will drive you to the hotel and you can catch a shuttle to the airport in the morning.  You’ll fly to Texas.  It’s up to you if you want to fly or drive to Tulsa, I think it’s a little over 6 hours to drive.  Tulsa to Atlanta is almost 12 hours so Hot Wheels has booked a flight for that leg.  From Atlanta to New York State is another long trip—almost fourteen hours—and you don’t want to drive for that long, you’ll fall asleep and crash and it’ll be the end of the Hot Wheels team.”

“You won’t be with me at all?”

“Nope.  I’ve gotta stay here and manage the publicity.  Besides, Hot Wheels isn’t paying for two people on this trip.”  He checked his watch.  “I really have to go, Di.  Honey and Trixie are waiting to go to obedience school.”

Diana’s mouth dropped open.  “Who?” she managed to squeak.

“My new dogs.  I told you, I got two cocker spaniel pups.  I need to get home and let them out of their crates so they can run off some energy before class.  Pray that they haven’t driven my neighbors nuts with their barking today.”

“Oh, sure.  I remember you told me about the dogs, I just couldn’t remember their names.”  She closed her laptop and stood up.  “Thanks for everything, Marty.  I really do appreciate you.”

“Sure, kid.  Now, get out of here so you can pack your duds.”

That night, Diana sent out an email to her friends in Angola, Minneapolis, Abilene, Tulsa, and Atlanta.  She shared her itinerary and invited any of them who could to join her at her various destinations.  When she’d received no responses after thirty minutes, she powered down the laptop and unplugged it.  Maybe no one was online; she’d check her phone for emails or texts before leaving in the morning.  It was time she went to bed.

Her phone’s alarm woke her at four-thirty in the morning.  She groaned and dragged herself into the shower, knowing she needed to fix her hair and makeup before leaving.  Her fans didn’t want to see “natural” Diana; they wanted to see the most glamorous driver in NASCAR racing.  And she had a live interview scheduled with the Cincinnati television station WCPO at six a.m.  Good Morning, Tri-State, indeed!  She’d like to throttle the person who’d dreamed up the early-morning news and entertainment programs that seemed to populate every mid-sized TV market.

Showered, dressed, and with hair and makeup ready, she checked email on her smartphone.  “Hurrah!  Pat answered me,” she exclaimed.  Quickly she scrolled down to the message.  Hope you have a pleasant drive up!  I’ll pick you up in Big Red and take you for a fried chicken dinner at one p.m, the message read.  Can’t wait to see you, Love, Pat.   She was still holding the phone when it vibrated, signaling a text message.

R U ready?  Im here to take U 2 the car rental plc.

Omigosh!  I forgot Jim was taking me to pick up the rental car.  She grabbed her suitcase and laptop bag and exited her apartment.  The elevator was taking forever, so she took the stairs all the way down to the front lobby, where Jim, the team’s mechanic, waited for her.  

Sooner than she’d believed possible, Diana was heading up I-71 toward Cincinnati.  Hot Wheels was still squeezing the pennies with her, but the compact purple Hyundai was cute and peppy.  Traffic was light and a rim of orange-pink turned the wide river to a delicate pinkish-lavender at the eastern horizon as she took a slight detour at Covington in order to cross the Ohio River on the Roebling suspension bridge from Kentucky into Ohio.  The gleaming office towers of Cincinnati near the riverfront reflected the colors of the rising sun.  Her phone’s turn-by-turn GPS voice directions guided her to the television studio and she fed a couple of quarters into the parking meter in order to maintain the prime parking spot that would allow her a speedy return to the interstate.  Checking her watch, she sprinted inside and took the elevator to the studio.  Fifteen minutes to spare!

“Hello, I’m Diana Lynch,” she said to the attractive young receptionist.  “I’m supposed to be a guest today.”

“Hello, Miss Lynch,” the young man replied with a smile.  “Let me check the line-up.”  He turned aside and began tapping the keys of his computer.  “Come on through this door, Miss Lynch,” he invited.  I’ll show you to the green room.  It’ll be about thirty minutes until your segment.”  He waved her into a small room with a couple of comfortable chairs, a television monitor tuned to the morning show, and most importantly, a fragrant pot of coffee which drew her like a magnet.  “Help yourself to some coffee, Miss Lynch.  And if you want to freshen up, the ladies’ lounge is that way.” 

After a cup of coffee, Diana took advantage of the lounge to refresh her lipstick and smooth her hair.  As she came back into the green room, she could see and hear the young receptionist on the phone.  “Yes, I understand.  I’ll tell her.”   She sat down and began to leaf through an old copy of The Barnhart Dictionary Companion

Wouldn’t Mart Belden love this! she thought, flipping through to find a subscription offer.  It would be a perfect Bob-White Christmas gift

“Miss Lynch.”  The young man’s voice came from a wall intercom, and she dropped the magazine, thinking it must be time for her to go into the studio.  She stood and walked over to the intercom. 

“Yes?” she asked.

“I’m sorry, but your segment has been cancelled for today,” the young man said.  “A baby giraffe was born at the Cincinnati Zoo lat night, and Brian Wheeler has exclusive live footage that’s going on the show next.  We thought it would just delay your appearance for fifteen minutes, but then a large piece of stone fell from one of the towers of the Roebling Bridge onto the roadway a few minutes ago.  The station is rushing a team out there right now and will have live coverage followed by a historic profile piece on the bridge.  Traffic will be backed up on the bridge for hours, probably, and they’re bumping you.  I’m sorry, Miss Lynch.”  He really did look sorry, she noticed.

Goose bumps had risen on her arms when she heard about the bridge.  She’d just driven over the historic structure!  The stone might have fallen while she was crossing it.  “How awful!  About the bridge, I mean.  Was anyone hurt?”

“I don’t know for sure, Miss Lynch.  The station manager didn’t tell me.  I’m sorry if you made a special trip for the show.”

“Never mind, I have to drive to Angola, Indiana today, so now I’ll just get there sooner,” she reassured him.  “And it’s wonderful about the baby giraffe.  Maybe I’ll be able to see some of the footage tonight.”  She checked her purse to make sure she hadn’t left anything.  “Thanks for being so nice!  Tell your manager to call my manager if he wants me to come back.  I’ll be tied up with personal appearances for a couple of weeks and then taking a quick weekend trip home to New York State.”

She hurried outside, The Barnhart Dictionary Companion forgotten. 

The land around the interstate highway flattened out as she drove north, past Dayton, Ohio and finally westward into the northernmost part of Indiana.  As she passed Fort Wayne, she could see level fields of golden waving grain that stretched to the horizon in either direction.  The fields were soothing, but after a few minutes she noticed tractors and some kind of harvesting equipment going back and forth, steadily felling the rows of corn—or whatever it is, she corrected herself.  Soon, she saw signs welcoming her to the small town of Angola, and she smiled.  It was still an hour before her scheduled appearance at the Angola Carnegie Library.  Wonder if Pat could give me a tour of her work?  She tapped in the digits of her friend’s number.

“Hello, honey!”  Pat’s voice was warm and welcoming as always.  “Where are you?”

“I just drove into Angola,” Diana replied.  “Would you be able to give me a tour of your work?”

“Nothing better,” Pat agreed.  “Can you find your way here?”

“Oh, yes!  I have GPS on my phone.  See you in a few!”  She ended the call and entered the destination address into her phone.  Minutes later, she pulled into a parking space in front of the building.  When she looked up, Pat was coming down the sidewalk to her, waving.

Pat showed her around the office and Diana signed autographs for several of her coworkers.   As they finished the tour, Pat asked, “Do you think we have time to eat lunch?  I can take mine now and there’s a place nearby that serves a delicious fried chicken dinner.”

Diana’s mouth watered.  Fried chicken was one of her favorite foods.  She checked her watch.  “I need to be at the library at one p.m.  Can we be finished in time?”

“I’ll call our order in right now,” Pat decided.  “That way, they’ll already be cooking it when we arrive.”  Immediately, she called their order in to the restaurant.  “Come on outside and we’ll drive over in Big Red,” she said.  “The weather’s perfect for riding in a convertible.”

Diana loved riding in Big Red, and the drive was so short it didn’t mess her hair up too much.  At the Cahoots Coffeehouse they were greeted by the hostess and escorted to a table.  Pat told the hostess they’d already placed an order and she went to check on its status.  A smiling waitress approached the table and took their drink orders.  As she poured sweet tea for Diana, she whispered, “Can I please get your autograph for my niece, Miss Patrick?  She’s just crazy about you.”

“I’d be happy to give it to you, but I’m not Danica Patrick,” Diana said.  “I’m Diana Lynch.”

“Oh.”  The waitress seemed to be at a loss for words.  “Are you sure?”

She’d been mistaken for the other young dark-haired female driver before, so Diana just smiled and pulled out a business card with a picture of her car “Number 7” on it, and scrawled her signature.  “Here you go.”

The fried chicken was crispy and flavorful, and the side dishes were just as tasty.  “Yummy-yum!” she exclaimed, scraping the last teaspoon of mashed potatoes.  “If only we had a root beer float it would be perfect.”

“I don’t want to make you late for your appearance at the library Story Hour,” Pat said.  “But when you’re finished, give me a call and we’ll drive down to Fort Wayne to one of my favorite root beer stands.  It’ll be on your way to the airport.”  

“Oh, yes!” Diana agreed.  After paying for their meal they strolled down the street to do some window-shopping in the antique stores that had replaced most of the clothing and general merchandise stores that had once lined the street; Pat pointed out the historic Steuben County Courthouse and the Civil War monument that dominated the traffic circle in the middle of town.  Then it was time to head for the Carnegie Library, where Diana was to appear at a Story Hour.  Several summer reading groups were supposed to be present, and she smiled as she thought about the children.

“I’m so glad you came today, honey,” Pat said, giving her a hug as she let her out at the library.  “Be sure to call me when you’re finished; I can leave early today.” 

Diana enjoyed the library story hour and speaking to the children, although most had no idea who she was.  Several parents and teachers asked for her autograph, however, so she decided the goal of publicity for Hot Wheels Racing had been achieved.  As soon as the children left, she entered Pat’s number into her phone and in a few minutes her friend appeared again in Big Red, and drove her to where her Hyundai was parked.  “It’s really too bad you couldn’t turn your car into the agency here, and then I could drive you to the airport,” Pat lamented.

“Yes, I know,” Diana agreed.  “If only I’d had a little more time to plan this trip I’m sure I could have worked that out.  But I have to turn it in at the airport.”

“Well, just follow me.  It’s a short trip and a beautiful day for a drive.”  Pat waited for her to start the car and they were off.

Hall’s was a quaint circular building surrounded by parking, and Diana admired its vintage neon sign that invited diners to “Enjoy a snack or a complete dinner inside or in your car.” She hopped out of her car to stretch her legs as soon as she was parked.  Pat was waiting for her outside the entrance.

“We can eat inside or out,” she said.  “There are some nice umbrella tables outside.”

“Great, let’s give our orders and I need to freshen up a bit, then we can enjoy our floats out here,” Diana readily agreed.  Soon the two were spooning and sipping their floats outside.

“This has been a wonderful visit,” Diana said.  “I’m sorry we can’t spend more time together.”

“I am, too.  But here’s a little souvenir to bring you luck,” Pat said.  She reached into her purse and pulled out a keychain charm decorated with a four-leaf clover.  

“Thanks!  I can always use some extra good luck.” Diana glanced at her watch.  “Yikes!  I’d better head for the airport.”  After exchanging hugs, she climbed into the Hyundai.  Soon Pat and Big Red were specks in the distance.

She made it to the airport, returned her car, and passed through security with minutes to spare.  Once seated in the small commuter plane, she took advantage of a brief wait time to send a text message to the escort Hot Wheels had lined up to guide her to the Barnes and Noble bookstore at the Mall of America.  The escort was to meet her at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, drive her to the mall, escort her to the store and take her to her hotel after her appearance.  She hoped dinner would also make an appearance somewhere during that time—although she wasn’t hungry yet, in six more hours she would be. 

“Flight 4978 on time to arrive MSP 430pm” she texted.  “Lets meet at baggage claim.” 

There was no reply before the flight attendants began their safety spiel and she obediently turned her phone off.  Her mind drifted back to the story hour at the Angola library.  The kids were so cute, asking questions about her car and how she decided to become a driver.  As hectic as it had been so far, and despite the unfortunate timing, it felt good to be in demand.  This was her first personal appearance tour for Hot Wheels, and if she did a good job, it might lead to more.  Driving was so different from how she’d expected to spend her life as an adult…  Her eyelids felt heavy, and the last thing she remembered was feeling awed at the width of the Mississippi River, even from 20,000 feet in the air.

“Di, it’s for the best.  Do you think I want this?”  Mart Belden’s blue eyes blazed with intensity as his hands gripped hers.  They were alone at the Bob-White clubhouse.  It was the beginning of August, and Mart was about to leave for his second year of college, while Diana was headed south to Kentucky

“Plenty of people have long-distance relationships,” she protested, her voice shaking. 

“Yes, but at our ages, how special would it be to stay together just because neither of us has ever dated anyone else?  Don’t you think someday we might regret that decision?”

“My parents never have,” she shot back.

“They’re one couple in a million,” he countered.  “We’ll have half the country between us, and I—at least—will have to work during semester breaks.  I won’t be able to come home or to visit you in Kentucky.  We’ll write, or at least email and keep up with each other online.  But you need to be free to date other guys.” 

“And you need to be free to date other girls.”  Her eyes were leaking now but she refused to break down.

He looked away.  “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”  She jerked her hands away.  “Okay, we’re finished.  Go live your life and meet other people.”  She started walking away with her head held high, but trying as hard as she could to listen for what he might be doing.   Only silence drifted out to her from the building that had seen so many happy times.  Still, she didn’t look back as she reached Glen Road and began the long, hot walk back to her own home.  No one would ever see her cry, she vowed.

Diana’s head jerked up and she looked around, trying to blot moisture from her eyes without anyone else noticing.  Thankfully, the seat next to her was empty.  It had been a long time since she’d thought of that day.  No one ever had seen her cry.  She’d forced herself to get out and meet new people, forced herself to participate in new experiences.  Eventually those new people and new experiences had led to racing.  For a long time the thought of Mart had been too painful, and she’d avoided visiting home when he might be around.  But in the past couple of years they’d reconnected through social media and the friendship seemed to be healing.   She could face the prospect of being in the same room with no feelings of regret for what might have been… or so she told herself.

The brief nap, although not exactly refreshing, had helped pass the time.  Before she expected it, the plane was lowering altitude in preparation for landing.  Quickly she opened her purse and dug around in it for her phone.  Buried under the phone were the keys to her apartment and she pulled them out, noticing with dismay that her lucky purple rabbit’s foot was missing.  Oh, yes!  I put it on the key ring for the purple Hyundai, she remembered.  I was in such a rush to make my flight, I guess I left it there.  Lucky that Pat gave me the four-leaf clover charm.  She dug around some more and located the gift, securing it on her key ring.

At the baggage claim, she picked up her bag and scanned the area for the escort who was to take her to the biggest mall in America.  No one looked especially like they were looking for her.  There was a tall, slim blue-jeaned teenaged girl waving her arms.  “Diana!  Diana!” she called.

She knew Hot Wheels wouldn’t have lined up a teenager to escort her, and besides, surely she wasn’t the only person named Diana at the airport.  She started to send a text to her escort.  Where R… when the girl walked right up to her and said, “Diana Lynch?”

“Yes, I’m Diana.  What can I do for you?”

“I’m Kayla, and I’m going to escort you at the Mall of America,” the girl replied with a wide smile.  “My aunt was supposed to do it but she unluckily sprained her ankle this morning.  She’s waiting in the car but since she has to use crutches, I’m going to do the walking today.” 

Diana smiled in return.  “Well, I’m sure we’ll get along well.  I do need to ask for some ID or proof that you’re with the Hot Wheels mall escort.”

“Oh!  Of course.”  She pulled a card from the tiny shoulder bag she carried.  “Her you go.”

Mall of America Escorts, LLC, Diana read.  Lacey Miller, escort for Hot Wheels Racing’s Diana Lynch, August 10.   Looks legitimate, she decided.  “Let’s go,” she said, handing the card back to the young girl.

Lacey, the official escort, was waiting for them in the short-term parking area.  She was sitting in the front passenger seat with her leg stretched out in front of her, a cold pack over her swollen ankle.

“I’m so sorry about your accident,” Diana told her, sliding into the back seat.

“I need more practice walking with crutches, but it’s so tiring!” Lacey explained.  “I knew I couldn’t make it such a distance, and luckily Kayla is staying with me this week.  She knows her way around the mall and she’s also a very good driver.” 

Kayla stowed Diana’s luggage in the trunk and took the driver’s seat.  Diana expected to be anxious riding in a car with such a young driver—her sisters were scary and they were almost as old as Kayla.  But the seventeen-year-old was quiet during the short trip, mindful of other traffic, and stopped and started smoothly.

“You’re a good driver, Kayla,” she complimented the girl as they pulled into the parking space directed by Lacey.  The parking area was designated “Escort Services Only”, and Diana was glad to see it wasn’t too far from an entrance.

“I’m going inside with you, but I’ll wait at the Caribou Coffee,” Lacey said.  “I’ll work on some email and read some fanfic using their free wifi.”  She patted the tablet computer in her messenger bag.

“Caribou’s just inside,” Kayla explained.  “We go around the corner and a few spaces down to reach Barnes and Noble, right next to Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium.  Aunt Lacey, would you mind if I showed Diana a few of my favorite stores after her appearance?  And it would be so cool if we could eat at the Rainforest Café.”

“Go ahead,” Lacey told her with a smile.  “I’ll eat something at Coffee Caribou or the Twin City Grill, so I can stay in the same area until you come back.  But Diana may have an early flight, so we can’t keep her out too late.”

“I snatched a nap on the flight out here, but should be in my hotel by nine-thirty.  Tomorrow’s another busy day with a lot of traveling.”

By this time they were at the entrance.  Diana had done plenty of shopping in New York City, Cincinnati, Louisville and Lexington, but she’d never seen such a gigantic retail area.  She craned her neck to try to see everything, and followed Kayla for what seemed like close to a mile before they reached the bookstore. 

Two hours later, Diana had signed fifty copies of her autobiography, Diana Lynch—My Life in the Fast Lane, and spent twenty minutes talking about the Racing to Read program.  Children and their parents crowded around a display of kids’ books featuring cars, horses, and bicycles—and some of the famous races associated with them.  It had been fun, but her stomach was growling and she couldn’t wait to eat something.  Kayla approached her.  “You seemed so comfortable talking to people!  I hope I can do that someday.”  She waved a bag of books at Diana.  “I love to read, but I’m so ready to eat now.  Do you mind if we go on to the Rainforest Café?  Afterward, I’ll show you my favorite shop in the whole mall—that’s if you’re not too tired.”

“Sounds great,” Diana agreed.  “I’m hungry, too.”  She thanked the bookstore manager for having her and then she and Kayla headed around the first level concourse.  She’d thought the bookstore was far from the entrance, but the Café was another hike to just past the next corner.  At the Café, Kayla ordered a Rainforest Burger and Diana a Calypso salad.  Their table was near a waterfall and in front of a tank of bright tropical fish, and a “thunderstorm” took place just as they finished eating.  They enjoyed the food, but Diana found the atmosphere a bit noisy for her taste. 

“Now for my favorite shop—Lucky Brand!” Kayla said, starting back in the direction they had come.  After another ten minutes she stopped and pointed.  “There it is!”

Diana looked in the direction indicated, and saw a store that at first glance seemed filled with nothing but blue jeans.  They hurried across the corridor and soon each of them had selected several pairs of jeans.  Behind the flimsy yellow curtain of the changing room, each girl changed clothes and emerged back into the store to check herself in the mirror.

“That’s not a good look for you, Miss,” a voice said behind Diana.  “It just doesn’t do anything for your petite frame.”  The speaker was wearing a nametag, so obviously she was an employee.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” she admitted.  “Now, Kayla, I really like yours.”  The younger girl wore a pair of skinny-leg jeans that emphasized the length and trim shape of her legs.

Diana’s second pair was more successful, and rated approval from the sales associate as well as Kayla.  She glanced at her watch.  “We’d better head back to Caribou Coffee.  Are you ready to check out?”

“Yes, but just one more thing.”  Kayla plucked a light purple T-shirt with a glittery rainbow across the front.  “Rainbows are good luck,” she said.  In minutes they were in the mall again, and it wasn’t as long as Diana had feared before they reached the coffee shop again and greeted Lacey, who was sipping a hot beverage.  Her tablet was stowed away and she was obviously ready to leave.

“I’m sorry we took so long,” Diana apologized.

“No, I’m glad Kayla was able to show you some of the mall,” Lacey insisted.

At Diana’s hotel near the airport, Kayla jumped out to unload the suitcase, and thrust a Lucky Brand bag at her.  “It’s been so nice to meet you—I wish we had more time.  The T-shirt I bought at Lucky Brands was for you.  Wear it for good luck and remember your Minnesota friends.”

“Thank you!”  Diana set her suitcase down and hugged the teen.  “I had a great time!  You remind me of my younger sisters.  Maybe I’ll be back sometime.”

She waved goodbye until the car was out of sight.

On the plane two days later…

“Good morning.  This is Dan Regan, your pilot.”  Diana started at the combination of names, although the pilot pronounced Regan differently than the Wheelers’ stable manager.  Everywhere she went, she met people who shared names associated with her home and the Bob-Whites.  I never thought our names were so common!  She shook her head to clear the cobwebs and listened as the pilot spoke again.  “I’ll be delivering you to Dallas-Fort Worth in about two hours and thirty-five minutes.  After an hour’s layover in Dallas, the plane will continue on to Abilene.  The weather forecast is clear and sunny, so we expect a smooth trip.”    

In Dallas, Diana texted her sorority sister Cindy, a teacher who had introduced the Racing to Read program in her school district.  Cindy was meeting her in Abilene and Diana was to do a reading for children in the summer enrichment program where Cindy and her high school students volunteered.   Her plucky friend had just finished rebuilding her home after it was destroyed by a fire, and Diana looked forward to visiting her.  Sooner than she expected, the plane touched down in Abilene and it wasn’t long before she was riding with Cindy to the enrichment program.

“I had to get a sub today, but there was no way I was going to miss meeting you,” Cindy said with a smile.  “The kids are so excited about your visit.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t arrive earlier,” Diana apologized.  “Even if I’d taken an earlier flight, I couldn’t have made it here before lunch.”

“Never mind about that.  Do you need to get lunch before we go to school?”

“No, I’m fine.  Maybe we could grab an early supper right after school, though.” 

“I’ll take you to one of my favorite barbecue places before we go to watch the Abilene Eagles scrimmage their crosstown rivals.” 

At the elementary school, Diana met Cindy’s high school student volunteers, Tad, Bea, and Madeleine.  Along with Cindy’s sub, they organized the primary-school students into a circle and Diana read from one of her Racing to Read books, Bobbi Thunder, Go-Kart Champ.  Next, she answered questions from the children.  Before she knew it, the dismissal bell rang and she and Cindy were headed for Cindy’s home before going to dinner.

“Cindy, I can’t believe you were able to do nearly all of this work yourself,” she marveled, looking around at the comfortable living room.

Cindy stroked a beautiful wooden dining table.  “I did do a lot of the work, but I also had help from wonderful friends.  My nephew’s father-in-law helped me sand and stain and wax this table, and he rebuilt some of the salvaged pieces with sentimental value from the fire.  She indicated a lamp in the living room.  “That lamp and the one at the other end of the couch came from a junk shop; I rewired and painted them, and added new shades.  Even with all that, I saved money over buying new lamps, and they’re unique.  I wouldn’t live through the experience again for anything, but I’m so proud of the way it looks now and I love having guests.”    

The barbecue at Sharon’s Bar-BQ was delicious and Diana enjoyed the football scrimmage.  After a comfortable night in Cindy’s guest room, she was up bright and early. 

“I wish I could stay longer—I would have loved to meet your daughter and grandkids,” she said.

“That’s okay.  I loved having you and you can come back again!”  The two friends hugged as Cindy dropped her at the car rental agency.  At the rental agency she requested a purple Hyundai like the one she’d driven on the first leg of her tour, not really expecting one would be available.

“It’s your lucky day.  We don’t get many of those,” the young man behind the counter said.  “Here you go.” 

She was to appear at several more libraries and schools in the surrounding area for the next three days, before heading for Tulsa.  This part of Texas was hot, averaging near one hundred degree temperatures in August, but fortunately her appearances were made in air-conditioned comfort.  Diana enjoyed driving.  A plane might cover the distance between two points faster, but by the time she had to wait at the airport, go through security, collect baggage and either wait for a shuttle or arrange a rental car, the time involved wasn’t that different for a six-hour trip.  The drive time also gave her a chance to reflect on her upcoming visit to Sleepyside.  Once, she would have dreaded seeing Mart again, but she felt sure she could handle it now...although she was curious about his little pumpkin gumdrop.

Her route followed I-44 most of the way to Tulsa, and for much of the trip she enjoyed watching the flat countryside stretching from one end of the horizon to the other.  She had to pay closer attention as she neared Oklahoma City and the traffic was busier.  Luckily I left at the right time to miss rush-hour traffic, she thought.  The radio stations available played mostly country music, and she sang along to some of her favorites.

As she neared Tulsa, she pulled over to access the GPS app on her phone.  She was scheduled to tape a fifteen-minute segment on a local talk show and then to appear at the Tulsa City-County Library story hour at two o’clock, where her friend Jen was meeting her.  Jen had planned a cool-down activity for the rest of the hot and humid afternoon.  She scrunched her shoulders, trying to loosen them up, then took a drink from her water bottle.  I hope it’s not too much farther. 

An hour later she was hurrying into the library.  A vivacious young woman with long brown hair and an infectious smile jumped up from one of the reading chairs.  She waved at Diana.

“Hi, Jen!” Diana greeted her friend.  

“Welcome to the Sooner State!” Jen said with a laugh.  “Hey, I think we have twenty minutes until Story Hour starts.  Can I help you with anything?”   

“I’m not sure,” Diana replied.  “Let’s find the children’s librarian and see.”  The children’s librarian escorted them to the Story Hour room, where a Racing to Read display was set up.  Diana was to read a story and then award thirteen books to children who had completed the program.  By the time she and Jen were settled in their chairs the children were arriving.  Twenty-five children ranging in age from three to perhaps seven plopped down in a rough circle, giggling and pointing shyly to their guest. 

“Children, we have a special reader today,” announced the librarian.  “This is Diana Lynch, the NASCAR race driver.  She’s going to read today and award prizes to everyone who read twenty books this summer.  Please give her a hand!”

The children clapped and cheered; some of the boys made car noises.  Diana laughed and gave them a few minutes before she opened her book.

After Story Hour, she and Jen headed for the Big Splash water park, after picking up a bathing suit for her at Walmart.  A couple of hours in the water helped a lot in relieving the oppressive heat as well as the tightness Diana had noticed in her shoulders and back.  Next, it was supper at Hideaway Pizza.

“Jen, this has been such a fun afternoon!  Thanks for helping me out and showing me such a good time,” she said as they parted at her hotel.  She covered a yawn.  “I wish I could meet your family, but my flight leaves super-early in the morning.  I’d better turn in early.”

“It was great having you here, and I had fun too,” Jen told her.  “Here’s something for good luck and safe travel tomorrow!”  She handed Diana a miniature iron horseshoe, explaining a local blacksmith crafted them for sale.

“Thank you for everything!”  Diana gave her a hug before turning to enter the hotel. 

The next two days passed in a blur of bookstore signings and a visit to the local children’s hospital.

August 12...

The advantage of her early-bird flight meant Diana had time to meet her friend Pam for lunch before appearing at another reading enrichment classroom.  School had just started and Racing to Read program had been adopted by the public school system.  Pam, a teaching assistant, had written the winning request for a personal appearance by her son’s favorite driver.  Diana smiled as she walked away from the car rental agency with the keys to still another purple Hyundai.  After a leisurely stroll around Underground Atlanta, she texted Pam to set up a reservation for an early lunch at Johnny Rocket’s.

“Diana!  It’s so good to see you!”  Pam hurried toward her as she sat in a booth at Johnny Rocket’s.  “I wish you could have had dinner at my house, but I know how tight your schedule is.”

“Yes, it’s a shame.  I was looking forward to seeing the progress on your house,” Diana replied.  “I hope you’ll be able to join me at the track later.  I’m signing copies of my autobiography and Road Atlanta gave me four tickets for the short sprints they’re running tonight.”

“I have two guys at home who would adore that,” Pam assured her.  The waitress took their orders and in minutes they were enjoying juicy burgers almost as good as those served at Wimpy’s.  At one point, Pam leaned across the table.  “You have an eyelash,” she said, plucking the fallen lash from Diana’s cheek.  “Make a wish and blow it away for good luck,” she added, holding the filament out.

“That’s a new one to me,” Diana said with a laugh, but she made a wish for safe travel and blew the lash into the air.  After lunch, they were off to Pam’s school and Diana read again, this time from Dan and His Dancing Horse.  Then she was off to her hotel while Pam finished the school day and went home to her family for a few hours.

Unfortunately, later in the afternoon a cloudburst followed by heavy rains dropped several inches of water on Fulton County, and all racing at Road Atlanta was cancelled for the evening.  She called Pam to fill her in.  “The track did say they would give a rain check on tickets already sold.  I won’t be back during the race season, but I’ll gladly mail you those tickets,” she offered.  Pam accepted and gave her home address.  They talked a few more minutes before Pam had to fix supper. 

“Good luck getting home,” she said.  “Tim was really excited to meet you today.”

 Glumly, Diana watched the weather report on the local news.  “The East coast is being buffeted by Hurricane Dot, and Atlanta is feeling the effects with today’s rain and wind,” the anchorwoman rattled off with an incongruous smile.  “Caution is urged for anyone who must travel on the highways tomorrow, and flash flooding is possible.”

“Uggghhhh!”  The groan burst from her lips.  I hope my flight isn’t cancelled!  There’s no way I can make a thirteen-hour road trip tomorrow, she thought with a sinking heart.  Of course, if the weather was bad, the trip could easily stretch much longer than thirteen hours...  

Friday August 13
Early morning at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport...

Diana was sorry to turn in her keys to the Hyundai.  It was a fun little car to drive.  But she was definitely ready to head north.  All night she’d kept waking up, excited at the prospect of seeing her best and oldest friends for the first time in over a year.  As she headed for the terminal where her flight was to depart, she felt a little uneasy.  The world’s busiest airport was chaotic, as travelers tied up ticketing counters, trying to reschedule cancelled and delayed flights.  One woman in the long line had a meltdown when she learned her flight to Disney World would not possibly depart before evening.  Diana started to paw through her purse for the various lucky charms she’d received during her tour.

“White Plains?  I’m afraid all flights to White Plains have been delayed at least six hours, honey,” explained the woman at the counter when Diana presented her boarding pass.

“Can I change to a flight landing at LaGuardia?  JFK? Newark?  Long Island?”  She was getting anxious now.   

“Honey, every one of those airports is dealing with the rain and wind right now.  You are not flying to New York City before suppertime today.”  The woman looked harried.  Obviously she wasn’t the first to ask those questions.  “I’m sorry, honey, but we’ll get you there, it just won’t be any time soon.  It’s not us, but on the East Coast they’re getting hammered.”

Diana hesitated, debating whether to give up and take a seat, haul herself back to the car rental agency, or—or what?  “What about Cleveland?  Can I get a flight to Cleveland this morning?”

The woman scanned her computer screen and tapped a few keys.  “Yes, I can put you on a flight leaving at ten o’clock,” she said.  “Hopkins International is open and flights are arriving and departing close to scheduled times.”

She heaved a sigh of relief.  She had another two hours to wait, but the flight to Cleveland would take only about an hour and a half.  Although she faced another seven-hour drive from the city on Lake Erie, she should arrive in Sleepyside before dark.  “I’ll take it,” she said.


It was almost dark when she joined the group of Bob-Whites who had already arrived.  Tossing the keys to yet another purple Hyundai into the air and catching them, she told them, “You all will never believe what I went through to get here today.”

Author’s Notes

7418 words 

First of all, I’d like to wish a happy 13th birthday to Jixemitri, the friendliest place on the ’net!  How awesome is it that Jix is now the same age Trixie was when the series began?

A great big thank-you to CathyP; without you and your stories of Trixie and Jim, Jixemitri would not have come into being.  Thank you as well to all of the admin team, current and past, for keeping Jix such a wonderful home and bringing together so many great people through Trixie and the Bob-Whites.

Thank you to my wonderful, fabulous, WWW sisters!!!  Plotting and planning this story was a lot of work, but a LOT of fun, too J 

Thank you to Ryl and Trish, who provided super-speedy and thoughtful edits for me at the last minute (due to my lateness in finishing!)  You guys are da bomb!

Thank you to Diana’s lovely and gracious hostesses:  Pat B (Amygirl), K (Daughterof8), Grandma Cindy, Jen (uptowngirl), and Pam (Fanfrom76).  Believe me, Diana wished she could have had the time to see and do everything you suggested!

All of the places I named are real, although I’ve never visited any of them except for the Roebling suspension bridge.  Diana’s hostesses helped me, as well as my friends Google and Wikipedia.  There really is a purple Hyundai like Diana’s rental car.  Sorry, Trish, but I did use that image without permission.  However, I’m not making any money from its use and I hope Hyundai will consider it free advertising if they find out.  Once I found it, I couldn’t help myself! 

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