Flight 88 – Chapters 31 Thru 35

Chapter 31: Dale

After about an hour, Marie leaves the group in the waiting room and heads down the hall, slowly. She slowly walks into the room.

“You seem calm despite the situation,” Sharon comments as she hears Marie’s footsteps.

“I didn’t want them to worry too much,” Marie replies as she looks past Marie’s shoulder to see Dale lay there calmly. She could tell immediately that Sharon had pumped his stomach to get all of the poison out. No doubt that was followed by some examining to determine the extent of the damage. “Sharon, how is he?” Sharon looks over at Marie and the pair lock eyes for a minute. “Sharon…”

“Marie, you can relax. He’s going to be okay.” Marie lets her eyes go back to Dale as Sharon takes a deep breath. “I’m glad that you got a hold of me as fast as you did and got him here. That was crucial, but you should know from your own experience. He didn’t swallow too much, but enough that it had me a little concerned. I gave him an anesthetic so that way he didn’t have to suffer through the pain, and so I could take care of it. I did pump his stomach out to get it out. That was followed by a bronchoscopy and endoscopy, which is basically a pair of cameras down his throat. There’s no doubt that it burned at his throat and there’s no doubt that he’ll be sore for awhile. Her vocal cords are swollen so I expect talking to be limited for awhile, with perhaps no talking at all for the first couple of days. Beyond that, he’s going to be a strict soft food diet so that way it can heal accordingly.”

Marie shakes her head understanding as she walks over, sitting in the chair that was by his bed, lacing her fingers with his. She then leans down and kisses his cheek before sitting back up. Sharon walks over, and puts a hand on Marie’s shoulder.

“I know you’re worried sweetheart, but I promise you, he’ll be okay,” Sharon assures her. “I’ve always been in your corner and I’ve always wanted to see you happy. I’m glad that you found him and things will work out. You’ll get your happy ever after.”

As a little girl growing up, Marie could always turn to either Sharon or Joshua for advice or help in any given situation. It wasn’t easy being her father’s daughter, but having them in her corner certainly made it easier.

“Thanks Sharon,” Marie replies with a slight smile on her face. She then turns back to Dale as her smile fades slowly. “Sharon, I never thought that I’d be the person who would kill someone. I never thought that it’d come to that. I always thought that maybe one day daddy would learn to be understanding. How can I sit here and be calm about what I’ve done? It doesn’t feel right.”

“Because you knew that it had to be done to save your family,” Sharon comments. “And for it not to real right means that you’re truly your own person with a heart. It’ll get easier with time, sweetheart.”

“I hope you’re right. I just want to get out of here. I want to take him home. I want to go home – to our home. I want to have my family back together again – myself, Dale and Alyssa.” Marie then looks up at Sharon. “When can that happen? Please tell me soon….”

“When he wakes up, I’ll see how he is and based on that, I say your chances are looking promising. I bet you’ve missed your little girl, haven’t you?” Marie shakes her head yes. Sharon was one of the few people who knew that Marie had a daughter as she had told Sharon one day shortly after her daddy kidnapped her about being a mother and how much Alyssa meant to her. “You’ll get your happy reunion soon.”

“As long as Dale’s okay, that’s all that matters to me right now.”

“I told you that he’d be fine. I’m going to go tell the others what I told you. While I’m gone, there’s someone that wants to see you.” Marie then looks at Sharon confused and as she sees John walk in, she rolls her eyes immediately. “I held him off as long as I could.” Sharon then looks over at John. “Take it easy on the girl as she’s been through enough for a day.”

“Sharon…”

“Country business – it stinks.” Sharon then leaves the room as Marie keeps her eyes on Dale. She really didn’t want to hear what John had to say. She knew why John was there as it stemmed from matters surrounding her father’s death. John was head of the royal council and it was his duty.

“John, I know why you’re here. I don’t want to hear it. I did what I had to do and that’s final.”

“I kno-” John starts as Marie snaps her gaze to him.

“Then why are you here?” Marie questions.

“Because, this is my duty as part of the royal council, ma’am. Per law, Queen Isabella was contacted and notified of the events that happened. She was also given the options of how to handle things moving forward.” Marie then turns her eyes back to Dale. She already knew the answer that her mother would give.

“Then why are you here? We both know that my mother would say not to prosecute me and understand. I don’t need you here to tell me that. I have enough on my plate than to worry about someone like you.”

“I understand you have a lot going on, ma’am, and you’re right about your mother. However, the words that she added to our discussion have brought me here to see you. As recipient of the throne, she was asked to come back and serve her place as Queen.” John then walks over slowly. “She didn’t accept the position. As a result, the position of Queen falls down to either yourself or Mariela. Now I understand your sister is locked in Untied States prison for something containing to a flight? That means that it all falls on your shoulders.”

“So you’re saying that I am now Queen Marie-Ann Belle Kastona Calantay?” John shakes his head yes as Marie lets out a sigh. “I cannot accept the position for I cannot serve as Queen.”

“Your duty in standing up for the wrongful laws in this country shows your ability. Your character shows that you are the person who rightfully could help lead everybody back to happiness.”

“You don’t understand, John.”

“What am I missing? Why can you not serve as our Queen?”

“Because I belong in North Carolina with my fiancé, our daughter and the people who have grown to become part of my family now. There is no way that I could ask Dale and Alyssa to move here with me permanently and there’s no way that I could leave him after what he has done for me.” Marie runs her fingers lightly across the top of his hand as she lets out a sigh. “John, may I riddle you this – could someone serve my spot as Queen here while I live my life?”

“Under unique circumstances, that can be done.” Marie smiles as she thinks about the options at hand. “The person would serve as Queen and help control daily basis surrounding happenings in the country. However, there’d be a meeting once a month in which you would have to attend. This person would also have to have certain decisions approved by you.” Marie’s smile widens as she knows the perfect person who could help her out. This person had the perfect heart to do it. She also had the right loyals behind her. Her interest in the people was already at hand, and Marie knew that everybody would be in good hands with this person. “May I ask who is of question?”

“Sharon and Joshua.” John smiles as he knew that everybody would approve. Everyone always thought highly of the pair.

“I’m sure that’d go over well with the people, ma’am.” John then pulls out a book. “We have an official crowning ceremony that you, as well as your daughter, must attend. Per that ceremony, Sharon and Joshua could be sworn in.”

“For now, let me focus on making sure that Dale gets better. Then give me a chance to head home and see my daughter. Once I get my life back in order, I’ll fly back with Dale and Alyssa – this time under good terms – and have that all set. Is that okay?” John shakes his head yes.

“Absolutely. You do have 30 days till play with before everything comes under question. Till then, the council will be in charge. I will leave you be. I hope everything works out for you.” John then leaves the room as Marie keeps her eyes locked on Dale.

“Who knew. Perhaps Alyssa was right in talking about those castles all throughout the trip. Perhaps she knew more than us both in that she’d be a princess.” Marie then leans in and kisses Dale’s cheek once again. “You better wake up soon. I hate missing those beautiful blue eyes of yours. I love you.”

Behind her, she could hear the rustle as Steve, Kelley and Daniel made their way down the hall to come see them with John being done his lecture of the day. Though that all didn’t matter to her in those seconds as perhaps Sharon was right. Perhaps her happy ever after was just around the corner as she watched a pair of eyes open to lock with hers.

 

Chapter 32

“Dale….” She quietly comments, feeling her current position totally freeze up as their eyes stayed locked together.

“Seeing the way they’re stuck looking at each other, I think it made the trip worth it Kel,” Daniel comments as Kelley gives him a look.

“Sssh….it’s okay…” All eyes turn back to Marie and Dale as Marie brushes his cheek lightly. “Sharon said that you may not be able to talk for awhile. That crap made everything swell up. Once the swelling comes down, then you can talk to me, okay? But till then, no talking and I promise I’m not letting go of you ever again.”

“Well look at this way, we won’t be annoyed for the next couple of days,” Steve adds as Daniel chuckles lightly, earning a glance from Kelley. “Oh lighten up! He’s going to be fine. We’ve been in this serious, sad, angry route for the past two months. I’m annoyed. I want a laugh.” Marie then glances back towards the three of them, eyes then going back to the floor.

“I’m sorry…..it was my fault….I’m sorry….” Marie says quietly, feeling the guilt all crashing on to her. It was her fault that she let herself be kidnapped in England without a proper warning for Dale. It was her fault that her sister decided to go after Dale and Alyssa. It was her fault that her dad went after Dale as he did. There was nothing that could be proven otherwise, either.

“Why don’t we all leave that in the past and focus on the future?” Daniel suggests.

“It can’t just go in the past like nothing. This country, everything that happened – it is my life. This is me.” She then looks over at Dale. “And virtue of what happened, you’re looking at the Queen right now so sing whatever happy song you want.”

“Seriously?” Steve questions and Marie shakes her head yes. “So that means that he’s your King Well…..unofficially…..I guess…..How does this work?” Dale then clasps on Marie’s hand, getting his attention.

“I don’t know what you want, but yes, you’re my king. Does that answer your question?” Dale shakes his head yes as he bites his tongue a little, the burning sensation certainly still there. “Easy…don’t move a lot……it takes time to heal baby….” She rubs his hand as she takes a deep breath. “And Alyssa, as I mentioned before you woke up, is a princess. So looks like she gets the castle that she wanted.”

“Wait….” Kelley starts, though Marie puts her finger up.

“Don’t say a single word Mrs. Earnhardt,” Marie instructs, surprising Steve and Daniel. They hadn’t seen that reference. “I spoke to our royal council head. I can be Queen, but not live here. I can leave two people that I trust in charge of day-to-day business, while only checking in once a month to handle important things. So you don’t have to worry as we’ll return home as proper.”
Kelley takes a deep breath satisfied as Dale motions for Steve to come over. Steve comes over and looks at him confused.

“What?” Steve asks as Dale points to Steve’s pocket. Steve then pulls his phone out, which Dale snatches immediately. He then smiles before going into the contacts, finding Marie. “You little shit.” A couple moments later, Marie hears her phone go off, as she pulls it out of her pocket and reads the message.

Those details don’t matter. We can worry about them later. All that matters is that we’re back together. I love you, Queen Marie-Ann. I can’t wait to be home with you. I can’t wait till Alyssa sees that her ‘mommy’ is back.

“That kid is going to scream and probably be so excited that it won’t be able to be contained,” Kelley comments after Marie is done reading the text message out loud.

“I can’t wait to see her,” Marie comments. “I’ve missed her so much. When I heard what Mariela had planned, my heart fell apart.” Marie then turns to Dale, wrapping her fingers around his hand. “I’m so glad that you figured it out and saved our baby girl. The minute I heard you were both okay, the sigh of relief was huge. I can’t wait till we get home. I can’t wait to hug her, kiss her and deal with everything that comes with a three-year-old.”

“I thought about bringing her to the garden that day, but I thought that would be a bad idea,” Daniel muses out loud as Marie looks over at him.

“I’m glad that you didn’t, then. I saw a glimpse of her one of the days when she was heading around with Karsyn. It broke my heart to not run up to her and tell her how much I loved her.”

“I couldn’t imagine being so close but yet so far away like that,” Kelley says quietly.

“Then obviously you can tell how much I just want to bust out of here and head home immediately?” Marie questions and Kelley shakes her head in agreement. She was ready to head home as well. She was done with drama of this nature and foreign countries for awhile. Marie then hears her phone go off, looking down at it once again.

When can we go home? I want to see Alyssa, too.

“Give it about a day and I think Sharon will be comfortable releasing you,” Marie tells him. She knew that Sharon wouldn’t allow them to escape just yet given what had just happened, but she hoped to convince her for a 24 hour release given the situation. Sharon would understand how badly she wanted to see her daughter.

Dale shakes his head approving as he lays back, the pain certainly continuing to grow. Everybody could tell by how much he was squinting his eyes and surely biting his tongue.

“Pain killers are wearing off….” Marie muses.

“I’ll get Sharon….” Daniel announces, though is cut off immediately as the door opens.

“That won’t be necessary,” Sharon says as she walks over. “I figured that he’d want some if he was awake. This stuff is awful.” Sharon then changes the IV bag and starts to walk away, though stops when she reaches Marie. “By the way, John told me of your clever idea. I’m all for it sweetheart. You deserve the life that you want with him after what you both have been through. I’ll make sure to keep things in order.”

“Thank you,” Marie says as she pulls Sharon into a hug. “Thank you. I love you.”

“You’re welcome, Queen Marie-Ann.” Sharon then lets out and heads towards the door. “I’ll leave you be as I’m sure there’s lots to discuss. Call me if you need me. Oh, by the way, tomorrow – he can probably break free. I knew you’d start begging to go see family at home.” Sharon then leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

“23 hours and 59 minutes till Alyssa’s happiest moment commences,” Daniel states.

“Nah – her happiest moment was seeing daddy win the biggest race of his career and getting to help hold the trophy,” Marie comments, speaking of last year’s Daytona 500. They all then freeze, glancing towards each other. There was no doubt what thought just crossed all their minds. “February…”

“Daytona is only a week away…”

“So much for a nice relaxing off-season.”

 

Chapter 33

Kelley walks through the front door of her house, closing it tightly behind her. She knew of the plan in mind in surprising someone.

“Mom!!” Karsyn yells as she is the first one to see who’s at the door, peaking out of the living room. Karsyn runs over and gives her mom a hug as Kennedy and Wyatt start to make their way out of the kitchen. “Where’s Dale? Where’s Marie?”

“So glad you’re home!” Kennedy yells as she is the second person to hug Kelley. “We’ve missed you. I think L.W. has driven both of us nuts.” Kelley laughs as Karsyn as shakes her head in agreement.

“Well nobody has to worry anymore as everything is okay,” Kelley assures both of her girls.

“Everything? Even Uncle Dale? Even Aunt Marie?” Kelley shakes her head yes to the approval of the girls as Wyatt joins in on the hugs. “Alyssa has been good. She’s out back with the dogs and L.W.”

“So let me guess….Dale and Marie are home?” Kelley shakes her head yes. “Should I go get Alyssa and take her over? Or….”

“Give them about five, 10 minutes and then take her over,” Kelley instructs as she makes her way through the house. “You have to remember what they’ve been through together and separate.”

************

Dale opens the door and glances back towards Marie, as she takes the first steps inside the house. he then follows, leaving the door open as Kelley had told him that Karsyn would be over soon with Alyssa before they arrived at the house.

“I can’t believe I’m home….truly home….” Marie comments as she walks through the house, taking everything in. Marie lets out a sigh as she looks around.

The day that she was kidnapped, the day that she met her father’s eyes following what happened, she never believed that she’d be able to come back home. She thought that she was truly doomed and stuck in whatever her father had planned for her. She felt her whole world crashing down immediately.

Being back home, being there with Dale and knowing that Alyssa would be with them soon, it brought all the emotions of what had occurred over the past month right in front of her eyes as she felt tears leaking down her cheeks.

As her eyes focused on a photo that was taken of her, Dale and Alyssa together the previous summer, she feels arms wrap around her and hold her close. She lets herself lean back into his arms, no doubt both of them wanting to feel the closeness of their bodies touching each other’s once again after what had happened. She feels a light kiss on her cheek, followed by a light peck on the lips. Enough to say that he understood what she was feeling, but also enough that begged for more satisfaction.

He could sense that her emotions were in an emotional spiral as he remembered the emotions that flew through his mind when he thought that he’d never see her again. Being here, holding her in his arms, standing in their house, it almost felt surreal. There was no way that he was going to take any moment with her for granted ever as he knew what it felt like to lose it all.

“I love you,” Marie says quietly as she turns to face him, noticing the tears in his eyes that matched the tears in her own. He brushes her tears away from her eyes, before leaning in to kiss her lips once again, savoring the taste and wanting to have it fresh on his lips for the rest of time.

She then watches as he steps back a bit, pointing to himself, followed by a heart made from his hands and then pointing at her. No doubt his way of saying I love you.

She knew that it’d be odd not having the normal conversations with him and hated that he couldn’t talk right now, but felt herself feeling giddy in discovering how sign language conversation would work for the next couple of days.

Per Sharon’s calculations, it’d be a couple of days of no talking, but after those days, everything would go back to normal. Normal…..their life…..seemed strange to even let that thought cross her mind.

Though every thought about what had gone on immediately froze as they heard the front door creep open. A glance towards each other warned them of what was about to come.

“We’re in here!” Marie calls out, anticipation of the moment growing with each second that passed. They then glance towards the doorway as they see the most precious sweet blond little girl come into view, and immediately a huge smile forms on her face.

“Mommy!!” Alyssa immediately yells as she runs over to where Marie and Dale are, wrapping her arms around Marie’s legs. Alyssa then turns around and faces Dale, giving him a hug as well as he kneels down and kisses the top of her head.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t cry….I promised myself I wouldn’t cry….” Karsyn quietly repeats to herself as she watches the three of them together.

“Daddy…Mommy….I love you.” She then hugs them both once again before looking towards Dale. “Karsie say you frog in your ‘oat.” Dale shakes his head yes as Karsyn smiles. “Frog hop out?” Dale shakes his head no with a sad face.

“He’ll hop out soon and then daddy will be able to talk again, okay?” Marie questions as Alyssa smiles and shakes her head yes. “I missed you sweetheart. I really missed you.”

“Mom says we’ll do dinner tomorrow night with grandma,” Karsyn starts. “You three can have tonight to get things back to how they should be. If you need anything, you know where to find us.” Dale then heads over and gives Karsyn a hug, along with a motion of ‘thank you’. “Hey Marie, no headaches for a couple of days?” Marie then laughs as she glances over. Dale then gives Karsyn a slight smack on the shoulder.

“Bye Karsie!” Alyssa yells.

“Bye sweetheart.” Karsyn then leaves, giving the three of them the space that they need. Marie sits on the couch as Dale joins her; Alyssa then immediately sits between them.

“Can you believe it that we’re here together, again?” Marie questions as Dale shakes his head no.

“Mommy, why you run away?” Alyssa asks, immediately causing both Marie and Dale to freeze.

“Mommy had some things that she had to do that were dangerous and she didn’t want you to get hurt.” Alyssa then looks at her mom confused.

“Mommy, I did. ‘Ella gave me ucky uice.” Dale then rubs Alyssa’s shoulder, trying to give her some comfort as he knew how much the whole plane incident had her worked up before.

“I know, babygirl. That’s why I’m glad that Mariella is locked away thanks to Steve. Now you don’t need to worry your little heart with any more questions as mommy and daddy both promise that nothing else is going to go wrong, okay?” Alyssa shakes her head yes slowly as she shifts on to Dale’s lap and lays her head back against him. “Still a daddy’s girl…”

“I take care of daddy. I give medikin and he have Shelly…” Marie chuckles lightly as she knows that Alyssa means her purple teddy bear that she has had with her since she was a baby.

“Look at Daddy…” Dale then makes a face at her as he points to the bottle of painkillers, mimicking how much Alyssa hates her cough syrup when she’s sick. “I don’t think daddy likes taking his medicine. Do you think daddy will be a good boy and take it?” Alyssa shakes her head yes.

“Daddy good. Daddy take medikin. Daddy chase frog bye-bye.” Dale shakes his head in amazement as he watches her, no doubt realizing just how much she’s grown up and how quickly that she’s growing up. Oh the days when she was just a baby once again and how much he wished he could have those back. He knew before he knew it that she’d be coming home with a boyfriend.

As the night went on and spending time watching movies together and then playing with the dogs, followed by cuddles, there was no doubt that things were getting back to the way that they were before in the house between them all – with a small difference.

 

Chapter 34

Okay, answer me this. How does it feel to be Queen Marie-Ann Belle Kastona Calantay?
Marie reads the text message as they lay in bed together after putting Alyssa to bed, chuckling to herself. That wasn’t the text message that she was expecting.

“I’m surprised that you typed the full name out,” she comments as she looks over into his blue eyes.

She wasn’t sure how to answer his question truthfully, as there were many things that she could say about that. Whether she faced it truthfully in the past or not, it was her home and she knew that it deserved her respect. It was her background, it was what made her who she was and where she grew up till she became a teenager. To now be in charge in that? It felt surreal.

Beyond that, it was the scariest thought imaginable. She thought about all the people that currently lived there. Everything that she decided….or now Sharon decided as well, would affect their lives. She didn’t know if she could handle all that in her hands, plus the emotions that continue to flood through her.

You haven’t answered….

“There’s so much that I could tell you in my response as I’m still comprehending it all,” she states as she cuddles up to him.

Truthfully, she hadn’t let the thought cross her mind. She was focused on Dale and Alyssa, being here in this moment. It was here where she loathed for and belonged. She didn’t want to let that thought go ever again. She was so thankful that things had worked out, and she was thankful that they’d be okay. That’s all that mattered to her. She’d worry about the rest, later, hence the period of relaxation that she had requested.

I understand. I’m here if you want to talk.

“And if you want to text me a chapter with your feelings, I’m here for you,” she tells him before kissing his lips, passionately. No longer did she take each opportunity that she got to kiss his lips for granted. She couldn’t honestly do that any longer. The events still haunted every thought and would probably for the rest of her life.

All that I need is you here in my arms. The rest will follow.

He then wraps his arms around her, pulling her close, kissing her lips in return as he runs his hand underneath the edge of her shirt.
“You’re supposed to be relaxing….” Her voice trails off before being met by another kiss as her shirt continues to rise. She wanted to lay down the rules. She wanted him to relax as per instructed. She knew that’d be the best course if he was to get better. However, she also couldn’t resist the connection that she felt with him, based on the days that she had missed, slowly lifting up his shirt in return.

The cellphones would both be put up, as words weren’t needed as expression took over with the trade of kisses and lessening of clothes.

************************

Two days later….

“Any word on how he’s feeling?” Jason Burdett questions, as he peaks into Steve’s office. Steve looks up from the notes that laid on his desk.

“He says his throat is feeling a little less painful but still can’t talk,” Steve answers, before turning his eyes back down to the notes. He had only been back from Pitronia for two days. He spent the first day at home with Tricia and the kids. However, today, he was back in his office. He was supposed to simply come and clean things up, though the course of events changed with what happened.

Jason walks into the office, sitting in the chair before Steve. Steve was his mentor, having trained him through the ranks at Hendrick Motorsports to the position that he was. Last year, he was car chief. This year, a whole new chapter was set to begin as Dale, Rick and Steve had promoted him to crew chief. He knew that he could handle the pressure laid on his shoulders with the knowledge that he had picked up through the years.

Though he also knew the current events changed things. There was a reason that Steve hadn’t packed everything up yet. There was a reason why Steve was pouring his head over the notes from Daytona testing that Regan and Jason had gathered.

“Well, we’ll make sure that Regan is on standby incase needed,” Jason states, breaking Steve’s concentration as he looks up. “We both know that he won’t skip Daytona for anything, right?” Steve shakes his head yes, slowly, before looking back down at his notes. “You’re not comfortable with it, though, are you? You’re thinking that he should sit it out. That’s why you’re here right now pouring over the test notes. Am I right?” Steve lets out a sigh as he looks up to face his young protégé.

“You don’t know what happened truthfully over the course of January so you can’t judge,” Steve comments as he flips over the page.

“I heard about the plane incident, the fact that his girlfriend should’ve been dead per what he was told and I heard about what happened with Marie’s father. There’s no secret that shit seriously got screwed in the past month and no doubt that he’s been through a ton. Still, we both know him, Steve. He won’t skip it.” Steve then looks up at Jason, surprised at how much he has picked up in a short period of time.

“Why do you think I’m sitting here right now? I now that he’ll want to be in Daytona next week for Bud Shootout practice no matter what I merely try to suggest to him.” Jason then sits back and crosses his arms.

“You don’t need to be here pouring over the notes, even with that said. The team and I can handle it and I promised you that I’d make sure things stay in order. Do you trust me, Steve?” Steve lets out a sigh as he takes his turn sitting back.

“I trust that you can do a good job and I trust your judgemen-”

“Then why are we here? Why are you critiquing every bit of my notes?”

“Because, this year at Daytona is going to be different. With how he’s feeling and what could even possibly be swirling around in his mind right now, it’s going to be different. If we were under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be here. However, given these circumstances, I am here. If you come out of the gate and don’t run well, immediately they’re going to rip you apart – no matter whether it’s your fault, or the fault of how he is feeling. With that said, I’m here to protect your ass. I want to be here in your corner to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible. Once he’s feeling better and I know this team is in good smooth sailing, I’ll let go. But now do you understand why I am here?” Jason slowly shakes his head yes, understanding.

“Thank you…..I guess. I knew you cared about Dale and all of us, but this takes it to a new extreme. I will do whatever it takes to make this the best Daytona Speedweeks ever.” Steve then raises his eyebrows.

“Ever?” Jason then stands up and walks towards the door, taking a glance back.

“I guess I can’t take that claim after last year, can I?” Steve shakes his head no with a smile.

“It’d take a lot to top what we did last year. However, if it happens, they better watch you boys all year long because this’ll be a true test for everybody.”

“I’m ready for the test, teacher. I’m ready to prove to you and everybody else that you made the right decision. Hence why I’m getting back to work.”

“I believe in you, Jason. I truthfully do.” Jason then leaves the office as Steve lets out a sigh, peaking at the notes. “It’s just hard to let go of this team and know that everything will be alright…..” He then glances out the window as he sits back in his chair thinking, no doubt the past couple months on his mind.

Chapter 35: Daytona
“As we head into the opening weekend of the 2015 season, there’s a lot of speculation and uncertainty surrounding a couple of the teams,” Chris Myers begins the NASCAR on FOX coverage. “Though while some was expected, there have been some unexpected surprises – including the No. 88 team. It was announced late last season that car chief Jason Burdett would be stepping into the crew chief position this year. That was known, however what was not known were the events that transpired between just after New Years and now.

“There have seen a lot of rumors, in which some have been confirmed. There was an incident surrounding a plane that has Earnhardt Jr.’s girlfriend’s sister Mariela Dani Kastona Calantay charged with kidnapping, attempted murder, among other charges. There was also an incident between Earnhardt Jr.’s girlfriend’s father Owen Calatay in his home country that resulted in Earnhardt’s girlfriend Marie shooting her father. As far as well-being, Hendrick Motorsports says that there ‘s still some things to be ironed out, but the team is looking to get things on track this weekend.”

“From what we’ve heard, Regan Smith will be practicing the No. 88 car today in Budweiser Shootout practice while Earnhardt relaxes,” Steve Byrnes states. “HMS representatives have stated that Earnhardt’s throat is pretty sore and isn’t talking yet. Now, that’s a problem with regards to in-car communication so Regan may be in the car for the Bud Shootout on Saturday night. Now that’s all we’ve heard so far, but it sounds like it hasn’t been a quiet off-season.”

“No doubt about that and it’ll be interesting to see how the No. 88 team performs this weekend.”

“That concern lies with Hendrick Motorsports. Jeff Hammond reported that Steve LeTarte is on hand this weekend to oversee operations with the team as there’s worry about a smooth transition. Jeff, I believe that you’ve caught up with Steve?”

“Yes I have,” Jeff starts, before turning to Steve. “Steve, it surprised many people this weekend when they saw you here with the team. What can you tell us about the situation?”

“It’s exactly as how you guys have discussed,” Steve starts. “There’s a lot going on and knowing the pressure that’s on Jason Burdett and the team, I just wanted to make sure that they had things under control. Once we get beyond Daytona, Jason has the full reigns as I respect him and believe that he will do a tremendous job with this team. Right now, the focus is simple, though – work with Regan and get the car running comfortably. Then as we go throughout Speedweeks, we’ll see what happens.”

“Now Regan Smith is practicing the car this session. Has there been any discussions towards whether Earnhardt will run the Bud Shootout or not?” Steve bit his tongue immediately. There had been discussions, however there weren’t to be made public knowledge….yet.

“The decision hasn’t been made yet and probably won’t be made till the day of.”

“Thank you for your time,” Jeff states. “Back to you, Chris.” They wait a couple seconds before the camera man gives the okay that they’re done. “Thanks for the interview. I know it’s a tough spot to be in.”

“Part of the job, right?” Steve then turns towards the trailer and heads inside, closing the door behind him. He then walks up to the lounge, recognizing the group immediately.

“Nice job with the interview,” Jason comments as Steve sits down beside him. They had been watching the coverage in the hauler, out of pure curiosity. They knew the statement that Hendrick Motorsports had released as it had put in front of Dale to approve first. They weren’t pleased with how some o the media were handling the situation in the information that they wanted, the spectaculization and the pasteurizing – but that’s part of the deal, right?

“I did the best that I could without saying too much – per Laura’s recommendations,” Steve replies, speaking of team PR rep Laura Scott. She had advised each of them to handle the questions accordingly, but keep the details that they wanted out of the way totally so they couldn’t be pushed further.

“You got the thumbs up from the driver so you’re fine…” Steve then smiles as he looks over at Dale, who is giving him the thumbs up on it.

“Seriously, you need to at least start whispering soon, please. The first couple of days, I could use this as a royal joke. However, now, I just either feel bad for you or want you to talk to make communication easy.” Dale just shrugs his shoulders, hoping himself that he could talk soon.

“Awww, Steve don’t want to play surrades?” TJ offers as Steve rolls his eyes. “By the way, I had a fun game of that the other day with him and for the record, he sucks.” Dale then reaches over and smacks TJ. “Hey!”

“Let’s face it – TJ probably doesn’t know how to guess, right?” Regan questions and Dale shakes his head yes with a grin.

“So, are you set to practice today?” Steve questions and Regan shakes his head yes.

“Goal is to find a general comfort in the car so that way when Saturday comes, it’s set for the pilot,” Jason states.

“So wait – you’re running the Bud Shootout?” TJ questions with a glance towards Dale. Dale then shakes his head yes. “Even if you’ve got no voice?” Dale shakes his head yes. “Woah, okay….how in the name are you going to get NASCAR to approve such a thing?”

“I guess you weren’t here earlier when Steve reported that it was approved,” Jason answers, causing TJ’s jaw to drop immediately.

“As long as he can hear you, then he has his spotter,” Steve starts. “As long as he can hear Jason, then he knows when to pit. Jason can also call strategy without discussion as it’s usually simple at Daytona, anyway. The only issue we run into is when he needs to tell us whether the car is loose or tight.” Steve then looks over at Dal with a grin. “Thanks to some clever thinking by him, we’ve got that idea covered. If he taps the steering wheel hard enough, the radio will pick up – and don’t say that it won’t because we already tried this crap.” Marie then crosses her arms as she looks over from her spot where she has Alyssa.

“I’m confused…” She states as TJ crosses his arms, curious.

“Shall we show them an example?” Dale shakes his head yes. “Okay. Let’s just say the car is medium loose. Jason…”

“So tell me driver, are you loose or tight?” Jason asks and Dale taps his finger on the table once.

“One tap means loose, two taps mean neutral and three taps mean tight,” Steve explain with a smile. “Continue Jason…”

“Now, how bad is it?” Jason questions and Dale taps his finger twice.

“One tap means a little, two taps mean medium and three tap-”

“Means that it’s a bitch to drive,” TJ finishes it off as he shakes his head in disbelief. “Can I just say that you’re a genius? I can’t believe that nobody has thought of that before. How did you think of that?” Dale then smiles as he takes his phone out.

“Simple, I’m a genius…” Dale sends him with a smiley on the end that is sticking its tongue out.

“And still as bitchy as ever.”

“Hey!” Marie yells as she covers Alyssa’s ears.

“TJ bad….TJ say bad word,” Alyssa comments as she shakes her finger in front of him as they all laugh. She then walks over and hops on Dale’s lap. “Daddy go fast today?” Dale shakes his head no. “No?”

“I get to drive daddy’s car,” Regan states as Alyssa looks over at him. “Is that okay?” Alyssa sits quiet for a couple minutes and then shakes her head yes with a smile.

“Go Regy Go!” She then shits a little and looks at Dale. “I sit in car?” Dale shakes his head yes.

“We’ve got about 15 minutes till practice,” Jason announces as he stands up and heads out of the trailer. Dale then heads out with Alyssa and they walk to the garage.

As the crew continues getting ready for practice, Dale lifts her up and puts her in the car. She immediately puts both hands on the wheel, pretending to turn it with a smile on her face.

“I think someone is going to be a little racer,” Regan comments as he walks up behind Marie, who is snapping a couple photos on her phone.

“I don’t know if my heart could take that Regan,” she replies.

“After everything you’ve both been through, that’s your answer?” Marie looks back at Regan.

“I don’t want to chance losing either of them again. You don’t know how crazy that drove me.” Regan slowly shakes his head as he pats her shoulder.

“I’d go crazy if the same thing happened with Megan. Just relax and have fun this weekend. We always have fun in Daytona.” He then walks over to the car and looks down in the seat. “Hey princess, can I have my seat yet?” She looks up and shakes her head no.

“I drive!” She yells as she makes car sounds. Regan shakes his head in disbelief – she was certainly going to be a racecar driver.

 

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