Sarina puts the lanyard around her neck and walks through the garage area with a smile on her face. She couldn’t help but smile as she watched the crew members work on the cars, and swell up inside as various engines fired.
This was the dream spot for any racecar driver. Now if only she was behind the wheel of a racecar like Chase.
Making her way through the garage, she looks at each of the stalls. She hadn’t given Chase any warning that she was there yet, having arrived earlier that Saturday morning. She picked up her lanyard where he had told her it’d be waiting, and made her way without a word. She figured that it’d be better to surprise him. She just needed to find where the No. 9 NAPA team was.
Continuing to read the labels on the stalls, she smiled when she saw the signature No. 9, immediately making her way over. She knew that the team was getting set for qualifying in a short bit, so she hoped that meant that he’d be around, hanging out and waiting.
“Sarina Ott?” She hears her name called and glances over at the source, smiling. She then walks over and gives Seth Kooiker a hug. Sure, Seth was now the engineer assistant for the No. 9 team, but they had met originally at Hickory one night as Seth worked with one of the young late model drivers there before JR Motorsports hired him.
“It’s nice to see you, Seth,” she comments as she glances over his outfit. “You look pretty good all dolled up in the classic blue and yellow.” He then smiles as he notices her lanyard.
“You’re a guest of the team this weekend?” She then shakes her head yes, debating how to tell Seth the details.
“Chase invited me out for the weekend. We got talking at the track and he thought it’d be fun to have me come out here for a race and hang out.” Seth could only smile at her reasoning. He knew that a bunch of the late model drivers were close and liked hanging out. It didn’t surprise him that Chase invited her out as he had done that before with others.
“Well, if you’re looking for our superstar, he will be out on pit road in five minutes,” a new voice chimes in, having overheard the conversation. She then glances back, recognizing Ernie immediately as he had spent some time at Hickory, too. “You can head out there and surprise him, if you want. I could also introduce you to the rest of the team while you wait – unless Seth wants the honors.”
“That’s probably a good idea as you probably want to make sure things are in order for qualifying,” Seth accepts. He then takes her by the hand and leads her around their stall, introducing her to each of the crew members. They each shook her hand as some recognized her, while others already predicted that she and Chase were probably going out. She just laughed off their thoughts, assuring them that wasn’t the case. It didn’t help in the convincing process, though. “So, he invited you out here – but you’re not going out?” She shakes her head no.
“We’re just friends – nothing else, nothing more,” she replies as they head out to pit road together. She debated telling Seth more of the details, but figured that’d be a little too much as she didn’t need him bugging her about things.
“I believe you, alright? Besides, Chase has done the inviting tactic before for other short track buddies.” Sarina had to chuckle to herself, knowing for sure this weekends’ inviting tactic was different. “I see him.” She then immediately lets her eyes turn his way and smiles as she watches him interact with a couple other drivers. He was certainly a cutie.
“I don’t want to interru-”
“Just go!” Seth then gives her a small shove, pushing her towards the general direction that he was in. She then takes a deep breath and walks over, placing her hands over his eyes.
“Guess who!” Chase immediately smiles as he recognizes the voice, spinning around to face her.
“You made it!” He lets out as he pulls her into a hug. He then immediately lets her go, scared that he had pushed the boundaries of their friendship. “I’m glad that you’re here.”
“I’m glad to be here as well,” she comments. “I have to say that I’m glad that I took you up on the offer as it’s been fun to tour the garage. Seth already introduced me to all the guys.” Chase could only roll his eyes at the thought, wondering when the teasing was going to begin.
“So Chase, are you going to introduce us to your girl?” Ryan Blaney then questions as both Chase and Sarina immediately roll their eyes.
“She’s not my girl,” he states sternly as Ryan looks on slightly confused. He was certain they’d be dating by now based on that night at the track. He had also heard that Chase had spent the past couple of nights helping her with her late model. “We’re just friends, spending some time together. I thought she’d enjoy a weekend at the track for a change.”
“Besides, didn’t you learn your lesson when you were spying?” Sarina adds as Ryan’s cheeks immediately flush red. “Last time that you do that for him, huh?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replies before heading in the other direction as Sarina just laughs.
“Avoiding me isn’t going to help!” She then looks back over at Chase. “I hope I don’t cause you too many issues by being here.”
“It’s fine – he’s just being his usual teasing self,” Chase assures her as they head over to where he was going to be parked on pit road for qualifying. “If they can’t understand that you’re here simply to hang out and have fun, then tough luck.” However, in the back of his mind, he hoped by the end of the weekend and Berlin that they’d be in the dating stage. Perhaps she’d be open to a date, and perhaps she’d be open on her secrets.
“That’s fine,” she replies as she sits on the pit wall. “So, how’s the car?” He then sits beside her.
“It’s great, actually. I think we’re going to have a great race today.”
“So you’re going to show me how you get it done on the big boy road?” He then chuckles and shakes his head yes.
“I have to make sure that I make this trip worthwhile.” She then rolls her eyes, though finds herself looking into his eyes and forgetting her reserve – for a slim second – once again.
“We’ll just have to see what happens, right? Perhaps a trip to victory lane could change my perspective and convince me to give you a chance.” Chase knew more than ever that he had to snatch that first win of the season right here and now.
“You just gave me that extra push that will make me drive even harder to find success – not that I needed it.” He then goes to get up and get ready for qualifying, but turns back to face her quickly. “You know that you can turn to me to talk about anything when you need to, right? I’ll keep your secrets. Plus, I know you enjoyed the kiss so you’re going to fall for me eventually.” She then rolls her eyes as he walks away.
However, while she wouldn’t admit it straight up to him, he was right. With each second that they spent together, she found herself falling more deeply for him.
“So, did you have fun today?” Chase asks Sarina post-race after getting changed out of his firesuit.
They had spent the entire day together with her standing on pit road for time trials. She then spent pre-race with him as they discussed random short track stories with a couple other peers. She then spent the race from his pit box, taking in the action as he battled up front throughout the race en route to a second place finish. She then spent time with the team post-race, sharing more racing stories, as they cleaned things up while Chase handled post-race media. All in all, she couldn’t complain with how the day had turned out.
“Absolutely!” She exclaims with a huge smile on her face as he laughs.
“So it was super fun?” She shakes her head yes as she hops up on the counter.
“Let’s just say that I never thought it could be that cool to watch a NASCAR race. I always thought the best spot and the only spot for me was behind the wheel. However, being here, watching the race from your pit box – it changed it for me. From the pit stops to how fast the cars go speeding by on the frontstretch before you, to the action – it was unbelievable!” He then looks up with a smile as he finishes grabbing a snack out of one of the cupboards, shutting the door.
“So you could say that I made the experience better since you had someone awesome to cheer for?” She then laughs with an eye roll as she sits back.
“Oh Chase, stop flattering yourself. You wish that was the case but I think I just became a bigger Kyle Busch fan today.” A smile immediately wipes off of his face with a slight groan as it was Kyle who had won the race. “What? I’ve always been a Busch fan. I like his never-give-up, hard core ass style on the track. I like the fact that he can get anything and go wide open, winning no matter what. It was just amazing to watch him in person.”
“Well, perhaps if you come tomorrow, I could allow you to meet Mr. Busch in person.” She then looks at him surprised.
“Seriously? Despite your pouting?” Chase shakes his head yes.
“I’d do that for you….” He then walks over to her, standing right before her. “Under one condition.” Her smile and shock erases as she lets out a sigh. She should’ve known to expect this.
“I want the truth. I want to know what you truly thought of the kiss, what you think of me and why you held back the other night.” She then lets out a sigh, knowing that she couldn’t easily open up and tell him all of that. It would reveal too much, not only about her past but about her feelings for him. If she opened up that much for him, it’d leave the door open wider for him to keep working her over, and she wasn’t ready for that.
“Chase, are you serious?” He shakes his head yes as he hops up on the counter across from her.
“It’s only fair. I give you something that you really want, if you tell me something that I really want to know.” He could tell by the silence that she was handing him that perhaps his plan was going to be a loss. However, he badly craved the answers to those questions and knew he only had three more days to get them before their lives sent them separate ways again. He was going to tell every chance that he could to get answers. “Sarin-”
“I like you, okay? That’s why I wasn’t mad at you when you kissed me that night in the shop. At first, I wasn’t sure you or the possibility. I thought it was just a fanboy stage. However, the more we spent time together at the Waterbowl, and the more I thought about our friendship, I realized why I was starting to like you. It then became crystal clear when things were so easy in the shop together.” Chase could feel his heart beating faster with the butterflies beginning to flutter in his stomach. He was so close to what he wanted, but yet so far….
“So that’s why you agreed to come with me this weekend?” She shakes her head yes as she glances around to make sure that no random crew members were going to walk in on them. She then looks back at him, debating whether to continue.
“That’s why I couldn’t deny the feelings for you at the shop. That’s why I accepted the trip because I did want to spend more time with you. Trust me Chase – you make me feel things that I wish you didn’t make me feel. Also trust me when I tell you that I want to spend as much time as possible with you.” Chase could easily understand what she was saying. It was everything that he sensed that night at the shop. However, like that night at the shop, he caught the hesitation that he hated once again.
“Something is holding you back, though. Something that you don’t want to talk about.” She slowly shakes her head yes as she looks down at her feet. She could almost see herself telling him everything and revealing everything. She even found herself reasoning why it would be a good idea moving forward. Her crew chief knew for good reason and perhaps another person knowing would help.
“You’re right, and no matter how much you keep saying that I can tell you and trust you and it’ll work out, I can’t find the way to tell you. I keep telling myself that it’s the wrong thing to do and I shouldn’t get you involved.” She then looks up at him. “I don’t want to get involved with you because I don’t want you to get hurt. I love you, but I don’t want to hurt you. That’s why I’ve been strong at just keeping this as friends without crossing the bridge.” He accepted each word that she was saying, as scenarios ran through his mind. He immediately began to wonder what her past may entail and why it ‘may hurt him’.
He thought about a previous bad relationship with her parents. That’d explain why she didn’t want to talk about her childhood and only focused on playing. She told him that ‘racing was an escape’ and perhaps that’s why she started at a young age. Perhaps that’s why she was aggressive coming up through the ranks as she’d be taking out her anger that she had at her parents.
He also thought about a previous bad relationship to do with love. That’d explain why she focused solely on racing, not getting involved with anyone. She told him that ‘she didn’t want to hurt him’ and perhaps that’d draw an ex-crazed boyfriend out of hiding. Perhaps that’s why she was so scared to fall in love.
Maybe there was currently a boy, but she never spoke of him and used race traveling as a way to not be home and around him. Chase immediately shook his head at that thought, knowing couldn’t be the case since she allowed him to come over to house and work on the car for two straight nights without an issue.
As Chase runs the scenarios through his mind, Sarina hops off of the counter and heads towards the exit of the trailer. Chase then grabs her hand, instantly causing her eyes to look into his eyes.
“Chase, I will see you tomorrow,” she tells him. “I’m going back to my hotel roo-”
“Let me drive you back,” he cuts her off. “Stay at the track in my motorcoach. You can take the bed or the couch and I’ll take the other. You told me that you liked me and wanted to spend more time with me, despite your fears. Let’s go back and have dinner together and watch a couple movies. We can tell stories and just spend time together.” She knew it was a bad idea right from the start.
“Let me show you that you can trust me. Let me show you just how much I love and care about you already. Let me show you the reasons why you can tell that secret and trust me to be with you. I know you’re scared of me getting hurt, but I’m not afraid. I promise that I’ll protect you and myself and nothing will happen if you tell me. Give me a chance, please.” She then lets out a sigh. She hadn’t booked a hotel room yet and knew it’d be hard to find one with most being booked by teams and guests already in the area. Perhaps his suggestion was right.
“Fine – but no funny business.” He thee puts his hands behind his back, innocently.
“I was brought up to be a southern gentleman and treat a lady with respect. You don’t have to worry about anything, Ms. Ott.”
For the evening, the pair did exactly as Chase suggested they would do – simply hung out without any boundaries.
They played raced a couple rounds on his NASCAR video game, each stealing some wins, followed by watching a movie. They then played a round of Mario Kart as she couldn’t believe that he had that game in his collection. The entire evening was filled with laughs and jokes back and forth, and it certainly relaxed things.
As they were set to call it a night, Sarina felt more relaxed with someone than she had in a long time. It seemed that it was the perfect ticket to allow herself to open up more to him. But yet, she still felt herself holding back. She couldn’t do it….just yet.
“Do you want the couch or the bed?” Chase questions after she got changed into one of his t-shirts, per his suggestion, so she was comfortable that night.
“This is your coac-” She starts.
“I can be comfy in either place and I was the one that invited you here, so I’m going to be the welcoming guest.” She then crosses her arms.
“It wouldn’t feel right chasing out of your bedsroom, Chase. It’s not fair.” He then glances back at the bedsroom, having an idea, before glancing towards her. He knew it was testing the boundaries though.
“We could both sleep in the bed. You can sleep under the sheet and I’ll sleep over the sheet. I don’t sleep with anything on top of me anyway. That way, we’re both comfy and there’s no fighting over the couch.” She felt her heart opening up and given the night they had, she knew that he was trustworthy. If she hadn’t any reason to hold back, she’d be kissing his lips right now, again.
“Deal.” They then head to the bedsroom, both climbing in the bed. He puts the TV on, finding something to watch before setting the sleep timer.
“Good night Sarina.” She then looks over at him with a smile.
“Good night Chase.”
“No…no…please no….,” she lets out in her sleep as she kicks her feet, sending the sheet off of her and over to Chase’s side. “No….” Chase wakes up as he hears the commotion beside him, flipping the lamp switch on. He then looks over, seeing her kicking in her sleep with tears falling down her cheeks. “No…” He then reaches over, lightly brushing his hand across her shoulder.
“Sarina….” He calls quietly, trying to get her to wake up but without startling her too much.
“No…” She then pushes away from his hand as tears continue to slide down her cheeks. “Don’t touch me. You can’t comfort me!” Chase knew that she was still sleeping by her eyes being closed, despite the words hurting more than they should. He then reaches over once again, tapping her shoulder.
“Sarina, wake up!” He says once again, though louder this time. Her eyes instantly shoot open as she lays back on her back, staring straight at the ceiling. “Hey, it’s okay….” He then closes the gap between them a little. “It’s okay. Whatever was going on in your dream was just that – a dream.” She then looks over at him once she has regained her composure.
“You’re right – it was just a dream. The problem is that event did actually happen, one time or another. It wasn’t just a dream. Those are repeat images of reality.” He knew the dream was a clue into her past. The events that had happened in the past must be traumatic to have her acting in that nature during her sleep, with cries and screams.
“How often do you have this dream?” He watched on how he decided to ask the question as he didn’t want her to simply turn and run out the door, leaving it in the past. Perhaps this was the opportunity that he had been waiting for.
“A couple times a week. Whenever I find my past holding me back more than I want it, or I’m missing my family.” Chase shook his head, understanding. He could tell by those words that she was getting closer to telling him, perhaps. He also knew now that it did something with her family, and curiosity flooded his thoughts as to the details.
“You’re never going to move forward unless you talk about it. It’s easy to tell that you want to move forward and you want something with me – I know based on how you were looking, how our friendship has grown and that kiss. You need to start moving forward and allowing yourself to be who you want to be. Please, let me in. Please tell me what happened. Please tell me what’s holding you back.” She takes a deep breath, debating whether this was the right move.
Once she started there was no turning around and she would have to live with his reaction, and live with what the future held in the truth finally being told. She knew she could trust him but was she ready to rehash the past?
“I grew up in Detroit – the bad part of Detroit,” she starts. “This whole deal of growing up in California is part of my cover-up, fake identity if you may.” Chase then looks at her confused, really curious as to her past.
“That’s why you haven’t surfed since almost everyone from California has at least tried it,” he offers as she shakes her head in agreement.
“That would be why. So I’m going to take you back to my real childhood now. Like I said, I grew up in Detroit. My mother was a waitress while my father was a police officer.”
“Were the other details of our childhood true – focused on racing, playing sports through middle and high school?” She shakes her head yes.
“The sports through middle and high school were my way of spending activities to do rather than hanging out on the streets or possibly getting rapped up with the bad kids. Frankly that’s why I focused on my racing. I didn’t want to chance there being an opportunity to get caught up with the wrong person.” Chase could understand her perspective, based on what she had told him thus far.
“So, where did things go wrong?” She then takes a deep breath as she thinks back to her childhood.
Chase lays on the bed, keeping his eyes focused on Sarina as he waits for her to detail her past, and why it continue to give her nightmares.
He had found out details such as living in Detroit rather than California, and a changed identity. There was also the detail of her mother being a waitress while her father was a police officer. It had sent a fluid of thoughts through his mind, but he wasn’t sure as to what was true yet.
It was just a matter of answering that question now.
“So what changed things?” He asks as she glances away, remembering the details of her childhood.
“Everything changed when I was 13 to be exact,” she answers as Chase watches her closely. “Before then, I was normal typical child having fun with my friends, not knowing a care in the world. Sure, I knew of the dangers of the world and I heard a couple gun shots and knew to watch for guns and strangers, but nothing had happened yet.” The thought of love – perhaps attacked? It was the immediate thought based on the age as teenagers usually started around there. There was also the fact that she was timid about going out with him.
“Okay….” He wasn’t sure what else to say as he didn’t know where her story was going to lead them next.
“As I told you, my father was a police officer. He was one of the higher ups, and was part of their gangs and drug unit. So if you’re part of that unit, you’re investigating gangs and trying to break them apart. You’re also looking into the drug cartels and seeing how they transfer it around, how they get it and learning the stages of transportation. It takes a lot of investigating, but you want to watch how you go about it due to looking for information they wouldn’t sha-”
“So would he go undercover for instance?” She shakes her head yes, shaking her head as she tries to wipe away the haunting images from her mind. “Oh.” Chase was worried about hearing the rest of the details as his mind still worked at putting the pieces together. Did something happen to her father? Did they track things back to her and hurt her due to her father? Was she kidnapped and used as arson to attract her father to them?
“He did a lot of things that certainly test the limits and certainly result in heavy danger. It seemed to continue to amp up. As he’d keep reminding me to watch out for strangers and be careful of whom I talked to. When he was 13, a gang found out that he was an officer, trying to befriend them. There is only one way that they take care of people like that, obviously. They killed him – three gunshots to the chest. An officer came to our house that night and told me and mom.” Chase shakes his head in disbelief as he immediately wraps his arms around her, pulling her into a hug. He didn’t know what to say as he couldn’t imagine going through like that himself. He also felt terrible for her, knowing that meant that she’d been having the nightmares for eight years now (as she’s 21 now).
“I’m so sorry to hear that. That sucks, majorly. I couldn’t imagine….” She wipes a couple of the stray tears that had rolled down her cheeks away, taking a deep breath in an effort to relax herself. She felt all of her emotions boiling over as she told him the brief details.
“My biological name is Chelsy Dryer. Victor Dryer was my father’s name, and my mother is Amanda. When my father was killed, the police officer suggested that we both change our names to therefore remove any connection. It was also suggested that we move to another city in Michigan to get away from these people, incase they found the connection and acme aft-”
“But why?” She shrugs her shoulders, not exactly positive herself.
“Sometimes these people are crazy like that, Chase. I wasn’t really given the explanation. Remember – I was 13.” Chase shakes his head, understanding. There seemed to be a whole world out there that he didn’t understand, nor felt like he would want to. In a way, it made him even more thankful to have the relationship that he had with his parents, in being able to see them as much as he was able to.
“So you moved to California and changed your name to Sarina?” She then takes a deep breath, thinking back to those years as she shakes her head no.
“Patience, little boy. I never lived in California.” Chase then looks at her surpried as she pats his leg. “Let me tell the story, okay?” He shakes his head yes. “I changed my name to Jae-lynn Stein, while my mother began Alicia Stein. We moved right across the United States to Kalamazoo.” She smiled as she said the name of the city. “It actually worked out great for my racing career as I began racing at Kalamazoo Speedway, which you know is a wild track and just….Oh my gosh it’s amazing.” Chase chuckles as he watches the smile from on his face. In a way, he didn’t want her to continue the story – and reveal the second name change – as that’d erase the smile.
“I’ve never raced there, but heard so many stories. It sounds like a great place.” She shakes her head yes.
“It’s just as amazing as it sounds. I should take you there for the Call of the Wild in the fall. It’s a ‘run what you brung’ event. Bring the quickest super late that you can build with whatever modifications that you can make and see if you can take down the track record. Try racing around a 3/8 mile in 10 seconds.” Chase looks at her surprised.
“Seriously?” She shake her head yes. “That’s damn fast. It kind of reminds me of Bristol as we do that in 15 seconds.” He then takes a deep breath, knowing that they had to get back on track. “So you grew up in the state of Michigan. That’s why racing at Berlin Raceway this weekend means so much to you because this is home.” She lets out a sigh, shaking her head yes.
“It’s why that it means so much to me as you’re right. I can’t see the people that I hung out with or rehash old stories, but this is home. I see familiar faces, and think about racing them when I was younger. I see familiar places and am reminded of the good times.” She then shakes her head with a small laugh to herself.
“It’s just odd at times because of how much I have to watch myself, while trying to experience things.” He then looks at her confused. “There’s still a possible danger about those people that I was around, and if they recognize me. They could try and pull something – ya never know. That’s what the officers say anyway. Hence why I didn’t want to get close to you or anything. I didn’t want to possibly, at the slimmest chance, put you in danger.” Chase feels his concern heighten, and heart break a little at hearing those words.
“Sarina…” He then moves a little, getting comfy once again. “You don’t have to worry. I understand what you’re telling me and the danger. However, I love you so much and we know you loved the kiss.” She then chuckles, glancing away a little. “For you to throw that away because of your past, that’s wrong. Stop running scared and start living, doing things for you. No matter what happens, if something was to happen, it’ll work out because we have each other…and every other crazy person that I know.” She then looks at him with a small smile. Perhaps she was right in taking the chance, even if the story telling started without being originally planned.
“Chase, it means a lot to hear you say that and I’m trying. Hence why I’m here with you tonight.” He smiles, clasping her hand with his. He just hoped that this wasn’t the last time together like this. He knew, though, that they had to return to the story.
“So, you said your name was Jae-lynn Stein when you moved to Kalamazoo. But yet, your name is Sarina Ott. What happened?” The smile fades immediately as she takes a deep breath, debating the best way to tell him.
“There was a security compromise with the police station files, and it was found that my mother and I were living in Kalamazoo under a different identity. They were after my mother because as a waitress, she would hand off information to my father that she overheard in the diner.” Chase then crosses his arms, growing interested in what she had to say and perhaps as to what happened.
“So they were still angry about that even though they had killed your father?” Sarina take a deep breath, and shakes her head yes.
“They showed up at our house in Kalamazoo one night when I was 15. Three men with guns – loaded, not waiting to hold back as they were set on one goal.” She then closes her eyes, trying to block out the images and sounds from that night. “They busted into the house, and began shooting without compromise. They killed my mom.” Chase felt his heart break even more than before as he rubbed her back, followed by pulling her into another hug.
“Sarina….I’m so sorry….”
“They kept shooting, and I got hit three times – a shot in the leg, a shot in the stomach and a shot in the shoulder.” She then takes a deep breath as she pulls away looking into his eyes. “I spent a year and a half, healing, going through therapy – everything – to get back to where I could live my life and race again. I did whatever I could. It was the hardest experience that I’ve ever been through.” Chase could only sit thre and look at her with sympathetic eyes as she told him the details.
“Sarina, you are stronger and braver than I ever realized before. I understand now why you held back. You’ve gone through a lot and don’t want to be hurt again. I can only sit here in amazement.” She then removes herself from his arms, pushing the sleeve of her shirt down a little to remove a scar on her shoulder.
“That’s my daily reminder. That scar reminds me of everything that I’ve been through and fought through to where I am. If there’s ever a time that I feel like giving up, I look at that scar and use it for inspiration. I’ve come this far so why give up now?” Chase gives her a small smile as he glances towards the scar, but then goes back to looking at her in the eyes. What could he honestly say now?
“You’re amazing, a true inspiration….”
“When I was done healing, I was supposed to go into the custody system, as I wasn’t quite old enough to be on my own. I ran away, not wanting to deal with anything anymore. I changed my name to Sarina Ott – just a random name that came to mind and sounded right – and made my way to North Carolina. I took the money that was left to me by my parents and figured it was the place to be. I wanted the race – that was all. I wanted to get as far as I could from whatever happened, and back to what I loved.” He then goes back to listening, growing curious once again. How does a 15 year old start a racing career by herself?
“So, what happened once you go to North Carolina? You can’t just keep living on your own at 15 with not a lot of money. No track would let you race without an adult consent based on your age.”
Chase could only lie beside Sarina on the bed in shock as he heard her story, and why she was the person that she was. He could understand the quiet, reserved personality that she had now in rarely talking about her feelings. He could understand why she put all of her focus into her racing, rather than dwelling on other things. He knew it’d take a while to fully digest everything that she had shared over the past hour or so.
Though with the story out in the open, he knew he couldn’t lave the night on that note as neither would be able to sleep with that on their minds. So, he took the liberty of letting her tell the story of her racing background. Racing was something that brought her joy, perhaps an escape at times. He was willing to let her enter that world before they fell back asleep if it made her feel better.
“So, what happened once you got to North Carolina?” He asks her. “You can’t just keep living on your own at 15 with not a lot of money. No track would let you race without an adult consent based on your age.” She then laughs in hearing those words, remembering the thoughts that had entered her mind once she moved down south from New York.
“You read my mind boy because I thought about that as soon as I moved to North Carolina,” she tells him. “I thought about faking my name, but knew that they’d ask for proof with birth certificates since other kids had gotten in trouble recently for doing that.” Chase shook his head, remembering the tales that had found themselves in the news. Parents wanted their children to move up the ranks quicker, so they started forging the ages just a bit to get their children in a higher class. However, tracks immediately caught on – whether due to insurance or other parent catching them – and it became standard now for tracks to ask for proof.
“You could’ve got a fake ID.” She then looks at him surprised, not expecting that comment from Chase. He was the good boy that didn’t think of doing the wrong thing. “I’m kidding. I never did that myself, nor advise that. But what did you do?” She then thinks back, remembering her first couple of days in North Carolina.
“When I first got down there, I stayed in a homeless shelter for a couple of days. There was a nice lady – Rebecca Knowles – that let me stay there, despite knowing that I was underage and should be reported to children’s aid. I told her that I had a situation with my parents and was going to be moving in with my aunt, but she was out of state on vacation. She agreed to let me stay for a week without complaint, thinking that my aunt would be back.” Chase thought it over. He hated to hear about her lying and deceiving people, but understood that she had to do what she had to do at that point to survive. Besides, having a roof over your head is important.
“So obviously that story was a lie, and I’m guessing that Rebecca caught on?” Sarina shakes her head no, remembering when she went to see Rebecca a couple years later and told her the truth, thanking her for the time being. Let’s just say that it was shock to say the least, and almost resulted in Rebecca giving her a full lecture.
“I found myself wandering town during the day, looking for something, debating how I was going to survive or rather I should just turn myself in as a runaway. Then I saw a post at a local garage. This late model racer had a posting up that he was looking for a mechanic to work on his cars while he raced. Does the name Tony Leons sound familiar?” Chase smiles, knowing that Tony was her car owner for a couple of seasons, before he sold his operation to her before the start of the season as he was getting out of racing.
“So that’s how you met Tony?” She shakes her head yes with a smile. “Wow. I wouldn’t peg him to be the understanding type.” She then laughs, remembering her first meeting with Tony.
“He wasn’t, if you want the truth. He gave me a lot of skeptical glances and such when I walked into the garage and asked him if I could work for him. However, I played the sympathy card. I told him my entire story, as I have told you, and he caved. He has a sweetness under that hard exterior, and I found it that day. He agreed to give me a shot as a mechanic on his car, while giving me a place to stay.” Chase looks at her surprised as he hadn’t expected to hear that. Tony Leons was one of those people in the short track scene that you normally tried to avoid as he seemed like the tough guy with no sympathy.
“I would’ve never expected that out of him, but it’s a good thing hat he did for you as there’s no clue where you could’ve ended up otherwise.” Sarina shakes her head, agreeing, knowing that she’ll forever be grateful to Tony for taking her in.
“He actually went and did the official custody papers, and got me going back to school as he told me that I should get an education as I was a smart person. He did a ton for me.” Chase could only smile as he saw the happiness shine through her words. She was truly an inspiration to anyone that heard her whole story. He was growing a whole new level of respect for her that evening.
“So you graduated high school and had the life that you had dreamed of, without fear of lookin-”
“I still look over my shoulder, Chase. There’s no telling whether they can show up. Just because I’m far away and such doesn’t mean that I could be discovered. Hence why I’m careful who I let in and tell my story, too. On that day with Tony, I was desperate to find something and dropped my guard.”
“So when did you start driving for Tony?” She then smiles, remembering the test session at Hickory.
“We went to Hickory to test one night and he was frustrated with the car and the adjustments. He was so frustrated that he looked over at me and told me to take it out and figure out – in his words – what the hell it was doing. So I put on a firesuit and helmet and went out here. Let’s just say that I pulled off times that were a whole second quicker than he was pulling.” Chase smiles with a hake of his head in disbelief.
“So you got the ride because you proved that you were the quicker driver?” She shakes her head yes.
“He told me that I could run the car for the rest of that season, which was another month. Let’s just say that I pulled off a pair of wins and a third. That got me the ride for the following season and the rest, as they say, is history.” Chase shakes his head, knowing that’s right. It was certainly history as she had gone on to score some impressive finishes at some of the biggest races across the United States, while pulling off some big wins to go with those. It was racing those big events that the pair had crossed paths and began their friendship, which had now led them to sitting together in his bed in his motorcoach.
“You’re truly amazing.” He then reaches for her hand, grabbing it with his. “I never would’ve guessed any of that for your past, but I want to thank you for trusting me and telling me. I promise that it won’t leave this room and I won’t tell anyone that you don’t want knowing the story. I also promise that it doesn’t change anything between us. I still love and respect you as much as I did before.” She then glances down away from his eyes.
“So you understand why I can’t be with you? I just don’t want to put you in that danger…” He then takes a deep breath, carefully thinking over his words.
“Sarina, your story doesn’t change anything between us. If anything, it makes me feel stronger for you knowing that you’re such a strong individual.” He then reaches for her chin, tilting her head back up so she’s looking into his eyes. “I want to be the one to help you move forward. We can both tell that this still affects you. I want to help you get by those nightmares. I want to help you so you don’t look over your shoulder in fear that someone could be there to hurt you. I want to be that special person for you, even more. I just need you to open up and allow me to do that.” She then immediately glances away, wishing that she could just say ‘yes’ and move forward.
“I can’t do that, Chase….I can’t say it.” He understood that she was afraid, and that was fine. He knew he’d be the same way if he went through the same thing.
“That’s fine, Sarina. Like we’ve talked about previously – we’ll spend time together and let it grow naturally. If you ever feel comfortable, then we’ll go from there. IF not, let’s just be close friends.” She then looks back at him with a small smile. It felt like the right compromise for the time being, given her situation.
“That’s fine. I can do that.” He then smiles, glad to have an understanding with her. It wasn’t what he quite wanted, but they were moving forward. She had trusted him enough to tell him everything and that was a start.
“But please understand that if you ever need someone to lean on, talk to, cry to – anything at all, you just need to phone me. I’ll be right there for you and you can join me on any weekend, no reservations.” She smiled back, pulling him into a hug. While it had been hard to trust him and she had regretted it at times, there was no regret now. She knew that he was a true honest friend, and perhaps having him in her corner could help moving forward.
“Thanks Chase.” They then both get back comfortable in the bed. “I’m glad that you’re not racing with how late we’re up.” He then laughs, but knew that she was right with a glance towards the clock.
They both then got comfy as he flipped the lamp switch back off, set to close his eyes and drift off to sleep. He had to smile as he fell asleep though as she had moved closer to him, allowing him to wrap an arm around her.
“I’ve got you Sarina,” he tells her quietly. “And I’m not letting you go.”