Chapter 16: The Letter
It’s do or die
Nobody can save me now
The only sound
Is the battle cry
The past couple of weeks had been quiet – which was strange. They hadn’t seen any new photos passed along to them from their suspected stalker. The police hadn’t found anything new to the case, nor any sightings of anybody near them that fit the profile. For being stalked and followed, it seemed as though something was suspiciously wrong and quiet.
That was the thought that kept wandering through Willow’s mind as she focused on finishing up her preview for the race out at Auto Club Speedway. The preview seemed to be writing itself – expect domination from Kevin Harvick with possible challenges from Jimmie Johnson and the Penske Racing duo. She also added a snippet about Chip Ganassi Racing’s strong start to the year, and how Dale Earnhardt Jr. would want to be bounce back following the previous week’s tire issues. With the words coming together so easily, her mind wandered to what had been going on with them so far this season.
In truth, based on the past couple of weeks, they had let their guards down. The fear was in the backseat to the racing action and love that they had between each other. It seemed as though it was something that had passed to the wayside, and would be dealt with at the right time. When the person finally showed their face, they would be caught and it’d be over.
Perhaps it was just some random fan trying to scare her away and now ran off due to that not happening. Perhaps there was nothing to worry about.
She wished that thought would’ve carried her through the rest of her day as having the preview done and sent off, she went and checked the mail. An odd blank envelope – with just her name written on it – though, made reality come right back to the forefront. She immediately backed up back into the house, opening the envelope as she leaned back against the door after shutting it.
The oversized envelope’s contents immediately spilled on to the floor beneath her feet as she felt her last breath hitch in her throat. Sprawled out across the hallway floor of her home was photos that had been taken over the past three weeks. There were photos of her and Tony while at the race track, at the shop, out at the door, at restaurants and even at their home.
A spell of a paranoia came over her as she immediately moved to the windows, shutting the blinds as she felt her breaths quicken. She then returned to the cluttered mess of photos, picking up a letter that sat in the middle. She honestly didn’t want to open the letter. She didn’t want to read the contents, or learn the details. However, taking a deep breath, her curiosity and wanting answers for her fear got the best of her.
It’s so nice to see you once again dear. How are you doing? I hope you have kept well over these 14 years.
It was quite amazing when I caught a glimpse of you at Disney World that day. I should’ve known that you would’ve ended up sleeping with some famous person. You’re using them because you couldn’t get what you wanted, right? Let’s face it, dear, you don’t deserve any of it to begin with.
I was also surprised that you went and said something. Where’s the little fearful person that I knew all those years ago? Where’s the person that couldn’t say a word for themselves? Where’s the person that ran away because they were afraid? Where’s the person that ran away because they couldn’t conform to the rules?
Let me guess – Tony convinced you to say something. That shouldn’t mark a surprise considering he wouldn’t want to get into anymore legal trouble. You do realize what he did to that poor man last year, right?
I’ve been watching you these past few weeks, dear. I’ve seen every moment that you’ve spent with Tony and those supposed friends of yours. Your fellow media members are only nice to you because they can’t be rude in the media center. Kevin and Delana are only nice to you because they know they have to put up with you due to Tony being your boss? Come on dear – you should know that already.
Anyways, I’ve watched your little security officials, but you should know that they have nothing on me. I know what I have to do to get what I want – I have always known what to do. Didn’t you see how that went with your father? Look at the photos – I’ve been able to get to you and see you as closely as I wanted, even with your precious security guards. Who’s going to save you now, dear?
But hey, enough with trying to follow you around. This weekend is the time that I have been waiting for. I’m going to keep it simple for you, too. Stay home. Don’t go with precious Tony to California. If you do that, then I’ll spare him and just focus on you and rekindling our great relationship, my sweet dear. However, if you dare go to California, well then, it seems as though you both will be in for a surprise.
Willow takes a deep breath and tears the letter right down the middle. She then rips it into a dozen more pieces, before picking up the photos and walking to the living room. She throws them into the fire pit, along with the letter, lighting it. She then sits back on the couch, watching the evidence melt away as she crosses her arms.
“I’m done being afraid mother,” she says. “I’m done putting up with your bullshit. I left all that behind before, and I’m not going back down that road. Come for me, because this time, I’m going to be ready and you’re not going to get your way.”
Chapter 17: California
Willow wrapped her arms around Tony, giving him a quick kiss before the race. They were treating this weekend the same as always.
She had made Tony aware of the letter, in which he then in exchange got angry for a good five minutes about her burning the evidence. They then both told the police, informing them that their guards weren’t so smart after all in their duties.
“We will go through the system and see if there’s anybody that could be tipping her off,” the police officer had told them at the time.
They just both simply agreed to make sure to watch their own backs beyond that of their guards.
Willow had also contemplated staying home and seeing what happened, however made the decision to fly out to California with Tony. As she had said, she was done being afraid of her mother and she was ready to put this behind her as soon as possible. If her mom wanted to do something, let her try because she wasn’t playing around anymore.
Following opening ceremonies, Willow retreated to the media center, where she spent all of her race weekends. She quickly opened her laptop, and began keeping an eye on the race to keep track of the action and what could be turned into an article. Secretly, though, she also had an eye on Tony and how he was doing.
She proceeded to shake her head through the final 50 laps, not believing the amount of ‘debris’ cautions that NASCAR proceeded to fly. Were they real? Was this some deal by NASCAR to try and produce an exciting finish? She knew that’d be something to consider writing an article about.
At the end, she watched as Brad Keselowski grabbed the checkered flag and let out a sigh. She had been hoping that Kurt Busch would’ve been able to pull it off in his second race back on track. It’d mark a great story to write, and also mark a great personal moment for SHR. Now she was going to be stuck writing how ‘Bad Brad’ got the win due to how the cautions played for him, and his four tire strategy. At least Kevin and Kurt had finished second and third, respectively.
She also had to smile, though, as she glanced down the running order and saw where Tony finished. Certainly 14th wasn’t where he wanted to be running and nothing to brag about, but it was still a good finish. It was an improvement over the past month and showed a sign that he & Chad were starting to figure things out. It’d also make for an easier plane ride home.
Badly wanting to return home and be in Tony’s arms, she quickly wrote up the race report, along with an opinion piece on the debris and a couple other small deals. She then quickly left the media center, meeting up with Tony, set to return home.
As they got up in the air and headed for home, she glanced back at Auto Club Speedway with a smile. She was right to make the decision to join Tony in California. Nothing bad had happened. Her mom had simply used a scare tactic – or perhaps the guard who had been helping her was caught and fired.
“I love you,” she comments with a smile, before kissing his lips. He wraps an arm around her and pulls her close, smiling himself.
“I love you too,” he replies. “I’m glad that you joined me in California.”
“I am, as well. You also didn’t have too bad of a day, either.” He had to admit that she was right. It was a work in progress and something to hold his hat on. Perhaps he could figure out this new rule package after all.
“Maybe next week will be even better.” Her interest perks at that comment, hoping that was the truth. She thought about Tony’s last trip to Martinsville – her first trip there – and how much fun they had with him finishing fourth.
“Are you saying there’s a clock in our future?” He then gives her a wink, not saying much in return.
Shortly thereafter, the pair landed in North Carolina, set to return home. Kevin and Delana had agreed to give the pair a ride home, before heading home themselves. It made sense since they’d go right by their place anyway.
As they turned on to the street that the house resided on, all their jaws dropped immediately. Kevin then slowed as he kept pulling down the street, looking on in a sense of horror and shock.
The whole house was engulfed in flames.
“Oh my!” were the only words spoken in the car, coming from Kevin. He then parked the Tahoe at the police tape line, turning it off. They looked around as they saw the fire trucks trying to put the fire out.
“She….she….” Willow struggled to say, and Tony knew what she meant immediately. There was a reason why Willow’s mom had wanted her to stay home – she was supposed to be in that house and in that fire.
“It’s okay,” Tony comments as he wraps his arms around her, pulling her close and kissing her forehead. “Don’t let it bug you. I’ve got you. I told you that I’d always protect you.” Willow glances up into Tony’s eyes.
“But your house…is….”
“It’s just a house, Willow. I can buy a new house, or get a new one built. The main thing is that we’re both okay, and together. It’s fine.”
“I can’t believe she’d do that,” Delana comments as she takes in the scene. They all then make their way closer, slowly, which catches the eye of the Fire Chief as he looks over.
“Mr. Stewart, we’ve been trying to get a hold of you,” he states immediately as he walks over. “About a half hour ago, someone called in saying that your house was on fire. From what the police have gathered, it seems it was done on purpose.” Tony shakes his head, having known that already.
“It was my mother – she’s been stalking us,” Willow comments, catching the chief’s attention.
“Ah yes – the police mentioned a situation that was involving you both. The fire is almost out, but it seems as though the house is pretty much a lost. The good news is your pi-”
“Pork Chop!” Tony and Willow both let out at the same time, as a tinge of worry goes through them. He hadn’t made the trip with them, with the neighbor having a key to visit each day and feed him.
“He’s okay,” the chief immediately assures them. “The neighbor said when she called, she immediately ran over and opened the front door, in which the pig ran out immediately. He’s over at her house right now. “ Tony and Willow both let out a sigh, relieved. “The place will be roped off till we complete an investigation. Once it’s complete – probably mid-day tomorrow – you may go in the house to salvage what you can. There’s nothing that you can do right now so for tonig-”
“They can stay with us,” Delana immediately interrupts, having made up her mind as soon as she became aware of the situation. “And yes, you can go get Pork Chop and bring him, too.”
“Thank you…” Willow lets out quietly.
The whole situation left both Willow and Tony stunned as for that night, they spent it in the guest room at the Harvick household, cuddling each other, trying to calm each other down as Willow laid at the end of the bed.
Chapter 18: Fear
For the couple of nights that followed, the house fire had a resonating effect with them both.
The house could not be saved by the size of the fire. They were able to go through Monday thru Wednesday and collect some of their belongings that weren’t damaged, but for the most part, everything was done. Willow and Tony tried to keep the most positive attitude about it, now saying that they could use the opportunity to build the house of their dreams on the property.
For the time being, while they were in North Carolina, they would be staying at the Harvick household. Kevin and Delana didn’t mind the extra company – in their eyes, it was a good thing as they could keep an extra eye on their friends and keeping them safe. The house was also big enough to accommodate the extra pair of people, with Tony and Willow having a bedsroom to call their own. It also brought forth some fun times as everybody loved playing with Keelan, Keelan enjoyed Pork Chop, the boys got some hangout time in, and the ladies got to gossip and hang out.
Though while everything seemed fine on the outside, there was still an underlying factor – fear. It didn’t go without saying that both Tony and Willow had a bit of fear of what could happen next. The police had yet to make any arrests or come closer to finding Willow’s mother, despite having wanted posters everywhere and every cop on the lookout. If she was capable of slipping past guards and then setting a house on fire, what would she do next?
The events that had happened brought forth an underlying affect, as sleep was a difficult thing to come by for Willow. She kept waking up from the same nightmare each night, sometimes twice or three times, crying and sometimes screaming.
“No…no…” She lets out, sitting straight up in the bed with tears coming down her cheeks. Tony instantly wraps his arms around her and pulls her close against him, rubbing her back.
“Ssssh, it’s okay,” he whispers as he kisses her cheek. “It’s okay. It was just a dream.” Willow opens her eyes, staring into Tony’s chest wide-eyed. Just because it was a dream didn’t make it any easier to deal with.
“Tony, I could’ve been in that house…” Tony takes a deep breath, having dreamt of that possibility a couple of times since the fire himself. He remembered the note and what it said. If they would’ve listened….
“But you weren’t. You were in California, and now you’re here in my arms. Don’t think about that.” Willow wished that she could make the thought disappear automatically.
“She wanted me in that house. She wanted me to stay home for that rea-”
“But you didn’t and you’re fine. Let it go, sweetie.” Willow then backs up from Tony a little and looks into his eyes, seeing a pair of concerning eyes looking at her wide-eyed fearful eyes.
“She was going to kill me. She was going to have me bur-”
“My own mother tried to kill me!” Tony takes a deep breath, knowing that’s a hard fact for anybody to face and have sink in.
“Sweetheart, you need to let it go. Constantly reminding yourself about it isn’t going to help. You need to focus on the positives – we’re safe and fine. We are still together and will always be togeth-”
“She’s still out ther-”
“The police are going to fin-”
“They have no traces yet, Tony!” He then takes a deep breath, trying not to get frustrated with how stubborn she was being. He had to focus on the positives here, and taking care of her.
“What did I tell you from the beginning? I told you that I’d protect you no matter what. I did that this past weekend by forcing you to come with me despite your fears over that letter. I’m going to continue to protect you.” He then pulls her back close to him. “I love you, Willow. I’m not losing the love that we have. I will do whatever it takes to protect you and keep you safe. As long as you’re in my arms, you have nothing to worry about.” She then buries her head in chest, feeling her tears disappear and her heart rate calm down. There was something special about cuddles with Smoke.
“Don’t go anywhe-”
“I promise I won’t leave you. I’ll stay here with you in my arms forever. Just relax and get some sleep.” He then kisses her forehead before he resumes rubbing her back once again as she slowly closes her eyes and drifts back to sleep.
Chapter 19: Martinsville
“You had a good run going…” She comments as she finds him on pit road, wrapping her arms around him.
With everything that happened, she had approached this weekend differently than normal. Rather than spending her weekend in the media center, she was spending it with Tony and in the No. 14 hauler. She was doing all of her work on her laptop via each location, going through the audio posted on the NASCAR media website, versus listening to the press conferences live. She knew that she should be in the media center post-race, writing up the story and listening to Danica talk about seventh, and Denny talk about his win, but she could always get that audio later. For now, she wanted to be close to Tony.
“That’s sometimes how things go, right?” He replies and she shakes her head yes.
“It’s start – it’s a sign of improvement. If you add this with last week at Fontana, it’s a start to being up front. I’m proud of you regardless.” He smiles as he wraps his arms around her.
“You’ll say anything to be close to me, right?” She then smiles as she stands on her tippy toes and kisses his lips.
“I can’t wait to spend two whole weeks with you without a care in the world.” The plan for Easter was to go back to Indiana and spend time at Tony’s home there, while seeing his family. She loved Pam and Nelson, and couldn’t wait to see them again. Plus, there was always time for a trip to Diary Queen with Natalie again.
“I just can’t wait to go home and get away from everything.” His comment brought them both to reality as they stared at each other point blank in the eyes. While the racing hadn’t been the most positive on track, they were also dealing with her mother. Each trip to North Carolina was a reminder of the fire and the fact that she was still out there. It was a reminder of what was possible if she wasn’t caught soon. “Willow, I’m sorry….”
“No, it’s fine. You’re right – we both need this time to ourselves.” They both hated to remind each other of what happened and her mother being out there, but it was something that they couldn’t avoid either.
“We’re going to get through this. They’re going to catch her soon and we’re going to get our happy ever after. Have faith. Everything will be okay.” She shakes her head slowly, having tried to instill that belief in her. That was something that she had told herself when she read the original letter. However, the fire had erased that thought from her mind, leaving a reminder that her mother was always there….
“I mean it. I’ve got you and I’m going to protect you.” He then kisses her lips lightly, before they head off together.
The sooner they started their time away, the better.
Before starting their time away, though, Tony had a series of meetings at SHR on Monday. From the crew chief/driver meeting, to a meeting with Chad Johnson and himself alone, to a meeting with the executives at SHR. While he wanted to focus on the meetings to make the team stronger, he truthfully wished that they’d disappear as quickly as possible so he could get away.
“Is there much that we have to discuss, honestly?” Tony questions as he enters the last meeting of the day with Gene Haas and Greg Zippidelli.
“In a hurry?” Gene questions as Tony looks over at his partner.
“It goes without saying that I just want to get away from North Carolina for a couple of days. Willow and I are heading to Indiana for the rest of this week and next. I’ll be back by next Tuesday, or Wednesday.” Greg was glad to see his friend do this, knowing how much Tony needed it based on everything that was going on. In his mind, they could put business aside in this matter for personal.
“Go on,” Greg instructs, catching Gene’s attention. “I can handle things with Gene. There’s no major nuggets to touch today, honestly.”
“Is that really your decis-” Gene starts.
“Tony needs this, Gene. He has gone through a lot the past couple of weeks, month really, with Willow’s mother. I think we should respect that. Besides, I can handle everything from his perspective. I know what he’d want.”
“If you’re certain Gre-” Tony starts, as Greg darts his eyes back over to Tony.
“Go!” Wihtout a moment of hesitation, Tony leaves the conference room, hurrying down to his office. He then hurries in his office, standing by the desk with a smile on his face.
“We can go!!” Willow hadn’t wanted to stay at the Harvicks by herself – Delana was over at KHI with Keelan, Kevin was at SHR – as there was a tinge of fear, and it was a bit of a foreign home still. So she had followed Tony to SHR, agreeing to hang out in his office while he took care of business. “Are you ready?” She then glances away from the computer with a wide smile on her face and shakes her head yes.
“Absolutely. Not only do we deserve this time together, but we have a reason to celebrate.” He then looks at her intrigued, though partially confused. He knew how these things went…
“Oh boy. You’re pregn-”
“No!” His surprise comes down a little, but yet the confusion remains there. “I just got off the phone with the detective. They have arrested my mother! They caught her this morning peaking around the SHR grounds.” Tony instantly pulls Willow close to him and gives her a big kiss.
“That’s certainly a big reason to celebrate!”
Chapter 20: The After Effect
“I just wanted to talk to you about the arrest of Mrs. Salone,” the detective says on the phone as Willow takes a deep breath. She and Tony had flown to Indiana, getting comfy in the home. It was shortly thereafter that her phone rang, dragging her attention away. As she heard the detective’s voice at the other end, she was already wishing that this phone call would become a distant memory quickly, along with everything that happened.
“Okay,” she says quietly as Tony sits beside her, rubbing her back, listening in on the conversation.
“She has been charged with arson for the house fire, harassment for bugging you and Mr. Stewart, and trespassing against you and Mr. Stewart due to how she got the photos. Also, since there’s sexual photos that also includes charges against the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, which if convicted guilty could result in a year in jail. The other charges, along with multiple accounts, could bring forth 10-15 years.” Willow shook her head. That was 10-15 years that she wouldn’t have to deal with her mother. However, that meant that her mother could be free in 11-16 years. Not the most comforting news.
“Now, it could result in longer jail time, or shorter. It just depends on the judge, whether convicted and sentencing. We will begin trial next Wednesday. She will enter her plead then, whether guilty or not. If she pleads guilty, that means that you get your explanation and quick peace of mind. If she doesn’t, that means that we go through the process.” Willow shivered at that thought. she didn’t want to go through the process of describing everything that had happened with her and her parents over the years.
“Do you have any questions at this time?” The pair glance at each other and Tony shakes his head no. it seemed straight forward. He was just comforted in the fact that she had been caught.
“Okay. If you have any questions, feel free to call me. If not, I will see you next week. goodbye.”
“Goodbye sir.” Willow then hangs up and sets the phone on the table before glancing over at Tony. “10-15 years. That just seems…pittyful!” Tony pulls her close, letting her lay against him.
“I know. It doesn’t seem fair at all for everything. But, at least it’s something, right? Besides, you have to be insane to do what she ahs done to you all of your life. Maybe she’ll get the mental help that she needs.” Willow shakes her head, agreeing. That was something that was comforting over these years. It was a thought that had bugged her since she ran away.
“When I ran form my parents, I always wondered whether they were sane or not. I wondered if there was some underlying issue there that if taken care of, would’ve improved things. Sometimes I regret not saying something all those years ago.” Tony rubs her shoulders, understanding. He kept wondering what he’d do if dealt the same situation.
“You were scared, you wanted to get away and not think about it ever again. You didn’t want any trace of that in your life. It’s understandable what you did, even in not saying anything. Nobody faults you for not reporting it or doing something.” Willow knew that Tony was right, but still it was a thought that bugged her.
“What if I had said something? Then maybe she could’ve got the help…they both could’ve…”
“Hey, don’t blame yourself for anything. None of this is your fault. As a little girl, you did the best thing that you could do for yourself. At least she’s caught now and things are turning on the right end.” She shakes her head, trying to use that to give her assurance. But yet, still, the thought was there. She knew that she’d keep asking herself what if, along with being frightened by the memories in the days moving forward. How do you erase that pain and abuse from your mind?
“I’m sorry I’m ruining our week away with this.” He then kisses her cheek, not worried one bit. He was fine with having these simple conversations with her.
“You’re not ruining the week. Actually, this week is meant for this – time for us to get away from everything up here and get our thoughts out on the table. time for us to find a way to cope with everything that happened. In the midst of that, we’ll have some time to ourselves to have our own fun.” She then shifts her position a little, glancing into her yes. The thought of having fun was a great one. She could use a distraction right now.
“So besides dinner with your parents on Sunday, what is the plan Mr. Stewart?” A smirk forms on his face as he gives her a kiss.
“For starters, I could do that all week without complaint. We could also spend time outside, go see a movie, go out to a couple of places around here, or just relax here. I don’t have any plans – besides that dinner. With the rest of the week, it’s whatever the lady wants that will make her happy.”