The Runaway – Chapters 36 Thru 40

Chapter 36: Sick

December 17, 2015

Over the next couple of days, the three of them could only sit back and watch, helplessly. It was easy to tell that he was sick and his body was fighting it.

They watched as while he tried to stay strong, there was weakness shown. The doctors assured them that he’d get better over the next couple of days, but that didn’t make it easier to watch, or hear a couple moans of pain.

For the most part, all he wanted to do was sleep. His body was tired – fighting the sickness, everything that he had been through – and sleep was a peaceful thing amongst that. Cindy had questioned the doctors on the amount of sleep, but the doctors assured her that it was fine.

“His body is fighting it off in combination with the medicine,” the doctor had explained. “Sleep is the best thing as sleep gives him energy, and energy gives him fight. He’ll get better, Mrs. Elliott.”

With the passing days, they sat in the room, taking turns between the chair beside the bed and the couch, and taking turns to go get food. At the days end, Dale and Regan would leave to head back to the hotel to get some sleep there – while Bill would sometimes join them, sometimes staying with Chase and Cindy. It just depended on how everyone was feeling at day’s end.

“Ugh…” Chase let out as he woke up at some point that afternoon. Cindy shifted from her spot in the chair, catching a glimpse of his eyes.

Normally he’d wake up, sometimes in a bit of a pain and sometimes not, which would result in comforting from whoever was closest. He would then sometimes wake up and stay awake for awhile, or other times he’d go back to sleep once he was comfy, again.

“Honey?” Cindy asks as she wipes a bit of hair out of his eyes. He then glances over at her, keeping his head laid back against the pillow.

“I can barely move….I can’t keep my eyes open…,” he let out as he stared up the ceiling. “Am I ever going to get better?” Cindy often asked herself that question many times, but kept faith as she knew how strong her son was, and kept faith in the doctor’s words. If the doctors remained confident, then she’d stay confident.

“You’re going to get better sweetie. The doctors said that you’d get better. This is just part of the process. Your body is fighting it, which makes everything else weak in return. Once you fought it off, you’ll work at getting your strength back and things will be okay.” He then shivers a little, trying to get comfy.

“I feel cold…” She feels his forehead before fixing his blankets.

“You’ve got a bit of a cold sweat – sometimes they say a cold is leaving you when you’re sweating it. Plus, you kicked the blankets off of your feet in your sleep.” He knew why he had done that.

It was the dream. He found himself back to those nightmares again at times. Sometimes they were about the recent deal with Randy and Demi, sometimes about the time before. He knew that needed to focus on getting better so he could get out of there and focus on getting back over those nightmares.

He needed those nightmares gone by race season.

He knew it was only December, but race season would be there before he knew it. That meant 36 grueling weeks with his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series. Sure, he should focus on taking care of himself, but the racer in him couldn’t stop thinking about the season. How was he supposed to be ready for that with this going on?

Though before he could worry about race season, he needed to worry about getting better and getting out of there. He wanted to be home for Christmas. He had promised his parents that he’d be home for Christmas. That gave him eight days to get better. Considering that he’d been sick with phenomena for three days already and on the medicine, he couldn’t honestly be stuck with it for eight more days, could he?

He lets out a sigh, just hoping that things worked out as not being home for Christmas and would feel weird and he wasn’t up for that. It wouldn’t be same as sitting around the Christmas tree with his parents and his sister, telling stories and opening presents. It wouldn’t be the same as sitting in the dining room, indulging in the meal that Cindy had cooked. He couldn’t wait to taste her stuffing or her lovely delightful apple tie that he always craved.

“Sssh…it’ll be fine…” Cindy comments as she watches his eyes close once again as he focuses on the happiness of Christmas, hoping that brings a happy filled sleep.

He needed to get his rest. He needed to get better. He needed to get home for Christmas.

 

Chapter 37: Christmas Looming

“Any updates?” Regan questions as he and Dale head for a food run. They promised to bring Cindy and Bill back something.

“The doctor said that he’s getting a little better,” Dale answers. “He says that he feels a bit better, but still feels that weakness.”

“Strength will come as he heals.” Dale shakes his head in agreement. They then glance around looking at their food options.

“Pull in there. We need a change.” Regan notices the sandwich shop that Dale is pointing at, pulling into the parking lot. “Have you talked to Megan?”

“We talked last night for an hour. She says that things are good and plans are coming together for our families to get together at my parent’s place. I apologized for not helping plan and she told me that it wasn’t a big deal as I had bigger fish to fry.” Regan then glances over at Dale. “What about you? Have you talked to Marie?”

“We talked last night, as well. We just had the usual conversation, as always. I also talked to Alyssa this morning. She told me that she misses me and wish Chasey get better, but she seemed alright when we were done. After all, I’m supposed to take care of Chasey and Winnie.” Regan chuckles as he thinks back to the teddy bear.

“That teddy bear has made it’s rounds.” Dale shakes his head in agreement.

“As long as Chase gets home for Christmas and the teddy bear makes it back to Alyssa for Christmas, it’ll be fine. That’s all that matters at this point.” Regan takes a deep breath, having done some thinking over the past day or so.

“I know Christmas is a big deal. She’s a four year old so she’s going to want the presents and everything. If you combine that with the fact that you have to buy presents for the nieces and cousins, there’s a lot of shopping to be done. Marie is also pregnant – due early next year. I was thinking-”

“Don’t say it.” Regan looks over at Dale.

“Excuse me?” Dale glances down before returning his eyes to Regan.

“You want me to go home so I can help Marie get things ready for Christmas for Alyssa and the family. You’re right to be worried as she’s pregnant. However, she told me not to worry about her and that Chase was the number one priority. She wants me here to take care of hi-”

“He has Bill and Cin-”

“And who’s going to watch out for them?” Regan points to himself. “Right. What about your little boy?”

“Megan isn’t pregnant, Dale. She can handle things. Besides, he’s just a toddler. It’s not a big deal. Alyssa is older and understands, and you have Wyatt, Karsyn and Kennedy to get stuff for – as well as the rest of the family.” Dale knew the point was valid. However, he also remembered the conversation with Marie.

“Marie told me tha-”

“She just doesn’t want you to worry, Dale. That’s why she told you that.” Dale shakes his head.

“She also told me that she had gotten some help in getting things for Christmas so I didn’t need to worry. We talked about some gift ideas on the phone, anyway.” Dale lays his head against the back of the seat. “I told you on day one in the hospital that I would not leave here unless I had Chase with me on a plane set to take him home. That doesn’t change. Besides, he’s going to make it home for Christmas and we’re going to make it home for Christmas.” Regan was hopeful of the same, but knew of the possibility.

“What if he doesn’t?” Dale looks over at Regan, sharply.

“Trust me – he will. I’m going to make sure that he makes it home, one way or another. Even if we need to have him transferred to a hospital near home, he’s going to be home for Christmas.” Regan looks over with a slight smile. It was nice to see the hope and determination, despite being annoyed with the stubbornness.

“I hope you’re right. However, if we get to Christmas Eve and it doesn’t look like its happening, you’re heading home.” Dale keeps his eyes locked on Regan’s.

“Fine, but it won’t come to that. Now lets go eat.” The pair then head into the sandwich shop, set to get some food for lunch.

At the hospital, Chase had been sleeping – like he had been the majority of the day – though started to shiver a bit in his sleep. A couple tears come down his face as he finds himself locked in the dream.

“Say goodbye Chasey!” Randy says before pushing Chase back further closer to the ice hole. Chase reaches with his hands, grasping for anything that he can, but nothing can be found for grip on the slippery surface on that side of the hole. Randy gives them him one extra shove and watches as the young man goes splashing into the water. “Should’ve behaved.” Randy then hops on the snowmobile, placing the key in the ignition before heading off.

Feeling the ice water around him, covering every inch of his body, Chase knew he had to escape as soon as possible. He splashed in the water as much as he could, making sure to keep his head above water.

“Help! Help!” He screamed, hopeful that someone, anyone would hear him. Somebody had to be ice fishing that day.

Feeling his body grow colder in the ice water, he knew that he had to get out there before he froze and drowned. Feeling helpless, he kept making sure to keep his head above, grabbing an edge of the ice. It felt thick and if he could hold his body there, perhaps he had a chance.

He then noticed on the opposite side of the small hole that there was a pair of silver objects stuck in the ground. Whoever dug this hole for fishing had placed them incase they got stuck in the hole themselves to use to pull themselves out.

He makes his way around the small hole, continuing to hold on to the thick ice, reaching the side where he saw the pair of silver objects sticking out. He reaches his one arm out, hoping to grab hold to pull himself up. First reach – no success. He then tries to add a bit of jump before reaching, and gets closer but doesn’t reach it.

“Shit!” He lets out, glancing around to see if there was any sign of help.

With nobody in sight, he knew that he had to do it himself. Body looking to give up soon with the coldness set to overcome him, he knew he had to give it one more shot.

He reaches once again for the silvery objects, looking to grasp a little…but misses…falling back into the water…

“Help!!” He lets out as he starts to sink further down in the water, energy leaving him….

“Help!” He lets out as he shivers in the bed, arms flapping out in the open as if to grasp something. “Help!” He reaches his arms out straight in front him, if a motion to grip a handle, or whatever was there.

“Chase!” Bill says as he makes his way over, grabbing Chase’s hand with his own. He then grabs the other hand, bringing them both down as he holds them securely in his grasp. “You’re dreaming. Wake up!” Chase’s eyes flutter open as he glances around the room, each breath coming out rapidly, as he looks to his father.

“The water….the hole….” Bill immediately pulls him close as he wraps his arms firmly around him.

“Don’t think about that…” A couple more tears fall down Chase’s face as he buries his head in Bill’s shoulder.

“I could’ve drowned. I could’ve not reached the bar.” Bill rubs his back as he takes a deep breath, knowing that reality himself. The fear of that possibility happening had ran through the older man’s mind a couple times over the past couple of weeks. It was why he woke up each day, thankful that things had worked out, willing to accept whatever battles were thrown their way and willing to fight through them. He had the chance to continue to hold his son in his arms and he wasn’t going to let that go.

“But you did. You reached the bar and got out of the water. You escaped and made your way to the lodge. Don’t think about the possibility of what could’ve been, but be thankful for what happened. You were able to escape and you’re going to be okay.” Bill gives him a kiss on top of his head as he feels his shirt becoming damp with more tears falling. “It’s okay, Chase. I got you. I’m never letting you go, ever.”

The pair stayed like that for a while till Chase was out of tears and had managed to calm himself down. He then slowly got out of the grasp, lying back in the bed.

“You okay now?” Bill asks as he sits down in the chair beside the bed. Chase shakes his head yes as he turns his eyes to his father.

“When is it going to get easier?” He questions as Bill takes a deep breath, thinking.

“It’ll get easier over time. The further you move away from it, the more you come to grips with what happened, and the more you find ways to move forward, it’ll get easier. It takes time, Chase, but it will get easier.” Chase lays his head back against the pillow, closing his eyes. He wished that time was now. He didn’t want to think about the cold water. He didn’t want to think about Randy. He didn’t want to think about being sick. He didn’t want to think about Demi.

“Why can’t we just make it go away, like they make sickness and soreness go away?” Bill looks over and shakes his head.

“Because it’s not that easy. The mind works in mysterious ways and simply making it go away isn’t something that you can just have happen. The mind has to come to grips and see whatever meaning it wants before it will let that happen.” Bill then gives him a pat on the leg. “But it will happen. You’ll get through this. I promise you. I’ll also be here with you every step of the way.”

 

Chapter 38: Parental Discussion

December 19, 2015

After a heave of comments from both Regan and Dale, Bill and Cindy finally backed down from their spots in Chase’s room and agreed to go out to dinner one night.

“I mean it – full dinner at a proper restaurant,” Dale told them. “You’re both going to go out and spend some quality time together. I don’t want to see you back here for a whole hour. You can then come back and see him, but you’re both sleeping back at the hotel tonight. You both need to take care of yourselves. Regan and I can handle the night shift tonight.”

They both resisted on both accounts, but finally agreed to it after the Regan and Dale wouldn’t give up, and Chase got in on the bargaining.

The dinner was a quiet experience. Both shared a couple topics of discussion, with one of the topics surrounding Christmas. They were both set that Chase would be home for Christmas no matter what and Bill had continued to go ahead with plans.

He shared the details of his latest conversation with Starr, as she promised to be there along with her daughter. She was also worried about Chase, but conversation assured her that things would work out. He also had some ideas as to what would be on the menu, as well as the late minute gift shopping that they’d do once getting home.

The last thing – he made a promise to put the tree up upon the first night at home since it wasn’t Christmas without the tree.

He was also curious as to what Cindy wanted for Christmas, but she didn’t share any thoughts on that. The only thing she wanted was for her baby to be home, and feeling better. Bill kept his word, promising that would happen no matter what.

They went back to the hospital after dinner to check on him, seeing that he was fine with his friends. He had gotten a bit more of his strength back as he continued to get over the pneumonia. Regan had settled in the chair beside him, reading some of the text messages that he had received over the past few days. Chase told him the replies to send back, in which Regan followed suit.

There were even a couple chuckles heard at the jokes. Darrell and Ryan were the jokesters, and it seemed they’d send one each day, as a way to try and help lighten the mood for Chase.

After they were assured that he’d be fine for the night, and virtually kicked out of the room, the pair headed back to the hotel.

Getting changed into some pajamas, they laid in the bed beside each other a couple hours later, both thinking about what was on their mind. It was obvious as to who was on their mind, as he had been on their mind all month so far.

“You know, he woke up the other night from a nightmare, saying that he could’ve drowned if he hadn’t reached out far enough,” Bill breaks the silence as Cindy looks over. “It took everything that I had to not cry. I thought about the fact that we could’ve lost him in that minute. I thought about how close he came. I thought about how lucky he was.” He then looks over at Cindy. “I don’t know what the plan is, but I know there’s a reason that he made it out of there. He’s going to be okay, and he’s going to go on to do great things.”

“What are those things, ‘ol wise one?” Cindy questions as he lays her head against Bill.

“Well, we know that he’s one great racecar driver so I’m betting that he’s going to have a really good season. But beyond that, there’s a reason – or at least they say God has a reason.” Cindy smile a little as she tries to think about the possibilities.

“He’s always been my little boy – shy, quiet and perhaps naïve at parts. This whole experience has taught not only him, but myself, that he is going to be a great man. He has the strength to take on everything by himself and come out swinging. No matter the battle, he’ll be able to face it straight on and come out on top.”

“We did a good job raising him, Cindy. Some parents aren’t so lucky to have such a great kid.” Cindy shakes her head in agreement.

“He made it easy on us, though. He wasn’t ever a real bad kid.” She then lets out a sigh. “I could never picture him growing up, though. Every time I look into those eyes, I keep thinking about the little boy when he was first born. I keep remembering how I held him in my arms as he grew bigger, and then helped him tackle the challenges of school.” Bill chuckles, remembering some of the late nights doing homework.

“I thought you were going to go insane with those math problems.” Cindy chuckles as she gives him a little shove.

“You never helped with those.” He looks over at her in surprise.

“I did help. I told you both to tell the farmer to just buy a bunch of fence and surround the whole yard without checking to see how much he needed first. That, or use measuring tape instead of a darn math question. Oh, and I also told you both to tell y that you’re never finding his x.” Cindy shakes her head, remembering that.

“I’m sure the teacher will love you for that.” She then lays her head back against him. “Bill, when did our baby grow up?”

“He grew a little more each year and now he’s his own young man. However, you know this already, but he’ll always need his mama. He always comes to you if there’s a problem and if he needs cuddles.” She shakes her head as she lets out a sigh.

“I just wish that he’d get through these nightmares and they’d go away.” Bill rubs her back as he leans down and gives her a kiss.

“They’ll go away with time. Give it time, Cindy. Time heals all wounds. It’ll get better as we head into the new year.”

 

Chapter 39: Christmas Looming…

December 20, 2015

Dale sits in the chair beside the bed, texting back and forth with a couple different people. He sets the phone down as he glances over at Chase, who was playing around on his phone.

Dale couldn’t help but smile as a little as he saw the familiar color returning to the cheeks of the young man beside him. He also saw the gains in strength as Chase was staying up more throughout the day, talking more and playing on his phone more. He almost looked bored at parts of the day, just wanting to make his escape.

The past couple of days had been filled with discussion, but yet today, Chase was oddly quiet. He had been focused on his phone, playing a game or checking some messages, but hadn’t said a single peep out loud.

“You’re quiet today,” Dale breaks the silence between them as Chase glances over at him.

“I’ve got nothing to say,” he comments before turning his eyes back to his phone. Dale knew that look – it was look of not wanting to bothered or talk about things. He had grown used to it in their previous interactions.

“Nah, there’s something on your mind.” Chase then sets his phone down as he looks back at Dale.

“Why aren’t you home getting ready for Christmas? Why aren’t you home doing your Christmas shopping? Why aren’t you home helping Marie get things ready for Christmas?” Dale sets his phone down, knowing that Chase deserved the honest answer to that question.

“Because I care about you. When you called me and told me that you wanted me to come get you because of some crazy mad man on the loose, I made the promise that I wasn’t returning home without you on that plane. That promise still stands there today, Chase. Besides, Kelley is helping Marie with getting things ready for Christmas and taking care of her. My shopping list – Karsyn offered to take care of it in her way of helping out. The only thing that isn’t on the list of things that she’s bought is, obviously, what I’m getting her. I just have to buy that one gift and something special for Marie that I didn’t want Karsyn getting and I’m done. We’re going to busting your ass out of here sooner than later, and I’ll have enough time to do that.” Chase then lays his head back against the pillow, understanding what Dale was saying. However, within all that, there was one lost thought on his mind. He kept being told that he ‘d get to go home for Christmas, but the days were running out and he hadn’t been let out of the room yet.

“Do you honestly believe that I’m going to be home for Christmas?” Dale shakes his head yes. He was going to make sure of it, for not only Chase, but Bill and Cindy.

“You’re going to be home in Georgia for Christmas, one way or another. I’m not letting you miss Christmas because of that jackass. You’re pretty much over the pneumonia, and your strength is pretty much back. That shows signs of a release paper showing up in your lap.” Chase hoped that those words were the truth, however he felt a tinge of worry that it wouldn’t happen.

“What if that doesn’t happ-”

“It’s going to happen, Chase. Trust me. I’ve made promises before and I’ve kept those promises. I’m not breaking this one.” Dale then stands up, glancing back at Regan. “I’m going to go for a walk. I’ll be back after.” Regan shakes his head as he gets up off of the couch and sits beside Chase.

“So why are you still here?” Regan relaxes in the chair.

“Because I believe the same thing that Dale said,” Regan states as Dale leaves the room.

Dale heads down the short hallway to the nurses’ station, leaning over the edge as he catches the attention of the one nurse.

“May I help you?” She questions as he crosses his arms.

“Is Dr. Grayson around?” He asks and she points to the doctor’s office across the hallway. “Thanks.” He then walks across the hall, knocking on the door.

“Come in,” Dr. Grayson says as he looks up from his desk. Dale enters the office, walking up to the desk. “Is there a problem?”

“I need you to answer me this one question and I need the truth.” The doctor then looks up, curiously. “Will Chase make it home for Christmas?” The doctor leans back in his chair.

“He’s over the pheumon-”

“Will Chase make it home for Christmas?” The doctor sits up and gives Dale a glance.

“I’m trying to explain the situati-”

“And I just want an answer. It’s a yes or no question, doctor.” The doctor takes a deep breath as he thinks it over.

“More than likely, the answer is yes. We need to make sure that he stays clean of any pheumonia so therefore we have to keep him 48 hours. If everything comes back clear then, he is free to go home. Given his progress, that should be fine.” Dale knew by that comment that the prognosis was good, but still saw the tint of worry in Chase not making it home.

“And if there’s a trace, then you have to keep him, correct?” The doctor shakes his head yes. “Fine. If there’s a trace and you have to keep him under hospital watch longer, is there anyway that you can get him transferred to Georgia?” The doctor sits up as he glances through some notes.

“There’s a way, but I have to warn you that it’s not easy to set-up with arranging transportation and a transfer from one country to another. Beyond that, there’s the cost that’s associated with it.” Dale knew that would come about, but that didn’t matter to him. All that mattered was the Christmas wish that a certain 20-year-old had at that time.

“Well, I’m going to tell you this. If it comes down that he’s going to still be here on Christmas, you’re going to make that transfer happen. There’s one ting that he wants more than anything for Christmas, and that’s to be home, and I intend on making sure that happens.” Dale then turns to leave the office as the doctor clears his throat.

“Why does this matter so much?” Dale stops an turns back to face the doctor.

“You’d understand if you’ve been through everything that we’ve been through this year. We just want our lives to go back to being normal. We don’t want to think about having to look over our shoulder, someone stabbing or poisoning us, or a bomb being on a plane. We want everything to go back to how they were before. The start of that is being home for Christmas with our families.”

Dale then walks out of the office and thought of heading back to Chase’s room, but headed the other direction. He took the short elevator ride down to the main floor and walked out of the hospital, getting in the rental car. He then sat back as he let everything sink in, feeling a couple tears roll down his cheeks.

No doubt the past year had brought them a lot of ups and downs, and more downs than they could’ve imagined. Who knew two people could turn your life right upside down. Everybody kept saying that the normal headaches of life were a pain, but in that moment, Dale knew that he’d rather have those than everything that they were dealing with.

He hears the passenger door open and glances over as he watches Regan sit down beside him.

“Bill and Cindy are back from grabbing lunch,” he starts as he keeps his eyes focused on Dale. “Are you okay?” Dale shakes his head yes.

“I just needed a minute to myself, to get it out of my system,” he comments as Regan reaches over and pats his leg.

“I’m here if you want someone to talk to about things. You’re also welcome to head back to Marie and Alyssa now if you need to go.” Dale then looks over at Regan and shakes his head no.

“I’m keeping my promise to Chase. I’m not letting him down.” Regan kept his eyes focused on Dale and shook his head, understanding.

“Okay, but remember – it’s not your fault that he got tangled in this mess with Mariella and Randy, no matter how it may seem that way.” Dale knew that Regan was right in those words. It was their fault for their actions. However, it was his connection to Chase that got Chase pulled in the midst of everything. It was hard to continue to tell yourself at times that it wasn’t your fault.

“I know – no matter what my brain wants to tell me otherwise. I get it, Regan.”

“Why don’t we switch seats and I’ll drive us to the local Swiss Chalet? We can each grab something and take it back to the hotel and discuss things.” Dale shakes his head, agreeing, knowing that perhaps it’d be best to get his feelings out on the table before they drove him crazy.

 

Chapter 40: My Only Christmas Wish

December 23, 2015

“Where do you want me to put your stuff?” Dale questions as they walk in the house. Chase points up the stairs as he follows them in.

“You can put it in my room,” he states as Dale heads up the stairs with the bag. “Dale! Grab the bear out of it. Someone wants him home, remember?” Dale grins and shakes his head yes.

“Just remember….take it easy…,” Cindy warns as Chase makes his way into the living room and relaxes on the couch.

“Mom, I’m fine. You don’t need to hover over me.” Cindy goes behind the couch and wraps her arms around his shoulders.

“I’m your mother – it’s my job.” She then gives him a kiss on the cheek. “Besides, the doctor warned that you’re still getting over everything, physically and mentally, so to keep an eye on you.” Chase rolls his eyes as he lies back on the couch.

“Should I plan your escape now?” Regan jokes as Cindy gives him a glance.

“Nah, I can deal with mommy’s nagging,” Chase comments. “It feels good to be home….finally. I got my Christmas wish. That’s what matters.” He then looks over at his mom with a smile. “Remember the note that I wrote you? I kept my promise.” Cindy smiles as she shakes her head.

“Don’t ever do that to me, again,” she states. “At least give me good warning of any trips and have a sit down talk with me. Don’t do the random escapes.” Chase chuckles as he grabs his phone, sending a quick text to Ryan.

“Trust me – I’m not running away, Momma. I’m staying right here.”

“Do you want anything?” He shakes his head no as he sits his phone back on the table.

“I think I’m going to have a nap, actually. I want to be able to help you and dad put the tree up later.” She then gives him a surprised glance as Chase smiles. “Dad has already left the room. Do you want to bet that he’s downstairs searching for the boxes?”

“That sounds like your father. But you’re right, a nap would be a good idea.” Dale comes back down the stairs, glancing in the room with a smile. It was nice feeling knowing that Chase was home.

“Did you get lost up there?” Dale chuckles and shakes his head no.

“I found myself glancing over a couple of the photos and posters in your room,” Dale comments. “That photo of you with my dad is beyond adorable, but I know what I can teas you about big time now.” Chase rolls his eyes.

“Yeah yeah, the Jeff Gordon poster,” he comments. “Let’s face it – every little boy during the 90s was looking up to Jeff. He was winning everything!” Dale shakes his head, understanding.

“It’ll be weird this year without him on track, and even more weird knowing that you’re driving his car.” Chase shakes his head. That was part of the motivation to get better as soon as possible – not only for the holidays, but he needed to get his butt down to the shop to make sure he was fully prepared for the full Cup schedule.

“On that note, let Rick know that I’ll be down there beginning of Jan-”

“I don’t want you worrying about that,” Cindy cuts him off as Chase rolls his eyes.

“Mom, I told you – I’m fi-” He starts.

“You need to focus on yourself and worry about that later.” He then looks over at Cindy.

“Hence why I am telling Dale that I won’t be down to North Carolina till January, probably. I’m going to take these next couple of weeks to relax here with you guys.” Cindy smiles as it was nice to hear that her baby would be staying with her for a while.

“Rick won’t mind at all,” Dale starts. “He’s worried about the main thing, and that’s the fact that you’re okay. I’ll see you later. I got to get Regan home to Megan, and then I need to go see Marie and Alyssa. Text me or call me if you need me, no matter the hour.” Chase shakes his head yes as they share a quick hug.

“Thank you,” Chase tells him quietly. “Thank you for being there, for everything.”

“Just focus on yourself and getting better.”

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

Dale walks up to the front door, takes a deep breath before turning the door handle and walking inside. Clutching the bear underneath an arm with a backpack thrown over his back, he closes the door behind him. He sets the backpack down as he slips off his shoes, hearing voices and the sounds of movement in the distance.

“You’re due soon; you should be resting and taking care of yourself!” He hears his sister yell and can only chuckle. “I can handle getting dinner ready.”

“You shouldn’t be taking care of me, Alyssa and your kids all at once,” he hears Marie comment back as he makes his way down the hall.

“L.W. can handle the kids while I help you take care of yourself. Stop worrying.” He then makes his way into the kitchen, a smile forming on his face as he smells what his sister is making for dinner. He glances between the girls, only with a smile on his face.

“How about I help you take care of yourself, Marie?” He questions, causing both ladies to look up and look over at him.

“You’re home!” Marie lets out as she immediately makes her way over and wraps her arms around him, giving him multiple kisses on the cheek. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you. I love you so much. I’m so glad you’re home.” He just wraps his arms around her, holding her close as he gives her a kiss on the lips.

“I love you and our little girls, too. I’m also glad that I’m home back in your arms. But now that I’m home, no barking orders and you’re going to accept that we’re going to take care of you.” Marie lets out a sigh as she goes and sits down.

“Happy?” He shakes his head yes as he joins his sister in the kitchen.

“Do you need any help?” Kelley shakes her head no as she gives him a quick hug.

“Everything okay with Chase?” Kelley questions and Dale shakes his head yes.

“He’s home with Cindy and Bill, which is where he needs to be more than anything,” he comments. “He was happy and fine when we left, and Cindy was just glad to have her baby home. They’re going to have a good Christmas together.”

“And you and Regan?”

“Regan is home with Megan and they’re heading out for family fun in the morning to get set for Christmas. I’m fine – I’m glad to be home with Marie and Alyssa.”

“Karsyn has your shopping list complete.” Dale smiles as he had tried to keep the list as basic as possible. “She also wrapped everything, as well.”

“Your daughter is amazing. I owe her big time.” Dale then glances around, still holding the bear. “Where’s the little one?” Marie points into the backyard, where Marie was running around with Wyatt and the dogs.

“Even as it gets colder outside, they want to play out there,” Marie comments. “We told them it was fine – as long as they bundled up.” Dale then heads out in the backyard, watching them for a bit.

“Wyatt, time to come in!” He hears L.W. yell and gives a quick wave, before watching Wyatt run off. Alyssa then glances towards the house and an immediate smile forms on the little girl’s face. She runs as quickly as she can to the house, clutching her arms around Dale’s legs.

“Daddy!!” She yells as she hugs him tightly. He then kneels down and picks her up into his arms. “You’re home! You’re here for Christmas in…two day. Momma say Santa come 1 night.” Dale shakes his head yes as she was right – Santa came tomorrow night for Christmas on Sunday.

“Did you miss me?” He asks and she shakes her head yes. “Did you miss Winnie?” She shakes her head yes as she grabs the bear out of his arms.

“Daddy, Winnie stay safe?” He shakes his head yes.

“Winnie did a good job keeping daddy safe, and Winnie made sure that Chase was home with Bill and Cindy for Christmas.” Alyssa thinks it over, before looking back at Dale.

“I see Chase?” Dale brushes a bit of hair out of her face as they head inside.

“He said he’ll come see you soon, okay? We can call him later tonight and you can talk to him.”

“Yay!!”

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