The Runaway – Chapters 56 Thru 59

Chapter 56: Flashback and Tears

January 7, 2016

Chase takes a deep breath, after recalling the conversation. To him, that was the easy part of the flashback. The attempted escape was the harder piece to tell, and how it failed. He partially regretted that escape due to the pain that he suffered out of it, but also knew in the moment that he made to try something.

“I told him that I wasn’t going to go with him,” Chase continues his tale as Darrell and Ryan sit across from him, listening closely. “He tried to tell me that it wouldn’t work, but I stuck to my guns. As soon as he opened the door open a bit, I immediately pushed forward, pushing Randy down and going for the stairs. Of course, someone got in the way.” Ryan rolls his eyes, knowing who immediately.

“His helper?” Ryan questions and Chase shakes his head yes. “I thought he was saying that Randy was crazy for his plan for you?”

“Oh, he was, but that didn’t stop him for helping. As I went to go by him, he grabbed my foot, pulling it back, which sent me face first down against the wooden stairs.” Ryan and Darrell immediately cringe hearing the details, understanding why Chase was in pain while in the hospital healing from the other bits of the attack.

“I don’t even want to think about how much pain that’d result in. I mean, I’ve fallen and that hurt enough. I couldn’t imagine that. I’m guessing that’s when he was able to regain control, right?” Chase shakes his head yes, remembering the moment.

“He then grabbed me with both of his hands, sticking a needle back in my arm, knocking me back out. The last thing I remember is his arms around me, scared as to what would happen next.” Ryan shakes his head in disbelief a he hadn’t realized how many pieces were to Chase’s tail.

He knew of some deception by Demi, but not the fact that she was his first. He knew that Chase had found himself stuck in an ice hole courtesy of Randy, but not everything that had led up to that. Hearing the details, he found himself cringing at the thought of the pain, but also feeling his heartbreak in realizing what his friend went through.

Making a small sacrifice and giving up a night of sleep was nothing if you compared it to everything that Chase had been through. In part, he felt a huge responsibility in sitting there, willing to do whatever it took to help his friend move forward.

“I can understand the fear as you knew what he was capable of,” Ryan finally lets out, breaking the silence that had fallen over the room. They had simply expected Chase to go into the next part of the story, but he found himself topping in the midst of it. “But, no matter how much you think about, you also have to remember how strong you are. You have to remember that you made it through everything that he flung your way and that you’re here. You have to remember that no matter how daunting these thoughts may be, you survived and are going to be able to move forward with your life as you want.” Chase shook his head, knowing that Ryan was right.

Besides the odd pain here and there from the previous damaged nerves in his leg, and having to watch how much he did with it, everything else had seemed to heal accordingly without any trace. All that was left was leaving the mental aspect in the background, and that begun with telling his friends his story.

“Are you okay?” Darrell questions, noticing Chase’s quietness more so now than earlier in the discussions. “Are you sure you’re set to continue?” Chase shakes his head yes, knowing that he had to get it out. The boys deserved to know the full truth with how much they had learned thus far, and their end of what they went through in worrying about him throughout. Besides, he felt that it should be easy to tell the tale as he had talked about the most haunting piece of the attack – the ice hole – with his father at the hospital.

“The next time that I woke up, I was on a sled with one foot tied to a pole in the corner by a rope,” Chase starts quietly, remembering that moment when he woke up. “My hands were also bound behind my back by a simple thin tie-wrap. I remember immediately analyzing the situation, thinking of a way to escape.” It didn’t surprise Ryan to hear that detail as based on what Chase had told them thus far, he was a fighter and wasn’t about to accept Randy’s fate no matter the situation.

“He heard you trying to escape, or you couldn’t break the tie?” Ryan questions and Chase gives him a so-so glance on that mark. Randy had heard him in his movements, but he hadn’t started his escape at that point.

“He heard me when I was glancing around at the ties, and that caught his attention. I then also let out a shiver, in which he commented that I should’ve worn a coa-”

“You were knocked out so how could you put it on?” Darrell questions as Chase laughs, remembering his response to Randy.

“That’s what I told him in those exact words,” Chase offers as Darrell smiles. “He told me that I shouldn’t have tried to escape, but he was glad that I had my sweater. I continued to pull at the tie-wrap that bound my wrists together, finally able to bringing it by swinging my arms as fast as I could in opposite directions. You could hear the plastic break, which caused me freeze as I thought Randy caught me.”

“Did he?” Chase could sense the anticipation in Darrell’s voice in wondering about how things went down. It seemed Darrell had anticipation in learning the details, while Ryan had been caring voice throughout the discussion. Based on the relationship that they had together, that didn’t surprise him.

“He did, and he stopped the sled shortly after. I didn’t care because I was just focused on escaping and throwing the punch that I needed to. Randy then got off the snowmobile, and I kept my hands behind my back as if I hadn’t broken the tie. I also noticed the hole, debating whether I could land his ass in it.” Chase shakes his head, knowing that things had turned in the wrong direction. “I guess I shouldn’t have thought about the hole.”

“Ice isn’t something to mess with. That stuff is freezing cold.” A shiver escapes Chase at the thought, as he knew Darrell was certainly right in those words. There was one thing for certain – him and cold water weren’t going to mix well for awhile. “Are you okay?” Darrell had noticed the shiver, wondering if perhaps they were getting too far into the discussion for the night being. He wasn’t sure if he could handle Chase getting more upset while telling them as he thought perhaps that’d be something to save for Regan.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I was just thinking about the water…and it escaped without me realizing.” He then takes a deep breath, knowing that he had to tell the rest of the tale. He had to get it off of his chest so that way he could move forward. “I knew I had to escape so I finally swung my arms around, pulling the rope to release my foot and screamed for help. That was when Randy’s plan changed, and he thought about just killing me in that moment.”

“So what did you do?” Ryan wonders, knowing that Chase probably did something in hopes of stopping Randy. Chase glances down at the ground, taking a shaky deep breath as he tries to calm himself as the images come to mind.

“I gave him a hard shove to push him away from me,” Chase starts. “I then went for the snowmobile, thinking that I could drive away with ease. However, he knew that I was going to try something – there were no keys in the snowmobile as he dangled them before me. I was in shock, couldn’t believe it, and he took advantage of me – as he always has.”

“Chase….” Ryan then reaches for Chase’s hand, noticing that their on the edge with Chase’s comments and knowing that they’re growing closer to the moment. “It’s not your fault. There was nothing that you could do in that situation. You tried everything that you could to get away and stop him. It’s not your fault. Like we’ve said all along – be thankful that you’re okay and able to move forward.” Chase kept repeating those words in his mind, but they were hard to believe as repeated images of drowning also filled his thoughts as well. He knew how close he had come to dying when he was in that ice hole.

“I know. It’s just hard at times to make myself believe that…” He then takes a deep breath, trying to release the shaky thoughts from his mind, as well as the tears that threaten to fall. He knew that he simply had to continue. “In that moment, he grabbed my foot, pulling me off of the snowmobile. I then reached for anything, whatever I could – but I couldn’t. I failed to grab anything, and he kept pushing me further back, till I fell into the water. He then got on the snowmobile, left, leaving me there.” Chase focuses his eyes back down, grabbing the blanket and wrapping it tighter around himself without a thought. Closing his eyes, he tried to erase the images that flooded his mind as the cold water splashing around him, set to claim him, set to make him frozen in the moment.

“Chase?” Darrell asks, a little worried as he watches his friend fight the images in his mind.

“Chase, its okay…” Ryan says quietly as he reaches for Chase’s hand, grabbing it firmly. “Chase, open your eyes. Escape those images that are in your mind. Open your eyes. You’re not in the middle of the ice. You’re not in a hole. Open your eyes as you’re here with your friends, in your home, warm and cozy.” Chase’s eyes slowly open as he looks at Ryan straight on, tears surfacing.

“You don’t understand how scared I was,” Chase starts, voice shaking. “You don’t understand how cold that was. You don’t understand how alone I felt. You don’t understand how scared I was and how close I was to…” The tears then begin to fall as he glance away from the boys. “I’ve never been so scared. What if I had not escaped?” Ryan immediately stands up, wrapping both arms around Chase to hold him close, rubbing his back.

“You did escape, though. You made your way out of that mess and survived. That’s all that matters. You can’t dwell on what could’ve happened, but just be thankful that you’re okay. You’re okay, Chase. You made it through that, and you’ve got us to make sure that you make it through the days ahead. You’re okay, Chase.”

Ryan stayed like that for the next 20 minutes, simply rubbing his Chase’s back, repeating the words that he was okay as Chase continued to cry in his shoulder. Feeling that he had gotten out of his system, Chase released himself out of Ryan’s hold and sat back in the chair, letting out a long sigh of relief.

“Are you okay?” Ryan asks and Chase shakes his head yes. Ryan then resumes his spot of sitting on the floor. “It’s okay to cry. I bet it feel better now that you let that go, right?” Chase simply shakes his head yes, once again. “I meant what I said. I’ll be here anytime that you need me. Anytime that you get a flashback, nightmare – whatever. Just call me.”

“Same with me bud,” Darrell adds from his spot on the couch. “We’ve got your back and are going to make sure that you get through this.”

“Thanks,” Chase simply says. “I couldn’t ask for better friends.” The boys both smile.

“So we heard how you escaped the hole – your dad told us after you told him,” Ryan starts, knowing that making Chase reflect right back to those exact details would perhaps be too much considering the most recent crying episode. “Like I said, be thankful that you’re okay and those bars were there. Somebody was looking out for you, boy.” Chase had to smile at the thought, knowing that Casey was always looking down at him. He swore he heard Casey’s voice that day, telling him to reach further when he didn’t reach the bar the first time. “Beyond what you’ve told us, is there anything else?” Chase shakes his head no.

“I think I’ve covered everything,” he offers.

“Does it feel better now that we’ve talked, cried, let off some steam and explained things?” Darrell questions and Chase shakes his head yes. “Think you’ll be able to sleep for a couple of hours?” Chase glances at the clock, seeing that it was 3 in the morning.

“I think I’ll be okay to sleep.” Chase then stands up and heads for the stairs. “You boys can head home if you wan-”

“No way, we’re staying here for the night. It’s late and I don’t feel like moving.” Darrell then glances over at Ryan, who shakes his head in agreement. Darrell then looks over at Chase. “Besides, if you wake up at all, we want to be here for you to offer an ear to chat off, a shoulder to cry on, or whatever else you may need.”

“That’s fine. You know where the spare blankets are, right?” The boys shake their head yes.

“Go get some sleep, Chase,” Ryan tells him as he stands up, flopping back in the chair that Chase had previously occupied. “Go get some sleep and take care of yourself. We’ll be fine down here.” Chase then goes all the way up the stairs as Ryan get comfy. “Hey Bubba?” Darrell then looks over at Ryan. “Are you okay?” Darrell shakes his head yes.

“Are you?” Darrell wonders, seeing the concern in Ryan’s eyes.

“I never realized just how much he went through, or how much it affected even us till tonight.” Ryan then glances up the stairs. “I just hope that he’s able to work his way through everything – you know, emotion-wise.”

“He’s a strong kid and he’ll make his way through it, Ryan. He’ll be okay. Hell, he’ll be kicking our butts come February.” Ryan laughs, knowing that Darrell was probably right as he got comfy.

 

Chapter 57: The Boys

January 11, 2016

Following the discussion with Chase, things had seemed to move along smoothly.

Chase was able to get into a ‘decent’ sleeping routine, getting some sleep. It wasn’t perhaps as much as he wanted, but it was something and the nightmares were getting easier. It had certainly helped discussing things with the boys. Beyond that, the distraction of getting set for the upcoming season were obviously playing a par for the course.

The boys had each gotten busy with their own racing plans for the upcoming year, as Ryan was set to run the full XFINITY schedule for Penske while Bubba was set for another year with Roush Fenway Racing. That meant long days at the shop with crew chief discussions, and trying to lock down final sponsorship business.

All put together, the boys weren’t getting as much hang-out time as they would’ve hoped.

Since the discussion with Chase, Ryan and Darrell had kept quiet about what they had heard, not wanting to dwell on what happened as the key was helping their friend move forward. However, as they both admitted that night, it had affected them moving forward. They realized just how much it tugged on their heart strings, and how much the images stung in their mind.

It seemed to be the case for Ryan more so than Darrell. Ryan found himself thinking about it more than he realized that he would, and even found himself laying sleepless at night in disbelief over everything.

Almost a week removed from the discussion, Ryan takes a deep breath as he finishes up doing the dishes after dinner, looking over at Darrell. With Darrell home and Shelby out with her friends, it gave the boys an opportunity to talk alone.

“Hey Bubba, can I ask you something?” Ryan questions, catching Darrell’s attention. Darrell could tell by the tone of Ryan’s voice that it wasn’t going to be easy as he hit the ‘mute’ button on the TV remote.

“What is it?” He questions as Ryan wipes his hands off, hanging the towel back on the stove.

“The discussion with Chase, it has left me thinking about a lot of things. There’s nights where I lay awake thinking over everything that he’s been through and just shaking my head in disbelief.” Darrell shook his head, sympathizing. He had been through his own version of reliving it.

“There’s times where I will drift off and all that will fill my mind is the image of him laying on the floor with the blood around him in the hotel room from the leg wound. It just dangles there haunting me, reminding me how close things came.” Ryan swallows the lump that had formed in his throat as he walks into the living room, sitting in the chair that was beside the couch.

“I thought we could both just move forward. I thought we could take the conversation with him, realize that things are going to be okay and move forward. Why is it still bugging us?” Darrell takes a deep breath, having talked about it with Trevor earlier that week. About two days after the discussion, he made his way into Trevor’s office at RFR and discussed some of his feelings. He didn’t reveal any exact details, just the general specifics, in which Trevor had some advice for in return.

“It’s because he’s our best friend and we care about him a lot. It’s because we’d do anything for him. It’s because we hate to see him go through this and we wish that we could simply make it disappear. It’s because it’s tugged on our heart more than we realize. We both keep wondering what we would’ve done if we would’ve lost him.” Ryan glance down, closing his eyes with a deep breath. He wasn’t going to bare that thought.

“Bubba, we can’t think that….” Darrell shakes his head, knowing that Ryan was right. He had told Trevor the same words.

“I know we can’t, but we still are even though we won’t admit it. That’s why it keeps bugging us.” Ryan then glances over, curious as to why Darrell had all this knowledge. “I talked to Trevo-”

“Darrell, he said not to tell anyone!”

“I didn’t tell Trevor any of the details, but just that I was having some thoughts after a discussion with Chase. Everybody knows what Chase has gone through – pieces of it, anyway. With that basic knowledge, he was able to offer some basic advice.” Ryan felt himself calm a little, but the worry picked up. Darrell was right as everybody knew a good part of the details. What would happen when they returned to the track in February?

“So what did he say?” Darrell takes a deep breath, remembering Trevor’s advice.

“He said that we just have to remind ourselves that he is okay, and he will get through anything that is lingering from it. We also have to not dwell on what happened, but rather focus on the fun times that we will have in the future. Basically, the same advice that we told Chase.”

“Then why is it so hard to follow?” Darrell shrugs his shoulders, having asked himself that since talking with Trevor.

“I don’t know. I guess because there’s a lot there. But, like we told him, let’s take it one day at a time and move forward. That’s all that you can do.” Ryan shakes his head in agreement.

“And also realize that if either of us want to talk about something – a certain detail or lingering dream, we are there for each other no matter the time of day, right?” Darrell shakes his head yes.

“Absolutely, even that means being grumpy in the morning due to no sleep the night before.” Ryan smiles, remembering how he was the next morning after staying up half the night with Chase at his house.

“Darrell, I just have one more question. Do you think he will honestly be able to move forward without this bugging him at all?” Darrell glances down, thinking about it honestly. He wanted to say yes and move forward, but he knew that probably wouldn’t be the case given the amount of tears that had flowed that night and the fear he had seen.

“It’s never going to leave Chase completely. He will find his way to move forward and go through each day with ease, eventually. But, there will be moments where it stings and affects him. It’s just about how he deals with it.”

“So we’re going to living this over and over?” Darrell shakes his head yes.

“I think that we’re going to see pieces show up here and there. Hopefully, they won’t show up a lot – but perhaps once or twice every so many years. Like, what will happen when he starts dating a girl and it gets serious? He’ll think about Demi and what happened there, and maybe be afraid to sleep with that girl.” Ryan shook his head, understanding. No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn’t believe that Chase slept with Demi.

“But assure me this – he will be okay, right?” Darrell stands up and walks over to Ryan, giving him a pat on the shoulder.

“Everything will work out, Ryan. As we told him that night, he’s a strong kid and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’ll find the way that he needs to find to cope with this moving forward.” Ryan gives Darrell a small smile as Darrell heads to the kitchen to the grab a snack.

 

Chapter 58: Media Day

Late January, 2016

They say that time heals wounds. It seemed to be working as the further removed from the events, the easier it was to deal with. Ryan and Darrell had found their own ways to think through everything that Chase had told him, which included Ryan having some in-depth conversations with Chase.

Chase, meanwhile, was finding his way of moving forward. Everything had seemed to subside except a nightmare here or there. When they struck, he either got himself a warm glass of milk and got back to sleep, and called a friend to chat it out for a bit. Either way, it seemed that the healing process was indeed in full swing.

Preparing for the season was also in full swing and rather than counting weeks till the year started, they were down to days on the calendar. They were also reminded that it was closer than ever when the notification came down as to which day of the last week in January would be their media day.

Media day was always interesting in answering the media’s questions about the upcoming season – pressure, expectations, anything lagging from the previous year. It helped everybody get back into the swing of things, while just growing that anticipation.

Of course, media day would officially be the first time that Chase would face the media ahead of his rookie season, and more importantly, following the events of December. While Chase was in the process of moving forward, that didn’t mean that he was set to discuss the details of what happened.

The media knew he had been kidnapped in Canada, they knew who had kidnapped him and the fact that he had gone through a recovery period in hospital. Beyond that, the details hadn’t been leaked as it was none of their business.

“Chase, I want to talk to you before we go out there,” Rick starts, catching Chase’s attention, as well as his fellow teammates. Dale, knowing the most, had an idea as to why Rick was calling for his attention. Jimmie and Kasey, they had an idea as to why but weren’t as familiar.

“Okay,” Chase simply says as he takes a deep breath. He could tell by Rick’s tone that it was something serious, and had already narrowed down his options.

“We know that someone is going to try and bring up what happened. I’ve made it clear to my staff that you’re not tackling questions surrounding what happened. We’re here to focus on the upcoming season, not the attack or anything else. Furthermore, it’s none of their business. An opening statement will be made to tell the media that, but if they bring anything up, don’t feel obligated to say anything as we will brush it off.” Chase shakes his head, accepting. It helped him relax as he had a couple nerves surrounding what he would do should the issue arise.

“Okay. Thanks Rick. I appreciate that.”

“I told you that day in my office that I had your back and would be there for you. That hasn’t changed.” Rick then pulls him into a quick hug, before they get back set to head out on stage.

After hearing the general introductions and the warning about not bringing it up, the drivers were each introduced on stage, followed by their opening remarks on the upcoming season. Following the opening statements, the floor was opened up for questions to be asked by various members.

Chase accepted the questions that were addressed, easily answering with the same fluid ability as any other day with the media. The whole day seemed to be going as according to plan as they waited upon the next question to be asked.

“This question is for Mr. Chase Elliott,” the reporter starts, catching Chase’s attention. “I know it was requested that we don’t bring up what happened, but do you see it affecting your performance at all this year?” Chase takes a deep breath, figuring that somehow the question would be asked.

“Absolutely not,” he answers. “As I explained last year in the press conference when I came back, everything that is happening doesn’t affect my driving on track. When I’m on track and working with the guys, I don’t let anything else affect me. I also have been working my way through what happened and in no way will it affect me. I’m 100% ready to go.”

They then waited as the next reporter came forth, the drivers trading glances along the way. Dale’s eyes focused on Chase and with a nod in return, Dale knew that the young driver were fine to continue with issue. Though as Dale returned his eyes back to the next reporter, he knew that they were about to hit the fan.

“Mr. Elliott, why is it that the details of what happened cannot be releas-” The older female reporter starts.

“It’s none of your business,” Dale cuts her off before she can continue, catching everybody off-guard. “Some things should remain private and that is one of those things. Besides, this is a media conference set up for the NASCAR media to talk to us about the upcoming season. Why is a royalty reporter sticking her nose in here to stir up trouble?” Jimmie held back the grin in hearing Dale’s response, having become frustrated with this reporter the previous season.

“Sir, when there is a threat against a royal fami-”

“The threat is no longer, as you probably heard that Randy was arrested and put away in prison.” Chase took a deep breath, reminding himself of that fact. The police had promised a maximum security cell that would not allow Randy to escape once again.

“Sir, we were told that before but this individual esca-”

“That won’t happen, again. If you would please refer to the police report, you would see how the measures are going to take place so that doesn’t happen again.” Dale could tell that his attitude wasn’t going over well with the reporter, but he wasn’t about to care. It was getting frustrating dealing with individuals like this one there on one agenda – for the simple reason that he was married to Marie. All they wanted was some gossip to sell some rag magazines. He then glances over at Rick, hoping to get some back-up in removing the reporter.

“You seem confident in your answers, sir. However, in details leaked out, it would seem there was an attempted drowning of your friend. How would you feel if the drowning would’ve been successful?”

“That’s enough!” Rick calls it off as he motions for security to come and remove her from the premises. Though while Rick and Dale were focused on her, the eyes of the fellow drivers were focused on their young teammate.

“Chase?” Kasey questions, seeing that he had frozen up. Jimmie then reaches over, grabbing Chase’s hand.

“Chase, are you okay?” Jimmie asks, catching the attention of Rick and Dale. Chase lets out a shiver as the thoughts flood through his mind – the ice, walking along the ice, the push, falling into the water, shivering in the water, thoughts of it being the end, feeling so cold that he could barely think and feel himself…. “Chase?” Chase’s eyes snap open as he takes a deep breath. He then glances around the room.

“Excuse me…” He lets out, immediately heading off of the stage. The teammates then follow their young driver, leaving Rick and MC left with the media.

Rick, knowing the drivers had it handled, took the liberty of explaining Chase’s freeze up – letting on as little details as possible. He gave them enough information to understand why the events had transpired, and why the original request was issued, without giving them enough to feed their curiosity.

Meanwhile, the teammates followed the young driver, each calling his name along the way.

“Here!” Jimmie yells, catching all of their attention as he opens one of the office doors. He knew it was Chad’s office, but it was fine enough for the case being as it’d give them some quiet space. “Chase, go in here and take the time that you need, please. We can’t chase you around all day.” Chase then follows the instructions, taking a seat in the chair that was in the room.

“I’ll go get him a drink,” Kasey offers, knowing that Dale was probably going to handle it. “Anything in particular?”

“Hot Chocolate – he hates having a cold drink when he gets in these phases,” Dale says as he keeps one eye on Chase and one eye on Kasey. Kasey then heads off as Jimmie glances between Dale and Chase.

“Go talk to him,” Jimmie instructs. “I’ll hold off everybody as long as I can. You know better than us both what needs to be said.” Dale shakes his head as he enters the small office, reclosing the door behind him.

 

Chapter 59: Post Freeze Up

Late January, 2016

Dale then slowly moves over to where Chase is sitting, kneeling before him. He didn’t know why he was nervous, but his worry was pegged at all time high by Chase’s reaction. He had seen him freeze up before, but not like this.

“Look at me.” Chase then slowly takes his eyes off of the floor and looks at Dale. “Are you okay?” Chase slowly shakes his head yes before returning his eyes back down to the floor. “Chas-”

“I’m fine,” Chase cuts him off quietly. “I just – I don’t know. When she mentioned what could’ve happened, I just froze up immediately. I began thinking back to what happened, picturing each image over and over in my head, and it just caused me to freeze up till Jimmie snapped me out of my thoughts.” Dale shakes his head, understanding.

“It’s understandable,” Dale assures him. “You went through a traumatic experience. It’s reasonable that it still bugs you at times. There are times that I get nervous climbing on a plane because of what Mariella did to me. It’s okay.” Chase understood that. He heard the explaination many times. It didn’t mean that it made him feel better about it.

“I feel so embarrassed having it happen there, in front of everyone.” Dale then sits back, thinking it over. He kind of wished Rick was there as he’d probably have better advice on this front.

“You don’t have anything to worry about. The media will understand knowing that you’ve been through a lot. Perhaps it’ll give you a bit more space as they’ll lay off more. You don’t have to worry.” Chase wanted to believe what Dale was telling him. However, all he could picture was being bugged about it in Daytona.

“I wonder what they’re saying….”

“Don’t worry about what they’re saying. Just focus on yourself. Focus on feeling better. Focus on finding your way to handle it and move forward. You can’t let yourself worry about them as it’s not going to get you anywhere. It doesn’t matter what they say. All that matters is you.” Chase then looks up, again to hang his belief on those words.

“What about Jimmie and Kasey? What about Rick? What about Alan? What about the team? There goes any belief because everybody is going to think I’m still an emotional mess.” Dale shakes his head no, knowing that can’t be true.

“It didn’t change a thing about Kasey and Jimmie. They still believe that you’re one helluva driver. They were concerned and wanting to do whatever they could to help you, in their own way. Kasey should be back soon with a drink. As far as Rick, no confidence lacking there either, but I bet he’s more worried than ever about you and will want to see you once he calms things down in there – which don’t worry about. As far as Alan and your team, Chase, this doesn’t change anything. They spend everyday with you. They know your determination. They know that you’re going to do the best that you can and be incredible. They just understand that there are certain things that they can’t talk about with you.” Dale then pats Chase’s leg. “Everything is okay. Nothing changed today. Stop worrying, okay?” Chase slowly shakes his head yes.

“Thank you…”

“You don’t need to thank me. Just focus on yourself.” The door then opens and Kasey walks in, handing over a cup of hot chocolate with a smile.

“Dale said that you’d prefer a hot drink and I put the whip cream on top so you would smile,” Kasey offers as a small smile forms on Chase’s lips.

“Thanks,” he offers, taking a deep breath. “When I think about it, it gives me the shivers and I feel the cold again. The warmth of the drink somehow helps.”

“I can make you hot chocolates everyday if it keeps you smiling.”

“We’re all here for you,” Jimmie adds from his vantage point at the door opening. “We’re ready to do whatever you need us to do to help you. Remember that always.” Chase shakes his head, appreciating that.

“Thanks….honestly, thanks,” he tells them. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of teammates.”

“When you’re ready, we’ll head out and go back in there together,” Dale says. “And don’t worry – we’ll have your back and make sure they don’t say a word.”

“We’re here to talk about racing, right?” Kasey adds with a smile.

They took a couple more minutes in private, sharing a couple rounds of jokes to take the edge off, before returning. Whatever worked from Rick’s perspective worked as they were able to go back to answering the questions as normal without any issues.

Following the session, Rick assured them all that the pesky reporter would not be returning to any future events, and the right calls had been put in place to NASCAR to make sure that she didn’t randomly show up there, either. Either way, all the pieces were being put in place so they didn’t repeat this incident.

As they finished the day with dinner together, Chase could only smile as he glanced around the table. Surrounded by his parents, teammates and friends, he knew that he had the best support system around. Whereas he had doubt originally before about getting through everything, he knew that he could get through what happened with ease through not only his own strength, but also with the help of his friends.

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