The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 39: Can-Am Duels

Thursday, February 15 – Can-Am Duel 1 – Daytona International Speedway

Sarina and Chase walk through the pits together, carefully.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” She questions as she wraps an arm around his waist. He glances over, nodding his head.

“I’m fine for tonight – trust me,” he answers, giving her a quick kiss. She wanted to believe him, but her mind kept wandering to just that morning, those fears and concerns, and knowing how quickly he had gotten comfortable in their bed during her practice.

“As long as you’re confident and know that you’ll be fin-”

“I know what I can handle, and this is nothing.” She nods her head in return as they glance around once again. “Let’s go sit up on Johnson’s pit box.” She simply nods her head once again, accepting, as they make their way down pit road.

“Mind if I join you?” They hear, caught off-guard, as they glance between each other, before looking back at Lindsay.

“I thought you’d be on Ryan’s pit box,” Chase offers as Lindsay shrugs her shoulders.

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable there. Ryan never mentioned anything, and I don’t know the guys yet, and I don’t know what I’d sa-”

“It’s fine.” She instantly looks relieved, catching up to join them as Chase looks over at Sarina. “Remind me later to give the rookie a lesson.” Sarina can only chuckle in response as they reach Byron’s pit.

It didn’t take them long to get comfortable on the pit box in their choice of seating, following a round of hellos from the crew.

Their eyes were immediately drawn to the action on the track, as the field came to take the green flag. Immediately, Bowman pulled to the right after taking the green, letting the field go past him.

“What the heck?” Sarina questions as she looks over at Chase concerned. He could only smirk back in response. “By design to protect the pole?”

“And the fact the car isn’t set-up yet for drafting due to the impound and Greg’s plan,” Chase answers and Sarina could only smile. It now made sense why Chase hadn’t been able to qualify right up there with his teammates. They had gone for a more ‘qualifying’ set-up, versus sticking to their race package like Chase and Alan had. “Personally, I would’ve preferred to get as much learning as I could before Sunday, but that’s their style….”

“Yours makes me more nervous at the same time as I agree with it.” He chuckles as he wraps an arm around her.

It didn’t take long for the first caution to fly, though, as it’d be Jimmie Johnson blowing a tire on Lap 9, taking Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola out with him.

“Jimmie’s luck sucks down here,” Chase comments with a sigh.

The troubles for the Hendrick Motorsports teammates continued, with William Byron going around on Lap 38, tapping the outside wall, after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had sidedrafted with him.

“You guys can stay here until race’s end as we can’t remove equipment until then,” Darian Grubb tells them and Chase simply nods his head back in return.

“That sucked,” he comments. “Hate to see that for you guys.” Darian packs up his stuff, before glancing back at Chase once again.

“It proves one thing – watch your left rear quarter as always.” Chase nods his head in agreement, remembering the old adage rule at Daytona – make sure you’re square when bump drafting and never get someone in the left rear as it makes them unstable immediately.

Their eyes remained focused on the rest of the action, feeling a little bit of dread at points in seeing the field simply run single file entering the closing stages. Chase watched closely in seeing if anybody was getting any runs, where a move could be made, studying the laps just in case his Duel fell into the same predicament later on that night.

It seemed the race was going to end with a bore, but Ryan Blaney popped out of line with four to go, set to make a move on Joey Logano for the lead.

“Come on Ryan!” All three shouted together, though felt paused immediately when another wreck happened.

“How do you do this every week?” Lindsay questions as Sarina just chuckles, rubbing her shoulders. “I could always watch before as a fan – not one freak out. But yet here I am on the verge of heart failure.”

“Ask Chase,” Sarina starts as she looks over at him. “I may be a driver, but I can freak out with the best of them.” Chase nods his head as he gets comfortable.

“Ryan should have this no problem,” he summarizes, catching the pair off-guard.

“No problem?” Chase nods as he looks over at the girls.

“Look at the moves he made all race long. Look at the moves he made in the Clash. He knows what’s he’s doing and he will beat Joey. Besides, he’s got a friend…”

As predicted, Darrell Wallace Jr. pushed Ryan on the restart, getting him out front. There were moves made as they came back around, but it was not enough as Ryan was able to come across with the first Duel win.

“That was awesome!” Lindsay lets out as she shares a high-five with Sarina.

“Girl, you need to get to victory lane!” Sarina instructs as they begin to make their way down off of the pit box.

“Are you sure about that?” Sarina immediately nods her head. “I mean, Ryan hasn’t told anyone that we’re together at all, and I don’t even know what to call us. Are you sure he’d want me there? I mean, I don’t even know what to do! Maybe I should jus-”

“Take her to victory lane, Sarina!” Chase instructs, knowing that Ryan would love having Lindsay there with him. He then wraps an arm around Sarina, pulling her close. “I love you, and don’t worry – I’ll be careful.”

“You better.” She then kisses his lips as the pair separate with Chase heading up pit road as the girls ran off to victory lane together.

Sarina carefully snuck Lindsay in, keeping her in the back corner as Ryan did his assortment of interviews. As soon as the final one was done, Sarina gave her a push forwards towards Ryan, standing back and smiling as Lindsay took the bait.

“Congratulations,” Lindsay says simply as Ryan looks over, smiling cheek to cheek.

“How was that show?” He questions as he pulls her close.

“That was great, beyond amazing. I just wasn’t sure if I should be here.” Ryan then looks at her shocked.

“Absolutely. I wouldn’t want to share this with anyone else – well, except my team. But they don’t get one of these…” Ryan then kisses her lips as the flashbulbs go off behind them immediately. “Thank you for coming.”

“Thank you for inviting me, and thank Sarina and Chase for convincing me to come to victory lane…” Ryan looks over to where Sarina had remained hidden, giving her a wave, before focusing his eyes back on Lindsay.

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

Thursday, February 15 – Can-Am Duel 2 – Daytona International Speedway

Sarina climbs the usual steps, taking her seat as she glances between the boys, flashing a trademark smile. It then immediately fades as she looks down, crossing her fingers together, closing her eyes, just hopeful that everything went smooth as possible.

“Hey, are you okay?” Alan questions as he glances back at her. She simply nods her head back in response. “You don’t need to be nervous.”

“It’s Daytona,” she tells him. “Whether you like it or not, I’m always nervous at Daytona because anything and everything can happen. Given this morning, you could say I may be on a little edge..” Alan nods sympathically as he reaches back for her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“You know I wouldn’t give your boy a bad car to work with, so you know he’ll be fine that way. But, I do understand that worry. Just try and focus on the good and remember that if he feels confident that he’s okay, the-”

“Everything will work out as planned.” She then takes a deep breath. “I keep reminding myself of that, Alan. Thank you.” He simply smiles as he lets her hand go, focusing back on his job at hand.

The race started off smoothly as Chase put himself in position at the front of the field. That didn’t allow Sarina to relax, though, as she felt every bit of heart-pumping action eating at her core. She almost let out the first yell of the evening in watching Erik’s slide Chase’s bumper, getting him loose with Jones going around for a spin.

“Did he touch you?” Alan questions on the radio as Sarina works at calming herself back down with a couple deep breathes, glad that they’re still in one piece.

“No, he was sideways the whole frigging time,” Chase answers, knowing his bumper had not made any contact with Jones to trigger the incident.

Alan brought him down pit road, choosing to go with fuel only, before sending him back out. of course, the jubilation was shortly lived as they were penalized for the crew going over the wall too soon. Knowing they were restarting at the back, Alan called him back down to put four tires on it.

If Sarina felt her heart was going to come out of her chest before, then she couldn’t describe her current stage of emotions as she felt even more freaked out in watching Chase dice his way up through the pack, using whatever lane would move. Remarkably, whether due to tires or just a strong car, she watched him move back up into the runner-up spot at Lap 25, just seven laps after the incident.

She felt like she was going to jump out of her seat two laps later when he pulled underneath Denny, sliding by him and back up for the lead.

“Oh my gosh….” She lets out, trying to keep herself calm as possible, despite the drastic blocking before her. It was nice to see Chase in the lead, but she knew that this was just beginning now.

Her nerves got her break through the middle portion of the event as once again, they ran single file like they had done the previous Duel. However, as the laps counted down – 10 to go, eight to go, six to go – her heart began to pound harder and harder, knowing that everybody was planning their move. Fingers crossed, toes crossed, she hoped Chase could pull the bocks necessary.

With two laps to go, the move came as Kevin Harvick broke out of line, set to make a run. However, at the same time, the lines broke apart behind him, slowing the lanes, with Chase making the moves necessary.

“Come on babes….” She says quietly as they come to the white flag.

Eddie D’Hondt perfected his job on the radio, giving him the necessary information, as she watched him hold the gap perfectly, leading the field back around for the win. Immediately, high-fives and hugs filled the pit box as everybody joined in complete excitement for the victory.

“Was that worth the nerves?” Alan questions as he gives her a hug.

“I’ll handle it any day if that’s the reward,” she answers.

It wasn’t long before the whole team was in victory lane, fists pumped in the air with pride for the win. After standing up on top for photos, Chase hops down, immediately wrapping his arms around Sarina and giving her a kiss, before going through his post-race interviews.

That was followed by photos on stage, which culminated with Chase and Sarina taking one of their own together.

“You were absolutely amazing out there,” she starts as she glances into his eyes. “I mean, for the man that says he has to practice and get better at plate racing, that was beyond spectacular. I say you, Ryan, Ricky, Brad, Joey, Denny and Kevin are the only ones that can make moves like that. I can’t wait until Sunday!” Chase leans in for another kiss.

“Alan built one great hot rod,” Chase states, before the pair take a photo together. They then look back over, as she rubs his side.

“Tell me the truth, please…” He takes a deep breath, squinting a touch as he lets it out.

“It’s tender, a little sore – but I’m fine. It’s nothing that I haven’t handled before, and it’s actually not as bad as last year.” She nods her head, accepting, before leaning her head against him. He immediately wraps his arms around her, just holding her. “I know I scared you this morning. Trust me, nobody knows that more than me. I’ve stated my fears of Allison before, but I can tell you right now that what she’s done has upped the game big time. I can’t stop looking over my shoulder, can’t stop wondering, can’t stop thinking, trying to figure what she’ll do next. So I get it, Sarina, and it’s okay to be afraid…”

“I’m not afraid, Chase.” She then looks up into his brown eyes. “I know how strong you are because of what you’ve done for me, whether being there, or dealing with my brother’s crap. I know the type of character you are. I know that no matter what she throws your way, you’re going to be okay because you’re stronger than I can put into words. Right now, though, I am thankful…” She then gives him another kiss.

“Me too.”  He then lets out a sigh as he rests his head on top of hers, thinking things through. He wanted to stand tall and believe in those words that she was saying, but how could he do that when his world was constantly flipped upside down? The little fear that he had told Kyle, Ricky and his dad in the past about – that had grown to the point that he didn’t know if he could keep it under control.

“You’re still here?!?” They hear, glancing down to see Ryan and Lindsay standing there together. it was clearly obvious that the pair had gotten changed, and Lindsay’s hair being messed up a little had a smirk on Sarina’s face immediately.

“I’m about to head to the media center for post-race intervie-” Chase starts, knowing that he couldn’t stay there forever in her arms, despite not wanting to move a single inch.

“Not yet!” Ryan and Lindsay then come up and join them on stage with a smile of their own.

“Group photo!” The girls let out together as they both wrap their arms around the guys.

“Dude, you’re wearing one of my shirts?” Chase questions as he looks over at Ryan, seeing the shirt that he had changed into.

“I’m your number one fan now!” Ryan lets out as he wraps his arms around him, causing a series of laughs.

Thursday, February 15 –Daytona International Speedway

With everything in the books for the day, everybody had met back together in Ryan’s motorcoach for some fun and they were joined by Darrell Wallace Jr., as well. Being the good friend, Wallace had brought both boys a beer to toast their wins.

“If you need more ice, don’t hesitate to ask,” Ryan offers as he hands Chase a bag, getting a simple nod in return. Whether Chase wanted to admit it or not, Ryan knew that he was probably feeling a bit of pain in his ribs and didn’t want to leave his friend hanging.

“How are you feeling, though?” Chase questions, catching Ryan’s attention. It was nice to see the concern go one way, but really, it was more warranted the other way. In Chase’s mind, Ryan never should’ve gotten stuck in the middle of this.

“I’m sore in spots where I’m blue or purple, but I’m fine. Nothing a win can’t cure.” Chase chuckles as he watches Ryan get comfortable across from him.

“So I heard back from the investigator, by the way. She says that the paperwork I received detailing everything – Allison was able to get access through Chris’ lawyer as he would’ve had it. They’re currently looking to track down that lawyer and get him to fess up and talk. They’ve also put a search out for Allison. Now, how is she getting the access to these places? Nobody knows…” Ryan nods his head, accepting. He glances over, seeing both girls joking with Bubba as they played a round of Mario Kart, before looking back at Chase.

“What’s your reaction?” Chase lets out a sigh as he glances down for a second, before back over at Ryan.

“I don’t kno-”

“You have to have some reaction, Chase.” Chase takes a deep breath.

“I just hate that you’re involved, okay? I hate that you were there with me today and had to go through this. I hate that once again, a friend of mine has gotten hurt because of this. You went through enough last year with Chris drugging you; you didn’t need to go throu-”

“I wouldn’t change a thing, though.” Chase then looks over at him confused and puzzled.

“Are you serious right now?” Ryan nods his head.

“If I’m not there, you’re going through this alone. I would never want to have someone in a position to wake up on a beach after crashing a plane alone. Besides, what if things had been worse? What if you seriously needed someone to help you? I would’ve wanted to be there, Chase.” Chase almost wanted to smile in Ryan’s reaction.

“That means a lot coming from you. Thank you.” Ryan smiles back in return as he glances over at the other three.

“We’re always going to be friends and we’re always going to be there for each other, right?” He then turns back to Chase. “I’m here for you through this, thick and thin. Until she’s arrested and behind bars for her life, or dead, I’m going to be here by your side whether you are willing to accept that or not. And Chase, it’s okay to worry, or be afraid, or wond-”

“I kno-”

“Just don’t keep it bottled up, or it’ll drive you insane, okay?” Chase nods his head, accepting.

“Can you boys please come kick their girl’s asses?” Darrell breaks up their discussion. “I’m getting my ass handed to me here!” They both laugh as they glance at each other, before joining them to take a crack at it.

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The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 38: “Are you sure we went the right way?”

Thursday, February 15, 2018 – Daytona International Speedway

Sarina heard her phone go off for what seemed like the hundredth time, and was almost set to chuck it across the room.

“What time is it?” She wondered, half-asleep, as she reached over for her phone. Seeing that there were eight missed text messages from Lindsay, she couldn’t help but feel concerned as she opened them. “What the hell?”

She calls Chase’s number twice, before hitting Ryan’s twice afterwards. She then resorts back to Chase’s number, dialing it over and over as she gets out of the bed, throwing a sweater and pair of pants on quickly. She makes her way out of the motorcoach, continuing to hit the number, as she makes her way down a couple more.

She knocks on the door, panic slowly building, as she was getting no answer, or sign of return from him.

“Sarina?” Bill questions as he opens the door, confused.

“Have you seen Chase or Ryan?” She questions and Bill shakes his head no, now intrigued. “He was supposed to fly down to Miami, pick Lindsay up, and bring her here. But I haven’t seen him, or Ryan, and Lindsay hasn’t been picked up yet.” Bill felt concern forming as he goes back in his motorcoach, grabbing his phone, looking for any messages or missed calls.

“Have you trie-”

“I’ve been calling his number over, and over, and Ryan’s too!” Bill didn’t want to panic because who knew, it may be a simple issue like he left late due to a problem, or there was still a problem at the airport. However, that thought was also accompanied by the reason he had come down there early.

“Stay here with Cindy and explain to her what’s going on, and I’ll be back. It’s probably nothing, but I’ll go by the airport and see if he’s there…” Sarina takes a calm deep breath, nodding her head as Bill walks over up to her. He wraps an arm around her shoulders. “He’s going to be okay, relax…” He then heads off as Sarina enters the motorcoach, ready to see Cindy.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018 – Daytona Beach

The pair had been walking for what seemed forever, but it seemed to be leading them nowhere. They had passed by a couple buildings, but there weren’t open so there was no way to find people there.

“Are you sure we went the right way?” Ryan questions as he stops to take a small break. Chase shrugs his shoulders as he glances around.

“The sun always rises in the east, and sets in the west,” he recalls a saying that he learned during pilot training. “The track is west of the beach, so therefore if we walk away from the sun, we should find the track.” Ryan looks over a little concerned by the theory, as he glances around.

“Meanwhile, we’ve been walking for a while and found nothing!” Chase lets out a sigh as he looks over at Ryan.

“I didn’t say it was a short walk, did I?” Ryan shakes his head. “Besides, are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m not the one bitching that my side hur-”

“You’re also not in perfect shape, either..” Ryan knew that Chase was right as he tries to stretch a little.

“I’m not a big swimmer, man. That was probably the most I’ve gone, and will go, swimming in my life. I’m just sore everywhere.” He then stretches a little bit more before continuing to walk. “But standing around isn’t going to get us anywhere, so we better keep going…”

“Yeah.” Chase then continues walking behind him.

“Are you good to keep walking?” Chase nods his head as he catches up alongside.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018 – Daytona Airport

Bill walks down the airport tarmac, surprised by the sight before him as there was no plane, bags, or anything to be found. It was clear that Chase wasn’t there, having taken off, now somewhere between here and Miami.

“Where are you?” He questions as he looks at his phone once again. He had followed Sarina’s lead, also dialing Chase’s number a couple of times, demanding an answer.

He goes to where the plane was parked and was almost set to walk away with no signs of anything, but stopped when he noticed an envelope. He walks over, picking it up, and quickly ripping it open. Before even reading the contents, he figured what was coming.

“You should be more careful as you know I’m always watching,” he reads, letting out an aggravated sigh.

Taking a deep breath, he pulls his phone back out, calling the phone number that Chase had given him for the investigator. His heart was panicking, but he had to do what was right. He just didn’t know how he’d tell Cindy and Sarina what he found.

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018 – Daytona, Florida

“Now which way do we go?” Ryan questions as they seemed to be getting closer to where some hopeful civilization would be.

“This way,” Chase answers as he leads them down a path. Ryan almost wasn’t set to listen, given where they’d gotten so far, but he also didn’t have a single clue. “That hotel there – that’s where the crew guys are staying!”

“Wouldn’t they be gone already?” Chase knew that was a possibility, but whether they were there or not, he didn’t care. It was someone that could help them out.

They continue walking, both of them feeling some pain as those clothes clung tight being soaked, walking up to the edge of the Marriott property.

“Chase?” They hear, catching them by surprise. They could only wonder what crew member and team this person was fun, but it was nice to finally find someone who recognized them. They watch as the person immediately heads over their direction, and every reflex relaxed immediately. “We’re just about to come to the track. What the hell are you doing here? And why are you both soaked?”

“Crashed the plane in the beach,” Chase states, causing Jordan’s jaw to drop immediately. “We were going to pick up Lindsay and ran into a bit of a probl-”

“A bit of a problem? Are you serious? This is no little problem! I mean, I don’t know if you realize, but you’re both damn lucky to be simply standing here based on what you’re telling me. I mean, how lucky can one gu-”

“Look, can I call Sarina and my dad, please? They’re going to be worr-”

“Come with me….” Jordan gets the pair of them to follow him up to the hotel, causing some glances from a couple of the other crew members.

It didn’t take Jordan long to explain what was happening, causing more shocked glances from the various crew members. But in their true fashion, they each stepped in to help immediately. They led both boys inside, and back up to the floor they were staying on. They went down to the crew chief’s suite, with Alan letting them in immediately.

“Get out of your wet clothes,” Alan instructs as he goes into the closet. He didn’t have much, but threw a pair of pants and shirt at each of them. “Anything is better than being soaked.”

The pair nod their heads as they follow the instructions, getting changed quickly. Once changed, the crew members had already figured out their plan of action. Josh was set on making sure both of them were comfortable laying in Alan’s bed, having seen the signs of being sore. Alan had taken the action of calling Sarina, followed by calling Bill, while Jordan took the liberty of phoning it in to the investigator.

“Sarina, Cindy, and Bill are on their way over,” Alan states as he glances over the pair. “You both need to get checked out so they can take you. Ryan, if you want, we can call Roger, anybody you nee-”

“I’m fine,” Ryan cuts him off as Alan simply nods his head.

“Do we really need to get checked out?” Chase questions and Alan gives him a glare.

“You’re in pain right now as I can see that,” Alan starts. “You just crashed a plane into the water and want to go on as if nothing happened? Not happening, buddy.” Chase lets out a sigh as he rubs his side a little.

“I already know what they’re going to sa-”

“You’re not getting out of this – no ifs, ands, or buts.” Chase lets out a sigh as he tries to get comfortable.

“Yes sir.”

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

Thursday, February 15, 2018 – Daytona International Speedway

“I’m just glad that you’re okay,” Sarina comments as she cuddles up to him in their bed together.

It hadn’t taken long in the morning for the pair to be reunited, with shock being the number one item of discussion. Although he hadn’t been wanting to get checked out, it didn’t take as long as anticipated either.

Thankfully, he hadn’t actually broken any ribs, but rather just bruised a couple. While it’d take three to four weeks to heal, thankfully a bit of asprin and ice was helping right now. Other than that, some bruises in a couple other spots and rest to heal the tiredness and he’d be good to go.

Ryan had gotten luckier, only having some questionable bruises in spots, and needing some rest as clearly it had taken its toll.

After they were released, the pair returned to the track and their respective tracks. Bill had gone and picked up Lindsay so Ryan and Lindsay were able to spend their time together, while Sarina and Chase had each other.

“I don’t think you realize how luc-” Sarina goes to continue.

“Trust me, I know how lucky I was,” he cuts her off as he runs his fingers through her hair. “Jump any later than I did, or if we weren’t over the water, and we would’ve been in trouble. I get it. I haven’t lost sight on that – especially considering it’s my fault.” Sarina then looks at him confused. “I was running late, and didn’t bother to look everything over. The note was right – I should’ve been more carefu-”

“You couldn’t kno-”

“I should’ve known that it was possible, because of the notes, because of the threats, because of the way the notes have gone. When something like that is going on, you need to be more careful than usual, and I should’ve been. It’s my own fault, and worst of all, I feel terrible for Ryan.” She then lays her head against his chest as she debates what to say next. How was she supposed to make him feel better about this?

“Ryan isn’t mad at you, and you can’t beat yourself up over it. Like you always tell me – learn and more on. Next time, it’ll serve as a reminder to be careful. Be thankful you’re alright and focus on the future.” She then glances up in his eyes. “Besides, don’t you have a race – are you even running the Duel now?” He nods his head.

“This is a whole new package. I learned a lot in the Clash, but I need to figure out some other things. Alan needs the data for the car, too. I’m running it.” She nods her head, accepting, swallowing the lump in her throat as she lays her head back against him.

“Just promise me you’ll be careful, okay?”

“I’ll do my best.” He then kisses the top of her head as he goes back to running his fingers through her hair. “I’m sorry I scared you this morning.”

“It’s not your fault. All that matters to me is that you’re okay.” He shifts a little, getting comfortable.

“I’ll be okay…” She then glances at the clock, and lets out a sigh. “Go practice. I’ll be here when you come back – I promise. I’m probably going to go to sleep for a bit anyway.”

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call your pare-”

“I’m a big boy, Sarina. I can take care of myself.” She then kisses his lips, before slowly standing up and reaching for her firesuit off of the dresser. She gets changed, snagging another kiss before starting to head out. “Sarina?” She ten glances back. “Can you get me another bag of ice?”

“I thought you said you could take care of yourself. Maybe I should call your pare-”

“Once you get the ice and I put it there, I’ll probably fall asleep shortly after. If I need them, though, I’ll call.” She lets out a sigh, nodding her head. It didn’t take her long to grab the ice, giving it to him and making sure that he was nice and comfortable. “Thank you.”

“Be careful. I love you.” He grabs her hand with his, pulling her close, and kissing her lips.

“I love you, too, and it’s you that needs to be careful. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” She takes a deep breath, slowly turning on her heels and heading out.

She hated to leave him like this, but she knew she couldn’t give up the first practice of the year, either.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 35: Advance Auto Parts Clash

Sunday, February 11 – Daytona International Speedway

Chase walks down pit road, set to kick off the day. Knowing the Hendrick Motorsports cars were good in qualifying, he was confident that today would go well. But really, it didn’t matter as starting position was one of those no guarantee on the plate track, and the Duel was really where it all happened to be set.

“After watching the ARCA race in a bucket full of nerves last night, I have to wonder how you are today,” he hears Jimmie and can only roll his eyes. After Todd had forwarded the video and message to Kyle, it seemed that Kyle had passed it along to some others – including Chase’s own teammates.

“I’m fine now that it is done and over with,” Chase states as Jimmie just chuckles.

“There’s still the truck race next Friday.” Chase slowly nods his head as he knew the nerves would probably be back then.

“I feel better about that, simply due to no endless restart rule with one to go and much better talented drivers.”

“I can’t believe you, a racecar driver, would get nervous…” Chase looks at him surprised, as he holds his hands up a certain distance apart.

“Dude, she was like this close to being in that second last wreck!” Jimmie had tuned into the race out of curiosity, and knew exactly what Chase was talking about.

“Just to drive through it and get penalized for holding back on the rest-”

“That was a shitty call!” Jimmie couldn’t quite immediately agree with his teammate.

“She wasn’t up to the field, though, and it proved to be an advantage because it helped her escape that mess.” Chase lets out a sigh as he wasn’t about to get into an argument. How could he argue about something that she wasn’t even upset about herself? “With that in mind, do I have your permission to plan a bachelor party yet?”

“We’re not engaged, Jimmie.” Jimmie looks at him a little confused. “What?”

“I literally told Dale that you’d probably be engaged by Speedweeks. So, are you waiting until Valentine’s Da-”

“No.” Chase then takes a deep breath, remembering what he told the crew guys. “Look, it’s not happening anytime soon so can you just please drop it? We’ve talked about it and know how each other stan-”

“One of you is afraid, and it’s probably her.” Chase lets out a sigh. “Hey, it’s fine. I understand based on her history as to why she’s afraid. But, she talked about that with you clearly and you both know where each other stands. So when the time is right, like you said, it will happen. I just can’t help but bug you.”

“Keep it up and I’ll get William to buy you a Grandpa package.” Jimmie gives him a ‘are you serious’ look as Chase just laughs, walking away.

Ultimately, the session went solidly as he would end up 12th in round one, followed by moving up to 10th in the second. It’d set him up to start fifth in the second Duel on Thursday evening. However, he couldn’t admit but feel a little off in watching the other three qualify first, third, and fifth – setting them up to start all together in the first Duel.

“I swear I didn’t do some trick or miss some trick they were doing,” Alan confesses following the session. “I mean, to be fair, all the cars were built pretty equal.” He then glances back at his notes. “Did you say that it drove well in practice?”

“It felt good by itself, and it felt real comfortable despite being in the middle of that one draft,” Chase comments as Alan shakes his head a little confused.

“I got nothing – unless the adjustment we made to get you a little more comfortable actually slowed you down.” Chase shrugs his shoulders, not even sure as he looks over the starting line-up for his Duel. “You’ve got Kyle, Denny and Erik all starting together up front. You know that’s going to be a Toyota trai-”

“Grab the back of it and use it to stay in position until the end?” Alan nods his head as that wasn’t a bad plan. “William and Alex said that the runs you get in the draft with the new package feel greater than what they’ve seen or are used to. So no matter what, if we have a good handling car, we can get those runs and we can make the moves. We’ll be fine…”

“I hope you’re right because I’m baffled right now.” He then glances at his watch. “Let’s get ready for the Clash, and try to win that. We’ll learn what we can, see what happens, make some notes, and hopefully Thursday goes well.”

Chase retreats into the trailer, opening the cupboard as he lets out a sigh. It would’ve been easier to qualify, hang out, go to intros and run the Clash without any interruptions, but that wasn’t possible. Sponsor obligations required yet another firesuit change.

As he reaches in to grab the green firesuit, a hand reaches out from the cupboard touching his shoulder.

“I knew you’d be by,” he hears, immediately calming his fast paced breathing as he could recognize that voice anywhere.

“You scared the crap out of me!” He lets out as he pulls on the hand, yanking her out of the closet as she just lets out a laugh.

“But you know that it will be worth your while…” She then pushes back on the couch, straddling herself on top as she pulls down the zipper on the NAPA firesuit. “Besides, I had to come see you before I head up to watch the race with the girls.” She knew it’d be odd missing the pit box, but she could handle it for 60 laps. She just hoped the day went smoothly.

“I don’t have much time…” She then looks into his brown eyes as she pulls the firesuit off of his shoulders.

“I didn’t say that it’d take long, now did I?” The sight of her tongue licking her own lips before him immediately turned him to mush, as he pulled her close, kissing her lips as she worked at getting the rest of the firesuit off. “Actually, this would be a great new tradition….”

“I’m not complaining….”

Sarina catches up with the girls, taking her seat alongside them as Natalie looks over.

“We were beginning to wonder if you were coming,” Natalie comments as Sarina just shrugs her shoulders, smile not even fading one bit from her face.

“It took longer than I thought,” she offers as the other girls immediately chuckle with glances towards each other.

“Did you go give Chasey a good luck quickie?” Danica breaks out, causing Sarina to look over immediately shocked – but her red cheeks gave her away. “Oh my gosh….”

“Is it that obvious?” The other girls nod their head yes in return as she lets out a sigh. “Please don’t say anything….”

“As long as you promise that I get your ride if you get pregnant,” Natalie offers as both Leilani and Danica chuckle. Sarina lets out a sigh as it immediately brought up January memories, but she couldn’t let the others see as she just faked a chuckle herself.

“That’s not happening,” she tells them. “I have a championship to win this year.”

“Damn straight!”

Their eyes immediately focused back to the action on-track as the race was about to get started. Sarina was set at keeping her nerves about her, and it worked for the very beginning even with the shuffling going on;. However, as soon as Kyle Larson broke right sideways on Lap 8 – almost spinning except for an awesome save, she couldn’t deny that her nerves had picked up big time.

“Oh man….” She lets out as Chase takes the lead on Lap 10, barely sliding up ahead of Denny. The lead was supposed to make you calmer, but seeing it was Denny behind her and the way this pack was going back and forth, that was impossible.

“He’s doing good!” Natalie lets out as she glances over at Sarina. “That’s if you survive….”

“I’ll be fine….” Sarina closes her eyes, silently wishing the race would take longer than advertised – even being as short as it was.

The first 25 laps would ultimately fly by, and Chase managed to do a good job as he stayed up in the top-three throughout. Now set to restart in second, it was just about putting together a great second half.

He started out real well, keeping himself in the mix with Brad, Denny, and others – until a move to shuffle over didn’t go accordingly, causing him to break dead sideways. He’d hold on to it, though, dropping back a couple spots.

“Chasey, don’t do that to your girl…” Leilani offers as she reaches over to rub Sarina’s back, seeing the glance that the move had gotten right away.

“This package is going to make for a great 500 – but hot damn, I can’t handle this!” Sarina lets out as she tries to take some deep breathes.

“He’s good at what he does. He’ll get back up there….”

As predicted, he was able to do so, working his way back up to second before the caution flew with 42 laps to go for an incident further back. Counting her ducklings and nails, she knew the nerves were probably just beginning now.

He was once again strong on the restart, battling for position – but not without many friends. He and Denny tried to make the bottom work together, but once Denny went up high with pretty much the rest of the field, it caused him to slide back to 15th with 26 laps to go.

“Tight on landing in the corners!” She overheard on the radio, having taken her headset up to the grandstands with her.

“Oh man….” She lets out as she knew this would only increase the nerves in watching him drive back up through there.

“He just needs to take some driving lessons from you last night,” Natalie comments as Sarina lets out a shy smile.

However, it just seemed to break back worse as being the last one on the pack and trying to keep up was becoming a task and a half.

“Don’t lose the pack. We’ve lost Newman now,” spotter Eddie D’Hondt says with 19 to go. “We’re cutting off our nose to spite our face, running back here.” Sarina knew by those words that basically, running back there as laps continued to tick down was going to play against them, and likely those dreams of winning were shattered. She also knew that it was the right words to use as the field seemed afraid to make any moves.

“This is a non-points event!” She lets out, causing the other girls to look over caught off-guard. “Somebody, anybody, make a damn move! This is win or bust – so damn well try and win it. Where’s the guts Denny, Austin, Kyle, anybody? This race is falling on its face. Yay, we started off so good – but look at this shit!”

“The moves will come….” Natalie tries to assure her as Leilani rubs her shoulders. “Look at last night.”

Other drivers would try to make moves of their own, but the lines failed to form – causing those drivers to drop back. It worked out in Chase’s advantage as he was able to move up to ninth with 10 laps to go.

Thinking a move would come soon was a blank thought as it never did as the field remained single-file all the way until the last lap. By then, a move to the front was too late as there was no way to make this work now. of course, it’d only get worse as contact between Larson and Johnson triggered everybody going sideways, which sent Chase for a ride through the backstretch grass.

“Of course we ended up with a wrecked car!” Sarina lets out as she shakes her head in disbelief. “That was the most embarrassing race ev-”

“Even more than last night?” Leilani questions and Sarina nods her head.

“Everybody last night at least tried to pass each other, make moves, make something happen, and put on a show. This? Seeing them run single-file for 25 laps is worse than watching paint dry. If this is going to be how Speedweeks goes, I will kill somebody. They better not do this on Sunday.”

“It’s the Daytona 500 – drivers aren’t just going to ride with five to go with that on the line,” Natalie comments as the others nod in agreement.

“I can assure you that I won’t be riding,” Danica adds. “I will say that this gives me a lot to think about. Handling, making runs, making friends, and position will be key.”

“In other words, your man and Ms. Danica here better win their Duels on Thurs-”

“How can we both win the same Duel?”

“Oh my, it looks like we’re going to have some fun.” Natalie then glances between Danica and Sarina. “Can you please make your boyfriend promise to work with her so we know at least somebody will do something?” Danica and Sarina both immediately chuckle.

“I’m sure if we’re both in a good spot, we’ll work together as we have before.” Sarina nods her head in agreement. She knew making promises of that nature wasn’t something for her to do. Chase and Kyle had always reminded her that you couldn’t make those pre-race promises as you never know where you’ll be positioning wise and trying to get in position may cost you more than good.

“Are you going to New Smyrna tonight?” Danica and Leilani both shake their heads no as Natalie’s eyes rest on Sarina. “Well, I know you’re going obviously….”

“I got to go support Todd and Harrison, right?” Sarina offers, knowing both of her KBM teammates were running the event. It was also a benefit to go after Todd had supported her ARCA race yesterday, too.

“As long as you and Chase promise to behave,” Natalie comments as Sarina rolls her eyes. “I can’t believe you did that before the race. I can’t even look at you the same now…”

“Sweetheart, you’re just jealous,” Leilani adds as Danica laughs. “It’s okay to admit it. I’m sure Sarina has already heard that from plenty of other girls…”

“I could always try and hook you up with Todd,” Sarina suggests as Natalie rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, you’re jealous…” Natalie then glances back at Leilani, set to punch her. “Hey now!”

“Alright, alright, it’s true,” Natalie finally confesses. “But hey, I can’t do anything about it. I mean, I would smack myself silly if I pissed off my girl and her boo because of that. Besides, they’re like the perfect combination for each other.” Danica couldn’t help but nod her head in agreement. “So when is the engagement party?”

“Not you too,” Sarina lets out as they continue walking out of the grandstands together. “I’ve already got my guys, his guys, Jimmie, and Da-”

“Because it’s meant to be! Is he afraid to pop the question?” Sarina rolls her eyes.

“Nah – he probably just can’t plan the most romantic way to do it,” Leilani offers as Sarina sighs.

“Actually, we’ve talked about it and we’ve both agreed to wait due to my fears because of my past,” Sarina tells them. “I’m afraid of the thought because of what I saw happen to my parents, and he understands that. So if you girls could please just lay off a little, that’d be nice.” The girls nod their heads in acceptance. “Now, excuse me while I go see him…”

“Behave!” Natalie shouts as Sarina walks off, another eye roll easily coming to her.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 31: Winter Showdown

Saturday, February 3 – Kern County Speedway – Winter Showdown

Sarina walks out of the bathroom, putting her hair up in a ponytail as she takes a glance at herself in the mirror.

“You should’ve woke me up,” she hears, turning around with a smile. A simple glance at him brought happiness to her.

“I figured you could use the extra sleep,” she comments as he stretches out a little, instantly regretting it as he feels the familiar pain in his knee. “And you should be relaxing, considering….”

“But we could’ve gotten a shower together. After all, I’m going to need a little assistance.” She couldn’t help but chuckle at the grin that had formed on his face in response.

“Oh but Chase, that would not follow along the guidelines of being careful because gloves slip in the shower.” He wanted to stay serious and flirty, but couldn’t help but bust out a laugh in response. “So how sore is your knee, truthfully?”

“About the same…” He then lets out a sigh as he goes to stretch a little more once again, sitting up in the bed. “Really, everywhere hurts now…” From his shoulders to his back, to his legs, it seemed that every spot had grown sore over night. If there was a muscle to be found, it was sore.

“Well, what can you say? You fell down a flight of stairs after all.” He nods his head with a sigh. “If you want to just stay back and relax all day, I’d be fine wit-”

“Are you serious? Do you really think that I’d miss your race because I’m a little sore? Clearly, you don’t get me sweetheart. I’ll be fine. I can come out to the track, and relax while watching you kick some ass.” She smiles back in return, walking over and leaning over the bed as she kisses his lips.

“How about I run you a nice warm bubble bath to relax in while I go get us some breakfast? Then maybe before we head out to the track, I can give you a nice massage…” He couldn’t argue with that as anything that’d help the pain right now would be worth it.

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

“I can’t believe this…” Sarina comments as they make their way through the infield – carefully, as she didn’t want him to further stress himself out.

A glance at the time had told her she was running late, knowing that she’d be showing up to the trailer for the pre-race team meeting a couple minutes late. But, seeing how much the massage had helped Chase, she wasn’t about to complain. She’d just flash a smile and Kyle would get it go, right?

“You’re late,” Rudy states as she walks over and she immediately nods her head in acceptance. Considering her and Rudy were just starting off their relationship together, this was now the second time she was late in a couple of weeks. It was either going to be a good way to get the hiccups out of the way, or proper training for handling crap while during the off-season.

“I know and I apologize,” she immediately says as she helps Chase sit down. “I was giving him a massage as he was sore after yesterday and I lost track of time.” She watches Rudy just roll his eyes as Kyle watches the pair closely.

“Is there all you were doing, Ms. Ott?” He questions as her jaw drops immediately as Rudy couldn’t help but chuckle at seeing her cheeks go red in front of all the crew members.

“That’s not an open topic for discussion in a room of this many peo-” Kyle’s grin widens as he looks over at Chase, before turning back to her.

“When you’re late for a meeting, the reason for your lateness is certainly a topic of discussion. Plus, you’re making yourself appear very guilty in not denying the accusations. I assume that you used the glove.”

“Kyle!” Kyle just chuckles as Sarina’s cheeks were now the darkest shade of red he had seen to date.

“Kyle, we were not having sex for your information,” Chase state as he wraps an arm around her shoulders. “She was simply taking care of me because I was sore with a massage – nothing else.”

“Trust me bud – I know how girls take care of their men,” Kyle adds as Chase can only roll his eyes. “Now, let’s get to the topic at hand – winning today.”

The meeting went smoothly, finishing off with the crew members heading out to do their assorted jobs, which just left Kyle with the couple.

“I could kill you,” Sarina starts after the last person had left the trailer, causing him to laugh even harder.

“You made yourself appear more guilty with your comment,” Kyle offers, sticking his tongue out as he grabs a NOS Energy drink from the fridge. “I knew you were innocent and telling the truth, but can you blame me for taking advantage of the situation?”

“You’re just lucky I started those anger management classes….” Kyle chuckles as he leans back against the counter.

“I’m your boss, remember? Kicking your boss’ ass is not in your best intere-”

“Oh really? Because frankly, that’s what I was planning to do today – all 300 laps long.” Kyle looks at her intrigued.

“You got to catch me first, princess.” He then glances over at Chase. “Glad to see your feeling a little better and moving around. Anything else happen?” Chase shakes his head no. “That’s good. Did Ricky tell you that he flew back to North Carolin-”

“I sent him actually,” Chase cuts him off. “I’m a grown adult, and I shouldn’t be depending on him for everything. Besides, he has a job to do today at the Meltdown.”

“Good luck to him beating Bubba (Pollard),” Kyle comments before heading out of the trailer.

“You know, it is okay to ask for help sometimes – even being an adult,” Sarina starts as she places her hand on his leg. “Somebody else taught me that. You don’t need to face the world alone and try to carry it on your shoulders. That’s why you have friends, remember?” He nods his head in approval.

“Just promise me that you’re going to beat Kyle today,” he replies and she just laughs back in response. But with a kiss on his lips, he knew the promise was set to be kept.

Or so he thought.

Starting fourth, Kyle quickly proved that he had his stuff together the way he needed it as it wasn’t long before he took the lead. From there, it was a cake walk as he led the rest of the way en route to scoring the victory.

Meanwhile, Sarina was able to put together a strong performance, driving from 12th to the top-three in the first half of the event. She also kept herself in the mix of the front runners, simply letting the laps countdown as she waited to make her move. But with 30 to go, she began to lose a bit of power with a carburetor issue, ultimately ending up fifth.

“Considering the issues you had, I am very proud of how you handled it,” Chase tells her, giving her a kiss afterwards.

“That’s much better than hitting the wall,” she offers and he nods his head in agreement. “Next stop – Daytona. Ready to get the party started?”

“Absolutely. I see a checkered flag destiny in our future.” She smiles as she had no complaints about that – even if nerves would probably consume them both in the process watching each other.

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

Tuesday, February 6 – Hendrick Motorsports

Chase makes his way into the conference room, taking his seat at the long table. Glancing around the room, he couldn’t help but smile. Through the off-season, the meetings had grown quite dry and boring with not a lot to discuss. However, with Speedweeks kicking off that weekend, it was certain that there’d be more topics on-hand this time around.

“So I hear we can’t be kicking you in the leg,” Chad Avrit comments as he sits down beside him. Chase then glances over at the crew member confused.

“Why would you want to kick me anyway?” He wonders as Chad shrugs his shoulders.

“How does one slip on a banana peel in the grandstands and fall down a couple flights of steps?” Chase sighs as he still didn’t have a clear answer, except that someone was up to something as discussed with Kyle, Ricky and Sarina. He had already done the due diligence of mentioning something to the crew members and the media team at Hendrick on Monday. “Is it feeling any better?”

“The swelling has come down and it’s not as sore.” Chase then reaches down, pulling up his pant leg to show his knee to Chad, who immediately squirms a little.

“Dude, that’s every shade of color imaginable!” Chase nods his head in agreement as he puts his pant leg back down. “Least it wasn’t any worse. I mean, I’d take that over having broken ribs like the past two years.” Chase then gives him a look, matching the same one that Ricky got for a similar comment a couple days prior.

“There’s still time between now and Daytona.” Chad immediately freezes up, taking out his phone and going on Google. “What are you doing?”

“Seeing if I can have a human sized bubble wrap body suit shipped over night to stuff you in.” Chase rolls his eyes, but couldn’t help but chuckle in response.

“I think I could bring a big roll in for you tomorrow to wrap him in,” Jared Erspamer comments, and Chad looks over, nodding his head in approval.

“You bring that, I’ll bring the masking tape, and you sir just make sure you’re here,” Chad instructs as Chase just shakes his head in disbelief. How was this actually happening?

“Can I video tape this?” Jared Seate offers as Chase glances down the table his way.

“I thought you said that you’d behave this year,” Chase comments as Jared shrugs his shoulders.

“Now now, Chase, would that any fun if you didn’t have someone to cause trouble?” Chase lets out a sigh, shaking his head no, while also wishing inside that there was not another kind of trouble to deal with. “Besides, I could turn you into a human basketball if we make the shape turn out properly.”

“More like a snowball,” Chad offers as Jared shrugs his shoulders.

“How did we get stuck with this group, Alan?” Chase finally questions as Alan chuckles from the head of the table as he goes through his notes.

“I don’t know,” Alan answers. “Would you like me to see if I can trade them in?”

“Hey!” Everybody lets out together as Alan just chuckles.

“There is an important matter to address before we get started,” Chad begins as he glances at Chase’s hand, picking it up with his own, before setting it down. “Not engaged, yet.”

“Chad, what did I say about the engag-” Alan starts with an eye roll of his own.

“No, I would like to address this, actually,” Chase interrupts, catching the crew chief off-guard. “Guys, I appreciate your compliments and concerns about my love and my personal life. It’s flattering to see how much you care, actually. But, I can assure you, engagement isn’t something that’s happening in the next week, two weeks, or possibly month. Will it happen down the road? Absolutely, but not right now as the time isn’t right. Sarina and I talked about it and we agreed to hold off a bit. So knowing that, I’d appreciate if you guys didn’t ask me every single time I walked into a room with a smile on my face. When the time comes, don’t worry – I’ll gladly tell you.” The crew members nod their head in acceptance, as Chase looked around the room. Seeing their smiles in return, he knew that his words would only hold true for a couple weeks before someone started again.

“The smile just means that he did the wanky doodl-” Jared Seate whispers to Chad.

“I heard that!” Jared glances around Chase, sticking his tongue out. “You know, NASCAR has cut us down from six crew members to five. I could easily rid of you.” Jared then looks back in fear as the rest of the guys laugh.

“Remember I was the one that got Sarin-”

“To call you and reunite,” a couple of the other guys finish it off as Alan and Chase both laugh.

“Can you please get rid of him?” Chad wonders. “He’s annoying!”

“He also doesn’t know when to shut up,” Jared Erspamer adds as Chase chuckles.

“Sorry guys, but he actually is good at his job,” Chase offers as Jared Seate simply smiles in approval. “Now, Alan, please begin this meeting accordingly….”

Following the meeting, Chase retreated back to his office, knowing that Morgan had left him some fan mail that had come in while he was away during the winter. Admittedly, he was caught off-guard by how many packages littered his desk.

“Mr. Popular, huh?” Alan questions, peeking in as Chase sits down, grabbing the first package off the desk.

“It’s insane, really,” Chase answers as he reads over the first note. “It’s almost surreal. I mean, I know how they feel watching the Bulldogs, so to see someone that flattered over me, it just doesn’t seem real…” After reading the note inside, he autographs the item they sent to be signed, before putting it in the new envelope and setting it aside.

“Get used to it. You got a long career to go in this sport, and the fans aren’t going away anytime soon. If anything, the fan base is only going to grow.” Chase knew that, having heard those familiar comments from everyone. But it still didn’t ease the feeling at all.

He continued going through the assortment of packages, signing what needed to be autographed along the way, almost halfway through the stack. As he picked up the next one and ripped it off, it immediately caught him off-guard.

He slowly takes the note out, seeing the same familiar type that was used on the note in the grandstands.

“Glad to see I got your attention,” he reads, causing Alan to glances over curious. Alan had been working in Chase’s office on his laptop, asking a couple questions here and there as he worked through his notes.

“What was that?” Alan wonders as Chase turns the note into a paper airplane, sending it over to Alan. “Wow, not only do you fly real airplanes but you’re a master of paper ones…” Alan picks it up and unfolds it as Chase digs further into the envelope. “Weird…” Alan looks back over as he sees Chase reading something. “What is that?”

“A newspaper article, dated January 2016. It details the plane crash that Sarina and I had.” Alan was now confused as he sets his laptop aside, walking over to the young man’s desk. “Then there’s also a DVD in here…” Alan looks over the case, reading the label.

“It’s a DVD of the security camera footage at the airport.” Chase nods his head, having seen that already as he dispenses the remaining contents on his desk.

“There’s also a full breakdown of how Chris tampered with the engine to cause the cra-”

“What the hell?” Alan picks that piece of paper up, looking it over as his eyes catch Chase’s. “Why would someone send something like this?” A thought immediately came to Chase’s mind as he glanced back to the original note.

“Someone who is trying to mess with me and get in my head. The same person who left me that note in California, and possibly said those comments in the hotel lobby. They could’ve also been responsible for the banana.” Chase looks over the scattered contents on his desk. “It’s someone that’s trying to drive me insane with reminders of what happened, and make me just lose my mind.”

“Clearly they don’t know who they’re messing with….” Chase wanted to feel as confident as Alan made him seem, but he couldn’t echo the same sentiment as quickly as his crew chief.

“This person isn’t just anybody, though. You just don’t come across that DVD footage or the diagram, Alan.” Chase bundles it all up together. “This is someone that has access to everything someho-”

“Allison.” Chase slowly nods his head as he takes a calming deep breath. There was no other person that came to his mind that would even have a chance at accessing this information. “Chase….”

“I don’t get afraid easy. I’m ready to take on anything head on as easily as anybody.  But I can damn well admit to your face today that she scares the crap out of me. She played my weaknesses perfectly the last time that we crossed paths. She knew I wouldn’t turn my back on Sarina, and she knew I’d do anything for you and the guys. You know what happ-”

“That’s not ever going to happen, agai-”

“How do you know that for sure?” Alan takes a deep breath as his eyes locked on the young driver before him.

“Because mark my word, me and this team will do everything in our power to protect you and Sarina, because I am never walking down that path ever again. There is no way. Do you understand me?” Chase nods his head, accepting. “Now, what are you going to do with that?”

“I was going to take it down to Morgan, and then turn it over to campus security.” Alan couldn’t help but agree with the young driver’s initiatives as Chase stood up, stuffing it back in the original envelope.

“Chase, no matter what happens, you can always come to me with your concerns – no matter the time or day.”

“Thank you.” Chase then walks out of the office with everything in hand as Alan takes a deep breath. The crew chief could only shake his head in response.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 21: “I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.”

Monday, January 22 – North Carolina

Chase sits at the kitchen table, eyes focused on the eggs, as Sarina walks over, wrapping her arms around him from behind.

“Are you sure you can’t just come back to bed?” She questions and he looks up at her with a smile.

“If I missed today’s meeting, Rick may have my head,” Chase offers as he focuses back on his breakfast. She then lets out a sigh as she places her head on top of his.

“But you have to admit that our activities together are more fun.” Chase chuckles as he pauses in his eating. Despite avoiding intercourse with the waiting period, it hadn’t stopped them from laying kisses from head to toe the past couple of nights.

“Trust me – they’re a lot more fun than listening to speeches.” She then rubs his shoulders.

“When you get bored today, just think of me and our fun together.” She then kisses his cheek lightly, before heading off to get a shower.

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

“It’s like he has a certain glow to him,” Chad Avrit offers as Chase walks by the crew members, taking his place at the front with his fellow teammates.

It was time for the annual Hendrick Motorsports kick-off meeting together, where Rick got every employee together in the big conference room and a series of pep talks were offered in hopes of success for the season ahead.

“He’s not wearing any new rings,” John Gianninoto comments, glancing over Chase’s shoulder at his hands.

“Not every guy wears an engagement ring, though. He just seems a little more happier in his step today.” Each of the crew guys watch their young driver pull out his phone, sending a quick message, before placing it back in his pocket. When they were at the track, it was easy to read his reactions and figure out everything. But at the shop, it was a bit of a mystery and brought conversation. At least it’d keep them entertained while everyone filed in.

“Haven’t you guys been told to mind your own business?” Alan interrupts the crew members, who all look up innocently as if they weren’t discussing anything. “If he’s happy, then that’s great. We don’t need to dissect the very reason why.”

“Where’s the fun in not doing that?” Jared Seate questions as Alan looks over at him, surprised. He thought entering a third year together, they would be done with the childish games.

“Didn’t you learn your lesson the last time?” Jared just shrugs his shoulder as a smile forms on his face.

“If it wasn’t my phone call, they would’ve been apart longer. I was the right encouragement for Sarina to go see him that night. You would’ve had to deal with a grumpy driver a lot longer.” Alan rolls his eyes as he sits back in his seat.

“Are you ever going to stop reminding us about that?” Chad wonders and Jared just shrugs his shoulders. “Alan, please let me tape his mouth shut this season.” The other crew members nod in agreement as Alan can only chuckle in response.

Though his eyes then rested on his young driver, seeing exactly what the crew members were talking about as he smiled himself.

“What’s got you in a good mood?” Alan questions, certainly against his own advice for the crew guys.

“I’m just ready to get the year started,” Chase answers and Alan just rolls his eyes in response.

“No no, you’re smiling for another reason all together…..” Chase glances over, surprised that Alan had caught on so quickly. Was it that obvious?

“Everything is going better than I could’ve dreamed at times, Alan. We’re growing closer and closer with each passing day. We also finally had a discussion about our future together, in relation to children, and it went so much smoother than I could’ve imagined. Every worry that I discussed with you – it’s almost like it doesn’t exist anymore.” Alan could only smile back in response, glad to see that Chase was happy. A happy driver meant that he would be more focused, and easier to get along with, meaning that success should be inevitable this year. Plus, he couldn’t help but be happy on a personal level, too.

“See, that wasn’t that hard after all. It’s amazing what happens when you put faith into it.” Chase nods his head in agreement. “So if you talked about a future, is there a ring missing here?”

“Oh no, not at all. That didn’t come up at all…” Chase then glances back forward at the mention as Alan watches him closely. He was intrigued in how Chase automatically closed that door without a thought.  It was weird to see him set on planning a future, but not opening the engagement or marriage door.

“Is that going to be a future topic of discussion in the near future?” Chase looks back over at Alan, and shrugs his shoulders. “I mean, it doesn’t matter to me. You can just ask Sherry or Martin about that, or even Jordan and Danny if you really want to. But normally when you see someone mention a future, the next topic is marriage. Given your happiness, the guys were even suspecting it.” Chase lets out a sigh, knowing that it was only a matter of time before more people asked the same questions. But just like the children discussion, he hadn’t given it much thought. Besides, he was still a young lad. Was it fair to be faced with all these grown up questions just like that?

“I haven’t thought about it, okay?” Alan nods his head, accepting.

“If you want to talk, you know where to find me. I’ll always be there for you.” Chase nods his head, accepting. “Just as long as you don’t scare the wits out of me this year.”

“I don’t plan on crossing paths with any evil people once again. I don’t want to repeat that experience.” Chase then closes his eyes as he rests his head back against the seat. “When I do think back to either Daytona, or especially Indy,  I can only shake my head. it continues to set in just how much I put myself through, and how close we came to that being worse. What was I thinking at Indy?”

“I asked you that very question, remember. When you and Josh came up with the plan, I kept asking you what you were thinking because I couldn’t believe you would subject yourself to that. The same way that my stomach still flip flops in seeing how white you looked, and just how bad things spiraled so fast.” Chase glances down at the ground as he takes a deep breath.

“I’m sorry I put you through tha-”

“Hey, it’s okay. I would do it again in a heartbeat for you – as long as you’re okay, and we have a future working together.” Chase looks back over at Alan, giving him a smile.

“I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.” Alan then looks at him a little surprised.

“Not even Greg or Ricky?” Chase shakes his head no.

“Greg was great for XFINITY and sure we won a championship together, but it’s not the same. And yes, Ricky is amazing and I still look up to him a ton. But at this level, seeing what we’re going through, you’re the man.” Alan smiles back in return as Rick takes to the stage, set to get everything started.

——————————–

“Excuse me miss, but what are you doing here?” Sarina hears, instantly spinning around immediately. She had been focused on the late model, checking out the interior, making sure everything was place – from mirrors to the shifter handle – for the Winter Showdown.

“Why don’t you go see Kyle and ask him what I said?” She questions, before turning her focus back on the car. He was caught off-guard by her attitude as he places a hand on her shoulder lightly.

“I know you’re pissed that you’re missing this weekend, and I know you’re angry for how he handled things. But please, I didn’t have a say in the matter. Give me a bit of benefit here.” She then stops, closing her eyes, and taking a deep breath as she slowly turns around to face Marcus.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have flipped on you. You’re right as it was rude and unfair. And to be honest, I’ve come to grips with Kyle’s decision after talking to him.” She then leans back against the car, glancing down at the floor. “I just am getting annoyed of everyone babying me, trying to protect me and take care of me. That’s never been my style. I’ve always been right out there, focused on my dreams, independent, able to take care of myself, determined, and not needing to be taken care of delicately. But since everything happened, that’s all that everyone – Kyle, Sam, you, and Chase sometimes – want to do.”

“It’s because we care about you, and that comes out by us trying to do what we feel right in helping you. It’s because we know there’s pain involved, and we want to make everything as easy as possible to handle for you.” She nods her head, accepting, as she looks up at him.

“I know there was pain – I felt that pain everyda-”

“So you understand where we’re coming fro-”

“But I dealt with. I healed physically and got through the days of pain as the doctor described. I healed mentally, coming to grips with what happened and everything that I was feeling with. I fought through the confusion. I made my way through the sadness, and anger, in my own way, over those couple of weeks, with Chase by my side. We talked for long nights about how I felt emotionally – to the point that he hid his emotions from me because he didn’t want to hurt me more.” She then takes a deep breath. “But it’s done with. That was the past. We’re both – Chase and I – are moving forward. Now it’s time for everybody else to do the same.”

“Is it really dealt with? You mentioned Chase hiding his emot-”

“He talked to me about why he did it, and how he felt on a couple different occasions. I made him assure me that he wouldn’t ever do that again for my sake if something happened. We talked about it, Marc-”

“Including your future together, and whether you want kids?” She nods her head, remembering the conversation with a small smile on her face. She found herself imaging the day dream that he had told her about. “Okay, that’s great to hear and see. But you do see where we’re coming from and can give us a small break, right?”

“Absolutely – hence why I am not mad at Kyle for what he did. But on that same note, I’m here because I’m ready to move forward. I’m ready to have this car ready for Kern County.” He then looks at her, surprised. “Kyle didn’t tell you yet? He has put Kern County back on my schedule.”

“That’s great. I know how much you wanted to race there last year….” Marcus’ voice trails off, knowing that it was a sore subject with everything that happened, as it marked the beginning to the turmoil with her brother all year long.

“I can’t wait to see if what we tried in practice actually pays off to being strong enough to win the thing.” She then reaches out, grabbing Marcus’ hand. “You can bring up last year all you want – its okay; it doesn’t hurt me anymore. I’ve come to grips with everything that happened with Chris. I’m ready to head there without a single thought back in reverse.”

“What about Chase? I know he’ll want to be there to support you.” She takes a deep breath as she glances back to the car.

“I have a feeling that he’ll be fine, too. He didn’t hesitate or freeze up in the mention of what happened. We’re going to be fine, Marcus.” Marcus smiles, giving her shoulder a pat.

“I know. I always knew it’d work out between you both eventually. Now, why don’t you climb in there and we can make any adjustments needed?” She nods her head, accepting, as she climbs in the car as instructed. He then kneels down, looking through the window at her. “I have one question. If you talked about your future together, did you mention your hesitation about marriage?”

“Nope. We didn’t discuss that – just whether we wanted kids together, and when. We both agreed on waiting for three, five years – whatever it took for me to do my thing.” A smile immediately comes to her face. “Marcus, I got lucky in him. I keep saying it over and over, but I mean it. He’s so patient with me, and he helps me on so many emotional levels like nobody could have before. But here’s a guy whose willing to wait to have a family so I can have a chance to chase my dreams. Can you believe that?”

“He’s one of a kind. Don’t lose him because of the smallest thing…” He then stands up, and walks away to get the clipboard as she lays her head back against the seat. What if she was making a bigger deal about a future engagement, marriage than she needed to be?

“Hey, what are you doing?” Marcus then glances over the clip board, curious. “Were you not present at the competition meeting?” Marcus nods his head. “Then you know that we’re not working togeth-”

“I’m not crazy, Sarina. I know that Kyle wants you to work with Rudy (Fugle) this year, and I’m fine with that. Why do you think I’ve left your truck stuff alone, handed all notes over to Rudy, and am focused on what I am doing?” She then points to the clipboard. “I figured I’d give you a hand. What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, nothing at all. You know, I am going to miss you this year.” Marcus smiles as he nods his head in agreement.

“I’ll miss our fun times, too, but there’s a lot that you can learn from Rudy that I can’t teach you. That’s why he has helped Erik (Jones), and Christopher (Bell) become the drivers they are today.” He then places a hand on the window ledge as she glances out at him. “But know that you can always come to me if you want to talk. I’ll understand.”

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 15: “You May Have Opened Pandora’s Box”

Wednesday, January 10 – Goodyear Tire Test – Texas Motor Speedway

Chase Elliott walked into the garage at Texas Motor Speedway, ready for a second day of testing. Letting out a sigh, he took a quick glance at his phone, scrolling through some tweets before shutting it back off.

“You’re quieter than normal….” He hears catching his attention as Ryan makes his way over. “Like seriously, really quieter than normal.” Chase chuckles, as the comment didn’t surprise him.

“Well you’re the second person to mention something after Alan so it must be true,” Chase replies, referring to the morning discussion they had together with Josh Kirk. While Alan made the comment, Chase simply passed it off as being no big deal, not really wanting to get into the details.

“There’s a reason, right?” Chase nods his head as he glances back towards his phone. “Quietness with you normally means it’s a Sarina issue. Please don’t tell me you guys are fighting again.” Chase then looks back up with total surprise written on his face. “No?”

“We’re not doing that again, ever. We got past all that and have each other’s back no matter what, even if we disagree a little.” Ryan then crosses his arms, now feeling a little confused. “I told you what happened with Shelley before I flew out. Well, Sarina and I got into a discussion about that last night and she’s thinking about reaching out to Shelley again.”

“Now I am really confused. Why would you enable somebody who says what she said?” Chase shrugs his shoulders.

“That’s what I said. However, she says that she feels Shelley was just venting because it was first meeting since all broke down and there was a lot of frustration and anger there; the venting wasn’t meant to be directed either, according to Sarina. She mentioned how Shelley even pulled back a little when I said something. So she thinks if she reaches out again, with that out of the way, maybe it will go smoother. Maybe with that off her chest and some understanding, they can connected as we intended.” Ryan nods his head, accepting.

“But you’re skeptical, and worried….” Chase nods his head back in response. “I can’t blame you based on what you told me and how Sarina reacts to instances of this nature. Like you, I would’ve left it alone, but I can see how she wants that connection, too. In one way, you may have opened Pandora’s box with welcoming family again.” Chase almost felt the need to scream, remembering Ricky’s words while in Florida. However, a quick thought and there was no regrets.

“You wouldn’t had met Lindsay if I hadn’t done that, though. I don’t feel bad about this because her and Lindsay after connected and you can’t know unless you try and we were all willing. What if the next person is as good as Lindsay? And you can’t tell me that you’re upset now…” Ryan tries to glance away, cheeks going a little red. “Can I just guess that Sarina is right and you have a serious crush on her?”

“Great, you’re going to probably tease me about it now after you tell Bubba since I did that to you…” Chase chuckles, knowing that was more than likely to happen as revenge someway was always nice.

“Has Lindsay given you anything back in return?” Ryan smirks a little, as Chase just rolls his eyes. “I don’t wann-”

“No, we didn’t do that! My name is not you.” Chase then looks over surprised as Ryan smiles. “If the shoe fits, you better wear it…” Chase lets out a sigh. “You’re not saying anything because you can’t. You know it’s true.”

“I didn’t jump immediately, though. I waited and made sure I did this right – unlike some of your decisions.” Ryan rolls his eyes, but he knew that Chase was right about that.

“She has shown some signs back, and is good at responding to text messages. She even mentioned wanting to hang out some more, and possibly attend some races this season. I call that progress.” Chase could accept that, especially since Lindsay insisted she wanted nothing to do with Ryan.

“Just don’t screw it up because Sarina will have your head.” Ryan then crosses his arms.

“Same way that Kyle has yours?” Chase shakes his head no.

“Kyle didn’t say a single word about that. Actually, he and Samantha have been the most supportive of everybody. Sam will do anything to make it easier on Sarina.” Ryan smiles, not surprised.

“She’s been there…”

“I know. But you don’t realize everything that happens until you experience that yourself.”

“I understand.”

“Are we going to just stand around and talk, or can I have some data please?” A voice reigns through the garage as Chase glances back over at Alan.

“Coming!” He replies back, before he turns back to Ryan. “Duty calls.”

“Have some fun today,” Ryan offers before heading back down to his stall as Chase turns, set to begin making laps for the day.

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

Wednesday, January 10 – Charlotte, North Carolina

Sarina takes a deep breath, slowly dialing the number – stopping as she goes to dial the eighth number and taking another breath. Was she doing the right thing? Was this really a good idea? Or maybe it was best to leave this alone? But with another breath, the final digits went in, along with a finger to the call button.

“Hello?” She hears after a couple of rings, causing her breath to hitch in her throat all over again. Where had her voice gone? “Hello?

“Hello,” she finally finds the words. “It’s Sarina Ott calling.” She wondered if maybe it would’ve been better to use Chelsy – but no, she was set on her decisions for what happened and if people wanted to be a part of her life, that was part of getting used to.

“Oh. I didn’t think I’d be hearing from you after Sunday….” Sarina wondered now if it was a good thing or not that she called. She wondered if Shelley had been glad to run her off – not wanting to open this chapter due to past anger, or whether this was the intentions she hoped for. “But, it is nice to hear from you actually.”

“Really?” She was caught off-guard by the comment, thinking it would take a longer conversation to get somewhere.

“Absolutely, because frankly, I wasn’t done with my complaints actually. Truthfully, I have a lot more that I could say to you. I heard the explanation from your boyfriend and how he decided to cut me off for his own reasons, but there were some loop holes here. There were things that could’ve been done differently, changed, and you know that. So why are you hiding behind a superstar now?” Sarina almost had to laugh at the accusation. While the conversation wasn’t going her way, at least she was getting some entertaining out of it.

“You think I’m hiding behind Chase? Wow, that’s a surprise – especially if you know who I am and what I am like. I don’t hide behind people. I don’t hide thin-”

“You’re hiding behind a fake nam-”

“The FBI and police set that in motion after the murd-”

“You could’ve said no-”

“I was under the age of 18, and not allowed a legal say in the matter. Do you really think I wanted to have my life shipped around the country? Do you really think I wanted to pick up and move on all by myself while trying to grieve for my parents? Do you really think I wanted to be alone and not near my family, and those who loved me? Get a little real, Shelley!” Then again, she could wonder if even some body parts were real on Shelley.

“So because of all this, it’d make great sense if you were hiding behind Chas-”

“But I’m not. Like I was saying, I don’t hide behind things; I take action. I never paused ever, but rather kept fighting for myself, my life, my dreams, everything. You don’t know have the tale of what it took to get to where I am and choices that I had to make in those years. You don’t know how much I fought with my emotions. You’re saying that I’m hiding behind Chase? No, I’m not. He’s actually the best damn thing to happen to me because he made me face the emotions that I didn’t want to and pull me even further forward into my own person. But go ahead and believe what you want…”

“You know, sometimes I regret what I say to you because I do feel bad for what happened – but then sometimes, I can’t even face that fact. I look at the damage done, and how the story had to eventually come out after the worst happened to your brother. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because like you said, you fought for yourself.” Sarina closes her eyes, taking a deep breath, almost set to just hit the hang up button. But, she couldn’t bring herself to do that.

“You were around when my brother started slipping and saw the signs. I know you even talked with my father about that and you even made suggestions of ways to help him. You saw the efforts being put in by my father before that night. Heck, my father died because he was fighting for my brother and trying to help him. But no, nothing then wor-”

“That doesn’t mean you giv-”

“The system took over and tried to help because frankly, how do you expect a grieving 15-year-old to take care of her drug addicted, crazy brother?” She then takes a deep breath, glad to get that off of her chest. While she was focused on herself, she did remember times where she would worry about her brother during those days, wondering if he actually got the right help and find a way to get his life on track. “Heck, even after he almost killed me and almost killed Chase twice I tried to help him. He got brain surgery for a brain tumor, and spent multiple months with a psychologist. I took time out of my own life to live with him – putting everything on pause, just so I could try and find that sweet damn boy that I loved. But no, nothing happened because bringing me closer put thousands of people in dang-”

“Little over the to-”

“He drugged Ryan Blaney, Bubba Wallace, a crew member for me, a crew member for Chase, another Joe Gibbs Racing crew member. He also drugged Chase to the point that it almost went too far.” Her breath hitches as she remembers the nerves of worry in hearing the phone call, followed by the request to go see him afterwards a couple days later. She shakes her head, not wanting to face those emotions right now. “He then conspired with our sweet dear cousin Bethany and another girl that he met Alison to try and force Chase to sleep with Alison so he would cheat on me. In the following events, Alison would drug Chase and planted a bomb in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage, which was detonated. If that bomb had gone off any sooner, it would’ve killed a bunch of crew members – basically Chase’s whole group, along with teams. But no, don’t tell me that I’m going over the top. Just sit back and say that I didn’t do anything. There’s a damn good reason why I finally said I was done trying and made sure he didn’t have a hope of getting out.” She also knew that she’d be making a call to her lawyer to make sure Shelley wasn’t trying to help Chris get a release.

“I knew your brother pulled a bunch of stunts, but I didn’t realize it went that deep. I also didn’t realize what you did for him, either. I’m sorry to say that you did nothing. That was actually uncalled for.” It was nice to hear an apology, but it didn’t make Sarina feel any better. She actually wished she would’ve followed Chase’s advice.

“That sounds like everything that you’ve said since I called you to begin with. You know, I was taken back by what you said on Saturday, but I was ready to ignore it. I was ready to chalk it up to being frustrated, angry, venting and not directing it. I was ready to try and see if we could find some common ground and maybe be a family again with Lindsay. Chase encouraged me not to call you because he said it’d just bring more pain. He was damn right.” She takes a couple deep breathes, eyes closed, leaning back against the wall, holding back every bit of anger and sadness that threatened to just explode.

“I read the story and I heard the details. With how it came out, it just appeared that you had done nothing, letting him spiral out of control, and then locking him away if nothing happened once it broke. But I can see that you tried. I also can understand why you would want to walk away and never look back. But, is it really fair to him if he has a mental disorder to be sitting in a jail cell? Maybe you just haven’t gotten the right help ye-”

“They’ll just take me to a hospital and say I’m crazy, try to help me, and then I’ll be back out again, easy as everything. Those are the words that he said to Chase when they were in California at the top of the grandstands before he pushed him. Those words haunt both me and Chase to this damn day because we fell right into that trap – well, at least I did completely. Does that sound like somebody who should be given a third, fourth, fifth chance? He knows how to manipulate the system and if you were to dare try and push for him again, you’re just enabling him.” She hated to bring up her most inner thoughts like that, but she had to make sure that Shelley knew to stay away.

“Again, I didn’t realize he had said words of that nature, nor did I realize the tricks that he could pull. Maybe I should’ve based on the stipulations and turns surrounding psychological evaluation. But damn it, Sarina. He’s family. You don’t ever turn your back on family, but clearly that has been lost on you for a long time. I guess you weren’t taught that.” Now it was Sarina’s turn to laugh. Did this girl have a hearing problem, or an understanding problem? Maybe she was forgetful, too.

“I told you my reasons for why what happened, happened. I didn’t mean to do that how it happened, but it wasn’t my damn choice. I also told you my reasons surrounding my brother, and they’re not changing no matter what you have to say to me. Now, since you want to keep going in this repetitive circle, I have this to say to you – goodbye. I should’ve listened…”

Her finger goes to the hang up button, as she takes a deep breath, feeling a couple tears trickle down her cheek.

“Fuck!” She screams before pounding a fist against her leg as the tears begin to fall. “Why did you do that, Sarina?!?” She then stands up, clenching her fist tighter. “You should’ve known. You should be smarter.” She then feels a shaky breath escape as more tears run down her cheeks. “Damn it, Chris! You ruined everything in my life!”

Without a bit of self control, her fist goes up, and straight into the wall ahead of her, with a big hole remaining. She then closes her eyes, feeling every emotion swirl, as the tears come down harder, followed by her legs giving out as she turns and slides down the wall.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 14: “Do I need to spell that out for you?”

Monday, January 8 – North Carolina

As Christopher went to make his next move in their game of monopoly, he heard a knock on the door. He looked over the table at Sarina with raised eyebrows.

“I told you we wouldn’t have enough time to complete the whole game,” he offers as he stands up and walks over to the door, pulling it open. “Hey. She’s in the living room kicking my ass at Monopoly.”

“Poor Christopher,” Chase comments as he gives him a pat on the shoulder as he enters the house.

“Ah shucks, you cut our date short,” Sarina says with a smile on her face as she stands up and walks over, wrapping both arms around Chase. “I’m sorry they didn’t win. I was so confident when we glanced at the score, seeing the huge lead, I figured they’d hold on and it’d be the perfect night of glory. Of course, I was wrong…” Chase nods his head as he glances at the ground.

“Trust me, it was a bit of a downer watching that lead just disappear in the flick of a couple fingers. I can’t say that I’m not disappointed. But, I’m proud of them. They did a great job and proved they could get there. It gives me confidence that we’ll see a return visit next year with a better result.” He then wraps his arms around her. “But regardless, I had a ton of fun being there and taking it all in, and I can’t thank you enough for the tickets.”

“Well, as long as you had fun, that’s what matters.” She then lightly kisses his lips. “This guy’s company wasn’t bad as we had a ton of fun together. But, there’s nothing like spending time with you.”

“Will you both just get a room already?” Christopher questions as he glances out of the kitchen. “Seriously, I was expecting a ring after that trip, too.” Both of their jaws drop as they look over at him. “Too soon? I mean, I can’t be the only one that has made the comment to you.”

“You aren’t,” Chase answers, remembering a previous conversation as he keeps his eyes locked on hers. Taking a deep breath, he knew they had other things to talk about first – even if he knew they could weather the storm.

“I could say the same about you,” Sarina adds as Christopher just shrugs his shoulders. “By the way, you better come back with a Gold Digger. I won’t accept otherwise after last year.” He then chuckles.

“It’s certainly the best way to start off a year,” he comments.

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

Tuesday, January 9 – North Carolina

“Are you sure you’ll be fine all day?” Chase questions and Sarina glances down the stairs, rolling her eyes.

“I’m fine, Chase,” she answers as she come down the steps. “I’m pretty much back to myself without a single reason to fret or worry. You don’t need to baby or care for me because I am fine. Do I need to spell that out for you?” He then lets out a sigh as he grabs her hand.

“I just care and worry about you. Isn’t a guy allowed to worry?” She then takes a deep breath, nodding her head.

“I appreciate it, I really do – even if I don’t show it sometimes. But trust me, I’m fine. Besides, I’m not spending today here just lounging around. I’m going to the shop to do a seat fitting, and then I promised Harrison that I would help him with his homework.” Chase then looks at her surprised. “What? Can’t a girl offer her young teammate a nice gesture? I’m good at math, he’s struggling a little – I figure I better help him get it where it needs to be before the season starts.”

“Harrison is a good kid, and I know it can be tough doing school and racing all together. Been there, don-”

“Done that, and sometimes regretted every minute but wouldn’t change it for anything to chase after a dream. Hence why I offered to help him out.” Chase just gives her a smile. “Do you promise to not be home late?”

“Short flight, and Texas doesn’t want to put on the lights, so you know what that means.” He then grabs his backpack, putting it on his back, before kissing her lips. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” He then heads out the door as she leans back against the staircase, taking a deep breath, before heading back up to get dressed. So much for their nice quiet time….

***********

Tuesday, January 9 – Texas Motor Speedway

Chase walks into the garage, firesuit on, ready for a full day of making laps and notes ahead of the new year. Taking a glance over the car, he had to smile. It just seemed perfect now adorning the No. 9, and the new body lines of the camaro were nothing to complain about.

“I’m surprised you’re here,” he hears, glancing up and giving Alan a quick smile.

“Where else would I be?” He questions as Alan walks over, eyes locked on him.

“At home, taking care of your girlfriend.” Alan places a hand around Chase’s shoulders. “You don’t need to put on the tough guy act for me. I get it, Chase.” Chase then slowly looks away from the car back to the crew chief.

“She says that she’s feeling better with no side effects, complications, so it’s back to business as usual. Besides, she’s spending the day at KBM doing a seat fitting and helping Harrison with his homework.”

“So just like that, it’s back to business as usual?” Chase shrugs his shoulders, knowing that was far from the truth.

“What do you want me to say, Alan?” Alan takes a deep breath, not moving his hand from where it was on Chase’s shoulder.

“There’s a reason that I suggested Rick get Alex, Jimmie or William to do the test instea-”

“Alex is at the Chili Bowl, Jimmie is still in Colora-”

“He could’ve given up his vacation for your sake, and I know the William explanation before you say anything.” Chase takes a deep breath as he glances back towards the car.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else today, okay? I’m fine being here. Rick even called me last night to make sure that I was okay. Like I said, we’re back to business as usual…” Alan nods his head, accepting, but fails to remove his hand from where it was placed on the shoulder.

“But there’s a lot of other pieces left over, I bet. You don’t just move forward without a care.” Chase takes another deep breath as he places his hands along the door bar. It was getting much harder to just avoid any conversation about it.

“There’s so many emotions that I can’t even begin to describe to you right now. There’s a lot that Sarina and I need to talk about following the doctor’s appointment. We also have another whole issue due to Aunt Shelle-”

“Should I be worried?” Chase shakes his head no as he glances back at the crew chief.

“Let’s just say it was a meeting that didn’t go as planned. She basically had some rude comments for Sarina regarding her brother’s situation that were out of line. I basically told her straight off, but I can tell that it affected Sarina.” Alan lets out a sigh.

“That’s what we were scared of when you began to search for family, too.” Chase nods his head as his eyes focus back on the car.

“Part of me wishes I just would’ve left things alone as they were fine, but I can’t do that. Look at Lindsay. She’s one of the best things to happen to Sarina.” Chase then turns around, leaning back against the car. “I feel like it’s two steps forward, one step backwards with Sarina. We begin to make progress in getting emotions out there, truly releasing everything – and I being able to trust her fully without a tinge of fear that we’ll repeat the past. Then something happens and she’s back to putting the wall up. She’s hiding emotions, afraid to talk, worried about expressing everything, not able to make herself vulnerable.”

“I know it’s frustrating, but you have to understand that’s how she’s been her entire life, until she met you and could trust you.” Chase nods his head as he looks out of the garage area for a quick second, before turning his eyes back to Alan.

“I understand, and for that reason, I keep pushing and keep doing whatever I can to support her so she will open up to me. There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for her, either. But once, I wish we could just make steps forward without this back and forth.” Alan nods his head, accepting, as he hoped for the same.

“How about we just keep a positive outlook on 2018 and maybe it’ll happen? Maybe you’re just getting everything out of the way early.” Chase chuckles as he spins around, back to face the car. “What?”

“I don’t know if I believe you. It may just be the beginning in reality, but whatever the case, I’m here for the ride…” Chase then climbs in the car, getting comfortable as he glances around to make sure everything was in order. Alan then kneels down, looking in on his young driver.

“Have faith. You guys are meant to be, and when two people are meant to be, the universe has a funny way of letting things fall in place when you least expect it.” Alan then reaches back, grabbing a clipboard, before bringing it into view for Chase. “Now, Goodyear has brought four different tires for the two days….”

***********

Tuesday, January 9 – North Carolina

Once he was cleared done for the day, he took the short flight back to North Carolina, returning home. He was met by a pleasant surprise, too, as Sarina had made them his favorite – chicken parmesan – for dinner.

“I was thinking while you were gone,” Sarina starts, catching Chase’s attention as he looks up from his plate. “Maybe it’s worth reaching out to Shelley again.” Chase instantly drops his fork, which falls to the floor.

“Are you kidding me?” He asks and she shakes her head no. “You do remember what she said and how rude she was to you, right? I mean, if someone did that to me, I wouldn’t waste my time with them ever again. They’re not worth the energy.” Sarina takes a deep breath, absolutely understanding where Chase was coming from as she reaches down, picking up his fork.

“She was frustrated with the situation, and this was her first time seeing someone connected. We pulled back an old wound and boom – we got shattered with the reaction from doing that.” Chase then glances back from the sink as he washes the fork off.

“So you’re just willing to let it go?” She nods her head.

“She was frustrated, so she just began venting for whatever reason and unfortunately, we were the source along with Lindsay. She even admitted to you that it was out of anger, and maybe she direct-”

“Maybe she directed it?” Chase sits back down at the table alongside Sarina. “I’m sorry, but it was totally directed in the wrong way possible, as I told her. You did everything that you could in the situation that you were given, and no fault should ever be placed on your shoulders. Frankly, that should be the responsibility of your paren-”

“They were both dea-”

“Then it should become the responsibility of child services and the state protection system. They’re the ones that forced you to move around, and into the situation. They just emphasized what was going on. If they would’ve taken a harder look, maybe gotten him some help or showed him drugs were wrong, things could’ve been different.” He then places his hand on top of hers. “You were only 16, Sarina. No 16-year-old should be expected to handle losing both of her parents and dealing with a brother like Chris was on their own. He was 14, so that should’ve been child services handling it. But for them to throw you both out on your own with all that to handle – what happened from there on is on them.”

“But does Shelley know those exact details? Nope. That’s why she probably started there, realized from your words that she was wrong, and made the point about wrongfully directing her anger. Hence why she also ended the discussion. She knew the pain that she caused, and probably how wrong she was so she just finished it before we could blow it up mor-”

“Or maybe because she doesn’t want anything to do with you – as mean as that is.” Sarina’s eyes drop down to the table as she takes a deep breath.

“I am ready to face that truth if it is indeed what she wants. I understand that because I know there are certain things that I can never forgive my brother for, too.” She then takes a deep breath, looking back up at Chase. “I feel reaching out will give her a chance for a re-do, to possibly correct her wrongs, and maybe fresh start with that frustration out there. I just don’t want to give up hope until there’s totally none.” Chase felt every nerve inside of him telling her to not do this, because it was that approach that allowed Chris to dig his claws deeper into them with Bethany and Alison.

“Just promise me that you’ll be careful and the first sign of trouble, you’ll run the other direction.” She nods her head, accepting.

“Trust me – I’m not letting another situation arise like last year. We’re done with those.”