Cabin Fears – Chapter 71: Reflections and Regrets

Wednesday

Chase walks out to the back balcony, taking a deep breath, as he glances out into the backyard.

With everything that he’d been through, he knew there wasn’t a day that went by where he was just thankful to be standing there. Sure, there were tough times with emotions and trying to sort through everything in his mind, but he knew he had to be blessed to simply get a chance to keep trying.

He also knew that things could’ve been much worse. He could’ve been unable to walk, move freely, do things all by himself. He also possibly could’ve been facing the same physical challenges that Alyssa was facing, and yet making look so easy all the same. But yet, all limbs were working in proper order having avoided the talked about effects that could’ve lingered.

As he closes his eyes, he immediately drifts back to just a couple months ago, that fateful day in the Hendrick Motorsports parking lot. How did he know a normal office day would inherently flip his life upside down and leave him still struggling with how to cope moving forward? It was unbelievable how much the simple words written on a page could affect you mentally, and transcend you into a journey that almost felt surreal at times – but he knew it was real.

He could still feel those emotions of worry, heartbreak, panic. Taking a deep breath, he was almost brought back to that feeling once again as he thought it over, gripping the banister more with his fingers.  Taking a deep breath, he quietly reminds himself that is in the past, everything worked out, and he doesn’t need to worry no more as Alyssa turned out fine.

Looking out to the yard, his mind wanted to focus on how nice of an evening it was, the peacefulness of the sunset over the clouds, and the colors that seamlessly lit up the sky – but that wasn’t on the cards.

Reclosing his eyes, he remembered sitting in the Hendrick Motorsports shop about a half hour after finding that very same piece of paper. The conference room was set to be a place of trading ideas, focusing on performance, continuing to improve. Though admittedly, since that day, it also held the reminder of that same fear once again.

He remembered the panic in his own mind, but also the panic and worry written on the faces of her parents. It was one thing for him to hear the news, but he knew that’d never equal the worry that parents felt at the thought of their baby going missing or being hurt.

Taking a shaky deep breath, he remembered the guilt that entered his mind at the time, too, fearing that Demi was behind everything as she had just finished her sentence. Almost laughing to himself, how could he had known at the time that she would’ve been the catalyst to beginning to find the truth? He never did say thank you, but that wasn’t deserved considering what she had done previously, either.

His clammy hands once again, finding the banister, he remembered the blame that he placed on his shoulders – feeling if he had of been there, things would’ve been different. Why hadn’t he been the protective boyfriend? Why wasn’t he always looking over her shoulder in knowing what was possible? Gripping even more, he remembered how he completely broke down in the room that day, tears streaming down his face, body giving in, unable to move and open to the first bit of comfort offered – thanks to Jeff, that day.

“Breathe,” he reminds himself as he slowly opens his eyes, releasing the grip he held on the piece of wood. He had to remember what he had learned since then – you can’t stop everything, you can’t live a sheltered life, and sometimes there’s crap that happens out of your control.

He could do everything that he needed to do in trying to protect her – but that never would seem right as having someone control and watch over your every move is not living. It’s why you were forced to take chances, and just hope it worked out in the end. Reminding himself of her smile, how she was moving forward, it was certainly working out bit by bit.

It was the same way running out of gas in the middle of nowhere brought fear to your mind, and being approached in the dark by a figure you didn’t recognize could drive your fear up a wall. However, that worked out as it gave him a chance to question Demi and truly see where she was coming from. It didn’t offer re-assurance at the time as there was no way he could believe what she was saying, but it was an attempt at least.

There were also those pesky packages. It was truly a game that he didn’t want to play, but in a way, he thanked Randy for those now. They were at least reminders and assurances that Alyssa was okay, still hanging on – allowing him to have some sort of hope to cling onto.

Closing his eyes, he could still picture Kevin Meendering walking up the driveway to the porch where he and Dale sat, dropping a brown square box between the pair that had shown up at JR Motorsports over night. He remembered the words being spoken around him being a blur as his eyes and motions focused solely on the box, ripping it apart, in hopes of any sign.

His fingers once again clang the banister even more as everything played in his head like a movie – remembering the one photo that was now stored forever in his mind of a bulky man dragging her across the floor. He remembered how vulnerable she looked, how in control he looked, and how the mind field just opened up in that moment.

He had been in Randy’s finger tips before. He knew how manipulative he could be. He also knew how forceful he could be. He also knew the man’s strength, thanks to some bouts between them. in an instant, his mind had flipped, danger alarms going off as he knew there was no way his precious girl could withstand what Randy was set to throw her way.

“You don’t control me….” He repeats out loud to himself, shifting through the series of emotions that always lingered with the simple mention of that man’s name. How could he let someone play him like that, over and over? How could he let that man tear into every weakness that he had? How could he play the roulette games? “You may have won at times, but I won the war. You’re dead now and you can’t hurt me….”

Forcefully opening his eyes and letting go of the banister, he tries to focus on the beautiful sunset once again. It was almost completely over, but it was something to take his mind off of what he was thinking. Taking a series of deep breaths, he tried to bring himself back to focus on reality and not on the past, knowing that he couldn’t travel those emotions anymore.

How could you move forward if you could only think about giving control of yourself to a stranger?

“Chase?” He hears, causing him to freeze instantly as he glances back at the sliding door. He smiles as he sees the familiar blue eyes, smile, and brown hair that he had come to adore and love over the years. “I was looking for you….” She walks out on to the porch, sliding the door shut behind her as she joins him by the balcony. “Are you okay?” He simply nods his head.

“I was just enjoying the sunset,” he lies, not wanting to fill her in on the flood of emotions that he was currently going through. That would just bring another discussion, which he wasn’t open to having right now – even if he knew he should based on last night’s conversation.

“It is beautiful….” He then wraps an arm around her, trying to black out every thought that had just flooded through his mind. “We should go to the beach one night. I heard they’re even more stunning as they reflect off the water and you lay in the sand.”

“Just name the day and I’ll be there…” She smiles as she lays her head on his shoulder.

“Now, are you going to tell me the truth?” He then turns suddenly, causing her head to come off her shoulder in an instant. “I saw your little panic, and talking to yourself. I saw how you were in your own little world. Chase, you can’t tell me you just came out here to look at the sky.”

“It is beautifu-”

“Chase…..” He takes a deep breath, knowing he couldn’t lie to her no matter how much he tried.

“I’m working on trying. I’m working on pushing myself. I was having some thoughts of what we went through this summer together so I came out here to reflect.” She then looks at him, surprised. This was supposed to be comforting….

“All by yourself?” He nods his head.

“I’m a big boy….” She knew that, and wanted to give him space, but she also had reservations.

“And what if your emotions got to be too much for you? What if you went into a panic? What if you did something stupid? There’s a reason why they say you should have a friend at these times.” He lets out a sigh, knowing that she was right, no matter how he tried to avoid that. Maybe it would’ve caused him to not attempt to rip the balcony apart. “Chase, talk to me, please….”

“Are you sure you’re ready to hear the darkest thoughts that I had?” Alyssa felt a lump form in her throat, but immediately it made it disappear. She knew how badly he needed to do this, and a door of opportunity wasn’t allowed to be shut.

“Absolutely. I’ve faced what I felt in what happened and I know how to deal with it – besides what I told you last night. I’m ready for this, always. I told you – I’m here for you to help you finish that climb…” He nods his head, remembering that discussion clearly.

“I was just thinking back to the first package that we received from Randy and his helper. I remembered the photos, and the note. There’s one image that I can’t ever erase from my mind, either – him dragging you across the floor, obviously taking you to where he was going to hold you. It reminded me of everything – how he manipulated me, hurt me, controlled me – and I just felt my heart tear into two realizing you were going through that. I felt the worst of fear in knowing how strong he was and wonde-”

“There’s no denying how strong he was – I won’t let you go on that thought. But trust me, you had nothing to worry overboard about. I kept wits about me and worked through seeing every step of the game that he wanted to play. I kept asking the questions, saving the strength for those moments, and knowing that in a game of survival, I had to do what I had to do.” He smiles, wishing he had the same confidence she empowered when he first crossed paths with Randy.

“You certainly did quite the job, too. I remember that….” She smiles as she nods her head.

“What else is there, Chase?” Chase takes a deep breath, as he glances out into the distance once again, letting himself transcend back to that world.

“The second package showed up at the airport by my car. I had gone on a flying exercise, thinking I could cover more ground and find you that way. We got back and there was the package. I was so angry beyond belief at that point. How could someone drop a package in a public place and not get caught? How could they know exactly how to do this? Why was the officer I was with being such a ditz? I actually told him I was going to get his ass fired that day for being such an asshole.” Alyssa then looks over, surprised.

“Seriously?” He nods his head, remembering his words to Dale.

“He went from asking me questions he shouldn’t while flying, to not seeing the package drop off. I told him he was a complete failure at his job and I wanted his boss’ number right away.” Alyssa couldn’t help but be surprised.

“Did you actually follow through with that threat?” Chase glances over, with a smile. “Didn’t think so….”

“Reality sunk in that maybe I was just over paranoid and worried and taking it out on him so I got him transferred off of being my security guard so I didn’t have to deal with him, at least.” Alyssa nods her head, figuring that was a decent compromise.

“I remember Randy discussing those packages and how he wanted them to be pictured a certain way, delivered a certain way, and a certain perception. He was so particular on the shots that he wanted and how he wanted them to be angled with me in certain locations and poses. He kept telling her to take a lot, and this angle then, and package them this way. He was driven by the obsession over that…” Chase nods his head, knowing that’d be right up Randy’s alley. It was how he played the game.

“Mind games. That’s half the battle with him, and I’ll be damned but it worked. I remember that second package clearly…” Chase closes his eyes as he glances down, gripping the banister once again.

“Chase?” Alyssa places her hands on top of his, rubbing them slightly, as she tries to see where his mind was going.

“I remember those images….those thoughts….the fear….” He feels tears coming to his eyes, stinging him, as he fights against letting them go. “I remember what I thought I saw, and what I asked Dale. I just…can’t…..there’s no way to get that image out of my head…”

“Whatever it was that he made you picture, it didn’t happen Chase. He just held me there in bounds, giving me some water here and there, waiting for the right time to contact you…” Chase knew that now having discussed the events that took place. However, that didn’t take away from the feeling in the moment.

“I know….” He then takes a shaky deep breath, as a tear trickles down his face. “But that moment, seeing that photo of you bound that way to the table, his hand rubbing your cheek….” The tears begin to trickle down as he tries to take another deep breath. “I was so scared and afraid and wondering what could’ve been going on. I pictured so many things, and the one thing I wish I could never picture again….” Alyssa could fill in the blanks without words, as she kept her hands firmly placed on top of his.

“It’s the same as when we woke up in the hospital, and I thought Kasandra had raped you because of the screams and the lights. Chase, I get it. I understand those emotions, and it’s okay, you couldn’t have known. But please, please know, that none of that happened – I swear. I would’ve told you immediately.” He takes a couple deep breathes as he reaches up to wipe a couple stray tears away.

“I know….” He then looks over at her. “It’s just, I love you so much and I never want to ever see you get hurt. It’s one thing to be hurt, but it’s another to be violated, mistrusted, misused, and have something like that happen. The thought just sickens me…”

“I know – it made me sick to my stomach, too. But remember – it didn’t happen, right?” He nods his head. “So let’s just try and erase that image, thought out of our minds and be thankful that we got away with what we did.” He nods his head as he leans in, lightly kissing her lips. “I love you, Chase.”

“I love you, too. I’ve always loved you.” He then pulls her close, as he lets out a sigh.

Taking a deep breath, clutching onto her tighter, he knew no matter what he did, the image would probably never ever leave his mind. It was why he held on to her tighter at night, and why he found himself watching over her shoulder at times.

Sometimes, he wished he could just wipe his memory clean…

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Cabin Fears – Chapter 70: My Confession

Tuesday night

Alyssa takes a deep breath as she emerges from the bathroom, fixing her pajama shorts once again. She had to smile at her choice of attire – one of Chase’s old tops, along with her favorite pink Winnie the Pooh shorts.

Though glancing towards the room, taking another deep breath, her mind was mixed with a tirade of thoughts. Was this the right time? Was she freaking out over nothing? Was this even worth a conversation? Should she wait until he was closer to being ready? What if she tripped another episode? Though pausing in her own thoughts, she remembered the conversations shared with her parents.

She had to do this.

She slowly walks into the bedsroom, smiling as she glances over at him already cuddled in the bed. She throws her laundry in the hamper, before cuddling up beside him. She felt her breath hitch in her throat as she debated speaking.

“Chase, can we talk?” She questions, catching his attention.

“Of course,” he answers, eyes focused on her blue ones. There was no time that he’d deny having a conversation with her.

“I want to go back to Sunday sitting in the hau-”

“I told you that your words didn’t affect my deci-”

“Chase, please, hear me out.” He then stops, watching her curiously, as she focuses on keeping herself calm. She had to do this now, or else reap the consequences later. “There was a reason I said what I said. There was a reason why I suggested you not go test, not move forward.  There was a reason why I, in a sense I suppose, stopped you.”

“Because you were concerned about me and knew my feelings better than I knew them myself?” Alyssa wished it was that simple as she shook her head. That would be a much shorter conversation than what they were about to have.

“No, because of my own feelings. I’m a racecar driver. Racing isn’t supposed to scare me. Racing is supposed to fuel me further, push me beyond my limits. I am supposed to live off that adrenaline. Heck, for me getting back in that car that day at Hickory, that’s what it was all about. I never thought something that I’ve been around my whole life could scare me…” She then glances up from the bed, looking into his eyes. “I’m afraid.”

“Of something happening to you?” She shakes her head, once again; if that was the case, why would she had agreed to Steve’s wacko plan that just so happened to work? “Of something happening to me?” She nods her head.

“As soon as the thought about you racing hits me, it creates this big burst of fear inside me. I’m afraid of something happening. I’m afraid of you getting caught up in a wreck. I’m afraid of something strange happening. I’m afraid of….losing….you, I suppose…” Chase pulls her close as tight as he can, feeling her body shaking with a couple tears.

“What have I told you? You’re never going to lose me, ever. I’m always going to be right here by your side, for the rest of your life. I’m always going to have your back and be here to care for you. We’re never going to be apart from each other, ever.” She nods her head, remembering that discussion in the hospital as she looks up into his eyes.

“I know. I know you’ve told me that a hundred times. But, it just nags at me….”

“I can’t blame it, though. You’ve lost family due to racing, and we’ve been through a lot together. I can see why. It’s the same reason I am anxious and paranoid about everything – due to everything.” She then keeps her head leaned against him as he rubs her back. “It’s okay to worry. I get it and I understand. I don’t know what I can say to change it, but I understand…”

“I told my mom what I was feeling. She said that she was feeling the same way when dad got back from Pitronia. She said it took some convincing from Steve, but she finally told him. He gave her some words of encouragement and made her believe it’d be okay.” Chase takes a deep breath, wishing he could pop out of the moment, ask Dale what those magic words were, and in return offer them to Alyssa.

“I don’t know what to say, though. I don’t know how to convince you otherwise. I don’t know what the magic words would be…” She had a feeling that would be his response, but that was okay, too. At least they were talking about it.

“Just promise me that I will not be the reason you decide to not do this, or wait it out, or whatever. I want you back racing on your terms when you’re ready and not doing it because of me.” He nods his head, accepting. “I think once we get back to that normal, we’re both racing and we get back into our groove together, I’ll fall out of this trance and be fine. But I will tell you – those first few races may be a little nervewacking.”

“That’s okay, I get it.” He then takes a deep breath, remembering his own feelings. “To be truthful, I think they’re going to be tougher than I imagined for me, too. There’s just so much that I didn’t realize until I was sitting in the trailer that day. I knew I had some emotional issues to still work through, but didn’t realize it till then.”

“So how do we get to that point where things are normal again?” He then thinks back, remembering his meeting with Tony.

“I spoke to Tony about it because he went through something similar, and he offered some advice. Take it one step at a time; do one little thing each time that you get a chance. Find comfort in each little thing, and then move forward to the next, but all while forcing yourself to face the challenge because deep down, you believe you can do it.” She felt sound on that advice, and felt that it was a good start.

“So, are you ready to do that?” He nods his head.

“Are you ready to face each challenge with me, pushing yourself to believe that it’ll be okay, and there’s nothing to worry about?” She glances up, and shrugs her shoulders. “You’re at least going to try, thou-”

“I can give you that much commitment.” She then closes her eyes, thinking back to another recent discussion. “Going to try…..”

“What are you thinking about?” She then sighs as she glances down at her right arm and hand.

“I have a doctor’s appointment coming up to check in about things with my hand…” Chase cringes, knowing that wasn’t the kindest of subjects between them. “You were there at the last appointment. It was clear that I wasn’t going to feel anything, and I still don’t – not even a twitch or pinch. Well, without feeling or circulation, it’s just going to wither.”

“I remember that…” She then takes a deep breath, thinking it through.

“It’s one thing to know that I can’t use it, but it’s another to realize that it’s about to just go missing. They’re just going to put me out, cut it off, and turn my arm into a stub at my elbow. It’s almost a shock, eye opener – I guess, a whole level that I can’t explain.” He rubs her shoulder, understanding.

“You’re feeling like you’re losing part of you that you wish you could keep forever….”  She nods her head.

“But recall, he mentioned there was some experimenting going on with electronics and signals from the brain at another hospital. On that note of going to try, what if I try that? What if I open the door of opportunity for hope and see how that plays out?” Chase knew it was a big possibility, and small chance of something happening, but it was worth a shot.

“I have your back no matter what you decide…” She smiles, already knowing that.

“I’ll make a deal. You try to get your ass back to where you need to be, emotionally and driving, and I’ll try to get my ass back to believing fully in you driving while giving this a try.” Chase looks at her, surprised. It wasn’t too bad of an offer.

“So in other words, use each other as motivation?” She nods her head.

“You’ve already made great progress. You haven’t freaked out in crowds as muc-”

“The pills take the edge of-”

“Chase, it’s still progress. It’s still something for you, even with the aid of medicine. But, those minor nerves in crowds are just small now, and you haven’t lashed out in discussion lately due to a panic. Oh, and you’re actually talking about your feelings with me and even Tony – rather than trying to bury them. That says something, right?”  He had to admit that she did have a point.

“I guess you’re right…”

“Like Tony said, one step at a time. You’ve been making great steps – halfway up that staircase. I believe that you can do it the rest of the way if you put your mind to it.” Chase takes a deep breath, knowing that she was right. It was just whether he was ready to bury up the last bit of hidden emotions.

“I’ll keep trying at least, okay?” She smiles and nods her head.

“Like you told me – that’s all I ask.” She then leans in and lightly kisses his lips.”Now, can we sleep like this?” He laughs as he grabs the blanket, throwing it over them both.

“I don’t see why not. I’m always comfortable in your arms.”

Cabin Fears – Chapter 69: Seeking a Release

Monday….

Alyssa glances at her feet, letting out a sigh. This was supposed to be taking the edge off.

Her eyes return back up to the punching bag, hand clenching in a fist as she throws one punch. She then brings her hand up again throwing another, and another, and another. Each punch represented a thought. Anger, fear, anxiety, Randy, Mariella, and then back through the list again. Each thought was supposed to disappear with each punch.

She then wounds herself up, set to throw another hard stiff punch, though misses and falls down on her face.

“Alyssa!” She hears yelled through the room as the door clicks closed, following by a furry foot steps coming to meet her. “Are you okay?” She nods her head as she sits up, catching her dad’s eyes.

“I’m fine – just missed my step,” she answers as she stands up, brushing her hand off.

“This is why we always say not to be in here alone and always have someone around in case something happens. How many times do I need to tell you that?” She then rolls her eyes, not believing that she was getting scolded like a child. “But based on that punch, I’m guessing you’re here because you want to get away from something.”

“Or maybe I’m pushing extra strength because I know I need it.” She then bites her tongue realizing how that came out as Dale holds the bag before her.

“Are we back to thinking that we’re weaker because we can’t use an arm? Is that part of your motivation?” She then lets out a sigh and shakes her head.

“I’ve come to realize that I’m fine as the one-handed bandit and can kick anyone’s ass. I’ve also come to realize that this is what I’m stuck with – a hand to do everything, and a hand to dangle at everybody. Oh wait, that dangling hand will eventually just be a stub right?” Dale nods his head as he looks at her with sympathy. “I don’t need a pitty party. I don’t need people feeling bad around me. It’s a fact of life, and I’ve pretty much figured out this so it’s not a problem.”

“So that’s not the fury behind the punch?” She shakes her head. “Then what is, because I know you better than you think. You’d always do a normal work-out routine with cycling, stretches, yoga – except when you’re angry. Then you come down here to old ring and let it loose.” Sometimes she cursed how well her dad knew her, after all.

“Feelings in general, okay?” He then looks at her puzzled.

“I thought you had that under contro-”

“I have it more under control than you probably realize. I got everything that I went under control with myself. I’ve dealt with it and handled it. I’ve put the shit that he put me through behind me. Actually, that’s damn motivation to win the championship this year.” Dale couldn’t help but smile at the determination laced in her voice.

“So then why is it feelings in general?” She then lets out a sigh as she leans back against the one wall, taking the bandages off her hand. She knew she wasn’t making it out there without a confession. Her mom knew already so why did it matter?

“Chase.” An even more puzzled look forms on Dale’s face. “Before you ask, we’re fine. We’re still happily in love, and happy together, and everything is good there.”

“Does it deal with yesterday?” She nods her head slowly. “Did he say something in the trailer?”

“He’s still dealing with everything accordingly – anxiety, panic, fear, lashing out. That didn’t do anything to affect me because I get that already and seen through that. It’s just focus on helping him in anyway that he’ll let me in moving forw-”

“So you’re frustrated because he won’t just open up?” She lets out a sigh and shakes her head.

“To be honest, I think mom gets this more than you’ll get this because she went through it with you. Does that help?” Dale then looks on confused as he sits on a stool.

“You told your mom before you told me? I’m surprised!” She then smiles.

“Let’s just say that she can relate and it just came out in a comment, okay?” Dale nods his head as a smile forms on his face.

“You’re as scared as Chase is about him returning to racing….” She nods her head as she focuses her eyes on the floor. “It’s understandable. You almost lost him a couple times. It makes you want to cherish life more, hold on to those moments, and be fearful that time will actually run out.” She then looks up at him, surprised. “That’s why I understood why your mom was afraid. That’s why I heard out her feelings, and talked her through them.”

“I haven’t told Chase, yet….” He then lets out a sigh, not surprised.

“Because he’s not the type to open up so you’re afraid of how he’ll take it?” She nods her head. “I can’t blame that, actually. However, I know how much he loves you and I know he’ll do anything for you. So therefore, I think it’d be a benefit for you to say something. He’ll want to talk and assure you and comfort you so he’ll give that assurance that you need. In return, it may be what he needs to tell himself to overcome his hurtle.”

“So you’re saying that I should just go home and say something?” Dale nods his head. “I guess….”

“You’re not going to move forward if you don’t, and you can’t be coming to my basement every day to punch it away.” She then chuckles.

“I’ve always wondered why you didn’t take this down…” Dale then stands up and walks over to the ring in the middle, leaning over the side.

“It’s good for anger management, as you say. A pair of friends can come here with gloves and get everything out of their system. I could also come down here and do what you’re doing. It’s better than punching that person in the face.” She then chuckles, nodding her head.

“So you won’t mind if I drag Dillon’s ass down here next time he pisses me off?” Dale laughs.

“I’d actually pay for that because I know you’d kick his ass.” She then chuckles as he walks over and wraps an arm around her. “Keep what I said in mind, okay? It’ll work out…”

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

Tony walks across the tarmac, stopping as he sees the young man before him. Taking a deep breath, he walks over, watching as the checklist continues.

“Where are you going?” He asks out loud, catching the young man’s attention as he looks back.

“A small flight to clear my head,” Chase answers as he focuses back on his list.

“Do you want to talk?” Chase shakes his head as he focuses on his list. “I heard you were at the track yester-”

“I didn’t make any laps, before you ask. I chickened out because of my fears.” Chase then stops, setting the pen down as he takes a deep breath.

“I think you did the right thing. It’s always good to know your limits and where to draw the line. Some people don’t know that, and they get themselves in trouble. I applaud you for realizing that.” Chase then looks up, looking over his shoulder at Tony.

“Thanks….I guess. Do you want to go tell everyone else in the world that?” Tony looks on confused.

“Backlash from the guys?” Chase lets out a sigh and shakes his head.

“They won’t say anything to my face, but you have to imagine what they’re thinking.” Tony laughs and shakes his head. “What?”

“Crew guys are family. They care about you more than they care about that piece of machinery they work on. They all know what you’ve been through. That’s why they’re there to support you. That’s why they’ll go to a bunch of failed tests if it means seeing their driver back when he’s ready. That’s why they’ll have your back against any person who would say that. So do not say that again, got it?” Chase lets out a sigh, nodding his head.

“I thought I had my hands wrapped around everything. I thought I found the control that I needed over my anxiety, fears, emotions. I thought I could stop lashing out, put things into perspective, and find what I wanted – myself, again. But yet, sitting there in the trailer, I was completely frozen and stuck in that state again. Now looking back, it just fills me with so many thoughts…” Tony takes a deep breath as he places a hand on Chase’s shoulders.

“I hate to say it, but you just realized your human. Don’t feel so bad – been there, done that.” Chase then looks at Tony, surprised. “I thought I could just do it, too. I thought I was the all mighty, what we built me up to be with my attitude, and I could just get back to it. You’d be surprised how wrong I was and how many thoughts tormented with my mind. I wondered whether my leg was fully healed; I wondered whether I could push that limit and not be afraid of death. I toyed with my emotions for emotions, and like you – I felt like I was edge of control when I should’ve been in control.”

“So how did you do it?” Tony thinks it over as he keeps his eyes focused on Chase.

“I kept working on those feelings, like we talked about before. I talked to who I needed to talk to. I let myself open those doors that I wanted to close. Then I kept pushing the boundaries more and more. I kept challenging myself to the point where I proved that I could do it. Next time you go to the track, push yourself to at least get in the car and make a couple laps. Then the next time, push it a little more. You’d be surprised what you’re capable of, and how you can make that fear and anxiety just go away.” Chase nods his head, understanding.

“Thanks. I’ll remember that…” Tony rubs his shoulder.

“As long as you’re past what you were thinking before and know there’s a way out, it’ll be fine…” Chase smiles as he thinks back to then,

“Trust me, I’m beyond that. I know it’ll work out – one way or another. So, why are you even here at the airport anyway?” Tony glances over at the plane.

“Heading back to Indiana, home. I did what I needed to do here with the team so now it’s time to get out of here.” Chase rolls his eyes as he looks back to his checklist.

“You’re living the dream, man. Safe flight.”

“Same to you, kid.” Tony then heads off as Chase watches him, before returning back to his list.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 68: Frozen in Thought

Chase sits in the trailer, glancing down as his feet, taking a deep breath.

He was already halfway dressed, having slipped the bottom half of his firesuit on. Now he just needed to complete the process, walk out there, climb in the car, and go. It was that simple.

So why was he stuck frozen there now?

He knew his mind was going through a circus of thoughts. It was why the decision had been made to do the test prior to sending him into a weekend of full blown competition.

He wondered whether he was doing the right thing. Was this the right time, or should he wait? Was he forcing this upon himself too soon because he didn’t want to ponder his thoughts? Or, was he truly set to balance figuring the rest out while doing this?

He wondered whether he could handle everything that came with the job. He considered himself still physically fit and everybody said he was fully healed from what happened, but was he? Could he handle racing for four hours in the heat with the mental and physical stresses?

“Hey,” he hears, causing him to look up as he looks towards the door of the lounge. He could only smile in response as he watched her enter, closing the door behind her. “I came to see how you were.”

“That’s a loaded question,” he admits as she sits on the edge of the couch. “I came in here set to get ready and just head back out there and do my thing. But yet, here I sit, thinking instead.” She was intrigued by the fact that he was being so open about how he was feeling right now. This wasn’t his normal routine.

“I know when I went for my first test to see whether we could do this or not, I sat in the trailer pondering everything. I wondered if the work that Steve had put was worth with. I wondered if he was ready to make a comeback now. I wondered if I had the strength. I wondered if I could ever win a race, again.” Chase glances back down, as he thinks back to that afternoon.

“That was different, though. You were faced with a challenge…” She then scoots closer, nodding her head.

“It was different in that way, but some of the reasons are the same. You’ve been through a lot, too, mentally and physically. So certainly some of those mental questions that I was asking myself, I bet you’re asking yourself as well.” He nods his head, knowing that she’d read his mind perfectly.

“Did you ever fully put them out of the way before you climbed in the car?” She nodded her head. “How?”

“I put full belief in myself. Like we’ve always said in this business, you can’t have a shadow of a doubt. That’s when you make mistakes. That’s when you don’t push it all the way and do what you’re possible of achieving. Remember the great Denny Hamlin lines – it’s mental as much as it is physical.” He nodded his head, remembering the mind games that Denny was good at playing with everybody.

“Can I just openly admit that I’m not as mentally tough as I thought I was?” She nods her head.

“I believe that. I can see how everything has shaken up that mind. That’s why you’re having the panic, anxiety, worries, and keep pondering back. Chase, anybody would be the same way if they were in your shoes. There’s no words to describe how mentally taxing everything had to be on you through the years.” Chase glances down as she scoots a bit more closer, wrapping an arm around him. “But to come out as strong as you’ve been for the both of us, that shows that there’s a great bit of strength in there.”

“I just don’t want to come out today and screw up…” Sarina closed her eyes, trying to remember back to her own test experience.

“Fear is a good motivation to not want to do it. But, let’s remember – it’s just the crew, myself, your parents, Jeff, Jimmie, and my parents here. If say it doesn’t go according to plan, we won’t hold it against you. We’ll understand because you’re still working your way through everything and need to give it more time. That’s why Jeff wanted you to do the test – to see. If it doesn’t go right, we’ll give it more time and then try again. It’s okay to fail…” Chase smiles as he looks over at her, remembering the same piece of advice given when she was set to try something new as a little girl and afraid.

“Just like when you fell off the bike three times and I made you get back up and try again?” She chuckles and nods her head.

“Are you always going to remind me of that? I’m sorry I’m not like my perfect brother and get it in one try.” Chase chuckles, remembering how they teased Robby about that and he did it right away. “I mean, if you’re feeling so twisted about it, then why don’t you change back into your clothes, tell the guys and we’ll do this again in a couple weeks?” She then freezes, putting her hand over her mouth. “I mean-”

“No, no, you meant what you said, and that’s actually not a bad suggestion.” She then felt like cursing herself, knowing that came out of her own fear about what was possible.

“Chase, please don’t decide to not do this because of me….” He then looks over at her.

“If I took off this firesuit, it wouldn’t be because of you. Trust me, I was already contemplating that.” She then relaxes, though slightly surprised.

“Honestly?” He nods his head.

“If I can’t get myself mentally in the game, then I’m not ready. I know myself better anyone. It’s like I said – I can’t do this until I have everything sorted out. Admittedly, I don’t so do I see myself moving an inch? Probably not…” She nods her head, accepting, as she slowly stands up.

“Should I go tell the guys then?” Chase nods his head.

“Tell them I say sorry for dragging their assses out here on a day off…” She then walks out of the trailer, taking a deep breath of her own.

She immediately walked over and told Alan and the guys, before spreading word to everyone else around the pits, and making it to her parents. Everybody was surprisingly supportive and understanding, willing to wish Chase the best in hopes that they could do this properly down the road in a couple weeks maybe.

“You were in there for a bit with him,” Marie starts as Alyssa told her parents. “Did you tell him what you were thinking?” Alyssa shakes her head.

“We just spoke about his feelings,” she lies, not wanting to reveal that she perhaps persuaded his decision with a slight comment.

“Well, maybe in these couple of weeks, you should come out with your take right in the open so he knows.” Alyssa nods her head, knowing that’d probably be a good idea.

If she wanted him to be honest about things with her and open up, then she needed to do the same herself.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 67: The Test

Alyssa lets out a sigh as she sits on a bench in the infield.

They had arrived at the track about 10 minutes ago with sets sight on the day. The plan was for Jimmie to shake the car down, and make sure it had a decent set-up in it. Chase would then afterwards take his turn behind the wheel, set to do a series of laps to see where his comfort level was mentally and physically.

Alyssa couldn’t help but smile at the possibility of Chase returning to racing. It was a step in the right direction and a step towards forgetting what had happened previously. Though she couldn’t help but admit the nerves that were eating at her, wondering how the day would go.

“Where’s Prince Charming?” Alyssa hears, catching her attention as her mom walks over. She points over to pit road, where Chase stood beside Alan and Josh, watching Jimmie intently. “But yet you’re back here?”

“I’m giving him and his team space to do what they need to do,” Alyssa comments. “It’s all about comfort for him right now. I want to do what it takes to make him most comfortable. If that involves giving him space to be with his guys before he goes out, then sure. If that involves being there with him while he gets changed and then strapped in, I will do it. He was there for me, so I’m repaying the favor.”

“I wouldn’t expect otherwise.” Alyssa smiles as she watches her mom sit down beside her. Normally, she’d turn to her dad and others in her life for advice. Though pondering back, maybe this was the right question for her mom.

“What was it like for you when Dad went back racing after his break?” Marie then glances at her daughter. “Like, what were you feeling? Nerves? Confidence?” Marie then crosses her arms, remembering the tirade of thoughts she had. She wasn’t sure she wanted to answer the question.

“Why do you ask, to begin with?” Alyssa lets out a sigh, knowing the answer right then and there. No wonder she was a mess herself right now.

“Curious, I suppose…” Alyssa felt that if her mom wasn’t going to share, why put the energy forth herself?

“I remember after we got back from Pitronia the first time, when he found me after I was presumed dead. I remember the fear that we went through in thinking that we’d lost each other forever. Him thinking I was killed in a car crash when I was kidnapped, while I thought Mariella had killed him in a plane.” Alyssa lets out a shiver as she couldn’t shake the nerves in hearing that name or plane together in the same sentence. “I was a mess, actually. I was royal mess. You can ask Steve, because I went into Daytona that year with emotions all over the place.”

“That’s a shock….” Marie chuckles, having grown used to her daughters thinking that she was made of stone and perfectly strong.

“I was so nervous that something would happen and I would lose him. I was nervous of a wreck that would end everything. I remember he got caught up in a wreck in the Shootout and I literally freaked, froze like a statue sitting on his pit box. It took Steve’s careful words of wisdom and calming to really bring myself out of it. Then when I explained everything, I began to realize why – I was afraid. Fear can sometimes be a good thing because it shows you how much you care. Do you get that?” Alyssa nods her head.

“The only reason why I may feel fearful for someone, or something, is because I care so much about them that I want the best.” Marie smiles, glad that her daughter was smart like her.

“Steve convinced me to talk to your dad about it. Needless to say, it was a long conversation and it wasn’t easy. But it was worth it in the end. Hearing his reasons, hearing why he thought I shouldn’t worry, and why it was going to be okay, it gave me some comfort. That allowed every bit of emotion that I was feeling to ease away, step by step, and eventually, as the weekend progressed, I handled things better to where I was back to super wife again.” Alyssa smiles as she glances back out towards Chase. She could only hope to get there herself.

“I feel a tinge of worry for Chase, just because of everything he’s been through. I worry about those emotional rampages of his, and I worry about him lashing out at the wrong time. I worry about him rushing it too, as he warned me so of doing. I worry about his anxiety and whether he can truly overcome that. I worry about him being in the midst of a pack.” Alyssa looks over at her. “I guess that means I’m normal, right?”

“Of course sweetheart, because we said – we only fear because we care so much. You care about him so much that you’re shedding every single fear that you can have over the situation. Now, can I give you the LeTarte advice?” Alyssa sighs.

“I wish that’d be the easiest thing to do, and knowing Chase, he’d know exactly what to say to me to make me feel better and ease away my concerns. But, I can’t bring myself to mention a single word to him. What if in inflict more fear on him than he has? What I trigger something? What if he’s trying to manage it and I push the wrong button? I don’t want to be the cause of a problem.” Marie nods her head, understanding that. However, she could only think back to her own experience.

“Chase has freaked at you before, though, and assured you it was out of character. What else did he say to make that easier?” Alyssa closes her eyes as she thinks back to the kitchen.

“Know that I don’t mean it against you and I’m just frustrated with the situation. Know that I could never be mad at you or angry. But also know that you can come to me no matter what.” Marie smiles as she wraps an arm around her daughter.

“Why don’t you go with those words and speak with him, then?” Alyssa wished she could just do that, but shaking her head, that wasn’t so.

“It’s not the same….”

“But I bet it’d be therapy for you both. Besides, it’s better that he faces those situations here in the privacy of our group, rather than his first race back at the track. Hence why this is a test. Why not test everything?” Alyssa knew that her mom was right as she could only imagine the reaction from everybody if they saw one of those instances, and could only imagine also what Chase would do afterwards.

Taking a deep breath and another glance towards him, she knew she had to speak her mind sooner than later.

The No. 9 car then comes down pit road, stopping in the pit box before the three crew members. Jimmie climbs out, smile planted on his face as he takes the helmet off.

“How was that?” He questions, looking up at Alan, who could only smile back.

“Run that lap in October and we have ourselves a new track record,” Alan answers as Jimmie couldn’t help but let out a small cheer. It was nice to know he still had the ability to get the job done.

“She’s handling very well. I honestly don’t think we can get any better. Just make sure you watch down in 3 as it’s a little slick – nothing new though, right?” Chase simply nods his head as he watches Jimmie walk away.

“Don’t let the track record, lap time comment lay in your mind. Just focus on getting in there, getting in your zone, and finding that comfort level. That’s all we’re here to do today. We’ll focus on getting the speed and what we need moving forward.”

“I know,” Chase comments quietly as he hops down off the wall. He takes a glance in the car, taking a couple deep breathes, debating once again. There was only one way to shut his mind up, though, as he glanced back up at the crew. “I’m going to go get changed.” He then walks off pit road as Alan turns around, watching him walk away closely.

“What do you think, chief?” Josh questions, catching Alan’s attention.

“He’ll be fine once he gets himself in the car,” Alan answers. “It’s just battling those other thoughts of his first.”

Cabin Fears – Chapter 66: Richmond

Chase takes a deep breath as he walks through the pits at Richmond Raceway garage.

He felt his nerves cringe at times in seeing the crowds of fans throughout, but a couple calming deep breathes and he found himself some common ground.

“The past will not repeat itself,” he tells himself quietly. “That was just a weird coincidence of events, thanks to one person. You know that. You know the game that he played. Don’t let him control your life and feelings.”

He then takes a pause, glancing around, continuing to remind himself of that fact as he takes a couple deep breathes, before continuing his walk through the garage.

Originally going into the weekend, he was set to stay focused on Alyssa solely. However, with the test scheduled on Sunday, he knew checking in with his guys to see how things were going was very well worth it for everyone’s sanity. He had been impressed with how Jimmie Johnson had performed during his time out of the seat, as it was like eight-time hadn’t missed a beat despite the time off.

“Must be all the triathlons he’s been doing,” Chase mused to himself one day.

He makes his way into the garage, receiving a couple surprised glances from the various crew members as they hadn’t expected an appearance.

“I thought you were too busy with the girl to care about us,” Alan comments as Chase immediately laughs.

“I always got time for my guys,” he replies, before giving the crew chief a hug. “It’s nice to see you.” Alan then takes a step back, giving Chase a glance over.

“Jeff mentioned something about having the intermediate car ready for Sunday to test at Charlotte for you. I thought he was crazy, but I’m beginning to think otherwise looking at you. Are you sure you’re ready?” Chase nods his head.

“Like I told him, one by one I am figuring things out so I believe this is the next step. I mean, I made my way over here all by myself. I wasn’t able to do that just two weeks ago.” Alan nods his head, having heard the story of what happened at Bristol.

“That’s certainly progress….”

“It’s just constantly giving myself little reminders in moving forward, and knowing that Randy’s games are over. He can’t hurt me no more and the game that he played has no more turns left. As long as I remind myself of that, look forward and not back at him, then I feel good.” Alan couldn’t help but smile at the revelation.

“And obviously, that’s helping the anxiety and fear, right?” Alan hated to bring up a negative, but the mention from Jeff that Chase was on a mild drug couldn’t leave his mind. There was a reason for that…

“Absolutely. I don’t think it’s absolutely gone, nor am I ready to do it all alone, but I’m closer with that thought.” Alan smiles as he wraps an arm around Chase.

“That’s great. I am absolutely happy for you.” Alan then stops and looks into his eyes. “Just make sure you’re doing this right and not repeating your past mistakes.” Chase rolls his eyes as he lets out a sigh.

“Jeff said the same thing…”

“It’s only because we care, and don’t want to do that again. You remember how sick you got at Charlotte. You remember how you drove yourself away from everybody. We don’t need that again. You don’t need that again, and Alyssa certainly doesn’t.” Chase knew that, and always reminded himself of that on a constant basis if he felt like running.

“Trust me – I know. I can promise you that I’m not doing that again, okay?” Alan nods his head, believing him.

“I’m just glad to have you back, man. I can’t wait for Sunday.” Chase then looks over as Jimmie is discussing something with the crew members.

“Think he’s ready to give me back the seat, though?” Alan chuckles as he looks over at him.

“I don’t know about that, but I also know he’s missing the time spending the kids, too. He’s in that parent mode where he can’t believe the kids are all grown up.” Chase nods his head in agreement.

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

Later on that night, Chase stood on pit road, waiting for opening ceremonies to begin as he watched Alyssa do a series of interviews. Taking a deep breath, he knew if things came together, this would be the calmest weekend they’d have at the track for awhile.

“What’s this I hear about you making a return?” He hears and turns immediately to the source.

“Ssssh!” He demands quickly as he walks over to his mom. “We don’t want everybody knowing…” Cindy then crosses her arms.

“I’m your mother. Don’t I deserve to know?” Chase nods his head as he lets out a sigh.

“Jeff wasn’t sure if it was 100% set till about a couple hours ago after we got done talking with NASCAR. I was going to tell you sometime tomorrow so you and Dad knew. I don’t keep secrets…” Cindy remains there with her arms crossed.

“And are we sure about this?” Chase rolls his eyes as he glances away.

“Been through with Jeff, been through with Alan – and now you too?” She then taps his shoulder to get his attention.

“I’m your mother. My opinion comes over theirs and an explanation is due to me more than them.” He couldn’t argue with that, unfortunately.

“I feel that I am ready. I don’t want to stand here and discuss this all day – but let’s say I’ve found common ground, feel this is the next step, and won’t get lost in continuing to make progress even if it goes well. Is that satisfactory?” Cindy nods her head.

“Next time, let me find out from you and not from your crew, got it?” Chase nods his head. “And I wish you the best of luck. You know, I love you and support you no matter what. Do what’s best for you, and only what’s best for you. Don’t try and do stuff just to make everyone happy.”

“Yes ma’am.” As she headed away, he knew what she spoke of as he glanced back at Alyssa.

Everybody wanted to see him back racing and everybody wanted to see everything back like it was before, as if nothing had happened. The fans, the sponsors, and their friends, family – it was just better feeling that way. He knew he couldn’t let the pressure from everyone on the outside push him sooner than he should.

As he takes a deep breath, he wonders if he’s truly for what’s to come on Sunday and beyond.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 65: “Can we set something up, please?”

Jeff was focused on some notes on his desk, knowing that things needed to get done in relation to this year and the time ahead. There was never a dull moment, it seemed, and he had grown to respect the job of being the ‘boss’.

As he was flips over the latest piece of paper, he hears a knock on the door, causing him to look up.

“You know you can just enter without asking first, right?” Jeff questions and Chase nods his head as he steps forward.

“I didn’t want to interrupt you if you were busy,” he offers as Jeff rolls his eyes.

“I never get a dull moment, so you’ll find that time.” He then focuses his eyes on the man before him. “So I wasn’t expecting to see you here today. What can I do for you?” Chase takes a deep breath, remembering why he entered the office to begin with.

“I am getting closer to wanting to make a comeback – like real close actually.” Jeff then looks on surprised.

“Really?” Chase nods his head. “That’s surprising, considering our last discussion just a couple weeks ago had you believing that it could be a month or more…” Jeff also knew of the psychological deals that were still going on, too.

“Something about being at Darlington, seeing that paint scheme, going through all of my thoughts – it made me want to focus on getting back at it, again. I want to drive…” Jeff knew the desperation of drivers to want to compete. He remembered facing that balance himself when he finally chose to give it up. Part of him knew he could do it and part of him wanted to compete for wins, but the other part realized how long he’d be racing for and how his back had gone over the years.

“That doesn’t surprise me, really, because you’re a racer at heart.” Chase then crosses his arms, glad that they’ve made progress.

“So, can we set something up, please? Like a test, or perhaps an XFINITY deal?” Jeff thinks it over, as he pushes back on his chair. He couldn’t see why not as he knew this time would come eventually.

“I can talk to the guys and talk to NASCAR. I’m sure we can work out a test for you – if you’re serious enough. Then we can go from there.”  Chase nods his head in approval. “You just have to answer me two questions before I move forward. Is the fact that you can come back prior to Chicago and be in the playoffs part of this?” Chase shakes his head no.

“I hadn’t even given championship contention a thought, to be honest. This is all done on the feeling of the moment.” Jeff nods his head, accepting.

“Then riddle me this. You said that you didn’t want to come back till you had sorted out everything in relation to Randy due to how you handled it previously. Now given what I’ve heard, there’s still a lot of issues there – anxiety, panicing, fear. There’s also the mind games that he played. I also have a feeling that you haven’t quite discussed ‘everything’ that you should, either. Am I on to something here?” Chase lets out a sigh and nods his head. “Then why should we move forward despite your original statement?”

“I’ve dealt with most of everything that happened and come to grips with it. I am coming to grips with it a little more each day as I sort out my thoughts. I believe getting back behind the wheel will help complete the puzzle. It’ll let me find that common ground that I feel I am missing. I am racer. That’s what I’ve been before anything else. Without that, it’s almost as if something is missing and he has possibly stripped that away from me. I want to be able to stand here and say that’s not the truth.” Jeff nods his head, understanding. He could see how it was another layer of the mind games played by Randy.

“My only concern is how NASCAR will handle your anxiety and panic factor, and knowing you’re currently taking something for that. It may be against the drug policy, and be a cause for concern in relation to emotions.” Chase glances down as he sits down in the chair.

“I can’t blame them if they say no. But you know yourself that each person is different and unique in their own way with their corks. You know that there’s layers of that in each person and understand what I am taking. You have to sense that they’ll get that, too, and realize that it won’t be a big deal on track.” Jeff nods his head, hoping that was the case.

“We’ll just have to see, right? I mean, I’m just preparing you for the worst.” Chase nods his head, accepting. “By the way, have you come any closer to grips with that?”

“Like I said, it’s a little day-by-day. I had a good discussion with Tony on the weekend about mind games and been thinking about that as I piece together each thing. It’s certainly helping me keep the calmness that I need. But I will admit – I still can’t speak of the ice incident as much as I should to get that edge back off of my mind. I still can’t stand to be alone in a crowd with people that I don’t know. I still feel a tinge of fear that something will happen again because that’s what keeps happening. I still think about him, and I still think about Demi. There are still thoughts, there. But I feel that I am halfway.”

“And you feel that’s far enough to take this next step of getting back to racing?” Chase nods his head. “You’re not going to fall into that trap again of focusing on racing, and letting the other eat at you till it causes you to explode?” Chase shakes his head no.

“I learned my lesson the first time, Jeff, and there’s no way I could run from Alyssa.” Jeff smiles, knowing how close the pair had grown over the years. He had a couple small regrets in seeing Alyssa and Leo split up, but knew it had worked out for the better. Alyssa was happy with Chase, and Leo had Elladee.

“Alright. Then I’m willing to play ball. But Chase, balance is key……”

Through the week, Jeff worked through the right people and got them contacting who needed to be contacted. It was agreed that they’d converge next Sunday at Charlotte and go from there with a test.

But first, Richmond was on tap in hopes of another successful weekend for Alyssa…..