Back to Square One – Chapter 28: “Can you help me?”

Thursday

Even though she knew it was wrong, and wanted to head the other direction, she just couldn’t bring herself to do that. Like everything in life, she took it head on and was set to do it to her fullest potential before walking away.

That’s why after completing the hours she needed to at the shop and before heading to the house to pack for Pocono, she knew she had to make a stop on the way home.

Glancing at the sign outside, it seemed like the perfect shop that would carry the parts that she needed. Parking in front, she headed inside with her details set to get this done quickly as possible.

“May I help you?” Mitchell says, eyes focused on her. He recognized her immediately, but wasn’t going to tell her that. The longer she didn’t know, the more information he could gather for Jimmie.

“I’m looking for some parts for a Pontiac GTO,” she tells him as she pulls out a piece of paper. “I just moved to town recently, finally got my car back up and running, and now I’m set to continue improving on it.” He could only think of one reason why she wanted to do that, knowing her background.

“What type of improvements?” She smiles immediately. It was obvious by the name of the place.

“I want more horsepower, speed, torque – better performance overall. Can you help me?” He wasn’t about to turn away new business, or seeing her again so he could keep tabs on her for Jimmie.

“Absolutely. Can you tell me the specifications so I know where you stand and what we can possibly do?” She slides the paper across the counter, as he looks it over. “Not bad, but I got some ideas. I can have the parts in for you by Monday.” She smiles as that’d work out perfectly.

“That’s fine by me. Just let me know what I owe you.”

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

“You seem quiet today…” Chad comments as he finishes packing up what he needs in the shop for the weekend. “And I mean quieter than normal…” Ron could only let out a sigh as he double checked that he had the weekend checklists in order.

“I’d just rather not talk about it, okay?” Ron says and Chad nods his head, having grown to expect that answer. It didn’t mean that he was willing to just move forward this time.

“You know, you’re going to eventually have to talk about what happe-”

“This isn’t about that!” Chad freezes upon the outburst, watching his friend closely as Ron looks up to meet his gaze. Ron hadn’t meant to snap, but it was too late now as the eyes locked on him weren’t about to leave. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sna-”

“You need to change your attitude and fast, Ron. I am not going to deal with someone snapping their ass off at me and being a jackass for long. This team is about commitment, family, and being focused – not being on different pages and annoyance. I don’t have time for shit like that.” Ron knew that, and could feel the ice beneath him beginning to crack with each passing second.

“That’s what she said, too….” His voice trials off, causing the focused eyes to not leave him or flinch. “I snapped at Greenlee the other night when she accused me of staying too late and working too hard to divert my thoug-”

“She’s not lying, Ron. I’ve seen your hours.” Ron rolls his eyes, knowing that he was probably going to get approached about it sooner than later by either Chad or Rick.

“I know, and I don’t deny it. I didn’t deny it to her, either. She went out late last night to go somewhere, and I asked her where she was going. She wouldn’t give me a straight answer – still probably upset about what happened. She got home late and I apologized immediately, feeling terrible still. She told me that I needed to look at myself in the mirror, address my issues, and do something before I pushed everybody away. Basically, take what happened by the horns…” Chad felt his wall of anger break immediately in hearing his friend breakdown what happened, feeling absolutely terrible in that moment. How could he treat Ron that way when his crush had just broken him further?

“Did she say anything else?” Ron shakes his head.

“She just went to her room. It was like I do something, or I begin to lose her, forever. I want to do something as I want to begin the process and move on. I just don’t know how…” Chad’s wall broke even further in hearing the confession. How could he be mad when Ron wanted to do something?

“You could try by talking to me about what happened, and your feelings. You could also try confessing to Greenlee, Jimmie, somebody. You just need to start talking.” Ron knew that, but where would he ever begin?

“I went back to the stree-”

“Ron Male-”

“I didn’t go street racing or stay long, Chad. I just went and looked one night. I thought if maybe I brought back the feelings of being there, reasons for going, seeing how it all began, I could begin to find the answers and clarity that I wanted.” Chad could understand his position – having heard of people doing that before. That didn’t mean he was pleased with the approach, though.

“Did it help?” Ron shakes his head no. “I don’t know what to say or tell you, except she is right. You need to do something as this is eating at you and I don’t want it to come to the point where I have to draw a line. I told you if you needed time off, I could give that to you. Just please, figure out what you need to do and know my door is always open, okay?” Ron nods his head, accepting. “And maybe if you apologize to her again, she’ll understand. She knows how it feels to be in your shoes.”

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Back to Square One – Chapter 22: Mitchell’s Visit

Monday

Mitchell drives up to the shop, in total awe and shock, as he could not believe how big it was. He knew his buddy drove for a big NASCAR team and heard that their shop was enormous, but nothing could prepare him for the sight before him.

Driving up the property, he didn’t want to have to do things this way. He would’ve rather called Jimmie and asked him to come over and spoke over the phone. But, he couldn’t find his number since Jimmie changed everything after what happened. So here he was instead, looking for his friend…

He didn’t know where to begin to start, as it was building after building after building. How was he supposed to know which one to Jimmie in? Maybe one of these had a secretary…

As he goes around a corner for what seemed like the billionth time, he stumbles upon a familiar white Tahoe and a familiar brown haired man. Finding Jimmie had been easier than expected. He immediately drives into one of the first parking spots – obviously getting some curious glances from those around the area – before jumping out of the car and heading over. His approach even caught the eyes of some crew members arriving for the day, wondering if some crazy fan was there.

“Jimmie?” Mitchell speaks out loud, catching Jimmie’s attention.  It was like immediate confusion.

“Mitchell?” Jimmie questions back in response. “What are you doing here?” Mitchell takes a deep breath, hating the very thought of even having this conversation.

“I came to see you. I need to talk to you about something….” Jimmie was intrigued and now really confused. For one, the approach was not normal, and if Mitchell needed to see you right away, it was always important.

“Really?” Mitchell nods his head, hoping he was getting somewhere.

“Yeah, I really need to talk to you.” Jimmie didn’t know what to say as he noticed their conversation had caught Chad Knaus’ attention, as well. He was hoping these two would never meet each other.

“Oh, okay.” Seeing the curious glance on the crew chief’s face, as well as the lingering crew members with thoughts of stalker, Jimmie knew he had to calm some of the nerves. “Chad, this is Mitchell. Mitchell, this is Chad…”

“Oh,” Chad states calmly, still feeling a whirl of confusion. Only people whom he recognized were ever in this back parking lot. He almost wondered if this was a spy. “Hello.”

“Hello,” Mitchell simply replies, not knowing what much to say. He had heard stories of Chad’s stern nature, and worried about being at the other end of it.

“Do I know you, or can I help you? I mean, there wasn’t supposed to be any outside meetings on my schedule today.” Mitchell was intrigued by the questions, but was beginning to understand as he saw the various employee shirts surrounding him.

“No no, don’t worry. I’m just here to see Jimmie.” Chad then glances between the pair, intrigued. It wasn’t like Jimmie’s friends just randomly showed up at the back part of the shop any day.

“Yeah, he’s a long time friend, Chad,” Jimmie states. “You don’t have to worry.” Chad was caught off guard by the extra comment as normally there was no need for Chad to worry anyway.

“Oh, okay,” Chad simply replies. “Long time friend, huh?” Mitchell nods his head.

“Yeah, I’ve known him and Ron for years,” Mitchell states as Chad simply accepts the fact. Glancing back at Jimmie, his mind began to wonder about many things. Something was fishy here….

“Oh, I see. That’s always interesting…” Jimmie could tell by Chad’s tone that he was beyond curious about their relationship. He also knew he didn’t want to cause another riff as they had barely survived the first time through this chaos.

“Mitchell, let’s just come out and say it because obviously he’s figuring something is going on here,” Jimmie starts, causing Chad to look at him, now really curious. “He was the one that facilitated everything before. Like the fact that we had identity cover-up, and the fact that we played it off as if I was someone else, and the technology behind it. He was basically my coordinate.”

“Oh, wow….” Chad simply let out, almost brought to the point of being speechless. He was certain they were done with every trace to what happened. Why did reminders seem to keep popping up every which way he looked? “Well, umm….wow. And yet, you’re here? And you’re still hanging out with him?”

“Chad, I can promise you…”

“Look, I’m not here for any of that,” Mitchell interrupts, seeing the tension growing between the pair. It was never his intension to cause issues there as he was glad to see Jimmie had moved on well since what happened. “I can promise that, Chad. I know you don’t trust me and you just met me, but I’m not here to wrangle Jimmie back in or get him back involved anyway.  I mean, really in reality, I didn’t want him involved to begin with. I was actually was the one that told him it was a bad idea, too, and pulled out.”

“He’s not lying, Chad,” Jimmie insists, remembering the trail of events clearly. He could recall the anger he had towards Mitchell that day and the fact the pair had barely talked since. It’s why this meeting had caught him beyond off-guard. “He’s telling the truth.”

“Wow….okay,” Chad comments, glancing between the pair, confused as ever. He still didn’t trust either one of them and wished they had cameras out back now. “So I’m just supposed to believe that you two are no longer associated in any fashion anymore like that.”

“No, we’re not,” Jimmie states. “I mean, we still talk like friends and hang out, but I’m not involved in that – I swear.” The whole still friends and hanging out – total lie, but he was willing to do what it took to get Chad off of his back right now.

“I’m not either,” Mitchell adds. “I mean, to be honest, I basically stay busy with my business in fixing cars. I own a shop just up ther-”

“Nervous or something?” Chad questions, catching hesitation every couple of words. “You just seem you’re stumbling on your words.” Mitchell takes a deep breath, knowing he was digging the hole deeper as Jimmie tried to cover it up.

“No no, I’m not nervous. I’m just trying to get on your good side. I just don’t want to cause any problems.” Chad nods his head, beginning to see a bit of light. Maybe he shouldn’t had been quick to judge after all. But just in case, a phone call to Dom once again was probably in order.

“I perfectly understand, but you’re not causing any though. If you say you’re not and he says he’s not, then it’s fine. I mean, I don’t have anything to worry about. I trust him.” Mitchell nods his head, accepting. It was nice to see that the relationship between Chad and Jimmie he heard about was still there.

“That’s good.”  Chad then reaches out his hand, shaking Mitchell’s in return.

“Well, it was nice meeting you.”

“It was nice meeting you, too.” Chad then glances over at Jimmie, cautiously.

“Jimmie, I need you inside soon….” Jimmie nods his head, knowing the Monday morning drill.

“I’ll be right in,” Jimmie states as Chad heads off, going inside the doors.

“Dude, I am so sorry,” Mitchell begins immediately, catching Jimmie’s attention. “I did not mean to cause issues between you two.”  Jimmie glanced towards the door, before looking back at Mitchell. Chad certainly had a way about him.

“Don’t even worry. It’s fine.” Mitchell wasn’t quite convinced based on Chad’s reaction.

“Are you sure?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Absolutely. I mean, the reality is I get why he’s concerned. It caused a lot of headaches, and issues, and problems, and I know he doesn’t want to go back down that road. I mean, he didn’t even want to go down that road to begin with. I mean, hell, at times I’m pretty sure he would’ve thrown me and Ron out of here. So, why did you come to see me anyway?” Mitchell takes a deep breath, not sure if this was such a good idea now. What if it resulted in action being taken without a sense of reason?

“I need to talk to you about something.” Jimmie now found the previous concern returning.

“I don’t like the sound of your voice. I mean, you just said to him that we were out of this.” Mitchell lets out a sigh, as that was the truth – but yet, some connections remained.

“Dude, I’m not trying to draw you in or anything, or get advice, or get your help or anything. That’s not why I’m her-”

“Then why are you here? Just spit it out man, and get to the point. I’m not going to play this fucking game all day.” Mitchell takes a deep breath, knowing that letting Jimmie get frustrated before telling him was not going to help one bit.

“I saw Ron last night up at the mountain.” Jimmie’s jaw drops immediately, shock forming.

“You saw Ron Malec up on the mountain?” Mitchell nods his head, hoping it would begin to set in.

“Yeah, I did. I was over there because I had to drop off a part to somebody before they started. I hung around and saw him up there.” Jimmie was in immediate disbelief. It was Ron that wanted him to get out. Ron had pulled the plug before Jimmie even got close too. That life had also resulted in everything else going on. Why would he go back?

“Was he doing anything?”  Mitchell shakes his head.

“No, he was just overlooking.” Jimmie wanted to scream in an instance as an idea popped in his head. His suspicions about Greenlee may be true after all.

“Was there a female with him?” Mitchell then looks on confused. When did Ron get a girlfriend, or was Jimmie referring to Candiss?

“Female?” Jimmie nods his head as he crosses his arms.

“Yeah – just answer the question! I need to know if there was a female!” Mitchell felt his anxiety pick up, along with curiosity. Was something going on that he hadn’t realized?

“I didn’t see one.” Jimmie knew that didn’t end the suspicions though.

“Is there a new female driver around that you would casually think of or have seen?” Mitchell shakes his head, although he wasn’t in tune with the scene anymore.

“No. Why?” Jimmie takes a deep breath, knowing Mitchell was in for a shock.

“Remember Greenlee?” Mitchell’s jaw drops immediately.

“Of course! She moved off to Pine Valley. We were all upset. What? Is she in town?” Jimmie nods his head, hoping Mitchell would put the pieces together so he wouldn’t have to.

“Yeah, and she’s staying with Ron.” Mitchell knew immediately what was going on, as he glanced away.

“Ah shit…” Jimmie was glad to hear that response as it confirmed he had a right to be suspicious. “So you’re thinking…”

“I’m just wondering. I don’t know. Fuck.” Mitchell could see by the reaction on Jimmie that there was a mix of thoughts.

“I’m just telling you. I thought I’d let you know…” Jimmie nods his head, not feeling one drop of anger at Mitchell. He actually appreciated the confession more than Mitchell appreciated.

“I appreciate it. Thank you. He’s going through a lot right now.” Mitchell wondered if something else happened as he looked at Jimmie, curiously.

“Really?” Jimmie nods his head, knowing he could trust Mitchell in knowing the information.

“The whole thing that happened is still bugging him….” Mitchell relaxed, glad that something new wasn’t going on beyond Greenlee.

“Oh, I see…” Jimmie could almost pace around the parking lot right now as he tried to find the right words to say.

“I mean, I don’t know what to do about it. I mean, do I casually let him deal with it, or do I push him?” Mitchell already knew the answer, based on experience.

“You can’t push him, Jimmie. You know that…” Jimmie lets out a sigh, knowing that Mitchell was probably right.

“I know.” Mitchell takes a deep breath, trying to find his own words to say.

“Listen, just keep doing what you’re doing. He knows you’re there so that’s what matters. As far as I’m concerned, you can mention this or not – it’s up to you. I’m not going to say anything as it’s your call, because you’re handling things. But if we do per chance cross paths, I will let him know that he can always reach out to me. And if he does go back there, I will let you know.” Jimmie appreciated the offer, as he glanced around, before turning back to Mitchell. Something wasn’t adding up about Ron’s appearance there.

“He made me promise not to go back there, first. I don’t see him going back…” Mitchell had to admit it was a little strange.

“I don’t either…”

“That’s why I’m thinking she’s maybe involved…” Mitchell nods his head, seeing how the theory could be true.

“Listen, I don’t know-”

“Can you check your sources? You have great resources.” Mitchell lets out a sigh, knowing it was the least he could do.

“Alright, I’ll check. I’ll see what I can find for you.” Jimmie nods his head, accepting. It was a start.

“Thanks. Also, just don’t stay anything if you see him or her either.” Mitchell could see the reasons why behind Jimmie’s behavior.

“Of course not. She doesn’t know you’re worried?” Jimmie laughs, already making his point clear.

“Ah, I wouldn’t say that. I mean, I’m trying to get comfortable with her, but something about this just seems off.” Mitchell nods his head, understanding.

“Well, I will let you know…” Jimmie hoped it led to some answers as he didn’t know what else to do.

“Alright. Well, I better let you go as Chad wants me…” Mitchell knew he better not interfere in work or else Chad may kill them both.

“You better or he’ll kick your ass if you’re not there.” Jimmie laughs, knowing that was true beyond any shadow of doubt.

“Yeah, no kidding. Keep me posted with whatever you find out.” Mitchell nods his head.

“Of course.”

Jimmie then heads inside, making his way up the second floor and down the hall to Chad’s office. He couldn’t worry about that conversation anymore as he had work to get done.

“What was that about?” Chad wonders as Jimmie enters the office. Jimmie admittedly wasn’t surprised by the question, but wasn’t about to tell Chad the truth – yet.

“He just wanted to ask me something,” Jimmie answers, which wasn’t a total lie.

“Oh. Anything interesting?” Jimmie knew he had to come up with something and fast.

“Ah, not really. Just some pointless car question he couldn’t figure out for a customer. He wanted to know my take on it.” Chad could only wonder if that was the truth as it seemed odd somebody would show up like that with that type of question.

“Oh. He should’ve brought it up before I left. I mean, I know my way around.” Jimmie smiles, having no doubt about that.

“I know. It’s just he doesn’t know you, Chad.” Chad nods his head as that was obvious.

“Right…” Jimmie then sat down, peering over the notes that were before him.

“Anyways, why did you want to see me for?” Chad now looked at Jimmie, confused.

“Set-up? Post-weekend discussion? What else do we do on Mondays?” Jimmie now realized how dumb his question was. He needed to stop thinking about what Mitchell said…but he couldn’t….

“Oh, of course. Right.” Chad raised his eyebrows, now really curious about what happened.

“Are you alright?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Chad takes a deep breath, almost regretting these next set of words.

“You do know if anything is going on, you can tell me?” Jimmie nods his head, trying to shoo away those thoughts more than ever.

“I would, and promise me – it’s not what you’re thinking. I wouldn’t risk it again. You know that.” Chad nods his head, accepting, but also questioning the emphasis put on the response.

“I know…”

Back to Square One – Chapter 19: Concerns….

Jimmie walks into the conference room, knowing the meeting that morning was not going to go smoothly. Based on the fact that they’d struggled, Chad was going to come in grumpier than ever, demanding answers and change. Taking a deep breath, he just hoped the headache wasn’t that bad afterwards.

He glances down the row of chairs, noticing he wasn’t the first to arrive with Ron already sitting in his usual spot. Jimmie couldn’t shake the conversation the other day in how things were still affecting him, nor really get rid of the fact that it was all his fault. He was the one that went down that road even after Ron and Chad had warned him not too, and got themselves in that mess. Now six months later, they were still dealing with the after effects.

“Hey,” Ron notices Jimmie as he looks down the line.

“Hey,” Jimmie replies as he takes his usual seat. “Where’s Greenlee?”

“She’s typing up the notes for Chad right now.” Jimmie simply nods his head, not surprised by that. It seemed since taking the job, she was handling it very seriously and on point in getting things done. He knew that’d keep Chad somewhat happy, even if the rest of them were blowing up his world.

“I’m surprised to see you here early….” Ron glances over, slightly surprised, though only a sigh escapes his lips afterwards.

“I couldn’t sleep last night so I figured a quiet change of scenery would help me relax a little.” Jimmie nods his head, feeling his worries creep back in.

“You still haven’t talked to anyone, have you?” Ron shakes his head no. “You need to do something. You can’t keep doing this.” Ron knew that, but also didn’t know what the first step he should take contained. “I mean, you can talk to me, you can talk to Greenlee, or even a specialist. But Ron, you need to talk to someone.”

“I know…” Ron glances down at his feet, thinking it over as Jimmie keeps his eyes locked on his best friend.

“I want my carefree buddy back that would have tons of fun with me doing whatever the future held. I want that car nut, the jokes – I want our friendship back to where it was, buddy. I care about you. That’s why I keep bugging you.” Ron appreciated the generosity, but in some cases, it was better to just ignore it. He wanted all that back, too. He didn’t want to be relieving what happened in his mind over and over. He didn’t want to be pondering what could’ve happened instead. But how to get that back was a whole other ball game.

“I’ll deal with it when I’m ready, alright? I’m just not….” Ron takes a deep breath as his eyes remain focused on the floor. “I just don’t know how to describe it to someone. I mean, all they did was take me away, tie me down, insert some drugs, and hit with some belts in the process. On paper, it just seems so simple. But yet, my mind just twists it into something.”

“You’re not giving it enough benefit, Ron. Anybody that would go through something like that would be feeling what you are. There’s fear, anger, panic, worry – so many emotions tied in that moment. I bet your thoughts were going a mile a minute in how to get out of it, but also fear and worry that it was the end. They say it’s the emotions that make it hard to move forward because you can’t warp your thoughts around those.” Ron nods his head, understanding that. He saw when Greenlee was explaining her past to him, as well.

“I just wish sometimes I could make it like it never happened, you know?” Jimmie nods his head, as he lets out his own sigh.

“I do, too. I wish that I could go back in time, see where things were heading among all the warnings thrown at me by you and Marshall, listen to them, and back away from it sooner than I did. But I was stubborn, didn’t think it was possible.” Ron looks over at Jimmie.

“Because that damn near was a once and a million deal, Jimmie. That’s not something that happens in our world, and you know that. We’ve travelled around and met thousands of people. That group right there was just the couple of bad seeds in the batch, and we were the lucky ones to become their target.” Jimmie knew that, and he knew the reason why they were the target.

“Kick their ass, and it torments their minds. Find out that I have a celebrity connection, and boom – here’s a way to extort it. I should’ve known that was possible because of who I was, but yet I kept forgetting that. I thought I could keep it hidden on some stupid name. Like I said, I should’ve listened….”

“There’s no going back and changing it now, though. We can’t think about those regrets – we can only focus on the future.” Ron lets out a sigh as he watches the door open. “And that future is us focusing on moving forward, and doing what we need to do. I’ll be fine, I promise. It’s just taking time to wrap my arms around it.”

“Let me know if you need anything or want to talk, though, okay?” Ron nods his head as they watch some crew members make their way in.

“Surprised to see you both here early,” Chad comments as he walks past the pair, taking his usual seat. He knew Jimmie never usually showed up until they were about to begin, and he thought Ron would be dwelling somewhere with everything going on.

“Got to the shop early and figured I better not be late,” Jimmie states as he glances over at Ron.

“And I didn’t have anything to do so I thought I’d just wait in here,” Ron adds as Chad opens up his notebook.

“There’s cars that could’ve been looked over instead,” he comments and Ron knew the boss was right.

“Sorry. Next time I’ll do that instead…” Chad simply accepts as he watches the group sit down around the table.

“Good.” He then finds the page he wants, before looking across the table and waiting for everyone’s attention. “Alright. It’s no secret that we’ve ran like shit lately over the past month. There’s no excuse for this, either. We have every resource and we are coming in after such a high to close out last year. We need to stop making dumb mistakes, get focused, and do what we do. Now, rather than playing on your phones or worrying about who you’re going to get laid off of, let’s focus today, okay?” A bunch of approvals come out around the room.

The meeting goes smoothly, with different topics coming about throughout. The team was confident by the end that they had everything in place to turn things around heading into the next race. For everybody’s sanity, they hoped it was a good enough run to calm Chad down.

Once the meeting was complete, everybody begins to leave the office with ease, with only Chad and Jimmie remaining right at the tail end.

“Chad?” Jimmie questions, catching Chad’s attention. “Just lay off Ron a bit, please? I know you’re frustrated, but you know that he’s got a lot going on, too.” Chad crosses his arms as he looks over at Jimmie.

“How do you expect us to turn around this shit hole streak if we’re just letting people get out of doing their job?” Chad asks as Jimmie lets out a sigh. While he knew Chad could show sympathy, today was obviously not that day.

“I know it doesn’t help things. But you know as much as I do what he’s going through right now. We talked about this. He’s still dealing with stuff from what happened. I actually got a chance to talk to him before everybody showed up today. There’s a lot there, Chad. I got him to touch the surface, but there’s so much on his mind. Besides, you know he’s not sleeping the greatest because of it, too, right?” Chad lets out a sigh, nodding his head. “I’m not saying forget everything and treat him like a baby, or something. But just give him a small break, okay?”

“Ever since we got into this mess, I’ve been the understanding one. I held back in launching off on you both after what happened. I let go the fact that you guys put everything in jeopardy. But yet, you don’t think I get it? Jimmie, I know what he’s going through and I get what you’re saying. But tiptoeing around him isn’t going to help. The only way to make things begin to move forward is to get back to where things were, and find ways to move past it. Hence why I’m not lagging back on it. If he’d come to me and say he wanted to talk, I’d be willing to listen. If he asked for some time because he needed it, I’d be willing to play ball. But you don’t need to worry about this whole hard-ass not understanding crap. I may be pissed as hell right now at whatever this streak is, but you don’t need to question that. Got it?” Jimmie simply nods his head.

“I know you care, and I know we’re all friends. I just wanted to cover the base, incase.” Chad picks up his notebook, closing it as he walks over to Jimmie.

“I get that because he’s your best friend and you care. But remember what I said, too.” Chad then leaves the office as Jimmie glances at the table, placing his hands on it, before taking a deep breath.

Somehow, everything was going to work out….

Back to Square One – Chapter 18: AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway

May 2016 – Race #12

Greenlee walks into the garage, smile on her face, clipboard held tightly close to her. She walks by some of the guys, taking a seat in what had become her usual spot already in just a couple weeks as she opened up the board.

She was getting herself in a good habit.

She would bring the notes from the last meeting containing the set-up they planned to start the weekend with, along with some details on the current weather conditions. That way through morning conversation in the hauler, she’d just have to make notes about small adjustments made to the plan.

She also was already developing her own short hand to use in the book so she could write things quicker, catching everything mentioned by the guys. Then later on, she’d expand it into long form so when reading back the notes were understandable by everybody.

Seeing how close competition was in the garage, there were times she wondered whether it’d be a good idea to actually teach the team the short hand so that way if anybody snagged a peak they’d never understand what was there. Shaking her head, she had to let out a small laugh as she was already turning into one of them looking for an advantage.

She used to trying to find advantages, though. She did with her business in always being on the cutting edge in fragrance and make-up so they’d remain on top. She continued that form when she did street race, keeping the second bottle of NOS hidden to where it couldn’t be seen if somebody peaked in the car.

“Already here working?” She hears, glancing up at Chad with a smile.

“I wanted to make sure everything was in perfect order,” she answers as he simply smiles in return. It seemed with each passing week, he was removing more reservations about her.

“I like your thinking. Maybe we can turn things around this week and actually have a good finish.” He then was about to walk away, but stopped and looked back towards her. “Has Ron mentioned anything since his panic episode at Dega?” She shakes her head no.

“He told me he’d talk when he was good and ready. I’ve been just offering comfort and steadiness, while reminding him that everything will be okay no matter the thoughts.” Chad shakes his head, accepting.

“I told him he could come to me whenever he felt right about doing so, if needed to. I just worry sometimes…” Greenlee smiles, seeing the concerning side of Chad that Ron had mentioned last week.

“When you go through something traumatic, some people just get over it easy while others it takes time. Some people can talk to somebody about it immediately, while others just need to do so in due time. I’m sure he’ll come around and handle it like we both want him to. Patience. All you can do right now is just assure him that everything is okay.” He shakes his head, accepting. He knew her advice was worth listening to after what he had learned from Dom.

“What did you do? Did you always talk about it, or avoid it?” She then looks on puzzled. “Look, I’m always super conscious about this team and everybody. I may have ran a background on you and found out everything that I could know about your past to make sure things were legit.”

“I can understand that based on how I entered the picture, and Ron’s past himself. But to answer your question, I always could talk to Ryan no matter what. We just had that special connection that I can’t even begin to describe, Chad.  It’s why it hurts so much knowing he’s gone. However, I admit there were times that I held it in and even tried running from it. That never did me any good, as you probably learned.” He shakes his head in agreement, having heard a couple of those tales from Dom.

“Well I appreciate what you’re doing for us, and I appreciate you being there for Ron. It means a lot. I hope this second, third chance works out for you.” She could only smile. It was nice to hear a bit of positivity from someone other than just Ron and Jimmie.

“Thanks Chad. That means a lot coming from you. Hopefully this weekend works out.”

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

The crew could only stand there shaking their heads.

They had done everything right. They gave Jimmie a quick car. They had run up front throughout the race. They were even second as the race was in the second half. Then it happened. The transmission messed up on the restart, causing a stack up and a crash, taking out Jimmie and a bunch of his fellow competitors.

Rather than celebrating or at least standing on pit road with a top-five, they had a wrecked car and a 25th place finish.

“We’re going to turn this around, eventually,” Chad states as they finish packing up. “We can’t  do this forever. We’ve been too quick for this to happen all year.”

“It’s a long season bud; we’ll be fine,” Jimmie replied.

Ron and Greenlee just looked at each other, knowing that it’d be another long week in dealing with Chad’s short temper once again. Greenlee was fine with that, as she understood the reasons why and had gotten to see the nicer side of him.

Back to Square One – Chapter 17: Ready to Work

May 2016 – Kansas Speedway

“Ready for your first official work weekend?” Ron questions as they walk into the garage area together.

“Are you ready for this weekend all together?” Greenlee asks in response, causing Ron to freeze on the spot. “What?”

“Are you going to ask me that every weekend from here on out after what happened last week?” She then thinks it over, and shakes her head no. She knew that’d become too overbearing and she hated when Ryan was like that with her.

“I was just asking to be courteous and because I care about you. Is that okay?” He shakes his head yes as he wraps his arms around her.

“I don’t want to pretend that everything is okay, because I haven’t done what I needed to do yet. But, I can assure you that I am ready to go this weekend and we’re going to have a great weekend.” A smile formed on her face, hoping that he was right.

“I wouldn’t mind being able to see why you guys like winning so much…” Ron then chuckles as they keep walking together, his arm wrapped around her.

“You’ll have to tell Jimmie to drive the wheels off of her Saturday night.” The pair then walk into the garage, resulting in a couple hoots and haulers from the guys. “Really, guys?”

“Hey, we’re not used to seeing a girl on your arm there, Ronnie,” R.J. Barnette teases first. “Want to start talking?”

“Was she one of those nurses who took care of you?” Kevin Novak adds, with a grin. “I told you he was flirting.” R.J. laughs as he sits back in his seat, causing an eye roll from R.J.

“That t doesn’t explain the outfit, though,” Kyle Tudor observes as she glances down at herself.

“She’s the boss’ new assistant,” Ron comments, causing a couple surprised glances.

“Chad finally found someone that will put up with him?” Kevin asks as Greenlee shoots a look at Ron.

“He probably hired her because he wanted to allow the love to blossom between these two,” R.J. adds as Ron just gives him a punch. “Hey!”

“She went through the proper process, and passed with flying colors,” Ron starts. “Chad then observed her notes during the week, and allowed her to spend Talladega weekend observing. She is doing well, so it’d be nice if you’d have some maturity to yourself.” R.J. then looks on surprised, but laughs.

“Dude, you can’t blame me. We’re not used to seeing our man with a girl.” Greenlee then focuses her eyes on the crew member.

“R.J., right?” She questions, and he shakes his head yes. “Listen, Ron and I are good friends, and been that way for a very long time. We’re not together as you’re implying, though. So no need to tease and start using that book of sex jokes that you’ve probably been waiting to use for a long time.” R.J. immediately smiled as he heard the words escape her lips.

“I like you already,” R.J. replies. “I can see why Chad hired you as you don’t take bullshit.” She then turned on her heels, heading to the pit box to grab her notebook. It was going to a joyous season. “Hey, does she have a boyfrie-”

“Can it,” Ron cuts him off before he can say anymore, which causes the smile to return on R.J.’s face.

“You do like her….”  Ron rolls his eyes, though couldn’t deny it.

“We went out a long time ago, and things just didn’t work. Let’s just say that I may be willing to try things around, but I’m not quite ready to do that just yet.” R.J. shakes his head, understanding.

“Well, I do sincerely wish you guys the best because it’d be great to see you happy. I mean, the boss is happy and Jimmie is happy so you’re up next.” Ron smiles, having figured that.

“I’ll be happy if we run well this weekend so Chad lays off our asses.” R.J. then laughs as he notices Chad and Jimmie heading their way.

“You obviously haven’t picked up anything much these past 14 years, have you?” Ron laughs and shakes his head no as he looks towards the pair.

“Time to get to work boys….” Chad announces as he walks into the garage and over to where Greenlee was standing with notebook in hand. It was going to be a fun weekend.

***********

“We’re smoking guys….” Earl Barber comes over the radio during the first practice as Chad shakes his head. The crew guys immediately begin to make their way down the steps, knowing the process. Some would begin to pull out the back-up motor, while others went to find the heads of the Hendrick Motorsports engine department.

“Blown up?” Chad questions on the radio.

“Not too sure actually,” Jimmie answers, causing puzzled glances from Chad and Ron towards each other.

“10-4.” Chad then climbs down the steps, followed by Ron and Greenlee.

“What could be wrong?” Greenlee asks as they head to the garage stall together.

“We may have lost the motor, may have a leak, or some oil in the intake,” Ron answers. “Didn’t Kasey have that problem at Phoenix?” Chad shakes his head yes, remembering.

The team head into the garage stall, letting the engine guys do their job in looking everything over accordingly. Chad could only glance at the clock and watch the minutes in practice continue to tick away.

“You guys are good to go,” Doug Duchart says as he walks over. “Same deal as Kasey. We figured it out and you should be fine.” Chad looks at the general manager, curiously.

“So we’re not going to blow a motor halfway through the race as a result?” Chad questions and Doug shakes his head no. “Alright. Thanks….” Chad then heads over to the car, set to go about the rest of practice as usual.

The rest of the practice went smoothly, with Jimmie finishing it off sitting fourth on the speed chart.

Despite qualifying in 15th, everybody was confident heading into the event. They started off strongly, with Jimmie working his way into the top-10 and up to sixth. However, the night fell apart with 26 laps to go when he sped on pit road. Restarting tail end of the field, he only got back up to 17th.

“Well, least we had a good car,” Ron comments as they are packing up the pit box.

“Yeah – I guess,” Chad says as he heads off into the garage area.

“Is he always like that?” Greenlee questions, and Ron looks over shaking his head yes.

“He’s very hard on himself and this team to succeed,” Ron starts. “If you can’t handle the pressure, get out of the kitchen now because that’s life with these guys. He takes this very seriously, and expects greatness every week. When it doesn’t happen, he turns crabby. That said, he’s one of the most amazing guys away from the track and will always have your back.”  Greenlee shook her head, understanding as she watched him head off.

“Even if you do something that he’s completely angry about, and wants to question every turn?” Ron looked towards Chad’s direction, knowing what she was referencing right away.

“He’s just doing what he needs to do in order to protect this team and everybody involved. He just wants to make sure we’re making the best decisions that we can.” He then glances over her shoulder at the notes. “I say those look very nice.”

“Thank you.” She then closes the folder with a glance back his way. “Now to spend all night typing it up so Chad has it for the meeting.” Ron knew it was wrong to take this next step, but he was willing to go for it.

“Well, you actually have all day Sunday since we don’t do these meetings always till the Monday. So you can relax for the rest of tonight, spend some time tomorrow typing them up while relaxing. Maybe even go out for a bit with me….” She then looks over, intrigued and caught off-guard. That sounded like a date.

“Oh really?” He could only wonder about her response.

“Like, we could go mini golfing or go get you some things that you need. Whatever ya want.” She felt herself relax instantly, as it wasn’t a date offer.

“That sounds great.”

Back to Square One – Chapter 16: The Answers

Chad retreats back to his office, surprised when he sees a bald individual sitting at the desk.

“Who let you in my office?” He questions as he walks into the room.

“Why I let myself in,” Chad hears in response, watching the chair spin around and the person face him. Chad immediately shakes his head as he realizes it’s Dom.

“Why is it whenever you come around, you can’t just do things like everybody else?”  Dom shrugs his shoulders as Chad walks over, and sits behind his desk. “I hope the hell you have answers for me.”

“Why are you so desperate?”  Chad really didn’t have time to answer questions. He had a small crisis on his hands with Ron right now, and didn’t need Greenlee becoming an added distraction.

“Why does that matter?” Dom sits back in the chair, leaving the files tucked in the bag beside him.

“Everybody has a reason for what they want. Everybody has a price they will pay, and a code to follow. What is your reason, Mr. Knaus?” Chad knew from previous dealings with Dom that he wasn’t going to get anywhere without answering the question.

“I have my doubts about Ms. Smythe, and her connection to Ron. There’s also the factor that Ron is still dealing with some effects from what happened.” Dom lets out a sigh, having expected that to possibly be the case.

“You do realize that you forced a lot down his throat at that time, right? Torture, combined with what he loves being ripped away is a lethal combination. I don’t know what I’d do if someone took away my ability to drag race.” Chad had heard how it was a drug, addition, and a way of life. However, he didn’t mean he was set to support illegal activities.

“What about doing it legally?” Dom shakes his head no, having tried that previously and it failing miserably.

“It’s not the same as the bare open road, and that perfect grudge match. It’s a scene that you don’t understand unless you’ve been there and felt that rush.” Chad rolls his eyes, wishing to have avoided this discussion all together. He didn’t want to discuss the thought of street racing ever again, considering the annoyance he felt before in its regard.

“Can we just get to the information, please?” Dom reaches into the bag, pulling out the folder and flipping it open. Chad found himself trying to peer over the desk into the contents upon his friend’s hands.

“She has a past, but nothing that’s been convicted of criminally. Needless to say, everything in my hands had to be found through other means.” Chad rolls his eyes, only fearing what could come. Why couldn’t things be simple in their lives? “She spent her childhood growing up in Pine Valley, before moving to California – which obviously is how she met Ron and Jimmie, and yes, she street raced with them during her time there.”

“Ron admitted that to me on the day of the interview. She hasn’t supposedly touched the streets since then, but has a bit of a shady past in Pine Valley that she wants to leave in the rearview.” Dom shakes his head, understanding, having heard about the past through some people.

“Yeah, you could say that again as this isn’t no tales of roses. Shortly after moving back, she did connect with the police – helping an individual named Ryan Lavery steal money, cover for him, but  had a change of conscious and turned him into the police.” Chad looks on surprised, as it gave the explanation of a clear conscious – not what he had expected.

“If that’s all she has for a shady past, then I’m wil-”

“I didn’t say I was done yet, did I?” Chad lets out a sigh and shakes his head no. “Her name comes up once again later on in regards to a murder investigation. A lady by the name of Vanessa kidnapped her, with her husband at the time Leo de Pris set to save her, however that didn’t go as planned for Leo.”  Chad could sense the direction that Dom was going, in figuring what had happened to Leo. Greenlee had a past, but  that of a sad one – being a widow. He could understand how she could help Ron as she knew what was it was it like to be kidnapped, with sadness. It was why she had noticed the signs immediately. Perhaps this was a match made in heaven and he had nothing to worry about.

“Damn. Was that long ago?” Dom shakes his head yes.

“I still have more as that’s not probably why she ran away recently.” Chad felt a breath hiccup at that thought, wondering if the presumed assumptions that things would be alright were wrong. “She owns a cosmetic company with some other ladies named Simone, Kendall, Liza and Mia.  Currently, Kendall and Mia are handling daily duties with her just having a stake in the company.”  Chad shakes his head, approving, feeling the confidence returning.

“Business owner. Impressive.” Dom could only shake his head in agreement, but worried about what was on page two.

“Remember Ryan Lavery as previously mentioned? She ended up marrying him.” Chad could only wonder what that would entail, considering the money scheming. “Ryan actually turned out to be quite a wonderful guy in town there, according to many of the locals. One of the sweetest guys, great business leader, basically left his shady past in the rearview.”

“Are  you sure he’s not  keeping it tucked under a rug or something?” Dom shakes his head no, knowing once he got to the truth of Ryan that the questions from Chad would seem pointless. “That’s intriguing.”

“His brother is another story, though. She spent time in the hospital going through a pretty psychotic deal after he poisoned her. Ryan ended up shooting his own brother at that time, but got off with no conviction due to self defense. It resulted in a whole sale of events that saw him go a little nuts, make it look like he committed suicide but go take care of his brother who survived with his sister, followed by coming back and Grenlee being pissed off and divorcing him.” Chad could only shake his head in disbelief as he heard the tale.

“Do you blame her? I mean, that’s ridiculous!” Dom glanced away, remembering a time he betrayed his own family.

“Sometimes you got to do what you got to do in order to protect those who you love. He thought he was doing it to protect her from his insane ways, according to Aiden. She ran away from town for a time being, though returned a couple years later – but  found out that Ryan  was remarried, now in love with this person named Annie. You could say that was another tipping point in her life as she kidnapped Spike, which was Kendall and Ryan’s child. She believed in doing so because Kendall betraying her when Kendall was supposed to be a surrogate mother.” Chad could only shake his head as now it was beginning to become clear as to why he was worried.

“So right now Ron is hanging out with a child kidnapper, and maybe crazed woman? That just sounds great considering that what he’s going through and the fact that I hired her.” Dom looks up from the piece of paper, intrigued by the crew chief’s reaction.

“To be honest, I don’t think she’s crazed anymore and the kidnapping thing – Kendall and Ryan never pressed charges. They understood why she did it, from the confused anger and everything that happened. I actually believe, from what I still have left to tell you about her, that she’s moved forward from all of this and no different than you and me. Actually, that’s why she may be best for Ron due to being able to help him move forward with her own experience.” Chad thought about it for a second, wondering if Dom was right in his words. He trusted the man’s judgment, based on everything, so was willing to give the theory a chance.

“Continue….”

“Her and Ryan supposedly crossed paths later as she helped him get off attempted murder charges. Aiden said that she took the fall – mostly due to annoyance, with him helping her escape town. However, that resulted in her getting trapped in a bomb shelter with Kendall’s husband Zach. Needless to say, the trail of events led to everybody coming to a truce and realizing that they could be friends, again.” Chad was ready to either sing a tune, or pop a bag of popcorn.

“And they lived happily, ever after….” Dom laughs and shakes his head no. “And damn it, I thought you were telling me a fairy tale.”

“Ryan divorced Annie, and got together with Greenlee as they got engaged.  However, there was no wedding as she fell in creek, with this supposed doctor who can’t keep himself out of medical legal proceedings named David Hayward taking her away to be healed – set to give her a fresh start, per his reasoning. However, that didn’t work as she did marry Ryan.” Chad then looks at Dom in confusion.

“If she’s married to Ryan, why is she down here and he not with her? Furthermore, she’s been flirting with Malec.” Dom smiles as he turns the page once again. “Why did I ask?”

“Because you’re intrigued, like any good mystery novel.” Chad rolls his eyes, wishing this was a novel that would end immediately. “The ex-wife Annie resurfaced into the fold – gone psychotic which I don’t blame considering the way this town flies, and she killed him – five years ago. Aiden said Greenlee has spent time trying to move forward in town, but that wasn’t working so she hit the road with no destination in mind.” Dom then takes the folder and sets it on Chad’s desk. “I take it that North Carolina is where she landed, thanks to finally finding a familiar face that wouldn’t look at all this straight in her eyes.”

“I guess….” Chad’s eyes focused on the yellow folder, letting out a sigh. It certainly a lot to take in and he didn’t know whether he wanted to crucify her, hug her, comfort her, or applaud her.

“Aiden says that she has a good heart, and that she’s a wonderful sweet girl who has been misunderstood by so many people through the years. But given the chance, she can blossom into the right situation.”  Chad then looks up, eyes on Dom as he thinks over those words.

“So you think that things are okay for her down here?” Dom shakes his head yes.

“I think she’ll be the best thing for Ron, ever. Based on her experience, she can help him find the best way to move forward. Plus, he can help her finally feel at ease and give her the second – well, third chance that she rightfully deserves for what she’s been through. In my opinion, by you and Jimmie giving her a chance here, you’re doing the right thing.” Chad glances at the batch of notes that she had printed off for him, seeing how they were solidly done correctly.

“Maybe you’re right…..”

Back to Square One – Chapter 15: Chad’s Concerns

Chad let out a sigh as he tried to focus on his notes for that weekend.

Normally, he could retreat back to his office mid-week, pull out his notes and concentrate on them with ease and a single worry. However, he found himself stuck on Ron during that moment as he set the notepad down.

While everybody said he was a hard ass, he actually had a real deep caring side to him that he showed to few people – Jimmie had seen it, previously.

He found himself thinking back to Candiss’ reveal of what happened, to the discussion with Ron and his own admission. He dissected the discussion in his mind multiple times – recalling the confidence, fear, and avoidance of topic at hand.

He also thought back to what happened last year, the attack, and the series of events which followed. He remembered the nerves of fear he felt when he heard what was going on, followed by the worry in the injuries sustained. He could only imagine how multiplied they were for Ron.

His fingers also found themselves to his cell phone, wondering why Dom hadn’t texted or called him yet with anything. What was so hard to find about Greenlee? Something seemed off – just look at Jimmie’s concerns, but yet there was no information yet. He wondered whether she was actually helping Ron’s anxiety over things, or adding to it with her own issues whatever they may be. What if she wasn’t the perfect fit as they envisioned?

Knowing he couldn’t focus on his notes, he stands up and makes his way out of the small office. He knew where to find the car chief immediately, and figured it was worth another approach towards him. Perhaps if he showed being serious in dealing with things, he could push Ron to deal with it accordingly.

He walks into the shop, seeing Ron going over something with a couple of the crew members ahead of that weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway. Their actions were right in line with the crew chief’s instructions after the plan they devised for that weekend.

He stands back, observing carefully, noticing nothing different than normal. Maybe he was worrying about Ron for no reason as he thought about returning to his office and the notes. For once, perhaps his worry was actually overwarranted. Maybe the desire for success and heart worry combined together to cause a crazed over-reaction.

Though as he watches the crew members walk away, he takes a deep breath and heads over. He might as well make the trip down the stairs worth it.

“Hey Ron,” he says as he walks over, catching the car chief’s attention.

“Hey,” Ron replies back as he picks up the clipboard from the toolbox. “Listen, we went through everything discussed and they’re going to make sure it’s put in place before we load the car up. To be honest, I think we came up with a great idea.” Chad smiles as the progress was nice – however, it didn’t put him at ease.

“I appreciate that, really. But that’s not why I came to see you actually. Listen, I meant what I said yesterday. I know I may seem like I’m a crisis and pushing everybody to their breaking point and state of emergency. But, if you need some time off to deal with lingering effects, you can take the time. I won’t be mad and I can assure you won’t be replaced either.” Ron shakes his head, understanding. It was why he wished Candiss hadn’t said anything as he knew everyone would be on his case.

“Chad, I appreciate that but I can assure you that I can do my job perfectly fine while handling this accordingly. I’ve got this, man.” Chad wanted to believe those words, however knew from hearing about traumatic issues that it wasn’t how things worked.

“Have you talked to anyone about this, and I mean in depth beyond just simple discussion?” Ron lets out a sigh, knowing Chad wouldn’t like the answer.

“Not yet.” Chad rolls his eyes as he leans back against the tool box.

“See, this is what I’m talking about in handling this accordingly and doing what you need to. I’m not asking you for the team, or frankly for my own benefit as your friend. I’m asking for you. I know it’s eating at you and affecting you – hence why for your own good, I damn well hope that you can handle accordingly and move forward. You may say you’re mister tough guy, but you need to talk to someone – whether that’s Greenlee, Jimmie, myself, or someone else. That was a traumatic experience that you we-”

“You don’t need to drill that through me, Chad. Obviously I know it was traumatic because I damn well experienced it. I experienced the fear, anxiety, pain, worry, anger – full slew of emotions in those hours more than anyone else. I also dealt with the blame for my part in everything through the years. I also dealt with the reprecaution of my actions. You can also count the comments from my parents. I also shouldered Jimmie’s feelings in the hospital, too, not wanting it to eat at him. Damn Chad, you don’t need to remind me.” Inside, Chad was proud to see he was breaking down barriers with his concerns in getting Ron to openly state the emotions. It was progress, whether the right way or not. Now it was just continuing to do that.

“Well since you know what I’m talking about and all those emotions that you’ve got bottled up inside of you, you know what you need to do about it, right? The only way to let things go is by talking to someone to get them out of you. My door is always open, and my offer remains on the table no matter what.” Chad gives him a pat on the shoulder, before walking away.

The crew chief had originally wanted to stand there and continue to drill at his car chief and push the boundaries further. However, he knew that wasn’t right at that moment. He had to let Ron do it his own way, with who he wanted, on his own terms for the best affect. There was also the fact of eyes being peered on the two, wondering what they were discussing.

It didn’t mean that Chad was going to totally leave the topic be, though, as he had planned to keep an extra eye on Ron through the process.