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.

Back to Square One – Chapter 14: Our Discussion

Jimmie and Chad were glad that Candiss had told them what happened. They also knew that Ron would be waiting for their discussion, and didn’t want to do it with everybody else hearing or involved. It was why the pair agreed to remain quiet till Monday morning.

“Ready for this?” Chad asks and Jimmie shakes his head yes as the pair take a glance at each other. Chad then buzzes Ron’s office, asking the car chief to come over for a meeting between just the three of them. They had planned to go down to Ron’s office, but Greenlee was there beginning her job as note taker, typing up the weekend’s notes.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing, like this intervention style?” Jimmie wonders and Chad shrugs his shoulders.

“You know him best, right? What do you think?” Jimmie lets out a sigh as he glances around, avoiding topic.

“I don’t know, honestly. This whole deal just has me stumped.” Chad then sits up in his chair, reading the emotions on Jimmie’s face.

“Don’t be blaming yourself again, Jimmie. We went through that at the hospital and thereafter. It was a combination of both you guys going down that roa-”

“He wanted me to get out of it, and I didn’t listen, and look what happe-”

“It’s not your fault some damn terrorist decided to get in the middle of some innocent street racin-”

“Play the game, chance the ris-”

“You guys met the one and a millionth guy that anybody would meet and go that far. The danger that Ron was probably worrying was either you getting yourself hurt, or getting caught illegally and going to jail.” Jimmie lets out a sigh, knowing that Chad was probably right in those words.

He was able to say something in response, when he heard the door open, his eyes immediately taking to the sight before him. The pair glanced at each other, before Chad motioned to the seat beside Jimmie.

“What’s up with this meeting?” Ron asks as he looks around, before sitting down. “It’s a lot earlier than our normal Monday morning meetings.” Jimmie and Chad knew that, and had planned it that way. They didn’t need other people barging in on the conversation.

“Because this isn’t your typical Monday morning meeting,” Jimmie starts as Ron looks over, surprised. “We both wanted to talk to you about something, actually. How are you feeling?” Ron lets out a sigh as he glances away from the pair.

“I’m guessing this conversation is about my little freeze up in front of Candiss on Sunday, right?” The pair shake their heads yes. “Okay, I told her the explanation incase she didn’t tell you both. I was just caught off-guard, okay? Besides, I talked with Greenlee after about what happened and ideas to move forward.  You guys don’t have to worry about me, honestly.” Jimmie knew that wasn’t possible as he’d always worry and care about his best friend. It was just in his nature with how close they were.

“I caught you sleeping in your office a couple times. Is that connected?” Ron shakes his head no, knowing he was telling a lie immediately. However, the sooner he avoided conversation, the better. He wasn’t in the mood to talk about what happened.

“Ron…..”

“Look, we’re just trying to help you so at least be honest with us, please,” Chad adds as Ron just glances away from the pair, wishing this conversation never had happened. He could kill Candiss right now.

“So maybe I didn’t sleep a couple nights due to what happened,” Ron starts. “And maybe it’s been on my mind. What the hell else do you expect when something that flipping crazy happens to you?” Chad and Jimmie trade a quick glance, before looking towards Ron.

“We understand, we get it – you don’t need to flip on us, okay? That’s why we’re having this conversation, because we want to help you. Considering the thoughts at night combined with what happened, we know something is up.  We were hoping by talking with you that we could start the road of helping you. Would you be willing to talk with us about things?” Ron looks back towards the pair, urging himself to spill out details but unable to find the words at that time.

“I don’t want to be stuck in this warp forever, but it’s hard to talk about it. It’s hard to come out with the right words after everything that I went through to describe it to you. It’s hard to go through the events that happened because I don’t want to relive in my mind. Heck, it was hard enough giving Greenlee the brief details of what happened so she’d understand where I was coming from.” Chad remembered some words from Jimmie in their private conversation, and considered the thought of using them here now. Perhaps it’d help in getting more details about Greenlee, considering the concerns he and Jimmie both had.

“You mentioned that you talked with Greenlee after your little freeze up, and Candiss mentioned that Greenlee knew how to help you through that. It’s clear that she has a dark past, too – hence why you said she was looking for some redemption in moving away from Pine Valley. Given that you both understand each other in that light, and you’re close friends, have you spoken to her at depth, or thought about it?” Ron shakes his head yes, remembering his thoughts when he woke up one morning.

“I thought about asking for her advice, and thoughts on it one morning when I woke up after very little sleep. I thought it’d be useful. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again. Like I said, I’m trying to avoid this crap.” Chad shakes his head, understanding as Jimmie just sits there in silence, disbelief that they’re still stuck at what happened.

“I understand, totally.  Listen, I don’t want to sound like we’re coming down on you or make you feel bad. We just wanted to see where you stood on the subject, and suggest helping you. Just know that we’re both here for you, willing to talk to you, willing to hear you out and help you, care for you. Also, if you need time off, we can give you some time off. We just want you, to be okay.”  Ron shook his head, understanding. Perhaps it’d be worth letting his guard down and hearing his buddies out.

“I appreciate the support. Thank you, both of you.” Chad then glanced down at his notes, letting out a sigh. He knew any morning after a wreck-filled weekend was never a fun one, even if that wreck was Talladega and out of control. There was just something in his nature that didn’t put wrecks and Monday happiness together.

“Alright. Now with that out in the open, let’s get down to business. We need a good run this weekend, badly.” Ron then looks on surprised.

“I wouldn’t say we’re that desperate, Chad. I mean, Talladega is either good or bad – but that’s dependent on itself. I mean, we finished third the week before at Richmo-”

“Let me remind you of our last five finishes, Malec – 9, 4, 23, 3, and now 22nd. Consistency is what wins championships, and what does that look like?” Ron rolls his eyes, knowing the sympathy he felt earlier was clearly thrown out the window by Chad’s frustration.

“In fairness, the 23rd at Bristol was a pit road speeding penalty and I put that on my shoulders,” Jimmie reminds the crew chief. “We’ve had fast cars every weekend, that’s all we can ask for. We’ve got our win so now the focus is on keeping this program top-notch so we can get that championship.” Jimmie then glances at the schedule. “We’re at Kansas Speedway this weekend. We’ve been good on intermediates this year so we should be fine. It’s a Chase track, though, so a good run would bode well looking towards September. We could use this weekend to see where we stand.”

“We could also try something since we’re locked in anyway and with no testing, research could be warranted,” Ron adds as Chad sighs as he glances at the paperwork before him. He knew both his partners had valid points, despite his rant on numbers. Perhaps the pressure and knowing everybody’s eyes were on their backs even more so than usual after last year’s incident was playing with his emotions.

“Well, let’s hear your thoughts – what matters most to you going into this weekend and coming out, with the options of consistency or trial on the table?” Chad asks the pair, trying to get his head into the game.

Back to Square One – Chapter 13: Candiss’ Truth

Candiss glances over towards Greenlee and Ron, intrigued by their conversation. He wondered whether Ron was listening to her, and whether she was going to be able to help him.

Shaking her head, she couldn’t get the moment out of her mind and knew no matter what she needed to tell the boys.

“We’re ready to go,” Chad caught her attention as she glanced between them. Taking a deep breath, it’d be better if they found out now rather than later.

“Before we head off, I have something to tell you,” she starts, as Chad focuses his eyes on Jimmie.

“Sounds like she’s about to drop the baby bomb. So you stop street racing and decide to have fun somewhere else instead?” Candiss then looks at Chad with surprise as Jimmie crosses his arms.

“This should be fun…” Jimmie comments as Chad takes a couple steps back.

“I’m sorry, but that’s what it sounded like,” Chad pleads as she rolls her eyes.

“This is much more serious,” she counters, catching both of their attention. Jimmie immediately began to wonder if they were in danger once again. “It deals with Ron, actually, and something that happe-”

“Is he okay?” They both immediately ask together. Chad was royally confused now, having just seen Ron moments earlier.

“He’s fine – don’t worry.” She then takes a deep breath. “It’s just he had a panic attack on the way back here.” Jimmie felt his curiosity growing, having heard that Ron was having some thoughts from what happened.

“What happened?” Jimmie asks as she glances over at him calmly.

“I saw him and Greenlee walking back to the garage. I was frantic looking for you both so I grabbed his hand, saying his name, just ready to ask the question as to where you were. He immediately froze, letting out an involuntary shiver. It was why he was transfixed on something. I managed to snap him out of it by yelling his name, which caused the folder of papers to fall out of his hand.  I then calmed down, explaining why I had got his attention.” Before, Jimmie was worried as he wondered how much Ron was sleeping and thinking about it. However, he didn’t fixate on it knowing that was natural after a traumatic event and knowing Ron was strong, could find his way through. However, now he felt his worry intensifying and wondering if he should’ve said something sooner.

“Did he say anything else?”

“He didn’t say anything – except Greenlee answered, saying he had a flashback and was stuck in a tren-”

“Is she some psychologist or something?” Chad questions, still not sure about Greenlee’s involvement in their lives.

“She’s had a rough go at it through the years,” Jimmie answers, remembering the discussion he had with Ron about her. “From being kidnapped, believed to be dead, losing two husbands – I could go on for awhile. Let’s just say that she can relate to traumatic experiences.” Chad shakes his head, understanding. It was certainly a life far from normal, and he wondered what could be the cause of the turmoil.  What if she wasn’t as clean cut as everybody said?

“And you’re certain she’s a good girl and won’t cause us any problems?” Jimmie lets out a sigh, knowing he couldn’t answer with certainty.  However, he trusted Ron’s judgment.

`”Everything that happened – it was mostly not her fault. Sure, she made some mistakes but hey, Ron and I have also. She moved forward from those, still faced some turmoil not of her own making. Hence why she left Pine Valley and moved down here for a fresh start. Ron thought by offering her a job it’d help land her feet.” Chad still wasn’t satisfied, but wasn’t set to argue the issue till he heard more about her background. “What else happened, Candiss?”

“Ron apologized, saying when I grabbed his hand that it placed him back to that time,” she continued. “He then assured us he was fine now, and Greenlee made suggestion that they talk about it later – to work through it, I guess. I then told him that he could also call me if needed, and we separated.” Jimmie lets out a sigh as he leans back against the wall.

“I knew that he wasn’t over what happened,” he starts. “I mean, you don’t just get over that quickly. He also mentioned some nights of lack of sleep, too. I thought he had a handle on it. Given this information, obviously it doesn’t seem like it.”

“What are you going to do?” Chad wonders as Jimmie lets out another sigh. He wasn’t looking forward to the next step.

“I’m going to confront him and see how he’s doing. I’m going to see if he will open up, see if I can help him, and figure where he stands. Once I know that information, then I’ll know how to proceed forward. Maybe we’re making this a bigger deal than it is.”

“It’s a big deal when you freeze up like that, Jimmie.” Jimmie shakes his head, knowing that Chad was right. He just wasn’t ready to face something being wrong with his friend. After all, he was still partially to blame for everything that happened.

“Let’s just handle it one step at a time, okay?” Chad shakes his head in agreement.

Back to Square One – Chapter 9: The Interview

Greenlee follows Ron through the set of doors, walking down the long hallway that’d lead to the conference room where the interview was set-up with Chad Knaus for the position.

“Why do I feel so nervous all of a sudden?” She questions, catching Ron’s attention as he glances back at her.

“That’s a surprise coming from you,” he answers. “I thought you were the princess of confidence.” She laughs, always having that sense to her through the years. Perhaps after the last round of what happened with Ryan and Annie, they had cracked her. He had been her rock for a long time, after all.

“I remember when I was running Fusion with Kendall and the girls. I could walk into a room, sell the product within five minutes with the right words and attitude. Now I am wondering if I will have the right thing to say to please your boss.” Ron laughs, having felt that unease in one of his first meetings with Chad. It was part of the aura that everybody knew with regards to him.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine. Besides, why don’t you just go back to Fusion with Kendall?” Greenlee had thought of that doing. However, it’d involve being in Pine Valley and she wasn’t prepared for that.

“I told you that I didn’t want to be in Pine Vall-”

“You could run the second-tier, say southern office, from down here.” Greenlee shakes her head no, knowing the girls wouldn’t go for that. They had a certain pack they had formed together in how to run the country.

She never did get the chance to answer as they reached the conference room. Taking a deep breath, she followed Ron inside, almost jumping when she heard the door slam behind her. It was all or nothing now.

“Ms. Smythe, it’s nice to meet you,” a voice catches her attention, and she shakes the hand extended to her. She immediately could tell that the man was probably Chad Knaus, giving the stack of notebooks.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, too, sir,” she replies with confidence laced in her voice. Maybe she could do this after all. “Jimmie, it’s nice to see you after all these years. Glad that you’ve been able to have a ton of success.”

“Thank you, and it’s nice to see you,” Jimmie replies, watching the pair closely. He had heard the comments from Ron yesterday, and now wondered whether there was truth to the rumors of chemistry.

“So Ron says that you’d be perfect for the note taker position?” Chad questions and she shakes her head yes as she sits down in the chair alongside Chad’s.

“Her attention is second to none, even better than mine,” Ron vouches as he leans back against the nearest wall watching them. Chad then glances back at the car chief, before turning his eyes to the female before him. He didn’t know if he could fully believe those words, given that he wondered if there were other reasons for this arrangement.

“I can handle the interview process, Ron. I have read over your resume and even called one of your references – pretty pleased.” Greenlee smiles, thankful that Bianca had agreed to be a reference without asking for many details. She wanted to keep her location as secret as possible. “It’s interesting with all this knowhow that you’d be wanting to take a simple position as a notetaker.” Ron then went to speak, but Greenlee held her hand up. She knew that the only way to impress him was to handle this herself.

“I grew up in Pine Valley and it was a good life,” she starts. “But it’s also been a place of heartbreak – losing both Leo and Ryan, recently. I came down to North Carolina for a fresh start on life. I was looking for something, anything, to land my feet so I had some money, and Ron mentioned you had a job opening. Given my experience in being organized, and my attention to detail, I felt that I’d fit the description.” Chad shakes his head, accepting, though knew that was only part of the deal here.

“What about mechanical, car experience?” Chad asks. “It’d be important that you know the terms that you’re making notes in reference to.” She knew the question was coming, and had debated the correct way to handle it.

“I’ve been around cars for my entire life, sir. I know all the terms and details that a lot of people wouldn’t know. I can assure that there’d be no issues in that regard. You can ask Ron.” Chad then glanced back at Ron, before looking at Greenlee. He had a funny feeling with the direction this was headed.

“Do you have a past in street racing?” Greenlee knew how that hadn’t gone over well in the past for Ron and Jimmie so she immediately shook her head no.

“Greenlee, I can’t lie to him – again,” Ron gives in with a sigh. He had been through the lies before and saw how close they were to tearing the team apart. He didn’t want to take any chances as he liked the group that he was working with. “Chad, she does have a history in street racin-”

“You are aware of the mess that we created alrea-”

“And you are aware that we both promised to stay away from that, and have,” Jimmie cuts Chad off, not wanting to have this discussion.

“Then how does someone else with a street racing connection show up out of the blue, again?” Chad asks as he looks towards Greenlee.

“I told you the story as to why I came down here, sir,” she starts carefully, knowing that she was on thin ice. She wished Ron had explained the history in regards to Chad on this note. “My involvement in street racing goes back to when I was younger – teens, early 20s. Since I left California and moved to Pine Valley, getting involved in business there, I haven’t returned to the street. You don’t have anything to worry about.” Chad glanced back down at her resume as he thought over her words. He knew it was a risk in hiring her for that reason. However, she was the only candidate that had come close to his acceptance in the past three weeks and there was no fear in being a spy. Letting out a sigh, he wanted to kick himself in the butt for saying his next set of words.

“You’re hired. You will accompany us to the track this weekend to get a feel for the weekend happenings. You will begin work on Monday in our first morning meeting, taking notes. The notes must be to the degree that will satisfy me or else I will have you removed. Secondly, if there’s any funny business, I don’t accept apologies or give second chances. Ron, for your sake too, you better hope she behaves.” Ron puts his hands up as a smile forms on his face.

“You have nothing to fear,” Ron states.

“Thank you so much,” Greenlee says before shaking Chad’s hand once again. He then lets go, placing a card before her.

“Go see these people to get your uniform to size for weekend and through the week,” Chad states as he stands up. “Ron knows all the details and can help you out. Jimmie, let’s go.” Jimmie shakes his head yes as he follows the crew chief out of the room. “Jimmie, do you think I did the right thing?”

“I think you did a great thing as she should fit in nicely,” Jimmie answers as they head down the hall.