The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 57: “You’re never going to get away with this….”

Saturday March 24, 2018 – Martinsville Speedway

Sarina wakes up, and practically froze in the moment as she could hear singing….

“Cheers to a good country song,” she heard as she slowly climbed out of the bed. “To another long work week gone, and yeah I’m raisin’ my class to those savin’ our ass overseas.” She then slowly cracks open the bathroom door, smile still plastered on her face. “I might stay for one more round – hell, I might close this place down.”

A small chuckle escapes her lips, causing the voice to die out immediately as a head peaks out from behind the shower curtain.

“How long have you been here?” He questions and she just shrugs her shoulders.

“You could’ve just kept singing,” she answers. “I mean, your voice rang through the whole motorcoach…” He pouts a little.

“Sorry if I woke you.” She then smiles once again.

“It was actually really sweet to wake up, too.” He then glances around the small shower, before looking back towards her.

“Give me two minutes and I’ll be out. I’d invite you in here, but it’s a little tight…” She nods her head, accepting, but knowing they could make it work if desperate enough.

He lived up to his word as he was out a couple minutes later, drying himself off, before slipping into a pair of jeans and sweater. She flops back on the bed, knowing that she had plenty of time before she had to be out today – while knowing he wasn’t as fortunate with early morning scheduled media.

“I want to thank you for last night by the way,” she catches his attention. “That was one of the absolute best nights, concerts that I’ve ever been to. I’ve always loved Cole, and just being up on stage, hearing that song so close, and then just being there and….. I could go on, but thank you.” He smiles, leaning in for a quick kiss.

“You’re welcome,” he answers. “I figured you could use som-”

“Don’t you mean we could use something?” He lets out a sigh, but nods his head back in return. “I know you’re always killing yourself worried about me, but damn, you can tell me how you’re feeling, too. I can take it, too. I mean, I grew up with Chri-”

“That doesn’t mean that you should have to go through what we’re going through right now. You don’t deserve it.” She places her hand on top of his.

“You don’t, either. I mean, this isn’t even about you but here you are, wrapped up in a mess consisting of two psychos. I brought you into this worl-”

“I could’ve said no, I could’ve turned my back and left you standing as soon as I heard everything. Did I? No, because I believe in you and want to be with you – always, and am willing to accept whatever comes with it. We’ll be fine, okay?” She nods her head, accepting another quick kiss. “Besides, I was thinking maybe for Easter we could do something special.”

“Something special?” He nods his head. “I thought you’d want to spend time with family…” There was no secret that family was important and certainly missing a family dinner wasn’t like him, but he also knew where they both stood right now.

“We’re both stressed, worried, and have so much going on with our lives. We need some time away. Besides, it’d be nice to get in one final round before the season ends…” The cabin immediately brought a smile to her face as that’d forever be their special spot in being where he proposed to her. However, she couldn’t help but feel a bit of sadness behind the reason.

“I would never pass up a trip to the cabin…” He smiles, knowing that based on their last time there together. He actually wondered how many more special memories they could add to that now.

Sarina stood back following the final laps of the first practice session, glancing up at the board. She couldn’t complain about Chase ending the session being ranked sixth at the end of the session. Furthermore, hearing that he felt something in the car that related to how they were handling last fall gave her hope. If he could perform like he did last October, anything was possible – right?

Sarina hears her phone ring in her pocket, reaching for it with her eyes rolling immediately. How could she have the audacity to call her after everything?

“Didn’t I tell you that I didn’t want to hear a single word from you ever again?” She questions immediately upon answering the phone call.

“I heard your words clearly,” Shelley begins. “But remember, we did come to a compromi-”

“There was no compromising if you damn well ask me. You enabled Alison by allowing her to run around for months like nothing was going on. You are enabling a potential second around with Chris. Do I need to go on?”

“I understand your frustration, Sarina, and I’m actually calling to apologize once again.” Sarina immediately had to chuckle.

“Are you realizing that allowing Chris to be free is a mistake?”

“I won’t ever change my stan-”

“Then don’t you dare call me until you can change your stance on that, and realize you did wrong by both of them with us. Thank you for enabling my life to be a continued living hell!” She then hangs up, slamming her phone back in her pocket, as she leans back against the wall and takes a deep breath.

“I don’t want to be the one at the other end of that phone call,” she hears and glances out of the corner of her eye to see Lindsay standing there. “I came over because I wanted to come out and watch qualifying from pit road with the team – if I’m allowed of course – while Ryan is busy with his team.” Sarina takes a deep breath, nodding her head accepting, as they make their way to pit road. Putting down some laps would certainly be a good way to relieve some stress.

“The guys know we’re close so they’ll have no problem,” Sarina comments, causing a smile on Lindsay’s face. Of course, that smile quickly faded as she recalled the words heard.

“Do you want to talk about that phone call at all?” Sarina lets out a long sigh.

“Aunt Shelley if you must know. She wanted to apologize once again for the Alison situation, but could give two shits about the mess that she’s starting with Chris being allowed a chance.” Lindsay nodded her head, accepting. There was no secret that she wasn’t pleased with her aunt’s actions, either.

“Well I’m glad that you stood straight up to her and told her what for because she deserved to hear that and understand where you’re coming from. But my biggest advice? Block her number.” Sarina shakes her head no, causing a glance of confusion from Lindsay.

“I need it as she’s supposed to phone with any tips on Alis-”

“She can call Chas-”

“I don’t need him being under any additional stress abou-”

“She can call the investigating officer. Look, I just don’t want you to keep that toxicity in your life. You know it’s not good for you, but yet you enable it as much as she does.” Sarina had to chuckle at those comments. “Why the hell are you laughing?”

“You sound like Chase right now.” Lindsay then glances at her confused. “He’s honestly told me those same exact words. He told me, ‘you’ve got to draw a line somewhere or you are going to get taken advantage of’. It first came up in relation to racing on-track and why he took a stand against Denn-”

“Clever way of doing it.” Sarina immediately smiles, laughing a little.

“I could watch those laps at Phoenix over and over if you ask me.” Lindsay now chuckles herself. “But then later on that night, he said that he didn’t just mean that for one way – but every way. It’s why he wants to try and make sure that he doesn’t let his concern for Alison drive his life – he doesn’t want to feel powerless and not have that ability to stand up.”

“The feeling of being powerless, unable to do anything, that’s worse than the pain itself sometimes.” Sarina nods her head in agreement. “So why haven’t you listened?”

“Because I keep telling myself that I can handle it, that I’m stron-”

“You don’t need to use Shelley to prove that, Chelsy. Look at the life that you’ve built for yourself.” Lindsay immediately froze, noicing the change on Sarina’s face. “I’m sorry. It just slip-”

“It’s okay, I understand and get it.” Sarina then takes a deep breath as she glances over. “If anybody is allowed to mention that name, it is you because you have the best intentions and am connecting it to a very special time when we were growing up together and being friends. I’m not upset, okay?” Lindsay smiles a little, nodding her head.

“So are you going to block her?” Sarina slowly pulls her phone out, unlocking it as she hands it over to Lindsay.

“Do the honors. I have to go qualify….”  Sarina then walks over to the truck, stretching out her arms as she walks over to Rudy, ready to get down to business.

As much as she wanted to believe that it wasn’t bothering her, it showed in her qualifying attempt as she ended up 10th – versus being in the top-five as anticipated.  She immediately apologized to the team afterwards, with Rudy brushing it off – saying they’d make it back up in the race later on that afternoon.

Chase gets out of the car and makes his way back to the box, letting out a sigh.

There was nothing that you could want in where they ranked the second practice, but that didn’t tell the whole story. He obviously knew the first run was off of their game, but the second he felt was closer to where he wanted to be. It wasn’t quite as good as where he was last October, but the feeling was coming to him and confidence was growing that they’d be fine come Sunday.

However, his attitude was immediately shifted when he noticed an envelope sitting there, with his name on it. He went to reach for it, but a hand landed on top of his.

“Don’t open it, don’t touch it,” he hears and knew the words immediately were from Alan Gustafson.

“You’ve looked at it, though,” he replies and the crew chief slowly nods his head around as Chase turns to face him. “So it’s from Alison and it’s a note of threatening given her escape. So basically that means that she’s on the property somewhere but like always, they haven’t found her? But yet hey, it’s safer for me to not know that detail and to not see the note…”

“I didn’t mean it in anyway shape or form like that, Chase.” Chase glances up at Alan. “I was going to tell you after the session was over. I was going to suggest that a couple of us guys stay with you through the rest of the evening just to make sure that you keep your wits about you. I was going to suggest taking the envelope to the NASCAR hauler. I was ready to do what was necessary….” Chase’s eyes fall back to the ground.

“I’m sorry….” Alan crosses his arms as he locks his eyes on Chase.

“It’s clear that these notes and everything about Alison bugs you – I saw that on Thursday firsthand, I saw that when she went after you in the hauler. Heck, I was almost at the receiving end of a bullet – and don’t make a single comment about that. I know safety is the most important thing and I’m focused on that. I’m also trying to do what’s best for you, and I felt not letting you see the contents would be advised.” Chase kept his eyes focused towards the ground, knowing that Alan wasn’t moving a single inch.

“You’re right. I don’t need to see it and ponder what it means and what she’ll do because like you said, she’s not going to touch me. Everybody in this garage area – every team member off every team, every official, even fans knows what she looks like and has an eye out for her. She’s going to be caught and it’s going to be over.” Alan smiles a little, nodding his head.

“Thank you. Now, can we get back to discussing the car? I know you have a truck race to go watc-”

“Have you seen the radar?” Alan lets out a sigh, nodding his head. “Do you really think there’s going to be a race looking at that?”

“Stranger things have happened, right?” Chase rolls his eyes as he reaches back, grabbing the small screen.

“This isn’t going to be one of those cases, Alan. But, for the what’s it worth, it’ll give us time to figure out what we’re missing…”

Chase then goes through the runs, watching them, and comparing lines and braking patterns. They were only missing a touch of something – and he was bound to figure what it was. It was better than thinking about a psycho person.

“It’s almost beautiful in a way….” Sarina comments as she glances out the window at the snow.

“I almost want to go out and make a snow angel,” Lindsay adds as the girls chuckle together.

“I can’t believe NASCAR thought they could get the truck race in before this. I mean, the whole radar was bloody well green and blue – what else did they expect? Those laps with the rain tricking down – I was a little nervous there…”

“You didn’t do too bad, though. I mean, you didn’t lose any positions.” Sarina nods her head, knowing that it had been tricky to remain where she was.

“Nothing wrong with a Sunday doubleheader, right?” Lindsay couldn’t help but agree as the girls looked back out the snow again.

“Anybody seen my phone?” Chase questions as he emerges from the back of the motorcoach. They had just gotten back from going out to dinner and were set for a fun night of hanging out together, considering there wasn’t much else to do in the snowy conditions.

“Did you leave it at the restaurant?” Ryan wonders from his spot on the couch and Chase shakes his head no.

“Is it back in our motorcoach?” Sarina adds, and Chase shakes his head no once again.

“I haven’t had it since final prac….” His voice trails off, as he almost wants to curse himself. He could see where it was sitting immediately. “Have the Cup teams left the infield yet?”

“I can see some cars being loaded still – including I think your trailer,” Lindsay comments as she tries to get a clear view through the flurries falling.

“How is it fair that you guys get your cars put in your haulers for the night and my baby truck has to sit on pit road all night with a tarp over it in the snow?” Sarina questions and Chase shrugs his shoulders.

“You can take that up with NASCAR – after I borrow your phone,” he tells her as she looks over intrigued. “I need to text Alan.” She easily hands it over, knowing the crew chief’s number was in there for safe keeping, among other reasons.

“It’s just ridiculous. I mean, what if the tarp comes loose? What if snow gets in there? What if someone tampers with my truck? What if security runs into issues? I can’t help but worry…” She then glances back out the window, staring at her truck on pit road, barely seeing it.

“Are you going to stand guard all night?” Ryan wonders and Sarina glances back at him. “I wouldn’t blame you….”

“I wish I was allowed to sleep in it just so I knew that it’d be safe,” she muses, causing a couple chuckles.

“I’m going to get phone,” Chase says as he hands the phone back to Sarina.

“I should come with you.” He shakes his head no as he slips on his shoes.

“I’ll be fine.” Sarina lets out a long sigh as she glances over at Ryan, before looking towards Chase.

“Alison is running free righ-”

“I’ll be fine, Sarina. I can take care of myself.” He then gives her a quick kiss, before grabbing his coat and heading out the door.

He makes his way through the motorcoach lot, going over to where the gate led into the track. Showing his hard card to the security official, he crosses over the track, shaking his head at the amount of snow already.

As he reaches the infield of the track and goes to cross over pit road, he feels something underneath his feet move, catching him off-guard. He immediately falls back, landing hard as he lets out a small groan.

“Fuck!” He lets out, feeling the pain up his back immediately.

“That was easy,” he hears, sending a shiver through his spine. “It’s amazing what a little cord can do…” He feels every fear flood through him, his voice threatening to hitch in his throat.

“Hel-” He goes to scream after finding his voice, but a hand ends up pressed against his face.

“Sssh, I wouldn’t want someone to disturb our little meeting…” His eyes fill with glancing straight into her eyes. “Besides, I thought I had something that we had to finish.”

“You’re never going to get away with this….” A chuckle escapes her lips.

“I don’t need long, playboy…” She then reaches for the edge of his jeans.

“What the hell??” A random voice can be heard, causing Alison to freeze immediately.

“We’ll meet eventually, and you won’t get away,” she offers, before taking off out of sight.

“Thank you…” Chase quietly says to no one in particular, curious himself as to who said those words. He then goes to sit up, feeling the pain rip through him. “Holy shit!”

“Chase?!?” He hears the voice once again, recognizing it as Chad Knaus and Jesse Sanders come running over.

“Chad….” Chad glances over at Jesse a little confused, before turning his eyes back to Chase.

“Just don’t move; we’ll get you some help,” Chad states, eying Jesse as he takes off running back towards the garage area. “What the hell happened?”

“Alison, again…” Chase then squints his eyes, feeling as though the pain was increasing. “Oh man…”

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Back to Square One – Chapter 29: “Is Chad available?”

Thursday – Hendrick Motorsports

The girl in the gift shop looks up and immediately smiles as she sees the familiar face.

“Hello Mr. Toretto,” she greets him. “I will page through to Mr. Johnson and see if he is availa-” Dom immediately shakes his head no as he wasn’t there to see Jimmie today.

“I’m not here to see Jimmie today, actually,” he states, causing a bit of surprise in return. That didn’t faze him one bit, as he was always there to see Jimmie. There was only one other occurrence that he had gone to see Chad. “Is Chad available?”

“I know that Mr. Knaus is in today, but I am unsure of his schedule. let me check and see if he is in his office.” Dom nods his head, accepting. He watches as she dials the extension number, and stands there nervously as the pair talk on the phone for what seemed like forever. She then put the receiver down, eyes focused forward. “I’m sorry, but Mr. Knaus is not availa-”

“Can you call Chad back and tell him it is about Greenlee Smythe, and I have some important information?” He hated to mention Greenlee’s name so casually to the receptionist, as he knew how easily that could get back to her. However, that didn’t matter to him, considering what he had found out in the span of 24 hours. He knew once word began through the pipeline, there was no stopping the disaster to follow anyway. But, he actually welcomed it, as he didn’t want to see any of these people back in those curves again.

“I’m sorry sir, but I have strict instructions to leave Mr. Knaus alone for the rest of the day, and those must be followed. I can pass along to him later on that you had a message regarding her, but other than that, I cannot help you any further. Now, is there anything else that I can do for you, sir?”

“Not at all. Have a nice day.” Dom turns on his heels and walks out, letting out a sigh.

He got into the car, kicking back as he glanced at his watch. It was only a matter of time before he got a call back from Chad, and the conversation he wanted to have commenced.

Five minutes passed, followed by 10, followed by another 10, and slowly he began to lose hope. But at this point, he didn’t care because his eyes had caught the attention of someone else.

He watched the person’s movements, knowing that they had to not be from around her or know anything about the Hendrick Motorsports complex based on upon their actions. If it was in Dom’s mind, they were here to see someone, rather than care about the racecars.

He almost set to ignore the person and focus back on his own duties, when he caught a glimpse of the face. Shaking his head in disbelief, he quickly grabbed a file that he had stashed in the car, flipping through in a fury. He landed on the page in question, before glancing back at the person. He must’ve took five glances back and forth, with disbelief and confusion growing bigger by the second.

“It can’t be,” he says to himself as he throws the file aside. He then climbs out of the car, making his way over slowly, believing that it would solve his questions. Maybe this person just looked the same from a distance, but had different features that would say otherwise up close. However, that wasn’t the case, because the closer he got, the more definite he became on his viewpoint. “Shouldn’t you be dead?”

“I’m sorry, but did you say something?” The man asks as he looks in Dom’s direction. Total confusion was met back in return to Dom as it was certain this guy had no idea who Dom was. However, Dom was beginning to see who exactly this is.

“Shouldn’t you be dead? I thought your wif-”

“Ex-psychopath wife, you mean. I would never stay married to her, no matter what. But wait – how do you know?” Dom knew at this point, it would be best to simply come clean on everything because it was clear why the man was here. But, he wasn’t about to do that as it didn’t seem like a benefit of doubt was warranted.

“Your name is Ryan Lavery, and you’re here from a town known as Pine Valley. You’re thought of to be dead, courtesy of your ex-wife Anne, and mother of your child. You married her after a series of events that involved two other ladies in the town – Greenlee Smythe being one of those. I can only assume that you’re here because you’re looking for Greenlee, and have heard that she works for Hendrick Motorsports.” Ryan slowly nods his head, as the biography was on point. That didn’t mean he was comfortable by any stretch.

“How do you know all this?” Dom crosses his arms, ready to set the floor known. He could easily reveal his police involvement, or Greenlee’s street racing background. However, he wasn’t one to reveal other people’s secrets and he didn’t know what Ryan knew of that time for her. Furthermore, there was certainly more to explored there and Greenlee didn’t deserve the benefit at this point. He actually wondered if his phone had gone off in his car from Chad, yet.

“I work security detail for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Knaus. They had me run her background before being hired.” It wasn’t that far of a stretch, considering all the favors that he continued to pull for them both. But of course, that was all thanks to Candiss.

“So you recognized my face and came over to see me because you couldn’t believe that I was alive based on some story in a fil-”

“I’ve been in your shoes before, actually. Anybody else would’ve brushed it off to de ja vu and not done a single thing about it. However, being there before, I decided to double check things. My wife Letty was believed to have been killed in a car crash. Instead, she had survived – but suffered memory loss, and another group took advantage of that to use her for their evil ways. It took some time, but we were able to find our way back to each other and be together. So finding a random file isn’t new to me.” Ryan was surprised by the story – in some ways. Perhaps Pine Valley wasn’t the only home to craziness in the world. But it also gave him another idea.

“So you understand why I have followed the trail down here, right? I thought I saw her face on television, and talking with Kendal, she confirmed where I could find Greenlee. I came down here in a whim, hoping to find her and see her. She means the world to me, just like I can see Letty means to you. Maybe you can help me out.” Dom immediately felt all of his defenses shatter, knowing exactly how it felt to be standing in those shoes. It was the same feeling in hearing that Letty was gone, then finding out she was alive by a photograph, and ready to do anything to get her back. He remembered the questions and backlash felt from friends in his decisions, but he couldn’t let himself listen to them because of that love.

“I cannot get you access to Greenlee inside of the Hendrick Motorsports headquar-”

“I thought you ran secur-”

“Not for the shop, but rather private work for Mr. Johnson and Mr. Knuas. It doesn’t give me access to pull strings there. I could easily message Mr. Johnson or Mr. Knaus that you are here, but they are busy today and want to be left alone to focus on their job at hand. However, like you said, I can sympathize so I do want to help you.” Dom takes a deep breath, feeling his guard returning as his eyes lock on those of Ryan. “Give me your number and contact information. I will pass it along to the necessary parties and we can go from there. I cannot promise immediate access or meeting, as it may take a couple days. It may even have to wait until next week when we get back from Pennsylvania. But I will do what I can.”

“I appreciate your generosity, and please, the sooner the better.” Dom nods his head in return as he watches Ryan hand over a card, containing his phone number.

“Now I must ask you to leave the property as being found here by one of their guys may not be a welcome sight.” Ryan easily accepts, walking away. Dom glances back at the number again, before climbing back in his car. He grabs his phone, dialing a familiar number as he stares at the digits before him. “Hey Brian. I need you to look up something for me. It appears that Ryan Lavery is alive. Can you find some information before we move forward?” the request was easily accepted without any hesitation. He then hangs up, seeing a notification from Chad. Dom could only s mile in response as he read the message. “I knew you’d want to talk…”

————————————–

With the sunset in the background, Dom watched as a familiar Chevy Tahoe pulled up alongside his Dodge Charger. He watches in curiosity as the person emerges, not moving a single inch from his place against his car.

“It took you long enou-” Dom starts as Chad shuts the door aggressively.

“I thought I told you that we couldn’t be doing business at work,” he cuts Dom off, as Dom looks at him with surprise. There was no point in time that he had heard those words spoken, and immediately recalled their initial meeting about Greenlee.

“We talked about Greenlee before in your office, Chad.” Chad recalled those initial phone calls, and immediately regretted those. But that’s obviously what fear and panic had done to him.

“We never should’ve done that. I don’t think you, Jimmie, and Ron realize just how much shit we got in because of the street racing before. You have a reputation, and we cannot have any ties back to that again. I cannot be taking chances, and I’m sorry but that includes visits from you.” Dom smiles as he crosses his arms. He knew that it would become all the more interesting when the news was dropped. “Now, you said you had information about Greenlee.”

“It seems we may have a problem on our hands. One of my contacts alerted me that she stopped by Mitchell’s to pick up some parts for a car – performance at that rate. She didn’t say much on the street racing front, but attitude and order seemed right along what Mitchell defines in that category. The parts will be in on Monday most likely.” Chad lets out a sigh, almost wanting to scream in frustration. He immediately wished he never would’ve hired her, and wanted to go strangle everyone involved.

“How certain are you that she is street racin-”

“Everything fits the bill, Chad. That’s all I can say. I can’t tell you 100% because I haven’t seen her or the car there myself, but I can tell you that everything about how that order was placed fits. It also matches the other concerns….” Chad was now a little confused as he crosses his arms.

“What do you mean?” Dom immediately regretted the words, now wondering if Chad had been alerted about Ron’s thoughts. “Are you talking about Ron?” Dom now froze as it was like Chad could read his mind. “Ron told me that he made a trip up to the mountain in the shop last night. He told me he stopped by last week to see if it would help with what he’s feeling from what happened. He said it didn’t pan out as he wanted, though, but also empathized not being involved with anything. I hope that’s the truth, and we aren’t playing cover up for Chad agai-”

“Absolutely not. So far, you know everything that I know – actually more. Jimmie heard from a friend that they spotted Ron there, and was concerned, so Candiss asked me if I knew more. I’m glad that Ron told you about what happened. I know he’s been through a lot, and is still trying to move forward.” Chad glances down, nodding his head, only to come to his own realization.

“Ron mentioned to me in that discussion that Greenlee went out to go somewhere. It just came out randomly because they had a fight due to him not wanting to do the right thing and admit that things aren’t perfect despite her pleas, and then went out. He said he asked her where, but she wouldn’t tell him. Do you really believe she went out that night?” It was as if they had put the biggest jig-saw puzzle together in seconds, as everything was written on the wall with answers filled in. Of course, there was still one twist remaining.

“You asked me to keep an eye out, and I did. It’s up to you who you go see with this information next, and how things shake out. I’m not going to touch it – unless I see reason for danger, and then Greenlee won’t know what hit her.” Chad was accepting of Dom’s rules, but he also knew he wasn’t going to let it get that point again. There was no way they were going to go through that.

“Thank you for coming and telling me.” Dom gives a little smile as it was nice to hear appreciation eventually.

“You should’ve accepted my offer earli-”

“I told you why I didn’t, Dom. You don’t realize the heat that Rick and Marshall put on our asses when everything was revealed.” Dom chuckles as he recalled a couple similar scenarios himself.

“You’ve never dealt with detectives determined to bring down criminals, but hating every aspect of working with one to do so.” Chad wasn’t even going to touch the topic because it was a can of worms he’d rather avoid. “I do have one more thing that I should tell you, before I move forward and tell Jimmie, Ron, and Greenlee. Ryan Lavery is alive and he is in North Carolina looking for her. I saw him at the shop and talked with him for a bit. I took his number so we can get a hold of him when ready.”

“And the hits just keep on coming….” Chad wasn’t sure about this Ryan person, because frankly, he wasn’t even sure about Greenlee anymore. If it was up to him, Greenlee would be out of HMS in a matter of seconds for lying, and she could have her happily ever after with Ryan if she so pleased. “I don’t get involved with personal business because it gets messy, so that will be up to them to deal with.”

Dom was easily willing to accept that, and hoped it went smoother than everything else seemed to be going. He knew another rock in the ocean wasn’t necessary, as Chad was about to drop a boulder for what he could tell.

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

Greenlee grabs her glass of wine and walks out onto the patio, looking up at the sky with a sigh. Right now, she stood there with as many questions in her life as answers.

She kept glancing back inside wondering if Ron was truly going to be okay. She wondered if he’d find the answers and grace he needed to actually move forward from everything. She wondered what their future held together, and whether they were meant to be – or just forever roommates, or if they could go their separate paths one day.

She also brought herself back to earlier in the week, when her hand was clutching the shifter knob, letting the gears cause a rush through every inch of her skin. She could see why the thrill was worth the reward, but questioned every single minute. What if she got caught? What if things went wrong? What if she ruined everything she built for four seconds of freedom? Should she just go ahead and cancel the order to Mitchell? Or better yet, keep the order but cancel other things that she knew couldn’t be had with it?

There also many questions beyond those, and a glance at her finger, she closed her eyes and thought of one person.

“I wish you were here, Ryan,” she says quietly out loud. “I wish you were here to hold me. I wish you were here to comfort me. I wish you could just cuddle me right now. I wish you could answer every question that I have about life, and help me find my direction. You always knew what to do when we were lost, and always helped me see the light. I don’t know what to do now, but I know you would. I need you, Ryan…”

She reaches up, wiping a stray tear from her eyes, as she takes a deep breath.

“Are you ready to go?” She hears, interrupting her thoughts as she looks back towards the house. For a split second, she wanted to believe it was Ryan and life was in order. However, a glance at the little blond tips and she knew that wasn’t the case. Instead, she was stuck with her questions and a lovely man before her. “Well, a wine glass in hand doesn’t signify ready to get on a plane.”

“Everything is packed and ready to go by the door,” she reminds Ron, who then looks back to the front door to see that she is speaking the truth. “I came out here to clear my head since we aren’t leaving for another half hour anyway. I figured I’d have a little drink. Is that a crime?”

“Absolutely not.” He then slips the door closed, walking over to where she stood by the ledge. “But why would you need to clear your head? I thought everything was talked ove-”

“It is, and trust me, we’re fine as ever. That whole discussion is forgotten about as I know you’ll do the right thing for you as you feel comfortable and able to do so.” She at least hoped that was the case, but had her doubts some days. “Actually, my mind was thinking about Ryan and how much I miss him. I was even picturing what my life would like if he was here today with me.”

“I imagine you wouldn’t be working for a race team right now.” She chuckles, shaking her head no, as she looks at her fingernails. It was odd seeing grease beneath them after years of having them perfect for all the meetings.

“I’d probably still be in Pine Valley, running the cosmetic company side-by-side with Kendall. We’d probably still be getting into some usual chaos as that town is never without drama, but answers were always easily found – yes, even for Erica despite her lacking of better terms at times. Ryan and I would be enjoying whatever time we could get alone together, and I may even have a kid by now – which is even more strange to say out loud.” Ron closed his eyes, picturing it together, before looking at her directly. It was almost like her vision was a 180 degree version of what was happening.

“Do you regret anything? I mean, I know you wish more than anything Ryan was here, but do you regret everything else being different?” Swirling the liquid in the glass, she downs it in a mouthful as she tries to wash away the sadness that had formed in the air.

“Absolutely not. It allowed me to see you and Mitchell again. It allowed me to reconnect with that lost side of myself. It allowed me to find ways to move forward from the pain, and regain my life and control. It allowed me to put drama in the rearview and actually start fresh for once. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now than standing right here with you.” Ron smiles as those words were just steps short of where he always wondered if they could reach, rather than just that being part of his dreams. Though focused on each other now, he couldn’t find the words to take the next step. maybe it was because of her history and this discussion, or maybe it was because of himself – but those words never came.

“I’m glad that you’re here with me. We may fight and argue, but your support and understanding for what I’m dealing with is second to none, and I appreciate it. I know some days if I didn’t have you here, I wouldn’t be able to take the steps I’m trying to take.” He then glances out over the railing, with a sigh of his own. “I just wish I could forget the fear. I wish I could stop having the nightmares. I wish I could stop feeling as though I’m not in control. I wish I could stop worrying that time would run out.” He then looks back towards her. “I also wish I could stop wondering if another chapter is just over the horizon.”

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.”

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.”