Cabin Fears – Chapter 89: The Monster Mile

The following week went smoother than all expected, which was surprising given the past couple of weeks.

Despite his own apprehensions and anxiety fighting him at times, Chase followed through in taking the medicine for the ulcers and anxiety as requested, and it had begun working. The pain in his stomach began ease much more with each passing day, and there weren’t any panic episodes.

He also kept taking the steps that he was supposed to be in figuring out a solution to the overall problem, having another couple sessions with Eric. Those paid off as he was able to get some of the emotions he was burying away out, which helped in finding the calmness.

His mind was also able to find ease in what happened earlier in the week, with the panic, seeing why it happened, speaking of the emotions connected, and strategies to avoid the fear and feelings creating another situation.

Although her thoughts shifted to the forthcoming surgery at times, Alyssa had gone about making the phone calls necessary to look at her options, stressing that she just had this week and next to do so. So far, not much had changed and everything was still set to take place after Charlotte as scheduled.

She didn’t leave her much time to think or worry, though, as her focus was on that weekend. With the blowing the engine at Kentucky, it was do or be done in the next two weeks. So over the past week, she spent every given chance looking back over video of previous races at Dover, seeing what she could correct in mistakes the last time there, and any ways to improve. She also spent time talking with Kevin Meendering each day, wanting to making sure every base was covered.

As she walked into the garage area on Friday and took a deep breath, it was time to get down and focus.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a little distant this week,” she comments as her and Chase walk together. “I’m just so focused on this weekend. I know I got to make it happen, and I just want to win so badly.” He wraps an arm around her, pulling her close.

“It’s okay – I understand,” he replies, having repeated her same actions earlier in his own career. “Listen, just take a deep breath and relax. If it’s meant to be, everything will come together either this weekend or next. Just control what you can control. Do the best that you can – and it’ll fall into place if it’s meant to be. You can’t let yourself get caught up in the little details. It’ll drive you crazy – trust me.” She smiles, nodding her head accepting. She had heard about those times in the early stages of his Cup career, and remembered a couple trips over to the house to see him where he was frustrated beyond anything.

“I’m trying. I just….We came into these playoffs with so much momentum, all the wins and success. It’s been a dream season. I don’t want to throw it away in the span of three weeks. These guys deserve so much more with what they’ve had to endure.” Chase understood, as while the events were traumatic and drove them both insane, the team didn’t have it easy either. They had to deal with relief drivers, and everybody having their eyes on them wondering if Alyssa could actually get the job done.

“Just remember what I said. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen…” They then reach the garage, and he gives her a quick kiss before watching as she goes over to Kevin for a final briefing before the practice session.

He lets out a sigh as he leans back against the wall, watching the fury of activity in the garage stall, though finds his eyes wandering to where the Cup cars were parked. He knew he wasn’t ready for that yet, and time needed to be spent focused on himself. But, he also couldn’t lie that he longed to be part of that garage area.

“Soon…” He tells himself, as he glances back into the stall, smiling as Alyssa blows him a quick kiss before climbing in for the first practice.

He then makes his way across the garage with the team, climbing the steps to the top of the hauler, taking his usual position. Continued glances over at the scoring monitor, eyes focused on the track, he watched as she rode the concrete oval with ease. He couldn’t help but smile at some of the lap times during the session, and it seemed that the car was smooth as ever.

Though as they got into the second half, he watched her slip down the scoring pylon and just shook his head. This wasn’t what they needed right now in finishing off the session sitting 23rd on the board. He hadn’t paid attention to Kevin’s plans for the session, but he could only hope that they were as low as they were due to not making a qualifying run.

He makes his way towards the steps to climb down, hearing his phone ring. He pulls it out of his pocket, rolling his eyes as he answered the call.

“Hello?” He says as he stops by the railing.

“Hey Chase,” Cindy replies on the other end. “How are you?” He could only roll his eyes, again.

“I’m fine, Mom. I told you that you didn’t need to call and check on me…” He also knew that request, as always, fell on deaf ears. No matter what he did, he would always be her baby.

“I care about you, and I was worried. You have to get that after what happened, right? Can’t I give you a call and check on you once in awhile?” He didn’t mind talking to her. It was just her timing could use some improvement right now.

“Of course, mom. But, can we talk later, please? I was just headed to the garage area.” He wanted to go see Alyssa, make sure that she was still feeling pretty good about things despite the slip-up on the chart.

“Fine, I was just worried. Will you call later?” He felt like rolling his eyes, but knew he couldn’t deny her.

“I promise. Talk to you later, and I love you. Bye Mama.”

“Love you, too, always. Bye Chase.” He hangs up, continuing his way down the stairs.

He makes his way back to the garage area, instantly surprised as he sees Alyssa standing in the stall joking with Kevin, laughter purely filling her face with ease. Crossing his arms, he couldn’t help but smile himself, glad that there was nothing to be concerned about.

He could only hope that Saturday went smoothly and as planned.

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Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 174: Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 23 – Dawsonville, Georgia

“Are you ready?” Chase questions with a glance over at Sarina.

“As long as your sister keeps her claws out of me,” Sarina answers and Chase laughs.

“Oh come on, she’s not that bad.” Chase wraps an arm around her. “It’s just because she cares about me.”

“Threatening me with a whole army of men is a little overboard….” Chase lets out a sigh as they reach the front door.

“The more she sees us together, the more she begins to understand how much you care about me and I care about you, she’ll lay off. She’s just being like this because Starr was like that to her about Robert – and that was more so because Starr didn’t have, well, the best of luck.” Sarina nods her head, understanding. She understood where Chase was coming from with that point, and could sympathize with everybody. But, a little bit of wiggle room would be nice.

“Her daughter Kennedy is amazing, though.” Chase couldn’t help but smile in response, as both his niece and nephew were adorable. He opens the door, leading Sarina inside who just glances back a little confused, and he gives her a quick wink. He then closes the door behind him. “Mama, I’m home!”

“And they told me that I’d never hear that again once my baby got a girlfriend – unless he was broken hearted…” Cindy comments with a glance from the kitchen. “I hope that’s not the cas-”

“We’re still happy as ever,” Chase adds as he makes his way to the kitchen, giving her a hug and kiss. “You know I’ll always come to see you, no matter what.”

“Of course, cause you’re baby.” Sarina stands back with a smile on her face, watching them together.

“You didn’t go home for Thanksgiving?” She hears, catching her off-guard as Brittney walks over. She could only roll her eyes in response as Chase glances over.

“Brittney….” He says with a stern tone. He knew she would say something, but didn’t think it’d happen within minutes of entering.

“It’s okay Chase,” Sarina says as she turns to face Brittney. She might as well face the music if she was ever going to quiet down his security guard. “I don’t really have any family, to be honest, that I know – except my brother and cousin, and we’ve talked about that already. Chase invited me to join you guys.”

“She’s one of the family, Brittney.” Brittney glanced between the pair, letting out a sigh. She still wasn’t quite convinced yet.

“We’ll see how that goes,” Brittney comments as Sarina tries to keep a stern face and not it eat at her. Why did it take so much to get Brittney’s approval? “By the way, Chase, I told you that I could take care of that other problem for you.”

“They’re all locked in jail cells and can’t hurt us so I’d rather just move on and forget,” Chase tells her as she rolls her eyes. “Seriously?”

“Guys….” Cindy warns, seeing the glance between siblings.

“Move on and forget doesn’t happen when it’s her brother,” Brittney says as Chase crosses his arms. She did have a point, as his eyes caught Sarina’s.

“You’re right about that,” Chase concedes. “But, I’d prefer to not have it thrown in my face by everybody – especially those who care about me and understand. Besides, it’s clear that we all realize the problems that Christopher and Bethany both brought and where they belong. Is there feelings remaining? Of course, but that’s something for Sarina and I to handle. So if you could please just let it go, that’d be nice.” Brittney glances between the pair, finally letting out a sigh.

“Alright, fine. But don’t think that I’m fully set on you two ye-”

“What is it going to take to convince you?” Brittney shrugs her shoulders as she looks over at Sarina.

“Time to see trust, growth, and everything that is required. I don’t know how long exactly.” Chase nodded his head, accepting.

“I respect that,” Sarina spoke up. “And I totally understand why for the mistakes that I made. I’m fine with us working towards a mutual feeling over time. Just please, give me a small benefit of the doubt and don’t toss it in my face.” Brittney shed a small smile in response.

“Deal,” she replies. “I’m going to go make sure Dad isn’t getting little man into trouble.” She then walks out of the kitchen as Chase walks over to Sarina, wrapping both arms around her.

“Are you okay?” He asks and she nods her head.

“I’m sorry that she has to be a bit of a pain – heck, I feel bad for when I chewed your head off,” Cindy comments and Sarina could only chuckle now. It was amazing to see how far they had come since July.

“I deserved that so I would buy a clue,” Sarina replies as she leans back in Chase’s arms. “You’re his mother. You care about him. I probably would’ve done the same if it was roles reversed. As far as Brittney, it’s one of the things about siblings – and I actually admire how much she cares about you.” Chase glances into the living room, watching Brittney and Bill play with Brittney’s son.

“She’s pretty amazing,” Chase agrees as he focuses back to Sarina. “If she gets to me too much, just tell me.” Sarina rolls her eyes, knowing that it’d probably never come to that. if she was going to get through Brittney’s supposed time test, she was going to do it on her own.

“Food is all on and cooking so we should be eating on time as always,” Cindy interrupts as she wipes her hands off. “Time for some family games!” Cindy heads into the living room as Sarina glances at Chase.

“Games?” She questions and Chase nods his head.

“Pictionary, among others,” he answers as Sarina just shakes her head. “It’ll be fun and entertaining. Come on…” He leads her into the living room as they all sit around, set for one of Cindy’s many plans for the day.

After a couple hours of playing, Chase feels his phone go off. He reads the text message, smiling, responding back in return as he stands up.

“Where are you going?” Sarina questions as Chase smiles. He couldn’t wait for this to fall in place.

“I have to go pick up someone from the airport,” he answers, causing a glance back of confusion. Though Sarina immediately shrugged it off, probably being a cousin or uncle.

“Be careful,” Cindy says as Chase heads for the doorway. A glance amongst the Elliotts, they all knew the plan already. Chase had previously texted his dad about Lindsay, which he passed along to everybody before they showed up.

It was a short drive to the airport, and thankfully, it was easy to find a spot to park. He then heads inside, remembering where he had told her directions to where they’d meet by a small gift shop. He smiles as he makes his way to the spot, seeing her already there with a bag.

“Easy to find?” He asks and she nods her head, following him through the airport.

“You’re good with directions,” she answers as he just shoots her back a smile in return. “I brought enough for a week. I can stay until the Monday after the Snowball Derby. Despite my own skeptical thoughts, I’m going to take in the event.” Chase smiles as he was glad that he would accomplish two goals with one stone.

“You’ll get to see your girl because she’s racing a Late Model for Kyle Busch, against him and 50 of the best drivers in the province.” He puts her bag in the back of the Tahoe, before they both climb in.

“Are you running it?” He shakes his head no as they head out of the parking lot. “How can you brag about an event, saying it’s the biggest event ever with 50 of the best drivers, if you’re not included?”

“I only run an event of that magnitude if I can do it with a certain group of people, namely Ricky Turner. I also refuse to make a one-off Late Model start because you need to have some experience before you head into that deal. Needless to say, my schedule didn’t allow for either this year. It sucks because it’s the 50th. Look at it this way – you’ll have a wealth of knowledge to sit with you and teach.” She just rolls her eyes as he lets out a chuckle. “So we’re headed to my parent’s house. I’m going to take you around the back using the side door while texting my dad. He’s going to ask Sarina to go out and grab something and boom, there you go.”

“That seems simple enough…” He nodded his head in agreement as they turned down another road.

“Are you nervous?” Lindsay glances over, surprised by the question.

“How could you tell?” He chuckles as he stays focused on the road.

“I couldn’t tell. It was just a question of curiosity.” She then lets out a sigh as she looks out the window. The nice country scenery was calming.

“I haven’t seen her in six years, Chase. How would you feel surprising someone that you haven’t seen or talked to for that long?” He nodded his head, accepting. “At the same time, I’m beyond excited. It’ll be nice to have someone that I can share anything with, hang with, talk to, and everything we used to do together again. There was nothing like those times together.”

“How long have you known each other?” Lindsay smiles as she thinks back to some of her earliest memories.

“Since birth. My dad and her momma were close. So as soon as I was born, we were playing together. She was supposed to be the two-year-old teaching me all the crazy ways.” Chase chuckles in response. “Oh, did you get the package?”

“It arrived today – which is perfect since we’re not home. I left my house key with a friend of mine, Dale, and he stopped by and put it inside with the help of some family. I just told him to put in the living room for now.” Lindsay smiles as she was glad that things had gone accordingly. She also had to shake her head at how casually the name rolled off his tongue.

“That’s something that I’m going to need to adjust to – being around NASCAR royalty without going a little nuts.” He chuckles as they pull up to the house.

“Hey, it’s easy to do. We’re just like everybody else – except we happen to go around in circles for a living which makes people love us. Just promise me you won’t freak on my dad.” She laughs back in response, nodding her head, as he shuts the key off. “Are you ready?”

“I guess it’s now or never…” She climbs out of the Tahoe, following him down the side of the house, through the gate, and sits down in one of the patio chairs. He sends a quick text message to his dad with a smile.

“I’m going to go hide…” She then looks on shocked as she thought he’d actually stay to help them along, but couldn’t manage to say something as he darted back to the side of the house.

Sarina makes her way outside, glancing left and right. She couldn’t believe that she was in the backyard, looking for a board game that supposedly got left out there. Why was she elected to go find it? As she looks over to the right, her eyes catch a gaze back in return.

“I recognize you….” She lets out quietly, almost set to hit a panic button as she could only think about this person sneaking onto the property and being a burglar or worse. However, she found herself instead frozen, eyes locked on those before her.

“You haven’t changed much,” was all Lindsay could only manage in return as a flood of memories soared through Sarina. Sarina recognized the voice – but there was no way this could be happening.

“Lindsay?” Lindsay nods her head in response as Sarina’s jaw drops in total shock. “But? How? When? Honestly? Really? Lindsay Dryer, right?” Lindsay chuckles back as she reaches for her pocket.

“I can show you identification if that’s necessary.” Sarina just continues to shake her head.

“I don’t get it. How are you here in Georgia? Why are you here?” Lindsay wanted to reach around the corner and grab Chase as she wasn’t sure she could find the words for the answers.

“Your lovely boyfrie-”

“He picked you up from the airport?” Lindsay nodded her head, once again looking back to where he had gone to hide. “But why? How?”

“Chase, can you come out please?” Chase then slowly emerges from where he was, causing Sarina to glance between the pair shocked more than ever. If the next words spoken that they were old friends, she could’ve smacked Chase for not saying anything in the span of two years. If she was a one night stand and that’s how identity was found, she may just smack them both.

“Remember when you mentioned to me that you were missed family, and wished you could see them sometimes?” Chase questions and Sarina nods her heads. It was one of her lowest day in the midst of Chris’ trial. “I immediately wanted to do something to make you feel better, so I started looking into your family history. Through some help, I was able to put together your six uncles and aunt. It was about deciding who to go see first. Between the story of how Lindsay got you interested in racing and Uncle Mike’s toy box, I went that way first. I went to Lindsay’s house on Tue-”

“You told me you were just going to hang out with the boys…” Sarina remembers and Chase nods his head.

“Technically, I hung out with Alan and Josh as they came for back-up. Anyways, I explained everything about how you changed your name and who you are now. She had some time off from a hectic dance schedule so she decided to come join us for the next 10 days.” Sarina looks over at Lindsay with a bit of shock, and Lindsay nods her head accepting.

“I wanted to see you again,” Lindsay tells her. “I wanted to reconnect. Damn girl, I’ve missed you since the moment you skipped town without a damn trace. I tried looking for you for awhile myself, but I gave up when nothing came up. When Chase gave me that opportunity, I couldn’t pass it up. I don’t have much family left, either.” Lindsay’s eyes tear up immediately as Chase knew the next piece of news wouldn’t be easy on either of them.

“Uncle Mike passed away a year ago from cancer and your aunt died in a car crash just months earlier,” Chase reveals, causing Sarina’s jaw to drop immediately. “This reunion couldn’t have come at a better time because frankly, Thanksgiving is all about two things – being thankful, and being with family. You both need each other.”   Chase then looks over at Sarina, seeing complete silence, almost frozen state. “Say something, please…..”

“I don’t know what to say…” Sarina comments as she looks back over at him. He could feel his stomach drop immediately.

“Say something, anything. I don’t care if you’re upset, happy, surprised, sad, or angr-”

“I could never be angry at someone who totally just went out of his way to find my best friend in the whole wide world, who could use a full hand of comforting after everything she’s been through.” Lindsay smiles a little as the girls look straight at each other. “Chase, you always tell me how much you care for me and how you’d do anything for me. This is beyond anything I could imagine. I don’t even know how I could ever thank you enough, or repay you.”

“You don’t ever need to – you deserve this for everything you’ve been through.” He then gives her a quick kiss on the cheek. “You girls catch up on the past six years. Dinner will be ready in an hour so take the time that you need, and then Lindsay, I can introduce you to the rest of my family.”

“Thank you, Chase,” Lindsay could only imagine to say as he headed inside the back door. “Chels…shit, sorry. I need to get used to this, but Sarina…”

“I can’t believe this,” Sarina comments in response, as she walks over, immediately hugging Lindsay.

Chase smiles from inside, watching them together, as he feels his parents walk over on either side of him.

“You did something really amazing here,” Bill comments as the girls sit down and begin trading stories. “I mean, you can see the bond between them immediately.”

“She deserves it, and more,” Chase says. “I don’t know what I’d do without you guys, Brittney, Starr, or any of my family for that matter.”

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 169: “Did you hear your man is taking care of his lady?”

Saturday, November 11 – Phoenix Raceway

“You seem like you’re in a happy mood….” Josh comments as he makes his way over to Chase in the garage stall. Chase simply glances over at the car chief with a smile.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Chase questions. “Second quickest, happy with how the car feels, ready to perfect it the next session. I have nothing to complain about.”

“That’s probably more than you could say about last night…” Chase looks on intrigued, but immediately caught the reference. He figured that the guys would bring up what happened with Christopher and Sarina eventually.

“I heard you were playing referee,” Jordan adds as he glances over at the group assembling.

“I don’t see Sarina anywhere either,” Jared Seate continues the comments as Chase could only roll his eyes. “Time out?”

“No, she was feeling a little sore this morning so I told her to relax today,” Chase comments. “And sure, I may have played referee…”

“Did you hear your man is taking care of his lady?” Jared questions and Jordan nods his head.

“Are you honestly surprised?” Jordan asks back in response and Jared shakes his head no. Chase could only imagine the teasing if they knew the plan for later. “But I really want to know what happened when she and Christopher meant face-to-face.”

“He apologized right away,” Chase tells them. “No questions asked, simply said sorry. She accepted the thought, but admitted she wouldn’t feel perfectly right about what happened for awhile.”

“Can’t blame her,” Josh comments as Jordan still had his arms crossed. There had to be more to the story.

“No punches or shoving?” Jordan questions and Chase shakes his head no. “Man, you got to be lying. I mean, you’re covering for Kyle or something. You can’t tell me that nothing happe-”

“Go ask Christopher or Sarina yourself,” Chase cuts him off. “Look, they’re friends and even in anger, she knew that he didn’t mean it 100%. It’s hard racing, and sometimes contact happens.”

“So you’d be cool if same thing happened with, say Jimmie?” Josh questions and Chase rolls his eyes. Why were they still discussing this?

“No, I’d be mad as she was initially. However, I’d come to understand that it was hard racing.” Josh nods his head, accepting. “Alright, we got another practice to focus on….”

“Should we wonder if he has a treat to take care of the lady later?” Jared asks Josh as Chase walks away. Josh just gives him a quick glance.

“Did you not learn earlier this year to keep outta the man’s business?” Josh wonders and Jared simply shrugs his shoulders.

“They weren’t talking at one point. Who made the girl surprise him at home and get them back on the same page?” Josh rolls his eyes immediately.

“Are you going to hold that over his head forever?” Jared simply smiles in return as he goes to do his job. “You son of a bitch….”

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

With practice in the books, Chase made his way back to the motorcoach to see Sarina. Certainly, the second session did not go as well as the first as he was 17th on the charts – which meant that those experiments by Alan were a failure. Hopefully when they started the race on Sunday, the set-up was something they used in the first session.

He makes his way into the bedsroom as he slips off his firesuit, instantly smiling as he spots her immediately curled up in the blankets.

“Feeling any better?” He questions as he hangs the suit up in the closet.

“With this type of view, how can a girl think about any pain that she’s in?” She asks in response as he simply looks back with a grin. “I mean, the next best thing would maybe be a Magic Mike dance, or strip show…”

“That’s totally not happening.” She then pouts as he could only giggle back in response. “I’m serious….”

“I guess I’ll take what I can get…” Besides, how was a lady supposed to complain in seeing her man stripped down to boxers and an undershirt? The next best thing would only be to take that off, too. “And, actually, your relaxation idea worked perfectly. Muscles are feeling a little better and not as sore. Maybe once and awhile it wouldn’t hurt to take a step back.”

“So aren’t you glad that you listened?” She smiles as she grabs her hand, pulling her close to the bed.

“You did say, though, that you’d make it worth my while. Can I cash in my payment?” He then laughs as he flops back on the bed.

“I don’t know. Have you been a good little girl?” She then rolls her eyes.

“When am I not a good little girl? I mean, I did listen to you last night and didn’t kick Christopher’s ass. I mean, I could’ve snuck out today and kicked it while you were busy.” He then glances back at her surprised. Did he really just hear that?

“Please tell me that you’re not mad at him still…” She lets out a sigh. She wanted to be mad as she hated to lose as much as anybody – if not more, and hated how tore up the truck was. But, his apology was worthy.

“Why do some people make it so hard to stay mad at them?” Chase smiles, knowing what she meant immediately.

“See, you’re a good little girl. You’re beginning to see things…” She then moves a little further down to the bed to be closer to him at the bottom.

“So, what’s my payment cutie?” He looks over, his smile matching hers immediately.

“I was thinking I give you a nice massage while we watch the XFINITY race, and then I take you out for a nice dinner.” She smiles in response, certainly approving the suggestion.

“I say after dinner, we come back and cuddle up with a movie.” He nods his head in agreement.

Sunday, November 12 – Phoenix Raceway

After Chase had made his way to driver introductions, Sarina headed out to pit road, giving Samantha and Brexton a quick hello, before making her way to where the No. 24 Chevrolet sat.

It didn’t surprise her to see Hootie sitting up on the roof, perfectly placed after some of the pre-race Hooters photos; she even caught the sponsor representative taking a quick photo. She smiles as she reached into her pocket, placing a green beanie baby beside him.

“Did that just out of your pocket?” She hears and glances back, seeing Cindy standing there. She nods her head, feeling a tinge of nerves in wondering how Mommy would accept it. “He’s cute….”

“That’s my lucky buddy Shamrock,” Sarina reveals. “Let’s just say that he came from a friend one night, and gave me some extra luck that gave me a special victory. I figured someone could use him today.” Cindy could only glance back with a smile, as she snapped a quick photo on her phone.

“Hootie and Shamrock look great together. Hopefully your plan pays off…” Sarina holds up a pair of crossed fingers.

“You were ready to kill Hootie at one point,” she then hears as she takes her own photo of the pair, recognizing the voice immediately. She then feels a pair of arms wrap around her, and she instantly leans back in them. “And now I hear you given him a friend. Do I get an explanation?”

“When Hootie and I met at Talladega, you’re right – I was ready to murder him,” she tells him. “However, I took your advice and gave him a bath and tried to be nice to the little guy. Besides, he is kind of cute. Then last week at Texas, he redeemed himself with a decent run. So now I figure if I give him a lucky friend, he’ll make some magic happen for you.”

“I hope you’re right…” He then gives her a quick kiss on the cheek before walking over to the guys for a last minute conversation.

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

“Alright, it’s show time here,” Eddie says over the radio. “All we gotta do is do it all day long here.”

Sarina takes a deep breath as she takes her usual seat on the pit box, headset on her head, ready to endure a race that would probably seem like it was 24 hours long. She knew it was just another race, just another day at the track. However, what could possibly happen with the result of a good day didn’t leave her mind. What if today was the day?

Her hopes instantly opened up as she watched him take the lead on Lap 12, passing Ryan Blaney for the top spot. So far, so good, as the car seemed to be handling great with consistent lap times. But, it was early, so she couldn’t get ahead of herself either.

Everything seemed smooth until Lap 26 as she watched the No. 11 FedEx Toyota begin to close the gap to the rear bumper. Her eyes opened wide and she shook her head in surprise, combined with some anger mixed in probably too, as a small bump saw Denny go by for the top spot two laps later. She had to grin as she watched Chase give him a small bump in return entering turn one, putting himself back out front.

“That’s my boy,” she comments to herself. It was nice to see him standing his ground and not taking Denny’s crap. Though a sigh escaped her lips as Denny passed him back a lap later, beginning to pull away.

“Stay with it, nice and smooth,” Alan says over the radio, set to keep his driver focused on the bigger picture. Yes, it sucked that it was Denny leading. Certainly, Denny would be the worst person to see transfer to the next round or win today. But there was still a long way to go and they wouldn’t get there if they let him get into his head.

The first stage finished off solidly, as he crossed the line in third behind Denny and Kyle Larson. She then watched him come down pit road – tires off, tires on, fuel inserted, and pull off easily. Letting out a sigh, she almost let out a curse word in seeing him drop two spots to fifth

“Lots of time,” she reminded herself with a deep breath.

While she tried to stay positive and focused, admittedly her heart was almost set to break in watching the second stage. Fighting a loose condition throughout the run, he slipped back one position at a time, ultimately finishing the stage in ninth. Letting out a sigh, this certainly wasn’t helping their cause at all. Something had to change, and soon….

She somehow managed to keep her wits about her, and slowly things started to turn around. Alan’s adjustments paid off as with 100 laps to go, he was back to being happy with the overall balance, set to make his way to the front, already up a spot to eighth. Though closing the gap to those ahead wasn’t coming easy, with everybody’s times being so close together.

“What line are they running?” He asked a couple times on the radio, looking for anything to make up the ground.

Everybody felt almost stuck in a routine, till she felt a tap on her arm from Jordan Allan and instantly glanced at the big screen, watching Trevor Bayne blow a tire and hit the wall. Perfectly timed caution as that’d help with the problem. Now if they could make something happen.

“Really used the brakes today,” Chase comments over the radio. “They’re used up. I don’t think heat is the issue, but they’re used up…” She felt her heart sink in the thought of a problem, but knew that she couldn’t panic. He was a big boy, and he could handle the brake issue.

“Come on Shamrock, come on Hootie…” She says, clutching tighter to the pair of stuffed animals in her hands. After he had climbed in, she had been put on babysitting duty for the pair, according to practically everybody on the team since Shamrock was hers anyway. She just hoped that it didn’t result in Hootie going flying off the pit box at some point.

The restart went perfectly, as she found herself on the edge of her seat, more impressed than usual as she watched him crack the top-five with a pass on Kevin Harvick.

“Keep it rolling, best lap times….” Eddie D’Hondt encourages, which was backed up by his performance on track as he got around Erik Jones to move up into fourth. Three more spots to go now. “All clear. We’re coming to the party, boys!” The smile only grew more as it seemed like destiny now.

It didn’t take long for another yellow flag to come out, though, as Chris Buescher blew a brake rotor and hit the wall with 61 laps to go. Perhaps another restart would be perfect….

“I don’t know what that was, but that was balls out!” Chase comes over the radio. “That was really good.” She couldn’t help but agree in watching him go from eighth to fourth in 10 laps. Maybe rubbing the pets was a good idea as she gave them both another rub.

“What the hell is that?” Jordan catches her attention, pointing to big screen. Her jaw drops as she sees the safer barrier on fire.

“Is that really happening?” She questions and Jordan nods his head. “So much for being fire retardant…” She almost had to laugh as if something would happen in these playoffs, it seemed to take place.

Once the fire was out and they lined up for the restart, she takes a deep breath. It was now or never, and anything was possible in Phoenix. She just hoped it played in their favor.

Once again, he got the restart of his life, going from fourth to second before the caution flew once again, now with 50 laps to go, for someone in the back hitting the wall.

“Our car likes these short runs,” Chase says over the radio afterwards. While these runs made her more nervous than she could take at times, she was willing to deal if he continued to move forward like this. Just make sure to have some gum and tums ready, too.

Unfortunately, this restart did not pan out as she wanted as he fell back to fourth. More importantly – Denny was now right there in front of them. Letting out a sigh, it seemed no matter what they couldn’t get away from each other all day. This was not what they needed right now.

She even found herself cursing a little, ready to punch Denny herself post-race, as she watched the pair trade contact back and forth. She knew if this kept up, the laps would just continue to tick away and everything they were truly working towards would not happen.

As Chase got underneath Denny through the dog leg, her hand clenched into a fist, pumping up and down on her knee, small cheers filling her in hopes that this time he would complete the pass. She ten watches them through turns three and four, followed by contact off the corner as Denny got into the wall. She couldn’t help but smile in watching Chase clear him.

“All clear,” Eddie goes on the radio, not even deterred by the contact. “Flip your bead fans on now. Nice and smooth…

“Well played Chase,” Sarina couldn’t help but comment herself as the smile remained in seeing the tire smoke off of the No. 11 Toyota. It wasn’t a direct payback or wreck that you’d replay over and over, and know it was purposely done. It was enough contact to send a message and do the damage – without going say overboard. Perfectly short track executed.

Of course, her smile only widened some more in seeing the tire blow out for Denny, followed by him hitting the outside wall.

“Oh snap!” Jordan lets out with a high-five to a couple of the crew members.

“Can I get that on replay please?” Sarina questions, almost to the point where she wanted to break out laughing. She knew there was going to be a reward for that move.

Though with Denny out of the picture, it was time to focus on what they were there to do. They had a fast enough car; now it was just making it happen.

Her smile didn’t even get a chance to fade as her eyes locked on the restart with 30 laps to go, seeing Chase take the top spot.

“All clear, all clear,” Eddie says over the radio. “Alright, nice and smooth now….”

She just needed to find a way to be calm and collected. 30 more laps. They could do this, finally.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 86: “It’s on me.”

Thursday night, Kentucky Speedway

Once the plane landed, it was a short trip to the speedway with the group immediately finding their way to the infield. Couple goodbyes said, and both Jimmie and William headed in their own direction. Dale and Regan stuck with Chase, wanting to make sure he got settled for the night with everything that went on.

They go to the motorcoach, with Chase unlocking the door, quietly walking in. It didn’t take long before Alyssa had her arms wrapped around him tightly, holding him. Dale couldn’t help but smile knowing that was classic her, remembering when she did that to him a couple times.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Cindy starts as she is the next one to hug him. “You need to be home, taking care of yourself…” Chase lets out a sigh, as it didn’t matter how old he was, Momma was always going to try and take care of him.

“I’m fine being here in Kentucky,” he assures her. “The doctor said it was fine for me to fly out as Regan asked. Besides, if I was home, I’d be worried even more over what was going on here. I’ll take it easy, okay?”

“Don’t worry Cindy,” Alyssa adds. “If he doesn’t take it easy, I’ll kick his ass for you.” Chase then looks at her a little skeptical as she just smiles back in return. “You heard me….”

“Well, I’m going to go get settled so I will see you later,” Regan states. “Chase, if you need me, just give me a ring. Take it easy, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Thank you,” Chase says once again as he gives him a hug. “I mean it – thank you.”

“I’m always just a text message away.” Regan then gives Dale a quick pat on the back, before heading out to leave the group by themselves.

“Alright guys, it’s time for you to give them some time to chill,” Dale instructs after awhile. He knew sleep was the best thing for Chase right now, and having the motorcoach crowded wasn’t going to lead to that. “He needs to relax, and she needs sleep before a busy day tomorrow. Time to say goodbye.”

“You’re going to be careful, right?” Cindy asks once again and Chase nods his head. “Alright. Take care of yourself and get some sleep.”

It didn’t take long before everyone cleared out, leaving Alyssa and Chase to themselves, as they both got ready for bed and got comfortable.

“Are you sure you’re okay right now?” Alyssa wonders, still worried about him. He just simply responds by pulling her close to him.

“It’s a little sore, but I’m fine,” he answers honestly. “You don’t need to worry about me.” She then rolls her eyes, knowing that was impossible.

“I always worry about you – I always have. You can’t think that a moment is going to go by where I’m just going to sit back and not worry. Give me a break, Chase.” She then lays her head on his chest, a bunch of thoughts running through her mind at what seemed like 100 miles per hour. “I can’t believe this happened, and it’s on me-”

“What do you mean?” She then lifts her head up, staring into his brown eyes.

“Well they stated it was stress related and it clearly happened after my appointment. You’re stressing out over me, which is nothing new.” He then lets out a sigh, rubbing her shoulders. Well she was certainly on his mind, that wasn’t the start of it.

“I’d been dealing with a couple of the signs before then, but chalked it up to nothing. Besides, I’m not stressing about what’s about happen for you. I know that whatever works best, whether amputation or another road, is for the right reasons. I also know that you’re strong beyond anything. You’re like your father in a lot of ways. The world may throw a bunch of bricks at you, but you don’t change; you keep that sweetness, honesty, and every great quality about you. I know you’ll get through it so I don’t stress about you.” She knew he was just trying to make her feel better with his advice, and make it not seem like it was her fault.

“And now you can cut the cra-”

“My stress comes with my anxiety and fears. I’m stressing about everything that I’m going through and feeling. I’m stressing about trying to do the right thing. I’m stressing about the worry in whether I can make things better, come back from this. I’m stressing about…. It’s me that’s causing my own issues, not you. This isn’t something that just started over night.” He then takes a deep breath, remembering the doctor’s words in trying to find some way to cope with it all. “I just need to find a way to cope with it all.”

“You’re going to find that, Chase. You will move forward. Everything will get better. We’re not going to be stuck in this situations forever.” He nods his head, hoping that she was right. But admittedly, there were times he wasn’t sure about that.

“I believe you, and I’m trying.” She glances back up at him, again.

“You’re doing a helluva job, admirable. Just take it one step at a time, okay?” She then reaches up, kissing his lips. “Now, I wouldn’t be doing my job if we weren’t getting comfy and going to sleep.”

“Yes, Nurse Earnhardt.” She just smiles as they get comfortable together, set for a good night sleep.

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

Chase made his way through the garage, falling in suit with the crew members, ready for the first XFINITY practice of the day. So far, it was business as usual. Spend the morning hanging out with Alyssa, walk to the garage together, let her get ready to go, and head to the hauler to watch.

“Hey!” Regan says as the pair cross paths. “How are you feeling?”

“Alright,” Chase replies, and that was honesty. The pain had laid off with taking both the pain killers and other pills. It was just a matter of hoping things were starting to heal down there. He had also been keeping himself nice and relaxed, which came easily at the track, so he was following the stress rule so to speak.

“That’s good. Listen, just take it easy, alright?” Chase nods his head. “I’m serious. I don’t want to be creating some emergen-”

“I’m fine, Regan. It’s not that bad and I’m chilled out. Your truck looked good in practice so best of luck later on today. I’m headed to watch Alyssa.” Regan easily lets him go, though his eyes linger on him for a little while longer. He couldn’t help but worry.

The practice went smoothly, with no incidents at all. But that didn’t mean it was all smiles in the JR Motorsports camp as struggling wasn’t the word for it. No matter what they did to the car, it just seemed to be too loose all throughout the session and as a result, she timed in 24th quickest.

“This is ridiculous!” She comments as she runs her hands through her hair. First round of the playoffs and they looked like a bunch of idiots who didn’t know what they were doing. What happened to all the speed they had shown the past couple months?

“I am going to go see if Leo’s guys have any suggestions,” Kevin Meendering says, before walking away. She rolls her eyes in response, not believing that now they were having to rely on their teammate, their competition at that, so they could figure it out.

“Hey, you’ve started weekends like this before and they’ve turned out beautiful,” Chase reminds her as he wraps his arms around her shoulders. “Take a deep breath, think, and relax. You’ll be fine.” She wanted to follow those words, but the drive and desire to succeed was telling her otherwise. “Think about how you’re detailing of what the car is doing, and try to rerun those laps over and over in your mind. Was there something that you missed? Did you maybe not explain something how Kevin needed to hear you? Could you change up or give a bit stronger feedback to get the car where you need it?”

“Maybe it’s not necessarily loose, but tight on entry,” she finally says out loud as she glances over her shoulder at him. “Maybe I’m not realizing that, trying to overcorrect my line, and causing the other issue. So therefore, we’re not fixing what the real problem is….”

“Why don’t you give that a try in the next session?” She nods her head, accepting, ready to tell Kevin when he got back.

“Are you okay?” He immediately rolls his eyes, growing annoyed at every person asking him already throughout the day.

“I’m fine – just focus on getting the car better for tomorrow.”

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 156: “I Can’t Hold Back Anymore….”

Sunday, October 8 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

The seconds felt like minutes, and the minutes felt like hours. The anticipation and flip-flopping feeling in his stomach continued to build.

Couldn’t it be race time already?

Taking a deep breath, he glances at his phone, seeing if Sarina had sent him any updates from Winchester yet. Qualifying should’ve been in the books already and he was hoping to see at least where she’d start before his day got busy with driver introductions, and his race. Though, just like the last time he looked 10 minutes ago, there was no updates.

He puts his phone back in his pocket, letting out a sigh. What else was a guy to do while he waited for race time?

“You look un-amused…” He hears, catching his attention, and he could only roll his eyes. It’s like his parents had a special intuition at times.

“Just getting impatient,” he comments as he leans back against the tool box. Normally, he’d be calm and collected before a race, just waiting patiently for the day to begin or busy with pre-race sponsor obligations. Though now having an hour to himself and thinking of the goal at hand – solid day, no mistakes, keep yourself in playoff contention, and there was no way to be calm, cool, and collected.

“You don’t have someone here to keep your mind off everything and have some fun with…” He smiles, knowing that his mom was probably right in her words. Sarina and him would normally crack jokes together, sometimes finding Ryan to crack some with him, which obviously passed time quicker than waiting around. “Your dad mentioned that you were pre-occupied with some thoughts yesterday….”

“Of course he would tell you…” He would’ve rather kept that conversation just between he and his father, but he understood Bill’s reasons for speaking to Cindy. Concern was paramount given the situation. “Look, I’m fine. The advice that he offered, combined with figuring some things out myself, I’m good.”

“I still say that you and Sarina should make sure to get that restraining order against Allison…” Chase wished he never heard that name again.

“We’re looking into it, okay? If she meant what she said, she’ll return to whatever life she had before. If she didn’t, I can promise you it won’t be much to get her charged with stalking.”

“Just promise me you’ll be careful, okay?” He looks straight in his mom’s eyes, grabbing her hand firmly. He was used to her nerves. He knew how to deal with those already.

“I’m always careful, Momma. I’ll be fine.” She nods her head, accepting, but her mind swirled in 20 other different directions. There was no need to chance fate again.

**********

Sunday, October 8

Chase lies in the bed, barely focused on whatever show he had chosen to pull off Netflix that evening to watch. He could’ve cared less, to be honest. His mind was focused on other thoughts.

He had a decent day, followed what he needed to do, and ended up with a solid second-place finish. It was nice to be able to improve throughout the day, with their best run at the end. It didn’t hurt to have that confidence boost entering the other mile and a half tracks to come in the playoffs.

Though his day didn’t matter in reflecting on the big picture once he got to watch the highlights from the Winchester 400. Starting up front, Sarina stayed up there, pulling off an impressive slide job on Bubba Pollard on a restart, and leading the rest of the way en route to the win. He had called to congratulate her, with her assuring him that she’d be home as soon as possible.

Being middle of the night, he should be sleeping – but his mind was solely focused on waiting for her to get home. He couldn’t wait to see her.

As the clock barely turned over to 12:05, he heard the front door click open downstairs, immediately shutting the television off as he walked out to the top of the stairs. He glanced down, an instant smile forming on his face as he saw her come through the door.

“Chase?!?” She calls out, glancing around as she sets down her bag. He immediately comes down the stairs, only stopping when he reached the bottom step. “I figured you weren’t sleeping….”

“I can’t sleep without you home,” he tells her as he walks over, pulling her close to him right away. “Congratulations.” He then kisses her lips. “I’m so glad that it worked out for you, but damn, I missed you so much today…” She chuckles, wrapping her arms around him in return.

“I missed you, too. I almost stood on pit road before the race regretting my decision to go, actually.” He looks at her surprised. It was odd to hear either of them looking forward to each other more than some race somewhere, especially her.

“Really? I thought you couldn’t wait to run the late model event, it was the best thing that you could’ve dreamed of, you missed it so mu-”

“Oh, stop blabbling…” She then pushes her lips against his, slowly backing them both up against the one wall. “I absolutely adore late model racing, but damn….I realized something else. I love you more than I could’ve realized.”

“I love you, too, and I love this just as much.” He then puts his lips back against hers, keeping her pinned against the wall. “Your lips…”

“Yours are softer…” Their tongues find each others, as he picks her up, with her legs immediately wrapping around his hips. He then carries her up the stairs, with their tongues barely leaving each others, before he leads her into the bedsroom, laying her back on the bed. “Chase….”

“Sarina…”  He looks into her blue eyes with his brown eyes, feeling every bit of lust and desire forming more than he could’ve explained. “I can’t hold back anymore. I love you. I keep falling more and more for you.” She then pulls on his t-shirt, bringing him down to her, faces within inches of each other.

“I can’t deny it anymore, either. I thought I could resist you…but…I can’t….” She then grabs his hands, holding it firmly with hers. “I need this, I need you…” He didn’t know if it was the desperation from the emotions swirling through her from everything that had happened, or the time apart, but he could sympathize with her position. His hands had always liked the feeling of continuing to roam over her. He ultimately wanted to feel every inch of her, too….

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?” She felt the hitch and pause in his words, wondering if she had overstepped boundaries with her request. However, there was no stopping the flood of emotions now.

“I want you, and I need you; I want to be your first tonight.” He was sure that was what she meant originally, and frankly – his guard was totally down that night as he knew what he wanted, too.

“Then what are we waiting for?” His lips find her lips once again as her hands roam underneath his t-shirt, slowly slipping it up his body.

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

Monday, October 9

“That was…” Sarina starts, trying to keep her wits about her.

“Incredible?” Chase questions as he looks over at her. She glances over, nodding her head. “No regrets?”

“Absolutely not a single one. How about you?” Chase shakes his head no.

“I would do it again, if you asked….” She then chuckles as she moves back close to him, laying her head on his shoulder.

“Can I have some time to calm everything down and relax first?” He laughs and nods his head. “I can’t believe everything that released….”

“You had a lot of emotional stress going on, and frankly – we both can’t handle being away from each other for a whole weekend easily. That’s going to be a problem next year.” She nods her head in agreement.

“At least we know the therapeutic cure….” She then leans in, lightly kissing his lips.

“Then you won’t mind if I’m gone both Wednesday and Thursday?” An instant face of shock meets his as he simply smiles. “I’m going testing at Martinsville. Alan seems to think that if we do two full days of testing there, I will figure out how to get around that place.”

“You won the truck race in the spring – that damn clock in the hallway reminds me every day, and you finished top-five in the Cup race. Doesn’t that spell knowing what the hell you’re doing?” He laughs and shakes his head.

“I still haven’t found that rhythm that Jeff and Jimmie talk about. I need to find that…” She rolls her eyes as she lets out a sigh.

“I guess I can’t stop you from going testing. I mean, if you need to, then you should. But you will be in Talladega on Thursday night, right?” He nods his head, knowing that the plan was to go straight from Martinsville to Talladega on Thursday when they were done.

“And I’ll be home Wednesday night since I’m not staying there overnight. It’s a quick flight…” She nods her head, accepting. “What are you thinking?”

“That flight path – Charlotte to Martinsville. When you go over the mountain, do you ever think about what happened?” He knows exactly what she was talking about as he wraps an arm around her.

“Alan and Josh have mentioned it a couple times in how they think about it. It really doesn’t play a role in my mind, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t ever forget what happened to them…” She then wraps an arm around over his chest as she gets snuggly.

“Just promise me you’ll be careful?” He then wraps an arm around her, keeping her held close.

“I’m always careful….”

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

Friday, October 13 – Talladega Superspeedway

Chase walked through the garage area, caught off-guard by the mix of conversation and glances his way, as he went straight for his stall. He walks through past the crew members, who each gave him a quick glance but went about their jobs, as he walks up to Alan.

“Considering everything going on for you, I’d say you’re not frazzled at all,” Alan comments, catching Chase off-guard.

“What did I miss that’s going on in my life?” Chase questions as Alan rummages through the papers on the box, pulling out the National Enquirer. He then hands it over to Chase, flipping to a particular page as he does so.

“Have a read, and then let me know…” Alan then walks past the young man, going over to the crew guys.

“You have got to be kidding me?!?”

There was no other reaction than that as he read through the details on the page before him. There, laid out in a two-page column, was everything you could imagine about Sarina.

The reporter depicted how her real name was Chelsy Dryer, calling her a fraud. He then went on to discuss her connection to her brother and parents, including details surrounding her father’s death. The article even detailed her brother’s horrific actions in the plane incident, followed by the push at Cordele, and the poisonings. It then detailed the connection to Bethany and Allison, as well.

The article finished off questioning whether the young lady could be trusted, and whether she had a future in NASCAR with everything out in the open now about her entire life. The article also questioned the validity of her relationship with Chase, and whether it was meant to be, if she was just doing it for kicks and to get herself known, and whether it could remain strong during everything.

He immediately pulls out his phone, texting Sarina to ask her if she had seen the article, where she was knowing she was supposed to be going to see Marcus about pre-practice discussion, and how she was. He was relieved by her response, as she assured him that she could care less about what was written there – as long as she had her friends who truly stuck behind her. Smiling, it was nice to see her taking his advice finally…

“Well?” Alan questions as he returns, snatching the magazine back from him and burying it on the pit cart. “Congratulations on your great debut in the biggest scam magazine on the planet. You know you’re a superstar when…”

“I can’t believe they just did it like that,” Chase comments as Alan turns around to face him, directly.

“You had to know that was coming eventually. That’s why Morgan was working hard to try and keep tabs on everything. This should be no surprise. That’s how those vultures work. They take whatever they can and exploit it.” Chase nods his head, knowing his crew chief was dead on the money. “As long as you’re both fine…”

“Sarina texted me back that she’s seen it, read it, and could care less. All that matters to her is those who know everything and have her back – like me, Christopher, Marcus, Kyle, Sa-”

“Me and the crew can be added to that list, too. We know how much you love and trust her. If you can find a way to trust her knowing everything, then we can find a way to have your back.”

“I can assure you everything that she did was justified. Her brother got involved the wrong way, and her father got shot trying to protect her brother while still fulfilling his line of duty. She moved to California as a result, but those people found her mom and her there. She then made the move down here.” Alan places his hand firmly on Chase’s shoulder.

“You don’t need to tell me everything. Like I said, I believe you and if you trust her – we all have your back. Let them have their fun and talk about this for awhile and get a thrill out of it. Once something else comes out, they’ll move on to the next big thing. The most important thing is that Kyle, Sam, her sponsors, and your sponsors know the truth and don’t waiver.” Chase knew that Sarina had told both Kyle and Sam, which probably meant that her sponsors knew.

“I just hate to see her go through this….” He glances away, before returning his eyes back to Alan. “All she wants is to be able to have that normal life finally. She wants to be able to stop running, leave the demons where they belong, and move forward. No matter what she does, it seems to be thrown right back in her face.”

“It’ll work out, eventually. Just stick with it. Everybody will understand what happened, and not give a shit.” Chase nods his head, hoping that was sooner than later. “Now, I hate to twist things around but we got practice.”

“Ooo yay, I can go out there and run laps all by myself now…” Alan chuckles, knowing how Talladega practice could be so boring.

“No no, I’m going to make it more interesting. You can run laps with Kasey, Dale and Jimmie in a train.” Chase forms the biggest smile he can muster on his face as Alan laughs.

“Oh thank you for letting me have friends in the sandbox…” Alan continues chuckling as Chase goes over to the car.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 153: Struggling….

Saturday, September 23 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Sarina stood on top of the No. 24 hauler, eyes focused on Chase as he went out for the first practice of the day. She crossed her fingers, hoping that Kenny was able to make the right adjustments so that way he’d be happy with the car for tomorrow. Like they talked about last night, he just needed a solid run.

Her eyes shifted off of the No. 24 car for a bit, though, finding their ways to Bill and Cindy who stood up there watching, as well. Her mind couldn’t ignore the comments from Brittney.

Call her shallow, but she liked to have everybody’s approval. Maybe it was because she was searching for that love and acceptance after having lost it for so long when she was younger. She knew she shouldn’t worry about the comments as certainly Brittney would come around in due time – just like Cindy was. So why was she nervous about the future? What if Brittney never came around?

“There’s something on that mind of yours…” Cindy sounds off as she notices Sarina’s eyes focused on her and Bill. She didn’t want to particular divulge into Sarina’s feelings, but didn’t feel comfortable being watched when there was someone else to be watching.

“Is it that obvious?” Sarina questions and Cindy nods her head as she makes her way over to where Sarina was standing.

“Remember when I said that you could tell me anything?” Sarina nods as she looks back out towards the track. “It’s up to you…”

“How well do you know Brittney?” Cindy thinks it over, as she follows Sarina’s lead of looking out towards the track. She wasn’t particularly close with both girls.

“I know enough to have a solid relationship with her, and to the point that she respects what I have with her father. I’ve never tried to replace the role her mother plays, but we have enough reason to be nice to each other, and understanding. Did something happen on Thursday?” Sarina wondered if she should even say something. Perhaps that was against Brittney’s code.

“She gave me the big sister protective speech…” Cindy chuckles, not surprised one bit. Out of Bill’s daughters, Brittney was closer with Chase than Starr. She also couldn’t see a threat out of Starr with how laid back she could be.

“And you’re surprised? You have a brother. I bet you were protective of him at some point – wait, you were and we all witnessed that.” Cindy pauses, taking a deep breath, knowing that opening old wounds would accomplish nothing. Besides, they were trying to look past what happened then. “You have to understand where she’s coming….”

“Oh, I absolutely get it for sure. I would do the same thing in her shoes – even more so with what has happened between Chase and I since we got together. I mean, that’s why I understood your feelings towards me.” Sarina taps her fingers on the rail. “We’re starting to find that common ground to where we can have discussions like this. How long does it take Brittney to come around?” Cindy could only shrug her shoulders.

“That’s a question for Bill as I don’t know her well enough to say. I will say that she’s a hard egg to crack as I remember months where she wasn’t sure about us dating – however, she came around eventually. When she does come around, though, be prepared for the biggest sweetheart ever as she’s perfect sweet Georgia peach. It’ll come. How long? I don’t know.” Sarina nods her head, accepting. It wasn’t the answer she wanted, but it was certainly something and better than where she started.

“Thanks. I appreciate your honesty.” Cindy pats her on the shoulder.

“You’re loved. You don’t have to worry about that…” Sarina then lets out a sigh as she notices only a mere 10 minutes left in practice, which meant truck qualifying was up right after.

“Well, I have to go get ready for my qualifying session so I will see you both later. Nice talking to you.” Sarina makes her way down the steps as Cindy returns to her previous spot right beside Bill.

“I was surprised to see how you warmed up to her,” Bill comments as he wraps an arm around Cindy.

“She’s not a bad girl after all,” Cindy replies with a smile. “And I supposed we don’t have to kill Kenny either.”

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

Chase finishes up debriefing with Alan, before making his way down the flow of garage stalls, eventually landing himself in Jimmie’s. He waits for his teammate to finish talking with Chad and Ron, before making his way over.

Becoming a common occurrence, the pair immediately found a quiet spot in the garage to sit and share notes.

“Please tell me your car is handling better…” Jimmie comments as Chase lets out a sigh. That’s why he was down there.

“It’s still loose through the corner, but at least the entry is a tick better,” Chase replies as Jimmie nods his head, accepting. If only he and Chad were making the same progress….

“I wish I could give you the magic ticket answer but we’re nowhere closer than we were before. I mean, I don’t even feel the tips on lines here would work just because that sticky crap is dictating everything this weekend.” Chase nods his head, accepting, having noticed that during the session.

“Maybe the trucks will spread the groove out some so it’s not so bad.” Jimmie could only hope that was the case as it may help him make some progress.

“Convince your girlfriend to do that for us, please?” Chase simply chuckles in return. “You couldn’t have just come down here for set-up advice. If so, that’s a wasted trip….”

“Nah, I actually have some other questions for you.” Jimmie nods his head, accepting. This was typical weekend behavior. “There’s like a disconnect in the team right now between Kenny and the guys – something is off in the chemistry. I know it’s not going to be like when Alan and Josh are both here, but this is worse than I thought. You’ve been in these situations.” Jimmie chuckles, remembering some of Chad’s previous suspensions.

“But in those times, Chad was just suspended so Ron took over calling the shots – or if both were suspended, our lead engineer just took it over. I never brought in a whole new face.” Chad nods his head, accepting. So far, he was 0 for two in questions. “Look, we both know that our teams are family – every single person is special in their own way, and together it makes us amazing. In your case, I’m going to guess that’s closer with what has happened this year. Now imagine bringing a new person into that family, or a circle of friends. Ever felt like the outsider?”

“I remember some of my first couple competition meetings before I got to know you and Kasey better…” Jimmie nods, remembering some awkward moments a couple years ago.

“So that’s how Kenny feels right now. He wants to come in and do his thing – lead the team, give you the car that you want, do his job. But he doesn’t know each person’s corks or how Alan runs the ship – how tightly, whether he can crack a joke. What if he says the wrong person and offends a certain crew guy? He may be walking on tippy toes for that. There’s also the fact that you guys haven’t wor-”

“He crew chiefed my limited starts in 2015.” Jimmie had totally forgotten that, and now understood why Rick had chosen Kenny.

“But how much have you changed since then? You’re no longer the rookie who knows nothing and is trying to figure out how the car feels. You’re not a second-year driver who has experience, and is ready to chase after wins and deserving so. You know what it takes now to be successful, right? Maybe that’s where the disconnect is. He’s trying to connect to then, not realizing that growth.” Chase could see how that’d make sense, based on some of the questions asked.

“So what am I supposed to do? Should I just come out and say something?” Jimmie nods his head.

“This is your team. When you’re down a man or two, someone has to stand up and take charge. You’re the driver and this is your guys. You need to step up and say Kenny, this is how things normally go and this has changed since then. Now maybe if you guys realize where that stands, you can make some more progress than you have. I mean, I wouldn’t worry too much since you’re running better than I am, but you can also give it a try.” Chase nods his head, accepting.

“It’s worth a shot, right? I mean, I just need a decent finish Sunday. I don’t want to set the world on fire. I just want a solid run so we can move on to the next round.” Jimmie was crossing his fingers that he could do the same, despite seeing dark clouds ahead.

“That’s all we’re focused on here, too. One race at a time, right? We can do this. We may not be where we want to be, but if we stay focused and just do the best that we can, we could get to Homestead.”

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

The advice panned out one way as it certainly helped communication and moral once those thoughts were out in the open, but that was it. The practice produced another rough going as they continued to struggle with the same condition, finding themselves ranked mid-pack in the speeds at the end of the session.

That’s why while sitting on Sarina’s pit box, Chase’s mind was pre-occupied with thoughts about his racecar and ways that he could make it better. Maybe he needed to explain it differently to Kenny. Maybe he wasn’t giving the right complete feedback. Maybe he needed to try something different rather than just expecting Kenny to make the magic adjustment.

Those concerns weren’t there for Sarina at the beginning of her race, though, as she had qualified the No. 18 Toyota Tundra on pole, poised for a strong day. However, her bubble was burst when she got out of the groove a little on Lap 64, going around for a spin.

“I warned her about that,” Chase comments, with a sigh, as he watches her spin it back going the right direction.

It was still early in the race, so he crossed his fingers that she’d be able to make up the ground as long as she stuck to her guns. Unfortunately, her day didn’t improve much as she eventually crossed the finish line in 15th.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” he tells her post-race as he wraps his arms around her. “This track is doing that enough this weekend to everybody.”

“Then how is my damn boss able to figure it out?” Sarina answers as Kyle had led both Cup practices earlier that day.

“Because it seems he and Truex have the magic ticket for everywhere right now and can make fairy dust out of shit.” Sarina laughs as she was surprised to see that response. “Want to ask them if we can have Jimmie’s lucky horseshoe back?”

“I can ask – but if they have it, I don’t think they’ll share.” She then lets out a sigh as she leans back against the truck. “I started off so strong, too. I qualified where I needed to, I led laps, and I was up there doing what I needed to do. Got passed by a couple trucks, but hey – that happens. We’ll fix it the next stop? But nope, I had to the jackass rookie…” He just shakes his head.

“You’re a rookie. You’re supposed to make mistakes. That’s how you learn and get better. I’m betting you learned from that, right?” She sighs, nodding her head.

“Patience. Let the truck come to you, don’t push it. You will get them the next run, and it’s better to do that than fuck it up and end up taking yourself out of contention for a good finish.” He nods his head, accepting the lesson that she learned as he pulls her back close.

“Take a deep breath. I know days like these are tough, but you’re getting better each and every week. You continue to impress me, Marcus, Kyle, Sam, everybody else. Your day is coming…” She leans her head on his shoulder.

“It’s just so hard at times because I’m not used to struggling. I’m used to winning. I’m used to kicking ass.” He chuckles as he looks into her eyes.

“See why I was so frustrated at times last year?” She lets out a sigh. “With every level you move up, it gets a little harder. It’s your job to figure out what you need to do to adapt, and continue to get better. You’re doing it, piece by piece. It’ll come…”

“And what about those who say that I don’t deserve to drive for Kyle Bu-”

“Who is saying that?” She glances towards her phone, set to bring up some tweets. “Ignore those people. They’re just armchair crew chiefs who have never driven a racecar before and think turning left is just like cruising to the mall. They have no idea. You can’t judge yourself based on those people. It’s always best to judge yourself based on what you think in your own little head, and the team around you. Has Marcus ever said that you don’t belong here?” She shakes her head. “Then you belong here.”

“So I’m not just another pretty face like Danica?” He chuckles and shakes his head.

“You’re way better than that. You’re an amazing talented driver who has earned her way to this opportunity. You didn’t just get it by stripping layers off, but rather by winning races and getting people to look at you for the right reasons. She can’t say that she’s won the biggest late model events, can she?” She shakes her head. “Stop comparing yourself to everybody, okay?”

“I’ll work on that.” He rubs her hand through her hair, messing it up, which causes her to push him away. “Really?”

“Like I said, beauty isn’t your ticket. Now, what do you say we get out of here, go get something to eat, and forget about this whole weekend so far? I know the perfect place.” She smiles, immediately accepting.

Anything to forget the day that was for now was what she needed.

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

Sunday, September 24

Chase makes his way to the driver’s meeting, taking a seat with Kenny Francis alongside. He smiles as he’s shortly joined afterwards by Dale and Greg.

“Hey,” he says quietly, figuring it was better than sitting there bored until the meeting started.

“Hey,” Dale replies. “I meant to ask you yesterday, actually. Did the website lead to any answers?” Chase nods his head, knowing what Dale meant immediately.

During the week when he got some quiet time to himself without Sarina around as she was at KBM, he had logged on to ancestory.com and began to build the family tree as you were supposed to with the information that you knew. It led to other branches forming, including the fact that her mother had five siblings – all boys. He actually laughed at the thought of her growing up as the youngest in the house. He was also intrigued to see that Sarina’s father had a pair of siblings – one boy and one girl, as well.

He knew combined together, there was an option of finding up to six uncles and an aunt. Of course, the branch that led to Bethany was going to get cut off in his mind as he didn’t need any more connections there.

With the information in hand, he hadn’t gotten a chance to look deeper than that as she had shown up just after he pulled up the information, forcing him to close it immediately as he didn’t want to get caught – yet. He wanted to have something concrete before he told her.

“So I have a chance of finding six uncles and an aunt – minus one of course,” Chase reveals, which Dale understood immediately as he knew Bethany and Sarina were cousins. “I haven’t worked at locating them yet.”

“Well, the website only gives the location if they’re a member and willing to accept a request to share,” Dale offers. “Be careful about doing that, though, as Sarina may have cut some connections purposely. I would ask her before you do that.” Chase lets out a sigh. So much about this being a surprise….

“This is supposed to be a surprise, Dale. I know doing that, there will be chances needed to be taken. Besides, I was going to cross reference some of the names and locations Sarina referenced on Facebook. Maybe I could find something there.” Dale knew that was a gamble and lottery, since many people could have the same names. He also didn’t feel comfortable about strangers being connected, as there was enough going on.

“Don’t do that. My friend said that he’d be willing to check into this for you. So after the meeting, I will give you his e-mail. I need you to send him everything you know so far and let him go from there.” Chase nods his head, accepting. Maybe it was best to leave it to a professional.

“Whatever it takes. I want to give her something, you know?” Dale nods his head, understanding.

While there was hope in the project, that wasn’t matched that day on the track as he ended up 15th. Decent, but certainly not the insurance that he wanted towards transferring to the next round.

He knew entering next weekend at Dover, there was no screwing up at all as he couldn’t risk losing any more points.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 77: “I thought this was done with….”

Saturday – Chicagoland Speedway

After notably sleeping in for a change, Chase Elliott went through the usual routine of getting ready for the day. While getting set, he flipped on the television coverage of XFINITY qualifying, hoping Alyssa put together a solid starting spot after yesterday’s struggles.

Letting out a sigh, he knew more came out yesterday than intended, and strangely was thankful for that. It brought relief to him in knowing someone else knew besides Alyssa what happened, and even offered some advice. Combined with having taken some himself, it didn’t seem as desperate as it had entering the weekend.

That didn’t mean his mind wasn’t pondering topics that morning as he sat down to have breakfast. Shaking his head, it was weird to even be thinking about her again, anyway. That had happened years ago and he faced those concerns with multiple conversations with multiple friends. Why were the feelings back and so harshly?

He takes out his phone, texting Regan, figuring that a conversation at some point today would help. Regan had been watching XFINITY time trials as he didn’t have anything to do until later on in the day when he got the message. Remembering the conversation with Dale yesterday, he didn’t hesitate to reply, and made his way over immediately.

Like other times, Chase quietly let him in without much words, shutting the door behind them. It was normally get settled, and then talk about everything.”

“You didn’t have to come right away,” Chase offers. “I mean, I hope I didn’t mess your schedule up.” Regan knew he couldn’t say the real reason for his direct answer, not sure that Chase knew about Dale coming to see him yesterday. However, he knew he probably would’ve come anyway.

“I wasn’t doing much to be honest,” Regan answers. “I was just watching time trials like everybody else. It looks like they got the back-up car working pretty good.” Chase nods his head, still feeling a touch connected to the guilt in that deal. What if she wouldn’t had been distracted with his business?

“It’s not that bad, but she’s still not exactly happy either.” Regan could tell, based on the fact that she’d qualified 17th for that afternoon’s race.

“I’m sure Kevin will get it figured out. He always did before.” Chase nods his head once again, knowing that the experience for Kevin at JR Motorsports was certainly nothing of shortage. “So, what’s on your mind?”

“Demi.” Regan was caught off-guard with the revelation, expecting something else based on the latest trail of events. “I thought this was done with. I was certain that I had sorted through the feelings of betrayal, messed up first time, jumping into too soon, and I don’t know – just everything connected. But it’s back, again.”

“What part of it is back?” Chase takes a deep breath, trying to sort through the puzzles as they swirled around in his mind.

“Just the fact of betrayal, it feeling totally wrong – almost dirty and to the point where I feel it was unfair and not my control, but it was as I fully consented to it.  That doesn’t sound crazy, does it?” Regan shakes his head, putting the pieces together. He just had to get Chase to connect the dots.

“So it’s a surprise to you to have these feelings, but what if it’s because they connect to something Kassandra or Randy did to you and Alyssa?” Chase looks on curiously, thinking it over, as the image flirts back in his mind. He also couldn’t erase the plan that Kassandra put together to make Alyssa think one thing and do another.

“They didn’t leave that off the table, but it wasn’t exactly done either…” Regan felt proud of his hint as it was working towards what he wanted.

“How do you mean?” Chase knew it hurt like hell to simply mention the words, but it had to be done to move forward. He had to start the conversation….

“Randy sent a photo of Alyssa all tied up – like he was set for something to happen. My mind immediately ventured to that very subject, and I even asked Dale out loud.  Remember when I went for that very long walk? That was partly why because I was just trying to erase that thought however I could, and stomach it really.” Regan remembered sitting in the house for what seemed hours that afternoon after Dale had called him and said Chase would probably want someone to talk to.

“You mention how you’re thinking about the betrayal, almost feeling forced, dirty, totally wrong, surreal about what happened to you and Demi. Could it be that you’re trying to feel for what could’ve happen to Alyssa in all your mind thoughts and continuing to relive that moment over?” Chase knew he couldn’t ignore that theory, as it’d make sense. Maybe this was the mind’s way of trying to wrap itself around it.

“That’s possible, I guess. I don’t know. It just came to me randomly….”Regan knew that was far from the truth.

“Had you been thinking about the image at all more so than normal lately?” Chase nods his head, but didn’t want to divulge into what happened. It was bad enough explaining it to Dale.

“Alyssa and I had a complete heart-to-heart breakdown because I knew I needed to face everything. It probably spurred the thought…”  Regan knew better than probably from what he had been told already.

“I wouldn’t doubt that because of the emotional connection that you have to it. I mean, I’d feel something to if I was in your shoes with Megan.”

“I just don’t know what to do with those thoughts….” Regan wasn’t quite sure he knew either, but he went with his usual motto – speak from the heart as the advice normally paid off.

“Remember what we talked about before. At that time, you cared about her and damn Chase, you can’t fault yourself for that. It’s human nature to care, right? That’s just part of who we all are. There’s also the factor that you did it because you wanted to feel that love and erase the pain that you were trying to run away from. Everything adds up to not being the worst case scenario, too. I know it sucks, and damn I know it hurts, but it’s understandable…”

“It just feels so wrong as I look back….” Regan nods his head, understanding.

“I know, and there’s so many times where we all wish that we could turn the clock hands back in time and redo things as we’d probably do them much better the second time around. Everybody makes mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them. That’s why you’re talking about it now, and that’s why you’re taking things slow with Alyssa and letting her be absolutely certain.”

“You’re right….” Regan smiles, as he gives Chase a pat on the leg.

“Of course. I’m never wrong…” Chase just rolls his eyes. “Seriously, though, one day a time. Keep repeating that advice given to you then over and over. Also, the image – just try and blank it out, or remember what truly happened. It’s hard because some things just don’t want to leave, but I believe in you. I always believe in you.”

“That sounds like the way one lover would talk to another…” Regan chuckles, realizing that now.

“I didn’t mean it like that at all! I just meant that I’ve always had your back.” Chase nods, having lost count of the amount of times they talked to each other.

“Thank you.” Regan smiles.

“Keep doing what you’re doing…”

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

“There you are!” Cindy lets out, causing Chase to look her way surprised as he walked out onto pit road. “I was beginning to worry when you weren’t out here for time trials.” Chase lets out a sigh. No matter how things changed, a mother’s worry always stayed the same.

“I slept in and got talking with Regan a little bit,” Chase answers as he gives her a quick hug. Alyssa glances over, smiling a little as she overheard that he had been talking with Regan some.

“Everything is okay, right?” Chase nods his head as he makes his way over to Alyssa.

“And how’s my princess?” Alyssa smiles as it was nice to be back in his arms once again.

“Decent, I guess,” she answers as she glances back at the car. “It’d be nice if this was running a little better – but oh well.” Chase remembered the words from Regan.

“Listen, you’ll get it working in the race and have a good run,” he offers. “I believe in you and Kevin.”

“I trust that you’re correct. Did everything go okay with Regan?” Chase nods his head, satisfied by the conversation.

“It just helped me get some thoughts in the open…” She smiles, glad that progress was being made slowly.

“One step at a time, right?” He nods his head as he keeps her held close.

The pair remained like that till opening ceremonies, standing there with their fingers locked together, before sharing a kiss as she climbed in the car set to start the day off.

It  wasn’t the day that she envisioned, though, as they struggled with the handling throughout, ultimately crossing the finish line in 18th. Letting out a sigh as she climbed out afterwards, she was glad this wasn’t the first round of the playoffs.

She just hoped they got their act together before next weekend.