The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 105: Michigan

Friday, August 10 – Michigan International Speedway

Alan walks into the Cup garage area, set to go find Josh and go over final set-up notes before the first practice of the day. However, he pauses when he notices Chase sitting in the corner by himself.

“Chase?” He questions out loud, slowly making his way over, kneeling down to his driver’s level. “Hey, is everything alright?”

“Do you ever feel like every time you take four steps forward you get knocked back two steps?” Chase asks, not even sharing a gaze with the crew chief yet as Alan sits down beside him.

“That’s better than one step forward, two steps backward as you’ve said before. I expected to enter the garage area with big smiles after last week. What would have you down so fast?” Alan could only reason that it had to deal with Sarina, considering that she wasn’t anywhere to be found.

“Alison.” Alan almost wanted to roll his eyes as he thought they were truthfully moving forward, but that obviously wasn’t true. “They spoke about the possibility of redemption and freedo-”

“She just got locked away not even a full month ago. We’re not even close to that happening, and they said there were steps that had to be taken. I thought you were fine with that decision, anyway.” Chase lets out a sigh, almost about to admit an immediate regret with that comment. Truthfully, it seemed that every situation with her was full of mistake and regrets. Taking a deep breath, he couldn’t let that trace his mind. It was not his fault no matter how it appeared were the words he had to tell himself repeatedly.

“What if that is sooner than we believed?” Alan now looks over with full shock on his face. “I got a note from the court house with an upda-”

“Why are they even bothering to keep you in the loop, to begin with? I thought moving forward involved no more reminders.” Chase wished that was the case as he would’ve preferred to not gotten the message.

“They feel I deserve a right to know due to being her primary target through all of that.” Alan actually couldn’t argue with that, understanding the dangers and safety here.

“There’s no way that they’d lock her up for a month and then relea-”

“They’ve found what was going on in her mind to cause her thoughts to be what they were and go insane, or appear of that nature. Bipolar Disorder is what they’ve diagnosed her with. The belief is once they figure out the medication regime to keep things under control, she will be able to function like anybody else and therefore no longer needing to be kept in the criminally insane.” Alan almost wanted to scream, but knew that wouldn’t help his driver’s state of mind right now.

“And because of that possibility, your mind is warped into 20,000 different theories. Let’s not forget this – it could take months to figure out the right course of action. It could even take years. They also have to make sure it true and tested before even giving her a possibility of release due to the nature of the crimes. I think you’re panicking too early.” Chase knew that, but that didn’t answer everything fully.

“But eventually, my thoughts will be reali-”

“That’s why there’s the review board. She could be told to serve jail time, or parole. Given the nature and depth of what she did to you, Chase, and what you’ve gone through because of that, they will not give her much leeway. You have to trust the justice system.” Chase almost wanted to laugh.

“Everybody has told me that since the beginning of the year when this started, but yet it took six months to get locked up. Would you understand if I didn’t feel fully convinced?” Alan nods his head, accepting.

“That’s why there’s restraining orde-”

“A piece of paper won’t stop someone from killing you.” Alan takes a calm deep breath, not even letting the thought enter his mind. He saw enough bullets, anyway.

“That’s why you can hire personal security, bodyguards, and other options.” Alan then places a hand on his leg. “Trust me when I say this to you – we will not let you go through that again with her. One time is enough and we’re not taking chances at repeating it, even if I had to pull the trigger myself on her. You can trust that you’re safe with us, always.” Chase finally looks over towards the crew chief.

“So am I crazy for sitting here right now having this discussion with you?” Alan shakes his head no.

“You’re understandably paranoid because of what happened. Obviously you’re going to fear her, and fear the possibility of going back there again. Don’t ever underestimate fear or pain. That’s what made this worse for you to begin with. My only suggestion is I know you thought your therapy was coming to a close, but I’d take a session or two and openly discuss what you just told me. It’s obvious that you haven’t uncovered everything yet.” Alan then stands up, brushing his own pants off as he glances over at the team. “The guys are looking a little lost without my direction – imagine that – so I better go get them in line. Are we good?”

“Yeah, of course.” Chase then slowly stands up himself. “Thanks, by the way.” Alan gives him one final glance.

“Anytime you need to talk, don’t be afraid to ask…” Alan then walks away and heads over to Josh as he was originally planning to do from the beginning.

Alan looks up at the speed chart, making a note they ended the session sitting 14th on the charts. It wasn’t exactly where they wanted to be, but it wasn’t the worse situation either. it was obvious they were missing on the intermediate tracks and top-15 was better than outside of that as progress was slowly being made.

“Happy driver or not?” He questions as Chase walks over to join the brain trust of the team.

“It’s free off the corner to the point that I feel I can’t hold it,” he answers as he looks up at the data. “I don’t know if I’d say totally loose, but I just can’t get the bite that I need.”

“More bite to turn give you more speed?” Chase thinks it over as he looks over at Alan.

“I think, but I don’t want to go too far either.” Alan glances back at his notes as he flips through the pages of adjustments tried, along with spring notes. “Give something a little snug, and I may be able to get you a good lap later this afternoon.”

“I’m just worried if I go this direction, that I’ll screw you even worse there. I want to fix the middle as you’re right, but you still need good entry.” Alan looks back at the data. “The key to Michigan is your run through the middle and off due to the long straightaways. So if I lose a bit on entry, can you handle that for the other side?” Chase nods his head, accepting.

“If I have to accept one over the other, I’d prefer to go that way. But why can’t I be like Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch and have both?” Alan chuckles as he looks back at his notes.

“I wish it was that easy, kid. Would you like to take over my job?” Chase chuckles, shaking his head no.

“I still say we should just get Sarina to steal notes from Kyle for us,” Josh interrupts the pair as Chase just rolls his eyes. “She loves you a lot that she’d prob-”

“You obviously don’t know her that well to say that,” Chase cuts him off. “She also believes in integrity and competition and all those things, just like I do. I could never feel right about that, and neither would she.” Josh lets out a sigh as he glances back at Alan.

“I tried….” Alan shakes his head as he grabs the clipboard.

“Focus on your job, not your crazy antics,” he instructs before walking away. Maybe a conference with the other Hendrick Motorsports crew chiefs would lead to some answers.

Sarina climbs out of the truck, smile adorning her face as she looks over at Rudy Fugle. After topping the first truck practice, she had it backed it up with the sixth-fastest time in the second session.

“We’re fast once again,” she says as she walks over, grabbing a bottle of Gatorade out of the cooler. “Now can we actually put it all together tomorrow and win?”

“I’m trying princess,” Rudy offers as he looks over at her. “I told Kyle that the pit crew needs to pick up the slack, and he said he’d have a chat with the powers that be. Now we just need to communicate, and work on the handling accordingly. Can we communicate properly?” She nods her head.

“I feel confident in our communication. I know how to describe what she’s doing, as long as you give her what she needs.” Rudy then looks over surprised.

“She?”

“You always name a car after a girl’s name for her curv-”

“I’ve seen the movie Gone in 60 Seconds so I know how that goes. But even ladies believe in that?” Sarina nods her head, yes.

“I used to always name my late models after favorite females that I aspired to be like one day. Badass girls for that matter. Why do you think Pink had a pink splitter?” Rudy just smiles as he remembered the familiar paint scheme, while crew chiefing an event for Erik. “Now, I’ve gotten away from that with my trucks, but I still talk to them like their little girls.”

“Maybe we should refer to them as teenagers given the attitude some weeks.” She chuckles a little in response.

“Could you imagine a teenager with my attitude, but yet Chase’s sweetness?” Rudy was surprised by the comment, given everything going on, but just had to shake his head at the thought.

“Totally stubborn set on their ways, but yet sweet enough to get away with it.” She nodded her head in agreement, letting out a sigh afterwards.

“….and to think that Chase had a thought of us having two children one day. I almost got myself wrapped up in that vision, too.” Rudy wraps an arm around her.

“There’s options, and knowing the both of you, just like you’ve conquered everything else, you’ll figure this one out, too. Don’t ever limit your dreams as you’ll make them all come true.” She smiles as she glances up at Rudy. “For now, let’s focus on getting ourselves a win this weekend.”

“That sounds fine by me.”

“It’s just wasn’t quite turning like I was hoping it would,” Chase tells the media after qualifying. “But, we had a hard time here in the spring race, too. I’m not real sure why. Hopefully we can get it worked out tomorrow and move forward because that was not good.”

He then walks back over to where Alan was sitting, taking a spot across from him on the pit wall. They hadn’t done anythi9ng special in the session, ultimately ending up 21st on the chart.

“That adjustment obviously didn’t work,” Chase summarizes as Alan just nods his head back in response.

“I don’t know what to say,” the crew chief replies. “I tried going one way but that didn’t work during practice, and now the other way shows that we’re slower in qualifying. I’m literally running out of ideas.” Chase was actually surprised to hear this confession.

“So then what are we supposed to do?” Alan lets out a sigh as he thinks it over.

“I could change springs and shocks, but that’s like going back to the beginning. However, if nothing is working, do I have a choice?” Chase shakes his head no.

“We’ve got two hours tomorrow. That gives us a lot of time to explore. If you want to go a different direction during the first practice, then I say let’s go for it. Then we’ll compare and choose what we really want to go with for second practice.”  Alan nods his head, accepting.

“We’ve got to do something…..”

Saturday, August 11 – Michigan International Speedway

“Are we happier?” Alan asks following the first of two practices on Saturday.

“It’s better than yesterday,” Chase answers as Alan nods his head. The speed chart showed that with them ranked 11th after the first session. Chase then makes his way out of the garage stall, having heard that NBC wanted to do an interview. He was surprised, though, when it was Dale Jr. standing there to do it. “Is it okay to admit that this is a little awkward or strange?” Dale glances at him.

“As awkward as you and Erin?” Dale questions in response, which sees all emotion fade from Chase immediately.

“Excuse me?” Chase asks as Dale keeps his eyes locked on Chase.

“What did I tell you about when you have a good thing, man? Don’t screw that shit up! I thought you were over Eri-”

“There’s no feelings there for Erin. There wasn’t ever any fee-”

“Drunken actions are sober thoughts, man. I was also there at the banquet then.” Chase shakes his head.

“You’re reading into this too much. There are no feelings. Hence why I’ve already talked it over with both Erin and Sarina. Hence why I’m still getting married to Sarina. I was inviting you to the wedding, but I don’t know now. Really?” Dale was actually caught off-guard on the retracted wedding invite.

“I thought I was planning your bachelor party with Jimmie still?” Chase laughs and shakes his head no immediately.

“I’ve heard enough stories from Jimm-”

“We aren’t going to do anything that extreme.” Chase just continues to shakes his head.

“I want to actually be at my wedding, Dale. I don’t need a Hangover movie written after me.” Dale keeps his eyes locked on him.

“I wouldn’t do that to you – as long as you can guarantee me that you’re in this for the right reasons.” Chase then looks over at his former boss and teammate.

“There’s not one shadow of a doubt in my mind that I am.” Dale nods his head, accepting.

“Then I will make sure that you are there on your wedding day to say those words.” Dale then clears his throats as the camera man gives them a 10 second motion. “Ready?” Chase nods his head, as he takes a deep breath, focused back on his practice thoughts.

Sarina gives Rudy a high-five, pleased with their qualifying performance. It wasn’t the pole, but certainly she could make something happen from third later that afternoon.

“We’ve got the speed – let’s be smart,” Rudy reminds her as she nods her head in agreement. “It’s all about closing the deal.”

“I’m ready to build that momentum, put solid runs together, and get myself ready for those playoffs,” she offers and Rudy nods his head in agreement.

“You can do whatever you want for the first half of the season. All that matters, though, is how you perform those last seven. Let’s focus on that momentum.” She smiles as she leans back against the pit wall.

“I’m 100% focused on that.” Rudy could tell as he takes a quick glance around.

“So where’s the fiancé anyway?” She was caught off-guard by the question, but saw where it was coming from.

“His car has been handling like shit most of the weekend so he’s been focused on getting better. He got the win last week, but doesn’t want to be a fluke. The pressure is there to keep that momentum going, but they’ve struggled here. So they’re trying to figure out what they need and that takes times.” Rudy could relate to that, thanks to long nights spent going over notes.

“Am I still going to have a friend on the pit box during the race?” She smiles, nodding her head. No matter how busy they got on race weekends, they always watched each other’s races and always spent the night together to rehash over the events from the day. “I’d be worried if he didn’t show up.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rudy shrugs his shoulders. “Rudy….”

“It’d be out of character and when you start doing things like that, you know something is going on. I’m hoping you’re both done with drama for the rest of the year.” That was her wish in response, too.

“I hope so, Rudy. I need a break. I think the win and knowing Alison is locked away will bring that calmness. Now we just need to get the job done.” Rudy places a hand on her shoulder.

“That’s not a problem for me, ever.” He then walks away as she just smiles back in response.

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The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 27: Chilly Willy 150

January 27, 2018 – Chilly Willy 150 – Tucson Speedway

“Are you feeling good?” Chase questions as Sarina glances up at him.

“For the millionth time today, Chase, I am fine and ready to go,” she answers. “If you want to drive, just damn well say it.” He chuckles, shaking his head no.

“I just want to make sure you’re good to go.” He leans in, giving her a kiss, before tightening the belts one last time and putting up the window net. “Do your thing.”

While he was thinking of retreating back to his usual spot in the middle of the corner, he instead climbed the pit box to join Ricky on top.

“One to go at the line,” Ricky tells her after a series of pace laps. “Focus, focus, focus. Remember – we got a long way to go here.”

“We can do this,” Sarina assures him.

“One lap to go at the line,” the spotter says and force of habit, Sarina gives the belts one more tug to make sure they’re tight. “Nevermind. Brandon Schilling stopped on the exit of turn two. Looks like he made contact with the wall.” Chase and Ricky then glance at each other confused.

“How do you hit the wall under pace laps?” Chase questions as Ricky shakes his head in disbelief.

“Strange things always happen at these late model events,” Ricky answers and Chase couldn’t help but agree, having tuned into highlights from Speedfest.

After Brandon’s car was towed off the track, the field was doubled back up and the green flag came out. It didn’t take long for business to pick up, as Sarina found herself in the midst of a three-way battle for fifth on Lap 4, but the caution flew for an incident further back in the pack.

“Patience, patience, patience,” Ricky reminded under the yellow flag. “This is a long race. We don’t need to be making a mistake in the early stages.” Ricky then looks over at Chase. “Besides, someone may wear his tapping foot out at this rate.” Chase immediately stops tapping his foot as Ricky just chuckles. “Are you nervous there?”

“Nah, I’m good,” Chase brushes it off as Ricky just rolls his eyes, focusing back on the race.

When the green flag came back out, it didn’t take long for action to pick right back up, enough for an ‘oh crap’ to escape Chase’s lips when she went four-wide for position. It didn’t take long for another caution, either, as a car went around in turn one on Lap 19.

“They’re racing like it’s the last 19 laps,” Chase comments as Ricky nods his head in agreement.

“Your races were the same way, bud,” Ricky says. “Why do you think I was glad when I could keep you up front in the top-three out of that mess?” Chase just shakes his head in disbelief as he gets comfortable, knowing they were in for a long night. It certainly was different than the calmness of how the Cup races began.

Sarina was initially get a good restart, set to continue charging forward in the top-10, but then it seemed like complete opposite. The car twitched sideways off of the corner, causing her to lose her momentum.

“Talk to me,” Ricky requests, as both he and Chase could tell something wasn’t right. It almost reminded Chase of a tire beginning to go down, or possible rear suspension issue with how quickly the car stepped out.

“Tire losing air possibly,” Sarina answers as she fights the handling, now back to 28th by Lap 23.

“Hold on to it. There’s going to be a fuel stop coming soon.” Everybody was told in the driver’s meeting there would be a chance to put fuel in between Lap 25 and 50, and that was all you were supposed to do at that time and you wouldn’t lose position. Chase knew that as soon as the yellow flag came out, it’d be the opportunity they needed – even if they had to restart from the tail. He just hoped that she could hold on to until then as the car looked evil, almost dead sideways off the corner that past lap.

“Caution!” The spotter lets out as the yellow flag is dropped from the flag stand as a result of fluid being dropped all the way down the backstretch. Chase and Ricky just glance at each other with a quick high-five, knowing it was the break they needed.

“Which tire is it?” Ricky requests as he focuses on the team, knowing the next task at hand.

“Left rear, I believe,” she reports and Ricky makes a motion to the pit crew below.

While the rest of the teams came in and simply put fuel in, the team went ahead and took the left rear tire off, replacing it with another. A quick glance over the tire and Ricky found a small hole, giving a nod to Chase, before reporting the finding to Sarina over the radio.

“Tires are not supposed to be chan-” An official begins as he walks over.

“Slow leak in the left rear,” Chase cuts him off, rolling the tire over. “We’ll take the penalty.”

Ricky and Chase then climb back on top of the pit box, set for the restart. Now back to last for the green flag, Chase could only take a deep breath and hope for the best. There was still over 100 laps to go. This wasn’t over just yet.

A couple pace laps in the books, and the field was back under green. The tire change was certainly the necessary fix as Sarina began to make up ground immediately, moving from the back of the field to run 13th as of Lap 31. She would fall back a couple spots, though, before the caution flew at Lap 45.

“Where am I?” She questions on the radio, immediately.

“16th,” Ricky answers, feeling pretty satisfied. If they could drive through half of the field in just 20 laps, then certainly another 100 was enough to get back to the front. “You’re doing a great job.”

“I’m trying to push to get up there, but not too hard. We need tires at the end of this thing.” Ricky smiles as he glances over at Chase with a bit of surprise. He could certainly see how much she had grown since their last time working together. it was obvious that both Marcus and Kyle had a hand in teaching patience.

“Do you see why I had no problem with her driving for Kyle?” Chase smiles, nodding his head, as he had seen the change too. Rather than always charging and being determined, she had taken a step back to make sure calculated moves were made, to therefore make sure to complete all the laps.

After a short clean-up, the green flag was back out – but not for long. As Sarina looked to make a move to continue gaining ground, a fellow competitor came down on her, causing her to spin and back it in the wall.

“Shit!” Ricky and Chase both let out together, knowing by the damage that they were done for the night.

“Son of a bitch!” She yells on the radio as she takes the steering wheel off, tossing it on the dashboard. She then climbed from the car, walking over to where the other car had come to rest. “Can’t you see when someone has a nose inside of you? Ridiculous! It’s Lap 46. There are still like 104 laps to go. You don’t need to be driving like an asshole this early!”

She then makes her way into the infield, heading directly to the trailer and inside.

“Welp, that sucks,” Ricky comments as he packs up everything on the pit box.

“We had a good car,” Chase adds as he follows Ricky. “She could’ve gotten back up to Preston easily.” Ricky nods his head in agreement as they reach the hauler. They go to enter, but Chase puts a hand on Ricky’s shoulder.

“I know what she’s like when she’s ma-”

“Just give her some space for a minute, please. Besides, I have a question for you.” Ricky turns around, facing him, as he crosses his arms. “You have an offer from a top-notch driver to work with them on a full-time basis at all the big events and such across the United States. Why haven’t you accepted that?”

“Because I wanted to work with you and Sarina. I told you that, Chase.” Chase nods his head, remembering the discussion.

“What if I told you that you had my blessing? What if I told you that it was fine to separate and you go do your own thing? This Late Model deal that we have was only going to happen, say three or four more times this year. Someone of your talent deserves to be working with a driver every single week, winning races. I can’t hold you back from an opportunity like that. They deserve the same chance that I got, Sarina got.” Ricky smiles a little as he thinks it over.

“I appreciate that, because to be honest, it was the hardest thing to walk awa-”

“Then why did you in the first place?” Ricky’s smile widens as he places a hand on Chase’s shoulder.

“My commitment, my friendship, my loyalty to you. The fact that you’ll always be the little rug rat to me, and I’ll always have a soft spot for you. Maybe I also didn’t want to let go of what we had, either.” Chase smiles, knowing it was pretty special, based on the success both he and Sarina had gotten to enjoy. “Are you absolutely certain about this?”

“Yeah, I am. You’ve earned this, Ricky, and I hope you win a ton of races this year – as long as you don’t beat Sarina too much when she runs a couple for Kyle.” Ricky chuckles as he thinks it over.

“I’ll try not to blow your doors off, how’s that?” Chase laughs. “Promise you’ll always come say hi, though?” Chase nods his head. “Alright, it’s settled.” They then watch the tow truck bring the car back in, setting it down before the hauler, as the pair look it over, before eyes glance at each other. “What are you going to do about that thing?”

“Sarina and I know our way around a racecar. I’m sure we can find something to do in our spare time now, and when it’s ready, we’ll figure out a way to bring it out.” Ricky shakes his head, almost wanting to take a seat in the shop to see the show.

“I don’t know if I could see either of you as a crew chief.” Chase raises his eyebrows, actually intrigued by the idea. It’d certainly be different calling the shots for Sarina.

“We could definitely not see Sarina in tha-”

“Hey now, you don’t give that girl enough credit. You got to remember that she worked on her own stuff for years, and she beat you sometimes.” Chase thinks back, knowing that Ricky was actually right.

They then watch as the trailer doors open and Sarina steps out, changed into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.

“I’m okay before you ask,” she states, knowing that Chase was probably going to ask that next. “I’m just surprised neither of you came in to say something to me.”

“We got talking,” Chase offers and she nods her head, having seen them together outside the window the whole time.

“Well, I took some time, deep breathes, and realized that not everybody is a smart racecar driver. What else can I say about tonight? We had a good car, and we did everything that we could right. It wasn’t our fault that we had the tire leak, and it wasn’t our fault that he wrecked us. I’m happy with what we did, and ready to move forward.” Chase and Ricky both smile, as neither felt like entering a calm-down session with her.

“There is something we need to tell-” Ricky starts, knowing she had a right to know what he had discussed with Chase.

“I overheard the conversation and my feelings match Chase’s,” she cuts him off, to his surprise a little. “You should’ve taken that opportunity and ran with it. I wish you the best of luck, and I look forward to competing against you at times this year.”

“Promise you’ll take it easy on my driver?” Sarina smiles, knowing already who he was going to be working with anyway.

“Are you kidding me? I know crazy talented Chandler is!” Chase nods his head in agreement. “Besides, when have I ever taken it easy on someone?”

—————————-

Sunday, January 28, 2018 – No Name, Colorado

Chase and Sarina walk over to where they were supposed to meet up with Dale, as he glances between the pair in a bit of surprise.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” he comments, as the pair glance at each other, before turning back to him.

“It was a bit of a late night at the Chilly Willy,” Chase offers and Dale nods his head, having been following the updates.

“I heard about that, and hated to see that. I was cheering you on for the greatest comeback ever.” Sarina smiles, as she had already envisioned the headlines after the initial charge halfway up through.

“We had the car,” Sarina comments. “We just failed to teach our competitors how to drive.” Dale chuckles, knowing how that felt at times.

“I see that you’re ready to go,” Dale starts as he notices the skis and poles in Chase’s hands, before his eyes go to Sarina. “Where are yours? I thought you were excited.” Sarina smiles, as she remembered the initial discussions on Friday.

“Trust me – I was all set to hit the slopes with you guys. But, I hate to admit it, I’m a little sore today. So while you guys have some fun, I’m going to go get a nice relaxing massage, manicure, pedicure, and then go soak in the hot tub for awhile.” Dale admittedly was surprised by some of the items on her list, given what he knew about her, but couldn’t argue with her reasoning.

“Well make sure to take it easy, and hope you’re feeling better.”

“Text me if you need me,” Chase adds, giving her a kiss on the cheek.

“Be careful and have fun,” she replies back, giving him a kiss on the lips before walking away. the entire time, Chase’s eyes didn’t leave her as Dale just crossed his arms.

“You know, we can postpone this if you want to go spend tim-” Dale starts.

“Nah, I’m good,” Chase immediately cuts him off as he looks back over at his friend. “Let’s go have some fun.” The pair then make their way out of the lodge, heading towards the lifts to go up the hill.

“It’s okay to admit that you’re deeply in love, can’t take your eyes off of her, want to spend every minute with her, ador-”

“I get it, Dale.” He then glances over as they wait for their lift. “Yeah, I am in love and I would do anything for her. She absolutely is amazing and perfect, and I can’t stop those feelings. I’m not afraid to admit it, okay?” Dale nods his head, accepting, as they get on the lift.

“But you haven’t asked her the important question yet, have you?” Chase lets out a sigh, shaking his head no.

“What does it matter, anyway? As long as two people are happy together in love, isn’t that all that matters? I’m happy, she’s happy – there doesn’t need to anything else said.” Dale keeps his eyes locked on Chase, intrigued by the comments. He always thought Chase would be up for asking the question. Given that he and Sarina had hit two years together, everything they’d been through, and the adoring love – where was the next step? Just like he bugged Martin each time he saw him, Dale wasn’t afraid to bug Chase now. But, he was also able to sympathize if any apprehension, due to his own experience.

“You’re right, as no matter what you choose, as long as you’re both okay with it, then it’s fine. I just don’t want her to begin to wonder whether you’re going to ask or not, and whether you’re committed to her.” Chase was surprised by the comments, given everything that happened, almost letting out a chuckle. “What?”

“I can assure you that there is no way she questions my commitment to her. I have showed that time and time again I am always going to be there by her side. No matter what happened, Dale, I was always committed to her and willing to do what it took for her and I together. Even when I kicked her out, I was longing and ready to work at building that road back together, again. I’ve told her time and time again how much I love her and car-”

“Relax, it’s okay. I understand. You don’t need to be offended.” Chase glances over at Dale, intrigued by the comment.

“It just bothers me that people question that – whether you, Ricky, Ryan, Jimmie – because I haven’t asked her to marry me. What happened to good old fashioned belief in people?” Dale lets out a sigh as he glances around the hill.

“We’ve seen your relationship go through a yo-yo experience. We’re just looking out for you, Chase.” Chase wanted to argue back in response, but he couldn’t. It was the same way that he was always looking out for Sarina.

“Because of everything we’ve gone through and the fact that we’re still together, I don’t question it anymore. I actually think it helped us both because it made us realize how much we love each other, and need each other. We’ve talked about our future together. We’ve talked about being parents one day down the road. I know that she’s in it with me, and that’s what matters to me.” Dale smiles, glad to hear about the commitment, and even discussions of a future together. But it almost left him caught off guard a little bit more.

“Then what’s stopping you from asking her?” Chase glances down at the hills, taking a deep breath. It wasn’t just a simple answer in return as his mind had a series of questions to ask. “You don’t have to tell me, but make sure you think about it for awhile. Sure, people can live together and be in love forever without marriage. But, to be married together, to say your vows and express that before a room full of people, it gives a whole new meaning that I can’t even describe. I was worried, and I was scared because of my parents, and how love wasn’t the easiest at times. Part of me wondered if I should ask Amy, scared to mess it up. But now that we’ve been married for a year, I don’t regret it.” They then hop off the lift together having reached the top of the hill as Dale looks over at Chase. “Are you ready to go down?”

“Yeah.” Chase fixes his goggles and gloves, as he takes a deep breath, clearing his mind. But he knew later on, he would probably be brought back right to this discussion, with a flurry of thoughts and theories to think about.

Moving Forward – Chapter 58: “What’s on your mind?”

December 28

Marie walks out onto the balcony, walking up behind Dale, wrapping her arms around him as she places her head on his shoulder.

“Do you think we spoiled the kids too much?” Marie ponders out loud, catching Dale’s attention as he just laughs.

“We maybe could’ve gotten Alyssa a couple less gifts – but I couldn’t pass those extras up,” he offers, causing her to simply smile back in return. “But do you believe that we got beat for gifts by Chase?”

“He certainly knows his way to her heart, let me tell you. She wanted to go to bed in the firesuit the other night.” Dale chuckles, followed by a sigh. “You only come out here late at night when you want to think. What’s on your mind?” Dale glances down to the ground, before looking back out at the field.

“Just thinking about the past several years. There’s been a lot of highs, and a lot of lows. There’s been a lot of success on track. I’m proud of the career that I’ve put together and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m proud of who I’ve become away from the track, even if I’m still growing more and more.” He then turns around facing her directly. “What if this year is the end of the road?”

“Are you ready to face that?” He shrugs his shoulders as he looks back towards the ground. “Dale, only you can know what you want in your heart. I can’t stand here and decide for you, nor would I force you to make a decision.”

“I’ve been thinking about it more and more, just wondering if it’s time. I want to put together the best season that I can coming up, but I can’t help but look beyond that. The more I think about it, the more I feel it may be time.” She reaches over, grabbing his hand with her own.

“It’s a tough decision for anybody to make, something that you’ll probably say you’re ready for one day and not ready for the next day. So you need to be sure before we finalize everything. For what it’s worth, there’s a life for you no matter which road you choose.” He smiles as he instantly pulls her close to him, letting her body clash against his.

“You don’t need to tell me twice. I have two beautiful little girls that fulfill every day of my life with joy, I am surrounded by a lot of great friends and family, and I have everything in order that you could ask for. But most of all, I have the most awesome, determined, beautiful, charming, kind woman in my corner, willing to do whatever it takes for me, just like I will do for her. I can’t tell you how much I love you.” She smiles back in return as she brings her lips right close to his.

“I can’t tell you how much I can’t wait to be Ms. Marie Earnhardt.” She then leans in, lightly kissing his lips, before taking her aggressively as he picks her up in his arms. “Can we just go get hitched tonight?”

“I don’t think all of our wedding guests would mind, would they?” She chuckles, shaking her head no, as he carries her inside. “I mean, it’d make their responsibilities and actions much shorter, and we could just head to the par-”

“Or better yet, we can skip the party and have one for two.” A smirk immediately forms on his lips as he kisses her once again.

“Is it wrong that I can’t keep my hands off of you?” She shakes her head no as she wraps her arms tightly around him.

“Is it wrong that I just want you to carry me upstairs and have your way?” The smirk on his face immediately widens.

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?” He then heads for the stairs, carrying her up them, before going into their room together. “Now this is bet-”

“We’re not making a bad decision and wrongfully escaping your feelings, are we? I mean, if you wanted to tal-”

“I don’t need to talk. Like you said, everything will fall in place for me when the time is right.” He then lays her back on the bed. “For now, I have a better plan…” He then crawls up on the bed on top of her.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 5: “I just want to apologize…”

Friday, December 29 – No Name, Colorado

Relaxing in the kitchen after a nice light jog to kick start the day, Chase was caught off-guard when he heard a knock at the front door. Normally, Jimmie texted if he wanted something, and his parents always planned things in advance. So who would be there by surprise?

Opening the door, he was instantly relieved and actually not surprised, considering he should’ve known this was possible with Dale being in the area.

“Hey,” Dale says. “Can I come in?” Chase instantly moves back, allowing him to come in, closing the door behind him. “Where’s Sarina?”

“She’s upstairs facetiming with Lindsay,” Chase comments before retreating back to the kitchen. “So what’s up?” Dale takes a deep breath as he stands on the other side of the counter.

“I just want to apologize actually.” Chase then looks over a little confused. “I was thinking about what I said last night and how strong that came off, like you and Sarina should just instantly be engaged and ready for marriage. I was wrong to put you on the spot. I’m sorry.” Chase nods his head, accepting. He never expected an apology, nor have a reason for one to be honest. But, if Dale did feel bad, he was willing to hear him out.

“It’s fine. I mean, all of your reasons are perfect. I just figured it to be one of those guy things anyway.” He then leans back against the counter, closing his eyes, as he thinks things over. “A lot of people just sometimes take for granted everything that happened. They don’t realize how it affects Sarina, and how she may look tough as nails – actually, she damn well is, but there’s an emotional side underneath that and it takes time. That’s why I was trying to explain how we haven’t even got to thinking about that. For now, it’s living in the present for us, focusing on ourselves, ready to move forward.”

“I totally understand – and maybe more than you realize. I mean, I saw the discontent that you went through when you guys had your disagreement last year, and I saw how torn up you seemed in February when you guys weren’t talking. So when you mentioned that, I realized immediately what you meant and hence why I backed off. Now Jimmie, that was another story…” Chase laughs, recalling some of Jimmie’s comments.

“He just wants to make sure that he has controlling interest over the bachelor party. By the way, is that even a good idea?” Dale chuckles, remembering some of his antics from the past with Jimmie.

“He had to take me to the hospital one time to get my forehead stitched because I wacked it off the bottom of Ricky’s pool while drunk with him and Jeff. What do you think?” Chase nods his head, knowing the direction immediately. “Now letting Ryan plan it could be equally as daunting….”

“He’s not bad, actually. I mean, my birthday party did go off really well. It was peer pressure from Kyle and Ricky that caused the roof visit.” Dale looks on surprised as Chase nods his head, remembering what Ryan had told him a couple days later. “They thought it’d be a good joke.”

“It was actually.” Chase rolls his eyes as Dale lets out a sigh. “Look, I meant what I said, though. I’m sorry if you felt pressured or put off guard by the comments in anyway. You and Sarina are set to live your lives how you want at your own pace – as long as you’re both happy, which is clearly obvious. I mean, you’re right. Martin and Sherry have one of the strongest relationships ever, and yet they haven’t even talked about the idea of marriage. To each their own, I guess.” Chase then leans back against the counter, thinking it over.

“I always envisioned being married one day to someone that I cared about and having that special relationship. I can see that future with Sarina, clearly. I just haven’t worked out in my head the steps towards that.” Dale smiles, as it was nice to see progress being made slowly.

“You know my thoughts on marriage and love, and that was mostly because of my parents and what I went through. I can’t lie that it affected my trust issues at times, and sure, I made some very bad decisions in whom to spend time with. But, I learned from those, and not taking a leap of faith wouldn’t allowed me to meet Amy, anyway. I didn’t think I was going to ever get married, have a family – I remember a time where I didn’t think it was for me. But yet, everything just changed in an instant.” Chase smiles, remembering the first time he met Amy and recognizing their connection immediately.

“She’s just that special someone that you can’t describe how she completes you, but she does…” Dale smiles, nodding her head.

“And something just clicked to where I knew I wanted to spend my life with her, to where I could trust her completely, and I wanted to be able to call her my wife. I wanted her to see how much she meant to me by showing her I was ready for that step. Now look at where we are with a little girl on the way.”

“I’m happy for you both, truly, as you deserve it. I can’t wait to see you as a father actually, because I have a feeling you’ll be great.” Chase then takes a deep breath. “As for me, I’m set on focusing on the present. I want to just focus on spending time with Sarina, enjoying a couple months where we can just relax and not have to worry about anything – no racing, no drama, just us together. Then maybe it’ll be time to take that step.”

“Don’t second guess it when you’re ready because if your instincts say it’s time, then it’s time. But also, don’t leap too early. Make sure you’re ready so you can handle what comes with it.” Dale then walks over, wrapping an arm around Chase’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine. You’re young and you got lots of time. But for the record, if and when you do decide to have children – and I know that’s not the simplest topic because of her career, you’ll make a good Dad too. I’ll see you around.”

“That’s it?” Dale nods his head as he goes to leave the kitchen.

“I didn’t want to implode on your lovely getaway, okay? That’d be rude. But, I do have a question. Do you have any extra dark chocolate lying around? Like I’m talking the big chunks. Jimmie offered some for Amy and she melted it in her drink and fell in love, and I don’t have any and Jimmie has no more, and well – pregnancy cravings.” Chase chuckles as he walks over to the fireplace, grabbing a block that was on top.

“Jimmie should know better than to make a pregnant girl try something because we know what that turns into.” Dale chuckles as he accepts the chunk from Chase. “That was from Jimmie for Christmas for myself and Sarina to split.”

“I owe you one, big time.” Chase nods accepting, as he watches Dale head for the door.

“Thanks, by the way. I appreciate the insight.” Dale stops, glancing back with a smile.

“Anytime. See ya.” Dale then heads out as Chase retreats back to the kitchen.

Taking a deep breath, leaning back against the counter as he picked up his glass, he knew there were lots to think about with what was said, and lots to wonder about for the future. But as he heard footsteps down the stairs, he knew that could be saved for another time. Like they had discussed, this time away was all about having some fun and getting away from it all.

“Did I miss someone?” Sarina wonders, noticing the water by the front door.

“Dale stopped by,” Chase answers. “He wanted to talk about a couple things.” Sarina was intrigued as that wasn’t a normal occurrence, but understood the friendship they had so could see a reason for a drop-in.

“Is everything okay?” Chase nods his head, seeing no problem.

“Well, except for the fact that our chocolate went missing.” She then looks at him even more puzzled. “Jimmie gave Amy a piece to try and she melted it for a nice dark hot chocolate drink. Now she’s totally fallen in love, and they have none, and Jimmie has no more. So he asked a favor and I gave him our chunk.”

“Doesn’t Jimmie know not to tempt a pregnant woman?” Chase laughs, nodding his head.

“That’s what I said to Dale, too. So, how was your conversation?” Sarina smiles as she grabs a bottle of water from the fridge.

“It was great. She had a quiet Christmas, but she spent it with some of her dancing friends and they had some entertaining fun we’ll say. Since then, she’s been busy with rehearsal in preparation for the New Year’s Eve performance they’re doing, but she’s having fun. Oh, and she can’t wait to see us, as well as a friend, in January.” It was now Chase’s turn to look at her confused. “I may have dropped a little double date with Ryan factoid to see what she thought of him, and our thoughts were on the money.”

“I haven’t even talked to Ryan about this yet, and you’re getting digs on how she likes him and is okay with this double date and now excited? What if he says no?” Sarina smiles as she places a hand on Chase’s shoulder.

“Trust me – this is going to go according to plan without a flaw. They’re meant for each other, Chase.” Chase could only let out a sigh, knowing there was no use in arguing.

“Why do I have a feeling I’m going to regret this?” She then looks over, intrigued. “I just don’t get how you’re so certain.”

“We saw the chemistry, and we know Ryan won’t turn down a date. So, what else is there to say?” Chase tried to think of something, but couldn’t find any reason against her. Maybe this would pan out.

The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 4: “Are you ready?”

December 28, 2017 – No Name, Colorado

“Chase, are you ready yet?” Sarina asks, as she zips up her coat. Chase walks over, chuckling to himself as he gives her a glance over.

“Excited to get out there or something?” He wonders and she chuckles to herself. It was strange considering just days ago, she was so nervous about simply going down the hill once.

“I want to continue learning, and getting better. I want to see my man do his thing. As much as I am afraid to admit it, you’re bringing me out of hibernation and making me enjoy winter some more.” She then glances over as he finishes getting ready. “That said, it doesn’t replace the joy of hitting the high banks of Daytona – which is in about 49 days.”

“Are you seriously counting down until the first race of the year?” She nods her head, showing him her phone.

“It’s natural instinct, I guess.” She then takes a deep breath as they head outside. “I mean, for me, racing was all that mattered in my life for several years there. When I moved out to California, that was my focus because it was something I could do that put a smile on my face and not think about what happened. When I moved down to North Carolina a couple years later, it began my ultimate focus because here I am in Race City USA with everything right at my disposal. I was so focused on making something happen.” Chase crosses his arms as he watches her closely.

“You said it was all that mattered….” She nods her head, with a smile.

“I’ve learned so much over the past two years, and I have you to thank. You opened my eyes up to so many things. It was good to take step back at times and focus on something else so it didn’t consume me or eat me alive, like taking a trip and seeing the world, or spending time blowing off steam. And while I could sit and pout that I cannot go 200 mph for 49 days, I can now instead enjoy some great company, learning something new, challenging myself, and maybe also reconnecting with someone.” He smiles as they head out to the hills together.

“So you’re still on-board with me looking into where Shelley is?” She nods her head, accepting. While she knew there were certain family lines to not touch, Shelley was within the borders of acceptance. “I’ll make sure to get a hold of Tom after the new year and get to work on that. When we do find her, do you want Lindsay to be there?”

“Absolutely. I mean, right now, whether she will admit it or not, Lindsay is in that limbo mode that I was in – lost without any family, looking for a direction, and using something else as a distraction. For me, it was racing, while for her it is dance. But if she find some people to lean on a little, maybe even someone to spend her life with, she’ll be okay.” Sarina then glances at Chase with a bit of a grin. “Do you think we could set-up a double date when Lindsay comes to visit?” Chase knew where she was going immediately, and shook his head. He was not going to get in the middle of playing cupid.

“Do you really think Ryan will agree to that?” Sarina shrugs her shoulders, seeing no issue with the plan.

“He’s your best friend, Chase. He trusts you.” Chase knew that, but he also knew how love had been treating Ryan at times.

“You also forget that you coaxed him into agreeing to a blind date, just for it to be a robot.” Sarina breaks out laughing, remembering the prank clear as day.

“Admit it. It was a great prank and you’re just jealous that you didn’t pull it yourself.” Chase just rolls his eyes. “But come on, it wouldn’t hurt to ask. They were hanging out at your birthday party…”

“We don’t need to remind Ryan of that, either. For the record, I can’t believe he let Kyle and Ricky go through with their idea.” Sarina chuckles, remembering the images that Ryan sent her from the roof.

“You had fun though, right?” Chase nods his head, remembering his words to his best friends that he wanted a repeat celebration of fun next year, too. “Just think about it…” Chase didn’t even hear her words as his eyes were focused forward on someone, glancing awkwardly as he was sure they were familiar. “Chase?”

“Does that look like someone you know?” Sarina follows his gaze and her jaw drops immediately, picking up on the resemblance right away. “So I’m not seeing things, right?”

“Dale?” Chase immediately wanted to scream, every fear that they were wrong and nothing adding up, filling him as soon as the name escaped Sarina’s lips. However, as soon as he turned around, those fears were eased as certainly enough he was right on his suspicions. “You were right….”

“What are you doing here?” Dale glances back towards the hill as he was waiting for Jimmie and Genieve to make their way down.

“Another chapter of Blame JJ is written,” Dale offers as Chase just smiles. “First cycling, and now skiing. We were talking at the Christmas party about what to do in the off-season. I wanted to take Amy somewhere nice for our anniversary, but different. We’ve been in Florida busy working on the house for the show, and I didn’t want to do worldwide travel with her pregnant. So Jimmie suggested this with some reasons and well, we’re here.” Chase admittedly was caught off-guard, but was glad to see his friend out having some fun.

“So where’s Amy?” He then wondered, not seeing her anywhere in sight, which was a good thing. She didn’t need to be skiing or snowboarding while pregnant anyway.

“She’s back at the cabin with Chandra and Lydia, having a girl’s day.” Chase smiles, knowing how much fun those days could be based on the stories from Sarina. “Meanwhile, I’m learning how to ski.”

“Oh boy. So how many times have you fallen today?” Dale immediately chuckles.

“A couple…” Dale then glances over towards Sarina. “And I heard you’re learning how to snowboard?”

“Second day out on the board today,” she offers. “My first attempt was yesterday and while I fell numerous times, I picked up a lot and was able to go down some hills with ease enough to impress my teacher.” Dale then looks back over at Chase, before focusing his eyes back to Sarina.

“It’s nice to see you out having some fun,” Dale comments and Sarina nods her head in agreement. “I don’t know if Jimmie asked yet, but he was wanting to get together later for dinner – all of us at his cabin. Are you up for that?”

“Absolutely,” Sarina and Chase answer together. Chase knew anytime together was always full of fun, and Sarina wasn’t about to take away that opportunity, despite not knowing Dale and Amy that well yet. If Chase was willing to fully embrace her world with Christopher and Kyle, then she was ready to offer that back in return.

“Great!”

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

After a full day of snowboarding with Sarina continuing to get better with each trip down the hills, the pair met up with Jimmie’s family, Dale and Amy back at Jimmie’s cabin, ready for a fun evening together. Despite some apprehension, Sarina immediately fell right into place with the group as stories were traded about their off-season adventures to date with dinner going as smooth as warranted.

With both Jimmie’s girls down for the count for the night, the girls retreated to the kitchen to bake some cookies to enjoy with hot chocolate while sharing some shopping adventure and motherly stories. This left the guys to all gather around together, set for their own conversation.

Originally, things started out with comments ahead of the new season, and what needed to be done at HMS so they could be stronger for the year to come. But that conversation at the beginning was just a front for where Jimmie and Dale both wanted to go with it.

“So, when are you going to ask Sarina to marry you?” Dale spit out randomly midway through the conversation, causing Chase to choke on his drink as he looked up at him.

“Excuse me?” He questions as Dale keeps his eyes focused on the young man.

“You heard me, Clyde. When are you going to ask her to marry you?” Chase didn’t quite have an answer as he glanced back at the glass. How did he get himself stuck in this conversation?

“I don’t know….”

“Oh come on,” Jimmie starts as he glances over at the pair on the couch. “It’s easy to tell no matter who you ask how much you both love and adore each other. You guys have proven that you can survive anything together as long as you have each other. You guys have also overcome a lot of obstacles that would’ve torn anybody else apart. It’s easy to see how much you love her, from all the time that you spend with her, to how you talk about her, and that necklace that she has been wearing since Christmas.”

“And although she’s quiet, we can see how much she trusts you with how she just opens up around you,” Dale adds. “It’s quite easy to see that everything is there between you guys – except that one question.” Chase lets out a sigh as he glances between them. He appreciated the compliments from them on the relationship as he was proud of their progress, too. But, he wasn’t quite at the same spot that they were about that question.

“Martin and Sherry have been together how long now? 13 years, right?” Chase questions, diverting the discussion. “Do you see them engaged or set to walk down the aisle?” Dale was slightly confused by the response as he kept his eyes focused on Chase.

“What are you trying to get at? You’re never going to get married?” Chase shakes his head no, as he hadn’t written off the idea entirely. Actually, he could see himself doing that one day down the road – but maybe not at this present time.

“I haven’t even thought about it. We’ve been so caught up with everything going on with her brother, then Bethany, and then Allison; I haven’t had time to even begin considering what I see in our future together. When do we want to get married? When do we want to get engaged? Do we want kids?” He takes a deep breath, knowing the children question was loaded with everything going on in their lives. If she was to get pregnant, that involve taking a step away from racing – but was she ready to do that? “Right now, we’re just enjoying the time that we’ve gotten to spend together without being driven insane by everything going on in our lives. We’re embracing our emotions for each other, talking things out, building that trust more, and making sure we’ve truly put that in the rearview. Maybe at that point, I’ll think about your question…”

“But you do want to get married at some point, right?” Chase rolls his eyes, but nods his head in response. “And I’m going to bet that Ryan will be your best man, too.”

“Considering how your birthday party went, it may be best to get us to plan the bachelor party,” Jimmie advises, earning a laugh from Dale as he had heard about the prank by the boys at the end of the party.

“Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself?” Chase wonders and Jimmie shrugs his shoulders.

“I just want to be prepared, that’s all.” Jimmie then relaxes back, and a glance between him and Dale and they knew a topic change was in order. They had certainly pushed the question far enough with Chase for the time being. “So, what are your plans for New Years?”

“Sarina was – well, actually, we were both invited to Kyle’s New Years/Anniversary party, so we’re going.” A pout then immediately forms on the faces of his teammates. “I’m sorry guys. I know with both of you being here, it’d be a great New Year’s spent together. But, she wants to go badly with how close they are – and frankly, Kyle knows how to put on a party.”

“Whatever you do, please don’t let him plan the bachelor party…” Chase just rolls his eyes once again as Dale gives Jimmie a glance. “What? I’m covering my basis.”

“Sorry I’m missing your annivers-”

“It’s fine, we’re not doing anything big anyway,” Dale cuts him off. “We’re just going to enjoy each other’s company, and watch the fireworks together while envisioning what our future holds with our little girl on the way. I’m sure you’ll have a ton of fun. Just don’t get into too much trouble, alright?”

“I’ll try,” Chase comments in response.

Moving Forward – Chapter 57: Christmas

“Mommy! Daddy!” Alyssa yells as she runs into the bedsroom, jumping on the bed. “Wake up! Wake up!” Dale slightly opens his eyes, glancing at the clock, letting out a yawn.

“What time is it?” Marie wonders, as she tries to bury herself back under the pillows.

“It’s actually 8,” Dale states, as she glances over surprised. “She did let us sleep in some…”

“It’s Christmas!” Alyssa lets out as she sits on the bed, looking between them. “Santa came. I looked. Can we open gifts, puhleeeease?” The pair of them chuckle as Dale sits up, wrapping his arms around her, and pulling him back against him.

“Don’t you wanna lay here with daddy and cuddle?” She shakes her head no, immediately, squirming out of his hands. “So you really think Santa brought you some good stuff?”

“I good girl, Daddy!” He chuckles, knowing that was certain, as he tosses the blanket off, slowly getting up.

“I’ll go get Elsa from her room. I expect to see you downstairs shortly?” Marie gives a thumbs up as another yawn escapes her lips. “I’ll send Alyssa back up to get you if you’re not…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Marie lets out as Dale and Alyssa leave the room to go get Elsa.

It wasn’t long before the family was gathered around the tree, opening the gifts left by Santa, and also the ones they got for each other. From clothes, to barbies, to even a couple more toy cars, it seemed that Alyssa had gotten a bit of everything. Elsa was spoiled too, with some more toys for her to play with, including a little car to ride around on.

“We’re spoiled, aren’t we?” Marie questions, as she watches Elsa climb on her new toy car, pushing her feet as she goes back up the hall again.

“I wouldn’t say spoiled,” Dale answers as he wraps an arm around her, glancing towards Alyssa who was playing with her cars in a mock race of her own on the carpet. “I’d say we’re blessed, and deservingly so. You especially deserve it after everything you went through.” She looks over at him, grabbing his hand and squeezing it.

“You went through just as much as me, if not more. I still can’t imagine what was going through your mind that day on the plane.” Dale looks back towards Alyssa, counting his blessings once again, before his eyes return to Marie.

“I was thinking how much I missed you, how I loved you so much, and even how maybe I took you for granted sometimes. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.” He then kisses her lips. “But I also remember watching Alyssa, wondering if I could raise a little girl all by myself, scared out of my mind. I just wanted the best for her – that’s all I still want for her. I was thinking how she’d never get to know her amazing mother, and why I loved you, and all the things that you could teach her. I was a mess…”

“Hey, that’s understandable. I mean, I was a mess when I woke up and you had gone missing from the hospital. If it wasn’t for Stevie and Kelley, I would’ve gone insane.” Dale chuckles, sometimes still amazed at his sister’s strength.

“All that matters is that we have each other, and these beautiful little girls…” He then kisses her lips once more, before heading out to the kitchen to start on breakfast.

As he was getting set to get the eggs out of the fridge, he pauses, taking a deep breath, as he glances once more towards the living room. He couldn’t help but smile as he saw Marie sit on the floor, kicking off a conversation with Alyssa about her race. He also chuckled as Elsa went around the kitchen and back out towards the living room, making vroom noises the entire time.

“Never take a single moment for granted,” he reminds himself, focusing back on breakfast. If he needed any assurance that he was making the right decision for his future, he got it in that moment.

The rest of the morning went smoothly as they all ate together, followed by the kids continuing to play with their new gifts. Dale and Marie began to set focus on dinner for later on that day, knowing the house would be full in a matter of hours.

Caught up in dressing her new dolls, Alyssa felt like she was having the perfect time in her little kid world. But when she heard a familiar ring from her dad’s cell phone, it didn’t take her long to drop her toys.

“I got it!” She announces immediately, walking over to the table and answering the facetime request. “Chasey!!” Chase immediately smiles back in return as her face fills the screen. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas to you, too!” He replies back as Dale glances over, not surprised that he was messaging them. “Did you get lots of gifts?”

“Yes! I show you!!” She then carries the phone around the room, showing him everything that she got from Santa and her parents. “You get gifts?”

“Of course I did as I was a good boy, too. I also know that there’s a special gift you haven’t gotten yet.” Her eyes light up immediately. “Go look behind the cupboard in the dining room.” She sets the phone down, running there to look as she sees a pink box immediately. She grabs it, hurrying back with it as she sets it down on the ground. “You found it?”

“Can I open it, please?” He chuckles, nodding his head. He watches as she tears into the packaging, ripping through each layer as quick as she could, before reaching a box inside.

“Open that up…” She follows the instructions, immediately smiling as she pulls out the pink firesuit. She holds it up, looking it over, seeing the design that he had chosen, along with ‘Princess Alyssa’ along the belt line. She looks back in the box, seeing he had gotten a pair of pink skeleton gloves and racing shoes to match. “What do you think of that?” Chase knew she was almost too big for her current suit, and figured it was only fitting to spoil her for the next one.

“That’s awesome! It so pretty! Thank you Chasey!” He smiles back in return. “I have gift for you when you come home, okay?”

“Absolutely. I look forward to seeing it. Now, can I talk to your dad?”

“I go put on my new suit!” She then takes Dale the phone, handing it to him, before rushing back to the box to grab the suit.

Moving Forward – Chapter 56: “I have something to tell you.”

Despite concerns surrounding whether Marie would get home in time, she ultimately made it home two days before Christmas. Dale was beyond thankful and glad for that as he didn’t know what he’d do if she wasn’t there for the holidays. She was also a great help wrapping presents.

There on Christmas eve, cookies and milk in hand, the pair sat by the tree wrapping the final gifts as they got them all set around. Dale’s eyes kept landing on her, a smile coming to his face, as a mix of thoughts flew through the mind.

He couldn’t wait to get married. He couldn’t get wait to spend the rest of their life together. He couldn’t wait for Christmas morning. He couldn’t wait to watch her daughters grow. He couldn’t wait for the travels that they’d get into together down the road.

He also had the thoughts of whether he was doing the right thing – wait no, he knew he was doing the right thing. But how was he supposed to tell her? Would she understand? When was the right time? How would she react?

“I have something to tell you,” he blurts out, before realizing it, as his hand comes up and lands on his mouth. He silently cursed himself as her eyes met his.

“I’m all ears,” she comments, curious as to what he had to say. She wondered if it dealt with their Christmas plans tomorrow – maybe they were going to have an unexpected guest, or maybe he forgot a gift. She also worried that it surrounded their wedding. What if some plan fell apart while she was away?

“With everything that has happened on track and away, I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. I’ve been pondering my career, whether I want to do this, and my future. What do I want from the rest of my life? Am I satisfied with what I’ve done so far? Where do I see myself five, 10 years from now? How do I see my family growing?” He was surprised how quickly and easily the words were coming to home as it just seemed to be pouring out of him. Maybe Chase was smarter with his advice than he thought. “I’m going to retire from racing at the end of this season.”

“Seriously? Are you sure absolutely certain about your decision?” Dale nods his head as he keeps his eyes on her, waiting to see what her response would be. “Is this driven by what happened? Are you scared of a reoccurance?” Dale shakes his head no, remembering the doctor’s words. “I don’t know what to say…..”

“The past two years, we’ve been through so much. I can’t even put into words everything that happened. From dealing with Mariela and what happened, to the wreck – it’s given me a new perspective. I’ve done this a long time, and I still love every minute, but I want to be there for my family. I want to raise my little girls. I want to have those special moments with you. I want to make it worthwhile.” She then puts down the gift that she was wrapping, moving closer to him, grabbing her hand with hers. She still wasn’t sure if she was ready to accept this yet.

“We can have everything and make it worthwhile even if you did continue racing, though.  We’ve proven that we can balance it all….” Dale nodded his head, actually surprised how things came together as the year went on. It was insane at times, but they certainly knew how to make it work.

“I know. But I’ve done this now, at the Cup level alone, 17 years. Beyond that, I ran XFINITY two years, and Late Models. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m ready for a change. I’m ready to take a new role with the ownership. I’m ready to have my summers and weekends to do things with you and the girls. I’m ready to be there for Alyssa more as she goes to school. I’m ready for the change, because frankly, I don’t want to miss these moments.” Marie smiles as she keeps hold of his hand, focusing her eyes to the ground as she feels them cloud over with liquid. How was she going to hold it together?

“If you’re confident and ready, then I fully support you and believe in your decision.” She finally allows herself to look up into his eyes, letting him see the tears. “I just don’t know if I’m ready for you to retire myself.” Dale was willing to accept that reaction as he was glad she wasn’t fighting him on it. He also understood the emotions, knowing she wouldn’t be the only one.

“I get it, and I understand. I’m ready for the tears, people telling me that I shouldn’t, and hopefully by year-end, everybody is on the same page.” She then lays her head against his shoulder.

“So you won’t be upset if I’m in a ball of tears at Homestead?” He laughs and shakes his head.

“I may be joining you in those tears – happy and sad mixed together, but teary.” She smiles, as she gives him a kiss.

“Now, how do you plan to tell everyone this big news?” He lets out a sigh as he looks back down at the gift he was wrapping. So far, he had been taking one step at a time, seeing how it went.

“Kelley and my mom are going to find out sometime between now and January. Rick is going to find out in February, and the world will learn the truth shortly after that.” She nods her head, accepting, knowing that’d give her time to come to grips with her own emotions. “Chase knows alrea-”

“So you told somebody before me?” Perhaps he shouldn’t have told her that minor detail.

“Chase caught me thinking about it one day a couple weeks ago, so he knew it was on the mind. When I was almost certain, I called him over to talk over the final details. I didn’t mean for the secret to just out there before you wanted.” She wanted to be upset and mad, but taking a deep breath, she couldn’t be neither. She understood toying with emotions, and was glad that he had taken the step of talking to someone.

“What was his reaction?” Dale shrugs his shoulders. Like Chase in a normal sense, he was cool as a cucumber. What more could he say?

“He didn’t really have much to say, except belief that this year was going to be a great season with lots of checkered flags so we sent off things on the right note.” Marie smiles as she was hoping for the same thing, wanting to put the second half of last year away as far as possible.

“I hope he’s right, because we need it…” Dale nods his head, in agreement, as he looks back down at the package.

“Now, right now, we need to finish wrapping.” She then lets out a sigh as she goes back to her spot on the floor, grabbing the roll of paper.

“For next year, can we just get this stuff store wrapped please?” Dale then chuckles as he grabs a piece of paper, sticking it to her back with a piece of tape.

“I couldn’t do that if you got it store wrapped, or this.” He grabs a bow, taking the covering off the sticky piece, and sticking it on her head. “For the record, you’re the only Christmas present that I need….”

“Careful with your words, or this package may not get wrapped.” He then chuckles as he snatches the wrapping paper away from her, pinning her down on the ground with a kiss on her lips.

“Do I look too concerned right now?” He then begins to slowly undo the buttons on his pajama top – which nicely matched hers and the kids – but she places her hand on top of his, bringing it up above his head.

“You’re ruining half of my fun…” He then looks at her cautiously, wondering what she was meaning in her words. Did she really want to wrap presents instead of this?

“How’s that?” He hoped he didn’t regret testing the waters after.

“Because I want to help you undress…” She then kisses his lips lightly as a devious grin immediately forms.

“I don’t have one problem with that…” She then stands up, holding her hand out and making him stand out with her. “What?”

“Well, we better take this to a private area. I wouldn’t want the kids finding us by accident, or maybe even Mr. Claus himself…” She then tugs on his hand, leading him down the hall into the office, shutting the door immediately behind them. She then immediately pins him against the edge of the desk, lips clashing with his, hands finding their way underneath the clothes. “Merry Christmas to me…”