The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 39: Can-Am Duels

Thursday, February 15 – Can-Am Duel 1 – Daytona International Speedway

Sarina and Chase walk through the pits together, carefully.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” She questions as she wraps an arm around his waist. He glances over, nodding his head.

“I’m fine for tonight – trust me,” he answers, giving her a quick kiss. She wanted to believe him, but her mind kept wandering to just that morning, those fears and concerns, and knowing how quickly he had gotten comfortable in their bed during her practice.

“As long as you’re confident and know that you’ll be fin-”

“I know what I can handle, and this is nothing.” She nods her head in return as they glance around once again. “Let’s go sit up on Johnson’s pit box.” She simply nods her head once again, accepting, as they make their way down pit road.

“Mind if I join you?” They hear, caught off-guard, as they glance between each other, before looking back at Lindsay.

“I thought you’d be on Ryan’s pit box,” Chase offers as Lindsay shrugs her shoulders.

“I don’t know if I’m comfortable there. Ryan never mentioned anything, and I don’t know the guys yet, and I don’t know what I’d sa-”

“It’s fine.” She instantly looks relieved, catching up to join them as Chase looks over at Sarina. “Remind me later to give the rookie a lesson.” Sarina can only chuckle in response as they reach Byron’s pit.

It didn’t take them long to get comfortable on the pit box in their choice of seating, following a round of hellos from the crew.

Their eyes were immediately drawn to the action on the track, as the field came to take the green flag. Immediately, Bowman pulled to the right after taking the green, letting the field go past him.

“What the heck?” Sarina questions as she looks over at Chase concerned. He could only smirk back in response. “By design to protect the pole?”

“And the fact the car isn’t set-up yet for drafting due to the impound and Greg’s plan,” Chase answers and Sarina could only smile. It now made sense why Chase hadn’t been able to qualify right up there with his teammates. They had gone for a more ‘qualifying’ set-up, versus sticking to their race package like Chase and Alan had. “Personally, I would’ve preferred to get as much learning as I could before Sunday, but that’s their style….”

“Yours makes me more nervous at the same time as I agree with it.” He chuckles as he wraps an arm around her.

It didn’t take long for the first caution to fly, though, as it’d be Jimmie Johnson blowing a tire on Lap 9, taking Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola out with him.

“Jimmie’s luck sucks down here,” Chase comments with a sigh.

The troubles for the Hendrick Motorsports teammates continued, with William Byron going around on Lap 38, tapping the outside wall, after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had sidedrafted with him.

“You guys can stay here until race’s end as we can’t remove equipment until then,” Darian Grubb tells them and Chase simply nods his head back in return.

“That sucked,” he comments. “Hate to see that for you guys.” Darian packs up his stuff, before glancing back at Chase once again.

“It proves one thing – watch your left rear quarter as always.” Chase nods his head in agreement, remembering the old adage rule at Daytona – make sure you’re square when bump drafting and never get someone in the left rear as it makes them unstable immediately.

Their eyes remained focused on the rest of the action, feeling a little bit of dread at points in seeing the field simply run single file entering the closing stages. Chase watched closely in seeing if anybody was getting any runs, where a move could be made, studying the laps just in case his Duel fell into the same predicament later on that night.

It seemed the race was going to end with a bore, but Ryan Blaney popped out of line with four to go, set to make a move on Joey Logano for the lead.

“Come on Ryan!” All three shouted together, though felt paused immediately when another wreck happened.

“How do you do this every week?” Lindsay questions as Sarina just chuckles, rubbing her shoulders. “I could always watch before as a fan – not one freak out. But yet here I am on the verge of heart failure.”

“Ask Chase,” Sarina starts as she looks over at him. “I may be a driver, but I can freak out with the best of them.” Chase nods his head as he gets comfortable.

“Ryan should have this no problem,” he summarizes, catching the pair off-guard.

“No problem?” Chase nods as he looks over at the girls.

“Look at the moves he made all race long. Look at the moves he made in the Clash. He knows what’s he’s doing and he will beat Joey. Besides, he’s got a friend…”

As predicted, Darrell Wallace Jr. pushed Ryan on the restart, getting him out front. There were moves made as they came back around, but it was not enough as Ryan was able to come across with the first Duel win.

“That was awesome!” Lindsay lets out as she shares a high-five with Sarina.

“Girl, you need to get to victory lane!” Sarina instructs as they begin to make their way down off of the pit box.

“Are you sure about that?” Sarina immediately nods her head. “I mean, Ryan hasn’t told anyone that we’re together at all, and I don’t even know what to call us. Are you sure he’d want me there? I mean, I don’t even know what to do! Maybe I should jus-”

“Take her to victory lane, Sarina!” Chase instructs, knowing that Ryan would love having Lindsay there with him. He then wraps an arm around Sarina, pulling her close. “I love you, and don’t worry – I’ll be careful.”

“You better.” She then kisses his lips as the pair separate with Chase heading up pit road as the girls ran off to victory lane together.

Sarina carefully snuck Lindsay in, keeping her in the back corner as Ryan did his assortment of interviews. As soon as the final one was done, Sarina gave her a push forwards towards Ryan, standing back and smiling as Lindsay took the bait.

“Congratulations,” Lindsay says simply as Ryan looks over, smiling cheek to cheek.

“How was that show?” He questions as he pulls her close.

“That was great, beyond amazing. I just wasn’t sure if I should be here.” Ryan then looks at her shocked.

“Absolutely. I wouldn’t want to share this with anyone else – well, except my team. But they don’t get one of these…” Ryan then kisses her lips as the flashbulbs go off behind them immediately. “Thank you for coming.”

“Thank you for inviting me, and thank Sarina and Chase for convincing me to come to victory lane…” Ryan looks over to where Sarina had remained hidden, giving her a wave, before focusing his eyes back on Lindsay.

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

Thursday, February 15 – Can-Am Duel 2 – Daytona International Speedway

Sarina climbs the usual steps, taking her seat as she glances between the boys, flashing a trademark smile. It then immediately fades as she looks down, crossing her fingers together, closing her eyes, just hopeful that everything went smooth as possible.

“Hey, are you okay?” Alan questions as he glances back at her. She simply nods her head back in response. “You don’t need to be nervous.”

“It’s Daytona,” she tells him. “Whether you like it or not, I’m always nervous at Daytona because anything and everything can happen. Given this morning, you could say I may be on a little edge..” Alan nods sympathically as he reaches back for her hand, giving it a squeeze.

“You know I wouldn’t give your boy a bad car to work with, so you know he’ll be fine that way. But, I do understand that worry. Just try and focus on the good and remember that if he feels confident that he’s okay, the-”

“Everything will work out as planned.” She then takes a deep breath. “I keep reminding myself of that, Alan. Thank you.” He simply smiles as he lets her hand go, focusing back on his job at hand.

The race started off smoothly as Chase put himself in position at the front of the field. That didn’t allow Sarina to relax, though, as she felt every bit of heart-pumping action eating at her core. She almost let out the first yell of the evening in watching Erik’s slide Chase’s bumper, getting him loose with Jones going around for a spin.

“Did he touch you?” Alan questions on the radio as Sarina works at calming herself back down with a couple deep breathes, glad that they’re still in one piece.

“No, he was sideways the whole frigging time,” Chase answers, knowing his bumper had not made any contact with Jones to trigger the incident.

Alan brought him down pit road, choosing to go with fuel only, before sending him back out. of course, the jubilation was shortly lived as they were penalized for the crew going over the wall too soon. Knowing they were restarting at the back, Alan called him back down to put four tires on it.

If Sarina felt her heart was going to come out of her chest before, then she couldn’t describe her current stage of emotions as she felt even more freaked out in watching Chase dice his way up through the pack, using whatever lane would move. Remarkably, whether due to tires or just a strong car, she watched him move back up into the runner-up spot at Lap 25, just seven laps after the incident.

She felt like she was going to jump out of her seat two laps later when he pulled underneath Denny, sliding by him and back up for the lead.

“Oh my gosh….” She lets out, trying to keep herself calm as possible, despite the drastic blocking before her. It was nice to see Chase in the lead, but she knew that this was just beginning now.

Her nerves got her break through the middle portion of the event as once again, they ran single file like they had done the previous Duel. However, as the laps counted down – 10 to go, eight to go, six to go – her heart began to pound harder and harder, knowing that everybody was planning their move. Fingers crossed, toes crossed, she hoped Chase could pull the bocks necessary.

With two laps to go, the move came as Kevin Harvick broke out of line, set to make a run. However, at the same time, the lines broke apart behind him, slowing the lanes, with Chase making the moves necessary.

“Come on babes….” She says quietly as they come to the white flag.

Eddie D’Hondt perfected his job on the radio, giving him the necessary information, as she watched him hold the gap perfectly, leading the field back around for the win. Immediately, high-fives and hugs filled the pit box as everybody joined in complete excitement for the victory.

“Was that worth the nerves?” Alan questions as he gives her a hug.

“I’ll handle it any day if that’s the reward,” she answers.

It wasn’t long before the whole team was in victory lane, fists pumped in the air with pride for the win. After standing up on top for photos, Chase hops down, immediately wrapping his arms around Sarina and giving her a kiss, before going through his post-race interviews.

That was followed by photos on stage, which culminated with Chase and Sarina taking one of their own together.

“You were absolutely amazing out there,” she starts as she glances into his eyes. “I mean, for the man that says he has to practice and get better at plate racing, that was beyond spectacular. I say you, Ryan, Ricky, Brad, Joey, Denny and Kevin are the only ones that can make moves like that. I can’t wait until Sunday!” Chase leans in for another kiss.

“Alan built one great hot rod,” Chase states, before the pair take a photo together. They then look back over, as she rubs his side.

“Tell me the truth, please…” He takes a deep breath, squinting a touch as he lets it out.

“It’s tender, a little sore – but I’m fine. It’s nothing that I haven’t handled before, and it’s actually not as bad as last year.” She nods her head, accepting, before leaning her head against him. He immediately wraps his arms around her, just holding her. “I know I scared you this morning. Trust me, nobody knows that more than me. I’ve stated my fears of Allison before, but I can tell you right now that what she’s done has upped the game big time. I can’t stop looking over my shoulder, can’t stop wondering, can’t stop thinking, trying to figure what she’ll do next. So I get it, Sarina, and it’s okay to be afraid…”

“I’m not afraid, Chase.” She then looks up into his brown eyes. “I know how strong you are because of what you’ve done for me, whether being there, or dealing with my brother’s crap. I know the type of character you are. I know that no matter what she throws your way, you’re going to be okay because you’re stronger than I can put into words. Right now, though, I am thankful…” She then gives him another kiss.

“Me too.”  He then lets out a sigh as he rests his head on top of hers, thinking things through. He wanted to stand tall and believe in those words that she was saying, but how could he do that when his world was constantly flipped upside down? The little fear that he had told Kyle, Ricky and his dad in the past about – that had grown to the point that he didn’t know if he could keep it under control.

“You’re still here?!?” They hear, glancing down to see Ryan and Lindsay standing there together. it was clearly obvious that the pair had gotten changed, and Lindsay’s hair being messed up a little had a smirk on Sarina’s face immediately.

“I’m about to head to the media center for post-race intervie-” Chase starts, knowing that he couldn’t stay there forever in her arms, despite not wanting to move a single inch.

“Not yet!” Ryan and Lindsay then come up and join them on stage with a smile of their own.

“Group photo!” The girls let out together as they both wrap their arms around the guys.

“Dude, you’re wearing one of my shirts?” Chase questions as he looks over at Ryan, seeing the shirt that he had changed into.

“I’m your number one fan now!” Ryan lets out as he wraps his arms around him, causing a series of laughs.

Thursday, February 15 –Daytona International Speedway

With everything in the books for the day, everybody had met back together in Ryan’s motorcoach for some fun and they were joined by Darrell Wallace Jr., as well. Being the good friend, Wallace had brought both boys a beer to toast their wins.

“If you need more ice, don’t hesitate to ask,” Ryan offers as he hands Chase a bag, getting a simple nod in return. Whether Chase wanted to admit it or not, Ryan knew that he was probably feeling a bit of pain in his ribs and didn’t want to leave his friend hanging.

“How are you feeling, though?” Chase questions, catching Ryan’s attention. It was nice to see the concern go one way, but really, it was more warranted the other way. In Chase’s mind, Ryan never should’ve gotten stuck in the middle of this.

“I’m sore in spots where I’m blue or purple, but I’m fine. Nothing a win can’t cure.” Chase chuckles as he watches Ryan get comfortable across from him.

“So I heard back from the investigator, by the way. She says that the paperwork I received detailing everything – Allison was able to get access through Chris’ lawyer as he would’ve had it. They’re currently looking to track down that lawyer and get him to fess up and talk. They’ve also put a search out for Allison. Now, how is she getting the access to these places? Nobody knows…” Ryan nods his head, accepting. He glances over, seeing both girls joking with Bubba as they played a round of Mario Kart, before looking back at Chase.

“What’s your reaction?” Chase lets out a sigh as he glances down for a second, before back over at Ryan.

“I don’t kno-”

“You have to have some reaction, Chase.” Chase takes a deep breath.

“I just hate that you’re involved, okay? I hate that you were there with me today and had to go through this. I hate that once again, a friend of mine has gotten hurt because of this. You went through enough last year with Chris drugging you; you didn’t need to go throu-”

“I wouldn’t change a thing, though.” Chase then looks over at him confused and puzzled.

“Are you serious right now?” Ryan nods his head.

“If I’m not there, you’re going through this alone. I would never want to have someone in a position to wake up on a beach after crashing a plane alone. Besides, what if things had been worse? What if you seriously needed someone to help you? I would’ve wanted to be there, Chase.” Chase almost wanted to smile in Ryan’s reaction.

“That means a lot coming from you. Thank you.” Ryan smiles back in return as he glances over at the other three.

“We’re always going to be friends and we’re always going to be there for each other, right?” He then turns back to Chase. “I’m here for you through this, thick and thin. Until she’s arrested and behind bars for her life, or dead, I’m going to be here by your side whether you are willing to accept that or not. And Chase, it’s okay to worry, or be afraid, or wond-”

“I kno-”

“Just don’t keep it bottled up, or it’ll drive you insane, okay?” Chase nods his head, accepting.

“Can you boys please come kick their girl’s asses?” Darrell breaks up their discussion. “I’m getting my ass handed to me here!” They both laugh as they glance at each other, before joining them to take a crack at it.

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Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 110: Slowly Healing

Sunday, July 2

From the initial time he opened his eyes on Sunday, from the sight of the sunrise out of the hospital window, through the morning and afternoon, it was a repetitive cycle. He’d roughly wake up, say a couple words, comment on the pain with the doctors giving him what they felt was necessary, followed by more sleep.

He felt weaker than he could even describe and he knew his body was fighting against whatever he drank that day in the trailer. With that, the sleep was very welcome as he knew he had to take care of himself.

He found himself wanting to request Sarina in a couple instances when he woke up, but he stayed away from the topic for now. He knew that request would come with resistance and an argument, something that wasn’t worth having based on how he was feeling. He just hoped that the time apart wouldn’t kill their chances at a future as he still believed in them, despite what happened.

As the sun began to sat on Sunday, he finally found some more energy to stay awake longer, entertaining some light conversation with the occupants of the room. He spoke roughly of how he was feeling, while getting caught up on some things that he missed. Ryan left out that he was texting Sarina for the time being, knowing that Cindy would freak and wanting to avoid that.

“Alan….,” he comments the crew chief’s name aloud as they sit there. “Is Alan and Greg here? Or did they fly back to North Carolina yet?”

“The crew guys refused to leave till they knew for certain that you’d be okay,” Ryan starts. “They’re staying at the local hotel, and have been spending the days down the hall in the waiting room. That’s where Darrell keeps going down every couple hours.” Bill remembers when he took the walk down there, suggesting to them that they fly back and they’d get Chase to face time when he was up to it. However, the entire team shook their heads no as they wanted to make sure their driver was okay.

“Dude, none of us leaving till you’re okay to leave,” Darrell adds. Chase hated to mess up everybody’s schedules, but appreciated their support. Though he knew he owed Alan and Greg a visit now, too.

“Mom, Dad, you guys have been sitting here constantly all day and now night,” he starts. “Why don’t you go get something to eat? Darrell and Ryan can go with you and get something, too. I feel up to seeing the team for a bit. Send Alan and Greg first….” The boys accept easily, though reluctantly could be seen on the parent’s faces.

“Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Cindy questions and Chase shakes his head yes as he looks over at her.

“You need to take care of yourself, too,” he answers as he lays his head back against the pillow.

“Come on….” Darrell stands up first, beginning the effort of leading them both out of the room. Bill goes next, followed by Cindy as Ryan watches closely. He sees them exit the room, giving Darrell a quick nod before focusing his eyes on Chase.

“Sarina came to check on you but your mo-” He starts as soon as they left the room.

“I heard everything,” Chase cuts him off, remembering the argument clearly as Ryan looks on shocked.

“I’ve been texting her updates ever since so she knows how you’re doing because she’s worried. I just felt it was best to listen to Cindy’s request for now.” Chase shakes his head, accepting.

“Thank you. Please keep doing that…”

“Anything you want me to tell her, specifically?” Chase debated giving her a message aimed towards his hope for the future, but didn’t want her to take that as a welcome to show up just yet. So he shook his head no. “Alright. I’ll go get Alan and Greg for you.” Ryan then leaves the room, heading to where the crew continued to sit.

Chase glanced around the room, letting out a sigh. It was odd to be by himself for the first time since everything happened.

He glances up at the monitor, seeing all the numbers that flashed across the screen. He could only hope that those numbers meant something good, and he was continuing to get better. His eyes then glanced down at his arm, seeing where the IV was, followed by a shudder. He wished he didn’t have to deal with that, but he couldn’t deny that whatever they were giving him was working.

Laying his head back against the pillow, he lets out a sigh. He knew he was thankful. Thankful that it wasn’t more serious.  Thankful that he was awake and feeling decent, considering. Thankful that Alan had found him when he did. Thankful that he could see the future, and strength was coming back.

“One day at a time,” he reminds himself, knowing that he couldn’t rush it. The thought of missing Kentucky pained him as he was looking forward to racing there, being one of the more fun ovals on the schedule. It was his goal to be healed by then. However, pushing to be ready and not fully letting his body do what it needed wouldn’t help him. Besides, he was meant to be thankful.

He hears the door open and immediately smiles, watching the two crew members smile in response. He could see the worry written all over Alan’s face, obviously struggling with everything in being the one to see how bad it was. He knew how close they had grown already in a year and a half, and wouldn’t expect anything else.

“Gosh, this is a sight that I’m glad to be seeing,” Alan comments as he walks over to the bed. He immediately goes in for a hug, which Chase easily accepts, knowing how frantic everything was in the hauler that night.

“You don’t look too bad,” Greg comments as he remains at the bottom of the bed, eyes focused on the young man.

“All the hard ass training that you put me through is certainly helping in trying to fight this off,” he replies as Greg smiles. He had no doubt that everything would be fine based on how strong Chase was.

“So, how are you feeling?” Alan questions as Chase looks back towards the crew chief.

“Still a little sore and still somewhat sick, but a lot better than I was. It’s coming, slowly….” Alan shakes his head, accepting. That’s all that mattered to him.

“That’s good. I’m glad, really. You scared me….” Alan didn’t mean to come straight out and admit it, but there was no denying what he felt.

“It scared the crap out of me, too. It’s the worst I’ve probably ever felt.” Alan could understand that after what he saw.

“Well then make sure you take your time, focus on healing, and let your body do what it needs to do,” Greg advises and Chase knew that for certain.

“Trust me – I’m not going far the next couple of days,” he tells them. “I know how hard everything is fighting. I can feel the weakness at times. I’ve been letting myself sleep as I need it. But, I had to see you guys. I mean, I had to say thank you. Thank you for being there, and doing what needed to be done.”

“We love ya, kid,” Alan says. “I would do it all over in a heartbeat. Just promise me that we’re going to damn well win a race finally.” Chase laughs and rolls his eyes. It was certainly getting frustrated not having broken through for their first Cup Series win yet.

“I promise that I’m going to try as hard as I can do that just for you.” He then lets out a yawn, laying his head back against the pillow. He knew he should give in and accept the sleep, but he didn’t want to yet. He had slept most of the day away already, and there were a bunch of guys who deserved some time. “Greg, can you go get the guys? I want to say hi before I go back to sleep.” Greg easily accepts as he leaves the room.

“Greg kept telling me that you were going to be okay. I wanted to believe him so easily, but man, I was worried. I didn’t know what to think with how much pain you were in….” Chase looks over at Alan.

“Trust me, that’s the worst pain that I’ve ever felt. It felt like my guts were being ripped out of me. It was torture.” He then looks at the crew chief in the eyes as he places a hand on his shoulder. “But I’m going to be okay, and we’re going to fulfill that promise.”

“I have no doubt about that. I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else.” The door then cracks open, followed by a series of crew members making their way in. “Get ready for craziness….”

“I’m used to these guys.” Chase then glances over at the guys, with a quick wave.

“Easy boys. Let’s make this short and sweet as someone needs his beauty sleep.”

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

Sarina sits on the beach, reading the latest text message from Ryan, letting out a slight smile. It wasn’t much of an update, but it was something.

Ryan had simply told her that Chase knew about her being delivered updates, and the fact that he was doing better more and more throughout the day. He also told her that they were going to try and get him up on Monday, followed by some quick tests, to make sure things were panning out right.

She could only hope those tests and everything continued to go smoothly, followed by some interaction to follow with him. It was nice to see he was okay with the updates as that represented hope, but didn’t mean the same as being able to see him.

“We’re flying out soon,” she hears behind her, glancing to see Kyle standing there.

“I’m not going home yet,” she tells him as he lets out a sigh. “I’m not going home till I get a chance to see Chase.” Kyle knew he had to tread lightly as he took a couple more steps, before sitting beside her.

“What makes you certain that’s going to happen?” She then hands over her phone, letting him see the latest update from Ryan. “Okay….”

“He is okay with me receiving updates. That means that there’s something still there in the mark of feelings. If I’m patient, like he was with me before, I feel that we can do this together.” Kyle wanted to believe her words, though also feared worse as he could see everything changing based on the last string of events. Trust was a big deal with Chase, and she hadn’t trusted his judgment on Chris, or took it seriously, and now was in the hospital. What if that laid on his mind?

“And what if that doesn’t happen? I know things are crazy right now with your brother’s arrest and this, but there’s responsibilities for this weekend….” She knew that she had to be at the shop at least one day before the upcoming race.

“I was going to come by on Tuesday before we all headed out to Kentucky together. I need another day down here, not just because of Kyle, but because of my brother. I need to go check in to see where they are on things. I want to see him locked up and pay for what happened as he blew his second chance totally, and I need to make sure that’s right on course for happening.” Kyle easily accepted that. He didn’t want to see Chris ever again, either.

“That’s fine.” He then glances out to the water, before looking back at her. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I know how Kurt and I argue at times, and sure he’s done some stupid shit over the years, too. But I can’t imagine having something happen like what you’re going through. But I want you to know that I have your back, this changes nothing about our agreement, and you can always come see me for advice.” She looks over, with a slight smile.

“Thank you, Kyle.” He then gives her a pat on the shoulder before standing up.

“And Sarina, for what it’s worth, I hope you’re right about your future with Chase. I’ll see you later.”

She then gives him a quick wave before he heads off. She then lets out a sigh as she looks out to the water once again, letting every thought of her life flow through her mind. It didn’t matter what she did, she always found herself in some predicament.

“When am I getting my happily ever after, daddy? You always said I was your little princess and everything would come together. I wanna know when. I can’t keep doing this…”

She then wipes the tear off of her face as she continues to stare outwards, almost blankly.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 109: “Chase?”

Sunday, July 2 – 4:30 AM

Where was he? Why was it so dark? Why couldn’t he open his eyes? Was he trapped somewhere? Did the help that was supposed to arrive not come? Why did he feel like something was pushed down on him? Why was it so hard to open his eyes?

Why did he have all these questions?

He could feel pain throughout his body, sometimes feeling like he was on fire in parts. It wasn’t as bad as earlier, but he would’ve preferred someone just to tear the guts out of his stomach if they wanted to hurt and burn this badly.

He then could hear beeping – realizing the machines that were probably around him. Maybe he was in a hospital – or maybe he was being monitored for torture purchases. What if he was now the toy of Chris’ sick imagination?

“Cindy, I care about your son….” He recognized that voice. He knew he had heard that voice throughout his days and nights. It was a voice that he had grown to love, and wanted to hear for the rest of his life. It was a voice he had been missing throughout the past day.

“If you would’ve done something, we never would’ve been here. Did you ever think about that?” He also recognized that voice, as well. He heard that voice throughout his entire life to this date, and it had helped in growing….

“Mom?” He tries to speak, though can’t find the ability to do so. It had to do with what was pushing against his face and down his throat. Maybe this is what it felt like to have a tube down your throat as they described.

He still couldn’t see any lights nor find the energy against the pain he was in to open his eyes, but he was able to put together both of the voices.

His mother and Sarina.

Why should it surprise him that those are the first two voices that he hears upon waking up?

“I’ve thought about that constantly since hearing the news,” he hears. “I realize it and it’s the biggest regret ever. I don’t know how to ever be fully forgiven or made up for it. I don’t know if there’s any coming bac-” He could hear the pleading, the emotions in her voice. He knew she didn’t mean it; he understood her approach. Hence why he was waiting for her…he thought…or perhaps he wasn’t. But for some reason, he could remember sitting somewhere waiting for her before being engulfed in pain.

“There isn’t,” he hears in response. “Listen sweetheart, you’re done. I’ve been respectful and held back enough to let you stray and have fun. But that stops now. I can’t handle this and you can’t keep doing this to Chase. It’s unfair of you to take advantage of his sweetness, forgiveness. So why don’t you turn on your heels and march your ass out of this room?” He didn’t want Sarina to leave. He wanted to hug her, tell her he missed her, tell her that they’d be okay, and go back to what they had. He missed the fun times already with her. He felt the stung tears from their fight earlier that morning. He had to wake up and get back to her, and tell his mother otherwise. Why was it so hard to open his eyes?

“Cindy….” He hears a male voice, recognizing it right away.

“He still cares about me and I care about him,” Sarina starts. “None of this changes that. We agreed to that in sticking together no matter what happened with Chri-” Why did it feel like his arms weighed 500 pounds? Why couldn’t he just pick one up, reach out for her, and pull her as close as possible?

“That was before your brother tried to kill him!” Cindy yells. “Now get out!” He tried to yell no, initially forgetting the tube was there. Though a slight cough to himself and he instantly stopped. That was more pain than he knew he could handle. He had to find another approach and right away.

“He would want me to be here, so I have a right to be here.” He wanted her there. He wanted to cuddle her. He wanted to hug her. He wanted to assure her that he understood her position, and what happened. He wanted to assure her that they could build towards the future they wanted. He wanted to go back to goofing around in the stands like they were before the XFINITY race got rained out.

“Bill and I in charge of the situation in being the parents, so what I say goes. Get out of here before I call security!” He had wake up before she left. He had to wake up somehow….

“Come on….” He hears Ryan’s voice, feeling as though he should give up at the same time. Maybe some more sleep and relaxation would make this whole waking up idea that much easier. Maybe he just wasn’t ready to face the world. At least his best friend had his back.

“I don’t want to see her ever again….” He hears his mother’s voice, and perhaps saving his energy would be worth it so he could deal with the arguments to come in the days ahead.

“Just take a deep breath, relax, and focus on what’s important,” Bill comments. Hearing the concern his dad’s voice hit a nerve as he hadn’t ever heard worry in his father  before. Normally, his mother was full of worry while his father held down the fort. To hear the worry hit a nerve and he knew this was a serious straw…

He takes a mental deep breath, knowing that he had to find some way to wake up. As he sends the signal through himself, his eyes flicker open, though closing back shut as soon as the lights hit them. His fingers then twitch, as he tries to find the ability to fight against the white light and open the eyes.

“Guys….” Darrell comments. Obviously his efforts were paying off.

“He’s waking up,” Sarina starts and he knew he had to wake up before she left for good. He had to see her….

He forces his eyes open, immediately trying to turn his head towards the door and see her, though there was no sight. So much for the efforts….

“Chase?” Cindy questions as he feels a tight grip on his hand. He tried to channel that grip as he forced himself to open his eyes, staring at the ceiling, adjusting to light as he tried to keep himself calm. He was going to be okay. He just needed to work through this and then get his girl later….

“Easy kid….” He hears his father’s voice as he fully wakes up, the pain engulfing him at the same time as he struggles a little against it. He could feel the need to let a cuss word escape his mouth, wanting to let out the anger in what happened, in Sarina being kicked out, and the pain all together. “Hey now, no talking. There’s a tube there, bud….” He wished he could rip the tube out as it was getting annoying.

“You’re awake….” He looks over at her mother, giving her an assurance glance, before doing the same for his father. He then returns the grip to her hand. If he couldn’t have his girl, then his parents were the next best of thing as he knew there was no way he wanted to be alone right now. “You’re going to be okay….” He wanted to relax and give assurance, but the pain continued to grow as he moved his hand to stomach, feeling as though if he rubbed lightly it’d disappear.

“Pain?” He shakes his head yes as much as he could with the tube there, clinching his eyes together. He couldn’t do this again. there was no way he could let himself suffer through the amount of pain that he experienced earlier that night in the hauler.

“I got the doctor,” Darrell announces as Chase hears a furry of footsteps, followed by a big white light shined in his eyes. He immediately closes them, feeling blinded.

“Good reaction time,” the doctor comments. “And your vitals look strong. That’s a good sign.” He was glad that was good, but his focus was solely on the pain. “Any twitching since he’s woken up?” The group in the room shakes their heads no. “That’s good. Any pain Chase?” Chase shakes his head yes, pointing to his stomach, as he tries to relax in the bed. “Chest pain?” He shakes his head no.

His eyes follow the doctor as he walks over, changing IV bags and such, and he could only hope that something to take away the pain was among those.

“Another round of antidotes, half dosage of the anti-epileptic as we may not be out of the woods yet, and morphine to help the pain,” the doctor states, in which the nurse behind him records it down on the chart. Chase just keeps his eyes on the doctor, watching as the doctor looks back towards him. “Since you have no chest pain, we can try and get rid of that nagging tube…” He shakes his head yes.

“Are you sure it’s not too early?” Cindy questions, feeling a bit of nervousness in seeing how much pain Chase was experiencing based on his behavior.

“If it is, we can always re-insert, but I believe he is ready for this step.” The doctor then looks straight at Chase. “I want you to take a deep breath, as deep as you can manage, and hold it.” Chase does as instructed, followed by feeling a scratching sensation along his throat as he watches the tube come up.  He then immediately breaks into a coughing fit as he tries to find his compose. “Easy, deep breath and let the coughs out. It’s part of the process…” He does as instructed, trying to ignore the pain in his stomach to focus.

“Fuck….” He lets out in the midst of the pain as the doctor gives him a stern glance. “Sorry….”

“It’s okay,” the doctor replies. “I want you to limit your amount of talking, focus on your breathing, and try to get some more rest. Your body is doing a good job fighting it, but don’t fight against it.” He shakes his head, accepting.

While it was nice to be awake and see the wonderful faces, he had to admit that sleep felt like a good idea right now.

“You’re okay,” Bill rubs his arm as Chase gets back comfy under the blankets, eyes slowly drifting closed. He tried to fight against it, wanting to say a couple things, but his body was tired beyond anything he could imagine.

“Sarina…” He whispers as he closes his eyes, falling back asleep about a half hour later.

Ryan stands in the doorway, eyes focused on his best friend, glancing down at his phone. He heard the whisper and a glance towards Darrell and he knew the text that should be sent. Perhaps things were going to work out.

Though Ryan stopped himself from sending it, knowing that he wouldn’t fully let her to come till he was awake and the request was made consciously so Cindy couldn’t argue against it this time.

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 107: The Waiting Game

Saturday, July 1

Alan walks into the waiting room with the team in toe. He stops as he sees Bill and Cindy there, taking a glance back at the team with a nod, before continuing to move forward.

The team recognizes the gesture immediately, each taking a respective seat as they give Alan and the parents their distance. They were each worried about their driver, but knew the worry of a parent went further than that. They weren’t about to breach the rules of respect.

“Hey,” Alan says quietly, catching their attention. “Any update?” Bill shakes his head no as he rubs Cindy’s shoulders, who sat in the chair by him.

“They said they brought him in and took him to a room, and for us to wait here for when they had something to say,” Bill replies as Alan could only shake his head. Typically a motion like that meant it was severe.

“I’m sure they’ll have something to tell you soon. I can tell you that we caught it relatively quickly, so that’s always a good thing. Greg mentioned that he was pretty sure he’d be okay.” Bill shakes his head, accepting, but knew he nor Cindy would be relaxed till they saw that for themselves.

“How’d it happen? i mean, I thought Chris was the cause and he was arrested today.” Alan hated to bring up the explanation, and knew once thought about, Chase would probably kick himself in the ass for drinking the bottle.

“Chase normally brings a drink with him outta the motorcoach and sticks it in the trailer fridge till he wants it. The bottle he grabbed was something that he brought out Friday.” Bill shakes his head in disbelief, knowing what that meant.

“So is there enough evidence to keep Chris locked up this time?” Cindy questions, having growing frustrated with him and wanting to give Chris a piece of her own mind. The timing also couldn’t have come any worse, either, given that she had just started to warm up to Sarina some.

“I don’t know,” Alan comments. “Chase was waiting to hear from Sarina on some sor-”

“He still has a thing for her?” Alan stops immediately, having grown used to Cindy’s complaints. In his mind, he wished that she could separate the thoughts of Chris and Sarina from each other.

“Yeah, he does. He was hanging in the lounge, putting off leaving, in hopes of some message in return.” Cindy could only roll her eyes, but wasn’t about to worry about that right now. There were bigger fish to fry, anyway. “Listen, if you guys need anything, we’re all here for you. We’ll give you the space you need, but the second you need something just ask. We care about him and believe me – he’s going to be okay.”

“Thanks Alan,” Bill says as he gives the crew chief a quick hug before Alan heads over to where the team was sitting, taking a seat of his own.

It felt like forever as they sat there waiting for an update of any kind from the doctors in how Chase was doing. They watched as a female entered the room about 15 minutes later, but with no update in hand. Instead, she held a clipboard that she requested be filled out with the necessary information.

Given the emotions of the parents, Greg Morin took the board and sat down, filling out each question step-by-step. With being the team’s pit crew coach, he had gotten to know everybody’s health strengths and weaknesses so he could help them become better through training. It also didn’t hurt that he was keen on keeping files on hand, committed to giving the boys the best care possible should the worst situation happen.

The room then stirred when they saw the door open, with Ryan Blaney entering with Darrell, Erin and Emma in toe.

“You didn’t need to come,” Alan states as he looks towards the young driver. “You should be resting…”

“He stayed all Friday night for me, Alan,” Ryan comments as he takes a seat beside the crew chief. “I owe it back to him to do the same. Besides, I’m worried and I couldn’t relax no matter how hard I tried. You can ask the girls.” Alan shook his head, understanding, knowing how close Ryan and Chase were as friends.

“Why hasn’t there been an update yet?” Josh Kirk ponders as Greg glances up from his chosen position.

“Because they’re focused on giving him the best care that they can and reason that us worrying a little longer is okay as long as he turns out fine,” Greg comments, having gotten used to protocol through the years. “Just relax. He’ll be fine…” Josh hoped those words were the truth as he could only wonder as to what was going on behind the closed doors down the hall.

“I hate waiting….” Alan lets out as he flips his phone in his hands, having been using it constantly with being put in charge of updates. Dale, Jimmie, Rick and a few others all had requested that they be updated as soon as news surfaced on how Chase was doing. Every once and awhile, the phone would go off with one of them, or someone new, asking if there was any news. Alan continued to send out the usual greeting of nothing yet.

“I wouldn’t tell you that he’d be fine if I didn’t believe it,” Greg assures the crew chief as Alan glances over, shaking his head understanding. He trusted Greg’s judgment, but it was one of those the worry wouldn’t be cured till the words were spoken and he saw it for himself.

The room then goes quiet for the next half hour, followed by them watching closely as the doors open once again with a doctor making his way in, holding a clipboard in his hand. Greg gave a nod to Alan, knowing that an update was right there before them – finally.

“Is every one of you here for Mr. Elliott?” The doctor questions and they shake their heads yes. “Mr. and Mrs. Elliott, do you mind if they hear the update that I am about to give?” Bill shakes his head no, as he knew the news would get back to the team immediately anyway.

“They’re like family to Chase – they deserve to know,” Bill reasons as he continues his duty of rubbing Cindy’s shoulders, trying to keep her calm.

“To start off, my name is Dr. Blakely Hanken, and I am in charge of the poison control for the Daytona area, but better known as a toxicology expert. If you have any questions as to the job, I’m sure Mr. Blaney can help you out. By the way, are you feeling better?” Ryan shakes his head yes.

“It’s subsiding more and more,” Ryan comments. “I just wish I wasn’t back here once again.” The doctor shakes his head, understandly.

“I didn’t want to see you on these conditions, either,” Dr Hanken replies, before looking back to Bill and Cindy. “Well I’m not supposed to tell you for certain yet or not due to possible complications and such, I can assure you that I’m more than certain your son will be okay.” Cindy felt her nerves twitch on the thought of complications, but tried to stick with believing the words that the doctor was telling her about being okay.

“Can we go see him, please?” Cindy asks, almost begging. She knew seeing him would be the quickest way to ease worries.

“I would like to explain how he is doing first, and then most certainly you may.” Cindy lets out a sigh of relief, glad that she was going to get her wish. She just hoped it came as quick as possible. “We did confirm that there was poison in the drink through testing, and the same type as Mr. Blaney had digested on Friday. However, Mr. Elliott’s symptoms were stronger as a result of a stronger stream being used.” Bill felt his anger boiling, knew that it had been the perfect set-up by Chris in knowing Chase’s common theme of behavior.

“Not surprised, to be honest,” Greg whispers to Alan as they listen in. “It had to be a pretty strong dosage for him to be like he was.” Alan shakes his head, in agreement, though wishes they could just get to the bottom of how Chase was doing.

“We immediately started him on two antidotes, counter-acting the effects immediately to try and ease the symptoms, as well as any other damage that could occur. We also gave him a dosage of an anti-epileptic medicine as a result of the twitching that he was going through. So far, the treatment is working as we’ve seen his heart rate steady out. However, it will take some time to fully work.” Greg knew the process, having seen it previously. He was glad that everything was stabilizing, though, as that meant that things were turning out alright.

“What do you mean by possible ‘other damage’?” Bill questions, now feeling the same worry that Cindy had in the word ‘complications’.

“Brain damage and muscle damage are among the two biggest things to watch for,” Dr. Hanken answers. “With any poisoning, it’s a risk of happening. Thankfully, Mr. Blaney had a low dosage and a quick action against it that he had nothing. With Mr. Elliott, the risk is a little higher based on the higher concentrate of the stream and bigger dosage. We believe that we caught it quick enough to prevent that, but we won’t know until we get into the full healing process.” Bill knew that meant they were going to be in a waiting game, and knew the patience for both him – but especially Cindy – would wear thin through the progress.

“And how long till we know for sure?” Dr. Hanken knew there was no answer to that question just yet.

“That varies depending on how he accepts the treatment and how his body heals. We’ll just have to wait and see. I wish I could snap my fingers and have an answer, but it doesn’t work like that. Now with the dosage, we did give him a sedative because he was quite agitated by the pain and motions it was putting him through. As a result, he is sleeping right now but should be waking up in the next two to four hours. Once he wakes up, we can begin to take steps towards finding everything out that you’re asking me about.” Bill shakes his head, understanding. He could only hope they were calm through it all.

“Can we go see him while he sleeps, though?” Cindy questions and Dr. Hanken shakes his head yes.

“I’m going to also warn you before you go in that he is on a ventilator right now,” Dr. Hanken adds, causing a shocked expression from both the parents. “With the fact that he was experiencing chest pain and stating it was difficult to breathe at times, we did that for precautionary reasons. Once he shows signs that the treatment is working and everything is returning to normal, we can remove and go from there.” Bill continues rubbing Cindy’s shoulders as she just shakes her head in disbelief. “For right now, let’s try and keep the visitor number at around four at a time maximum, please.”

“Bill and Cindy, you guys go ahead,” Alan instructs. “Ryan and Bubba, you guys can go to. We’ll hang back here and then once we wakes up, we can take turns. He needs you guys…”

“Okay,” Bill simply replies as he and Cindy stand up together.

“I’ll come out with an update here and there,” Darrell adds as he and Ryan go to follow the parents.

With each step, Cindy took a deep breath, reminding herself of the words that he’d be okay, everything was starting to work step-by-step, and the ventilator was for precautionary reasons. Though while her brain kept repeating it, her heart felt like it had sank as she thought the words over, and glanced in the room at him.

“Remember – he’s going to be okay,” Bill whispers, rubbing her shoulder once again as they walk into the room together, followed by Ryan and Darrell. Bill knew he had to be the strong one, despite feeling a need to crave to the same worries, having already seen how Cindy had reacted. He leads her to the chair by his bed, helping her sit down. “Remember that…”

“I just can’t believe this,” she says quietly as she wraps her fingers around his hand, bending down and kissing it. “I just can’t….”

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 103: “Issues in Paradise?”

Saturday, July 1

Chase glances at the ground, twirling his fingers together, before glancing up as he looks around the small waiting room.

After reading the text message, he had rushed over to the hospital to check on his friend. Thankfully, the poison had been caught early enough so it hadn’t gotten Ryan badly. Erin told him that the doctors assured them that they would be able to catch it all before it got worse, despite Ryan probably feeling pretty sick for the next couple of days.

He had been in to see him briefly, letting him know he was there if need be, though took residence in the waiting room to allow his parents and sisters to be with him instead. He debated going back to the track, but knew he wouldn’t sleep with his mind worried about his friend. So instead, he had curled up in the chair and caught a couple hours of rest through the night.

“Do you want anything?” Sarina asks quietly and Chase shakes his head no. “You need to eat or drink something, breakfast wise. You need to take care of yourself.” She then rubs his back, knowing how worried he was despite assurance that everything would be fine. “Especially if you’re racing tonight on top of this.”

“I’m fine,” he answers as he feels his stomach flip flop once again, letting out a sigh. He knew that she was probably right with her concerns, but how could he stomach something with his worry on edge?

“Did they figure anything out from the previous incidents?” Brad Keselowski comments from his spot in the room. He and Joey had shown up that morning concerned about their teammate, along with a couple members from the Wood Brothers. Chase had given them the same spell that he heard from Erin, with the pair spending a bit of time in the room, before retreating to same spot as Chase.

“They couldn’t pick up any finger prints or anything on what they found. They had some suspect ideas, but never really got to narrowing them down based on evidence.” Chase knew one of those suspects was pretty close to the person sitting beside him, and almost felt like revisiting that topic as thoughts ramped through his mind. He could only wonder where Chris was right now.

“Do you have any idea who is on their short list?” Chase shakes his head no. “Well, I guess that’s for good reason as don’t need people walking around getting falsely accused over random suspicions.”

“There’s already enough of that happening without a true list being released,” Sarina comments as Chase shoots her a look as Brad just looks on curiously.

“Oh really?” Brad questions and Sarina shakes her head yes. Chase could only roll his eyes, knowing this wouldn’t be a good discussion to get into.

“Well, just because someone has a past doesn’t mean that they should be countered by people unfairly.” Chase lets out a sigh as he glances away, only wondering what possible response Brad could have to the comment. Although, admittedly, he was curious as to where this would go based his own perspective.

“Something going on between you two that we missed?” Darrell questions, causing Chase to look over immediately. “I saw the look on your face…”

“There’s nothing going on,” Chase comments as he stands up and heads to the vending machine. Perhaps a snack would be a good idea right now.

“I can go get you something…” Sarina says and Chase just shakes his head no as he inserts a bit of change, letting it disperse a hot chocolate before turning around to face the group. Sipping on the liquid could serve as a good distraction.

“So who was the person wrongfully accused, Sarina?” Brad questions as Chase focuses on the marshmallows in his cup. Darrell hadn’t taken his eyes off Chase the whole time, seeing the quietness forming.

“Your brother, right?” Darrell asks, having picked up on the unease from Chase and Sarina’s definite perspective. He knew how things went the last time these two but heads on the topic of Chris, and could only imagine if it happened again.

“Got your own thoughts to share, Darrell?” She questions, causing Darrell to look on surprised.

“You don’t need to get defensive,” Joey comments quietly from his spot in the room.

“I’m sorry but I don’t appreciate my brother being pinned for something that he didn’t do by people who don’t know anything.” Chase rolls his eyes, knowing that wasn’t fully true, having heard from the comment that Jared made about her brother being around.

“We were just asking based on your comment – that’s all,” Brad states. “Now, let’s just forget the topic came up if it is so touchy for you. Besides, we should be focused on Ryan…” Brad then glances down the hall towards the room that Ryan was in, as Chase glances up from his cup at Sarina.

“Do you want to talk?” Darrell whispers as he walks over, grabbing his own drink from the vending machine. He didn’t want a drink, but figured it was good cover for the offer.

“Nah, I’m good,” Chase replies as he takes another sip of his drink, eyes locked on Sarina.

“Issues in paradise?” Chase shakes his head no. “You’re a liar.” Chase then takes his eyes off Sarina and looks over at Darrell.

“Things are fine between Sarina and I. When it comes to her brother, that’s a different story that I’d rather not talk about right now.” Darrell watches his drink disperse, before grabbing the cup and looking back at Chase.

“Is he behind what happened to Ryan, though?” Chase shrugs his shoulders as he wasn’t sure, quite yet. He hadn’t found the knick of evidence that he knew was needed first.

“If he is, you’ll be one of the first to know about it.” Darrell shakes his head, accepting, before returning to his seat. Chase then drinks the last mouthful before making his way to where Sarina was sitting, returning back to his previous seat.

“We okay?” She questions and Chase shakes his head yes. “I know you’re worried about Ryan, but remember what Erin said. He’s going to be okay….” Chase knew to believe in those words, but it still wasn’t easy seeing one of his close friends in this position. “Now, do you want me to go grab you a bagel or something from the cafeteria?” Chase shakes his head no.

“I told you – I’m fine,” he replies quietly as he takes his phone out of his pocket.

“Well I’m going to grab myself something so text me if you change your mind.” She then gives him a quick kiss before heading out of the room. Considering the curious glances from Darrell and stare from Brad, she didn’t want to stick around in the room any longer.

“Anything to say now that she’s gone?” Brad wonders and Chase looks up, shaking his head no.

“I sympathize with her position as I get how it can be tough to hear people accuse Chris,” Chase starts. “But, I get the reason why after what happened. She’ll be fine…” He then returns his eyes back to his phone, hoping a quick game of something would distract his thoughts.

“Will you be fine?” Chase looks up, caught off-guard by Brad’s concern, though simply shakes his head yes.

“How are we supposed to race tonight as if nothing happened?” Darrell wonders from his corner.

“We just believe that he’ll be alright as Erin assured us, and try to win it for him,” Brad comments. “Have you heard anything about who is driving the car, Joey?”

“You’re really worried about that right now?” Brad shrugs his shoulders.

“Just trying to make light conversation, honestly. The silence was driving me crazy.” Chase actually wished they’d return to that, considering how many emotions the conversation had stirred already.

“I think I heard Ryan Reed is driving the car tonight,” Joey comments as Darrell just rolls his eyes. “Sore subject?”

“Because a guy has a sponsor that’ll kiss his ass and he figured out how to win at Daytona twice means that I’m out of a ride when I’ve beat him everywhere else,” Darrell comments. “But no, I’m fine.”

“It is a little unfair….”

“I still can’t believe you couldn’t find a sponsor,” Brad says as Darrell could only shrug his shoulders.

“It’ll work out bud; don’t worry,” Chase assures him as he gives him a pat on the shoulder.

“I hope you’re right,” Darrell says. “I mean, I’m trying to do what I can in the opportunity that I have till Aric comes back, but I can only do so much.”

“You’re not doing too bad so far,” Brad offers. “Just don’t get caught up in the fact that you’re trying to prove yourself, and overdrive the equipment. It’s better to take that so-so finish rather than a wrecked car.” Darrell shakes his head, knowing that fact already. It was why he was so pissed a couple weeks ago.

“Appreciate the advice.”

“And if all else fails, you could always become a rockstar,” Chase jokes, based on the videos that Ryan and Darrell constantly were sharing of them singing and playing instruments. Darrell could only roll his eyes at the comment, but chuckled.

“Would you attend the concert?” Darrell asks and Chase shrugs his shoulders. “Really?”

“I don’t want a headache….” Darrell rolls his eyes, knowing how Chase wasn’t the biggest fan of scream-o music, but rather a country fan himself.

“I will say that I listened to the Chris Rice CD that you left at the house, and it’s actually pretty good.” Chase smiles as it was certainly some progress.

“Chase?” Erin asks, causing Chase to look up from his seat. “We told Ryan that we were going to grab a quick bite to eat – had to pull dad and mom away but they finally agreed. Anyways, he said he wanted to talk to you alone first before the rest of the group came in.” Chase could only look on confused as he wondered what the topic would be. However, standing up and beginning the walk, he couldn’t deny his best friend a visit.

“I’ll let ya know when we’re done,” he tells the others as he heads down the hall. He crosses paths with Sarina, who stops to face him.

“I’ll com-” She starts and Chase shakes his head no.

“Ryan wants to see me alone before we call everyone else in.” She then looks on confused.

“Why?” Chase couldn’t place the reason no matter what he thought of.

“I don’t know, but I’m listening. I’ll come see you when I’m done.” He gives her a quick kiss before continuing the walk down the hall, giving a hug to both Erin and Emma, before taking a deep breath and heading into the room.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 34

Dale sat back as he watched the car go through technical inspection, impressed with how well Kevin Meendering and Steve LeTarte had explained the additions made to the car for Alyssa.

He then glanced over, smiling as he watched Alyssa and Chase sit on a bench, joined by some of their closest friends, simply shooting the breeze. After seeing the pain the pair had been through over the past couple of weeks, it was nice to see a carefree attitude between spread around by both of them. He knew he had fought Alyssa on coming back, perhaps harder than he did for Chase, but the smile her face said it all. The return to racing, emphasized by winning, had done more for her than anything else could.

Standing up and walking away from the area, he puts his hands in his pockets as he takes a deep breath.

He was the first to admit that he was worried about Alyssa coming back to racing. He may not have appeared it when Steve suggested it in the hospital, or when the idea was brought up to NASCAR. He also may not have appeared that way when they made the original test laps prior to the weekend.

However, it was the complete opposite from the truth.

He found his stomach flip flopping through the process, wanting to yell out ‘freeze’ or ‘stop’ or ‘impossible,’ just the same as Marie had in the hospital room. How was something this crazy going to work?

He knew how evil racecars could be when they weren’t handling correctly. He knew how ruthless competitors could be if they saw a single weakness in someone – they were quick to use that to their advantage. He knew the feeling of a car twitching sideways at 200 mph, and the fight a driver had to goo through to save it from spinning around or hitting a wall. There was also the fact of avoiding walls or other cars when you were sent sideways, unable to stop, too. The unpredictability factor was there.

Looking across the dimly lit track, he found himself admitting these worries to himself, even perhaps fear. He even thought about the other night when he dreamt of something happening, resulting in her being hurt badly. He thought of her maybe getting stuck in the car if it was to catch fire. Taking a deep breath, he knew those thoughts were only there because of what he had been through.

Though instead of that, the weekend had gone better than imagined. The team unloaded the best package that they could’ve dreamed of and she had the quickest car throughout the weekend, capping it off with a win despite two separate incidents in the race.

It’d be hours since the checkered flag had flown, but he still found himself in disbelief as to how she had done that. How’d she have the strength to handle steering the whole time with just one hand? How was she able to fight back against the adversity? How was she able to put everything aside and fight back?

Now, instead of those earlier fears, he was wondering if he’d be set to handle 10 weeks of her battling for the championship and stay calm through that. He also found himself thinking about the future.

It was a brief thought before, having crossed his mind after her first couple of wins and even after complimenting her at the test. Though before it had just been a quick thought scuffed to the side.

Was JR Motorsports ready to go Cup racing now?

He had discussed it previously, expressing to Kelley and others who asked that he’d never take his team up to the premiere series, comfortable to where they were in XFINITY.  Besides, there were other things on his plate outside of racing, too, as he and Marie were still busy as ever with Pitronia.

However, he knew there was no room at Hendrick Motorsports for Alyssa and he wasn’t sure if he’d be comfortable with her driving for another team, given the connections. He thought about Richard Childress Racing, but wasn’t too keen in her being teammates with the Dillon brothers. There was the thought of Chip Ganassi Racing, but that wouldn’t seem like home.

In the best interest for the future of his daughter’s career, was his team set to make the next big step?

He knew they had the talent to make it happen. He knew they had the resources to put forth. He knew everything would fall together as soon as he gave the order to make it happen.

But was he ready to pull the plug just yet?

“I was wondering where you ran off too,” Dale hears, glancing behind him as he sees Marie standing there. She then makes her way over, wrapping an arm around him. “What are you thinking about?”

“A lot of different things,” he tells her honestly, knowing he couldn’t lie to her. “From Alyssa to the race team and the future.”

“Care to enlighten me?” He then glances over at her, before looking back out to the track. It wasn’t worth asking her as she didn’t know just how big of a step this would be. Her answer would just be solely based on Alyssa’s future in racing.

“Nah, it’s okay. I’m sure I’ve got it sorted out, or got the right people to contact to make sure I do.” He knew that would involve getting some thoughts from the key players at JR Motorsports before he made his final decision.

“As long as you have it handled, I’m not going to fight you on that.” She then lets him go and walks up pit road a little, before looking back at him. “Remember all the fun moments that we had here together?”

“Bristol has always been magical. She just worked her magic a little extra hard tonight for Alyssa.” Marie smiles as she walks back over, pulling Dale close.

“She needed that, Dale. Chase needed that. It’s the first step to moving forward. We both know that better than anyone.” He shakes his head yes as he wraps his arms around her.

“We were able to do it, Chase has done it before. They’ll be able to do it again, I’m certain.” He then kisses the top of her head as they stay there for awhile together.

Back at the picnic table, the jokes continued amongst the friends.

“So she like literally threatened to kick Ty’s ass today?” Lydia questions and Chase shakes his head yes, with Alyssa rolling her eyes.

“I just stated that I was purely angry – nothing else,” she answers as Chase glances at her.

“It was more like, ‘he’s still a silver spoon fool’ or something like that,” Chase comments as the group just laughs.

“Kevin is never going to live down that comment,” Ryan Blaney says and Chase couldn’t agree more. He had his additional run-ins with Ty, beyond their issues at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

“He spoke the truth that day, though. I could kill at him times, too – and that says a lot coming from me, as you know. But man, he ticked me off a couple years ago at Richmond.”

“Is that when he dumped you for the win?” Leo asks and Chase shakes his head yes. “No surprise.”

“That was the night that Alan and Jared both held you back, and it was my dad who ended up coming by the car to get you and lead you off pit road,” Alyssa remembers as Chase smiles.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he went spinning into a wall tomorrow with the way he’s been driving.”

“If Chase was in the race, he would’ve done that,” Ella comments as Chase shakes his head no. “Really?”

“Alyssa can handle her own battles as she’s the strongest person that I know,” Chase says as he wraps his arms around her. “I don’t need to that for her. Besides, she did get back to his bumper.”

“So, when are you coming back racing?” Elladee Crafton asks, catching everyone’s attention as they look towards Chase. Chase lets out a sigh, unsure how to answer the question. He knew he’d be physically healed from everything soon, but that didn’t cover the mental aspects of what he was going through. He knew that more significant than anything, especially with the flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks.

“I don’t know, honestly. It just depends on how everything goes moving forward. The doctors say I should be fine in a couple weeks, but I don’t know if I’ll be ready then. There’s still a lot that I have to think about, and work my way through.” Ryan and Darrell traded a glance back and forth, knowing what the comment was in reference to.

“You know you can call us anytime you need to talk, right?” Ryan reminds him and Chase shakes his head yes. “I mean that, too. I don’t care if it’s 3 in the morning.”

“And girl, well they have his back, we have yours,” Genieve says to Alyssa as she reaches over, grabbing her hand. Alyssa simply shoots her back a smile and a nod of the head. She knew that she had a lot to talk about, like Chase, but just wasn’t sure who she wanted to turn to on that respect, yet, if anybody.

“We’ve always hung out together so just cause we’re older that doesn’t mean we don’t have each other’s backs and will do whatever it takes,” Lydia adds as the group simply smiles.

“Crazy how we were running around causing chaos in the infield, perhaps driving Chase and Ryan crazy, and now we’re kicking their ass on track.” The younger ones just laugh as Ryan looks on shocked.

“Hey, that’s not nice!” He proclaims as Lydia simply gives him a look.

“What are you going to do about it, Blaney?” She asks as he just smiles.

“I’m going to beat your sister tomorrow and win.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Sorry, I’ve already proclaimed that I am winning so you’ll have to wait till….umm….I’m retired,” Darrell states as Ryan looks over.

“Well, considering you’re a poor old man who requires constant back rubs from Shelby, that’ll be soon,” Ryan teases back in response.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 29: The Meeting

Tony Stewart walks outside, turning the corner and making the quick work down to the next hauler, meeting face-to-face with Kevin Harvick. He was surprised to still see him racing, but had to chuckle as it reminded him a lot of himself. For some, there was no way to get the racing out of them.

“You  know, it’s a lot harder than you may think to wrangle up that group and get them to stay in a room calm without many details,”  Kevin starts as Tony crosses his arms. “Between the questions to the worry to the demanding of answers, to what the heck is going on – I give up with them. Why did you put me in charge?”

“Because I knew you could handle it as best as anybody here, and thank you,” Tony tells him. “Besides, I couldn’t say much or else they’d be stomping down the doors till they found him.” Kevin then looks at Tony curiously, stopping Tony as he goes to walk inside.

“Is he alright?” Tony stops, looking at Kevin with a sincere smile.

“He’s good right now, let me put it that way. It’s just going to take time working through everything, and I want to make sure that these people know what’s going on.” Kevin shakes his head yes as he understands, allowing Tony to enter.

Tony walks through the trailer, up the small set of stairs and opening the door. He glances around the room, seeing the group – including a face he didn’t text message – before stepping inside and closing the door.

“What the hell is going on, Tony?” Alyssa demands first, catching Tony’s attention.

“Where’s my son?” Cindy asks as she crosses her arms, giving Tony the equivalent to a stare down.

“Why haven’t you told us much of anything?” Dale questions as Tony sits back in the one open seat, spinning around the chair before looking at the group.

“Any other questions that you have?” He asks as he glances around. “No? Okay, then maybe I’ll start talking. For the record, Alyssa, I am going to explain what’s going on. Cindy, your son is currently having a well-needed in one of the other haulers in the lounge, at my request. He kind of appeared to look to need it. And Dale, that’s because I wanted to do it this way rather than in pieces over text message and make you go looking for him. Happy? Okay! Now that I’ve answered those, I will say what I called you here for.” He then looks over at Regan. “But wait, why are you here?”

“Dale told me to come,” Regan states with a glance towards Dale.

“When Chase is going through something and needs someone to talk to, most of the time he goes Regan,” Dale starts. “I figured it’d be fitting that he heard this.” Tony shakes his head, completely understanding. He figured the kid had a support system and tried to message those he knew were probably part of it, but figured he’d miss one or two. He was glad that Dale picked up on the fact to call Regan.

“Quite fitting indeed,” Tony comments as he takes a deep breath. Where was he supposed to begin? “So I was making my way back to the hauler after having met with some of the team in the garage to discuss things and I heard someone let out a sound, so I looked with curiosity – and it was Chase. He had tripped over a rock, causing him to let out a curse of word of his choi-”

“Was it fuck or shit?” Ryan questions, catching Tony’s attention. “That boy doesn’t say a lot of bad words. Cindy and Bill raised him really well.” Tony had expected a remark of question in that regard from Darrell, not Ryan.

“It was fuck, but who cares on that small detail, okay? Anyways, I called out his name, simply looking to ask if he was okay. I got an odd reaction, as he jumped back surprised, perhaps even worried. Anyways, I stood my ground and just simply said for him to look at me and got his attention. Seeing how startled he was –not by just me, but perhaps everything going on, I figured it’d be best to give him space to relax so I brought him in the hauler and got him a bottle of water, wanting to calm him down.”

“Anxiety, fear, worry – it’s common with him after something,” Regan starts, remembering some of their conversations. “There was one night he made me stay there over night to be with him because he was worried, I guess you could even say scared. We dealt with a good bit of that when Randy originally attacked him. You could also say that Alyssa being missing resparked that as I noticed it in a couple conversations we had before he got kidnapped. Tony, if that’s why you called us all figuring we didn’t kno-”

“I figured that you guys knew something, but you probably don’t know everything that I’m going to say,” Tony starts. “That’s why I called you guys – because of the unknown facts that I know. However, it’s great to see that you’ve recognized what’s going on and have spoken with him. I just hope that continues, and big time.” The comment throws a curveball through the room, as minds began to wander as to everything that Chase either said or did to spark this conversation out of Tony.1

“Why do you say that?” Jeff Gordon asks curiously from his perspective. Tony then takes a deep breath, figuring it was worth continuing with what else he sad to say.

“As he was drinking the bottle of water, you could tell that he was in pain – his stomach –just by his motions and expressions. I offered to go get someone, or do something, and he told me that he left his pain pills in the 24 hauler when he was there earlier today seeing the gu-”

“That’s why he probably didn’t come up for practice, because he went to get the pills and ran into you?” Marie questions and Tony shakes his head yes. “Yeah, he told Kevin (Meendering) that he had to do something and then was coming back. It caught Dale and Kevin off-guard when he didn’t, but we figured maybe he got tied up talking to someone.” Tony could understand that explanation. However, he knew that wasn’t a fitting reaction based on what he had seen out of Chase. It was why he knew this conversation was necessary.

“Totally easy assumption to make in figuring nothing is wrong,” Tony starts. “But to be honest, I think for the next bit everybody should be a bit more careful, know where he is and who he with and everything. Why? Trust me, you’ll understand if you let me finish saying what happened.”

“And you said that he was fine now, so we don’t have to worry at this very moment, right?” Bill questions and Tony shakes his head yes.

“He’s calmed right down, enough to grab some sleep in the trailer. I have a crew member there and as soon as he wakes up, the crew member will text me so I can go back and make sure he’s fine. Trust me, I took care of all angles.” Bill shakes his head in approval, glad that it was Tony who had found Chase and gone through the motions. He wasn’t sure if the same type of reaction would’ve happened with just any fellow driver or owner in the garage. “Anyways, I offered to go get them but he didn’t want to be left alone – sort of what you were talking about, Regan. So I sent a crew member, easily got them, and he was able to take one, which started working instantly. I waited quietly, just seeing where his reaction would go and what to do next as I wasn’t sure how to handle this. He then told me that he thought he could simply go get the pills, take one, return back to the trailer to watch Alyssa with ease. However, he then goes ‘then it happened, again.’” The group looks at each other, slight confusion entering the spectrum as Regan glances at Dale, remembering the discussion they had shortly after Chase had gone missing with the airplane.

“Can I guess?” Regan asks, catching Tony by surprise. “I’m guessing that he had a total panic alarm set off in his mind, blanking out logical thinking, just going through the wheel of motions till everything caught up together without clearly knowing what he was doing.” Tony was surprised that he heard the right guess made, as it made him question even more why Chase was left alone.

“Yeah, that’s what happened,” Tony answers as Regan lets out a sigh. Perhaps he should’ve moved forward on his original thoughts then. “If you guys knew of this happening, why did you leave him alon-”

“We didn’t know of it being an actual occurrence; it was a random mind guess after he went missing looking for Alyssa. It was a theory that I had put together, but quickly dismissed due to nothing said by him in the days that followed.” Tony felt anger boiling as he just thought nobody had any idea. However, how could you avoid thought when you had an idea?

“Well, since you know of it, I guess why I’ve called you all here. Listen, the kid is got a TON going on emotionally, on a variety of scales. I just wanted to warn you based on what I saw so that way those closest to him to make sure to be there with him, and perhaps – as I said earlier – make sure someone was with him at all times – just so that way they can handle when these happen, till he figures it out.”

“Maybe I did come back racing too soon….” Alyssa thinks out loud, as she thought back to Chase’s thoughts on her return over the past several days. She had been selfish, stuck on her own goals of racing and dealing with her feelings. However, was part of the apprehension actually due to his feelings and needing her to deal with them?

“Alyssa, you can go back racing and we can still handle this,” Darrell starts. “We’ve got a bunch of us here that are tied up and available at different times so we can help when we’ve got time. This doesn’t fall on your shoulders and don’t think your decision has bought this on more.” Tony was glad to hear Darrell giving that piece of advice to Alyssa, especially with what he had to come. He had debated not saying what was said between him and Chase about Alyssa, but knew it was worth her knowing so everybody knew just where Chase was mentally.

“Chase was only giving you those warnings based on his own experience of coming back early, not because of this,” Dale adds. “However, if you felt that you handled it enough to come back racing, and handle the rest while racing, then don’t hold a single thought back on coming back.” Alyssa lets out a sigh as that was a thought she had continued to toss back and forth over the past couple of weeks, as well as during the day with what was said earlier at the press conference.

“Beyond that comment, I think you have word from the rest of us that we’ll be there and help him, and I appreciate you letting us know,” Ryan states, figuring they were near the conclusion of Tony’s discussion period. Besides, there was another XFINITY practice coming up that some of them had to get to.

“I know that I have your word because I know that you guys love him and will do what it takes,” Tony states cleanly, and that wasn’t a question in his mind. “I just have one other thing I think you guys should know, and I hope it doesn’t cause another issue.” He then takes a deep breath, remembering the discussion. “Chase blames himself for what happened. He says because of letting his fear control him, he wasn’t there for Alyssa. He wasn’t able to save her, prevent it from happening, or be there for her today. it’s a ton of guilt that just seemed to pour out of him unexpectedly. I spent a good bit convincing him otherwise in telling him that he was an amazing guy, great for Alyssa, and the fact his attempt to come out this weekend despite everything going on was beyond brave. I told him that he did a great job at the press conference, that he’s proven the odds surrounding the relationship, and mistakes are bound to happe-”

“He’s a ultra perfectionist,” Bill cuts off Tony, catching his attention. “He doesn’t believe in mistakes. To him, mistakes are the cause of things that he could’ve changed or done better to change what happened. He’s always been that way. It’s why he kept playing the previous attacks in his mind over and over, trying to see what he could’ve done differently. It’s why this is eating at him, again, and perhaps more because of how much he loves and cares about her.” Tony shakes his head, having picked up on his own theory around that.

“I also told him that he could bounce back from this, in which he didn’t believe me at first. However, I reminded him how he was able to before, followed by everybody who is here to support him, including Alyssa. I reminded him of the strength that we know he has, and there’s always a way to move forward. I told him it’d be okay, and to be honest, I think I got somewhere as we had a good session of tears before I let him go to sleep for awhile.” Tony then takes a deep breath. “I’ve been in those darkest moments and I know it takes a lot of work. However, with this group, I know you guys will help him.”

“It’s going to work out,” Ryan comments. “It’ll take time, it’ll take each of being patient with him and helping – but it’ll work out. I hate to go through this again with him, but I’d do a 100 times over because of how much I like my best friend.”

“I have no doubt,” Tony states as he reaches for his phone, seeing a text message. “That’s Chase…” The group goes to move, but Alyssa holds her arms out as she stands up.

“I want to go see him before any of you, please,” Alyssa starts. “He blames himself for what happened to me. As Tony said, the first round of feelings that poured out was all about me. Let me go see him. Let me have a heart-to-heart with him, show him I love him, show him it’ll be okay. Maybe with that out of the way, we can work through the rest.”

She then makes her way towards the door, glancing at Tony for directions as to where to go. She knew that she had practice coming up, but she in no way could think about the car or the race later on that night. There was only one thought on her mind, just as he had been in the hospital.

She had to make sure he was okay before she could take her own next step forward that weekend.