Back to Square One – Chapter 28: “Can you help me?”

Thursday

Even though she knew it was wrong, and wanted to head the other direction, she just couldn’t bring herself to do that. Like everything in life, she took it head on and was set to do it to her fullest potential before walking away.

That’s why after completing the hours she needed to at the shop and before heading to the house to pack for Pocono, she knew she had to make a stop on the way home.

Glancing at the sign outside, it seemed like the perfect shop that would carry the parts that she needed. Parking in front, she headed inside with her details set to get this done quickly as possible.

“May I help you?” Mitchell says, eyes focused on her. He recognized her immediately, but wasn’t going to tell her that. The longer she didn’t know, the more information he could gather for Jimmie.

“I’m looking for some parts for a Pontiac GTO,” she tells him as she pulls out a piece of paper. “I just moved to town recently, finally got my car back up and running, and now I’m set to continue improving on it.” He could only think of one reason why she wanted to do that, knowing her background.

“What type of improvements?” She smiles immediately. It was obvious by the name of the place.

“I want more horsepower, speed, torque – better performance overall. Can you help me?” He wasn’t about to turn away new business, or seeing her again so he could keep tabs on her for Jimmie.

“Absolutely. Can you tell me the specifications so I know where you stand and what we can possibly do?” She slides the paper across the counter, as he looks it over. “Not bad, but I got some ideas. I can have the parts in for you by Monday.” She smiles as that’d work out perfectly.

“That’s fine by me. Just let me know what I owe you.”

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

“You seem quiet today…” Chad comments as he finishes packing up what he needs in the shop for the weekend. “And I mean quieter than normal…” Ron could only let out a sigh as he double checked that he had the weekend checklists in order.

“I’d just rather not talk about it, okay?” Ron says and Chad nods his head, having grown to expect that answer. It didn’t mean that he was willing to just move forward this time.

“You know, you’re going to eventually have to talk about what happe-”

“This isn’t about that!” Chad freezes upon the outburst, watching his friend closely as Ron looks up to meet his gaze. Ron hadn’t meant to snap, but it was too late now as the eyes locked on him weren’t about to leave. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sna-”

“You need to change your attitude and fast, Ron. I am not going to deal with someone snapping their ass off at me and being a jackass for long. This team is about commitment, family, and being focused – not being on different pages and annoyance. I don’t have time for shit like that.” Ron knew that, and could feel the ice beneath him beginning to crack with each passing second.

“That’s what she said, too….” His voice trials off, causing the focused eyes to not leave him or flinch. “I snapped at Greenlee the other night when she accused me of staying too late and working too hard to divert my thoug-”

“She’s not lying, Ron. I’ve seen your hours.” Ron rolls his eyes, knowing that he was probably going to get approached about it sooner than later by either Chad or Rick.

“I know, and I don’t deny it. I didn’t deny it to her, either. She went out late last night to go somewhere, and I asked her where she was going. She wouldn’t give me a straight answer – still probably upset about what happened. She got home late and I apologized immediately, feeling terrible still. She told me that I needed to look at myself in the mirror, address my issues, and do something before I pushed everybody away. Basically, take what happened by the horns…” Chad felt his wall of anger break immediately in hearing his friend breakdown what happened, feeling absolutely terrible in that moment. How could he treat Ron that way when his crush had just broken him further?

“Did she say anything else?” Ron shakes his head.

“She just went to her room. It was like I do something, or I begin to lose her, forever. I want to do something as I want to begin the process and move on. I just don’t know how…” Chad’s wall broke even further in hearing the confession. How could he be mad when Ron wanted to do something?

“You could try by talking to me about what happened, and your feelings. You could also try confessing to Greenlee, Jimmie, somebody. You just need to start talking.” Ron knew that, but where would he ever begin?

“I went back to the stree-”

“Ron Male-”

“I didn’t go street racing or stay long, Chad. I just went and looked one night. I thought if maybe I brought back the feelings of being there, reasons for going, seeing how it all began, I could begin to find the answers and clarity that I wanted.” Chad could understand his position – having heard of people doing that before. That didn’t mean he was pleased with the approach, though.

“Did it help?” Ron shakes his head no. “I don’t know what to say or tell you, except she is right. You need to do something as this is eating at you and I don’t want it to come to the point where I have to draw a line. I told you if you needed time off, I could give that to you. Just please, figure out what you need to do and know my door is always open, okay?” Ron nods his head, accepting. “And maybe if you apologize to her again, she’ll understand. She knows how it feels to be in your shoes.”

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Back to Square One – Chapter 27: Sneaking Out

“What time are you getting back tonight?” Ron questions as Greenlee throws him a glance.

“Why does it matter to you?” She shoots back, still upset about his comments in the shop.

“I was just curious, that’s all. And where are you going anyway?” She then looks at him with a bit of surprise. It almost seemed opposite to what happened earlier.

“So I can’t ask you questions, but you can ask me? That seems fai-”

“You’re staying in my house, so I have a right to know.” She could almost laugh in his face right now. Of course, he’d throw it back in her face.

“Maybe I’ll just find myself a new apartment or something so we don’t have to deal with this….” She then grabs her purse, heading out of the house with the door slammed shut behind her.

Slipping behind the wheel, cruising off into the night sky, she couldn’t tell him where she was going. There was no way that he’d understand her intensions, or allow her to go. She might as well kiss the life she was building goodbye.

But, for some reason, she couldn’t let go of the past.

She makes her way to the spot that she was told about previously, pulling up to the mountain as she glances around. A small smile immediately crept onto her face, and it felt like home immediately.

She was one of the best street racers back when she was running the streets, impressing the hell out of every guy that she came across. However, when she moved to Pine Valley, she fell out of that world. There was nowhere to do that there, and she wasn’t able to travel hours for a simple thrill. Instead, her joys and adrenaline came in another form of a twisted life full of ups and downs. While she was enjoying a restart, she missed some of those times there….

Part of her continued to wonder what would’ve happened if she wouldn’t have moved. She wondered whether she would’ve stayed involved in the street racing, where it would’ve taken her, and whether she could’ve made the cut as one of the best.

Taking a deep breath, it never hurt to test the waters a little.

“Well, well, there’s a fine lady if I would say so myself….” A voice catches her attention as she glances to her right. She knew the streets well,  and could tell by the guy’s swagger that he was good at setting things up. Time to play the cards… “What brings you out here, good looking?”

“What other reason would I be out here than to kick some tail?” She questions back in response, catching him off-guard.

“No need to get all hasty, sweetheart. I just wanted to know your intentions.” She watches him as the guy overlooks her car, taking in a surprised glance with a swing around the backend. “Not a bad ride…”

“I don’t play games.” She didn’t know if she could still get it done like before, but he didn’t need to know that.

“Well I would hope not if you’re here. Now if you’re ready to ready to play, I got somebody that’s up for a challenge from a rookie.” She laughs as she was nowhere near a rookie, but perhaps being a little rusty may make it look that way so no need to brag about her record.

“I’m ready for anybody….” She watches a flick of his fingers, and then the roar of a motor fills her thoughts as she could only smile. Anybody could tell that was a mustang from a mile away. She was certainly ready for this fun tonight.

“I hope you’re not just talking the talk because this guy isn’t someone to mess with.” She then laughs back in return as her hands land on the steering wheel.

“Neither am I, hot shot.”  He then smiles as he glances in the car, eyes focused on hers.

“Be at the starting line in 10.” She watches as he walks away, taking a deep breath. She could already feel the adrenaline pumping through her veins, itching to her hand shift through the gears and feel the rumble of the horsepower.

Why hadn’t she done this sooner?

**********

She climbs out of the car, grabbing her purse and heading inside the house. It had been a decent night, as fun was definitely had in revisiting memory lane. But, it hadn’t gone as according to plan as she lost both races she tried, certainly showing the rusty ability that surrounded her. There was also probably the fact that the car needed some TLC, too.

“Hey,” she hears quietly as she walks past the living room, glancing at Ron as he watches the TV.

“Hey,” she replies back as she continues walking through the room without a pause in her step.

“Greenlee, I want to apologize for earlier.” She then stops suddenly, glancing back at him, surprised and taken back by his words. “I shouldn’t have been as rude to you. You’re right about your concerns, and you have every right to care, too. Actually, I like the fact that you care about me so dearly. I shouldn’t had let my mood and everything that’s going on cloud that judgment and take it out on you. It’s just I can’t find the way to tell everybody so I lashed out. I’m sorry…” She nods her head, accepting the apology. If truth be told, she truly cared about him more than she could admit, worried about his condition with everything that he was going through. But, that didn’t mean that he could just escape what he had done. Sorry was just a word in her mind, as actions did the talking.

“Maybe it’s time you take a look at yourself in the mirror, and address those issues, before you push away every damn person that cares about you by treating them like an ass. Life isn’t full of pure happiness, joy and perfection, Ron; we all get dealt tough times – trust me. That doesn’t give us a right to treat everybody like you treated me. Maybe it’s time you open your eyes and realize what myself, Jimmie, and Chad have been saying to you all along.”

She then keeps walking, closing the bedsroom door behind her, leaning against it, hot tears forming and rolling down her cheeks as she slid down to her knees.

She loved him so much. She wanted to reach out, accept the apology, and just move on like nothing happened. She wanted to feel his arms around her, speak with him more. But, she couldn’t do that. If she had done that, then they’d just probably repeat the cycle over and over as he continued to fight the demons he was facing.

If there was any chance of moving forward and letting him find his true self, she needed to do this.

Back to Square One – Chapter 25: “I just care about you….”

Greenlee makes her way down the long, spiraling staircase, making her way into the shop. She gives a quick wave and smile to a couple of guys who were still lingering around, before making her way over to Ron.

“Hey,” she says quietly as she kneels down to see him underneath one of the racecars.

“Hey,” he replies, though remains focused on the task at hand.

“I was wondering when you’d be done for the night.” He slides out from underneath the car, glancing up at her with a shoulder shrug as he grabs a wrench off the ground. “Ron, you need to go eat…”

“I’m fine.” He then crawls back underneath the racecar as she lets out a sigh. She knew exactly what he was doing. She’d done it herself before.

“You’ve been here since the crack of sunrise and it’s like almost 9 o’ clock – that’s 14 hours. You didn’t even bother to take a lunch break. If I was looking at this correctly, I can assume that you’re using this as a way to keep your mind distracted and not thinking about everything going on.” He then looks over at her, anger written across his face. This wasn’t what he signed up for when he did her a favor.

“What are you? My shrink? My bodyguard? You don’t control my life.” She takes a deep breath, knowing that was just him lashing out because he hated the accusations.

“I just care about you…” Ron then focuses his eyes back up, letting the comment brush over him quickly. His heart did swell at the thought due to his original crush, but he did not want to hear it right now as he knew her games. “Ron, we both know that you’re carrying a lot of emotional baggage right now. We know that you have a lot going on. That’s not just going to disappear. You’re going to need to do something about it. Continuing to ignore isn’t doing something.”

“I told you before, just like I told Jimmie and Chad – I’ll handle it as I’m ready. I’ll work it out on my own. You don’t see it affecting my daily life, do you?” She lets out a sigh, knowing the signs were there.

“You’re not getting a full nig-”

“I never have.”

“You’re not taking time for yoursel-”

“Welcome to the job. Ask Chad. This is how we live our lives.”

“You’re not taking care of yourself. Damn it, Ron!” Her outburst caught the attention of the few lingering crew members as he simply let out a sigh. He then crawls out from underneath, rising up on his knees so they were seeing straight into each other’s eyes.

“I gave you a chance. I gave you an opportunity. I did you a favor when you were lost, alone, and needed help. I opened the door for you to have a place to live, and a place to work so you could land your feet after all the crap that you pulled. And this is how you treat me in return? Great friend you are! Do me a favor and move out now if you’re going to be a bitch. Otherwise, let me live my life the way I want.” He then goes to go back under as she grabs hold of hand, firmly. This wasn’t the Ron Malec that she grew up with talking. “Let me go…”

“You’ve never been this spiteful or hateful. Gosh, you were the total sweetheart, and always there to figure crap out for everybody. Heck, you kept me out of trouble. Look at what you’re doing to yourself…” He didn’t see it that way, though. There was a lot of time that had passed in 17 years.

“That was 17 years ago, sweetheart. People change. You’ve changed, too. Now let me go.” She knew that she couldn’t do that as her heart said no in every which way possible.

“Just damn well promise me that you’re going to do something about what’s going on….” He takes a deep breath, glancing away at first, before turning back to her.

“I told you – it’s my life and I will handle it as I see fit.” She reluctantly lets go as he slides back underneath the car to continue what he’s working on.

“I’ll make sure to cover the leftovers and leave a plate for you from dinner.” She then walks out of the shop, quietly.

Lying underneath the car, he takes a deep breath, watching her walk out as a flood of emotions go through his mind. What if she was right? What if he was losing his true self to the demons that flooded his thoughts?

He then takes another deep breath, before focusing on the task at hand, knowing that it had to get done one way or another.

Once he was done what needed to be done, he stands up, wipes his hands off, and walks over to the toolbox. He places the wrench back where it belongs, freezing, taking a deep breath….

Ron glanced around the pit box, making sure that everything was tucked away as needed – once again, satisfied. He then continued his walk towards the garage, when a hand grabbed him and gave him a firm tug, swiping him off of his feet. He immediately goes flying, unable to stop the forward momentum, before crashing into a female.

“Hel-” Ron goes to let out but never manage to finish the words as a cold, metal object is pressed against his forehead.

“Finish those words and draw attention and you’re going to wish that you never said those words,” she tells him as she grabs his hands, pulling them behind his back with a clamp over them.

“You’re not going to get away with this.” She then spins him around, grabbing a handkerchief out of her pocket.

“I already am.” She then ties it around his mouth as the fumes immediately begin to take over. He feels himself getting light on my feet as she pulls him towards a red car. The folder he once held in his hand drops, spreading all over the ground, before she puts him into the red car.

Ron’s eyes flung open, hands gripping the tool box as hard as they could, as his gaze is focused in a forward direction. Everything comes into view and he realizes that he’s not in a car, he’s not in a room – but nope, he is still at Hendrick Motorsports.

Taking a couple calm deep breathes, he reminds himself that he is safe and there is nothing to worry about. He remains like that for a good 10 minutes, before he settles on finding his bearings completely.

“Maybe I do need some sleep,” he lets out as he wipes his hands quickly, throwing the rag in the bucket before heading for the exit.

Back to Square One – Chapter 21: Coca Cola 600

Greenlee sat on the pit box, fingers crossed, hoping that they had the speed on the long run to snag the lead and a possible win. While this had originally been a simple job, she found herself caught up in the emotions with the rest of the guys, anxious about their chances at victory.

If they could just find a bit more speed…..

In the end, they came up short of the ultimate goal, crossing the finish line in third. While it wasn’t the dream victory, it was improvement after the past couple of weeks.

“Nice job everybody!” Chad says, before climbing down the steps and heading over to see Jimmie.

“I saw you getting excited….” Ron whispers over Greenlee’s shoulder as they put everything together.

“How could I not get caught up in the moment?” She questions with a smile.

“Hey, it’s fine. Actually, I’m glad to see that. It just means that this is working out better than planned. Now you’re seeing why I love this job so much.” She nods her head, accepting.

“How do stand the nerves at times, though?” He laughs as he puts everything together.

“It comes with practice, but trust me – it eats at me more than I show on the surface. I mean, it’s not just my team, but my best friend, right?” She nods her head. “Alright, you got everything together?”

“Yeah, I’m good to go.” They both climb down the steps, heading towards the car. “So Jimmie is doing interviews, and then once they’re done we load up?” Ron could only chuckle in response. This was going to be another new experience for her.

“We all wish it was that easy, but that’s far from the case. Once NASCAR gives the guys the go ahead, the car gets pushed back to the garage area and goes through post-race inspection. Basically, everything we did pre-race, along with some other stuff. NASCAR may also take the car back to their Research & Development center for further inspection, too.” Greenlee was taken back by the process, but totally understood why it was done in the name of fair game. She could also understand now why Ron referenced some weekends including really late nights, like this would probably be.

“Well, I guess we got some wor-”

“That’s for me and the guys. As per your job description, all the race notes are to be typed up, as well as data downloaded from the electronic fuel injection. Just follow your normal protocol – but maybe once, we’ll both get to go home done our work at the same time.” She nods her head, accepting. It seemed easy enough – even if she wondered whether she’d ever get her own hands dirty in the garage.

“I can follow the job guidelines….” Ron smiles as they reach the car. She takes the notes that Ron and Chad had put together, placing them in her usual binder, while he leaned on the back waiting for the call to be made from the officials.

As he takes a deep breath, he was glad that he had gotten a good night sleep for a change. So much for getting out of there a little early….

The night was as busy as expected, with the team spending hours going through the process as required by NASCAR. As they were finishing up, Jimmie made his way over, changed out of his firesuit into a pair of jeans and t-shirt. Being close to home, there was no worries in having to make departure time or getting home too late.

“Hey,” he says as he comes over and sits down beside Ron. Normally, he liked to check in and make sure they passed inspection so he got no surprises mid-week. “We good?”

“Passed with flying colors,” Ron answers with a smile. It was re-assuring to see that as it meant the work they’d put in was all legal as ever, and worthwhile. You never wanted to put months of research into improving a program and get disqualified in the first good run with it.

“Everybody else pass, too?” Ron nods his head, knowing the reference was made in regards to Martin Truex Jr. it was crazy to see how fast they were at times.

“They still haven’t found what they’re doing – if anything.” Jimmie nods his head.

“And how are you doing, honestly?” Jimmie was set to focus on just race discussion, but his heart immediately reached out to Ron in wanting to see how his best friend was doing. If he couldn’t pick Greenlee apart and get Candiss to spy, then he might as well check on Jimmie.

“I’m doing good. I got a good night sleep last night, I’m feeling healthy, and I’m happy. What more can I say?” Jimmie nods his head accepting as it was nice to hear the positivity. But he also had to wonder about everything else, too.

“I meant about the other, Ron. I mean, how are you handling that?” Ron lets out a sigh, knowing the question was coming. It was also known that he couldn’t just brush it off with Jimmie, either. He wished he could say it was handled and dealt with, but he knew that Jimmie would never believe that in a million years.

“I haven’t really addressed that, yet….” Jimmie rolls his eyes, realizing they were getting nowhere.

“It’s not going to just improve itself over night. You need to do something…” Ron lets out a sigh, knowing that Jimmie was right. But what was he supposed to do first? “Talk to Greenlee, talk to me, talk to Chad, talk to somebody – please. You need to get those feelings out in the open…”

“I know. You don’t have to lecture me, Jimmie. I get this more than anybody. I deal with it every day, remember?” Jimmie nods his head, taking a deep breath. Maybe he needed to lay off a little.

“I deal with my end of it, too. It compares nothing to what you went through, but there’s regret and blam-”

“What did I tell you abo-”

“I know, but sometimes it creeps back in – especially when I know it’s still bugging you.” Ron now felt that guilt, not wanting to push the emotions beyond himself.

“Look, you don’t have to worry. I’ll work it out. We always work things out, right?” Jimmie nods his head. “And for the record, you can stop spying on Greenlee. You don’t need to worry about anything. It’s not like we’re together.”

“It’s not like you haven’t thought about it, though…” Ron couldn’t deny that as he glanced away from his best friend.

“When I hear how much she still misses Ryan and Leo, I can’t bring myself to ask her, make that move. What if I push the boundaries too soon? What if I repeat the cycle for her? Maybe we’re just best as friends…” Jimmie smiles, having heard these tales before. He was set to be getting ready to be a best man in a couple years, right?

“Whatever you do, trust your heart. It’ll lead you to happiness.” Ron nods his head as he glances over at Greenlee continuing to type up notes.

Back to Square One – Chapter 20: “You’re asking me to spy for you?”

Friday – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Jimmie lets out a sigh as he stands back, watching the furious sea of activity around the 48 car.

His eyes then drifted towards the blond in their stall, watching as she furiously typed away on the computer. He knew she had a new batch of notes from Chad, Ron, and the engineers after practice and the debrief, which meant she was going to busy for awhile.

Crossing his arms, he so badly wanted to believe in her. He wanted to trust her fully, and make her one of the team. He also had a good feeling about her based on Ron’s reaction, Chad’s reaction, and what he’d seen so far. However, he still had to wonder.

What if she was up to something? It wasn’t like she had a princess past, and it wasn’t like she didn’t know how to mess with someone. Knowing how vulnerable Ron was right now, he wondered if she was her next victim and the team was going to be a by-product.

“You look like you’re in your own little world,” Candiss says as she walks up behind him, wrapping her arms around. “How was the car?”

“Not bad, I guess,” Jimmie answers. In truthfulness, it had been better than the past couple of weeks – but still not where he believed the 48 team should be.

“You guys are going to be fine. You, Ron, and Chad always figure it out…” Jimmie knew that as he nodded his head in response. It didn’t make the down times any easier, though. Glancing back at her, he got an idea.

“Say, you don’t have a lot of friends around the tracks….” Candiss was caught off-guard by the comment, but felt the need to go with it.

“Amy, Ingrid, Jordan, Sherry, Delana, Krissie – I get along with some of the girls.” Jimmie knew that, but still figured this would work to his advantage.

“Greenlee is new to the area and doesn’t know anybody. I figure you girls could get close with the team always being together. You may even have some things in common…” Candiss then looks at Jimmie, questionably. He never pointed out friends for her, knowing that she wasn’t one to let down her guard easily.

“Something is up, am I right?” Jimmie laughs as he looks back towards her.

“She’s getting awfully cuddly with Ron.” Candiss could only roll her eyes.

“And being his best friend, you want to watch out for him and don’t trust her?” Jimmie nods his head. “What about her instincts at Tallad-”

“Past experience could easily make that look good.” Jimmie takes a deep breath as he goes to face Candiss. “Look, Ron is vulnerable right now. I would usually trust his choices, but I’m fully sold on Greenlee. All I’m saying is hang out with her some, get to know her, see what she’s like, and give me the lowdown.”

“So in reality, you’re asking me to spy for you?” Jimmie wished she wouldn’t had figured out the plan.

“Maybe I am. But she could also be a great addition to the group…” Candiss glances over, before returning her eyes to Jimmie. This wasn’t going to be easy.

“I can’t do that, Jimmie. I’m not the type to spy on people and play gam-”

“Oh really? That seems strange considering how we met.” Candiss sighs, knowing she had set a double standard. However, that was a different situation.

“We’ve all changed from then, remember? Live, learn and move forward.” Jimmie knew that, but it didn’t change his nerves.

“I just don’t want to be blindsided by something again; hence keeping an eye on her.” Candiss looks back over at Greenlee, before turning back to Jimmie.

“I can’t, Jimmie…” Jimmie nods his head, accepting. He wasn’t going to make her feel uncomfortable.

“Alright, no problem at all. I just thought I’d ask and consider.” Candiss then pulls Jimmie close, as she keeps her eyes on Greenlee.

“Take a deep breath, and relax. Not everybody is out to do you harm. Sometimes second, third chances are what people need as sometimes they’re dealt a bad hand. Take the good out of her, and cross your fingers. Also, believe in your best friend. Ron is a good judge of character. He’ll read her like a book.” Jimmie wanted to believe those words, but couldn’t help but think back to the recent office conversation.

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

Following all of the racing that day, Greenlee retreated back to one of her first spots that she found in town and enjoyed – Lake Norman.

Sitting on the rocks, it reminded her of those strolls along the water with Ryan. It also reminded her of the time they hid out together, along with the park. Her memory continued to flash back through a series of thoughts.

Taking a deep breath, she glances down at the wedding band on her finger, rubbing it gently, before looking out to the water once again.

“I miss you more than I realize sometimes,” she lets out quietly as a couple tears come down her eyes. She then feels an arm wrap around her, almost flashing back to how Ryan would hold her, but then noticed immediately it was Ron.

“I figured when you didn’t come home you were here,” Ron comments as she nods her head.

“I just can’t let go…” He understood that as he kept her held close.

“You never will let go, Greenlee. He’ll always be a part of you no matter what.” She knew he was right, having been through that with Leo. Even though she moved on with Ryan, Leo never left her heart ever.

“Why does it hurt so bad?” Ron shook his head, not knowing why. “It comes and goes, too. It just hit me when I was leaving the track and I just automatically brought myself here. Other days, I can just cruise through without a single thought.” Ron understood that, dealing with his own emotions.

“Maybe something reminded you of him. But hey, it’s okay to have these thoughts. It just shows how he’s apart of you, how you cared, how you loved him, and how special it was. Don’t ever be ashamed, either, and don’t be afraid to speak up. I’m always willing to listen to a story or hold you.” She looked over, giving him a slight smile. His words reminded her of something, too.

“And what about you? The same goes from me to you, too, as I know you’re still dealing with a lot. I hear you when you get up at night, Ron.” Ron nods his head, knowing he wasn’t the quietest in his trips out of the kitchen for a glass of water or milk.

“I appreciate that, really.” He then takes a deep breath as he looks out to the water. “I just don’t know where to begin, or how to describe it.” She could understand that, having been there before. It was why one time David Hayward hypnotized her.

“Sometimes it helps to start at the beginning, or with the first emotion you feel. Sometimes people start with the weakest because they feel it’s the easiest and then build up. Others go straight in so that way they can get the toughest part out of the way.”  Ron could see all of those theories working, but still didn’t know of a direction for himself – but a question did come to mind.

“Have you ever felt like the walls are closing in and there’s nothing you can do to stop it?” She nods her head, remembering a couple experiences.

“I was stuck in a mind shaft with my life threatened by a crazed brother so certainly I know that feeling.” Ron nods his head, remembering that story. He could only wonder about the strength she had.

“How do you look past everything and just move forward?” She takes a deep breath, trying to conjure up the best advice possible.

“I went through therapy a couple different times. I also leaned on those closest to me – Leo, David Hayward, Ryan, Kendall, my father. I talked about it, figured out how to handle it, and then moved forward.” He thinks it over, wondering if there was a single person he could do that with – like Jimmie or Chad, as they had offered. Perhaps therapy was a good option, too.

“I want to be able to sleep at night without a thought – I just don’t know to get there…” Greenlee nods her head, understanding.

“It takes time, Ron. It’s not going to happen overnight. You first need to find a strategy that works and then commit to it. You can’t just half-ass this. You have to treat it like you do work – go all in.” Ron had to chuckle, knowing that wasn’t possible. He couldn’t let up on his team commitment at all or else Chad may have a fit.

“Yeah, okay….”

“I’m serious, Malec!” He looks on surprised to hear her reference him by his last name. “And for the record, Chad would understand. Recall how he reacted to everything at Dega…”

“You don’t know Chad that well ye-”

“I know him well enough that he has a heart underneath it all. He could’ve shot your ass out of a cannon last year, remember.” Ron nods his head, remembering how nervous he was about his future. He didn’t know what he’d do if Chad and Rick would’ve fired him.

“There would’ve been questions that he couldn’t answ-”

“That’s why you guys have public relations staff, and I’m sure Amy could’ve come up with something quickly as she’s trained. Don’t try and pretend this is nothing.” Ron should know better, based on how close he was with Chad. Chad had also stopped in the shop to check on him that day, too.

“Fine – you win.” She then smiles. “And I will take your thoughts into consideration…”

“Sooner than later, and know – I am always here like you have been for me…” Ron smiles as he holds her hand tightly.

Back to Square One – Chapter 18: AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway

May 2016 – Race #12

Greenlee walks into the garage, smile on her face, clipboard held tightly close to her. She walks by some of the guys, taking a seat in what had become her usual spot already in just a couple weeks as she opened up the board.

She was getting herself in a good habit.

She would bring the notes from the last meeting containing the set-up they planned to start the weekend with, along with some details on the current weather conditions. That way through morning conversation in the hauler, she’d just have to make notes about small adjustments made to the plan.

She also was already developing her own short hand to use in the book so she could write things quicker, catching everything mentioned by the guys. Then later on, she’d expand it into long form so when reading back the notes were understandable by everybody.

Seeing how close competition was in the garage, there were times she wondered whether it’d be a good idea to actually teach the team the short hand so that way if anybody snagged a peak they’d never understand what was there. Shaking her head, she had to let out a small laugh as she was already turning into one of them looking for an advantage.

She used to trying to find advantages, though. She did with her business in always being on the cutting edge in fragrance and make-up so they’d remain on top. She continued that form when she did street race, keeping the second bottle of NOS hidden to where it couldn’t be seen if somebody peaked in the car.

“Already here working?” She hears, glancing up at Chad with a smile.

“I wanted to make sure everything was in perfect order,” she answers as he simply smiles in return. It seemed with each passing week, he was removing more reservations about her.

“I like your thinking. Maybe we can turn things around this week and actually have a good finish.” He then was about to walk away, but stopped and looked back towards her. “Has Ron mentioned anything since his panic episode at Dega?” She shakes her head no.

“He told me he’d talk when he was good and ready. I’ve been just offering comfort and steadiness, while reminding him that everything will be okay no matter the thoughts.” Chad shakes his head, accepting.

“I told him he could come to me whenever he felt right about doing so, if needed to. I just worry sometimes…” Greenlee smiles, seeing the concerning side of Chad that Ron had mentioned last week.

“When you go through something traumatic, some people just get over it easy while others it takes time. Some people can talk to somebody about it immediately, while others just need to do so in due time. I’m sure he’ll come around and handle it like we both want him to. Patience. All you can do right now is just assure him that everything is okay.” He shakes his head, accepting. He knew her advice was worth listening to after what he had learned from Dom.

“What did you do? Did you always talk about it, or avoid it?” She then looks on puzzled. “Look, I’m always super conscious about this team and everybody. I may have ran a background on you and found out everything that I could know about your past to make sure things were legit.”

“I can understand that based on how I entered the picture, and Ron’s past himself. But to answer your question, I always could talk to Ryan no matter what. We just had that special connection that I can’t even begin to describe, Chad.  It’s why it hurts so much knowing he’s gone. However, I admit there were times that I held it in and even tried running from it. That never did me any good, as you probably learned.” He shakes his head in agreement, having heard a couple of those tales from Dom.

“Well I appreciate what you’re doing for us, and I appreciate you being there for Ron. It means a lot. I hope this second, third chance works out for you.” She could only smile. It was nice to hear a bit of positivity from someone other than just Ron and Jimmie.

“Thanks Chad. That means a lot coming from you. Hopefully this weekend works out.”

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

The crew could only stand there shaking their heads.

They had done everything right. They gave Jimmie a quick car. They had run up front throughout the race. They were even second as the race was in the second half. Then it happened. The transmission messed up on the restart, causing a stack up and a crash, taking out Jimmie and a bunch of his fellow competitors.

Rather than celebrating or at least standing on pit road with a top-five, they had a wrecked car and a 25th place finish.

“We’re going to turn this around, eventually,” Chad states as they finish packing up. “We can’t  do this forever. We’ve been too quick for this to happen all year.”

“It’s a long season bud; we’ll be fine,” Jimmie replied.

Ron and Greenlee just looked at each other, knowing that it’d be another long week in dealing with Chad’s short temper once again. Greenlee was fine with that, as she understood the reasons why and had gotten to see the nicer side of him.

Back to Square One – Chapter 17: Ready to Work

May 2016 – Kansas Speedway

“Ready for your first official work weekend?” Ron questions as they walk into the garage area together.

“Are you ready for this weekend all together?” Greenlee asks in response, causing Ron to freeze on the spot. “What?”

“Are you going to ask me that every weekend from here on out after what happened last week?” She then thinks it over, and shakes her head no. She knew that’d become too overbearing and she hated when Ryan was like that with her.

“I was just asking to be courteous and because I care about you. Is that okay?” He shakes his head yes as he wraps his arms around her.

“I don’t want to pretend that everything is okay, because I haven’t done what I needed to do yet. But, I can assure you that I am ready to go this weekend and we’re going to have a great weekend.” A smile formed on her face, hoping that he was right.

“I wouldn’t mind being able to see why you guys like winning so much…” Ron then chuckles as they keep walking together, his arm wrapped around her.

“You’ll have to tell Jimmie to drive the wheels off of her Saturday night.” The pair then walk into the garage, resulting in a couple hoots and haulers from the guys. “Really, guys?”

“Hey, we’re not used to seeing a girl on your arm there, Ronnie,” R.J. Barnette teases first. “Want to start talking?”

“Was she one of those nurses who took care of you?” Kevin Novak adds, with a grin. “I told you he was flirting.” R.J. laughs as he sits back in his seat, causing an eye roll from R.J.

“That t doesn’t explain the outfit, though,” Kyle Tudor observes as she glances down at herself.

“She’s the boss’ new assistant,” Ron comments, causing a couple surprised glances.

“Chad finally found someone that will put up with him?” Kevin asks as Greenlee shoots a look at Ron.

“He probably hired her because he wanted to allow the love to blossom between these two,” R.J. adds as Ron just gives him a punch. “Hey!”

“She went through the proper process, and passed with flying colors,” Ron starts. “Chad then observed her notes during the week, and allowed her to spend Talladega weekend observing. She is doing well, so it’d be nice if you’d have some maturity to yourself.” R.J. then looks on surprised, but laughs.

“Dude, you can’t blame me. We’re not used to seeing our man with a girl.” Greenlee then focuses her eyes on the crew member.

“R.J., right?” She questions, and he shakes his head yes. “Listen, Ron and I are good friends, and been that way for a very long time. We’re not together as you’re implying, though. So no need to tease and start using that book of sex jokes that you’ve probably been waiting to use for a long time.” R.J. immediately smiled as he heard the words escape her lips.

“I like you already,” R.J. replies. “I can see why Chad hired you as you don’t take bullshit.” She then turned on her heels, heading to the pit box to grab her notebook. It was going to a joyous season. “Hey, does she have a boyfrie-”

“Can it,” Ron cuts him off before he can say anymore, which causes the smile to return on R.J.’s face.

“You do like her….”  Ron rolls his eyes, though couldn’t deny it.

“We went out a long time ago, and things just didn’t work. Let’s just say that I may be willing to try things around, but I’m not quite ready to do that just yet.” R.J. shakes his head, understanding.

“Well, I do sincerely wish you guys the best because it’d be great to see you happy. I mean, the boss is happy and Jimmie is happy so you’re up next.” Ron smiles, having figured that.

“I’ll be happy if we run well this weekend so Chad lays off our asses.” R.J. then laughs as he notices Chad and Jimmie heading their way.

“You obviously haven’t picked up anything much these past 14 years, have you?” Ron laughs and shakes his head no as he looks towards the pair.

“Time to get to work boys….” Chad announces as he walks into the garage and over to where Greenlee was standing with notebook in hand. It was going to be a fun weekend.

***********

“We’re smoking guys….” Earl Barber comes over the radio during the first practice as Chad shakes his head. The crew guys immediately begin to make their way down the steps, knowing the process. Some would begin to pull out the back-up motor, while others went to find the heads of the Hendrick Motorsports engine department.

“Blown up?” Chad questions on the radio.

“Not too sure actually,” Jimmie answers, causing puzzled glances from Chad and Ron towards each other.

“10-4.” Chad then climbs down the steps, followed by Ron and Greenlee.

“What could be wrong?” Greenlee asks as they head to the garage stall together.

“We may have lost the motor, may have a leak, or some oil in the intake,” Ron answers. “Didn’t Kasey have that problem at Phoenix?” Chad shakes his head yes, remembering.

The team head into the garage stall, letting the engine guys do their job in looking everything over accordingly. Chad could only glance at the clock and watch the minutes in practice continue to tick away.

“You guys are good to go,” Doug Duchart says as he walks over. “Same deal as Kasey. We figured it out and you should be fine.” Chad looks at the general manager, curiously.

“So we’re not going to blow a motor halfway through the race as a result?” Chad questions and Doug shakes his head no. “Alright. Thanks….” Chad then heads over to the car, set to go about the rest of practice as usual.

The rest of the practice went smoothly, with Jimmie finishing it off sitting fourth on the speed chart.

Despite qualifying in 15th, everybody was confident heading into the event. They started off strongly, with Jimmie working his way into the top-10 and up to sixth. However, the night fell apart with 26 laps to go when he sped on pit road. Restarting tail end of the field, he only got back up to 17th.

“Well, least we had a good car,” Ron comments as they are packing up the pit box.

“Yeah – I guess,” Chad says as he heads off into the garage area.

“Is he always like that?” Greenlee questions, and Ron looks over shaking his head yes.

“He’s very hard on himself and this team to succeed,” Ron starts. “If you can’t handle the pressure, get out of the kitchen now because that’s life with these guys. He takes this very seriously, and expects greatness every week. When it doesn’t happen, he turns crabby. That said, he’s one of the most amazing guys away from the track and will always have your back.”  Greenlee shook her head, understanding as she watched him head off.

“Even if you do something that he’s completely angry about, and wants to question every turn?” Ron looked towards Chad’s direction, knowing what she was referencing right away.

“He’s just doing what he needs to do in order to protect this team and everybody involved. He just wants to make sure we’re making the best decisions that we can.” He then glances over her shoulder at the notes. “I say those look very nice.”

“Thank you.” She then closes the folder with a glance back his way. “Now to spend all night typing it up so Chad has it for the meeting.” Ron knew it was wrong to take this next step, but he was willing to go for it.

“Well, you actually have all day Sunday since we don’t do these meetings always till the Monday. So you can relax for the rest of tonight, spend some time tomorrow typing them up while relaxing. Maybe even go out for a bit with me….” She then looks over, intrigued and caught off-guard. That sounded like a date.

“Oh really?” He could only wonder about her response.

“Like, we could go mini golfing or go get you some things that you need. Whatever ya want.” She felt herself relax instantly, as it wasn’t a date offer.

“That sounds great.”