The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 35: Advance Auto Parts Clash

Sunday, February 11 – Daytona International Speedway

Chase walks down pit road, set to kick off the day. Knowing the Hendrick Motorsports cars were good in qualifying, he was confident that today would go well. But really, it didn’t matter as starting position was one of those no guarantee on the plate track, and the Duel was really where it all happened to be set.

“After watching the ARCA race in a bucket full of nerves last night, I have to wonder how you are today,” he hears Jimmie and can only roll his eyes. After Todd had forwarded the video and message to Kyle, it seemed that Kyle had passed it along to some others – including Chase’s own teammates.

“I’m fine now that it is done and over with,” Chase states as Jimmie just chuckles.

“There’s still the truck race next Friday.” Chase slowly nods his head as he knew the nerves would probably be back then.

“I feel better about that, simply due to no endless restart rule with one to go and much better talented drivers.”

“I can’t believe you, a racecar driver, would get nervous…” Chase looks at him surprised, as he holds his hands up a certain distance apart.

“Dude, she was like this close to being in that second last wreck!” Jimmie had tuned into the race out of curiosity, and knew exactly what Chase was talking about.

“Just to drive through it and get penalized for holding back on the rest-”

“That was a shitty call!” Jimmie couldn’t quite immediately agree with his teammate.

“She wasn’t up to the field, though, and it proved to be an advantage because it helped her escape that mess.” Chase lets out a sigh as he wasn’t about to get into an argument. How could he argue about something that she wasn’t even upset about herself? “With that in mind, do I have your permission to plan a bachelor party yet?”

“We’re not engaged, Jimmie.” Jimmie looks at him a little confused. “What?”

“I literally told Dale that you’d probably be engaged by Speedweeks. So, are you waiting until Valentine’s Da-”

“No.” Chase then takes a deep breath, remembering what he told the crew guys. “Look, it’s not happening anytime soon so can you just please drop it? We’ve talked about it and know how each other stan-”

“One of you is afraid, and it’s probably her.” Chase lets out a sigh. “Hey, it’s fine. I understand based on her history as to why she’s afraid. But, she talked about that with you clearly and you both know where each other stands. So when the time is right, like you said, it will happen. I just can’t help but bug you.”

“Keep it up and I’ll get William to buy you a Grandpa package.” Jimmie gives him a ‘are you serious’ look as Chase just laughs, walking away.

Ultimately, the session went solidly as he would end up 12th in round one, followed by moving up to 10th in the second. It’d set him up to start fifth in the second Duel on Thursday evening. However, he couldn’t admit but feel a little off in watching the other three qualify first, third, and fifth – setting them up to start all together in the first Duel.

“I swear I didn’t do some trick or miss some trick they were doing,” Alan confesses following the session. “I mean, to be fair, all the cars were built pretty equal.” He then glances back at his notes. “Did you say that it drove well in practice?”

“It felt good by itself, and it felt real comfortable despite being in the middle of that one draft,” Chase comments as Alan shakes his head a little confused.

“I got nothing – unless the adjustment we made to get you a little more comfortable actually slowed you down.” Chase shrugs his shoulders, not even sure as he looks over the starting line-up for his Duel. “You’ve got Kyle, Denny and Erik all starting together up front. You know that’s going to be a Toyota trai-”

“Grab the back of it and use it to stay in position until the end?” Alan nods his head as that wasn’t a bad plan. “William and Alex said that the runs you get in the draft with the new package feel greater than what they’ve seen or are used to. So no matter what, if we have a good handling car, we can get those runs and we can make the moves. We’ll be fine…”

“I hope you’re right because I’m baffled right now.” He then glances at his watch. “Let’s get ready for the Clash, and try to win that. We’ll learn what we can, see what happens, make some notes, and hopefully Thursday goes well.”

Chase retreats into the trailer, opening the cupboard as he lets out a sigh. It would’ve been easier to qualify, hang out, go to intros and run the Clash without any interruptions, but that wasn’t possible. Sponsor obligations required yet another firesuit change.

As he reaches in to grab the green firesuit, a hand reaches out from the cupboard touching his shoulder.

“I knew you’d be by,” he hears, immediately calming his fast paced breathing as he could recognize that voice anywhere.

“You scared the crap out of me!” He lets out as he pulls on the hand, yanking her out of the closet as she just lets out a laugh.

“But you know that it will be worth your while…” She then pushes back on the couch, straddling herself on top as she pulls down the zipper on the NAPA firesuit. “Besides, I had to come see you before I head up to watch the race with the girls.” She knew it’d be odd missing the pit box, but she could handle it for 60 laps. She just hoped the day went smoothly.

“I don’t have much time…” She then looks into his brown eyes as she pulls the firesuit off of his shoulders.

“I didn’t say that it’d take long, now did I?” The sight of her tongue licking her own lips before him immediately turned him to mush, as he pulled her close, kissing her lips as she worked at getting the rest of the firesuit off. “Actually, this would be a great new tradition….”

“I’m not complaining….”

Sarina catches up with the girls, taking her seat alongside them as Natalie looks over.

“We were beginning to wonder if you were coming,” Natalie comments as Sarina just shrugs her shoulders, smile not even fading one bit from her face.

“It took longer than I thought,” she offers as the other girls immediately chuckle with glances towards each other.

“Did you go give Chasey a good luck quickie?” Danica breaks out, causing Sarina to look over immediately shocked – but her red cheeks gave her away. “Oh my gosh….”

“Is it that obvious?” The other girls nod their head yes in return as she lets out a sigh. “Please don’t say anything….”

“As long as you promise that I get your ride if you get pregnant,” Natalie offers as both Leilani and Danica chuckle. Sarina lets out a sigh as it immediately brought up January memories, but she couldn’t let the others see as she just faked a chuckle herself.

“That’s not happening,” she tells them. “I have a championship to win this year.”

“Damn straight!”

Their eyes immediately focused back to the action on-track as the race was about to get started. Sarina was set at keeping her nerves about her, and it worked for the very beginning even with the shuffling going on;. However, as soon as Kyle Larson broke right sideways on Lap 8 – almost spinning except for an awesome save, she couldn’t deny that her nerves had picked up big time.

“Oh man….” She lets out as Chase takes the lead on Lap 10, barely sliding up ahead of Denny. The lead was supposed to make you calmer, but seeing it was Denny behind her and the way this pack was going back and forth, that was impossible.

“He’s doing good!” Natalie lets out as she glances over at Sarina. “That’s if you survive….”

“I’ll be fine….” Sarina closes her eyes, silently wishing the race would take longer than advertised – even being as short as it was.

The first 25 laps would ultimately fly by, and Chase managed to do a good job as he stayed up in the top-three throughout. Now set to restart in second, it was just about putting together a great second half.

He started out real well, keeping himself in the mix with Brad, Denny, and others – until a move to shuffle over didn’t go accordingly, causing him to break dead sideways. He’d hold on to it, though, dropping back a couple spots.

“Chasey, don’t do that to your girl…” Leilani offers as she reaches over to rub Sarina’s back, seeing the glance that the move had gotten right away.

“This package is going to make for a great 500 – but hot damn, I can’t handle this!” Sarina lets out as she tries to take some deep breathes.

“He’s good at what he does. He’ll get back up there….”

As predicted, he was able to do so, working his way back up to second before the caution flew with 42 laps to go for an incident further back. Counting her ducklings and nails, she knew the nerves were probably just beginning now.

He was once again strong on the restart, battling for position – but not without many friends. He and Denny tried to make the bottom work together, but once Denny went up high with pretty much the rest of the field, it caused him to slide back to 15th with 26 laps to go.

“Tight on landing in the corners!” She overheard on the radio, having taken her headset up to the grandstands with her.

“Oh man….” She lets out as she knew this would only increase the nerves in watching him drive back up through there.

“He just needs to take some driving lessons from you last night,” Natalie comments as Sarina lets out a shy smile.

However, it just seemed to break back worse as being the last one on the pack and trying to keep up was becoming a task and a half.

“Don’t lose the pack. We’ve lost Newman now,” spotter Eddie D’Hondt says with 19 to go. “We’re cutting off our nose to spite our face, running back here.” Sarina knew by those words that basically, running back there as laps continued to tick down was going to play against them, and likely those dreams of winning were shattered. She also knew that it was the right words to use as the field seemed afraid to make any moves.

“This is a non-points event!” She lets out, causing the other girls to look over caught off-guard. “Somebody, anybody, make a damn move! This is win or bust – so damn well try and win it. Where’s the guts Denny, Austin, Kyle, anybody? This race is falling on its face. Yay, we started off so good – but look at this shit!”

“The moves will come….” Natalie tries to assure her as Leilani rubs her shoulders. “Look at last night.”

Other drivers would try to make moves of their own, but the lines failed to form – causing those drivers to drop back. It worked out in Chase’s advantage as he was able to move up to ninth with 10 laps to go.

Thinking a move would come soon was a blank thought as it never did as the field remained single-file all the way until the last lap. By then, a move to the front was too late as there was no way to make this work now. of course, it’d only get worse as contact between Larson and Johnson triggered everybody going sideways, which sent Chase for a ride through the backstretch grass.

“Of course we ended up with a wrecked car!” Sarina lets out as she shakes her head in disbelief. “That was the most embarrassing race ev-”

“Even more than last night?” Leilani questions and Sarina nods her head.

“Everybody last night at least tried to pass each other, make moves, make something happen, and put on a show. This? Seeing them run single-file for 25 laps is worse than watching paint dry. If this is going to be how Speedweeks goes, I will kill somebody. They better not do this on Sunday.”

“It’s the Daytona 500 – drivers aren’t just going to ride with five to go with that on the line,” Natalie comments as the others nod in agreement.

“I can assure you that I won’t be riding,” Danica adds. “I will say that this gives me a lot to think about. Handling, making runs, making friends, and position will be key.”

“In other words, your man and Ms. Danica here better win their Duels on Thurs-”

“How can we both win the same Duel?”

“Oh my, it looks like we’re going to have some fun.” Natalie then glances between Danica and Sarina. “Can you please make your boyfriend promise to work with her so we know at least somebody will do something?” Danica and Sarina both immediately chuckle.

“I’m sure if we’re both in a good spot, we’ll work together as we have before.” Sarina nods her head in agreement. She knew making promises of that nature wasn’t something for her to do. Chase and Kyle had always reminded her that you couldn’t make those pre-race promises as you never know where you’ll be positioning wise and trying to get in position may cost you more than good.

“Are you going to New Smyrna tonight?” Danica and Leilani both shake their heads no as Natalie’s eyes rest on Sarina. “Well, I know you’re going obviously….”

“I got to go support Todd and Harrison, right?” Sarina offers, knowing both of her KBM teammates were running the event. It was also a benefit to go after Todd had supported her ARCA race yesterday, too.

“As long as you and Chase promise to behave,” Natalie comments as Sarina rolls her eyes. “I can’t believe you did that before the race. I can’t even look at you the same now…”

“Sweetheart, you’re just jealous,” Leilani adds as Danica laughs. “It’s okay to admit it. I’m sure Sarina has already heard that from plenty of other girls…”

“I could always try and hook you up with Todd,” Sarina suggests as Natalie rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, you’re jealous…” Natalie then glances back at Leilani, set to punch her. “Hey now!”

“Alright, alright, it’s true,” Natalie finally confesses. “But hey, I can’t do anything about it. I mean, I would smack myself silly if I pissed off my girl and her boo because of that. Besides, they’re like the perfect combination for each other.” Danica couldn’t help but nod her head in agreement. “So when is the engagement party?”

“Not you too,” Sarina lets out as they continue walking out of the grandstands together. “I’ve already got my guys, his guys, Jimmie, and Da-”

“Because it’s meant to be! Is he afraid to pop the question?” Sarina rolls her eyes.

“Nah – he probably just can’t plan the most romantic way to do it,” Leilani offers as Sarina sighs.

“Actually, we’ve talked about it and we’ve both agreed to wait due to my fears because of my past,” Sarina tells them. “I’m afraid of the thought because of what I saw happen to my parents, and he understands that. So if you girls could please just lay off a little, that’d be nice.” The girls nod their heads in acceptance. “Now, excuse me while I go see him…”

“Behave!” Natalie shouts as Sarina walks off, another eye roll easily coming to her.

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The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 22: Media Day

“A lot of people don’t understand – my frustration is the worst when I know I could have done something different to change the result.” Chase Elliott

January 23, 2018 – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Chase and Sarina walk through the main doors, glancing around, before their eyes land on each other.

“Are you ready?” He questions as she takes a deep breath, nodding her head.

“Absolutely as it means we’re one step closer to Daytona,” she answers, causing a smile to form on his face. “Are you ready?”

“I guess so.” He leans in, kissing her lips lightly. “Good luck. Have fun, and try not to bite any heads off.” She then chuckles as she glances over at the journalists assembled, already typing notes on the day.

“Tell the vultures to behave and I will have no reason to, right?” He nods his head. “Don’t get annoyed of the same question over and over, either.”

“When are you going to win a race? Why haven’t you won yet?” She then rolls her eyes.

“Everybody expects you to win the championship this year. Do you think you can do that? What’s it like being partnered with Rudy? What is it like driving for Kyle?”

“Can we just do their job for them?” She chuckles, shaking her head.

“I think driving is much more fun than that…” He smiles back in agreement as the pair slowly separate, heading their own ways to start off what promised to be the longest day ever.

As the day’s activities began, Sarina found herself glancing over in Chase’s direction, even giving her lips a small lick as she watched him do different poses for FOX Sports, followed by NBC Sports. There was certainly nothing wrong about him being dressed in a mostly white firesuit this year – even if she still wasn’t sold on the design.

She couldn’t stare much longer, though, as it was her turn to sit down and answer the assortment of questions. There was no surprises to start off, as she talked about what she learned from last year, followed by the obvious crew chief swap question.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” she admits as she takes a deep breath. “I’m very thankful to have had the chance to work with Marcus. He’s a great guy, and certainly knows how to do his job well. I’m also thankful to call him a close friend, as he helped me in ways last year that don’t even relate to racing on a personal note. I’m glad that we’re going to be able to continue that friendship, too.”

She smiles as she thinks back to a couple days ago in the shop, when Marcus reminded her that she could still come to him if she ever needed to. It shouldn’t surprise her, because that’s how everybody seemed to be. For once, friendships were really true and meant to be, and bonds could be formed. For once, she was able to put her trust in others – not only Marcus and Chase, but the likes of Kyle and Christopher, too.

Taking a deep breath, she knew she couldn’t dwell on that fact all day, or else they’d never get anywhere else with these questions and she’d be stuck sitting there. Besides, it wasn’t like she wanted to get emotional here, either.

“That said, I am looking forward to working with Rudy this year,” she continues. “Rudy is very talented, and he knows how to get the job done. I mean, you don’t lead Erik and Christopher to the success they had by accident. I can’t wait to begin working with him, building our chemistry together, and learning from him. I know that I still have to improve as a driver, and I look forward to seeing what happens.”

She wasn’t surprised that a reporter brought up her late model schedule, which immediately saw excitement come out in speaking about the plans to head to Kern County. With $30,000 on the line, bragging rights, and a chance for redemption, it was time to shine. But first, the focus was on tomorrow as she would get to be back behind the wheel, testing a truck at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Certainly it wasn’t anything like racing in competition, and it wouldn’t replace disappointment in missing out on Speedfest, but it was something.

The discussion then wavered to the victory at Martinsville, what that meant, and perhaps bringing some relief. Admittedly, she knew that she had been trying too hard the first half of the schedule, so focused on succeeding, wanting to impress, not wanting to fail at this opportunity. But now having the win under her belt, comfort was easy to find now and something she wanted to stick with heading into the new campaign.

Another glance over at Chase, and she hoped he found that same comfort with a win early in the year, too. Whether he would openly admit it or not to her, it was certainly eating him that he hadn’t been able to win a Cup race. She couldn’t blame him, though, being the perfectionist that he was, and the fact that he was driving for Hendrick Motorsports. But with a smile, she knew that he would get the job done sooner than later. It was only a matter of time, right?

Her interest was caught back on the reporters when one of them mentioned the youth seminar held for the young drivers to give them tips on how to build their brands. She had attended, as required, and was actually surprised by some of the points discussed. However, she wasn’t about to change who she was simply to fit some window.

“Were there any tips given on how to handle those poor days?” One of the reporters questions, catching her attention. It was like almost too good of a timing with the question based on the past couple of weeks, and the fact her first anger management appointment was tomorrow. But taking a deep breath, no assumptions were made of them having any knowledge. Besides, they had seen her outbursts last year at times.

“There were a couple,” she began. “I just have to remember to take a deep breath, relax, calm down, and realize that every weekend isn’t going to be your day. If it’s meant to be, it’ll work out right. if it’s not, then all you can do is take what you learned and move forward. I mean, what else am I supposed to do? But certainly, getting a better handle on those is one of those things that I talked about learning to do better moving forward.”

Finished off with her questions for the day, she thanks the media for their time before stepping away as she moves forward to the next stage of the day – radio interviews for Sirius XM. As she made her way over, she glances at Chase, who simply throws a simple smile her way.

“Easy as ever?” He questions as they walk by each other.

“They actually didn’t go too far in their questions for once,” she answers, causing a glance of surprise from him. “Hey, it’s pre-season. Everybody is full excitement right now. I bet by the time we get to Daytona, it won’t be this smooth sailing.” He nods his head with a chuckle in response. “By the way, you look very hot today.”

“While I miss the white, I have to say that the new black firesuit brings out every single curve – including that very stunning bum.” Her cheeks go a shade of red as she purposely gives a waddle as she walks away from him.

“If I didn’t know you better, I would seriously start to agree with the crew guys that something is up and strange with you,” Morgan comments, catching Chase’s attention.

“We’re just trying to have some fun today,” Chase replies as he takes a deep breath, set for his round of question and answer.

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

Sarina gets done her final round of photos for the day, releasing her from the grasp that was media day. She immediately sets sights on finding Chase, knowing that he had been done before she was with how the schedules laid out.

“He’s up on the spotter’s stand actually,” Jimmie Johnson tells her after she had gone around asking a couple different people already.

“Really?” She questions and he nods his head in agreement. “That’s strange…” Jimmie crosses his arms as he takes a deep breath.

“He needed some space to think.” She then looked over puzzled. “You may want to read his quotes first before you go see him.” She was a little confused, but simply nodded her head in response.

She didn’t take the advice because to her, it didn’t matter what he said on paper to a bunch of reporters. She knew him well, and knew where he stood. But hearing that it hadn’t gone smoothly was not the news she was wanting to hear.

After hiking up the stairs, waving to some of the staff on the way up, she makes her way onto the roof, slowly walking over. She didn’t know whether to say something, or to just wait until he was ready, or to simply walk away and give him his space. But now having hiked up there, she couldn’t go down the stairs without doing anything as she slowly made her way over to the edge. Standing a good distance down the row from him, she looks over the track, before glancing over at him, trying to study every motion.

“You didn’t need to come up here,” he starts, catching her attention.

“I care about you, Chase,” she offers. “I had to make sure you were okay.” He glances over at her, nodding his head, understanding, before glancing back over the track.

“I’m fine. I just needed some space.” She could sympathize, having been in those situations herself as she moves a little closer.

“It’s easier to take time to yourself and think, rather than face those emotions and drop them onto somebody else. By speaking about how you’re feeling, it makes them more real than you want to realize. I guess I hid them away for all those years because I didn’t want it to be real. It was almost like I wanted to pretend to be okay, while knowing if that came out, I wasn’t okay about everything that happened.” He takes a deep breath, having seen that in every discussion they had about how she was feeling and her past. He had seen more sides of her break apart and just fall down.

“They talked about Casey, and they talked about the fact that I’m back in the No. 9 – someone even called it a marketing stunt, beli-”

“Do they not understand their NASCAR, or more importantly, the value of family history? I know for both you and Rick it’s nothing like that.” A small smile forms on his face. Like he had expected, the true fans would understand – including Sarina. He just needed to dodge the first initial set of bullets from everybody else.

“None of that bothered me, to be honest. I mean, I love talking about Casey and everything that I missed, and the No. 9 is just home to me.” He then lets out a sigh as he glances over at her. “But you know what bothered me? Winning. The fact that I have not won a race yet. It seemed to be harped over and over and over – like nobody wanted to let it go.” She then walks over, rubbing his shoulders, as she takes a deep breath.

“You’re going to get that win this year….” He looks over at her, nodding his head in agreement.

“I have to. I can’t keep doing what I’m doing.” She then looks at him confused.

“In case you have forgotten Mr. Elliott, you’re one helluva racecar driver. I would not choose anyone over you – and I’m not just saying that because I’m with you. You’re the most talented guy that I know. Look back at last year. You almost put yourself in the Championship 4. You led laps, finished well, and put yourself in position to win. Not many people can say that so do not stand here and question anything differently about you, yourself, and your talent.” He closes his eyes, letting those words sink in, fighting against every other feeling that he had.

“I know I can do it, and trust me, I believe in myself when I strap in the car and get ready to go. But I just keep thinking about what if? What if I had done one thing differently? What if I had been able to figure out how to hold off Matt at Phoenix, or Kyle at Dover? What if I could’ve played my cards differently with Denn-”

“He lifted your tires off the grou-”

“I let him get ther-”

“Stop discrediting yourself! You were doing the best you could with how the car was handling, and it’s not your fault that he drove like an asshole.” Chase then glances over, surprised. “What? I’m not going to mince words with him, ever.”

“Why am I not surprised?” She just chuckles back in response with a wink. “You know I’m my worst critic. My frustration is the worst when I know I could’ve done something different to change things. While I say that you need to work on your anger skills, I can stand here and say that I’m not perfe-”

“Did I just hear that, for real?” Another surprised glance emerged from Chase. “What? You’re a perfectionist. So to hear you admit that you’re not perfect is a little strange, actually.” He rolls his eyes as he lets out a sigh. “I’m sorry….”

“Like I was saying, I need to work on not being so critical and seeing those positives – like the close calls, the talent, the success we did have, everything you’ve mentioned, and everything that Alan says we need to build upon. But that’s not easy. There’s days where it eats me because I haven’t done the job that I need to do to this point.” She nods her head, accepting, glad to hear him admit it, as she rubs his shoulders.

“I know you’ve maybe fallen short on your goals, and I know you should’ve won a couple races by now. But Chase, it’s not all bad. Not everybody can say that they can drive and be competitive at this level. Not everybody can say that they can race side-by-side with the likes of Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Larson – and be right even with them. Some drivers would dream to have a season that you had.” He nods his head, knowing that fact, as he tried to use that as motivation to eat the frustration.

“I’ve been trying to simply just put last year in the rearview mirror. My focus has been solely on take what you learned, and put all your energy into being as prepared as you can so you can do the job you need to do come Daytona and beyond. I was doing a good job at that, too. but hearing the comments, it just flew it back in my face today.” She almost wanted to remind him of the past couple weeks, with everybody reminding her over and over about how they wanted to take care of her.

“It’s not easy to simply pick up those pieces, and make the changes in your life. Look at me. It took you months, baring even some frustration and pain along the way in watching me run, to get through to me. it took me months to finally just bear every emotion that I was feeling. It’s still hard at times for me to say everything out loud and handle. It’s not just flick a switch and noting to worry about, Chase. You’ll learn that balance that you need over time. Certainly, you’re doing better than I was as I don’t see any holes in any walls.” He then chuckles as he glances back at her.

“Could you imagine the photos and articles if I would’ve punched a wall downstairs?” She shakes her head, not even wanting to imagine. It was already craziness as everybody looked to him to be the new face of the sport it seemed. “Starting to feel that frustration, I came up here so I could just get everything in order. I need a clear mind, clear focus. It’s time to win. I need to focus solely on that because I oughta know how to do that and I just need to make it happen. That’s the bottom line. I can’t sit and dwell about it – I just need to do it.”

“And trust me, you are going to win a race. I believe it in my heart, my soul, but also everywhere else possible because of what we’ve seen the past two years. You’re talented, and you know how to wheel a racecar. We’re going to be celebrating a win together in victory lane this season – probably more than one.” He smiles, nodding his head in agreement and hopefulness. “But if for some reason you do-”

“Please don’t say tha-”

“It’s possible, so bear with me now, please.” He rolls his eyes as he glances away. “If for some reason you don’t, it’s not due to lack of talent. You’ve proven already in late models, trucks, XFINITY – heck, you’re an XFINITY Champion for pete sates.  I just want you to know it doesn’t change a single thing about how I view you. I’ll always view you as an amazing, stellar, spectacular racecar driver, with the best heart hidden underneath that quiet exterior. You’ll always be my number one.” He smiles as he looks back at her.

“Thank you, I appreciate that.” They then lightly share a kiss. “So now you feel flirting will solve all problems, huh?”

“It’s working because you’re smiling.” He then turns around to face her, wrapping both arms around her waist.

“Maybe it’s because of this stellar view that I am looking at right now…” She smiles back in return.

“The sunset is beautiful tonight.” He looks at her intrigued, before locking his brown eyes onto her blue ones.

“What sunset?” She then rolls her eyes as she leans in for another kiss. “Thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me. I’m here for you, always and forever.”

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

December 28, 2017 – No Name, Colorado

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Great!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorry I’m missing your annivers-”

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

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

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 163: Chase vs. Denny

Sunday, October 29 – Martinsville Speedway

She felt her leg tap nervously as she watched the restart with 39 laps to go, seeing him pull away. Taking a deep breath, everything was fine….

She watched as he didn’t get too far out, though, watching the No. 2 Ford close the gap, silently cursing to herself. If there was anybody she didn’t want to see win, it was Brad Keselowski. Her eyes kept focused, seeing him roll the center, watching as he made the move and got by for the lead with 28 laps to go. Letting out a sigh, so much for the dream….

She shakes her head. She couldn’t think like that. There were still 27 laps now and anything was possible. It had to work out….

She had gotten herself into a relaxed state, silently hoping that Chase was able to work his way back to Brad and get around, though also feeling alright about a runner-up finish. It was a good start to this playoff round, right?

Though like everything had gone throughout the day, the whole day changed once again when the caution flew with 10 laps to go for Joey Logano having a flat tire. Taking a deep breath, the butterflies began fluttering immediately, fingers and toes tapping, nerves a flowing. Anything was possible on a late-race restart at Martinsville.

Her eyes focus on the track with five laps to go, watching Chase and Brad go down into the corner. She watches the bump from the No. 24 Chevrolet to the No. 2 Ford, fist pumping in the air as Brad slides up out of the groove and Chase rolls on by.

“All clear, take it…” She hears Eddie on the radio, her thoughts echoing the spotter.

Her eyes didn’t leave the action before her, watching as Denny quickly moved into second with Kyle in toe. Taking a deep breath, there was nowhere over as Denny was right there, set to make a move. She just glanced down for a quick second, hoping whatever came that Chase held off.

4 to go…..3 to go, and so far he had done an impressive job at the helm. He was running the perfect line, diamonding the corner to perfection, rolling the bottom. He was doing what he needed to do….

“Pushing you,” she hears Eddie over the radio as Denny gets into the back of Chase off turn two, though Chase keeps it straight as an arrow. “2 to go at the line..” She watches as Chase goes into turn three, with Denny close behind. It didn’t seem as if Denny let off the gas or anything, though, as his front bumper immediately met Chase’s rear bumper, sending the No. 24 spinning around.

“Fuck!” Sarina lets out immediately in disbelief as he stands up, shaking her head in disgust. Did that just happen? Did he just dump Chase for no bloody reason at all? Denny’s reason had to do with having no brakes or something, right? There was no way that he would just go do that….

“Douchebag!” She had to agree with Eddie’s words as her body filled with anger. She wished she could strangle Denny and each of his crew members one-by-one in that single moment. She also wished Chase wasn’t such a sweetheart and wouldn’t just go ahead and wreck the dumbass under the yellow.

“Yep, he definitely wrecked me,” she hears Chase and knew that wasn’t even up for debate. It wasn’t like Denny tried to do anything else. The replay confirmed it, too, as his bumper was direct as they come, no slowing down at all. Who in their right mind lifts someone wheel’s up entering the corner?

“I feel your pain, bro….” Eddie’s voice rang through her head as she sat back down, shaking her head in disgust. She could see the reflections on each crew member on the pit box. it was immediate disappointment, almost brink of tears for some of the guys. She could only imagine how Chase was feeling, knowing that she’d be a mix of a heartbroken and anger – actually, she was. There was also disbelief there, too. Did that actually happen?

“Did what happen what I think happened, or am I skewed?” She then hears Chase question over the radio. She shakes her head immediately, knowing how he was at times. He was so hard on himself at times, always over-critical of his own actions, obviously right now questioning whether he did the wrong thing. Clearly, he had done nothing wrong….

“Nah, he drove over your bumper and crashed ya,” Eddie replies, which deserved no other explanation.

“That’s what I figured. 10-4. Good to know. Thanks….”

As the field gets ready to start, there was only one thing that mattered in that moment – Denny better not win this race. She didn’t care who won now, even if it was Brad, as there was no way she wanted to see that No. 11 in victory lane.

She watches the restart, instantly cheering her boss as she watches Kyle dive into the corner, tagging Denny off of turn two and sending him up the track a bit as he squeezes on by.

“Thank you Kyle!” She cheers, watching him take the victory. She was happy for him – if Chase couldn’t win, then let it be her boss. However, that didn’t even begin to eliminate the heartbreak and anger that was remained.

“I feel your pain, bro,” Eddie says over the radio as Sarina just lets out a sigh.

All she wanted to do was get down there, hug Chase, hold him, and assure him that win was coming – and then kick Denny’s ass from here to the other side of the world. Her eyes then find their way t to the monitor, seeing the screens focused on the backstretch. She couldn’t help but smile as she watched Chase run into Denny on the cooldown lap – perfectly deserved.

“Screw him!” Eddie cheers on the radio as Sarina could only laugh in agreement. A punch to the head would be fitting right now.

She watches as the pair come to a stop, both starting to climb from their cars, eyes focused on Chase. She knew how he was when he got angry. she knew the feisty side that he could show, if warranted. Anybody who raced him in late models knew that. She couldn’t help but cross her arms with a bit of pride watching.

“Alright, face-to-face guys, outside the car…” Eddie dictates the action over the radio as Sarina’s eyes stay locked on the screen.

How could this happen? Why did this happen? And what the hell was Denny Hamlin thinking?

Chase was in total belief of what had just transpired in a matter of a couple of laps. One minute, he could potentially see his first career victory; next minute, he was turned around backwards.

It was one thing to bump a guy, give them the bump-and-run, rough them up a little. However, the key was that you didn’t totally wipe the guy’s chances of a decent day or result in heavy damage to his car. You also gave him a chance, should he save it and get back to you, to return the favor.

It was another thing in entirely just wipe a guy out no questions asked – and that’s what had him riled up. He wasn’t going to stand for that, no matter who it was that did it to him to begin with.

That’s why following the event, he made sure to go looking for him, set to send a message and tell him he wasn’t happy and wouldn’t put up with that bullshit. Driving into him was satisfaction for the frustration that he was experiencing.

Following the bumps and seeing Denny stop short of pit road, it didn’t change his views at all. Instead, he was set to actually give him word for word what he thought of him. Throwing the steering wheel on the dash, and the belts off whatever direction they’d go, he began to climb out, set to meet him eye to eye. It was time to be a man and face the consequences of what he did…

“That was bullshit running into me after the checkered!” Denny yells to start, not even fully climbed out. Chase had to chuckle to himself and look back in disbelief. Was this guy serious?

“You’re kidding me, right?” Chase questions back in return as he finishes climbing out, watching Denny come walk up to him face-to-face.

“No matter what, that was ridiculous…..” Chase couldn’t believe this at all….

“You wrecked me….”

“I had someone right on my bumper…” Chase almost laughed back in his face, knowing that wasn’t true as he had glanced up in the mirror once Denny had bumped him off of turn two. He knew exactly where they stood entering the corner.

“There was two car lengths between you and the other guy…”

“I just tried to move you….” Chase almost laughed again, really not believing he was hearing this, especially from someone who had been racing as long as Denny had been.

“You wrecked me, plain and simple…”

“I did not mean to wreck you. I just meant to give you a bump….”The intentions of the actions didn’t really matter at this point. Besides, if you’re going to attempt to use the bumper, you have to know it’s a possibility. Why wouldn’t Denny just own up to it already?

“But you just wrecked me!”

“You got into the 2 car. What’s the difference?” Chase really wanted to laugh in his face now. This was unbelievable….

“Come on man….”

“I got into you just like you got into Brad…” Except Brad wasn’t turned around backwards.

“Come on man…..”

“You know it was just hard racing.”

“You had my back wheels lifted up going into the corner!”

“Whatever…” Denny then turns on the heels, heading back to his car at the request of the NASCAR Official as Chase just shakes his head in disgust.

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

Chase rolls up to where he was told to stop on pit road, sitting back in the seat, shaking his head. He almost broke out laughing as he thought about the excuses and reasons that Denny tried to use for his part in what happened. The anger also hadn’t left him at all, either, along with the disappointment. It was another week that he had been mere inches of winning, and come up short again.

“I want you to be smart here,” he hears, glancing out the window to see Jimmie standing there. “Be smart, watch your words, and don’t lose your true self. Don’t stoop to his level because he’s an ass. You did a great job, and you will win.” He gives Jimmie a simple nod, used to receiving the odd tip of advice here and there.

He climbs out of the car, giving the couple of crew guys a quick hand-shake and nod as he turns around, crossing his arms. There was no way he was just letting this go and moving on as anger was certainly not leaving him no matter what he tried. There was also that sense of disbelief.

His eyes wandered over to where the TV cameras had stopped, getting Denny’s side of the coin first. He actually brought himself to laugh in hearing the amount of boos that were being let out by the crowd. You know you royally messed up when your own home track is mad at you…

He patiently stand there, set to give his take on the action, knowing it was going to be kept simple and to the point.

“My mom always said if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. He’s not worth my time,” he tells NBC.

Sarina couldn’t help but smile off to the side at the comment, as her heart remained torn in pieces at what had transpired. It was taking every urge to stop herself from going over and kicking Denny’s ass.

After the interviews were done, she walked over and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, just holding him, as the crew joined her.

“Hey, if he wants to race that way, you know what to do next time,” Alan tells him. “I’m sure he’ll be fine when you lift his back wheels going into the corner at Texas.” Chase lets back a small smile, knowing what Alan was thinking.

However, that wasn’t his style. Revenge and anger and dirty driving were not morals that he had grown to know. Instead, it was focus and driving as hard as you could to put what happened in the rearview.

“Hey, I just wanted to say I hate what happened to you guys,” a new voice pops in from Denny’s crew chief Mike Wheeler. “That was bad…”

“Go tell your smartass driver that,” Sarina spits out, keeping her arms around Chase.

“Excuse me?” Chase then wraps an arm around her in return.

“You heard her,” he starts. “All Denny could do was give me 20 million excuses. Go…” He then turns around, facing away from Mike, but letting his eyes land on Sarina right away.

“I’m so sorry,” she simply says, pulling him close as she puts her head against his chest. “Denny is an asshole. You’ll get that win soon…”

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

“That was utterly insane!” Ryan comments from his seat in the plane.

Following the race, it was a short flight back to North Carolina from Virginia with Ryan, Chase and Sarina all boarding together. For all of them, it was great to just get out of Martinsville as soon as possible.

“But I got to say, I’m proud of you,” Ryan continues as Chase keeps his eyes focused ahead.

“Why is that?” He questions as Ryan smiles, reading over the various tweets on twitter.

“You made the world proud, too. You did a great job from your interview to standing up to him. That’s what you need to do. I’m impressed…” He then glances up from his phone. “Although, you should’ve punched him on behalf of the whole field. He freaking turned down across me and Kurt!”

“So why did you punch Kevin?” Sarina asks, referring to Ryan’s visit with Kevin Harvick. She had been scrolling through twitter herself before they left, and saw a clip of Ryan giving Kevin a small punch. “Well according to him, I brake-checked his ass off the corner earlier in the race and fucked him over at the end of the day. I proudly told him that I wasn’t doing that at all during the race, and it was all freaking Denny’s fault at the end. Needless to say, we disagreed and had a small punch fest.”

“Crazy….” Ryan didn’t care about his deal with Kevin, though. He knew that was going to be forgotten within days. On the other hand, that wouldn’t be the case with Denny….

“So what are you going to do about Denny there, Mr. Pilot?” Chase had been toying with a bunch of thoughts since the conclusion of the race. He wasn’t a dirty racer, but payback was certainly entering his mind big time for what had happened. He wouldn’t mind something happening at Texas….

“I don’t know,” Chase answers. “We’ll just have to wait and see….”

“How about we just forget about it for one night and have some fun?” Sarina suggests, knowing that she could use a good distraction after the chaos.

“Isn’t that why we’re going to Blaney’s epic Halloween party?”

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

Chase glances at himself in the mirror at Ryan’s house, shaking his head. How did he get himself into this mess wearing this costume? He had seen Ryan’s Woody costume and Jordan’s Buzz Lightyear costume and both felt more comfortable than this.

He had totally forgotten about the party, and had not gone costume shopping. So prior the weekend, he informed Ryan in hopes his best friend would help him out. Certainly, Ryan did as he had an extra costume and would allow Chase to borrow it. He didn’t expect it to be this, though.

He almost felt scandalous, a little ridiculous, and knew for sure there was too much skin showing below the waist. Feeling a little shy, he knew every person would probably be analyzing his package.

“Damn….” He hears, recognizing Sarina’s voice and smiling. “I know you bike a lot, but holy damn tone in those legs…” He had to laugh to himself, as he spun to face her. An immediate smile formed, liking her voice – Batgirl. They’d be Batgirl and Robin that night.

“You look just as sexy right now,” he answers back in response. The black leather of the outfit clang to every sweet dear curve on her body, with the skirt long enough to cover but short enough to tease everything below.

“As soon as I heard Ryan had a Robin costume for you, I got Samantha to run a small errand for me. I figured we could match.” She then walks over closer, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “You make one amazing superhero, but damn, I didn’t expect you to show off as much….”

“Is it too much? I almost feel like chang-”

“No, it’s fine; it’s absolutely fine. Besides, everybody down there will be too caught up in the party to realize. Now, are you ready to go have some fun?”

“Absolutely…” He then takes her by the hand, leading her out of the room and to the stirs with a smile.

It was time to leave behind the Martinsville disappointment and frustration for a night…..

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 153: Struggling….

Saturday, September 23 – New Hampshire Motor Speedway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 24

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Square One – Chapter 24: Their Discussion

Candiss kept her eyes focused on Jimmie, knowing that she needed to figure out these answers. She was either going to make him speak, or go strangle Mitchell until he revealed his reason for saying hi.

“Alright,” she starts. “Who or what did he see?” Jimmie takes a deep breath, trying to find the words.

“You need to say who….” Jimmie states and Candiss felt like she was going to scream as the name to her immediately.

“Don’t tell me. Ronnie?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Yeah…” Candiss wanted to run out the door, go down to his house, and strangle him. This was just twisted beyond their control.

“God damn it, Jimmie!” Jimmie takes a deep breath, having felt the same reaction when he learned, too.

“I know…” Candiss knew anger wouldn’t get answers as she focused on gaining whatever knowledge Jimmie knew. If they were heading down this road, she better be educated.

“Did he approach him?” Jimmie shakes his head, remembering Mitchell’s reasoning.

“No, and to his knowledge, Ron wasn’t there with a female nor is there any new female driver sightings.” Candiss knew exactly why Jimmie was stating that with his prior concerns.

“So in other words, we don’t have a Greenlee connection?” Jimmie shakes his head, but didn’t want to rule that out.

“Yeah. But I mean, he promised. Damn it! What bugs me is he made me promise. He was out of it way before me. He was out of it way before I thought of it. He was the one that said all these things that should’ve convinced me and almost had me convinced. But yet, it’s him that’s back in it!” Candiss felt as perplexed as Jimmie as she sat down on the stool in their kitchen.

“I don’t get why he would be there…”

“I don’t either…” Candiss glanced at the counter, knowing there had to be some reason for this.

“Okay. Wait a minute – let’s take a step back. He has a lot going on, Jimmie.” Jimmie nods his head, knowing that’d been a common discussion.

“We’ve been through that….” Candiss takes a deep breath, having a suspicion.

“What if….We know he doesn’t want to talk about it. We’ve seen that with him.” Jimmie nods his head, wishing that wasn’t the case.

“I can’t deny that.” Candiss knew that, too, which brought only one theory to mind.

“What if he is trying to find an escape and he’s toying with the idea of finding that feeling it gave him to escape reality – just like it gave you?” Jimmie shakes his head immediately, not even willing to give that theory one simple thought. There was no way….

“You got to be kidding me….”

“I’m not. I’m serious. What if, Jimmie? Like, it would explain it…”  Jimmie shakes his head, going back to the theory he had from the beginning.

“Or what if Greenlee is involved and he was there, watching, spying on her, knowing? He’s had a crush on her forever so that’d explain why.” Candiss saw the denial in Jimmie and understood it, but still didn’t buy it either.

“That could be, but I don’t see that. I see the other scenario.” Jimmie didn’t care which it was at that moment, to be honest. He just wanted answers, period.

“Well, I need to get to the bottom of this but I don’t want to approach him.” Candiss was surprised as normally, the best friends could talk about anything easily.

“Why not?” Jimmie gave her a ‘really’ glance as he never thought she’d question that motive.

“Do you really think he’s going to come out and tell me?” Candiss sighs, knowing that he was probably right this time.

“You’re right there – and no, you’re not going one night.” Jimmie knew he couldn’t do that no matter how hard he wanted to in this search for answers. There was too much risk involved, and he didn’t want to get back drawn in.

“I wasn’t even thinking of it.” Candiss had another idea, though.

“Maybe I should go….” Jimmie gives her another look, knowing that wasn’t going to fly either.

“No, I don’t want you getting back involved in that. We talked about this…” Candiss glances back towards the counter, wishing things were easier.

“Well, we have to get to the bottom of this somehow. We can’t keep playing this game. I mean, now I see why you wanted me to spy on Greenlee. I could see why she’s someone to be concerned about. I get it, but I’m not the best spy. It’s not like that I can sneak up someone and watch closely. That’s not going to work.” Jimmie nods, accepting. But, that wasn’t what she was asking totally.

“But can you at least try to befriend her? Maybe she’ll at least mention something. Maybe she knows your history.” Candiss felt an instant shock hit her by those words.

“She does?” Jimmie was surprised at how many ‘really’ glances he had to play off today.

“Who doesn’t, Candiss?” Candiss lets out a sigh as she wishes that was different.

“That’s a good point. Actually, that’s a really freaking good point. I mean, I could – or I could go to Dom.” Jimmie shakes his head, immediately. He didn’t need anybody else knowing the truth.

“No, please no, no…. You do realize how overprotective he can be of you, right?” Candiss chuckles, nodding her head. He was like a big brother to her no matter what.

“That’s exactly why I would go to him. He would know what to do. He knows the people. He knows the scene. He knows it better than Mitchell. He would know if there was a new female driver. He would know if Greenlee is involved. He would know if Ron is involved. We could get the answers, and then with those answers, you could approach Ron or could approach Greenlee. You could do something. Hell, you could do something before it’s too late.” Jimmie immediately froze as he didn’t want to hear any part of that.

“Don’t say those words.” Candiss knew better as she could see right through those brown eyes before hers.

“You know it’s damn well true on your mind. You’re worried that we’re going to repeat what happened, again. I bet you if people figure out that it’s Ron Malec, someone is bound to take advantage – same way as they took advantage of you immediately.” Jimmie knew that was possible, but didn’t see that happening.

“They didn’t know who I was.” Candiss rolls her eyes, knowing that was just an excuse.

“No, but they took advantage because of you hiding your identity. They see that with Ron if he is hiding and believe it is you, again. They’ll try and take the advantage. Or, if he comes out with who he is, they’ll try and take the advantage. We need to stop something before it happens because you know, we can’t do this again. He cannot have something happen again. We already got enough trouble right now.” Jimmie nods his head, knowing that she was right. There was too many questions already.

“You think Dom would keep it on the downlow if you were to ask him? Like, I don’t want anybody else to find out.” Candiss nods her head, remembering from previous times that their trust knew no boundaries.

“Yeah, pretty sure he would. I mean, he cares about me and in connection, he cares about you. I mean, you saw how much he helped you before.” Jimmie nods his head, remembering.

“Yeah…”

“And I mean, he did convince Chad to lay off of us, so that says something. I just feel he would know.” Jimmie nods his head, once again. Anything was worth a shot, right?

“Give him a call. Go ahead. Do what you can. I told Mitchell to keep me posted if he figures out anything and you give Dom a call and figure if he can figure out anything. In the meantime, I’m going to keep my close eye on Mr. Ron and make sure things are easy, peasy.” There was still someone they hadn’t discussed much, and filled the curiosity for Candiss.

“Alright. What about Greenlee?” Jimmie takes a deep breath, wishing he could just confront her.

“What about her? You said you can’t spy and won’t do it!” Candiss puts her hands up in the air, knowing that wasn’t up for discussion.

“I’m not doing it, but she’s connected, Jimmie. I just think we should keep an eye on both of them.” Jimmie nods his head, already having that in mind.

“I already got my eye on her. I made that clear already.” Candiss nods her head, remembering that discussion clearly.

“Alright. You do that, and I’ll get a hold of Dom. We’ll figure this out. I mean, for all we know, it could be nothing.” Jimmie could never believe that, ever.

“Nothing doesn’t spell Ron being there. He wouldn’t be there for no reason.” Candiss takes a deep breath, knowing that Jimmie was probably right.

“Okay, what I mean is it could be nothing to worry about. He could just be checking in with a friend. Maybe he was taking in the scene, bored that night.” Jimmie knew that possible, but could never believe that ever.

“Alright…maybe…. Just I don’t see that…” Candiss nods her head.

“I know, but you never know. Regardless, we’ll handle this…” She reaches out for his hand, squeezing it, catching his eyes. He could only nod his head in response.

“Alright…”

Back to Square One – Chapter 23: Growing Concerns….

After a busy day, Jimmie makes his way into the house, just wanting to relax. While occupied by team conversations and interviews, his mind had also been going a mile a minute with concerns surrounding the news he learned earlier in the day.

Was he worried over nothing? Should he confront Ron? Should he talk to Greenlee?

He makes his way into the kitchen, grabbing himself a drink, figuring he’d sip on that while watching a bit of television before putting focus towards dinner that night.

“Hey,” Candiss says as she enters the kitchen, having come downstairs once she heard someone. Normally, Jimmie would call out to her.

“Hey,” he replies as he walks over, giving her a quick kiss.

“Are you okay?” He then glances back, caught off-guard by the question. Why was she able to read him so well?

“I’m alright….” She lets out a sigh, knowing that was a big load of crap.

“You don’t look alright.” Jimmie then leans back against the wall, taking a deep breath. He so badly just wanted to spill everything then and there.

“I don’t know. It just seems….” He glances away, only looking back when she grabs his hand to catch his gaze again.

“Talk to me. What’s wrong?” Jimmie looks back down, knowing that it wouldn’t be fair to say something.

“I don’t know….” His voice was so quiet she barely caught a single word.

“What?” He takes another deep breath.

“I don’t even know if I can explain.” She was caught off-guard, as normally they could tell each other anything. Why was now different?

“Something happen at the shop today?” Jimmie knew that wouldn’t work for a cover-up as he couldn’t conceive a good enough story.

“No, it’s nothing like that. I mean, everything is great. We had a good run, everybody is happy, Chad and I are finally back on the same page.” Candiss had to chuckle based on the past couple of weeks.

“That’s a miracle…” Jimmie nods his head in agreement.

“You’re not kidding me. It took awhile for that.” The revelation now made Candiss even more concerned, though. What else could be bugging Jimmie?

“But yet, you’re coming home looking like you’re all upset…” Jimmie wishes he could just hideaway now.

“I just got something on my mind.” Candiss was pretty sure that was established already. Repeating to avoid speaking was not like Jimmie.

“Well then let’s talk about it, you know?” Jimmie glances back down, debating once again whether he should say something. It’d give him peace of mind and another view, but did he want her knowing what was going on too? Would it breaking trust?

“I don’t know if I should…” Candiss found herself becoming more puzzled by the minute.

“What do you mean you don’t know if you should? Like, is it some secret?” Jimmie knew it was exactly that, but wasn’t going to come out and say it. It’d just make her suspicious and that could cause more headaches than he needed right now.

“Well, a bit…” Candiss crosses her arms, feeling her intrigue growing.

“Well, you know I’ll never tell your secrets. I never have. Besides, remember when we first met? You could always tell me everything. Like, we sat at the diner and you know we shared the stories of how it was an escape for you, where as you seem like a cool calm guy there’s pressure that bugs you, or eats at you. Remember that?”  Jimmie couldn’t forget those moments as that was when he knew she had to be a part of his life forever.

“Yeah, that’s when you told me your life story.” Candiss nods her head, still surprised at how confessional she had gotten so quickly with him then.

“Exactly. I didn’t tell nobody…” Jimmie nods his head, remembering. He did appreciate her trust during that time.

“I know…” Candiss automatically thought that’d open the flood gates.

“Well? Why don’t you just start talking?” Jimmie takes a deep breath, knowing he couldn’t escape now.

“Promise no matter what I tell you, you’ll keep it between us?” Candiss felt her heart cringe with fear, but knew she had to agree if she was going to get the answers she wanted.

“100% – unless it’s threatening to your life, or I feel you’re in danger, I will not tell a soul. If it comes to the point of telling somebody, I will go to Ron-”

“No, don’t say Ron.” Candiss now felt herself even more perplexed. Ron was always the person to go to.

“Why? Is there some issue between you guys?” Jimmie shakes his head. At least there wasn’t a problem right now, anyway.

“No…Well….No.” Candiss raises her eyebrows, not convinced by his answer.

“Jimmie?”

“No, it’s not between us. I just don’t want you going to him if something is going on because he has enough going on.” Candiss nods her head, remembering the situation that was there.

“Okay, good point.” She quickly ran through a list of names, trying to figure out their best option. “Chad. I’ll go to Chad.”

“Yeah, sure. That’ll go over well…” She knew that’d be his reaction.

“Well, who else would you want me to tell?” Jimmie thought it over, but knew the options were limited. Hopefully they never reached that point.

“There’s nobody else. We’ll just stick with that.” Candiss was glad that they were finally making some progress.

“Alright, fine. So tell me, please. I mean, I want to help you. I’m not trying to be an asshole.” Jimmie knew that and wished he could just spit out the words. Why was this so hard?

“I know…It’s…Fuck! It’s just I’m not supposed to say anything. It’s just a weird coincidence and there’s so many layers to it.” Candiss felt her stomach do the familiar flip flop once again.

“You’re scaring me. Like, this is how the other deal began….” Jimmie knew it sounded like that, and had fears for Ron. But wanted to believe this was nothing like that.

“This is nothing like that. Don’t worry. There’s nobody after me like that.” Candiss felt relieved, but still nervous. Normally by now, they’d be figuring out a solution.

“Then what the hell is going on? Like, there’s got to be something to the point that you’re freaking out on me like this. You don’t just freak out for no reason, you know? That’s not your style. I mean, it’s not like you freaked out the last time something happened. Remember that?” Jimmie nods his head, knowing how he handled the situation. Of course, he had made mistakes and regretted those. What if those were the cause for now?

“Yeah, I do. Of course I do. Do you think I’d ever forget that, ever?” Candiss shakes her head, knowing that was a dumb question.

“Okay, that’s true. But I’m serious Jimmie! Just tell me…” Jimmie takes a deep breath, knowing he couldn’t stammer any longer.

“Okay. Mitchell came to see me.” Candiss immediately walks away, rolling her eyes. She could’ve killed him at that moment.

“Oh great…No no, no no, no no, please tell me you’re not going back, because we damn well talked about this shit.” Jimmie puts his hands up, should’ve knowing that’d be her first reaction.

“No, no. I told you I’d never do that again, and fuck I promised you, promised myself, promised Chad, promised everybody.” Candiss remembered that, but also knew promises were just spoken words. However, she trusted Jimmie’s word.

“Well, that’s a start…” Jimmie grabs her hand, catching her attention.

“I swear I’m not going back to that. That’s not me…anymore.” Candiss nods her head, accepting, as she looks straight into his eyes.

“Well, so why did Mitchell come to see you? I mean, that’s the only time you ever talk to him. It’s not like he’s big at social gatherings. We didn’t get together and sing kum-bye-yah.” Jimmie laughs, remembering a casual memory of drinks one night celebrating.

“At some point we did.” Candiss could only roll her eyes.

“Point proven…..”

“Okay….He came by the shop, though.” Now she wanted to punch him for stammering again. However, a stop by the shop was a little surprising. Normally Mitchell avoided all direct connections.

“You told me he came to see you already. But damn it, spit it out! Will you? I hate when you do this!” Jimmie takes a deep breath, knowing he had to get to the point eventually.

“He had to deliver a part to the spot to somebody – a well-known person that he knows.” A bunch of faces and names immediately flood through Candiss’ brain.

“Do we know this person?”

“I don’t even know! I don’t even know who he delivered to, okay? I just know that he said he had to deliver a part to the hill, and he showed up early. But he stayed around – curiosity, I guess.” Candiss nods her head, accepting. That was true to Mitchell’s character.

“I can’t say I blame him. I mean, it’s good for business in one way.” Jimmie nods his head, remembering what he saw from his time spent there back in the day.

“Yeah, it is good for business. Fuck, I can’t deny that. I mean, I saw the people that go there. You wouldn’t believe who goes there.” Candiss raises her eyes brows, actually curious.

“Oh yeah?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Oh yeah – all the top guys.” Candiss was intrigued, but knew that this was a simple distraction from the truth. They needed to get back on track.

“So, he stuck around?” Jimmie nods his head.

“Yep.”

“And he saw something that made him come see you?” Jimmie nods his head, once again.

“Well….yeah. I mean, he thought maybe I should know.” Candiss crosses her arms, intrigued.

What was important for someone not involved anymore to know?