Cabin Fears – Chapter 29: The Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Winter Love – Chapters 6 & 7

Chapter 6: Tony’s Thoughts

Dream and dreams
While I’m wide awake
The tree, the lights
Stayin’ up late
It’s true…
I’m in love with you (Oh)

Tony stands in the doorway, leaning back on the door with a smile on his face. She looked so peaceful when she was sleeping, and that was a sight to cherish after knowing what her life had been like.

He never thought that’d be the type to have a girl to call his own. He had always prided himself on being the perfect bachelor, living his life as he pleased. But here she was, someone that was able to swept him off of his feet.

He was also used to having girls and having see with them. Those nights would welcome a fun slew of action for both him and his company, and then she’d be gone in the morning. He had enjoyed himself throughout the night with them, but didn’t want to bother with their lives. So much for that happening with Willow.

For once, here was a girl that wanted to truly get to know him for who he was. She was also someone that didn’t come in with any pre-concieved notions about him, either. He got a fresh start in building those feelings. Whether he wanted to truly admit it, it was the best feeling in the world.

Making his way down the stairs, he could only smile at the sight of the tree and lights. They had done a good job decorating and it certainly completed the front room. He also couldn’t help but smile at the presents, just counting down till morning when she’d see what he got her. There was also curiosity in the presents that she’d placed under, as well.

One present hadn’t made it under the tree yet as he wasn’t sure whether it was the right time. Perhaps he should wait a couple months, or perhaps he was making the right decision.

Glancing at his phone, he dials a number that he had grown accustom to dialing.

“Hello?” He hears as he takes a deep breath.

“I think I’m in love,” he states without hesitation. It was something that he had grown accustom to saying if anyone asked because it was true.

“Tony, I think we both know that. You spend every waking moment with Willow. You brag about her to everyone and what she means to you. You welcomed her hom-”

“I bought a ring a week ago.” He could picture his best friend choking on whatever beverage was near, or fainting in shock. That wasn’t a Stewart related thought.

“Okay….Tony, I know you love her a lot and she loves you a lot. it’s no doubt that you belong together. But, are you sure about this?” Tony lets out a sigh. That was the ever important question that night.

“That’s why I’m calling you, Kevin.” Kevin Harvick was probably his closest friend, and the first person he spoke about Willow to. He trusted his friend’s advice as they had grown closer over the years. It was also a benefit to be close to Delana for a female perspective as well.

“If you’re second guessing yourself, then you need to hold off. This is a big step that you need to be ready for, Tony.” Tony lets out a sigh. That wasn’t the problem. He knew that he was ready. He knew what he loved her a lot and wanted to be with her. In his mind, all the timing was right. But is that the same across the board?

“I am ready. I want to be with her for the rest of my life. I love her so much and I’m certain I am making the right decision. I just don’t know if she’s ready for this step.” In truth, Tony was afraid of rejection, or even worse in scaring her off.

“You guys can talk about anything with ease, as you told me. Nothing has ever been a problem for you. If she’s not ready, I’m sure she will explain why and you can move forward till the time is right. Plus, you could do a long engagement.” Tony understood those points as they sounded valid. However, there was a nagging fear.

“What if she is scared and runs?”

“If that happens, go after her. But I don’t see that happening. She can’t resist spending time with you.” That wasn’t a shadow of debt as nether could resist each other.

“Thanks…”

“Only do it if it feels right, and good luck. Ill talk to you later. I have to get up early with Keelan.”

“I will let you know how it goes, and make sure to tell him I say hi. I hope he enjoys his gift.” Tony smiles as he knew Keelan would, with it being a miniature track to race all his little cars.

“Will do. Bye Smoke.”

“Bye Kevin.” He then hangs up and lets out a sigh.

Turning the box in his fingers, he knew this was a big decision that had both positives and negatives. Though after talking it out with Kevin, he knew he had his mind made up for tomorrow.

 

Chapter 7: Christmas Eve

Swept completely off my feet
This snow globe scene is turning me
This Christmas Eve
“I” became “we”
Don’t wake me please
From this winter dream, dream
Winter dream

“Willow, there are so many reasons that I could say to you right now….that doesn’t sound right,” Tony says to himself as he finds himself sitting in the chair by the tree watching the snow fall once again later that night.

He had returned to bed with Willow, only to wake up a couple hours later and return to his previous spot by the tree with the box in hand. He had pretty much made up his mind that he was going to ask her to marry him. He was prepared for whatever she may say and set to give her every reason to stay. He had worked out all the things that he wanted to say in response to her possible responses in his mind.

But how was he going to ask to begin with? That was the tough question.

Taking a deep breath, he decided to give it another shot.

“From the moment that my eyes met yours, I knew that you were special and we were meant to be,” he starts. “I knew that I had to get to know you. Then we had those first conversations and my thoughts were assured. You were the only person that I could honestly sit there and divulge everything to without holding a thing back, and understand. From your experiences combined with mine, we were meant for each other because we have an understanding. I can talk to you about anything, and you can help me through any thought.

“Love wasn’t something that I believed in. I didn’t know if I could find that person, but I have found that with you. I don’t want to spend a single second away from you. I want to be with you forever, and never have to know what it means to be apart. I just want to hold you close, cuddle you, kiss those soft lips and spend the rest of my life with you.

“Willow Salone, will you marry me?”

Willow had made her way to the steps about a half hour ago, wondering why the other side of the bed was cold, empty. She knew that Tony had gotten up and after realizing that it wasn’t a simple bathroom trip, she had grown curious. Perhaps he went for a midnight snack, perhaps he had something on his mind.

She went out of the room and heard his voice from the living room, sitting down on the steps. She didn’t want to disturb him as she could tell that he was in thought, but she was also curious. She heard as he debated his words over and over and it sounded just….perfect. She laughed at the frustration with mistakes, smiled at his reveal of how much he loved her.

She wanted to run down the stairs and cure everything away….but….she was frozen on that top step. She wasn’t sure if she was ready for marriage.

She had watched a marriage fall apart in her own childhood. She had watched what she thought was love turn into a nightmare. Her heart knew that things were awesome with Tony and not bound for that fate, but how could she convince her brain of that?

Besides, they had only known each other four months. Did they honestly know that they were ready to spend the rest of their lives together based on that small period? It seemed small in relation to the long relationships that she saw her friends in, and heard worked best. She didn’t want to dive face first into something and get her heart broken into pieces again.

She then hears him get up from his seat, knowing that he has found himself satisfied on the speech, finally. In just over three to four hours, she’d be hearing that same speech and faced with the question. It was a question that she wasn’t sure she could answer, and a question that she knew would keep her awake for the next couple of hours. How could she answer that question so easily?

“Willow?” She is snapped out of her thoughts as he stands at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her. Letting out a sigh, she was caught in the spot and knew that she couldn’t move. With one look into his eyes, she had decided on her answer. She also knew that she couldn’t wait for the time to pass. Besides, this would give them some time to celebrate before heading to his mom’s.

“Tony, those words that you were saying….” She starts as she makes her way down the stairs.

“Wait – you heard?” She shakes her head yes as he feels his stomach flip flop. “Willow-”

“Repeat those words. Say them once again. Let me hear them. You may be surprised as to your answer.” He then looks at her in surprise, and knows by the tone of her voice that perhaps he was doing the right thing that night.

“Forget the whole speech. Let’s just move to the big question….” He then kneels down on one knee as he holds the box out. “Willow Salone, will you marry me?”

“Anthony Stewart, there’s only one answer that I could ever say to that question. Absolutely, positively, without a doubt – yes!” He then pulls her close, kissing her lips with every bit of a passion. “Woah…easy….stairs….”

“Let’s go upstairs. Much safer.” She then grins in agreement as they both head to the top of the stairs. They then head into the bedsroom, flopping on the bed besides each other. She immediately pulls him close, and kisses his lips as he wraps his arms around her. As she slips another kiss on his lips while tugging at his boxers, he slips the ring over her finger.

****************
“Can you believe this?” Tony asks as they lay in bed a couple hours later with her lying in his arms. “Merry Christmas…”

“Merry Christmas, indeed.” She then glances at her hand, checking over the ring. “Beautiful ring, by the way. It’s perfect.”

“I may have had a little help….”

“Danica or Delana?”

“Both.” She just laughs as she knew that he’d go to those two for advice on this very topic.

“Well, they did a good job helping you choose.” He then kisses her bare shoulder as he looks over the ring on her finger. The simple blue stone on the gold band certainly looked beautiful.

“I love you so much.”

“I love you, too. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If this is a dream….”

“It isn’t a dream, trust me.” She then glances back at him.

“It feels like it with how good everything has to come together. I just don’t want to wake up and be disappointed.” He then runs his hands over her shoulders.

“You’re not dreaming, and I will never, ever disappoint you or break your heart. I love you, and I promise to take care of you.” He then kisses her cheek, before kissing her shoulder once again.

“Tony…..”

“Willow…..

“If you keep this up, we will never be ready on time.” Tony then shifts them both around so he’s on top of her.

“I’m never on time. They don’t need to know about our secret.”

THE END

Be sure to read the sequel “The Demons” to continue the journey with Tony and Willow

thedemons

The Demons – Chapters 26 Thru 30

thedemons

Chapter 26: Planning

“Uh oh….multiple binders spilled all over the living room can only mean one thing – Willow is wedding planning,” Delana comments as she enters the living room of the house. “I think I’m going to have to keep you mister out of here right now.” Willow then laughs as she looks over at Delana and Keelan.

“I think Willow made a big mess which is a big no-no,” Willow says. “Sorry.” Delana shrugs her shoulders as she lets Keelan down, who immediately goes running towards his room with the dog.

“No worries. I’ve done the same thing before.” Willow then starts gathering up the binders, stacking them back neatly as Delana watches her in surprise. “That many binders to plan your wedding? I thought you were keeping it simple.” Willow laughs as she checks the labels once again.

“They’re not all for the wedding. Some are for work.” She then holds up one. “Take this one. It has notes with regards to the rulebook, team members and all the bits that you need to know.” Delana shakes her head, understanding.

“Let me guess – RCR appeal article?” Willow looks over with a head shake.

“The appeal panels’ reasoning for lowering the penalty is ridiculous, if you ask me. They said because there’s nothing proving that it was a post-race infraction, they decided to lower the penalty. Um, isn’t finding it in post-race inspection the definition of that? Wouldn’t you alter the tires during the race and isn’t that what post-race penalties find?” Delana laughs and shakes her head yes.

“They can be ridiculous at times. I don’t know how Rodney deals with that rulebook.” Wllow shakes her head as she goes back to organizing binders. Delana then looks down at the hall, smiling as she sees Keelan playing with a couple cars, before turning her eyes back to Willow. “So which of these binders is the important one?” Willow grabs the pink binder and slides it across the floor to Delana.

“That’s the wedding binder, if you so please. It has barely any notes so don’t bug me. The blue binder is a little more interesting, though.” Delana then looks up, feeling curiosity bubbling. What was more interesting than the wedding binder?

“You’re not preg-”

“Oh no, it’s not that silly. The house is a lost cause after the fire. So it has to be rebuilt, which could take six months. I don’t know if Tony tol-”

“He told me. It’s fine. I don’t mind a house guest for another six months.” Willow smiles. She didn’t mind staying there, either. It was nice to have Delana to talk to, whether about the wedding or other unwarranted topics.

“He decided that we should use the opportunity to build a house that we can call our own, special to us. These are some house plans that are being discussed. We’ve been working it out for the past couple of weeks. We have to make a decision shortly on general house shape and size, then start to work on the specifics of the rooms.” Willow then slides the binder over to Delana, who picks it up and glances inside.

“Wow. These all look awesome. Do you have a preference?” Willow shakes her head.

“Page 7.” Delana quickly flips through the pages, looking over the layout in surprise.

“Oh wow. That looks amazing. What does Tony think?” Willow glances over with a shrug.

“He wasn’t too pleased on that idea. He enjoyed the second page more.” Delana then flips back to the second page, glancing over the design layout.

“I like your idea better but I guess that’s why they say us ladies have better style sense.” Willow laughs as Delana slides the binder back to her.

“We promised to discuss it over the weekend and decide by Tuesday.” Delana shakes her head, accepting, as she glances into the wedding banner.

“Wedding party…..location….date range – that’s a start. At least you’re somewhere.” Willow shakes her head, accepting, as she collects the last bits of paper around the room.

“There’s still a lot to be done in the next seven months if we want to get married this winter. The invitations need to be sent out sooner than later, as well. But you can’t send those out till you have a color theme and I haven’t thought about that too much right yet…” Willow then stops and takes a deep breath as Delana closes the binder, setting it down on the table. She then walks over and places her hand on Willow’s shoulder.

“It’s understandable. You’ve had a lot on your plate so far this year, and still do. You still have plenty of time to get the invitations out. Also, don’t rush it. You want to go with something that you’ll love, enjoy and cherish. For that reason, take your time and selecting your color theme and make sure that it’s appropriate and fits you first.” Willow shakes her head, understanding. She got all that for the decision process. That wasn’t what was on her mind, though.

“I heard Tony and Kevin talking the other day. Tony said that I’m working on planning the wedding so much because I want a distraction from everything….” She then looks up at Delana, taking a deep breath. “Is it wrong to want a distraction?” Delana shakes her head no.

“We all need a break from what goes on in our lives and considering what you’ve gone through, you need a bigger break than most. This is a good break for you because it gives you time to think about something else.” Willow lets a small smile show on her face.

“That’s what I thought, as well. It’s nice to not think about it for awhile.” Delana glances at Willow, seeing the hurt that is in her eyes. There was more to this girl than she was showing.

“But you can’t keep finding distractions, though. Eventually, you need to face those feelings head on and deal with them. You need to go through them, sort through the sadness and anger, so that way you can move forward. You need to talk to someone, like Tony, or even me.” Delana pauses, taking a deep breath, as she keeps her eyes locked on Willow. “Your whole life, you’ve been running. You ran from home at a young age. You ran as far away as you can so you didn’t have to face that. You ran when she found you, trying to outrun the stalking. You ran to California when you knew she’d be in North Carolina. That’s going to catch up with you. You can’t outrun your demons. If you keep trying to outrun them, they’re going to eat you from the inside. Keep that in mind.” Delana then pulls her into a hug, letting go after awhile and leaving the room to check on Keelan.

Willow takes a deep breath, letting those thoughts soak in. It was why lashing out on Wednesday felt so good – she was starting to let go, rather than run. But why was letting go so hard to do?

 

Chapter 27: Bristol

“You did awesome!” Willow says as she wraps her arms around Tony and gives him a kiss after he is done a series of interviews. He easily accepts, looking at her with a smile. It had been a great night at Bristol as despite all the annoyance over the rain, Tony had a good race – finishing in the top 10.

“Thank you,” he replies as he keeps his arms wrapped around her. “Now, shouldn’t be doing your job, Ms. Salone?” She just laughs, glancing up pit road. She knew that she should be talking to Ricky about his finish and how it’s a bright light for Roush Fenway. She could also talk to Justin Allgaier about his top-10 finish. Then there was Danica, too.

“I am doing my job – I’ve come to get the scoop from a man who had a good night at Bristol.” Tony shakes his head, knowing that was a lie. He knew why she was there.

“You just wanted a kiss and a cuddle. You wanted me.” She then lets go, gives her hair a flip and looks down pit road.

“Well, in that case, I’ll just go see what Danica has to say. Congratulations Mr. Stewart on your good run tonight.” She then goes to walk away, when he grabs her hand and pulls her back to him.

“Nice try. You’re not getting away that easy.” She then laughs as she looks around.

“Ah, but I am. Remember, I have a job to do. I have to go listen to what Jeff and Jimmie have to say, followed by Ricky and then Mr. Kenseth. Then, I have to write some stories so I can keep doing this job.” He could see through her. He knew that she was stating the truth, but that wasn’t the reason why she was standing there in his arms.

“I’ll let you go so you can do your job, but remember – I know why you came to see me first.” He then lets her go as a smile creeps on her face. She couldn’t ever get annoyed of seeing him all the time.

“Admit it – you liked the kiss just as much as me. Every other girlfriend or wife congratulates their driver when he has a good night. I felt that I should get to do the same thing. Besides, I’m happy for you. This is the start of a turnaround.” He smiles, hoping that she was right. He had done well at Richmond in the past. Perhaps he could keep the momentum going.

“Maybe I’ll get to come see you in the media center soon.” She then walks off, set to return to the media center and her job.

Tony, meanwhile, heads towards the garage area. He had no complaints on his mind as it had been an awesome night. It was nice to be running up front all night and come home with a good finish. It was nice to see the progress that he and Chad had been making start to pay off. Everybody knew the team was fast via Kevin and Kurt. Now it was time for him and Danica to get up there with their teammates. Give it a couple more weeks like this, and they’d have the organization to beat.

“You know, I like working with a happy driver,” Tony hears and glances over towards Chad. “It’s nice to see a smile on your face.” Tony knew that smile that Chad was referencing. It felt nice to be relaxed and smiling, but he had all the reasons to. He had the best girl in his life, he had a fast car to drive, and the past was soon to be in the past. A couple more weeks in the courts and Tina Salone would be a forgotten name.

“Keep giving me fast cars and that smile won’t disappear,” he tells his crew chief, which causes him to smile in return.

“Keep doing your job and telling me what needs to be done and it’ll be easy as ever. Seriously, though. I like this attitude.” Tony then stops, taking a deep breath. He did owe his crew chief an explanation.

“Listen – about the last couple of weeks, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be an ass. There was just a lot goin-”

“Tony, you don’t need to apologize. I know there was a lot going on with regards to Willow’s mom. The guys on the crew know, as well. Nobody is mad about it; we understand. We’re just glad that things are getting taken care of and we’re getting our Smoke back.” Tony smiles as it was nice to hear that in return from his crew chief. He just hoped that things positive. He knew there was still a rocky road ahead with the trial dates to come, and helping Willow through her emotions.

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”

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

“How is Willow not here with us?” Kevin asks as they take their tour around the White House.

“She had a big meeting today with her bosses,” Tony answers. “It’s their monthly meeting and nobody is allowed to miss it. She even tried to use the reason that she had to cover this story for them.” Kevin shakes his head in disbelief as they walk around.

“She’s missing a big day….” Tony shakes his head in agreement. It felt odd flying up to Washington on Kevin’s plane with Rodney and Delana, versus taking his own plane. It also felt odd knowing that Willow had hopped on his plane this morning by herself with Keelan, flying to her website’s headquarters.

“Are you sure that she’ll be fine with Keelan?” Delana asks, still concerned. They didn’t want to bring Keelan with them as they knew he’d find trouble too easily, so Willow offered to keep the toddler with her for the day.
“They’ll be fine, Delana. She says that plenty of her fellow writers bring their children and they all play together while the adults talk. I’m sure he’s having a blast with her.” He then wraps an arm around her. “You don’t have to worry about your little boy. He’ll be fine.” She then gives him a slight smile and wraps her arm around him in return.

“Just like I told her that I’d keep an eye on you today, and make sure you stay out of trouble.” Kevin then laughs as he looks back at the pair.

“Tony doesn’t know how to stay out of trouble,” he comments as Tony simply grins.

“Don’t you see my halo?” Tony questions before pinching Delana’s ass and running off ahead of them a bit.

“That’s exactly what she was talking about!” Delana lets out as Tony looks back at them, laughing.

“I saw your tweet. I’m your second date of the day. Might as well treat it like a proper date, my dear.” She then rolls her eyes as she looks over at Kevin.

“What did we do to deserve his company? I thought Rodney was supposed to babysit him.” Kevin laughs and shrugs his shoulders, as he glances around.

“Where is Rodney, anyway?” Kevin questions, though hears a familiar whistle shortly after. Rodney then appears, licking his lips.

“Even the cookies are that much better here,” he comments as Kevin and Delana shake their heads in disbelief.

“I’m surprised Tony didn’t beat you to the kitchen…” Tony then looks back at them, with his familiar grin reappearing.

“Oh, I’ve been there. That was my first stop. Those cookies are delicious. I requested a couple batches to go. They accepted, saying that it was a nice ‘thank you for coming’ gift.” The whole group just shakes their heads as they continue their tour.

 

Chapter 28: Trial

After such a fun day to start the week, both Tony and Willow were dreading re-entering the court room that week. They wished that they could avoid going here.

They wished that this would be done with all together.

With Willow’s testimony from the previous week, the district attorney was set to move forward quicker than intended. He felt that she proved everything from their perspective, along with the guilty charges already, that Tony did not have to take the stand. It was a relief to Tony as he didn’t want to face that woman or her lawyer after what they said last week about the piggy. However, he also wished that he would’ve originally taken the stand last week rather than Willow so she wouldn’t had gone through the questioning. He could’ve proved what she said, after all.

The attorney knew the three charges that were at hand, and the potential look at defense as provided by the lawyer.

Supposedly, Tina says that she did not take the sexual photos. However, hand-written analysis shows that her writing went with. The lawyer tried to disprove that by saying analysis wasn’t final, but the attorney begged to differ. He knew calling the expert in would be a good offense mechanism.

She says that she didn’t trespass on to the Stewart residence, but yet that was proven wrong based on the report from the fire department after the fire. Case closed.

Lastly, she pled guilty to harassing Tony, but not to Willow. That caught the lawyer by strange, curious as to the details from Tina herself. She had yet to give reasoning, and the lawyer stated that someone could trespass onto properties without harassing – hence no proof of connection between the pair. That proof, though, was shown in the photos and letter. Back to the hand writing expert to prove everything.

Rather than force the jury to sit through weeks of testimony, as well as putting his clients through the agony of trial, the decision was made to simply question the expert, and then leave everything in the lawyer’s hands.

With the decision, the court session for that week was kept short and sweet, to the point. The expert was hard to disprove in his craft, based on factual evidence supporting the technique behind hand-written analysis.

The judge announced at the end of the trial that next week would shift to defense testimony – simply meaning, Tina would take the stand to defend her actions.

Willow was already regretting this even a week in advance. She didn’t want to hear what her mother had to say. She didn’t want to be reminded of what happened. She didn’t want to take a trip down memory lane. She was ready to lock the lady up and throw away the key.

Thankfully, though, Willow wasn’t stuck thinking about that for long. The house remodeling was kicked up into second gear as Tony and Willow met with the contractors, deciding on the design that they wanted.

Despite original debate, Willow had decided to go with Tony’s suggestion for the house frontal look and eventual layout. The only agreement was that she was to decide wall color and floor selection down the road. That was something that Tony easily accepted.

The design that they chose was a one-floor layout, but big enough to fit them both and friends. The living room was huge, enough for a pair of couches and chairs so that way they could easily sit around with friends, enjoying their company and watching the big screen television. The kitchen would have enough room for Willow to go about fully cooking and preparing meals, with enough cupboard space to keep everything tidy at all times.

Both rooms were easily accessible from the main entrance. The layout had you walk into the main entrance, with an office to your right and the living room to your left. If you walked further down, the kitchen was on the left, or you could go right and head down a short hallway to the bedsroom and bathroom quarters.

The master bedsroom was fit to their style, easily able to fit a king size bed and their dressers. It also featured a walk-in closet, big enough that they could both fit all their clothes that needed to be hung up. Off to the other side of the bedsroom was their own private bathroom. Plans were already being discussed to make sure it had a big bathtub, hot-tub style with its jet, so both Willow and Tony could relax there together.

They also added a pair of extra bedsrooms – incase friends stayed over, along with a bathroom in between so not everybody would go to their personal bathroom.

The extra bedsroom weren’t just there for that reason, though, as Willow had other reasons. She wondered if one day she’d be a mother with a child of her own. It wasn’t something she ever thought about as a child, always focused on running from the past. However, spending time with Keelan, it was starting to open that hole. She wondered whether she could, or if she was past her prime. Most ladies she knew got pregnant in their 20s, but yet here she was over 40 and no baby in sight.

She wasn’t about to rush it, either, as she wanted to get through what had happened recently first, followed by planning the wedding. No way would she be pregnant for her wedding as that’d bring a problem in making sure the dress fit.

Once that was done at year end, though, she wondered about the possibility. She also wondered what Tony would think, as well.

Boarding the plane to fly out to Richmond, she knew that was a topic that could be discussed sometime – for curiosity. Perhaps when they were bored on Saturday night with another dose of ridiculous rain.

 

Chapter 29: Post Talladega

“Are you still writing about Talladega?” Tony asks as he looks over at Willow on the flight home. She shakes her head yes, continuing to type on her laptop.

Even though she had a bunch of post-race stories still to do, she had agreed to leave Talladega before they were done with Tony to return home. She knew that he wouldn’t want to stick around with having posted a 19th place finish. It didn’t bode well, considering he was coming off of a 41st place finish the week before at Richmond International Raceway.

“There’s tons to write about,” she comments as she passes over her list of ideas to him.

“Obvious…” He comments as he reads over the list, seeing article ideas surrounding Dale Jr., his crew chief Greg Ives, and Jimmie Johnson. There were then a couple ideas surrounding the surprises in the top 10. “You always get those at Talladega.”

“You still need to write about them despite it being simply luck of the draft and managing to find the right line. They deserve recognition as it’s a special finish that they get where they may not somewhere else. Ryan Blaney is the biggest, and perhaps the one with the most potential to carry that momentum forward. The others – more of luck of the draw. The fans eat up those stories – it’s the classic underdog deal. The fans eat it up, and the editor smiles.” Tony then looks over at her with surprise.

“To think that you didn’t know much about racing when you were assigned to write an article on me last year.” She then chuckles as she shrugs her shoulders.

“You don’t need to know racing to know that underdog stories get hits. You need to know racing to know who the underdogs are, and why they have a chance at Talladega.” He then wraps an arm around her as he hands her back the list.

“Well, I think you’ll do a great job writing these stories.” She then glances over at him.

“To think that you’re supposed to be the guy that doesn’t respect the media and makes smart comments at times.” He then shrugs his shoulders.

“There are people that can be jackasses and ask stupid questions. They deserve it. Besides, they don’t look as cute as you.” He then leans in and gives her a quick kiss before sitting back.

His mind instantly went to thought process, but surprisingly not surrounding that day’s crappy race. Sure, he didn’t get the finish that he wanted and sure, he couldn’t find a way to get to the front with the way the pack was. But, that was the luck of draw and sometimes just how those races went. Why leave that on your mind?

He could’ve thought about the following week’s race at Kansas Speedway, but that’d be a tough topic to focus on. Considering the struggles of the team so far this year, focusing on any race didn’t seem to bring a smile. Besides, the intermediate tracks so far this year had brought long races of fighting handling problems. Perhaps they could get it turned around, but that wasn’t important at the time.

His mind instead wandered to the upcoming week and the trial days to come. His mind flashed back last week when Willow’s mother finally took the stand, and was questioned about her behavior.

She continued to deny taking the sexual photos, which was no surprise. There wasn’t any proof that she held a camera, just the note in the envelope. She couldn’t gotten someone else to do her dirty work for her.

She tried to deny trespassing on the residence, but that failed thanks to the fire chief’s report. At least she finally admitted to doing that.

Though the most curious thought on Tony’s mind was the harassing charge. Her mom was asked whether she harassed Willow and Tony, in which she continued to deny. The reason – it brought forth the most chuckles and eye rolls that a court probably ever witnessed.

“Ms. Salone, did you harass Mr. Tony Stewart and Ms. Willow Salone?” The lawyer asks.

“I already told you that I didn’t do that,” she replies as she stares the lawyer in the eyes.

“Okay, let me reword the question. Did you follow Mr. Stewart and Ms. Salone?” The older lady smiles.

“Why, of course I did.” The lawyer then crosses his arms, impressed.

“Isn’t following someone a form of harassment, especially if they don’t want you around?” His question only brought a smile to the older lady’s face.

“It wasn’t harassment, if that’s what you’re implying. My daughter may say that she doesn’t want me around. My daughter may not agree with my parenting techniques, or either of those used by her father. However, I was simply checking on her and making sure that she was keeping well. I’m just a caring mother that wants the best for her daughter. Is that a crime?”

The minute those words slipped out of her mouth, Tony’s skin had started to crawl. How does a caring mother hurt their own daughter? How does a caring mother cause abuse to their own daughter? How does a caring mother try to burn their daughter in a house? He could only shake his head in disbelief that day in the trial room.

With the testimonies complete, it was now a waiting game to hear what the jury had to say. In honesty, Tony was surprised that the lawyer hadn’t called him yet and told him that the jury was done deliberating. What was there left to argue? She pretty much proved on the stand that she was guilty on the charges. Why take the time deliberating? The sooner the decision, the sooner they’d be done with her and the sooner they could move on.

Tony watches as Willow continues to type, eyes focused on the girl that he had grown to love. He knew that moving on would be the best thing for her as he knew that Willow simply wanted to put it in the past. The start of that was the completion of the trial, followed by the time to heal and find a way to move beyond.

They had made progress as witnessed by her happiness and growing easier in talking about what happened, however the emotions were there. She was still nervous each time she walked into the court room and hated even catching a glimpse of her mom’s eyes. There was times that she’d break down crying talking about details, and there were even a couple nights that she woke up from a nightmare.

Running a hand through her hair, he knew that he wasn’t going to leave her side. He was going to be there for her through it all, just like she was there for him.

 

Chapter 30: The Verdict

“I hate this…” Willow comments as she walks into the court room and takes her seat.

“Look at it this way – this is the last day that you’ll have to be here,” Tony tells her as she glances over at him. “The jury will find her guilty of all three charges and she’ll be going to jail for a bunch of years. It’ll finally be the end.”

“And what if the jury doesn’t find her guilty?” Tony glances at the jury as they make their way in, trying to get a read off of them to see what the outcome would be. In his mind, there was only one answer.

“If they don’t find her guilty, then they’re just as nuts as her. The fire chief’s report proves that she was on my property, and she stated herself that she was harassing you supposedly for good measure. Combine those pieces together, and it’s 90% likely that she took the photos. Boom – she’s done.” Willow lays her head on Tony’s shoulder, letting out a shy. She hoped that he was correct.

“I just want to put this in the past.” Tony pats her leg, knowing that feeling all too well. However, he also knew that simply putting Tina behind bars wasn’t the answer to doing that.

“This is a start. You still have to face what happened and talk about it so you can move past it. You know that better than anyone else.” Willow lets out a sigh, shaking her head in agreement. She just didn’t know if she could do that. She’d rather focus on the wedding than do that.

They watch the judge come on and call everyone to attention, set for the proceedings. Both of them sat there praying for a quick afternoon session.

“May the defendant please rise,” the judge instructs as Tina stands in her spot. “Has the jury reached a verdict?”

“We have,” the head juror states as Tony keeps his fingers crossed.

“On the charge of harassment towards Ms. Willow Salone, how do you find Mrs. Tina Salone?”

“Guilty.” Tony looked over at Willow with a smile. He knew that was going to be the case.

“On the charge of trespassing on to Mr. Tony Stewart’s property, how do find Ms. Tina Salone?”

“Guilty.” Willow took a deep breath, glad that things were going as smooth as they were so far. There was just one more charge on the table and they’d be done.

“On the charge of taking sexual content photos without permission of both Ms. Salone and Mr. Stewart, how do you find Mrs. Tina Salone?”

“Not guilty.” Tony looked over at the jury in shock as he thought that the rest of the pieces, along with the handwritten analysis, would have been enough to prove that she had taken the photos. However, he also understood the reasonable doubt since there was no proof of a camera found in evidence.

“Thank you. Ms. Tina Salone, with adding the current list of offences to the previous offenses, you are looking at 114 months in jail, followed by five years probation and $200,000 fine to pay. During your time in jail, you will not be allowed any chances at parole due to the amount of charges. While you believed that you were protecting your daughter, you were indeed actually harming your daughter. Needless to say, your parenting skills need some adjusting. However, I think that was something that you already knew before you entered the court room today based on the past with your daughter.” Willow shivered at the mention of that, not wanting to have any reflection on the years of abuse that she went through before leaving home.

“That’s your opinion, judge,” Tina states as Tony can only chuckle. When would she learn?

“That’s also the opinion of the state and Children’s Aid,” the judge states. “I wouldn’t suggest having anymore children in the future. They wouldn’t be allowed to stay with you based on your charges.” The judge then looks over at the district attorney. “Do you have any questions before we end the session today?” The district attorney glances back at Tony and Willow. Willow wanted the day done as soon as possible as the sooner they could leave, the better. Tony, meanwhile, had other plans.

“I have a question,” Tony tells the attorney, catching Willow by surprise. It was a question that had bugged Tony since the beginning of his dealing with Willow’s mom.

“Your honor, Mr. Stewart has a question for the court room,” the district attorney states. The judge then motions his hand for Tony to come forward. Tony takes a deep breath as he stands up and walks forward, eyes glancing over at Tina.

“Go ahead, Mr. Stewart,” the judge instructs as Tony takes a deep breath.

“When Ms. Salone was abused as a child, both of her parents were involved in the dealings,” Tony starts as he takes his eyes off of the judge and looks over at Tina. “Where’s your husband?”

“He was taken to a mental institution about five years ago,” Tina starts. “Supposedly he needed help for some issues.” The answer brought a sigh to both Tony and Willow. Without expressing it, Willow had been worried that her father was going to randomly show up next. However, hearing that, gave her the confirmation that she needed.

“You should’ve gone with hi-”

“That’s enough, Mr. Stewart!” The judge states as Tony stops mid-sentence. “Is there anymore questions?” Tony shakes his head no as he returns back to Willow’s side, pulling her back close. “Then we’re done here for today. Court adjourned!”

The pair of them leave the court room, satisfied, while Tina is taken away in handcuffs. Tony keeps quiet, arms wrapped around Willow, as he leads her back to the car and opens the door for her. She then climbs in, glancing up at him.

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

“I just want to go home,” she answers as he gives her a quick kiss.

“That’s where we’ll go then.” He then closes the door, walking around to get in the driver’s seat.

He could just only hope that things went as easy as possible moving forward as they began to move on, and that involved Willow opening up the pieces of the pain that she felt deep down.

The Demons – Chapters 21 Thru 25

thedemons

Chapter 21: Plans

“I have to admit – this is perfect,” Willow comments as she cuddles up with Tony on the couch. “Can we do this more often?” Tony laughs as he wraps his arms around her.

“We can come up here whenever there’s time in the schedule,” he tells her. “Actually, I can’t wait to bring you in the summer.” She then thinks about the possibilities that could happen during the summer with the amount of property and fun to be had.

“Oh really? Why’s that?” Tony smiles, thinking of past summers. He knew it’d be more fun with a friend to share it with.

“We can go sit in the trees and if we’re quiet enough, we’ll draw the attention of the deer. They’ll come walking around. It’s kind of nice.” Willow smiles, thinking how simple of a guy Tony can be truly be at times.

“Are you sure that you can that be quiet with me around?” He then tickles her as she jumps up off the couch, laughing. “That’s what I mean!”

“I’m being quiet. It’s you that’s laughing and causing all the noise. Crazy lady you are!” She then climbs back on the couch, climbing on him.

“I can make you be just as loud as I am being and so easily do so.” He ten warps his arms around her, holding her close to him.

“It’s fact – you only want one thing and one thing right now. Just reveal the details, Willow.” A smirk forms on her lips as she shakes her head. It was easy to play these games with Tony.

“Oh no hun, that’s what you want. This is what I want to do.” She then reaches under his arms, tickling him as he squirms underneath her, letting out big laughs of his own.

“Stop…stop…So unfair!” She then stops after awhile, getting up form her spot as she looks at him.

“All is fair in love and war. Love you, babes.” She then heads to the kitchen to get a drink from the fridge, returning with a pair of drinks for them both. She then sits down on the couch, looking over at him with a smile. “So, we can do anything that I want to do over the next couple of days, right?”

“That’s what I said.” He then looks over at her, intrigued and now slightly worried. There was something wrong about the tone of her voice. “What are you thinking?” A smile forms on her face as she knew the perfect thing for them to do together.

“There’s a movie that I want to go see. What if we go to the movies one night?” Immediately, the movie on the mind came to Tony as he simply shakes his head.

“You just want to go see Furious 7 so you can stare at either Paul or Vin, right?” She shakes her head, immediately. She wasn’t interested in seeing that movie. While it was definitely for car people and somewhat interesting, it didn’t catch her interest. She didn’t care for all the crazy stunts that they seemed to pull together with a half-ass story line. It was a series that grew dead on her by the third movie.

“That’s not the movie that I had on the brain, and you’d be stealing at Jordan Brewster anyway.” Tony shakes his head no, keeping his eyes locked on Willow. He wanted to know the movie now.

“She’s got nothing on you, babes. What’s the movie, then?” The smile remains on Willow’s face as she can’t wait to see the reaction from Tony.

“Cinderella.” Tony’s jaw drops immediately and he shakes his head no.

“No…no…no…” She had expected that reaction from Tony.

“You said we could do anything that I wanted, as long as we got to spend time together and away from the craziness. I’ve had my eyes on that movie since the previews came out. It’d be a treat if you took me.” He then lets out a sigh as he can’t believe that she was doing this to him.

“Out of all the movies, why Cinderella?” She smiles, thinking of the reasons.

“I’ve always enjoyed the Cinderella story. I enjoyed it even more when Hilary Duff did her variation on it. Now, though, I want to see what the new movie is like. Plus, the girls that I know, they say it’s really good.” Tony rolls his eyes. Was this really happening?

“Can’t you wait till it comes out on DVD?” She then gives him a fake frown, knowing that he’d accept immediately. He hated to see her sad.

“You said I could do anything. Now, you’re backing out on me? That’s mean, Tony!” Tony lets out a sigh, knowing that he had to live up to his promise.

“Fine. I’ll go see Cinderella with you. However, if I agree to see Cinderella, you have to agree to do something that I want to do this week without any objections.” She shakes her head, accepting. That was a fair deal.

Besides, what could Tony cook up for them to do together that would be that bad?

 

Chapter 22: Easter

“So, I heard you and my brother spent the couple of days hanging out in Indiana,” Natalie comments as she washes the dishes after dinner, always liking to help her mom. Willow had offered to join in helping, drying them off.

“We needed some time to get away from everything,” Willow replies as Natalie shakes her head, understanding. She had heard about the craziness over the past month or so.

“So I heard. I can’t….I can’t fathom that someone would do that, especially a mother.” Willow was used to that response now, nobody believing the actions of her mother were even humanly possible.

“I’ve heard that a lot, but welcome to my life. That’s just how it goes, I guess.” Natalie glances over, a bit of sympathy forming in her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Willow. I can’t even imagine…”

“Don’t feel sorry or go on about it. It’s fine. I’m dealing with it and putting it behind me. I’ve got my health, a job and a great boyfriend.” Natalie smiles as she looks into the living room at her brother.

“Listen, I can tell you right now that you make him really happy. That smile that he’s got on his face is more truer now than ever. I know you say that he’s awesome for you, but you’re also awesome for him. I should be the sister scaring away all the girls, but I can’t do that to you.” Willow looks over with a smile of her own. It was nice to have someone to talk to about things. “So, what did you do this week? Well, besides…which I don’t want details.”

“We hung out together, and I made him take me to see Cinderella.” Natalie then looks over, surprised.

“Wait – he went and watched Cinderella with you?” Willow slowly shakes her head yes as Natalie shakes her head in disbelief. “Wow. I would never have imagined him doing that. What curse do you have over my brother – better yet, how did you make him agree?” Willow smiles as she leans back against the counter.

“He told me that we could do anything I wanted, so I tested those boundaries. He was a little hesitant at first, but he gave in. don’t tell him I told you but I think he liked it. He was smiling in the theatre.” Natalie chuckles as she pretends to make a mark on the wall.

“Blackmail noted.” Willow laughs.

“Although, there was payback. He made watch Smokey and Bandit, again, for the third time in the past two weeks. How can a man watch a movie that many times?” Natalie shakes her head, not sure herself.

“At least it’s a good movie.” Willow shakes her head in agreement.

“It still gets annoying watching it over and over that many times close together, and he knows that it annoys me so I think he did it on purpose.” Natalie smiles.

“That’s Tony. He’s always playing around with people. When he plays around with you, you know that things are good.” The girls then finish up the dishes and get set to rejoin the rest of the family, when Willow stops Natalie in her tracks.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. I’m going to start working on wedding plans throughout this year. Tony says he’s not picky about anything, except the date, his best man and location. Other than that, it doesn’t matter. I was wondering if you could help me.” Natalie shakes her head yes with a big smile.

“Of course! I’d love to help you plan the wedding!” Willow lets a smile form on her face.

“Thanks. That means a lot. I mean…” Willow then takes a deep breath. “…It’s hard without a lot of family of my own. I guess it’s going to feel a little weird.” Natalie wraps an arm around her.

“It’ll be different than normal weddings but who cares! All that matters is that on your wedding day, you’re surrounded by those who love you and support you.” Willow shakes her head, in agreement, though still feeling some slight sadness of her own.

“Do you think it’ll look odd if I walk down the aisle by myself?” Natalie had wondered what Willow’s dad and where he was and details there. She knew about how he was involved in the abuse to Willow as a child, but nothing else. It seemed odd that her mom had only offered these days.

“Absolutely not. I’ve had friends who have walked down the aisle for whatever reason that may be – whether a parent dying, or a reason like your own. Nothing was said to them, and no comments will be made about you. Listen, take a deep breath and wash these worries away. You don’t need to worry about this, Willow. Everything will be fine and you’ll have the most magical day of your life. Just let the worries wash away.” Willow shakes her head, wishing that she could simply do that. However, as she went to do that, reminders of the past were circling in her mind.

 

Chapter 23: Trial

“I don’t want to be here,” Willow whispers as she gets out of the car with Tony. “I don’t want to see her. I don’t want to be reminded…” Tony walks around and pulls her close, wrapping both arms around her.

“I don’t want to think about her or what she did to you…to us either,” Tony replies. “But, we have to go in there. We have to go through the legal process so that way she goes to jail for what she did.” Willow then glances up at Tony.

“Can’t they do that without us?” Tony keeps her held close as they slowly walk towards the doors.

“They could, but it’s better if we’re here according to the legal analysts.” He then stops and looks at her. “Willow, I know this is hard for you. I know you don’t want to face her or be reminded of what happened. But I’ll be right here beside you, holding your hand the whole way. I promise to never leave your side. It’s going to be okay.” She shakes her head yes, trying to wipe away the tears that are coming down her face.

“I just want to forget everything….I don’t want to be reminded….I don’t want the pain….” Tony shakes his head, understanding.

“This is the first step in erasing that pain, by locking her away in a jail cell forever where she belongs. Once she’s away, then she can’t hurt you anymore. That gives you safety and security, which makes everything easier. Then you can work through getting past what happened.” He then wipes away the last bit of tears for her. “Now, are you ready to go in there?” Willow shakes her head no.

“I’ll never be ready….” He then clutches onto her hand tightly.

“Will you be ready if I hold your hand the whole time?” She then glances up and shake her head no.

“I can’t…do this…” Tony pulls her close.

“Easy Willow, easy….” She then lets the tears fall once again as Tony keeps her held close, rubbing her back. “Hey now, I thought you were going to be strong and face this like a big girl. I thought you weren’t going to let your mom control your life or chase you away, just like you didn’t let her tell you what to do by joining me in California.” She then glances up from his chest to look into his eyes.

“It’s hard to be strong…”

“I know, but I also know that you can do it as you’re a strong, feisty person who can take on the world. Besides, I’ll be here by your side the whole time.” She then takes a deep breath before straightening herself up and looking towards the doors.

“Let’s get this over with, please.” Tony agrees, leading her through the doors and to the court room.

The pair take their seats behind the bench where instructed, as the judge comes out and takes his spot. Tony gets his first glimpse at her mother, watching her being ushered into the room. She wasn’t that big of a person, reminding him of your typical mothers out there. It was strange to think that this little lady could cause all the harm that they had been through over the past couple of months, and what Willow had gone through most of her life. He feels Willow shiver in his arms, wrapping them tighter around her and pulling her even close, if that was possible.

“I am going to through the list of charges that you are charged with, Ms. Tina Meredith Salone, and you are to answer guilty or not guilty to each one,” the judge states, catching everyone’s attention in the room. “How do you plead to second degree arson with relation to the Stewart residence?” Tony felt his blood boil as he thought about what she had done. If it was up to him, she should’ve been charged with first degree arson due to someone being in the house, namely his pig.

“Guilty,” she answers as the judge makes a note. The answer brings a sigh and slight surprise to the court room. if there was any charge that she could possibly prove to be innocent of, that’d be the one.

“Thank you. Your sentence could be a minimum eight months, to a maximum of 31 months. Due to the list of charges, any statements that are to be filed about why the actions took place will be saved to the end. On the charge of harassment towards Ms. Willow Salone, how do you plead?” Willow shivers at the thought of her mother following her through the past couple of months and taking photos. It was disgusting to think of the fact that her mother had taken photos of her alone with Tony.

“Not guilty.” Willow feels the blood drain from her, knowing that would mean that she’d have to speak in front of the court about what her mother had done over the past couple of months. It was hard enough to think about, let alone talk with Tony. How was she going to tell a court room full of people?

“On the charge of harassment towards Mr. Tony Stewart, how do you plead?” Tina glances back at Tony with a slight smile, knowing that she had enjoyed watching the man with her daughter.

“Guilty.” Tony glances at Willow in surprise, thinking that she would’ve said ‘not guilty’ due to her previous plead. However, whatever the case may be, it was nice to hear as that meant more time in jail.

“Thank you. Now, the district attorney has requested that charges be laid for harassment in North Carolina, Indiana, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia and California as the defendant supposedly harassed Mr. Stewart in each of those states. That motion has been denied as if you’re going to charge someone in a separate state, you need to do that in their respective court system. As a result, it will be a single charge of harassment against Mr. Stewart. Based on North Carolina law, that’s a Class A1 misdemeanor, resulting in community punishment and supervised probation. So once you’re done your sentence for arson, that will take affect and you will have so many community hours as determined by the court at a later date. Also, since you have been previously convicted of stalking a couple years ago, even though it’s not in North Carolina, you are subject to a Class F felony charge. Per state law, that results in 10 to 41 months in prison. So based on your plead of guilty for arson and guilty of stalking Mr. Stewart, so far you’re looking at 18 to 72 months in jail, followed by community service and probation.”

Willow felt some comfort in that detail. She may not be going to jail for as long as Willow hoped, but she’d only be let out under the supervision of the law. With that supervision, hopefully that’d keep her far away and prevent her from harming them ever again.

“On to the next charge,” the judge continues. “On the charge of trespassing with relation to the Stewart motorcoach whether in Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Virginia or California, how do you plead?” This was a charge that she could not escape easily, given the fact that the photos – or at least what Willow hadn’t thrown in the fireplace that afternoon – were entered in for court evidence.

“Guilty,” Tina answers as Tony sat back with a smile. certainly that plead would make things easier in regards to her comment earlier about not harassing Willow since Willow was in those very photos that she admitted to.

“Thank you. Now, if you go with the explanation earlier, I shouldn’t be allowed to pursue those charges due to the fact that we’re not in any of those states. However, each state received a police report stating that she was stalking on their grounds. With those police reports and charges from each respective state, you’re looking at a total of six trespassing charges. According to Florida law, that equals up to 60 days in jail, up to six months probation, and up to $500 in fines. According to Georgia law, that equals up to 12 months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. According to Arizona law, that equals up to 18 months in jail and up to $150,000 in fines. According to Nevada law, that equals up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. According to Virginia law, that equals up to 12 months in jail and up to $50,000 in fines. According to California law, that equals up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines. Therefore, in total for all of your trespassing offences, that brings you to up to 56 months in jail, up to six months probation and up to $203,500 in fines. If you add to that to the previous, we’re looking at a possibility of 38 to 128 months in jail, along with up to five years of probation and up to $203,500 in fines.”

Willow quickly did the math in her head, realizing that 128 months equaled to approximately 10 years – just as the detective had predicted on the phone. She also realized that she could add 41 months if her mother was found guilty of harassing her, along with the previous charges to not be touched yet. However, it still didn’t seem fair in Willow’s mind. This whole trial process partially felt like a waste of time as in 10 to 15 years time, this lady could be back bugging them again.

“Moving on….” The judge states, catching Willow’s attention once again. “On the charge of trespassing on to the Stewart residence in North Carolina, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty,” Tina answers, causing a couple laughs in the court room. It seemed ridiculous considering that she had set the house on fire. How do you set the house on fire without touching the property?

“Lastly, did you take photos of Ms. Salone and Mr. Stewart that included sexual explicit content without their permission?”

“No, I did not.” Tony shook his head in disbelief, knowing some of the photos that were taken sat waiting for the trial.

“Thank you. That is all for the sentences. Ms. Salone, there is no chance of paroll since you have pled guilty to a series of charges already. As for the three charges that you pled not guilty to, trial will begin next week with testimony from both sides to determine whether you’re guilty or not. Once the trial is complete, the actual length of your sentence will be determined. However, given the fact that you have pled guilty to numerous charges, you should be looking at the maximum, being 128 months in jail, along with five ears probation and $200,000 in fines to pay. Court adjourned!”

 

Chapter 24: Texas

“There’s something on your mind….” Tony comments as he wraps an arm around Willow on their flight to Texas. She then lays her head on his chest and lets out a sigh.

“Just thinking,” Willow says as Tony rubs her back.

“What are you thinking about?” They both knew what she was thinking about with the question even being asked. It was obvious based on the past couple of weeks.

“10 years doesn’t seem fair, does it?” He shakes his head, understanding.

“It doesn’t seem fair, but welcome to our lovely justice system. Though, it could be longer…” Willow shivers at that brings up the other scary thought on the mind. Beyond being worried about her mother’s eventual prison release, she was worried about having to testify before the court.

“I don’t think I can go through with that, Tony.” He knew that she was scared, and worried. He could understand that based on the fact that her parents had been an image of abuse and violence in her life for as long as she could remember.

“You said that you couldn’t go into that court room and face her, and you did that. That’s a step in the right direction.” He then takes a deep breath, thinking over his words of advice. “You know that I always have your back and will be with you the whole way. I’ll be sitting in that court room as well, having your back for support. I will be there to help you, and hold you close afterwards to comfort you. You can do this, Willow. You don’t have to be scared anymore. I’ve got you.”

Tony then continues rubbing her back till she falls asleep against him, as Kevin takes a glance over towards the pair.

“So 10 years?” He questions and Tony slowly shakes his head yes.

“IT could become almost 20 years if you add the other charges, but that’s it,” he comments as Kevin shakes his head in disbelief.

“I hate our justice system. That’s totally unfair.” Tony shakes his head in agreement, once again.

“She will then spend five years on probation, having to answer to an officer once a month to make sure that she’s staying out of trouble.” Kevin lets out a chuckle, wondering if that’s even possible.

“Sorry, but I don’t believe that one.” He then turns his demeanor back to serious as he looks over at them. “Are you guys going to get a restraining order for when she gets out?” Tony shakes his head yes. He had already spoken to the lawyer about that, following the opening hearing without Willow’s knowledge.

“They say that shouldn’t be a problem to get considering that she’s been convicted of a shit load of charges already. She’ll have to stay 100 yards away from me, Willow and any properties that we own.” Kevin felt comfort in that, but everybody also knew that a restraining order was just a piece of paper at the end of the day. “I’m not worried about that right now. I can deal with that in 20 years. Right now, it’s dealing with the emotions at hand. It’s helping Willow through the pain, comforting her, helping her get through the trial and everything afterwards.”

“I understand. I can’t imagine to have gone through what she’s gone through.” Tony glances down at her, running his fingers through her long hair.

“She went through 16 years of hell with her parents, and who knows what happened then. Based on what she’s told me so far, it was filled with physical abuse. If you add that to the recent years, it’s unbelievable.” Kevin shook his head, understanding.

“Well, if you need someone to talk to about things, you know where to find me. I’m always available for you both.” Tony looks over at Kevin, accepting the offer.

“Thanks, and thank you for making her speak up about the original photos.” Kevin glances over.

“I was just doing what a friend does – that’s all.” He then grabs his phone, quickly checking his messages. “So I hear she’s working on planning the wedding…”

“She feels if she keeps herself busy with work and planning the wedding, it’ll help her get through everything. I told her that was fine. For me, the wedding doesn’t matter. As long as I’m with her, that’s all that matters.” Kevin then looks over surprised.

“So you’re telling me that you gave her for reign for the wedding?” Tony shakes his head yes as Kevin shakes his head in disbelief. “You never, ever do that with a girl. Do you know how crazy girls go in planning their dream weddings?” Tony lets out a little laugh, having heard the stories.

“I’ve heard, but I got nothing to worry about. Based on what she’s told me, it’s not going to get blown out of proportion. The only rules that she has is it will be in Indiana during the off-season, and I get to choose my best man.” Kevin then looks over with a eyebrow raised.

“Oh really?” Tony shakes his head yes, seeing the grin on Kevin’s face. They both knew what the other was thinking.

“Yep – oh, and a certain ring barrier. I’d love to have Keelan as part of the wedding.” Kevin was fine with that, but had his mind stuck on the best man comment.

“So…about the best man….” Tony chuckles, seeing where Kevin is going.

“You should meet him. I hear he’s a great guy.” Kevin then looks over with his eyebrows raised. “He’s a California boy and he drives racecars for a living.”

“Does his name start with a J?” Tony then looks at Kevin shocked as Kevin laughs. “That was the worth the look on your face! Tell me more about this best man.” Tony then thinks it over.

“He’s a great guy to talk to and great to lean on advice. He has a great kid that is beyond adorable. Oh, and his wife is just…wow, too hot. She has a nice ass to pinch. But he can also be a royal pain in the ass.” Kevin laughs as he keeps his eyes on Tony.

“So, is there something that you have to ask?” Tony lets out a sigh.

“I wasn’t expecting to ask this soon in the game, but will you be my best man?” Kevin smiles and shakes his head yes.

“That was never a question. The minute you suggested it was the second that I accepted. I’d love to be part of your wedding, and you can steal the little guy.”

 

Chapter 25: Return to Court

“So I hear you already asked Kevin to be your best man,” Willow comments as they arrive at the court house, causing Tony to give her a curious glance. “Delana told me. We were talking wedding plans. She offered to help along with Natalie.”

“It just sort of came out on the way to Texas,” he tells her as she shakes her head understanding. “Keelan is also in for the ring barrier.” She accepts as they both get out of the truck and head towards the court house.

“I’ve been thinking about who could be our flower girls – perhaps Nat’s daughter. I also was going to ask one of my hometown girls, Shelly, to be my maid of honor. So it’s just determining the groomsmen and bridemaids.” Tony wraps an arm around her, pulling Willow close. He knew that she wanted to discuss wedding to keep her mind off of what was to take place inside the court room that afternoon. He was fine with that, but knew that they would have to tackle the past eventually.

“I told you that Zippy has to be one of my groomsmen. Delana and Natalie make up two of the bridemaids.” Willow shakes her head in agreement, having already decided upon that already.

“That’s already in the notes, Tony. You just need to tell me one more groomsmen so I can even it out on both sides. Then it’s determining location, the exact date, dress, color combination and food.” He then gives her a small kiss on the cheek.

“Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself. You have a lot of time, and I believe that you can plan things in style. I told you that it doesn’t have to be anything special, as long as I have you close to me.” Willow shakes her head in agreement. She was fine by that motto as well, as the specifics weren’t going to be too picky to decide in her mind. Hence why she had her girls as she was set to open up the decision process to them.

She was more stuck on the thought of having to walk down the aisle herself. Despite the conversation with Natalie, she felt nervous still about doing that. She didn’t know why it bugged her as much as it was – it was just walking down an aisle to the love of her life. However, for some reason it did.

The pair enter the court room, taking their seats where they were supposed to sit. With the pleads taken care of a week ago, this was the beginning of the witnesses to determine her mother’s guilt on the final three charges. If they could find her guilty, it would only add about five to 10 more years to the 10-15 sentence – but those were years that they were hoping to get. The longer she locked away, the safer Willow felt.

“First witness may be called to the stand,” the judge instructs to the district attorney. The attorney turns around to face Tony and Willow. Everybody knew who was set to called up on the stand. She didn’t want to testify, but she knew that she had to if her mother was to be locked away.

“Ms. Willow Salone,” the district attorney states. Willow then slowly stands up, taking a deep breath as she keeps her eyes locked forward. She didn’t want to catch a glance of her mother if she didn’t have to.

“You’re going to be fine,” Tony whispers as he gives her a hand a quick squeeze before she walks to the front of the room, taking the stand.

“Do you swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” The officer of the court asks and Willow shakes her head yes, keeping her eyes locked forward on Tony. She felt if she could keep her eyes locked on him, she could stay strong.

“Yes I do,” she states.

“You may begin,” the judge instructs.

“Thank you,” the district attorney starts. “Ms. Salone, please tell the court when things began with your mother.” Willow takes a deep breath, remembering the meeting she had with the district attorney. He told her that they were going to through each step of what happened so the jury got the whole picture.

“I was at Disney World with Tony and I noticed her in the crowd – or thought it was, anyway. I let it go, thinking that it was nothing.” Tony glances down, knowing otherwise. He remembered how Willow was a little off in the days that followed. “I was leaving the Daytona media center, having finished my last story for the night. As I was walking towards the pits to meet up with Tony, a fellow reporter – Jeff Gluck – ran up beside me with an envelope. He told me that someone had left it by the media center for me. I thanked him for it and continued on my way.” She then stops, remembering that night in Daytona. She still couldn’t believe it, even that day.

“Then what happened?” Willow takes a deep breath, remembering her feelings as she opened the contents.

“As I continued walking, I ripped open the seal of the envelope, curious as to the contents. Some photos fell out from Tony and I at the track; at first I thought it was a gift from a photographer. Then I saw some photos of Tony and I in Disney World, then photos of Tony and I in the motorcoach. It spooked me immediately. I couldn’t believe it. I reached the bottom of the envelope and saw the note – knowing who it came from.” The district attorney picks up an envelope from the desk and holds it up, showing some of the contents.

“Exhibit A – the envelope and the photos, as well as the note.” He then sets the note down in front of Willow. “What does the note say?” Willow shivers as she looks over the familiar hand-writing.

“Just one more time before I go, I’ll let you know that you can escape me, Willow.” The attorney flips the paper over before showing it to the jury.

“The note isn’t signed or anything. How did you know who it was from?” Willow glances up, focusing her eyes back on Tony once again.

“I know my mother’s hand-writing.” The district attorney walks back to the desk once again, grabbing another piece of paper.

“Exhibit B. Handwriting analysis conducted by the police. It determined that the writing of the note matched that of Ms. Tina Salone.” The district attorney then walks back over to Willow. “Ms Tina Salone said yesterday that she was not guilty of taking sexual photos or harassing. What is your response?” Willow glances towards the jury, who is taking their own look through the evidence. She wished that she could burn those items, along with what went in the fire place before California.

“That looks like harassment and sexual photos to me, doesn’t it?” The district attorney shakes his head yes.

“She also says that she didn’t trespass on to the Stewart residence property….” Willow shakes her head.

“Then how’d she set the house on fire? She admitted that, right?” The attorney then sits down, pleased with everything that was said.

“I’m done.” Willow then keeps her eyes focused forward, hoping that meant that she was done for the day on the stand. She was surprised that the district attorney hadn’t asked more questions. He had talked about discussing Willow’s past with her parents and running away at a young age. Guess that wasn’t needed, thankfully.

“Your witness,” the judge says to Tina’s lawyer as Willow closes her eyes. She prayed for no questions.

“Thank you,” Tina’s lawyer says as he stands up. So much for Willow’s wish that there’d be no questions. “Beyond that unsigned letter, do you have any proof that my client took the photos?” Willow glances down and shakes her head no. She now wished that she hadn’t burned the other letter.

“No sir.”

“So, there’s a possible chance that someone else took the photos, right?” Willow then glances up and shrugs her shoulders.

“I suppose, but wasn’t it proven that she wrote the note that accompanied them?” The lawyer shrugs her shoulders.

“Handwritten analysis says that she wrote the note. But, couldn’t someone simply copy the writing?” Willow knew that was possible and let out a sigh.

“I suppose, okay?” She just hoped that the evidence and other counts of what her mother had done would disprove this theory that the lawyer was trying to come up with.

“You’re also saying that the photos prove her harassment. Since I’ve disproved that – in my perspective – what do you have to say?” Willow then glances back at the lawyer, her anger starting to boil through.

“Didn’t your client prove guilty to trespassing across the bloody freaking country? I supposed if you chase someone from one end of the fucking country to another, its harassment, isn’t it? If it isn’t, then I’d like to know what is.” Tony looks on surprised at the sudden show of frustration from Willow, but can’t help but also smile. If anything proved anything, she hit the buzzer now.

“Not exactly as you can trespass on to property without disturbing…but hey, I’ll take back that comment. Oh, and you can set a house on fire without stepping on the property. Ever heard of throwing matches and bombs?” A sly grin crosses Willow’s face. She had confidence and anger mixed in one, and this guy seemed like the perfect dish to serve it to.

“It seems you know how to become an arsine artist by that detail. What are you doing defending clients like my mother who plead guilty to a whole list of charges – except three minors one? Oh wait – I’ll take that back. I will say that you should read the report from the fire chief. It said that the house was soaked in gasoline before being lit so that way the whole place would burn. If you’re going to do that, don’t you have to walk on the property? But hey, what do I know? You just better be thankful that Porkchop is still alive.” The lawyer then looks at her intrigued, but also growing some anger of his own.

“Who’s Porkchop?” Willow smiles.

“Tony’s pet pig.” The lawyer glances back at his client, before turning his eyes to Willow.

“It’s too bad that we didn’t make a pork roast, huh?” Willow’s jaw dropped in shock, along with pretty much everybody else in the court room. “I’m done.” The lawyer then takes a seat as the judge sits there in surprise.

“Based on the comments made by Ms. Tina Salone’s lawyer, that whole testimony in defense of the charges is to be thrown out,” the judge instructs as he focuses his eyes on the lawyer. “To make such comments as yours, especially concerning a family pet, you should be thrown out for contempt. Keep that behavior up and this will be a short court proceedings for everybody. I think that also finishes court for today as well as some people should think over their behavior. Ms. Willow Salone, you are free to leave the stand. Court adjourned!” Willow gets down off of the stand, looking towards her mother’s lawyer with eyes of anger as she walks over to Tony.

“Can you believe that he said that about Porkchop?” She questions in shock as Tony wraps his arms around her.

“I’m surprised that didn’t come out of your mother’s mouth, but it seems those two belong together,” he comments. “I’m proud of you. you did a great job up there handling everything that was dished at you. I love you.” He then gives her a kiss on the lips before leading her out of the court room. “By the way, you looked pretty sexy up there giving him shit.” She then laughs.

In a way, saying those small details and releasing some of the anger – even if just towards the lawyer – was like therapy. It felt nice to get it out in the open. Perhaps that’s what she needed to do moving forward, versus trying to keep her mind busy with wedding planning and work.

The Demons – Chapters 16 Thru 20

thedemons

Chapter 16: The Letter

It’s do or die
Nobody can save me now
The only sound
Is the battle cry

The past couple of weeks had been quiet – which was strange. They hadn’t seen any new photos passed along to them from their suspected stalker. The police hadn’t found anything new to the case, nor any sightings of anybody near them that fit the profile. For being stalked and followed, it seemed as though something was suspiciously wrong and quiet.

That was the thought that kept wandering through Willow’s mind as she focused on finishing up her preview for the race out at Auto Club Speedway. The preview seemed to be writing itself – expect domination from Kevin Harvick with possible challenges from Jimmie Johnson and the Penske Racing duo. She also added a snippet about Chip Ganassi Racing’s strong start to the year, and how Dale Earnhardt Jr. would want to be bounce back following the previous week’s tire issues. With the words coming together so easily, her mind wandered to what had been going on with them so far this season.

In truth, based on the past couple of weeks, they had let their guards down. The fear was in the backseat to the racing action and love that they had between each other. It seemed as though it was something that had passed to the wayside, and would be dealt with at the right time. When the person finally showed their face, they would be caught and it’d be over.

Perhaps it was just some random fan trying to scare her away and now ran off due to that not happening. Perhaps there was nothing to worry about.

She wished that thought would’ve carried her through the rest of her day as having the preview done and sent off, she went and checked the mail. An odd blank envelope – with just her name written on it – though, made reality come right back to the forefront. She immediately backed up back into the house, opening the envelope as she leaned back against the door after shutting it.

The oversized envelope’s contents immediately spilled on to the floor beneath her feet as she felt her last breath hitch in her throat. Sprawled out across the hallway floor of her home was photos that had been taken over the past three weeks. There were photos of her and Tony while at the race track, at the shop, out at the door, at restaurants and even at their home.

A spell of a paranoia came over her as she immediately moved to the windows, shutting the blinds as she felt her breaths quicken. She then returned to the cluttered mess of photos, picking up a letter that sat in the middle. She honestly didn’t want to open the letter. She didn’t want to read the contents, or learn the details. However, taking a deep breath, her curiosity and wanting answers for her fear got the best of her.

Willow,

It’s so nice to see you once again dear. How are you doing? I hope you have kept well over these 14 years.

It was quite amazing when I caught a glimpse of you at Disney World that day. I should’ve known that you would’ve ended up sleeping with some famous person. You’re using them because you couldn’t get what you wanted, right? Let’s face it, dear, you don’t deserve any of it to begin with.

I was also surprised that you went and said something. Where’s the little fearful person that I knew all those years ago? Where’s the person that couldn’t say a word for themselves? Where’s the person that ran away because they were afraid? Where’s the person that ran away because they couldn’t conform to the rules?

Let me guess – Tony convinced you to say something. That shouldn’t mark a surprise considering he wouldn’t want to get into anymore legal trouble. You do realize what he did to that poor man last year, right?

I’ve been watching you these past few weeks, dear. I’ve seen every moment that you’ve spent with Tony and those supposed friends of yours. Your fellow media members are only nice to you because they can’t be rude in the media center. Kevin and Delana are only nice to you because they know they have to put up with you due to Tony being your boss? Come on dear – you should know that already.

Anyways, I’ve watched your little security officials, but you should know that they have nothing on me. I know what I have to do to get what I want – I have always known what to do. Didn’t you see how that went with your father? Look at the photos – I’ve been able to get to you and see you as closely as I wanted, even with your precious security guards. Who’s going to save you now, dear?

But hey, enough with trying to follow you around. This weekend is the time that I have been waiting for. I’m going to keep it simple for you, too. Stay home. Don’t go with precious Tony to California. If you do that, then I’ll spare him and just focus on you and rekindling our great relationship, my sweet dear. However, if you dare go to California, well then, it seems as though you both will be in for a surprise.

Toodles!!

Willow takes a deep breath and tears the letter right down the middle. She then rips it into a dozen more pieces, before picking up the photos and walking to the living room. She throws them into the fire pit, along with the letter, lighting it. She then sits back on the couch, watching the evidence melt away as she crosses her arms.

“I’m done being afraid mother,” she says. “I’m done putting up with your bullshit. I left all that behind before, and I’m not going back down that road. Come for me, because this time, I’m going to be ready and you’re not going to get your way.”

 

Chapter 17: California

Willow wrapped her arms around Tony, giving him a quick kiss before the race. They were treating this weekend the same as always.

She had made Tony aware of the letter, in which he then in exchange got angry for a good five minutes about her burning the evidence. They then both told the police, informing them that their guards weren’t so smart after all in their duties.

“We will go through the system and see if there’s anybody that could be tipping her off,” the police officer had told them at the time.

They just both simply agreed to make sure to watch their own backs beyond that of their guards.

Willow had also contemplated staying home and seeing what happened, however made the decision to fly out to California with Tony. As she had said, she was done being afraid of her mother and she was ready to put this behind her as soon as possible. If her mom wanted to do something, let her try because she wasn’t playing around anymore.

Following opening ceremonies, Willow retreated to the media center, where she spent all of her race weekends. She quickly opened her laptop, and began keeping an eye on the race to keep track of the action and what could be turned into an article. Secretly, though, she also had an eye on Tony and how he was doing.

She proceeded to shake her head through the final 50 laps, not believing the amount of ‘debris’ cautions that NASCAR proceeded to fly. Were they real? Was this some deal by NASCAR to try and produce an exciting finish? She knew that’d be something to consider writing an article about.

At the end, she watched as Brad Keselowski grabbed the checkered flag and let out a sigh. She had been hoping that Kurt Busch would’ve been able to pull it off in his second race back on track. It’d mark a great story to write, and also mark a great personal moment for SHR. Now she was going to be stuck writing how ‘Bad Brad’ got the win due to how the cautions played for him, and his four tire strategy. At least Kevin and Kurt had finished second and third, respectively.

She also had to smile, though, as she glanced down the running order and saw where Tony finished. Certainly 14th wasn’t where he wanted to be running and nothing to brag about, but it was still a good finish. It was an improvement over the past month and showed a sign that he & Chad were starting to figure things out. It’d also make for an easier plane ride home.

Badly wanting to return home and be in Tony’s arms, she quickly wrote up the race report, along with an opinion piece on the debris and a couple other small deals. She then quickly left the media center, meeting up with Tony, set to return home.

As they got up in the air and headed for home, she glanced back at Auto Club Speedway with a smile. She was right to make the decision to join Tony in California. Nothing bad had happened. Her mom had simply used a scare tactic – or perhaps the guard who had been helping her was caught and fired.

“I love you,” she comments with a smile, before kissing his lips. He wraps an arm around her and pulls her close, smiling himself.

“I love you too,” he replies. “I’m glad that you joined me in California.”

“I am, as well. You also didn’t have too bad of a day, either.” He had to admit that she was right. It was a work in progress and something to hold his hat on. Perhaps he could figure out this new rule package after all.

“Maybe next week will be even better.” Her interest perks at that comment, hoping that was the truth. She thought about Tony’s last trip to Martinsville – her first trip there – and how much fun they had with him finishing fourth.

“Are you saying there’s a clock in our future?” He then gives her a wink, not saying much in return.

Shortly thereafter, the pair landed in North Carolina, set to return home. Kevin and Delana had agreed to give the pair a ride home, before heading home themselves. It made sense since they’d go right by their place anyway.

As they turned on to the street that the house resided on, all their jaws dropped immediately. Kevin then slowed as he kept pulling down the street, looking on in a sense of horror and shock.

The whole house was engulfed in flames.

“Oh my!” were the only words spoken in the car, coming from Kevin. He then parked the Tahoe at the police tape line, turning it off. They looked around as they saw the fire trucks trying to put the fire out.

“She….she….” Willow struggled to say, and Tony knew what she meant immediately. There was a reason why Willow’s mom had wanted her to stay home – she was supposed to be in that house and in that fire.

“It’s okay,” Tony comments as he wraps his arms around her, pulling her close and kissing her forehead. “Don’t let it bug you. I’ve got you. I told you that I’d always protect you.” Willow glances up into Tony’s eyes.

“But your house…is….”

“It’s just a house, Willow. I can buy a new house, or get a new one built. The main thing is that we’re both okay, and together. It’s fine.”

“I can’t believe she’d do that,” Delana comments as she takes in the scene. They all then make their way closer, slowly, which catches the eye of the Fire Chief as he looks over.

“Mr. Stewart, we’ve been trying to get a hold of you,” he states immediately as he walks over. “About a half hour ago, someone called in saying that your house was on fire. From what the police have gathered, it seems it was done on purpose.” Tony shakes his head, having known that already.

“It was my mother – she’s been stalking us,” Willow comments, catching the chief’s attention.

“Ah yes – the police mentioned a situation that was involving you both. The fire is almost out, but it seems as though the house is pretty much a lost. The good news is your pi-”

“Pork Chop!” Tony and Willow both let out at the same time, as a tinge of worry goes through them. He hadn’t made the trip with them, with the neighbor having a key to visit each day and feed him.

“He’s okay,” the chief immediately assures them. “The neighbor said when she called, she immediately ran over and opened the front door, in which the pig ran out immediately. He’s over at her house right now. “ Tony and Willow both let out a sigh, relieved. “The place will be roped off till we complete an investigation. Once it’s complete – probably mid-day tomorrow – you may go in the house to salvage what you can. There’s nothing that you can do right now so for tonig-”

“They can stay with us,” Delana immediately interrupts, having made up her mind as soon as she became aware of the situation. “And yes, you can go get Pork Chop and bring him, too.”

“Thank you…” Willow lets out quietly.

The whole situation left both Willow and Tony stunned as for that night, they spent it in the guest room at the Harvick household, cuddling each other, trying to calm each other down as Willow laid at the end of the bed.

 

Chapter 18: Fear

For the couple of nights that followed, the house fire had a resonating effect with them both.

The house could not be saved by the size of the fire. They were able to go through Monday thru Wednesday and collect some of their belongings that weren’t damaged, but for the most part, everything was done. Willow and Tony tried to keep the most positive attitude about it, now saying that they could use the opportunity to build the house of their dreams on the property.

For the time being, while they were in North Carolina, they would be staying at the Harvick household. Kevin and Delana didn’t mind the extra company – in their eyes, it was a good thing as they could keep an extra eye on their friends and keeping them safe. The house was also big enough to accommodate the extra pair of people, with Tony and Willow having a bedsroom to call their own. It also brought forth some fun times as everybody loved playing with Keelan, Keelan enjoyed Pork Chop, the boys got some hangout time in, and the ladies got to gossip and hang out.

Though while everything seemed fine on the outside, there was still an underlying factor – fear. It didn’t go without saying that both Tony and Willow had a bit of fear of what could happen next. The police had yet to make any arrests or come closer to finding Willow’s mother, despite having wanted posters everywhere and every cop on the lookout. If she was capable of slipping past guards and then setting a house on fire, what would she do next?

The events that had happened brought forth an underlying affect, as sleep was a difficult thing to come by for Willow. She kept waking up from the same nightmare each night, sometimes twice or three times, crying and sometimes screaming.

“No…no…” She lets out, sitting straight up in the bed with tears coming down her cheeks. Tony instantly wraps his arms around her and pulls her close against him, rubbing her back.

“Ssssh, it’s okay,” he whispers as he kisses her cheek. “It’s okay. It was just a dream.” Willow opens her eyes, staring into Tony’s chest wide-eyed. Just because it was a dream didn’t make it any easier to deal with.

“Tony, I could’ve been in that house…” Tony takes a deep breath, having dreamt of that possibility a couple of times since the fire himself. He remembered the note and what it said. If they would’ve listened….

“But you weren’t. You were in California, and now you’re here in my arms. Don’t think about that.” Willow wished that she could make the thought disappear automatically.

“She wanted me in that house. She wanted me to stay home for that rea-”

“But you didn’t and you’re fine. Let it go, sweetie.” Willow then backs up from Tony a little and looks into his eyes, seeing a pair of concerning eyes looking at her wide-eyed fearful eyes.

“She was going to kill me. She was going to have me bur-”

“Will-”

“My own mother tried to kill me!” Tony takes a deep breath, knowing that’s a hard fact for anybody to face and have sink in.

“Sweetheart, you need to let it go. Constantly reminding yourself about it isn’t going to help. You need to focus on the positives – we’re safe and fine. We are still together and will always be togeth-”

“She’s still out ther-”

“The police are going to fin-”

“They have no traces yet, Tony!” He then takes a deep breath, trying not to get frustrated with how stubborn she was being. He had to focus on the positives here, and taking care of her.

“What did I tell you from the beginning? I told you that I’d protect you no matter what. I did that this past weekend by forcing you to come with me despite your fears over that letter. I’m going to continue to protect you.” He then pulls her back close to him. “I love you, Willow. I’m not losing the love that we have. I will do whatever it takes to protect you and keep you safe. As long as you’re in my arms, you have nothing to worry about.” She then buries her head in chest, feeling her tears disappear and her heart rate calm down. There was something special about cuddles with Smoke.

“Don’t go anywhe-”

“I promise I won’t leave you. I’ll stay here with you in my arms forever. Just relax and get some sleep.” He then kisses her forehead before he resumes rubbing her back once again as she slowly closes her eyes and drifts back to sleep.

 

Chapter 19: Martinsville

“You had a good run going…” She comments as she finds him on pit road, wrapping her arms around him.

With everything that happened, she had approached this weekend differently than normal. Rather than spending her weekend in the media center, she was spending it with Tony and in the No. 14 hauler. She was doing all of her work on her laptop via each location, going through the audio posted on the NASCAR media website, versus listening to the press conferences live. She knew that she should be in the media center post-race, writing up the story and listening to Danica talk about seventh, and Denny talk about his win, but she could always get that audio later. For now, she wanted to be close to Tony.

“That’s sometimes how things go, right?” He replies and she shakes her head yes.

“It’s start – it’s a sign of improvement. If you add this with last week at Fontana, it’s a start to being up front. I’m proud of you regardless.” He smiles as he wraps his arms around her.

“You’ll say anything to be close to me, right?” She then smiles as she stands on her tippy toes and kisses his lips.

“I can’t wait to spend two whole weeks with you without a care in the world.” The plan for Easter was to go back to Indiana and spend time at Tony’s home there, while seeing his family. She loved Pam and Nelson, and couldn’t wait to see them again. Plus, there was always time for a trip to Diary Queen with Natalie again.

“I just can’t wait to go home and get away from everything.” His comment brought them both to reality as they stared at each other point blank in the eyes. While the racing hadn’t been the most positive on track, they were also dealing with her mother. Each trip to North Carolina was a reminder of the fire and the fact that she was still out there. It was a reminder of what was possible if she wasn’t caught soon. “Willow, I’m sorry….”

“No, it’s fine. You’re right – we both need this time to ourselves.” They both hated to remind each other of what happened and her mother being out there, but it was something that they couldn’t avoid either.

“We’re going to get through this. They’re going to catch her soon and we’re going to get our happy ever after. Have faith. Everything will be okay.” She shakes her head slowly, having tried to instill that belief in her. That was something that she had told herself when she read the original letter. However, the fire had erased that thought from her mind, leaving a reminder that her mother was always there….

“I know…”

“I mean it. I’ve got you and I’m going to protect you.” He then kisses her lips lightly, before they head off together.

The sooner they started their time away, the better.

Before starting their time away, though, Tony had a series of meetings at SHR on Monday. From the crew chief/driver meeting, to a meeting with Chad Johnson and himself alone, to a meeting with the executives at SHR. While he wanted to focus on the meetings to make the team stronger, he truthfully wished that they’d disappear as quickly as possible so he could get away.

“Is there much that we have to discuss, honestly?” Tony questions as he enters the last meeting of the day with Gene Haas and Greg Zippidelli.

“In a hurry?” Gene questions as Tony looks over at his partner.

“It goes without saying that I just want to get away from North Carolina for a couple of days. Willow and I are heading to Indiana for the rest of this week and next. I’ll be back by next Tuesday, or Wednesday.” Greg was glad to see his friend do this, knowing how much Tony needed it based on everything that was going on. In his mind, they could put business aside in this matter for personal.

“Go on,” Greg instructs, catching Gene’s attention. “I can handle things with Gene. There’s no major nuggets to touch today, honestly.”

“Is that really your decis-” Gene starts.

“Tony needs this, Gene. He has gone through a lot the past couple of weeks, month really, with Willow’s mother. I think we should respect that. Besides, I can handle everything from his perspective. I know what he’d want.”

“If you’re certain Gre-” Tony starts, as Greg darts his eyes back over to Tony.

“Go!” Wihtout a moment of hesitation, Tony leaves the conference room, hurrying down to his office. He then hurries in his office, standing by the desk with a smile on his face.

“We can go!!” Willow hadn’t wanted to stay at the Harvicks by herself – Delana was over at KHI with Keelan, Kevin was at SHR – as there was a tinge of fear, and it was a bit of a foreign home still. So she had followed Tony to SHR, agreeing to hang out in his office while he took care of business. “Are you ready?” She then glances away from the computer with a wide smile on her face and shakes her head yes.

“Absolutely. Not only do we deserve this time together, but we have a reason to celebrate.” He then looks at her intrigued, though partially confused. He knew how these things went…

“Oh boy. You’re pregn-”

“No!” His surprise comes down a little, but yet the confusion remains there. “I just got off the phone with the detective. They have arrested my mother! They caught her this morning peaking around the SHR grounds.” Tony instantly pulls Willow close to him and gives her a big kiss.

“That’s certainly a big reason to celebrate!”

 

Chapter 20: The After Effect

“I just wanted to talk to you about the arrest of Mrs. Salone,” the detective says on the phone as Willow takes a deep breath. She and Tony had flown to Indiana, getting comfy in the home. It was shortly thereafter that her phone rang, dragging her attention away. As she heard the detective’s voice at the other end, she was already wishing that this phone call would become a distant memory quickly, along with everything that happened.

“Okay,” she says quietly as Tony sits beside her, rubbing her back, listening in on the conversation.

“She has been charged with arson for the house fire, harassment for bugging you and Mr. Stewart, and trespassing against you and Mr. Stewart due to how she got the photos. Also, since there’s sexual photos that also includes charges against the Video Voyeurism Prevention Act, which if convicted guilty could result in a year in jail. The other charges, along with multiple accounts, could bring forth 10-15 years.” Willow shook her head. That was 10-15 years that she wouldn’t have to deal with her mother. However, that meant that her mother could be free in 11-16 years. Not the most comforting news.

“Okay…”

“Now, it could result in longer jail time, or shorter. It just depends on the judge, whether convicted and sentencing. We will begin trial next Wednesday. She will enter her plead then, whether guilty or not. If she pleads guilty, that means that you get your explanation and quick peace of mind. If she doesn’t, that means that we go through the process.” Willow shivered at that thought. she didn’t want to go through the process of describing everything that had happened with her and her parents over the years.

“Okay.”

“Do you have any questions at this time?” The pair glance at each other and Tony shakes his head no. it seemed straight forward. He was just comforted in the fact that she had been caught.

“No.”

“Okay. If you have any questions, feel free to call me. If not, I will see you next week. goodbye.”

“Goodbye sir.” Willow then hangs up and sets the phone on the table before glancing over at Tony. “10-15 years. That just seems…pittyful!” Tony pulls her close, letting her lay against him.

“I know. It doesn’t seem fair at all for everything. But, at least it’s something, right? Besides, you have to be insane to do what she ahs done to you all of your life. Maybe she’ll get the mental help that she needs.” Willow shakes her head, agreeing. That was something that was comforting over these years. It was a thought that had bugged her since she ran away.

“When I ran form my parents, I always wondered whether they were sane or not. I wondered if there was some underlying issue there that if taken care of, would’ve improved things. Sometimes I regret not saying something all those years ago.” Tony rubs her shoulders, understanding. He kept wondering what he’d do if dealt the same situation.

“You were scared, you wanted to get away and not think about it ever again. You didn’t want any trace of that in your life. It’s understandable what you did, even in not saying anything. Nobody faults you for not reporting it or doing something.” Willow knew that Tony was right, but still it was a thought that bugged her.

“What if I had said something? Then maybe she could’ve got the help…they both could’ve…”

“Hey, don’t blame yourself for anything. None of this is your fault. As a little girl, you did the best thing that you could do for yourself. At least she’s caught now and things are turning on the right end.” She shakes her head, trying to use that to give her assurance. But yet, still, the thought was there. She knew that she’d keep asking herself what if, along with being frightened by the memories in the days moving forward. How do you erase that pain and abuse from your mind?

“I’m sorry I’m ruining our week away with this.” He then kisses her cheek, not worried one bit. He was fine with having these simple conversations with her.

“You’re not ruining the week. Actually, this week is meant for this – time for us to get away from everything up here and get our thoughts out on the table. time for us to find a way to cope with everything that happened. In the midst of that, we’ll have some time to ourselves to have our own fun.” She then shifts her position a little, glancing into her yes. The thought of having fun was a great one. She could use a distraction right now.

“So besides dinner with your parents on Sunday, what is the plan Mr. Stewart?” A smirk forms on his face as he gives her a kiss.

“For starters, I could do that all week without complaint. We could also spend time outside, go see a movie, go out to a couple of places around here, or just relax here. I don’t have any plans – besides that dinner. With the rest of the week, it’s whatever the lady wants that will make her happy.”

The Demons – Chapters 11 Thru 15

thedemons

Chapter 11: Deal

That all this time I’ve been afraid
Wouldn’t let it show

Upon opening the package last weekend at Daytona, she quickly discarded it, ripping the photos up into little pieces. It was a little creepy to see that someone – perhaps that one person that could scare her – get that close to her and do that. However, she wasn’t going to let it phase her.

She could no longer hurt her anymore. She was a big girl know now who had moved past that and was on to a better life. She was away from the happenings, had a solid career and had someone by her side that she truly loved.

Though, despite not saying anything, she had to admit that she was afraid. She wasn’t invincible and there was a possibility that she could be hurt. What if they caught her off guard? What if they hurt Tony? No doubt there was fear underneath the surface.

It was something that Tony had noticed, as well. He could tell that something was off as she made her way through the garage doing her stories and business as usual. He could tell that something was off when they walked through the motorcoach lot as she kept glancing around. He asked her whether something was wrong, but yet she continuously denied it. That didn’t give Tony any comfort as he knew something was up.

As he continued to move forward more worried about her than ever, he kept thinking about her and wondering. It was something that even bugged him throughout the race as he kept wondering whether she was fine in the media center, or perhaps curled up somewhere crying.

That distance of thought distracted him throughout the day, resulting him a poor race at Atlanta as he ran in the 20s throughout the day, struggling to find the right handling for the car. Chad Johnson had done as good a job trying to get it right through the day, but yet nothing seemed to work. Perhaps that was because Tony was distracted himself and not offering the full feedback the crew chief required.

“We got to figure out what Harvick has that we don’t,” Tony comments as he walks into the trailer post-race, putting his helmet and gloves away as Chad stands there with his arms crossed.

“Perhaps if my driver wasn’t so distracted by something we could’ve done better,” Chad says, catching Tony’s attention.

“Chad, there’s nothing goin-”

“I could tell that you were distracted, Tony. I can tell the difference between a focused driver and someone who isn’t. You weren’t focused. What’s going on?” Tony takes a deep breath, not wanting to have this discussion with Chad. While the pair were close, this didn’t need to happen. He wasn’t about to discuss concerns about Willow with him.

“There’s noth-”

“Jeff noticed it as well. He made a comment to me underneath one of the cautions. I’m not the only one that is saying this, Tony.” Tony shoves the closet close quickly, growing frustrated. It seemed as though the pair weren’t going to leave him alone.

“I don’t want to talk about.” Chad shakes his head understanding. He knew that his driver didn’t talk with many people about things, but only those who were close to him.

“That’s fine. You don’t have to. Just whatever it is, get it sorted out so we can focus on what we need to focus on each week. Whether that’s talking to Willow or talking to Zippy or Kevin, do what you need to do. I don’t care what it is. I’m also here to talk.” Perhaps it’d be a good idea to talk to Greg. Maybe that’d offer some clearing in his concerns as what if he was worried for nothing? “Understood?” Tony slowly shakes his head yes as he watches the crew chief exit.

“Thank you for putting up with my ass today.” Chad then chuckles as he reaches the doorway, glancing back.

“That’s what you pay me to do, right?” Chad then leaves, set to help the team get the car and equipment loaded up so they could get out of Atlanta, as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, in the media center, Kevin Harvick was doing his post-race conference, along with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. Willow sat there, making notes as she needed in what they were saying and what she wanted to include in her post-race articles. She knew that’d be interesting to talk about how close Harvick came, Earnhardt’s communication with new crew chief Greg Ives, and how strong Truex was running versus last year. Beyond that, there was the obvious story of Johnson’s win and Gordon’s wreck.

“Cole and our engineer Jazzy did a good job all weekend, made good decisions,” she listened to Martin talk about his new crew chief Cole Pearn. “They tuned on the car throughout the weekend. We constantly got it better each run. Today again we made some good gains throughout the race. At the end of the day it was good work by all the guys. This is what we need to keep doing.” She noted the quote down, knowing that would be good for the story, while listening to the next question.

“We saw again today the outside line having a really hard time getting going on restarts,” she heard. “The lead or control car gets to pick their line. Would any of you like to see NASCAR implement the short track rule which you get to choose whatever line you want to start in?” She glanced up, confused by that as she had never heard of that. she would have to ask Tony what that meant, later.

“No, I’m pretty good how it is,” she hears Dale comment, perhaps saving her from asking. She then watches as Martin gives a confused glance, matching hers. “He means like the cone rule, you can stay on the inside if you want, go to the outside, even the guy way back.” She then thinks it over, wondering how that could affect the races. Nope – bad idea. That’d make cautions a big mess. “I think that would get real confusing. We ain’t that smart (laughter).”

“I beg to differ,” the moderator comments. “I’m going to let you guys go. Congratulations on this weekend. We’ll see you in Las Vegas.”

She then focuses back towards her articles, wanting to get them done as soon as possible. The quicker they got done, the quicker she could get out of there and return to the safety of Tony’s arms. While she didn’t want to talk about it with him or think of it, that did make things easier.

“Writing about me?” She hears as a hand pinches the edge of her butt. She simply laughs as she looks over her shoulder to see Kevin standing there. Since she started dating Tony, he was already picking on her. Tony had explained the butt pinching thing as well, saying that he used to do that to Kevin’s wife Delana.

“You wish darling,” she comments flashing him a smirk as she focuses back to her article. He then looks over, reading the words on her computer.

“So you choose to right about Dale rather than me? Thanks so much. I see where I stand now.” She then chuckles as she opens another word document.

“Are you happy now?” He looks over it, seeing notes about his day, as well as his post-race quotes.

“Saving the best for last – you’re a darling. Thank you, thank you. I knew I liked you for some reason.” She then chuckles as he takes a seat beside her, taking a deep breath. There was a bigger reason he was there.

“Kevin…..”

“I came across something in the motorcoach lot garbage that I thought you should see.” He then takes his phone out of his pocket, showing her a photo. She immediately cringes, remembering how she threw it out after seeing another stack of photos sitting on the motorcoach step when she returned after yesterday’s long double header. “Based on your reaction, you’ve seen these before, right?”

“I don’t want to talk about this here, Kevin.” He shakes his head understanding as he gives her a pat on the shoulder, standing up.

“Come see me when you’re down in here then. Given your reaction, you’ve seen these before and I want to know what’s up. I care about both you and Tony – especially Tony.” She knew that she had to say something sooner than later, before something happened. Perhaps it’d be easier to share with Kevin, or else that’d get the edge off so she could easily tell Tony.

“Deal.”

 

Chapter 12: Post Atlanta

Nobody can save me now, no

With ending up there later than expected, Willow ended up pushing her conversation with Kevin to the next day – Monday – at the Stewart-Haas Racing shop. After Kevin was done the group meeting with the other SHR drivers and crew chiefs, the pair met up in his office to chat about what was going on.

Sitting down in the chair across from him, Willow felt every nerve that she could imagine coursing through her veins. If she was to speak of the details, that would be make it reality where before she could possibly shut out the photos and say it was a dream. The danger would become even more real over the next 10 minutes in reciting the details as to why she was worried, and it was a danger that she worried about.

This person had hurt her before, and could probably do it again with ease.

“Whenever you’re ready,” Kevin states as he relaxes back in his seat, keeping his eyes locked on her. He had no idea of what could come out of her mouth in regards to the photos. He thought about the scenario over night, wondering if she had an ex-estranged ex that had come back into her life for revenge. It seemed like the only logical explanation.

“I got the first batch of photos in Daytona,” she starts, figuring that she’d start with the easiest details. Recounting the pick-up of the photos did not connect to any fears that were attached as the photos could be anything in the visions that she saw in her mind. “I was leaving the media center and Jeff Gluck ran up behind me and said that the package had been dropped off. I opened it, curiously. The first batch was fine as they were public photos so I thought maybe a photographer was offering a nice gift. Then they turned to the type of photos that you found in the garbage at Atlanta. That’s when I knew something was up.” Kevin shakes his head, understanding. The ex theory was blaring even louder.

“So who would do such a thing? Who would stalk you and Tony like this?” He didn’t want to come out and say what he was thinking in fear of scaring her away. Besides, he wanted to keep the options open.

“Has Tony told you anything about my relationship with my family?” She had hoped that perhaps Tony had hinted at something, perhaps looking for advice from his closest friend, as she didn’t have the strength to tell all the details.

“Tony told me that you ran away from home due to abuse and were still hurting. He only told me because he was trying to find ways to comfort you and wanted some advice.” She shakes her head, understanding. She had expected that, and that was fine. It certainly made today easier.

“I believe that these are coming from a family member who is trying to hurt me, again.” Knowing the fact that she had been abused and hearing the words family member, Kevin didn’t even want to begin to stomach the possibility of who was behind the actions.

“Why?” Willow takes a deep breath, shooting her eyes closed immediately afterwards. She wanted to make the face disappear and not ever see it again. However, since hat day in Disney World, she hadn’t been able to do that. Along with the photos, it was haunting her more than anything ever had before.

“When we were leaving Disney World, I thought I caught a glimpse of someone familiar, someone that I know better than anyone.” Kevin glances down at his desk, knowing where she was doing. This was certainly not the situation that he wanted to find himself in. “I saw my mother, Kevin. I’m sure that I saw my mother that day in Disney World.”

“And now the photos show up so basically she’s preying after you. That’s just….sick and disgusting. I can’t even stomach that thought.” Willow lets out a sigh, having had the same thought in her mind over the past 20 years. How could your own parents hurt you? “Did you tell Tony, anything?”

“No. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him leaving Disney World because I just wanted her to go away. I just wanted all of this to go away. I don’t want….I want this to be gone and done with, Kevin. I thought when I left home as a teenager that I had put everything behind me. But yet, here it is, still following me.” A couple tears trickle down her cheeks as Kevin walks around the desk and kneels down to her level in the chair, pulling her into a hug immediately as he rubs her back. All he could do was shake his head in disbelief. What else was there to be said?

“You need to tell Tony. Both of your lives are danger. He needs to know, and then you need to go to the police, Willow. They need to know as well.” She then looks up at him, eyes swollen from crying.

“I can’t….I can’t….It’s so hard to talk….”

“I can tell Tony for you. Then, if you want, I will go with you and Tony to the police and help you file this. Besides, I kept these…..” He then motions to the envelope on the desk. All along, he had his own plan in mind. Get her to talk and make sure Tony found out and then go along with the proper measures. If she didn’t talk, he was just going to go to Tony with the envelope and go from there. Regardless, he was going to make sure that this was dealt with. He cared about his friends, and they deserved all the happiness in the world without this going on.

“Okay….Thank you, Kevin. Thank you.” He then stands up and hands her a Kleenex off of the desk.

“You can always come to me and Delana if you need anything. We’re both here for you and Tony and will do anything to help you guys.”

 

Chapter 13: Las Vegas

Nobody can save me now

Kevin had followed through with his word, telling Tony the complete details of what was shared with him. Tony was in immediate shock and felt the anger boiling inside of him. How could this be happening? He was quickly by Willow’s side, offering her support, assuring that he wouldn’t let anything happen to her.

The pair went to the police department later that night, reporting the incidents that happened at both Daytona and Atlanta. The police took procession of the photos and said that they’d launch an investigation. In the meantime, Tony and Willow would have a body guard with each of them at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, following them around and watching out for anything. The pair easily accepted for safety reasons, but yet Willow still felt her nerves out of control.

Friday at the track was a smooth day as her security guard simply followed her around the garage as she did her duties, and to the media center. He wasn’t allowed inside, per NASCAR’s credential protocol, but stood outside to escort her to the next spot as soon as she left. She wasn’t worried about something happening inside, though, due to each person inside having to have a media credential, unless of course a driver who was escorted in for their press conference.

Things also went well for Tony as he had a solid practice, to only back it up with a solid qualifying effort with 14th. Needless to say, it was better than the struggles from last weekend in Atlanta. If they could keep up the solid performance all day Sunday, it’d be a good run and the start of getting back on track.

Following qualifying, Tony waited by the media center for her to finish up on her story about Jeff Gordon sitting on the pole. She didn’t take that long with it, though, coming out about a half hour later, wrapping her arms around him. With being on the west coast, they didn’t have the motorcoach so they were staying in a hotel just five minutes away from the track.

They then headed to the car, with their bodyguard getting into another car and following the pair out. The bodyguards had told them that they’d follow them wherever they went, making sure that they were safe no matter what.

“So what do you want to do tonight?” Tony asks as he looks over at her as they pull out of the parking lot. “We’re in the city of lights and glamour. We could go check out the Strip, find a show to see, or go out for dinner, if you want.” If things were going smoothly, she would’ve accepted the offer of a show and dinner. After all, you might as well enjoy the city while you’re there. Though with what was going on, she didn’t feel like doing anything.

“Can we just go back to the hotel and relax for the night?” She suggests and Tony simply shakes his head yes. He knew the reason and fully understood. He was hoping, though, that she would’ve chose another option to let loose a little and perhaps get her mind off of it.

“That’s fine.” He then drives back to the hotel, parking the car before heading inside.

They then head up to their hotel room, watching as the body guards took the room beside theirs. The bodyguards said if they heard anything, they would be right there to make sure that the pair was fine.

“Busy day in the media center?” Tony asks as she slips off her coat and hangs it up.

“Nothing like Atlanta,” she answers. “A couple announcements and two big media availabilities and that was it.” He shakes his head, understanding, as they both lay back on the bed together.

“I hope that I get the chance to see you after the race on Sunday in there.” She then smiles, knowing exactly what he meant.

“That’d be the best post-race media conference, ever.” She then leans in and kisses his lips lightly, pulling herself as close to him as she could. He simply his runs his hand down her back, feeling the nerves and fear that seemed to radiate off of her. Since the details had been spread, she had wanted to be closer to him than ever before.

“Talk to me…” She then glances up, slightly confused. “Tell me what’s on your mind.” She then lets out a sigh, burying her head back against his chest.

“I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what could happen to me…or worse, you.” He then rubs her back, softly, kissing her cheek.

“Nothing is going to happen, Willow. Everything is going to be fine. They’re going to catch whoever is doing this.” While they were pretty sure that it was her mother based on the sighting back at Disney World, there was no concrete proof yet so it was still speculation at this point.

“I know that we have the bodyguards. I know that they’re supposed to keep us safe. But….but it’s not the most safe picture. I’m still afraid that something is going to happen. I know what she’s like. I know what she’s capable of, Tony. She knows how to hurt me an-”

“She will never get the chance to do that again, so stop letting yourself worry about that. The bodyguards will do their job and keep us safe. I will keep you safe, as well. Don’t worry about it, Willow. Everything is going to be fine.” She then lets out a sigh, wishing that it was that easy to convince herself of that fact. In truth, though, she knew that she’d be afraid till the darn woman was caught and locked up.

“I hope.”

 

Chapter 14: Post-Race Las Vegas

Stars are only visible in darkness
Fear is ever-changing and evolving

Finishing up the last article of the weekend, she closes her laptop and heads out of the media center. The security guard then leads her back to the No. 14 hauler, as she goes inside and meets up with Tony.

“Can we just go?” He questions, having dealt with another frustration for the day. The car didn’t handle all day, and it just seemed to be one of those never-ending races. He just wanted to go home and cuddle in her arms.

“Of course,” she answers, knowing that he wouldn’t be in the best mood. The pair then exit the hauler, getting in the car and heading to the airport. “Car just crappy this weekend?”

“More like worse piece of shit I’ve ever driven. I want to know who came up with these bloody rules because they suck.” She then shrugs her shoulder, not too sure on that part. To her, it looked as though the same type of racing that they saw last year.

“Maybe you should talk to NASCAR…” Tony shakes his head as he knew that was useless. They’d say that if others can figure it out, then he can figure it out. He kept wondering to himself what Kevin and Rodney’s secret was.

“Kevin suggested that maybe I was a little distracted this weekend.” She then looks over at him, curiously. It was understandable based on the threat that lied on top of their head. It was evident by the fear that she had already expressed herself. Perhaps Tony was afraid, but scared to show it. He was supposed to be the strong person in the relationship for her in this situation, so what would the perception be if he showed fear?

“Maybe you’re worried, maybe you’re afraid. Its okay to let it show, Tony. I would understand.”

They then reach the airport, getting out of the car and climbing into the waiting plane that was set to fly them home. They thanked the security guards for their time in Las Vegas, and headed off. They were assured by the guards that another set would be waiting for them upon landing in North Carolina.

“Tony…” She lets out, placing her hand on his leg, catching his attention as he looks into her eyes.

“How can I not worry, Willow?” He questions. “I love you so much and I don’t want to lose you. You’re the best thing that has happened to me in a long time, and I don’t want to lose that. What if I am afraid that whoever is after us – whether your mother, or someone else – will hurt you?” She then brushes his cheek lightly, before kissing his lips.

“Tony, its okay to admit that you’re afraid. I am afraid as well. That’s something that’s always there with this. I know you’re trying to be there for me, but you can admit it as well.” He then looks into her eyes as he wraps an arm around her.

“I don’t want to be afraid. Why should I be afraid of some stalker who takes crazy pictu-”

“Because they’re getting close to us.”

“Why should I be afraid when we have security guar-”

“What if they get around the security guards?” He then looks at her with a surprised glance.

“You’re not helping, Ms. Salone.” He then runs his fingers over her ring as she keeps her eyes locked on his. He was right. Talking about the possibilities was no help at all for either of them. If they wanted to keep moving forward, they had to be hopeful. They had to be like Kevin, who assured them that the person would be caught and arrested. “Maybe we should forget…” He then leans in and kisses her lips.

“It’s so hard to forget…” He then runs a finger across her ring.

“I know, but maybe we can forget for awhile. Let’s think about us. Think about how much we love each other.” She then smiles as she turns her hand over, clutching his hand in hers.

“That will never change, Tony. I will always love you.”

“And I will always love you. Nothing will come between us – not this, not anybody else, or anything. We are meant to be together.” He then leans in and kisses her lips.

“Tony…” She then holds him close against her, taking his lips in return as passionately as she could.

“Sssh…” He then runs his hand up underneath her shirt as she keeps him held close, shifting herself so she’s sitting in his lap.

 

Chapter 15: Home Retreat

And I have been poisoned inside
But I, I feel so alive

Set to put everything out of their minds for at least a night, the pair set the tone by relaxing together. They both loved the feeling of being close with each other, as it gave them a special love that they both craved in a time of fear.

For Willow, it was a reminder of her past and the heartache that she’d been through. It was a reminder of the pain that she had been through as a child, facing on a daily basis. It brought up the constant scars that lied just beneath the surface, showcasing them back into their lives daily. No matter what she did, she could never run away from it.

For Tony, it was fear of losing the one person that meant more to him than anybody else. He was never one to believe in true love and thought that he’d never find it. However, he had with her and he wasn’t about to let it go. He was going to do whatever it took to keep her safe.

“So, do I get that exclusive with Mr. Busch?” She questions as she curls up close to him, lightly kissing his cheek. He just smiles as he glances at her, knowing that was in reference to Kurt’s reinstatement.

“I’ll ask him tomorrow and see what he says, but he’ll probably say yes,” Tony answers as he keeps his arm firmly wrapped around her, not wanting to chance the thought of letting her go.

“He knows that he can’t say no to the boss?” Tony chuckles and shakes his head yes.

“But let’s not talk about him or work or racing right now. Let’s focus on us.” She then glances up at him, surprised. Normally when conversations of this nature started, it was meant as a time for confession of emotions, darker emotions. She didn’t want to go down that road as she was wanting to keep this feeling of love and safety as long as she could before another wave of fear hit her.

“What about us?” A simple grin crosses his face as he shifts in the bed so she’s pinned underneath him.

“Let’s discuss how much I love you…and how much I want to be with you forever….” He then leans down and kisses her lips, taking in as much flavor and closeness as he could in the kiss. Kisses with her would never get old. She easily accepts the kiss, wrapping her arms around his body, holding him close to her as she takes her turn kissing his lips in return.

“I like that discussion.” He then runs his finger over the ring on her finger before kissing her lips once again.

“I love you, more than you probably know. It’s why I asked you.” She smiles a little, knowing more than he was willing to let on. Beneath the image that he put on, he was as romantic as the next guy.

“I know, Tony. I love you just as much.” He then shakes his head as he keeps his eyes focused on hers.

“When you entered my life, you were exactly what I needed. You were the breath of fresh air that I needed for perspective and rebirth. You were the right person that I needed to talk to about everything. You were the right person that I needed to move forward.” She smiles, remembering those beginning discussions and how far they had come together.

“It goes both ways, Tony. You have taught me how much love can be and what it truly means. You have taught me how much I can be loved without regrets, or fear of being hurt. You helped erased with days of pain, and traded them in with dreams of love.” He then slips his fingers under her pajama top, slipping it up slowly as he kisses her lips.

“Well, why don’t I add a second memory to the list?” He then slowly pulls her shirt off, before kissing her breast lightly. “Are you just going to lie there?” She then chuckles as she lays her arms back behind her head.

“I was just going to let you pamper me tonight and show me how much you loved me. I was going to let you enjoy whatever you wanted.” A grin then forms across his face as he kisses the other breast.

“That’s a very welcome offer, and one that I am going to take full advantage of.” She then chuckles.

“That doesn’t surprise me, Smoke.”

Making Memories for a Lifetime – Chapters 46 Thru 50

makingmemoriesforalifetime

Chapter 46: Shopping for Hair

“So have you decided what color you wanted?” Kyle asks as they head into the store.

“Yes I have,” Angelica answers as she goes inside, followed by Kyle. Kyle then follows her, curious as to what she had decided. For him, the hair color didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he had his girl and she was happy.

“Do I get to find out what color you have decided? Or is a surprise?” She then smiles as she looks at the assortment of wigs that are on display. The decision was easy for her after some thought and discussion with Lindsay, Aunt Katie, Uncle Matty and Anut Kelley. She had kept it quiet beyond that as she wanted to surprise everyone else. “Please give me a hint. I at least deserve a hint.” She then laughs as she shifts through the rack.

“Well it won’t be black because I want to change it up. It also won’t be blond because I refuse to have the same hair color as Amber.” As the name escapes her lips, a shiver escapes her body as she thinks back to the crazy things that had happened. Amber may be her mother by DNA, but she was no mother in the mind of Angelica. She was her father through-and-through and if anyone was close to a mother, that’d be Lindsay. “It also won’t be brown because while it looks good, I want something different and I already wore brown. You recall when you first met me?” Kyle shakes his head remembering. He thought she was a natural brown before he saw her roots showing. “My darn roots gave me away. Oh well, it doesn’t matter.”

“So if you’re not going with what’s considered one of the three normal colors, what are you going with?” He then leans against the wall, watching her see the different wigs that are on display.

“This is a normal color so you don’t have to worry. I’m not doing the Halloween transformation on you. I think it’ll look good.”

“It doesn’t matter what you choose, Angelica. You’re beautiful no matter what.” Angelica smiles as she looks back towards him quickly, blowing him a kiss. “Have you decided?”

“I think so.” He smiles as he watches her pick up one of the stereo foam heads. On it sits a long haired wig that seems so real by the appearance. The color is a mid-shade of red that isn’t too bright to make you think Halloween, yet not too dark to make you think of fear.

“I like it.”

“You haven’t even seen it on me yet. How can you say that you like it?”

“I told you that color didn’t matter to me.”

“You’re so great to shop with. Remind me not to take you dress shopping in December.” Kyle’s jaw drops as he hears the words. It was small words, but it meant that was looking forward to being fine by the end of the season and attending the banquet with him. It was improvement from her attitude in Daytona a couple weeks ago. He watches her take the wig off of the head and put it on her own, looking in the mirror. As she fights to get it right, he jumps right in, shifting it into place as he moves some of the pieces of hair. She then twirls around, smiling at her reflection. “What do you think, honestly?”

“You look absolutely stunning and that color fits you nicely.” She smiles as she twirls around once again. The thought of red had occurred to her from seeing it on other people and the thought that some even said her family was known for reddish-brown hair. It just seemed to fit.

“I like it. Let’s go.” They then head towards the cash register.

********

“How long have they been gone?” Tony asks as they sit in the living room waiting. He glances towards Dale and Rick, who were both waiting along with him for Angelica to return home and her big reveal. Matt and Lindsay were there also, but they didn’t count as they knew the color already.

“She’ll be home soon,” Dale answers as he knows he can trust Kyle with her and he knew it was a big decision for her. He remembered the panic that she originally had when they told her that it could possibly fall out. “You have to remember that she’d deciding on style and color here.”

“Don’t worry – it’ll be worth the wait,” Matt assures them as Lindsay shakes her head in agreement. When she had shown him a picture of the color that she was thinking and talked about the length, it had brought a smile to his face. “Just relax, Tony.”

“Can you give us a hint towards the color?” Matt shakes his head no, remembering the agreement.

“She wants to surprise you,” Lindsay comments as Tony lets out a frustrated sigh.

“Why did she tell you two and not us?” Tony wonders as they hear the front door open.

“We’re home!” Kyle announces as he opens the door, leading Angelica inside.

“Told you to be patient,” Dale comments as he glances towards Tony. “Did you find what you wanted?”

“Yes I did,” Angelica answers as she peaks around the banister. “Are you ready to see it?”

“They’ve been dying to know the color,” Lindsay comments as Angelica smiles.

angelica_red“Wow…” Dale says as she slips out from behind the banister and spins around to show off her long new red hair.

“That looks beautiful Ang,” Rick comments as Angelica smiles.

“Perfect color,” Tony adds as Angelica walks over to them.

“Something about someone and his reddish-brown hair inspired me, along with how beautiful this looks,” Angelica tells them before kissing her dad on the cheek.

“You did a nice job.”

“That looks way better than I thought it would,” Matt comments as Angelica smiles.

“It’s beautiful sweetheart,” Dale tells her as she sits down in the chair lying back.

“Are you okay?” Rick asks, worried. She shakes her head yes.

“Just tired – long day,” she answers as she curls up. Matt then grabs the blanket off the footstool, throwing it on her.

“Get some rest sweetheart,” Dale says as they watch her fall asleep.

“Are you okay with the color?” Lindsay whispers to Kyle and Kyle shakes his head yes.

“I told her that color didn’t matter as she is beautiful and I just care about being near her,” Kyle answers Lindsay as Lindsay smiles. Kyle then climbs into the chair, curling up behind her as he holds her close to him.

“Awww…” Matt coos as he watches them together.

“You’re going to be there tomorrow, right?” Rick asks Kyle and Kyle shakes his head yes.

“Good boy,” Lindsay comments before leaving the room and going to the kitchen to start on dinner.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Kyle assures them. “I promised her that I wouldn’t miss any after missing last week’s.”

 

Chapter 47: Appointment No. 2

Angelica smiled as she laid there in the doctor’s bed, looking over at Kyle. She interwinded her fingers with his, holding his hand tightly.

“I love you,” she tells him. “Thank you for being here.”

“I told you that I wouldn’t miss being here for you,” he tells her before leaning in and kissing her lips. “I love you and I care about you and I want to help you through this.” She smiles as she kisses him back, deepening the kiss.

“What did I do to deserve a guy as special as you?”

“You were just you’re absolutely amazing self.” He then sits back in his seat beside her, continuing to hold on to her hand.

“Thank you for making me feel special.” He rubs the back of her hand as he looks up at her.

“You are special in every way possible; you don’t need me to make you feel that way.” She then looks down, closing her eyes as she takes a careful deep breath. In her life, there were many emotions that she had kept deep down, not wanting to reveal them to anyone.

“So you finally won a race….the one that doesn’t count,” she heard as she gulped down her water, recognizing the voice all too well.

“It still is awesome to win it and it still means something. It proves that I’ve got a good car for the Coke 600.” She then threw the empty bottle out, walking down the hall, ready to go to bed. She knew she had a long day ahead of her on Sunday with some of the post-race obligations. “Can we just go to bed, please?”

“Think I’m going to let you get off that easy?” She then felt a shove, pushing her back against the wall. She shook her head, knowing she should’ve took up her dad’s offer to come back to his house for some post-race partying.

“I have a busy day tomorrow and I thought you’d be nice for once in your right mind.” He then walked over to her, grabbing a fistful of her hair as he picked her up.

“Nice and me don’t mix, and you know that well princess.” She then yanked her hair away from him, thinking maybe it’d be a good idea to cut it.

“I thought you were only doing this because some crazy bitch said to.” She then went to walk away, though didn’t get far as she fell straight down, tripping over her leg. She held her stomach in pain, now really regretting coming home.

“That was only 50% of the reason, Angelica. The other half is my hatred meant for you.” She then held back her tears as she tried to stand up, wanting to get whatever he had for her over with as quickly as possible. She knew he’d leave to go see his mistress and she could get Kyle to come over.

“So what do you have planned for tonight? Might as well get it over with.” He then smiled as he picked her up, pushing her against the wall and locking eyes with her.

“You know how this goes.” She looked down, knowing what he meant exactly.

“Then what are we waiting for?” She then started towards the stairs, knowing it’d be a long crawl up to the bedsroom. “I can’t believe I ever loved you.”

“Face it – I’m charming.” He then followed her as she made her way up the steps. Partway up, he tripped her, causing her to hit the staircase hard as she bit her tongue in pain. “Now that’s for cheating on me for fucking Larson. I saw your little cuddliness. I told you not to play games with me.” He then turned around and walked out the front door, shutting it behind him.

“When I was with Ashton and he used to hurt me, it brought me down so bad. I felt so hurt the whole time and it was the worst feeling that I could ever feel. I remember a couple of the nights that when he’d hurt me, I would accept it without holding anything back. It was what I had grown to know and accept because that’s what you get for being the child that wasn’t part of a true relationship, not accepted by her own mother.” Tears slowly creep out of Angelica’s eyes as she tries to sniff them back, remembering those nights with Ashton and Amber. Kyle then stands up, sitting on the edge of the bed beside her, continuing to hold her hand.

“Ang, don’t do this to yourself; don’t let yourself think that. You have your father, Tony, Chelsea and Lindsay and they love you so much; that’s your family. Who cares if Amber doesn’t as she shouldn’t matter anymore.” Angelica slowly looks up, shaking her head.

“I know that now, Kyle, but when I was going through that, all I could think about was that.” He then pulls her close, rubbing her back as he takes a deep breath. In every thought he had, he wish he could erase what she had gone through. He wished that he’d gone out with her originally and everything would’ve gone right. Though he also knew had that happened, they wouldn’t be as strong as they were now together.

“Don’t let yourself go back and think that then. It’s in the past and that’s where it’s going to remain.” She then pulls back from him slightly, looking him in the eyes.

“I need to thank you, Kyle. When I got through that with Ashton, I felt like the lost little child who could never love again. You showed me that love is there and helped me see the person that I am. I don’t know what I would’ve done without you so thank you for being there, helping me and loving me.” She then lies back against him as he rubs her back.

“I wouldn’t go back and do anything different than what I did, Angelica. I did it because I knew you were something special then and just needed the right person to show you the way. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She then looks up and kisses his lips lightly.

“I promise to never leave you or let anyone hurt you ever again. I told you that back then and I will continue to tell you that and follow through. You’re my everything. I’m sorry I wasn’t here last week. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Don’t worry about it. You’re here now and that’s what matters.”

 

Chapter 48: Las Vegas

“Are you sure you made the right decision flying out with me?” Tony asks as he walks into the motorcoach followed by Dale.

They had just arrived in Las Vegas for that weekend’s race. Dale still wasn’t cleared to race, but had flown out to be with Tony that weekend. They had both promised to make sure that Kyle behaved while Angelica and Lindsay took care of each other and Chelsea. Dale hadn’t told them, but he had also asked his mom and sister to check on them as well.

“Are you sure that the girls will be fine by themselves?” Tony continues as Dale smiles.

“They were last week and Kelley and my mom are going to check on them so you can stop worrying,” Dale assures Tony. “Plus, I can’t stand to be away from you.” Dale then pulls Tony close to him, kissing Tony’s lips. “I love you too much. I can’t sleep without you. You make me feel safe.” He then reaches underneath Tony’s shirt. “I love you.” He then reaches up and kisses Tony’s lips before pulling Tony’s shirt off. “Guess I should help you get changed, right?” Tony snickers as Dale runs his hands down to Tony’s waist. “You’re awfully quiet, Smoke.”

“I’m just mesmerized by the sexy man before me.”

“Oh really?” Tony then smiles as he kisses Dale’s lips as Dale tugs at the waistband on Tony’s pants. Dale then slowly slides Tony’s pants off.

**********

“Are you okay?” Lindsay asks as she peeks into Angelica’s room. Angelica looks up and shakes her head yes as she watches qualifying. “Just wanted to make sure. I don’t want you getting in some sort of trouble now. Call me if you need me.” Angelica shakes her head yes once again as Chelsea runs into the room.

“I take care of sissy!” The little girl calls out as Lindsay and Angelica smile.

“Are you sure you can handle a big girl job like that?” Chelsea shakes her head yes as she sits on the edge of Angelica’s bed. “I don’t know if you can.”

“I think she can,” Angelica comments. “She is a big girl now.”

“Oh really?” Lindsay asks and Chelsea shakes her head yes. “Who says?” Chelsea points to Angelica as Lindsay smiles. “If Angelica says its okay, you can take care of her. But you need to be careful okay? She needs to be taken special care of.”

“She’ll behave, Lindsay. If she doesn’t, I’ll just have to send the monsters to her room and under her bed.” Chelsea looks on in horror as Lindsay laughs.

“That’s not nice! You’re going to scare the little girl. I think I may have to hide some monsters in your closet now, Angelica.”

“Oh no, don’t do that. I am a good little girl, right Chelsea?” Chelsea shakes her head no. “Oh I’m not a good little girl? Why not? Is it because I mentioned hiding monsters in your room?” Chelsea shakes her head yes.

“That not nice Angie,” Chelsea scrowls her. “You need say sorry.”

“She is right Ang,” Lindsay adds with a smirk on her face. “It’s the right thing to do when you’re mean. It’s not nice to be mean. You scared her. That’s not nice.”

“I’m sorry,” Angelica then says. “Do you forgive me?” Chelsea shakes her head yes.

“We play barbies?” Chelsea asks and Angelica shakes her head yes. “Yay!” Chelsea then runs off to go get her barbies as Lindsay stands at the door, shaking her head.

“She’s adorable.”

“Looks like you have a playdate,” Lindsay comments as Chelsea comes running back in the room. “Let me know when she gets to be too much to handle.” Lindsay then heads off as the two sisters begin to play.

*******

Dale walks through the garage. It was Saturday afternoon and time for the series to start their second practice. He had watched the qualifying the day before, which hurt as he wanted to be in his car so badly. He also was surprised when Tony qualified back in 22nd after Tony had practiced so well. Kyle, meanwhile, kept his streak of good luck going as he had scored the pole while Harrison qualified Dale’s car in second.

Dale walked past Tony’s stall, giving a quick wave to Tony, before walking down to his team. He walked into the stall, smiling when he found Steve and Harrison talking about practice.

“How’s the car?” Dale asks as he joins them and the smile on Steve’s face answers the question. “Think the kid can win it?” Steve shakes his head yes as Dale looks towards Harrison surprised.

“I’m going to try my best,” Harrison comments as Dale smiles.

“I have no doubt that you will. You’ve done a good job so far this weekend.”

“He also got pole for the Nationwide Series race later today,” Steve adds as Dale shakes his head in approval. When Harrison started moving up the rank, nobody knew what to expect. Now watching him grow as a driver, they were all happy. “The kid knows how to drive. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s driving for RCR in Cup next year.”

“Me neither by the sounds of it,” Dale comments as he leans against the pit box.

“So are you going to be back for next week?” Dale shakes his head yes as Steve smiles. “As much as I love this kid, I can’t wait for you to come back.”

“I can’t wait to be back. It kills me to watch.” Harrison then goes to get in the car for practice as Dale looks down the garage area to Tony’s stall. Catching a glimpse of Tony, he smiles. He watches as Tony winks back and his own smile grows. “God he knows how to drive me crazy.” Steve then laughs as he walks away as Dale looks up towards his crew chief. “Not funny, LeTarte.”

“It is from my perspective.”

“You’re evil.” Steve laughs more as he walks back towards Dale.

“You know you want to go down there and grab his ass. You can admit it. I won’t hurt you.”

“Screw you.”

“That’s what I thought.” Steve then heads back towards the car to make sure Harrison is alright getting in, laughing.

 

Chapter 49: Las Vegas Part 2

“Chelsea, it’s time for bed!” Lindsay calls into the room.

For most of the day, the two sisters had spent time playing together. They took a break to have dinner and Chelsea listened when Angelica wanted to take a little nap. But beyond that, they had spent the afternoon playing barbies, coloring pictures and even had a game of go-fish.

“You heard your mom – time for bed Cheeseball,” Angelica says as she picks the cards up off the bed and puts them on the nightstand.

“You can play again tomorrow,” Lindsay adds with a smile. “You can even have popcorn and cookies while we watch Daddy, Kyle and Tony race. But only if you listen to mommy.” Lindsay smiles as she watches Chelsea give Angelica a kiss and a hug.

“Love you. See you in the morning.”

“Love you too,” Chelsea replies before walking to the doorway with Lindsay. “Mommy, can we go to the race track next week?” Lindsay shakes her head yes as Angelica takes a deep breath. She wanted to be there also with them. However, she knew that was tough to do considering how she was feeling. Instead of going to the track with them, they had already discussed her spending the weekend with Kelley and her kids. Angelica wanted to talk them into letting her go, but with everything going on, it just wasn’t going to work out. “Ang come with us?” Lindsay shakes her head no as Chelsea looks down. “Why no Ang? I love sissy. Sissy has to come mommy! Please?” Angelica laughs as she listens to Chelsea with Lindsay.

“Angelica is going to stay home and keep Aunt Kelley company,” Lindsay says as Angelica shakes her head yes when Chelsea looks towards her.

“You get to spend every day with me sweetheart,” Angelica then starts carefully. “Aunt Kelley, Karsyn, Kennedy and Wyatt also want to see me, too.”

“But don’t worry – you can call Angelica each night to talk to her, okay?” Chelsea shakes her head yes as she runs off to get ready for bed.

“She’s a sweetheart, Lindsay. I honestly can say that I had a lot of fun with her today.” Lindsay smiles as she looks back at Angelica.

“Are you okay for the night?” Angelica shakes her head yes.

“Bathroom, a phone call to Kyle and then bed for me. Are you going to be okay tonight?” Lindsay shakes her head yes as Angelica smiles. “If you need me, don’t hesistate to yell for me.”

“Same goes for you girl.” Lindsay then heads off as she hears Chelsea yelling down the hall for her.

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

That night in the motorcoach, Dale and Tony laid there together. They had just gotten off the phone with Lindsay and said their goodnight wishes for the night. They heard about the playdate the girls had, Chelsea excited for next weekend and everything they had missed at home. They both missed their girls, but also understood that this was part of life.

“So I heard that you wanted to pinch my ass this afternoon?” Tony breaks the silence as he looks over at Dale. Dale then looks at him surprised as Tony laughs. “Don’t hide it because I have a good source that told me this information.”

“Oh really?” Dale asks, already knowing who the source was. He knew that he’d have to yell at Steve the next day.

“Yep. He said that you were staring at my ass. So is that what you do in the garage area?”

“What else do you expect me to do when there’s something sexy in my presence? I had to take in the view.” Dale then rolls over and faces Tony. “Let’s face it – you’ve done the same thing yourself.” Tony’s jaw drops in shock as Dale laughs. “I’ve caught you a couple of times, Smoke.”

“Oh really?” Dale shakes his head yes as he remembers when he caught Tony last year at Martinsville.

“Yep. Looks like you’re going to think of some new spying tricks.”

“Or I could do this.” Tony then reaches over, and pinches Dale butt, causing Dale to jump.

“That’s not nice, Tony.” A smirk grows on Tony’s face as he does it once again. “You know it goes both ways, right?” Dale then pushes himself towards Tony, pushing Tony on his back so he can tickle him. “I didn’t know that you were so ticklish.”

“Okay…that’s enough….” Dale then stops and Tony uses the break to pin Dale underneath him on the bed. “Revenge is a sweet thing, you know? There are plenty of things that I could do with you right now.” Tony watches as Dale closes his eyes and tenses. “Dale?”

“I just love you so much,” Jeff says as he lies on top of Dale, pinning him on the bed. “There are plenty of things that I could do with you right now.”

“Please no,” Dale begs as he feels his nerves building, knowing that there is pain coming.

“Oh yes baby, that’s how much I love you.” He then fights to get out of Jeff’s grasp, though is unable to. He then feels Jeff’s hand roughly trail down his skin to the waistband on his pants.

“Please no…”

“This is how it works, hun.” Jeff then runs his fingers underneath of the waistband.

“No..no…” Dale squirms as he fights to get out from underneath Tony and Tony instantly sits up.

“Dale!” Tony yells as he grabs Dale’s arm, trying to free him from the memory that has consumed his mind.

“Tony…” Dale whispers as his eyes snap open and he sits up. “Tony…” He then collapses against Tony as he wraps both arms around Tony, tightly. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay baby, it’s okay…” Tony then rubs Dale’s back as he holds him tightly against him. “You just had a bit of a flashback.”

“I’m sorry…”

“It’s not your fault, babes. You’re okay. I’ve got you.” Tony then looks down and kisses Dale’s forehead. “I’m sorry for putting you in that position.” Tony then lies down, getting Dale to lie down with him as he continues to rub Dale’s back.

 

Chapter 50: Las Vegas Part 3

“Good morning,” Tony says as he enters the room, opening the closet to take out his firesuit. He smiles as he looks back towards the blue eyed beauty lying in his bed.

“Good morning,” Dale says, slightly groggy as he sits up, wiping the sleep away from his eyes. He watches as Tony gets dressed, grabbing his phone from the table to check the time. Shocked at the time, his jaw drops as he glances back up at Tony. “Why didn’t you tell me it was 11?” Tony shrugs his shoulders as he leaves the room. Dale then unravels himself from the blankets and follows Tony through the motorcoach, smiling when the smell of bacon and eggs hits his noise.

“You needed the sleep so I thought that I’d let you sleep while I took care of sponsor business.” Tony then stops, turning around to face Dale, kissing his lips. “Now eat your breakfast like a good little boy while I go to the driver’s meeting. Then promise to come see me before race time because I want to see that sexy ass of yours. Love you.”

“Love you too.” Dale then sits at the table, beginning to eat as Tony heads out. Tony catches up with Kyle and they head to the meeting together.

“Ready to kick ass today?” The younger driver shrugs his shoulders, catching Tony off guard. Where was the confidence from a week ago? “What happened to being Mr. Race Winner? I liked you better last wee-”

“Last week the car was handling; this week it’s been a bitch all weekend,” Kyle cuts him off and Tony laughs. “It’s not funny! But regardless, I still think I can beat you.” Tony then looks at Kyle surprised as they round a corner. “I mea-”

“I had one of the quickest cars in practice so watch what you say young man,” Tony warns him as Kyle smirks.

“You wouldn’t hurt me even if I said something so wrong to you. You know how much I love Angelica and Dale would kick your butt if you did something to break his daughter’s heart. But you’re right, you were fast in practice so maybe you’ll be closer to me this week than last week.” Kyle then heads inside for the meeting, sitting beside his crew chief as Tony sits in the row behind him with Steve Addington.

********

“Can we watch race together?” Chelsea asks as she jumps up on Angelica’s bed, surprising Angelica and the puppy. The puppy then growls at Angelica before lying back down by Angelica’s feet and going to sleep.

“Got to be careful getting up on the bed like that,” Angelica informs her. “And yes we can watch the race together.” Chelsea then gets comfy as she watches the television, smiling when she hears Winnie snoring once again.

“Tony gonna win today?” Angelica shrugs her shoulders with a smile. She wouldn’t mind seeing Tony win, but her heart was hoping that Kyle would go back-to-back. “Kyle gonna win?”

“Maybe.”

“I think Harrison gonna win. Harrison fast yesterday, mommy said.” Angelica smiles as she remembers how quick Harrison was in the final practice and how he dominated the Nationwide Series race.

“Maybe Harrison will win – maybe Kyle will win – maybe Tony will win. We’ll just have to wait and see.”

********

Tony laughs as he listens to Kevin Harvick tell him and Denny a story about something that Keelan did. He couldn’t believe the trouble that Keelan would get into….then again, he was Kevin’s Mini Me.

Tony then jumps when he feels someone touch his ass, spinning around thinking it’d be Delana (Kevin’s wife) with their crazy ‘pinch ass’ tradition of good luck. Though a smile crosses his face as he realizes that its Dale.

“Get ready for some loving,” Denny teases as Kevin laughs.

“You told me to come see your sexy ass so I did just that,” Dale whispers into Tony’s ears, before giving him a quick kiss and pulling back. “Good luck today sexy. I’ll see your ass in victory lane later today.”

“That’s the plan buddy,” Tony replies as he sticks his tongue out at Denny. “You’re just jealous, we get it.”

“I thought you were the jealous one since my wife always like to pinch your ass,” Kevin comments as Denny looks towards him, confused.

“Wouldn’t that make you jealous because your wife is hitting on another man?” Denny questions as Tony laughs.

“She’s not hitting on him; she’s just showing him what he’s missing.” Kevin then glances towards Tony and Dale. “Then again, you do get the best of both worlds with Dale and Lindsay.” Tony then smirks as he pulls Dale close.

“I’m a spoiled man but I wouldn’t take away from any minute that I get with them,” he says, giving Dale another kiss before letting go. “Tell the spunky kid that’s married to your daughter that I am going to kick his ass today.”

“Got it,” Dale says before walking away.

“Things cool with you guys at home with everything that happened at Daytona and going on Angelica?” Denny asks and Tony shakes his head yes. While it was tough at times, there was no question that he was enjoying life right now. He just hoped that things continued to get better for Angelica. “Oh…so I have to tell you what Taylor did the other day while Jordan was out….”

*********

At the end of the race, it ended up being Denny in victory lane while Tony finished fourth with Kyle fifth. Both were pleased with their finishes and once done talking to the media, they headed home with Dale, ready to see the ladies of their life.