Moving Forward – Chapter 48: “I couldn’t think straight…”

After their fun together, the pair laid back in the bed, glancing over at each other with a smile.

“It’d been way too long,” she comments as he laughs. She then rolls over to look over at him. “But on a brighter note, it’s nice to see that you’re feeling better.” He then glances over surprised.

“You can tell?” He questions and she nods her head.

“Confidence, the way you walk, the way you’re thinking – it’s like you’re almost back to your full-self.” He couldn’t help but agree as he glanced up at the ceiling.

“There’s only one thing missing in that…” She nods her head, as she felt the pit of her stomach twist.

“You’re doing an off-season test to make sure before Daytona, right?” Dale nods his head, remembering the recent conversation with the team.

“Darlington in a couple weeks, actually.” She then looks over puzzled.

“This soon?” He nods his head, remembering the discussion with Mickey as well. “Holy…”

“You don’t seem so confident.” She lets out a sigh as her minds go back to when she was away.

“When I was sitting in my office trying to go through everything that I had to do, I couldn’t think straight to be honest. I tried to focus on what they’d put before me, and I just – my mind would go blank. All I could think about is what happened, the wreck, and how you were feeling. My mind worried that it wasn’t going to get better through your frustration. I wondered what the future held. I had more questions coming home than I think I left with.” He could understand that, based on the state of things. However, he felt based on her words earlier these thoughts were worth nothing now.

“And now?” She glances over as she looks into his eyes.

“I want to believe in you and say that you’re right in being ready. But I just can’t bring myself to 100% confidence yet. Maybe it’s because I’m worried about another wreck. Maybe it’s because I’m nervous. Maybe I’m skeptical. Maybe I’m afraid to let go because of everything. Maybe I want to keep the spoiled feeling of having you to myself. But it just didn’t sit as well as I thought it would…” Dale lets out a sigh as he rolls onto his back, eyes up at the ceiling.

“I can’t lie that I’m skeptical, too. I want to feel confident in what everybody is saying around me. I want to feel confident in how I’m feeling. But till I strap back in that racecar and take to Darlington, I won’t know if I’m ready for that. Can I go back and do that again? Am I healed to the point to do that again? I won’t know till we make those laps. So I get your worries, but there’s one way to answer them…” She nods her head as she reaches over and grabs his hand.

“That’s why despite what I may show and feel, I will be there and ready to support you 100%.” He looks over at her with a smile. “And I will then focus on Christmas plans because we got a lot of shopping to catch up on.” He then rolls his eyes.

“Can we skip that this year because we have a wedding instead to focus on?” She chuckles and shakes her head no.

“There are some kids that will be expecting gifts under the tree, Mr. Earnhardt.” He nods his head, with a smile forming. It was going to be fun to watch Alyssa and Elsa tear into their gifts together this year as Elsa seemed to be trying to copy everything Alyssa did now.

“We also have a wedding to finish up planning, and then go through…” She nods her head.

“I think that’s almost squared away, though. Didn’t we go through almost all the lists?” He looks back, remembering his last glance through the binders. “Besides, the details don’t matter. All that matters to me is being able to call you my dear husband.” He then glances over at her.

“So we can skip the formal presentation?” She laughs and shakes her head no. “Dang….”

“It’s Pitronia tradition, and I would like them to recognize you as an equal and fair party in this deal. Those people trust in the powers to run their country and home as they want. They’ve put their trust in myself, Stacey and John. They also need to know the people behind me who believe in me no matter what I may do because I want them to know how much you mean to me.” He smiles as he thinks it over.

“Okay, so maybe for that reason I can stand on stage and accept it all.” She smiles as she moves back close to him, placing her head on his chest.

“Just think. You’ll be King Ralph Dale Kastona Earnhardt Jr.” He rang the name through his head a couple times, trying to find a way to grow used to it.

“I like the sounds of Queen Marie-Ann Belle Kastona Earnhardt better.” She then chuckles, having written that out a couple times already.

“I don’t care whether it’s full name, or Marie Earnhardt, I just can’t wait to officially call you my husband.” He then looks down at her with an evil grin.

“Then let’s run away to Las Vegas and hitch up tonight. Then we can say we’re married for Christmas and I can save on a gift for you.” She then looks up at him surprised as the grin widens on his face.

“You’re one evil man, but I do like your ways…” He then laughs as she scoots up, kissing his lips once again. “Just promise me you’ll be careful when we do go to Darlington.” He nods his head as he wraps his arms firmly back around her once again.

“Don’t worry – I’m not going anywhere. You’ll always have me in your life. We almost lost each other once. I’m not letting that happen again.”

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Moving Forward – Chapter 47: The Surprise

Marie grabs her bag, smiling as she walks through the airport, clasping Elsa in her arms with Alyssa in toe.

While it was nice to head home and she took pride in her work, there was nothing like returning home to where she lived now and reuniting with Dale. Besides, she still had some wedding plans to finalize.

“Daddy!!” Alyssa then lets out, running off from Marie as she goes to protest, though immediately smiles as she sees Dale standing there, leaning against the car. “I missed you!”

“I missed you too,” Dale replies as he holds her tightly in his arms, kneeling down to her level. “Did you have fun?” She shakes her head yes.

“I got to play in the garden, played with Lia and Nazelle, baked cookies and a big painting!” He then stands up, smiling as he takes Elsa from her hands.

“You didn’t have to meet me here,” Marie tells him as Dale kisses Elsa’s forehead. “I would’ve just got a ride back to the house.” He then looks over at her.

“I’ve been driving myself crazy missing you, and couldn’t bare to wait a minute longer,” he confesses with a smile. “Besides, I wanted to see my girls….” He then tickles Elsa’s belly, causing her to laugh as he just laughs in response.

“I just figured that you’d be busy today.” He then looks back over at her.

“I always have time for us, you more specifically.” He then leans in and kisses her lips. “And I’ve missed those…” She could only lick her own lips in agreement.

“Chase!!” Alyssa then lets out as she sees Chase heading over to them, running up to him for a hug.

“Chase?!?” Marie questions, glancing between Chase and Dale.

“Hey Alyssa,” Chase says as he gives her a big hug, before taking Elsa out of Dale’s arms. Dale gives him a simple nod, before pulling Marie close to him.

“Considering how much I’ve missed you, I figured we could use some time together,” he tells her, slipping his hand around her, firmly planted on her butt. “Besides, you’ve been busy with your responsibilities and planning the wedding that you need a break. Chase is going to watch the girls, while we have a night to ourselves.”

“We get to spend the night with you?!?” Alyssa questions and Chase shakes his head yes. “That’s awesome!” Chase could only look over at the pair of adults, seeing their eyes locked together. He could only bet how many minutes till they were wrapped in each other’s arms, reunited. There may be a third kid running around before long.

“That sounds like a good idea,” Marie gives in.

“Well, you both better get started on your fun,” Chase states. Everybody trades goodbyes, with Chase grabbing the girls’ stuff and heading off with them.

“My lady…” Dale says as he holds open the door, with a smile.

“My darling,” she replies, giving him a quick kiss before climbing in the car. He then closes the door, walking around to the other side, set for a fun night.

Leaving the airport, the pair were caught in heavy traffic, resulting in steady conversation about her latest trip to Pitronia and the happenings. It also saw them focus their eyes on each other at times, both biting their lips as thoughts fluttered through their minds.

“So what’s the plan for tonight, superstar?” Marie questions as she reaches over, placing her hand on his leg.

“I was thinking we’d go out for dinner, and then head back and spend a quiet night together,” he answers as he looks over into her eyes. “Unless you want to do something else….”

“That sounds like such a good idea. It’s just….” She lets her hand run up his leg to his crotch, placing lightly. “I’ve missed you so much…” He bit his lip, resisting the urge to let out a moan feeling her hand pressing against his package.

“We could skip dinner and head for desert?” She slips her hand underneath the rim of his jeans, forcing her hand down beneath the fabric of his underwear.

“I wouldn’t want to ruin your precious plans or spoil your appetite…” He bites his lip even harder, feeling her rub his package, wishing the traffic would move faster than it was.

“I think you’d be satisfying it more than…..oh man….” She then smiles, stroking him lightly as she locks eyes with his.

“Problem?” He then looks over at her and shakes his head no, leaning in for a kiss before focusing his eyes back on the road. “I can’t tell you how much I missed you…”

“This drive is way too long.” She then laughs as he takes a turn up at the next street, heading down the long alleyway. She releases him from her grasp, placing her hand on his on the shifter, eyes looking at each other briefly and locking, before his eyes returned to the road before them.

“Where are we going?” He just smiles as he takes another turn, pulling it behind the race shop, before reutnring the glance.

“I couldn’t wait. I figured here, behind the shop, we’d have some privacy.” He then flips the key off, turning to face her, leaning in and kissing her lips, as he pulls her close to him.

Moving Forward – Chapter 46: “Can you help me?”

Chase walks into the house, surprised at the silence that had overcome the busy household.

He glances into the living room, surprised to see everything neat and tidy, with no kids to be found. He then walks down the hall and glances into the kitchen, seeing the dishes put away with nobody in sight.

“That’s odd,” he comments to himself. He had expected someone to be home with the door being unlocked.

He keeps making his way through the house, stopping when he reached Dale’s office and glanced in, smiling. He hadn’t barged into an empty household after all.

He was about to say something and interrupt Dale’s happenings, but didn’t want to be rude. So instead, he leaned back against the door and watched as Dale continued doing whatever business he was. He saw a couple papers scattered across the desk as Dale looked over those, along with a book turned to a specific page. He could only guess the contents, not wanting to invade personal privacy.

“Son of a bitch!” Dale lets out as a pen rolls off the desk. He then leans down, picking it up, before looking up and noticing Chase in the doorway. “How long have you been standing there?” Chase then puts his phone down, shrugging his shoulders.

“10, 20 minutes perhaps,” he answers as Dale rolls his eyes.

“And you didn’t say anything why?” Chase walks into the office, surprised by the amount of scattered papers across the desk.

“I didn’t want to interrupt you.” Dale could only smile back in return – the politeness Chase showed was one of his most awesome traits. “So where the heck is your family?”

“Marie took the kids with her on this trip back down.” Chase shakes his head, understanding, as he flops in the chair before the desk.

“And having the whole house to yourself, you called me?” Dale knew it was an odd request to ask Chase to come over, but he knew the kid was around and not up to much right now with the season just finishing. That’d mean that he’d be a great candidate to help.

“I need your help on something, actually.” Chase then looked on confused as he sat up in the chair. “Marie is doing all this amazing stuff to put together the wedding – both here and the official reveal ceremony. She’s basically taking charge of it all, and told me to not worry about a thing. She wanted me to just focus on myself, the recovery, and the upcoming test at Darling-”

“Can you blame her?” Dale lets out a sigh and shakes his head no, knowing Marie’s thoughts on everything.

“I’ve gotten back into the business stuff – which is crazy as Josh Berry is without a sponsor for the late model season.” Chase’s jaw drops in shock, knowing how successful Josh had been the past couple seasons. “Plus, I’ve been doing a bit of Christmas shopping and studying the favorite manual for the reveal.”

“So that’s what the book is?” Dale shakes his head yes as he turns the book to face Chase.

“It’s not that bad, actually. Remember a couple formation details and you’re good to go.” Chase glances over the page, intrigued by the contents.

“So what is it that you need my help with?” Dale smiles as he sits back in the chair.

“I want to surprise Marie when she gets back, and I know that your ass will still be in North Carolina as you won’t have left for Georgia yet.” Chase then looks at Dale, in surprise, not wanting to fully picture the contents of the plan.

“And I can help you, how?” The smile widens on Dale’s face.

“Can you babysit children?” The answer to that question was obvious without a thought as Chase loved spending time with both Alyssa and Elsa.

“Of course.” Dale was glad that he got the answer he easily wanted or else there’d be some trouble.

“I also need your help setting some stuff up – like getting things, and putting them in order for her return. Are you game?” Chase didn’t know whether he wanted to agree, scared of what may happen from here on out.

“I suppose….”

“Thanks. I appreciate it.”  Dale then glances back towards the papers, knowing that he should get back to work, though his eyes glanced back up at the young man before him. “And everything is okay with you, right? We’re not going to have to go to Canada or some other country looking for your ass this year, are we?”

“Don’t worry – I plan on staying home all winter this year.” Dale smiled in return as he didn’t need to go through those fears again. “Besides, that trip was a little too cold.” Dale could only shiver at the thought of being stuck in an ice cold water hole.

“Yeah….”

“And to the other part of your question, I’m good.  There may be the odd nightmare here or there, but I’m fine. I’m back to myself and you don’t have to worry about me. Just worry about yourself and doing what you need to do.” Dale shakes his head, accepting.

“My contract is up with Hendrick Motorsports this year, and I’ve debated whether to resign or not. I told Rick that it’d take me some time to decide.” Chase then feels a bit of confusion in the change of topic. “With everything that happened on and off track, plus the fact that I’ve been doing this a long time now, you have to wonder if it’s time…”

“Have you talked to Jeff or Tony to see their thoughts? What about Marie? What about your sister?”  Dale looks up at Chase, shaking his head no immediately.

“I don’t want you to say a word to Marie or my sister about this, or else they’ll keep at me about it.” Chase sits back, understanding immediately. He knew both girls could be overbearing. “I’m just been giving it a bit of thought, especially in discussions as to whether I have it or not.”

“You’re one of the best racecar drivers that I know, and I’m glad to call you a teammate and best friend.  Go into the test at Darlington with an open-mind and see how that goes. See where you stand first before you cave to nerves and worries. I know you and I know you’re worried about that test but I think it’s going to go better than you can even anticipate.” Dale smiles, surprised by the immediate vote of confidence from Chase.

“I hope you’re righ-”

“I know I’m right, Dale, because I believe in you – just like I always have believed you. Look at everything. You always beat the odds and you will beat them again.”  Chase then takes a deep breath, trying to keep his personal thoughts on Dale’s future out of conversation, for now. “Once you get the test out of the way and see how that goes, then re-evaluate the situation. Maybe ask Rick if you can have a couple weeks before you decide what to do as he’ll understand. Just know that whatever you do decide – do it for yourself, because you truly want to, and not because of what everybody else wants or feels, and damn well make sure you’re certain with your decision.”

“Thanks Chase. I’ll keep that in mind.” Chase then stands up, knowing that he had an appointment for later on that day himself.

“I’m always willing to talk – remember that goes both ways, always. Text me later with all the details of what you need help with on the other. I got to head out.”

“Alright. See ya later.” Chase then makes his way out of the office, going back through the house and out the front door.

Once he had closed the door, he leaned back against it and thought things over. He didn’t know if he was ready for Dale to speak the word retirement himself, yet.

 

I haven’t decided whether I am going to keep this story going beyond the Darlington and wedding into this year, and the forth coming retirement. It is a thought, but one I’m not sure if I want to tackle.

Moving Forward – Chapter 45: The Bet

TJ switches the light off, sitting back on his stool.

He watches as Dale walks around the room, taking steps in all different directions as he reads different signs, and cites different things. TJ’s eyes fall to the feet on the floor, watching for any tipsy movement or misplacement that leads to an almost trip. However, everything comes with ease around the entire room for a span of 10 minutes, before Dale makes his way over to the switch and hits it.

“$20 please?” Dale questions as he looks over at TJ, who sits there stunned.

“I’ll gladly give you that $20 because I am so damn happy that you are making such great progress,” TJ answers as he reaches into his pocket and places a bill on the bench. “Honestly, it warms my heart to see that. I mean, I admit – I was really worried there for awhile bud. But to see you do that, and not one slip up, that was amazing.” Dale smiles as he walks back over, sitting beside him.

“My goal all along was to go through these exercises and keep getting better just so that way I could walk down that aisle in January and be happy, seeing life straight as I married her. Now, I’m ready to go back to racing with the test at Darlington, and ready for the upcoming season.” TJ smiles as it was great to hear positivity, rather than being served and scared of the future.

“What about nerves?” Dale knew that was a topic as he glances outwards into the room.

“They’re there, for sure. I mean, there’s always the question of whether you’re exactly who you are and where you need to be to win races. Certainly walking into Darlington I’ll feel that. But I’m confident, and I’m happy.” TJ just kept smiling as it all sounded great.

“So, this wedding in January. I know you have this book of official announcement crap for after the wedding – but what about the wedding? We’re doing it here on the property but traditional or not?” Dale knew the question was going to be asked, having heard it already from a few people.

“Standard, typical wedding procedure is all that you need to know.” TJ shakes his head, easily accepting. He was worried there’d be something strange popping up due to this king-queen business.

“So you just need to know that book stuff for when you go back to Pitronia and announce?” Dale shakes his head yes. “And what about her name? Is she officially becoming Marie Earnhardt, which by the way sounds nice?” Dale knew how it rang together, having sung it a couple times in his mind as he counted down the days till January.

“Queen Marie-Anne Belle Kastona Earnhardt. There is no dropping names in the traditional sense.” TJ looked over perplexed, knowing he was missing something. “But she did drop Calantay to remove any trace of her father from herself, and future generations.”

“Say the name again, please.” Dale rolls his eyes.

“Queen Marie-Anne Belle Kastona Earnhardt.” TJ just shakes his head as he glances towards the glass on the counter.

“How the hell do you remember that?” Dale smiles as he looks at his best friend.

“Marie-Ann is her full name. Belle was her middle name off of her cousin. Kastona was her mother’s last name. It’s very easy.” TJ shook his head as he thought it over.

“And you, sir, would be King Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr.?” Dale looks away as he thinks it over. There was a bit more than that.

“While for the sake of my life here, I will not be taking the name, I will officially have the Kastona name in the Pitronia records.” TJ then looks over, confused. “Country tradition, buddy. That’s just how it goes, and I respect their wishes.”

“So that means that Alyssa becomes prince-”

“She’s already princess, being Marie’s daughter. So therefore she’s Princess Alyssa Kastona Earnhardt, with her future husband to add his last name to the end.” TJ then glances up, thinking it over with a smile.

“So that’d be Alysssa Kastona Earnhardt Gordo-”

“Hey now, what did I say about that?” TJ laughs, remembering how Dale had wanted to avoid the thought of his daughter dating, and any prediction that Leo and Alyssa would get together.

“So then it should be Alyssa Kastona Earnhardt Har-”

“TJ Majors!” Dale then gives him a punch as TJ immediately looks over, surprised, rubbing his arm.

“Ouch!”

“Well then damn well listen to me. I told you – my girl ain’t dating no boy, nor getting married, nor any hokey pokey.” TJ laughs as he watches Dale walk away from him.

“You keep telling yourself that but it’s going to happen. I tried the same with Madeline and she kissed a boy in school.” Dale then spins around shocked.

“Grade 2 and kissing?” TJ shakes his head yes. “Holy shit.”

“That was my reaction, before wanting to call the school and demand an answer.” Dale shakes his head.

“I’m going to need those guards sooner than I originally thought.” TJ then laughs as he follows Dale up the stairs.

“So how about Elsa then?” Dale then looks over at TJ.

“She’s only 11 months….”

“Elsa Kastona Earnhardt Busch marries Brexton Kastona Earnhardt Busch, or just Brexton Earnhardt Busch?” Dale rolls his eyes.

“You had the name placement right first, and that’s no way ever happening. Do you want a cause a riot amongst the fans?” TJ thinks it over as he smiles widely.

“Can we please, please, please prank them?” Dale just rolls his eyes again. “Is that a no?”

“Keep it up, TJ. I’ll be sure to send the boys to your house to pick up Madeline for a date.” TJ’s smile immediately disappears as Dale looks back with a grin. “Two can play this game, buddy.”

“And to think you guys have gone from drunken stumbers and stupid antics with video games, to setting each other’s kids up with boys,” they hear and glance towards the kitchen, seeing Kelley standing there beside Marie. “My oh my how times have changed.”

“Hey Kelley, is Wyatt available for a playdate?” Dale questions with a glance at TJ, who immediately returns it with a death stare.

“Oh there is no way you boys are getting me involved in your antics.”

“It’d be no surprise to see them officially be related though,” Marie comments as Kelley glances over at her.

“Don’t encourage them,” Kelley states. “They got enough ideas of their own. They don’t need our help. They need us to keep them out of trouble.”

“Yeah, that’s impossible with this guy,” TJ says as he points to Dale. “Hence why you’re still involved in his life because there’s no way he can avoid it.”

“Listen here Mr. Innocent, you’ve done your fair share too,” Dale replies as Marie shakes her head.

“I’ll tell you all about their antics later,” Kelley whispers as Marie smiles. She knew there was some good stories to be told.

Moving Forward – Chapter 44: “Best Man”

Marie opens the door and smiles, as she motions for TJ to enter the house.

“So I’m not allowed here for like a month and a half, and then now I’ve been here twice in two days,” he starts as Marie rolls her eyes. She hadn’t planned on calling TJ, but Dale wanted to talk to him after the conversation with Steve.

“Look at it this way – it means Dale is healing nicely, right?” She questions and TJ smiles, shaking his head yes. While he enjoyed working with Alex, he couldn’t wait to have Dale back in the car. He also wanted to see his friend get better, for his own good.

“So do I want to know the reason for the call?” Marie shrugs her shoulders. “You know, don’t you?”

“Of course because he told me to expect you.” TJ then crosses his arms as he looks back at her.

“Well, do I get any warning?” She shakes her head no, knowing Dale deserved full rights on telling him. “Can I play clue?” She shakes her head no. “You’re no fun.”

“Just go see him. He’s downstairs.” She then continues to the kitchen as TJ makes his way down the steps to the basement.

He remembered coming down this very set stairs just a few years back and entering a personal night club, named Club E, featuring a dance floor and bar. It was their hang out spot for years with the Dirty Mo Posse and where the craziest chaos happened among the fans.

Though, he remembered a couple years ago when Dale changed everything around, fitting his grown up mode. While the bar and pool table remained for a small hang out, the majority was turned into a gym for Dale to work out as need be.

TJ smiles as he stands up, watching Dale take a couple shots on the basket, making a couple while missing others. He remains quiet, watching him go through the familiar drills that he had been put through for the therapy process as set in by Mickey. TJ found himself impressed by how some went, however cringed a couple other parts. No doubt they were right close back to where he needed to be, but small bits were still off.

He watches as Dale walks over towards his direction, catching his attention.

“How long have you been standing there?” Dale asks as TJ shrugs his shoulder.

“Enough to see that you’re making great progress,” he answers with a smile. “What’s next?” Dale points to the light switch, knowing the process that he’d go through.

“Shut the lights off, and let me turn on the strobe lights. I need to walk around, certain steps, and not let myself get thrown off.”

“So the party lights finally came in handy for something good?” Dale rolls his eyes as he watches TJ’s hand reach for the switch.

“You know what? Let’s talk, and then I can finish what I need to do.” TJ then looks over, surprised.

“Scared of me watching you now?” Dale shakes his head no as he grabs a bottle of water out of the fridge.

“It’s more like I want to have the discussion while it’s on the mind.” TJ looks on confused as he walks over, climbing up on one of the bar stools. There were few times that he saw Dale get this serious before him.

“Should I be nervous?” Dale shakes his head no as he climbs up on the stool beside TJ.

“How would you like to be my best man for the wedding?” TJ looks over shocked. He hadn’t expected anything like that, especially since he heard Dale’s reasons for Steve just yesterday.

“What about Steve?” Dale knew it was fitting to have Steve, but knew how much the change in plans meant to Marie and made sense.

“Marie didn’t want to walk down the aisle by herself, and she asked Steve to walk her down. It makes sense for all he did for us, how he saved Alyssa, and….just everything, TJ. It made sense more than I could explain as Marie put it perfectly.” TJ shakes his head, accepting. He could understand the reasoning seeing how close the three were.

“And you’re okay with this?” Dale shakes his head yes.

“It makes perfect sense, honestly. Besides, how long have we known each other? I have few best friends that I am as close to as I am to you, and we even joked about this a couple years ago that when I eventually got married you’d be the best man. Well, forget about joking – it’s a fact. You’re my best friend, and I’d be glad if you’re standing with me there that day.” TJ smiles as he wraps an arm around Dale. He wasn’t expecting that offer, but he was easily able to accept.

“I’d be my honor. Besides, someone has to make sure you go through with this fully and don’t get cold feet.” Dale chuckles as he looks over at TJ.

“I don’t think that’d ever happen, to be honest. I love her so much and can’t wait to be married.” TJ shakes his head in disbelief as he looks around the basement.

“It’s strange hearing you say that after all the times we came down here, both single, and you kept telling me you’d settle for no girl. Plus, there’s also the crazy antics that we got into. Now look at us. I’m married with a daughter, and you’re set to be married with two girls. I don’t think I could’ve ever imagined that happening.” Dale knew he was right, remembering those crazy parties, too.

“You don’t know what love means till you’re touched by the right person and they change your life forever. As soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew there was something special with her. I know she’s flipped my world every which way over the past year and a half, but I wouldn’t change a single thing.” TJ reaches over to one of the books on the counter and picks it up.

“Even learning all this official marital announcement bullshit and orders?” Dale laughs. “You do realize that she named you king and you can dump this out. I could burn it for you.”

“I do realize that, but I also respect her request for tradition and some things to not change.” Dale then snatches the book from TJ and opens it to where he left off. “Hence why I’ve been reading it when I need a break, and so far, it’s not too bad.” TJ looks on surprised as he reads over the page opened before him.

“I still can’t believe you’re fitting a test at Darlington, Christmas, a wedding and this in before the season. Do you plan to sleep?” Dale chuckles as he snatches the book from TJ.

“Will you stop making it out to be more than it is? We’ve got this. It just takes balance and time.” TJ smiles as he watches Dale stand up and put the book back where he had it.

“As long as you’re taking care of yourself and doing what you need to do, it doesn’t matter to me. Now, how about that exercise?” Dale then looks over at him.

“You really want to see me do that?” TJ crosses his arms as he looks around the room, before back at Dale.

“I say $20 you don’t want me to see it because you’re going to mess up and hate for that to happen in front of my eyes.” Dale looks on surprised as he walks over to the light switch.

“$20, huh?” TJ shakes his head yes. “You’re on.”

Moving Forward – Chapter 43: Change in Plans

Steve walks into the living room, glancing between the couple, noticing the serious looks on their faces.

“This doesn’t look good,” he comments as he takes a seat in the chair. “Please tell me Randy is still in jail-”

“We didn’t call you here for an emergency crisis like that,” Marie cuts him off as Steve immediately lets out a sigh of relief.

“And the wedding is still on?” The pair both shake their heads yes. “Okay, that gets rid of my two biggest worries. So what is it?” The couple glances at each other, before turning to face Steve.

“We’ve had a change in plans in regards to you being the best man,” Dale starts, catching Steve by surprise. He hadn’t expected any changes especially after the reasoning given by Dale in detail as they sat together. However, he wasn’t set to be mad at all or anything. He knew Dale had a very caring circle of people around him and had someone great picked out for the spot.

“I can understand that, really,” Steve comments. “So who is the best man now?” Dale glances at Marie as she simply nods before Dale looks back to Steve.

“TJ.”  Steve shook his head, understanding. It was obvious by the friendship they had.

“He’s perfect, Dale. You guys have had each other’s back for a long time now so I’m not surprised. Have you told him yet?” Dale shakes his head no, knowing that was next.

“The reason why we’ve had a change in plans is I want you to walk me down the aisle,” Marie cuts in, catching Steve by surprise. He totally wasn’t expecting a request of that nature from Marie. He had expected her to make the walk by herself from everything that he’d seen and heard. Truthfully, it felt odd getting that request. “Say something, please….”

“I don’t know what to say, though,” Steve starts as he tries to put in perspective. “I was never expecting a request of that nature ever from you. I thought you would walk down the aisle by yourself, or with John.” Marie thinks back to the previous day, remembering her thoughts, now questioning her decision. However, a glance at Steve told her she’d done the right thing.

“I can’t do it alone, Steve. It just wouldn’t feel comfortable.  I also thought about John too as he’s been t here my whole life for me, but we aren’t really close and I want someone that I’m close with to lean on. Based on our history, I’d say we’re very close friends. You mean a lot to this family, more than words could describe or you probably realize. Dale and I have talked about it numerous times. It just feels right to ask you.”  Steve understood where she was coming from, and knew there was nothing he wouldn’t do for the pair. Perhaps it was more right than he could’ve imagined ever.

“Marie, if that’s your wish, then it’d be my honor to walk you down the aisle. You both mean a lot to me, Trisha and the kids. I don’t think there’s anything that could ever come between us. I know you keep giving me all this credit, but you’ve done a lot for my family over the years, too. I admit I was apprehensive at first, but I’m starting to see why and like I said, if that’s what you want, then I’d be honored.” Marie takes a deep breath, remembering her discussion with Dale the previous night.

“Trust me – I know for certain this is what I want. There’s nobody I would prefer over you, Steve. I mean, without you, we wouldn’t be where we are toda-”

“You’re giving me too much credi-”

“Who helped us get connected originally? Who dealt with his nerves of commitment and relationships? Who dealt with my nerves of love and being around racing?  Heck, I don’t know if we would’ve survived the first month without you handling our random rants.” Steve chuckles, remembering the various visits that he had with them both then. “You also saved Alyssa from the plane crash – something that I could never repay you for. You were there with Dale each day after that, helping him deal with his emotions, but also bringing him back to me. Who agreed to go with him to Pitronia first, Steve?”

“Do you know how complicated that argument with Kelley was? She was determined to not let you go. That’s got to be the longest convincing statement ever, and she still wasn’t sure.” Dale chuckles, remembering the discussion like it was just yesterday.

“But you guys still came, right? We got that moment together in the park, followed by reconnecting fully – all because you helped with the theories and chasing them. Once again, without you, there is no us. Then of course there’s Daytona. Remember my crazy blubbering emotions? Remember the tears and crazy fears? Remember how you had to calm me down in the midst of the craziness you were thrown? I don’t think I would’ve gotten through that weekend without you there.” Steve could only chuckle at some of her comments from then.

“I thought I was going to have to tie you up for the race with how crazy you were.” Marie chuckles, remembering how she went on and on in the care center.

“I think the nurse at the care center while we were waiting for Dale thought I was crazy.” Steve chuckles, shaking his head in agreement. “You also helped save, Chase. Heck, nobody knew he was missing till you said something. You noticed Dale getting in the car and put the plan in motion.”

“Remember – he has ninja skills,” Dale comments with a smile as Steve rolls his eyes, remembering that discussion with Kelley. “Steve, our lives wouldn’t be what they are without you – and that’s why we want you to have a big part in the wedding.”

“Promise to not leave each other at the alter alone crying?” He asks as Dale and Marie trade a glance. They both smile before turning to Steve.

“I don’t think I could ever do that to her. I love her too much.”

“Good – because you’ve both given enough emotional craziness for a lifetime.”

Moving Forward – Chapter 42: The Aisle Walk

Dale walks into the house, smiling as he hears the girls playing in the other room together. He then noticed Marie sitting at the small table, eyes landing on her immediately. He walks over, placing his hands on her shoulders and rubbing them.

“Something is on your mind,” he comments and she starts shaking her head no. She didn’t need to give him anything to worry about right now. “You can’t just blow me off so easily, Marie. I know when there’s something on your mind. You can tell me.” She then glances up at him, letting out a sigh as she looks back to the table.

“I overheard you with the guys,” she starts as he gets curious. “Between that conversation, your words for Steve, and my discussion with Kelley, I’ve got some things on my mind.” Dale was now really curious as he hadn’t heard about a conversation with his sister.

“Like second thoug-”

“Oh hell no!” She lets out, catching him by surprise. “I was easily set to walk down the aisle by myself, not a thought in the world. However, some curious thoughts on my mind about the walk, followed by conversation with Kelley – I’m second guessing the decision.” Dale then takes a seat in the chair next to her, growing curious with her comments. He didn’t want to bring her father up if she didn’t want to, but wondered if they were heading down that road.

“Well, who would be your options for someone to walk down the aisle?” Marie thinks it over, remembering the names she previously pondered.

“John, my mom and Steve.” Dale couldn’t blame her for the list.

He knew that John and Stacey had been there for her all the time, helping keep her safe within her father’s craziness and raise her into the beautiful woman she had become. They said a father gave their daughter away at a wedding because he was handing over responsibility to the husband. It’d be fitting to have John do that, considering he did more for her instead of her dad.

He understood why her mother was on the list – most people turned to mommy without a daddy. Truthfully, her mom had tried to do well by her in sending her away and partaking in preventive measures. However, in his mind, she never did enough. She didn’t handle the kidnapping accordingly, she could’ve handled her father before he laid a finger on her, and their relationship just never meshed correctly. Would he that affect her decision?

Of course, he could understand why Steve was on the list. It was easy by what he had just told Steve moments earlier, and now understood why the conversation had made her consider things. He knew it’d be fitting to have Steve walk her down. Now could Steve perform two roles at one wedding? Or who could he have as a suitable back-up plan for the best man? More than likely, TJ seemed to fit the role.

“If you were to sit here and choose one, who would you choose?” He asks her after pondering the options.

“To be honest? I’d have to say Steve,” she answers. “Without him, we wouldn’t be here today together. He was the one that helped us connect originally. He was the one who dealt with both our fears in the early stages. He was the one who saved our daughter from the plane crash. He was the one that stuck by your side, believed your crazy theories, helped you chase those thoughts, and brought us together. Heck, he risked his own life in Pitronia so we could just spend a couple minutes together. He also helped rescue Chase and I in Daytona. He stood by my side in Daytona when I was going into those worry moments, calmed me down, helped me understand everything again. Without him, I don’t know where we’d be, Dale.”  Dale smiles as he knew the feeling.

“I said the same thing, in a different way, to him earlier when we were in the saloon because that’s the truth.” She then glances away, feeling bad for suggesting Steve.

“You just asked him to be your best man. I don’t want to take that away from you because I don’t feel I can walk down the aisle alone. That just doesn’t seem fai-”

“Marie, if you think about it, it’d be perfect. He’d be handing you over to me, stating that he trusted we could make it through anything together and believed in us. He’d be signing off on being the watch dog, knowing that we could handle it all thanks to his guidance. If you want him to walk you down the aisle, you can go forward and ask him – and let him step down from duties as best man.” Marie then looks at Dale, surprised.

“Are you sure?” Dale shakes his head yes, as he thinks it over.

“Besides, TJ would be great as the best man. I’ve known him most of my life and he’s been there through a lot with me. I have a feeling that he’d easily accept just as much because of our friendship. There’s also Chase, too, because let’s face it – he’s been there just as much for us this past year. He’ll do anything for our kids, and he went through a lot because of us and still believes in everything we stand for. Of course, I have other options beyond those two, too. Trust me Marie, I have no problem with this.” She then looks at him with a smile, pulling him into a hug.

“Have I told you lately how amazing you are?” He then laughs as he kisses her cheek.

“Maybe you can show me later.” She then looks at him, intrigued.

“Are you sure that’s acceptable within your therapy?” He just smiles in return.

“I’m supposed to clear my mind and find a way to focus. That’d be one way of doing it as I know with you, there’s nothing else that I can focus on in that moment.”

 

Alright…..let’s hear it. Who do you think should be the best man?