Cabin Fears – Chapter 90: The Monster Mile

Race Day – Dover International Speedway

Chase walks up behind Alyssa, rubbing both of her shoulders as she relaxes back in his arms.

“No pressure,” he whispers in her ear. “Just do your thing. I know the weekend hasn’t quite gone as expected, but as long as you do your thing, you’ll be fine. If it’s meant to be, then today will be your day. But if it’s not, we always have next week, and even next year. Believe in yourself.” He then kisses her cheek.

“I just need to focus and not let it get in my head,” Alyssa comments as she takes a deep breath. “I know I can do well here. The Monster has been my friend before. I just need to take it easy, run the laps, and it’ll come together. I believe in myself, I believe in Kevin, and I believe in this team.” He smiles as he continues rubbing her shoulders.

“Then what are we worried about?” She then turns around slowly.

“What if it doesn’t go the way I want this week, or next week at Charlotte? Then everything that I’ve worked hard to get back to doing will be for nothing.” He immediately shakes his head no.

“No, it’ll still be worth the world, because you proved to everyone how strong you are. You proved to yourself that you wouldn’t go down without a fight. You proved to those who doubted your ability. You’ve also grown a whole new world of admirers, of people who are faced with the same challenges, showing them that they can do it, too.” She smiles as she wraps her arms around him.

“Thank you, and you’re going to find your way back, too.” He nods his head, accepting, as he lays his head on her shoulder.

“I know. I’m working at it, slowly, one day at a time.”

“That’s all I ask, Chase. Any progress is better than no progress.”

The pair stand together for opening ceremonies, before sharing quick kiss together. He then walked away as she climbed in the car, set for 300 miles, hopeful that everything would pan out as expected.

Taking his usual seat on the pit box, he takes a deep breath and crosses his fingers, not willing to give up just yet.

The first stage wavered his faith as there was nothing good said on the radio about the car’s handling. By the end of the second stage, he was set to strange Kevin Meendering in seeing no progress being made, as she had almost spun it out a couple of times and was barely remaining on the lead lap.

“We can still do this,” Kevin tells her over the radio as he takes a deep breath. No matter what, he had to remember what Dale said. Just be positive and it’ll work out some way.

“Then give me something to work with!” She yells back in return, obviously growing frustrated as she seen her championship dreams slowly begin to fade away.

“I’m trying, Alyssa. I just adjusted the air pressure, and took the spring rubber out of the right front. It should fix the issues that you’re having.” She wanted to believe his words, but she was slowly losing faith considering that the car had slowly gotten harder to drive more each run.

“It better, because I can’t keep doing this…” She wasn’t about to say it straight out on the radio, but driving with one hand against the monster was physically taxing. Her left arm and hand felt like it could fall off with the amount of muscle strain that she was feeling having to pull so hard on the wheel. It had been nothing that she had felt before – whether testing, practice, or other races – but today it just seemed to be at it’s worse.

“Hang in there, and keep at it. There’s lots of time. We can do this.”

When the green flag came out, she pushed as hard as she could, putting every bit of faith that the car would handle better this run. As they got five, 10 laps into the run, it felt more secure than it had all day. She began to make passes, moving up a couple positions with ease.

As the run drew on, she caught more cars, and easily made her way by, able to roll the bottom unlike she had all day. She found herself quickly up into the top-10, followed by the top-five. With the laps counting down, she was now putting down some of the best lap times.

She easily made her way up to fourth, followed by third. Chase silently crossed his fingers for a caution, knowing that she could do it if they got a final restart – but that never came. Instead, she was able to get up to second – but never closed up the ground lost to Erik Jones, ultimately crossing the finish line in the runner-up spot.

While it was a great rebound for how they started the weekend, it wasn’t the finish she wanted as it wouldn’t be enough. With the engine blowing last week, she needed a win if she wanted to get to the next round, not a second.

It showed on her face as she climbed out of the car, leaning back against it, physically and mentally worn out as she did a series of interviews.

“I’m proud of the fight you showed,” Kevin tells her as he gives her a hug. “You were absolutely amazing out there. I’m sorry I didn’t give you a better car to start the weekend. We’ll get them next week at Charlotte.” She nods her head, accepting.

“She was a rocket at the end – just not quick enough,” she comments as she takes a big swig from the bottle of water. She then keeps her eyes down at the ground, still feeling the pain through her.

“Are you okay?” Chase questions as he makes his way over, and she glances up to meet his brown eyes.

“I’m disappointed beyond anything. I could just stand here and cry with how close we came after everything. I could just scream in frustration. I am pissed, upset, and I’m sore. I can’t tell you how hard I drove today. My arm is sore from fighting the car. But why is it when I need that late race caution I don’t get one, but I always seem to get it when I don’t want it?” Chase shrugs his shoulders as he begins to rub her arm with his hand.

“Like I said before the race – if it’s meant to be-”

“That’s not comforting right now, Chase!” Chase takes a deep breath as he tries to find the right set of words to say.

“I know it’s not, but that’s just how life is. Sometimes it’s fair, and sometimes it isn’t. Look at the bright side – you put in one helluva finish today despite everything, and you have the roval next week. If there’s any place where you can pull a rabbit out of your hat, it’s there.” She smiles, nodding her head. She was feeling quite confident after her performance at Road America.

“I just wish it would’ve ended differently…” He nods his head, sympathizing with her.

“I know. Why don’t you go do your media center commitments, and then come back to the motorcoach with me? I can run you a nice warm bubble bath with vanilla scented candles and a lavender scented bath bomb, and then make your favorite for dinner.” She smiles a little.

“You’re just trying to butter me up…”

“What else am I supposed to do? I know how you feel, and I know there’s nothing in the world that I can say to make you feel better. So I figured I’d take another approach, and at least help you out a different way.” She then leans in and kisses his lips.

“Thank you for understanding, and for just being here. You better not forget about that offer.” He smiles as she heads off to the media center with her PR rep.

Chase then turns on his heels, heading back towards the motorcoach lot. The walk back through the garage area was simple enough, followed by crossing through the underground bridge to where the motorcoachs were parked behind the track.

He wasn’t expecting the sea of people, though, as they immediately crowed around, holding out various merchandise, looking for autographs. He takes a deep breath, followed by taking out a marker, and begins signing as he keeps his feet moving forward.

“Give me a bit of space to walk please,” he asks as he feels every anxious part of him pick up the pace in seeing the crowd continue to thicken. Continuing to take deep breaths, reminding himself of nothing to be worried about, he is able to keep moving with ease and brings the panic down to a minimum.

“When are you going to come back racing?” One of the fans asks in the crowd.

“Soon, I hope,” he answers as he signs the autograph for them, before reaching the gates for the motorcaoch lot. He quickly flashes his card, going through the gates and continuing to walk in the direction he was headed.

With the crowd left behind him, he goes around the corner, pausing and leaning back against a fence as he takes a couple deep breathes. Closing his eyes, he continues going through the process of reminding himself he was safe, things were fine, and there was nothing to worry about.

“Hey, are you okay?” He hears, opening his eyes as he sees Leo Gordon standing there. He nods his head as he takes a final deep breath.

“Yeah, I’m fine actually,” he answers. “Just taking a quick breather.” Leo nods his head accepting.

“You know, if you want, I can walk back with yo-”

“No, it’s fine. I’m fine really. Thank you for stopping and asking.” Chase then heads in the direction he was going to go, actually feeling pride to himself in how he handled the situation with the crowd.

Maybe he would be ready to go back racing sooner than expected.

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Moving Forward – Chapter 58: “What’s on your mind?”

December 28

Marie walks out onto the balcony, walking up behind Dale, wrapping her arms around him as she places her head on his shoulder.

“Do you think we spoiled the kids too much?” Marie ponders out loud, catching Dale’s attention as he just laughs.

“We maybe could’ve gotten Alyssa a couple less gifts – but I couldn’t pass those extras up,” he offers, causing her to simply smile back in return. “But do you believe that we got beat for gifts by Chase?”

“He certainly knows his way to her heart, let me tell you. She wanted to go to bed in the firesuit the other night.” Dale chuckles, followed by a sigh. “You only come out here late at night when you want to think. What’s on your mind?” Dale glances down to the ground, before looking back out at the field.

“Just thinking about the past several years. There’s been a lot of highs, and a lot of lows. There’s been a lot of success on track. I’m proud of the career that I’ve put together and I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m proud of who I’ve become away from the track, even if I’m still growing more and more.” He then turns around facing her directly. “What if this year is the end of the road?”

“Are you ready to face that?” He shrugs his shoulders as he looks back towards the ground. “Dale, only you can know what you want in your heart. I can’t stand here and decide for you, nor would I force you to make a decision.”

“I’ve been thinking about it more and more, just wondering if it’s time. I want to put together the best season that I can coming up, but I can’t help but look beyond that. The more I think about it, the more I feel it may be time.” She reaches over, grabbing his hand with her own.

“It’s a tough decision for anybody to make, something that you’ll probably say you’re ready for one day and not ready for the next day. So you need to be sure before we finalize everything. For what it’s worth, there’s a life for you no matter which road you choose.” He smiles as he instantly pulls her close to him, letting her body clash against his.

“You don’t need to tell me twice. I have two beautiful little girls that fulfill every day of my life with joy, I am surrounded by a lot of great friends and family, and I have everything in order that you could ask for. But most of all, I have the most awesome, determined, beautiful, charming, kind woman in my corner, willing to do whatever it takes for me, just like I will do for her. I can’t tell you how much I love you.” She smiles back in return as she brings her lips right close to his.

“I can’t tell you how much I can’t wait to be Ms. Marie Earnhardt.” She then leans in, lightly kissing his lips, before taking her aggressively as he picks her up in his arms. “Can we just go get hitched tonight?”

“I don’t think all of our wedding guests would mind, would they?” She chuckles, shaking her head no, as he carries her inside. “I mean, it’d make their responsibilities and actions much shorter, and we could just head to the par-”

“Or better yet, we can skip the party and have one for two.” A smirk immediately forms on his lips as he kisses her once again.

“Is it wrong that I can’t keep my hands off of you?” She shakes her head no as she wraps her arms tightly around him.

“Is it wrong that I just want you to carry me upstairs and have your way?” The smirk on his face immediately widens.

“Why didn’t you say something sooner?” He then heads for the stairs, carrying her up them, before going into their room together. “Now this is bet-”

“We’re not making a bad decision and wrongfully escaping your feelings, are we? I mean, if you wanted to tal-”

“I don’t need to talk. Like you said, everything will fall in place for me when the time is right.” He then lays her back on the bed. “For now, I have a better plan…” He then crawls up on the bed on top of her.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 89: The Monster Mile

The following week went smoother than all expected, which was surprising given the past couple of weeks.

Despite his own apprehensions and anxiety fighting him at times, Chase followed through in taking the medicine for the ulcers and anxiety as requested, and it had begun working. The pain in his stomach began ease much more with each passing day, and there weren’t any panic episodes.

He also kept taking the steps that he was supposed to be in figuring out a solution to the overall problem, having another couple sessions with Eric. Those paid off as he was able to get some of the emotions he was burying away out, which helped in finding the calmness.

His mind was also able to find ease in what happened earlier in the week, with the panic, seeing why it happened, speaking of the emotions connected, and strategies to avoid the fear and feelings creating another situation.

Although her thoughts shifted to the forthcoming surgery at times, Alyssa had gone about making the phone calls necessary to look at her options, stressing that she just had this week and next to do so. So far, not much had changed and everything was still set to take place after Charlotte as scheduled.

She didn’t leave her much time to think or worry, though, as her focus was on that weekend. With the blowing the engine at Kentucky, it was do or be done in the next two weeks. So over the past week, she spent every given chance looking back over video of previous races at Dover, seeing what she could correct in mistakes the last time there, and any ways to improve. She also spent time talking with Kevin Meendering each day, wanting to making sure every base was covered.

As she walked into the garage area on Friday and took a deep breath, it was time to get down and focus.

“I’m sorry I’ve been a little distant this week,” she comments as her and Chase walk together. “I’m just so focused on this weekend. I know I got to make it happen, and I just want to win so badly.” He wraps an arm around her, pulling her close.

“It’s okay – I understand,” he replies, having repeated her same actions earlier in his own career. “Listen, just take a deep breath and relax. If it’s meant to be, everything will come together either this weekend or next. Just control what you can control. Do the best that you can – and it’ll fall into place if it’s meant to be. You can’t let yourself get caught up in the little details. It’ll drive you crazy – trust me.” She smiles, nodding her head accepting. She had heard about those times in the early stages of his Cup career, and remembered a couple trips over to the house to see him where he was frustrated beyond anything.

“I’m trying. I just….We came into these playoffs with so much momentum, all the wins and success. It’s been a dream season. I don’t want to throw it away in the span of three weeks. These guys deserve so much more with what they’ve had to endure.” Chase understood, as while the events were traumatic and drove them both insane, the team didn’t have it easy either. They had to deal with relief drivers, and everybody having their eyes on them wondering if Alyssa could actually get the job done.

“Just remember what I said. If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen…” They then reach the garage, and he gives her a quick kiss before watching as she goes over to Kevin for a final briefing before the practice session.

He lets out a sigh as he leans back against the wall, watching the fury of activity in the garage stall, though finds his eyes wandering to where the Cup cars were parked. He knew he wasn’t ready for that yet, and time needed to be spent focused on himself. But, he also couldn’t lie that he longed to be part of that garage area.

“Soon…” He tells himself, as he glances back into the stall, smiling as Alyssa blows him a quick kiss before climbing in for the first practice.

He then makes his way across the garage with the team, climbing the steps to the top of the hauler, taking his usual position. Continued glances over at the scoring monitor, eyes focused on the track, he watched as she rode the concrete oval with ease. He couldn’t help but smile at some of the lap times during the session, and it seemed that the car was smooth as ever.

Though as they got into the second half, he watched her slip down the scoring pylon and just shook his head. This wasn’t what they needed right now in finishing off the session sitting 23rd on the board. He hadn’t paid attention to Kevin’s plans for the session, but he could only hope that they were as low as they were due to not making a qualifying run.

He makes his way towards the steps to climb down, hearing his phone ring. He pulls it out of his pocket, rolling his eyes as he answered the call.

“Hello?” He says as he stops by the railing.

“Hey Chase,” Cindy replies on the other end. “How are you?” He could only roll his eyes, again.

“I’m fine, Mom. I told you that you didn’t need to call and check on me…” He also knew that request, as always, fell on deaf ears. No matter what he did, he would always be her baby.

“I care about you, and I was worried. You have to get that after what happened, right? Can’t I give you a call and check on you once in awhile?” He didn’t mind talking to her. It was just her timing could use some improvement right now.

“Of course, mom. But, can we talk later, please? I was just headed to the garage area.” He wanted to go see Alyssa, make sure that she was still feeling pretty good about things despite the slip-up on the chart.

“Fine, I was just worried. Will you call later?” He felt like rolling his eyes, but knew he couldn’t deny her.

“I promise. Talk to you later, and I love you. Bye Mama.”

“Love you, too, always. Bye Chase.” He hangs up, continuing his way down the stairs.

He makes his way back to the garage area, instantly surprised as he sees Alyssa standing in the stall joking with Kevin, laughter purely filling her face with ease. Crossing his arms, he couldn’t help but smile himself, glad that there was nothing to be concerned about.

He could only hope that Saturday went smoothly and as planned.

Moving Forward – Chapter 57: Christmas

“Mommy! Daddy!” Alyssa yells as she runs into the bedsroom, jumping on the bed. “Wake up! Wake up!” Dale slightly opens his eyes, glancing at the clock, letting out a yawn.

“What time is it?” Marie wonders, as she tries to bury herself back under the pillows.

“It’s actually 8,” Dale states, as she glances over surprised. “She did let us sleep in some…”

“It’s Christmas!” Alyssa lets out as she sits on the bed, looking between them. “Santa came. I looked. Can we open gifts, puhleeeease?” The pair of them chuckle as Dale sits up, wrapping his arms around her, and pulling him back against him.

“Don’t you wanna lay here with daddy and cuddle?” She shakes her head no, immediately, squirming out of his hands. “So you really think Santa brought you some good stuff?”

“I good girl, Daddy!” He chuckles, knowing that was certain, as he tosses the blanket off, slowly getting up.

“I’ll go get Elsa from her room. I expect to see you downstairs shortly?” Marie gives a thumbs up as another yawn escapes her lips. “I’ll send Alyssa back up to get you if you’re not…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Marie lets out as Dale and Alyssa leave the room to go get Elsa.

It wasn’t long before the family was gathered around the tree, opening the gifts left by Santa, and also the ones they got for each other. From clothes, to barbies, to even a couple more toy cars, it seemed that Alyssa had gotten a bit of everything. Elsa was spoiled too, with some more toys for her to play with, including a little car to ride around on.

“We’re spoiled, aren’t we?” Marie questions, as she watches Elsa climb on her new toy car, pushing her feet as she goes back up the hall again.

“I wouldn’t say spoiled,” Dale answers as he wraps an arm around her, glancing towards Alyssa who was playing with her cars in a mock race of her own on the carpet. “I’d say we’re blessed, and deservingly so. You especially deserve it after everything you went through.” She looks over at him, grabbing his hand and squeezing it.

“You went through just as much as me, if not more. I still can’t imagine what was going through your mind that day on the plane.” Dale looks back towards Alyssa, counting his blessings once again, before his eyes return to Marie.

“I was thinking how much I missed you, how I loved you so much, and even how maybe I took you for granted sometimes. I don’t think I’ll ever do that again.” He then kisses her lips. “But I also remember watching Alyssa, wondering if I could raise a little girl all by myself, scared out of my mind. I just wanted the best for her – that’s all I still want for her. I was thinking how she’d never get to know her amazing mother, and why I loved you, and all the things that you could teach her. I was a mess…”

“Hey, that’s understandable. I mean, I was a mess when I woke up and you had gone missing from the hospital. If it wasn’t for Stevie and Kelley, I would’ve gone insane.” Dale chuckles, sometimes still amazed at his sister’s strength.

“All that matters is that we have each other, and these beautiful little girls…” He then kisses her lips once more, before heading out to the kitchen to start on breakfast.

As he was getting set to get the eggs out of the fridge, he pauses, taking a deep breath, as he glances once more towards the living room. He couldn’t help but smile as he saw Marie sit on the floor, kicking off a conversation with Alyssa about her race. He also chuckled as Elsa went around the kitchen and back out towards the living room, making vroom noises the entire time.

“Never take a single moment for granted,” he reminds himself, focusing back on breakfast. If he needed any assurance that he was making the right decision for his future, he got it in that moment.

The rest of the morning went smoothly as they all ate together, followed by the kids continuing to play with their new gifts. Dale and Marie began to set focus on dinner for later on that day, knowing the house would be full in a matter of hours.

Caught up in dressing her new dolls, Alyssa felt like she was having the perfect time in her little kid world. But when she heard a familiar ring from her dad’s cell phone, it didn’t take her long to drop her toys.

“I got it!” She announces immediately, walking over to the table and answering the facetime request. “Chasey!!” Chase immediately smiles back in return as her face fills the screen. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas to you, too!” He replies back as Dale glances over, not surprised that he was messaging them. “Did you get lots of gifts?”

“Yes! I show you!!” She then carries the phone around the room, showing him everything that she got from Santa and her parents. “You get gifts?”

“Of course I did as I was a good boy, too. I also know that there’s a special gift you haven’t gotten yet.” Her eyes light up immediately. “Go look behind the cupboard in the dining room.” She sets the phone down, running there to look as she sees a pink box immediately. She grabs it, hurrying back with it as she sets it down on the ground. “You found it?”

“Can I open it, please?” He chuckles, nodding his head. He watches as she tears into the packaging, ripping through each layer as quick as she could, before reaching a box inside.

“Open that up…” She follows the instructions, immediately smiling as she pulls out the pink firesuit. She holds it up, looking it over, seeing the design that he had chosen, along with ‘Princess Alyssa’ along the belt line. She looks back in the box, seeing he had gotten a pair of pink skeleton gloves and racing shoes to match. “What do you think of that?” Chase knew she was almost too big for her current suit, and figured it was only fitting to spoil her for the next one.

“That’s awesome! It so pretty! Thank you Chasey!” He smiles back in return. “I have gift for you when you come home, okay?”

“Absolutely. I look forward to seeing it. Now, can I talk to your dad?”

“I go put on my new suit!” She then takes Dale the phone, handing it to him, before rushing back to the box to grab the suit.

Cabin Fears – Chapter 88: Kentucky Speedway

Saturday at Kentucky Speedway

Regan’s well-wishes for a good day started out on point as she was running up front through the early stages of the event, having made her way through the field.

Though with 50 laps to go, the smoke began to trail out behind the car, as a series of disappointed faces filled the pit box. Just like that, their day was over and just like that, she was in a hole in the standings. They knew she had to get a win in the next two races or else their championship dreams were officially vanished.

“You ran good at both Dover and Charlotte in the spring,” Chase reminds her. “You still got a great shot at doing this.” She smiles back in return, simply nodding her head.

“We just gotta do what we know how to do, right?” She asks and he couldn’t agree more. If anybody could win under pressure, it was this group right here as they’d done it before.

“The roval at Charlotte should fall right into your wheelhouse,” Kevin Meendering adds, referencing her success a couple months ago. “But either track should be perfect for a win.”

“I haven’t lost a drop of hope, yet…”

As she broke down the discussion with the team, followed by a series of interviews, Chase couldn’t help but wonder from a distance as he watched her. Had he thrown her game off with what happened? But of course, that couldn’t be blamed as it was a mechanical failure, not driver error.

His mind also filled with a flew of thoughts, thinking back to his conversation earlier with Regan, and the past couple of weeks, as he found himself balancing the positives and negatives.

“I’m sorry I rambled on earlier this morning,” he finally speaks, catching Regan’s attention.

“What? Those rambles about your fears and frustrations?” Regan questions and Chase simply nods his head in return. “Don’t be. I’d rather see you get that out of your system, see some answers, then let it eat at you. I’d had no issues handling that this morning.” Chase was glad that he found that trust in Regan, but often wondered about other people.

“I know it’s the anxiety bugging me more than anything, but I just worry about things like that. How will other people see it? Will I get that same acceptance when I get back? Am I truly who I think I am? I just found myself worrying and wondering and asking so many questions…” Regan wasn’t about to end the conversation, actually glad to see his friend continuing to open that door.

“It’s understandable as a lot of has gone on, and I can see why that’s happening. I can’t say that everybody is going to be the most positive like myself, Dale, Alyssa, and others. There will be some that want to tear you apart at the seams. But in the end, do their opinions matter? Absolutely not. All that matters is the confidence that you have in yourself, and the confidence those around you closest to you have.” Chase knew that, even though the questions lingered once in awhile.

“But how do I stop myself from worrying?” Regan wasn’t quite sure he knew the answer, to be honest.

“I think you just need to focus on the positives. Focus on what’s happening, yourself, what you’re doing, and not try to let your mind wander outside that world. I know part of that worry comes with the fear, wondering if something else is going to happen. The only way to overcome that is to face the world and convince yourself that’s not going to happen, and you’re doing that slowly. I mean, you’re standing out here in the garage in a sea of people. As you convince yourself, put that into practice, and continually remind yourself that it’s over – it’ll come.” Chase hoped that Regan was right, but knew there was still one piece of unfinished business.

“I also worry about completely blacking out, or going through that phase where I just do stuff and don’t remember. I don’t want to do that at the wrong time, but I often wonde-”

“Hey, that’ll come with everything that I just said. As you get more comfortable and retrain the brain so to speak so it doesn’t go hide, it’ll come to be where you’re comfortable. I mean, we’ve been out here all day yesterday and today and nothing has happened, not even a flinch from you despite all the chaos. That’s progress, right?” Chase nods his head, but wasn’t about to say he was home free.

“But I’ve also been having someone look over my shoulder every single minute.” Regan knew the feeling of being ‘babysat’ didn’t quite sit well all the time with Chase. Here, a grown adult, was having to be watched by someone 24/7. It just didn’t seem right when you thought about it in that way.

“But you haven’t had to turn to that person to bail you out, or help you. Besides, what’s wrong in having a friend there to look over your back all the time?” Chase knew nothing was wrong with that, except that missing adulthood independence feeling.

“But you could’ve been hom-”

“I would’ve been here anyway. I just would’ve been watching like a normal fan, rather than down here in the midst of the Alyssa circus.” Chase chuckles, remembering they nicknamed the sea of reporters and photographers that just seemed to follow her around for whatever reasons due to being a princess.

“You know I really appreciate having you as a friend, right?” Regan smiles.

“You’ve told me a time or two, and that feeling is mutual.”

Moving Forward – Chapter 56: “I have something to tell you.”

Despite concerns surrounding whether Marie would get home in time, she ultimately made it home two days before Christmas. Dale was beyond thankful and glad for that as he didn’t know what he’d do if she wasn’t there for the holidays. She was also a great help wrapping presents.

There on Christmas eve, cookies and milk in hand, the pair sat by the tree wrapping the final gifts as they got them all set around. Dale’s eyes kept landing on her, a smile coming to his face, as a mix of thoughts flew through the mind.

He couldn’t wait to get married. He couldn’t get wait to spend the rest of their life together. He couldn’t wait for Christmas morning. He couldn’t wait to watch her daughters grow. He couldn’t wait for the travels that they’d get into together down the road.

He also had the thoughts of whether he was doing the right thing – wait no, he knew he was doing the right thing. But how was he supposed to tell her? Would she understand? When was the right time? How would she react?

“I have something to tell you,” he blurts out, before realizing it, as his hand comes up and lands on his mouth. He silently cursed himself as her eyes met his.

“I’m all ears,” she comments, curious as to what he had to say. She wondered if it dealt with their Christmas plans tomorrow – maybe they were going to have an unexpected guest, or maybe he forgot a gift. She also worried that it surrounded their wedding. What if some plan fell apart while she was away?

“With everything that has happened on track and away, I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. I’ve been pondering my career, whether I want to do this, and my future. What do I want from the rest of my life? Am I satisfied with what I’ve done so far? Where do I see myself five, 10 years from now? How do I see my family growing?” He was surprised how quickly and easily the words were coming to home as it just seemed to be pouring out of him. Maybe Chase was smarter with his advice than he thought. “I’m going to retire from racing at the end of this season.”

“Seriously? Are you sure absolutely certain about your decision?” Dale nods his head as he keeps his eyes on her, waiting to see what her response would be. “Is this driven by what happened? Are you scared of a reoccurance?” Dale shakes his head no, remembering the doctor’s words. “I don’t know what to say…..”

“The past two years, we’ve been through so much. I can’t even put into words everything that happened. From dealing with Mariela and what happened, to the wreck – it’s given me a new perspective. I’ve done this a long time, and I still love every minute, but I want to be there for my family. I want to raise my little girls. I want to have those special moments with you. I want to make it worthwhile.” She then puts down the gift that she was wrapping, moving closer to him, grabbing her hand with hers. She still wasn’t sure if she was ready to accept this yet.

“We can have everything and make it worthwhile even if you did continue racing, though.  We’ve proven that we can balance it all….” Dale nodded his head, actually surprised how things came together as the year went on. It was insane at times, but they certainly knew how to make it work.

“I know. But I’ve done this now, at the Cup level alone, 17 years. Beyond that, I ran XFINITY two years, and Late Models. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’m ready for a change. I’m ready to take a new role with the ownership. I’m ready to have my summers and weekends to do things with you and the girls. I’m ready to be there for Alyssa more as she goes to school. I’m ready for the change, because frankly, I don’t want to miss these moments.” Marie smiles as she keeps hold of his hand, focusing her eyes to the ground as she feels them cloud over with liquid. How was she going to hold it together?

“If you’re confident and ready, then I fully support you and believe in your decision.” She finally allows herself to look up into his eyes, letting him see the tears. “I just don’t know if I’m ready for you to retire myself.” Dale was willing to accept that reaction as he was glad she wasn’t fighting him on it. He also understood the emotions, knowing she wouldn’t be the only one.

“I get it, and I understand. I’m ready for the tears, people telling me that I shouldn’t, and hopefully by year-end, everybody is on the same page.” She then lays her head against his shoulder.

“So you won’t be upset if I’m in a ball of tears at Homestead?” He laughs and shakes his head.

“I may be joining you in those tears – happy and sad mixed together, but teary.” She smiles, as she gives him a kiss.

“Now, how do you plan to tell everyone this big news?” He lets out a sigh as he looks back down at the gift he was wrapping. So far, he had been taking one step at a time, seeing how it went.

“Kelley and my mom are going to find out sometime between now and January. Rick is going to find out in February, and the world will learn the truth shortly after that.” She nods her head, accepting, knowing that’d give her time to come to grips with her own emotions. “Chase knows alrea-”

“So you told somebody before me?” Perhaps he shouldn’t have told her that minor detail.

“Chase caught me thinking about it one day a couple weeks ago, so he knew it was on the mind. When I was almost certain, I called him over to talk over the final details. I didn’t mean for the secret to just out there before you wanted.” She wanted to be upset and mad, but taking a deep breath, she couldn’t be neither. She understood toying with emotions, and was glad that he had taken the step of talking to someone.

“What was his reaction?” Dale shrugs his shoulders. Like Chase in a normal sense, he was cool as a cucumber. What more could he say?

“He didn’t really have much to say, except belief that this year was going to be a great season with lots of checkered flags so we sent off things on the right note.” Marie smiles as she was hoping for the same thing, wanting to put the second half of last year away as far as possible.

“I hope he’s right, because we need it…” Dale nods his head, in agreement, as he looks back down at the package.

“Now, right now, we need to finish wrapping.” She then lets out a sigh as she goes back to her spot on the floor, grabbing the roll of paper.

“For next year, can we just get this stuff store wrapped please?” Dale then chuckles as he grabs a piece of paper, sticking it to her back with a piece of tape.

“I couldn’t do that if you got it store wrapped, or this.” He grabs a bow, taking the covering off the sticky piece, and sticking it on her head. “For the record, you’re the only Christmas present that I need….”

“Careful with your words, or this package may not get wrapped.” He then chuckles as he snatches the wrapping paper away from her, pinning her down on the ground with a kiss on her lips.

“Do I look too concerned right now?” He then begins to slowly undo the buttons on his pajama top – which nicely matched hers and the kids – but she places her hand on top of his, bringing it up above his head.

“You’re ruining half of my fun…” He then looks at her cautiously, wondering what she was meaning in her words. Did she really want to wrap presents instead of this?

“How’s that?” He hoped he didn’t regret testing the waters after.

“Because I want to help you undress…” She then kisses his lips lightly as a devious grin immediately forms.

“I don’t have one problem with that…” She then stands up, holding her hand out and making him stand out with her. “What?”

“Well, we better take this to a private area. I wouldn’t want the kids finding us by accident, or maybe even Mr. Claus himself…” She then tugs on his hand, leading him down the hall into the office, shutting the door immediately behind them. She then immediately pins him against the edge of the desk, lips clashing with his, hands finding their way underneath the clothes. “Merry Christmas to me…”

Cabin Fears – Chapter 87: “Did I hit a nerve or something?”

Friday at Kentucky Speedway

With Alyssa on track for the second practice of the day, Chase retreated back to his familiar perch on top of the hauler, fingers crossed it went smoother. Ultimately, that wish didn’t come true as smoke came out the back of the No. 88 Chevrolet as she went to go in the corner on her second run.

“Son of a bitch!” He lets out as he climbs back down the steps, knowing what that meant. Blown motor equals end of practice for the day due to having to change it, and starting at the rear on Saturday with a car that was handling worse than ever. Certainly going as planned…

“Aren’t you supposed to be relaxing?” Chase hears and immediately rolls his eyes without a glance towards Jeff.

“Is everybody going to ask me that every single hour today?” He responds back, the combined annoyance of the question and Alyssa’s issues obviously nagging at him.

“It’s because we care, Chase…” Chase stopped, took a deep breath, knowing that Jeff was right. So maybe he could give him the benefit of the doubt.

“Well, like I’ve told everybody else, I’m alright. I’m taking it easy, just out here supporting Alyssa, but following all orders that I was told. I don’t need everybody turning into my babysitter.” Jeff nods his head, accepting, as he places a hand on Chase’s shoulder.

“I get it, and you’re right. But just remember…” Chase nods his head, accepting, only so that way Jeff would carry on his own marry well.

Chase makes his way into the garage stall, waiting patiently as he watches Alyssa interact with the team.

“Did the car feel better that run?” Kevin Meendering asks and Alyssa rolls her eyes.

“Before the motor blew? Yeah, it did as I think we found the handle a bit better,” she answers. “I mean, I did pop up to fourth on the speed chart, right? But hey, I guess that doesn’t matte-”

“It gives us somewhere to start from going into tomorrow. Now, if we can start there and are at least close on the set-up, you can gain some ground and put it in the top 10. That’s all we need here. Solid consistency will get us to round two.” She lets out a sigh as she leans back against the car.

“So why does it feel like I’m climbing a freaking mountain? Nothing has gone right, Kevin. What makes you so sure about tomorrow?” Kevin then spins around, eyes focused straight on her.

“Because I believe in my team, I believe in my driver, and I damn well know that we can win this championship. Now, are you in or are you out?” She then looks at him, eyes turning a dark navy blue laced with determination.

“I wouldn’t be here if I was out, Kevin. I wouldn’t schedule an important surgery around my racing career if I didn’t believe what was possible. That said, we better bring our A-game tomorrow.” She then puts her sunglasses on, walking out of the stall. Chase could only let out a sigh as he goes to follow, not saying a single word, just there for support for when she finally said something.

“Did I hit a nerve or something?” Dale nods his head as he watches Alyssa and Chase walk off together.

“Never question her determination, desire, or drive,” he starts, glancing back to the crew chief. He knew exactly what she was going through from his own experience as she was like him more and more each day. She hated to have someone question her desires; she hated to be surrounded by people with doubt. Confidence was everything to her, and sometimes determined just how far she would go. She needed that positive energy, even if the world was imploding, to get to that next step. “Just be positive and a cheerleader, no matter how she gets. She’ll be fine tomorrow.”

Dale then follows suit, knowing that he wanted to go give her a boost of confidence – if Chase hadn’t done that already. He also pulls out his phone, sending a quick text message to Steve LeTarte. Stevie had always been good at knowing what to say and boosting him up. Now maybe he could translate that to his daughter.

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

Saturday – Kentucky Speedway

After a quiet night filled with simply watching movies and playing video games as a distraction, it was time for a new day – race day. All that mattered today was getting something good out of what had been a disastrous past couple of days.

Alyssa had woken up early, sneaking out to meet up with the team. She immediately apologized to Kevin for her attitude, which he accepted with an apology of his own. He also followed the advice of her father with some quick works of encouragement, with the pair set to do what they could that day.

As they headed out for qualifying, their goal was simple – use it as a test session to shake down the car, and see where they stood on set-up, but not go beyond the limits since they were starting last anyway.

Chase had slept in a little late, with Regan taking the role of hanging out with his friend for the day. Regan didn’t have any obligations, having finished what he needed to do on Friday. Thankfully, he turned a long Thursday night into a solid Friday with a third-place finish in the truck race.

Now he was ready to focus and help his friend….

“I can’t do this,” Chase’s words catch his attention away from the television screen as he looks towards the small kitchen table where Chase stood.

“Can’t do what?” Regan wonders, watching him closely. After hearing positive things from Friday, he was shocked by the words.

“This, all of this…. It isn’t me.” Regan felt a wash of confusion, but his eyes didn’t leave Chase. Was he talking about the situation? Was he talking about needing someone? Was he talking about the pain? Or was he talking about the white capsules in his hand?

“What? Struggling to find answers? Lacking that perfection? People run into issues-”

“No – these pills.” Chase holds up the small white pill, which Regan knew was for the anxiety. “Anxiety pill, sleeping pill. It’s not me. How did we get to the point where I need these to get through every day?” Regan takes a deep breath, not expecting to turn into consult this early in the day.

“By a series of traumatic events that are out of your control.” Regan then stands up, walking over to where he stood, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Chase, like everybody has said, everything is okay. We get why you would struggle. We get the emotional breakdown. And like Eric said, this is just temporary till we find the right strategies that will work for you.” Chase had heard those words over and over since July, but yet seemed to be further away from the point he wanted to be at now more than ever.

“Do you think we will ever find them?” Regan had grown used to the uncertainty, knowing it was the anxiety playing tricks on his mind, as well as lacking what he desired the most right now.

“Absolutely. I haven’t changed my viewpoint since day one.” Chase knew that, and appreciated the confidence from Regan. However, he also began to wonder some, though.

“What if I don’t?” Regan didn’t want to process that thought as he wanted his best friend back, totally.

“Let’s not think about tha-“

“But what if?” Regan takes a deep breath, knowing he couldn’t escape the question.

“So you have a case of anxiety, so you have a case of the nightmares – do you realize how many people deal with that? There are some that you don’t even hear about. Don’t even dare look down on yourself one bit because you have to take that pill or that pill. Don’t ever think it’s a bad thing if that you have to do. It’s understandable. The important factor is that you – you know who you are, your desires, your wants, and you’re striving for that. We haven’t lost you in the midst of this, despite thes-”

“Sometimes I wonder….” Regan shakes his head, keeping his hand firmly placed on Chase’s shoulder.

“Trust me – I would know if we were losing that, and so would Alyssa. I also know that you’re taking the right steps, doing the right things – and you will find your way through this. It will take time, it will be tough, but you’ll find your way. Sure, we’ve hit two steps backwards lately – but damn, look at the progress since then. It’s coming together…..” Chase nods his head, remembering some of the steps that he had taken, from various conversations to confessions. It had to mean something, right?

“I hope you’re right….” Chase then puts the pills in his mouth, followed by a big swig of water to wash them down. “For now, though, we have a princess to focus on….”

“I think it’s going to be a good day…” Chase crossed his fingers, hoping that Regan was right, as they both settled in to watch the remainder of the qualifying session.