Chase walks out to the back balcony, taking a deep breath, as he glances out into the backyard.
With everything that he’d been through, he knew there wasn’t a day that went by where he was just thankful to be standing there. Sure, there were tough times with emotions and trying to sort through everything in his mind, but he knew he had to be blessed to simply get a chance to keep trying.
He also knew that things could’ve been much worse. He could’ve been unable to walk, move freely, do things all by himself. He also possibly could’ve been facing the same physical challenges that Alyssa was facing, and yet making look so easy all the same. But yet, all limbs were working in proper order having avoided the talked about effects that could’ve lingered.
As he closes his eyes, he immediately drifts back to just a couple months ago, that fateful day in the Hendrick Motorsports parking lot. How did he know a normal office day would inherently flip his life upside down and leave him still struggling with how to cope moving forward? It was unbelievable how much the simple words written on a page could affect you mentally, and transcend you into a journey that almost felt surreal at times – but he knew it was real.
He could still feel those emotions of worry, heartbreak, panic. Taking a deep breath, he was almost brought back to that feeling once again as he thought it over, gripping the banister more with his fingers. Taking a deep breath, he quietly reminds himself that is in the past, everything worked out, and he doesn’t need to worry no more as Alyssa turned out fine.
Looking out to the yard, his mind wanted to focus on how nice of an evening it was, the peacefulness of the sunset over the clouds, and the colors that seamlessly lit up the sky – but that wasn’t on the cards.
Reclosing his eyes, he remembered sitting in the Hendrick Motorsports shop about a half hour after finding that very same piece of paper. The conference room was set to be a place of trading ideas, focusing on performance, continuing to improve. Though admittedly, since that day, it also held the reminder of that same fear once again.
He remembered the panic in his own mind, but also the panic and worry written on the faces of her parents. It was one thing for him to hear the news, but he knew that’d never equal the worry that parents felt at the thought of their baby going missing or being hurt.
Taking a shaky deep breath, he remembered the guilt that entered his mind at the time, too, fearing that Demi was behind everything as she had just finished her sentence. Almost laughing to himself, how could he had known at the time that she would’ve been the catalyst to beginning to find the truth? He never did say thank you, but that wasn’t deserved considering what she had done previously, either.
His clammy hands once again, finding the banister, he remembered the blame that he placed on his shoulders – feeling if he had of been there, things would’ve been different. Why hadn’t he been the protective boyfriend? Why wasn’t he always looking over her shoulder in knowing what was possible? Gripping even more, he remembered how he completely broke down in the room that day, tears streaming down his face, body giving in, unable to move and open to the first bit of comfort offered – thanks to Jeff, that day.
“Breathe,” he reminds himself as he slowly opens his eyes, releasing the grip he held on the piece of wood. He had to remember what he had learned since then – you can’t stop everything, you can’t live a sheltered life, and sometimes there’s crap that happens out of your control.
He could do everything that he needed to do in trying to protect her – but that never would seem right as having someone control and watch over your every move is not living. It’s why you were forced to take chances, and just hope it worked out in the end. Reminding himself of her smile, how she was moving forward, it was certainly working out bit by bit.
It was the same way running out of gas in the middle of nowhere brought fear to your mind, and being approached in the dark by a figure you didn’t recognize could drive your fear up a wall. However, that worked out as it gave him a chance to question Demi and truly see where she was coming from. It didn’t offer re-assurance at the time as there was no way he could believe what she was saying, but it was an attempt at least.
There were also those pesky packages. It was truly a game that he didn’t want to play, but in a way, he thanked Randy for those now. They were at least reminders and assurances that Alyssa was okay, still hanging on – allowing him to have some sort of hope to cling onto.
Closing his eyes, he could still picture Kevin Meendering walking up the driveway to the porch where he and Dale sat, dropping a brown square box between the pair that had shown up at JR Motorsports over night. He remembered the words being spoken around him being a blur as his eyes and motions focused solely on the box, ripping it apart, in hopes of any sign.
His fingers once again clang the banister even more as everything played in his head like a movie – remembering the one photo that was now stored forever in his mind of a bulky man dragging her across the floor. He remembered how vulnerable she looked, how in control he looked, and how the mind field just opened up in that moment.
He had been in Randy’s finger tips before. He knew how manipulative he could be. He also knew how forceful he could be. He also knew the man’s strength, thanks to some bouts between them. in an instant, his mind had flipped, danger alarms going off as he knew there was no way his precious girl could withstand what Randy was set to throw her way.
“You don’t control me….” He repeats out loud to himself, shifting through the series of emotions that always lingered with the simple mention of that man’s name. How could he let someone play him like that, over and over? How could he let that man tear into every weakness that he had? How could he play the roulette games? “You may have won at times, but I won the war. You’re dead now and you can’t hurt me….”
Forcefully opening his eyes and letting go of the banister, he tries to focus on the beautiful sunset once again. It was almost completely over, but it was something to take his mind off of what he was thinking. Taking a series of deep breaths, he tried to bring himself back to focus on reality and not on the past, knowing that he couldn’t travel those emotions anymore.
How could you move forward if you could only think about giving control of yourself to a stranger?
“Chase?” He hears, causing him to freeze instantly as he glances back at the sliding door. He smiles as he sees the familiar blue eyes, smile, and brown hair that he had come to adore and love over the years. “I was looking for you….” She walks out on to the porch, sliding the door shut behind her as she joins him by the balcony. “Are you okay?” He simply nods his head.
“I was just enjoying the sunset,” he lies, not wanting to fill her in on the flood of emotions that he was currently going through. That would just bring another discussion, which he wasn’t open to having right now – even if he knew he should based on last night’s conversation.
“It is beautiful….” He then wraps an arm around her, trying to black out every thought that had just flooded through his mind. “We should go to the beach one night. I heard they’re even more stunning as they reflect off the water and you lay in the sand.”
“Just name the day and I’ll be there…” She smiles as she lays her head on his shoulder.
“Now, are you going to tell me the truth?” He then turns suddenly, causing her head to come off her shoulder in an instant. “I saw your little panic, and talking to yourself. I saw how you were in your own little world. Chase, you can’t tell me you just came out here to look at the sky.”
“It is beautifu-”
“Chase…..” He takes a deep breath, knowing he couldn’t lie to her no matter how much he tried.
“I’m working on trying. I’m working on pushing myself. I was having some thoughts of what we went through this summer together so I came out here to reflect.” She then looks at him, surprised. This was supposed to be comforting….
“All by yourself?” He nods his head.
“I’m a big boy….” She knew that, and wanted to give him space, but she also had reservations.
“And what if your emotions got to be too much for you? What if you went into a panic? What if you did something stupid? There’s a reason why they say you should have a friend at these times.” He lets out a sigh, knowing that she was right, no matter how he tried to avoid that. Maybe it would’ve caused him to not attempt to rip the balcony apart. “Chase, talk to me, please….”
“Are you sure you’re ready to hear the darkest thoughts that I had?” Alyssa felt a lump form in her throat, but immediately it made it disappear. She knew how badly he needed to do this, and a door of opportunity wasn’t allowed to be shut.
“Absolutely. I’ve faced what I felt in what happened and I know how to deal with it – besides what I told you last night. I’m ready for this, always. I told you – I’m here for you to help you finish that climb…” He nods his head, remembering that discussion clearly.
“I was just thinking back to the first package that we received from Randy and his helper. I remembered the photos, and the note. There’s one image that I can’t ever erase from my mind, either – him dragging you across the floor, obviously taking you to where he was going to hold you. It reminded me of everything – how he manipulated me, hurt me, controlled me – and I just felt my heart tear into two realizing you were going through that. I felt the worst of fear in knowing how strong he was and wonde-”
“There’s no denying how strong he was – I won’t let you go on that thought. But trust me, you had nothing to worry overboard about. I kept wits about me and worked through seeing every step of the game that he wanted to play. I kept asking the questions, saving the strength for those moments, and knowing that in a game of survival, I had to do what I had to do.” He smiles, wishing he had the same confidence she empowered when he first crossed paths with Randy.
“You certainly did quite the job, too. I remember that….” She smiles as she nods her head.
“What else is there, Chase?” Chase takes a deep breath, as he glances out into the distance once again, letting himself transcend back to that world.
“The second package showed up at the airport by my car. I had gone on a flying exercise, thinking I could cover more ground and find you that way. We got back and there was the package. I was so angry beyond belief at that point. How could someone drop a package in a public place and not get caught? How could they know exactly how to do this? Why was the officer I was with being such a ditz? I actually told him I was going to get his ass fired that day for being such an asshole.” Alyssa then looks over, surprised.
“Seriously?” He nods his head, remembering his words to Dale.
“He went from asking me questions he shouldn’t while flying, to not seeing the package drop off. I told him he was a complete failure at his job and I wanted his boss’ number right away.” Alyssa couldn’t help but be surprised.
“Did you actually follow through with that threat?” Chase glances over, with a smile. “Didn’t think so….”
“Reality sunk in that maybe I was just over paranoid and worried and taking it out on him so I got him transferred off of being my security guard so I didn’t have to deal with him, at least.” Alyssa nods her head, figuring that was a decent compromise.
“I remember Randy discussing those packages and how he wanted them to be pictured a certain way, delivered a certain way, and a certain perception. He was so particular on the shots that he wanted and how he wanted them to be angled with me in certain locations and poses. He kept telling her to take a lot, and this angle then, and package them this way. He was driven by the obsession over that…” Chase nods his head, knowing that’d be right up Randy’s alley. It was how he played the game.
“Mind games. That’s half the battle with him, and I’ll be damned but it worked. I remember that second package clearly…” Chase closes his eyes as he glances down, gripping the banister once again.
“Chase?” Alyssa places her hands on top of his, rubbing them slightly, as she tries to see where his mind was going.
“I remember those images….those thoughts….the fear….” He feels tears coming to his eyes, stinging him, as he fights against letting them go. “I remember what I thought I saw, and what I asked Dale. I just…can’t…..there’s no way to get that image out of my head…”
“Whatever it was that he made you picture, it didn’t happen Chase. He just held me there in bounds, giving me some water here and there, waiting for the right time to contact you…” Chase knew that now having discussed the events that took place. However, that didn’t take away from the feeling in the moment.
“I know….” He then takes a shaky deep breath, as a tear trickles down his face. “But that moment, seeing that photo of you bound that way to the table, his hand rubbing your cheek….” The tears begin to trickle down as he tries to take another deep breath. “I was so scared and afraid and wondering what could’ve been going on. I pictured so many things, and the one thing I wish I could never picture again….” Alyssa could fill in the blanks without words, as she kept her hands firmly placed on top of his.
“It’s the same as when we woke up in the hospital, and I thought Kasandra had raped you because of the screams and the lights. Chase, I get it. I understand those emotions, and it’s okay, you couldn’t have known. But please, please know, that none of that happened – I swear. I would’ve told you immediately.” He takes a couple deep breathes as he reaches up to wipe a couple stray tears away.
“I know….” He then looks over at her. “It’s just, I love you so much and I never want to ever see you get hurt. It’s one thing to be hurt, but it’s another to be violated, mistrusted, misused, and have something like that happen. The thought just sickens me…”
“I know – it made me sick to my stomach, too. But remember – it didn’t happen, right?” He nods his head. “So let’s just try and erase that image, thought out of our minds and be thankful that we got away with what we did.” He nods his head as he leans in, lightly kissing her lips. “I love you, Chase.”
“I love you, too. I’ve always loved you.” He then pulls her close, as he lets out a sigh.
Taking a deep breath, clutching onto her tighter, he knew no matter what he did, the image would probably never ever leave his mind. It was why he held on to her tighter at night, and why he found himself watching over her shoulder at times.
Sometimes, he wished he could just wipe his memory clean…