Moving Forward – Chapter 49: Second Thoughts

Dale made his way into the shop, taking a glance over the cars. It wasn’t something he did usually, but he needed space to think.

In just a couple of days, he was going to be back behind the wheel of a racecar, making laps at full speed around one of the toughest tracks on the circuit. Was he truly ready for this?

On a physical side, there was no questioning it. Through the process, he had kept his conditioning up within the standards they should be to handle the demands of the job. He had to admit – he couldn’t go back to his unhealthy ways of those yester-years as it felt good to be fit.

On a mental side, it was a whole other question. The exercises had been going flawlessly as he was able to complete everything. He also completed Mickey’s tests within the range of numbers expected. Mickey had also given his full go-ahead based on his examination.

Now, it was all about confidence and believing in himself.

Admittedly, that had been a challenge through the years as he had struggled with making sure to do that as expected. He was always the first to get down on himself when things weren’t going his way and that always bred more issues as things wouldn’t be on point.

Through conversations with others, like those with Chase and Marie recently, he questioned whether he had the confidence in himself based on his answers. That came across in his words to Chase, but for Marie, he wondered. From the not knowing if he was ready until that moment, to questioning the steps – maybe it was because she was worried and understandably so.

He knew if he wanted, he could simply take the easy road and not return. He had other projects on the go, and a pair of lovely daughters to raise. What if it was time now? What if it wasn’t meant to be time in a year, or down the road?

But he knew why he needed to do this – there was unfinished business. Admittedly, despite the success, he had a couple other things he wanted to complete on the wish list before finally walking away.

Running his hand over the car that he knew the team was loading for Darlington in the coming days, he felt the confidence coming back in the desire to chase those goals.  He felt that need for adrenaline, and the fuel for the fire. Why had he been so worried this past month?

Glancing in the car, he knew as soon as he slipped in that seat it would be home again. Each bit of the padding would fit the curves of his body, and he’d be snuggly tight and set for destiny. There was also that grip on the steering wheel that nothing else could replace, or the smile that your face had when you missed a big wreck or saved a car that was outta control. Sliding sideways, riding the top, and having fun was the name of the game.

Leaning his head on the roof, he smiled. Darlington could come anytime now as he was ready. It was time to make a comeback, and do everybody proud.

“Well well, I didn’t expect to see you here,” Dale hears, glancing up with a smile as the boss walks down the stairs. “I thought you’d be off planning your wedding…” Dale chuckles, knowing everybody was talking about what was to come in December.

“Actually, Marie and I are just about done all the planning,” Dale offers, causing Rick to look at him surprised.

“Really?  Because with ladies, they never seem satisfied with the perfect details until the day of.” Dale had heard that from plenty of people, but he also remembered the jokes with Marie about what was left to do. “Considering you’re not doing any work and the fact Jordan (Allen) isn’t around, what are you doing here?”

“Thinking…” Dale knew he couldn’t lie to the boss. Rick was as close to him as anybody else in his life.

“About the test? If you’re not ready, we can call it of-”

“Oh no, not at all. Actually, stopping by today, I think I’m ready more than ever. It allowed me to get my thoughts in order.” Rick nodded his head, but kept his eyes locked on the man before him. He wasn’t afraid to admit that he was nervous for the future.

“That’s great as I’m happy for you – as long as you’re happy. It’s amazing watching how you have everything together. Two beautiful young daughters, a fiancé who loves you dearly, and the fact you’re getting to do what you love again. You’ve grown up to be an amazing man.” Dale smiles, feeling pride in those words as Rick’s approval always meant a lot to him.

“Thank you, si-”

“What have I said about that?” Dale lets out a sigh, remembering the conversation. “And I do hope your wedding day goes off without a hitch. Both you and Marie and deserve that after everything.” Dale nods his head, easily accepting that.

“I just want to make Marie happy. I mean, she’s been through a lot and I don’t want to see her heartbroken or upset, again.”

“You both have been through a lot, Dale, along with Chase. All three of you went through hell at the hands of Mariella and Randy – none of which any of you deserved. I want to see all three of you happy, moving on with your lives, enjoying every minute, and putting all that pain behind you. There’s no way you can ever forget what happened or how it felt. But if you can move forward each day with that much more happiness, it makes the pain worthwhile. In a way, the pain makes you appreciate what you have even more when it’s good. Don’t let go of that…” Dale nods his head, accepting the advice easily. He understood where Rick was coming from.

“You have my word, trust me.” Dale takes a deep breath as he glances across the garage area. “And you’re right about Chase, too, as he deserves it as much as everybody here. I mean, he never should’ve been apar-”

“None of you should’ve been invol-”

“It was just between Marie, myself, and her family, though. Chase wasn’t even connected to that. He just got wrapped up in it because he was replacing me that day and boom – he got the worse out of us all. I mean, Randy should’ve came and saw me – not him.” Rick walks over, placing a hand on Dale’s shoulder.

“You can’t keep blaming yourself and let it eat at you. It’s not your fault at all that Chase got tied up in this. It’s not your fault any of this happened. And damn, it’s not your fault that man created a crazy obsession.  You need to let it go…” Dale nods his head, knowing that the boss was right. However, the odd time, it was harder than he could describe.

“I just want the best for him so he doesn’t ever have to live through that pain, again. I mean, the odd nightmare – he shouldn’t be dealing with that. I just wish I could take that pain, put it in a ball and throw it away.” Rick couldn’t help but agree.

“We all do, Dale. But trust me – Chase has the world ahead of him. He’ll find that happiness he needs in life. He’ll be successful as a racecar driver, and he’ll find a special someone, too. I don’t think you have a thing to worry about. You just need to focus on you, finding that inner peace for you, and letting this go.” Dale knew that Rick was right as he let out a sigh.

“I’m trying, man….” Rick nodded as he gave Dale a pat on the shoulder.

“You’ll figure it out – and you know, my office door is always open.” Dale nodded his head, remembering the rule applied no matter what. “I’ll see you later. Remember what I said.”

“Yes, Mr. H.” Rick then walked away as Dale glanced back down at the car, letting his mind process everything through, and figure out the next plan of attack.

Where would he go from here?

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Cabin Fears – Chapter 38: Hendrick Motorsports

Chase Elliott takes a deep breath, before he walks down the long familiar walkway that he’d grown used to in the big complex. Each area was sectioned off in a certain way  with executives one way, accounting another,  marketing in their corner, followed by drivers and crew chiefs with their own office area.

While normally a Monday morning consisted of heading to his own office, followed by meeting up with Alan somewhere, he instead had another spot to head to.

Since the discussion with Regan and Tony over the weekend, he had been doing some thinking as to what he wanted to do in the following days. He had sent a text message to Jeff with his initial thoughts on Sunday while they were fresh on his mind, with the promise to stop-in Monday to discuss further as needed.

The decision he came to wasn’t easy, as he fought the back and forth argument Tony had discussed. When do the needs for yourself and your brain outweigh your heart and desires to be behind the wheel? How do you balance that all together, knowing everything else filling your thoughts?

It was worth noting as he walked down the hall the last time he stepped in these halls was when he followed Jeff to the conference room, the note he found secured firmly in his fingers. That was not a thought lost on him, either.

Stopping as he reached the end of the hall, he knocks on the door, taking another deep breath. This didn’t seem so difficult last night when he sent the message, but he couldn’t help but be nervous. What if everybody wasn’t as accepting as he hoped?

“Come on in,” he hears, opening the door and walking inside. It was still surreal to think one of the drivers that he looked up to, and a partial initial coach for his move up to Cup, was now his day-to-day boss. “Hey Chase.”

“Hey,” was all Chase could muster with the nerves flowing through his mind as he walked up to the desk. He slowly sits down in the chair, not sure what he was preparing himself for. “Did you get my text last night?”

“Yeah, I read it this morning.” Chase shakes his head, knowing that by the quick response Jeff sent in when he’d be available to talk within his schedule.

“I didn’t mean to send it so late last night, or tell you that way. It’s just everything was on my mind, and I figured I’d get it out while I could.” Jeff shakes his head, understanding.

“Chase, you don’t need to explain things to me. I was there when Tony, Regan and your dad discussed things. I heard what was going on. I was also at the hospital for that week, too. I’ve known about the whole situation since the beginning. Do you remember what I told you at the very beginning in the conference room?” Chase shakes his head yes, remembering those words.

“Focus on yourself and Alyssa, and don’t worry about anything else right now as that’s priority.” Jeff knew the reaction from Marshall wasn’t pleasant – the guy thought of the business side too much, but it didn’t matter to him. He knew he was doing the right thing for his friend, and knew Rick would easily side with him.

“That’s still priority. You’ve won us championships and races. You’ll always damn well have a ride with this team no matter what, whether it takes a couple months or the rest of the year. I don’t care. I will work it out some way or another, whether it’s Jimmie in the car or Leo filling in. You don’t need to come and explain yourself to me, Chase. I get it.” Chase felt all the nerves escape him in a minute, glad that he wasn’t getting the lecture he had originally anticipated.

“Are you sure?” Jeff shakes his head yes, knowing he couldn’t convince himself otherwise. “Like I said, I think it’ll be a couple months based on everything I’m thinking and feeling. However, it may be the rest of the year. I’ll probably give you a better update in October.” Jeff didn’t care about the exact deadlines.

“You don’t have to feel the need to update me and inform me. Just do what you need to do for yourself and when you’re ready, even if it’s just a week before, let me know. We will make it work regardless.” Chase smiled as it helped to have understanding amongst the mess. “I’ll handle talking to Marshall and working things out; you just focus on yourself. However, since you’re here, someone stopped in for the day and requested that you go see him.”

“Rick?” Jeff shakes his head yes. With Jeff on his side, he wasn’t too worried about that discussion. “That’s fine. I can deal.”

“Good. Now, if you have nothing else to say, I better go see Marshall before he goes insane.” Chase chuckles a little as he stands up.

“I’ll go see Rick, and then check in with the guys.”

“Sounds good.” Jeff then walks around, giving Chase a hug. “I meant what I said and Chase, it’ll be okay – just like I told you.”

“I’ve got my girl, that’s all that matters.” Chase then turns around and heads out. Jeff walks back behind his desk, dialing Marshall’s number to get him to come down.

Jeff glanced at the files on the desk, wishing Marshall would’ve kept them in his office as they didn’t matter to him. He knew how NAPA and the other sponsors worked –they’d be fine with Jimmie driving, and have Chase’s back till he was ready.

“I just saw Chase go walking down the hall,” Marshall says as he enters the office, before glancing back outside. “Isn’t he supposed to be her-”

“He doesn’t need to be,” Jeff cuts off Marshall, catching the fellow gentleman’s attention. “That boy has enough on his plate right now with everything that he’s going through. I told him I have it handled.” Marshall then walks up to the desk, a look of surprise on his face.

“So in other words, everything that I’ve flown here on your desk isn’t supposed to matter?” Jeff then sits back and crosses his arms.

“Precisely, yes. I care about hi-”

“Perhaps letting that affect your judgem-”

“And what would your father-in-law say to this, Marshall?” Marshall then lets out a sigh, already knowing Rick’s answer. “That’s what I thought.” Jeff then takes a deep breath, not exactly liking that he had to pull that card. He knew that Marshall was about the business side – and that was a good perspective to always have, but sometimes he crossed the line. “Listen, Chase has just gotten done healing from the physical injuries; however, he’s got a lot of other stuff going on. He’s dealing with nightmares, panic attacks, moments he can’t remember what he did – I could say more but I don’t think I need to, right?”

“No, I supposed not. I get what you’re coming from. So, what’s your plan with this?” Jeff looks at the files, immediately closing them as he hands them back over. “Really?”

“Each of the sponsors has been called personally by me. I called them before Chase got here this morning. They assured me that they are willing to back him and the team through this, no matter what, and be patient with his recovery. Besides, they’re pleased with how Jimmie has been running so there are no complaints. You had nothing to worry about on that side, Marshall.” Marshall then takes a deep breath, knowing that’d calm the marketing and accounting departments in hearing that news. He had them working on extra plans, just in case.

“So how much longer is Chase going to be out?” Jeff shrugged his shoulders, remembering Chase’s answer. “Okay, that’s fair. How much longer does Jimmie want to fill in, and how much longer do we hold the seat open?”

“Jimmie has said that he’s willing to do the rest of this year, except maybe a couple events. I’ve already looked at other options, whether fellow drivers not racing right now or XFINITY, to take over the seat if need be. As far as holding his seat open, I told him that it’ll be there no matter how long it tak-”

“Your caring side is getting in the wa-”

“The sponsors are fine with that, too, if it makes you happy. I told them that Chase may be out a couple months, maybe the rest of the year. They easily accepted. If we get to next year and he’s still not ready, I’ll revisit with him and then touch base with the sponsors. I have this under control, Marshall.” Marshall shakes his head as he picks up the files.

“Glad to see that you’re handling it. But Jeff, just keep in mind to not mix too much personal and business.” Jeff knew where Marshall was coming from, but he also knew the philosophy they’d followed for years.

“This isn’t a business. This isn’t just a race team. This is a family, everybody here in this complex, and a family looks after each other. Remember that when you’re thinking about things. I know Rick put you in charge because you do a helluva job with the business end, but sometimes you need to relax a little.” Marshall knew that Jeff was right, but was too proud to admit it as he turned and left the office with another word.

Down the hall, Chase found Rick busy at first so he went to see the guys, before returning to the boss’ office.

“You wanted to see me, sir?” Chase asks as he walks in the office, feeling the nerves that were there earlier with Jeff.

“I wanted to see how you were doing,” Rick answers as he takes in the young man’s appearance before him.

“I’m doing better, sir. Everything is healing accordingly for the doctors that they feel the stitches should be nothing to worry about soon. As far as everything else, that’s another story.” Rick motions for Chase to sit beside him on the couch, which Chase easily does.

“A little bit of the same before?” Chase didn’t want to divulge into details, but he felt he owed Rick the honesty.

“Nightmares and flashbacks are there once again. I’m also having panic attacks, and they’re worse than what we dealt with before. I completely panic, go about a series of actions without a single thought, and then snap out of it wondering why I did it. It was how I ended up in Canada with $2 million trying to save Alyssa myself, and how I ran into Tony this past weekend.” Rick had seen the series of events with Chase, previously. He was surprised to see how far they’d gotten this time.

“Have you spoken to anybody about this?” Chase wished he had a better answer at this time.

“Regan and Tony, a little – and Alyssa about some of her concerns. I haven’t divulged to anybody totally.” Chase then takes a deep breath. “It’s hard. I know I got to deal with it, but I don’t want to. I don’t want to remember or relive that. I don’t want to believe it happened. That’s been how I’ve dealt with things, you know? That’s why I ran before and why I got myself so sick that weekend. I know it’s wrong, but it’s what my subconscious keeps telling me.” Rick wraps an arm around Chase’s shoulders.

“Listen, I think you’re just being too hard on yourself right now. You’re right that you’re not taking the right steps initially, but anybody would understand why you haven’t followed through with the according steps. Look at everything you’ve been through. You don’t need to sit here and eat at yourself for not doing the right thing.” Chase knew Rick was probably right in those words, but it still didn’t seem to change his ways.

“I’ve always been the one to say that you take experiences, look back on them, find what you did wrong, and damn well do it right the next time. I’ve told myself that numerous times. Here I am knowing what I’m doing wrong, and I can’t follow throu-”

“Chase, it’s okay, though. Everybody understands, and you should yourself too, that it’s difficult because it’s tough right now on you to do so. It’s tough to face those moments and go through that. At least you’re realizing what you’re doing and in the right time, you’re going to do the right thing and handle it. The first step is recognition. The second step is determining your strategy – which I can see you’re doing now. You’re feeling out who you can talk to, whether that’s Regan, Tony or someone else. Once you’re certain, you’ll go through with it and do the right thing. I know that.” Chase hoped that Rick was right in those words, but the uncertainty he told Regan about still remained at times.

“I suppose….”

“Everything is going to be okay, no matter what. I can promise you that.” Once again, Chase hoped those words were true as he heard everybody saying them around him. Perhaps he just needed to push himself to believe more like everyone else. “And remember – like I told you previously, my door is always open. We’re all here for you.”

“Thank you, sir.” Rick then shook his head as he glanced around the room.

“It’s crazy that you’ve been driving for me for like 14 years now and you still haven’t dropped the sir.” Chase chuckles a little.

“I was brought up to give respect, and sir, you still deserve that respect.” Rick just smiles as he looks over at him.

“I remember I met you as a little rascal teenager, and signed you to a development deal. I knew you’d turn into a great racecar driver by what I’d seen, and had faith that you’d turn out alright. I can tell you now that you’ve turned into quite the young man and done your fair share of things right – even with everything against you. Don’t ever change.”

“I don’t plan on it. It’s worked for me so far.”

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 39

Thanks for reading and reviewing 🙂

Rick Hendrick was busy working on some paperwork that was needed to be done when he heard a knock on his office door.

“Come in,” he says out loud, assuming it was either one of the team media representatives, someone from management, one of his drivers or a crew chief. He then glances up, noticing Chase standing there. That was one individual that he didn’t expect to see, especially after the lecture and Alan offered a couple weeks ago. “I told you that you were not allowed in the sho-”

“I wasn’t allowed on the premises till I was feeling better and healed,” Chase cuts him off, remembering the lecture clearly. Both Rick and Alan insisted that he was to go home, whether there in North Carolina or back in Georgia, and relax and work on healing, rather than attending to things in the shop. He reluctantly agreed at the time, not wanting to argue. That was all over and done with now.

“So why are you standing here in my office, Chase?” Chase places the piece of paper that was in his hand on the desk before the boss with a smile on his face – clearance papers for Daytona.

It had been two weeks since the plane crash and during that time, Chase had followed the regime of rest and relaxation without much stimulation. Of course, that meant not watching a lot of TV or playing video games, which had been more annoying than anything. However, it was now all worth it and despite everything that had happened, he wasn’t going to miss any of Speedweeks.

“I’m not feeling any effects from the concussion, from the headache to the dizziness at all,” he starts. “I went and did the required IMPACT test, and got checked out, and everything came back good. They’ve cleared me to return to my normal duties.” Rick picks up the piece of paper, reading it over. It was certainly a good sign, in the form of business, as he wouldn’t have to worry about a fill-in driver. However, from a personal standpoint, he was still slightly worried about his young driver’s condition.

“What about your ribs?” Rick asks, concerned. Chase knew that the topic would come up, having already heard the same thing from his mother. The concern was reasonable, though, considering that it’d still take them time to heal.

“That’s going to be another four to six weeks of healing. If I can tolerate the pain and discomfort, the doctor says I’m fine racing with them as they are, just to be careful and take the necessary precautions.” Rick shakes his head, slowly, understanding. He figured that was probably the case, and wasn’t surprised. Drivers always had a tendency of pushing through pain and stuff of that nature to do their job as a driver. It still had Rick slightly worried.

“Are you sure that you can handle the pain?” Chase was confident that he would able to, but nobody knew the answer to that question till they got on-track and felt the G-forces.

“I’m confident that I will be fine, sir, but obviously the true test will come with Daytona 500 qualifying practice. If it is too much, I will admit it and we’ll work at getting either Elliott (Sadler) or Justin (Allgaier) in the car, as discussed.” Rick shakes his head, accepting. It gave him some sort of comfort in knowing that Chase was taking the necessary careful steps.

“I’m glad that you’re feeling better, and I have all the confidence that you will do well this weekend, and the entire season.” Chase smiles in response to the comment from the boss. “I just have one question that I’ve wanted to ask you, but was uncertain about.”

“What is that, sir?” Rick knew that he was trotting careful waters in going this far with his questioning in what happened, but felt it was necessary.

“You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, as I understand. However, are you sure that your suspicion with Sarina surrounding the accident isn’t valid? You have stated numerous times that you believe that she had nothing to do with it, nor does it have a connection to her past. However, what if there is a connection?” Chase shakes his head no immediately in response to Rick’s comment. There was no way that everything could be related.

“Sir, with all due respect, I am sticking by what I said. Sarina and I love each other a lot, and she wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. I’ve seen numerous examples of that. As far as your second point, why would they come after her all these years later, and are they going to have the smarts to take down a plane? It just doesn’t make sense. Regardless, even if that is the case, I am not backing down my support for her because of how much I love her.” Rick couldn’t help but smile as he heard just how much Chase was in love with Sarina.

“I just thought I’d ask the question as it was on my mind since hearing about what happened. I didn’t mean to offend you in any way. If you believe in her, then I have no choice but to believe your word because I know you are a good kid at judging character. Perhaps you can put the perfect cap on that love, and score a Daytona 500 pole for Valentine’s Day.” Chase smiles as that was the plan that he had in mind.

It would certainly be a story if he could start off his season with the biggest pole of the year. It would be an even bigger story if he could win the Daytona 500.

First, though, it was about getting down there and making sure that he could do his job behind the wheel.

Moving Forward – Chapter 10: Saturday

Thanks for reading and reviewing  🙂  For the record, I may drop naming chapters as I hate naming them lol

 

February 2016

A new day in Daytona brought forth the real restart of the 2016 race season as the cars headed off pit road one by one to being single car qualifying practice on Saturday morning ahead of the Daytona 500.

There were the interviews and the media tour, and the Shootout practice from the day before, but this was the real start of the new year. Rather than just those 25 drivers out there, everybody was getting in their first laps of the year, including the rookies.

Originally upon retiring, Jeff Gordon was set to move on and focus on the new road that his life would take. He was set to focus on spending time with his kids, doing things that he wouldn’t had gotten to do with them before due to his schedule. He was set to focus on his new job as a commentator for NASCAR on Fox, working with Darrell and Mike on broadcasts and such. There wasn’t going to be much focus on what happened with Hendrick Motorsports, except for hopes of success and there if say Jimmie wanted to talk about something.

So why was it that as the first official practice begun he found his eyes focused on a young man? Why was it that he was focused on the young man that would be working with his old crew guys?

He believed that Chase had the talent to get it done behind the wheel. The youngster had proved that thus far through the ranks, winning races in each division that he competed in while showing a special sort of poise. He was truly ready, as a driver, to take this next step in his career.

However, he found his mind drifting back to a conversation from a couple days ago that took place between them. He remember peaking in on Chase in his office. He remembered the nerves that he heard expressed in the comments in return. He remembered the slight quietness in reflecting back to what happened, and how he swallowed away from discussing it in that moment. He wondered if he had discussed it with someone else since, knowing that Chase had many close to him whom knew details.

Everything began in Daytona for Chase and Dale with what they went through over the past year. What if it was all too much to handle in returning?

“Do you mind if I join you?” Jeff hears, snapping him out of his thoughts as he looks over at his former boss. He simply shakes his head no, moving over to make room for Rick beside him. “You looked like you had a lot on your mind. Considering that retirement is supposed to bring ease, there’s something wrong about that.” Jeff chuckles, remembering the comments in that relaxation was supposed to come with the decision. So much for that happening with a youngster caught in his glance.

“I guess you could say that I have a lot on my mind,” Jeff comments as Rick shakes his head, already having assumed that by the quietness and the look in Jeff’s eyes before joining him.

“Care to talk about it?” Jeff thought it over and whether it’d be a good idea to bring up. Perhaps there was a strategy to make the events seem like something that never existed, or to put them in the shadows and focus on the weekend ahead. Perhaps he was worrying about Chase over no reason. However, it wouldn’t hurt to say something incase.

“I’m just thinking about Chase. We know that he can drive and he’s ready. But can he handle the pressure that comes with this? Can he handle this weekend with everything that happened?” Rick takes a deep breath, thinking over the question. He had the same thought himself, and had made sure to put the right measures in place in case things went affray to ease his own worries.

“I think he can handle the pressure as he’s done it all his life in carrying the Elliott last name. As far as handling everything, I’m not 100% sure actually. I know that he’s spent time with Regan, Ryan and Darrell. I also know that he asked me if he could skip out on a meeting a little early to go see the psychiatrist that he has been seeing. He’s doing the right things to handle the situation, Jeff. Is it enough? I don’t know.” It gave Jeff some relief that Rick saw the same concerns that he had in relation to Chase in the days moving forward. That meant that there were eyes on him, incase something went wrong.

“I went and saw him the other week and he said that he wasn’t quite sure, either. That’s why I’ve been thinking about it ever since.” Rick could understand that, having thought about it more than he would’ve liked. He knew those thoughts would even grow more once Dale got down there after Marie had the baby.

“For what it’s worth, I have spoken to Jon and Alan about things and they are aware of the situation. If there’s anything that comes up, we have everything in place to handle it accordingly and help him. That’s all we can do.” Jeff shook his head in agreement. He knew the caring side of Alan, and if that came through with Chase, then there’d be nothing to worry about. There was a reason why he loved his guys and wanted to make sure that they got the chance to go for a championship the previous season. “It’ll be fine, Jeff. You don’t need to worry.”

“I trust you, boss. I know how well you handle things and have no worries about that. Hopefully it turns into lots of success on the track this weekend.”

While the pair were discussing things, Chase had gotten a pair of opportunities to go out during the practice session and lay down some laps behind the wheel of his new ride. The first practice, he wasn’t super pleased with the handling, and it carried forward to the second practice. The speed chart backed up his claims, too, as he wasn’t near the top where he wanted to be.

He wasn’t worried, though, as qualifying was just one piece in Daytona and the main thing that mattered was how you drafted. Besides, his teammates hadn’t done much either.

“Are we getting closer on the handling?” Alan questions as he walks over to where Chase was leaning against the car, and Chase simply shakes his head no. “Okay, so I probably went the wrong way and should’ve gone with my first idea. I’ll double-check with the others in a bit to see what they’re doing, but we’ll go the other way for Sunday.”

“I believe in you and know that we’ll figure it out so let’s go with that,” Chase answers easily. “Besides, all that matters is how we do on Wednesday in practice, and Thursday in the Duel.” Alan shakes his head in agreement as he keeps his eyes on the young man before him. Since the discussion with the boss, he felt himself more concerned than he would’ve preferred, with all thoughts on making sure things went smoothly.

“I don’t want to come off the wrong way or anything, but Rick mentioned to me about what happened and to keep an eye on you. I just want to let you know that if anything comes up, I’m here for you. Just let me know and we can talk, or I can give you some space – whatever. I know it can be difficult, so I want to make it as easy as I can.” Chase’s eyes lock on Alan’s immediately, seeing the concern laced in the crew chief. Perhaps it’d be a good idea to have him knowing more than normal incase. However, that didn’t seem warranted.

“I appreciate the concern, and everything. However, I don’t think we’re going to need to worry. I was worried when I first got down here that I’d have some lingering effects, or flashbacks. However, it’s gone with ease thus far, even with people bringing it up. I don’t think there’s going to be any issues as my focus is on this car and nothing else.” Alan shakes his head, accepting. Though even with the answer in hand, it didn’t mean that he’d drop his guard.

“I understand, and that’s good to hear. Now it’s just my job to get this car handling well for you.”

The Runaway – Chapters 56 Thru 59

Chapter 56: Flashback and Tears

January 7, 2016

Chase takes a deep breath, after recalling the conversation. To him, that was the easy part of the flashback. The attempted escape was the harder piece to tell, and how it failed. He partially regretted that escape due to the pain that he suffered out of it, but also knew in the moment that he made to try something.

“I told him that I wasn’t going to go with him,” Chase continues his tale as Darrell and Ryan sit across from him, listening closely. “He tried to tell me that it wouldn’t work, but I stuck to my guns. As soon as he opened the door open a bit, I immediately pushed forward, pushing Randy down and going for the stairs. Of course, someone got in the way.” Ryan rolls his eyes, knowing who immediately.

“His helper?” Ryan questions and Chase shakes his head yes. “I thought he was saying that Randy was crazy for his plan for you?”

“Oh, he was, but that didn’t stop him for helping. As I went to go by him, he grabbed my foot, pulling it back, which sent me face first down against the wooden stairs.” Ryan and Darrell immediately cringe hearing the details, understanding why Chase was in pain while in the hospital healing from the other bits of the attack.

“I don’t even want to think about how much pain that’d result in. I mean, I’ve fallen and that hurt enough. I couldn’t imagine that. I’m guessing that’s when he was able to regain control, right?” Chase shakes his head yes, remembering the moment.

“He then grabbed me with both of his hands, sticking a needle back in my arm, knocking me back out. The last thing I remember is his arms around me, scared as to what would happen next.” Ryan shakes his head in disbelief a he hadn’t realized how many pieces were to Chase’s tail.

He knew of some deception by Demi, but not the fact that she was his first. He knew that Chase had found himself stuck in an ice hole courtesy of Randy, but not everything that had led up to that. Hearing the details, he found himself cringing at the thought of the pain, but also feeling his heartbreak in realizing what his friend went through.

Making a small sacrifice and giving up a night of sleep was nothing if you compared it to everything that Chase had been through. In part, he felt a huge responsibility in sitting there, willing to do whatever it took to help his friend move forward.

“I can understand the fear as you knew what he was capable of,” Ryan finally lets out, breaking the silence that had fallen over the room. They had simply expected Chase to go into the next part of the story, but he found himself topping in the midst of it. “But, no matter how much you think about, you also have to remember how strong you are. You have to remember that you made it through everything that he flung your way and that you’re here. You have to remember that no matter how daunting these thoughts may be, you survived and are going to be able to move forward with your life as you want.” Chase shook his head, knowing that Ryan was right.

Besides the odd pain here and there from the previous damaged nerves in his leg, and having to watch how much he did with it, everything else had seemed to heal accordingly without any trace. All that was left was leaving the mental aspect in the background, and that begun with telling his friends his story.

“Are you okay?” Darrell questions, noticing Chase’s quietness more so now than earlier in the discussions. “Are you sure you’re set to continue?” Chase shakes his head yes, knowing that he had to get it out. The boys deserved to know the full truth with how much they had learned thus far, and their end of what they went through in worrying about him throughout. Besides, he felt that it should be easy to tell the tale as he had talked about the most haunting piece of the attack – the ice hole – with his father at the hospital.

“The next time that I woke up, I was on a sled with one foot tied to a pole in the corner by a rope,” Chase starts quietly, remembering that moment when he woke up. “My hands were also bound behind my back by a simple thin tie-wrap. I remember immediately analyzing the situation, thinking of a way to escape.” It didn’t surprise Ryan to hear that detail as based on what Chase had told them thus far, he was a fighter and wasn’t about to accept Randy’s fate no matter the situation.

“He heard you trying to escape, or you couldn’t break the tie?” Ryan questions and Chase gives him a so-so glance on that mark. Randy had heard him in his movements, but he hadn’t started his escape at that point.

“He heard me when I was glancing around at the ties, and that caught his attention. I then also let out a shiver, in which he commented that I should’ve worn a coa-”

“You were knocked out so how could you put it on?” Darrell questions as Chase laughs, remembering his response to Randy.

“That’s what I told him in those exact words,” Chase offers as Darrell smiles. “He told me that I shouldn’t have tried to escape, but he was glad that I had my sweater. I continued to pull at the tie-wrap that bound my wrists together, finally able to bringing it by swinging my arms as fast as I could in opposite directions. You could hear the plastic break, which caused me freeze as I thought Randy caught me.”

“Did he?” Chase could sense the anticipation in Darrell’s voice in wondering about how things went down. It seemed Darrell had anticipation in learning the details, while Ryan had been caring voice throughout the discussion. Based on the relationship that they had together, that didn’t surprise him.

“He did, and he stopped the sled shortly after. I didn’t care because I was just focused on escaping and throwing the punch that I needed to. Randy then got off the snowmobile, and I kept my hands behind my back as if I hadn’t broken the tie. I also noticed the hole, debating whether I could land his ass in it.” Chase shakes his head, knowing that things had turned in the wrong direction. “I guess I shouldn’t have thought about the hole.”

“Ice isn’t something to mess with. That stuff is freezing cold.” A shiver escapes Chase at the thought, as he knew Darrell was certainly right in those words. There was one thing for certain – him and cold water weren’t going to mix well for awhile. “Are you okay?” Darrell had noticed the shiver, wondering if perhaps they were getting too far into the discussion for the night being. He wasn’t sure if he could handle Chase getting more upset while telling them as he thought perhaps that’d be something to save for Regan.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I was just thinking about the water…and it escaped without me realizing.” He then takes a deep breath, knowing that he had to tell the rest of the tale. He had to get it off of his chest so that way he could move forward. “I knew I had to escape so I finally swung my arms around, pulling the rope to release my foot and screamed for help. That was when Randy’s plan changed, and he thought about just killing me in that moment.”

“So what did you do?” Ryan wonders, knowing that Chase probably did something in hopes of stopping Randy. Chase glances down at the ground, taking a shaky deep breath as he tries to calm himself as the images come to mind.

“I gave him a hard shove to push him away from me,” Chase starts. “I then went for the snowmobile, thinking that I could drive away with ease. However, he knew that I was going to try something – there were no keys in the snowmobile as he dangled them before me. I was in shock, couldn’t believe it, and he took advantage of me – as he always has.”

“Chase….” Ryan then reaches for Chase’s hand, noticing that their on the edge with Chase’s comments and knowing that they’re growing closer to the moment. “It’s not your fault. There was nothing that you could do in that situation. You tried everything that you could to get away and stop him. It’s not your fault. Like we’ve said all along – be thankful that you’re okay and able to move forward.” Chase kept repeating those words in his mind, but they were hard to believe as repeated images of drowning also filled his thoughts as well. He knew how close he had come to dying when he was in that ice hole.

“I know. It’s just hard at times to make myself believe that…” He then takes a deep breath, trying to release the shaky thoughts from his mind, as well as the tears that threaten to fall. He knew that he simply had to continue. “In that moment, he grabbed my foot, pulling me off of the snowmobile. I then reached for anything, whatever I could – but I couldn’t. I failed to grab anything, and he kept pushing me further back, till I fell into the water. He then got on the snowmobile, left, leaving me there.” Chase focuses his eyes back down, grabbing the blanket and wrapping it tighter around himself without a thought. Closing his eyes, he tried to erase the images that flooded his mind as the cold water splashing around him, set to claim him, set to make him frozen in the moment.

“Chase?” Darrell asks, a little worried as he watches his friend fight the images in his mind.

“Chase, its okay…” Ryan says quietly as he reaches for Chase’s hand, grabbing it firmly. “Chase, open your eyes. Escape those images that are in your mind. Open your eyes. You’re not in the middle of the ice. You’re not in a hole. Open your eyes as you’re here with your friends, in your home, warm and cozy.” Chase’s eyes slowly open as he looks at Ryan straight on, tears surfacing.

“You don’t understand how scared I was,” Chase starts, voice shaking. “You don’t understand how cold that was. You don’t understand how alone I felt. You don’t understand how scared I was and how close I was to…” The tears then begin to fall as he glance away from the boys. “I’ve never been so scared. What if I had not escaped?” Ryan immediately stands up, wrapping both arms around Chase to hold him close, rubbing his back.

“You did escape, though. You made your way out of that mess and survived. That’s all that matters. You can’t dwell on what could’ve happened, but just be thankful that you’re okay. You’re okay, Chase. You made it through that, and you’ve got us to make sure that you make it through the days ahead. You’re okay, Chase.”

Ryan stayed like that for the next 20 minutes, simply rubbing his Chase’s back, repeating the words that he was okay as Chase continued to cry in his shoulder. Feeling that he had gotten out of his system, Chase released himself out of Ryan’s hold and sat back in the chair, letting out a long sigh of relief.

“Are you okay?” Ryan asks and Chase shakes his head yes. Ryan then resumes his spot of sitting on the floor. “It’s okay to cry. I bet it feel better now that you let that go, right?” Chase simply shakes his head yes, once again. “I meant what I said. I’ll be here anytime that you need me. Anytime that you get a flashback, nightmare – whatever. Just call me.”

“Same with me bud,” Darrell adds from his spot on the couch. “We’ve got your back and are going to make sure that you get through this.”

“Thanks,” Chase simply says. “I couldn’t ask for better friends.” The boys both smile.

“So we heard how you escaped the hole – your dad told us after you told him,” Ryan starts, knowing that making Chase reflect right back to those exact details would perhaps be too much considering the most recent crying episode. “Like I said, be thankful that you’re okay and those bars were there. Somebody was looking out for you, boy.” Chase had to smile at the thought, knowing that Casey was always looking down at him. He swore he heard Casey’s voice that day, telling him to reach further when he didn’t reach the bar the first time. “Beyond what you’ve told us, is there anything else?” Chase shakes his head no.

“I think I’ve covered everything,” he offers.

“Does it feel better now that we’ve talked, cried, let off some steam and explained things?” Darrell questions and Chase shakes his head yes. “Think you’ll be able to sleep for a couple of hours?” Chase glances at the clock, seeing that it was 3 in the morning.

“I think I’ll be okay to sleep.” Chase then stands up and heads for the stairs. “You boys can head home if you wan-”

“No way, we’re staying here for the night. It’s late and I don’t feel like moving.” Darrell then glances over at Ryan, who shakes his head in agreement. Darrell then looks over at Chase. “Besides, if you wake up at all, we want to be here for you to offer an ear to chat off, a shoulder to cry on, or whatever else you may need.”

“That’s fine. You know where the spare blankets are, right?” The boys shake their head yes.

“Go get some sleep, Chase,” Ryan tells him as he stands up, flopping back in the chair that Chase had previously occupied. “Go get some sleep and take care of yourself. We’ll be fine down here.” Chase then goes all the way up the stairs as Ryan get comfy. “Hey Bubba?” Darrell then looks over at Ryan. “Are you okay?” Darrell shakes his head yes.

“Are you?” Darrell wonders, seeing the concern in Ryan’s eyes.

“I never realized just how much he went through, or how much it affected even us till tonight.” Ryan then glances up the stairs. “I just hope that he’s able to work his way through everything – you know, emotion-wise.”

“He’s a strong kid and he’ll make his way through it, Ryan. He’ll be okay. Hell, he’ll be kicking our butts come February.” Ryan laughs, knowing that Darrell was probably right as he got comfy.

 

Chapter 57: The Boys

January 11, 2016

Following the discussion with Chase, things had seemed to move along smoothly.

Chase was able to get into a ‘decent’ sleeping routine, getting some sleep. It wasn’t perhaps as much as he wanted, but it was something and the nightmares were getting easier. It had certainly helped discussing things with the boys. Beyond that, the distraction of getting set for the upcoming season were obviously playing a par for the course.

The boys had each gotten busy with their own racing plans for the upcoming year, as Ryan was set to run the full XFINITY schedule for Penske while Bubba was set for another year with Roush Fenway Racing. That meant long days at the shop with crew chief discussions, and trying to lock down final sponsorship business.

All put together, the boys weren’t getting as much hang-out time as they would’ve hoped.

Since the discussion with Chase, Ryan and Darrell had kept quiet about what they had heard, not wanting to dwell on what happened as the key was helping their friend move forward. However, as they both admitted that night, it had affected them moving forward. They realized just how much it tugged on their heart strings, and how much the images stung in their mind.

It seemed to be the case for Ryan more so than Darrell. Ryan found himself thinking about it more than he realized that he would, and even found himself laying sleepless at night in disbelief over everything.

Almost a week removed from the discussion, Ryan takes a deep breath as he finishes up doing the dishes after dinner, looking over at Darrell. With Darrell home and Shelby out with her friends, it gave the boys an opportunity to talk alone.

“Hey Bubba, can I ask you something?” Ryan questions, catching Darrell’s attention. Darrell could tell by the tone of Ryan’s voice that it wasn’t going to be easy as he hit the ‘mute’ button on the TV remote.

“What is it?” He questions as Ryan wipes his hands off, hanging the towel back on the stove.

“The discussion with Chase, it has left me thinking about a lot of things. There’s nights where I lay awake thinking over everything that he’s been through and just shaking my head in disbelief.” Darrell shook his head, sympathizing. He had been through his own version of reliving it.

“There’s times where I will drift off and all that will fill my mind is the image of him laying on the floor with the blood around him in the hotel room from the leg wound. It just dangles there haunting me, reminding me how close things came.” Ryan swallows the lump that had formed in his throat as he walks into the living room, sitting in the chair that was beside the couch.

“I thought we could both just move forward. I thought we could take the conversation with him, realize that things are going to be okay and move forward. Why is it still bugging us?” Darrell takes a deep breath, having talked about it with Trevor earlier that week. About two days after the discussion, he made his way into Trevor’s office at RFR and discussed some of his feelings. He didn’t reveal any exact details, just the general specifics, in which Trevor had some advice for in return.

“It’s because he’s our best friend and we care about him a lot. It’s because we’d do anything for him. It’s because we hate to see him go through this and we wish that we could simply make it disappear. It’s because it’s tugged on our heart more than we realize. We both keep wondering what we would’ve done if we would’ve lost him.” Ryan glance down, closing his eyes with a deep breath. He wasn’t going to bare that thought.

“Bubba, we can’t think that….” Darrell shakes his head, knowing that Ryan was right. He had told Trevor the same words.

“I know we can’t, but we still are even though we won’t admit it. That’s why it keeps bugging us.” Ryan then glances over, curious as to why Darrell had all this knowledge. “I talked to Trevo-”

“Darrell, he said not to tell anyone!”

“I didn’t tell Trevor any of the details, but just that I was having some thoughts after a discussion with Chase. Everybody knows what Chase has gone through – pieces of it, anyway. With that basic knowledge, he was able to offer some basic advice.” Ryan felt himself calm a little, but the worry picked up. Darrell was right as everybody knew a good part of the details. What would happen when they returned to the track in February?

“So what did he say?” Darrell takes a deep breath, remembering Trevor’s advice.

“He said that we just have to remind ourselves that he is okay, and he will get through anything that is lingering from it. We also have to not dwell on what happened, but rather focus on the fun times that we will have in the future. Basically, the same advice that we told Chase.”

“Then why is it so hard to follow?” Darrell shrugs his shoulders, having asked himself that since talking with Trevor.

“I don’t know. I guess because there’s a lot there. But, like we told him, let’s take it one day at a time and move forward. That’s all that you can do.” Ryan shakes his head in agreement.

“And also realize that if either of us want to talk about something – a certain detail or lingering dream, we are there for each other no matter the time of day, right?” Darrell shakes his head yes.

“Absolutely, even that means being grumpy in the morning due to no sleep the night before.” Ryan smiles, remembering how he was the next morning after staying up half the night with Chase at his house.

“Darrell, I just have one more question. Do you think he will honestly be able to move forward without this bugging him at all?” Darrell glances down, thinking about it honestly. He wanted to say yes and move forward, but he knew that probably wouldn’t be the case given the amount of tears that had flowed that night and the fear he had seen.

“It’s never going to leave Chase completely. He will find his way to move forward and go through each day with ease, eventually. But, there will be moments where it stings and affects him. It’s just about how he deals with it.”

“So we’re going to living this over and over?” Darrell shakes his head yes.

“I think that we’re going to see pieces show up here and there. Hopefully, they won’t show up a lot – but perhaps once or twice every so many years. Like, what will happen when he starts dating a girl and it gets serious? He’ll think about Demi and what happened there, and maybe be afraid to sleep with that girl.” Ryan shook his head, understanding. No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn’t believe that Chase slept with Demi.

“But assure me this – he will be okay, right?” Darrell stands up and walks over to Ryan, giving him a pat on the shoulder.

“Everything will work out, Ryan. As we told him that night, he’s a strong kid and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. He’ll find the way that he needs to find to cope with this moving forward.” Ryan gives Darrell a small smile as Darrell heads to the kitchen to the grab a snack.

 

Chapter 58: Media Day

Late January, 2016

They say that time heals wounds. It seemed to be working as the further removed from the events, the easier it was to deal with. Ryan and Darrell had found their own ways to think through everything that Chase had told him, which included Ryan having some in-depth conversations with Chase.

Chase, meanwhile, was finding his way of moving forward. Everything had seemed to subside except a nightmare here or there. When they struck, he either got himself a warm glass of milk and got back to sleep, and called a friend to chat it out for a bit. Either way, it seemed that the healing process was indeed in full swing.

Preparing for the season was also in full swing and rather than counting weeks till the year started, they were down to days on the calendar. They were also reminded that it was closer than ever when the notification came down as to which day of the last week in January would be their media day.

Media day was always interesting in answering the media’s questions about the upcoming season – pressure, expectations, anything lagging from the previous year. It helped everybody get back into the swing of things, while just growing that anticipation.

Of course, media day would officially be the first time that Chase would face the media ahead of his rookie season, and more importantly, following the events of December. While Chase was in the process of moving forward, that didn’t mean that he was set to discuss the details of what happened.

The media knew he had been kidnapped in Canada, they knew who had kidnapped him and the fact that he had gone through a recovery period in hospital. Beyond that, the details hadn’t been leaked as it was none of their business.

“Chase, I want to talk to you before we go out there,” Rick starts, catching Chase’s attention, as well as his fellow teammates. Dale, knowing the most, had an idea as to why Rick was calling for his attention. Jimmie and Kasey, they had an idea as to why but weren’t as familiar.

“Okay,” Chase simply says as he takes a deep breath. He could tell by Rick’s tone that it was something serious, and had already narrowed down his options.

“We know that someone is going to try and bring up what happened. I’ve made it clear to my staff that you’re not tackling questions surrounding what happened. We’re here to focus on the upcoming season, not the attack or anything else. Furthermore, it’s none of their business. An opening statement will be made to tell the media that, but if they bring anything up, don’t feel obligated to say anything as we will brush it off.” Chase shakes his head, accepting. It helped him relax as he had a couple nerves surrounding what he would do should the issue arise.

“Okay. Thanks Rick. I appreciate that.”

“I told you that day in my office that I had your back and would be there for you. That hasn’t changed.” Rick then pulls him into a quick hug, before they get back set to head out on stage.

After hearing the general introductions and the warning about not bringing it up, the drivers were each introduced on stage, followed by their opening remarks on the upcoming season. Following the opening statements, the floor was opened up for questions to be asked by various members.

Chase accepted the questions that were addressed, easily answering with the same fluid ability as any other day with the media. The whole day seemed to be going as according to plan as they waited upon the next question to be asked.

“This question is for Mr. Chase Elliott,” the reporter starts, catching Chase’s attention. “I know it was requested that we don’t bring up what happened, but do you see it affecting your performance at all this year?” Chase takes a deep breath, figuring that somehow the question would be asked.

“Absolutely not,” he answers. “As I explained last year in the press conference when I came back, everything that is happening doesn’t affect my driving on track. When I’m on track and working with the guys, I don’t let anything else affect me. I also have been working my way through what happened and in no way will it affect me. I’m 100% ready to go.”

They then waited as the next reporter came forth, the drivers trading glances along the way. Dale’s eyes focused on Chase and with a nod in return, Dale knew that the young driver were fine to continue with issue. Though as Dale returned his eyes back to the next reporter, he knew that they were about to hit the fan.

“Mr. Elliott, why is it that the details of what happened cannot be releas-” The older female reporter starts.

“It’s none of your business,” Dale cuts her off before she can continue, catching everybody off-guard. “Some things should remain private and that is one of those things. Besides, this is a media conference set up for the NASCAR media to talk to us about the upcoming season. Why is a royalty reporter sticking her nose in here to stir up trouble?” Jimmie held back the grin in hearing Dale’s response, having become frustrated with this reporter the previous season.

“Sir, when there is a threat against a royal fami-”

“The threat is no longer, as you probably heard that Randy was arrested and put away in prison.” Chase took a deep breath, reminding himself of that fact. The police had promised a maximum security cell that would not allow Randy to escape once again.

“Sir, we were told that before but this individual esca-”

“That won’t happen, again. If you would please refer to the police report, you would see how the measures are going to take place so that doesn’t happen again.” Dale could tell that his attitude wasn’t going over well with the reporter, but he wasn’t about to care. It was getting frustrating dealing with individuals like this one there on one agenda – for the simple reason that he was married to Marie. All they wanted was some gossip to sell some rag magazines. He then glances over at Rick, hoping to get some back-up in removing the reporter.

“You seem confident in your answers, sir. However, in details leaked out, it would seem there was an attempted drowning of your friend. How would you feel if the drowning would’ve been successful?”

“That’s enough!” Rick calls it off as he motions for security to come and remove her from the premises. Though while Rick and Dale were focused on her, the eyes of the fellow drivers were focused on their young teammate.

“Chase?” Kasey questions, seeing that he had frozen up. Jimmie then reaches over, grabbing Chase’s hand.

“Chase, are you okay?” Jimmie asks, catching the attention of Rick and Dale. Chase lets out a shiver as the thoughts flood through his mind – the ice, walking along the ice, the push, falling into the water, shivering in the water, thoughts of it being the end, feeling so cold that he could barely think and feel himself…. “Chase?” Chase’s eyes snap open as he takes a deep breath. He then glances around the room.

“Excuse me…” He lets out, immediately heading off of the stage. The teammates then follow their young driver, leaving Rick and MC left with the media.

Rick, knowing the drivers had it handled, took the liberty of explaining Chase’s freeze up – letting on as little details as possible. He gave them enough information to understand why the events had transpired, and why the original request was issued, without giving them enough to feed their curiosity.

Meanwhile, the teammates followed the young driver, each calling his name along the way.

“Here!” Jimmie yells, catching all of their attention as he opens one of the office doors. He knew it was Chad’s office, but it was fine enough for the case being as it’d give them some quiet space. “Chase, go in here and take the time that you need, please. We can’t chase you around all day.” Chase then follows the instructions, taking a seat in the chair that was in the room.

“I’ll go get him a drink,” Kasey offers, knowing that Dale was probably going to handle it. “Anything in particular?”

“Hot Chocolate – he hates having a cold drink when he gets in these phases,” Dale says as he keeps one eye on Chase and one eye on Kasey. Kasey then heads off as Jimmie glances between Dale and Chase.

“Go talk to him,” Jimmie instructs. “I’ll hold off everybody as long as I can. You know better than us both what needs to be said.” Dale shakes his head as he enters the small office, reclosing the door behind him.

 

Chapter 59: Post Freeze Up

Late January, 2016

Dale then slowly moves over to where Chase is sitting, kneeling before him. He didn’t know why he was nervous, but his worry was pegged at all time high by Chase’s reaction. He had seen him freeze up before, but not like this.

“Look at me.” Chase then slowly takes his eyes off of the floor and looks at Dale. “Are you okay?” Chase slowly shakes his head yes before returning his eyes back down to the floor. “Chas-”

“I’m fine,” Chase cuts him off quietly. “I just – I don’t know. When she mentioned what could’ve happened, I just froze up immediately. I began thinking back to what happened, picturing each image over and over in my head, and it just caused me to freeze up till Jimmie snapped me out of my thoughts.” Dale shakes his head, understanding.

“It’s understandable,” Dale assures him. “You went through a traumatic experience. It’s reasonable that it still bugs you at times. There are times that I get nervous climbing on a plane because of what Mariella did to me. It’s okay.” Chase understood that. He heard the explaination many times. It didn’t mean that it made him feel better about it.

“I feel so embarrassed having it happen there, in front of everyone.” Dale then sits back, thinking it over. He kind of wished Rick was there as he’d probably have better advice on this front.

“You don’t have anything to worry about. The media will understand knowing that you’ve been through a lot. Perhaps it’ll give you a bit more space as they’ll lay off more. You don’t have to worry.” Chase wanted to believe what Dale was telling him. However, all he could picture was being bugged about it in Daytona.

“I wonder what they’re saying….”

“Don’t worry about what they’re saying. Just focus on yourself. Focus on feeling better. Focus on finding your way to handle it and move forward. You can’t let yourself worry about them as it’s not going to get you anywhere. It doesn’t matter what they say. All that matters is you.” Chase then looks up, again to hang his belief on those words.

“What about Jimmie and Kasey? What about Rick? What about Alan? What about the team? There goes any belief because everybody is going to think I’m still an emotional mess.” Dale shakes his head no, knowing that can’t be true.

“It didn’t change a thing about Kasey and Jimmie. They still believe that you’re one helluva driver. They were concerned and wanting to do whatever they could to help you, in their own way. Kasey should be back soon with a drink. As far as Rick, no confidence lacking there either, but I bet he’s more worried than ever about you and will want to see you once he calms things down in there – which don’t worry about. As far as Alan and your team, Chase, this doesn’t change anything. They spend everyday with you. They know your determination. They know that you’re going to do the best that you can and be incredible. They just understand that there are certain things that they can’t talk about with you.” Dale then pats Chase’s leg. “Everything is okay. Nothing changed today. Stop worrying, okay?” Chase slowly shakes his head yes.

“Thank you…”

“You don’t need to thank me. Just focus on yourself.” The door then opens and Kasey walks in, handing over a cup of hot chocolate with a smile.

“Dale said that you’d prefer a hot drink and I put the whip cream on top so you would smile,” Kasey offers as a small smile forms on Chase’s lips.

“Thanks,” he offers, taking a deep breath. “When I think about it, it gives me the shivers and I feel the cold again. The warmth of the drink somehow helps.”

“I can make you hot chocolates everyday if it keeps you smiling.”

“We’re all here for you,” Jimmie adds from his vantage point at the door opening. “We’re ready to do whatever you need us to do to help you. Remember that always.” Chase shakes his head, appreciating that.

“Thanks….honestly, thanks,” he tells them. “I couldn’t ask for a better group of teammates.”

“When you’re ready, we’ll head out and go back in there together,” Dale says. “And don’t worry – we’ll have your back and make sure they don’t say a word.”

“We’re here to talk about racing, right?” Kasey adds with a smile.

They took a couple more minutes in private, sharing a couple rounds of jokes to take the edge off, before returning. Whatever worked from Rick’s perspective worked as they were able to go back to answering the questions as normal without any issues.

Following the session, Rick assured them all that the pesky reporter would not be returning to any future events, and the right calls had been put in place to NASCAR to make sure that she didn’t randomly show up there, either. Either way, all the pieces were being put in place so they didn’t repeat this incident.

As they finished the day with dinner together, Chase could only smile as he glanced around the table. Surrounded by his parents, teammates and friends, he knew that he had the best support system around. Whereas he had doubt originally before about getting through everything, he knew that he could get through what happened with ease through not only his own strength, but also with the help of his friends.

The Runaway – Chapters 46 Thru 50

Chapter 46: The Set-Up

January 6, 2016

Chase takes a deep breath as the officer recounts the details. It hurt as hell to go back through those events, but it also hurt more in learning more details from another fresh perspective. Why hadn’t Demi left her apartment building? Why hadn’t Demi reported the events? A glance towards Dale and the truth with regards to Demi’s supposed behavior that he was told by Dale and his parents was coming true before his eyes.

“So basically, she only came with you because she came across your face at the investigation?” Chase questions and the officer shakes his head yes.

“Don’t worry – I asked her that very same question, which please let me get to,” the officer pleads as Chase relaxes back in the chair. Perhaps this discussion was a good idea. It’d certainly clear up some questions that he had. He was just curious about the end result. “I went about investigating another individual who was involved – Scott Gardne-”

“He was the man who called you about the original tip at the apartment and hearing the discussion. That’s how you knew to come to the apartment.” The officer shakes his head yes.

“Once I was done speaking with Mr. Gardner, I focused my attention to Ms. Elaine. She told me that she was going to tell me everything that she knew, and I told her to start talking. She explained how you both met, explained that she was a crime ring member and the meetings that she must attend as a member. She explained that Randy was at one of the meetings and mentioned that he was looking for you. Did you hear about that detail, Mr. Elliott?” Chase shakes his head yes, remembering the discussion with Demi the day after her meeting.

“She confessed that she was member and the details of the meeting, but said that she wasn’t going to hurt me and she wanted to help me. That’s why we were sneaking back across country to the airport and I was supposed to fly home that morning with Dale.” Dale takes a deep breath, thinking things over. If only he could’ve convinced Chase to say something to the police that night when they were putting this supposed plan together. None of the following events would’ve happened and they wouldn’t be here right now.

“She told me those details in full. She then said that she was going to get you to wear a disguise, so she left that morning to go buy you something. She then said that Randy cornered her in the hallway, and she didn’t scream for attention because he had weapons and such. He knocked her out and then proceeded to come to the apartment and do what he did to you.” Chase thinks it over as that seemed right on all accounts. However, as he glanced back up, he was confused by one detail.

“Everybody told me that she was at fault. By what you’re telling me, she didn’t do anything wrong. Am I missing something?” The officer shakes his head yes as he takes a deep breath.

“I asked her one more question – I asked her if she helped in your kidnapping, point blank. She was hesitant, but she then slowly shook her head yes. She then explained everything to me that happened. Now, I’m not going to tell you those details right now.” Chase then looks at him surprised as Dale glances over, knowing this was why Rick had called him to the office beforehand, letting him hear what had to be said. “I told Demi when she told me that all decisions with regards to her future and charges would depend on what you had to say.”

“Me?” The officer shakes his head yes.

“If you look at the situation, it looks as though she betrayed you from everyone’s perspective. I’ve been there before, Mr. Elliot. I know the pain and how confusing it may feel and the fact that you don’t want to believe what other people are telling you. Am I right?” Chase slowly shakes his head yes. “I’m going to give her the chance to explain everything to you. I want her to stand up and explain to you, directly, everything that happened from her perspective. She owes it to you for what happened, and you deserve to hear it so you have closure and understanding on the situation. Once she’s done explain it to you, it will be your decision whether to press charges against her for what happened – whether accessory to kidnapping, and conspiracy to attempted murder.” Chase lets out a sigh as he looks towards the ground.

He couldn’t lie – the offer from the officer was tempting beyond any means. It certainly would give closure to everything that happened, and he’d get the answers that he craved. He wouldn’t let himself believe the words when he heard from his parents, but he’d be left with no choice but to believe the words that came out of her mouth directly.

However, was he ready to go back down that road?

“Mr. Hendrick is aware of my reasoning for being here and made me discuss my reason with Mr. Earnhardt before you entered the room,” the officer continues. “With that said, they want to make sure that you’re in the most comfortable setting possible as they know how you’re probably feeling about this. With that said, Mr. Hendrick has offered to use the meeting room that is here at the HMS complex for the meeting. I’d bring Ms. Elaine with me to the building and bring her up to the meeting room. I would then stand in the background, letting the pair of you discuss everything. At anytime, you could call the meeting off. You can also have anybody else be there if it makes you feel more comfortable. It’s up to you, Mr. Elliott.” Chase thinks it over. He hated to have to go back down this road, but he needed the closure and answers. If he was ever going to move past what happened with Demi, he needed the answers that this meeting would offer.

“Fine – I agree to it. We can do it tomorrow and nobody else needs to be there. I need to do this for myself so I have those answers.” The officer shakes his head, accepting.

“Thank you. Does 11 sound okay?” Chase shakes his head yes. “Okay. Great. I’ll see you then. Have a night day.” The officer then leaves the room as Chase keeps his eyes focused on the ground below him.

“Chase, are you okay?” Rick asks as Chase glances up and shakes his head yes. “You can go home if you want now, if that makes you feel better. Dale can take you as I’m sure you may want to discuss thin-”

“I’m fine, Rick,” Chase cuts him off as he takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have interrupted you, sir. I am fine, though.” Rick shakes his head, understanding as he catches Dale’s gaze.

“It’s okay. I was just offering. As far as tomorrow, there’s no restriction as to when you have to be here by or whether you have to stay after the meeting with her. You take the time that you need for yourself. And I’ll make sure that Dale’s available if you need him to talk to.” Chase knew that a conversation with Dale was very well possible, or perhaps a good discussion with Regan once again. However, he also knew a pair of other boys that had offered to be there for him and perhaps he could use a fresh perspective. Besides, they’d understand the heartbreak more being around his age – or at least in his mind.

“Thank you, sir. May I go?” Rick shakes his head yes as Chase gets up and gives him a wave.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Dale asks and Chase shakes his head yes.

“I told you to not worry about me, but focus on Marie and the baby,” Chase answers as Dale gives him a pat on the shoulder.

“I know what you told me, but that doesn’t change the fact that I do worry about you.”

“I’ll be fine.” He then leaves the office, closing the door behind him.

“Do you want to talk?” Rick offers Dale and Dale shakes his head no.

“I don’t have anything to say,” Dale answers as he glances back towards the closed door. “I just know that there’s more on his mind than he’s saying. It’s bugging him.” Rick shakes his head, understanding.

“It’s understandable. He’s been through a lot. You know that feeling – you went through your fair share as well. Now combine all that with the fact that someone that you thought was your best friend backstabbing you. How would you feel?” Dale lets out a sigh, knowing that Rick was right. That didn’t make the worry he had for Chase lessen at all, though. “Just keep an eye on him. Just make sure he’s doing what he needs to do to take care of himself. When he feels the time is right, he’ll open up to whoever he feels is right in that moment. Till then, you can’t do much.”

“I know. I’ll see you later, Mr. H.” Rick shakes his head as he watches Dale leave the office.

As Dale leaves the office, he sends Regan a text, detailing the events to come tomorrow. If Chase was going to turn to someone, there was a good bet that it may be Regan.

 

Chapter 47: The Meeting

January 7, 2016

“Chase, they’re here,” Chase hears over the intercom as he takes a deep breath.

He had gotten to the shop early that morning. He spent some time continuing to go over things with Alan as they got to know each other better. He then spent some time doing pit stop practice. It seemed pointless in parts as he knows how to go down pit road and such, but it was done for team building. He didn’t have to be there, but used it as an opportunity to spend more time with the team.

As it got closer to 11, he returned back up to his office and relaxed, just wanting to get himself in a good frame of mind before the meeting. It was the buzzing of the phone that caught him off-guard with a message from the boss.

“I’m coming,” he says as he stands up.

“Do you want myself or your dad or Dale to sit in on the meeting?” Rick asks as Chase takes another deep breath. He understood everybody’s reason for concern – no doubt reliving everything that happened wouldn’t be the easiest road. No doubt they all just wanted to be there for support. However, he wanted to do this on his own. This started between him and Demi, and that’s where it was going to end.

“No, thank you sir.” He then hits the hang up, snatches his cell off of his desk and heads out of the office.

He then takes the short walk down to the conference room, placing his thoughts in order, before opening the door.

Upon entering the room, his eyes immediately draw to where Demi is sitting and he finds himself lost in the same reasons why he fell for her in the first place. He is immediately reminded of the feelings, discussion – the good times. He immediately dumped everything that happened till eh thought about the words of the detective, as his thoughts freeze.

“As I said, this discussion is to be between you both alone,” Detective Anthony Rutz starts from his spot in the corner. “I’m just here to supervise and make sure that she doesn’t try anything.” Demi locks her eyes on to Chase, guilt immediately surfacing for everything that happened. There was no way that he could forgive her for a second time.

“I’m not going to do anything,” she says quietly. “I’ve done enough.” Chase slowly sits down as those words flood his mind. No doubt the guilt was laced in her voice. It was getting harder and harder to believe that she didn’t have any part of the blame.

“You wanted to talk?” He questions as she shrugs her shoulders with a glance over at Anthony.

“You don’t have to, but Anthony told me that I should tell you yourself.” He shakes his head, remembering the discussion with the detective the previous day.

“Okay.” She then takes a deep breath, finding this harder than she originally thought.

“I’m not forcing you to listen…” He could tell there was hesitation in her voice, as if to avoid having the discussion. However, while he didn’t want to sit there, he knew that it’d finally settle in if he heard her say everything herself.

“No, it’s fine. I need this. Go ahead.” She immediately looks down at the big, long brown wooden table as she takes a deep breath. Why was this so hard? She had already confessed to everything for the detective.

“It’s true. I handed you over.” Immediately once the words escaped her lips, it felt like a punch to the gut for Chase. He couldn’t avoid the thought in anymore. He couldn’t believe that she was innocent in his thoughts. She had just stated it herself, and there was no way around it. Everything that had happened in the span of that week meant nothing – the discussion, the laughs, the sex – it was all meant nothing. Why did it hurt so much?

“So this was just a ploy….” She knew what he was thinking, going back to the original first meeting of them in the bar. However, that wasn’t the case. She wasn’t that evil in having planned this over a long period of time.

“No…no…no….Everything that I said I meant. The fact that I loved you and felt so passionately for you – I meant. The plan that I put together, I wanted it to work for you.” Chase immediately shakes his head, not able to withstand the chance of believing those words. First she admits that she handed him over and supposedly everything meant noting, but now is trying to take it back? It only confused him more, and made the pain of what happened hurt that much more.

“Oh really?” She shakes her head yes, as she takes a deep breath. She could tell that he was on the verge of crying out of heartbreak and it was her fault for what had happened. Why had she listened?

“Yes. Everything then was for a reason as I liked you – I loved you. I wanted the same thing with you. That was honesty, Chase.” She then glances away as he focuses his eyes anywhere but at her. He couldn’t stand to look at her as she said those words, espically after admitting that she helped. How could she mean those words and yet still help in his kidnapping? “I still want that with you. I still crave for you, and want to be with you, and all those dreams. I just know that’s not possible now….” He shakes his head. He didn’t want to hear those words, no matter how important she felt they were to say. There was no way that he was going back down that road after her confession.

“Don’t even go there, please. Tell me. You said that you didn’t know Randy originally?” She takes a deep breath. He was finally giving her a chance to fully explain herself. Perhaps he could see things from her perspective. Perhaps some forgiveness would be available at the end of the tunnel.

“Each person in the ring learns assignment per purchaser agreement, but doesn’t tell others – unless warranted.” Chase could understand that as it helped keep everybody out of trouble. However, that still didn’t explain her involvement with him.

“And you found out because he wanted everybody to find out?” She shakes her head yes, remembering the night that Randy stood at the front of the room.

“He told the whole group, everything, just like I told you the morning after. I didn’t hide anything from you, Chase.” He shakes his head. That was a lie as they were sitting here having a confessional session that should never have happened.

“But yet you gave me up to him? Why?” She takes a deep breath. She couldn’t hide it anymore.

“Someone found out…and threatened me….and I was left without a choice.” He looks back at her in disbelief. No matter the situation, there was always a choice. It was why it was hard to move forward from situations – because there was always a choice that you could’ve possibly made to change the sequence of events. For him, that choice could’ve been not trusting her and going up to Blue Mountain. He still couldn’t believe that he trusted a stranger on a limb like that, and then slept with her.

“You could’ve said something. You could’ve told me. You could’ve set a different plan in motion. You could’ve…..anything but that! How could you?!? Do you not know what I went through because of that?” She takes a deep breath, having heard the details from Anthony. She couldn’t believe how far Randy had taken things, but also understood based on the determination that Randy had that night in finding Chase. She felt worse than she had ever felt in these situations, and wished that she could’ve changed the sequence of events.

“I’m sorry, okay? I know I was wrong….” Chase glances down at the table, fighting against every bit of anger to snap at her as the sequence of events with Randy flew through his mind, tearing him apart from the inside.

“Get out!” Demi takes a deep breath, seeing the break down. She then slowly stands up, not wanting to intrude any further pain. “Wait.” She then freezes as he looks up at her.

While everything was bugging him, he needed the full story. He couldn’t move forward and truly understand what she did till he knew the whole story. If he didn’t learn the whole story, he would be stuck in the same spot that he was in now.

Chapter 48: The Full Story
January 7, 2016

“Tell me everything,” he instructs. “The ring and how it works, how you got involved and why you got involved. Tell me the details of how Randy got to me.” She then slowly sits back in her seat, taking a deep breath, debating how to recount the details. She knew that she owed it to him and it only seemed fair.

“After we got back to the apartment that night, you went to go grab a quick shower,” She recalls as he shakes his head, remembering that he wanted to get a warm shower to try and relax the nerves surrounding the situation. “My district manager, Christopher Harris, called my cell phone. He said that a man that lived in the apartment, Bryan Monzo, recognized me from a meeting, and recognized you from the poster.” Chase could’ve slammed his fist against the table at her account of the details.

“But yet, you didn’t tell me of any phone call. I came out of the shower and there was no mention of a phone call. You could’ve said that someone had recognized us and we could’ve called the police and got the right protective measure in place for me, as Dale originally told me that I should’ve done. Instead, I went to bed thinking everything was perfect for the morning. You’re a true bitch!” It was certainly out of character for him to yell like that, but he was beyond furious in learning this detail. She told him that she could’ve had done anything, but yet she could’ve given him warning. It felt nice learning that the girl he was staying with knew that Randy would be showing up that morning, but felt no need to say anything.

“As I said, I’m sorr-”

“Don’t bother apologizing. What else do you have to say for yourself?” She then takes a deep breath, going back to her story. In honesty, she felt no point in saying the details as she seemed to hit a real sore spot already. If she continued, she knew that it’d just grow uglier.

“I told him that wasn’t the case as I had no idea who he was talking about. I played dumb, okay? However, he didn’t believe me. Instead, he told me that Bryan had a photo that he had taken with his phone and sent along. He added that either way, Randy was going to do what he wanted. I could either be dead, or play dumb. I was scared and easily accepted playing dum-”

“So you’re scared and worried, and forget about me? You don’t mention a single thing. If you could’ve mentioned something, maybe we could’ve changed the course of events. Did you think of that?” He then glances into her eyes, the anger and pain burning through his without any reserve left. “Do you realize how much I cared for you? Do you realize how much I bared for you? Do you realize that I…..I slept with you! But yet this is how you repay me 24 hours later?” She then glances down, feeling the guilt that she felt before tripling at his comments. She didn’t know that the guilt could feel worse, but here she was, on the verge of crying out of her own guilt.

“I’m so sorr-”

“I told you what to do about your apologies. So be my guest and continue to explain how you allowed my worst enemy easy access to me without warning or effort to save me.” She then glances down, taking a deep breath, recounting the morning of the kidnapping.

“I went out to leave you by yourself that morning. That whole ploy of a disguise was a lie; I was set to leave you alone, per the discussion with Christopher. I was going to leave the apartment and call 9-1-1 so they could come save you. I never knew that he would be standing there, and knock me out.” Chase shakes his head as he hears the tail of her story, not believing any bit that she was going to try and help him. She hadn’t shown signs of doing that when she got the phone call, so why show signs later on?

“If you would’ve warned me before, then you could’ve helped me. You could’ve screamed when he held you. You could’ve…..I don’t believe that you were going to help me since you seemed to have placed me in a trap.” He bites his bottom lip, fighting the urge to scream at her once again as he sniffs back the tears of betrayal and hurt that threaten to fall. He had to remain strong…. “Why confess now? You told me that you couldn’t confess everything about the ring before because you were scared and they couldn’t offer you protection.”

“I realized that I was an idiot and confessed everything once Anthony found me. I told them everything.” She then reaches out to place her hand on his, but he immediately pulls it back.

“Hands to yourself!” Anthony instructs as Demi places her hand back on her lap, taking a deep breath. She could see the pain in his face. She wanted to offer some sort of comfort.

“Chase, I’m so sorry,” she starts as he shakes his head. He wasn’t buying any part of her apology. “Chase, I still love you and wish that I could be with you. Now, by my confession, the police waved my criminal charges for other offense due to confessi-”

“I know what the deal is. Anthony told me.” She then glances down.

“It’s your decision, Chase. I told him that I’d plead guilty if you pressed the charges.” Chase had to laugh a little as he thought over the charges. The first charge seemed ridiculous, but made him wish that he had never stepped in the car with her that morning.

“Well, you didn’t kidnap me. I went by myself, unfortunately.” She glances down, feeling her own hot tears start to fall.

“….I’m so sorry….” He shakes his head, turning away from her as he takes a calming deep breath. It took everything that he had to not freak out on her right now.

“I don’t want to hear it, okay? No apologies. Thanks for coming but don’t say sorry. Just think how many people you allowed to get hurt over the year due to a pitty crime ring to make money. How does that money make you feel now?” He then stands up and heads towards the door, not wanting to deal with this any longer.

“The other charge?” He freezes by the door that he had walked over to and glance back at her.

“I don’t give a shit. Just stay away from me for the rest of my life!”

“In other words, that charge will be pressed against you to insure that, along with a restraining order for when she gets out of jail in 15 years,” the detective states as Chase glances over.

“15 years? That’s all she gets?” He questions and the detective shakes his head yes. “Find some way to make her stay longer, please. I don’t need to deal with this again.”

He then opens the door before him, walking through it and slamming it behind him. He then leans back against, taking a deep breath as a couple tears begin to fall.

“Chase?” Rick questions as he looks over, seeing the young man leaning against the door. Chase then glances around, realizing that he had taken the door out of the meeting room to Rick’s office, versus the main hallway door.

“Sir, I’m so sorry,” he lets out as he heads towards the door to leave Rick’s office.

“Chase, it’s okay.” Rick then stands up out of his seat and walks over to where Chase is standing, rubbing his back. “I get it. You just wanted to get away as soon as you could.” Chase then turns back to him as more tears fall down his cheeks.

“You don’t understand….” He then leans back against the wall, unable to stand up straight as he feels every bit of him breaking down, from tears falling to his knees feeling like they’re going to give out. “I trusted her. I loved her. Then she went and did that? I don’t get it!” He then slides down the wall, tears falling as he brings his knees to his chest, letting it out. Rick then kneels down to his level, rubbing his shoulder.

“It’s okay. Let it go….”

Chapter 49: Comfort
January 7, 2016

The pair stayed like that for several minutes as Rick continued to rub his shoulders, letting the young man before him get all of the tears out in the open. He knew by what he had heard that Chase had been through a lot over the past year and could understand how the emotions would get bottled up, despite the fact that he had talked to people about things.

“Do you want anything?” Rick finally offers as the tears lighten up. Chase shakes his head no as he takes a deep breath, finally looking up into the boss’ eyes.

“Thank you, and I’m sorr-” Chase starts.

“You don’t need to apologize for barging in like you did. It’s okay – I understand that you were upset and just wanted to get away. I’m not mad, Chase. Stop apologizing.” Chase then slowly stands up, wiping his eyes off as he takes another calming deep breath.

“Yes sir.” Rick then stands up and walks back to his desk, keeping an eye on Chase the whole way.

“You’re upset. You need some time to digest everything and relax. As I told you yesterday, you could leave right after, and I think that’d be the best idea.” He then picks up the phone as Chase walks over to the desk.

“Sir, with all due respect, I’m fine now. I can handle myself for the rest of the day here and work on things with Ala-” Rick then looks up at Chase.

“Anything that you have can wait to tomorrow.” Chase knew that he wasn’t winning this argument, and perhaps Rick was right. There was no way that he was going concentrate for the rest of the day with everything that was on his mind as he kept replaying her story.

“Okay, fine. I understand, sir, but I can drive myself home.” Rick shakes his head no as he waits for an answer.

“You’re emotionally upset and distracted. Let me get Dale to give you a ride home. Besides, perhaps you could talk with him about things.” Rick then pauses for a minute. “Unless you want to talk about it right now with me.” Chase shakes his head no as he lets out a sigh.

He really didn’t want to talk about it with Dale, either. He was fine with talking to him about the details of attacks and emotions there as Dale had been through a similar circumstance; there was a relatable factor. When it came to the deeper emotions, it seemed easier to dive into those details with Regan more than anything. Perhaps it was their teammate relationships that allowed that. However, when it came to relationships, it just didn’t feel right talking to either of them as he could never dive into the details. They always seemed to want to offer advice, whereas he just wanted an ear to hear him out.

There was also the option of talking to his parents, but that’d just be awkward. Who wants to talk about their first time in bed with someone with their parents?

As he mentally went through the list of possibilities, he knew there was a pair that’d make it least awkward as they were close and kidded about girlfriends and stuff like that all the time. It was just the question whether they’d be enough of someone to lean on in this situation. Considering their want to help him, he felt fair in giving it a shot.

He watches as the door to Rick’s office opens, immediately allowing his eyes to meet a pair of blue eyes that were standing there.

“Do you have everything that you need?” Dale questions and Chase simply shakes his head yes as he double checks his pockets for his wallet, phone and keys. “I’ll come back later with Marie and we’ll get your truck home. I agree with Rick right now.”

“Okay,” Chase simply answers as he glances back at Rick. “Thanks once again, boss.”

“My door is always open, Chase,” Rick assures him before walking over and giving him a hug. “Take care of yourself. Take whatever time that you need.”

“Yes sir.” Chase then follows Dale out of the office and down the hallway in silence. The pair stayed that way all the way till they got outside and inside of Dale’s truck. Chase wasn’t willing to discuss things if he didn’t have to, and Dale didn’t know how to bring up what happened with Demi.

“Did you get the answers that you wanted?” Dale asks once they had headed on the road and stopped at a stoplight. He couldn’t take the silence much longer.

“Yeah, I did,” Chase answers as he keeps his eyes focused forward. “Let’s just say that she played me like everybody told me. She got a phone call in the middle of the night that we were spotted and turned into a helper immediately.” Dale shakes his head in disbelief as he heads down the road. He wanted to glance over at Chase and see his reaction, but obviously that wasn’t the best option while cruising down the road.

“I’m sorry to hear, man. It sucks when you get your heart broken. It sucks even more when you’re betrayed like that. I’ve been betrayed and hurt, but I can’t imagine what you’re going through with everything that happened.” Chase shakes his head, knowing those emotions too well as he felt every one of them on the surface. While he wasn’t originally wanting to discuss things with Dale, he had questions that had surfaced via their few words of conversation.

“When does the pain of being heartbroken and betrayed get easier?” Dale chuckles, but immediately quits. He remembered asking the same very question after his first couple of break-ups.

“Well, you have the closure and they say that closure is the first step. Now it’s just about how long it takes for the heart to heal. For some people, it weeks while its months for others. It just depends. For me, there were girls that I got over instantly. There were also a couple that took awhile. As long as you’re feeling better about things each day, that’s progress and that’s all that matters. It’s just like after the attacks and the nightmares. As long as it’s getting easier, things will be okay.” Chase wished that he’d be one of those cases where it’d disappear in a matter of days as he hated every second of it. “Are the nightmares getting easier, by the way? I don’t mean to bring up another bad topic, but I just thought of it.”

“They’re still there. It’s getting a little easier each night, but I still have one every couple of nights. I’m trying to remember what Regan and I talked about before in how you try and change your dreams and such. It’s slowly working.” A smile formed on Dale’s face as he was glad to hear the progress as they drove up the driveway of the property.

“That’s a good. That’s a start. There’s something.” He then pulls up to the lake house, glancing over at Chase as he stops. He could see the pain in the young man’s eyes, just wanting to reach over and make it go away instantly. However, he knew all too well that you can’t make pain just go away. “Are you going to be oaky by yourself? I could stay with you, or get Marie to come ove-”

“I’ll be fine, Dale. Thank you for the ride back and the conversation.” Dale shakes his head, understanding.

“You know where to find me always, no matter the time.” Chase knew Dale meant well by the offer and appreciated it, but he already had his own plans.

“Thanks. I’m actually going to call Ryan and Darrell and see if they’re free. A little guy’s night to help feel better and possibly discuss things.” Dale could understand that as he knew how uncomfortable it could be to talk about ‘certain things’.

“That sounds like a good plan. Feel free to tell the boys the code to the gates. I don’t mind if they know.” Chase shakes his head as he climbs out of the truck.

“Thanks again for the ride.” He then closes the door, heading up the short steps to the lake house. He unlocks the door and heads inside, texting both boys along the way. He just hoped that they hadn’t made any plans.

Chapter 50: Boy’s Night
January 7, 2016

Chase hears the knock on the door and takes a deep breath as he stands up and walks over to the door, opening it and watching the pair come in.

“I’ve got pizza,” Ryan says as he enters first, giving Chase a hug and heading to the living room.

“And I’ve got the chips,” Darrell adds, also giving Chase a hug. Chase then closes the door and heads to the kitchen, grabbing a couple cans of pop before going to the living room.

“I’ve got the drinks,” he tells them as he sets the cans on the table.

“No alcohol?” Ryan questions and Chase immediately shakes his head no.

“I’m too young, rememb-”

“We heard what happened when you ran away from us. Is that why you ran away?” Chase shakes his head no with a chuckle. It’d certainly make a much easier story to tell.

“I told myself after that experience that I’m never going to drink, again. That hangover was terrible!” Ryan chuckles, knowing the experience of a first hangover as Darrell shakes his head.

“Remind me of his words on his 21st birthday,” Darrell states as Ryan shakes his head in agreement with a laugh. They all then calm down as they dive into the pizza, glancing between each other.

They knew the reason that they sat in the room. Chase had asked them to join him that night for some conversation as he wanted to talk to someone about what happened. he wanted to go through the whole course of events that happened from the moment he ran away, through the trail of events with Demi, to how he was feeling after the meeting. The boys immediately accepted, wanting to be there for their friend.

Ryan still had flashbacks to the blood all over the ground in the hotel room when Chase was stabbed in the leg, and knew from that day forward he would do anything to comfort his friend. If Chase wanted to lean on them, he was willing to be there 24/7, no matter what.

“So, where are we going to begin?” He finally breaks the silence in the room as Chase shrugs his shoulders. It wasn’t as easy as his times with Regan where there was an obvious beginning – whenever Randy or Mariela simply showed up. When it came to this situation, there were a couple different spots.

“We know why you ran away and totally understand your reasoning, truthfully,” Darrell offers as Ryan rolls his eyes.

“You weren’t saying that when you were all worried and concerned about no phone cal-”

“I grew to understand, okay? Don’t ruin my moment!” Chase shakes his head, already believing that this was going to work. It seemed as though the pair would add the right comic relief at times when he needed it. “Anyways, we know what you did. We heard about the note, from Cindy and her demands of us to spill where you went.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry I was very secretive about that,” Chase comments quietly as Darrell shrugs his shoulders.

“Buddy, I’m easy to crack of secrets and this guy would do anything for Momma,” Darrell starts. “You did the right thing.” Chase smiles as Ryan shakes his head in agreement.

“We also knew why you ended up at the bar and why you ordered the drink – reasonable explaination as you were the champion, sir,” Ryan continues. “You met Demi and conversation blah blah. So, we could either start from her offer or go straight to the goodness. IT doesn’t matter to us, honestly.”

“We have all night,” Darrell offers as Ryan looks over with a glance of surprise.

“I have to be at Pens-”

“We have all night. That’s what energy drinks are made for, Ryan.”

“Don’t worry – I won’t keep you up past your bedtime,” Chase offers with a smile as he kicks back and tries to relax. With everything going through his mind, there was no signs of relaxation coming as he knew that they’d be in for a long stretch of discussion. However, he figured the more relaxed he got, the easier it’d be to start talking. “Let’s just go straight to the goodness. You both knew my reasoning for going with her – whether right or wrong, so let’s tackle the goo-”

“Do you think you did the right thing going with her?” Ryan cuts him off as Chase glances over with a curious glance.

“Dude, the girl tried to kill him,” Darrell starts. “Isn’t that a bad decision?” Ryan shrugs his shoulders, realizing that. However, there was reason for the question.

“What if she hadn’t tried to kill him? What if everything panned out perfect and they became good friends? You have to take chances and you have to trust people outside of the box, sometim-”

“This coming from the guy that won’t date a girl due to his cock-blocking sister, and a guy so shy that he won’t do half the things that I do. But yet, here you sit giving this boy this advice.” Ryan rolls his eyes as he looks over at Darrell.

“I’m just asking his opinion on the situation – not giving him advice. Besides, why do you always bring my sister into this discussion?” Darrell crosses his arms.

“Because you haven’t grown your balls yet to tell her to leave your love life alone.” Ryan then looks back at Chase.

“Obviously, Darrell doesn’t realize that I value my sister’s opinion. Now, back on topic, shall we?” Chase shakes his head and lets out a sigh. It was going to be an interesting night.

“I think I made the right decision,” Chase offers. “Before Randy got involved in that mess, it was all the right decision. Sometimes, as you said, you have to take chances. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I made the right decision in the moment as before everything happened, it was a great vacation. I just met the one in a million crazy girl.”

“That’s why you don’t trust girls in bars,” Ryan summarizes as Chase laughs.

“That’s what my dad always told me.”

“Alright. So, where do you want to begin, sir?” Chase thinks it over, debating the possible starter points. The boys knew some of the story, but not the whole story. He had told them some details so they understood the basics of what happened, but not the depths that it happened. He wanted them to understand the betrayal and hurt that he felt now. He wanted them to understand and know why he had made the decisions he had with Demi, and why they affected him as they did. Taking a deep breath, he knew with what night to start with.

“Let’s start with the night that she went to a meeting and discovered Randy’s involvement in her ring.” Ryan gets comfy on the couch and shakes his head, in agreement. The whole time, he couldn’t understand how Chase continued to be around someone who had a connection of any sort to Randy, especially after the hotel incident.

“You may begin whenever you’re ready.”

 

The Runaway – Chapters 41 Thru 45

Chapter 41: Christmas

December 25, 2015

Chase relaxes on the couch after having breakfast as his parents sit by his side. He glanced at the tree before glancing between the pair of them.

“I feel bad…,” he starts, catching their attention immediately. “I didn’t do any Christmas shopping. I didn’t get you guys anything. The tree just looks…sad.” Cindy wraps an arm around his shoulders.

“It’s okay – honestly,” she tells him. “I got my Christmas wish and that was my baby safe and home in my arms. We can worry about gifts for each other later.”

“Your mom is right as nothing under that tree would’ve been better than you being here,” Bill adds as Chase glances between the pair with a smile on his face.

“I’m so spoiled to have parents that love me this much,” he comments as they both smile.

“We did get you something, though….” Chase then looks over at his dad.

“You told me not to worry and shopping wasn’t important this yea-”

“Your mom had already gone and bought it a month ago, and hid it till now. Besides, we had to have something under the tree.” Bill then picks up the box and hands it to Chase as he glances over at his mom.

“I knew that I had to get it for you when I saw it,” she comments. “You’ve wanted this for awhile.” He then looks at her slightly confused as he tears into the wrapping.

“It still doesn’t feel right opening it without a gift for you,” he comments with a sigh.

“Chase, it’s fine – you can get us something later. We both understand.” He shakes his head, knowing that seemed to be the case a lot lately. He then finishes removing the wrapping paper, revealing the box underneath it all. He then opens the box as a huge smile pops across his face.

“This is awesome!!” He then pulls the jersey out of the box as he looks it over.

“You’ve mentioned it over and over, but they kept not having the player that you wanted over and over,” she starts. “As soon as I saw it, I told Bill that we had to get it for you.” He sets it down and immediately pulls her into a hug.

“Thank you!” He tells her as she rubs his back.

“A mother knows best how and when to spoil her child.” She gives him a kiss on the cheek as he looks it over, once again.

“I owe you someth-”

“Chas-”

“No, Mamma – I owe you something in return. I’m going to get you something special. It’s only fair and no arguing.”

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

“I likey lots!” Alyssa lets out as she looks over the new barbie doll set that she had just opened. “

“So Santa did good this year?” Dale questions and she looks over and shakes her head yes. “I guess you were a really good girl this year.”

“I always good, daddy.” He then chuckles as she runs over and he gives her a big hug.

“Hey, there’s still one gift by the tree. Can you bring it over here?” She then glances back at the tree and runs over, grabbing the small box. She then brings it over and hands it to Dale.

“For me?” Dale looks over the name tag and shakes his head no.

“Not this one, baby girl. This one says that it’s for mommy.” Marie looks over intrigued.

“For me?” She questions and Dale shakes his head yes as he looks over at her.

“I got Karsyn to do my shopping, but there’s one thing that I left out since I wanted to get it myself,” he starts as she looks at him intrigued. “You know that I hate jewelry of any kind – necklaces, bracelets. However, I know that you always enjoyed wearing a necklace or two before we got together. I’m willing to budge a little, but for a special reason.” He then hands her the box as she looks at him slightly confused.

“You don’t need to do tha-”

“It’s fine. Open the box.” She then looks at the box and slowly tears off the bits of wrapping paper.

“I haven’t worn a necklace since we started seriously dating. This would just feel awk-”

“Trust me. You’ll enjoy this.” She then opens the box slowly and her jaw drops immediately. She pulls the gold chain out of the box as a pair of pink flipflops dangle from the bottom.

“Dale…..”

“Each of those flipflops has a meaning. Look at them closely.” She then glances closer, seeing the names ‘Alyssa’ and ‘Elsa’ engraved as they had decided the night he returned home that they’d name the little girl to be Elsa – Elsa Marie Kastona Earnhardt to be exact.

“Dale…..”

“Do you like it?” She then looks over and smiles, leaning in to give him a kiss.

“She love it, daddy!” Alyssa lets out with a smile.

“I do love it,” Marie comments as she glances over it again. “It is truthfully special and meaningful.”

“And if we do have any other children, we can continue adding flip flops,” he offers as he gives him a glance.

“More children?” He then shrugs his shoulders. In truth, he still wanted to have a little boy of his own.

“You never know, Marie – you never know.”

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

Set on grabbing a quick nap before the rest of the family showed up, Chase had retreated back to his bedroom. Despite being over the pneumonia and what happened, there was no doubt that his strength still wasn’t up to par. It was improving with each passing day, but there were still moments where he craved a quick nap here or there.

In the midst of the nap, he shivers in his sleep as the dreams….nightmares of the past come back to haunt him. They continue to bug him as a couple stray tears from his eyes.

Scared by the images of the mind, he shoots up in the bed and glances around the room. Taking a couple deep breaths, he relaxes back as he calms himself down. He glances around the room, knowing that he’s home, he’s safe and there’s nothing to worry about.

“Are you okay?” He hears and glances over to his left, hearing the foreign voice. His questions immediately are answered as he sees his half-sister sitting there.

“When did you get here?” He questions as Starr shrugs her shoulders.

“About half hour ago. I didn’t want to disturb your nap, but I was still worried about your little ass so I came up here to see how you were while dad spent time with my little girl.” He then sits up in the bed as he rubs the sleep out of his eyes. “Maybe I should’ve woke you up, based on your dream.”

“It’s fine….and I’m fine.” A smile forms on her face as she keeps her eyes locked on him.

“I’m glad that you’re okay. You got to stop scaring the crap out of this family, boy. I don’t want anymore phone calls that you’re in trouble.” He shrugs his shoulders.

“I wasn’t trying to scare you or anything – I didn’t mean to find trouble.”

“Can I have a hug at least?” He then gets out of the bed, giving her a hug. “You look pretty good, all things considered.”

“I feel pretty good, as well. Come on – let’s go see that lovely crazy niece of mine.” They then head towards the doorway of the room.

“Chase, can I ask you something?” He then glances back at her, curiously. “How long have you had these nightmares?” He then lets out a sigh, not wanting to discuss it.

“They’ve been going on since February. I’ve had times when I’ve been able to make them disappear and I’ve had times when they’re even worse than they are now.” She shakes her head, understanding. She hadn’t heard every detail of what he had been through, but enough to know that it was reason for nightmares.

“You should talk to someone about it….” He takes a deep breath, having heard the advice plenty of times.

“I have, Starr. I’ve talked to mom, dad, Dale, Regan – I’ve done my fair share of talking with people. I’m dealing with it, okay?” He then leans back against the door frame. “It’s not as easy as you may think it is to simply deal with it and make it disappear. It takes time. I’m figuring out ways to deal with it myself and move forward, slowly. Things are getting better.” He then straightens himself up. “You don’t need to worry about me, okay?” She shakes her head yes, agreeing, but still feels a tinge of worry.

“I can’t help it; you’re my little brother that I’ve somehow come to love.” A sly grin forms on his face.

“Admit it – you’ve always loved me.” She then laughs and shakes her head no.

“Oh no, not at all. I remember when dad told me that Cindy was pregnant with a little boy. I was gave him the ‘seriously’ talk and total disbelief and I was set to hide you away in a closet when I met you. Then when you were born, I had to admit that you were cute and perhaps loveable. Of course, there was a period during your toddler years that I was going to chuck you away again, but I realized that you weren’t that bad.” He smiles as he glances back at her as they head down the stairs.

“Like I said – you’ve always loved me, Starr.” He then makes his way down the rest of the stairs as she just shakes her head following him.

 

Chapter 42: Surprise

December 29, 2015

Cindy opens the door as she looks between the pair of guys and immediately rolls her eyes. This was going to be major trouble.

“Where is he?” Darrell immediately questions as he peaks around the house.

“Did he know that you were coming?” She asks as she glances back at her and shakes his head no.

“We’ve been texting, calling and facetiming, but kept saying that we wouldn’t see him till he returned to North Carolina,” Ryan starts, catching Cindy’s attention. “We thought it’d be a good idea to come surprise him. I thought about calling ahead and warning you and Bill, but this one said that you’d give it away and said not to.” She then messes up his hair as he slips his shoes off.

“Ryan – always the caring one. A little warning would’ve been nice as I would not have spoiled the surprise!” Darrell then looks back and gives Ryan a look as Ryan sticks his tongue out.

“So where is he?” Darrell questions once again as he glances in the living room, followed by the kitchen. “Cindy?”

“Did he go out?” Ryan wonders and Cindy shakes her head no, pointing to the stairs.

“He’s up in his room, playing a video game,” she tells them as they both head immediately for the stairs. “It’s nice to see you both. I’m sure he’ll be extra excited to see you.” The boys then hurry up the stairs, but quietly as they didn’t want to ruin the surprise. They then make their way down the hallway, opening one of the doors.

“Wrong room!” Darrell whispers as he closes the room, looking back at Ryan. “That’s the parent room.”

“You should’ve just followed me,” Ryan tells him as he heads the other direction. He then peaks into the room, watching as Chase concentrates on the racing game. They both kept quiet for a couple minutes, letting him finish the race that he was in – in which he ended up finishing fourth.

“Damn it!” Chase lets out as he begins to go through the menu to redo the race.

“Would you rather race against some other competition?” Darrell questions as Chase glances back and an immediate smile forms on his face.

“What are you doing here?!?” Chase lets out as he hurries over and wraps his arms around Darrell, giving him a huge hug. “Dude!”

“Okay…show no love to me,” Ryan says as he glances around aimlessly. Chase then lets go of Darrell and immediately pulls Ryan into a hug of his own.

“It’s so good to see you both! I’ve missed you….in a guy friend way, like our hang-outs and video games and talks and….Oh my gosh it’s so nice to see you!”

“It’s good to see you too, and with a smile on your face.” They then walk into Chase’s room as he flops ack on his bed.

“What can I say? I’m reunited with my best friends, enjoying some time relaxing at home with the parents and feeling pretty good.”

“You look good.”

“And that’s a bucket of lies because we know that spending time with the parents is probably getting a little annoying,” Darrell adds and Chase shakes his head no as he sits up.

“When you’ve been away from everybody that you know for a couple of weeks, gone through a whole bunch and been in the hospital, it actually feels really good,” he states as a sly smile forms on Ryan’s face. He was glad to see his friend doing much better and on the loose. He was glad to put what happened behind them as from the details he heard; it wasn’t a pretty turn of events.

“I can understand that as reuniting with family is great sometimes,” Ryan shares. “I bet you’re savoring every minute here.” Chase shakes his head yes.

“It was your idea to go away, though,” Darrell reminds him as Chase’s gaze immediately shoots over to him.

“I know….,” Chase comments as he glances down. “At the time and what was going through my mind, it felt like the right thing to do. It really did. I felt that the time away would do more good than I could imagine. It actually did help, though. I found some things out about myself that can help in moving forward and growing as a person. And sure, some other things happened along the way – but if Randy was loose, we know he’s crazy and he’d find me no matter where I was. It’s not my fault at all, for any decisions that I made, for what happened.” He then glances back up at his friends. “But hey, why are we talking about this? I thought you came here to surprise me and cheer me up.” Darrell glances over at Ryan with a smile before returning his eyes back to Chase.

“That is why we’re here. We got plan for you tomorrow and you’re not backing out of them no matter what.”

“We’re going coaster riding at Six Flags Over Georgia – no objections!” Ryan announces as Chase smiles.

“Figures you come see me because you want to go the best amusement park there is,” he comments. “That’s fine – you just better be ready to ride Joker Chaos Coaster.” The pair glance at each other, a little confused as Chase smiles. “Be prepared to get thrown in a loop 72 feet in the air – forwards and then backwards. Chaos, I tell you!” Chase then breaks out in a joker laugh as Ryan rolls his eyes.

“You’ve definitely need to get out. You’re already showing signs of going crazy.”

“But can we convince the parents to let the little boy go play?” Darrell offers as Ryan pats Darrell on the shoulder.

“I’ve got this – Cindy likes me,” Ryan states. “Besides, she knows that I will do a good job taking care of and babysitting her baby.” Chase then gives Ryan a look as Ryan shrugs his shoulders. “It’s okay, Chase. I won’t tell the world the secrets of your motherly love.” Ryan then leaves the room as Darrell breaks out laughing.

“And I call you two my friends,” Chase states as he follows Ryan out of the room.

 

Chapter 43: Playdate

December 30, 2015

“Are you ready?” Darrell questions as he pops up into Chase’s room. “Are you ready? Are you ready?” Chase laughs as he looks back at Darrell.

“You sound like a little kid in a candy store,” he comments as he heads out of the bedsroom. “I’m ready. Are you happy?”

“You’re wasting my roller coaster minutes with each minute spent here.” Chase shakes his head as they head down the stairs together.

“So, how do you plan on busting my ass out of here?” Darrell then freezes and looks back at Chase.

“Wait – you’re on house hold?” Chase shakes his head yes as he points to his parents. “Momma still worried about you?” Chase shakes his head yes.

“I thought you were supposed to talk to her about it.” Darrell rolls his eyes as he continues walking down the stairs.

“She’s your mother. Can’t you handle your own mother? Don’t you have some sort of puppy eyes that work?” Ryan shakes his head as he watches the pair come down the stairs. “Besides, this one is her favourite so I was going to leave that up to him while I made sure you got your ass ready.”

“He’s a grown adult; he doesn’t need help with his pants,” Ryan shares as Darrell glances over at him.

“He would’ve been in his room another 20 minutes!” Darrell lets out as Chase rolls his eyes.

“You’re over-exaggerating as I was ready when you started bugging,” Chase tells him as he walks into the living room where his parents are. “I’m going out for the day. The boys say that I need a little bit of fun so I’m going to Six Flags.” The parents look over at their son as Bill simply shakes his head.

“You’re old enough,” he comments. “You don’t have to ask for permission or anything. Have fun!”

“Are you sure that it’s a good idea?” Cindy then questions as Chase shakes his head yes.

“I’m feeling pretty much back to myself and I can trust that these two will take care of me,” he tells his mom as she looks over at them.

“I trust Ryan, I guess,” she states as Ryan smiles.

“What am I?” Darrell then questions. “Chopped liver?”

“I know your antics, Wallace. I have to keep an eye on you.” She then looks back at Chase. “Go have fun. Like your dad said, you’re an adult and can do your own thing. I got to stop trying to run the show….but be careful.” Chase then gives her a hug and kiss.

“Love you Momma!” He then walks out of the living room, slipping on his shoes before leading the boys out of the house. “Was that so hard?”

“I feel like we’ll be in trouble if we bring you back past midnight,” Darrell comments as Ryan laughs.

Throughout the whole day, the boys rode a wide arrangement of different roller coasters and rides throughout the park, enjoying each of them. They were screams and thrills, along with a couple of shrieks of fear. Chase had to admit, though, that it was nice to be able to hang out with his friends for a day and have some fun. It was a nice escape from sitting in the house.

There’d be some days that sitting in the house all day would bring him back tow hat happened and leave him thinking. Sometimes it’d do with Randy and possibly what he could’ve done different there. Other times, it dealt with Demi and whether he did the right thing in trusting her originally, and what went wrong. No matter what he told himself, he couldn’t bring himself to totally believe that she had set him up and broken the trust that they had together.

With a day of rides complete, the group agreed to head out for some late night dessert before returning the little boy home for the night. They didn’t want to wait too late, though, as they didn’t need Cindy and Bill worrying.

“Superman or Batman?” Darrell asks, comparing a pair of roller coasters that they rode that day.

“Superman!” Chase votes. “The fact that you’re lying down versus sitting up and it really feels like you’re actually Superman, its perfect!”

“I disagree,” Ryan offers. “I hated the feeling of laying down as it feels like you’re going to slide out of the ride when you go straight down. I liked Batman better, honestly. Those loops are beyond intense!” The pair then look back at Darrell as Darrell shrugs his shoulders.

“Got to be honest – Chase is right with Superman,” Darrell offers as Ryan throws his arms up in the air in protest. He then shrugs it off as he goes back to eating his ice cream sundae.

“I still say that Jokester loop is the stupidest thing ever! Why did you make us ride that thing? It just goes round and round.” Chase lets out a sigh as he wished that they would’ve skipped it, as well.

“It was the only ride in the park that I hadn’t rode since it’s new,” he reasons. “So now that you’ve both been to my amusement park, what was your all-time favourite ride?” Darrell sits back as he thinks it over as there were plenty of highlights over the course of the day.

“Mind Bender,” Darrell finally comments. “It’s simple, but sometimes simple is the best way to go as those turns were perfect.” Ryan rolls his eyes as he shakes his head.

“I still say that Batman was the best ride in the park and that’s my story!” Ryan states as the pair look at him surprised. “What?”

“You don’t need to get defensive little boy,” Chase offers he pats Ryan on the back. “We can like different things.” He then focuses back on his ice cream. “I’m surprised that neither of you mentioned the Georgia Cyclone. It’s the oldest wooden coaster in the park, but it still gets me to this day. There’s a reason why it’s our signature ride.”

“I hate wooden roller coasters for how much they jar you in the seat,” Darrell comments. “I like the smooth, fast ride that you get.”

“But yet you call the slowest, newest style roller coaster your favourite?” Ryan questions as Darrell shrugs his shoulders.

“It’s a matter of personal opinion.”

“And they call him the wild one.” Chase then chuckles a little. “So, when are you coming back to North Carolina?” Chase had been thinking about it, especially more now with the fact that he was feeling better and getting bored being at home.

“I was thinking around the 4th or 5th of January,” he offers. “I’m spending New Years with the parents, and then I promised some school buddies that we’d get together on the 2nd. So I figure I’ll come back down on the 4th as I want to get back down as soon as I can to get started on this season.”

“Are you ready for the big leagues?” Darrell questions as Chase looks over at him.

“Shouldn’t my win last year at the 600 say enough?” Darrell then sits back, satisfied with the answer as Ryan keeps his eyes on Chase. Since the phone call when Chase went missing and the days that followed, there was a sense of worry from both Ryan and Darrell on how Chase was doing, not just physically but mentally. They wanted to know how their friend was handling it as they knew what happened before.

“But are you ready with everything that happened?” Ryan then questions as Chase sets down the spoon and takes a deep breath as he looks between the pair.

“I know that I can get it done behind the wheel,” he starts. “I trust in my ability as a driver. I know I can be there physically if I get my ass back in training and keep my strength where it should be. As far as what happened, that still lingers. I still think about what happened. I still think about Randy. I still think about Demi, more than I want to. Am I over what happened? Absolutely not. But will that bug me when I’m behind the wheel? Absolutely not.” Ryan shakes his head, understanding. It was an honest answer, but not the answer that he hoped for.

“Just promise us that you’re taking care of yourself.” Chase then looks over at Ryan.

“I told yo-”

“Chase, we both know what happened last year. You let things get to be too much and literally broke down in the middle of the night to Regan. You got to the point that you were making yourself sick. I don’t want that to happen. I just worry about that happening, okay? That’s why I’m merely suggesting it.”

“We care about you,” Darrell adds as he wraps an arm around Chase’s shoulder. Chase then glances between the pair with a smile.

“Trust me – I’ve got this under control,” he assures them. “I know that I can’t let that happen again. I know that if I need to, I better talk with someone if that becomes a problem. I know how to handle things now. I can get through this. I’m stronger than this.” He then lets out a sigh as he glances back down. “I just need to get the nightmares under control. That’s the only problem right now. Well, and I need to convince myself that Demi truly did what she did and to let go what we had.”

“It’s heartbreak. It’s a killer. It stings for longer than you want it to. That’s why it still bugs you. But you’ll get past that and you’ll find someone who truly loves you and won’t hurt you. If I can find someone like Shelby, then you can find a bloody princess to treat you like royalty with your sweetness.” Chase laughs and shakes his head.

“I already got one princess that can’t wait to see me and has kept stealing her dad’s phone to face time me.” Darrel and Ryan knew exactly who Chase meant as they knew how close he was with Alyssa.

“If you need someone to talk to, about any of that, you can call us anytime,” Ryan assures him. “Those nightmares will get easier. The thoughts about Demi will get easier. You just need to find your way to move past it, whether that’s talking about it someone or something else.” Chase shakes his head, knowing that they were right.

“I know and I will. I know that I can do this, and I really know that I can do it because I’ve got the two best friends that a guy could ask for.”

Chapter 44: North Carolina
January 4, 2016

“Feels so great to be back!” He lets out as he types the passcode in at the gate, watching the gates unlock before him. He then drives through the gates, driving up through the property as he glances around, a smile firmly planted on his face.

It had been a month since he made the decision to run away, got kidnapped and spent some time home in Georgia. No doubt, once again, he had been put through the ringer with each inch of his strength and patience tested.

He knew that he made the right decision to take some time to himself. Despite things not working out as planned in the end, he had learned valuable lessons. He had learned some ways to cope with things and start to move forward. He had also learned a key in trust.

He had found his way to function daily despite Randy’s attack, leaving it in the back of his mind where it belonged. There were still some nightmares and lingering thoughts of what happened, but he knew that they’d go away with time. It was just about facing those memories and training himself to totally forget them. Some time in the race shop would be a good distraction.

He was having a more difficult time getting over the heartbreak from the trail of events surrounding Demi. No matter what he told himself, he couldn’t get over the fact that she had played a role in the attack, no matter the size. It made everything that happened throughout the span of that week disgust him. The very thought of being in her arms, telling her how much he loved her made him want to throw up.

It was nice to spend some time at home. It was certainly what he needed at that time as if he would’ve thrown himself back into this world immediately, he would’ve fallen into the same trap that he found himself in last year. IT gave him a chance to separate himself from reality and live in the memories of being a child with freedom from this reality.

Now back in North Carolina, he was being thrust back into reality, but he felt that he could handle it. He knew that he was safe within the confines of Dirty Mo Acres and Hendrick Motorsports. Beyond that, Randy was locked up and this time held at a jail cell with higher security so therefore there’d be no chance of escape.

It was time to focus on 2016 and leave 2015 where it belonged – in the rearview mirror.

He parks the truck up by the lake house, turning the key off as he climbs out. He grabs the first bag out of the back, walking up to the door and unlocking the door. He walks inside, glancing around the house with a smile. Everything was just how he’d left it when he left in December. He takes his bag up to his room, shaking his head as he noticed that his bed was still a mess. He drops the bag before going back down the stairs and walking out to the truck. He then reaches in to grab the second bag as a familiar person walks up to him.

“It’s nice to see you back,” Dale comments as Chase looks over with a smile.

“It’s nice to be back,” he replies. “I figured I better get my ass down here and get to work if I’m going to have a good season.” Dale chuckles, knowing that a big challenge lied ahead. Not only was this going to be Chase’s rookie season, but he was taking over the ride previously occupied by Jeff Gordon. Nothing like having a bit of pressure, right?

“Need any help?” Chase shakes his head no as he swings the bag on his back.

“Last bag. I packed lightly.” He then heads up towards the lake house, before turning back to Dale. “Alyssa doesn’t know that I’m back, does she?” Dale shakes his head no. “Don’t tell her. I’ll be over in a few minutes.” Dale shakes his head with a smile.

“She’ll love seeing you, man.” Chase then hurries inside, taking the bag upstairs. He drops the bag quickly before coming back out and heading over to Dale’s house. “You look good.”

“I feel a lot better than the last time you saw me.” Dale then reaches out and squeezes Chase’s arm.

“And you’ve been working at getting your strength where it needs to be, I see.” Chase shakes his head yes.

“Got to be ready for the season.” Dale shakes his head as he more so focuses on Chase in the eyes, trying to a catch of glimpse whatever he can in there. He knew there was more to the story than the young man was letting on.

“Honestly, though, how are you?” Chase takes a deep breath, knowing that the question was coming.

“I’m fine – honestly. I’m dealing with things. I still have the nightmares here and there, and I’ve had a flashback or two, but I’m dealing with it.” Chase then looks into Dale’s blue eyes. “You don’t have to worry about me. Focus on Marie and the baby, okay?” Dale lets out a sigh as he wraps an arm around Chase’s shoulders.

“I can’t help but worry about you. Listen, if those nightmares get to be too much, don’t hesitate to come stay over at my place for awhile if it helps. I won’t mind the company.” He then leads Chase inside and points upstairs. “She’s in her room.” Chase shakes his head as he immediately heads up the stairs.

He slowly walks over to the doorway of her room, peaking in with a smile. She was sitting on a stool, painting a picture on her art board. Chase could immediately pick out that it was supposed to be a racecar, or perhaps a couple of racecars on a track.

He couldn’t help but smile at seeing how innocent she looked, no clue in the world as to what was out there and going on around her. In some ways, it made him jealous of the innocence that she was able to hold onto as a child versus seeing everything that he had seen.

“So, what racecars are you drawing?” He finally asks, breaking the silence after watching her for a bit. He watches as she glances back, thinking it was a common face, before looking back at her art board. The realization then hits her as she looks back once again, an immediate smile forming on her face.

“Chasey!!” She lets out as she quickly sets down the paint brush, running over and wrapping both arms around him. He smiles as he picks her up into his arms. “I miss you!”

“I missed you too. It’s so great to see you.” He then gives her a quick kiss on the cheek as he sets her down.

“Chasey, you feel ‘etter?” He shakes his head yes.

“I’m feeling great.” She then glances around the room before turning her eyes back to him.

“You play?” He then grins and shakes his head yes, remembering the fun previous times that they had playing. Sometimes they’d play with her dolls, dressing them up, while other times they’d race her toy cars around the floor.

“That’s why I came to see you. I figured I’d come play with you for a bit, okay?” She shakes her head yes, excitedly as she pulls him by the hand, bringing him over to her art board. “So, what are you drawing?”

“Racecar! Daddy car….Jimmie car….Chasey car!” He then smiles as he notices that his car is a little out front ahead of the other two cars in the photo. “You help?” He then shakes his head yes as she hands him a paint brush.

“What do you want me to paint?” She then sits and thinks it over, before looking back at picture.

“Trophy!” He then thinks it over, debating which trophy to paint in the photo. Considering that they’d be in Daytona in just over a month, there was no other option in his mind as he started painting.

Chapter 45: The Meeting
January 6, 2016

He couldn’t help but admit it – it felt great to be back in North Carolina, getting set for the racing season.

He spent the entire day yesterday and so far today at the shop, spending time getting to know the guys.

He and Alan sat at length and talked about details surrounding what he likes to feel in a car, how to approach each weekend and their goals for the first couple of races. There was some added conversation in getting to know each other on a personal level to help form that driver-crew chief bond.

He also spent lunch with the crew guys and an afternoon in shop, with plans to keep doing that over the next couple of weeks. He had started to get know each crew guy, form learning their name to their position to some of their favourite reasons for working there. It wasn’t required, but it’d make working together easier if they could know a little about each other. It was why they were planning on doing dinner one night soon.

Being back in North Carolina had an advantage, as well – close to friends. His full day back in town (yesterday) marked a night out for dinner with Ryan and Darrell. They all shared their New Years celebration adventures, as well as details surrounding how they were preparing for the New Year.

Darrell was running another year of XFINITY with Roush Fenway, while Ryan was going to full-time in Cup through a partnership with the Wood Brothers and Penske Racing. They all knew that it pointed towards a great season of racing for everyone, and Chase knew that he would be bugging Ryan lots. They also managed to assure Darrell that he’d be in Cup full-time with them to add to the fray of fun.

Now in the midst of his second day back in town, he was getting used to his new surroundings at Hendrick Motorsports. Becoming a full-time driver on the team meant that he got his own office now. The boss simply explained that it was a space for him to go relax if he needed, and also handle phone interviews and other business without interruption.

Moving from his office at JRM to HMS was easy as there wasn’t much to move from one place to the other, but now it was all about setting it up. He didn’t keep much in the office, just a couple photos and the normal stationary products (pens, notepads, etc) incase it was needed.

He was in the midst of setting one of the last photos on the desk when he heard the buzz from the phone. He learned from Alan earlier in the day that it meant that someone was buzzing him from another part of the complex, whether to answer a call on a line, alert him of a visitor coming to the office or that he wanted somewhere else.

He glances at the call display, a little confused at seeing the boss’ name. He wasn’t expecting Rick to get a hold of him for the rest of the day.

“It’s Chase…,” he says after hitting the button on the phone, curiosity steaming.

“Can you come to my office for a minute?” Rick asks and Chase immediately feels a knot form on his stomach. It was almost like being called to the principal’s office at school.

“Sure.” He then hits the hang up button, grabs his phone off of the desk and heads out of the office.

He walks down the short hallway, debating the whole time what the boss could want. There were only few occasions that you were called to Rick’s office, per what Dale told him. Sometimes Rick wanted to give you a personal congratulations for something, sometimes he wanted to “discuss” something and other times he was set to offer advice on what he had heard. Chase hadn’t done anything special, so it was one of the lather two. He knew the last option was obviously on the table with what had happened over the past year, and it kept seeming more obvious as he had kept himself out of trouble – or at least he thought.

He reached the close door, took a calming deep breath and knocked on the door. He waited a couple seconds before the door opened before him. He then caught Dale’s eye as Dale motioned for him to come inside. Chase did as instructed as Dale closed the door behind him.

Chase looked straight across the office at Rick, before glancing to the officer sitting in the chair across from Rick. He then looked back at Dale, a tinge of fear forming in his stomach as it flips flopped.

“No….” Chase says as Dale places a hand on his shoulder, immediately reading his mind.

“Relax and stop worrying,” Dale assures the young man before him. “Randy is still locked away in the maximum security prison that they stuck him in after what happened. Demi is also still away. He’s not here because there’s someone on the loose or a threat at large.” Chase then looks over at the officer before turning back to Dale.

“Then why is he here?” Dale motions to the chair as Chase stays frozen in his spot, staring at him.

“Sit down and let him explain, please.” Chase glances over and then back at Dale. He would rather have an explanation right this moment, but considering that nobody was willing to talk, he moved forward and took a seat in the chair beside the officer.

“This is Detective Anthony Rutz,” Rick introduces the officer as Chase looks over at him, curiosity steaming. “He handled the investigation with regards to your disappearance in December. He was the lead investigator in looking for you, finding the clues, doing the questioning and coordinating with the US officials.” Chase shook his head, understanding. Despite this officer running everything, he had yet to meet him. It was something that caught him off-guard as normally, the officer would come do a questioning session after the event. Why hadn’t Anthony visited him in the hospital? Was that his reason for being there that day?

“He’s completed his investigation so you don’t need to worry about having to detail anything,” Dale continues as Chase glances back at Dale. “Everything is final and put away. There’s just one matter of business left to be attended to. Demi Elaine.” Chase immediately freezes upon hearing her full name, taking a couple calming deep breaths as his eyes immediately hit the floor.

“What about Demi?” He questions, anger and pain laced in his voice. Dale could tell immediately that the situation around Demi still stung a lot.

“I’m going to explain how we came to arresting Demi, the questioning with her and what I told her at the end of the questioning,” the detective starts, catching Chase’s attention. “I went to the apartment complex after an anonymous tip and was doing some investigating around the complex based on voices that had been heard. I was looking around a broom closet that had been a source of discussion when a voice caught my attention…..”

“Are you an officer?” He hears and turns around to face a young lady.

“Officer Anthony Rutz,” he states as he walks up to the woman as she stands in her apartment doorway.

“Are you investigating the disappearan-”

“Is your name Demi?” Based on her question and the fact that this seemed to be the floor, it made sense that this would be the girl. She shakes her head yes.

“Did you kidnap Mr. Elliott?” She shakes her head no.

“I lik-loved him. I would never purposely hurt him, sir. But, I know what happened…” He then crosses his arms, as if anticipating an explanation. “I was heading out this morning and Randy knocked me out with a drug, sticking me in the broom closet. He then kidnapped him from my apartment.”

“You will need to come with me then to the station and give a full statement as to what happened. You should’ve come to the station as soon as you came to. Start walking.”

He then follows her to the stairwell and down the stairs, reporting in that he had found the involved female.