The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 194: Valentine’s Day

Wednesday, February 13 – Daytona International Speedway – 1 week, 3 days old

“You do realize that you can’t just stare at that image all day long, right?” Chase questions as he walks up behind Sarina, wrapping his arms around her from behind.

It wasn’t long ago that they’d landed in Daytona, ready for what the day had in store. Chase was doing media day interviews for the Daytona 500, while Sarina was supposed to go through photo shoots and video for NASCAR and NASCAR on FOX coverage.

With having landed in Florida, they both went and got changed into their firesuits, meeting up quickly thereafter together. Chase had no complaints about the sponsors having an all-black firesuit for Sarina this season.

“I know,” she quietly comments as she leans back in his arms. “I just can’t help it, Chase.” He smiles, knowing the feeling from just a couple days ago as he rubs her shoulders.

“She’s beyond adorable, and you know that she’s in good hands with the nurses, the doctors, and Brittany. Besides, my mom said if there was any issues at all, she or Brittany would call us immediately.” He then slowly pries the tablet out of her hands, turning the image off. “Relax, breathe, everything will be fine. Besides, the sooner you get done what you need to do and I get done my interviews, the quicker we can get on the plane and fly back.”

“Promise?” He nods his head as he turns her around to face him. “I mean, you will absolutely make certain that we will be back in Georgia tonight.”

“Absolutely. I wouldn’t tell you otherwise, would I?” She shakes her head no, as he leans in for a small kiss. “Might I add, you are looking very mighty fine today.”

“Are you sure? I mean, I thought it was a little tight pulling it on initially.” Chase shakes his head no as he rests his hands on her hips.

“That just allows it to show off all your curves in the right places. I just hope the other guys aren’t staring too much today…” She then shyly smiles back in response as she wraps her arms around him.

“The same could be said for you darling, as I don’t need the ladies thinking they can steal you away from me. In case you haven’t realized, you’re all mine Mr. Elliott.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Mrs. Elli-”

“Sarina Elliott?” They hear, catching them off-guard as someone walks over to them. “We’re ready for you in the NASCAR on Fox stage shoot.” Sarina couldn’t help the smile that had formed on her face.

“It even sounds nice coming from someone putting me to work,” she comments as Chase chuckles back in response. “I’ll see you later, prince charming.” She then snags one more kiss before heading off for the photo shoot.

Chase, meanwhile, met up with Morgan before heading to where the media was hubbed together. First, he’d be doing a series of interviews for TV with an array of microphones before him. Then, it was time for a series of print reporters to stick their voice recorders out and ask the questions they desired. Then after that, as he understood, it was quick hits with some of the major networks, followed by FOX and NBC to complete the day.

As he got into doing the interviews, it didn’t surprise him when he was asked about the positive and negative reaction from the fans, especially since he had won the Most Popular Driver Award last year.

“There’s some interesting folks out there, man,” he commented with a half chuckle. “It’s interesting. But nonetheless, whether they like me or hate me, I appreciate them either way. They’re not going to hurt my feelings whether they hate me or like me. Happy to have them. ”

“We saw the announcement about the birth of your daughter Abigail,” one of the reporters catches his attention. “How are things going?”

“They are going well, thankfully. According to the doctors, she’s doing well and continuing to grow and get stronger. It’s just a matter of playing the waiting game in seeing what happens next. You could say that both Sarina and I are hopeful to have her at the track with us soon.”

“It is interesting to see Sarina here this weekend….” Chase nods his head.

“We’re racers. It’s what we do. As much as we both want to be spend every single minute, second of the day with our daughter, you can’t just give this up. We’re just one person on our respective teams. There are a lot of crew members who depend on us and the success we have together. I am here for them, wanting to thank them for their hard work and showcase that on track. I want to give them the best opportunity to run for a championship, and that begins with Daytona. Selfishly, I want the title and the Daytona 500 win too. I’m sure that’s what drives Sarina to be here, as well. That’s what drove her to race last season, too.” It felt odd in answering the questions about it, and truth to be told he could probably never admit every single feeling about it to them. However, it felt nice to give them some perspective.

“And what about everything that happened last season, and through the winter?” Chase takes a deep breath, not surprised.

“My stance remains the same. I am not going to discuss the details as they’re not necessary.” He then glances around, hoping to change the pace as he didn’t want to get stuck on that topic.

“NASCAR has began to discuss possible changes, whether it’s the schedule, bringing in new manufacturers. What most do you have your eye on? Any of that have your attention at all?” Chase takes a deep breath. It would be easy to come out and say certainly what he felt, and almost felt in doing so, proud of how Bubba Pollard had done so on the short track side. However, the comments from NASCAR post-test also reigned at the back of his mind.

“Man, no. I don’t write the rules. That’s not my job. I’m not sure. I used to get kind of fired up about stuff, be frustrated about different things here and there. It’s out of my hands, way above my position. I’m happy to be here and happy to be driving. I’ll keep focusing on racing on Sundays. If they seek out my opinion, want to ask me, I’d be happy to give it to them behind closed doors, but not here right now.”

“Do you think the schedule is a something?” Chase wouldn’t mind being asked about it, as he wouldn’t mind suggesting some more short tracks as well removing a couple of the boring intermediates. However, was that really necessary to say right now?

“My opinion is irrelevant on that.”

Wednesday, February 13 – Northeast Georgia Medical Center – 1 week, 3 days old

“I admit that I enjoyed today,” Sarina comments as they walk over to the incubator. “I admit that the photo shoot with NASCAR and Fox was entertaining. I admit that the simulator was probably the best part – and I probably did a better job than you…” Chase just rolls his eyes. “I also had fun catching up and seeing everybody. While I was apprehensive about leaving here today and going to the track, it was nice.”

“Really?” He questions and she nods her head.

“It was a good change of pace, distraction from my worries about the future.” Chase then places a hand on her shoulder.

“What have I told you about that?” Sarina takes a deep breath, remembering the several discussions.

“I can’t help it, though. She’s so small, and there’s so many things that could possibly happ-”

“We’ve made it through 10 days without a problem. The majority show up in the first 48 hours. You can stop worrying. She’s going to be okay.” Sarina nods her head, letting those words soak in.

“As much fun as I had today, though, I am glad to be back here. It actually makes this moment even sweeter because I can tell her about the joys and fun that I had.” Chase smiles, having done the same when he had seen her yesterday. “I never did ask you. How did the interviews go?”

“Rutledge, Kyle and AJ are crazy as ever.” Sarina chuckles, not honestly surprised. “I hope Ryan doesn’t get too mad at me for that, but he deserves it for leaving me out.”

“Do I want to know what you said?” Chase shyly shakes his head no as she lets out a sigh.

“Most of it was your typical thoughts on your chances, thoughts on the style of racing, reflections back on last year, and how you feel things will go moving forward this year. They also of course asked me about the clash wrecks, and the fact that we’re not working with Josh this we-”

“Has that really been an issue, yet?” Chase shakes his head no. “So why are they worried?”

“It’s something to talk about and see if I can say something interesting that will spark a memorable quote, right? I mean, that’s probably why they asked my thoughts on the rules, and the schedule. They just wanted to see what they can claw out of you. Meanwhile, we know who is sitting on the other side reading those articles.” Sarina looks over slightly confused. “Your fans are critical, your sponsors are critical, but we both know what NASCAR feels about negative or constructive critics that they can’t handle.”

“Just like they wanted Kyle to quiet after he shared his honest thoughts after the Las Vegas test?” Chase nods his head as Sarina lets out a sigh. “NASCAR goes ‘boys have at it,’ but yet then gets mad when you say something. John Pro-”

“Is the vice president of innovation?” Sarina nods her head.

“So he basically stated that we get paid a good chunk of money to do what we do, and if we continue talking about not needing talent, it will hit us in the pocketbook, essentially that we need to be careful. That to me is a warning from NASCAR that we shouldn’t be spouting off our opinions.”

“Hence why I diverted around the topic, because I didn’t want to get into those muddy waters with NASCAR this early in the season. This isn’t worth it.” Sarina then pulls out her phone, loading a transcript.

“Read Brad Keselowski’s comments. He wasn’t as politically correct as you were.” Chase had to chuckle as he took the phone from her.

“Is he ever, though?” Sarina shakes her head no. “It is a very difficult scenario. The media has a lot of power in our sport. Social media has a lot of power in our sport. That comes at the risk of making a lot of people angry that actually run the sport. It is difficult. Sometimes you feel like you are pushing a sled uphill. It is just the way it is.” Chase smiles as he hands the phone back to her. “I don’t always agree with Brad saying whatever he feels whenever, and sometimes I do believe he should shut up, but he’s right. I’m proud of him.”

“But how soon will he be pulled into the NASCAR hauler now?” Chase had to chuckle as he knew it was only a matter of time.

Thursday, February 14 – Northeast Georgia Medical Center – 1 week, 4 days old

“You need to get going….” Sarina reminded Chase as they stood there together that morning, in their familiar spot by their daughter. Chase knew that as it was time for the Duels, but he also didn’t want to be away from his girls today.

“I wish Valentine’s Day would’ve been yesterday instead of today, so we could’ve spent the whole day together,” he replies as she nods her head in agreement, clutching his hand with hers.

“It’ll only take you a matter of hours to fly down to Daytona, win your Duel, and get your ass back here.” Chase smiles as he liked the thought of that plan.

“But first – I have something for you….” She then looks over, almost slightly confused.

“You do realize that I don’t need any more gifts from you, right? I mean, you’ve given me everything that I could’ve dreamed of. You gave me the snowball necklace, the locket, this ring that will never leave my finger no matter what, our daughter, and most importantly – that love.” She then places her hand on his chest. “What I feel from you out of here means more than anything that you could give me on Valentine’s Day to show your love.”

“I know, but I still want to give you this…” She then takes a deep breath, accepting the small bag from him. She then takes out the wrapping, revealing a small black box. She then follows suit in opening it, smiling as she sees the butterfly immediately.

“Chase….” He then smiles as she pulls it out of the box, flipping it over to see Abigail engraved on the back.

“No matter where you are, you can always have your baby girl with you.” She looks over, smiling. “I figured it was the perfect touch being an anklet so you could wear it underneath your firesuit and nobody would realize or complain.” She then flips it back over to look at the butterfly again.

“That matches the butterfly that is on the car…” He nods his head, remembering the request the custom order detailed.

“We always said that our first baby was with Casey and Victor, and they were always looking out for him, or he-”

“I believe that it was a boy, just like you told me that day…” Chase smiles, remembering the dream that he had that inspired the comment.

“A friend of mine told me that if a butterfly lands on you, it’s someone stopping to say hello. That’s why it just seemed fitting to go with a butterfly for the decal, and for this. Abigail isn’t the only one that’s always with you, giving you the strength and looking out for you.” She then feels a couple tears trickle down her cheeks, immediately reaching for a hug. It was easily accepted, as Chase let her bury her head into his shoulder.

“You’re the most romantic person that I know.” She then slowly lifts it up afterwards, wiping the couple tears away. “This means everything. Thank you.” She then leans in and kisses his lips. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” She then walks away a little, returning shortly after with a bag of her own. “And you told me that I didn’t need to get you something.”

“It seems that we were both thinking the same thing…” He looks over slightly confused, but easily opens the gift. As he opens the box, the smile that formed on his face matched the gift perfectly. To go with the key to her heart locket that hung on her keys, he now had a butterfly locket of his own. Slowly opening it, he found a photo of Sarina and a photo of Abigail. “Now your girls are always with you, no matter where you go.”

“I love this photo that you chose. It’s beautiful…” He then closes the butterfly locket, pulling his keys out and putting it on with them. “Thank you.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day.” She then leans in, kissing his lips. “Now go kick some ass, Clyde.”

Thursday, February 14 – Daytona International Speedway – 1 week, 4 days old

“Have you seen Chase?” Ron Malec asks as he walks down pit road, meeting up with a couple of the crew guys. They immediately point up to the pit box, where Chase sat with a headset on. “Thank you.”

With being in the second of the pair of Duels, Chase elected to sit and take in the first duel from the pit box tuned into Jimmie’s channel. Considering how the Clash had gone, he was willing to take in whatever he could learn before his race. It was all about seeing how the runs happened, where they came from, and if there was a secret to making the right moves. It was also about seeing the mistakes not to make.

Ron quietly took a seat behind Chase, as he watched the action himself. All they could do was shake their heads as they watched Jimmie make contact with Kyle down the backstretch, causing him to spin.

“Apologize to the 18,” Jimmie immediately got on the radio. “I assume that’s on me. got to see the video first. I don’t know what happened.”

“Suddenly I don’t feel so stupid,” Chase comments as he slips the headset off slowly, referencing back to his incident during practice on Saturday. “That said, I have to put the blame fully on you, Jimmie, and I don’t think Kyle will be accepting the apology.”

“Are you seriously throwing your teammate under the bus just like that?” Ron questions, catching Chase’s attention. “I was surprised to see you up here watching the race from this vantage point.

“I got to figure out how to run up front and not wreck, right?” Ron lets out a sigh as he places a hand on Chase’s shoulder.

“You’re being too hard on yourself. I mean, Saturday was – well, what it was. We both know the left rear is not stable. And Sunday, there’s no way that you can blame that on yoursel-”

“Blame JJ?” Ron went to go say something, but let out a sigh as he knew it was going to get him nowhere. He loved Jimmie and they had been best friends for years, but he had to admit that Jimmie wasn’t the best restrictor plate racer.

“Anyways, that’s not why I came up here. I spoke to my buddy and I got the phone number for the security guards that he hired. Morgan and Associates is the name of the company. I gave them a call, and stated that I was calling on his recommendation. They told me that were fully open to handling everything, and that would include having someone with you, someone with Sarina, someone with Abigail, someone with your parents – whatever else you wa-”

“So Lindsay, Alan and the guys, too?” Ron nods his head, feeling a little unnerving about that as it wasn’t comforting to be a possible target. However, he knew where the suspicion came from based on last year.

“He just stated that he needs a full list of who, and he can make sure he has someone for each individual – handling the most importa-”

“Sarin-”

“Actually, yo-”

“No, she’s the most important. She and Abigail are why I am doing this, Ron.” Ron lets out a sigh, willing to accept.

“Anyways, he said that he’d handle priority one himself. He also has a crack team led by a great female private investigator and a computer tech. They’re looking into any leads as to where Carter could be located, as well as any connection with Damien Crane.” Chase nods his head, accepting. “I know you’re busy tomorrow, but he is willing to have the team down here and ready to go. We can set-up a quick meeting if you would like.”

“That’d be appreciated since Sarina is going to be down here.” Ron already knew that, having glanced at the Xfinity entry list.

“I’m surprised that she’s racing so soon after having the baby, but I know that’ll motivate her to do the best that she can. It’ll be fun watching you run as teammates.”

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The Tale of Love & Racing: Sarina’s Story – Chapter 190: Crane Security Industries

Friday, February 8 – Daytona International Speedway

“I appreciate you doing this,” Chase comments as they walk up into the trailer lounge together. “I don’t think this is what you had in mind when Rick sent you down here to help out.”

“Anything to help is warranted, and that includes looking out for you,” Ron replies as he sits down on the couch. “Besides, Alan is right. Someone from the team should sit in on the meeting, and everybody else is busy.”

With safety concerns prevalent with Carter Williams still on the loose, Chase was sticking to his word of not playing around this time. It was why he was looking into hiring security to watch out for him, Sarina, Abigail, and others close to them. With that, there was the task of interviewing possibilities.

Realizing it wasn’t his strongest suit of knowledge, he asked the investigator for a couple recommendations. After sifting through the three companies she suggested, he made a phone call to set up the meeting. Considering most of the work would be done at race tracks across the country, it made sense to have the meeting in the hauler.

“I bet it wasn’t easy leaving her this morning,” Ron comments, noticing Chase had loaded the monitor of Abigail on the Ipad.

“I’ve done it more than once this week, and it hasn’t gotten easier every time,” Chase replies as he looks over. “I just want to be there with her every single moment, watch her grow, and just admire her. Those little fingers held in on my own – I can’t get over it.” Ron smiles as he looks at the image.

“Are you close to being able to hold her yet?” Chase lets out a sigh as he wasn’t honestly sure if they were as close as he wanted to be.

“The doctors say she’s continuing to grow stronger and doing well, but yet they haven’t said anything…” His voice trails off as the door opens, with Morgan entering.

“As requested, Mr. Damian Crane of Crane Security Industries,” she states, backing away from the entry so he could enter. “I’ll be out here working on stuff if you need me.” Chase easily nods his head as she closes the door behind her.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Elliott,” Damian says as he shakes Chase’s hand. His eyes then trail over to the individual beside him. “I’m sorry, but I was told that this was a meeting for me and Mr. Elliott to discuss a future of working together.”

“That’s what I’ve been told,” Ron comments, as he gives the guy a glance over. He was already intrigued in how he had been approached by the gentleman.

“Since this is a private meeting, I would ask you to excus-”

“Actually, I would like him sit in on the meeting if you don’t mind,” Chase interrupts, having put the Ipad aside. He knew he could watch Abigail all day, but this needed his undivided attention. “Since you and your team would be performing these duties with me in the garage around crew members, I wanted to have one of the team members hear what you had to say. While I would’ve prepared it to be Alan Gustafson who runs my team, he was unavailable due to technical inspection.”

“It’s interesting how he chooses that over your safety,” Damien says as his eyes don’t leave Ron’s.

“He has a job to do, and that’s his priority when he is here at the race track working for his employer,” Ron starts. “ I can assure you that Alan cares about Chase’s safety as he has gone above and beyond at times to help him. Chase can even tell you that, too, as Alan has been amazing through this.” Chase takes a deep breath, nodding his head in agreement.

“Alan was willing to stand up to her for me despite her having a gun ready to shoot him,” Chase recalls, taking a deep breath. He honestly didn’t want to think back to that time.

“Since I was not necessarily needed, and I know what crew chiefs look for, I’m here to handle the situation on his behalf,” Ron continues. He then holds out his hand for Damien, still not sure if he even wanted to move forward from this stage. He was admittedly caught off-guard by the request to leave as the first impression didn’t sit well, and now even felt a tad offended about the comment in relation to Alan. “Ron Malec, Final Assembly Manager for Hendrick Motorsports.”

“That’s still odd for you to say that even a year later….” Ron chuckles, having heard that from a couple different people. However, the entire time, his eyes didn’t leave the man before him as they shake hands.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, and I appreciate the explanation for your presence,” Damien states before he takes a seat on the couch. “Mr. Elli-”

“You can call me Chase,” Chase cuts him off-guard, knowing that he couldn’t get used to that on a regular base.

“As I was saying, Chase makes a valid point in having everybody work together across the board to make sure that there are no problems. I also applaud both of your comments in regards to Mr. Gustafson, and I look forward to meeting him when the time is right. Actually, though, your commentary doesn’t surprise me given what I was able to read in the files I had gone through about things that have happened so far.”  Chase lets out a sigh, not even wanting to read through those himself as he didn’t need to relive that chaos once again.

“That’s why I am hoping that you can offer the protection needed so I can make sure that Sarina and Abigail are safe.” Damien nods his head, accepting.

“I absolutely feel that I can put a team together to travel with you, your wife, and child – as well as others you feel as necessary, that will work for everybody.” Damien then lays out a couple files of his own, breaking down how he normally handles situations of this nature when hired to work for someone. Despite his initial apprehensions, Ron had to admit that he was intrigued by the explanation given.

“And you’re willing to travel the country to make sure that this is done correctly?” Damien nods his head.

“Absolutely.” Damien then sets down the files. “Look, I know who you’re dealing with. Carter Williams is no one to play around with. He’s a master criminal. He knows the ways in and out of places without being detected. He knows how to fool some of the best systems in place. He knows how to play the law to his advantage. He can get the job done with many others can’t. That’s why obviously why Alison hired him.” Ron watches the guy carefully, beginning to get those suspicions once again. Everything seemed to make sense, but yet something seemed off. “If you want someone that knows how to make sure that doesn’t happen, my team is who you need. We know the tricks that he is going to play, and we’ll make sure they don’t happen. We’ve dealt with him before, so we can make sure he’s handled accordingly.”

“I’m sorry, but did you just say that you dealt with him before?” Ron questions, glad that he hadn’t let his guard down yet.

“I heard that, too,” Chase comments, trading a glance with Ron.

“We have crossed paths once or twic-” Damien starts.

“So if you’re so good at your job as you claim to be and can supposedly handle someone of his nature, why is he still running around?” Ron asks. “Why wasn’t he locked away upon your last encounter with him? Why wasn’t he prevented from acting up once again? Why didn’t you keep tabs on him after that, and then warn when he began to act again? By you stating that you dealt with him, and then let him go, you’re not giving me much faith in your services.” Damien immediately turns over to Chase.

“And what do you think?” Chase’s eyes hadn’t left Ron, as he was thankful for having him there to set the record straight.

“I think you should answer what Ron sai-” Chase starts.

“I am asking what you think, not what Ron thin-” Damien interrupts

“I am telling you that I want to hear what you have to say about Ron said. That’s what I am thinking about.” Damien takes a deep breath, having not expected the attitude he had just witnessed.

“I can get you in touch with past clientele and they can testify to the fact that we kept them safe from Mr. Williams and made sure he did not approach them again.”

“They could just be friends that you’re paying to say that,” Ron comments as he rolls his eyes. “How do we know for sure?” He then looks over at Chase, taking a deep breath. He was supposed to be there to offer his opinion, and he wasn’t going to hide it right now. “I’d rather have someone who has no connections to the man so I don’t have to worry about being double-crossed.”

“Are you saying that you don’t trust me?” Damien questions, as Ron lets out a small chuckle.

“How about you be the judge of that yourself?” Damien takes a deep breath, focusing his eyes on Chase as he didn’t need to get into an argument with Ron. It wasn’t Ron’s approval he needed.

“At the end of day, it is your opinion and decision. You can accept, speak to my references, check my background, or sadly deny my services that I promise will suit every need you have.” Chase takes a deep breath, as the decision was easy.

“I have to decline and ask you to please leave right now,” Chase states as he slowly stands up. He walks over to the door, opening it. “You stated that you know Carter, and I can’t handle someone having connections. Been there, done that, and got my ass handed to me in the process. Furthermore, you’ve been rude about the questions that we both had for you, and frankly, your attitude towards Ron sucked. I can’t have that. We’re done.”

“Sorry to hear that,” Damien states as he collects his belongings. “If you change your mind, you have my number. Have a nice day.” Damien then leaves, with Chase shutting the door behind him.

“Can you believe that?” Ron shakes his head no as he picks up his phone. “What are you doing?”

“Texting Morgan,” Ron answers. “I don’t want him having access to the garage area with the connection that he has to Carter. Furthermore, I think the police would like to speak to him about that.” Chase smiles, nodding his head in agreement as he sits down beside Ron.

“Thank you, for everything,” Chase comments as Ron looks over at him.

“Let me handle getting you security, okay? You have enough on your plate with the upcoming race season, Sarina, Abigail, and everything that happened. I have a friend that needed some security, and the company they used did the job superbly. Let me get in contact and see if they can help you out.” Chase nods his head, accepting.

Making his way through the garage, Chase stops in his stall. He knew he had some time before having to be in the infield for the USAC.25 Series appearance, so he might as well spend it wisely.

Three practices tomorrow – Clash, followed by a pair of the Daytona 500. Sponsor demands meant that he had change firesuit and helmet in-between the two sessions, while sneaking in lunch somewhere. Oh, and since it was practice, he knew he couldn’t miss the debriefs with Alan and his teammates.

Knowing it was always easier to be prepared, he knew it would be a good idea to go over things.

Stopping at the car, he takes his helmet and gloves out of the bag, setting them on the roof. He then glances over the visor, checking it closely for scratches. While he had checked before packing, it never hurt to double check. It was also part of making sure that he had the right tint for the conditions that they would have for tomorrow’s practice.

Once he was satisfied, he sits them both on the roof, snapping a quick photo to send out on Twitter. He then sends it to Sarina in a text, “Getting your favorite colors ready for tomorrow. Missing you and Abby. Love you. See you soon.”

He then takes a deep breath, before setting the helmet inside of the car carefully, along with the gloves. All he needed tomorrow was change into his firesuit, come to the garage, and he’d be ready for the first practice. He then hears his phone ding, taking out to read the message.

“You know Hootie is my favorite but that green is a damn close second,” she had replied. “Miss you, too. Abby can’t wait to see you.” He smiles as he knew he couldn’t wait for those little finger touches. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

Placing his phone back in his pocket after checking the time, he takes a glance to see where the guys had ended up, knowing they were going through technical inspection. With having gotten the Clash car through, it was time for their second round.

He begins to head over to where they are, slowing as he makes his way through the garage. He then stops, taking a deep breath, closing his eyes briefly.

It was just a year ago they were separated, busy in different spots. Even with having someone there for her, Alison had managed to kidnap her. He remembered the trail of events, hearing them repeated and remembering the worried phone calls, and days that followed. Those events would forever change himself. Now there was one person who probably knew where she was, and another that may have a connection that was undesirable. He didn’t want to go through this again.

“Just stop,” he tells himself, taking a deep breath as he tries to erase the thoughts from his mind.

He was over-thinking it, letting his mind play tricks on him out of worry. This wasn’t before, and like he had said, it wasn’t going to happen again. Besides, she was at the hospital with Abigail, surrounded by security cameras and officers, along with nurses. Nobody would get away with something like that.

Even though he had managed to put his mind at ease, it didn’t stop him from pulling his phone back out to send a quick “be careful” text to her.

Friday, February 8 – Northeast Georgia Medical Center

“Were the kids as amazing as we’d expect?” Sarina asks as she wraps an arm around him.

After he was done his appearance for the USAC.25 Series, he made the flight back up to Georgia to spend the night with his girls.

“There are some really talented drivers in there,” he answers, having watched a couple of their races. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we were racing against them down the road.” She shakes her head as she glances over a couple of the photos.

“It’s crazy to think that we’re the ones inspiring that next generation after we spent all this time looking up to the likes of Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, and others,” she comments.

“I say those kid have a great role model in you, though.” She then gives him a smile in return, half-expecting the flirting comments. “I’m serious, actually. There were some of the young ladies that asked me where you were, and wanted me to tell you to keep winning races as you’re amazing. They also couldn’t wait to see you race next weekend.”

“You’re just saying that to flatter me….” He shakes his head no, pointing out one of the images that had a young girl wearing a Sarina Ott shirt. “Have you seen the new shirts for this year, already?”

“I may have purchased one…” She then rolls her eyes, loading the group photo on her phone.

“It’s like the Where’s Waldo Chase Elliott edition.” He then chuckles as she glances over the many faces. “But I am going to tell you that I immediately found you…” She then points to where he is in the photo, before glancing up at him. “I always have my eyes on you.”

“I can’t lose sight of your beauty, either.” He then leans in, giving her a little kiss.

Back to Square One – Chapter 28: “Can you help me?”

Thursday

Even though she knew it was wrong, and wanted to head the other direction, she just couldn’t bring herself to do that. Like everything in life, she took it head on and was set to do it to her fullest potential before walking away.

That’s why after completing the hours she needed to at the shop and before heading to the house to pack for Pocono, she knew she had to make a stop on the way home.

Glancing at the sign outside, it seemed like the perfect shop that would carry the parts that she needed. Parking in front, she headed inside with her details set to get this done quickly as possible.

“May I help you?” Mitchell says, eyes focused on her. He recognized her immediately, but wasn’t going to tell her that. The longer she didn’t know, the more information he could gather for Jimmie.

“I’m looking for some parts for a Pontiac GTO,” she tells him as she pulls out a piece of paper. “I just moved to town recently, finally got my car back up and running, and now I’m set to continue improving on it.” He could only think of one reason why she wanted to do that, knowing her background.

“What type of improvements?” She smiles immediately. It was obvious by the name of the place.

“I want more horsepower, speed, torque – better performance overall. Can you help me?” He wasn’t about to turn away new business, or seeing her again so he could keep tabs on her for Jimmie.

“Absolutely. Can you tell me the specifications so I know where you stand and what we can possibly do?” She slides the paper across the counter, as he looks it over. “Not bad, but I got some ideas. I can have the parts in for you by Monday.” She smiles as that’d work out perfectly.

“That’s fine by me. Just let me know what I owe you.”

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

“You seem quiet today…” Chad comments as he finishes packing up what he needs in the shop for the weekend. “And I mean quieter than normal…” Ron could only let out a sigh as he double checked that he had the weekend checklists in order.

“I’d just rather not talk about it, okay?” Ron says and Chad nods his head, having grown to expect that answer. It didn’t mean that he was willing to just move forward this time.

“You know, you’re going to eventually have to talk about what happe-”

“This isn’t about that!” Chad freezes upon the outburst, watching his friend closely as Ron looks up to meet his gaze. Ron hadn’t meant to snap, but it was too late now as the eyes locked on him weren’t about to leave. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sna-”

“You need to change your attitude and fast, Ron. I am not going to deal with someone snapping their ass off at me and being a jackass for long. This team is about commitment, family, and being focused – not being on different pages and annoyance. I don’t have time for shit like that.” Ron knew that, and could feel the ice beneath him beginning to crack with each passing second.

“That’s what she said, too….” His voice trials off, causing the focused eyes to not leave him or flinch. “I snapped at Greenlee the other night when she accused me of staying too late and working too hard to divert my thoug-”

“She’s not lying, Ron. I’ve seen your hours.” Ron rolls his eyes, knowing that he was probably going to get approached about it sooner than later by either Chad or Rick.

“I know, and I don’t deny it. I didn’t deny it to her, either. She went out late last night to go somewhere, and I asked her where she was going. She wouldn’t give me a straight answer – still probably upset about what happened. She got home late and I apologized immediately, feeling terrible still. She told me that I needed to look at myself in the mirror, address my issues, and do something before I pushed everybody away. Basically, take what happened by the horns…” Chad felt his wall of anger break immediately in hearing his friend breakdown what happened, feeling absolutely terrible in that moment. How could he treat Ron that way when his crush had just broken him further?

“Did she say anything else?” Ron shakes his head.

“She just went to her room. It was like I do something, or I begin to lose her, forever. I want to do something as I want to begin the process and move on. I just don’t know how…” Chad’s wall broke even further in hearing the confession. How could he be mad when Ron wanted to do something?

“You could try by talking to me about what happened, and your feelings. You could also try confessing to Greenlee, Jimmie, somebody. You just need to start talking.” Ron knew that, but where would he ever begin?

“I went back to the stree-”

“Ron Male-”

“I didn’t go street racing or stay long, Chad. I just went and looked one night. I thought if maybe I brought back the feelings of being there, reasons for going, seeing how it all began, I could begin to find the answers and clarity that I wanted.” Chad could understand his position – having heard of people doing that before. That didn’t mean he was pleased with the approach, though.

“Did it help?” Ron shakes his head no. “I don’t know what to say or tell you, except she is right. You need to do something as this is eating at you and I don’t want it to come to the point where I have to draw a line. I told you if you needed time off, I could give that to you. Just please, figure out what you need to do and know my door is always open, okay?” Ron nods his head, accepting. “And maybe if you apologize to her again, she’ll understand. She knows how it feels to be in your shoes.”

Back to Square One – Chapter 27: Sneaking Out

“What time are you getting back tonight?” Ron questions as Greenlee throws him a glance.

“Why does it matter to you?” She shoots back, still upset about his comments in the shop.

“I was just curious, that’s all. And where are you going anyway?” She then looks at him with a bit of surprise. It almost seemed opposite to what happened earlier.

“So I can’t ask you questions, but you can ask me? That seems fai-”

“You’re staying in my house, so I have a right to know.” She could almost laugh in his face right now. Of course, he’d throw it back in her face.

“Maybe I’ll just find myself a new apartment or something so we don’t have to deal with this….” She then grabs her purse, heading out of the house with the door slammed shut behind her.

Slipping behind the wheel, cruising off into the night sky, she couldn’t tell him where she was going. There was no way that he’d understand her intensions, or allow her to go. She might as well kiss the life she was building goodbye.

But, for some reason, she couldn’t let go of the past.

She makes her way to the spot that she was told about previously, pulling up to the mountain as she glances around. A small smile immediately crept onto her face, and it felt like home immediately.

She was one of the best street racers back when she was running the streets, impressing the hell out of every guy that she came across. However, when she moved to Pine Valley, she fell out of that world. There was nowhere to do that there, and she wasn’t able to travel hours for a simple thrill. Instead, her joys and adrenaline came in another form of a twisted life full of ups and downs. While she was enjoying a restart, she missed some of those times there….

Part of her continued to wonder what would’ve happened if she wouldn’t have moved. She wondered whether she would’ve stayed involved in the street racing, where it would’ve taken her, and whether she could’ve made the cut as one of the best.

Taking a deep breath, it never hurt to test the waters a little.

“Well, well, there’s a fine lady if I would say so myself….” A voice catches her attention as she glances to her right. She knew the streets well,  and could tell by the guy’s swagger that he was good at setting things up. Time to play the cards… “What brings you out here, good looking?”

“What other reason would I be out here than to kick some tail?” She questions back in response, catching him off-guard.

“No need to get all hasty, sweetheart. I just wanted to know your intentions.” She watches him as the guy overlooks her car, taking in a surprised glance with a swing around the backend. “Not a bad ride…”

“I don’t play games.” She didn’t know if she could still get it done like before, but he didn’t need to know that.

“Well I would hope not if you’re here. Now if you’re ready to ready to play, I got somebody that’s up for a challenge from a rookie.” She laughs as she was nowhere near a rookie, but perhaps being a little rusty may make it look that way so no need to brag about her record.

“I’m ready for anybody….” She watches a flick of his fingers, and then the roar of a motor fills her thoughts as she could only smile. Anybody could tell that was a mustang from a mile away. She was certainly ready for this fun tonight.

“I hope you’re not just talking the talk because this guy isn’t someone to mess with.” She then laughs back in return as her hands land on the steering wheel.

“Neither am I, hot shot.”  He then smiles as he glances in the car, eyes focused on hers.

“Be at the starting line in 10.” She watches as he walks away, taking a deep breath. She could already feel the adrenaline pumping through her veins, itching to her hand shift through the gears and feel the rumble of the horsepower.

Why hadn’t she done this sooner?

**********

She climbs out of the car, grabbing her purse and heading inside the house. It had been a decent night, as fun was definitely had in revisiting memory lane. But, it hadn’t gone as according to plan as she lost both races she tried, certainly showing the rusty ability that surrounded her. There was also probably the fact that the car needed some TLC, too.

“Hey,” she hears quietly as she walks past the living room, glancing at Ron as he watches the TV.

“Hey,” she replies back as she continues walking through the room without a pause in her step.

“Greenlee, I want to apologize for earlier.” She then stops suddenly, glancing back at him, surprised and taken back by his words. “I shouldn’t have been as rude to you. You’re right about your concerns, and you have every right to care, too. Actually, I like the fact that you care about me so dearly. I shouldn’t had let my mood and everything that’s going on cloud that judgment and take it out on you. It’s just I can’t find the way to tell everybody so I lashed out. I’m sorry…” She nods her head, accepting the apology. If truth be told, she truly cared about him more than she could admit, worried about his condition with everything that he was going through. But, that didn’t mean that he could just escape what he had done. Sorry was just a word in her mind, as actions did the talking.

“Maybe it’s time you take a look at yourself in the mirror, and address those issues, before you push away every damn person that cares about you by treating them like an ass. Life isn’t full of pure happiness, joy and perfection, Ron; we all get dealt tough times – trust me. That doesn’t give us a right to treat everybody like you treated me. Maybe it’s time you open your eyes and realize what myself, Jimmie, and Chad have been saying to you all along.”

She then keeps walking, closing the bedsroom door behind her, leaning against it, hot tears forming and rolling down her cheeks as she slid down to her knees.

She loved him so much. She wanted to reach out, accept the apology, and just move on like nothing happened. She wanted to feel his arms around her, speak with him more. But, she couldn’t do that. If she had done that, then they’d just probably repeat the cycle over and over as he continued to fight the demons he was facing.

If there was any chance of moving forward and letting him find his true self, she needed to do this.

Back to Square One – Chapter 25: “I just care about you….”

Greenlee makes her way down the long, spiraling staircase, making her way into the shop. She gives a quick wave and smile to a couple of guys who were still lingering around, before making her way over to Ron.

“Hey,” she says quietly as she kneels down to see him underneath one of the racecars.

“Hey,” he replies, though remains focused on the task at hand.

“I was wondering when you’d be done for the night.” He slides out from underneath the car, glancing up at her with a shoulder shrug as he grabs a wrench off the ground. “Ron, you need to go eat…”

“I’m fine.” He then crawls back underneath the racecar as she lets out a sigh. She knew exactly what he was doing. She’d done it herself before.

“You’ve been here since the crack of sunrise and it’s like almost 9 o’ clock – that’s 14 hours. You didn’t even bother to take a lunch break. If I was looking at this correctly, I can assume that you’re using this as a way to keep your mind distracted and not thinking about everything going on.” He then looks over at her, anger written across his face. This wasn’t what he signed up for when he did her a favor.

“What are you? My shrink? My bodyguard? You don’t control my life.” She takes a deep breath, knowing that was just him lashing out because he hated the accusations.

“I just care about you…” Ron then focuses his eyes back up, letting the comment brush over him quickly. His heart did swell at the thought due to his original crush, but he did not want to hear it right now as he knew her games. “Ron, we both know that you’re carrying a lot of emotional baggage right now. We know that you have a lot going on. That’s not just going to disappear. You’re going to need to do something about it. Continuing to ignore isn’t doing something.”

“I told you before, just like I told Jimmie and Chad – I’ll handle it as I’m ready. I’ll work it out on my own. You don’t see it affecting my daily life, do you?” She lets out a sigh, knowing the signs were there.

“You’re not getting a full nig-”

“I never have.”

“You’re not taking time for yoursel-”

“Welcome to the job. Ask Chad. This is how we live our lives.”

“You’re not taking care of yourself. Damn it, Ron!” Her outburst caught the attention of the few lingering crew members as he simply let out a sigh. He then crawls out from underneath, rising up on his knees so they were seeing straight into each other’s eyes.

“I gave you a chance. I gave you an opportunity. I did you a favor when you were lost, alone, and needed help. I opened the door for you to have a place to live, and a place to work so you could land your feet after all the crap that you pulled. And this is how you treat me in return? Great friend you are! Do me a favor and move out now if you’re going to be a bitch. Otherwise, let me live my life the way I want.” He then goes to go back under as she grabs hold of hand, firmly. This wasn’t the Ron Malec that she grew up with talking. “Let me go…”

“You’ve never been this spiteful or hateful. Gosh, you were the total sweetheart, and always there to figure crap out for everybody. Heck, you kept me out of trouble. Look at what you’re doing to yourself…” He didn’t see it that way, though. There was a lot of time that had passed in 17 years.

“That was 17 years ago, sweetheart. People change. You’ve changed, too. Now let me go.” She knew that she couldn’t do that as her heart said no in every which way possible.

“Just damn well promise me that you’re going to do something about what’s going on….” He takes a deep breath, glancing away at first, before turning back to her.

“I told you – it’s my life and I will handle it as I see fit.” She reluctantly lets go as he slides back underneath the car to continue what he’s working on.

“I’ll make sure to cover the leftovers and leave a plate for you from dinner.” She then walks out of the shop, quietly.

Lying underneath the car, he takes a deep breath, watching her walk out as a flood of emotions go through his mind. What if she was right? What if he was losing his true self to the demons that flooded his thoughts?

He then takes another deep breath, before focusing on the task at hand, knowing that it had to get done one way or another.

Once he was done what needed to be done, he stands up, wipes his hands off, and walks over to the toolbox. He places the wrench back where it belongs, freezing, taking a deep breath….

Ron glanced around the pit box, making sure that everything was tucked away as needed – once again, satisfied. He then continued his walk towards the garage, when a hand grabbed him and gave him a firm tug, swiping him off of his feet. He immediately goes flying, unable to stop the forward momentum, before crashing into a female.

“Hel-” Ron goes to let out but never manage to finish the words as a cold, metal object is pressed against his forehead.

“Finish those words and draw attention and you’re going to wish that you never said those words,” she tells him as she grabs his hands, pulling them behind his back with a clamp over them.

“You’re not going to get away with this.” She then spins him around, grabbing a handkerchief out of her pocket.

“I already am.” She then ties it around his mouth as the fumes immediately begin to take over. He feels himself getting light on my feet as she pulls him towards a red car. The folder he once held in his hand drops, spreading all over the ground, before she puts him into the red car.

Ron’s eyes flung open, hands gripping the tool box as hard as they could, as his gaze is focused in a forward direction. Everything comes into view and he realizes that he’s not in a car, he’s not in a room – but nope, he is still at Hendrick Motorsports.

Taking a couple calm deep breathes, he reminds himself that he is safe and there is nothing to worry about. He remains like that for a good 10 minutes, before he settles on finding his bearings completely.

“Maybe I do need some sleep,” he lets out as he wipes his hands quickly, throwing the rag in the bucket before heading for the exit.

Back to Square One – Chapter 21: Coca Cola 600

Greenlee sat on the pit box, fingers crossed, hoping that they had the speed on the long run to snag the lead and a possible win. While this had originally been a simple job, she found herself caught up in the emotions with the rest of the guys, anxious about their chances at victory.

If they could just find a bit more speed…..

In the end, they came up short of the ultimate goal, crossing the finish line in third. While it wasn’t the dream victory, it was improvement after the past couple of weeks.

“Nice job everybody!” Chad says, before climbing down the steps and heading over to see Jimmie.

“I saw you getting excited….” Ron whispers over Greenlee’s shoulder as they put everything together.

“How could I not get caught up in the moment?” She questions with a smile.

“Hey, it’s fine. Actually, I’m glad to see that. It just means that this is working out better than planned. Now you’re seeing why I love this job so much.” She nods her head, accepting.

“How do stand the nerves at times, though?” He laughs as he puts everything together.

“It comes with practice, but trust me – it eats at me more than I show on the surface. I mean, it’s not just my team, but my best friend, right?” She nods her head. “Alright, you got everything together?”

“Yeah, I’m good to go.” They both climb down the steps, heading towards the car. “So Jimmie is doing interviews, and then once they’re done we load up?” Ron could only chuckle in response. This was going to be another new experience for her.

“We all wish it was that easy, but that’s far from the case. Once NASCAR gives the guys the go ahead, the car gets pushed back to the garage area and goes through post-race inspection. Basically, everything we did pre-race, along with some other stuff. NASCAR may also take the car back to their Research & Development center for further inspection, too.” Greenlee was taken back by the process, but totally understood why it was done in the name of fair game. She could also understand now why Ron referenced some weekends including really late nights, like this would probably be.

“Well, I guess we got some wor-”

“That’s for me and the guys. As per your job description, all the race notes are to be typed up, as well as data downloaded from the electronic fuel injection. Just follow your normal protocol – but maybe once, we’ll both get to go home done our work at the same time.” She nods her head, accepting. It seemed easy enough – even if she wondered whether she’d ever get her own hands dirty in the garage.

“I can follow the job guidelines….” Ron smiles as they reach the car. She takes the notes that Ron and Chad had put together, placing them in her usual binder, while he leaned on the back waiting for the call to be made from the officials.

As he takes a deep breath, he was glad that he had gotten a good night sleep for a change. So much for getting out of there a little early….

The night was as busy as expected, with the team spending hours going through the process as required by NASCAR. As they were finishing up, Jimmie made his way over, changed out of his firesuit into a pair of jeans and t-shirt. Being close to home, there was no worries in having to make departure time or getting home too late.

“Hey,” he says as he comes over and sits down beside Ron. Normally, he liked to check in and make sure they passed inspection so he got no surprises mid-week. “We good?”

“Passed with flying colors,” Ron answers with a smile. It was re-assuring to see that as it meant the work they’d put in was all legal as ever, and worthwhile. You never wanted to put months of research into improving a program and get disqualified in the first good run with it.

“Everybody else pass, too?” Ron nods his head, knowing the reference was made in regards to Martin Truex Jr. it was crazy to see how fast they were at times.

“They still haven’t found what they’re doing – if anything.” Jimmie nods his head.

“And how are you doing, honestly?” Jimmie was set to focus on just race discussion, but his heart immediately reached out to Ron in wanting to see how his best friend was doing. If he couldn’t pick Greenlee apart and get Candiss to spy, then he might as well check on Jimmie.

“I’m doing good. I got a good night sleep last night, I’m feeling healthy, and I’m happy. What more can I say?” Jimmie nods his head accepting as it was nice to hear the positivity. But he also had to wonder about everything else, too.

“I meant about the other, Ron. I mean, how are you handling that?” Ron lets out a sigh, knowing the question was coming. It was also known that he couldn’t just brush it off with Jimmie, either. He wished he could say it was handled and dealt with, but he knew that Jimmie would never believe that in a million years.

“I haven’t really addressed that, yet….” Jimmie rolls his eyes, realizing they were getting nowhere.

“It’s not going to just improve itself over night. You need to do something…” Ron lets out a sigh, knowing that Jimmie was right. But what was he supposed to do first? “Talk to Greenlee, talk to me, talk to Chad, talk to somebody – please. You need to get those feelings out in the open…”

“I know. You don’t have to lecture me, Jimmie. I get this more than anybody. I deal with it every day, remember?” Jimmie nods his head, taking a deep breath. Maybe he needed to lay off a little.

“I deal with my end of it, too. It compares nothing to what you went through, but there’s regret and blam-”

“What did I tell you abo-”

“I know, but sometimes it creeps back in – especially when I know it’s still bugging you.” Ron now felt that guilt, not wanting to push the emotions beyond himself.

“Look, you don’t have to worry. I’ll work it out. We always work things out, right?” Jimmie nods his head. “And for the record, you can stop spying on Greenlee. You don’t need to worry about anything. It’s not like we’re together.”

“It’s not like you haven’t thought about it, though…” Ron couldn’t deny that as he glanced away from his best friend.

“When I hear how much she still misses Ryan and Leo, I can’t bring myself to ask her, make that move. What if I push the boundaries too soon? What if I repeat the cycle for her? Maybe we’re just best as friends…” Jimmie smiles, having heard these tales before. He was set to be getting ready to be a best man in a couple years, right?

“Whatever you do, trust your heart. It’ll lead you to happiness.” Ron nods his head as he glances over at Greenlee continuing to type up notes.

Back to Square One – Chapter 20: “You’re asking me to spy for you?”

Friday – Charlotte Motor Speedway

Jimmie lets out a sigh as he stands back, watching the furious sea of activity around the 48 car.

His eyes then drifted towards the blond in their stall, watching as she furiously typed away on the computer. He knew she had a new batch of notes from Chad, Ron, and the engineers after practice and the debrief, which meant she was going to busy for awhile.

Crossing his arms, he so badly wanted to believe in her. He wanted to trust her fully, and make her one of the team. He also had a good feeling about her based on Ron’s reaction, Chad’s reaction, and what he’d seen so far. However, he still had to wonder.

What if she was up to something? It wasn’t like she had a princess past, and it wasn’t like she didn’t know how to mess with someone. Knowing how vulnerable Ron was right now, he wondered if she was her next victim and the team was going to be a by-product.

“You look like you’re in your own little world,” Candiss says as she walks up behind him, wrapping her arms around. “How was the car?”

“Not bad, I guess,” Jimmie answers. In truthfulness, it had been better than the past couple of weeks – but still not where he believed the 48 team should be.

“You guys are going to be fine. You, Ron, and Chad always figure it out…” Jimmie knew that as he nodded his head in response. It didn’t make the down times any easier, though. Glancing back at her, he got an idea.

“Say, you don’t have a lot of friends around the tracks….” Candiss was caught off-guard by the comment, but felt the need to go with it.

“Amy, Ingrid, Jordan, Sherry, Delana, Krissie – I get along with some of the girls.” Jimmie knew that, but still figured this would work to his advantage.

“Greenlee is new to the area and doesn’t know anybody. I figure you girls could get close with the team always being together. You may even have some things in common…” Candiss then looks at Jimmie, questionably. He never pointed out friends for her, knowing that she wasn’t one to let down her guard easily.

“Something is up, am I right?” Jimmie laughs as he looks back towards her.

“She’s getting awfully cuddly with Ron.” Candiss could only roll her eyes.

“And being his best friend, you want to watch out for him and don’t trust her?” Jimmie nods his head. “What about her instincts at Tallad-”

“Past experience could easily make that look good.” Jimmie takes a deep breath as he goes to face Candiss. “Look, Ron is vulnerable right now. I would usually trust his choices, but I’m fully sold on Greenlee. All I’m saying is hang out with her some, get to know her, see what she’s like, and give me the lowdown.”

“So in reality, you’re asking me to spy for you?” Jimmie wished she wouldn’t had figured out the plan.

“Maybe I am. But she could also be a great addition to the group…” Candiss glances over, before returning her eyes to Jimmie. This wasn’t going to be easy.

“I can’t do that, Jimmie. I’m not the type to spy on people and play gam-”

“Oh really? That seems strange considering how we met.” Candiss sighs, knowing she had set a double standard. However, that was a different situation.

“We’ve all changed from then, remember? Live, learn and move forward.” Jimmie knew that, but it didn’t change his nerves.

“I just don’t want to be blindsided by something again; hence keeping an eye on her.” Candiss looks back over at Greenlee, before turning back to Jimmie.

“I can’t, Jimmie…” Jimmie nods his head, accepting. He wasn’t going to make her feel uncomfortable.

“Alright, no problem at all. I just thought I’d ask and consider.” Candiss then pulls Jimmie close, as she keeps her eyes on Greenlee.

“Take a deep breath, and relax. Not everybody is out to do you harm. Sometimes second, third chances are what people need as sometimes they’re dealt a bad hand. Take the good out of her, and cross your fingers. Also, believe in your best friend. Ron is a good judge of character. He’ll read her like a book.” Jimmie wanted to believe those words, but couldn’t help but think back to the recent office conversation.

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

Following all of the racing that day, Greenlee retreated back to one of her first spots that she found in town and enjoyed – Lake Norman.

Sitting on the rocks, it reminded her of those strolls along the water with Ryan. It also reminded her of the time they hid out together, along with the park. Her memory continued to flash back through a series of thoughts.

Taking a deep breath, she glances down at the wedding band on her finger, rubbing it gently, before looking out to the water once again.

“I miss you more than I realize sometimes,” she lets out quietly as a couple tears come down her eyes. She then feels an arm wrap around her, almost flashing back to how Ryan would hold her, but then noticed immediately it was Ron.

“I figured when you didn’t come home you were here,” Ron comments as she nods her head.

“I just can’t let go…” He understood that as he kept her held close.

“You never will let go, Greenlee. He’ll always be a part of you no matter what.” She knew he was right, having been through that with Leo. Even though she moved on with Ryan, Leo never left her heart ever.

“Why does it hurt so bad?” Ron shook his head, not knowing why. “It comes and goes, too. It just hit me when I was leaving the track and I just automatically brought myself here. Other days, I can just cruise through without a single thought.” Ron understood that, dealing with his own emotions.

“Maybe something reminded you of him. But hey, it’s okay to have these thoughts. It just shows how he’s apart of you, how you cared, how you loved him, and how special it was. Don’t ever be ashamed, either, and don’t be afraid to speak up. I’m always willing to listen to a story or hold you.” She looked over, giving him a slight smile. His words reminded her of something, too.

“And what about you? The same goes from me to you, too, as I know you’re still dealing with a lot. I hear you when you get up at night, Ron.” Ron nods his head, knowing he wasn’t the quietest in his trips out of the kitchen for a glass of water or milk.

“I appreciate that, really.” He then takes a deep breath as he looks out to the water. “I just don’t know where to begin, or how to describe it.” She could understand that, having been there before. It was why one time David Hayward hypnotized her.

“Sometimes it helps to start at the beginning, or with the first emotion you feel. Sometimes people start with the weakest because they feel it’s the easiest and then build up. Others go straight in so that way they can get the toughest part out of the way.”  Ron could see all of those theories working, but still didn’t know of a direction for himself – but a question did come to mind.

“Have you ever felt like the walls are closing in and there’s nothing you can do to stop it?” She nods her head, remembering a couple experiences.

“I was stuck in a mind shaft with my life threatened by a crazed brother so certainly I know that feeling.” Ron nods his head, remembering that story. He could only wonder about the strength she had.

“How do you look past everything and just move forward?” She takes a deep breath, trying to conjure up the best advice possible.

“I went through therapy a couple different times. I also leaned on those closest to me – Leo, David Hayward, Ryan, Kendall, my father. I talked about it, figured out how to handle it, and then moved forward.” He thinks it over, wondering if there was a single person he could do that with – like Jimmie or Chad, as they had offered. Perhaps therapy was a good option, too.

“I want to be able to sleep at night without a thought – I just don’t know to get there…” Greenlee nods her head, understanding.

“It takes time, Ron. It’s not going to happen overnight. You first need to find a strategy that works and then commit to it. You can’t just half-ass this. You have to treat it like you do work – go all in.” Ron had to chuckle, knowing that wasn’t possible. He couldn’t let up on his team commitment at all or else Chad may have a fit.

“Yeah, okay….”

“I’m serious, Malec!” He looks on surprised to hear her reference him by his last name. “And for the record, Chad would understand. Recall how he reacted to everything at Dega…”

“You don’t know Chad that well ye-”

“I know him well enough that he has a heart underneath it all. He could’ve shot your ass out of a cannon last year, remember.” Ron nods his head, remembering how nervous he was about his future. He didn’t know what he’d do if Chad and Rick would’ve fired him.

“There would’ve been questions that he couldn’t answ-”

“That’s why you guys have public relations staff, and I’m sure Amy could’ve come up with something quickly as she’s trained. Don’t try and pretend this is nothing.” Ron should know better, based on how close he was with Chad. Chad had also stopped in the shop to check on him that day, too.

“Fine – you win.” She then smiles. “And I will take your thoughts into consideration…”

“Sooner than later, and know – I am always here like you have been for me…” Ron smiles as he holds her hand tightly.