Back to Square One – Chapter 18: AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway

May 2016 – Race #12

Greenlee walks into the garage, smile on her face, clipboard held tightly close to her. She walks by some of the guys, taking a seat in what had become her usual spot already in just a couple weeks as she opened up the board.

She was getting herself in a good habit.

She would bring the notes from the last meeting containing the set-up they planned to start the weekend with, along with some details on the current weather conditions. That way through morning conversation in the hauler, she’d just have to make notes about small adjustments made to the plan.

She also was already developing her own short hand to use in the book so she could write things quicker, catching everything mentioned by the guys. Then later on, she’d expand it into long form so when reading back the notes were understandable by everybody.

Seeing how close competition was in the garage, there were times she wondered whether it’d be a good idea to actually teach the team the short hand so that way if anybody snagged a peak they’d never understand what was there. Shaking her head, she had to let out a small laugh as she was already turning into one of them looking for an advantage.

She used to trying to find advantages, though. She did with her business in always being on the cutting edge in fragrance and make-up so they’d remain on top. She continued that form when she did street race, keeping the second bottle of NOS hidden to where it couldn’t be seen if somebody peaked in the car.

“Already here working?” She hears, glancing up at Chad with a smile.

“I wanted to make sure everything was in perfect order,” she answers as he simply smiles in return. It seemed with each passing week, he was removing more reservations about her.

“I like your thinking. Maybe we can turn things around this week and actually have a good finish.” He then was about to walk away, but stopped and looked back towards her. “Has Ron mentioned anything since his panic episode at Dega?” She shakes her head no.

“He told me he’d talk when he was good and ready. I’ve been just offering comfort and steadiness, while reminding him that everything will be okay no matter the thoughts.” Chad shakes his head, accepting.

“I told him he could come to me whenever he felt right about doing so, if needed to. I just worry sometimes…” Greenlee smiles, seeing the concerning side of Chad that Ron had mentioned last week.

“When you go through something traumatic, some people just get over it easy while others it takes time. Some people can talk to somebody about it immediately, while others just need to do so in due time. I’m sure he’ll come around and handle it like we both want him to. Patience. All you can do right now is just assure him that everything is okay.” He shakes his head, accepting. He knew her advice was worth listening to after what he had learned from Dom.

“What did you do? Did you always talk about it, or avoid it?” She then looks on puzzled. “Look, I’m always super conscious about this team and everybody. I may have ran a background on you and found out everything that I could know about your past to make sure things were legit.”

“I can understand that based on how I entered the picture, and Ron’s past himself. But to answer your question, I always could talk to Ryan no matter what. We just had that special connection that I can’t even begin to describe, Chad.  It’s why it hurts so much knowing he’s gone. However, I admit there were times that I held it in and even tried running from it. That never did me any good, as you probably learned.” He shakes his head in agreement, having heard a couple of those tales from Dom.

“Well I appreciate what you’re doing for us, and I appreciate you being there for Ron. It means a lot. I hope this second, third chance works out for you.” She could only smile. It was nice to hear a bit of positivity from someone other than just Ron and Jimmie.

“Thanks Chad. That means a lot coming from you. Hopefully this weekend works out.”

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

The crew could only stand there shaking their heads.

They had done everything right. They gave Jimmie a quick car. They had run up front throughout the race. They were even second as the race was in the second half. Then it happened. The transmission messed up on the restart, causing a stack up and a crash, taking out Jimmie and a bunch of his fellow competitors.

Rather than celebrating or at least standing on pit road with a top-five, they had a wrecked car and a 25th place finish.

“We’re going to turn this around, eventually,” Chad states as they finish packing up. “We can’t  do this forever. We’ve been too quick for this to happen all year.”

“It’s a long season bud; we’ll be fine,” Jimmie replied.

Ron and Greenlee just looked at each other, knowing that it’d be another long week in dealing with Chad’s short temper once again. Greenlee was fine with that, as she understood the reasons why and had gotten to see the nicer side of him.

Back to Square One – Chapter 17: Ready to Work

May 2016 – Kansas Speedway

“Ready for your first official work weekend?” Ron questions as they walk into the garage area together.

“Are you ready for this weekend all together?” Greenlee asks in response, causing Ron to freeze on the spot. “What?”

“Are you going to ask me that every weekend from here on out after what happened last week?” She then thinks it over, and shakes her head no. She knew that’d become too overbearing and she hated when Ryan was like that with her.

“I was just asking to be courteous and because I care about you. Is that okay?” He shakes his head yes as he wraps his arms around her.

“I don’t want to pretend that everything is okay, because I haven’t done what I needed to do yet. But, I can assure you that I am ready to go this weekend and we’re going to have a great weekend.” A smile formed on her face, hoping that he was right.

“I wouldn’t mind being able to see why you guys like winning so much…” Ron then chuckles as they keep walking together, his arm wrapped around her.

“You’ll have to tell Jimmie to drive the wheels off of her Saturday night.” The pair then walk into the garage, resulting in a couple hoots and haulers from the guys. “Really, guys?”

“Hey, we’re not used to seeing a girl on your arm there, Ronnie,” R.J. Barnette teases first. “Want to start talking?”

“Was she one of those nurses who took care of you?” Kevin Novak adds, with a grin. “I told you he was flirting.” R.J. laughs as he sits back in his seat, causing an eye roll from R.J.

“That t doesn’t explain the outfit, though,” Kyle Tudor observes as she glances down at herself.

“She’s the boss’ new assistant,” Ron comments, causing a couple surprised glances.

“Chad finally found someone that will put up with him?” Kevin asks as Greenlee shoots a look at Ron.

“He probably hired her because he wanted to allow the love to blossom between these two,” R.J. adds as Ron just gives him a punch. “Hey!”

“She went through the proper process, and passed with flying colors,” Ron starts. “Chad then observed her notes during the week, and allowed her to spend Talladega weekend observing. She is doing well, so it’d be nice if you’d have some maturity to yourself.” R.J. then looks on surprised, but laughs.

“Dude, you can’t blame me. We’re not used to seeing our man with a girl.” Greenlee then focuses her eyes on the crew member.

“R.J., right?” She questions, and he shakes his head yes. “Listen, Ron and I are good friends, and been that way for a very long time. We’re not together as you’re implying, though. So no need to tease and start using that book of sex jokes that you’ve probably been waiting to use for a long time.” R.J. immediately smiled as he heard the words escape her lips.

“I like you already,” R.J. replies. “I can see why Chad hired you as you don’t take bullshit.” She then turned on her heels, heading to the pit box to grab her notebook. It was going to a joyous season. “Hey, does she have a boyfrie-”

“Can it,” Ron cuts him off before he can say anymore, which causes the smile to return on R.J.’s face.

“You do like her….”  Ron rolls his eyes, though couldn’t deny it.

“We went out a long time ago, and things just didn’t work. Let’s just say that I may be willing to try things around, but I’m not quite ready to do that just yet.” R.J. shakes his head, understanding.

“Well, I do sincerely wish you guys the best because it’d be great to see you happy. I mean, the boss is happy and Jimmie is happy so you’re up next.” Ron smiles, having figured that.

“I’ll be happy if we run well this weekend so Chad lays off our asses.” R.J. then laughs as he notices Chad and Jimmie heading their way.

“You obviously haven’t picked up anything much these past 14 years, have you?” Ron laughs and shakes his head no as he looks towards the pair.

“Time to get to work boys….” Chad announces as he walks into the garage and over to where Greenlee was standing with notebook in hand. It was going to be a fun weekend.

***********

“We’re smoking guys….” Earl Barber comes over the radio during the first practice as Chad shakes his head. The crew guys immediately begin to make their way down the steps, knowing the process. Some would begin to pull out the back-up motor, while others went to find the heads of the Hendrick Motorsports engine department.

“Blown up?” Chad questions on the radio.

“Not too sure actually,” Jimmie answers, causing puzzled glances from Chad and Ron towards each other.

“10-4.” Chad then climbs down the steps, followed by Ron and Greenlee.

“What could be wrong?” Greenlee asks as they head to the garage stall together.

“We may have lost the motor, may have a leak, or some oil in the intake,” Ron answers. “Didn’t Kasey have that problem at Phoenix?” Chad shakes his head yes, remembering.

The team head into the garage stall, letting the engine guys do their job in looking everything over accordingly. Chad could only glance at the clock and watch the minutes in practice continue to tick away.

“You guys are good to go,” Doug Duchart says as he walks over. “Same deal as Kasey. We figured it out and you should be fine.” Chad looks at the general manager, curiously.

“So we’re not going to blow a motor halfway through the race as a result?” Chad questions and Doug shakes his head no. “Alright. Thanks….” Chad then heads over to the car, set to go about the rest of practice as usual.

The rest of the practice went smoothly, with Jimmie finishing it off sitting fourth on the speed chart.

Despite qualifying in 15th, everybody was confident heading into the event. They started off strongly, with Jimmie working his way into the top-10 and up to sixth. However, the night fell apart with 26 laps to go when he sped on pit road. Restarting tail end of the field, he only got back up to 17th.

“Well, least we had a good car,” Ron comments as they are packing up the pit box.

“Yeah – I guess,” Chad says as he heads off into the garage area.

“Is he always like that?” Greenlee questions, and Ron looks over shaking his head yes.

“He’s very hard on himself and this team to succeed,” Ron starts. “If you can’t handle the pressure, get out of the kitchen now because that’s life with these guys. He takes this very seriously, and expects greatness every week. When it doesn’t happen, he turns crabby. That said, he’s one of the most amazing guys away from the track and will always have your back.”  Greenlee shook her head, understanding as she watched him head off.

“Even if you do something that he’s completely angry about, and wants to question every turn?” Ron looked towards Chad’s direction, knowing what she was referencing right away.

“He’s just doing what he needs to do in order to protect this team and everybody involved. He just wants to make sure we’re making the best decisions that we can.” He then glances over her shoulder at the notes. “I say those look very nice.”

“Thank you.” She then closes the folder with a glance back his way. “Now to spend all night typing it up so Chad has it for the meeting.” Ron knew it was wrong to take this next step, but he was willing to go for it.

“Well, you actually have all day Sunday since we don’t do these meetings always till the Monday. So you can relax for the rest of tonight, spend some time tomorrow typing them up while relaxing. Maybe even go out for a bit with me….” She then looks over, intrigued and caught off-guard. That sounded like a date.

“Oh really?” He could only wonder about her response.

“Like, we could go mini golfing or go get you some things that you need. Whatever ya want.” She felt herself relax instantly, as it wasn’t a date offer.

“That sounds great.”

Back to Square One – Chapter 15: Chad’s Concerns

Chad let out a sigh as he tried to focus on his notes for that weekend.

Normally, he could retreat back to his office mid-week, pull out his notes and concentrate on them with ease and a single worry. However, he found himself stuck on Ron during that moment as he set the notepad down.

While everybody said he was a hard ass, he actually had a real deep caring side to him that he showed to few people – Jimmie had seen it, previously.

He found himself thinking back to Candiss’ reveal of what happened, to the discussion with Ron and his own admission. He dissected the discussion in his mind multiple times – recalling the confidence, fear, and avoidance of topic at hand.

He also thought back to what happened last year, the attack, and the series of events which followed. He remembered the nerves of fear he felt when he heard what was going on, followed by the worry in the injuries sustained. He could only imagine how multiplied they were for Ron.

His fingers also found themselves to his cell phone, wondering why Dom hadn’t texted or called him yet with anything. What was so hard to find about Greenlee? Something seemed off – just look at Jimmie’s concerns, but yet there was no information yet. He wondered whether she was actually helping Ron’s anxiety over things, or adding to it with her own issues whatever they may be. What if she wasn’t the perfect fit as they envisioned?

Knowing he couldn’t focus on his notes, he stands up and makes his way out of the small office. He knew where to find the car chief immediately, and figured it was worth another approach towards him. Perhaps if he showed being serious in dealing with things, he could push Ron to deal with it accordingly.

He walks into the shop, seeing Ron going over something with a couple of the crew members ahead of that weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway. Their actions were right in line with the crew chief’s instructions after the plan they devised for that weekend.

He stands back, observing carefully, noticing nothing different than normal. Maybe he was worrying about Ron for no reason as he thought about returning to his office and the notes. For once, perhaps his worry was actually overwarranted. Maybe the desire for success and heart worry combined together to cause a crazed over-reaction.

Though as he watches the crew members walk away, he takes a deep breath and heads over. He might as well make the trip down the stairs worth it.

“Hey Ron,” he says as he walks over, catching the car chief’s attention.

“Hey,” Ron replies back as he picks up the clipboard from the toolbox. “Listen, we went through everything discussed and they’re going to make sure it’s put in place before we load the car up. To be honest, I think we came up with a great idea.” Chad smiles as the progress was nice – however, it didn’t put him at ease.

“I appreciate that, really. But that’s not why I came to see you actually. Listen, I meant what I said yesterday. I know I may seem like I’m a crisis and pushing everybody to their breaking point and state of emergency. But, if you need some time off to deal with lingering effects, you can take the time. I won’t be mad and I can assure you won’t be replaced either.” Ron shakes his head, understanding. It was why he wished Candiss hadn’t said anything as he knew everyone would be on his case.

“Chad, I appreciate that but I can assure you that I can do my job perfectly fine while handling this accordingly. I’ve got this, man.” Chad wanted to believe those words, however knew from hearing about traumatic issues that it wasn’t how things worked.

“Have you talked to anyone about this, and I mean in depth beyond just simple discussion?” Ron lets out a sigh, knowing Chad wouldn’t like the answer.

“Not yet.” Chad rolls his eyes as he leans back against the tool box.

“See, this is what I’m talking about in handling this accordingly and doing what you need to. I’m not asking you for the team, or frankly for my own benefit as your friend. I’m asking for you. I know it’s eating at you and affecting you – hence why for your own good, I damn well hope that you can handle accordingly and move forward. You may say you’re mister tough guy, but you need to talk to someone – whether that’s Greenlee, Jimmie, myself, or someone else. That was a traumatic experience that you we-”

“You don’t need to drill that through me, Chad. Obviously I know it was traumatic because I damn well experienced it. I experienced the fear, anxiety, pain, worry, anger – full slew of emotions in those hours more than anyone else. I also dealt with the blame for my part in everything through the years. I also dealt with the reprecaution of my actions. You can also count the comments from my parents. I also shouldered Jimmie’s feelings in the hospital, too, not wanting it to eat at him. Damn Chad, you don’t need to remind me.” Inside, Chad was proud to see he was breaking down barriers with his concerns in getting Ron to openly state the emotions. It was progress, whether the right way or not. Now it was just continuing to do that.

“Well since you know what I’m talking about and all those emotions that you’ve got bottled up inside of you, you know what you need to do about it, right? The only way to let things go is by talking to someone to get them out of you. My door is always open, and my offer remains on the table no matter what.” Chad gives him a pat on the shoulder, before walking away.

The crew chief had originally wanted to stand there and continue to drill at his car chief and push the boundaries further. However, he knew that wasn’t right at that moment. He had to let Ron do it his own way, with who he wanted, on his own terms for the best affect. There was also the fact of eyes being peered on the two, wondering what they were discussing.

It didn’t mean that Chad was going to totally leave the topic be, though, as he had planned to keep an extra eye on Ron through the process.

Back to Square One – Chapter 14: Our Discussion

Jimmie and Chad were glad that Candiss had told them what happened. They also knew that Ron would be waiting for their discussion, and didn’t want to do it with everybody else hearing or involved. It was why the pair agreed to remain quiet till Monday morning.

“Ready for this?” Chad asks and Jimmie shakes his head yes as the pair take a glance at each other. Chad then buzzes Ron’s office, asking the car chief to come over for a meeting between just the three of them. They had planned to go down to Ron’s office, but Greenlee was there beginning her job as note taker, typing up the weekend’s notes.

“Do you think we’re doing the right thing, like this intervention style?” Jimmie wonders and Chad shrugs his shoulders.

“You know him best, right? What do you think?” Jimmie lets out a sigh as he glances around, avoiding topic.

“I don’t know, honestly. This whole deal just has me stumped.” Chad then sits up in his chair, reading the emotions on Jimmie’s face.

“Don’t be blaming yourself again, Jimmie. We went through that at the hospital and thereafter. It was a combination of both you guys going down that roa-”

“He wanted me to get out of it, and I didn’t listen, and look what happe-”

“It’s not your fault some damn terrorist decided to get in the middle of some innocent street racin-”

“Play the game, chance the ris-”

“You guys met the one and a millionth guy that anybody would meet and go that far. The danger that Ron was probably worrying was either you getting yourself hurt, or getting caught illegally and going to jail.” Jimmie lets out a sigh, knowing that Chad was probably right in those words.

He was able to say something in response, when he heard the door open, his eyes immediately taking to the sight before him. The pair glanced at each other, before Chad motioned to the seat beside Jimmie.

“What’s up with this meeting?” Ron asks as he looks around, before sitting down. “It’s a lot earlier than our normal Monday morning meetings.” Jimmie and Chad knew that, and had planned it that way. They didn’t need other people barging in on the conversation.

“Because this isn’t your typical Monday morning meeting,” Jimmie starts as Ron looks over, surprised. “We both wanted to talk to you about something, actually. How are you feeling?” Ron lets out a sigh as he glances away from the pair.

“I’m guessing this conversation is about my little freeze up in front of Candiss on Sunday, right?” The pair shake their heads yes. “Okay, I told her the explanation incase she didn’t tell you both. I was just caught off-guard, okay? Besides, I talked with Greenlee after about what happened and ideas to move forward.  You guys don’t have to worry about me, honestly.” Jimmie knew that wasn’t possible as he’d always worry and care about his best friend. It was just in his nature with how close they were.

“I caught you sleeping in your office a couple times. Is that connected?” Ron shakes his head no, knowing he was telling a lie immediately. However, the sooner he avoided conversation, the better. He wasn’t in the mood to talk about what happened.

“Ron…..”

“Look, we’re just trying to help you so at least be honest with us, please,” Chad adds as Ron just glances away from the pair, wishing this conversation never had happened. He could kill Candiss right now.

“So maybe I didn’t sleep a couple nights due to what happened,” Ron starts. “And maybe it’s been on my mind. What the hell else do you expect when something that flipping crazy happens to you?” Chad and Jimmie trade a quick glance, before looking towards Ron.

“We understand, we get it – you don’t need to flip on us, okay? That’s why we’re having this conversation, because we want to help you. Considering the thoughts at night combined with what happened, we know something is up.  We were hoping by talking with you that we could start the road of helping you. Would you be willing to talk with us about things?” Ron looks back towards the pair, urging himself to spill out details but unable to find the words at that time.

“I don’t want to be stuck in this warp forever, but it’s hard to talk about it. It’s hard to come out with the right words after everything that I went through to describe it to you. It’s hard to go through the events that happened because I don’t want to relive in my mind. Heck, it was hard enough giving Greenlee the brief details of what happened so she’d understand where I was coming from.” Chad remembered some words from Jimmie in their private conversation, and considered the thought of using them here now. Perhaps it’d help in getting more details about Greenlee, considering the concerns he and Jimmie both had.

“You mentioned that you talked with Greenlee after your little freeze up, and Candiss mentioned that Greenlee knew how to help you through that. It’s clear that she has a dark past, too – hence why you said she was looking for some redemption in moving away from Pine Valley. Given that you both understand each other in that light, and you’re close friends, have you spoken to her at depth, or thought about it?” Ron shakes his head yes, remembering his thoughts when he woke up one morning.

“I thought about asking for her advice, and thoughts on it one morning when I woke up after very little sleep. I thought it’d be useful. However, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again. Like I said, I’m trying to avoid this crap.” Chad shakes his head, understanding as Jimmie just sits there in silence, disbelief that they’re still stuck at what happened.

“I understand, totally.  Listen, I don’t want to sound like we’re coming down on you or make you feel bad. We just wanted to see where you stood on the subject, and suggest helping you. Just know that we’re both here for you, willing to talk to you, willing to hear you out and help you, care for you. Also, if you need time off, we can give you some time off. We just want you, to be okay.”  Ron shook his head, understanding. Perhaps it’d be worth letting his guard down and hearing his buddies out.

“I appreciate the support. Thank you, both of you.” Chad then glanced down at his notes, letting out a sigh. He knew any morning after a wreck-filled weekend was never a fun one, even if that wreck was Talladega and out of control. There was just something in his nature that didn’t put wrecks and Monday happiness together.

“Alright. Now with that out in the open, let’s get down to business. We need a good run this weekend, badly.” Ron then looks on surprised.

“I wouldn’t say we’re that desperate, Chad. I mean, Talladega is either good or bad – but that’s dependent on itself. I mean, we finished third the week before at Richmo-”

“Let me remind you of our last five finishes, Malec – 9, 4, 23, 3, and now 22nd. Consistency is what wins championships, and what does that look like?” Ron rolls his eyes, knowing the sympathy he felt earlier was clearly thrown out the window by Chad’s frustration.

“In fairness, the 23rd at Bristol was a pit road speeding penalty and I put that on my shoulders,” Jimmie reminds the crew chief. “We’ve had fast cars every weekend, that’s all we can ask for. We’ve got our win so now the focus is on keeping this program top-notch so we can get that championship.” Jimmie then glances at the schedule. “We’re at Kansas Speedway this weekend. We’ve been good on intermediates this year so we should be fine. It’s a Chase track, though, so a good run would bode well looking towards September. We could use this weekend to see where we stand.”

“We could also try something since we’re locked in anyway and with no testing, research could be warranted,” Ron adds as Chad sighs as he glances at the paperwork before him. He knew both his partners had valid points, despite his rant on numbers. Perhaps the pressure and knowing everybody’s eyes were on their backs even more so than usual after last year’s incident was playing with his emotions.

“Well, let’s hear your thoughts – what matters most to you going into this weekend and coming out, with the options of consistency or trial on the table?” Chad asks the pair, trying to get his head into the game.

Back to Square One – Chapter 12: Their Discussion

After reaching the garage area, Greenlee glanced around, trying to figure out the right spot to chat.

“Where can we get some time alone?” She asks as Ron looks at her slightly confused. “We need to talk about what happ-”

“I’m fine,” he answers, wanting to totally avoid the discussion. “Can we just forget about it?” She then lets out a sigh and shakes her head no.

“That just lets it manifest into something bigger. Do you want to do that?” He then lets out a sigh, knowing that wouldn’t be a good idea. However, he still wanted to avoid the discussion. “Now, are you going to give us a spot to talk, or should I question the guys?” He didn’t want the guys knowing something was up, so he grabbed her by the hand, took her across the area away from the trailers, over by the garage stalls. He then walked into where they were parked for the weekend, standing in the middle with his arms crossed.

“Well?” She then lets out a sigh, knowing that this was going to be more difficult then she imagined. It seemed Ron had lost his caring side that he used to have when they were running around together before.

“Well it’s obvious by your little flashback there that you haven’t totally gotten over what happened. So, is that the case? Has that happened before?” Ron rolled his eyes, really hoping to avoid the discussion totally. He knew he’d be hearing about it from Chad and Jimmie anyway once Candiss spoke.

“It hasn’t happened before, okay? As for what happened, it was clear in my mind what was pulled over my head. Hence why I sat that night and told you everything – simply – and you saw where I stood. If this was some big deal on my mind, why would I have sat that night and told you the story?” She knew that she could use that fact to her advantage – he trusted her, and would open to her if not anyone else.

“If it’s happening – even just this once, that means that there’s something ther-”

“People jump out of their skins when they’re surprised, even if nothing has happened to them. Heck, we’re told to have our guard up because of crazy fans wandering these garages. So it transfixed me to another world for a minute – whatever.” She then rolls her eyes, wishing that he’d be more forthcoming.

“I know you’re trying to brush it off like it’s nothing, and be the macho man. I can promise you that it’s not a good fit for you. You’re just going to dig yourself a hole with that because it’s going to manifest into something that you can’t control. It’s better for your own sanity if you handle it.” He knew that she was right, but there was no way to know which direction to go first.

“So maybe I’ve thought about it some. Maybe there’s a couple nights I couldn’t sleep because of it. Maybe it lingers in my mind. What else would you expect having gone through that?” She shakes her head, understanding. It was nice to be making progress.

“Ron, I know exactly what you’re saying because trust me, been through it. You heard my story and know what I’ve been through. I may look like Ms. Confidence now, but I wasn’t always that way. I spent time breaking apart, wondering how I could process everything, for months at a time. But here I am, proof that you can get over those thoughts and return to the normalcy that you know. How did I do it? I talked to those who I was closest with, I confided in them, faced my fears and worked my way through it.” He knew what she meant. It was what Jimmie had already suggested to him before.

“I get the steps. I get the process. It’s just….I don’t know what step to take. I don’t know if there’s that person, or whether that’s what I need to do.” She could understand that, but also saw the excuse mechanism having done that herself.

“You know who your friends are, you know the resources around you. It’s time to figure it out and take the first step or else you’ll be driving yourself in circles for months on end, Ron. I took my step by talking to Ryan, Kendall and my dad. It turned out that those slowly worked. It takes time, it takes hard work – but I know that you can do it.” She then reaches out and grabs his hand. “If I can do it, then you can do it because you’re stronger than me.”

“I don’t know about that. I don’t know if I could’ve gone through everything that you’ve been through.” She knew that there was a lot in her story, but there was a constant.

“I don’t know how I did it sometimes. Truthfully, I think the real reason I did it was for Ryan. There’s nothing that I could say that could describe what we had together. It was magic.” He then smiles as he looks into her eyes. There were times he wondered about a future with her, but there were times like this where he held back. He wondered whether that’d even be possible for her with everything she’d been through.

“You mentioned his ex and what happened to him. How long did it take you to move forward from that?” She then glances down, a couple tears forming in her eyes.

“To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over his death. I think that’s why I truly screwed up any relationship afterwards, and why I ran away from Pine Valley – trying to escape the ghost, if you will.” Ron then reaches out, rubbing her shoulder.

“For what it’s worth, I think you’ve moved on just fine. I think you’ve taken everything that happened with stride. Look at where your life is now and the wonderful woman you’ve become. I know you say that you’re not totally over what happened to Ryan, but that’s understandable. He was your everything, your world, the man you could only dream about. I don’t think anybody could get over something like that. However, I can tell that you’ve done a tremendous job moving forward. For what it’s worth, if you need someone ever to talk about things or whatever, you’ve got a friend in me.” She then smiles.

“Well, for what it’s worth, you’ve also got a friend in me. If you want to talk about things and why you’ve got all these feelings Ron, you just have to say something and I’ll listen. And Ronnie, it will work out for you – I promise.” He smiles as she pulls him into a hug, rubbing his back. The pair remained like that for awhile before heading back towards the trailer, jumping the rest of the team as they finished packing things up.

Back to Square One – Chapter 11: Packing Up

Thanks for reading and reviewing, and your patience for this chapter.

Another race complete on the schedule. Another usual Talladega crap shit mess that he had come to expect. Why should it be a new feeling that they were once again caught in the midst of a big wreck at Talladega, done for the day before the checkered flag? Letting out a sigh, he swore he hated restrictor plate racing sometimes.

Ron then climbs down the steps, allowing Greenlee to easily follow, as the pair take a couple steps back, watching the crew swarm into action.

“Does this happen after every single race?” She asks and Ron shakes his head yes.

“Each crew member has a job to follow in putting everything away in a timely fashion,” he answers as she shakes her head understanding.

“Organized team work – I like it.” He could see how she understood the deal, given her past work experience with a business of her own.

“So my job is to organize the notes that Chad I have together, and tuck some of them into the drawer marked, well taking some with us. Basically, given that you’re going to be Chad’s note taker, those notes will come with us. So you would have duty in making sure that we both have the right notes with us and right ones in the drawer.” She shakes her head, accepting, as she watches him shuffle through the pieces of paper.

“How will I know what’s important and what’s not?” He then glances up from the stack, looking over at her.

“You’ll get used to it after a couple weeks and figure it out. It all goes based on the type of note written.” He then focuses back to his notes, which she easily allows him to do. She didn’t want to break his concentration as she understood the process. She remembered having to sort orders, invoices, bank information, factory information and marketing information when she was running Fusion.

“So what happens next?” He then glances around, watching the fury of business that normally took place. He hated to see it happening before the final lap was complete, though.

“I make sure everybody is following orders, as if anything is not done right – it’s my fault as car chief. Seeing as though the guys have it mostly packed up and set to go, my job is done. We can head out and go back to the trailer for stage two.” She then easily accepted, though found herself rolling her eyes. So much for this being the simple easy job in which Ron had explained at the house. When did all these rules and factors end?

The pair walked towards the garage, winding their way through with ease. Ron was set to continue the same walk he’d always make, till he felt a hand grab his firmly, catching his attention as he looked towards the source. He missed the face, only catching the blond hair that blew in the wind. His body then let out a shiver as he could only picture in his mind these events happenings before.

“Hel-” I go to let out but never manage to finish the words as I feel a cold, metal object against my forehead. Now, I hadn’t been in these types of deals before – okay, so I dealt with idiots that wouldn’t pay their dues on the streets or were set for a fight, but not some crazy terrorist group type level deal – but I could tell you exactly what was against my temple. I’ll give you two guesses, and the first guess doesn’t count.

“Finish those words and draw attention and you’re going to wish that you never said those words,” she tells me as she grabs my hands, pulling them behind my back. I feel the clamp go over them, no doubt she had some sort of handcuff on them so I couldn’t use them if I wanted.

“You’re not going to get away with this.” She then spins me around, snagging something out of her pocket – I think a handkerchief, I think.

“I already am.” She then ties it around my mouth as the fumes immediately begin to take over. I feel myself getting light on my feet as she pulls me from the direction that we are towards some red object….a car, I think – it looks to have wheels.

I quickly drop the folder out of my hand, not caring if anybody sees the precious secrets of HMS or my notes. Actually, it’d be better if someone did as everyone would know what was happening and come help me.

“Malec!” Candiss yells at the top of her lungs as she flicks her fingers before his face, while Greenlee bends down, picking up the scattered pieces of paper and folder as quickly as she can, filing it back away, not caring whether it was in order or not.

Ron’s eyes immediately flash open, sweat trembling off his body as his eyes immediately meet hers, feeling her gripping him harder than she was earlier. His breathes are quicker than usual, panic settling in his body as glances around.

“Hey, look at me,” she instructs as he goes to look away. “Calm down, it’s just me. I just came to see if you knew where Jimmie and Chad were, that’s all. Nothing more.” He then takes a couple calming deep breathes, letting out a sigh. “Now you gonna tell me what the hell happened there?” Ron wasn’t quite sure if he could explain it himself. It was like the hair sent him through a trial of emotions.

“Flashback of some kind as it seemed he was in a trence,” Greenlee comments as she joins the pair having picked everything up. “I used to get those at one point. I know what they’re like – they’re the worst thing ever. It’s like you know it’s not reality, but nothing to grab on to snap you out of your memory. It’s fine, though, as it’s just us here.” Ron knew that and had kept reminding himself that as he calmed back down.

“I’m sorry,” he apologizes immediately. “It’s just when you grabbed my hand and I saw the hair, it made me think of Hilary.” Candiss simply shakes her head, understanding. She didn’t know what to say in response. What was she supposed to say? How do you handle these situations?

“But you’re okay now and calm, and can continue with ease right?” Ron shakes his head yes as he looks over at Greenlee. “Okay, that’s fine. We’ll just take it easy and then later on, we can talk about what triggered it and why it’s happening.” Ron rolled his eyes as he wasn’t looking forward to that discussion. However, hearing her speak of experience with them, perhaps she was the person she needed to talk to.

“Sure, I guess.” Candiss could only roll her eyes at the comment. She wondered whether Chad or Jimmie knew anything about this, and what else remained from what happened. She had totally left it behind her, not wanting to cross those paths again as it was an experience to not relive. However, she couldn’t help but feel transplanted to the trail events created.

“And if you ever need someone to talk to, besides Greenlee, you can call me,” Candiss states. It seemed like the considerate thing to say given the situation.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ron answers as he walks back to the hauler, going inside and snagging a bottle of water, quickly downing it.

He wasn’t looking forward to the conversation. He also wasn’t looking forward to more questioning from Jimmie and Chad as he knew that Candiss would say something. He just wanted to make everything disappear.

Why was this happening?

Back to Square One – Chapter 10: His Concerns

The rest of the week had appeared to go smoothly, and before the team knew it, they were off to the race track once again.

This week – it was Talladega.

Jimmie knew the game plan for practice as they did the same thing every year. Single-car runs throughout all the practices in an effort to get the car as fast and comfortable as possible. The theory was less risk then pack packaging, and Jimmie knew how to draft anyway.

However, he still took the same approach in meeting with Chad prior to the first session. He figured it’d be a good time to address other concerns.

“I want to talk you about Greenlee actually,” Jimmie starts, causing Chad to glance over confused. He was already baffled as to why they had met up with plan already in mind, but now was hearing this? He thought things were clear with their new employee. “I just have some concerns about her, if you may.”

“Concerns?” Chad questions, intrigued by his driver’s comments. He had to admit that he had concerns as well, hence the questions asked on Tuesday. “Why weren’t they expressed when I was questioning her?”  Jimmie knew that he should’ve said something, but he couldn’t bring himself to do that – especially with Ron present.

“Because I was the one who suggested to Ron to talk to her about the job.” Chad found himself being even more surprised by the minute. He thought the surprises were over when everything came out of the box last year.

“So you suggested her for the position even with concerns? You also didn’t have the heart to say something in front of Malec about these concerns, either. So what the hell are they?” Jimmie knew that he was pegging Chad’s frustration as the crew chief probably wanted to focus on his notes, as always. Perhaps he should’ve discussed this at a different time.

“Ron detailed her background and everything that happened in Pine Valley – per her words. However, I have to wonder if there’s something else going on there. What if something else happened that caused her to run away?” Chad knew that it was a risk in accepting Greenlee already based on her street racing past – but that was cleared by the discussion. He also knew there was a risk based on what Jimmie had just said.

“I’m well aware of that risk and concern, Jimmie. Why do you think I basically said to Ron that his ass is on the line if this doesn’t go according to plan?” Jimmie remembered those words clearly.  It was why he had swallowed a mouthful of empty concern on Tuesday.

“But if she doesn’t say something, then how is he to kno-”

“If there was a doubt of worry or thought of your nature in his mind, he shouldn’t have taken the chance that he took.  It’s simple as that, Jimmie. You know that we’re each responsible for our actions and who we bring into this team.  Rick also made it perfectly clear he wasn’t going to deal with more crap after what happened last year.” Jimmie lets out a sigh, remembering that discussion with Rick very well. He was just glad that he wasn’t fired on the spot.

“Trust me, I remember the discussion. I just wanted to see your thoughts on my thought, that’s all.” Chad understood that as the pair was close and shared everything. However, the one person missing from the discussion was important, too.

“What about Ron? Did you ever feel the need to question him about this concern?” Jimmie knew the answer to that, clearly. Hence why he was having this conversation now while Ron was busy with the crew in the garage.

“I asked him about intentions a couple times already to see where things stood. He didn’t say anything that stuck out. However, it still rang in my mind with the professional connection now. I also, though, didn’t come out and say it as much as I could’ve, to be honest. I may have darted around the bush a little.” Chad understood that, as he knew it’d be tough to directly accuse a friend.

“Well if these concerns are so darting and mind consuming, perhaps you should stop playing games. The only way things are figured out is by finding out answers.” Jimmie knew that Chad was right, but he didn’t know if he could do that.

“I’ll keep that in mind. I better go get changed so we’re ready for practice.” Chad easily accepted as he watched his driver head off with ease.

He was set to return to his work when the conversation found itself replaying in his mind. With no way to block out the thoughts, and wanting to focus on his work, he pulled out his phone and texted Dom.

Since everything that happened, everybody on the team had kept in contact with Dom as part of the friendship grown through everything. Chad knew that Dom had the right connections to people who could get answers, without giving away the reasoning why. If there was anything to worry about, this was the way to handle it.

Once the text was sent and plan was in motion, the crew chief was able to go through the rest of the day with ease, getting the required work done. Practice was as boring as usual, but they got the answers that they needed.  Based on what they had done, Chad felt confident that they’d be up front come the final stages of the race.

Meanwhile, Ron had no issue in this weekend including less work than a normal weekend. It gave him more time to spend with Greenlee, explaining things about a race weekend.

He had to admit that it was nice to catch up more with her and spend time with her again. He had honestly forgotten about how strong their chemistry was when they were playing around on the streets.

Truth be told, it was also a good distraction. In the past months, his quiet time at the track resulted in him being worried of a repeat of before or consumed in his own thoughts of fear and wonder. Now, though, he had something else for his mind to focus on – a beautiful young lady – and found himself being able to put the past further away, for now.

Going through the days avoiding it wouldn’t help, he knew that. He knew there’d be a day where he’d have to face these feelings head on. However, for now, that day wouldn’t be today.