Moving Forward – Chapter 45: The Bet

TJ switches the light off, sitting back on his stool.

He watches as Dale walks around the room, taking steps in all different directions as he reads different signs, and cites different things. TJ’s eyes fall to the feet on the floor, watching for any tipsy movement or misplacement that leads to an almost trip. However, everything comes with ease around the entire room for a span of 10 minutes, before Dale makes his way over to the switch and hits it.

“$20 please?” Dale questions as he looks over at TJ, who sits there stunned.

“I’ll gladly give you that $20 because I am so damn happy that you are making such great progress,” TJ answers as he reaches into his pocket and places a bill on the bench. “Honestly, it warms my heart to see that. I mean, I admit – I was really worried there for awhile bud. But to see you do that, and not one slip up, that was amazing.” Dale smiles as he walks back over, sitting beside him.

“My goal all along was to go through these exercises and keep getting better just so that way I could walk down that aisle in January and be happy, seeing life straight as I married her. Now, I’m ready to go back to racing with the test at Darlington, and ready for the upcoming season.” TJ smiles as it was great to hear positivity, rather than being served and scared of the future.

“What about nerves?” Dale knew that was a topic as he glances outwards into the room.

“They’re there, for sure. I mean, there’s always the question of whether you’re exactly who you are and where you need to be to win races. Certainly walking into Darlington I’ll feel that. But I’m confident, and I’m happy.” TJ just kept smiling as it all sounded great.

“So, this wedding in January. I know you have this book of official announcement crap for after the wedding – but what about the wedding? We’re doing it here on the property but traditional or not?” Dale knew the question was going to be asked, having heard it already from a few people.

“Standard, typical wedding procedure is all that you need to know.” TJ shakes his head, easily accepting. He was worried there’d be something strange popping up due to this king-queen business.

“So you just need to know that book stuff for when you go back to Pitronia and announce?” Dale shakes his head yes. “And what about her name? Is she officially becoming Marie Earnhardt, which by the way sounds nice?” Dale knew how it rang together, having sung it a couple times in his mind as he counted down the days till January.

“Queen Marie-Anne Belle Kastona Earnhardt. There is no dropping names in the traditional sense.” TJ looked over perplexed, knowing he was missing something. “But she did drop Calantay to remove any trace of her father from herself, and future generations.”

“Say the name again, please.” Dale rolls his eyes.

“Queen Marie-Anne Belle Kastona Earnhardt.” TJ just shakes his head as he glances towards the glass on the counter.

“How the hell do you remember that?” Dale smiles as he looks at his best friend.

“Marie-Ann is her full name. Belle was her middle name off of her cousin. Kastona was her mother’s last name. It’s very easy.” TJ shook his head as he thought it over.

“And you, sir, would be King Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr.?” Dale looks away as he thinks it over. There was a bit more than that.

“While for the sake of my life here, I will not be taking the name, I will officially have the Kastona name in the Pitronia records.” TJ then looks over, confused. “Country tradition, buddy. That’s just how it goes, and I respect their wishes.”

“So that means that Alyssa becomes prince-”

“She’s already princess, being Marie’s daughter. So therefore she’s Princess Alyssa Kastona Earnhardt, with her future husband to add his last name to the end.” TJ then glances up, thinking it over with a smile.

“So that’d be Alysssa Kastona Earnhardt Gordo-”

“Hey now, what did I say about that?” TJ laughs, remembering how Dale had wanted to avoid the thought of his daughter dating, and any prediction that Leo and Alyssa would get together.

“So then it should be Alyssa Kastona Earnhardt Har-”

“TJ Majors!” Dale then gives him a punch as TJ immediately looks over, surprised, rubbing his arm.

“Ouch!”

“Well then damn well listen to me. I told you – my girl ain’t dating no boy, nor getting married, nor any hokey pokey.” TJ laughs as he watches Dale walk away from him.

“You keep telling yourself that but it’s going to happen. I tried the same with Madeline and she kissed a boy in school.” Dale then spins around shocked.

“Grade 2 and kissing?” TJ shakes his head yes. “Holy shit.”

“That was my reaction, before wanting to call the school and demand an answer.” Dale shakes his head.

“I’m going to need those guards sooner than I originally thought.” TJ then laughs as he follows Dale up the stairs.

“So how about Elsa then?” Dale then looks over at TJ.

“She’s only 11 months….”

“Elsa Kastona Earnhardt Busch marries Brexton Kastona Earnhardt Busch, or just Brexton Earnhardt Busch?” Dale rolls his eyes.

“You had the name placement right first, and that’s no way ever happening. Do you want a cause a riot amongst the fans?” TJ thinks it over as he smiles widely.

“Can we please, please, please prank them?” Dale just rolls his eyes again. “Is that a no?”

“Keep it up, TJ. I’ll be sure to send the boys to your house to pick up Madeline for a date.” TJ’s smile immediately disappears as Dale looks back with a grin. “Two can play this game, buddy.”

“And to think you guys have gone from drunken stumbers and stupid antics with video games, to setting each other’s kids up with boys,” they hear and glance towards the kitchen, seeing Kelley standing there beside Marie. “My oh my how times have changed.”

“Hey Kelley, is Wyatt available for a playdate?” Dale questions with a glance at TJ, who immediately returns it with a death stare.

“Oh there is no way you boys are getting me involved in your antics.”

“It’d be no surprise to see them officially be related though,” Marie comments as Kelley glances over at her.

“Don’t encourage them,” Kelley states. “They got enough ideas of their own. They don’t need our help. They need us to keep them out of trouble.”

“Yeah, that’s impossible with this guy,” TJ says as he points to Dale. “Hence why you’re still involved in his life because there’s no way he can avoid it.”

“Listen here Mr. Innocent, you’ve done your fair share too,” Dale replies as Marie shakes her head.

“I’ll tell you all about their antics later,” Kelley whispers as Marie smiles. She knew there was some good stories to be told.

Moving Forward – Chapter 44: “Best Man”

Marie opens the door and smiles, as she motions for TJ to enter the house.

“So I’m not allowed here for like a month and a half, and then now I’ve been here twice in two days,” he starts as Marie rolls her eyes. She hadn’t planned on calling TJ, but Dale wanted to talk to him after the conversation with Steve.

“Look at it this way – it means Dale is healing nicely, right?” She questions and TJ smiles, shaking his head yes. While he enjoyed working with Alex, he couldn’t wait to have Dale back in the car. He also wanted to see his friend get better, for his own good.

“So do I want to know the reason for the call?” Marie shrugs her shoulders. “You know, don’t you?”

“Of course because he told me to expect you.” TJ then crosses his arms as he looks back at her.

“Well, do I get any warning?” She shakes her head no, knowing Dale deserved full rights on telling him. “Can I play clue?” She shakes her head no. “You’re no fun.”

“Just go see him. He’s downstairs.” She then continues to the kitchen as TJ makes his way down the steps to the basement.

He remembered coming down this very set stairs just a few years back and entering a personal night club, named Club E, featuring a dance floor and bar. It was their hang out spot for years with the Dirty Mo Posse and where the craziest chaos happened among the fans.

Though, he remembered a couple years ago when Dale changed everything around, fitting his grown up mode. While the bar and pool table remained for a small hang out, the majority was turned into a gym for Dale to work out as need be.

TJ smiles as he stands up, watching Dale take a couple shots on the basket, making a couple while missing others. He remains quiet, watching him go through the familiar drills that he had been put through for the therapy process as set in by Mickey. TJ found himself impressed by how some went, however cringed a couple other parts. No doubt they were right close back to where he needed to be, but small bits were still off.

He watches as Dale walks over towards his direction, catching his attention.

“How long have you been standing there?” Dale asks as TJ shrugs his shoulder.

“Enough to see that you’re making great progress,” he answers with a smile. “What’s next?” Dale points to the light switch, knowing the process that he’d go through.

“Shut the lights off, and let me turn on the strobe lights. I need to walk around, certain steps, and not let myself get thrown off.”

“So the party lights finally came in handy for something good?” Dale rolls his eyes as he watches TJ’s hand reach for the switch.

“You know what? Let’s talk, and then I can finish what I need to do.” TJ then looks over, surprised.

“Scared of me watching you now?” Dale shakes his head no as he grabs a bottle of water out of the fridge.

“It’s more like I want to have the discussion while it’s on the mind.” TJ looks on confused as he walks over, climbing up on one of the bar stools. There were few times that he saw Dale get this serious before him.

“Should I be nervous?” Dale shakes his head no as he climbs up on the stool beside TJ.

“How would you like to be my best man for the wedding?” TJ looks over shocked. He hadn’t expected anything like that, especially since he heard Dale’s reasons for Steve just yesterday.

“What about Steve?” Dale knew it was fitting to have Steve, but knew how much the change in plans meant to Marie and made sense.

“Marie didn’t want to walk down the aisle by herself, and she asked Steve to walk her down. It makes sense for all he did for us, how he saved Alyssa, and….just everything, TJ. It made sense more than I could explain as Marie put it perfectly.” TJ shakes his head, accepting. He could understand the reasoning seeing how close the three were.

“And you’re okay with this?” Dale shakes his head yes.

“It makes perfect sense, honestly. Besides, how long have we known each other? I have few best friends that I am as close to as I am to you, and we even joked about this a couple years ago that when I eventually got married you’d be the best man. Well, forget about joking – it’s a fact. You’re my best friend, and I’d be glad if you’re standing with me there that day.” TJ smiles as he wraps an arm around Dale. He wasn’t expecting that offer, but he was easily able to accept.

“I’d be my honor. Besides, someone has to make sure you go through with this fully and don’t get cold feet.” Dale chuckles as he looks over at TJ.

“I don’t think that’d ever happen, to be honest. I love her so much and can’t wait to be married.” TJ shakes his head in disbelief as he looks around the basement.

“It’s strange hearing you say that after all the times we came down here, both single, and you kept telling me you’d settle for no girl. Plus, there’s also the crazy antics that we got into. Now look at us. I’m married with a daughter, and you’re set to be married with two girls. I don’t think I could’ve ever imagined that happening.” Dale knew he was right, remembering those crazy parties, too.

“You don’t know what love means till you’re touched by the right person and they change your life forever. As soon as I laid eyes on her, I knew there was something special with her. I know she’s flipped my world every which way over the past year and a half, but I wouldn’t change a single thing.” TJ reaches over to one of the books on the counter and picks it up.

“Even learning all this official marital announcement bullshit and orders?” Dale laughs. “You do realize that she named you king and you can dump this out. I could burn it for you.”

“I do realize that, but I also respect her request for tradition and some things to not change.” Dale then snatches the book from TJ and opens it to where he left off. “Hence why I’ve been reading it when I need a break, and so far, it’s not too bad.” TJ looks on surprised as he reads over the page opened before him.

“I still can’t believe you’re fitting a test at Darlington, Christmas, a wedding and this in before the season. Do you plan to sleep?” Dale chuckles as he snatches the book from TJ.

“Will you stop making it out to be more than it is? We’ve got this. It just takes balance and time.” TJ smiles as he watches Dale stand up and put the book back where he had it.

“As long as you’re taking care of yourself and doing what you need to do, it doesn’t matter to me. Now, how about that exercise?” Dale then looks over at him.

“You really want to see me do that?” TJ crosses his arms as he looks around the room, before back at Dale.

“I say $20 you don’t want me to see it because you’re going to mess up and hate for that to happen in front of my eyes.” Dale looks on surprised as he walks over to the light switch.

“$20, huh?” TJ shakes his head yes. “You’re on.”

Moving Forward – Chapter 41: Groomsmen

TJ Majors walks into the saloon, glancing around as he notices Chase sitting on one of the stools.

He was surprised when he gotten the message from Marie to meet at the saloon that evening. He knew there was a lot going on, and wondered whether it pertained to Dale’s healing from the concussion. There was also thoughts and speculation in regards to the wedding, too. Regardless, he simply accepted the message and went to the saloon.

“What are you doing here?” He asks and as he walks to Chase, grabbing the stool beside him. Chase shrugs his shoulders as he looks around.

“I dropped the girls off at the house and Dale asked if I’d go down to the saloon, and he’d meet me in a couple minutes,” Chase answers as TJ looks on puzzled. Did Dale know of the request from Marie? Had he asked Marie to pass along the message? “What’s your excuse?”

“Do I need an excuse?” Chase shrugs his shoulders, once again. “Actually, Marie told me to come down here.”

“Really?” TJ shakes his head yes, taking out his phone to show the text message. “Don’t worry – I believe you. What’s up with that?” TJ couldn’t answer the question as he had no clue, either.

“If Dale shows up and I’m not supposed to be here, I guess I’ll text Marie and tell her that we can talk elsewhere, or whatever.”

“Well this is a surprise,” the pair hears as they look behind them and see Steve LeTarte standing there. “Ingrid tells me that Dale wants to talk to me, says to meet at the saloon, and I find you two.”

“I was told by Marie and he was told by Dale,” TJ states as Steve takes a seat on the couch in the corner.

“So we’ve all been pulled here one way or another, and there’s a wedding set to take place here in a couple months,” Steve starts. “Coincidence huh?”

“Well, that’s one way to ruin my surprise,” Dale starts as he stands up from his spot behind the bar. “Jeff here, yet?” Jeff puts his hand up as he walks in through the front door. “Glad to see you’re all here.”

“Can we ask first how you are?” Jeff asks as Dale lets out a sigh. He knew the question was coming. After all, he had spent the last month and a half in hiding without any contact with hardly anybody.

“I can happily say that I’ve seen a lot of improvement over the past while. It’s pretty much almost cleared up from what I can tell, except for a couple lagging deals in some exercises and the simulator. If everything plans out right, I’ll be testing next month.” The group look on with surprise and smiles as it was great news to hear. It was perfect news to be hearing as they started November.

“So you got a month and a half till you marry a Queen, and yet you’re somehow squeezing a test and Christmas in before that?” TJ questions as Dale shrugs his shoulders.

“Welcome to my life – where we balance everything wild all at once,” he states. “That brings me to why you all are here. As you know, Marie told the bridesmaids that they were going to be part of the wedding – Kelley, Ingrid and Sherry, with Stacey as the maid of honor. Alyssa and Elsa are set to be the flower girls, surprise surprise, while Wyatt is the ring barrier.” Everybody could only smile as it sounded like the perfect combination for the wedding. “Since someone spoiled my surpris-”

“I’m sorry,” Steve quickly apologies as Dale rolls his eyes.

“This is the meeting of the groomsmen,” he states as the group trade glances. “Chase, you’ve been there amazingly for my family, especially Alyssa, over the past year more than I could ever ask. It’s only fitting that you’re part of the wedding.” He then looks over at Jeff. “And I’ve known you for a long time, and you’ve always been a close friend and someone to lean on. We made a pair of killer teammates, have a friendship for a life time, and I think it’d be fitting for you to be there in January.”

“It’d be an honor,” Jeff comments as he could only smile. Part of him was still in disbelief that Dale was getting married in just a couple months.

“TJ, I don’t think I need to explain why you’re here. We’ve known each other way too long, and you’ve always been my righthand man. There’s no question about you being part of the wedding, and I expect to see Madelynn there as I know Wyatt wants a dance.” TJ chuckles as he had gotten to see how close Wyatt was growing with his daughter.

“I’ll see if her schedule is open,” TJ teases as Dale gives him a smack. “Hey! I’m paying you back with the bachelor par-”

“There’s going to be no wild party before the wedding,” Dale sets the record straight as TJ looks on surprised. “There’s so much other important stuff going on that I just want to focus on what’s ahead, okay?” TJ lets out a sigh.

“I’m sure you can find another reason to plan a party,” Chase tells him as TJ just rolls his eyes.

“Of course, I’ve stated that everybody is in the wedding except for one important detail. Steve, I would like you to be my best man.” Steve looks on, partially surprised. “You’ve done so much for me, personally. You helped me grow as a person and change into the man I am now. You were also there through all the turmoil with Marie, whether it was flying cross the country or listening to my crazy ran-”

“Hey, you were right about that resemblance though,” Steve says, reminding him of the discussion about the Mariela and Marie scrapbook photo.

“Don’t remind me of that,” Dale comments as Chase shakes his head in agreement. “But you did everything you could during that time to be there for me. Then you also were there for Marie, helping her when I couldn’t. I mean, without you, sometimes I wonder just how that would’ve went down. Of course, I don’t even need to think about that anymore than the plane crash. My daughter is here today because you risked your life, and did what you had to do save her. I told you that day there was no way I could repay you for what you did, and I still don’t know how I could. I could go on for days as to my reasons, but please, be my best man.” Steve smiles and shakes his head yes.

“I’d be glad to stand there with you.”

“So what do us boys have to do to get ready for dream wedding?” Jeff asks, remembering protocol for groomsmen from other weddings.

“Buy tuxedos, white dress t-shirts, and please carry the light blue hankerchief to match the design and dress,” Dale states as Chase’s eyes open in surprise.

“Please tell me you haven’t seen her wedding dress,” Chase comments and Dale shakes his head no. “You know it’s bad luck to see the dress before the wedding, right? Like, please, no taking peeks. You don’t need to tempt fate.”

“I wouldn’t think of it, Chase. I want this day to go off without a hitch just as much as you do.”

Marie smiled as she looked on from outside watching the boys interact together, knowing her thoughts were along the same lines as Dale’s.

As she heads back up to the house – Elsa in hand, Alyssa running up the hill, her mind was stuck on the words that Dale had shared about the past and why he made the choice he did.

She thought about the words that Kelley had told her. She didn’t need someone to walk her down the aisle, but if she wanted someone, then she could ask someone that meant a lot to her to do so –as Kelley had asked her brother.

She knew that Steve made perfect sense as the best man, but what if she needed someone for the walk to the alter?

Short Track Lovin’ – Chapter 46: Rattler 250 & California

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March 2016

Sarina crosses her arms as she watches Chase pace back and forth, rolling her eyes in response.

“Will you just speak up already?” She asks as he glances towards her.

“What difference will it make?” He questions as she shrugs her shoulders. Perhaps he had a point.

Even though the police had stepped up their search following the Hendrick Motorsports plane incident, they had still been unable to locate Harry Butler. With their sabotager still at large, nerves ran through Chase as he realized this was another weekend the pair would head in another direction. He was headed to California, while she was headed to Southern Alabama Speedway for the Rattler 250.

“We listened to their advice and are not flying via anything commercial,” she starts. “Heck, I’m not even stepping foot on a plane because I’m going with Ricky in the hauler.” She then walks over to him, grabbing his hands to stop him from pacing again. “You need to stop worrying. I’m going to be fine. If anybody should be worried, it’s me.”

“Well then if you’re worried, why don’t you come with me?” He asks and she lets out a sigh. Why was this becoming so difficult?

“Because we agreed pre-season that I’d be busy racing late model events for you and we wouldn’t get all this time together,” she starts. “Because I want to race this weekend at Southern Alabama. Someone can’t take all the spoils and be the only one that enjoys it.” He knew that she was right, and her reasons for him to not be worried were right. He let out a thanks on multiple occasions about being glad that this was a close race to home for her this week.

“I guess I better let you go play then.” She then smiles as she wraps her arms around his waist.

“Besides, I may bring you home a snake.” He then lets out a shocked look and shakes his head no. “So you don’t want me to win?”

“If you win that snake, make sure that it goes with Ricky because there’s no way that reptile is coming near me.” She then laughs as she kisses his lips. “Hopefully we’ll both have a good weekend, again.”

“You’re talented. You’re bound to return back to the front after your bad luck at Vegas.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The weekend for Chase worked out in California as he was able to run in the top-15 throughout the entire race en route to a solid eighth career finish. It certainly marked a big personal boost after the issues in Las Vegas.

He also had to be pleased when he glanced at the results from the Rattler, seeing how Sarina had finished second. Ty Majeski was the man of the day, dominating without anyone being able to touch him for the win.

I let Ty win so that way you didn’t have to deal with a snake. See you soon. Xoxo

Chase had to laugh as he read the text from her as he boarded the plane to head back to North Carolina.

Sure, try to make me believe that. We’ll get those cars running a bit better. Love ya. Xoxo.

He then relaxed back in his seat, smiling as he awaited for her response. He admitted that weekends without her with tough, but he was glad that she was having a real successful season thus far.

“Someone is smitten,” he hears and rolls his eyes as he glances over at TJ Majors. He had made the decision to fly home from California with his teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale’s spotter TJ and Dale’s fiancé Amy. Being able to fly together made sense due to traveling cross country, and he had an extra layer of safety in being with his teammates. He knew Dale’s plane was under the same safety protocol that he was under, given that they’re teammates. “You can just tell by that dorky smile that he’s in love.”

“TJ, don’t pick on the kid,” Amy comments with a small smile in Chase’s direction.

“Why not? While it’s fun to pick on you, it can get boring at times.” Chase just laughed at the pair, knowing that they had the ability to tease each other all the time.

“I think it’s adorable that Chase has a girlfriend,” Dale throws in his thoughts. “I just wish that the damn boy would tell us some details.” Chase rolls his eyes. Everybody seemed to want to talk about it as Ryan and Bubba were teasing him a couple weeks ago.

“There are no details to offer,” he states clearly as Dale gives him an intrigued glance.

“Really?”

“Okay okay, we know you’re not doing the hanky panky – you’re too innocent for that,” TJ starts as Chase’s cheeks begin to go red from embarrassment. “But you have to admit that she makes you happy.”

“Okay, she does…,” Chase lets on as he watches the pair of friends trade glances. This was going to be a long flight.

“Ignore the immature twits and tell me what it is that you like about her,” Amy offers. “You guys have probably gone on a date, or something, right?” Chase glances off to the side as she drops her jaw in shock. “Really?”

“We’ve been too busy with our racing schedules, what happened and just enjoying time together to do that.” She couldn’t help but smile in response. That was at least something to the discussion.

“How serious are you about her?” Dale then questions as Chase looks over at his teammate. That was a question that didn’t need to be asked.

“As serious as I can be,” Chase starts. “I’m not just with her or the fun of it. We’re really enjoy spending time together, and something ahs simply clicked. There’s nothing more than that, though.”

“So when are you going to ask her to do the han-” TJ starts.

“Seriously, shut up!” Amy cuts him off with a playful smack. “Not everybody is like you, Majors.”

“Like I said, we’re just enjoying time together and having fun, and letting it come together as it comes,” Chase states once again as he pulls his headphones out of his bag. “Now, can I be left in peace?”

“You just want to text your girly without comments,” TJ teases as Chase flips him the bird.

“Actually, I want to finally beat this damn level of Candy Crush.” He then puts his headphones in, flipping to his text messages to continue going back and forth with Sarina.

As they went back and forth, the conversation with TJ, Amy and Dale lingered in his mind. Where was their relationship headed? When would they take the next step? What would the next step be?

Since officially getting together in January, the pair had gotten closer over the past two months – mainly out of their fear for each other’s safety. He had watched Sarina open up more to him about their relationship, able to admit more often than not now just how much she loved him. He also found himself caring for her more than he thought.

He had to chuckle at his thoughts, realizing that they had started to take steps in moving forward together. They had arranged living and travel arrangements so they could spend as much time together as possible between Georgia and North Carolina.

Were they more of a couple together than he had admitted?

Love & Work: A Combo of Madness – Chapter 30: Date Planning

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Dale let out a sigh as he thought things over.

He had completed the first step in getting her to agree to a date on Thursday. Now it was just a matter of planning the perfect date to win her over.

He had some ideas of his own, but wasn’t sure which to go with. Of course, that meant needing to consult a friend for advice. However, he knew that he had to watch who he chose to speak to considering the details at hand. Their relationship was meant to currently be a secret, meaning that nobody was supposed to know.

Thinking over the possibilities, it was a question of who could keep the secret the best. The thought process didn’t last long as he came to the conclusion. He thought about going to the boss, but was worried that Rick would tell him old school train of thought. The second person on the list, though, seemed perfect.

This was someone that he had discussed the relationship details with previously, and someone that he had trusted for a long time. Considering that person kept quiet before, he believed that they’d do the same once again.

Once he was done breakfast that morning, he sent a quick text to T.J. asking for him to stop by the motorcoach to chat. The message caught the spotter off guard, but he simply accepted. About 20 minutes later, he had arrived.

“So what’s on your mind?” T.J. asks without any hesitation as he sits down on the couch.

“Angelica,” Dale answers as he sits across from the spotter. An immediate smile forms on T.J.’s face as he knew about the feelings Dale had for the crew chief, and had seen the glances from her in return.

“I know you still have a crush on her, and I know that you want to make it work. However, she told you that she wanted time to get to kno-”

“She told me Friday that she couldn’t bare to keep things where they were any longer and she wanted to take the next step. She wanted to go forth in planning a date next Thursday to see how things go. If it goes well, we’ll move forward. She also added that she wants to keep things quiet right now.” T.J. couldn’t contain himself as the awes escaped his lips in hearing the juicy details. It was great to hear that things were in a positive direction for the pair.

“That’s great – honestly. So did you just call me here so you could tell someone and brag?” Dale chuckles and shakes his head no. He honestly wished it was that easy.

“I’m trying to figure out the best way to go about our date. She’s meeting at my place on Thursday night once she’s done at the shop. I told her to dress causal.” The request seemed valid, given that Dale wasn’t the type to get dressy himself often. Now it was just a matter of finding the perfect fancy date to impress her, but not out of their comfort zones.

“So what did you have in mind?” Dale rummaged over the four or five ideas in his mind, thinking what could work best. Some of them seemed completely silly, others seemed a little more valid. Which would he share first?

“They say to rekindle love that you need to go back to where it began. For us, it sort of took it’s course after we went go-karting. I was thinking of a home cooked meal, casual go-karting trip out, and then desert together afterwards.” T.J. smiled as it seemed simple enough, but yet perfect. It also brought back memories of the story that Dale had told him a couple weeks ago.

“That seems good and fitting. Perhaps letting her win would make things even better.” Dale then gives his spotter a surprise glance at the comment. No matter what type of race it was, whether NASCAR or go-karts, he wasn’t the type to back down. “It’ll make her extra happy.”

“I’m not going to be one of those guys that does that. Besides, it wasn’t winning that got her attention originally.” T.J. shakes his head, agreeing.

“Right – you wrecked her. I don’t think that’s the best way to pick up a girl.” Dale shrugs his shoulder, as it had worked the first time. Though he knew that T.J. was right and it was why going into the night, he was planning on a competitive, but safe round of go-karting. “What’s your second idea?”

“Another thing that people always say is a simple night gives you the chance to talk, and perhaps that’s what we need. We need the time to be more honest to each other about what happened, and why it’s not going to turn out the same. That’s why I thought about doing the meal in, but not going out afterwards.” T.J. thought it over and believed that it could also work. It was a break in communication and feelings that caused the break-up before. Perhaps some reassurance with her could bring everything back closer together.

“But are you ready for that quite yet? Are you both ready to have that type of conversation? It just seems that it worked in helping you find common ground, but what if you throw it away by pushing too hard too soon?” Dale knew that was a possibility, and it was why the worry lingered in his mind. Hence the belief to go with the other idea.

“That’s what I’m debating. That’s why I called you.”

“I can’t make that call for you. I don’t know what you’re thinking or what she is thinking. All I can tell you is that only you both know the answer.”

While Dale was working on details surrounding the date, Angelica was busy in the garage going over her final check list before the race. Glancing over the car and the pit box, it seemed everything was in place. Now if only everything went right during the day it’d be perfect.

Denny Hamlin noticed the crew chief in the garage by herself, glancing at her checklist and back at the car. He also noticed the binder that wasn’t far from her that she kept flipping through at times.

He wanted to follow the advice from his teammates. Getting their honest take on everything that happened caused him to spend some time reflecting on his behavior. It was during that time that he realized just how big of a douche he was being and how things needed to change.

He started off by texting his teammates to thank them for the wake-up call, followed by a call to Kendra.

He apologized for things that had happened between them, and asked for her to be civil for their daughter’s sake. Unfortunately, Kendra didn’t have the best response in return, telling him that she wanted nothing to do with the mistake of a daughter. In that moment he felt rage, but knew that wouldn’t help the situation. so instead he simply accepted her reasoning, explained why she was wrong and told her that if she ever changed her mind, she was welcome to visit.

The only person he had yet to talk to Angelica, and perhaps it was because it worried him the most.

While he had screwed up more majorly with Kendra, his feelings didn’t feel hurt in rejection. Angelica, though, was a different story. He missed their friendship and the times that they had spent joking around. He missed her random text messages, or how she’d sneak up behind him on her way by his stall.

He had planned on talking to her sooner in the weekend, however it seemed each time he approached her, she was busy or he got too nervous and bolted. However, standing there in the empty stall that morning, he knew that he couldn’t let nerves control his actions anymore.

“Angelica?” He calls out, catching her attention as she looks up from her clipboard.  She immediately rolls her eyes before allowing them to drop back down at the board below her.

“What do you want, Hamlin?” She questions in response as he takes a deep breath. There was anger laced in that tone, as well as annoyance. It was certainly not the way he wanted to start off things.

“I wanted to talk to you about things.” She then glances back up with a surprised glance, letting out a small laugh.

“What’s to say that I actually want to speak to you?” A small smile forms on his face as the perfect response forms in his mind. He had to blame their goofy side together for this one.

“You’re speaking to me righ-”

“That doesn’t mean that I want to talk to you, or that I am going to stay here much longer to talk to you.” He freezes upon his response, getting the feeling to kick himself in the ass. Perhaps he had chosen the wrong way to respond.

“I totally understand if you don’t want to talk, however I want you to hear me out, please. I want to apologize. I acted like a total jackass when it came to you. I shouldn’t have said anything. I shouldn’t have allowed my jealousy to do what I did. I shouldn’t have judged you or any of that. I should’ve also taken your advice sooner in realizing what I was doing, and things with Kendra. I’m sorry, Angelica, from the bottom of my heart. I feel terrible for everything and would take it back in a second if I could.” Angelica wanted to keep the bitterness that she had formed, still anger at what had happened. However, she found herself opening up with each bit that he told her.

“Honestly?” He shakes his head yes.

“Honestly. It took a bit of a reality check from Matt and Kyle, but I realize just how much of an ass I was. So I’m here apologizing. I understand if you don’t accept it, but I would appreciate if you did. I miss our fun times.” A small smile forms on her face.

“We do have some fun together, don’t we?” He shakes his head yes, once again. “I’ll give you a chance, Denny. I appreciate the apology and honesty. I’m glad to see that they clued it in for you. Maybe we can get back to the friends that we were. But, promise me – no more bullshit!” Denny could only smile in hearing her response. It was nice to have his friend back.

“That’s a promise. I’m done with causing trouble.” She shakes her head no immediately.

“I don’t believe that as someone has to pick on Joey for us all.”

Flight 88 – Chapters 56 Thru 60

Chapter 56: Kidnapped

“Well well, it’s nice to see you again,” Mariela says as she double checks the bindings on Marie’s wrists and ankles to be sure that she can’t escape given anything.

“Where is he?” Marie questions, not caring about her current situation at the moment. The only thing that she cared about was seeing her fiancé.

“He? Who are you asking for?”

“Dale – you big dummy.”

“Now now, be nice to sister or else I may not let your fiancé be okay. Listen, he has a special plan for today so you don’t need to worry about him. You just got to hope that checker-”

“Where is he?” Mariela shrugs his shoulders.

“I can’t give you those details. Just hope that checkered flags are in your future and we won’t have to think about each other anymore.” Marie then looks at Mariela confused as she watches Mariela turn the race on.

“What are you talking about?”

“You’ll see.” Mariela then leaves the room, locking the door behind her before heading to where the other half was.

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

Chase gets done driver introductions and heads over to the car, leaning it against it with the team surrounding.

Nothing felt natural about the current situation that he found himself in. This wasn’t his car; it was his boss’ car. He wasn’t supposed to be running this race; that’s why he had run the race the day before. He hadn’t made any laps in the car so how was he to know what to do come the first laps in the race?

Beyond that, Dale was missing – Marie had now gone missing just moments prior – and yet here they were, set to start the 500 mile race that day, acting as if nothing was wrong. It was supposed to be ‘business as usual’ and ‘try to get the win’. How could they do that while worrying about where Dale and Marie were?

His heart also thought back to Alyssa and how worried she was when he finally told her that he daddy was missing on Saturday. He couldn’t bare to understand the pain and confusion that certainly she was feeling. Adding in the race with Chase running her daddy’s car and having to stay with Megan, the situation felt worse with each second that passed.

“So, are you ready to go?” Chase snaps out of his thoughts as his father walks over to where he is standing. “Nervous?”

“It doesn’t feel right, dad,” Chase reveals as he looks out over the roof of the car at the crowd in the stands. There was no hiding his feelings from his dad as his dad could read him like a book. “I shouldn’t be driving his car. I shouldn’t be standing here right now on pit road where I am.”

“I know it doesn’t feel right, but it’s the situation that we’re dealt. We just have to deal with it the best that we can.”

“That doesn’t mean that it’s easy, dad. I’m not focused on today’s race or winning – I’m focused on wondering where he and Marie are, and whether they’re okay.”

“They’re both going to be fine; just focus on the race today. Everything is going to work out.” Bill then gives him a small pat on the back before walking away, knowing that Chase needed some alone time before the start of the race.

“It’s going to work out. Why wouldn’t it work out? It’s not like anything has gone to plan lately.” He then rolls his eyes as he tries to shift all the thoughts of his mind.

“Listen to me and listen smartly,” he hears as he almost gets into what he calls ‘race zone’, snapping his eyes open to see the new team engineer Randy standing directly beside him. His eyes immediately focus off of Randy to the phone that lays in the young man’s hand, seeing a photo of Dale currently in his kidnapped spot. A cold shiver goes down Chase’s back immediately.

“Ja-” Chase goes to start.

“Don’t call Jason, or anybody, or else I will send word to end the pieces.” Chase takes a deep breath, feeling another shiver down his back as fear creeps in.

“What do you want?”

“You’re going to tell everyone that you need to go to the bathroom and I’m going to volunteer to lead you there. You’re then going to follow me to where I am going to take you without a single word. If you say anything, there will be no Dale, there will be no Marie.” Chase takes a deep breath, trying to clear his mind of fear and everything that is surfacing through it. He wanted to say something. He didn’t want to listen to what Randy had to say. However, every time he thought of saying something, he pictured a dead body at the other end of the spectrum.

“Fine…” Chase then turns around, straightening up as he gets set for their little plan. “How much longer till start time?”

“About 20 minutes till opening ceremonies. Why?”

“I need to run to the bathroom.”

“Uh no, please tell me that Regan didn’t share his stomach flu with you,” Jason chimes in from his spot with a couple of crew members. “You didn’t hang out with him, did you?” Chase shakes his head no, debating whether to break the cover of whatever thing Randy had planned.

“Listen, I’ll take him and make sure that he’s back in time, okay?” Randy offers as Jason shakes his head.

“Okay – hope you’re not catching the bug. Oh, and kill those nerves. No matter how today goes, it’ll be fine.” Chase gives a thumbs up as he heads off with Randy in toe, not letting him stray off.

The entire walk off pit road towards the garage area, a million different thoughts ran through Chase’s mind in what Randy could be thinking or doing next. Why did Randy have that photo? Why did Randy want to lead him away from the team? Why were they going through the garage area? What sick plan did Randy and Mariela have up their sleeve?

“May I ask what you want?” Chase finally breaks the silence as Randy continues to leave the youngster through the garage area. “Where are you taking me?”

“You’ll see very shortly and I suggest you move fast,” Randy answers as Chase looks at back at him confused.

“May I ask why?”

“You’ll see.” Randy then leads him around another couple of corners, before opening the door to a trailer and sending him inside. They then walk through the trailer and at the back, Chase’s jaw drops immediately as he sees Dale sitting there before him.

“Dale!” Chase runs over and wraps both arms around him, glad to see that he is alright.

“Hurry up and swap firesuits – you got about 15 minutes,” Randy instructs before leaving the room and closing the door, standing guard. Chase then looks at Dale confused, totally caught off guard by the comment.

“Pull the suit off, and the shoes, and give them to me,” Dale instructs as Chase sits down beside him, beginning to do so, confusion clearly written over his face.

“What’s going on Dale?” Chase wonders. “Why am I changing out of my stuff?” Dale then looks down, taking a deep breath, not feeling confident in saying the words himself.

“They’re forcing me to run the 500 today and if I don’t win, Mariela is going to kill Marie.” Chase’s jaw drops immediately as he hands his stuff over, watching Dale get into the suit. “Little tight but oh well.”

“You can’t run this race.” Dale then looks over at the young man.

“I hav-”

“You can’t run this race, Dale. I can tell by looking at you how sore you still are from what happened earlier this week and this latter half while you have been kidnapped. You may think that you’re some kind of superman, but you can’t run this race.”

“I hav-”

“You can’t humanly do it!” Dale fixes the suit once again as he looks in the mirror at himself. He could see what Chase was saying by how he felt at the current moment. He knew that it was going to be hell trying to complete this, but what choice did he have?

“I have to – I have no choice. If I don’t go out there, she has Marie – she’ll kill her now.” Chase shakes his head in disbelief as he sits back in the lounge area.

“I….I don’t know what to say, Dale. I guess I wish you the best and hope that it turns out okay.” Dale then looks back at him with smile. “I just wish there was something that we could do to stop this. I wish I would’ve hinted something to Jason when Randy dragged me away. I wish….”

“Chase, don’t beat yourself up over it, okay? It’s not your fault. It’s going to work out, kid. Just be careful with Mariela and try to listen to her as much as possible, no matter how annoying, to minimize what she does.” Chase looks up, fear clearly written on his face in the thought of what Mariela could possibly do to him. “I can promise that your parents will find you as soon as they hear that your ass is missing.”

“Have you seen my mother when she’s mad?” Dale chuckles, shaking his head yes as he remembered one experience where Cindy was right upset and it wasn’t pretty at all.

“See, that’s the spirit. Just be careful kid.” They then watch the lounge door open, seeing both Randy and Mariela standing there.

“Well well, look at you cutie,” Mariela comments, her eyes immediately darting over to Chase. “Aren’t you just adorable?”

“Hurt him and I can promise you that you haven’t seen nothing yet from any of us,” Dale starts as he walks towards the door. “He isn’t part of this at all. Once I’m in the car, let him go and don’t hurt him, please. He doesn’t deserve it.”

“Oh don’t you worry about a thing dear.”

“Good luck Dale,” Chase states. “I believe in you.” Dale gives him the thumbs up before leaving with Randy, helmet in hand. Mariela then closes the door and flops down on the couch beside him, turning on the race.

“I guess we can sit here and watch this together to learn how fate goes,” she comments as Chase curls up in the corner, fear starting to enter more and more based on what he had heard about Mariela’s past stunts with Dale and Marie.

“I guess….”

“Oh don’t worry. I won’t touch you. Like he said, you’re not involved. There’s only one dear that really matters to me at the end of the day, and she has a good view of what’s going on as well.” Chase knew who Mariela met immediately in the form of Marie, however her words didn’t give him any comfort. He just wanted to get out there as soon as possible.

He then looked up at the monitor when he saw Dale and Randy walk towards the car, Dale slipping into the car without being noticed by anybody as Randy did the belts up. Chase shook his head in disbelief as he was certain that someone – anyone – would’ve noticed.

 

Chapter 57: Caught in the Act

The entire time he watched the person dressed in the NAPA Suit walk across the pit road with the helmet securely on, till the time that he watched them climb in the car and get belted in, Steve LeTarte’s eyes never left the subject. There was something that was odd and different. Something that he noticed immediately. How could nobody else had noticed it? How could it had slipped by without a word? He had noticed it. Why hadn’t someone else on the team?

Though while noticing it, he didn’t say a word – out of fear. He knew that if Dale was there, that meant that Mariela had close hands on Marie and Chase. Based on what he had learned so far in the actions of Marie’s deranged sister, he wasn’t about to test the waters. He just hoped that Dale knew what he was getting into by getting in the car, and hoped that he could unravel the second half of the puzzle in the quickest way possible. It was nice to know that Dale was alright, though.

With his new found knowledge, Steve doesn’t let it go to waste as he knew that he had to tell certain people the truth. He figured if these certain people knew, they could help make the rest of the puzzle easier. Steve went directly up to the pit box, climbing the steps and sitting beside Jason, as he had planned to anyway.

“I got something to tell you and don’t say anything on the radio yet about it,” Steve starts as Jason looks over at him confused.

“That Chase is nervous?” Jason questions and Steve shakes his head no. He knew that was the least of their worries now.

“That’s not Chase in the car.” Jason then looks at him surprised, though immediately puts the pieces together as he sits back against his seat.

“Dale is in the car….but why?” Steve shrugs his shoulders as he wasn’t sure yet.

“I don’t know why Mariela wants him in the car, but I know that he’s in the car. I also know for certain now that Randy is our snitch, and that the wicked witch has Marie and Chase. For that reason, just keep going about the day as normal in doing pit stops and adjustments. I’ll unravel the rest of the puzzle.”

“Got it. Thanks for the heads-up.”

“I was surprised that nobody else noticed.” Steve then climbs down the steps, set to find the second person that he knew needed to know the truth.

He was honestly afraid to tell this person, based on the worry that they’d have immediately in hearing these words. However, as a parent, he knew that it was better to tell them the truth than to keep it a secret. Plus, having them on his side in trying to find Marie and Chase could be helpful.

“I got something to tell you,” he says as he walks up behind Cindy and Bill on pit road. Cindy was standing there with camera in hand set to take photos, while Bill had a radio on, set to go back to the transporter and stand up top watching, as he normally would. “Chase isn’t in the car. Dale is and I can guarantee you that by what I saw.” The pair look at him as if he is crazy.

“Are you 100% certain?” Bill questions and Steve slowly shakes his head yes.

“Then where’s Chase? What’s going on?” Steve shrugs his shoulders, as he honestly didn’t have the answers at the current time.

“From what I’m thinking, Mariela wanted him in the car for some reason and made Randy play the classic switcheroo.” Bill immediately wraps his arms around his wife as he keeps his eyes on Steve.

“So you’re saying that right now Mariela has Chase and Marie?” Steve slowly shakes his head yes as Cindy shakes her head in disbelief.

“No…no…Stevie….you can’t be telling me the truth,” she starts as she turns her camera on, going through some of the photos that she had just shot. Though immediately upon watching the driver climb in and how the suit fit, it became reality right in their face.

“Cindy, you need to relax as it’s going to work out,” Bill tells her calmly, continuing to keep his eyes on Steve. “What are we going to do?”

“Find him! We need to find him, Bill. Where the hell is he?” Steve takes a deep breath, trying to remain calm.

“I don’t know where he is, Cindy,” Steve tells her. “I can only suggest that you both start checking any spot that you can think of – get a hold of Regan and see if he can think of something. I’m going to get a hold of an officer and tell him what’s going on, and then I’m going to get Randy to tell me the damn truth.”

“What do we do if we find them?” Bill wonders. “Get security?” Steve shakes his head yes.

“And listen, Cindy, he’s going to be fine. If Dale is in the car, there’s something fishy about the whole dea-”

“She wants him to go out and win the race,” Cindy interrupts Steve’s thoughts, causing both men to look at her confused. “She wants him to win the race. That’s the only reason that she’d put him in that car, and depending how he does probably will affect the future for everybody involved. So in other words, we’ve got 200 laps to find Marie and Chase.”

“It’s going to work out,” Steve tells her once again before heading off down pit road in search of the next person to talk to.

The first security officer he found, he explained the situation so that way they understood. The officer radioed the details through the system, before following Steve down pit road back towards the 88 pit.

Steve walks into the pit, noticing the person that he wants to speak with immediately, as he walks up behind them as they analyze their computer screen.

“So you figured it out, huh?” Randy questions as he turns away from the computer screen to face Steve.

“I know that he’s in the car and I know that you’re the snitch,” Steve answers. “I have two questions for you and I suggest you answer them immediately. Where are Marie and Chase? What the hell plan is Mariela thinking?”

“I don’t know the plan nor their location. I just did as I was instructed to do by her.”

“You had to take Chase to some location to meet up with Dale, before returning. Can I have that location?” Randy just laughs as he turns back to the computer screen, which no doubt doesn’t sit well with Steve. Steve then grabs the engineer by his shoulder, pulling him back and pushing him up against the pit cart, catching the attention of the rest of the team.

“I’m not giving you any information, LeTarte. I’m not allowed to tell you anything. Now can you get your paws off of me? I have a job to do. Can’t you see that?”

“The only job that you have is rotting in hell.” Steve then lets him go as the officer steps in, placing Randy in handcuffs before hauling him away. As Steve watched the pair head down pit road, he could only hope that the officer got the details out of Randy.

Though just in case he didn’t, Steve began his walk towards the Daytona infield, hoping to unravel something himself. He also hoped that possibly Bill and Cindy did, as well.

“Is it true that Dale is in the car?” Steve hears a voice, catching him off-guard.

“Aren’t you supposed to be on bed rest and not moving an inch out of your motorhome?” Steve questions as he looks towards Regan.

“I escaped Megan’s hold when I heard that Dale was in the car. Now, is it true?” Steve shakes his head yes as Regan lets out a long sigh. “So that means that Mariela has Chase. Great, that’s my fault. I should’ve been the lined back-up driver. I should’ve been standing there. I could’ve done something to stop it. I could’ve possibly caught everything in the act!”

“Regan, stop beating yourself up as I’m sure if there was an option, Chase would’ve utilized it.”

“Yeah…..I guess. It’s still not fair. He’s only 18. He doesn’t deserve this! How is this fa-”

“Are you going to keep blubbering or are you going to help me find him?”

“I got no choice but to help now. I feel terrible as it is.” The pair then head off as Steve keeps in constant communication with Bill where he and Cindy is, and in communication with Jason about how the race is going.

 

Chapter 58: 50 to go….

“How many more laps?” Dale asks under caution for Denny Hamlin blowing a motor as Jason checks the scoring monitor.

“52. It’ll be 50 when they put the green back out boss,” Jason answers.

“10-4. What have I said about calling me boss?” Jason rolls his eyes as he sits back.

“Not supposed to. Sorry. I’m just used to that from being car chief with Stevie.”

“I’m not mad. You’re done a good job. This car is really fast and whatever you and Regan hit on yesterday was right.”

“Glad that it’s handling so well for you. Now let’s get up there and get that lead. This is the 500 and you’ve got 50 laps!”

“Dude – your cheerleading isn’t as good as Stevie,” TJ Majors chimes in on the conversation from the spotter stand.

“It’s not bad though,” Dale comments. “It got me pumped up a bit and he’s right – it’s now or never. We can do this.”

“I believe in you and I know this team believes in you,” Jason says, checking to see that they’d line up in 21st for the restart. They had been taking a conservative approach all race, taking care of the car since they had to start from the rear due to an engine change following Saturday’s practice. Now with 50 laps to go, it was time to make the moves that counted and get to the front.

Jason hadn’t brought up the reason for Dale being in the car, nor had he wanted to even discuss it. The details made sense to him in his mind after talking with Steve – Mariela had set it up, and there was probably a must-win scenario over his head. With that said, Jason’s focus for the next 50 laps was going to be on that win. He didn’t want to think about the other possibilities at hand.

He had tried to convince himself to ask how Dale was feeling, but didn’t want to touch that topic either. If there was something over his head, emotions would be on a high. Beyond that, the obvious answer would be that he is sore. Everybody knew that so why bother stating it? It was just better to keep business as usual and hope somehow, someway, things worked out.

Sitting up in the seat, he was set to watch the drama unfold as the green flag waved for the restart.

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

“This is going to be interesting,” Mariela comments from her perch as she glances over at Chase.

“He can still do it,” Chase says as he knew there was enough time for Dale to get to the front.

“You sound so very confident, but we all know that you’re just a sweet little boy who is naïve of reality and admiring a hero.” Chase looks over at her as if she’s crazy.

“I’d have you know that it’s more like watching my boss and knowing how much that he has helped me and what he has done in his career to date. Beyond that, I’m not a sweet little boy as incase you forgot, I’m 18.”

“16, 17, 18, 19…..you’re still in your teens and that means sweet little boy.” Chase rolls his eyes as he was just hoping that he’d find his escape from her soon. So far, things hadn’t been that terrible as she had behaved in keeping her hands away from him. She hadn’t even bothered to tie him up or anything, but yet just keeping an eye on him. It gave Chase some comfort, though also had him nervous of what was to come and where Marie was. “What was that?” Chase then looks around confused as he watches Mariela stand up and glance out the window.

“I didn’t hear anything…” In truth, he had heard the voices outside, though wasn’t sure who they belonged to. Had they found him?

“Oh bullshit! You wish that’s how I treat it!” She then grabs him by a piece of his hair to pull him over to her and force him to look out the window. “Recognize those people?” A smile came to be on Chase’s inside as he certainly recognized the group immediately – Steve LeTarte, Regan Smith and his parents.

“No….no clue who they are. Do you know who they are?” He wasn’t about to give in that it was them in fear that she’d pull some drastic measure in knowing that there was a chance of her being caught soon.

“Don’t play dumb with me.”

“I honestly don’t….” She then gives him a slap across the cheek, cutting off his words.

“I know one of those people is Steve LeTarte, sweetheart, so why don’t you just spill who the other three are?” Chase takes a nervous deep breath as he quickly evaluated his own options.

“Regan Smith and my parents – Bill and Cindy – are the other two. Happy?” Mariela just shakes her head in disgust as they both hear doors open, knowing that the group is coming closer. No doubt someone had given away Chase’s location – and Mariela had a good idea of who to blame.

“Chase?” A female voice calls out as Mariela keeps her eyes on Chase.

“That’d be my mother,” Chase assures her. “Ever wondered what happens when you kidnap someone’s baby?”

“Chase?” Chase just smirks at Mariela, knowing that his captive time was coming to an end in a matter of moments.

“I’m in here, Mom! Watch your step as Mariela is here!” Chase then darts towards the door, set to open it for the group to enter – when a hand grabs his hand and thrusts him back against the couch. “Shit!”

“Stevie! Bill! Come quick!”

“Them being here is actually going to make things worse on you sweetheart,” Mariela says in a teasing tone as she inches closer to him.

“You got that backwards, dear,” Chase comments as he slowly stands up, feeling the pain throughout his body. “I think it’s time that revenge comes your….” Chase feels his voice caught his throat as he notices Mariela’s hand go in her pocket, pulling a knife slowly out.

“You were saying?” Chase backs out away slightly, putting a bit of distance between himself and Mariela as he hopes that the door can be busted open in a hurry.

“That I am ready to listen to what you have to say.”

“That’s more lik-”

“Help!! Someone! Mom! Dad! Steve! Regan!” Panic instantly started to come over Chase as he saw the tip of the knife pointed in his direction. His breathing picking up, eyes locked on the knife, there was only one end that he could see based on the position that she had put him in. “Get in here now!” Stuck in his own panic, Mariela took advantage of the moment, grabbing him and pulling him close to her as the door busted open with the mad foursome standing there. she brought the knife to neck level as Chase closed his eyes, predicting pain coming in his future as his breaths got even quicker.

“Okay….everybody….remain….calm…” Bill tells the group as he holds them behind him as he focuses his eyes on Mariela and his son. “You must be Mariela, I assume, right?” Mariela slowly shakes her head yes. “That’s nice. I’m Bill, his father. Listen, I know that you have some crazy strange plan with Dale and Marie, so how about you just let Chase go and be done with what you have going on here?”

“That cannot happen sir as your son is now part of this mess,” Mariela informs them as Regan takes a couple steps out from behind Bill and closer to the pair.

“You’ve got Dale in the car and you have Marie hidden somewhere – why do you need Chase now?” Regan wonders as he and Bill trade glances, thinking what to do. Regan knew that the officers were on their way here, per the phone call made before entry, however wondered whether they’d make it in time.

“Please……let…..me….go…,” Chase slowly lets out as he tries to keep himself calm in her grasp, though feeling every breath come quicker than the previous.

“If you let the kid go, we’ll let you go as well without doing anything to stop you,” Steve adds as he keeps his arms wrapped around Cindy, trying to give her comfort. “You just have to let him go before the authorities get here.”

“Please…..”

“Stay calm kid,” Regan coaches as he reaches for Chase’s hand, grabbing a firm hold on it.

“They’ll be here soon so I think you should take our suggestion,” Steve continues his pleading.

“None of us will stand in your way as we just want to see Chase make it out of this, alive,” Bill adds.

“Please…” Chase begs once again as he feels the grasp that Mariela has on him tighten.

“Chase…” Steve states calmly as he notices Chase’s panic grow with Mariela’s tighter grasp.

“Please let him go,” Bill begins his side of the begging. Regan goes to say something, though feels vomit coming up his throat, then flying out of his mouth, hitting both Mariela and Chase.

“Yuck!” Mariela yells, not releasing her grasp at all as she holds Chase as tight as she can, while keeping the knife at just about skin touch.

“Regan?” Bill asks as Regan shrugs his shoulders.

“Sorry – I’ve been sick all weekend,” he answers. “I feel much better now.”

“Let him go!” They then hear the voice of a police officer behind them as he makes his way through the group and up to Mariela. “Ma’am, please let the young man go.”

“Why don’t you go to hell?” Mariela offers as the officer draws his gun at her.

“Ma’am, please don’t force us to do something that we’ll both regret.”

“You won’t dare shoot that while I have him.”

“Let…me…go….” Chase says as he tries to focus on taking deep breaths. “Can’t….breathe…”

“Let him go!” The officer yells.

“Can’t…” Everything then seems to freeze as a bullet goes off, coming through the back window and directly into Mariela’s back, forcing her down. As she goes to fall, Chase pushes her arm out of the way, and falls forward the other direction, into Steve’s arms.

“I got you kid,” Steve says as they both sit on the floor together, Chase taking a glance back to see Mariela lying dead on the floor behind him.

“I….couldn’t….breathe,” Chase lets out slowly as Steve rubs his back.

“You’re going to be okay.” Cindy then kneels down to their level, immediately wrapping both arms around Chase and holding him close as she kisses his cheek. “Everything is going to be okay.”

“Marie….”

“We’ve got her. She’s fine. She’s just getting checked out at the care center and then going to Dale’s pit box for the end of the race.” Chase then lets out a sigh as he buries his head in his mom’s neck, feeling his own nerves unravel. “You’re going to be okay, Chase.” Steve then stands up, motioning for Bill to come over as he heads towards the door. “I’m going to tell the team that things are okay.”

“I’ve got him,” Cindy assures Steve before Steve leaves. “I’ve got you and I’m not letting you go.”

“I don’t want you to let me go,” Chase tells his mom as he sits there, panic still set in based on what happen.

“Chase…..”

“Can’t….breathe…panic…sore….Mariela…..”

“Chase?” Bill questions as he turns to them after finishing talking to the officer, seeing Chase trying to calm down while clinging to Cindy.

“We’re going to take him over to the care center and get him checked out,” the officer states, noticing the same thing.

The group then makes their way over to the care center and once in a room, the doctor instructs Chase to wear an oxygen mask to get his breathing back to normal after everything that he had been through as they check him over. The entire time, though, all that Chase can focus his mind on is the panic and fear that went through his mind, forcing his fingers to keep curled around his mother’s hand the entire time.

 

Chapter 59: Daytona 500 Victory?

Steve climbs the steps of the pit box, sitting behind Jason and Marie, as Marie does a quick glance back at him.

“Everything okay?” She asks and Steve shakes his head yes.

“Mariela is dead,” Steve states bluntly, catching the attention of Jason. “Beyond that, Chase is okay. Slight panic attack, stuck in her strangle hold for a bit – but he’ll be okay.” Marie lets out a sigh of relief as she sits back in the seat. “Regan puked on Mariela, too, which was good personal satisfaction. He said he felt better afterwards.” Marie chuckles slightly at the thought as she checks her text messages once again.

“Megan is going to bring Alyssa over when I say too. I haven’t given her the okay yet because I don’t know how Dale will be feeling once this is over.”

“Did you te-” Marie knew where Steve was going with the question. She had killed the worry that filled her fiancé’s heart immediately.

“Jason told him under the caution with 20 to go. Now sssh!” Steve shakes his head in agreement as he checks the monitor seeing that it’s five laps to go. Dale had done well in getting himself in position, having moved up to the fifth spot. Given the strength of the car and how he was climbing through the field, their chances looked solid. Plus, it’s Daytona – anything is possible, right?

Four to go – moved up a couple more spots.

Three to go – set to make the move.

Two to go – running solidly in third.

Final lap – moved up to the runner-up spot as they head towards turn one, on Jimmie’s bumper. The entire team watches in anticipation down the backstretch, waiting for the move. However, Dale doesn’t make the move, keeping himself tucked behind Johnson. He repeats the process through turns three and four, allowing the pair to draw a small gap between themselves and the rest of the field.

Coming down to the tri-oval, the move of the hour is made as Dale tucks out of line, going to the outside with the run. At the start-finish line, no doubt it’s one of the closest finishes ever as everyone looks at each other in disbelief, trying to see which of the Hendrick Motorsports teammates won.

“Scoring monitor?” Spotter TJ Majors asks, not sure from his vantage point, though certain that he saw the nose of the 88 car out front.

“Woohooo!” Steve lets out a scream as he is the first look at the scoring monitor, knowing that the boys had done it again. They had won the Daytona 500. “Go ahead Jason….” Jason smiles as he looks back at Steve and then cues the radio.

“You’re looking at a three-time Daytona 500 Champion baby!” Jason screams on the radio. “Scoring monitor says you got it and NASCAR just released the official call!”

“Wooohooo Way to go everybody!” Dale congratulates the team on the radio as Jason locks eyes with Steve.

“I’m proud of you,” Steve tells him. “I told you that you could do this and you could lead this team to destiny. Have fun this year and don’t forget – I’m watching you.” Steve then gives Jason a pat on the back before heading down the steps of the pit box. As he high-fived the guys on the team, he knew that they’d be fine with the weeks to come in Jason’s hands. He could lead the team to the next level that they needed to be at without failure.

“Way to go Dale!” Jason yells as he puts the radio set back on. “Helluva move that last lap! Helluva drive all race long! You did a spectacular job!”

“I can’t believe that you did that,” TJ comments from his vantage point. “I thought you were crazy for doing this today. Way to go! Way to go! Now, take care of yourself and those girls of yours.”

“It’s why I did what I did today,” Dale says.

“Megan has Alyssa, Marie is up here with me ready for her victory lane kiss and Chase is going to be okay,” Jason reveals on the radio, knowing that the questions had to be on Dale’s mind to ask.

“10-4.” Hearing those words and affirmation that everything was okay was a great feeling. It was better than perhaps winning the race as what mattered at the end of the day was that he could hold both of his girls close, and that Chase made it out fine. Of course, Marie had the surprise of the day to tell him in the fact that Mariela was dead. “I’ll see you in victory lane. Thanks for everything, everybody.”

“10-4. I can’t wait to see that smiling face of yours.”

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

“I can’t believe this…” Marie comments as she stands in victory lane waiting, not taking her eyes off the car as she watches it come towards the entrance to victory lane. “I can’t believe we’re standing in Daytona victory lane again.”

“I can believe it…” Jason lets out as he keeps a close eye was well. He had it planned that he was going to let Marie be the first person to get to him as the pair hadn’t seen each other since earlier in the week.

“I can’t…..after….everything. Can you believe that this will be the first time that I’ve seen him since Wednesday?” Jason shakes his head no, still in disbelief that Mariela was able to keep Dale hidden and out of sight till she chose. He was also in disbelief in how she had planned getting him in the car, but that was all forgotten now. All that mattered was that Dale was okay, Marie was okay, Alyssa was okay, Chase was okay and the wicked witch was dead.

“Go….” Jason gives Marie a slight shove, pushing her towards the car as Dale stops in victory lane. Marie didn’t need to be told though, as her feet were carrying her already over, arms reaching in the car and wrapping Dale in a tight hug, kissing his lips.

“I love you. I missed you so much.”

“I love you too,” Dale replies simply as the pair lock eyes together.

“I missed you so much. I was scared that I wouldn’t see you again.”

“I’m just glad that you’re back in my arms.”

“God I love you so much.” Marie then kisses his lips once again as Jason and the Hendrick PR team work at keeping all the media patient, knowing that the couple needed this time together after their separation period. “It’s over, by the way. The wicked witch is dead. If nobody was around, I’d be doing the dance from Wizard of Oz. It’s over –truthfully this time.”

“Best news…ever….” Marie then kisses his lips again, not wanting to lose touch of them as the pair continue to look at each other in the eyes as a third person joins their small party.

“Glad to see that you’re both okay,” Rick says as the pair smile. “Don’t worry about making the world wait – you both deserve this together.”

“Perhaps we’ll save the affection for later and let the world in on our celebration,” Marie comments as Dale keeps his eyes on her.

“I’m sure there’s also a little girl that badly wants to see her parents later, too. Can’t wait all day here, can we?” The pair shake their head no as Marie backs away.

“Climb out superstar….or should I say, Daytona 500 Champion baby!” Both her and Rick back up, giving Dale the space that he needs. He then climbs out of the car, standing up on the edge and raising his fists in the air as the confetti goes off while screams erupt through the entire victory lane.

Hopping off the car, he does the standard victory lane interview – obviously with some bonus questions added with the media finding out details about everything that had happened over the past week. As he finishes the interview, he feels arms instantly wrap around him, knowing exactly who it is immediately.

“Great job on the car,” Dale says as he turns to face Jason. “You did a spectacular job this week despite everything that was thrown your way. I look forward to working with you all year.”

“Championship?” Jason offers as Dale shakes his head yes.

“We can do it.” Jason’s smile fades as he keeps his eyes on Dale, knowing that everybody has avoided the question that is certainly on everyone’s mind, though afraid to ruin the moment.

“How are you feeling, honestly?” Dale lets out a sigh as he leans back against the car.

“It was tough. It was tough. I’m sore, without a doubt. My back is sore and now I understand why the doctors said on Monday that racing would be a bad idea. I’m wore out. I’m tired, perhaps even a little dehydrated. But I’m going to be fine, Jason. I’m going to be fine and I’ve got my girls to take care of me so that’s all that matters.” Dale then wraps an arm around Marie and pulls her back close to him. “Do you know how spoiled I am to have someone as awesome as this girl right here?”

“Hey, I heard that she was a Queen.”

“She’s my Queen.”

“Well, how about a princess to make the family complete?” They hear as Megan walks closer, holding Alyssa’s hand.

“Daddy!!” Alyssa screams as she runs over, wrapping both arms around Dale. “Mommy!” She then turns to her mom and does the same thing. “You won!” Dale then leans down to her level.

“Of course I won – because I knew there was a special girl who needed a win to make her feel better,” Dale tells her as he pulls Alyssa close and hugs her tightly, not wanting to let go. “I love you, Alyssa. I love you so much.” He then kisses her cheek before standing back up.

“Daddy, I miss you.” Alyssa’s words catch Dale off-guard as he looks back down at her, feeling the emotions all there once again.

“I missed you too, however I promise that things are never going to go wrong again.”

“Daddy, you ‘romise before. You lied.” Marie goes to say something, though Dale stops her.

“Let me handle this, please.” Marie shakes her head as she watches Dale pick up Alyssa with as mile on his face. “Daddy did lie, didn’t he?” Alyssa shakes her head yes. “Sometimes, certain promises are hard to keep. Daddy tries to keep every promise that he makes for you, but sometimes, the odd promise goes wrong. This time – I know I can keep my promise.” She then looks at him confused.

“Why daddy?” he then smiles as he glances towards Marie.

“Because a certain Mariela is gone. As they say in the Wizard of Oz….”

“Ding dong the witch is dead!” Marie and Jason chant together, bringing forth a smile on Alyssa’s face.

“Now, what do you say you help daddy with celebrating?” Dale offers before carrying her up to the stage.

“Are you okay?” Jason asks as he looks over at Marie, causing her to look back at him confused. “I know everything is great with the win and everybody being okay. But….Mariela was your sister…..There’s got to be some emotions there.” Marie takes a deep breath.

“There is, Jason. I loved her as we grew up together having the time of our lives as twins. However, she turned crazy and sometimes, certain things need to be done. I look back and feel sadness and even sometimes regret on killing my father. I will probably be the same with Mariela. However, I know that I can’t change the circumstance because it had to be done. It had to be done to protect my family.” She then walks away and heads up on stage with Dale and Alyssa.

I couldn’t have him not win after everything 😉 This story isn’t done yet, I can promise you that. We’ll touch on Chase’s emotions in the next chapter, and then we still got to tell a certain daughter that she’s a princess.

 

Chapter 60: Emotions

“Aren’t you glad to be home?” Dale asks as he looks over at Marie while getting Alyssa out of the car.

“I’m glad that NASCAR let you go for go the media tour,” Marie comments as Dale shakes his head in agreement. “I could’ve gotten her out of the car, you know? You don’t need to be a total suck.”

“I’ve missed you both so give me my time please.” Dale then picks Alyssa up, letting her lay her head on his shoulder as she is asleep. “Plus, I’m fine. You don’t need to baby me. I can take care of myself like a big boy.”

“I know – I just worry about you.” They then head towards the house together, Alyssa in hand.

There was no doubt that Dale was sore and tired. It had been a long day in running all 500 miles with his back being sore. The stab wound from the prior week and the surgery had taken it’s toll, but luckily he had made it out on the more positive scale. However, that didn’t mean that he wasn’t in pain at that moment as there was no lie that his back was pretty sore. It was why he was extra glad that NASCAR told him to forget about the post-Daytona 500 victory media tour due to everything that happened. He knew that having some days to rest up would be great.

Though beyond the simple pain, there was also physical exhaustion. He hadn’t gotten much rest under Mariela’s captivity and he could feel it in the final laps that his body was just purely exhausted. It was why post-race, he had downed a couple bottles of water, and stopped for food before flying home.

Being home was perhaps the best cure, though, as there was a special feeling in being back home. Being there with the whole family and knowing that their own personal hell was over was refreshing and relaxing. It was great to know that life would return to normal in the days to follow.

“Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr., should you be carrying your daughter right now?” They hear as they walk through the door and Marie shakes her head, knowing that voice immediately. “You should be taking it easy and you know that mister.”

“It just feels so nice to be home,” Marie comments as Dale laughs. “It wouldn’t be the same without such a comment.”

“Well?” The voice reins again as Dale walks over and immediately pulls his mom into a hug.

“It’s nice to see you,” Dale tells her before kissing her cheek. “Considering I just drove a racecar, I don’t think I need to worry about carrying Alyssa.”

“You should be lying on your ass right now resting after what you’ve been through. Don’t you know that you should take care of yourself?”

“Mom, easy on him…” Kelley comments as she walks over and gives Dale a hug, before carefully slipping Alyssa out of his arms into hers. “Relax. I’ll take her up and tuck her into bed.”

“He should follow you up and go to bed himself,” Brenda says as Kelley looks over at her mom.

“Lay off of him as I’m sure he’s fine and…” Kelley then looks back at her brother. “…will take care of himself.” Kelley then turns and heads up the stairs with Alyssa, set to put her to bed.

“I know I’m being a pain, but can I have another hug?” Dale then chuckles and gives her another hug. Though he tries to pull back, she keeps him held there in her arms.

“Mom…” He starts.

“I’m so glad that you’re okay,” Brenda starts. “I was really worried about you the whole time. I’m glad that you’re okay and I can hold you and yell at you and kiss you.” She then kisses his cheek before pulling back from the hug.

“I’m sorry I worried you as much as I did and regardless, I’m glad to see you, even if you’re complaining. Thanks for caring.” He then walks towards the door before glancing back. “I’m going to see how Chase is. I’ll be back after.”

“That’s fine,” Marie comments as she flops down on the couch. “I’ll be here waiting for you.”

“I promise I won’t keep you waiting long or disappear from you ever….again…,” Dale replies before heading out, closing the door behind him.

He then makes his way over the lake house, knowing that Chase was there. Chase had moved on the property last year after graduating high school and was staying there while driving for JR Motorsports. It was a pretty good arrangement as Chase was close to the shop and behaved so it brought no complaints. It also gave Bill and Cindy some comfort when Chase moved away from home that he would have Dale and Kelley close if he needed anything.

He had talked to Bill earlier, hearing about how Chase was feeling. He heard about what had happened with Mariela through Steve and heard about how the emotions for Chase were all over place. He could understand that, based on his own feelings on what had happened. He couldn’t imagine what could be going through Chase’s mind at his age.

Letting out a sigh, he walks up to the door of the lake house. He wanted to check on Chase for himself to see, and make sure that things were squared away between them. In every other thought, Dale blamed himself for it. It was his fault that Mariela had kidnapped him because Mariela had wanted Dale in the car. It was his fault that nothing was done to stop it as Dale knew about it before anybody else. Why hadn’t he done something or warned someone, somehow?

Dale snaps out of his thoughts as he sees the door open with Bill standing there. Bill and Cindy had flown back with Chase, wanting to be there with him for the time being after what had happened.

“Hey,” Bill says as Dale clears his throat.

“Hey,” Dale starts. “I just came by to see how Chase was doing.”

“Come in.” Dale then comes in the house as Bill closes the door behind him. “He’s still pretty upset about it, honestly. He hasn’t left Cindy’s side since we left Daytona as he doesn’t want her to go anywhere. She got up about two hours ago to go to the bathroom – and he only let her since I stayed with him. He hates the thought right now of being alone. Beyond that, he’s tired and he should honestly get some sleep. He’s tried to go to sleep a couple of times, but keeps waking up about 20, 30 minutes later, crying because of some flashback or something happening because of what happened.” Dale shakes his head in disbelief, looking down at the ground as the guilt of what happens increases more.

“I’m sorry, Bill. I should’ve done something to stop her from getting her hands on him.”

“Dale, I’m not mad at you because I know that you would’ve done something if you could’ve. Don’t put the blame for what happened on your shoulders. It’s not your fault as it was all Mariela’s doing and plan. You couldn’t change what happened, no matter what.” Bill then pulls Dale into a hug as they stand in the hallway together. “Beyond that, I know Chase doesn’t blame you either. He was worried about you and Marie, but when I told him that you were both fine, it helped. Everything is going to be fine. He’ll get through it and you’ll get through your half of the emotions, too. Through it all, though, know that none of this – anything that has happened the last two months – is not your fault. It’s not Marie’s, it’s not yours, it’s not Chase’s – it was Mariela’s fault for these sick, psychotic thoughts that she had going on. Just be glad that everybody is okay and can get through this together.” Dale then looks up at Bill, feeling a couple tears in his eyes as the emotions of the past two months surface on his mind.

“So you’re not ma-”

“I’m not mad, Cindy isn’t mad nor is Chase. It wasn’t your fault.” Bill then lets him go as he points into the living room as Dale peaks in, seeing Chase lying on the couch in his mom’s arms. “Cindy said that when he moved away, she’d never get to hold or cuddle her baby boy again. I told her after today that we were all right when we said that he’d always need his momma.”

“I just hate that he has to go through this. It’s not fair.”

“Life sometimes isn’t fair. We’ve learned that the hard way, haven’t we?” Dale shakes his head yes.

“Everybody keeps saying that he’s going to be okay. I hope they’re right. I….I just worry about him. It isn’t fair!”

“Complaining about it isn’t going to make it better, either.”

“It gets it off my chest.”

“Dale?” They hear as Dale and Bill peak into the room more, seeing a pair of eyes looking at them. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“I came over to see how you were,” Dale comments. “I didn’t want to bother you if you were sleeping.”

“Cindy…” Bill calls as he motions for Cindy to come over to him. He knew that it’d be best to leave the boys to talk between each other as it may help things.

“Go Cindy. I’ve got him.” Cindy then slowly stands up and heads out of the room with Bill as Dale sits down on the couch beside Chase.

“Congratulations on the win,” Chase starts off the conversation after a couple minutes of silence. Neither of them knew which way to take the conversation. Dale wanted to know from Chase himself how he was feeling and what was going through the young man’s mind, but didn’t want to intrude. Chase wanted to know how Dale was feeling and whether he was truly okay, but also didn’t want to bring it up.

“Thanks,” Dale comments. “It wasn’t easy at all, but got the right run at the right time.”

“I saw the finish – I still can’t believe how close and Johnson were.”

“Neither could I.” The pair felt at ease in talking about racing, but the nerves were there as both walked towards the unknowns at hand. “Chase, listen, I’m sorry for what happened.”

“It’s not your fault. You weren’t the one that tried to kill me. You weren’t the person that thought it’d be great idea to strangle me.”

“I left you wi-”

“You didn’t do it by choice; you did it because she forced you. I’m mad at you for what happened. I can’t blame you for what happened.”

“I still feel terrible. I should’ve said something to her when she had Randy kidnap you. I should’ve gotten her to let you go free somewhere while she fulfilled the rest of her plan for me.”

“When Randy told me to follow him, I had no clue what was going to happen. He showed me a picture of you kidnapped and of Marie kidnapped. I thought I was being straight up kidnapped as if they were going on a kidnapping party. I had no clue that you were going to drive. I had no clue what was going to happen. I went to say something to Jason when Randy told me but he stopped me – he said that he’d make sure you were dead. I should’ve said something. Maybe I could’ve stopped the whole day’s events.”

“You can’t play the what if game, Chase. It’ll drive you nuts. It’s driving me nuts thinking what I could’ve done to not have that happen to you.” Chase then takes a deep breath as he looks down at the floor, multiple thoughts swirling through his mind in regards to the past 24 hours.

“Dale, can I ask you something?” Dale then looks over at Chase, intrigued by the question.

“What is it?” Dale keeps his eyes on Chase as he notices a couple tears fall down his cheeks, slipping onto the carpet below.

“Does it get easier over time?” Chase then takes a deep breath, trying to keep the tears in as he lies back against the couch. Given what Dale had gone through the previous couple of months with the plane incident and the incident with Marie’s father, Chase figured that Dale would know from experience in how the days that followed would play out. “Do the memories start to fade and become less apparent?” Dale takes a deep breath, thinking back to how he has dealt with things since the plane incident.

“You never forget what happened as it’s with you everyday moving forward for the rest of your life. You just learn ways to cope with the memories and move forward with your life.” Dale knew it was a touchy subject, given the fact that the emotions were there still for him. There were nights where he wakes up in a cold sweat, relieving the events that happened on the plane, sometimes with a different ending. Even in Daytona, he had nights that he woke up, tears crawling down his face, as his mind flash backed to what happened in Marie’s country of Pitronia with her father.

“How have you learned to deal with them?”

“I still don’t know the perfect answer, honestly.” Chase takes a deep breath, debating how much detail he wanted to say. It was soothing to talk about with Dale as it gave him some comfort.

“Every time I close my eyes, I keep picturing her standing there before me as I am laying by the couch below her after she pushed me.”

“I keep picturing her walking off the plane with the button to strike the bomb off in hand, knowing that my daughter is tied up just below me. I’ve also pictured, over and over, the look on her father’s face, a look of pure evil, when he held the bottle that he wanted to drink.”

“When does it become easier to move on with your life and go about it as if nothing happened?” Dale shrugs his shoulders.

“For me, I don’t think I’m going to go back to that life like it was before. I think from now on, I’m going to keep looking over my shoulder, scared someone is there. I’m going to walk on to planes thinking that I’m walking into a trap.” Chase lets out a sigh as he thinks it over, debating how things would change for him moving forward.

“I just want to be able to close my eyes and not think about her or what happened.”

“It’s hard at first because it’s fresh in your mind, but I will tell you that it does get easier with each passing day as you get more comfortable once again.” Dale then takes a deep breath, remembering how he had made his nightmares at least a little easier to deal with, knowing that Chase deserved the advice to move forward. “Whether then just close your eyes and go to sleep, try to remind yourself before you go to sleep that you’re safe and you have people around you that love you. Remind yourself that she’s gone forever. Remind yourself that you’ve got your parents, I, Kelley – everybody who would anything for you. Assure yourself of how safe you are and it makes it a little easier. It doesn’t cure it as there’s no magical cure for what you’ve been through. However, it makes it easier and with each day as you move beyond what happened, you’ll be able to sleep without thinking about it.”

“I’ll try to remember that. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome and Chase, it’s going to work out. We’re both going to get through this together.” Dale then pulls Chase close to him as a smile forms on Chase’s face, perhaps the first smile that had found his face since his escape. “Alright, now let’s forget about that for a while. Let’s get that off your mind as you don’t want to think about that. I heard that you had a great Daytona Speedweeks in winning the Nationwide Series race. Tell me how that went because I am not pleased at all that I missed it.”

Flight 88 – Chapters 31 Thru 35

Chapter 31: Dale

After about an hour, Marie leaves the group in the waiting room and heads down the hall, slowly. She slowly walks into the room.

“You seem calm despite the situation,” Sharon comments as she hears Marie’s footsteps.

“I didn’t want them to worry too much,” Marie replies as she looks past Marie’s shoulder to see Dale lay there calmly. She could tell immediately that Sharon had pumped his stomach to get all of the poison out. No doubt that was followed by some examining to determine the extent of the damage. “Sharon, how is he?” Sharon looks over at Marie and the pair lock eyes for a minute. “Sharon…”

“Marie, you can relax. He’s going to be okay.” Marie lets her eyes go back to Dale as Sharon takes a deep breath. “I’m glad that you got a hold of me as fast as you did and got him here. That was crucial, but you should know from your own experience. He didn’t swallow too much, but enough that it had me a little concerned. I gave him an anesthetic so that way he didn’t have to suffer through the pain, and so I could take care of it. I did pump his stomach out to get it out. That was followed by a bronchoscopy and endoscopy, which is basically a pair of cameras down his throat. There’s no doubt that it burned at his throat and there’s no doubt that he’ll be sore for awhile. Her vocal cords are swollen so I expect talking to be limited for awhile, with perhaps no talking at all for the first couple of days. Beyond that, he’s going to be a strict soft food diet so that way it can heal accordingly.”

Marie shakes her head understanding as she walks over, sitting in the chair that was by his bed, lacing her fingers with his. She then leans down and kisses his cheek before sitting back up. Sharon walks over, and puts a hand on Marie’s shoulder.

“I know you’re worried sweetheart, but I promise you, he’ll be okay,” Sharon assures her. “I’ve always been in your corner and I’ve always wanted to see you happy. I’m glad that you found him and things will work out. You’ll get your happy ever after.”

As a little girl growing up, Marie could always turn to either Sharon or Joshua for advice or help in any given situation. It wasn’t easy being her father’s daughter, but having them in her corner certainly made it easier.

“Thanks Sharon,” Marie replies with a slight smile on her face. She then turns back to Dale as her smile fades slowly. “Sharon, I never thought that I’d be the person who would kill someone. I never thought that it’d come to that. I always thought that maybe one day daddy would learn to be understanding. How can I sit here and be calm about what I’ve done? It doesn’t feel right.”

“Because you knew that it had to be done to save your family,” Sharon comments. “And for it not to real right means that you’re truly your own person with a heart. It’ll get easier with time, sweetheart.”

“I hope you’re right. I just want to get out of here. I want to take him home. I want to go home – to our home. I want to have my family back together again – myself, Dale and Alyssa.” Marie then looks up at Sharon. “When can that happen? Please tell me soon….”

“When he wakes up, I’ll see how he is and based on that, I say your chances are looking promising. I bet you’ve missed your little girl, haven’t you?” Marie shakes her head yes. Sharon was one of the few people who knew that Marie had a daughter as she had told Sharon one day shortly after her daddy kidnapped her about being a mother and how much Alyssa meant to her. “You’ll get your happy reunion soon.”

“As long as Dale’s okay, that’s all that matters to me right now.”

“I told you that he’d be fine. I’m going to go tell the others what I told you. While I’m gone, there’s someone that wants to see you.” Marie then looks at Sharon confused and as she sees John walk in, she rolls her eyes immediately. “I held him off as long as I could.” Sharon then looks over at John. “Take it easy on the girl as she’s been through enough for a day.”

“Sharon…”

“Country business – it stinks.” Sharon then leaves the room as Marie keeps her eyes on Dale. She really didn’t want to hear what John had to say. She knew why John was there as it stemmed from matters surrounding her father’s death. John was head of the royal council and it was his duty.

“John, I know why you’re here. I don’t want to hear it. I did what I had to do and that’s final.”

“I kno-” John starts as Marie snaps her gaze to him.

“Then why are you here?” Marie questions.

“Because, this is my duty as part of the royal council, ma’am. Per law, Queen Isabella was contacted and notified of the events that happened. She was also given the options of how to handle things moving forward.” Marie then turns her eyes back to Dale. She already knew the answer that her mother would give.

“Then why are you here? We both know that my mother would say not to prosecute me and understand. I don’t need you here to tell me that. I have enough on my plate than to worry about someone like you.”

“I understand you have a lot going on, ma’am, and you’re right about your mother. However, the words that she added to our discussion have brought me here to see you. As recipient of the throne, she was asked to come back and serve her place as Queen.” John then walks over slowly. “She didn’t accept the position. As a result, the position of Queen falls down to either yourself or Mariela. Now I understand your sister is locked in Untied States prison for something containing to a flight? That means that it all falls on your shoulders.”

“So you’re saying that I am now Queen Marie-Ann Belle Kastona Calantay?” John shakes his head yes as Marie lets out a sigh. “I cannot accept the position for I cannot serve as Queen.”

“Your duty in standing up for the wrongful laws in this country shows your ability. Your character shows that you are the person who rightfully could help lead everybody back to happiness.”

“You don’t understand, John.”

“What am I missing? Why can you not serve as our Queen?”

“Because I belong in North Carolina with my fiancé, our daughter and the people who have grown to become part of my family now. There is no way that I could ask Dale and Alyssa to move here with me permanently and there’s no way that I could leave him after what he has done for me.” Marie runs her fingers lightly across the top of his hand as she lets out a sigh. “John, may I riddle you this – could someone serve my spot as Queen here while I live my life?”

“Under unique circumstances, that can be done.” Marie smiles as she thinks about the options at hand. “The person would serve as Queen and help control daily basis surrounding happenings in the country. However, there’d be a meeting once a month in which you would have to attend. This person would also have to have certain decisions approved by you.” Marie’s smile widens as she knows the perfect person who could help her out. This person had the perfect heart to do it. She also had the right loyals behind her. Her interest in the people was already at hand, and Marie knew that everybody would be in good hands with this person. “May I ask who is of question?”

“Sharon and Joshua.” John smiles as he knew that everybody would approve. Everyone always thought highly of the pair.

“I’m sure that’d go over well with the people, ma’am.” John then pulls out a book. “We have an official crowning ceremony that you, as well as your daughter, must attend. Per that ceremony, Sharon and Joshua could be sworn in.”

“For now, let me focus on making sure that Dale gets better. Then give me a chance to head home and see my daughter. Once I get my life back in order, I’ll fly back with Dale and Alyssa – this time under good terms – and have that all set. Is that okay?” John shakes his head yes.

“Absolutely. You do have 30 days till play with before everything comes under question. Till then, the council will be in charge. I will leave you be. I hope everything works out for you.” John then leaves the room as Marie keeps her eyes locked on Dale.

“Who knew. Perhaps Alyssa was right in talking about those castles all throughout the trip. Perhaps she knew more than us both in that she’d be a princess.” Marie then leans in and kisses Dale’s cheek once again. “You better wake up soon. I hate missing those beautiful blue eyes of yours. I love you.”

Behind her, she could hear the rustle as Steve, Kelley and Daniel made their way down the hall to come see them with John being done his lecture of the day. Though that all didn’t matter to her in those seconds as perhaps Sharon was right. Perhaps her happy ever after was just around the corner as she watched a pair of eyes open to lock with hers.

 

Chapter 32

“Dale….” She quietly comments, feeling her current position totally freeze up as their eyes stayed locked together.

“Seeing the way they’re stuck looking at each other, I think it made the trip worth it Kel,” Daniel comments as Kelley gives him a look.

“Sssh….it’s okay…” All eyes turn back to Marie and Dale as Marie brushes his cheek lightly. “Sharon said that you may not be able to talk for awhile. That crap made everything swell up. Once the swelling comes down, then you can talk to me, okay? But till then, no talking and I promise I’m not letting go of you ever again.”

“Well look at this way, we won’t be annoyed for the next couple of days,” Steve adds as Daniel chuckles lightly, earning a glance from Kelley. “Oh lighten up! He’s going to be fine. We’ve been in this serious, sad, angry route for the past two months. I’m annoyed. I want a laugh.” Marie then glances back towards the three of them, eyes then going back to the floor.

“I’m sorry…..it was my fault….I’m sorry….” Marie says quietly, feeling the guilt all crashing on to her. It was her fault that she let herself be kidnapped in England without a proper warning for Dale. It was her fault that her sister decided to go after Dale and Alyssa. It was her fault that her dad went after Dale as he did. There was nothing that could be proven otherwise, either.

“Why don’t we all leave that in the past and focus on the future?” Daniel suggests.

“It can’t just go in the past like nothing. This country, everything that happened – it is my life. This is me.” She then looks over at Dale. “And virtue of what happened, you’re looking at the Queen right now so sing whatever happy song you want.”

“Seriously?” Steve questions and Marie shakes her head yes. “So that means that he’s your King Well…..unofficially…..I guess…..How does this work?” Dale then clasps on Marie’s hand, getting his attention.

“I don’t know what you want, but yes, you’re my king. Does that answer your question?” Dale shakes his head yes as he bites his tongue a little, the burning sensation certainly still there. “Easy…don’t move a lot……it takes time to heal baby….” She rubs his hand as she takes a deep breath. “And Alyssa, as I mentioned before you woke up, is a princess. So looks like she gets the castle that she wanted.”

“Wait….” Kelley starts, though Marie puts her finger up.

“Don’t say a single word Mrs. Earnhardt,” Marie instructs, surprising Steve and Daniel. They hadn’t seen that reference. “I spoke to our royal council head. I can be Queen, but not live here. I can leave two people that I trust in charge of day-to-day business, while only checking in once a month to handle important things. So you don’t have to worry as we’ll return home as proper.”
Kelley takes a deep breath satisfied as Dale motions for Steve to come over. Steve comes over and looks at him confused.

“What?” Steve asks as Dale points to Steve’s pocket. Steve then pulls his phone out, which Dale snatches immediately. He then smiles before going into the contacts, finding Marie. “You little shit.” A couple moments later, Marie hears her phone go off, as she pulls it out of her pocket and reads the message.

Those details don’t matter. We can worry about them later. All that matters is that we’re back together. I love you, Queen Marie-Ann. I can’t wait to be home with you. I can’t wait till Alyssa sees that her ‘mommy’ is back.

“That kid is going to scream and probably be so excited that it won’t be able to be contained,” Kelley comments after Marie is done reading the text message out loud.

“I can’t wait to see her,” Marie comments. “I’ve missed her so much. When I heard what Mariela had planned, my heart fell apart.” Marie then turns to Dale, wrapping her fingers around his hand. “I’m so glad that you figured it out and saved our baby girl. The minute I heard you were both okay, the sigh of relief was huge. I can’t wait till we get home. I can’t wait to hug her, kiss her and deal with everything that comes with a three-year-old.”

“I thought about bringing her to the garden that day, but I thought that would be a bad idea,” Daniel muses out loud as Marie looks over at him.

“I’m glad that you didn’t, then. I saw a glimpse of her one of the days when she was heading around with Karsyn. It broke my heart to not run up to her and tell her how much I loved her.”

“I couldn’t imagine being so close but yet so far away like that,” Kelley says quietly.

“Then obviously you can tell how much I just want to bust out of here and head home immediately?” Marie questions and Kelley shakes her head in agreement. She was ready to head home as well. She was done with drama of this nature and foreign countries for awhile. Marie then hears her phone go off, looking down at it once again.

When can we go home? I want to see Alyssa, too.

“Give it about a day and I think Sharon will be comfortable releasing you,” Marie tells him. She knew that Sharon wouldn’t allow them to escape just yet given what had just happened, but she hoped to convince her for a 24 hour release given the situation. Sharon would understand how badly she wanted to see her daughter.

Dale shakes his head approving as he lays back, the pain certainly continuing to grow. Everybody could tell by how much he was squinting his eyes and surely biting his tongue.

“Pain killers are wearing off….” Marie muses.

“I’ll get Sharon….” Daniel announces, though is cut off immediately as the door opens.

“That won’t be necessary,” Sharon says as she walks over. “I figured that he’d want some if he was awake. This stuff is awful.” Sharon then changes the IV bag and starts to walk away, though stops when she reaches Marie. “By the way, John told me of your clever idea. I’m all for it sweetheart. You deserve the life that you want with him after what you both have been through. I’ll make sure to keep things in order.”

“Thank you,” Marie says as she pulls Sharon into a hug. “Thank you. I love you.”

“You’re welcome, Queen Marie-Ann.” Sharon then lets out and heads towards the door. “I’ll leave you be as I’m sure there’s lots to discuss. Call me if you need me. Oh, by the way, tomorrow – he can probably break free. I knew you’d start begging to go see family at home.” Sharon then leaves the room, closing the door behind her.

“23 hours and 59 minutes till Alyssa’s happiest moment commences,” Daniel states.

“Nah – her happiest moment was seeing daddy win the biggest race of his career and getting to help hold the trophy,” Marie comments, speaking of last year’s Daytona 500. They all then freeze, glancing towards each other. There was no doubt what thought just crossed all their minds. “February…”

“Daytona is only a week away…”

“So much for a nice relaxing off-season.”

 

Chapter 33

Kelley walks through the front door of her house, closing it tightly behind her. She knew of the plan in mind in surprising someone.

“Mom!!” Karsyn yells as she is the first one to see who’s at the door, peaking out of the living room. Karsyn runs over and gives her mom a hug as Kennedy and Wyatt start to make their way out of the kitchen. “Where’s Dale? Where’s Marie?”

“So glad you’re home!” Kennedy yells as she is the second person to hug Kelley. “We’ve missed you. I think L.W. has driven both of us nuts.” Kelley laughs as Karsyn as shakes her head in agreement.

“Well nobody has to worry anymore as everything is okay,” Kelley assures both of her girls.

“Everything? Even Uncle Dale? Even Aunt Marie?” Kelley shakes her head yes to the approval of the girls as Wyatt joins in on the hugs. “Alyssa has been good. She’s out back with the dogs and L.W.”

“So let me guess….Dale and Marie are home?” Kelley shakes her head yes. “Should I go get Alyssa and take her over? Or….”

“Give them about five, 10 minutes and then take her over,” Kelley instructs as she makes her way through the house. “You have to remember what they’ve been through together and separate.”

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

Dale opens the door and glances back towards Marie, as she takes the first steps inside the house. he then follows, leaving the door open as Kelley had told him that Karsyn would be over soon with Alyssa before they arrived at the house.

“I can’t believe I’m home….truly home….” Marie comments as she walks through the house, taking everything in. Marie lets out a sigh as she looks around.

The day that she was kidnapped, the day that she met her father’s eyes following what happened, she never believed that she’d be able to come back home. She thought that she was truly doomed and stuck in whatever her father had planned for her. She felt her whole world crashing down immediately.

Being back home, being there with Dale and knowing that Alyssa would be with them soon, it brought all the emotions of what had occurred over the past month right in front of her eyes as she felt tears leaking down her cheeks.

As her eyes focused on a photo that was taken of her, Dale and Alyssa together the previous summer, she feels arms wrap around her and hold her close. She lets herself lean back into his arms, no doubt both of them wanting to feel the closeness of their bodies touching each other’s once again after what had happened. She feels a light kiss on her cheek, followed by a light peck on the lips. Enough to say that he understood what she was feeling, but also enough that begged for more satisfaction.

He could sense that her emotions were in an emotional spiral as he remembered the emotions that flew through his mind when he thought that he’d never see her again. Being here, holding her in his arms, standing in their house, it almost felt surreal. There was no way that he was going to take any moment with her for granted ever as he knew what it felt like to lose it all.

“I love you,” Marie says quietly as she turns to face him, noticing the tears in his eyes that matched the tears in her own. He brushes her tears away from her eyes, before leaning in to kiss her lips once again, savoring the taste and wanting to have it fresh on his lips for the rest of time.

She then watches as he steps back a bit, pointing to himself, followed by a heart made from his hands and then pointing at her. No doubt his way of saying I love you.

She knew that it’d be odd not having the normal conversations with him and hated that he couldn’t talk right now, but felt herself feeling giddy in discovering how sign language conversation would work for the next couple of days.

Per Sharon’s calculations, it’d be a couple of days of no talking, but after those days, everything would go back to normal. Normal…..their life…..seemed strange to even let that thought cross her mind.

Though every thought about what had gone on immediately froze as they heard the front door creep open. A glance towards each other warned them of what was about to come.

“We’re in here!” Marie calls out, anticipation of the moment growing with each second that passed. They then glance towards the doorway as they see the most precious sweet blond little girl come into view, and immediately a huge smile forms on her face.

“Mommy!!” Alyssa immediately yells as she runs over to where Marie and Dale are, wrapping her arms around Marie’s legs. Alyssa then turns around and faces Dale, giving him a hug as well as he kneels down and kisses the top of her head.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t cry….I promised myself I wouldn’t cry….” Karsyn quietly repeats to herself as she watches the three of them together.

“Daddy…Mommy….I love you.” She then hugs them both once again before looking towards Dale. “Karsie say you frog in your ‘oat.” Dale shakes his head yes as Karsyn smiles. “Frog hop out?” Dale shakes his head no with a sad face.

“He’ll hop out soon and then daddy will be able to talk again, okay?” Marie questions as Alyssa smiles and shakes her head yes. “I missed you sweetheart. I really missed you.”

“Mom says we’ll do dinner tomorrow night with grandma,” Karsyn starts. “You three can have tonight to get things back to how they should be. If you need anything, you know where to find us.” Dale then heads over and gives Karsyn a hug, along with a motion of ‘thank you’. “Hey Marie, no headaches for a couple of days?” Marie then laughs as she glances over. Dale then gives Karsyn a slight smack on the shoulder.

“Bye Karsie!” Alyssa yells.

“Bye sweetheart.” Karsyn then leaves, giving the three of them the space that they need. Marie sits on the couch as Dale joins her; Alyssa then immediately sits between them.

“Can you believe it that we’re here together, again?” Marie questions as Dale shakes his head no.

“Mommy, why you run away?” Alyssa asks, immediately causing both Marie and Dale to freeze.

“Mommy had some things that she had to do that were dangerous and she didn’t want you to get hurt.” Alyssa then looks at her mom confused.

“Mommy, I did. ‘Ella gave me ucky uice.” Dale then rubs Alyssa’s shoulder, trying to give her some comfort as he knew how much the whole plane incident had her worked up before.

“I know, babygirl. That’s why I’m glad that Mariella is locked away thanks to Steve. Now you don’t need to worry your little heart with any more questions as mommy and daddy both promise that nothing else is going to go wrong, okay?” Alyssa shakes her head yes slowly as she shifts on to Dale’s lap and lays her head back against him. “Still a daddy’s girl…”

“I take care of daddy. I give medikin and he have Shelly…” Marie chuckles lightly as she knows that Alyssa means her purple teddy bear that she has had with her since she was a baby.

“Look at Daddy…” Dale then makes a face at her as he points to the bottle of painkillers, mimicking how much Alyssa hates her cough syrup when she’s sick. “I don’t think daddy likes taking his medicine. Do you think daddy will be a good boy and take it?” Alyssa shakes her head yes.

“Daddy good. Daddy take medikin. Daddy chase frog bye-bye.” Dale shakes his head in amazement as he watches her, no doubt realizing just how much she’s grown up and how quickly that she’s growing up. Oh the days when she was just a baby once again and how much he wished he could have those back. He knew before he knew it that she’d be coming home with a boyfriend.

As the night went on and spending time watching movies together and then playing with the dogs, followed by cuddles, there was no doubt that things were getting back to the way that they were before in the house between them all – with a small difference.

 

Chapter 34

Okay, answer me this. How does it feel to be Queen Marie-Ann Belle Kastona Calantay?
Marie reads the text message as they lay in bed together after putting Alyssa to bed, chuckling to herself. That wasn’t the text message that she was expecting.

“I’m surprised that you typed the full name out,” she comments as she looks over into his blue eyes.

She wasn’t sure how to answer his question truthfully, as there were many things that she could say about that. Whether she faced it truthfully in the past or not, it was her home and she knew that it deserved her respect. It was her background, it was what made her who she was and where she grew up till she became a teenager. To now be in charge in that? It felt surreal.

Beyond that, it was the scariest thought imaginable. She thought about all the people that currently lived there. Everything that she decided….or now Sharon decided as well, would affect their lives. She didn’t know if she could handle all that in her hands, plus the emotions that continue to flood through her.

You haven’t answered….

“There’s so much that I could tell you in my response as I’m still comprehending it all,” she states as she cuddles up to him.

Truthfully, she hadn’t let the thought cross her mind. She was focused on Dale and Alyssa, being here in this moment. It was here where she loathed for and belonged. She didn’t want to let that thought go ever again. She was so thankful that things had worked out, and she was thankful that they’d be okay. That’s all that mattered to her. She’d worry about the rest, later, hence the period of relaxation that she had requested.

I understand. I’m here if you want to talk.

“And if you want to text me a chapter with your feelings, I’m here for you,” she tells him before kissing his lips, passionately. No longer did she take each opportunity that she got to kiss his lips for granted. She couldn’t honestly do that any longer. The events still haunted every thought and would probably for the rest of her life.

All that I need is you here in my arms. The rest will follow.

He then wraps his arms around her, pulling her close, kissing her lips in return as he runs his hand underneath the edge of her shirt.
“You’re supposed to be relaxing….” Her voice trails off before being met by another kiss as her shirt continues to rise. She wanted to lay down the rules. She wanted him to relax as per instructed. She knew that’d be the best course if he was to get better. However, she also couldn’t resist the connection that she felt with him, based on the days that she had missed, slowly lifting up his shirt in return.

The cellphones would both be put up, as words weren’t needed as expression took over with the trade of kisses and lessening of clothes.

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

Two days later….

“Any word on how he’s feeling?” Jason Burdett questions, as he peaks into Steve’s office. Steve looks up from the notes that laid on his desk.

“He says his throat is feeling a little less painful but still can’t talk,” Steve answers, before turning his eyes back down to the notes. He had only been back from Pitronia for two days. He spent the first day at home with Tricia and the kids. However, today, he was back in his office. He was supposed to simply come and clean things up, though the course of events changed with what happened.

Jason walks into the office, sitting in the chair before Steve. Steve was his mentor, having trained him through the ranks at Hendrick Motorsports to the position that he was. Last year, he was car chief. This year, a whole new chapter was set to begin as Dale, Rick and Steve had promoted him to crew chief. He knew that he could handle the pressure laid on his shoulders with the knowledge that he had picked up through the years.

Though he also knew the current events changed things. There was a reason that Steve hadn’t packed everything up yet. There was a reason why Steve was pouring his head over the notes from Daytona testing that Regan and Jason had gathered.

“Well, we’ll make sure that Regan is on standby incase needed,” Jason states, breaking Steve’s concentration as he looks up. “We both know that he won’t skip Daytona for anything, right?” Steve shakes his head yes, slowly, before looking back down at his notes. “You’re not comfortable with it, though, are you? You’re thinking that he should sit it out. That’s why you’re here right now pouring over the test notes. Am I right?” Steve lets out a sigh as he looks up to face his young protégé.

“You don’t know what happened truthfully over the course of January so you can’t judge,” Steve comments as he flips over the page.

“I heard about the plane incident, the fact that his girlfriend should’ve been dead per what he was told and I heard about what happened with Marie’s father. There’s no secret that shit seriously got screwed in the past month and no doubt that he’s been through a ton. Still, we both know him, Steve. He won’t skip it.” Steve then looks up at Jason, surprised at how much he has picked up in a short period of time.

“Why do you think I’m sitting here right now? I now that he’ll want to be in Daytona next week for Bud Shootout practice no matter what I merely try to suggest to him.” Jason then sits back and crosses his arms.

“You don’t need to be here pouring over the notes, even with that said. The team and I can handle it and I promised you that I’d make sure things stay in order. Do you trust me, Steve?” Steve lets out a sigh as he takes his turn sitting back.

“I trust that you can do a good job and I trust your judgemen-”

“Then why are we here? Why are you critiquing every bit of my notes?”

“Because, this year at Daytona is going to be different. With how he’s feeling and what could even possibly be swirling around in his mind right now, it’s going to be different. If we were under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be here. However, given these circumstances, I am here. If you come out of the gate and don’t run well, immediately they’re going to rip you apart – no matter whether it’s your fault, or the fault of how he is feeling. With that said, I’m here to protect your ass. I want to be here in your corner to make sure that things go as smoothly as possible. Once he’s feeling better and I know this team is in good smooth sailing, I’ll let go. But now do you understand why I am here?” Jason slowly shakes his head yes, understanding.

“Thank you…..I guess. I knew you cared about Dale and all of us, but this takes it to a new extreme. I will do whatever it takes to make this the best Daytona Speedweeks ever.” Steve then raises his eyebrows.

“Ever?” Jason then stands up and walks towards the door, taking a glance back.

“I guess I can’t take that claim after last year, can I?” Steve shakes his head no with a smile.

“It’d take a lot to top what we did last year. However, if it happens, they better watch you boys all year long because this’ll be a true test for everybody.”

“I’m ready for the test, teacher. I’m ready to prove to you and everybody else that you made the right decision. Hence why I’m getting back to work.”

“I believe in you, Jason. I truthfully do.” Jason then leaves the office as Steve lets out a sigh, peaking at the notes. “It’s just hard to let go of this team and know that everything will be alright…..” He then glances out the window as he sits back in his chair thinking, no doubt the past couple months on his mind.

Chapter 35: Daytona
“As we head into the opening weekend of the 2015 season, there’s a lot of speculation and uncertainty surrounding a couple of the teams,” Chris Myers begins the NASCAR on FOX coverage. “Though while some was expected, there have been some unexpected surprises – including the No. 88 team. It was announced late last season that car chief Jason Burdett would be stepping into the crew chief position this year. That was known, however what was not known were the events that transpired between just after New Years and now.

“There have seen a lot of rumors, in which some have been confirmed. There was an incident surrounding a plane that has Earnhardt Jr.’s girlfriend’s sister Mariela Dani Kastona Calantay charged with kidnapping, attempted murder, among other charges. There was also an incident between Earnhardt Jr.’s girlfriend’s father Owen Calatay in his home country that resulted in Earnhardt’s girlfriend Marie shooting her father. As far as well-being, Hendrick Motorsports says that there ‘s still some things to be ironed out, but the team is looking to get things on track this weekend.”

“From what we’ve heard, Regan Smith will be practicing the No. 88 car today in Budweiser Shootout practice while Earnhardt relaxes,” Steve Byrnes states. “HMS representatives have stated that Earnhardt’s throat is pretty sore and isn’t talking yet. Now, that’s a problem with regards to in-car communication so Regan may be in the car for the Bud Shootout on Saturday night. Now that’s all we’ve heard so far, but it sounds like it hasn’t been a quiet off-season.”

“No doubt about that and it’ll be interesting to see how the No. 88 team performs this weekend.”

“That concern lies with Hendrick Motorsports. Jeff Hammond reported that Steve LeTarte is on hand this weekend to oversee operations with the team as there’s worry about a smooth transition. Jeff, I believe that you’ve caught up with Steve?”

“Yes I have,” Jeff starts, before turning to Steve. “Steve, it surprised many people this weekend when they saw you here with the team. What can you tell us about the situation?”

“It’s exactly as how you guys have discussed,” Steve starts. “There’s a lot going on and knowing the pressure that’s on Jason Burdett and the team, I just wanted to make sure that they had things under control. Once we get beyond Daytona, Jason has the full reigns as I respect him and believe that he will do a tremendous job with this team. Right now, the focus is simple, though – work with Regan and get the car running comfortably. Then as we go throughout Speedweeks, we’ll see what happens.”

“Now Regan Smith is practicing the car this session. Has there been any discussions towards whether Earnhardt will run the Bud Shootout or not?” Steve bit his tongue immediately. There had been discussions, however there weren’t to be made public knowledge….yet.

“The decision hasn’t been made yet and probably won’t be made till the day of.”

“Thank you for your time,” Jeff states. “Back to you, Chris.” They wait a couple seconds before the camera man gives the okay that they’re done. “Thanks for the interview. I know it’s a tough spot to be in.”

“Part of the job, right?” Steve then turns towards the trailer and heads inside, closing the door behind him. He then walks up to the lounge, recognizing the group immediately.

“Nice job with the interview,” Jason comments as Steve sits down beside him. They had been watching the coverage in the hauler, out of pure curiosity. They knew the statement that Hendrick Motorsports had released as it had put in front of Dale to approve first. They weren’t pleased with how some o the media were handling the situation in the information that they wanted, the spectaculization and the pasteurizing – but that’s part of the deal, right?

“I did the best that I could without saying too much – per Laura’s recommendations,” Steve replies, speaking of team PR rep Laura Scott. She had advised each of them to handle the questions accordingly, but keep the details that they wanted out of the way totally so they couldn’t be pushed further.

“You got the thumbs up from the driver so you’re fine…” Steve then smiles as he looks over at Dale, who is giving him the thumbs up on it.

“Seriously, you need to at least start whispering soon, please. The first couple of days, I could use this as a royal joke. However, now, I just either feel bad for you or want you to talk to make communication easy.” Dale just shrugs his shoulders, hoping himself that he could talk soon.

“Awww, Steve don’t want to play surrades?” TJ offers as Steve rolls his eyes. “By the way, I had a fun game of that the other day with him and for the record, he sucks.” Dale then reaches over and smacks TJ. “Hey!”

“Let’s face it – TJ probably doesn’t know how to guess, right?” Regan questions and Dale shakes his head yes with a grin.

“So, are you set to practice today?” Steve questions and Regan shakes his head yes.

“Goal is to find a general comfort in the car so that way when Saturday comes, it’s set for the pilot,” Jason states.

“So wait – you’re running the Bud Shootout?” TJ questions with a glance towards Dale. Dale then shakes his head yes. “Even if you’ve got no voice?” Dale shakes his head yes. “Woah, okay….how in the name are you going to get NASCAR to approve such a thing?”

“I guess you weren’t here earlier when Steve reported that it was approved,” Jason answers, causing TJ’s jaw to drop immediately.

“As long as he can hear you, then he has his spotter,” Steve starts. “As long as he can hear Jason, then he knows when to pit. Jason can also call strategy without discussion as it’s usually simple at Daytona, anyway. The only issue we run into is when he needs to tell us whether the car is loose or tight.” Steve then looks over at Dal with a grin. “Thanks to some clever thinking by him, we’ve got that idea covered. If he taps the steering wheel hard enough, the radio will pick up – and don’t say that it won’t because we already tried this crap.” Marie then crosses her arms as she looks over from her spot where she has Alyssa.

“I’m confused…” She states as TJ crosses his arms, curious.

“Shall we show them an example?” Dale shakes his head yes. “Okay. Let’s just say the car is medium loose. Jason…”

“So tell me driver, are you loose or tight?” Jason asks and Dale taps his finger on the table once.

“One tap means loose, two taps mean neutral and three taps mean tight,” Steve explain with a smile. “Continue Jason…”

“Now, how bad is it?” Jason questions and Dale taps his finger twice.

“One tap means a little, two taps mean medium and three tap-”

“Means that it’s a bitch to drive,” TJ finishes it off as he shakes his head in disbelief. “Can I just say that you’re a genius? I can’t believe that nobody has thought of that before. How did you think of that?” Dale then smiles as he takes his phone out.

“Simple, I’m a genius…” Dale sends him with a smiley on the end that is sticking its tongue out.

“And still as bitchy as ever.”

“Hey!” Marie yells as she covers Alyssa’s ears.

“TJ bad….TJ say bad word,” Alyssa comments as she shakes her finger in front of him as they all laugh. She then walks over and hops on Dale’s lap. “Daddy go fast today?” Dale shakes his head no. “No?”

“I get to drive daddy’s car,” Regan states as Alyssa looks over at him. “Is that okay?” Alyssa sits quiet for a couple minutes and then shakes her head yes with a smile.

“Go Regy Go!” She then shits a little and looks at Dale. “I sit in car?” Dale shakes his head yes.

“We’ve got about 15 minutes till practice,” Jason announces as he stands up and heads out of the trailer. Dale then heads out with Alyssa and they walk to the garage.

As the crew continues getting ready for practice, Dale lifts her up and puts her in the car. She immediately puts both hands on the wheel, pretending to turn it with a smile on her face.

“I think someone is going to be a little racer,” Regan comments as he walks up behind Marie, who is snapping a couple photos on her phone.

“I don’t know if my heart could take that Regan,” she replies.

“After everything you’ve both been through, that’s your answer?” Marie looks back at Regan.

“I don’t want to chance losing either of them again. You don’t know how crazy that drove me.” Regan slowly shakes his head as he pats her shoulder.

“I’d go crazy if the same thing happened with Megan. Just relax and have fun this weekend. We always have fun in Daytona.” He then walks over to the car and looks down in the seat. “Hey princess, can I have my seat yet?” She looks up and shakes her head no.

“I drive!” She yells as she makes car sounds. Regan shakes his head in disbelief – she was certainly going to be a racecar driver.