J.D. Smith crawled out from under the rear of the #64 stock car, and brushed off his clothing. There was no real need to do this, as the floor was clean enough to eat from, but it was a habit that went back to his days of working on his own car in the driveway. He placed the clipboard that had been in his hand onto the rear deck of the car, picked up his ball cap and placed it back on his head, but left the set of headphones and boom microphone around his neck.
Like the shirt that he wore, the sponsor's logo figured prominently on the cap. The shirt bore his surname centered above the large logo on his back, and the initials J.D. appeared on the front, above the shirt pocket, surrounded by smaller logos for suppliers and lesser sponsors.
J.D., with his neatly trimmed brown hair, and dark eyes, looked good in his uniform. It appeared to have been fitted specifically for his 6'1", lean body, as indeed it had been. The sponsors and NASCAR wanted all of the staff to look good when they appeared on television, as occurred often in the days leading up to a race, as well as on race day.
He picked up the clipboard and began checking the figures he had written while under the rear of the car installing a stiffer coil spring on the left side. The figures confirmed the settings of the track bar and wedge adjustment, and the crew chief and head engineer had requested the information. They had to decide which further adjustments to make before final practice and qualifying which were scheduled for the next day. He was concentrating on the figures when he heard the first call.
Something in the back of his busy mind told him the voice was familiar. While John was his name, it had been quite some time since anyone had called him by it. When he arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina, and gotten this job with AA Precision Racing, there were already two employees with the name of John, so he had been christened with the new name J.D., which were his initials. He carried on with his work, ignoring the female voice that had called his name.
"John ... John Smith."
This time he was stirred from his concentration, and he looked up and around, to see who was paging him.
He had almost turned fully around when he saw her, standing 30 feet away, and looking as beautiful as she had been the last time he saw her 18 months before. She had a small smile on her face, and it was evident that she was nervous as the smile came and went several times in the 15 or so seconds that he stared at her. Unconsciously he had grasped the spoiler on the rear deck of the car, gripping it tightly to maintain his balance. Seeing her had momentarily taken his breath away, and he felt unsteady on his feet.
"Robin ... where did you come from?" It was the only thing he could think of to say, such was the shock he felt from seeing her there.
Another smile flickered momentarily across her face, and then she spoke. "I just flew in from Indianapolis this afternoon. I took a few days off from work, and I go back on Sunday."
"Why are you here?" His face tightened, and he continued, "Where is Frank?" He looked around, but didn't see Frank Newton's smirking face anywhere in the crowd.
"I came by myself; I wanted to see you." The nervous smile came and went several times after she spoke.
"J.D., do you have the figures?" A burly man dressed in the same uniform as J.D stood near the front of the stock car, looking at him intently as he spoke into his microphone. J.D. could hear him clearly even without having the headset over his ears.
J.D. looked back and forth between Robin and the man who had called, replaced his headset and replied, "Yes, everything is here, Blair." He held up the clipboard and then turned back to Robin and held up the index finger of his free hand to her in the universal sign of 'Just a moment, ' before walking into the shop and conferring with Blair and two other men who also wore the common uniform.
Their conference lasted almost 10 minutes, with frequent references to the clipboard and a nearby computer screen, and during that time J.D. looked up several times to see whether Robin was waiting. Throughout the lengthening discussion he saw that she stayed exactly where she had been when he spoke with her. He was finding it difficult to concentrate as his thoughts returned to Indianapolis, and the life he had once lived there.
Eventually it was decided to add a couple of spring rubbers to the right rear spring, with J.D. assigned to the job. It only took him a couple of minutes to jack up the right side, pull the rear wheel, and insert the two spring rubbers into the coil spring. The car was back on all four wheels in no time at all. When the job was complete J.D. confirmed with the chief engineer that his day was finished and that he could leave. It was fast approaching 6 p.m., and there was really nothing else they could do before the final practice the next day.
As he exited the garage he was watching Robin, and could see that she was quite nervous. She was fidgeting with the purse that hung over her right shoulder, and again her smile flitted nervously across her face. When he approached, she walked forward several steps to meet him.
J.D. stopped about 4 feet from Robin, and looked at her closely, refreshing her image in his memory. At 5'7", she was 6 inches shorter than he was. Her blond hair was a little bit longer he thought; now reaching her shoulders. He had forgotten how beautiful her hazel eyes appeared, and he kept returning to them as his gaze swept back and forth across her face.
"I'm done now, so we can talk if you want." Many times over the last 18 months he had wondered what he would say to her, if he should ever see her again. He had practiced mental speeches covering every conceivable mood and feeling he could imagine having. Seeing her again so unexpectedly he immediately decided he would forgo the harsh and sarcastic comments he had often considered. He would do his best to be pleasant, and would wait to see what she had to say.
She glanced around at the crowd milling around the garages, and said, "Is there anywhere that would be quieter and more private than right here?"
J.D. thought for just a moment, and then said, "Well, there's nowhere good around here. If you'd like, we can go and eat somewhere, and talk then. Where are you staying?"
"Food would be great; I didn't eat on the plane. I'm staying at the motel just down the street from the racetrack." She seemed a little more confident now, and was obviously a bit more relaxed. A slight smile remained on her face when she finished speaking.
"There's a good restaurant right off the lobby of your motel. We can go there. I'm hungry too; it's been a long day." Robin took a couple of steps toward him, and he put out his arms to stop her from getting too close. He lightly held her back by her shoulders as he continued to look at her, and then finally said, "We'll have to walk around back to where my ride is parked." They walked around the end of the building without conversation, as Robin simply followed him, the nervous look back on her face.
The short walk ended at a very shiny black motorcycle. "I hope you don't mind riding on this. It's all I use now when the weather is nice."
"When did you get this? I never knew you rode motorcycles." Robin was looking the bike over with a bit of apprehension.
"I changed a lot of things when I started my new life here. I always wanted a bike, so I got this one a couple of months after I arrived here. There's a spare helmet here you can use." He unstrapped a helmet from the back of the motorcycle and handed it to Robin. When he saw her hesitate, he said, "Just slip it on over your head; it should fit."
After a few instructions, he mounted the bike, waited while Robin got on behind him, and after confirming she was safely settled and holding on tight to him, pulled away slowly. Their route took them back down the wide pavement in front of the garages. J.D. was so intently thinking about the unexpected reappearance of Robin Meadows into his life that he didn't notice the woman who was watching them leave.
Allison Brewer had watched J.D. and the blond woman while they spoke in front of the garage, and had seen them come together in what appeared to be an embrace from her vantage point. The two of them eventually walked out of her sight, only to reappear together on J.D.'s motorcycle. She had watched them until they disappeared as they turned to take the exit tunnel under the track.
Allison was a 5'10" beauty, with black, neatly styled short hair, and dark eyes. Her classic figure was not quite concealed beneath the long sleeved, fully buttoned, pale green shirt that she wore. She was a reporter and interviewer for The Racing Channel, and the shirt bore her name over her right breast and their distinctive logo over the left. The shirt wasn't one that she would normally ever choose for herself, as it was not even remotely stylish or sexy, but because their NASCAR coverage was considered family entertainment The Racing Channel had decided that all of their staff would dress very conservatively.
As she turned to leave, her eyes shone with unshed tears. She carefully transferred the headset and microphone she used for her interviews to her left hand and pulled the battery pack and transmitter assembly from her belt where it had been clipped all day. She would drop them off for recharging at the broadcast trailer before she left for the day.
As she walked away, a careful listener would have heard her say, "Damned men! They're all the same."
The entire ride to the nearby motel had been without conversation, it being difficult to converse while riding a Harley, and both of them used the time for thinking. J.D. was able to find a parking spot right in front, so it was not very long at all before they were seated in the restaurant.
Once they had ordered, J.D. began the conversation. "So, what prompted your trip here now?"
Robin looked at him questioningly. "I'm surprised that you're so calm and pleasant with me. I really expected you to refuse to talk to me, or to at least curse me out."
J.D. hesitated before he answered her. "A year ago you would be right on about my attitude. I've had a lot of time to come to terms with things, and I'd like to think I've gotten past my issues with you. I really am curious about what brought you here now, though."
"I didn't know where you were before, or I would have been here sooner. Nobody in Indianapolis seemed to know where you went. I even asked at the engineering company where you used to work. Some people thought you had gone back to Wisconsin, where your sister lives. I would have phoned her, but I didn't know her married name. The bigger problem when I tried to find you was your name. John Smith is much too common." Robin seemed anxious to talk and gave him a small smile while she waited for his reaction.
"Actually, now that you mention it, I think I did tell people I was headed to my sister's place. I started heading that way after I loaded all of my stuff into my pickup, but at the last minute I decided to follow my dream, and I headed for Charlotte. I figured if I'm going to start a new life it may as well be right from scratch, doing something I've always wanted to do; get a job with a NASCAR team."
"You've mentioned a new life a couple of times. What do you mean by that?" Robin had a concerned and nervous look on her face as she asked him this question.
J.D. thought for a moment, and grimly replied, "Well, I figure my first life ended just before I left Indianapolis ... you know why. Everything I've done since I left has been to get over that first life and start a new one that is on my own terms. I've got a job I really like, the motorcycle, a new ... good friend, and I think I'm finally starting to enjoy life again." He hesitated when he noticed that the smile had fallen from her face, and then said, "You also haven't told me how you came to be here."
"Last Saturday my brother Alex had to work, so he recorded the Nextel Open. When he watched it later he thought he saw you introduced as part of the pit crew for one of the cars. You were shown as J.D. Smith, the catch can man. He called me up, and I went right over to watch it myself, because he wasn't certain that it was you. I recognized you right away, even with the scruffy beard on your chin, and your new fit body." She smiled broadly as she spoke the last sentence.
"It's sort of lucky that he saw me there. It was a last-minute job they gave me when the regular guy fell and broke his arm. Luckily the job doesn't require talents I didn't already have. It's supposed to be finished in a couple of weeks, and I may have to go back to my regular job in the shop. Normally I work on chassis fabrication and adjustment. I think I'm going to enjoy traveling to the different tracks though, and I have asked about doing this job full-time."
Robin's smile faded again when he said that, and she paused before speaking again. "It certainly sounds like you've found a job you really like. I guess you don't have any plans on returning to Indianapolis, do you?" She seemed to be holding her breath after asking the question.
J.D.'s face tightened again, and his voice was harsher when he spoke. "I left Indianapolis so I wouldn't have to see you and Frank every time I turned around. We had too many friends and places in common. It was way too hard." Robin had just opened her mouth to speak again when he continued, "You said he didn't come with you, but you didn't say why. I'm surprised that he would let you out of his sight."
Robin had lowered her head to stare at the table while J.D. told her why he had left Indianapolis. When he finished speaking, she raised her eyes to his, and said, "I'm not with Frank any more. You were right about him when you told me not to trust him." Tears had come to her eyes, and she stopped speaking while she took a tissue from her purse.
"What happened to break up the ideal couple?" The sarcasm was quite evident in his voice as he asked the question.
She dabbed at her eyes with the tissue before she answered him. "About a month after you left, the police came and arrested him. They charged him with fraud, and he ended up getting a five year sentence. He took a bunch of money from where he used to work in Detroit and tried to cover it up in the books." She hesitated, and then continued, "I should have listened to you. I should never have believed him when he said he came back because of me. He really came back to try to avoid being arrested."
J.D. hadn't been prepared for this explanation, and was still digesting her words when their meals arrived. When the waitress left their table, he said, "That isn't quite the scenario I had imagined, but I really didn't trust him. Not just because he was after you; there was just something about his attitude." He had been thinking about Robin's reason for showing up in Charlotte, and the fate of her grand romance with Frank pretty much told him what it was. He decided to ask her anyway. "So, why are you here?" He began to pick at his food as he waited for her answer.
Robin appeared ready to speak a couple of times, but no words came. She too was poking at her meal, not looking at J.D. He didn't rush her, but instead he just began eating, glancing at her while she chose her words. Finally, she said, "I came to find out if there was any hope for you and I to get back together. Please, don't answer right away; let's just enjoy eating our meals first."
Neither of them had ordered a large meal, and within minutes they had both finished eating. During their meal J.D. respected her request and limited his conversation to questions and comments about their mutual friends in Indianapolis. When the waitress had cleared away their empty plates, and brought them each a cup of coffee, J.D. finally returned to Robin's question.
He spoke to her slowly and carefully, and when he was finished she had more questions for him. They talked for almost an hour, until he got up to leave, at which time he gave her a long hug before she headed for her room in the motel, and he returned to his motorcycle.
It was just a couple of minutes after 9 p.m. when Allison Brewer heard her doorbell ring. She wasn't expecting anyone, and had been curled up on her sofa, sipping a glass of wine. She was very casually dressed in a track suit she had put on after her shower and had spent the whole evening lounging around her apartment. Allison was too upset to eat a proper meal and had picked at the leftovers in her refrigerator after her shower. She was definitely in no mood for conversation, and she planned to tell whoever was at her door that she didn't want any company.
When she opened her apartment door she was shocked to see J.D. standing there. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you out with your new girlfriend?" Even as she finished asking her questions, she started closing the door, not intending to wait for his answers. It would have closed in front of his face had he not reached forward with his left hand to block it.
"Whoa, where did that come from? I told you this morning I would try to drop in tonight." J.D. had returned home to shower and change his clothes, and he now looked nothing like the NASCAR shop worker. There were no logos decorating his blue shirt, and his dress pants, while new, were not custom tailored to his body.
The tears that had been in Allison's eyes all evening became obvious now. "I saw you pick up that blond woman at the track. What happened? I thought you'd be tied up with her all night." After trying to gently push the door closed a couple of times, Allison gave up and returned to her seat on the sofa, while J.D. followed her after closing the apartment door.
Allison was turned away from him, and while he couldn't see her face, he knew that she was very upset. "You know, I could be very hurt that you would think me capable of going out with someone behind your back. When we agreed to go out with each other exclusively I told you I wouldn't cheat on you like your ex-husband. I've kept my promise to you, but I guess I can see how you could get that idea." He sat beside her and reached over to place his right hand softly on her shoulder.
In a moment, he continued, "The woman you saw me with is Robin Meadows. When you told me about how your ex-husband had hurt you, I mentioned that I had gone through a similar situation. I never really felt like I wanted to get into talking to you about my situation with Robin, and I guess it's because I was still pretty hurt by it all. For the longest time I've been thinking that pretending she never existed was the same as getting over her."
Allison turned to face J.D. with a look of some relief on her face. "So that woman was Robin, you're old girlfriend?"
"Yes. She came from Indianapolis to talk to me and after we met at the track we went for supper. We had a long talk, and I came over to see you as soon as I could. I only stopped at home to shower and change clothes."
Allison was watching him as he spoke, her eyes darting from his lips to his eyes while she listened. "I'm sorry, J.D. I should have known you better than that. I guess it's going to take me a while yet to fully get over what my ex did to my ability to trust men. You've always been honest with me, and I really should have known better."
"That's OK, Allison. I understand. Part of this is my own fault for not telling you all about Robin." J.D. had noticed the almost empty glass of wine sitting on the coffee table and said, "Why don't I get you a fresh glass of wine and a beer for myself; then I can sit down and tell you the whole story of Robin and I. It's something I probably should have done weeks ago."
Once Allison agreed to his suggestion he picked up her glass and went to the kitchen, returning in about a minute with the refilled wine glass and an open bottle of beer. He returned to his seat beside Allison and took a long pull on the cold bottle of lager. When he returned the bottle to the coffee table he began speaking.
"I'm going to start at the beginning, and I'll probably mention some things I've already told you in the past. If you have any questions, just ask me, as I don't intend to keep any secrets from you."
After agreeing with him, Allison tucked her feet beneath her and picked up her glass of wine, ready to hear J.D.'s story. The dark mood had left her face, and she appeared to be her normal, happy self.
J.D. turned slightly to the right so that he was almost facing her, able to look her in the eyes as he told his story. He put his right arm up on the back of the sofa and began.
"I first met Robin at the beginning of my senior year at the University of Michigan. I was taking mechanical engineering, and she was working on her last year of a business degree. We met at a party, and somehow or other, decided to get together the next weekend for a movie. After a few weeks of casual dating we seemed to have an unspoken agreement that we would be a couple."
"I'm not going to give you every detail of every date, because it was all pretty well normal stuff we did together. By the end of the year I had really fallen for her, and I followed her to her hometown of Indianapolis after graduation. She went back to living with her parents, and I got a small apartment not too far away. Within a couple of weeks we both had jobs. She took a position in the human resources department of a big local bank, and a few days later I got a job with a firm that designed and built custom parts for auto racing."
"I guess we had both been working for about two months when we decided that we should get a place together. Mine was too small for the two of us, and she was anxious to get out from living with her parents. By this time we were both madly in love, or at least I thought we were. Once we made up our minds to get a place together it only took us a week and we were moved into it. Her parents were happy for us and gave us a bunch of good used furniture to start out with. They were good people."
At this point Allison set her glass on the table and moved over to sit right beside him, her head snuggled against his shoulder. J.D. stopped speaking and moved to let her get comfortable, before bringing his right arm around her and taking one of her hands in his. "Go ahead," she said, "I don't want to interrupt you."
"OK. We'd been living together for almost two months when it all fell apart. One day I came home from work, and I found Robin sitting at the kitchen table having coffee with a guy I didn't know. She introduced him as Frank Newton and told me he had been her high school sweetheart. Apparently they broke up when each went to a different university. She seemed so excited that he was there that I should have realized he was going to be a problem."
"Over the next two weeks we ran into Frank everywhere we went, and because they were both from the same area, every friend of hers was a friend of his as well. I was getting sick of hearing how great it was that he was back in town and how great a couple he and Robin had been. There wasn't much I could say, as I didn't really know the guy, but just being around him I soon got the impression that he wasn't to be trusted. Too much BS, and too much bragging. I told Robin that, but she got mad at me, saying I didn't know Frank well enough to judge him like that."
J.D. reached over for his bottle of beer and drained half of what was left in it before he continued. "The next night Robin was waiting for me when I got home from work. She told me that she wanted to start dating Frank; that she thought they were meant to be together. She didn't want to cheat on me so she was telling me in advance. She asked me to move out right away; that maybe I could find a motel with housekeeping units so that I could leave by the next day."
Allison could tell by the tone of his voice that just telling her the story was getting him angry. Before he continued he reached for the beer and finished it, returning the empty bottle to the coffee table. She gripped his hand tightly and said, "Go on. Get it off your chest."
"Well, needless to say, I was hurt, angry, and confused. I felt we were one step away from marriage and all of a sudden she was pulling the plug on everything. I told her again that she shouldn't trust the guy, but she wouldn't hear anything negative about Frank. We exchanged some pretty harsh words and within three hours I had my stuff packed and I was out of there. I took a housekeeping unit like she suggested and that's where I lived for the next month until I left town and moved here."
Allison continued to hold onto his hand, and after a short pause, he resumed speaking. "I thought I could carry on with my job there, find myself a new place, and eventually start dating again. Unfortunately, every time I went out it seemed like I ran into one of our mutual friends, or the happy couple themselves. It was obvious all of their old friends thought it was great that they had gotten together again. None of them seemed to sympathize with me, and I got fed up with hearing how great it was that Robin and Frank had reconnected."
"I gave the firm I was working for two weeks notice, and as soon as it was over I got them to give me my last check. The very next morning I loaded up my stuff and started heading to Wisconsin. I was going to go live with my sister until I found a new job. I guess I drove about an hour north when I made the decision that instead of heading back home with my tail between my legs I'd come here and try to get a job with a NASCAR related firm. I got here in one piece and you pretty much know the rest of that story."
Before he could continue Allison asked, "What about today? Why was she here today?" Her voice had been a bit higher in pitch, and J.D. could tell that she was a bit concerned about Robin's visit, considering she now knew how seriously they had been involved.
J.D. brought his left arm around Allison so that he could now pull her even more closely to him. "Well, to make a long story short, I was right about Frank; he's now in jail. Robin didn't know where I had gone, but she happened to see me on TV last week and came here looking for me. She was anxious to find out if we could let bygones be bygones, and get back together again."
J.D. could feel Allison growing tense in his arms, and he quickly continued. "Don't worry; she knows for certain that I have no intention of trying to pick up where we left off. I took the high road though; I was very kind and gentle with her. She tried her best to convince me that we could work through everything that had happened since Frank reappeared in Indianapolis, but I finally made her realize it wasn't going to happen. I think we parted friends and that we've seen the last of her."
He leaned forward until his lips were next to Allison's ear and whispered, "I may even have hinted that I've found myself a new girlfriend. Your name may have been mentioned in the conversation." He moved a bit closer and nibbled gently at her ear.
"Stop that! You know that tickles me," she giggled. She twisted away from him and then turned to face him, quickly becoming serious again. "Are you sure that you've gotten over her? It sounds like you and Robin were close to at least being engaged, if not married. For her to have come here so quickly after finding out where you were tells me she must still have deep feelings for you."
J.D. took her hands in his and said, "We were in love, no doubt, but I've had much longer to kill those feelings for her than she had to forget about me after she went with Frank. I've used all of my time learning how to forget about her, and how to develop feelings for someone new. She has spent most of her time wishing she could find me so that we could get back together." J.D. looked away for a moment, and then said, "I told her that even if she had known right where I was from the beginning, we were finished. I could never have forgiven her for what she did to me. I would never have trusted her not to do it again some day."
After another short pause he continued. "I guess I should really have thanked her though. Now that I've been able to face her directly, and tell her how I feel, it's like a weight has been taken off of me. We had too much unfinished business."