[chapter seven]

Disclaimer: If you've heard of them, I don't own them. Everything else is mine, so no stealing, pretty please. ;-)

**

Dale toed off his sneakers and kicked them across the room, flopping down onto the sofa of his hotel room. Closing his eyes, he rubbed his temples for a few seconds before blowing out a breath and opening them again.

The commercial shoot in Chicago had run long, but they'd gotten it in the end. The minute he was through filming, he'd been hustled to another airport, another plane, for another town. A few hours later, he touched down in LA so he could start bright and early the next morning on…another commercial.

So much for the offseason, Dale grumbled to himself as he stalked across the room and booted up his laptop. He'd been working harder since he climbed out of the car in Homestead than he did during the regular season.

Looking around as his laptop pinged on, Dale realized he had everything he thought he'd ever wanted.

Recognition. Fame. Money. Acclaim.

Too bad he was alone in this hotel room, with no friends to hang out with, no girlfriend to call, no one to make this circus lifestyle a little more bearable.

Dale plopped down into his chair and logged into his email, quickly scrolling through the messages. Absently, he noted emails from Martin, the shop, a few fans, some online racing buddies…

And Alana Bickley.

His breath hitched slightly as he moused over and clicked to open her message.

A few seconds later, his breath whooshed out angrily.

Who the hell did she think she WAS, anyway? Talkin' to him that way, tellin' him he's…

INSECURE? HIM?

Quickly, he hit the reply button and his fingers began flying over the keyboard.

Alana--

I'm not fucking insecure!

--Dale

Dale sat back in his chair and reflected that maybe this wasn't the most mature email he'd ever sent. After a few seconds, he erased his words and tried again.

Alana--

I think you're way outta line. I ain't insecure, I'm just…

--Dale

He couldn't bring himself to admit what he was.

Painfully shy.

Terrified of rejection.

Scared he'd either always been alone, or have his life taken over by women.

He'd seen it happen to his friends time and time again…they met some chick, and suddenly the chick took over. It's like they had to ask permission to do anything. It's like…

Like they lose themselves.

Damned if that was going to happen to him.

After a moment, Dale tacked on two more lines then quickly hit send.

PS I get yelled at if I take a car on the streets. Done it once my first year, and my daddy nearly tanned my hide.

PPS When's the last time you let your hair down and quit talkin' like a psychologist?

**

Alana huffed in frustration as she stood at an email terminal on USC's campus and reread Dale's email. He was just what, she wanted to know.

She glanced at the clock and realized she had eight minutes to get across campus and into a lecture hall, where she was expected to be dazzling and informative.

Eight minutes…

Quickly, Alana hit "reply" and began typing furiously.

Dale,

You aren't insecure, you're just what? Scared? Insensitive? Insecure? You can tell me, I'll never tell a soul…

My personal gut opinion? You're painfully shy.

I want to help you. Really.

Sincerely,

Alana

PS Tanned your hide? My god, you really are from the South…

PPS About two hours ago. I was supposed to go to a symposium on new therapies in the mental field, and instead blew it off to go shopping. Don't tell anyone.

PPPS When's the last time you cried at a chick flick?

**

Dale stumbled out of bed and down to the kitchen, flicking on the coffeepot and idly watching it's caffeinated goodness drip into the carafe. Thumbing through his mail, he waited out the pot until there was at least a cup, then poured some out into his mug. Shuffling down the hall, he ducked into his office and sat down at one of his terminals.

Oh, no she didn't, he thought to himself as he read her email, unable to stop himself from smiling at her last line.

Here we go again, he thought, hitting reply.

Alana—

Real men don't cry.

(I saw that Steel Magnolias once, and kinda teared up when Julia Roberts died. That sucked.)

Fine. I'm fuckin' shy, alright?

--Dale

PS What are you wearing?

chapter eight