Finding chase, p.18
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       Finding Chase, p.18

           Lacey Weatherford
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  “You deserve the spot, Chase. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. We have lots of good players on the team, but regardless of class and age, the best man will always get first pick for the job. You showed great strength and determination during the practice season. Frankly, I’ve been thrilled to see you get this shot. I think you could really go places.”

  “Thanks. I enjoy playing. I promise to keep working hard, and I’m sorry for the drama that’s revolved around me.”

  “Not your fault. I’m sorry I had to sideline you until we discovered the results for sure.”

  “I understand. No hard feelings.”

  “Good. Now get outta here, so I can go home. I’ll see you at practice tomorrow.”

  “Will do. Have a good night.”

  I left the locker room feeling lighter than I had in a long time. I got in my truck and headed to the store for the oil Brittney suggested, grabbing a few other items I needed before checking out.

  Not wanting Brittney to worry about me, I decided to text her and explain why I was running so late. However, when I reached for my phone, I discovered it wasn’t in my pocket.

  “Great,” I muttered, patting my other pockets as I walked toward the parking lot. I must’ve left it in the truck. I popped the lock and looked in the cup holder, but it wasn’t there either, so I checked between and under the seats. “Where the hell did it go?”

  I mentally retraced my steps—trying to remember the last time I’d used it. It had been right before the Twister game when Coach had called, asking me to come by. I’d set it inside one of my shoes when I’d taken them off. I didn’t remember picking it up again. I must’ve fallen out there.

  Grumbling, I headed back toward the school. The place was completely deserted now, no evidence we’d been here earlier, other than some smashed grass. I parked and walked to where we’d sat. Here and there I noticed splotches of paint which hadn’t been washed away, and I grinned to myself. What a crazy night.

  Pausing at the stone bench, I bent to check underneath. Sure enough, there was my phone. I sighed in relief, grateful to have found it, and picked it up. The alert light was blinking, and I clicked it to see what I’d missed.

  There were several calls, actually, from Brett. I clicked open the dialer to call when my phone started buzzing again. It was him.

  “Hey, man,” I answered.

  “Where have you been? Why haven’t you answered your phone?” He sounded both relieved and agitated.

  “Sorry, bro. I lost it and had to retrace my steps to find it. I swear I barely picked it up when you called. What’s up?”

  Brett sighed heavily. “I have something to tell you, but I don’t want you to freak out, okay?”

  “That’s not going to help keep me calm.” I felt my nerves ratchet up a notch. “What’s wrong?”

  “Brittney was in a car accident on her way home.”

  The world dipped and swooned in front of me as memories from the night of Nikki’s accident crashed over me like tidal waves. I sat down on the bench with a thud. “How bad?” I felt sick—ready to vomit. Beads of sweat broke out on my forehead, and I started trembling.

  “I’m not sure yet. The officer on the phone said he couldn’t give me any information other than she was injured and had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. He said the accident happened about an hour ago.”

  Right after she’d left me. “Where’d they take her?”

  “Tempe St. Luke’s.”

  “I’ll be there in five minutes. Don’t you leave her alone, Brett. Do you hear me? Don’t you leave her alone!”

  “I’m already here—on my way into the emergency room right now.”

  “Tell her I’m coming.” I ended the call, standing to head blindly toward my truck before switching directions and running toward one of the stationary garbage bins near the sidewalk.

  I puked.

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  I checked in with the lady at the emergency room desk. “I’m here to see my girlfriend who was brought in by ambulance.” I couldn’t make my voice stop shaking. “She was in a car accident.”

  She directed me to the rows of empty chairs and said she’d let someone know. Brett must’ve already gone back, and there was no way in hell I was going to sit here doing nothing, so I went into the bathroom nearby to rinse my mouth and splash some water on my face.

  “Get a grip, Walker,” I said to my reflection as I dripped over the sink. There was a knot in my throat I couldn’t swallow, and tears were close to the surface. It was all I could do to hold it together.

  I dried my face and returned to the waiting room. I tried dialing Brett’s number, but it went straight to message. I walked toward the desk to ask again, but the receptionist stood before I got there, stepping around the corner out of sight. I waited for her to return.

  “Marge,” I heard her speak to an unseen individual. “I have a young man here who wants to see his girlfriend. She was brought in by ambulance from the car accident.”

  “Is she the one who died? I’ll need to get the doctor,” a new voice answered. My mouth went dry, and my tongue suddenly seemed swollen. I thought I was going to vomit again.

  No, no, no, NO! My blood roared in my ears, drowning all other sound, and I ran outside, barely clearing the doorway before I was overtaken with great gulping sobs. My heart was being ripped from my chest . . . again.

  I felt like someone was punching me repeatedly in the gut as I hurried to my truck, desperate to escape, but instead, I halted when I reached it, bracing myself. In my mind I saw Nikki, Brittney, Nikki, the images flashing back and forth as if they were being clicked with a repeat button.

  “I . . . I . . . I can’t do this again! I won’t survive this time!” I was going to explode. My heart pounded in my ears, and I didn’t know what to do—I only knew I was going to lose it.

  When had I let it happen? When had I broken my own rule to never let someone get this close? There was a reason I’d erected all these defenses—a reason I’d wanted to keep people at arm’s length, but no—love had snuck in again with Brittney. She’d already been there, so I let my guard down. I’d set myself up to fall—to be traumatized the same way I had before. I couldn’t do it—couldn’t. I’d rather die.

  I dropped to my knees, slumping over as I grabbed my hair in my fists. “Why?” I screamed into the night air, not caring who might hear me. “Why does this keep happening? What the hell have I done to deserve this?” I wrapped my arms around my waist rocking back and forth. “I can’t take anymore!” I shouted. “Do you hear me? God! Whoever you are—whoever is controlling this damn sinking ship—stop doing this!”

  I was livid—so incredibly furious! I slammed my fist repeatedly against the pavement; wanting to beat the shit out of something—anything—beat it until I was dead. “Why? Why? Why? Somebody answer me, dammit!”

  My chin trembled as I shuddered. I wanted the hurt inside to stop. I’d deluded myself into believing I was healed—I had successful moved on—but it wasn’t true. I was still a mess, a puddle of weeping misery with no hope for the future. I couldn’t go on like this. It was killing me—eating me from the inside out.

  I growled as I smashed my hand into the ground one more time splitting my knuckles open. “I’m done, Nikki,” I spoke angrily. “I’ve done everything I promised you I would . . . did everything you thought I should do. You told me life would get better, not worse. You lied to me—in the worst way possible—a lie that’s taking me apart piece by piece. I’m not any better. I’m going insane because of all this, and now I’m dying the worst kind of death—the death of my soul. I fell in love with her, Nikki! I fell in love with her. She means everything to me—do you hear me—everything, and now she’s just like you. I friggin’ kill everything I touch! It would be better if no one had ever met me! Why is this happening again?”

  I knelt there, tears dripping to the pavement, hiccupping from crying, waiting, wishing, hoping to hear an answer, but the only sounds
were of my heavy breathing and traffic rushing by on the street. All I could see was my eyelashes clumped from tears and the blurred ground in front of me. I couldn’t even move to get up. I was exhausted . . . spent.

  “Chase?” I heard Brett’s voice behind me, but I was afraid to turn and look at him. “Are you okay? The hospital staff said you were in the waiting room, but I didn’t see you.” I felt his hand on my shoulder. “Talk to me, man.”

  I didn’t look up. “I can’t do this again, Brett. I’m sorry, I can’t.”

  He crouched beside me. “Dude, I know you’ve been to hell and back with stuff like this—that’s why I was afraid to call you. Honestly, man, it’s nothing to be upset over. They said she might need ten stitches is all.”

  I yanked my head up, my heart racing a million miles a minute. I didn’t dare to hope. “She’s okay?”

  “Yeah. It was a fairly minor accident—not her fault. She t-boned a car that didn’t stop at a sign. Her airbag deployed, and she split the top of her head open against the visor somehow. It bled a lot, but once they cleaned it up, it wasn’t as bad as it looked. They said her x-ray was good too.

  I grabbed him by the shoulders. “Take me to her now.” I heard what he was saying, but I was afraid to believe until I saw her with my own eyes. I followed as we hurried into the waiting room. The receptionist was at the desk once again, and she waved us through, clicking a button, which opened the doors into the emergency area. “Where is she?” I asked.

  “She’s in trauma four,” Brett replied.

  I ran, without knowing where I was going in the massive place. I started following the numbers overhead.

  “Turn left,” Brett instructed, keeping pace with me.

  There it was, number four. I hurried through the glass doors, brushed the privacy curtain aside, and saw Brittney—my Brittney—reclined on the exam bed with a gash on her forehead and blood splatters in her hair.

  “Chase.” She smiled softly, reaching for me.

  I ran to her, grabbing her face in my hands, and I kissed her—hard. “You’re all right,” I managed to choke out and kissed her again. “Am I hurting you?” I kissed her again, and she started laughing when I stepped back to run my hands over her, checking her.

  “I’m okay, really.”

  “Your arms and neck are bruised,” I stated, pausing to kiss them too.

  “Airbag,” she replied simply. “Talk to me, Chase. You’ve been crying, I can tell. I’m so sorry. I know this probably did a real number on you.”

  “I’m okay . . . now. I overhead some of the staff talking about a girl who’d been in a car accident, and they said she’d died. I thought I had lost you too. I wanted to die myself.” I took her face and kissed her again, deeply this time, a bit frantic at first but then slower and more languid.

  “Breathe,” she instructed me when I pulled away. “Everything is going to be fine.” She stroked the side of my face, and I leaned into her embrace, incredibly grateful for her touch.

  I placed my hand over hers, holding it there against me, briefly closing my eyes to marvel in the feel of her. A tear escaped, running down my cheek, and she brushed it away. “I don’t ever want to lose you.”

  “You won’t. I’ll be here as long as you want me.” Her thumb continued to move against my cheek.

  “I’ll always want you—always.” An idea struck me, and I ran with it. “Let’s get married, Britt.” I heard Brett make a choking sound behind me.

  Her eyes widened, and she laughed in surprise. “Are you serious? You know you aren’t supposed to make life-altering decisions when you’re under stress. I think this qualifies as one of those times.”

  “That may be true,” I replied stepping closer, so I could take her face in my hands again. “But I already know how much I love you, and I don’t ever want to be apart again . . . ever. Let’s do it.”

  “You are serious! We’re only nineteen,” she squeaked glancing over at Brett before looking back. “What will our families say? We’ve barely started college! And there’s your football career.”

  “None of it means anything without you. I’ve learned life is too short to keep hoping for someday to arrive. If you need time, then we’ll take time—get married in a year, after we both turn twenty. Whatever, I don’t care. I just want to know you’re mine.”

  “I am yours already. There’s never been any doubt about that for me.”

  I bent and kissed her lips. “Then say yes. I’ve never wanted anything in my life as much as I want you.” I knew the words were the truth when I spoke them. It amazed me how much things had changed in the last few months.

  Her eyes misted as she stared at me, searching. “Do you really mean that?”

  “Every single bit. I love you, Brittney, more than anything.”

  She kissed me this time, and I loved the feel of her against my mouth. She pulled away, nodding as tears slowly fell. “Then yes, I’ll marry you.”

  I couldn’t help the smile spreading over my face. “You’re amazing. Please remember this answer when I ask you for real—with all the candlelight and romance. I don’t want you to tell our kids about my lame proposal in an emergency room.” I leaned in to kiss her again, but she placed her fingers over my lips, stopping me.

  “Don’t you dare propose to me again, Chase Walker. This is the most romantic scenario than any girl could ever dream. It’s perfect.” She grinned. “I want to tell our kids about this.”

  We were talking about kids—our kids. Incredible. “Well, then at least let me give you a fancy celebration dinner.” I brushed my thumb across her beautiful lips, noting the bits of bruising on her face too. Even injured she was still the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.

  “I can do that, I guess.” We kissed again, but were interrupted when the nurse came in to check on her. I stepped away so she could take her vitals and turned to glance at Brett who was beaming.

  He clapped me in a bear hug. “Welcome to the family, bro.”

  “It’s gonna be brothers for real now,” I replied with a grin.

  “I gotta say—I’m thrilled. It may have happened sooner than I expected, but I’m really happy for you both. You’re good together.”

  “I love her, man. I promise I’ll take good care of her,” I said stepping away.

  “I know you will, or I’ll kick your butt.” We both laughed.

  “Hey, do you have some tape and a pen I could borrow real quick?” I asked the nurse. She gave me a funny look but handed me some from her pocket. I wrote on the tape and broke a piece off, going around to the other side of the bed. I took Brittney’s hand and wrapped it around her ring finger.

  She laughed and lifted it so she could see it.

  “It says, reserved for Chase.” I grabbed her hand and kissed it. She laughed, clasping her other hand to her heart as she studied it.

  The nurse lifted her eyebrows in question. “Did I miss something?”

  “Yep,” Brittney said with a grin. “We just got engaged.”


  4 years later-

  I brushed her hair away from her damp forehead. “You’re beautiful. You know that, right?”

  She grimaced, panting. “I don’t believe you.”

  “Well, you should. I don’t think I’ve seen you look prettier than you do right now.”

  She moaned louder. “Another one is starting. I can feel it.”

  I grabbed her leg and helped push her knee back like her mom was doing on the other side.

  “Here we go!” the doctor said. “Now push! Yes, come on, come on, come on. Keep going, a little longer. Keep going!”

  “I can’t. I can’t! It’s too hard! I’m too tired!” she exclaimed.

  “Come on, Brittney. You can do this. You’re tough. Don’t give up now!” I encouraged.

  “I can see the head crowning. We’re almost there!” the doctor said. “One more big push should do it.”

  “You can do it, babe. Come on!”

  Brittney scru
nched her face up and bore down hard, her pretty features turning red from the effort.

  “Yes, yes!” the doctor called. “Here it comes!”

  The baby’s head popped out, and the doctor quickly turned it, allowing the rest of the body to easily slide into his waiting hands.

  “It’s a girl!” he pronounced confirming what we’d been told during our ultrasound months earlier. “Congratulations! You’re both officially parents!”

  I couldn’t help my proud smile as I bent over to kiss my wife on the forehead. “She’s here! You did it. You were amazing.”

  She squeezed my hand and started crying. We both turned to stare as the baby uttered a very healthy wail. “She’s so pretty,” she choked.

  “Future cheerleader—like her mom. Would you listen to those lungs?” I grinned happily.

  “Is daddy cutting the cord?” the nurse asked.

  “Yes, I am,” I replied, taking the scissors she handed me. I tried not to shake as I carefully cut between the two clamps.

  The nurse wiped the baby off with a towel before picking her up and moving to the warmer while the doctor continued to attend to Brittney. I watched as they weighed and cleaned her up better. She was so tiny, flailing her little fingers and toes while she cried and kicked about.

  I had a daughter. She was never going to be allowed to date. So help me if a boy even came near her, I was pulling out my shotgun.

  The nurse swaddled her nice and tight in a blanket and handed her to me. “I’ll let daddy take this sweet girl to her mommy.”

  I was terrified—so afraid I’d drop her. She was so small, nuzzling against me trustingly, and I realized I was responsible for her. It was up to me to make sure she was loved and cared for—had the best life I could give her. It was overwhelming. I lifted her up and placed a kiss against her forehead. How was it possible to love someone this instantly?

  “You look really good with her,” Brittney said softly, an exhausted smile splayed across her face. “Thick as thieves already, I can see.”

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