Finding chase, p.3
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       Finding Chase, p.3

           Lacey Weatherford
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  She rolled her eyes as she licked her fingers. “It’s not like you don’t have two dozen on the seat next to you. Are you really going to miss four?”

  I grinned. “No. I just like messing with you.”

  “Why?” She looked truly puzzled.

  “Because you make it so easy. You know Brett and I sit around and think of ways we can torment you, don’t you?”

  “I do. That’s why I try to ignore most things the two of you say.” She took another cookie from the bag. “I was done, but I’m going to eat one more to spite you.”

  Laughing, I reached for another myself. “Go right ahead. I’m not the one who’ll be in the gym complaining about it later.”

  She stared at her dessert. “You’re right. Do you want this?”

  “I was kidding.” I shook my head. “You couldn’t get fat if you tried.”

  “That’s what you think.” She frowned a little. “Matt’s always telling me how fat I am.”

  “Then you should definitely eat the cookie because Matt’s a douche. I never could figure out how you ended up with such a jerk. Why do you stay with him?”

  “He’s not that bad.” She stared out the window but didn’t defend him anymore.

  “If he’s so wonderful, why isn’t he here helping you move today?”

  She shrugged. “I guess he figured you and Brett had it covered.”

  “Have you seen him since he moved down there?”

  She shook her head. “No. He said he was too busy to make the trip home. He calls almost every day, though.”

  “Almost every day?” I snorted. “Dump him, Britt. He’s not worth your time. Any guy who doesn’t try to get in touch with you every day isn’t as into you as he should be.”

  She bit her lip and looked at me, tiny lines creasing between her brows. “He calls everyday when we’re in the same town.”

  I was skeptical. “And what kinds of things does he say to you? Is there a romantic under the idiot?” I’d never been quiet about my opinion of Matt.

  “No, not really. He usually wants to know what I’m wearing.”

  “Excuse me? What you’re wearing? Oh, wait. This isn’t about some sexy booty call, is it? If so, I don’t want to hear anymore.”

  She shrugged, and started examining one of her hands. “It’s not anything like that. Sometimes he doesn’t like the clothes I choose.”

  I was dumbfounded for a moment as I tried to process this. “Are you saying he calls you and tells you what to wear?”

  She didn’t answer.

  “Come on! You’ve got to be kidding me! Please don’t tell me you actually listen to this jerk.” I paused, and when she didn’t say anything I continued on, my eyes widening as I stared at her incredulously. “You’ve actually changed your clothes for him?”

  “He is my boyfriend. I should look nice for him. If it means I have to change a few times to please him . . . never mind. You don’t understand,” she responded quietly.

  “You’re right. I don’t. And I’m betting you don’t either. Have you looked at yourself in a mirror, Britt? You’re gorgeous—stunning even. Any guy you’re dating should feel like the luckiest person in the world to have you on his arm. I don’t care if you’re walking around wearing a paper bag.”

  She half laughed, half snorted. “Whatever, Chase.”

  “I’m totally serious. I’ve always thought you were one of the prettiest girls I’ve ever seen. Don’t let some jerk bully you around and make you feel less than you are. I’m not saying this to be mean, or because I don’t like him.” I glanced back to the road. “But I am a guy, and I know what I’m talking about. When I was with Nikki . . . ,” I trailed off, realizing what I’d said.

  “You two were perfect for each other,” she replied softly. “I’ll never forget how crazy she was about you. She spoke of you nonstop.”

  “Really?” My interest was piqued as she successfully diverted my focus. I craved hearing more. “What did she say?”

  “You know, the usual . . . how much she loved you, how amazing you are, did we see your arms in the shirt you wore . . that kind of stuff.”

  I chuckled. “My arms?”

  “She had a serious thing for your biceps. She said they were so strong, and she loved the feel of them when you held her.”

  “Hmmm . . . interesting. I never knew she noticed. What else did she tell you?” I wanted to hear everything she could tell me.

  “Well, there was this one day . . . oh, never mind. I can’t tell you about it.”

  Worry shot through me. Was there something about Nikki I didn’t know?

  “Why can’t you?” I asked, determined to find out what it was.

  “She swore Tana and me to secrecy. She said she’d die . . . .” she paused uncomfortably, “said she’d die if you found out. I’m sorry. That was a poor choice of words.”

  “Don’t feel bad. Tell me what it was,” I encouraged.

  “Chase, I’m feeling like this might not be the best thing to talk about right now. I know you’ve struggled, and I don’t want to say anything that would hurt your feelings.”

  I glanced over. “Now you’re scaring me. I have these horrible things running through my mind now. Pull off the Band-aid fast, and tell me.”

  “She went and bought a bunch of bridal magazines and made us look at dresses with her while she planned her dream wedding, with you as the groom, of course.”

  “Honestly? She talked about marrying me?” I couldn’t help my initial grin, but it was quickly followed by the realization it was a wedding that would never happen.

  She laid her hand on my shoulder and squeezed slightly. “I’m sorry. Now you know why I didn’t want to tell you.”

  “No, it’s okay, really.” I rubbed a hand over my face. “I have to say, it’s nice to hear some new things about her. Everyone is super sensitive about the subject around me—not that I make it easy—but I find myself missing being able to talk to people about her. I’m tired of hearing everyone is sorry she’s dead. I keep getting these sympathetic looks and condolences. Lying in a casket six feet under isn’t the way I want to remember her. I want to remember her alive and vibrant. That was my Nikki—so extremely full of life. Those are the stories I want to hear. I miss her.”

  Brittney dropped her hand from my shoulder and was silent for a moment. “I’m sorry, Chase. I had no idea you felt that way. We’ve been trying not to talk about her because we didn’t want to hurt you.”

  “I know, but having all of you avoid the subject has left me alone in a really dark place. I’m not doing very well by myself.”

  “What can I do?” she asked, concerned. “We all love you—you know that—we’d do anything to help you through this.”

  “Talk to me like you used too. No more walking around on egg shells. I hate when we are having a good time together and someone brings up Nikki, and it gets quiet, and everyone looks at me. I want things to be normal—like they were before she died. We used to joke around and razz each other about everything. Quit treating me like I’m so fragile I’m gonna break.”

  “We did think you were going to break for a while. It was scary.”

  I glanced over. “What do you mean?”

  “We thought you were suicidal. Brett and I were worried you might do something to hurt yourself.” She paused and waited. When I didn’t reply, she continued. “Were we right? Did you want to die?”

  I snorted. “Every single day. I’d even started planning how I’d do it.”

  She closed her eyes, as if what I was telling her was too painful to hear. “Why didn’t you?”

  “Her mom let me read her journal. There was a letter to me in there. She went on and on about how much she loved me, how I was amazing and wonderful.” I recalled her words perfectly—I’d reread them so many times. “She told me to never give up—she was proud of me and my accomplishments. After that, I felt like I would be letting her down—if I kill myself, I’m not the guy she thought I was. Maybe it’s silly
, but I don’t want to disappoint her anymore than I have.”

  “It’s not silly, and I think she must be proud of you.”

  I sighed, scanning the view in front of us before gazing up at the sky for a moment. “You think she’s still out there somewhere?”

  “I do, and she’s probably watching over you every second. She loved you a lot.”

  The emotion was getting too thick again, and I could feel the panic starting to rise. “Tell me something happy about her,” I pleaded. I needed to change the solemn mood.

  “Ok. Let me think.” She leaned against the headrest. “From any time?”

  “Sure.” I just wanted her to talk.

  “Well, Tana has known her longer, of course, so they’ve always been the best of best friends. They adopted me later on when I moved to Silver Creek in middle school. Tana didn’t really care for me at first, because one of the boys she liked started paying attention to me. She was determined to give me the cold shoulder, but Nikki kept inviting me to do stuff with them. It was a little awkward at first, but eventually Tana warmed up.”

  “Did you steal her guy?” I asked with a snicker.

  “Yes, I did, but it didn’t matter because soon she only had eyes for Brett. Did you know they were a couple back then too?”

  “Yeah, he told me. Nikki and I conspired to set them up again.” Thinking about it made me smile.

  “It doesn’t surprise me. Nikki was probably one of the most incurable romantics I know.” She laughed. “She always wanted her white knight to come in and sweep her off her feet.”

  I grimaced. “And she got me instead.”

  She punched me in the shoulder. “Whatever! You were totally her white knight.”

  I scoffed, sending her an offended look. “Are you saying I can’t tan? I totally can. Look at these arms—brown.”

  She giggled. “You know what I mean. You were perfect for her. Besides, I don’t think farmer tans count as real tans.”

  “Oh, I’m officially wounded! You did not just say I have a farmer tan!”

  “If the shoe fits . . . ,” she trailed off, clearly challenging me.

  I lifted the hem of my shirt, displaying my brown stomach, making sure I flexed too, so she could clearly see my abs. “This is not a farmer tan.”

  Her eyes widened, and she stared for a second before looking quickly away. “Impressive,” she said, her face flushing with color. “Put your shirt down, Walker. There’s no need for nudity to prove your point.”

  I dropped it back in place. There was suddenly a weird tension, and I wasn’t entirely sure I liked it. I cleared my throat. “So you admit you’re wrong?” I asked, trying to move past the awkwardness.

  Her face colored again, and she turned her head farther away, staring through the window at the scenery. “Yes,” she said quietly. “You look very nice.”

  “Nice.” I cringed. “That word has to be like the kiss of death or something. It’s been my experience, whenever girls use nice, it’s not a good thing.”

  She locked eyes with me and slapped her hands to her cheeks. “Oh my gosh, Chase! You have the most amazing tan I’ve ever seen!” she exclaimed, before dropping them into her lap again. “There. Is that better?” she added in a totally normal voice.

  I laughed loud. “Much better. Thank you.”

  She shook her head. “You’re such a nerd.”

  “But you love me!” I said, reaching to grab her knee playfully.

  “I do.” She smiled, covering my hand with hers and squeezing. “I like hearing you laugh. I’ve missed it.”

  Her comment gave me pause, and I couldn’t recall feeling this content for several months. I was glad she’d ridden with me today.

  I grasped her hand tighter before releasing it and retuning mine to the wheel. “Thanks for talking to me, Britt. It’s really helped. I know you’ll be spending a lot of time with the blind and dumb . . .” I laughed when she gave me a puzzled look, “I mean Matt . . . when we get to Tempe, but don’t be a stranger, okay? I like having you around. I wish everyone was super chill like you.”

  She smiled. “I’m cool like that, and since we’re living right next door to each other, I’m sure we’ll still see each other plenty. I’ll probably be over often to drag Tana off Brett. She may need constant reminding which house is hers.”

  “Or vice versa,” I added with a chuckle.

  “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they’re into each other, but there have been a few times I could’ve used some bleach for my eyes.”

  “So you don’t care for public displays of affection?” I asked, knowing exactly what she was referring to, since I’d witnessed them together many times.

  She shrugged. “Normally it doesn’t bother me, but he’s my brother . . . ick.”

  “Why don’t you return the favor then? Make out with Matt in front of them.”

  “That’s okay . . . really.” She gave a half laugh as she pondered it over. “It would serve them right, but Matt definitely isn’t the P.D.A. type.”

  “Totally reaffirms my opinion that he’s a loser,” I replied. “Why make your girl wait for some affection? Why make yourself wait? Stupid. Just do it. If people don’t like it, they don’t have to look.”

  “That’s one thing I’ve always really liked about you.”

  “What?” I asked, confused. “That I’ll make out in public?”

  “No, that you’ll do whatever you want to do without caring what other people will think about it. It’s a rare quality. So many of us allow ourselves to be dictated by fear of someone else’s opinion.”

  I shrugged. “I think it’s my life—I ought to be the one who lives it.” She was wrong, though. I might do whatever I wanted, but it didn’t mean I was completely fearless. There were lots of things that made me feel nervous or insecure. I tried not to let those things show or get in my way too often.

  “Well, I agree, and I like it.”

  “Glad I have your approval.”

  “You do.” She patted my arm briefly. “You’re a good duck.”

  Ducks. Instantly, I was in Nikki’s bathroom once again, watching her brush her teeth while I teased her about the rubber ducks in the tub.

  I tried not to sigh. Everything reminded me of Nikki.

  Chapter Five

  Two days later, I glanced around my room with satisfaction, staring at Nikki's picture placed in its new home next to Turk. Other than a couple boxes of odds and ends, I was pretty much unpacked.

  The apartment didn't resemble the typical bachelor pad, thanks to my mom giving me all her furniture since Greg’s house was fully furnished. I doubted many college coeds could boast of massive overstuffed leather couches complete with a coffee table, end tables, lamps, rug and a matching entertainment center with big screen TV and state of the art surround sound. If it weren't for the fact the pictures on the walls consisted of sports or band posters stuck up with tacks and tape, it would've looked like we had a designer come in. Mom had set us up with our entire kitchen and dining supplies too.

  I chuckled as I remembered her words.

  “There will be no traditional college wooden spool tables or shelves made out of crates for my son.”

  “But mom,” I'd replied with a grin. “That's half the fun, scavenging for useful things. You're robbing me of my college experience.”

  “Trust me, Chase. Scavenging sucks. Plus, you never know where those things have been. You can't possibly properly sterilize them, either. It's gross.”

  “True, but if we have a wild party, all this nice furniture could get ruined. If I have crappy stuff to start with, then it won't matter if it gets busted.”

  “Precisely, which is why you won't be having any wild parties. This is part of your inheritance—I won't be buying you more later on. So unless you want destroyed furniture, I suggest you take care of it.”

  I laughed. “Is this your way of trying to ensure I behave while I'm gone?”

  She snorted. “You, behave? Is that even a po

  “Remember, I’m reformed now.”

  “You might be, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the college is.”

  I hugged her tightly. “You know I'll take care of it because Dad bought most of it. As for the rest, I give no guarantees.”

  “I guess I'll have to settle for that," she grumbled, hugging me back. "But at least promise me you'll be careful. It's going to be hard for me without you around.”

  Things had grown serious then. “I'll miss you too . . . a lot.”

  I grabbed my keys off the dresser and left my apartment, almost bumping straight into Brittney as she left hers. She was dressed in a tiny, blue bikini top, cut off shorts, and flip-flops. I couldn’t help letting my gaze wander over her fabulous figure.

  “Wow! You’re looking pretty good today.” I chuckled. I wasn’t used to seeing her quite this stripped down. “Where you headed?”

  She smiled. “To my new job.”

  “Dressed like that?” I clasped my hands together. “Please tell me you got a job at Hooters! I swear I’ll come eat there every day to support you.”

  “No.” She laughed, shaking her head. “I’m working as a waitress for a restaurant called Poppy’s Grill. He has a niece who has cancer. They’re doing a fundraiser carwash today to help with medical expenses. I’m going there. You should bring your pickup, and get it washed.”

  “I’d be happy to,” I replied, thinking of Nikki’s dad who’d also died of cancer. It was a devastating disease. “Where’s this place?”

  She dug into her purse and pulled out a business card. “The address is on here. You and Brett should try the restaurant too. Tana and I ate there the other night when I applied. It’s really good.”

  “Sounds awesome. I’ll definitely come by after I’m done with weights this morning.”

  “Okay, see you later then.” She started to walk away, and I stared after her.

  “If you have a break maybe you can eat with me,” I called out, spur of the moment.

  She turned and grinned while walking backward. “If I’m not too wet and dirty, I’d like that.” She continued on her way, and I stood there appreciating the view from the backside as well.

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