Finding chase, p.4
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       Finding Chase, p.4

           Lacey Weatherford
 
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  I’d always thought she was smokin’ hot, but gradually she’d become more like a sister, especially as my relationship developed with Nikki. But seeing her like this today reminded me she wasn’t my sister in any capacity. It kind of scared me to feel such a sharp flicker of interest. I thought that part of me had long been dead and buried.

  Sighing, I rubbed a hand over my face. There was no way I could think of a relationship with Brittney. Besides the fact I was done with putting my heart through the ringer, she wasn’t available, and even if she was, there was no way I was willing to risk our friendship. She was too important to me. If things went badly, I’d lose all of that.

  My phone buzzed in my pocket and I pulled it out. Dude, where R U? the text from Brett read.

  Leaving the house.

  Ok. Wanted 2 make sure U were up. Tana dropped me off here after breakfast with her mom & dad, so she has her car now. Britt is using mine 4 the day.

  Figured as much. Just saw her leaving with it. On my way. See U in a few.

  I pulled into the long line of waiting vehicles. Brett and I got out, handing the keys and a wad of cash to a soaking wet girl who was standing there with a clipboard.

  “Looks like we’ll be waiting here for a while,” Brett said. “Shall we try the food?”

  “Sure,” I replied absently as I scanned the busy parking lot looking for Brittney. I found her working hard on a sleek new Mustang while some guy leaned against it ogling the view. I figured he was probably the owner of the car, but it still irritated me for some reason. “There’s Britt.” I gave Brett a nudge and nodded in her direction. “Let’s go talk to her.”

  “Hey hottie,” I said, grabbing her around the waist as she leaned over a bucket of soapy water. She squealed before I set her back on her feet.

  “Chase!” She slapped me on the shoulder with her wet sponge, soaking my shirtsleeve. “You scared me to death!”

  I laughed. “And now you got me all wet. I should dump this bucket over your head.”

  “Don’t you dare!” She backed away. “Besides, it serves you right for scaring me like that.”

  “I won’t.” I grinned, noticing the guy was frowning at me. “Can you take a break, and come eat with us? Tana will be bringing her car any minute too.”

  “Yeah, they’re rotating us in and out. I need to go check and see if it’s okay if I do it now, though.”

  “Um, can someone finish washing my car at least? I paid good money for this,” the man said, appearing irritated.

  “Oh, I’d never leave without finishing, sir. Sorry,” Brittney quickly spoke up.

  I grabbed her sponge. “You go talk to your manager about lunch. I’ll take care of it.” I dipped it into the bucket, knelt down and started working. Brett grabbed another one and joined me.

  “I’d rather the girl take care of it,” the guy said in a huffy tone as Brittney walked away.

  “And I’d rather you quit ogling my girlfriend like she’s a piece of meat,” I responded without looking up from my task. Brett cast a surprised glance in my direction.

  The guy cleared his throat uncomfortably, but didn’t say another word as Brett and I finished soaping and rinsing the remaining bumper section Brittney hadn’t done yet.

  “There you go!” Brett said as we stepped away. “Looks like my sister did a good job on the rest.”

  The man glanced between us, grumbling something under his breath before getting in his car and driving away.

  “Pervert,” Brett muttered.

  “He’s old enough to be her dad. He was only here looking for some action.”

  “Well, at least they got his money, right?” Brett elbowed me, and we threw the sponges in the bucket.

  “I can go eat right now,” Brittney said as she returned. “But we’ll need to sit on the outdoor pavilion, because I’m not dressed appropriately to be inside, and I’m too dirty.”

  “Sounds hot,” I said as I glanced toward the building. Summers here in the Valley of the Sun were blistering.

  “It’s not too bad. They have misters to help keep things cool.” She led the way to the country themed patio. Several antique-bronzed metal tables and chairs sat under a ceiling of spaced, dark-stained wooden beams. Vines had grown from strategically placed pots, creeping around the posts and through the roof overhead, creating a nice canopy of filtered shade. Britt gestured toward a table for us. “This okay?”

  “Looks good to me,” I said, holding a chair for her before sitting between her and Brett.

  “So have things been this busy all day?” Brett asked, staring at the long line of cars backed out of the parking lot and down the side of the street.

  “Yeah, it’s been incredible. It’s great to see the outpouring of love for this little girl. I got to meet her yesterday. She’s precious. I think they’re going to bring her here later.”

  “How bad is she?” Brett asked.

  Brittney shook her head and lowered her voice. “I don’t think there’s any hope, really. They’re simply trying to make the best of the time they have with her.”

  The old anger at death began to raise its ugly head, crowding me with the helpless feeling I always dreaded. I’d seen it tear up the lives of too many people. I was sick of hearing about it happening to others. I was sick of it happening to me. I was happy when the waitress interrupted us to take our order.

  “Hi, Brittney. What can I get you and your friends to drink?”

  I flicked a glance up, pausing when I saw a stunning brunette. When she smiled, my gaze settled on her mouth, and I was captivated. There was something about her that reminded me of Nikki.

  “Hey, Jennifer. This is my twin brother, Brett, and one of our best friends, Chase Walker.”

  “Pleasure to meet you both,” she said as she handed us menus.

  “Nice to meet you,” I replied with a nod, dragging my stare from her lips to her eyes with some effort.

  “Oh, and you remember my friend, Tana, from the other night,” Brittney added as Tana approached the table with a wave.

  “I do. Hi, again.”

  Tana smiled and seated herself next to Brett. Pushing her black hair behind her ear, she leaned to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Sorry I’m late. It took forever to find a parking spot.”

  “No worries. We were just getting started.”

  Their voices faded away into the background while I studied Jennifer, trying to figure out exactly what it was that reminded me of Nikki. She was about the same height and body type, maybe somewhat taller, but her eyes were green. Her brown hair was pulled into a ponytail, but looked like it might be around the same length—it was definitely the same shade. Her face was slightly rounder—she smiled at me again holding her pen poised. There it was—something about that smile, the way her plump lips curved, the corners angling upward as if she smiled a lot.

  “Chase?” Brittney nudged me, and I looked at her.

  “What?”

  “Jennifer asked you what you want to drink.”

  “Oh, sorry. The heat is getting to me I guess,” I lied.

  Jennifer laughed, and it was a nice sound. “Let me help you with that.”

  I lifted an eyebrow, and she laughed again.

  “Your drink?”

  “Right. I’ll take water, as cold as you’ve got it.”

  “Done. I’ll be back in a minute to get your food order.”

  I watched her walk away, trying to imagine she was Nikki.

  Brett’s laughter drew my attention. “Is that the rise of the old female predator I see going on there?”

  “What do you mean?” I asked.

  “I mean you’re staring at that girl like she’s candy. I haven’t seen that part of you in a long time.”

  “Actually, something about her reminds me of Nikki.”

  “Really?”

  Everyone turned to stare.

  “I don’t see it,” Brittney said.

  “I do,” Tana added. “Something about the way she smiles,
and she has the same coloring.”

  “Exactly.” I gave a sigh and leaned back in my chair, happy to know my mind wasn’t playing tricks on me.

  Brett squeezed my shoulder. “Keep your chin up, bro. Things will get better eventually.”

  Nodding, I picked up my menu and began reading. I didn’t know if it would ever be possible.

  Chapter Six

  Another week went by, and things were starting to fall into a regular schedule for me. Basically, my life consisted of a lot of weight training and football practice, followed by weekends at home to help my mom with wedding preparations. If I ever had down time, I was either sleeping, playing video games, or surfing the internet—like I was tonight. I was turning into a boring old lady.

  “Hey, man,” Brett said, sticking his head in my doorway. “Brittney and Tana are here. They want to know if we’d like to go get some dinner with them tonight.”

  “Um, sure. Let me grab a hat and get my shoes on. I thought Brittney was going on a date with Matt tonight.”

  Brett shrugged. “He called and cancelled. I guess he had to work late. He rescheduled for tomorrow.”

  I shook my head as I walked to my closet. “The guy's an idiot. He better be straight up with her. I'll pound his face if he's messing around.”

  “I'll be right there beside you. She is my sister after all.”

  “Well, she feels like mine too. I don't want her getting hurt.”

  Brett stared for moment before clapping his hand on my back. “You're a good guy, Chase. Thanks for watching out for her.”

  “Any time. She’s important to me. We had a good visit on the way down here, and I enjoyed spending some one-on-one time with her.”

  “Did you now?” Brett asked, and I noticed the mischievous twinkle in his eyes before he turned and walked through the door.

  “Oh, come on, man. You know what I mean. It’s not like that between Britt and me. She’s one of the guys.”

  “Don’t let her hear you call her that. She might punch you.” He laughed.

  “I meant it as a compliment. I like that I can hang and chill with her and not have it be weird.”

  “Not have what be weird?” Tana asked as we walked into the living room.

  Damn. I forgot the girls were here. “Nothing. I was telling Brett how fun it is to be with the two of you and not have it feel strange.” I gave her a hug and then Brittney.

  “Why would it be like that?” She wasn’t letting it go.

  “No reason. How’s your apartment looking? Did you finally get everything decorated like you wanted? I know you’ve both been shopping a lot lately.” Girls were pickier about how they designed things. Our apartment had been done within two days. They’d been rearranging and fixing things since we moved in. Everything had to be exactly right.

  “We did. You want to see it really quick before we go?” Brittney answered.

  “Sure,” I said with a shrug. “There’s no rush.”

  She hooked her arm in mine, and Brett draped his around Tana as they led us next door. Their apartment was the exact mirror replica of ours, only it looked like a Better Homes and Gardens magazine exploded in the place. I’d helped my mom with enough staging in the homes she was selling to know this design style was considered shabby chic. It was done in whites, soft pinks and blues, with distressed wood pieces. It actually felt very homey.

  “Wow. This is great,” I said, really meaning it. “Martha Stewart would be proud.”

  Brett punched me. “Dude, you sound like a girl. You’re gonna get killed in football if you talk like that.”

  I laughed and rubbed my shoulder. “What have I told you about punching my throwing arm? Besides, it’s not my fault my mom talks about home décor all the time.”

  “It’s the fact you actually listen I’m worried about.” He gave me a suspicious looking glance.

  “I think it’s sweet,” Brittney said coming to my defense, squeezing my arm. “Don’t listen to him, Chase.”

  “See, she gets it.”

  “Come see my room, and tell me what you think of it.” She started dragging me down the hall.

  “And it’s getting me into her room,” I replied as we left. “Where did your knowledge get you?”

  “I don’t need knowledge to get me into Tana’s room.” He grinned.

  Tana slapped his chest, and Brittney and I laughed.

  “Doesn’t look like you’ll be in there any time soon, bro.”

  Brittney opened the door and pulled me into her space. I didn’t really notice the rest of her room, because the pictures on her wall caught my attention immediately. She’d enlarged some of her cheerleading pictures and had them mounted. There were three oversized ones of her, and mingled into the rest of the collage were multiple ones of her high school squad with several larger pictures of her, Tana, and Nikki laughing and posing together. They were pictures I’d never seen before.

  I gravitated toward them, wanting to study them closer. Involuntarily my hand reached to stroke Nikki’s face.

  “These are beautiful,” I said softly.

  “I thought you might like them. She was so happy.”

  “You all look wonderful. I’ve never seen these.”

  “My mom came and took them. She did this as a graduation surprise. I’d forgotten about her taking them. Nikki never saw them either.”

  “What game were these taken at?”

  Her face fell slightly. “At the homecoming game.”

  My heart clenched tightly, memories of that night—both good and bad—washing over me. “So these are some of the last pictures taken of her, other than the ones she and I took at the dance together. You need to tell your mom to give these to Justine. She would really like to have them. Nikki’s . . .” I couldn’t bring myself to say the word, “being gone, has been hard on her.”

  “I know. I’ve been to visit her a couple times—not nearly as much as you have, though. It’s nice you stay in touch with them as often as you do”

  I shrugged. “They’re a part of my family. She and my mom are best friends, and Timmy and Clara need me now that Nikki’s gone.”

  “You’re their connection to her,” she said, patting my arm.

  “They’d be better off with her instead. I wish I could give her back to them.” My eyes were still glued to her face.

  “This wasn’t your fault, Chase. You don’t need to try to repay something you don’t owe.”

  The panic welled inside me. “It was my fault, Britt. She was breaking the rules, sneaking out to meet me. If I hadn’t encouraged her to do that, her accident would’ve never happened.”

  She grabbed my chin and turned my face toward hers. I stared into her big blue eyes. “Did you ask her to sleep with you?”

  “I told her I wanted to.” I swallowed thickly.

  “Answer the question, Chase. Did you ask her to sleep with you?”

  I slowly shook my head. “No. She surprised me with it.”

  “Did you set up the place and time to meet?”

  Again I shook my head. “No. She wanted it to be special. She suggested when and where.”

  “This was her choice, not yours. She made the plans. You’re not at fault here—not in any way. Why can’t you see that?” She released my chin and brushed her hand gently along my cheek.

  “Because if she’d never met me, then it wouldn’t have been an issue.”

  “If she’d never met you, it could’ve been some other guy she was with. You can’t play the “what if” game. Things happen every day—sometimes horrible things—we are powerless to change. Stop trying to take the blame for what happened. Stop trying to make up for it, and just be yourself. Live your life and be happy.”

  “I don’t know how.” It was the most honest thing I could say.

  She nodded. “I can understand that. We’re all a little scarred from it.” She paused and observed the pictures again. “I guess we need to concentrate on remembering the good things, and do our best to stick together
and work through one day at a time. You’ve grieved for nine months now. I know it’s harder for you, because you loved her in a different capacity than the rest of us, but we really do want to help you.”

  “I know—and I appreciate it.”

  She hugged me briefly before heading toward the door. “Come on. Let’s go get some dinner.”

  I cast one more longing glance at her wall before I followed.

  Chapter Seven

  Brett and Tana wanted to go to The Devil’s Pit. It was a swanky sports grill and bar on Mill Avenue rumored to be a favorite place among the ASU Sun Devil crowd. It didn’t appear to be too busy when we pulled up, since school hadn’t started yet, but right away I noticed a potential problem.

  “Hey, isn’t that Matt’s car?” I asked Brett discretely when we got out, and he glanced in the direction I nodded.

  “Sure looks like it.” His brows furrowed as we followed the girls inside.

  A hostess greeted us at the door and ushered us to a booth in the corner, but not before I caught a glimpse of Matt sitting next to a girl in the bar area. I cast Brittney a glance and then Brett to see if either of them had noticed. Brett had, but he shook his head, gesturing for me to be quiet. I knew he didn’t want to ruin Brittney’s night, but I wanted to beat the guy and find out what the heck he was doing. Britt was a great girl, and she didn’t deserve to be treated this way.

  Tana slid into the booth first, then Brett. Brittney moved in on the other side and scooted around by Tana, leaving me a place to sit beside her.

  We ordered drinks and began looking through the menu. I kept getting distracted by the sports news on one of the many flat screen televisions around the ceiling of the neon-lit restaurant, but I couldn’t help glancing occasionally toward the bar. I didn’t know if I was hoping Brittney would see Matt, or not. I definitely didn’t want her to get hurt, but if he was the cheating idiot I thought he was, then I’d be happy if he got caught, for sure. He may have managed to get a spot on the team too, but I hadn’t liked him since I’d first moved to Silver Creek. I never could figure out how he and Britt had gotten together in the first place.

  “What are you getting?” Brittney asked, nudging my elbow.

 
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