Finding chase, p.7
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       Finding Chase, p.7

           Lacey Weatherford
 
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  Brett had tried talking to me while he bandaged my cracked and swollen knuckles. I’d managed to conclude that Brittney was the one who’d called him. He’d deduced I’d gone to the gym, and it ticked me off further that everyone seemed to read me so well.

  My phone buzzed on my nightstand, and I groaned, debating whether or not to check it, but curiosity finally got the better of me. I felt a brief shot of panic when Greg’s number popped up. He rarely called me from his cell phone, preferring to join my mom’s calls instead.

  “Hello?” I answered, hoping she was all right.

  “Hey, kiddo. How you holding up?”

  I relaxed instantly at his easy demeanor. He wouldn’t be so laid back if something was wrong.

  “I’m doing okay, I guess. How are you and Mom?”

  “Really?” he continued, ignoring my question. “Because I heard you beat a punching bag to a bloody pulp last night. I thought maybe I should call down and see how things were going.”

  I was going to kill Brett. “I’m fine. Just needed to blow off some steam is all. How’re the wedding plans going? Everything still working out? It’s not too long now.”

  “It’s still too long if you ask me. I’m more than ready to be married to your mom. I hate watching her things move in here without her.”

  I smiled, even though I didn’t want to. “I’m glad the two of you found each other. She seems really happy when she’s with you.”

  “I’m glad you think so. I never thought I’d be this lucky again. I was prepared to live my life as an old unmarried bachelor.”

  There was a pregnant pause between us as his words sunk in.

  “Is that really a bad thing?” I asked, needing to know. I’d never gone to Greg for advice—outside of some casual football talk—but suddenly, given his history and how he’d lost his fiancée, he seemed to be exactly the person I needed.

  “Very bad. I shut down until I cut myself off from any possibility of finding love again. I didn’t want to date or do anything remotely like it.”

  “But you found my mom.”

  “I know. She struck me differently, or maybe my heart was finally healed. I knew when we met I had to know her better. Everything else happened on its own. If it’s right, it won’t have to be forced. It’ll develop naturally.”

  “Didn’t you ever feel like you were cheating on your girlfriend?”

  “Not by then, but I’m sure I would’ve had I tried dating early on. It’s hard to get over losing someone you love like that. You have these intense emotions for the person and nowhere to direct them anymore. It was a very confusing time.”

  “It has been for me too.” It was nice to connect with someone who finally understood exactly what I felt like. “What helped you through it?”

  “Let me ask you a question instead.”

  “Okay.”

  “Do you love your dad?”

  I snorted. “Of course I do. You know that.”

  “Then how about me? Do you have any good feeling toward me?”

  “You know I do, Greg. Where are you going with this?”

  “Does having feelings for me make those emotions you have for your dad any less real?”

  “No.”

  “So what’s stopping you from dating other people then, Chase? Falling for someone else doesn’t mean you love Nikki any less. It only means you love someone else too. You have a big heart—I’ve seen it. There’s room for lots of people.”

  I pondered this for a moment before replying. “I’m too scared. What if something happens to . . . a new person I might fall for?”

  “What if you both live happily until your ninety? Who’s to say what may or may not happen? None of us are going to get out of this life alive, unfortunately, so it’s up to each of us to decide how we want to live. Are you going to spend the rest of your days letting fear dictate how you should act, or are you going to grasp life with both hands and live it how you want? You should know, more than anyone, how precious time is.”

  That was true. He was giving me a lot to think about. “Is there another reason you called?”

  “Well, yeah. I wanted to officially ask you to be my best man at the wedding. Your mom said she didn’t think you’d do it, but I’d really like to have you stand up there with me.”

  I was shocked. The last I’d heard, they weren’t going to have any attendants. “Yeah, sure. I’d be honored.”

  I could almost see his grin through the phone as he gave a short chuckle and murmured something to someone in the background.

  “Tell mom I said I love her.”

  “I’ll do that. Take it easy, son.”

  I ended the call, spotting Nikki’s photo beside my bed and picking it up.

  I traced her smile with my fingers, thinking perhaps what Greg said was true. I was starting to have some feelings for Brittney, but my love for Nikki hadn’t dimmed or changed at all, that I could see. My heart still ached for her the same way it always had.

  Could I move on? I sighed. Was it fair for me to move on with another person, while I was still emotionally attached to someone else?

  I allowed myself to remember the kiss Brittney and I had shared. It had been hot, fiery, and I’d felt it all the way down to my toes. Was it simply the fact I’d been so long without someone which caused me to feel this way? Or was it that Brittney and I were really that powerful together? True, she’d been attempting to bring things to a halt when I’d spoken Nikki’s name, but there was no doubt she’d been as into it as I had. But she was hurting also, and maybe her reaction was only mirroring her own loneliness after her break up with Matt.

  There was only one way to find out.

  I threw the covers back and got up, hurrying to my bedroom door. “Brett?” I listened for a reply but there was no sound in the house. He must be next door. I went outside, lifting my hand to knock, but decided against it when I observed my bandaged knuckles. I turned the knob and opened it a crack. “Brett?” I called again.

  “In the kitchen, dude. What’s up?”

  I popped my head inside. He was helping Tana make sandwiches.

  “Can I talk to you outside for a minute?”

  “Sure.” He wiped his hands on a towel and joined me, giving me an expectant look.

  “First off, you’re dead meat,” I began. “Quit ganging people up on me.”

  He squinted, running a hand through his spiky white-blond hair. “I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been worried about you, man. You’ve been scaring me lately, and when you asked me to help you get some drugs last night, I knew you were going from bad to worse. Someone needed to intervene.”

  “So you called Greg?” I folded my arms and stared him down.

  “Under the circumstances, I felt he might be exactly who you needed to talk to. I’m not sorry if I crossed a line. You need help, and you don’t seem willing to share with any of us.”

  I turned away, walking to the balcony railing and leaning against it. “I’m not trying to shut you out. It’s just that you’re too close to the situation.”

  “What situation?”

  I looked back at him. “The situation with Brittney.”

  “You like her . . . a lot.” It was a statement not a question.

  I sighed. “I do.”

  “Well, I’ve been wondering how long it would take you to fess up. I’d say that’s half your battle right there.”

  “It feels so . . . wrong. How can it be okay to be attracted to her when I still feel tied to Nikki?”

  “You’re always gonna be tied to Nikki, dude. She was a huge part of your life. She was a huge part of Brittney’s as well. I’d think if anyone was going to understand, it would be her.”

  “Is she home?”

  “Yeah, she’s in her room still. She hasn’t been out yet this morning.”

  “I should go talk to her then.”

  Brett nodded. “That would be good. She was feeling pretty down last night.”

  I headed toward the door.

>   “Chase?”

  “Yeah?”

  “Try not to hurt her, okay?”

  I gripped the knob. “I’ll do my best.”

  I didn’t say anything to Tana as I passed the kitchen, but she gave me a sorrowful look. Stopping outside of Brittney’s door, I rapped lightly.

  “Who is it?” she answered.

  “It’s me,” I replied.

  There were several moments of silence. “Come in, Chase,” she finally said.

  I stepped inside, finding her sitting on the edge of her bed in a tank top and small shorts. Her hair was messed up, and her mascara was smudged like she may have been crying again. I thought she looked beautiful, and immediately my body reacted to her. I gritted my teeth, trying to push forward.

  “Sorry, about last night.” I didn’t know what else to say.

  Her gaze drifted downward, resting on my bandaged hands. “Don’t be. This is weird for both of us. We both loved her.”

  I nodded, staying clear across the room, not trusting myself to be any closer. “I’m not sure where to take things from here,” I began, trying to muddle through sharing my feelings. “I don’t want things to be weird between us, because I really do value your friendship. I didn’t mean to get so carried away.” Damn, I wanted to kiss her again. “I’m not sure I’m explaining things right.”

  She held up a hand. “Stop right there, Chase. I know what you’re trying to say, and it’s okay with me.”

  “Really?” I asked, surprised and relieved she’d readily agreed. I’d made up my mind to ask her on a real date and see how things would go.

  “Really. I know you love Nikki. You’ve been lonely, and I was there when it got too much for you. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed kissing you, but we’re both definitely on the damaged side here. I’d hate for a rebound relationship to completely destroy our friendship. Let’s pretend like this never happened okay?”

  Wait. My mind was scrambling to keep up. She thought I didn’t want anything to do with her now? I was completely confused. My body was practically screaming to throw her on the bed and do wicked things.

  “I don’t think—”

  “Don’t worry about it, Chase,” she cut me off before glancing at her clock. “I need to get ready. I have a date in an hour.”

  I was floored. Here I was trying to tell her I liked her, and she’d called me a rebound. Now she was seeing someone else? My head was spinning. Last night must not have meant anything to her at all. “Who are you going with?” I asked, the words leaving a sour taste in my mouth.

  “Jeff Stinson. He’s a waiter from the restaurant. A bunch of us are going boating at Saguaro Lake. Would you like to come?”

  I shook my head. “No. I don’t have a date. Thanks anyway, though.” I felt like I was gonna be sick.

  “Oh! Neither does Jennifer! You want to go with her? She was the waitress you met before.”

  I snorted—the waitress that reminded me of Nikki. This day kept getting better and better.

  “Come with me. It’ll be fun, and it’ll give you a chance to meet new people.”

  I didn’t know about fun, but it would give me the opportunity to be around Brittney. Maybe I’d have another chance to talk with her and straighten things out. At the very least, I could evaluate my own feelings.

  “Well, I did promise my grandpa I’d try to do something fun. He’s been on me lately because I haven’t kept my word.”

  “Then it’s settled!” She hopped off her bed and bounced over, wrapping her arms around me, and laying her head on my chest. I couldn’t help hugging her back, forcing myself to release her when she stepped away. “Everything’s going to work out fine, Chase. Just wait and see. You might even meet some girl who will sweep you off your feet!”

  I could only smile at her numbly. I didn’t want to meet anyone else, and this time I didn’t delude myself . . . it wasn’t because of Nikki, it was because of Brittney. I wanted her.

  Chapter Eleven

  “Hey. How you doing? Good to see you again.” I offered my hand to the smiling Jennifer as we stood on the boat dock. Like me, she looked a slightly nervous too. She wiped her palm against the sarong draped around her very shapely hips and hot pink bikini before taking mine.

  “I’m great. How are you?”

  “As well as can be expected—being thrown together with a virtual stranger at the last minute.” I grinned so she’d know I was teasing.

  “Yeah, well, I got lucky. At least the stranger was cute.”

  Oh, we were going to get along fine . . . if I could quit staring at her smile like I’d never seen one before. “Then I must be lucky too.”

  She glanced down and concern suddenly filled her eyes. “Oh my gosh! What happened to your knuckles?”

  I followed her line of sight to the scabbed cracks by my fingers. I released her and moved my hand to the small of her back, ushering her toward the others who were loading supplies onto the speedboat. “It’s nothing—just got a little overaggressive with a punching bag last night.” I laughed it off. “Do you like water skiing?” I asked, trying to keep the conversation flowing. I felt way out of practice.

  “Actually, I’ve never been.”

  “You live in Arizona, and you’ve never been water skiing?”

  “Nope. I’ve been jet skiing, though. That was fun.” She shifted her canvas bag onto her shoulder and glanced at me. “I’m kind of a book nerd. I love to read.” She opened her bag allowing me to look in and see two books there.

  Paranormal books. Like Nikki.

  “My girlfriend likes those types of books too.”

  Her expression fell. “You have a girlfriend?”

  I sighed, realizing I’d blundered. “Well, no, not exactly. She died several months ago.” It didn’t matter how many times I said the words—I still hated them. I’d never get used to it.

  Her eyes widened in surprise. “Oh my gosh! How terrible! I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize. It must’ve been very difficult for you.” She placed a hand on my arm and squeezed gently.

  I glanced across the reflective water of the lake with the towering red canyon walls around it, set off by the rich blue sky above. “It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. This is actually the first real date I’ve been on since it happened.” Shut up, Chase! My mind reeled. Who talks about their dead girlfriend on a date?

  There was an awkward pause, and I could see she was searching for the right thing to say.

  “Chase!” Brittney’s voice broke through the silence, and I felt relief wash through me as I gave a sidelong glance in her direction. “Let’s go.” She smiled and waved her arm, encouraging us to get on the boat.

  I guided Jennifer to a vacant spot near Brittney and sat down in between them. Brittney looked perfect in her turquoise and purple bikini, her thick blonde hair cascaded in waves down her back, and I couldn’t help remember what it felt like between my fingers. I wanted to reach out and touch it again, but instead I leaned against the seat, placing both my arms behind the girls.

  “Are we ready?” Jeff called as he started the engine.

  “Yes!” everyone except me chorused, and I glanced around at the other three couples I’d met, trying to remember all their names. What an awkward situation.

  Jeff steered away from the dock with ease, and soon we were flying over the water. Both Brittney’s and Jennifer’s hair blew around wildly, tickling my arms. My breath caught for a moment when I turned to look at Jennifer—a thick strand whipped across her face, obscuring some of her features, but still allowed me to see her fabulous smile. It was like I was staring at Nikki. My pulse sped up rapidly, and I clenched my hands into fists. I wanted her to be Nikki. It could’ve easily been this way for real. This was how it was supposed to be.

  Jennifer tucked her hair behind her ear before placing a hand on my leg. “Are you okay? You look like you’re going to be sick. Does the water make you nauseous?” she shouted over the roar of the boat.

  I shook my head. “Nah, I
’m fine. It’s just really windy.” I needed to chill out, and quit acting like a lovesick idiot.

  She nodded and glanced at the water rushing by the edge of the boat. “I love the smell of the lake. It reminds me of going fishing with my grandpa when I was little.”

  “You like to fish?” I tried to imagine her holding a rod and casting it.

  “Yeah. I don’t know if I’m any good at it, but it’s fun. I like to set my pole up and then sit and read while I wait. Nothing beats enjoying a good book out-of-doors. Of course, it’s probably not as much fun at the lakes here in the valley. It’s too hot.”

  “I hear you. Days like today, when it’s one hundred and ten degrees, make me really miss living in the White Mountains.”

  “Have you always lived there?”

  I shook my head. “No, I’m originally from here. I lived most of my life in Scottsdale. We only moved to Silver Creek after my dad died. We moved there during my junior year, but it grew on me I guess. It’s home now. How about you?”

  “I’m originally from Layton, Utah, but my dad got a job working for US Airways in Phoenix about five years ago, so we moved. I miss Utah, but I like it here too. I’m not a big fan of the summer heat, but the rest of the year is nice. Plus, my uncle lives in Mesa, too. He’s the one who owns the restaurant we work at. Where do you work?”

  “I don’t right now. I used to work as a lifeguard in Scottsdale. Since then I worked on my Grandpa’s farm. I’m here on a full-ride football scholarship to ASU with a housing waver. It pays for my rent and part of my utilities. I saved quite a bit from my previous jobs, and my dad matched that money before he died, so I’m living off that until football season is over. Then I’ll scout around for a new job.”

  She smiled. “So you’re saying if I start to drown in the lake today, you’ll come rescue me?”

  I grinned. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. Gotta put my training to use somewhere.”

  “Suddenly I feel a whole lot safer. I’m a tiny bit nervous about skiing.”

  “Have you ever snow skied?” I asked.

 
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