Finding chase, p.9
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       Finding Chase, p.9

           Lacey Weatherford
 
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  If I was being honest, though, that wasn’t bugging me the most. No, the problem was the fact that Brittney had caught me practically mauling Jennifer in the bottom of the boat and she hadn’t seemed fazed by it for one second. She’d tried teasing me about it later, saying I certainly hadn’t wasted any time getting my groove back. I realized she must honestly feel absolutely nothing but friendship for me. Here I was driving myself insane with visions of her twisted in my arms, and she was laughing at me. I was starting to wonder if she even remembered our shared kiss.

  It burned—burned so badly it left a sour taste. The other thing that annoyed me was I wasn’t sure when this had happened. Yes, I’d always thought Brittney attractive . . . okay, she was a knock out . . . but when did it become all about her? When did she become the primary thought in my head?

  At night I would lie down in bed and stare at Nikki’s smiling picture. I’d purposely started allowing myself to relive my memories with her—no matter how painful—hoping to find her in my dreams again. Instead, Brittney was blazoned through them, sometimes in all-consuming, passionate scenes that awakened me—on more than one occasion—in a sweat. I could feel my vision of Nikki starting to slip away—an almost tangible feeling of loss—as if she were sliding right through my fingers. I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to hang onto her with both hands and keep her here beside me, forever in my thoughts. I knew it wasn’t possible. I knew our life together was over.

  She was fading and I hated it. I was falling in love with someone else.

  I didn’t know what to do.

  Chapter Thirteen

  I tapped my fingers nervously against my pant leg as I approached the lobby desk of Jennifer’s dorm. “What the hell are you doing here?” I mumbled to myself under my breath.

  “I’m sorry?” the receptionist asked with a puzzled expression. “Did you say something?”

  “I’m here to pick up Jennifer, uh,” I fumbled to remember her last name, “Lucas. Jennifer Lucas, room 109.”

  “Please sign in here,” she said, handing me a clipboard. “I also need to see some I.D.”

  I removed my wallet and showed her my driver’s license. She nodded, and I signed the paper.

  “Go through the double doors to your left, and 109 is on the ground floor, so continue past the elevators and down the hall.”

  “Thanks.” I followed her instructions, and found the hall to be a crazy madhouse—girls running back and forth between the rooms in various states of dress. Doors were open, and music of all kinds was blaring loudly. It was complete chaos.

  “Hey hottie. Please say you’re here to see me.” A curvy redhead with cute freckles leaned against her doorway. She checked me out in the most obvious way, her eyes stopping on specific regions of my body before returning to my face.

  I couldn’t help chuckling as I grinned back at her. “Actually, I’m looking for room 109.”

  She gave an exaggerated pout. “Bummer. Maybe next time.” She winked at me and gestured with her thumb. “Two doors down.”

  I nodded. “Have a good night.”

  She gave a little wolf whistle as I continued, and it was picked up by several others. A few girls peeked from their rooms to see what the commotion was. I shook my head. I could totally get behind living in a place like this.

  The door swung open before I could knock, and Jennifer pulled me inside, quickly shutting it behind me. She took my breath away—her hair styled similar to Nikki’s and then she smiled, looking even more like her. The resemblance was incredible, and all I wanted to do was kiss her and pretend she was.

  “Did you survive the rabid dogs in the hall?” she asked with a giggle, the sound of her voice effectively ruining the illusion of Nikki in my mind. I glanced into her sparkling eyes, feeling like quite the jerk. She was a sweet girl. It wasn’t her fault she looked like Nikki, and I shouldn’t be using her this way, but I couldn’t seem to help myself.

  “I managed all right,” I answered with a grin. “Only a few bite marks.”

  “Well then, I think you’re lucky. I’m sure there are guys who’ve left this hall without their virtue intact.”

  A hard laugh rolled through me, caught by surprise at her choice of words. She was a funny girl. “I’m afraid my virtue wasn’t intact before I walked through the door.”

  She gazed at me appreciatively. “Why doesn’t that surprise me?”

  “Are you ready to go?” I asked, not wanting to risk delving into my past any further.

  “Yep,” she replied, turning toward the two beds in the room, one of which had no bedding on it. “Let me grab my bag.”

  “You don’t have a roommate?” I gestured at the bare side of the small space.

  “Not yet. My old roommate left school at the end of last semester, and they didn’t assign me another during the summer, which is fine with me. As you can see, it’s hard to get peace and quiet around here. It’s much worse during the regular school year.”

  I raised my eyebrows. “You’re kidding.”

  She slipped her arm through mine, and guided me to the door. “Not in the least. Now don’t worry. Hang onto my arm, Walker. I’ll protect you.”

  I grinned as I followed after her.

  We only suffered a few catcalls as we made our way through the rowdy hallway and into the lobby

  “Why do I get the feeling you’re a player?” she asked suddenly when we stepped outside.

  “What do you mean?”

  “I mean you look like you’re enjoying this way too much.”

  I laughed again. “There was a time in my life when my dream might have been to live in a place exactly like this.”

  “So you’re more of a buffet kind of guy then?”

  “Like I said, that was another time. I don’t mind dining on a single entrée these days.” I winked at her.

  “Well, that’s good. I don’t share well.”

  “Good to know.” A sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach still irritated me. I might not be eating from any other dish, but that was only because the two courses I wanted weren’t available. I was beyond low, but if Brittney wasn’t interested, and Nikki was slipping away, why shouldn’t I have someone to pass the time with? Everyone kept telling me I needed to get out and do something fun, and besides, I hadn’t pursued her in the beginning. Brittney was the one who’d set us up. It wasn’t my fault Jennifer happened to look like Nikki, and I hadn’t decided to date her for that reason. It’s not like I was going to marry her or anything. We were just two people chillin’ together and having a good time.

  “So what movie are we seeing?” Jennifer asked, breaking my moment of self-loathing and rationalization.

  I shrugged. “I thought I’d let you pick. I figured we could hit a restaurant by Arizona Mills Mall and catch a movie afterward. If that sounds okay with you.”

  “It sounds fabulous.”

  I opened the truck door and waited for her to slip in, closing it behind her.

  “Where do you want to eat?” I asked, when I climbed into the driver’s seat.

  “You decide since I’m choosing the movie.”

  “Do you like the Rainforest Cafe?”

  “Is that the vine covered restaurant in the mall? I’ve never been, actually. It looks like a fun place, though.”

  “Well, I think I better rectify that then. Everyone should go there at least once.”

  “Let’s do it.”

  We drove the short distance to the mall, and while waiting to be seated, admired the variety of fish swimming in the giant aquariums which twisted over our heads and down beside us.

  “Look it’s Nemo,” I said, pointing to a clown fish. “And Dory,” I added, pointing to another.

  Jennifer started laughing.

  “What?” I asked with a confused grin, unsure of what she found funny.

  She shook her head, her eyes full of mirth. “I can’t picture you watching Finding Nemo, let alone knowing anything about it.”

  “Ah.” I t
ook my cell phone from my pocket and clicked open my photo gallery, turning it so she could see the picture I pulled up. “This is Timmy and Clara.”

  “You have younger siblings?” She looked surprised.

  “No.” I shook my head and hurried to spit out the next few words. “Nikki, my girlfriend that died, this is her little brother and sister. They’re the reason I’ve watched kid movies.” I stared at the image, unable to help the smile on my face and the feeling that tugged at my heart. I missed them.

  “They’re adorable,” she said leaning in for a closer look before glancing up. “So is this prior to her . . . passing?”

  “After. I took this picture right before I moved down here. They were afraid I might forget them. As if that were possible.”

  “So you stay in touch with them a lot.”

  “They’re like my second family. I’ve spent almost any free time I have with them and her mom.”

  “Wow. I bet that’s difficult. It must be hard to be surrounded by her memory all the time.”

  “I want to remember her. I don’t ever want to forget anything about her.”

  Disappointment flickered in Jennifer’s eyes. “You’re still in love with her, aren’t you?”

  “Walker, table for two?” the hostess called, saving me from answering. “Follow me right this way, please.”

  I deposited my phone in my pocket and placed my hand at the small of Jennifer’s back, guiding her forward. We were seated near another fish tank, under part of the fiber-optic starry sky in the middle of the vine-draped restaurant.

  “This is incredible,” Jennifer said, as she gazed around.

  “Just wait. It gets better,” I replied, and as if on cue, crashing thunder rolled through the air, and animated jungle animals came to life around us; apes going wild, elephants trumpeting, cheetahs growling. An imitation of pouring rain began, heightening the sound of the giant waterfall in the middle of the room.

  “What’s happening?” Jennifer shouted above the noise, looking around with almost child-like glee.

  “We’re in the rainforest—it’s raining.” I smiled and she laughed.

  “It’s awesome!”

  “I knew you’d like it.”

  “So does this make you Tarzan then?” She winked at me.

  “Only if it means you’re Jane,” I flirted back.

  “Do I get to see you in a loin cloth?”

  My eyes widened at her brazen remark. “Will I be seeing you in one?”

  “I’m afraid I don’t own one.”

  Even in the darkness of the room I could see the blush stealing across her face.

  “Such a sad day. I know I would’ve liked it. You worked that swimsuit of yours pretty well.”

  She laughed again, widely flashing the smile that was so much like Nikki’s. In the dim light she resembled her even more. “Yours looked pretty good too.”

  “Thanks.”

  “The boat was my favorite part, though.”

  We hadn’t spoken since we’d been at the lake. I’d worried things might be awkward between us, but it wasn’t. I wondered if I found her easy to be with because she reminded me of Nikki.

  “Maybe tonight we can find a new place to try something similar,” I suggested.

  “VOLCANO!” someone shouted loudly, and we both turned to see a waiter bringing a giant chocolate concoction layered with brownies and ice cream–a sizzling sparkler lit and firing at the top. He carried it past our table on the way to another.

  Jennifer’s eyes widened, and she turned to me. “We must have one of those.”

  “As you wish,” I said with a grin, and I signaled a waiter.

  “Are you gonna come in?” Jennifer asked as we stood together in the now surprisingly quiet dorm hall. I couldn’t believe it was the same wild and rowdy place we’d been a few hours ago.

  I nodded. “Sure, if you’d like.”

  “I’d like.”

  During our evening together I’d been very restrained. I was polite enough, and we joked a lot. At one point she reached over and held my hand. It felt nice enough, and I tried to relax and enjoy it—live in the moment—but my mind kept drifting to the other two girls in my life. I caught myself wondering several times during the movie what Brittney might be up to this evening and if she was perhaps on a date somewhere herself. And I thought of Nikki every time I looked at Jennifer, even though I really tried not to.

  Jennifer grabbed my hand and pulled me through the door. I shut it behind us, and she tossed her purse onto a small, organized desk on her side of the room before turning to face me again. She grabbed both of my hands and stepped backward, leading me toward the bed. “How’s this location for a repeat performance?”

  “Looks pretty good to me.”

  She sat on the bed, releasing my hands and wrapping her arms around my neck as she lay back, pulling me down. I settled in easily, my body fitting well against hers, and I brushed my lips across hers.

  “I’ve been wanting you to do this all night,” Jennifer sighed. “I was beginning to wonder if it was ever going to happen.”

  “Sorry I kept you waiting so long.” I stared at her beautiful mouth, thinking of another’s, and I kissed her again, this time harder, aggressively. I kissed her like I wished I could with her—Brittney, not Nikki—surprising myself.

  I could remember the feel of her beneath me, but I roughly attempted to shove it from my mind, trying to be in the here and now, attempting to feel and kindle that spark I desperately wanted.

  This girl was real, and she wanted me, not someone else. She liked being with me. She wanted to kiss me. I owed her the same respect.

  I kissed my way down into the crook of her neck, nuzzling and sucking there, listening to her increased breathing. Her body arched underneath me, signaling she wanted more, and her hands slid under my shirt, pushing it out of the way.

  “Wait,” I said, lifting away. “Wait.” I couldn’t believe I was the one calling a halt to this.

  “What is it?” Jennifer asked, confused.

  “I’m sorry. I . . .” my voice trailed off as I studied her face, searching for a way to tell her what was going on inside me. She was such a pretty girl, and sweet too. I honestly wished I could get over myself.

  “It’s too soon for you, isn’t it?’ she asked, reaching up to brush her palm across my cheek. “I didn’t mean to push. After last weekend, I thought maybe you were ready to move on.”

  “I want to move on.” I tipped my head, leaning into her hand and rubbing affectionately against it. “I’m trying, but I guess it’s something I can’t force. I’m sorry. I know we were pretty hot and heavy last weekend, so this must sound strange to you now.”

  She continued to stroke me comfortingly. “No it doesn’t. You know the old saying, I’m sure—the heart wants what the heart wants.”

  She was exactly right. That was my problem. My heart wanted someone else, but she didn’t want me.

  “Can we keep dating?” she asked. “We can take things slower. Is that okay?”

  “Yes,” I responded, wondering what the heck I was saying.

  “Let’s go out again . . . tomorrow,” she suggested. “My treat this time.”

  “Sound great.” I kissed her briefly and got off her. “I better go home now. Thanks for trying to understand.” I knew she didn’t understand at all.

  “Don’t worry about it. Everything will work out.” She sounded so sure.

  “Hopefully.” I gave a small smile and headed toward the door. “See you tomorrow.”

  Chapter Fourteen

  I wandered around the edges of the clearing, fading in and out amongst the edges of the pine trees, quietly observing my mother and her new husband from a distance. Her laughter would often rise up, tinkling on the gentle breeze as she mingled through the reception tables, visiting with her guests. She was on Greg’s arm, and he was unable to take his eyes off her. I was hard pressed to remember her ever being this light hearted.

  That made me a
little sad, actually. I thought back to our old life and her relationship with my dad. I’d always believed they were extremely happy together. True, he was gone a lot on business, and I was away most of the time with my activities, so I didn’t see them together as often, but I couldn’t really remember a time she seemed this carefree. Greg was good for her.

  The wedding had been beautiful, small and intimate, with our closest family and friends. It had been strange watching my mom come down the makeshift aisle as I stood next to Greg. The mountain location they’d chosen in Greer made the perfect place to celebrate a new union together, he in a nice black suit, she in a very slim-cut white, satin dress. They exchanged their vows in front of a clear, sparkling fork in the Colorado River. My mom had wanted something to symbolize a fresh new start and show her embracing her new mountain home. I think she’d gotten exactly what she was hoping for. I was happy for her.

  I sighed, taking a moment to shrug off my suit coat and loosen my tie before leaning against the base of a towering Ponderosa. If only I could figure out how to bring happiness back into my life again, I’d have it made. My mom was proof things could turn around, but I didn’t know how to apply it to me.

  My gaze naturally found Brittney amongst the guests, and I watched her as she smiled and laughed at the table where she sat with Brett, Tana, and a few of our other friends. She’d been going out with Jeff almost every day since we’d gone to the river. It drove me insane.

  True, I’d dated Jennifer and had a great time with her as well. Yes, we’d proven there was some physical chemistry between us, spending a lot of time making out together, but I couldn’t stop feeling guilty about it. There were too many extenuating circumstances to let my guard down. Did I like her for her, for Nikki, or because I didn’t have Brittney? I honestly didn’t know. Being with her was a comfort, for sure, but deep down something still ate and nagged at me.

  I didn’t think I was ready for this. Trying to throw myself back into the living world was becoming more than I could take. I knew people were concerned for me, and they wanted my happiness as well, but in truth, I was still mourning for a past I’d never have again . . . and now I felt like the one person I could move forward with would never be available to me. I was stuck in limbo between the two things I desired most, unable to grasp either of them.

 
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