Authors: Hallie Swanson
Chase unfolds his arms from his lap and lifts his hands, palms face up.
“Hey, I’m not here to judge,” he says with a shake of the head. “But you and Snow, this shit’s fucked up.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about…” My very core trembles with rage. “I’ve had just about enough of you and Snow. He can’t buy the house and think he owns me, and as for the flowers…”
I gaze from one wicker basket to another, then look down at the dying rose petals around my feet.
“I’m sick of the sight of them, and then there’s you.”
I shoot him an icy stare, the anger growing in my voice.
“Me?” he said sarcastically.
“Yes,” I bite back. “He sends his gopher to do his dirty work.”
A short burst of laughter leaves Chase’s lips, and he rolls his eyes as he leans back in the chair, tipping it on two legs as his eyes make their way up and down my body.
“Snow really has met his match.”
“This is all one big joke to you, isn’t it?”
Chase loses his jovial expression, his lips now taut.
“No joke, Darcy. Snow’s flying out in a couple of days.”
“Coming here?” I ask, my stomach turning somersaults.
“Yes,” he says, his face softening again. “I’m not here to do his dirty work. He got called back on business, so I came on ahead.”
He gets to his feet and ambles round the table.
“Maybe we haven’t got off to a great start…”
He takes my shoulder, and my feet shuffle round as he turns me to face him.
“Let’s say we grab a couple of beers from the fridge while we wait for the pizza to arrive.”
It seems that arguing is getting us nowhere, so what have I got to lose? I nod in agreement. Even with the strong perfume of the flowers there’s an overriding scent, and the nearer to Chase I get, the stronger it becomes. I sniff, trying to place it; it has the essence of coconut, tropical, like suntan cream and body spray combined. His face is actually quite pleasant now that I take the time to look at him.
Stepping between the petals, I make my way to the fridge, the cold air almost taking my breath away as I open the door.
“Beer or cider?” I shout over my shoulder. “I’ve got both.”
His arm bypasses my shoulder as he lifts a beer and cracks it open. I hear a knock at the door, then the bell. Pulling open the drawer under the sink, I empty a small metal tin and search through my change. I look up, but Chase has gone; I hear deep voices spilling towards me from the door. I place my loose change in small piles on the table, then wash my hands as he waltzes back into the kitchen. A large cardboard box is clenched to his chest. My eyes lower to the table top.
“I had it sorted, I was counting my money.”
He smirks. “A gentleman never lets a lady pay. Anyway, I’m starved … and this is getting cold,” he says, licking his lips.
“Didn’t Hooper’s chicken satisfy you?”
His eyes follow mine as I look down at him. He grimaces slightly.
“You telling me that was the dog’s?”
My mouth widens into a grin.
“Oh well, I’ve eaten worse.” He laughs.
There doesn’t seem to be anything I can say that fazes him; it’s like he hasn’t got a care in the world. He’s perfect for Snow, and if Snow were to find himself a female equivalent, I can’t help but think she would be his perfect match. It would never have lasted between us, our past always getting in the way, and with two people as highly strung as us it just wouldn’t have worked.
Chase lifts the cardboard lid, lowers his nose over the open box and sniffs.
“Ah, there’s nothing like a pizza from home…” He looks up at me under his eyes. “They taste kinda different abroad.”
“Yeah whatever, I wouldn’t know.” I shrug my shoulders. “Suppose now you’re here you’d best make yourself at home.”
Grabbing his beer can, he follows me into the lounge. I sit at the far end of the settee, expecting him to sit on the chair opposite. I jump back on the cushion as he steps in front of me and falls back at my side. He’s hardly giving me breathing space, his thigh rubbing against me as he balances the pizza box between us, on his leg and mine.
“Fuck me, is that Snow?”
I follow his gaze, which settles on the side wall and a family photograph of myself at the front, Snow kneeling down, Mum and Dad standing behind.
“Yeah,” I mumble, not appreciating the glasses I’m wearing in the picture.
“God, I hardly recognised him. I’ll tag him on Facebook, give him a laugh.”
“Don’t you dare!” I hiss. “I don’t want my face on the Web.”
Chase chuckles. “What say we check out what’s on TV?”
Holding a slice of pizza in one hand, he leans forward and takes the remote from the wooden coffee table. I’m surprised he can’t see the shock on my face; he’s a stranger, yet he’s acting like we’re the best of friends. I try to inch away from him, but the pizza box rocks between us and he inches closer. I tear a piece off, and the warm cheese stretches and parts. Not over keen on the mushroom and pineapple topping, I take small bites.
“So what’s this thing with you and Snow?” he quizzes between sips of beer.
“There’s nothing between me and Snow,” I blurt out.
“Then how come your face doesn’t tell me that, and why can’t you look me in the eyes?”
“I’ve just got nothing to say, that’s all.”
Leaning forwards, he tilts his head slightly; I can feel his stare.
“There’s one thing that puzzles me…” He pauses for a second. “Are you two related somehow? Aren’t you his sister?”
I shake my head vigorously. “No, we are not, we’re not related in any way. We spent one summer together over ten years ago, that’s all.”
I blank him, staring at the TV, and as I nibble on the crust of my pizza I can feel an awkwardness growing between us. It’s a relief when Chase sits up and places the empty pizza box on the coffee table, and in a matter of moments works his way to the other end of the settee. The moments we sit in silence extend into what must be a couple of hours.
The doorbell finally rings, and I shoot forwards in my seat. Sam! I try to push my concern away, but now he’s here at the door, I can’t help wondering what I’ll do if there’s something seriously wrong with Hooper.
I try to shake away my negative thoughts as I step from the lounge. Flicking up the catch, I open the front door to a large smile on a broad face framed by dark curls.
“Long time no see.”
Sam’s face lights up as he steps forward and kisses my cheek. He doesn’t move his face from mine, making me feel he’s waiting for more. I edge away.
“Come in,” I say, beckoning him towards the kitchen.
“What’s with the rose petals?”
“Don’t ask,” I call out as he walks behind me.
“Fuck me, what’s with all these flowers? And who’s the guy sitting in the lounge?”
My head flicks round into Sam’s widening stare. I watch his eyebrows rise not once, but several times.
“He’s a friend of a friend, bit of a jerk to be honest, but I can’t go into it now.”
Sam rakes his hair with his hand.
“I could always kick him out.”
“No, I can deal with Chase, my main concern is Hooper. It’s probably me, I worry too much. He’s eating fine, been out for his walks. It’s just his head, his eyes…”
“Don’t worry, Darc.” He squares up to me, placing his hands on my arms. “It’s probably something and nothing.”
He hitches up his trousers and kneels down on the kitchen floor next to where Hooper is lying down. He opens the clasp on his black leather bag. I kneel at his side as he listens to his heartbeat, and watch Sam’s face for any change of expression. He opens Hooper’s mouth, checking his teeth, then with a small light looks into his ears.
“Darc, walk over to the table and call him to you.”
I get to my feet and head to the far side of the kitchen. I crouch down.
He runs towards me, his paws clicking on the tiles. I can’t help but frown; his head is even more lopsided than it was earlier.
“Okay, Darc,” Sam says, walking towards me.
He scoops Hooper up, holding him like a package under his right arm. He bites the corner of his bottom lip as he shines the torch into his eyes.
“Have you got him insured?”
My heart almost stops, and for that split second I can hardly breathe.
“No,” I say, hitting the palm of my hand against my forehead. “I forgot to renew it.”
“Look, don’t worry for now. As you know, my uncle’s a vet, a specialist. He recently opened his own surgery in Cambridge. I’ll take Hooper with me and take a drive to Cambridge first thing in the morning. Let’s say we worry about the cost later.”
“Why, what’s wrong with him?”
“I can’t be sure,” he said with a reassuring look on his face.
But I know him well enough to know that he’s worried.
He clears his throat. “I think he’ll need scans, probably blood tests, and I’m not qualified enough to do either.”
I lift my chin and force a smile.
“Anyway, Darc, best get off,” he said, turning towards the kitchen door, but it’s not him I’m looking at; it’s that wiry white tail that usually stands proud and wags vigorously, but is now hanging down between his stumpy back legs.
I swallow hard, gulping back the tears.
“Fancy a cuppa?” I call after him, anything to stall him, just to have a few minutes more with Hooper.
“No, you’re alright; anyway, you’ve got company.” I pick up on the disapproval in his voice.
“It’s not like that.”
“I’ve got a mountain of stuff to do,” he says, not looking me in the eyes. “I’ll ring you when there’s any news.”
I can’t follow him to the front door, and I certainly can’t watch Hooper’s face through the side window as he’s driven away. I stand far enough from the kitchen door that I can’t see him leave, then lean over and rest my elbows on the work surface. My body stiffens as I hear the door click shut behind them.
Walking towards the lounge, my throat feels so dry it’s almost like I’ve swallowed gravel. I see Chase from the corner of my eye, but don’t look at him. I lower myself onto the settee, as far from him as I can possibly get, then rest my head back against the loose cushion behind. I hear the springs of the settee and Chase’s voice.
“Are you okay?”
Those three little words; such bad timing.
“No,” I gasp between growing sobs.
These tears won’t be blinked away, and they gush down my cheek and off the end of my nose as I bury my head into the side cushion. I freeze upon feeling fingers walking around my shoulders and a heavy arm pulling me up from the cushion. I feel his chest as my head slips beneath his chin. My body moves in time with the breaths that he takes; I can hear the melodic beat of his heart beneath the blue shirt he wears. I tilt my head up and in response feel his chin lower. His fingers brush my tear-matted hair off my face, leaving nothing to keep our eyes apart. It’s like there is a pause between us; he opens his mouth to speak, but as I look at his lips it seems he thinks better of it and keeps his silence. The awkwardness I felt only seconds ago drains from me, the warmth of his body, the strength of his arm a much-needed comfort. I haven’t been held in so long, not like this. I press myself into his chest, and as my sobbing subsides I close my eyes and relax, curling my arm around Chase’s waist. I feel a slight tilt to my body, and both his arms link around me. His hands are taken, so it can only be his lips that I feel brushing against the top of my head. His hands, his fingers don’t wander, he makes no suggestion that he wants this to be more; it is mere kindness he offers, with no hidden agenda.
“What say I make us a strong brew, and then maybe you can tell me what’s wrong?”
His hold around me tightens and then his arms are gone.
hase,” I hiss between clenched teeth; it’s been a week and a half, and still my call goes straight to voicemail. “Why don’t you answer your fucking phone?” I yell down the mouthpiece of my mobile.
Fidgeting in the dark upholstered seat of the taxi, I glance up and catch the driver’s eye, staring at me through the rear-view mirror.
“Sorry, mate, troubles with staff, an occupational hazard.” My mouth twists into a grin.