Saturday morning at the local vet’s office in Brindleton Bay.
Chase caught the eyes of the girl across from him again and mercifully, she finally said something. While Chase had wanted to, his lips seemed to be paralyzed, his brain wiped clear of any words and phrases, so instead he sat there staring at her when she wasn’t looking.
“Excuse me, but your dog is beautiful. Almost as if there were a little bit of wolf in there.”
“Just looks like it. My monster here is a mutt, part of my grandfather’s Shepherd mix, part my sister’s Yorkshire Terrier actually. So an accidental family project in a way.” Chase smirked, while Shea laughed at his candor
“That is hilarious! Hard to believe Yorkie is in there? Never would have guessed. He’s so calm, not yappy and bouncing off the walls. What’s his name?”
“He’s only calm indoors. As soon as he gets outside he makes the energizer bunny look like a tired sloth. Needs a lot of exercise. We named him Shadow, because he’s like my shadow, always following me around ever since I first met him as a tiny pup.”
“Aww. This is my Geraldine. She is a purebred Irish Setter, needs a lot of exercise, too or she starts disassembling the house. I think I am down to 5 pairs of shoes I would dare to be seen in public with. She is very loyal though. Really sweet, my girl, but stubborn, oh so stubborn. My dad claims she learned that from me. Dads! Shadow doesn’t look sick.”
“Just in for a check up.”
“Yeah, us too. I’m Shea by the way.” she got up, so did he, they shook hands, smiled at each other and ended up sitting next to one another.
“I’m Chase. Nice to meet you Shea, and you too Geraldine.”
Eventually Chase was called back with Shadow, while in the treatment room, he kicked himself for not asking for Shea’s number, so they could maybe meet again. He even excused himself for a moment to go check the waiting room, but Shea and Geraldine were no longer there. Chase’s mood took a downturn, even though he was given a glowing bill of health for his dog.
When he went to pay, the receptionist handed him a note from Shea. It had just her name, number and a winking smiley face on it, but that was all he needed to wear a big smile himself all the way home.
Despite his usual inhabitions he called that same day and they ended up meeting the day after to walk the dogs at a park.
It was so much fun for human and canine, that they made it a standing date.
Every weekend. Both days. For weeks. Then months. Without fail and regardless of the weather.
Sometimes, though not often, the humans would meet again on one of the dog walking days or after work over coffee – without the dogs. A friendly coffee meet. No flirting, whatsoever. Just trading stories of how their week had been going. Casual talk.
That is not to say that Chase didn’t feel a small gleam of hope, a tender spark, even though it was still too early to say anything for certain that there would ever be more between them. What he could say for sure was that they got along great, he enjoyed her company and the feeling seemed mutual.
Even their dogs were fast friends now.
One late Saturday morning Blake walked into the living room at the Beach House.
“Hey, what’s that ruckus here, son!? I am trying to finish a jingle for a commission and cannot do that when you have a wrestling match with your dog in the next room. And don’t you dare try to send you old father into his studio below! Damn furnace is on the fritz and you can freeze meat down there! So it’s either the dining room or your sister’s frilly nightmare-in-pastels old room and I’d like to keep my man-card.” he complained, then raised one eyebrow at the view before him.
“Dad, so glad you are here! Help!” Chase was holding Shadow in his arms like a baby, while the dog’s eyes were basically shooting hearts at Geraldine, who was next to Chase looking and jumping up. It took about all Chase had to keep his dog from wiggling free and not keeling over himself. It was more than comical and generated a grin on Blake’s face.
“Help with what? Looks like you got it covered. The only thing I could do here is blow raspberries on Shadow’s belly and I am sure that isn’t going to make his day any better. He never struck me as the overly cuddly type.”
“DAD – STOP! Can you just keep an eye on Geraldine, and maybe hold on to her while I take Shadow up to my room and lock him in? I’m afraid to go before she is secured, she’d probably have me tumble down the stairs. They’re both big and quite strong and already did it – you know ‘that‘ – once while I went to the bathroom! Caught the tailend of the mess when I came back out. Shea is going to kill me if her dog ends up pregnant on my watch! I offered to watch her after our walk today for a couple hours and I really don’t want to mess this up like this!” Chase was horrified, while Blake smirked.
“You got it, kiddo. Hey, don’t forget to leave him a cigarette after and some water to rehydrate. Geraldine here looks like the demanding type, and he looks like he had to work hard for it.”
“Dad, so NOT funny.”
Chase rushed up the stairs still carrying Shadow, while Blake grinned at Geraldine, who had dropped onto her back, offering her belly for Blake to pet.
“Well, a promiscuous little thing you are, aren’t ya? But I get it, Shadow seems to have that certain something something that makes all the girls of any species swoon. When I walk that mutt of ours all the human ladies go gaga over him, too. Guess I reached that age where the family dog outcutes me into oblivion. Just hope your owner is not the type of girl with a one track mind, Lord knows Chase already had enough experience with girls laser-focused on themselves way more than on him.”
Chase had told his parents about Shea, but never brought her home. He was going to, just didn’t want them to think this was more than it was. Which it wasn’t. Just friends. 100% friendly only. That was also what he repeared to himself like a mantra every time his mind tried to jump fences when he was alone with her.
A knock on the door, Blake opened and Shea introduced herself, then greeted Geraldine who seemed overjoyed to see her owner, acting like it had been years, not barely two hours since they last seen each other.
Chase came back down. Blushing, he greeted Shea, trying to look as ‘normal’ as possible, which was making matters even worse. Blake realized right away what was going on. His son had never been able to try to play things cool when something got him hot under the collar. ‘Poor kid, he’s gonna give himself a heart attack before he’s 26 if he keeps that up long-term.‘ Blake thought to himself, smiling faintly.
“Thanks for watching her, Chase. I owe you big. Thanks to you as well, Mr. Cameron.” Shea said now.
“Ah, call me Blake. Chase, you should mention that Geraldine may come with a free gift now in a couple months.”
“Dad!” Chase begged.
“What?” confused, but amused, Shea looked between Blake and his son.
“Yeah, his boy Shadow and your Geraldine got a bit romantic right over yonder in my living room just moments ago. Did the Cameron curse thing ever come up in conversation between you and Chase yet? I think it may apply to pets, too.” Blake said grinning
“DAD!!!” Chase looked and sounded mortified, but then forced a calm smile onto his face, framed by bright red ears.
“Oh no! I didn’t realize she already went into heat! Oh boy.”
“Yeah, sorry, I didn’t realize that either and after I stepped away for one minute they seemed to have seized the moment to … ahem … ” Chase’s cheeks blushed into a deep crimson.
Blake chuckled, shook his head, Chase’s eyes met his, begging to leave it be, so instead Blake addressed Shea again.
“Shea, would you like to stay for dinner? My wife should be back from shopping soon. Wants to try some fancy new recipe, she’s a great cook, but when she gets too creative it’s a hit or a miss. We could use some extra help tonight just in case it’s one of those miss moments.”
“That sound lovely, but I am not really dressed for a dinner invite, was out running errands and standing in long lines, rubbing elbows with people who seem to have missed the memos on the invention of deodorant and running water.”
“Ah, we’re really informal around here. Our rule has always been ‘as long as all potentially controversial parts on you are covered, and we can still breathe freely around you, you’re golden’. Chase, be a good host and offer a beverage to your guest. Sorry to disappear, but I have work to finish before dinner. I am sure Chase can manage to entertain you without me until then? Right, son?”
“Sure!” Chase blurted out a little too enthusiastic, blushing again.
Hailey returned soon after, dinner was fun, very tasty and the conversation easygoing.
Chase and Shea would meet frequently after, for the dog walking but also just them.
Weeks turned into months, Winter into Spring, Spring into Summer. Still, they were only friends. There may have been the occasional awkward moment, but both ignored it and moved on.
It was late summer again, the air was filled with the scent of late-blooming flowers, heavy from the day’s heat, as the day cooled down.
Laughter and the smell of grilled food filled a Willow Creek patio on this balmy summer night. The Manning residence, Shea’s parents’ home.
A jolly crowd enjoying the evening with conversation and barbecue.
There were the Camerons, consisting of Blake, Hailey, Chase, Kiera and Logan, even though the latter two were now both McAllisters, and then the hosts, the Mannings, consisting of father Jude, mother Laura, and their young adult children Dominic, Rachel and Shea. And of course the two dogs, Geraldine and Shadow.
“I tell you what, Blake, you just never get rid of the kids. They grow up, but they just keep coming back – if they even bother to leave. Laura and I had all those plans about downsizing or turning their old rooms into something useful, but the fruit of our loins is constantly here, as if they are still living there. Well, one of them is anyway. So the only renovations we’ll be doing is to install padded walls throughout.” a grinning Jude told a chuckling Blake.
“Oh, do I know that! That boy of mine never even left, except for college and a few weeks at some point, and my daughter practically spends more time at our house than theirs, and it is just about 100 steps away!” he agreed.
“My boy still lives here too, never left, except for college. The girls live in San Myshuno, supposedly, but I betcha their landlord has no idea what they even look like, since they are always here. I think I may try to write their rent off as donations on my next tax return.” smirking, Jude shook his head.
“I like that our kids are so comfortable at home and love their parents so much that they enjoy being here. Better than having had them all falling over themselves and each other trying to move out at 18 and never to get to see them anymore!” Laura interjected.
“Exactly!” Hailey agreed.
“Just have to wait till they all get married and their spouses have to take them home with them, I guess.” Jude had purposely raised his voice so the kids standing nearby would hear.
“I am never going to get married, dad!” Rachel immediately responded.
“I give you till 25, and you either got hitched or I’ll sell you to some sheik for camels and goats.” her father told her.
“Ha, you’d have to pay them to take that one. OUCH!” Dominic had received a hard nudge by his sister.
“Why are you not selling Shea?! And Dominic?” Rachel pouted.
“Because Dominic has a girlfriend and we all know they will end up married before long. And Shea is actually useful sometimes. She helps out around the house, and while you two eat empty our refrigerator all the time, Shea actually goes and restocks too. Sometimes at least.”
“But her dog has peed on the good carpet when she was a puppy! Several times!” Rachel tattled.
“True. I guess she’ll be sold too after all. Maybe I can sell you together as some harem starter pack. You too Dominic, in case the sheik likes to try new things.” Jude said, making at least the parents laugh and the kids frown.
“I see your dad’s a jokster too at your expense.” Chase told Dominic, who snorted in agreement.
“Oh gawd yes, especially our dad with the dad jokes – literally – all the time. He used to have a ball embarrassing Dom, Shea and me during high school. Most of the time he was just trying to be cool and modern and ‘with it’, but it usually ended in humiliation and disaster for us kids.” Rachel said laughing.
“Oh yeah! He lives for those moments even still today!” Shea added.
“Ha – embarrassed you girls, boohoo. Laughable!” Dominic said grimacing. It was obvious that he was purposely giving his sister the ammunition to tell an embarrassing tale involving him, even though he played the part after she did. He was a good sport and Chase liked him right away. Rachel too. The siblings bickered amongst each other, but it was clear, they were tight as Chase was with Kiera. Or had been, before she got married and pregnant. Ugh.
“Hahaha, that’s right, dad took the cake with poor Dom! On prom night, dad -trying to be the cool dad again – wanted to slip him a condom just before the limo was about to take off, looked at Dom’s hot girlfriend and just gave him the entire box. Dom just about died that night! Rachel and I practically peed our pants for laughing so hard. I swear I have a picture somewhere with him looking like a deer in headlights holding a family sized box of condoms while his girlfriend looks absolutely horrified.” Shea laughed along with Rachel and Chase, while Dominic rolled his eyes.
“If you show anybody any pictures from that night, I swear I will drown you in the canal!” Dominic warned, then stomped off. The canal by the house had about enough water in it to drown a mouse, if you were lucky.
“I like your sister, she is really nice. You two get along?” Rachel stifled her laughter and addressed Chase.
“Yeah, about like you and your siblings, I guess.” he answered
“I love Dom and Shea. We’re like peas in a pod – most of the time. Right Shea?” she smiled, and Shea nodded.
At the same time the parents got back to the topic of their kids, when Blake addressed Jude, saying
“So, twins huh? Scary thought, they run in our family too.”
“Worse – they’re actually triplets! Dominic is the oldest, then Rachel and then Shea. In the delivery room I asked the doctor to hit the reset button as those babies just didn’t stop coming out of my wife. Almost got me into the penalty box with the Misses. But ever since that day, my wife and I have been with one foot in the insane asylum and the other in the poor house for 24 years. One is hard, two is rough but three of them is traumatic to a parent. Right honey?” Jude smirked at his wife, and it was clear to everyone that he loved his children and wife very much, despite the jokes.
“You are terrible, Jude. Those kids are great, make us very proud and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” Laura said.
“Well, like I said, twins run in my family too but my brother and I lucked out. So far it looks like my daughter will only bless us with one grandchild at a time, my niece only had one, so all eyes are on Chase. If that boy ever settles down. Right now it looks like he’ll be in mommy and daddy’s lap for another 25 years. You shove him out the front door, he’s back through the patio door before you get the chance to turn around.” Blake grinned at Hailey, who just smiled.
“Love always gets ya when you least expect it. And maybe your boy will end up with quadruplets. That would be hilarious! We’d have to video tape his facial expression in the delivery room. Of course we knew about the triplets, but seeing them being born, one after another is a whole new ballgame. Another beer? Tell me about your music and acting career, that must have been something! Makes my office job look seriously lame.”
Blake and Jude walked off to the barbecue, while the wives, Kiera and Logan still avidly conversed.
Chase took it all in, smiling.
Hard to believe this was the first time all of them got together, the way they all interacted made it look like they all had been friends for years. Naturally Shea knew his parents and had met a few more of his relatives before, and Chase had met her family. But never had all of them been together.
The fact that it worked out so well, left him feeling …. good. Real good. But also regretful.
Shea had been wanting to do this many months ago, suggested it many times, but Chase always made up excuses, afraid it would somehow become embarassing. Among his family, whenever he mentioned any females he was not related to, everyone just always assumed there would be more. So he just avoided the entire topic as much as possible.
“Wanna see my room? It’s still looks like when I moved out to college, pretty empty. After college, Rach and I got the apartment in the city as you know, you’ve been there, while Dom moved back home. He was the smart one! Being so far away from home sucks. Rach and I felt on top of the world and wanted to be on our own, big kahunas downtown in the big city. The reality of it is, it’s expensive, always noisy and dirty – and something is always broken. We were so dumb! We are both considering moving back here, but haven’t had the courage to listen to dad’s ‘I-told-you-so’ for months just yet.” Shea offered.
“Sure.” he agreed, even though it made him uncomfortable and nervous, but he wanted to be polite. Hopefully this wouldn’t become awkward.
Chase followed her upstairs and his heart began to race as she closed the door behind them. Standing in what still looked a lot like a teen girl’s room, alone with her, reminded him what he had noticed a couple of times now, but tried hard to ignore. Once more, he wanted to be just friends with a girl, but ended up falling for her.
Naturally he had visited her at her apartment, which she shared with Rachel, so they had never been alone. When she came over to his home, his parents would be there, sometimes even other family too. All alone behind closed doors was new to them.
Flashbacks to past heartbreaks were interrupted by her gently smiling at him, their eyes met and gave Chase a sensation that carried throughout his entire body.
“I like you, Chase. Really like you.” Shea said quietly, with a different tone in her voice.
“I really like you too, Shea.” Chase’s voice didn’t sound like his either.
“Do you want to go out with me? Like tomorrow? You know, like really out, not just out to have coffee like before. Lunch or even a dinner. Not a date, don’t get me wrong. Just … a little more than just a coffee meet, but not a date yet.” Shea asked.
“Uh …” Chase fidgeted nervously, his smile instantly gone, which erased Shea’s, and put a slightly embarrassed look into her eyes.
“Look, I didn’t mean to come on strong, if you are not ready, I get it. We can stick to just walking the pups together and having a coffee now and then. You know what, just forget I said anything.” she seemed genuinely humiliated, which made Chase feel bad.
“No, no, I want to. I do. Pick you up at 7?” Chase reassured her. No he didn’t want to, but at the same time he did. Calling this an impass would have been the understatement of the century.
“Are you sure? I mean, you do not have to agree just to be nice. If you don’t want to, we’ll just forget it ever came up and …”
“No! Really! I do. I was just … surprised, that’s all. I very much want to go. Honest to God, I do. I mean, not a big deal, right? We both have to eat, might as well do it together. Right?” Chase tried to salvage the near-train wreck.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I’ll be staying here overnight. You okay with picking me up here or want to meet somewhere?”
“No, I’ll pick you up. Unless you think your parents would mind? Don’t want this to be weird.” ‘Ha- don’t want this to be weird?! Aren’t you hilarious?! This could not be any weirder if we both suddenly grew wings and disappeared into the night sky!’ Chase thought to himself.
“We are both adults, Chase. And no, this is not weird. Why would it be? We have met a million of times before, the only way this is any different is the time and the menu items and that we won’t have dogs with us. Don’t worry about my parents, they adore you and your entire family. That’s really not a secret, just look at them. I would be shocked if our parents don’t end up as besties, too.”
The next evening came and despite Chase’s nervousness he didn’t miss the four curious pairs of eyes by the window watching them as they walked to Chase’s car after Shea had greeted him at the door in a beautiful dress, making Chase thank his instinct to dress up and choose a nicer restaurant for the dinner.
So a date-like situation, that wasn’t an actual date, right?
Was he ready for all this datelike not dating?
One thing was for certain, whatever this was, he would go very, VERY slow this time and he would ask all the right questions before anything that could even remotely be considered slightly and somewhat romantic would ever happen between them.
He already liked her and her family way too much to risk it all for a few months of a relationship that would be doomed from the start like the ones before.
Before he’d let that happen, he’d sooner stop showering and wear only sweatpants and stained shirts before meeting her again and do anything to make her never get closer than two feet to him again.
-to be continued-