Chase realized Shea was looking at him, amusement reflecting in her eyes.
“What?” he asked sheepishly, as he realized he had been caught being zoned out during a date again, she had probably said or asked him something and now he was afraid he’d have to live through a repeat of what happened when Caitriona had caught him like this during their last date ever.
“Cheers and welcome back to earth. Missed you.” Shea seemed amused as she raised her wine glass at him, she definitely wasn’t upset. Chase breathed a sigh of relief.
“Sorry about that.” he meant it. Why did this keep happening at the most inopportune moments?
“It’s okay, Chase. You seem to be really in the moment and happy one minute, then you are lightyears away the next. Maybe you were really not ready for this ‘not-date’ kinda thing.” she explained, still calm and not accusatory in the slightest.
“Yeah, this is a not-date.” she smiled.
“You mean not a date?”
“Kinda like that, but it kind of is like a date, but not, so a not-date.”
Chase just chuckled. No, this was not going to be a repeat for the simple fact that Shea was so different from any of the girls Chase had met before. Different in so many ways. And she loved dogs, like he did. That alone went a long way with him. Shadow was also not the friendliest of dogs, there were a lot of people he didn’t care for, but he had loved Shea from the first moment on. That also told Chase all he needed to know about Shea. And it made him want to be open and honest with her.
“It’s not that I generally don’t want to date. I do. It’s what comes after that scares me.” he told her.
Shea’s facial expression immediately made Chase blush and elaborate further.
“No, not that! That I like too. Very much actually. I meant after that …”
“What exactly after ‘that‘? I mean, how long after ‘that’? The walk of shame? Breakfast? Trying to remember the girl’s name? Wondering where your other sock went? Or wondering why the girl you did ‘that‘ with is getting thicker around the midsection all the time?” Shea chuckled.
“Funny, but no. I got the how-tos down and the anatomy and biology of it all. My troubles lie with the actual relationship leveling up system. That’s where I flunk out, every time. My first girlfriend, if you can call her that, used me for random nookie sessions during my first semester in college, then she dropped me like a hot potato when she graduated. Still, idiot me ran into her 4 years later and did the same thing again. Each time she was perfectly clear that we would never be anything other than friends-with-benefits, never a couple and dumbass me still kept hoping. Ugh. My second girlfriend was great, except the part where she told me I was immature and cheated on me with her boss. And the third one dumped me when I admitted that I didn’t want to get married and have kids like right now – and probably not ever.” Chase watched Shea’s reaction closely, but there was no sign of appalled shock, just true interest.
Chase usually avoided talking about his prior relationships and also about his true feelings on marriage and kids with anybody, even with Shea, whom he normally was very open and honest with. So him opening up like this about those topics to anybody was rare. In turn, he had never asked her about her dating history, even though he was dying to know.
“Interesting. My life was really boring compared to that soap opera. I dated my high school sweetheart until we both went to different colleges, we both concluded the distance physically also distanced our feelings and we amicably broke up and still are friends. He is getting married sometime later this year and I am invited. Speaking of, how do you feel about attending a stranger’s weddings as someone’s date? Just asking because I dread going alone, knowing he and his fiance are the type to create stuff like Singles tables, which is literally the last place I’d ever want to end up at. In other words, I am desperate. I asked Dom and he ran for the hills, told me there are only three weddings he’d ever bother attenting, Rachel’s, mine and most likely even his own. Stupid brother of mine!” she smiled.
“Uh, I feel like I want to be right behind Dominic, but for you I’d suffer through it. Unless of course you can find some other fool to take the fall. I’d gladly let them.” Chase smiled at her.
“Aww! You martyrer. You should be Saint Chase!” she giggled.
“Do you want to get married and have kids?” he asked her straight out.
“Can we finish dinner first or does it have to be right away?” she grinned at him.
He laughed, then shook his head
“Seriously, how do you feel about all that?” Chase got serious again, this question was important to him, yet he wondered why he always forget how easy she was to talk to, even though his current approach was more than clumsy. But he knew she would be honest with him, for better or worse.
“Probably same way as you do. I am not saying not ever, maybe yes, maybe not, but definitely not right now. I always thought that when you know, you know. Either way. I never really concerned myself much with any of that, wasn’t the type of girl who had her dolls have kids and cook all the time, I was the one that had them go on wild adventures, exploring jungles and the wild west. You know, all the stuff real life me would be way too much of a chicken to do. But I guess in the end my girls always got their princes after all. Can’t live on adrenaline alone, right? For the real life I just always figured when the right guy comes along, there’ll be time to figure all that out. Together, rather than me presenting my prince with a plan, and expecting him to ahere to it.”
“Now you sound like my mom.” Chase smiled, relieved. Her answer was much better than anything he expected.
“Uh .. thanks, I think?”
“It was definitely a compliment. Maybe a bit unusual. Sorry. Everyone is always on me about dating and finding a girlfriend, getting married and all that, except my mom. She always said she’s not worried, and when the right one comes along, I’d know. Just wondering how you know that you know, when you know. I mean, not like there’d be alarm bells or pop ups alerting you. What if I miss the clues and she’s gone again?”
“You would just know. A feeling, like internal pop ups and alarm bells, I guess. When you look at someone and can’t imagine life without them anymore. Either that, or someone winds up knocked up and you get no way out of starting a family, unless, you know, drastic measures.”
“Ugh, I would not want to see anyone go through that again!” Chase frowned, recalling the time when he sat with Bri at the abortion clinic.
“Oh! We have experience in the abortion department? Do tell!” Shea looked surprised.
“No, not me personally. I just went along with someone. Moral support.”
“Yeah, I kinda figure that part or I would have seen you in the news as the first pregnant man.”
“No, I meant, the baby wasn’t mine. My cousin got pregnant by her boyfriend when she was barely 18. He wanted to pressure her into an abortion and she was afraid to tell her parents. Well, Hope is about to turn 4 soon, meaning she decided to keep the baby. But sitting with her at that clinic … no. If that ever happened to me, I’d definitely man up and do what I could for the girl and my child, since I have seen the other side now.”
“I really don’t know where your ex got the immature thing from. I don’t find you immature at all, quite the contrary, but maybe that says a lot about me. Who knows?”
“Thanks, but truth be told, I think she had a point. I like computer games and that’s how I usually spend most of my Saturdays. And Sundays, and holidays, unless my family or friends planned something and drag me along.”
“Barking up the wrong tree here. I am the president of that nerd club. Dom, too. Rachel is the one who likes to party and do things with her life … you know, socialize and such. My brother and I are gamers.”
The conversation shifted to video games until they realized the waiter was shooting death stares at them for sitting at the table for so long after they were done eating for a while, so Chase asked for the bill, but Shea grabbed it from him and paid, grinning at him.
“This is a not-date and you also paid last time. Let’s keep this thing fair, okay?”
He drove her home, watched her go inside, smiling and waving back at him before disappearing throught the door. No kiss goodnight. Still, Chase smiled the entire drive home.
Several months later.
“Chase! Look at this view!” Chase was pulled to the window by a very excited Shea, he let her, smiling. He loved her enthusiasm.
When she was excited, it had a ripple effect on him. Most of her emotions did.
“It’s great. I like the yard too! I can bring Shadow when I visit and our monsters can run themselves tired, so we could actually finish an entire movie without one or both of them wanting us to entertain them. That last place was nice, the duplex I mean, but a shared yard?” he told her.
“Yeah, I know, I already wrote that one off mentally. I do not know why I even bother with a realtor, she doesn’t listen. I know I told her that I have a large dog, sometimes two, and need a big yard, even if the house is small. This one is great, but won’t work either.” her enthusiasm faded suddenly, as she seemed to realize something.
“What?! Why?! It is perfect. I figured you’d be doing your spasi dance by now telling me this is ‘the one’.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“Then why are you not signing the papers before someone snatches it out from under you like with that one place we looked at in Willow Creek and the other one with that old apple tree you went crazy over?!”
“Because this one has issues again. Did you not hear the realtor lady when we got here? This is not the place she sent me the info on, someone had already put in an offer on that one. This is a replacement she pulled out of thin air last minute since we already had the appointment to look at the other place today. The one that’s gone now.” she sounded down.
“Who cares? You love it, I can tell. Right? And you heard her, brandnew everything, brandnew floors, appliances.” Chase tried to salvage her mood.
“Right, brandnew everything, but unless you know how to magically conjure up a stash of brandnew money in my brandnew account, I cannot afford it. And I am NOT asking my parents to help. Then they would have to help Dom and Rach too and that is just over their budget. Plus, I am moving out to be an adult, can’t do that when mommy and daddy are paying for it. So, let’s just move on. Maybe in a few years I can afford something like this.”
“Shea, wait! What if you get a roommate? This has two bedrooms, you can live with one, right?” Chase hated seeing her disappointed like this.
“A roommate? Uh, how am I supposed to find one on such short notice. I don’t have to ask Rachel, no way she’d move here. And Dom is looking for a place with his girlfriend. Not big enough for them both, especially with only one bathroom. I’d never make it into work on time. And I won’t qualify for any mortgage loans high enough to pay for this place, let alone me not being sure I want to buy it and then end up not finding a decent roomie. Either I’d face financial ruin or end up with one of those creepy roommates you hear about. That sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.”
“What about me?”
“Come again?” Shea was confused.
“What if I became your roommate? I can pay and we have yet to fight over a bathroom. I am reliable, tidy, even know how to cook a few things. And we can apply for the mortgage together. I make enough money, we’ll definitely qualify.”
“Really? You’d move out of the Beach House to help a girl out?” Shea asked doubtful.
“For you I would.”
“Don’t toy with me now, man! Don’t you want to sleep on that for a night?”
“I don’t have to. I mean it. Let’s go put in an offer right now.” Chase affirmed.
“No, I am not convinced. So, I am going to talk to the realtor to buy us some time somehow till tomorrow. Then you go home and really think about it, maybe even run it by your parents. And tomorrow morning we’ll talk. Not before. Because buddy, I don’t trust you. I think this is a rare sighting of Chase Cameron being impulsive and I don’t know how to react to that.”
So this is how they left the matter.
Chase went home and did talk it over with Blake and Hailey.
Then the next morning he showed up at Shea’s parents’ house, where she and Rachel had moved back to a few months ago. It was still early, but she was already up and saw him park his car from the kitchen window.
When she opened the door for him, he handed her a roll of packaging tape, a symbolic gesture she understood right away.
“Oh my God, really?! You are the bestest best friend EVER!” she exclaimed as she jumped into his arms, squealing for joy.
Chase was excited too, but not looking forward to all the speculation this would generate.
Even after all this time, people still had not realized that they were really just friends.
-to be continued-