Chase Hope 6

When Chase woke up on Monday morning he had a splitting headache. He was quite used to them. Alcohol and Valium had their consequences. Unfortunately the combination didn’t always guarantee him a peaceful night’s sleep. Today he was unfortunate enough to remember the end of the dream. The image sent a wave of disgust rifling through his stomach. He couldn’t bear to think about it.

Chase rolled over with a groan and took another two pills. He covered his head with a pillow and waited for release.

The clock read 11:21am when he entered reality again. He threw his covers off and dragged himself out of bed. In his half lucid state he made a coffee and took it outside. Lighting up a smoke, he squinted his eyes and surveyed the cloudless sky. Beautiful day. How ridiculous and offensive. He gulped his coffee with disdain. It tasted as bitter as his life.

When he had consumed enough coffee to get his brain to recognise that it was in fact awake, his mind turned to the kid. It was Monday. He thought about what had happened last week. The kid sure was intriguing, and wise beyond his years – the little bastard. How did he have it figured out? It was a blatant injustice. Still, Chase found himself smiling. He realised that he had sort of been looking forward to seeing him again. But surely he wasn’t going to take up the invitation to meet by the river again? The kid probably wasn’t serious anyway. My god, he realised, he was going to go. He actually wanted to go. So, this was what his life had been reduced to – meeting some kid who was posing as a pseudo-shrink, to draw coloured pictures of how rivers feel. He took a deep breath. Oh well, he might as well just go with it; he had nothing better to do. He also had nothing to loose – or so he thought anyway. He finished his coffee in one swift gulp and went to get dressed.

*

Chase was late, as usual. In exactly the same position under the tree, Tanner was already immersed in his art. He was wearing the same odd jeans as last week Chase noted as he approached him. On the other hand, rather than being a stifling suit, this time Chase was in loose jeans and a white tee-shirt with a black and red pattern on the front.

‘Hey man’ he said as he walked up, trying to mask how ridiculous he felt.

Tanner kept drawing and said nothing. Making some final strokes he surveyed his work. ‘I had my doubts that you’d show. Awesome man. You do have the balls after all.’ He looked up and smiled. His smile was quite infectious. Tanner fished around in his backpack and withdrew a spare sketch pad and a pencil case. He placed the pad on the ground next to him and carefully selected three red pencils, a black one and a grey one, and put them neatly next to the paper, before resuming his work.

Chase wasn’t sure what to do, and he found himself hesitating. Without looking up Tanner said, ‘What are you waiting for? Get stuck in man!’

Chase sat down next to Tanner and considered his blank paper. It looked daunting and smug, staring back at him, as if to say go on, go on then, I dare you to make something out of me! Chase looked at Tanner’s pattern of colour with curiosity. ‘What are you drawing this time? You can’t draw the river every week.’

Tanner laughed. ‘No, I’m not drawing the river, although it has inspired me multiple times.’ He paused and selected a green pencil. ‘No, Chase my friend, this time I am drawing anticipation.’ Chase nodded his head as he appreciated the myriad of lines and colours on Tanner’s page. Again he stared at his own arrogantly blank page. He didn’t know where to start. This is fucking ridiculous he thought. Was he actually doing this? Was he actually going to draw something?

He couldn’t. ‘I feel stupid. I don’t know what to draw. I haven’t drawn anything since school.’

Tanner was unperturbed as he kept scribbling. ‘You feel stupid or you think you look stupid?’ The kid didn’t wait for a response. ‘I thought maybe you could draw freedom. But then, on second thought, I feel maybe you’d be better off starting with oppression.’

Chase stared at him blankly. ‘Oppression?’

‘Yep. It’s what you’ve been feeling isn’t it?’ Again he didn’t wait for confirmation. ‘So – out with it man!’

Chase considered the suggestion. He picked up his pad and put it on his lap. ‘But how do I do that?’

Tanner stopped and looked directly at him for the first time that day. ‘You use this here red pencil, you think about oppression, and then you use said pencil to show what it means to you. Simple.’ He smiled at him.

Chase took the red pencil and briefly considered stabbing himself in the leg with it. Instead he placed the pencil lightly on the page and hesitated. Then he began drawing. He wasn’t sure what it was exactly that he was depicting, but he starting making some shapes and lines. Soon it became apparent that he was in fact making a very crude representation of a little man holding a briefcase, with a ball and chain attached to his leg.

Tanner glanced over after a while. Seeing Chase’s feeble effort he grabbed his pad and analysed it. ‘No. that’s not it. This,’ he pointed emphatically at the little man, ‘Is not a feeling. It’s an idea – a real thing. Draw oppression as you feel it.’

Chase raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m offended at your blatant rejection of my art. This here wee man is a symbol of oppression.’ Chase smiled and pointed to his barely recognisable figure.

‘Yes, Chase, it’s very good. But how does the poor man feel for god’s sake?’

Chase threw his pad down dejectedly. ‘You’re a bully,’ he complained, feigning a pout. Tanner laughed.

After a few minutes Chase flipped his pad over and started fresh. This time he picked up the red pencil and furiously attacked the page. Hmmm, it actually felt quite good. He grabbed the black pencil and made sharp lines and bold patches of darkness. He actually got a bit lost in it. When he was finished he threw the pencil down and triumphantly held the picture out to Tanner.

Tanner surveyed it. ‘Magnificent. You’re getting it now. That will be one hundred and twenty dollars. Same time next week then?’

*

As Hope busied herself skilfully cutting, colouring, washing, and styling the hair of strangers, her mind kept involuntarily drifting to the dinner. It had been a stupid idea from the start, which was now a proven fact. That the lot of them should mix socially was abhorrent to her. But still, she had gone along with it because her family had been so insistent that it was a good idea, and Dean too – stupid, foolish man! Hope had promised to try, to just give it a go and test the waters of a relationship with her real father. She felt nothing for him – the dinner had merely consolidated that for her. And he certainly still seemed to be cold and unfeeling toward her – and the whole situation in general, even toward her mother. Her mum too, had always seemed cold about it, and was just as cold, if not colder last night. There was no real emotion there.

But now that she thought about it, Hope realised that she had never really seen her mother emotional at all – not really, not deeply. Audrey always had a calm reserve about her. And even in this ridiculous situation, that surely called for some genuine feeling, Audrey remained composed and cold. Certainly she could be warm, that’s what was so odd about it. She was a very warm and loving mother, and wife. But when it came to Jack, a cold iciness enveloped her. Hope didn’t understand it. Something had happened between them once. Obviously they had not always been so cold and unfeeling toward one another. And her dad – even he wasn’t emotional about it! Surely he must be, at least on the inside. Had he been angry at the time? Had he been devastated and heart-broken? If he had been then any trace of that had dissipated long ago. Indeed, no-one in the situation seemed remotely emotionally affected by it at all. Except her of course. And that made her freshly angry. Deeply, deeply angry.

*

Chase was nervous as he walked into the bar. Luckily it was quiet because it was 11am, hours before opening time. Chase stood in the entrance and looked around. It was just the way he remembered it.

The girl behind the bar noticed him standing there and immediately felt irritated. We’re not open yet you jerk, she thought. Cleaning the glasses angrily she called out, ‘We don’t open for another three hours. Can I help you with something?’ Damn it, why didn’t she lock the door!?

Chase was shaken out of his plethora of memories. He hesitated, then walked over to the bar. ‘Ahh, yeah, is Phil here?’

She momentarily stopped at the mention of her boss’ name. ‘He’s out the back. Who do I say is here?’

‘Tell him it’s his nephew.’ The waitress looked surprised as she wandered off into the back.

Hunched over his desk in his office, Phil was slightly annoyed at having been distracted from the books. He heard Rachel at the door before she said anything. ‘I told you not to bother me unless it was urgent,’ he muttered.

She stopped in the doorway and leant against it with her arms folded. He was almost amusing and cute when he tried to be strict. ‘Just thought you might like to know your nephew is out front.’

Phil dropped his pen. He pulled off his glasses and turned around. ‘Chase?’

Rachel shrugged her shoulders. ‘I guess, didn’t give me his name.’

She walked off to attend to her work. Phil leant back in his chair and broke into a smile. Well I never, he thought, the kid is alive.

Phil leaned on the door frame of the entrance to the bar and folded his arms. Chase wandered about nervously, unaware he was being watched. Phil found himself instantaneoulsy relieved. The kid was indeed alive, and actually looked quite reasonable to boot. Thank fuck for that!

Phil strode into the light. ‘Well, well, well, what do we have here? After years of callously ignoring your uncle you finally appear, out of the dust it would seem.’ He broke into a huge grin. ‘Come here you sly devil!’ he bellowed as he embraced his nephew with manly gusto. He pulled back and held on to Chase’s shoulders as he surveyed his face carefully. ‘Now, let me get a good look at you … No signs of obvious damage or torture. Good!’ He smiled warmly at his nephew. ‘So what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?’

Chase bit his lip. ‘Well Uncle Phil, it would seem that I am in need of a job.’

*

Hope wanted the day to be over, and quickly. She sat at the bow of the boat looking out over the water. Her hair was secured in a red bandana, and she felt strangely uncomfortable in her black bathers, white pants and red singlet. She glanced over at Jack, who was busy showing a very enthusiastic Dean how to man the sail. Hope grimaced. Why was he so enthusiastic? Didn’t he understand what was going on here, how ridiculous and weird this situation was? No, of course he didn’t! He saw it as another opportunity to experience something new and that was, after all, what Dean was all about – seizing and embracing new experiences and adventures. She had liked that about him to begin with. He was so passionate and easy-going. Now, as she looked at him excitedly discussing the logistics of yachting with her father, she felt nothing but mounting resentment at his attitude.

After a while Dean bounced over and flopped down next to Hope, with a huge grin on his face. ‘This is great, isn’t it!?’ It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. With poorly masked disgust, Hope looked at his happy, beaming face staring out at the city, bristling with fresh adventure.

No, she couldn’t hold her tongue – not this time. ‘You really think this is great?’

He looked at her with a naïve, puzzled face. ‘You don’t like sailing?’

Hope’s lips tightened in anger, but somehow she managed to contain it. With masterful control she muttered, ‘No, I don’t like it. I’m not even registering that we are sailing, don’t you get that?’

Dean cocked his head innocently and furrowed his brow. ‘What do you mean?’

Hope stood up, unable to sit with his ridiculous ignorance any longer. ‘You don’t think this might be at all weird for me? Out here, spending time with this stranger, in the vain hope of getting to know one another?’ Her eyes appealed for some semblance of a spark of understanding. Please, she needed him to understand, just this once.

But it was not an understanding look that crossed his face, but rather an even more puzzled expression. ‘But, that’s a good thing.’ Again it wasn’t a question – rather, it was like he’d stated the obvious the way he saw things. She couldn’t even look at him any more. She threw her hands up in silent exasperation and stormed off to the other end of the boat, highly irritated that she couldn’t get further away from this ridiculous creature she had somehow managed to invite into her life and KEEP THERE!

Jack had witnessed the altercation, though he could not hear what they were talking about. He perceived so much inner conflict in his daughter as he watched her storm off. What was she doing with this clown? Sure, he was nice enough, maybe even too nice, but they clearly did not gel together. Still, it was certainly not his place to say or do anything. He could not comment on any aspect of her life. He had not earned that, not yet, and perhaps he never would. Judging by her attitude towards him, he doubted whether she would ever allow him to get remotely close to her, and he didn’t blame her. The realisation made his heart sink. As he looked at her standing in inner turmoil, he remembered the way Audrey had looked as she was leaving all those years ago. They were so much alike, more than Hope realised he thought.

She looked so upset, and Dean was so embarrassingly unaware. He had to do something. He wanted to do something, to offer something. Tentatively he approached her, keeping a respectful distance. ‘Are you okay?’ he asked gently.

Hope shot him a glance and folded her arms in discomfort. ‘Yeah, I’m … I’m fine. It’s just … well, this is all a bit hard for me, that’s all.’ Her voice tapered off.

Jack looked down at his feet and considered what to say. ‘I get that – I really do.’ He paused, trying to find the right words. ‘Look, Hope, I really appreciate you agreeing to come out on the boat, but if you’ve had enough or it’s too much too soon, then I can take you home – I understand.’

He saw some internal conflict cross through her mind. ‘Yeah, I think maybe I should go home.’

Jack gave her a soft smile and tried to hide his disappointment. ‘Sure, I’ll turn the boat around.’

As he went to turn away Hope flinched and blurted out, ‘It’s not just this you know, weird, thing … it’s not just us … it’s, well there’s other things going on.’ She gestured toward Dean who was contentedly surveying the scenery with his back turned to them.

Jack nodded. ‘I understand.’ He paused. Should he say something else? Was this his chance? Yes. No. Yes. But what? What was the right thing to do here? He ran his fingers over his mouth and down his chin in contemplation.     ‘Hope, I know we don’t really know each other and this is hard for you, but if you do ever want to talk, about anything, then I am here you know, and you can talk to me, if you ever want to that is. This’, he gestured toward Dean, ‘This is no good. It’s probably not my place to say, but you … you deserve better.’

Okay, enough, he’d said his bit and may have gone too far as it was. He quickly turned and began busying himself with turning the boat around.

Hope stared after him in quiet amazement. She was genuinely surprised. How was it that the person she knew least of all was the one person who seemed to understand?

At that time a fleeting thought occurred to Jack and he momentarily turned back, hesitated, then said to her, ‘You know this is all very new and scary for me too. Just want you to know that.’

There was a tenderness is his voice that she had not heard before. ‘Okay, heading home’, he announced as he recommenced the practicalities. Hope watched him adjust the various bits of boat, and felt the defences around her heart soften ever so slightly.

*

Jack sat at the bar contemplating his daughter. Had he said too much? Probably. Though she hadn’t seemed too offended at the time – in fact he sensed that what he had said had actually made sense to her. Maybe they were finally starting to get somewhere after all. He had been here for over six months now. He had seen Hope all of five times, and had only seen Audrey the once – until the dinner of course. Ahhh … the dinner. He had wanted to make it work for Hope’s sake, but just as he feared, she, like her mother, had been very awkward around him. Ian had been welcoming and friendly, and Jack could see why Audrey had married him. He must be an exceptional man to have done what he did all those years ago, to have stuck by Audrey, and to now have allowed Jack into his home. Jack respected the man. But he hated him too – he couldn’t help it. Being so close to Audrey, but yet so distant, was an arduous and painful thing to endure. He honestly was not sure that he could go through with it again, not even for his daughter.

*

It was a sunny winter Saturday in Tuscany. Audrey was laying on the sun bed in the living room, reading a book while a warm sunbeam danced across her frame. Violet was singing in the kitchen as she prepared food, and Antonio was, as usual, in his studio.

   Suddenly there was a knock at the door. Audrey looked up from her book at Violet, who, puzzled, had stopped her cooking frenzy. ‘Are you expecting company? I’m not even dressed!’ Audrey sat up as she realised she was still in her pyjama pants and a black singlet.

‘No, we’re not expecting anyone. At least I don’t think we are …’ She ran through a list in her mind as she went to the door.

Audrey couldn’t see the door from where she was sitting, but she heard her sister squeal with delight as a male voice yelled, ‘Surprise!’

Audrey quickly ran her hands through her hair and wondered if she should make a dash for her room. But before she could make a decision, Violet appeared in the room accompanied by a man laden with a case and multiple bags.  ‘I thought you weren’t coming until Tuesday!?’ Violet exclaimed excitedly.

The man put his bags down clumsily as he replied, ‘I know! I thought I’d come a few days early and surprise him, and you of course’ –

He caught sight of Audrey and momentarily stopped talking. Their eyes met. It took him a moment before he could continue. ‘Of course I assumed that wouldn’t inconvenience you – I can stay somewhere else until then if it’s a problem, I don’t’ –

Violet cut him off abruptly as she embraced him. ‘Don’t be ridiculous! The cottage is pretty much ready.’ Only then did she remember Audrey. ‘Oh, sorry! This is my gorgeous little sister Audrey. Audrey, this is Jack.’

Audrey stood, extremely embarrassed about her appearance. Jack walked toward her and held out his hand. She took it. Audrey felt a warm rush of fuzziness surge through her body as their skin met. He was tall, and he had piercing blue eyes and sandy blonde tousled hair.

They were still looking at each other when Antonio sprang into the room, and seeing Jack, majestically swept his friend up in a giant hug.

‘Jack you magnificent creature! And early no less! Vino, vino! Come, we celebrate life!’

He led Jack off into the kitchen. Audrey felt relived that she could now go and change into something far more decent. Violet smugly walked past her toward the kitchen. ‘Not bad, hey sis?’ she said, playfully nudging her sister.   Audrey looked after Jack. Yes, not bad, not bad at all …

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