Chase waited a week before looking Hope up on facebook. He deduced that a week was an appropriate length of time to wait – he didn’t want to seem too eager. She had accepted him as a friend almost immediately. Chase viewed her profile with extreme interest. There were heaps of funny pictures of her with her best friend, who Chase noted was currently in India, and pictures of her with Dean. Chase also looked at Dean’s profile, out of morbid curiosity. He couldn’t believe the difference between them; they couldn’t have had more different profiles. How the hell did they even get along?
Chase had made a few comments on Hope’s wall, but had made a conscientious effort to remain relaxed and to not like too much. He really wanted to see her again, but he wasn’t sure how to make that happen without seeming too interested, and disrespectful of her relationship.
Luckily for Chase, an opportunity was presented to him a week later, by Tanner.
‘That’s quite impressive’, Tanner commented after Chase had finished reading his written analysis of Deception.
Tanner started to pack up his things. ‘Okay, I’m off.’
Chase lit up a smoke and leant back against the tree. ‘I might loiter on here for a while. It’s not like I’ve got anywhere else to be, or anything productive to do with my time.’
Tanner finished stuffing everything into his backpack and slung it over his shoulder. He put his finger to his lips and tapped it, as if considering something.
‘What?’ asked Chase, who was by now well accustomed to Tanner’s thinking mannerisms.
‘I was just thinking … I’m actually going to meet Hope for a drink. She’s off early today, and she was feeling a bit shit last night so I suggested a well-timed pint.’ He looked at Chase and grinned. ‘Interested?’
‘I’m never one to turn down a pint,’ Chase replied, trying to sound as casual as possible.
Already at the pub, Hope got up and gave her brother a hug when he arrived. Opening her eyes, she noticed Chase standing awkwardly behind him. Did her heart just do a little flip? ‘Chase! Hey, how you going?’ She smiled warmly at him, and his awkwardness seemed to fade on the spot.
‘I’m good. I hope you don’t mind, Tanner promised me beer, and who was I to refuse? Can I get you a drink?’ He offered.
Yes, her heart was definitely doing something. How odd and unexpected, she thought. ‘Yes, please – pint of Stella.’
Chase raised his eyebrows as though he was impressed. She looked damn fine, in her jeans and white shirt. As he walked off Hope realised that she was indeed really happy to see him again. Tanner sat down and beamed at her cheekily. ‘What? She said, rolling her eyes. Tanner put on his I didn’t say anything, look. No, he didn’t say anything, but then again, he didn’t have to.
Equipped with beverages the conversation flowed freely and easily between them. A fair way into the interesting, animated discussion, the subject of Tanner’s love life came up.
‘You know, I’ve never even asked you if you have a girlfriend’, Chase announced, as it had only just occurred to him that he hadn’t asked Tanner before now.
‘Well Chase, I’ve never asked you either, but then again, I don’t need to, as it is so blatantly apparent that you are, at least for the time being, quite the solitary creature.’
Chase gave him a jokingly offended look. ‘Well, I’m glad you find me so transparent Tanner, thankyou.’
Tanner held up his hands in defence and said, ‘Can’t help my gifts man.’ He clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back, basking in the glory of his perceptive mind.
Chase noticed that Hope was smiling coyly. As she twiddled with the rim of her glass, she said, ‘You know, I happen to be privy to the information you’re after Chase. No, Tanner doesn’t have a girlfriend, BUT … he has been interested in a certain young lady who happens to work at the servo down the street for QUITE some time now.’
Chase rubbed his hands together at this piece of juicy gossip and smiled. ‘Really?’
Hope sipped her beer. ‘Indeed. I keep saying to him that he should just ask her out, but …’
‘You know, I am right here guys.’ Tanner protested, ‘And I happen to have my own methods of courting, thankyou very much sis.’ He assumed a look of being very pleased with himself.
‘And what might those be?’ Chase asked, quite genuinely interested. He was certain they would be unconventional, and probably wildly romantic.
Assured of a good audience, Tanner leaned in. ‘Well, actually, the time is drawing nearer for me to ask her out. But first, you see, I needed to plant all the seeds, which I’ve been doing, and quite successfully I might add. Months ago now I walked in to the servo before uni, one Monday morning, and I saw her there, looking all magnificent and intriguing. The next time, instead of just buying something and chatting to her for as long as possible before the other customers started getting too disgruntled, like I did the first time, I thought right – time to step it up a notch. So I got some flowers, went up to the counter, paid for them, and then gave them to her. She was surprised, obviously, though quite pleasantly surprised, and she asked me what they were for. I said it’s Monday, the day of possibilities, and I whisked out leaving a trail of romance and intrigue.
I’ve since repeated this ritual every Monday at precisely 8:15am. I must say that by now I am getting to know her, and she me, and I’m falling more for her, and I’m hoping that she’s well and truly starting to develop feelings for me too – and not shitty nice for a while then boring ones, but deep, genuine feelings.’
He leaned back in self-admiration. ‘Yes, the time is approaching for the next phase.’
Hope giggled and shook her head. ‘You are such a hopeless romantic.’
Chase swigged his beer and smiled. ‘Yeah you are. You put the rest of us to shame! Another reason for me to hate you.’
Tanner stood up and stretched. ‘Ahh Chase, my ignorant fellow. It’s not my fault if you, like most other specimens of the still reasonably young male kind, are too lazy to lift your game.’ He picked his drink up and quickly polished it off. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, you’ve got me thinking and I’m off to see the lady in question.’ Chase and Hope both laughed at his antics as he dashed off with the same purpose that he always had.
After Tanner had left, Chase sat smiling to himself thinking about Tanner’s wonderful oddness. He was also very glad to have Hope to himself. ‘He really is something,’ he chuckled.
Hope raised her eyebrows in agreement. Chase drank his beer and contemplated the kid further. ‘He has such conviction, you know? Like he’s got it all figured out.’
To his surprise, he saw Hope grimace slightly. ‘What?’ he asked.
She was quite serious when she replied. ‘That’s the thing though – he thinks he has, but he doesn’t, not really. There’s still a lot you don’t know about him.’
Chase was intrigued and furrowed his eyebrows. ‘Like what?’
Hope leant on the table. ‘He’s always had that strong conviction about him. But he has it even when he’s wrong. He’s actually incredibly self-righteous and stubborn; it’s really difficult to win an argument with him, even if you are the one who is right and you know that you are. He’s also really emotional, so much so that when he was younger he didn’t know how to handle his emotions properly, and they sort of … swallowed him up.’
Chase leaned in, even more intrigued and surprised. ‘What do you mean?’
Hope tried to think of a way to explain it properly. ‘Well, certain things, or events, tend to have a much stronger impact on Tanner than they should. Like … I need an example … like when the twin towers were hit. Tanner was only eleven, and I remember watching the news with mum and dad, and we were all really shocked and upset, just like everyone was. But Tanner was really distressed. He locked himself in his room and only came out to watch the news. It’s like he retreated out of society completely for a while – he wouldn’t even go to school. He only surfaced again after a couple of weeks had gone by.
Same thing happened with a girl at school when he was … about fourteen I think. I don’t know what happened exactly, but it sent him into a decline and he got really depressed and wouldn’t go to school for three weeks – he barely even got out of bed. Mum and dad got really worried and ended up taking him to a doctor, who then referred him to a psych, who thought he might actually have bi-polar – you know because he has those mad highs too. Thing is, they’re reluctant to diagnose someone until they’re older and their hormones and stuff have, sort of evened out, so we’re still not actually sure if he has it.’
Chase was dumbstruck. But then, as he thought about it, he realised that it all made sense. True, Chase had really only ever seen Tanner happy, but there was a certain frenzied excitement to him sometimes. ‘Wow, that’s full on,’ he said as he leant back, taking it all in.
‘Yeah. But, I mean, he’s a lot better now than he used to be. He hasn’t had one of those declines for over a year now, so maybe he has settled down a bit. I hope so anyway.’
Chase was still struggling to compute this new information. After a moment, he said, ‘Honestly, he seems really stable and together, and wise beyond his years to me.’ Chase paused as he thought about it further. ‘It’s funny you know – I thought he had it all figured out and I was kinda jealous. If anyone should have their shit together it’s me, I am over ten years older so it’s only fair!’ He smiled widely, though there was deep truth in what he said.
Hope looked intently at him. ‘But you don’t at all do you?’ she said with gentle, but intense perception.
Chase perceived a kind of sweetness in the question, and he felt the fortified barriers he had erected so carefully around his heart shift ever so slightly.
‘No, no I don’t.’
The following week Chase thought about both Tanner and Hope, more and more. He still couldn’t quite get his head around what Hope had told him about her brother. Could he be bi-polar? He thought about all his conversations with the kid, and his weird, yet delightful idiosyncrasies. It was true though – there was something quite manic about him a lot of the time – you could almost see the excitement rippling through him. But Chase had put that down to him being such an intense and deep person. Maybe there was more to it than that. It saddened Chase to think that the kid may actually have a disorder, a mental disorder – that made him that way. Chase liked him just the way he was; he’d never met anyone like him. He realised that he’d actually never liked anyone as much as he liked Tanner. Except for Hope – but she was a woman, a sexy woman – so it wasn’t the same at all. He loved being around Tanner, and around Hope. There was something that felt … like home about them. He had to continuously remind himself that Hope was taken, and that she was forbidden territory because of Tanner. Chase had no intention of doing anything to ruin their friendship, it was starting to mean far too much for him. Yet he still could not, try as he may, get Hope’s image out of his otherwise haunted soul.
Hope too found that her mind was drifting more and more to Chase. And it seemed it was having an effect on everything else in her life as well. She was moody and cranky with everyone – standoffish with work colleagues and snappy with Dean. What she really needed was to talk to her best friend; but Ally had been in India for months now with no fixed plans to come back. For the moment at least, Hope felt that she was on her own in trying to figure out why she was drawn to this strange man, and what the hell she was going to do about the one she already had.
‘What do you want on your Panini?’
Nestled on the couch with a book, Hope, in her black sweats and red singlet, looked up at the bread product Dean was holding out in the kitchen.
‘I don’t want one,’ she replied coldly.
Dean looked almost hurt. ‘What do you mean? Of course you want one – they’re the next best thing to getting one fresh in Italia! I’ll make it any way you want.’ He shook the Panini at her persuasively.
Anger welled up inside Hope at an alarmingly unexpected rate. She took one last fatal look at Dean’s unchanging, happy, regular face, and felt warm, icy red fury catapult up into her throat. She got up and threw her book down. ‘No, Dean, I don’t want one. I’ve never wanted one. It’s a bread roll – not a monument to culinary expertise, not a product of creative genius, not a triumph of baking excellence – it’s bread.’
She snatched the Panini and brandished it menacingly, as she began to shout. ‘It’s a fucking piece of bread! Flour and water – BREAD!!!’ She tossed the innocent Panini ruthlessly to the floor and stalked back toward the couch.
Dean turned white. He was in shock at such a sudden and unlikely turn of events. ‘What the hell has gotten into you!? That was a perfectly good Panini!’
As if sensing that this was its only chance for an outlet, Hope’s freshly released anger got the better of her. She whipped back around. ‘Oh, does that upset you Dean?! Because you wouldn’t know it to look at you! You never look upset, you never are upset, or down, or hurt, you’re never anything, you’re just so … you. So happy, so happy-go-lucky, go with the flow, never let anything get you down I’m the eternal optimist Dean!!’
Dean raised his hands and backed away from her in defence. He was utterly bewildered by her outburst and desperately trying to make sense of it. ‘Hang on a minute, just hang on. Let’s take a breath.’ He paused. Hope glared at him. ‘Are you telling me … that you’re angry that I’m a happy person? Because honestly Hope, that doesn’t make any sense.’
Hope seized upon him like a vicious cat. ‘I don’t care if it doesn’t make sense!’ She was positively livid now. ‘Not everything has to make sense Dean! Life’s not always meant to make sense. It’s not always easy, it’s not all fine, not all roses and superior baked goods! Most people have a range of emotions, you know – a range? But, oh no, not you Dean. Oh no, not you, you have one, and it gives me the shits!’
Dean opened his mouth as if to say something, but his sheer bafflement made it impossible for him to articulate anything at all. Hope pounced on this hesitation as further ammunition. ‘See? Exactly. This is my point. I’m angry and I’m shouting at you, and you have the audacity to stand there like nothing’s happening?! You’re so calm and collected, so normal. No, you know what? Actually, it’s not normal. It’s not normal at all – it’s abnormal. It’s abnormal to be happy all the time, its abnormal to only get truly excited about food, and it’s definitely abnormal TO NOT RESPOND WITH SOME KIND OF EMOTION WHEN YOUR GIRLFRIEND IS THIS UPSET!!’
Mad wrath glinted in her eyes. So much so that Dean discovered, for the first time in their relationship, that he was actually a bit scared of her. Despite this, he remained paralysed with shock. Hope threw her hands up in exasperation and groaned, before pounding out of the kitchen. Thinking better of it, she spun back around and went to say something. Dean recoiled in anticipation of another attack. Oh god, he thought, she’s not done. But instead of saying something, Hope checked herself, and then swiftly proceeded to storm back into the room and stamp on the poor Panini until it was mashed into the grout of the kitchen tiles.
‘That’s what I think of your precious Panini!!’ she roared, and she ran out of the kitchen, leaving Dean staring after her in utter befuddlement.
Despite the disastrous Panini episode, life for Dean and Hope somehow went back to normal, and rather quickly at that considering that it was not discussed further. Dean put her outburst down to her having a bad day, probably because of the situation with her family. He unwisely believed that saying nothing about it would show Hope that he understood her and knew that she would be frustrated and mad sometimes – and it made sense that she would take it out on him because they lived together. After treading very carefully around her for a few days, Dean determined that her mood had gone back to normal, and relieved, he too had settled back into his eternally optimistic ways. He assumed that everything was okay, and that everything would be okay, because it always had been.
It was not going to stay that way this time, though Dean did not as yet know that. Not privy to Hope’s inner reflections, Dean was completely unaware of just how unhappy she had become. She too had played her part, and played it all too well – if only she had spoken to him sooner, or let him in on some of her feelings, then maybe things could have turned out differently. As it was she did not let him into the fears and frustrations of her heart until it was far too late.
Two weeks later, on a Friday night, as she sat waiting for him to come home, her heart finally made the decision for her; she could not do this anymore.