Chase Hope 11

Dean was in a fairly jolly mood when he swept into the apartment in the early hours of what seemed to him to be a normal Saturday morning. He still had a smile glued to his face and was feeling exhausted, yet energised, from his night’s social endeavours.

It took him almost a full minute to register that something was not right. The lights were on in the lounge room. Hope was never up at this hour. He curiously padded into the source of light, and took in the scene there. His smile slowly began to vanish. Hope was sitting on the couch, fully dressed in jeans and a white sweater, arms and legs folded, with two red suitcases at her feet. She was gazing into space, and she looked like she had been crying. It took Dean a second to take in the situation, and even then his drunken state prevented him from fully comprehending what the hell was going on. He just knew that it wasn’t good.

‘What are you doing,’ he inquired, still with half a smile on his face. Being the firm optimist that he was, he assumed that there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for this unlikely scene.

He was wrong. Hope looked up at him with clear eyes that had just finished unburdening her many sorrows. ‘I’m leaving.’ She said it softly, but decisively, her body fixed and rigid.

Dean gave a muffled, insecure laugh and threw himself down next to her on the couch, weaving his arm around her. ‘What? Don’t be silly, you’re not leaving.’ There was innocent fear, masked by humour in his voice.

At his touch Hope flinched and pulled away, raising her hands in gentle protest. ‘I’m not being silly, and I am leaving.’ She stood up with purpose. Dean just stared at her, though the humour had altogether left his face, and his heart. There was an awkward silence of heavy trepidation as Dean began to register that she was serious. Hope saw him struggling internally with it. ‘Do you understand? I’m leaving you. I’ve had enough. I can’t do this anymore.’ She paced the room with her arms folded tightly across her chest.

Dean furrowed his brow and ran his hand across his forehead, his mouth dropping open with the gravity of her words. He desperately tried to make sense of it. ‘But … why? Can’t do what anymore?’

‘This! This relationship, everything. I’m not happy Dean, and I haven’t been for ages, and you don’t even seem to notice.’ There was no anger in her voice, only frustration and defeat.

‘What do you mean? I don’t understand. Sure, I know we have our differences and problems, but so does everyone … I thought we were good together.’

‘And that’s the problem. We don’t see things – anything – the same way. We’re just way to different, and I knew that to begin with, but I loved you so much that I thought we could make it work, and I think we’ve given it a damn good shot. But it’s not working now, and it hasn’t been for a while.’

She stopped pacing and looked at him. He sat slumped on the couch, speechless. He looked as though he’d been hit in the face. Hope felt the resolution and decisiveness that she had strained so hard for, momentarily dissipate. She steadied herself, and ran through her decision in her mind once more, giving herself the pep talk that she knew would save her. Still, he just looked so upset. What had she expected though? She realised she had expected him to argue, therefore making it easier for her to leave. She had not at all expected this haunting stillness. She had not expected to see the heartbreak on his face. In fact, she had thought that she wasn’t significant enough to him to create such a strong reaction. Her heart faltered and flittered with uncertainty. Within a few seconds she rationalised in her head all the things that were wrong, and she remembered that when she was planning this, she had said to herself, if you feel yourself changing your mind just remember the nights you’ve cried yourself to sleep, alone in the darkness. The decision was remade in her mind and her conviction came back.

She delicately sat down next to Dean and placed her hand on his knee. ‘Look, I know this is hard. Believe me, it’s not what I wanted. I wanted this to work, I really did. And I tried really, really hard, with everything I had in me. But come on Dean, you must realise that we’ve been growing apart.’

Dean couldn’t look at her. He ran his hands down his face and let them drop into his lap in defeat. ‘I guess … maybe. But I thought we’d get through it.’ He looked at her and his eyes misted up with intense feeling. ‘I love you. I don’t want to break up. I don’t want you to leave.’

Hope’s heart crumpled in on itself as her face, registering the broken fragility in his, contorted with pain. Her eyes misted alongside his and she gently took his face in her hands. ‘I know. I know. I love you too, I do. But it’s just not enough anymore … I’m sorry.’ A stifled sob escaped her as they drew their foreheads together.

Dean reached out and touched her face, and slowly, ever so slowly, drew his lips closer to hers. As their lips touched the tears she had been holding on to fell freely down Hope’s face.

‘Please don’t leave. I need you,’ he whispered.

She could feel the heat of his breath on her skin. It felt so painfully good to be close to him, so torturously divine to feel his lips upon hers. But she couldn’t let this happen. She couldn’t, or all the pain would have been for naught and she would slip back into those lonely nights of isolation.

Abruptly she pulled away from him and stood up, rubbing her eyes with her sleeves. She grabbed her suitcases clumsily and began wrenching them toward the door. ‘I’m sorry … I can’t do this. I have to go. I have to.’

Dean couldn’t move. He could only stare after her. Hope fumbled with the suitcases and shut the front door behind her. She dragged her load to the car frantically and threw the cases in haphazardly, as her chest heaved with pent up sobs that she would not allow out. She dived into the driver’s seat and started the car, wiping furiously at her wet, unfocused eyes. With only the desperate need to be far, far away from where she was, she burned out recklessly into the street.

A safe distance away, though she wasn’t sure how far, she pulled over in a back street. There, in the darkness, she allowed the sobs to come and consume her. And when they came, they tore through her core and erupted forth with frightening honesty.

*

Early that same morning, Tanner made a special trip to BP. After doing some sneaky enquiry work during the week, he had determined that Amy was taking another girl’s shift that weekend. He was feeling bold and excited as he paraded into the servo. Catching sight of her behind the counter, he felt his heart blossom with fresh vigour. There were a couple of people waiting in line to be served. Tanner meandered around the back of the store until they had left. Excellent – he had her all to himself for a while. He walked up to the counter and smiled at her.

Seeing him, her face lit up. ‘Tanner! She exclaimed, ‘What a nice surprise.’

Nice surprise? Magnificent, he thought. He leaned on the counter. ‘Amy, what do you usually do on Saturday nights?’

Amy squinted her eyes at him in suspicion. He was playing with her. Alright, she thought, she would play along. ‘Don’t know – it depends. Sometimes, if I’ve been working, I just stay in. But other times, if I’m in the mood, I go out with my friends.’

‘Is that right? And where do you and your friends enjoy frequenting when you’re in the mood for an outing?’

‘Well, usually we head into Subiaco, or maybe into Leederville or Cottesloe.’

‘And, tell me Amy, on this particular Saturday, is your prediction that you will feel like staying in later, or going out?’

Amy smiled at him knowingly. ‘Actually, I happen to have already made plans to go out tonight with a couple of girlfriends.’

Tanner raised his eyebrows with interest. ‘You don’t say? Pray tell, where have the three of you decided to go?’

She giggled and shook her head. ‘Cottesloe.’

‘I see.’ Tanner threw a glance behind him and noticed that more customers were approaching the counter. Looking back at Amy, he threw her his most charming smile.

‘Well I hope you have a fascinating and magnificent evening. You never know Amy; you might get another surprise … if you’re lucky.’

*

When Tanner walked back into his house he went straight into his room. His parents were still asleep and he did not want to wake them. He tumbled onto his bed and put his hands behind his head, as a grin spread across his face. So he had a plan, and so far so good. But, of course, this kind of operation would require reinforcements. Yes – he would need a wingman. And he knew just the man for the job, and he knew exactly how to get the man in question to play along.

*

Later that morning Hope quietly let herself in to her parents’ house. Putting her suitcase down by the front door, she listened for voices. Sounds wafted in from the kitchen. She let out a sigh of deep relief as she shut the door behind her. Audrey, hearing the sound of the door, peered in from the entrance to the kitchen.

‘Hope? What are you doing’ – She stopped dead as soon as she took in her daughter’s appearance and her tone changed to concern. ‘What’s wrong?’

Hope’s eyes welled up with tears as she stood teetering in the hallway. ‘Dean and I broke up’, she said, with stony resolve.

Audrey dropped her shoulders and cocked her head sympathetically to one side. She threw the tea-towel she was holding over her shoulder and went to her daughter and held her in her arms. ‘I’m so sorry honey.’ She pulled away from her and held her by the shoulders, looking into her eyes. ‘Are you okay?’

Hope looked down at her feet, trying to stifle the deep emotions within her. ‘I’m okay. Just a bit exhausted and sad, you know.’ She looked up at her mother and for a fleeting instant wondered if this was how she had felt when she and Jack had parted. The thought went as quickly as it had come. ‘Is it alright if I stay here for a while?’ she asked.

Audrey pulled her into another embrace. ‘Of course it is! You know you don’t need to ask that.’ With her arm around her shoulder, she led her into the kitchen. ‘I’ll make up the spare room for you.’ Then, as if knowing that her daughter would instinctively seek out her dad she added, ‘Your dad’s out the back.’

Hope gave a half smile and padded out to the back patio. Ian was, as usual on a Saturday morning, sitting on the loveseat reading the paper with a strong brew of coffee. Seeing his daughter, he put his paper down and withdrew his glasses with a frown.

‘Honey, what’s wrong?’

Hope threw herself down next to him and buried her head into his warm and reassuring shoulder. ‘Dean and I broke up.’

Ian held her tight and ran his hand over her shoulder. ‘Oh dear, I thought that may have been imminent. I’m sorry love.’

‘Don’t be – it’s what I wanted … but it’s still … hard, you know?’

‘Of course it is. And it will be for a while. But we’re here for you honey – whatever you need – you just say the word.’ He smiled at her empathetically.

‘Thanks dad.’

Hope sat in the security of her father’s embrace for some time. After a while she lifted up her head and asked, ‘Is Tanner home?’

‘He is. He’s in bed, asleep I think. I heard him go out earlier, but then he came back and went into his room – I don’t know, I don’t ask questions anymore.’ He gave her a wry grin and went back to reading his paper.

Hope put her ear to Tanner’s door and listened for signs of life. It was silent within. He must have gone back to sleep after all. She slipped into his room and smiled at how peaceful he looked. She took off her shoes and gingerly lay down beside him, curled up on her side facing him. Awoken by the movement, Tanner stretched out and rubbed his eyes, then smiled as he registered who it was that had disturbed his slumber. ‘You know if it was anyone else, I’d kick them out,’ he murmured.

Hope sat up. ‘I broke up with Dean.’

Tanner let his hands flop onto his stomach. He didn’t say anything; instead he just held his arms out. Gratefully Hope flopped down next to him and nestled into the crook of his shoulder. It was just what she needed, to be with her family.

*

Emotionally exhausted, Hope slept soundly for the rest of the morning, while Tanner went about manically finishing a pending assignment. He was finding it exceedingly difficult to concentrate because he couldn’t stop thinking about Amy, and playing out various wonderful scenarios’ about their night together in his head. This wasn’t a problem he usually suffered from, as he was so captivated by his history assignments that it was often hard to pull him away from his research. Luckily for him he possessed a great amount of self-discipline. He was able to make himself focus on the task at hand only by reminding himself that tonight would be his reward, and that he would not enjoy himself as much as was possible if his essay remained unfinished.

The end was in sight when Hope woke up. She lay there peacefully with her eyes closed for a few moments before she remembered. Then it all came flooding back with torturous clarity. That was the worst time in any emotional crisis – the part where you woke up and remembered. She groaned with the intensity of it. When she dared to open her eyes to the world, her brother’s beaming face was looking at her. Ahhh, that’s why she had come back home – to be with her brother whom it was near impossible to be hideously depressed around.

For some reason he looked even more cheerful than usual to her. ‘What are you so cheerful about?’ she asked coyly.

‘My evening plans.’ He put down his pen and leaned back in his chair. ‘I happen to have finally made a move with Amy.’

Hope got up and stretched. ‘Finally being the operative word. Good for you. Although I find it quite offensive that you’re so cheerful when I’m so … shit.’

He chuckled at her false jibe. ‘Think of it as me reminding you that there’s still hope out there for us all – excuse the pun.’

As she was leaving the room she murmured, ‘Bastard,’ and threw him a pouty look.

Grinning at her, he turned back to his work enthusiastically. ‘I’ve gotta finish this before I do anything though. Oh and by the way, I’m not going alone to court the love of my life … I’ve bribed Chase into being my wingman.’

Hope instinctively spun back around, and then tried to be casual. ‘Really? How’d you manage that?’

Without turning around Tanner replied, ‘Oh, by telling him that you might come too. Think about it – might do you some good – take you’re mind off your broken heart and soul, you know?’

‘Thanks, but I’m in no fit state to be seen in public.’

With that she left the room and went into the kitchen to make an inordinately strong coffee. It did have her thinking though. Why had she reacted like that? It was like she was almost excited at the idea of being around Chase. But it was ridiculous – and heartless. She’d just broken up with Dean, who she loved – she couldn’t be thinking about another guy! It was wrong, and rude, and … and just plain evil! Chastising herself sternly, she willed Chase to get out of her head, where he surely did not belong at such a time.

*

By the time evening rolled around Hope was feeling exceedingly low. She swam in the pool to try to stop herself from thinking about what she had done. The reality of it, and what it meant for her future, had now sunk in. And as it had, she felt herself sink lower and lower into depression. Had she done the right thing? What if he called her and wanted to see her? Could she bear to refuse? Why hadn’t he called her? She still had feelings for him, damn him! No, no she had definitely done the right thing. But still, there was that annoying, niggling doubt that scratched at her heart.

Hope stopped swimming and sighed, breathing in the stillness of the night. She realised that she did not want to be alone tonight at all. When her parents had said that they were going out she had been relieved at first. She had thought, well good – some time alone to reflect and get her head together. They had been worried about her, and they said they would cancel, but she had eventually reassured them that she was fine and she just wanted some time alone to think.

However, now that she was alone, as she waited for Tanner to leave in the pursuit of love, she felt alone and lonely. She angrily flinched. God damn it, she had broken up with Dean because she was sick of feeling lonely in the relationship, and now she felt just, if not more, lonely!

Tanner was deliberately putting off getting ready until Chase got there. He was late, as usual. At seven thirty-eight Tanner heard a knock on the door. He swung it open with generous warmth and ushered Chase in as he quickly explained, ‘I’m obviously running a bit late myself. I’ll just be a few minutes, grab a beer and go out the back – Hope’s out there – she just broke up with Dean.’

Tanner blurted it all out before Chase had even had a chance to say hello. Before he knew it he was being pushed into the kitchen and a beer was smacked into his hand. Tanner had disappeared.

What? He thought. Hope has broken up with that clown? He instantly realised he was glad, no not glad, he was elated – he was fucking delighted! Man, what a horrible excuse for a human being he had become.

He nervously walked out the back door and stood there. Hope was swimming laps in the pool. She looked ethereal in the darkness, the moonlight playing upon her sleek body. He let himself watch her for a minute before he hesitantly approached the edge of the pool.

‘Hey,’ he said casually.

Hope stopped swimming and popped her head up. She saw Chase standing there, looking slightly awkward, with a beer in his hand.

‘Hey’, she smiled, with what she realised was genuine happiness to see him.

‘I’m just waiting for Tanner to get ready and thought I’d say hi.’ He felt he needed to justify his presence. ‘Tanner told me what happened, I’m really sorry.’

Hope sighed and got out of the pool. She looked incredibly sexy in her black bathers. Wrapping a towel around her, she said, ‘Oh, it’s alright, I’m okay. It was me that ended it after all, it’s what I wanted.’

Her that ended it? That had to be a good sign. As she towelled herself dry, she said, ‘You know Tanner will be awhile getting ready, he’s a bit of a girl when it comes to that. You may as well sit down.’

‘Gee thanks, that sounds really welcoming,’ he grimaced jokingly.

Hope rolled her eyes, embarrassed. ‘No, I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant, honestly, it’s not. I want you to sit down, here.’ She sat on the loveseat, and gestured to the seat beside her.

He sat down beside her, keeping a respectful distance between them. ‘So, how are you really doing?’

‘Boy, there’s no stuffing around with you is there?’

‘No, not anymore. It’s your brother’s fault you know.’

They both nodded in agreement. Hope groaned. ‘I feel shit. Really, really shit. I know it was the right thing to do, but I still feel hideously awful and depressed.’

‘Yeah, well, that’s understandable – you were together for years, right? It’s gotta be hard, no matter how right or wrong it is.’

Unbeknownst to Hope and Chase, Tanner had snuck up to the bathroom window and was peering out. Seeing them there talking, heart to heart, he smiled mischievously to himself. Excellent, the first part of his plan was working. You see, it was not only his own love life that Tanner was interested in evolving that night. Of course he had not anticipated Hope breaking up with Dean, but that was the best part! That just added to the brilliance of the plan and the likelihood of success. He looked at himself in the mirror. He looked sharp, in his history jeans and white collared shirt.

Now – to put phase two into action. Tanner made his last minute adjustments. All he had to do now was to burst outside in a panic and say that he was too chicken to go through with it. It was common knowledge that Tanner hated pubs or clubs of any kind – it actually bordered on a phobia. So all he had to do was say that he couldn’t do it and that he needed his sister’s support. He knew exactly what to say – but sis, my future happiness may depend on it! She’d do it, he was certain of it. Sure, she’d put up a good fight, but she’d do it. Once there he’d spend some time with Hope and Chase and then leave them to do their thing while he did his. It was foolproof.

The plan worked perfectly. Hope did, indeed, put up a good fight – and she did have a good case given her broken heart and all. But in the end Tanner won, as he knew he would.

Fed up she eventually caved. ‘ALRIGHT FUCK! But you owe me big time Tanner. I’m supposed to be all depressed and broken hearted remember!’

*

Luckily they only had to try two venues before Tanner spotted Amy. It was brimming with young, trendy, drunk people.

‘There she is,’ Tanner pointed into the crowd, hiding himself behind Chase.

Chase squinted and looked over. She was a very pretty – a petite little thing, wearing skinny jeans and a red and black top that hung loosely off one shoulder. ‘Not bad I guess,’ Chase said.

‘Not bad?! She’s breathtaking. Now, I need to observe for a while and try to get used to this horrid music and these … hideous specimens of humanity.’ He physically flicked at his clothes and hair as he observed the sea of strangers around him, all in their trendy tight jeans, partaking in their meaningless conversations.

Hope rolled her eyes at Chase, ‘I’m getting a drink.’

She whisked off to the bar and ordered two beers, for her and Chase, and a lemonade for Tanner – sure he could drink, but in this kind of overwhelming setting it was a bad idea. She’d just tell him it had vodka in it, and then he might actually pluck up the courage to approach the object of his affection.

Hope returned and handed Chase his beer. He smiled at her gratefully and took a long, refreshing swig. Tanner tore his gaze away from Amy and spun around to gather them in a huddle. ‘Okay, here’s the plan. We go outside and appear to be having a wonderful time laughing and chatting – Hope that’s where you come in as the adoring sister, and Chase – you pretend that I’m the funniest, most fascinating guy you’ve ever known.’

‘You are’, Chase said with matter-of-fact bluntness.

‘Oh, that’s sweet,’ Tanner beamed.

‘Right let’s go, I need a smoke anyway,’ Chase announced.

Outside the three of them assumed a fairly conspicuous seat. It only took Amy about ten minutes to notice Tanner. She came up as soon as she saw him. ‘Tanner?’ She looked genuinely happy, though she was trying to be casual about it.

Tanner stood up and assumed a look of surprise. ‘Amy? What a pleasant surprise!’ He gave her a mischievous grin. ‘Amy, this is my big sister Hope, and my good friend Chase.’ He gestured toward them proudly. They exchanged pleasantries. Amy told Tanner that her friends were inside and asked him to come and meet them. He delightedly accepted, and as he left whispered to Hope and Chase, ‘Thanks guys, I think I can take it from here. I owe you one.’

Chase turned to Hope. Excellent, he had her alone now; though he knew he had to be very sensitive to her fresh break-up. ‘Another drink?’

‘Indeed.’

After a few drinks Hope actually found that despite everything, she was having a pretty good time. Of course she was also quite tipsy, which was always a welcome relief when dealing with emotional turmoil – at least for a little while until the heavy stuff started coming out. Somehow throughout the course of the conversation, in which both Hope and Chase were enraptured, beer progressed into spirits and spirits progressed into shots. True – it wasn’t the deepest of conversations – it was light-hearted and funny. But that was just what Hope needed at that point.

Eventually, as a rare break in the conversation arose, Katy Pery’s I Kissed a Girl started blaring from the speakers. ‘Oh god! How I hate this song!’ Hope complained, holding her hands over her ears. ‘I’m sooo sick of it; it’s on the radio all the time!’

She looked up at Chase, who was smiling in whole-hearted agreement. He was liking her more and more, and doing his damndest to try to hide it too, though that was becoming increasingly difficult due to the effects of the booze. In fact, he found himself in an altogether foreign situation. Usually when he was out getting smashed, it was to forget about things by drowning himself in mind numbing alcohol and easy women. This, however, was quite different. Even though he would normally have considered Hope, with her raw emotions and fragility, an easy target, he had no desire to take advantage of her. He couldn’t have even if he’d wanted to, because she was Tanner’s sister, and there was a certain sacred respect that went with that title. It was almost at though he felt that he needed to nurture her, and that was something that Chase had never felt before. He couldn’t help flirting though – he was only human after all – and he thought that she might have been flirting back. He wondered what she thought about him and how she felt, but he assumed that her feelings remained with the guy she had left behind.

That was why he was surprised when the mood of the conversation shifted. Whilst taking a shot of some unknown, awful spirit, Chase noticed that Hope was looking at him with the same intense depth that he often saw in Tanner’s eyes.

‘What?’ he said suspiciously.

Hope slammed her hands down flat on the table. ‘I’m sick of this place, let’s go.’

Chase felt his heart sink in disappointment. She wanted to go home – damn. He got his phone out. ‘Okay, I’ll call us a taxi.’

Hope knocked the phone out of his hand carelessly. ‘Nah, don’t do that. Let’s walk.’ There was a glint of adventure in her eyes.

Chase stared at her. ‘Walk? To your parent’s house? It’s miles away! You’re crazy! And smashed I might add.’

Hope got up with purpose. ‘Bah! All the more reason. Where’s your sense of adventure? We’ll just start walking, and then when we can’t walk any more we’ll get a taxi, or you can carry me.’ She smiled at him coyly.

The thought of carrying her in his arms sent a shiver of excitement through him. He laughed at her brazen request and shook his head. She was more like her brother then he had realised. He got up and they both simultaneously polished off their last shot. ‘Okay,’ he said, ‘But I give it ten minutes before you’re whining for me to carry you.’

‘Bullshit. I can last at least twelve minutes. And who knows, you might be asking me to carry you first,’ she said, as she pushed him quite forcefully toward the door.

She stopped abruptly and pulled him to face her. ‘Should we find Tanner?’ she asked. She realised that she had forgotten about him and she felt awful.

Chase raised his eyebrows. ‘Ahh, I think you’ll find that he and his lady friend retreated to the beach some time ago.’ Chase, though equally ensconced in the conversation, had been concerned about the amount of alcohol he had seen Tanner drinking, and had kept a close eye on him.

‘Did they really? Well, good for them – bless their innocent little hearts!’

*

Chase and Hope walked in silence for a while, breathing in the cool, fresh night. Chase wondered if he should say something, but he thought he should leave the topic of conversation to her.

His patience eventually paid off. ‘You know what’s really weird?’ she said after a while.

‘What?’

‘No-body seems to be that surprised that I broke it off with Dean – yet they never said anything while we were together. I thought that no one had noticed that I was unhappy.’

‘Yeah, people do that. They think that it’s none of their business, and they don’t want to offend you.’

‘You know what’s even weirder?’

‘What?’

‘The one person who did actually say something was my father – my real father.’

‘Really?’ Chase was surprised.

‘Yeah,’ she continued. ‘We went out on his boat a while back, and I got so irritated and frustrated with Dean because he thought it was just this fun new adventure – he didn’t understand how hard it was for me at all – he just didn’t get it. He never got it. Then Jack really surprised me by saying that he thought I deserved better, that he could see that something … wasn’t right.’

‘Really? Wow.’

‘Yeah.’ She paused to reflect. ‘How is it that the one person who I don’t know could see what everyone else couldn’t?’

Chase shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well, sometimes that’s just the way it goes, you know? Sometimes people are too close to see what’s really going on. It takes someone more … objective, to point out the obvious.’

She turned to him. ‘Like you?’

He furrowed his brow in confusion. ‘Whatta you mean?’

‘Well, when I first met you, you said it didn’t sit right with you either.’

He smiled in embarrassment. ‘True, I did. That was rude, I’m sorry.’

She turned and kept walking. ‘No, don’t be sorry, you were right. And it was nice to have someone be right, you know? But, why’d you think that?’

‘Well, honestly? I don’t know … you just seemed so … different. No offense to him personally, I mean he seemed like an okay guy, but I didn’t like him on sight.’

‘Really? Why?’ She stopped walking again, quite genuinely fascinated by Chase’s take on the situation.

‘Don’t know, can’t quite put my finger on it. There’s something … superficial about him I guess. And you don’t seem like that at all. You’re much too deep for him.’

Hope was surprised by this insight. She paused and thought about it. ‘You’re right. I am too deep for him!’ She kept walking as she contemplated it further. ‘Yes, that’s it! You know, I always thought I wasn’t that deep – that Tanner is the deep one – but looking at it now, I am. Much more than I realised. I mean, the kind of questions I think about, they’re just not things that would even enter Dean’s mind.’

‘Yeah, I know what you mean. And most people are like that, unfortunately.’

‘Yeah they are.’

‘Kind of makes us special though, doesn’t it?’ He looked at her and smiled.

She smiled back at him. Yes, it certainly did make him special. Special … that was exactly the right word.

Silence drifted between them again. This time it was Chase who broke it. ‘So, how are things going with your dad – Jack I mean – if you don’t mind my asking?’

‘No, I don’t mind. They’re okay, but it’s hard … it’s really hard. I feel sort of forced into spending time with this stranger.’

‘But you do want to go to know him?’

‘Yeah I do. I’m constantly looking for some kind of connection, you know? Something tangible that links me to him. The problem is he just seems so cold and awkward every time I see him, so it’s hard to even get a good conversation going.’

‘Well, that’s understandable I guess. I mean, you said your folks only told him about it all after they’d told you, and look at the effect it’s had on you – it must be the same for him.’

‘Yeah I guess.’

‘So, what do you know about him?’

‘Not that much really – mum’s really cagey about it for some reason. I think maybe she doesn’t want to relive it all, mainly because she doesn’t want to upset dad I would imagine. So it’s hard for me to get any information out of her at all. I know that they met in Italy at my Aunty’s wedding, and they spent three weeks together, but that’s about it. And Jack? I know that he lived in America at the time, and his sister was sick, so he had to go back there straight after the wedding, and I guess that’s why it ended. Other than that all I know is that he’s an architect, he was married, but he’s been divorced for ten years, and he’s never had kids. Well, apart from me, who he didn’t know about.’

‘Shit, that’s not much to go by. And when you’re mum told him about you he just decided to up and leave, and move over here?’

‘Yeah! It only took him three months to come to that decision – though I’ve never quite figured out why he made it, or how he feels about it now even. I mean, was it hard for him to just up and move like that? What did he leave behind? You know?’ Her tone dropped. ‘I feel bad – like I’m not worth it.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous. He obviously thinks you’re worth it.’

‘Yeah, I know that – it was his decision. But it makes me feel pressured to make it work between us – to form some semblance of a relationship. And that’s really hard, because he’s just as cagey as mum about the whole thing, so I don’t feel like I can ask him what really happened between them either.’

Chase considered this for a while. ‘Maybe they’re cagey because it’s too painful to remember.’

The comment caught Hope off guard. She stopped walking and thought about it for a moment. ‘You know, maybe you’re right. I’ve been assuming it’s out of respect for my dad, and because mum’s kind of … ashamed of the whole thing. But yeah, now that you mention it, maybe it is because it’s too painful to relive.’ She threw him a glance and bit her lip. ‘How awful.’

‘No, it’s not awful – it’s beautiful when you think about it. I mean, if that’s the case, then it means it was real love, you know? You could be a product of a genuine, real life Romeo and Juliet.’ He smiled at her jokingly.

‘That’s just it Chase! That’s what I want to know – what it is that I’m a product of. I mean, was it just a fling? Was it just lust? Or was it a tragic love story?’ She stamped her foot in frustration. ‘Damn it, now I want to know even more!’

‘So press harder. You have a right to know.’

‘Wow.’ She stopped and looked at him intensely.

‘What?’

‘You really get it.’ He really did get it she realised, and Hope felt somewhat awe-struck by his unexpected clarity of understanding. She shook her head in quiet appreciation. ‘Anyway, enough of that’ she said, changing the subject. ‘I want to show you something.’

*

Chase took in the scene around him. Hope had led him into the middle of a sports oval. The lights were on, and the mist from the cool night was casting a hauntingly beautiful glow over the open space.

‘What are we doing here?’ he asked.

‘Lay down.’

‘Say what?’

Hope lay down in the grass. ‘Lay down next to me,’ she repeated.

Chase was confused by the request, but he certainly wasn’t going to argue. He lay down beside Hope and stared up at the black sky. The stars looked beautiful. It was a clear night. The moon was only a sheer crescent in the darkness. It was like the light from the oval made the heavens glisten with ethereal magnificence.

After a moment, Hope said, ‘Tanner first brought me here years ago, when I was really down about some other stupid, insignificant guy. He said this was the place to go when you were depressed. So now, whenever I feel depressed, or caught up in my head, I come down here and lay in the grass, and look at the sky, and remember how much beauty there is and how big the universe is. Then my problems seem to just … fade.’

Chase looked at her. She looked so peaceful lying there. He desperately wanted to kiss her, but he knew that he couldn’t. He was so moved by what she had said. ‘It really is something’ he said softly.

After a moment of silent admiration, Hope propped herself up on her forearm. ‘I feel bad,’ she said.

‘Why?’

‘Because this whole time I’ve just been venting all this shit about me. We haven’t talked about you at all.’

Chase grunted and rolled his eyes. ‘That’s cool. I think I’m happier dealing with other people’s shit. Not that this is shit, well – you know what I mean.’

She narrowed her eyes at him and smiled. ‘Oh no – you don’t get out of it that easily.’ She lay back down. ‘So I know about your mini meltdown. But what else? What about you’re family?’

Ahhh, thought Chase, the dreaded question that always came up eventually. Sure, he had a standard answer, but it didn’t seem like the right one to give Hope. It was almost like the common link of Tanner had created some strange bond of brutal honesty between them. Still, he could not, and would not, tell her the whole story. No, that would remain buried. After considering how to tackle the subject, he finally said, ‘Unfortunately that’s not a good question for me.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t really have one – well – not anymore anyway, not that I’m close to. My dad left when I was eleven, my older brother Casey left home a couple of years after that, and I haven’t seen him since, and my mum died when I was eighteen.’ Please don’t ask me how she died, please don’t ask me how she died ran through Chase’s mind again and again.

Hope propped herself up in shock. ‘Oh my god, that’s awful! Shit, I’m really sorry. Here I am harping on about all my family problems, and yours are even worse.’

Chase gave a half-laugh. ‘Nah, don’t think about it like that. Your family is yours, and your problems are yours, so they’re always going to be more significant than anyone else’s. You can’t compare stuff like that.’

Hope bit her lip and toyed with a blade of grass. ‘Do you see your dad?’

‘Nah, he lives in Sydney now, with his wife. I haven’t spoken to him since mum died.’

Hope lay back down and said nothing. Chase was beyond grateful that she hadn’t enquired further about his mother. Possessing some of her brother’s perception, Hope had realised as soon as he had started talking about it, that Chase was not to be pushed into further conversation. It was still painful for him – she saw it in his eyes and heard it in his voice.

‘Thankyou for bringing me here,’ he said, gazing up at the heavens. ‘There’s something … reassuring about it.’

Hope threw her head sideways and looked at him gazing upwards. Reassuring. That was exactly how she felt about it. She turned her attention once more to the sky. After a while a thought occurred to her. ‘You know I brought Dean here once. You know what he said?’

‘What?’

‘What did you think of that desert.’

Chase couldn’t help but laugh aloud. Then Hope was laughing too. They both just lay there, giggling, in perfect unison.

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