By the time Hope and Chase finally made it home, Hope’s parents were fast asleep. Hope did a quick check of Tanner’s room. ‘He’s not home yet,’ she said, with an air of concern in her voice. ‘Will you wait up with me until he gets home? Do you mind?’
‘Sure, I’ll wait.’
Hope smiled and went into the kitchen to get them a drink. They retreated outside and sat on the loveseat. Chase lit up a smoke.
‘Can I bum one?’ Hope asked.
‘I don’t – only occasionally, when I’m smashed, or when I’m really stressed. And now I’m both, so maybe I’ll have two.’
He handed her a smoke and lit it for her. They puffed away in the lovely silence of the night.
‘You know,’ Chase said after a while. ‘I must confess – I’m genuinely dying to know how Tanner’s night went.’
They both laughed. ‘Well, however it went, I’m sure it’ll be a good story.’
After they had talked some more they went inside to escape the chill of the early morning. Before long Hope had fallen asleep on the couch. Chase sat there for a long time, looking at her, before he too fell into a restless sleep.
Chase stands in front of the open casket. Loose white pants. Barefoot. Bare-chested. He’s in the chapel. It is eerie and still.
The scene goes blurry. Mist starts to rise around him. Suddenly he is in the forest. In the darkness. The casket still exposed in front of him. But it is sinking. Sinking slowly into the earth. Mud is bubbling around it, trying to devour it. He can feel the heat of the mud on his feet. Then Hope and Tanner are beside him, dressed all in white. They take his hands.
‘It’s time to leave now Chase,’ they whisper firmly.
But he cannot. He cannot go with them. He cannot pull himself away. The casket is sinking lower. And he can see his mother turning black as she sinks. She is decomposing. Rotting before his very eyes, as she sinks into the earth …
Chase woke up with a start. Dazed, he looked around wildly. It took him a moment to register whose house he was in and what had woken him. It was Tanner shutting the front door. Chase sat up and rubbed his eyes. Tanner was leaning against the door with his eyes closed, a smile painted across his elated face.
‘I take it things went well then?’ Chase said with a yawn.
Tanner opened his eyes. He looked dazed and dreamy. ‘Chase, my friend, you cannot imagine. She is more wonderful then I thought. And she’s actually interested in history and wanted to know more about it. And she asked good questions – smart questions.’
Hope groaned as she woke up. ‘Arghh … what time is it?’ she asked sleepily, rousing herself to a sitting position.
‘No idea,’ Tanner beamed dreamily.
Chase looked at his watch and raised his eyebrows. ‘Four.’
‘How did it go?’ Hope asked.
‘Beautifully. We talked all night. She’s captivating, you know?’
‘When are you seeing her again?’ Hope murmured as she stretched.
‘Oh no!’ Hope suddenly blurted out.
‘What? Asked Chase.
Hope smacked her forehead with her hand. ‘Shit. I’ve just remembered that I told Jack I’d go sailing with him tomorrow – well today – and I was supposed to be bringing Dean. Oh crap!’ She drew her fingers down her face. ‘Oh, it’s too late to cancel.’
Hope looked up, trying to figure out what to do. Then she bit her lip and looked at Tanner. ‘Tanner, will you please come with me? Please, I don’t want to go by myself and you owe me,’ she pleaded.
‘Love to help you out sis, but I’ve gotta work today, to make up for last night. Sorry.’ Tanner was taking off his jacket and heading toward the hallway. ‘Take Chase. He’s here anyway.’ With that he disappeared into his room.
Hope let her hands fall into her lap as she looked at Chase. Take Chase? Actually, as she thought about it, she realised she would really love to take Chase. He’d make a damn better companion than Dean, that was for sure.
‘What do you think? She asked tentatively.
Chase tried to mask the pulse of elation that coursed through him. ‘Sure, I’ll go if you’re okay with it. You’ll have to lend me your couch for the rest of the morning though.’
Jack threw the anchor out. It was a chilly, cloudy day, but no rain was forecast. He went to the esky and withdrew three stubbies. Before he offered them he studied the two of them from afar, as he had been doing since they set sail. Now … this was interesting, he thought. He had tried to be sympathetic when Hope had told him about her break-up, but he was glad. Hope had tried to explain why this strange guy was here instead of Dean, and it was almost though she thought she needed to justify her friendship with this Chase fellow. Jack liked Chase immediately, though he sensed a darkness in him that he found all too familiar. He wondered what his story was.
He looked at his daughter sitting and chatting happily with him. Yes, this was better. She seemed more relaxed; probably the most relaxed he had ever seen her. He knew there was something between them. It was obvious. But they were both harbouring their feelings in secret, another thing which Jack was altogether far too familiar with.
All three of them were surprised by just how easily the conversation flowed. Chase found that he was genuinely interested in Jack’s life as he began to get to know him. Hope, though she mostly just listened, learnt more about her father in the next few hours, than she had in the last year. She already knew how passionate he was about his work, and Chase was inspired by the way Jack talked about architecture. Hope learnt that Jack wasn’t from New York originally; that he had actually grown up in Providence, Rhode Island.
Perhaps the most surprising thing to her, however, was that when Chase asked about his job back home, Jack told him that he had no intention of returning to America, though he was technically on a sebatical. As she watched him talking she saw warmth and humanity in him, and even humour. It was as though Chase had released the best in him.
Jack found that he too was learning more about his daughter than he had done prior, despite his many feeble attempts to get closer to her. He learnt that she wanted to travel and that she didn’t know what her true vocation was. The common link between them all was the thrill of travel. Chase had only been a few places, and was burning with the energy to explore more of the world. Hope had only ever been to Bali, and spoke longingly about the places she wanted to see. Jack, on the other hand, had seen a great deal of the world, and enchanted them with stories of faraway places.
He did not tell them, however, what he had really been searching for in all those spaces. He did not tell what he was trying to escape, or why, despite the beauty he saw, he had remained a hollow man.
As he was docking the boat he happened to glance at Hope, and found himself paralysed for a second. The way that she just flicked her hair – it was exactly the way Audrey had done it as she walked down the aisle …
Jack sat in the gazebo with the other guests, waiting for the bridal party to arrive. He watched the groom with quiet fascination and appreciation. Antonio looked calm and serene as he stood proudly at the end of the aisle. This was definitely a marriage that was meant to be – they were perfect for each other. Jack’s mind drifted to Audrey, as it had endlessly done these past weeks. Perhaps he should have kissed her yesterday in Florence. Perhaps he should tell her how he felt about her. But he was almost certain she didn’t feel the same way about him, and he was leaving soon anyway so what was the point? What a mess he had stumbled into!
His assessment of his predicament was broken by the onset of beautiful classical music. And then suddenly Audrey appeared at the entrance to the gazebo. He took a sharp intake of oxygen. She was breathtaking. No, she was more than that – there were no words powerful enough to describe the way that she looked. She began to walk slowly down the aisle. She was wearing a long, dark blue chiffon dress, with her hair loosely tied up. He could not take his eyes off her. He could not even breathe. He didn’t even notice when Violet walked in, though she too looked beyond stunning in her simple white gown. As Audrey passed Jack she looked at him and felt herself melt inside …
Hope and Chase sat thinking in silence on the car ride home.
Hope, who was driving, eventually said, ‘You’re probably wondering what all the fuss was about.’
Chase looked at her confused. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, I went on and on before about how awkward things are with Jack, and how cold he is. But he was really different just now … the whole atmosphere was different.’
‘No, no I don’t think that. Don’t get me wrong – I think it went well, but I assumed that it isn’t always like that. And I definitely got a sense of what you were talking about. He’s guarded. Sure, he was friendly enough, and it sounds like maybe he relaxed a bit more today, but there’s a lot going on, under the surface, you know?’
Hope thought about this, and found herself blown away again by Chase’s insight. She looked at him and smiled coyly. ‘You’re obviously the good luck charm I needed. I’ll have to bring you along more often.’
Sitting beside Tanner the next day, Chase couldn’t get himself to focus on his writing.
Eventually he gave up and stopped writing. ‘Why are you giving me the time of day?’ he asked, suddenly finally compelled to ask the question that had been burning within him for months.
‘Ahhh! Finally he comes to the party!’ Tanner responded exuberantly, as he kept scribbling his picture of Gratitude.
Chase was confused, as per usual around the kid, and slightly irritated this time. ‘What does that mean?’
Tanner kept drawing as he answered. ‘You’re finally asking the pertinent question. Now, after years of engaging in hollow interaction, the man climbs out of his shell of delusion and reveals himself to the world. Well … okay not to the world – to me … but that’s a start.’ Tanner seemed utterly delighted, which furthered Chase’s confusion.
Of course the kid also happened to be right. Damn him again! ‘Are you going to answer the question then?’ asked Chase, now more intrigued than irritated.
‘Yes my good man, I shall.’ He spoke with no hesitation. ‘I give you the time of day because you are worth my time and my days.’
Tanner seemed satisfied with this response. Chase, however, was not. ‘But why? Why do you think that?’
Again there was no hesitation. ‘Because you don’t. And that makes you interesting. It intrigues me. Why don’t you think you’re worth it? What has happened to you Chase, to make you believe that? And I don’t expect you to answer these questions by the way – it’s not your time – I’m just explaining myself.’
Tanner had such a matter-of-fact attitude to it, but still Chase was perplexed. ‘But even if I had interesting answers to those questions, which I honestly don’t think I do, I still probably won’t ever tell you, so you could just be wasting your time. Why do you even care?’
Completely unperturbed, Tanner kept drawing. ‘For a start, that’s an outrageous lie. Your answers are interesting. You know it, and I know it. If anything they’re too interesting and complex. Secondly, I care because you are one of the special ones Chase. You’re a deep thinker. I identify with that. Deep thinking needs to be harvested – it is too rare a thing now days and it’s the only thing that will save us in the end. What you have to offer the world will be outstanding, when you finally get the balls to put yourself out there. And finally, you will tell me. Mark my words Chase, the time will come; the time will come when you cannot hold it in any longer and it will spill out of you like blood.’
Chase’s mind raced as he pondered this. He remained silent for some time before asking the question that really mattered. With quiet amazement and awe, he softly asked, ‘If you’re right … why would you want to take that on?’
Tanner looked at him for the first time in the conversation. There was innocent and fierce intensity in his eyes. ‘Because you would do it for me,’ he said, with not one ounce of doubt in his voice.
Suddenly Chase had a moment of clarity. It pushed through the torturous entourage of negative thoughts swirling in his mind, and created a soft space of comfort there. My god … it was true. He would. He would do that for the kid.
The next Saturday morning Audrey and Ian sat outside, enjoying the morning sun reading the paper.
Ian furrowed his brow and sighed. ‘This Haiti crisis is hideous. All sorts of people are making the trip over to help.’
Audrey kept reading and nodded her head, not really hearing what he was saying.
Ian looked up in thought. ‘You know, I’ve always wanted to do something like that.’
‘Like what?’ Audrey asked, momentarily distracted from her own thoughts.
‘Going to another country – one suffering from poverty or natural disaster – to help and volunteer. I think it would be wonderful to take my medical skills and put them into something so worthwhile and meaningful.’
Audrey smiled at her husband with genuine affection. ‘You put all you efforts and skills into us, and all your patients, so you do do meaningful work.’
‘Yeah, I know. But it just doesn’t seem like enough when something like this happens, you know? This is the problem – that’s what everyone thinks; it’s happening so far away and I’m just one person, so what’s the point in doing anything?’ He adjusted his glasses and shook his head.
‘I want to go on a cruise,’ Audrey announced abruptly. After she had said it, she found that she was just as surprised by the statement as her husband was.
Ian took off his glasses and put his portion of the paper down. He furrowed his brow. ‘A cruise? But, you’ve never wanted to go on one before, even when I’ve suggested it.’
‘I’ve been thinking more about it, and I think it would do us good to get away for a while.’
‘Well I agree. I’ll go look it up on the net,’ he said excitedly.
Ian went to get up, but Audrey put her hand over his to stop him. ‘No, let’s go to a travel agent.’
Ian half sat back down. ‘What? Right now?!’
‘Yeah! Let’s go now and just book one!’
There was a mischievous air of adventure in her that Ian hadn’t seen before. Rather than being concerned or confused, Ian was delighted by her sudden enthusiasm to travel together. It was something he’d wanted to do for years.
As he showered and got dressed he did not consider why Audrey may have had the sudden change of heart. He did not consider what it was that she may have been trying to escape from, or why the urgency. No, Ian saw it as a good sign. Some time alone together, away from all of the problems that had engulfed them these last few years. It was just what they needed.
Audrey practically dragged him to the travel agent. They booked a cruise to Vanuatu. Despite Ian’s concern that it was too soon, and that they may have trouble organising the time off work on such short notice, he couldn’t disappoint his wife, who seemed more excited about it then he had seen her in a long, long time. So it was settled. They were leaving on a 28 day cruise in five weeks.