Chase Hope 16

Amy felt disgusting. Joel’s car sat idling loudly out the front of the servo, as both of them stared into space.

Shifting his thin muscular torso toward her he finally said, ‘Look, how long are you going to be shitty with me?’

Amy was shaken from her internal landscape of fear, doubt, and … bliss. ‘What? I’m not shitty,’ she said, distracted from her thoughts.

‘You’ve been in a shitty mood all week,’ he complained.

‘No, really, I’m not. It’s just … I’ve just been feeling … a bit – off, that’s all.’

He stared at her as his mediocre brain attempted to work out whether or not she was telling the truth. ‘So, you’re not mad about the other week? Cause you said you were fine with it you know.’

Amy mentally shook herself out of her reverie and landed in reality with a sickening thud. ‘No, I was – I am … I’m fine, really.’

She got out of the car. She really didn’t want to talk to him anymore. And she certainly did not want to remember the night in question – when she had given her body not just to him, but to a friend of his as well, at the same time. Right now she didn’t want to be anywhere near him.

Joel got out of the car, in his tight, faded jeans and black print shirt, and sauntered around to her side. He grabbed her around the waist and drew her close to his body, wrapping her in a stifling embrace. Her body felt dead. Joel’s body, on the other hand, grew warm inside. He raised her head with his hand and kissed her hard, squashing her body against his. Numb with indifference, Amy let him. He pulled away, got into his car and drove off, throwing her a revoltingly mischievous wink. Amy’s body recoiled.

Once he had gone, Amy drew in a deep breath, letting the freedom of the morning air cleanse her tarnished soul. As she walked in to work, golden tingling consumed her body and captivated her soul, as she recalled the lake.

Half an hour later, at 8:25am, Amy wondered where Tanner was. He was never late. Her heart sank slowly into her feet as the minutes ticked away. She needed him to show today more than ever, after what they had shared the other night. Her sanity depended on it.

By the time it became obvious that he was not going to show, she had already destroyed herself in her conviction that she did not deserve him.

*

Sadly, Amy was wrong on many counts that day. She wrongly believed that Tanner had never shown up, as he usually did so at precisely 8:15.

Unbeknownst to her, Tanner did show – only half and hour earlier than he was accustomed to.

Burning with desire, he had practically skipped, like a joyous child, down the streets to get to her … Amy. He had had an extra special surprise for her today – flowers that he had grown himself, especially for her. He had looked down at the flowers in quiet self-admiration as he began to cross the road to the servo. Then he looked up.

Tanner stopped dead in the middle of Stirling Highway. His heart suddenly curled in on itself, as the land turned grey. All the blood he possessed fell, with a sickening glomp, into his feet. Angry, seething traffic honked wildly around him. He could not be seeing what he was seeing. His senses blurred into one grisly, slimy phantom. He was not a being anymore, in that moment. In that singular moment he transformed into a ghost, endlessly vibrating with pain. Tanner saw his broken soul in the windshield of a car before him, as flowers fell to the earth in slow motion.

While her brother’s world suddenly fell from beneath him, Hope washed, cut and coloured the hair of strangers, with a smile on her face.

While the kid whom he had grown to love, broke from the inside out, Chase ran. He got up and ran that morning, for the first time in months. But this time, he did not run to escape, or to release the pent up anger within him. This time, he ran with freedom in his soul.

Tanner, unable to process the emotions roaring within him at having seen what he saw – the woman he loved in the arms of another man – chose to react in a most irrational and unexpected way. His being had turned dark, manipulative and volatile in a mere flicker of an instant. It was the only way he could survive. He didn’t think about the consequences of his actions, as dire as they would turn out to be, because he simply did not have the strength or capability to do so. He just … reacted; out of confusion, out of pain, and out of hatred …

*

Lola had liked Tanner for a long time. He intrigued her. He was always so elated, particularly on Monday mornings. There was something strange about him – the way he listened so eagerly to the lecturer, and those weird jeans he wore, that Lola thought were just about the sexiest item of clothing she had ever seen. She often caught herself staring at him, when she should have been absorbing critical information about the emergence of Roman villas in Britain.

She was a particularly shy, not overly pretty girl, with long, light brown hair, and blue eyes. She had never really felt like she fit in during school. But now that she was at uni, she found that she loved studying history, and she found something comforting about the fact that there seemed to be many other lonely souls within the tiny ancient history community at UWA. She had only spoken to Tanner a couple of times in passing. They were in the same tutorial group on Mondays. She loved listening to the amazing things he said, and the profound questioned he asked. She never dared to speak up herself.

She was virtually certain that her introverted demeanour had never got Tanner’s attention. That is why she was so surprised when he approached her after their regular Monday morning tutorial. He usually eagerly bounded off to the library, in the opposite direction to her. But today he was waiting in the corridor when she emerged, her books cleaved tightly to her chest. He was staring straight at her – almost like he was looking into her. Oh my god, he’s looking at me, she realised with a surge of excitement. Her heart began to pound wildly at this unexpected attention. Lola felt her cheeks flush as he boldly approached her.

‘Lola, would you like to go for a drink?’ There was a sweet insistence in his voice. Her body trembled with excitement.

Without thinking, she replied, ‘At 11 o’clock?’ Immediately she realised what she had done. Stupid fool! Who cares if it’s 5 o’clock in the morning! Stammering, she corrected herself quickly, ‘Yeah, actually I really would.’

Tanner smiled at her. Lola’s insides beamed. ‘To the tavern we go!’ He led her out of the arts building as she pleaded with her body to stop shaking.

Lola could not believe her luck. It felt like she was in a dream. This amazing guy, who she had liked for ages, yet who she was sure had had no interest in her whatsoever, was now talking to her over a beer that he had bought for her. She felt happier than she had been in ages. He actually seemed interested in her – in her life, what she did with herself, where she wanted her life to go, how she felt about the world. He asked her meaningful questions. It was a breath of fresh air in her otherwise fairly dark and solitary world.

After they had talked about history, the travelling that they wanted to do, and what they wanted out of life, Lola felt bold enough to make the conversation more personal (and she was also a little tipsy). She was hesitant though, because she liked Tanner so much, and she didn’t want to ruin it by pushing him too far too soon.

Swirling her delicate finger around the edge of her pint glass, she coyly looked up at Tanner. ‘Tanner, I have to say, I really didn’t think you had noticed me at all. To be honest I didn’t even think you knew my name.’

Tanner looked surprised. ‘You’re kidding!’ He leant back and smiled at her, and she felt tiny butterflies dancing in her belly. ‘I shouldn’t sound so surprised I guess, I am very shy, and not that good at approaching girls.’ He paused for effect. ‘But I definitely noticed you. I’ve been noticing you for some time.’

Lola blushed bright red. This had to be a dream; it was too good to be true. Check yourself Lola, she thought, you cannot let him know how much you like him or he’ll run for the hills. She tried to hide her delight, but failed dismally.

‘That’s funny, because I’ve been noticing you for a while too.’ She smiled at him.

She really was quite an attractive girl. An incredibly cute silence broke out between them. After a moment Tanner looked up at her, and there was intensity in his eyes that made her knees weak. ‘Do you want to go someplace else?’ he asked.

Lola had never wanted anything more in her life.

*

They walked to the liquor store outside Captain Stirling’s, flirting outrageously the whole way. Tanner raced in, pulling Lola by the hand.

‘Come on, let’s get something tacky and drink it all!’ he exclaimed mischievously.

Lola laughed aloud. The two of them perused the shelves, giggling and playfully poking and tickling each-other, as they debated which items were, in fact, the tackiest. Finally Tanner proudly pulled out a bottle of Grant’s scotch and held it up triumphantly.

‘I can testify, with all sincereness, that this here bottle is of the most appalling quality, as the vulgar name suggests. As such I think it is our duty, as respectable academics, to put it out of its misery, thus sparing the rest of humanity from it’s filthy baseness.’

Lola was holding her stomach with laughter. My god, he’s actually really funny as well, what a bonus! She was liking him more and more, so much more! Of course she had never drunk scotch before, and wasn’t much of a drinker, but how bad could it be? If it led to a kiss she’d be more than happy.

Tanner grabbed her hand again and they went to the counter. He slammed the bottle down with pride.

‘We shall purchase this, thankyou my fine man.’ The cashier said nothing. Having paid for the obscene liquid they ran out of the store laughing, hand in hand.

The cahier looked after them shaking his head. Young love, he snorted; well at least someone’s getting lucky tonight.

*

Half way through their appallingly bad bottle of scotch, stillness came over them, as they gazed at the view of the city from King’s Park.

‘What do you see when you look out there?’ Tanner asked Lola.

Lola looked at him, then back at the beautiful landscape before them. ‘I see beautiful water, a gorgeous sky’ –

He cut her off. ‘Yes, but what else do you see – I mean underneath all of that stuff?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, do you want me to tell you what I see?’ he said, standing up with purpose.

Lola beamed and her smile said yes. Tanner looked out over the landscape. ‘I see beauty. I see potential. I see hope. I see a city built of dreams, but crumbling in on itself with the vices of technology. It is destroying the sacredness of human contact, but don’t get me started on that! But, you know, despite that, despite the fact that I can see that; I still see more beauty than anything else.’

He looked at her. She seemed enraptured. He gave her a coy smile and sat down next to her again. ‘But, of course, it all pales in comparison to the beauty sitting right beside me.’

He laughed and she gave him a playful nudge with her shoulder. ‘Oh come on! You’re just saying that, you don’t actually mean it.’ She playfully nudged him again, and somehow they seemed to settle closer to each other. Close enough to feel the warmth of the other.

Tanner bobbed his head from side to side and rolled his eyes. ‘I know, it’s cheesy and all that, and a hundred guys have probably said stuff like that to you when they didn’t mean it.’ He looked at her for some signal that he was right. She flinched and looked down.

Getting exactly what he wanted, Tanner continued. ‘That’s right, isn’t it? Someone said those kinds of things to you and then hurt you?’ The question was gentle and caring, but she was unprepared for it.

Lola looked harder at the ground and hugged her knees in tighter. She didn’t want to think about it. ‘If I’m honest then yeah, there was someone who I thought was pretty special, who turned out to be nothing of the sort. You know how it goes – vulnerable, gullible girl who likes to see the best in people goes for bad guy, even though her friends have warned her about him, and she winds up getting hurt, blah blah.’ She stole a glance at him then looked away abruptly to try to hide the pain of the memories.

There was a deep seriousness and compassion in Tanner when he finally replied. ‘Why do you feel you need to minimise it like that? Someone hurt you and they shouldn’t have. I’m really sorry that happened to you.’

Lola felt her heart open a little, and a weight lifted off her shoulders. Wow, she could really open up to this guy. And it felt amazing. She told him the whole story. And he listened. He just listened, without judgement.

When she was done, shaky from having been through it all again, something she had never done with anyone before, she wondered if she had ruined her chances with Tanner. Now he had seen how messed up she was he probably wouldn’t like her anymore. She had a moment of remorse. Oh, why did she go into so much detail?! He’s going to change the subject to a lighter conversation. Either that or he’ll just up and leave, she thought.

To Lola’s surprise, Tanner did neither. Instead he wrapped his arm around her. ‘Lola, I am really sorry that happened to you. I’m sure other people have already told you that that guy was a jerk, and didn’t know a good thing when he had it. But it’s true. You’re amazing. I’ve never met anyone like you before. You’re so honest and clever and beautiful and your shyness is actually really cute. And I should probably stop there, or I’ll wind up saying something that will scare you off!’ He playfully tousled her hair and laughed as he looked away, abashed.

Lola was desperate for him to continue. ‘No, you won’t, honestly. If anything, I was worried I might scare you off!’

Tanner laughed and gave her a look that made her melt. ‘Scare me off? That would be impossible. I like you too much. At the risk of scaring you off – because I’m by nature too serious and too deep – I’m going to risk it all and go ahead anyway … You are really amazing. I haven’t felt this way about anyone before. I don’t know what it is – I know we don’t really know each other that well, that we’re just starting to open up to each other, but there’s something really special about you. I just feel it, I can’t describe it.’

Lola could take no more. ‘Really?! You really feel like that? I do too!’ She was too overjoyed for words.

Tanner’s eyes burned into hers. ‘I feel like I might die if I don’t kiss you right now,’ he whispered.

He cupped her face with his hands and drew his lips devastatingly close to hers. He kissed her so gently that she thought she might pass out. She had never experienced anything remotely like it. Her insides felt like they were being churned up blissfully. Nothing had ever felt this good. She could kiss him forever and never need to come up for breath.

*

After going to a movie together, Chase and Hope sat on the couch, half watching the TV, while they chatted animatedly.

They were caught quite off guard when Tanner fell through the door ensconced in a clumsy embrace with a girl that they both realised immediately, was not Amy. They were both soaking wet from the rain. Noticing that they were not alone, Tanner laughed and apologised, as Lola stood bolt upright and adjusted her clothing in embarrassment.

‘Sorry guys, didn’t realise you’d be home. We’ll just … ahhh … We’ll just be in my bed … room for a while … you know, studying and stuff.’

He laughed at the ridiculousness of his own words, as he grabbed Lola and pushed her down the hall into the bedroom, both of them drunk and hysterical.

He slammed the door shut and pushed Lola hard against it, as his lips hungrily devoured hers. They tore at each other’s clothes in lustful desperation. Tanner guided her stumbling toward the bed, as he removed the last of her clothing.

As he threw her onto the bed, he caught a glimpse of his betrayal in the rain splattered window …

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