Light years away with his mind, Chase placed his chin into his hand, arm propped up on his desk.
Usually at work he was laser-focused, but ever since the weekend a few weeks ago, when his cousin Briar Rose came to him for help about her unexpected pregnancy, his mind had been going back to it again and again like on a perpetual loop.
Just seemed surreal, his little cousin, now very evidently a woman and at some point soon a mother, so it occupied his mind a lot. Life in fast forward, in a way.
It wasn’t so much her being pregnant at only 18, while barely half way through the first semester in college to become an Architect, but more what transpired when she told her parents.
Not surprisingly they hadn’t been thrilled about their daughter’s condition, it was more the scary boyfriend she had kept a secret for a long time and them not even suspecting anything that got to them the most, leaving them to doubt their own parenting.
While her dad just looked stunned, her mom had gone through the full roster of emotions, it got pretty ugly for a while, harsh words were spoken, during which Bri inadvertently found out that she had been an unwanted surprise pregnancy as well, a terrible shock to her, especially the fact that she initially was the only reason her parents got married without even really knowing one another.
It wasn’t until later on that they fell in love, and to this day they were still trying to live together in harmony, which with two very contrasting temperaments wasn’t always easy and the reason for all the fighting they did.
Ultimately they both promised to support their daughter and so far, both had made good on that.
Still, along with having to work through getting dumped by Stryker in the worst way, Bri now had to digest not having been the planned child both parents longed to have from conception to birth like in fairy-tales, but more of something that had to be dealt with. All that on top of mid-terms in college.
But there was something else occupying his mind almost as much, if not more. Something he tried to put out of his mind, ignore, but somehow his subconsciousness didn’t want to obey.
When he had played around with an online dating profile some weeks ago, then ended up just shutting down his PC, the dating site seemed to have saved the information and somehow, mysteriously, it had gone live.
Either way, a little over a week ago he got an email notification about a private message he received via that dating site he dabbled around with. All day and evening he tried to ignore it, but then curiosity got the best of him and he got up out of bed in the middle of the night to read it.
A girl had responded to his dating profile. They had been matched by the site on interests. She liked his picture and profile, so she wrote to him. Just a brief, polite message. She sounded nice, educated, eloquent, her message was short and precise. And her profile picture – if that was really her – looked nice.
She wanted to meet him to see if the man matched the profile. Herein lay Chase’s troubles. That was exactly his problem. He was no good in person. But he was curious. Still, after 50 very failed attempts to type up a response as nice as her message, which he ended up deleting each time as they sounded flat, he just gave up. He rather she thought he was rude, than a dork.
The door of the large, shared office work space opened, where they kept the junior scientist staff corralled, and in came one of the bosses with someone in tow who was wearing a business suit. Another facility tour. Chase hated those and instinctively ducked behind his monitor trying to look industrious.
Occasionally strangers from some important companies were dragged through a normally high security environment, infiltrating a space where Chase felt ‘safe’ from awkward encounters.
Those strangers were always very important connections of the management, so if Chase mucked up with any of them, it would be twice as bad than just the humiliation itself.
Chase instantly buried his face in the monitor more, trying to be invisible, as he heard his superior paint the admittedly very advanced facility’s technology in even brighter colors than technologically possible, his voice coming closer and closer until Chase saw people from the waist down right by his desk, where they stopped. Argh!
“And this here is someone who has proven himself invaluable to the ‘Aurora’ project, despite his very young years, he has shown to have the hunger for knowledge and yielding results, an analytical mindset, the capacity to retain vast amounts of high grade scientific data in his brain and the tenacity it takes to see such a delicate project to its final stages. Please meet Mr. Chase Cameron.” Chase’s boss elaborated and exaggerated.
They were not going to go away as he had hoped, he was to be introduced.
Doh! Chase frowned when he heard his name and the name of the project, as he was the only one of the junior staff allowed to work on it.
His heart racing, he worked up a smile, stood up and faced the person getting the tour.
They had to be important and have high security clearance, as projects, and the staff assigned to them, were highly confidential to outsiders otherwise, until first breakthroughs were to be announced publicly. They were nowhere near that point on ‘Aurora’.
As their eyes met, his and the visitor’s, a young woman, his smile vanished, as did hers.
Could not be. Impossible! What the heck, fate?! Not funny! Chase thought desperately.
But he knew he was right, just by looking at her, both stared at each other, holding each other’s hand, still shaking them way too long.
“Uh, yes, Chase, this is Miss Piper Redcliffe, she has been sent here by Avalon Pharma to peek over our shoulder – well, your shoulder really – for a few hours regarding ‘Aurora’, since they are heavily invested in that project with us. I expect your full cooperation. Miss Redcliffe, I bid you farewell until the next meeting at Avalon and know you’ll be in the best hands with Mr. Cameron, am I right, Chase? Do me proud, young man!”
“Of course.” Chase managed to get out.
He was briefed by his boss what all to give her his insights on, then sent to take Piper Redcliffe to the lab greenhouse to show some of the early results, on a project largely funded by her employers.
Walking down the hallways of the lab, listening to their steps echoing extra loud off the walls while he systematically explained the project status and progress from the scientist’s point of view, rarely interrupted by brief and precise questions from her.
Then finally, as they were all alone in the greenhouse and most explanations and questions had been discussed, she crossed her arms and looked at him.
“Are we going to talk about the elephant in the room at some point or try to ignore it, which at least for me, is not really working?” her tone was testing.
“I am sorry?”
“Really? You just showed me how brilliant you are, after your boss already sung your praises, Einstein, and now you are going to go with playing dumb?”
“Fine. I … umm … I just … ah … ahem …” Chase stuttered nervously.
“Just say it. You didn’t like my profile. Just because the site thinks we are a potential match, doesn’t mean you liked my picture. Not your type, I get it. But did you not see that little button they provide, where you can let someone who responded to your profile know, that you are not interested? I would have been significantly more courteous than just ignoring me. You know I can see that you read my message and WHEN you did, right?”
“No, I didn’t and I am sorry. It’s not that I am not … interested. It’s just … uh … I am not good at this. At all. I mean, like, at … you know talking. When I … you know … when it’s not work. Or friends … ” Chase got tangled up in his words more, blushing.
“At this? What? You are making absolutely no sense. Did you mean you are terrible at talking yourself out of a hole? In that case, I’d agree, you are no good at it.”
“No. I meant dating and all that. I suck at it.”
“A lot of people do. Which is the reason online dating even exists. If everybody excelled at finding matches on their own, dating sites would be pretty redundant. But you know as well as I do, they are not. So, what else you got for excuses, your super-brain? I cannot wait to shoot each and every one of them down until you admit, why you really didn’t reply to me.” she was just as eloquent as in her message, clearly well-educated and career oriented. Like him.
“I swear, I wanted to, but after typing up what felt like a thousand awful messages, I thought saying nothing would be the most merciful on both of us. It is the truth, Piper, I swear on my life.”
She exhaled loudly, measuring him up. Her eyes showed that she was a force to be reckoned with on a mental level. Finally, she nodded and sighed.
“So if you want to, put your money where your mouth is. No need to even type. Just lay it on me.”
“Okay, fine. Would you like to go on a date?” Chase chose the escape through the middle.
“That was pitiful! What date? A little more precise maybe, so I know what I am agreeing to or declining? Date is vague. Date could mean a nice dinner, a movie, drinks or the backseat of your car. And when? Now? After work? In two years?” Piper was not going to let him off the hook that easy.
“Ahem … Sorry … ah …. erm … ” Chase stuttered like a beaten dog, and something in Piper’s expression changed to understanding and pity.
“Okay, I am sorry too, that was a bit harsh by me. No, correction, I just went full on bitch all over you. Truth is, I am new to this online dating thing too, and contacted two other guys aside from you before learning my lesson, when they actually responded and turned out to be living nightmares, evidently mistaking the function of a dating site to be some quick hook-up page. I may be a bit on edge after having to educate them on what I am looking for and what not, which is clearly outlined in my profile. You just got the brunt of my frustrations with men you meet online, but clearly, you are not like them. Let’s back up and start over, okay?” she offered, her tone more gentle then before, her eyes softened and she smiled a little, seemingly amused.
Chase did not know what to say now, just blankly stared at her until she laughed.
“You were right. You ARE horrible at this. Okay, for some reason I think you are really different than any of them, so you get a Mulligan. Name a place and a time and we’ll meet. Preferably on the weekend since my work hours are often obscenely long, hence the online dating. If you still want to, that is, after my crazy performance just now.”
“Oh, I want to. Definitely want to! Want to a lot.” Chase nervously reaffirmed, which made her laugh, visibly appeased.
When she left the facility after taking some pictures of the plants to mock up some materials for a demonstration presentation the two companies were putting on together, Chase had a date for the weekend.
His dad would be ecstatic. And his sister would probably start planning double dates for them. The thought made Chase chuckle to himself.
During dinner at home that night he was bubbling over with excitement to tell his family, but they had all already realized something was up by the way he acted. Still, despite a little teasing, he felt good and confident for the weekend date.
When they all sat together later watching a TV show they always watched together as a family, even though once more Logan was roosting here, his hands – and lips – all over Kiera, Chase’s phone dinged with a message. It was Piper and her message made him smile.
“Who is it honey? Must be good, by the way your face just lit up.” his mother asked.
“Just a nice message from Piper. The girl I met at work today, from that online thing. The one I’ll go out with on Saturday. Writes she is looking forward to the dinner on Saturday evening.”
“Look at you turning into Don Juan before our eyes. That is awesome! I love it when a plan comes together … oh … umm .. I mean .. when your plan happens for you … that’s what I meant.” Kiera blushed and struggled with her explanation, but Chase already caught on.
“So it WAS you! I had a feeling! How did you get my password!?” Chase grumbled at her, parents and Logan looking on.
“You mean the one with the others written on the Post-It you keep under your keyboard, Mr. High Security?” Kiera smirked deviously. She knew Chase wouldn’t be too mad for too long. Not at her and not for this.
“Kiera, you know to stay off your brother’s stuff! Sorry son, she’ll get a spanking with a wet noodle later!” Blake interfered.
“Was just trying to help, dad! He was stuck in reverse with meeting girls! You and mom complained about him sitting at home all the time, so I took action when he didn’t. And it helped! Look at him, all beamy and happy!” Kiera shrugged, while Logan rolled his eyes.
“I’ll be beamy up in my room, changing passwords now. Night all!” Chase retorted.
“Seriously, Ki. I think I’ll be changing my passwords too when I get home …” Logan told her, earning a stuck out tongue by her.
Shaking his head, Chase ran up the stairs, simmering for a minute in his room when there was a knock.
“Not interested yet, Kiera!” he exclaimed, but the door opened and his mother entered.
“Honey, don’t be upset. I know it wasn’t right, she knows it too, dad is having a talk with her about that, but you know she meant well. Your sister adores you and wanted you to be happy. No ill intend.” Hailey told him softly.
While both kids were young adults now, as long as they lived at home there were rules to be followed and they’d be reminded of those just like when they were younger, as both were aware.
“Yeah, I know. But I thought for once I did this … or at least it just happened to me, not was forced by my sister. Feels like a hand-me-down now.”
“You did do this! Kiera said she didn’t change a word, only published it. YOU are the one who was interesting enough to contact and YOU made that girl from work want to go on a date and YOU are going to be the one making her fall head over heels for you, how could she not? Come on, baby. Don’t let this tarnish your progress. I am sure your date will be fabulous. At the very least you got to meet someone new your age. You really need to experience life while you are young, before you know it, you will wish you had when you get buried in responsibilities too boot. You need to have some fun, do things young men do. Daddy and I will always be here, so will Kiera, but you need to stand on your own feet, smell those roses while they are in bloom, sweetheart.” Hailey told her son.
“All right, tell Kiera I am not mad at her … and I’ll get to smell the roses on Saturday night, if it can wait that long, okay mom?”
“I love you, sweetheart! Daddy and I are so very proud of you.”
Friday night, San Myshuno, housewarming party at Zach and Bryce’s bachelor pad.
“Heyyyyyy! Come on in, man! Good to see ya!” Zach pulled Chase into the apartment he shared as roommates with Bryce, whom they both had been housemates with in college. Both young men found jobs in the city, but neither made enough to be able to afford a decent place on their own as real estate was expensive, so they got a two bedroom place together.
Today was a very belated housewarming party, since they had moved in several months ago now but were too busy with work.
Loud music was blaring, the dull roar of people talking, and the smell of food was in the air, undoubtedly courtesy of Zach, the chef, who graduated college with a degree in Culinary Arts.
Chase peeked around the corner, Bryce now waved at him from where he was in an animated conversation with some other guests. Still the same party animal with the carrying voice as in college.
“She’s here, by the way. Hope that’s okay. I didn’t invite her, because of you, but Bryce did, that ditsy. He didn’t mean anything bad by it, just remembered her and invited her before I told him not to.”
“Huh?” Chase was lost.
“Emma. Sorry, man.” Zach pointed into the living area where Emma’s buttery blond hair almost matching her soft yellow cardigan was hard to miss, as she was talking to two other girls who looked familiar, probably from the college campus parties.
“Oh! Hey, dude that’s fine. We’re all adults here, right?” Chase lied. Knowing he’d see her again made him nervous. What would that be like? He had not heard from her nor seen her since she dumped him almost four years ago now after their odd friends with benefits relationship.
A knock on the door, and Zach reached past Chase to open. A girl entered, who was introduced to Chase as Zach and Bryce’s new neighbor, Kaydence Dean. Bright red hair contrasting even brighter blue eyes with a smile in them, as she turned to Chase to greet him.
“So how do you two guys know each other?” she asked Chase and Zach.
“College roommates.” Chase said a little more abrupt than intended.
Here we go again, he thought, open wide, insert foot, because you happen to be talking to a cute girl. I really am beyond hope.
“Oh college buddies, cool. Also Culinary?” she asked him, un-repelled. As Chase was still sorting words into the proper order in his head, Zach came to his aid, well aware of his friends’ problem.
“Oh no, our Chase here is a scientist. Real smart cookie .. *cough cough* nerd!” Zach laughed loudly, then ushered both new arrivals further inside the apartment to set them up with drinks and show them the food he made.
In an attempt to avoid having to speak to Emma, Chase nearly clung to Kaydence for most of the afternoon. Even his usual issues were only secondary to not wanting to do more than briefly smile at Emma from across the room.
Luckily Kaydence was fairly outgoing and entertaining, plus the party atmosphere and loud music did their part in camouflaging Chase’s typical awkwardness. And he liked her, and she liked him back, very obviously.
They flirted up a storm and Chase loved every second of it, drinking up the warm fuzzy feeling it gave him.
But then she had to leave. While saying goodbye was physical and very enjoyable to Chase, he got sad watching her walk out the door. He had thoroughly enjoyed their time together once he found his groove. And they had exchanged phone numbers. Remained to be seen if anything came of this.
In his peripheral vision he noticed Emma run for the bathrooms looking horrible and even worse as she came back out, clinging on to the walls before lowing herself onto some stool, visibly unwell. Nobody else seemed to notice or do anything, Zach and Bryce were busy and he didn’t know anyone else, so he sighed and went to her.
“You okay?” he asked, a dumb question, as she looked pale and had a slight greenish tint to her usual ivory complexion, cheeks flushed.
She looked terrible as she shook her head, then jumped right back up and ran back into the bathroom. The sounds Chase heard through the shut door were telltale.
And so it came about that Chase ended up walking her home, she only lived a few blocks away. Entering her apartment felt like he was doing something terribly naughty, illegal, crossing an invisible line.
She drank two glasses of water, offered him coffee, but Chase insisted she go turn in to sleep off the excess alcohol … and maybe take a pregnancy test, which made her laugh out loud as her hand found his, that very innocent gesture sent odd jolts of electricity through him, the memory of something they once shared came back all at once.
“You are adorable! Relax, I am neither drunk, nor preggers. I have very secure measurements in place to avoid getting knocked up. No, I am allergic to hazelnuts, nobody ever uses those, but of course our fancy chef Zach would. Found out after I already ate two of those hors d’oeuvres. You saw what happened. I should be okay now. Will you stay with me tonight? For old times’ sake?” her eyes told the rest of the story of what she was asking … or offering.
“No. Really, I should be getting home.” Chase replied nervously, Emma held on to him and her touch paralyzed him.
“Why? You said yourself, nobody waiting, but your parents. Send them a message and stay. Look Chase, we both know what we are doing. We used to have fun. You know I am not the girl for life, and I know that I love how sweet you are, but that is not the type of man I want long term. But we know that we match up well between the sheets. We’re young, we both go in open-eyed. No hearts will be broken, if you find someone, I will step aside immediately and assume you will vice versa. But until then, why not have some fun together?”
While initially her suggestion repelled him, it was the truth. It had been forever for him since he last felt a woman’s touch, he was barely 23 and felt things any healthy man would with no outlet for them. His tense body relaxed as her lips found his, and he reciprocated.
A no strings attached thing might take the edge of for his date the next evening. Maybe if he finally got himself laid, it would be a lot less awkward meeting Piper again. And maybe Piper would see the real Chase for once, not the idiotic klutz who could barely form a complete sentence in front of her.
-to be continued-
Two of the beautiful ladies, Piper and Kaydence, who are now confusing Chase were submitted by Audrey from “New Beginnings”. Thank you!
The apartments seen are original builds by me and on the Gallery, OID is TheLegacyStory.
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! 😉