Caitriona smiled at him from across the table, Chase returned the gesture, as they were both about to start eating their food, although Chase’s hands were shaking so much, he couldn’t help but wonder if any food would make it into his mouth.
Why and how did Chase end up at a restaurant, a somewhat upscale one, with a girl named Caitriona Sheridan? Her soft gray eyes with a smile in them hanging on his every word, making him feel like he was the coolest dude around, while his knees got weak whenever she spoke with that sweet Irish accent? Well, that would require some flashbacks through the past few months.
First there was catching his ex-girlfriend Piper in the act with another man, her boss, no less, to complete the normally laughable cliche, even though Chase didn’t find it amusing in the slightest.
Quite the contrary. Heartbroken, he had packed his things before Piper ever made it home, leaving her key in her mailbox and went straight to the Beach House, where he was received with open arms and open hearts, the fight with his father long forgotten when Blake and Hailey saw what miserable state their son was in.
With his parents’ support, love and pampering Chase would lick his wounds, a heap of sadness at first, but eventually slowly become himself again.
For the next several months he immersed himself in work, ignoring Piper’s attempts to apologize and reconcile until she finally acknowledged it was no use. Chase swore he would never let himself be so vulnerable again, never dedicate himself to another person as much, and probably never ever fall in love again.
Instead, he filled the void in his heart with work. When not at work, he would be in his room at home, playing computer games or reading, unless his parents dragged him downstairs to spend time with them or other family, or with his best friend Charlie, who had come over for visits quite a bit. Every attempt to lure Chase out of his shell beyond those things failed.
Until one late afternoon he meant to send a message to his sister Kiera while he was at work, got distracted and accidentally in a rush sent it to Caitriona instead, due to a botched voice recognition dictation on his phone.
While composing the message, Chase had been distracted and didn’t notice the voice from the phone confirmed it had heard “Caitriona” instead of “Kiera”.
Caitriona was the temporary receptionist at the science lab where Chase worked, while their usual one was on maternity leave. Everyone knew Cait, not only because she was really pretty and easygoing, but she had that Irish accent that just had all the male staff’s tail in a spin. Evidently she had just moved over from Ireland and to most of the younger guys at the lab, that was as exotic as they had seen in their 20 some years.
After she got herself locked out of the high security facility once when she forgot her badge inside, Chase happened to come by and ‘rescued’ her from a torrential downpour by letting her inside using his badge, they exchanged cell phone numbers in case it happened again.
Evidently her name just happened to sound similar to that of his sister’s to his phone’s voice-activated text messaging program when he was pacing and not focused while dictating his message.
When the phone beeped with a reply, Chase was utterly confused at first to be receiving a message from Caitriona out of the blue and by her odd message about dinner together, before he realized the error and that she only responded to his message with some humor.
Her message made him hot and cold, uncertain whether to be embarrassed or laugh at it.
Caitriona naturally had never met his parents, nor had he ever even seen her place, let alone had dinner there. Her response was in good humor and for some reason did make him smile, a rare feat these days, even for his dad, a natural at making people laugh.
No reply, instead his phone rang. Caitriona. He answered.
“Sorry to call you just so, when you are obviously busy at work, but I didn’t want to type all that up. I found a full time position, no more temp work for me, hopefully. Sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye to my hero.”
“Some hero I am. All I did was unlock a door for you.” he replied.
“Well, you go stand out in the cold, pouring rain in just a thin blouse and a skirt for 30 minutes and then we’ll talk again.” she giggled.
“All my skirts and blouses are at the cleaners, but I can imagine it’s uncomfortable. I’m gonna miss seeing your smiling face when I walk in every morning.” Chase meant it. The last part.
“You didn’t even notice this morning that I wasn’t there!” Cait accused him but he could hear her smile in her words.
“You wouldn’t have been. I got in long before anyone else. All that was there was security, but they are 24/7 and I have never seen any of them smile.”
“You work too much. You need to have some fun.”
“Not in the fun kinda mood after getting cheated on. Sorry, TMI. Don’t know why I said that.” Chase really didn’t. He was way too private to just randomly share something so humiliating to him.
“Oh, I get it. Same boat. Caught my fiance – pardon, my EX-fiance – in our bed with another woman. Turns out, that hadn’t been the first time either. Hit me so hard, I never saw that coming, a totally oblivious fool I was. I couldn’t stand staying around there, small town, we’d have run into each other again, so I not only left him and our flat, but the entire continent. So, I can relate …”
“Right back at you.”
Somehow that conversation started something Chase had no desciption for. Every day they would text each other after both were in bed, one would call the other and they would just talk until they got too tired and one or the other just fell asleep. Nothing sexual, just friendly talk about this and that. But somehow it felt good, different than all the talks he had with his family and Charlie.
Every single night. For weeks. It became the highlight of Chase’s days, something he looked forward to the minute he woke up in the morning.
The shared more personal details, Chase naturally told her what had happened between him and Piper, even told him about Emma eventually, and she told him about her recent heartbreak, about growing up in rural Ireland, about college in Dublin. They spoke about everything. Things he never thought he’d tell another person, especially not one he wasn’t even related to. Trust issues were not a new thing to Chase, and that had only gotten magnified after Piper’s betrayal.
And somehow, at some point they agreed on a lunch together. That went so well, that they ended up going out a few more times, to lunches, to cafes, to dinners, the movies and even out dancing.
While there had been some sparks between them from time to time, largely ignored by both, one night the mood turned very romantic and Chase realized that something he thought he was done with forever happened: he had started falling for her.
They shared their first kiss in his car, after he had taken her home from a dinner together. It felt like they were the only people left on earth.
The kiss was as far as that went, and still left Chase feeling tingly as if there were ants crawling through every vein of his body after he watched her walk to her front door, unlock it, smile and wave back at him. He wanted to go after her so badly, but Chase felt that both of them needed more time. At least a little bit.
Which leads us to them at the nice restaurant. Chase had invited Caitriona out to Magnolia Promenade for dinner at a highly rated restaurant. Why there, he could not say. Felt right. He wanted to ask her to be his girlfriend, them to become a couple, and needed the location to be special enough for what felt like an immense step for him.
The food arrived and both were occupied tasting their and each other’s meal, Caitriona giggled and Chase realized he had grown to really like that pearly and honest sound.
“Cait, I would like you to meet my parents.” Chase suddenly got serious.
She halted in mid-bite, looking at him.
“Chase, are you sure you are ready for that again?” she got serious.
“I think I am. What about you? Are you ready?”
She chuckled, shaking her head to herself and looked at her food, then Chase.
“I think I have been ready since that night you invited yourself and your family to dinner at my place. Just took me a while to realize that. But after that kiss in your car, I was certain. I definitely want more of those. And more of … more.”
“After the two girlfriends I had so far, I wouldn’t claim I know anything about relationships at all. So … are we a couple now?”
“If you want to be, I am in.”
“Should we … kiss?”
“Probably so, but maybe after dinner and outside. The waiter here looks a bit conservative and would either have a stroke or kick us out.”
The rest of the evening was spent doing typical new couple things. And kissing. Lots of that. Strolling through the romantic town of Windenburg, where Cait lived, hand in hand, sitting on benches making out, taking Selfies, trying to drag out the time until he had to drop her off at her home.
When he did walk her to her door, he leaned in for the kiss goodnight, it turned unexpectedly passionate.
“Oh no, Mister! You are not going to get away so easily.” she cooed after they stopped, unlocked her door and pulled him in with her, kissing again and again.
“Oh no, twist my arm some more, will ya …” Chase said as he kicked the door shut behind them while making out with her. All the way to her bedroom. Chase didn’t drive back home to Brindleton Bay that night.
When he got home the next morning, his father Blake was in the kitchen, smirking.
“Ah, the lost son. And judging by your absent-minded perma-grin I don’t have to feel so bad for lying to your mother, who was very worried when you didn’t come home last night. I had a hunch that you ended up running some endurance tests on the springs of that girl’s bed and forgot about us, so I told her you texted me. Glad to see I was right and you are not in a ditch somewhere.”
“Sorry dad. Yeah, you were right, my life is back in orbit and I have a girlfriend again. I invited her over for lunch on Sunday. Think mom’s okay with that? If she doesn’t want to cook, I’ll take all of us out.”
“Your mom will want to cook. So, tell me about that girl. Caitriona, right?”
“I am going to cook and Kiera has to meet her too. Good morning, Chase! Now, I want to hear about that wonderful girl that made my son remember he is young and has a whole life ahead of him again!” Hailey appeared in the kitchen.
They settled on the couch and Chase told them everything. Correction: a very censored version of every detail that a parent should be privy too.
And so it happened. A family dinner to introduce his girlfriend, naturally Kiera and Logan showed up as well. Caitriona liked to laugh, was very likable and had a good sense of humor, so she fit right into this family that had mastered horrible things with love and a sense of humor. It was obvious that his family liked her and the feeling was mutual.
And then Chase arrived at the old impass again with him not ready to let go, but his bed decidedly too small.
“I can make that work, if you are willing to forgo manspreading tonight.” she smiled, winking at him.
“I don’t man-spread, do I?”
“You’re a man, you man-spread.” she decided.
They made it work. The entire night, without one being uncomfortable or wishing they wouldn’t have. It fit. Just like everything else had fit.
The active and the inactive part of being a young couple freshly in love alone in a bedroom.
When Blake saw them walk in together the next morning he just greeted them politely, smiling, briefly pat his son on the shoulder as he passed him.
“I’ll be in my studio. With the soundproof walls. Just in case.”
Cait just giggled.
-to be continued-