Chase arrived home from work, still in his lab coat, briefly greeted Shea, who was preparing dinner in their kitchen, in her casual clothing not her office wear, which told him she had been home for a while already. As usual, he ran upstairs for a quick shower and to change into his house clothes too. This was kind of their routine already.
A little later, he entered the kitchen, now showered and changed, with a confused look on his face.
“Hey, has my mom been by today? Did you see a note that she let herself in the house or something? That’s really unlike her. And if she did, strange that she didn’t send me a message or called.” Chase wondered.
“Not that I know of. Why?” Shea asked while adding ingredients to a pot and stirring.
“The laundry basket is on my dresser with clean and folded clothes, and I am pretty sure I didn’t have time yet, unless I sleep-launder and dream-iron at night. I might be losing it completely now.”
“Oh, that was me. You had insanely long work days the past two weeks and then they had you work the weekend too, so I just did your laundry along with mine. But you’ll have to put it away yourself.” Shea said simply, like this was the most natural of things.
“You did my laundry!?” Chase’s eyes grew wide.
“Yeah. Is that another one of your hangups? Sorry. Was just trying to help out. I didn’t think it was a big deal to throw yours in with mine. My siblings and I sometimes did that for each other, when we all lived at home, so I thought nothing of it.”
“Uh no, not a hangup. That was really nice of you, thank you. Little weird maybe, but I am definitely grateful. ”
“No, what’s weird is your Spongebob panties. That was unexpected.” Shea laughed at him, Chase blushed.
“Oh gawd, you saw those! I can explain! There is a really good reason for them!”
“Oh, please do! Dying to hear why a 26 year old man needs those.” she said, still laughing.
“They are my lucky pant… ummm … boxer briefs. Men don’t wear panties, Shea. But I got them in college, a joke gift from my dad, but the first time I wore them I aced a test that nobody ever got an A on in the history of the uni, and they brought me luck every time after that, but I only wear them when I really need something to go right for me to not break the spell. Like during my finals, when I applied for my job … “
‘…at our not-date, just in case …’ Chase added in his mind.
She grinned even wider.
“Lucky boxers and superstition, huh? Well, as fun as it would be to tease you about all that, I let you in on a secret: I got lucky panties too, pretty much for the same reason. So I get it. And I’ll be nice.”
“You do?! What do yours look like?!”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?! I’ll never tell!” Shea giggled.
“Why?! I’ve shown you mine.”
“You haven’t shown me, I found them!”
“So I am supposed to go dig through your underwear drawer to find the skeletons you are hiding?!”
“Or do my laundry for me … hint hint.”
“I just may!” Chase grinned.
“And I would mark the calendars! Also, I am really done discussing our unmentionables now. Topic change, please!”
She turned back to the stove to finish dinner for them and Chase smiled. As embarrassing as all this probably should be, it wasn’t really. He was really comfortable with her. Apparently even when discussing underwear choices. Hmm. Who knew that being teased about something so personal by a girl he wasn’t related too could ever just be funny, not leave him dying a slow and painful emotional death inside. And that coming home to this house could really be like coming to a home. His home. He never would have guessed that any place other than the Beach House could ever feel like a real home to him.
His mother always told him that not the house or the location, but the people in it make a home. Guess she knew what she was talking about.
“CHASE CAMERON!” hearing his name loudly, brought him back into the present moment.
“You and your zoning out all the time. You really are a nutty professor, aren’t you. I have asked you at least three times if you want parmesan on your meatballs.”
“Yes, please. And sorry, again.”
They ate together and Chase couldn’t help but feeling waves of warmth washing over him. He loved moments like this. Them, together, talking about their days, joking. They had no chore plans, it just all worked out. If the trash was full, one of them took it out, the dogs were walked together, whoever was home first would figure out dinner.
Chase knew he was stalling something that could be. Something potentially even better than this. But he was still too afraid of losing her if the relationship didn’t work out after all. If it ain’t broke, don’t try fix it. This wasn’t broke. It was great.
Few weeks later. Autumn had arrived again.
“You okay?” Chase looked concerned at Shea.
“Yeah, just tired. The big meetings last week kicked my butt. I just want to go to bed and sleep for two weeks straight.”
“Do it! Take a vacation!”
“Burn precious vacation days to sleep? And sit at home? Nah … that’s okay.”
“What about Rachel or Dom. Maybe you can go somewhere fun together, you know, relive the good old times.” Chase thought about the family vacations spent mostly camping in the woods and fishing, hiking and such when he and Kiera were young. He missed that. He’d do that again in a heartbeat.
“Rachel just started a new job. No way she could take days off already. And Dom is saving to buy a house with his girlfriend, and an expensive ring. He wants to pop the question this year still and only has a few months left in it. Before you ask, all my other friends are starting families and stuff. Nobody can go. And I am not going to ask my parents. I love them, but I am 24 years old and will not go on vacay with them. The plight of us rebels. Hey, don’t take it personal, but I think I’ll turn in for the night. See you at breakfast. Night Chase.”
Chase watched her go up the stairs, then went to his room as well. When he closed the lid of his laptop some hours later, he smiled satisfied.
The next morning he was up, and had breakfast waiting for Shea.
“Coffee?” he asked.
“Okay … you are awfully chipper this morning. How many cups have you had so far?”
“I am chipper and it has nothing to do with coffee. I have a plan. Here goes: you are going to request a week of vacation for as soon as they will agree to it. Then I will request time off too, which they will grant for whenever I want it, since I barely ever take vacations and HR has been on me about that forever. Then, we will go on an adventure together. Like you had your dolls do, but this time, in real life. Now sit down and have breakfast with me.” Chase decided.
“An adventure? Us nerds? I can hear the Scooby-Doo theme playing in my head already. And who are you even? This is not the always tentative, careful, planning every second of every day Chase I know. Are you possessed by an alien?”
“No, this is me being a good friend. You need to get away. So I am taking you away.”
“Where exactly is ‘away’?”
“That, mylady will remain a mystery only I shall be privy to until we get there.”
“Ahem … how would I even pack for a mystery vacation? I need at least a general hint.”
“Easy, pack one of everything – and those lucky panties.”
“Yeah, you wish! Wait, do I need lucky panties where we are going?”
“All I am gonna say is that I will be packing mine!” Chase chuckled.
“OK, now I am scared.”
“You oughta be!” Chase grinned.
“That way, I think.” Shea pointed confused.
“No, I am pretty sure he said something about the big tree and then left.”
“There are big trees everywhere!”
“I see that.”
“Now what, professor?”
“This way!” Chase decided.
“Down there? All right. But if we run into cannibals or predatory animals, you better hope you can run faster than me.”
“There are no predators or cannibals here.”
“Then what was that sound? The growling?”
“Probably my stomach. I am starving!”
They continued on, but instead of a village or any other sign of civilization, all they found was even deeper jungle. And now it was getting dark.
“So is this how we are going to die? Well, at least we’ll have a pretty view as the last thing we see … ” Shea sounded concerned.
“We won’t die. I’ll protect you. Are you by any chance wearing your lucky underwear?” Chase tried to sound confident, even though he was scared out of his wits himself, but tried to appear strong for Shea.
“Well, if I do die, please take care of Geraldine. And tell my parents and siblings that I love them.”
“You are not going to die! And if you did, I probably would too. So hold off on that last will stuff, and just try to think of a solution with me, okay?”
Their solution was to at least make a fire, to keep warm and stave off wild animals.
As the flames shot higher, omitting a comfortable warmth and calming the nerves of the two young people trying to be strong for each other, they finally started to relax. In the middle of them trying to make sense of the map again to plan the route for as soon as daylight would hit, a sound of rustling and cracking branches advertised someone or something was approaching them.
“Chase! Did you hear that?! There is a noise over there. Something is coming!”
“I hear it too! Quick, help me find a weapon, a stick or something big we can defend ourselves with!”
“There are no sticks, just leaves and plants! All we could do is tickle them to death!”
“Get behind me!” Chase shielded her as whatever monster was approaching finally broke through the bushes.
“There! We are gonna die!” Shea screamed pointing at the moving branches before them giving way to whatever was coming for them.
Mouths agape, after seemingly endless moments of terror both relaxed as they realized it was just a woman with a camping lantern, which she placed on the ground next to her, visibly angry, mumbling something Chase and Shea couldn’t understand.
Staring at her, as she went straight for their fire put it out in seconds with trained actions, then kicked piles of sand over the charred earth, before she looked at them, shaking her head as she went back next to the lantern.
“DO YOU SPEAK-A ENGLISH?! WE LOST. VILLAGE. WHERE?!” Chase tried utilizing hands gestures to depict his words.
“Young man, I can understand English quite well, evidently better than you, since there are signs about no fires allowed everywhere and yet, you two had nothing better to do than make a fire! Unbelieveable! This is a nature conservatory. I am sick and tired of tourists going off the marked paths wanting to rough it at the cost of our precious environment for some pitiful adrenaline rush.”
“Oh. We didn’t. Rough it I mean. We are lost. Genuinely lost. Thought we were going to die or something.” Shea explained.
“Die? You never bothered to look down there? You can see the village from here, just like we saw your fire from there. And there is the bridge. All you need it to do is walk across and follow the path, goes straight to the village, shouldn’t be too hard even for you two winners. Think you guys can handle that or do you need to hold my hands?”
“No, thanks, we got it, and sorry about the fire.” Chase answered humiliated.
They hurried off into the indicated direction across the bridge, down the path and before long arrived at the village, passed it and found their little rental cabin.
Laughing they entered the cabin, out of breath from the laughter more than the exercise.
“Oh my gawd. Let’s make a pact to never tell a soul about that!” Chase suggested after they calmed down enough to being able to talk.
“Deal! I think my cheeks are going to fall off from laughing so hard. That was so embarrassing! Almost as much as your Spongebob panties!” Shea grinned at him.
“For the last time: they are not panties! They are boxer briefs! I am a man, not a woman! You girls wear panties! I wear boxer briefs! No matter the print!”
“Whatever you say. You are my hero either way, even with Spongebob underwear. That was superbrave, you standing in front of me to protect me. You really are the sweetest. With or without your boxers. Wait – that came out wrong.” Shea’s smile turned into a frown.
Chase chuckled as Shea blushed.
“Couldn’t protect you or myself from the humiliation of thinking we’d die while the village was less than a 10 minute casual stroll away and literally in viewing distance.”
“I know not what you speaketh of, dear Sir. I have no recollection of such a thing.”
“You know what I have a real good recollection of? A hot shower. I’ll let you go first. But hurry, I need to wash the jungle, sweat and humiliation off me.”
“I’ll be fast as lightning. You know, like your idol – Spongebob – is underwater.” she grinned at him, teasing.
“He is never fast, in or outside of the water. Same speed always and squeaky shoes. You do not even know what you are bashing.”
“Scary you would know this, but you’re the expert, Mr. Squeaky-Sexy-Pants!” she chuckled and left.
Minutes later Shea rushed out of the small bathroom in only a towel, then Chase took his turn. When he came out, also with just a towel around his hips, Shea was waiting for him, still with only a towel on.
“Uh oh, what is it now? Lemme guess, you found a spider the size of Godzilla in your room and now me and my boxers are not too ridiculous to save the day again?” Chase guessed, smirking.
“You could not be more wrong if you tried. No, I want to show you something. Only because of your heroism today, and since we are bonded by embarrassment now, I will show you a secret I’d have to kill anyone else for if they found out. Tada!”
At the last word she dropped the towel, Chase inhaled, then stared in awe, before he laughed loudly.
“That’s it?! OMG! To think you ever teased me about Spongebob! Pokemon, really?!”
“Laugh it up. At least I was woman enough to show you on my own. What you should do is put on yours, so we can match our humiliation again.”
“I believe I will. Just for you.”
He ran to his room and put on his boxers, and ran back downstairs, where he strutted in like a fashion model, until both were laughing so hard they could no longer see.
When they finally calmed down enough, it sunk in that here he was wearing nothing but his boxers, next to Shea in only her underwear. How could this feel so … normal.
He snorted a laugh as they went to sit on the couch.
“What’s so funny?” Shea asked him.
“To be honest, I was just wondering why it doesn’t feel weird at all to sit next to you in my underwear. You’d think I’d die or something, but I could sit like this all night.”
“Hmm … as strangely hypnotizing as having Spongebob grin at me while he is presenting your crotch may be, I am so tired now, about to fall over and need to get myself to bed. Aren’t you tired at all?”
“Kinda, but your undies are so bright, no way I could sleep with Pokemon illuminating the night in a mile-wide radius.”
“His name is Pikachu and they are just yellow, not THAT bright. Just like yours.”
“I think they were designed for desperate dates, as soon as the girl stands before any not-colorblind man in those, all they want to do is tear them off her to keep what’s left of their sanity.”
“Hardee har har. As if girls would just stand by in awe when you roll out in boxers like those.”
“As if I would EVER be caught dead in these in front of anyone but someone I trust with my life. I know I am a hopeless nerd, but not that stupid.” Chase chuckled when he imagined Piper ever seeing him in anything like these. That would have gone a very different route. Not a pleasant one.
“Yeah, likewise. Do we need to swear each other to secrecy now? With blood bond and all?”
“Nah, I won’t tell a soul. Too much at stake. If I ever mentioned yours, you’d talk about mine and that risk is not worth taking. Hey, Shea, thank you for sharing though.”
“Anytime! Wait, that also didn’t come out quite right. Well, actually, just underwear. Pretty much the same thing as being on a beach in swimwear, right?”
Chase chuckled as Shea shuffled as if she was going to get up.
“Shea, wait. I know you said you are tired, but … I have to ask you this. How do you feel about me? I mean, really. Not the official version.”
Shea remained seated, but gave him a look he couldn’t identify or place.
“That is a really awkward conversation when we are in nothing but our underwear, Chase. And really confusing, too. Where is this coming from now? From us being so … undressed or from the near-death experience that wasn’t one?”
“It’s been in my head for months. Actually, even longer. But I am afraid to do or say the wrong thing.”
“Afraid of what exactly?”
“Losing you, I guess.”
“So after all that time, this is how you see me? Ditch at the first sign of adversity? Wow, good to know.”
“No, but … look, if we were to be more than what we are now, and if it failed, we couldn’t go back to being just friends. It would be awkward, we’d avoid each other and then stop seeing each other altogether. A slow death of something I value more than anything.”
“You really amaze me Chase. Mostly for the better, but sometimes you spout stupid stuff like all that. How can you miss what has been right before your eyes all along. You think just because you refuse to acknowledge it, it just disappears? Especially as a scientist, that should make all your BS alarms go off.”
“But what if we both acknowledge it, go with it, and then I fall short of what you want in a relationship?”
“That would prove that you are human. We all fall short. Nobody is perfect, Chase.”
“No, I mean, like, what if you for example wanted to get married right now, but I am not ready. One of us would have to do something they do not want to.”
“That’s called a compromise. Also pretty normal. What else you got?”
“Nothing I guess. Maybe I just really have issues.” Chase really didn’t know what his problem was anymore.
“What a revelation! My shocked face in 3, 2 …. 1.”
“Shea, this isn’t funny to me. I am dead serious. This is important and serious. I just really want it to be right. For both of us.”
“And by over-analyzing everything until the dinosaurs roam again you think you are doing anybody any favors? And all that because you ended up with the wrong girl a few times, from the sounds of it, against better knowledge in at least two cases?”
“Probably not. So, do you just want to be a couple?”
“No! If we both decide we want to level this up, then we will do it like everybody else does it. I think I have proven I am loyal and understanding, but I am not going to fast-track you anywhere with me. No Sir.”
“Meaning – what? You want me to ask you out? How is that supposed to work? We literally live together.”
“You really want me to ask you on a date?”
“That depends on what you want. If you want this to evolve, you’re gonna have to. If not, all stays the way it has been.”
Chase exhaled loudly.
“Fine. Shea, would you go out to dinner with me tomorrow?”
“Hmmm – no. I have plans.”
“Plans? What plans? We are in a jungle! Alone, together.”
“In a cabin with a hot tub. And that has my name on it. Plus, if you can get girls to go out with you with that lame of an approach, have at it. This girl needs more enthusiasm.”
“You are kidding, right?! This is you giving me a hard time again to watch me squirm, right?”
“Nope. I am done with this conversation now. Pikachu and I will see you and Spongebob at breakfast tomorrow. Night Chase.” she smirked at him, then left, leaving a totally discombobulated – and scared – Chase behind.
“No. No, no, no, no, no. This is going really wrong!” he ran up after her, into her room.
“Hey! Dude! I am trying to go to sleep here!” Shea protested after he barged in. They never locked doors at home and nobody ever just entered the other’s room without knocking.
“I need more hints. This is the jungle. Not like I could call and officially ask you out with a bouquet of roses, sporting a tux to whisk you away in a white limo to the fanciest restaurant in town. There is NOTHING here. Please … just tell me what you would like and I’ll gladly do it.”
“Seriously Chase? We have been doing this thing – whatever it is – for countless months. And now of a sudden it’s so urgent? Chill out dude. If you cannot figure something out, then wait till we get back home. Or don’t, either way, get out of my room now, I am tired!”
“Not until you give me a real hint.”
“Well, then squat my room. But I am going to sleep.”
“Fine! Then I’ll sleep here too.”
“Like hell you will! You snore! I can hear you back home, through the walls! Go to your own bed and saw logs there!”
“Fine, I will go to your bed then and you can do your snoring in mine!” Shea turned and began to walk off.
“And I will follow!” Chase said determined.
“I am seeing where your ex gets the immature from now!”
“Straight back at ya!” Chase said angrily, which stopped Shea in her tracks
She turned around just as upset as he was.
“Excuse me? How am I immature?!” she demanded.
“Interesting question coming from the girl with the Pokemon underwear, who now changed into a set of much more sophisticated Peanuts pj’s and is on her way to sleep in my bed rather than just answer one simple question for me so she can sleep in her own!”
“Ironic statement coming from a dude standing in my bedroom asking dumb questions in the middle of the night after a long and exhausting day while Spongebob is pointing to his junk!”
Both froze, halted, then burst into roaring laughter.
As they calmed down, Chase asked Shea.
“Did we just have our first fight?”
“Yeah, I think so.” she agreed.
“Did that fight really end in laughter after a few minutes?” Chase could not believe it.
“More like seconds, but yup. This is us, Chase. And this is how we fight.” Shea told him.
“Wow.” Chase smiled. That was it? A fight? Over just like this? No casualties? Were they his parents or something?
“Fine, Chase … you and Spongebob can crash here. After the day we had, I think I prefer you within arm’s reach, just in case more weirdness descents upon us. But if you or Spongebob snore, I will suffocate you both with a pillow.”
“Only if you and Snoopy promise to keep your hands to yourselves.”
“That will be hard. Sponges just do something to me … RAWR!”
“I know! Be strong though.”
“You are such a dork, Chase!”
“Takes one to know one. Left or right side of the bed?”
“What if I say middle?” Shea giggled.
“Then my question will be top or bottom.” Chase grinned, then blushed when he realized the double meaning.
“Uh – yeah … I’ll be on the left then. Night Chase. And thanks again, for everything.”
“Thank you, Shea. For everything. And good night.”
As soon as their heads touched the pillows, both were out cold. And snoring.
-to be continued-