His father was waiting up for him when he got home, and Chase had pretty much expected it… after all, he’d been gone for hours. “Hey.”
“Chase, everything all right?” His father stood up from his seat on the couch, a concerned expression clouding his face.
“Relax, Dad. Everything’s good, okay?”
“I am relaxed,” Charles said quickly.
Chase raised one eyebrow in challenge. “Who are you kidding?”
“Okay, well, you can’t blame me for worrying when you up and left out of the blue. Ah, do you want something to eat? You didn’t have much of the pizza.”
“Sorry about that. I just needed some air… and time to think. Didn’t plan to be gone so long, and I ate again at Dawson’s. We ordered in Chinese.”
“I figured that’s where you might be.”
Chase, feeling guilty, shrugged. “I probably should have called,” he said before walking into the kitchen and opening the fridge.
His father followed him. “Don’t be silly… I knew you were fine… I just—”
“I know… but I should have called anyway. Oh, good, there’s pizza left for breakfast.”
“There’s enough for breakfast and lunch. Neither one of you ate a full slice.”
“Did Hank stay long after I left?”
“Only about twenty minutes. I think he was worried about you too.”
Chase closed the door and turned to face his father and saw the concern was still present. “Would you please stop looking so freaked out? You did the right thing, and I’m fine. I’m glad Mom thought there was going to be a wedding because she got to feel a part of it. Okay?”
His father’s expression finally cleared, and he smiled. “She was so excited after Hank told her, and it kept her focused at a time she needed something. It was a blessing I’ll always be thankful for.”
“I am too, now that I know about it. There is so much love in that little painting, and we both know almost all her favorite movies had weddings in them.”
“Just about,” his dad agreed.
“Of course she would be excited, and I’m not upset with Hank for not telling me. He did the right thing too. So… so why would you think Hank was worried about me?”
“Oh. That’s easy. I know him just about as well as I know you, and it was the way he acted after you left. He got fidgety, and Hank doesn’t usually get fidgety.”
“Not usually, no. Maybe he had to meet someone—he hates to be late—but didn’t want to be rude and leave too soon. He hadn’t seen you in ages. Who knows, maybe Kevin was waiting for him.”
Charles shook his head and gave a sarcastic snort. “You guys. I can’t believe you two.”
“Dad, come on, I’m just saying—”
“You hear what you want to hear, and so does Hank,” he said with another headshake, and Chase heard the exasperation in his voice.
“Hey, where is this coming from?”
“Look, he told you it was over with Kevin, but you still don’t believe it, and he’s just as bad. He got agitated when I said you probably went over to Dawson’s.”
“He did? What makes you think that?”
“For one thing, he started chewing on his lip.”
“Okay, that could be a sign he was annoyed… but why the hell would he care?”
“Only one reason, son. Figure it out.”
“Jealousy? No way! You heard him. He said I had no business sticking my nose into his life, or his sex life.”
“Suit yourself, but I heard something different, like embarrassment at being put on the spot, a little shame, and maybe some regret—that whole business between you guys started when you mentioned Dawson—but you go right ahead and think what you want.”
“Oh, now I see what you’re trying to do, but I know Hank. No matter how many times I told him otherwise, he still thinks I screwed the guy I kissed. He looks at me and sees a cheater, and no matter what he says, he has me in the same category as his mother, yet he’s the one who ended up sleeping with someone else.”
“I agree, but you neglect to mention he said you might be right about that.”
“Exactly! And, it’s great he finally sees that—if he really does—and can actually admit it, but it doesn’t change a thing.”
His father sighed, and Chase could feel his frustration. “You’re missing my point, but I get the message and I’m sorry—I don’t want to step on any more toes today. This is between the pair of you, but I got to tell you, it makes me sad to see—”
“Don’t apologize, and I do appreciate what you tried to do when you told us about your drunken kiss with the torpedo lady.” He grinned, and was relieved when his dad briefly returned it before rolling his eyes.
“Yeah, thanks—not one of my finest moments—but I shouldn’t have done that. I was interfering and I knew it.”
“No, you had my back, and that’s allowed.”
“Well, I’m glad you feel that way. When you agreed with Hank it wasn’t the same as your situation, I was pretty sure I’d overstepped. Can I ask you a question, though, and then I promise I’ll stop?”
“Ask whatever you want.”
“Okay, why did you agree with Hank it was different from what you did? It surprised me to be honest, because I thought it was pretty similar.”
“I did too.”
“Look, I saw where you were going with the story and so did he, and it was making him uncomfortable, so… I sided with him. I appreciated the attempt, but didn’t feel good about how you made him squirm.”
“Ah… see, that’s what you do for someone you love.”
“Hey, I made him squirm way more than you did.”
“Yes you did, but that was you. When it comes from someone else, it’s not allowed. That, my son, is how love works.”
Chase thought about it before he responded. “The love I’ve always felt… it hasn’t left.”
“I can see that.”
“But the hope has, Dad, and I know you care about him, and about us, but you should let the hope go too.”
“Who says I’m hoping?”
“Oh, please. You’d chain us together if you could. I saw that and so could he.”
His father smiled, but he at least had the decency to look contrite. “Was I that obvious?”
Chase chuckled while rubbing his face. “Like a brick to the head, old man. I’m tired. I think I’ll go to bed… it’s been a tough day. I’m losing my best friend on top of everything else, and I just want to sleep.”
“You get some rest, but are you sure you and Hank can’t be friends? It seems to me—”
“No, I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about Dawson. I didn’t want to get into this now, but you might as well know why I might be glum for the next few days. I found out tonight he’s moving far away from here.” He smiled weakly as he took in his father’s incredulous expression.
“Oh, Chase, that’s a shame. I really like that kid.”
“So do I.”
“What’s the deal, anyway? I talked to him in front of the building—Monday, I think—and he never said a word. Come to think of it, he was distracted, though. Why is he moving?”
Chase groaned, regretting having said anything. “It’s a long story, but he’s following his heart, and I am happy for him. He has a chance at connecting with his first love, and he should do it, but it hurts… it hurts a lot.” He was facing his father with eyes burning, and it took everything he had not to fall apart. It had been a hell of a day.
“Damn. I’m so sorry.” He moved forward with his arms out, and Chase folded into them. “I know how close you guys are.”
“It’s okay. I’m just tired and I wasn’t expecting it.”
“I thought he was still seeing that fellow from your work… the golfer. Is that who—”
“No, he cares about Carter, but his heart’s been elsewhere for a long time.”
“I see. When’s he moving?”
“He flies out tomorrow night.”
“Tomorrow? Dear Lord, that’s sudden. Where to?”
“Whitehorse, in the Yukon, believe it or not.” He let go of his dad and turned away quickly, heading down the hallway. “Good night.”
“I’ll see you in the morning, Dad.” Closing the door of his room, he flopped onto his bed and let go of the tears he’d been holding back all evening. When would this rollercoaster his life had become, end?
Waking with a headache, Chase sat up, groaned, flicked on his light, and stared blearily at the clock. It was way too early to start the day, but he decided to anyway. His eyes felt dry and swollen from the tears shed before he fell asleep, but at least this time it hadn’t been about Hank. He was back to being alone again, and that was going to be hard, but what could he do. He’d clicked with Dawson immediately, sharing a lot in the few months they’d known each other, and knew how fortunate he’d been to have his friendship. The fact was, he loved the guy, and didn’t know what he would do without him. Damn, life really sucked sometimes.
As he pulled clean underwear from his dresser, it occurred to him Dawson had replaced Hank in a number of ways. He’d taken over the role of confidante, giving him comfort when he needed it, and support while he floundered, just like his ex had done through some very tough years. Hmmm. Maybe the reason for tears wasn’t so cut and dried after all… he heard Dr. Chorney’s voice in his head, telling him to delve deeper… and not to turn away from his feelings. Opening his door carefully, he stepped out into the hallway.
He needn’t have been quiet. His dad, fully dressed, was peering at him from the living room. “Chase, you all right?”
“Yeah, Dad, what are you doing up so early?” He advanced up the hallway to the bathroom door, wondering if his dad had continued to worry about him after he’d gone to bed so abruptly.
“I could ask you the same question.”
Yup… there was that concern again. “Woke up with a headache, but I’m feeling better already.”
“I see. Well, that’s good. Do you want some breakfast? Warmed up pizza, or maybe scrambled eggs and toast?”
“Oh, ah… scrambled eggs with a half-slice of warmed-up pizza instead of toast sounds great. I’ll be out in fifteen.” He gave his dad a reassuring smile, and the man’s demeanor relaxed.
“You got it. Oh… do you think Dawson could use my help today? He must have a lot to do?”
“He’s got it all organized, but you can check with him.”
“Good idea. I’ll do that.”
Chase ended up calling Dawson after receiving a ‘good morning’ text. Just hearing his voice made him feel better, and his excitement when he answered gave Chase reason to smile. He’d just received a text from Brent, telling him he was getting the hang of running the motel, and that the three full-time employees he’d hired were working out great. Some part-timers had been hired as well, so there was no reason to worry about him. That was basically it, but Dawson found it encouraging, and it’d served to lessen his nervousness about showing up out of the blue.
Chase agreed it was a good sign, and at the very least the man was thinking about him. He didn’t voice the doubts the text gave him—it seemed like Brent might have been telling Dawson to back off, but he hoped that wasn’t the case.
“Oh, Dad wanted me to ask if you need any help with anything.”
“No… I don’t think so. I’m leaving in a few minutes to take my car over to Carter’s. Other than that, I don’t have much to do but wait.”
“Okay, I’ll tell him.”
“”I’ll be back around nine if he wants to come over for a cup of coffee… no… sorry, I just have tea. The coffeemaker’s packed away in the garage now, but it would be nice to say a proper goodbye.”
He asked his Dad, who enthusiastically agreed. “He’ll be there. Call him when you get back and he’ll pop over.”
“Great. See you at lunch… I should make it by noon.”
“I’m counting on it, buddy.”
Dawson kept his word and showed up right on time, rushing through the door with a minute to spare. Chase had already gotten their sometimes order of cheeseburger combos, and they were in a lineup, waiting.
“We’re not going to make this a sad lunch, are we?”
Chase shook his head. “I admit it hit me like a punch to the gut when you told me, but this is a good thing. More than that, I really want this to work out for you.”
“I know you do. Your dad helped calm me down this morning. He’s a cool guy… maybe even cooler than his son.”
“Aww… thanks for the parting gift,” he said with a grin. “You’re probably right, though. Dad had his rough patch, but he’s back to being himself, which is pretty darn awesome.”
“He is,” Dawson agreed, “but you’re not so bad either.”
“I try,” Chase joked, feeling the awkwardness as they both tried to pretend this was just another day. He picked up their tray and walked outside to one of the concrete tables, with Dawson following close behind, carrying their drinks. The sun was strong, but there was a nice breeze. “So, you all set?”
Dawson nodded, stuffing fries into his mouth. “I’ve gone over it again and again, and I think I have everything covered, but I’ll probably realize I forgot something after I’m on the plane.”
Chewing on a mouthful of burger, Chase shook his head. “Doubt it… you’re too organized. I’m going to miss this.”
“Miss what? Eating totally unhealthy junk food with me?”
He chuckled. “That, and company at lunch time.”
“Come on, you can have company at lunch any time you want. You work with a good group.”
“True.” His smile slipped. “I should have said I’m going to miss you, Dawson.”
“Same here, but no sadness, right? We’ll keep in touch, and who knows, I might even be back.”
“Yeah we will, and no, you won’t. Brent would have to be crazy to let you go again.”
“Thanks, but there’s no guarantees, and I have to be prepared for the worst.”
“No… with love there never is.” He took a drink of his diet coke, but he forced his gaze back to his friend.
“Sorry, man,” Dawson said, maintaining eye contact that showed his concern.
“You know what for. I wanted things to work out for you too.”
“It’s fine, dude. Like we talked about last night, Hank and I have run our course and I’m ready for new possibilities.”
“Speaking of possibilities, you know Carter is a good guy.”
Chase’s jaw dropped. “Are you seriously trying to hook me up with your ex-boyfriend?”
“Too soon?” The smirk that appeared said it all.
“I thought so… and you said yourself he was hot.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“Yup, that’s me. Just saying… it wouldn’t bother me if you two—”
When lunch was over, they hugged goodbye on the outdoor patio of the restaurant, but there was no way Chase could hide his sadness. A couple of tears escaped despite his efforts, but he wasn’t the only one to shed some. This was their final farewell because it was the way Dawson wanted it. Chase was a little bummed he wouldn’t be seeing him off at the airport, but he understood. His friend was seemingly handling his fears well, but he could sense his inner turmoil over jumping into the unknown. The last thing he needed was an emotional sendoff. Doing it here and now was easier.
The rest of the day was a drawn-out ordeal for Chase, so he was relieved when he finally made it to his car, no longer having to put on a happy façade. In a few hours Dawson would be on his way to the Yukon, and in most respects, out of Chase’s life. He’d lost some friendships over the last few months, but the sting of this one hurt the most. The man had helped him through the worst of times.
He immediately felt guilty at the thought. That dubious honor really belonged to someone else. Hank had gotten him through the illness and eventual death of his mother, and no matter where they were now, he could not forget how much he’d done for him during their shared past. Hank had been his never-complaining rock.
Putting the car in gear, he drove home to an empty condo. His father had offered to cancel, but Chase insisted he go to dinner and a movie with Cindy as planned. He’d managed loss before and he would do it again. At least this time he wasn’t being spurned, and with every bit of his heart he hoped Dawson would get his happy ending. He sure could have used Rex’s company, but he was in no mood to call Hank.
Standing in the open door of the fridge, it took him forever to decide between heating up leftover pizza or making a roast beef sandwich. The pizza won out because it was easier. He tried watching TV, but it soon became depressing when he realized he and Dawson wouldn’t be watching the Leaf hockey games together this winter. They’d both been looking forward to a new season after major changes in the lineup.
Sighing, he finished his dinner, got up to clean his few dishes, and then puttered about until finally putting in some laundry, all the while watching the clock. He was just putting the last of it away in his dresser, at ten-thirty, when he received a text from Dawson.
“All checked in and waiting to board… wish me luck. Love you, buddy. I’ll miss seeing your face every day.”
This was what he’d been waiting for, and Chase smiled to himself as he replied. “And I’ll miss your lame-ass jokes. Good luck… go get him, dude… love you right back!”
Proud as he was of being supportive, his smile fell away as he flopped down onto his bed. He was tired of his life being about endings. Frustrated, he put a pillow over his face and groaned into it. This wasn’t about him. Everyone suffered loss sooner or later, whether through death or a break up… or friendships that drifted away—it was simply circumstances he had no control over, so what was the point of self-pity.
Yeah, control. It was time to take some back. Feeling sorry for himself was a trap, and he had to keep reminding himself he wasn’t that guy anymore… he refused to be. Throwing the pillow across the room in an act of defiance against past demons, he searched for and found his phone in the blankets. Squirming to make himself comfortable, he called Stacy, something he should have done ages ago. He was the one who hadn’t returned her last two attempts to reach out, and it was time to face the music.
“Hi, Stacy. I’m not calling too late, am I?”
“No, of course not… your timing is perfect actually. Don’s asleep and I’m sitting outside on the patio listening to the crickets and enjoying a glass of red.”
“It is. I’ve earned it. So how about you?”
“I’m in my room staring at the ceiling—still living at Dad’s—and I’m doing okay…. for the most part. Sorry about not keeping in touch.”
“You should be, mister… but really, it’s fine, Chase… I get it. Heard you were busy.” There was a question in her voice, and genuine kindness.
He should have known she would be understanding. “Busy? Yeah, I guess. Who did you hear that from?”
“A few people… and Hank.”
“What did you hear exactly?” Chase asked, but he was pretty sure he knew the answer.
“That you had a new boyfriend.”
“Hank told you that? When?”
“A couple of weeks back, at Fred’s barbecue. He didn’t bring it up, but he said he was aware when the gang talked about it.”
“Well, check with him now. I set him straight yesterday. I’m sure he’ll call and tell you all the gory details.”
“We don’t hear from him much, Chase, not like we used to. So, you and that guy aren’t an item? I heard he was spectacularly handsome, and that you guys were glued at the hip.”
“Did Hank say that?”
Stacy snorted, and then laughed, reminding Chase of how much he’d missed talking to her. “Hell no. He just glowered while the others agreed he was smoking hot stuff in his bike shorts. I think everyone in the village has seen you two together, and you know those guys never miss a thing.”
“The pipeline must have been chirping like crazy.”
“Anytime there was a sighting,” she said with a snicker, but sounded rueful just the same.
“That’s okay… I’d expect nothing less. So, Hank glowered, eh? That’s funny. He screws Kevin and yet he didn’t like the thought of me and Dawson. I don’t get that at all.”
“Jealousy is a bitch, and are you sure he did that? Screw Kevin?”
“Between us, yeah. He admitted it… said it’s over now, but who knows.”
“It is… I do know that at least. I just didn’t know it went that far… I suspected it, though.”
“People can really surprise you.”
He heard Stacy sigh before she spoke again. “Kevin is apparently none too happy… called Ray and bitched about Hank. Said he led him on and played him, but I don’t believe that for one second… neither did Ray.”
“And I don’t either, but then again… I don’t exactly know Hank like I thought I did.”
“Maybe… maybe not.”
Chase could picture her doubtful expression, and he smiled at the phone.
“So what about this friend of yours?”
“His name is Dawson, and yes, he is smoking hot, and he does look good in bike shorts. We did work at the same place—he started as a paid intern and then advanced—but we were only friends… nothing more.”
“Are, but he’s flying out to the Yukon tonight, and he plans on living there.”
“The Yukon? That’s in the Arctic, right? Why in heck is he going there?”
“Love. He’s following his heart—I admire him for it, but I’m going to miss him.”
“Oh, Chase, I’m sorry. It sounds romantic, though, flying off like that.”
“He’s taking a big chance in following this guy, Brent—they grew up together and fell in love, but they didn’t know how the other felt until recently. Ah, one day, I’ll tell you the whole, messy story.”
“Deal. I’ll hold you to it. Maybe we can have a night on the patio, just the two of us, like we used to.”
“I’d like that.”
“It’s a date, then. How about next Tuesday at eight?”
“Ah, okay sure… I’ll be there.”
“Awesome. I’ve missed you.”
“I know… me too… it was just easier to—”
“You don’t have to explain. I know how raw you were. Guys like Hank don’t come along every day… oh shoot, sorry.”
“Don’t be… you’re right, and I was raw for a long time.”
“Well, I feel like I’m losing my best friend again, but I’m handling it a lot better than I would have, so—Dr. Chorney has really helped.”
“Good to hear, but just remember, you have a lot of people who care about you, moi included, so if you need me to be your best friend, I’d be happy to.”
Chase laughed outright, and it felt good. “Is your bike in good shape?”
Stacy, with her usual humor, let out a peal of laughter after she scoffed. “If my bike was in good shape then my ass would be in good shape, so the answer is no.”
Chase laughed even harder. “We can change that with a month of biking.”
“I’m rescinding my offer. I don’t want to sweat with you, Chase. I’m the kind of best friend who sits in a comfy chair and drinks wine while you confide in her.”
“I’ll take it.”
“Of course you will, sweetie. You can go biking with Hank. Apparently, he’s been doing a lot of it lately.”
“That’s what I heard, not from him, though. Like I said, he keeps to himself nowadays, and even when he visits, he doesn’t stay long.”
“Hmm, that’s different. He never really liked biking… he’d rather run.”
“That’s what we thought, but things change.”
“Yeah they do, but, me and Hank going for a ride together? Not going to happen. Why is he keeping to himself?”
“Don’t know, but I could guess. He’s miserable, and we’re probably reminders.”
“Reminders of what?”
“You. You and him. Happier times? Take your pick.”
“My guess would be embarrassment over jumping into bed with John’s ex. I doubt it has much to do with me—he’s made that clear, but enough about the past. I’m so over it.”
“Yep, I am. He has his life and I have mine.”
“Very mature of you,” Stacy said, but he could again hear skepticism in her voice.
He ignored it. “Well, it was about time I grew up.”
Stacy’s humor was back. “You do what you want, but I have no intention of ever growing up.”
“You sound like Peter Pan. Oh, remember when—”
“Oh my God! That play where the ropes gave way and Peter Pan ended up taking out most of the scenery?”
“Yeah, that’s the one. You peed yourself, remember.”
“Yes I did, and that’s still just between us, right?” Her giggling kept him smiling.
“Oh, Lord… that was one of the best nights of my life that didn’t involve crazy sex with Don.”
Chase laughed. “TMI, Stace.”
She snickered before calmness slowly returned, and her tone changed to a more serious one. “I’ve never forgotten how good a friend you are, Chase, never.”
“I know. Right back at you,” he said, feeling deeply touched. This call had been exactly what he needed. “See ya Tuesday?”
“I’ll be here, and probably on my second glass of wine.”
“Fair enough. You’re more fun when you’re tipsy.”
“That’s what Don says, but he’s talking about something else, if you know what I mean.”
“Once again, TMI, Stace, TMI.” Chase was laughing again as he hung up.
The following morning, he woke with a start from a deep sleep. The sky was just starting to lighten, and after stretching from head to toe, he reached for his phone. There were no new messages from Dawson, but it was early yet... he'll still be on the plane. Deciding not to get up until his alarm went off, he set the phone beside him on the mattress and turned over. He spent a few minutes thinking about what Dawson might be up against when he came face to face with Brent.
“Good luck, buddy,” he murmured before sliding back into sleep.
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed this chapter... please share your thoughts if you can. Are your fingers crossed for Dawson? Thanks also to my editor, Timothy M., for all he does. Cheers!