On Wednesday morning, Chase arrived at Brooke’s house with both Josh and Maddie. She was surprised to see Josh, but she didn’t say that. She welcomed them all into the kitchen. She brewed a cup of coffee for Chase.
“Do you want some toast or juice, Josh?” she asked.
“Nah. Where’s Devon?”
“He’ll be down here in a few minutes for breakfast. You can wait in the living room if you like.”
“I guess,” Josh said.
Devon and Josh passed each other in the doorway as Devon walked into the kitchen. “What’s Josh doing here?”
“He didn’t want to ride the bus this morning. He’s walking to school with us.”
Without giving Devon a chance to answer, Brooke handed him a plate with peanut butter toast and a banana. “You can take this in there, if you want.” He took the plate and a glass of juice and left. A couple of minutes later, Brooke heard the theme song to a superhero movie.
“I guess they are getting along,” Brooke said to Chase.
He grinned. “But we can’t let them know we think that.”
“True. They would just deny it.”
Brinley and Maddie came downstairs. “Are you ready for me to braid your hair, Maddie?”
Brooke sat down at the table, and Maddie stood in front of her. Chase watched while Brooke braided Maddie’s hair, making her a little nervous. With years of practice, her fingers made a neat braid despite their trembling. She tied off with a pink ponytail holder that matched Maddie’s pink top. Brinley was wearing pink also. Not the same shirt she’d worn down to breakfast.
“You changed, Brin?” Brooke asked.
“I wanted to match Maddie.”
“I see. Let’s get your hair done.”
Brinley wiggled a little while Brooke braided her hair. “Hold still, Brin.”
“That’s the problem I had with Maddie,” Chase said. “She usually stands still for me. I think she was just nervous about the first day of school though.”
“I always wiggle,” Brinley said. “I can’t help it.”
Chase grinned. Brooke nodded her confirmation.
He drained his coffee cup. “I need to get going. Darrick sets up jobs for us at eight, so we have to get there around seven-thirty to get the truck loaded up and make it to the job site on time.”
“I’ll walk you out.” She led the way to the front door. His eyebrows rose as she followed him outside and shut the door.
“Turnabout is fair play,” she said. “Kissing behind closed doors.”
He leaned down and captured her lips in a long, sweet kiss. “Do you think the kids are as savvy as Dustin and know what we are doing out here?”
“Maybe. Does it bother you?”
He thought about it for a minute, then kissed her again. “Not as much as it did.”
The next morning, Brooke put a batch of muffins in the oven to bake so they would be ready for the kids’ breakfast. The cinnamon she had used in the streusel made the kitchen smell wonderful.
She looked forward to seeing Chase again. And his kids, she told herself. He had good kids, and they were nice to hers. Maddie and Brinley were already best friends, but she did not hold out the same hope for the boys. Just the fact that they got along was enough for now. She tried not to think about the future, if there would be one for her with Chase, but she could not help herself.
She was falling in love with him.
She had told Chase’s sister that she was afraid Chase would break her heart. She knew he would never break her heart on purpose. He wasn’t the same teenager who had left a trail of broken hearts before settling into a relationship with Lisa.
Maddie came with her hair braided this morning. Brooke looked questioningly at Chase.
He shrugged. “She wanted to play with Brinley instead of having you braid her hair. I guess it’s back to normal at our house starting tomorrow.”
“They don’t have school tomorrow. Labor Day break. They have Friday and Monday off.”
“I told you, Dad,” Josh said.
Chase followed Brooke into the kitchen. She brewed a cup of coffee. He set a baggie on the table with a few cookies in it.
“Did you bake cookies?”
He grinned at her shock. “No. These are the last of the cookies my mom left with us.”
“I can’t eat your last cookies,” she said.
“She’ll bake more. She’s coming home tomorrow and staying for the weekend. My cousins will take turns this weekend staying with their mom.”
“She must be worried about you and the kids.”
He laughed. “Worried about her house, more like it. I’ve kept up on the dishes every night, and washed my laundry and a load of towels, but that’s about it. I am not sure what temperature she washes Josh and Maddie’s clothes on.” The laughter died. “I hate feeling helpless when it comes to things like that. I used to have it all together. She just took over when we moved in with her, and I didn’t realize at first how much she was doing for us.”
“I know she does it because she wants to,” Brooke said. “My mom has said that much about it.”
“I think she’s ready to move on, now.”
“Have you thought any more about what she asked? If you want to buy the place?”
“I plan to, if she is serious about selling. She wanted to give it a couple of weeks to see how she gets along with her sister. I won’t bring it up again if she doesn’t. I don’t want to pressure her if she changes her mind.”
Devon came into the kitchen. “Muffins?” He grabbed one and carried it with his glass of orange juice into the living room.
Brooke and the kids would be leaving in about a half hour to walk to school. Chase only had ten minutes or so before he had to leave for the office.
“We’re getting the quads out Saturday if you want to come over.”
“We won’t be in town Saturday.”
When she saw his surprise, she told him her plans. “I’m taking the kids to Detroit on Saturday and staying overnight. My best friend is getting married in October and we are having a bridal shower for her tomorrow.” She hesitated, wondering how he would feel about it. “It’s a bridal shower and bachelorette party combined.”
He looked like she had punched him in the gut.
“Oh. Well, that sounds—fun.”
His response wasn’t what she’d thought it would be. Why would he be upset if she went to her friend’s bachelorette party. Was he worried that she might get carried away and cheat on him?
It angered her that he might think that of her.
“It won’t be a lot of fun, but that’s beside the point. Julie is a good friend who worked in the accounting department with me. Carl and I set her and her fiancé up on a blind date, a few weeks before he left for Alaska. They hit it off right away. Neither of them has been married before, but I know she is scared to death.”
“Why would she be scared to death?”
“She’s seen a few of her friends get burned by unfaithful spouses.”
His stricken look confirmed for her what Michelle had said. That Lisa had cheated on Chase. She couldn’t imagine cheating on a man as hunky and nice as Chase, but then, she remembered how selfish and flirty Lisa had been, even back in high school.
She almost wished she’d let her sister tell her the rest of the story. But no, if Chase wanted to talk about it, he would.
He glanced at the clock. “I’ve got to go.” He rose and gave her a kiss, but it lacked passion. “I’ll call you tonight, after football practice, and dinner, and dishes, and getting Maddie to bed—”
“The life of a single parent. Challenging, isn’t it?”
Maddie came running into the kitchen. “Are you leaving, Daddy?”
He hugged her and kissed her forehead. “Be good in school today, okay, princess?” He smiled down at Brooke. “It’s challenging, but rewarding.”
Chase didn’t call like he’d said he would. Brooke’s stomach twisted in knots at the way he was acting. It was unlike the Chase she’d gotten to know.
When she walked into the office and saw him the next morning, she couldn’t meet his eyes.
The morning was awkward. Darrick came out of his office a few times and noticed there was friction in the air. He did not look happy about it, and glared at Chase, which made the situation more awkward.
Brooke didn’t speak to Chase the rest of the morning. When she got ready to leave, she didn’t even look at him.
“Wait, Brooke,” he called out as she walked towards the exit.
She paused with her hand on the door. “I don’t think this is a good place to talk.”
“I’ll walk you out,” he said, and followed her to her car. “I’m sorry, Brooke. I really am.”
He put his hand on her shoulder, and she turned to face him.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. “I would give you an excuse, but that’s not fair to you.”
“I don’t know what’s wrong, Chase. But it’s obvious you’re not one hundred percent ready to move forward.”
“I am. I just—” He blew out a breath. “There are things about Lisa—about our marriage—that I need to tell you, then I think you’ll understand why I behaved like I did.”
She bit her lip as she weighed her decision.
“Please, let me explain. I want more than anything to be in this relationship.”
She took a deep breath and let it out, then nodded. “I’m going to Detroit tonight and won’t be home until Sunday. We can talk then.”
A glance back at the door showed Darrick standing just inside, glaring at them.
“Do you think he suspected something was wrong today?” Brooke asked.
“From the looks he gave me like he wanted to shoot me, I think he had an idea something happened.”
“Then we should put his worries to rest.” She lifted her head, and he bent down and kissed her. Unlike yesterday morning, there was passion in their brief kiss.
Brooke was still upset with Chase because of his response to the bachelorette party. She understood that Lisa had cheated on him, but she wasn’t Lisa. If he couldn’t see past that, then there wasn’t any chance of them making a go of their relationship.
It put a damper on her mood for Julie’s party.
Instead of leaving the kids with Carl’s mom while she attended the bachelorette party, Brooke had arranged for them to stay overnight with friends from their old school. The mom of one of the boys offered her house as a place where all of Devon’s old friends could stay overnight. “A slumber party for boys,” she had said, laughing.
The mom of Brinley’s best friend decided she would do that for Brinley, also. So both kids would be in good hands from Saturday afternoon until she picked them up on Sunday morning. Knowing that her kids would enjoy themselves, Brooke felt better about leaving them for the night.
She was the first one to check in at the hotel. She carried in her overnight bag, and the grocery sack with chips and salsa. Some of the local friends were bringing in sandwiches and cupcakes. Julie’s sister was bringing the alcohol. Brooke had met her a few times. Janie was married, but she liked to drink. Julie told her that Janie was always inviting her to go out for ladies’ night out drinks.
She guessed that is what Lisa was like. She thought Janie was faithful to her husband, although she did like to hang around bars. Is that how it had started for Lisa? A few drinks, a few dances?
They had rented a suite with plenty of space for the gathering. There was a pull-out sofa and Murphy bed. They had also rented an adjoining room with two queen sized beds. Julie, her sister, and their cousin were going to spend the night, as was Brooke.
Brooke and Julie had rented the suite for the weekend of the wedding, also. They planned to stay overnight in the suite after the rehearsal. Brinley was in the wedding, but the reception was for adults only. Brooke’s mom was coming to Detroit with her, and she would watch Brinley in the hotel suite during the reception. Then the three of them would stay overnight and drive back home on Sunday.
Julie wanted Brooke to invite Chase to the wedding, but she had not done so yet. After this week, it felt like they were on shaky ground. She did not need someone in her life who could not trust her, when she had never given Carl a reason to mistrust her in nine years of marriage. When she saw Chase next, it would show in his attitude if he had fully trusted her. He had said he would not call, and she hoped he kept that promise. She would feel like he was checking up on her if he did.
Within a half hour of Brooke arriving, the suite filled up with women carrying gift bags and food and drinks. Julie came in last, with her sister.
“The guest of honor is here!” her sister, Janie, announced.
Julie hugged and talked to everyone. She saved Brooke for last. “I’m so glad you made it. Have you invited Chase to the wedding yet?”
“I will soon,” Brooke said. She wasn’t going to bring up the trust issue with Julie. Julie already was nervous. Not about the wedding. She had been waiting all of her life to have her big day. It was the day to day commitment to marriage that she feared. Mostly, she feared that Lance would cheat on her or leave her.
“Did you bring a picture?” Julie asked.
“I have one on my phone.”
“Oh, let me see it.”
“This party is about you, remember?”
Julie blushed. “I told Lance I wouldn’t get drunk and do stupid things. You will have to hold me to that, Brooke.”
Janie opened the wine and passed glasses. Brooke kept an eye on Julie. She knew two glasses was Julie’s limit before she would start feeling tipsy.
Julie was ecstatic over all of the bridal shower gifts, especially the sexy lingerie. Brooke had purchased a negligee for her, but it was more tasteful than some of the other gifts. There was much joking and laughter until Julie was blushing. Wine flowed freely; voices got louder. Julie reached her limit and she was starting to giggle over everything.
“Julie tells me you’re dating again, Brooke,” Janie said.
“I am. His name is Chase.”
“Ha-ha. Did you have to chase him?” Janie joked loudly.
“She’s got a picture on her phone,” Julie remembered. “Show it to us, Brooke.”
“Yeah, show us the guy who has you dating again.”
Brooke pulled up the pictures from the bonfire on her phone and passed it around. It was a really good picture of Chase, but she looked pretty windblown.
“Wow, look at that hunk!” Janie said. “How did you meet that guy?”
“We knew each other in high school. He asked me to dance at the reunion.”
“Was he this hot in high school too?”
Brooke blushed. “Yes, he was the most popular guy in school. Football captain, homecoming king.”
“His wife died,” Julie blurt out.
“I think you’ve had enough wine,” Brooke said.
“Let her get drunk if she wants to. It’s her bachelorette party,” Julie’s cousin said.
“No, Brooke is supposed to keep an eye on me. I promised Lance—” Julie looked a little confused. “I’m forgetting what I promised him.”
Brooke guessed that Julie’s cousin was a hard drinker. She was getting loud and fired up. “Let’s take this party bar-hopping!” she suggested.
Janie seconded the idea. A couple of the other women were open to it, also. Altogether, there were four of them that decided to go out to the bar.
“What do you say, Julie?” the cousin asked. “Do you want to get out and get really crazy?”
Julie was tipsy, but not drunk. “No, I don’t think so. But you girls go ahead and have fun. Just don’t forget you are married women.”
“Ha! Like we’d ever forget that,” Janie said.
When Janie, the cousin and the two other women left, so did the two women who were driving themselves home. The others stayed and chatted for a while. The party was quieter now. Brooke was actually glad the two loud women had left. Julie’s fiancé had been concerned when Janie was in charge of the party, but Julie had assured him that Brooke would keep an eye on things. In other words, as she had told Brooke earlier in the evening, to keep her from doing something stupid.
And going out with Janie and their cousin would have fallen into the stupid category.
The other women left, until it was just the two of them and one friend who worked in the accounting office with them.
Julie plopped down on the couch. “Thanks for coming, you two. I knew you could keep me in line.”
“Only because you don’t want to go out and bar hop,” Brooke said. “That’s not your lifestyle.”
“No, Janie and I are different that way. Is Chase a party-guy?’
“He used to be, in high school. But he doesn’t drink anymore. He said he gave it up when his son was born. He wanted to be a responsible adult.”
“Aww,” Julie’s eyes looked teary. “He sounds like a great guy.”
“Are you okay?” Brooke asked in concern.
“I want to be with Lance.”
“Go call him,” the other woman said.
“Do you think I should?”
Julie looked at Brooke. Brooke understood. She wanted to call Chase, also. Just talking about him made her miss him.
“Go for it. You can call him from the bedroom.”
Julie giggled and went into the adjoining room and shut the door.
“She’s a sweetheart,” their friend said. “I’m glad Lance treats her well.”
The two of them cleaned up the disposable wine glasses and paper plates. They capped the wine and put it in the fridge, along with the leftover food. When it was cleaned up, the other friend left. Julie sat down on the couch and pulled out her cell phone.
There were no messages from anyone. That meant the kids were doing okay. And Chase had told her he wasn’t going to call her, so she could have the time with her friends.
As much as she loved Julie and was happy for her, she would rather be with Chase right now.
She made up a pot of coffee. It wasn’t as good as what she could make at home, but she was tired and wanted the caffeine. She did not want to go to bed and leave Julie to fend for herself when Janie and their cousin returned.
It was going on midnight. Chase would probably have already gone to bed. There was no football game tomorrow, though, because it was a holiday weekend. She knew he stayed up late on the weekends, because he had told her he did. She wondered if he had been thinking of her this evening, worrying about what she was doing. He had said he trusted her, and she hoped he did.
Maybe she would just send a message to him, to let him know things had gone okay. He might not see it until morning, but at least he would know she was thinking about him, instead of drinking and carrying on with her friends. He had said he believed her and trusted her, but there was a sliver of doubt that she knew he could not help feeling. Lisa’s betrayal had done that to him.
She debated what to say, then typed in
Brooke: The party went well.
She was surprised to get a message back right away.
Chase: I’m glad. How is the bride?
Brooke: She got a little tipsy, but she is okay. Talking with her fiancé now on the phone.
Chase: Is everyone passed out?
Brooke: Everyone left. The sister and cousin went barhopping. Who knows what time they will come back.
He didn’t respond to that. She wondered if he was thinking about Lisa. To change the subject, she texted,
Brooke: What are you still doing up?
Chase: Watching John Wayne.
Brooke: What? Watching John Wayne without me?
Chase: I know. It helps me feel closer to you.
Brooke: Aww, that’s sweet.
Chase: Is being sweet a good thing? I’m not really sure how I’m supposed to feel about that.
Brooke: It’s a very good thing.
The bedroom door opened, and Julie walked out. She looked very happy.
Brooke: The bride just got off the phone. Talk to you later.
Chase: Thanks for texting me. Glad things went okay.
“How’s Lance?” Brooke asked.
“He loves me.” Julie sat down on the sofa and stretched her feet out onto the coffee table. “Were you texting Chase?”
“Yeah. I thought he might be asleep and would just see the message in the morning. But he is still up.”
“Thinking of you, I’m sure.”
“He’s a great guy,” Brooke said. “So is Lance.”
“Yeah, thanks to you and Carl for setting us up. I’ll be forever grateful for that.”
“Do you want some coffee?” Brooke got up and fixed a cup for herself. Julie took out a bottled water instead.
“Do you think it’s risky to love someone?”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at you and Carl. Nine years of marriage, and a freak accident takes him away from you. That was a risk you took when you married him, right? That it might not last forever?”
“It was something no one saw coming, that’s for sure. But even if I had known it would happen, I would still have married Carl. I would still have wanted those years together with him, to love him and be loved by him.”
“I think I’m making the right decision with Lance, marrying him. Hopefully we will have a long life together.”
“I hope so. He’s so good to you.”
Julie smiled, looking at her diamond engagement ring. “Yes, he is.”
“And you are good to him, too. He can’t find anyone better than you to spend his life with.”
Julie put her arm around Brooke’s shoulders and hugged her. “I hope this relationship with Chase works out for you. I would hate to see my best friend get hurt.”
Janie and the cousin stumbled into the room noisily. They wanted to tell all about their excursion, and Julie and Brooke politely listened. After a little while, Janie passed out on the couch and the cousin went to bed. Brooke and Julie decided to get some sleep.