On Labor Day Monday morning, Brinley followed Brooke around, chattering nonstop. “I can’t wait to go on the boat with Maddie.”
Brooke was just as excited to go on the boat with Chase. She knew from experience that her kids would be hungry after swimming, so she packed up some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to take with them. She had picked up cans of cola for Chase, orange pop for the boys and Sprite for Maddie and Brinley. She packed them in the cooler, and threw in a few water bottles for herself.
She was the first one to arrive at her mom and dad’s house on the lake. Before she unloaded the cooler from the trunk of the car, Chase drove in and parked behind her. She liked that he was punctual. He came walking towards her wearing a tank top and baggy swim trunks. His outfit emphasized his muscles and manly legs. She had all she could do to tear her gaze away from him and greet the kids.
“Are you guys ready for a boat ride?”
Maddie nodded, her eyes shining. Josh gave his signature shrug.
Chase handed the folded-up towels to Josh. “Here, you can carry those.” He reached into the trunk and effortlessly picked up the cooler. Brooke led the way around the house.
The backyard opened onto the lake. It was a nice view. The pontoon was tied to the long wooden dock, and her dad was standing on it, looking things over. He looked up as they walked into his sight, waving.
“Hey, Chase, is it? You can carry that cooler right out here onto the boat. Brooke, I think your mom said something about needing your help inside.”
“What?” Chase looked alarmed.
“It’s the Inquisition. Carl had to endure it, and so did Michelle’s husband. Hopefully he will go easy on you.” She laid her hand on his arm. “He won’t be that bad, honest.”
Chase walked onto the dock. He gingerly made the step between dock and pontoon while holding the cooler. Brooke’s dad was a tall man, and he looked like he was in pretty good shape. Good to know, he thought.
“Chase, right? I’m David.”
Chase set the cooler down in the boat. He held out his hand. “It’s nice to meet you, David.”
He felt like Brooke’s dad was sizing him up as he shook his hand. He reached out and touched Chase’s bicep. “You work out.”
“Yes. My brother and I lift weights a couple of times a week. Keeps us in shape.”
“Fine shape. So how is it that you are dating my daughter?”
Brooke’s mom had probably already filled him in on the details, but Chase played along.
“We met up at the reunion. I asked her to dance, and we’ve been getting reacquainted.”
“You know, don’t you, that it was all over town that you asked her to dance and caused an altercation with another classmate?”
Chase grimaced. “It got taken out of context.”
“But you did stand up for my daughter, and drove her home?”
“I did. It seemed like the right thing to do.”
David’s eyes met his and he studied him for a long moment. Chase held his gaze steady. He wasn’t sixteen anymore. He was not going to let Brooke’s dad intimidate him.
“Well, it made her mom and I feel good that you took care of the embarrassing situation and took her home. I was surprised to hear you started dating after that, though.”
“I am enjoying getting to know her. I like the woman she has become.”
“Brooke’s heart was broken when her husband passed away. I would hate to see it broken again.”
It was like squeezing his heart with a vice. He couldn’t see where the relationship with Brooke was headed, but he did not have any intention of breaking her heart.
“I would hate to see that, too,” Chase said quietly.
David clapped him on the shoulder. “You’re all right, Chase. You know I just had to give you a hard time, don’t you?”
Chase relaxed and grinned. “Brooke said you would.”
Brooke’s sister and brother-in-law walked into the back yard. Brooke’s sister had graduated a few years behind them, and he thought she had met her husband in college.
Brooke followed them onto the dock. Her eyes met his, and he could see an apology in them. He grinned, to let her know he was holding up well.
Her sister stopped in front of them. He had a feeling she was sizing him up, as well. He knew he looked good and was used to admiring looks, but seeing the appreciation in her eyes made him uncomfortable.
“Hi, Chase. I’m Michelle. This is my husband, Todd.”
Chase held out his hand, and Todd shook it. He had a good grip, but he looked a little rigid. Probably because his wife was looking Chase over.
“We have heard a lot about you,” Michelle said.
“All good, I hope.”
She met his eyes with amusement. Obviously, she knew more about him than he wanted her to. He gave a half-grin.
“Of course it’s all good,” Brooke said, and gave her sister a warning look.
The kids came running down the dock and the boat shifted as they all climbed aboard. Chase stumbled and quickly righted himself. He liked the outdoors, but boating was not something he was experienced at. He hoped it would not cause him any embarrassment.
Brooke’s mom came walking out and her husband took her hand to assist her into the boat. The smiles that passed between them gave Chase a glimpse into a good relationship that had stood the test of time. Like his own parents, he thought, with a tinge of sadness.
“Hello, Chase.” Violet took his hands in hers and smiled. “It’s so good of you to come out with us. Hello, Maddie.”
“Hi, Brinley’s grandma.”
Violet smiled. “We will have to come up with something easier to say than that, I think.” She did not make any suggestions, and neither did Brooke. It got awkward for a moment.
“All right, life vests on,” David said. Chase buckled Maddie’s around her and then turned to see if Josh needed help. He was all set. Brooke took his arm and led him over to a bench seat. Brinley tugged on Maddie’s hand, but Chase wrapped his arm around Maddie and set her on the bench beside him. He wasn’t about to let her get out of arm’s reach.
The day was hot, but with the gentle movement of the pontoon, there was a cool breeze and sometimes the splash of water when speed boats went by and created waves.
When they had been cruising for a while, Brooke took out cans of pop from the cooler. Chase noticed that she had the cola he liked, and orange pop for Josh. There was even the kind that Maddie preferred. He appreciated her thoughtfulness. When she handed him the can, he met her eyes and winked. She blushed, but she held his gaze and smiled.
She also handed out cans of pop to her nephews. They were younger than the girls, but they looked like they were school-aged.
“You haven’t been introduced to Kris and Robbie, have you, Chase?” Michelle asked.
“Not yet.” The boys looked at him curiously. “Hi,” Chase said, grinning at them. He received a smile from one and a curious look from the other.
“This is Aunt Brooke’s boyfriend, Chase. And what are your kids’ names?” Michelle asked.
“Josh and Maddie.”
“Nice to meet you, Josh and Maddie,” Michelle said.
Her husband took out a couple of cans of beer and handed one to Michelle. He popped open the top of his.
“Are you going to vote in the midterms, Chase?” he asked.
Uh-oh. Politics. Something his brothers all agreed not to discuss.
“No discussion of politics,” Violet said firmly.
The brother-in-law did not listen. He started to give a lecture about the candidate he was supporting. Brooke’s dad supported the other party, and they argued back and forth. Occasionally they asked Chase what he thought, but he remained silent about his political views.
“Not something I discuss with people I just met,” he offered once.
“So change the subject already,” Michelle said after a while, cross.
“I agree,” Violet said.
With both of their wives telling them to stop, the men abruptly ended their argument.
“What do you think about those Lions, Chase?”
That he could handle talking about. Brooke’s dad admitted to watching the team season after season. It was obvious as they talked for a few minutes that Michelle’s husband did not care about football. Like Chase had during the talk about politics, he remained silent during the discussion about football. Chase noticed that he and Michelle finished their beers and opened up a second one.
This should get interesting, he thought, trying not to show his distaste.
He put his arm around Brooke. She glanced at him and smiled. He would endure the afternoon with her family, as she had endured his. And he would do it because she meant so much to him.
“Are you okay?” she whispered.
He nodded, and the worry left her expression. She smiled, and he wished they were anywhere but there, and alone.
“Did your kids come prepared to swim?” Violet asked.
“Yes, they have their suits on.”
“They have to wear life jackets in the water, no matter how good of swimmers they are.”
“That will be fine,” Chase said. “I’ll go in with them. Maddie is a little afraid of the water.”
“Dad!” Maddie protested, her face pink with embarrassment.
“That’s okay, Maddie. I used to be, too,” Brinley said.
“Is that true, Brooke?” Maddie asked.
“Yes, it is. I put Brinley in swimming lessons a couple of years ago, Devon, too.”
“Mo-om,” Devon said, embarrassed now.
“The health club has an indoor pool,” Violet said. “You could put Maddie in lessons there.”
“That’s a thought.” Chase wondered how he would fit swimming lessons into an already busy schedule.
The boys took off their T-shirts and refastened their life vests. Brinley took off her shorts and tank top without embarrassment.
Maddie looked embarrassed to take her clothes off. Brooke said, “Come here, Maddie.” When Maddie stood before her, she held a beach towel behind her, so she was out of everyone’s vision. Maddie took off her shirt and shorts, and Brooke lowered the towel.
Chase fastened Maddie’s life vest. Then he started to take off his tank top, to go in the water with the kids. His eye caught Michelle’s. She was looking like she was interested in seeing him without a shirt. Her husband reached up and covered her eyes with his hand. She laughed and slapped his hand away.
That was enough for him to decide to leave his tank top on.
Michelle’s husband took off his T-shirt, showing a fairly fit body.
Chase slipped into the water and held out his arms for Maddie, bringing her into the water with him.
Chase watched out of the corner of his eye as Brooke took off her shorts and top. She had a great figure, slender but with all the right curves. Her suit showed off her long, shapely legs. It didn’t look like she got out in the sun very often, but the creamy skin was attractive and made his heart hammer in chest.
He caught a glimpse of Michelle walking to edge of the boat like a model on a runway. Her bikini-clad body didn’t do anything for his heartrate. He kept his attention focused on Maddie and Brooke.
Maddie gradually lost her fear as she paddled around trying to keep up with Brinley. Chase was always within arm’s reach her. Josh seemed pretty confident and he and Devon stayed a little way off from the rest.
There was not much reason for conversation as the four adults focused their attention on the kids.
“I think Maddie’s lips are turning blue,” Brooke said after they’d been in the water for a while. Chase followed her eyes to his daughter.
“I think you’re right. Maddie, it’s time to get out of the water.”
“Okay.” She didn’t argue. Chase led her over to the ladder, and helped her up onto the boat. Brinley paddled over to the ladder.
“I’m getting out, too.”
Chase tried to get the dampness out of his shirt with the towel Brooke handed him, but it wasn’t enough to dry it. He was just going to have to be uncomfortable in a wet shirt. He wrapped Maddie up in a towel and sat down on the bench. Maddie snuggled up next to him.
“I’m hungry,” Brinley announced. Brooke sat down beside Chase and opened up the picnic basket. She handed out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. “Do you want one?” she asked Chase.
He had worked up an appetite in the water. “Sure.” She handed him a sandwich. The boys saw that they were eating sandwiches and it wasn’t long before they climbed out of the water and dried off. Michelle and her husband brought their two boys back to the boat. “Do you have enough for these guys?” Michelle asked.
Brooke passed sandwiches over to them.
Brooke’s dad pulled up the anchor and they set off sailing around the lake again.
Chase relaxed as the boat slowly circled the lake. “This is really nice. How long have you lived on the lake?”
“About ten years,” David said. “You probably know we raised our girls in town.”
“I do remember that.”
“This place came on the market, and I snapped it up,” Violet said. “I’ve been looking for something for you. I know you were planning to move out next winter.”
“That was the plan.”
“Your mom told me she is thinking of moving out now, instead of you.”
Chase groaned inwardly as both of his kids focused their attention on the conversation.
Maddie’s lower lip trembled. “Is Grandma going to move, Daddy?”
Chase put his arm around her shoulders. “Nothing is decided yet.”.
“Oops,” Violet said, but there was no apology in her expression.
It was obvious that Brooke’s mom did not care that she had let the news slip. He didn’t think his mom would be too happy about the way the kids were finding out, but she knew her longtime friend well enough. She should have known Violet would spill the beans at some point.
“Mom, I have to go to the bathroom,” Brinley said, none too quietly.
Violet waved at her husband. “I think it’s time we head in, David.”
“I guess so. It’s clouding up, anyway. I don’t want to be stuck out here on the lake if we get a sudden downpour.”
The rain held off until they were docked and unloading the boat. “At least we’re already wet,” Chase said as the rain fell.
Brooked smiled. “True. Dad is going to grill some steaks. Do you want to stay?”
He debated, but looked at Josh, whose expression said he’d had enough socializing. And he knew Maddie was tired.
“Not today.” He noticed that she did not look upset, but understanding.
He said goodbye to her family, and thanked her parents for inviting him.
“We’ll do this again next summer,” her dad said with a wink.
Chase looked down at Brooke, who was blushing. It actually was a nice thought, them still being together next summer. He wondered what her thoughts were on that, but she would not look him in the eye.
“Do you want me to carry this to your car?”
“Yes, if you would. I’ll go with you and open the trunk.”
It was raining as they walked around to the front of the house.
Brooke popped open the trunk and he set the cooler in.
Her smile was uncertain. “Thank you for coming.”
“Thanks for inviting me.” He closed the trunk and stood in front of her for a long moment. They were getting rained on, but it did not seem to bother them. “Can I call you later tonight?”
One simple word, but the way it made him feel was incredible.
Uncaring that they were in full view of his kids, he placed his hands on her shoulders and lowered his head.
“I had fun,” he whispered, just before he kissed her. He didn’t miss the fact that her eyes were shining like stars.
The first thing Maddie said when she walked into the house and found Chase’s mom was, “Are you really going to move out, Grandma?”
His mom looked questioningly at him. “Did you tell the kids?” He shook his head. “Brooke did, didn’t she?”
“No, Brooke didn’t say anything. Her mom did. If you wanted to keep it a secret, you shouldn’t have told Violet.”
After her initial anger, his mom relaxed. “At first I told her because I wanted her to look for a small house in town for me to rent or buy. Then this came up with your Aunt Grace.”
“So you are going to move out?” Josh asked.
“I’m thinking about it. But right now, I have dinner ready for you. Are you hungry?”
“Go and get changed, all of you,” Irene said. “I’ll have dinner on the table for you when you get back down here.”