Back at his mom’s house, his brothers’ trucks were parked in the driveway. He realized he’d forgotten to tell them he was taking Maddie to a movie.
He found them downstairs, watching the Lions. Josh and Trevor were playing pool at one end of the room. Various deer heads that they and their father had shot and mounted hung around the room. His dad’s version of a man-cave, Chase thought, missing his dad a little more than usual.
“You could’ve told us you wouldn’t be home today. I’d have watched the game at home,” Darrick said, angry.
“I forgot. How are the Lions doing?” Chase asked, sitting in the recliner.
“How do you think they’re doing?” Darrick grumbled.
Chase winced when he saw the score.
“Do you have everything ready for hunter’s safety class?” Dustin asked.
“You can help me after the Lions get done,” Chase said. “Did I tell you Brooke is going to let her son take hunter’s safety?”
“That surprises me,” Dustin said. “From what you’ve said, she is pretty protective.”
“She’s loosening up some.”
“Why would he take hunter’s safety?” Darrick asked. “Who’s he going to hunt with?”
“Dad, you invited him to go hunting with us?”
Chase looked over at Josh, who’d stopped in action and was leaning on his cue stick.
“Yeah, I did. Should I have talked to you about it first?”
“Yeah, you should have. He won’t even know enough about it to hit a deer.”
“Hunter’s safety class will teach him that. He’ll learn how to load and shoot a gun.”
“I don’t see why you got to be like a dad to him.”
“I’m not trying to be a dad to him.”
Josh shrugged and returned to the pool game.
Chase saw his brothers looking at him. “What, you think so, too?”
“I think you’re walking a pretty thin line,” Dustin said.
“It’s one thing to take out the mom, another thing to get involved in the boy’s life,” Darrick said.
“How do you do one without the other?” Chase asked with a frown.
Neither of them had an answer for him.
“It’s no big deal about the hunting. I can take him in my blind, so Josh doesn’t feel like the kid is taking his place with you,” Dustin said.
“Josh hunts with you half the time anyway. She probably won’t approve of the situation if I’m not the one in the blind with Devon, you know,” Chase reminded him.
“Right, that over protection thing she has going on.”
“You have to admit, Detroit is a scary place. I don’t know what part of Detroit they lived in, but I’m sure she had every reason to be protective of her kids. And her husband was a hunter, and grew up with guns. It will be nice for Devon to learn how, even if he doesn’t like it once he tries it.”
“So you’re committed to seeing her through hunting season?” Darrick asked. “That’s three months from now. You think this relationship is going to last that long?”
“Youth hunt is coming up this month, but even if it wasn’t, I don’t see this relationship with Brooke going away,” Chase said.
“I hope you’re careful,” Darrick said. Chase frowned, and Darrick grunted. “I don’t mean that way. I meant that you’re careful that if you mess up it won’t affect her working for us. She knows what she is doing, and she brought the business into the twenty-first century with the new computer program.”
“Did you actually pay someone a compliment, Darrick?” Dustin joked.
“That’s not to get back to her, understand?” Darrick’s voice was no nonsense, but there was a crack in his face that could pass for a hint of a grin. “I don’t want my reputation ruined.”
On the way to Brooke’s house on Monday, Josh complained that Devon was going to the hunter’s safety class with them.
“Why do you have to take Devon hunting, Dad?”
“I’ve explained it to you, Josh. It is something that his dad did, and his mom and I thought he’d like to learn how.”
“Does this mean you’re going to marry her?”
“I won’t say it hasn’t crossed my mind, but I don’t think either of us is ready to get married again.”
“So, you’re just going to be boyfriend and girlfriend, and kiss and stuff?”
What could he say? He and Brooke both longed for more, but it seemed impossible right now with their lives so busy. And with the kids in the picture.
“Never mind,” Josh said. “I’m not happy about the hunting, but I guess I understand.”
Chase hoped he did, because he wasn’t sure he understood it himself.
When they arrived at Brooke’s house, Brinley met them at the door with a smile. “My mom’s in the kitchen,” she said. “The pizza is almost ready.”
“I can smell it,” Chase said. “It smells good.”
Maddie appeared behind Chase. “I helped make it,” she said. There was such a happy look on her face that Chase’s gratitude for Brooke overfilled his heart.
“I’m sure it’s really good, then,” he said. “And do I smell cookies?”
“Chocolate chip,” she said.
“Awesome!” Josh’s enthusiasm made Chase glad, after the sullen attitude that had prevailed earlier this evening.
Devon walked into the room, wearing jeans and a hoodie. “Hi, Josh.”
“Hi,” Josh said. “Dad said you’re going to learn to hunt.”
Devon looked like he was trying hard not to show his enthusiasm. “Yeah. My mom’s letting me take the class.” He looked up at Chase. “I don’t know how you talked her into it.”
“It wasn’t hard. She wants you to, since it was something your dad did.”
Devon shifted his feet and looked down at his hundred-dollar shoes.
Brinley called from the kitchen doorway. “Dinner’s ready.”
There was salad to go with the pizza. Josh didn’t like salad. Devon put some on his plate, as though he was used to eating it all the time. He probably was, Chase thought. He was surprised to see Josh add a tiny scoop of it to his plate, also. Like Devon, he added the ranch dressing. They took their plates into the living room at Brooke’s insistence. Tonight, they were drinking bottled water.
He looked at Maddie when they sat down. She looked exhausted. “Are you okay, princess?” he asked.
“I think we wore her out. I know she usually rests after school.”
“That’s okay,” Maddie said. “I had fun.”
“She’s a good helper with the cookies,” Brooke said.
“Yeah, she even knows how to break an egg without getting any shells in the bowl.” Brinley sounded impressed with Maddie’s skills.
“She’s been baking with her grandma for the past two years,” Chase said. He saw that Maddie wasn’t eating her pizza. “Aren’t you hungry?”
“Not really. I think I’m too tired to eat.”
Brooke said, “If you want to go lie down in Brinley’s room you can, Maddie.”
“I’ll go with you,” Brinley said. “We can do our reading together.”
“What about your pizza, Brin?”
“Can I eat it later? I’m not really hungry right now.”
Brooke smiled. “Yes. Go ahead and go read.”
She sent an apologetic look towards Chase. “Brin usually eats better than this. It might be the two cookies I let her eat while they were hot from the oven.”
“I take it you had some cookies while they were hot? You mentioned before that is a weakness of yours.”
“If I had time, I’d have a cup of coffee and a cookie.”
“We’ll have to plan a coffee date,” she said with a smile.
He grinned. “Any date with you sounds good. It’s been a while since we were alone together.”
“I have a date in mind.”
“I hope it’s a night of John Wayne movies and cuddling on the couch.”
“No, I think it’s better than that. Well, maybe not for you, but it’s something I’d like you to do. I want to invite you to the wedding.”
“Your friend’s wedding? In Detroit?”
“Yeah. I know weddings are not your favorite thing.”
He grimaced. “Not really. But in truth, I’m terrified of going.”
“Because it’s Detroit? I will protect you,” she said with a laugh. That made him smile.
“No, because I know it will be a big one. And fancy.”
“Yes, it will be.”
“I’ll have to think about it.”
“Brinley is in the wedding,” Brooke said. “We’re going over on Friday afternoon, so we can do the rehearsal. My mom is going with us, and we’re staying in the hotel where the reception is being held. It’s an adults-only reception, so my mom is going to babysit Brinley in the hotel suite while I’m at the reception. I’d really like it if you could come to the wedding and reception.”
“ “I might be able to do that, if I can find a sitter.”
Josh and Devon brought their plates and empty water bottles into the kitchen. Devon went to the sink and rinsed his plate, then set it in the dishwasher. Josh looked surprised, but he did the same thing.
“That’s what we need, a dishwasher,” he said.
“Maybe we should get one installed,” Chase agreed. “There’s a cupboard by the sink that contains plastic dishes and lids. I think we could get by without that and put a dishwasher in its place.”
“Grandma won’t like that,” Josh pointed out. “But then, she might be moving out.”
“Has your mom decided anything yet?” Brooke asked.
“She hasn’t said yet. She will be home in a couple of weeks for the youth hunt weekend. She said we’d talk about it then.”