Brooke found the idea of being completely alone with Chase exciting, but she was more than a little nervous. They hadn’t talked about their relationship for a few weeks. It seemed like they had moved forward, but as a family, not as a couple. The kids were all getting along well, but there was no time for romance.
It felt strange, at her age, to call Chase her boyfriend. But he was, at least, she thought he was. They hadn’t really defined their relationship, and adding the kids into the mix was confusing. Were they a couple? Were they becoming a family?
She wasn’t ready to think about marriage again, about lifelong commitment. There were too many risk factors. Unfaithfulness was the biggest one. She was pretty sure she wouldn’t have to worry about that with Chase, as he had been burned by Lisa’s affairs. Yet she remembered how popular Chase was, how good looking he was now. Even her sister had a hard time keeping her eyes off from him.
And she was plain, shy Brooke. She hadn’t been enough to catch his eye in high school. Well, he said he’d liked her back then, but he had never let her know that. For whatever-reason she had caught his eye now, and they had an awesome connection. But would it really last? She couldn’t quite imagine a future with Chase in it.
They did need to take time away from the kids and talk. She told the kids and Daelyn that they were going out to eat. She didn’t say where. It wasn’t that she expected anything to happen at Chase’s house that they would be ashamed of. But he wasn’t comfortable telling his mom about their date, so she wouldn’t tell her mom, either. Her mom would likely tell Chase’s mom.
Chase called at noon on Saturday.
“Who won the game?” she asked.
“We did. It was close for most of the game, but we won twenty-eight to twenty-one. Josh had some great plays.”
“That’s good. He’s got a great coach, right?”
He laughed. “Flattery is dangerous, you know.”
She was glad he couldn’t see her blush.
“I wondered if you would bring a couple of John Wayne movies with you. I’m not sure where Dad’s old movies are, or if Mom got rid of them. For obvious reasons I’m not going to call her and find out.”
So it wasn’t a romantic date? She felt somewhat disappointed.. “Um, sure. Which ones do you want me to bring?”
“Surprise me,” he said.
“Is six o’clock too early to pick you up?”
“No, that time works fine. I’ll let Daelyn know. What time should I tell her that we will be home?”
“Not too late. I’m thinking eleven o’clock. Maddie might fall asleep, but if she doesn’t that will be about as long as she can handle staying up.”
Again, not a romantic thought.
Practical. That’s what this date was. Even though the kids wouldn’t be with him, he was still thinking about what was best for them. _ .
. He was a dad, first. And a good one. One of the things she admired about him.
She was in a predicament about what to wear. She wanted to put on something sexy, but nothing she owned could be classified as sexy. It was fall, so it was kind of late for capris, but those were her. most comfortable pants. Well, really, the most comfortable pants she owned were yoga pants, but that didn’t seem right for this type of date.
She decided to wear her best pair of jeans. She paired them with a forest green sweater with elbow-length sleeves and a round neckline. She added the colored beads she had worn on their first date, and matching earrings. She didn’t often wear earrings, but in this case, she wanted the extra oomph. Every time they had been together lately had been with the kids. She wanted to make sure he wasn’t looking at her as the mom that she was, but as a woman.
Daelyn arrived a few minutes before six.
“You look nice,” she said, admiring Brooke’s sweater.
“Thank you. Devon is in his room. Chase is bringing pizza. There’s chips and cookies to snack on. No pop tonight. It will be a late night and I know how Brinley gets when she has too much sugar.”
Daelyn showed Brooke a Disney DVD. It was a princess movie that had been popular when Daelyn was about Brinley’s age. ,
“Would it be okay to watch this with the girls?”
Brooke smiled. “They would love that. That’s very thoughtful of you.”
She knew what Daelyn was probably thinking. Five hours with Brinley’s energy was hard to deal with, even for her as Brinley’s mom. When the girls started to get tired, which they would around eight thirty or nine o’clock, Daelyn could put the movie on and they could snuggle on the couch. Maybe that would calm Brinley down. She thought Maddie might even fall asleep.
She didn’t say this to Daelyn, but she understood if that was what Daelyn thought.
“Hi, Brinley,” Daelyn said when Brinley came downstairs and hugged her.
“My friend Maddie is coming over tonight. Her dad is dating my mom.”
“I’ve met Maddie. I think we will have fun together.”
The knock on the door was light. If Brooke had been in another room, she might not have heard_ it.
Brinley opened the door, and Maddie stood there, giggling.
“Daddy let me knock on the door.”
Brooke smiled, then met Chase’s eyes. He looked a little nervous, not surprisingly. · .
He carried the pizza into the kitchen. “I didn’t bring pop with it.” They had discussed it at work.
“That’s perfect.”- ·
Devon came downstairs. “You brought pizza? It’s not Friday. That’s why we had McDonald’s last night.” Brooke confirmed it with a nod.
“Can I take mine up to my room?”
“Sure.” She knew he would probably spend most of the evening in his room by himself, as he struggled with the notion of a teenaged babysitter.
“Are you ready?” Chase asked. .
She couldn’t help smiling. She was looking forward to a few hours without the kids. She picked up the DVD’s. “I’m ready.” ·
Chase leaned down and kissed Maddie on the forehead. “I’ll be back around eleven, princess. Be good for Daelyn.”
Brooke knew it would embarrass Brinley if she did the same. She hugged her. “You be good, too.”
“I will be.”
Chase grabbed Brooke’s hand as they walked out to the pickup. “Ready for this?”
“If by this you mean a few hours without our kids, yes, I am.”
She looked surprised to see a bouquet of a dozen red roses lying on the console. “Are these for me?”
“Do you see anyone else they would be for?” he asked in a teasing tone. Brooke picked up the flowers and held them close to her nose, breathing in the wonderful scent.
“Oh, look, they each have their own little water capsule on the stem. I won’t have to go in and put them in a vase.”
“I thought of that. I wanted to give them to you when we were alone.”
“That’s okay.” She held the flowers to her nose, and smiled.
“What? Don’t you like them?”
“It is that kind of date.”
“You thought it was just Chinese food and John Wayne, didn’t you?”
“Kind of. I mean, not that it isn’t okay. It just didn’t sound very romantic.”
“I was hoping for a little romance tonight,” he said with a sideways glance. He saw the blush, but he also saw the smile.
He drove to the Chinese restaurant and picked up their order. She had ordered the sweet and sour chicken tonight, as had he. For some reason that made him happy, just the fact that they were going to enjoy the same meal. ·
When he got back in the pickup, he glanced at the DVD’s she was holding. “What movie did you bring?”
“El Dorado. It’s my favorite.”
“That was my dad’s favorite, too.” A tinge of sadness crept into his voice that he couldn’t stop in time.
“Oh. Maybe it wasn’t a good choice.”
‘ He couldn’t help thinking of the last time he had watched it with his dad. It had been shortly after Lisa left him, and he was sitting with his dad, so his mom could get out for church. His dad wanted to watch El Dorado, and it was the last time he remembered his dad laughing.
He had laughed, too, but on the way back to the custom-built house that he now lived in alone with the kids, he had cried. It was the first time he •had allowed himself the freedom to grieve for Lisa’s betrayal, for his dad’s terminal illness, and acknowledge the despair he felt.
He could sense Brooke watching his profile.
“I also brought The Conqueror. I thought we could enjoy a few laughs.” _
In his mom’s kitchen, over Chinese food, they talked about the hunter’s safety class, the football game, even the weather. He found he wasn’t as hungry as he thought. They shared one of the containers of sweet and sour chicken and rice, which left one complete. He put that one the fridge, planning to have it tomorrow for lunch. ,
“The TV is downstairs. You haven’t been in our man cave, have you?”
“No, I didn’t get the grand tour the night of the bonfire.”
“That’s a shame. I didn’t think about it.”
He opened the door to the basement. He led the way down. She came to a stop on the bottom step. She looked around at the deer heads mounted on the walls, and counted seven.
“Oh, my. You weren’t kidding when you called this a man cave.”
“Nope!” He grinned. “It was my dad’s idea. After having guns and deer heads and a big TV in the living room of our first house, Mom really wanted a nice living space when they built this one. Dad agreed, if he could decorate the basement the way he wanted. Over time, it has progressed into this.”
“You even have a pool table.”
“It’s definitely not a romantic room.”
“No, but we’re here alone. Without the kids.”
“Yeah. We can have some grown-up time.”
He took in for the first time just how pretty she looked tonight. Light eye makeup, some color on her very kissable lips. Dangling green earrings on her delicate ears.
He touched the earrings lightly and grinned. “You dressed up for me.”
“I did. All of our time lately has been with our kids, I feel like an old married couple. I wanted tonight to be different.”
“So did I. We’ve been involving the kids in almost everything we do,” he admitted. “And when we aren’t with the kids, we’re at work. I don’t want to forget about the reason why I asked you out in the first place.”
He cupped her chin, and lifted her head so their eyes met. Then he moved the short distance between them and captured her lips in an exquisite, tender kiss. He heard her sigh, and felt her arms reach up around his neck, one hand still holding the DVD.
“Yeah, I like that reason,” she said when she stepped back. He almost kissed her again. But the evening had just gotten started. They had plenty of time for more kissing.
“Let’s watch El Dorado.”
“Are you sure?”
He was sure. It was time to put the past where it belonged, in the past. Brooke was his life now. And he really liked the movie.
He took the DVD’s out of her hand and moved away. She sat on the couch while he put the movie in the DVD player. He brought the remote to the couch and fast-forwarded through the previews. ‘
With his arm around her, she snuggled up to him. His resolve to take things slow wavered with her in his arms. They missed the opening scenes of the movie.
“Uncle Chase?” A voice yelled from the top of the stairs.
Chase jumped and moved away from her.
“Shoot. Trevor is here. That means Darrick is, too.”
Trevor came into view.
“Hi, Uncle Chase, is Josh here?”
“No, he isn’t here.”
Trevor looked surprised. “Where is he? Never mind, I’ll text him.”
Chase didn’t want Josh to know that he was at the house with Brooke, alone. He guessed all of his sneaking around to be alone tonight was going to backfire on him.
Darrick came into view behind Trevor.
, “You’re watching John Wayne?” Darrick walked down the last few steps and started towards the couch. Then he stopped abruptly. ·
“Brooke? What are you doing here?”
Chase ignored Darrick’s question, so Brooke did, also. Darrick looked at them carefully, then at the TV. “Watching El Dorado, huh? Dad’s favorite.”
Darrick had a puzzled look on his face.
“Myfavorite, too,” Brooke said.
Darrick looked shocked. “You like John Wayne?”
“She has a collection of them,” Chase said. “You wouldn’t think so, would you?”
“No, I’m surprised.” Darrick’s comment showed that he wasn’t just surprised that she was a John Wayne fan, but that she was in his mom’s house with Chase. “So the kids aren’t here?”
“No. Josh is with Dustin, and Maddie is at Brooke’s house with the babysitter.”
. “Oh. So this is—” Darrick’s look made Brooke and Chase both blush. “This is a date.”
“Can we go over to Uncle Dustin’s, Dad?” Trevor asked. “That’s where Josh is.”
Darrick’s phone beeped. He read the message and laughed. “Yeah. Dustin just invited us over.”
Chase’s phone beeped. He looked at it and a slight smile touched his lips.
I told Darrick to get the heck out of there.
“Well, enjoy your movie.” Darrick grinned and winked at Brooke.
After Darrick and Trevor left, Chase slumped onto the couch. Disappointment and embarrassment rushed out of him in a deep breath. He looked at Brooke. Her face was flaming red.
“Darrick. Of all people,” he said. ·
“I know. I’m so embarrassed.
“This is going to be a big joke.”
“Will everyone know?” She looked panicked.
“No. Darrick and Dustin won’t tell anyone. Especially not my mom. They will just give me a hard time about it. I don’t know what Trevor will say, though. Josh might have some questions for me.”
There wasn’t anything they could do about that now. “So much for sneaking around so the kids don’t find out we’re here alone,” Brooke said. “It kind of backfired on us.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
Chase got up and went to the refrigerator behind the basement steps.
“We have cola, orange pop and Mountain dew. Can I get you a drink?”
“Mountain Dew.” · ·
He walked back over to her and handed her the cold can. “I didn’t peg you for a Mountain Dew kind of girl.”
“A throwback to college, I guess, when I needed the caffeine. I’m not a fan of cola.”
Chase sat down next to her. He held the can of cola against his forehead, trying to cool down. He glanced over at her. The redness had gone out of her cheeks, and she wasn’t looking quite as horrified.
“I’m sorry. I never thought about Darrick stopping by.”
“I wouldn’t call it fine. I ended up embarrassing you and he’s your boss.”
“I will just have to quit my job.”
She looked and sounded so serious that he started laughing, but he had just taken a drink. He ended up choking on his pop. By the time he managed to have it under control, she was laughing.
He looked at his pop can like it was the most interesting thing in the room, as he felt the heat climb into his face.
She reached up and massaged the back of his neck. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah. It killed the mood, though.”
“For me, too. Do you want to see the rest of the movie?”
Chase leaned back against the cushions and put his arm around her. She was being a good sport about it all. At least, he thought she was.
“You’re joking about quitting your job, right?”
“Yes. Darrick and Dustin can have their laughs at our expense. I do hope Darrick asks Trevor to keep his mouth shut around our boys, though.”
“That will just make it worse.”
They gave up any attempt at romance and watched the movie, laughing their way through it.
“I’d forgotten how entertaining that movie was,” Chase said when the credits were rolling. He stood up and stretched. He held out his hand and tugged, and Brooke stood beside him.
“Are you ready for me to beat you in a game of pool?”
She smiled. “Don’t be too sure of yourself. My dad was a good teacher:”
She wasn’t kidding, Chase thought as the game progressed. She could match him in her pool skills. He ended up winning, but not easily.
He put away the cue sticks and drew her into his arms. The embarrassment had faded away, and they still had a half hour before they were due back at Brooke’s house.
“Akiss for the winner?”
Absorbed in each other, for the first uninterrupted moment they’d had for weeks, they shared some passionate kisses. It didn’t go any farther, though. Chase might have had a reputation in high school, but he respected Brooke and didn’t want to move their relationship into an intimate one. He had something more long term in mind for her and he could be patient.
They were a few minutes late getting back to Brooke’s house. Daelyn didn’t seem to mind.
“The girls fell asleep on the couch, watching the movie. Maddie fell asleep first, but Brinley eventually dropped off.” ·
“I’ll leave Brinley on the couch,” Brooke said. “If I move her, she will wake up, and who knows when she will get back to sleep.” ·
“I’ll carry Maddie out.” Chase reached in his wallet and took out some cash to pay Daelyn. “I hope that amount is all right.” ·
She glanced at it, and looked pleased. “That is fine.” She turned to Brooke. “Let me know if you need me to come watch them again.” · ·
“I will. Thank you, Daelyn.”
After Daelyn left, Chase said, “I’ll see you on Monday, I guess?”
“Are you coming for supper before class?”
“Yes, if that is still okay.”
“I enjoy it. I don’t know, we may have to make it a weekly thing even when hunter’s safety classes are done.”
“Not a bad idea. A night off from cooking is always a good thing. And to enjoy your company and your cooking? Even better.”
She laughed. He kissed her, wishing they could have another hour together, but knowing they would be tired in the morning if he stayed. He scooped up Maddie and carried her out to the truck. Not a bad date, considering their attempt at uninterrupted time had been thwarted.