Chasing spring, p.1
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       Chasing Spring, p.1

           R.S. Grey
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Chasing Spring


  Chasing Spring

  Copyright©2015 R.S. Grey

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, including electronic or mechanical, without written permission from the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

  This book is a piece of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be resold or given away to other people. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return it to the seller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

  Published: R.S. Grey 2016

  authorrsgrey@gmail.com

  Editing: Editing by C. Marie

  Proofreaders: Jennifer Van Wyk

  Cover Design: R.S. Grey

  Stock Photos courtesy of Shutterstock ®

  For my mom.

  Prologue

  I love secrets and I’m good at finding them. For the last two years, I’ve sat and waited and watched. I’ve learned to collect secrets, one by one, because secrets are flames and no place deserves to burn more than my small town.

  Chapter One

  Lilah

  I wasn’t supposed to move back to Blackwater, Texas. I’d never agreed to it, but I still stood on the curb of my aunt’s apartment complex with my moving boxes stacked up beside me. There were five in total: three for clothes, one for toiletries, and one for books. The only two things I actually cared about—my journal and my lock pick kit—were tucked in the bottom of my backpack, hidden beneath an old sweatshirt.

  The edge of the lock pick kit cut into my back as I stood waiting for my dad. I reached back to feel for it just as his old truck rumbled through the gates of my aunt’s apartment complex, ready to cart me back home.

  Blackwater, Texas - Population: small.

  I’d left my hometown before the start of junior year and I’d had every intention of staying in Austin indefinitely. Blackwater held nothing for me. Unfortunately, my aunt’s company wanted to transfer her overseas and my dad wouldn’t hear of me living by myself for the rest of senior year.

  He pulled up in front of the curb, put his truck in park, and hopped out to meet me. The chilly air showed his breath as he brought his hands to his mouth to warm them, but stopped short when he glanced up and saw me.

  “Your hair’s black,” he noted with a tilt of his head. His look betrayed no hint of disapproval. He was just surprised.

  “And yours is gray,” I countered.

  He cracked a smile and whipped off his Blackwater Baseball hat. “It’s salt and pepper.”

  I nodded. “Well mine is just pepper.”

  I felt for one of my short strands as he stepped forward and engulfed me in a tight kind of hug only dads can give. I resisted for a second before hugging him back.

  When he stepped away, I realized he looked a little more worn than when I’d last seen him. He was still handsome in his early forties, but he looked grittier around the edges. The last two years had taken their toll on his warm brown eyes and despite his estimation, I spied more salt than pepper peeking out of the bottom of his hat.

  He pointed at my cropped hair. “I see the blonde trying to come back.”

  Not if I can help it.

  We loaded up my boxes in the bed of his truck as he buzzed with excitement. He thought I belonged at home with him. He was wrong. I didn’t want to leave Austin, but the idea of uncovering my small town’s secrets made it a little easier to slide across the stained cloth seats of my dad’s pickup.

  I dropped my backpack between my legs, brushed my fingers over the outline of the lock pick kit, and then straightened up to buckle my seatbelt.

  “Think we’ll have a good spring this year?” he asked, pulling the stubborn gearshift down to put the truck into drive.

  What a loaded question.

  I offered a wordless shrug. I spent most of my time alone, and veiled small talk was not one of my strong suits.

  He took a patient breath. “You know, you’re moving back home at the perfect time. I spent all week fixing up those flowerbeds out back. Everything is ready to go when it warms up.”

  I had loved springtime growing up and he knew it. Flowers bloom, temperatures warm, and sunny days stretch out longer before yielding to the night. Even so, I hadn’t loved spring since leaving Blackwater, and fresh flowerbeds wouldn't change that. Couldn't.

  I kicked off my shoes, brought my knees to my chest, and wrapped my arms around them. I dropped my head to my knees and envisioned the small garden that sat behind our cottage house. Every year like clockwork, my mom and I had sat out there in late January and planned what we would plant for the year. Tomatoes in barrels near the back porch. Lettuce, peppers, squash, and carrots in the first four flowerbeds. Fruit of all kinds usually took up the beds near the fence. From what I remembered, we could never master the fickle raspberry vine.

  “Lilah.”

  I was so entranced by the rich memory of that old garden that I didn’t hear my dad speak up until he repeated my name.

  “Lilah.”

  I turned toward him.

  “I just wanted to say that I’ll give you a hand when it’s time to start planting. And maybe Chase can help out too.”

  My heart skidded to a stop beneath my white tank top.

  “What are you talking about?”

  Chase Matthews was the last person I would have expected my dad to bring up in a conversation about my mother’s old hobby.

  My dad sighed and flicked his warm gaze to me, only taking his eyes off the road for a moment, but shooting me a warning nonetheless. “He’s going to be staying with us for the next few months—”

  “WHAT?”

  “I know that it's going to be an adjustment, but it's just for a little while—’til graduation at the latest.”

  He finished his sentence as if it would clear up my confusion, but it made no sense.

  “Why would he need to? He has a home.”

  My dad shook his head. “It's complicated, Lilah. You've been away and haven't seen...” He paused, searching for the right words. “Well, Mr. Matthews has been getting worse lately. It’s not a good situation for Chase to be in, and it's been a long time coming for him to finally admit it.”

  I threw up my hands. “So that’s it? Chase has an alcoholic dad so he gets to move in with us? I don’t get a say?” I hated that I sounded like a whiny brat.

  My dad dragged his teeth across his bottom lip before answering. “This is bigger than you, Lilah.”

  I rolled my eyes. Right. Because I couldn’t possibly understand the gravity of the situation. I understood just fine; Chase needed to get out of his house, but that didn’t mean he needed to move into ours. Clearly my dad hadn’t thought this through.

  “Where’s he going to stay? It’s not like we have an extra room,” I pointed out.

  He kept his eyes on the road.

  “In the bedroom across the hall from you.” He answered quickly as if he knew his words would hurt me; he was trying to counteract their effect.

  I narrowed my eyes. “That’s not a bedroom. That was mom’s space.”

  He sighed. “For all her faults, your mother would have offered that room in a heartbeat.”

  I shot him a narrowed glance and he countered with a warm smile. “I know you’ll come around, Lil. It’ll be fine. The kid needs a stable home. I hope you’ll welcome him with open arms.”

  Over my dead body. We might've been friends once, but I’d avoided Chase for the
last year and a half. That wasn’t about to change just because he was moving in across the hall. If I was forced to be his roommate, I’d be a silent one.

  “When is he coming?” I asked, eyeing the chipping blue paint on my nails.

  “Tomorrow.”

  Tomorrow?

  I had less than twenty-four hours to Chase-proof my life.

  My dad rested a hand on my shoulder. The comforting pressure was supposed to tell me everything would be okay, but I swallowed down a lump of emotion and turned away.

  “Y’know Lilah, you should look at this like it’s a fresh start. No one wants to dig up the past.”

  He was wrong.

  I did.

  Chapter Two

  Lilah

  My obsession with secrets had started out innocently enough. The window at my aunt’s apartment faced the parking lot adjacent to a rundown city park. It was rarely used for recreation; the basketball courts weren’t much use without rims, and the tennis court nets looked like the ragged sails on a ghost ship. Instead, during the early hours of the morning, people would park there for two reasons: sex and drugs. More often than not, the hookups outnumbered the drug deals.

  I’d watch the drama unfold from the edge of my bed, parting the cheap plastic blinds to get a better view. Their cars would fill with lazy white smoke and their windows would fog over. Their chaotic lives were mesmerizing and I craved the moments in my day when their secrets chased away mine.

  I had used some leftover Christmas money on a website that charged ten dollars in exchange for the name and address registered to a Texas license plate. With seemingly innocuous information, my world of secrets started to spread.

  I could lose myself in hours of Google searches, Facebook and Instagram accounts, and public records. They made it all too easy. Then again, someone hooking up in a public park probably isn’t too preoccupied with privacy.

  Unfortunately, after a few months, that perch on my bed was no longer enough. It was the same couples and the same drug addicts night after night. Their secrets became boring and predictable. That’s when I bought a lock pick kit online. I tracked the package incessantly and on the day it was due to arrive, I hurried home from school to intercept it before my aunt got home from work. It’d taken me two nights to read through the manual and two weeks to master the art.

  My dad could cart me back to Blackwater, and he could force me to put up with Chase in the bedroom across the hall, but he couldn’t take away my obsession. I had two days before school started and I intended to make good use of those forty-eight hours.

  …

  The morning of Chase’s impending arrival, I woke up bright and early and threw on jeans, tattered Converse, and an old Blackwater dance team shirt I hadn’t seen since moving to Austin. The cotton was worn and soft, the same as when I’d left it.

  I stuffed my lock pick kit into my purse and checked that I had a few bobby pins for backup. I walked out into the hallway and locked my bedroom door. The room across the hall beckoned, but I ignored it. The door was closed and for all I knew my dad had already cleared her stuff out and prepared it for Chase’s arrival. What did it matter? It wasn’t like it belonged to my mother any more anyway.

  I turned and headed for the stairs, catching sight of myself in the mirror hanging on the opposite wall. When I’d been younger, my dad would lift me up so I could see my reflection.

  In that moment, I saw myself whether I wanted to or not. My fake black hair made my freckles stand out even more against my fair skin, and I liked the effect. I inspected my blonde roots, which were inching out more and more every day; I’d have to do something about them eventually.

  My dad was in his room downstairs, but I discovered a sticky note he’d left for me in the kitchen. He’d created a stack of breakfast foods: a box of oatmeal on bottom with a banana balancing on top. The sticky note was stuck to the top of the banana and he’d added a smiley face for emphasis.

  Breakfast :)

  I could hear the TV in his room replaying baseball footage from years past. I ignored the oatmeal, grabbed the banana, and headed out the door. It was 9:30 AM on a Saturday and I had nowhere to go. My options were limited considering I had no friends in Blackwater; I hadn’t kept in touch with anyone. The town had one coffee shop and if I remembered correctly, it was usually overrun by a bridge club on Saturday mornings. I resolved to head in that direction anyway.

  I slipped my headphones in and started the short walk toward the town square, hopeful that something would catch my attention on the way. I was at the end of the street—about to turn the corner onto Main Street—when I heard a car rumbling down the road behind me. The distinct sound was loud enough to disrupt my Vance Joy playlist and there was only one car in town that was that decrepit. My gut clenched and I turned despite my better judgment, just in time to see the clunky monster swerve up into our driveway. The truck had seen better days, possibly during the Nixon administration, but Chase owned the wear and tear like a badge of honor. Like most things, the old truck just added to the small town charm of Chase Matthews. All-American baseball star. Prom king. Heartthrob. My ex-best friend.

  He was sitting behind the wheel, staring up at my small house. Even from down the street I could make out his handsome profile from behind his truck’s dusty windows. He was perfect. The culmination of good genes and baseball practice made it easy for him to fill out his tall frame. I couldn’t see his hazel eyes from where I stood, but if I closed my mine, I could imagine them clear as day.

  He lingered there for a few minutes, taking in our house. Then his head shifted to the passenger seat, and my heart dropped.

  I turned and ran; he couldn’t know I was watching him.

  I kept running right down Main Street and even as I slowed to a walk, I couldn’t brush away the memory of his smile. That was the hardest thing to forget about Chase. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t seen it up close in a year and a half; it’d been my constant companion for sixteen years.

  Chapter Three

  Chase

  I stared up at the Calloways’ house and tried to find the courage to get out of my truck. I checked for life behind the living room curtains and the window that ran along the upstairs hallway. I hadn’t been inside their house in over a year, and I had no clue what waited for me on the other side of that front door.

  I didn’t want to move in with the Calloways, but thanks to my dad, I didn’t really have a choice. In recent years, he’d progressed from the fun-loving life of the party into a miserable alcoholic that drank alone. A few days earlier, Coach Calloway had stopped by and found him asleep in a pool of his own vomit with the oven left on, and he wouldn’t hear of me continuing to live there. So there I was, practically an orphan.

  I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned to where Harvey was sitting next to me on the bench, unabashedly licking his crotch. Typical dog. I reached out and scratched the sweet spot behind his ear.

  “Should we head in?” I asked the two-year-old golden retriever.

  He tilted his head to the left and let his tongue hang out. It was as much of a yes as I’d ever get.

  I opened my truck door and hopped out just as the front door swung open. Coach Calloway stepped out with a cup of coffee. He held his free hand up to block the morning sun and nodded a welcome.

  “Mornin’. Need help with your stuff?”

  I shrugged. “It’s not much. I just have a few bags and Harvey’s bed.”

  At the sound of his name, Harvey tried to shove past me so he could jump down and get to Coach Calloway. He pawed at my jeans and when that didn’t work, he let out a desperate bark. All in all, it wasn’t a stellar first impression.

  “We can keep him outside if it’ll be trouble. I just couldn't leave him at home. My dad forgets to feed him.”

  Coach’s gaze hit mine. “No trouble at all. Lilah always wanted a dog. She’ll be excited.”

  I glanced behind him at the mention of her name.

  “You just missed her tho
ugh,” he continued. “We’ll have to introduce her to Harvey later.”

  I wasn’t surprised to find that Lilah wasn’t part of my welcoming committee, but a part of me wished she had been waiting for me in the house. I was done playing the silent game. I’d been done the first day she’d started to ignore me, but she’d moved off to Austin and left a gulf between us. Now that she was back, I wondered if her silence would last.

  Chapter Four

  Lilah

  Addiction is a powerful thing. One hit, one taste of a drug can generate an itch that a lifetime of scratching can't soothe. Contrary to what most afterschool specials preach, the substances themselves aren't powerful boogeymen that ruthlessly conquer the strong wills of stable people. No, they're all just differently colored sparks, and some people are more flammable than others.

  My mother was addicted to everything under the sun. Pain pills hoarded from an embellished chronic back injury. Alcohol, a staple from her youth. Meth, a rural infection whose toxic tendrils tore away the shards of her slowly shattering life. Her dependencies occupied the driver’s seat for most of my life. After her funeral, I sat in the front of the church as relatives in ill-fitting formal clothes took turns offering some variation of “just know that your mother loved you more than anything”. But I knew better; if what they said had been true, she would have still been alive to tell me herself.

  I browsed through the aisles of Crosby’s Market, trying to stretch out my grocery store run as long as possible. I carried my empty basket down one aisle and then doubled back, confirming the absence of the things I needed. They didn’t have places like Whole Foods in Blackwater. There wasn’t an organic, gluten-free, vegan, or free-range label in sight. If it wasn’t canned or processed, chances were you weren't going to find it at Crosby’s. Fortunately, I wasn’t there for food.

 
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