Chasing spring, p.12
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       Chasing Spring, p.12

           R.S. Grey
 
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  There was a knock on the classroom door, but I kept my focus on my textbook, trying to reread a sentence until it stuck.

  “Mr. Matthews, what can I do for you?” Mrs. Nicholson asked.

  My gaze flew up to see Chase standing in the doorway wearing a confident smile, a Blackwater High School sweatshirt, and faded jeans.

  “I need to grab Lilah Calloway,” he said, holding up a slip of paper. “She has a meeting with the college counselor.”

  I glanced down at my book to hide my smile. Chase Matthews was lying to a teacher.

  Mrs. Nicholson turned to the room. “Is there a Lilah Calloway in here?”

  I raised my hand gently.

  She nodded and pointed toward the door.

  “Right. Hurry out so we don't have further interruptions.”

  I shoved my books into my backpack, zipped it up, and made my way to the door. A few of the students whistled low under their breath as I passed. Rumors about Chase and me had been circulating since the stone ages, but since I’d moved back, they’d started up again with a vengeance. I purposely looked past Chase as I walked out of the door, and it wasn't until we were out in the hallway that I stopped and eyed him with a skeptical smile.

  “Show me what's on that piece of paper,” I said, holding out my hand.

  He'd written a hall pass in chicken-scratch that wouldn't have passed the inspection of a ten-year-old.

  “Lilah Calloway to see Mrs. Hill for a 4:00 PM appointment,” I read aloud.

  I glanced back up to Chase. His hazel eyes watched me with curiosity and I was torn between wanting to thank him and wanting to run far, far away.

  “You know if she’d actually looked at this piece of paper, she’d have realized that this wasn’t on school stationery. Also, that’s not the counselor’s name.”

  “What?” he laughed and swiped the note back to reread it. “I thought her name was Mrs. Hill.”

  “It's Mrs. Heaney.”

  His brows shot up. “Huh. I've talked to her like five times and I never knew.”

  I laughed. “Why'd you actually pull me out of detention?”

  “I have a taste for adventure,” he said, waggling his eyebrows seductively. My stomach dipped in anticipation. “Let's go before someone sees us out here.”

  I had no clue where he was leading me, but I followed him blindly. Chase had found a loophole to my evasiveness: trust him, or go back to detention.

  “If someone stops us, tell them you're going to see your dad because you don't feel well,” he explained.

  No one was going to stop us. The final bell had only rung fifteen minutes earlier and students were still lingering in the hallways. Chase held the back door open for me and I slipped on my sunglasses. The sun was bright for late February and I knew my flowerbeds back home were appreciating the warmth.

  I followed him around the school, straight past the parking lot. I knew if I looked, I’d find people watching us, so I kept my head forward and trudged on. His beat up truck was parked outside of the perimeter fence. He rounded the front and opened my door for me, ushering me inside with a wave of his arm.

  “Check the seat before you sit,” he warned.

  I glanced down to find a small worn camera case sitting on the passenger side of the bench seat. I reached for it, feeling the soft brown leather beneath my fingertips.

  “Is this yours?”

  “It was, but now it belongs to you.”

  I narrowed my eyes, twisting the case around my hands. “What do you mean?”

  “What good is a sleuth without a camera?”

  I unclipped the flap of the case and pulled out the vintage camera, holding it in my hand like a baby bird.

  “It’s a vintage 1952 Leica M3,” he declared.

  I glanced back to see him eyeing the camera in my hands with a proud smile stretched across his lips. “Does it work?”

  He laughed. “No, Lilah. I gave you a broken camera.”

  I rolled my eyes. “It just looks so old.”

  “I promise it’s good as new, and it even has a serial number that’s over 1,000,000. Collectors love those because it means it was built near the end of this model’s production, so the factory workers were at the top of their game,” he explained. “Now hop in and I’ll teach you how to use it.”

  I gripped the camera and stepped toward the truck before the weight of reality slammed down around me.

  I can’t leave with Chase.

  It was so easy to pretend things were normal, that we were normal, but in reality, we were a thousand miles from it. I eased away from the truck, clutched the camera in my hand, and shook my head. Chase frowned as I thanked him for getting me out of detention and he stood there dumbfounded as I turned and walked away.

  Every step I took away from him made it easier to clear my head.

  It was easy to gravitate toward Chase. He had the charm and the smile and the heart. He promised happiness and I’d almost let myself believe him, but I knew better.

  My mother had ruined Hannah; I refused to ruin Chase.

  …

  Chase

  To me, Lilah meant late nights sneakin’ out, moonlit hair, and sparklers in July. She’d been the brightest part of my childhood and now she was evading me at all costs. She thought she was doing me a favor by giving me space, she thought my hatred for her mom extended to her as well. I was sure she’d worked out some convoluted explanation in her mind, but the truth was I loved Lilah even as she walked away from me that day.

  I would always love Lilah.

  Chapter Forty

  Chase

  It’d been a month since I had heard from my dad. I worked at the shop every Sunday and left him dozens of voicemails, but he never called me back.

  Late Thursday night, I paced back and forth in my room trying to get ahold of him. My first two calls had already gone to voicemail, but I resolved to try one last time.

  When the call connected, I nearly dropped the phone.

  “Dad?”

  “Chase. Hey. Can you hear me?”

  “Yeah. Is this a good time to talk?” I asked.

  “Oh, sure…sure. How are you, bud?”

  There was an edge to his voice, a slight slur, and I knew without a doubt that he'd been drinking.

  “I'm good,” I offered, moving around my bedroom so that Harvey's gaze followed my trail. “How have things been over there?”

  He coughed and I waited for him to answer me. When he didn't, I trudged on.

  “I could come over for dinner or something soon.”

  “Oh, no no. It’s not a good time for that. I’m real behind at the shop. Might have to close it up, with the economy and everything.”

  I pinched my eyes closed. I couldn’t believe him.

  “What are you going to do for money then?” I asked. An eighteen-year-old kid should never have to ask his father that question.

  “Chase, don't start with that,” he grumbled. “I've got everything figured out and I don't need you breathing down my neck. You just worry about baseball. You doin' good? How are you playing this season?”

  It was almost worse that he knew the season was happening. He had never missed a single game before my mom died; he'd only managed to attend one or two after her death.

  “It's been a good season, Dad. Coach Calloway thinks we have a chance of going to state if we keep playing like we are.”

  The unmistakable sound of glass shattering in the background served as the period to my sentence.

  “Oh shoot. Dammit. Chase, I gotta go,” he said just before the line went dead. I pulled the phone away from my face and looked down at it in disbelief. The call was over. Just like that, my dad was gone again. My finger hovered over his name as I battled with the urge to call him back, but before I could hit send, a small knock sounded at my door.

  “Chase?” Lilah called from the other side of the door.

  “Hey, yeah. I'm in here,” I called out.

  The thin door popped open an
d Lilah’s face peeked through. “Um, would it be okay if I took Harvey on a walk? Just a short one around the block?”

  Harvey’s head jerked up at the sound of his favorite four-letter word and I knew there was no point in resisting. He’d already hopped off the bed and joined Lilah by the door before I’d even worked out my answer. Besides, he needed the exercise, especially if I was going to be away at the shop all night.

  I nodded and grabbed my truck keys off my desk. “Yeah, go ahead. I’m going to head up to my dad’s shop.”

  Lilah hesitated in the doorway and when I glanced up at her, she was frowning down at Harvey.

  “What?”

  Her bright eyes met mine. “Isn’t it kind of late for that?”

  “Isn’t it kind of late for a walk?”

  “I just want to clear my head,” she explained, standing her ground.

  It was settled then. I tightened my grip around my keys and moved past her.

  If I drove quick, I could finish up four or five repair jobs before I crashed. My dad needed a hell of a lot more help, but it was better than sitting and doing nothing. I was halfway down the stairs, lost in the stress of the shop, when Lilah called out after me.

  “Chase.”

  I turned back and caught sight of her at the top of the stairs, toying with the end of her long-sleeved shirt.

  “Yeah?”

  She hesitated and then nodded toward the front door.

  “I’ll leave the light on for you.”

  Chapter Forty-One

  Lilah

  On Friday afternoon, I went out back to inspect my garden, relieved to find tiny, fragile plants waiting for me. They’d sprouted up over night, dozens of nearly identical twins that would grow into a variety of plants over the next few weeks. I bent down in front of the first flowerbed and ran my finger across the new leaves. They were velvety soft and in desperate need of water. I turned on the hose and dragged it over to the first bed.

  “Lilah.”

  An unfamiliar voice carried over the grass and I turned to find Trent standing on the back porch, holding on to the wooden post with a nervous smile. I hadn't talked to him in weeks and suddenly, there he was in his leather jacket and faded black jeans. His messy hair and Doc Martens completed his misunderstood-teen look.

  I motioned for him to give me a minute and finished watering the beds. When the soil was damp and dark brown, I turned off the hose and headed for the porch. I slipped out of my gardening shoes and left them on the porch to dry. Trent stood, watching me.

  “What are you doing here?” I asked, eyeing the path he’d taken around the house.

  He brushed his hand through his hair and shrugged. “I was driving around town, didn’t feel like going home. I figured I’d stop by and see if you were around.”

  I hadn’t talked to Trent since I’d seen him outside my mom’s apartment complex.

  “I was just watering my garden,” I said, trying to navigate the awkward situation. “Did you need something or…do you want to come in?”

  He tucked his arms across his chest. “You don’t have to invite me in or anything. I should have asked before coming over.”

  I recognized desperation in Trent’s eyes. I knew what it was like to not want to go home. I didn’t know his story, but if he needed a place to hang out for the afternoon, I wasn’t going to kick him out.

  “C’mon, I need a snack anyway.”

  He smiled as I propped the screen door open for him.

  “I don't think I've ever been inside your house,” he admitted, turning in a circle and taking in the kitchen. There were two pictures hanging on the wall, both equally ancient. My family—including my mom—smiled up at the camera in one photo, and directly next to it there was a photo of the Matthews family with a baby-faced Chase.

  “What's with the photo of Chase Matthews in your kitchen? Are you guys related?” he asked, tapping his finger on the glass.

  I didn’t look at the photo. “Our moms were best friends growing up, so our families were really close.”

  He studied the photo for another moment before shrugging. I told him to take a seat at the table as I rooted through our pantry. It’d been a week or two since anyone had gone to the grocery store, but there were still some chips left. I tossed the bag onto the table and grabbed an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter.

  Trent watched me take a bite of apple and then he tore into the bag of chips.

  “Are you the only one home?” he asked.

  The house was eerily quiet with Chase and my dad gone. Normally I could count on my dad’s game footage humming through the house.

  “Yeah, not sure where the guys are.” I purposely skipped over saying Chase's name because I knew Trent was itching to talk about him.

  “I still don't get why he's living here,” he said.

  I rolled my eyes. Trent and I weren’t dating—in fact we were hardly even friends—and yet he still felt like he had some sort of claim over me.

  Before I could cut off all further discussion of him, the front door creaked open and sunlight streamed in with Chase. His backpack hit the floor near the door and I squeezed my eyes shut, praying he’d skip the kitchen and head straight upstairs.

  “Lilah?”

  I opened my eyes and glanced over to look at him. His jaw tightened as he registered Trent’s presence, but he didn't say a word as he stepped into the kitchen.

  “No soccer practice today?” Trent asked with a bitter edge to his words.

  Chase opened the refrigerator and bent down to inspect its contents. “Baseball, and it just finished.”

  Trent grunted and I scooted my chair back, preparing for the inevitable showdown.

  “I think it’s probably time for you to go,” I said, offering Trent a weak smile.

  He laughed and scraped his chair away from the table.

  “Sorry,” I added lamely.

  He shook his head. “Don’t be sorry. I get it. The golden boy is home so you’re done with me for now.”

  …

  Chase

  “Is there something you want to say to me, Trent?” I called across the room.

  Lilah and Trent twisted around to stare at me and I knew I should have kept my mouth shut. Trent was leaving. That’s what I wanted.

  Trent narrowed his eyes on me, but Lilah was quicker. She reached behind him and opened the front door to usher him out before I could dig myself in any deeper.

  “Who the fuck does he think he is?” Trent asked as Lilah pushed him through the door.

  “Just leave it. It’s not worth it,” she said, pushing harder against his chest. “I’ll see you around school or something.”

  Once he was clear of the door, she slammed it closed and spun around to stare at me.

  “Was that necessary? Don’t start acting like you own the place. He needed a place to hang out for a few hours—you of all people should understand that.”

  We were standing across the living room from each other. My eyes were on her, but her gaze was on the front door. Her fists were clenched and her jaw ticked back and forth. I wasn't afraid of her anger; I was afraid of her silence. I didn't want her to shrivel back into her shell and pretend like we didn't have two years of pent up anger we needed to hash out.

  For two seconds I thought she was going to fight with me, to yell at me about what was really bothering her, and then she shook her head and made for the stairs.

  I moved quicker and blocked her path.

  “Let me by,” she insisted.

  “No.”

  She couldn't get around me with my arms crossed and when she tried, I moved to block her path. I'd waited two years to talk to her about our past and I was sick of skating around it. I always swept it under the rug, too scared to ruin her mood, but she was already pissed, so it was now or never.

  She shifted her weight onto her right leg, crossed her arms, and stared at the wall behind my head.

  So goddamn stubborn.

  “Yell at me. Talk
to me,” I said with a gentle tone, trying to coax her into being honest. “You’re not mad about Trent. I know you’re not mad about that.”

  “Get. Out. Of. My. Way,” she spoke, enunciating each word.

  “Do something, Lilah!” I argued.

  Her hand shot out too fast for me to realize what she was doing. I felt a sharp sting on my cheek and then I reached up to touch it as her eyes grew as wide as saucers.

  “I’m sorry. Please just let me by,” she said with a quivering lip. “I don’t want to fight about it right now.”

  The explosion was over before it even began. She was recoiling into herself and taking the truth with her. I couldn’t let that happen.

  “No more bullshit, Lilah.”

  She tried to get by me again, and when I blocked her path, she threw her hands in the air, defeated but angry.

  “What do you want from me?!” she cried, her voice growing louder. “GIVE IT UP, CHASE!”

  “I want you to talk to me! Really talk to me. We went through the same thing! No one will understand how you feel more than I do!”

  Her eyes turned into two little slits and she balled her hands into tight fists. She was angrier than I’d ever seen her and instead of caving like she wanted me to, I held my ground.

  “I don’t want to talk about the past Chase!” Her words were venom ejected through clenched teeth. “I NEVER WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!”

  I blinked, then blinked again.

  Devastation hung in the air between us, waiting for an answer.

  I fisted my hands and shook my head. “No. You can’t shut me out forever, Lilah. That night wasn’t your fault.”

  “STOP!”

  “You’re not the victim here and neither am I!”

  She clenched her hands even tighter. “Don’t you get it?! We all became her victims! We still are!”

  Chapter Forty-Two

  August 2013

  Blackwater, Texas

 
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