Chapter 17 ~ A Blackberry Night

SocksStacy had spent half of her life competing for Chase’s attention, and losing. The night of their anniversary should have been different, but within moments of their arrival at Gimp’s Pub, his cell phone rang. Instead of letting it go to voice mail, he snatched it up like a lifeline and disappeared down the hall by the restrooms. She sat alone at the bar, swirling the straw in her drink and staring at the back of his head as he talked low into his phone. She couldn’t hear what he was saying, but judging by his posture, he planned to escape. If he stayed even another ten minutes, she would be surprised.

Cheryl sidled behind the bar, dumped a handful of empty beer bottles into the recycling bin, and started cleaning a stack of red plastic snack baskets. “Did you decide what you want to eat?”

Stacy lifted a shoulder in shrug. “Nothing sounds good.”

“Are you feeling okay, Hun?” As though checking for fever, Cheryl placed a motherly hand against Stacy’s cheek. “You’re a little warm.”

“I’m fine. Just not hungry.”

Returning to the bar, Chase reached around Stacy for his Jack and Coke. As he quickly drained the glass, Cheryl glowered.

“How about you? Are you eating tonight?”

“Nope. I gotta head.” Playing a shell game of distraction, he made a big show of pulling his wallet from his pocket and thumbing through the bills. He selected a ten and tossed it onto the bar, all the while talking too fast and too loud. “Deuce’s car broke down on the highway just outside Juliette. I’m gonna go tow him back to his house, see what’s going on, maybe help him fix it up. Kinda depends on what’s broke.”

Stacy rolled her eyes. “If you want to hang out with your friends instead of me, you can just go. You don’t have to make up some bullshit story.”

“It’s not a story. Call him yourself if you don’t believe me.” With a flick of his wrist, he slid his cell phone across the bar to her. She shoved it back and swiveled on the stool, turning away from him. “Aw, come on, Stacy. Don’t be like this.”

“I’m not being anything,” Stacy insisted, trying to keep her face neutral even though she felt like crying. He knew it was a big night and he didn’t care, so why should she? “If you want to go, then go.”

“Fine. I’m going then.”

“Fine,” she snapped.

“Fine! Don’t wait up.” He kicked the stool out of his way and stormed out of the bar, opening the door so hard it smacked against the wall.

Sighing heavily, Cheryl picked up Chase’s glass and gave it a quick rinse. “Why you put up with his nonsense is a mystery to me.”

“It’s not a big deal.” Lightly, she pressed her fingertips against her eyes and took a moment for her heartbeat to calm. “I think I’m going to head home.”

“You should eat something first.”

“I’m not hungry.”

Ignoring her protest, Cheryl decided, “A nice bowl of soup will perk you right up. Chicken noodle or broccoli cheese?”

Stacy wrinkled her nose at the mention of broccoli. “Chicken noodle.”

As she ladled a steaming bowlful, Cheryl asked, “How’s Dan settling in?”

“Alright, I guess.” Stacy fidgeted with the straw in her glass, stabbing it into the ice. “I think he’s mad at me, though.”

“I’m sure that’s not possible.” Cheryl placed the bowl in front of Stacy, added a handful of cracker packets she pulled from her apron pocket.

“I pushed him a little too hard trying to get him to look at some pictures of Millie. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me, but…” The overwhelming feeling of hopelessness started creeping in again, same as the night on the lake. She lifted her shoulders, trying to shake it off. “I don’t know what to do. He acts like he’s fine, but he’s so angry all the time. It’s like all he does is sit alone in his little cabin, stewing on his pain, and lets it build and build, until something sparks and he just explodes. It’s not healthy and I know it’s going to kill him if he keeps living like that, but I don’t know how to get him to open up and start letting go.”

“He will, in his own time,” Cheryl assured her.

“But I need him now.”

“I know you do.” She placed a warm hand upon Stacy’s, squeezing in reassurance, then handed her a spoon. “If you plan to wrestle that stubborn bear into submission, you better start eating.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Imagining Dan as grumpy Papa bear brought a smile to her face, but as she imagined wrestling him to the ground, a rush of heat crept up her neck and tingled all the way to her toes. Quickly, before Cheryl could see, she bent over her soup and used the steam to mask the traitorous blush that divulged her heart’s secret desire.

***

Rushing out of Gimp’s Pub, Chase climbed into his truck, threw it into gear, and dialed Jill’s number. A handful of cars cruised through downtown at a frustratingly slow pace, forcing him to weave his way around and through as he listened to the line ring. As soon as it went to voicemail, he disconnected and dialed again. Instead of Jill, Ashley answered on the fourth ring.

“Stalker much? Sheesh!”

“Put her on.” At the edge of town, Chase rolled through the intersection and turned onto the highway spur without stopping, cutting off a Freightliner. The driver blasted his air horn as the truck barreled around him in the opposite lane. Enraged, Chase downshifted in pursuit.

“She’s talking to the doctor,” Ashley said.

“What’s he saying?”

“I don’t know. I can’t listen to him and talk to you at the same time.”

“Find out and call me back.” Chase hung up and tossed his phone onto the dash. Pressing his foot harder on the accelerator, he caught the semi and dove around him, narrowly avoiding a head on collision with the minivan coming from the opposite direction. The driver of the truck blew his horn again, and Chase flipped him off through the rearview before leaving him in the dust.

As the miles stretched out into the dark night, his heart raced, slamming against his breastbone and cutting off his breath. He tugged at his collar and cleared his throat repeatedly, but it didn’t help. Certain he was having a heart attack, he picked up his phone and dialed Jill’s number again and again, but it continuously went to voicemail.

When he arrived at the hospital, the overwhelming sense of urgency dissipated, leaving behind a crushing dread. Fear kept him pinned in his truck. He leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes. Ten minutes passed. Then twenty. Still, he could not move. His cell phone started to dance across the dash. It took four rings for him to summon the courage to answer.

“Chase… I’m scared.”

She sounded younger than she ever had before.

Being needed spurred him to action. “I’m here.”

He found her in the emergency room, looking gaunt, her lips thin and near white under the glare of hospital lights. Her mother hovered and he held back, uncertain of his place. Ashley sat in the bedside chair, transfixed by her cell phone. She glanced up long enough to curl her lip at him in silent snarl.

“Are you the father?”

The father… The title sounded different, felt more ominous, when posed by the doctor.

“Yes,” he answered. Fear rolled around anew.

“Mom’s little fainting spell at work gave everyone a scare, but I don’t see any reason to be too concerned. She is testing positive for infection, but her fever’s low and her blood work looks good. It’s probably a simple case of gastroenteritis. We’re going to keep her overnight, get her rehydrated and monitor her fever and the baby’s vitals. Hopefully, she’ll be feeling better by morning.”

Jill’s mother asked a few questions, which garnered no additional information. The elusive doctor patted Jill’s leg and disappeared. Crushing fear returned. Chase was a step away from disappearing right along with him when a young tech rolled an ultrasound machine into the room.

“Who’s ready to have a look at our little fighter?”

***

Dan cruised downtown Allman Falls, debating his dinner options, but nothing sounded any more appetizing than his standard Saturday night fare of drive-thru burgers and fries. Charlene’s Diner was too crowded, Captain Jack’s too loud. Sub sandwiches didn’t sound meaty enough. He considered stopping by the grocery store to buy a steak for himself and one for Dolly, but grilling felt like an awful lot of work. It left him with two choices: greasy pizza from the gas station, or Gimp’s Pub. Both could be dangerous, in completely different ways. In the end, he let guilt decide.

When he walked into Gimp’s, he found Stacy sitting at the bar, talking with Cheryl and playing with her straw. Her cheeks were dry, but her puffy eyes and red nose hinted that she’d been crying. Certain it was his fault, the guilt in his gut intensified.

“Well, speak of the devil,” Cheryl said in surprise as Dan slipped onto the stool beside Stacy’s. “Are your ears burning? Because we were just talking about you.”

“Oh?” Dan cocked an eyebrow at Stacy, causing her to blush, but she didn’t confess.

“What’ll you have, Dan?” Cheryl wiped up the wet rings on the bar in front of Dan seconds before he put his elbow in them.

“Did I take someone’s seat?” he asked.

“You’re fine,” she said. “Chase just left. Beer okay?”

“Is he coming back?” Dan asked Stacy.

Without a word, she slid off her stool and disappeared into the women’s restroom.

Dan looked to Cheryl for answers but she only shook her head. “Not my business,” she declared as she handed him a longneck from the coolers and left to check on the other customers.

Carrying his beer and Stacy’s half-empty glass of amaretto and Coke, Dan moved to the booth in the back of the bar. When Stacy emerged from the restroom, he waved her over. Silently, she slipped in beside him, scooting low to rest her little feet on the opposite bench. Her face looked freshly washed, but she hadn’t been able to scrub away the sadness in her eyes. When he caught Cheryl watching them from across the room, Dan began to pick up on the fact that he probably wasn’t the one at fault for her tears.

“What’s going on?” he asked her.

“Nothing.”

“Don’t want to talk about it?”

“There’s nothing to talk about.” She bumped him with her shoulder and added, “Other than the fact that you actually left Chelsea, all by yourself, without someone dragging you kicking and screaming the whole way.”

“I ran out of food,” he admitted with a laugh at himself.

“Well, that would do it.”

She waved Cheryl over and Dan ordered a cheeseburger and fries, and another round of drinks. While they waited for his order to come, Stacy kept herself occupied by drinking. Every time he opened his mouth to speak, she preempted his conversation by lifting her glass. And every time her glass emptied, Cheryl brought her a fresh one. By the third round, Dan was ready to cut her off. Stacy had never been one to drink. She wasn’t good at it. She could handle a few beers, a glass of wine—maybe two—but mixed drinks tended to knock her on her ass, especially on an empty stomach. When his food arrived, he positioned the plate between them. She stole a few of his fries but declined his offer to split the hamburger.

“You need to eat something,” he said. “You’re getting too skinny.”

“Cheryl fed me soup,” she assured him. “Besides, a girl can never be too skinny.”

“A real man likes his woman to have curves. No one wants to spoon a bag of bones.”

“No worries here. I’ve got curves to spare,” she said, taking another fry.

“No, Cheryl has curves to spare. You have just the right amount of curves. Don’t go giving any of them away.”

“My curves are just right,” she said. After a heartbeat, she laughed out loud.

“Why’s that funny?”

“You know, from ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears.’ This porridge is too hot, this porridge is too cold, but this porridge is just right,” Stacy explained, imitating all the bears’ voices as she did so. “My curves are juuuust right.”

“No more alcohol for you, Baby Bear.” Dan moved to take her glass away, but she snatched it up before he could.

“Don’t be the Big Bad Wolf,” she pouted. “Let me have my fun.”

“Wrong fairy tale, but okay.”

Mimicking his deep voice, she repeated, “Okay.”

“I’m not the Big Bad Wolf, by the way,” he said.

“No, that job’s already been taken.”

“By who?” Dan asked.

Instead of answering she changed the subject. “I’ve decided to help you with your little problem.”

Dan’s eyebrows shot up and he laughed. “What ‘little problem’ is that, exactly?”

“The Jimmy, Kylie, Ashley love triangle thingie,” she said, waving her hand in a loopty loop circle for emphasis.

Dan caught her waving hand and tucked it into his. “Do you have a plan?”

“Of course not,” Stacy said. “I just decided right this minute. Who do you think I am, Super Woman?”

“No, you’re Baby Bear.”

Stacy laughed. “I had Superwoman underwear when I was a kid. She was cool.”

“I had Superman. We should’ve joined forces and done Super things together.”

She tipped her head back and smiled up at him, laughing with her blood-shot eyes. He had a sudden urge to pull her into his arms and do incredibly super things to her. He really needed to stop saying things like that before he lost his last ounce of control.

Scooting out of the booth, Stacy declared, “I need another drink.”

He tried to catch her, but she was too quick. She traveled a fairly straight line as she crossed the room, but when he saw Cheryl pull out the bottle of Polish blackberry brandy, he knew he was in for a very long night. They didn’t happen often, only when she needed to completely let go, but Stacy’s Blackberry nights ran the gamete of every emotion, from hysterical laugher to heart-wrenching sobs, and they never ended before sunrise.

He owed Stacy a night of unselfishly supporting her, so he kept his mouth shut and dumped a handful of quarters into the jukebox. He selected a few of Stacy’s favorites and some old Johnny Cash classics he could never pass up. Joining him, Stacy handed him a fresh beer. He drank half of it in one swallow. He had a lot of catching up to do.

“Did you pick your usual crap?” Stacy asked.

“Of course,” he said. “It’s not like there’s a lot to choose from.”

“I think Cheryl quit buying music in 1995.”

“Nothing good’s come out since then!” Cheryl hollered from the bar.

“Put your ears away, old woman!” Dan hollered back.

Stacy smacked his arm. “Don’t you yell at my Mama.”

“Yeah!” Cheryl hollered again.

“Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Stacy winked, then leaned in to whisper, “I think she likes it when you yell at her.”

“That’s because I’m adorable,” Dan whispered back.

Smiling, Stacy closed her eyes and tipped her head back as her hips started to sway to the music. “Dance with me, kochanie.

“I don’t dance.”

“You lie. I’ve seen you dance.” She tugged on the front of his shirt. “Come on.”

Dan stood his ground. “Ask Cheryl to dance with you.”

“My bunions hurt!” Cheryl hollered.

“Just one dance?” Stacy begged, “Pretty please with a gumdrop on top.”

The song changed to a slower Garth Brooks classic and he figured why not. “Fine.”

“Yay!” She clapped and twirled in a circle.

In attempt to improve his rhythm, he took a giant swig of beer before setting the bottle on the table beside the jukebox, and then took Stacy by the hands and swung her out to the middle of the floor. She laughed, the smile on her face pure heaven.

As she settled in against his chest, he asked “Where’s my gumdrop?”

“I lied. I don’t have any.”

“See how you are?”

“Aw, you love me anyway,” she said with a sweet smile.

“Heaven help me, I do,” he admitted.

As they danced in a slow, lazy circle, she softly sang along to the song. Her gaze gradually pulled away from him and the room, focusing inward. He held her closer, bringing her hand to his heart, and she rested her cheek against his chest. It didn’t take long before tears soaked through his shirt. He held onto her, gently rocking and stroking her wild hair as one song changed to the next, but her tears continued to fall. As Cheryl watched from the bar, the worried expression on her face told Dan volumes. Stacy was hurting from something more than just losing Millie. And he had a pretty good idea who’d been doing it to her.

When the song ended, Dan kissed the top of her head and led her by the hand to their booth. He let her in first and then slid in next to her, sitting close as though he could protect her from any more pain simply by shielding her with his body. Dan signaled Cheryl for fresh drinks while Stacy wiped her eyes on a napkin.

Dan leaned in close, speaking low, “What’s going on, Stace?”

“It’s nothing, kochanie.

“Please tell me.”

She shredded the damp napkin in her hands. “I’m just missing Millie. I wish she were here.”

“You can talk to me if you want.”

“It’s okay.”

No matter how much he wished he could, he couldn’t give her what she needed most. He couldn’t make Chase love her like she deserved. He couldn’t even make Chase love her more than he hated himself. But he could give her the other love she’d been denied.

He gave her Millie.

Gently, he lifted a curly lock of hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “Do you remember that time we went to the harvest festival in Enid?”

Stacy looked up at him in surprise. Her cheeks and nose were red, her eyes puffy and damp, but she couldn’t have been more gorgeous. He wiped the tears from her cheek and put his arm around her.

“They had that huge corn maze, and she dragged us in, and we got mixed around.”

“And that chicken started chasing her,” she joined in. “She was wearing those flip-flops and the chicken kept pecking at her toes.”

“We were laughing so hard we couldn’t catch the chicken and she took off running through the maze,” Dan continued.

“She kept screaming, ‘Get it away! Get it away!’ ” Stacy laughed. “What was that stupid chicken doing in the maze anyways?”

Loving the sound of her laugh, Dan joined her. “I have no idea, but he sure had it out for her.”

“It was nice of that little boy to find her and bring her back to us.”

“She was all crazy-eyed and had corn shucks sticking out of her hair in every direction…”

“She was so mad at you.” Stacy grinned. “And it was her idea to go in the first place. You didn’t even want to go!”

“I know! She stayed mad all day. She wouldn’t even sit with me on the hayrack ride.”

“She sat with me instead. It was nice.” She settled against Dan’s shoulder. “She was so mad at that chicken she fried one up for dinner as soon as we got back to your apartment.”

“It was past midnight and I was already stuffed from all the junk we ate at the festival. She slammed those plates piled high with fried chicken on the table and demanded we sit down and eat it all.” Dan laughed. “It was damn good chicken, too.”

“The best,” Stacy agreed. “Oh, but do you remember when Millie tried to make salsa?”

“The worst salsa I’ve ever had in my life. What did she put in it?”

“I don’t even remember, but it was bitter.” Grimacing, she shivered with the memory. “Salsa’s not supposed to be bitter.”

“But her apple pie…” Dan moaned in longing. “I would do anything for another piece of her apple pie… or to hear her sing in the shower again.”

“She had such a pretty voice. I loved when she sang in the car. We’d crank the stereo and roll down the windows and she would just sing her heart out.”

“Did you ever hear her sing at night?” He closed his eyes and said, “We’d be lying in bed, almost asleep, and she would sing. It would come out so softly you could hardly hear it. I don’t know if she even knew she was doing it. It was always the same song.”

“What did she sing?” Stacy asked.

Dan swallowed. The memory hurt too bad to sing the words aloud, so he closed his eyes and leaned in close, humming them instead, “Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.”

She only ever sang the one line from the Irish ballad, but the lyrics of the rest of the song have haunted him over the years, long before her cancer diagnosis. They seemed to be a premonition. “And I shall hear, tho’ soft you tread above me, And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be, If you’ll not fail to tell me that you love me, I simply sleep in peace until you come to me.”

A tear escaped from behind his closed eyelids and he felt Stacy’s gentle touch brush it away.

“You need to shave,” Stacy softly teased him, scuffing up the stubble on his cheeks.

When he opened his eyes, she was all he saw. Her smile chased away the chill. Lightly, he kissed her lips, and stroked her cheek with his thumb, and then she settled back against him and they continued their journey.

Talking about his wife—remembering the life she lived—was painful, but doing it for Stacy kept him going. It got easier as they went. Customers trickled in and out as the night went on, but the dinner rush had long since finished, leaving Cheryl plenty of time to keep their glasses full. Every time she came to their table, she touched Dan’s shoulder or patted his hand, thanking him for what he was doing for Stacy.

Just past midnight Stacy’s eyes started to droop. Dan suggested it was time for them to leave.

“I don’t want to leave,” she protested. “I love this place. It’s my happy place.”

Dan laughed. “You can’t be serious. No offense to Cheryl, but this place looks like the seventies threw up all over it, and it smells almost as bad. This isn’t even Cheryl’s happy place.”

“But I love Cheryl and Cheryl makes me happy and Cheryl is always here, so this is my happy place. And right now you are here, and you really make me happy, and if I go home I’ll be all alone and I won’t be happy anymore.”

“But you have Chase at home to make you happy.”

As though confused, Stacy frowned and shook her head slowly. “No,” she said, drawing out the word. “Chase isn’t at home. He’s out with his buddies.” She emphasized the word, attempting to make quotation marks with her fingers, but not quite succeeding. “I think they’re a girl.”

“Let me take you home. We’ll get you some coffee and I’ll wait with you until Chase shows up.”

“Fine,” she agreed. “But it’s going to be a loooong wait.”

After helping her out of the booth, he practically carried her to his truck. As he drove, she rested her head against the window and stared forward, out the windshield. Dan couldn’t tell if she was thinking or sleeping with her eyes open, so he left her to the silence. Once he got her inside, she laid on the sofa while he made the coffee.

He brought out two steaming mugs and sat on the other end of the sofa, lifting her legs onto his lap. He slipped her shoes off and laughed when he saw her thick socks, striped wildly different colors and fitted around her toes.

“What’s with the toe gloves?” he teased.

“They keep my feet warm.” Sporting a crazy grin, she wiggled her toes. “Millie always said I had popsicle toes, so she sent me those for Christmas one year. They’re my favorite socks.”

“Are you sure they weren’t supposed to be the stockings to hang for Santa?”

Scrunching her face in a studious fashion, Stacy thought hard for a moment. “I’m pretty sure they were for my feet.”

“She always did have horrible taste in footwear.” Dan rubbed Stacy’s feet and said, “Oh my god, you do have cold feet! I can feel them through the socks.”

She smiled. “I told you so.”

“Let’s warm you up.” Dan pulled the blanket off of the back of the sofa and threw it over her legs.

She closed her eyes, but immediately opened them again. “I think Cheryl spiked my drink.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine, don’t worry. I’m not going to throw up on you or anything.”

“I’m not worried about me. I just hate that you to feel so bad.”

Stacy closed her eyes again and mumbled, “That’s a nice change. Thank you.”

She fell quiet for a bit. Just as Dan decided she had fallen asleep, she shot straight up, hand over her mouth, and ran for the bathroom.

He caught up with her as she was flushing. As she knelt on the floor in front of the toilet, he filled a glass of water from the tap and handed it to her. She waved him out of the bathroom and shut the door with her foot. He returned to the sofa and waited nervously, unsure how long he should leave her in there alone. When she finally emerged, her eyes seemed a little clearer.

“Sorry about that,” she said, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment.

“It’s no big deal.” Squeezing her hand, he tugged her down next to him and settled her under his arm. “I’ve seen worse before.”

She tipped her face up to him. “I brushed my teeth. Twice.”

“You smell minty fresh,” he assured her in a whisper, his eyes lingering on her lips as she smiled.

She was so amazingly beautiful in that moment, that had it been any other time, on any other day, under any other circumstances, he would have kissed her until all the pain Chase had inflicted upon her heart disappeared and she believed she was as beautiful as he knew she was. He settled for returning her smile with one of his own.

“Do you want to watch a movie?” she asked.

“Which one?”

“Something funny.”

She handed him the remote and he scrolled through the channels twice before they found one they could both agree on. Dan settled in with his feet on the coffee table and Stacy curled up next to him. Halfway through the movie, she scooted down and rested her head on his lap. Dan covered her with a blanket and gently stroked her hair until she fell asleep.

Dan watched the rest of the movie, and all of the next. At three in the morning, when Chase still hadn’t come home, Dan lifted Stacy from the sofa and carried her upstairs to her bedroom. The quilt he covered her with was handmade, but he knew instantly it was Gram’s handiwork and not Stacy’s. It was well-worn and faded, quilted with the calicos Gram had adored, and if his memory was correct, it was the same quilt that had adorned Gram and Gramp’s bed for years. As he tucked it around Stacy, he had a crazy desire to climb in next to her and feel the warm history of the fabric against his skin as he slept.

When he reached to turn off the bedside lamp, the picture on the nightstand caught his eye. It was the photo she had told him about—the one of the girls decorating cakes. He ran a light finger over Millie’s frosting-streaked face, pausing to smell the memory of vanilla in the air, and then returned the framed picture to the table, angling it so Stacy would open her eyes to Millie’s gorgeous smile in the morning light.

***

Early Monday morning, Dan sat in his truck in front of Conner Repair and waited for Chase. The guy finally showed up an hour late, hung over and feet dragging. Dan forced himself to count to ten before following him in. Chase turned at the sound of the bell on the door. As soon as he saw Dan, his face flashed crimson with anger.

“You son of a bitch!”

It happened so fast Dan felt his nose bust and a gush of blood pour down his face before his brain even registered that Chase was aiming to swing. As he staggered backward a step from the force of the hit, his hands belatedly went up to protect his nose.

“What the hell was that for?”

Chase rushed him again, but this time Dan was ready and he ducked. He wanted to hit back, but he feared once he started, he wouldn’t stop until he killed the bastard.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“What were you doing at my house until three in the goddamn morning? I know you weren’t baking fucking cookies!”

“I was waiting for you!”

“Bullshit!”

“It’s not bullshit, Chase.” Dan wiped at his bloody nose with his shirt sleeve. “If you would’ve bothered to come home, you’d know that.”

With his chest heaving, Chase stared at Dan for a long moment, debating. Finally, he turned toward his office, motioning for Dan to follow. He paused at the first-aid kit hanging on the wall, grabbed an ice pack and tossed it to Dan.

“Sorry about your face.” Chase sat heavily in his chair, turning to look out the window.

Dan cracked the ice pack and it instantly turned cold. Gingerly, he pressed it against the bridge of his nose. It didn’t much help the pain, but it stopped the bleeding.

“When did you turn into such an ass?” Dan asked.

In his typical, self-depreciating way that Dan hated, Chase answered, “I always have been.”

“Not this bad.”

“Stacy’s exaggerating.”

“No, she’s not. For some messed up reason, she’s defending you.” Dan studied Chase, trying to get a read on him. “Are you even still in love with her?”

“Fuck you.”

“She’s a beautiful person, Chase. She deserves to be with someone who appreciates her. If you don’t love her, let her go so she can find someone who does.”

With a snort of contempt, Chase turned in his chair. “Someone like you?”

Dan walked out without answering, but as the day wore on, and his thoughts kept returning to Stacy, to the light in her eyes when she smiled, he started to wonder if maybe that was exactly what he’d been thinking.

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