“Loosen up Chase!” Sandy hollers as I stand beside Chase for the photoshoot. The both of us are angled toward each other - my hand planted firmly on his chest and his arm around my waist as per requested by our well known photographer, Sandy Burns. She knows what she’s doing.
The position between us (Chase and I), no doubt about it, is rather awkward considering our history and the prominent fact that we haven’t been on good terms for years now. However, I manage to snap out of it and do what I have to do. I’ve always been great under pressure - one of my only positive characteristic traits: keeping a level head.
I naturally relax into Chase’s tense side as if by familiar instinct from previous encounters of our past friendship. I lift my head high and stare slightly past the camera like a professional would do, putting on the most believable ‘model image’ I can manage. I strike a serious expressionless pose, completely blocking out the fact that Chase has me in his strong vice-like grip.
He, on the other hand, is more stiffer than the current surfboard under my free arm. He’s been clenching his jaw all the while since I got here. His arm around me is so firm that I feel like I’m suffocating. I can feel his fist drawn tightly against the side of my waist. His other hand is clutching onto his lucky and all time famous white surfboard with much force as if it’s the only thing that’s going to get him through this shoot.
“You tighten that arm around her anymore and you are going to squeeze the life out of the poor girl.” Sandy lectures Chase with a perplexed look to her eyes. She’s obviously confused as to why Chase is acting so out of character. She’s must be unaware of our fall out - most are.
Chase grunts in response, a little despondent, as his hold on me loosens. He’d love it if he could squeeze all the life out of me. His fist uncurls before his hand rests flat against my waist, his warmth engulfing me - captivating me - as I’m lulled further into him. I kind of miss this - miss him.
It’s been a while since I’ve felt Chase’s hand on my waist and though the situation it’s highly uncomfortable, I don’t let it show in the way that he’s so clearly doing. He’s so tense that it starting to make me a little nervous. He’s putting me on edge. I’m use to the overconfident Chase that automatically puts others at ease, not the anxious Chase that makes everyone in a nearby radius feel uneasy.
“You’re doing great Gabriela.” Sandy tells me with a smile, encouraging me all the more, before she turns to frown at Chase, “What is wrong with you? You’re acting so uptight? You never behave so unprofessional in photoshoots. Whatever is bothering you, I suggest you get a grip before I give more thought into taking you out this month’s shoot.”
Chase is literally giving off strange vibes. Waves of fear and anxiety are radiating off him like dark smoke from a burning fire.
“You wouldn’t have a job it weren’t for my first international photoshoots two years back that made you rich, so I suggest you shut the hell up Sandy and be damn well grateful. I made you.” Chase hisses bitterly, his anxiety clear in his voice.
What is his problem?
Sandy rolls her eyes before mouthing the word ‘cocky’ to me. I smile slightly at her and nod, aware of just how cocky Chase can be. I don’t know how Sandy deals with him. She must have a ton of patience to put up with his arrogance.
I remember when Chase, back at our old tree house, had said to me that I made him. I’m not exactly sure how to take that. Did I make him who he was then or who he is now? I’m probably responsible to both sides of him - the past ‘happy-go-lucky’ him and the present grumpy him.
Sandy motions me closer to Chase, “Gabriela, Darling, move your hand up higher. That angle is all wrong. Don’t let Chase set you off. You’re doing fantastic!” I listen to her as I adjust my hand and slowly trail it up his chest a little higher. “Perfect! Right there.” Sandy quickly halts my movement as my hands rest in the spot she wants.
I’m a little caught off guard when the muscles in Chase’s chest stiffen and become rigid beneath the palm of my hands as a result of me trailing my hands up higher against him.
I can feel his heart pulsing quickly against my fingertips. I frown at this and turn his way. I lean more into him before I whisper a single word to him in an attempt to offer him comfort and support, “Relax.” I reach out to him with that single word.
This results in him tensing all the more as he sucks in a deep breath at my close proximity, his eyes closing for a split second or so as if he’s gathering his thoughts.
I nudge him in the ribs when I see Sandy’s confused gaze landing on me for an explanation to his odd behavior. His eyes instantly flash back open and swirling in the depth of them lies one thing - determination.
“Okay I’m sorted.” Chase breathes out as he forces himself to relax against me, his chest muscles loosening, making his abdomen’s contour lines more on display in the way that Sandy had wanted initially for the shot. “I’ve got this.” He insists confidently to Sandy.
Now that’s more like the Chase Fuller I’ve come to know. He’s never been a quitter. He’ll always rise to the occasion/challenge and overcome it altogether.
“Great! That’s a wrap up.” Richard, the director, states as he motions for his crew to start packing away.
“That was great guys.” Sandy smiles at Chase and I, holding a thumbs up for us before her eyes zero in on me, “Thanks for doing the shoot Darling, you’re a lifesaver.”
Richard nods, agreeing, “And as promised. You will be paid.”
I wave the matter off with my hand, “Please don’t worry. That’s not necessary. I barely did anything.” However, I’m recently out of a job and I could use the money.
“Take the money Hill. It’s the least we can do Sweetie.” Richard insists as he gives me a cheque.
I reluctantly agree and put it in my purse after having changed back into the clothes I came here with.
I start my journey back to Ty and the others when a cold voice stops me, “Stay out of my way.”
I turn to see that it’s Chase threatening me once again. He knows I don’t talk back, thus, he’s already turned his back as if to walk away.
He acts like I purposelessly rocked up here with the intention to do a photoshoot with him. Frankly, being with him is the last place I want to be right now.
On any normal occasion, I would have just taken his childish threats with a pinch of salt. However, today a spurge of courage fuels my anger. I’m fed up being treated this way by him. I’m not his personal doormat to wipe his shoes on. I’m more than that and it’s time he learns that.
I whip my head back to him as a glare finds its way onto my features, “No. You stay out of mine.” I hiss bitterly, irritated. I just did him a favor and this is how he repays me. Without me, he’d have been pulled from the shot.
Chase falters in his steps as he stops. I can see a cunning smirk evident on his face from his side profile. He turns slightly to throw me a look over his shoulder, “Finally grew a backbone, ey Gabriela?” He states more thank asks as he turns his face away from me again as if I’m just not worth it, “I’ll be sure to snap it.” He sneers, the smirk slipping off his lips entirely. He’s not impressed that I defended myself.
I can’t help but act on impulsively with the next words slipping off my tongue, “What happened to you?” I all but ask. I want the old Chase back, not the jerk standing before me who replaced him.
Chase turns back to me, a deep set frown in place on his lips as he lets out a humorless chuckle, “You did.”
The words I had prepared to dish back dies in my throat at the reminder that I’m to blame for all of this.
A flashback hits straight home as I remember myself saying to Chase that I’d never stop blaming him for what he did - for what I believed he was responsible for - for what I held him accountable: Matt’s death.
How much longer must I bear this? When will he forgive me and just set me free from all the cruel words I’d said to him when I lost Matt? I’m genuinely sorry. I’ve tried showing him that. I’ve acknowledged that I was in the wrong and I’ve tried to make up for it countless of times, but Chase won’t accept that I want - need - to move on from all that. I don’t want him to drag me back to the past in the way he keeps doing.
I need his forgiveness or I’ll never be able to move on.
“Chase…” I murmur, unsure what to say, a gaping hole in my heart as I’m reminded of what a heartless b*tch I was to him on the night Matt left me. I pinned Matt’s death on him and now I’m stuck carrying the consequences of my actions years later. “This is not fair. You can’t keep doing this - bringing that up. If you want to throw your life away over the past, then that’s your prerogative. Stop dragging me down with you.”
With that said, I leave him frozen in place to ponder over my words as I go congratulate Caleb, reunite with Stells and murder Duke and Ty.
“I’m so happy I’m floating on Cloud 9 right now.” Stella, having embraced for two minutes flat, finally releases me. “Truth.” Stells promises, flashing me her pearly white smile in pure bliss. “I’ve missed you so much.”
I never really left.
Before I can even get a word out, Ty is already running his mouth dry, “And she’s coming to the beach party as well.”
“That’s fantastic!” Stells grins at me - keeps grinning at me as if she cannot fathom that I’m really here talking to her. Had it really been that long?
Duke’s blue eyes find mine as he gives me a knowing smirk, “Told you’d she be happy to see you.”
I nod, “You did.” I confirm with ease, offering him a small grateful smile.
“I’d like to know why Ty and I never received an invite to his supposed beach party?” Caleb, as always, looks for something to whine about like the man-child he is.
“Maybe it has to do with the fact that you guys always go a itsy bit overboard.” Stells mumbles softly, trying to break it to him sweetly. Stells has always been the soft one from all of us.
“That’s an understatement.” Duke pipes up, “Jumping from the roof of a surf shack and trying to light the sea sand on fire is past overboard.”
“In my defense,” Ty raises his hands, “I was intoxicated.”
Caleb nods, “I wasn’t, but I…” Caleb trails off in search of words. He needs an excuse.
I decide to help him out, “Was just being yourself?” I suggest, offering him a small cheeky grin.
“Exactly.” Caleb agrees before he draws me to his side, “See, this is why you’ve always been my favorite Gabriela. You get me.”
I laugh at his words, “I try.”
After that we all disperse back to Duke’s parent’s mansion - our old hangout place when we were bored of surfing.
“Man I have missed this place.” Caleb remarks as we steep foot into the gigantic house that belongs to Duke’s father - one of the ambassadors in town.
“You were here four days ago.” Duke points out.
“I know. Been too long.” Caleb lets out a wistful sigh as he makes himself comfy on the fancy leather sofas. He’s rather dramatic.
It’s been two years since I last stepped in this house. Caleb is no comparison to me. In a sense, I feel like a stranger in his home all over again - like I’m not welcome.
Duke must see me shifting anxiously because the next thing I know, he has swung his arm around my shoulders, leading me away from the lounge altogether.
“Where are we going?” I ask him, following his lead as I try to keep up with his long strides. Duke is the tallest from all of us so you have to pace yourself when with him.
Duke merely grins down at me before turning back to Stella and the others, “What do you say we watch a movie like old times before the bonfire beach party?”
A smile spreads across Stells lips as she nods, agreeing, “Sounds like a plan Babe.” She replies back to her boyfriend, now eager to join in.
“Awe yeah!” Caleb roars before him and Ty are off racing to Duke’s private movie theater. Again, Duke’s parent’s are stinking rich. However, they’re both so down to earth. I admire them for that. I look up to them, always have.
Duke’s move theater is still the way I remembered it to be - well kept and enormous. Ty and Caleb are already sitting in their usual spots beside one another with massive popcorn buckets. They’re both stuffing their faces and we haven’t even picked out a movie yet.
“What do you all feel up to watching?” Duke asks us, polite as always. He always makes the best host. He treats his guests like royalty. He was brought up in that way. Ty and Caleb like to take advantage of him and push his boundaries.
I already know what each of them will say before any of them even open their mouths. Duke will vote for an action or a thriller, Stells will vote for a romance, Ty will vote for porn (as a joke seeing as he hates choosing) and Caleb and I will both vote for a comedy. This always leads to Caleb and I winning which annoys the others seeing as they are outvoted.
“Just put in a damn comedy. We all know that’s what Caleb and Gabs are going to pick.” Ty grumbles in defeat. We all know he’s a secret sucker for romance.
“True.” Stells nods, agreeing, a small grin laced on her lips. She’s never not smiling. I’ve always been envious of how content she is with life. She has the same attitude that my brother had. I pulled away from her most as a result. Back then, it was just too painful for me to be around her. She was a constant reminder of my loss.
I regret ditching her, I really do. I’ve made so many mistakes and I’ve hurt so many people.
“Comedy it is.” Duke replies back in a low groan. He gets bored if their is no action scenes.
Caleb and I love to laugh. What’s wrong with that? I have enough going on in my life. I need an escape and comedy is the best way to escape reality.
Duke leaves us for a brief moment to pop in the movie ‘Grown Ups 2’ and fetch those who don’t have popcorn (all of us but Ty and Cal) some popcorn.
Caleb and I high five each other as Cal sends me a grateful grin, “I’ll never take you for granted again Gabb Gabbs. I finally get to watch a comedy again and it’s all thanks to you being back.”
I’ve missed this…
“I pay your damn rent and you always take me for granted.” Ty comments, turning a teasing glare onto his friend.
“Ssssshhh.” Caleb shushes Ty as he points to the blank movie screen, “Movie is starting.”
Ty squints up at the black movie screen to see if Cal is being genuine, “No it’s not.” Ty says, shaking his head at Cal.
Duke returns with our popcorn as he switches off the lights in the theater and starts the movie. Duke takes his usual seat beside his girlfriend as he motions for me to sit down, the movie having started.
A heart-wrenching pain pierces right through me as I look down at my old seat. Back in the past, Matt would sit on one side of me. On the other side, Brent would sit.
I fight back the tears as I take a seat beside Ty. Everything has changed. The good days are behind me. Mat and Brent are dead. Chase is a jerk, but I’m still convinced that he’s redeemable. As for Jacob, no one hears from him anymore.
“You okay?” I feel Ty’s hand come to rest on my shoulder, an attempt to capture my attention.
I glance up to meet his brown eyes and it just takes one look into those eyes to know that he understands. He knows exactly what’s currently running through my mind right now.
I offer him a small smile as his hand drops limply from my shoulder, “I will be.” I reassure him and manage to convince him as he steers his attention back to the movie. I have to believe that I will be okay. I need to believe that or I won’t make it through this dark tunnel.
A snapping of fingers brings me out of my thoughts, “Butler - Good Sir -, more popcorn!” Caleb demands as he flings his popcorn bucket at Duke, already on a mission to push Duke’s buttons.
“Oooh me too!” Tyler dangles his bucket in front of Duke’s face too so much so that Duke can’t even see the screen. “We are guests after all.”
Duke sighs, “I’m actually enjoying a comedy movie for once and you guys just gotta spoil it. Get it yourselves.”
Tyler shakes his head at Duke, putting up a pretense, “I wonder what mother Levine would say if she were to find out that her baby boy is mistreating his guests.” Ty subtly threatens him.
“For the billionth time Ty, she’s my mother, not yours.” Duke corrects, exasperated.
Caleb, catching on for once, nods profusely as he glances Duke’s way, “You’re suppose to be our lackey when we come visit you.”
I roll my eyes as the debate continues before I stand up and snatch the two buckets out of the two idiots hands, “I’ll go fill up for you two. Leave Duke at peace. Stop ragging on the poor guy.” I say, venting my frustration with life ever so slightly.
“I’m so in love right now.” Caleb jokes as his blue eyes lock onto me, “Marry me Gabriela Hill?” He teases, using my first name for once as he continues to pester me. “Women like you are rare to come by. A women that fills my popcorn bucket is a treasure.”
My frown softens impeccable as a smile creeps onto my lips. It’s impossible not to smile when with Caleb. His humor is just too contagious. I love it. Caleb makes me feel alive. He’s a risk taker and thus never regrets anything in his life. I want that. I want to be someone who doesn’t think twice about taking a chance on someone.
Duke shoots me a thankful smile, “It’s good to have you back girl.”
“Agreed.” Stella remarks as I pass by the two lovebirds and head for the exit of the movie room.
I make my way to the backroom where Duke keeps the popcorn machine. I’m in the process of filling both buckets when a thick in accent (Latin) voice stops me, “Gabriela?”
I turn to see Duke Latino house cleaner - Accalia - at work as always. She’s never been the lazy type. She’s your typical busy body.
“Hi Calia.” I offer her a warm attentive smile, uncertain on how to portray myself. No doubt that Duke has told her all about me abandoning him and the others. Calia practically raised Duke so of course they’re close. I used to be close with her too at some point in time before I left. Matt adored her just as much.
“It is you.” She beams at me, her brown hair pulled back in a tight bun and the crinkles by her eyes indicating how she’d aged slightly since I last saw her. However, she still has that smile that makes all my worries vanish…just like that. She’s the kind of person who won’t judge you. She’s open, humble and easy to talk to.
I open my mouth to reply, but instead of saying something understandable, an ’oof’ slips from my lips as I stagger back on impact. I start to laugh when I realize that she’d flung herself into me for an embrace. She gives the best hugs.
“Gabriela! I am so glad to see you. I haven’t seen you in years. I figured you and Duke no friends-“
I interrupt her before she goes too in depth to the point where things get personal and I start to feel uncomfortable, “I made a mistake Calia.” I admit, confessing it aloud to someone I know will be able to help me solve what I’m feeling inside.
Calia raises an eyebrow, a perplexed expression on her face. I have caught her off guard. She didn’t expect to hear that from me. “Gabriela?” She calls softly, trying to get an explanation out of me.
All it takes is for her to say by name. I drop the popcorn buckets and crumble right there and then before her as I collapse in her arms and cry, her arms coming around to support me, the popcorn scattering all over the clean floors.
“What do you mean?” She asks in that heavy Latin accent of hers, “What happened Mi?” She comes across gently as I begin explaining to her everything. Everything meaning all the mistakes I made when Matt died and all the people who were subjected to my irrational behavior and cruel words.
Her question merely reminds me of what Chase had said earlier today. It’s been weighing heavily on my heart.
“What happened to you?” I asked him hesitantly.
“You did.” He answered, expressionless.
“It’s my fault.” I tell her, “It’s all my fault that he is the way he is.” I say, referring to Chase. “It’s my fault that he’s hurting.”
“No.” She shakes her head, pushing me back from her so that she can see me properly, “It was your fault he was hurting. Much time has passed since then. Now, if he’s still hurting, it is his fault.”
“I’ve forgiven him Calia, but he has never forgiven me and I’m not sure he ever will. I can’t be held responsible anymore. The grudge he has against me is draining me. I’m so tired Calia, I’m so tired of fighting him on everything.” I sigh as I wipe at my eyes to clear my vision.
“Then don’t.” Accalia advises. I furrow my eyebrows in confusion as I wait patiently for her to elaborate further. “Gabriela, I know Matt’s passing was hard on you. I know this. But I also know that you always endure, always come out on top. You’re a survivor Gabriela.”
I let out a humorless laugh, “Aren’t we all?” I ask, confused.
Accalia gives me a pitied smile as if truly feeling for me in this moment, “Let him go Mi.” She says quietly, seeing right through me, “You have so much potential, so much to still live for. Don’t waste your breath on someone who’s not willing to look unto the future. Being stuck in the past is fatal. Chase will never change Gabriela. He is who he is.”
That’s the problem.
“You’re right Calia.” I breathe in realization, “He’s not the one who changed. I am.”
I’m not going to let Chase push me around anymore. I won’t let him use me as his scapegoat to the perfect life he threw away. I’m done being manipulated and pulled back to the past every time I have a conversation with him. I’m done having my mistake’s thrown in my face. If he doesn’t want to forgive me, that’s his problem. I did my part. My part is over. I’m free to live without constantly feeling guilty.
“Yo!” Leb strolls toward us, curious about his popcorn’s whereabouts, failing to notice my teary eyes. All he notices is the popcorn messed all over the checkered tiles, “What happened to my popcorn?” Caleb frowns, not even waiting for a response before muttering beneath his breath, “Never send a woman to do a man’s job.”
A small smile twitches at the corner of my lips upon hearing his complaint. Accalia, perceptive, notices as she nudges me in the side and gestures to Caleb, “People like him matter. They’re the ones you should be living for, not the ones who don’t care.”
I nod, yet another burden lifted off my chest as I send Accalia an appreciative smile, “Thank you.” I whisper to her, one hundred percent sincere in my heart.
I don’t know what I’d do without her. She’s like my second mother - she’s definitely more approachable than my real mother. She brought Duke up well - a respectful gentleman. Accalia is a person who doesn’t stand for nonsense and she’s big on the whole ‘treating females’ right.
I leave Accalia and head back to the move theater only to hear her scolding Caleb. I glance back over my shoulder to see Accalia waving an accusing finger in Caleb’s face, “Mr Shaw, we have discussed sexist jokes. ‘Never send a woman to do a man’s job?’ It’s not funny, just plain-“
“Insulting.” Caleb finishes for her glumly, “I know.” He drops his head in submission, afraid of Calia’s wrath. She’s got a real feisty side to her, but she’s never used it with me.
Calia pulls Caleb along by his ear, “Come. Let us discuss.”
Caleb glances back at me helplessly as he protests in dismay, “But the movie-“
“Can wait.” Accalia cuts him off. She’s not just a second mother to me. “You, Mister, need another lecture on the opposite sex. I can see it in your eyes. Using females for money…” Accalia ‘tsks’ him, not approving, “I hope for your own sake that you don’t have another girlfriend or I will chop…” Accalia’s voice fades out as she drags Caleb away.
I can’t help but laugh at the scene.
Life isn’t as horrendous and hopeless as it seems. There are those good moments I still cherish. There are the moments that I’m thankful for and then there are those moments that make life for what it is: worth living