“Hi, Gabriela Hill speaking.” I answer my cell, wondering who would call me during my work shift. “Yeah, ahuh. Speaking.” I reply back, the phone pressed up against my ear as I motion to Chase to give me five minutes to take the call. He nods as I turn my back on him for a little privacy, “Mrs Seacrest…” I trail off and glance over my shoulder to see that I’ve sparked Chase’s interest with reference to Brent’s surname. “I just, I can’t do it.” I confess softly, not wanting Chase to overhear the conversation, “I don’t feel ready. Cleaning out his belongings is like erasing him out of the picture completely and I’m not ready to face-”
“Gabriela, please.”Mrs Seacrest, Brent’s mother, begs from the other side of the line.Her voice is raw and laced in thick desperation, “He’d want you to do it.”
I feel my vision begin to blur as I shake my head into the phone,momentarily forgetting that she cannot see the action, “I’m not ready-“
She cuts me off, “I know.”
I pause, my eyes widening, “Excuse me?” I question,bewildered by her random statement.
“He was in love with you Gabriela,” Mrs Seacrest states, “I know he proposed to you. I’m the only one he showed the ring to.”She guilt trips me, using the one thing she knows will convince me to agree to her will so that she doesn’t have to be the one to suffer.
I lost the bloody ring!
A tear falls from my eye at the reminder, “He showed you the ring?” I ask. I don’t give her the chance to answer, “Whether he was in love with me or not -“
“He was.”Mrs Seacrest confirms, her tone livid that I had the audacity to even suggest that Brent didn’t love me. I shouldn’t deny or doubt Brent’s love for me seeing as he lived out a life just for me. It was always made obvious in all he did for me. I’m an idiot for not having seeing it sooner.
“Just because he was in love with me does not make me responsible for all his belongings.” I reply hoarsely, getting emotional. I can’t barge into Brent’s empty home and go through all his things. It’s invasion of his privacy. How am I suppose to choose what to keep and throw out? It’s not fair. It seems disrespectful. I can’t face this,not now. I’ve barely had time to recover and adjust to a life without him in it.
“Legally,it does. He left everything to you.” Mrs Seacrest argues back.There’s no way to work around it because she is in the right. Where’s a damn lawyer when you need one? Where’s Ty? Ty could fight my case.
I let out a reluctant sigh, “Okay.” I breathe, “I’m about to lock up shop now. I’ll head to his place tonight then and sort through all his belongings.” I reassure her, a heavy burden laying heavily upon my heart. “I’ll bring the valuable stuff’round later to your place, once I’m done, and let you and the family go through it all.”
How am I suppose to walk into Brent’s home and not completely fall apart?
It will be the first time being in Brent’s house without his presence. I’m terrified. I don’t think I can do this.
“Thank you Gabriela.” She whispers, leaving an unhingable silence between us before I hear the click of her phone to signal that she hung up.
I place my phone back into my purse as I try avoid Chase’s presence. I don’t want him to see me like this. The tears continue to fall from my eyes as I avert eye contact, looking anywhere but at Chase. At this rate, I’ll be standing with my back to him all day.
I quickly wipe at my eyes when I hear Chase call my name, “Gabriela?”
“Mhmm?”I answer, fidgeting and fiddling with a board to keep myself preoccupied, to keep my mind off the difficult task that I have to go through with after this shift ends. I allow my hair to fall freely around me, blocking my view and hiding my face away from Chase’s penetrating gaze. He’d obviously heard the entire conversation.
Chase doesn’t respond after that and I blow out a small breath of relief at the thought of him leaving me alone for the rest of the day. However,my relief is short lived when Chase places his calloused hand on my shoulder and spins me around to face him. “You okay?” He questions tenderly, lifting my chin upwards so that he can speak tome face to face.
I know there’s tear stains on my red cheeks, so what’s the point in lying and answering ‘yes’ when I’m far from being okay. He knows that I’m not okay. It’s fairly obvious. The proof is in the pudding. His question is aimless, purposeless. He’d merely asked out of common courtesy. Why else would he ask? He doesn’t have any supposed reason to care, not after all the terrible things I’ve said to him.
“It’s nothing I can’t handle. Don’t worry about it.” I manage to get out, his blue eyes running back and forth as he searches my expression for any obvious signs of deceit.
“You’re lying,” is his only response before he goes back to working, leaving me alone to dwell in my thoughts.
The last hour of the day passes by ever so slowly, considering the tiny fact that Chase and I aren’t exchanging words - not currently.Nevertheless, the hour eventually passes. We lock up the surf shack after having packed away everything.
“See you tomorrow.” I wave goodbye to Chase, ready to depart and go my own way, the both of us separating for the remainder of what was left in our day.
Chase doesn’t reply back and quite frankly, right now, I couldn’t careless. I’m not in the mood to deal with his grumpy side. Yet, to my surprise, Chase stays glued to my side as he matches my small strides and slowed pace.
Frowning,I look up at him and motion to the right, “You usually park that side.” I remind him. Maybe he’d forgotten where he parks his car.
“I know.” He retorts, vague as ever, as he keeps walking beside me,”I’m not going to my car.”
“Oh.”I reply, uncertain whether to ask anything more. I don’t want to come across as nosy or make him think that I’m being intrusive if I ask too much, so I leave it as that. It’s when I get to my car and takeout my keys that I begin to grow skeptical. “Chase…” I hesitate before giving it a go, “What are you doing?”
He snatches my car keys right out of my hand as if that’s an answer enough. “I’m coming with you.” He states rather bluntly.
“You don’t even know where I’m going.” I tell him, standing on my tippy toes as I try to grab the keys back. He’s so much taller than me that it’s a strain - an effort. He dangles the keys just out of my reach as he unlocks my car and hops in the driver seat. I place my hands on my hips as I cock my head to the side, puzzled by his actions. “Chase, enough.” I say, exasperated. I don’t mean to come off as rude, but I’m not in the mood to take on nonsense.
“Get in the car Gabriela.” Chase commands fiercely, not at all offended by standoffish behavior (he has a thick skin seeing as I’ve treated him much, much worse before), as he leans across his seat to open the passenger door, “I’m going to help you clean out Brent’s belongings.” Chase finally gives me a proper answer, his sensitive side coming to play. “You shouldn’t have to do it alone.”
I stare at him a little longer, waiting for him to crack and say that he’s joking.
He never says it. He merely grows impatient as he honks the car once to break me out of my reverie.
I can’t help the small smile twitching at the corner of my lips at his thoughtful gesture when climbing into the passenger seat beside him and shutting the door closed after me.
Chase had driven me home first so that I could fetch Brent’s house keys.”I’ll only be a sec’. You can wait here.” I tell Chase from our lounge as I quickly head straight to my room.
I open my bedside drawer and take out Brent’s keys, something I’ve been trying to avoid for a while now. I hurry back to the lounge, only to find my mother speaking to Chase. I mentally sigh. She’s going to chase Chase away, pun intended.
“It’s lovely to see that you and Gabriela are getting on again. You’re good for her.” My mother states to Chase, me standing directly behind him. When her eyes land on me, I give her a pointed look and shake my head.
At this point, he’s going to be running straight out the front door.
My mother merely offers me a smile in return, one of those smiles that mean she’s only going to push her luck further to annoy me, “Gabriela enjoys working with you. She always comes home to say the nicest things about you. She’s been so much happier since, talks my ear off about you.” My mother completely throws me under the bus,humiliating me in front of Chase.
I don’t even speak about him that much. My mother can’t keep her mouth shut to save her life. She did the exact same thing with Brent.
I don’t miss the smirk creeping onto Chase’s lips at hearing my mother’s words, “I didn’t realize Gabriela speaks about me so much.” Chase subtly fishes for more information on the subject.This is definitely going to go straight to his ever growing ego.
I shift to stand beside Chase, embarrassed, as I narrow my gaze at my mother - a signal to tell her to keep quiet.
My mother ignores me flat as she gives into Chase’s prodding, “Oh yes, all the time.” She insists.
Chase grins at this, obviously finding this rather amusing.
“Anyway…”I emphasize, “We really should be going now.” I insist, desperate to leave before my mother reveals anymore to him.
Chase shrugs, “I don’t know. I’ve just started to enjoy myself.”He teases, grinning down at me with that smile of his that gets my blood pumping, my heart beating and my pulse racing. The small action is enough to give me a rush of butterflies.
I glower up at Chase through my lashes, before grabbing hold of his upper arm and forcing him to follow me out the house. All the while,I’m glaring over my shoulder at my mother for being pure evil tonight. She motions in between Chase and I before winking at me suggestively. I roll my eyes at her assumptions before slamming the front door shut after us.
When we get back into my car, Chase doesn’t start my car immediately.Instead, just as I expected, he turns to me with a taunting smirk,”Didn’t even know that you talked about me.” He drops casually, however, his smirk proves just how comical he finds this current predicament I’ve found myself stuck in.
“Don’t flatter yourself!” I snap at him as a light blush coats my tan cheeks.
Chase ends up laughing at my reaction, his blue eyes glowing in pure delight at seeing me squirm. “I won’t, seeing as you apparently do enough of it for me.” He teases further, getting under my skin as he continues to push my buttons.
My cheeks redden tremendously as my blush deepens. I shift my gaze to the window to avoid seeing him. That plan backfires. I can see his reflection in the window, his cocky smirk still in place as he finally starts up the car and reverses out of the driveway.
“This house feels so empty.” I remark softly as I gaze around at everything still in place since I was last here with Brent.
“Yeah?”Chase prods for the sake of replying and not coming off as rude.
“Yeah.”I confirm as I make my way to Brent’s bedroom, pushing back all my sadness and quenching my fear of facing this.
His bedroom walls and sheets are green seeing as it was his all time favorite color. Everyone knew that, even those who didn’t know him.Remembering his beautiful, ‘full of life’ emerald eyes has me concluding that green has to absolutely be my favorite color too.
“It’snot the same. Life’s not the same.” I blurt out my thoughts aloud, feeling depressed and nostalgic as I pick up a silver photo frame off Brent’s study desk. Definitely keeping this.
Chase nods as if understanding as he makes his way to me, stopping beside me as he glances down at the photo in my hands. A small smile lights his features as he reminiscences back, “That was a good day.”He states in a matter of fact way.
“It was.” I agree as I take in the picture:
Brent is in the middle and he’s beaming all too happily like the easy going guy he’d always been. Duke and Stella are holding hands just left of him. Tyler’s to his right. I’m in between Chase and Ty. Tyler is pouting up at the camera like an idiot whilst Chase has a casual arm around my shoulders. In the background, there’s Caleb with Jacob and Matt both on is back as if trying to tackle him to the floor, Caleb with a strained expression and the other two in full blown laughter.
“We used to be like a close knit family.” I whisper beneath my breath with longing, my tone inaudible. We could be again. However,Matt and Brent are gone. Our family is broken and I’m not sure it’s possible to go on without the missing pieces. Matt and Brent are irreplaceable.
“I remember this board. Brent never went in without it.” Chase speaks up, referring to the green surfing board Brent adored.
I smile a little at this. Even when Brent’s board had been through turbulent waters, he always refused to get a new surfboard - unlike Caleb and Chase with their stashes of boards. Brent always made Chase fix the green board, no matter the cost. He was adamant that the board was his lucky charm. I think he was just that talented. I wish I could go back in time and tell him that.
Chase must see the anguish in my eyes because he takes the liberty to continue on speaking so that I don’t have to, “I know I never always got on with Brent, but he was an admirable person. I’d always been envious of that, of him. He was a better guy than me. Always will be.” Chase consoles as he purposely - discreetly - gives me time to recollect myself.
Eventually we get into it and begin throwing some of Brent’s old stuff out -only the meaningful things that hold no sentimental value to me or his family.
Chase has been subtly dropping some hints here and there, proving that he somewhat knows of Brent asking me to marry him. I ignore him flat,feigning ignorance, unwilling to get into that with him of all people.
“Were you going to say yes?” Chase asks, point blank.
I freeze, looking up to meet his intense stare, “Yes to what?”I ask him, pretending like I have no idea what he’s talking about when really, I’m right on par.
Chase gives me a knowing look as he narrows his eyes at me, “Would you have said yes?” He repeats sternly, taking this extremely seriously.
I let out a reluctant sigh. Chase is not one to drop things easily.He’s not going to let this go until I answer, yet I try to find an escape anyway, “Chase…” I groan as I trail off, my mood having dampened further, leaving a tense atmosphere in our wake.
No one has asked me such a question as of yet, not that I’d been expecting anyone to ask such a personal question. The people who do know (my mother and Brent’s mother) have assumed their own conclusions. The two of them do not want to offend me or make it anymore difficult for me by asking, despite the fact that I know they both want to know the details. However, Chase has never been the sensitive type. If he wants an answer, he won’t stop until he gets one. He doesn’t take other’s emotions and feelings into account.
“What would your answer have been?” Chase asks for a third time,persistent and driven in forcing me to ask myself the same question.Thinking about what I would have said drives me crazy. Sometimes,it’s even the reason for my lack of sleep at night.
I’ve been trying to avoid such questions because I don’t want to admit the truth to myself. I don’t want to dwell on the answer, the answer that would only hurt me in the end. I don’t want to come out and say what I would have said to Brent that night, unknowing that he’d be dead seconds later. I’d feel too guilty in acknowledging my answer - the answer from my heart. The unquestionable guilt is gut wrenching and makes me feel sick to my stomach for not having the right answer in mind at the time, even now. Why couldn’t it just have been an instant yes?
“No.”I breathe out shamefully, averting my eyes from Chase in the the process. It’s a mistake, because my eyes merely float back to Brent in that photo I had picked up earlier on. Like predicted, the guilt eats at me for admitting it for the first time aloud and in Brent’s house of all places. I’m such a terrible person. You can’t get anyone worse than me.
Why?!Why couldn’t I have just said yes? Why do I still feel that ’yes’would have been the wrong answer. The answer ‘yes’ felt like and still feels like a mistake.
“How come?” Chase asks, his expression unreadable as he keeps pushing me for more answers. I can tell he’s genuinely intrigued in the subject - the heartfelt topic at hand, but he’s doing his best in going about it in a lowkey ‘round about’ kind of way.
I never thought I’d open up about all of this to Chase. This is the first time in years that he’s actually showing a form of interest in my life and my astonishment in him is really taking a toll on me.
Like the soft pattering of rain, I took my time in answering, “Because I left my heart on the front doorstep of someone else.”
“So have you decided what you’re going to use the money for then?”Chase initiates the conversation, something he’s been doing more often than not as of lately.
After we were done at Brent’s place, we’d went straight to his mother’s. I stopped by to let her look through some stuff of Brent’s that I’d imagined her wanting to keep. I didn’t stay long there, especially since Mrs Seacrest was persistent in interrogating Chase on where he’s been nowadays. She’s well aware of the fact that Chase broke away from the friend circle and her questions shot at him were getting a little too demanding for my liking. I had to save him from her merciless questioning, despite the fact that he does the exact same with me.
I take a sip of my vanilla milkshake from my straw before answering,”Yes. I’ve founded an organization with it. It’s an organization that I’ve started in the hopes of reaching out to people suffering from depression. I know Brent’s always had a heart for depressed people.” I explain to Chase. It’s one of the reasons why Brent stuck around when I lost Matt and fell into my own rut of depression.He’d always been good at cheering people up, lifting spirits and giving hope.
“What’sit called?” Chase asks as he finishes off the last of his fries.
I was feeling so down in the dumps after after my trip to Brent’s house and his mother’s house that Chase offered a suggestion: we grab a bite to eat at McDonald. I agreed way too easily, not putting up much of a fight, especially since he insisted that he’d pay. Plus, it’s nice to just sit back and talk with a good old friend. I have missed Chase’s company. Being with him feels just like old times.
“The slogan is: ‘Step by step, Heart by heart’. The actual name is Hope Emerald.” I answer, not bothering to explain the backstory of’emerald’. “Like I said, the organization will specifically deal with depressed people.”
Chase nods and opens his mouth to say something when my phone rings. He closes his mouth and gives me a tight nipped smile before motioning to me to answer my phone. I offer him an apologetic expression before retrieving my cellphone for my bag. It’s when I see the called I.D.that I decide to press the ‘end call’ button.
Chase sees my actions and raises a questioning eyebrow. He doesn’t have to say anything for me to know that he wants an explanation. “My dad.” I sigh, trying to brush off the matter casually as if it’s no big deal, but to me, I suppose it is a great deal.
“He calls you still?” Chase asks. He knows that after Matt died, my father left us - us being my mother and me.
“Yeah.”I answer quietly. “Often.” I admit, “I’m just not ready to speak to him anytime soon, not after he abandoned us.”My father is still persistent in calling me in spite of me never answering his calls. You’d think he’d get the hint by now. He’s driven, I’ll give him that much.
Chase doesn’t comment on that. He tends to refrain from giving his opinion when he doesn’t exactly know that to say. He’s never been the best at comforting others with his words, but he makes up for that through always listening so tentatively to others without ever interrupting.It helps when you have someone to talk to - really talk to, someone to vent to. It’s comforting in itself knowing that you have someone who will listen - Chase, the best listener I know.
The thought that I somewhat have Chase back brings a smile to my face. I glance up at him through my lashes, “Thank you for tonight.”I say, truly appreciative of all that he’s done tonight. Whether it was intentional or not, he really came through for me today. He was there for me when I really needed him. If it weren’t for him…I don’t know how I’d have gotten through tonight without balling my eyes out.
Chase leans back in his seat, his expression mirroring his shock. I’ll admit, ‘thank you’ are two words that don’t come easy to me. Chase is the same with ‘I’m sorry’. We all have our faults. “You’re thanking me now?” He asks with a grin, caught off guard by the sincerity I had used with him. “Since when do you, Gabriela Hill, thank people?” He questions, the mischievous grin still on his face. I should’ve known that he’d milk this.
I roll my eyes at him playfully before throwing a fry at him, “Don’t flatter yourself.”
“Again,you do enough of that for me…apparently anyway.” He winks down at me suavely before eating the fry I had just thrown at him.
I scrunch up my nose in disgust, “Ewe.”
He merely shrugs as if he couldn’t care less.
I shake my head at him, averting eye contact, trying to hold back a smile.
“What?”He asks me, seeing the ‘over the moon’ look in my eyes.
“Nothing.”I murmur, not wanting to spoil the moment.
I think I might have just won him back over.