Chaz had started pre-med classes at Tulane the same year as Sabrina. Alec, no longer in the picture, and denied his scholarship to LSU, had joined the army a year before they graduated. Although it seemed as if Alec had been gone for a long time, Chaz knew firsthand how firmly planted Alec was in Sabrina’s heart and mind. He knew Alec was the only man Sabrina thought about, wanted, and would ever love. He also knew that Alec returned on occasion to see his mother and Sabrina. He was jealous that they got to see him and he didn’t.
Because of their lengthy friendship and long history, Chaz had always looked at Sabrina through eyes of love…and friendship. Of course, she was very beautiful. Sabrina’s was an exotic beauty that caused most men’s heads to swivel on their necks when they saw her. Chaz secretly admitted that he’d even thought about making a move on her, but that was before he figured out that Alec occasionally returned to the city. However, truth be known, he loved and respected Alec too much.
Chaz didn’t make friends easily and he doggedly clung to the ones he’d made. His relationship with Alec was the deepest bond he’d ever had with another male, including his father. Chaz would never do anything to jeopardize that. He’d never betray Alec. He wanted to maintain their friendship and brotherhood at all costs.
Besides, he wanted a relationship with someone a little less complicated than the dark-haired beauty that had turned professional hooker. Admittedly, he was ashamed to think that way about Sabrina, but he couldn’t help it. He figured that situation was a knot for Alec to unravel and he wanted to stay away from it. Chaz simply didn’t have the patience or time to devote to the dramas that now consumed Sabrina’s life. His studies at Tulane took all of his time and energy.
Although Chaz was quick to admit Sabrina had suffered several life-changing circumstances, and he truly felt for her, he was disappointed in her new career choice. He recalled their first conversation the night she had told him about it.
“A hooker? You’re going to be a hooker?” He’d blurted out in utter surprise.
“Not hooker, Chaz. I’m a paid escort. Some men are too powerful to let any woman into their circle without proper screening and vetting. The very fact that I’m associated with Madam Tabby, gives me credibility. My clients know that I’m not only discreet, I’m also healthy.”
“Just a fancy word for hooker,” Chaz had stubbornly argued. “What will Alec think of you now? Have you considered his feelings?”
“Alec loves me. He will understand.”
“Well, I don’t understand, Sabrina,” he’d stormed.
“Please don’t be like this, Chaz. You’re my best friend, my only same-age-friend. I could really use your support, at least emotionally.”
“I will always be your friend, Sabrina, but I don’t have to like the changes you’ve made.”
Chaz was frustrated. He felt abandoned because she wasn’t there to study with him as she had been for years. She had broken the promise they’d made to each other when only young children: they’d complete their medical degrees and residency together. Now, Sabrina planned to complete her bachelors and he’d have to face medical school and his hospital residency alone. It irked him.
Logically, he understood the necessity Sabrina felt to provide for herself financially, especially after her father had flaked-out and lost everything the family owned. Henry Devereux’s last days had left his daughter, not only ashamed of him, but also destitute and homeless. As heartbreaking as that was, Chaz couldn’t reconcile Sabrina’s current choices with the young girl he had known for most of his life. She was brilliant. She would’ve made an excellent doctor. He couldn’t reconcile the fact that she would waste her talents on men who only wanted to use her. Chaz was shocked, but he was also disheartened about the entire situation.
In truth, neither his prior education nor his parents had successfully prepared him for the many changes that occur during a person’s course in life. They’d said the words, but the information was lost on him then. He was just beginning to understand that life happens, moving along a current beyond anyone’s control. He was beginning to see that plans, even specific plans such as he’d made with Sabrina, can, and often do, go awry. Looking at Alec and Sabrina’s life was proof of that. It was disturbing.
Though nothing compared to his friends’ path, Chaz had to admit that his own life was also problematic. His prior education hadn’t fully prepared him for college. Still, he held true to his personal commitments and refused to compromise those goals. He couldn’t afford the distractions of the ‘new’ Sabrina or her three-ring circus. It hurt. It hurt a lot, and his anger kept him from being more sympathetic. He offered Sabrina the support of a friend, but that was as far as he allowed himself to get involved.
As far as Alec Winters was concerned, Chaz had a clean conscious and wanted to keep it that way. He’d stood by Alec throughout the trial and the hypocritical attitudes of community and school. He’d never believed that Alec or Catalina killed their drunkard father and couldn’t believe others thought they did. He also accepted that his loyalty to the Winters’ family was very unpopular. That friendship had cost him dearly in many ways.
Always interested in medical reports, and trying to prove Alec’s innocence, Chaz had read the medical examiners conclusions about Buck Winters’ death and he disagreed with the M.E. He even ran it by his parents to get their professional opinion. They supported Chaz’s theory that Buck Winters had died of fright or a heart attack that horrible night, but the old M.E. wouldn’t listen to anyone’s opinions. He stuck with his initial assessment, labeling the cause of death as murder.
After Alec was released on bail, Chaz and Danaé had even gotten into the morgue to get a look at the body. That was a trick in itself, but Danaé was the most resourceful person he knew. Somehow, she pulled it off.
When Chaz and Danaé saw the terrified, frozen look on the old man’s face, they were convinced. Chaz used a pencil to lift the sheet and examine the deceased’s neck. “This is why they called it murder,” he’d pointed out. “See the redness and bruising?”
“Yes,” Danaé replied, “but Alec explained that he jumped on his father’s back to keep him from raping Catalina. He admitted that he tried to choke him out. Remember, Alec said Buck was so strong it had little effect. There has to be a way to tell that those marks were made from behind rather than from a frontal assault. There has to be a way to prove his innocence.”
“There is,” Chaz said. “They, the police and the M.E., just don’t want to see it. The body supports everything Alec and Catalina Winters reported. It’s here for anyone to see. Clinically, and considering Buck Winters’ preexisting health issues, there isn’t any other way to interpret it. The old M.E. is a stubborn old bastard though and he won’t change his report.”
“Well, it makes me feel better to know that Alec didn’t do it,” Danaé admitted. “Not that I ever believed him capable of this trumped up rot.”
“Me too on both accounts,” Chaz had solemnly agreed.
Chaz often thought about Alec Winters, especially during lulls between classes or when driving. Admittedly, he was angry that his closest friend hadn’t contacted him. He knew that Sabrina, Cassidy, and Catalina had seen him each time he returned to New Orleans. Being left out hurt his feelings.
Chaz, consumed by those thoughts while driving home, stopped at a traffic light. A homeless man approached his car with a dirty rag, offering to wipe his windshield for a dollar. Chaz rolled down his window to wave away the vagabond, but then looked more closely. He discovered that bright blue eyes twinkled with amusement behind the dirty hoodie and grimy face.
“Alec!” he exclaimed. “Get in!”
“Chaz,” Alec grinned as he slid into the passenger seat.
“Jesus Alec, I would’ve never recognized you if not for the eyes!”
“That’s the point. How are you?”
“Better now that I’m honored by your company. I admit that I was feeling a bit left out…I knew you saw your mother and Sabrina on occasion, but I haven’t seen ‘hide nor hair’ of you since you left.”
“I know,” Alec admitted, “but it’s more difficult to catch you off campus. You don’t make it easy to show myself.”
“Is this how you look when you see Cassidy and Sabrina?” Chaz curiously asked.
“Sometimes. Sometimes, I wear a baseball uniform. Other times, I wear some other disguise. That’s the way it has to be for now.”
“What do you think about Sabrina’s new career, Alec?” Chaz cautiously asked.
“I think Sabrina is making the best of a very bad situation.”
“She’s given up her goals and become a hooker!” Chaz angrily blurted out. “It makes me so mad, Alec. I can’t believe she is wasting her life like this.”
“No, she hasn’t,” Alec’s voice was calm, but steely. “There’s a significant difference between the kind of woman who sells herself on the street and will fuck anyone-anywhere because her pimp tells her to do so. What Sabrina does is selective and discreet. Most of the time it isn’t even about sex. Give her some slack, Chaz. Life can turn like a dime and it certainly turned on all of us. Be kind and forgiving towards her. She was your friend long before I met you. She deserves the benefit of the doubt.”
“So, you don’t mind that she sees other men, that she is intimate with paid customers?”
“I didn’t say that I didn’t mind. I said that she is doing the best she can. Just as I had our lives planned out, which included LSU and marriage to Sabrina, nothing went along with the schedule. Life kicked that option to the curb. Do you hate me because I joined the army and never made it to college?”
“No, of course not.”
“I can’t fault Sabrina either. I respect her reasons. I respect and love her. So do you, even if you’ve forgotten that right now,” Alec explained.
“You’re right,” Chaz grudgingly admitted. “I have been a little hard on her.” At Alec’s raised brows, he added, “All right, I’ve been very hard on her. I’m sorry. It was such a huge change from what we planned to do. The fact that she changed and wouldn’t fulfill the promises we made as young children hit me hard.”
“I know it did. You must remember that breaking those promises wasn’t something she planned to do. Keeping those promises was something that she could no longer do. Imagine how she must feel to see her dreams washed away by such torrential thunderstorms. Just don’t kick her when she’s down, ok?”
“Sure,” Chaz sheepishly replied before changing the subject. “How long are you in town?”
“I’m on my way out now. You were my final stop.”
“Glad I made the cut this time,” Chaz said.
“It’s tricky. One thing I’ve learned from all of this, Chaz, is that I’m not navigating the ship. I never was. I’m only along for the ride. Let me out at the next intersection. I’ll try to spend more time with you when I’m back. Do you know Zack Weaver?” Alec asked.
“No, I can’t say that I do. Who is he to you?”
“Mom started dating him a few years back. They knew each other in high school and reunited a couple of years after dad died. He lives off Magazine Street on Delachaise. Since I can’t easily go to the house on Carrollton, I meet mother over there. The reporters don’t know about Zack yet, so his home has become a safe meeting place. Look him up; get familiar with his address. I’ll get word to you next time I’m in town,” Alec said as he got out of the car. Chaz watched him disappear into an alley before he continued on his way.