A Short Story. By me.
Chase has been my best friend since I was five. He’d been seven. We lived around the block from each other. Our parents got to be friends because of our friendship. We hung out constantly. Not only did we live close together. We shared fantasy lives, we were always hunting fairy folk in the woods not far from our homes. We made a fort in the hedges in front of my parents house. We lived under there during the summer. Eating sandwiches and making secret codes. From our hedges we saw Mrs. Freiss, my neighbor, bring home a man who wasn’t Mr. Freiss.
When my parents divorced, Chase was my rock. A shoulder to cry on. Mom kept the house and dad moved to the city. I would go visit him every other weekend. Chase would meet up with me on the Monday after and we’d walk to school.
As we went through high school, he played football and soccer. I attended every game. I listened to his heart break after Tina dumped him at his senior prom. He was in college for two years while I worked on the school newspaper and decided that art and writing were my career choices. Highschool wasn’t the same after Chase graduated. It wasn’t nearly as fun. Or as safe. I hadn’t realized how much of a freak I was until the cool guy that was Chase moved on.
My mother insisted I was an individual. Marching to the beat of a different drummer. Other kids my age called me a freak and a hippie. I hung out with the other freaks and hippies because they didn’t care. My teacher and counselor told me I could write well. It was his recommendations that got me into college.
Being a Freshman in college was crazy, but it was a lot easier because Chase was there. We were constantly in contact with each other before. Even after I started college, even if it was just a quick message here and there, we stayed best friends. Texting in boring classes. E-mails. He’s the only guy who sent me actual mail. Through the actual post office. I kept the letter. I framed the envelope. I still attended his football games. He read everything I wrote.
My father gave me money for an apartment, so I didn’t have to live on campus after the first year of college. I think he was worried that I’d run around with more freaks and become a drug addict or some such. Fathers, even divorced ones, seemed to come up with weird thoughts.
The apartment had been a very welcome surprise and a huge place. It had three bedrooms and three baths. Two in each of the two bigger rooms and another in the hall. Dad told me I could get a room mate if I really wanted, but we’d have to share the bills.
It seemed only natural, with Chase needing to finish his college and masters program and having had problems with roommates, that he share the apartment. It was perfect, all told. He had such crazy hours of study and then interneships, that he didn’t mind mine. He didn’t care when I took up photography and turned the tiniest bedroom into a dark room. I didn’t care that he littered the front room with his destressing mechanisms. Legos and video games.
When people started buying my photographs, he cheered me on. When he got a job as a promising architect, I cheered him. And five years later, I gave him photographs to decorate his new office that showed his new rank in the firm. He preferred black and white.
“Hey, Bri, are you home?” I heard the door shut and keys jangled in the bowl on the table.
“In the dark room! Almost done. You’re home early.”
I liked to watch the photographs change before my eyes. It was one of the few crazy things I liked to do. Most of my pictures were digital, but sometimes, I just wanted to mess with the chemicals and paper. Get my hands involved in it some how, besides using the mouse on the computer.
“There’s this thing tonight. Some sort of gala. My office is hosting it, so I have to go thought maybe you might like to go with me.”
I hung the photo up to dry. Drying my hands on the apron I had tossed on over my jeans and t-shirt, I opened the door. “Me? You sure you don’t want to find a date?”
He shrugged a shoulder. Chase had kept up with his football physique and he filled out the shoulders of his suit to bursting. “No one I want to ask, to be honest. Wanna go?”
Looking at his suit, I had to ask, “How fancy is this ‘gala’?”
Chase grinned and his green eyes sparkled at me. I had my answer before he actually uttered the words, “Black tie.”
He grinned as I slumped my shoulders. I could do black tie. I had in the past. Both my parents had taken me with them to one thing or another. I owned fancy clothes, I just didn’t prefer them. Chase was moving down the hall to his room, shrugging out of his suit coat. I followed, tugging my apron over my head.
“What’s the gala for, anyway? Did the firm get another big client?”
Chase hung his coat in closet and walked back out, unbuttoning his white shirt. He liked his clothes dry cleaned. Most of mine were wash and wear. It’s a wonder we liked each other so well.
“It’s a pet project of Tomlinson. It’s to benefit the theater arts. You could bring your camera.”
I perked up when he said it. It must have shown on my face, because Chase laughed pleasantly before telling me, “We’ll have two hours before we have to leave. You want to eat before we go?”
“Wanna eat after?” I asked as he tossed his undershirt into the hamper and stepped into the bath.
“That might be best. We’d have more time to eat. Oh, I got a new project today. Modifying the Brinsley center down town. Wanna swing by tomorrow? It’d be fun to do before and after pictures. I’ll pay you. It’d be a company gig.”
Leaning on the door frame, I watched him turn the faucet on the shower and steam slowly began to build, “Sure. Sounds like fun. Black tie?”
He laughed and pulled a towel from the cabinet and dumped it on the toilet seat, “Very. If I weren’t working for the company, I wouldn’t go. There’s going to be a jazz combo on site. Finger foods catered. An open bar. It’s like $500 a ticket. “
I mouthed a silent ‘wow’. “Then I guess I’d better go change.”
He grinned at me, flashing his perfect teeth, “That might be good.”
I pulled the door closed behind me and moved to the next door. My room was cluttered, where Chase’s was neat and sleek. Of course, it was. All his legos were in the front room. Books and sundries were stacked here and there. Now and again, I decluttered. Which meant, I mostly rearranged the clutter.
I stepped into my closet and thumbed through the formal dresses. I pulled out a deep blue strapless dress. Swirls of fabric gathered around my body, hugging it. The folds of the blue skirt draped down to my ankles. I had some blue strappy flats that completed the dress. I piled my brown and caramel colored hair to my head in a loose twist. Draping a sapphire pendant and it’s silver chain around my neck, I declared myself fit for a black tie event. Even after I changed them to tasteful silver hoops, I hoped no one took offense at my multi pierced ears. I was ever amazed at what people took for strange.
After adding a bit of makeup, I turned my attention to my camera bag. I checked my batteries and flash. I transferred everything into a tasteful carry bag and looked up at the knock. Chase grinned at me, surveying my outfit, “You look fantastic.”
I surveyed him equally as he stood there in his tux. “You look like a GQ ad.”
A smile flashed at me, “I tried.”
The open, ground floor of the five story building sprawled amid mirrors, glass and decorated support columns which were now festooned with white twinkling lights. In the center of the floor was a star shaped fountain. The lights on the water, shimmered between white and blue. It wasn’t long before I had my bag stowed and my camera out. The people were festive and beverages of all alcoholic levels flowed from the bar. Serving staff mingled with the guests carrying finger foods and flutes of champagne and wine.
I was surprised when I recognized some of the people. My father’s law firm had several people in attendance. They asked me about my work. I think they were surprised to see me. I guess I should dress up more often.
Hearing a giggle I glanced up from taking a picture of the contrast between the twinkly lights and the fountain. Chase had gotten himself cornered by a giggler. He hated giggling. She was as blonde as she could get from a bottle and her dress was skin tight and an inch from being indecent at the top and the bottom. Adjusting my camera, I zoomed and framed his face and took the picture. I’d call it “Chagrin”, or “Loathe of Giggling”. I moved easily to his side.
“There you are!” I beamed at him, wrapping my arm around his, “I wondered where you’d gotten off to.” The relief on his face was quickly covered by a smile.
“Brileigh, this is Shannon.”
I beamed a smile at Shannon just in time to see the frost in her eyes as she scowled at me. I was certain that blue was only found in contact lenses. “Thank you for keeping him company, Shannon. I’ll take him off your hands now.” Let you find someone else to get your talons into.
Pulling on Chase’s arm, I led him in the general direction of ‘away’. He wrested his arm from me, and hugged it around me, “You’re the best, Brileigh. I’ll buy dinner for that rescue alone.”He took a deep breath and exhaled, “The giggling wouldn’t stop. Like someone wound her up and let her go.”
I snickered and swallowed a laugh. We were intercepted by Tom Young. Chase’s counterpart in the firm. “Chase, You haven’t introduced me to your photographer friend.”
I felt Chase stiffen next to me. He didn’t like Tom, it was a well known fact. Chase considered him lazy and worthless. I didn’t like him because Chase didn’t, and his eyes stayed too long on my dress than they did on my eyes. He held out his hand, and to be polite I shook it. His hands were clammy and his grip was weak. My stomach turned just a bit. “I”m Tom Young.”
“Brileigh Teague.” Chase said coldly.
Tom smiled like a snake oil salesman and I tried to retrieve my hand. He took my camera quickly and put it in Chase’s hands and I was being led away toward the music. A quick glance over my shoulder, I hoped, sent the appropriately desperate S.O.S., to Chase.
It was a slow dance and for just a moment, I thought about making myself vomit, just so he wouldn’t touch me with his clammy hands. But I refrained and managed to keep a stiff arm between us so that all he was able to lay on me was a clammy hand.
“You’re a photographer.”
I nodded mutely. He’d just taken the camera out of my hands. Idiot. The faster this dance was over, the happier I could be. I thought about twisting my ankle. Small pain would be a relief as he continued to make what he thought was charming small talk.
“What was your favorite thing to take pictures of?”
“I don’t think I have a favorite.”
“Excuse me.” Chase came along side, “Tom, Briggs wants to talk to you.” He didn’t wait but took my hand and slid into place as my dancing partner. Mr. Young had no choice but to step aside.
Chase danced me away and I smiled at him. He stood a good foot taller than my 5’6” and he watched over my head as Tom stood for an angry moment, before storming away. Chase could dance. He had the natural grace of an athlete. He suddenly smiled at me, which was my clue that Young was gone.
“Where’s my camera?”
“Diane has it.” Diane was his assistant. I’d met her and we got along well enough. We’d all met before for lunch occasionally. We danced the song and it was easy to follow Chase and I let him hold me closer than I would have allowed Young.
When the song was over, we stood at the side of the dance floor. Diane came to stand with us. Chase stopped what he was about to say, when Diane started talking. She put my camera in my hands and whispered to us both, “Sherry Granville is very interested in talking to you Chase about designing a wing of her Grandfather’s hospital. And I think she would like to know you better.”
Chase looked over the crowd, “Does she need to talk to me now?”
Diane gave him a knowing smile, “I think she’d like to more than just talk, if you know what I mean.” Her voice changed to the officious tone of business, “But you’d better make first contact. Especially before Tom does.”
Chase squeezed my hand and moved off. Diane slid her arm through mine and leaned in for a conspiratorial whisper, “Alexander Baxter was asking about you. I told him you were the person who took the pictures in Chase’s office. He asked if you two were a couple.” She chuckled, “I told him no. He wants to meet you. He has the dreamiest accent.”
She pulled me toward the bar, and I went silently. I had no choice, I couldn’t get a word in edgewise.
Alexander Baxter originally hailed from France. He’d come to America when he was a teen ager, immigrating with his family. His accent had softened much, but it still floated in his speech. Like vanilla scented the air when my grandmother made cake. He was handsome, I admit. His hand shake was firm and not clammy at all. His smile was winning and, for a moment, I was enthralled. Diane made the introductions and left us standing at the bar.
I took a glass of a blushing wine as He asked about my photography.
“It’s really more of a hobby. My first passion is writing.”
“Ah. Do you write stories to go along with your pictures, then?”
I smiled slightly and tasted the wine, “I have been known to do that, yes.” He had an interesting profile that didn’t seem to match his face when looking directly at him. His profile was sharper and his face was more square and blunt. I saw Tom Young coming our way and asked Alexander if he’d like to move away from the bar. He followed my gaze and grinned slightly as I picked up my camera.
“Lead the way. Take some pictures and I’ll watch you work.”
I raised an eyebrow at the way he said it, but moved toward the band and motioned with my camera. I got the nod from the ones that were paying attention. They were a jazz combo I’d heard before, when I was writing on the music scene for a local magazine. The magazine had published some of my pictures, too. If I could get a good enough reputation, I could earn money at this.
I took some abstract pictures of hands and instruments. Things that caught my eye, before stepping back to take pictures of the band members in action. Alexander leaned over my shoulder to look as I scrolled through the pictures on my display.
“Those are excellent.” He tapped one of the bass players fingers on the fret board, the angle showed his other hand on the plucking the strings, but not quite in focus, “Can you edit out his shirt?”
I nodded. I’d been considering the very same thing. With my editing software, I could distort the shirt and simply create a back ground. Or delete it all together.
“If you can edit it out - I’ll order a dozen poster size.”
I looked at him sharply, “A dozen?”
He smiled and I realized how closely he was standing to me, “A dozen. I own a small chain of music stores. That photo would make a fantastic decoration.”
Alexander wasn’t moving away. My stomach knotted and my voice sounded insanely small and highpitched when I asked, “How soon do you want them?”
I had to be crazy. He was handsome. He liked my photography. He moved as if he were going to kiss me and I balked. I stepped away just a bit to get my lips a few inches from his, “Do you have a card? Somehow I can contact you when they’re done?”
Alexander smiled slightly and studied my face. I’m not sure what he saw there, but his smile didn’t waver as I held his gaze. I could make the excuse that I didn’t kiss on the first date, but knew it would sound very lame. He was fishing a business card from inside his tuxedo coat. He was handsome. He smelled great. I was an idiot.
“Perhaps we could have lunch this week and discuss more of your photographs?”
I took his card and smiled, gratefully. He was giving me a graceful exit and an invitation, “That would be ... Lovely.” I pulled one of my own cards, my own design, out of my clutch hanging from my elbow. He took it with a smile and moved away.
I waited until he was fully away before I sighed and admitted that my knees were weak and my spine was, too. I sought refuge in a glass alcove. A curved leather sofa was tucked under the glass. During the day, it would be a hot house on the sofa. Tonight, it was a welcome hiding place behind a twinkling pillar. I sank gratefully into the middle of the couch.
The camera on my lap and the card in my hand. What would Alexander say, the French owner of a chain of music stores, if I showed up to lunch in my normal work clothes. Clothes that ranged from jeans and t-shirts to endless layers of skirts.
In a posture that didn’t do my dress justice, I slumped down on the sofa. I sat like that for ten minutes before Chase found me and joined me on the sofa.
I adjusted my posture as he sat next to me. Kicking off my shoes I brought my feet up and rested my knees on his legs. His arm rested on the back of the sofa, his fingers lightly on my shoulder.
“How’d it go with the hospital lady?”I wanted to know as I rested my head on his shoulder.
“I got the job. And a dinner date. I saw you at the bar with Alex. I designed one of his music stores.”
“Really?” Small world. “He just ordered one of my pictures. And asked me out to lunch this week to discuss more.”
We let the silence fall between us. He was my best friend. I knew something was bothering him, but wasn’t sure what. I just knew he would tell me when he was ready. So we sat on the sofa for fifteen minutes. Watching what we could see of the ‘gala’ around the twinkling pillar in front of us.
“There you are!” Diane announced as she came around the pillar. Her exasperation was evident, “People are asking about you, Chase.” She looked at us with petulance, “Look at you! Sitting there all cozy. The way you two are behaving tonight, it’s no wonder you don’t get dates. People think you’re together.”
Neither of us move or comment as she leaves. I’m not sure either of us worries over much. We never did before. I was ready to leave and wondered if he was too. Food sounded good. Real food. It would be fun to walk into the nearest fast food chain in our black tie clothes and order over done french fries.
“I don’t want to be friends any more.” Chase announced.
My french fried day dream shattered when my heart stopped. I sat up sharply and turned, trying to see his expression in the dim light. Did he bring me here, just to tell me that? Somewhere I couldn’t kill him, or make a scene. “What?”
“I came very close to laying Tom Young out on the floor when he couldn’t stop staring at your breasts.” He growled. “Then Alex nearly kissed you.”
“You were watching that?” I asked frowning. I hadn’t realized it had been so obvious. “You were with the hospital lady.”
“I never let you out of my sight, Brileigh. I don’t want to be friends. Not any more.” He put a hand gently against my protests, “I’ve not wanted to be friends since I came back from that trip to Seattle and found you asleep on the sofa. Camera, laptop, mp3 player, and a stuffed bear. Along with about three coffee cups from that place on the corner.”
Now that I wasn’t staring a them, my eyes were adjusting to the glow on his face from the twinkling lights on the pillar. My heart did a double beat as it restarted. For a very long moment, I wasn’t sure I should believe what I thought he was telling me. The trip to Seattle was over eight months ago. He’d acted weird at first, but had settled back into the normal routine. I thought maybe he’d had a bad trip or jet lag. He’d even gone out and bought some new legos. He spent several nights building two giant space ships, while I worked on photo editing.
“Say something, Brileigh.”
What could I say? He was the only one who knew to crawl under the hedges to find me when we were younger - he was the only one who knew where to find me now. What could I say? I kissed him. Leaning on my knees, wrapping my arms around his neck, I kissed him. He took my lips with his and wrapped his arms around me, pressing the flat of his hand between my shoulder blades.
After what seemed like an eternal moment, after both our lips hummed with each other, I pressed my forehead against his, Chase’s hands still against my back.
“Does this mean I get to play with the legos?”
His laughter wrapped around me as if it were part of himself embracing me. It was the loveliest way for our friendship to turn into romance.
© Comfy Denim 2010