Rachel was out in her backyard, whistling to her dog. Well, it wasn't technically her dog. Lexie was Chris's old mutt, but it usually seemed like she only went to Rachel. Lexie straightened up and stretched before trotting to the fence where Rachel stood.
"Hey, pretty girl," she smiled, stroking Lexie's head. "Can Chris come out and play?"
The dog merely wagged her tail. Rachel laughed and rustled her ears.
"I figured that's what you would say. Go get him, huh? Go get Chris."
Her wet brown eyes stared at Rachel.
"Um, fetch. Sick 'im. Go get Chris. Go, go!"
The dog pushed her head against her hand.
"You know, you're a horrible retriever."
"I've been saying that for years," a voice said from the deck, making her jump. "But Dad insists she's part-retriever."
Rachel smiled weakly. "How about attack tactics? She'll have your leg gnawed off before you can blink. Sick 'im, Lex!"
Lexie trotted over to Chris and licked his hand. The two of them laughed. Chris walked over and kissed her. He leaned against the fence, his face close to hers. They stayed quiet for a time, just looking at each other. Rachel finally looked away, reddening.
"So, I take it you're not taking your dad's turn around so well?" he asked.
"How did you know that?" she said, looking at him again.
"Mom filled me in when I got home. She said he was working again. But I have a feeling you aren't very reassured."
"You're doing it again."
"Ignore the issue. It helps to talk about it."
"Not for me."
"Rach . . ."
She moved away from the fence, growing defensive. "I told you, just drop it."
"Come on, you know you don't have to hide anything from me."
"Damn it, Chris, stop being so understanding!"
His eyes widened. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"What I mean is you have to stop this! You're my boyfriend, not my therapist! You're supposed to argue with me, to not always agree with everything I do or say. You're supposed to care about me, but not worry about taking care of me. You're supposed to . . . to . . ."
She threw her hands in the air. "I can't do this anymore!"
She stomped toward the house. A rough hand grabbed her arm gently, pulling her back. Chris wrapped his arms around her middle, resting his head on her shoulder.
"I do all of that because I know you need it," he whispered. "You never let yourself get close to anyone and right now, all you're doing is trying to find a way to push me away."
He turned her around to face him.
"Well, I'll tell you something, little lady. I'm not going anywhere. You can't rub me off by pretending to be mad at me. I love you. I have since we were kids. And, even if you don't want to say it, I like to think that you love me, too."
He hugged her for a time before letting her go. She looked at his gorgeous eyes. Come on, Rach, her Hannah voice urged again. Do it now! Three little words . . .
She seriously thought about it as they kissed. She did love Chris, so maybe she was ready . . . They jumped apart when Rachel's back door swung open.
"Jeez, what's a guy gotta do to get a welcome mat rolled out for him?" a familiar voice asked.
Rachel looked and thought that she was at first looking at her father. She squinted at the man on her deck. Her heart jumped to her throat when she realized who she was looking at. Her voice sounded soft and weak.
"Hey, sweet," Chase called from the field. "Long time, no see, eh?"
"It was one day," Hannah laughed as she stopped the ball as he rolled it toward her. "Besides, Sunday is my day off."
"Having to answer ridiculous questions from a soccer stranger."
"Well, your break is over, my dear. Come on, show me what you got."
He went to the goal and waited for her to kick. Thanks to some of the teaching Chase gave her, she made eight out of ten goals. She threw her hands up in the air and yelled "Goal!" at the top of her lungs. Chase laughed as he walked over to her.
"I think you've seen too many games on TV. You sound just like those announcers."
She grinned as she tossed him the ball. "Why, thank you. I always thought I had a good announcer voice."
He laughed again as he placed the ball on the ground. Hannah liked that laugh . . . He made eight out of his ten goals. They sat down in the middle of the field. Chase dropped back on his back and looked up at the dark sky.
"I like this place, but I always wished there weren't so many lights," he said. "Did you know that tonight is the night that you can see Jupiter? It's like a big red star. It's always been pretty cool."
Hannah laid down beside him. "I used to do this a lot out at my parents' house. Just look up at the sky for a while. Once, I stayed out there until five in the morning. I wanted to make sure my brother and his friends get home."
"Was one of those friends a little more important to you?"
She reddened immediately in the darkness. Logan was the only friend Garrett had with him that night. "Yeah. I was, uh, just a little stupid back then."
"Did anything happen with that friend?"
"We dated for about a year."
She saw him glance at her from the corner of her eye. "Why did you break up?"
"I felt like . . ." She stopped. Was she ready to tell someone all of this? Logan was a big part of her life. He took everything she had: her trust, her faith, her heart. She missed having all of that. She never told anyone just how much he hurt her, not even the girls.
His hand suddenly took hers. He held it lightly, almost to reassure her. She sighed before continuing.
"It was almost like . . . he didn't want me anymore. It was like he had everything I was, so he didn't really need me. He was the first person I really loved. And then he just acted like I was more of a burden than anything."
"That's ridiculous," Chase said simply. "I've known you for three days and I can't get enough of you."
"That's because I wasn't your clingy, whiny girlfriend."
"Hannah, I highly doubt you were that type of girlfriend. You just had the wrong type of guy."
She smiled past her sudden tears. "And what type of guy do you think I need?"
He grinned mischievously. "Well . . ."
"Don't you dare say you."
"What? Oh, you thought I was implying . . . Oh, no. Nah . . . you're not in my league."
She gasped and hit his stomach. He fought to laugh as he tried to catch his breath.
"Hey!" he coughed. "That could've meant a good thing."
"No, I know what you meant, buster," she growled. "Ask your questions."
"You realize I've asked . . . three already?"
"Then you're down to five."
"Oh, nope, we weren't in that mode yet. They don't count."
"Fine. Eight, then."
He turned on his side to look at her. He smiled and Hannah felt her stomach flutter.
"Okay," he said thoughtfully. "Favorite kind of bread?"
"Colby Jack or just American."
"Hmm . . . tough one. I'd say, cantaloupe."
She glared at him. "If you're mocking my answers, I can just leave."
"I'm kidding, I'm kidding. How many is that?"
"Four. Four more to go."
"Favorite sandwich condiments?"
"I'm ordinary like that. Why are you asking these questions?"
"I'm not done yet, sweet. Favorite songs?"
"'Waiting' by Trapt and '7 Minutes in Heaven' by Fall Out Boy."
"Oh, both good bands."
"I know. Me and the girls love them."
"Oh, jeez, there's dozens. Be more specific."
"Okay, scratch that. We'll try a different route. Favorite actors?"
"Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, and Adam Sandler."
"And favorite movies of those three?"
"Liar Liar, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, and Big Daddy."
He laughed. "I actually like all of those. Talladega Nights is my favorite of them, but they're all classics."
"Yep. I've always loved comedies that eventually have a point. But the mindless pee-your-pants funny is great, too. Okay, your eight are up. My turn."
"I'm an open book for you, sweet."
"Why do you call me that?"
"Oh." He glanced away, embarrassed. "My dad called my mother that all of the time when I was little. When I asked him about it, he said it was a name he saved for someone special."
Hannah giggled. "You are such a suck-up."
He looked back and winked. "You like it, don't you?"
She shook her head. "Favorite band?"
"I'd have to say . . . Stain'd."
"Oh, wow, I really like them, too. I know almost all of their songs."
"I've liked them since the early '90's."
"Okay, um . . . Favorite book?"
"I'd have to say the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. You should really look into them. Kids with wings, major cooperation controls . . . it's amazing and it feels real."
He looked away. "You're going to laugh at me."
"Spiders?! You?! Why?"
"One time when I was really young, I read this book. I can't remember the name of it. It was . . . Scary Stories That Will Chill Your Bones, or something along that nature. Well, I read one that was about a girl that had a spider lay eggs in her cheek. Only thing was, she didn't know the spider laid eggs in her face, she just thought it was this growing welt. A few days later, this welt burst open while she's taking a bath and all of these baby spiders crawl out of her cheek."
"Ew! That's so gross!"
"Swear, it's a story in one of those books. I'll find it."
"That's not even possible."
"It's all about your imagination, Hannah. If you're willing to imagine it, it's possible. Well, the same night I read that story, I found a spider in my bed. Since then I've been terrified of spiders."
Hannah started to laugh. "Oh, you poor thing."
"See? I told you you would laugh!"
"I'm not, I swear!"
"Yeah, you're a terrible liar, sweet. Next question."
She thought momentarily. "Why did you move from England?"
"I was adopted by someone in the States."
"You were adopted? But you talk about your parents all the time."
He nodded. "That's Jim and Heather. They adopted me when I was six and I was moved over here."
"Were you in an orphanage or something when you were in England?"
He laughed weakly. "It's not like Oliver Twist or anything. I was living with my foster parents until they found someone to adopt me. They were just living here. I remember the plane ride over here. I was terrified, thinking I'd get lost in the terminal or I'd fall off the plane somehow. I was six, you know? A lot of ridiculous things run through your head.
"When I landed, I just stood by the entrance, probably looking like my eyes were going to pop out. But one of the social workers I met before was there with Jim. I recognized one face and that was it. It took some getting used to."
"I'd guess. So, Viola, then, is she your real sister?"
He shook his head. "Jim and Heather thought they couldn't have a child on their own, that's why they adopted me. Less than a year after they had me, they had Viola. Heather always joked that they thought I needed a playmate. But the 'sweet' thing actually comes from my foster parents in England, Will and Christine. Will always called Christine his sweet. That just stuck with me."
"So, to sum it up, you have two sets of parents?"
He nodded. "Well, three if you want to be technical, but I never knew my birth parents. But there were plenty to cover for them. I still keep in touch with Will and Christine and Jim and Heather are my parents. I even officially took their last name."
"Wow, I thought having two parents was hard enough."
"But you learn to appreciate them after a while."
They were quiet for a time, just looking up at the sky. After a bit, Chase glanced at her.
"Any more questions?" he asked.
"No," she answered. "Not right now."
They went quiet again. Hannah wouldn't ask any more questions right then, but she knew she had a lot more to learn about her soccer stranger. She suddenly realized with a blush that they had been holding hands the whole time.