The Bulletproof

Weeping Duck

Vaguely inspired by La Roux's song "Bulletproof"

Chapter 1

"See You In My Nightmares"

"Is this new toothpaste?"

Chase Romano uncapped the lid of the Colgate toothpaste tube and squirted a line onto his toothbrush. His twin sister, Chesnea, stood beside him in the upstairs bathroom that they shared, furiously brushing her teeth after they'd binged on two whole cartons of strawberries by themselves. She shrugged her tanned shoulders, exposed by the green and yellow halter top she was wearing.

"I think it is," Chase said, answering his own question and shoving his toothbrush into his mouth. Since he was still wearing the plain white tee shirt he'd slept in, Chase took the liberty of brushing his teeth without worrying about splattering toothpaste onto his clothes; always clumsy, Chase had a long record of dirtying shirts before he even left the house.

Having finished, Chesnea rinsed her purple toothbrush carefully and put it away in the medicine cabinet. "What are you doing today?" she asked, her brow furrowed in curiosity. It was after four o'clock in the afternoon, but her brother still wasn't dressed; she was beginning to wonder if he was even going to bother putting on real clothes at all today. "Or should I say tonight?"

Chase playfully saluted Chesnea with his middle finger but muttered nothing until he had finished brushing his teeth. "Work starts back tomorrow. Let me live out a full summer day in peace before I sign my life away again."

Chesnea smirked. "This is your fifth day of summer."

"No, no, no." Chase crossed his arms over his chest, a sign that he was going to stand his ground on his opinion for this one. "Our senior trip doesn't count. Those four days weren't how I'd normally spend a nice summer day."

"Whatever."

Five days ago, Chase and Chesnea had graduated from their high school in Orlando, Florida, and they and their friends had been on a flight to Chicago hours after the ceremony for their senior trip. So technically Chase had a point, but Chesnea chose to ignore it while she observed his untamed, sandy blond hair—unruly from him sleeping on it, particularly since Chase was known for his fitful sleeping. Seeing his hair in such a mess made Chesnea want to use her flat iron on her own hair again, but she decided that his messy tresses were just making her paranoid.

"Let me be lazy today." Chase put away his toothbrush and looked at Chesnea eagerly. "Then you can harp on me to be more productive."

"You get to laze around the pool every day for three months again, starting tomorrow," Chesnea pointed out, raising her eyebrows. "Plus you get paid for it."

"But I'll be lifeguarding," Chase argued. He widened his eyes theatrically. "You know I won't be able to relax for even a minute. I'll be so concerned and worried about all the little brats drowning that I'll be stressed out every minute of every day."

Knowing that her brother stressed over nothing of the sort, Chesnea could only laugh. "Shut up. And comb your hair—please."

Chase made a face, but he was secretly amused. He and Chesnea were such opposites that it really did crack him up when he thought about it. The college decision was a perfect example of their personalities. Chesnea had researched nearly every university in the state of Florida, since they both wanted to stay semi-close to their widowed father, and she had been the one that made plans to visit the top five options. Chase just wore the clothes that Chesnea picked out, drove her to the correct campuses, and managed to stay awake while she conversed with admissions counselors and tour guides. Chesnea had filled out college applications for them both, mulled over financial aid opportunities, and insured that all of the paperwork was complete, for which Chase was admittedly thankful. Still, sometimes he had to mock Chesnea for having all of her life together and all of his.

"Chesnea! Mail for you!"

Chase's and Chesnea's identical sets of blue eyes met in confusion. The voice they'd heard calling from downstairs belonged to their father, who, according to tradition, should not have arrived home for several more hours, as he spent, on average, about eighteen hours every day at his law firm. For him to be home before eight was a miracle—before five could only mean tragedy.

After a moment of silence, the twins simultaneously exited the bathroom. "Do you think he quit his job?" Chase whispered urgently, following his sister down the hall and down the stairs to the living room. "Won the lottery? Got abducted to the mother ship? Something's got to be up."

Being on the same path with her thinking, Chesnea didn't even give Chase the incredulous glance that he would normally deserve for suggesting something so drastic and out of character. Instead, she just smiled brightly and gave her father a quick hug. "Hey, Dad." She reached for the letter from the University of South Florida, the chosen college, and immediately began tearing open the envelope. "How was work?"

Graham Romano, a tall man with thinning dark blond hair and a thin build, returned his daughter's smile. "It was good." He looked over his children quickly and laughed lightly. "Let me guess. Chesnea, you've been out with Carter or the girls today, and, Chase, you stayed in bed till two."

Grinning boyishly, Chase corrected, "It was a little closer till three."

"And then I dragged him up," Chesnea put in, her eyes scanning her letter quickly. "You were close on me too, Dad. Lunch with the girls, and I'm going over to Carter's in a little while." She paused and exchanged a quick stealthy glance with Chase. "Unless, you know, you have something planned around here."

Recognizing the bait, Chase helped his sister fish for information from their dad. "Yeah, Dad. I mean, if you need me to put myself together—it can be done."

Chesnea laughed. "That's a seldom offer that I wouldn't turn down."

"Ouch, Chez," Graham laughed. He then shook his head. "No, I didn't have anything planned. What's that letter from South Florida say?"

"It's just a list of what classes from Valencia transferred there," Chesnea answered easily. She paused and frowned. "Wasn't there one for Chase too?"

Graham scanned through the mail. "No… Maybe they didn't want to waste the paper for the one course you conned him into taking."

Under normal circumstances, Chase would have made a face and replied with something snippy, but he kept silent and tried to blend in with the living room furniture. He remembered where he went wrong on this one. While Chesnea had taken a handful of courses at the local community college, in order to get through college faster, he had taken one; when Chesnea sent the request to have her Valencia Community College transcript sent to the University of South Florida, she'd done the same for Chase, asking only that he put his signature on the paper, seal the envelope, and put the already-stamped envelope in the mail box.

He'd forgotten.

"I know that face." Chesnea crossed her arms and directed her frown at Chase. The twins stared at each other, silently conversing about what had happened, and, after a moment, Chesnea sighed. "I'll print another request."

Chase smiled sheepishly. "I'll sign this one."

"Not if I forge your signature first," Chesnea challenged.

"I'm pretty sure that's illegal," Chase commented, crossing his arms.

Graham rolled his eyes. "I'm pretty sure it's the best option for making sure all of your paperwork gets done, Chase."

Sensing the underlying disappointment in his father's voice, Chase momentarily hung his head; he'd have the decency to look ashamed for at least five minutes but saw no point in stressing over his error; it was fixable. "You and Carter got big plans tonight?" he asked Chesnea, eyeing her carefully with his subject change.

Chesnea folded her letter and placed it back in the envelope neatly. "Not really. Just getting dinner and watching a movie at his house."

"That sounds like fun," Graham commented with an approving smile.

Smiling brightly, though not brightly enough, Chesnea nodded her head enthusiastically. "Yup, I'm sure it will be." She took a step back, saying, "I'm going to run this up to my room. Carter should be here any minute."

Chase's eyes followed his sister, a slight frown on his face. Perhaps he was just being an overprotective big brother—something he could admit to being frequently—but his twin-dar was picking up on something with Chesnea; her rushing away was a sign of avoidance, and she was clearly avoiding elaborating about her plans with Carter, her boyfriend or something of the sort, as she herself had never referred to him as such.

"Chase?"

He looked up at his father's quiet tone quickly, becoming concerned when he noted Graham's furrowed brow. "Yeah, Dad?"

"How's Chesnea doing? With Carter, I mean."

Evidently Chesnea's hurriedness had caught their father's attention as well, unless he was just genuinely curious about his daughter's new love interest. Chase relaxed his face, not willing to show his own concern until he talked to Chesnea himself; he didn't want to worry their father unnecessarily or make Chesnea have to deal with unwarranted concern if there was no issue. "She's good," he answered nonchalantly. "I don't think they've declared their eternal love or anything yet, but he's good to her, and they get along well."

The crease deepened in Graham's forehead, making him look years older than he truly was. "And everything else? She's…better?"

"Yeah," Chase replied, keeping his expression masked. "Chester's fine."

- - -

"I can't believe you fell asleep during the movie," Carter Sullivan laughed as he and Chesnea climbed into his Jeep. "I thought it was really good."

Chesnea managed a sleepy smile and blinked her eyes blearily. She'd spent the evening lounging with Carter and watching Planet of the Apes, but less than halfway through the film, Chesnea had conked out and slept until Carter had gently awakened her. Now he was driving her home. "Sorry. I hate it when I fall asleep like that."

Laughing softer, Carter shrugged. "It's okay. I'm glad you got some rest."

Chesnea rubbed at the back of her neck, where soreness had set in from her sleeping position on Carter's couch. "What I saw of the movie was good," she offered with a smile. "I promise to stay awake next time."

Reaching over, Carter caught Chesnea's hand and gave it a delicate squeeze, his eyes glossed over with affection. "If you get sleepy then, you should sleep then too." He backed out of his driveway and cast a glance at Chesnea. "You didn't eat earlier. Do you want me to stop and get you something on the way to your house?"

"Aww, no." Chesnea shook her head gently, tucking a strand of her sandy hair behind her right ear. "No, thanks, Carter. I'm too sleepy to eat."

It was silent for a moment in Carter's Jeep, and Chesnea took the time to think about how sweet Carter Sullivan really was. She had known him for a long time. They'd gone to the same middle school and had been acquaintances, but they'd drifted when they moved to the much larger high school. During junior year they'd had a class together, but it wasn't until the second semester of senior year that they'd really become friends. After many matchmaking attempts from some mutual friends, Chesnea had finally agreed to go to her senior prom with him—as friends—despite the fact that she did not want to go to prom at all. In the end, she'd had a pretty good time with him and had allowed him to steal a kiss when their night together ended. Since that night about a month ago, they'd hung out pretty frequently, whether it was with a group or as a couple. Carter was a good guy.

"You start work again tomorrow, don't you, Chez?" Carter asked, breaking the silence.

Chesnea stifled a yawn. "Mmhmm. Tomorrow at ten-thirty."

"Are you excited to go back?"

For the past three summers, Chesnea had been working as a lifeguard at Shanghai Hills, a local recreation center. This summer, since she'd been working there the longest of all the returning lifeguards—Chase had begun working a year after her—she would be the head lifeguard, having many more responsibilities than she had previously. Excited may not have been the word for it, as much as Chesnea enjoyed her job.

Carter went on without waiting for her answer, "I mean, you'll see more of your summer friends now."

"True," Chesnea agreed, thinking about Layken Peterson and Sloane Mitchell, two lifeguards that were like sisters to her, though the girls went to different schools and barely saw each other when it wasn't summertime. "But it'll be different this year. Some of my good friends aren't coming back."

An audible swallow came from Carter's side of the vehicle, and both of them knew why. It was because one of the good friends that Chesnea spoke of was Brandon Malone. "You'll still have fun," Carter said gently, turning his Jeep onto Chesnea's street. "I might try to swing by and say hey tomorrow. Maybe bring you lunch?"

Chesnea smiled faintly. "Aww, you don't have to do that." She leaned over and brushed her lips against Carter's cheek, mainly because she felt obligated to. "Come see me if you have time. I'll introduce you to everybody."

Though she was aware of Carter saying something back to her, Chesnea was too lost in her thoughts to hear what he was saying, reminding her of darker days of her not-so-far-away past. The implication of Brandon Malone shot a surge of pain through Chesnea's chest. Somehow, with finals, graduation, and her senior trip, Chesnea had kept her mind off of her ex-boyfriend, but the sudden return of thoughts of Brandon and knowing that she'd be spending most of her days at the pool, where she used to spend so many of her days with Brandon, hit her harder than she would have liked.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Carter was saying when Chesnea made herself focus. She looked over at him and tried to mirror the pleasant expression on his face; she hoped her attempt was successful. "Good night, Chez."

"Good night, Carter. Thanks for driving me home."

"No problem."

Carefully, Chesnea opened the Jeep's door and slid out of the car, making her way up her driveway and into her house. It appeared as though all of the lights were off downstairs, but she could hear noise from the television coming from the family room. Chesnea stole a glance at the clock hanging in the foyer; it was only nearing eleven o'clock, so there was no reason to be surprised that Chase was still awake, probably watching the NBA finals or something.

Chesnea kicked off her flip-flops by the door and walked down the hallway, bypassing the side entrance to the kitchen and passing the downstairs bathroom; she walked down the hallway until she came to the entryway for the family room, peering inside to see Chase stretched across the couch on his back, his forearm thrown over his forehead and his eyes focused on a basketball game.

"Hey, Chester," Chase greeted, sitting up and making room for his sister.

Chesnea maneuvered over to the couch and sat down, pulling her knees up against her chest in the fetal position. "Hi, Chasey." She let her eyes drift to the television. "Pistons and Cavaliers?"

"Yup, Eastern Conference Finals, game seven," Chase replied, turning the volume on the television down several notches and shifting his direction toward his sister. "How was your date with Carter?"

Chesnea wrinkled her nose. "Don't say date. It wasn't a date."

"Excuse me." Chase smirked. "How would you like for me to refer to all of the time that you spend with Carter?"

Shrugging her shoulders easily, Chesnea suggested, "How about Carter Time? That's about all it is to me."

"Is that some bitterness that I sense in your tone, Miss Romano?" Chase teased. Despite his taunting note, his sister's response increased the worry that he'd begun feeling earlier. "Is Carter Sullivan not the dream guy that our friends promised?"

Chesnea shoved at her brother's arm, rolling her blue eyes grandly. "He's nice enough. Nobody lied about that."

"I'd hope not."

Chase remembered very clearly how strongly their friends had built up Carter's case to Chesnea, eager to get her out of her slump after her tragic breakup with Brandon Malone. They'd tried their hardest at playing matchmakers to cheer up Chesnea and to set Carter up with the girl he'd been crushing on for a long time. Had all of the energy of the matchmaking efforts been used toward pleading a prisoner's case, Chase was convinced that their friends could have gotten a convicted murderer off of death row.

Tipping his head at his sister, Chase studied Chesnea. Her eyes were no longer dull, her skin's glimmer had returned, and her build was no longer skin covering bones. But there were more than just physical improvements. After the Halloween breakup, Chesnea had spiraled into a terrible depression. She'd stopped hanging out with her friends, quit the cheerleading squad, and dropped all of her extracurricular activities. Chesnea barely talked and never smiled, a huge change from the happy, smiley girl that everyone knew and loved. It was March before she ventured out on weekends with even Chase and April before she resumed spending time with her best friends. Brandon Malone had killed her spirit.

Now, however, after two solid months of being back in the social scene, Chesnea seemed happier, and Chase's constant worrying had slacked off drastically. Though he could always see easily that Chesnea was nowhere near as interested in Carter as he was in her, her blatantly disinterested comment caught Chase's attention.

"Carter's not your boyfriend yet then, I take it," Chase commented casually.

Chesnea shook her head slowly. "Nope. We're really just friends." She sighed loudly, sinking back against the couch's cushion tiredly. "Honestly, Chase…I'm kind of glad that we're going to be busy with work soon. That means I won't have to spend as much time with him anymore."

That surprised Chase, and he let it show on his face; it was entirely unlike Chesnea to say something negative about someone, even to her twin brother. "What are you talking about? I thought you liked hanging out with him."

"He's nice," Chesnea allowed, "but I know that he's more into me than I am into him. I don't like feeling like I'm leading him on, you know? I don't have any intentions of dating him. After summer, we'll be at different colleges, and I don't…"

Chase, who was watching his sister carefully, was surprised when Chesnea's eyes grew teary. "You don't what?" he asked softly.

"I don't want to go through that again."

Though Chase felt like he should hug Chesnea or something, he didn't. He understood what she was talking about, where she was coming from with her spill. Chesnea and Brandon had been dating for about three years when Brandon, being a year older, had left to attend college out of state. It had been very hard for them to deal with the distance, but Chesnea had believed they were making it work. Then, at Halloween, Brandon had shot a torpedo through her heart when he had unexpectedly broken up with her, citing the distance between them as the reason for their split.

Chesnea bit her lower lip gently. "I don't know how to tell him that though." She looked at Chase with wide, innocent eyes. "Want to tell him for me?"

"No, thank you," Chase answered with a little laugh, vaguely amused by his sister's proposal. "Just be honest with him. It's what you would normally do." Chase stretched his arms over his head. "Me? I'd just start being too busy to answer his calls and hope that he got the picture sooner rather than later."

"Well…that's because you're a jerk," Chesnea commented affectionately. "I have much more class than you do."

"Oh, that was lovely, twin."

Chesnea shrugged her thin shoulders and looked at the television, watching an instant replay of Lebron James doing something grand with a basketball. "Are you ever going to find yourself a girl, Chasey?"

"I doubt it." Chase made a face. "It's a little hard when you're allowed to date my friends, but I'm not allowed to date yours."

Grinning, Chesnea stifled another yawn. "Sorry. It's just a bad idea to mix friends and siblings." Her grin faded, and her lips turned into a sad smile. "We've kind of seen that firsthand already, haven't we?"

Chase didn't answer. It was true, sort of. He and Brandon had been very good friends all throughout high school, and their friendship had definitely suffered when Brandon had broken up with Chesnea. Instead of remaining close, Chase and Brandon now only exchanged an occasional text message, and that had only been manageable after Chesnea had started coming out of her slump.

Chesnea's stomach growled, prompting Chase to look at her with a raised brow. "Want to make some popcorn?" he asked. "I'm kind of hungry myself."

Readjusting her position on the couch in order to stretch her legs over the coffee table, Chesnea shook her head. "No."

Chase tilted his head slowly. "Okay, no popcorn. What about something else?"

"I think I'm just going to go to bed. I'm really sleepy."

"Chesnea." Chase was frowning now, but he resisted the strongest desire to sternly fold his arms over his chest, knowing that it wouldn't do any good if he did. "What'd you and Carter get for dinner?"

Chesnea's eyes dropped to her lap, and she played with her hands, pretending not to notice the heat on her cheeks. "I wasn't hungry then."

Chase sighed deeply. He had discovered his sister's eating disorder during Christmas break. Before that, he'd blamed her weight loss on loss of appetite after Brandon, but he'd caught her throwing up, and Chesnea had been forced to confess. Chase had always known that she struggled with nausea when she was upset or stressed, but Chesnea had admitted to stress-related bulimic tendencies that had only gotten worse after the breakup. When Brandon had broken Chesnea's heart, he had truly devastated her entire being.

"I ate today," Chesnea said quickly. "If you're thinking that I didn't. I ate with the girls, and I ate all those strawberries with you." She raised her head to meet Chase's eyes, hating the disappointment that was looking back at her. "I ate."

"You didn't eat enough if your stomach is growling now," Chase pointed out, trying his hardest to be sensitive and firm at the same time. "What about some more fruit? We've got bananas. And I think we have kiwi."

Chesnea normally smiled when Chase mocked her love of fruit, but now was not the time. Instead, she shook her head sadly. "I just want to go to sleep."

"I'm making ravioli," Chase declared insistently, a deep scowl on his handsome face. "I can't make you eat it, and you know that I won't try to, but I'm hungry, and maybe the smell will be enticing."

"Since you're cooking it?" Chesnea teased. "I'm sure your cooking skills will shine brilliantly."

"Don't be mean," Chase whined, standing up from the couch. He offered his hand over to Chesnea. "Come on, Chester. Keep me company while I try to cook, and then you can go to bed."

Chesnea laughed lightly and allowed Chase to pull her to her feet. "Do you want company or heating instructions out of me?"

"Both," Chase admitted. "Besides, I'd prefer it if you were awake while the stove's on, just in case I catch the house on fire."

"Did you and Dad do anything tonight?"

"Nope," Chase replied as the twins entered the kitchen. He obtained a can of ravioli and a saucepan, instantly beginning the preparations for his midnight snack. "After you left, Spencer came over, and Dad went back to the office."

Chesnea sat at the kitchen table, her chin in her hands, and thought about that. "He never said why he was home early?"

"Nope." Chase opened the can of ravioli, poured the pasta into the saucepan, and placed it on the stovetop. "Do I heat this on high or medium?"

"Chase, just use the microwave," Chesnea groaned.

Chase frowned stubbornly, refusing to take his sister's advice. However, five minutes and a cloud of smoke later, he wished that he'd listened to her.