The sun was beating down and the air shimmered with heat. It was barely the crack of dawn and no civilized person would be expected to be out of bed and interacting with polite society, and yet there Chase was, watering a bunch of goddamn plants.
Honestly what kind of father suggested working off a minor felony at a bloody farmer's market instead of a simple trip to a juvenile detention center? Of course, Tarragon had been happy to jump on the chance- most likely just for the chance to sleep in, the lazy sod. In Chase's defense, it had been a rather small greenhouse that had been blown up, though after what Randy had done to that one bed of petunias... Chase was probably lucky no one was suggesting he be hung and/or drawn and quartered.
He glared at the eight thousandth box of stupid flowers he had to haul out of the greenhouse pickup truck. Really, he should be blaming all his fellow "cult members", as the police had gleefully called them, for abandoning him to take the fall when they all fled upon seeing a portly, half-asleep gardener spot them in front of her burning greenhouse.
Honestly, could you really call them a cult when most of the Black Hawks' time was spent smoking pot, listening to Tom bitch about everything under the sun, and occasionally accidentally drunkenly blowing up greenhouses? Chase didn't think so.
Thus, the shitty, unpaid work in the tourist hell hole also known as the daily farmer's market. He was probably already getting sunburnt too, just to add injury to insult.
Man, fuck all those jerks, see if he ever painstakingly shoved exam preparation down their throats at the last minute again when he'd done the exact same thing.
He heaved the last crate onto a wooden table, which creaked alarmingly, but didn't collapse like Chase had assumed it would the last five mornings.
Green Thumbs was the name of the farmer's market that took place every year from late spring to early summer, mostly populated by tourists who wanted to "rediscover their roots" or some other bullcrap, which took the form of buying shitty beeswax candles and overpriced organic ice cream. And apparently also in the form of buying potted plants and wilting bouquets of flowers, for some ungodly reason.
Tarragon's Garden Center had a booth smack in the middle of the entire debacle, meaning a good fifty percent of the people who stopped at it were either asking where the nearest bathroom was or where the Starbucks was.
The truth was it was only a block up from the market, but Chase was an asshole and always sent them to the shitty one four blocks uphill away, mostly out of spite or sheer schadenfreude. If Chase couldn't have nice coffee, then neither could the pretentious jackasses who liked to move the carefully arranged plants around without putting them back and who let their dogs wreak havoc without compunction.
There hadn't been many booths open during the first week and a half of his indentured servitude- Tarragon had made him weed out all of the garden beds when he'd called it slavery on his first day- but the emptiness was to be expected, given it was only nearing the end of May. Although, he wouldn't have faulted any confusion given how bloody hot it was, even at nine in the morning.
After less than a week on the job, Tarragon had decided that he was competent enough to handle setting up all the plant crap on his own, which he thought said more about her desire for a lie-in than Chase's own competence with flowers. Which was pretty non-existent.
He really had no clue if it had been his father or Tarragon who had decided that him getting decent marks in botany in high school meant he knew how to deal with the care and maintenance of foliage, but regardless, they were incredibly mistaken. All Chase had learned in that pointless class was how to accurately draw an aspen leaf and he had memorized the entire section on the language of flowers at the back of their ancient textbooks, just so he could send bouquets to his ex-girlfriends that secretly meant things like 'unfaithful cow' for Chase's own, singular, petty amusement. There had also probably been a section on composting or something, but he'd forgotten it the instant he'd no longer need to know enough to try and cram it into Randy's thick skull before the final exam.
This morning, it seemed that a few other unlucky sods had been forced to show up at the hellhole, given the sudden increase in activity in the booths around him.
Maybe that meant he'd get less Starbucks questions, since there would be people who weren't perpetually scowl-y to ask. He almost felt disappointed until he remembered that he'd remembered to pack a book to read to kill time.
Across from Tarragon's booth was some sort of bakery thing. It had been empty until that morning, just a few lonely tables and a hand-painted sign so faded Chase could only tell it was a bakery because of the cartoon muffins. It looked like today Chase has going to have a neighbour. Maybe he could get them in on the Starbucks prank.
The luckless bastard who worked there was busily setting out cutesy baskets of bread and crap, so Chase didn't bother trying to get their attention. Instead, he spent fifteen minutes ripping petals off of the wilted flowers he couldn't sell and imagining it was Anya's stupid head.
Eventually the kid across the way ran out of things to fuss over and settled onto an uncomfortable looking stool and Chase got his first good look at him.
He was... adorable. His hair was cut in some tragic bowl cut more suited to a little kid, and his expression was very serious. Chase just wanted to go over and give the kid a noogie and maybe poke him in the cheek until he cracked and smiled.
Chase tilted his head, considering. He was also kinda cute, ignoring the dumb hair and the dumb button-down shirt (really in that heat? Clearly the kid was a loony). Chase leant forward, resting his chin on one hand. The kid was also probably old enough for this to not be creepy. Probably. Eh, good enough for him.
He jumped when the kid noticed Chase staring and nearly toppled off his stool in surprise.
Chase grinned, probably showing too many teeth. Adorable.
Now that he'd been caught he supposed he ought to introduce himself. And he could hardly do that without a gift if he was going to ask a favour like continuing a stupid prank. It was only polite, really.
Tarragon liked to give kids that stopped by free flowers, so there was always buckets of stuff that couldn't be sold because it was wilted or had been chewed on by a bug or something, so Chase dug into that. First baby's breath, because the kid seemed so adorably naive, then white lilacs for the same reason, and a bit of wisteria because the bouquet's purpose was to 'welcome'.
The kid's eyebrows rose as he first watched Chase hastily slap together the bunch of flowers and then they rose further when Chase made his way across the road to him.
"Hey there," Chase greeted, grinning like a madman. "These are for you. I'm Chase"
"Where's Mrs. Tarragon?" The kid asked instead of being polite and introducing himself in turn. "Is she okay with you giving away flowers like this?"
Chase shrugged. "She's probably at home sleeping while I slave away here. And they're out of the discard bin, so don't get too excited." He waggled the bunch, trying to get the kid to take them. "C'mon I picked off a bug out of it and everything, just for you."
Hesitantly, the kid took them, like he was worried they'd bite or something. And after Chase had gone to all the trouble of picking that gross beetle looking thing off of it for the kid.
"Do you work for Mrs. Tarragon?" The kid asked, setting the flowers down quickly.
"No, I just stole her truck and set up all her dumb plants at her booth in this tourist-infested hell."
The kid looked a bit alarmed, like he hadn't ever heard of sarcasm, so Chase added, "Yeah I work for her. Sort of."
"Sort of?" The kid asked, looking lost.
Chase shrugged. "Long story. One of her greenhouses got a bit blown up because I have horrible taste in friends and so now I'm working for her to pay off their stupidity."
The kid was looking even more alarmed so Chase plowed on ahead anyways. He was nothing if not good at ignoring when he'd made people uncomfortable. "What's your name?" He asked, trying to tone down the creeper grin a few notches.
"Oh, I'm Isaac... My nan owns the bakery so I work here every summer."
He didn't look very thrilled by this so Chase said, "Lucky it's not the rest of the year too, yeah?"
Isaac nodded. "Well. Yes. I mean, until now I'd be busy with school, but now I'm done I'm going to be working here... forever, I guess." He looked even less happy than before, nice one Chase.
On the bright side, he said he was out of school, so that meant he was legal. Probably.
Chase was about to make a comment that was probably not well thought through, when the first pack of tourists rounded the corner, looking cheery and obnoxious as usual.
"Ugh. It begins," Chase muttered, glowering at a yuppie with a dog and two tiny kids. Because there was no god, Chase just knew he'd have to deal with her and her hellspawn.
"They're not that bad," Isaac said, but he didn't sound terribly convinced.
"Guess I should go deal with them," Chase said as a couple headed towards Tarragon's booth. It was almost certainly his hate-fueled imagination, but he swore they had matching demonic smirks on their faces, like they were plotting which table of plants to mix up first. "Nice to meet you, neighbour."
The rest of the morning was much like the rest except for the part where inexplicably there were people that actually wanted to buy flowers and shit instead of just asking for directions and suddenly he was being harassed from every corner about 'is this plant a perennial or an annual?' and 'how much sun does this one need?'.
So basically, it was nothing like the last week and a half and Chase knew fuck-all what he was doing. The Starbucks people were still around, so there was at least one thing he could purposefully do wrong rather than by accident.
It was just after twelve when the steady stream of people abruptly died off. Apparently, people had better places to spend their lunch breaks or something. Chase did not get yuppies.
Instead of sitting back down and being useless like usual, Chase set about watering the plants. It wasn't out of a sudden urge to be a good employee or a sudden streak of helpfulness that the whole community service thing was probably supposed to inspire, but rather because Tarragon normally showed up after lunch with more plants and shit and got crabby when the watering wasn't done.
Isaac was perched on the stool at the bakery booth, which inexplicably hadn't gotten flooded (yuppies, man, they chose plants over baked good? What the hell), and was making a series of involuntary faces at Chase, or rather his actions.
He'd been doing that, especially whenever Chase needed to make something up about succulents or pill bug removal when a tourist asked him a question that wasn't about Starbucks or the location of the restrooms. Some of his bullshit was vaguely based on things he sort of remembered from botany, the rest whatever he thought would sound the least like he'd pulled it out of his ass, and really the worst that could happen was that some plants wouldn't make it. And then they'd come back and get more plants from Tarragon. Really, Chase was just being a good salesperson.
But he could only take so many faces pulled in his direction, so eventually he called over, "Your face is going to stick that way!"
Isaac, predictably, turned pink, apparently having not noticed that he'd been making faces, or maybe having not noticed that Chase had noticed.
He also, sadly, did not explain why he'd been making faces, which had kind of had been the point.
There weren't any more yuppies around, so Chase didn't feel too bad about abandoning his watering can to go talk to Isaac again instead of shouting across the road.
"So, what's with the faces?" He asked, leaning both elbows on the counter.
"Oh, um, I didn't mean..." Isaac mumbled, still pink around the edges, though that could have been from the sun still beating down relentlessly.
"Course you didn't. But you were for a reason, so what is it?"
Isaac shifted uncomfortably, but didn't answer.
Chase noticed that the sad little bouquet he'd given Isaac that morning had been carefully arranged in a jam jar and tucked out of the way. This was both adorable, but also gave him an idea.
"Be right back," he said and went back to Tarragon's to dig through the discard buckets again.
He found a whole bunch of chrysanthemums, but they were yellow not white, which wasn't right at all, so he left them be. Luckily, he found a couple sprigs of bluebells, slightly squashed and wilted, so he brought those over.
"Here," he said, brandishing them at Isaac, who jumped, either from the brandishing or from not having seen Chase dash back over.
Isaac took them, looking a bit confused, but added them to the others in the jam jar.
"Now you've accepted them, so I've bought you off. You have to tell me now!"
Isaac actually smiled slightly at this. "Because you gave me rejected flowers?"
"A gift," Chase emphasized. "Means you have to tell the truth. So, what was I doing that has your knickers in a twist?"
"It's not a big deal or anything..."
Chase gestured for him to get on with it.
"It's just," Isaac picked at a faded friendship bracelet, "How much do you know about plants?"
"I am awesome at drawing them," Chase told him sincerely, "And that is about it."
"Oh." Isaac frowned. "Because you shouldn't water the dusty miller that much, they don't need that much water. And they should have more sun," he explained, gesturing at one of the shelves of plants tucked under the shade of the booth.
"Which one is that?" Chase asked, squinting at where Isaac had gestured. He didn't really bother to tell the non-flowering ones apart, they all looked the same anyways.
"The silvery looking one, fairly small."
Chase went over to the plants and found the one Isaac had described. There was a bit of water in the tray the potted plant sat in, so he drained that and stuck it in with some of the plants that sat in full sun next to the booth.
"Better?" He asked Isaac when he was finished.
Isaac nodded. "It's funny that Mrs. Tarragon doesn't have you doing inventory or the accounting instead of dealing with her plants directly, since you don't know a lot about them..." He said.
Chase nodded. "I know, right? I tried convince her and my dad that I could be her cabana boy or eye candy or something, but neither of them went for it. I had to quit my job at Starbucks and everything."
"You worked at Starbucks?"
Chase levelled him a look. "That's all you got out of that? Really? Yeah, I worked at Starbucks. The good one not the shitty one, too."
"I can help you with the plants... I mean if you want. I don't mean to be rude, I just-"
"That would be fantastic," Chase said emphatically. "I am not exaggerating when I say I know fuckall about plants."
Isaac gave him a timid smile. "Okay."
Not long after that Tarragon showed up, eyebrows raised in surprise, presumably because the stand wasn't in the shambles it usually was following Chase being at it alone.
"Same time tomorrow," She said by way of goodbye, much less grumpily than usual. Chase really needed to remember to thank Isaac for his help with the plants if this was what happened when he didn't fuck the plant stuff up. Maybe he should get him a gift. It'd probably have to be more reject flowers given how outstandingly broke Chase was, due to having to quit his gainful employment to a soulless coffee corporation in favor of being an unpaid indentured plant servant.
He grabbed his bag, waved goodbye to Isaac and headed home on foot since it wasn't raining and he was too broke for the bus.
Charles Sr., occasionally referred as Chase's father, wasn't home because it was only like four in the afternoon, but his mom was conspicuously absent from her normal spot in the conservatory or in her bedroom.
Chase sighed and started checking the larger cupboards and closets, knocking gently on the doors before opening the doors.
He found her on his fifth try, in the extra empty pantry off the kitchen.
"Hey mom," he said to the form curled up tightly the corner. He crouched down so he could see her better under the shelf. "What's wrong?"
Eyes peered out at him suspiciously. "People were at the door. They wanted to take me away. They tried to get in." She shifted slightly so she was crouched on her feet, hands braced on the wall. Chase shifted back so he wasn't fully blocking the doorway. "You want me to go away. You always make me take all those pills, poisoning my mind."
"They're just melatonin pills, mom, remember? I showed you how the bottle was sealed before I gave them to you," Chase said, feeling far more weary than half a day sitting on his ass selling plants should have reasonably made him feel.
His mother had struggled with mental health problems since before he'd been born, but towards the end of his stint in high school, things had taken a real downward spiral, resulting in her rarely leaving the house. In a normal family, this sort of thing would have been followed by seeing a doctor of some kind, but given the magnitude of asshole his father was, the only thing that had happened was Chase doing whatever research he could on his own to find the little things he could do. Hence the melatonin. Half the internet said it was malarkey, but the other half said it had a slim chance of helping his mom relax. Given his dearth of choices, Chase chose to believe it did some good. It hardly could do more harm than Charles Sr. did with his inaction.
"Why are you in my house?" His mother asked, her expression torn between honest curiosity and suspicion.
Mentally, Chase sighed. Looked like she was having a worse day than he'd thought. Her failing to recognize him as her son was reserved for her very worst days, the ones where it was best to make her as comfortable as possible and then leave her alone before she got too wound up in fear and mistrust.
"It's just me, Chase, remember? I brought you flowers like I always do, your favourites." He leant forward and set the flowers down as far into the pantry he could reach without moving. She shuffled forward to snatch them and then scuttled back to the corner.
Pink carnations, rosemary and windflowers, tied together with a bit of string.
She looked up from the flowers at him. For a second Chase thought he saw a hint of recognition, but she said, a bit wistfully. "My son was named Chase, but he left."
Chase barely resisted sighing. "Well, I'm not going to leave. Do you want to come out of here and sit in the conservatory? It's a beautiful day out."
"No!" she snapped, pressing herself harder against the wall. "You can't make me!"
"Okay," Chase agreed. "Are you hungry? I can bring you some soup."
She stared hard at him hard for a minute. Chase waited patiently. Getting his mom to eat was always a bit of a game, but it was one he was good at winning. He'd had a fair amount of practice in the last few years. After watching him silently for another long moment, she finally nodded like he knew she would- Chase doubted she'd eaten since the day before, she had to be starving.
Winning their little game didn't give him any sort of satisfaction, just the usual low simmering frustration with his father. He stomped back into the kitchen to get some soup from the fridge.
This couldn't continue as it was. Charles Sr. worked nine to five without fail every weekday and Chase himself was working odd hours with Tarragon, and inevitably his mom was left alone at least for a few hours. Charles Sr. refused to have her put in assisted living despite neither of them being qualified to look after her.
It wasn't because they couldn't afford it. It wasn't because they had no choice. It was only because Charles Sr. cared more about what people would say if they heard about her condition than his wife's health. Like having a shut-in wife didn't fuel all of its own set of rumours. In his more charitable moments, Chase thought that maybe his father's refusal to act stemmed from a strange sort of belief that if he didn't outwardly acknowledge his wife's situation, it wouldn't really be real. Most of the time though, Chase just thought his father was a heartless bastard who cared more for his reputation than the woman he'd married.
But his reputation would just have to suffer the indignity of having a mentally ill wife, because this wasn't working, Chase fumed as he went through the familiar process of making his mother dinner- calorie dense and quick to eat, given her growing mistrust of food, even ones that only Chase touched.
Chase set the bowl of soup down inside the pantry.
"It's poisoned," his mom insisted.
"No, it isn't," Chase said, "See, here, I'll have a sip." He picked up the spoon and ate a mouthful.
She eyed him carefully, so Chase took another spoonful and then pushed the bowl closer to him mom before scooting back out of reach.
"I don't like you. Go away," she told him, but she was moving towards the bowl, so it counted as a win.
"Okay," Chase agreed. This was a common enough announcement, and not one that he let upset him anymore. He'd been in grade nine the first time she'd said anything like that. He'd cried, and she'd cried too and she'd told him that she hadn't meant it, she'd just been confused for a moment and had gotten him mixed up with someone else. It had been a long time since she'd had the self-awareness to say anything of the kind again.
"I'll be in the conservatory if you need me," Chase said and got to his feet, feeling like he was a hundred years old.
He left the pantry door partly open so he could hear her if something happened, and flopped bonelessly onto a couch in the conservatory.
Late afternoon light streamed in through the enormous windows, making it almost uncomfortably warm. Once upon a time, the room had been filled with houseplants and little potted tomato plants when his mom had still enjoyed gardening. The plants had died unfortunate deaths with only Charles Sr. and himself to look after them.
He supposed with his experience at Tarragon's and Isaac's guidance he probably could have managed not to kill a fern or something, but his heart really wasn't in it. The conservatory had always been his mother's domain, and Chase always felt like an interloper in there anyways.
He drifted to sleep slowly, remembering his mom smiling holding a watering can, telling Chase not to knock that cactus over for goodness sake...
He was roughly shaken awake. Enough time had passed that the room was shockingly dim compared to the bright sunlight he'd fallen asleep in.
"Where's your mother?" Charles Sr. demanded, gripping him tightly by the shoulders.
Chase struggled to sit up, still feeling half asleep. "In the spare pantry," He muttered, rubbing at his eyes. His nap had gone on a lot longer than he'd meant it to and his brain felt fuzzy.
Charles Sr. let go of him and abruptly left the room.
"Dad, hey wait-" Chase scrambled to follow him, "Just leave her alone, she's fine in there."
Charles Sr. was already standing in the pantry, trying to pull his mom to her feet. "Come on out of here, dear. Let's go-"
"No!" she shouted, trying to twist out his grip.
"Dad-" Chase grabbed him by the shoulder but was shrugged off.
"You'll be more comfortable in your room, so why don't you-"
"No! Don't touch me!" She yelled, starting to struggle harder, nearly hitting her head on a shelf in the small space.
"Come on. You're just overtired. If you-" Charles Sr. started to say, pulling her forward. "Sonofa-" he stumbled backwards into Chase, knocking both of them out of the pantry and back into the hall. His mom crawled back under the shelf, glaring balefully at both of them.
"She bit me!" Charles Sr. hissed, holding one hand carefully. Chase peered over his shoulder; sure enough, the meat of his palm had a series of red marks. Though the skin hadn't been broken, the bite was rapidly purpling in spots.
"Outside," Chase snapped and dragged his father out through the back door in the kitchen before he could get his wits about him and protest.
"We can't keep this up," Chase said very seriously. "We need to-"
"I will not have her locked up," Charles Sr. hissed vehemently. Both of them looked over at the still open door. Chase shut it. The last thing they need was for her to hear them talking about sending her away.
"She's getting worse! I saw a FedEx slip on the door and she told me someone tried to break in."
"I will not have-" Charles Sr. started to repeat.
"I'm going back to school in the fall!" Chase interrupted, voice low. He couldn't look his father in the eye, or even look up at him to see his expression, but knew the sort of look he was being given.
Charles Sr. was dead silent for a long moment. Finally, he said, nearly growling; "Of all of the selfish things you've done, this is by far the worst."
Chase could feel his face going red with anger and shoved his fists into his pockets to keep from doing anything stupid. "Selfish?" He demanded, eyes snapping up, "I left school for over a year for you-"
"For your mother-" Charles Sr. started to correct.
"No, it was for you, because you won't let mom go somewhere where they have people to help her! She's so scared, dad, and we can't fix that!" He paused, and said, trying to sound less accusatory, "She wouldn't want me to throw my life away for her, if she remembered."
"She wouldn't be like this if you'd just stayed in the first place!" Charles Sr. snarled, seemingly at the end of his patience.
Chase didn't even bother to reply to that. "We need to put her in assisted living before she gets hurt."
"No." Charles Sr.'s voice was firm, leaving no room for arguments.
"Why not?" Chase demanded. "Because if she gets help, all of the other politicians will gossip about how you've got a mad wife? That's damn well not a good enough-"
Charles Sr. slapped him.
"That isn't the reason and you know it. She doesn't want to go," Charles Sr. said very quietly.
His cheek stung, but it hurt far less than other less tangible parts of him hurt. He felt a distant sort of self-disgust- shouldn't he have been used to being betrayed like this?
Chase didn't say anything in reply, his tongue tied up with too many bitter, angry things, so he just turned on his heel and left in disgust.
Along with gardening, his mom had also used to enjoy biking around town, so Chase borrowed her old bike to get to Black's Bar. The bike was cotton candy pink and had a basket. He'd ripped the fake plastic flowers off ages ago so it was slightly less emasculating than it could have been.
The bar was more or less empty, but that wasn't surprising given that it was only six pm on a Tuesday and Black's wasn't the sort of place you popped into for a bite to eat unless you wanted a chance of food poisoning along with your meal.
Leo wasn't around, because that jerk never was when Chase needed him to be, but his older brother, Tony, who actually owned the bar, was an alright guy, even if Chase didn't know him as well as his brother.
Tony took one look at Chase and marched back behind the bar and made him something improbably pink and slammed it onto the counter without a word.
Chase took a sip. It tasted a bit like pink Kool-Aid but mostly like vodka.
"I want six of these," he proclaimed.
"Let's start with three," Tony suggested.
Chase was lucky in that he'd had the sense to program a daily alarm into his phone, as he'd never remember to reset it every night.
He was also unlucky given that it went off at seven in the morning and he'd fallen asleep with his face smashed into one of the appallingly sticky booth seats at Black's. His back ached from the position he was twisted in to be able to fit into the booth laying down and his head ached so much he decided to leave his eyes only open a crack for the time being.
He faintly recalled Tony's nice boyfriend Roland or Robert or something guiding him away from his barstool and over to one of the booths and setting a glass of water on the table.
He squinted up.
Sure enough, it was sitting on the edge of the table, tantalizingly out of reach while laying down.
With a groan, he slowly levered himself upright, a blanket falling off of him in the process.
He stared at the blanket on the floor. It had little black dogs printed on it and had no place being in a dive like Black's.
Shrugging, he grabbed the water glass and slowly but without pause, chugged the whole thing down.
There was also a packet of Advil on the table. He loved Tony's boyfriend. He was going to marry him, or at least give him Tarragon's reject flowers. Even if he could never remember his name. Richard, maybe? He didn't look much like a Richard, since he was the complete opposite of a Dick.
"Morning, mate!" Tony boomed from the door that went up to the flat he shared with Leo above the bar.
Tony laughed and walked over to him. "Rough night, eh? Rowan's making breakfast at his place if you want some," Tony offered.
Rowan! That was the name of Tony's boyfriend. Chase was going to get the man a sainthood for the Advil and water and for putting up with both Black boys' utter bullshit more frequently than any mere mortal should be expected to withstand.
Sainthood or not, Chase grimaced at the thought of food.
"Thought as much. Gonna have to kick you out though," he eyed Chase thoughtfully sniffing slightly. "Well, you can use the bathroom first, extra toothbrushes in the one upstairs, too."
Gratefully, Chase stumbled upstairs and freshened up. He obviously didn't have any spare clothes, but he felt infinitely better after brushing his teeth.
He glanced at his watch and swore- he was due at Tarragon's house to drive her truck full of the day's plants to the booth in less than twenty minutes.
He hightailed it back downstairs and outside where Tony was waiting to lock up.
"Thanks," he said as he picked up his mom's bike, miraculously untouched after a night left unlocked outside.
"No problem," Tony replied, fiddling with a ring of keys. He gave Chase a measured look. "Sorry about your mom, mate."
Chase barely resisted making a face. Oh hell he'd babbled on about that, hadn't he? And to Leo's brother to boot. Where was Leo when Chase needed him? At least he'd have the sense to kick the maudlin out of Chase before it got too out of hand rather than actually letting him whine for hours.
Tony gave him an overly cheery wave and Chase set off for Tarragon's on his mom's bike, feeling both embarrassed and like he was about to puke. They were remarkably similar feelings.
As usual, Tarragon was nowhere to be seen, but the keys to her truck were in their hiding space under an ornamental rock, and the greenhouse that held the plants ready to be sold was unlocked and waiting.
He spent a miserable fifteen minutes hauling flats of tiny plants across the meticulously kept lawn and into the flatbed of the truck, hating his entire existence with a burning passion of a thousand suns.
Honestly, the next time Leo got it into his head to cheer Chase up about nearly being a dropout art student living with his parents and working at a shitty coffee shop, they were going to have words. All of those things were true except for being a dropout (though it nearly was accurate since Chase couldn't defer another semester before he would be considered a dropout) but that wasn't any comfort.
To be fair to Leo, going out for drinks (as unknowingly paid for by Mr. and Mrs. Black's credit card) had gotten a bit of hand and that hadn't been his fault. No Chase laid the blame for that squarely on Anya and Randy. Anya mostly, because who honestly demands her fiancé find her an orchid at 2 AM or else?
Chase frowned as he crammed the last pot of tomatoes into the truck, the leaves tickling at his face.
"Actually, I blame Randy," He grumbled as he eased the truck down Tarragon's long, uneven driveway. No one but Randy would break into a greenhouse to steal a plant and then accidentally blow it up. At least, Chase hoped no one else on the planet was capable of that much idiocy. The planet could not be expected to withstand more than one Randy.
Three intersections away from the market, Chase sighed.
"No, it's my fault," he said, rubbing a hand over his face.
It really was his fault for having such poor taste in friends.
Several weeks passed, the market swelling both with more businesses in the empty stalls and with more tourists and their annoying dogs. Consequently, more and more people were around Tarragon's booth, asking Chase questions he didn't know how to answer about plants and shit. Luckily, he was slowly starting to remember some of the things Isaac told him whenever Chase came over and asked him to fix all the things. Once he'd literally done that when he'd noticed one of the plants Chase knew Tarragon prized looked all limp and droopy.
They'd grown surprisingly close in that time. Chase was unused to being friends with someone who wasn't... well, wasn't a giant asshole, really. Isaac was fairly shy, at least until you got to know him. Which Chase had, through sheer perseverance, bugging him about the plants, asking him questions about himself and generally being an all-around pain.
Surprisingly enough, Isaac had never told him to shove off, like most of Chase's friends would have. He'd learned that Isaac was exceptionally patient, good around kids (sometimes sneaking them "broken" cookies that had "accidentally" fallen), but that he was outstandingly uncomfortable around anyone near his age or older.
A couple times Chase had abandoned Tarragon's booths to scare off whoever was hassling Isaac. Isaac always insisted it wasn't necessary, and that it didn't matter since they were paying customers, but Chase could see the relief in his eyes.
"No seriously, that Gino kid is trying to get in your pants," Chase insisted after he'd chased the blond git off for a third time in a week and a half.
Isaac spluttered, his face turning bright red.
"No, he isn't!"
"He totes is," Chase confirmed. "But you can do so much better, so don't even worry. I'll keep him off. I could totally pretend to be your boyfriend and stuff! Actually, that wouldn't work, everyone would know you can do better than me too..."
Isaac was still red but snorted. "No really, we went to school together. He was awful to me all the time."
"Because of forbidden loooooove," Chase enthused. Isaac remained unimpressed.
However, he did look amused the next time Gino showed up and Chase hit on him until he stormed off, face a truly outstanding shade of red. Chase patted himself on the back for that one and he had to hold back a cackle every time Gino passed through the market and turned right back around to avoid Chase. It was a surprisingly frequent occurrence, and eventually he gave up not laughing at the look of sheer embarrassment that appeared on the brat's face the second he spotted Chase looming in the garden booth.
May gave way to June, the little market slowly filling with more occupied booths, and the sun only beating down even harder. Chase began to enjoy working at Tarragon's even if was an unpaid and usually sun burnt affair, solely because of Isaac. He was fun to tease, quick witted, when not being overly shy, and he didn't mind playing twenty questions when Chase was dying of boredom. Isaac would help him with the plants to keep Chase from accidentally killing them, and Chase would flirt with the customers until they left with more bread than they'd intended to buy. It was a great system.
Chase would sporadically give Isaac flowers out of the reject bucket too, sometimes for a reason but more often just because of the faces he'd make; first startled, then embarrassed, then quietly pleased when he thought Chase wasn't looking.
They never saw each other outside the market; Isaac seemed to live there, already arranging baked goods whenever Chase arrived, as demanded by Tarragon's unpredictable schedule. Chase almost wished he saw Isaac outside of work, most of his friends having found excuses to not be in the city after the greenhouse fiasco, so when he wasn't working, he was left at a loose end. On the other hand, if anyone found out they were friends, Leo was sometimes around and would have demanded to meet Isaac, and he would have probably scared him out of hanging around Chase. He liked the idea of having Isaac all to himself, but that wasn't something Chase liked to dwell on.
It was a Wednesday, which meant it was the least busy day in existence. Nobody bought plants or fancy artisan bread on Wednesdays, apparently. On the one hand, it meant that there was a significant decrease in people bugging Chase about if the plants were organic or blessed by Tibetan monks or whatever, but it also meant that he was bored as hell and had nothing to do.
After an hour of fussing with the plants as per Isaac's instructions, he was left with only failing to juggle several extremely stale buns for entertainment. He was extremely bad at it, so it mostly resulted in him nailing himself in the face with bread and scaring the shit out of a stray cat with a rouge bun. But he also succeeded in making Isaac laugh so hard he snorted water up his nose, so Chase counted it as a win, even if he got flour in his eyes.
Isaac had been extra sad looking that day, as compared to the only vaguely unhappy expression he'd had the day before, so Chase had been doing his best to fix that, with mixed results. He was probably going to have to bust out the flowers, even if there were slimmer pickings than usual that day.
They were sitting at the bakery's booth, since Isaac was too paranoid to leave it, with Isaac at his stool behind the counter and Chase sitting on the ground with his back to the booth, soaking up the unseasonably warm sunlight.
"Why didn't you go to university?" Isaac asked out of nowhere, several long minutes after Chase had given up on juggling. He swore one of the stale buns had bruised his face, entirely possible given it felt like a small brick, and there was only so far Chase was willing to go in the name of entertainment.
Chase craned his head up, looking up at Isaac. He had his chin resting on one hand, eyes looking off to the side, expression deeply unhappy.
"I did," Chase replied honestly, without really meaning to. He usually told people he'd never left for university, since it saved the hassle of making up a reason for sort of dropping out.
"You did?" Isaac echoed.
He looked more curious than unhappy, so Chase girded his loins and continued, "Yeah, I was at school for art, had to leave three semesters back."
Luckily Isaac didn't ask why he'd had to leave, and instead asked, "How did you know it was what you wanted to do?"
Chase shrugged. "Drawing's always been something I liked doing. Didn't know where I was going to go with it, but at the time I figured I had four years to get that straight."
He could see the question hovering on Isaac's lips, so he dove right in with, "Why d'you ask? Your gran want you to stay behind and look after the old family business?"
Isaac sighed. "No. The opposite."
Chase twisted around so he was facing Isaac, if a few feet shorter. "She wants you to go to uni and you just want to keep doing this?" He guessed doubtfully. His impression was that Isaac didn't particularly enjoy the bakery business, but Chase knew he wasn't always the best judge of things.
Isaac shook his head again. "No. God no, I hate all this," he said, almost absently, and then abruptly sat up straight, one hand slapping over his mouth like he hadn't meant to say that.
"It's okay," Chase rushed to reassure him, "I won't tell anyone. Scout's honor," He added, hand over his heart. At no point in his life had he ever remotely been a scout, but Isaac hardly need to know that.
"Gran wants me to get a business degree so I can take over the whole thing. Like dad did," Isaac said miserably.
"Tough shoes to fill?" Chase guessed.
"Impossible. He was just so good at everything," Isaac said, lips pursing and expression going tight. "He got amazing grades while on scholarship at the private school here, and he got a full ride scholarship to a big university where he got his degree, and then he opened the second bakery uptown." Isaac sighed, head tipping forward as he rubbed both hands through his dark hair, tugging. "I couldn't get the scholarship and I had to get a tutor for all my classes so I could get high enough grades so that gran would be happy."
"Hey now, I'm sure you're plenty smart," Chase said standing up and grabbing both of Isaac's wrists gently before he scalped himself.
Isaac snorted. "Right. I barely managed to convince her that I should spend a year at the bakery before school. Not to mention there's no way I'll get more than a partial scholarship to even a smaller university."
"Okay no more pity party for you-" Chase said pulling Isaac up by the wrists, the booth counter an awkward barrier between them. "I know for a fact that you're crazy smart- how else can you remember all that stuff about plants? I've been working for Tarragon for ages now and I can't even remember how much to water them."
Isaac snorted, a smile creeping into the corners of his mouth, just as Chase had intended.
"Now repeat after me," he instructed, starring Isaac dead in the eyes, face almost comically serious, "I am a fucking genius who knows shit about plants like a badass and probably aced his fancy private school classes out of sheer stubbornness."
Isaac tried to free his hands, presumably to hide the honest-to-god giggle at this, but Chase absolutely refused to relinquish his grip. "I'm not repeating that, you utter loon!" Isaac protested, smiling helplessly.
"A loon?" Chase demanded indignantly, "I'm going to have to punish you for impinging my honour, sir!"
"You what?" Isaac was out-and-out laughing at him by this point, all traces of unhappiness gone.
"Punishment!" Chase declared, letting go of his wrists. "I'll duel you- no, wait!" he ruffled a hand over Isaac's overgrown bowlcut. His hair felt surprisingly soft under his palm, and nearly distracted him from his point. "I'm going to cut your hair."
Isaac looked confused. "You're punishing me by... cutting my hair?"
Chase shrugged. "Nah, that's just an excuse, your haircut just burns my eyes when I look at it."
Isaac self-consciously ran a hand over his head. "Gran usually does that for me, but it's been awhile I guess."
"It's awful," Chase explained. It really was. Isaac would surely bring all the girls and boys to the yard if only his hair wasn't so utterly terrible. It was hard to notice how cute someone was when their hair was in the form of the world's worst overgrown bowl cut. It like Spock and the Beatles combined on Isaac's head in the worst way imaginable.
"Have you cut hair before?" Isaac asked doubtfully only ten minutes later. He was sitting on a chair inside the bakery booth with his back to Chase, who was holding a pair of scissors they'd found in a box of random odds and ends under the bakery counter.
"Sure have," Chase confirmed. He had actually; he trimmed his mom's every other month so it didn't get too long and annoy her. She tended to try to yank it out by the roots when it annoyed her.
Twenty minutes later, Chase was seriously regretting every decision he'd ever made to bring him to the conclusion that he was even remotely qualified to cut poor Isaac's hair.
"It's not that bad," Isaac said, squinting into the camera on Chase's phone- since Isaac was a caveman who didn't have a phone with a camera, what the hell.
"It's awful," Chase negated, feeling awful and guilty and guiltily awful.
Isaac's hair, it turned out, was a great deal curlier than expected when it was cut short. As a result, his hair was now a spectacularly uneven mess. In Chase's defence, it did look more interesting than the bowl cut had. No more Mr. Spock or terrible Ringo Starr hair. Just something that made Isaac look like he'd been attacked by a lawnmower.
"It kind of is," Isaac agreed, making a face. His nose wrinkled up in the most adorable way imaginable. "But it's no big deal I can-"
"No, I'm fixing this!" Chase insisted.
"I'm not sure that's the best idea," Isaac said, putting Chase's phone down and warily eyeing the scissors Chase was still holding.
"When I say I'm fixing it I don't mean me physically fixing it," Chase clarified, taking back his phone.
Isaac looked confused, but shrugged, apparently not too concerned about the state of his appearance.
Chase walked back over to Tarragon's side of the road to make a phone call.
"Hey, I need a favour..." He said, explaining the situation. He watched in amusement as a rare customer appeared in front of the bakery booth. She seemed baffled by Isaac's hair, but also was too polite to ask. Isaac didn't seem to notice and just boxed up her order.
The call only took a few minutes, so Chase wandered back over not long after the customer disappeared.
He supposed Tarragon wouldn't be pleased to learn how little time Chase was actually spending at her booth, but it wasn't like there was anything left to do and the entire market was nearly empty of tourists that day.
"You could totally have overcharged her and she wouldn't have even noticed, she was so distracted by your hair," Chase told him very seriously, sitting back down with his back against the booth wall again. "It could be a new marketing strategy or something. Like how sex sells, only its people buying bread because your haircut baffles them."
Chase didn't need to be able see Isaac's face to know the sort of look he was being given, so he quickly shut up.
Laura showed up twenty minutes later, shockingly early for her. She tended to get distracted and turn up much later than intended, unless it was for something really important. Like cake.
"Hello," Chase said, bouncing to his feet and giving her a hug. Laura was big on hugs even if Chase was more ambivalent about them.
"Well it's certainly artistic," Laura commented of Isaac's hair, foregoing introductions. She leant forward, like she wanted to examine his hair a bit closer, but Isaac sort of twitched backwards, looking uncomfortable.
"This is Laura," Chase said quickly, "I asked her to fix your hair, since she's cut mine before."
"Oh, um. Nice to meet you." Isaac fumbled for one of the million dish towels hanging around to wipe his sweaty palms. "I'm Isaac." He held a hand up to shake. Laura took it but instead of shaking she began examining his palm.
"Goodness, you have a long heart line," She said, "That means you fall in love easily... or that you're practical in love." She frowned slightly. "I can't remember which."
"T-thank... you?" Isaac said, looking rather uncomfortable.
"Laura's into palmistry right now," Chase explained, subtly nudging Laura into releasing Isaac's hand, since he wasn't looking any less uncomfortable as time passed. "It used to be hair dressing, and before that it was painting, which is how we became friends- I was volunteering at the after-school class she was taking. Until she got kicked out," he added, grinning at her.
She pouted at him. "They were much too fussy about how to paint things properly. Art should be about expression"
"I think it was more about the fact that you kept painting on things that weren't the canvas they gave you," Chase suggested. She shook her head like Chase might as well have said the same thing.
"Anyways about Isaac's hair..."
"I brought my own scissors," Laura said, producing a pair from the pocket of her lime green shorts. They looked significantly sharper than the ones Chase had used, and more like they were actually intended for use on hair rather than flower stems. She circled around the side of the booth to get to Isaac.
"How would you like it to look?" She asked.
"Oh well... shorter?" Isaac said, making it sound like a question. "But well... I mean I don't mind, really, I'd just like..." He shifted uncomfortably.
"How about you just make it look a bit less like he's gotten attacked by a haunted pair of scissors," Chase suggested, not missing the relieved look Isaac shot him.
Laura did some magic with her scissors and the end was result was a slightly uneven but significantly improved haircut.
"Thank you," Isaac said, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck, looking surprised not to have hair brush his fingers.
"Okay I can be seen with you in public again," Chase declared. "For you, madam." He produced a wilting pear blossom from behind his back.
Laura grinned and immediately tucked it behind her ear, where it clashed alarmingly with her neon green headband. "I should go, I'm making dinner for dad tonight."
"Purple potatoes again?" Chase asked, having experienced Laura's cooking more than once. Experienced was the only real way to describe eating Laura's cooking in any moderately polite way.
"I was thinking of carrot soup," she said grinning, "He's under the weather, so I don't want to be too creative."
"Probably a smart choice," Chase said and then gave her a hug goodbye.
Not long after Laura left, Chase's phone rang.
It was well past midday and he'd been at the market since opening, so he'd been expecting Tarragon for over an hour, having spent the entire time sitting in his usual spot against the bakery stall.
He was right in thinking that the call was from her. He was wrong in guessing it was her telling him she'd be on her way.
"Yeah, alright. Got it. I promise not to set anything on fire, cross my heart. See you tomorrow." Chase hung up and then groaned loud enough to make Isaac look up from his sudoku puzzle.
"Guess who is here for the rest of the afternoon," Chase said, answering Isaac's unspoken question.
"Me," Isaac said, completely straight faced.
Chase rolled his eye. "Yeah, but you work all day every day. I don't know if my delicate constitution can handle working for this long, being subject to the whims of all these yuppies."
"Chase, you haven't had a customer in over two hours."
Chase couldn't think of anything to say to that, so he settled for sighing dramatically. "Why doesn't your gran make anyone else work out here anyways?" He asked, "It has to suck spending seven days a week out here."
Isaac made a face. "I think she's trying to punish me. She wanted me to apply for fall admission at the university."
"Wait I thought you had decided to take a year out." In Chase's opinion, this was a pretty smart decision; whenever Isaac talked about school he sounded like he was still recovering from the amount of stress and anxiety it had caused him. His gran had had high standards; several academic clubs, 4.0 GPA, plus several shifts a week at the bakery.
Isaac shrugged. "I graduated a semester early in the winter, so according to her standards waiting until next year is too lazy."
"So, she's making you spend your entire summer out here so that you give in and go to school just to get away from this? That is almost diabolically passive aggressive."
Isaac stifled a snort. "Well, it's working, in any case."
"What my sparkling personality isn't enough to motivate you to work a zillion hours a week?"
"No, but it would be nice to sleep in past five am once in a while."
Chase made a face. "Okay, seeing your point. You poor baby. Have a flower." He reached up behind himself and blindly dropped a little sprig of purple heather on the Bakery counter.
"Thank- wait where was this?"
"In my hair." Chase had been failing at making a flower crown earlier. He was really bored. He almost wanted some yuppie's annoying dog to charge through the perennials, just for something to do.
"In your- of course it was."
A couple hours passed, at one point a couple came and Chase sold them a cactus. It was the high point of his afternoon. Isaac was a bit busier, but not much. At least he finished his sudoku puzzle and started the crossword while Chase just lazed around without anything to keep him occupied.
Chase had once asked Tarragon what the point of having a market be open before tourist season, but she'd said that it was funded by the city council, so she wasn't losing money, only time. Now that she had Chase, she was only losing his time.
Eventually five o'clock crawled around and Chase gleefully started tossing plants back into the truck. He felt sunburnt, sweaty and gritty and he wanted like eight showers.
In the bakery stall, Isaac had sold the majority of the day's goods, and he was packing up the leftovers into a little wagon, the type parents liked to haul kids around in.
"D'you want a ride home?" Chase asked. It was still hot as hell out, and he couldn't even imagine hauling the wagon anywhere with that much weight dragging behind him.
"Thanks," Isaac said with obvious relief. "Will the wagon fit in the truck?"
"I'll make it fit," Chase said.
They did, even if Isaac had to ride with a flat of tiny tomato plants on his lap.
Isaac shared a house with his gran near the top of the hill the town was built around, with a rather spectacular view of the lake.
"Thank you so much," Isaac said for roughly the tenth time when they unloaded his wagon.
"I only did it for the baked goods," Chase said around the two cookies he had shoved into his mouth. Day old or not they were fantastic.
Chase dropped the truck off at Tarragon's, unloaded the godforsaken plants and nearly broke the sound barrier biking home to shower. He felt revolting. His skin was staging a protest at the combination of sweat, old sunscreen and potting soil, and felt like it was on the verge of just crawling off of his body in protest.
His hair was still damp when he had an argument with his dad that ended with him storming out of the house, the door slamming shut behind him.
As it inevitably always did, he ended up at Black's. Luckily for his awful mood, this time he had both an obnoxiously pink cocktail and a best friend.
"Where the hell have you even been?" Chase asked between bitching about his dad and whining about working for free for Tarragon.
Leo shrugged. "Mom made me come with her to Italy unexpectedly to visit some of the great-aunts. One of them is guaranteed to kick the bucket soon and she wants in on the will."
"What does she even want all that money for?" Chase asked making a face. The Hart family was decently well off, but were nowhere near the 'oops I have to go to Europe' level of wealth like the Blacks were. They gave new meaning to the term 'disgustingly rich'.
"Bragging rights to all the relatives that don't inherit."
Leo ditched him around drink number four because he was a heartless bastard. Chase let his face rest on the sticky bar and wished Isaac was there.
"Alright there?" Leo's brother's boyfriend- Ray? Ralph?- asked Chase.
"No," Chase said into the bar.
"Well, sit up, you don't want to get a venereal disease from the counter, on top of everything else," Tony's saintly boyfriend said, and set down a fresh drink next to Chase's face, because he was secretly an angel.
"Marry me," Chase said, sitting up just enough to both keep his face off of the disgusting countertop and still maintain his petulant slouch.
"I might consider it," Rodney- Ricky- Rowan! (Chase was stupidly pleased to finally remember) said kindly. His eyes were trained on whatever commotion was happening on the other end of the bar. There was always a commotion going on at Black's, so Chase hadn't paid it any attention, but turned to see what was happening.
Predictably, Tony was standing on a dangerously wobbly table, enthusiastically teaching a crowd of exceptionally drunk bikers how to do the Macarena. The old speakers weren't even spewing out the Macarena song, just the usual mix of 80s college rock. It was one of the more ordinary things Tony had done while bored in his own bar.
"You could do so much better, mate," Chase said to Rowan.
Rowan chuckled, and said, "Well, you don't get to pick who you care about. Even if they do dumb things like get concussions while doing a fad dance from the nineties."
Chase thought about Charles Sr. and how some stupid part of him was always still hurt when he yet again failed to live up to some unknown standard and his father gave him that look, both disappointed and unsurprised.
"You can say that again," he sighed.
Across the bar, the table gave an almighty crack, a leg gave out, and Tony toppled off of it. The bikers all cheered and toasted each other.
Chase seriously needed new friends.
A week later and Chase was once again storming out of the house, not slamming the door, because he'd only just convinced his mom to go to sleep. She hadn't recognized him, but had let him chivy her into brushing her teeth and climbing into bed anyways, making it a fairly decent evening. Until Charles Sr. had to go and be a prick, as usual.
It was nearly 2 AM and Chase was wired and unlikely to be able to sleep. He wasn't in the mood for Black's since Leo was probably off god knew where and Tony... Yeah, Chase didn't want to go to Black's. Tony kept looking at him knowingly at it was driving Chase insane an inch at a time. Rowan's saintly demeanour wasn't enough to offset Tony Black of all people being knowing and sympathetic at him.
Feeling restless, he biked through the small downtown, enjoying the cool breeze the movement brought. Despite the sun having been down for several hours, the air still felt far too warm and humid, especially for the middle of June.
The streets were sparsely populated, a few groups of tipsy people making their way home, but it was no one Chase knew. He wasn't sure if that was lucky or unlucky. Involving the Black Hawks in anything spelled danger, property damage and poor life choices, but at least they were distracting.
Somehow, he ended up outside Isaac's house, all of the windows black. Because it was nearly 2 AM. Obviously.
The restless feeling settled, mostly. He just wanted to hang with Isaac, even if it was the middle of the night. Unfortunately, his cell phone was still not with him.
He considered the windows on the silent house. He knew which one was Isaac's room; it had the potted plants on the sill and a little silver wind chime glowing in the moonlight. He could see that the window was open a crack too, but Chase didn't think calling up to Isaac would go too well. Isaac had said more than once that his gran had ears like a bat.
He picked up a pebble from the gravel driveway and considered Isaac's window.
When he threw it, it bounced off of the glass with a little 'tink'.
Chase waited for a moment and then threw a second one.
He had just thrown the third one when Isaac's face appeared in the window.
"What in god's name are you doing?" Isaac hissed.
"I was trying to see if you were awake," Chase replied. The third stone bounced off the window.
"I wasn't- stop that you'll break the glass!" Isaac said, voice going above a whisper as his irritation raised.
"Calm down, I'm like the master of small rocks, I wouldn't do that. Come down here so it feels less like we're re-enacting Romeo and Juliet. I look stupid in tights."
Isaac disappeared briefly before returning to the window. "Chase, its 2AM."
"Come hang out with me, I need someone to come skinny dipping with," Chase said, making an excuse up on the spot. It was pretty gross and humid out, swimming would actually feel pretty good right then.
Since it was dark, Chase couldn't actually tell, but he would have bet good money that Isaac was turning red.
"No!" Isaac hissed emphatically.
"Come on, it'll be fun!"
"You're going to get arrested for public indecency!"
Chase considered this, but shrugged and said, "I am always indecent, baby."
There was a solid thunk, like Isaac had smacked his head against the window frame out of sheer frustration.
"Come on, I'll leave my pants on."
"That isn't much better."
"Come with me or I won't leave my pants on. If I get arrested it will be all your fault for being no fun."
There was a very long pause. "Let me get my shoes."
Isaac came out the front door not long after that, having changed out of his pajamas.
"Aw, I was hoping you'd have to climb out of your window or something," Chase said, picking up his mom's bike.
"I'm an adult. I can leave the house in the middle of the night if I want to," Isaac told him, giving one of the upstairs windows a look. He paused. "Also, gran had an extra glass of wine before bed. Nothing will wake her up before nine."
Chase laughed. "I guess it's too much to expect you to climb out a window when there's no way for you to get down either," he sighed and started walking the bike down the driveway.
"Please tell me we aren't actually going skinny dipping," Isaac said, following alongside him.
"Nah, I just needed an excuse to get you to come outside.
"And public nudity was all you could think of?"
"Well I could still take my pants off if you really want to."
They turned a corner and were on one of the main streets. It was invitingly empty, reminding Chase of when he and Leo were kids and would get in trouble for having races against each other on the road outside the Black's house.
"It's too bad you don't have a bike," Chase said, "Then we could race."
"No, we couldn't."
Chase raised an eyebrow. "There are like zero cars out right now. I'm fairly certain racing wouldn't get either of us killed."
"No, I- I never learned how. To ride a bike, I mean."
Chase stopped dead in his tracks. "Seriously? That's like a fundamental part of being a kid."
Isaac shrugged, looking off to the side. "Gran was too old for that sort of thing when she was raising me, and I had other things I had to learn..."
"Oh right, being the family heir and all that. Well it's never too late to learn."
Isaac looked up, less embarrassed and more concerned. "You aren't going to teach me." It was less a question and more of a statement.
Chase pursed his lips, thinking. "Yeah that would be a pretty terrible idea. Better idea, hop on." He seated himself on the bike and patted the handlebars invitingly.
"What?" Isaac took a step closer, tilting his head as he considered the bike.
"I'll take you for a ride," Chase explained, forcing himself not to waggle his eyebrows and turn it into a double entendre, since making Isaac blush was fun and all, but getting slapped really wasn't. "It'll be almost like the real thing."
"What if we fall?"
"Don't even worry about it, I'm basically a pro."
"You said the same thing before cutting my hair."
"And I fixed it, didn't I?" Isaac still didn't look convinced. "Come on, live a little. I'll give you a prize."
Isaac smiled at him. "What, more flowers? You do that all the time anyways. It isn't much of a prize."
Chase thought quickly. "Special flowers. Ones that aren't from the discard bins. I'll even pay Tarragon for them and everything."
"Oh well, in that case..."
It took a bit of doing to get Isaac seated on the handlebars, with Chase bracing the bike upright and the wicker basket constantly getting in the way. Eventually, though, Isaac was precariously perched on the handlebars, the basket digging into his thighs and they were ready.
"Off we go!" Chase said once Isaac was clutching the handlebars with white-knuckled fingers.
He started off slowly, just getting enough momentum to keep them upright without wobbling, but once Isaac relaxed the tiniest bit, Chase pedaled faster.
Dark houses flashed by on either side of them, the road gradually sloping downward, making them go even faster.
Chase whooped and pedaled harder.
"Let go," Chase suggested, yelling in Isaac's ear.
"I'll fall!" Isaac protested, laughing.
"One hand! Chase countered. "You won't fall, just trust me!"
They were nearing the end of the road, where it flattened out and met another road, forming a T.
Isaac glanced at him over his shoulder, face unreadable, then looked forward again and lifted one hand off the handlebars.
"Yeah!" Chase yelled in his ear and Isaac yelled with him. Isaac raised his free hand above his head, even as they picked up a little more speed.
"Hold on and lean to your left," Chase instructed as they came to the intersection. They both leaned and the bike easing around the corner without a hitch.
They whipped around the corner, going faster as the street became even steeper than before.
"Oh my god!" Isaac yelled, sounding not scared, but amazed.
Then they were emerging from the residential part of town into downtown, the houses giving way to storefronts and bars, illuminated by streetlamps. In the better light, Chase could see how the breeze was flipping Isaac's loose curls nearly upright, his thin t-shirt flapping around his waist and his surprisingly firm biceps.
They went around two more corners before they came to the boardwalk on the edge of the lake and Chase gently slowed them to a halt. He held the bike still as Isaac awkwardly slid off, shorts catching on the basket. Isaac didn't seem to care, grinning widely, his hair a gloriously windswept disaster.
"That was amazing!" Isaac said breathlessly.
The breeze off the water made the air much more bearable, and it ruffled Isaac's already ridiculously messy hair. There weren't as many streetlights down here as there had been up on the main street, but even in the dim light, Chase could still see the wide grin Isaac wore, how his eyes crinkled a little and how his hands were still shaking slightly from the adrenaline.
Chase abruptly realized he really wanted to kiss Isaac. Which was a peculiar feeling. He'd always thought Isaac was adorable and cute: the constant blushing, general awkwardness and very rare pouts had seen to that. But there, in the half-light on the boardwalk, the shadows made Isaac's cheekbones stand out, making him look like the adult he really was.
Chase wasn't one to over analyze his feelings.
So, he leant over the handlebars of the bike and kissed him.
Baby's Breath: innocence
Lilacs (white): youthful innocence
Chrysanthemums (white): honesty
Chrysanthemums (yellow): precious one
Bluebells: constancy, openness
Carnations (pink): a mother's love
Windflowers: fading hope
Pear Blossom: lasting friendship
Heather (purple): admiration