"We should start a club," Chase announced, around pink drink number two.
"What kind of club?" Tony asked from his seat across from Chase. He was not dancing on any tables or even making dubiously alcoholic beverages that night since the bar was ostensibly closed. Black's was never really closed, but on days that the sign said it was closed, only Tony's friends and the least cult-like Black Hawks were allowed in. Drinks weren't free despite the bar being not technically open for business, but luckily all of Chase's pink drinks were on the house since he'd brought food from the fish and chip place down the road to prevent anyone from becoming desperate enough to eat Tony's cooking.
"Bastard Father's Anonymous," Chase replied, with a sour sort of smile. Since he'd been in a guilty awful mood over all that had happened with Isaac and his gran, his father had predictably immediately started arguing with Chase the second he'd arrived home. Because that was just how Chase's life went now, apparently. He'd been forced to turn on his heel and leave before he did anything he'd regret later.
"Cheers to that, I'll join," Tony said, raising his glass towards Chase, and smiled a rather bitter smile.
The Black brothers were an odd pair. Tony had long since been all but disowned by the Black family shortly after he'd announced he was opening a bar rather than going to university to take the bar, whereas Leo was still ostensibly on good terms with his parents.
Leo had once said, while completely sloshed, that it was only because his parents didn't have a third kid to fall back on to inherit the family law practice, making it necessary for them to look the other way when Leo did things they didn't like. Like hang out with his black sheep of an older brother, or with Chase, the town's elite's greatest disappointment.
There was a good reason Chase and Leo were good friends, and it wasn't just because they both had an unfortunate tendency towards minor delinquency and poorly thought through plans.
"Me too," Leo said with a weary sigh. He was wearing a suit that evening, which meant that he'd spent the day in the Black & Associates law office, something that was more than enough to compel anyone to murder. "What about you, Rowan?" He added when Rowan appeared at the table with a tray full of water glasses, since he was the only one out of the lot of them with a shred of sense.
"Unfortunately, I have a perfectly ordinary and non-bastard dad," Rowan said with a small smile. "My grandpa's a real homophobic old fart, though. Can I be an honorary member with that?"
"I suppose so. You could be our secretary or something," Tony drawled, and then tugged Rowan onto his lap, ignoring the swat that both that and his words both earned him. Rowan rolled his eyes, but let Tony hold him close. "What about that Isaac guy you've been talking about nonstop? He got a jerk dad too?"
"Isaac?" Leo asked and turned to stare at Chase, a predatory look in his eye. Somehow, Chase had, partly intentionally, failed to mention the whole Isaac situation to Leo, outside of him knowing that Isaac existed. At first it had mostly been by accident, since Leo had been gone more often than not so far that summer. But Isaac wasn't the usual kind of person that Chase hung around with and Leo was a lot for someone who was… Well for someone who wasn't an emotionally constipated bastard like the rest of the Black Hawks. So, some of that not mentioning Isaac to Leo might have been a bit intentional. Just a smidge.
"He's Chase's boyfriend," Tony said with a mischievous smirk. Chase hated his face. If his drinks weren't already free, Chase would never tip him again.
"Chase's boyfriend, huh?" Leo grinned at Chase widely, his expression promising merry hell and endless teasing.
"We aren't dating," Chase grumbled, because while he'd sort of begun thinking of himself as Isaac's boyfriend, they still hadn't had a real chance to talk about it, and assuming things was a stupid thing to do, but… "Besides, he can't join out club, it sounds like his dad was a saint. His grandma's a real piece of work though."
Even as he said it, Chase felt a little more guilty than before. Because while he didn't regret what he'd said- what was the point of regretting something if you meant every word of it?- he did regret how it happened. And he couldn't blame Mrs. Ross for reacting how she did. Chase was hardly a catch or the sort of boy you wanted hanging around your grandson. Or in his bed. She obviously cared deeply for Isaac. That didn't mean she wasn't wrongfor treating him the way she did.
Rowan raised his eyebrows at Chase, clearly calling bullshit on the not dating part, but because he was the nicest person on the planet, he didn't push the issue. "Another honorary member, then," he said instead.
"Cheers to the first meeting of Bastard Father's Anonymous," Chase said and raised his glass again. "May we always be the greatest disappointments they've ever had."
The next morning, Chase was fidgety and anxious the whole ride from his house to Tarragon's and then from Tarragon's to the marketplace. That he'd had three cups of coffee already that morning probably didn't help. Isaac hadn't texted him.
Chase had stayed out late at Black's, though he hadn't gotten more than tipsy since he'd known he'd only grow maudlin and melodramatic given the mood he'd already been in. He'd stayed there until he'd been sure his father would be in bed, then he'd snuck into the house. He'd been too worried about Isaac to want to even begin to deal with his father after their last argument.
Unfortunately, being so worried meant any sleep he did get, even in his own bed instead of the terrible booth seats at Black's, was hardly restful and he had popped awake at 4 AM, unable to sleep.
He would have just gone early to the marketplace, since Isaac usually got there before 6 to set up, but Tarragon had texted the night before to say she'd forgotten to load some plants into the truck and would do it in the morning, so he had needed to wait later than usual to drive to the market.
When he finally arrived, nerves left behind somewhere near Tarragon's greenhouse, he didn't even bother unloading the plants before he went to see Isaac. The tourists could wait five minutes for him before they started bugging him about their morning glories or oregano, this was more important.
"Hey," Isaac said, eyebrows raising when he caught sight of Chase, probably due to him looking slightly crazed. "Are you alright?" His voice was filled with concern and made Chase feel all melty inside, like a pizza pocket fresh from the microwave, and if that was the sort of nonsense his brain was coming up with Chase was either seriously sleep deprived or ridiculously head over heels for this kid. Chase had a feeling it might be a little of column a and a little of column b.
Isaac reached over the counter to gently touch the bags under Chase's right eye. "Did you even get any sleep?"
"Some," Chase replied. "Are you okay?"
Isaac shrugged and smiled, a bit wanly. "It could have gone worse. Somehow. Maybe if I had set the house on fire or had told her I was pregnant or something."
"I would have totally made an honest woman of you if that had happened," Chase replied immediately.
"Thanks, I'm relieved to hear that. Now I have another way this could have been worse: a shotgun wedding."
"We could have been actually having sex instead of sleeping," Chase suggested, because sometimes words just fell out of his mouth without him actually stopping to think about what was coming out of his brain.
Both of them turned bright red.
"That would have been worse," Isaac agreed, voice a little strangled. "Sorry for not texting, my phone died and either I lost my charger or gran is hiding it from me out of sheer spite. After she lectured me on every life choice I've ever made leading up to that moment, she decided to go with the silent treatment."
Chase sighed, feeling somewhat relieved. Having so long to dwell on it had left him with plenty of time to come up with increasingly absurd scenarios, culminating in one where Isaac was disowned and had to rely upon Chase to support him while he died of consumption. It had also involved Chase getting drafted for the Civil War. That one had taken place while Chase was failing at falling asleep again in the early hours of the morning. At the time, it had seemed perfectly reasonable. And Isaac had looked cute with sideburns and a pipe, even while dying a slow, tragic death.
"I really am sorry," Chase repeated a bit uselessly.
Isaac smiled at him. "Stop saying that, I know. It's okay. Now go set up the plants before Tarragon's spider sense goes off about you slacking and she has to drive all the way down here to yell at you."
Chase felt a bit better about the whole thing, but resolved to give Isaac flowers later that day anyways. He didn't think Isaac was secretly still mad at him, but it would make Chase feel a bit less like the worst person ever.
"Well one good thing came out of this," Isaac said later that day, nearing the inevitable dead zone around lunch time.
"What's that?" Chase asked from his usual lounging spot when the marketplace was dead quiet; leaning against the plywood side of the bakery booth.
"Since gran isn't talking to me even by text, she hasn't told me to go pick a shift up at either of the bakeries. So, after I'm done here, I'm free for once."
Chase craned his head back to beam at Isaac. "That's great! You can finally catch on some rest." It hadn't escaped his notice that Isaac had looked more tired than usual that day, as if he, like Chase, hadn't slept well. So much for catching up on sleep with that nap the day previous.
"Well," Isaac said, sounding a bit hesitant. It was impossible to tell from the angle he was at, but Chase could imagine how he was biting his lip. Adorable. "I was actually thinking we could do something together."
Chase sat up properly and shifted around so he could look up at Isaac perched on his stool behind the counter.
"Why Isaac Ross, are you asking me on a date?" Chase demanded, entirely delighted.
Isaac laughed. "I guess so. I've never asked anyone out before. Or been asked out. But we were on one yesterday, so it's not that big of a deal."
"Yes, it is," Chase argued, "It's a very big deal. And yesterday doesn't count that was just… two people doing things together."
"Chase, I'm pretty sure that's what a date is."
"Nobody asked anyone if they wanted to go on a date, there was no yawn-stretch-over-the-shoulder move or awkward dinner conversation," Chase argued and then smiled when an elderly lady passing by gave him a deeply concerned look.
"We might have skipped a few steps," Isaac observed, "But me nearly headbutting you in the mouth was plenty awkward, as was my gran finding you in my bed, so I think we've got this covered."
Chase frowned and shook his head firmly. "No way, if you're going on your first date it should be perfect- wait hold on I have an idea!"
Chase leapt to his feet and went and rummaged around in the discarded flower bin, quickly finding what he wanted. He had to sell a few cucumber plants to a middle-aged woman first, and then took the flowers over to Isaac.
He'd picked white Jasmine, purple lilacs and white hyacinths and had even dug up some of the nice paper to wrap them in (paid for with Leo's money so Tarragon wouldn't get mad and actually fire him from his willing unpaid indentured servitude).
"Tada!" He said and handed them over with a flourish.
Isaac accepted them with his usual smile and set them somewhere behind the counter since the bouquet was too big for his normal jam jars, or even the small vase that had made its way into the bakery booth at some point.
"Step one complete," Chase said triumphantly.
"Step one of what?" Isaac asked.
"Of your first date ever! It will be magical, and will involve dinner, scintillating conversation, excellent company, and fireworks. Well, I can only promise the first one. I'll pick you up at seven?"
"We could just drop of Tarragon's stuff and the bakery stuff and then get dinner," Isaac pointed out.
Chase shook his head emphatically. "No way, getting picked up is a very important step in a first date. Though I'm going to skip the part where I have a conversation with your grandmother about getting you home by midnight."
"You do realize this isn't the 1950s and we're both actual adults, right?" Isaac asked wryly.
"I also would like to shower all this plant crap off of me and maybe change into something less sweaty if I'm going to dinner," Chase added.
"I see your point," Isaac replied and then noticed a customer hovering awkwardly a few feet away and he shooed Chase away so he could deal with that.
Tarragon came by in the midafternoon to take over from Chase and sent him home. Normally he would have been a bit disappointed about missing out on prime Isaac Time, even if it was Sunday which was inexplicably always a madhouse near the end of the day, but they would see each other soon, so he didn't mind too much.
He was covered in potting soil as usual, so he had to go home for a shower and dig up a change of clothing. Theoretically, if he could find it, he'd wear something nice since he was planning on it being an honest-to-god Date Night. It was Isaac's first honest to god date and Chase was going to get it right if it killed him.
Chase, unsurprising given his taste in friends, hadn't actually been on many actual dates. Mostly he'd made out with people while inebriated on various legal and illegal substances at some Black Hawk's party, and then had spent a fair amount of time in the general vicinity of that person for a few weeks until they inevitably dumped him, usually with neither party being terribly upset about the turn of events.
But this was Isaac's first proper date, so Chase clearly had to pull out all the stops, like wearing clothing that didn't have holes in them and taking him somewhere nice that wasn't full of stoners or, worse, to Black's. Taking Isaac there would result in half the Black Hawks crawling out of the woodwork they'd been hiding in ever since the greenhouse incident, just to harass Chase and probably mortify Isaac with increasingly personal questions. Also, there was the issue of food poisoning and the fact that the tables were always kind of disgustingly sticky.
But going somewhere that wasn't Black's would require money. Money that Chase was, as usual, rather short on.
So, he texted Leo.
To: Leo (the giant arse)
Let me steal your wallet and give it back to you later without either of us mentioning it ever taking place.
no im busy
To: Leo (the giant arse)
That's nice, I don't care. Get your ass over to Black's asap
im totally about to score with this hot chick, leave me alone
To: Leo (the giant arse)
It's the middle of the afternoon, no woman could possibly be drunk enough to make the mistake of talking to you, you lying liar who lies
To: Leo (the giant arse)
Come on answer your texts this is a dire emergency
To: Leo (the giant arse)
To: Leo (the giant arse)
LEO LEO LEO
To: Leo (the giant arse)
To: Leo (the giant arse)
LEOPOLD THE LION
To: Leo (the giant arse)
Come on, I know at least one of those pisses you off
To: Leo (the giant arse)
I'm going to keep blowing up your phone if you don't answer me
To: Leo (the giant arse)
I can do this all day
To: Leo (the giant arse)
YOU KNOW I CAN
OMFG STOP IT
To: Leo (the giant arse)
I have a date jackass
? my little boy is all grown up. remember, if you're feeling spunky, wrap your monkey
To: Leo (the giant arse)
I will set fire to everything you hold dear
so this chick just said that anya told her that randy said that macnair said that his dad found you having sex with some chick in a convertible in the middle of downtown yesterday
and here i thought i had all the fun in this bromance
To: Leo (the giant arse)
Okay, a) that's none of your business you giant gossiphound b) I'm gay remember, it was a guy c) where in the hell would I find a convertible to have sex in d) if I was going to have sex with someone in a convertible why would I pick the middle of town full of people to scandalize and call the cops before I got anywhere near anything resembling a base e) no we weren't even kissing, we were having a deeply personal conversation when Macnair's dad scared the shit out of me and I nearly concussed myself on the door
it is a sad statement on your love life when i believe you about the deep conversation thing without it being a euphemism
To: Leo (the giant arse)
Also we don't have a bromance. If we did you'd GIVE ME MONEY SO I ACTUALLY HAVE THAT SEX. Though it wouldn't be in a convertible, that sounds really uncomfortable.
wait so you want my money so you can go to a hotel and not have sex with your dad hanging around? Or is it for a hooker? JK I know you're way too law abiding for that, don't get your panties in a twist
To: Leo (the giant arse)
I was joking I just want to take him to dinner somewhere that won't give him food poisoning.
To: Leo (the giant arse)
Besides, I've already been in his bed.
OHOHOHOHOH SOMEONE GOT SOME GAME WHEN I WASN'T LOOKING
To: Leo (the giant arse)
I WAS JOKING CHRIST. I took a nap in his bed. I was tired, that's what happens when you actually have a job, jackass.
sure you were. i need to meet this boy now
To: Leo (the giant arse)
If you ever mention this conversation to him I'll tell Anya it was you who threw up in her hat at that party, not whoever you blamed it on
oooo pulling out the big guns, this kid must be important.
Cool so you blowing up my phone made this chick ditch me, thanks for that. black's in ten?
To: Leo (the giant arse)
No way, she must have just come to her senses and fled. I have to shower and find a decent shirt, make it twenty.
fifteen and I'll loan you that blue shirt I got for christmas
To: Leo (the giant arse)
Changed my mind, best bromance ever, see you in 15
Chase showed up at Isaac's gran's place on his mother's pink bike, wearing Leo's fancy collared shirt and with a bite mark fading on one hand, and the knuckles on the other slowly darkening from pink to purple.
It had been quite an eventful night at the Hart household.
"Ready to go?" He asked Isaac who was waiting for him at the bottom of the dirt driveway.
"Yes- oh my god what happened to your hand?" Isaac asked, spotting his knuckles. Chase discreetly held his other hand out of sight. Bite marks would be harder to explain.
"Nothing too terrible, my dad was just being a jerk as usual," Chase said, trying to downplay the drama to keep Isaac from getting too concerned.
"You got in a fight with your dad?" Isaac said, only growing even more concerned.
"What? No, I mean we exchanged words, but no one punched anyone," Chase replied, which was entirely true. Chase had simply been dumb enough to take his frustration out by punching the nearest wall. Not the brightest idea he'd ever had.
Isaac didn't look appeased in the slightest.
"What were you fighting about?" He asked.
"Oh, nothing new, just the usual school stuff and the 'son you are a colossal disappointment' stuff with a side of 'what were you doing out until four am, it was probably something illegal'. My dad just likes to argue, it happens, so don't worry about it, okay?"
"What were you doing out until four am?" Isaac asked, thankfully dropping the more uncomfortable direction of the conversation.
"Oh, I was with Leo for a bit, nothing dangerous or illegal," Chase replied, then shot a glance towards Isaac's house. "We should probably get going before your gran calls the cops on me or, worse, comes out to glare at me some more."
Isaac frowned but then shot the house a worried look. "You're right let's get going."
Chase had known he would need to introduce Leo and Isaac sooner rather than later, now that Tony had mentioned him and Chase had borrowed one of Leo's fancy, expensive collared shirts for what was explicitly a date.
He had been waiting for a situation where he could quickly make excuses and leave quickly with Isaac the moment Leo started being more of an ass than usual, just to prevent too much collateral damage.
Because it involved Leo, that wasn't how things happened.
Leo showed up at the marketplace unannounced and unexpected in the middle of the day while Chase was wearing a literal flower crown along with his usual pink apron and had potting soil in his hair and probably on his face. He was also flirting with a technically of-age Gino Viala because the prick had been bugging Isaac again when Chase wasn't around.
Frankly, Chase couldn't think of a worse or more embarrassing way for his oldest friend to meet his maybe-boyfriend and he wasn't sure if it was because he lacked the necessary imagination to think of something worse or if it was simply because he already was in the literal worst possible scenario.
Chase hadn't yet moved beyond the standard first step of getting Viala to run off, which was to leer uncomfortably at him while leaning on one elbow on the counter of Isaac's booth, hovering just on the edge of a normal person's personal bubble. He was trying to decide which awful pickup line he felt like using, caught between 'I seem to have lost my phone number, can I have yours?' and 'are you French because maDAMN', when he heard a familiar choked laugh.
Chase looked over Viala's pointy little shoulder and saw Leo standing a few feet away, shoulders shaking and his eyebrows raised so high in disbelief that they nearly disappeared into his bangs.
'Really? What the hell, Chase?' Leo's expression seemed to say.
Chase shrugged and tilted his head slightly towards Viala between them, trying to indicate 'this guy is being a prick so I'm screwing with him'.
Leo traded disbelief for maniac glee in a split second and stepped into Viala's space, planting a hand on the counter, mirroring Chase's pose.
"Is your dad a baker, cause you got a nice set of buns," Leo said, making Viala nearly jump out of his skin.
Isaac, who'd been silently watching the whole scene with a sort of embarrassed resignation, appeared to choke on his own tongue and slapped one hand over his mouth.
Goddamn it, how had Chase not thought of that one?
"If you were a flower you'd be a DAMNdelion," Chase said quickly. Viala looked back and forth between Leo, lost for words.
Leo pouted at him over Viala's shoulder and said, almost making it sound like a legitimate question, "Are you from Tennessee? Because you're the only ten I see."
Chase shook his head in mock-disapproval. "That was low and overused, even for you," he informed Leo tartly, only slightly annoyed he hadn't gotten to that one first.
"What is wrong with you people?" Viala snapped, his voice comically high, colour high on his cheeks. He stepped away from the pair of them and stomped off, muttering under his breath about 'gay freaks'.
Chase beamed widely, because that was all he aspired in life to be, and he gave up attempting not to laugh at that point and all but fell over cackling. The woman in the booth next to the bakery didn't even look over, long used to Chase's shenanigans after multiple months of being exposed to him.
"That really wasn't necessary, Chase," Isaac said, attempting to sound chastising, but mostly sounding fond.
"You're right, it wasn't just necessary, it was extremely necessary."
"It was a thing of beauty," Leo agreed cheerfully, then frowned minutely. "Who was that that I just scared off and please tell me he wasn't underage, because that would make this kinda gross instead of entertaining."
"That was Gino Viala resident asshole, daddy's boy, owner of an unfortunate haircut, and an all-around dick. Also, over eighteen." Chase answered and pushed a drooping daisy out of his eyes.
"He isn't that bad," Isaac protested, though it was obvious his heart wasn't really in it.
"He really, really is," Chase argued. He was of the opinion that anyone who didn't see what a cinnamon roll Isaac was, was at least a little terrible, especially if they had the time and money to waste harassing someone they had gone to school with while they were at work.
"What's with the flowers?" Leo asked, gesturing to the rather elaborate crown Chase was still sporting. He'd finally gotten the hang of making them the day before, but Isaac had refused to wear the one Chase was wearing, so Chase had put it on and pouted until Isaac agreed to wear one once he finished work and didn't need to worry about baked goods and pollen mixing.
"I'm at work, asshole," Chase said fondly, and gestured at his pink apron. "Can't you tell?"
Leo looked surprised. "Right I forgot about that whole community service thing."
"It's your fault I'm stuck doing it," Chase grumbled back, though it was more of a group problem, but mentioning that wasn't how his and Leo's friendship worked.
"Why didn't your other friends also get community service hours?" Isaac asked. He was eyeing Leo warily, which was probably the most sensible way to react to Leo.
"My dearest friends all took off running the second we heard the sirens, and I had the misfortune of tripping over a garden gnome and getting tangled in a rosebush, so I couldn't escape before the cops got there," he explained and shrugged.
Isaac frowned. "And none of them came forward after they heard you'd gotten caught?"
"Hey it's no big deal, Isaac," Chase said, then twitched slightly when he saw Leo perk up at Isaac's name- because he hadn't known who Isaac was, until Chase had used his name, like an idiot.
"So, this is Isaac?" Leo asked looking a bit too excited for it to mean well for anyone involved.
"Stop," Chase said by way of reply.
"Nice to meet you?" Isaac said. It sounded more like a question rather than a statement. Leo grinned wider, a frankly terrifying to look even to someone as used to it as Chase.
"You must bring him to the party tonight," Leo told Chase.
"What party?" Isaac asked at the same time as Chase, realizing it would have to have something to do with Anya's upcoming wedding, turned white and said loudly, "No!"
"You're no fun, Chad," Leo said, rolling his eyes. "We haven't had a party with the whole gang in ages, you should bring Isaac to meet everyone."
"The last time 'the whole gang' had a party, a greenhouse got blown up," Chase replied, "Which is the entire reason we haven't had a party since then. And don't call me Chad, I feel like I'm going to spontaneously sprout a snapback, membership to a frat house, and a misogynistic attitude."
"The Black Hawks would be the worst frat ever," Leo had to agree. "Okay I'll never call you Chad again if you bring your new boy toy-"
"Your new boyfriend to the party tonight. It's just going to be at Black's, nothing too exciting, Tony will even be there. He's mentioned being worried about you a few times," Leo added, a small look of confusion passing over his face.
Chase was unpleasantly reminded of the number of times he'd ended up drinking alone at Black's and then weepily whining at Tony and/or Rowan, who was both significantly more sympathetic than Leo, but also was not a childhood friend or the brother of one. It was kind of a lot of times and was extremely embarrassing. He had zero desire to go talk to Tony while not under the influence of anything.
On the other hand, if it was at Black's, that meant they wouldn't be breaking into somewhere illegally and having a party. He couldn't hope for a tamer location to introduce Isaac to his delinquent friends.
"Your gran isn't making you work tonight, is she?" He asked Isaac, kind of hoping the answer would be yes.
Isaac shook his head.
Chase sighed, long and loudly. "Fine. We'll see you at nine, jerkface."
"Excellent," Leo said grinning a terrifying grin. "That's when karaoke starts. You'll get to see Chase sing Celine Dion if you get a few cocktails into him first," He added to Isaac.
Chase had the worst taste in friends. "You will not," he said to Leo, shoving him away with a hand on his face. "Now go away, we have a strict no loitering policy here."
"We really, really don't," the lady from the booth next to Isaac's said, having abandoned her book in favour of watching them instead.
Leo just laughed and took off.
Chase looked at Isaac.
"So, want to meet all of my friends tonight?" He asked. "I promise at least one of them won't be worse than Leo." Chase could only make that promise because he knew Rowan would show up to make sure the Black Hawks didn't entirely destroy the bar, which probably spoke volumes about a) Chase's ongoing poor life choices b) Chase's poor choice in childhood friends an c) the ongoing list of reasons Rowan was a saint.
"I suppose it can't be worse than you meeting my gran," Isaac mused.
Chase wasn't so sure about that, but kept his thoughts to himself. No use scaring Isaac. Or tempting fate further.
"Tarragon's coming in a half hour, but I'll come back when you're done and we can have dinner before going to Black's, if that works for you?"
"Why don't we just eat there?"
"You really, really don't want to do that, trust me."
Chase came back to the marketplace much less sweaty and covered in potting soil than when he had left. It was much cooler in the evening, with the sun having sunk down behind the peaks of the mountains, casting long shadows in the market.
Most of the booths were empty, Tarragon's included, and Isaac was just selling the last of his cookies to an elderly man when Chase got there, so he hovered far enough away not to be a distraction.
"I'm pretty much ready to go," Isaac told him. "One of my coworkers offered to drive the leftovers to the main store for me, so I just need to tally up the cashbox first."
"No rush," Chase said, and perched himself on the edge of the counter that normally held several large, glass cookie jars.
Isaac quickly finished packing up the last of the baked goods and then moved onto methodically counting the money in the cashbox and writing it down on a slip of paper. When he was done he handed it all off to a redheaded man who nodded to Chase, then climbed into the car full of the remaining goods and drove off.
"Where do you want to eat?" Chase asked when Isaac emerged from around the side of the booth.
Isaac shrugged. "I'm not that hungry yet, want to walk by the lake for a bit first?"
"Sure. Oh right- before I forget, I drew this for you while I was killing time at home," Chase said and handed over the little doodle he'd done that afternoon.
It was a picture of a cartoon Isaac as a wizard making a few cookies float. There was a dragon that looked suspiciously like Gino Viala sulking in the background.
Isaac laughed. "That's so cute!" He carefully tucked the piece of paper away in his pocket. He visibly hesitated before asking, "You said before that you went to art school for a while, right?"
Chase felt his smile slip a bit, but gamely said, "Yeah. I did."
He felt his phone vibrate and quickly pulled it out. Not many people texted him, so he figured it might be important.
Emergency. Come to Black's. Party cancelled. Don't bring boyfriend.
Chase frowned and then said to Isaac, "Sorry, I need to reply to this."
To: Leo (the giant arse)
? Are you okay? What's wrong?
Tony has gone and done something stupid, eloped with Rowan. Parents have officially disowned him, they're also now mad at me.
"Shit," Chase hissed down at his phone. To Isaac his said, "Sorry, I have to go. The party's cancelled."
Isaac's frown deepened. "Look if you don't want to talk to me about your dad you don't have to make something up to leave."
"You keep brushing me off whenever I try to ask you about your dad, and it's pretty obvious something is wrong there- your hand was all bruised last week. I'm just worried about you, okay?" Isaac was staring at him, forehead creased, and his eyes filled with disappointment that cut through Chase like a hot knife through butter.
"Look, it's no big deal-" Chase started to say, but Isaac cut him off sharply.
"You made a big deal about my gran wanting me to work at the bakery. Am I not allowed to care that you seem to always be arguing with your father?" Isaac demanded. He had his hands on his hips, which was kind of unintentionally funny, and he also had a point, but this was really just not the time-
"Are you mad about what happened with your gran or something? Because I already said I was sorry about that!" Chase snapped without actually meaning to say that. Rather than seem hurt, Isaac only seemed to get angrier.
"Well maybe I am! She still hasn't talked to me since that day and it's all your fault! You're allowed to mess my life up, but I'm not allowed to say that you deserve better from your dad and deserve better friends who don't ditch you after getting you into trouble?" Isaac snapped at him. They were starting to gather a crowd and people were skirting awkwardly around them, since they were also kind of blocking the sidewalk. Chase could not find it in him to give even half a shit.
"Hey don't talk about my friends like that," Chase growled back, because Leo was a jerk, and Anya and Randy were even worse usually, but they'd always been there when it had actually mattered. Ultimately Chase didn't give a shit that they'd let him take the fall for the greenhouse, it sucked, but he knew that if there had been actual serious consequences they'd have been there in a heartbeat. They were assholes, but they were his assholes, and they cared about him in their own way.
Before Isaac could respond, Chase's phone vibrated with another text.
"Fine, go see your friend. See if I care," Isaac said coldly and then stomped off.
"Maybe I will!" Chase shouted at his retreating back, feeling exceptionally angry, but mostly just like an idiot.
The people who'd been unsubtly watching the whole thing started whispering to each other, even less subtly, so Chase whirled on them and snapped, "Shows over!" and stormed off, not feeling even a remotely better for his outburst. He was such an idiot.
The next day, Chase was understandably in a bad mood when he arrived at Tarragon's to pick up the day's plants. He'd spent the majority of the night with Leo, and had heard several times about how Leo's brother was the most brainless idiot alive and why couldn't he wait until their parents kicked the bucket to marry his boyfriend, along with about how his parents were the worst homophobic old money assholes to walk the earth.
Chase's mood was not helped by the news that greeted him when he got to Tarragon's.
"I'm sorry," Tarragon said to him, "But he's my husband's favourite nephew, and he needs something to put on his resume that isn't babysitting."
Chase sighed, feeling irritable but without anywhere to direct it. "No, it's fine, I should have checked my phone last night."
"Let me know if you're looking for a job next summer, alright?" Tarragon said, looking apologetic.
Chase thanked her and exchanged a few more pleasantries with her before biking home.
He hadn't wanted to see Isaac anyways, and it wasn't like he'd worked at Tarragon's out of a passion for gardening. Less than 24 hours and he'd lost a both a boyfriend and his not-job. Great one, Chase. Just really well done.
He crawled back into bed the moment he got home. This was fine.
It was three in the morning and Chase was about to make an ill-advised phone call while inebriated. But he wasn't calling Isaac. Because even drunk him wasn't that stupid.
There was a short pause. Chase could faintly hear the sound of crashing waves in the background. Of course Tony had eloped them somewhere tropical. "Chase, is everything okay?" Rowan asked, when Chase didn't say anything else.
"No," Chase said, and found that he was holding back laughter for some inexplicable reason. Drunk Chase was a strange fellow. Or maybe it was just the crippling emotional downward spiral following being dumped by the best thing he'd ever had in his life. Or the knowledge that it was entirely his own fault, and was something he'd known he'd end up screwing up since the beginning, from the moment he'd seen Isaac making faces at him across the street, a knowledge that weighed heavy on him, like Atlas with the weight of the heavens on his back.
Then Chase had to laugh again because there was melodramatic and then there was that.
"Okay," Rowan said, his voice very carefully moderated and calm. "Are you in any danger? How much have you had to drink?"
Chase eyed his collection of empty beer cans. There were enough to make a small structure. None of them had tasted as good as the weird pink drinks at Black's, but taste really hadn't been the point.
"I'm not in danger of alcohol poisoning," he said, because the point hadn't been to hurt himself either.
"Well, that's reassuring," Rowan said, a hint of sarcasm creeping into his calm. "And also doesn't really answer my question."
"Doesn't matter," Chase grumbled. He was an adult, who could make adult decisions. And have adult arguments like a total twat. He was still working on the apologizing like an adult part, since he was an adult who didn't even know where to begin now that he'd paddled himself so far up shit creek. Chase wasn't really sure where that metaphor was going- another reason he really shouldn't be allowed to drink. The point was that he sucked.
"Why did you call me, Chase?" Rowan asked. He didn't sound angry or annoyed, but he did sound tired. Chase realized guiltily that he had no clue what time it was wherever Tony had whisked them off to. It probably wasn't a reasonable hour no matter where he was.
"You're the only sensible person I know," Chase said honestly. "And I need someone to tell me I'm being an idiot."
"I'm sure Leo or Tony could do that for you," Rowan pointed out.
He had a point, but… "Yeah, but they are also idiots. Doesn't count when an idiot calls you an idiot. You're not an idiot, so it counts."
Rowan paused thoughtfully and Chase stretched out further in the booth and propped his feet up on the table because no one was there to tell him not to ruin the already disgusting tables. Black's was temporarily closed with Tony being out of town, but Chase had the spare key, and it had been the only place he could think to go.
"That Isaac sounded like he wasn't an idiot either," Rowan said eventually, something in his voice indicating that he had an inkling as to what was really going on. Chase vaguely wondered if Tony's boyfriend/husband was a mind reader along with being a saint.
"Isaac won't talk to me long enough to call me an idiot," Chase snorted. It wasn't entirely true given that he hadn't even tried. But there had been radio silence even after Chase had stopped showing up at the market, and Chase was pretty sure that had to mean something.
"What happened, Chase?" Rowan asked gently.
"You know how you said that we don't get to pick who you care about, even when they do dumb things?" Chase asked, because approaching his feelings head on was pretty much impossible even when he was blitzed on cheap beer.
"I remember. Did Isaac do something dumb?"
"No," Chase said, starting to laugh. Or maybe he was starting to cry. He couldn't tell. His throat hurt and his face was wet. "God, no. I'm the stupid one. I'm always the stupid one who messes up. I'm pretty sure you're wrong about that choosing who you care about, because I'm sure he doesn't care about me anymore. Or at least I hope he doesn't, no one should have to deal with caring about me after all I've done." He laughed, because melodramatic much? This was why he shouldn't be allowed to drink alone. It didn't mean it wasn't true, but seriously Chase might as well have been writing sad poems in his journal along with drinking alone in the dark. He was such a loser.
"You're too hard on yourself, Chase," Rowan said. In the background, Chase thought he heard Tony's voice, followed by Rowan whispering something back.
"I should go, sorry for calling you at whatever time it is there," Chase said, feeling even more guilty and awful than before he'd called. There he went, ruining things even while hundreds of miles away.
"Don't you dare hang up," Rowan said, his voice surprisingly stern. It sounded like he'd moved into another room, Tony and the ocean gone from the background. "This is something you need to hear, so pay attention. Ever since I met you- that was when you were in still middle school, mind- you've always measured yourself by whatever ridiculous standards your father set and then decided that since you didn't meet them, that meant you were worthless. You have other qualities, Chase. One of your best, in my opinion, is how much you care about your friends.
"Now, I don't know what you've done with Isaac. But I'm willing to bet that it had to do with you caring about him and not expressing it properly, or something like that. Caring about people isn't a bad thing, and if Isaac is as smart as you think he is, I'm sure he knows why you did what you did."
"I didn't realize you and Tony had been dating for that long."
"Okay, fine. I guess I see your point. I just don't see how Isaac can even care about me after all this."
"Love isn't about just liking the best qualities of someone, Chase. You have to take the bad with the good, because otherwise you're going to be terribly disappointed when that person makes a mistake. We're only human, we can't ask for more than that."
"Who said anything about love?" Chase grumbled irritably, and scrubbed at his face.
"Oops. My mistake. Of course you weren't talking about love at all. My point still stands. Unless you've killed his gran or something, I'm sure Isaac still cares about you, even if he's not happy with you right now."
"But what do I do now?" Chase asked, finally getting to what he'd called Rowan for in the first place.
"Well, since I don't know all that's happened, all I can suggest is this: apologies," Rowan said, chuckling a little.
"Ugh. I knew you were going to say that. Why did I even call you?"
Rowan snorted. "Because Leo would have told you to try and buy his affections back, and Tony would have suggested something involving public nudity. I don't even want to consider what Anya would say."
"What about Randy?" Chase asked, starting to smile despite himself.
"Oh, I think the greenhouse incident has already well established that he'd just tell you to do whatever Isaac wanted."
"Not necessarily bad advice," Chase had to point out, ignoring how agreeing with anything Randy said, no matter how hypothetical, made him feel like he was breaking out in hives.
"Relationships are two-way streets, Chase. Or at least healthy ones are."
"That why you and Tony eloped?"
Rowan chuckled. "Something like that. And we needed a break from you losers. Besides, who could resist the opportunity to really piss off Mr. and Mrs. Black?"
Chase considered this, mentally agreed that that was as solid reasoning as anything, and then asked, "Why is someone nice like you even friends with any of us?"
"Someone has to keep you morons in touch with your feelings," Rowan said, a smile audible in his voice.
"Thank you, Rowan" Chase said and then hung up. He still didn't really know what to do, but somehow, he felt a little better anyways.
The next few weeks were odd, mostly due to him waking up earlier than he needed to and rattling around the house without purpose.
He felt restless, and after getting into arguments with his father (several) and even his mother (just one. She bit him again) he stormed out of the house to look for Leo, who wasn't answering his phone. Isaac hadn't texted him. Then again, Chase hadn't either. He had thought Isaac would at least ask him where he was when he didn't show up at the marketplace that first day, but there had been radio silence. Because he apparently didn't actually have any balls, he'd yet to implement Rowan's crazy plan of talking to Isaac.
He came home near midnight with his old job at the good Starbucks back and the knowledge that Leo had left town to find Tony and Rowan. His old job had been happy to have him back in their minimum-wage clutches, but couldn't offer him any hours for at least two weeks, leaving Chase once more at a loose end.
One sweltering afternoon a solid two weeks after his argument with Isaac (probably, days were kind of sliding from one to the next without him really noticing), he tried to pass the time by drawing in the conservatory, but he grew frustrated and threw the notebook across the room, knocking over an empty planter. He'd realized five minutes in that he'd been drawing Isaac.
It was disgustingly hot and sticky out, even in the house, so Chase decided it was time to spend some of Leo's money on ice cream since there was none to be had in the house. His mother had been fairly coherent the day previous, so Chase figured he'd see if she'd tell him what kind she wanted.
The first place he looked was in her room. The second was all of the empty cupboards. Then his father's room, the basement, the kitchen and the backyard and then he dashed up to check his own room and the laundry room. He even looked in the attic, despite the fact that it was too narrow for an adult to stand up in and covered in two inches of dust.
"Shit," Chase hissed, roughly scrubbing sweat out of his eyes with the back of one arm.
She'd never taken off before. There had been plenty of problems with his mom hiding, but she rarely left the house, and she hadn't gone beyond the fence around the yard in longer than Chase could remember.
Gritting his teeth, he pulled out his phone and begrudgingly called his father, hoping he'd uncharacteristically taken her somewhere. He'd take his dad being an asshole and forcing his mom to leave the house for appearance's sake or something equally stupid over his mom being actually missing any day.
His father didn't answer. Typical.
Chase numbly left what was probably a completely incoherent message and then pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes, trying to frantically think of what to do.
He called the police next. They were less than helpful; his mother hadn't been missing long enough and was an adult, so they couldn't report her missing, but at least they had her description if she was brought in.
Chase didn't know what a heart attack felt like, but he was pretty sure it had to feel a little like what was happening to him.
He called Leo and Tony. Neither of them answered. Neither did Rowan. Anya had no idea what he was talking about. Randy was even more clueless. Laura hadn't even ever met his mother, but promised to help search for her if it came to that.
In a fit of desperation, he tried Macnair, who was sympathetic enough, but also not in the country and rather irritated about being woken up in the middle of the night given the difference in time zones.
Chase opened up the only other contact in his phone who wasn't a Black Hawk; Isaac. His thumb hesitated over the call button.
"Goddamnit," he muttered and thunked the phone against his face.
"Hello?" A voice came from his cellphone.
"Hello?" Chase repeated dumbly into the phone.
"Did you mean to call me, Chase?" Isaac asked, sounding less pissed off than Chase had expected.
"No. I mean yes? I was going to but I hadn't decided yet. I must have accidentally his call. Sorry."
There was a pause, Isaac saying something to someone away from the phone. "You sound a little strange. Are you alright?"
"No," Chase said, without meaning to, and then added, since apparently he was doing this, "My mom's missing."
"Could she have gone for a walk or to visit friends?"
"No, she hasn't left the house in years. I haven't seen her since yesterday afternoon, I just assumed she was around somewhere. Christ, I was so stupid, I should have looked when she didn't come out for dinner." Charles Sr. was right to force her out of her hiding places, if Chase had bothered to do that much he would have realized she was missing so much sooner. Chase was such an idiot, and the very thought of his asshole dad being right made Chase want to punch both himself and his dad in the face.
"Okay, calm down," Isaac said, sounding improbably calm. Didn't he realize Chase had told him his mom was missing? She could be hurt or dead or afraid or lost for all Chase knew, and Isaac wanted him to calm down?! "It's going to be okay. I'll help you find her. I'll meet you outside the marketplace in half an hour."
"What about the bakery?" Chase asked, because it was the middle of the afternoon and he knew Isaac had to be at work.
"I'll take care of it, don't worry. See you soon," Isaac replied and hung up before Chase could say anything more.
For lack of any better ideas, Chase grabbed a pair of sandals and his phone and biked to the marketplace.
It was still outstandingly hot out, so he was soaked with sweat by the time he got there. Isaac was already waiting for him, even though it had barely been twenty minutes.
Chase was at a loss for what he was supposed to say, considering their argument the last time they'd seen each other nearly two weeks previous.
Luckily, Isaac seemed to have no such problems.
"We should check the hospital first to see if anyone with her description has come in, and then if that doesn't work, we'll form a search party. I used to volunteer at one of the soup kitchens, someone there might have seen her, so I can ask around there too," Isaac said without preamble.
"Okay," Chase said, since he really didn't know what else to say or how to act around this strange take-charge Isaac, and then held the bike still so Isaac could climb up onto the handlebars.
It was harder than biking alone, and less fun than the last time he'd taken Isaac for a ride, but it was faster than walking.
Still, by the time they reached the city hospital several blocks away, Chase's legs were burning. He didn't care about that once they got the news that there were no Jane Doe that matched his mom's description who was recently admitted to the hospital.
Chase thought he was going to pass out.
"Okay, you need to take a deep breath," Isaac told him, and forced him to sit down on a set of stairs.
"What I need to do is go find my mom," Chase snapped back, temper shorter than usual.
"And look where?" Isaac asked calmly, "You said that she didn't leave the house. Us wandering around town aimlessly isn't likely to be useful. So sit down and I'll see if anyone at any of the shelters or soup kitchens has seen your mom before we try and get a group together to look for you mom strategically rather than racing off without a plan."
Isaac fiddled with his phone, the fact that it was an honest to god flip phone making sending a text take four times as long as average.
"I'm sorry for getting mad at you before," Chase said after a long, moment with only the click of Isaac's phone to break the silence.
"I'm sorry too," Isaac said softly. "I shouldn't have pushed you about your dad."
"It's okay," Chase replied, "I was being a jerk about it."
"Stop apologizing when I'm trying to say sorry!" Isaac snapped and then had to stifle a giggle.
Chase snorted, and soon both of them were laughing uncontrollably.
And that was when Isaac's phone rang.
He yanked it out of his pocket and flipped it open. "Hello? Oh, hi gran." His mouth tugged downward unhappily. "Yes, I did ask Kelly to look after the booth in the market for me. She's more than capable of dealing with tourists, gran. Yes, I know it's my responsibility, but something came up. No, that's not what we're doing- yes, he's with me. No- for god's sake gran, his mother is missing."
Chase felt a bit awkward listening to half of a conversation so he looked away, staring at a poster reminding guests that the hospital cafeteria closed at seven on Sundays.
"What? Oh, she looks like…" Isaac rattled off the quick description Chase had given him of his mother. "Okay. Thanks gran."
He hung up the phone and looked at Chase.
"Gran's mad at me, but she also does a lot of volunteering, so she might find someone who knows where your mom is."
Chase suddenly disliked Mrs. Ross a lot less. Not everyone would go out of their way like that for someone they harbored an intense hatred for.
"Why didn't you text?" Chase asked without preamble, startling both himself and Isaac.
"Why didn't you text?" Isaac shot back.
"I thought you would when I wasn't at work anymore," Chase said honestly. "And then it had been so long and I figured you just didn't want to talk to me." Also, he was an idiot, but that went without saying.
Isaac smiled faintly. "I thought you were still mad at me, so I didn't text you. Tarragon told me you'd been working for free after you finished your hours and that her nephew needed the job more than you," he explained and raised an expectant eyebrow at Chase.
Chase, blushing, muttered to his knees, "Well I wanted to spend time with you."
Isaac looked at him in surprise, mouth opening to say something.
The phone rang again.
"Hello?" Isaac answered, "Oh. Yes, I know where that is. We're at the hospital. Thank you, gran."
"Well?" Chase said the second Isaac's finger hit the end call button.
"Your mom's in a halfway house just outside of town. Apparently she took herself there last night. Gran is going to drive us out there."
"Bless your gran," Chase said, relief pouring through him.
The drive was short, tense and just the slightest bit awkward. No one said a word until they arrived and Chase mumbled a quick thank you before scrambling out of the car towards the stone building they'd stopped in front of, Isaac not far behind him.
Before they could get inside, Chase's phone rang. Against his better judgement, he checked the caller ID. The screen read MANIPULATIVE JACKASS. His father was calling. Because of course he was calling right then.
Chase would have ignored the call, but he remembered the utterly incoherent message he'd left and decided ignoring him would probably start more fires than extinguish.
"I found her," Chase said, hoping to cut his father off the pass so he could get inside the building, see his mom and figure out what the fuck was actually happening.
"Thank god," Charles Sr. said, actually sounding relieved. It was the most emotion aside from anger that Chase could remember him ever expressing in recent memory. "Where is she?"
"A halfway house-" Chase started to say.
"Good. I'll come pick her up-"
"You will do no such fucking thing," Chase snarled, so vehemently that both Isaac and Mrs. Ross looked over at him in surprise.
"Don't you fucking Charles me," Chase snapped, anger starting to boil over so hotly that it almost felt like he was a different person, and was watching this strange person in his body talk. "You are going to not do a fucking thing, just like you've always done. I don't know what's happening exactly, but it seems like for the first time in years mom has decided to do something for herself and I'm not letting you ruin it."
"You have to under-"
Chase didn't give him an inch, and continued hotly, "No, I don't understand. I don't understand how you could sit on your ass and let your wife go off the rails like that-"
"It was your fault." Charles Sr.'s voice was like a whip, and sent a wave of ice down Chase's spine. "She was fine before you left. She asked you to stay, and when you didn't, she lost herself."
Chase couldn't find the words he wanted to say. Because his father was right. His mom had begged him not to leave, she'd been terrified, and Chase had ignored her and left anyways, so desperate to get away from his father and every other thing in that town that made him feel like such a failure. Then halfway through his second year away, his father had called, the first time since Chase had left. The next day, Chase had withdrawn from his classes and had gone home. His mother had barely recognized him. She'd... she'd all but disappeared under the weight of her own fear. She'd faded.
He drew in a shaky breath, and then suddenly the phone was being ripped out of his hand- by Isaac, who must have heard Charles Sr.'s voice over the phone, had heard what Chase had done, and was pissed.
"You can't force someone, much less your teenaged son, to be entirely responsible for someone else's mental health, and you'd know that if you had even an ounce of compassion in your heart, you comprehensive asshole," Isaac snarled into the phone. He was so angry that he was all but vibrating with rage. Chase stared at him wide-eyed, too shocked for words as Isaac continued, "So you are going to continue to not give a damn about Chase or his mother and not do a single thing to ruin whatever is happening, or I swear to god I'll shove-"
Mrs. Ross calmly reached over and took the phone out of Isaac's hand and delicately hit 'end call'.
"Gran!" Isaac protested.
Mrs. Ross handed Chase his phone back and said to Isaac, "We do not waste our time on trash, Isaac. Wasting our time on men like that is beneath us." She turned to Chase and added, "I may not like you all that much, Chase, but I don't take kindly to people who don't look after their family. From what I've heard from Isaac, the same might be true for you." Chase stared at her. Was Isaac's gran actually maybe warming up to him? "Why don't you go inside and see your mother," she added when Chase continued to silently gape at her like a gap-toothed idiot.
Chase stared at her, still at a loss for words, nodded, and headed for the building waiting across the parking lot.
Out of nerves, Chase accidentally flung the door open hard enough that it bounced off the inside wall. The receptionist seemed taken aback by his entrance, and Chase felt like he still wasn't sure how the spoken language worked. So many things had just happened, his brain felt like it was an old beat up computer trying to run NASA level calculations.
"Is there a Mrs. Hart staying here?" Isaac asked, when Chase still didn't say anything and continued staring blankly at the receptionist.
The receptionist eyed them curiously, but tapped a few keys and then nodded. "Yes, but there's a note here saying she'll only see direct family members. I'll need to see some ID."
Chase fumbled to pull out his wallet, and handed his driver's license over.
"I'll wait here," Isaac told Chase who nodded absently and followed the receptionist down the hall.
"She's in here," she said, gesturing to a door labelled 112.
Chase hesitated for a fraction of a second, before turning the knob and opening the door.
The room was almost painfully bright, with floor to ceiling windows on one side, a bed on the other. There was a tiny potted plant on one of the window sills. All his time working at Tarragon's informed him it was a peony.
Most importantly though, was his mother sitting calmly on a comfortable chair beside the window. Her expression was almost serene- it the least afraid he could remember ever seeing her since he was a small child.
"Oh, hello," she said when she noticed him. There was still a faintly pinched look in her eyes, but she was sitting in the center of an open room and almost smiling.
"Mom," Chase said, relief pouring through him as he swiftly crossed the room to crouch in front of her chair. "You scared the crap out of me, disappearing like that," he added, trying and failing at sounding stern.
"Sit down," she suggested, gesturing at the other chair next to the big windows. "I knew your father would argue if I let you know I was going, so I thought it best to just leave."
Chase stared. This was the most coherent he could remember his mother being in months. She'd been out of the house for barely a day, and was already this much more relaxed? Chase was not going to punch his father, not after Isaac had all but done that for him, but he wasn't ever going to forgive him from keeping this from his mother for so long.
"Why did…" Chase trailed off, not quite sure what he wanted to ask. He'd always argued with his father that his mom needed care they couldn't give her, but he'd never expected her to do it herself. She'd stopped being an adult to him around the time he'd had to come home from university, he'd been her keeper, not her son.
"I wasn't always like this," his mom said, eyes going distant as she stared out at the garden beyond the window, "I remember. I didn't used to feel afraid all the time. I didn't used to forget what things were or who you- my son- is. But I can't stop. It was making everyone unhappy. I don't want to be unhappy anymore. I don't want to make you unhappy anymore either, and I don't want you to be stuck in that home because of me. So, I looked up this place on the internet. People said it was a nice, quiet place, so I spent some time setting everything up."
Chase bit his lip, feeling foolishly emotional. "I'm glad you're going to get better, mom."
She smiled gently and said, "Well, you'd better visit me often, the university is only a few hours away."
"What?" Chase asked, feeling like the floor had just been ripped out from under him for what had to be the fifth time that day. At this rate he was half expecting Gino Vialas to pop out from behind a curtain or something and ask for his hand in marriage and it would only be the third strangest thing to happen that day.
"I checked that too, you still have time to apply to start in the fall again," she said with a small smile.
"University?" Chase echoed faintly, "Dad won't be happy about that."
"Your father needs to learn that he doesn't always know best," she replied calmly.
Chase laughed, a weight lifting from his chest.
Somehow, he knew everything was going to be alright.
A month later, Chase entered the marketplace after work, still wearing his Starbucks apron and stopped at Tarragon's and bought the most ridiculously huge bouquet he could afford. It was rather large, as Leo had stopped by the previous night to drop off several things for Chase, including his wallet.
"Hey," he said to Isaac and set down the bouquet on the counter, next to the cashbox he was counting up.
Without looking up from the tally sheet of the day's sales, Isaac asked, "How's your mom?" It was something he did whenever he saw Chase. His mom was not up for visitors who weren't Chase, since she still had dissociative episode and panicked easily at the sight of strangers, but Isaac had written her a few letters, and they'd gotten to know each other a little. Chase seriously wanted to know what embarrassing baby story she'd shared with him in the last letter that had made Isaac laugh so hard he'd snorted orange juice out his nose. He'd bet Leo's entire wallet on it being something stupid he'd done with Leo. Pretty much all of his worst baby stories involved Leo, so that didn't narrow it down much.
"Today wasn't a good day, but she'll be okay," Chase said. Her bad days didn't scare him like they had when she'd been at the house, because they were slowly starting to be outnumbered by the good ones, and because easing her through the bad ones was no longer solely his responsibility. There were people who actually knew what they were doing to help his mom, and he couldn't get over what a relief it was. His mom would probably never be exactly like the woman he remembered from his childhood, but Chase was fine with that- she was going to finally feel safe again. That was what mattered.
"And your dad?" Isaac asked absentmindedly, still focused on his tally sheet. His eyebrows were scrunched up in concentration in the most adorable way.
"Oh, he's his usual charming self, but I haven't had to talk to him directly in nearly a week which is magical." Charles Hart Sr had been about as pleased as Chase had expected him to be, but thankfully his mother's new doctor had shouted him into submission, preventing Chase from having to do it. Isaac's outburst seemed to have had an effect too- Charles Sr. and Chase rarely crossed paths despite living in the same home, but Charles Sr. seemed to pick his words carefully, like he actually expected Isaac to appear to defend Chase, should he misstep.
They'd had one single argument about it after that, but things had settled after that. Chase liked to think that his father had recognized he had been incredibly wrong- he sometimes saw his father shoot unreadable yet somehow sad looks at his mother's room and the empty pantry, which Chase figured meant something, though he had no clue what precisely. He and his father would probably never like each other, but in the last month they'd at least found a careful sort of balance.
"Did you really make me come all the way down here to talk about my parents?" Chase asked with an exaggerated pout.
"I didn't make you- What on earth is that?" Isaac asked when he finally looked up, finally noticing the flowers sprawled all over his counter.
"Flowers," Chase replied with a grin, ignoring the unimpressed look Isaac gave him in response. "I was going to ask you on a date where we don't have an argument or have to worry about Black Hawks or anything. Do you have work?"
Isaac shook his head. "No, gran's cutting my hours back now that she's convinced Jane to work in the market a few days a week. Tomorrow I get to sleep in till eight," he added, looking so excited it would be unreasonable if it were anyone else.
"Exciting!" Chase said with a grin. "Let's get going then. We can party like it's 1955 since you still need to be asleep before midnight."
"Hold your horses, I'm almost done," Isaac said and shifted the bouquet over. He paused, fingers lingering on a myrtle flower. "You aren't proposing, are you?" he asked Chase with an eyebrow raised.
"What?" Chase said. "You know the meanings of flowers?"
"You thought I didn't?" Isaac asked, raising an eyebrow, expression unimpressed.
"Oh my god," Chase said, pressing both hands over his face.
"I'm the one who actually is into plants," Isaac pointed out, like a reasonable, rational person, which did nothing to change the fact that Chase wanted to die. "I liked the purple lilacs," Isaac continued blithely, though there was a hint of a smirk at the edges of his mouth. "But the meaning of the first ones you gave me were nice too. Is that amaranth? That's so sweet."
"Oh my god," Chase repeated. He kind of wanted the ground to open up beneath him and eat him whole. He'd known the yarrow was a bad idea.
"Come on," Isaac said a minute later, "I'm all done, it's going to take forever to walk to somewhere nice for dinner."
"Oh, actually," Chase said perking up, "Leo stopped by last night. He gave me the keys to his car to use while he's gone with Tony and Rowan. It'll make it easier to come back and visit while I'm at university."
"Well, you won't have to do that for long," Isaac replied with a secretive smile, "I was accepted there too, starting in January. Studying botany."
"What? No way!" Chase said and tugged him into a crushing hug, not caring how squished the flowers got.
"Gran and I talked. Well, sort of shouted at each other a lot. But we came to an understanding. That's why she's giving me reasonable hours again. She isn't… happy. But she isn't going to force me to do anything I don't want to do."
"I'm so proud of you!" Chase exclaimed, letting Isaac go.
"Stop it, you sound like my parent or a teacher or something," Isaac complained, still grinning.
"Oh no! Quick make out with me to make up for it!" Chase replied.
They were both laughing too hard to do more than rest their foreheads together.
Jasmine (white): sweet love
Hyacinth (general): sincerity (white): loveliness
Myrtle: the emblem of marriage, true love
Amaranth: undying, everlasting (usually in the context of love)
Yarrow: everlasting love