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Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Appendix · Drama · #1213563
Located in the city, this complex brews over with crazy characters and endless drama.
[Introduction]
Lancaster Estates

** Images For Use By Upgraded+ Only **


Located in the city, this popular apartment complex is brewing over with crazy characters and is a never-ending source of drama.

In the city, life is mostly composed of work and play. The question is how much work and how much play should there be? The residents of Lancaster Estates are about to figure that out for themselves as they deal with personal issues while trying to hold onto successful (and not so successful) careers. Their relationships and their ordeals at work will vie for each resident’s attention. Can they handle the juggling and struggling that is involved?


Characters, Connections & Careers:

Eddie Lancaster - He comes from a wealthy family with a great line of entrepreneurs (his uncle owns the apartment complex, his mother runs a women's magazine). He works at the insurance company owned by his father, which he is to inherit when his father passes. He holds a title there but has truthfully done little to deserve it. Every four months or so, he receives a lecture from his father, who has been trying to encourage him to work harder in life. As of now, he would rather focus on his status as a ladies man and go club-hopping at night. He also has a complex relationship with Rachel.
Author - irishmaki

Chase Thomas - He is an artist with many talents, varying from watercolors and sketches to photography and sculpting. His main source of work and income, however, are his sculptures. He sells them to clients in the city and has done fairly well for himself. He is best friends with Jason, and they often help each other through the ups and downs of their unsteady careers. He is gay and recently realized, while on a camping trip with the guys, that he has feelings for his best friend. Other than Jason, Rachel is his closest confidant.
Author - Rose Grey

Jason Blakely - He is a staff writer for the Grand Central Press, the major newspaper of the city, and also dabbles in some creative writing. Although he has published a few successful novels, making him a bit of a local literary hero, his true dream is to write a brilliant screenplay--which is, so far, a seemingly empty fantasy. He shares an apartment with Eddie and is best friends with Chase. The three of them often go camping, fishing, and hunting together when they can afford to get away. He is very laid back and enjoys joking around. He's also fairly athletic.
Author - Aiken4LOTR

Jeremy Tewdor - The epitome of tall, dark, and handsome--with a delectable Welsh accent to boot--he is often thought to be a male model. Instead of entering the turbulent fashion world, he chose to follow his deam of running a reenactment supply company. He's a charming, mature, and grounded individual. He graduated from Worthington University--the alma mater to credit for the success stories of Edward Lancaster, Jason Blakely, Matthew Rodshaw, and Michael Letaghlio. He's in a new relationship with Nat and is wary of her time spent with Eddie.
Author - Dr Matticakes Myra

Rachel Davidtz - She moved in with Chase after breaking up with her boyfriend. She used to date Eddie, and it is still hard for her to see him move on and date other women. She is closest to her roommate, Chase, who is always there to hear her out and let her vent. She just hopes she can one day be there to return the favor. She’s also close to the girls, although, she dislikes how often Nat goes clubbing with her ex-boyfriend. Right now she is unemployed and is looking for a job.
Author - Agent-409

Natalia Jackson - Heard of a blonde bombshell? Well, she’s more than that. She’s a redhead. Feisty and full of life, she is a model who loves playing sports and drinking beer. The sports help her keep in shape after she’s drunk all the beer. She is pals with Eddie and likes to go to clubs and play sports with him. Although she’s a model and is great at hanging out with the boys, she can’t seem to hold a steady boyfriend. She lives with Roshonda.
Author - Professor Q

Roshonda Hughes - She works as a writer and researcher for the fashion department of a women’s lifestyle magazine. Incidentally, this happens to be a publication run by Eddie’s mother. Although she is friends with Jason, whom she often calls on upon for editing and writing assistance, she is definitely not a fan of his roommate. Her greatest aspiration is to create her own full-length fashion line. She loves talking fashion with Nat, but finds it easier to talk and relate to Rachel.
Author - Daizy

*Note4* All positions are filled. Sorry to those who invite requests didn't make the cut. I wish there was more room for you all!

*Note2* Please write additions and add them within a week. If you need more time or would like your turn moved down one, PLEASE let me know. Thanks so much!


Although he had just woken up and was barely functioning, Jason somehow managed to fall off the side of his bed onto the floor. There was a purpose to this. It was the writer’s daily routine. He would slump out of bed onto the floor in a heap. A couple minutes later, after his brain remembered what body parts did what, he would find a way to crawl over to his desk. It would be another fifteen minutes before he was actually capable of getting into his chair.

Once he was finally settled and had discovered the appropriate buttons to press on his laptop, Jason suddenly became alert when a blank document page appeared on the screen. It meant it was time to write. Of course, this all would occur after a grand total of about twenty to twenty-five minutes, depending on the ungodly hour he had chosen to wake up. Yes, it was quite strange and a bit of a time-waster, but this was how Jason started his day. He couldn’t think or function properly until he attempted to write something. It could be an editorial, a hard news story, or even just some fluff entertainment piece for the GC Press. Whatever it was, it was part of who Jason was.

Lately, however, Mr. Blakely found himself pouring more energy and time into his articles rather than his personal works. He had written a couple successful novels and was probably due to write another. The thing he wanted most, though, was to complete a screenplay. It was one thing if you could write a book. You had all the time, pages, and words you wanted at your disposal. With a screenplay, the writer is limited. You can’t just tell and explain everything. You have to use your words, or rather, the words of your character. Unfortunately, this was Jason’s downfall. He could describe the heck out of something, but dialogue was a different story.

“Hey man, are you up already?” There was a soft knock on Jason’s door. Finally the door creaked open and a head popped in. By the look on Eddie’s face, you could tell he had quite a night. His hair was sticking out on all ends, his lips were spread thin into a spry little grin, and the thick scent of perfume could easily be detected wafting around him. Plus, a few lipstick marks on the collar of his shirt gave him away.

“I heard you fall out of bed again. I get it and all, but you do realize it’s five-thirty in the morning? Really Jason, you’re not the only one that lives here,” Eddie tried to say forcefully. He couldn’t quite manage it because he wasn’t completely sober yet. By that time, Jason had turned back to face the computer screen and had stuck his hand in the air, waving in surrender. Although he knew he would continue his routine again the next morning, he might as well seem cooperative for the time being.

Jason leaned back in his chair and yawned. He had only written fifty words. Every morning he required of himself at least five hundred. Even if it was nonsense, he had to write something. Sometimes he would write in an online journal he created for this very reason. It mostly consisted of rantings and ramblings about the possible reasons why he can’t complete five hundred measly words or even get started on a proper screenplay. The online tirades were very lengthy and always seemed to satisfy his word quota for the day.

With a shrug of his shoulders, Jason hit submit on his latest entry and got up from his chair. He ran a hand through his thick brown hair, trying to keep his messy locks from getting in the way. He was unsuccessful, but continued to search through his dresser for something to wear. His dark green eyes scanned through to find something presentable enough. It was only a saturday. Finally he found something and pulled it out. He then grabbed his towel hanging on the door before heading to the shower. With a quick glance over to the clock on his desk, he saw that it was nearly seven. This meant he had one hour before he supposed to meet up with Chase.


Chase blinked at the mirror staring at the reflection that wasn’t his own. His light brown eyes weren’t what were looking back at him. Instead they were the darkest of green and his dirty blonde hair had darkened to a complete brown. Sighing, Chase closed his eyes and shook his head before opening them again to look in the mirror once more. This time his eyes looked back at him instead of his best friend’s. This just couldn’t keep happening, it would drive him insane. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have finally realized just how much he cares about Jason when they were on their last camping trip with Eddie, having things like this happening now made it even harder to keep this little secret. While it wouldn’t surprise anyone that he had a new crush or a crush on a man for that matter, who the crush was on, would.

Chase hadn’t told anyone of the revelation he had on that camping trip and didn’t plan to any time soon, but if things like this kept going on, he would likely either go insane or let something slip. He had to find a way to keep Jason out of his head but not lose their friendship in the process. They had known each other too long for him to let something like this get in the way of a great friendship. Chase knew that Jason wouldn’t have the same feelings that he had, but that was alright. It hurt of course, but there was nothing to be done about it, and Chase would get along just fine having Jason in his life, just as he has for longer than he can remember.

Chase ran a comb though his hair, removing the pieces that had fallen into his face when he had shook his head to clear the mess that was inside it. After that was straightened out, he pulled on his clothes for the day, just a simple sweatshirt and jeans for helping Rachel move the rest of her things into the apartment. Walking from the bathroom toward the kitchen, Rachel saw him and smiled, downing the rest of the coffee from her mug.

“Finally, I get a turn,” she stated as she rinsed the mug and put it in the sink.

Chase glanced at the clock, “Well, you’ve got an hour before Jason’s even supposed to be here. That’s plenty of time.”

Rachel walked out from behind the counter toward the bedrooms, passing Chase as she did.

“If you left my any hot water, it would be.”

“Would I ever leave you in the cold?”

Rachel laughed, “If you were daydreaming again, yes you would.”

Chase watched her disappear down the hallway, knowing that she was indeed right. Shaking his head again, he wasn’t even sure if he had gotten lost in his thoughts while he showered this morning or not. That in itself indicated that there was a good chance that he had. On only her second, or was it her third, night here Rachel might have to yet again, take a cold shower.

“Got to remember to get in and get out,” Chase mumbled as he walked to the coffee pot. “After all, she’s nice enough to leave me coffee.”

Chase poured himself a mug and rummaged around the kitchen for something to eat.

“Hey!”

Rachel’s voice startled him to the point where he almost dropped the coffee and he turned wide eyes on her. Her head popped around the corner of the hallway.

“Don’t eat anything, I’m taking you guys to breakfast for helping me, remember?”

“Right.”

Rachel disappeared into the hallway again and Chase topped off his coffee and went to sit on the couch. Flipping on the television, he absently watched the news as he waited for Rachel to get ready and Jason to arrive.

Jason...

Chase shook his head and concentrated more on the voice coming from the television.

“Today will be sunny, but there’s a chill in the air,” The meteorologist spoke as she stood in front of a map of the United States.

Chase kept his mind on the news as he sipped at his coffee, glad not to be plagued by any random thoughts.


“Chase...” Rachel sighed as she turned on the water to find it cold—again. “You may like boys like I do, but you still have a little to learn in the feminine thought process department.” She muttered to herself as she tried to get up the nerve to hop in. “Chase!” She called out down the hallway, “You owe me one!” She smiled a little as she finally got in, stifling a small scream of shock.

When she was done, she got dressed in a pair of jeans and a good “furniture moving” shirt and walked out into the living room, still drying her hair. She shot Chase a fake angry look as she walked passed him towards the kitchen again.

“Sorry about that...” he said. “...again.” He added.

Rachel grabbed her hair brush off the counter and made her way back to her room. As she passed Chase, she hit him lightly on the head with it. “Like I said, you definitely owe me one.” She turned back and gave him a smile and a wink.

“Ah...” he said, rubbing his head, “that hurt.”

“Well then, I take back what I said about you in the bathroom.” She called back down the hallway.

“That I owe you one?” he asked.

“Not that...” she smiled again, “and how many times do I have to tell you not to borrow my hair brush!?”

She went back into her room and brushed her hair and finished getting ready as much as she thought she needed to. Then the doorbell rang and she emerged again.

She almost wished that it was just going to be her and Chase. Jason lived with Eddie and the name was sure to come up. In fact it did, numerous times, every time Jason, Chase, and Rachel or another combination of the group was around. It’s alright Rach... She’d always tell herself, Eddie is in the past. And she knew it was true. Honestly, she didn’t even love him anymore. Well, not the way she once had. She figured they were just friends now, so it was better just to let bygones be bygones and try and put that relationship in the past.

Besides, Chase already invited him over to help and, she knew they could use the extra muscle. She liked Jason, she knew he was a good guy but that wasn’t exactly the problem.

“Jason!” Rachel exclaimed as she entered the living room to see him and Chase standing there. “How’s the screenplay coming?” She asked, her voice hinting at a joke.

“Very funny.” He said. “You know I haven’t had a good itch for ages.”

“Did I?” She asked, making her way to the door. “Anyways, why don’t you ladies come give me a hand? Maybe we’ll actually get some work done today.” She smiled as she led the way to the basement, where the rest of her larger furniture items were stored. It sure will be nice to be finally all moved in. she thought to herself as they rode the elevator down.

Once in the basement, they made their way to the end where Rachel and Chase had stashed everything a few days before.

“Don’t you guys already have a couch?” Jason asked as he lifted up a sheet.

“Yeah, actually...do you think we really need another one Rach?” Chase asked her.

“Chase...” She almost whined. “This is my couch. I’ve had this since college. I love this couch!”

“Where are we going to put it?” He asked. She smiled at him, a guilty little smile that suggested she wanted to replace his couch. “No Rachel.”

“What?” She said, pretending not to know what he was talking about.

“No Rachel.” He said, “I love that couch!”

“Are you mocking me?”

“Oh I think he is.” Jason chimed in. “How about we move it upstairs, and you guys can deal with this later?”

“Yeah...we will," she smiled and laid down on the couch. “Away!” She said.

“If you think I’m going to carry that thing with you on it...you’re insane.” Jason said.

“Fine, fine...” She said as she got up. “Wimp.” She added a little quieter with a playful smirk. As she stood she saw a grin on Chase’s face. “It wasn’t that funny...” she whispered to him with a nudge.

“What?” He said a little nervously and she thought she caught him blushing.

“Okay you guys grab the couch, I’ll get the door.” She grabbed the pillows from the couch and went ahead to open the door. They got to the elevator, and it was quite an experience trying to wrestle it in there. Eventually they got it in, but there was only enough room left for two people.

“I’ll race ya guys up the stairs.” Jason said.

“We live on the fifth floor,” Chase said. Jason just smiled and took off running towards the stairwell.

The doors closed and they took off.

“Jason huh?” Rachel said.

“What about him?” Chase answered.

“Oh, nothing...” She said.

“What? Tell me!” He pleaded.

“Just that...he’s real...athletic.” She smiled without looking over at Chase.

“I...I uh...don’t know what you’re talking about,” Chase answered.

“Yeah...me neither,” she said, still smiling.

They got to the fifth floor, and Jason joined them shortly thereafter. The three of them unloaded the couch and put it in the living room next to Chase’s. They made a few more trips, one for the dresser, and a few others for random little bits and pieces before they finished.

“Good. Now we can eat.” Rachel said.

“Yeah, I’m starving...your treat right Rach?” Jason asked her.

She gave him a look, as if thinking about the answer. “All right. But only ‘cuz you asked nicely.”
A Non-Existent User


Had Eddie been a normal man he would have been finishing his work papers, calling a girlfriend, or doing something productive. As it was though, Eddie had never truly worked a day in his life, being that everything was given to him. And so he tended to loaf around his and Jason’s apartment, making messes that he would never help in cleaning up. He was in some aspect, the perfect man: he had a light tan that flawlessly stretched over his lean torso and to his sharp jaw line, hair so naturally blonde it almost looked dyed in its messy disarray, and the suave posture that made every girl in a mile radius swoon. Other than that he was highly shallow as a polite narcissist.

His problem was that after finally getting a single female target once, he would lose any and all interest in them, unless she had other pretty friends. He would never spend more than two days, or better yet one night, on one girl. After she would leave, usually in the morning or before he woke up, he morphed back into his sloppy unattractive self that only Chase and Jason knew too well. He was even vaguely a guy with a barely perverse sense of humor, but he wasn’t the trashy type to be crude about it.

“Too bright...” he groaned as he scratched his side and pulled his shirt into place. He was ‘ready’ for a new day; a new girl.

When the light eluded his hung over confusion, he was just closing the apartment door behind him. Had it been any other morning, he wouldn’t have even noticed but the complex’s silence was so loud to him, he couldn’t miss the booming steps of Jason, Chase, and Rachel as they headed to the elevator.

He shook his hair and cleared into a relatively sober state. He would need it if he was going to deal with Rachel. “Yo!” he jogged up to them before the shaft door had closed and squeezed in.

“You’re up!” Jason said amazed because he was positive Eddie had been thoroughly passed out in the kitchen before he left. “We’re just going to get food...” he was droned out by a single glance at Rachel’s face.

She was unknowingly scowling; not because she hated Eddie, though she definitely disliked his lifestyle, but because it was hard to yell in her head when his guy-ish perfection was feet away. They had met years before and dated for a brief but amazingly great time span. It was before his ego caught up with him and he was nice, funny, but still lazy. He had dumped her, though she did her best to forget the details, and within the week he had began his ‘girl-clubbing.’

“Sweet! I'll go with you then!” Eddie said in stupid ignorance to her glare. Chase oddly shuffle stepped to stand between the two and sure enough, Rachel relaxed.

“Fine, but you can pay for yourself,” she murmured.

Jason had been too busy thinking over ideas in his head about his literature that he missed the last half of Rachel’s reaction; before he knew it they were standing in their own ways in front of a restuarant.

Chase had his hands in his pockets and was kicking his feet, Rachel crossed her arms and looked up at the clouds that were bordering the sky, Jason was running his fingers through his hair, and Eddie stood in the center where he felt he belonged and smirked.

When they took their seats at a window booth, they were displeased to find a shortage of space for their arms and legs.

While Jason was laughing about who knows what with Eddie, Rachel gazed between the three guys sitting before her.

Chase was quiet uncharacteristically, and his cheeks were slightly flushed. His feet to his dismay were tangled in the mess of legs beneath the table, and when Eddie bumped Jason hard enough to make him slip in his seat, Chase had come to a revelation. His feet were stuck between Jason’s long legs and this was the last thing he needed. It took a good seven minutes to brush past that and come out of his shell, but when he did it was worth it.

The three guys, in their differences made a perfect fit of a gang. Jason was sitting collectedly after regaining the feelings in his rib cage, which were happily sore. Chase was stiffly seated trying to control his awkward imagination with Eddie oblivious to the whole thing. He nudged Chase when the conversation blended into Eddie telling his stories. Being randomly immature, his presence brought out the youth in everyone around him; it was once something Rachel had loved about his personality. They all looked ten years younger and it felt good.

“Oh, so you guys were moving furniture, huh? I could have helped,” he liked causing Rachel to squirm defiantly. To him it was no longer a relationship of a guy who broke up with a girl; he saw her more like a guy now and wasn’t too shy to say it every now and then to bug her. His favorite thing to do, other than date, was to bug and tease her; not to be mean but to fill the time with her usually furious reactions. Besides, he never dates girls twice; she was better a boy than a girl to him.

“No, you would have just gotten in the way,” Rachel rolled her eyes and focused on the condensation dripping down the sleek edge of her glass.

Eddie tried to look appalled but couldn’t lose his smirk. “She’s right,” Chase said absently and looked out the window. “You are pretty worthless in that department.”

“Hey! Don’t say that so lightly; you’re so mean,” He brushed it off and gave Rachel a stupid grin that made her blow a puff of air. “Besides, I’m a working man.” They all seemed to find this very funny and he didn’t seem to grasp why.

“Sure, next time we have a job to do we’ll holler okay?” Jason smiled earnestly. As much as he loved hanging out with him, Eddie wasn’t the person to call when something needed to be done.

It only took a glance between Jason and Eddie to distinguish a minute eating race. Chase automatically became the judge as it was always a close call, and Rachel’s food fell off her fork as she stared open mouthed between the barbarities of their face stuffing. Chase was smiling awkwardly and was glad to pronounce Jason the victor.

“Damn!” Eddie sighed and dropped his fork onto his plate.

“What did I see in you?!” Rachel said though she was sure she was thinking it.

“Excuse me Miss Priss?” Eddie replied and wiped his mouth on the only clean napkin available, Chase’s who muttered ‘keep it.’

“Huh?” she said off guard. Then collecting her cool persona retorted, “just look at you, you’re such a slob!”

“Tell me, who are you dating, recently?” was the best snide insult he could muster, and catching the thrill of her anger he continued. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. I wouldn’t judge me if I were as plain and relationship-less as you. I, on the other hand, take the manliness of eating and surpass its expectations with my grace,” he almost sang it.

“Oh please! You didn’t even win!” and with that Eddie glared at her and sulked silently under Jason’s victory.

Chase loved seeing the two at it because unlike flirtatious arguing, they were dead serious and harsh. He knew he would most likely later have to listen to Rachel rant about what a ‘terrible man Eddie is,’ why ‘he should be kicked off the earth,’ and how she’d be ‘glad to do it herself.’

After persuading and Jason actually pitying Eddie for conveniently forgetting his wallet, Rachel paid for them all and they headed back.

“Cheapskate!” Rachel scoffed.

“Ugly!” Eddie exaggerated.

“Jerk!” she hollered and swung an arm in his direction.

“Brute!” he dodged her blow smoothly.

Jason pulled Chase aside to keep him from Eddie’s and Rachel’s line of fire every few feet or so. For being mature adults, Eddie was by far the most immature, but for that they didn’t blame him fully. It was his “great line of entrepreneurs” fault, for not allowing him to be taught humility as well as personally achieved prestige.

Chase and Jason were content observing them while Rachel was so mad at Eddie she wanted to kill him.

But when Eddie turned back as they split up to do their routines and, like an innocent child, waved back to them; they couldn’t help but timidly smile and gesture a warm goodbye back. Like a child he was given everything, like a child he acted selfishly, like a child he brightened every room he entered, and like a child he didn’t know right from wrong.


The night slipped away slowly, the black fading first to a pale, in-between sort of light and then to a groggy, half-awake dawn. Golden licks of warm consciousness peeked carefully over the horizon, stretching the sleep from their rays and prancing giddily across the surface. They invited the sun, beckoning to him, rousing him to wakefulness, tempting him to rise and play. Chasing the last vestiges of darkness from the sky, the sun answered and burst from his nighttime prison, suddenly jumping into the sky and smiling benevolently to the earth below.

Natalia Jackson wasn't in a mood to be benevolent. In fact, she was fully in support of throwing the sun back into his prison for a few more hours. She was feeling decidedly anti-morning that morning. If she was being perfectly honest, she was feeling anti-consciousness that morning. Her roommate was putzing around in the kitchen. That meant it was somewhere near 8 am and exactly two-and-a-half hours since she and Eddie had gotten back from their night on the town.

A tingling sensation between her legs alerted Nat that she had to relieve herself--and rather urgently at that. Groaning, Nat threw back the covers and shuffled to the bathroom, thrusting the curtains closed as she did so. Roshanda had, as usualy, organized all of Nat's stuff and her toothbrush was mossing. After flushing, Nat looked through the drawers for her creams and beauty supplies, throwing them back onto the counter for later.

"Have a nice day, Roshanda," she called, hearing the front door open. She was awake, and it would be rude to ignore her roommate. Before climbing back into bed, Nat turned the air down and shrugged deeper into her blanket.

Natalia Jackson had been born in a small town down South and still carried great vestiges of her rural accent. She had always been beautiful, but as she had grown older, Nat had grown into a strikingly sexy bombshell--with red hair. Nat had started out as a local model at age ten, selling candy for the local shop. At fifteen, she won her first beauty pageant and, as part of the scholarship afforded by winning, moved to the city to enter college. Nat had started a degree in Clothing Design and Fashion and met Roshanda in her sophomore year. Nat's meeting with the rest of her group had happened the following year, when Roshanda and Nat had moved into the building where they lived.

At twenty, Nat had been "discovered" at a local mall and signed to a contract after taking some head-and-body shots. She was always considered a little hippy for a typical model, but Nat had always been proud of her body and she'd never had any issues with body image. Big-breasted, small waisted and curvy with beautiful, European pale skin, Natalia had always garnered plenty of attenion. In complete contrast with her sex-kitten body, Natalia had always been the pretty one, so to speak. Her features were very soft, giving her a carefree, innocent look; she had wide, crystal blue eyes, a straight nose, and full, light pink lips. A spray of freckles dotted her high cheekbones and the bridge of her nose and she had a strong chin that lent character to what would otherwise be just another pretty face.

Natalia had never been stick thin and was considered too commercial, which had long held her back in the modeling world. She'd started out with a few catalogues and some smaller runway shows, but Nat had kept up with college just in case the modeling never took off. Her contract was a minimal one, and Nat had been afraid that she would never be able to renew it, but then, while at a runway show for a smaller, quirkier designer, Natalia was introduced to Betsey Johnson. The designer had been impressed with Nat's quirky personality and had requested to meet her after the show. After the meeting, Betsey invited Natalia to come to her design studio to try on some clothing. When Nat went to meet the woman a week later, Betsey continued to be so impressed that she invited Natalia to be the face of her spring line. Since then, Nat had been one of the most sought after runway models in the city. By twenty-three, Nat was doing lingerie and bathing suit shows, haute couture editorials, and was still working for Betsey Johnson.

During all of this time, Nat had never even tried to move out of the apartment she shared with Roshanda. She had the means, certainly, to buy a place big enough to house all of her friends, but Nat had come to love Lancaster Estates and had no urge to leave it. Instead, she channeled her funds into keeping up appearances. Though Nat had never tried drugs or even gotten into the habit of smoking, she definitely went out partying and spent a great deal of money on fashion. She loved beer. It was a holdover from her time in the South, when Sundays had been sacred pigskin days and summer was for peanuts and cracker jacks.

All in all, Nat was a party girl more for the appearance of being a model, so that she looked worldly and could schmooze with all the people that she needed to know, than because she liked the scene. Nat loved to model, she loved being in front of a camera or on a runway, but she hated the after-hours mingling that required she know every club, every barkeep, and the addresses of every influential person within fifty miles of her apartment. Natalia was a simple person, mostly, preferring to play sports, video games, and blackjack over anything else. She loved animals and kids, and she oftentimes missed the slow, backcountry fields of her childhood home, though she would never admit it to anyone. Nat feared that, should she ever reveal just how mundane and normal she really was, the fashion industry would be done with her forever.

The phone ringing brought Nat out of her sleep. Through the slit in the curtains, she could see that it was really bright outside. She knew that she didn't have to go into work that day, so there was no reason for the agency to be calling her, and Betsey wouldn't need her for another month. So it had to have been one of her friends calling to wake her up. Groaning, Nat flipped over and picked up her cell. It was Rachel on the phone. "Hello," she answered, her voice groggy and sleepy-sounding. "Nat here."

"Natalia! Did you forget that you were helping me move in today?" Rachel sounded way too chipper and it hurt Nat's head. "I knew I couldn't count on Eddie, but damn..."

Nat sat up and sighed. "I'm sorry, Rache. I meant to tell you, but I had to go to some big wig party last night. Antony wanted me to meet some new designer--Michael something. I'm not sure of what the last name is at this point. I've got it written down, though...anyway, I didn't get back here and in bed til 6:30 this morning."

Rachel groaned sympathetically. "Wow. Well, I guess I forgive you this time, but I'd like to let you know that you missed me treating you to lunch. Anyway, we're thinking about getting together a game of football later this afternoon and having a barbeque in the park. Want in?"

"Hell yeah! Want me to pick up some booze?" Nat flipped back the covers and looked at the clock. It was nearly three in the afternoon. "I can swing by the store and pick up some beers and stuff if you want."

"Awesome. That would be great, Nat. I'll...uh...see you around five? City Park?"

"Definitely, love. Alright, I gotta get my ass awake first, though, so I'm gonna let you go. Talk to you later, sexy." Nat flipped the phone closed and walked into the bathroom, throwing on the shower. She had two hours to get ready and get booze and get to the park. And that would take some work.


After more sleepless nights and dozens of blocks in her creativity, it was finally finished. The perfect little black dress...it would be the final piece of her new line that she was going to show to every model, agent, designer, and editor she knew. This was it! Roshonda was going to be a forerunner of the fashion industry! Nothing and no one could stop her now.

She brushed her long dark brown hair out of her dark hazel-brown eyes and took a step back from her drafting table. Smiling inside and out, she carefully put the drawing of the dress in her portfolio and locked it away. Shondi quickly got ready for work. Sure she was a designer, but that wasn’t her day job. Today she had to worry about finishing her article before the day’s deadline. She wouldn’t be able to pitch her fall line of clothes until that night. However, that was fine with her...all she had to do was network properly and she would be living life among the fortunate few fashion greats.

“Damn it’s good to be me!” She smiled as she pulled on a tight black Gucci skirt and buttoned up its’ matching jacket. Her curved and toned 5’2 figure showed off the outfit perfectly, leaving some to the imagination and still more than sexy enough for any man to drool over. She grabbed a red Fendi handbag and threw the stuff she needed into it. That was the great thing about working at a magazine: free gifts, great contacts within the business, and best of all, a reason to spend excessive amounts of money on amazing outfits for work.

She prepared an omelet and downed three cups of very strong coffee before running out of the apartment in 3 inch stilettos. She was able to catch a cab within seconds of hitting the sidewalk, and the driver actually spoke English. As Roshonda put on her makeup in the taxi, only one thought ran through her mind:

It was going to be a good day.


Right on time, Natalia came strolling down the path towards the center of City Park with two cases of beer in tow, one swinging lightly from each hand. The rest of the group was already present, having arrived within minutes of each other. Jason had left after breakfast with Rachel, Chase and Eddie to get some work done. He had gone to the GCP office to turn in some articles and get his new assignments.

After leaving the office, Jason wanted to take the afternoon off. He decided to surprise Chase by visiting him at the art gallery he had been showcasing his work at. Chase usually didn’t have a set place to work, but a new gallery had opened a few months ago. The artist who owned it shared and rented it out with a few other gifted artists. Jason had yet to see the gallery, so he thought it’d be a nice place to spend his afternoon.

Since then, Jason and Chase arrived together at the park and had been tossing the football around with Eddie, waiting for the girls to all arrive. When Nat showed up, she had a definite spring in every step she took as she neared her group of friends. Every other weekend they made sure to take some time to spend with all six of them. Whenever the activity included sports and beer, Nat was all in.

What Nat was approaching was nothing unusual for her misfit gang. Roshonda had brought a stack of magazines from work, which she and Rachel were pawing through at the picnic table. Gasps and sighs, “oohs” and “ahhs” slipped from their lips every few pages when a new trendy handbag or pair of stilettos was featured. The guys were messing around, proving that men never actually mature. And not unlike normal, Chase stood impatiently with the football tucked under his arm and his hand resting on his hip. Jason and Eddie could be found lying in a heap on the ground. Nat was guessing they had previously been wrestling and had probably gotten stuck.

“Hey Nat, you are quick!” Rachel said as she looked up. “I know you had to get ready and everything.”

“I’m used to the fast-paced life,” Nat said melodramatically as she set the beer down and stripped off her coat. It was mid-September and a warm breeze drifted through the park. She figured she might as well enjoy it before winter came hurling in.

“Eddie said he’d cook the food for us,” Roshonda said as she scooted over for Nat to sit down. “The guys want to play football for a while before we eat though.”

“Yeah well, that’s only going to happen if those geniuses can get themselves untangled,” Rachel said with a laugh. She tried to hide the smirk spreading across her face. She could clearly see the internal fight Chase was having with himself while watching his buddies horse around.

“C’mon you guys, let’s play some football!” Nat shouted, catching the boys’ attention. Jason and Eddie quickly got up and followed Chase over to the tables. “So, same teams as usual?” Nat inquired with a raised eyebrow. She certainly hoped so. She and Jason were a force to be reckoned with. No matter how good Eddie was at football, he couldn’t trump Nat.

“Sounds good to me,” Jason said eagerly. He clearly enjoyed defeating Eddie’s team. For some reason, there was always an unsaid rivalry between the two. Both were good-looking, successful, and well-liked. They definitely had their differences though. Jason was more laid-back, while Eddie always seemed to search for drama and trouble. And although both were highly-admired bachelors, Jason didn’t take to the whole dating scene as well as his roommate did.

“Ah, I see what you two are up to,” Roshonda retorted. “You guys just want to win again. Well, keep your team then. Eddie, Chase and I are so gonna whip you.”

“Yeah, you keep thinking that,” Jason replied with a playful wink. The group then split up into their teams and prepared to start the game.

Jason, Nat and Rachel huddled up and began to plan. “Alright,” Rachel said as she fulfilled the captain role for the team that day. “I’ll block Shondi; Nat you should keep your eye on Eddie, and Jason, stay close to Chase.” Jason and Natalia were confused at the snort that erupted from Rachel. Something she said must’ve been funny. They just shrugged their shoulders as Rachel composed herself and continued with the plan.

“Hut hut, or whatever it is they say,” Roshonda said as she passed the ball under her legs to Eddie. Chase had already began running and was open. He caught the ball with ease and had a clear shot to the other team’s end zone, or so he thought. Suddenly someone came up from behind and brought him down to the ground. He could feel a body pressed against him, holding him down.

“Why thank-you,” Rachel said as she ran by and picked up Chase’s fumbled football. She made it past Roshonda, and Eddie who was being brutally blocked by a boisterous Nat, and made the team’s first touchdown. As they all knew by now, it was going to be the first of many that evening.

Jason slowly stood up and extended his hand out to Chase. “Sorry, I was planning on tackling you, but I sort of tripped, which caused the heavy landing,” he said, laughing slightly. “You okay?”

“Um, yeah,” Chase murmured, nervously taking Jason’s hand. He had spent most of the day with his friend and figured his nerves had been settled. Evidently, they weren’t. Before he could say anything else, Nat came rushing over.

“Hey, Eddie is calling a team meeting,” she chortled. “He knows he’s going to lose, so why bother, right? Oh, sorry Chase. Anyway, Jason, let’s take a beer brake. You know I’m better when I got some liquor in my system.” Jason laughed and gave his friend a joking pat on the back, sending Chase on his way to plan with Eddie and Shondi. Nat let her head fall back, roaring with laughter, as she and Jason went to the picnic table for a beer brake with Rachel.


Chase made his way toward Eddie and Roshonda, trying to clear his head of the cobwebs that seem to have plastered themselves all over his brain.

Would it even be possible to keep his feelings out of his friendship with Jason? He had managed to do so, after the initial shock of Jason having shown up at the Gallery. That was until his friend had tackled him, there was no other time that Chase had wished that they played touch football, not the real tackling kind.

“Chase, get a move on!” Eddie’s voice broke his thoughts, and Chase jogged a few steps to join his teammates.

He’d have to sort this all out later, providing that there were no other incidents for the remainder of the game. Although, considering that Jason’s team normally won, it wasn’t exactly the greatest chance of that happening. He’d just have to be careful not to react impulsively by mistake.

“Now, that we’re all here.” Eddie said, glancing at Chase for having strolled over. “We can make a plan to win this thing!”

Shondi and Chase glanced at each other, but said nothing.

“If we have that type of attitude, there is no chance of winning,” Eddie pointed out.

As if we did anyway, Chase thought to himself, stealing a glance over at the group enjoying their beer break while they had to endure one of Eddie’s attempted pep-talks.

“We need to shake things up...”

Chase listened as Eddie rambled on about how they need to keep changing their strategy and all that, but perked up when he finally gave out assignments.

“Chase, you guard Jason, Shondi, you go after Nat, and I’ll deal with Rachel.”

“What?” Shondi stated in response to her assignment. “You want me to cover Nat?”

Eddie sighed, “Yes. We’re a team, right?”

“Fine Eddie, but we all know it’s because you don’t want to.”

Chase tried not to laugh at Eddie’s hurt reaction.

“Shondi, what on earth would make you think that, I’m just acknowledging your ability in the game.”

Shondi laughed, “Sure Eddie. At least we might be able to distract Rachel with this plan of yours.”

“Now that’s the spirit!”

“Come on guys, you’re going to lose no matter how long you take!” Nat’s voice rang out.

Eddie looked a bit annoyed by the comment, but ended the team meeting anyway.

“We’re ready, we’re ready!” Eddie muttered as the teams took their places.


A Non-Existent User


“Huut!” A series of tackles, bruises, and warfare was bringing the game to a close. Eddie was panting furiously after a succession of obvious cheats that everyone was too enthused to call. If there was one thing he hated, it was losing, and when it came to football, it seemed that was all he could do. It was easier, though, to blame his teammates.

“Come on! Look how skinny she is, just poke her and she’ll break!” He complained to Shondi, who smirked almost too intentionally when they lost another point to Nat. He turned to Rachel when she laughed at his frustration. “What are you laughin’ at? I don’t see you scoring anything!” He said sorely, and for a moment, he almost looked serious.

“Please! You’re just standing here! Why don’t you close your mouth and do something?” She didn’t have to get mad over this as she already had the right to throw their blatant victory in his face. Besides he was never the ‘do it yourself’ type of guy.

He crossed his arms while Chase was sprinting after Jason in the background. Jason got another point, and Eddie’s golden locks were falling into his face as he pouted. His face twitched near his lower lip, and he turned slowly, “You want me to do something? Fine.”

Stance tensing, muscles tightening, eyes losing their lazy glaze, and combusting, the ball was going into play. Nat threw it to Jason, who was in less than a second was flat on his back with Eddie in possession. Never had any of them seen him move so fast, and in a flash he was jumping up and down in the end zone. “Hey, Rach! Did I ever tell you I played soccer for ten years? Yeah! Striker’s got game!!” He smirked maniacally, and Chase and Nat were standing over Jason to see if he was still breathing.

He was and once Eddie got his point in, he rolled over like a puppy and allowed Jason to finish his athletic massacre. At least now he had the right to stand taller than Rachel. Something about her made him so mad, even when she did nothing.

When it was over, Eddie lost his competitive rudeness and sat himself between Jason and Chase, who was relieved that the threat of being tackled by his awkward crush and best friend was over. He sighed and dropped his head to the picnic table, Rachel sitting beside him and Nat seating across them with Shondi.

“Next time, we’ll win,” Eddie said in a last hold of bitterness. Lately he was nothing but bitter. His father had called him twice in one night to talk about his lack of work ethic. His flawless excuse was that ‘If there was ethic, they wouldn’t call it work.’ His father wasn’t pleased but hung up nonetheless. Eddie didn’t care; he had everything, or he thought he did, and he never had to do anything ever...so why start now?

“You couldn’t win if we scored for you!” Jason said as he massaged his sore shoulder. Everyone but Eddie laughed, he was just too competitive.

“You know what? Lets play soccer next time and we’ll see who’s laughing!” He gave up and smiled. “Nat, throw me a beer will ya? I’m too damn sober for this!”

From the laughing to the stories, and the people to the drinks, there simply was no best part to their evening. Jason, Chase, and Shondi were the least intoxicated; they would most likely remember the details the others didn’t. Eddie slouched over by far the worst out of them all; when they walked over to check that he hadn’t passed out they were amazed to find him in perfect health.

Taking away his last beer, he had had three and a half, Rachel stayed behind and looked at him. He was perfectly awake but not even seeing her. How had they gone so far that she couldn’t bare the thought of him, and he hated the sight of her? She laughed; he was staring at her but completely unaware of her presence; drunk out of his head.

His head was light; his limbs heavy. He had everything worth having, and yet, he could drink beyond willingly to escape it all. No one knew of a bizarre emptiness forming in his queasy gut, not even him. The parties, money, girls, and yet it all added up to nothing. He wouldn’t allow it.

Rach jumped back a bit when his head slipped downwards. “I don’t g-know what you’re talken bout...” She looked back to see if anyone was around. They were all laughing at something Shondi was saying, so she turned back to listen to his quiet, thick slurs. “I amm heppy...sooo heppy.”

He blacked out.
Nat raised an eyebrow and looked at the hunched, slumped form of Eddie as he mumbled incoherently in his drunken stupor. "What a fuckin' lightweight," she muttered, finishing off her fourth beer and popping open another one. "Can't win a football game and can't hold his beer. Remind me again why we're friends with him?"

"None of us are sure," Jason replied, rubbing his shoulder; it had hit first when Eddie had slammed him into the ground. "He just started following us around one day and Chase felt sorry for him, so we had him fixed and took him in."

Chase threw a cheetoh at his roommate's head. "Don't blame this on me. You're the one who begged me to take him home."

"Ok, guys...this is getting creepy overtones here," Shondi interjected, taking a delicate sip from the bottle of flavored water she had brought with her. The girl never drank much beer; better for Nat, who loved the stuff. Especially Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, which was her alcohol of choice. Occasionally, she'd go for an alcoholic cider like Strongbow, but she usually just went for the beer.

Rachel stayed silent. Nat wondered what had happened since their relationship to make the two hate each other so much. Or, at least...to care so much about the other person that every action elicited a response. Only Rachel ever seemed to care enough about Eddie to be angry at him. There was something there, Nat decided; she just wondered what it was.

"Just to change the subject," she said, making a decision in the moment. "I know Shondi was already planning on going, but I have a big runway show next week and I was wondering if y'all would like to come."

Eddie muttered in his sleep and put his arms beneath his head. For a moment, everyone stared at him, waiting to see if he'd wake up and grace them with his presence, but when he started snoring, everyone turned back to the conversation. Nat took a gulp of beer and raised an eyebrow. "Well," she drawled out- beer always brought her Southern accent to the fore- looking around at the others. "Do y'all wanna come and see me walk?"

Rachel grinned. "Of course we'll come support you. Who's show is it?"

"That new guy I told you about. Michael something or other. He's got some really funky stuff, but it should make for an entertaining show, to say the least. Plus, I'd be able to introduce you to some of my friends...celebrities and all that." Nat decided to stop drinking and grabbed a bottle of water. She didn't want to wake up with a hangover and get called into the Agency for a go-see.

Chase and Jason looked at one another, then turned back to Nat and shrugged. "Why not?" Jason said. "Fashion's not my thing, but for you, love, I'd be willing to do it. Plus," a feral grin appeared on his face, "I've never seen you in that half-naked fashionista type stuff and I think it's an experience no man should miss."

Now it was Nat's turn to throw a cheetoh, but Jason caught it, popped it into his mouth, and groaned as if it were the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted. "Why thank you, m'lady. You are most gracious."

Shondi laughed. "Nat," she asked, "What is this Michael guy known for? What kind've fashion?"

"Avant-garde showmanship. I don't think anyone in their right mind would wear this shit on the street, but it makes for a great show. He has great handbags, though, and I think that he'll probably expand into shoes because his shoes are sexy. I mean hot! Those are 'I'm gonna get some tonight' shoes!"

Chase smiled. "Completely unnecessary for you, Nat. Is he strictly a women's designer, or...?"

"Nah, he does menswear, too. I mean, his menswear is a lot more traditional than what he does for the women and I believe the show he's doing next week is strictly for women, but I think you'd like him." Nat snapped suddenly. "Michael Letaghlio. That's it."

Shondi's face registered surprised recognition. "Michael Letaghlio? My editor was interested in him. I can probably get the magazine to foot any of the bills and write an editorial on the show."

"If not, I've got it covered," Nat said, smiling wide. "But that'd be awesome. You know I love to save my money for frivolous things like clothing and make-up and shoes."

Everyone had a laugh at that. "So...I guess we're going to have to dress up for this?" Rachel asked. "I mean, I know we will, but a lot of my stuff is still in boxes and I need to know how nice to go and which box to dig into."

Nat grinned. "Nah! I'll take you shopping and get you something that'll knock 'em dead. Some of the models'll be falling off the runway because of you." Looking at her other friends, Nat gestured, asking wordlessly if anyone else wanted to take her up on the offer. "Y'all need something, too?"

Jason shrugged. "I think I might. You know...I don't wanna make it seem like I want to go shopping. Got to keep my manhood intact after allowing Eddie to score the only point for his team."

Shondi and Nat laughed, but Chase looked decidedly uncomfortable and Rachel's eyes shined sympathetically. "Do you need anything, Chase?"

"No, thanks. I've still got some stuff I haven't worn so much. They'll be perfect. Thank you, though." He smiled softly. "Oh, it's getting dark. We should get Eddie into the car and home. Who here is sober enough to drive?"

Shondi and Rachel each raised their hands. "I'll take Nat and Eddie in Nat's car," Shondi volunteered. "I love driving that little red sports car of hers."

"I'll take Chase and Jason in my car, then. You guys wanna meet up at your place later?" Rachel started cleaning up the mess they'd made with their picnic, but watched Shondi as they did so.

"Nat? You OK with the guys coming over to our place tonight? No work in the morning?" Shondi and Nat always respected the rules of inviting people to the apartment. It was a rule they'd laid down early and severe punishment would be had by she who broke the law.

"Nah. Unless I get called in tomorrow, I don't think I've got anywhere to be. Guys wanna watch some movies? I've got some new ones to put in."

The group agreed and worked to clean up the area. With some effort, Jason and Chase got Eddie into the back of Nat's Porshe Cabriolet and themselves into Rachel's car. Waving at one another, the two cars headed back to Lancaster Estates.


As she drove back home, so many ideas raced through Roshonda’s head. She thought of all the opportunities this upcoming fashion event held for her. Not only did she have a chance to write a killer article about Mr. Letaghlio, she could wear one of her own creations and network like a madwoman to get her new line up on the catwalk.

This is the perfect time… The line is all sketched. Just have to go get the right fabrics and take measurements… and ohh there’s too much to do!

As the boys lugged Eddie to his room, the girls gathered in Shondi and Nat’s apartment. The effect of the beers left Nat as she began talking about shopping plans.

“We’ll need some seriously hot outfits….dresses,”

“Nat?” Shondi interrupted.

“Handbags, shoes, jewelry –you guys can borrow some of mine- and lingerie!”

“Nat…”

“Oh and of course we’ll have to have a girl’s only day of pampering!”

“Natalia! Wait a second!” Shondi raised her voice, exasperated. “I really need for you two to wear my designs. I have three couture creations that need to shown off. It would really help me get going.”

“But I-“ Nat paused. “Okay, but they have to be amazing.”

“A dress made just for me?” Rachel smiled. “I’m in!”

“Thank you so much girls! I promise they’ll be stunning!”

~*~*~*~


Roshonda woke to a stiff neck as she looked about the living room. Chase and Rachel had fallen asleep on the floor. Jason was snoring lightly on her shoulder and Nat was curled under his arm. Lucky guy has a girl on each side. Shondi laughed a little to herself and then gazed to the hanging clock .

“Damn it!” She jumped up and ran into the bathroom. “I forgot I have work!”

Her scream must’ve been heard by the others because as she closed the bathroom door, Shondi heard a soft thump and a yelp.

“Don’t mind me! I’m fine” Nat growled. “I love falling off sofas!”

“You fell on me! I should be complaining. It’s my bladder.” Chase snapped back.

“Who screamed?” Rachel asked, shaken by the sudden wake up call.

“I did,” Shondi yelled, “I’m SO late for work!”

The next twenty minutes were a blur for her as she rushed all over the apartment. When she finally stepped into the office (almost 2 hours late), six people began pulling at her all at once. Her assistant, Jan, shooed them all away to go over the day’s schedule.

“I’ve covered for you. If anyone asks, you were interviewing that new Spanish model, Gabriella... Anetta is chomping at the bit to see your article. Nelson bumped the meeting up to noon- lunch will be served. There’s a new researcher you’ve been assigned to show the ropes to and Mrs. Lancaster wants a word with you…”

“Virginia Lancaster wants me?” Shondi beamed inside. She must’ve heard about my line! Things are falling into place! “When?”

“An hour ago-” Jan didn’t get a chance to finish her statement as Shondi turned on a heel to go to the top floor and Mrs. Lancaster’s offices.

When she arrived, she was introduced by the secretary. “Come in Miss Hughes.”

“Thank you. I just want to apologize for my tardiness, I-”

“Your assistant said you were on the field, interviewing. The magazine takes precedence to all, even my whims. Have a seat please.” Shondi sat on the supple nubuck leather chair. Trying not to sink too deep into its’ plush cushion was difficult, but she managed to keep her composure and sit near the edge of the seat in a more graceful position. Even though Roshonda was friends with her boss’s son, the powerful magazine mogul struck fear into the young woman. One never knew what to expect from Virginia Lancaster. She was an unpredictable woman… “You and my son are more than acquaintances.”

The statement caught Shondi off guard. Why was Virginia Lancaster asking about her friendship with Eddie? “We’re good friends.”

“You’re a vibrant and intelligent young woman. Your drive seems to inspire some of the newcomers.”

Was that supposed to be a compliment? “I love this magazine. I like to work hard.”

“My son is an attractive man, don’t you think.” …..She’s trying to set me up with Eddie? What is going on here? “A woman of your ambition would be a good addition to the Lancaster legacy, don’t you think?” Virginia asked, one perfectly arched eyebrow raised.

Shondi sat there, in the lavish office of one of the most powerful women in the world, stunned beyond words. How could she answer such a bold statement as what had just been presented to her?

Thankfully, Virginia did not allow Roshonda time to answer. “I’m sure that you have plenty of work to do.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Virginia.”

“Uh, thank you, um- Virginia.”

Shondi walked, in a ghostlike trance, back to her office. The hustle of all the people around here seemed to be happening in slow motion. She was still trying to digest the awkward conversation (if one could call it that) that had just occurred. The rest of the day was a blur for Shondi. She didn’t have much time to think about the encounter with Virginia, but on the cab ride home, she pulled out her cell to call Rachel.




After Shondi’s quick scramble to get ready for work, Jason sat up and flicked on the television to hear the morning news. With a yawn, he rested his arm on the back of the couch as Nat slowly repositioned her tired body. Shondi’s morning mad dash had brought their slumber to an abrupt halt. The model merely sat for a moment, gingerly rubbing the sore spot on her head. Meanwhile on the ground, Chase’s hand was adhered to his stomach near his disrupted bladder. Within a matter of seconds, he leapt up and ran off to the restroom.

“Well that was a lovely way to wake up,” Rachel joked as she stood and made her way to the fridge, suddenly reminding everyone of their grumbling stomachs. Since the gang usually hung out in Nat and Shondi’s apartment, they all helped to keep the kitchen stocked. Rach pulled out a carton of orange juice and some glasses as she sat down at the table.

“Is that all you’re having?” Jason asked incredulously as he perused the cereal selection in the kitchen cabinet. Everyone knew that if eating an entire horse was proper, Jason could and probably would do it. Though he had a lean build, he could out eat the entire group put together.

“Just grab them all, Jason,” Nat suggested as joined them in the kitchen. She set the carton of milk on the table and fell, with a not-so graceful thud, into one of mix-matched chairs surrounding the dining table.

By that time, Rachel had laid out some bowls, figuring that after their evening of drinking and staying up late, some food was probably a good idea. Jason promptly began putting together his ‘suicide’ cereal confection, mixing Trix, Cookie Crisps, Frosted Flakes, Cap’n Crunch, and Count Chocula. The mix would usually include Rice Krispies, but they were all out.

“Man, you are nuts,” Chase said as he returned and saw his friend’s overflowing bowl. “Good luck putting milk in that.” Jason shook his head in response and lifted one finger, signaling for his friends to wait and watch in amazement. “Uh oh, this could be bad,” Chase added, chuckling at the suspicious expressions on Rachel and Nat’s faces. Jason dug his spoon into his bowl and quickly shoved the cereal into his mouth. Then, with finger still raised elegantly in the air, he grabbed milk carton and began to chug. Chase burst out laughing, while a look of absolute horror and disgust clouded Rachel’s features. Nat, on the other hand, couldn’t help but laugh with Chase.

“Hey, that milk was for all of us,” Rachel said indignantly. She wasn’t a fan of her guy friend’s humor, but seeing the crooked smile on Jason’s face made her anger quickly subside. Though, she was still thoroughly grossed out.

“What? It’s not like I have germs,” Jason said with a wink. “Well, not any that people wouldn’t want.” Chase elbowed his friend in the side and snatched up the milk carton. “See, we have a brave soul here. Chase doesn’t mind my cooties, so why should you?” This time it was Rachel’s turn to laugh, although she attempted to suppress her giggling as much as possible. Chase passed the milk to Nat, pretending to ignore Rachel’s obvious delight.

“Well you guys, I think I’m going to go work out a bit. Then I should probably check into work to see if anything needs done for next week’s show,” Nat said as she stood and pushed her chair into the table. “You guys can feel free to hang out here. Just make sure you lock up when you leave.”

Nat headed to her room, and Chase sighed in defeat. “Yeah, I should probably head to the gallery. I’ll see you guys later.” Chase picked up his and Nat’s dishes and set them in the sink before heading towards the door and back to his apartment.

A small pout formed on Rachel’s lips as she looked up at Jason. “Don’t tell me you have to go into work too? I can’t believe I’m the only one that’s unemployed. I mean, even Eddie has a job for goodness sake.” Jason grinned and slid his chair out, as he began to put the cereals away and clean up their mess. “I really should be watching the job market. I just have no idea what I want to do. Looking at the classifieds isn’t all that helpful.”

“Well, Rach,” Jason said as he shut the fridge behind him. “I could help you. How ‘bout I take you downtown for the day, and we’ll pick up applications from every place that’s hiring. I’m sure we’ll find something for you.”

“Oh Jason, that’d be great,” she replied, her mood decidedly heightened. “So, you don’t have to head to work, after all?”

Jason looked up at the clock on the wall. 9:37 am. “Well, I will need to head into the GC building for a few hours. As long as we’re done by noon or so, I’ll have plenty of time.”

“Sounds great,” Rachel said. “Oh see you later, Nat,” she added as Nat rushed through the room, turned the TV off, and waved goodbye. Jason waved and then turned to face his friend again. When she remained silent, he assumed the conversation was over and headed towards the door. “Um, Jason, can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” he replied somewhat hesitantly, noticing the apprehension in Rachel’s voice.

“Is everything okay?” She asked as she stepped closer to him, looking into his dark green eyes. “I mean, these past few months, you’ve just seemed different.” She paused for a moment, deciding how best to approach the situation. “These last few years, you’ve been churning out books and articles, you’ve been pretty successful. But now, you’re cutting down on hours at the Press, and you haven’t even planned a new book.” Her voice suddenly softened as she added her last words. “And the whole screenplay deal...are you actually trying to write one?”

Jason stood silent, towering over Rachel. He knew she was just concerned. He didn’t mind her asking. What worried him was whether the rest of his friends noticed the same things as well. “I’ve been taking things a little easier lately, yes,” he began. “All right, I’ve been slacking. I should be putting in more hours at the Press; but as for the books, and the screenplay, those things don’t come easily.” He could tell she wasn’t completely satisfied with his answer, so with a heavy sigh, he gave it his last ditch effort. “I’m not trying as hard as I once was,” he continued softly, “but don’t worry Rach, that doesn’t mean I’m not trying at all.” His answer must’ve been enough for now because Rachel nodded slowly and headed towards the door. Jason hung his head and ran a hand through his hair. He turned the lock on the door and stepped out into the hallway. Suddenly, he had a feeling that today was going to be a long day.


Chase stared out at the view of the city that his little corner of the studio above the Gallery allowed him. He had been lucky to be able to choose this room as his own, and he was thankful for the view that had inspired much of his work.

P. Davis Gallery had three floors and a basement that mostly held equipment for the gallery and its artists. The first floor was for the gallery itself, the second for offices, and the third was a large studio space that had three decent sized sectioned-off rooms, which the gallery allowed three chosen artists featured at the gallery to use as workspace. It also held a darkroom and a common area with a kitchenette and breakfast table that the artists were free to keep stocked to their liking.

Chase felt greatful for the opportunity being given one of these rare spaces, for it helped a great deal not having to rent a space elsewhere. All the gallery asked of the artists, allowed to work in the studio space, was an occasional helping out in the gallery. Be it giving tours, talking to prospective benefactors or a small project request. Whatever the request, it normally wasn't much and was worth the time and effort for the free workspace they were given.

Tara and Martin filled out the other two rooms in the stuido, Tara being there the longest and Martin the least amount of time. Chase got on well with both of the other artists, and each had a different specialty than the others, so it was interesting to visit and assist the other two artists in their work when need be. The three artists worked well together. They enjoyed helping each other out when one became stuck for ideas when a project was due or even when there wasn't.

Sighing, Chase went back to his desk and sat down, still looking out the large window that covered the wall. He had a project due in a few weeks for a prospective benefactor for the Gallery, and he wasn't getting any ideas for it. He had been given what little was known about the man coming to have a look at the Gallery in the following month, but nothing was striking him. This was turing out to be much harder than he had anticipated.

Mr. Davis had requested the project, offering in exchage for the work a part for the studio space, but since it was a large project, he had also offered some cash payment. Chase jumped at the idea and received the information on the man called Henry Gennings greatfully. He needed something to distract him from other things in his life at the moment, that he was unable to persue. He had thought this Gennings project would help, but all it created was a headache. Nothing was able to help him with any ideas, and Mr. Davis wanted the project done weeks before Mr. Gennings was to arrive to be sure that it was satisfactory. Chase didn't know what to do.

Lost in his thoughts and the view of the city, Chase nearly missed the call he was recieving.

"Hey," he said, picking up the phone and noticing that it was Jason.

"You busy?"

"I'd be better off if I was, what's up?"

"The girls are trying to drag me out shopping for the fashion show..."

That was all Jason needed to say. "The break will do me good, my brain's about to explode from lack of activity."

"Gennings project still stalled?"

"Yep."

"You'll get it done, you always do, besides you love pressure and deadlines looming."

"Doesn't everyone?"

"Get here quick, they could come back anytime!"

Chase laughed, it was just like Jason to enter mild panic mode over a bit of shopping with the girls.

"On my way!"

Chase hung up the phone, gathered up his things related to the Gennings project, and headed out of the gallery. Maybe this fashion show of Nat's will give him the insperation he needs. One can never tell were it will strike!
A Non-Existent User


Eddie rolled on to his side, but as the room spun a bit, settled onto his back again. There was one thing about Eddie that was clear to everyone who knew him: he could not hold a six pack of beer, but could drink an ocean’s worth of the world’s strongest vodka and walk a straight line. That was just Eddie.

Another thing that was ‘just Eddie’ was to not answer the door. Even now, while he was lying directly in front of it and someone was pounding on the other side. “Oh fuck off,” he grumbled, but the insidious smashes didn’t stop.

It was as he pulled himself to his feet, a shrill voice, that there was no mistake in recognizing, called out, and he couldn’t open the door fast enough. “EDWARD ELIZABETH LANCASTER!!”

“MOTHER!!” The door hit the wall with more force than necessary. “How many times do I have to tell you to call me EDDIE!!!!”

“Nonsense Edward, I brought you into this world, and I will call you by the name I gave you.”

“You are just bitter because I wasn’t a girl!” He felt like slamming the door in her wrinkle-free face, but knew that that was hardly an option.

“Never, a girl has no place in inheriting such a valuable estate as ours. Now, I haven’t come here to argue; and I might add I would not have had to come if you had answered your cell phone in the first place.” Eddie was silent. “You left it in another night club, didn’t you?” He still said nothing. “Fine, but it is about time that you stopped going to those damn places all together; you should be looking into finding an eligible young lady. And I’m not talking about that wretched girl you brought ho-!”

“MOTHER!” Eddie let his blonde bangs fall into his eyes. “Enough! If this is what you came for then you can surely leave, because I don’t plan on changing anything!” He turned his back to her.

Edward Elizabeth Lancaster, or Eddie E. Lancaster through the media, was the most sought after bachelor in perhaps the entire United States. He was to inherit every branch under the name Lancaster including the ownership of the apartments he lived at. His personal value was over 4.5 billion dollars, and he couldn’t have cared less. He got it all whether he tried or not. But his parents wanted nothing more than handing over the estate to him, as a married young man.

“Edward...” she looked regretful and yet impersonally bitter. “I didn’t come here to...” She couldn’t look so caring and her eyebrows twitched in effort. “Well, anyways,” she cleared her throat, and her tone went completely flat. “I want you to come to the fashion show today; you haven’t been seen by the public in too long.”

“You didn’t want me seen by the public three weeks ago when someone got that photo when I was plastered in a taxi.”

“Please,” she said coolly.

“Well, I can’t exactly say no can I?” he said and walked into his room to find a suit.

“No. you can’t,” she affirmed and examined her manicure.

“Well, then which show is it this time?” he came out zipping the fly of his black, white-pin-striped, pants and left his white-collared shirt unbuttoned with his jacket over his shoulder.

“Letaghlio.”

“Oh,” he raised a brow and blew off his hangover. “Are we going to be fashionably early or fashionably late?” He knew to expect Nat there and was more than relived being that they hadn’t scheduled clubbing times for the week yet. Besides, there were always benefits in talking about clubs in the presence of Virginia, she hated it, and Eddie new it was a slap to her face every time he mentioned it.

“Of course we will be early; the only people on the carpet,” and she maneuvered to make him hold the door for her. “We’ll be the only ones in the shot.”

There was a deathly silence in the car; it was unbearable. Eddie crossed his arms and only just started buttoning his shirt when the chauffeur pulled up to the curb. Cameras flashed from every angle and then died out after they entered the silver halls and cherry wood floors of the main entrance. A series of physically gorgeous models passed, and Eddie turned to his mother, “I’ll bet you one quarter that I can bang half of those.” He felt satisfied with the cringe on her face, enough so to turn away and make his way to the condiment table that only men ate at.

Women, on the other hand, picked up finger foods and made it look like they were going to eat it, but no matter how convincing their swallows looked, he knew the lot of them would be shoving their fingers down their throats the second they paced to a bathroom. In some sick way, he wasn’t in the mood to model hunt like he usually was; his eyes did however scan the few that passed to the click of their four-inch heels.

That’s when his eyes hit the curves of Letaghlio’s assistant. She would do for today. But when he walked over some other guy was smoothing her over.

“So, do you always wear blue? Because red would suit how hot you are,” the man talking to her had a greasy mustache.

“Hey pal,” he scooted himself between him and her, “I think you dropped your game over there.”

The man, not even as handsome as the sole of Eddie’s shoe, shuffled off like a wounded puppy. The assistant seemed grateful too.

“You wanna go backstage?” she said and he nodded as if it were only because he had nothing better to do.

SMASH!! The assistant, that he couldn’t have cared less the name of, latched around his neck after falling through racks of clothes. Models, completely used to having couples or total strangers make-out in the back, didn’t even pause in preparing their clothes. That’s when Eddie noticed Nat putting on her make-up.

“Hey,” he spoke between kissing. “Why,” he held the assistant away a little, “are you here so early?” The assistant wouldn’t stand of interruptions.

“Oh, shopping didn’t go as long as I had hoped,” she said, entirely unaffected by the fact that the girl was all over him. “Also, I brought the others today...all of them.”

He didn’t respond, so she went back to her eye-shadow.

Ten minutes before the show started, he finally got the assistant off. Who knew she was the clingy type? After ditching her thoroughly, Eddie pulled his look together with the assistance of a bathroom mirror, and chugged a small vile of vodka that he had stuffed in the inner pocket of his fitted coat. He was going to need every drop of it if he had to sit next to his mother.

“Eddie,” she called the second his three-hundred dollar shoe hit the runway. He kept an emotionless stare as the head of every single woman in a mile’s radius turned to lap him up. He sat next to her and folded his arms, a headache blooming at his temple. Then he noted the relaxation in her posture and knew she was up to something. “Oh darling! Look-! It’s your close friend Miss Hughes!”

Eddie arched an eyebrow and something on his face made the women behind him sigh.

“Honey dear!” she called out to her. “Sit by my son, he would be honored by your evident beauty and intellect.” Shondi couldn’t say no to her boss; that was unthinkable. So, naturally, she took her seat at Eddie’s side and felt terribly awkward about the whole thing.

Eddie gave her a weird nod which affirmed that he had nothing to do with this, and also he smiled at Chase and Jason. Then his eyes hit Rach, and his face twisted with sheer distaste. “Booger,” he regarded her, and her jaw dropped.

“Why you!-” she cut herself off at the dagger-like slits of Virginia’s eyes.

Eddie rolled his eyes and started talking to Shondi; not like he was supposed to however. Whereas a man should talk to a woman in public with little chit-chat or sweet things, Eddie made sure to open discussions about things no normal billionaire would process mentioning, “so I read about this rash online...”

Rachel, looking over her clothes and trying not to be bothered by being called a ‘booger’ as well as being ignored by Eddie, frowned deeply. And a growl of her stomach was her best excuse of getting up to vent.

“Where are you going?” Jason said curiously.

“To the food table before I spit that jerk in the eye!!” she hissed low enough for no one else to hear her.

“Ah...hey anyone want a snack before it starts?” he asked the group, as Virginia started talking about how Eddie would look great with a girl like Shondi. Jason stood, Rachel was already standing, and Eddie next took to his feet.

“I need a beer,” and Rachel glared at him deeply.

“I don’t want him to come,” she whispered in Jason’s ear while they approached the table.

Apparently she didn’t speak low enough because Eddie responded, “Why? Am I that fatally attractive?”

“Piss off!” she said and reached for a French pastry with creamy vanilla custard.

Jason just hummed and grabbed some meat; he couldn’t hope of guessing what it was originally.

Eddie snapped at Rachel, for this moment he hated her; if he could have, he would have lashed out to hurt her. Anything, he just couldn’t stand the sight of her; insulting her was the next best step. “Don’t eat that, you’ll rip your dress. Besides if I am seen with a pig like you, wolfing down the food with the most calories in this room, the ladies will start to think I dig squishy women. You make me sick.” He lifted the cloth on the table and grabbed a bottle of Budweiser. Jason gave him a look that asked if all show tables had beer underneath and Eddie answered aloud, “No, there aren’t usually bottles of commoner beer under these. You see, I paid this assistant earlier to put one here...”

Rachel was torn between eating the custard and throwing it at Eddie’s face. “Since when are you carrying money around in your pocket?”

“I never said anything about money,” and they all knew what he meant. In a second he was not only wearing the most expensive clothes in the suit industry, but he was also wearing the smooth vanilla custard of a French pastry.

Rachel was fuming, and she wasn’t sure entirely why. Jason was both amused and horrified. Eddie looked from the custard to Rachel and then to the bottle in his hand. One swig and the whole thing was gone; man did he want to be drunk right about now.

For this everyone felt the same: you had to love Eddie, and then...you also sort of had to hate him.

Back in the room, Shondi was feeling beyond under pressure and the confused look on her face said it all. Virginia sighed and turned to face her head on. “Roshonda, you are everything a Lancaster wife should be. If you ever want to move up in this industry you need to think about just how far you will go to get it. How badly do you want all of this?”

The lights flashed and the runway lit up like a Christmas tree, only better.


Despite the flashing lights and the drumming beat of the runway music, a thick tension floated in the air above Nat’s guests. Nat was standing in the lineup behind the stage, a beautiful Michael Letaghlio creation clinging to her lovely form. While excitement tingled up and down her spine, her friends were experiencing a very different array of emotions.

Shondi sat nervously in their row, finding herself in an oddly difficult position. To her right Eddie, who was obviously drunk and upset, was messily slouched in his seat, and to her left sat Virginia Lancaster, who’s wandering eyes kept glancing over at the pair sitting next to her. Shondi tried to focus on the intensity and brilliance of the runway show, but Mrs. Lancaster’s words kept ringing in her head. How badly do want all of this?

Eddie ignored his mother and bore a very disgruntled expression on his face. While he tried to enjoy the revealing angle at which he saw the models from, he was too wound up and too drunk to stay focused. Instead, his mind kept wandering back to his least favorite person, Rachel. He couldn’t understand why she still got to him. He had already had her; she was better off a man to him. But for some reason, he still let her get under his skin. Even more worrisome, he still wanted to get under hers.

Seated next to Eddie was Chase, the safety net between him and Rachel. Chase obediently leaned toward Rachel with an open ear, ready to listen whenever she mumbled angry, incoherent words about Eddie. She was positively fuming, but for Nat, she had agreed to stay for the show and was doing her best to calm down. Chase was actually glad for the distraction; it kept his mind off the fact that Jason was dressed stylishly from head to toe, a very pleasant rarity for the man who usually opted for jeans and a T-shirt.

Jason sat on the end of the group, on the other side of Rachel. So far that evening, it seemed he was the only one not struggling with some sort of inner turmoil. His writing never strayed far from his mind, but he found it rather easy to let go and enjoy the show. He was excited to see Nat perform on the runway, and he felt it was good to see at least one of his friends fulfilling their dreams.

“Hey, is this seat taken?” A deep voice asked, interrupting Jason’s thoughts. Jason quickly shifted his gaze, his eyes adjusting to the dimly light area. He nodded hesitantly since the seat had seemed to remain vacant since they arrived at the show. The man smiled and began to seat himself, and as he did, he gently rested his hand on Jason’s shoulder. Jason looked up slightly, expecting the man to say something, but no words escaped from his lips. After a short pause, he pulled his hand away and sat down. He then leaned in and said softly into Jason’s ear, “Long time, no see.”

Jason’s breathing hitched as something caught in his throat. He suddenly recognized the voice and found himself facing two familiar blue eyes. He laughed nervously, running a quick hand through his hair. “Good to see you too, Matt,” he replied; though, he wasn’t sure if that was the truth.
----------------------------------------------------------------

Two weekends ago…

The sun glistened and a light breeze swept through the air as the sound of moving water rushed to the boys’ ears. With their fishing gear in hand and an optimistic outlook, they waded up and down the small, flowing river. Camping had become a tradition for Eddie, Jason and Chase, yet sometimes their busy work schedules kept them from their beloved fresh air, starry nights, and sunny days of fishing. But with summer already turning into a chilly autumn, the boys agreed to get one more trip out of the season.

For this trio, camping consisted of mostly just fishing and sleeping in tents, with plenty of eating, drinking games, and campfire chats in between. They would have attempting hunting, but Chase didn’t want to target any creatures capable of attack, and none of them trusted Eddie with a gun. Jason didn’t want to risk his head or his right hand--his writing hand, mind you—being blown away because then he’d be out of a job. Eddie feared for his right hand for other reasons…

So far they had spent half the day by the riverside, catching what would amount to a very small dinner. Fortunately for them, they always came prepared with ample supply of store-bought nourishment. And if that wasn’t enough, a friend of Eddie’s, Matt Rodshaw, had joined the guys on this trip with plenty of food in tow. Matt was in advertising and often did business with Virginia Lancaster’s magazine, so he fit perfectly into Eddie’s world.

“Ahhh crap!” Eddie wailed from his end of the river. Dejectedly, he lifted his fishing pole from the water to reveal stolen bait. “The stupid thing got away!” He exclaimed indignantly at Jason, who not surprisingly had quite a few fish sitting in his bucket.

“Don’t worry mate, I think we’ll survive without you catchin’ another minnow,” Matt teased loudly, patting his friend on the back.

“Oohhhh shutttuppp, Mattie!” Eddie yelled as he turned to swat the taller man. Matt, or Mattie, as Eddie called him, was probably the only other friend the young exec had outside of his circle. Though, as Rachel would attest, this was only because they seemed like clones. The both shared a similar physique, had grown up wealthy, and had everything in life handed to them. The only difference was Matt’s tousled black hair and slightly thicker build. He was a decent looking guy, to be sure, but in this duo, Matt was the brawn, and Eddie was the beauty. As Chase and Jason would joke, no brains were present between the two.

“Hey guys, we should probably head back,” Chase said, craning his neck up to view the sky. “I think we might get some rain.” After some horsing around, they gathered their belongings and headed back to their campsite, nestled safely in the trees.

----------

“All right, all right, I got one,” Eddie slurred in between mumbled laughter. “I’ve never kissed a man,” he stated proudly as the foursome sat around the campfire engaging in popular drinking game. Eddie sat tight, as did Jason, and watched as Chase and Matt both took a swig from their Budweisers. Another difference between Eddie and his friend was that while Eddie was all about the women, Matt was openly bi.

“Oh so original,” Chase said, rolling his eyes. “You knew we’d both have to drink for that one.” Jason laughed and elbowed his buddy in the ribs. “Okay Matt, your turn.” Chase and Jason chatted while Matt thought, though they were unaware that his gaze had settled directly on one of them.

“Wait, Jason you didn’t drink,” he said suddenly. “You’ve never…you know?” Jason shook his head, a confused expression upon his face. Matt didn’t seem convinced and looked towards Chase to respond. “It’s not a big deal,” he sighed at Chase’s silence. “I just thought you two are so close, so I figured something had happened before.”

At that point, Eddie burst out laughing and a stream of beer dribbled from his mouth. “Sorry,” he sputtered. “It’s just the idea of Chase and Jason—yeah right!”

“So you’ve never even been curious?” Matt continued, a strange glint appearing in his deep blue eyes. Jason just seemed perplexed by the whole conversation, but the topic was making Chase decidedly uneasy. “Nevermind. Okay, my turn, right?”

“Yeah Mattie,” Eddie said, still chuckling slightly at the ordeal. “You should say something ridiculous like, ‘I’ve never hit on a straight man by asking if he was curious’.”

At first, Matt glared at Eddie, but then his expression softened. “Hey, I’ll drink to that,” he said simply, his lips curving into a small smile that sparked a new realization in Chase’s mind.


Pull yourself together girl… Don’t let your boss get in the way of your dream. Shondi sighed to herself, still trying to brush off Virginia’s last comment. A look at Rachel, in the skin tight dress Roshonda had created, only strengthened her resolve to be a famous designer. She looked down at her own aquamarine colored dress and smiled. Reaching into her metallic silver Prada bag, she stealthily pulled out a Mont Blanc pen and writing tablet (that she kept with her always) and scribbled a note quickly. Don’t let him ruin this for you. Eat whatever you want, nothing you do could make you look less gorgeous tonight! His loss.

She turned to Eddie, as if to have a more private conversation (much to Virginia’s happiness) and slid the note past Eddie to Chase and mouthed “Rachel.” He smiled and passed it on.

“What are you in junior high again?” Eddie laughed. The look from Roshonda quieted him for a moment. “That look might be sexy if it wasn’t just like my mother’s.”

Roshonda ignored him and glanced at Rachel who smiled and mouthed “thank you.” A quick nod and she turned her attention back to Eddie. She whispered as quietly as she could. “Please behave, for my sake.”

~*~*~*~*~*~


The show had been fantastic. Letaghlio certainly had talent, that much couldn’t possibly be disputed. Roshonda was curious and excited to think that in the near future it could be her name in lights. The after-party was in full swing, and everyone was nicely toasty from the endless champagne.

“Roshonda darling, I’m throwing a little get together tomorrow evening for Letaghlio to congratulate him on his success.” Virginia Lancaster patted Shondi’s hand and smiled.

“I’m afraid I have three deadlines to worry about.”

“I’ll get you an extension. I can do that you know.“ Virginia laughed, and Roshonda couldn’t help but notice that it was the most excellent trophy wife laugh she had ever heard. She wondered quietly to herself how long it had taken Virginia to perfect. “You’ll be Eddie’s date of course. I’ll have my assistant send you the details and you must look as stunning as you do tonight.” Virginia paused. “Speaking of, that fabric is divine, who are you wearing?”

Still trying to process that she had just been asked out on a date by Eddie’s mother, she tumbled. “Uh, me…”

“I’m sorry dear?”

“I designed it. I did Rachel’s and the dress Natalia’s wearing to the party as well.”

“My, my, I had no idea you had designing aspirations. We’ll have to introduce you to Letaghlio tomorrow, won’t we?”

It was all Roshonda could do to keep her mouth closed. As Virginia waved a goodbye, Shondi did a quick 360, searching for Eddie. She saw him chatting it up with a blonde model. Head held high, she strode up to him and took his arm giving the blonde a searing look. Getting the message, the blonde sashayed away.

“You’re going to help me.”

“Excuse me?”

“You're drunk Eddie... Come with me.”

“Where?”

“Starbucks, I need you sobered up because we have to talk. We can go back to the party after we chat.”

With more than a little prodding, Eddie finally acquiesced and followed Shondi down the street to Starbucks. A venti vanilla latte (three shots, no foam) later, Eddie was sobered enough to talk intelligently.

“So why did you drag me away from that party, and more importantly that blonde…she was hot.”

“I need your mother’s help.”

“Why are you telling me this?"

“You need her off your back.”

A cocky grin spread across his face. “Are you proposing to take me to bed to make my mother happy? You’re pretty short. I normally go for girls over 5’8, but I suppose that I can settle.”

“Eddie, you only wish you could have me, and better men than you have tried. Believe me.”

“Is that so? I’ll have you know I can have any woman I want.”

“You forget that I saw what you did to Rachel. It was the biggest turn off I’ve ever had. Even you can’t deny that she was the best thing that ever happened to you. All your other girls are just sluts, and you know it.”

“So what, sluts are the best kind of woman. They expect less.” There was a touch of sadness in his voice, but he quickly masked it.

“Ugh, you’re infuriating. I’m not going to get into the dynamics of one-night stands with you. I want to make a deal with you. So just shut up and listen. Your mother can help me get my fashion line up and going. She's already starting to introduce me to the right people. I have to network the hell out of this, and I won’t have the opportunity without her. She seems to think that I'm the perfect woman for you. I don't know how she got the idea, but all of my dealings with Virginia Lancaster tell me that she won't let go until she's seen this thing through. So-”

“So you want to pretend to be my girlfriend?” He interrupted.

“It’ll get your mother off both of our backs, and I get my dream.”

“Well that’s all well and good for you, but what do I get?”

Shondi frowned. She was hoping he wouldn’t ask, but she was prepared to give anything. Her dream was worth it... “What do you want?”


Nat sashayed into the room, all smiles and tanned legs in the colorful cocktail dress that Shondi had designed for her. Strapless and form-fitting, but decidedly tasteful, the bottom was a series of irregularly shaped sheer panels that fell to just above the knee. As she walked, however, the panels parted almost to the top of her thigh, where the tight under-layer of the dress fell against her legs. A series of blues, from sapphire to the sky at dawn, the dress played beautifully off of her red tresses as they bounced, still looped in wide curls from the show, down her back. Shondi knew how to design a dress for Nat's body and, frankly, Nat loved the way her breasts mounded over the top of the beautiful piece. She felt sexy and, the more the men stared at her as she headed for her friends, the more she wanted sex. And knew that she would get some by the end of the night.

"Hello," she purred to the first truly handsome man she found. "What did you think of the show?" Brushing her hair from her face, Nat stared up- she was a tall girl, at 6', but he had to be at least 6'3- at the man and smiled. Gorgeous, with piercing sky-at-midnight eyes and full, dark lashes, the man smiled back at her; a mouth of straight, white teeth flashing in the light of the party. Square jawed, with high cheekbones and straight nose, he could have worked for any men's agency in the nation. But Nat didn't recognize him, so he wasn't a model.

"I thought it was brilliant." Nat's smile widened. The softly lilting cadence of the man's words betrayed Welsh descent. "And you were absolutely gorgeous in it. You walked well in those shoes." The man reached out his hand. "I'm Jeremy Tewdor."

"Natalia Jackson, but everyone calls me Nat." Nat took the offered hand and shook it firmly. "Nice to meet you Jeremy. So, what brings you from Wales all the way here to this particular show?" Shifting slightly to lean toward him, Nat barely bothered to disguise her physical interest in Jeremy. Her eyes fairly smoldered with wanton sexuality and she rocked her hips imperceptibly, something that Jeremy would recognize only subconsciously. "Not just to see me, obviously."

Jeremy laughed and it was like Marvin Gaye were singing "Let's Get it On" to her in dulcet tones. "No, but it would have been a good enough reason to, now that I've met you. I was Michael's roommate in college. He studied fashion and I studied Business and History. Now he's a famous designer and I own a business that provides Hollywood with reenactment troupes and gear. But it makes a fair amount and I love it."

"You went to college with Michael? That's amazing! But, more importantly, you own a reenactment provider...firm? How on earth did you get into something like that?" Nat wanted this man, badly. But, more than that, she found that she wanted to get to know him, too. He was beautiful and he was interesting.

"It's something I've always been interested in. I can pull my own weight with a sword, as well. I do all periods, all over the globe. It's really a big business because period films are so popular. And it's really fun to outfit a man in full 15th century French armour and watch them fight." Jeremy leaned forward and touched Nat's arm. "Would you like a drink?"

Nat chuckled. "I'd love a drink." Then, on a whim, she pressed herself against him. "Mostly, though, I'd love a kiss. It's been a long time since these lips tasted something as beautiful as you."

Jeremy's eyebrow flicked and his eyes darkened, if that were possible, his pupils widening and his smile becoming more wanton. "Ma'am, if you kiss me now, I don't know if I'll be able to stop."

"Hmm," Nat breathed, kissing Jeremy lightly. "Then consider that a preview. I have a key to every room in this building. Let's find someplace...quiet and make it a lot less so."


Chase’s misery had deepened since the end of the runway show since Matt kept hanging around, obviously trying to draw Jason’s interest. While he knew that Jason had no romantic interest in Matt, or himself for that matter, Matt had sparked more than realization in Chase ever since their last camping trip. Chase had hoped that they wouldn’t cross paths anytime soon, at least not before he had had a chance to work things out in his head where Jason was concerned. He obviously wasn’t getting his wish. So far the only thing to take his mind off of Matt and Jason was the designer himself, who was to Chase a better attraction then the surrounding models, but even that wasn’t a good enough distraction.

There was just something about Matt that nagged Chase, and he wished he could figure it out--just like he needed to sort out his feelings regarding Jason. There was just too much going on in his head and around him right now, Chase was starting to get a headache. Looking at the glass in his hand, Chase polished off his drink and went in search of another. Knowing that drinking wasn’t going to solve anything and acting on that knowledge were two entirely different things. And so far that evening, Chase wasn’t feeling up to acting on anything except ridding his mind of all the thoughts inside it, even if only for one night.

****

Chase had yet another glass in his hand when Matt came up to him and clapped him on the back.

“Difficult isn’t he?”

Chase followed Matt’s gaze which lingered on Jason, whom he’d been hounding most of the night.

Chase tightened his hold on his drink. Before replying he finished his glass, unsure of what number that made, put it on the table and glared at Matt.

“Go to hell.”

“Hit a nerve have I?”

“He won’t cave.”

Matt’s smile was a cross between interested and devilish, “Just what you believe or do you speak from experience?”

“Listen, Mattie, I’ve known Jason long enough to know that guys aren’t his interest, so back off.”

Matt just chuckled and walked off. Chase’s gaze followed him as he made his way slowly in Jason’s direction. What was it about Matt…

Chase turned from the crowd and ordered another drink, this wasn’t his night.

****

Chase noticed that Matt had finally walked away from Jason and was engaged in a discussion with a different group of people. Seeing an opportunity to speak to Jason without the other man present, Chase scanned the crowd. He found Jason on the other side of the room talking with Rachel. Moving cautiously across the room, his head was swimming from his drinks, Chase made his way toward his friends.

“Chase, where have you been hiding?” Jason asked.

“Just watching from the sidelines.” Chase searched the crowd for the designer.

Jason smiled, “Found some interesting scenery?”

“Always.”

“Finally chose to join the fun, eh, Chase.”

He tried to keep from cringing at Matt’s voice, but wasn’t sure if he had been successful or not. Either way, no one commented on it. This definitely should be his last drink, after all the effect he’d wanted had taken hold three or four drinks ago.

“Actually I was about to suggest our departure.”

“What’s with you, miss all this and call it an early night?”

Matt gestured to the happily oblivious crowd.

“I’m already happily there.”

Matt chuckled as Rachel took Chase’s drink from him and took his arm.

“Maybe we should go.” She glanced sideways at Chase.

Jason happily agreed, Matt had been on his nerves all night, not taking the hint.

“I’ll see the three of you out.” Matt offered.

“No need.” Chase said loudly, shooting Matt a look that hopefully told him to shove it.

“No, no I insist.”

It seemed as if there would be no getting Matt away, so Rachel started ushering Chase toward the door with Jason and Matt behind. At the car Rachel allowed Chase to lean against it as she took out the keys to unlock it. As he stood there, Chase saw Matt lean closer to Jason and speak just loud enough for Chase to hear, but not Rachel, who was on the other side of the car.

“You may not be open to guys, but what about you, me and that cutie over there?”

Matt motioned with his eyes to Rachel.

Chase found himself in Matt’s face before he realized he‘d even moved and ignored the dizziness from the fast movement.

“Why don’t you take the hint and leave my friends alone!”

Matt’s eyes sparkled devilishly, “If you want in Chase…”

The remainder of the sentence was lost behind Chase’s fist.

“Shove off, jackass!”

Matt staggered but came back faster than the drunk Chase could react and landed his own punch. The momentum behind Matt’s punch caused Chase to stagger back into the car, although without its support he’d have likely went to the pavement.

Shaking his head, but only making his grogginess worse, Chase heard Matt’s voice among Jason and Rachel’s.

“I’m not going to hurt him, just want a word.”

Chase looked up and saw Rachel and Jason watching Matt like hawks as he leaned in toward Chase. Chase glared up at the man.

“Just a bit of advice, my friend, don’t take your unfulfilled desires out on those trying to fulfill their own.”

Chase would have lunged at Matt, but Rachel had moved in and taken hold of his arm pulling him off the car so she could open the door.

“He’s not worth it, let’s go.” Rachel whispered to him.

Matt smiled and turned to Jason with a wink, “My offer’s always open.”

Chase thought about fighting against Rachel’s attempt to get him into the car, but knew there was no point. He was lucky enough as it was, considering the condition he was in--this was no time to pick a fight with anyone. Besides Matt’s words to him were ringing in his head.

‘Don’t take your unfulfilled desires out on those trying to fulfill their own.’

From the backseat Chase saw Matt disappear, then his gaze shifted as the driver’s side door shut when Jason got in. Rachel was in the backseat next to him trying to get him to take a Kleenex.

‘How likely was it that Jason heard Matt’s words?’ Chase wondered, ‘Would this one night turn their friendship on end if he had heard and realized the true meaning?’

Chase swatted away Rachel’s hand and slouched down in his seat. This was supposed to be a fun and inspirational night, not a waking nightmare…
A Non-Existent User


While Chase, Rachel, Jason, Nat, and everyone else were being victims of such a common fashion festivity, Eddie sat at Starbucks across from a rather too-serious Shondi. His head was beginning to fog in a light hangover already, but the lack of sympathy from the frowning friend before him made him unable to just blow her off. Okay, this topic of them pretending to get together had gone far enough. For one of those rare instances, he knew it was time to cut out the sarcasm.

“Wait a minute. You’re telling me,” the blonde said and raised his finger knowingly, “that dating you would get my mother off my back. That you would be willing to go that far and more ridiculously, that you think I would go along just to help you out?”

Shondi was sort of taken aback at the sharp acidity he had conjured up in just two sentences. “Well, we all can’t be given everything in the world we ask for, like you,” was all she could think to say.

“Let’s get something straight here. One: I don’t sleep with my friends. Two: you definitely qualify as a friend. Three: there is not a thing in the world that could rid me of my witch of a mother. And lastly: I will never settle for one girl; even if it’s just pretend.” They exchanged a tense look, for being friends this was definitely going to put a strain on their interactions. He closed his eyes so he didn’t have to see her reaction; then resolutely he rose to his feet, “I shall take my leave now.”

“Night club?”

“Where else?” And with that he headed out to the streets. This all really shouldn’t bother him as much as it did. His mother had tried to set him up multiple times before to keep him away from his one night stands… but with one of his pals? This was an all time low for even her.

The expensive soul of his shoe clicked against the pavement and sounded like a commoner’s sneaker. The words, ‘everything in the world,’ echoing across him and making his life feel so cheap. Yes, in someone like Shondi’s or Mattie’s eyes, he would look like the most fortunate guy in America. But when he looked into the mirror and gazed into his admittedly flawless features, he saw nothing of his to hold his interest. Wasn’t the fact that he obsessed over a woman for no longer than a night proof of the unsettled yearning in his gut? Even his closest friends did not see why he clung to whiskey, vodka, and loose women. And after years of denying it himself, it was time he smelt the venti vanilla latte….

But what was he going to do? He ran his fingers through his hair before deciding to continue, trying to forget the occurrences of his past that made his brows flat and lips part in loneliness. He wasn’t planning on actually doing what he told Shondi, but clubs were the only thing he could use to escape his ‘fortunate’ life.

His personal favorite club was definitely lively when he paced undisturbed past the bouncer and the line of people not allowed in. There were too many benefits for his good being a Lancaster. The light flashed. The bass in the music shook his lean frame. The bar was pulling him closer, more so than the lovely brunette seated at it with a margarita.

“Hey,” she said when he sat beside her and ordered a regular Budweiser; it would do the deed all right. She, like any other female in range of his undoubtedly attractive magnetism, was not phased by the faint custard stain Rachel had left on his perfect fashion.

He didn’t bother to look at her face; it was required that anyone who entered this place at least have appeal. “You wanna come to my place after a few more of these?” He motioned to his drink with a swig.

Obviously, she said yes to a face and body like his. She lived for one night stands; but she was much different than him. She was in it for the thrill, where he never really got a bang from the girls that he could easily accuse of being sluts.

God, he hated it when the girls he targeted tried to connect with him. As they left, she tried to lock arms with him while asking what his frown was for. Because she was pretty, he at least gave his tan arm to her. He didn’t answer though.

“Here we are,” he said coolly and prayed that Jason was over at Chase’s room and not hanging about the main room like usual. When he opened the door, she headed in first, and a rock hit his stomach to the look of her head from behind. That haircut was almost exactly the same as a certain unmentionable female that started with an ‘R’ and ended in an ‘achel.’ He glared, ‘disgusting.’

“Oh, this place is quite…” she didn’t want to say messy because she wasn’t here for social chat, so she sang, “perfect. Now, do you use…?”

He took a small box from his pocket; they both knew what it was, “Protection? Already on it.” And he pointed her to his bedroom.

Man were they drunk. They tripped over some bottles before they even reached the door. But, no matter how built up she was getting, and how bored he was getting, they were both in for a surprise when the door swung open.

“Edward Elizabeth Lancaster, who is this?” his mother sat at the end of the bed in a fur coat that made her look sickeningly wealthy; she had been waiting for him that was clear. Though his father disapproved of his ‘hobbies,’ his mother was fully against it. “Is this a fiancée you have not told me about?”

Eddie’s jaw dropped along with the small box in his palm. He could hardly breathe if not speak.

“So when did you two meet exactly?” The older woman asked, knowing very well that it hadn’t been in more than twenty-four hours. The devil knew exactly how to scare away the loose ones, that was for sure.

With the mention of marriage or just commitment, the brunette who he didn’t know the name of spoke up. “You know, I forgot to feed my cats today…so, I really should go do that….” The lady then proceeded to literally run out the door.

Eddie just blinked at his mother’s pleased expression.

“I cannot approve of your behavior any longer Edward.”

He looked from her to the door, his way of forgetting himself left through, “p-fwa-bu-AH-!”

“My intent was to persuade you into a better life, but I must enforce my authority now that I have fully realized the hole you are digging yourself. I feel that it is time you tried settling down,” and her fake nails shone from the city lights beyond his window.

This was it; the last straw.

“MAYBE I WOULDN’T BE LIKE THIS NOW IF YOU HAD LET ME ‘SETTLE DOWN’ THE FIRST TIME I WANTED TO PROPOSE!” He could barely feel the alcohol pulsing through him; because it was not his drunken side that was speaking. This was Eddie, the man who didn’t get the only thing he ever really wanted.

“Do not yell at me! If you had proposed to that wretched girl, what would have happened to my company? Do you really think a plain thing like that could live up to our name? She never really suited you, you just have to understand that falling for trash is acceptable once, as long as you see that it is a passing fancy!”

His entire body leapt at this, “DON’T TALK ABOUT RACHEL LIKE THAT!”

He must have thrown something because as a crack in the wall formed on the opposite wall, his mother ducked and yelled for him to cut it out. She wasn’t the type to get mad or scared either; a reaction like that just told her that she had some power over him yet. “You were too young to know any better; I wasn’t going to let you tear our family apart with a commoner.”

“FAMILY? WHAT FAMILY? ALL YOU EVER DO IS RUIN MY LIFE!”

“I have not. Now, stop acting like a child; I only want what is best for you.”

“MORE LIKE WHAT IS BEST FOR YOU! YOU CAN’T STAND A GIRL WHO YOU HAVE NO INFLUENCE OVER! I HATE YOU FOR WHAT YOU DID! I HATE THAT I HAD TO DUMP HER! I HATE THAT SHE HATES ME FOR IT! AND I HATE HER! I HATE ME! BUT I REALLY HATE YOU!”

He allowed himself to slide down the nearest wall; his eyes slammed shut as he covered his head with his arms. When his mother reached out to him heartlessly, he brushed her off, and she left thinking that he couldn’t stay mad forever. After the front door closed behind her, he made his way to the kitchen, his eyes unable to stop watering. “D…damn it.” He reached out for the phone and dialed slowly, trying not to sob or let his throat tighten up on him. Someone picked up, “Shondi, this is Eddie.”

“What do you want?”

He almost let out a sob but held it back with some extra will power. “I’ll pretend to date you. But I have some rules. I will not kiss you EVER, but you can hold my arm. I am still going to my clubs. It will look like we are going on a date, but there will always be a third party... like,” his voice cracked a bit, “Jason or something.”

“Deal.” She didn’t hesitate. “but, hey are you okay? You sound funny.”

“Bye.” He hung up and rubbed his eyes, looked around him, and couldn’t stand sitting still. He was going for a walk, even if it was some ungodly hour in the night. Being in yet another of the Lancaster buildings was too suffocating. To think that he would own even this place someday made him want to gag. Yeah, the money and materials would be enjoyable, but… “shit,” he sighed and headed out with wobbly legs. He made it to the front of the building when a bitter Chase passed him looking dead sleepy. He was followed by Jason who made to pat Eddie’s shoulder, but at the sight of a dark expression blocked by blond bangs, he just said ‘hello.’

Wam! Due to the fact that his mind was far from his surroundings, Eddie walked square into someone when he sharply turned the last corner.

“Ow!” A familiar female voice exclaimed, and his arms had accidentally caught around her figure. When his bangs parted he saw Rachel’s face, less than a foot away. “Ah-Eddie?!”

His brows rose, and he exhaled in her face, his heart pounding like it always did when she came into sight. He didn’t want to have to deal with her now though, when his old wounds had reopened after never being able to heal. He must have reeked of beer, but she was frozen in a way different from repulsion. It took a lot to make his brows furrow at her while his hand, with a mind of its own, tightened on her shoulder. “Get out of the way, stupid.”

She scoffed as he pulled himself off.

“Do me a favor other than dieting, will you?” No one could understand why he said such horrible things; only him. “Tell Jason and Chase that I have kissed a guy before. And that her name was Rachel. I’ll drink to it.” She rose her hand to slap him, but when he looked at her with an unreadable gaze, she couldn’t do it. “Stop looking at me, I don’t date guys; if you want me so badly, you’ll just have to take a picture.” And he left her feeling confused and royally pissed off.

When he was out of sight, he kicked a trash can. “I’m such a…” he punched a wall and didn’t finish his sentence.

Things had to be like this. He wasn’t allowed to marry a girl like Rachel. And he didn’t want to put her through the trials of his mother’s that would probably alter the personality that he wanted more than any night club stand if he proposed anyways. So he was left to hate her, in order to not hurt her. The part that really bothered him: was how good he was at it. No one could ever know about this; about how badly he wanted her, and only her, for his wife.

“Shit.”


Jason struggled to remain standing as he wrapped his arm around Chase’s waist and half-carried his friend to the elevator. Chase, who was still tipsy from indulging in drinks and rage earlier that night, leaned heavily on the taller man’s shoulder, though he was currently uncomfortable standing so close to his friend.

“Thanks for your help Jason,” Rachel said as she clicked the button for the fifth floor. “I’ve never seen Chase act this way, so I might need to enlist you in helping mend the poor guy.”

“I’m fine,” Chase muttered as he pressed the ice pack against his jaw, vainly attempting to stand on his own two feet. When he realized that his balance was indeed temporarily off kilter, Jason was nearby to assist him.

“C’mon, let’s get you inside and on the couch,” Jason replied. He sighed listlessly, trying to shove the events of their evening out into the back of his mind. Though, he couldn’t help but laugh affectionately when his friend murmured something about Rachel’s ‘treacherous couch.’

“All right, I’ll brew some coffee,” Rachel said as she unlocked the apartment door and headed toward the kitchenette. Jason ushered Chase to the couch and watched as he collapsed onto its soft, plump cushions.

“Do you need anything?” Jason asked as he nudged Chase’s legs over and perched himself on the edge of the seat. “Water? Food? More alcohol?”

Chase’s difficult mood lightened for a moment, unable to ignore his friend’s effort to make him feel better. “I think I’ll just wait for that coffee,” he answered, shifting the ice pack to cover the sore spot on his jaw. It hurt pretty badly, but the bruising would be minimal. However, the pain was mostly worth it knowing that he socked Matt in the nose.

The guys could hear Rachel bustling back and forth in kitchen, but it seemed as if the coffee was taking an extraordinarily long time to brew. A strange silence filled the living room, one that had never existed between the two best friends. Inwardly, Chase was contemplating whether the awkward stillness was a result of Matt’s departing words, and he wondered, or rather feared, that Jason had heard them.

Jason, however, was searching for a way to discuss the issue without being embarrassed. After Matt’s suggestion of having a tryst involving Rachel, he honestly hadn’t realized or remembered much of what occurred next. He was trying to decide if he should ask Chase, but the fact that the evening ended with him and Matt in a fist fight indicated otherwise.

Suddenly, a light rapping on the door broke the silence. Rachel miraculously appeared to open it, welcoming a distressed Shondi and a satisfied Natalia into the room. “Hey you guys, sorry we left you there. How’d your evenings turn out?”

“Mine was pleasant,” Natalia responded, a sing-song quality to her voice, as she dropped her purse and coat onto the table and waltzed into the living room. “Though, it ended much too soon.”

“Mine could’ve ended earlier,” Shondi chimed in, promptly sitting on the armrest of the chair Nat occupied. “I think we all need to talk. Life just got incredibly complicated.”

“That might be a good idea,” Rachel said, handing over the hot cup of coffee in her hand. Chase eagerly accepted it, hoping for a temporary reprieve from the pain in his head and the awkward tension between him and Jason.

“Well, someone had an interesting night,” Nat commented as she noticed Chase’s jaw. “Geez Chase, what happened?” She pressed as she sat forward to get a better look at her friend.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Chase said simply as he sat up, making room for Rachel and Jason to sit on the couch. He wasn’t sure if she did it on purpose, but Rachel made him scoot down, forcing him to sit close to Jason.

Shondi and Nat quickly turned their attention to Jason, who immediately raised his hands in surrender, signaling that he wasn’t going to discuss it either. However, when the girls’ glances fell on Rachel, she couldn’t resist their concerned stares for long.

“Well, I’m not exactly sure,” she began to explain. “All I know is Matt had been following Jason around mercilessly. And well, he must’ve said something out of line because Chase lunged at him and punched him in the nose!”

“Whoa, what did he say?” Shondi inquired, carefully observing Chase’s unresponsive stance. “Jason…?” She asked, turning her gaze.

Jason sighed and leaned back in the couch, hoping there was still a slight chance of avoiding the matter. Only he and Chase knew what Matt suggested, and he really didn’t feel like telling Rachel. But for as long as Jason had known his friends, he knew to give up on that small, fragile hope.

“He um, well…” Jason began. “He offered to have a…” He stopped in mid-sentence, earning him unrelenting glances from the girls. “He suggested that he, Rachel and I have a threesome.”

“What?!” Rachel said aloud as she angrily crossed her arms, alarmed and repulsed. “I didn’t know he said that. If I had, I would’ve helped Chase beat him up.”

“Why are you guys so upset?” Nat asked suddenly. “I mean, I know Matt’s a pig and he’s rude. But, other than that, he’s harmless. Besides, it’s not like threesomes are the devil.”

“No, Nat, you can’t say that,” Jason argued. “You’re not the one he stalked all night.”

“Hold on a minute,” Rachel said in realization. “You’re okay with threesomes?”

“You mean a Ménage à trios?” Nat said seductively, before changing her tone. “Hey, I’m not saying I’ve had one, but they are a legitimately reasonable option for some people. Well, accept for Saint Jason here.”

“Hey, shut up,” Jason joked as he sat forward, his arm unintentionally brushing against Chase’s.

“No actually, she’s right,” Shondi added. “I mean for being such a looker, you turn down a lot of opportunities. Sure Matt’s a beast, but there are other fish in the sea. If it had been the right person, you still wouldn’t have said yes.”

“Well of course not!” Jason said, not understanding his friends’ crazy logic. There was nothing reasonable to what Matt had suggested. He knew bringing it up was a bad idea, and now without a doubt, the girls would continue discussing it all night.

After serving additional cups of coffee, snacking on various junk foods, and viewing a few episodes of late night television, the gang was sprawled out across Chase and Rachel’s living room.

“Man, this guy was great. You guys have no idea,” Nat exclaimed contentedly as she finished describing her evening with Jeremy. “Ha, Shondi it sucks that you ended up making destined-to-fail deals with Eddie. Pretty sure that’s worse than getting socked in the jaw.”

“Well, I think it’ll be worth it,” Shondi defended herself. “You all know how long I’ve aspired to make it in the fashion industry. If I pass up this chance, I may not come across another one.”

Rachel shifted uncomfortably in her new position, lying on the floor. She understood that Shondi wasn’t romantically interested in Eddie, but she couldn’t ignore the tinge of displeasure she felt at the thought of their deceit. However the fact that the idea bothered her left her feeling a bit restless and confused. This mixed with the perverse offer from Matt had made it a difficult evening.

“So, I have an interesting question,” Nat proposed, which was immediately followed by groans of annoyance. “No really, just answer it. It’s good when we talk like this. Forgetting whether or not you agree with them, who of us would you guys have a…you know, with? “

Jason was lying on the couch with Shondi lying on the opposite end. Chase sat on the floor in front of them, his back resting against the couch edge, while Nat and Rach lay on the floor in front of the television. Looking around, they knew that no one wanted to answer the question themselves, but they all secretly wanted to hear each others’ responses.

“I’ll go first,” Nat offered. She had clearly opted to drink more alcohol instead of the coffee Rachel had served. “It would depend on my mood, but I’d probably choose Jason. But ladies, this is a difficult choice. You’re both pretty foxy!” She joked, her laughter slowly waking the group up and lightening their moods.

“Well miss thing,” Shondi replied, “I would possibly pick you if you persuaded me.”

“Wow, this conversation is totally lost on you two,” Nat said, looking to Chase and Jason. “If Eddie were here, he’d be loving this.”

“I hate to say it, but I would probably still pick Eddie, despite well…everything,” Rachel admitted quietly. Nat kindly scooted forward and embraced her in a consoling hug.

Rachel was still dealing with her own feelings, but she had been aware of Chase’s for quite some time now. She knew that his ‘crush’ wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon. And eventually, he’d have to confront his feelings—unlike she was doing. Her eyes scanned the room to meet his, and he quickly understood the mischievous yet caring look on her face. He seemed to plead no, but it was too late for that. “So Chase,” Rachel began against her friend’s wishes. “Who would you pick?”


Chase was both sympathetic toward and irritated with Rachel at the moment. He could understand her reasoning, yet it wasn’t cause enough to put him in such a situation. He had hoped that he could somehow avoid participating in this game, but now he had little choice but to answer. Though he would give almost anything for a blackout or even a fire alarm to distract everyone, yet he knew deep down that he had to give an answer.

What could he say? Not just anything, that wouldn’t do, it had to be believable, his friends knew him too well.

“Come on Chase, who?” Nat urged him on.

Chase wished she hadn’t ever brought up the subject, but knew that his run in with Matt and Matt’s piggish ideas were the ultimate cause of this game being played. There was nothing he could do, no way out of this situation--he had to answer.

Months of working at surpressing his feelings for Jason all came down to this moment. Things wouldn’t be quite as nerve racking if Chase knew if Jason had heard Matt’s departing words or not. If Jason had heard, than Chases answer would reveal more than he wanted. Chase would never forgive Rachel if this one answer ruined his friendship with Jason.

“Stop stalling Chase, it’s all in fun.” Shondi commented.

Chase inhaled slowing, knowing that putting this off any longer wasn’t going to make it any easier. He might as well just say Jason’s name and get it over with, no one was going to let him get away with a cheesy answer or none at all, so the truth was all he had to go on.

All in fun. Chase thought to himself try to ease the tension he felt. Just all in fun…if Jason hadn’t heard Matt...

“Alright! It'd be Jason.” Chase spat out his answer, there was no other easy way to say it.


Author's Note: Sorry I have been gone for so long and have let this campfire fall to the wayside. If anyone is interested in continuing the story, please let me know. Anyway, I thought I'd contribute an addition to get things moving again--so here we go! Sorry if it's a bit (long, slow, boring) and dialogue-heavy. Also, I tried to include some of the major plot points. I mostly focus on the Chase/Jason dynamic, but I also mention the Rachel/Eddie thing, and of course, the new situation involving Eddie and Shondi (sounds like fun!). Plus, I tried to get the girls together for a talk. And yes I realize, we need to get Nat more into the mix. So if anyone comes up with something, that'd be great!

And after all my rambling, here is the addition:
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“Stop stalling, Chase. It’s all in fun,” the petite friend said as she sat up on her end of the couch. Chase audibly sighed, clearly unenthused about participating in the girls’ intrusive version of truth-or-dare-minus-the-dare.

Jason was caught between sympathizing with or laughing at his friend’s predicament. However, knowing the girls would soon be swooping in for his response, Jason untangled his legs from Shondi’s and sat up, ready to put a necessary end to the evening’s awkward questioning. But as he leaned forward, Jason saw more than sheepish embarrassment or disapproval in his friend’s expression. Chase was worried, and though he was avoiding eye contact with anyone, Jason detected something his friend was hiding, but what was it? Was it fear?

“Alright! It’d be Jason,” Chase blurted out, a definite red tinting his cheeks. Though, lately, Chase’s face had seemed to remain consistently pink over the last few weeks.

“Ah well, it’s not like you had much to choose from,” Nat groaned in jest as she began to stand up. “I mean, three chicks, a narcissist, or the garbage disposal over here,” she finished, distinctly motioning her hand towards Jason.

“Excuse me, but I think I recall you also picking the ‘garbage disposal,’” Jason said, attempting to sound hurt as he got up from the couch. Inwardly, he wasn’t at all offended. In actuality, he was glad for the model’s quick wit. Her turning the situation into another harmless joke had visibly relieved the tension in Chase’s form, and for that, Jason was grateful. He wasn’t sure why Chase had been so bent up over answering the question. Usually, he was just as open as Nat and Shondi when it came to sharing overly personal or intimate details. Out of all them, Rachel and Jason were the shy ones.

Deciding to maintain the lightened, playful mood, Jason added, “Honestly, just admit it. You all want a piece of this.” He stood up and flexed one of his arms, earning a catcall from the audacious model.

“Forget your arms,” Rachel said as she stepped forward and reached for the hem of Jason’s shirt. “It’s all about those abs!” Now it was Jason’s time to blush as he knocked his friend’s hand away and pulled his shirt back down.

“Hey now, one at a time,” he recovered, adding in a sly wink. At this, Chase, who was still seated, doubled over laughing. Jason smiled appreciatively, glad to hear his best friend laugh.

“Well, guess Chase gets to have you first,” Shondi said, her voice taking a sharp turn from joking to serious. “Sorry,” she muttered as the rest of the gang stood up in the living room, concern visible on their faces.

“I need to borrow the girls for tonight,” she began to explain. “I think we really need to discuss my situation with Eddie at our apartment. That is, if Nat doesn’t mind. As soon as I have my foot in the door, it will all be over. But until then, I’m going to need everyone’s help to convince Eddie’s mom that her son and I are a couple.”

“Sure sweets, we’ll help you,” Nat replied as she laid a reassuring hand on her friend’s shoulder. She meant well, though her actions didn’t quite complement her words. “I’ve heard many things about Virginia Lancaster. If you get caught, you’ll be skewered.”

“And I’ve met her,” Rachel added somberly. “She’s going to want to spend time with you two. She might invite you to the Lancaster home for dinner, or to some event. Or worse, she’ll invite herself over for dinner.” Rachel furrowed her brows, closed her eyes, and brought her hands up to cover her face. Clearly, just thinking of the woman brought back bad memories. “God, that woman is a piece of work,” she finished, finally uncovering her face, “but I can help you deal with her.”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Jason replied supportively. “I’ll stay here with Chase. Besides, Eddie will be out for hours. And um, I think we need to talk, too.” Jason looked over to his friend, whose nervous smile shakily played across his face.

The girls hugged the guys goodbye and headed down to their room, leaving Jason and Chase in an empty apartment. The door closed with a loud thud, which only emphasized the strange silence left to fill the room. Chase was rubbing the back of his neck with his hand—a trademark nervous quirk of his—and Jason’s fingers were worriedly combing through his messy, dark brown hair.

Finally, Chase took a deep breath and asked, “So…what did you want to talk about?” Jason didn’t respond at first, so Chase stole himself away and began heading into the kitchenette to start another pot of coffee.

Jason followed him slowly and watched patiently as his friend tended to the coffeemaker. Though the filter and grinds were in place, and the machine was clearly buzzing with life—filtering and dripping away—Chase continued to fiddle with its buttons.

“Chase,” Jason reached out and touched his friend’s hand, stopping it from moving. Chase’s light brown eyes reluctantly met Jason’s dark green gaze.

“Yea-yeah…?” Though Jason wasn’t aware of it, Chase felt his breath hitch in his throat. A question of whether certain words had been heard had been dangling over his head the entire night. And now it seemed this conversation would answer it.

“Thank-you,” Jason said softly, quickly catching the somewhat perplexed attention of his friend. “I wanted to thank you for hitting Matt. Wow, that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?” Jason chuckled slightly as he paused for a moment. “I mean, for standing up for Rachel and…for me.”

Chase’s demeanor quickly brightened, a wave of relief washing over and calming his features. “Don’t worry about it,” he replied. As a warm smile began to grace his handsome features, his voice grew fuller, kinder, and more confident. “That’s what friends are for.”

“Well, I’m glad you were there, seeing how unhelpful I was,” Jason said, finally removing his hand from his friend’s and heading toward the kitchen table. Though he didn’t see it, Chase’s smiled lessened for just a moment at the action. He shrugged off the slight pang he felt in his heart and sat down with his friend. “It’s just I wish I would’ve reacted sooner. I can’t believe I didn’t do anything when he said such a thing, especially since he involved Rachel. I stood there frozen. I just couldn’t think, you know?”

“No one blames you,” Chase continued the conversation, feeling as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders only to be replaced by a stinging void. He was suddenly aware of how cold his hand felt untouched, but he pushed the thought to the back of his mind. “Matt’s a pig, and what he said would throw anyone off. Besides, he’d been harassing you all night.”

“That’s true,” Jason replied, “though I don’t understand it. I mean, we haven’t seen him since that camping trip”—Chase's heartbeat quickened at that memory—“and all of a sudden, he’s attracted to me? I mean, I guess he liked me before, I just never knew. It’s weird, how someone can like you without you even knowing.”

Chase abruptly turned his attention back to the coffeemaker and turned it off. He pulled out two mugs and happily ignoring Jason’s remarks—(“Hey, if you like it weak, just drink tea, but make me some real coffee!”)—he poured some of the fresh brew and brought it to the table.

“Hey, are you sure we should be drinking more of this?” Jason asked before taking a tentative sip. “I mean, we should get some sleep. We’ve been up all night and most of the morning discussing what an interesting night we’ve all had.”

“Yeah, who knew a fashion show would end up as the setting for all this mayhem?” Chase replied, taking a deep drink from his hot coffee. “And don’t worry, like you said, it’s pretty weak.”

“I just hope Nat and Rachel are able to help Shondi out,” Jason said. “It’s definitely going to be a job getting him to even pretend he’s in a serious relationship.”

“Well, Eddie agreed to it,” Chase insisted. “That must mean he cares enough to help Shondi.”

“That or he wants to torture Rachel,” Jason solemnly pointed out.

“Yeah, I wondered about that too,” Chase confessed. The two exchanged a worried look before finishing off their coffee. “All right, well, I think that thing you mentioned before—oh yes, sleep—sounds like a good idea right about now.” The guys headed down the hallway past the bathroom to the two bedrooms. Chase opened his door and suddenly a strange feeling hit him. He turned around to see Jason following him into his room.

“What? Rachel might be coming back to tonight, and there is no way I am sleeping on the couch,” Jason said immediately. “I don’t want to wake up to Rachel screaming, the couch is too short for me, and I definitely don’t want to fall off of it.” Chase stood firm and crossed his arms, as if waiting for better reasoning. “C’mon, it’s like high school all over again. I’ve shared a bed with you before.”

Chase couldn’t help but smile. Though he still knew he couldn’t tell Jason about his feelings, he was eternally grateful for having a friend that never treated him differently because of who he was. Even in high school, when Chase first told Jason he was gay in their sophomore year—in fact, he was the first person he’d ever told—Jason remained his friend.

Jason had even been there when Chase decided to break the news to his family. Chase’s mother loved Jason for being a good friend and repaid him for his kindness with lots of baked goods—namely pies—every time he visited. His brother, to this day, always teased him, insisting on referring to Jason as Chase’s “boyfriend” or “boy toy.” Worst of all was his father, who wrongly assumed that Jason, the straight one, had turned Chase gay and had consequently threatened his life with a gun. Yes, Jason and Chase had been through a lot. And though Chase knew Jason to be an understanding, loyal friend, there was just too much at stake.

And Chase feared as he slid into his side of the bed—Jason getting into his side and all too quickly hogging the covers—that he might never stop loving him and worse, that he would have to continue to secretly harbor the truth.


Lying there, like old times, Chase couldn’t help but smile at everything he and Jason had been though. Jason had been the first person he’d ever told about his sexuality, and his friend had been there for him ever since. Even when Chase finally got the courage to tell his family, Jason had been there. Although, from Chase’s father’s reaction, that might not have been the best thing for Jason considering that Joe Thomas had threatened him with his life. Since then Chase’s sexuality had been a near mute subject for his father.

Even after that, Jason had stayed at Chase’s side to support him--a support Chase’s mother had always been grateful for. Although his older brother, Neil, hadn’t really changed toward Chase, he had always jested with his younger brother and this simply gave him new material to joke with. Chase knew Neil would have his back should he ever need it, as much as Jason would.

The only sour spot to his immediate family was Chase’s father’s immediate dislike of Jason, whom he blamed for his son’s sexuality. Some of the only words Chase ever heard from the man were to ask if he was still involved with Jason. It mattered little how many times Chase had explained the truth. His father had made Jason the scapegoat for his insecurity about his son’s chosen path. Even if it was avoiding the truth, Chase had convinced himself that his father was simply filled with insecurity, not hate, yet nothing concerning father and youngest son was crystal clear since, for truth.

Chase sighed softly; it was for all that history and more between Jason and himself that Chase knew he had to come to terms with this new found devotion to his best friend.

Nudging Jason with his elbow, Chase muttered, “Stop hogging the covers.”

He pulled on the blanket and only received a swat from Jason, “Back off, you’ll end up with most of them by morning if my memory serves me.”

“You need to rethink, blanket hog, give over.”

Chase yanked at the blanket and found himself sprawled on the floor with the blanket atop him and Jason’s hysterical laughter. Pulling the blanket from his head, Chase propped himself up on his elbows and tried to glare at his friend, but couldn’t help a smile.

“How many times does that make?” Jason asked breathlessly between lingering chuckles.

Chase rose unable to ignore the rueful feeling that watching Jason’s smile and laughter gave him; he picked up the blanket and tossed it on the bed.

“I stopped counting after the time you got me with that trick twice in one night.”

Jason chuckled as Chase shook his head in mock shame. It has never failed that he yanked himself and the blankets to the floor at least once during a night whenever Jason had stayed.

“Been a long time since.” Chase stated happily at the memories as he straightened the blanket.

“Good times.” Jason commented.

Chase nodded as he climbed back onto his side of the bed, this time having a bit more covers for himself.

“Much better.” Chase said as he tried to snuggle into the blanket.

Jason pulled some more toward himself, “I agree.”

Chase turned his head and glared playfully at his friend’s back, then rolled onto this side, “I’ll live.”

Jason chuckled. “No second tries?”

“After the night I’ve had, I don’t feel like landing on the floor a second time. It’s time to put this night to bed.”

Chase closed his eyes as he heard Jason agree, “Sure is.”

Chase settled into his smidge of blanket, trying to ignore the presence of Jason. Anytime before that camping trip there would’ve been no nervousness for him, but things were no longer quite the same for him.

Matt and his mouth. Chase thought bitterly.

Until Matt had put forth his notion of Chase and Jason having once been involved–even only if curiosity on Jason’s part had been the motivation–Chase hadn’t had these feelings for Jason. Something from what Matt had said had awakened them.

If only Eddie hadn’t brought him along that time, I’d still be happily oblivious and wouldn’t have gotten socked in the jaw tonight either.

Thinking about Eddie made Chase realize that Jason’s apartment might very well still be empty. There was no telling when Eddie would wander in after the night he’d had at the show and his deal with Shondi. So why was Jason here?

Rolling onto his stomach, Chase placed his head to look at his friend who had his back to him and appeared asleep.

“Why are you here tonight?” he whispered before rolling back onto his side.

Though, if he were Jason, would he want to chance Eddie’s mood after tonight, especially if the man was still drunk? That had to be it, Chase was sure. After all, he wouldn’t want to face that right now either. But wouldn’t it be nice if it was more than that?

Chase smiled as he drifted to sleep.


******

Chase’s eyes popped open and he lay there puzzled, unsure what to make of the remnants of the dream he’d had. Although with everything that had happened last night and the memories he’d been thinking of, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to have the people involved in those events swirling though his dreams, yet it was still weird.

Sighing Chase went to toss back his part of the blanket, which to his dismay was much more than he’d begun with. It seemed that Jason’s memory had been right after all. He hesitated when he realized that Jason had moved sometime in the night; he had been too confused by the dream images he recalled to notice his friend’s breath so close. Chase’s breath caught when he realized just how close his friend’s body was to his. No matter how innocent it was, he felt a flush to his cheeks and an exhilarating rush. Even if he wanted to stay close like this, Chase knew he needed to move. Slowly he wiggled out of the blankets and rose. With a fond glance and smile at the sleeping Jason, Chase went to the door and quietly left the room.

Entering the kitchen he started some coffee then went to the living room and gathered up his work for the Genning’s Project. He really needed to work on this and get it done and well. Chase was having doubts that’d he get the project done, never mind well at the moment. Digging out his sketch pad and pencils, Chase plopped on the couch and began to sketch.

Lost in his work, Chase only realized what he was drawing after he was finished, it was no surprise though–Jason. Flipping to the next page, he stared at it trying to think of something related to the Genning’s project.

“I’ve got to come up with something…” He muttered and dropped the sketch pad to the couch and rose.

He jumped when he saw Jason standing behind the couch; he hadn’t heard his friend get up.

“Sorry.” Jason said, “I was about to ask you if you wanted some of the coffee I smell…since I was getting some for myself.”

“It’s alright was just lost in thought.” Chase mumbled, “I was just going to get some…”

“Keep working, I’ll get it.”

Chase watched Jason walk toward the kitchen and plopped himself back down on the couch. He wondered absently how long his friend had been standing there. Things seemed to be getting better, after all he had slept well last night with Jason being there–that had to count for something toward his battle with his feelings. Something good, but now he wondered if Jason had seen his sketch and what it would mean if he had.

It wasn’t something to ponder over right now, he had work to do, and he picked up the pad and started to draw again. There wasn’t much of the information Mr. Davis had given him on Mr. Gennings that inspired anything in Chase right now. There was just too much else battling for his attention in his mind for that. Maybe he needed to go to one of Mr. Gennings’ vacation homes to clear his head he thought sarcastically.

“Here ya go.” Chase looked up at Jason’s voice and took the mug he offered him.

“Thanks.”

Jason sat himself in the chair, “Gennings Project?”

Chase nodded, “As always lately.”

“I know the feeling.”

Chase nodded, knowing Jason meant his screenplay. He fiddled with the drawing, but only half paying attention to it as he sipped his coffee.

“Ever wonder about a change of scenery?” Jason asked.

Chase looked at his friend, “You mean get away for a bit, sure.”

“Maybe we should.”

Chase looked at Jason for a moment, wondering if it was his imagination or if his friend had actually stressed we.

Though he’d have to wait to find out since the door to the apartment opened and admitted Rachel, who looked decidedly unhappy. Chase glanced at Jason; his expression said the same thing as his own–Rachel was not happy with the arrangement between Eddie and Shondi.
A Non-Existent User


A long while before Rachel’s beaten gaze fell onto Chase and Jason, who thought for sure they understood it, an event unfolded that started at a rundown pub on the less polished side of the city…

“Okay enough now,” Nat said tiredly and pulled the twenty-fourth unopened bottle of Sam Adams away before the bartender slid it fully into Eddie’s hand. The man had been trying to get drunk fast after having a multiplicity of nightlife vodka shots make him unbearably sober just a few hours ago.

Glowering at her, the blond merely gestured for yet another with the wave of his hand and scoffed as she stopped it from reaching him yet again.

“Don’t you think that starting to drink this early in the morning is a little sad? Even for you?” She said and ran her hands through his hair to make him look a little more alive and little less like the zombie the all night clubbing had left him. He usually withstood better when she was with him, as her boisterous personality and intimidating good looks acted as crowd control for the women looking him over. However, being preoccipied with a long girl's chat when Eddie called somewhere around two or three in the morning, she simply hung up on him.

“No,” he said flatly, obviously bitter about it. “What, suddenly you’re my mother? Now give me one of those bottles before I remember that I have to be at work in three hours.”

Deliberating, she looked from the accumulated mass of bottles to the sloppy state of her friend and shook her head, angry for having even considered it. “Pull yourself together; you’re pathetic,” she spat flatly, partly disgusted that he could chug Smirnoff but two bottles of Budweiser and he was spent, and partly because these days he was hardly the man he used to be. For a rare occasion her tone softened. “What’s happened to you, Lancaster? I hardly know you anymore.”

At this he rubbed his hand over his face, regretting that he couldn’t really bring himself to truly fess up. “What are you talking about?” He settled on instead, as if pretending would do him any good.

“The Eddie I know only gets seriously smashed on Thursdays and Mondays, and he actually cares about how he looks. And for another thing, when was the last time you called me to shoot some paintballs? And in that case, you haven’t come to the gym with me since last Christmas!” Convinced that half of these were serious matters, she slapped him in the arm when it was clear he had no intent to respond.

“Ow,” he hissed flatly but couldn’t bring himself to look at her.

There were just too many things that came to his mind last night, and none of them were things he wanted to tell her, much less recall himself…But, out of all of his friends Nat and Jason were pretty much his closest…He should be able to talk to her right...? Frowning, he took a glance to her and winced a little when he made direct eye contact. He didn’t like being the person he was now, the needy helpless sort. It repulsed him. But going on like he always did wasn’t working.

Opening his mouth just a bit, she leaned in with anticipation. “Go on on, spit it out.”

But he couldn’t, no matter how badly he wanted to. He simply didn’t know how to start and where to end.

There was just so much. This new Shondi charade was only a small part of it. Sure it would seem like a pretty easy deal, pretending to date her and all, but with it he wasn’t going to be able to distract himself from his doomed attraction to Rachel with clubbing as much. It was going to kill him. On top of all the pressure he was feeling, Eddie didn't really feel like he had the kind of friends whom he could go to and talk about it with. It shouldn’t get to him…he knew that, but lately…he felt like a abused pup, paranoid that he was going to be kicked by the people he least expected. Yes he knew he was a difficult person, that it was part of why his friends sort of liked him, but when his mother came around to flood him with some hard-to-swallow news from his father, he couldn’t help but feel abandoned when he really needed some support. That with the fact that he felt like everyone was close chums with each other without him, made him wonder deep down that if he didn’t continue to impose his presence on his friends for company, that maybe they wouldn’t come forward to seek it. Nat hanging up on him was like the tack to his last good red balloon…

“I did not search every bar and club in the city to find you, before getting sleep, to have you ignore me,” Nat bickered, shaking his arm both frustrated and wary of the un-Eddie-like expression on his perfectly set face. “Come on, lets get you home, you pathetic pile of meat,” she huffed when his look did not change.

Upon their arrival back to the apartments, he still clung to the state in which she wished she could understand. Past his hollow gaze though, he was about to make a breakthrough. He was figuring that Chase was probably the closest of the bunch to Rachel. That, in turn, his best guy friend was closest to Chase, and Nat, his guy-like female friend was extremely close to Shondi. So of the whole bunch, Nat was probably the best option to keep his words from Rachel, who was the last person he wanted to know his weaknesses.

“Nat,” he finally said as they stepped into the elevator and, in order to keep the world from spinning as his mind swung to the force of them pulling upward, he put his hands on both of her shoulders. She understood, plus knew better that Eddie didn’t see her in away way to hit on her, and let him continue without acknowledgement to their increased closeness. “I have a real problem and you can’t tell anyone; I would never forgive you if you did,” she nodded and recoiled a little when it looked as if he were trying to keep his prior liquors down. Luckily he got past it, “I haven’t ever stopped being in love with Rachel.”

And with that, as the small room came to a stop, making his head lull a tad, the doors opened to reveal Rachel down the way at her and Chase’s door. Her head turned briefly to see them, and her eyes widened just a second at their casually tight proximities. And with that, she spun her head back to the door with misunderstanding, oblivious to the words Eddie had just breathed so seriously, and she departed from the hallway into her apartment in an awkward bustle.

Which brought everything to the present.


"Shit." Eddie dropped his hands from Nat's shoulders and stared at the recently all-but-slammed door to Rachel's apartment down the hall. He wobbled on his feet, like a weeble that just wouldn't fall down, but Nat knew that there wouldn't be much time before his knees caved in and the Lancaster scion landed in an ungainly heap on the corridor floor. She shouldn't have hung up on him earlier, she realized that now. The talk she was having with Shondi and Rachel hadn't exactly turned out to be 'the talk' that Shondi kept threatening her with--the one, not unsurprisingly, about the man hanging dangerously close to the precipice of a forceful purging of the stomach--and now Eddie looked like the world was caving in around him.

Nat sighed and swooped in, throwing her arm around Eddie's slender frame and wrapping his arm around her shoulders, taking the entirety of his weight upon herself. "I know, Eddie," she said, blue eyes meeting those of her friend as he looked over at her in surprised. "I'm not dumb, love, even if I am a model and being rather bored most of the time, I do have occasion to be rather insightful." Walking Eddie toward her apartment--she had no urge to wake up Jason this early--Nat shouldered the door open and practically dragged her friend to the couch. "If you feel the sudden urge to rid yourself of half the beer in the city, you know where the bathroom is. I'm going to get you some water and some aspirin."

Eddie groaned and waved his arm vaguely in Nat's direction, his other hand covering his face. He'd just spilled what he thought was his greatest secret only to have the recipient of his affections misunderstand the situation and the friend to whom he'd opened the floodgate reveal prior knowledge. Nat sighed and pulled a bottle of water out from the cabinet, knowing what cold water would do to Eddie's delicate stomach, and grabbed a bottle of aspirin before heading back into the living room. Eddie hadn't moved and only the quickness of his breath betrayed his continued wakefulness. Only two hours until he had to be at work and he drunk out of his mind. Although...maybe, given the circumstances, her word could vouchsafe for his illness.

"Eddie, here," Nat whispered. "I did not mean to make light of your confession. And, if it makes you feel any better, I'm not sure anyone else knows it. I just thrive on gossip." As Eddie sat up, slowly and rather gingerly, and took the proffered medicine, Nat smiled. "I'm going to call you in sick today, love. Pretend you have a stomach flu, which shouldn't be hard given your state. As soon as you've finished that water, you're going to go off to bed and stay there. Your secret is beyond safe with me, Eddie. I thrive on gossip, but I do not spill secrets."

"Thank you, Nat." This was the Eddie she knew. Sincere, even if he did struggle to hide it behind booze and women. Even if he worked extraordinarily hard to make sure everyone knew just how much he didn't care about the world around him. Nat knew better. Everyone underestimated her ability to really discern things, thinking that a thorough knowledge of fashion, sports, and booze was enough to fill her pretty head. But Nat knew people better than some people knew themselves. It was how she made a living in her industry, after all. Giving people what they wanted from her.

“Eddie, no problem. But…have you thought of telling Rachel? I mean, not within the next few days, since she obviously thinks we’re up to something, but soon. Then again, she’d probably think you were joking since you’ve spent so long trying to convince her that you, I dunno, hate her.” Nat sat on the loveseat next to the couch and watched as her friend made himself comfortable. “But…then again. If you told her and you were actually sincere about it, she might believe you.”

“No, no, no. I can’t tell her.” Eddie shook his head vehemently, then stopped when his skull felt like a hammer was smashing at it. “My mom…”

Nat scoffed, then looked behind her at Shondi’s room to make sure she hadn’t been loud enough to wake her friend up. The last thing she needed was an angry roommate, since Nat had clearly broken the “ask first” rule by bringing a very drunk Eddie into their apartment. “You’re going to let your mom decide who you love? Seriously, Eddie? Did she threaten to cut you off again? Is that why you’re pretending to date Shondi? To keep your mommy from taking all of your money, Eddie? She’s a horrible woman, Eddie. I’m sorry to say that about anyone’s mom, but if she’s forcing you to forget your heart for appearances sake, I’d tell her to suck it.”

“Yeah? Suck it? Could you tell a photographer or a designer to ‘suck it’, Nat? Or would you be too terrified to be blacklisted?” Eddie had his eyes closed, blocking out the first tendrils of the morning sun.

“That’s different, Eddie. You’re talking about family. Your mother is honestly going to put appearances above your happiness? Did she drop that commoner crap? Eddie, this is America…not bloody England. You and your family are not royal. Rachel is no more a commoner than you are.”

Eddie chuckled. “Preaching to the choir, here, Nat. But you know mommy dearest. She thinks she’s teaching me to make a sacrifice for the good of the family and the company. Saving me from my horrible decisions.”

“Maybe she is. Not with Rachel, I mean.” Nat added quickly, when Eddie looked up at her sharply. “I mean, technically…she’s trying to get you to settle down. Stop partying. As much as I love you as my fake boyfriend out at the bars, you’re in a different place from me. You have to take over a company, I just have to look pretty for a few more years.”

“Oh woe is life,” Eddie mocked. He moved to get up, but Nat’s cell phone rang just then. “Who on earth is calling at 8 in the morning?”

Nat looked at the name on her phone and couldn’t hide the giddy little smile that appeared on her face. “Jeremy. We’re going to breakfast.”

“Whoa…Jeremy? Tewdor? The one you met and slept with at the same party?” Eddie did sit up, then, and looked over at Nat as she answered the phone with a sultry, “Hello, you.”

Rolling his eyes, Eddie watched as Nat metamorphosed into a silly little schoolgirl talking to her crush. “Of course. I’ll be ready. One hour. See you then, Jeremy.” Glaring at Eddie, Nat hung up the phone. “Yes, Jeremy Tewdor.”

“You know, he was at the same school as me ’n Jason. Never met him. He was one of the losers. History, if I remember correctly.”

Nat shrugged. “Yeah? Well, he’s happy, successful, got a hot woman, and…no reason to worry if his parents don’t like the girl he chose. Go on back to your apartment, Eddie. I’ll call you in sick, ok? I’ve got to get ready for breakfast.”


“You fucked who?”

“… a model at last night’s show.”

“And this is the first time since-”

“Yes.”

There was a smatter of happy squealing. Jeremy hunched his shoulders down and glared at the alarm clock, it hadn’t even gone off. Why was his sister calling him now? “It’s like you’ve lost your virginity all over again!”

“Gah!” He felt his face flush and he scowled, rolling on to his back, “This is the last time I tell you anything!”

“You’re my little brother, you have to tell me these things. Especially when you meet them at my boyfriend’s show.” She paused, “So which one was it? Sophia Mendoza? Liza Hartley? Amy Tam?”

He groaned, “No. Not any of them.”

“Omigod it wasn’t Chrissie Pollen!”

No.” Finally his alarm began to ring, “Look, it’s six-thirty, I need to start moving. I’ll talk to you later Kari.”

“Oh no, no, no, no!!! You can’t go now! Not when you haven’t told me who she is! Are you seeing her again? Are you going to call her? When’s her next show? Does she also-”

“Goodbye Kari!”

“You’d better be calling her, Jez, that’s all I’m saying. You’re still a bit of a dork and a model-”

He sighed and hung up the phone, pretending he couldn’t hear his sister babbling even as he put the receiver down. Pushing himself into a sitting position, he blinked rather blearily and wondered if he had really been dreaming and the last year had been all an imaginary blur inside his skull, that last night hadn’t really happened.

He had not, in that case, felt his shirt tugged open and pushed off his shoulders. He had not kissed that long, pale throat or tightened his fist in her tumbling red hair. He had not pushed her against a wall, or felt her legs wrap around his waist or her nails clutch at his back or heard her little gasps and moans. He had not cradled her body with his own or smelt the scent of her body mixed with a musk he didn’t know or recognise but knew he would in the future. But all of that was false. He had felt the ecstasy born of mutual attraction bloom around them; that was real. And so was her number on his speed dial, put there by herself as they had straightened themselves out. She was nothing like any of the girls he’d ever slept with before and the vivacious, unique, distinction between her and his last girlfriend had been the primary reason for his momentary lapse in judgement and him asking if she’d like to go to breakfast or lunch or something that morning. He hadn’t expected her to smile as she stretched her arm around him and purred a sibilant ‘yes’ into his ear. He also couldn’t quite believe that they’d gone in for a second passionate embrace after that.

It was because she was different that he was attracted to her but it also made him nervous. Jeremy Tewdor had not quite ever been what many would call the epitome of cool. Having grown up a history nerd with a peculiar love of the French language, he had never moved in the elitist circles that many of his contemporaries did, or at least not to the same extent. Though he was now the sort of guy who could use his reputation to go places and meet people and involve himself in the lives of the beautiful and famous and successful, it was still a novelty. Natalia… she was a little more than just a novelty. He genuinely rather liked her.

He scrolled through his phone’s address book again, just to make sure it wasn’t someone else, clicked on her name. N A T. The green button seemed to wink at him, growing in size as his thumb hovered over it. Slowly, he pressed down, almost wincing at the volume of the following ringing noises.

He asked her to breakfast, keeping his voice warm and smooth and smiling as he heard an excited trill in her voice.

*

By the time she showed it had been a little over an hour; earlier than he’d anticipated but still casually behind schedule which had been exactly the way that he’d expected things to go. If she turned up. He’d almost found himself believing she’d not show and he’d be left sitting outside Bang-Bang ordering coffee for a few hours before he gave up and left. But he saw her turn the corner onto Fitzrovia, stepping into the sunny cobbled street and into the sunlight which half silhouetted her slender figure and half lit it up, spilling out in a flaming fan around her shoulders. She looked artfully lackadaisical, the white chiffon and lace dress she wore loosely moved around her body, a black tailored waistline emphasising her breasts and the way her hips made the fabric twist and fold as she moved. Its wide collar gave it a vintage 1950s look that he found irresistibly beautiful whilst gladiator sandals made her legs seem even longer than the night before.

A fluttering glance, a lazy, slightly sultry smile and she held onto his gaze as she approached. He rose to his feet, unconsciously channelling some long dead chivalry and consciously fighting the urge to bow in recognition of her arrival.

“I’ve never been here before.” She spoke first, sitting down at the outdoor table without any formal greeting, “Always meant to but never got round to it, you know?”

He sat back down, passing her the breakfast menu as he did so, “You’ve been missing out. Of all the things I’ve learned to love in this city, this coffee shop has to be pretty near the top.”

“It’s certainly interesting.”

The menu was full of everything. From a full English breakfast to Australian brekkie to Italian dishes or Greek yogurt, Bang-Bang did everything, even freshly made cakes and muffins and croissants, “Well don’t deny it til you try it.” He smirked.

“Oh I’ll try anything at least twice.” She looked up at him then, eyes sparkling mischievously.

“My gain.”

“You so sure?”

He grinned, “I think so.”


The atmosphere was noticeably tense as the six friends piled into one of the Lancaster family’s spare vehicles—a mid-sized, almost grotesquely shiny yellow SUV (which most of them were embarrassed to be seen in). An atypically sober Eddie was at the helm in the driver’s seat, while a clearly anxious Shondi sat upright on the passenger side.

“Hey Shondi, relax, we can actually enjoy our weekend now,” Eddie said without removing his steady gaze from the road. The young designer nodded silently, though she couldn’t help but remain troubled by what she would have to face when the gang returned home.

Though Shondi knew of her friend’s distaste for her scheme with Eddie, it wasn’t Rachel’s dissatisfaction that concerned her now. As the heir’s ex-girlfriend had warned, Virginia Lancaster’s call had indeed come all too quickly. In Mrs. Lancaster’s call, she had requested that Eddie come home the following weekend with his new girlfriend in tow. Nat and Rachel—who had yet to discuss their own little misunderstanding concerning Eddie—had been quick to offer advice soon after Shondi reluctantly accepted the offer and hung up the phone.

“I know, you’re right,” Shondi replied stiffly, though she slowly leaned back in her seat and took a deep breath. “In fact, I’m glad for the distraction. Plus, it will be good to see Chase’s family and to celebrate something good actually going on in the world.”

“Hey, don’t be so pessimistic,” Nat chimed in from the seat behind Eddie. “There are plenty of good things happening around us every day.”

“Like what?” Rachel questioned, her tone slightly snippy, as she sat next to Nat and behind Shondi. She was still a bit sensitive from the week’s earlier events. After Chase had invited them all on this trip, Nat had pulled Rachel aside to explain that there was nothing romantic going on between her and Eddie. Rachel hadn’t decided if she believed Nat or not, but it didn’t matter. She had always been a bit uncomfortable with Eddie and Nat’s relationship—while Rachel had been dating Eddie, and even now, when all of that seemed to be history. Even though Nat had tried to smooth things out, Rachel still hadn’t talked to Eddie.

“Well, I can definitely name one absolutely good, perfect thing, and his name is—”

“—Jeremy! We know, Nat. We get it, trust us,” Eddie groaned jokingly, which earned him a quick deck to the back of the head.

“Okay, this is ridiculous!” Jason sounded off from the backseat. “Whose idea was it to have the tallest person stuck in the back?” Chase, who was comfortably seated beside his friend, just chuckled as he watched Jason stubbornly shove his long legs underneath the seat in front of them.

“Ouch, you big oaf!” Nat complained. “You kicked me!”

“Hey, you guys behave back there!” Shondi yelled above the ruckus of her friends’ current slap-fest. Laughter very clearly edged her voice as a grin spread across her face, immediately lightening the mood within the vehicle. The friends couldn’t help but join in the merriment; even Rachel was not able to resist cracking a smile.

The reason they were all crammed awkwardly together for a three hour drive had arrived when Chase received a phone call at the gallery. His mother had called to inform him of his elder brother Neil’s engagement to his girlfriend of three years, Hannah Gruen. However, there had been a very rapid change of plans when the couple’s venue of choice had an unexpected opening six months ahead of schedule. They had been extremely willing and eager to move up the nuptials.

During said phone call, Chase’s mother had asked if he had a “plus one” (which was her covert way of inquiring about his love life). Jason was part of the family and Rachel was his best (female) friend, so he knew he would bring them. However, Chase also loved his other friends, who all at one time or another had met his family. Shondi and Eddie were both relieved to have an excuse to cancel their dinner plans with Virginia, and Nat was always excited for an occasion to dress up; plus, she was told Jeremy was invited as well (he was to meet them at the hotel due to a busy work schedule). Therefore, Chase had to tell his mother he had a “plus six.” She all too kindly made room for the special people in Chase’s life.

So now, these special people had all packed up and set off from Grand Central, New York to Westerly, Connecticut. Westerly was the town that Chase grew up in and which Jason moved to in tenth grade. Much of Hannah’s family was from New York, but they had agreed to make the trip to the quaint coastal town.

“Can you imagine planning a wedding in one week?” Rachel wondered out loud as the dreary gray scenery of the cement freeway flitted across their windows. “I didn’t even think it was possible.”

“Well, actually…” Chase clarified as he tried to stretch, “they had a month to plan the wedding. My wonderful brother, however, forgot to call me. Thankfully, my mom called to double-check how many people I was bringing.”

“That sounds like your brother,” Jason chuckled. “Hopefully, the Gruen girl will help him with that whole procrastination thing.”

“Hey, hang on a second!” Eddie started excitedly. “Hannah’s a Gruen?” Chase nodded, a bit bemused by his friend’s strange turn in conversation. “My parents know the Gruens. They’re a pretty wealthy family. That’s probably why they were able to put the wedding together so fast, you know, since the bride’s family usually pays for the wedding.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” Shondi added. “I’ve heard of the Gruens. We’ve probably wrote about them or worked with them at the magazine. Or maybe I read about them in the newspaper.”

“You know what’s ironic, though, right?” Nat said. Everyone shook their heads, so she continued to explain. “Well, you know how hoity-toity families are related, usually through marriage?” This was followed by some nods and a few shrugs. “The Gruens are related to a ‘favorite’ person of ours.” When the model received blank stares from her friends, she knew it was up to her to fill them in. “Jeremy’s told me about different alumni from Worthington, and I remember him mentioning that the Gruens are related to the Rodshaws. So, Hannah and Matt are probably cousins or something.”

“What!” Jason sat up immediately. “You don’t think Hannah would invite him, do you? Cousins aren’t that important, are they?”

“Aww, Jason, you have a date for the wedding after all!” Eddie joked, much to everyone’s surprise. He was too far away for Jason to assault physically, so he received a very blatant, well-known hand gesture.

The reminder of the classic “wedding date” predicament made everyone, aside from Natalia (who was sure to have a great time with Jeremy), slip back into uneasiness. Eddie and Shondi agreed to be each other’s dates to help with their charade (also, so Eddie could practice turning down other women in a high traffic event of desperate singletons). Rachel was okay with not having a date, though it bothered her that Eddie and Shondi were letting their deception spill over into this outing, especially since it had nothing to do with Virginia Lancaster and her world. Chase had mixed feelings about showing up dateless. He had all his friends there, which he was grateful for, but it would have been nice to show up with a significant other. Though, perhaps it was better for his health that he didn’t. He’d never brought a boyfriend home, so had no idea what kind of behavior to expect from his father if he did.

Then there was Jason. He hadn’t been worried about dates or anything. He just figured he hang out with Chase and Rachel; that was until the mention of Hannah’s relation to Matt. If Matt was there, Jason wasn’t going to be able to avoid him the entire time. The wedding wasn’t for another two days. There were going to be outings, lunches, and a bachelor party, not to mention the wedding ceremony and reception. Plus, all the guests were staying at the same hotel. Jason hadn’t thought much of what he was going to do or say the next time he and Matt interacted. Actually, he had hoped there wouldn’t be a next time. Though, that hadn’t been a realistic hope. Matt was one of Eddie’s closest friends, and at one time, he had sort of been a friend to Jason too. So, did it matter that Matt was attracted to him? Couldn’t they still be just friends? Jason didn’t know what to expect of this weekend, but he had a feeling it was going to affect them all.
---------------------------

Sorry for not adding sooner. I was trying to wait for everyone to add before I started another round of additions. Oh well. Anyway, hope we can keep this moving. I thought the gang needed to go out or be part of another big event, and a wedding can be a good setting for many things to occur. So everyone, get creative and have fun writing! *Smile*


Chase was on the balcony when he heard the voice.

“Doesn’t surprise me that you’re the one here.”

Chase closed his eyes in hope it was his imagination.

“Joe, you know very well that we had to scramble to get the four rooms we got for Chase and his friends. They have no choice but to share some.”

It wasn’t his imagination after all.

“A pleasure to see you Mr. and Mrs. Thomas,” Jason said.

The two of them had chosen to room together for the trip, letting the others figure out their arrangements among themselves. Chase had hoped that his father wasn’t going to be a problem, for Neil and Hannah’s sake, but he knew now that he might not get that wish.

Rising, Chase walked into the living room area that the balcony was off of.

“Come now Jason, I’ve told you time and again that you’ve known us long enough to call us Dana and Joe.”

Chase heard his father grunt at that as he walked across the room to where they were standing closer to the room's little kitchenette. The Ocean Breeze Hotel was the nicest Westerly had to offer, and it was nice.

“Dad, Mom, how are you?”

Chase’s father gave him small nod and a tight smile while his mother walked over and took a hug from her son.

“I can’t believe your brother was so careless in telling you about this Chase, dear. ”

“Maybe he wanted to avoid some of the others attached to him,” Joe muttered.

“That’s enough Joseph! You dare not make a scene at any of these events!”

“I told you I wouldn’t, but now’s not one of them!”

“I got it years ago Dad, you don’t approve. How long do you plan to keep reminding me–as if I’d ever forget.” Chase found himself speaking, with an edge to his voice–this was not the time for his father to start ranting over his insecurities about his youngest son’s life.

Joe Thomas gave his son a half smile. “At least something’s getting in. Don’t worry yourself over me, son–I won’t dare mess up this wedding. After all, it’s likely the only real one this family’s going to get.”

With that Joe Thomas left his son’s room. Chase stared after him with a mix of anger and disbelief. The man really did hate him, didn’t he?

“Chase, he didn’t…” His mother began.

“We both know he did. About time I accepted that.

“Mrs. Thomas...”

“Dana, Jason, Dana.”

“Mom, while I’ve enjoyed this welcome, was there something else you and Dad wanted?”

Chase wondered in the back of his mind if the only reason for his parents arrival was to let his father say his peace so he’d be less likely to say it publicly, but his mother wouldn’t be that cruel to him. His father would’ve come alone, and without his Mother’s knowledge, if that were the only reason for the visit.

“Neil and Hannah are having a dinner for their guests tonight in the main dining room. It’s not casual, but surely not black tie either.”

“Jason and I will tell the others. What time is it?”

“Seven. And Chase, your…”

“It’s done Mother, please let it be.”

She nodded sadly, and Chase gave her a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “We’ll see you at dinner.”

She smiled at her son, then turned to Jason. “Would you see me out?”

Jason obliged, and Chase watched them go. The whole thing between him and his father was hard on his mother, Chase knew, but what could he do? The only way he could change his father was to change who he was himself, which meant that Joe Thomas needed to accept his son for who he was or not. Chase already knew the answer to that, but his mother didn’t want it to be that way. Chase didn’t either, for truth, he had liked how close he and his father had once been, but Chase also knew there was no pushing Joe Thomas into anything.

His mother’s voice drifted to him, “I’m sorry for Joseph’s behavior, Jason…I wish things were different between them.”

“We all do, Mrs. Thomas.”

“Dana.”

Chase plopped down on the couch and heard the door shut as he glanced at the clock. Six–they had better let the others know about the dinner.
A Non-Existent User


With only four rooms and a body count of six, Eddie considered himself lucky to not have to share. However, when he was bored out of his mind hours before the dinner party, the lean blonde was at a loss. Being in the middle room there were simply too many options as to who he could impose on to keep himself entertained.

Across the hall for instance was where Nat was. He’d love to bum around with her, but with his luck she was probably gabbing on the phone with Jeremy or worse, she was just waiting for someone to gab to about Jeremy. He shivered. Then, at the room to his right was Jason and Chase. It would have been nice to just kick back with the guys, he loved them like that. Yet, knowing of Chase’s past he didn’t feel like he belonged there. After all, he was particularly insecure about comforting people since in his life he had never been comforted; even as a child. And lastly, in the room to his left was Shondi and…Rachel. Generally he would have loved to go there, being that picking on Rachel always got his heart going, but Shondi’s presence was a real damper. Not because he didn’t love hanging with her, but because it was hard to toy with the girl you loved in front of the girl you have to pretend to be dating.

So what was he going to do? Sitting on the edge of his bed, he jiggled his leg anxiously. Why was he sweating? Biting his lip, the more he was alone the more he came to notice certain rising symptoms that had started when he had first got the invite to this…wedding. ‘Wedding,’ he thought and his stomach churned. Grunting and placing his arm against his nauseous gut, he rose to his feet: resolute. He would be eating nothing from here on out.

Pacing to the door, he then entered the hall where he followed his gut straight forward to Nat’s room. It was slightly open so he just went in. And then, when he saw Nat talking sweetly on her cell, his gut screamed ‘Jeremy!’ and he headed back out to the hall. Was it just him or were the lights brighter than usual?

Next he went to Jason’s door, where when he knocked and a lightly somber Chase beckoned him in, he was hit with both a wave of dizziness and a wall of anguish that he could not console. “Never mind,” he said weakly and thank god Chase didn’t notice.

Last was Rachel’s room. And then things really hit him. After he knocked he waited impatiently and when it opened he wanted immediately for it to close. Rachel wore a white sun dress. A WHITE sun DRESS. In the second he took in her face, he knew he was going to be sick. With longing. With anger. With things that he wouldn’t tell her.

"You bring her into this house,’ his mother’s voice said deep inside his head, "and she will wish that you had never been born." Why of all things did she have to say those words? Why couldn’t it have been "and you will wish you had never been born?" He could stand losing his fortune, but what would his mother have done to make him lose her?’

Eddie’s shoulders slouched as his queasiness peaked, and he could no longer hold the contents of his stomach where they belonged. Head light; he had no idea where Rachel even was, although he hoped she hadn’t seen his face while he vomited. All he knew of her distinctly was that when his eyes blacked out and his legs collapsed, his torso was immersed in a gentle, consoling warmth that he did not want to leave.
“Oh Rachel, the dress! He couldn’t have puked up on something other than the dress, could he?” Nat sighed and held the phone to her ear. “Jeremy, I’ve got to go. Eddie’s gotten himself sick again. Let me know when you get here, love, and I’ll make sure they let you in.” Flipping the cell shut and tucking it into the back pocket of her jeans, Nat reached down and grabbed the unconscious Eddie by the armpits and lifted him out of the doorway. “He owes me for the dry cleaning. That dress is silk!”

Rachel smirked and shrugged, clearing a space on the couch. “Eddie is always so obliging,” she said, disdain tripping light along her tongue and lips. “Be right back, I’ve got to get out of this thing…”

“I’ll get you something else. You know me, Rache, I’ve always got an excess of clothing.” Nat dumped Eddie onto the couch, grabbing a pillow from one of the beds and sliding it under his head. “You idiot. The way to win a girl back is not to puke your guts up all over her. What on earth have you been doing today?”

Nat had been on the phone with Jeremy when she’d heard Rachel’s cry of alarm. Business concerns had held the man up in the city, but he’d promised to make it on time for dinner, even if he had to turn everything over to an assistant for the night. “And I hope you know that’s a mark of how much I like you, miss. I never turn the ship over.” Nat had laughed, chuckling deep in her throat, and been about to reply when Rachel’s voice echoed through the halls.

Just across the hall, Nat had made it first; she was used to Eddie’s antics, after all, and had dealt with an unconscious Lancaster more than once. And now, here she stood, splashing water over the man’s pallid face and waiting for Rachel to come out of the bathroom. The shower had just started, so Nat knew she had a few moments alone with Eddie while the others, who’d just arrived, scrambled to get him water and Tylenol.

Groaning, Eddie opened his eyes, blinking hard to reorient his vision. “Nat? What are you doing here?”

“Kicking your ass for puking all over my silk sundress and the lovely young women on whose body it lay. What on earth have you been doing?” Nat accepted a damp cloth from Chase and pressed it against Eddie’s forehead.

“Weddings. I think I’m allergic…”

Nat scoffed. “Right. How much have you had to drink today?”

Eddie rolled his eyes and, with some effort, sat up on the couch. “Nothing. I was actually coming to find someone to entertain me before dinner. All I remember is knocking on the door and Rachel answering. Then I blacked out.”

“Hmm…must have been something you ate.” Nat said, for the benefit of everyone listening from the other side of the suite. The entire room smelled of vomit and the boys were desperately trying to air it out. Lowering her voice so no one but Eddie would hear her, Nat leaned in. “Or the pressure of dating a woman for mommy when the one you love is right in front of you?”

Eddie looked askance at the boys, making sure they hadn’t heard. “I told you. I’m allergic to weddings.” Sighing, Eddie took his head in his hands and groaned. “Did anyone get some Tylenol? My head is killing me.”

“Got some right here. Hey, anyone seen Shondi? You’d think her spider senses would have tingled and she’d be here by now.” Jason tossed the bottle to Nat, who gave Eddie three with a glass of water and shrugged.

“No idea. Probably interviewing the bride for an article, or something. You know Shondi. Devoted to the cause.” The sound of the shower stopped and Nat stood, looking at Jason and Chase. “Alright, boys, time to vacate the premises. Can you two get Mr. Pukey over here to his room and make sure he showers, please, and changes before dinner? And brushes his teeth? Hell, and downs a gallon of mouth wash?”

“Aye aye, mon capitaine,” Jason mocked, saluting playfully. “Come, Chase, I can see when we are no longer wanted? Let’s go, Eddie. We’ve got to get you spit-shined for din din.”

Nat chuckled and tossed a pillow at Jason’s head, but the man ducked and easily avoided the slow-moving missile. “Get out, boys. It’s girl time. Now. Go. Shoo!” Nat laughed as she closed the door behind the boys, Jason supporting Eddie with an arm around his torso. Rachel stepped out of the bathroom then, wrapped in nothing but a towel. “Thanks. Last thing I needed was the ribbing for coming out here in this.”

“From Eddie? Please. Loser just puked up all over you. I think you’ve got the upper hand on this one. Now…throw something on, ‘cause I’ve got to get you into something else for dinner.” Nat loosed her red mane and ran her hands through it as Rachel stepped into her pajamas. “Just be sure to stay away from Eddie tonight. I don’t really want him ruining the rest of my clothing, too.”

Rachel smiled, lips pulled tight against her teeth. “Don’t worry about that. I have no intention of spending tonight miserable. It is clear that Eddie holds nothing but disdain for me, despite…despite our long-standing acquaintance.”

“Not so, darling. If he held nothing but disdain for you, he wouldn’t put forth near as much an effort to make you miserable. He’s just an idiot.” Nat tossed her hair back into a messy ponytail and grinned. “But, let’s not worry about him. It’s girl time! And I just adore girl time!”
*****


“Rachel, you look great!” Chase grinned as Rachel and Nat walked into the hall for the rehearsal dinner. Natalia had put the woman in a wonderful little cocktail dress in fuschia, with a spring flower pattern along the uneven hemline and over the breasts. The dress, with a daring v-front, accentuated the woman’s small waistline and great legs while hiding what Rachel considered her flaws. Paired with a strappy sandal, Rachel looked even better in it than she had in the sundress. Nat was immensely proud of her styling skills.

Rachel smiled. “Thanks, Chase. You look dashing yourself.” Chase had arrived in a three-piece suit, but elected to walk around in just the vest and sleeves, leaving the jacket back in the hotel room. He looked immaculately handsome in it and Nat made a point of telling him so as she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek.

“Chase, love, you could walk the runway tonight.” Nat smiled, white teeth dazzling. “I dare say you could have your choice of men this evening.” Ignoring the slight tightening of the smile—she would have to talk to the man later, however, about his unrequited love that he had neglected to tell her about—Nat turned to Jason, who looked every inch the writer he was. “And you, Jason…tweed?”

“I think it makes me look scholarly, actually. Just give me a pipe and all will be well. Anyway, Eddie says he’ll be down in a bit. He’s taking a bit of a nap after earlier, on Chase’s advice. Although his throwing up on Rachel seems to have ended well for her.” Turning to Rachel, Jason looked her up and down. “You look amazing, Rache.”

“Not as amazing as Nat, of course.” Nat turned around and grinned at Jeremy, who’d snuck up behind her as she spoke to her friends. “But then, who does?” Jeremy leaned in and kissed Nat softly on the cheek, every inch the gentleman. “How are you?”

“Wonderful, now that you’re here and someone’s finally noticed my dress.” Natalia had dressed to impress (although, not really to impress…just normal impressiveness) in a beautiful Betsey Johnson tunic mini-dress. Daringly short to show off her long legs, it also boasted a deep V-neck, though it was infinitely trendier than the dress she’d put Rachel in. The dress boasted a bright, impossibly busy African-style pattern featuring a forest scene in floral colors, though the trimming fabric was black with yellow flowers. She’d paired the dress with blue ankle boots that only made her tower over the crowd even more and fabric pearls in the same blue.

“Well, I think you might outshine the bride, darling, and that’s never a good thing.” Jeremy stood next to her, still taller by at least an inch, which pleased Natalia, who hated being shorter than the men she dated (which had, obviously, caused problems over the years). “But you do look ravishing.”

“Indeed. You’ve got legs for miles in that dress.” Everyone turned to look as Eddie finally graced them all with his presence. “I approve mightily, madam. And of you, as well, Rachel. Though…I’m not sure if that pink is your color.”

“Better than puke green splattered all over white silk,” Rachel replied, a slight edge to her otherwise pleasant voice. “Nat says you owe her for the dress.”

Nat nodded emphatically. “You do! That was a three hundred dollar dress and I loved it very much. I wore it on my first date with Jeremy, after all.” Leaning into Jeremy slightly, Nat smiled. Breakfast had gone quite well, as had lunch and dinner that day, and breakfast-in-bed the following morning.

Eddie rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine, fine. I’ll pay to have the dress repaired. Anyway, it looks like it’s time to be seated. Shall we?”

Chase led everyone to their assigned table. They’d all, of course, been seated together, although someone had taken care to have Jason moved away from Chase. Nat pursed her lips. No question who’d assured that situation. Oh well. She wanted to sit next to Jeremy anyway, so she simply switched the nametags, telling Jason that he’d just have to bear sitting next to Chase for the night because she was going to be selfish.

Unfortunately, Chase’s father noticed the switch and came after Natalia. “Girl, come here. I know you are some fancy supermodel and used to doing whatever you want, but I’ll not have you contributing to my son’s…problem.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Thomas, I don’t give a rat’s ass in Hades what you think about your son and his sexual proclivity. You’re a prejudiced ass and I’m going to sit next to my boyfriend this evening, no matter what your plans. Chase and Jason are friends, no more and no less. Regardless of whether your son is attracted to other men, he is still allowed to have male friends. Now, please, you are in my way.” Raising an eyebrow, Nat waited for him to move and, when he didn’t, pushed her way past him.

She’d taken no more than a few steps when a hand closed on her shoulder and whipped her around. Out of the corner of her eye, Nat saw first Jeremy and then Eddie stand, following shortly by Jason and Chase. “I promised my wife I wouldn’t make a scene, so I won’t, but if you ever tell me how to treat my son again, I’ll have you thrown out of here. Now, sit where I damn well told you to sit or it’ll be your ass.”

“Sir, I am a spoiled, pampered supermodel whom no one will be in the least surprised to see start a scene. If you do not want one, you will—and I repeat will—back off and let me sit with my boyfriend. And, further, your son is a grown ass man and can make any choices he wants. He seems to be doing well enough without you and frankly, I think you should keep your mouth shut and refrain from threatening me. Go, sit with your other son. You are holding everything up. Good night, Mr. Thomas.”

Nat walked toward the table, keenly aware that every eye in the room was on her, and tossed her hair as she sat down next to Jeremy and gave him a bright smile. Shaking her head at Chase’s worried, questioning eyes, Nat mouthed, “don’t worry” and then turned to Eddie. “So, how are you feeling? Figure out what you ate that made you sick, yet?”


When he’d arrived he hadn’t really known where everyone was, and as he didn’t really know anyone other than Nat and the few of her friends that he’d gone to school with, he kept to small talk. Moving through the throngs of strangers, he was contented with the fact that they’d felt it necessary to invite him to this sort of event just because he had emerged in their lives over the last few days. He glanced around the room continually, looking for them, looking for her. Politely, he engaged in conversations and politely, he left them, finding well crafted excuses and perfected lies to escape the clutches of the people who had no idea who he was or why he was there. It was strange, but not in a bad way, and different but nonetheless exciting. He’d spoken to a variety of people after he’d congratulated the future spouses. He’d met several ‘old and dear’ friends of the family, the best man at Mr. and Mrs. Thomas’ wedding, a couple of godparents, the chap who was going to be the best man at the next wedding and even chatted to an elderly lady, who was apparently Chase’s aunt, who told him that she’d always known that Nat would end up with someone who looked like Jonathon Rys Meyers and that time he’d felt his ears go red and his ego swell. It was rather nice to be compared to someone like that. It was at that point that he saw her, mid exchange and unable to extricate himself with any immediacy. Scowling internally, he maintained the charade of courtesy, trying to think of the right thing to say so as not to offend the elderly lady he had only just met.

He’d been talking about the re-enactment team he had at the moment when the woman had chuckled at him with a sardonic little smirk about her lips and nodded, “You may love your job young man, but you can’t keep your eyes off that girl, so I’ll go be talking to Miss Evans and let you whisk your young lady away.”

He lifted his lips in a gracious smile, “Thank you.”

“Shoo. I’m letting you go when I’d much rather keep you to myself. You’re a much brighter button than you look.”

Laughing, he thanked her again, promising that “Next time you’ll have my full attention ma’am,” before slipping through the people beside him in time to catch the end of thread of conversation and wrap his arms around his beautiful date.

It was everything about her. From the way she laughed with her head thrown back, tossing her hair behind her so that strands fell away from the artistically designed knot in the back of it. It was the way those strands moved against the pale skin of her nape and the way that she grinned at her friends with complete honesty, something he appreciated more than he could probably ever let her know. She wasn’t an open book, she wasn’t transparent or superficial, she didn’t wear her heart on her brightly patterned sleeve but she wasn’t hidden either. She didn’t keep herself locked down somewhere secret and impregnable. He was sick of closeted emotions and that just wasn’t her style. Thank god for refreshing American openness. The British were too cold for him sometimes. As the talking continued and they eventually were led to a table, he wondered if the idyllic quality of this life was real. This world of beautiful people...

He never finished his train of thought. The ill-tempered Mr. Thomas had shattered the brilliant illusion. Though the words weren’t all clear, the fight however was obvious. Nat and the older man engaging in a social battle that he knew he wasn’t completely privy to the particulars as of yet. They’d all seen her switch name tags but surely that wasn’t the cause of contention. Both of them played the game with a snide relish that he instantly loathed in him and admired in the vivacious redhead. It was acceptable, this bickering until his hand landed on her shoulder. At that he couldn’t help the growl in his throat from threatening to rise. He noticed every single one of her friends bristle and start forwards at the action as well, the heads of other guests turning slightly at the quiet commotion, the words of which became more distinct as he made forwards. From what he could here, she, at least was acting precociously for a good reason. Yet when he saw her eyes slit and her nostrils flare in and expression he’d otherwise not seen...he almost snorted. It was amazing how beautiful people still looked beautiful when pulling ridiculous faces. And he knew that this sorry excuse for a father was going to lose this fight. Nat was completely, obviously, perfectly irate.

He could see the snarl in her voice as she finished up with Chase’s father. He could see her shake off the irritation as she turned to them and most specifically to Eddie. Jeremy caught her eye and nodded slightly to let her know that the little villain had done as she said and things slid back into normalcy. This time, the bubble-like flawlessness of the situation not seeming half as intoxicating. There was still trouble in paradise and that was oddly reassuring.

Things quietened, they sat, they chatted, Nat on his left, her right hand on his knee.


Though a lingering tension had momentarily hovered in the banquet room, it thankfully floated out through the hotel window and into the town’s brisk, coastal air. It was cut short by the enticing sounds and smells of dinner being served, which easily clouded and replaced any previous signs of distress. That, and the view of Neil and Hannah sitting at the head table, completely enamored with one another and unconcerned with the rest of the world. The prospect of a full stomach and the image of a couple in love dashed away the guests’ unease, especially considering most were not aware of its true cause. Looking at the faces of gathered friends and family, one could find nothing but expressions of joy and good will—save for two of the room’s occupants.

“Chase, are you all right?” Jason asked quietly, leaning over slightly in his seat beside his friend. Chase’s gaze was glued to his plate, where he had barely touched his lemon grilled salmon and sautéed greens. His brow was clearly furrowed and due to his silence, Jason assumed he was either counting to ten to calm himself or trying to figure out the best possible escape route. Still earning no response, Jason nudged Chase underneath the table with his knee. When that didn’t work, he stepped on his foot.

“Ow!” Chase yelled a bit loudly. Fortunately, everyone was too engaged with their congenial conversations to take much notice. “What did you do that for? I’m mad, embarrassed, and now my foot hurts!”

“Calm down, you big baby,” Jason replied, partly annoyed and hurt. He added, in a more forgiving tone, “I was just trying to be a good friend.”

“What, by punishing my foot for your impatience?” Chase snapped. He then placed his elbows on the table, not caring much about etiquette at the moment, and buried his face in his hands. After taking a breath, he rested his chin in his palm and turned to face his best friend. “Sorry. You are a good friend, by the way. And for the record, I’ll be okay. You know, once this weekend is over and we’ve gone back home.”

“Don’t be like that,” Jason said simply, all too used to Chase’s moods. “You know your father’s temperament. And besides, tonight isn’t about him or you. We’re here for your brother.” He continued, motioning toward the newlyweds-to-be, “I mean, look how happy Neil is. And look how happy your parents are for him.”

“Yeah well, like dad said, this wedding is ‘the only real one this family’s going to get,’” Chase mocked as he grabbed for his glass of champagne. Jason quickly snatched it away and gave Chase a warning look. Chase nodded in understanding. Getting drunk on cheap champagne was stupid. And lame. And useless. Well, not so useless if it meant he could find some hot guy to hook up with to spite his father. Not that he would do that. Not that he could, with Jason and him sharing a room. Not that he’d want to, with Jason being the one he…

“Hey sulky, how you holding up?” Nat’s chipper voice interrupted his thoughts. Taking a moment to compose himself, he replied, “Sorry, guys. I’m fine now, thanks to Jason.” While Rachel smiled knowingly, the rest of the group was just pleased to know that Chase was okay. Chase picked up his fork and dug into his salmon. He looked over at the rare meat on Jason’s plate with disgust. He knew Jason would eat anything, but the man needed to take better care of himself.

“You really shouldn’t eat so much of that junk,” Chase chided his friend. “You can’t jog off everything. And too much red meat is bad for you.”

“Yes mother,” Jason retorted playfully. “I’ll be sure to change my order for the reception.” A big grin crossed his face because he knew they were in a public, formal setting, meaning Chase couldn’t slap him in the back of the head.

“Yeah, you’re safe for now,” Chase conceded, narrowing his eyes mischievously, as if he had read his friend’s train of thought.

“Ooh, saucy!” Jason joked, causing Shondi to snort and Rachel to choke on her food.

“Are you okay?” Shondi asked, carefully patting the girl’s back.

“Yep, perfect,” Rachel replied, taking a sip from her glass. The gang just laughed and the rest of the dinner continued on pleasantly.

- - - - -

After some of the older relatives had retired for the evening, the rest of Neil and Hannah’s guests stuck around for casual drinks and conversation. With an open bar, the room was still quite full of activity. Most of the discussion centered on tomorrow—the day before the wedding—which seemed to be highlighted mostly by sightseeing, as well as the bachelor and bachelorette parties.

Jeremy had whisked Nat away, but Jason, Chase, Shondi, and Eddie remained in the banquet room. They formed a small circle, standing in close proximity to the bar, where Eddie would frequently return to grab another round of drinks for them. Rachel had disappeared off somewhere, though they weren’t sure where.

“Chase, there you are!” Neil’s voice rang out as he and his beautiful bride-to-be approached. Hannah was darling. She was petite with rich brown curls, a smile complemented by sweet dimples, and big, brown eyes. The gang didn’t really know her, save for Chase who had met her before, but she seemed quite warm and inviting. She lacked the boisterous presence Jason would have assumed for someone related to Matt Rodshaw, which made him and the others take an immediate liking to her.

To their surprise, Hannah stepped up and hugged each of them. “Thanks so much for coming. I’m so glad that Chase has so many good friends.”

“Don’t mind her, she’s had a lot of champagne,” Neil said with a wink. Hannah gasped and elbowed her fiancée in the side.

“Don’t listen to him,” she responded with a smile. “Now forgive me, but I can’t remember everyone’s names. Of course, I know Jason. He’ll basically be like a brother-in-law to me, too, right? But you two--?”

“I’m Eddie Lancaster, and this is Shondi Hughes,” Eddie offered. “We live in the same apartment building with Chase.”

“Ah, well, might I just say, you two make a beautiful couple,” Hannah remarked politely. Jason remained silent as he saw both Eddie and Shondi tense. After a moment, Eddie nodded and wrapped an arm around Shondi’s shoulders. Though, neither of them had seemed to relax.

“That’s kind of you to say,” Shondi replied. She seemed genuine. Hannah was nice, and it wasn’t her fault that this situation was all kinds of complicated and…false.

“Well, we’ve got to make the rounds, but we’ll see you tomorrow. Well, I’ll see the guys tomorrow,” Neil said, wiggling his eyebrows in delight as he referred to the bachelor party. “Sorry Chase, I know female strippers aren’t your thing, but as the best man, you still have to come.”

“Wait, you’re telling me there’s a strip joint around here?” Eddie asked incredulously.

“No, you boys will be going to the next town over,” Hannah replied stiffly. Apparently she wasn’t too pleased with this plan. “But wait, before we go, I see Chase is going stag, so…” She walked a way for a moment and disappeared in between the smattering of guests.

“Sorry about this Chase, I told her not to—” Neil began.

“Chase, I’d like you to meet my cousin…” Hannah said with a flourish as she returned with a man in tow, her hand fastened to his arm. “This is Matt Rodshaw.” Jason couldn’t decide whether to feel anxious, upset, or nonchalant, so naturally, his face turned slightly red as Matt joined the group and immediately looked him up and down.

“Long time, no see,” he said smoothly, one hand in his pocket, the other—which Hannah had released—clasped around a glass of dark liquor.

“Oh, you know each other?” Hannah inquired, her interest piqued.

“Yeah, Matt and I have been friends for ages,” Eddie answered in place of Chase, as he happily man-hugged Matt (meaning they half embraced, and he patted him three times on the back).

“Oh then, well I’ll leave you to it,” Hannah said, waving enthusiastically as she and Neil departed.

“I was hoping I’d see you guys here,” Matt said with a glint in his eye. “The scene with Mr. Thomas alerted me of your presence.”

Chase ignored the comment as Shondi spoke first. “Good to see you too,” she said stiffly. “Now, if you don’t mind, Eddie and I should go mingle.” Reluctantly, Eddie—who was really the only one happy to see Matt—offered his arm to Shondi and led her to meet some of the other guests.

“Aw, don’t tell me you’re going to abandon me, too,” Matt said as he stood next to Jason. He then looked toward Chase, “Please, feel free to spend your evening elsewhere. If fact, I’m sure your father would prefer that as well.”

“Ok, that’s it!” Chase fumed, but Jason stepped in between them, placing a hand against both of their chests to diffuse any possible chance of a scene, or rather, a fight. Chase and Matt didn’t need to get into another one of those.

“Ooh, I think I could get used to this,” Matt said slyly, looking at Jason’s hand. Immediately, Jason lowered his hands and glared at Matt. “Fine, I will play nice.”


There was a knock on the door. A quick glance at the clock on the table between the two beds told Chase he did not want to move. While there had been glitches in the prior night’s dinner, it hadn’t ended too badly. It appeared that Matt would “play nice,” at least at any wedding-associated functions. Chase wasn’t going as far as to assume Matt would if they were to meet up elsewhere over the next couple days.

There was more knocking – it appeared that whoever was outside wasn’t going to go away. Chase heard noises from Jason’s bed’s direction and took them to mean his friend had no interest in getting up. After another round of knocking, Chase gave in and got up, groggily walking to the door and opening it.

“Disturb your beauty sleep, did I?”

Chase couldn’t help but smile at his brother.

“There’s no other kind.” Chase replied as he moved out of the doorway to let Neil inside.

“True.” Neil agreed as he walked in, “But since you’re up, how about breakfast?”

“You woke me up at 5:30 to ask me if I wanted to breakfast?”

“Some are still sleeping!”

It would appear that Jason found his voice, or at least lifted his head from the pillow.

“Sure thing, sleeping beauty.” Neil commented moving torward the balcony.

Chase chuckled to himself, glad that Jason and Neil got on so well.

“So dear brother, what do you say?” Neil asked him once they were on the balcony.

The day was just starting to get brighter.

“How can I resist such a wake-up call?”

Neil sat on one of the chairs, “Now Chase don’t take forever, it’s only little ‘ol me after all.”

“Ah, it’s not for you, darling brother, but all the cute waiters of the world!” Chase commented as he moved back into the room to change.

*****


The brothers sat in the hotel’s café waiting for their orders.

“I’m very sorry about the invitation mess, Chase really…”

“No worries, Neil there was a lot going on.”

“True, but…”

“It’s been taken care of.”

“I knew there was a reason you are the best man.”

Chase chuckled, “Right you are!”

Neil’s face became serious again, “How are you holding up? Mom told me of their visit yesterday.”

“She shouldn’t have bothered you with it. It’s never going to change. I’ve come to accept that – finally. Sadly, so should she if she wants any peace at all.”

Chase felt awful for his mother and what his father’s and his relationship did to her, but there was little chance of father or son changing anytime soon.

“She worries about both of you, you were close once.”

Chase sighed, “I wonder if he even thinks of those times…fondly.”

“With Dad, it’s hard to say. At least he’s behaving.”

“Neil, about dinner last night…”

Neil waved his had as if to dismiss it, “Dad really started it. He had changed your seating arrangement in the first place. Nat would’ve made more of a scene if he hadn’t backed down, but Dad knew Mom would’ve killed him for it so he let it go. You have good friends, Chase, remember that.”

“They never go very long without proving it.”

“Good. Now, how’s the romantic front? Nothing major or just keeping the ammunition at home?”

Chase couldn’t help but smile at Neil’s chosen phrase.

“Nothing major… just …. nothing.”

“Really now? I sense a secret. Who is he? It’s not Matt, is it?”

Chase almost spit out his coffee at that question.

“From the look of pure horror on your face, I’m saying that’s a negative. I love Hannah dearly and she’s close to Matt, but he’s not the most…pleasant person at times.”

“I’ve noticed.”

Neil laughed, “So who then? A fellow artist perhaps?”

Chase was relived as their orders arrived, able to avoid answering the question, but Neil spoke before Chase had a chance to change the subject after the waitress left.

“Was that relief I saw?”

Chase tried to concentrate on his ham and cheese omelet, but Neil wasn’t going to let him get away without answering now.

“This must be a really big nothing. You’re never this closed about crushes.”

Chase looked up at his brother. He knew that he could trust Neil to keep things between the two of them. It would be good to actually tell someone.

“It is. I’m just not sure how nothing it’ll be if it comes out.”

Neil picked at his banana pancakes. Chase knew he was waiting for Chase to speak – Neil would always listen. Chase took a few bites of his omelet and a sip of coffee before speaking.

“It’s not something I even realized was happening until recently. Now I wish I never realized it. I can’t even predict what’ll happen if anyone tells him…”

“If this person already cares about you Chase, it shouldn’t matter as long as you accept they may not feel the same.”

Chase had considered this, but what if that wasn’t enough?

“They’re not – rather wouldn’t be, I know that already.”

Neil nodded, “I always wondered why you never mentioned him this way before.”

Chase looked at his brother.

“Hey, I know you’re not into the Eddie type, so there wasn’t much of an elimination.”

Chase shook his head and couldn’t help a tiny smile, glad he hadn’t had to say the name out loud. Though, he wasn’t exactly sure why this made him feel better.

“We’ve known Jason a long time.”

Chase felt his face flush at the name; he had hoped that Neil would keep being vague.

Neil smiled, “Hard to hear it said, even harder to say.”

Chase nodded.

“It’s got to be hard on you.”

“It is. More the unknown result of telling him…if I even should…”

Neil nodded, “Always harder when they’re a good friend – more to lose. Even harder when you know the feelings won’t be the same.”

Neil paused to drink some coffee.

“Only you can decide the right thing to do for yourself and your friendship. But if I had to guess, I’d say you picked the right friend. He’s been beside you for a long time Chase. Helped you though tough times. Heck, it’s not often someone gets their life threatened and sticks around.”

Chase nodded agreement.

“Things will work out Chase, the bond the two of you have is strong enough. I’d be shocked if it wasn’t. I’m not saying it’ll be easy to say or not cause some… weirdness between the two of you first off. I highly doubt it would break your friendship – in the long run. Jason may need time to process things though.”

Chase knew Neil could be counted on for the truth. At least Neil’s perceived truth. There was only one way to know how Jason would react and that would be to tell him. Although hearing the surety of Neil’s words helped put some of Chase’s worries at ease.

“Thank you, oh wise one.”

Neil bowed as much as the table would allow him, “Always an honor to serve.”

The two are in silence for a while before Neil spoke.

“Looking forward to tonight?”

“What you mean the sure to be pleasing female strippers?”

“Is there something else going on tonight?”

“Are you sure I can’t go to the Bachelorette party? They get the real goodies.”

“I never said being my best man wouldn’t have sacrifices. You’re just going to have to suck it up.”

Chase sighed dramatically, “What pains I go though for you, dear brother.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Chase laughed along with his brother. It felt good to feel relaxed. Maybe this wedding was going to be good for him after all, even with Daddy Dearest so close by.
A Non-Existent User
Nat rolled her eyes as the guys lined up beside the car—Eddie was really laying it on thick: glowing in chat about the unrated sights he would soon be beholding, not for his sake, but for the sake of Rachel’s strained expression. Honestly, the guy was such a moron, how did Rachel not see through his act? Pausing from shaking her head as she stood in line with the crossed arms of her fellow females’, she thought to question how no one in their group of friends saw through him.

Putting on a show, not noticing the twisted grin of Matt, the extinguished sighs of Chase, or the guarded posture of Jason, Eddie was the last to approach the car door. With a grandeur wave and stunningly bright smile, considering how ill he had seemed ever since they got here, he was about to disappear with the other guys when his face faltered, paled, and the next thing he knew he was seated on the curb puking in a paper-bag. Stupid weddings. Stupid bachelor parties. Stupid commitment. Stupid him, and wanting to be the groom... wanting Rachel to be the stupid bride.... Watching the car pull away, he dropped his face onto Nat, who was both seated beside him rubbing his back, and waving to Jeremy whose expression hesitated as he watched Eddie’s hand clench onto the sleeve of her shirt.

“I’m fine, I can still go,” he said, perhaps for the fifth time, it made no difference: the girls were set on babying him, and the guys just wanted to head out. Plus, it may have also been the case that he was being served his ‘just deserts’ for being bratty and rubbing his departure in Rachel’s face—it was she who first recommended that he not go. Then Shondi had to join in and ruin it, saying that now that they were ‘dating’ it was a good idea that he be ‘devout’. He cursed in his head. It wasn’t really the fact that he wasn’t going to see scanty girls, he didn’t really give a shit about that; his soreness came to the fact that none of the guys seemed at all torn up over his absence. Shit, they didn’t even blink.

Not talking much as he followed the girls back to Nat’s room, he listened to the girls piss about bachelor parties for a bit and then switch topics to smaller subjects like work to fill the silence of the hotel’s hallway. When they reached the room, they seemed to remember that he was there, and Shondi asked him how he was doing, “I dunno, I don’t want to think about it.”

Shondi frowned, “you aren’t going to be sour the whole time, are you?”

Eddie watched as Rachel sat herself upon the floor, concerned herself with intertwining her hands, and then looked up at him. Smoothly turning his head to Nat, his tan face relaxed, “no.” The manner in which they had positioned themselves about the room, casual, thrown-out, comfortable, all brought him back to days where felt he was closer to these people. Yeah, they were his best friends, but at times… he felt his presence wasn’t… necessary to them. Except for Nat. She was always different a special case to him—not like Rachel who sat in his heart, but more of the one to stand beside it to keep it going, not the reason it should be going. “So, isn’t there a bachelorette party?”

“Sure,” said Nat, but she didn’t say anything else on the matter before saying, “I hope Chase holds out tonight.”

“It’s not like he has to look at the girls,” Eddie said and lied back across the bed next to Shondi.

“Who’s talking about strippers?” Rachel huffed. “We’re talking about,” and she paused with contempt, “Matt.”

Eddie’s brow cocked, “what about ‘im?”

“What do you mean ‘what about him?!’ He’s a total creep!” Shondi spat, turning her head to take in the male’s lightly confounded stare. “He really is. He’s an asshole Eddie. You know what he’s doing.”

“I know he can be a prick sometimes, but I have no idea what you are talking about.”

There was a pause, “you serious?” and Rachel’s head tilted, her eyes intent on his.

“Uh,” his eyes traced their calculating faces, each digging their memory to remember if anyone had ever filled him in on the ‘situation’—and all reaching the same truth when Eddie said, “yeah I’m serious. What the hell is going on?”

Rachel explained the events of that fashion show, how Matt hit on Jason, how he started a fight with Chase, how now Chase was having to sit in a car with the animal, and then… how he hit on Rachel. Eddie’s face kept its cool, if one thing being in the public eye had trained him to do, it was to withhold immediate reactions. Okay, he and Matt were friends. Or, they got along because they were similar. Ish. They were both openly players, but news of that occurrence was something that Eddie had been sure was below the guy. To hit on his friends. To make them uncomfortable. To punch Chase. He could see maybe messing with the guys, as a small joke, maybe once. Surely though, he should have known to leave Rachel out of it—Matt didn’t know about his lasting feelings for the girl, but he had always made it clear to leave her alone. Quite frankly, he was a little pissed.

Jaw tightening, he looked at Nat, but she was busy looking out the window. “So…” he began, and then broke off. How could no one have filled him in on this? Jason and he shared a complex, they all lived in the same building—he vaguely wished to leave the room, but thought that it would solve nothing.

He was going to have to deal with Matt tonight. Snuff out the flame before it snuffed out the only things that mattered to him: his friends. Wondering if his friends even thought of him as a friend, didn’t wholly matter right now, he knew Matt was the bigger problem. The man could fuck around with anyone he wanted, anyone but Eddie’s friends. What was he thinking? Didn’t he know, no, how could he not know that he was making an enemy of someone he really shouldn’t?
Nat stared out the window, desperately wishing she had something to say, something to contribute. She knew how Eddie was feeling, because she'd felt that way of late. Did the group really need him, need her? Their stories seem to be running tangential to the greater scheme of things, as if their lives were somehow parting ways with the lives of those about them. Nat had her career, Jeremy had his (and was quite successful at it), and they had each other. In all likelihood, she would have to pull away from these people, her friends. There was really nothing keeping them together anymore. At least not for Nat.

"So ladies," Shondi said, breaking the silence that had fallen over them. "I think it's about time for the party."

Starting, dragging herself out of her depressing reverie, Nat turned and smiled. "Party time!" she chirped happily, eyes sparking. "But who's gonna stay here and take care of Eddie?"

Rachel shook her head and Shondi sighed. "I guess I'll do it. I'm the 'girlfriend' remember? Who better to take care of the under-the-weather Lancaster scion?" The woman looked disappointed, but not as much as could be expected. Nat suspected that her friend was glad of the excuse to skip the raucous drunkenness that would no doubt plague the entire evening. If Jeremy hadn't driven off with the boys, Nat would have skipped the party for a movie night with her boyfriend, but he was off watching half-naked whores press themselves against unsuspecting polls. Nat grimaced. Not that she didn't trust her dork to not do something stupid. It was just stupid.

And she would much prefer it if he watched her dance half-naked. It would end much more pleasurably for them both.

Again, Nat forced herself to think of the moment. It was just another reminder that Nat had so much less in common with her friends than she used to. A chance to enjoy an evening with her supposed best friends and she'd rather run off with a man she'd met comparatively recently. Admittedly, he was handsome, charming, and simply amazing in bed, but still...she'd been seeing him for less than a month. These were people she'd known for years. Just a few weeks ago, she'd been playing football with them in the park, having a barbecue and watching movies into the middle of the night.

What had happened?

Had she changed, or had they? Nat guessed it was her. She was a model and she'd found a man she desperately wanted to keep in her life. But she'd been a model when she'd met them and she'd known and fucked plenty of men during that time. So what had happened?

Nat stood and headed for her room. "I guess it's time to get dressed. Y'all are gonna see a new side of Natalia Jackson tonight. Namely one that can't screw the entertainment after the party..."


“Oh my god, you’re such a girl,” Chase remarked loudly over the bass-heavy music thrumming inside the club. He and Jason were sitting at the bar, while Neil and the others sat up by the stage to watch the show. Aside from their small party of Neil, Jason, Jeremy, Chase and some of his brother’s buddies, the place was fairly empty for a Saturday night. Some strobe lights flashed through the dingy lighting, illuminating the thin wasps of machine fog that filled the room. As fas as ambiance went, the place was lacking--not that any of the other guys cared, considering there were fewer than 10 of them and several busty strippers working the room in their vicinity.

Chase glanced up by the stage, his lips quirking into a smile at the sight of his brother. Neill was wielding another set of dollar bills like bouquets, fanned out and ready to be used. Some of his old college frat brothers were seated next to him, as were Matt and Jeremy. Though, to his surprise, the latter two seemed to be chatting rather than watching the ladies strutting across the stage. He wondered what they could possibly have to talk about.

Swiveling his stool, Chase’s smile grew as he watched his friend knock back the last of his fruity drink. “Seriously, the thing’s got an umbrella in it for heaven’s sake!”

“Shawdhup!” Jason retorted, still holding the glass upside down to swallow down the last of the ice. When he was properly finished, he slammed the glass down. Turning a grin to his right, he continued, “That thing was awesome. I dunno why I wasted so much of my life only drinking beer!”

“Wow, you’ve officially lost it,” Chase deadpanned. Then pushing back the sleeve on his left wrist, he stated: “I’m calling it. 1:24 in the A.M.”

“Oh crap, that’s the time?” Jason replied. “Huh. I don’t know if this is a sign of getting old, but I’m already tired.” This wasn’t his first time in a strip club, but the experience wasn’t quite living up to its normal standards. The place was okay, and he was glad to be here with Chase to celebrate Neil’s last day of “freedom,” but something still felt off. Shaking his head, the writer raised his hand to motion over the bartender. Another one wouldn’t hurt. It was mostly fruit juice, right?

“Something tells me that might be the liquor,” Chase offered helpfully. Right on time, the petite blonde manning the bar walked over. Her hair was in loose waves, cascading over her shoulders with the last tendrils dipping down into her very glittery cleavage. Somehow she had a white name tag that read “Chastity” affixed to the barely-there, red strap of her midriff-baring tank top.

“Another fuzzy navel for you, sweetheart,” she purred as she slid a cool glass toward Jason with a wink. Jason nodded sheepishly, accepting it with a small smile as he tried to look anywhere but there. His darting glance must’ve been noticeable though, because suddenly there were two well-manicured hands cradling his face. “Awww, baby, don’t be shy,” Chastity teased in an airy voice, stroking his chin. “You’re allowed to look.” Jason flushed at that, almost surprising himself with how shy he was being.

“No, um...that’s okay,” he started, trying to extricate himself from her unexpectedly firm grip. “I’m good. Thank you though...I guess?” Wow. He was supposed to be good with words. He was actually paid to work with them on a daily basis. How many drinks had she given him anyway? At his slurred reaction, Chastity’s pink glossed lips curved into a sly smile. Slowly, she removed her hands from his face before running them gently up and down his arms. Jason suddenly felt at a loss. He couldn’t even remember the last time someone had touched him affectionately. He hadn’t had a girlfriend or gone on a date in months. He had work and friends to fill his time, which he didn’t mind, but he was suddenly aware that having a woman touch him shouldn’t feel so foreign.

“OKAY, that is enough,” Chase suddenly interrupted, pushing the bartender’s hands away. Chastity's smile quickly disappeared; then, placing her hands on her hips, her yes widened and her bottom lip fell open, her mouth shaping into an ‘O’.

“I’m so sorry!” She quickly apologized, lowering her voice. “I had no idea. Clearly though, you’re part of a bachelor party at a strip club and you’re paying absolutely no attention to the strippers. Honestly, I should have realized. I mean, look at you--”

“Um, wait, what should you have realized?” Jason began to ask, not quite following. Chastity had begun to mutter and ramble. He had no idea what was going on. Hoping for some clarity, Jason looked over to his friend. Chase was sitting quietly, gripping his beer bottle tightly and unhelpfully staring at the bowl of peanuts on the wooden counter.

Ignoring Jason’s question, Chastity carefully reached her hand out toward Chase. She gave his forearm a friendly squeeze before saying, “Just so you know, you guys make a cute couple. And again, I apologize. It was my mistake.” She then pulled away and went back to attend to patrons sitting at the other end of the bar.

Oh. Now he got it. Shrugging, Jason opened his mouth to speak but at the sight of his friend, he shut it quickly. Despite the bartender’s sincere apology, he still looked tense. He sat upright with his shoulders taught and the grip on his beer hadn’t lessened. Reaching out, Jason put a hand on Chase’s shoulder. “Hey man, you okay? It’s not a big deal. It doesn’t bother me, so don’t worry about it.” He felt his friend’s entire demeanor shift, his shoulders seemingly melting away whatever stress had been previously placed upon them. “And if it doesn’t bother you, then we’re good. Unless...wait, does it bother you?”

“He’d be a fool if it did,” came a familiar deep voice, followed by a hearty clap to Jason’s left shoulder. Draping his arm across the younger man’s back, Matt continued, “Seriously, Chase, she just paid you a high compliment.”

“Hey, uh...Matt, I’m not sure this is a good time,” Jason began, hoping to nip any awkward or tense moments in the bud. “Besides, you said you’d behave. Remember?”

“No, you’re right,” Matt replied, casually slipping onto the barstool next to Jason. “That’s not why I came over here.” Taking a deep breath, Matt placed his palms on his knees, his fingers fumbling with a loose thread on his jeans. With his brow furrowed and his chin bowed down, the man’s usual air of bravado seemed to fade away. “I think we should talk. Is that okay?”

“Chase, do you mind?” Jason asked, detecting an unusual note of urgency in their former friend’s voice. With a small shake of the artist’s head, Jason got up and followed Matt through the club. As they pushed through the narrow aisles between the tables, he noticed they were heading toward the restrooms. Something about this didn’t feel right. He paused, stopping just outside the door. Unfortunately, a strong hand splayed against the small of his back, pushing him through.

Once inside, Jason quickly backed away from the bigger man. He was taller and faster, no doubt, but Matt had a fairly intimidating build. “Don’t get your panties in a bunch,” the older man spat. “I didn’t bring you in here to molest you or anything. It’s about Eddie.”

At that, Jason’s shoulders slumped in relief. But then his head jerked up, eyes focusing on the other man’s intently, all liquor his in system seemingly forgotten. “What about Eddie? Is he okay? I know he wasn’t feeling well earlier...wait, did something happen?”

“He’s fine, as far as I know,” Matt answered, “but he’s upset. He texted me a bit ago. I-uh,” Matt sputtered. “I didn’t realize you guys didn’t tell him about that night. I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

“Yeah well, you thought wrong,” Jason stated, bracing his arms protectively around himself. He then leaned against the cool porcelain edge of the sink as a fluorescent bulb flickered above them in the small, black-tiled room. “Eddie’s probably mad that you hit on Rachel. I know they had a nasty breakup, but she still was an important part of his life.”

“That’s just it,” Matt said, running a hand over his face. “She still IS an important part of his life. I just didn’t realize it until now. He stopped talking about her to me. And I figured they only remained sort-of-friends because of the rest of you.”

“Well yeah, that make sense--”

“No! C’mon Jason, we both knew him in college. When Eddie’s done with a girl, he’s DONE with her. They don’t hang out, share the same friends, or tolerate being in the same space together. I just can’t believe I didn’t think about this sooner before being an idiot!” Matt yelled, pinching the bridge of his nose. “For the record, I’m not personally interested in Rachel, which I told Eddie tonight. I wouldn’t have even included her if I had any clue about his feelings for her. I would’ve just hit on the redhead or the black girl. She’s black, right? Or mixed something or other?”

“You mean Nat or Shondi?” Jason asked, huffing in disbelief. Wait. He halted, letting Matt’s words sink in. Eddie still cared about Rachel. And Matt--of all people--was the one to realize it. Wow. He felt like such a crap friend. “Wow Matt, you’re a piece of work. But for your sake, I won’t tell them you said that. So let me get this straight, you would’ve hit on anyone?”

“Well yeah, sort of,” Matt began to explain, stepping closer. “I was just trying to sweeten the deal for...well, you. I figured you’re straight, so you’d want a woman to join in on the action.” Oh crap. Now he moving closer. Jason could see the man’s usual cool facade slip back on him like a veil. “Eddie and I have made our peace. Well, as much as we usually do. He’ll hate me for a bit, then we’ll be fine. But I did want you to know that I’m not...I”m not like that.” His voice trembled slightly, lapsing back into another bout of sincerity that Jason was not used to seeing or hearing from him. “I don’t go after people that others care about, especially not one of my closest friends. And remember, we were friends, too. I hate thinking we’ve lost that. And yeah, I was being--”

“A douche?” Jason kindly offered, failing to keep a smile from forming.

“Yeah, that,” Matt answered honestly. “I’m sure Eddie and I will talk about this again later, in person this time. And I’ll make sure we’re good. I just wanted you to know what was going on. I think he could use a friend right now. Just because I know he’s still crazy for her, doesn’t mean that he’s fully accepted it. Knowing him and his crazy family, he’s probably fighting it.”

“Wow, you really do care about him,” Jason said, seeing Matt in an entirely different light. In the past, he just seemed to be a drinking buddy-type of friend. Someone to club with, go camping with and complain about their families and businesses with--but Matt did actually try, in his own way, to be a real friend to Eddie. And despite his mistake, he had probably tried more than Jason had lately. “Well now I feel terrible for not realizing and not being there for him.”

“Yeah well, you want me to make you feel better?” Matt proposed, his hands coming to grip the sink edges on both sides. A smile crept onto his face. He was joking around. Sort of. Rolling his eyes, Jason shoved the man back. “One of these days, you’ll be too lonely and horny to turn me down.”

Jason just laughed as he exited the restroom, a newly restored friend following close behind. “Shut up. Let’s get Chase and head back to the hotel. I think we should go make sure Eddie is okay.”
For once Chase was glad for Matt dragging Jason away. His grip on his beer slackened and his posture relaxed.

Why had he reacted that way?

Chase sighed; he knew why he had shooed that bartender away. He had been jealous that she had been able to give Jason that much attention. That was the cause of Chase’s tension; he couldn’t keep feeling this way.

What would he do if – when – Jason found someone? A woman. Chase knew better than to believe he would be that someone.

What did Jason think? Had he really be okay with the bartenders misunderstanding of their relationship? Just before Matt had appeared Jason was saying he hadn’t minded… had been wondering if Chase had been bothered by it.

Was he? Chase knew the only issue he really had with it was that it was a misunderstanding. If his feelings for Jason were making him jealous, and it appeared that they were, he had to do something about it.

Chase sighed, finished his beer, he knew what he had to do. Something that would be one of the hardest things he’d ever done. He had to tell Jason how he felt. Make sure his friend truly understood. It was the only way to keep the pent up feeling from interfering like they had tonight. Chase had to have faith, like Neil had said that Jason wouldn’t – in the end at least – still be his friend and that things wouldn’t become weird between them. For long anyway, Chase figured there might be some weirdness for a bit after Jason first heard what Chase had to say.

“Chase, we have to go.”

Chase turned to Jason’s voice.

“I’ll explain in the car.”

Chase rose, wondering what had Jason looking so serious, and Matt as well for that matter. Chase followed after them, knowing he’d find out on the ride back, just as Jason had said he would.

In the car Jason explained what Matt had told him. It turned out, in all likelihood, that Eddie still had feelings for Rachel. After that revelation, Chase sat silent, going over what he’d just been told.

It could be true. It was possible that all of Eddie’s overly harsh treatment of Rachel was his way of hiding what he really felt. Although, if Eddie was covering his feeling, why was he?

As his friends they should’ve noticed …something.

If Matt was right and Eddie still had feelings for Rachel, Chase wondered if Eddie would even accept their offer of help after all of them being so oblivious to his plight…

© Copyright 2007 Aiken4LOTR, Rose Grey, Agent-409, xx-xx, Professor Q, Daizy, Dr Matticakes Myra, (known as GROUP).
All rights reserved.
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