The beach was predictably full. Two people walked along it, careful not to step on anyone. They weren't talking, just- …remembering. This beach held a lot of memories for them.
Chris shook her head, all that was ancient history, she should have the future in mind.
"You OK?" TC asked her.
"Yeah, just trying to stay away from memory lane," she said with a shrug.
"Do you have something better to do?" He looked quizzically at her.
Suddenly she didn't know what to say, embarrassed she looked down at her hands and the shoes she was holding in them. What was she supposed to say? 'Hey, you know I don't know if I can trust you.'?
"It's OK." He cracked a smile "I know you didn't just come here to renew our friendship."
She smiled back at him, though she wouldn't admit it, she was happy he still knew how her mind worked. Well, as much as he ever knew anyway. "I admit I have an ulterior motive but don't think I don't want to be friends with you. This is going to sound really pathetic but in a way you're the only friend I have left. You're the only one I can trust without… I have worked with Bubba for seven years but I still have him followed every now and then, just to be sure. I haven't trusted anyone completely since the twins."
He wondered if he should do something "It must be hard," he said.
She shrugged "You get used to it. It's harder on the twins, Tom is going through a rebellious stage right now."
"So is Cassie, it's like she went from child to adolescent over night." TC sighed.
"I bet I can guess which night." Chris quipped, unable to hide her amusement from him.
"I completely overreacted, I'm sorry I insulted you." He looked guiltily at her, and managed to look adorable at the same time. The man knew how to play a woman.
"You said it and no offence taken." Chris generously said.
"She's just going through a faze. I haven't been spending enough time with her and she had a problem with my uhm… lifestyle."
Chris snorted. "You mean your trashy girlfriend?"
"She wasn't trashy! She's a lawyer you know. And it wasn't so much Michelle as all the Michelle look-a-likes that preceded her. We've broken up now, so I am hoping Cassie will go back to normal soon," TC said.
"TC, there are two things I need to say right now and they won't sound very nice."
TC couldn't make out if she was being serious or not but he feared it was the former.
"First of all, stop thinking so much of yourself. The world does not revolve around you. You were like that when we were together too. Every time I had a problem you were all: Is this my fault? How is it going to affect me? Now you're doing the same thing with Cassie. She is a person in her own right, going through puberty at that. How often did you think about your parents while making out with a girl when you were her age?"
"OK, you have a point… Do you remember when my mother left my father?"
"You made a complete ass of yourself that time too." Chris nodded and grinned.
"It's harder than it looks you know. On the one hand I have been raised to expect things a certain way and while I now know things will not go that way I still expect them too." He tried to explain.
"You're just making perfect sense, really." Chris said dryly "are you trying to say you are struggling with traditional values?"
"Uhm… yeah." TC looked at her somewhat confused. She used to be just as crappy at expressing herself as he was.
"In my experience it helps to just ask if it has something to do with you, and take their word for it if they say it hasn't," she advised him, having gone through a similar situation with the twins.
"We strayed a bit off topic, didn't we?" He said, hoping to change the topic to something that made him look a little less inadequate.
"Did we have a topic?" Chris asked.
"Your ulterior motive… Why did you come here, Chris?" He looked her in the eyes but she looked away.
"Not trusting anyone is habit forming. I wanted to know if you had changed."
TC didn't respond and Chris felt guilty, so tried to fill the silence that hung between them.
"You have changed you know, but not where it really matters."
"You've changed too, and you're exactly the same." TC told her.
They were silent for a few moments,
"You said there were two things you needed to say that wouldn't sound very nice." TC remembered.
"Oh right," she thought back to the earlier part of their conversation. "You've gotten afraid of commitment, which I feel the need to apologize for… In our relationship you were always the one that wanted to move forward, and now…"
"Yes, Chris, you have ruined me for all other women," he laughed. "I've talked with my shrink about this. According to him I am disillusioned about women and relationships in general, so unable to make the necessary investments. I do however need the conformation that I am capable of being loved. Combined this leads to a string of not so long-term girlfriends." He told her.
"So basically your shrink gave you an excuse to lead those women on." Chris disapproved.
"I never make promises I can't keep. That hasn't changed, Chris. You can still trust me." This time when he looked at her she held his gaze. To his surprise there were tears in her eyes. He put her arm around her and gave her an affectionate squeeze.
"I'm sorry TC, I didn't mean to say … What must you think of me? Here I come and tell you I can't trust you and proceed to criticize your life. The least I could do is not cry but… Do you know how long it has been since I didn't have to keep a secret from someone?"
He wrapped his other arm around her as well, hugging her to him. Only now it hit him exactly how hard this life of secrecy had been on her. He felt a little guilty and good at the same time. Good that even after all this time it was him she went to have her little breakdown and guilty because he felt good about it. "It's alright, Chris. Sometimes I need a good kick on the behind and who better to give it to me than my friend? I'm always going to be your friend, Chris. You can cry or scream or criticize, I will always be your friend." He told her, slowly rubbing her back.
She smiled up at him through her tears. "Thanks." She said and stepped out of his arms.
"Your welcome, even the strongest person needs a hug every decade or so." He smiled back.
"So I am learning."
With a last smile they started to walk again, talking only of their beach side memories until they reached his house.
Michelle had had an awful few days. Basically she had been cursing all of male kind, cried her eyes out over her failed relationship and sat by the phone in an endless debate of 'should I call him?'
After a few days of moping around however she arrived at the acceptance part. Sure she loved the guy, but the guy was nothing but a son-of-a-bitch with more issues than she could count. Damn it, he just wasn't worth her time or her love.
She looked at her watch. In about an hour Cassie should be coming home and TC should still be at work about then. It would be a perfect time to pick up the things she left behind at his place.
She shook her head, she should've known he wasn't ready for a real relationship when in their several months long relationship he had never bothered to give her a key.
"Michelle, hi." Cassie opened the door and looked to the ground once she saw who it was.
"Hey… I know this is awkward. I just need to get some stuff I left here." Michelle explained.
"Yeah, okay." Cassie opened the door further and stepped back to let her father's ex in.
"Just so you know, your secret is still safe with me. I know I said some pretty awful things to you back in the day but truth is: you're a nice kid."
This would not be a good time to tell the other woman that TC was away with another woman at the moment, Cassie surmised. "Ah, thanks. As far as my dad's girlfriends go, you're one of the better ones."
Michelle smiled at the girl and went directly to the bedroom to retrieve her belongings.
Cassie felt like hitting her father at that moment. True, Michelle was a childish, superficial woman but it sucked to get dumped over the phone and it completely sucked if the guy was dating someone else just a few days later.
Her dad hadn't come out and told her he was going out on a date, but she could read the signs by now. He had been fidgety about his clothes, given her a lame excuse about probably not being home when she got there and kept on glancing at the clock.
He only behaved like that for important dates- around women he really liked who weren't with him yet or when it was around dump-time.
Cassie thought it had some poetic justice to it, that if he brought his new flame home his old one would be waiting there for him and he'd probable lose the both of them.
She loved her father, but he was such a man sometimes.
"Michelle, I'm going out, take your time, okay?" Cassie sweetly informed the woman.
"Say hi to your beau for me." Michelle indulgently smiled.
Sam warily watched as her brother practically danced around his room, he was getting ready to sneak out again and though his precautions were in place he felt the need to flutter about muttering his emergency protocols to himself.
He had meticulously planned this, he really wasn't going to get caught.
"Don't forget to tell Cass you aren't coming next time." Sam reminded him, more to alert him to her presence than anything else.
"Of course I'm going to meet her next time!" He exclaimed as he stopped walking around and focused all his attention on his sister.
"Mom is throwing that garden party, remember? According to the wives club the new residents need to throw a little soiree to get acquainted in the neighbourhood… Any of this ring a bell?"
"Is that this week?" Tom asked, keeping his eye on the clock- he had to move the second the clock his five past.
"Yes. And don't forget your phone." Sam handed him the device.
"That can be traced." Tom refused to take it.
"That would be the whole point. Look, if you get in trouble you need the alarm on there. Please Tom, I'm really worried."
With a sigh he snatched the device out of her hand. "No need, Sammy. I have taken care of everything."
"Pride cometh before the fall, Tom," Sam muttered.
"Oh! And the time you got taken hostage in the firehouse! I've told some of the newbies about that and they just don't believe me!" TC laughed at their various improbable adventures.
"What I still can't believe is that you didn't take pictures of Cory dressed as a chicken! I would've paid good money to see that." Chris grinned.
"yeah well… We had some other things on our minds." His smile disappeared from his face as he looked at her "I was so scared for you that day."
"Well you had it coming, I can't tell you how often I was sure you'd be dead next time I'd see you," she scoffed, trying not to acknowledge the deeper meaning behind his words. Sure he had loved her then, but that was a long time ago.
He took a breath and was about to reply with a grave and deep answer when she gently elbowed him in the ribs, her smile soft and understanding "We were all a little risky back in the day, we probably could've lived of the adrenaline."
"Easy for you to say, I practically am living of it. It's harder than it looks like for a man my age to stay in shape," TC complained.
Chris grinned "Still haven't managed to outlaw the bike shorts?"
"We haven't been broken up a week and you're already moving on to the next one?"
They had been so caught up in their conversation that they hadn't noticed they were nearing his house, and they certainly hadn't noticed Michelle coming out of it, looking mightily disgruntled.
"You're the lady from the hotel! The one whose son is banging Cassie! Are you telling me you couldn't even wait to dump me before moving on? You're a pig, TC." Michelle yelled and threw some more profanities at them.
"Michelle," TC was remarkably calm considering the woman was drawing things like his likely origin and his masculinity in question "first of all, Chris and I aren't dating. I have never cheated on you. Secondly, what are you doing in my house?"
He had stepped in front of Chris, as if he needed to bodily protect her from the barrage of profanities coming their way.
"I am so sick of you, TC. You aren't a man you're some extremely gross fungus. I had never taken you for a liar, it's just sad to see how you can pretend to be one thing and turn out to be the polar opposite. I didn't come here to try and get you back if that's what you're worried about. I needed to get my stuff and thought you'd be at work. You disgust me, TC."
"Think what you will Michelle, I never meant to hurt you and I never lied to you. But if it makes you feel better, think of me as you will," he shrugged.
His calm seemed to irritate her even further, bristling with anger she dropped the box she had been carrying in the passenger seat of her car before walking around, now apparently ignoring him.
She opened the door but paused before she got in. "You know you can't treat people like this, TC. It'll come back to bite you in the ass, mark my words, what goes around comes around."
Before he could think of an appropriate answer she had driven off.
TC turned back to Chris, who was bury pretending she hadn't just witnessed a verbal massacre of his character.
"Sorry 'bout that," he said sincerely.
"The girl has some vocabulary," Chris said.
"Uhm… Do you want to come in?" He asked.
"No, I should get back before they report me missing." She answered.
"Oh uh, right." An awkward hug followed their good-byes and then she was off, both feeling an odd mixture of pleasure and pain at their separation.
"I should've known." Chris shook her head at the sight before her. She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled loudly. Two heads shot apart and frantically looked around.
"Consider yourselves busted." Chris said as she approached them.
Cassie and Tom couldn't have looked more guilty if they tried.
"Ma, I can explain," Tom was quick to say.
"Reeaally?" Chris drawled, looking severely unimpressed so far.
"Cassie uhm… She wanted to introduce me to her mother." It was the first thing he came up with and he immediately wish he had just kept quiet.
"Right, you needed to sneak out without informing me to suck face with your girlfriend in front of Cory's grave. That explains everything, how could I have been so silly." Chris dryly said, consciously keeping out his neglecting to bring guards with him because it would look suspicious in front of the girl.
"I knew you would never let me go, and this was really important." Tom took hold of Cassie's hand like it would prove just how important this was.
"Just stop Tom. You lied to me, making up more lies isn't going to make it better." Chris looked heartbreakingly disappointed.
"I…" he started to protest, but changed his mind "I'm sorry mom." He suddenly became very interested in the ground, staring at nothing else.
"Wait for me by the car," she said, "both of you." She added when the two didn't seem to be able to decide for themselves.
Only now did Cassie spot the daisies in Chris's hand and she wanted to hit herself. She had known Chris visited this place from time to time!
She let herself get dragged away from the 'crime scene' by Tom but couldn't stop herself from aggressively kicking the first head stone they came across.
"It's all my fault!" She whispered when they were out of hearing range.
"Assigning blame can wait. We need to come up with a game plan." Years of training kicked in, panic was no good in a crisis situation, you needed a level head.
"She'll never let us see each other again!" Cassie practically cried, feeling much the same anguish as she imagined Juliet must have felt, as she was forbidden to love Romeo.
"We'll work around it." He assured her, sounding more confident than he actually felt.
"We- we should elope, run away together." The Shakespearian tragedy had gone right to her head.
"Cassie." He took her head in his hands tenderly and smiled reassuringly at her "you're overreacting. Just come here again next time and I'll be here, no matter what it takes. Just relax."
Due to the recently discovered outbreak of teenage rebellion Chris had to keep her conversation with Cory extremely short (Hey, I'm knee deep in ape-shit right now, so I'll have to talk to you later.) before going after the ingrates.
She dropped Cassie off at home and told TC what had been going on. In stead of going berserk like last time he went positively frigid. He thanked Chris politely but didn't say a word to his daughter as she miserably walked into the house.
Back in the car Chris sighed "You should've come to me, Tom. We could've worked something out."
But Tom didn't reply and the whole trip back was spent in silence.
Michelle sank down onto the couch. "I am having the crappiest week ever," she informed her friend and colleague Peter.
"First I get dumped, I mean, that sucks but I'll get over it. So I figured, hey I'll just grab my stuff from his place and I'll never have to see the asshole again. I didn't count on him dating the whore from hell! I caught them at the end of a date." Michelle was still fuming with anger and needed to get it all out.
"Uhm, who is the uhm… whore from hell?" Peter asked, trying to put it delicately and failing miserably.
"This super secret FBI chick. You know a few months ago when I was on vacation with TC? Well…" And she proceeded to tell the whole story.
She wasn't aware of Peter's current financial crisis, or of the monetary value of the secret she was now disclosing to her friend…