Bossman by Vi Keeland

Chapter 32

Chase – Now (Two Weeks Post Reese)

I’d become Barney.

Remember him? The guy at the bar the morning of Peyton’s funeral who was too drunk to raise his head? “That’s Barney,” the bartender had said when I’d asked about him.

That’s Chase.

Me, the sole patron at the bar at ten-fifteen in the morning. Nursing the end of my first Jack and Coke, the hair of the dog that bit me. The bartender was too busy taking in a keg delivery to notice I needed a refill. The Budweiser driver looked around as the bartender signed the invoice. His eyes landing on me, he frowned and then forced a sad smile.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m Barney. Fuck you, buddy.

Around four, I was again all by my lonesome. A few old timers had straggled in and staggered out throughout the day. But the day crowd was slim to none. Which suited me fine. Jack was my only choice for company the last two weeks anyway.

Carl, the bartender, attempted to strike up a conversation after returning to the bar with a crate filled with wet glasses from the back. For the past few weeks, all my answers had been curt. I’d thought he would have stopped trying by now.

“Not many early morning folks pay with hundred-dollar bills every day.” He dried glasses with a hand towel and stacked them away under the bar.

“I’ll bring my piggy bank tomorrow. Pay with change so I fit the part better.”

He squinted, looking me over. “You could use a shave and a haircut, if you ask me, but your clothes are pretty nice, too.”

“Glad I meet the dress code.” I looked around the empty bar. “You should think about getting rid of it. Might drum up some business.” I sipped my drink.

Carl shook his head. “Got a good job?”

“Own my own company.”

“What are you, some sort of high-falutin, stock-trading-type guy?”

“Not exactly.”

“Lawyer?”

“Nope. Got a wife?” I asked.

“Yeah. Mildred. Old bird, but keeps herself in good shape still.”

“My company makes pain-free ladies’ grooming wax. And some other stuff. Mildred is more my customer than you.”

His face scrunched up. “Grooming wax? What the hell is that?”

“Removes hair in places women don’t want it. Bikini line, legs…” I took out a wad of cash from my pocket and tossed a hundred on the bar. “Some women like to be bald down below, if you know what I mean.”

“Are you pulling my leg?”

For some reason, that question reminded me of Reese and the first night we met, how she’d gone along with my bullshit stories. Suddenly I couldn’t sit on this barstool any more.

“Nope.” I knocked twice on the bar. “Same time tomorrow?”

“I’ll be here.”

At home, I was out of Coke, so I reached for a glass, intent on pouring just straight Jack. Then it dawned on me—what the hell do I need the glass for if I’m not mixing shit? I took a healthy swig from the bottle and dropped down on my couch.

The ache in my chest that I could usually dull at the bar returned when my eyes landed on Peyton’s guitar. So I took another swig. And stared at the guitar some more.

That…led to another swig.

Maybe two.

Since my eyes were apparently unable to see anything else, I shut them, letting my head loll back on the top of the couch. An image of Reese filled the darkness. She looked so beautiful beneath me, smiling with her big blue irises. So I opened my eyes again and took another gulp from my bottle while staring at the guitar.

As I swallowed, my lids drifted closed again. Reese bending over my desk, looking back at me while she bit her lip nervously and waited for me to take her.

Another swig.

Eventually, I must have passed out. Because I woke to daylight streaming in the window and the sound of my doorbell being pressed over and over again.

The only thing that could have been worse than the two women I found standing on the other side of the door at six a.m. was if my mother had also been with them.

I hesitated, and my sister Anna yelled. “I saw you look through the top of the door, jackass! Open up.”

Groaning, I begrudgingly unlocked the door. I attempted to impede their entry after I opened it, but the two of them walked right past me.

“Come on in,” I grumbled sarcastically.

Sam’s hands were on her hips. Anna handed me a giant cup of coffee.

“Here. You’re going to need this.”

“Can we do this later in the day?”

“We didn’t want to chance you being drunk.” Anna leaned in, took a sniff of me, and scrunched up her nose. Waving her hand in front of her face, she said, “Are you still drunk from last night?”

I shook my head, walked back to the living room, and slouched into my couch. My head was pounding, and the last thing I needed to hear was whatever these two had come to say.

They followed me. It was a mistake to sit in the middle. At least if I’d sat near one armrest, I couldn’t be the middle of an estrogen sandwich.

Sam started in first. “This crap needs to stop.”

“You’re fired.”

“You’d have to be a boss to fire me. Right now you’re acting more like a little boy.”

“Screw you, Sam.”

“Screw you, too.”

Anna joined in. “We gave you two weeks. That’s all you’re getting.”

“How are you going to stop me from taking more time off if I want?”

Sam crossed her arms. “We’ve made a schedule.”

“For what?”

“To babysit you. Until you come back to work and rejoin the land of the living, one of us will be following you around.”

“I need Motrin.” I stood and walked into the kitchen. To my surprise, my shadows didn’t follow. Since the kitchen was empty and didn’t have two women in it, I drank a few glasses of water and quietly attempted to get my thoughts in order.

My peace didn’t last for long. They took seats at the table and stared at me.

Anna started the lecture. “We left things too long when Peyton died. You lost years that you can’t get back doing shit like this. We gave you two weeks to grieve your loss again, but that’s it. Time’s up.”

“I’m a grown man.”

“So act like one.”

“Don’t you have a child to take care of?”

“Apparently I have two.” Anna stood and walked over to me. My arms were folded across my chest, but she reached out and touched my shoulder. Her voice was quiet. “It’s a good thing. They caught the guy. I know you feel betrayed all over again, finding out it was a man she trusted and was trying to help, but it’s the closure you needed, Chase. It really is.”

If only that were the truth. If they’d caught the teens we’d all thought did it, maybe it would have been. Hell, even finding out it was Eddie—it would have been tough, but I think I could have eventually accepted it.

But discovering that what happened to Peyton was my fault? That I literally gave the killer the knife he used to kill my fiancée? I doubted I would ever get past that.

“I didn’t get closure, Anna. You don’t know what you’re talking about. If you did, you’d leave me alone.”

“So tell me, then. Tell me what it is that’s sending you off the deep end when I thought you were finally happy for the first time in years.”

I looked into my sister’s eyes. All I saw was raw determination. There was only one way to break it.

“You really want to know?”

“Of course I do. It’s why I’m here. I want to help.”

I turned around, opened the cabinet where I keep the liquor, and pulled out the first bottle my hand reached. Grabbing three glasses from another cabinet, I lifted my chin toward the kitchen table. “Sit.”

Eight hours later, I called a car service to take Anna and Sam home. Neither was functional enough for public transportation. We’d spent the day mourning Peyton all over again, and after they found out about the knife, I believed they finally understood why I needed more time.

“I love you, little bro.” My sister wrapped her arms around my waist and squeezed tight.

“Love you, too, you pain in the ass.” I kissed the top of her head.

Sam waited on the front steps while Anna clung to me. The last time we’d really hugged like this was before the wake. I made sure the two of them got into the town car and watched it pull away.

Even though I’d been drinking all day, I wasn’t really feeling drunk. For a change, I went into the kitchen and started to straighten up after myself. When my bell rang again five minutes later, I was surprised to find Anna and Sam back at my door.

“What did you forget?”

Their arms were hooked, and they didn’t attempt to come in.

“Nothing,” Sam said. “We just wanted to remind you that we love you and tell you we’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?”

“What you shared today was horrible. But it didn’t change anything. We’re not letting you disappear off the grid again and drink yourself into a coma.”

My jaw clenched. I knew they meant well, but I really just needed time. “Don’t do this to me.”

“We’re not,” Anna said. “We’re doing it for you. Because we love you.”

I stared at them until they said goodbye and started back down the steps.

Sam turned as she reached the bottom. “Oh, and Reese’s last day is Friday. She quit. So whatever you screwed up there, fix that shit, too.”

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