| It was January
and cold as a bitch along the Grand Strand when my boyfriend dropped a
bomb on me. Chad and I were lying in front of a fire at the time, watching
the flickers of a gas fireplace. I was baby-sitting my godchild, a child
who was soon to go missing and cause me to lose my religion. I lay in Chad’s
arms—skin on skin—and felt cozy, not just from the fire, but because of
I think I've been in love with Chad Rivers ever since the day he stopped by my lifeguard stand. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is the town Hurricane Hugo missed, leveling Charleston instead. That sucker tried to blow some of those snobs out to sea. Too bad it wasn't more successful.
Anyway, back to Chad. I always come back to Chad, even when I'm kidnapped and sold into white slavery. I'll always come back because the guy is absolutely dreamy. And if the dreamy part appears a bit much, remember I’m in my twenties and still allowed a few illusions, especially about the man I love.
We were baby-sitting for Donna Destefani. Donna and I went to school together, what little school I attended. I first mentioned my godchild to Chad a few weeks after we'd met. That had been in front of another fire. We were roasting oysters and Chad hadn't believed a word I’d said.
"The tough-as-nails Susan Chase has a godchild? How is that possible?"
"Donna asked and I qualified."
"As a Catholic. Donna and I go way back. We went to Socastee High together."
"I didn't think you went to high school."
"I did." I sat up and found one of his knees to lean against. "I was a freshman for a while."
Chad’s easy to lean into. He’s a tall fellow, and you have to be tall to tower over my five-feet-ten. Chad has broad shoulders, narrow hips, and a tight little butt. Narrow face with a mop of brown hair always in a mess: ragged cut, ends over the ears, and down his neck. "For a while, you did?"
"Until my father fell overboard and drowned and they sent me off to that fucking foster home."
“Susan, you said you'd work on your swearing." With a smile, he added, "You know how much my mother hates foul language."
"Your mother grew up on Easy Street, not on the mean streets."
"She only wants the best for her baby."
"And you've got it," I said, turning myself into him.
As Chad reached for my breasts, and my nipples reached for him, I heard the baby stir. I leaped to my feet and bolted from the room. Running down the hall, I grabbed the door molding and swung myself into the room, then tiptoed over to her crib.
Megan was asleep. My godchild was dark-complected and had black hair. She reminded me of her dead father, a man who also had dark eyes and who come to a rather violent end. Her room was pink. I'd had a hand in that: bedcovers, curtains, and the furniture were pink-trimmed.
When I returned to Chad, he asked, "What’s the problem? You were out of here like a shot."
"She's okay. She’s sleeping."
"Susan, you're hyper about this kid."
I rejoined him on the floor. "I'm her godmother."
"And you always imagine the worst.”
Swinging my leg around to straddle him, I said,
"Believe me, buddy boy, it doesn't take much imagination where I come from."
Chad leaned back, hands behind his back, his, er, manhood staring me right in the eye. "I don't stand a chance, do I? Any little criticism is laughed off, then it’s on to the next subject."
"No sense in dwelling on the past."
"Well, I must admit you certainly have a strong self-image for a girl who raised herself."
"Girl?" I said, throwing out my chest.
"Okay. Woman. Full-grown woman, in this case."
"And just as tasty," I said with a wicked smile.
"You were how old when your father died—sixteen?"
"Fifteen." I gazed into the fire and wrapped my arms around my knees.
My father had been a drunk, and on occasion had hit my mother, until she finally walked out on us. Maybe dear old Mom thought she'd give me a taste of being the target of such abuse. I never understood what I did to set Daddy off. I shivered and it wasn't from the weather outside the apartment complex where Donna Destefani and her daughter lived.
Chad pulled me into him. "Bad vibes?" he asked.
"Daddy. Visiting again.”
"I shouldn’t have mentioned it. You know, Suze, you're not as tough as you think you are."
"You know," I said, slipping into his arms, "I sure as hell don't want to be."
"What I meant to say was: ‘I sure don't want to be.’ Or ‘I sure as heck don't want to be’ or ‘I shore don't wanna be.’” I turned my cheek up for a kiss.
After giving me my reward, he said, "I'd say you're making progress. Slowly but surely."
We sat in silence, staring into the flames and listening for the baby. I was trying to listen. Chad was nibbling on my ear and I was ready to surrender.
"What's this business about checking on Megan all the time—trying to show me your feminine side?"
"No. I save that just for you."
"Still, it's hard to get your mind around something like Susan Chase's feminine side. Last I heard she broke up a white slavery ring. Before that she drowned the leading suspect in a murder case."
I blinked away the drowsiness my boyfriend had induced in me. "You have me confused with someone else, sir. I only look for runaways."
I’m a lifeguard at Myrtle Beach. My side business began when a father approached me about finding his son. I’d been recommended by the local gendarmes. And the father had pictures and money. Five hundred dollars. He wanted me to go searching places where a parent couldn’t get in, or at best, would be blown off.
People would pay for this? And I could look after pulling my shift at the beach? Nice work if you can find it. So, the next day I laid out of my regular job and worked the police stations, telling cops to send me all those worried parents. I reached the point where if a parents wouldn't pay in advance, I wouldn't go looking. Still, even when I took their money, many jobs didn't pan out. Some kids didn't deserve to be found, and many times I'd had to return the money and find a shelter or contact a grandparent. I’d done less and less searching for runaways when Chad Rivers walked into my life.
Chad's father builds boats in Conway, where the land's cheaper and Mr. Rivers can keep more of the profit for his family. Indirectly for me, if I married the boy. But there was a distance between Chad and me, one that Chad thought he understood.
"So how'd you become a godparent?" asked that boyfriend, drawing me back to the here and now.
I sat up. "You don't know how it's done?"
"Humor me. I'm a Baptist."
“Well, most denominations don’t have godparents. The Episcopal Church treats the ceremony as a social function but not Catholics. You practically have to be born into the church to be a godparent, and I had to go through a ton of garbage to qualify. When the priest learned my grandparents, on my mother's side, had been Catholic, I was in. Except I had to go to confirmation classes to renew my faith. That was a real trip, for the priest, myself, and the other members of the class.” I grinned. "Lucky for Megan she wasn't born a boy and Jewish. Ten people have to watch the baby's circumcision."
“Ouch,” complained Chad, losing some of his strength. He smiled. "I'm not sure my mother would allow me to marry a Catholic."
That was Chad's problem. Mrs. Rivers was from Charleston and thought she was better than most. Yes, yes, I know. A lot of folks in Charleston need to get a life. Chad's mother married down, meaning she married a guy who had ideas and could make money. Money doesn't count for anything in Charleston unless it’s old money, so Mrs. Rivers has been working her butt off to elevate the family’s position. And her precious baby had gone and fallen for a lifeguard. It wasn't something you could brag about at the Junior League.
I’d visited their awesome house but had little interest in the place—after we'd done the dirty deed in his parents' bed. After that, I only cared to drop by and smirk. And I halfway figured Chad's mom knew what the smirk was all about. Who knows? The security's fairly tight around that place. They have cameras.
"Are you legally bound—as a godparent?”
"Chad, you've been spending too much time around your father's attorneys."
"A boat builder can't have too many lawyers."
"Now you sound like your father."
"I thought you liked him."
"I do, but he wants me to go back to school."
"You can understand—my father received his degree before he started building boats. I did, too."
"Another test I have to pass."
"Suze, you don't have to pass any tests for me. You don't have to do anything." He wrapped his arms around me. "I like you just the way you are."
"It would sound so much better if you had said ‘I love you just the way you are.’”
"You know I do."
"Yes, but it would be nice to hear it from time to time that you love me."
"Susan, I do love you.”
"No, no," I said, disengaging myself from him. “You have to say it without prompting."
"I don't have to be prompted to tell you I love you."
"Jeez, I liked this conversation better when I was explaining godparenting."
“I’ve never heard about it, unless it was in fairy tales."
"It's much more high church."
“Yeah—incense, ceremony, and lots of robes that could pull double duty as church drapery."
"How do you qualify?"
"Stand up in a ceremony and tell them I'd be a good girl."
He laughed. "Susan, don’t tell me you lied in church."
“No, dummy,” I said, slapping his arm. “About taking my responsibilities seriously about being a godparent."
He rubbed his arm. "You hit pretty good."
"For a girl, you mean."
"I didn't mean—”
"I swim in the Waterway every day."
"This time of year?"
"Start back the first of April."
"Then," he said, tightening his grip on me, "since
it's not even February and you're still in a weakened state, I can take advantage of you."
With a sigh, I said, “I was wondering when we’d get around to that.”
We were in the middle of something really nice when I heard the baby again. I rolled from under Chad, leaped to my feet, and ran naked down the hallway. Grabbing the molding, I swung myself into the room. Again, tiptoeing over to the crib, I saw my sweet baby sleeping peacefully.
Chad stood at the door—naked. “What is it this time?"
I pulled the blanket up to her cute little chin. Didn't want my little precious to catch a cold. Megan gurgled, smiled, and continued to sleep away.
“You know, Susan, I don’t think I’ll try making love to you while you’re baby-sitting."
We left the room, both buck naked and arm in arm. "It's probably for the best."
"For the worst from my point of view," he said, glancing down.
I gripped him lower than his waist. "Give me another chance, pretty please. I'll concentrate this time."
He gasped. “But don't you think we should do it outside Megan's door so you can hear her cry—if she actually does?"
I squeezed again and he yelped. It was a moment before he could fully concentrate on me again.
Later, when we were lying in each other’s arms, Chad dropped his bombshell. Usually all this screwing around happens at my place.
Daddy's Girl is moored along the Intracoastal Waterway, a series of canals, sheltered bays, and channels extending three thousand miles up and down the Atlantic coast. The Intracoastal was built to protect small craft from the perils of the ocean, and living there is a damn sight cheaper than a place on the beach.
Chad said, “I guess I'd best be getting along.”
"Oh yes, now that you've finished with me, sir, you toss me aside like some used doll."
Chad pulled on his underwear. "You know, I think there's something to all those challenges you throw at me."
"I didn't know I was that much of a challenge." I stood, naked as a jaybird and looked for my underwear.
"It’s in just about everything you say. A guy can only take so much." He pulled on his pants.
I reached for my panties. "What are you trying to tell me? Something you feel more comfortable saying with pants on?”
"I think we should go for counseling."
"Counseling?" I'd been hopping around, trying to put a leg down my jeans. I stopped, one leg in, one leg out. "Counseling’s for married couples."
"Sometimes people who’re considering the next step . . . ."
“I didn’t know we were considering the next step. Why, you don't even know my favorite color."
"Because you joke about everything, like you’re doing now.”
"Where did you get the idea we needed counseling?"
He found his shirt. "Mother. She said if you and I are serious we should enter counseling to see if there’s anything to be serious about."
"I'm uncomfortable about this coming from your mom."
"It didn't come from my mother—”
"But you said—”
"Susan, give me a chance to explain."
I snatched up my bra and turned my back on him, pulling the garment around me and hitching it on. My blouse was somewhere around here.
"We've only known each other six months and already we're having these problems."
"I don't have any problem—”
"Susan, are you going to let me finish?"
“Yes,” I said through clenched teeth, my back still to him, making it impossible to locate my blouse. My eyes ached. At any minute I might burst into tears. What was up with that?
"I'm not sure how it's been for other guys—”
“Pretty fucking good. From what they've said."
Chad sighed. "There you go again."
"What?” I asked, facing him, “interrupting or cursing?"
"You know, if you didn't have a sense of humor, I don't see how anyone could stand you."
"Maybe you're not tough enough—”
Chad’s hand came up. "Don't go there. I may be tougher than you think."
I watched that hand. "You wouldn’t—”
“Don’t be silly, Suze.” He lowered his hand. “I’d never hit you.”
“I would hope not.”
I shut up.
"I'm tough enough to walk away and never see you again—is that tough enough?"
"You'd do that?"
"I just want a chance"—he smiled—“to finish a sentence."
“So what are you trying to tell me?"
“I don’t want to lose you, Suze, but all this pent-up hostility. . . ." He put a finger on my lips so I would remember to keep my frigging mouth shut. I did. "Toward people, toward the whole world. It's a major jones for you."
When he took his finger away, I said, "I had a rough childhood and grew up not trusting anyone."
"You don't trust me?"
I looked around for my blouse. "I'm learning to trust you." There I was again, being so blunt nobody could stand me but my closest friends, and it goes without saying that I don't have many close friends. "I don't need to see a shrink. I have one: Dads."
Dads is what I call my sixty-some-odd-year-old neighbor whose schooner is moored beside Daddy’s Girl. “Dads” isn't his real name. It’s Harry Poinsett. Harry’s a descendant of the fellow who christened the scarlet-leafed plant you decorate your house with at Christmas, but I prefer “Dads.” Dads says it implies intimacy without being close. Harry says stuff like that. He's a retired diplomat who took early retirement to sail up and down the Waterway, rarely venturing out to sea. Like Dads says, when you've seen it all, seeing it twice just wouldn't be the same. Dads knows the school system gave short shrift to my generation, so he’s tried to educate me. Generation X was expected to learn the new math in open classrooms, fill in the blanks when it came to sex and drugs, and never think how lucky we'd been to have survived the Pill.
"Susan, you really don't trust me?"
"We're supposed to tell each other the truth. We agreed—remember?"
"You're so straight about everything . . . ."
"I'm not going to see a shrink. Take me as I am."
“I have." He sat down and slipped on a sock, then reached a shoe. "I just wish there was a third party involved, someone neutral."
Chad pulled on a shoe, one of those half boots that looks like a climbing shoe but would break your ankle if you tried to climb in it. "Talking to Harry would be like our talking to my mother."
“Dads has had plenty of experience negotiating with hostile parties. He’s a former diplomat."
"But we're not hostile, and I really wouldn't want Harry to think you and I were having problems. You wouldn't want to give my mother any leverage, would you?"
"Dads would never do that."
“I don't know him like you do." After lacing up a boot, he said, "Susan, it bothers me when you say you don't trust me."
"You want me to lie?"
He picked up another sock. "Of course not."
“I think you’re worried about nothing. We’ve
gotten the sex out of the way and found there's no problem there. I'd say we're right where we should be: talking about the in-laws and whether I’ll ever get a regular job and be able to handle my end of the bargain.” Looking at him from under my eyebrows, I asked, “Would there be something else?"
He pulled on his second boot and began lacing it up.
"Everything pales next to your hostility."
“I’m not sure I can live with your mother’s
"I don't think that's fair."
"Most girls would make you choose between your mother and your girlfriend. I haven't done that. You want to do stuff with your family. I go along. I don't make waves."
"At least you could look like you were enjoying yourself."
“I don’t fit in. Your mother knows it, and I hope to God you never figure it out."
Chad smiled that little boy smile of his that turns my legs to jelly. I really cared for this guy and I didn't want to lose him. I'd never met a guy like Chad Rivers.
He stood, taking me into his arms. "God, but you are some piece of work."
"God’s the one who should know. He allowed me to become Megan's godmother."
Chad laughed and said to give counseling some thought. At the door he kissed me, and thinking I heard Megan again, I left him there. When I returned, the door was closed and my boyfriend was gone.
Copyright Steve Brown 2000