ROSES ARE WRONG, VIOLETS TABOO
Alexander Chase Tabeau sat at the bar of the Voodoo Lounge and sipped a fresh pour of Maker’s Mark bourbon. His best friend and adopted brother Michael slumped next to him, flipping the cardboard coaster that came with his Budweiser over and over in his hand. The repetition in Michael’s movement was no doubt mindless, but it was making Chase twitch nonetheless. It had been a long day. One they both wanted to make a distant memory as soon as possible.
Leaving the graveside of the only parent either of them had ever known, they’d headed to their grandfather’s favorite beachside bar to have a cold one for him. It’s what they thought he would’ve wanted. But after the first beer, Chase switched to bourbon, trying to ease the pain a little faster.
“Dude,” the bartender sighed. “I was sorry to hear about your Pops.”
“Yeah,” Chase replied without looking up.
“He was salt, man. Salt of the earth.”
“Yeah,” Chase repeated.
“What he means is thank you,” Michael added.
“Thank you,” Chase mumbled.
Michael waited for the bartender to leave and turned to his brother. “Really?”
“Don’t start, Michael.”
“He was the only father I ever knew too,” said Michael. “He pulled me out of hell, for God’s sake. What kind of man takes a dirty fifteen-year-old off the streets and into his home?”
“Pops,” Chase answered. “That’s who.”
“We’ve got to pull it together, Alex. We have to.”
Michael was the only one who ever called Chase by his given name—Alex. It was Pops’ name, and to keep from confusion around the florist and greenhouse where they all lived and worked it was just easier not to have two Alex’s. Now that their grandfather was dead it cut to the very core of Chase when Michael called him Alex. He had a lot to live up to.
Chase pulled the prayer card from his pocket and read it aloud. “Alexander John Tabeau. 1925-2015. Beloved husband, father and grandfather.”
Chase shook his head at the idea that Pops was really gone. The last six months had been brutal for everyone and there were times when Chase thought it was harder to watch his grandfather die than it was for Pops to wind down in the end. Those thoughts made him feel selfish and guilty, but he had them all the same. In the end all he really wanted was to make his grandfather proud. Michael had, but he was unsure of how Pops felt about him in the end.
“He was really proud of you, Michael,” Chase said with admiration.
“He was proud of you too. You bought your new house. He knew you were gonna get it all together.”
Chase shook his head. “Jesus. He always thought way too much of me.”
“Bullshit,” Michael argued. “Just because I got married and settled down doesn’t mean that I have it all figured out. Mary just helps me to think straight. She helped me get my shit together. She helps me hold it together.”
Chase lifted his glass and sucked the last few drops of alcohol from the melting cubes of ice. With his head in his hand he tapped his fingers twice on the rim, letting the bartender know he was ready for another.
He was happy Michael had found his future in Mary, but Chase thought it was – at least for him – important not to get attached. If you cared about someone they would inevitably leave. Love was for people who couldn’t survive alone and he was a survivor. At least that’s what he told himself. Secretly he wanted love and all the messy, complicated, priceless possibilities it could bring into his life.
“Where is Mary?” Chase asked as he watched Michael flip the coaster again.
“She wanted to lie down. Funerals aren’t her thing.”
“I don’t know whose thing they could be,” Chase smirked. “Damn hard thing putting someone you love in the ground.”
Michael put his hand on his brother’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I’m gonna take off.”
Chase nodded, unable to break his distant stare on the fresh glass of bourbon in front of him.
“You sure you’re okay here?”
Chase nodded again.
Michael sighed and held his hand in the air to get his check.
“Go home. I’ve got this.”
Chase looked into the eyes of his brother and best friend and gave him a nod. In that moment they knew. All they had now was each other.
“See you tomorrow?”
“Yes. You will see me tomorrow.”
They didn’t hug, or even shake hands. That wasn’t the way they showed their love, but it was love just the same. Pops had taught them to respect each other and abide by the golden rule. Treat your brother the way you want to be treated. It was how Pops had lived his life and how Michael and Chase would now live theirs. In fact, before he passed away, he’d called them both to his side for a few last pearls of wisdom. “First,” he said. “Take care of each other. Second, I know Michael is already married, but it takes a lot to keep a marriage going. Treat your wife like a queen and she’ll always make you the king. Don’t ever make a woman fall for you if you have no intention of catching her. And finally, you’ll know her when you see her. Don’t be an ass and let her go.”
Michael and Chase thought he’d have things to tell them about the business he’d grown over the years, but instead he wanted them to know before he died that people and not things were what mattered.
Chase watched Michael as he left the bar, shaking hands and accepting condolences from some of Pops’ old friends. When Michael finally made his exit, he held the door for the next patron. Chase looked away for only a moment before refocusing his eyes on who was walking through the door of the Voodoo Bar.
At first it was her purple dress that caught his eye. Then it was the fiery red hair she tossed with a flip of her hand as the wind blew in and projected her fresh smell into the old joint. When she turned around and began her catwalk into the bar, Alexander Chase Tabeau visibly caught his breath.
He didn’t realize he was staring until she caught his eye and raised one sexy brow in his direction. Embarrassed, he immediately turned back to his bourbon and drank it down in two swallows. He thought whomever belonged to the woman was one lucky son of a bitch.
“Grey Goose martini up with a twist, please?”
Her voice was sweet and childlike and Chase took notice. He dropped his chin and placed his empty glass on the bar and turned without thinking in her direction.
She gave him a smile, and Chase reciprocated with a single nod. The tension he’d felt in his body all day seemed to dissipate if only for a split second and somehow his face relaxed into a casual smile.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello,” Chase replied as he tapped the rim of his empty bourbon glass again.
“Grey Goose martini up with a twist,” recounted the bartender as he tossed a cardboard coaster onto the bar top and carefully placed the full glass down without spilling.
The barkeep pointed to Chase. “Another?”
“Rough day?” she asked as the bartender walked away.
“Something like that,” Chase replied as he eyed her drink and then raised his eyebrow to her.
“Yeah,” she replied. “Me too.”
“I’m Chase. Chase Tabeau,” he said as he held out his hand.
“Rose Westwood,” she replied, giving him a firm shake.
Chase turned back to the fresh bourbon and took a sip. His body was beginning to relax. Whether it was from the alcohol or the company he was unsure.
“How many is that?” she asked with a smile as she sipped the top of the martini glass, trying not to spill.
“I beg your pardon?” Chase asked, turning to look at her again.
“How many bourbons?” Rose asked with an embarrassed shrug. “I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”
Chase couldn’t tell if she thought he was drunk or if she was trying to save his soul. He answered her with no pretense. “Three.”
“Okay then,” she said as she nodded to herself and lifted the martini glass to her lips.
Chase watched her every move and for a moment imagined her full red lips on his body. She placed her mouth on the frosted martini glass and took a sip. The clear vodka and vermouth washed against her lips as if in slow motion. Chase thought it was the sexiest thing he’d ever seen. Either that or the third bourbon had kicked in with a vengeance.
“Okay then, what?” Chase asked, lowering his voice and moving in closer to the sexy redhead.
Rose Westwood turned and looked Chase dead in the eye and cocked her head. “I was just curious how many drinks it takes to have the courage to sit in a bar alone.”
“Alone?” he asked
“Yes,” she murmured as she lifted her glass to her lips again. “You are alone, aren’t you?”
Chase Tabeau softened his demeanor and for a bit forgot the long haul of the last six months of caring for Pops. The hospice workers, the pain meds and bedpans all left his mind and he focused on one thing – the beautiful Rose Westwood.
“Well?” she asked.
“I’m not alone if you’re here.”
Rose paused and gave Chase a tiny nod. “Good answer.”