Something inside me snapped.
"Chase, I need you. Please, come."
Teagan's words screamed from the screen of my phone. My heart started pounding, I started to sweat and I felt like I might pass out as I was sucked into a vortex of emotions and memories I tried desperately to forget.
Teagan Tessler was the love of my life. My professional soccer career was a big part of the future we planned to have together, but an offer with Arsenal, one of England's premier soccer teams, sent me to London a year ahead of schedule. Just months after I left, Teagan betrayed me with my best friend without an explanation. I was completely and utterly destroyed.
Six years later, I can finally breathe again, and my professional and personal life is in a good place; now this. I have to be insane to even consider ripping open those old wounds, but whatever she needed, it had to be huge.
The truth of my feelings resonated: I should shut off the phone and forget her forever, but my traitorous heart told me to get on a plane, no questions asked.
One decision can ruin your life... Maybe another one can save it.
#OnTour with @HEAPRMore @Kahlen_Aymes | #HEAPR
Six years since I left her. Six fucking years.
It seemed like I had no choice at the time; like it was the start of a dream, not the beginning of a nightmare. It was the biggest mistake of my life.
The offer from the English Arsenal Football Club was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I couldn’t pass up, no matter how much it ripped me apart to leave Teagan behind. Our plan was for her to finish college then come over there, too. It never happened.
Somehow, it all got fucked up. Royally fucked up. I spent years trying to figure out why it happened without finding any logical answers and then, I was determined to forget about her. I threw myself into the game, booze, and numerous women, but nothing helped most of the time. If I were honest, the pain never really went away and I felt the loss every goddamned day. I knew I never should have left, and that only made it worse. It was Teagan, and not soccer, who was my once-in-a-lifetime everything, but I thought we were madly in love and I completely trusted that we’d make it through it… I completely trusted her. We knew it would be a difficult couple of years, but I had no reason to doubt that things wouldn’t go as planned. I thought we were invincible. Yet, not six months after I left, she married my best friend behind my back.
Some best friend. Anger cut through me like a red-hot knife and settled in to sear my gut and tighten my chest. There was no one I hated more.
My heart ached whenever I allowed myself to think about it. She called and tried to explain once, but I didn’t want to hear it. No words could justify it. I felt betrayed; too devastated to find the will to function, let alone listen. Looking at her would have sliced me open to bleed out right in front of her, and after a betrayal like that, I’d be damned if I’d let her see me suffer.
Jensen tried to talk to me, too, but I was afraid if I saw him, one of us would die. What did it fucking matter anyway? There was no reason that could make it better, more believable, or easier to accept. I’d closed down, focused on the team, and stopped corresponding with either of them. It was the only way to breathe.
My eyes burned and my throat tightened. After all this time, it was still killing me. So often, I ached to call her, my soul crying out for hers, my mind railing that it was all a bad dream and if I could only hear that sweet voice, my reality would be righted. Over time, I realized keeping as busy as possible was the only thing to keep the memories from eating me alive. I was lucky that most of the places I played, and in London, I had zero memories of Teagan to haunt me, but Arsenal and its world-class program wasn’t worth it. A huge career and being one of the top ten soccer players in the world meant nothing. Nothing was worth losing Teagan, but I’d made a life for myself despite her. In spite of her.
Somehow, I moved on. I breathed in and out. I waited, prayed for, and crawled toward the day when it wouldn’t hurt. I was still crawling on the inside, but I’d learned how to camouflage it so no one could see it anymore. I was sure part of me was dead inside.
My parents and siblings knew not to mention her after the first few attempts. The rage and drinking binges that resulted had finally kept them quiet. Kat looked at me with a sort of incredible sorrow, and even Kevin stopped badgering me.
“Just leave it alone, Kev! I can’t fucking stand thinking about what she’s doing with Jensen. Nothing will justify it! If Jensen was bleeding out in the street, the reason still wouldn’t be good enough for her to be with him. It makes me fucking sick!”
I’d flung my mother’s Ming vase at my brother and it barely missed his head; shattering in a million pieces against the wall behind him. He stood there stunned for a split second as my chest heaved and his image blurred behind a haze of fury and tears. Then, he rushed at me, tackling me to the ground. He beat the shit out of me, leaving me broken and crying her name, asking God why she wasn’t mine, begging for relief that never came, wishing I could die right there because I couldn’t see any other way to end the horrible pain. I didn’t know if I was hitting at Kevin or Teagan’s memory, but afterward, he dropped to his knees and held on to me as I fell apart. The whole family looked on in stunned shock, all of them powerless to help me. It was New Year’s Eve and I’d gotten drunk off my ass to try to forget. Everyone left me alone ever since. My mother never even mentioned that vase. She found it at a garage sale and it was probably fake, but she loved to pretend it was real, and I had destroyed it. One more thing I shouldn’t have done that piled on the guilt. I’d ruined my own fucking life by leaving and I had to live with it.
As time moved on the devastating pain eased little by little, and faded in to a dull, ever-present ache. I came home to the States less because being there surrounded me with Teagan’s essence, her memory, and people who knew her and might talk about her. Not knowing where she was, or anything about her, made it easier and possible to survive.
Now, I was in a plane on my way to Atlanta fucking Georgia, because of a few well-scripted words that came across my phone via text message.
Chase, Kat gave me your number. Don’t be mad. I need you. It’s an emergency. Please come ASAP.
I ran my hand through my hair. Kat. My mind screamed. My sister, Kathryn was tight lipped, telling me nothing beyond where I could find her. Apparently she’d kept in touch with Teagan all these years, and that enraged me. Goddamn traitor.
“Hmmph!” I huffed in disgust. So much for blood being thicker than water.
When I called Kathryn to confront her, all she’d say was that Teagan and Jensen had moved to Atlanta three years earlier when Jensen got a job with ESPN, and I’d have to wait for Teagan to explain the rest. He must not be very high on the ESPN food chain or I’d have known about his job there.
I didn’t understand why, but I was pissed at my sister. Why would Teagan leave her family…and mine, to live in a strange city with a man who was probably gone more than he was home? It made no sense. But then, none of her decisions made sense since I left. Not since she chose to marry someone else.
The burning ache I’d thought I’d buried flared anew twenty-four hours earlier when her name appeared at the end of her message. I’d felt like a sledgehammer just flew at high velocity into my gut, and left me gasping as the air left my lungs. I could hear that voice saying the words on the screen, as if she were standing right next to me. My heart exploded and blood rushed to my face like liquid fire.
I’d thought nothing would separate us; not distance…not anyone, or anything. Ever. I was so in love I must have been blind to what was really going on behind my back. And yet, years later, all she had to do was crook her little finger and I was dragging my sorry ass halfway across the world without knowing why.
“Welcome to Atlanta, Georgia. We thank you for flying with us today. We know you have many choices for…” The mad rushing of blood in my ears muffled the flight attendant’s words. My skin vibrated as anticipation throbbed through me, and I mentally shook myself. I needed to get my shit together. I couldn’t allow Teagan to see how much this still mattered. I had to be cool, calm… blasé’. She couldn’t know how she’d destroyed me. I’d worked hard to build an aloof persona off the field, and a superstar one on it. When I started to stand out, the sports world shortened my name from Chase to Ace, and I embraced it.
As I gathered my carry on, I braced myself for what I would see in a few short minutes. Would Jensen be with her? Could I take that? I wasn’t sure. I rubbed my hand over the back of my neck in agitation and then held it out in front of me. I was visibly shaking, so I curled my fingers into a fist in an attempt to steady myself. I was a bad motherfucker, solid as a rock, on top of my game and in the best shape of my life, so why the hell was I shaking like a pussy? As I started to walk out of the plane, I willed myself to calm down. I settled a cold mask into place over my face, praying to God it would remain unmoved when I saw her.
The seconds pounded in my head as my footsteps closed the distance to the main terminal, heavy and suffocating. I struggled to fill my lungs with air; sure I’d lose my breath forever the minute I laid eyes on her. Would she be different? I wanted her to be unrecognizable… resistible… no longer the woman I fell in love with… no longer my Teagan.
Please God… let me not give a shit. After everything I’d suffered, would that be so much to ask?
Somehow over the years, the bitterness and anger lessened and most of what I remembered was the intense love and longing. She haunted my dreams more times than I could count, and every time I woke up in a cold sweat missing her or wanting her, I wanted to scream.
I dug down deep for the anger I’d need to make it through the next couple of days. Two days was all I would subject myself to. Then I was gone and I’d put her in the past where she belonged. I had a game in Brasília on Saturday that I couldn’t miss and I was thankful for my contract.
What the hell am I doing here, anyway? I argued with myself. I should have used the game to skip it all together, but what if she was in trouble? My lips pressed together in anger. What the fuck did it matter to me? I shouldn’t care at all. I sighed heavily. Taking care of Teagan was Jensen’s fucking job now, not mine.
Against my will, I searched the countless faces, looking for those soft brown eyes that used to own my soul. I stopped in the middle of the terminal, as my phone buzzed in my pocket.
“Hey, lovie. I got your message,” Bronwyn said casually.
“I sent it twelve hours ago. Thanks for the prompt response.” Sarcasm dripped from my voice. She didn’t notice.
“So you’re in the U.S.? Ace, I mean… why?”
I was distracted as I kept searching for Teagan. “I thought you said you got my message. I told you that a friend needs me.”
“For what?” She sounded pissed, but then, “pissed” and “I don’t give a shit” were her two most prominent gears.
“I don’t know, Bronwyn. I’ll call you when I know more.”
“I’m going to bed, so don’t call until morning, hmm?” Her voice was bored and unconcerned; her whiny voice in her English accent was suddenly annoying as hell.
“The time difference is six hours, so hopefully I’ll be sleeping when you wake up. Remember, my body is on London time.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, then just call when you can. Good night, lovie.”
“Bye.” It annoyed the hell out of me when she called me that, and she knew it. I shoved the phone into my back pocket of my dark jeans, my mind immediately dismissing the woman on the phone.
Where was Teagan? I scratched my stomach through the fine linen of my dark blue button down. I’d left it un-tucked, only taking time to change my pants and shove three changes of clothes and my running shoes into a small bag before rushing straight to the airport. I left the club immediately after speaking to Kat.
I was tired and impatient as I put my hands on my hips and turned, stopping dead when I saw her moving slowly in my direction, weaving through the crowds. She looked thinner and more fragile; her skin seemed more translucent against the darkness of her flowing hair, still as long and luxurious as I remembered. My breath caught in my throat at the sight, my heart thudding sickeningly in my chest as time rewound in an instant. I wanted it to stop beating. I didn’t care if it killed me or if I had to rip it from my chest; I just wanted it to fucking stop.
Her brown eyes were huge as she looked up into my face, still owning me as much as she ever had, as she closed the last few yards between us. The sadness surrounding her was so heavy I could almost taste it.
“Hello, Chase.” Her voice rocked through me. The same voice that still haunted my dreams on occasion.
My hand moved to my chest, seeking to ease the tightness that prevented me from speaking. I swallowed hard as I took in her smallness in jeans and summer top that left her shoulders and arms completely bare, except for the thin straps. The yellows and oranges in the floral print made her hair appear darker and emphasized the faint flush on her cheeks.
My arms ached to reach for her and drag her against my body. The pull was tangible and I could see the same battle flash across her beautiful features. She was still so goddamned beautiful.
“Teagan…” Her name fell from my lips unwillingly as emotions I’d tried to ignore, surfaced.
We stood there, staring at each other until finally, my left hand reached for her right one. Our fingers entwined as easily as if we’d never been apart, and her eyes filled with glistening tears and then two fat drops rolled down her cheeks. The years fell away as, unable to help myself; I pulled her to me, and gathering her close then turned my face into her hair. She still wore the same perfume… still felt perfect pressed close to me. My breath left my lungs. Her arms flew around my neck as I lifted her easily into my embrace as a deep sob broke from her chest.
“Chase. Oh, God. Thank you. I honestly didn’t think you would come.”
My hand cupped the back of her head and protectiveness filled every cell in my body. No matter what happened, I couldn’t stand to see her in pain. “What is this about? Why now?”