Chapter Twenty Three
Liz was up pretty early the next day, but Tim's phone call still came before normal calling hours. She set the mixing spoon down on the stove and moved to the kitchen table to answer it. "Hey," she said. "I have today off, remember?"
"And you're awake at nine-thirty? Are you sure this is Liz?" he teased.
"Shut up," she retorted easily. "What's up?"
"I know it's your day off, but do you think you'd be able to stop in around eleven? There's someone I want you to meet."
"No way," Liz said disbelievingly, "You hired someone? When?"
"This morning," he said. "It's conditional on what you think of her, though. I don't want you working with someone you don't mesh with."
"Oh please. I work well with others."
"Right," he said quickly, covering a cough that sounded suspiciously like "Dianna."
"Shut up," Liz said again. "Yeah, I'll be there." They hung up shortly after and Liz turned back to the stove. She poured the noodles and sauce from the pot into a casserole dish and tossed it into the oven to bake before heading to her bedroom to get some stuff together and to get ready for the day. She hadn't expected that Tim would be able to hire someone, so she hadn't accounted for this during her planning, and she already had a full plate.
She was nearly late to meeting Tim and his replacement, having almost burnt the macaroni and cheese she'd made, so Liz was feeling understandably frazzled when she finally got to the Post Bulletin. She didn't spot Tim right away, but Millie took her by the arm and brought her into the conference room, where Tim was talking lowly with three women, two unfamiliar.
"Hey," Liz nodded at Tim, then addressed the one woman she did know. "I assume you're not taking Tim's job."
Kelly Tasher smiled, "No. I'm here to offer you one."
That had Liz at a loss for words. "What?" she replied, sitting down on a chair Tim had kindly pulled out for her.
"Told you she'd react like this," he teased.
"Shut up," Liz retorted. "Someone please start from the beginning."
Tim grinned and introduced her to the two women in the room she didn't know. Katie was a tall brunette in her mid thirties who would be taking over Tim's job. Sara, a petite blonde a couple years older than Liz, it turned out, would be filling her position, provided Liz wanted to leave.
"MLB has had their eye on you since the Roberts story," Kelly told Liz. "I know you guys don't think it's a big deal, but no one got that story out of him before, and quite a few tried. The timing of it all didn't hurt either. Anyway, they've been looking for a photographer who isn't completely averse to writing occasionally, since I'm the only official correspondent for the team. I promise you, I make Tim's hours look easy." Kelly paused. "Now, you'd have to be willing to travel because anywhere the team goes, we go. Just because the season's ending doesn't mean you'll be any less busy either. There are winter meetings, and spring training, and before you know it, it's April again and you swear you planned to take a vacation somewhere in there, but it just didn't work out. You will be busy. Contrary to popular belief, baseball players really don't get much time off, so neither do we."
"Um," was all Liz could think to say. MLB wanted her? Why? She'd barely been doing this a couple of months, and they were seeking her out? She couldn't make sense of it. "Can I have a day to think about it?"
"Sure," Kelly replied, "Take a couple days if you need it." She shook Liz's hand, touched Tim briefly on the forearm, and left the conference room with Millie.
"You're going to think about it?" Tim asked disbelievingly. "What's to think about?"
Liz shook her head, not wanting to answer truthfully. "I need to talk to my parents and everything. I can't just make the decision completely by myself."
"Ah," he said softly. "Chace. You think it's not just yours to make."
"Tim—" she started, stepping forward. She caught a glimpse of Sara and Katie sharing a glance before retreating from the room.
"I get it, Liz. Really. But don't let it be about him. This is a huge opportunity for you."
"I know," she said quietly and before she could stop herself, she hugged him. "I know you had something to do with this."
He shook his head and returned the hug. "She asked for your info. I honestly didn't have anything to do with it beyond that. Part of me doesn't want you leaving here, even if I am."
"I'm going to miss you so much it's going to make me crazy. I hope you know that."
"I do," he said. "I will too." He held onto her for a moment longer before letting her go. "Now get out of here. It's your day off. Go do something young and stupid for me." He smiled briefly and she could tell he knew where she was going. She gave him a quick smile back and listened to him, not able to stand in front of him and keep hurting him anymore.
She was almost to her car when she was distracted by Dianna's Audi convertible pulling into the lot. Before she knew what she was doing, she was walking towards the brunette. "You need to tell me what your problem is with me."
"I don't need to do anything, Lizzie," Dianna said viciously, slinging her designer tote back over her shoulder.
"Tim's leaving. I got offered a new job. Why not get it off your chest?" Liz insisted as Dianna tried to move past her.
"Why does it matter, if you're both leaving? Why do you care?"
"Because I don't know what I did, and I want to," Liz said. "If it was even something I did, because it really just seems like you're a vindictive bitch for no reason whatsoever."
Dianna scoffed and moved to pass her again, but Liz wouldn't let her. "Seriously? What are you, ten?"
"Just tell me." Liz had no idea why she was being so insistent about this, but she could tell Dianna was close to breaking.
"I was in love with him," she said tersely. "You want me to embarrass myself. Fine. When I first started here, he treated me exactly like he treated you, except he meant it with you, and he didn't with me. He was much more of an asshole back then. I think he enjoyed knowing the power he had over me. I don't get what you have that I don't. Why you broke through when I couldn't. So I don't like you, Liz. Just deal with it." Before Liz could get another word out, Dianna stalked past her into the office. Liz stared after her for a while before shaking out of the daze. She was starting to think her indecision about Tim and Chace in the beginning had hurt a lot more people than she expected.
She tried to clear her mind, running late and knowing she had a drive ahead of her. By the time she'd entered Saint Paul's city limits, she could only remember bits and pieces of the drive, her thoughts fully distracting her. She maneuvered her way through the city almost blindly, arriving to Kendy's apartment only a few minutes late. Kendy buzzed her in and Liz finally pushed all of her thoughts out of her head. "Hey," Kendy said as she pushed the door open. Liz followed her inside and set the casserole dish down on her table. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Liz nodded, smiling at her. Alexei was sprawled out on her couch, watching football. "Hey," she said to him.
"Hey to you too," he looked up at her. "Nervous?"
Scared. Excited. Worried. "A little," was all she said. "You guys are still fine with bringing the mac and cheese over?"
"Of course," Kendy assured her. "We're looking forward to it."
Liz sighed softly, turning to Alexei. She knew she was running late, but she at least needed to ask. "Can I talk to you about something?" He looked surprised, but nodded. Liz explained the MLB job opening as quickly as she could to him, wanting his input. She and Chace may have admitted they liked each other, but suddenly following him around for her work seemed a bit stalker-like, even if she would love the job. And the time with him. She wasn't going to pretend like that wasn't a huge incentive.
Alexei was grinning like madman by the end of her quick spiel. "You can't seriously be worried about this? You know he's going to be so happy, don't you?" Liz didn't respond and Alexei sighed. "How are you two still this stupid? The distance was the biggest issue, wasn't it? I know he was worried about it. He's been sending me mopey texts all week. This eliminates the problem. How are you concerned?"
"I don't want him to think that I'm taking a job for him."
"But you are. I mean, at least partially," he responded. "I know you'd probably take it either way, but we both know that this likely means things will work out. How is that a bad thing?"
"I don't know. It's not really creepy? I mean, I think it'd be a little creepy if some guy I'd kind of been seeing for a little while suddenly got a job that made it so we'd see each other all the time."
Alexei grinned. "Maybe if it was anyone else. If it was him and anyone else, or you and anyone else, then yes, I think it could be. But it's not."
"He's right," Kendy spoke up. "It's strangely romantic."
Liz rolled her eyes, but she felt considerably lighter after having the conversation. She squeezed Alexei's hands and gave Kendy a short hug. "Thank you. See you guys in a couple hours." She left quickly and hightailed it back out of town, this time heading towards the airport. She was sure she wouldn't be late, but she didn't want to risk it. She didn't think it was the greatest second impression.
She got a text right as she pulled into passenger parking. She read it quickly and moved to the corresponding airline's pick up area. Both women were waiting with only a small bag a piece and huge smiles.
Mallory reached Liz first, enveloping her in a hug. "Thank you for arranging this."
"You're welcome," she helped Mallory and Georgia get their bags into the trunk of Liz's car. She gave Georgia a quick hug and the green eyes that reminded her so much of Chace gave her a sudden pang of anxiety.
"You are not worrying about this," Georgia assured her. "You have singlehandedly planned a day that will make my son absolutely elated. He is going to love you for this."
"Really, Liz," Mallory agreed. They made small talk on the way back to downtown Minneapolis, though Liz was sure they'd kept up the chatter just to keep her mind busy. Now that everything was falling into place, she couldn't help but wonder if she was going overboard. It had been one thing to plan a trip to see him, but to arrange for his family and best friend to be there too, and for him to not have to worry about cooking on top of it all, suddenly seemed like a lot to do for someone she hadn't even established a clear relationship with.
Regardless, she made a couple quick stops for last minute items, like Chace's favorite beer, before she parked in the hotel's parking ramp and used her key to access Chace's suite. She was happy to see it had been tidied up, like he expected to see her. Mallory and Georgia joined her soon after checking in to their own rooms.
"So how'd you wise up?" Georgia asked her abruptly. Liz smiled to herself, not forgetting that the woman had few boundaries when it came to personal information.
"You knew then, didn't you? How he felt," Liz said.
"From the second he picked up the phone when you called," she admitted. "What happened to the other guy?"
Liz exhaled softly. She expected the question, but it still felt a little like a kick to the stomach. "The easy answer is that he's moving to St. Louis. The hard one is that he wasn't ready for something serious, and I didn't trust him anymore."
"Doesn't change how you feel though, does it?"
"Not yet," Liz replied quietly. She didn't have any time to ponder it though. She could hear Chace on the other side of the door, swearing loudly as he struggled with his key. Feeling suddenly and unbearably nervous, she didn't think to stop Georgia as she pulled the door open.
"You kiss your mother with that mouth?" she asked her son, who had the same look on his face that he had when Liz had surprised him the week before.
"Mom?" He said, sounding dazed. He peeked around her into his suite, but made no effort to move inside. "Mal? How did you guys get here?"
"That would've been me," Liz heard herself say. She shook her head, trying to rid herself of the anxiety his complete confusion was causing her. "Hi."
"Liz?" he said in the same shell-shocked tone.
"Chace," Liz said, surprised to hear a slight teasing tone in her voice. "This is your place. Feel free to come inside." Just like before, her teasing tone broke through and he crossed the room in a few strides. Ignoring that his mother and sister were in the room, he took her face in his hands and kissed her like he hadn't seen her in years. They didn't separate until they heard catcalls.
Chace finally pulled back, holding eye contact with Liz for a second before turning to his friend. "Alexei?" he said incredulously.
"Yes, yes, and Kendy," he gestured at her. Kendy gave him a small wave before setting the casserole dish down on the kitchen counter.
"You brought food?" Chace asked. He let Liz go to give everyone a quick hug before pausing in front of the food.
"Liz made it," Kendy said and Chace spun around to face Liz. "It's the one thing she can really, really cook."
"Thanks, Kendy," Liz rolled her eyes good-naturedly. Chace was still staring at her like he couldn't figure her out, so Liz made the introductions. "I hope you're all hungry now because there's really no way to warm this up if we don't eat right away." She glanced at Chace, "Do you have enough plates somewhere in this atrocity of a kitchen?"
He nodded and moved into the kitchenette to get dishes. His silence was starting to make Liz nervous again. Was it too much, doing all this for him? She didn't want to think it was. She joined him in the kitchenette to grab drinks after she'd gotten everyone's choice.
"Why did you do all of this?" he asked, staring at her from the corner of the kitchenette. They really had no privacy, blocked only by half a wall.
She shrugged, opening the refrigerator door. She pulled out the beer and wine before answering. "I wanted to. For you. I thought it'd be nice."
"Nice?" he asked, his voice cracking. He took a moment to calm down, watching as Liz slowly poured the beer and wine into glasses. "Liz," he said quietly, touching her shoulder. She looked up at him and his hand slid into her hair. "This is a lot more than nice. It's perfect. It's everything."
She held his gaze and he leaned in, kissing her in the same slow, teasing way he had the week before. Eventually she had to bat him away, breathless and aware that if he kept it up, she wouldn't care that she'd invited everyone over. "There's something else…" she said quickly, her nerves peaking again. "MLB offered me a job."
"Doing what?" he asked, sounding concerned.
"Photography," she responded teasingly, surprised by how easily she fell back into it.
"Yes, I figured that. Doing what, Liz? If they think you're moving to St. Louis to work with the Cardinals, I will fight them."
"No. They were thinking something a little more local."
"Us?" he asked and Liz flushed at his hopeful tone.
"Something like that, yeah." She grinned at his frustrated look and gave in. "Yeah, Kelly Tasher offered it to me. Sounds like anywhere she goes, I go. And since she goes everywhere you go…"
Chace crushed her against his chest, planting several kisses to the top of her head. "I suppose I should be cooler about this, shouldn't I?"
"No," she assured him. "No you shouldn't. But they can't trade you. Ever."
"I'll get my agent on it," he agreed and he kissed her again. Liz gave into it this time, not breaking away until he needed to catch a breath. When he looked at her again, she could see how happy he was and Liz realized what a complete idiot she had been to be nervous about it.
She squeezed his hand before grabbing the glasses from the table. "Come on. Let's eat."
Author's Note: Done! Hope you guys like it! So I have two questions that I would love you all to answer, if you could. Most importantly, do you buy Liz's uncertainty between Tim and Chace, or does it seem like I, the author, was unsure? It's okay if it's both, I'm just wondering how believable it was. Second, if there was something you would eliminate as unimportant to the storyline, what would it be? To answer some of your questions, no, there will not be a sequel. I don't like sequels... if I write something that will have more than one part, I will plan it that way. Otherwise, I think sequels ruin the first because, generally speaking, they have to involve some issue with the ending of the first one. In my world, Chace and Liz live happily ever after. That's all I need to know. Thanks everyone. I hope you enjoyed it! Please see my profile page for upcoming projects, if you're interested.
I posted character photos on my Livejournal account, and this is actually the first time I've ever done that. Feel free to check them out, and let me know if you like them. They're at starrymidnights.livejournal.com/198696.html#cutid1 (you know the deal, replace the.s with actual dots; I really figured after so many years that FP would actually allow you to link. Guess not.)
Also, I am aware of some of the plagiarism that has occurred on this site in the last year or so. I will come after you if you try to take credit for this or anything else I've written, and I won't be nice about it. Just a warning.