I stood there, staring down at the open dresser drawer and debating what I wanted to pack. Portland’s weather was similar to Seattle’s—cold and wet. It was the middle of December, and there was a chance for snow, but I doubted it. It rarely snowed.
I stuck with what I was used to wearing and packed several T-shirts, a few long-sleeved light cotton shirts, and a variety of jeans, sweats, and athletic shorts. Even though I was going on vacation, I still had to keep up with my training. Baseball season was right around the corner. This was my last year to play, and I wanted to prove to UW that they’d made the right decision in giving me a full ride scholarship. I had to kick some serious ass and get my team to the finals.
With my suitcase packed, I headed downstairs, immediately deciding I’d packed too much.
“You sure this is okay?” I asked my best friend, Blake Hall, for what had to be at least the tenth time.
“Dude, it’s fine. She isn’t going to care. It isn’t like there isn’t space in the house. Trust me. There are more bedrooms than either one of us can count. She probably won’t even know you’re there,” he said, slightly exasperated.
“I don’t want to impose.”
“Chase, it isn’t imposing.”
“Stepmom,” he clarified.
I nodded. “Your stepmom may have plans that don’t include you bringing home a stray for Christmas break.”
He laughed. “If she’s even there.”
“Besides, my dad put in a lot of money making that house what it is. I think I have a right to enjoy it, and Leah is pretty cool. She won’t care, man, trust me.”
“Okay, cool. Thanks again for letting me tag along. Anything to get out of this shithole,” I said, walking by a pile of red Solo cups that had been stacked at one point but were now spread across the floor.
The messy condition of the house day in and day out was getting old. I always had to wear shoes because I never knew what I may be stepping in. I had made the mistake of finding vomit once. Never again. It was to be expected when eight young men lived together. It was the typical college house. We had rented a four-bedroom house close to campus with two of us to a room. It was cramped and usually smelled like sweat, stale beer, and sex.
“I’ll be ready to go in a minute,” Blake said, shoving a Pop-Tart into his mouth before running up the stairs two at a time.
“I’m gonna toss my suitcase in the car.”
“Okay,” he hollered from upstairs.
I walked out, inhaling the cool damp air and used the key fob to open the trunk of his BMW. Blake came from a wealthy family. Despite his wealth, he was a laid-back guy. He was very generous and never flaunted what he had. He lived like the rest of us poor, starving college students in a cramped house that offered no privacy.
We had met our first year at school when we both showed up to spring training for the baseball team. I was given a scholarship to play baseball. Blake and I both made the team and had been best friends ever since.
“Ready?” he said from behind me.
“Yep, let’s get out of here. Traffic is going to be a nightmare,” I groaned.
He shrugged. “It isn’t like we have to be there at a specific time. It’s cool. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.”
Traffic turned our three-hour drive into almost five hours. By the time we made it to Portland, we were both ready to get out of the car. That’s when he told me his family home was actually in Lake Oswego, a suburb of the booming city.
It was very clear as we drove down the highway that we were entering an affluent neighborhood. Then, we drove right past.
“Where are we going?” I asked, wondering if maybe he was lost.
He chuckled. “Our house isn’t in a neighborhood exactly. My dad didn’t want nosy neighbors. He had the house built on twenty acres. You’ll see. It isn’t like you can miss it,” he grumbled.
It was then I realized he was a little embarrassed by his family’s wealth. I wanted to laugh at the absurdity, but I knew we all had our little hang-ups. I was poor, and he was rich. I’m sure we both envied each other a little, but having money certainly seemed like the better end of the bargain.
“Holy shit,” I breathed when he turned and a massive home could be seen peeking up beyond tall trees.
He stopped at the wide iron gate and punched in some numbers on a keypad. I stared in disbelief as the gate slowly slid into some secret place inside the hulking stone wall that blocked the entrance to what had to be an extremely large estate.
As we pulled through the gate, I began to second-guess my decision to come here.
“Are you sure—?”
He cut me off. “Don’t even say it. I’m sure.”
I didn’t. I couldn’t. The long circular drive brought us to the front of the sprawling mansion.
“You didn’t say it was a mansion,” I mumbled.
He shrugged. “I told you there were more rooms than we could use. That should have been a clue.”
My mouth was hanging open as I took in the massive white exterior of the home that seemed to stretch on for miles. The house had what looked like two wings on either side of a cylinder-shape. The huge circular driveway had another driveway off to the right that led to what looked like a six-car garage.
He stopped, pushed a button on the garage door opener on his visor, and waited. The door slid up to reveal several luxury cars inside. Blake pulled in, parked, and shut off the engine.
“Holy shit,” I said again, unable to think of anything else to say.
He shrugged. “I suppose you want the grand tour?”
“And a map,” I said dryly.
He left the garage door open, and we walked out to stand in front of the huge monstrosity he called home. As we stood there, a shiny red Range Rover pulled up the drive.
Blake waved to the woman driving. I was too focused on the perfectly landscaped grounds to really pay attention. I heard a squeal and the clacking of heels behind me and spun around. My jaw dropped open further than it had been.
“Hi!” the tall, slender woman with flowing blond hair called out, walking toward us.
She had on large sunglasses that covered most of her face, but that wasn’t what drew my attention. She was wearing a pair of leggings that showed off a pair of perfectly shaped legs with a cardigan that was long in the back and short in the front over a silk shirt.
“Hi, Leah,” Blake said, and my mouth went dry.
“That’s your stepmom?” I whispered.
He laughed. “Yeah, it is. Long story. I’ll explain later.”
She came to stand before us, pushed her sunglasses on the top of her head, and gave Blake a hug before turning to give me a hug. I awkwardly patted her back.
“Hi. I’m Leah, and you must be Chase,” she said with a warm smile.
I nodded. Not quite able to form words. I felt as if I had stepped into some alternate reality.
Blake made the official introductions. “Leah Hall meet Chase Vaugh and vice versa.”
“I was just over at the caretaker’s house. I made some cookies and decided to take him some. You guys want some milk and cookies?” she asked.
That’s when I knew I was no longer in my normal, little world.
“Sure,” Blake said.
“Yeah, that sounds good,” I managed to get out.
She walked in front of us, pushed open the massive wooden door, and once again, I had to work hard to appear like a normal person who was used to walking into mansions on a regular basis.
The foyer was massive. There was a huge spiral staircase in the center with wide archways on either side.
“This way,” she said, her heels making a clacking sound as we crossed the marble floor. I could smell the cookies and knew we were headed toward the kitchen. There was a sitting area to the left and a huge kitchen that was about the size of the house we lived in to the right.
There, in the center of one of the biggest kitchen islands I had ever seen, was a plate stacked high with cookies.
“Have a seat. I’ll get the milk,” she said, gesturing to the many barstools lined up along the island.
I took a seat next to Blake and watched the woman walk to a refrigerator that looked big enough to be in a cafeteria. She opened the door, pulled out a gallon of milk and set it on the counter before gracefully opening one of the cupboards and pulling out two glasses.
I had always thought kitchens like these were fake like no one actually used them except for some high-priced chef. She seemed to know her way around the place very well.
She actually made cookies? My mind was blown.
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