Fifteen minutes after their arrival at Dolly's, Tiffannie Taccone sat at a corner booth of the diner, happily munching on her selected meal. A plate of strawberry cheesecake pancakes with whipped cream and fresh strawberry toppings and a glass of milk sat in front of her, being alternated to her heart’s desire. After the waitress had taken their order, she and Chase had sat in silence, getting used to each other’s company outside of the car ride they’d just shared. And once the food had arrived, the silence had been filled by the sounds of their enjoyment of the meal.“So how long have you been a driver?”
the girl asked him in between bites of pancake, hoping to kickstart some conversation while getting to know her new friend in the process.
Biting into some buttered toast, Chase finished chewing before shrugging, “Since I got my permit. Then again, Demo let me practice a bit before that too if that counts.”
He took another slow bite. He didn’t know if redirecting the same question made sense. It was likely Tiff did not drive since she called Lyft. Then again, she could also not have her car with her and her family here was too stingy to let her borrow their wheels. He shouldn’t assume. “... do you? Drive?”
Chase was eating light, four pieces of toast, three bacon strips, a cup of mixed fruit, and cherry coke. He didn’t need much fuel, he had a big lunch and after this he would likely head back home and knock the fuck out. “Mhm!”
Tiffannie nodded, taking a sip of her milk before elaborating. “I got my license as soon as I turned sixteen, and my parents gave me a Jeep Wrangler as a gift for my birthday!”
Putting her glass on the table again, the blonde grabbed her phone from the table and fiddled around with it for a bit before eventually pulling up a photo of her posing next to the iconic hot pink Jeep Wrangler Convertible. In the image, the grinning Tiffannie could be seen standing up on the inside of the roofless vehicle, hands in the air in a sign of triumph, while a golden glitter gift bow sat atop the hood. Smiling at the memory, Peach handed the phone to Chase so he could see it. “That’s my baby! I’ve always wanted a Jeep ever since I saw Cher from Clueless had one, so that’s what my parents surprised me with! And it’s a really good car for someone like me who’s kind of… Clumsy on the road…”
she admitted with a sheepish grimace, thinking back to all the curves and sidewalks who had suffered at her hands. “But I’ve only gotten two tickets so far, so I’d say I’m doing pretty good for myself!”
The man on the other end of the table held the phone intently observing the picture. He was trying real hard not to say anything to upset her, but this kind of stuff-- lavish gifts from parents, where they go the extra mile to put a big ass bow on top of it-- it wasn’t relatable. Still, that was the life she was born in and he was given a different hand. He couldn’t judge.
She was like the Queen of Hearts and he the King of Spades. Absolutely the opposite from one another, in all aspects. Giving a friendly smile, Chase handed her phone back and complimented, “It looks good. Suits you. I can’t say I’ve ever watched that movie but I’m sure it’s good if you like it.” Phew
. He did well. He didn’t blurt out the first things that came to mind. Fin be proud. If he was being honest, he would’ve said a few unpleasantries unintentionally because he thought a gift like that was excessive. Shit like that should be worked for and earned. Not handed over all willy nilly as a birthday present.
Still, if they were going to make any sort of friendship work, he had to tell her that while he was happy for her and her fortunate upbringing, there would always be a disconnect from him, “I don’t know if my reaction was what you wanted. Nothing against you or anything, I just never had something that grand. Hell, I was adopted. My parents, like actual parents, were shit.”
While the first responses she’d gotten from Chase had earned him a beaming smile, followed by a mental note to introduce him to one of her favorite movies eventually, it was what he said after that stood out to Tiff. Immediately, her demeanor changed: her smile fell, replaced with a mixture of shame, guilt and sadness. “Oh my God, I am so, so sorry!”
Peach was quick to apologize, her bottom lip sticking out. “I didn’t mean to be insensitive or anything like that!”“Hey!”
Chase raised his voice, startling the girl in the process. Shit.
He really needed to figure out how to talk to her. This was not easy. She was so squishy. Putting his toast down, he wiped his hand on the napkin before offering it for her to grab, “Don’t be ashamed of your truth. And don’t pity me. I’m okay. I’m just honest, okay? And if we’re going to be friends, just know I wasn’t raised like you. I’ll listen. I’ll listen all you want. I can do that, but I wouldn’t know what to say back, okay? Don’t apologize for being excited about your life. It’s cute.”“I just don’t want to make you feel bad with anything I sayyyyyy!”
she explained, graciously holding the hand he was offering for her to take. She never wanted to come off as someone who flaunted her privilege with the intent of making someone feel lesser than. “Most of the time I don’t realize how I can come off to the people outside of my family or my friends-- and I’m sorry for that. I would really hate it if you got the wrong impression of me based on something I may have said without thinking.”“Dude,”
He squeezed her hand, trying his best to ease her worry. “I’m literally the same. It’s hard fighting our nature. I say whatever is on my mind and I get mad easily. You did nothing last night-- I had a rough day and then you and your friend kind of we’re a lot to deal with. But don’t blame yourself for my mood. I projected. And I’m sorry.”
As she listened to Chase’s explanation of how he was, their difference in upbringings and what had been going through his mind the night before, Tiffannie gained potential understanding as to why he reacted in the way he did. Kylee and her loudly going on and on about their privileged lives in front of a man who seemed to struggle to make ends meet was certainly bound to leave a bad taste in his mouth. Thankfully, she had gotten this opportunity to show him that first impressions could be misleading, and that she was more than just some spoiled, ditzy bimbo who was out of touch with reality. It also made her more aware of her behaviors and taught her the importance of not being tone-deaf. “Apology accepted,”
she said softly, squeezing his hand again with a tender smile on her face.
Sighing to himself, he freed her hand, leaned back in his chair, and ran his hand through his hair, trying his best to stay composed and calm, “The best way to make this work is if we are open to telling each other how we feel, but I know me. And I’m rude as fuck. So how about this, when I’m overwhelmed I use a safe word and when you’re hurt you use a safe word? Does that make sense?”
What the hell was he going on about? Would this even help? He didn’t know how to not hold back his words. This whole conversation was hard as is. Then again, if he hurt her, she probably would cry.
Peach nodded in agreement with the idea: it was both cute and incredibly useful in order to avoid potential misunderstandings. Now, what would her safe word be… “Mine will beeeee… Lemons, because I like lemony stuff about as much as I like crying: I hate it,”
she said with a small laugh, making a playful disgusted face before taking another bite of food. “What will be yours?”“Oklahoma. Because Oklahoma sucks and I would never move there.”
Like what actually happened in Oklahoma? Once you hit there, the good times ended. The good times barely existed in Edenridge but at least he had his small family. The state was boring and there was never anything interesting to read about it in the news blogs.“You know, you might be right…”
Tiffannie mused, cocking her head to the left as she thought back to any times she'd heard anything interesting about the state and coming up empty-handed. "I think I might have driven past the city once during a road trip, but we didn't really stop anywhere except at a nice gas station on Route 66 for a potty and snack break. So I can definitely see where you’re going with this."“Okay, cool. Now that we got that figured out, let's do those things they do at school.”
He took a moment to figure out what the word was. Grabbing his cherry coke, he took a deep sip before the ice touched his lips. Tiffannie looked up at him, visibly confused. Oh that’s right. “Icebreaker. Let's do an icebreaker.” "Oooooh, icebreakers! I love icebreakers!"
She replied, her eternal excitement now restored to its former glory now that they had moved on past their small incident. "What do you have in mind?"
Going through the deep files in his mind that have been compartmentalized for a rainy day, like today, Chase grabbed his fork, stabbed some fruit, and stuffed it in his mouth. He never thought he’d use an experience from his highschool days, before he was expelled, but if it helped get him in the good graces of Tiffannie then it was worth it. He didn’t even know why he cared so much about getting this girl to forgive him and like him. If it wasn’t for his conversation with Fin, maybe he would’ve left Tiff at the curb. But that’s the thing. While he was stubborn and loud, he wasn’t innately a bad guy. He was just rude at times. He wouldn’t have left Tiff alone no matter how angry he was. “I guess ‘Have You Ever’ is simple enough. It’s just a question game to learn about each other. Just gotta’ answer yes or no, but if you want to explain your answer you totally can. I’m not going to stop you.”
Before Chase knew it, his small fruit cup was gone and in his belly. Putting his fork down, he started, “Okay, I’ll go… have you ever skipped class?”
The blush that crept up on Tiffannie's cheeks was instant. "Yes,"
she admitted, looking away with an embarrassed smirk as she remembered the misdeeds of the past. "Only when I was a freshman and a sophomore, though! I was kinda sorta seeing this guy, Brandon: upperclassmen, water polo player, super tall, scorching hot. We'd skip study hall sometimes to hang out at each other’s houses when our parents were at work and we'd have the place to ourselves. We stopped after he graduated and went off to college."
Her response brought out a genuine smile from Chase as he finished his bacon. She was cute. Really fucking cute. She skipped out to be with her hot boyfriend. Such innocent intentions. Playfully, TNT teased, “So the Pink Princess isn’t as Disney as I thought, good to know.”
Grabbing his cup of soda, he drank a bit. As he did so, he gestured with his hand, in a finger gun motion for her to shoot. It was her turn to ask him a question.
The blonde giggled nervously at his comment, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear while taking a long sip of milk. If Chase knew what she’d done to land herself in Edenridge or the mischief she’d been getting herself into since her arrival, he’d see her as more of a Playboy bunny than a Disney princess. But that was neither here nor there. It was time to ask her own question.
Tiffannie cleared her throat. “Have you everrrrrr…”
she trailed off, suddenly struggling to come up with a question interesting enough but eventually finding one bound to open up more conversation. “...been anywhere outside of Edenridge? And if you haven’t: where would you want to go?”“Nah, I wish. Just never been something realistic for me.”
Chase shrugged, placing his cup down, before answering her follow up question, “First, in the states, definitely Cleveland. It’s where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is. Though hm, actually maybe Detroit. I’m a firm believer that the hall of fame should’ve been there. It’s the Motor City! It doesn’t only spawn artists, it spawns genres. Actually, yeah: that’s my state answer.”
Chase pushed his plates away from him so he could rest his elbow on the table and put his chin in his palm, “Country I’ve never thought that big but if I had the money. Manchester for sure.”
Conan always dreamt about visiting the UK. Memphis, Tennessee too but Chase wanted to see Detroit first. TNT hadn’t even realized how open he was being with this girl he barely knew. These were things he hadn’t even brought up to Tov or Fin. It was weird, but nice.
It was his turn now. Drumming the table, he thought of his next question, “Have you ever… done something you regret? Like not just buying the wrong thing. I mean something really fucked that bothers you to this day.”
He did want to ask a follow up question but this might’ve been way too personal so he stopped at that. He didn’t know why he wanted to ask this but he was hoping to get a read on how moral compass and how she would judge him if she knew half the shit he did.
As much as Tiffannie hated to admit it, this was an easy question to answer. She knew the root of all her questionable decisions she’d been taking through the past year dated back to that terrible day when she got The News
. “I completely stopped talking to my daddy a few weeks ago,”
Peach confessed, using her fork to absentmindedly play around with a slice of strawberry atop her plate. “I used to be a big Daddy’s Girl. He was my favorite person in the whole world. But he and my mamma got divorced last year, and not even two months after it was finalized and he moved out he got married to some stupid bitch he’d met through work,”
she explained, stabbing the defenseless strawberry slice with her fork over and over again.
Chase couldn’t help but watch her subtly violent actions on the poor slice of fruit. He took mental notes of all the major points she brought up like her parents getting divorced, from daddy’s girl to daddy issues, and a step mom she hated. He did find it weird she was putting all the blame on the woman and not her father but he kept quiet, allowing her to continue to express herself. As he watched her, his stare surveyed her face, taking in her crisp, long golden hair like Rapunzel, her deep ocean blue eyes, and her flawless and soft looking skin. She was really pretty now that he had time to look at her. “He begged and begged for me to meet her, but I told him I’d rather jump in a pool of acid than meet that tramp-- which he didn’t appreciate, of course. He gave me a long lecture about not speaking of his wife that way. I told him I’d lost all respect for him for running off to be with another woman so soon after the divorce when the ink on the papers was practically still fresh. We got into a really big argument, and we quit speaking for a while. He stopped coming to some of my school activities then, giving me bullcrap apologies and using work as an excuse. But I knew it was because of what I said about his stupid new wife. He always denied it, but I know it was.”
Damn, she really hated this new wife person. Still, did she notice how sugary sweet her voice was? It was on the higher pitched side of things with a sultry undertone. Kind of hot. Kind of perfect for a stripper. Her voice aside, Chase couldn’t relate with the lingering feelings of being a child of divorced parents. Both his biological parents loved each other to a fault, they loved each other so bad that they protected the other with their crimes. Then there was Demo and Zippo. They were a dream when it came to love. Partners in crime sort of deal. Then his ma died. Divorce was like death, right? Sure, she didn’t lose her dad or mother, they were still alive, but she lost the fantasy of them being together, in love, and as a family. That must be hard to deal with for someone like Tiff. “After that, I started staying out late to mess around with older guys. I’d lie about my age on Tinder and set hookups with guys that were, like, years older than me. Eventually, the night I was celebrating my eighteenth birthday, I met this guy at the club and went home with him. What I didn’t know was that the guy was married, and that his wife’s flight for her work trip had been delayed for a day. So she came back home to find me on my knees blowing her husband in the kitchen. She grabbed me by the hair, with a knife to my throat, and dragged me to the door screaming about how she was going to slice my neck. I called Daddy in the middle of my panic attack-- he’s a cop--, and they arrested the lady and granted me a restraining order against her. But because he and Mamma were so rattled over the whole thing, they decided it was best to send me over here to Boston to my uncle Tazzy’s house-- Taz Belmonte, the Palermo owner? He’s my Mamma’s big brother. Of course, Daddy couldn’t let me go without one last lecture, that turned into another argument where he said some really ugly things to me… And I haven’t spoken to him since.”
Woah that was intense. Not the age difference thing but the knife part. Chase had almost slipped from his resting position of watching her talk. Adjusting himself so he was sitting up once more, he processed everything she had said. So, she was here as punishment or protection or both and she was staying at the big fucking house on Scott Street. Fuck, she was that rich? And now she doesn’t talk to her dad, or hasn’t because of the beef. Got it.
Realizing the amount and type of word vomit she’d just spewed out, Tiffannie’s face grew red with mortification again. “I’m so sorry, Chase. I didn’t realize I would go on this long about something that’s probably nothing compared to what you’ve gone through. I haven’t really talked about the whole divorce thing so in depth to anyone else before, so it just sort of came out and--”
she trailed off, feeling her eyes getting hot with the tears that soon began to fall from her sapphire-colored eyes. As safe as Chase made her feel, it didn’t make her any less embarrassed to have overshared so much of this touchy subject during their first meeting. He probably thought she was doing it to gain sympathy at this point. “Shuuuuush, it’s okay. There’s nothing to compare. Your pain is your pain, mine is mine. I’m no better than you and you ain’t better than me. We’re just humans trying to make it by, okay?”
He had a lot of follow up questions but he didn’t know if it was right to overwhelm her even more when she was in this state, so instead he repeated, “Okay?”
Peach nodded slowly, wiping away the tears from her cheeks. “Okay,”
she mumbled, grabbing the nearest napkin to wipe off the mascara stains on face and blow her nose. “I’m sorry I killed the mood with my oversharing,”
Tiff sniffed, looking at Chase with teary eyes. “Is there any way I can make it up to you?”“You do that a lot,”
Chase bluntly pointed out. “I don’t know who invalidated you, but your emotions, your feelings, your issues: they're valid, Tiff. And you don’t need to do a damn thing for me. You just have to be yourself and keep finding reasons to smile. I like when you smile.”
And back to his coke he went to finish it off. He was talking way too much. It was weird. Yet, this girl was so warm and honest, she made him want to talk. After downing the rest of his drink, he gazed at her with his chocolate coated eyes, “Your turn.” “Have you ever realized that you’re, like, a really good listener and super good at making me feel better even though we’ve just met?”
she asked him with a small, watery smile. It wasn’t lost on her that, so far tonight, he had directly complimented her twice, indirectly done so a couple more times, and had successfully kept her from bawling her eyes out more times than she’d liked to admit. So she figured it was only fair that she returned the good karma. “I actually think you’re pretty cute yourself, and you smell so, so good. And, you know: I also like it when you smile. It looks a lot better on you than when you’re being mean or frowning or scowling!”
Tiff teased lightly with a giggle.
She liked when he smiled.
Chase drummed the table slower. She saw good qualities in him already? He must be doing good. “Thanks, uh, I’m trying. To listen and pay attention to you! Not the whole cute thing. Me, cute? Ha. Yeah right.”
On impulse he reached for his now cold toast and stuffed his mouth. Chew, chew, chew, swallow. “It’s cool I’m just telling you that you shouldn’t be ashamed of how you feel. You’re going through a lot, that’s neither greater than or less than what I’ve been through. And I’m honestly honored you thought me, a stranger, out of all people was someone worth telling all that shit to. So thank you.”
And another toast. This was too sappy for him. Toast could keep him distracted. “First of all, you so are cute. And second of all: do you still think we’re strangers to each other after all of this?”
she inquired with a playful smirk, taking the last few bites of pancake and downing the rest of her milk. There was no way Peach considered Chase a stranger after impulsively blurting out her entire life story to the poor guy.“I guess not,”
He shyly answered before coughing, almost choking on his bread. This would be the first time Chase Warren connected with anyone on the other side of the tracks. He lived in Edenridge all his life but never did he ever try to get to know people who had better lifestyles than him. Tiff? Tiff was different. She wasn’t like those people that shoved their fortunes in your face and laughed at you. She was… humble. Okay, it was his turn. It looked like they were finishing up so the check would be coming soon. “Have you ever realized you’re really fucking pretty, inside and out?”
Tiffannie let out another little giggle, her sparkling eyes making contact with Chase’s chocolate pools before looking away, her cheeks now tinted in her favorite shade of pink. It wasn’t the first time the LA native had been complimented on her looks by a member of the opposite sex. But there was something different about the way Chase said it: with such genuine, wholesome intentions that it made her heart happy, and her whole body feel all warm and fuzzy inside. “Have you ever realized that you’re really, really sweet, and charming, and really, really pretty too-- even if you don’t think so?”
she countered, reaching out for her companion’s hand again while giving him her biggest, brightest smile yet.“Uh, no,”
Chase countered. “I’m rational, sure-- but I have issues, Tiffannie. Like a lot of fucking issues.”
TNT brought his soda to his lips as he observed the blonde bombshell, contemplating how they got this far. He was genuinely finding things he liked about her and she was nothing like him whatsoever.
The blonde shrugged her shoulders. "Everybody has issues, Chase. That doesn’t take away from you being charming or sweet or cute. If having issues took away from someone’s redeeming qualities, then we’d all be considered ugly. You should believe in yourself a little more.”“Thank you... It means a lot to me that you see more in me than I see myself. ANYWAYS!”
Diverting the conversation, Chase asked, “Do you still want to go to the airport or do you want a night to think about things? I don’t want you to make a decision you’ll regret. My dad won’t mind if you stay with us for a night.”
Ah, yes, the reason why she’d come to be in his company in the first place: the drive request to the airport to fly back home to Los Angeles. The young woman shook her head. That seemed like such a silly idea now that she thought about it with a clear head. As tempting as Chase’s offer was to stay somewhere else for the night, she had some very important responsibilities to uphold. Just because stupid Cat had decided to stick her nose into Tiff's business, physically assault her and expose Cousin Viv's relationship out of spite or intoxication or insanity didn't mean that Auntie Silvia had to suffer the consequences. She should've thought about her before ever setting foot outside the house, but hurt had been guiding her actions."Can you drive me back to the house, if you don't mind?"
she politely asked Chase. "My Auntie Silvia's very, very sick, so I take care of her a lot. Bathing her, helping her with her clothes or dressing her, making sure she eats and takes her medication, making her stay as pretty as she always is… You know, things like that! I don't want her or my Uncle Tazzy to be worried about me or wake up tomorrow needing something and I'm not there to help."“Huh,”
TNT gazed at the girl across from him, pleasantly surprised and impressed. This blonde bombshell was considerate of her family. Something he valued. He might not be related to his family by blood but he would die for them. Staring for a little too long without saying anything more, distracted by her sincere and gorgeous blue eyes, Chase’s mouth could be seen slightly ajar. Snapping out of it, he apologized, “Sorry to hear that. About your aunt, I mean. Mrs. Belmonte was always pretty welcoming at Palermo when me and my bro were barely making by. She’s a nice lady. Told us to always come by if we needed some food. I felt bad for always getting free shit from her though… so I tried to repay her through errands when she was too busy. It’s pretty neat she’s your aunt. But sorry again.”
The Belmontes were a core family in Edenridge even if they weren’t part of the founding families. They did their part, especially Taz and Silvia, when it came to making the southies not feel completely like outcasts. Mr. Belmonte was good humored for the most part but TNT didn’t ever want to get on his bad side. He seemed like a guy who was cool with all types of people but when it came to his family, he wanted things done ‘right’. His eldest three all had perfect looking families and each were well loved in the community in their own right. Socializing and making sure there was a sprinkle of Italian at every corner of Edenridge. It really seemed like Taz was painting this ideal image to make it seem like his family was strong, put together, and full of role models. Chase couldn’t relate. He just wanted to make it to the next day. “Hey, save my number? Should have me already from the Lyft texts. If you need anything, let me know. That’s a lot of shit for you to deal with.”"Thank you so, so much!"
Tiffannie said sweetly, the gratefulness shining clear through her blue eyes. "And you can save my number too! I can't really think of anything you could ever need from me, but I'm always free to hang out or something like that! I don't have any friends in Edenridge right now, and you and I seem to get along pretty good, so maybe this cute little diner date doesn't have to be the first and last one? I would love to hang out with you again if you're ever up for it!"“Yeah, same,”
Chase’s brain was malfunctioning. This whole night was unexpected and Tiffannie was a whirlwind of emotions. He found her endearing. He didn’t even understand how they got this far but here he was at a diner with the most gorgeous blonde babe he ever did see. He didn’t know if this was a good thing or bad thing seeing how he still didn’t know if they had anything in common. Still, he was intrigued. “I mean for the friend part… I’m not that great with opening up. I have Fin and my brother Tov but that’s really it. I can hang with their friends but I haven’t really clicked, if that makes sense? You’re different,”
TNT admitted. Was this called growth? Was he actually being an approachable and reasonable person? This was extremely sappy for his liking so when the waiter brought the check he was quick to slap cash on the table, stand up, and nervously laugh to himself, “You can choose the next place! And the date. I’ll make time for you.”
Fuck. He was just vomiting emotions. This was so unlike him. “Yay! More dates are happening!”
Tiffannie squealed with joy, clapping her heads together like she always did when she was excited about something. What had started off as a yucky night that had her questioning whether she wanted to remain in town or not had taken an unexpected turn for the best. Not only had she redeemed herself in the eyes of this former stranger, but she had gotten a new friend from it, too! Hopefully this meant her stay at Edenridge would be a lot less lonely. “How about in Palermo on Tuesday night-- maybe at seven?”
she asked Chase, following his lead and standing up to leave. “I can get us the best seats in the house, and it’ll be my treat for you! Does that sound good?”
Having left the booth, Chase fixed his dark and kind stare at the girl he had randomly befriended. A shy smile appeared on his face as he took in how certain, confident, and cheerful she was. Tiffannie was really something else and she was really fucking cute. Hooking his thumbs in his pants’ pockets, he nodded and agreed, “Sounds perfect.”
It was a date.