Home > The Choices I've Made

The Choices I've Made
Author: J.L. Berg

Dedicated to my very own high school sweetheart. Thank you Chris for giving the crazy girl who dumped you twice in junior high another chance. Who knew it’d last forever? I love you babe.

 

 

A LL MY BAGS WERE PACKED . The back of my truck was full to the brim.

I was really leaving.

With one last look at the bright blue house I’d called home since birth, I hopped in the truck and started the ignition.

I knew he was watching me from the window. I knew he wanted to run out here and beg me not to go and hug me good-bye, all at the same time.

But I’d told him not to.

And, after everything my father and I had been through over the last few months, it was the least he could do for me.

The sun had barely risen over the tide as I made my way out of town. Seeing the last few shops fall behind me made my heart squeeze tight in my chest. I swallowed hard and kept going.

There was one last stop I needed to make.

Several miles out of town with no marker or sign to indicate it was coming, I pulled off the road and turned off my headlights. The light from the sun was enough now.

And I knew this spot like the back of my hand.

Grabbing what I needed from the front seat, I shoved it in the pouch of my hoodie and began the short walk to the beach.

How many times had I made this same path over the last eighteen years? A hundred times? A thousand? It had been my playground as a kid and a place we could escape to as teenagers. Growing up in a small town gave us few choices to act out and be kids, especially when your graduating class was a grand total of five.

By the time I reached the exact spot I’d set out for, the sun was bright, and the day was new. Looking down at the sand, I let out a sigh. Without room for tools or shovels in my truck, I guessed I would be doing this the old-fashioned way.

With my hands.

Dropping to my knees, I began the tedious process of digging a hole.

A deep one.

All those years of building castles had at least given me some skills. Within no time, I had a narrow hole in the sand for my tiny treasure.

I was officially a pirate.

Reaching into the pouch of my hoodie, I pulled out the small wooden box. My fingers ran over the intricate pattern. It had taken me all semester to carve them. Art class at our school usually consisted of simplistic things, like painting and modeling clay. A small grant won by our school had afforded us a few woodworking tools this year, and I’d gravitated to them. I loved the precision and detail required. My hands were naturally steady, and I worked well under pressure.

My friends all thought I was nuts, obsessing over a box. But it had become the one thing I could focus on when everything fell apart.

When I lost my anchor.

But, now, it was time to bury the past and everything with it. The wooden box and all the promises it carried within it.

Dropping it into the sand, I carefully covered it, one layer at a time.

There was no need for markings.

I’d remember this spot for as long as I lived. This place, this island, was etched onto my skin forever.

The blue house, the little inn with the yellow room, and the beautiful girl I’d be leaving behind.

Nothing but a distant memory scattered to the wind.

 

 

“B USINESS OR PLEASURE ?”

I turned in my seat after just boarding a plane at Chicago O’Hare. There, settling in next to me, was a petite blonde, dressed neatly in a trim suit that did amazing things to her body.

Smiling, I answered, “A bit of both, I guess.”

Hearing my response, she paused.

“You’re Southern, right? Do I detect a hint of a North Carolina drawl in there somewhere?”

The accent. It always stumped people.

It was the exact reason I’d hoped to be alone for this flight.

After booking it at the last minute, I’d managed to claim the last first-class seat on the small jet, giving up my preferred aisle seat for the window.

I’d planned on bribing the person in the front row to switch. When you were six foot four, any amount of extra legroom was appreciated, but seeing my possible companion for the next two hours, I swiftly changed my mind.

“You’re correct, ma’am,” I answered, adding a little extra to the accent I usually tried to mask.

If it led to me getting laid, I’d use all the charisma my Southern roots had afforded me. It worked like a charm. I watched her face light up like a damn Christmas tree in the dead of winter.

“How’d you become so savvy in detecting the subtleties of Southern dialects? Or are North Carolina boys just of particular interest to you?”

She giggled.

A damn giggle. Jesus, I was wasting my time.

She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, giving me a quick glance, and her face flushed as I took her in.

She was young. no more than twenty-three I’d wager. She sat in first class like it was a habit rather than a luxury. I took another moment to study her—the professional suit and megawatt smile—and it suddenly made sense.

Probably a sales rep , I decided.

“I went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” she explained. “My roommate was a native, and it didn’t take long to memorize the way she said certain things.”

“We are a specific breed,” I joked, watching those baby blues light up with delight. “So, tell me, how did you get from UNC to selling pharmaceuticals?” I said, glancing down at the large black carry-on under her seat with a bright white company logo I instantly recognized.

A look of surprise crossed her flawless features.

“How did you know?” She laughed before adding, “You must be a doctor!”

I scrunched my shoulders. “Guilty. Actually, I’m a surgeon at MacNeal, here in Chicago.”

“Well, isn’t that a coincidence? I work MacNeal. What specialty?”

“I’m a Cardiothoracic surgeon,” I answered, watching her gaze linger a bit on my empty ring finger.

This no-name pharmacy rep had a thing for doctors, I was guessing. And damn if she wasn’t trying to hide it. She was most likely making a fortune, flirting with lonely doctors and their hospital staff, as she searched around for Dr. Right.

Too bad for her, that wasn’t me.

But I’d enjoy the hell out of flirting with her.

I didn’t deal with pharmaceuticals much, but I’d probably buy anything she threw my way just to spend a little more time checking her out. With those good looks and killer set of green eyes, she could have worked her way to the top in a matter of months.

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