“Business 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?”
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.
“Well, it’s a shame we’ve never met before now,” she said. “Makayla Roads.”
She politely held out her hand, but I knew it was undoubtedly just a ploy to touch me, one that I graciously acknowledged.
I stretched my hand out toward hers. “Jake Jameson.”
Her small hand felt warm and silky in my large palm. I lingered, running my thumb over hers before letting go.
“Jake? Is it short for anything?” she asked, clearly flustered by the intimate gesture.
“No, ma’am,” I replied. “My mother—God rest her soul—wasn’t fond of formality. So, I’m just Jake. Plain and simple.”
“I doubt there’s anything plain or simple about you, Dr. Jameson.”
My jaw twitched as I tried to keep the dazzling smile plastered across my face.
I took the compliment, nodding as I gave myself a moment to regain my composure. Mentioning my mother had been an accident.
One I rarely made.
Just the mere mention of her had a thousand memories swimming back to the surface. I quickly stuffed them back down.
“So, you’re headed back to North Carolina then?” I asked in an attempt to keep the conversation rolling. Now that I knew her proclivity for nailing doctors, I might not be ready to join the Mile-High Club with her, but she was entertaining nonetheless.
“My best friend’s wedding,” she answered. “We always knew she’d be the first one down the aisle.”
I couldn’t help but notice the twinge of jealousy in her voice.
“And why’s that?” I asked as the flight attendant came around and took drink orders.
Makayla ordered a glass of wine while I stuck with a Bloody Mary.
“She’s been with her boyfriend for ages. High school sweethearts. Can you believe it? We’re twenty-four, and those two have already been together for ten years.”
I cleared my throat, regretting my choice to relocate now.
Rather than an easy distraction like I’d hoped, this girl had managed to once again leave me speechless as the years seemed to melt away before my eyes.
“We’re the lucky ones, Jake. How many people find each other at fourteen?”
It felt like yesterday when she had said those words to me. I could still hear the sound of the waves lapping at our feet as we’d curled up on the beach just before sunset.
We had been the lucky ones.
Or at least, we could have been.
But I’d chosen a different life. One that didn’t include her.
“And what about you?” she asked. “Visiting family back home?”
I nodded. “Yeah. Something like that.”
“That sounds nice. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to see you.”
“I’m sure,” I answered passively, eager for that Bloody Mary that was soon to come my way.
We continued to make small talk as the final passengers boarded the plane, and then we took off for Raleigh, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore.
It was miles away.
Because, soon, all those bottled-up memories would filter back to the surface…and I wasn’t sure I was prepared for the consequences.
With a crumpled-up phone number in hand, I said my good-byes to the overly eager Makayla and headed out of the airport.
The first breath of that sticky Southern air just about knocked me backward.
It was barely April, and already, the humidity had found its way to North Carolina. It smelled sugary, like sweet tea on the porch. It smelled like flowers and sunshine and afternoon bike rides.
It smelled like regret and sorrow.
Although I hadn’t been here in years, I hadn’t forgotten my way around. I took a quick glance across the baggage claim area, locating the rental car area almost immediately. The Raleigh airport hadn’t changed a bit, and as I ambled my way toward the shuttle that would take me to the rental area. I found myself smiling as fond memories of college football with the gang and long road trips to this small airport with my family to pick up relatives came rushing back.
A life that had long ago since passed.
I should have flown to Norfolk, I said to myself.
It was the shortest distance by car and didn’t carry nearly as many memories as this town did, but I’d wanted the driving time.
The preparation time.
No doubt, that feeling I was getting in the pit of my stomach would become a permanent fixture in my belly for the next several days.
Hell, the next few months, I reminded myself.
Especially when I saw her.
The girl who had once been my entire world…until, one day, she wasn’t. I’d thought I’d never see her again. I’d counted on it. I had left that life behind and everything that went with it. But, when I’d gotten the call last week, informing me of my father’s death, I had known our paths would soon cross.
No one ever really left Ocracoke Island.
At least not when you were a native. To the eight hundred or so people who called it home, Ocracoke Island was a treasure. A glimpse of the past, where life moved slower and the word neighbor still meant something.
To me, however, it was simply the place I had grown up. A stopping point that had eventually catapulted me to where I was now, and I’d never had any intentions of returning.
But my father had worked his magic, making it impossible for me to stay away.
I should have known.
“You must be present at the reading of the will,” the lawyer informed me over the phone. He was formal and to the point, ignoring the fact that, twenty years earlier, I’d been one of his best friend’s kids rather than just a nameless benefactor.
“That’s horseshit, Alan. You and I both know my father wouldn’t have put such a ridiculous stipulation on his will. Besides, I don’t want anything anyway,” I said, hearing his immediate sigh, knowing he’d been caught in a lie.
“He said you would say that.”
“Then I guess I’m predictable. Just send me a copy in the mail, and give away his stuff to someone else, or donate it—hell, I don’t care. I don’t want anything to do with it.”
“We need you here Jake.”
My hands went through my hair. “I’ll come back for the funeral and make all the arrangements. That’s all I can give you—a single day.”
“He left you the practice, Jake,” he finally said.
“Jesus, Alan,” I said, hearing the regret in his voice. “Why would he have done that?”
“Because he knew it was the only way to bring you back for good.”
And he was right.
If I chose to ignore it, the medical practice my father had kept and maintained for more than forty years would fall apart in a matter of weeks. With only one doctor and a single nurse doing the jobs of five, I knew they’d never get anyone in their right mind to take the position.
At least, not right away.
As much as I wanted to ignore it, to forget about every person who could be affected by his death, I knew I couldn’t.
Do no harm.
That was the oath I had taken when I became a doctor.
I had to go.
I had to help.
And he’d known it all-too well. Even in his death, my old man was pulling the strings, navigating my life from the grave, as he tormented my conscience. So, here I was, about to leave the airport to drive three hours through North Carolina to go back to my hometown.
Back to everything I’d left behind. Everything I’d tried to forget.
The chief of surgery at MacNeal Hospital had been oddly gracious over my plight. Giving me an extended leave had left him short a surgeon. It had taken some serious work to rearrange my schedule. But, now, I had two months ahead of me to get my father’s practice back on track and out of my life for good.
Revving the engine of the practical little car I’d adopted as my own, I headed onward. The car was nothing fancy, but it’d get the job done. I’d never been overly attached to cars. Having driven a beat-up truck through most of college had taught me to remain humble. Or maybe my father would have taken credit for that as well.
Nevertheless, living in downtown Chicago for the last several years had required more trips on the Red Line than an actual car.
But I did love a nice ride in the country every now and then. Settling into the nondescript black sedan, I tried to convince myself this was no different.
Just a leisurely drive.
I managed to keep this mantra going for a few hours until I hit the coast. Then, reality set in.
I really was going back.
Still in off-season, the Outer Banks of North Carolina was still quite peaceful, catering to mostly locals until the population tripled almost overnight the second summer hit. Soon, these quiet shops and empty beaches would be filled with families from all over the world, spending their precious money for a slice of what locals enjoyed year-round.
I kept on driving, past Kill Devil Hills and all its many golf courses and tourist attractions. The Wright Brothers Memorial came and went, reminding me of a junior high field trip when I’d spent the entire bus ride talking Molly’s ear off about the first flight.
Even then, I’d had it bad for her.
The farther I drove, the quieter it became. Small beach towns passed by as I slowly made my way to Hatteras. This was where the Outer Banks really shone.
Wooden houses dotted the shore, high on stilts to keep them protected from storms. I could see the wear and tear from their age, but that was part of the charm. People rode their bikes to cozy little mom-and-pop restaurants, feasting on local seafood and crabs.
It was a simple way of life. One that was easily loved…or despised.
In my case, it had been a healthy mix of both until the end. Until my world had been flipped upside down.
By the time I ventured down to the farthest tip of the Banks, my legs were sore, and my stomach was empty. Pulling off just before the ferry that would take me on the last leg of the trip, I stopped at a small restaurant to refuel.
Stepping out of the car, I stretched, feeling stiff and tired from being in one position for so long.
I was used to being active. Sitting around never suited me. Even as a kid, I’d run around the island for hours, chasing crabs along the shore with my friends. These days, however, exercise was more of an indoor sport, as I’d opted for a high-priced gym membership over crab-chasing.
But I still loved to run.
Taking the short walk from the car, I entered the restaurant, looking for a bite to eat before boarding the ferry.
What I got was the exact opposite of quiet.
“Holy shit!” a familiar voice called from across the restaurant. “Is that the Jake Jameson?”
I looked over and immediately recognized him.
My childhood best friend. Growing up, it had always been Dean, Molly, and me—the three amigos.
“As I live and breathe.” I grinned, surprised by the sudden emotions hitting me.
I’d been dreading coming back here, facing the music for my sudden departure all those years ago.
But seeing Dean? Here and now? It was nothing short of a blessing.
We met somewhere in the middle, hugging like men always did—a hefty pat on the back while we both grinned like fucking idiots.
“I wondered if we might be seeing you,” he said before his face turned somber. “I’m sorry about your dad.”
I nodded. “Me, too.”
He motioned me over to the far corner where he’d already devoured half of a sandwich and a couple of bags of chips. We each took a seat as Dean struggled to find the words, deep creases lining his forehead as his eyes stared into mine.
“He fought it, you know? Every step of the way, he tried to stay healthy enough for everyone. But, eventually, it caught up to him.”
“The liver can only take so much,” I said, shaking my head, as I tried not to imagine the memories of my father huddled over a bottle of gin late at night.
“But enough about that. How the hell are you, buddy?”
That shit-eating grin of his, which had coaxed me into a world of trouble, spread across his face. God, I’d missed this guy.
“Good,” I answered. “I’m really good.”
He pushed a tendril of sun-kissed hair from his face, giving me a second to notice the lines around his dark green eyes that hadn’t been there before. He was still as good-looking as ever, but the years were showing.
They showed on all of us, I guessed.
“Your dad never stopped bragging about you. When you graduated from Stanford and moved to Boston for that fancy residency, you would have thought he’d won the damn lottery.”
“If only he had.” I laughed, remembering the mountain of debt I’d been left with to pay after my father’s drinking habit and poor judgment depleted every dime we’d had.
“Well, at any rate, he kept us up to date on your life.”
His eyes met mine, and I nodded, feeling the regret heavy on my shoulders.
“I know I should have checked in, visited, or at least called. But you know how it is.”
He didn’t, I was sure…but he agreed anyway, nodding his head as stilted silence settled around us.
Thankfully, the waitress chose that moment to stop by the table, giving me a thankful pause down memory lane.
“I’ll have a turkey sandwich. No mayo and light on the cheese,” I requested, watching Dean’s smile falter.
“Did you turn into a chick while you were away? Who the hell doesn’t want cheese?”
I laughed, loving the way he still said whatever the hell was on his mind regardless of the consequences.
“Gotta keep this impressive physique in shape,” I joked, patting my flat stomach.
“Good Lord, you’ve turned into a dingbatter for sure,” he said as the waitress walked away to place my order.
“God, that’s a word I haven’t heard for ages,” I replied, shaking my head at the local term for an idiot mainlander.
“Well, you’d better get used to it. You show up in those frilly ass clothes, spouting off words like physique, and you’re going to get your head dunked in the tide.”
“By you, no doubt.”
“Damn straight,” he said, giving my designer jeans and tailored button down a once over. “You might be all high society now with your fancy degrees and impressive salary, but you’re still the same kid from way back who yelled at me for poking the jellyfish along the shore.”
“What can I say?” I laughed. “I was a tenderhearted son of a bitch.”
“That, you were.” He smiled. “That, you were.”
Another awkward silence fell around us like fog along the tide. One that reminded me of how long it’d truly been. Here I was, sitting across from the man I’d once counted as family, a friend I would have gone to hell and back for, but now, I didn’t know a damn thing about him.
“So, what have you been up to?” I asked, feeling the distance between us growing.
He looked away for a moment before answering, “Oh, you know, a little of this and that. Business is good. Mom would love to see you. We’ve got a few new boats now.”
I nodded, not surprised in the least by his response. Dean had always intended to work for the family business. Since we were kids, it was all he’d talked about. The Sutherland Fishing Company was big on the island, and when your name happened to be Sutherland…well, that was what you did.
His whole life had been planned out for him, and he’d never even thought to dispute it. It was just how life ran around here.
That was why I’d left.
Although I wasn’t a Sutherland, my life had been just as planned until I chose a different path.
“Listen, I’d better get going,” he said, avoiding my gaze. “The ferry is about to push off, and I’ve been gone most of the day, grabbing supplies and whatnot.”
I looked out at the dock, watching the ferry return from the other side. Passengers began loading by the carload in neat, straight lines. The waitress dropped off my food, and still, I sat there, staring out at the vessel that would bring me home.
It’s not home, I reminded myself.
“Would have thought a big-ass Sutherland like yourself would have his own means of transportation by now.”
He chuckled. “Sometimes, I like to ride the ferry and zone out, you know? Driving the boat requires all sorts of thinking, and every once in a while, it’s nice to just not.”
I nodded. “Yeah, man, I do.”
He still seemed hesitant, and I caught him gazing at that ferry with a worried look in his eyes. It dawned on me just then.
“Oh, come on, Dean,” I finally said with a smile. “Don’t tell me you still believe in that old superstition about the last ferry of the day.”
He laughed. “It was your wackadoodle neighbor who told me about it. Scared the piss right out of my six-year-old body. I’ve never been able to step foot on that last boat after hearing her tell those scary stories late at night.”
I rolled my eyes. “You know as well as I do that Terri has a few loose screws, and there isn’t anything she loves more than messing with young boys, especially when she catches them in her garden. Nothing bad has ever happened to the last ferry of the night. You and I know that.”
“Then, how do you explain the crazy experience we had that one night during junior year?”
“You mean, when Molly dared me to crawl under the car and grab your ankles when she was telling you that fucking lame-ass ghost story?”
His eyes widened in shock. “You assholes! I nearly peed my pants that night.”
I laughed. “Pretty sure you actually did. I think I had to talk you out of jumping off the boat several times.”
He shook his head, chuckling under his breath. “Those were the good old days,” he said, turning his attention toward the window.
I followed. I didn’t say anything in return.
“Okay,” he finally said, his eyes finding mine. “I’ll grab the last ferry with you. But only because we need to catch up. Things are different now.”
I nodded, letting him believe that. But how could anything be different in a place where nothing changed?
We watched the second-to-last ferry pull from the shore from our table in the restaurant, knowing there was one on its way back for us. It vanished into the dark waters of the Atlantic like some mystic pirate ship sailing into oblivion. After a beer or two, we paid our tab and set out toward our vehicles.
“Definitely couldn’t have done that if I had the boat,” he said before letting out a manly belch.
I shook my head in amusement. “No, definitely not.”
“So, I’ll see you in a few,” Dean said, slipping his hands in his jean pockets.
“Right. Priority pass,” I said as something dawned on me once again.
I was a tourist here now. Dean was a local.
The dividing line was clear as day as he wandered off toward his vehicle. Residents of Ocracoke could apply for a priority pass, giving them easy access to and from the island, while people like me had to wait in line.
“I’ll see you out there,” I hollered over my shoulder, bidding him a farewell as he took his place in the priority lane.
The walk back to my rental was short and the salt air did little to calm my nerves.
This was it.
In one hour, I’d be back on Ocracoke Island.
Hoping into the car, I revved the engine and pulled into the short line of cars waiting to board the ferry, feeling like the greatest imposter of them all.
A local with no home.
A deserter with nothing to look forward to but a lonely house and a dead father.
I slowly made my way onto the ferry, remembering the last time I’d done so.
It was a few days before my freshman orientation, and I had been determined to make the cross-country trip alone. My father and I had gotten into a huge fight the day before.
“You have other options!” he yelled. “Better options.”
“You mean, the options that would keep me here, close to you.”
He sighed, placing his hands against his forehead, as if he were trying to smooth out the stress of the last three months.
“You know, I’m not the only one here who wants you to stay.”
His words hit me like a battering ram. Less than twelve hours earlier, Molly had said the same exact thing.
But nothing was going to deter me.
Not family obligation or young love.
“I’m going to college, Dad. I’m going to college where I want to go, not you. Nothing can keep me here. You can’t make me attend college at NC State or force me to come back here to take over your mess of a practice. You lost that power over me when you killed my mother.” I regretted it the instant the fateful words had fallen from my mouth. I could see the pain they’d caused, feel the last thread snap that bound us together.
“Well then, I guess that’s it,” he said, his voice hoarse and filled with regret. “I wish you nothing but the best.”
I watched him walk away, leaving the small living room I’d filled with tension and animosity.
I should have been happy. I’d stood my ground. I’d won.
But, rather than elation, I felt dread.
And overwhelming sadness.
That day was the beginning and the end for me.
The first day of my new life.
And the end of everything I’d left behind. No one had shown up to see me off. I’d driven onto the ferry, the back of my old, beat-up pickup filled to the brim, completely and utterly alone.
And that was the day I’d decided I was done.
With this town and everyone in it.
Funny how fate had a way of making a liar out of me.
“It’s like riding a bicycle, isn’t it?” Dean said as he approached me.
I’d parked my rental and cut the engine like instructed before stepping out toward the railings. The air was a bit cooler than before when I’d touched down in Raleigh, and the humidity had drastically improved since the sun set.
“If the tourists can figure it out, I sure as hell can. Besides, it’s not like I forgot all those years we used to get out of summer chores to catch a ride to Hatteras.”
Dean grinned. “Man, we sure thought we had everyone fooled, didn’t we?”
“We did,” I answered adamantly.
He just shook his head. “No, we didn’t. My ma told me years ago that she knew exactly where we went. Yours did, too. They just chose to let it go, saying, What fun is youth if you can’t get away with a few things here and there?”
I was shocked. “So, you mean, all this time, they knew? Every covert getaway we planned, every success story?”
“All crap.” He laughed, both of us turning our attention back to the water.
“Well, I’ll be…”
After some time, Dean spoke up again, “You know, your accent is becoming stronger, the closer we get to home.”
“It’s not my home,” I growled.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see his shoulder rise as he shrugged.
“Okay, whatever you say, but don’t be surprised when you start bitching about mainlanders and the price of coffee in a few days.”
I rolled my eyes. “Never gonna happen, my friend. I’m here for one thing and one thing only. To help transition my father’s practice, so it can soon become someone else’s problem.”
He turned to me, looking somber. “And that’s the only reason?”
A wisp of long blonde hair and a forgotten smile flashed across my mind. I could hear her laughter. Feel her body as she surrendered to mine.
“Yes,” I answered firmly, my jaw twitching as I willed the memories away. “It’s the only reason.”
Dean’s hands went up in a symbol of surrender. “Okay, just checking.”
I watched the white spray of water the ferry left in its wake as it sped toward the island. Sped was a relative word. A one-way trip between the mainland and Ocracoke was about an hour, but considering the lack of alternatives, it was an impressive feat. I remembered my grandmother telling me of the days before the ferries had become the standard around here. It’d made leaving the island a rare occasion, and that generation still talked nonstop about how wonderfully exclusive the island had been.
After my mom had died, it’d felt pretty much the same.
Like a tropical prison meant to cage me in forever.
“Listen,” Dean said hesitantly. I could hear the sudden distress in his tone, which immediately drew my attention sideways. The lines across his forehead that hadn’t been there the last time I saw him deepened as he grappled for the right words. “I wanted you to hear it from me first. Molly and I, we’re getting ma—”
A dreadful, deep boom sounded off behind us, instantly cutting off Dean’s words.
Turning around, we instinctively ducked as an explosion of fire ripped through the ferry. Flames burst through the engine room, engulfing it in a fiery plume. Utter mayhem followed.
“What the—” I cursed under my breath as Armageddon surrounded us.
Screams. Bloodcurdling, soul-ripping shrieks of pain ripped through the night, causing my body to leap into action. This was what I had been trained to do after all. It was what had been hardwired into my brain after years of residency and training.
Weaving through the maze of cars, I sprang into action. Dean followed suit. We ripped doors open, pulling injured people from their cars, away from the flying wreckage.
“Dean!” I yelled, pointing to a family of four who were scared stiff. “Get them out of here!”
He nodded, carrying the battered and bruised as well as the shaken to safety. The rest, however, were for me.
Grabbing anything and everything I could from the cars, I quickly made makeshift tourniquets for wounds that wouldn’t stop bleeding, I banged on chests and started CPR, as brave souls took over so I could attend to others. And I never stopped assuring them that everything would be okay.
When, in reality, I knew the opposite.
There had been an explosion on the ferry.
A ferry carrying dozens of cars.
Gallons of gasoline.
We were literally stuck in the middle of the ocean on a ticking time bomb.
It was only a matter of time before—
Another explosion sounded, making my ears ring and my heart race. Turning toward the sound of the blast, I saw complete horror.
Cars were flying through the air and into the darkness of the water.
God, I’d never forget the screams.
Especially one in particular.
“Jake!” Dean hollered, his voice standing out above the rest. “Jake, help!”
I finished assessing a child’s small leg. “Don’t move, okay?” I said, turning my attention to his mother. “Keep pressure on his leg. Help will be here soon.”
But even the blue-eyed child, covered in his own blood, knew that was a lie.
We were all going to die here.
But like hell I’d stop trying.
Jumping over a scrap of metal, I made my way to Dean’s cries of help. When I got there, it took everything I had not to lose my shit as my eyes took him in.
“Hey,” I said, analyzing the situation as I drew closer.
Dean’s arm had been nearly severed. How? I wasn’t sure, but I was guessing what remained of his pickup truck next to him was to blame.
Pulling the shirt off my own back, I did what I could. I tried to stop the bleeding, I checked for other wounds, and most importantly, I kept him awake, even when his dark expression told me it was the last thing he wanted to do.
I’d seen this look before, more times than I could count in my days of working as a resident in the ER. The will to live was waning. Dean was giving up. His eyes began to look skyward as he reasoned with God.
“Hey,” I said, tightly pulling the scraps of fabric around his biceps.
His focus fell back on me.
“Remember when we were little, and Terri used to bust our hides for running off to the beach?”
He gave me a ghost of a smile as his eyes went glassy. “Yeah,” he choked out. “We never seemed to be able to do what we had been told.”
“Remember how we made fake pirate swords out of driftwood and practiced battling each other as the tide receded?”
“I bested you every time.”
“I wasn’t made for fighting, I recall.”
He coughed a strangled cough that made my insides burn. “No, you were always suited for something better. Something bigger. I’m glad you found it, and I’m fortunate I was able to see it before—”
“No,” I said. “Don’t you dare say it, Dean. You and I are going to get off this trash heap of a boat and walk into town as heroes, you hear me? You’ll be the talk of the entire island. Hell, you might even get laid.”
He laughed, and I could see the struggle in his gaze as he did so.
“Tell Molly I’m sorry.”
My eyebrows furrowed as I tried to decipher his words. “Tell Molly you’re sorry for what?” I asked, not knowing if he was still here with me or lost in a memory.
“Tell her I’m sorry for not being enough. For not being you. Take care of our Molly for me.”
I shook my head as I looked down at him, disbelief invading every molecule of my body.
“It was always you and her, Jake. Now everything will be as it should.”
His words swam around me like piranhas as I tried to make sense of it all. I looked into his eyes one last time, remembering the moment before the explosion.
Molly and I are getting ma—
My chest burned as I watched Dean’s eyes shut tight and I was left holding the limp body of my oldest friend.
The man who’d stolen the only woman I’d ever loved.
Copyright JL Berg 2017