Authors: Jen Frederick
harlotte and Nathan
were supposed to be forever. They grew up together. Their families were intertwined. Charlotte was Nathan's first love. Nathan was Charlotte's first everything.
Until they weren't.
How do you hold on to the person you know in your heart you are supposed to be with when everything and everyone in the universe is telling you it's over?
How many times does a heart break?
When is enough…..enough?
How long is forever?
his book is
for the fans. After writing the epilogue to
, a romance between the son of the couple from
and the daughter of the couple from
arose from the pages. I wrote one scene for fun and then another, and it became a free serial novel in my newsletter to give readers a glimpse into the future of two popular couples from my Woodlands series. Reader enthusiasm inspired me to expand the story, and Charlotte and Nate’s love took on a dramatic life of its own.
oday is a no good
, very bad, wholly rotten day. In the history of bad days, this has to be on the top. My best friend Nick is sitting by the window and won’t look at me. His brother Nathan’s in the corner, glowering as if somehow this is my fault. Mom is trying not to cry, and Dad is pacing like a lunatic.
And my head hurts bad. The doctor says that tonight’s surgery will help alleviate the pressure from the tumor that’s taken up residence in the back of my skull. No one knows what will happen next, other than to not operate would be a death sentence.
My choices are dying or getting my head cut open and possibly dying.
Being only fifteen, I don’t get to make the decision. That’s up to my parents, who said yes to surgery before the doctor even was done introducing the idea. Did either of them even hear the litany of absolutely terrible things that could happen during surgery?
They could administer the wrong amount of anesthesia, and I wouldn’t wake up. Or they could accidentally cut into some vital portion of my brain, rendering me conscious but incapable of speech or movement. Or the tumor could be so large that surgery was a worthless endeavor in the first place.
Everyone wants me to have the surgery. As for me, I’d like a moment, just one, to think about it. But there’s no time. It’s now, tonight, immediately or not at all.
None of the adults are going to give it to me straight. Even the doctors talk in quiet tones to my parents in the corner. I want to yell that
I’m the patient
, but I can’t yell because even speaking is too painful right now. But I’m glaring. My eyes are shouting at them. Unfortunately no one but Nathan is even looking at me right now. Nathan who must think I’ve done something to create this tumor in my head and ruin his day, because he can’t stop glowering at me. His face looks thunderous like he’d like to squeeze my head until the tumor pops out like a zit. I’d like that too. But at least he’s looking at me, unlike everyone else.
. Fucking. Day. Ever.
of Charlotte’s bed rattles as she is wheeled out of her room toward the operating room. Her blue eyes look afraid, like the time she was eight and Nick and I were trying to get her to jump off the diving board into the pool. I finally walked out onto the board and held her hand so we could jump off the side together. But today, no amount of hand holding is going to take the fear from her or from any of us.
For a moment after Charlotte is taken away, the room is silent. No soft words exchanged between Mom and Aunt AnnMarie. No gruff, low tones from Uncle Bo or Dad. No sounds from Nick’s Nintendo DS. It is eerie. Then Aunt AnnMarie begins sobbing, and her cries are so awful I have to leave the room. I have to leave the hallway, but no matter how much distance I put between Charlotte’s hospital room and myself, I can’t escape the sounds. They are embedded in my brain. I sink down into a chair in the waiting room on the PICU floor and clutch my head in my hands. If I could rewind time, I think I’d never get up this morning.
I hear my Dad and Bo enter the waiting room and pick my head up. Nick is with them.
“The surgery will take a couple of hours, maybe longer. Why don’t you take Grace and the boys home to get some rest? We’ll call you as soon as she’s out,” Uncle Bo says.
Dad looks at Uncle Bo and then grabs him. The two stand there clutching each other, and that’s all it takes for Nick to break. Dad reaches out, and the three of them huddle together. The only one I hear is Nick, nearly choking on his tears, but Uncle Bo’s shoulders are heaving with grief.
Dad and Bo served as Marines together, years ago. They were teenagers when they enlisted. Dad came from a dirt-poor family with an asshole father who died before I was born. Bo’s dad was just as bad. We have no grandfathers. Not on our mom’s side either.
dad died when she was kid. None of us felt the lack because we had each other, and Dad and Bo had a legion of old Marine buddies. Once a Marine, always a Marine even if you separated early instead of retired.
Charlotte, Nick, and I grew up together. We live in the same condo building on the same floor, our nearly identical penthouses separated by a wall. My dad and Charlotte’s mom formed a hedge fund that they partnered into a billion dollar investment firm. Our families are so intertwined, we are almost one unit. Even though we sometimes fight, we are family. But now it’s being threatened. My safe, perfect life is being ripped apart. If Charlotte doesn’t make it, we’re doomed. I just know it.
I walk in the opposite direction, toward the windows. The air conditioning is leaving condensation on the window, and the glass feels both cold and wet against my forehead. Outside, the city is running like nothing out of the ordinary is happening, like two families aren’t breaking down inside this hospital. Like our whole future isn’t dependent on Charlotte making it out of surgery in one functional piece.
I’m not sure how long I stand there, but I feel dazed when Dad places his hand on my shoulder.
“We’re going to go home for a bit,” Dad says, drawing me away from the window.
“Don’t want to,” I reply. I want to be here when Charlotte wakes up. She might need me.
“We need to take care of your mom.” Dad squeezes my shoulder. I nod because Dad isn’t asking. His tone is mild but when it comes to taking care of Mom, he’s implacable.
ome isn’t much better
. Mom started crying in the car and hasn’t stopped. Dad carries her into the elevator and then down into their bedroom. Nick trails behind. The other side of the penthouse floor is silent and dark. Empty.
I stand in the entryway, unsure of what I should do.
Five minutes later, Dad comes out looking like he’s aged about ten years in this one day. He drags a hand through his hair.
“Why don’t you go work out some of that energy?” he suggests.
It’s as good of an idea as any. I’m happy for the direction. If he hadn’t said something, I might have stood frozen in the entry until the surgery was over.
After changing into a pair of gym shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, I walk down the stairs into the private workout facility on the floor that separates the penthouse apartments in this building from the rest of the units. My entire body rebels when I see the long padded mat that Charlotte uses to practice her gymnastic moves. The mat she may never use again.
I can’t be here.
Working out in common gym
I text my dad.
As I am boarding the elevator, the phone pings again.
Love you son.
On the way down to the gym that is open for all building residents, the elevator stops on the eleventh floor. Madeline Short steps on. Madeline is a freshman at one of the city colleges. I don’t know her well, but she is definitely in my mental spank bank. My brain screams, “Welcome distraction.” She’s tall for a girl. The top of her head hits me around my mouth. I can rest my chin on the top of Charlotte’s head, something that irritates her to no end.
Madeline has a tight body and a tendency to say outrageous things she thinks might make me blush. Like I’ve never had a girl before. I’ve never said anything to dissuade her because I’ve enjoyed watching her lick her lips and rub the shadowed valley between her big tits.
Madeline stands so close to me you’d think that there were dozens of others in the elevator car instead of just the two of us, but I don’t move away. Her body is warm and, for the first time in hours, I feel like I’m thawing out. When her arm brushes mine, I start getting hot. The look in her eyes is an obvious invitation, so when the elevator stops at the sixth floor, I don’t get off. And I don’t protest when she presses the close door button, and I don’t say anything when she presses the button for her floor.
I follow her silently into her family’s empty apartment. She leads us confidently down the hall toward a bedroom. I don’t say anything when she pulls down my gym shorts or pushes the T-shirt off my head. I’m afraid if I do talk the sounds of Aunt AnnMarie’s cries or my mother’s sobs will come back, and I don’t want that. I don’t want to think at all.
When Madeline leads me to her bed, when she takes off her clothes, when we lie down together, I shut down my brain and just concentrate on the physical feeling of release.
from my phone wakes me out of a doze. I jerk upright and grab my phone.
She made it. She’s asking for you.
I can’t get dressed fast enough. My motions jostle Madeline, or maybe she was awake all along. I don’t really care. I’ve got to get to the hospital.
“Hey, where are you going? I told you my parents are gone.”
“Gotta run.” My mouth feels dry, and my throat is sore as if all the tears I’ve suppressed are glass shards scraping my insides raw as they travel from my eye sockets into my stomach.
Madeline leans toward me and hooks a finger through the waistband of my shorts. “What’s your rush? I’m ready for round three if you are.”
But this particular distraction is over. I can’t even stand to have her touch my clothes, but my dad would kill me if he knew I was rude to a woman, particularly one I’d just fucked.
“I’m sorry.” I give her a tight smile. “Family thing.”
She shrugs. Ten minutes ago, the lift of her naked breast would’ve gotten me hard, and I’d have fallen on her. Now I only have Charlotte on my mind; there’s no room for Madeline without making me sick.
“I’ll call,” I say and then pull on my T-shirt and grab up my socks and shoes. I don’t look back, even when she calls my name out in a bewildered fashion. I can’t tell her Charlotte’s situation. It’s a family thing.
By the time I get to the hospital, my clothes are back together and I’m winded. I run to the door, and Dad is standing there looking grim. I falter. “Did she. . . ” I’m afraid to finish the sentence.
“She’s fine. A fighter,” Dad says with approval. I move toward the entrance, and he stops me. I hear him inhale and then he pushes me back. I strain against him, but my seventeen-year-old body isn’t strong enough to overtake him. Dad was a professional fighter back in the day, and he’s still as strong as hell now. I’m proud to be his son, but right now I’m confused as to why he’s keeping me from Charlotte.
“Sorry, hoss, I can’t let you go in there stinking like sex and perfume. You’d embarrass your mother, piss off your Uncle Bo, and break Charlotte’s heart. AnnMarie’d have your nuts on a platter.”
I flush and turn away, embarrassed by my behavior. Dad grabs my head and brings me close to him.
“This is going to be a tough. Loving people is tough.” His hard stare burns through me. “Are you strong enough to see it through?”
“I am,” I say and straighten. “Sorry, Dad. Won’t happen again.” And it won’t. I’ll apologize to Madeline at my first opportunity because using her to ease my pain was very wrong. And if Charlotte found out? She’d never look at me with the same trust and adoration again. Charlotte was meant to be mine. I knew it when she was born. Nick is her brother, but I’m her protector. I’ve let her down this time, but never again.