01 Nov Last Goodbyes: Chapter 2 in a Short Story Sequence
This short story sequence is a series of several deleted scenes that didn’t make it into I Am Girl Power because it wasn’t exactly in line with the vision I had for Megan’s installment of The Health and Happiness Society.
But there’s no reason we can’t take a leap into the world of Contemporary Romance now!
If you haven’t read chapter 1, click here to read that first!
The reason I’ve given the short story sequence to you here is because it’s separate from their actual story for now—and some future books that I may write for them. Assume that we’re back at Adventura before the summer ends, when the tension between Justin and Meg is at its highest.
I hope you love this side of Justin and Megan as much as I do.
Fifteen minutes after I parted from Justin and that mysterious woman, a crackle issued over the radio.
“We have an open wound coming in,” Mark called. “Get ready for some blood and gore, Blister. A camper cracked his knee open falling on a rock. Over.”
I didn’t respond, but closed my eyes and enjoyed the last few seconds of cool water spraying from the shower head. Adventura had a secret collection of outdoor showers enclosed with old logs that only a few staff members knew about. Six or seven shower heads sprayed into the middle at the same time. I roped the entrance off, ditched my stuff on a bench, and enjoyed the spray of two different showers while the sun beat down on my skin.
“Blister?” Mark sang again. “I know you can hear me.”
I reached over, grabbed the radio off a rickety shelf, and said, “Roger. I’ll be at medical in ten. Over.”
With a sigh, I relinquished my place beneath the shower. My mind, however, strayed to Justin. That unfortunately attractive man. I couldn’t help but still wonder who that woman was, or why he seemed so . . . upset. He was usually so even-tempered. But that look in his eyes?
I didn’t like that one bit.
“Stop,” I told myself with a growl, twisting the knob off with more force than necessary. The water disappeared. I slipped into a fresh pair of clothes, tied my shoes, and released my hair from its high ponytail before ducking out of the showers. Justin and his lady friend weren’t in sight.
Maybe she left already.
“What do we have here?” I asked when I slipped into medical. A young boy with a stoic expression sat on the cot. Blood oozed from his left knee and dripped into his dirt-crusted stocking. Mark had a reassuring hand on his shoulder while the other hand dug through my hidden candy collection.
“Took a little spill.” Mark popped a sucker open and handed it to the kid. “I don’t think you’ll have to amputate.”
The camper glared at him but accepted the candy. Mark swatted him affectionately on the back while he tore into a chocolate bar.
“Should be just fine,” I said, crouching down to inspect the torn skin and smeared blood. “I just need to clean some dirt and rocks out of it, all right?”
The boy, who had a mop of curly brown hair, nodded indifferently. I straightened and met Mark’s eye.
“You can go. I’ll walk him back.”
His eyes narrowed. “Where’s the gladiator?”
“In his cabin. With a woman.”
The qualifying statement popped out. I almost swore. Mark’s eyebrow lifted with deep interest. “What?”
“Not like that. Some . . . business lady showed up. Said she represented someone, but I didn’t catch who.”
“Yes,” I drawled. “Why?”
He paused, then shook his head. “It’s probably nothing.”
But his expression didn’t convince me. I grabbed his arm to keep him from leaving.
“Is he in trouble?”
Mark scoffed. “Justin? Yeah, right. It’s probably about his parents or his grandfather.”
He hesitated, but one pleading look from me and he eventually acquiesced. “Justin was raised by his grandfather.”
“Where are his parents?”
Mark shrugged. “Never said. I only know about his grandfather because he called once. Listen, Meg, it’s not our business. Let it go. If the gladiator wants you to know something then he’ll tell you. Leave him be.”
He shot me a stern fatherly look.
Mark grabbed his radio and slipped out the front door. I headed back into Medical, my brain spinning with even more mysteries. Who was the girl . . . and why was Justin raised by his grandfather?
* * *
The day slipped quietly by.
When the fading shadows of evening dropped, the scent of burning pine and campfires wafted through the camp.
Campers and leaders cooked dinner in their own campsites, while the sound of laughing and running through the trees mingled in a summer breeze. Once I finished cleaning up, I stepped into the sweet air with a deep breath and enjoyed a golden sunset.
With tacos sitting heavy in my stomach, I began to wander. A hunch led me to the river. I didn’t blatantly seek Justin out, but I kept my eyes open just in case.
To my not-great-surprise, a figure sat near the riverbank. A familiar, worn ball cap with a head of chocolate hair and a wide set of his shoulders. My heart skipped a beat. I thought about turning around, giving him space for . . . whatever, but couldn’t back away. I waded through low bracken and twigs. Atticus sat next to him, tongue lolling out.
“Hey,” I said.
Justin tossed a pebble into the river and made room for me on a mossy rock. I settled next to him and pretended like I didn’t see his bloodshot eyes.
“My grandfather was a great man.” He leaned forward to rest his forearms on his thighs. “The best. That woman came from his lawyer. He died last night.”
My gut twisted painfully. Whatever I had expected, that certainly wasn’t it. For a few breathless seconds, I felt like I’d been punched. The feeling passed quickly.
“Justin, that’s terrible.”
His jaw tightened. He stared across the river, nostrils flaring, shoulders taut.
“Were you close with him?”
“He raised me. So . . . yes.”
“Was this . . . unexpected?”
He laughed under his breath, a soft, breathy sound that was painful and sardonic. “Not necessarily. We’ve known he was on his way out for awhile now but I haven’t seen him in almost six months.”
He picked up a fallen leaf and tore it into long strips. Atticus made a noise deep in his throat and lowered his head to the ground with a sigh, as if he could sense Justin’s melancholy.
“He was diagnosed with cancer six months ago and didn’t want me to see it break him. He wanted me to remember all the good times, so he made me promise not to come back until he was gone. We said our goodbyes in the winter. Jessica came to let me know he’d passed. He and I made the funeral arrangements last year. He’ll be buried in four days.”
I wondered about Justin’s parents, but didn’t say anything. Would anyone else attend? “You should leave tonight.”
“I’ll go in the morning.”
The pulsating pain I felt for him didn’t abate. If anything, it strengthened. I reached over and put a hand on his arm, surprised that it was sun kissed and warm. The feel of his skin made my palm burn.
“I’m so sorry, Justin.”
He leaned into my shoulder, as if he needed someone to share the weight pressing on him.
“Me too, girl power. Me too.”
Chapter 3 of this short story sequence is coming at you in December. Click here to go to the short story index for more goodness.
If you need more of the Health and Happiness Society ladies, sink in to any book in the collection here!