The Good Luck Charm Page 35

“I promise not to interfere—just don’t make me go home.”

“Martin in a mood?”

“Nah. He’s good. Moving around so much better these days, and he needs a lot less help, but you know how it is. I’m on family overdose. I need my space.”

“So you’re planning to invade mine—is that it?”

“Your bed is nicer.”

“You take up ninety percent of it.” I poke him in the chest.

He grins. “You love it.”

“Don’t kid yourself. I tolerate it.” He knows I don’t mean that. I love it when he curls himself around me. Ethan’s love of spooning hasn’t changed at all.

“It won’t be long before I take possession of the Hoffman estate. Then we’ll have a king-size bed to make good use of.”

“Things to look forward to this fall, huh?” I push his wandering hands away so as not to disappoint Merk. He needs fresh air, and I’ll be more focused if I get some, too. Maybe it’ll help Ethan be less of a study distraction. “Just let me get changed, then.”

I leave Ethan standing in the foyer and rush upstairs to throw on a pair of yoga pants and a light tank. It’s still warm, but it’s cooling faster in the evening, so I grab a hoodie as well. When I come back downstairs, I find Ethan waiting on the front porch, Merk leashed and ready to go.

He looks me over, cocking his head to the side. “All set?”

“Yup.” I lock the door and follow behind Ethan and Merk.

His truck beeps and he heads toward it instead of the sidewalk.

“What’re you doing?”

He opens the passenger door. “I thought it would be nice to head out to the path that runs along the lake. I haven’t been down there in years.”

I eye him suspiciously. “You mean the one we used to take in high school?”

He blinks innocently at me. “Is that okay? We don’t have to.”

“No, no. It’s fine.” I climb into the cab and shift to the center of the bench seat when Merk jumps up beside me, tail batting me in the arm with his enthusiasm for the trip. Nothing beats a ride in Ethan’s truck and a walk.

Ethan rolls the window down as he pulls out of the driveway, and Merk sticks his head out, tongue lolling and ears flapping in the breeze. He’s a big dog and takes up a lot of room, forcing me close to Ethan. Every time we turn a corner, his arm brushes mine. I expect him to put a hand on my thigh, or one around my shoulders, but he keeps it surprisingly PG.

It only takes about ten minutes to get to the high school from my place. Ethan parks in the corner of the lot closest to the forest. Merk prances with excitement once we’re out of the truck, and I have to encourage him to sit while Ethan lifts the dog tags from the rearview mirror and slips them into his pocket. He takes them with him everywhere and apparently always has. Even when I wasn’t part of his life, he kept me close. It makes my heart ache as much as swell. He slings a backpack over his shoulder and locks up the truck.

“What’s in there?” I ask as he meets me around the hood.

“Just some snacks and bottles of water.” He laces his fingers with mine. “Come on. Merk is going to lose his mind if we don’t get moving.”

He’s right. Merk is trotting in place, whining his frustration with not being able to tear through the open field. I unclip the leash and let him loose to chase poor, helpless butterflies and roll around in the grass. He’s probably going to need a bath when we get home, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I can have Ethan take care of that while I study.

We pass the football field, where a group of teenagers toss a ball around. A few girls sit on the sidelines watching them play, shouting and laughing.

“So carefree,” I observe.

He squeezes my hand. “We were like that once.”

I can feel his eyes on me, and I look up, seeing the shadows there. Trying again with him means sometimes we get bogged down with the past instead of staying in the present. “Well, you had your moments, but I was always pretty zeroed in on the goal. If it wasn’t for you, I probably never would’ve had any fun.”

“Totally untrue, we had fun all the time. You had big plans. You knew exactly what you were doing and how you were going to get there, you just figured out how to prioritize it all better than I did.”

I laugh a little at that. “I thought I knew what I was doing; half the time I had my head in the clouds.” I whistle for Merk as we approach the tree line, and he changes course, running circles around us.

I clip the leash back on, giving Merk slack so he can sniff around on the path. Under the cover of the trees it’s cooler, and beams of sunlight filter through gaps in the branches.

We continue down the path, away from the sound of the kids playing ball in the field. Eventually we have to unlink our hands when the path narrows, and we’re forced into single file.

“Can I ask you a question?”

I glance over my shoulder at him. “Sure.”

“What made you decide not to become a doctor?”

I can read between the lines. He wants to know if he’s the reason, or maybe Avery. Neither is true, although I suppose in some way, both were factors in the ultimate decision. “For the first two years of college, premed was my goal, but then I started to realize I didn’t love the idea of setting up my own practice, and I didn’t want to be a surgeon. It’s the people part of the job I love the most, being able to help and being involved in the treatment plan beyond signing off on papers and interpreting test results, so I switched gears and went into nursing instead.”

Ethan chews his bottom lip, regarding me thoughtfully. “So it had nothing to do with finances?”

“Not for me, no,” I reply, tugging on Merk’s leash when he tries to go after a squirrel.

“That seems like a loaded answer.”

I debate how to frame this. There’s so much he doesn’t know about my life in the time he was gone from it. And yet, as much as I’ve changed, much remains the same. “Well, Avery was all for the switch because it was less expensive, and I wouldn’t be in school as long.”

“Doctors make a lot more than nurses, though,” Ethan says.

I glance at him. “It was never about the paycheck. Doctors also work insane hours. I wanted some balance between my job and my life, and Avery wanted a family.”

“So that’s why you went into nursing? So you could start a family?”

There’s discomfort in this conversation. I’m glad I have to focus on navigating the uneven terrain rather than seeing his reaction. “I didn’t make the decision for him; I made it for me. He wanted to start a family, but I … didn’t.”

“You always wanted a family, though.”

“Eventually yes, with the right person.” I sigh, considering the year leading up to my separation from Avery. It had been coming for a long time; the end of us had been inevitable from the beginning, for exactly the reasons Avery cited in the grocery store parking lot. “And that wasn’t him. It took me a while to recognize that. I wanted to go back to school; he wanted to focus on starting a family. We were moving in different directions, and at some point, we both realized it wasn’t going to work, for a lot of reasons.” At first I loved the way he seemed to need me, constantly bringing me to work events, meeting me for lunch during the week as often as he could, calling during the day just to check in. After a while it felt suffocating, and the more he tried to pull me closer, the more I pulled away.

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