Finally...My Forever - Kristi Pelton

Chapter 1


STANDING IN MY office, I stared out at the lit Dallas skyline—a complete opposite of the place where I grew up. A year ago tonight, I had been sitting right there in that very office after getting Emma’s text, replaying in my head the moment Zach got down and asked my girl to marry him. My girl. Only she wasn’t my girl. Not anymore. She, of course, said yes, like I knew she would. I shook off the irritating feeling in my chest. A chest filled with regret and insecure doubts. I had spent an entire year hoping that Em might come back to me, and I was finally digesting the cruel fact that it was never gonna happen. Wasted time. Time to move on.

This beautiful corner office on the twenty-sixth floor of one of the tallest skyscrapers in Dallas was where I’d spent all of my mornings, my noons and my nights for the past year. Every intern, every administrative assistant, delivery girls, even other attorneys…I’d been approached by them all. I’d passed on every one of them. I wasn’t ready.

You see, that’s the bitch about love. Sometimes the one person you think is your person isn’t. Instead, you simply filled that gap in her life while she was waiting for “him” to come back. Maybe Em knew. Maybe she didn’t. Maybe forever wasn’t in my cards when it came to any woman. I didn’t know.

But I’ll tell you what I did know. I missed Canon Beach. I missed Oregon. I’d stayed away for far too long. I was headed back soon to be in the wedding of the girl I once loved. It was time to put on my big boy pants and handle my shit. Actually, my father was insisting I come. But I’d go anyway. I’d promised Em. The problem for me was going alone. I didn’t want Zach to think I was still hung up on her. I wanted everyone to think I’d moved on. I needed to move on. My life had become one pathetic workday after another. Even that night, I was the only one left in the office. It was hard enough to meet a woman if you went out and did things, but my odds were horrible given I did nothing.

That night as I drove home, I scrolled through my brain trying to think of someone… anyone that might be able to tag along on the trip to Oregon. Someone who knew it was just an obligation. Someone who understood I wanted nothing more. Or maybe I did. Actually, someone who didn’t know me. Didn’t know about the money. Didn’t know about Emma.

I pulled into Braums, which was way less busy than a grocery store but way busier than I expected. After grabbing the milk, I waited in the line at the register. A long line. Scrolled through my phone still thinking about a future possible wedding date. A young kid was learning the register and the lady toward the front of the line wasn’t exactly patient. She shifted her weight from one hip to the other huffing and puffing. People were so damn rude and impatient. I loosened my own tie as if that would relieve the tension the woman felt.

A girl wearing a Braums cap rounded the corner and noticed the line. Strawberry blonde tendrils of hair spiraled out behind her ears. Seriously. I couldn’t escape redheads or reminders of Emma. I chuckled to myself, glancing away from the girl.

“What’s goin’ on, David?” she softly asked the younger kid.

“I don’t know,” he laughed nervously. She smiled, touching his shoulder.

“This is ridiculous. Could someone else just check us out. There’s a line a mile long here.”

The strawberry blonde’s eyes flashed up at mine since I was at the caboose of that ‘mile’. Thinking quickly and trying to let both employees know it was okay, I held up my thumb and index finger indicating an inch. My lame attempt at making them understand the mile comment was a ridiculous exaggeration. Her blush lips twitched into a slight grin.

The impatient lady lifted her frozen ice cream and slammed it back down on the metal countertop. Shaking my head, I glared at her with disgust. Was ice cream really worth someone’s self-esteem?

“I’m so sorry. The register seems to be frozen,” the ginger tried to explain.

“Now, how is that my problem?”

I finally caught a glimpse of her name tag. Freebie. Interesting name. I glanced back up at her, waiting to see how she was