Kiss My Boots(9)

By: Harper Sloan

“Taking over Paw’s practice means a whole helluva lot more to me than ‘some hotshot’ place ever could. As for the rest, well, that’s a story for another day.”

“Goddammit,” she hisses, her voice sounding farther away, and I reckon she pulled the phone away from her face.

“What? Jesus, Q, you look like you’re gonna pass out,” another voice whispers through the line, muffled and only recognizable as female. I wonder if it’s her best friend, Leighton—sounds like it could be her, although older and more mature. Those two were thick as thieves when they were younger, and I reckon they’re still right close.

“Quinn?” I ask in concern.

When she finally speaks again, it’s in a rush of words, none of which are what I want to hear. “When you get back in town you can call the shop and talk to Barrett or Tank. Barrett would be best, but Tank will still get some kind of message to me. Figure out what you want done and how much you want to spend before you call and save them the trouble of pullin’ that outta you. I think it would be in everyone’s best interest if you dealt with them and they communicated your wishes to me. I’ll do this for you because I respected the hell outta your paw, but I can’t do this shit with you. Not now. Not again. Not ever.”

I see Ella, my dinner companion, wave at me curiously through the window, and I lift my chin in acknowledgment before giving her my back. “Quinn.” I sigh, not ready to let her off the phone but knowing she is too stubborn to listen to reason when she feels backed into a corner. I don’t even feel bad about doing it either, not when I know this is my key to getting close to her when I get back. I send a silent prayer of thanks to the gods that Davis Auto is the only game in town, any other potential body shops too fearful of the strong competition the Davis family represents to try their hand at the business. If there was any other shop within a twenty-mile radius of Pine Oak, I know I’d be shit out of luck.

“You have the shop number. I’ll let the guys know you’ll be in touch. I know this is an entirely foreign concept to you, but this, Tate, is what good-bye sounds like.”

Before I can open my mouth and demand her silence so I can say everything I need to say, the call is disconnected and the dial tone is echoing back in my ringing ear.

I pocket my phone and try to ease some of the tension out of my shoulders, replaying the phone call in my mind, hearing her voice, and feeling my body start to come alive for the first time in a long damn while from that alone. I’d stopped believing that I would ever see her again, let alone hear her voice, but now that I have, my body is humming with the reminder of what that husky sound can do to it.

- -

Back then, when I left her for good, I knew I was doing the right thing. It was something I had begrudgingly accepted as each lonely year passed that I longed for her. I would never have gone back, leaving her free to be lost to me forever when another man realized how perfect she is too. Hell, for all I know, that man’s already in her life. That was the one update I refused to let my friend Mark, who still lives back in Pine Oak, fill me in on. Ignorance is bliss, and all that.

It took me a while to accept that possibility when I gave in and left her. There were so many days that I wanted to fight the resistance keeping me back and give up everything for her—but it would have been selfish of me to do so knowing it would affect so many others. So I did the only thing I could: I learned to accept the life I was living. I have some good friends in Alpharetta, the town just outside of Atlanta where I live. The position I have in the labor and delivery department at Northside Hospital in Atlanta is challenging and rewarding, just what I always wanted. I date casually, the type of women like the one waiting inside for me to return—even if what I share with Ella isn’t special, it’s practical. Functional. Satisfying, more or less. Bottom line, I don’t do relationships. I feed my body’s needs when the loneliness threatens to become too overwhelming, and that’s it.

From the outside looking in, I have everything the younger me thought I wanted at this point in my life. I’ve become the man my parents pushed me to be—a doctor in a top-of-the-line hospital, far away from the private small-town practice I always pictured myself owning. I’m every bit the rich and successful man I appear to be. I could buy the damn world if I felt like I wanted to take it for a spin.

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