Jaime Rae watched as the ocean pulled back the tide, letting it reach further and further into the sand with each swell but never letting it drift too far.
If only her own life were that way.
But instead, her heart was breaking with regret as each wave rushed back into the depths of the ocean.
She crinkled her toes in the sand and looked off at the horizon as the setting sun colored the sky with brilliant shades of reds and oranges over a blanket of blue.
Just last night she was watching the sunset from a different perspective. She’d been just sure that little box peaking through his jacket pocket was ring-sized. Maybe not large enough for blue ribbon to be attached, but still. She’d happily make do with a strip mall jeweler. Heck, she’d be happy with a Cracker Jack prize.
My, how she’d been wrong.
And now she was sitting here wearing two different colors of flip flips and having only eaten popcorn all day. Dry popcorn. And that was saying a lot of her mental state, given her usual daily allowance of chocolate.
She wouldn't risk her heart again, she decided. It just wasn’t worth trying.
And that's when she saw him.
The perfect specimen of canine flesh. Her heart's desire - a miniature Australian Shepherd. She lifted her eyes to the magnificent creature's owner.
She sighed. George L. Peabody III. Why him?
She returned her gaze to the dog. Small, around fifteen pounds, and beautiful. A blue merle.
He hopped, skipped, and jumped around George's feet. His trimmed tail wagged in excitement as George spoke to him.
She looked up. "Hi, George. Who's this?"
"Lancaster. Lannie say hi to Jamie." The dog jumped in her lap and licked her face. "No, Lannie, down. I'm sorry, Jamie. He doesn't usually jump on people."
Jamie smiled and scratched Lannie behind the ears. "That's okay. At least someone likes me enough to greet me with enthusiasm."
"Why would you think that?"
"Well, first your comment and I did notice that...um...your shoes don't match - like you were distracted when you came out here."
"Yeah, something's wrong, but I really don't want to talk about it."
George unfolded the towel he held beneath his arm and sat down on it. He pulled a chocolate candy bar from his pocket and handed it to her.
George had always been stubborn. Ever since their sixth grade prom, when she told him she didn't want to dance but he figured out the real problem: she didn't know how. Years ago, he used to tease Jamie that he'd deserve credit once she made it to Dancing with the Stars.
She took the chocolate from his outstretched hand and unwrapped the foil around it. There was something magical about Ghirardelli foil, something that chased away all the problems of the world. Well, almost all of them. She looked down at her mismatched flip flops and wiggled her toes. No use hiding them. He'd already noticed. Though, that wasn't all she'd hidden from him.
She cleared her throat. "How long have you had the dog?"
"Six months. He's still a puppy. Got him at the local animal shelter."
An animal shelter? For goodness' sake, did he really need to throw out that line? It was like he had no idea how smitten she was with him. How smitten she'd always been.
"It was that guy, wasn't it? What's the jerk's name, Tyler?"
Jamie sighed and scooped up a handful of sand, then watched it escape through the grip of her fingers. That was the funny thing about holding on too tight to things. You usually can't hold on at all.
She looked straight into George's eyes and shivered, whether from the coming night or the wind or something else entirely, she didn't know. "There's something I need to tell you, George. Something I should've told you long ago."
Lannie crawled up into Jamie's lap and rubbed his head against her arm.
George leaned back against the beach towel, resting his head on his hand. "I'm listening."
"I have a child."
George was stunned. Jamie's words echoed in his head and flooded his heart.
"A child?" he whispered, struggling to find his words.
Jamie stared off into the distance as the last fleck of gold sunlight disappeared into the ocean. Why had she told George about her precious daughter? It wasn't like she needed to be more vulnerable, especially now.
"A child," Jamie repeated. "And not the furry kind."
George let out a quiet chuckle. Jamie was right, though; Lannie was the closest thing he had to a child, and he couldn’t imagine it any other way at the young age of 24. He had so many dreams for himself, so many things he wanted to accomplish before settling down and having children...
A million questions raced around in his mind, but one question plagued him in particular.
"So...who’s the father?"