Last Goodbyes Chapter 6
This short story sequence is a series of several deleted scenes that didn't make it into the final version of I am Girl Power because it leaned into Contemporary Romance and wasn't exactly in line with the vision I had for Megan.
But there's no reason we can't explore that now!
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"Randolph was the best of men."
The family preacher stood on the beach behind the estate, holding a beautiful mahogany box inlaid with gold filigree on top. A ruby clasp kept it closed. A salty breeze slipped down the beach that tossed my hair around my shoulders and my dress around my knees. I faced into it. The white foam of the sea spray rushed onto the sand and retreated with a hiss.
"He loved life, his family, and despite his prosperity and financial blessings, lived a simple existence and always gave to others."
I'd been watching Justin closely, but so far had only seen signs of affection from him as he spoke with the staff members. Occasional glimpses of a sad little boy appeared in his face, then faded. His gaze roved back to the estate at least once a minute, as if searching for someone who wasn't there.
"Today, we give tribute to his life and his memory. Randolph made me promise I'd keep it short and simple, so let us just say, to Randolph. May he live forever on the beach that was his favorite place on earth."
The small collection of staff members murmured the words in response. With little flourish or grandiose display, the preacher opened the box and turned it to the wind. Ash trickled into the breeze, drifting onto the sand and ocean. In a heartfelt move to let him know he wasn’t alone anymore, I reached over and clasped Justin's warm hand, enjoying the way our fingers threaded together.
After Randolph's ashes dispersed over the ocean, the preacher said a prayer. Staff members slowly filtered back toward the house. What would happen to them now? Would Justin keep them on staff? If he didn’t live here—and why wouldn’t he?—why keep it open?
Rebecca reached over and squeezed my arm.
"Stay with him," she whispered in my ear as she passed. "He needs a friend."
Justin and I remained on the beach for so long that any sign of life dissipated. He stared at the horizon, relaxed and at ease for having said goodbye. He didn't let go of my hand, and I didn't want him to.
"Thanks," he said, breaking the spell of silence. "I'm grateful you came."
He looked over and smiled, melting a little corner of my heart yet again. Through his sadness and grief, I thought I saw a sense of relief.
"I'm happy for him," he said. "Cancer is an ugly way to go. At least he's at peace."
"With your grandma.”
Justin grinned. "Yes. He's got to be happy about that. Shall we go inside?”
The wind whipped several strands of hair across my face, so I pushed them out of my eyes. "If you want to."
He hesitated, then looked back over the crashing surf. "Hang out with me for a few more minutes?" he asked quietly.
Forever, I thought.
"Of course,” I said.
* * *
Later that evening, Justin met with Randolph's lawyers to sort out the legal aspects of his passing. I slipped into a pair of running pants, a loose athletic shirt, and headed for the beach barefoot. The long stretch of sand looked so deserted, and enticing, that I could hardly wait to run.
At first, the moving ground beneath my feet made it difficult to get into my usual breathing pattern. By the time I figured it out, I'd run around a bend and left the estate behind. The sound of the surf was a better soundtrack than any music, so I ran free. The light air and extra oxygen filled my lungs with a heady sense of power. The sun headed toward the horizon, sinking lower beneath the ocean and coating the sky in marmalade.
When I returned an hour later, a lone figure stood in the water behind the house. Their hands tucked into their pockets, staring out. His shirt flapped in the breeze. I slowed as I neared, a sea shell in hand.
The dim light played tricks on my eyes at first, but I quickly realized that the man standing a few feet away wasn't Justin.
At least, not exactly.
"Hello," he said, staring at me with a familiar expression of curiosity. "Who are you?"
I stopped, startled to find myself in front of an extremely attractive, svelte older version of Justin. He had the same facial structure and brown hair. I suspected, though I couldn't tell in the twilight, that if this man smiled, it would look just like Justin.
A perfect little mimicry.
"Megan.” I propped my hands on my waist while I caught my breath. "My name is Megan."
He glanced around, a lingering cheerfulness in his eyes. "This is private property, but I bet you know that."
The words I'm here with your son hovered on the tip of my tongue, but I forced them back. Surely he was Justin's father, but I didn't know that for certain.
"I do. I'm . . . I'm here with Justin."
A glimmer of light flickered in his eyes. "Are you dating my son?"
The man nodded, as if he understood something I didn't. "I see. It's good to meet you Megan. My name is also Randolph, but I go by Randy."
He extended his hand, which I shook, not surprised to find his grip strong and sure. He had the air of a man who knew what he wanted in life, and did whatever it took to get it. His clothes, while wind blown, were high quality.
“Justin is inside, I presume?”
His gaze slid to the house.
"He was meeting with some lawyers. Our flight leaves tomorrow.”
I hesitated. What information was mine to give? Would he want his father to know where he lived? Or what he did for a job?
"Tomorrow evening,” I said.
He studied me with an air of stifled amusement, as if he knew what I was thinking. I couldn't imagine what was amusing about my bland response.
"I see,” he murmured.
A paralysis born of awkward circumstance kept me standing there, arms at my side, the waves splashing around our ankles. If the situation hadn't been so strange, it would have been a lovely evening to sit back and stare at the stars.
"I should go back," I finally said. "Would you like me to tell them that you're here?"
He seemed to understand the question I wasn't brave enough to ask.
Do you want Justin to know you're here?
Randy smiled. "I always come to the beach first whenever I come home. Seemed especially appropriate this time, considering Dad was put to rest here."
“How often do you return?"
His eyes went distant. "Not often enough. Do you mind if I walk with you?"
"Of course not."
We started up the sandy path, through a small copse of vegetation, and finally into the back gardens without a word. Randy had fallen into a thoughtful quiet while I tried to figure out what to say.
Would Justin be upset seeing his father again?
"How was the memorial service?" Randy asked, turning slightly toward me as we walked past a hydrangea bush. He had an unpredictable mien that I couldn't understand. He cycled through amusement so fast I felt dizzy.
"Lovely," I said. "Very simple."
He laughed under his breath. "Sounds just like Dad. He didn't like pomp and circumstance."
I didn't know what to say, so I just continued to walk. He ignored, or didn't seem to mind, my lack of conversation.
"I'm always glad to meet a friend of Justin's. It's been awhile since I've seen him, and even longer since I've met people that are part of his life. Outside of my father, of course.“
The measured tone of his words told me that he was feeling me out. I stopped at the top stairs just before the back door.
"I'm not Justin's girlfriend," I said, looking him right in the eye. "I'm a friend and so are my brothers. They've been friends with him for several years now, and it's a fair bet to take when I say all of us feel rather protective toward him. I don't know you. I'm not sure I ever really will. Nor do I know the circumstances of your relationship with your son. But I still feel as if I need to ask you not to hurt him, whatever you do."
Randy showed no visible reaction at first. His eyes narrowed when he smiled. "Are you sure you're just a friend to my son? Because I don't know any woman that would stand up in such a fearless way for a man she didn't truly care for."
I let out a long breath, not sure of anything. “Then maybe you need to meet better women.”
He chuckled under this breath, but his lips pressed into a thin line. He lifted a hand toward the back door.
"Let's go inside," he said. "I'd like to see Justin again."