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The Charlotte Chronicles (Jackson Boys #1)
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Charlotte Randolph was only fifteen when she fell in love with her best friend’s gorgeous older brother—but she wasn’t foolish enough to hope he could ever love her back. Nate Jackson always viewed her as a pesky kid…until the day she got sick. The one bright spot during her illness? He realized she was all grown up. But just when she allows herself to believe that dreams can come true, Nate disappears from her life, taking her heart with him.
Nate knows he lost more than his best friend when he deserted Charlotte to enlist in the Navy. He thought he was doing the right thing, sparing the girl he loves from the shame and humiliation of his actions. Nine years later, it’s time to right his wrongs. He returns home determined to win back his first love…only to find that Charlotte’s moved on without him.
But if there’s one thing that being a Navy SEAL has taught Nate? Never give up, even when all hope seems lost. And Nate’s never going to give up on Charlotte. Ever.
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Today is a no good, very bad, wholly rotten day. In the history of bad days, this has to be on the top. My best friend Nick is sitting by the window and won’t look at me. His brother Nathan’s in the corner, glowering as if somehow this is my fault. Mom is trying not to cry, and Dad is pacing like a lunatic.
And my head hurts bad. The doctor says that tonight’s surgery will help alleviate the pressure from the tumor that’s taken up residence in the back of my skull. No one knows what will happen next, other than to not operate would be a death sentence.
My choices are dying or getting my head cut open and possibly dying.
Being only fifteen, I don’t get to make the decision. That’s up to my parents, who said yes to surgery before the doctor even was done introducing the idea. Did either of them even hear the litany of absolutely terrible things that could happen during surgery?
They could administer the wrong amount of anesthesia, and I wouldn’t wake up. Or they could accidentally cut into some vital portion of my brain, rendering me conscious but incapable of speech or movement. Or the tumor could be so large that surgery was a worthless endeavor in the first place.
Everyone wants me to have the surgery. As for me, I’d like a moment, just one, to think about it. But there’s no time. It’s now, tonight, immediately or not at all.
None of the adults are going to give it to me straight. Even the doctors talk in quiet tones to my parents in the corner. I want to yell that I’m the patient, but I can’t yell because even speaking is too painful right now. But I’m glaring. My eyes are shouting at them. Unfortunately no one but Nathan is even looking at me right now. Nathan who must think I’ve done something to create this tumor in my head and ruin his day, because he can’t stop glowering at me. His face looks thunderous like he’d like to squeeze my head until the tumor pops out like a zit. I’d like that too. But at least he’s looking at me, unlike everyone else.
Worst. Fucking. Day. Ever.
The metal of Charlotte’s bed rattles as she is wheeled out of her room toward the operating room. Her blue eyes look afraid, like the time she was eight and Nick and I were trying to get her to jump off the diving board into the pool. I finally walked out onto the board and held her hand so we could jump off the side together. But today, no amount of hand holding is going to take the fear from her or from any of us.
For a moment after Charlotte is taken away, the room is silent. No soft words exchanged between Mom and Aunt AnnMarie. No gruff, low tones from Uncle Bo or Dad. No sounds from Nick’s Nintendo DS. It is eerie. Then Aunt AnnMarie begins sobbing, and her cries are so awful I have to leave the room. I have to leave the hallway, but no matter how much distance I put between Charlotte’s hospital room and myself, I can’t escape the sounds. They are embedded in my brain. I sink down into a chair in the waiting room on the PICU floor and clutch my head in my hands. If I could rewind time, I think I’d never get up this morning.
I hear my Dad and Bo enter the waiting room and pick my head up. Nick is with them.
“The surgery will take a couple of hours, maybe longer. Why don’t you take Grace and the boys home to get some rest? We’ll call you as soon as she’s out,” Uncle Bo says.
Dad looks at Uncle Bo and then grabs him. The two stand there clutching each other, and that’s all it takes for Nick to break. Dad reaches out, and the three of them huddle together. The only one I hear is Nick, nearly choking on his tears, but Uncle Bo’s shoulders are heaving with grief.
Dad and Bo served as Marines together, years ago. They were teenagers when they enlisted. Dad came from a dirt-poor family with an asshole father who died before I was born. Bo’s dad was just as bad. We have no grandfathers. Not on our mom’s side either. Her dad died when she was kid. None of us felt the lack because we had each other, and Dad and Bo had a legion of old Marine buddies. Once a Marine, always a Marine even if you separated early instead of retired.
Charlotte, Nick, and I grew up together. We live in the same condo building on the same floor, our nearly identical penthouses separated by a wall. My dad and Charlotte’s mom formed a hedge fund that they partnered into a billion dollar investment firm. Our families are so intertwined, we are almost one unit. Even though we sometimes fight, we are family. But now it’s being threatened. My safe, perfect life is being ripped apart. If Charlotte doesn’t make it, we’re doomed. I just know it.