Home > Chance Encounters

Chance Encounters
Author: J. Sterling

Chapter One

The musical ringtone blared, echoing off the cathedral ceiling and hardwood floor of the apartment Caroline shared with her boyfriend. Tracey’s gorgeous smile shone brightly on her cell phone screen.

“He’s dead, Caroline. Oh God, Johnny’s dead!” Tracey sobbed.

Caroline dropped the phone; her heart pounding as her body began to tremble. She quickly reached down to pick it back up and stammered, “What happened? How?”

“He was off-roading that stupid dirt bike and he lost control or something. I don’t know the whole story yet. The funeral’s on Thursday, Caroline…you’ll come, right?”

“Of course I’ll come.” Caroline thought back to their freshman year in college when Johnny lived across from them in the co-ed dorms.

Tracey continued to cry and Caroline held it together the best she could.

When they hung up, Caroline grabbed her laptop and dropped onto the couch, wishing she could disappear completely into it. She attempted to search for flights online but was unable to stop her gaze from drifting to photos from college scattered around her apartment. Tears fell a little harder when she realized there would never be any new pictures of Johnny.

She heard the apartment door swing open and her boyfriend, Clay Matthews walked in. Caroline looked up briefly and observed his loosened tie and disheveled dark, wavy hair.

It looks rugged. And hot. Leave it be, she would tell him with a smile whenever he started to fuss the messy strands back into their proper place.

She watched Clay’s gorgeous full smile quickly fade and the indents on his cheeks where dimples were supposed to live, but didn’t, disappear as his eyes met hers. He dropped his briefcase and car keys onto the wooden floor and rushed over to her, his face drawn with worry.

“Baby, what’s wrong? What happened?”

“It’s Johnny. He’s dead.” Her face reddened.

“What? How? What happened?” Clay pulled her into his arms and kissed her damp face.

“I don’t know. There was an accident with his dirt bike. That’s all Tray told me.”

“Shit. When’s the funeral?”

“Thursday.” She glanced up at him. “That is, if I can find a freaking flight.”

“Scoot over. Let me do that for you.” Clay gently removed the computer from Caroline’s lap.


“Do you need me to check if I can take time off?” Clay asked suddenly. “I should probably go too.”

“No, no. It’s okay. You have work and it will be good for me to spend some time alone with Tray.”

“Thanks, baby.” He placed a kiss on her cheek. “So, when do you want to come back?”

“I was thinking that I’d rather leave Monday morning instead of Sunday night. Do you mind?”

“Not at all. You should definitely stay until Monday. This sucks. He was a really good guy. His poor mom.” He hugged her tightly before he tipped her face up to his and kissed her salty lips.

Caroline’s thoughts drifted back to when she first met Clay at a social gathering for incoming freshmen. While Caroline introduced herself to every new person she could find, Clay stood alone and simply watched the interactions. When Caroline reached Clay, she remembered thinking how he wasn’t cute like the other boys, but handsome.

The memory faded as her cell phone rang once again. “Hey, Tray. I’m looking at a flight that gets in at five. And I’d stay until Monday morning. That’s okay, right? Okay. See you in a couple days. I love you, too.”

“How’s she doing?” Clay asked.

“She’s…Tracey, you know? Can’t. Stop. Crying,” Caroline said as she attempted a smile, but her mouth wouldn’t cooperate.

“I can only imagine.”

Caroline walked to the hall closet and returned with an armful of photo boxes. She immediately scattered pictures on the floor around her.

Clay watched her organize the photos into piles. “Babe, I’m going to jump in the shower, okay?”

She barely moved or acknowledged his question. “Okay,” she muttered.

Caroline allowed herself to get lost in thought once again. She smiled at how lucky she was to have a wonderful boyfriend whom she admired and an internship at a well-respected marketing firm. Her life seemed perfect. Although losing one of her closest friends was the furthest thing from perfect.

She imagined her eventual wedding to Clay and mourned when she realized Johnny wouldn’t be there. He would never be a part of any upcoming events or activities. She could barely wrap her mind around that reality. How could she think of a future that didn’t include Johnny when he was a part of every future plan she made?

With her heart hurting, she curled into a ball on the floor, surrounded by memories of the not-so-distant past that suddenly seemed like lifetimes ago. She tucked her arms up under her head and sobbed herself to sleep.


When Clay stepped out of the shower and into the chilly hallway, he noticed his heartbroken girlfriend asleep on the floor. She had been so beautiful earlier when she was crying, her green eyes glowing like emeralds, and Clay had wanted to tell her then how beautiful she looked, but knew it wasn’t the right time.

Clay sighed, guilt consuming him at how relieved he was that Caroline didn’t ask him to go to the funeral with her. He was in the middle of helping out with his firm’s biggest criminal case to date and there was no way he could leave. He knew he’d never get hired on at the firm if he took time off when it wasn’t a matter of life or death. Immediate family’s life or death, anyway.

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