Meant to Be His - Chapter One
Staring out the kitchen window of his home, Nick Hanson didn’t know what to do next, a situation he hadn’t been in since he was fourteen. How had everything gone so wrong in such a short amount of time? Fortunately, he hadn’t liquidated his real estate assets when he gambled his financial future on some risky investments. If he had, he might be homeless as well as nearly broke. Instead, he was back in Fable Notch, New Hampshire, the town where he grew up, staring out the window and wondering how his life had become such a shit show.
At least the house was gorgeous. He’d been imagining the Craftsman style home since he was a kid, sketching it and dreaming of the day when he’d have it built. When last year’s bonuses were more than double what he’d expected, he’d used the money to make this house a reality years before he’d planned. What he didn’t imagine was that his first visit would be because he needed to put as much distance as he could between himself and Wall Street.
Six weeks into a three-month suspension from his mergers and acquisitions job, he was finding the boredom and monotony beyond frustrating. The days had gone by in a blur of avoidance as he slept in, roamed the city from midtown north avoiding the Financial District, and went to his twice weekly mandated therapy appointments. Which weren’t doing any good. He didn’t need to sit on a couch and talk about what had led to the epic panic attack that sent him to the hospital. He needed to get back to the plans that would make him successful. This time, he’d keep his focus and not get distracted by the possibility of fast returns. No more cryptocurrency investments, no more venture capital. He knew how to make money for himself and his clients.
How he was going to get the partners at the firm to believe this was something he hadn’t figured out, but he would. Ever since he’d written his first five-year plan back in high school, he’d been able to meet—even beat—his original timeline. He could get that edge back.
He had to. He would not accept any other possibility.
Twenty-four hours ago, he’d still been in New York. He’d woken up and decided it was Day One of the next five-year plan. He sat down with a pad of paper and… nothing came to him. He’d paced around his home office for hours without a clue of how to get his career and life back on track. A walk outside in the late July heat did nothing but make him sweaty and mad. He didn’t know how much time had passed until he found himself on Broad Street, standing in front of his office, three miles from his apartment. From a distance, he watched people come and go as his heart raced, and he hoped no one would recognize him. Picturing the bottle of Xanax pills sitting by the bathroom sink, he thought, I’ve got to get out of here.
Splurging on a cab back to his apartment—a few months before he’d taken them daily without a thought to the cost—he spent the rest of the day preparing to leave. The next morning, he waited for rush hour to clear before heading north. It had taken him less than six hours to get from the city to New Hampshire. It felt—as it always did—like a world away, which was exactly what he wanted. He had no idea how he was going to fill the time here anymore than he knew what to do in New York, but at least he didn’t have to see people getting on with their lives the way he was supposed to be.
He decided not to tell anyone he was back yet. Tomorrow would be soon enough to reach out to his foster parents, Millie and Martin Sinclair, and his brother, Theo, who’d moved back in May. Once he spoke to them, he’d have to explain why he was here, and he wasn’t ready to say the words out loud: I failed.
He walked mindlessly around the house, stopping to look at the beautiful view of mountains and trees from the wall of glass doors that led to the back deck. The sight should have calmed him, but instead panic bubbled up. After all the work he’d done, all the plans he’d made, he was the worthless screw up his father always said he was. He closed his eyes and rested his head on the cool glass, trying to practice the breathing technique his therapist had taught him. In for four counts, hold for four counts. Out for four counts, hold for four counts.
It wasn’t working. He was hearing howling.
At first, Nick thought it was the noise in his head, another part of the endless cacophony of judgment he’d been hearing since his suspension. Xanax helped with anxiety, not self-criticism.
The next howl was longer and louder. He wasn’t hearing things. From the way it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, he was certain an animal was in trouble. Normally, he would have ignored it and assumed someone else could take care of it, but since his house was fairly isolated and he was happy to have anything distract him from his thoughts, he opened the back door and headed out.
He stepped off the back deck and into the soft ground. Two steps later, mud nearly sucked the shoe off his foot. Only years of skiing allowed him to correct his balance fast enough so he didn’t wind up on his ass. He pulled his foot out of the muck to see his leather shoes covered, probably ruined. He considered going back to change, then realized it didn’t matter. They were shoes, for fuck’s sake, and he had shelves full of them.
He continued walking, this time more carefully, until another howl told him he was going in the wrong direction. Figures, he thought. More wrong turns. Before the animal could call out again, he found a beautiful chocolate brown dog leaning against a tree. As Nick approached, it took a step toward him, hobbled, cried out, and fell. That answered the “what was wrong” question. The dog’s right front leg was injured. Nick looked but didn’t see any blood, which he took as a good sign.
Nick approached the dog slowly, doing his best to maintain eye contact, speak in a calm tone, and keep his palms up and out. A former girlfriend had planned to become a veterinarian, and when they were dating, he remembered seeing her do this with a hurt animal. He hadn’t thought of her, or the way she’d broken his heart, in years.
It seemed to take forever before he was near enough to pet the dog gently and allow the animal to give him a sniff. “You’re hurt, boy. You have to let me take you to someone who can help. There’s a doctor in town, and I’ll drive you there. He’ll fix you up.”
Nick kept up a steady stream of conversation as he put his hands under the dog’s belly. For a moment, their eyes met, and Nick sensed the animal sizing him up, deciding if he could trust the human who held him. Whatever the test, Nick must have passed it, because he allowed Nick to lift him. Once in his arms, the dog rested his head on Nick’s shoulder and gave out a small, chuff-like sigh.
They headed back, and it wasn’t long before Nick was feeling the strain of walking through soft ground carrying at least an extra fifty pounds. His lower back strained with every step. He wanted to adjust the dog and make it easier on himself, but he was afraid any jostling would cause the dog to jump, which would increase the injury. “So much for my expensive trainer and gym membership, huh, boy? Now when I need those muscles I supposedly built up, where are they?”
The dog didn’t answer. That seemed typical for Nick these days. Lots of questions. No answers.
When he got to the car, Nick leaned back to take the weight of the dog more against his chest so he could free up a hand to open the back door of his Lexus. He gave a brief thought to the leather seats, then let that go as he got the dog settled. “I need to get my keys, pooch. Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
He shut the door gently, so he wouldn’t alarm the dog, ran inside, grabbed what he needed, and got in. “This shouldn’t take long. I know where Doc Wheeler has his practice, and assuming it hasn’t moved—and let me tell you, nothing moves in this town—we’ll be there in no time.” He received a short “woof,” which was good enough.
Nick drove out of the driveway and down his sloping street. He hoped someone would be available. Small town offices kept small town hours. For all he knew, the office closed early on Tuesdays, or they weren’t open at all. Once on the main road, it took him less than fifteen minutes and three turns to arrive at the veterinarian’s office. There were two other cars in the lot. He took it as a good sign. He parked as close to the main entrance as he could, went to the back and lifted the dog out, then pushed the door closed with his foot.
Next came the challenge of getting into the building. Like most older businesses in Fable Notch, Dr. Wheeler’s office was in a modified colonial house and while it was handicap accessible, it didn’t come with an automatic door. Once again doing the chest balancing act, he managed to get inside, gratefully acknowledging this was the last time he was going to have to open a door with his arms full of dog. Soon the animal would be someone else’s problem.
A bell over the door jingled as he entered. He stood there looking around the waiting area, noticing the bulletin board covered with pictures of happy animals and their owners. Flyers for the upcoming Dog Days of Summer Festival were tacked up between posters about flea and tick prevention. The last time he’d been here was the summer before college, and he’d been in love with… no, that was an old mistake. He had plenty of new ones to keep his thoughts occupied.
Before he could call out, a young woman with a name tag which read “Beth” came in. “Hello, can I help—” She stopped as she took in his situation, grabbed a clipboard, and stepped out front. “Okay, let’s go straight to asking what the problem is. Follow me to an exam room. What’s your dog’s name?”
“This isn’t my dog. I found him in the woods behind my house. He’s hurt his front leg. I didn’t know what to do for him, so I brought him here. Is Doc Wheeler around?”
“No, today’s his day off, but you can see Dr. Dani.”
Nick’s mouth went dry. Had he left one screwed up situation to walk into another? So much for not seeing anyone he knew. Wouldn’t that be perfectly in line with all the other shit going on in his life. “Dr. Dani,” he repeated.
Beth laughed as she opened the door to a small room. As she helped him get the dog situated on the table, she said, “Her name is Danielle Vaughn, but she goes by Dani, and that’s what she’s asked everyone to call her. I think it makes her more approachable and puts people at ease, don’t you?”
No, at ease was not how Nick was feeling at all.