“God, stop it, Chloe.” I dry off, slip into my pajamas, and head back into the living room almost tripping over a sneaker. A memory is triggered of tripping over one of his shoes when my mom was visiting me at Yale. My stomach clenches. Redirect. Focus on anything but him.
It’s impossible. The shortest time in my life consumed my future in the smallest of details. A shoe? Really, Chloe? Looking around, I realize how tidy I used to be. Being messy is a downfall of rarely being home at all. The past doesn’t matter. The present does.
I switch on the TV to cut through the white noise of my brain. I need my mind to stop spinning over a man who left me reeling for years. I lost everything that day when I lost him. The only thing I could do to survive was to create a new life as far from the old one as soon as I could. As far from him . . .
* * *
“What happened yesterday?”
Turning back to see Julie a few feet behind me on the sidewalk, I grin before letting my laughter weave through my words. I wait for her, glad our breaks have aligned. “And what pray tell are we referring to, Nurse Hidalgo?”
She flanks my side, and we both continue walking toward the corner coffee shop. “Oh, no. You’re not getting out of it. The hottie with the cut finger. Oh no, Nurse, you’re busy.” She raises her voice two octaves in a sad attempt to sound like me. At least it’s entertaining. “I’ll personally tend to this injury.” She winks twice, passing me as I hold the door open for her. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smitten, Dr. Fox.”
The shock of her comment stuns me until the door hits me in the ass, scooting me into line next to her. “Smitten? Me? Pfft. No way.”
“No way?” She laughs. “Who says that?”
Keeping my eyes on the menu ahead, I start debating if I want to step out of my comfort zone and get a sugar-loaded coffee concoction to keep me on my feet through the night. “Me. I do.”
“No, guilty people do.”
“Ugh.” I roll my eyes. “You’re talking crazy. I wasn’t smitten, and I’m perfectly hip with the lingo.”
Defeat burrows in my shoulders. “I’ve officially become my mom. She’s rubbing off on me. Save me, Julie.”
“There’s no saving you from what I witnessed yesterday. At least where that hot guy is concerned.” We shift forward with the line. “When was the last time you went on a date anyway?”
I abhor this question. Every time it’s asked, which is more than should be legal, my answer is less than notable and worse as time passes. But I still struggle to lie with true intent. “Two years.” The truth is horrendous, though.
“Two years? Wow, Chloe. I had no idea.”
“I don’t advertise it, but I’m truly okay with it. This residency doesn’t allow much free time. It’s sleep or dating. I choose sleep.”
“But what about sex?”
My cheeks flame, and I cover my hospital ID badge so no one will remember that I was a part of this very loud conversation in a public place.
“Everyone’s obsessed with my sex life.” I’ve spent a few happy hours with Julie. She’s a friend, so it doesn’t bother me that she threw it out there. It bothers me that I don’t have a better answer. “So, to set the record straight, I don’t have one.”
“What?” We reach the counter. “You’re . . . well, you.” Her hands roam a hands-length away from my body. Then she turns to the barista. “She’s hot, right? And she’s a doctor.”
He grins all lop-sided, staring at me. “I’d date her.”
“Geez, thanks. Can we order please?”
Julie scans the board hanging above his head. “Extra-large matcha green tea fusion over ice.”
When she steps to the side, I order, “Small black coffee please. And I’ll cover both drinks.” As he rings us up, something in the glass cabinet catches my eye. “Is it too late to add a blueberry muffin?”
“That one’s been sitting there all morning.” The barista leans back and yells to a co-worker, “Do we have more muffins?”
“Coming out of the oven,” a shaggy-haired guy calls from the espresso station.
Conspiratorially, he leans in, and whispers, “I’ll give you a hot one if you want to give me your number.”
I covertly kick Julie’s shoe since she’s clearly to blame for the unwanted attention I’m receiving. “The old muffin works, and I’ll pay, thanks.”
He shrugs like it’s no big thing. “Your loss.”
“Or my gain since I get the muffin sooner,” I reply, swiping my card and then dragging Julie to the other end of the coffee bar. “Can we not have sex conversations in public, or at all? A horny teenager flirting with me because my friend can’t keep her trap shut about my pathetic sex life is the last thing I want right now.”