Page 102 of We Were Once

I leave him with my apology for walking out of the coffee shop.

Out of the jail that day six years ago.

Into his life so many months before that.

And for allowing his heart to imprint on every part of my life and being.

I’m sorry. So sorry.

37

Joshua

Chloe Fox is a conundrum.

I should despise her. No one would fault me for it. Not even her. Yet with every justifiable reason I have to hate her, I can’t seem to. I never could, so I can’t be entirely surprised. But I am.

Fuck.

Just like back in college, she’s messing with my head.

I remember when I used to have game, could form complete sentences when talking to a chick, never had to ask for anything and still got it. Girls were easy back then.

Except for her.

But that’s what made her different. She wasn’t putting up with my bullshit. If I was sarcastic, she’d snap right back. With her, I played by her rules and lost—my freedom, my Ivy League degree, and my bonsai tree. If losing Chloe wasn’t hard enough, I hate that I let Dwayne Evans down. I can only hope he had a proper burial.

The thing I still can’t seem to wrap my head around is the fact that I held on to the hope of us one day being together again even after telling her not to come back. How does that make any sense? It doesn’t. You’d think I’d be wiser now. I’m not.

I have the photo of her that served time along with me still tucked into the back of my wallet. Didn’t matter if I was bloodied and broken in jail, I knew I’d return to my memories and that photo to get me through.

She was the only fucking reason I signed those papers. So maybe that’s the reason I find myself running after her. “Chloe?”

Stuck at the corner waiting for the crosswalk sign to cooperate, she lowers her head. I always fucking hated that. She’s giving in to the negative thoughts instead of remembering who she is.

The crowd starts walking just as I catch up to her. “I don’t know why I’m talking to you. Why I’m running down the street to tell you this shit. It makes no sense to me.”

Stopping in the middle of the crosswalk, she asks, “Then why do it? Why not forget we met—back then and again last night? Why not carry on with your life and let me live mine?” A car horn startles us, the tray falling to the ground and splashing at our feet. “Shit!” she shouts.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard her curse. It sounds strange and packed with meaning. I’m glad I’m not on the receiving end.

The light is still red, and the asshole has the nerve to poke his head out the window, and honk at her again. “Pick it up, sweet cheeks. Show me what you got.”

I bend down to grab it, but she beats me to it, the mostly emptied cups still clinging to the holders. Her anger is palpable as it rolls off her shoulders and embeds itself into her rising and falling chest. When the guy catcalls her, she throws the tray, nailing his windshield with the remaining liquid. “Screw you, sweet cheeks!” she yells back at him.

Holy shit.

That’s not the same shy girl I met at Yale. The guy pops his door open. “What the fuck, you crazy bitch!” He slams the door and starts toward us.

Dumping my coffee, I hold my hand out, and tell her, “Run, Chloe.”

She squeaks, grabbing hold of my hand without hesitation, and we take off running. Weaving through the crowded sidewalk, we run until we see an opening in the doorway of an ice cream shop. Swinging her into the shadows, I move so close to hide her that I feel her breath on my chin. Her hands land on my chest, fisting my shirt. Her frame fitting against mine so perfectly that I can protect her from the world if needed. She always did fit into my world, into me, and into my arms, at least back then for a short time in our lives. And now I know she’s single . . . Is that why my heart has started beating so heavy in my chest again?

“I don’t think he’s following us,” she says, whispering.

“We should probably wait a few more minutes, just in case.” The top of her head is pressed against my cheek, and I shouldn’t like how she makes me feel—alive again, and hopeful.

She starts to laugh. Squeezing out from under my arms, she straightens her shirt and the little badge hanging from her belt loop. “I think it’s safe.”

Just as she backs onto the sidewalk, she’s eclipsed. I yell, “Watch out!”

* * *

Her smile is better than any ice cream . . . that she could put on my face. “Maybe strawberry will work better,” I remark, squinting under the Ziploc bag of creamy confection.

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