I didn’t see the blow coming, acting on instinct to get Chloe out of the way. It doesn’t escape me that I repeated the same phrase she did that day that changed everything. Us. Her. My life forever.
Sitting in an ice cream shop after being punched in the face is not how I saw this day going. Being here with Chloe, even less expected, but I’m not complaining. Admiring her is the last thing I should be doing, but it’s good to see her mood less intense than last night in the ER. She may be rolling her eyes, but she can’t stop laughing. “I would have bet my house on the chocolate.”
I feel fine, but I don’t mind her attention. She’s a good doctor. I’m completely at ease in her capable hands. I ask, “Bet your house or bet on the house?”
Mulling over the question, she puts the ice cream pack in the bowl and dabs a napkin to the side of my eye. “I’m not a gambler, so I’m going with my house.”
“Do you have a house?” I know. I shouldn’t have asked, but the opportunity presented itself and call me a cad, but despite setting her up, I still take it.
The smile almost all but disappears. “I’m sorry.” There’s that apology again, souring my mood. “I can’t do this with you, Josh.”
“You can call me Joshua.”
“No, I can’t,” she says the words strangling on the tip of her tongue. Sliding out of the booth, she picks up the bag and returns it to the employee behind the register. “Thank you.” Pulling her credit card out, she adds, “Please let me pay for it.”
Although they seem to be insisting no again, she eventually wears them down and pays. They both return to the booth. The woman leaning over, studies my face as if it’s been infected and needs to be amputated. Eyeing me cautiously, she says, “I don’t have insurance. You’re lucky you know a doctor.”
“I am lucky to know her,” I reply, moving to get up. My brain swims when I stand too quick, and Chloe’s quick to grab me and prop me up against her. I could really use this to my advantage, but I don’t. And it’s not just for her benefit; it’s for mine.
It’s been . . . I’m not sure if the right word is fun, but that’s all that comes to mind, to see her again. Irreparable damage has been done, though, and at the hands of her father. It’s probably in my best interest if we don’t make this a habit.
She asks, “Are you okay? We can go to the ER and run tests—”
Pushing off the back of the booth, I slow my steps as I move toward the door. “No. I need to get to work.”
“You might have a—”
“No,” I snap, refusing to let her look down on me. I turn back to catch whatever candle she was burning in her irises snuffed out. “Thanks for the help, Dr. Fox, but I’ll be fine.”
Stepping back outside, I find the street noise a welcome retreat to the silence between Chloe and me in the store. But my feet don’t seem to want to move. Walk, fucker.
I stand there long enough for the door to open behind me and for me to feel her presence at my backside. “Are you sure you’re okay?” Her voice is so damn soft, lyrical in the notes.
Why can’t I just leave? Just leave her in the past.
A hand with the lightest touch comes to rest on my shoulder. I feel her, her soul dipping into mine, wreaking havoc on my heart, but this time, I know how it ends.
I shrug out from her hand and step onto the busy sidewalk, getting lost in the crowds and not looking back. She’s right. We can’t do this. We can’t re-do us. I was wrong to pursue her today, to want her close to me for one more moment. It’s history and will never be repeated.
The restaurant’s not far enough to recover from the encounter with her. Fuck the swelling around my eye. My heart has been battered by the mere presence of her in my vicinity. Don’t even get me started on how I can still feel the heat rolling off her when we were pressed together.
Fucking single. That was like waving a checkered flag. Julie knew what she was doing.
Swinging open the kitchen door to Salvation, I spy my longtime friend, my ally, my co-worker, through thick and thin, and push Todd in the back when I pass behind him. “Showing up early, huh? Trying to impress the boss?”
He chuckles. “I haven’t impressed you in twenty years. Not sure I can at this point.”
“Sure, you can,” I say, washing my hands. “Get the orders right and don’t fuck with me. Easy.”