Page 111 of We Were Once

My mouth drops open. “Wait, let me get this straight. Hours ago, you ambushed me with an intervention concerning my sex life—”

“Social life,” my mom corrects.

“Either way, my life. You drag me out on the town apparently for my benefit, and now you’re telling me my life was fine in the first place. I can’t keep up with your standards for my life. Just tell me what you want from me, and I’ll do it like I’ve always done?”

“This isn’t an attack,” Ruby says, reaching over and rubbing my arm. “We want you to be happy. That’s all we’ve ever wanted for you, Chlo.”

“It’s all you ever wanted but have you bothered to ask me what I want?”

Two pairs of eyes, unblinking, stare back at me before my mom’s start welling with tears. “I’m so sorry. We’ve behaved terribly. I thought . . .” Her profile is silhouetted by the bright lights on the other side of the window and remorse takes over her tone. “What I thought doesn’t matter. You do. If you’re happy, there’s nothing more I can want for you.”

Guilt sets in like it always does, and I reach over to touch her shoulder. “I didn’t tell you that to make you feel bad. I only wanted you to know that I’m okay.” The alcohol is making my thoughts fuzzy and my tongue harried. I sit back to try to stop the spinning.

Ruby says, “I’m sorry, too.”

“I know you care about me, and I appreciate it. I just want to feel like I’m not failing someone for one night.”

Leaning her head on my shoulder, Ruby says, “You’re not failing us. I hate that we made you feel that way.” Wrapping her arms around me, she adds, “I’m in awe of you, Chlo. You’re the smartest person I know. Beautiful inside and out. You run an eight-minute mile on a bad day, and you still hold the title of favorite subject out of my photography career.”

She tilts her head back, and my mom leans forward. “You are the light and love of my life, Chloe.” Reaching across Ruby’s lap, she takes my hand in hers. “You’re brilliant, and I couldn’t be more proud of who you are and all you’ve done to make your dreams come true. And from now on, I will be the best grandparent that ever was to those plants.”

Ruby laughs. “You’re a grandplarent to that little bundle of grandplants.”

Honestly, I love them too much to keep fighting. “Fine, you won me over with the compliments.” I shrug. “I guess I’m easy like that.” I also know that they’ve always been in my corner. “This just got blown out of proportion because we’ve been drinking. I’m not mad at you guys. I’m mad at myself, and I don’t know why.” I owe them so much. They were the ones who bore the brunt of my pain back then. The tears that no longer came were replaced by silence that I mistakenly considered stoic. It wasn’t.

I’ll blame the drinks in the morning, but tonight, I want to cry. Since the tears won’t come, I shed them through a confession. “My head is throbbing, but you know what hurts worse? My heart.”

Closing my eyes, I cringe, waiting for the world to end. That’s the only logical reaction to me admitting that Joshua Evans still fills that little compartment of a heart that’s beating wildly in my chest.

I don’t die, though, and the world doesn’t end. They both lean over, and I lean in for a group hug. My mom says, “What can I do to help you?”

“Seeing him . . .” I get choked up thinking about Joshua. Saying his name feels too good but comes with so much pain. I suck in a jagged breath as she comes to mind—Lola. Red lips. Legs for days. The most gorgeous woman I’ve ever seen. She may be an innocent bystander, but I already hate her. “My heart still wants to love him.”

I throw the truth into the universe, hoping it doesn’t boomerang and take me down again.

At that moment of stifling silence, the car comes to a stop outside my building. I look up and then back to them, not making a move to leave. Even they don’t know what to say, but the worry is threaded through their expressions. My mom finally says, “Some part of it always will. You were never supposed to end that way.”

The words are a blatant reminder of what should have never happened. But I’ll never recover from the fact that Joshua and I were never supposed to end . . . at all.

I’m hit with a strong gust of wind, sobering me to the fact that I’m returning to an empty apartment where the only life that exists comes from my plants. I’m barely living, so I’m not sure that counts.

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance