Page 132 of We Were Once

My eyes dry from staring so hard, so I force myself to blink to appear that I’m not dying inside. “I don’t understand.”

“I know this must come as a shock. It’s disappointing to us as well. We don’t have the budget to support additional doctors at this time. I know we’re losing a handful of talented medical professionals, but it’s a battle I lost with the board over hospital funding.”

“But—” How can I go from floating five minutes ago to this?

“It’s not you. You are so talented, a doctor with a promising career. You have a knack not only for retaining an incredible amount of information, a dream for an ER with the fast pace of cases, but your bedside manner is also comforting to so many. I hear nothing but positive things. If you would have followed in Dr. Fox’s specialty, then it might be different. We have the vacancy and funding already in place for neuro, but we don’t have the same for the ER at this time.”

My silent devastation must make her think she needs to fill in the rest because she says, “Fox carries weight in Newport. I’m sure they would love, like I would, to have you join a hospital there or your dad’s clinic. But we just can’t at this time. Your program will complete on June first. It’s been an honor to have you at City Medical. Again, I’m sorry to be losing you, Dr. Fox.”

I’m numb when I walk out of the office. I do my job, bury myself in injuries and emergencies, skip my break so I don’t have to face Julie, and clock out as soon as my shift ends. I call a car service and put on a brave face, so to speak, when I text Joshua on the way to his place: Leaving work. Can’t wait to see you.

I need him. His sweet words that make me believe I can do anything. His rational side that will help me see this as a positive, maybe even as an opportunity. Yes, he’ll help through this. I’ll survive. I’ll be fine.

The pep talk to myself doesn’t help, but I know Joshua will.

He replies: See you in an hour or so.

His arms around me are the only remedy for my disappointment. Everything I’ve worked for has come back to my father. Again. It’s a comparison I’ll never be able to shake. Did I just lose a job I wanted because I wasn’t his protégé?

Walking toward the door of Joshua’s apartment building, the doorman tips his head and holds the door open for me. “Welcome back, Dr. Fox. Mr. Evans left a key for you.”

“Thank you.” I enter the lobby and follow him to the desk, wanting to disappear in my hurt feelings, but doing my best for a stiff upper lip until I can fall apart in private.

“You made it home just in time. Looks like a storm’s blowing in.”

As if cued, lightning flashes outside. “Seems so.”

Inside the apartment, I set my purse down on the table in the entry. It’s quiet here, dark, the lights from the apartments across the street and another flash of lightning greeting me with a loud crack shortly after. I walk down the short hall and enter the large living space, not feeling at home without him here.

Getting a glass of water, I rest my weight on the island and drink, trying to wash away the feeling of failure threatening to take over. I refill it and walk to the windows, standing with the rain pouring down on the other side.

Being in Joshua’s apartment alone and soon to be jobless were never things I would have imagined a week ago.

The weather is fitting for my mood. Still unsettled, I head for his bedroom to take a shower. While the water heats, I find my bag on the bench at the foot of the bed. Digging out the things I need, I take them into the bathroom with me, starting to find comfort in his home.

The hot water feels good on my shoulders, and though it doesn’t clear my head of the what-ifs—what if I would have become a surgeon? What if I would have gone to work for my father? What if I had listened to him?

I squeeze my eyes closed, knowing I’ll always choose the path I took because like Joshua said, there are no do-overs, and my destiny always ends with him. Standing in his closet, I see one of the T-shirts I remember him wearing back in college. The Patty’s Diner logo is faded, but still evokes a smile. Closing my eyes, I hold it to my nose, feeling the soft fabric against my face before slipping it over my head. I brush my wet hair and take care of my skin, but this feeling of loss keeps returning.

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