Page 14 of We Were Once

“Chloe. I wanted to call to see how the first day went.”

“Fine. It’s going to be a tough semester, but nothing I can’t handle.”

“That’s what I like to hear. Make sure to keep ahead of the syllabus so if questions arise, you have time to get answers.”

“I will.” I lower my head, wondering when he’ll trust me to take care of my own life. “Are you still working?”

“I had dinner brought in, and I’m catching up on some research. Education never ends in our profession.” He still refuses to discuss a different medical path than the one he’s taken, and his expectation for perfection weighs heavy on me.

“Glad to hear you’re taking time to eat.” Making sure Joshua won’t show up with me on the phone, I add, “I’m about to eat and then head home, so I should—”

“That’s good.” He pauses before his tone turns serious, not that he has a carefree tone in his arsenal. “We haven’t always gotten along . . .”

We’ve struggled through the divorce because he felt like I was siding with my mom. I wasn’t. Being there for her isn’t siding with her, but he’s never understood that. There were conflicts over my high school courses and the fast track he wanted me to take. He won. I graduated in three years and went to Yale just as he wanted, much to the dismay of my mom.

“I want you to know how proud I am of you, Chloe.”

Adjusting the phone in my hand, I close my eyes and angle toward the wall for privacy. “I know, Dad, but it means a lot to hear it.”

He clears his throat, the gruffness returning. “Good talk.”

The lump in my throat is swallowed down, and I reply, “Yeah, good talk.”

“Good luck this year. Make me proud.”

“I will. I love—”

The line goes dead.

Him never telling me he loves me used to bother me, but he always said words are worthless. It’s actions that matter.

“Miss me?” Joshua sets a plate and bowl of soup in front of me before sliding in across from me. “Guess our paths aren’t so different, after all.”

Dropping my phone back in my bag, I say, “Especially when they intersect at the same place.” I’m not sure when the glasses of water arrived, but I feel a little embarrassed at the thought of Patty overhearing my dysfunctional call with my dad. I take a sip of water to cool my self-consciousness. But seeing Joshua staring at me with a lopsided grin doesn’t help. “What?”

“You.”

I tilt my head and raise an eyebrow. “Care to elaborate?”

“You couldn’t resist, could you?” He has the biggest, dumbest, hottest smirk on his face right now.

“You’re right. Busted me. I love grilled cheese sandwiches.” I take a big bite to stuff my mouth enough to justify not talking more.

Chuckling, he picks up one of the diagonally cut halves and takes a huge bite. He’s a big guy with an appetite to match, judging by the two sandwiches on his plate. “You know what I’m talking about, Chloe. So you can hide behind the specials or just fess up and admit you stopped by to see me.”

“Pfft. I didn’t even know you were working. Anyway, I let my growling stomach lead the way.”

“Okay,” he says, dunking a corner of a sandwich in the soup. He holds it up. “It’s best when eaten together. I’m surprised a girl like you would even eat a grilled cheese, so dunking it might be too much for you.”

My shoulders drop, and I give him a pointed glare. “I may be from Newport, but I can get messy like the best of them.”

“Two things,” he starts. I’m figuring he’s going to talk my ear off at this point. “First, you’re from Newport?”

“I am. So say what you want to say, and then let’s get on with the second thing you feel the need to share.”

Shrugging, he acts innocent with wide eyes and his attention planted on the bowl of soup. “I wasn’t going to say anything other than . . .” His eyes lift to mine—brown warming my greens. “I’m not surprised.”

“Well, what does that mean?”

“It means I’m not shocked.”

“I know what surprised means. I want to know why I fit right into some box that apparently doesn’t surprise you?”

“Well, you tell me.”

“Oh, my God. You’re so infuriating.”

His lips scrunch to one side as if he hates being the bearer of bad news. “I’m just saying, you’re uptight.”

“I am not.”

“Okay.” One sandwich has been demolished, and he starts on the next.

“What does okay mean?”

“Do you want me to define okay for you?”

I grip the edge of the table to keep from smacking him. “Do you give all your dates this hard of a time?”

His eyes fix on mine, the wry grin sifted away. Leaning closer, he whispers, “No. Only the ones I like.”

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