Page 19 of We Were Once

My gut tells me that’s not the case, but what do I know these days? I’ve been skating by on charm and half-assing it for the past year at Yale. I have to get my act together.

After I hang up my apron and go to clock out, I find Bryant filling a cup full of soda to go while Todd swivels on a stool at the counter. Todd and Bryant have been my closest friends since kindergarten. If a fight over Becky Norris didn’t break us up back in the sixth grade, no one’s coming between us now. “What else is in that cup?”

“Whiskey,” Bryant replies. “Did you have a doubt?” If there was one kid in school who everyone wanted to be friends with, it was Bryant Eldridge. Not because he was the star football player (that title still belongs to me), or could get any girl he wanted (okay, me as well), but because he was the coolest guy around. Friends with everyone, easily entertained, and the most laid-back person I know.

Todd says, “We’re heading to the lake. You in?” Todd Berenger knows his way around this city. He’s sixth generation New Haven and lives on the other side of the proverbial tracks. I’m not saying he’s from money, but they’re not doing too bad. His parents also cut him off financially a few years back when he decided he wanted to take some time off to figure out what he wants to do with his life. He still doesn’t know.

They both deliver for the diner part time and the pizza joint around the corner. Which has me thinking about Chloe again. I haven’t delivered food in well over a year, but when Todd’s truck broke down, I had to cover. She was my first back in the saddle again.

I’ve definitely had some deeper thoughts about how that worked out, but I’m not giving in to overanalyzing them. No good would come of it since my path was set years ago. “Who all’s going?” I ask, rubbing my hand over the scruff of my face.

“Mick, Jim, Sanders—”

“Dana and those girls,” Bryant adds and is promptly elbowed.

“Now he won’t go, ya fucker,” Todd reprimands. “We’re going, Evans. The rest of them don’t matter.”

Seeing Dana is not at the top of my agenda. “I really don’t want to deal with her tonight. If I’m with you guys, she’ll be all over me. If I bring someone—”

“Who would you bring?” Bryant asks, hopping up on the counter.

“Do we know her?” Todd chimes in.

I chuckle. “I said if and I’m not going. I have some things to take care of.”

Todd is a shark who’s gotten a taste of blood. “Would one of those things be a girl you met?”

In no mood to lie to them or hide what I’m thinking, I lean against the wall and kick my foot up on the side of the counter. “I actually met her when I was covering for your ass last Sunday.”

“Damn, for real? Is she hot?”

I level him with a glare. “Of course, she’s hot, or why would I bother?” I sound like an asshole, even to me. How she caught my eye the first time we met has become secondary to how she makes me think and makes me feel around her. I can’t rest on my laurels with her like I do with everyone else. She won’t let me, and I like that. She’s holding me to the standard my mom also believes in me. But yeah, I don’t need to overthink a good time or have it ruined by these guys. Next, they’ll want to see her, and I’ll never hear the end of it.

“She goes to school with me. It’s . . .” How do I describe what Chloe and I are? “New.”

Bryant is a lot easier to slip stuff by because he doesn’t generally care about much, but Todd, on the other hand, is the one who will see through a lie. New isn’t hearts and flowers, but it’s not a lie either. I feign indifference for my own benefit. He asks, “Like it’s becoming a thing?”

“How’d you get there from me calling it new?”

“Because you’ve never said that before. If you’re just hooking up with her, you’d say so.”

I reply with a shrug, striving to maintain a lack of care and failing. “I don’t know much about her yet.”

Disinterested, Bryant stands and waves us toward the door. “It’s getting late. Let’s go.”

We head for the door. “See ya, T.”

“Have a good night, Josh,” he calls from the kitchen. I lock up and follow the guys to the truck.

The driver’s side window slides down, and Todd leans his arm over. “Don’t go falling in love, Josh. I made that mistake for all of us.”

The grin that works its way across his face is something that took a long time to see after his bad breakup last year. A girl from Yale broke his heart, leaving us to sweep up the pieces. It hits close to home for some reason. Kicking his tire, I then back up onto the sidewalk again. “Just having fun, my friend. Have a good night and don’t call me for bail money.”

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