Page 32 of We Were Once

“You haven’t?” I whisper. “What about—”

“No one.”

Ending my curiosity with two words, I’m starting to believe we’re in this together.

“Check this out, Josh,” Bryant says.

He doesn’t move a muscle as if I’ll lose faith if he does. I won’t. I’m already in too deep. I say, “Tell me something. If everyone calls you Josh, why have you never corrected me from calling you Joshua?”

After a quick sweep around the room, he flattens his hands around my waist, his thumbs touching the skin at the top of my jeans and sending a thrill through me. “I like the sound of my name when you say it.”

The cue chalk bounces off his shoulder. Following the path where it came from leads us to Todd, who shrugs. “Let her go, man. It’s game on.”

I’m about to take my turn, but I’m caught by my wrist and pulled back. Kisses cover my neck. “Kick his ass. Again.”

“Will do.” I saunter to the other side of the table while Bryant and Joshua start a game of darts. I lean down to line up my shot. I pop the ball, blowing it. “Dammit.” I stand back so he can take his turn.

Glancing up at me, he says, “He likes you.”

Although his honesty is refreshing, I wonder why he’s telling me. “I like him.”

He sinks a ball and then sets up his next shot. Todd’s good at not shining a light too bright on the conversation, keeping it low-key. Bending over the table, he turns back to glance my way. “He’s never brought anyone like you around before.”

“Like me?” I hold my anger in, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

When he misses the next shot, he comes to stand next to me, keeping his eye on the felted table. “Josh isn’t like the rest of us.” No matter how he phrases it, I know I’m not a part of the “us” he means.

After a casual game of pool and a few shots, it was easy to pretend I fit in, but I have a feeling it’s not me who notices the differences, but them. Is this a warning without Joshua hearing? The lump in my chest is growing, but I try to hide the insecurity. Leaning against the edge of the table, I ask, “What is he like then?”

“You.” Grabbing his beer, he takes a sip, then continues, “He’s so fucking smart.” Relief washes through me. This is unexpected. “But he never acted differently. His mom and him have always struggled to make ends meet. Both work their asses off for whatever they want. They earned every fucking thing they have.” A quick scan around us ends on me. “Except when it comes to school. That kid never studied. He didn’t have to. He even got his acceptance letter to Yale early. Never bragged or made a big deal. Bryant and I knew he’d get in, but to a lot of the locals, he was just another hell-raiser.”

Chuckling to himself, he continues, “Don’t get me wrong. He’s raised some hell like the rest of us, but I wish he would have left this town. Too many people are waiting for him to fail.” The pointed look he gives in Dana’s direction isn’t missed.

I’ve dealt with a lot of insecurities over the years about my place in Newport. Were people friends with me because I’m a Fox or because I’m me? But I never felt like anyone wanted me to fail. I felt the opposite. They want me to succeed to hold my coattails. Well, my family’s coattails, technically.

When I return my gaze to Joshua, everyone I’ve seen him interact with likes him, so it’s hard to understand why anyone would want him to fail. “That’s envy,” I reply.

He says, “Sounds like you know the feeling.”

A waitress sets down two more shots. She says, “Seth sent these over.” Todd holds his glass up to the bartender.

“I didn’t fit in at home either,” I say, taking advantage of the opportunity and drinking it. This one slides right down.

“Sorry to hear that.”

“It’s okay. I fit in with—”

“Bryant has no dart skills,” Joshua says, dragging a stool over. “It wasn’t even a challenge. Are you stripes, Chloe? You’re doing good.”

I caress his cheek, the lightness disappearing as his features soften for me. “I fit in with you.”

“You do. We fit together.”

Nodding, I then kiss him. “Why haven’t you been in love before?”

The question seems to catch him off guard. Chuckling, he asks, “Why haven’t you?”

“Touché.” Knowing it’s my turn, I study the table, trying to figure out a calculated move that will lead me to another victory. Squinting an eye, I’m tempted to test the wind. Who am I fooling? I just play for fun.

“Hey, Chloe?”

“Yeah?” I reply, lifting my gaze from the table to Joshua.

“I don’t want to land lines with you. I want to know how someone so beautiful and fun hasn’t been snatched up by the wrong guy?”

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance