Page 62 of We Were Once

“It’s that bad?” I ask, setting the plant down on the table and then pacing the length of my living room. I stumble over the toe of Joshua’s sneaker left behind the couch. Recovering, I bend down and pick it up to return it to its partner by the door.

“Worse. I’m worried. I really expected more.” His disappointment resonates through the line. “I’ve emailed you a copy. I suggest you spend time figuring out what went wrong. If we need to hire a tutor, we will.”

Beyond being hit sideways by this news, I’m not sure what to say. I have no excuse other than I didn’t study as much as I should have. “I’ll study more. I’ll study all Thanksgiving and Christmas break as well. You don’t need to worry—”

“It’s too late for that. You handle this, or I will.”

Readjusting the phone to my ear, the shell starting to ache from the pressure, I huff. “I’m a senior in college. I think I can handle—”

“Then do it!” The pounding of his fist against that mahogany desk I was scared of sitting on the other side of growing up still triggers fear. “This is not the time to throw away a lifetime of hard work for some boy who doesn’t care about your future.”

Stunned, my feet grow roots to the wood beneath them. My breath is shallow as my mind reels from his words. “He cares.” The tremble overwhelms my voice, but I push forth. “This is not about him. He wants nothing more—”

“Then to catch a Fox.”

“That’s not true,” I reply, shaking my head. “You don’t know Joshua. He likes me for me. He didn’t know my last name when we met. He didn’t know about you or our family when we started dating.”

“Then what does he know?”

“He knows me, Dad.”

“I don’t believe that’s all there is to it. Don’t be naïve. They always want something.” They? Joshua, the love of my life, has been relegated to a “they.” If the bad grade didn’t make me feel sick, that does. I pause to take a deep breath, needing the moment to control the emotions that want to rage. “Chloe?”

“He wants me. I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s all.” Swallowing pains my throat. I move to the window and look out, wishing he was coming home after class instead of going to work. “Nothing more.”

His heavy breath is heard through the line before he says, “Do you not understand that you are a Fox through and through—the money, the reputation, the properties, the future? If he gets you, he gets everything.”

My knees waver under me, so I grip the corner of the wall and slide down to sit on the floor, my chest as hollow as my legs right now. I don’t have words or explanations. Nothing will make him understand how Joshua and I feel about each other. He’s never looked at me with dollar signs in his eyes. He sees me in the sunrise a new day brings—hope for the future—and love in the present. “You have a consult,” I remind, needing to end this before he hears me cry.

“Keep your goals in focus,” he says, his tone calm but firm. “The finish line is within sight, Chloe.”

“Okay.” It’s all I can muster.

“You’re signed up for another practice test when you’re home for the holidays. Prepare for it. We’ll talk soon.” He disconnects, leaving me hanging in the silence.

I sit there staring at the phone in my hand for I don’t know how long, and I start to doubt myself and my decisions. I haven’t lost my drive, but I’ve lost my routine.

Stress lodges in my chest before the sunsets and remains until it’s pitch black in my apartment.

Maybe running will help alleviate it. That’s what I used to do. Before Joshua. Changing my clothes, I then tighten my laces and turn on the treadmill. I’ve stopped using it every day, and I know I’m going to be punished for it before this session is over. I want to be, though. I want to feed the stress inside me through every footstep.

The first mile is hard, the drag on the belt beneath my feet noticeable compared to the lightness of running outside with Joshua on the weekends.

An F.

I push through two miles.

A bad test score.

Three miles.

Defeat from disappointing my father sinks in.

Tears form in my eyes on mile four, my failures sliding down my cheeks.

By the fifth mile, I’m angry again.

At myself.

At Joshua.

At my dad.

At the damn pressure he puts on me.

At everything.

I’m losing my edge, my drive. The top of my workout pants dig into the soft flesh of my waist. Bad grades and I’ve gained weight. I guess I noticed a few things were tighter, but I thought it was bloat, not weight gain. I’m not sure when that happened, but I have a feeling I know when it started.

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance