Page 63 of We Were Once

I don’t quit. I run faster, pushing myself harder until my lungs burn and my throat goes dry. I hit the stop button before I fall apart. On the verge of collapsing, I welcome the pain, the fight to control my breath, and the emptiness I feel in my belly knowing I was all in on hitting a goal again.

This is how I need to face every obstacle.

Although I’ve tried to come to terms with my changing body and being happy over burning through my feelings, none of that fixed my slipping grades or served me well on the test. Nor will anger, but it will help drive it. Getting back to my old habits is the only way to save my GPA.

Just after eleven thirty, I look up to the sound of the key entering the lock. I watch as Joshua sneaks in. “Hi.”

When he discovers me on the couch, he says, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

Something in the air between us has changed. I’m not sure if it’s my mood, the phone call, or the bad grade, but I can feel it infiltrating our space. “How was work?” I watch as he sets down another white bag, just like the others he brings home after each shift. Anger toward him teeters on my tongue, so I bite it.

Scrubbing his face after locking up, he replies, “Long. Why are you out here? Why are you still up?”

“Studying.”

His eyes stay steady on me for a long moment. I’m sure he’s searching for the source of the irritation he hears in my voice. The apartment has become his in all senses of how he eases into his nighttime routine. Getting a glass of water from the tap. Unpacking the bag. He moves around like he owns the place. Holding up what looks like soup, he asks, “Want some?”

I didn’t realize I was staring through him until my eyes started to burn. I blink rapidly and turn back to the F on my essay facing up on the table. “No.”

“You seem upset.”

“You think?”

“Hm.” The short reaction has me looking at him again. “Did you eat tonight?”

“Food? That’s what you’re asking me about?”

He sets the container down. “Yes.”

I narrow my eyes, my gut twisting. “Food. Food. Food. Is that all you care about?” I slam my hand down on the papers, but no satisfaction is found. Pushing up, I storm into the bedroom.

“What’s wrong, Chloe?”

Anger spirals inside me, whipping me around. “You don’t ask about my grades. Or, or, or my plans.”

Confusion runs through the lines of his forehead as his brows tip together. “We talk about school.” He starts toward me but is smart enough to keep some distance. “All the time.”

“Not enough,” I reply, rolling my eyes as my hands plant themselves on my hips.

“We don’t talk about it enough? For who? You? Your dad? We study every fucking night.”

“Don’t turn this around on us. You’re to blame.” This time, his head jolts back. “You blindsided me and—”

“Because we met?” The confusion is wiped clean by an ember from my fire sparking one inside his eyes.

“Yes. I had a plan—”

“You still have it, Chloe.” He asks, “Let me guess, you got a bad grade, and you’re blaming me? That’s rich.” He scoffs. “You’re starting a fight with me to take the blame off yourself.” His arms go wide. “Go ahead, baby. Hit me with your best shot.”

Frustration strangles my rationale, and I angle my chin up, glaring at him. “You think this is about you?”

“I have no idea what this is about.” A dull chuckle follows, breathing life into his anger. “But you need to grind this out on someone, so go for it. I’m right fucking here.”

Fisting my hands, the invasion of his wrath unwelcome, and there’s no peace going to be found on this battleground. “This is pointless.”

“What does that fucking mean?” he asks, trailing me. “What are you actually mad about?”

Standing in the bathroom, I yell, “Don’t swear at me!”

“Then don’t take your bad mood out on me. You’re looking for a fight, and you found one, but I’m tired, and I want to go to bed. If you don’t want me here, then I’ll go to my place.”

A gasp burns my throat. “Just like that? You leave at the first sign of trouble?”

“There’s no trouble, Chloe. I just don’t know what the fuck we’re fighting about. I came in and asked if you wanted some fucking soup.”

“Maybe it’s the way you were judging me in your tone with your ‘hm.’”

“My hm was too judging?”

“This is what I mean. I can’t think logically around you.”

“I can’t either, but I’m okay with it because I love you, and we don’t have to make sense up here,” he says, tapping my head. “Because in here, we do.” He taps my chest. His sweet words lessen the tension inside me, but when he moves closer, there’s still more fight running through my veins, so I pull back. “Tell me what happened. Get it out, babe.”

Source: www.StudyNovels.com