Page 73 of We Were Once

The cold greeting is punch enough for me.

The rejection doesn’t sit well, judging by the ire in his eyes. “I came over to wish you a happy birthday,” he says, ignoring me.

“Thanks,” she replies more cordially than I’d be.

“I was in town for Thanksgiving, and my parents are here, so I came along.”

Angling us away from him, I’m digging her not-give-a-shit attitude. “Thank you for coming. Have a good time.”

Determination enters his eyes, and he says, “Some of the gang are out back on the veranda. They’ve been looking for you.”

“I’ve been right here in the same place for the past hour.” Her tone is firm, but I can see the way her shoulders have started to fall. I reach over and wrap my finger around hers.

He continues, “Well, you know how they hate hanging out at these things.” One look at her and anyone who knows her can tell she’s hurt.

I’m about to step in to end this, my heart hurting for her and angry that he’s so blind to how she’s feeling, but she says, “Do you remember my sixteenth birthday, Trevor?”

He at least gives her the courtesy of pretending to attempt to remember. “I don’t.”

“That’s okay. I do. You and ‘the gang’ stopped by.” He actually appears pleased with himself, as if he did her a favor. “I went to tell the caterers we needed more food, and when I returned to the pool house, everyone was gone.”

His smug smirk falls. Good.

He says, “I’m sure we thought—”

“No,” she says, raising her hand. “I’m not trying to make you feel bad for leaving back then, but don’t feel you have to stay tonight. I’m sure you have much better things to do than celebrate my special day.”

I’m probably mistaken, but is that remorse written on his face? “Chloe—”

She smiles. My kindhearted girlfriend gives him what he never did for her—she lets him off easy. “Thank you for coming. I hope you enjoy the party.”

Holding my hand, she pulls me closer, rejoining Ruby at the bar and leaving Trevor standing there like the asshole he is.

Guys like him don’t take rejection lightly. He doesn’t disappoint.

Bumping against me again, he stops, his eyes forward. “You can wear a rented suit, but that won’t change who you are or where you come from, Evans. Everyone knows you don’t belong here.” He turns his scowl on me. “You don’t belong in her world. Get out before you take her down with you, Townie.”

He can’t crack the foundation Chloe and I built. We’re solid. Angling my head to see him over my shoulder, I reply, “I’m sure your advice is given in the best interest of Chloe and not yourself.”

He takes a drink from his glass and then crunches on the ice. “Of course.”

Fucker.

I’m glad when he’s gone. His ego was sucking the oxygen from the air. Dr. Fox taps a glass across the room, grabbing everyone’s attention. The conversations slowly die down, and he asks for Chloe to join him.

Giddy, she jumps excitedly. “I’ll be back,” she says, rushing across the room. She’s absolutely stunning in her happiness, the pink of her cheeks and the gleam in her eyes when she looks into mine.

Ruby comes to stand beside me, and says, “You make her happy, Josh. I always saw who she was, but now the rest of the world gets to see it, too. She’s going to do great things in medicine, but you’ve given her a life outside that.”

I nod, my gaze staying with Chloe. “Thanks, but if I can give her an ounce of how she makes me feel, I’m doing a good job.”

While Chloe blows out the candles on her cake, I’m reminded of how different our worlds really are. My birthday was a cake my mom would bake, and she’d let me frost and sprinkle. They always tasted the best with sprinkles.

That cake in front of her probably cost a thousand dollars and doesn’t have one sprinkle on it.

Screw the cake, Chloe’s father doesn’t waste time presenting her with a diamond bracelet. Dangling a key fob, the light gleams off the Mercedes symbol when he says, “I decided to give you your graduation present early. Happy Birthday, honey.”

I’ve never known her to ask for anything, so I always considered her the last person who needs or wants extravagant gifts. She’s the most content person I know, but maybe that comes with being able to afford anything you want.

“Thank you,” she says, kissing his cheek as applause echoes around us.

I clap slowly, watching her weave her way back to me. Ruby says, “Girl doesn’t need another Mercedes.”

“What does she need?” I voice before I think twice.

She sips her champagne. “His approval.”

Ruby hits the nail on the head, but it wouldn’t be right to confirm it. Rushing to me, Chloe tosses me the fob. “Want to go for a ride?”

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