Page 76 of We Were Once

In an instant, her smile disappears as her arms fly forward. “Watch out!”

26

Joshua

My head throbs to a familiar chime I can’t place—the sound or the song. My eyes sting as I squeeze my lids closed to make the pain go away. But even that can’t fight the dull ache, so I venture to find the light and track down that fucking sound.

Opening my eyes is a struggle and my right eyelid doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. As life comes into focus, the chime becomes a dinging.

Fear quickens the beat of my heart when I realize I’m in the dark of the car.

Car . . .

The door.

The Mercedes key fob.

The steering wheel that should be in front of me.

Nothing’s where it should be.

The ding from an ajar door gets louder as the fog clears. Shit! I grab the side of my head as a sharp pain shoots through my temple, causing me to close my eyes again. Visions flash through the darkness . . .

Her smile.

Thump.

Those eyes that see beneath the townie.

Thump. Thump.

A deer. Her scream.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

When I look down, red stains the leather, which has me lifting my hand to my head again. I thought it was sweat running down my cheek. Sweat when my body shivers from cold? It takes a second for me to realize that doesn’t make sense.

Why is it red?

I push my palm to my forehead, the ripped sleeve drooping down, and pull back with blood coating my skin. My lifeline becomes a shallow river clinging to the liquid. “Chloe?” I call again, my pain becoming secondary as panic sets in. “Chloe?” My voice is weak, but my determination is strong.

My neck tweaks when I look right too fast. I’m greeted with a tree branch where Chloe should be. Oh, fuck. I try to push up, but my hand slips against the seat, and my body protests. “Chloe?”

A shattered windshield.

Broken glass. Shards glisten against my skin.

An ounce of relief is found in a small detail—I can feel my legs pinned beneath the airbag though the memory of what happened is failing me.

Her Mercedes.

Her birthday.

A missing heart holds no beat. My chest is hollow as I search the car for the only thing that matters—her. Her name comes in waves of shallow breaths being exhaled.

The car is crushed, so I start praying that she’s alive. I search for a way out, for a way to find her. “Chloe?” My voice is scratched, the sound not traveling to where I need it to be.

Leveraging my arm against the middle console, I put all my weight behind the effort. Fuck pain. Fuck tears. Fuck this whole world if I can’t get to her. “Can you hear me, Chloe?”

My heart. My whole fucking life. My soul. “Please answer me, Chloe.”

Wedging my way out from under the airbag, I fall out of the car, my back hitting the frame before I land on the gravel. “Fuck!” I cry, squeezing my eyes closed to stave off the pain. I don’t have time to waste, groaning until my legs fall beside me. Where is she? “Chloe?”

I hold on to one ounce of hope—my phone. I pat my pockets but come up empty. The gravel cutting into my back doesn’t bother me. Not knowing where the fuck Chloe is does. “Chloe?” No response in return messes with my head. I fight. I push the fuck up and crawl to the front of the car.

Pain can’t stop me.

Blood running down my face won’t.

I have to find her, to get to her. To save her.

“Chloe? Answer me, dammit!”

A phone rings in the distance—her ringtone, not mine. “Fuck.” I scramble to stand on my feet and then cover the ground that separates me from the lit-up screen. Not a car passes, no signs of life anywhere. I’m barely here, but I manage to yell, “Help!” hoping to hear it echo to someone else’s ears.

Stumbling down to my knees, I land in front of the phone. “Ruby?” I answer, repeating the name on the screen. “Help. Call 9-1-1.”

I hold the phone to my ear, searching for any sign of Chloe.

“Josh? Josh, where are you?”

“Call an ambulance.” I wrestle the words out, my vision fading.

“Where’s Chloe?”

It’s such a simple question. One I should easily know the answer to. I’ve failed her, cost her a life, a future . . . Tears stream down my cheeks as I search frantically in the area.

A vision of her content and whispering chasing the moon cuts through my mind, keeping me from thinking coherently. “Help me find her . . . There was a deer—”

“Where are you?” Her voice pitches, hurting my ear.

“I don’t know. I can’t find her, Ruby. I can’t find her.”

My mind spins, lightheadedness setting in while the muscles in my arm give way, and I hit the ground. The phone bounces out of reach, but I can hear Ruby’s voice still calling me. “Josh? Josh! Stay on the line.”


Tags: S.L. Scott Romance
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