Page 79 of We Were Once

“He teaches history.”

I didn’t think her face could fall anymore, but the professor seemed to hold the last string with her hope attached. “They’re looking for someone to pay.”

Although the headache has subsided after a few days, my body is sore, insisting I limit my movements, or it protests in pain, so I remain still. “They’re looking at me?”

The nod is slight, but I catch it. “I can’t lose you, Joshua.”

The dots scatter again, and I can’t seem to collect them. “What are you saying?”

Sitting down next to the bed, she lowers her head, making it hard to see her over the bedrail. “Dr. Fox is pressing charges based on the statement you already gave. The county would anyway. Reckless driving with alcohol in your system. Stealing a car. Kidnapping.”

“Kidnapping? No.” Maybe the concussion was worse than they thought because I can’t seem to comprehend what she’s saying. Yet I know. I’m not sure how long I stare at her head, but it’s long enough to cause her to look up. “I’m missing the part that makes those charges reality. That’s not what happened. Chloe didn’t confirm it either. There’s no way she’d say those things. She’ll clear this up. We just have to wait for her—”

“If she recovers,” she snaps, sending my heart plunging to the pit of my stomach.

“If?”

“You can’t wait for her to come to your rescue, Josh. She’s in a coma, so you have to listen to me.” Conspiracy worries her gestures, and she looks at the door again. Whispering, she adds, “Her dad has the hospital wrapped around his finger. I’ve witnessed it. They don’t budge until he gives them the go-ahead.”

“Find Cat, Chloe’s mom. She’ll talk to us.” She glances toward the window, strain working its way into the creases at the corners of her eyes. I hate what this is doing to her, the trouble I’m causing her. “I’m sorry you had to come here, Mom.”

When her eyes return, she tries to smile, but I can tell it’s only for my benefit. Her heart is still burdened. “I’d go to the moon and back for you.”

Moon?

Some fuzzy memory of a moon I can’t reach shelters in the back of my brain.

“You won’t want to hear this, Josh, but it’s best if we put distance between you and Chloe. And we should call your father.”

“My father?” Disgust penetrates the words. “Why the fuck would we call him?”

It’s the first time she doesn’t correct my swearing. That’s when the gravity of the situation sets in. “Your dad can afford a lawyer.”

“I need a lawyer?” A pang hits when I shift too quickly, reminding me of the recent surgery. Restless in this bed, I feel stuck and completely helpless.

“You need someone who can protect you. And as much as it breaks my heart, I can’t.” Dropping her face into her hands, she breaks, her soft cries overwhelming her.

Fuck the pain. Moving closer, I lower the rail and rub her back. “Don’t cry, Mom. It will be okay. I’ll be okay. You’re not going to lose the diner.”

She looks up with tear-filled eyes. “I don’t care about the diner. I don’t care about our home. None of that matters if something happens to you.”

Fear drops an anchor in my chest as flood waters rise above my head. I would normally go for a run, run as fast and as far as I can before dropping to my knees. Or drink until I pass out. But neither is a possibility. Chloe was my hope, my savior, and my haven. Now she and my mom are suffering because of me. “Mom?” Her eyes lift to mine. I ask, “Will you help me see her?”

Her head is already shaking before her anger comes out. “Your entire life is on the line, and you’re still worried about Chloe?”

“Yes. If I can talk her, she’ll help—”

“She’s in a coma! I know you believe that your presence will wake her, but—”

“I need to.” I don’t blame the anger she’s feeling. It’s born of grief. Her concern is valid and should worry me more. But how can I when I haven’t talked to the one person who can save me, the one who already has once before?

Searching my eyes, she shakes her head again and then sighs. “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

“No, I’m not going to let Chloe go.”

“Even at your own expense?” My stubborn silence is the only answer I can give. “I’ll see what I can do.”

My mom leaves shortly after seeing things my way. Although my phone was crushed in the wreck, I still reach for it out of habit and come up empty. It’s frustrating sitting here with nothing to do but stew in the stress brought on by the thought of my dad being called in like the cavalry. No fucking way will I let him step in like a fucking hero. I’ll fix this before it comes to that.

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