Page 81 of We Were Once

“I love her,” I say, the words needing to be voiced, for him to hear and to know if he didn’t already. “I would never intentionally hurt her.”

“But you did, so I had papers drawn up to protect my daughter’s future.” Here it comes. I brace myself, keeping my expression indifferent like she did with him the day I arrived. “Go home. Help your mom run her restaurant, get your degree. Live your life, Josh. Just live it without Chloe.”

“That’s the offer?” I look down and pull a loose thread just as the folder from the tray lands on my lap. And here I thought that was a medical file. How could I be so naïve? “You’re asking me to move on with life without her?”

“I’m not asking, Mr. Evans. You lost a kidney, not your heart. Be grateful, but more importantly, be smart.”

“And if I’m not?”

“I’ll press charges, the police will take you into custody, and you can spend the next three to five years fighting for your freedom through the court system.”

There’s no choice for me in these options. Either way, I lose because he knows I could never drag Chloe down with me. But this can’t be what he’s wanting. “I stay by Chloe’s side not bowing to your commands and have my life destroyed, or I leave the woman I love like she doesn’t matter to me . . . and live my life without her? Those are my choices?”

“Yes.”

“You make it sound simple.” My body’s exhausted, and my mind is not as quick as I’d like it, making it hard to unpack emotionally.

“It is simple.” I find relief when he walks toward the door. “You have the papers.”

“You’re assuming I’ll sign.” Fuck him.

With the door in hand, he says, “You’re a smart kid, so you clearly understand that dating a woman out of your league isn’t worth losing your freedom, or your mom losing her diner. Anyway, Chloe would eventually see you for the man you are, a pest beneath her feet. Trust me, Mr. Evans, you’ll thank me one day for saving you both the trouble.”

I throw the first thing I can find, the TV remote shattering as soon as it hits the back of the door. “Fuck you!”

Threatening me is one thing.

Threatening my mom’s livelihood, a whole other.

Smug fucking asshole.

It took hours for my blood pressure to go down. Now I’m stuck in the dark listening to my heartbeat. I can’t sleep a wink with the offer trying to suffocate the best part of me—my relationship with Chloe. Fuck him and his scheme. I’ve gone around and back again, wondering if the threat is empty. The problem is, I don’t know unless I choose an option to find out.

I love her more than anything, but will loving me ruin her life?

Am I willing to gamble both of our futures on a risk and a prayer?

Wanting to get it over with, I pull out the deal he’s offering and start reading over the details.

My mom overheard the charges, and Dr. Fox confirmed his intentions. But how do I walk away from Chloe? She’s as much a part of me as my own soul.

If it were only me to consider, I’d take the risk of being with Chloe without a second thought. She’s the reward I never deserved. Is that where the truth is found? I never deserved her in the first place?

My dad is from this world, this level of wealth. Yet he didn’t want me, so why would she?

Norman Fox has me trapped, and I can’t disappoint my mom. She worked too hard to get me here. I can face the courts, letting the truth come out, and I would walk free at the end of the day, but not without dragging my mom through heartbreak and a financial mess that would have her lose the diner.

The longer I sit here, staring at this contract, the more my shoulders sag against the mattress. Whether I like it or not, I know what I have to do. I can’t put my mom through this just as I can’t make Chloe choose between me and her family.

I can’t.

I won’t.

I pull the pen from the envelope.

The only escape from this nightmare is not only breaking my heart but also hurting the woman I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I can’t imagine a day without her. She’s my other half. My one love. But I also can’t risk that she won’t get everything she’s worked so hard for.

I’ll do anything for you, Chloe, including this. With a shaky hand, I sign my heart away, giving her the life she deserves instead.

28

Joshua

I glance at the paper my mom handed me the moment I was discharged.

Third floor.

Hall B.

Room 314.

I’m not exactly stealth, considering the recent surgery to remove my kidney. I was told to take it easy, and I will, but there’s one last thing I have to do before leaving Rhode Island.

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