Page 82 of We Were Once

I owe Chloe more than an apology. I have to explain my side of things before her father bends her ear and fills it with lies. She may not be awake, but I know she’ll hear me.

Discovering the room without staff or her family around is a miracle. I steady my nerves and open the door. The blinds are closed, the lights dim. Chloe’s eyes don’t greet me. Cat’s are—similar in so many ways, but not the balm I need to heal my breaking heart. She stands. “Josh?” Rushing toward me, she asks, “How are you?” keeping her voice low.

Cat helps me inside the room, and although she’s asked me something, I can’t keep my eyes off Chloe. Serene, making me wish she was in my arms again. It’s hard to tell she’s in a coma, but she doesn’t stir this time, my proximity undetected, which for some reason adds salt to the wound. I’m not crazy to think I can wake her just by being here, but hope had thrived this whole time that I didn’t realize I was setting myself up for failure all along.

When I finally turn to Cat, I whisper, “I . . . I needed to see her.”

“Of course.” Red rimmed lids underscore tired eyes that I hadn’t noticed when I walked in. Cat’s features are usually alive with color and animation but not now. Grief has a way of taking hold and sucking the life out of you.

The signs may not be as visible on me, but I relate inside. “They’re bringing her out of the coma tomorrow, I believe. If you want to be here—”

“I can’t.”

With her hand steady on the bed rail, she lets her sadness take over. Her voice trembles matching her hands. “I understand.”

I glance at her. “You don’t, but . . . I hope you will one day.”

“You’re leaving?” she asks, offense taking over her tone.

“Discharged. My mom is driving us back to Connecticut.”

When she looks at her daughter, the tears are substantial. “I’m sorry to hear that.” Catching herself, she turns back to me. “I didn’t mean—It’s good you’re healthy enough to go home, but she’ll ask about you. What do I say?”

I run my hand through my hair, not sure how to answer. I do the only thing I can, and lie, “Tell her I’ll see her soon.”

Coming around the bed, she touches my cheek and then hugs me gently. “Take care of yourself, Josh.” She knows. She knows I’m walking away, leaving Chloe when all I should be doing is staying. Cat’s granting me more compassion than I’m granting her daughter.

The truth of what I’m doing is destroying me. I want to kiss Chloe, to feel her lips against mine one last time, but it’s wrong when my intentions aren’t pure. “You, too.”

“Do you want a minute alone with her before you go?” Cat asks.

Nodding, I wipe away the water that’s gathered in the corners of my eyes.

She adds, “I need coffee anyway. I’ll be back in five minutes or so?”

The question is left hanging in the air. I’m starting to think she doesn’t know about the offer from Dr. Fox, considering she’s giving me an opportunity to say goodbye. “Hey, Cat?” When she looks back, I say, “Thank you.”

Her head lowers as the door closes.

Moving to the side of the bed, I lean down, wanting to smell her again, to inhale Chloe’s love into my lungs, hoping to survive off that for as long as it takes to get over the loss.

It’s an impossible task.

The reality is, I’ll never get over her.

She came into my life when I thought I didn’t matter to the world. I was a disappointment to my dad, and I’d never be able to live up to my mom’s dreams for me, or outgrow New Haven. I couldn’t change the hand I’d been dealt, but I was still playing like I had a chance to win. Fucking foolish.

The bruising on her beautiful face can’t be ignored. The deep pink skin screams of the trauma she sustained. I did that. I should have kept my eyes on the road and my hands on the steering wheel. I should have never looked away.

Not when she was tempting me.

Not when she kissed me.

Not for anything.

Careful not to hurt her now, I touch her neck gently, not wanting to leave a single fingerprint of evidence that I was here. I hold my cheek against hers, my lips a breath away from her ear. “I’m sorry, baby. So sorry.”

Her floral scent is gone, replaced by the sterility of the room. Tears seep between us just as I kiss the corner of her lips. Hopeful, I look up, expecting to see her pretty greens staring back at me. But that’s not what I get. It’s my tears that trail down her skin. It’s my heat that puts the pink on her cheeks.

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance