Page 86 of We Were Once

Seeming to surrender, she sighs. “You’re just like him. Determined to your own detriment.” A kiss to my cheek is given. “You need rest.”

I nod. “Do you mind getting me a phone?”

“I’ll pick one up tomorrow.”

“Thank you.”

When she leaves, I carefully hold my side where I can tell I’ve broken a rib. My breaths are shallow, and I can feel my toes.

I’ll survive.

I’ll heal.

I’ll be back on track with my life soon enough, except for the seed of doubt nagging the back of my mind. Joshua wouldn’t leave me. Him being home is a good sign that he’s not badly injured. That’s great, actually. I hold up my hand and look at the tattoo—it’s ours. Binding us together forever. That can’t be removed . . . the tattoo . . . or our love.

We’re forever.

With confidence that I’ll get to talk to him tomorrow, I close my eyes, feeling his love comfort me back to sleep

30

Chloe

He hasn’t answered his phone for five days straight. How is that possible?

I’ve made almost as many calls to the diner, but I’m told he’s not working, and his mom isn’t available. Why hasn’t he called me back? Why hasn’t Patty?

Not a text or call. No letter. No contact at all.

It doesn’t make sense.

“Patty has to answer eventually,” I convince myself, listening to the ringing on the line one more time before hanging up disappointed again.

I lean against the molding that frames the windows and stare into the distance, quietly summoning my phone to ring in my hand. Please. Please, call me.

The sun shines through the shutters of my childhood room, the ocean close enough to lose myself in the roll of the waves. Throwing the stupid phone to the bed, I open the window to hear the sound of the roar, hoping it drowns out the sadness I feel.

My phone rings, and I dive to answer it, instantly reminded of my broken rib. Holy damn. It doesn’t deter me from answering. “Joshua?” The desperation comes through.

“You still haven’t heard from him?” Ruby usually has me smiling, but even she can’t turn my mood around today.

“No. Any word there?”

“I drove by the diner. There’s a sign on the door with odd hours. Sorry for the inconvenience. Blah. Temporarily closed.”

“That is odd. Nothing else?”

“No, but I can track down his friends.” I hear her snapping her fingers in the background. “Didn’t you say they hang out at Lucky’s?”

“Oh God, no.” Humiliation seeps into my bones just from the thought. “That would be just . . . What if Joshua is ghosting me? I’d look like a crazy ex-girlfriend. No.” Vehemently shaking my head, I add, “No.”

“Yeah, that would be embarrassing, but at least we’d get an answer.”

“No, Ruby.”

“How about I cruise by Josh’s house tomorrow?”

Such a simple offer that complicates things. I feel shame for admitting it, but I say, “I don’t know where he lives. He . . .” A lump in my throat forms, making it hard to speak. “He lived with me.” He still takes up space in my heart free of charge.

She says, “He’s not been over there. I would have heard. I can hear everything through these walls and vents.”

That gives me pause, embarrassment topping all my other emotions when I remember how she once told us she could hear even our most intimate moments. Then I cringe, dropping my head forward. “I can’t have this conversation with you, Ruby.”

“Then we won’t, Clo. I’ve been watering your plants.”

I’d forgotten we exchanged keys when we moved in. But that I had forgotten about Frankie and Dwayne Evans . . . a lump forms in my throat because that’s all that remains. “You said plants? Both of them?”

“Yes.”

He wouldn’t leave me and his bonsai behind. Would he?

Tears well in the corners of my eyes when I realize that maybe it’s a parting gift since there isn’t anything else there. No Joshua. No me. Nothing of us, and I didn’t get so much as a goodbye. “I don’t understand. Please help me understand, Ruby. How could he do this to me?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. Guys are so dumb.”

“I wish so badly that I could remember.”

“Do you not remember anything about the accident?”

No. I don’t remember anything except that Joshua was driving. We were laughing . . . “I remember feeling happy. I can’t describe it better than that. I sound like a fool.” Frustrated, I shift the phone, lowering my head. “We were laughing. We—wait. Ruby, why would there be odd hours at the diner? Where’s Patty? Why won’t she call me back?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been able to ask anyone that. But I’ll try to, okay?”

“Please. I just can’t believe he’d leave me like this. My heart hurts worse than my wounds.” Every part of me is in pain.

“I know, Clo. I’m so sorry.”

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