Page 87 of We Were Once

Laying my head down, I close my eyes. “Help me. How do I make the pain go away?”

“It won’t stop hurting until you come to terms with the truth.”

“And that is?”

“He left. That fucker left with his tail tucked between his legs, sneaking off in the night when things got heavy.” I hear a harsh breath through the line. “Here’s the good news, Chloe. Now you know who he really is, and as much as it hurts right now, he’s saving you heartache later.”

Sitting up, I move to the end of the bed, defeated in so many ways. “I just . . . I can’t wrap my head around him leaving me while I was in a coma. What did I do wrong?”

“It’s not you, girl. It’s him.”

Reaching for something that will help makes sense of this, I ask, “What if something’s wrong? He’s injured or—”

“No. Don’t do this to yourself. Josh being MIA from your life speaks volumes. It’s time you listened.” I know she’s only looking out for my best interest, but her advice doesn’t reach the part that needs to hear it most—my heart.

I switch the phone to my other ear and lie back on my bed. “I’m returning tomorrow. My professors have been understanding to this point, but I need to be present.”

“I knew you wouldn’t sacrifice the credits.” She laughs. “You’re the most ambitious person I know.”

“I’ve worked my whole life for this.” How did I become so utterly distracted by a man that I lost track of that? He hasn’t even checked on my well-being since I came out of a damn coma. Did I know Joshua Evans at all? “It means a lot to know I have a friend, Ruby.”

“I’ll always be there for you. And for real, I’m happy to go look for him or his friends—” she says, but mumbles, “the lowlifes—when you get here.”

“I appreciate that. I’ll text you when I’m back.”

“Hang in there.”

“I will. Take care.” Hanging up, I hold the phone to my chest. As much as I appreciate her, the weakness I feel for him makes me angry. Why did things go bad? Does he blame me for the accident? After days of overthinking this, it’s all I can come up with. But I’m still so foolish. “Call me, Joshua,” I pray in a wish that slips out to sea.

Hours pass as I sit at the window, staring until the moon reflects off the surface of the furious ocean. I understand the rage. I feel it inside, the grief drowning in the anger.

How can he do this to me? How can he walk away? Does he not feel the searing pain I feel inside?

Did he not love me the same?

* * *

I knock.

And then again.

I won’t leave New Haven until I get answers.

A soft knock becomes banging to match how crazy I feel inside. Movement stills me, fists still pressed against the glass. The familiar face has my heart racing. “Patty!” I tap the door anxiously. “Patty!”

Sadness drags her eyes down as she works her way around the counter toward the door. Taking on her pain, I feel my stomach tighten in worry.

She unlocks the bolts and pulls the handle. “What are you doing here, Chloe?”

I was ready to throw my arms around her, but I suddenly feel uncomfortable, the desire for flight heavy in my belly. Looking back at the car waiting for me, Kenneth is scrolling through his phone oblivious to the fact that I’m crumpling here on the sidewalk. When I turn to Patty, I reply with a shaky voice, “I’m looking for Joshua?”

Her tears fall as if the name alone caused them to flow, her petite frame almost lost in the doorway. Hollow eyes. Deeper defined cheekbones. The signs of distress are apparent. Gripping hold of the door, she leans on it for support. “You don’t know where he is?”

“No.” This conversation is all wrong, my bones laden with dread of the outcome. Holding my phone up, I reply, “He won’t answer my calls.”

“Josh is in jail,” she bites, her tone sharp.

“I don’t . . . what?” I wade through her anger but still can’t piece the words together. “He’s in jail?”

In my mind, the past six days I’ve been awake stream on replay—no calls or texts, leaving me to wonder what happened when I needed him most.

He’s in jail? “Why?”

“How do you not know?” Bloodshot eyes stare at me as if I have an answer.

“I’m sorry, I . . .” I stumble over the words when I realize she’s mad at me. “I’m confused, Patty. Is he okay?”

“No.” She runs her hands over her eyes just as she starts crying. “How will he survive this? How will I? What will I do without him?” Her voice raises with every question she asks. I stand there dumbly not understanding. “What will he do when he gets out? Your dad is destroying his whole future!” she shouts. “Why?”

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance