Page 93 of We Were Once

Why can I only remember chasing the moon?

I take off running, but don’t get ten feet before I feel faint. I’m still recovering, and my stomach’s empty. Dropping against the wall, Ruby wraps her arms around me. “You can’t run, Chloe.”

“I have to.” Holding the side of my head, I say, “I can stop this. I can stop him from going to jail. We just have to tell them what we know.” Looking into her tear-filled eyes, I beg, “Help me get there.”

Hobbling together, we cover the block and push into the jail. I’ve become familiar with the routine of signing in, submitting my ID to be checked, and the process of entry to the visitation room. That hour doesn’t help my anxiety. It makes it worse, not sure how he’s going to react to me.

As soon as I’m seated on the other side of the booth, what little adrenaline I used to get me here begins to dip, my heart beating out of my chest as fear courses through me.

The shame I saw in him yesterday is now fully owned on my side of the barrier. I’ve failed him, but if there’s a way . . . if it’s not too late, I’ll help him however I can.

When he enters the other side of the room, neither of us rushes to pick up the receiver. Instead, our hands press together. Despite the small gesture, I don’t get his tenderness or reassurance. I get detached, everything we used to be, gone in an instant.

“I’m sorry,” I say through shuddering cries and thick glass. I know we’re over before his hand slides down, and he pulls back. Wishing never did me any good before, but I wish we could have stayed in our own little world, the one we built together. I look into his eyes, and just like the memories that escape me, we’re already in the past.

He stands. “Don’t come back, Chloe.”

My arms collapse to my sides as his words sink in. No. Please God no. I try to reach him once more before we succumb to our fate. “I’m sorry.” He turns his back on me and leaves.

That was the last time I saw Joshua Evans.

33

Chloe

Chasing the moon.

The ethereal phrase still floats around like a figment of my imagination.

Even after six years.

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid moons and stars inside an ER, especially working the overnight shift. It’s taken me years to learn, but I now pocket my emotions. It helps me to deal with the pain I see on a daily basis.

A bonus side effect to the past trauma—I don’t cry anymore. I lost enough tears over the years to last me a lifetime. One day, they just stopped flowing. It was around the same time I stopped counting heart beats that seemed to only flutter for one man.

That same man once told me love is found in contentment. I believed him because we were young.

We were naïve.

And we were so in love.

These days, I live by another phrase of his—Love isn’t real—but we were once . . .

34

Chloe

“Are you up?”

Peering at the glowing digits of my watch, I quickly close my eyes again not wanting to awaken more than necessary. I shift the phone to my other ear. “It’s only one, Mom. I thought it was the hospital calling.”

“I thought you were off night shifts this month?”

“I was, but I volunteered because another resident went into labor. And Friday the thirteenth is as bad as full moons in the ER. I didn’t want to leave them short-staffed.”

“You’re running yourself ragged, Chloe.” Concern coats her statement. She stopped beating around the bush a few years back when it came to tiptoeing around my feelings. I had tortured myself mentally for far too long.

A therapist taught me to grieve. Then I learned to forgive my role in how things played out. The only thing I never did was make amends. I couldn’t. There was no way I could ever see him again. Not after he broke my heart like he did.

I find exhaustion better than living with the emptiness. At least, I feel something. That feels like progress.

“It’s just this week,” I say, rubbing the corner of my eye. The room is still dark, though the sun is fighting to break in and rob me of sleep. Blackout curtains are the best money I ever spent. “Then I’ll be back to my normal rotation.”

“That’s good to hear. Have you heard anything more about being brought on after your residency?”

“Mom, I’m tired. I’ve only had four hours sleep. You know I love to hear from you, but I have another long shift tonight and I’d really like a few more hours, if possible.”

“Okay. Okay, honey. Call me when you have some time off, or the minute you hear anything. Love you.”

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