Page 95 of We Were Once

I should really get out of the hospital more often, to see the good that is happening all around, instead of placing the burden on others to make me happy. I did that once and was burned. My heart feels lighter hearing laughter instead of cries. Seeing smiles instead of tears. Life goes on around me even if mine stopped in so many ways.

To cement my case, I take a selfie of me about to bite into a cherry Danish as evidence and send it to Ruby and my mom with the message: Look at me living the high life. #straighttomythighs

My mom replies first: #worthit She’s so hip with the hashtag lingo.

She used to tell me to live fearlessly.

I did that once.

Now she tells me to live without regret.

I’m doing my best.

Ruby’s message comes shortly after I finish my coffee: This might be my favorite photo of you ever.

Grinning from the text, I type: Coming from a professional photographer, I’ll take the compliment.

Ruby: I’m paid well for my eye. How much to get that photo framed to hang in my gallery?

Seeing the crowds filing in for their late afternoon caffeine fix, I grab my stuff and vacate a table. On the sidewalk, I stand off to the side, and type: Where are you? Miss you.

Ruby: Flying home in a few days. Dinner when I get back?

Me: For you, anything.

Ruby: That’s my girl.

My stomach twists from the phrase, but I try not to let it get me down. Clouds have swept in, and a breeze blows down the street.

Ruby: I’ll let you know when I’m home. Gotta run.

Me: Take care. Love you.

Ruby: Love you, too, friend.

I look at the half-eaten pastry in my hand and throw it away in a nearby trash can. With a few hours left before I have to get ready for work, I walk the streets, looking up, waiting for the moon to come out. I never did figure what that phrase meant, but I still search for its meaning every chance I can.

The pretty weather should brighten my mood, but I’m not just tired. Something else has taken over the air around me, something heavy that’s escaped my heart that even sunshine can’t shake.

I toss my coffee cup, not sure why I feel I have anything to prove. That I’m living? Thriving, surviving? If I don’t know, one photo won’t sell the idea any better.

Finding an empty bench is like winning the lottery. The people watching in Manhattan will never get old, and the hustle and bustle on the sidewalk gives my busy mind a reprieve. But I get antsy when I see all the families, so my adventure out of the house is wrapped up after a quick trip to the corner store for basics. It’s not exciting, but food doesn’t have to be interesting or creative. It can be just fuel.

But hearing the voices in the back of my mind that still try to get me to color outside the lines has me tossing in a pint of cherry chocolate ice cream. Walking on the wild side doesn’t have to mean trespassing and skinny dipping. That didn’t work out, so why tempt fate again.

With my mind caught up in things it shouldn’t be, the only way to distract me from my life is by focusing on others, so I after a quick pit stop at home, I change clothes, pack a dinner, and head into work.

Before I have time to put my stuff in a locker, my side is flanked by Julie. Our pace is never interrupted as she fills me in while walking down the hall. “Three minor injuries in two, eight, and . . .” She taps the screen of an electronic tablet. “Five. Two with alcohol poisoning in one and nine.”

Not only does she excel at her job, but she’s become a good friend. “And three, four, six, seven, and ten?”

“Brainiac. You’re too fast for me,” she says, grinning. “I was just getting to those five rooms. They’re already cleaned and prepped for incoming patients. It’s been light, considering.”

“Considering it’s Friday, the thirteenth?”

Holding the tablet to her chest, she replies with a half-grin. “Yep.”

As she remains back at the nurses’ station, I keep walking. “Thank you, Julie.”

“You’re welcome, Dr. Fox.”

We spoke too soon. As the night extends, our wish for a light load isn’t granted, and past trends fall into place again. I like being busy, but the suffering in a packed waiting room makes it hard to concentrate. I hate to keep people waiting, so I skip my break, hoping to see patients sooner. I’m given the chart for room five just as I pull back the curtain. “A lacerated forefinger,” I read aloud as I scan the chart. Age. Blood pressure. Temperature. Standard with no concerns. “You’re a cook, Mr. Evans—” I choke on the name when my eyes meet his.

Tags: S.L. Scott Romance