Those brown eyes I still see in the sweetest of dreams look back into mine.
The slight wave to his brown hair has softened, but the scruff on his face has darkened. My heart is about to come up my throat.
I hope the lines that reside beside his eyes were formed from laughter and not hardship. But that’s a wish I have no right to make since I’m responsible for his past pain.
At a loss for rational thought, I stand there dumbly, still staring at the man who once held my heart in his hands. He says, “Chef, actually.”
“Chef?” He’s smiling, pride seen in his eyes as I try not to die on the inside.
Just breathe. Clear your head. Don’t focus on the way your heart races. Ignore that organ that decided to join the party like it’s beating for the first time, a heavy-footed throb setting in.
For God’s sake, look away. My eyes go to his hand, and the injury that brought him to the ER. My ER. In my city.
How dare he show up here? I was supposed to be safe. I had successfully disappeared from every part of my old life except for three. My plants, my mom, and Ruby. “My apologies. I didn’t realize the difference.”
“I started out as a cook at my mom’s diner in New Haven years ago,” he explains as if we’re total strangers getting to know one another. I’m not entirely upset by the charade. What we were once is not what we are now, so there’s no sense in pretending otherwise. “Now I’m a chef.”
Despite staring into the eyes that once made me feel whole, the ability to feel anything soul deep was lost when I lost him. I won’t let him turn on the faucet where my feelings once flowed free. “Don’t ever come back, Chloe.” Five words I’ve heard over and over again for the past seventy-two months. I won’t let him in again. “Why are you here?”
“Doctor,” Julie remarks. The harshness of my tone takes me by surprise, so I know it does her. “A laceration—”
“Right. The chart,” I mutter distracted.
Tapping her tablet, Julie asks, “His vitals are good. When I examined the injury, the cut’s deep enough to warrant sutures. I can do that if you’d like, Dr. Fox.”
I keep my eyes on her. It’s easier to find words without seeing Joshua Evans staring at me like he’s seeing a ghost. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary.”
“If you’re set, I’m needed at the nurses’ station.”
He says, “We’ll be fine. Right, Dr. Fox?”
“Yes, fine. I’m fine. Totally fine.” I sound like a crazy person. I hate the way he’s shaken my foundation.
Julie’s eyes go wide, silently asking me something I can’t decipher. “Thank you for setting up the tray. I can take it from here.”
She nods and leaves.
Setting the chart down, I check his stats on the monitors before asking to examine the wound. He holds his hand up for me.
I’ve never hesitated. Not in medical school, or with a patient. Not ever.
With him, I do.
I know when I hold his hand in mine and see that tattoo, it won’t matter how well I pretended to move on with my life. I’ll be transported back to a time I refuse to believe ever existed. Looking at him now, I taste the bitter truth.
Joshua Evans is what I’ve been missing all along.
I can’t stop staring at her.
God, I never thought I’d see Chloe Fox again, and here she is, holding my hand with her half of an anchor I’m more than familiar with still there. I smirk, feeling a small piece of ownership over that ink, even if I can’t call her my girl anymore.
My girl . . . wow. She’s no longer a girl, but a woman who’s grown into her own body and self-worth by how she carries herself. Her focus was always an enviable trait, and it’s on full display, just not for me. It’s who she’s become, which is everything she wanted to be.
It’s impossible not to acknowledge that she manages to make that boxy white lab coat look good. Bare lips are licked, drawing my attention. Taking the moment of silence, I trace over her appearance. A small section of hair is pinned on top with a ponytail collecting the rest. I’d wager it looks longer than she used to wear it. She’s wearing makeup, yet that doesn’t distract from her natural beauty.
By how she’s using such a light touch, this must be a delicate operation. I won’t break. I already did that years ago, so it’s too late to worry about me now. But she’s still being careful with every glance and word spoken between us. Controlled. Neutral. Like we don’t know each other at all.
I’m thinking we’re supposed to be enemies, but I never did listen to reason, especially when it came to Chloe. “Thanks for doing this.”