Page 97 of We Were Once

With her eyes on the needle, she concentrates on the task at hand. “It’s my job.”

“I would think the nurse could have handled such a small emergency.”

“Friday the thirteenth always packs the ER. Julie is needed elsewhere.”

“Aren’t you?”

Her lashes lift, tapping her brow. I don’t remember them being that long, but it wasn’t her lashes I was staring at. Her green eyes—a fire lit glows bright inside—glare at me. I start to wonder how many people have been willing to get burned just to be near her over the years. She always was the most gorgeous girl I’d ever seen. Still is, though now she’s a woman, and I can’t complain about my current view.

It wasn’t her face, though, that had me tripping over myself too naïve to know better. It was the way she saw me as a better man than I was and treated me as such. Seeing myself through her eyes became addictive. There was such an innocence about her back then that was easy to feed off of. Nothing was impossible when we were together. But life has a way righting its course, and damn, did it ever.

So I couldn’t have predicted I’d be sitting here with her searching for the remains of a heart she used to wear on her sleeve. Outwardly, I don’t find anything that makes me think she’s that same girl.

She replies, “Yes, I am,” and then returns to sealing the cut, ending the nonsense going on in my head. I’m not even sure what she’s responding to anymore. But I wholly recognize that even through latex gloves, I can feel the heat of her hands. “I’ll wrap the wound to get you through the night.”

“Okay.”

Each of her glances is felt, dipping into my chest, and squeezing my heart. Ironically, that’s not an organ I’ve been in touch with for a while. But right now, it’s beating hard, strong, making a whole show of it for her. “You became a doctor,” I say as if I have a right to share in that pride.

“I did.” Her voice is softer. “Do you feel any pain?”

“A lifetime’s worth.”

She looks up as her hand stills. “I was referring to your injury.”

“Right. No. I’m completely numb just how you wanted me, Doc.”

A sigh comes with an unreadable twist of her lips. “I understand too well. Sometimes . . .” She clears her throat gently. “Injuries take longer to heal than we expect.” A smile matching her demeanor appears. “That shouldn’t be the case this time.”

This time.

So much could be said about that simple phrase. But I don’t go down winding alleys that lead nowhere—verbally or in life—anymore. “Good to know.”

“Are you returning to work or going home?” She finishes dressing my finger and starts returning the supplies to the tray.

“I didn’t know we were getting personal.” My smirk comes naturally when I flirt, but why the fuck am I flirting with her?

When I don’t get so much as a facial twitch in response, that settles it. I clamp my mouth shut, hoping to regain my better senses. She says, “Change the dressing after a shift, or if you’re going home, this should hold for the next twenty-four hours unless it gets wet.” She effectively shuts me down while running the tip of her finger down the length of mine. “Make sure to keep this area clean. If you see anything that looks out of the ordinary, you can call me.” She seems to catch herself when the words are already out of her mouth. “Contact the hospital, I mean, and someone can help you.”

The slightest of pink colors her cheeks, and I soak it in, finding comfort in the semblance of familiarity. I start to wonder about her life outside this room, but I bite my tongue. This is not the time or place, but will I have another chance? Ah, fuck it. “You’re not married?”

A match of disbelief is lit. “That’s none of your business.” Standing abruptly, she sinks the chart in the slot just outside the door. She was never halfheartedly in our relationship like she’s standing in the doorway. “We’re done.” Another phrase thrown out that I could add so much to the ending, but I hold my tongue instead. Turning on her heels, she says, “Nurse, please tend to the patient.”

I hear the nurse telling her about someone in nine with a fractured wrist.

Six years ago, I let her go when she wanted to stay, so I have no right to barge into her life now. So, what the fuck am I doing? Stepping beyond the curtain, I call, “Dr. Fox?”

Chloe looks across a row of open doors, her expression unbiased like her tone after she corrected it. Although everyone around is moving quickly, the sound of a hospital at full volume between people and machines, I hear her ask, “Yes, Mr. Evans?”

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