“It’s not called a cockpit for nothing,” my mom remarks, leaving me staring in shock.
Ruby is laughing, but as if the memory is fresh enough to relive, she shares, “He was the sexiest man I’d ever seen.” Then her eyes go wide. “Except for him. Sweet. Jesus.”
My mom looks past me, and her mouth falls open.
Feeling left out, I follow their gazes to get a good look at what has them gawking, the name falling from my mouth like it’s the owner, “Joshua.”
Like a lightning strike out of the blue, I didn’t expect to see Chloe again. The passion in her heart was always seen in her eyes, and tonight is no different. My gaze follows the lines of her hair that flow over her shoulders and the graceful collarbone exposed that I used to kiss.
That connection that refuses not to exist has me flexing my fingers to keep from reaching out to touch her again. Seeing her dotting my life in the most unexpected places, and knowing she’s not mine to kiss, has become my true punishment.
Gripping her purse in one hand and by all appearances a drunk Cat in the other, she’s staring at me like I materialized out of thin air.
“Chloe,” I reply, a few awkward beats later. No questions. No statements. Just her name making its way into the fresh air. It feels good to say it again. It’s even better seeing her.
I force my eyes from her only to find another familiar face. “Ruby?”
“Yes. Wow, Josh Evans right here on the streets of New York.” She loops her arm with Chloe, the two women standing alert at her side. “What are the odds?”
Chloe speaks out of the side of her mouth, “Better than you think,” loud enough to hear, leading me to believe that she’s not entirely upset to see me again.
“Josh?” Confusion ripples through her expression and then softens with defeat taking over. I still want to correct the name, but she only changed it because I told her to when I was in jail. Chloe remains standing quietly as if saying my name was all she could bear. I relate all too well.
She continues to stare at me as if I’m a mystery she can’t figure out, and then says, “You’re here.” But before I can say anything else, she asks, “What are you doing here?”
I’m not sure what to say.
I work here.
It’s a free country.
When she looks at her mom, her mom’s expression is unreadable from where I’m standing. I say, “I work in the city.” I could have pointed out that they’re currently standing in front of my restaurant but giving up these details in the current climate of the moment seems ill-advised. It’s good to keep a few secrets. That’s something she knows well.
Ruby jolts in surprise, raising her eyebrows. “You live here?”
Cat’s loose demeanor has changed into protective mother mode, taking her daughter’s hand in hers. “Chloe—”
“I’m fine, Mom.”
Ruby says, “The cab’s here.” Even Ruby can’t dismiss the awkwardness by the way sympathy rearranges her face. I’m starting to wonder if she doesn’t hate me. Rich people are usually better at hiding their evil side.
I hate myself for even thinking they could be that cruel, but I lost trust in words a long time ago. Now I judge others by their actions.
The heavy breath that escapes Chloe has her shoulders lowering, and she nods while I stand unsure of how I’m feeling about seeing her, them, and having another fated run-in. It’s a lot to process. I say, “It was—” I stop myself from telling her how good it really is. I can’t. After being given three opportunities, I still can’t manage my emotions with a clear head, and my heart is too cloudy.
A plea enters Chloe’s eyes, her lip momentarily tucked under teeth. “It was what?”
Ruby walks around Chloe, taking Cat’s hand. “We’ll wait in the cab.”
Looking at Chloe, Cat whispers, “I think you should come with us.”
The debate is written in the worry creasing her brow. She nods, and for a brief second, I think she’s been convinced. Then she asks, “Can I have a minute, Mom? Ruby?” Her need to please shining through.
I could give her the benefit of the doubt instead and acknowledge that she’s taking their time into consideration, but that would require me to be the bigger person right now, and I don’t know, she’s fucking with my head. Why am I still here waiting for her to make up her mind about something when I’m not given the same consideration?
I’m late from my break. The guys will be looking for me if Lola isn’t already. Running my hand through my hair, I start for the corner to go around back.
Chloe asks, “Can we talk? The cab’s waiting, so I won’t keep you long.”