Sex? I don’t remember her calling it sex much. It was making love, about the bond between us. Fuck, I’m on edge again. I’ve been trying to be cool and confident, but she turns me inside out. I start whisking . . . Now, it’s just sex. “Thanks.” I try for nonchalant and then take it out on the eggs.
I don’t notice her arrival until her hands cover mine. “I think you’re supposed to beat them, not annihilate them.” I get a good look at her. She’s washed her face clean of makeup, but her hair is still a fucking mess—literally, and my heart still insists on residing in her eyes. With an eyebrow raised in question, she plucks the knife I’d already set down. “Maybe I should cut the tomatoes while you tell me what’s wrong.”
Moving around my kitchen like she’s been here before, she takes a bowl of cherry tomatoes from the fridge, smiling when she catches me staring. She asks, “What’s going on?”
What is going on with me? I know, but do I want to address it? I might go crazy if I sit with my anxiety for one more minute. “What are we?”
Setting the bowl down, she starts halving the tomatoes. “We’re Chloe and Joshua.”
“True.” It’s not the answer I was looking for, but it’s the one that most likely fits. It’s also the one I need to be okay with for the time being. “Do you want cheese in your omelet?”
I retrieve cheddar but stop to watch her knife skills. “You’re pretty good.”
“The curse of a doctor. I’m great at carving a turkey, too.”
“I should have you over for Thanksgiving.”
She laughs. “You should.” But the lightness that was finally returning is replaced by a dark cloud that’s blown in. Her sigh comes soft as she continues cutting.
“I spoke before thinking—” We’re on such shaky ground. One night together doesn’t erase six years of heartache and pain. I’m trying to live in the moment, but everything is tenuous and scaring the shit out of me.
Her hand stops, and she looks at me. “No, it’s okay . . .” With the knife on the board, she angles toward me. “Joshua,” she starts, but then tugs on her lower lip. “Please know that when I apologized, I meant it then, and I mean it now. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I know they’re only words, but if you tell me how to fix it, how to fix this fucked-up situation, I will. I’ll do anything to make this better since I can’t make it right.”
“You can’t fix it.” I temper my tone for her. Her remorse makes things worse. But anyone else would have received my wrath for daring to mention my punishment. “I served the time.”
“I’m sorry. From the core of my soul, I’m so sorry, Joshua.”
Her distress isn’t just heard in the words but felt in her touch. We were collateral damage to the decisions of her dad. I’m not sure how I forgive her father, but it would be easier if I could lay fault somewhere else. It feels possible, but it would help put things to rest.
The thoughts I had in the middle of the night come back. Can we find our way back to each other?
It’s time to lift this burden from our shoulders and look forward instead of back.
She begins to cut the tomatoes, and I can tell it’s a distraction from the pain. This time, I still her hands, tenting mine over hers, and take a breath. Our words have repercussions, so I can’t fuck this up. “I want you to know something.”
She looks up at me and gives the minutest of nods.
Pulling my hands back, I want to caress her face, kiss and make everything better, but this can’t be fixed like that. “Last night you accused me of something I didn’t do.”
Shame tugs the corners of her eyes down. “I’m so—”
“I want you to know that I did the time that your dad sentenced me to. I was punished for loving you.” Her cries are silent, but the tears fall. I pull her into my arms and hold her. “We don’t get do-overs. And if we did, I wouldn’t erase anything because loving you then was the best thing I ever did.”
Sobs wrack her shoulders as she clings to me with her face buried down against my chest. “I don’t deserve you.”
Rubbing her back, I try to comfort her, not because this is about her, but because she served her own sentence. She may have been walking around free, but I wouldn’t wish the guilt she carried on my enemy. “It’s not about deserving, Chloe. It’s about knowing.”
She wipes her tears on the sweatshirt and looks up again. “Knowing what?”
“That I can’t play cool with you. Believe it or not, I never had revenge scenarios when it came to you. So being with you again is sort of the opposite. A dream come true.” I run my hand through my hair, my nerves making my hands unsteady. “But I’m sure I’m fucking it up by coming on too strong too soon.” I’ve never been so nervous in my entire life, not before the judge—not ever.