We Were Once - Page 13

“We have to make the most of it.”

“Definitely.” I laugh lightly. “Good night.” As soon as I shut the door, I stop when I see a small box on my doorstep. Peeking down the stairs, I don’t see anyone, and I don’t hear footsteps.

I approach the box with caution and stand over it, smiling when I realize what’s inside. Kneeling, I pick it up and carry it into the apartment. I sit at the far end of the couch, close to Frankie, and say, “Seems you got gifts today.”

Picking up the small misting bottle, I hold it up. “Guess whose leaves are getting pampered? A new pot. Look how pretty.” The blue ceramic pot is rectangle-shaped and will be a huge improvement over the current little plastic one.

I leave the Ziploc bag of soil in the box and pull out the note before setting the rest aside. I unfold it and read: Hope Frankie enjoys the new home.

He doesn’t sign it, but I know who it’s from, and I grin while reading it aloud for my tiny roommate. Then I realize I’ve been talking to a plant, making me roll my eyes at myself.

I’m not sure if this is what my mom meant to happen when she put me in charge of Frankie’s well-being, but taking care of her has started to become fun.

Replanting the tree in the pot doesn’t take long but taking his advice I don’t get to bring her into the bedroom since she’ll be soaking overnight. I click out the lights after I’m done and say, “Good night.”

5

Chloe

I’ve never felt in between. The first day of classes can be overwhelming or a breeze. Fortunately, being prepared made me feel confident starting this year. That’s why when I see Patty’s Diner sign two blocks down, I make a detour.

My confidence remains out on the sidewalk when I enter the diner. I can turn around and walk back out. No harm. No foul. Saving face before this gets out of hand. Yes, that’s what I should do.

But that bell ringing overhead draws attention again when I open the door to leave. “Chloe?”

I close my eyes, reprimanding myself for getting into this sticky situation in the first place. It could be worse. It could have been Joshua who caught me trying to sneak out.

Turning around, ready to greet Patty, I still on the spot when I see her son standing next to her. He’s grinning . . . smirking really, giving me the cocky one that seems to be his specialty. With a slight lift of his hand, he says, “Hi.”

I tuck the hair that’s fallen from my ponytail behind my ears and then straighten the straps of my backpack. “Hi. I was just in the area and thought I’d try the special.” With an extended hand, I add, “It comes highly recommended.”

Patty looks pleased and comes around to greet me. “I’m glad you came by. Joshua was just about to take a dinner break. Maybe the two of you can eat together . . . in that booth . . . in the back corner.”

“Oh, um.” I glance back at the brown eyes tracking my every move. “I wouldn’t want to intrude. He might have other plans—”

“I’ll get the food,” he says while Patty waves her hand at me like a tattooed fairy.

Following Patty to the booth, I mumble, “Right.”

She stands, waiting for me to slide in, so I take my backpack off and dump it on the bench. “Thank you.”

“I’m glad you came by again. We were just talking about you.”

“Oh, yeah?”

Leaning against the other side of the booth, she looks around conspiratorially, and then says, “Josh mentioned your passion for plants.”

I tweak my neck when I restrain the surprise from jerking me back. Rubbing the back of it, I ask, “He did?”

“Said you have a bonsai tree like his.”

I smile. “Yes. My mom gave it to me as a housewarming gift. It’s supposed to help me find balance between school and life.” It’s pretty adorable that’s what he thinks of when he thinks of me. Not that I’m a Newport Fox or about to graduate from Yale with honors. To Joshua, I’m Frankie’s mom.

“I gave Josh his bonsai when he was thirteen. I hoped he could find inner peace and calm through some turbulent times.”

“I’m sorry to hear he had struggles.”

She laughs. “Don’t we all? But some things happen for a reason. We just have to look for the rainbow after the storm.” She glances up when the door opens. “What can I get you to drink?”

“Water is good. Thank you.”

Patting my shoulder when she passes, I can’t help but feel her kindness every time I see her.

My phone rings, and I’m quick to grab it from the front pocket of my bag, and answer, “Hi, Dad.”

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