“Chloe, please. Please.”
My feet just don’t want to listen, though I have a feeling it’s my heart calling the shots because I’m still standing here, facing the man who is . . . was my everything, tears falling like rain down my face, giving him one last chance. He says, “If I could do anything to fix this, I would. I can’t take back the past.”
Still struggling against who I used to be, I realize it wasn’t us together that destroyed our lives. It was tempting fate in the first place. “We were never supposed to fall in love.”
“We did it anyway.”
“Love is real. You showed me that love is real. It’s not found in the connection of sex or fucking bonsai trees. It’s found in feeling invincible because the person you’re with makes you feel so high you can fly. It’s having you push me to be better and actually live, to experience this life.” Fuck, I’m talking nonsense. “I love you, Chloe.”
My soul stands twenty feet away, drenched under a storm that rolled in to destroy my world again and us in the process. Even drenched, she’s so fucking beautiful in her strength. She should deny me. She should walk away from me and never come back. I’ve never deserved her. I told her to find some guy and live a good life. But if I get the chance to be him, I’ll take it because I want to be the one who makes her smile. I say, “I’ve never stopped loving you.”
Dressed in my old shirt that brings us back to a time that may have been short in the grand scheme of things yet still haunts us years later, she stares at me. I feel like I’m losing her. I can’t. But I also can’t read her expression. I’ll take her hate, her ire, her comebacks, her sarcasm. I’ll take anything over losing hope, or her and this feeling of defeat. I did it once. I can’t do it again. Unsure if she heard me through the pouring rain, I repeat, “I love you.”
“We’re smoke and mirrors, Josh. Nothing real.”
“Don’t call me that,” I say, triggered from the sound of it off her tongue. I survived jail. I learned to defend myself in ways I never thought I would have to. But with Chloe, I’m at a loss. Laying down my weapons, I’m ready to fall at her feet if it would make a difference.
“I fell for it as if we were real.” She came prepared with an arsenal of her own, cutting right to the bone. My own words twisted and sharp.
“We are real,” I say, the potential loss of her catastrophic. I take a tentative step closer. “I’m Joshua. Remember the name tag, the bonsais, the lake?” Taking another two steps, I place my hand over my heart and ask, “Making love last night? Remember me?”
“I know you. I don’t know the man who would hurt with one signature and knowingly throw me away like we were nothing.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Then we’re even!” she screams, punching her fists down.
“Even? Fucking even?” Taking another big step, I shake my head in frustration. “It’s not about being even, or if my heart or yours is more on the line. We’re not beyond reason—”
“That’s rich.” Her humorless laughter has her turning away with crossed arms over her chest.
“Chloe, don’t you see that nothing else matters? Only we do. We always did things our own way, at our own pace. So, if that means fighting this out, then we’ll fucking fight this out. If that means—”
“We don’t need to fight. This is what you wanted. When you signed that confession, you signed me away along with it. That’s the worst part. Knowing you ended us with a flick of your pen.” Anger fuels her fire, and she comes closer. “I would never sell us for a better opportunity for me.” Her feet come to an abrupt halt as if she’s about to cross an imaginary line in the sand. “My father can be very generous to get what he wants. Tell me, Josh. Did you get paid?”
“What do you think? You know I’d never take money from that asshole.” I see Fred, the doorman, nervously eyeing us from inside. I should be more dignified outside the grandeur of this historic building, but fuck that. I’m still the kid from New Haven, and I won’t let anyone ever shame me again. “I got a three-year sentence instead. You got your dreams and became a doctor.”
Affronted, she jerks. “What do I have to do with your misdeeds?”
“Everything. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.” I close another five feet. “I signed the damn paperwork because it was the only option I had.”
Her shoulders lower from her ears, and her head sags. She shivers from the rain and then squeezes her eyes closed, anguish wreaking havoc on her body. I itch to reach for her, hold her safe in my arms. She says, “I don’t understand.” Dropping her head into her hands, she cries. “I believed you.” Her eyes have lost the shine that happiness put there, and pain is all that remains. “I believed you, Joshua. You promised we were forever.”