We Were Once - Page 78

“I’ll let the doctor know you’re awake. You can discuss this with her.”

Frustration tenses my hands, and I slam down a fist. “Make sure she knows I need to see Chloe.”

She never deviates from goodwill—in expression or tone. “I’ll let her know.”

“Dolly?”

Stopping with the door in her hands, she asks, “Yes?”

“Where am I?”

Kissing Chloe.

Holding hands.

Pain . . . everywhere.

“Newport Regional.”

An ambulance.

“Rhode Island?”

Chasing the moon.

A nod of her head is the confirmation I need, but I’m still struggling to remember how I got here. The doctor doesn’t come right away. And even though I put my best efforts into trying to stay awake, I’m too tired to fight the heaviness, so I let my body sink into the mattress, hoping to wake with less pain.

“Joshua.” My name comes in sobs while my hand is squeezed. “Sweetie. Mama’s here.”

I bear the weight of my eyelids and open them to find her standing above me crying. I reach for her hand latched onto the rail. “Mom—” But I forgot how much speaking hurts. She’s there to help me, letting me sip from the straw. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry? Sorry for what?”

“I remember I wrecked her car. The insurance will go up.”

Her eyes go wide. “You almost died, and you’re worried about my insurance?” A soft smile lies across her lips. “Don’t worry about that. I’d rather pay a higher premium and still have you.”

I try to sit up, angering my tender body as her words begin to populate a distant memory.

Chloe’s brown hair woven into the gravel.

A broken phone.

Tree branch through the windshield.

An airbag.

Oh, fuck. “Did you say died? I almost died?” Her tentative touch isn’t reassuring. “Just tell me.”

“Yes. The broken windshield penetrated your side. Glass had to be removed through surgery. You don’t remember?” She bursts into tears before I can reply. I shake my head, the words not coming. “You lost a kidney, honey. A few inches higher and . . .”

Covering her hand pressed beside me on the bed, I say, “Don’t cry. I’m alive.”

“I’ve never been so scared in my life. I can’t lose you, Josh.”

“I’m fine,” I lie, my body hurting like a bitch just from breathing, much less moving. “But I need to see Chloe.” Her eyes lower. The avoidance causes my gut to twist. “Mom?”

“You can’t see her right now. She’s in the ICU.”

“What?” I try to push up, but pain strikes my lower back like a bolt of lightning. “The nurse said she’s stable.”

She starts a steady pace bedside, gnawing on the inside of her cheek. “She is stable, but you need to keep your stress down because healing is important.”

“So is seeing Chloe. Can I visit her in the ICU?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

I reach for the call button. “Where’s the doctor? They’ll let me in.”

“Josh?”

The morbid sound of her tone stills my arm from reaching any farther. When I turn to look at her again, she says, “Chloe’s in a coma.”

27

Joshua

The metal is bent in seven places, making me wonder how that happened. Fight between family members? Orderlies restraining an abusive spouse? Someone sobbing over the death of a loved one?

Fuck, my mind goes to the dark too fast these days.

These days.

I’m not even sure what day it is or how many I’ve been here. I only know that I’ve been successfully kept from Chloe.

“You need to eat, Joshua.”

Even though it’s my mom, I hate hearing my full name from anyone but Chloe. Chloe. What I wouldn’t give to hear her say it. Closing my eyes, I bargain with the devil.

My soul for hers.

Take me and let her live.

“Any word?” I ask, my eyes returning to the damaged blinds blocking the window.

“No,” my mom says, returning to my side. Her fidgeting—with the blanket, my gown, the room—is getting on my nerves. I struggle not to take my anger out on her. It’s not her fault.

It’s mine.

“I took my eyes off the road, Mom. It was only a split second.”

She sighs and then fluffs my pillow. “You need to stop saying that.”

Her tone catches me off guard. “Why?”

“Because you’re in enough trouble.” Leaning down, she whispers, “The police will be taking another statement from you, but I overheard . . .” She pauses, looking over her shoulder and then back to me again. “They’re looking to pin this on you.”

“There’s no one else to pin it on. The deer—”

“There was no deer at the scene.”

“I swerved. I missed it.”

“That’s not important. It was an accident. You said so yourself, Josh.” Panic rises in her voice. “You need to keep saying that. You have to insist.”

“It was an accident.” My throat thickens as the air in the room goes stale. “That’s still the truth.” It only takes me a few seconds of silence to start connecting the dots. “You would tell me if something happened to her, right?”

“Chloe’s alive. That’s all they’ll tell me.” Squeezing my hand, she adds, “We’re not in New Haven, sweetie. We have no allies here—not your friends, or Barb, T, not even the professor, but he said he’d help if he can.”

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