MARCH

It had been a late night for Joelle. She, Layne, and Aeva had gone to the boutique for the last wedding dress fitting before going over wedding plans for what seemed the millionth time. She was beyond tired.

Dragging herself out of the driver’s seat, Joelle locked the door and headed towards her apartment, pausing only when she noticed a figure by the door. Her heart froze, and she could feel her senses heightening. Someone outside of her door at almost midnight. It could only be a dangerous person. Mustering up the courage inside of her, she neared the figure, fingers ready to dial for help if necessary.

“Jo?” the figure spoke, still leaning on the door. She could make out a face in the shadows. Jaxson.

Clearly inebriated, her ex-boyfriend lifted a hand and smiled a goofy grin. “You’re here. I waited for you.”

Her brows furrowed. “Jaxson–what are you doing here? How long have you been here? Are you drunk?” The stench that followed him answered her question. Joelle couldn’t help but be shocked. He didn’t drink, no to her knowledge, at least. But there he was, drunk as a doorknob outside of her home.

“I didn’t drive,” he shook his head, swaying as he spoke. “Because that’s bad. Very, very bad.” Jaxon blinked at her as if seeing Joelle for the first time. “You look pretty, Jo.”

“Thank you,” she said briskly, pushing past him towards the door. Joelle wanted to ignore him, not to care about him or be concerned in any way. But she couldn’t, especially not in his condition. “Do want me to call a cab?”

Jaxson scratched his head, ambling after her into the apartment once the door was open. “No. I told the driver to take me home.”

“So why are you here?”

“This is my home. Home is wherever you are,” he smiled at her again, allowing himself to fall on the couch. “Jo? I don’t feel good anymore.”

Joelle stared from where she stood, her lips pressed into a tight line as she decided the next plan of action. Her defenses against Jaxson were weakening, so he couldn’t stay. But he looked ill enough to need caring for. She rubbed the back of her neck and approached the drunken man. “Do you think you’re gonna throw up?” Joelle murmured, looking him over carefully. She wasn’t sure of what to do, never having had the experience with being drunk.

“I can go get you something, if you need—”

He grabbed her hand before she could stand up straight again, his eyes trained on hers. “Don’t. I need anything else right now. I just want you to stay here,” Jaxson spoke softly. His dark eyes blinked to a close. “Don’t make me leave, okay? Nobody’s gonna take care of me like you would. It’s just that I miss you a lot. I really miss you, Jo. Let me stay.”

In a matter of minutes, Jaxson had fallen asleep, his hand still gripping Joelle’s. She couldn’t pull her gaze away from his sleeping face. The angular jawline, the naturally arched brows, the appealing soul patch under his bottom lip…everything was so familiar even after so long. Joelle felt a smile growing on her lips until she heard Jaxson groan in his sleep.

—-

“Hello?” Ryan answered. The phone call had woken him from the few precious hours of sleep he had because of his night shift, but the sight of Joelle’s name on the screen of his iPhone made him glad he took the call.

“Hey, Ryan.”

Unknowingly, the corners of his mouth turned up. “Hey. What’s going on? It’s a little late for a courtesy call.”

She sighed. “It’s not exactly a courtesy call. I have somewhat of an emergency on my hands—”

“Emergency?” he echoed, sitting up straight in the cot. “What kind of emergency? Are you okay?” He felt his heart jump into his throat, his blood pressure start to rise. Why had he reacted that way? Why did the very thought of Joelle being an emergency send him reeling. “Joelle!”

“I’m fine, Ryan,” she laughed little, seemingly amused by his reaction. “It’s just alcohol poisoning.”

“What?!” he exploded. Ryan cradled the phone between his ear and his shoulder, already pulling on his shoes. “I’ll be there in a minute.”

“No!” Joelle exclaimed. “I mean, no, you don’t have to come over here. I’m not even sure it’s alcohol poisoning.”

Ryan took a deep breath and tried to straighten out his thoughts. They were going everywhere at once. How could she be talking to him if she had alcohol poisoning? “Are you alone?” he finally managed to say in a somewhat calm voice.

“No. I’m not—I should’ve said this earlier. My… my friend is here with me. I think he may have alcohol poisoning.”

A sigh of relief escaped his lips. His tension seemed to melt away until he realized what Joelle said. “He?” Ryan cleared his throat. “Is he moving around?”

No answer for a while. All he heard was rustling. “Still there?”

“Yeah. He’s still moving. I’m just not sure of what to do. How do I make sure he doesn’t die?”

“It’s a good thing you called me. Don’t worry; your friend won’t die.”

—-

It had been almost an entire week since her incident with Jaxson, and Joelle hadn’t heard anything from him. That morning when she’d woken up, he was gone, leaving no trace that he’d been there. Of course. He didn’t want anything to do with her now that he was with his new, much younger girlfriend. So Joelle just shrugged it off. Maybe that was meant to be her closure.

Tugging on the zipper of her jacket, she strolled towards the entrance of the children’s wing of the hospital. To her surprise, Joelle saw Jaxson leaning against the wall. What was he doing there? “Jaxson?” she called as she neared him, making sure that both her expression and tone of voice were as neutral as possible.

His head snapped up, and his mouth broke into a bright smile. “Jo. I was waiting for you.”

“What for?”

He rubbed the back of his neck as though he was unsure of what to say. “I wanted to apologize for the other night. That was totally inappropriate and uncalled for. I know I said some things that were totally out of the blue—”

Joelle held back the words she really wanted to say and simple smiled at him. “It’s fine. You were drunk, so I can understand. Just don’t let it happen again.” She reached out and patted him on the back, making a move to pass him when Jaxson’s hand shot out to take hold of her wrist.

“Let me finish, Jo,” he pleaded, releasing her when she stopped in front of him. “They say that there are only two kinds of people in the world that don’t lie. Little kids and drunk people.”

Where was he going with this? “Jaxson, I’m supposed to be volunteering. Can you just get to the point, please?”

Jaxson raised his head. “Yes, I was drunk as a dog that night, which, as you know, never happens to me. I don’t even drink.”

She nodded. “Yes, I know.”

“But I can tell you right now that I meant every word that I said.”

Joelle’s eyes widened. “Jaxson… What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that I’m still in love with you. That I’m sorry for everything that’s happened between us. That I want to start over or pick up where we left off. Basically, I just want to be with you, Jo.”

She felt the wind being knocked out of her body and stumbled back a little bit. “Jaxson… This isn’t the time or the place. I can’t—I think you should leave.”

“Joelle, I’m being serious,” he stepped toward her to steady her hand.

“I think the lady told you to leave,” another voice spoke from behind Joelle. It was Ryan, towering over the both of them; Jaxson by just an inch or two and Joelle by almost half a foot. “Or maybe your hangover’s messed with your hearing.”

Jaxson’s eyes narrowed, noting the white coat and stethoscope around his neck. “This is a personal issue, Doctor. Don’t you have some patients to attend to?”

“I do…but you’re preventing me from doing my job by inconveniencing one of the hospital’s volunteers,” Ryan’s tone was chillingly cool. “Maybe you can continue this conversation elsewhere.”

Joelle swallowed and turned towards her ex-boyfriend, her eyes begging him to leave.

“Alright… Jo, I’ll call you. But I’m serious. Think about what I said.” Without so much as another word, Jaxson headed for the exit.

When he was gone, Joelle followed Ryan into the children’s wing. “Did you hear everything?” she questioned, hot on his heels.

He didn’t answer her. Instead, Ryan bent over one of his patients to check her vitals.

“Ryan. Ryan, are you listening to me?”

Suddenly, he spun around to face her, and Joelle found herself face to chest with the tall doctor. She blinked at him and took half a step back so that she could look up at his eyes. “What’s your problem?”

“The friend with the alcohol poisoning was him?” he ignored her question. “The reasoning you called me in the middle of the night was because your ex-boyfriend might have had alcohol poisoning?”

Joelle frowned. “Yes, Ryan, it was him. Jaxson showed up on my doorstep piss drunk, and I helped him out. What’s so bad about that?”

“Why should you still see that guy around? Why would you make yourself so available to someone who hurt you so much? Aren’t you angry? Don’t you feel like it’s unfair? Don’t you hate him?” the look on Ryan’s face surprised her even more than his words did. He was angrier than he should have been, as though Jaxson had broken up with him instead of Joelle. The muscles in his jawline ticked, and his hands were balled into fists by his side.

“Sometimes I’m so angry that I could cry. I’m sad, angry, and yeah, it feels unfair. But I don’t hate him,” Joelle began slowly. “We had too many good times for me to hate him. I loved him. I still do… even though we’re not together anymore, I can’t hate him. What does that make me?”

“It makes you a fool, Joelle,” Ryan said abruptly. “That’s all.”

She drew away from him, shocked at his words. “Ryan. How can you say that?”

“You think if you don’t hate him and he comes back to you, everything will go back to normal? That you can go back to your happy-go-lucky life?” he scoffed. “Don’t be so pathetic, Joelle. I didn’t think you were so easy of a person, but now, I’m having second thoughts. That’s why he—”

Before he could finish, Ryan could feel the sting of a hard slap across his cheek. Once he turned his head, he saw Joelle’s shoulders heaving up and down. Her eyes were full of unshed tears. Around them, the chatter of the children immediately ceased, and the room stilled. A nearby nurse rushed to his side.

“Dr. Bevereaux!”

“You shouldn’t be like that, Ryan. Anyone else can say those things to me, but you… you shouldn’t. I can’t take those kinds of things from you,” one lone tear escaped from her left eye, but Joelle didn’t wipe it from her face. Ryan and everyone else in the room watched the tear run down her cheek and fall from her chin.

“Miss Daltrar, please. I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” the nurse prompted by Ryan’s side. “Please.”

Mustering up a smile, Joelle nodded, wiping the tear from her cheek before more could fall. “Right. I’m sorry.” She turned to the kids and smiled even more brightly. “Sorry, you guys. I’ll be going for today.” Swallowing the lump in her throat, Joelle pivoted on her heels and bolted from the room, leaving those behind speechless.

“I’ll be right back with an icepack, Doctor,” the nurse spoke up, nearly tripping over her feet to retrieve a first aid kit.

Once the nurse was gone, one of the older patients tongue from her bed. “How can you talk to a woman like that? Especially a good one like Miss Jo?” she shook her head, laying back against her pillow. “All men are the same,” she sighed and closed her eyes.

Meanwhile, Dante sat up in his bed. “You should go after her. She seemed really upset.”

Ryan rubbed a hand against his stinging cheek, knowing himself that he should chase Joelle down. But a part of him, despite her pain, was still angry with her. Why was she so foolish? Leaving herself so open to heartbreak… That was something Ryan would never do, even if she begged on her knees. He clenched his teeth at the thought. As if that would ever happen.

<<Part 8 || Part 10>>

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