Fools Rush In
Series: Tabby Classics
Release Date: August 12, 2015
Joey Rush is dead.
It’s what I believed for years. He and I spent one perfect night together at summer camp, but then a tragic accident took him from me. His loss devastated me beyond repair. I’ve spent every day for eight years mourning a love that I thought could never happen again.
My sister and I are shocked when our mother returns from her Paris vacation a newly married woman. We couldn’t wait to meet our mysterious new stepfather… but I never expected anything like this.
His name is Jason Rush. And he has a son.
If Joey Rush is dead, then whose hand am I shaking?
“So, tell me…” He glances at the name tag stuck to my chest. “Nicole—” He licks his lips. “How did you lose your virginity?”
“Excuse me?” I ask, checking the clock above my booth. Fifty seconds. I have to withstand fifty more seconds of this douchebag.
He chuckles and pushes a hand through his over-gelled blond hair. “It’s Clyde’s favorite ice breaker.”
“Uh-huh. And who’s Clyde?”
“Clyde is all me, baby…” He grins. “Mine was prom night. Classic and clean.” His eyebrows bounce as he answers his own question. “What about you, honey?”
His aftershave strikes my nose and I recoil before the urge to vomit takes over. “Summer camp,” I murmur.
“Oooo.” He grins at me with yellow teeth. “Strawberry wine, eh?”
I furrow my brow. “What?” I ask.
His lips mime a kiss. “Just like your hair.”
“Okay, we’re done here.” I reach out and close the window between us before the timer hits zero. My own eyes stare back at me in the mirror and I cringe as I rip the sticky name tag off my blouse. I stand up and leave the booth. The suspicious eyes of other lonely women glance back at me as my heels clack across the floor. I chuck the name tag into the trash on my way out the door.
The crisp night air strikes me cold and I wrap my jacket around myself a little tighter. A subtle vibration strikes my thigh. I reach into my purse to retrieve my phone.
I shake my head and send a quick text back to her. No. It’s stupid. I’ll wait outside until you’re done.
Ugh. Boo, she replies.
I close her message and open my email instead. Nothing from work. Just spam and newsletters.
Before I can close the app, a new email appears at the top of the list.
BIG NEWS. READ NOW.
My heart jumps. It’s from our mother.
Hey girls! Just letting you know I’ll be spending a little longer in Paris. You won’t have to pick me up on Wednesday. I’ll let you know when (or IF) I come home. (Just teasing about the IF part. I’m not a vagrant.) Kisses! Mom.
I lean against the building and reread the email several times until I notice an attached photo and tap it open. My eyes go wide when I see it’s a photo of my mother… with a man. They’re kissing on a bridge with the Eiffel Tower lit brightly in the background. He’s got her leaning back and her ankle is lifted off the ground, completing the happily-ever-after pose.
“What the fuck?” Dropping the phone to my side, I stare out into the street for several minutes as the Chicago nightlife passes by me in slow motion.
I look up to find my little sister, Amber, standing next to me.
“One of the guys you talked to wanted me to give this to you,” she says as she holds out a napkin.
I take it and squint as I try to read the scratchy handwritten message.
I’d like a taste of that strawberry wine. 555-
I stop reading. “Oh, goodie,” I say before placing it against my nose. I violently blow into it.
Amber shakes her head at me as I toss it into a trash can on the street. “You’re never going to meet a man like this, Nicole,” she says as she runs her painted nails through her thick red hair.
“I don’t want to meet a man,” I say.
“You probably don’t want to, but you need to.”
I scoff. “Says who?”
“Says the universe,” she argues.
“Well, luckily for the universe, I’m pretty sure Mom has met enough man for the both of us.” I hold up my phone. “Check your email.”
Amber pops her clutch open and pulls out her phone. The bright pink sequined case sparkles in the city lights as she swipes her email open. I watch as her eyes scan the screen and progressively grow larger with every passing second. “What the fuck?” she finally asks.
I laugh. “I said the same thing.”
“Mom met a man in Paris?”
“It doesn’t sound any more real when said out loud.”
“Holy crap.” She joins me next to the wall and we share a quiet moment together, staring out onto the busy street corner. “Well, I’m happy for her,” she says.
“She deserves this,” Amber continues. “Good for Mom.”
“Can you just imagine it?” she muses. “Going on vacation in a foreign city and stumbling upon the love of your life?”
I narrow my eyes at her. “Uh-huh.”
“The flutter your heart makes when you see them for the very first time?”
“Those butterflies you get every time they say your name.”
“Oh, come on, Nicole!” She stomps her foot. “Don’t you want to fall in love?” she asks me.
“I’ve already been in love,” I say. “I don’t want to do it again.”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh, not this crap again.”
“It’s not crap. It was true love.”
“You have one fling, and you’re done for life?”
I push myself off the wall. “It wasn’t a fling.”
“You banged once at summer camp and you never saw him again.”
“Because he died,” I point out. “True. Love.”
“Jeez— Even Rose eventually got married and had kids and Jack died right in front of her.”
“Life isn’t a movie, Amber.”
“And you’re too pretty to be a spinster.”
I laugh and step to the curb to hail a cab. “Whatever. I’m just not interested, okay? Stop pushing.”
She follows me to the curb and shoves her hands into her coat pockets. “Why even agree to go speed dating with me tonight then?” she asks.
“Because I didn’t want my little sister going home with some freak. Again.”
She brushes a hand through the air. “Oh, it was just that one time.”
“He left you tied to his bed for over twelve hours,” I remind her. “You would have starved to death if the maid didn’t find you the next morning.”
“Yeah. That was so hot…” she breathes.
I shake my head and wave down a taxi.
The love of my life.
I met him at Camp Lightwood when I was sixteen. He was seventeen. I saw him on the first day of camp and fell hard. For three months, I watched him. He was so cool and athletic. Black hair. Green eyes. He wore glasses that made him look smart, but he was no nerd. Him and his friends, the Halstead boys, used to cause a great deal of mischief around the camp and I couldn’t wait to find out what they were up to next.
I didn’t get up the nerve to speak to him until the last day of camp. It was the end of summer dance. The moon lit up the sky. The stars blanketed the earth. I saw him slip out the back door of the gym and I followed him out into the woods. Crazy, I know. But I felt the universe calling me to him.
He sat down on the beach next to the lake and lit a cigarette. The cherry shined on his face every time he took a puff and my nerves tingled when he blew smoke circles into the air.
I accidentally crushed a stick with my foot and he turned around.
“Who’s there?” he asked the dark woods.
My first instinct was to run, but my adrenaline took me to new places. I stepped out of the bushes and walked with shaking ankles over to him.
“Hi,” I said. My voice cracked. My cheeks turned pink. He looked over at me and said nothing as I sat down next to him on the beach. I was so scared he’d tell me to go away or that he’d immediately stand up and leave, but to my surprise, he didn’t. Instead, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a black flask and offered it to me.
It was my first taste of alcohol. I swallowed a bit too much of it. He laughed as I hacked and coughed, the drink burning down my throat.
“I was hoping you’d show up tonight,” he said to me.
It was dark and I could barely make out the features of his face, but I could still tell how cute and gorgeous he was. “Really?” I asked.
He gave me a small smile and turned back to the lake.
The rest of the night was like a fairy tale. We talked for a little while. I’ll never forget what it was like to watch the moonlight reflect off the water and strike his eyes. His beautiful green eyes. My heart was going a million beats per second. It nearly exploded the first time he kissed me.
Joey Rush made love to me on the beach that night. I think about it every day.
We both went our separate ways afterward, camp over for the summer, but I couldn’t bear the thought of never seeing him again. I knew where he lived. It was a small town a few miles outside of Chicago where my family lived. I found only one Rush family that lived there in the phone book. I called him every day for a week, but he was always out of the house.
The next weekend, I received the news that broke my heart into a thousand pieces.
“Is Joey there?”
“Who is this?”
“It’s Nicole. From camp. I wanted to talk to Joey—"
“Oh, right.” His dad cleared his throat. “Joey’s no longer with us.”
My hands began to shake. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“He drowned yesterday.”
I hung up immediately and cried for days.
Joey Rush was the love of my life. I swore after that I’d never let my heart get broken again, even if it meant never loving again.
I stare at my phone now, studying the photo of my mother with her mystery man in Paris. It’s been over a week since she sent the update. Amber and I haven’t heard from her since that night.
“What do you think they’re doing?” I ask as I sip my coffee.
Amber sits across the kitchen table from me in our shared apartment, shoveling cereal into her mouth with a large spoon. Her hair sits atop her head in a clumsy morning bun. “I have no idea,” she says between chews. “And I kinda don’t want to know. City of love and all.”
I zoom in on the man’s face. It’s hard to see any of his features with my mother’s face attached to it, but he’s definitely tall with brown -- or black -- hair. He’s wearing a long trench coat.
“How did they meet?” I ask, musing out loud.
“I’m sure we’ll find out when she comes home,” Amber replies nonchalantly.
I can picture it already. My mother standing next to a bakery on the street. She catches sight of him behind her through the window’s reflection. Maybe it was love at first sight, just like it was for me and Joey. Or maybe he saw her first and pursued her through the streets of Paris trying to get up the nerve to talk to her.
“Put it down.”
I look up from the phone to find Amber staring at me. “What?” I ask.
“You’re doing that thing again.”
“You know what thing.” She pushes her empty bowl to the side. “You’re thinking about him.”
I roll my eyes. “Shut up,” I say. “No, I’m not.”
“Get over it, Nicole. It was like eight years ago.”
I stand up. “You don’t just get over something like this, Amber.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Well, I don’t.” I step away from the table and walk down the hallway to my room. Before I make it, my phone buzzes with life. “Oh, hey!” I announce. “Mom is calling me.”
Amber hops up from her chair and rushes over to listen in. I switch the call to speaker as I answer it.
“Mom!” I shout.
I chuckle. “Where are you? Amber and I are starting to get worried.”
“Hi, Mom!” Amber says.
“Hey, girls. I’m at the airport in Paris. We’re on our way home now.”
“We?” I ask.
I detect a male’s voice in the background and my mother giggles loudly.
“Yes, we…” she pauses. Amber and I exchange stunned glances. “Oh, shoot. I’ll just say it. Me and my husband are on our way home!”
I nearly drop the phone. It bounces in my palm, but I somehow manage to keep a grip on it. Amber throws her hands over her mouth in excitement. “What?” I ask.
“I was going to wait and tell you when I got home, but I just can’t resist!”
“Mom…” Amber says. “That’s… wow! Congratulations!”
“Thanks, honey.” She exhales a deep breath. “I just can’t believe it myself!”
“Is it the guy from the photo?” I ask.
Amber smacks my shoulder.
“Of course, it’s the man from the photo, Nicole. I’m no floozy.”
I shake my head. “I didn’t mean that, Mom.”
“I know you didn’t, honey. I’m just poking fun!” A distant murmuring voice breaks out in the background. “Oh, that’s our flight. We’re boarding. We get in late tonight. Can you girls pick us up?”
“Of course, we will,” I say.
“I’ll email you both the itinerary. Thanks, sweeties!” She makes a few kissing noises.
“Bye, Mom!” Amber and I say before the call disconnects.
I lower the phone to my side and silently continue my walk into my room. Amber follows me and leans against the doorjamb as I sit down on my bed.
“You don’t look happy,” she says,
“I’m just… shocked.” I grab my pillow and hug it across my lap. “I mean… this is crazy. Right?”
“Yeah. Crazy romantic,” she says. Her toes bounce her up and down. “I’m so excited to meet him!”
“We don’t even know who this guy is, Amber,” I say. “He could be a serial killer — or worse.”
“I’m pretty sure Mom has better judgment in people than that.”
“I hope so.”
She sighs. “Lighten up. Stop being so jealous.”
“What?” I furrow my brow. “I’m not jealous.”
“You bring it on yourself, you know,” she spits. “You could have your own perfect love story if you actually tried.” I open my mouth to speak, but she interrupts me. “And don’t say I already had my own perfect love story because you didn’t.”
“Go away, Amber.” I smack the pillow back onto my bed and lie down on it. “I have to get ready for work.”
“Fine, fine.” She reaches out and grabs the door handle. “I’ll check out the itinerary so we know when to pick up her and our new daddy.”
I fix my stare on the ceiling above until I hear the door close behind her. I forcefully exhale my breath and fill my lungs with new air to the very top. I hold it in and count the seconds as they slowly pass by. My blood pumps in my ears, louder and louder, until I finally have to push the air out.
I close my eyes and transport myself back in time to that night on the lake with Joey Rush. He reaches out and rubs a lock of my strawberry blonde hair between his fingers.
“Your hair is so… pretty.”
I feel my cheeks burning hot and I bite down on my tongue to keep myself from saying something stupid. His fingers fall to my cheek. He brushes his thumb against my bottom lip.
I force the memory from my mind, but his touch lingers on my face. A phantom pain from the distant past, echoing into the future. But the ripple in time is weak and it’s getting weaker with each passing day. Even his face, which I used to remember with perfect clarity, has begun to fade from my mind.
I slide off the bed and sit down at my computer to check my email once more to stare at the photo my mother sent. Maybe I am jealous of her and her perfect love story. I’d give anything to feel that excitement again.
But Joey Rush is dead.
“Good job today, Nicole.”
I glance over at Professor Persky as she stands up from her seat in the front row. She pushes her glasses onto her head and they nestle between strands of her graying black hair.
“Thank you, professor,” I say, smiling. I squeeze the eraser between my fingers and wipe the white board clean.
“You seem to be getting the hang of this,” she notes. She throws her messenger bag over her shoulder.
“Yeah.” I laugh. “Teaching is a real rush.”
“You’re one of the best assistants I’ve had.”
My fingers quiver and I nearly drop the eraser. “Umm… wow.” I set it down next to the markers. “Thank you.”
“Keep up the good work,” she says. She slides a folder out of her bag. “Will you go ahead and get these graded for me by the end of the day? Just put them on my desk when you’re done.”
I take the folder and she slips out of the classroom with the other students.
I turn to see Brett standing in front of the teacher’s desk. His hand hovers above his heart.
“What?” I ask him.
“You’re one of the best assistants she’s ever had…” he repeats her words. His head moves from side-to-side and he pats his chest once as if suffering a fatal wound.
I smile at him. “I’m sure you’re on that list, too, Brett,” I say. “I’m not that special.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” he says.
He stares at me and for a moment, I feel uncomfortable in my skin. “Well—” I stuff the folder into my backpack and gather the rest of my things. “I should get going. I have a lot of papers to grade.”
Brett takes a quick step in front of me to block my path. “Want to grab some coffee? With me?” he asks. “A good jolt of caffeine should make that stack of papers go by fast.”
I stumble over my tongue. “I… don’t… No, thanks. I’m in a…”
“Relationship?” he guesses.
“Hurry,” I finish.
“Make it dinner then. Tomorrow night?”
I feel my cheeks turn pink. The knee-jerk reaction is to say no. It’s always been to say no. But Amber’s voice echoes in my mind, “You could have your own perfect love story if you actually tried.”
I always believed love would only happen once for me. Maybe Amber is right and I’ve been wrong this whole time. Has holding on to Joey Rush’s memory held me back from other great chances at true love?
I think of my mother. She married a perfect stranger and she’s never been the impulsive type. She looked out into that abyss, into the dark unknown, and she jumped.
Brett’s only asking me to go to dinner with him. If she can jump, maybe I should as well.
“No,” I say. He appears a bit stung, so I give an awkward laugh. “I mean… yes. But not tomorrow. I’m picking my mother up from the airport tonight. She’s been in Paris for a while and I’ll probably be hanging out with her all week.”
“Oh.” He smiles. “Then how about Friday?”
“Friday should be fine,” I say.
“Excellent.” Brett swings his bag over his shoulder. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”
He turns around with a smile and walks out of the classroom.
I exhale quickly and slide down into the nearest chair to catch my breath again. Excitement builds in my chest. I can’t stop the smile from spreading across my face.
What a rush.
I yawn loudly and adjust my position against the stiff airport chair. When my mother said they’d be in late tonight, I didn’t think she meant three in the morning.
“I spy something blue,” Amber says.
“Is it that suitcase?” I point to the gentleman in the corner. A dark blue suitcase is stuffed under his seat, crushed beneath his own shoes for safe keeping while he himself dozes off.
“That guy’s hat?” I point to the other side of the airport lobby at a man with a bright blue baseball cap.
“Then, you got me, because I don’t see anything else that’s blue.”
A twinkle sparks behind her eye. “I do,” she says.
“Then what is it?” I ask as I fight another yawn.
I blink several times to try and wake myself up. “What?” I ask.
“Will you at least try and act excited about this?” she asks.
“I am excited. I’m just very, very tired.”
“I told you to have some coffee before we left,” she says, her feet bouncing up and down with fierce energy.
“If I did that, then I’d never get to sleep later, and I have to teach a class in the morning.”
“You can call in sick to meet our new daddy, Nicole.”
I chuckle and sit up taller in my chair. “Oh, god. Please stop calling him our new daddy,” I say. “It’s creepy.”
“Do you think he’s French?” she asks, ignoring my complaint.
“Statistically speaking, I think it’s highly likely that our mother met a French man on her trip to France. So probably.”
“Oh, this is so exciting!” She bounces in her chair as she checks the time. “Only ten more minutes!”
I must admit, Amber’s excitement is rubbing off on me a little bit. Each passing moment has me wondering more and more about what this guy is like. My mother really is a decent judge of character, so I can pretty much assume that he’s nice and well-educated, with a hint of fun — just like her.
I push myself up off the wobbling chair to stretch my legs. “I’m going to use the bathroom before they arrive. Maybe splash some water on my face.”
“Hurry back! The screen says they’re arriving.” She points at one of the many monitors lining the walls.
“Okay,” I say. I glance around the lobby and spot the restrooms on the far side, just passed the baggage claim area. “Be right back,” I tell her.
I walk with a zombie’s stride, attempting to navigate my way around the groups of people waiting to pick up their bags. Each one of them looks as frustrated as I feel right now, tired and eager to get home to fall into bed. My eyes scan the floor as I move. My exhausted reflexes knock me against many shoulders on my way through. I mutter quiet apologies until I’m finally within reach of the restroom door in the corner.
As I cross by the men’s room door, it flies open and a man collides with me, knocking me off balance. A pair of strong hands grip my shoulders fast. His strength holds me in place, my body dipped backward at an angle.
“Whoa! Whoa!” he says as he easily keeps his own balance.
I grunt angrily. “Hey, watch it—”
My heart freezes in my chest as I look up at him.
That face. His face. His jaw. His black hair and green eyes. His everything.
It’s Joey Rush.
But Joey Rush is dead.
“I’m sorry,” he says. He raises me back up and lets go of me. “You okay?”
I say nothing. I try so hard, but no words come out. My eyes fall down his body. Tight jeans. Forest green sweater. I nod slowly.
“Okay.” He backs away. “Sorry again.”
Joey Rush swerves around me. I turn and watch him walk through the baggage claim toward the arrival gate. I blink repeatedly. Surely, my mind is playing sleep-deprived tricks on me. But each time I open them back up, he’s still here, walking away from me into the crowd.
“Joey…” I whisper.
I follow him quickly, but I stumble a bit with weak knees.
“Watch it, lady!” A man barks at me after I kick his luggage.
“Sorry—” I mumble a soft apology but continue at a brisk pace.
I follow Joey Rush across the airport until he pauses next to the arrival gate. His hair is short, clean and styled. Nothing like it was eight years ago. I remember it being long and shaggy. It used to fall over his eyes, and he’d jerk his head quickly to push it aside instead of using his hands. He wore glasses back then, too. Not anymore, it seems.
“Nicole. Hey, Nicole!”
I pull my eyes away from him for a moment — but only a moment — to look at Amber. “What?” I ask.
“You okay?” she asks, barely glancing up from her phone. “You look like you’ve just seen a cliche.”
I stare at him again. He pushes one hand into his pocket and leans against the wall with his phone in the other. “It’s him,” I whisper.
“Amber, it’s him.”
She doesn’t look up. “Him who?”
Her face darts up and she follows my gaze. “What?” she asks. I bend over and grab her arm. “Ow!—”
“Shhh!” I pull her to me and point in his direction. “That’s Joey Rush.”
She yanks her arm away. “The Joey Rush?” she asks.
“Summer camp hunk of true love, Joey Rush?”
“Are you sure?” she asks, wrinkling her nose.
“I thought he was dead.”
Tears shake in my eyes. “He is — or he was.”
“You’re probably mistaken,” she says. “Everyone has a double out there somewhere. Remember that girl we saw on spring break that looked just like you, but with brown hair?”
“This isn’t a doppelganger, Amber,” I say. “It’s him. I looked into his eyes. He touched me. It’s him.”
“When?” she asks. “You were gone for like thirty seconds…”
“It’s him, Amber.” I watch him slide his phone into the back pocket of his jeans and he glances around as a line of people enter the lobby from the arriving flights.
She grips my shoulders and steers me toward the plastic lobby seating. “Okay, stop staring at him. You’re gonna get us arrested or something.”
I fall into the chair, but I can’t pull my eyes away from him. His face, the one that was so distant in my mind just hours before, is fresh again. The dimples on his chin. The shape of his nose. Even his voice is so clear to me now.
Joey Rush is alive and he’s standing right in front of me.
“Oh, hey. There’s Mom!” Amber pops out of her chair and waves wide in the air. “Come on.”
I will myself to stand, but my body doesn’t allow me to move. My eyes lock on Joey Rush. I watch as he scans the new faces in the lobby. He nods at a man before pushing himself off the wall and walking toward him.
Joey shakes hands with the man before leaning in for a half-hug. He’s tall, much older than Joey, with black hair and a trench coat, and he’s standing… next to my mother. Amber has her arms around her with a smile so wide that it strains her lips.
Confusion and curiosity finally get me out of my seat. I walk slowly over to them just in time to catch the first wave of introductions.
“This is my youngest daughter, Amber,” my mother says to them.
“I’ve heard such great things about you, Amber,” the man says as he reaches out his hand. I listen in for an accent, but his voice is heavily American.
“And I’ve heard nothing about you,” Amber jokes as they shake hands.
They laugh and my mother swings in behind me. “And this is my oldest, Nicole.”
“My god, Celine,” the man says. “Are you sure they’re your daughters? You could all pass for sisters.”
My mother steps closer and slaps his arm. “Oh, knock that off,” she says, laughing.
I reach out and shake his hand. He gives me a strong squeeze. “It’s nice to meet you,” I squeak out.
The man releases my hand and wraps his arms around Joey’s shoulders. I get lost in his face and notice all the little details of him all over again. The light freckles along his nose. The beauty spot just below his bottom lip on the right side.
“And this is my son, Joseph.”
My heart sinks even deeper into my gut. Amber locks eyes with me and raises her eyebrows.
“Girls,” my mother says to us. “This is my husband, Jason Rush.”
“And this is my wife,” Jason says to Joey. “Celine Rush!” The newlyweds lock their hands together, intertwining their loving fingers.
My vision blurs on Joey’s face. Sound waves morph in my brain, noises scrunching together to create new, horrific ones. I feel dizzy. My knees buckle.
I wake up on the floor of the airport.
It’s my mother’s voice, piercing high above the ringing in my ears. Colorful blobs in my vision form shapes as I slowly become more aware of my surroundings.
“Give us some space, please.”
That voice. His voice.
Joey Rush is leaning over me.
I flash back to the last time we were like this together. On that beach at the end of summer…
“Nicole, can you hear me?” he asks.
I blink and nod my head.
He holds up three fingers in front of my face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Three,” I whisper.
“Follow my fingertips, okay?” He moves them slowly back and forth and up and down. My head pounds repeatedly, but I shift my eyes about, following them. “Good… I’m going to shine this in your eyes, okay, Nicole? Look straight ahead for me.”
I stare into his face as he points a small flashlight on his key chain into my eyes.
“All right…” He puts his keys back into his pocket. “Can you try sitting up for me?”
“Is she okay?”
I pull myself up into a sitting position. Joey keeps his hand at my back and guides me up. I notice the faces of strangers gathering around, each one staring down at me.
“Oh, god…” I whisper and hide my face in my hands.
“She’s fine,” Joey answers my mother. “You two go on and get your bags. We’ll wait here.”
“Yeah,” I say. “I’m okay.”
“Are you sure, honey?” Mom asks.
“I’m fine, Mom.” I realize Joey’s hand still rests on my back. My body trembles.
“Okay, we’ll be right back,” Jason says. He and my mother start walking toward the baggage claim. The rest of the crowd disperses along with them.
“What happened?” I ask.
Amber kneels next to us. “You fainted.”
“Fainted,” she repeats with a smile. She holds her arm vertically and quickly tilts it down. “Just keeled right over.”
I hide my face again.
“You hit your head when you fell,” Joey says, “but I don’t think you have a concussion. You should be fine. Do you feel okay?”
“Yeah,” I say. We lock eyes and my headache disappears. “I’m okay.”
“Probably embarrassed as fuck though,” Amber says.
I shoot her an evil eye and she winks back at me.
Joey chuckles. “Yeah, no doubt. Come on. Let’s get you off the floor.”
He offers me his hand and pulls me up with a strong grip.
“Thank you,” I tell him. His fingers slip out of mine but I want so badly to take them back.
“I know you…” he says as his eyes study my face.
My heart skips a beat. “Yeah,” I breathe.
“I almost hit you with the bathroom door before,” he recalls. “I’m really sorry about that.”
I force a laugh to mask my disappointment. “It’s okay,” I say.
Amber steps into my line of sight. “Joseph here is a paramedic,” she says. “Isn’t that neat?”
The ends of my lips twitch. “Really?”
He nods. “I guess I should thank you. I rarely ever get the chance to act cool in public.”
Amber laughs while I get lost in his eyes again. “It’s true. You went down and he was all, ‘Everybody back up!’It was so cool.” She pushes a bottle of water against my hand. “Here, drink this.”
I take the bottle. “Wow…”
“Do you have a history of fainting?” Joey asks me.
I twist the cap off and shake my head. “No,” I answer as I take a sip.
“Something must have really rattled you then,” Amber hints.
I stare her down. “I guess so,” I say.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he says as he brushes his hand through the air. “It’s been a weird day for all of us, I bet. Yesterday, my dad was in Paris on a business trip and today…”
“Yeah, I know what you mean…” I say, nodding my head.
My mother and Jason step back into view with their luggage rolling behind them. “You okay, honey?” she asks me again.
“I’m fine, Mom,” I say quickly. “I think I’m just dehydrated, that’s all.”
“Well, let’s get you home,” she says. “Can you drive, Amber?”
“No problem,” she answers with a quick nod.
“Right, well, the girls will take me home…” my mother looks at Jason, “and tomorrow we’ll get everything else figured out.”
“I can’t wait,” Jason says.
She falls into his arms and the two exchange a kiss. I meet Joey’s eyes and he rolls them at me with a smirk on his lips.
My cheeks catch fire all over again.
Jason pats him on the back. “All right, let’s get going. It was so good to finally meet you girls.”
“You, too,” I say. I extend my hand to Joey again. “And thank you, Joseph.”
He takes my hand and shakes it quick before letting go again and crushing my dreams. “Joey is fine. Only my dad calls me Joseph,” he says.
“Thank you, Joey,” I repeat. He gives a kind nod and for a moment, I feel like I may tip over again.
“I don’t know about you ladies,” our mother begins, “but I am exhausted!”
We all start walking toward the exit, several strides behind Joey and his father. They’re talking among themselves, and I can hear the gentle notes of his voice on the air. I’m drawn to it like a bewitching siren’s song.
Joey Rush is alive.