Lost on the Way by Isabel Jolie

They were friends—just friends. Now they’re something else entirely…

Jason

When I think back, on almost any given day, I see Maggie. In college, she was my best friend’s girlfriend. But, as they say, time changes things. I suppose the funeral was the turning point, when we began depending on each other. Adam asked me to watch out for her, and I did. When bad news hit, she got me through rough days. Our friendship got us through.

If luck fell on my side, I’d make her mine in every way. But, she deserves so much more from life than my prognosis.

A decade of history binds us. One drunken night and we’re fighting. Christ, she’s telling me to go see a therapist. If I can’t figure out how to go back to the way things were, I’ll lose the most important relationship of my life. The only one that truly matters.

Maggie

Last night, we shared tequila. I found myself hoping, like I always do. I’d replay last night a thousand times if I could. It’s the morning after that needs erasing. Our problem? His love for me isn’t the more kind of love. He’s made that abundantly clear. And that’s okay.

Some part of me knows Jason will always see me as his best friend’s girl. Because of our past, he prefers me in the just-a-friend role. I can’t lose our friendship. If he wants to stay in the friend zone, I need to accept that. Move on. Find someone else to love. Rationally, I do know this.

But convincing my heart…well, that’s another story entirely.

Read an Excerpt:

Over the years, I’ve had friends tell me that he doesn’t have much of a personality, and I can’t for the life of me understand why they would think that. He doesn’t like to talk much, and often bears a somber expression, but his pale skin unmasks his emotions. He flushes red when angry or excited or amused. He might be guarded, but he’s enormously sensitive and vulnerable. And right now, that vulnerability is abundantly evident. His tawny irises flick around the room, tentative, and his right thumb and index finger tap his leg. In the last sixty seconds, he’s crossed an ankle over his leg and put it back down on the floor multiple times. 

I sit up, cross my legs, and wait. I could make this easy on him, make him feel at home, but I need to know what he’s thinking. Something big happened between us, and if I jump to conclusions, I might throw away any chance for more. 

He pushes the doughnut box toward me. He seems sad, apologetic, and uncertain. “Doughnut?” His sweet gesture softens the harder feelings I’d been holding in. Any anger or hurt I’d bottled up diminishes. I sit on my hands to prevent jumping out of my chair and wrapping him in a hug.

I shake my head. I do appreciate the gesture, but I don’t want a doughnut. He looks down at the floor. He brought me doughnuts. I should drop this. Let it go. But I can’t. 

“So, you bring doughnuts to all the girls after you sleep with them and don’t call?”

His head snaps up, and his pale cheeks flush crimson. “Mags. It wasn’t…” He runs his hand through his hair and stands, then paces back and forth in my office. He stops and stands before me with his hands shoved in his pockets. “I didn’t know what to say. I should have reached out this weekend. I just…that night…it just…”

“It just what?” 

“It shouldn’t have happened.”

I close my eyes for a moment. Of course, that’s how he feels. He doesn’t see me as anything more than a friend. I’m not his type. I know this. I exhale and smile up at him. “Yeah, how did we get so drunk? Crazy, right? I was so hungover on Saturday. Sunday too. Two-day hangover. Unreal—” He bends down, and his hand on my knee shuts me up.

“Are we okay? We gotta be okay, Mags,” he pleads. He’s as torn up as I am over this, only he’s worried solely about our friendship. I’m the one who has been hoping. A low amount of hope, though. Miniscule, really. If he wanted more, he would have acted differently the morning after. He would have called or texted. 

“We’re good. Let us never speak about it again.” 

He sits down and holds out his hand with a relieved smile. “Shake on it. Never again.” 

“Yep. Never again,” I mutter as I get up, ignoring his extended hand, and round my desk to sit in my seat. “Now that we’ve put this behind us, get on out of here. I’m sure you’ve got papers to grade or students to tutor or something.” 

I tap at a few keys on my keyboard to bring up some research I had found to reference in the grant I’m in the middle of working on. 

He raps my desk with his fist. “I can see you’re busy, so I’ll go. Want to get together after work? Grab dinner? Your pick.” 

Me picking sort of goes without saying. He always makes me pick, and I sit there making suggestions until his facial reaction communicates positive receptivity. A fun little “guess what Jason’s in the mood for” game we play. 

“I can’t. I’m volunteering tonight.”

“You do Tuesday and Thursday evenings,” he says in a questioning tone.

“Tonight I’m covering for Therese. We had a patient pass away, and she’s sort of torn up over it. That’s what she was upset about.”

“She was upset?”

I glance up and notice the crimson shade has spread to his ears. “What?”

“I wish you wouldn’t put yourself through that.”

“Through what?” This is not a new argument. I know what he’s going to say. I shouldn’t have even responded to him.

“You’ve got to move past Adam.” 

My mouth gapes open, and I breathe through it as I struggle for ample oxygen. That’s something he has never, ever said to me before. “What are you talking about?” 

He stands over my desk, his hands balled into fists, his neck now red too. Holy shit. Not only is he serious, but he’s also emotional. 

To get clarification, I ask, “You think I volunteer at a hospice center because I’m not over Adam?”

He stares back, silent, but the muscles in his jaw visibly flex as he grinds his teeth. 

“Seriously? That’s what you think? Jason. He died twelve years ago.”

“Yes. And you are still mourning him. I think you should consider seeing a therapist.”

My fingers clench the armrests to stop myself from leaping out of my seat in frustration. I could throttle him. “Me? Me? I should see someone? I do see a therapist. I love going to my therapist. I don’t believe I could be in my line of work unless I did talk it out with someone regularly. But what about you? Have you ever seen a therapist, Jason? Ever?”

He thrusts his hands into his pants pockets and glares at me, his lips protruding almost in a pout. It would be cute except he’s being such an ass. We glare at each other until his shoulders collapse. 

“I’m worried about you. It has to be so hard on you to grow close to people and lose them. I know what you went through. And I worry about you.”

All my anger dissipates. Within seconds, I’m around my desk and we’re holding each other, and he kisses the top of my head the way he loves to do, in a big brother way. 

“I love you, Mags. I want you to be happy.”

I breathe him in. His woodsy, earthy, familiar scent. 

“I love you too.” So much. He wants me to get over Adam. He’s so clueless. It’s not Adam I need to move past. It’s him.