At any moment, p.13
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       At Any Moment, p.13
 

         Part #3 of Gaming the System series by Brenna Aubrey  

  “I’ll look into them,” I said. My way of brushing him off, of course. I had no intention of going to group therapy. I couldn’t spill my soul to the people I loved most in the world. How could I rattle off the string of tragedies to a bunch of strangers? And I’m sure that there’d be plenty of judgment meted out for the decision I’d made to get chemo right away, too. It wasn’t too far-fetched to anticipate, after all. I judged myself for that decision every damn day.

  Adam never spoke up but I caught him watching me for the rest of the chemo session. I started popping anti-nausea gum, playing dumb by avoiding his gaze. I knew we’d keep on playing this weird unspoken game between us where we went through the motions of being perfectly healthy without discussing the biggest issues between us. It was almost as if we were both hoping that if we pretended these problems went away, they would. But he didn’t want to deal with those things now because he thought I couldn’t handle it.

  “That doctor had a point,” Adam said on the drive back home to his house. I wasn’t yet feeling the rumblings of the usual nausea but the headache was starting to beat down on me. I slumped down in my seat and looked at him. His features were completely unreadable behind his designer aviator sunglasses.

  “I draw the line at group therapy. ”

  “Okay, but what about private therapy? It might be good for you. ”

  I glanced at him sidelong. “Yeah, it might be. And it might not. I think I’ll be fine without it. ” I punctuated this statement by folding my arms over my chest.

  “And what about what he said about medical school?”

  I didn’t say anything, just massaged my forehead, hoping the body language was enough to get him to drop the subject.

  He glanced at me again. “I think it’s a good idea for you to make plans for the fall. ”

  He meant it was a good idea to make plans that didn’t involve the possibility that I wouldn’t survive this. I squeezed my upper arms where I held them. I wish I could push away those nagging fears that told me I was somehow in that fifteen percent that might not make it. I wish I could assure him like he obviously needed to be assured that I hadn’t given up hope.

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  The hope was there, but it had been bruised and battered along the way and it was hard to see. I looked at Adam again. I wasn’t going to fight him on this. If he needed to see me not giving up, then I’d somehow find a way to give it to him.

  “I’ll do that at some point…when I’m feeling better. ”

  ***

  This round came and went with the usual brand of grossness. But after about four days, I started to bounce back. I was even eating a little, and so Adam thought we should go out.

  I didn’t like to go out, though. I was still self-conscious about my looks and anywhere nice wouldn’t let me keep my hoodie up. And—just my luck—the winter was an unusually warm one and knit caps grew sweaty and uncomfortable.

  But Heath was feeling better now, and Adam suggested grabbing takeout and going to his house for a visit. That, I could get behind. We grabbed some Greek food—my favorite—and headed over.

  I had a key to Heath’s place but now that he was living with Connor, I never used it. Instead I knocked at the door while Adam lagged behind me to get the food out of the car.

  But what happened when the door opened totally floored me. A beautiful red-haired woman of medium height and curvy figure opened the door and stared at me, her jaw dropping. We’d met in person for the first time just a couple months before at DracoCon.

  I gasped. “Kat? What the hell are you doing here?”

  “Nice to see you too, bitch,” she grumbled and then pulled me into the tightest hug. “You’re bald, by the way. ”

  “As a Ferengi, yes, I know. Attractive, isn’t it?”

  “Fuck, no. But you’re still hotter than me. ”

  I gasped, laughing. “What the hell are you doing here?”

  “You keep cancer a secret from me and you are asking me to explain myself? Maybe I wanted to come see you. ”

  “Heath helped you pull this off?”

  “Yeah, I’m staying with him and his BF for a while. He said I could crash here as long as I want. ”

  I heard a rustle and figured Adam had caught up with me. Kat looked up, eyes widening. “Fallen?”

  Adam grinned. “Kat. Glad to meet you in person at last. ”

  “Yeah… glad to finally be in the loop. ”

  I turned to him. “You knew she was here?”

  “Yep. ”

  I made a face at him. “Nice work. ”

  Kat was staring at Adam through narrowed eyes. “You look so familiar, Fallen. Don’t tell me you were at the Con and I didn’t know!”

  Adam laughed and looked away shyly. “I’m going to go put this in the kitchen,” he said as he squeezed past both of us.

  “I’ll get my hug later, then,” Kat said as he moved past her, his arms laden with kabobs, gyros and different varieties of hummus dip. She watched him pass and when he turned his back, she waved her hand as if she was trying to cool her face. “He is fucking hot, Mia. No wonder you wanted to keep him a secret. Figured I’d take him away from you, huh?”

  I laughed. “Something like that. Men lose their shit for redheads. And well, since I’ve got no hair on my head there’s no way I could compete. ”

  “Seriously. Fuck me. Does he have a friend as hot as he is?”

  I raised my brow. “No one’s as hot as he is. But there are a few who are close. ”

  “We’ll talk about that later. I’m going to go get my hug from him and see if his body is as hard as it looks. ”

  “Slut. If he looks at your ass, I’m beating the shit out of you. ”

  “You’re a bit too skinny for those kind of threats, my friend,” she said, turning around and leading us toward the kitchen. Heath stopped me on the way in. “Hey, doll,” he said, pulling me into a hug. “Feeling better?”

  “I should ask you that, Typhoid Joe. You aren’t going to give me your disease, are you?”

  “If by disease, you mean awesomeness, then no. I can’t pass on my awesomeness that way. You’ve been wishing that for years. ” He landed a peck on my cheek.

  I wiggled out of his hold. “I’d better get in there. Kat has the hots for Adam. ”

  “Well, no fucking duh. Who doesn’t?”

  I heaved a sigh.

  “Go on, then. Defend your territory,” he chided. “Not that you really need to, you know. ”

  I shrugged.

  Heath stopped me, putting a heavy hand on my shoulder before I moved through the door. “I mean it. I know you are feeling and looking like shit these days—”

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  “Wow, thanks—”

  “But you don’t need to worry about him. He’s by your side until the end. ”

  I swallowed a sudden dry lump in my throat and looked up—way up—at Heath. He was a lot taller than me so I had to tilt my head back to do it. “The end of what?”

  He frowned. “Goddamn, I’m sorry. That was a shitty choice of words. ”

  I turned to go through to the kitchen. “I agree. But we are all permitted our lapses. ”

  “Lapses? What lapses?” Kat asked, backing away from apparently having hugged Adam.

  “Lapses in judgment. Like letting a saucy redhead leave her new job to travel here from Vancouver—over a thousand miles—”

  “To see a sick friend—” Kat interrupted. “And I’d lose my job again in a heartbeat. Just like I know you’d do the same for me. You aren’t getting rid of me, Geek Girl. ”

  I grinned. “Good!”

  “What, good?” Heath laughed. “You aren’t the one who’s stuck with her and her Lucky Crispy Sugar Flakes addiction. She seriously eats the shittiest sugar cereal in existence. ”

  Kat waggled her brows. “I have a cute dentist. I like to have an excuse to visit him. ”

  “So is
that true?” I asked. “You really lost your job to come down to see me?”

  “Pfft. ” She waved her hand. “It was a crap job anyway. I’ll look for another when I get back… if I get back. I have to say the weather here is ah-mazing. How could I go back to Vancouver after spending a winter here?”

  “There might be something for you at Draco, Kat. Maybe something cool like playtesting. Because I know you’d be honest as hell,” Adam said

  “A job at Draco? That would fucking rock. You know someone with an in?”

  I glanced at Adam, raising my brows. “Does the CEO count?”

  “We are talking about the gaming company, right? The owner of the game we are all hopelessly addicted to? Because this would be hella disappointing if you all were talking about Draco garbage delivery or Draco burger joint. ”

  I started giggling and both Adam and Heath watched me, open-mouthed. I closed my mouth, self-conscious. “What?”

  Heath glanced at Adam and then turned back to me. “I think we are both just happy to see you laughing again. It’s been a while. ”

  Kat slunk up beside me and slipped an arm around my shoulders. “Then my visit has been good for something. ”

  Adam watched both of us, his gaze intensifying thoughtfully. “I’ll be the first to agree with that. ” He turned to her. “Kat, if you want to stay, then I can make sure you have a job. ”

  Kat raised her brows at Adam. “Oh, and how will you do that? Do I need to blow the CEO at Draco or something?”

  I opened my mouth to answer but Heath’s snicker interrupted me. “No, that’s Mia’s job. ” My face flushed with heat and I didn’t look at Adam, though I might have liked to. I was starting to feel better again after that last round and when that happened, my sex drive usually kicked in, too. And it had been a while. A long while.

  But Adam seemed more interested in taking it slow.

  We sat down to eat the Greek food and explained the entire thing to Kat. She was still open-mouthed and pale from shock when we left a few hours later.

  ***

  The next day Kat was sitting with me in my room at Adam’s house. We’d all agreed that she could stay as long as she liked at Heath’s house. I’d lend her my car, since I really wasn’t using it. And not having a car in Southern California really wasn’t an option. It was just too difficult to get around without one. Heath was more than willing to let her stay in the guest room and she’d look for work, hopefully at Draco.

  We were sharing playlists over the sound system in my little sanctuary. Adam had gone into work, which is what he usually did for the first few days after I was feeling more myself after a round. Kat threw surreptitious glances at me and I could tell she wanted the details of what was going on between us.

  “You might as well just ask me,” I sighed after more than a half hour of her out-of-place coyness.

  “Is he as hot in bed as he is to look at?”

  My mouth dropped open. “I’m not going to talk about that. ” Most especially because it had been so long, I almost couldn’t remember. Almost. Adam was hot to look at, sure. And he was even hotter in bed. But he wasn’t sharing any of that with me anymore. Nowadays.

  “To be honest, the memory is starting to fade…”

  Page 51

  Her eyes widened. “You haven’t gotten any since you’ve been sick?”

  “Who can blame him? I’m starting to look like Skeletor, after all. ”

  She snorted. “Oh, come on, you are still so pretty. ”

  “I’m a far cry from my ideal weight…”

  “Girl, your ideal weight is Adam Drake on top of you. ”

  In spite of myself, I laughed. Kat didn’t know about the added complications—the pregnancy, the agonizing decision to terminate, the abortion itself. I didn’t even like to dwell on those things, let alone discuss them. Aside from the two of us, only Heath, my mom and Peter knew. And, in my opinion, that was far too many…I swallowed those usual dark feelings and tucked them aside. I’d become quite practiced at it.

  “Yeah, maybe he thinks my body parts will fall off like my hair,” I said, trying to laugh it off.

  “But like, there’re other ways, you know. You don’t have to be, like, going at it like animals in order to have a little fun. ”

  I watched her, considering that the highlight of my sex life these days was getting myself off when I couldn’t stand waiting any more. Or the only time I got felt up was at the doctor’s office during a routine examination. The subject of my sex life was more than depressing.

  “Well, like, how about oral? I mean… you have no hair on your body at all, right? Not even…down south?”

  “I’m bald everywhere, except my eyebrows and eyelashes. ”

  “Consider the advantages to this… I mean aside from the puking, of course, you don’t have to shave! No waxing your legs. No Brazilians. You’re as clean as a whistle down there. This should be like the heyday of getting some good cunnilingus in. You don’t have to worry about him hacking on hairballs like a cat or getting razor burn. ”

  I gasped and then choked out a laugh at the mental image her words evoked. I tried to ignore the flush of heat that rose from the center of my being as I pictured Adam’s dark head between my legs, licking and sucking, bringing me to climax. God, I could use some of that. I really could.

  “And, you know, when you are better, you’ll get some reconstruction work done, eh? You could, like, ask for any size you want. ”

  I raised my brows and then threw a self-conscious glance at my less-than-impressive chest. “I’m a perfectly respectable B cup. And besides, the surgery was only on one breast and I have to keep them the same size, of course. ”

  “Bor. Ring,” Kat replied, her deep blue eyes brimming with humor. “No, you see, this is how you play this. You want a nice C or even a D. He will go bonkers for that. More than enough to make a handful! You can get them both fluffed up and since everyone knows what you are going through, you wouldn’t get judged for going a little bigger. Or even a lot bigger. ”

  I shook my head. “I don’t get reconstructive surgery for a while yet. I’m not even letting him see these babies until then. ”

  Kat’s ginger brows shot up in her forehead. “You aren’t going to let him see or touch the ladies and yet you are wondering why you aren’t getting any? Girlfriend, I bet if you walked into his room tonight and pulled your shirt up, he’d be all over you. ”

  I thought about that for a moment. About the angry scar slicing from my armpit to my nipple and the puckered flesh underneath. I was repulsive and the thought of it repulsed him, too. He hadn’t actually seen, though he’d come close. But he’d gone out on dates with Jordan’s model friends while we’d been broken up. There was no telling how far he’d gotten or if he’d gotten breast gropage in the meantime. That he would even remotely be interested in mine didn’t even occur to me, though the thought stung more than a little.

  “Maybe. ”

  Kat watched me, her gaze softening, her jokey manner fading. “Try it. I bet he will…”

  I nodded. “Okay. ”

  She stayed a few more hours. We actually had broken out our laptops so I could show her my work on the secret quest, but I was well and truly at an impasse.

  When Adam got home, she opted to leave of her own accord. When she hugged me goodbye, she mimed pulling her shirt up and then pointed at Adam’s back, nodding knowingly. I grinned and told her she was an ass and kissed her goodbye.

  And that night, I almost did it. When he walked me to my room after we’d spent the evening watching more episodes of Farscape. I hesitated at my doorway, turning to him like a shy teenager wondering if her first date was going to kiss her on the porch. I wanted more than a kiss. I wanted him to push me up against the wall, press his hard body to mine, pull my clothes off, push into me. He’d done it before and the memories of his touch burned me. I missed it. I missed him.

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  I went to kiss him and his mouth landed on my cheek. I clamped my arms around his neck, kissing him at the base of his throat. “Adam,” I whispered. “I want you. Tonight. ”

  He tensed. It was for a split second before it was gone. He said nothing, stroking along my spine with one hand. “I’m really tired tonight—”

  He didn’t want me. I swallowed and almost pulled back, almost pulled up my shirt like Kat had suggested. But it was very difficult to change Adam’s mind once he set it on something. And he seemed dead set against touching me. I just wished I knew why. Was he really that scared about us making the same mistakes? Or was it his anger, still, at the circumstances around our breakup? Was it fear that he’d hurt me? My stomach dropped…was it resentment over the pregnancy and the abortion? Or was he just not interested?

  “I know you said you wanted to go slow but I didn’t think that meant at a glacial pace…”

  A smile tugged at his mouth and he ran the back of his finger across my cheek. I swallowed and closed my eyes. “I’m sorry, Mia. I promise we’ll hang out all day tomorrow. I’m not going in to work again until next week. ”

  I blew out a breath and he bent and kissed me again, this time on the mouth, as if that would appease me. I almost—almost—grabbed his head and forced the issue. He had to be at least a little horny, tired or no.

  I had no idea and no clue how to even go about finding out what his basic issue was. I could ask him, of course. But would I get the truth or some bullshit answer about how he was too tired to answer me? I let out a small sigh and pulled away, planting a brave smile on my face. “I’m sorry about the long work days. I know you were just trying to get over those and it seems like with the time you take with me while I’m sick, you have to work twice as hard when I’m feeling okay. ”

  “I don’t mind. I want to be here for you. ”

  “Kat can be with me now, on those days. It can’t be pleasant listening to me puke my guts up all day. ” And probably the biggest turnoff ever. How could I possibly expect him to desire me after that?

  He frowned. “She can be here for you, too. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to be. You are my top priority. ”

  “I love you,” I said, my voice growing more and more quiet as the conversation continued.

  He leaned in and kissed my forehead, the tip of my nose, my chin. “I love you, too. Goodnight, sweet Mia. ”

 
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