At any moment, p.16
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       At Any Moment, p.16
 

         Part #3 of Gaming the System series by Brenna Aubrey  

  “That’s not part of the script…he’s not going to answer you,” Kat said.

  “I’m sick of this asshole. He’s just going to rain goblin hell down on us in a minute if I type the correct line. ”

  “So you are just going to swear at him? That will get you far. ”

  Heath heaved a huge sigh. “Fine…I’ll type the damn line. Sheesh. ”

  *Fragged says, “I want to free her. ”

  *Sergeant GriffonShield has offered Fragged a tarnished key.

  *Sergeant GriffonShield says, “Here, brave soul. Take this key and find the niche where it fits on yonder mountainside. It will take you to the passage you seek. ”

  *Fragged says, “Screw you, fucktard. Help us. ”

  “Heath, just take the goddamn key,” Emilia hissed.

  *Sergeant GriffonShield says, “Alas, I would love to help you but I cannot leave my post until you gather my allies. ”

  Three heads immediately jerked in my direction, eyes huge with surprise. I almost laughed at them. Almost. It figured that it would take Heath’s exasperation for them to accidentally discover what they had to do.

  I looked down, trying to appear very fascinated by something on my keyboard.

  “Uh, what the fuck just happened?” Heath asked.

  Nobody responded so I glanced up. They were all still staring at me. I cleared my throat. “I think he offered to help you. Can I yawn now?”

  Heath grabbed a scrap of paper, balled it up and threw it at me. I batted it away with a laugh. “Wow, was that the doorbell? Let me go get that. You three can just…talk amongst yourselves. ”

  I stood and, before leaving, caught Emilia’s eye. She sent me a huge grin. I winked at her and left the room.

  I returned about a half hour later and declared myself—and Emilia—too tired to go on anymore tonight. She had another round of chemo in the morning and needed all the rest she could get.

  At the top of the stairs, she turned and hooked her arms around my neck.

  “Well, aren’t you just full of surprises. ”

  “You’re just realizing that now?”

  She stood up on her tiptoes and kissed me. “No. Of course not. I’m dense but not that dense. ”

  “You’re not dense. ”

  She stood perfectly still, hesitating.

  “What?”

  “Sleep with me tonight?”

  I swallowed. It was getting harder and harder to say no. And harder and harder to deny that I really wanted it—wanted her. However, I slept in her bed. I folded her thin frame in my arms and pressed her against me. It was the most I could give her now. And I honestly had no idea when it could be more.

  Page 61

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Mia

  Something was wrong. I knew it the moment this new medicine went into my veins. It burned. It felt different and I was immediately swimming in a sea of weird delirium and constant nausea, which I fought—successfully, thanks to the anti-nausea medication I was on—to keep down most of the day. Given how things progressed later, it probably would have been better if I’d not fought to suppress that reaction while I was in the hospital under the watchful eyes of the nurses and doctors.

  Because that night, I was in hell.

  Adam always knew I had to make it straight to bed on the first day of a round. I would be good for nothing but sleep and sickness for at least twenty-four hours, usually more.

  But when I woke in darkness with the powerful urge to vomit—not even making it to the toilet on time, the sickness overcame me with such violence that I was projectile puking and peeing my pants at the same time. My body convulsed over and over. It felt as if every one of my cells was fighting the chemo. Every single inch of me ready to implode in rebellion against the poison merrily coursing through my veins.

  I wanted to die.

  And no, it wasn’t a joke. I really, really wanted to die rather than endure this.

  The craziest part was that I didn’t hit the emergency button on the bathroom remote. I must have been mental or too damn fiercely independent, because in my weird psychotropic delirium, I actually fought the urge to call Adam for help.

  Not until I was half passed out on the floor. By that time, when I went to reach for the intercom button, I found I didn’t even have the energy to lift my arm in order to do it.

  Instead I turned my head, tears seeping from my eyes as my stomach continued to convulse long after there were any contents inside to empty out. Large blue spots in my vision and darkness at the edges indicated with only a split-second warning that I was about to black out.

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Adam

  Thank God I checked on her regularly after a new round. Because when I found her unconscious on the bathroom floor, I had no idea how long she’d been there.

  “Fuck!” I said, kneeling beside her, pulling her into my arms. “Mia… Mia…” I jostled her and she immediately responded, muttering something under her breath that I couldn’t understand.

  “Sorry…so sorry. Should have told you…” she whispered.

  “Are you okay? What the hell happened?”

  She was shivering. “S-s-s-sssso cold. ”

  “Come on. ” I pulled her up against me and she slid, almost fell, but I caught her. She was scaring the hell out of me.

  I put her thick bathrobe on her, but she continued to shiver. I wrapped her my arms tightly. The violence of her reaction—the fact that the drugs she’d been administered were new, scared the living hell out of me. I needed to call the hospital immediately. But I wasn’t going to leave her for a second to do it.

  “I’m okay. I’m okay,” she mumbled. “Get me to the bed. ”

  So I picked her up and carried her to the bed. “Can I get you something? Water?”

  She shuddered. I grabbed a blanket and tucked it around her. “I’m going to call your doctor—”

  “No. No, stay here. I need you to write something down for me. ”

  “What?”

  She flopped her arm toward the nightstand, as if she no longer had control of her hand. “Get paper. I need to make a list. ”

  “You can do that later. ”

  “I’m fine. I need to make this list. Now. You need to write it down. ”

  I grabbed a notebook off the nightstand and searched for her phone. It was nowhere to be seen. Mine was back in my room. I got up to go get it. She hooked her hand in my shirt.

  “No, don’t leave me. Please, you have to write this down. ”

  I sat down with a huff. “Okay, quickly, because I need to call the hospital. ”

  “Um. Okay. ” Her eyes rolled up toward her head as she sat, thinking. “Learn the tango. Kiss someone on the Eiffel Tower. See the Venus de Milo. Ahhh. ”

  I scribbled them down quickly. “Okay. Got it. Now—”

  She tugged on my shirt. “Not done yet. Keep writing. Sixty-nine, or sex in public. ”

  “What?”

  “Just write. This is my bucket list. ”

  “You want to put sixty-nine on your bucket list?”

  “Wish on a falling star. Knit a sweater. Volunteer medical work. Um… a sunrise, somewhere cool like on the Arctic Ocean. See the Northern Lights—”

  “Okay, enough. You can work on this later. I’m calling the doctor now. ”

  Page 62

  “I have to do those things. I want to before—before—”

  I pulled her hand out of my shirt and ran back to my room for my cell phone. I had it up to my ear. I’d forgone talking to the after-hours urgent care and just called 911.

  When I got back to her room, she was unconscious again.

  Goddamn it.

  I scooped her up in my arms, blanket and all, and shouted commands into the phone. There was no way the EMTs could bring an ambulance to the house, and I wasn’t going to wait for them to wheel a gurney across Bay Island. Instead of
taking the time to call the caretaker to meet me at the front door with a golf cart, I scooped her up and carried her across the footbridge. And damn, she was so light that it was hardly a burden at all.

  My gut twisted with fear and worry. She was stirring against my chest.

  “It’s okay, I’m going to get you to the doctor right away,” I said.

  She was mumbling so that I could hardly hear her. “I don’t want to but… going to die. I deserve it, after what I did…”

  Everything inside me dropped as if I’d suddenly shot up inside a fast-moving elevator. Nausea made my head swim, but I swallowed it and concentrated on what I had to do. In short minutes, I met the ambulance at the bridge from the island to the mainland and they spread her on the gurney, buckling her in. I squeezed into the back of the ambulance beside her and we sped away.

  Hours later, I rubbed my sore eyes. It was four in the morning and she lay peacefully in a hospital room, an IV dripping into her arm. She was still and pale and hadn’t stirred since we’d arrived. The doctor had said it was dehydration and exhaustion. She’d had a bad reaction to the new meds and her oncologist had been notified and would be coming by to examine her first thing in the morning. For now, sedated and hydrated, she was safe and stable. And I was a wreck.

  I deserve it after what I did. Her words rolled around and around in my mind. That ball of sickness hung in my gut like a boulder. Was she losing her will to live?

  My face sank to my hands, the heels of my palms against my eyes. I was lost, with no idea what to do. Physically, for now, she was going to be okay. But her will was flagging. And if she lost her fight, who knew what would happen?

  An hour later she stirred, her eyes cracking open. She turned her head to me. “Adam,” she croaked.

  I closed my hand over hers. “I’m here. ”

  “I know,” she whispered, a wan smile appearing on her cracked lips. “You’re always here. ”

  I didn’t have anything to say to that so I just squeezed her hand.

  “What happened? Why am I in the hospital?”

  “You had a bad reaction to the new meds. ”

  “God, my head is killing me. ”

  “You got dehydrated. You don’t remember anything?”

  “Uh. I remember power-puking all over the bathroom and then passing out. That’s about it. Is that how you found me?”

  “Yep. Do me a favor next time and hit the goddamn button, please?”

  She frowned. “I think I actually was trying to but I thought about it too late. I was being stubborn. ”

  “I’m shocked. ”

  “Don’t be sarcastic. It doesn’t suit you. Now… you need to go home and get some sleep. ”

  “I’m fine. ”

  “You are not. Go and at least catch a nap. ”

  “It’s five… your doctor is going to be here in a few hours. I want to be here for that. ”

  “You haven’t gotten any sleep all night. Now who’s being stubborn?”

  I shrugged. “We’re matched well, then, aren’t we?”

  She smiled and sighed. “I suppose you could say that. ”

  I watched her, haunted again by the words she’d spoken in her delirium—words that apparently she had no idea she’d spoken.

  “What’s wrong?”

  I shrugged. “Just worried about you. ”

  “I’ll be okay. ”

  “Yeah? You really believe that?”

  She tilted her head at me. “Did I say something to you?”

  “You just seemed…it seemed like you were losing hope. ”

  Her lips thinned. “I’m sorry. I don’t remember saying that. But if I did say something it’s probably just borne from being so tired. I’m getting tired of the constant puking. ”

  I nodded. “You made me write down a bucket list. ”

  Her eyes widened. “Shit. I don’t remember that at all. Like, what was on the list?”

  Page 63

  “Sixty-nine. ”

  “What?”

  “You had sexual stuff on your bucket list. ”

  She laughed and I thought I saw a little color creep into her cheeks. “You aren’t bullshitting me, are you? Like weird stuff?”

  “Not weird. Just…unusual. You aren’t missing anything with the sixty-nine thing. It’s not as fun as it sounds…”

  She tilted her head at me, suddenly very interested. “Oh?”

  “Yeah…it’s…well, there’s just too much to multitask. ”

  She frowned at me. “You’re a computer programmer and you are complaining about multitasking?”

  I shrugged. “It’s kind of hard on the neck, too. ”

  Now her eyes widened. “And how do you know all this?”

  Oh, shit. Well, this was awkward. “Uh…” I looked away.

  She laughed again. “It’s okay. I’m just teasing. Though someday I’ll kick the crap out of all those other chicks you did it with. Or at least in my mind, I will. ”

  I smiled, heartened by her talk. She’d had no idea about planning to die or wanting to make a bucket list or any of that, and I was relieved.

  The doctor didn’t arrive until almost noon and I was dragging ass, but all our friends had shown up by then and I could sit back and let her chat with them while I concentrated hard on staying conscious.

  Liam arrived with a big bouquet of flowers. He’d managed to step foot in a hospital more times in the past few weeks than he had in his entire life before. I was proud of him and impressed that his affection for Emilia had dragged him here.

  “Thanks, William. They are beautiful. But the doctor is going to come in here and tell me I can go home. So I’ll have Adam take them home and put them in a big vase for me, okay?

  Apparently she didn’t have the heart to tell Liam that she was restricted from having flowers or plants near her during her chemo treatment. Liam hardly seemed to be paying attention. He appeared transfixed by one of Emilia’s friends, again. The quiet, studious Jenna. I’d thought that infatuation had passed but he was eyeing her again in a pretty obvious way and she was pretending not to notice.

  I grabbed the flowers and tucked them outside the door in the hallway on a tray.

  Alex and Jenna had pulled out some dice game and they were showing Emilia and Kat how to play it. Heath came right before the doctor did, and he evicted us all from the room while he examined her.

  Once he’d finished, I was allowed back inside while he made notes to her chart on his tablet. “She was down to her last three rounds when this happened, and her white blood count is far lower than I would like. So we are going to discontinue the chemotherapy. ”

  Emilia threw a weak fist pump in the air. “Yesss!”

  “Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Is that safe? I mean…if you originally determined twelve rounds and she’s only had nine—”

  “We were erring on the side of caution, Mr. Drake, given her circumstances. Her counts are down. She needs to rebuild her immunity. At this point, chemotherapy is no longer effective. ”

  “Yeah, you heard him,” Emilia said.

  I ignored her. “I’m just—well as you say, being cautious is best. But will the chemotherapy be as effective in the long run if it’s been cut short?”

  “We originally increased the dosage on her treatment plan for several reasons. Her age, first and foremost. And given the… the circumstances when she began the chemo…”

  The doctor was rather delicately referring to the now-terminated pregnancy. I threw a glance at Emilia, who was resting against her pillow and watching the doctor, but her expression had not changed.

  “I’m discharging her into your care today, but I’ll be sending a nurse by every day to run a blood test on her. She needs rest and fluids. ”

  He signed off on the chart and I felt, suddenly, that I wanted to argue with him. I wanted her to have those additional rounds of chemo. “What if you administered the old
drug she was on for the additional rounds? So you could keep going—”

  “Hell, no,” Emilia muttered.

  The doctor had a long-suffering look on his face. “With her white blood count at the levels they are, she isn’t going to be getting any chemo for a while. This last round wiped her out and while it is an effective drug, the reaction she had to it could have seriously damaged her health. She needs to spend these next few weeks resting. But she’s done with chemotherapy unless something is found in the full body scan that indicates she should continue. ”

  Page 64

  I opened my mouth again but Emilia, recognizing that I was about to push the issue, interrupted. “Adam…”

  I stepped back and took a deep breath. Emilia thanked the doctor and said goodbye. She then sat up in the bed and slowly slid off, walking to me.

  “Are you okay?” she asked. “You’re exhausted. ”

  “I don’t like this,” I said, running a hand through my hair.

  She slipped her arms around my waist and snuggled against me. “It will be okay. Can you take me home, please?”

  So I waited while she changed into the clothes that my housekeeper had dropped off for her. Heath drove us back to the house and I tried to disguise how utterly terrified I was. As long as she was undergoing therapy, we were doing something. The cancer was actively being fought.

  But now, we just had to wait and hope that it had been enough. The feeling of uncertainty was enough to gut me. But never, not in a million years, would I ever let Emilia see that.

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Mia

  “I can help you with one of those, you know,” Adam said the next morning after we’d awoken and were lying in bed, talking. At my request he’d come to sleep beside me again. It had taken no effort at all to coax him. I think he was determined to keep an eye on me after the scare of the night before.

  But after we’d slept in, both exhausted from little to no sleep the night before, I’d found the open notebook on my nightstand and had been looking over the list he’d scrawled down. Adam’s writing was usually very even and neat, so the fact that I could barely read this spoke of the duress he’d been under when, apparently, I’d grabbed on to him and insisted he write down my bucket list.

  “What did you have in mind to help me with? Sixty-nine or the sex in public?”

  His mouth twisted. “Neither one of those. I was thinking the tango. ”

  I checked out the top of the list. Number one, as a matter of fact. I wanted to dance the tango? I guess I had thought about it before but it seemed an odd thing to put first.

 
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