Read At Any Moment (Gaming The System Book 3) Online

Authors: Brenna Aubrey

Tags: #Romance

At Any Moment (Gaming The System Book 3) (3 page)

BOOK: At Any Moment (Gaming The System Book 3)
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She rubbed her forehead with a shaky hand. “I know I need—but—I—God, I remember how I felt when she told me. I remember how it felt to be the helpless one standing by, not able to do a single goddamn thing. It was the worst thing I’ve ever gone through in my life and I wanted to spare her”—she looked at me—“and you…”

I bit my tongue to keep the irritated reply where it belonged—unspoken in my mouth.
Because finding out the way I did was so much better than your not telling me.

Her eyes widened in reaction. Apparently she saw what I was thinking and I cursed myself for not hiding my thoughts better. I used to be so good at that.

She took a deep breath. “I know it was my own cowardice, too. I can’t explain what was going through my head because it sounds so ridiculous. It started out just a small thing. First a suspicion, a biopsy. But then the diagnosis came and I…It was like getting cancer was somehow letting you all down. There were all these problems between us before and then this…I thought it would finish us. I was like damaged goods.”

I exhaled in surprise but didn’t say anything. She swallowed, casting a nervous glance at me before continuing.

“I know these sound like silly excuses.”

“Yes, they’re excuses,” I replied quietly. “There’s never a good time to have something shitty happen to you. But to lock everyone out?
how you make it worse for everyone else—and for yourself. Because by doing that, you made us more than helpless. And whether you’d want to admit it or not—You. Need. Our. Help.”

She sighed. “I thought it would be a quick surgery and some radiation. So I didn’t think it really necessary to bother anyone with it—”

I scowled. I couldn’t help it. Fucking
and she didn’t want to “bother” us with it.

“Let’s not worry about the past, okay? It’s done. Let’s talk about today. Now. Your mom needs to know. She deserves to know. And she deserves to hear it from you.”
The same way I deserved to hear it…

She shook her head. “Don’t force this on me.”

“I won’t. But…think of it like this. What if she had never told you about her cancer? You were away at school. She could have kept it from you for months without a problem. How would you have felt after finding out that she’d gone through all that alone? She
find out, eventually. You can’t hide this from her forever. Please, Mia.”

She pressed the palms of her hands to her eyes and began to sob, her entire body shaking. “I’m scared, Adam! Okay? I don’t know which I’m more scared to tell her about, the cancer or the pregnancy.”

I reached out and pulled one of her palms away from her face, took her hand in my own. My fingers closed around hers. “I’ll be there. I’ll help you.”

She was still and silent for a long moment. Took a deep breath and, with her head bowed, finally nodded. “Okay,” she whispered, and her hand tightened around mine.

After a long pause, I slowly removed my hand from hers and turned to start the car again. A few minutes later, I was pulling into Peter’s driveway. Kim had stayed over another day when I’d contacted her yesterday, asking her to. Heath would be here shortly, too. This was Emilia’s intervention.

Chapter Three

I slowly got out of the car, my muscles stiff with annoyance. Adam had been prepared to handle this in the same high-handed fashion he handled most things—until he’d heeded my pleas to pull over. But I hadn’t been prepared for his calm, cool reasoning. His gentle pleas. That was different…

I took a deep breath, my heartbeat racing. Adam hesitated, hovering nearby. I stared at the red-trimmed front door to Peter’s house, knowing my mom was in there, knowing I was about to drop a bomb right into the middle of her life when she had just found a new love and things were starting to look up for her in her life. “Give me a minute,” I muttered.

He didn’t move, looking away and putting his hands in his pockets. “Take the time you need.”

Adam did have a point—it was time to tell Mom. I’d been wondering when I could tell her and I’d kept putting it off. Might as well get it over with in one quick and painful blow.

A weight sank in my stomach and everything tightened in my chest as I nodded and he turned for the front door. I numbly followed him up the porch steps. He opened the door without knocking, like he always did and called inside. “Hey, we’re here.”

Mom was the first person I saw and Adam stepped aside so that she could greet me, throwing a hug around my neck. I could tell by her face that she didn’t know. Her features were clouded with uncertain worry. I’d like to think I’d know what her face would look like if she knew about the diagnosis. I’d seen that face a thousand times when I’d imagined telling her. In my own thoughts I never got past the first word or two before utterly breaking down at the thought of having to destroy her like this.

I knew how that had felt two years before when she’d gotten her diagnosis. It had gutted me, and Mom was only very recently cancer-free herself. What if the stress of my diagnosis made her sick again?

I pulled away from Mom, unable to meet her eyes. She put her hands on either side of my cheeks. “Mia,” she said quietly. “Whatever it is, we’ll get through it, okay? I’m here for you.”

I looked into her brown eyes, so much like my own, and I couldn’t keep it inside anymore. I started sobbing. Again.

Her arms wrapped around me. We stood in the kitchen alone. Adam had already stepped away. I tilted my face into my mom’s shoulder and muffled my crying as best I could but I was shaking so hard I couldn’t even gather a thought, much less collect myself.

“Shhh,” she said, smoothing my hair like she used to do when I was a little girl.

She guided me into the living room where Adam and Peter sat in chairs across from us. Mom guided me to sit down next to her on the couch. Somehow the presence of others forced me to try to pull myself together and stop bawling like a baby. Adam got up, fetched a box of tissues and set them on the coffee table in front of me. I grabbed a handful of them and mopped my face.

“Adam, maybe we should step out,” Peter said quietly.

“No,” I said finally in a shaky voice. “It’s okay. You should be here for her.”

I turned to my mom, who’d raised her brows at my words. I put a hand on each shoulder, sniffed and squared my own shoulders, trying to find the strength to say those horrid words. “I—uh—” I began in a shaky voice. I cleared my throat. “I have cancer, Mom.”

Mom didn’t react at first. Then, after about a three-second delay, she looked like someone had stomped on her feet with steel sole boots and she was trying not to show a reaction.

So I took a deep breath and kept talking. “It’s, um, it’s a carcinoma, stage two, in my left breast. I had a lumpectomy in October and hormone therapy and, uh, I need to start chemo.”

My mom’s lips disappeared into her mouth and I could tell she was trying her hardest not to cry. She was trying to do that thing I’d done when she’d told me about her diagnosis.

Finally, after a minute of trying to contain it, she broke down. “Oh God, baby,” she said, taking me in her arms, pulling me close. No one understood the road ahead of a cancer patient like a cancer survivor. My mom knew intimately every torture in store for me.

every torture.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she said tightly.

“I didn’t tell anyone.”

“Not even Adam?” she said, pulling away and looking at him.

And that was when I finally felt like dirt for the first time. I’d thought I was being strong for them. I’d thought I was choosing to brave my battle—a battle that only I could fight—without burdening them.

This was the first moment I realized how selfish I’d been.

I sat back and looked at Adam. His face was blank but his eyes were heavy with accusations and hurt. I looked back at my mom. “I only told Heath.”

My mom shook her head, clearly not understanding. A million excuses jumped into my head. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. I was confused. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to fight the cancer on my terms.

But every excuse was all dust and ashes. Meaningless to the people who loved me.

“So you made Heath keep this from us? Oh, Mia, that was so unfair to him. But—” She put her hand on my arm, shaking my shoulder so that I’d look at her again. “Now is not the time to discuss how you’ve handled it. Now, we talk about what comes next. When do you start chemo? And where?”

I straightened, pulling away from her. I kept my eyes fixed on her. I couldn’t meet the gaze pinning me down from across the room. This was what he’d counted on. He knew that it would rip my heart out to tell my mother that I was going to deny chemo. I clenched my teeth, trying to swallow that bitter pill.

“Kim, there’s a complication,” Adam spoke up in a quiet voice. “Mia can’t start chemo this week because she’s pregnant.” I closed my eyes—mostly to block out my mom’s reaction. But I was such a coward because of the relief I felt that Adam had told her for me. I felt like falling at his feet in gratitude.

My mom jerked her gaze back to stare at me. She opened her mouth to say something, but, apparently unable to find the words, she shut her mouth again. Her face went white as the wall behind her.

The doorbell rang and Adam stood up to get it, walking quickly down the hall. Peter leaned forward, “Kim, can I get you some water or something?”

At her vigorous head shake, he leaned back, watching her carefully. Mom turned to me again, her jaw slack again, gaping like a fish.

Adam re-entered the room with Heath, who immediately walked over to my mom. She stood up and practically leapt into his arms, clasping him close to her and weeping into his shoulder. Heath must have been notified by Adam to come and I realized now that I had been right earlier when I’d told him that I knew he was up to something. He’d scheduled a meeting so they could all sit around and tell me what I needed to do. I shot him a look but was distracted by Mom’s sobs.

I watched them, feeling like a knife had impaled me through the sternum. A wave of nausea smacked me and my stomach roiled. I swallowed bitter bile at the back of my throat.

Mom finally stepped back from Heath and scooted over on the couch to make room for him at the end. Then, she turned to me, wiping her face with the back of her hands. Heath leaned forward, grabbed some tissues and handed them to her. She wiped her eyes. Without looking at him, she said, “Heath, I’m sorry I was so angry with you at Christmas. This must have been impossible for you.”

Heath put a hand on Mom’s back and didn’t say anything. He looked like he might start crying, too. I pressed the heels of my hands to my eyes as if to dam my own tears.

“Do you want to talk about what you are going to do?” Mom asked.

I was too chicken to uncover my eyes. After minutes of silence, I muttered, “I know what I want to do.” I took a deep breath and then dropped my hands, sitting up. I looked at Adam. He was as still as a statue, as impassive and unreadable as he’d been in the doctor’s office today. “But it means not getting the chemo…”

Mom grabbed my hand and pulled it into her lap, squeezing it tight. “Mia, you need the chemo.”

I let out a shaky breath and shook my head. I couldn’t say it. I couldn’t tell her that her daughter was choosing to forgo therapy. From the corner of my eye, I could see Adam stand up and put his back to the room while he stood stiffly, staring out the window. I studied his tense shoulders.

“Mom, what if you’d chosen not to have me? I can’t do this…”

Mom’s jaw dropped. “My circumstances were completely different. I wasn’t fighting for my life, Mia. You can’t compare yourself to me!”

“I might never be able to have a baby, after the chemo—”

“Is that worth giving up your life for? A full life? You’re twenty-two years old—a baby yourself!”

I opened my mouth to reply but she interrupted me, gripping my shoulder firmly as if hanging on for dear life. “You have everything ahead of you—you’re going to go to medical school. You’re going to be a doctor. You’re going to save lives. But right now you have one life that is the most important to save—

I fought to catch a breath. My chest felt like it was compressed under tons of steel. This was a nightmare. They all wanted the same thing. No one—not one—could see my side of the issue. That there was life—a future
—growing inside me. A child who deserved a chance to live.

Then another voice spoke up—another whisper inside my brain—didn’t
deserve the best chance to live, too?

Before the diagnosis, before that call from the doctor’s office, I’d been on top of the world. I was waiting for responses back from medical schools—had been accepted to my dream school—and I had an amazing man who loved me—whom I loved. That ache of loss diffused into my chest again. It had been as much a part of my daily life for the past few months as the endless blood tests and harsh medications I’d been forced to put in my body. And what loomed ahead was worse still.

“Is it really so bad that I believe in my child’s right to live?” I said in a tiny voice.

Mom looked at me, frozen. Then, she touched my cheek. “No, honey, it’s not bad at all. But—I need to beg you to remember
child’s right to live—to finish her life. Don’t sacrifice
baby, I beg of you.”

I suddenly felt so exhausted that I would collapse from the weight of everyone’s eyes on me. Everyone except Adam watched me as if waiting for some pronouncement, some decision.

I put my hands to my temples, rubbing them. “I need to think. I can’t make a decision like this right now. Please. Can you understand?”

My mom looked at me, her eyes so sad that it broke my heart. She actually bit her lip to keep it from quivering. But she nodded.

“Okay,” she said. “You’ve still got a little time? Please—please don’t shut us out again, okay? That’s all I ask. All I beg. Let us love you.”

Let us love you
. Was that what I had been doing? Pushing them away, refusing to allow them to feel these feelings? I turned and looked at Adam, who was watching me again with veiled dark eyes. We held each other’s gaze across the room and my insides felt heavy, tight. I could hardly breathe. I didn’t want to think about this. Didn’t want to do this. I wanted to lie back and wait for things to happen to me. I had no desire to ponder these difficult choices. My life was starting to feel like an epic failure with more certain fail along the way before I could pick things up, start again, if I even had the will left to do it.

BOOK: At Any Moment (Gaming The System Book 3)
9.6Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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