Authors: Amber Garza
FOR THE GAME
Cover: Kris @ C & K Creations
Copyright © 2015 Amber Garza
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
For information: ambergarza.com
Other titles by Amber Garza
For the Win
Cuts Run Deep
Head Above Water
Falling to Pieces
Tripping Me Up
Finding Me Again
Winning Me Over
Delaney’s Gift Series:
The Prowl Trilogy
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
To Karissa, for your encouragement and prayers
It was the last word Cooper said to me when he left for college a week ago, and I had been clinging to that word ever since. Not like it was the first time he’d said it. The word had sort of become our mantra. In the weeks leading up to his departure he’d whisper it into my ear, his breath tickling the sensitive flesh and causing chills to skitter down my spine.
“I love you, London,” he’d say. “Always.”
But it was that last time that I kept replaying in my head. Closing my eyes, I’d conjure up the feel of his lips against mine, soft and moist when he kissed me goodbye. I’d imagine the way his hands felt as they touched my back and slid up to my neck, the pads of his fingers trailing my skin. And I’d picture the intensity behind his eyes, the fire that danced in his irises, seeming to convey all the words left unspoken. When our gazes locked, I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying what I desperately wanted to. I swallowed down the words, the letters sticking to my tongue and burning the back of my throat.
Please stay. Don’t leave me.
But I couldn’t ask that of him. It would be selfish and cruel.
So, instead I watched him walk away from me. I watched his back, taking in the slope of his shoulders, the contours of his body that were so familiar to me. I stared at him until he disappeared from view. And only then did I allow myself to cry, the tears I’d held back finally falling from my eyes and slipping down my cheeks. I promised myself I wouldn’t cry in front of him, and I hadn’t.
But I’d made up for it this past week. Moisture seemed to fill my eyes so easily, my lips trembling at the most inopportune times. It’s not like he was gone for good. And we talked every day on the phone. We even skyped sometimes. Not to mention the million texts we exchanged throughout the day. But still, it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t hold his hand or feel his arms around me. He wasn’t here to calm my nerves about going back to school or assure me that everything would be fine at my next doctor’s appointment.
Phone calls, texts and skype chats were great, but I would give anything to see Cooper in person. Sometimes when we skyped I’d reach out and touch the screen, wishing I could magically reach through it and run my fingers over the light dusting of stubble on his chin, or the hair that was growing back thick over his head. When my fingertips brushed the screen, I would groan. November was too far away. It seemed impossible that I would survive without seeing him until then.
“Are you still sulking?” Skyler poked her head in my room, her eyebrows arched.
I flinched from where I sat on the bed, not having heard Dad let Skyler in. “I’m not sulking.”
“Might want to inform your face.” Skyler walked inside, plunking down on the edge of my bed and almost sitting on my left foot.
I pulled my legs in closer to me, tucking them up against my chest.
“It’s not like he’s gone forever.” Skyler tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ear, and it made me itch to do the same. I missed my long golden hair. Reaching up, I ran my fingers over the short strands. It was at least growing back, but I still felt like a boy. Just another thing I missed about Cooper. He wasn’t here to tell me that I looked like a girl. Dad told me I was beautiful all the time, but he had to. He was my dad. It was different when Cooper said it.
he isn’t gone forever,” I responded to Skyler.
“Then stop pouting.” Skyler gave me a pointed look. “We go back to school tomorrow, so let’s go do something fun today.”
Inwardly, I groaned. I had been refusing to think about school. It was not something I was looking forward to. At least Calista and her friends would all be gone. They graduated with Cooper. Still, they weren’t the only people who bullied me. Not to mention the fact that I hadn’t been to school since I had gotten sick. I was sure everyone knew about the cancer by now, and I wasn’t ready to face them. Not yet. Maybe when my hair grew back. But waiting wasn’t an option. This was my senior year, and if I had any hope of getting into college I had to finish strong. That dream alone would have to get me through this year. Perhaps I could even get into Fallbrook University and join Cooper. That’s what I was secretly hoping, even though I didn’t dare speak the words aloud. I knew better than anyone how life could change in an instant, so the last thing I wanted to do was get Cooper’s hopes up, or worry my dad. Therefore, I kept my goals to myself and focused on surviving one day at a time.
“I don’t really feel like going anywhere today, Sky.”
“You never feel like going anywhere.” She leaned back on her elbows, her long hair fanning over my comforter. “But you’re healthy now, and Cooper can still call you on your cell, so there’s no reason to stay locked away in this room.”
The word “healthy” always rubbed me the wrong way. On the one hand, I wanted to be treated like I was healthy. I was tired of being treated like a fragile, sick person. Yet on the other hand, I felt the word carried with it expectations. Like there was so much riding on my health. Like I would be letting everyone down if I got sick again. And that scared the shit out of me.
“I like it in my room.” My fingers found the Kindle lying near my thigh. “And you know that has nothing to do with Cooper or the cancer.”
“Yes, I know all too well what a homebody you are.”
I smiled. “Then you understand.”
“I didn’t say that.” Skyler stood, reaching for me. “I’m not leaving until you agree to go out with me, so you might as well give in. Make it easier on the both of us.”
“Man, you are so pushy.”
“Then you understand,” she said, using my own statement against me.
I chuckled. Even though I was a little annoyed, I was also impressed. Skyler always had an assertiveness that I wished I could possess. In fact, there were a lot of things about Skyler that I’d always admired. We were night and day different, and a part of me always longed to be more like her. “Fine.” I sat up. “Where do you want to go?”
“Don’t look so scared. It’s not like I’m going to make you go clubbing or something. I just want to go into Old Town. Maybe grab an ice cream cone.”
I guess that didn’t sound too terrible. And it might be nice to get out of the house. My gaze flickered to the window, at the blue sky and golden sunshine. A dose of vitamin D would do me some good, and now that Skyler mentioned it, my tongue was salivating for ice cream.
“Okay.” I slid off my bed, my bare feet hitting the floor. I wore a t-shirt and jean shorts, so I reached for a pair of flip-flops from the ground. Before meeting Cooper, I never would have worn this outfit. I wouldn’t have been caught dead in shorts. Not that I dressed skimpy now. In fact, when I glanced over at Skyler’s tank top that showed off her belly, and shorts that barely skimmed her butt, I realized that I was still dressed pretty conservatively since my shorts fell to my knees and my t-shirt was baggy. But at least my legs were bare. I still sometimes felt fearful, my mother’s death never far from my mind. However, Cooper had proven to me that not all guys were bad. And he helped me to loosen up, live a little.
With my flip-flops slapping against my heels, I headed to my dresser. When I reached it, my gaze drifted between my wig and the pile of Cooper’s hats. I touched the wig, the strands coarse in my fingers. When Cooper first left for college I worried about him being surrounded by beautiful college girls. Healthy girls with full heads of hair and bodies that hadn’t undergone surgery or chemo. All my old insecurities rose to the surface, and I began to doubt Cooper’s feelings for me. So the first time he skyped me I wore my wig, and even put on a little makeup. It only took one minute into our conversation before Cooper asked me what was going on. When I shamefully confessed what I’d been feeling, he demanded that I take off the wig. And then he told me that I was the most beautiful girl in the world and the only girl who held his heart, so I had nothing to worry about. Smiling at the memory, I plucked up one of Cooper’s hats and placed it on my head.
“Ready?” Skyler asked.
I glanced at the mirror catching her in the reflection where she stood behind my shoulder. “Yep.”
I trailed behind Skyler as we headed out of my room and down the hallway. Dad sat on the couch watching sports on the TV. His head bobbed up when we entered the family room.
“Where are you girls off to?” I noticed he couldn’t help the grin that jumped to his lips. He’d probably been concerned with all the time I’d been spending in my room lately. It made me feel a little guilty. The last thing I wanted to do was worry Dad.
“Going to Sutter Street,” I said. “Maybe grab an ice cream cone. You want anything?”
“Nope. I’m good. You girls have fun.”
“Thanks.” I walked to him and gently kissed his cheek. “See you in a little while.”
Dad smiled at me before returning his attention back to the TV. Skyler flung open the front door, and the two of us stepped outside. The August heat enveloped me, the sun beating down on my body, harsh and unforgiving. By the time we reached Skyler’s car, sweat had gathered along my shoulder blades and slid down my spine. Thank god I was wearing shorts. I would have baked in pants. It must have been over one hundred degrees. That ice cream cone was sounding better and better every minute. As I slid into the passenger seat, my phone vibrated in my pocket. After closing the door, I yanked my phone out of my pocket.
Cooper: Hey, what r u doing?
The door slammed as Skyler hopped into the driver’s side. I typed back swiftly with my thumbs as Skyler started the engine.
Me: Hanging out with Skyler. We r going to Sutter Street and getting ice cream.
Skyler pulled away from the curb and drove down the street.
Cooper: I’m glad u r out. Wish I was with u tho.
Me: Me 2.
“Is that Cooper?” Skyler peered over at me, her lips curling at the edges.
“See, what did I tell you? You two are still attached at the hip even though he’s miles away.”
Giggling, I glanced back down at the phone.
Me: What r u doing?
Cooper: Hanging out with some of guys from the dorm.
My stomach tightened. Don’t get me wrong. I was happy that he was making friends, but it was also hard. Skyler may have joked about Cooper and I being attached at the hip, but it was the truth. In the months prior to him leaving we were together all the time, so it was weird for me that he was now hanging out with people I’d never met.
Cooper: Not as fun as hanging out with u.
He always knew the right thing to say.
Me: I know. I miss u.
Cooper: Miss u 2. Have fun and say hi to Skyler for me.
Me: I will. Luv u
Cooper: Luv u 2
I shoved the phone into my pocket, my neck craning in Skyler’s direction. “Cooper says hi.”
“What’s he doing today?”
“Hanging out with some guys from his dorm.”
Her head swiveled toward me. “You say that like you just ate a sour candy. What’s up?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I just worry a little bit, you know?”
Biting my lip, I wondered how much I should share. “Just that we’re so far apart, and he’s meeting new people. College-aged people. People who are healthy and--”
“London,” Skyler interrupted me, as she flicked on the blinker and neared a corner. “Cooper loves you. I mean, really loves you. Like so much it makes me sick. He stood by you through your cancer and all the shit you went through last year. Hell, he gave you a part of his body. He’s not going to meet a new girl at college. Trust me on this.”
Nodding, I clasped my hands in my lap, desperately wanting to believe her words. It was the same thing my dad had said, and Cooper had assured me of it many time. So why couldn’t I quell this nagging in my gut? It didn’t feel like needless anxiety. It sort of felt like a premonition.