At any moment, p.1
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       At Any Moment, p.1
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         Part #3 of Gaming the System series by Brenna Aubrey
At Any Moment

  The Do-Over

  “Re-spawns, Do-overs and What Video Games Can Teach Us About Life”— Posted on the blog of Girl Geek on December 16, 2013

  The hangovers from the first annual DracoCon have faded, and the sleep is wiped from our eyes. Our anticipation for the next Dragon Epoch expansion is only increased and that ever-elusive secret hidden quest still beyond our grasp. I take this moment to consider that some gaming truths can teach gamers the cold hard realities of life.

  Seems like a weird idea, no? You are thinking that Girl Geek has finally lost her mind. You play to blow off steam and hang out with your friends online and have fun. Life lessons, Girl Geek? You’re a looney!

  But think about when you are faced with a difficult quest, a seemingly impossible foe to defeat or a trap-riddled dungeon that you just can’t make it through. Once your character’s life is reduced to 0, what happens? Re-spawn!

  You show up at your home point as a ghost and after a minimal wait period, your character’s belongings and health are all restored. You take what you learned from the previous encounter with that monster whose attack took you by surprise or that trap that caused you to get run through with a spear and pinned to the wall. You go back to that encounter with increased knowledge and maybe, after a few—or a few hundred—more tries, you accomplish what you set out for.

  Wouldn’t it be awesome if life had a re-spawn button?

  Oops, did you accidentally tell your girlfriend the truth about how her ass looked in her new jeans? Or did you take that dreaded moment to actually look at her ass when she asked you? Big mistake! And by now I’m sure you are suffering the consequences. But if there was the ability to hit the re-spawn button, you could go back to that split second with the knowledge that one hesitation, one extra second to actually catch a glimpse, will get your head bitten off. Re-spawn button. “No, baby, you look absolutely beautiful in those new jeans!” Lesson learned!

  The lure of a do-over is so attractive with more serious mistakes in life, too. Why can’t we re-spawn after screwing up, so we can do it over—even if it means showing up as a chainmail-bikini-wearing ghost?

  We are fortunate that our beloved Dragon Epoch doesn’t feature the Hardcore Mode, which leads to the dreaded permanent death. Permadeath would be one damn depressing way to end your game. Your fiftieth-level Barbarian mercenary has just died. Time to start over in the meadow as a first-level Fire Mage picking daffodils for General SylvenWood. But even then, worst case you can start over with a new character, dump all your baggage and have a totally clean slate.

  Don’t you wish you could hit a button and start parts of your life over again?

  In so many ways, as we learn, we are also screwing things up. And in the process of bumbling our way through life without that wonderful re-spawn, we make it nearly impossible to untangle the very mess we are creating while we are learning those important lessons.

  I’d like a re-spawn button for life. Time for a do-over.

  Chapter One


  This was the ongoing story of how I completely and utterly fucked up my life. I guess cancer had some part in the whole mess, too, but it was definitely off the rails before all the medical stuff happened. I wished I could blame the cancer, but it wasn’t cancer of the brain. No, apparently something else had gone wrong with my brain before the cancer showed up.

  I’d always tried to be an optimistic person. When life gave me shit, I made lemonade. Absent father? Sick mother? Monstrous tuition? I set up an auction to sell my virginity in order to make the money I’d needed.

  I could always think my way around a crappy situation in the past. But this…this…I wasn’t prepared for it and it had bowled me over. I couldn’t think straight about any of it. And now, we were in the middle of a nightmare and I had no do-over button. And given the vacant, zombie-like look in Adam’s dark eyes, I think he was wishing for one, too.

  So here it was finally Monday morning after a completely gut-wrenching weekend. We had both just found out about my pregnancy and Adam had just found out about the cancer. I glanced over at him without turning my head. His eyes were on the road, both hands gripping the white vinyl steering wheel of his vintage Porsche. He couldn’t see me studying him but there was no mistaking his stiff bearing, the undeterred focus that he usually put into his driving. In spite of those appearances, he was clearly distracted. His mind was always running, like one of his computers. It never shut down and right now, he was in problem-solving mode.

  Trouble was, not all problems could be solved, not even by a boy genius.

  “So, um, I’m going to need for you to wait in the waiting room…” I said. Page 2

  His cheek bulged as he clenched his jaw. “I have a lot of questions for the doctor. ”

  “But—but he’s going to do an examination and…”

  Ridiculous. I sounded half out of my mind. Well, I was beyond exhausted but… the thought of letting him see me with my shirt off…no. Just no.

  He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye—probably to determine if I was serious or not. I took a deep breath, hoping he wasn’t in the mood for an argument, because I sure as hell wasn’t.

  He pulled into the parking lot and parked. Then, before getting out, he turned to me. “Please let me be there. I’ll wait until you get undressed to come in the room but…I really would like to be there. ”

  I looked out the window for a long time. It was only fair, really. This affected his future, too. “Okay. I…”

  He took my hand in his. “You don’t have to explain yourself. I understand. But this is important. We need to have all the facts, okay?”

  I looked down and nodded, swallowing. I knew what “getting all the facts” meant. Adam was on a mission to convince me that my decision to carry the baby to term was the wrong one. Sure, he’d assured me that it was my decision, that he’d agree with whatever I ultimately decided, but I still wasn’t a hundred percent sure he wasn’t going to step in and dominate this situation like he always did. I took a deep breath.

  He touched my cheek with a brush of featherlight fingers and then turned and opened the door. Before he could come around to get mine, I’d opened it and sprung out. He didn’t say anything when he came around to my side, raised his brows and shut the door behind me.



  “Thank you for being here… but I need for you to not do your thing where you try to take over. ”

  His lips thinned, but he nodded. “I’ll behave myself. I promise. ”

  I kissed him on the cheek and he gave me a faint smile. He took my hand and we walked in together.

  Things were still weird with us, but better than they had been in months. We were at least trying to hold it together during this wretched turn of events in our lives. We’d spent the last few days constantly in each other’s presence and things were strained but okay.

  But the tension in that doctor’s examining room could be cut with a knife.

  Once Dr. Metcalfe entered and asked me to open my paper gown for my exam, I cast a self-conscious glance in Adam’s direction. He lowered his head, focusing on his tablet. The doctor looked over the scar and indentation on my left breast, where the tissue had been removed, and commented that it was “nicely healed. ” Then he performed the usual breast exam.

  “Any tenderness?” he asked.

  I pressed my lips together, then swallowed the nervous lump in my throat. “Yes, actually. ”

  The doctor straightened and I adjusted the paper to cover myself again. “Which breast?” he asked.

  “Both. ”

  “Any specific location?”

  I cle
ared my throat, avoided Adam’s gaze from across the room. “All over. ”

  The doctor frowned at me. “Could you—”

  “I’m pregnant,” I blurted before he could finish his sentence.

  Dr. Metcalfe sucked in his bottom lip and looked at my chart again. “It doesn’t say—”

  “I just found out. Home pregnancy test. ”

  “And your last period was…?”

  And then I had to go into detail about how I hadn’t had a period in months because of the hormonal treatment I’d been on. How I’d thought that meant I wasn’t at risk of getting pregnant. He shook his head. “You can still ovulate even with the hormone therapy. ”

  Yeah, obviously. I swallowed a sob of frustration and rubbed my forehead. Dr. Metcalfe seemed to get over his momentary astonishment.

  “Well, this certainly means we can’t start the chemotherapy as planned…”

  I saw Adam stiffen in his seat out of the corner of my eye. He cleared his throat and stood, moved to stand beside my examination table. I pulled the stupid paper frock tighter around me.

  “What are her options?” Adam asked.

  The doctor cast a furtive glance at me before answering. “It depends on whether or not she decides to terminate the pregnancy. ”

  “If I don’t?”

  “Then we wait until fourteen weeks—how far along did you say you were?”

  “Six weeks,” Adam answered. I jerked a look at him. He’d figured all that out, apparently. Thank goodness, because I’d had no idea.

  Page 3

  The doctor’s brows shot up. “That’s at least an eight-week delay. ”

  “What are the risks of waiting?” asked Adam. He was stiff, facing the doctor like he was conduction a business negotiation. It was almost like I wasn’t even there.

  “With her type and stage of breast cancer—had she been able to start now, without this complication and with the full round of chemo, she would have had an eighty-five percent survival rate. ”

  The doctor had Adam’s full attention now. He seemed focused in on everything Dr. Metcalfe was saying, his jaw tightening, obviously not happy at the eighty-five percent number that I already knew about.

  “And now? If she continues with the pregnancy and delays the chemotherapy? How does that change the prognosis?”

  The doctor glanced at me and took a deep breath. “That’s difficult to say. You want an exact number? I can’t give that to you. You want a rough estimate? She has hormone-sensitive carcinoma and is not only delaying treatment but also exposing her breast tissue to pregnancy hormones. Also, if she proceeds with the chemo at the second trimester, a less aggressive drug will need to be used, one that is not as successful with her type of cancer. At best, I’d say a fifty-five percent chance of survival. ”

  My jaw dropped, along with my heart—and my stomach, too. Things were happening in slow motion. I was in a dream, underwater. Adam was firing questions at the doctor as quickly as the doctor could answer and I was sinking deeper into myself. Their conversation echoed in the distance. I blinked, trying to fight back the shock, the anger, the helplessness. Now wouldn’t be a good time to puke up my guts.

  While they talked, I slid off the examination table and made a beeline for the sink, huddling over it, pathetically clutching the white crepe paper “gown” to myself while my stomach upended itself.

  When I finally straightened after rinsing my mouth out, I almost fell over from the head rush. Hands reached out to steady my shoulders. I leaned up against a solid body supporting me from behind. His arms slid around me and it felt painful and sweet. I leaned against him, relaxing, calming. But inside things were tender, prickly. His touch simultaneously hurt and comforted me.

  “You okay?” he whispered.

  I couldn’t speak. I didn’t trust myself to. I shrugged.

  “The doctor’s gone. You can get dressed if you want. Did you have any more questions for him? He said we can sit in his office if you did…”

  I shook my head. He slowly released his hold on me. I almost wanted to cry from the loss of his arms around me. I’d missed him so badly. And now he was back—but under these circumstances it was hardly a thing to celebrate. There was that ache that wouldn’t go away—that ache I felt every single day since we’d broken up.

  I swallowed the emotion rising in my throat. He was tense. I could feel it in every muscle as he hovered near me. He was preparing to do battle. And he was anticipating that it would be epic. He wasn’t wrong.

  I turned from the sink, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, and went to grab my funny padded bra and shirt.

  “Can you turn your back, please?” I said. My voice was raspy, hoarse. He watched me with his unreadable eyes. It was a ridiculous request, really. He’d seen my naked body hundreds of times before—touched it almost as often. God, how he’d touched it. My cheeks heated at the memory and I looked away.

  He turned around, snatching up his tablet and typing furiously into it. Likely he was looking up some of the terms the doctor had used.

  I pulled off the paper covering my torso and glanced down at my breasts. The right one was perfect, untouched. The left one had an angry red scar slicing into it and a scoop-shaped divot taken out of it. I shot a look at his back. Maybe he’d find the disfigurement disgusting. He’d never been shy about expressing his appreciation of my breasts before. I slipped on my bra and hooked it. It wasn’t a sexy bra—those little lacy things I used to love wearing when I had the money to splurge on one. This was more of an old lady’s bra. Sturdy, supportive. Functional.

  Thanks to cancer treatment, I was slowly but surely being robbed of my youth, between scars on my body, hormone therapy and the dreaded chemo-beast, which loomed near, like one of those giant dragons scrawled across the edges of antique maps. Soon I’d be as shriveled as and even balder than my grandma.

  As the child of a surviving cancer patient, I knew what I was in for with chemo. I’d seen my mom go through it all. The thought made my gut twist in dread. Maybe the pregnancy was my unconscious way of engaging in the ultimate procrastination where that was concerned. Knowing what I knew, I probably would have jumped off a balcony and broken both my legs to delay the inevitable.

  Page 4

  After I slipped on my shirt, Adam turned around, closing one app on his tablet and opening another. It looked like a calendar.

  “Your next appointment is at one. ”

  My head shot up as I grabbed my bag. “Next appointment?”

  “The second opinion we discussed. You’re going to need to sign some papers on the way out to get your records and test results. ”

  I signed the papers and got copies of my tests and records transferred onto a flash drive that Adam handed to the office staff. When they gave it back, I snatched it and stuck it in my pocket. Damned if I was going to give him access to pictures of my maimed boob. Hell no.

  If Jordan, Adam’s playboy best friend, had been setting Adam up on “hot dates” lately, then Adam had probably been rubbing elbows—and God only hoped no other parts—with models and actresses. To say nothing of the swarm of interns at work that I had mentally nicknamed the “Adam groupies. ” They liked to catalogue what he wore to work and rate how hot he looked from one day to the next. It had been hell having to sit around and listen to that shit day in and day out while attempting to ignore it.

  Not that I thought he’d ever date any of those interns. They were like eighteen and nineteen. But they had perfect bodies and I was sure not a one of them had a big divot taken out of their left breast. Nor would any of them soon be balder than Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starship Enterprise.

  I caught Adam watching me a couple times. Well, it was more like I could feel him watching me. Adam’s dark eyes had a way of drawing your eyes to him like a magnet.

  “What?” I said finally.

  He shook his head, unlocked his car and opened the door for me
, patiently waiting for me to get in.

  I paused and folded my arms against my chest, turning to him. “You’re up to something. ”

  He frowned. “Why do you think that?”

  “Aside from the fact that you are always up to something, you haven’t mentioned Dr. Metcalfe’s prognosis numbers yet. ”

  He rested an arm across the edge of the open door and looked at me—really looked in that way that usually felt intimidating. “What’s there to say, Mia?” Then he took a deep breath and looked away. “Those numbers speak for themselves. You’re an intelligent woman. And hopefully you’re going to be an oncologist. If you were in that doctor’s place, what would you recommend your patient do?”

  It suddenly felt a little harder to breathe, like a band had been wrapped around my chest. Instead of replying, I dropped my arms to my sides and sank into the passenger seat. Adam gently closed the door for me and came around to the left side of the car to slide in behind the wheel. I bent my head, rubbing my temples against the beginning of a headache. His use of the word “hopefully” was not lost on me. Odds were good that if I went ahead with the pregnancy I would not be starting medical school any time in the near future.

  He didn’t start the car, just sat and watched me. I pressed back harder into my seat and sighed, looking at him. I shook my head. “I can’t do this. He is one opinion, one estimate. His number might not even be right. ”

  We stared at each other for a while—long after it had become awkward. I wanted him to reach out and hug me. And it was strange…if I wanted him to hold me so much, why didn’t I ask, or—better yet—lean forward and take him in my arms? I swallowed and blinked, my eye stinging.

  “I need to stop off at the office for a few minutes to grab some of my stuff,” he said.

  “You aren’t going into work today?”

  He gave me a look like I must be crazy for asking him that and turned to start the car.

  Twenty minutes later, at the campus of Draco Multimedia, Adam’s company, I rolled down the windows of his car, telling him I’d wait while he got his stuff done inside. He promised me no more than ten or fifteen minutes but I knew better, because his secretary would catch him to sign some papers or someone would call or he’d get stopped a half dozen times on the way back to his office. I might have gone in with him, but I wanted to avoid that awkward return to work. The Friday before, I’d hurriedly packed up my desk with no explanation whatsoever while Mac, my superior, and the interns I worked with watched me with slackened jaws. I hadn’t cared, though. All I could think about at that point was the pregnancy test I’d just taken and the subsequent angry confrontation with Adam in his office.

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