At any turn, p.27
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       At Any Turn, p.27
 

         Part #2 of Gaming the System series by Brenna Aubrey

  Or maybe the erratic behavior and appearance change heralded a mental disorder, like anxiety or depression. I added those to my catalog of possible problems she might be suffering from.

  It certainly wasn’t pregnancy. She was on birth control so it ruled that out. But something about that conclusion bugged me and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Hours later, in the middle of working through a stack of papers I had to sign, my pen froze when I realized what it was. I’d rummaged through her sack pretty thoroughly the night she’d fallen asleep over at my place. I’d found the sharps container, the syringes, and I’d freaked. After that, I’d ransacked everything, looked in her makeup case and everywhere else. And the one thing I hadn’t seen?

  Birth control pills. They came in a special box. I’d seen them before, of course, when she’d lived with me and when we’d traveled together. The type she used came in a little green square that opened like a compact when you pressed the little silver button—and they were stored in a grid that was labeled by day of the week.

  She never forgot those, carried them with her everywhere when we traveled, of course. But they had not been in the bag of her things when she’d come home from Vegas.

  And in Vegas, we’d…

  I counted back the days since the Con. Almost four weeks. I fought for a breath after that realization. I paced for a half hour in front of my window. Most of my officers, including Jordan, were out of town still from the holiday. I thought up a long errand to send Maggie on to get her away from her desk and then I went to the drugstore on my lunch break.

  Page 103

  When I got back, I called Emilia’s desk directly. She answered on the first ring. And I knew she knew it was me, because my name was on her caller ID. “I need to see you in my office. ”

  A long pause on the other end. “Um. Okay, can—”

  “Now,” I snarled and slammed the phone down, trying to contain the unexpected rage and frustration that had risen up just on hearing her voice. I took a deep breath and forced myself to relax or this would become ugly.

  I walked over to the door and pulled it ajar so she wouldn’t have to knock, double-checking that Maggie was still gone.

  When she came in, she must have known something was up because she didn’t close the door and instead stood right next to it. I was sitting in my chair gazing out the window at the atrium garden, my chin in my hand, trying to figure out what the hell to say to her.

  Without looking at her I said, “Close the door, please. ”

  She hesitated, then slowly shut the door behind her. I gestured to the chair opposite me without saying anything. She crept across the room and sank into the chair, sitting on its very edge. It was casual Friday so she was wearing a pair of jeans. They looked too big for her and I realized these were the old pair she always used to wear—the ones that once had fit her like a glove, that showcased her long legs and her gorgeous, round ass. They were baggy on her now.

  She watched me with wide eyes. “Did I do something to piss you off?”

  My eyes went to hers, my chin still in my hand. “What makes you think that?”

  She blinked at me. “Um. Because you are acting like you’re pissed off. ”

  “Maybe I’m getting tired of the bullshit between us. ”

  She took a deep breath, blew it out and seemed to go a shade paler, if that was possible. She laced her fingers in her lap and bounced one of her knees up and down.

  “I know you’ve been wanting to talk. I know you’ve got things to say. I’ve got things to say too. I just…I can’t. Not right now. ”

  “You’re sick,” I blurted.

  Her knee stilled. Her hands smoothed across her lap. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “Um. Yeah,” she finally said quietly.

  “Are you pregnant?”

  She let out a half laugh. “No. ”

  “You’re certain?”

  “Of course. It’s—”

  “You’re still on birth control, right?” And this is where I’d know if she was lying. Because I already knew the answer to this.

  She looked away from me and out the window. “I’m not taking the birth control pill. But I’m on other—”

  “You never mentioned that in Vegas, that you’d stopped taking the pill. ”

  “I was pretty shitfaced. There’s a lot of things I didn’t mention, but—”

  “So you’re not certain, then. ”

  She looked back at me. “What?”

  “You’re not certain that you’re not pregnant. ”

  She took a deep breath. “I’m not pregnant—I’m not even fertile. ”

  “I have no idea what that means. ”

  She shifted in her chair and grabbed a lock of her freakish white hair, twirling it around her forefinger. “It means I can’t get pregnant, okay? Stop worrying about it. ”

  “There’s only one way I’m going to stop worrying about it. ”

  She looked at me with the question in her eyes.

  I opened my desk drawer, reached inside and slapped the pregnancy test on the desk between us.

  She shook her head, rolling her eyes. “I’m not taking a pregnancy test. ”

  “Why not?”

  She looked at me like I was an idiot. “Because I. Am. Not. Pregnant. ”

  “Then it won’t cost you anything to go in the bathroom and use it—for the sake of my peace of mind. ”

  “Adam, you need to drop it—”

  “I’m not going to drop it. I have a right to know and it takes you two minutes to use that. ”

  “You’re starting to really piss me off now. ”

  “You’re going to keep your secrets. You’re going to refuse to talk to me—or anybody—about why your life appears to be circling the drain in front of all of our eyes, fine. But I have a right to know this, goddamn it. Now go and piss on this fucking thing and if it’s negative you can storm out of here and we’ll never have to look at each other ever again. ”

  She scowled, then snatched up the box from the desk. Standing, she walked around me to get into my private bathroom, and slammed the door after her.

  Page 104

  I waited until I heard the toilet flush and the sink being used. When she turned off the faucet, I opened the door and went in. I’d already read the directions. It had indicated a three-minute wait after use. I glanced at my watch. She stared at me in the mirror as she dried her hands.

  “Hopefully that makes you happy. You have gone so far over the top this time that you might as well be on your space station trip again,” she huffed, flushing red with anger. “I’m out of here—as in packing up my desk and walking the fuck out of here. ”

  “You aren’t going to wait a minute for the results?”

  She rolled her eyes. “I already know what the results are. It’s humiliating enough that you made me pee on a stick in your bathroom, I don’t need to wait around to find out what I already know. ”

  I glanced at the test sitting on the back of the toilet where she’d set it. She turned to leave. Very clearly I saw two lines. Two pink lines. The three minutes weren’t even up yet.

  She was halfway out the door when I said, “It’s positive. ”

  She froze and turned around and stared at me in the mirror. “Is that a fucking—”

  But I held up the test so she could see and she never finished that question. Her eyes landed on the test and then widened in horror. She’d been fully convinced that she wasn’t pregnant.

  But she was. I searched inside myself for some reaction to that knowledge and all I felt was a coldness, a distance. Shock. Disbelief. I read once that these were mechanisms used by the mind to protect itself from falling apart in times of high stress.

  Her demeanor changed immediately. She started shaking. “It’s a mistake. It has to be a mistake. Where’s the other one?” Emilia had run straight through shock and into denial.

  I found the box and
handed her the remaining test from the double pack. I was pretty certain those results were going to come up the same, but if she needed that confirmation, I wasn’t going to deny her. She stared at it, her brows knitting in confusion.

  “It’s—it’s wrong. These things are wrong sometimes, right?” Her voice settled somewhere between hysteria and panic, trembling along with the rest of her. “I can’t go pee again right now. ”

  I’ll admit that in another circumstances, if I wasn’t so ragingly pissed off, I might have tried to comfort her. But I didn’t.

  Because I hadn’t wanted that thing to be positive any more than she had. Any hopes of healing us, of getting back what we’d lost, seemed gone now, blown away in the wind. The heavy weight of this new development would snap the fledgling branch upon which our hearts, our lives hung. We couldn’t handle our own lives and now there was another one in the balance?

  She stared at me for a long moment and I didn’t move, didn’t say a word. I had no idea what the hell to say. I didn’t know what I wanted. I was so done with this. With us. With the lies and the stupid games. The rage started to bubble up, burning through the layers of ice in my gut, melting the shock. How I hated the powerlessness I felt at that moment. My life was careening, out of control.

  My hands clenched into fists and that red-hot lava burned up every limb. She seemed to be pressing herself into the bathroom door, or using it to hold herself up. I squeezed past her and stalked back into the office. The first thing I did was grab that ridiculous vase that Maggie had put on the table last month—one filled with a bunch of colored marbles. I turned and slammed it against the wall. It shattered into fragments, marbles bouncing everywhere. And it didn’t make me feel better in the least. Fuck.

  I turned to stand next to the window. The top part of my vision had that curious wavy quality to it, a migraine aura presaging another vicious strike of lightning into my brain at any time now. Great. Just fucking great.

  After long moments where I continued to stare into the daylight as if daring the headache to flare up, she reentered the room. I couldn’t look at her.

  I stood rigid, still, my arms folded across my chest. I’d been so careful, always, with my sex partners. I’d never had sex without a condom and usually some other type of birth control on her part. But I had never used a condom with Emilia. Had trusted her to bear the burden of the birth control. That probably wasn’t entirely fair of me but goddamn, it’s the way it had been between us since the beginning and damn her for changing the rules without telling me.

  Whether or not this was intentional, it was a trap. She had knowingly gone to bed with me unprotected.

  “Adam,” she said, her voice quiet, hoarse from unshed tears.

  Page 105

  I shook my head. I couldn’t even find the words.

  “I know you think I did this on purpose. ”

  “I don’t know what to think. ”

  “I honestly thought this was impossible. I—I haven’t had a period in months. ”

  I turned around and looked at her. Okay, she was thin, but she wasn’t that thin. From my cursory research about severe eating disorders, I knew that women sometimes stopped having their periods, but she didn’t look like she’d lost enough weight for that to happen.

  “Something is clearly wrong with you. Tell me what it is. ”

  She opened her mouth to answer and then shook her head, her hands shaking as she pushed her hair away from her face in nervous agitation.

  “I have to go,” she said.

  I couldn’t believe my ears. “You’re going to walk out of here right now? You’re going to just leave it like this without telling me a goddamn thing?”

  “You’re too pissed off right now. We’re at work, for God’s sake. Your secretary is right outside the door! I can’t talk to you here. ”

  “Enough with the bullshit, Emilia! I’m sick of the excuses. ”

  Her head came up, her eyes narrowed. “You just smashed that vase into a thousand tiny bits and you think this is a good time for us to talk? No way. ”

  My headache intensified to the point where it suddenly felt like there was an army inside my skull waging a war to get out. I pressed my palm to my head.

  “Your head hurts?”

  I shook my head, clenched my teeth. “Stop putting this off. ”

  “We’ll talk. Tomorrow. I’ll—I’ll come to your house. ”

  “If you walk out of that door now—you walk out on me again, we are done. Forever. The way it should have been when you moved out in October. ”

  One tear streaked across her pale cheek.

  “It takes two to fuck up and if you can’t acknowledge your own failures, then you’re right—we are done,” she said, voice trembling.

  “We were done months ago. I’ve just been the fool for holding out hope. ”

  She nodded, blinking, fighting furiously to contain her tears but they were escaping again. I suddenly wished I had ten more vases like the first one to smash against the wall.

  “You don’t need to worry about it, then. I’ll take care of this,” she choked out. Then she turned and walked to the door. I spun, staring out into the atrium, refusing to watch her walk out of my life forever.

  I shut my eyes, squeezed them tight against the pain that was intensifying like a torrent of hammers raining from the sky. Even if I wanted to run after her, I doubted I could. The door opened and clicked shut just as quickly. I pressed my forehead to the cool glass, my head bursting with pain.

  Chapter Twenty

  I spent half the night wondering what to do. Wishing there was someone I could talk this through with. There was no way I was going to go to Jordan. I had half a mind to call Heath, but wasn’t sure if Emilia had told him yet. I almost called my lawyer to try and figure out what my rights were.

  In my anger and pain I’d effectively cut her off by telling her in all finality that we were done. Now, she no longer worked for me. She had alienated herself from her mother so it was unlikely that even the family connection would be worth anything. Ironically, I had balked at the fact that once she stopped working for me, we’d no longer have a connection in our lives.

  It seemed I’d worried about that needlessly. Because now, we were connected forever.

  I wasn’t sure how long it would take before we were composed enough to talk this through like the adults we were supposed to be. How long would it take me to calm down? Or for her to unfuck herself long enough to determine if she could even handle going through with this?

  I ended up seeing her again a lot sooner than I thought I would.

  At eight o’clock that next morning, Saturday, when I was still asleep, my phone buzzed on my night table. I picked it up to see a text from Heath.

  Get over here NOW. 911.

  I sat up, texted back. What’s up?

  He replied. Need your help ASAP. She’s freaking out.

  I hesitated, actually considered telling him to call someone else. I was done with her, wasn’t I? But my gut still sank hearing that she was having a hard time. Her behavior enraged me, but I couldn’t help myself. Could I even stay away if I tried?

  That month after we’d split up in St. Lucia and she moved back to her mom’s house, I’d tried to forget her. Our fling had only lasted a few short weeks. In fact, we’d only had sex a handful of times. But try as I might, I couldn’t get her out of my head.

  Page 106

  She was indelibly imprinted on every thought, every feeling like a tattoo on my soul. The memory of her voice, her laugh, the feel of her body was permanently a part of me. I blew out a breath, running my hands through my hair. I’d struggle and I’d find the will to resist this, resist her. But…we were like magnets. Tearing ourselves apart to get back to each other.

  I swallowed, my throat feeling prickly. One last burst of stubborn resistance had me setting the phone aside, resolved to forget her.

  Then
I called myself the dick that I was, took it back up and replied.

  Be there ASAP.

  I got there a little over fifteen minutes later. Heath lived up in the Orange Hills, so it was a bit of a drive from my place in Newport. I did break a few speeding laws on my way up. As luck would have it, the CHP didn’t know a thing about it.

  When I knocked on the door, Heath whipped it open almost as quickly. He was still wearing his pajamas. I stared at him.

  “What’s going on?”

  “She’s locked in the bathroom and she’s sobbing. She won’t answer me and she keeps saying your name and ‘I’m sorry’ over and over again. We gotta get her out of there, man. ”

  I took a deep breath and walked in. I wasn’t sure what Heath knew or what she wanted him to know. So I walked to the bathroom without saying another word. I could hear her sniveling on the other side of the door, so I knocked.

  She didn’t say anything.

  “Emilia,” I called. “Open the door. ”

  “Adam?” she answered after a long moment.

  She sounded weird, her speech slurred. I looked at Heath and asked quietly, “You have any tools? A screwdriver? I need a flashlight, too. ”

  Heath left to go dig through a drawer in his kitchen. I turned back to the door.

  “Open the door, Emilia. We’re worried about you. ”

  “You’re not worried about me,” she said. “You’re pissed off at me. ”

  “I can be both at the same time. Open the door. ”

  “They keep coming out the same. Every one of them. ”

  Heath returned with a huge screwdriver and a flashlight. I tried to fit it inside the small hole in the doorknob. I shook my head at Heath. He left and returned with the entire drawer, having pulled it out of his cabinet. I began digging through the tools to find something that would work.

  I chose a thin screwdriver and held the light up to the doorknob, sticking it into the hole. “Emilia, you need to come out. Open the door. ”

  “You said you didn’t want to talk about it. That you were done. ”

  “I’ve had some time to cool off. ” Heath waved to get my attention, frowning and mouthing, What the hell?

  So that answered that. He didn’t know. Emilia was still keeping secrets. She was crying again, in a muffled way, like she was weeping into her hands or a towel. I twisted the screwdriver. I almost had it. “We can talk about this now. Let me in. ”

 
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