Page 9

 Kristen Ashley

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“It isn’t a big deal,” she replied.
“What isn’t a big deal?” he asked.
She looked him in the eye, sighed then announced, “I was sick for a while.”
His gut clenched and his chest got hot. “What?”
“It wasn’t a big deal, honey,” she said quietly.
“You keep sayin’ that, sittin’ across from you, watchin’ you, seein’ you, I’m wonderin’ if you’re tryin’ to convince you or me.”
He saw her mouth move as her eyes gave away that she was thinking about this before she admitted. “Weird. Maybe I am.”
“Tell me,” he ordered.
“Okay.” She shifted in her seat then leaned on her arms on the table to get closer to him even as she held his gaze. “I’ll admit, at the time, it was a little scary because the doctors didn’t know what it was. At first, I was just fatigued. Then, so tired, Jacob, it was wild. It got to the point I could barely get out of bed and I couldn’t wait to get back in. Then it got worse. I lost my appetite, and it’s good we’re talking about this now before the food comes, but I couldn’t hold anything down. Eventually, it was so gross and made me even more tired, I quit eating in order to avoid vomiting. I went in to see the doctors again and again. They ran a bunch of tests. Nothing.”
“And?” he prompted when she stopped talking.
“Well, they ultimately had to hospitalize me.”
“Fuck,” Deck clipped and she leaned in further, her hand moving out to grab hold of his.
“As you can see, I’m fine,” she assured him.
“What was it?” he asked.
She gave his hand a squeeze and sat back but did it still leaned toward him.
“Just an infection, if you can believe that. Though a rare one. Actually, I’d lost even more weight than what you can see and was in the hospital for three weeks because, once they figured out what it was, they then figured out it was resistant to antibiotics so it kinda took a long time to beat it but I did. I got out. Started eating, sleeping, recovering, gaining back some of the weight. Took a while to get my stamina back but,” she flipped out her hands and sat back in her seat, “here I am.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Early last year it ended, started the year before.” She hesitated before she told him, “It lasted about a year.”
“Fuck, it took that long to find an infection?” Deck bit out.
“It was rare,” she repeated.
“Jesus,” he muttered.
“I’m fine, honey.”
“Scared you shitless, Emme.”
Her mouth shut.
“Keep sayin’ it’s fine. Keep sayin’ it isn’t a big deal. It wasn’t the first but it was the last,” he told her.
“You’re right about that for the then. But it’s okay now.”
“I can see that,” he returned. “And you say it but you aren’t gettin’ it since you were sick for a year, had no f**kin’ clue what it was, which would scare anybody and it scared you. It ended well, but you don’t deal, you don’t get over it.”
Her chin jerked back before she said in a tone that was an accusation. “I forgot how smart you are.”
“Glad you’re remembering.”
“I also forgot how annoying it can sometimes be.”
It was then he burst out laughing and when he was done, she no longer looked peeved but was grinning.
Their beers came. They both took a sip then set them aside.
“So, you got sick, why was a new look necessary?” he pushed, and she again shrugged.
“You’re exhausted like I was, you’re too exhausted to go out and get haircuts. Trust me, haircuts are the last thing on your mind when all you want to do is get to work, go home and go to sleep. And my hair grows fast, apparently. And I found I kinda liked it so I let it keep growing. Then, after it was done and I was getting better, but none of my clothes fit, my friend Erika… do you remember her?”
Deck nodded. Erika was one of her limited posse. Elsbeth didn’t like Erika either. This was because Erika was beautiful and intelligent, both scarily so, especially for someone like Elsbeth.
“Well, she wanted to make me feel better, and have clothes that actually fit,” Emme went on. “So she took me out on a day of beauty. She’s a personal shopper and she’d been dying to get ahold of me for years anyway. She took me to have my hair done, had a makeup artist teach me how to do my face, took me out and we tried on a bunch of clothes. Most of them don’t fit anymore because I put on twenty pounds since then but somehow, I got bit by the bug.” She leaned and whispered conspiratorially, “Don’t tell anyone in Denver. I put on my old clothes and wear a wig when I go home. I don’t want them to know I’ve turned into a fashionista.”
“Lips are sealed, baby,” he said through a smile but watched her blink again, surprise lighting her eyes before she cloaked it and sat back.
He let that go when she kept talking.
“Anyway. Now that super-smart, see-into-thoughts-with-the-power-of-his-mind Jacob Decker has made me think on it, I’m wondering if maybe being sick like that didn’t wake me up somehow. Teach me to stop and smell the roses. And by that I mean pampering myself with visits to excellent stylists, spending mega bucks on salon-quality products for my hair, regular facials and way too many trips back to Denver to drop a load on clothes.”
“Not a crime, Emme,” he noted.
She grinned and replied, “Luckily, no.”
“Elsbeth take your back?” he asked.
Another blink, this one more surprised, and she asked, “Pardon?”
“Elsbeth, through this shit, she take your back?”
She held his eyes and she did it a long time before, slowly, she said, “Jacob, honey, I haven’t spoken to Elsbeth in nine years.”
He felt that heat in his chest as he stared at her.
His voice was gruff when he asked, “What?”
“She, um… ended things with you, and I,” she shrugged, “ended things with her.”
“No shit?” he asked.
Her eyes unusually hit the table as she murmured, “I don’t like stupid people.”
Jesus Christ.
“Emme,” he called, and it took some time but she lifted her eyes to meet his. When she did, all he could get out was, “Babe, you two were tight.”
“She threw away something good. I know you know that, Jacob, because it was you she threw away so I don’t want to bring it up and hurt you but I… well, I knew why. And like I said, I don’t like stupid people. I don’t have time for them. So I haven’t seen her in years. She asked me to her wedding. I didn’t go. Mutual acquaintances used to tell me about her but I moved up here about three years ago. I go home often but just to see my folks and friends, none of whom was really close with Elsbeth so,” she shrugged again, “I have no idea what’s happening with her and she definitely has no idea what’s going on with me.”