With Every Heartbeat
Page 11

 Linda Kage

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It was my money and I was finally of legal age. I shouldn’t have had to hide it from him, but “shouldn’t have to” wasn’t a term my father knew when it came to me.
After withdrawing a sizable chunk of my interest for cash, I’d taken a bus to a few towns over and bought a car. Then I’d driven it back to my neighborhood and parked it down the street behind an abandoned garage where one of our neighbor’s summer homes was being foreclosed. Each night, I’d carried one or two boxes down and stored it in the car in preparation for the big escape.
Three days before my planned breakout, Father had attended a benefit charity dinner. Thinking there might not be a better time to leave, I jotted out a quick note, telling him I was leaving and never coming back, and if he’d ever cared for me at all, he wouldn’t look for me. And then I’d become free.
I had no idea free was such a scary thing until I was suddenly on my own with no rules to tie me down.
“So what are our plans for the day?” I asked Cora, nudging her hip with my knee as I scooped up a forkful of scrambled egg whites, hoping she’d give me some guidance to help me with all my freedom anxieties. “Are we going to visit the doctor and tell him I’m going to do the transplant with you?”
When I held out the forkful, she obediently ate the bite, only to choke on it and wave her hand in front of her face, her eyes watering. “Salt,” she gasped.
I shook my head. “Too much salt can’t be healthy for you.”
She pushed my hand away when I held out another bite. “I’m dying. Do you really think I care about eating healthy right now?”
The casual way she said that shot an arrow of cold, panicky fear right through the center of my chest. “You are not dying. That’s why I’m here, remember. And yes, you do need to eat healthy if you want to get better. And probably drink less.” I lifted my eyebrows to let her know how much I didn’t approve of all the drinking I’d seen her doing last night.
She rolled her eyes. “If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last few months it’s that life is short, and I’m going to spend it doing whatever the hell I want. So just get off my fucking back about what I eat or drink. Okay?”
I blinked, startled to hear such language. She ignored me as she ripped off her clothes until she was down to a matching bra and panty set. I just sat there, stunned. She’d turned so angry and defiant since the last time I’d seen her. It made my heart ache.
As she crawled off the bed and pulled on a loose top and shorts, I shook my head.
“You’ve really changed,” I murmured. I didn’t know the woman before me anymore. What was worse, I didn’t know how to help her, either.
Being nine months older than me, she’d left home for college last year, while I’d been stuck there to suffer through my senior year of high school without her. It had been difficult, but we’d always been able to talk online. And through all our messages, I hadn’t been able to tell just how much she’d altered.
I was curious if college, her declining health, a mixture of both, or something else entirely was the cause of it.
She sniffed. “Changed for the better.” Turning away, she started for the door. “You go ahead and eat that crap. I’m having Cocoa Pebbles.”
I don’t know why—maybe it was stress—but I followed her orders and shoved the bland egg whites into my mouth, chewing robotically, as I trailed her into the kitchen.
“Damn, I wish it was Saturday morning,” she grumbled without explaining why.
I stood in the doorway, silently polishing off her eggs while she prepared herself a bowl of cereal and then seated herself at the table and propped her feet up until she could balance the bowl on her knees. Catching sight of me hovering, she rolled her eyes. “Sit.”
I sat, upset that I seemed to be such an annoyance to her. After drawing in a deep breath, I asked, “So, are we going to see your doctor today about the kidney transplant?”
She made a disgusted sound, letting me know she still didn’t want to discuss any of that. But then she swallowed her mouthful and shook her head. “I have a consultation set up for us on Wednesday. Today is car wash day.”
I paused chewing. “Car what day?”
A wicked gleam entered her eyes as she laughed. “The football team’s annual charity car wash,” she explained. “They have it every year on the Friday afternoon before the first day of class. But this year, they’re inviting a bunch of girls to help, so we’re having a competition of sorts. Girls against the guys to see who can draw in more business. And since you showed up early, you get to go, too. Which means...we have to dress you up sexy.”