Authors: Auryn Hadley
One More Day
By Auryn Hadley
One More Day
Copyright © 2015
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Spotted Horse Productions
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/ use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
A word of thanks:
This one is for the girls who told me it was worth writing. Carla, Shannon, and Sarah, you all keep me sane and answer all those panicked messages. Without you, this couldn't have happened. I mean it.
Sarah, this, one, is, most, definitely, for, you. Gotta keep those commas coming, you know.
For my best friend. Words do not even begin to explain. When things were bad, you grabbed pom-poms and cheered. When things got worse, you jumped in feet first. When I was convinced I couldn't, you refused to listen. When I started writing, you read, and read, and forgot to sleep because you kept reading. You've been my biggest fan, and this book is your fault. I love you, chica, and thank you for just being the sister I should have had.
And for my husband, because sometimes nice guys are hidden under a little ink and a lot of love.
She went through the motions. They were the same motions she'd gone through the day before, the week before, and hell, every day for the last year, really. Mack stepped to the counter, ordered her caramel macchiato, and found her place at the tiny round table in the middle of the cafe. She dropped her sketch pad on one side, took a long sip of the sweet, hot beverage, then set it on the other and looked up. The Super Hot Guy was sitting in his usual place in the corner, so everything was normal. Everything was fine.
Except it wasn't.
She took another sip of the coffee and opened her sketch book. That's where she'd stashed the letter. It was the one place she wouldn't lose it. Refusing to let her hands shake, she opened it. The news still wouldn't make sense to her mind. Her name, Mackenzie Lawrence, was there, and yes, she was twenty-five, but those just couldn't be her medical results. There had to be a mistake. Those results said she had cancer.
But they'd immediately scheduled a biopsy, and now a CAT scan. The doctor said a lot of really nice things, she was sure - but she couldn't remember what. The only thing Mack's mind could recall was that she had cancer. Twenty five years old, and she had cancer. They weren't sure how severe, not till the next results were back, but they sounded like it was already a done deal.
She took another drink of the macchiato, her hands shaking only a bit, then opened her sketch pad. Her teeth found the edge of her lip as she debated what to draw this time. She wanted hope. She wanted security. She wanted to make the feeling in her chest flow through her hands and become something beautiful, but nothing came to mind.
Glancing up for inspiration, she saw dozens of people, packed nearly shoulder to shoulder for their lunch time fix, and all of them were alone. This is how she'd been living. Day in and day out, she always did what she had to, never thinking about how her life was wasting away. So many minutes and hours that she'd just given up, thinking she was supposed to, and now she could never get them back.
She didn't want to live like this anymore. Yesterday, it seemed like just a part of the daily grind, but today, everything was different. Today she had cancer.
Mack, closed her eyes for a long moment then looked up again, hoping to see anything that would make her hands work, to pull her mind out of this never ending spiral of self pity. At least there was one thing in this place that was always nice to look at: the Super Hot Guy in the corner. He always sat there reading a book, and always looked like he'd been photoshopped to perfection. While she watched, he pushed up the edge of his long sleeve tee and scratched absentmindedly at the back of his wrist, a myriad of colors peeking from under the cloth.
Then she realized he was looking at her. Her! She tried to smile and jerked her eyes away, forcing herself not to blush. People probably stared at him all the time. He had to be used to it and wouldn't think anything of another boring woman gawking at him. Hell, he wouldn't notice her anymore than she'd notice the face of one of these nameless men in khakis and white shirts.
Biting her lip, she set the pencil to the paper, trying to get her mind on track. Finally, her hand found a will of it's own. First it was short stiff little lines, but they quickly added up. When she felt the image, she pressed harder, making stiff, solid strokes as the phoenix's wings begin to take shape. Rising from the ashes. A second chance. That's what she needed. She would stop taking things for granted. She would figure out how to beat this cancer. She wouldn't give up, not yet. Just one thing at a time, and she'd make sure she appreciated every little thing left in her life.
Clenching her jaw to hold back tears, she scrawled the brutal form onto the paper. Each stroke seemed to purge something deep inside her, and she stopped thinking about anything but the form, the shape, and the balance of the art, finally pushing her fears away - even if only for a moment. It should be harsh, and flames, she needed flames for a phoenix, burning up its soul, giving it the chance to live again.
"You ok?" asked a warm, rich voice.
Mack smiled politely, and lifted her head, some automated reply on her lips, expecting to see one of the wait staff. Instead, Super Hot Guy sat there, the corner of his lip lifted, his book closed around his finger, waiting. Sitting at her table. Talking to her!
"Yeah. No. I - What?"
"Sorry," he said. "You just seem off today. I mean, we're both in here everyday, and you're normally face first in that sketch pad of yours, colors everywhere. But it's just a pencil today. You ok?"
"You watch me draw?"
Dear god, he was beautiful. Sitting this close made that even more obvious. Her eyes moved across his mouth, wondering what it would be like to kiss him before she regained control.
He just shrugged. "Kinda a thing of mine. You willing to show any of that off?" He gestured to her pad. Over half the pages were wrinkled and well used, filled with images that just hit her, then waited until her few free moments to find their way off her fingers.
"You want to look at my drawings?" The words were barely out of her mouth before her mind screamed at her. Good job, Mack. Super. Now you sound like an anti-social bitch. That, or stupid. Super Hot Guy is talking to you, and you're stammering over your tongue like some moron. Get it together. Show him the damned drawings! Show him so he doesn't ask you if you're ok again.
"Ryan by the way," he said with a smile. "And, sorry. What ever has you upset, I hope it gets better." He stood to leave.
"Mackenzie," she said quickly, pushing the pad toward him. "I mean, Mack. Most everyone calls me Mack. Mackenzie is kinda a mouthful."
"You sure?" He pointed at her sketch pad. "I know how it is. Some stuff isn't for sharing."
She just shrugged. "I'm not really used to anyone asking. They either grab or pretend like it doesn't exist. Sorry. It's cool."
Cool? Oh god, did she really just say that? Not that it seemed to slow down Super Hot Guy - Ryan, she reminded herself. He had a name now. Ryan.
He took the spiral bound stack of paper and carefully flipped through each one. Some he paused at, others he looked over quickly. She watched his strong, sensual hands glide between the pages. When he was near the end, he stopped.
"You sell this stuff?"
Mack laughed. "No. It's just what I do to vent, you know?"
He carefully lay the pad back on the table and pointed at an image of a chameleon made of twisted tribal lines and neon colors. "Any way I could talk you into a copy of that?"
Ryan jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "My shop is next door. I'll buy a copy from you, or what ever. But I need that. I mean, I can just scan it, real fast. That's all I need."
"Yeah, no. That's fine. I mean, you can have it if you like it that much." She didn't know what else to say. He was serious.
"Really?" He slowly started to smile.
She nodded and pulled the book closer, tugging the page from the metal spiral that bound it. "Yeah. Here." She chuckled a bit. "Never had anyone like my stuff before, so yeah."
"Mack," he said, looking up at her, "this is really good. I mean, really good. I'd been trying to find the right piece, and this is exactly what I needed."
"Piece?" God she was an idiot. She told herself it was because she was having a bad day, but it didn't help. She had cancer, and she was blowing her chance to talk to the hottest guy in the world. Never mind that her heart was beating twice as fast as normal, and she was struggling not to grin like some high school girl.
"Yeah," he said, holding the page carefully, his eyes roaming across the lines lovingly. "To finish my sleeve."
The look that crossed his lips was like a little boy, embarrassed to be caught playing pretend. Only the hint of stubble on his jaw ruined the image. That, and the amazing blue eyes he turned back to her. Perfectly sapphire. So perfectly blue, she was sure that he had to be wearing tinted contacts. He tugged at the wrist of his long sleeve shirt again, exposing a few inches of flesh, and shrugged.
"Tattoos. It's almost done. I just needed something for the shoulder, and I wanted it to fit, but I couldn't think of anything. I've been stuck for about two months, just hoping the right thing would hit me, ya know? And then, this. It's perfect." He smiled at her again. "It's exactly what I needed."
"Wow." Mack was a bit shocked. "Kinda strange to think that something I drew would be with someone for the rest of their life. That's kinda cool." And not just any one, but on him. Her art might end up somewhere on his body!
The embarrassed smile turned into a grin. "You sure? I mean, some people would be kinda upset about me inking their art."
"No!" she said honestly, as her phone started to beep. "No, that's actually about the coolest thing ever. Thanks, Ryan. You just made a shitty day a bit better." She flipped her sketch pad closed and shoved it back into her bag, dropping her phone beside it. "But that's my alarm. I have to get back to work."
"Yeah," he said, the smile slipping. "I hope it gets better, whatever it is. Feel free to stop by over there sometime, if you're in the mood, or whatever?"
“The tattoo place next door?” Mack shook her head. "No tattoos for me. Hard enough to find a job as it is. Last thing I need is give them another reason not to hire me."
"Yeah," he said softly. "Yeah. Nice to meet you, Mackenzie. Finally."
She lifted her hand in an awkward wave and shuffled through the door, slinging her bag across her shoulder. Tugging the sleeves of her sweater back to her wrists as she went, her shoes clicked on the sidewalk the entire block back to the office. She didn't know if she should laugh or cry. Ryan. That name seemed so perfect for the Super Hot Guy. He was nice, too, which wasn't at all what she'd expected. And he'd talked to her! Actually talked - to her.
Granted, talking to Super Hot Guy was only a minor distraction from the letter hanging in her bag. Each time she thought about it, her heart beat faster and cold shivers ran up her spine. That's why she wouldn't think about it. She'd think about the amazing blue eyes and her art on his body. They always said that artists only became famous after they were dead, right?
She cursed the thought as she opened the door to the office. Not her office, just the office. It was a temp job, but she had the chance to go full time when the contract was up. Just like the other three temps jobs she'd had in the area. Not like there was anything special about it, except that it paid the bills.
School, rent, utilities, they never stopped. Now, she had to add medical bills to the list. Her insurance wasn't that great. Ok, it was atrocious. Her annual check-up cost almost one hundred bucks! The CAT scan? She dreaded to think of how expensive that would be.
Dropping behind her assigned desk, she pulled the headset on and logged into the system. Within a few seconds, the first call came in. She answered it properly, politely, and efficiently, struggling to focus on the words coming out of her mouth. It kept her distracted, at least. Hour after hour, call after call, she smacked at the keys, and watched the clock slowly tick toward closing time. Thirty minutes before her shift ended, her boss gestured for her to sign out.
"I'm on for another half hour," she reminded him.
He nodded. "I need a moment. Go ahead and sign out, and come to my office."
With a shrug, Mack did and stored the headset. The next shift would share the desk, so she wanted to make sure everything was in its proper place. She tucked her bag a bit further under the chair and headed through the maze of cheap cubicles. On the far side of the room, her boss's door stood open. He sat behind the desk, waiting.
"You needed me?"
"Yeah," he said with a sigh. "Mackenzie, we're terminating your contract."
She couldn't find the words. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Her eyes just hung there, watching him shift awkwardly in the chair, stony silence hanging between them.
"Look, I'm sorry," he tried. "We're over-staffed for the number of calls coming in, so we're cutting back the temps. Your agency will have a check for you tomorrow, but..." He lifted his hands. "Take off early. We'll pay you until the end of the shift. It's the least I can do. I'm really sorry about this."
Mack just nodded. She tried to smile, but nothing happened on her face, so she staggered back to her desk, grabbed her bag from under the chair, and somehow found her way back to the street. The glass door closed with a soft whisper behind her, but the reality hit her hard.
What was she going to do now? She didn't have a job. No money coming in. No way to pay for her next doctor's appointment. Crap. She needed to call them!
Determined to keep it together, she scrambled in her bag and tugged her phone free. Standing in the middle of the sidewalk, unaware of what was going on around her, she pushed the contact listing for her doctor's office.
"South Street Medical," came the cheery voice on the other end.