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Authors: Missy Johnson

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary Fiction, #Romance

Out of Reach

BOOK: Out of Reach
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Other books by Missy

Always You

Tease

Promiscuous (Tease #2)

Seduce (Beautiful Rose #0.5)

Beautiful Rose

Provoke

Inseparable

So Many Reasons Why

Desire

Anthologies

Forbidden Fruit

Risque

Breakaway

Connect with Missy

Website: www.missycjohnson.com

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MissycJohnson

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Out of Reach

By

Missy Johnson

Dedication

To everyone who has loved and lost, and found the strength to move on

Prologue

Andy

Death. It is the only certainty in life.

It’s such a small word that holds such a powerful message. We avoid talking about it and we fear it, because we’re taught to do so, because nobody really knows what happens when you die. It’s that uncertainty that is so terrifying.

It’s amazing how being told you’re going to die puts things into perspective.

How being told your body is going to slowly give up on you makes you reevaluate everything that you thought you knew. Things you take for granted suddenly seem so fragile. The worst part isn’t the thought of dying
itself,
it’s everything you’re going to be leaving behind.

My name’s Andy Grayson. I’m twenty-six, and I’m dying. God, saying that still freaks me out. I don’t know how long I have left. A month—maybe two—if I’m lucky. For a long time, I was angry: I’ve been fighting this fucking disease since I was seventeen and it was finally going to win. I had nothing else to fight with because it had taken everything.

Then I realized that this was no longer about me. I couldn’t save myself, but I could make sure the people I loved were taken care of. This became less about what I was losing, and more about what I could gain.

That’s when I decided I was going to do this on my terms.

Em is my girlfriend and I love her with everything I have in me. She wasn’t just my girl, though; she was my one of my best friends, my lover, my confidante, my partner in crime, and there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do for her.

And then there’s Seth: we’d been best friends for so long he was like a brother to me, and I knew he felt the same. As kids we’d gotten into more trouble than I cared to mention and before I die I intend on getting him into some more—for old times’ sake and all that shit.

Without them by my side, I wouldn’t have fought for this long. They sacrificed so much for me and now it was time for me to return the favor.

I couldn’t leave them without knowing the two people closest to my heart would be okay. I needed that assurance before I settled back and let this fucking disease take me—finish me off for all eternity…

Chapter One

Seth

“You want me to what?”

I watched as Andy hoisted himself from the edge of the bed and into his chair. He winced in pain, which in turn made me cringe. I couldn’t even imagine how much he would be hurting right now. He sighed, closing his eyes as he struggled to catch his breath, his white shirt and sweat pants hanging off his thin frame.

“You heard me. I’ll be fucked if I’m going to spend my last days cooped up in this place, or worse: a hospital.” He said
hospital
like it was a dirty word. I guess when you’d spent a good part of the last year there, it was.

“Dude, there is no way your mom is going to let—”

“Which is why you’re going to pick me up tonight after they are asleep,” he cut in, his eyes wide with excitement.
The hell I am.
He smiled one of his trademark smiles that you couldn’t help but return.

He can smile all he wants; this is a stupid idea.

Andy’s parents loved me like a son. They’d forgive me for almost anything, but this? They would
kill
me for this.

Andy’s face softened as he looked at me. “Please, man. I need this,” he urged.

I sighed. How could I say no to that? He was the one dying, not me. What right did I have, telling him how he should spend his last few weeks?

“Fine,” I muttered, giving in. “Where do you want to go?” I sat down on the edge of his bed and glanced around the room. The smell of disinfectant was strong, and both the bedside and dressing tables were piled high with medications. I’d spent so much of my childhood inside this room, from plotting how to take over the world to discussing girls, sex, and video games. Now all those memories felt like a lifetime ago.

We’d been best friends since we were thrown together for a school assignment when we were eight. We were complete opposites. Andy was loud and funny. He loved being the center of attention, whereas I preferred to hide in the background.

He was like a brother to me. I’d do anything for him—even break him out of home, if that’s what it took to make his last few weeks comfortable.

Fucking cancer. He’d been fighting it since it first reared its ugly head when we were seventeen. What seventeen-year-old worries about shit like a tiny, barely visible mole on the inside of his big toe? Apparently Andy should have, because by the time they discovered the melanoma it had already spread to his pancreas.

Treatment had gone well initially: the intense radiation and chemo had shrunk the tumor, and a biopsy had caught most of the infected tissue around the mole. He had gone into remission the week before my twenty-first birthday. Then, nearly a year ago, a routine scan found the cancer was back. More tumors developed on his lungs and in his liver, which meant more chemo, more radiation, and now it had come to this. There was nothing else they could do but manage the pain. At best, they thought he had maybe a month left. The cancer was everywhere now: in his brain, his lungs, his liver, on his spine . . . everything was slowly beginning to shut down. He was dying.

“Everything is booked and paid for. All you guys have to do is get me out of here.” He grinned and cocked his head sideways, running his fingers through his short-cropped hair. “You can handle that, right? I mean, I know you have trouble with doing anything fun,” he joked. I flipped him my middle finger as he laughed. “Dude, I’m gonna miss your ugly face.”

“You’ll be dead,” I retorted, a heavy weight growing in my chest. “You’re not going to miss shit.”

We joked about it, but I couldn’t imagine life without Andy. The thought of not being able to pick up the phone and call him, or come over and watch the game with him didn’t feel real. Who was I going to make fun of for doing stupid and pointless things, if not Andy? Who was I going to do stupid and pointless things
with
?

“So Em is coming too?” I asked, clearing my throat, trying to keep my tone neutral. Just saying her name had my heart racing, but that was nothing new. Everything about that girl made me crazy. Whether she was there in front of me, or in my dreams, her beauty, her strength, and her determination never failed to amaze me. My grandmother used to tell me that I’d know when I was in love, because every action and thought would be done with that person in mind. That summed up how I felt about Em.

Andy snorted. “Of course she’s coming. You think my parents will be unforgiving? Em would fucking
murder
you if we left without her.” He chuckled, his dry, cracked lips forming a smile.

That was an understatement. She might have been Andy’s girlfriend, but the three of us did pretty much everything together, and had since we were kids. I ran my hand through my thick hair, trying to process everything. I’d need to take leave from work. If they didn’t approve it, I would just quit. Nothing was more important than Andy right now.

For the past nine months I’d been working at a law firm that specialized in corporate law for. Most people would find what I did boring, but I loved it. By most people, I meant Andy. He’d also studied law, but he had much higher aspirations than me. His eyes had been on the courtroom, the biggest cases

the ones that captured the headlines. Andy loved the spotlight, and I didn’t doubt he would’ve gotten there, too, if it hadn’t been for his illness.

“Okay, so when are we doing this?”

Andy’s mouth spread into a grin. He slumped forward in his chair, his eyes narrowing in on mine. “How’s tomorrow work for you?”

“Tomorrow?” I repeated, laughing. I shouldn’t have been surprised
: s
pringing something like this on me
last-minute
was a very Andy thing to do.

“Yeah, sorry about the short notice, but it’s not like I’m spoiled for time.” He smirked, his eyes sparkling at me.

I sighed and shook my head. Always making a joke, even when it came to
his own
life and death.
Has he even considered the fact that he was dying in a serious light?
I immediately felt bad. Could I be any more condescending?

“Whatever you want, man. I figure you have a plan for your parents?”

Andy laughed. “Dad will be away at work. You’ll be picking Em and I up at four. Mom takes some pretty heavy sleeping pills at night, so she won’t hear a thing.”

“And if she does?” I smirked, raising my eyebrows.

“She won’t,” he replied, confident.

“She’s going to kill you. You know that, right?”

“I’ll be dead. It’s you she’s going to kill.” He chuckled. Yeah, he could joke about it, but that’s exactly what she was going to do.

***

I walked into my bedroom and pulled out my suitcase from the top shelf of my closet. With no idea where we were going or for how long, I packed enough to last me a couple of weeks.

Zipping it shut, I threw it on the floor and walked out into the kitchen.
Fuck
. I ran my hands through my hair, my fingers massaging the back of my neck. What else did I need to do? And what the hell was I going to tell work?

The easiest thing to do was just to call in sick and hope it didn’t ruin my chances for the promotion I was up for next month. Hell, even if it did . . . who cared? This was probably my last chance to spend time with my best friend. They could fire me for all I cared. I could get another job; I’d never find another Andy.

I leaned over the kitchen counter, cradling my head in my hands. Life wasn’t fair. He was only twenty-six, and he was dying. There were so many healthy assholes in the world, and he was going to be dead in a month.

How the hell was Andy so relaxed about everything? I was an absolute wreck, and Emily . . .

Sighing, I rubbed my forehead. This was going to be painful.

Emily.
I avoided situations that had me in close proximity to her alone for long periods of time, because the more time I spent with her, the harder it became to ignore my feelings.

I hated the situation I was in. I felt trapped, backed into a corner I’d never be able to escape from. Emily and I could never work. Even after he was gone, I would be too much of a reminder of what she’d lost. I laughed bitterly. Who even thinks like that? What kind of asshole was I?
The kind who has been in love with his best friend’s girl for over fourteen years.

My phone vibrated. I picked it up, expecting Andy. It wasn’t.

“Seth?”

My throat closed over as her sweet voice drifted through the speaker. The sound of her voice, her name, her loyalty to Andy . . . everything about Em, I loved. Every day was a struggle to pretend things were normal, when they weren’t.

“Are you there?”

“Yeah, sorry. Em, how are you?” I said, cringing at how foolish I sounded. I’d had no problem masking my feelings for the last fourteen years
;
why was it so hard all of a sudden?

“Good. I just wanted to check things were all good for tomorrow,” she asked. She sounded tired. Stressed. “I’m assuming he spoke to you?”

“Yeah.” I hesitated, not sure whether to say what was on my mind. “Do you think it’s a good idea? I mean, he’s really sick. And you know Deb is gonna freak out,” I added, referring to his mom. Deb was like a second mother to me, and the thought of robbing her of her last days with her son made me feel sick.

“It’s what he wants,” Em said. Her voice was so soft I barely heard her.

And just like that, I was back to feeling like the world’s biggest asshole. Andy deserved to decide for himself how he wanted to spend his last few weeks. If that meant working extra hard on pushing my feelings aside, then I’d do it. I’d do anything for him. And I knew Emily would, too.

“You’re right,” I muttered. “Okay, let’s do this. I’ll be at his mom’s place at four.”

“See you then.”

“Yeah,” I said, closing my eyes and imagining her face. “See you then.”

***

At four on the dot, I pulled up outside Seth’s mom’s house. I’d barely slept, my mind running on overdrive trying to process all that was happening.

Exiting the car, I shivered and zipped up my thick black jacket. The street was quiet, with only the faint sound off traffic in the distance. In the darkness I could just make out Em waiting outside for me. I walked over to her. I didn’t notice the way her long hair rustled in the breeze. Or how pink her cheeks were from the cold. And I definitely didn’t notice how sexy she looked in her tight-fitting jeans and red wool jacket.

My throat tightened as she wrapped her arms around my neck, kissing me softly on the cheek. I inhaled slowly, taking in as much of her scent as I could. God, it felt so good having her in my arms.

“Ready?” I asked, pulling away from her.

She smiled and nodded. “Yep. We’re all packed and ready to go.” Her upbeat tone didn’t match the sadness in her eyes. What was she thinking? If she was like me, she probably couldn’t get it out of her head that this might be his last trip. Squeezing her hand, I wished I could take the pain away from her. But I couldn’t. There were no words, no actions that could make any of this okay.

I followed her in through the side door and down the hall to Andy’s room. He sat in his chair, waiting. His face lit up when he saw me, like he’d been waiting all night. He looked good—better than he had yesterday. Or maybe that was just the bad lighting in his room.

“Good, let’s get moving,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “So little time, so much planned.”

I laughed. I had no idea what he meant by that, and Andy being Andy, I probably didn’t
want
to know. I stepped behind him and pushed the chair forward. It jumped along the carpet, catching on a loose thread, nearly knocking Andy out of the seat.

“Dude,” he hissed. He reached down and released the brake on his chair. “Seriously. Have you never pushed one of these before?”

“Geez, excuse me for not knowing the ins and outs of your fucking chair,” I muttered as I pushed him down the hall. I was stressed enough as it was.

With every creak of the floorboards below us, my heart stopped as I waited for Deb to jump out and catch us. But it never happened. Soon we were standing by the car, Emily to my left, as we loaded Andy into the back seat of my Chrysler along with enough pillows and blankets to service a small motel. His hands gripped the grey vinyl material of the backseat as he struggled to position himself.

“Crap,” he cursed, fumbling in the pockets of his dark blue wool robe. He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper and thrust it into my hands. I glanced down, shocked at how cold his fingers were. They were like ice. “Can you leave this on the kitchen counter for me? I don’t want Mom to worry.” He looked away, like he was embarrassed for caring.

“Sure. I’ll be back in a second.”

Turning, I walked back up the path, the note in my hand as I snuck back inside the side door. Shuffling for my keys, I pulled them out and turned on the key-ring flashlight I’d bought and never used until now. Finally it was coming in handy. I was snooping, but I needed to know how much he was telling her. As soon as she realized we were gone, she would be calling and texting all three of us in a panic and I
hd
no idea how I was going to avoid speaking to her.

I placed the note on the counter, smoothing out the creases.

BOOK: Out of Reach
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