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|Without Me(Men of Inked #7) by Chelle Bliss|
“I guess,” I said as I shrugged.
“I’m still waiting to hear why you haven’t brought her here for dinner,” Ma said.
“We weren’t dating a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t want a boyfriend and she sure as hell didn’t want me.”
“Ah, another one like you,” Mike mumbled.
“Yes, another one like me, but for different reasons. I just didn’t want to be led by the balls like everyone at the table.” I laughed, slapping the table. No one else was laughing with me. “You know what I mean,” I added, feeling a little embarrassed.
“So now your balls are in the hands of another,” Izzy said with a satisfied look on her face.
“Yes.” I sighed, knowing I’d succumbed and become one of the sappy fuckers who’d do anything for the woman they loved.
“Why wouldn’t she want to date you? You’re such a handsome man with a kind heart,” Ma said as she frowned.
“Ma, I’m not. I mean, I am a handsome devil, but kind? Most women would never use that word to describe me.” I smiled at her. “Max had reasons to not want to be in a relationship. Plus, she said I was an asshole.”
“Oh, I really like her,” Izzy muttered with the fork of pasta resting on her lips.
“She called you that?” Ma asked.
I nodded but kept the smile plastered to my face. “I am, though. I mean, I was. I have a reputation that follows me.”
I wasn’t ashamed of it. It cut down on the bullshit. I didn’t have to go into a long spiel about not wanting a relationship. Women knew and I never promised more.
“I thought I raised you better than that,” Ma added with a tone of judgment.
“Ma, I didn’t treat the women badly. I gave them what they wanted and took what I needed. I never promised more.”
“Dirty bird,” Pop chimed in, with a small laugh.
Ma glanced at him and shot him a warning glance. “Sal.”
“What? There’s no reason for the boy to be tied down, Mar.”
Ma ignored him and turned her attention back to me. “Why didn’t Max want to be in a relationship? Is she like your sister?”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Izzy asked as she dropped her fork onto her plate with a loud clatter.
“You know.” Ma grinned as she looked over at Izzy. “Difficult.”
“I’m not difficult,” Izzy said before her mouth hung open.
James laughed first, followed by everyone else at the table.
“I just didn’t want to be tied down and I still don’t, but James has made it hard to say no,” she grumbled.
“Izzy, we don’t want to hear about your sex life,” Suzy teased.
Izzy’s face turned red as she closed her eyes and dragged in a breath. “Shut it, Suzy. Less talking, more eating.”
“She has her own reasons, Ma,” I said.
“You’re being cagey, son,” Pop interjected. My old man never said much, but when he did, it was usually to call one of us out on our bullshit.
“Pop, she has some personal issues that stopped her.” I rubbed my face and debated telling the family about her illness.
“Ex-husband?” Mia asked, finally entering the conversation.
“No. Health issues,” I blurted out.
I knew it was going to turn into twenty questions and I’d eventually tell them just to shut them up. My family was notorious for their nosiness. I figured I didn’t need to hold out.
“Oh no. What’s wrong?” Mia asked as her doctor side kicked in.
I glanced down at my mother as she pitched forward, listening intently.
“Her father was sick, but he’s now passed. It’s a genetic condition called ataxia. So the short story is that she didn’t want a relationship because she didn’t want to burden someone in the future.”
Mia stared at me for a moment with her eyebrows kitted together. “Wow. That’s a rare condition, Anthony.”
“You know about it?” I asked, hoping she could shine some light on the topic.
“Yeah, a little bit. I know the basic neurology, but it’s so rare that not much is learned about it unless you study neurology as your specialty.”
“Tell us about it,” Ma said to Mia, ignoring her food.
I’d spent some time over the last week researching ataxia online. I spent hours on the Ataxia.org website reading about the condition and the stories of people affected.
Mia stated the same information I’d found on the website, but explained it in more detail. She said that, often, people appear to be drunk when they aren’t, presenting the same symptoms of unbalanced walking and slurred speech.
“Is there a treatment?” Ma asked behind her hand.
Halfway through Mia’s explanation, my mother had covered her mouth to hide her emotion. Even though she didn’t know Max, her heart was breaking. It was probably out of sadness for me, but she had a tender heart. Once she met Max, she’d be shattered.
Mia shook her head and frowned. “No, Ma. There isn’t. No treatment and no cure.”
“What the fuck?” Mike asked before he sighed. “With all the advances in medicine, there’s still nothing, baby?”
“No. It’s so rare that little money is spent on funding the research. There is a research clinic at USF in Tampa that has done some amazing work. But no breakthroughs yet.”