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|Without Me(Men of Inked #7) by Chelle Bliss|
“Son. You’ve had good health your entire life. You’ve never had to wait for a test to hear your fate. I’ve been there. Your father has been there. I know how it’s eating her up on the inside.”
“What?” I asked. “When did you and Pop wait on test results?” I was confused. Clearly, there were things my parents had held out on in the sharing department.
“Sweetheart, you don’t get to our age without a couple of scares. Don’t worry. We’re healthy. I’ve just been there. I know how it feels to wait to hear if you’re going to be okay or if you should start planning a funeral. It’s horrible.” She shook her head as she poured the drinks.
“I know. It’s eating me alive. Waiting to hear what her future holds is killing me slowly—I can’t imagine what it’s doing to her. I forced her into taking the test. I feel like shit because of it, too.”
“Anthony,” she said as she set the bottle of Pepsi on the counter and looked at me. “You’re only doing what’s best. Living with the assumption that you’re going to be sick isn’t a way to live. It’s like a noose around your neck and waiting for the bottom to fall out. Once you two know the results, you can either rejoice in the good fortune or move forward with the knowledge and live every day like it’s the most important day of your life. Things can change in an instant, but knowledge is power, baby.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ve always been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of guy.” I pushed off the counter and grabbed two glasses. “Thanks, Ma.”
“For what?” she asked as she picked up the last two drinks.
“For being you.” I smiled down at her. “You always know the right thing to say to make me feel better.”
“I love you, Anthony. I only want the best for you. I’ll always support you in everything you do, even if that meant loving a man.” She grinned and winked at me as she walked passed me into the living room.
“Jesus,” I muttered to myself as I followed her.
When Izzy hadn’t brought anybody home, no one had thought she was gay. Nope. She was a strong, independent woman. But me? My parents assumed I liked dick. Amazing how that worked.
Just as I was about to hand the pop to Max, the door opened and carried in loud voices. The rest of the Gallo crew had finally arrived. I wanted more time with my parents. The four of us was nice for a change, but it was too late at this point.
“Hey!” Izzy’s voiced echoed through the house as the front door slammed. A couple of seconds later, she strolled into the living room, trying to act nonchalant.
I knew she was dying to meet Max. It had to take everything in her to keep calm. James walked in behind her wearing his typical workout shorts and tank top. Over time, his outfit had become more casual as he’d felt more comfortable. It’d been comical to watch the transition.
Izzy had dressed up for the occasion. Typically on Sunday, she wore jeans or sweats, but today, she had on dress pants and a pretty off-the-shoulder top. It wasn’t her usual outfit. Max being a stylist was her wet dream. Not only was she ecstatic about me finally being “pussy-whipped,” as she’d said, but another female in the family made her insides sing.
She kissed our parents and went right for Max. “Hi. I’m Izzy.” She extended her hand. “Anthony’s sister.”
Max smiled and stood before placing her hand in Izzy’s. “I’m Max, Anthony’s friend.” She looked out of the corner of her eye, glancing at me.
“Friend?” I asked as I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Fine,” Max replied as she rolled her eyes. “He’s my boyfriend.” She gave me an “are you happy now” smile before turning her attention back to Izzy.
“I feel ya, Max. Men constantly need the affirmation.” Izzy laughed and rolled her eyes like Max just had.
I sighed. The two of them together with their attitudes could only be trouble. Suzy and Mia were calmer women, more easygoing. Max and Izzy were spitfires and could cause trouble in any circumstance. I knew that the best course of action was to not let the two of them hang out too often together without male supervision.
“Max, this is my friend James.” She grinned at Max before looking at James over her shoulder.
His eyes darted to mine. I knew by the single look that he was thinking exactly the same thing I had been thinking. They were trouble with a capital T.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Max.” James gently took her hand, bringing it to his lips. “I’m Izzy’s man. Maybe I need to remind her of that later.”
“Oh, you know I love your lessons, Jimmy.” Izzy blew him a kiss and laughed.
Pop cleared his throat. Most likely, he wasn’t entirely happy about the blatant sex talk in front of him. “Hey, baby girl. Come give your father a hug,” he said, holding out his arms.
Izzy walked over to Pop and touched his shoulder. “Hey, Daddy.”
I looked at James and mouthed, “Nice job.”
He grinned at me and shrugged. James seemed to get away with more than anyone. Maybe my family feared he was the only person who could put up with Izzy’s shit. Either way, he got a pass more often than not.
“We’re here,” Joe called out as the front door opened.
Max walked over to me and nestled into my side.
“You okay?” I whispered as I looked at her.
She nodded, giving me a small smile. “I’m good.”