Page 2

Affliction (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter 22) Laurell K. Hamilton 2022/8/5 16:53:50

Under other circumstances I would have softened the news, maybe even had Nathaniel with me to help ease Micah into the family disaster, but there wasn't time to be gentle. I had to tell him like jerking off a bandage, because the one thing I didn't want to have happen was his father dying before Micah could say good-bye because I had delayed. So I had to not think too much about what effect it would have on the man I loved and the life we'd built together. Like so often in my life, I just had to do it.

I used my cell phone instead of going through the business lines. He'd see it was me, and he'd pick up without my going through his front office people. My stomach was in a hard knot, and only years of practice kept my breathing even, and because I controlled my breathing I controlled my pulse, which wanted to speed up. I so didn't want to be the one to tell him this news, and yet I couldn't think of anyone I'd rather have done it. Some things you wish you could delegate, and simultaneously know you wouldn't, even if you could.

'How did you know I was just thinking about you?' he asked, not even a hello, just his voice warm and happy that it was me. I could picture him sitting at his desk, his suit tailored down to his slender, athletic body. He was my height, five foot three, but with wide shoulders leading down to a slender waist. He was built like a swimmer, though running was his exercise of choice. His curly, deep brown hair was just past his shoulders now, because we'd carefully negotiated both of us cutting a few inches off our hair, without breaking our deal, which was if one of us cut our hair, the other one got to cut theirs.

I should have said something romantic back to him, but I was too scared, too full of the bad news that I had to tell him. I had to just do it, no hesitation, no games, no words of comfort, because anything but just saying it was only going to make it worse, like I was lying to him, or putting sugar in the poison. I wrapped the sound of his happy, loving voice around me like a warm, safe blanket, and then I said, 'Your mom just called me.'

The silence on the other end of the phone was loud, because I could hear my blood rushing through my ears. My breathing sped up as Micah's stopped, my pulse thundering while his paused, as if his whole body had taken that breath just before you launch yourself over the cliff.

I couldn't stand the silence. I said, 'Micah, did you hear me?'

'I heard you.' There was no happy warmth to his voice now. His voice was as empty as he could make it; if there was any emotion it was a cold anger. I'd never heard him like that. It scared me, and that made me angry, because it was stupid to be scared, but it was that emotional scared - when you acknowledge how important someone is to you and your world and yet know that they are a separate person capable of fucking everything up with a few bad decisions. I trusted Micah not to do that, but I also hated being that dependent on anyone emotionally. I allowed myself to love, but part of me was still afraid of it. That part of me tried to make me angry at him in a sort of knee-jerk reaction, a preemptive strike. If I lashed out first it wouldn't hurt so much, or that had been the idea I'd lived with in my subconscious for years. Now I knew better, but the old habit was still in me. I just had to ignore it and be reasonable. But none of me liked the fact that he was this emotional with just the news that his mother had called me; I hadn't even gotten to the part about his dad. It didn't bode well for how he'd take it.

'What did she want?' he asked, still in that strange, cold voice.

I took in a breath and let it out slow, counting to help calm all the neurotic impulses I had around this much relationship emotion, and spoke, calmly, in a voice that came out ordinary and a little cold. I wouldn't be angry as a first strike, but the old habit of preferring anger to being hurt was still a part of me. I was working on it, but something about the whole conversation had hit an issue of mine. I was better than this, damn it. I wasn't the sad, angry girl he'd first met.

'Your father is hurt, maybe dying. Probably dying,' and my voice wasn't angry now, or cold, but more apologetic. Shit, I so sucked at this.

'Anita, what are you talking about?'

I started over and told him everything I knew, which seemed like damned little under the circumstances.

'How bad is he hurt?'

'I've told you what I know.'

'He's dying? My dad is dying?'

'That's what your mom said; she seemed pretty hysterical about it, actually.'

'She was always pretty emotional. It kind of balanced Dad's stoicism out. Anita, I can't think. I feel stuck.'

'You want to see your father, right?'

'If you mean do I want to make peace with him before he dies, then yes.'

'Okay, then we catch the first plane and get you to his bedside.'

'Okay,' he said. He sounded so unsure, so unlike himself.

'You want company?' I asked.

'Do you want me to come with you?'

'Do you want Nathaniel to come?'

'I'll call him and let him know. I'll call Jean-Claude and see if his private plane is available.'

'Yes, good. Why can't I think?' he asked.

'You've just learned your dad is in the hospital and you're running out of time to make up with him. You're having to make up with your whole family during a crisis of epic proportions. Give yourself a few minutes to process, Micah.'

'Good points,' he said, but he still sounded shell-shocked.

'Do you need me to stay on the phone?'

'You can't call about the plane if you're talking to me,' he said. The words were reasonable; the tone was still stunned.

'True, but you sound like you need me to keep talking to you.'

'I do, but I need you to arrange the trip more. I'll give myself a few minutes to process and then I'll arrange for other people to take the business end here while I'm gone.'

'I love you,' he said.

'I love you more,' I said.

'I love you mostest.'

It was usually something that he, Nathaniel and I said to each other, but sometimes just two of us would do it. Sometimes you just needed it.