Home > The Rule Book (The Rule Breakers #1)(8)

The Rule Book (The Rule Breakers #1)(8)
Jennifer Blackwood

It’d taken every ounce of willpower I’d had to leave Portland after her diagnosis. But an entry level position at Starr Media paid twice as much as anything I could find in my hometown. Renting Zoey’s uncle’s apartment for dirt cheap was a no-brainer.

Dad had been out of the picture for years, picking up his life with the secretary he’d been seeing long enough to have kids with who were almost my age. He obviously wouldn’t be any help or support to my mom during her battle.

Mom’s insurance only paid for part of her treatments, not to mention the insanely high hospital bills racking up, and her savings from her fourth grade teaching career didn’t even begin to cover the costs. Now that she was out of work, it was either let her drown in debt or chip away at it little by little with my help.

“Just feeling a little under the weather today. I go in for another treatment on Monday.”

I nodded, and then remembered she couldn’t see me through the phone. “I’ll transfer money into the account next week, okay?”

My mom began to protest. “You don’t have to—”

“Mom.” We’d been through this at least fifty times since I’d decided to take the job at Starr media. The only way I’d live so far away from her was if I could contribute part of my salary for her treatments. Otherwise, no dice. There was no way I’d let my mom worry about money when she was already fighting to stay alive.

“Thank you, sweetie.” She cleared her throat, and I wondered if she was as close to tears as I was. “I’m going to go lie down for a bit. Love you.”

These phone calls always put me on edge. I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for her to say treatments hadn’t worked and that I should come home immediately. There was so much I wanted to say to her—how am I supposed to move on if I lose you? I’m not finished learning from you yet. I need you, Mom. I kept those to myself because right now she needed someone to be strong for her, not a blubbering mess. Time to enforce my favorite mantra: fake it till you make it. “Love you, too.” I gritted my teeth and pressed the end button.

I brushed away a few rogue tears that managed to spill over my lids. Was it really worth it to take this job and be hours away from Mom? A gnawing doubt clawed deep inside me, the worry that I’d made the wrong choice not to spend this time with her. But it was either that or add years to the payment process.

I shook my head. No use thinking that way. Mom was going to make it, and I’d taken this job to ensure we wouldn’t be in debt until I hit AARP age.

Zoey knocked softly on my door and cracked it open a bit. “Everything going okay?”

I tossed my phone onto my nightstand with a heavy sigh. “She’s just having a hard time with chemo.” My voice wobbled as I said, “Wish I could be there.”

She opened the door wider and came to sit on my bed. The bed dipped under her weight, and I laid my head on her lap.

Zoey pulled my hair out of its makeshift bun and began to braid sections of my curls. Her fingers smoothed the kinks from the rain and the hair tie and made deft work on the left side of my scalp. We’d been doing this since we were twelve, although when I braided her hair it looked like something out of a Michael Jackson music video.

“Guilt is a useless emotion, Lain. You can drive yourself crazy wondering about the what-ifs.”

I bit my lip to smother a smile. “What are you, a fortune cookie?”

Zoey was one of those people that doled out great advice, but it was more of the “do as I say, not as I do” variety. While I had a worn copy of Whitman I’d taken with me while backpacking across Europe with Zoey and my mom for a semester in college, Zoey had spreadsheets and checklists, planning out every single day down to fifteen minute intervals (I wish I were kidding)—something my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants self still needed to master. She had an answer to every what-if, maybe even a backup plan to the backup plan. Worked great for her career.

She ignored my joke and continued. “You’re doing what’s best for you and your family at the moment. Just remember that.”

I nodded. “I know. If anyone will pull out of this, it’s her.” I had a feeling I was saying this more for my own benefit. Zoey probably had my mom’s recovery date penciled in somewhere in that planner of hers.

“Focus on something that you can control. Help your clients, stop calling your boss the devil, things like that.” A smile twitched at her lips.

A laugh escaped through my nose. Yeah, I really needed to work on that last part. “Man, it’s like you should be a psychologist or something.”

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