Finn Page 1

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CHAPTER ONE

FINN

Hospitals always smell like death.

To take my mind off the stinging smell of antiseptic, I look over at my mother who is propped up against the pillows of the hospital bed. Tendrils of her hair spread across the cotton like soft, spidery legs. When she notices me looking she smiles but her eyes are pinched at the corners. She’s trying so hard to be brave.

I’m honestly not sure why she bothers. She’s never been able to hide anything from me.

She turns her head my way. I can tell she's tired because her eyes are slightly unfocused. "Remind me when I get home that I need to refill my prescription. I keep misplacing the bottles."

"Of course, Mom. Or I can pick it up for you. You know I don't mind."   I’d do anything to make this process easier for her. The chemo treatments were bad enough but due to her weak immune system, she’s back in the hospital because she developed pneumonia.

She grabs my hand and gives it a squeeze. The skin on her fingers is paper-thin now. Fragile. It’s hard to touch her when she seems like she might shatter into a thousand pieces at any moment. And I can’t live knowing I’ve destroyed one more thing I love.

“I know,” she answers. Her attention returns to the television hanging in the corner of the room. Mom hates talk shows but that’s all she’s been watching since she was admitted. That and reality programs. I think it makes her feel better to see people who voluntarily have fucked up lives.

My cell phone pings in my pocket and I reach in with one hand to silence it. There’s no need to look at the display. I’m late for an appointment. And I don’t care.

“I have to go but I’ll be back tomorrow.”

She smiles when I kiss her cheek. “You don’t need to come every day, Finnigan. I know you’re busy.”

Although she says this every time I visit, I still give her the same scowl. “Like I said, I’ll see you tomorrow. Try to get some sleep.”

She’s already absorbed in her program again. Someone on the screen is yelling at someone else. The tinny sound follows me as I leave her room and emerge into the cool air of the hospital corridor.

“Finn?”

I look up to see my older brother Tank and his girlfriend, Emma. Emma’s friend, Sasha, who I’ve met a few times at Tank’s place, stands right behind them. Tank and I clasp hands and I pull him in for a quick hug. As usual, he can’t resist trying to crush my hand.

“Hey, Emma. Sasha, it’s good to see you again. If I’d known you guys were coming I would have planned to stick around.”

Tank motions with his head toward Emma. “Em thought a mini-spa session might cheer Mom up. So she and Sasha are going to help her do her hair and file her nails. All that girly stuff that you and I are no good for.”

Tank hasn’t been with Emma for long but she’s become so ingrained in his life that it’s hard to imagine him without her now. She’s also become important to me, not just because of how much she means to my brother but because of how much she means to our mom. Mom thinks of Emma as the daughter she’s never had.

“Thank you. Both of you,” I make sure to include Sasha. I’m sure they both have other things they could be doing on a weeknight but I know that Sasha sings in a nightclub for a living. She’ll probably have to go to work after this and would rather be relaxing instead of spending time in a hospital. I can’t help sneaking in an appreciative glance at the same time. With her beautiful brown skin and big doe eyes, she’s hard not to notice. Seeing her reminds me that I had planned to recommend her to a friend of mine who owns a hotel. They have live entertainment and Sasha would be perfect.

“I’ll get out of the way. I’m sure Mom is sick of my company.”

“Call me later tonight,” Tank adds. “There’s something I want to ask you.”

I nod but don’t meet his eyes. Tank has been after me to sit down and “talk” lately and I’ve been dodging him for weeks. Talking usually isn’t high on either of our priority lists but he’s noticed Mom’s pill bottles disappearing. He thinks she’s hiding them on purpose or throwing them away. I can’t look him in the eye and lie to him again so it’s easier to avoid him. But he can be relentless when he’s worried.

As I pass the nurses station, Sandy gives me a nod. She updates me on my mom’s progress every morning. It helps to know what I’m walking into before I get here. Even though I know mom tells me not to come every day, I would never leave her alone. She has always put Tank and I first. She’s sacrificed and worked herself into the ground to shelter and protect us. It was only recently that I’ve come to understand how much she’s done.

I walk out of the hospital and the humid summer air cloaks me like a wet blanket. Before my feet can even touch the asphalt, a black Bentley pulls up. Jonah West, my driver and occasional bodyguard, gets out to open the door for me.

“Mr. Marshall.” His eyes meet mine before darting around, assessing the environment. As a former soldier, I appreciate his diligence. A threat can materialize at any time and in any situation.

In the back of the car I stretch out, ignoring the dull ache in my lower leg. After a few excruciating minutes, I give in to the detestable weakness and prop my leg up on the seat. The edge of my pill bottle pokes me in the chest and I have to grit my teeth to resist the urge to take it out, shake out just a few pills. I can’t afford to be fuzzy right now.

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