A/N: Yeeeeeeeeeeeah...is there anything I can say to justify leaving this story for almost two years? No. Do I think this chapter makes up for it? Not really. Am I hoping that people are still reading and will love it anyway? Most definitely. Do I apologize for the long wait and potential disappoint looming ahead for Mike and Roxy fans? Oh yeah. So without furter ado...here is Chapter 16 and I would LOVE some feedback on what I should do with these two because they are by far the most difficult to write.
Shout out to LC, who doesn't read this story, but still offered to help with this chapter!
Three black ants moved in circles over the linoleum of the floor. From the bed, Roxy watched them. The bile churned in the pit of her stomach, trying to force itself up her throat. Her ant observation proved successful at keeping it at bay. Beads of sweat sparkled on her upper lip while hot perspiration soaked through her tank top. The acid burn of fatigue painted the whites of her eyes with an irritated red. It had been a long night for Roxy. Memories of the disastrous events weighed heavy on her already cloudy mind. Though the playoffs had gone well enough for the team, each victory seemed to drive a wedge between her relationship with Mike. They had begun to spend less time around each other in hopes to lower the tension. So far, their efforts to avoid one another had proved futile on both ends. Her phone rang, offering her a welcome distraction from her thoughts.
"Hello?" she croaked, rolling onto her back.
"Roxy, I need to come over," Mike stated, bypassing a greeting. "Are you feeling better?"
"No, but you can come over. I'll wear a mask to keep from infecting you," she drawled sarcastically.
"Can we stop fighting long enough to have a real conversation? Please?" he sighed.
"Will you stop accusing me of trying to sabotage your games?" she demanded.
"Only if you stop telling me I'm selfish," he countered.
Roxy let out a pained sigh. "Please come over. There's something I need to tell you."
"You can't tell me over the phone?"
"No. It's not that kind of news. And you said you wanted to come over anyway."
He responded by hanging up the phone after throwing out a gruff 'Bye.' Roxy slammed the phone to the ground in disgust and rolled back onto her stomach. She hated how tense their relationship had become. The beginning of the playoffs unveiled a newer, harsher Mike to her. One she'd never known existed. Every word was barbed with resentment if they broached the subject of their future. All Roxy wanted was to leave Odessa and get started on her life. But Mike couldn't see past his mom. Schools offered him scholarships. He turned them down because the commute couldn't be done in a day. While Roxy pored over campus brochures and course lists, visualizing a future, Mike tossed countless chances for something aside, his vision muddled by his ailing mother. Unable to lash out physically at his girlfriend, Mike unleashed an aggression during practices that his teammates never knew he possessed.
The ants had scurried under the stove when her phone had hit the floor. Roxy growled, rising from the bed. Before she could make it to the bathroom, Mike was knocking on the door. She crossed the space between them and flung open the portal. Mike stood looking at her, hands in his pockets. Roxy's heart ached at the sight of him. She wanted to reach out and smooth the wrinkles on his white t-shirt, or finger comb the mess of his black hair. The folds of his rumpled jeans wound down his lean legs and pooled at the flip flops on his feet. Most days, Roxy hated those sandals. But not this day. This day she found them endearing.
"Can I come in?" he inquired, forgetting to add the venom they had both grown accustomed to.
She nodded, afraid to hear the heartbreak in her voice. Mike shuffled into the humid apartment, finally noticing the gaunt appearance of his girlfriend. The green of her eyes had faded to an unhealthy grey, sitting farther in her sockets than he remembered. Chunks of her dull red hair clung to her forehead with perspiration. Smooth round cheeks he had loved to feel against the palms of his hands had been ravaged, leaving sharp cheekbones in their place. Ghosts of her curvy frame hid under her now baggy clothes. Mike inhaled sharply at the faint yellow tinge of her skin. Without realizing it, he'd begun to cry. He wanted to touch her, hold her and breathe some life back into her.
"I'm guessing I look how I feel," she commented dryly, closing the door behind him. "Before you get scared and run for the hills, let me assure you that I am not contagious."
"Why-I mean…how long have you been…what's wrong?" he stammered.
She snorted. "How long have I been deteriorating? Is that your question?"
He reached out and took her hand in his. "Roxy, please."
"Remember when I went upstate for my dancing?" she asked, pushing her hair from her face.
His body tensed at the memory. "Yes."
"Well, it turns out that my dance instructor gave me more than an emotional scar the size of Texas," she confessed.
Mike couldn't hide the confusion he was feeling. "I don't…what?"
Roxy genuinely smiled at her boyfriend for the first time in two weeks. "You're so cute when you're confused."
"Don't change the subject," he said, a hint of a smile on his face.
"Mike, when he…attacked me, he didn't use protection and-"
"Oh my God you're pregnant!" he gasped.
She slapped his arm. "No you idiot! Pregnant people tend to gain weight, especially around the middle. And their skin glows. They don't turn yellow and become skeletons of who they used to be!"
"Well then what did he give you?"
"There in lies the rub," she sighed. "He gave me Hepatitis B, which usually runs its course through the system. But it turns out that there is a history of liver disease in my family anyway, so…I'm stuck with it."
"Until when?" he asked, too stunned to ask an intelligent question.
"Mike, if it doesn't go away, it turns into a very serious liver disease. So I'll either end up with cirrhosis or cancer. And I'm sure I don't need to tell you what those turn into," she answered.
The air fell over the already fragile couple, engulfing them in a stone tomb of awkwardness. Mike released his grip on her hand and ran his own hands over his head. Roxy could feel the quick pace of her heart, terrified that it would shatter her ribcage and fly out of her chest. The five minutes it took for Mike to respond felt like five years to her. And when he did speak, she'd wished he'd kept his mouth shut.
"So you gave me Hepatitis B. You never thought to tell me earlier that you may be diseased?" he demanded.
"Diseased?" she repeated.
"Well that's what you are," he snapped.
"Do you even give a shit about what I just said was going to happen to me?" she shouted. "For future reference, you selfish bastard, we always used protection. So, NO, you don't have it."
Mike pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm sorry Roxy. I didn't mean it."
"Yes you did. Otherwise you wouldn't have said it. Have you thought that way about me since that night? And don't lie to me," she warned.
"No, Roxy. I haven't thought anything about it since we left the hotel. But since the playoffs started, you've been so cold and distant. How long have you known?"
"About my disease?" she sneered.
"Why has this happened to us Roxy? Why aren't we happy together anymore?" he asked, finally voicing the state of their relationship.
"I don't know, Mike. I thought after that night, we could handle anything. Then my parents came back to officially kick me out of their lives and I pushed you away. We can't agree on our future at all, which makes it more and more into individual futures and now you can't even look at me without wanting to vomit. Do you know how it feels to disgust the only person crazy enough to love you?" Roxy sighed, flopping onto the couch. "It exhausts me just talking about it."
"Why do you want to leave Odessa so badly Roxy? We can have just as good a life here as anywhere else."
"How come the end of our life has to start after high school? Why can't we just be young and silly first? My life is not going to end here."
His eyes widened, alarm painted on his features. "What? Don't start talking about the end of…you've got a long life ahead of you."
Roxy chuckled, picking at loose threads on her shorts. "No I don't. Please don't start preaching to me about getting through this. I don't have a chance Mike. Look at me. I'm yellow." As she pulled at her hem, tears began to pour from her eyes. "My parents don't want me. And now you don't either. What's the point in fighting when you have nothing?"
"What is this crazy talk of me not wanting you anymore? Because we fight all the time? Honey, couples argue. It's healthy. Well, maybe I have been kind of a…" he trailed off, searching for a word.
"Jerk?" she offered.
"Thanks for going easy on me. I've been that way because you're so ready to leave this place behind and I'm scared that includes me too. I've been nasty and hurtful and I'm sorry. I'm not right. I expected you to tell me it was over Roxy. Then you drop this news on me and it just confirms that I am going to lose you," he confessed, dropping down beside her.
"So why should we spend that time miserable and fighting? Mike, I know you can't be with me now without wondering if I'm giving you Hepatitis. Let's just make it easy for you and let you focus on football," she offered, wiping her eyes with the heel of her hand. "I'm giving you a get out a jail free card."
"Well then who's going to make it easy for you?" he inquired. "You want to go through this alone?"
"Mike, you're not emotionally ready to help me through this," she whispered. She didn't have to look up to know she'd struck a nerve.
"Fine," he deadpanned. "Alone is what you want, you got it."
He stood up, rubbing his palms against his thighs. Roxy watched him storm to the door. She was horrified to see him crush an ant under his foot with a soft crunch. She was immediately disgusted that she was so hurt by the loss of the insect and not of her boyfriend. Deep in her heart, she knew she'd feel the loss later. And she knew that it would hurt more than the untimely demise of the ant. She also knew that it would hurt more than the loss of parents. When Mike walked out the door of her apartment, she'd be losing her only shot at a family and the feeling of real love. Roxy knew all this, but made no movement to keep him. Watching him leave now, would be easier than losing him later. This gave him a chance to move on before grief got the chance to swallow him whole.