The Game: Chapter 12

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Chapter 12

One full week consisted of three things only: work, work, work.

By the next Thursday night, James was ready for a break. His body was heavy and dull. The years of nonstop effort were catching up, or maybe it was the unwelcome counterpoint to his time in Shattered Land; losing himself in oneness with the world was the farthest thing removed from trudging to the Honda after seven days of multiple shifts. Every jarring step drove reality into his marrow.

It would feel so good to sink into bed and not open his eyes until morning, but at the first intersection he turned left instead of right, for the second time in two weeks heading to Joseph Stenton out of schedule.

Carol was at the call station. She gave him the usual smile. "This is rare. The calendar here says it's Thursday. Should you leave and come back tomorrow?"

"Got a call from the devil. Apparently hell froze over."

Carol laughed. "A special day indeed. There's a surprise waiting, so head on up."

A surprise? Nothing surprising had happened in room 459 for seven years.

James hesitated at the door. The only thing more terrifying than everything staying the same was the idea that things might somehow change.

Even a cynic's mind was stymied by trying to imagine what could get worse, so he went in.

***

Everything was too familiar. The place, the table and the time were all the same as when Dawn had left; even the subtle promise of a long night to come was the same.

"It's been a while," Angela Kirkpatrick said.

She brushed a lock of hazelnut hair from her forehead. That habitual motion had not changed since their last meeting, nor had her delicate bone structure and flawless skin. The only immediately noticeable difference was the conspicuous swell of her stomach, indicating that James sat across from not one person, but two.

"Five years," he said.

"I'm surprised I haven't run into you more often. Are you still going two times a week?"

"Every Tuesday and Friday."

"It's Thursday..."

"An exception."

Angela knew his schedule. It was unchanged for seven years. They didn't "run into" each other because she visited when she knew James wasn't there; or, as Dawn suspected, she had stopped visiting entirely.

Until tonight.

Angela took a bite of a fat hamburger. Grease dripped out the back. She licked her fingers as daintily as possible, which wasn't very—an act she would never have committed before. Pregnancy could change a person's eating habits something fierce.

So could time, for that matter.

"You look good," Angela said. The arch of her eyebrow said it wasn't a God, you look awful in disguise, but sincere.

"So do you."

"Are you kidding, I look like a cow. But thanks." She took another bite, chewing slowly. A familiar inefficiency: eating to avoid the conversation.

"Why did you bring me here?" James asked.

"Do I need a reason to invite my brother for a chat?"

"Half-brother. And it's been half a decade since the last chat."

"I know." Angela sighed and fiddled with her napkin. "I'm sorry. It's just, you know. You never really got along with Chad ... and well, I never heard from you. I figured you didn't really care."

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