“What did it tell you?” Kiona asked.
“It told me the future. Up, or down. Ninety-one percent accuracy. I started using it, Key. I used it to start my company. I used it to build and grow. I used the work of a dead man to try and give him a life after death. Through building Andrews Enterprises, I saw Hunter’s work come to fruition, his passions realized. We moved past his early algorithms and improved upon his foundation. I was significantly grateful to every last employee who joined my company and helped me drive it towards where it is today.”
I paused for a moment, giving my words a moment to sink in.
“That’s why I care so much about this company,” I told Kiona. “The money isn’t everything. I’ve barely done a thing with it, besides buying this penthouse that I barely see, donating sums to mental health charities, and traveling to speak with prospective partners. I have spent more money on us since meeting you than I have on myself in years. Everything I did was so focused on giving Hunter’s death meaning, that I failed to notice something was wrong with me…”
“Oh God,” Kiona said softly.
“I attributed it to the long hours overpowering my youthful vigor, but I was becoming weaker – succumbing to something inside. My breathing grew harder sometimes. My joints felt worse for wear. My sleep quality began to suffer. After it all grew too hard to ignore, I finally gave in and went to see a doctor.”
“Cancer?” Kiona asked.
“They hadn’t seen anything like it. They thought it was cystic fibrosis at first, isolated in my lungs. That’s how they began trying to treat it, but their efforts only aggravated the disease. All the times I’ve heard the name of this stupid affliction, and I can never remember all the syllables…” I smiled bitterly to myself. “But it doesn’t matter. My lungs are compromised beyond repair.”
Kiona was stunned, but I didn’t want to stop. She needed to know more – to understand more.
“I’ve had all sorts of tests done. If I’d caught it early enough, maybe there would have been some hope…but by the time they began the scans, it was too late. I was too stubborn about my health, too focused on building my empire.”
Kiona smiled weakly, clearly fighting back tears. “How long do you have?”
I sighed, averting my eyes. A particular swirl across the kitchen on the tile flooring caught my attention. Mentally, I focused my gaze onto it. “I saw my primary specialist this morning. I’m sorry I couldn’t bring myself to take you with me… After last night, I just…”
“It’s ok Cole,” Kiona said, trying her best to hold a resolute look upon her beautiful face.
“It’s not ok. He gave me three weeks.”
My eyes stayed on the floor. It was interesting to say it aloud to another person – it forced me to really deal with the expiration date that faced me.
Kiona was barely holding herself together. I hadn’t really expected anything out of her – after all, we had only slept together the once. I knew that she had some developing feelings for me, feelings that New Orleans had introduced and then reinforced. But it was too much for me to give in to my own, even now.
“This is why you’re so distant to everyone,” she finally spoke. “It all makes sense.”
“What do you mean?”
“It was reinforced, ever since you were a child. Holding yourself back to stay safe. Keeping yourself detached from everyone else. You finally start to have a meaningful connection with someone else, and he dies…so, you dedicate your life to seeing his ideas come to fruition. By the time you realize you can slow down, you’re diagnosed, and you can’t bear to keep anyone close, because you’ll just hurt them when you die…”
This woman, I thought to myself as I marveled at her powers of quick, effortless perception. Who on Earth IS this woman?
“I want you to know something,” Kiona continued, slipping off of the barstool. She walked around the counter and entered the kitchen, coming straight up to me. “My job… My real job… I was trying to get inside deep enough to get my hands on your little magic box.”