Twist (Off Balance #4) by Lucia Franco
Rocked to her core, Adrianna is faced with an incurable illness. She’s aware of what she’s up against and is willing to risk what’s left of her for what she loves. With one last chance, and despite her doctor’s orders, Adrianna struggles harder than ever to achieve her dream.
Tired and torn, Kova embraces his flaws as he watches Adrianna reach her breaking point. Unable to stand by as she continues to endanger herself, he surrenders to what he wants most, even if it means losing himself in the process.
As Adrianna fights for her life, Kova battles for them both. No one is left unscathed as they succumb to their darkest hunger. Passions reignite and their actions grow bolder, creating an endless link between them. Once is a mistake. Twice is reckless. Three times is a choice. But this time they may have gone too far.
Excerpt Twist (Off Balance #4) by Lucia Franco
by Lucia Franco
Book 4 in the Off Balance series
Copyright © 2019 by Lucia Franco
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Stage 4 kidney disease.
There were five stages, and I was already at four. Like it was a stage of cancer.
My body ran cold and goose bumps broke out down my arms. The number four banged around inside my head, taunting me. I needed to start dialysis and get placed on a transplant list.
I knew better than to google anything, but I couldn’t not. I needed to know what I was up against.
At first I started with the medications the doctors had prescribed. Antibiotics, steroids, blood pressure, and pain medication. Then curiosity got the best of me and I explored websites that led to other websites with normal to rare outcomes. Hours of researching how both diseases worked together consumed me. I read countless pages on life expectancy, threads on the side effects of treatments and both illnesses, threads on how my body could reject the transplant, chats on how difficult it would be to get pregnant and carry to full term, topics on how the disease escalated and ultimately had the power to take the life of a loved one.
The stress and anxiety of what could happen, and what most likely would, hammered through me at a pace I couldn’t catch up to. I was sick to my stomach over everything. The truth was, I needed to start dialysis immediately, and I needed to find a match for a kidney transplant.
I stood in the kitchen of my condo staring at the row of medicine bottles with names I couldn’t pronounce. Pills my life depended on.
My cell phone rang and I snatched it off the counter. Xavier’s goofy face lit up the screen.
“Hey, big brother.” I smiled, thankful for the distraction. “Long time no talk.”
He groaned into the phone. “Yeah, I know I’m a flake, but I think of you all the time and it’s the thought that counts, right?”
“Yeah, I guess so. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Dad called me.” My smile disappeared and I grew quiet. “Ana?”
I hadn’t heard that nickname in so long. “I’m here. What did he tell you?”
“Everything. I know everything. How are you handling it? Because I’ll tell you what, it makes me sad and really fucking angry that you have to go through this,” he said, his voice taking on an array of emotions. “If I could trade spots with you I would. I hate this for you.”
I blinked, pushing back my emotions. I’d cried so much lately that I didn’t want to start again, and I felt like I would from how sweet he was being.
I exhaled and reached into my refrigerator to pull out a carton of coconut water. I uncapped it and took a sip, eyeing the pill bottles with distain.
“Well, I’m currently standing in my kitchen with bottles of pills lined up and the warnings they print on the sides staring me in the face. May cause vomiting. Take with a meal. May be taken on an empty stomach. Take in the morning. May cause shakiness. Take as needed for pain. May cause drowsiness. Just about every symptom I have for lupus is the same listed for kidney disease. The headaches and hair loss, the pain in my chest, my drastic weight loss I attributed to training so hard. The brain fog and forgetfulness. Lupus has the power to kill people in their twenties due to a heart attack or a stroke, and often causes difficulty getting pregnant with half resulting in miscarriage. Kidney disease goes hand in hand with lupus. My immune system will attack my tissue, organs, and joints. Basically, I’m my own worst enemy.”
I stopped when I realized I’d just repeated what I’d read online without taking a breath.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s probably not what you wanted to hear.”
“Don’t apologize. And it’s exactly what I wanted to hear. I just wasn’t sure how to ask, you know?”
I swallowed. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Are you scared?”
Fucking right I was. I didn’t want to die. I had too much to experience first. And I wanted a family with two-point-five kids one day. And a dog. I wanted a dog, maybe two. Joy never let us have pets.
Sadness consumed me. Kova and I had had unprotected sex—a lot—and by some miracle, I hadn’t gotten pregnant. Not that I wanted to right now. But the thought of not being able to ever have babies hit me hard with a force that took my breath away. I’d always wanted to be a mother someday. Dreamed of it.
Avery. God, my heart hurt, my chest feeling hollow for the way I shut her out. She’d gotten an abortion, and I treated her like shit.
“Ana? You still there?”
I shook away the melancholy. “No, I’m not scared.”
Xavier chuckled and I did too. “I knew you’d say that. Always putting on a strong front. A Rossi gene that you’re born with.”
I let out a sigh. “Yeah, I am scared. Okay? It’s a lot to take in, and it’s really overwhelming reading all this crap online basically telling me how hard my life is going to be.”
I walked over to the couch and plopped down. I leaned my head back and let out a tired sigh and stared at the ceiling, watching the fan move in a circular motion.
Xavier coughed. “It’ll get easier in time.” He paused. “Probably not what you wanted to hear. Probably don’t believe it.”
No, it wasn’t. And I didn’t.
I closed my eyes and drew in a lungful of air. I had to be up early for practice, against my doctor’s better judgment. But I couldn’t stop. Not after all I’ve ever dreamed of having was finally at the tips of my fingers. Gymnastics was the one thing I couldn’t bear to have taken from my life. Gymnastics gave me life, it gave me freedom. I was nothing without it. I didn’t know who I was outside of the sport, and having it erased completely from my life terrified me.
To be blunt, I don’t see you making it into your twenties still competing and training at the rate that you are now. It’s not impossible, just highly unlikely. My mind raced a mile a minute as Dr. Kozol’s words added to the thoughts swirling around in my head, demanding to be heard.
My phone beeped and I pulled it away to look at the screen. Dad’s Cell.
“Hey, Dad’s calling me. I gotta take this.”
“Oh, yeah it’s cool, grab it. Just wanted to tell you I’m rooting for you. You’re strong, sis. You got this. I have an appointment to be tested to see if we’re a match. Anything you need, even if it’s just to talk or curse me out, hit me up. I’m your guy.”
A sad giggle rolled off my lips. A tear slipped this time. “Thanks, Xavier. We’ll talk later?”
“Later, little sis.”
I clicked over.
“Sweetheart, why haven’t I heard from you? I’ve been waiting all day.”
“Because you already know,” I responded quickly. Turns out he’d known before I did. He knew what I was walking into. “What else is there to talk about? You know everything.”
Dad was silent for a moment. “You’re upset with me.”
“Yeah, a little. You should’ve told me. At least you could’ve prepared me. I’ve been in a state of shock ever since this afternoon.”
“I wanted to, believe me, but I felt the doctors should be the ones to deliver the diagnosis so they could better explain.” He paused, then said, “I was also worried you might panic and not show up.”
I mused over his words. “I guess you have a point. I wouldn’t have not shown up, but it would’ve been nice not to be blindsided either.”
“I truly am sorry,” he said, his voice full of regret. “Is that why I haven’t heard from you?”
“Yes and no. I’m just all over the place right now with my thoughts, trying to figure out how I got to this point. Dad?” Emotion clogged my throat, making my voice sound shaky.
Tears filled my eyes and I broke down faster than I could stop it. “I’m scared.” The confession was a shattered whisper on my lips. My breathing deepened and I started crying. “I’m really scared. I don’t want to die.”
“Oh, sweetie.” His voice broke, which only upset me further. “I’ll be there first thing in the morning. Please don’t cry. I promise everything will be okay.”
“But that’s the thing.” I sniffled. “You don’t know if it will be okay. No one knows. My life is in limbo now and it’s terrifying. For the first time in my life, I’m seriously petrified of what’s to come. I can taste the fear and it’s suffocating me.”
“Adrianna, I’ll do everything in my power to help you.” Dad drove his words home with absolution. I cried harder at the struggles I was facing. My future was now—and would forever be—an uphill battle. “You just have to be strong like you’ve always been. Keep pushing on. Don’t let today affect tomorrow. Take your medicine and focus on gymnastics. I’ll handle the rest. You will have everything you need. I can promise that.”
“You’re not going to tell me to give up the sport?”
“Sweetheart, I know how much it means to you, and I spoke in-depth with Dr. Kozol. It’s not unheard of for a pro athlete to still compete with illnesses like yours. It’s rare, but not impossible. You’ll have to work with him and his team. And you’ll have to be completely open and honest about everything. No more pushing through the pain.”
“I thought I was just overworked. It comes with the territory of training elite. I thought nothing of it.”
I sniffled, trying to pull back my emotions. On top of everything, the pain I had been feeling, the nausea and blood, Dr. Kozol informed me was due to a kidney infection. It was causing one of my kidneys to swell. My body was failing me, and failing me fast.
“How could I be this sick and not know it?”
“Adrianna, you can live a healthy, full life. Yes, there will be complications, but there are also precautions you can take to prevent them, or at the very least, slow them down.”
I exhaled a heavy breath, then let it all out and told my dad what I’d read.
“Don’t read any of that garbage on the internet. I should have every form of cancer known to man if it were true. In fact, I should be six feet under rotting away.” He paused. “You know, if you decide you want to come home for a little while to take a break, you can do that.”
I shook my head as if he could see me. “No, that would only put me behind and I’m too close to risk that. Thanks, though.”
“I’m not sure you’re aware, but with your Amex Black Card, you have a personal concierge on call twenty-four seven. They’re paid to do whatever you want and get whatever you need—as long as it’s within legal parameters, of course.”
I was aware of that, but I’d never used the service before.
I wiped away my lingering tears with the back of my hand.
“You don’t have to come tomorrow. I’ll be okay.”
“I’ll be there,” he insisted.
I softened. “It’s okay, Dad. You’ll be bored. I have back-to-back practice the next few days anyway, and then I leave for competition. I’ll hardly have time to see you or talk to you.”
“I’ll be at your competition, then. If that’s the only time I can see you, then I’ll be there.”
Damn it. The tears started up again. “Okay.” My voice sounded so small.
“Sweetie,” he murmured, “don’t cry. We’ll get through this together.”
“I love you, Dad.”
“Love you too.”
I drew in a deep breath and attempted to shelve my emotions again. “Dad? Please, don’t tell anyone else. Family is one thing, but no one else.”
“Adrianna, your coaches need to know.”
I sat up straight. “No.”
“Dad, no. I don’t want them to know. They’d make me change my training schedule again. I’ve come too far for that.”
Dad was quiet for a long minute. “They need to know you’re starting dialysis.”
I gasped, my jaw hung open. “No, I’m not. I’m not doing dialysis right now.” Anger dried up my tears. “The trials are right around the corner, and the Olympics only last like two months from start to finish after that. I’ll begin treatment once it’s over.”
His voice hardened. “Use your brain, Adrianna. You don’t have the time to wait to start treatment. I’ve already made the appointment for you. You’re going.”
My nostrils flared. “Dad!”
“Adrianna.” He said my name with frustration. “I will not lose you. You’ll be at that appointment whether you want to or not. How are you going to enjoy being a gymnast if you’re dead?”
I slammed my mouth shut, my teeth grinding together.
That was heartless.
“Dad, please.” My voice was low, broken, and the stupid tears were back. “It’s only a few months. I can handle a few more months. After everything I read online, if I start now, I won’t be able to compete. I’ll lose everything I’ve worked for because I won’t have the strength to continue. I’ll be even sicker. Please, I’m begging you to just give me more time.”
“Sweetie, you simply don’t have the time.”
I swallowed hard and clenched my eyes shut. I hated that he was right.
“Please.” I cried softly. “I’ll do anything you want as soon as I know about the Olympics.” We were both quiet for a long moment. “Please, Dad, please give me a little more time.”
His voice was low, grim. “Adrianna, I just can’t allow you to wait.”
Tears were streaming down my cheeks. “Dad, a few more months won’t hurt. I’ll go to the doctor every week if you want me to instead of every three weeks just for a checkup. I’ll bring a doctor to meets with me. Please don’t take my gymnastics dream away from me. In a couple of months I’ll have to say goodbye forever. Don’t make me say it now, because that’s what you’d be doing if I start dialysis.”
I was crying uncontrollably. All I needed was a few more months and then I would give myself up to the diseases and do whatever my dad and my new team of doctors wanted me to do. Until then, this was all that I was asking for. I would be fine until then. I knew I would.
Dad let out a heavy breath while I held mine. “I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“If I feel like I’ve taken a turn for the worse, I’ll call you and tell you. I’ll go to the doctor. Anything, just don’t make me start treatment now.” I paused when I thought about when the Olympic Trials were. “I just need a few more months, that’s all I’m asking for. It won’t make that big of a deal if I take my medicine and go to my checkups. Plus, by then, I’ll know if I made the team or not. Just give me a little more time.”
“Adrianna, sweetheart…” I could tell he was caving. “So much can happen in two months.”
“Nothing is going to happen. We wouldn’t even be having this conversation if I hadn’t gone to the doctor.”
“But you did go and it changes everything. Your health is at risk.” I heard the sound of ice clinking against a glass—¬like he was taking a sip of his drink—drift across the line. “I know what gymnastics means to you and I don’t want to take it away, but as your parent, I’m responsible for your well-being.”
“Dad, please, I’m begging you.”
He groaned like he was torn. “If anything changes, or you need to talk, you better call me. I don’t care if it’s the middle of the night or if you already called fifteen times, just call me.”
Hope surged through me. I sniffled. “Does this mean you’ll let me wait to start treatment?”
He hesitated. I could tell he wasn’t happy about this. “I don’t like this idea, but I’d do anything for you, Adrianna. I hope you know that. You have a long road ahead of you. I just want to see you get well and keep you happy.” I smiled sadly to myself. “Keep your head held high,” he said, but he didn’t seem too sure of himself.
My head was a messy configuration of emotions that I couldn’t compartmentalize like I typically was able to. It was too much at once, but he was right. I needed to keep my head held high and focused. I’d gotten my way but needed a subject change before he changed his mind.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Dad!” He chuckled and it loosened the tightness in my chest. “So, um, not to change the subject, but I have a question about Mom.”
“Your mother isn’t—”
“No. I mean my real mom. Sophia.”
Clearing his throat, he seemed caught off guard. “Oh? What did you want to know?”
I’d have to start asking family if they were open and willing to match test for me, otherwise I would end up on a long list of hopefuls and possibly never get a match.
“How did you meet her?”
He let out a sound somewhere between a huff and a scoff. “Are you sure you want to have this conversation right now?”
“Why not? My life is already shit. What’s one more thing?”
He sighed deeply into the phone. I imagined he was rubbing his forehead. “She was my assistant.”
“Was she legal?”
“She’d just turned eighteen when she had you.”
So, no, she wasn’t. I’d had a weird feeling she was young after I’d met her, but I hadn’t expected her to be thatyoung.
“Did you love her?”
“Love…it’s a tricky thing.”
I laughed under my breath. Didn’t I know that.
“Do you still talk to her?”
Silence stretched for such a long moment to the point I thought he hung up. Just as I was about to call his name, he spoke. “Yes, I do.”
“Quite often, actually.”
I rubbed the ache in my chest. Judgment and distrust blackened my vision as all the lies I’d been told over the years flashed through my head.
“How did she end up in your office that day when I came to see you? Before that when I asked about her, you told me you didn’t talk to her.”
“It’s a long story, but I’ll sum it up for you. After you were born, I foolishly thought we all could work out joint custody since it’d be in the best interest for you, but I should’ve known better.” Dad’s voice trailed away like he was deep in memory. “Sophia was young and poor with nowhere to live, and Joy used that against her to keep her out of your life. Sophia begged me not to take you from her…and I couldn’t. It takes a selfish person to deny someone their child. So, I worked with her as much as I could and lied to Joy about it. My arrangement with Sophia went on for years until Joy hired a private investigator to keep tabs on me. Joy built a fictitious case against her, insisting she was mentally unstable.”
My brows rose. This shit just got better and better. To our rich, little island, we were the picture-perfect family. Behind closed doors, we were all living double lives.