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Authors: M. Leighton

Fragile (21 page)

BOOK: Fragile
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“You?  Mila, if I did even half the things you’ve tried to talk me into doing, I’d be in jail.  I’m surprised this even registered on your radar.”

“You kissing a boy that looks like that?  Hells yeah, it did!”

“So if he’d been ugly…”

“Meh,” she said, waving Miracle off.  “I wouldn’t care.  Unless you’d slept with him.  Then, I’d care.”

Miracle couldn’t help but smile.  Mila was too much.  “You’re terrible.”

“No, I’m not.  Life is short.  We gotta make the most of it.”

Miracle always worried about how her sickness had affected Mila.  Ever since she’d finished chemo, Miracle had noticed a wild abandon in Mila that she wasn’t quite sure was healthy.  She didn’t want to see her sister get into trouble or end up ruining her life in her efforts to live it to the fullest.  It
was
possible to go overboard after all.

“Well, right now, the only thing I’m interested in is sleep.”

With a pouty look, Mila sat up and scooted off the bed.  “At least tell me he’s a good kisser.”

Miracle smiled, probably a little more widely than she should have.  “He’s a
very
good kisser.”

With a dreamy sigh, Mila walked to the door.  She turned back before she opened it.  “He really likes you, you know. I can tell.”

Miracle’s smile turned sad.  “But does he like me enough to stay?”

Mila and Miracle looked at each other for a moment, an unspoken sadness lingering in the air between them, before Mila twisted the knob and slipped through the door. 

“’Night, Miracle,” she whispered just before she shut the door. 

“’Night, Mila.”  And then she was gone, leaving Miracle alone with her thoughts.

********

Hardy arrived back at the lake to a quiet house.  He slept until noon, blaming it on a restless night after his awful football performance.  In truth, he couldn’t have cared less.  All he could think about was Miracle and how sweet and funny she was, how she made his world glow with something suspiciously close to happiness.

For the following thirty-six hours, Hardy’s impending meeting with Miracle hovered at the back of his mind.  He was able to smile at every snide comment thrown his way and tolerate his father and Cheyenne all weekend with admirable aplomb because of Miracle, and they were none the wiser.

As they were pulling out Sunday evening to head home, Hardy told his father that he’d go straight to Cheyenne’s house.  His father smiled and nodded, as Hardy knew he would.  And Hardy had every intention of doing exactly what he’d said.  He would drop Cheyenne off at her house first thing—and then head directly to Miracle’s.

After a second brief stop, it was just after eight p.m. when he rang the bell at Miracle’s house.  He stood on the stoop with one hand tucked behind his back and a wide smile on his face. 

It was Miracle who answered the door.  She was smiling, too.

“Hi.”

“Hi,” Hardy responded, pulling his hand from behind his back with a flourish. 

He watched Miracle take in the single white daylily.  She looked at its ragged stem and her eyes crinkled in laughter.  He’d pulled over on the way when he’d seen some flowers at a house he passed.  They were swaying near the road in the dying light, beckoning him to come and take.  They were part of someone’s elaborate and well-maintained landscape and, although he felt a bit guilty for beheading one of the flowers, he knew it would bring a smile to Miracle’s face.  He gave it no more thought than that.  To Hardy, there was no other justification needed.

“They’re getting bigger,” she observed, her lips quivering with a suppressed smile.

“Next time there might be two.”

“That’s perfect!  Receiving two flowers at the same time is one of the things on my bucket list,” she teased.

Although Hardy felt a twinge at her reference to dying, he didn’t dwell on it, not when she was smiling into his eyes like she was.  Finally, Miracle stepped back and gestured for him to come inside.

“Let me put this in some water.  I’ll be right back.”

When Miracle came back into the living room, Hardy was staring at a family photo that pictured a sick and bald yet laughing Miracle.  His stomach sloshed with nausea at the thought of what she’d been through.

He turned to her and smiled as brightly as he could manage.  Miracle seemed not to notice his discomfort.

“So, what are we doing?”

“Do you like comedy?”

“Me?  Like to laugh?  Uh, yeah!”

Hardy smiled a little more genuinely.  He figured as much.

“How about a movie then?  Will Ferrell has that new one out.”

“Ohmigod, you had me at Will Ferrell,” she claimed happily.  “A movie sounds perfect.”

“If you want, we can go ahead and go now and get some ice cream first.  There’s a place downtown that has this huge waffle bowl that holds five scoops of ice cream.  I thought it would fit right in with your stomach-stretching, champion eater-training efforts.”

Miracle giggled.  “And you couldn’t be more right.”

Hardy treated Miracle to the biggest edible bowl of ice cream she’d ever seen.  She ate all the ice cream, but left the waffle bowl, which Hardy nibbled on after he’d finished his own much smaller cone.  They laughed about everything under the sun, including her sumo-sized appetite.  Hardy learned that she was not only beautiful, charming and funny, but incredibly intelligent.  He’d known from the first time he saw her that she was kind-hearted, so when she dropped a twenty in the
Feed the Hungry
jar on the concession stand at the theater, he wasn’t surprised.

Even after all that ice cream, Miracle shared a large popcorn and Coke with Hardy during the movie.  She laughed until she cried more than once, enchanting Hardy even more, which he didn’t think was possible.  At one point, she leaned her head over onto his shoulder as she nibbled popcorn.  Hardy thought again that he wanted desperately to keep her safe and happy the rest of her days.

She invited him in when he took her home and they sat in her living room trying to stump each other with movie quotes.  Miracle impressed Hardy with her depth of movie knowledge and her storehouse of useless trivia.

“I think you might be an even bigger movie buff than I am, and that’s saying a lot,” Hardy declared after she’d finished him off with a quote from an 80’s John Hughes film.

“When you’re sick for months at a time, you watch a lot of movies,” she answered casually.  “In a way, you live vicariously through them.  You have your first kiss with them, go to your first party, skip out on your prom, and drink your first beer with them.”  She paused, a wistful smile fluttering across her lips before she spoke again.  “You fall in love with them.”

Hardy couldn’t let such an opening pass him by.  “Speaking of that, have you ever been in love before?”

Miracle leaned her head against the back of the couch and stared at Hardy.  He thought he could drown in the fathomless depths of her shimmering eyes.

“No.  Have you?”

Hardy shrugged, suddenly more uncomfortable with the topic now that it was turned in his direction.  “No.  I thought I was, but…”

“Cheyenne?”

Hardy’s lips twisted into a wry grin.  “Yeah.  I confused what everyone else wanted and what was…comfortable for feelings that just weren’t there.  It wasn’t until—”

He stopped abruptly.  After a few seconds, Miracle raised her head and looked at him expectantly.  When he didn’t finish, she prompted him.  “Until what?”

Taking his time before he answered, Hardy looked down to where Miracle’s hand rested on the couch between them.  Reaching forward, he picked it up and carefully laced his fingers through hers.  Somewhere in the back of his mind, he wondered how anyone’s skin could be so soft.  And how another’s hand could fit so perfectly within his.

“I’d been noticing her selfishness for a while.  I don’t know if it just got worse as time went on, or if I was really just blind to it up until then, but the day I saw you in the park, it was like a wake-up call.  You were everything that she wasn’t.  Everything a decent person should be and she’s just…not.”

Miracle leaned her head back again, her eyes never leaving Hardy’s.  “I’m sure she’s not all bad.”

“See?  How do you do that?  How can you look at someone like her, someone who treats you like she does, someone who treats
everyone
like she does, and say that?”

“She doesn’t treat you terribly, does she?”

“Well, no, but—”

“Then she can’t be all bad.”

“But she—”

“I’m sure she loves her family and treats them well.  And she probably has a dog or a cat or something she loves.”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“She probably has a soft spot for her grandmother or the old man across the street that gave her candy when she was little.”

“She might, but—”

“See?  She’s really not all bad.”

Hardy sat up straighter, tired of hearing Miracle defend someone who could be as nasty as Cheyenne could.  If only she knew…  “Maybe not, but she’s still not you.”

 Miracle had been about to say something, but she stopped, her eyes flying to his.  Hardy hadn’t meant to say that, hadn’t meant to admit it.  It just came out.  He hadn’t been thinking.

“I’m not perfect, Hardy.  I’m just as selfish as the next person and I—”

“No, you’re not.  And you’re not fooling anybody by trying to pretend you are.  Maybe it’s because of what you’ve been through.  Maybe it’s just the way you were born.  I don’t know, but you’re special, Miracle.  You may not think you’re perfect, but to some people, you’re everything they’ve ever wished for, whether they realized it or not.”

Miracle said nothing.  She didn’t know what to say.  She simply stared in wonder at Hardy.

They sat on the couch for a long time—looking into each other’s eyes, playing with each other’s fingers, taking it all in.  They both knew something magical was happening.  And they were both afraid, but for two totally different reasons. 

Miracle was thinking she’d finally fallen in love, for the first time and maybe the last, with someone who may or may not be around for very long.  Hardy was thinking he’d found someone that made his past and his future not matter quite so much, someone who gave him a present that eclipsed everything else.  But there was a chance he might lose her. 

Later, when he kissed her goodnight, it was a kiss full of promise, a kiss that said he’d be around forever, however long forever ended up being.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

 

The following weeks, they were inseparable.  Hardy picked Miracle up and took her to school every morning and dropped her home each afternoon before football practice.  Then, after he’d showered, he would go by and spend the evening with her. 

They studied and did homework some.  They listened to music and watched television some.  But mostly they laughed and talked.  Hardy found someone in Miracle who understood him, who truly seemed to care about the things he had to say and what he wanted out of life.  When he told her of his dreams, she would lay her head on his shoulder and dream right along with him, as if she could actually see them living their life out together.

And Hardy did the same for Miracle.  She would tell him of the many things on her “bucket list” and they would plan on making each one a reality.  The only thing Hardy hated about it was that sometimes she made her death sound too imminent.  Any time before they were a hundred and wrinkled, with ten grandkids was way too soon as far as he was concerned.  But he never complained, never said anything about it.  He figured it might be some sort of coping mechanism for her and he was afraid to tamper with it, no matter how much it bothered him. 

There were a few things on her list he was particularly curious about, things she avoided telling him about, things that made her blush.  Of course, his imagination would run wild when she’d stumble and stammer over them.  He wanted to press her, but thought it best if she told him in her own time, no matter how much it tortured him in the interim.

It was a Friday again and Hardy was walking Miracle to her locker.  Her hand was engulfed in his and both their backpacks were slung over his shoulder.  He didn’t care who saw or where they were, he’d long since discovered that he was happiest when he was touching her, even in some small way like holding her hand as they walked.  And so he did.  And she didn’t complain.

“I’ve got a surprise for you.  Can I borrow you for a while after lunch?”

“A surprise?  Of
course
you can borrow me after lunch,” Miracle agreed with a grin.

“Perfect.  Meet me at my car?”

Miracle smiled.  “I’ll be there.  I’ll be the one in…”  She paused to look down at what she was wearing, as if she’d forgotten how she’d dressed.  “Purple.  I’ll be the one in purple.”

Hardy laughed as Miracle grinned up at him.  If she thought of him half as much as he thought of her, he figured it was likely she did forget what she’d dressed in that morning.  Hardy was sometimes surprised he remembered anything that didn’t have something to do with Miracle.  She’d quickly become his entire world and he could only hope she felt the same way.  He suspected that she did.

BOOK: Fragile
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