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Authors: M. Leighton

Fragile (26 page)

BOOK: Fragile
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Miracle giggled.  “Do we have to?”

Hardy knew she was teasing, but his body warmed instantly to what she was suggesting.  “Don’t tempt me.”

Miracle’s expression sobered.  “Maybe I
want
to tempt you.”

Hardy searched her eyes.  In them, he saw something…different, something that hadn’t been there even as recently as last night.  He was hesitant to acknowledge it, however, in case he was way off base.

“All you have to do is show up and I’m tempted,” he said, nipping her bottom lip with his teeth.

Miracle pulled away and looked at him for several long seconds before she spoke.  “What if I told you that’s what I want for Christmas?”

“What is what you want for Christmas?”

Miracle paused, color flooding her cheeks.  “You.”

“You already have me.”

“Not all of you.”

Hardy felt his breathing grow shallow and his pulse pick up.  Could he have been right?

“You can have any part of me you want.”

“Promise?”

“Of course.”

Miracle chewed her lip nervously.  “Then maybe it can be an
early
Christmas present.”

Her desire to rush it made Hardy uneasy.  “Why?  Is there something wrong with Christmas day?”

“No, I just want to do everything I can as soon as possible.  I mean, no particular reason, but why wait, right?”

Before he could dig any further, Miracle pecked him on the lips and stepped away to slide into the car, smiling a little too brightly up at him.

“All right, chariot driver, get me to school post haste!”

Hardy smiled and went along with her, but he wouldn’t just forget what she’d said.  Or the sinking feeling he got thinking that their time might truly be limited.  He didn’t put it past Miracle to hide something serious from him in an attempt to “spare him.”

They went about their normal routine.  Hardy walked Miracle to her locker, waited for her to get her books and then carried her backpack to class for her.  She insisted that she was able to do it, and he had no doubts that she was right.  What Hardy had found, however, was that he
liked
taking care of her. He
liked
being her knight in shining armor. 
He
He
liked
spending those few extra minutes with her.  So he did.

After he’d collected his reward for walking her—a quick kiss that never failed to stir his blood—Hardy made his way to his own class. 

Christmas was two weeks away, but he’d already stopped noticing the decorations.  His thoughts and his focus were almost always on Miracle, as they were today.

Whether she’d intended to or not, whether there was reason to worry or not, Miracle had instilled a sense of urgency in Hardy.  He flipped through an internal catalog of all the things she’d ever told him were on her bucket list.  Maybe she was right.  Maybe they shouldn’t wait.

In that moment, Hardy started planning.  If Miracle wanted him to make love to her for Christmas, he’d give her a night she’d never forget.

********

 Hardy lay in the bed beside Miracle and they watched one of her favorite movies on the portable DVD player she’d brought with her.  Her head was on his shoulder and he was absently fiddling with the fingers of her left hand, her right arm being otherwise occupied with dialysis.  It was the fourth time he’d taken her to her appointment so he’d grown accustomed to the procedure and the limitations during it.

He wondered what she was thinking about.  The doctor had asked to speak to her in private before they’d hooked her up.  When she’d come back, Miracle had said it was just lab results, nothing to be concerned about.  Only he was.  She was a little bit
too
casual about it.

In his pocket, Hardy’s phone vibrated.  He fished it out, glancing at the caller ID. 

“It’s your mom.  She’s late for her check-in.”

Kelly called shortly after each appointment began, making sure they’d arrived and there were no problems.  The fact that she was late made Hardy think she’d probably talked to the doctor, too, which was why he wanted to talk to her out of Miracle’s hearing. 

Extricating himself from Miracle’s limbs, Hardy slid off the bed.  As he pressed the talk button, he motioned to Miracle that he was going to get something to drink.   She smiled and nodded, settling into the hospital bed.  It always made Hardy’s heart hurt to see her lying in one.

“Everything okay?” Kelly said before he could even speak.

“Yep, we’re here.  She’s doing fine.”

“All right. I was just checking in…”

Hardy cleared his throat.  “Um, can I ask you something?”

Although it was barely perceptible, Hardy noticed Kelly’s pause.  “Sure.  What’s up?”

“Tell me the truth.  Is something wrong?”

“I’m sure Miracle has told you everything—”

“No, Miracle tells me what she thinks I can handle, what she wants me to know, but I think she’s hiding something important from me.”

Kelly sighed.  “Well, if she is, that’s her prerogative. You know that.”

“I know it’s her decision, but you know how I feel about her.  If things are getting worse or if something’s going wrong, I want to know.”  Hardy paused, his throat constricting.  “I
need
to know.”

Miracle’s mother didn’t say anything for an alarm-inspiring amount of time.  Hardy’s pulse had picked up and he could feel fear clawing at his stomach.

“Tell me.  Please,” he prompted.

“They’ve moved her up on the transplant list.  Her labs aren’t looking good,” Kelly said, her voice cracking at the end.

“But isn’t that a good thing?  I mean, she’ll get a new kidney sooner, right?”

“In theory, yes.  But Miracle has a rare blood type, which you knew.  On top of that, they’re also having trouble matching her tissue type.”

“So what are you saying?”

When Kelly burst into tears, Hardy felt like his heart stopped beating.  “If they don’t find her a match soon, she won’t be able to last much longer with just the dialysis.”

The hallway tilted and Hardy leaned against the wall, sliding down until he was slumped in the floor.  Even if he’d known what to say, he didn’t think he could speak right then.

“Oh, God, how I wish me or Mila had her blood type!” she cried.

“And her- her father?” Hardy managed, knowing Kelly had been trying to reach him.

“He still won’t return my calls.”  The heartbreak of knowing he
might
be able to help, but was apparently unwilling, was plain in her voice.  Her sobs grew louder.

When her weeping had dwindled to sniffles, Kelly spoke again.  “Please don’t tell her I told you.  I know how much you love her, Hardy, and I know the reason she didn’t want you to know is because she loves you, too.  I’ve never seen two people your age feel so deeply about each other.  I understand you needing to know, but she would never forgive me if she knew I told you.”

“I won’t say anything,” he whispered, the world and everything in it suddenly seeming bleak and hopeless.  “I have to get back.”

“Okay.  Go.  Tell her I love her,” she said, starting to cry afresh.

“I will.”

Hardy sat in the hallway for several long minutes after he’d hung up.  He prayed and begged God for His mercy, all the while searching for some kind of solution, something the doctors had somehow overlooked, even though he knew deep down his search was futile.

Then something occurred to him.  It was a long shot, but Hardy was willing to grasp at any and every straw that presented itself.  Pushing himself to his feet, Hardy went in search of Miracle’s doctor.

********

The next day, Hardy and Miracle rounded the corner onto the hall where her locker was located.  When he saw the group of people surrounding Cheyenne, his steps slowed and his stomach filled with dread.

Hardy glanced down at Miracle.  She looked uneasy, but she turned her face up to his and smiled brightly, tugging him forward.  He knew she had likely drawn the same conclusion he had—it had something to do with her—but that didn’t stop her.  She walked on toward them, back straight and head held high.  Hardy thought again that she was probably the bravest person he knew.

As they slowed in front of Miracle’s locker, Cheyenne turned toward them.  “Good, you’re both here for the big reveal,” she said, not even trying to hide her anticipation.

“What are you revealing?” Hardy asked sharply.

“You’ll see,” she answered coyly, her eyes flashing with menace. 

“Cheyenne, I’m warning you…”

Her glossy pink lips curved into a malicious smile.  “And
I
warned
you.”

Hardy wanted to grab Miracle and run, to save her from what was ahead, whatever it was.  As if sensing the direction his thoughts had taken, Miracle squeezed his fingers reassuringly.  Hardy thought it odd that
she
was the one giving
him
encouragement.  Again.

“All right, everybody, gather round,” Cheyenne said, holding her iPhone out so the people at her sides and behind her could see.  Hardy and Miracle stood fast.  “Tada!”

Mouths dropped open and everyone except Cheyenne looked embarrassed and flustered.  Like the strike of a snake, Hardy reached out and snatched the phone from Cheyenne’s fingers.  When he held up the screen to look at it, he felt his jaw drop open.  Her viciousness knew no bounds. 

Someone had evidently taken a picture on their cell phone of Miracle in a bikini that day at the beach.  The humiliation on her face was plain, as was the angry scar that lined her abdomen.  Cheyenne had superimposed the photo onto a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition background. 

Hardy’s blood caught fire and he growled in fury.  Drawing back his arm, he threw the black rectangle across the hall as hard as he could.  It smashed against the lockers and fell to the ground.  Hardy was trembling in anger.  If Cheyenne had been a guy, Hardy would’ve throttled her.

“You’re gonna buy me a new phone, you ass—” Cheyenne began indignantly before Hardy cut her off.

“So help me God,” Hardy hissed between gritted teeth, releasing Miracle’s hand to wrap his fingers tightly around Cheyenne’s upper arms.  “If you so much as breathe in her direction
ever again
, you will regret the day you met me, Cheyenne.  And please,
please
test me.  I’m begging you.”

Hardy fumed as he stared down into Cheyenne’s face.  When she looked adequately terrified, Hardy unhanded her and turned back to Miracle.  Only she was no longer standing behind him.  She had walked across the hall to pick up Cheyenne’s phone. 

“Miracle, don’t!” Hardy managed, but he was too late.

Hardy held his breath when she looked at the phone’s screen.  He prayed it was blank, that he’d broken it and the picture was gone.  But when he saw the color drain from Miracle’s face, he knew it wasn’t.  Rage against Cheyenne and agony for Miracle’s pain warred within him.

The hall was absolutely silent as everyone awaited Miracle’s reaction.  No one said a word, breathed a breath or moved a muscle. 

Finally, Miracle cleared her throat and walked back to Hardy’s side.  Carefully, she handed the phone back to Cheyenne.  “You know what. Cheyenne?  I have neither the time nor the inclination to hate you.  But I do have a favor to ask.  The next time you Photoshop pictures of me in a bikini, give me bigger boobs.”

There was a short pause before snickering broke out all around them.  Miracle turned to Hardy and said, “Come on.  I don’t need my books today.  I’ll just take good notes.”  With that, she took his hand and led him back the way they’d come, head held even higher than when they’d arrived.  

Hardy was certain he’d never loved her more.

 

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

 

“Come on.  I have a surprise for you,” Hardy said as he sat in his car trying to get Miracle to put on a blindfold. 

“You’re not going to get us arrested are you?  Because I look terrible in orange and I’m allergic to metal bars.”

“How do you know you’re allergic to metal bars?”

“Women’s intuition,” she answered, her expression all too serious.

Hardy grinned.  “Just put it on.  I promise, you’re gonna like this surprise.”

Miracle raised one brow suggestively.  “Reeeeally?”

Hardy smiled smugly, watching Miracle’s eyes sparkle in anticipation and her smile widen in excitement.  “Really really.”

They sat staring into each other’s eyes for a moment longer, sexual tension crackling in the air around them, before Miracle reached forward and grabbed Hardy’s wrists, pulling them toward her face.  “In that case…” she said, urging him to blindfold her.

Hardy tied the thick piece of black material around her head and then started the engine.  Less than ten minutes later, he was guiding Miracle across the grass at school.

“I hope you’re not leading me to a pagan sacrifice where I’m the…you know,
sacrifice,”
Miracle teased, reaching up to adjust the blindfold.

BOOK: Fragile
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