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Authors: M. Leighton

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BOOK: Fragile
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“I told you I didn’t know about the scar, Hardy.  I didn’t do it on purpose. I was trying to be nice by inviting her, by including her.”  Cheyenne was scrambling to keep up with him.

“Yeah, right,” Hardy mumbled under this breath.  He didn’t doubt that Cheyenne didn’t know about the scar; how could she? What he
did
doubt, however, was that she ever had an altruistic motive for anything she did.

“Why are you acting like this?” she asked as they neared the field house, her voice dropping into a hushed tone.  Hardy turned on her so quickly, she nearly bumped into him.  “What the—”

“Cheyenne, this was over a long time ago.  I think it’s time we make it official.”

Hardy was perversely pleased when he saw the blood drain from Cheyenne’s face. He suspected this would be one of the few times in her life she’d be dumped.  Did he dread the fall out? A little.  Was he shamefully thrilled to get to do it, though?  Yes, he was.  He wouldn’t have enjoyed it at all if he thought it would actually hurt her, but he knew it wouldn’t.  What it
would do
was bring her down a peg or two, temporarily at least, which was something he felt she and her monstrous ego were in desperate need of.

“You can’t be serious.”

“Oh, but I am, Cheyenne.  Very serious.”

“But…but what about your future?  Our future?  What about this season?”

“I can win games without your help, Cheyenne.  And you and I both know we never really had a future.”

“How can you say that?”

“Because it’s true.”

“You don’t really believe that.”

“Actually, I do.  I don’t know how we’ve lasted this long.  I guess I’m a lot more selfish than I thought.”

“Do I need to tell you how much you’re going to regret this?”

“No.  Because I won’t.  I feel better already.”

Hardy felt his lips curve into a genuine smile of relief and satisfaction.  Cheyenne’s eyes narrowed and her lips thinned as she watched him.

“This is about her, isn’t it?”

“Who?”

“Miracle.”

“No. It’s about the fact that I’ve hated myself for dating you for almost a year now and I’m over it.  I’m done.”

“You just keep telling yourself that, Hardy, but you’ll be back.  I’m not worried.”

Even as the words left her lips, Hardy could see that Cheyenne was very much worried.  Unfortunately, he also saw a dark spark of determination light her eyes and it was just enough to give him pause. 

“Goodbye, Cheyenne.”

With that, Hardy turned his back on her and made his way into the field house to shower and change into his new life.

********

 Never had a party been less fun.  As Hardy wandered aimlessly through the tight crowd of bodies, speaking only when spoken to, he realized that this scene was not one he’d ever really preferred.  He’d always gone to parties because Cheyenne wanted to, because all his friends went and, well, because he’d always done it.  He’d never been willing to mess up the good thing he had going in his life.  The funny thing was, he had completely deluded himself about the “good thing” part.

Hardy leaned against the front door jamb and stared out into the night.  He had no interest in being there—at the party.  He didn’t see one person he really wanted to talk to, one person he really wanted to spend his Friday evening with.  What he really wanted was to see Miracle.  And she wasn’t there.

As he was making up his mind to leave, Cheyenne came sauntering up the front steps toward the door, toward him.  From the fingers of her left hand dangled a small black bag.  The smile she wore warned Hardy that she was up to something.  She looked far too pleased with herself.

When she stopped in front of him, she just stood there swinging the bag.  Hardy took the bait. “What’s that?”

“I think it’s a camera case, but I can’t be sure. I didn’t open it.”

Hardy’s eyes narrowed on Cheyenne.  He was immediately suspicious.

“Whose is it?”

“I don’t know. I found it in my trunk.  I don’t know where it came from.”

Hardy gritted his teeth.  He should’ve known this was how Cheyenne would handle a slap to the ego—with retaliation.

Reaching forward, Hardy jerked the strap from her fingertips and unzipped the bag to look inside.  Although he didn’t know what kind of camera Miracle used, he knew this one was expensive.  And broken.  He could see several small pieces of black plastic littering the bottom of the bag.

“What did you do to it?”

Cheyenne’s lips twisted into a satisfied smirk.  “I might have dropped it when I was getting it out of the trunk.  I can’t remember.”

Hardy stared at her for several long seconds, reminding himself that he was strictly against strangling a woman.  “You know, I hope you realize that this just makes my decision easier.”

 Cheyenne’s smile faltered.  He knew he’d hit his mark.  She was so concerned with getting revenge, with hurting Miracle, she hadn’t thought of how her actions might affect her cause.

Hardy was convinced there was no longer any chance that Cheyenne might still be a decent person deep down.  She was shallow and vapid and vicious and, at that moment, he detested her.

Pushing his way past her, Hardy descended the steps and headed for his car.  He didn’t want to acknowledge the kernel of pleasure he felt at having a reason to seek Miracle out, the seed of gratitude he felt that she’d left her camera in Cheyenne’s trunk.  No, he’d rather deny that.  Instead, he focused on getting it back to her and what he would say when he showed up at her door.

By the time Hardy pulled up in front of Miracle’s place, he was actually nervous.  There were lights on in the tiny house and it was well before eleven on a Friday night.  Surely they wouldn’t mind him returning Miracle’s property to her, would they?  Getting out of the car and walking the short path to the front door, Hardy wiped his damp palms on his jeans before he knocked.

He heard some thumping followed by muted voices before he a stronger, older voice spoke.  She was very near the door.

“Mila, I’m not letting you answer the door in your pajamas.  Now get back to your room, young lady.”

 After a short pause, locks clicked and chains slid before the door opened a crack.  Hardy looked down into the face of the woman who had to be Miracle’s mother, but looked more like her older twin.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry to visit so late, but I was hoping to speak to Miracle for just a minute if it’s not too much trouble.”

Hardy watched Miracle’s mother study him first with a discerning eye and then with a carefully concealed grin.

“Sure.  Come on in,” she said, stepping back and opening the door further.

Hardy stepped inside the small living room, casually taking in his surroundings.  While it was obvious there were no designer furnishings in the house, Hardy doubted he’d ever been in a cozier home.  He could practically feel the love and happiness and acceptance seeping into his skin.

“Have a seat. I’ll get Miracle.”

Hardy walked to the comfy-looking sage green sofa and perched on one cushion, letting the camera bag dangle between his knees as he waited.  From somewhere down the short hall, he could hear hushed voices and excited whispers.  He tried to tune them out, as he’d always felt eavesdropping was rude even if it was unintended.   

Despite his efforts, some things reached his ears anyway.  They made him smile.

He’s so frickin’ hot, Miracle!  What’s your problem? 

He has a girlfriend, Mila.  That’s my problem!

Then steal him from her, dumbass.

Mila, watch your language!  Miracle, you’ve got company.  Don’t keep him waiting.

After Miracle’s mother spoke, the whispers died off and a door could be heard shutting.  Seconds later, Miracle appeared at the edge of the living room.

“Hardy, what are you doing here?” she asked politely, the ghost of a smile flirting around the edges of her mouth.

Hardy surmised that Miracle was in her pajamas as well, as she wore a thick robe, belted tightly and wrapped snugly around her.  He couldn’t help but wonder what her sleeping attire looked like, that it must be so thoroughly hidden from strange nighttime visitors.

“Hardy?”

Shaking his head to loosen the grip of thoughts of her in skimpy clothing, Hardy cleared his throat before he answered.

“Um, it seems you might’ve left your camera in Cheyenne’s trunk,” he said, extending the small black bag he carried toward her.

“Omigod, I didn’t even realize I’d left it,” she exclaimed, rushing to Hardy’s side to take the bag.  She sat down beside him on the couch and opened the case.  Hardy chewed his lip as she lifted the camera out of the bag.  He saw her expression fall just as the gasp left her lips.  His heart broke for her.  “I was going to take some pictures of our Free Friday Afternoon.”

“Miracle, I’m so sorry.  Cheyenne said she accidentally dropped it when she got it out of the trunk.”  Hardy felt dirty and deceitful even repeating such dishonest drivel.

Much to his surprise, Miracle smiled.  It was small and her lips trembled with the effort, but she did it.  “I’m sure she didn’t mean to,” she choked out, her voice wobbling.

“Probably not,” Hardy agreed quietly, feeling all the more wretched when he saw Miracle’s chin quiver.  And then he got mad.  “No, you know what?  I think she did it on purpose.  Cheyenne is an unparalleled bitch and I’m sorry that you ever had to meet her.”  After his heated explosion, Hardy reverted to just feeling bad for Miracle.  “I’m so sorry.”

Miracle nodded, but her head remained bowed as she tried to compose herself.  Remembering the way she’d spoken of photography and lovingly stroked the case containing her camera, Hardy felt like he’d carried her dead dog to her doorstep rather than a piece of equipment.

Just then he saw one fat tear overflow her eyelashes and slide slowly down her left cheek.  He could only imagine what a horrible day she’d had. 

Reflexively, as though he’d done it every day for years, Hardy reached out and wiped it away with the backs of his fingers.  Miracle raised her head and smiled a watery smile at him.

“I’ll get it fixed for you,” Hardy offered.  It was so spontaneous, so organic, it surprised even him.  “Until then, we can share mine.  Joint custody.”  Miracle chuckled, another tear spilling down her cheek.  Hardy wiped it away as well.  “Just please don’t cry.”

Miracle nodded, sniffling.  “I know it’s stupid.  I just really wanted to take as many pictures as possible this year.  And now…”

“Now nothing. I told you, you can use mine whenever you like until yours is fixed.  I have another one.  And I
will
get yours fixed! It’s partly my fault anyway.  I should’ve warned you about Cheyenne before something like this happened.”

Miracle frowned and cocked her head to one side as she considered him.

“What?” Hardy asked.  Miracle just continued to gaze at him.  “What?” he repeated.

“How did someone like you end up with someone like her?”

Hardy shrugged, both embarrassed and ashamed.  “Just stupid I guess.”

“No,” Miracle said, shaking her head.  “I don’t think so.  But I’ll figure it out.  Eventually.”

Hardy smiled.  For some reason he liked the sound of that. It made it seem like they had a future together and that prospect made him extremely happy.

Silence stretched between them and, although Hardy could’ve sat staring at Miracle for days, he thought it probably best that he leave.

“Well,” he said, standing, “if it’s all right, I’ll take that with me and see about getting it fixed on Monday.”

“You really don’t have to do that.”

“I know, but I want to.”

“No, really, I’d feel terrible.”

“Please. It’s the least I can do.”

“No, I—”

“It will make me feel better.  Really.  Please?”

At that, Miracle searched his eyes and then sighed.  “All right, but I’m paying for it.  Just let me know how much it is before you give them the go-ahead.”  She added the last quickly, leaving Hardy in no doubt that she really didn’t have the money to have it fixed, which made him feel even worse.

“Fine,” he said, having no intention of doing any such thing.  He found that he truly
wanted
to do this for her.  As a gift.  “And seriously, you can use one of mine until it’s fixed.”

Hardy slowly made his way toward the door, reluctant to leave her, but knowing he had to.

“Thank you.  I really appreciate that, but I can wait.  There’ll be other pretty days at the park.”

Hardy stopped and turned back to Miracle, who was following close behind him.

“Did you have plans to use it this weekend?”

Miracle shrugged, trying to seem nonchalant about her ruined schedule.  “It’s no big deal.  Like I said, there will be plenty of other opportunities.”

A mental image of her with the red balloon flitted through Hardy’s mind.  There were obviously things she really wanted to do and he suspected that many of them had emotional motivations.  He couldn’t help but wonder if she’d gotten to release a balloon like she’d wanted to do.

BOOK: Fragile
6.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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