Home > Fragile(9)

Author: M. Leighton

Cheyenne pulled at Miracle, but Miracle dug her feet into the sand and resisted.

“Really, I’d rather not.”

“Please. Come on,” Cheyenne begged, tugging again.

“Seriously, you all go ahead.”

“Don’t make me get Hardy to carry you down there,” Cheyenne threatened with a grin, grabbing at Miracle’s other hand where it held her towel in place. Miracle clutched the towel, almost frantically, backing away from Cheyenne.

“I’m not going. You guys go ahead. I’m staying here.”

Giggling, Cheyenne quickly reached forward and yanked at the tail of Miracle’s towel, surprising her and pulling it away from her body. Miracle gasped, standing in embarrassment and shock for several seconds before she moved her arms to try and cover herself.

Hardy’s heart dropped into his toes. Although on some level he did note that Miracle was much more voluptuous than what she appeared to be in her too-baggy, overly-concealing clothes, his pleasure at that took a back seat to the ache he felt for her when he saw the scar.

Since seeing Miracle that day in the park, Hardy had wondered why she’d been bald. He assumed it was something health related, but one could never be too sure that it wasn’t some sort of fashion statement or act of rebellion. He knew without a doubt that Miracle’s bald head had been neither.

A long purplish scar marred Miracle’s abdomen. It extended vertically from her ribs down her side at an angle toward her hipbone. It stood out starkly against her pale skin and she was obviously extremely self-conscious about it. She tried to hide it beneath her hands, but they weren’t big enough to cover the entire length of it.

Everyone in the group had stopped and turned to stare, wide-eyed and gape-mouthed, at Miracle. Hardy watched her silently take in every face, her gaze finally making its way back to him. He saw the tears glistening in her eyes and what little grip he had on his temper snapped.

Stepping toward Cheyenne, Hardy jerked the towel from her lax fingers, daring her with his eyes to say something. Shaking the sand from one end, Hardy walked slowly to where Miracle stood and carefully wrapped the towel around her shoulders, drawing it close around her.

When her enormous emerald eyes rose to his, Hardy saw gratitude in the liquid depths. It was all he could do not to bend down and pick her up to carry her away to safety, even if it was just emotional safety. But that would only make it worse for her, he knew. Instead, Hardy gently placed his palm between her shoulder blades and nudged, urging her to turn around. When she did, he led her across the hot sand back to the cabana.

“Sorry Miracle,” Cheyenne finally called when they were nearly outside earshot.

Miracle said nothing, but Hardy felt her deep inhalation beneath his hand and knew she was struggling with emotion.

Once they’d arrived at the cabana, Hardy stopped and took Miracle by the shoulders. They felt so thin and frail beneath his hands. She was even tinier than what he’d imagined. And now he knew why.

“Do you want me to take you home?”

Miracle swallowed hard. “No, you go and have fun. I’ll just stay here until you’re ready to leave. It’s not a big deal.”

Hardy couldn’t imagine what it cost her to be so brave and so selfless. He realized that she was twice the person he could ever hope to be.

“I’m ready to go. The beach has lost most of its appeal. Why don’t I take you home?”

Relief flashed quickly across Miracle’s face before she began to frown. “Are you sure? I don’t want to ruin your afternoon. And this is important to you, to your game.”

Hardy nearly laughed. At that moment, nothing was more important than Miracle.

“I’ll be fine. Seriously. Why don’t you change clothes and I’ll take you as I go?”

Reluctantly, Miracle nodded, turning to grab Cheyenne’s big canvas bag and head to the changing room. Hardy slipped on his wrinkled t-shirt and his tennis shoes while he waited, the sight of Miracle trying to cover herself playing over and over on a loop through his mind. He couldn’t help thinking it sad that when she looked in the mirror, she probably didn’t see beyond that scar. He doubted she saw the beautiful girl staring back at her.

When Miracle emerged, dressed once more in her slightly ill-fitting clothes, Hardy’s heart squeezed inside his chest to see that her eyes and nose were red. She’d been crying. Silently.

Hardy took the bag from her fingers, unzipping the outside pocket to bring out a set of keys. Palming them, he held out his other hand to Miracle.

“Come on,” he said, not caring whether anyone would see him holding her hand. In fact, he couldn’t have cared less.

Hesitantly, Miracle slid her cool fingers across his palm and he curled his larger ones around them, marveling at her delicate bones. Neither of them said another word as they made their way back to Cheyenne’s car.

After Hardy had stowed his shorts and socks beneath the driver’s seat, he turned the ignition key and the engine purred quickly to life. He turned to Miracle and smiled. He was happy to see that she was smiling as well; it was a small, mischievous one.

“Won’t Cheyenne get mad that you’re taking her car without asking?”

Hardy shrugged, completely unconcerned. “Don’t know. Don’t care.”

With a grin, he shifted into gear. Just before his foot hit the gas pedal, he heard Miracle say in a quiet voice, “I know she didn’t mean to do that.”

Hardy simply stared at Miracle. He knew she thought Cheyenne didn’t purposely embarrass her that way; there was no way she could’ve known about the scar. But Cheyenne had tried to force Miracle into doing something she didn’t want to do. So, whether her intentions were good or not, the fact that her inconsiderate nature had caused Miracle such obvious humiliation was enough to make Hardy see red. He wasn’t as kind and forgiving as Miracle. He doubted anyone on the planet was.

“She still ruined your afternoon and I’m really sorry about that.”

Miracle smiled her sad, sweet smile, reaching out to lay her hand on top of Hardy’s. Hardy had to make himself not turn his hand over to lace his fingers through hers.

“Don’t be,” she advised kindly. Her eyes shone with something he’d never seen in another person, something otherworldly, as if she’d seen things that most others hadn’t. Hardy could only guess at what she’d had to suffer in order to get a look like that, a world view like that. Miracle made his heart hurt. But she also made it fly.

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