T W E N T Y - O N E
Mia awoke that same morning, still wrapped in Harry's sheets, pondering why the sun shone so brightly through the curtains. She smiled to herself as she stretched sleepily, deciding that she should get up and go help Barbra at the bakery. Even though Harry had gone off to work, she wanted to go put the final touches on the display she and Barbra had been working on. She had promised Barbra that she would bring some seashells to finish off the ocean themed display in order to celebrate the nearing end of the summer.
Mia got up lazily from the bed and pulled on some clothes she had brought over last night. She goes through the same motions she does every morning, brushing her teeth and splashing water upon her face, except that when she goes to drink her cup of coffee she makes sure to make two.
"Niall? Are you up yet?"
She hears a groan and knows that Niall was still relatively asleep, but that within two minutes he would realize that he would be late if he didn't get a move on.
She proceeds to mix in extra creamer into Niall's and five packets of sugar. She shook her head calculating how much sugar it took to wake Niall up every morning, and took notice to start cutting down his intake. Although she herself loved sweets like no other, she knew better than to eat the amount Niall did every day.
"Fucking shit." He yells, and she could hear him bumping into his wall. She knew that he would be putting on his clothes haphazardly, his balance off because he couldn't get both legs into his jeans at the same time.
"One leg at a time." Mia says loudly.
"I know how to put pants on." Niall retorts.
Mia chuckles to herself, knowing that the moment Niall came out of his room, he would chug the coffee and be on his way. She packs up her bag and decides to walk with him up until the crossroads.
"Is that for me?" Niall asks, drinking it before Mia answers.
"Obviously." She replies.
"Well, I'm out of here."
"I'll walk with you."
"I thought Harry was going to work today."
"He did, I just need to go drop off a few things for Barbra."
"Can't spend an hour without him, can you?" Niall says smilingly.
"Shut up." Mia says, walking towards the door.
"You love him don't you?"
"I'm going to leave you behind." Mia warns, already more than ten steps in front of Niall.
He closes the door to the flat, locks it, and runs to catch up with her. They walk side by side in the sunny mid morning, talking and laughing until they reach the street that divides them.
"Send my regards to Barbra." Niall says, wrapping an arm around Mia in farewell.
"I will." She says, relishing Niall's hug and smiling into the crook of his neck. Mia was a hugger, she loved physical contact. She yearned for it, really. That's why she didn't find it alarming that she needed Harry there to be able to sleep, or that the only way she could ever say farewell was with a hug. She needed to reassure people that she loved them constantly, and she knew the best way to do that was to hold them close to her and tell them things like, "Have a good day. Be safe." Which was exactly which she said to Niall.
He looked at her and couldn't help but grin from ear to ear. No one ever told him to have a good day other than his mum or Mia.
Mia turned and began walked in the opposite direction, never turning back. She walked along the cobbled street, the sun shining brightly upon her. She felt the breeze gently caressing her face, the warmth of summer upon her back. She tilts her head upwards, as if attempting to kiss the sky. She attempts to take in the scent of the beautiful day, but her small nose crinkled when she breathed in. The smell of smoke protruded the air around her.
Mia looked in the direction of the bakery, her eyes widening when she sees smoke coming from it. She ran the last couple of steps, flinging her bag to the ground by the entrance. She prayed that it wouldn't be what she imagined. She hoped that nothing would be wrong, that it would just be that Harry had burned some loaves again. Her heart pounds wildly as she opens the door, praying that she found everything as it had been left before she closed the door the previous night. Hoping that the bakery would be as beautiful in her memory. But instead, she found the handle hot to the touch, and her eyes watering the moment she stepped into the door.
"Mia!?" Barbra yells, stuck in a corner by the register.
Mia runs to her, kneeling beside her and coughing loudly.
"Where is Harry?" Barbra says in a weak voice.
"He isn't here!?"
"I didn't see him, dear."
Mia gets up, smoke getting thicker, "You need to get out of here!"
"I'm going to call the fire department, please find Harry!"
Reluctantly Mia leaves Barbra, handing her the phone before crawling on the floor to the main kitchen. "Harry!?" She yells. But nothing.
And then she sees it, his knapsack on the ground by the oven. She panicked. She knew that within it would be his journal, his loose manuscript, and his favorite pen. She scrambled to get it. She hugged the knapsack to her body, coughing loudly. She doesn't know where Harry is, but she hears him scream "Barbra!" She tries to yell out, oh she tries to yell out but the smoke that has penetrated her lungs won't allow her to.
She straps the pack upon her back and crawls weakly to the main room once more, only to see Harry already exiting with Barbra in his arms. She extended her arm, wishfully hoping that he would sense her.
She yelps as she feels the heat surrounding her, and she knows that she doesn't have much time. Mia realizes that the closest door to her is the back entrance. So she gets up, covering her eyes from the clouds of ash, and runs towards her only hope for salvation.
She didn't want to die, God, she wanted to live. She wanted to see Harry's smiling face, to feel his touch upon her skin, to eat one more bloody strawberry and watch it stain her fingertips.
She just wanted to live.
There was a a particular night though that both Mia and Harry remembered quite vividly. Harry in particular didn't remember what date it was, but Mia had the memory, the date, the time forever ingrained in her mind. They were in the cabin, a slight breeze coming in from a crack in the window. Mia had not been able to sleep, her mind racing places she hadn't been in quite a while. Harry felt her unease, the way one feels goosebumps upon their skin. It was pure and utter intuition that he felt her discomfort. So he turned, wrapping his arms around her and cradled her to his chest.
"Nothing really. Just my mind not wanting to turn off."
"You thinking about your mum?"
"Among other things."
"Can I do anything to help you fall asleep?" He asks, kissing her forehead.
Mia nods, "Can I tell you a story?"
"Isn't it usually the other way around? Shouldn't I be telling you the story?"
"Harry." Mia says in a single breath.
"Yes, yes. Fine, tell me a story."
"When I was little my mum would tell me this story. I don't know why, but lately I've been wanting to tell it to you."
Mia nods into his chest and Harry smiles.
"Tell me the story then." He says in a whisper.
Mia unwraps herself from him and faces him, his green eyes illuminated by the sliver of moonlight peeking in through the window.
"There was once a beautiful goddess whose name was Aphrodite."
"Aphrodite is the goddess of love right?"
And so on, and so forth.
Harry stayed awake that night, watching Mia sleep peacefully. He was not quite sure what had come over him, whether it was the moon that had shifted and left him in submerged in darkness. Or that it was Mia's story, how her words had left him restless. He had sworn then to himself that very night that he would write the rest of that story. He would finish it.
As he laid in bed, he was mentally writing line after line. He watched it all play before him as if he were in a cinema.
He didn't want it to end. He didn't want to ever see his strawberry girl's smile vanish.
He wanted them to live within those pages, forever more as in love as they were in that very moment.
Harry looks at Barbra's pale, face. There were smudges of ash all around the creases upon her tear stricken cheeks. Harry couldn't form the words he needed to. He wasn't quite sure he had the ability to say it.
"What...do.... you mean she's still inside?" Harry says shakily.
Barbra coughs loudly, "Harry, she came....she came while you were gone. She tried to save you."
"Save me? But...But..."
"Harry she's still inside!" Barbra says, obviously using every ounce of strength to get Harry into motion.
Harry stops, his mind floods open. There is memory past memory, Mia's laughter, her ocean eyes, her hair like silk, her laughter wild, so wild. He didn't know which memory to focus on, there were so many. It was as if the past four months were happening all at once. And then there is darkness. There is an imminent darkness, one that he's not sure he can move past. It was suddenly as if it were all a dream.
But he awoke, he thought that he finally awoke. He heard his heart pumping in his chest and he knew it was as if he now had the strength to move, and he did.
Harry jumps up, attempting to run back into the now completely inflamed bakery. Firefighters were finally arriving, swinging into action the moment the trucks stopped. Harry ran past them, attempting to get in through the front door where he had just carried Barbra, but was pulled back roughly.
"OI! Are you out of your bloody mind!" Says a man in full uniform.
Harry could not see his face because it was covered by an oxygen mask, but he did not feel intimidated. The adrenaline was still coursing through his body, every inch of him was shaking. "She's still in there!"
"There's someone still in there!?" The man signals his crew, and the five men begin to shuffle in, busting down the door and moving into action.
"Please save her." Harry pleads.
The man simply nods, never replying. He simply shuffles in with the others.
Harry watches his life with Mia, his short time with her, still play before him. He saw chapters he had written, words fluttering before him, her beautiful face, her lips upon his, the wet ground beneath them as he felt her heart beat upon his for the first time. Everything rushed back to him, even the sound her delicate voice.
God, he wanted to hear her so bad that he knew he was imagining her sweet voice calling to him. He didn't want to open his eyes, he didn't want to see everything before him charred and burned. He didn't want to see his world going up in flames before him.
As reluctant as he was, he opened his eyes, knowing that he would find before him only the ruins of the world he had been so proud to call his own. But instead, he opens his eyes only to find Mia, attempting to jump the fence from the side of the bakery to get to him.
He ran towards her, grabbing her body as she tumbled upon him, both of their bodies tangling upon contact. He fell onto a patch of grass, her body onto his. She smelled like smoke, her hair singed at the tips. But it was her, his beautiful strawberry girl.
"You're okay!?" He yells. Kissing every inch of her stained skin, not caring that she was stick or that she smelled so much like the nightmare he had just gone through. She was there, she had made it. Everything would be okay.
"I'm okay." She says, smiling into his kisses, rolling off of him and sitting on the damp grass. She takes his pack off her back and hands it to him, "I thought you needed this."
"Mia..." He says taken aback, he hand't even thought about everything he had left behind.
"We need to protect our little world, don't we?" She says placing her hand upon his as he opens his pack to his journal within it.
"With everything that we have." He responds.