Strawberries [AU]

She spent her days lazing in the summer sunlight, eating strawberries whilst being enveloped in a world of prose. He spent his own locked away in his flat, reading Bukowski whilst the world passed him by. When he first saw her, first talked to her, first heard her, he wondered how such a girl could be real. How a girl, who tasted like strawberries and recited lines of poetry that wrapped around his heart and sung for days could ever look at a boy like him. And he couldn't help but wonder, "could the strawberry tasting girl ever love the brooding hazel eyed boy?"

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21. T W E N T Y

T W E N T Y

 

And so, as the summer was beginning to wind down, Harry finally was starting to write his masterpiece. He spent entire days locked inside his room, Mia bringing him cups of tea and toast with jam. She went out on a bicycle now to town and delivered the baskets full of strawberries that they were harvesting. She didn't want to bother Harry with the chore, feeling that he was finally beginning to feel his story. There were some days he didn't even go to work, sending Mia in his place. Those days Barbra was delighted to have her there, Mia always bring laughter and happiness with her wherever she went.

For the first time in a very long time, both Mia and Harry felt as if they had an actual purpose. Mia enjoyed the days she spent working at the bakery so very much, that she asked Barbra if she could continue to do so when Harry had days off. Barbra of course accepted, coming to love Mia as if she were one of her own. Mia, as terrible as she was at baking, was a wonderful help to frail Barbra. Bringing the older woman the heavy trays and setting up displays. Where Harry was the baker, she was the helper. And finally, finally Mia felt as if there was a place for her in the world, even if it were a minor role.

"Dear? Could you please bring me the tray that's in the oven? Be careful now, don't burn yourself." Barbra says, turning to look at Mia and pointing towards the oven.

Mia nods, "Of course. I'll be right back."

Mia walks back into the kitchen, pulling out the trays and smelling the fresh loaves of bread. She now understood why Harry loved working here so much. It wasn't so much that it was a job, she knew that it was much more than that to him. Just like the book.

"These smell amazing." Mia says, walking back into the front of the store, the loaves steaming on a cool tray she was bringing towards Barbra.

"It would be better if Harry had made them, though." Barbra responds with a smile upon her face.

Mia giggles, nodding in agreement. She had come to discover recently, that anything that was made with love would truly taste much better. As it was with the strawberries, it was with everything else. Whenever Harry made her lunch, dinner, a snack, it tasted exponentially better than if she had made it herself. Just as well, she figured, Harry would have made these loaves that much better because he would have poured his entire heart into making them.

"Do you know when it'll be finished?" Barbra asks, obviously inquiring about Harry's book.

"I have no idea, but he did mention he would be coming to work tomorrow. Said something about how all the writing was really getting to him."

Barbra chuckled, "It would be wonderful to have him back working."

"Are you saying I'm not good enough, Barbra?" Mia says turning to Barbra and putting on a fake pout, "I've been working so hard! But I'm just not enough to replace Harry am I?"

Barbra puts a soft, perfumed hand on Mia's cheek and smiles, "As long as you know it, dear."

Mia laughs loudly, "You're not supposed to say that!"

"What am I supposed to say?" Barbra says, arranging the loaves into paper bags and sealing them.

"You're supposed to say, 'No dear, you've been working so hard! You should work with me instead of Harry. Who needs him anyways!"

Barbra laughs loudly, "Now, love. You know that I adore you, you know that. But darling, you are not the best baker I know."

"Is Harry?"

"He is young, but he is good at what he does. I don't know what I would do without him." Barbra says, a slight smile upon her face.

"Me either."

—✴—

The next morning, Harry left Mia asleep on his bed, his strawberry girl looking unfairly ethereal in the white sheets that slightly covered her now tanned and glowing body. He shook his head as he recalled that he finally had to go back to work, and that he could not take another day off. Before leaving though, he took one more glimpse at Mia, and couldn't help but think how incredibly lucky he was to call her his. He grabs his knapsack, sighs, and finally walks out the door.

As he walked into the humid morning he came to realize that he had not left the house in about three days. He walks down the familiar streets, hands in his pockets, as he keeps picturing scenes, the words that would flawlessly bring them to life. He pulled out a pen and his journal and stopped only for a second to write down what had come to him. It had happened more and more recently, him having to write out any and all words that came to mind. Harry loved it, he loved the fact that at all times his brain was surging, that it was working in such marvelous ways. He knew that this book would be his bloody masterpiece, he could feel it.

"Good morning Barbra! Did you miss me?" He asks cheekily as he walks through the door of the bakery.

Seeing as it was early, Barbra was starting to make coffee. She turns to look at him with a large smile upon her face, "Where in heaven's name have you been, boy?"

"Trying to pen a novel. Haven't you heard?"

"So my Harry's going to be a famous writer?"

Harry laughs, "Well, I never said anything like that."

"I'm so happy to have you back."

"You need me to clean the ovens don't you?" Harry asks knowingly.

Barbra nods, "Mia was much too small. Couldn't reach the back of the bloody thing."

Harry grabs a towel and slips on his apron, "No worries, that's what I'm here for."

Barbra smiles to herself, obviously pleased that Harry was back, "Thank you so much, dear."

Harry nods and begins to walk to the back where the ovens are. He begins cleaning, making sure that they are spotless. Once he is satisfied he turns them on for a little way so that they may preheat before beginning to back for the day. He looks at his hands, they were covered in grease. He shakes his head and washes them off in the sink. He tries looking for the towel he had been using to clean the oven so that he may dry his hands, but doesn't find it. He shrugs it off and simply wipes his hands on his towel.

As he was waiting for the oven to preheat, and he had finished preparing the loaves of bread that were to go in it, he went to his knapsack and pulls out a blank sheet of paper, not wanting to dirty his journal. He decided that although he was going back to work, he still had to try and work on his novel. It was not even that he had to work on it, it was that he needed to. It was just like breathing, he needed oxygen and he had no other form to get it other than to write.

He decided that he'd sit out in the back of the bakery, the day much too nice to waste away inside. He popped the loaves in, shut the door of the old industrial oven, and cracked open the rear door to sit in the far corner in the yard of the bakery on top of a crate and write. He had become accustomed now to listening to his headphones whilst writing, to make sure to not have to be distracted by the outside world. Classical music was of course his music of choice, the melodies begging to have words depict their beautiful sounds.

The late morning seemed peaceful, birds were chirping and the breeze became less humid as the hours rolled by. Harry of course, could not notice anything but the words upon his page. Yet, as he looked up and took one single headphone out he noticed something was off. Harry could not tell what it was, but he felt it. He didn't know whether it was the fact that the birds had stopped chirping between the time he began writing on the page til he had finished, or whether it was the fact that he now felt heat radiating from the inside of the bakery through the screen door. He sniffed the air, finding that it did not smell of summer but of smoke. He tilted his questioningly, not sure what to make of it.

"Barbra?" He quips, through the screen. "Is it too warm in there?"

He could feel the heat coming through the door, outside. He had written off to the humidity of the English summer, but then he realized that there was actually a breeze that day.

He pauses, not hearing Barbra respond. He gets up from the crate and walks back inside, only to be faced with a cloud of smoke. Harry coughed loudly, his body reacting violently to the flames that were before him. Angry tinges of red and orange and yellow all devouring the beloved bakery.

"Barbra!" He yells, coughing again.

But still there was no answer. The fire was not large enough to have made any kind of sign to the outside world, but it was large enough still to be uncontrollable. For the first time in many a days Harry had felt completely helpless. He did not know what to do. And as he felt his lungs working overtime, and beads of sweat trailing down his forehead, he knew he did not have much time to figure out what needed to be done.

He picked up a fire extinguisher from the corner of the kitchen, only to find that it was empty. He cursed loudly, knowing that there was no way now that he could stop the fire from spreading.

"Barbra!" He coughs loudly once more. "Barbra where are you!?"

But once more there was not a response.

The air became thicker, everything around him becoming dark. He knew he had little time, such little time before he had to run for his own life. So he ran through the double doors that led to the front of the shop and was surprised still to see that the fire had now engulfed the display, the marvelous display that Barbra and Mia had put together. He remembers Mia's face excitedly telling him how she had helped, how beautiful it had come out.

His chest became tight, his eyes teared. He couldn't see well, but he knew that Barbra could not have made it out. It was not possible. She would have told him that something was wrong. She would have yelled, screamed, she would have done something.

His eyes look over at the register, and he sees sticking out from behind the counter a set of white tennis shoed feet.

"Barbra!" He yells, his chest and throat somehow allowing him to yell. He runs over to her, his whole body shaking. She was passed out, her apron charred, her hair slightly burned. The phone on the counter was off the hook, hanging lifelessly beside her. He knew that she had tried to put the flames out and when she hadn't been able to she attempted to call for help.

All of the guilt and remorse that bubbled within him would have to wait. He knew that the energy that surged within him at this very moment, pushing aside any and all other feelings, was what he knew to be the adrenaline. This helped him to lift Barbra's seemingly lifeless body off the floor. He cradled her small body into his arms whispering, "I promise it'll be okay. I promise."

And he ran towards the front of the bakery, kicking open the door to find that even though it was if he were in the depths of hell within the now completely inflamed bakery, still in the outside world life continued.

He ran to the other side of the street, placing Barbra upon a small patch of green grass. He breathed, oh he breathed in all the fresh air he possibly could. And before he knew it he heard the sounds of fire engines, sirens announcing that they were finally on their way.

He watched the bakery, his beloved bakery be engulfed by the dancing flames. The sight of it too much for him. He turned to look at Barbra, knelt at her side. He took her small, wrinkled hand in his and pressed it to his cheek. "We'll be okay. I promise, we made it out okay." He whispers.

God, he just wanted everything to be okay.

"Harry?" Barbra says weakly.

Harry's heart races, he thanked God that she was alive, that she had made it.

He bends down to her lips, so that she doesn't have to struggle so much, "What is it, Barbra?"

"Mi-Mia." She stutters.

"What about Mia?"

"She's....she's," Barbra coughs loudly before letting out the rest of her sentence in what seemed like a breath, "She's still inside."

 
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