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Steady as the Snow Falls(50)

By:Lindy Zart



She turned off the lights, her bare feet pattering on the hardwood  floor, and checked the locks on the front door. In the dark, Beth  ascended the stairs with a sheaf of papers clutched to her chest. There  was finality to this, this that first brought them together. Something  that bound them was about to be taken away. Beth didn't want any part of  them gone, not even this story. Her pulse thrummed with the wrongness  of it, her breaths shaky. She didn't want to say goodbye to anything  that gave her Harrison.

Harrison stood in the middle of his bedroom, his back to her. His head  was tilted back, hands on his hips. The soft brown pajama pants were  looser around his hips than they were months ago, and there was added  length to the long-sleeved gray shirt that hinted at the loss of weight.

The virus was getting tougher, and Harrison was getting frailer. His  last checkup hadn't been what they'd hoped for-the virus was mutating.  The doctors were trying different medications, but in the meantime,  Harrison was feeling the effects. He was tired all the time, and his  skin had an unhealthy tinge. He was sick off and on, and he wasn't  eating enough. She told herself they would find something that worked,  soon they would find something that worked.

Soon. All of her hopes rested on soon.

She would give anything to have met him earlier, not even before he had  the disease, just before she had. Months, weeks. Days, even. Just a  little more time spent getting to know the man she would love. Beth  swallowed, blinding herself to the shadows of destiny, but it refused to  be ignored. The disease crept through the cracks of the walls, spread  along the plaster, in wait. Watching. She briefly closed her eyes,  gathered her strength. No. It couldn't have him. Not yet. Hopefully, not  for a long, long while.

"What are you doing?" she asked softly.

"We're going, Beth," he said without turning to face her.

Beth frowned, stepping closer. "Going where?"

"To the Appalachian Trail. In two days. We're going."

"Harrison," she began, the words frozen on her lips as he looked at her.

Determination, fierce and grave, slanted across his face like an unapproachable vow.

Beth let out a slow breath, nodding. "Yes. We're going."

"In two days," he reiterated, one fiery eyebrow cocked.

"In two days." There was a lesson in every decision, and Harrison had  just taught her one. He was still here, and he could do what he wanted  while he was, and he should. He should do it all, every damn thing he'd  ever dreamed of.         

     



 

His bottomless eyes lightened, clouds were wiped from his visage, and  the smile he gave her, though exhausted, was blinding. His facial bones  were more prominent, the grooves beneath his eyes and below his  cheekbones deeper. "I was thinking something else too."

"About?" Beth prodded, moving for him.

The smile expanded. "You."

She returned the smile, setting the papers down on the bed to wrap her  arms around his body. Thinner, but still Harrison. "What about me?"

Harrison's scent of laundry detergent and him trickled over her senses,  weaved serenity around her as his arms met across her back and he  squeezed her to him. "I love you."

Beth nuzzled the side of her face against his chest. "I love you too. That's what you were thinking? That you love me?"

"Yes." Harrison dropped his arms and stepped back. "I think it all the time. It's my mantra."

Before he got too far away, Beth reached up and touched his thick hair, and then stood on tiptoes to bring her lips to his.

"And one more thing."

She smiled and brushed her nose to his. "What?"

"I want to spend forever with you," he whispered against her lips.

"And you will," she promised.

"Your forever, not mine."

Beth took a shuddering breath, resting her forehead on his mouth. In a  clear voice, she informed him, "Forever is forever, Harrison."

She felt his smile against her forehead as he fiddled with her left  hand, something cool and hard sliding along her finger. "I want my  forever with you to formally start in two days at the Appalachian Trail,  with you as my wife. I don't want to waste any more time."

Shocked joy locked her in its unmoving embrace, and Beth opened her  mouth to speak, but nothing would come out. Her pulse was too fast, her  mind going blank, and then speeding through questions. Did he really ask  her that? Did he really mean that? Was there really a ring around her  finger? Beth was scared to look, scared to believe.

She didn't dare to think of such things like marriage and babies, but it  was there, in her heart. That need, that want, it was there. The ring  felt like a remarkable weight, an anchor of their hearts to one another.  Something to keep Harrison tethered to this world, and her. She blinked  her eyes as tears formed, and a sniffle escaped.

"Beth?" Harrison angled his head down to meet her eyes, his fingers  touching the sides of her face. She felt Harrison's nervousness between  them, the air spiked with disquiet. He tried to smile, to joke, but  doubt and fear swam in his eyes. "Was the sniffle a yes, or a no? Don't  leave me hanging here."

"Yes," she croaked. Beth cleared her throat, smiling against watery eyes  and a pinched throat. "A million times yes. I want to be your wife. I  would love to be your wife. Now. Right now. Yes, so much yes."

A grin split his face, eradicated the illness in a singular moment of  pure ecstasy. Harrison crushed her to him, his heartbeat racing against  her chest. He kissed her head before pulling back to say, "There's  necessary paperwork to make it official, but I already talked to someone  who is ordained, and our parents want to be there. I know it's sudden,  and maybe you want something more extravagant, but with us going to the  Appalachian Trail, I thought it was-"

"Exactly what I want." Beth grabbed his face and slammed her mouth to  his, kissing all of her love for him into his lips. She felt light, and  full. Like she could fly away, and never leave the ground. Heat swept  through her body, and she let the hunger take over, let it snuff out the  fear. Harrison moved back, and she moved with him, falling onto the bed  with her on top.

"Are you even going to look at the ring?" he rasped after breaking off  the kiss, his chest heaving as he fought to breathe. Careful, Beth, be  careful.

"I will, but not yet. It will make me cry, because however it looks, I  know it's perfect," Beth whispered against his lips, and kissed him  again. Gently. Softly.

He was careful not to deepen the kiss too much, careful, careful,  careful. She thought of the story, of their engagement, of their love,  of the disease, and she was broken and healed, over and over.  Breathless, she kissed him harder, faster, sealing them as one with  their mouths. Wanting to kiss the disease from his very lips. Their love  was beautiful, and tragic, and she just wanted it to be beautiful. She  didn't want to know that one day Harrison could be taken from her.

"Beth," he rasped, turning his head to the side when she tried to kiss him again.

Beth kissed his jaw, both cheeks, his forehead, all the while Harrison looked up at her, still and silent.         

     



 

"Beth," he whispered, asking with his eyes what she didn't want to  answer. "You're sad about something, and I really hope it isn't the  prospect of marrying me."

"I finished the story." She stared down at the stack of white papers  near them, tattooed in black with her heart. All of Beth was shredded  again and again on the pages, but in the best of ways.

The book wasn't about Harrison. It was them. It was the story of a young  woman disillusioned, but still somehow able to dream. It was about a  man, weighted down by a fate he could not change, and deciding to change  how he saw it. It was their love story, altered into a world where no  one died, and no one got sick, and there were only good people. It was  the perfect life in a perfect world in a perfect, nonexistent reality.

"It's okay," he told her.

Beth shifted her eyes from the pages to him.

Harrison gently touched her face. "Hold on to it." He stared at her,  scrutinizing her features, adoration and strength looking back at her  from his eyes. Strong eyes, strong mind, strong heart, weak body. Three  out of four should be more than enough, but it wasn't.

"Keep writing my story. Our story. It is obvious you're not ready to  part with it. And now you have more to write about, right?" His smile  was subdued, the happiness of their engagement taking a backburner to  reality.

Her shoulders lowered with relief. Beth could keep writing. She didn't have to give this up. She didn't think she could anyway.

"You don't have to stop." Harrison seemed to realize the gift he was  giving her, how ever strange it might be to someone else. "Publish it  after I'm gone. Can you do that for me, Beth?"

It was a simple request, asked quietly, and it broke her heart. After I'm gone. It was a reality she liked to avoid.

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