14. I Never Cared for You

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The sky was never blue - Willie Nelson

6:44 p.m. Thursday, October 7, 2021

"Paige, you have to hold my hand to cross the street," Michele insists. "Those are the rules." Michele is standing on the sidewalk outside of her townhouse, holding her hand out flatly to the side for her niece to grasp.

"No," Paige pouts, arms crossed, hugging her panda across her chest.

"Then we won't go to the movie," Michele stands firm.

"But I want to go!" the little girl whines.

"Hold my hand, and when we get across the street, you can let go," Michele reminds the child.

"Don't wanna hold your smelly hand," the child barks.

"Okay," Michele says, turning back around. "Let's go back in the house then. I'll take you home."

The little one starts crying giant sobs with real tears, "Wanna go to the mobie, Aunt Chele!"

"I am not telling you again. If you want to go to the movie, you have to hold my hand to cross the street." Already Michele is debating the advisability of attending the movie when Paige is acting this way. She's rarely seen the child this obstinate or rude.

"Okay," Paige wails as she reaches for her aunt's hand.

Together they cross the street, and it's like a flip is switched. The girl's tears dry up and she's smiling again as she releases Michele's hand and begins skipping on the sidewalk. "We goin' to the mobie," she chants as she skips and dances. Townsfolk clear out of their way, waving to the child they've watched grow up.

As the pavement curves to the left by Subtext and the pharmacy, Michele spies the antique store just ahead. Checking her watch, she sees it's a little closer to the start time than she would like, especially if they are going to get popcorn and drinks. If only Paige hadn't fought her over her outfit and wearing shoes and whether her panda could come and crossing the street, they would be safely ensconced on one of the more comfortable sofas, cuddling together to watch Alice fall down the rabbit hole.

Approaching the store, Paige suddenly takes off running, her hands to her side, the panda flapping in the breeze.

"Wait, Paige!" Michele scowls. Where is she off to? What's gotten into this child? She's never behaved like this before. Maybe she's tired?

But her words are too late. The child has run straight to Harry, and he's lifted her into his arms, hugging her close. It makes Michele stop in her tracks as she watches them. Her heart feels an ache, and she can't put a name on it. Just that it's an overwhelming feeling that sweeps through her chest and stomach. They rub noses, both smiling before Harry sets Paige down.

"You certainly look lovely today, m'lady," he bows to the child, and Michele can't breathe. She must have some random illness that affects the lungs. No other explanation. He looks dapper in his baggy jeans, white t-shirt, and oversized cardigan.

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6:48 p.m. Thursday, October 7, 2021

Paige wouldn't be here alone. Harry's eyes roam the crowd on the sidewalk until he spots Michele. She's wearing a Willie Nelson tour tee with a full color picture of the man himself on the front with his signature bright red headband and those trademark braids. A smile crosses Harry's face as he observes her cowboy boots with her blue jeans. The shirt is tucked in, and she looks a little bit country. But that's okay. Harry's a little bit rock and roll.

But then he remembers that she's not his companion for the night. Curses. Raising his hand, he waves to her. Leaning over to the child, he whispers, "You're not supposed to leave your date. She'll be lonely and sad."

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