18. My Beautiful Reward

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Down empty hallways I went from door to door - Bruce Springsteen

10:07 p.m. Friday, October 8, 2021

His hands are warm on hers, and she throbs all over. Not that she could explain to another living soul what she was doing. After all of her talk and bravado about not letting the town know they are spending time together -- after making him duck down in the car, sneak out of her house through the back door, and forcing him to help with cleaning up horse stalls -- now she's actually letting him hold her hand under the blanket? What was next? Would she let him put his arm around her? Kiss her in public?

The thought of a kiss lurches her brain to a full stop. Nope. Not going to happen. He's HARRY for crying out loud! Obnoxious laughing, cold-intolerant, vegetarian HARRY. Who would be leaving town in just one short week. Her head tells her to back away from him, and she starts to shift her fingers. But when Harry tightens his grip and bumps her with his shoulder, she glances at him to find his eyes on her. He looks....happy.

So she returns the hand squeeze and leans against him slightly as the Mighty Bunnies score the winning touchdown seconds before the final buzzer.

"I have news!" Phoenix skips up to the two of them, and Michele quickly withdraws her hand from Harry's, sorting through the items in the picnic hamper in preparation for leaving.

"Come on, Phoenix. We're heading out so we can miss the traffic back to Nowhere," Michele's father calls.

"But...." With a pout, the teen starts to stomp down the bleachers.

"Hey!" Harry calls to her. When she turns, he continues, "We've got a date tomorrow. You, your siblings, and me."

Shrewdly, Phoenix arches one eyebrow. How does she do that? It must be hereditary from Tam's side of the family because none of the other Moores can do it.

"And Aunt Chele?" Phoenix asks with a peek at her aunt.

Harry glances over at Michele, waiting for her response. In for a penny, in for a pound. "Sure," she agrees, certain she'll regret the whole thing.

"WOO HOO!" Phoenix squeals. "Can we go to Ballz and play games?"

"Depends on what your sister wants to do," Harry reveals. "I invited her first."

"I'll talk her into it!" Phoenix hollers over her shoulder as she races to catch up with her parents.

"We're off, too," Spencer says, his arm around Liz's shoulder. "Going to celebrate with some baby-making practice!" His grin stretches nearly as far as the goalposts.

"Ewwwww," Michele cringes. "Definite overshare!"

Liz giggles as she is led down the stairs to the field, leaning into Spencer, occasionally gazing up at him with doe eyes.

Happy for her friends and their love story, Michele twists back to Harry who has folded the blanket and is holding it out to her.

"How, um, how are you getting back to Nowhere?" she asks politely before sucking her bottom lip between her teeth. Nerves race through her body. Please say someone else is taking you back. Please say you don't need a ride.

"Oh," Harry shuffles his feet. "Let me see if I can catch Ace and Stan or Lee and Leigh." He searches the grounds, but the entirety of Nowhere seems to have vanished.

With a sigh, Michele hands over the picnic basket. "Here. You're getting a free ride so you can be my labor tonight. The car is this way."

"Am I going to have to duck down?" Harry asks cheekily.

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