May, 2009

Miley lifted her head and smiled at Renee. She was ready, after that brief moment, to talk to her about Lilly. It was an odd feeling; she felt as if she were in the process of unlocking something inside of her, something she wasn't quite aware that she had locked away in the first place. Keeping Lilly to herself had happened so naturally, that she never had questioned it. And neither had the few people she had dated before Renee. They'd found it enough to know that Nathan's birth mother was named Lilly, and that she was dead. And now Miley was beginning to realize that that fact was a big part of the reason that those relationships didn't work. She took a deep breath and felt her body relax as Lilly's presence seemed to embrace her entire being. "Here it goes," she said with another deep breath. "When I was fourteen, I started volunteering at the hospital. I was a candy striper."

Renee grinned. "Did you have that little red and white striped uniform?"

Miley nodded, a playful grin on her face. What was it with people and that uniform? "Yep, of course," she answered. "Complete with the white shoes." She looked away, and her face pinched. The memory of Lilly's half teasing, half genuinely lusty words about her uniform caught her off guard. She had thought she was prepared for it, but the sadness the memory was stronger than she'd anticipated.

"Will you dress up in your candy striper's uniform for me? White shoes and all? I really…, that uniform fits you well… SO well! And those shoes…gosh, what those shoes do for your feet!"

Renee frowned slightly as Miley turned away. She seemed to be slightly overwhelmed, and she worried that maybe this was going to be too much for her. "Miley, honey, are you…"

Miley turned back to Renee, her lips turned up in a smile. It had taken a second to adjust herself to the feelings of being so close to Lilly again. Talking about heer had always been hard for her; after her death, for a long time, she'd not been able to mention her name, or hear her name, or read her name without crying for at least two hours. "I'm okay," she answered softly, appreciating Renee's concern. "Anyway, I had done most of my work in the pediatric ward and in the maternity ward. But when I was seventeen, they decided to move me to the oncology ward." She looked down at Lilly's picture. It was one of her favorite pictures of her; she'd had it blown up to an 8x10 size after she'd given her the snapshot. With a slight shake of her head, she again looked at Renee. "I wasn't too happy. I mean, cancer is such a scary disease." She shrugged. "I nearly quit, but my mother didn't let me." Miley looked up and remembered that day, that fateful morning, when her mother made her do something that she hadn't wanted to do.

April, 2001

"Miley Ray, what are you doing? You need to get going. You don't want to be late."

Miley sat listlessly on her family's living room couch and glanced over at the stairway, where her mother was descending. She sighed heavily; try as she might, today was a day she had been dreading for weeks. "You know, Mom, I was thinking," she began, hoping that she sounded sure and confident even though she didn't. "Maybe I should quit candy stripping. I mean, I've done it for three years. That'll be enough to look good on my college applications."

Susan Stewart, a very elegant, sophisticated and beautiful woman, frowned as she reached the bottom of the stairs. She walked towards her daughter, arching her perfectly groomed eyebrows. She felt quite confused. "But Miley, you've always loved your work at the hospital," she said, sitting down on the armrest of the couch and gazing at her obviously troubled daughter. She placed a hand on Miley's shoulder. "What's going on?"

Miley closed her eyes and shook her head. She felt so stupid for being so upset about this, and yet, she couldn't help herself. "I have, Mom. But I've always been in the pediatric ward, working with the kids. Kids who have had appendectomies or tonsillectomies or pneumonia or things like that. Kids who got better." In her years at the hospital, she'd never seen a child she helped care for die. She looked up at her mother, her face paling slightly. "Now they want me to go to the oncology ward, and there are mostly kids there. Kids with…with…can…cancer." She could barely say the word. "These kids…these kids…I mean, they're REALLY sick, Mom. I just…I don't think I can handle it. I don't think I can handle watching them…and what if they…die?"

Susan smiled wistfully. Her daughter was such a caring and compassionate person, and yet, she was slightly spoiled. She'd been largely protected and sheltered by herself and her husband, Robbie Ray. And sometimes, Susan worried that her daughter had been TOO protected, that she might not have a realistic sense of a world that wasn't as kind to everyone as it had been to her. "Honey, you can do this," she said encouragingly. "Yes, it'll be different than the pediatrics ward, and it'll be hard. But I know you. I know your heart. You have the compassion and the strength to be a friend to these kids."

Miley sighed and shook her head, and she stared out in front of her. "I don't want to see this kind of stuff, Mom. I don't want to see people suffering." She flopped back on the couch. "Why did they have to change things on me? I liked it the way it was! I was doing GREAT the way things were!"

Susan stood up and reached down for her daughter's hands. "Miley, think of this as a challenge." She stared pointedly at her daughter. "Lets face it. You haven't had many challenges in your life; things have come so easily for you. Maybe you NEED this."

Miley narrowed her eyes at her mother but reluctantly allowed her mom to pull her to her feet. "You think I've had things too easy?"

Susan shrugged. "Honestly, yes, I do." She sighed when Miley rolled her eyes. "Sweetie, look. You need to grow. You need to expand your horizons, and I think this is a great opportunity for you to do that."

Miley pouted. She knew she was being a spoiled brat, and yet, she couldn't help it. Cancer scared her. People with cancer scared her. She had no idea how to deal with people who were facing possible if not probable death, and thinking about the awkwardness she was going to feel made her feel almost nauseous. "I like my horizons right where they are," she grumbled.

Susan chuckled and pulled her daughter into her arms. She knew that Miley wouldn't quit; she knew that Miley would give this her all, just as she did everything. And she knew that it would be so good for Miley to work with cancer patients. It would teach her so much, and yes, maybe it would hurt her. But it would enrich her. "Honey, try not to worry. Try to look at this as a learning experience." She sighed and hugged her daughter tight. "You can do, this Miley Ray. I know you can."

Miley hugged her mother back, trying to do as her mother suggested and look at this as a challenge. She couldn't figure out why she was so petrified. "I hope so," she muttered. "I really hope so."

Two hours later, Crowely University Hospital Oncology Ward

Miley tried hard to keep her composure as she was shown around the ward by the head nurse, Katie Favreau. She had shown her all the basics, and for the past hour or so, had been introducing Miley to the patients, mostly children under the age of ten. Miley's heart ached seeing those kids trapped in their beds, hooked up to tubes, looking pale and sick and tired, most of them either bald or with handkerchiefs around their heads. She knew her face was pale, and indeed, she felt sick. Not out of fear, but out of pity. She felt so sorry, so horribly sorry that these children had to go through this wretched illness.

Katie glanced over at her young charge as they came out of the room of a patient who had just undergone chemotherapy, and she smiled slightly. It was usually always this way with new volunteers, and yet, Katie saw more compassion in this one. She could tell that Miley was going to be a good one, once she got over her initial fear. "Oh, now, Miley, don't be afraid, okay?" she said. "These kids, despite the disease, are kids. Just kids. And you, my dear, are excellent with kids." Katie smiled, her dimples flashing deep in her cheeks. "That's what I've been told, and my sources are impeccable."

Miley blushed and shrugged. She did love children, very much. And she did seem to have knack with them. But these children were different. Miley couldn't shake the feeling that she would be far too awkward and ill at ease to give them any comfort at all. "Well…"

"Oh, now, don't argue with me," the indomitable, feisty Katie interjected with a shake of her thirty-five year old, brunette head. "Come on. I want to show you the rec room. This is where the kids who are feeling up to it come to play or exercise, or whatever. It's great, too, because it gives them a chance to meet all the other kids on the ward." She put her arm around Miley and led her into the rec room.

From across the nearly gymnasium sized room, a girl looked up from the notebook in which she was frantically writing, unsure as to why she was suddenly so distracted. She found herself looking towards the entrance of the rec room, her eyes gazing over the children running and laughing and playing in between him and the door. And as if drawn by a magnet, her eyes found the source of her distraction. She arched an eyebrow; she'd never seen a girl as beautiful as the one who had just walked in to the room with Katie.

"Whatcha staring at, Lilly?"

The teenaged girl, a tall, lanky one of 17, with thinning light colored hairs thanks to her treatment and searing sapphire, usually playful eyes, turned to her right and found her pal Bobby, a seven year old kid with a mass of blond curls. Lilly grinned and ruffled the boy's hair. "Nothing, Bobby. Hey, you see that girl with Nurse Katie?"

Bobby followed Lilly's gaze and then turned back to her. He shrugged. "Yeah?"

"You ever seen her before?"

Bobby shook his head. "Nope." He grabbed Lilly's hand. "Come on, Lilly, lets go play tag with Steve and Mark!" He tugged on Lilly's arm. He loved it when Lilly played tag with him. He always showed her tricks and new moves to avoid the other kids.

Lilly stared at the brunette girl, and she began to feel something she'd never felt before, something that she really liked. Normally, she'd love to play with Bobby and his friends, but she had to at least meet this girl. She HAD to. "Uh, yeah, Bobby, I'll be there in a minute," she said, still focusing on the girl with long strands of hair that reminded her of waves of chocolate. She took her hand away from the young boy and patted his shoulder as she stood up, a smile crossing her lips. "I'll be right there, okay?" She closed her notebook, barely remembering that it was hers.

And with a sense of purpose, she headed over towards where Nurse Katie and the girl dressed as a candy striper stood, her heart beating faster and faster as she drew closer.

Katie smiled at Miley as she finished pointing out the various activities the rec room contained for the kids. "So, see, it's not all bad on this ward. Part of your job will be to play with the kids, and I'm sure you'll enjoy that a lot."

Miley couldn't help but smile, and as she looked around at the kids, engaged in activities that ranged from coloring and playing with dolls and toy cars to games of tag and fort building, she felt herself relaxing a bit. Obviously, these children WERE like healthy children; they wanted to have fun. She watched them playing, and found that she hardly noticed after a little bit the bald- heads or the obvious wigs or the scarves. All she saw was children.

"You've been holding out on me, Katie!"

Miley turned to find a very good looking, blonde haired, blue-eyed girl about her age standing in front of her and Katie and smirking at her. She felt herself blushing as her heart began to rage inside; she'd never, ever seen a girl as good looking as this one up close, and it made her body quiver. She couldn't help but smile, biting her lower lip slightly, feeling flustered. Her smile was so…so…sexy was the only word that came to her mind.

"Where have you been hiding THIS one? And WHY have you been depriving me?"

Katie rolled her eyes playfully, and to her amusement, found that Lilly's antics and flirtatious words had had the desired affect on Miley; the poor girl was blushing furiously. "Oh, no, Miley, you've caught the eye of our resident charmer, poor thing," she said teasingly, swatting Lilly's arm lightly. "Be gentle with her, Lilly. Lillian Truscott, this is Miley Stewart, our newest volunteer." She glanced at Miley and grinned; she wasn't the first to have had this type of reaction to the very good-looking Lilly.

Lilly grinned. Such a beautiful name for an even more beautiful girl, and she repeated that name over and over in her head. Lilly felt playful; her shyness was so cute, and she wanted to make her blush and smile some more, and laugh. Lilly wanted to see if those blue eyes she was quickly becoming captivated by would dance with starlight when she giggled. "Enchanted, I'm sure," she said in a thick and very bad European accent as she reached for her hand, lifted it to her lips and placed a gentle kiss on her soft skin.

Miley couldn't help but giggle. She barely even noticed how thin her hair was, or how skinny she was. She barely noticed that she was sick, and yet, down deep, she realized that.

It didn't seem to matter. She was flirting with her, and she loved it, despite herself. She wasn't used to it, and it made her nervous, but still, she liked it. A LOT.

Katie again rolled her eyes. "Oh, Miley, now don't let her charm you TOO much," she said lightly. "She flirts with everyone, young or old. Don't let her give you a hard time. You give make her think she has a chance, she'll have you bringing her extra desserts and anything else she can think of." She grinned affectionately, but then glanced across the room and saw a child doing something that she shouldn't be. She sighed. "Hang on. I'll be right back. Lillian, don't pester Miley! You don't want to scare her away on her first day, now, do you?"

Miley looked down as Katie walked away, and she tried to get a handle on her reeling insides. She tried to take Katie's words to heart. 'She flirts with everyone,' she repeated to herself. 'Don't get too excited, Miley. She flirts with everyone.'

"You know, I really don't flirt with everyone," Lilly said, feeling slightly wounded at Katie's warnings to Miley. Yeah, she was friendly and a bit flirtatious with the staff. It helped keep her sane. It helped her feel alive and human. Yes, she liked to have fun with the girls, the only girls she had, in the past year, been able to spend much time with other than her mother. "I'll have you know that I only flirt with the ones that remind me of something."

Miley furrowed her brow and looked at her curiously. Her eyes gleamed, even though her face was slightly pale. "Oh yeah?" she asked, the first words she'd managed to utter to this intriguing woman. She suddenly felt bold, bolder than she had in quite awhile. Lilly smile was so friendly, so warm and reassuring, and it made her feel as if she actually was interested in…well, flirting with her, but also more; getting to know her. She acted on that boldness. "So, does that mean that I remind of you something?"

Lilly arched an eyebrow and studied her face. She was more than just beautiful; she was just breathtaking, and she had to reach deep inside to keep up the witty repartee when all she wanted to do was to melt into a pool of jelly in front of this goddess. "Yes, you do," she said in a slightly lowered voice. She studied her waves of brown hair, her soft, soft skin, her vibrant, midnight blue eyes, the rose in her cheeks. "You really do."

Miley smiled. "What?"

Lilly shook her head, and her expression turned into one of childlike playfulness. "You'll just have to wait to find out," she answered.

Miley rolled her eyes, but she laughed. "What's this? Teasing me then holding out?" She shook her head. "I see how you are!" She was amazed that this person, one of the PATIENTS, had put her so much at ease.

"I've got to have something to get you to come back, don't I? I'm just trying to make sure you stick around," she replied, chuckling herself. "Doing my best to help Nurse Katie!"

The duo laughed together for a moment, and then Lilly flashed again her smirk at Miley. "So, your first day here at the hospital?"

Miley nodded, then shook her head. "Yes, well, no," she explained. "I've been a candy striper at the hospital for a few years now, but mostly on the peds ward. They just transferred me over here, so today is sort of my first day. My first day in oncology, anyway."

Lilly nodded, finding it so very easy to listen to her melodious voice. It was gentle and sweet, and she could imagine that she would have a very tender and loving bedside manner. Lilly would imagine that she was the type that loved reading to small children. A somber thought filled her head. She'd have no shortage of children to read to in the oncology ward that was for sure.

She shook it off and smiled widely. "Well, welcome to the Cell," she said, spreading her arms out on either side of her and gesturing to the room around her.

Miley cocked her head in confusion. "The cell?"

"Yeah, the cell," Lilly said lightly. "The cancer cell. Get it? Cancer cells…jail cells. This is where we all wait to either go home or die."

Miley was stunned at the matter of fact way she'd said it, the almost joking, light- hearted tone of her voice. How could she joke about something so serious, and so deadly? Miley's eyes narrowed, and her smile faded fast. "How can you joke about it?" she whispered, her eyes and heart welling with emotion.

Lilly stared back at her, her smile initially fading, but then, almost immediately, a wry one taking its place. She knew she couldn't understand. How could she? She wasn't sick. She wasn't staring death face to face. And yet, Lilly could tell that she wanted to understand. She wanted to help her understand. She did. She really did. "How can I NOT joke about it?" she retorted gently.

Miley didn't know how to answer, and so she just looked down at the ground. She felt weird, so weird, being this close to someone her age, someone who was sick and knew that she might die. She found herself feeling suddenly very self-conscious; was she being annoying to her? Was she making everything worse for her? Was she making her uncomfortable?

"Hey, did they tell you why they wanted you to come to the oncology ward?"

Miley lifted her eyes again when Lilly's voice broke the slightly tense silence, and she couldn't help but smile. Gosh darn it, that smile was so contagious! It was the kind that, as the cliché went, lit up a room. It warmed a room, an entire room. "No, not really," she said, trying to contain the myriad of emotions that were dancing wildly inside of her. "They said they were short staffed over here…."

Lilly shook her head and crossed her arms, deciding that she needed to play with her some more. She could tell she was nervous about being here, and she wanted to do whatever she could to make the transition easier on her.

Because she SO wanted Miley to stick around. She wanted to be able to see her everyday, for as long as she was stuck here.

She just KNEW that there was something important in this girl.

"That's what they WANT you to believe."

Miley giggled and cocked her head again, this time to the left, and she allowed herself to get just a bit lost in her blue, shining eyes. "Oh, let me guess. You know the REAL story." she teased.

Lilly nodded, her face beaming. "Oh yes. I am IN THE KNOW around here," she joked, finding that the more the spoke with this girl, the more she enjoyed it. "And I happen to know that the powers that be always send the prettiest candy stripers to the oncology ward." She shrugged. "They know that the guys and a few girls here REALLY appreciate it." She winked at her. "And you, Miley, are certainly the prettiest of the bunch!" She wasn't lying. She was the prettiest woman she'd ever laid eyes on. And the best part about her was that she was real.

Miley shook her head and rolled her eyes playfully. "Oh, and let me guess again. You think I look great in this uniform."

Lilly looked her over, for about the trillionth time since she'd approached her. She had a fantastic figure; she was incredibly sexy. She was petite, with gentle curves in her hips and her breasts, and she couldn't help but notice that the crisp white shirt she wore under the traditional red and white striped smock-dress of a candy striper was just a tad too tight. Her legs were smooth and shapely, and Lilly knew that she would probably have VERY sweet dreams of her body tonight. Lilly grinned, slightly guiltily. "You caught me," she confessed. "You look…not just great…incredible! I don't know. I'm just really fascinated by those outfits." 'Especially on you,' she thought, but didn't dare to actually say. She didn't think she should be quite THAT forward.

Miley laughed, she couldn't help it. It just seemed so ludicrous. "What, you have a thing for red and white stripes?"

Lilly took a step closer, unable to resist herself. "I am VERY fond of red and white stripes," she answered. "I mean, I love candy canes. So of COURSE I love these outfits! I mean, jeeze! Isn't the connection obvious?" She grinned and shrugged and glanced down at Miley's feet. "But what really gets to me are the white shoes. How much sexier can you GET?"

Miley laughed hard, and she was pleased when Lilly joined in with her. The thought of her finding her white nursing shoes, designed for comfort and NOT appearance, sexy made her shake with laughter, the kind of laughter she'd never expected to experience on the oncology ward.

After having taken care of a slightly over-exuberant six year old, Katie turned and headed back to where she'd left Lilly and Miley. She found the duo laughing and talking, in a surprisingly familiar manner, and a seed of worry began to plant itself in Katie's mind. She hadn't ever seen Lilly look at anyone the way she was looking at Miley, and she could tell that Miley was quite taken with the young cancer patient. It was something to keep an eye on, she told herself. She might even have to talk to Miley about the proper boundaries between volunteer and patient.

But for the moment, she pushed that aside and approached the twosome, a smile on her face. "Okay, Lilly, you've had time enough with Miley," she said. "I still need to take her to see some other patients before its time for her to go home."

Miley sighed and nodded, her smile fading. She wasn't sure she really wanted to see any more people; she thought maybe she'd like it better if she could just stay and talk with Lilly, get to know this person. Her eyes happened to catch the clock on the wall behind Lilly, and she noticed the time. "Yeah, I guess we should get moving," she commented, somewhat sadly. "I have to leave a bit early for my dance rehearsal."

Lilly noted that. 'A dancer?' she thought with interest, even as she became somewhat deflated at the prospect of her leaving.

"Say goodbye, Lilly," Katie said, despite herself, amused at the almost lovesick look in her eyes as she stared at Miley.

Lilly shook off the slight chill she felt. She grinned. "I could say something cute, like 'Goodbye, Lilly,' but I won't." She turned to Miley and once again, picked up her hand and kissed it gently, this time just a brief moment longer that the previous caress. "Bye, Miles. It was really nice to meet you." She winked at her again. "Come see me soon. I'll be here in the cell."

Miley smiled, even though her heart ached. "And maybe I'll bring you some candy canes."

Katie gave Lilly an affectionate pat on the shoulder and then turned Miley and began to guide her out of the rec room.

Lilly grinned and called after her. "Be sure to wear those shoes!" Her heart skipped a beat when she heard Miley's sweet laughter following her out the door.

With a sigh, Lilly turned and walked back to the table she'd previously been sitting at. She felt as if she were in a daze, and she couldn't stop smiling; all she could see was Miley Stewart's beautiful smile, her shining eyes.

She picked up her notebook, and was then struck by an odd feeling. She'd been keeping her journal in that notebook, and was only halfway though the book. And yet, she suddenly decided that she needed to start a new one.

Something told her that her life had changed just by this one meeting with a beautiful, brunetter candy striper.

May, 2009

"See? I'm not the only one who likes those little uniforms," Renee teased when Miley paused, her eyes a little misty.

Miley nodded and smiled at the wine in the glass she held. "I know," she said softly, somewhat lost in her thoughts of Lilly. She finally looked at Renee, who was looking back at her intently but patiently. She sighed. "Lilly told me her point of view later on. Maybe she didn't really feel any of that…" She shook her head, and her smile widened. "No, she did. I know she did."

Renee nodded. "I'm sure she did."

Miley closed her eyes. It had seemed like it all had happened yesterday when she thought about it last night. Funny, last night she had just spent a few hours reading Lilly's journals, the journals she'd left her after her death. And she hadn't known why she'd been inclined to; she just knew that she needed to.

Perhaps it had been a sign from Lilly, getting her ready so she could finally share the story with Renee.

"So, did you and Lilly start to date after that?" Renee asked, gently prodding Miley as she became quiet.

Miley looked up again, and she shook her head. "Well, it wasn't that easy." She leaned down toward the table, set her glass down, and picked up the picture of Lilly. "We had to struggle a bit to get there, and mostly, because of me."