A/N: Sorry this took me so long! I was really planning an update two weeks ago but a long story involving people who weren't supposed to read this reading it when I left my laptop open and the writer mortification that followed (and stuff with school!) caused me to be very, very late. I truly regret it! Anyway, in response to BritishSocialite, I am not planning to end this any time soon. Thank you all so much for the kind reviews, favorites and follows!
By the way, it's amazing to write Hazel and Gus together. Oh, the chemistry! And now, without further ado...
The hands of Augustus Waters are shaking when he reaches into his pocket for his cigarettes. Briefly I wonder if somehow the pack I slid into his fingers while he lay lifeless in his casket is the same pack he's struggling to hold now. A feeling in my gut tells me so. Even his fingers are trembling as he singles out a stick and balances it between his lips. He takes a deep breath.
And then he's running my way, and he's leaping and screaming into the air and he's grinning wide, so wide, like crazy. He doesn't dodge anyone or anything. He runs straight and with purpose. People are parting to let him through, as if fully aware how much this moment needs to be like the movies, which is only fitting, seeing as we're at a movie theater.
The wind is in his hair. I allow myself the luxury of imagining my hands tangled through it instead.
Just like that, they are.
One second I'm lost in my thoughts, and the next, I'm lost in his arms. The cigarette is lying on the ground, threatening to roll away and get lost under the feet of the still restless crowd. But Augustus is far from bothered. "Okay," he keeps repeating over and over in my ears, his voice as low and smoky as ever. "Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay."
"Shut up." And for every okay he's uttered, I give him a kiss, trailing them along his jaw. For the okay I just cut off, I lean over and meet his lips with mine. He's still trembling as he finds my hands and holds me close.
When we pull apart, I'm surprised to find tears streaming down my cheeks and my hair. For a second I'm confused as I run my fingers over locks of it, but when I step back to get a good look at Gus—Gus!—it makes sense.
He's crying, too.
"Hazel Grace," he says, but this time his voice wobbles just slightly and cracks. He holds me at arm's length, taking in every inch of me. I'd say savoring me if it didn't make me blush. He's breathing heavily now, tears still pooling in his eyes and past his lashes. I wonder if part of it's because it hurts to smile that wide.
Still the people continue to gather around us. They are saying so many things all at once. My guess is that having new arrivals here is quite a big deal. But all I can hear are Gus's breaths mixing with mine. His proof of existence and my proof of existence. Now combining into one major evidence that we exist, together, right here, right now.
He looks behind him, as if searching for someone, then he turns back to me. Waiting. Expectant.
All this time I've been thinking of things I want to say when I saw him again. There are too many of them. Do I use the wily charms of my unfailing wit and sarcasm to try to make light of things? Do I tell him I love him? Nah, he knows that already. There are so many words just pooling at my throat, ready to be unleashed unto the world for him! God knows he's said enough okays for the both of us. I could probably talk his ears off and he'd need to get a prosthetic pair of those, too.
I could tell him anything and everything. Maybe I should even tell him nothing. Words can make or break moments like these. Sometimes, the moment itself is enough.
In the end, all I can say is: "You have two legs."
This seems to express everything I've wanted to tell him, because he blinks slowly and gives me this incredibly sexy smirk (made even more adorable, of course, by the fact that despite being a Grand Gesture Metaphorically Inclined Augustus trademark, said smirk is partnered with the post-weeping eyes of Surprised and Excited and Innocent Gus; a true juxtaposition that could be potentially fatal for my already unstill heart) before offering his arm. Still quite teary-eyed, he says, "I hope you're not going to run off with the next amputee you lay eyes on. Us two-legged guys, we're a dime a dozen."
"You know I'd buy a dozen of you if I could," I tease, taking his arm. "The world needs however many Augustus Waterses it would be lucky enough to get." We start walking. He leads.
"Too bad. There's only one of me."
I pause. "Even better."
He pauses. "Hazel?"
This time, I don't miss a beat.
"I know. I've missed you, too."
The sun isn't even halfway up the next day when I start jumping on my bed to wake a still sleeping Gus, who of course insisted he stay the night at my place, which incidentally is right next door to his. Our bedroom windows face each other. He's already made me promise not to moon over him—his words, but probably mine if they weren't—when he's in the middle of changing and deliciously half-naked. I said yes, only if he would do the same for me. A discussion of bedroom window interaction clichés soon followed.
I drop on my knees and nudge him with my hands. "You don't want me to resort to calling you Gussy, do you?"
He covers his face with a pillow and groans. "Mff," he deadpans, voice muffled. "Mfflthn bth ffff."
"What?" I grab the pillow and throw it off the bed. I am instantly greeted by his blue eyes, blinking and heavy-lidded, yet still as clear and brilliant as ever.
"Please," he repeats in the same flat tone. "Anything but that."
"Augustus, I have a house," I tell him.
"Yes, Hazel Grace, I know. We've been over this countless times last night."
I collapse onto the bed next to him. "I just can't believe it!" I turn on my side to face him. "And I can't believe you."
"You shouldn't," he says solemnly, tucking a piece of my hair behind my ear. "I'm a pathological liar."
I roll my eyes, and he gives me his goofy grin. "You know what I mean. You're here. I'm here."
"Is that right?"
"I'm afraid so."
He lies flat on his back. His ratty gray shirt has ridden up a little to reveal some of his stomach. It's completely G-tube free, and realizing this makes me reach out to touch it. Also, because I like touching him and I want to.
"Warm," I announce.
He puts his hand over mine. "If the truth is that I'm really here and you're really here, then I think I'm starting to like it. No more compulsive fact-bending for this guy."
The first thing he did last night was lead me to a diner called Joe's. Our walk there was considerably free of other forms of humanity, and this gave me a chance to address some of the pressing issues at hand. Starting with: "So, this is Something, huh?"
I suddenly realized why NK said, "We're going to town!" I thought she was just saying that because that's something people say to mean they're going to have a blast. I never quite got the appeal of that phrase, to be honest.
Gus knew what I meant immediately. "In all its alternate-universal glory," he confirmed.
"So nothing is magical here?" I asked, half-joking. I pretended to slump my shoulders. "Darn."
"Au contraire—everything's magical."
"I guess having my luscious hair back is proof enough."
"And my totally cute leg," he agreed. "You look ravishing, by the way. I forgot to tell you that."
"I'd tell you the same, but I wouldn't want you to get any more narcissistic than you already are," which is my way of saying this: I bet jumping your bones puts the Something in Something.
He started explaining the basics to me, and told me what he calls Something now (how completely dorky but just like him!), and before I knew it, we were at Joe's.
Keeping his hand on the small of my back, he guided me gently to a table with three girls and a boy. All four of them looked up at us expectantly as soon as we entered. "Hey, Gus, you're back!" the boy said. "Where's—?" He abruptly stopped talking when he laid eyes on me. "Whoa. New girl."
"Your eloquence always was charming, Denny," Gus told him. Then, with a flourish, he waved a grand arm in my direction and said to the table, "Everyone, I'd like to introduce Hazel Grace Lancaster, the—big damn love of my life."
The boy's jaw went slack. I was willing to bet that he knew who I was, by name, at least. I bit my lip, already aware how hot my face feels. Although, once I braved a glance at Augustus, I wasn't quite sure whose cheeks were redder.
He cleared his throat. "Hazel, this is Amber, Eliza Beth and Marcy." Each of them gave me an awkward yet friendly (strange how such a combination of modifiers could actually come to fruition) across-the-table hug.
The boy—Denny—stood up and held his hand out. "And I'm Daniel. I've heard some about you."
"I wish I could say the same, but it's a pleasure to meet you," I told him. "And you all, too," I added to Amber, Marcy and Eliza Beth.
We sat. Gus ordered a soda for me, somehow knowing exactly what I wanted right then. I wasn't hungry, but I was parched. Nobody said anything for a while.
"Wow, Gus, she sure is a total doll," Marcy declared after some time, finally breaking the silence.
"Thank you, Marcy," he replied, but his eyes were on me. Twinkling. "That she absolutely is."
I didn't know what to say to this, so I crossed my eyes at him before turning to Marcy with a small smile.
When my soda arrived, Amber congratulated me on my preference of regular Coke over Diet, which prompted Eliza Beth to ask what my favorite drink is, which in turn began a round-the-table inquisition session that amused Gus to no end. He kept looking at me with the same wide smile he had at the movie theater when I first arrived. I couldn't say I wasn't enjoying it myself.
It was well past eight PM when Gus finally reached for my arm and slapped a bill on the counter to pay for my drink. "Okay, kids, Hazel needs her beauty sleep," he said with a quick salute. "And I've decided it's my job and honor to make sure she gets nice and settled. We'll see you tomorrow."
I waved goodbye to my new friends and trailed after him as we walked away.
"Try not to do anything I wouldn't do!" Denny called after us.
"Only because you haven't done anything, Denny!" called Gus back over his shoulder without missing a beat.
"Not cool, Waters, you're supposed to be my wingman!"
"He wants Marcy," Gus explained when the diner door closed behind us.
I nodded. "I figured just as much. You can see it in the way he laughed at everything she said earlier. I thought girls were the only ones who did that?"
"You're a girl. You never did that."
"Not the point. We're well past establishing the fact that I am an extraordinary girl."
"That, and the fact that you're a total doll," he added matter-of-factly, not like he was mocking Marcy, but more like he was wholeheartedly agreeing.
I elbowed him lightly. "Does Marcy like Denny back?"
He smirked and drew a line across his lips, as if zipping them shut. "Wingmen never tell."
We were still laughing and joking around when we stopped in front of an apple green house with a milk crate full of books on the front porch. A flag I could recognize from The Price of Dawn stood high and proud, waving in the evening breeze.
"You live here?" I couldn't help sounding like a little kid.
But Augustus wasn't even listening to me. He was looking at the house next door, which was robin's egg blue and breathtaking. "Hazel Grace." He squeezed my hand. "You have officially just become the girl next door. Literally."
"I live there?!" I sounded about eight a while ago. Now I sound like I'm five.
"I told you. You get a house when you get here. Guess you're stuck with me."
I think I just squealed. No words.
"So…you want to check it out?"
"Do I ever!" I ran up the porch steps and swung the bright red front door open. The walls inside are white, some cream-colored, and there were wonderful photographs and paintings of various places in Amsterdam everywhere. I did a little dance in the foyer. "I have a house I have a house I have a house!"
There was laughter, then a knock on the door and Gus standing in the threshold. "May I come in?"
"I don't know," I said, "my mom always forbade me to let you. She always said, 'Watch out for that boy next door.'" I never knew how playing coy could come so naturally to me. Still, in that moment, I missed my mom. I would give anything to have her with me again. Even if it meant actually being forbidden from seeing Boy-Next-Door Augustus.
He tilted his head up to the ceiling with a convincing look of agony. Why?! "Oh, be still my heart, all I ever wanted was to get the girl next door to notice me."
Okay, maybe not entirely even if it meant actually being forbidden from seeing Boy-Next-Door Augustus.
I leaned against a wall and crossed my arms over my chest. "This isn't a very interesting storyline, is it?"
"It's safe to say ours is infinitely better." He grinned, taking three quick steps forward and planting a kiss on my forehead.
We explored the whole house, from the spacious living room to the pastel-colored kitchen with a fridge that matches the color of the house to the squeaky-clean bathrooms to the two rooms upstairs. One is a library—I swear, my heart was in my throat, because I HAVE MY OWN LIBRARY IN MY OWN HOUSE WHAT IS THIS LIFE—and the other is my bedroom.
I was informing him of my status as a homeowner the whole time.
In my bedroom, I jumped onto the bed. I can't say I was about to miss the BiPAP. "Goodness."
Slumped against the doorway, he watched me. "Goodness, what?"
"Just goodness." I shrugged.
He continued watching me for a moment before squaring his shoulders and righting himself. "Well. Looks like you're settled. I should go." He looked reluctant, but he was already backing away. "You need sleep. It's late."
"You sure you don't want to stay?" I asked.
He shook his head. "I'm sure. Goodnight, Hazel Grace."
"Suit yourself." I followed him back to the front door and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. "Sweet dreams, my dear Augustus Waters." I closed the door as he trudged down the porch steps.
The only thing left to do was to stand there and wait. I counted the seconds in my head and on my fingers. Ten, nine, eight…
Ten seconds later, right on cue, my doorbell was ringing. He was once again on my doorstep. "Forget something?" I quipped.
"I think it's escaped me how utterly unprecedented you are, Hazel Grace, and how hard it is not to be around you all the time. How am I supposed to get some shuteye knowing you're all alone in there?" He stepped forward. "Please let me stay."
"Three words could have done the trick," I told him, "but I'm glad you went the extra mile, anyway." His smile was one of relief and something I could never quite place. "Come here."
I could tell he was gearing up for a spiel regarding a good night's rest on the floor when I patted the person-sized empty space on my mattress. "I'm pretty sure you're quite good with logic. And you have to know it wouldn't be logical or polite of me to let you sleep anywhere other than this enormous bed."
"And it wouldn't be polite of me to—"
"Did I not make you a one-legged non-virgin? It's just a bed, Augustus. And I'm just me."
"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," he said, before I could go on about not having turned into a zombie, but he had this gleam in his eyes.
I sat cross-legged and didn't reply. With an exaggerated sigh, he made his way over to the bed planted himself next to me. Our knees were touching. "Happy?" he said.
"More than you could possibly imagine," I replied.
Gus's eyes were still gleaming. "I think I can imagine just fine, thanks."
And so we conversed. I told him how life went without him. He told me how it didn't go without me. I talked to him about his parents missing him every day—everybody missing him every day—and attending my funeral. He got into this crazy story of meeting Not-Isaac, his own Spirit Guide. This prompted me to let him know about Isaac and Kaitlyn. The rest of the words poured out between us, covering a range of topics wider than a baseball field. It felt like we could stay up the whole night just talking. It certainly went that way until the need to rest got the better of us.
We fell asleep in each other's arms. I could hear his heart hammering, hammering, hammering away the whole time.
Now he's pulling his pants on over his boxers and giving me a quick peck on the lips. "Be down in ten minutes. I'll make us breakfast."
"Should I be worried?"
He rolls his eyes. "Very funny. I'll have you know I've become quite the cook."
"The kitchen comes pre-stocked, too?" I can't help asking. Very few things are logical here, but somehow they just make sense. You learn to live with them. Just like life.
He smirks, rubbing at his collarbone. "Yeah. But don't go missing grocery shopping just yet. It's a one-time welcome thing. Kind of like a Neopets newbie pack."
"You played Neopets?"
"Shut up. I had a Sketch Chomby and a Pea Chia."
I gasp. "Well, nobody likes a braggart!"
"Do you know Kingdom of Loathing, though? I must say, that game was wicked. And hilarious, too. You get to be like Tom Hanks and have blood-faced volleyballs as pets!"
I suddenly remember how endearing he is when he gets excited about something, especially things like pet blood-faced volleyballs. I have a flash of him on the plane during takeoff for our first flight to Amsterdam. I only realize I'm grinning so wide when my cheeks start to hurt.
"What?" Augustus asks.
"Nothing." I shake my head, hugging my blanket to my chest. "Go make breakfast. Prove how good you are at cooking."
He kisses me again, and raises one finger. "I missed doing that. Wait." And it's his turn to kiss along my jaw and below my ear and down my neck and back to my lips again. He's slow and methodical and clumsy and hasty all at the same time. "There. That's better."
I mess up his hair, laughing. "Now that that's out of your system…"
"Right." He ruffles my hair, too. "Food." He jogs out into the hallway and down the stairs, reminding me over his shoulder to get down in ten minutes.
By the time I head downstairs, Gus has managed to prepare a humongous mountain of blueberry pancakes and some macaroni tossed in butter. "No tofurkey yet," he announces. "But I'll grab some for a nice dinner some time, okay?"
"Macaroni and butter?" I furrow my eyebrows together.
"It's good. Trust me." To prove his point, he holds out a spoonful to me. "Come on."
"Just because I'm a vegetarian, it doesn't mean you have to subject me to this—" My eyes widen when he shoves the spoon into my mouth, cutting me off. Whoa, grains and carbohydrates and churned dairy. I consider myself converted. "—absolute perfection!" I finish.
He gives me a triumphant howl. "What have we learned?"
I want to wipe that know-it-all look right off his face.
With maybe a kiss or two.
"You are a good cook. Also, macaroni and cheese is lame and macaroni and butter rules."
He helps himself to a spoonful as well before setting down a plate of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and taking a seat opposite me. "Thank you. Now, eat up. We've got a whole bright shiny summer day ahead of us!" Mouth half-full of half-chewed macaroni, he nods excessively at me.
"No, thank you." The "for being here and for last night and for introducing me to your friends and for sleeping with me and for breakfast oh God breakfast" is implied. I swallow a bite of fluffy blueberry pancake. "Uh-oh. You look like you think you've planned a scheme that Ferris Bueller would be proud of."
This would be NK's cue to say she told me so. Remember her whole spiel about a cute boy (or two, or three, or a dozen) tripping over himself to show little ol' me around? I wanted to believe her, and I think I even kind of did. I just didn't foresee that said cute boy would be this cute boy.
Augustus takes a sip of water. "Hazel Grace, allow me to give you a grand tour of Mayhemville."