It was never easy to move quickly while dragging an oxygen tank behind you, but it was especially difficult on a crowded street in the city. Feet to dodge, and uneven stones to coax the fixed little metal wheels around, not to mention while weaving in and out of the owners of those feet. In fact, it required enough attention that, in between that and trying to catch your breath without stopping, you might miss the little things, like the smell of enticing salted caramel hot chocolate wafting out from Starbucks, or the new billboard advertising in neon colours the new film of your favourite novel.
You might even miss, say, someone saying something to you. Especially if it was a stranger.
Nevertheless, I still drew to a stop (my lungs screamed in gratitude), trying to ignore the irritated passers-by, and turned to look for this mystery voice. When I found it, my eyes skipped past him immediately; he had short brown hair, and strikingly clear light blue eyes that made you miss a Summer you never had. Why would someone that was undeniably hot be speaking to the girl with hair too short to frame a face puffy with treatment? Even that's a kind description, considering I've left out the nubbins in my ears, the tubes that spiralled back behind my ears - if the cart didn't mark me as a freak, they did.
But when I found his gaze stayed on me, my eyes snapped back to him, and I drew in a sharp breath. He smiled, the lazy smile of a boy trying to be sexy, and I inwardly cringed at my double take that must've looked like a bad movie parody. Before I had a chance to think (not that I was sure I'd be able to), he was pushing towards me, and I was suddenly very aware of the coats pushing past me, the snow-turned-sludge pressed up against the back of my boots.
"I knew it," he said, now before me. "I knew you'd turn around."
Too dazed to take this in, my reply was too late, too awkward, too nervous. "What did you say?"
"Hello," he flashed me that half-asleep smile again.
I took a slight step backward, my hand tightening on the handle of my cart. No one was what they seemed in cities, I reminded myself, and my mom would be beside herself with worry if I was even a minute late. But I was curious. "Do you say hello to a lot of people?"
Still smiling, he shrugged. "People that look interesting. People I'd like to know." Interesting. Of course. My cheeks heated a little, already rosy from the icy-cold fingers of the Winter air. "I'd have said people that are beautiful, but you're the first."
Now my cheeks were practically on fire, and I prayed he put it down to me possibly freezing alive.
"I'm not beautiful." I said it simply, because it was simply true. Cancer had transformed me. My looks were no longer a side effect of my personality, but a full effect of being sick.
He laughed, all music and brightness and life. "Sure you are. Totally Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta."
"I've never seen it," I confessed, smiling a little despite myself.
He made a face, like he thought I was missing out on everything the world had to offer by my not watching this one movie. "I would be happy to discuss it with you, over coffee." I just stared at him. Was he asking me out? Was this how normal kids initiated dates? Evidently, he mistook my hesitancy for dubiousness, and he quickly added: "I'm Augustus Waters." Then, almost as an afterthought, "and you really want to say yes. I'm totally hot."
At this I laughed, and his face split into a real goofy smile, those Summer eyes lighting up. "Hazel Grace Lancaster. And I did wonder why the snow was melting so fast."
"It's a terrible shame, how hot I am," he said, pretending to look mournful. "I melt a lot of things. Including, Hazel Grace, your heart."
I cocked my head to the side, raising my eyebrows. "You assume quite a lot, Augustus Waters."
He held his hands up in mock surrender. "You turned around first, Hazel Grace."
"Just Hazel," I corrected. "Why do you say hello to people, anyway?"
"Because," he replied, his eyes suddenly solemn, "some people might ignore you. Or they might get coffee with you. You never know, Hazel Grace, but how else do you meet new people in a crowd?"
I studied him for a moment, letting how weird the situation really sink in. Then I reached into my pocket, and retrieved my phone.
Mum, I texted, I'm going for a coffee with Augustus Water. Please record America's Next Top Model for me.
i think i write these two meeting in different ways too much. it's a problem, i know.