“Do you remember that adventure we went on? When we were nine?”
I sigh, staring out straight in front of me. Of course I remember. But that was before.
“I know you do,” Alex says, sitting down on the foot of my bed with a grunt. He touches my leg, and I flinch from pain.
“Shit, sorry,” he says, holding up his hands.
I look out the window and stare at the darkness and pinpricks of stars. I’d prefer darkness in the room as well, but the doctors would hear none of it. You need light part of the day, they’d said. They said many things. Most of it I couldn’t make heads or tails out of. They use big words as a sugar-coating, I realised all too soon. They’d stand there, sweaty-palmed, and prattle on about the new tests they were going to perform. The gene therapies I could look at and what I could actually afford.
Alex clears his throat.
“Should I rather leave?”
“No,” I say and look at him, daring him to say anything about my red-rimmed eyes.
“I thought maybe, if you’d like… you know your birthday is the day after tomorrow… I thought that I could take you to the garden.”
“They won’t let me out.”
“I’ll sneak you out.” He grins like a naughty schoolboy.
“They won’t even let me keep a succulent here,” I say and my voice breaks, catching in my throat. The top botanist and I wasn’t allowed to go to my garden.
Alex comes and sits closer to me, wipes away the tear that runs down my cheek.
“I’m keeping your part of the garden alive,” Alex says, then laughs. “I’m having to read up a lot about plants now, you know.”
I feel a smile pull at my mouth. Alex reading. Who would have thought?
“And I brought you this.” He took a small plastic container from his pocket and pops the lid open. The smell hits me instantly. Petrichor.
I sit up slowly and stretch out a hand. He puts the container in my palm and our fingers brush. In spite of the pain I feel the butterflies in my stomach. I bring the container to my nose and take a deep breath, smelling the wet soil.
“No one said you can’t have soil. They said you can’t have plants,” Alex says matter-of-factly. He brushes away another tear and I curse myself for being so weak in front of him.
An impish look crosses his face. “Do you remember that adventure we had? When we were going to steal the stars?”
“Back on the colony,” I remember. My voice catches again. “When we were still healthy.”
Silence falls between us.
“Our parents thought they chose well, you know. When they chose us. I don’t blame mine anymore. Not as much as I used to, anyway,” Alex says. I can’t say the same. Not now. Not yet.
He lies down on the hospital bed next to me even though there’s not really any space for him. I move up as best I can. When I look at his face I can see patches of freckles and the wrinkles that are starting to form between his brows. Livid red scarring on the left side of his face shows where an operation had been done. I reach up with my free hand to touch it.
“Does it still hurt?” I ask.
“Not too much,” he lies and gives me a lopsided smile that makes his eyes wrinkle at the corners.
“I’m glad they chose you,” I say, knowing how cheesy it sounds.
He takes my hand, kisses it softly in answer.
“Let’s just pretend we’re nine again,” he says, closing his eyes and holding my hand in his. “When we were on our star-stealing adventure.”
I close my eyes and remember how I stole a kiss from him that day. Our first kiss.