I was suffocating. My breathing was ragged, like I was choking, as I ran past the nurses in the hallway. They gave me startled looks when I pushed them out of my way, and if I had been in my right mind I would've felt a bit guilty for scaring them. Instead, I didn't even bother to glance over my shoulder in apology. I needed to get outside, and they were blocking my path to freedom. All that mattered was reaching the metal door with a bright exit sign, glowing like my own beacon of hope, and taking a few deep breaths into my starved lungs.
After what seemed like an eternity of running down that never-ending hallway, I reached the exit door and slammed it with all my strength. It sprang open and banged against the brick wall outside, the only noise in the night except for my rapid breathing. I stepped forward and let the door close, my heartbeat and breathing already slowing down from the freedom of open space. Unwilling to return, just yet, I walked over to the edge of the building in front of the metal railing.
I was on the hospital's rooftop, a desolate place, but still much better than inside the hospital. The incessant sounds and harsh smells of antiseptic chipped off pieces of my mask I had worked hard on for the past year.
Scatterings of cigarette butts and pebbles littered the cement, along with the occasional alcohol bottle. Ironic considering the place I was in, but then again, maybe not ironic at all. People would want some kind of escape from this place, some kind of reassurance, even if it was from the drag of a cigarette or the sip of a bottle.
Stars were my escape. When everything became too much to bear I would come up here to this rooftop to get some air and eventually go back to my mother with my expression carefully arranged. I had to be strong for her, after all. If she saw my pain it would only add to her's.
Sighing, I gazed up at the night sky as I always did. Just like the cigarette butts and bottles, stars were scattered across the dark sky, little ghosts of light that provided some protection from the shadows of the world.
How sad the stars must be. They've been watching people make the same mistakes for thousands of years and are unable to do anything about it. They try to shed some light on the world, but it's never enough. Not enough to chase all the darkness away.
I noticed the North star shining directly above me. It stood out more than the others, and I remembered my mother telling me before she got sick that if I made a wish on it the wish would come true. Tears filled my eyes, but out of habit I didn't let them fall.
"Please make her better," I whispered to the star. I don't know why; I had stopped believing in magic a long time ago. There was no time for fairy tales when I held my mother's limp, clammy hand or watched helplessly from the doorway as she vomited whatever I had cooked that day. "I wish she was okay again."
"That won't work, you know," A cheerful voice behind me said. I let out a squeak I would later deny, and whirled around to face a boy standing with his hands buried in his pockets. He was giving me a small smile that I couldn't read. Was he laughing for scaring me?
"What the hell!" I snapped, fists clenched at my sides. I glared at the still-smiling boy, infuriated not just because he startled me, but because he saw me without my mask. I had thought I was alone and had stupidly taken it off. Nobody had seen me without it for a year. You should never show that kind of vulnerability, especially to a stranger.
"Sorry," He apologized, his smile turning a bit sheepish. His dark brown hair was ruffled from the wind and when it fell across his eyes he blew at it in annoyance. "I was just telling you that your wish won't work."
My lips parted and a noise of disbelief escaped. Did he seriously just tell me that? Did he go around telling children that Santa Claus wasn't real too?
"Well, thanks," I hissed, my words practically dripping with sarcasm. "It's nice to know that there's someone out there who'll keep me grounded. Can't have me hoping for life to get better, right?" God, what a jackass.
His dark brown eyes widened, and he shook his head wildly, his hair becoming even more messy. He lifted his tan hands in the universal stop gesture and shook those too. "No, no, no! That's not what I meant at all! I was just going to say that the star you were looking at is actually Venus, a planet. So, it can't grant your wish, right? I didn't want you to waste your time on a useless planet that has no wishing magic what so ever!"
He was staring at me earnestly, like he was waiting for me to thank him.
I stared back in silence. How the hell did I get into this conversation? What do I even say? I mean, he had to be screwing with me, right? Unless he actually thought he did me a huge favor by correcting my astronomy...
This guy was totally messed up.
I cleared my throat and avoided his gaze, trying to find some way out of this conversation. "Um, okay, I guess. Well, it's getting kinda cold out so I'm going to go back in." Cold out? It was almost ninety degrees, and the boy seemed to notice. I attempted to squeeze past him (even though there was plenty of room to walk around him), but was yanked to a halt when he suddenly grabbed my wrist.
"I'm sorry," He apologized again, only this time he made sure to catch my eyes, despite my struggles to free myself.
"It's fine," I grumbled, still trying to break away from his grip. He might have looked lanky, but he was surprisingly strong.
"No, really," He insisted, tightening his hold even more. "I didn't mean to ruin anything for you. Maybe wishes really do work on planets!"
I barked out a harsh laugh that surprised him so much he dropped my wrist. I cradled it to my chest in protection. "You're right about one thing. Wishes don't work. Whether they're made on a star or a planet."
He cocked his head and gave me that same smile from earlier. It made me fidgety, like he knew something I didn't, saw something I didn't.
"Maybe." He murmured. We were both silent after that and just stared at each other under the light of the stars. He kind of reminded me of a Hersey chocolate bar, with his dark brown hair, eyes, and tanned skin.
Hershey bars are sweet, a voice in my head whispered.
I flinched at the weird thought, and felt a strange, unexplainable heat in my cheeks and on the back of my neck. I was suddenly very grateful for the cover of night. "I better get going," I mumbled, turning to walk away.
He tried to grab my wrist again, but I yanked it back before he could, and gave him a harsh glare.
Personal space, buddy.
"Don't go," He pleaded, oddly desperate. "Stay, please. I-I...I mean, you-just stay, please. I won't bug you, I promise. You can make wishes on Venus all you want and I won't say anything." His Hershey eyes were once again trained on my face, filled with a sincerity I hadn't seen in years.
...A few minutes couldn't hurt.
I sighed and nodded, this time letting him take my hand when he reached for it. He pulled me back to the edge of the building and sat down with his legs dangling over the side and his arms draped over the lower railing. After a moment of hesitation, I joined him and set my hands in my jean-clad lap.
"I'm Christian Dann," He told me with a small smile, the same one that made me nervous of how much of me he was able to see.
"Kara Hemming," I said quietly.
"Well, Kara," He glanced up at the stars. "What's got you wishing on Venus?"
I followed his gaze to the North star, or rather, Venus, before replying so I wouldn't have to see his expression when I told him. "My mother's got cancer. We were just told that she has three months to live. I was wishing that she'll get better. And-" My throat closed like it had back in the hospital. I felt like I couldn't get enough air into my lungs, and my breathing picked up until I was almost hyperventilating.
But then, as soon as it had started, it had stopped. A tan, callused hand was linked with mine and squeezing gently. And just like that, I was breathing again.
I expected Christian to mumble an "I'm sorry" like everyone else or something like that. Some people would avoid my eyes. Others would meet them with such pity it made my stomach roll. But, instead, Christian was smiling that same smile and his chocolate eyes held that same sincerity as he told me, "It's okay to wish on Venus sometimes."
The stars shone down upon us.