“What’s the date today?”
“I want to go outside and look at the stars,” he says, wrapping his arm around my back.
“It’s twelve degrees outside, Asher,” I say, using my pinky to trace circles on his chest.
“Do you think they have stars in heaven?”
“Do you think there are stars in heaven?” he pauses, swallowing so hard that I can hear it. “I was just thinking about what it would be like to look up and never see them. It’s kind of what connects the world, you know? It doesn’t matter if we’re here, or halfway across the world . . . we all see stars. Someday soon I’m not going to see them anymore, Kate.”
A tear falls from my eye, but I quickly wipe it away with the sleeve of my sweater. I’ve tried to be so strong for him, but when he says stuff like that it knocks me down like a hurricane.
“Don’t.” He tilts my chin up, making me look straight into his eyes. “I don’t want you to tell me that there’s still hope. I don’t want you to tell me that everything will be okay,” he says sadly, his eyes filling with tears. “I’m dying. This is me dying.”
I pull up on my knees so that my face is only a few inches above his, cradling his cheeks in my hands. “We’re both here right now. I don’t want to think about what tomorrow might bring, or the next day. This isn’t a game of pretend. It’s living in the moment, and it’s how I want to spend every last hour, minute and second we have left together.”
A tear escapes his eye, and I kiss it away. If I could kiss it all away, I would. Cancer is a darkness that is spreading through his body . . . killing him slowly . . . robbing him of light, and all I can do is sit back and watch, praying for the miracle that will probably never come.
He falls asleep not long after. It comes easy for him, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I’m afraid I’ll miss something if I fall asleep, but most of all I’m afraid that when I wake up, I won’t feel his heart beating against my palm. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for that moment.
I slowly get out of bed to call my mom and ask her for a favor. She has been really understanding through all of this, never questioning my decision to spend every waking minute with Asher.
A short while later, there’s a soft knock on the bedroom door. I carefully climb out from under the covers and slide my slippers back on. I open the door a few inches and see Daniel standing there with his arm resting against the door jam. “Hey, Kate, your mom is in the living room. She says she brought something for you,” he announces, stepping back so I can come out of the room.
“Thanks.” Asher’s dad has been so lost. When I first started staying here, we would all eat dinner together with little bits of conversation here and there. Now, Asher doesn’t eat, and the two of them rarely talk. His dad checks on him every morning before work, once after work, and once before he goes to bed. I want to help them mend their relationship before it’s too late, but both are too stubborn to make the first move.
My mom stands behind the couch, looking at the old photos of Asher and his father. The distance between the two of them is even more evident in pictures; they end when Asher is really young and pick up just a few months ago when he moved back to Carrington.
“Thanks for doing this for me,” I say, pulling her into a hug. It’s little things like this that show me how much she cares for me. She would do anything for me.
“It’s not a problem. Anything you need, Kate,” she replies, squeezing me tight.
“Thank you.” I breathe in her perfume and my eyes tear up. Going through this with Asher makes me appreciate the people I have around me, especially my mom. Even through all of our struggles, I know how much she loves me and how much I love her.
“How’s Asher doing?” she asks, pulling back to look at me and my tear stained cheeks. Her eyebrows draw close together as she grabs my head in her hands. “Oh, sweetie, I wish I could take all this pain away, for both of you. I love you so much, and seeing you like this breaks my heart.”
“I just feel so helpless. I wish I could do more for him,” I cry, squeezing my eyes shut.
“You’re stronger than you know, Kate. I am so proud to call you my daughter,” she says, lightly kissing my cheek.
“I love you, Mom, in case I don’t tell you enough.”
“I love you, too.”
Three words have never been so powerful.
“I should probably get back to Asher before he wakes up. I want to surprise him with that,” I say, glancing at the cardboard box on the coffee table.
“Do you want me to stay?” she asks, gently squeezing my upper arm.
I shake my head. “No, I’ll be okay.”
“Call me if you need anything,” she says soothingly, wrapping her arms around me for another hug.
“I will.” I walk her to the door, feeling the weight in my chest getting heavier. I want her here with me. She walks down the snowy path, looking back once to give me a heart-warming smile. It’s that smile that makes me feel like I’m at home. It’s that smile I’m going to need to see a lot more of really soon.
When I walk back into the bedroom, Asher is talking on his cell phone. “I miss you too,” he says, sadly into the receiver. “Can you put mom back on?”
I quietly close the door behind me and set the box my mom brought on the dresser. Asher spots me and pats the area next to him on the bed. “Hey, Mom, I just called to see how things were going?” I watch as he nods and closes his eyes. “Mom, please don’t cry. I don’t like it either, but she can’t see me like this.”
He shakes his head, pinching his nose between his fingers. “I’m sorry. I just can’t.” He’s silent for a while, focusing his attention out the window. I would do anything to make this better for him. It’s hard to watch the person you love fall apart in front of your eyes. “Okay, I’ll talk to you later. I love you,” he says before tossing the phone on his nightstand. I give him a few minutes of silence to sort through the things that are going through his head before I crawl into bed next to him and wrap my arms around his thin waist.
We both quietly drift off to sleep. When I finally stir, it’s dark outside, and Asher’s eyes are still closed next to me. I carefully pull my arms from his waist and place my hand over his heart. It’s the same way I verify that he’s still sleeping every time I allow myself to fall asleep. I roll out of bed to open the box my mom brought over earlier. I’m hoping the item inside will make him happy, even if just for a few minutes.
I pull the turtle shaped figure out of the box and set it on the nightstand before plugging it in. It does exactly what I hoped it would do. Now I just have to wait for him to wake up and see it.
I turn it off and walk out to the kitchen to get something to drink. I’m not surprised to see Daniel sitting at the table staring off into space.
He startles when he hears my feet walking across the hardwood floors. “Hey, how’s Asher doing tonight?”
“He’s sleeping,” I answer, smiling sadly. Sleeping is what makes Asher feel the most comfortable, but I miss doing simple things like talking to him.
“Asher’s mom called earlier. She and his sister are coming to visit tomorrow,” he says, rubbing his temples with his fingertips. “I know he doesn’t want his sister to see him like this, but I think he’ll regret it if he doesn’t.”
I nod. “Do you think we should tell him?”
“No!” he exclaims, shaking his head. “He’ll only argue about it. It’s not worth it.”
“Do you know what time they’re getting in?”
“Okay.” I grab a glass out of the cupboard and fill it with water. When I turn around again, Asher’s dad has his face buried in his hands. I stand next to him and hesitantly place my hand on his shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“No,” he cries, banging his hand against the table. “No parent should have to watch their child die. I’m supposed to be long gone before him, goddammit.”
My own eyes start to burn with tears. “It’s not fair, Daniel, but we have to focus on the time he has left.”
“He was so miserable before he met you. Thank you for being there for him. I think these have been some of the best months of his life, even with the cancer,” he admits, sadly. “I haven’t always been there for him, but it wasn’t because I didn’t want to be.”
“Maybe you should talk to him. Tell him that you love him.”
He closes his eyes tight and shakes his head. “I don’t know if he wants to hear it.”
“He needs to hear it,” I say softly as I watch him open his eyes again.
He nods, showing me the saddest smile I’ve ever seen.
“I’m going to go see if he’s awake,” I announce, patting his shoulder.
He rests his hand on mine. “Thank you for everything.”
I squeeze his shoulder and walk to Asher’s bedroom, anxious to give him his surprise. As I open the door, I see him propped up on his pillow, staring out at the dark night sky. “How was your nap?”
“About the same as the other three I’ve taken today,” he teases, trying to make light out of his situation.
“I have a surprise for you,” I smile, slowly walking toward the window.
“And what’s that?” he asks, letting the corner of his mouth turn up.
I close the curtain to block out the street lights and head toward the bed. “Close your eyes,” I instruct, reaching for the on switch for the turtle. As soon as his eyes close, I turn it on and curl next to him on the bed. “Okay, you can open them now.”
His eyes flutter open, and his hand instantly goes to his chest. “How did you do this?” he asks in an emotion-rich voice.