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A boy sits, poised in front of a lovely grand piano, on an otherwise empty stage. He plays the first few notes of a song, before pausing reluctantly. Deep breaths are inhaled in the audience, a few heartbeats skipped elsewhere, before he starts again.
The boy sits before his piano, this time at home, with the music sheet he has been writing on lying but a few inches from his fingers, as he plays tunes in experimentation. A girl sits beside him, watching in fascination as he tries to work out the last few notes of what will soon be their song. He plays another possible ending for her, then stops, unsure of himself, and raises a questioning eyebrow for her opinion. She nods at him, her infectious smile spreading across her face, as they both play the song from the start.
They play like they have practiced it a thousand times over, and the boy places his focus entirely on the girl, marveling as her slim, delicate fingers dance over the notes. Swaying to the melody they have just created, she is perfectly ignorant of his attention, lost in a different world where it is just the two of them, and their song.
“Are you ready?” he asks, showing off a dimple on the side of his cheek as he grins.
Clipping on the strap of her helmet, she nods and grins back at him. “I’m ready!”
She climbs on board his bike before he revs up the engine, making it shudder beneath them, and just like that, they are off into the night. Her arms lock tightly around his waist, clinging on to him with pleasure as yesterday fell away.
Narrow lanes they ride past soon turn into streets, and those in turn morph into highways. Together, they rule the roads, dashing between any other vehicle that dare stand in their way. With the wind caressing their faces and adrenaline running high in their bloodstreams, they feel positively invincible.
It is with a drive in them that they go on, hurrying towards the future. The destination, however, is one that only the boy knows.
“Where are we going?” asked the girl.
“We, are going somewhere that I promise you’ll love. You’ll see the whole universe from there.”
He has stars in his eyes that she cannot see from where she is, but his elation spreads to her, and she lets her curiosity slip into a blissful smile.
The broad highways narrow quickly into a small lane after a while, and before they can note the change of scenery, the beach peeks out from the surrounding rocks to greet them.
The boy slows to a gentle halt, and the girl climbs off the bike. He stows away their helmets, and pulls out a thick blanket.
“Come on, you don’t want to miss this,” he says, as he grabs her hand and pulls her on ahead with him. They kick up a small sandstorm as they run towards the sea, her soft hair dancing lightly on her shoulders as she laughs for no reason at all, making them both collapse onto the sand a few meters from the water. Instead of getting up, the boy spreads the blanket on the sand and lies on his back, patting the space beside him.
The moon shines above as they lay side by side, its soft glow reflecting in the ocean. Gentle waves lap just inches away from them, the occasional gentle splash brushing against the tip of their toes.
“If it was this you didn’t want to miss, the beach wasn’t going anyway, you know.”
“I wasn’t talking about the beach,” he replied. “You’ll see what I meant in a little while.”
“See what?” she asks again, her curiosity getting the best of her.
Shaking his head points up, turning his attention to the blank canvas of the sky, and it isn’t long before she sees what he’s been waiting for, as little balls of light shoot past the dark atmosphere. She gasps in awe, watching as they paint a beautiful picture with their streaks.
“Did you plan this all along?”
“You always said that you wanted to wish on shooting stars,” he murmurs, his gaze shifting from the spectacle above to her. “Now is your chance.”
He watches her, as mesmerized as she is by the display, as her eyes trail one of the stars. She holds her breath with her eyes closed, to make a wish. When the star has disappeared, her eyes open again, and she looks directly at him. To him, it feels like she’s looking past his eyes, and straight into his soul.
“What did you wish for?”
All he gets in reply is a strangely sad smile, and she looks back up to watch the stars in perfect silence, as they play tag in the sky. Bright flashes of light chase each other’s tails, and all that the both of them can do as they watch, is revel in the beauty of it all.
“I love you,” she says softly, her voice barely audible above the sound of the waves.
“I love you, too.”
She’s the one who kisses him first, gently, as if that is all she can do, before he places his hands around her delicate face. Her arms move to wind around his neck to the back of his head as his lips move against hers in perfect harmony. They’re close enough to hear each other’s heartbeats now; the steady drumming of his as he promises he’ll stay forever, and the irregular thudding of hers.
Neither say a word, nor do they dare to breathe, as if being mute will change what happens next, but the man in the white coat, with the icy stethoscope hanging around his neck still makes those sounds; those syllables that are devastating their lives. On and on he drones, his expression a sheet of calmness, as if he doesn’t know that they were playing the silent game.
The inevitable tears form in her eyes, and burst through before she can even think to stop them. As for the boy, he still says nothing, frozen to his dutiful spot and drawn there by the immense pull he feels to gravitate towards her. He had sensed that this was coming long before the extended hospital visits that she always insisted on going to alone, but that doesn’t make this any easier. Knowing she will need him to be her pillar of strength, he hurries to swallow the tears before she notices.
His body takes control of him, and it is unconsciously that he pulls her to him, wrapping his arms around her protectively.
“Don’t cry,” he somehow manages to say in a steady voice, breaking the formidable silence. “It’ll be okay. Shh…”
As she looks up, he sees, reflected in her eyes, the places she will never have to chance to visit, experiences she will have the privilege to go through, and dreams that have barely even begun to form. His heart drops far below where he can hope to reach, suddenly unable to buoy the both of them back to the surface for air.
Paralyzed with fear, he says words he won’t remember, promising to her over and over again that it will all be okay – that she will be okay – and trying to believe it himself, though a small part of him knows that it is a lie.
The grand piano sits in the very middle of the stage, the spotlights from above illuminating nothing else, as both the boy and the girl sit side by side, ready to play their song.
As always, he starts playing first, the notes breaking the silence of the empty auditorium. Soon enough, her turn to join him arrives, and the melody is lifted higher into the air as they both play in sync. Music fills the room, and brings them into an other world – one they hadn’t been a part of for far too long. Everything else simply falls away, unimportant and forgotten, as they throw themselves into the song.
Then, suddenly, he’s playing alone, his accompanist anomalously silent. The boy glances over, just in time, to watch in horror as she collapses to the floor in spasms that contort her body and renders her helpless. The low thud when she hits the floor signifies that this song is over, and he rushes to her side, the last notes he played hanging unfinished in the air.
“No!” he shouts, his voice searing through the clear echo of their song.
He falls to her knees when he sees the blank look in her eyes, and he does all he knows to do, gathering her limp body into his arms.
“Please,” he begged, burying his face into her hair. “Don’t leave me.”
Beep, beep, beep.
The slow sounds are no longer as horrifying as they were when the boy first heard them. Now, they are a signal to him that the girl’s heart is still beating, beeping softly in the background of his ever-present nightmares that haunt him even in his waking hours.
Moonlight, coming in from the window, is that only thing the provides light in the dreary room, with all other sources having been turned off long before the clock struck midnight. Even so, the boy is wide-awake, tired of fending off all of the bad dreams.
When the girl’s eyes flutter open at last, she does so with him beside her, holding her hand though he’s not sure she can feel the comfort.
“You’re awake,” he whispers softly in disbelief as he rubs her hand slowly, careful not to startle her.
She smiles at him, and tries to lift her other hand to touch his face, only to find that the wires that snake in and out of her body render it too heavy.
“And you’re here.” Her voice, raspy from the lack of use and muffled by the oxygen mask, cracks.
He brushes the hair out of her face gently.
“Where else would I be?”
She glances at the clock; the date it shows. “You should be getting ready for the performance. It’s in just a few hours…”
“I’m not going,” he says, shaking his head.
“I don’t want to leave you here.”
Especially not now, he adds silently.
“But I want you to go.”
“No. I’m staying here with you.
“Go, please. Let people hear our song.” She smiles encouragingly at him, and musters up her remaining strength to squeeze his hand.
His determination falters then, and he decides to submit, even if it’s just for the moment. “I’ll come back before I leave.”
The boy stands in front of the mirror, scrutinizing his reflection for the first time since he had to tiptoe to see below his chin. The slight chubbiness of his cheeks had disappeared since then, making way for not just a more mature person, but one who is aged, and battered down. A slight tinge of yearning for the person he had been, even just a week before, crept into him, and he wished that he was he young boy he was, who knew not a care in the world. The boy who knew that he had found the person he would spend the rest of his life with.
But even so, worn and tired, he looked better than he had been since the nightmare started. His hair, previously and unkempt mess, was now soft, clean and tidy, and he dons a suit that, once far too large, now fits perfectly.
As he thinks of why he had dressed up in the first place, the tinniest of smiles form on his lips, as he realizes that he was going to play their song; that he was going to live the moment they had both been dreaming of from the moment they had written it, in just a few hours.
But this is a duet. It has to wait until she gets better, he says quietly, willing himself to believe that it will happen.
Glancing around the room, he looks to see if he’s forgotten anything, and his eyes land on the piano, now with a thin sheet of dust on it.
“I want to compose a song,” she had said, long before it all happened – before even she had the slightest inkling that her body was going to disintegrate. “Do you want to help?”
The grin that spread across his face was all the reply she needed from him, and she pulled him to the piano.
It was him who started first, playing the first few notes that would eventually lead to the end, and soon, she joined him. Nostalgia spread over them, as the tune brought them back to when they had met, all those years before. It had been like this, the two of them playing side by side when they were little; the little boy with the smile that no one could ever resist, and the little girl with the bright, tinkling laugh. Even then, they fitted together like pieces of a puzzle.
The low tick of the clock as it strikes a quarter past four snaps him back into reality, and he quickly picks up his keys, hurrying out. Now isn’t the time for him. Every second is to be for her.
When he arrives back in the hospital, she seems to be asleep again, her shallow breaths labored and quick. He slides into the chair beside her, and picks her hand ever so lightly. Maybe, if he is very, very quiet, she won’t wake up until it is too late to go for the rehearsal. But alas, she opens her eyes too at him.
“Hey… I didn’t think you’d come back.”
“I said I would,” he replies, holding out a bouquet of rose for her.
“Mm, I love roses,” she says, inhaling the sweet scent of the red flowers. “Why did you get them?”
“For you, because I knew you’d like them.”
As she smiles, he leans over, and pressed his lips to her forehead. “I love you,” he whispers, his lips brushing over her pale skin.
“I love you too,” she says. “I’m… sorry…”
Her last words, barely audible, do not even make it to the boy’s ears, but nevertheless, she contents herself with the fact that, despite his not knowing, she has apologized for what is to come.
The boy sits poised in front of the grand piano, on the empty stage. He plays the first notes, before pausing reluctantly. Deep breaths are inhaled in the audience, a few heartbeats skipped elsewhere, before he starts again.
It feels alien to him, playing their song alone, without her beside him. Lonely notes make their way out into the world; sounds that are incomplete, each hauntingly beautiful. Though he knows he will never come close to replacing the silence left by his accompanists, he throws his whole self into it, trying to lose himself entirely.
Glancing at the clock beside her, the corners of her mouth lift when the numbers blink to 6:00PM; the time she had been thinking about for the past few months; the time they would finally play their song to the world.
Her fingers start playing, tapping feebly the song she had created with the boy on the crisp white sheet beneath her, in exact timing with him in the concert hall, miles away. She hums their tune with her failing breath, her thin hands silently playing the notes that were meant for her.
Tears he has been holding in for too long finally escape, rolling down his cheeks in an unstoppable cascade.
The beeps in the background grow louder and louder, the lines on her monitor fluctuating violently.
He can no longer see, the tears distorting his vision into blurred images, trailing into his mouth so he tastes the salty bitterness, but he plays on, the missing presence of his accompanists somehow filled suddenly. Closing his eyes, he can almost feel her beside him; feel the warmth of her body; hear her tinkling laugh.
People in sterile scrubs scuttle in, positioning themselves around her cold body, each performing what they have been trained to do.
Another needle makes an entry into her skin, while a tray of metal is rushed in.
Light reflects off a scalpel, as it nears her skin, but she’s already beyond knowing, too far gone to feel the sharp end as it pierces her and splits her open.
“She’s going to bleed out!” cries a white blur.
The girl, still clinging on to the moment, summons her last breath, though almost all the ties to her body have disconnected. With it, she hums their song, her fingers barely moving, until the very last note, before everything goes black.
As the boy plays their last note, he feels her fingers stroke his face, one last time, and he ends their song with a flourish, playing only for her. The note, eerie with the tinge of goodbye, stays in the air as he stands up. Beyond fighting and simply beyond feeling anything at all, he takes a bow, his hand holding the air beside him, where she is meant to be.
The curtains drop to close their show, as the audience applauds.