Wishing on Venus

December 3, 2013
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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. If I had been in my right mind I would've felt a bit guilty for scaring them, but in that moment all that mattered was reaching the metal door below the bright exit sign at the end of the hall and taking a few deep breaths into my starved lungs. I didn’t even bother to glance over my shoulder in apology as some of the nurses yelled after me to slow down.

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 and stopped 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 away pieces of my mask I had stitched together over the past year. And the last shed of hope I used to have threatened to rip it off entirely.
Scatterings of cigarette butts and pebbles were scattered across 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 hers.

Sighing, I gazed up at the night sky as I always did. Stars, like the cigarette butts and alcohol bottles, were scattered across the dark sky. The little ghosts of light provided some protection from the shadows of the world, but it was never enough to chase all the darkness away. How sad they must be. They've been watching people make the same mistakes for thousands of years and are unable to do anything about it.

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 her bedroom 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. It was stupid should 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 messier. 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 believed he did me a huge favor by correcting my astronomy…

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 escape from his firm grip. Apparently, he was stronger than his lanky form made me believe.

“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, and he was so surprised that he dropped my wrist. It immediately curled into a fist at my side. “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. 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, just staring 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 jerked back at the weird thought, and felt a strange, unexplainable heat in my cheeks. 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 quickly drew it to my chest in protection 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 don’t…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 focused 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. I gazed at his back as I debated whether or not I should follow him. I still didn’t know a single thing about this guy. He had just appeared out of nowhere and refused to let me leave. My mother was alone in her room, no doubt waiting for me to come back…

Still…what did I have to lose?
After a moment of hesitation, I joined him and set my hands in my jean-clad lap. Reality could wait.

“I'm Christian Dann,” He gave me a small smile, the same one he kept flashing me 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. She’s been using this new prescription the doctors gave her. It’s worked for lots of other people, but,” I swallowed and forced myself to keep speaking. “Not her. We were just told that she has three months to live. I was wishing that she'd get better. And-” My throat closed like it had when I first stepped out onto the roof. I felt like I couldn't get enough air into my lungs and my breathing picked up until I was practically hyperventilating.

But then, as soon as it had started, it had stopped. A tan, callused hand was linked with mine and squeezing gently.
I squeezed back.

I expected Christian to mumble an “I'm sorry” like everyone else or something like that while staring at me with pity. But, instead, he 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 shined down on us.

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