She told me to stay away from you. You know what could happen to him. And I nodded resignedly. Yes.
Your eyes reflected liquid chocolate. Your soul, a kindred spirit, held the warmest laughter. Ashen hair and ghost-pale skin. I had never met anyone like you.
The night I told you, I thought you’d leave. My heart would crumble to ashes in the ground, and I’d hear nothing but the sound of your footfalls clattering against the Parisian streets as you disappeared into the endless city.
The night I told you, you smiled. A deep smile, radiating heat and light. And my heart melted into stardust. I was no longer mine. I was yours.
• • •
I met you in the midst of winter. Storm clouds gathered in the sky, like tears waiting to fall. Your figure flickered in the rain, walking briskly in the mist, when I crashed into you.
I’m so sorry, you mumbled, voice thick and deep with fatigue. Are you all right?
And I looked into your rain-stained face, at your slightly upturned nose and rosé lips curved into a half-smile. Yes, I whispered. I’m perfectly fine.
Your half-smile turned into a full smile. Feeling bold, I entwined my fingers in yours. We walked into the depths of Paris, our forms reflecting shadows under the lull of the ivory moon.
You took me to your apartment, a quaint flat nestled on a quiet corner of the 6th Arrondisement, overlooking the emerald waters of the Seine. The air smelled of light cream and cigarette smoke, a scent I would later associate only with you. That night, we kissed, surrounded by the city’s pulse.
• • •
Books in hand, you crossed the cobblestone streets to the University of Paris. You spent most of your days in its gothic library, consumed by literature and philosophy.
Poetry and music, you murmured, are voices of the soul. You looked exquisite as golden sunbeams fluttered through the open windows.
And you, Mademoiselle Moreau, you whispered, are the pulse to my soul.
• • •
It was that afternoon that I decided to tell my mother about you.
I’ve met a guy, I said, barely above a whisper. I whispered something else in her ear, something that would haunt not only her, but us. Mother’s gaze turned cold, and her body stiffened.
You know what that means. Why are you still with him?
I don’t know if I’ll ever meet someone like him again.
Don’t say that, baby. She pushed back a lock of hair from my face. I don’t want you to get hurt. Promise me you’ll stay away from him?
I looked at Mother, at her shrinking gray eyes and sagging skin. My eyes flitted to her finger, where a silver ring once lay.
Yes, I whispered. I promise.
• • •
A descendant of Voltaire, your eyes burned perpetually with a lust for knowledge. You ravaged books as if you hadn’t eaten in days.
If I am one eon from finishing this novel, and you are five decades of procrastination from writing your book, how long will it take before we learn to love?
Even though what I said wasn’t funny, you laughed.
• • •
I started sneaking out late at night. I crossed the river Seine, the gentle night breeze sleeping on my skin, until I reached your flat. It was a forbidden tryst, a thrilling escapade I had never experienced before, only had seen in movies.
Sunrise gave way to storm clouds, but the infinity of our contentment kept us warm.
• • •
Last night you weren’t home. Mother’s suspicious eyes snaked into my brain, searching for a lie. I inhaled slowly.
I was at the University, studying.
Be careful, Caroline, she warned. You know what could happen to him.
I nodded. We both knew what she meant.
• • •
In the fifth week of our contentment, it happened.
The monster we had locked away for weeks, that you mentioned to me once and never spoke of again, spilled out into its true form.
Your body twitched uncontrollably. I saw your face, stone cold, eyes wide in horror, as you writhed on the floor of your flat.
You had your first seizure.
• • •
Our first real conversation, after we kissed, breathless on your balcony, is crystallized in my memory.
Mademoiselle Moreau. You spoke my name slowly, as if savoring each syllable.
Yes? My heart inhaled light.
I have to tell you something important. The air whistled as you paused and composed yourself.
I have a brain tumor. Your voice quivered.
Silence lingered in the atmosphere.
Your eyes looked away. It’s too late.
My heart exhaled darkness.
• • •
Sunlight tumbled onto the staircase you were leaning against. Your hand, all bone and no flesh and twitching with nerves, gripped the banister. Slowly, with small steps, you hobbled to the door.
I feel dizzy. Your forehead was white with sweat, pupils shifting across the room, senses disoriented.
It’s okay. I wore my most convincing smile. I’m right here.
Looking into your ghostly face and dilated eyes, I hardly recognized you. You were reborn. Step by step, you were learning to walk again. Flightless, your wings were wounded, but not lost.
• • •
Outside, the morning air smelled of rain and mist. The scent of freshly brewed coffee wafted through Parisian streets.
With each passing day, you grew more sleepy. The linen sheets became your new home.
Do you want a pill that doctor prescribed?
I’ll be fine, you said. We both knew it was a lie.
Time seeped through our flesh and bone, into our veins, slow and teasing. The doctor didn’t say it, but we both knew your time on earth was finite.
Honey leaked onto toast. I carried breakfast upstairs to you. You looked so peaceful sleeping, yet a war waged inside your brain.
• • •
I’m so sorry, baby.
Don’t apologize, Mother. It’s not your fault. We’ll get through it.
I’m so, so, so sorry.
• • •
I woke up to a deep pain pounding in my head. The bed sheets were damp with sweat. I ran to the bathroom, overcome with waves of nausea, and vomited into the toilet.
Are you all right? you whispered weakly.
Yes, just felt a little nauseous from dinner.
I said this instead of the word that dominated my mind, the word that would mean I’m no longer just my mother’s daughter.
• • •
I held the test in my hand. My fingers shook. Breathe in, breathe out.
After a few minutes, I had my answer.
• • •
Rain clouded my tear-streaked face. The door creaked shut. Lights flickered on and off in the storm. I ascended the stairs to where you lay, tranquil in your slumber.
Wake up, I whispered with a hint of urgency.
Your eyelids fluttered then opened.
I’m … pregnant. The word was barely a whisper.
I waited fearfully for your reaction. To my surprise, your lips tugged into a radiant smile – the first I had seen in a long time.
I’m going to be a father, you whispered slowly, tasting the beauty of each word.
• • •
More often than not, I go to the University alone.
Sometimes, when you’re feeling well enough, you’ll clutch my shoulder and we’ll stroll together, step by step, to the library that holds our golden moments.
A darkness stirs inside your carpals, but outside, inhaling the natural light and exhaling warmth, the harmony of songbirds crystallizing the air, we are more liberated than we’ve ever been.
Some day, as the brain tumor grows, you’ll fade into the clouds and depart with the sky, a slow and painful evanescence.
Today is not that day.
Your hunger for knowledge, for poetry and music and all the things that make the world beautiful, wanes as fatigue overwhelms you each day. And yet, your smile shines brilliant and bright.
Some day, our child will be born. Ours. I promise that I will teach our child what love means, that light exists even in the coldest hours of this vast and terrifying universe.
One rainy morning, you joked half-heartedly, I’d imagine if my brain was a person, it’d probably be very ugly right now. Your skin, translucent against the clouds dense with gray scale, paled like water. A ghost of what you once were.
I forced a smile and squeezed your bone-tired hand, trying to convince myself more than you.
Our minds are all beautiful, no matter how scarred they may be.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.