Lilo’s first boyfriend, awkward and embarrassed to be seen with the weirdest girl in school, had told her he’d give her the stars some day. It had been in the bed of his older brother’s truck while he was fumbling with the tiny hooks of the bra she wore specifically to tangle his fingers. He had whispered this promise in her ear, his voice hot and wet and somehow delicious and disgusting at the same time. It seemed like something he’d once read on accident, because he took pride in his stupidity and wouldn’t read a book for pleasure or even to pass his classes. The words were like something that was meant to be romantic and poetic but they stumbled over his tongue before said tongue was shoved in her mouth.
While he fucked her she watched the sky above them, twinkling brightly because he was smart enough to take them a distance from town. It wasn’t to protect her dignity, that was for damn sure. It was all for him. But in the sea of blackness the stars glowed with promise, the promise he’d never be able to keep.
When he finished he dropped her off a mile from her house, muttering some excuse about how her sister’s husband had given him the evil eye and he didn’t want to go through it again. He hadn’t even turned the corner when she backed up against a tree and brought herself to orgasm with angry fingers and heat coursing through her veins. If she was going to be in trouble for breaking curfew she was going to at least get something out of it.
By the time she made it to her house she had come up with a dozen excuses for her sister but they all died on her lips when she saw David jumping in his car and speeding off into the night. Nani was right behind him with a heavy gun full of tranquilizers that could knock out a series of angry horses and a determined expression. The expression melted into confusion when she saw Lilo, still wearing her homemade prom dress and looking less like the fairy tale princess she’d been when she left and more like a scared child.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry we weren’t here when you got home.” Her sisters arms wrapped around her, the gun cold against the back of her head. “But you got our note, right? You didn’t have to go looking for him. We’ll find him.”
Stitch. “I just thought he’d have been following me again.” Lie. She didn’t even know he’d escaped the house. But she was probably right. Anytime her ‘dog’ left the house it was to follow her to school, to the beach, to her part time job.
“Go back in the house and we’ll take care of this. Besides, you don’t want to ruin your pretty dress. I bet you out shined the rest of those girls.”
As Nani took off on the floating bike Jumba had made years before Lilo settled for waving weakly, instead of telling her sister that her dress never saw the inside of the prom.
Years ago she would have gone chasing off after Nani, or through the back roads that she knew would lead to Stitch’s favorite retreats. She would have found him, she always found him, probably playing on a beach or racing against one of Jumba’s inventions. But not anymore. They acted like he was a wild animal who only hunted the boys who teased her because he had nothing else to attack but Lilo knew better. He wasn’t an uncontrollable beast dictated by his basic programming.
Stitch was nothing if not predictable.
On her way to her room she removed her dress, lazily dropping it onto the floor. Some dirt had been ground into the hip and she didn’t have the energy to try cleaning it. A quick stop in the bathroom to remove the flowery pins David had bought for her when her boyfriend ask her to prom. He’d been so excited for her, giving her advice about dealing with teenage boys and knowing when to say no. He’d forced a cell phone into her purse before she left with his number on the speed dial. Lilo dropped the pins into the sink, a little bothered when they weren’t washed away by the running water. Off went her makeup. Off went the flowers her date had put on her wrist. Off went the bra she had snapped back on after her boyfriend’s trial removing it. Nothing left but her white panties.
Under the too bright lights she looked like a little girl. The little girl who had just lost her parents, who didn’t have any friends, who didn’t know her place in the world. But she wasn’t that little girl anymore. She was eighteen, practically a grown woman, and soon she’d be going off to college in California. No more Nani, who had been lost in her role as Lilo’s sister and mother. No more David, who had married into a broken and barely fixed family. No more Jumba or Pleakley, who were both obviously longing to escape the tiny planet they’d made into their home. Pleakley had already began dropping hints he’d be returning to space and Jumba hadn’t been subtle about his plans to go with the stringy alien.
Thunder sounded outside the tiny window, rattling the glass. She could barely see the trees shaking in the distance and with a reluctant sigh she went to her room to put on her night clothes.
“No more Stitch.” She reminded herself as she pulled on the too large brown shirt and pink polka dot shorts that had been her sleeping clothes since she stole them from Nani’s laundry. If he could barely survive on an island how would he do in a big city? Even Jumba wasn’t sure about his destructive programming and if it had died or just gone dormant. No one wanted to test it.
Lilo pushed open the large window, settling on her bed with a raggedy doll that had been repaired so many times it was more stitches than fabric. She could have fallen asleep, already tired from misplaced anger, but she had to wait. Had to see him.
It wasn’t long, a minute or two at most, before he crawled into her window. He always did, trying to be sneaky and failing because he was just too big. Too much lumbering strength to rely on the stealth that had been his when he was smaller. She could see the rusty red that painted his muzzle and she wasn’t shocked. She wanted to be, but it was impossible anymore.
“Is he dead?”
Her monstrous best friend just snorted. Not close to a proper response.
“I told you I was going with him. You have no right following me and my boyfriend.”
“Boyfriend?” He growled, everything was a growl with him anymore. “He is worm. Take you to middle of nowhere? Promise you the stars? Then drop you off mile from home. Not boyfriend.”
Lilo didn’t even have the energy to be outraged that he had spied on them. It certainly wasn’t the first time. “I chose him.”
“To be date to dance. Did you dance?”
Her face heated but she tried to keep him from seeing. “It’s none of your business.”
He’d managed to lick away most of the blood staining his face, a requirement before he could get close to her. Lilo’s rules, no blood near her bed, no body parts brought back to nibble on later, no proof to bring anyone back to their home. And Stitch respected her rules. Most of the time.
A heavy head fell onto her lap and for a minute she could pretend he was her puppy-angel again. Misunderstood. Lost. Confused. Tiny. But when she opened her eyes it was her giant monster. Still her best friend. Possibly her only friend. But still a monster.
“You wanted dance and he didn’t take you. He hurt you.” That growling voice echoed in her chest and her heart fluttered like a bird trapped in a cage. “No one hurts my Lilo.”
“Nani’s going to send you with Jumba. When I go to college, maybe before, but she’ll send you back into space. Then how will you protect me?” She’d been making that joke since her freshman year of high school and each time he would come up with strange stories and scenarios. But Stitch didn’t seem willing to play their normal game.
No, this time he was serious. “Take you with me.”
On Lilo’s twentieth birthday Stitch left her on a beach covered with glass rocks in all the shades of the rainbow and trees that blew in the opposite direction of the wind. The waves crashed up against her bare legs, leaving multicolored bubbles behind. Over head two creatures that looked like the mix between a flying fish and a duck flew through the air, singing a mating call that could have been mistaken for an opera duet. As the twin suns set in the distance Lilo allowed the salty wind to sweep through her hair, ruffling the flowery crown on the town’s people had made for her just after her arrival on the planet.
Since leaving Earth she’d seen incredible things. Planets that were constantly on fire, planets that were covered in ice, spiraling towers that seemed to be made out of spun sugar and underground caverns with rivers that had glowing rocks under the slimy water. She had met amazing people, had seen amazing things. Once she had seen fish that could fly through the clouds like birds and she’d fed a flock candy from the palm of her hand. Once she had walked on water which was so salty it held her weight, so long as she ran. Once she had met a prince with three eyes, all the color of the sun, and hair so long it could wrap around his neck and be worn as a scarf.
Most of the time she only saw her ship, and it was hers no matter how much Stitch liked to argue otherwise. They would spend weeks or months traveling past the stars, looking for some kind of adventure. She named the ship Hi’aika and flew it on dangerous voyages through asteroid fields and past stars that were giving their last breath of life before exploding into black holes. They would dance across the universe, her beautiful ship and her best friend and her. It was Lilo who pulled up alongside the wealthy caravans, destroying their weapons so Stitch could steal their treasures. Becoming a pirate hadn’t really been part of the plan but traveling across the expanses of the universe was an expensive pastime.
Their lives were so entwined she couldn't imagine anyone else in her ship. No one else to make strange jokes about the food on whatever planet they were staying on. No one else to laugh at her strange jokes. They would curl up together in the bed in the top of the ship, inevitably waking with her stretched across him while the galaxies floated by their heads. It was always them, though Lilo had a habit for making friends at every port and Stitch's raw strength would impress even the most hardened of criminals. But at the end of the day it was always her and him, together in the too small bed of her precious ship.
Sometimes Stitch would take her to the most exotic planet he could find, leaving her in fancy hotels with piles of mysterious foods and closets full of beautiful clothes, and disappearing with her ship. At most he’d be gone for a week or two, but it was enough time for her to take in the local beauty, the fauna and flora and people, and visit the majestic temples and learn about the strange gods that still seemed similar to the ones she’d heard about back home.
Home. Two years in space and she still thought of the blue planet as home. Not many species knew about her world, though not knowing where Earth was didn’t make them think of her as a lesser creature. Not when Stitch had taught her about the languages of the universe and the science that allowed their travel among the stars. She had learned early that if one could at least mumble in the most common language most aliens would show some respect.
Sometimes she would speak to Stitch in English, like when there was danger or when they were plotting. It was their secret and they held it to them tightly, but every word made her ache for her island. There’d been talk of returning, long ago, to see Nani and David. But perhaps they had moved on with their lives, finally having the children they’d been considering. Perhaps they wouldn’t want her back.
“Why are you pouting?” Stitch crouched beside her, ears twitching and fur on end. He must have been running from the ship to find her. Some things would never change. Stitch always wanted to know where Lilo was hiding.
“Not pouting. Thinking. If I was pouting it’d be because you stole my ship. Again.” She lifted her sunglasses, remnants of her life before the endless freedom of space. She could see him grinning, a dangerous look on her best friend. “Did you get her shot up again?”
“Nah. Went to Jumba. He doesn’t shot at ship.”
That caused her to actually pout. “Why were you visiting him without me? Pleakley was going to show off the addition to the house. The one you almost blew up the last time you visited alone.”
Stitch shrugged awkwardly, a motion she adored seeing from her friend. It made him look more like the dog he had been during her childhood. From behind his back he presented her with a heavy chest. Inside there was only a single strange device, a small pendant on a chain with buttons and alien writing. It could have passed for a necklace if it weren’t for the odd buttons. A few clicks of a button and it whirled to life, flashing a hologram image of the mad scientist surrounded by tiny robotic dogs. A click of another button changed the image to one of Pleakley on a plush chair, the same dogs gathered on his lap while he sipped what she assumed was tea. He’d developed a fondness for the drink on Earth and Lilo knew Jumba would make the trip to gather barrels of tea leaves for the one eyed alien.
A few more clicks and the hologram changed to her friends, aliens she had met all over the universe. The barmaid who would let them hide in her attic when they were near United Galactic Federation’s bases of operation. The heavy set pirate who had practically adopted Lilo the first time she pointed her gun at him. The prince who still owed Lilo a life debt. They all passed by in a whirl.
But the image she stop on was one of her and Stitch. It had been taken not long after they fled Earth, when they first got their ship. The holographic Lilo grinning wildly from on top of her ship which was covered in seashells and ropes of seaweed she’d brought with her from Earth. Stitch sat behind her, one of his hands holding onto hers while he looked towards the horizon. She had paid one of the attendants at the ship port to take that picture, paying him with one of the shells which he said was the coolest thing he’d ever seen. At least that was what Stitch said he was gabbering on about.
“So you run off with my ship to get me a necklace?” She couldn’t stop the grin even as she tried making the words sound angry. Stitch didn’t care. He had already curled up against her side like he had when they were young. Without thought her fingers began threading through his fur, enjoying the deep purr that rattled through her.
“You like?” He asked after a few minutes of silence.
With the sun dipping below the sea, and the flying fish birds dancing through the air, and the waves with their rainbow bubbles, and a million amazing memories and a million more amazing adventures waiting, Lilo realized it wasn’t just the necklace she had gotten from Stitch. He’d given her strange planets. He’d given her alien friends. He’d given her incredible excitement. He’d given her a ship that she loved like it was alive.
He’d given her the stars.
“Yeah, I like.”