At seven, Lilo wants to grow up to be an intergalactic space hero.
Stitch shows her how to build plasma guns (Nani puts them on a high shelf), how to rig up a can opener and a radio into a machine that will open a portal to an alternate universe (Nani says she can't do it in the house) and how to first swallow and then regurgitate useful objects, like handcuff keys or quarters (Nani, though disgusted, can't help but be impressed). She and Stitch roam the forests and swim the ocean and are the best of friends, and though Lilo doesn't talk much to other kids, she has Stitch and she has Nani and they are all she needs. She dreams at night of a future among space aliens, green and wriggly, tall and blue, grave and comic and of infinite variety, and when she wakes she can still see their cities behind her eyes, gleaming and verdant.
At twelve, Lilo wants to grow up to be scientist.
She hasn't decided what kind yet, but she reads Popular Science at the library, and Odyssey Magazine, which Nani got her a subscription for, even though it costs extra when you're outside the continental United States and they don't have enough money for a new stove and sometimes only pay the phone bill every other month. She learns about the large hadron collider and she learns about the geologists drilling into the Antarctic ice sheet and she learns about botanists who live for years in the deepest parts of the rainforest, finding cures for cancer. One time in school she manages to sit still for a whole science class and she hears for the first time about wave-particle duality, how everything in the universe is really two things at once.
She and Stitch go on long walks together, and she tells him about all the adventure the world has to offer, the marine archaeologists who recover pirate ships and the astronomers at SETI, all the people she wants to meet and the things she wants to see. Stitch always listens, is always a good companion. He's not blue like he used to be, she thinks sometimes, and then other times she wonders if he was ever really blue at all.
At fifteen, Lilo wants to grow up to be a photographer.
She still loves the old film cameras, the disposables, the polaroids of her youth; she loves the feel of them in her hands, the way they can stop time within her field of vision. She dreams of following armies into war zones, of capturing an image that will change history; she dreams of discovering something extraordinary, something breathtaking, through her camera lens.
Sometimes she and Nani flip through her old photo books, the ones from when she was little. "Is that our dog?" she asks, confused, pointing at a page of photos.
Nani frowns at her. "That's Stitch. You don't remember Stitch? You got him when you were little, and you wouldn't ever let him out of your sight. He practically destroyed the entire house every other week, I can't believe you don't remember him."
Lilo's head clears; of course she remembers Stitch. How could she have forgotten?
"He got run over by a truck," she says, slowly. She can see it in her mind, the semi coming down the highway, the dog in the road.
"Yeah," Nani says. "It was too bad."
At nineteen, Lilo wants to grow up to be a social worker.
She takes the correspondence classes and aces all the exams. She looks forward to getting her diploma, finding work; she imagines all the kids she can help, kids who are just like she was, kids who could grow up to do anything, be anything. She keeps a framed, slightly charred photo of her family – her parents, herself, and Nani – on her little desk in her room, and sometimes she holds it up, looks at it for a long time. She wonders how it got burnt.
"Mom and Dad would be so proud of you," Nani tells her. And Lilo knows she's right, they would. She's going to look after people, give them a chance to grow up strong, give them what Nani gave her.
Three days before Lilo's twenty-third birthday, Stitch comes back.
When she sees him at her bedroom window she feels something ease and loosen in her mind, and she simultaneously thinks what is that thing and Stitch, Stitch, why did you leave?
"They took me away," Stitch tells her, in the weird squeaky English that is suddenly familiar again. He puts one blue-clawed paw to her temple and squeaks, "took you too."
"I – " Lilo's head hurts, two conflicting sets of memories overlapping in her mind. "I was going to – "
"Stitch found you," Stitch says, and Lilo's mind clears and she remembers, the aliens and the plasma guns and the spaceships, the certificate of ownership from the pound, the trip to Graceland. She finds herself gathering the strange little blue alien into her arms. She starts to cry.
"Stitch," she says, and it's like she's five years old again, "you were gone, I didn't – I had to – "
"Brought a spaceship," Stitch whispers. "Wanna see?"
She laughs. "Yes," she says immediately. "Yes, let's go for a ride, Stitch."
At twenty-five, Lilo wants to grow up to be an intergalactic space hero.
She's working on it; she has her own ship, and her own crew, and her best friend for a co-pilot; she has her plasma gun at her hip and her camera in her pocket and the whole universe to explore. She calls Nani up on the alien cell phones once a week, and Nani always tells her to be safe and then asks her if she's done anything exciting. Lilo always says okay and yes, and tells her about the Gartruvian forests they roamed, the A'veha oceans they swam, the cities they visit on world after world, gleaming and verdant. And every night, with the hum of the ship lulling her to sleep and the vast expanse of space outside her window, Lilo dreams of her next adventure.