Chapter 1: Prologue
I have a strong urge to cry.
I have vague memories of a better place. Not much, just the calmness, the dark and warmth. Now everything is harsh.
I know I have to be here, but I can’t remember the reason. What have I done wrong? Why did they tear me out of the peace and put me in this cruel world?
I cry out, but my voice is weak, so I open my eyes instead. It hurts and it’s not even pretty; blurred spots of white, and grey, and green, and some smaller, yellow, far from me, but it’s not enough to catch my interest. I blink, and cry again, trying my best to be louder now.
Someone comes in, I can hear their steps on the tiles. I turn to look at them to demand to be put back where I came from, but the spots suddenly starts to move around and I leave the room on something that is... rolling under me.
I cry, and I keep crying, insistently, until I arrive to another room. It’s orange, or – no, I believe, they call it peach. Peach and white, and the thing under me stops.
There is a scent, I don’t know, yet it’s familiar. And calming. Someone leaves, and someone else grabs me. They lift me and they bring me close to their face. I move instinctively, and put my hand on their cheek. I’m clumsy, but they laugh and their voice is gentle and soothing and...
A soft hum.
It’s someone else, a deeper voice, but he sounds calming too. I see him leaning closer and I turn to focus on his face now, but it’s still unclear. So I reach out to touch his cheek too, my hand dragging over something coarse and I pull back, almost scared for a second. I want to cry again.
He laughs, and takes me from the one who held me. I cry out, trying to resist weakly, but he lifts me to his chest and cradles me gently. I lay my head on his shirt. It’s white and it’s boring, but he smells nice.
He takes my hand and tugs on something that seems to be stuck around my wrist; he holds it a bit further and reads it.
„Twenty-one inches and seven pounds. Born on the fourteenth of June.”
He lets go of my hand and lifts me to his face again, and this time I’m braver. I reach out again, and doesn’t pull back when I touch that coarse, pricky thing on his cheek.
I feel like I know him. Or at least I will.
„Welcome, Kylo Ren.”
Summer sun is kissing my skin tanned, baby blue ice-cream drips on my hand as it melts in the cone. Relief, yes, that’s what I feel. It’s a bit overwhelming and it almost sets me to be euphoric. As something worrying just ended, and now, that the pressure is gone, my heart wants to jump out. I have hope.
The children are loud as they stand in line at the truck to get their own ice-cream. The road is hot, the concrete heats up during the day, so they shift from one leg to another, their bare soles burning. I already have my fair share, because I ran the fastest and reached the van before everyone else, and now I’m standing on the cool grass.
A ginger boy in blue swimming trucks runs towards me with long steps and a cone in his hand. He grins at me and I can’t stop grinning back.
I know him; he is my best friend. We go to the same school, to the same class. He plays floorball and I’ve watched every single one of his matches since second grade. He is the brightest person I know.
We take our first taste of the ice-cream together. I refused to eat it until now and it was worth it; it’s watery and cheap, but it’s sweet and it’s ours.
We both grin and stick out our blue tongues at each other. We walk on the grass by the road until we reach the end of the street, then run across and down on the stairs to the enbankment.
There isn’t much shadow here either, but the cobblestones are cool enough not to burn, so we stand close until we both finish our ice-creams. The water laps at our toes, washing away the dirt.
„I want to go in.” My friend says, his green eyes shining, and I nod, because I can’t say no to him and I don’t even want to.
So we wade into the water, I wash the sticky blueness from my hands and he goes deeper. There are a few people and a dog swimming, but they are far from us, we can barely hear their laughter.
I follow him, and the river deepens fast; by the time I realize it, the soft waves are already hitting my chest. I know he wants to swim, but I can’t, yet I don’t want to go back, I don’t want to be alone, apart from him.
„Wait...” I ask, but he laughs and dips underwater. When he appears again, he is even further from me, his skin glistering and he turns a little to wave at me before he goes under again.
I push my way after him, it’s increasingly harder to move my legs as I have to tiptoe now to reach the bed. I didn’t watch out and I step into a hole, my head dives. Unexpected, really; I panic, but manage to kick myself to the surface, and I yell for my friend. But I can’t see him anywhere.
I twirl around, looking for him, but I keep dipping and I’m getting tired. I yell again, no answer, only the faint laughter of the other bathers and the soft thud as the waves hit my ear.
I scream his name and I sink, water filling my mouth and my nose. It burns and I try to catch my breath just to swallow more. I’m heavy, my head hurts and my lungs are on fire.
I don’t open my eyes, not even when I feel like hands are grabbing my shoulders. Big and firm hands, they definitely don’t belong to the skinny ginger I knew, yet I think about him. I think he is saving me, he is holding me and I feel safe.
It’s not dark anymore, colours swim across my closed lids like when I’m facing the light. It’s white and peach, spinning and melting together.
I cry a little, but I’m calm. I’m in the right place and he is with me now.
And it makes me happy.
Someone grabs my shoulder and shakes me a bit. People come by and shake my hand or hug me. They cry. Who have I lost?
I’m in a cemetery. It’s snowing and there is an old lady standing next to me. When the people leave, she hooks her arm into mine and we walk back to the pavement that leads to the iron gates. I should look back at the grave, but I don’t.
„What a weather.” She says softly when I slip a little on the ice, but she holds me firmly.
I don’t say anything, just nod. In fact, I only start to feel the grief now; there was too much to do in the past weeks. Arranging the funeral and taking care of the children like nothing happened... And now, that all is over, it hits me.
I stop. My stomach jumps into a knot and before I can realize it, tears stream down on my cheeks unstoppably.
„Come on, Ben... Come on.” She hushes me, and pulls on my arm, but I don’t move.
„I can’t.” I sob, my legs shaking violently, and I know if she didn’t hold me, I would collapse.
„Yes, you can. Come, walk me home.”
I take a deep breath and nod. I stumble, but she guides me and now we are outside, the dead willows and faint candlelights are behind us.
It takes all my willpower to walk down the street, every bench that we pass is another achievement, another milestone. She doesn’t talk, and I can’t, because I’m crying too hard. And what would I say anyway? We’ve both lost the most important person in our lives.
She doesn’t live too far from the cemetery. She bought a flat near when her husband died eight years ago so she could take care of the grave. I didn’t know them back then, but she liked me from the day her daughter introduced me. She said I reminded her of her husband.
We reach the block and she hugs me, briefly, but firmly. I wipe my face with the back of my hand.
„Go home, Ben. I will come over tomorrow to help you with the packing.” She says softly, but she is already searching for her keys in her purse. I nod again, and watch her entering the house.
I stand there for another few minutes when a sob breaks out of me again. I’m long past being ashamed of crying on the street. I don’t see the people, I pass them blinded by my tears.
When I reach the crossroads, I catch a cab. There’s a man at the wheel and as I get in, I catch a glimpse of his face. He looks familiar.
I wipe my face again, but the tears don’t stop, and I wonder who is this man. He reminds me of someone I love. I think about my wife.
That’s not true. She had blue eyes and blonde hair with a round face. I don’t know him; I have never met a ginger before.
I know he glances at me in the mirror, I can feel it. I give him the address and I stare out of the window, trying to level my breath.
„So did she break up with you?” He asks after a few minutes. I think he’s grinning.
I shudder and turn to the front, but I can only see my own eyes in the mirror. They are dark.
„She died.” I say simply. „Car accident.”
There is a moment of silence, just the soft hum of the engine and I look out again.
„I’m sorry.” He says finally, and he sounds like he means it, but I snort a little.
„No, you don’t.”
At the end, it hurts me. I’m still fighting the tears, even when we pull up to my block and I get my wallet to pay. I have to swallow hard as I open it. There are three pictures inside; two of my daughters, and one from the wedding, just two months ago. I quickly snatch the money and I give it to him.
I stand and watch as he leaves, my hand fiddling with the keyring in my coat’s pocket. I start to feel dizzy from crying. It gets even worse when I remember I will have to return to an empty flat now.
I step inside. It’s cold and dark, and after all those years, I still struggle to find the switch. It looks nothing better when the lights come on. Almost impersonal.
It’s neat, really, I’ve been taking care of. The kids left a few dolls on the carpet in the living-room, they were playing and they didn’t have time to put them away when my sister came to pick them up last night. They are probably playing now too, wondering when their mommy will come back.
My throat tightens as I put the dolls on the coach, and I end up in the kitchen. A dirty mug in the sink, I left it there in the morning. Now I wash it and pour some water in it to heat. Not on the stove, as she preferred to do it. I use the microwave.
I hate this silence. I move to sit at the table, in the corner, my back against the wall and I watch the clock. I listen to the ticking. I wish I could hear her complaining about it.
Eventually, I don’t drink my coffee. I go to bed before the instant powder can dissolve in the lukewarm water. I fall between the pillows all dressed up, in my suit.
I fall asleep and I dream about being on the beach with her... with him. We swim, but this time it’s me who is drowning. It’s strange and it’s dark.
But I don’t mind.
I’m throwing a fit.
I’m sitting in the kitchen, at the table in the corner. I’m already big enough to have a normal chair, but I need pillows and my feet still can’t reach the floor. I was drawing, but my pencil broke and now I’m upset.
He is tired. I can tell from the way he walks in. I stop, only weeping silently as I watch him with scared eyes. He sees my pencils, my drawing, and pours himself from that dark liquid he and mommy like.
He drinks, the mug is shaking in his hand and he sets it down too harshly. I shiver and look down on my drawing. I cry again, but I don’t dare to make any sound.
He takes my pencil, the red one, the broken. He walks back to the living room, and I almost think he’d left me alone, when he returns. He sharpened it. He hands it back, so I can finish colouring the flowers. He sits down and watches me silently.
„Why are you still crying?” He asks finally, and his voice is soft, like always, when he talks to me, but I feel like he is mad at me. I hold my breath but the tears don’t stop.
„I want my mommy.” I say.
„Mommy is not coming back. I told you.”
I whine weakly and my pencil breaks again. I give up and I reach for the orange to use that instead.
"I know." I mumble.
"Then stop fucking crying." He stands up. "It doesn't help."
I nod. I watch him grab his mug again just to realize it's empty. He pours again.
I finish the flowers but they look strange. I don't like them, but I can't erase them, I don't have a rubber anymore. I lost it somewhere in the hospital, probably a day after I got this new kit.
“I drew this for you.” I say and I slid the paper across the table. I can only hope he likes it better than I do.
He sighs and looks at it, but he doesn’t come closer and he doesn’t touch it.
“It’s nice.” He says simply and walks out.
I don’t follow him. I know him, he doesn’t like it. He always called me a stupid duckling when I followed mommy around. I don’t understand it, but I try not to do it. I’m just a bit lost.
I pull the drawing back. Now I can see even more mistakes. The sky needs proper colouring, maybe a few clouds. Then the fence, it’s crooked, and the window looks like it’s broken.
I get out my kit and start to fix it when he comes back. He sets the bag down on the threshold.
“Kylo, we have to go.”
I’m disappointed, but I pack my kit anyway. I put the paper back where he sits, and go to the bathroom to pee. When I’m back, he is drinking from his mug again.
“Go, get in the car.”
I put on my shoes and my coat. Mommy has taught me how to tie my laces and how to wrap my scarf properly. There are no other clothes in the closet anymore. They are all in boxes.
I walk carefully, but I still slip a little on the ice. The car is open and I crawl into my seat, but I have to wait for him to fasten my seat belt. I’m not allowed to do that alone.
He comes, his black coat open in the front, for which mommy would’ve scolded him. He fastens my seat belt, and I feel like crying a little, but I don’t want to upset him.
He drives us away. I look back at the house so I can memorize it, so I know I will remember it when I grow up. I will come back. I will live here one day. I will have a wife and two daughters and I will sit on the chair in the corner, like he did.
And I will be happy.
“And you went back to the hospital?” He asks.
“Yeah. I was there only once, after the accident, apart from when I was born. The doctor remembered me and she showed me the room where my mother was.” I nod, fiddling. “I think I wanna work there. In the hospital, I mean.”
He stops the car near to the edge of the cliff. I’m a bit excited. I can feel it in my stomach, and in my pants.
The only light is the car’s headlight. We’ve left the road twenty minutes ago and drove through the forest just to be alone.
He turns to me and his hand slips from the wheel to my thigh. I shiver a little. It’s good.
„So...” He smirks and I know he knows this is what got us here. „Do you wanna kiss?”
My heart is throbbing a bit too hard, but I grin back. I might be a little scared, but I’m curious. And I want him.
He leans closer and our lips touch. It feels good and I think this is all, but he pushes his tongue inside my mouth. This is my first kiss, I don’t know what to do, so I let him.
His hand on my leg grips as he gets even more enthusiastic, and he pushes me against the door. I’m halfway lying on the seat and he on top of me. My arm is stuck between us.
I don’t try to pull away. I’m sure that half of my face is coated in saliva, and I want to wipe my mouth and catch my breath, but I don’t. I tell myself it will get better. It has to, since everyone likes kissing.
But I don’t feel anything. It’s just hot, wet, disgusting. I’m getting more and more comfortable. My arm hurts. I can’t feel it.
Finally he sits up and a relieved gasp leaves me. He grins and he strokes my chest, and I wonder if it’s rude to wipe my mouth. Eventually I can’t stand it any longer and rub my lips with the back of my hand when he is not looking.
“I like you a lot, Kylo.” He says.
His fingers worm their way under my shirt. They are cold and I squirm a little.
“I like you a lot too.” I reply. I’m not lying. I like him. I just don’t like kissing him.
“I wanted to kiss you long ago.” He continues. He is scratching on my chest and when his nails run over my nipple, I wince.
“Yeah.” He nods. “And I wanna do other things to you too.”
“Like?” I ask. I’m not clueless, since this was what I came here for on the first place, but I’m not really sure about it now.
“Like...good things. Even better than kissing.”
I swallow and grin back at him anyway.
He unbuttons my pants, and I unbutton his. It’s cold, so we don’t take off our clothes. We rut and rub against each other, and it wouldn’t be bad, but he keeps kissing me. I can’t focus on anything but trying not to gag as he sticks his tongue down on my throat.
It’s mediocre, really, and I can’t see why so many people like doing this.
He keeps kissing me even when we are both finished. I wish he would stop.
“Best birthday ever.” I whisper and ignore my throat tightening.
In the afterglow, I pull him close.
His body is slick with sweat and so is mine. I bury my face in his soft hair, and close my eyes. It’s peace.
He shifts, reaching for the blankets which are tangled around our legs. I help him pull them on us.
I know him, we’ve been living together for five years, he is always cold and likes his coffee without sugar, which is a complete mystery for me. He plays floorball and works in the bank. He is probably the smartest person I know.
Suddenly I’m unsure. Is it really him or do I confuse him with someone else? I have to think and soon I really see my mistakes.
No, we are not only living together, we’ve married two months ago and we have two beautiful daughters. She works at the florist’s at the corner, no, she used to work there because she died in a car accident just a week ago on our honeymoon...
It doesn’t fit. He is here with me. He can’t be dead and he is definitely not working with flowers. He is a surgeon. My childhood dear and I kissed him in my car when he turned eighteen. We just met again and hooked up.
No. I know now. We are children. We are eating ice-cream and I’m drowning. And now everything is blurry and he holds me to his chest...
My head is spinning. I don’t know what is going on, and it can easily be that I’m having another nightmare. Since the army...
I groan and let go of him. I sit up and he sits up as well. He is thin, ginger and confused. I wish I could touch him, but my hand doesn’t move.
“I will get some water.” I say when the silence is stretching too long. He nods.
“Bring me some too?”
I crawl out of the bed. I feel lost, and the worst is that my feet know the way. Down on the hall, on tiptoes at the second door, not to wake up the kids – I know, I remember, they are my sister’s orphans and I took them in because they have no one else -, and turn to the left at the end.
I let my hand drag through the glasses and pick out his favourite. I fill it and I drink, then I fill it again and take it to him.
He remained sitting while I was away, he only pulled the blanket around his shoulder. He drinks and sets the half-empty glass on the nightstand. I stand and I don’t move.
“What are you doing?” He asks.
“About life.” I reply. “My life.”
He snorts and takes my hand. I don’t pull away and I let him drag me back on the bed. I lie on my back, and he rests his head on my chest. We are still holding hands.
I don’t fall asleep. I don’t dare to. I’m happy here, even though I’m not really sure where I am or what is my part in this. But I know him. And he knows me. I don’t want to lose it.
“Aren’t you gonna sleep?” He murmurs and I almost jump.
“I don’t want to.” I confess. “I don’t want to leave this place. I like it here.”
He sighs and wants to say something, but I cut in.
“It sounds crazy, I know, but I feel like it’s not my life. I feel like I’m not living. Just jumping. Just glimpses.”
He sits up and stares at me. It sets something cold in my stomach. He must think I’m insane.
A minute passes and I chew on my lip.
“I know you. I met you before, in different places.” I say finally.
“I know. I remember you.” He nods and my stomach drops a little. “I was there.”
I feel a bit less lost now. I feel like it makes sense now, even just for a little. I reach out and pull him back to my chest, sobbing just a little, silently, not to wake up the kids.
“You have to sleep eventually.” He hushes me when my tears dry up and my breathing levels again. I shook my head.
“I’m happy here. I like it here. Can’t we stay?”
“No, I’m afraid, we can’t.” He sighs. “There are many more things you will have to see.”
I still cling to him, but my lids are growing heavier. He shifts closer, his stomach pressing against my hip. I know I will fall asleep soon.
“I don’t even know your name.” I say finally.
He lays his hand on my chest. I feel something cold on his finger. Probably a ring.
The mosquito bites on my toes starts itching and I try to rub them against my sock. It’s impossible to scratch them in these tight shoes and I mutter a curse as I keep scrolling through the website. The clock ticks two thirty. Night shifts are hell.
I’m somewhere in the middle of the third article on how to maintain a garden while I don’t even have a garden. I live in a cramped studio on the third floor and all I have is a balcony big enough to step out. But I never step out, because the road underneath is busy and smelly.
The ER is silent at this time. No one wants to die in the middle of the night, which I’m quite thankful for. I sigh, close the browser and rub my face.
My caller goes off and I groan. Well, maybe someone chose to die now.
I reach a group of paramedics at the reception. They are pushing someone on a bed and a nurse rushes to me.
“What do we have here?” I ask her and she hands me a clipboard.
“Abdominal stab. We found him conscious in an alley five minutes ago. He was stabilized and he got 5 millis of tranquiliser. “
“Good.” I nod and as I glance at the paper, I freeze. According to his ID, his name is Hux.
I know him.
“Sir?” the nurse calls for me and I snap out. “Shall we take him to the operating room?”
“Yeah... No. Do an x-ray first.” I say, hoping he doesn’t need surgery. She nods and rushes after the paramedics, and I go to collect someone to help me prepare the operation room anyway. Just in case.
I’m tired, oh god, I’m tired and my hands are shaking. It’s not even two fifty and we are in the operating room, me, the nurse from the ambulance and another helper. It’s rutin, really. Keep the heart rate monitored, the IV stabilized and seal the wound. The paramedics did a nice work on stopping the bleeding, so it’s a shame when it starts again as I peel the gauze off.
He is sedated and I can’t see his face from here. But I’m sure, now I’m a hundred percent sure I know him and as I hover above his body, the needle in my hand, it hits me harder than ever.
He said we can’t stay. We never stay, and I can’t help but glance at the monitor of the EKG. His heartbeat is steady.
Or maybe it wasn’t him who said that. Maybe it was me.
Yes, it was definitely me, I said it to my stepson when we moved out. A fussy little child, but I liked him. I wonder where he is now.
I have to remind myself to focus as I almost drop the needle. I sigh softly, not even a sound coming through the mask, and I began to stitch the wound. And the mosquito bites itch like hell.
I visit him in the room afterwards, when he wakes up. Partly to check on him and partly just to see him.
“I’m doctor Ren, hello. I was your surgeon. How are you feeling?” I try to keep it as professional as possible while my heart is in my throat.
He looks at me and studies my face and I study his. He has the same ginger hair, small nose, green eyes. High, prominent cheekbones. There is an odd feeling in my stomach.
“Not too bad.” He shrugs and I nod bitterly.
I was wrong. This is not him, not the Hux I know.
It’s another Hux.
“Good. You’ll have to stay for the night and tomorrow too. If you have any problems, just press that button over there and a nurse will help you.”
“I know, doc.” He nods and I can’t look into his eyes, into that face again.
“Good night, Mr Hux.” I say and I close the door behind me, returning into that small room I call my office to read an article about the history of medieval paintings in Italy and maybe find some remedy for the mosquito bites.
We look at each other over the dinner table and agree without having to say a single word.
„Of course we’ll take in the girls.”
Later, when the guests already left, we are in the kitchen. He is doing the dishes and I hold two glasses of wine, one for each of us. They are both half empty.
„I know you hate them.” He says finally, setting down the sponge and reaching for the cloth to wipe his hands.
„It’s not them. It’s this situation.”
He sighs and leans against the counter, taking his glass from me. We both sip silently and I have concerns.
„How will we raise two kids?” It breaks out of me.
This flat is too small, even for just the two of us. A pantry which’s wall we built to separate it from the cramped kitchen. A living-room, functioning as our bedroom in the night, with the couch pulled out. A bathroom with a bath that is too small, but still considered to be the most luxurious thing we have. We definitely have no place for a child, let alone for two.
„I’ve done it before. We’ll manage, Kylo, don’t worry.” He says.
Of course, I know, eventually we will manage. We will move out to a house to a suburbs where the girls have their own room and we don’t have to sleep in the living-room either. I can already see it, or did I dream about it once? We have a decent kitchen.
“It’s your good heart again.” I scold him gently, setting down my glass. “You have to stop taking in children.”
“But can you blame me? That poor boy, and now the girls...”
We move to the living room and I pull out the sofa for us to lie. He brings the blankets from the closet and it feels so calm now.
“Thank you for putting up with my family tonight. I know how hard it is for you...”
I shrug and slide closer to him as we watch that cheap show on TV for a while and I cringe at the lack of acting skills.
I might have slipped into a slumber, seeing those colours, white and peach, but I stir when he moves next to me.
“Sorry, just a mosquito.” He says and smooths back my hair to press a kiss on my forehead.
“There’s a shitton of them in here.” I murmur as I close my eyes again to drift off. “I have like four bites just on my stomach.”
He laughs softly and I love it.
“I will kiss it better in the morning.” He promises and I know him well enough to know he will really do.
It’s cracking. His wrist.
Every time his hands take a turn on the keys, his joints make a soft noise, like those old creaking stairs in the summer house.
It drives me crazy.
I stand by the piano, facing the window. I’m the metronome, knocking the beat on the wooden side as I watch the kids run outside.
I can tell he wants to go out. He can’t concentrate on the notes anymore, he can’t see his fingers playing. Sweat beads above his ginger brows.
It’s incredibly hot inside. Not even hot, but humid, and it’s hard to breathe. I ditched my jacket hours ago, now it’s hanging on the back of my chair, but my shirt is wet in patches on my back, on my chest, I can feel the sweat tickling down on my skin just to soak the waistband of my trousers.
I want to go home.
I could let him go, we could both go. There is still twenty minutes from the lesson, and he hadn’t played half of his pieces yet, but he wasn’t late, so we are still doing better than most of the time.
He is talented, hardworking. He practices at home and he had improved a lot since I started teaching him a month ago. The other students weren’t this flexible, they needed time to get used to me, but he... He is a genius really.
I don’t even see the world around us anymore. My hand moves on its own, the beat stuck in it instinctively. But I do hear the ice cream truck’s horn outside and the children laughing.
He hears it too, and he stiffens. Amazing. His hands don’t even stop, he makes no mistake. He was born to play the piano, I say, he was born to.
I could let him go, and then I could go too. But I hesitate.
The truck passes by the window and I vaguely see the kids running after it. They are wearing swimming suits.
It’s a good idea, I think about my husband in the local hospital. We both need a little relaxing, maybe we could go on the beach on the weekend, if he doesn’t work.
I have it so much easier than him. I could just tell him to go, the lesson is over, and we would be both free, but he can’t tell the patients to go. Indeed, my job is not that bad after all. The kids are nice and I can tell them what to do. And if they are a genius, they can do it.
I glance at my watch, the leather strap sticking to my sweating arm. Fifteen more minutes.
The piece ended and none of us realized it actually. But there is silence, apart from my knocking.
I hesitate. I could let him go now. We could be free now.
My hand doesn’t stop with the rhythm, even if I want to. I force my eyes from the window to look at him and he is looking up at me, expectantly, hopingly.
I will let him go now.
I sigh and my right hand wipes the sweat off my forehead.
“Again.” I say, and he nods, and he doesn’t fail to start on beat.
A genius, I must say.
It’s the second Latin class in this semester. The room is small and overly crowded, there is no air.
I stand at the blackboard, the chalk getting under my nails as I write up the conjugation of the verb go. It’s an irregular verb, it doesn’t conjugate like the rest of the verbs. I hate it.
I studied Latin for four years in high school. I wanted to be a doctor, but instead now I’m a student in faculty of liberal arts. When I finish I’ll move into a library and read even more books, and if I’ve read all of them, I’ll come back to this university to teach.
It’s a useless job. And we are learning a useless language in a useless class in a useless place, but I don’t mind. I’ve always liked Latin. It’s dead. It can’t change anymore.
Someone coughs behind me and I can see the professor from the corner of my eyes. I made a mistake. I grab the sponge and wipe it off, but it leaves a wet spot and now I have to wait for it to dry before I can rewrite it.
The door flies open, hurling against the wall next to it and bouncing back, closing with a loud bang behind the man who stepped in. I’m startled by his rough entrance and I look up.
I have never seen him on campus, but he is familiar. Even under the black trench coat and the round, John Lennon-style sunglasses, I find familiar features on him. He has a thin, golden ring on his left hand, and just looking at it I know it would be cold if I touched it.
I can’t move. He slowly takes of his glasses, looking at me in surprise as if I was the intruder and not him. Yes, I’m even mad at him for disturbing the class.
He moves slowly, our eyes locked, but he finds no place to sit. He could take my chair, but he doesn’t. He is a gentleman; instead he sits on top of the waste bin.
I can finally finish the conjugation, but it’s harder than ever. Minutes pass and I can feel his gaze on my back, and the chalk dissolves in my sweaty palms, but I finish it.
As the class ends, my heart pounds hard in my chest. I pack my books as slow as I can, giving him time to stand up from the bin, stretch, and walk around the desks to get to me.
But he doesn’t.
He looks at me one more time, and then he is out of the door. I should run after him, and I do, catching him at the gates. He doesn’t say anything, and we walk in silence.
There is a woman waiting for him. She is tall and blonde and stunning, but they only say hi to each other and doesn’t talk. We are waiting for the bus. I want to think they are ignoring me, but they aren’t.
The next week he arrives to class in time and picks the seat next to mine in the first row. I can tell he is not interested in Latin. He never takes notes.
After that, he always sits next to me and we always walk to the bus stop together where he meets the woman. We never talk, but we don’t need to. I already know him.
At the last lesson in the semester, he takes my hand under the table. It’s warm and I note that his ring is missing.
It’s cold and the street lights look peach and white from where I stand.
I have no clue where I am or why I am even here. It’s late, and I have a faint feeling that I should be somewhere else, somewhere important.
My feet feel numb, so I start walking. There is a small corner shop’s lights flicking ahead of me and I follow it like a moth. Maybe I can get directions there.
My walk is wobbly, and my head is dizzy. I think I’m drunk because my mouth tastes sour and my lips are dry, but I’m not hungry yet. Nothing hurts, just the chilly wind.
The corner shop is closed even though the lights are on inside. I know many stores keep the lights on so it’s easier to see if someone breaks in. Or at least that’s what my mother told me.
I reach into my pocket and I find a keychain with at least twelve keys on it, but none of them looks familiar. I randomly try some of them at the shop’s lock, but they don’t fit.
I keep on walking.
This part of the city is calm at night. Must be close to the suburbs, there are blocks of flats all around, making me feel almost claustrophobic as they tower above the street. There is someone across walking a smaller dog. They stop and the animal crouches at the side of the pavement. I watch them, but I don’t approach and soon they leave without picking up the mess.
A man turns at the next corner on the other side. He stops too when he sees me, but only for a second, and then he starts walking towards me. Fast.
He doesn’t even stop as he approaches me. I can see something gleam in his hand before it disappears in my stomach.
“Why?” He frown at him as he withdraws the knife and I catch a glimpse of ginger hair under his hood.
“I don’t know.” He says, and he looks just as confused as I am. Like a mirror. “Sorry.” He adds as he sees me bend over in pain.
My reflexes are slow. He turns away and he is talking, but not to me, and I can’t exactly hear what he says. Then he steps closer again, grabs my chin and looks into my eyes before he quickly runs back from where he came.
Hours pass and I hear an ambulance’s siren. There are lights, white and peach, but it’s stronger now. Lot of people grab me, but I can’t really see or hear anything.
When I wake up, I’m in a hospital bed. My medical chart says my name is Hux.
It’s his voice that I hear for the first time.
“Don’t let go of me.” He says.
My face is already buried in his chest and my arms are around him, but I hold him even tighter until I can’t squeeze any harder. I can feel him wrapped around me too, and he is breathing fast.
“Don’t look. Just hold me.”
I don’t look. I’m too scared to open my eyes anyway. So I just wait.
“I have so much to tell you and so little time.” He says and he sighs to stop panting. He can’t.
It’s almost like something has riled him up. I don’t dare to speak up, so we are silent until he calms down again. He moves a hand to pet my hair.
And then it hits me.
I know him, I’ve known him since the day I was born, maybe even before that. He is like a father to me. He takes care of me. He walks me to school every morning, and he holds my hand, but he never helps to carry my bag. He drives a car. He is a surgeon. He doesn’t like the colour yellow and he hates it when I leave the curtains open in my room.
I know him.
And I already know what he has to tell me.
He is calm now. He knows that I know, and when I start to cry he kisses my hair.
I can hear a door open, and someone comes in, telling him that the visiting hours are going to be up soon. He waits until we are alone again, and then pulls away to look at me.
He is gentle as he rubs the tears from my cheeks. He looks tired, but it seems like he hasn’t cried yet. Or maybe he just hides it well.
“We will have to leave soon.”
He says we. It’s not about the visiting hours.
“I’m tired. I don’t want to do it anymore.” I shake my head and I cry again.
“Stop this!” He is stern again, and the sobbing is caught in my throat. I swallow it, and let it build up in my chest until it will burst out one day. But not yet. “You will have to look for me. I will look for you too, but it will only work if we both do. And when you find me, you won’t let go. Got it?”
I can’t reply, but I nod. The tears are welling up and they make his face blurry.
Of course, I spot the ginger in the crowd. It’s hard to miss when we are both taller than the average, and we can see each other above all the heads.
When I saw him, my first thought was to do as he told me before. Get a hold of him and never let go.
But when he sees me, he hurried turns around and heads out of the room.
I set my champagne glass on the table, not even caring when it tips up and the sparkling liquid pours out on the tablecloth. I follow him outside.
He takes the stairs, and I do so, and I’m already running to catch up, and yet when I get out of the museum’s revolving door, he is down the street and almost at the corner.
Now it’s the evening crowd I have to push my way through, but I keep my eyes ahead on that ginger spot, like the light of the North Star that leads the lost traveller. I figure out that it’s faster if I run on the road, against the cars. The thought of being run over and killed thrills me for a second, but then I realise that then I would lose him again.
He gets caught at a red light at the crosswalk and I can finally get near to him. Just before the light would change, and he would step away, I catch his arm and pull him back.
He doesn’t turn to me, and I don’t let go of him. For what feels like a minute, we don’t move, just the people around us, bumping and shoving, but we are like a pair of statues bolted to the sidewalk.
Then he takes a step back and his back is against my chest, so my nose brushes his hair, and I’m happy ... I even pressed a kiss on the top of his head.
“Don’t let go.” He says softly, but I can hear it through the noise of the traffic as if he was the only source in the whole world.
“I won’t.” I say, and I really keep holding him in the drift.