A short story.
I wished. I wished on stars. Dandelions. 11:11. Eyelashes when they would fall off and land gently on my cheek. Day after day, wish after wish, asking for things to just get better, as if some cosmic entity would hear my pleas and decide that I was the one poor soul in this world that they wanted to help.
It isn’t any different today. My legs swing back and forth on the end of Aiden’s pickup truck, the tall grass beneath us tickling my calves. Aiden lazily holds a dandelion in front of me. “You’re taking a long time,” he says.
I laugh. “I know. I can’t think of anything good tonight.”
He laughs too, bringing the dandelion down to his lap and twirling it softly between his fingers. “Well, then you’re gonna have to tell me when you’re ready. My arm’s getting tired.”
“I’ll keep you posted.”
Aiden lies back, fixing the pillow beneath his head with one hand while he keeps the dandelion secure with the other. I’m thankful he finally took me up on my idea to buy cheap blankets and pillows from our nearest Goodwill. We spend too much time lying back here for us to keep using our jackets as neck support.
“What are you doing on Saturday?” Aiden asks, turning his head toward me.
I lie beside him and stare up at the cotton candy clouds that are peppering the crimson sky. I would need to go home soon. “I’m not sure,” I tell him. “Why?”
“I’m leaving on Sunday.”
I pause. “I know.”
We’re quiet for a long time, the silence between us uncomfortable. Unending. Unpleasant. Unhappy. Aiden sets the dandelion down on the edge of the blanket and sighs. “I don’t know why you’re making this so difficult,” he huffs.
I almost scoff. “I don’t think I am.”
“You are. I want to see you before I go.”
“So am I going to?”
I shake my head, but I can’t look at him. Not yet. Not now. Not this soon. It’s too fucking soon. How many times does this have to happen? “I’m not sure,” I whisper.
“Don’t do this.”
“I’m not trying to do anything.”
Aiden places his hands on his face, screaming into the spaces between his fingers. He does this for two minutes straight. “I get where you’re coming from, Jade,” he finally says, his voice too loud. “But you’ve gotta let me have this. You know that, right? That this is for me? This is what I want?”
My eyes are burning. The sun is setting, but everything is too bright. Too much. “I get that, okay? I do.”
“Then what’s your problem with it?” Aiden props himself up on his elbow, turning himself to me. “I know it sucks when this happens. It’s fucking devastating to lose people over and over again. But like it or not, you don’t have a choice in the matter.”
The sky is bruising now. Not so many clouds anymore. “You say that like I don’t know,” I choke, my voice barely a whisper.
“Come on. I’m not angry with you, alright? I don’t want you to think that. I’m just . . . frustrated.”
I snap my head to him. “Why? Because I don’t want you to go? Because I actually give a damn about you?”
“Christ, Jade.” Aiden sits all the way up, his bangs pushed down against his forehead by the wind. It’s going to rain. It’s already starting to hurt the fillings in my teeth. “You think I don’t care about you too? That’s bullshit. That’s bullshit, and you know it,” he spits.
I scream. Once. Twice. Three times. “You don’t get it!” I yell, sitting upright, salty tears spilling out the corners of my eyes. I shouldn’t have done my makeup today. “You’ve had time to make friends. You’ve had years and years to love people, and I haven’t. I’ve lost them all too soon.” I hold up my wrist and point to the number twenty that’s etched into my skin. “This isn’t enough time for me, Aiden. Not even close. I’ve lived twenty years, and you’ve” — I yank his arm out toward me, exposing the side of his wrist that reads two hundred and thirteen — “had friends to love for longer than I could imagine right now.”
He pulls his arm back. “That’s what you’re not understanding. You know we get to choose when we go. It’s my time. My choice. There’s not much left for me here.”
I can’t help but laugh hysterically. “Not much left for you? What’s this, then? Nothing? Not much?”
“Jade, that’s not what I — ”
“I get that you’ve been here a long time,” I state. “Really, I do. And I get that it’s not anyone else’s fault that I keep making friends with people who’ve lived more than a century, but you’ve gotta see where I’m coming from.”
“You know I’ve been in your position before,” he says, voice cracking. The blue in his eyes is dull in the dim lighting. I wish I could see him clearly. Wish I could see him longer. “You’re not the only one who’s lost people. And it’s harder when it’s their choice.” He shakes his head and looks down at his lap. “And, fuck, Jade. I wish some people didn’t choose to go so soon. I hate that I had friends that decided sixteen was enough years for them, and that there was no law to stop them from turning off their LifeLine. But it’s just my time. I don’t know how else to explain it. If I could, then I would. But that’s all I know. There’s only so much you can do on this Earth, and I’ve decided I’ve done enough.”
I scrape the tears off my cheeks, and I finally feel a raindrop on my head. It’s freezing. I’m freezing. It’s so cold I almost can’t feel anything except for the wet spot on my scalp. When did I become this numb? “So what am I supposed to do, huh? I’m not all that great at keeping friends around. It seems like I keep making ones that end up leaving me. I dunno what I’m supposed to do with a skill like that.”
Aiden reaches over to place his hand on top of mine. His skin is warm. Darker than mine. Familiar. Comforting. “That won’t happen to everyone. You know that. You didn’t think we were ever gonna be friends, remember? But we are. And look how close we got.”
I shiver. “Should I just cut my LifeLine too?”
Aiden’s grip tightens, his fingers wrapped firmly around mine. “Don’t you say that. Don’t you ever say that. You said it yourself: this isn’t enough time for you. You’ve got a lot more time, and you’re gonna use it.”
“Yeah, well. You’ve got more time too. We all do.”
“Not the point I’m trying to make.”
“I know. I was ignoring it.”
Another drop lands on my arm, and I stare as it trickles down to my fingers. Aiden takes his hand off mine and reaches for the dandelion again. He holds it out in front of me, and I purse my lips instinctively.
“You’d better blow this out before it really starts coming down,” he says.
So I do. But first, I close my eyes and think: I wish we didn’t live in a place like this. I wish we didn’t live in a world where people pick and choose when they leave. They always do it too early. Every. Single. Time. They either skate or stumble through life, and when they stumble too hard for too long, they think their only option is to cut their LifeLine. They sit there and wonder, why would it ever get better? Why would I ask for help when I could end it all right now?
I wish to not be this angry about it. I wish to finally see the day when all of this will end, and I’ll find friends that live right alongside me, never leaving, always happy, never contemplating the idea to stop what doesn’t need to be stopped.
I wish and wish and wish and beg and plead and hope and blow a quick breath of air, knocking the seeds off this shriveling dandelion, and I sit silently as I watch those seeds flutter down to the blanket, piling up on top of each other.
Aiden and I both stare at them as the rain starts to pour. The water drips off my eyelashes, and I take a deep breath before I wipe my eyes and look back up. “You never make wishes with me,” I point out.
Aiden keeps staring at the mutilated weed. Dead and gone right in front of our eyes, and it’s our fault. We did that. “I’ve never believed in it,” he says.
“You don’t have to believe it. It’s fun.”
He sighs. “I love you, Jade. I want you to know that. Always have, always will.” He finally looks back at me. “Will I see you on Saturday?”
My t-shirt is clinging awkwardly to my skin, and I feel like I’m suffocating in my jeans, wet and cold. Stuck. Imprisoned. “You will. We can do whatever you want.”
“Can I ask you something?”
Aiden runs his fingers through his hair, squeezing the ends as if this will dry him off. Our blankets and pillows are ruined, I think. It’s a good thing we’re not going to use them anymore. “If you could choose, from now on, would you want to know when someone was shutting off their LifeLine, or would you want to be surprised?” he asks.
“Surprised,” I say. It’s getting hard to hear anything over the sound of heavy rain clanging against the metal of this rusty, blue 1997 truck that I would miss so much. It’s the little things. Always the little things.
“Would you rather I not have told you, then?”
“No. I’m glad you did. At least we’ll get that last day. The only problem is knowing it’s the last day.”
Aiden rubs his eyes, and I can’t tell if it’s tears or rain that’s streaming down his pink cheeks. “I can’t imagine it without you.”
“I love you too, you know,” I tell him. “I’m sorry I never said it enough.”
“It’s alright. I know it’s not that easy for you.”
“Maybe I’ll try to change that.”
“Maybe that would be a good thing. You’re a spectacular person to be loved by.”
Aiden takes me home after that, and I wait until I see him drive clear out of my neighborhood before I wander into my backyard, muddying my sneakers in the grass as I stomp on every dandelion I see, cursing the day I decided that someone out there wanted to make anybody’s wishes come true.