‘Did you have those sticky glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling?’
‘Of course,’ he said. ‘What aspiring astronaut doesn’t?’
‘So what happened? Didn’t you think you were smart enough?’ I said, teasingly.
‘Oh, I’m definitely smart enough, Sophie.’ His laughter echoed mine. ‘I just didn’t like the idea of having to eat cardboard food for months at a time. When I was seven, my dad bought me a star for my birthday. It came with all these specific coordinates and a certificate with my name on it, and we waited for it to get dark and then found it through the telescope.’
‘Of course you had a telescope,’ I interjected.
I caught his smirk. ‘So we found the star – The Gianluca Falcone Star – and my dad helped me get the coordinates until it lit up right in front of me. When I pulled back from the eyepiece, he clapped me on the back, and asked me what I thought about it.’
Without meaning to, I had rolled on to my side and hitched my head up with my hand, so I could see him better. I liked looking at him when he was telling a story. One, because he was abnormally handsome, and two, because his face lit up when he spoke. ‘And?’ I prompted.
He glanced sideways at me, a smile flickering at the edges of his lips. ‘I turned around to my father, who had just spent all this money on a really thoughtful, unique gift, and I said …’ He cleared his throat, and did his best impression of himself as a child. ‘“Dad, are you aware that the light from this star takes so many years to reach earth, that in reality it’s probably already deteriorated into a ball of dust and ash, and so the gift, technically speaking, is dead, and therefore useless?”’
‘Oh, man,’ I said, lying on my back again, my laughter warm inside me. ‘Remind me to never ever buy you a gift.’
‘Just make sure it’s a real star, not the memory of one,’ he said. ‘In my defence, I was only seven. I didn’t know about conventional rules of present-acceptance. I thought I knew everything.’
‘Some things never change.’
‘Well, the only difference is, now I actually do know everything.’
‘What else? What else would you do?’
His attention was trained on the stars again. ‘I’d visit Machu Picchu and do the Inca Trail, I’d travel Route 66 on a shoestring budget in an old Camaro. I’d study the Renaissance in Florence, I’d sleep under the Northern Lights in Iceland …’ He trailed off, and I could feel it, just as I knew he could – the sense of sadness creeping over us. He had really thought about it. All the things he would be, all the things he would do. Whispers of a life unlived, of dreams unmade. It hurt, right down in my core, to know that he would never have those things – the things that made his eyes light up and his smile stretch like a little boy’s again.
We lay together under the stars and the melancholy, and I tried my hardest to think of something that might make him feel better, to wade into that dark, empty space inside me and pull out a spark of light for him, but there was nothing, just hollowness and fear and anger.
He rolled on to his side, his whole body brushing mine as he looked down on me. ‘What about you, Sophie? What would you do?’
I had a million things I wanted to do – they used to play on a loop in my head, before all the nightmares took their place. ‘When I was a kid, my uncle used to take me to the Oriental Theatre in the city whenever there was a new musical playing.’ I rushed on, thinking of my old uncle Jack as a separate entity to who he really was – Antony Marino. ‘I saw Wicked four times in one year. And Billy Elliot and Aladdin, all these wonderful stories brought to life, and I remember thinking when I was only eleven years old that if I was going to do something for the rest of my life, it would be that. Stories. I’d work in movies or musicals, behind the scenes, bringing it all together. I’d be the producer or the director, or I’d stand there all day and happily hold a boom mic. I didn’t care, I’d just be part of it. Something bigger than me.’ My breathing had doubled, and the excitement of my rant was catching in my cheeks. I didn’t realize I was smiling, and Luca was so close to me, I could see the scar above his lip stretch as he smiled back.
‘What else?’ he asked, leaning closer. ‘What else would you do?’
‘I’d go to England and see where Millie grew up. I’d go to Buckingham Palace, and the West End. Millie says they do Wicked in British accents over there. How weird is that?’ I didn’t wait for him to answer. ‘Or maybe I’d see The Phantom of the Opera. I never got to see that one, and it was my mother’s favourite show. We were going to go but we …’ I trailed off.
‘Anything else?’ he said, softer now.
‘You know they think there are more tombs left to be discovered in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt? Imagine if I found one? I’d be so famous.’
Luca’s laughter burst out of him, flashing warmth into the air between us. ‘This is getting pretty elaborate … even by your standards.’
‘Don’t act like you wouldn’t want to see the pyramids.’
‘Of course I would,’ he said leaning in until he was distractingly close. ‘Maybe in this version, I could come with you …’
I tried to ignore the scent of his aftershave, the warmth of his body heat as he pressed against me. ‘You’d probably get motion sickness on the way there.’