“She hurt me, that I do not deny. But there was something in her breathing that kept me sane. It was humanizing.”
Aden had always thought that turning one’s focus outwards provided the best perspective inwards. The stars moved on their own profound celestial strings, and in their spinning machinations he was moved. While humans lived and loved and fell and died, the stars shone and soared in ways that he could never fully understand.
“She doesn’t see things the way you do.”
“I know. She never did. But she humored my silly habits,” Aden said. His glasses were slightly uneven and his hair unkempt. It had been six days.
“Maybe,” Sawyer said. “Maybe it is for the best that she moved on.”
He looked unconvinced. Sawyer watched his shivering fingers drum against the mug’s porcelain surface.
“This is hard on every parent,” Sawyer said.
“I am not her father.” There was such venom in the word. Two syllables weighted with millenniums of expectations.
“Yes you were, you ass. You raised her.”
Aden looked straight ahead, and his eyes visibly dimmed. He used to carry stars in his eyes and a waning moon of a smile, but now his laugh was brittle.
“She raised me, I think.”
What’s her sign, he had asked. The couple laughed nervously, until they realized that he was serious. Aden huddled the little baby Gemini against his chest and felt her smallness. She had been unwanted, but he wanted her very badly for reasons he never did discover. Perhaps, when he turned his gaze skywards, he was looking for those reasons.
“Don’t treat her like she’s dead, Aden. She’ll visit.”
Aden’s coffee had long since gone cold, and the employees behind the counter kept throwing him and Sawyer nervous glances. Aden shook very slightly whenever he moved. Sawyer guessed that he hadn’t slept in a week. His eyes were always half closed.
“I don’t think she will.”
“Bullshit. She’ll miss you, even if she doesn’t know it yet. They always do.”
“She isn’t a moon, friend. She has no orbit binding her here. She is running as far away as she can. I do not think her likely to return.”
“Come on. Kids always come back for money.”
“Of which I have none.”
“For love, then.”
Aden raised his mug to his lips and closed his eyes, but did not drink.
When Gemini turned ten she got her first telescope. The two of them spent every night shoulder-to-shoulder, eyes pressed against their machines. Gradually she learned the features of the sky. As the sky held her in rapture, he stepped back from his telescope and put his hand on top of her head. She stood on tip-toe and pushed her cold hair against his palm. For the first time, Aden understood that not everything valuable was unfathomable distances away.
“Look, my kids left. Three times. They’ve all stayed in touch. I see them almost every month,” Sawyer said.
Aden’s jacket was fatigued from years of wear, and had several buttons fastened to the lapels. They looked like military medals, but each had a different planet on it. Sawyer had given them to him as a present shortly after they had met in college. The badge for Pluto was displayed most prominently.
“Your children are not Gemini.”
“Of course not, but some things are universal.”
Aden’s lips formed a thin line, “Everything is universal, if you think about it.”
It was a comfortable old joke, but told in bitterness.
“You seriously need some perspective.”
His responding glare was dismissive and withering. “Do I really?”
Sawyer refused to be daunted. “Maybe. She’s only a couple hundred miles away. That’s nothing, in the cosmic sense.”
Aden looked down at his hands. They had been compulsively holding and releasing each other for hours now. He had a child’s hands. For a long time, both men were silent.
Aden ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “In the cosmic sense, we are all nothing.”
When Gemini turned fifteen, she had stopped using her telescope. Aden never pressured her, but his perpetual attachment to the heavens drew them apart. His poverty and his monkish life made her despise him. Whenever she screamed at him, he stood tall and silent until her rage exhausted her and she cried into his chest. To him, there was nothing as interesting as the majestic sweep of the cosmos unfolding before them through the tiny attic window every night. She couldn’t even force herself to care.
Sawyer insisted upon walking Aden home, but the pair had run out of words to say. Aden left him at the door and scaled the three flights of stairs alone, entering his attic and bolting the door behind him. As night fell, the greatest show imaginable began to play across the sky. Aden stood by his telescope, laying one cold hand against the metal but looking with his naked eyes. He pinpointed Gemini among the stars, watching her gleam.
He had thought that space was cold. He had thought that space was dark. He had thought that space was empty. How little he had known.