It was about an hour later when they left the building, having talked the entire time about school while they drank their coffee. They were laughing as they left, making their way to Audra’s car.
“I can’t believe you said that in the cafeteria!” Audra laughed.
“Well, to be fair, I got a free diet coke for doing that,” Colton admitted.
“Well, I never pegged you as the type of person to read both the Percy Jackson and the Heroes of Olympus series.” She unlocked the car and started climbing inside.
“Oh, there’s a lot about me that you don’t know about.” He climbed into the passenger seat of her car, putting on the seatbelt. “But, if we kept having dates like this…” He trailed off.
She nodded a bit, strapping herself in like he had. A faint smile was on her lips. “I’d like that,” she said quietly. Then she started the car and pulled out of the parking space, heading down the road towards his house.
He smiled at her, then his smile fell as he looked over at her. “I’d… I’d hate to dampen the mood, but…”
She sighed, nodding as her smile fell off her face. “Right… The gloves…” She pulled over and stopped the car. She hesitated for a few seconds before she turned to him. “You know how, in certain stories, there’s always a sort of… curse?”
He nodded. “Like Disney movies.”
“Right, well-“ a deep breath- “This is… This is my curse, for lack of better words…” Again, she hesitated and, hardly believing herself, slowly started slipping off her gloves, grimacing in pain.
Colton watched her, his brows furrowed, and when he saw what was underneath the gloves, his eyes widened in shock.
He saw that, where her veins were underneath her skin, a silver glow came from there, pulsing with what appeared to be the beating of her heart. The silverish glow went from the palms of her hands to just above her elbows. Her arms were pale in color from what he assumed to be the lack of sunlight, but something told him there was something beyond that.
He reached forward and gently took her arm in his hands, causing her to wince and pull her arm back. They were cold. He looked up at her with furrowed brows. “What-?”
“I’m a star,” she said suddenly.
It was so random that Colton did a double-take on what she’d said. “You’re a… what?”
Audra closed her eyes and took a deep breath, slowly letting it back out again as the freckles on her face glowed a golden color. She opened her eyes. Her face was sad. “I’m a star. I come from the- Well, it’s complicated…” She looked down and rubbed the back of her neck. “My family is the Hydra constellation. Or, at least, the fallen Hydra constellation. I’m the last star in my family.” She had pulled her arms up to her chest, and was now holding them out to him, shaking as she turned to face him in her seat. “Stars… There’s a genetically modified type of iron that can kill us. Only… Um… It’s- It’s like a drug, to us. We know it kills us, but if we take it once, we’re addicted to it.”
Colton gaped at her. “You’ve been-” he started.
She hurriedly shook her head, pulling her arms away again. “No! That’s not- My mom gave birth to me intoxicated with the iron. It’s not the first time something like that has happened. I’m the youngest in my family, and she gave birth to all of my siblings the same way, but the thing with the iron is… once it’s in your system, it doesn’t leave. So it built up. And when it was my turn… it killed her.” She quickly put her gloves back on, trying not to physically show any pain. Her freckles had gone back to their coffee-brown color. “It’s been in my system for my whole life. But…” Tears had pooled in the corners of her eyes and she turned her head as she hurriedly wiped them away. “Look, the reason I went with you on this date was because… I’ve been given a time limit… I have four months left.”
He went silent for a few moments, then reached forward and gently took her hand in his, brushing a light thumb over her knuckles. He knew what she meant by “four months left,” but he hoped… “Left until what?” he asked, her voice soft.
Audra didn’t look at him. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? I’m not going to be able to finish off the school year.” She sniffled.
He nodded a bit, then reached up and gently turned her head so he could look into her eyes, even though tears had started piling up. “And you don’t want anyone knowing about this?”
She shook her head. “And it’s why I’m also hesitant about this. I mean… Are you sure you want to start something with me? I’m like a ticking time-bomb. I only have four months left until-”
“Hey. It’s okay, Audra.” He reached up and brushed some strands of her curly hair out of her face, tucking them behind her ear. “If you don’t want to start anything, I’ll respect that. We can be just friends if it’s something you want. But… if you want to… I’d like to start something with you, Audra.” He smiled softly at her. “Okay?”
She nodded a little, averting her gaze. “I… I would like to. I just- I don’t want to hurt you when… when my time is up.”
He nodded. “Okay. How about this: if later on, when it’s… almost time, you don’t want to be something anymore, we can be friends. Okay? If that’s what you want, I’ll respect that decision.”
She nodded again. “Okay.” She looked over at him. “I just want to be somebody, Colton. I want to be a normal teenager, and I want to go to prom, and have friends, and have a boyfriend, go on a couple dates… I… I want to do something to make a difference within two months. And I know that’s not a lot of time, but…” She shrugged, looking away again. “I don’t know if any of that makes any sense. You’re almost all of those things. You’ve had a girlfriend, and you have friends. You’ve been to parties. I’m just a nobody…”
“Hey. None of that.” Colton reached forward and gently turned her head so he was staring into her eyes. “I’m going to make your last four months the best four months of your life. Alright? My friends would love to get to know you. We can start with that and go from there. Your life has always meant something. I’m gonna make sure it means something to more people. Yes, I’ve had a girlfriend before, but it didn’t last and that’s okay. I’ve been to parties, but they’re not my favorite. If you want to do something like- like cheer, I can try and get you on the team. Anything you’d like.”
Her eyes widened a bit. “You can get me on cheer?”
He nodded, smiling a little. “Is that something you would like?”
“Then I’ll talk to the coach later. Okay?”
Audra nodded again, smiling faintly. “Thank you.”
His smile grew a little. “Of course, Audra.”
She smiled softly at him, which was more than he was getting earlier, and started to drive again.
He had turned to look out of his window. After a few minutes, he asked, “Would you be up to having some ice cream? I mean, I know that we literally just finished up a date, but I know this really good ice cream place up on Maine Street-”
Her voice was calm- soothing, even. It was a voice that he could listen to for the rest of time. So soft and gentle… The British accent she had - which she usually hid at school - only added onto the many things he liked about her.
He looked over at her, a soft, genuine smile on his face. To anyone else, it would be described as a lovesick smile - one of pure happiness. He wasn’t sure how Audra would describe it. “Hm?”
She glanced over at him briefly, that same soft smile on her face. “A continuation of ice cream would be lovely.”
His smile grew a little and he nodded. Then his brows furrowed slightly. She looked tired.
Maybe that’s just her illness? he thought, thinking back on what she had said earlier.
She had said that she wanted to be a normal teenager with a boyfriend, friends, and going to prom. Only thing is… prom wasn’t until April. She was given until January to live. If he was going to make her last four months the best four months of her life…
An idea struck him. It would be difficult convincing the principal, but he had to try. Besides, winters were beautiful in this city. Especially up at the small chateau his family owned on top of Mount Ethereal by Moonlit Peaks. The staff always said that they wanted something new to happen at West Lake.
“Hey, pull over. Let me drive,” he said gently. “You look tired.”
Audra hesitated, clearly unsure about his offer, then nodded as she pulled over.
They switched places only a couple moments later and soon they were off again, headed to the ice cream place up on Maine Street.
“I like your accent, by the way,” he told her a minute later. “I don’t get why you hide it at school.”
She shrugged, looking down at the gloves covering her arms. “I- don’t want to give Jess another reason to bother me… Thanks though.”
Colton sighed. ‘Bothering’ and ‘bullying’ are two totally different things, he wanted to say. But he chose not to and instead fell silent.
They pulled up to the ice cream shop not even two minutes later and spent about half an hour inside. Then Audra dropped him off at home before heading to her own home, officially ending their date with a hug before she left.
It was only after she’d left and he’d gone up to his room that he broke down in tears over her illness. He didn’t want to lose her. But he had promised her to make these next four months the best time of her life. So once he’d calmed himself down, he pulled out his phone, and made a few calls.