My tears dropped slowly on his already pale hand. Hospital clothing had a tragic talent of making people seem thinner, more fragile.
He didn't say anything but I knew he was awake. I, myself, had been in that position so many, times, trying to avoid sad conversations under the pretense of innocent sleep.
I shifted and lay my head on his exposed arm.
"Question: are you going to continue to sob through my hospital dress? Is it because it goes see through? Oh Hazel Grace you dirty little girl."
"I'm sorry, I can't resist seeing that hot body."
"You are forgiven."
We lapsed into silence, the sad, portentous kind.
"What am I going to do without you Gus?" I breathed.
I've known sadness before in my life. I've known the gut wrenching feeling of watching the life leave my parents souls like when I was diagnosed. I've seen one of my only friends go blind.
But none of it came close to how I felt losing Augustus Waters would be like.
He pulled himself up, all perfect blonde hair and striking blue eyes, only to have me burst into body wracking tears.
"Hazel Grace you will stop crying this instant," He pulled me up and wiped his calloused thumb across my cheek. It felt like home.
What had I become? So deeply obsessed with something that was nothing more than myself. Did my life depend on Gus? I had never become so attached to anything like I had with Gus. What sort of trickery was he playing with me? Leading me on before he died.
I stared at the vulnerable boy in front of me but my thoughts clouded over.
My tears dried up.
"How dare you Augustus Waters?"
"I can't believe it."
"Believe what Hazel?" Confusion shone through every orifice of his sculpted face. I went weak at the knees when he called me just by my first name.
"You lying, self-centred, narcissistic, pretentious bastard. I never loved you Augustus, I loved this idea that someone like you was able to love a useless cancerous fool like me. You don't understand, everything I wanted was the perfect life together and to grow old together. I imagined baking cookies for our kids and you chasing them round the park and pulling them on your shoulders when they got tired. And I imagined me and you sitting in that damn stupid pedophilic swing set in our old age with cigarettes in our mouths but no lighter anywhere near us."
His face turned 50 shades of frustrated before he set it in something defiant.
"And what Hazel? What do you want me to do about the fact that I'm dying?" He raised his voice, matching mine. "Huh? What shall I do to make sure you get your way? I don't get you Hazel, what happened to that calm, collected college girl I met? Where's she gone?"
I saw pure fire before my eyes; rage and determination to get the hell away from here clouded my mind and I started to scream incoherently at him. I didn't recognise my own voice or words. I just watched those features, that I had loved unconditionally before, fall and crumple like laundry in hurricane force winds.
Before I knew it, I was storming out of the hospital room, pushing past his parents who both shot me concerned looks and me and my oxygen machine stumbled into the car park, rain lashing down around us.
My car started quickly and I drove recklessly, refusing to acknowledge anything that had just happened. At first, I thought going home was a crappy idea because anything was better than parental interrogation but for some reason, I craved some love and grudging parents were better than dying boyfriend any day.
I staggered into the house, shouting for mother -at the top of my voice- my mood evident in my tone of voice (or should that be scream?) and looked around to see nothing. A spider crawled across the floor quickly like tumbleweed in an old Western film and I very nearly burst into tears again.
"Hey girl, you look like you need some TLC."
My interest piqued, as I looked up to see Isaac walking slowly towards me, feeling around the walls.
"Well, not look like- you don't look like anything anymore- I meant sound like."
I sighed deeply, not ready to deal with talking to someone about what just happened, but braced myself nonetheless.
"Me and Gus had a fight."
His mouth dropped and he took a few steps in my direction, now having located the source of my voice. "Oh Hazel." His attempt at comforting me wasn't working and I wished he'd leave so I could wallow in self-pity and despair all alone.
I nodded slowly.
"Well what are you doing here?"
I looked at him questioningly.
"You guys are the power couple, everyone looks up to you. You're not about to let this go over a little fight are you?"
Tears formed at my eyes again, "No, Isaac, he got really mad. I was really mad. I am really mad."
Isaac looked annoyed at me as he felt his way to the table. I pushed the chair opposite me back with my foot and he sat down.
"Listen Hazel, do you really want this to end?"
He was being serious and Isaac being serious meant that I must have done something really wrong.
"Well it's going to end anyways, he's going to die Isaac, die. Dead flowers don't rise again to be as beautiful as they were. Our relationship is basically already dead. Like him. And like me when the Phalanxifor stops working."
He fumbled around the table, and grasped on to my hands, holding my cold digits between his warm ones. Suddenly, that fire was back in my eyes- what was going on? I was an emotional wreck today.
"Hazel Grace Lancaster, Gus is not dead, you are not dead, your relationship, hanging by the thread it may be, is not dead. And you regret it, don't you? You regret saying whatever you did and having the fight. I can tell."
I sighed again but as he opened his mouth to speak again, I realised I couldn't deal with this right now. Without thinking, I leaned over the dining table and pushed my lips square on his.
Crashing chair, roar of shock, hands feeling cold again and then silence. Eyes shut- I couldn't see a thing. The temperature dropped. The world stopped.
Everything was hazy. Was my oxygen on?
"Hazel." He breathed. My eyes flew open.
"Is this what you want?" I almost lost his voice in the sound of the wind and rain outside.
I nodded but then upon remembering he was blind, slowly said it: "Yes," ! breathed back, "Yes Isaac, I want this."
When you're a teenager, you do all these crazy things with crazy people and you don't regret them because they're all just a part of growing up and you move on with bittersweet memories and stories to tell your grand kids.
But when you're a patient of any terminal illness, it's different: firstly you aren't allowed to do crazy things with crazy people but moreover, you don't want to ruin this in-the-balance, not-dead-yet lifestyle you have.
So if one day you get particularly upset, and you do something you regret, it's not bittersweet, it's very much just bitter and you can't exactly tell your grand kids because you won't have grand kids or live to see them.
And this is what was running through my head when I awoke on the 1st of July, with a pounding headache, draped across a muscular back- and not a familiar one at that.
I pulled myself up, trying not to get caught up in my oxygen tank which was lying on the floor next to the bed and immediately began to take long raspy breaths.
Was it worth it? I had no idea what had happened last night but finding myself lying in bed wearing very little clothing with Isaac was shocking to say the least. I let my mind wonder to Gus and if he was worried about me or not.
I was too selfish for a boy like him. I was so caught up in keeping him in the world that I'd unknowingly shunned him out of it. I was supposed to spend his last breaths and days with him, at his bedside, cracking jokes and being metaphorical with him. There should be a special place in hell just for me, but I suppose that makes me selfish again. Augustus Waters, I love you, I love you, I love you. There is not a force on this measly, unimportant earth that will keep you from me. I will not let Isaac nor death take you away form my heart.
As quietly as possible, I pulled out of my bed, hearing just the sound of Isaac snoring quietly, I pulled some clothes on and raced to the car outside. I fleetingly remembered my parents and wondered where they were and why they hadn't left a note or anything, but the thought was so fleeting it might not even have existed.
The drive to the hospital was lethargic with morning rush hour traffic, my stomach twisting up in knots like an old, eerie looking tree but eventually drew to a close as I pulled into the oh-so-familiar car park. It was busier than normal and I sped, overtook and forced my way through the crowds.
Now, this is the bit where I got really nervous. I needed to tell him what happened last night but I also needed to explain how much I loved him and how everything would be okay for us and he wouldn't need to hurt Isaac which he might just do. This was the most difficult bit but if I did it right then it would also be the greatest bit. I just need him to trust me and believe in me. If he were in my position -not that he would ever do something like this, Gus is much too composed for an argument of such sorts- he would perform a grand gesture that would leave girls swooning and dreaming about a boy like him forever.
Right outside his hospital door, I stopped and took a deep breath and shut my eyes tight. This is it.
My hand automatically pushed the door open, and I spoke all of a sudden, hoping desperately he'd be awake and watching me.
"Augustus Waters. There are people on this earth, that we will never meet, and these people may be better for us than each other... but I find that hard to believe because Gus, you are the deepest, most ravishing person I know. When you talk to me and tell me you love me it feels as though I belong somewhere in the world. I don't feel like a defect of society when you talk to me. There's a certain beauty and poise, this elegance you talk with and act with. Gus, I would gladly listen to your voice all night and all day if I could. I'd listen to you sing me lullabies even though when you sing, it sounds like nails being scratched across a blackboard."
I broke off into a smile, my eyes still closed.
"My Gus, your slow venture into the afterlife is like a great TV series coming to an end: People will sob and people will miss you so much but people will never remember you with sadness. They'll remember the great highlights, the metaphors, the swing sets, the support groups, the literal hearts of Jesus."
Then I realised I was rambling.
"Augustus, I'm sorry. I cannot forgive myself for what I've done and I want yo-"
My heart didn't just break. It was like a super villain had smashed it into smithereens with a hammer, making sure no shard was bigger than the atom that made it. It was like liquid glass, cutting my lungs, carving into my ribs carelessly.
"You know? What do you know?" My eyes were wide open now, staring at the steadfast line on his heartbeat monitor. He was sat up in bed, expressionless, staring anywhere but at me.
"I know where you were last night. I know what you were doing." Dark bags hung like his looming death under his eyes.
"Gus, no, even I don't remember exactly what happened, it was just-"
"Hazel Grace you don't have to explain yourself, I understand."
I didn't know whether he knew the truth or not, it was all very cryptic.
He sighed deeply, "I just thought- well, you would've waited at least until I died to make a move on him."
Sheer terror flooded through me, icy, solidifying my organs, everything stopping momentarily, poisoning me like I was Eve and his words were the apple from the forbidden tree. I shook my head repeatedly, aware of how bad I must have looked at that moment, dressed in my crumpled clothes from yesterday, Isaac's scent attached to me like he was a hyena invisibly circling me, not letting me get too close to him.
"Gus, no, I could never..." Words couldn't come quickly enough; I faltered.
His split second of hopefulness disintegrated, blue eyes dulled like an old knife, lips that had once so lovingly sang my name silent, unrelenting with his cold demeanor.
"I understand." He turned away from me, carefully studying the blank walls around him. "You said yourself, you don't want someone that's dying. You want the future you planned, go for it, Isaac's a great guy. I remember, once, when we were little..."
Your voice faded out. It wasn't like it used to be. All fun, humor, metaphorical resonance gone, leaving something sad altogether behind.
"Gus, I love you." He stopped mid-ramble and looked right into my eyes.
"No you don't. You love the idea of someone like me loving you."
My eyes widened. "No Gus, I love you, nothing happened between me and Isaac, you have to understand, he came to talk to me but when I told him about our fight, he was just trying to comfort me."
"Then why were you asleep with him, naked?" He sounded like a lost little boy. All the anger in him dissipated, leaving his voice raw.
"I don't know Gus, I was angry and upset and frustrated, I'm sorry. Please don't forgive me Gus, I don't deserve that. I deserve to be hated, I understand."
Tears leaked out of my eyes and suddenly, all the pills, all the appointments, nothing made sense anymore. What is the point in keeping alive a dying person? Am I not just a waste of space and time? I could see everything falling around me, maybe all I needed to do was conform and fall with it all.
A loud exhale came from his bed.
"I forgive you."
Well there comes a crash to my train of thought. "What, why?" I was genuinely shocked, only a boy as truly forgiving as him could forgive someone that does something like this.
"Hazel, it's okay if you want to be with Isaac. He has this wonderful quality about him that even I can't compare with..."
I raised an eyebrow, questioning him.
"He's not about to die."
And there it was. His smile, the innocent curve of his lips, small, yes, but really there and alive, and then it was okay again; before I registered what he'd really said.
"No, stop Gus, I don't need Isaac, I don't want Isaac. I want you. I hate Isaac for what happened, I hate him, I need you."
The door creaked behind me, and I span quickly to see a broken-hearted Isaac standing, holding a bouquet of white roses. His face contorted into something unidentifiable and he smashed the roses into the bin near the door before storming out, defiant and obviously upset.
Why did I have the miraculous ability to make the most important people in the world hate me? Gus looked at me disappointed. He wouldn't say it but I knew he was. I had hurt him, I had hurt Isaac and ultimately, I had hurt myself. I was destined to live in a world where I knew neither Augustus Waters nor Isaac.
Augustus Waters died that night and the only person I could blame for not being right next to him, by his bedside was myself. Humans are so faulty. Functional, but barely so. We make more mistakes than we could or should and we pay for them too. That is what I assure myself every time I remember me and Gus ended on a bad note; that we are all human. Ours was the most tragic tale of love in our little inexperienced universes with an even more unfortunate ending, but it happened. I would trade everything I have to go through it all again, to die with the most lovely boy I have ever known and will ever know.
And I see Isaac around sometimes but I guess it's fortunate that he can't see me. And I do regret how we left things in the end.
But I never forgot; white roses were never my favourite flowers.