WELCOME TO FOREVER
Thora wishes she could start again.
She wishes she hadn't dyed her hair blue, or worn the clashing orange pinafore dress that screams trying-too-hard-to-be-interesting. Above all, she wishes she hadn't come here, to the thudding crush of the international students' welcome party. The music rises another notch, obscuring what the boy in front of her is shouting.
'What?' she yells.
He leans close to her ear. 'I said, I really feel like we've met before!'
She gives him a weak smile and throws back the rest of her half-empty red wine. Shaking the glass in explanation, she slips past him through the dark, strobing space, pushing the bar on the fire escape — out, she thinks with sudden desperation, let me out — to emerge into the cold wind outside.
'Whose idea was this?' she asks the cobbled square, the reconstructed façade of Cologne's old town. 'Who holds a "get to know you" event where no one can hear what anyone's saying?'
The city doesn't offer an answer. But Thora knows the noise wasn't really the problem. The problem was her. Since she stepped out of the Hauptbahnhof three days ago, she has felt a wall between her and everyone else, impenetrable and invisible as glass. She came to this party hoping the music and the drink would blast through it. Instead, she feels like she has spent the night screaming at her own reflection. Nothing from the other side came through. What are you studying? Physics, no way! Where are you from? Echo after echo of the same question, each leaving her more alone than the last.
She walks, not knowing where she's going. A breeze blows her hair back, cools her heated face. To her right, the square leaks out through narrow alleyways to the flat silk of the Rhine. To her left, past a grassy courtyard, a ruined clock tower points towards the sky, hands frozen at seven minutes to twelve.
Thora doesn't believe in fate. Still, she thinks some paths are better than others. Here, in her first week of university, on the threshold of so many futures, she feels a sick sense of vertigo. This is supposed to be where her life begins, and already she's taken a wrong turn. Why can't she be happy with one party, one city, one planet? What made her this way, gave her this ghost at the corner of her eye?
At the courtyard gate, she stops. Ignoring the padlock and chain, she vaults the railings and drops into the grass, following her shadow until it disappears. Ten steps bring her into a new world, quiet and roofed by stars. Thora breathes in like a swimmer surfacing from a long dive. She's about to lie down on the grass when she sees someone has beaten her to it: a boy, spreadeagled, head thrown back like he's trying to inhale the universe.
Someone else might thrill at encountering a kindred spirit. Thora only resents him: this space was hers, and he has taken it from her. She hovers on the grass, orbiting two possible worlds. She's alone, and it's dark: she should keep her distance. He's drunk, maybe passed out: she should check on him. She sucks in a breath and takes a bet on the second world. 'Hallo?' she says. 'Um — ist alles okay?'
The boy scrambles to his feet. Thora takes him in. Wide eyes and curly black hair; good-looking, in a way that puts her on edge in case he knows it. Short, even accounting for the fact that most people are short from Thora's five-foot-eleven perspective.
'Englisch?' he says hopefully.
'Oh. Yeah. Please.' She laughs. 'As you may have noticed, my German is basically English in a German accent.'
He looks over his shoulder at where he was lying, as if he owes her an explanation. 'I was just—' He cuts himself off. 'Santiago López. Santi.' The accent matches the name. It takes Thora a moment to register that he's actually put his hand out for her to shake.
She takes it. 'I thought you were passed out. I was coming to check on you.'
'You kidding me? The beers in that club were five euros. I couldn't afford to pass out.' He looks like he's laughing at her. 'Do you have a name?'
'Of course. Introductions, that's how they work.' She continues absurdly shaking his hand. 'Thora Lišková.'
He lets go of her hand to point at her. 'You sound like you're from England. But your name doesn't.'
One blessing of the loud party: it kept this conversation from happening. Explain your existence! Thora sighs, hoping to keep it short. 'My dad's Czech and my mum's from Iceland, but I grew up in the UK.' She shrugs. 'Academics. You know how it is.'
He runs a hand self-consciously through his hair. 'Well, my father is a bus driver and my mother works in a shop, so — no, I don't.'
'Oh, I'm sorry. I mean — I'm not sorry they're—' Every word pushes her onto a worse path. What right does he have to do this to her? She laughs under her breath. 'Shit. You know what, I'm just going to start introducing myself as Jane Smith from now on.'
Santi throws his hands up in mock-apology. 'Sorry for trying to start a conversation.'
'I didn't ask for a conversation.' She hugs herself, looking up at the stars. 'I just wanted to come outside and be alone.'
'Of course. I'm sorry I trespassed in your private city.' He bows mockingly and walks away.
Thora cringes. 'Wait.'
'I'm sorry,' she says. 'This whole night — I've spent it failing to get through to anyone. I thought it was the noise, or everyone else, but I guess it's just me. And now—'
He's staring at her, caught between amusement and irritation. 'Now what?'
Thora clicks her fingers. 'I know. Do you mind lying back down? Just there, where you were. Like I was never here.'
She expects him to walk away. But he shrugs and laughs and lies back down, and she has learned something about him.
'Okay. Wait there.' Thora walks back the way she came. In the dark by the railings she counts to three, considers leaving, thinks God-what-am-I-doing, and sweeps back onto the grass, holding out her hand to a bewildered Santi. He takes it, letting her pull him to his feet.
'Hi,' she says brightly. 'I'm Thora Lišková. Nice to meet you for absolutely the first time.'
A beat passes. A grin lights him up. 'Santiago López Romero,' he says, shaking her hand vigorously. 'Please, call me Santi.'
'Delighted.' Thora lets go of his hand; with nothing to hold on to, hers drifts self-consciously to her hip. 'So, um, if you weren’t passed out, what were you doing?'
'Stargazing,' he says, like it's a perfectly normal thing to admit to.
Thora's heart leaps. She squints up through the haze of city lights. 'Can't see much from here.'
'No. But maybe from up there.' Santi points to the top of the clock tower.
Thora blinks. 'You're suggesting we climb it?'
Santi shrugs. 'Unless you have a jetpack handy.'
Thora looks up at the tower, its brickwork a mess of holes. Something in her rings at the sight, a bell struck the right way at last. She feels it: the itch in her heart that goes away only when she’s somewhere she shouldn't be, somewhere no one in their right mind would want to go. She wishes she'd suggested climbing the tower herself. Now, it will look like she's just doing it to impress him. 'I'm not climbing a half-ruined tower with you! I don't even know you.'
He is already crossing the grass. 'How well can you ever really know someone?'
'Better than this,' she says, catching up with him.
'Really?' he says. 'I think we are all forever a mystery to each other.'
Thora wonders how he pulled this sleight of hand, turning a joke into an earnest discussion. Part of her doesn't care. For the first time tonight, something is coming through. 'Where's your evidence?' she demands.
'My parents. They've been married thirty years, but my father still discovers things about my mother that shock him.'
'Really,' Thora drawls. 'Does your mum say the same thing about your dad?'
He looks confused, then wary. 'Why?'
'Because that's a classic thing men say when they don't want to engage with women as people. Oh, she's such a mystery, when she’s been telling you for the past thirty years what she wants and you just haven’t been listening.’
Santi smiles, but there's an edge to it. 'Maybe your parents are like that.'
'Oh, no. My parents have learned all there is to know about each other.' Thora pulls her scarf tighter against the cold. 'Forget finishing each other's sentences. These days they can skip entire conversations because they already know how they would end.'
Santi vaults the railing and offers her his hand. 'But that doesn't mean they know everything about each other. Sure, they know their relationship, but they still only know each other from one — I don't know how to say it. From one side.'
Thora ignores his hand and climbs the railing herself. 'What do you mean?'
'I mean, they only know each other as husband and wife. They might say things, do things, with their friends, even with you, that they'd never show to each other.' He shrugs. 'You can't ever know someone completely. You'd have to be everything to them, and that's impossible.'
They're at the foot of the tower, where the stones bloom with graffiti: layers of words in pen and paint, an unreadable palimpsest in a dozen languages. Thora looks up. The tower is higher than she thought. Santi gives her a look like he's expecting her to back out. It's that, more than anything, that makes her step through the jagged gap in the wall.
Out of one world, into another. She expects to have lost Santi on the way, but he's with her, his breath the only sound in the universe. They look up into darkness studded with points of light. Through the hole at the top, the surviving roof tiles mask a glimpse of stars.
Thora steps onto the half-crumbled stairway that winds up the inside wall. She looks back at Santi. 'So we're doing this.'
He grins. 'Why not?'
Thora ponders his words as she reaches the first gap in the stairs. Why not risk your life for curiosity? For her, it's a question that has never needed an answer. She jumps across, a thrill running from her scalp to the tips of her toes. As she climbs higher and the gaps get wider, she hunts for hand- and footholds in the wall, using the holes in the brickwork as stepping stones to take her higher. Before long, she's absorbed. The party, the terrible first impression she made on Santi, her fear of stepping onto the wrong path, all fall away. Now, the only path is vertical, and it leads her to the top of the tower, chasing the shrouded stars. She doesn't think about the drop, not even when the gaps in the wall show her night sky veiled with wisps of cloud. The wind whistles through, flicking her hair over her eyes. When her feet find the steps again, she turns to watch Santi climb across after her. It's much scarier to watch than it is to do. Music rises on the air: a melody whose source she's not sure of until she sees Santi’s lips moving.
‘Are you singing?’ she says in disbelief.
He leaps to the other edge of the gap, dusting off his hands. 'Yeah.' He continues past her, up the final twist of the spiral. Thora thinks about what it means: he's not afraid. Not of falling, not of making a wrong choice. For a moment, her envy of him is absolute.
She follows him up through a hatch onto a wooden platform. Arches on three sides give onto views of the city. On the fourth side is the back of the clock, gears clogged with rust. Heated by the climb, Thora unwinds her scarf and hangs it on a rusty nail. At the edge, she sits down and tilts her head back. Cleared of the city lights, stars spray across the sky like blood-splatter from a god's violent death. 'Isn't it weird how reality sometimes looks unrealistic?' she muses. 'That shouldn't be possible. I mean, what are we comparing it to?'
'Something more real that we can't remember,' Santi says, sitting down beside her. He follows her gaze upward. 'When I was a kid, I used to think the stars were holes in the wall between us and heaven.'
Thora smiles. 'I thought they were stuck on the inside of the sky. Like the glow-in-the-dark ones I had on my bedroom ceiling.'
'I had those too!' Santi grins. 'Did you bring yours here?'
Thora looks at him warily, wondering if he's trying to catch her out. She takes a risk. 'No. But I got new ones from the Odysseum.' She points to the floodlit glass of the adventure museum across the river. 'It's amazing. The gift shop has European Space Agency badges. You should go.' She laughs. 'If you don't mind being the oldest person in there by like — ten years.'
'We're supposed to grow out of all that.' Santi speaks quietly. 'Little kids all love the stars. They all want to be astronauts. Explore the universe, see what no one else has ever seen. But then we get older and — we stop looking up. We keep our eyes on the ground and decide to be something realistic.'
'I never did.' Thora can't believe she's telling her biggest secret, the tender heart of her, to this boy she just met. She runs through his likely responses: laughter, fake interest, well-meaning advice to let go of what's never going to happen.
'Me neither.' He tilts his head to the stars. 'I want to go up there. It's all I've ever wanted.'
For the first time since she arrived in the city, Thora relaxes into a genuine smile. 'Why do you want to go?'
He looks at her like it's obvious. 'I want to see God.'
Thora laughs, because of course he's joking. He looks back at her calmly, not offended but not laughing along either.
She frowns. 'You think God lives in space?' He cracks a smile. She pursues it. 'You know all that stuff about heaven being up, it's — probably a metaphor.'
'There is no up in space,' he says seriously.
'So in space, you wouldn't be short? That's convenient,' she says without thinking.
He looks hurt. She wants to go back, to try again, but in this universe, time only moves one way, tumbling her with it. 'As for me,' she says, 'I want to go to space because in space, no one can hear me say the first stupid thing that comes into my head.'
He doesn't exactly smile. 'Why do you really want to go?'
She sighs. 'I want to get as far away as possible from — all this.' She gestures vaguely at the tower, the city, the planet.
'All this?' He stands up, swaying — she reaches out, but he catches himself on the arch. 'What's wrong with all this?'
'Nothing.' She shrugs. 'It's fine. It's here. I've just always wanted — elsewhere.'
'I know what you mean.' Santi looks out at the city. 'Still, here is pretty amazing.'
For the first time since she climbed up, Thora looks down. Santi is right: the city by night is a marvel, a planet riven by glowing fissures. Directly below, the cobbled square gleams, the fountain in the centre a puff of silver mist. To her left, the twin spires of the cathedral point like Gothic rockets to heaven. From the square at its feet, mismatched buildings trail down towards the river. Thora breathes out a smoke-cold breath and inhales the city, bomb-scarred and rebuilt, endlessly under construction. Her eyes follow the Hohenzollernbrücke stretching across the Rhine, lights reflected in the water like another version of it lies there drowned.
She points down at the bridge. 'You know that whole thing's covered in padlocks?'
'Yeah, I walked across. It's impressive.'
Thora snorts. 'It's stupid, is what it is. What couple says Hey, let's celebrate the uniqueness of our love by doing the exact same thing thousands of other couples have done?'
'Not just couples,' Santi says. 'I read the messages. There are locks there with the names of parents, children, friends.'
'That's even worse! Great, let's make every human relationship equally trite!'
He throws her a teasing look. 'You don't think that's beautiful? How universal it is?'
'Two tonnes. That's how much extra weight everyone's universal gestures add up to.' She shakes her head. 'One of these days the whole bridge is going to fall into the river.'
'But think about the symbolism,' Santi says in an awestruck tone. 'A miracle of engineering, borne down by the weight of human love.'
He's definitely teasing her. 'I'm sure the people who symbolically die when the bridge symbolically collapses underneath them will appreciate it.'
He laughs, high and exultant: the kind of laugh a boy might be mocked for. That he kept on laughing it anyway tells her something important about him.
Thora has been sitting still for too long: there is more to explore here, more to discover. She gets to her feet and steps around the opening in the floor to examine the rusted mechanism of the clock.
Santi stands up. 'Need some light?'
'No, I've got it.' She pulls out her lighter and flicks it on.
'You smoke?' Santi sounds surprised.
'God, no. My mum chain-smoked my whole childhood. That leaves a mark.'
Santi steps closer as she holds the light up to the gears. 'Think we can fix it?'
Thora puts her weight to one of the gears and tries to shove it backwards. 'No,' she says, after a few seconds. 'I'm afraid time has stopped.'
Santi tries to push the gear in the other direction. Giving up, he steps back. 'I guess it has.' He smiles at her sideways in the flickering light. 'Welcome to forever.'
It's a pretentious thing to say. But Thora has to admit that's exactly how this feels: a moment taken out of time, with no beginning or end.
'So we have to commemorate this, right?' Santi says.
Thora blinks. 'What do you mean?'
He reaches into his jacket and brings out something made of dark wood. It's only when he unfolds the tapered steel blade that Thora realizes it's a knife.
She stares. 'Are you suggesting some kind of blood ceremony?'
'No! Wow, you Czech-Icelandic-British people are so intense.'
Thora throws her head back in a laugh. 'Congratulations on remembering all the nationalities. Most people have to be told a hundred times before they get it right.'
He darts her a look. 'I pay attention.'
She holds out her hand for the knife. He gives it to her, and she examines it, turning the blade to the light. 'Wow. You could stab someone to death with this.'
'Why is that the first place your mind goes?' Santi shakes his head. 'It was my grandfather's.'
Thora looks at him suspiciously. 'Why do you have a knife if you don't want to stab anyone?'
'Why do you have a lighter if you don't smoke?'
Thora shrugs. 'You never know when you might need to set something on fire.'
'And you never know when you might need to carve something into a wall.' He takes the knife back from her and goes to one of the pillars between the arches.
She watches over his shoulder as he cuts into the stone. 'Santiago López Romero,' she reads.
He hands the knife to her. 'I don't know how to spell your name.' He leans over her shoulder to watch her work. 'I hate to tell you, but that's not a letter.'
She brushes the brick dust off the Þ that begins her first name. 'Yes it is. It's a thorn. We still use it in Icelandic. It used to be in the English alphabet too.'
'So what you're saying is, I really didn't know how to spell it.'
Their two names sit stark on the wall: no ampersand, no heart, nothing but shared space holding them together. That's right, Thora decides. 'I'm glad I left the party,' she tells him.
'Of course,' Santi says. 'I mean, this was fate, right?'
Thora blinks. ''Scuse me?'
'Fate. Us meeting each other. Climbing the tower.'
She laughs. 'Really? You're a determinist? Free will is an illusion, the universe is a ball rolling down a hill, et cetera?'
He shakes his head. 'I'm not talking about determinism. I'm talking about fate.'
'What's the difference?'
He sits down again on the edge of the platform. 'Determinism means everything's meaningless but we can't change it. Fate means there's a plan that God is working through us.'
'Right,' Thora says slowly. 'So the only reason we climbed this tower was because God wanted us to?'
Santi stays irritatingly serene. 'That's not how it works. He didn't make us do it directly. He made us the kind of people who would choose to climb a ruined tower just to see the stars.'
Thora pushes her hair back. 'Where to even start. What made me the kind of person I am?' She frowns at the echo of her thought as she left the club. 'Maybe there's something genetic there. God knows my parents are weird. But it also has a lot to do with my childhood, with the things I’ve experienced in my life.' The buzz of the argument makes her feel drunk, even though she only had one glass of wine and that was an hour ago. 'Think about it. What if your parents had moved to Cologne before you were born? If you'd grown up here? What if mine had stayed in the Netherlands where they met? What if — I don't know, something tragic had happened when we were children? We'd be completely different people.'
Santi shakes his head. 'I don't accept that. We are who we are. We would be the same people whatever happened to us.'
'Okay. Let's do a thought experiment. Tonight, did you make a series of decisions that led to you lying on the grass and staring at the stars?'
He hesitates. 'It felt like I did,' he concedes. 'But I made those decisions because of the person I am.'
'And you weren't even close to deciding something else?' She's animated now, turned towards him, the city and the stars forgotten. 'I can tell you I was. I nearly went down to the river. I nearly went back into the club, God help me. And if I had done either of those things, we wouldn't be having this conversation.'
He grins. 'So you think this conversation will radically change who we are?'
'Stop twisting my argument!' She's angry at him, his security in who he is, when she feels like a bundle of contradictory ideas clumsily woven into a person. 'No, maybe not this conversation. But if we — see each other again, become part of each other's lives—'
His grin intensifies. 'You want to become part of my life? Thora, I don't even know you!'
She hits him on the shoulder. 'Friends change each other's lives all the time.' She rolls up her sleeve to reveal the tattoo she got two days ago in the Belgian Quarter, the skin of her wrist still reddened around a cluster of faint stars. 'Take this. My friend Lily said we should get tattoos to commemorate starting uni. So if I hadn't met Lily ten years ago, I would literally be physically different right now.'
Santi takes her arm, turns it to the light. 'What is it?'
'It's a constellation. Vulpecula. The fox. That's what my surname means.' She picks at the edges where it's starting to scab. 'I guess — it sounds stupid, but I got it to remind me who I am. That I belong up there.'
Santi flicks a leaf off the edge, watches it make its erratic way down. 'Why would you need a tattoo to remember that?'
He probably doesn't mean it as an insult. But Thora feels it as one, like he's seen through her affectations to the incoherence at her core.
The cathedral bells toll. It's two in the morning. Thora feels a waver of decision, the only evidence she has that Santi is wrong: she did have the choice to climb up here, and she has the choice now to climb back down. 'I should go,' she says.
Santi grins at her. 'I knew you were going to say that.'
She rolls her eyes at him. 'Fine. Just to prove you and God wrong, I'll stay.'
'Okay. Enjoy yourself. I'm going,' he says, and disappears through the hole in the floor.
Thora meant to stay, to steal some time alone with the stars. But sooner than she expected, she starts to feel lonely. As she lowers herself onto the stairs, she makes the mistake of looking down. The tower drops into darkness, shot with shards of light like Santi's childish idea of heaven. Except what's beyond is solid ground, and Thora doesn't believe she's going anywhere else if she falls to her death tonight. Her palms sweat. Wedging her foot into a dent in the brickwork, she feels for the next foothold as her hands start to slip. Lunging wildly, she grabs for a protruding brick and pulls herself into the wall.
She hangs, staring through a gap in the bricks. She knows what she should see: the starry sky above the city. Instead, she sees herself, endlessly refracted. An infinity of Thoras stare back at her with fear in their eyes.
She almost loses her grip. Squeezing her eyes shut, she swings herself to the safety of the steps and collapses.
'Thora?' Santi climbs back up to her. 'Are you okay? What happened?'
'Nothing. I just — I thought I saw—' She trails off. She knows exactly what she saw. Her nightmares come to life: endless versions of herself spiralling out from every decision she makes, all but one of them lost forever.
She meets Santi's worried gaze. 'God,' she says mockingly.
Santi shakes his head, smiling. 'I guess we are pretty high up.'
By the time Thora reaches the ground, her limbs are shaking. 'I can't believe we just did that.'
Santi is grinning. 'I can.'
'As we've established, you'll believe anything.' Something's missing. Thora's hands go to her neck. 'Fuck! I left my scarf up there.'
Santi is already stepping back through the gap. 'I'll get it.'
'No! Don't worry. It was — a cheap thing, it doesn't matter.' Her father knitted it as a good luck present for her new start. Thora thinks of how they parted: the angry words they threw at each other after he couldn't resist criticizing her choices one last time. She straightens her shoulders. She didn't want the scarf anyway. Better to think of it as her flag, planted at the top of the city she's claiming for her own.
'Okay.' He looks over his shoulder. 'You walking back to Lindenthal?'
Thora weighs up her options before she answers. She doesn't want this conversation to end. But on the long walk home, there are so many ways it could go wrong: she might insult him again, or he might expect her to kiss him goodbye. Better to walk away while something's still perfect. 'No, I — left my friend Lily in the club,' she improvises. 'I should go and check on her. See if she’s okay.'
'All right.' He hesitates. 'Can I get your number?'
He watches for her missed call on his screen. Then he steps back, like he doesn't know how to end this. 'Well. Good night.'
'Good night,' she says.
They walk away in opposite directions. Thora doesn’t look back.
She puts off calling him. She's worried he'll think she wants something romantic, and she's almost sure she's not interested in him that way. She has a crush on Jules, a girl in her dormitory, and is starting to think it might be reciprocated. The last thing she needs is a misunderstanding with a boy as intense and unpredictable as Santi. Still, she looks up at the glowing lights on her ceiling and thinks about the snap of magnets, the mutual orbit of binary stars. She wishes ardently that there was a way in this world for a girl to tell a boy she wants to be his best friend. She would take any form — a boy his age, an old woman, a brain in a vat — anything to guarantee that he would get past the surface and engage with the truth of her.
Weeks later, she's mulling it over when she walks past a noticeboard in the dormitory and sees his face, surrounded by flowers.
She stops short. Three words on the wall, stark as graffiti. REST IN PEACE. The picture and the words are two incompatible languages shoved into a sentence.
Jules stops next to her. 'Did you hear? It's awful. They found him under the clock tower in the old town. People are saying he jumped.'
'He didn't jump.' Thora sees it more vividly than she can bear: her scarf, billowing out from the top of the tower. Santi climbing, eyes lifted past it to the stars. So sure of himself, of his one God-guided path through the world, that the possibility of falling would never have entered his mind.
She wanted to win the argument. She didn't want this, the darkest proof of her victory: she has had an impact on his life, the worst and most permanent of all. She flashes back to her hands slipping, almost falling. Why does this feel like an exchange? As if Santi has taken her death, fallen in her place?
She quakes with anger at the person she was a few weeks ago. Better to walk away while something's still perfect. What kind of idiot thinks like that? Who chooses perfection that doesn't exist over messiness and complication that does?
'Did you know him?' Jules asks.
She opens her mouth. No one ever really knows anyone, she wants to say, like his ghost is at her lips. 'Yes,' she says instead. Because the whole of him is inside her, prismed through that one night at the top of the tower: Santi, who wanted to reach the stars so he could see the face of God.
Jules hugs her, leaning her head on Thora's shoulder. Jules is only seventeen, a year younger than the rest of her class, but there is something about her that makes Thora feel looked-after, safe. Relaxing into her embrace, Thora sees the future as clearly as if Santi's ghost speaks her fate into her ear. She will go to the bar with Jules for a consolatory drink. They will talk, and later they will kiss. She will go back to Jules's room, three doors down from her own. It will be everything she wanted, but for a long time, she will be too numb with grief to feel it.
The next morning, she leaves Jules's room without waking her. She goes down to the hall where Santi's memorial has collected flowers and cards. She reads the messages, looking for any that understood him. Miss you, man. You were a good guy. God bless. Each one could have been written by a machine. The desperate loneliness of it hits her: to die in the first few weeks of university, when all someone knows of you is that you smiled at them in the library, or bought them a drink at the bar. But she knows him better.
She leaves him the European Space Agency badge she got at the Odysseum, the one she didn't wear the night they met because she was afraid what people might think of her. She puts it at the back of the table, turned towards his face. She is sure, now, that she will never reach the stars. If she was on the right path, Santi would still be here, and he would be coming with her.
'I hope you found what you were looking for,' she says.
Two nights later, she buys a can of spray paint and walks to the old town at three in the morning. Over the faded words at the base of the tower she writes, for him, WELCOME TO FOREVER.