"What did you eat for lunch today?"
He fiddled with the zipper of his open hoodie, squinting as the sunlight caught on the shiny piece of metal and reflected itself on his eye. "A burger, I think," he replied, angling his face slightly to turn away from the glare. "Not sure."
He heard a scribble of pen against paper, but he kept his head down and let his overgrown fringe draw a curtain on his face.
"Did you take a bath already?"
He nodded once, and then twice, because he felt as though a single one wasn't enough of an affirming reply. "Yes. Yes I did."
Once more, the sound of writing strokes filled his ears, and Nico closed his eyes and imagined how smoothly the ink flowed from its tip and onto the paper—how it released a variety of lines and curves, dots and curls. He knew he could simply look up and see its beauty in person, but he refused to allow himself to see the truth of its reality.
What if it didn't flow as smoothly as he had thought it did? What if the scrawls were unruly instead of elegant, as he had imagined? What if—
The scribbling stopped, its comforting sound replaced by those of feet shuffling, and Nico finally let himself raise his head up and look at him. The guy was leaning down on the side of the table as he rummaged through the contents of his bag, with papers and folders and pens and medical equipment mashing together in such a way that somehow sounded almost comfortable in Nico's ears. Strange. Why would he find that comfortable?
The guy brought himself back up, beaming as he placed a stack of papers on top of his desk. "Alright then," he started, sounding way too enthusiastic and overjoyed that Nico couldn't help but wonder if the alleged blond had too much caffeine intake for the day. "I'm going to show you a couple of images, and you're going to tell me anything that comes to your mind when you see them—anything at all. Be as honest as possible. Sound good?"
Nico didn't respond. He didn't have to. The guy just gave him another smile and lifted the first of the heap.
It was a picture of a usual school hall, with rows of lockers and doors that lead to rooms varying from janitorial closets, to classrooms, to rehearsal studios. A boy with golden waves for hair stood by the trophy case at the left side of the image, grinning at the camera as he pointed at one of the awards situated inside of it. He looked so happy, so childishly happy, that Nico had to fight back the smile threatening to appear on his own face. Immediately, his mind revved and his mouth spouted out the first word his brain produced: "Middle school."
The guy laughed, melodious enough to urge Nico to release the grin he'd been holding back as well. "Fair enough," he said, putting the paper down on one side of the desk and fishing out another from the pile. A flaming campfire was the only thing shown in contrast to the heavy darkness looming in the picture, its embers rising high up in the sky like fireflies, dimly illuminating the trees present in the background. To others, it may have seemed to ooze an eerie, almost creepy atmosphere, but the leaps Nico's heart took indicated it as something much more delightful than frightful—almost as though he couldn't care less about the fear that somehow came to be nonexistent.
A lot of words ran through him, but he let only one of them make its way out of the confusing waves in his brain:
"Ghost stories," Nico said.
The guy placed the image on top of the previous one, and got another. This time, it was a picture of a bright pink cotton candy held against the colorful hues of the sunset sky. The way the delightful sweet was lined in the picture merged beautifully with the pink sky behind it, creating the illusion of having one of the clouds perched on top of the festive stick the hand in the photo was holding.
This time, more images flashed in his mind.
This time, even more words ran through it.
And this time, he didn't bother casing them all inside.
"Theme park," he said, his voice sounding almost breathless. "Ice cream on top of my head. Throwing a small ball towards a stack of bottles. Hitting someone in the eye. Laughter. Getting a really huge hotdog. Spraying ketchup and mustard all over a clean white shirt. Arguing over pickles. Orange juice versus soda. Skateboard versus bikes. Roller coaster." He paused, and just as the guy was about to let the picture join its predecessors in the pile, Nico found himself muttering one last word.
That earned him a hearty laugh.
"Lots of it."
And another one.
After the cotton candy, the images started getting more and more specific, and the words Nico thought of got easier and easier to spout:
A hand clutching a small piece of paper tightly under a desk.
A hoodie placed on a pillow and put inside the bed covers.
Heaps of papers covering the entire floor, with a single rubber duck on top of it all.
An old lady sitting in the bus, smiling at the camera.
Tangled earphones against the shoulders of two people wearing a black shirt and a white shirt.
And then finally, the guy picked up the last image on the stack and held it out for him to see. It was a picture of raining confetti, with colors so bright that they popped against the bright lights situated behind them—and for once, Nico's mind didn't immediately give him a word to utter.
He was stunned. He couldn't move. But somehow, he heard the distant sounds of laughter echoing in his ear. Somehow, he heard his name, chanted alongside another's. Somehow, he heard everyone clapping, everyone cheering them on. Somehow, he heard someone crying, shedding tears that could only be of joy. Somehow, he heard his own as well. Somehow, he heard every good and beautiful thing in the world whispered in his ear.
And somehow, he heard himself say the one single thing he knew he felt.
The guy seated behind the desk seemed speechless, taking a minute longer than before to set the picture back on top of the heap. He forced a smile. "Okay, good, good. Let's, um, let's run a couple of medical tests on you, then."
Nico politely obliged to the series of checkups the guy conducted. He sat as still as possible, moving only when he was asked to do so. He remained silent, as he had always did. He kept his eyes on the guy, but the blond never met his gaze. What did he do wrong? Why did the guy suddenly inch back from his open disposition into a silent shell?
He felt strangely guilty. And maybe that was why Nico found himself doing something he was sure he had never done before—initiating the conversation.
"Are you a medical apprentice?"
He was relieved when the guy laughed, which must've shown by the way the corners of Nico's lips twitched up in a small smile.
"No," the guy answered, shaking his head. "I graduated medical school early."
"Oh. No wonder you look so young."
He smiled. "I'm 23, like you."
"Is it weird?"
That question threw the guy off by surprise, and he stopped checking the protein levels in Nico's body. "Is what weird?"
"Examining someone with the same age as you. Having to work while a guy your age doesn't."
He went back to sit on his chair and looked at the ceiling, thinking about it for a moment, and Nico found his little childlike habit weirdly amusing. "Not really, no," the guy replied, looking back at him as he gave a little grin. "I'm doing it mostly for my husband, you see."
"Ah," Nico said. "I wish I had someone like that." He looked at his hands. "For now though, I'm just stuck daydreaming and imagining this one guy."
The guy shifted in his seat, intrigued. "Daydreaming? Imagining?"
Nico felt his cheeks tint red, but he nodded. "Yeah. I see him everywhere, in everything." He glanced back up, pointing at the sunlight seeping through the clear windows with newfound enthusiasm. "Whenever I see the sun, I think of him, of how his hair looked purer than gold against its rays." He gestured towards the sky. "Whenever I see the sky, I think of him, of how his eyes mimicked the exact color of the heavens during sunrise." He took note of the grass. "Whenever I see the plains, and the gardens, I think of him, of how he always liked to wear that stupid green shirt of his." He motioned to the door. "Even whenever I walk through the halls and hear nothing but silence, I think of him! How his loud, melodic guffaws could've easily filled the space up with his radiating bliss!" He looked back at the guy at the desk, his hands shaking. "It's so easy, thinking about him is so easy! But it's all a big blur and I can't…I—" Nico trembled violently. He seemed so real. He felt so real. "I can't—"
"It's okay," the guy told him, trying to calm him down. "It's okay. It's normal to…to imagine things vividly. It's normal. You're normal."
Nico nodded, but he still couldn't cease the quivering that had spread all over his body.
Nico repeated this until his heart lowered down its fast pace to a regular, dull beat.
"Sort of, yeah."
The guy gave Nico a soft reassuring smile. "I'm glad." He fished out a pen from his bag and clicked it open, jotting something down on a clean sheet of paper as the tranquil quiet enveloped them once again. Nico looked down and fiddled with the zipper of his open hoodie, squinting as the sunlight caught on the shiny piece of metal and reflected itself on his eye. He angled his face slightly to turn away from the glare.
He heard the continuous scribble of pen against paper, and raised his head back up.
"How old are you?"
The guy paused to smile up at him. "23, like you."
"Oh. No wonder you look young."
Another smile. "I graduated medical school early."
He resumed his writing for a brief moment before ripping the paper out from the rest of its family and handing it to him. "There you go," he said. "Make sure to give it to the girl outside, alright?"
Nico nodded. "Thank you."
The guy gave a grin and curt nod before gathering the stack of pictures he had used a while ago and stashing them inside his bag.
"What's your name?" Nico asked.
The guy stopped what he was doing and glanced at him, looking strangely surprised and happy at the same time. "Will," he answered. "Will Solace."
"And what's…" Nico swallowed the lump he felt in his throat. "What's…my name?"
"Nico," Will replied without missing a beat, not bothering to look down at the files on his desk. "Your name's Nico di Angelo."
"Ni-co," the brunet said slowly, closing his eyes and testing the way his own name sounded on his tongue, "di An-gelo." He stayed like that for a moment, relishing in the relief of assuring his identity. Nico. His name was Nico di Angelo.
"And how…old am I?"
He opened his eyes once more, pools of dark brown mingling with pools of blue. "Thank you, Will. It was nice meeting you."
"It was nice meeting you too, Nico."
Smiling, the dark haired boy stood up and walked towards the door, but just before his hand met the brass knob situated on it, he spun on his heel and looked at Will. "I, um, I promise to remember your name the next time you come here." His eyebrows scrunched together. "Do you…do you promise to be my doctor again next week?"
And Will Solace, painful as it was, masked the array of images that flashed inside his own mind—the school hall they first met at, where he boasted the little award he got for saving an injured pigeon and Nico just had to take a picture of him; the campfire where they stayed and spooked each other out with scary tales, the place where he told Nico he liked liked him; the cotton candy they ate at the theme park where they had their first date, and where he discovered that Nico had a much stronger appetite than he did; the little bits of poetry they passed to each other during high school, all the sweet nothings Will spent nights writing about, and all the teasing insults Nico told him about how much of a sap he was; the nights Nico snuck out just to see him, showing him his "cover" of having a hoodie inside his blankets; the old lady they met on the bus ride home, the one who told them how cute they looked together; the heaps of paperwork they scattered on the floor when they found out they had been doing their research all wrong, and they had too much spare papers to throw away; the couch in the apartment they stayed at, where they often sat and listened to music together, and Nico found their different shirts far too amusing not to take a picture of.
And finally, the confetti that was showered upon them during that very special day, where the lights shone too bright, and the laughter echoed too loudly, and the sweet kiss they shared was too full of bliss. And Will was taken back to a different place, a different time, with a different set of words. But the same person stood in front of him; the same unruly dark hair, the same ghost of a smile present on thin lips, the same dark eyes that had looked at him with all love and warmth he had ever seen all his life.
The same dark eyes that now stared at him with sheer lack of recognition.
"Yes," Will said, fighting with all his might to keep his composure. "I do."
And when Nico smiled at him, he forced himself to smile back, silently breaking down as his husband walked out the door with the empty promises of remembrance he had constantly heard for the past weeks—leaving Will Solace to stare grimly at the medical records that laid on the desk in front of him.
Early-Onset Alzheimer's Disease, it read.