A pair of teenagers with cystic fibrosis meet in a hospital and fall in love, though their disease means they must avoid close physical contact.
The film opens with clips of various people living their lives and a voiceover of Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) talking about the importance of human touch. She talks about how you don’t realize how important touch is until you cannot have it.
Stella is a 17-year-old cystic fibrosis patient living in a hospital. Stella is hanging out in her hospital room with two friends who are discussing an upcoming trip. The friends lament how Stella cannot come with them, despite planning the trip herself. Stella tells them it’s okay and says goodbye to them. She closes her hospital door, and we see her briefly showing some sadness before caring on with her day.
Every aspect of Stella’s day is carefully planned due to her disease. She has meticulously organized all her medications and keeps an extensive to-do list of her treatments. She also films video blogs talking about her treatments and the life of a cystic fibrosis patient in general. She mentions she is basically OCD about her treatments. At some point, we see Stella reading a book about life after death, showing that she is also coming to terms with her eventual mortality.
Poe (Moises Arias) is a fellow cystic fibrosis patient and Stella’s best friend. Strict regulations dictate that cystic fibrosis patients maintain a distance of at least six feet or they risk giving one another their infections. Poe and Stella mostly communicate via text and Facetime. Poe and Stella discuss his recent break up with his boyfriend, Michael. Poe starts laughing at one of Stella’s quips and begins to choke – at which point Stella races down the hall to see if he’s all right. One of the nurses sees Poe has hit his call button as well. Stella and the nurse get to Poe’s room and see he is fine – he laughs that he must’ve hit the call button on accident. It is apparent that Poe does things like this frequently.
Will Newman (Cole Sprouse) enters the hospital to begin a drug trial for CF. His wealthy mother is hopeful, but Will seems unenthusiastic. Will has previously contracted B. Cepacia, an intense bacterium that has eliminated him from the transplant list. Stella walks past Will’s room where she sees Will allowing two of his friends to use his hospital room to have sex. She is not impressed.
Stella heads to the NICU to watch the babies. Will follows her there and tries to talk to her, but Stella is annoyed at Will’s lack of regard for his health. Will remarks that they are both dying either way and he might as well live life while he can. Barbara (Kimberly Hebert Gregory), a nurse, walks in and expresses anger at how close the two are. Will leaves, and Barbara reminds Stella of Will’s infection, stating how contracting it would rob Stella of her chance at receiving new lungs.
Later, Stella looks out her hospital room window and sees Will sitting on the ledge of one of the buildings. She makes a difficult hike up the stairwell (where Will has stuck a $20 bill in the doorjamb to keep it open) to asks Will what the hell he thinks he’s doing. Will remains indifferent and talks again about enjoying life while he can. Stella says Will is being selfish and if he cares so little about living or dying he should give up his spot in the trial to someone that actually wants it. Stella leaves. Will goes to follow her only to realize Stella has taken the $20 and left him locked on the roof.
Frustrated, Stella tries working on her computer but remains concerned about Will. She goes back to his room and demands to see his regimen. Will shows her a paper that is crumpled and covered in doodles. Stella also sees that Will’s breathing vest is carelessly lying on the floor and he does not have a medication cart in his room. Stella is astounded, asking how Will is so clueless about his regimen when most CFers are basically doctors by age 12 with all the medical treatments they undergo. Will doesn’t know what to tell her. Stella says she craves control and Will’s lack of it is driving her crazy. The two strike a deal – if Will allows Stella to help him with his regimen, Stella will eventually allow Will to draw her.
Will and Stella begin doing their treatments together via Facetime and start to bond with each other. Will watches several of Stella’s blog videos. At some point, Stella looks out the hospital window with Will and mentions wanting to “see the lights” off in the distance. Working out in the gym together (but maintaining the strict six-foot distance) Stella finally allows Will to draw her sitting in the window. He doesn’t show her the drawing. Later, Will draws a cartoon for Stella and slips it under her door. During a Facetime, Will notices a drawing of lungs on Stella’s wall and asks about it. Stella says it’s from her sister, Abby. Will tries to ask more about Abby, but Stella shuts him down and says they don’t need to share stories and should just do their treatments.
Curious, Will watches several of Stella’s older videos and realizes Abby stopped appearing in them about a year ago. He concludes that Abby has died, and confronts Stella about it, asking if Abby is the reason Stella is so meticulous about her treatments. Stella confirms Abby is dead and states her death also killed their parents’ marriage. She says she feels she has to try to live because Abby wasn’t the one who was supposed to die. Will tries to apologize, but Stella angrily leaves the room. Stella also later argues with Poe about relationships, and how Poe keeps turning away people that love him.
Stella has lunch with her mother in the hospital cafeteria. Her mother holds Stella’s hand and begins tearing up, telling Stella how she much she loves her and can’t imagine life without her. Stella smiles at her mother affectionately.
Stella’s feeding tube becomes infected, and her doctor (Parminder Nagra) would like to do surgery to replace it. From the blog videos, Will learns that Abby used to always sing a special song to Stella prior to surgery to help calm her down. He sneaks into her room covered in surgical clothes to prevent infection and sings the song to her. Stella is genuinely moved by his efforts.
Nurse Barb catches Will leaving the room and reprimands him. Will tells her he just wanted to help Stella be less scared. Nurse Barb tells Will that he and Stella remind her of previous patients of hers that fell in love and ended up dying. She feels partially responsible for their deaths because she allowed them to break the rules as they were in love. She tells Will she will not be repeating that mistake. Will goes back to his room and researches his bacteria further, coming to the conclusion that it is not safe for him and Stella to continue interacting.
Stella awakens from her surgery renewed and hopeful about a possible relationship with Will. She sees a box by her bedside which she opens and finds several paper flowers that Will has left her. She calls Will and leaves a slightly drunken voicemail, talking about his “fluffy hair” and “sexy skinny legs” and asks him to call her. Will ignores her. Stella later texts Will to meet her in the atrium and gets all dressed up. Poe comes down to let her know Will isn’t coming. Stella goes to his room and begs her to talk to him, but Will tells her to go away.
Poe apologizes to Stella and tells her she was right. Poe and Stella hang out in a kid’s area and talk. Stella is clearly upset about Will. Poe laments his inability to continue a relationship with anyone because he doesn’t want to burden someone with his illness. Stella looks around the room and sees a pool table and a guide on hand washing. She gets an idea.
Will watches a new video Stella has uploaded. She talks about B. Cepacia and how there are ways to prevent it, such as frequent hand washing and wearing gloves. Stella then holds up a pool cue, stating it is five feet long. She then states she is “taking back” the extra foot, as cystic fibrosis has already taken enough from her. She shows up at Wills door with the pool cue and asks if he’s in. He agrees, and they set a time to meet up later.
Stella and Will meet up for their date, pool cue in use. Will mentions how he will be turning 18 the next day and will finally be free to make his own decisions about his health. They end up at the hospital pool, talking about their beliefs regarding life after death. Will mentions it as being “lights out,” but Stella refuses to believe her sister Abby simply blinked out of existence. She tells Will how Abby died – she broke her neck cliff jumping and then drowned. Stella was told she felt no pain, but wonders about how anyone would know that. She laments not being there for her sister and expresses regret at how Abby died alone. Will tells her not to think about it, and reminds her that they’ll both essentially be dying alone.
Stella admits that she’s never had sex, too embarrassed by the scars on her body. Will tells Stella she’s beautiful and how he wishes he could touch her. Stella slowly takes off her dress, showing Will her scars. Will then stands and shows Stella all his scars. The two then jump into the pool together. Nurse Barb shows up for her morning shift and quickly discovers Stella and Will missing from their beds. Poe alerts the two, and they manage to get back without being caught.
The next day, Stella sets up a scavenger hunt of balloons for Will to follow. She surprises Will with a secret birthday gathering in the hospital with Poe and all their friends. Poe, preparing the meal, talks with Stella about getting back together with Michael and life being too short to avoid love. The friends have a great dinner and take a picture together, at which point Nurse Barb angrily finds them. She demands they all go back to their rooms and says she will be putting in paperwork to have Will transferred to a different hospital in the morning. Poe yells at her “But it was fun!”.
Nurse Barb is typing up the transfer order, talking to another nurse about how the move is necessary despite her reservations. The call button from Poe’s room goes off and thinking it is another prank, the nurse slowly makes her way to the room. The nurse opens the door and finds Poe unconscious on the floor. Several nurses and doctors rush into the room, alerting Stella and Will. They anxiously stand outside the door. Despite resuscitation attempts, Poe dies.
Heartbroken, Stella goes back to her room and begins throwing her medication and tearing down her artwork. Will stands in the doorway, unsure of what to do. Stella screams that Poe was her best friend and she never even got to hug him. Will tries to put his hand on Stella’s shoulder, at which point she angrily pushes him away and tells him to leave. Will goes back to his room and begins packing his belongings.
Stella bundles up and walks outside the hospital to look at the falling snow. She sees Will sitting in a waiting room with his bag and walks up to the glass window. They touch hands through the glass, clearly forgiving one another. Will then walks outside and asks what she’s going. Stella says she’s going to see the lights. Will says it’s a two-mile walk. He understands she’s upset about Poe, but she needs to come back inside. Stella throws the same remark Will first gave her about living life and walks on. Will follows and is startled when Stella grabs his hand. She mentions she’s wearing gloves and walks on, unphased. The pair climb up a snowy hill where Stella lays down to make a snow angel. Will mentions the cold and suggests they keep going.
Back at the hospital, the nurses are still reeling from Poe’s death. Stella and Will’s doctor runs in and mentions a pair of lungs is incoming and to get Stella prepped for surgery. Nurse Barb rushes to Stella’s room only to see her missing. She texts Stella and calls Stella’s parents.
Stella receives the messages about the lungs, but now committed to being with Will ignores the messages and continues on their impromptu adventure. She and Will come across a frozen pond which Stella walks out on, stating the ice is thick enough. Will is hesitant but follows. The two laugh and slide around on the ice. Will and Stella tell each other “I love you.” They both fall down and come close to kissing, but Will tells her they can’t. Stella understands.
Stella’s parents have arrived and cannot understand why their daughter would run away from the hospital. Will’s mother arrives, and Stella’s parents angrily blame Will for their daughter’s actions. Will’s mother defends her son, and Nurse Barb steps in to say Stella’s actions were her own and they need to focus on finding her.
Will’s mother texts him about the lungs, and he tells Stella they have to go back to the hospital. Stella admits she already knew about the lungs and says she still has to see the lights, to Will’s disbelief. They are now sitting on a bridge over the frozen pond. While arguing back and forth, Stella falls and lands on the ice. Terrified, Will rushes to the edge of the bridge and looks down to see Stella okay and laughing. Will walks down from the bridge and urges Stella to get off the ice so they can leave, but realizes that Stella has fallen through the ice.
Panicked, he rushes on to the ice, quickly texts someone for help, and reaches down to try and pull Stella up. He struggles with their breathing machines and eventually uses the oxygen tube and his scarf to get Stella. She’s not breathing, and though he hesitates, Will eventually begins mouth to mouth. Out of breath, he collapses on the ice next to her. A few seconds of silence pass before Stella finally coughs up water and begins breathing.
Stella and Will are rushed to the hospital, where the doctor is talking about rushing Stella into surgery. Stella begins to yell that she doesn’t want the transplant, she wants to be with Will. Will, in the bed next to her, begs Stella to get the transplant for him, and she finally agrees. Stella is wheeled away, and Will tearfully tells the doctor that he performed mouth to mouth. The doctor tells him they’ll worry about infection later and that Will has saved Stella’s life.
While Stella is in surgery, Will waits in his hospital room with his mother. Nurse Barb walks in to tell him Stella’s tests results have miraculously confirmed she has not contracted the bacteria. She continues that this does not mean Stella will not contract it in the future, clearly telling Will he needs to stay away. Will’s mother asks about Will, at which point Nurse Barb sadly tells Will the drug trial is not working. Will apologizes for everything, but Nurse Barbara consoles him. Will then asks his mother if she’ll help him with something.
Will gathers the nurses, Stella’s parents, and their friends and asks if they will help with a grand gesture for Stella. They all eagerly agree and get to work. Stella wakes from surgery intubated and cannot talk, but her parents show her a video of Will. In it, Will tells Stella that his drug trial has failed, and regrets not being able to show her the lights. Outside her hospital room window, a large display of sparkling lights turn on, and Will walks up to the glass. He calls Stella’s phone and talks to her about how he now understands the expression about how if you love something you should let it go. He says he loves her, but that he can’t risk hurting her. He asks her to close her eyes because he won’t be able to walk away if she’s watching him. Stella tearfully hesitates but does as he asks, and Will leaves.
Previously, Will had handed Stella’s parents a wrapped gift which they now give to Stella. She unwraps it to see Will’s sketchbook, filled with beautiful drawings of Stella, her family, and Poe.
The film ends with the same clips from the opening, but now includes clips of Will. Stella’s voiceover again speaks of not realizing how important touch is until you can’t have it, but now mentions the importance of how if you have someone in your life you love to be sure to touch them.