As she walked inside the canteen alongside with the young students, I watched her go. I was the only company she has during her birthday this year (not a very good one so I guess that’s why she was not thrilled).
I had to give her something, anything. I bet the Post Office stopped working due to the snowstorm, so she wouldn’t receive presents from her parents or stupid friends. I had to go downtown and find something to give her.
I turned around and walked out of the building. Unfortunately, Hansen saw me and ordered me to stop.
“Where are you going?” He asked in a taunting voice.
“Downtown,” I said without looking up to him.
He grabbed my arm, stopping me from walking “Have you forgotten what happened the last time you went there?” He lowered his voice so no one could hear. “You said you wouldn’t go there anymore-”
“But it’s an emergency!” I tried to explain, but by the look on his face he wasn’t going to give in.
“I’m sorry Harry, go back inside.”
“I said no!” He shouted. The people around us looked at us to see what was going on. I looked at Hansen up and down and walked away. Fuck him. But was right. If I went outside, it would be the death of me. What if Tom showed up again and brought along more friends? He had connections in the streets, someone could easily tell him where I was. I was being such a pussy, but it was too risky.
With my plans awry, I had to find something to give her at Hudson. But what? There was nothing there.
That was when I remembered.
My mum always used to have flowers at home, especially during winter, so she would always buy a special plant that only flowered during that time. I could remember it crystal clear. That flower was perfect! I just had to find it…
I looked around me. It would be impossible to find anything on the gardens that was intact, especially a delicate flower after a snowstorm, but I had at least to try. If I couldn’t find it, I would think of something else.
I made sure nobody saw me and sprinted into the woods. Once I got there, the signs of destruction were evident, scary even, but it didn’t stop me.
I looked at the ground for any signs of life as I walked deeper and deeper into the forest. Thick logs were blocking my way, so I had to jump over a few or duck underneath them.
Everything around me looked the same, which was leaving me very uncomfortable. What if I couldn’t go back? What if I got lost? That was when I saw a familiar place.
In front of me I saw a destructed building that I would say was an abandoned house if I hadn’t known what it was before it crashed down. The stables were unrecognisable. It was the first time I saw the stables after the fire. The fire left that place almost - if not completely - destroyed.
I walked around the place to find my so desired flower, but I only say bushes and fucking trees. That was when a movement in the ground caught my attention. Finally!
My mum also used to call it ‘Winter Rose’ and it was evident why. It looked just like a rose, but it was white, just like the snow.
I picked it from the ground and walked back to my room where I would make sure it lasted until tomorrow.
As I looked at it, I started to doubt my choice of a present. It was pathetic. Girls like bouquets, not single flowers. She would laugh in my face if I gave it to her. I almost tossed it to the ground, but I kept it. I didn’t know what it was, but something told me to keep it.
I woke up next morning with a bittersweet feeling. I sighed as I hopped out of bed and exposed myself to the coldness of the room.
I looked out the window. I knew I wasn’t going to get what I wanted, I knew I wouldn’t receive any letters or presents or anything. I was alone on my birthday.
I had had enough time to get myself around the fact of such existence, but it was just too depressing. No one should spend such a happy day alone.
The last thing to die is hope, I remembered myself, and I was hoping that, miraculously, my parents would arrive at Hudson and take me back to Birmingham so I could be with my old friends.
Boarding schools were hell on earth.
I got dressed and put on my overcoat, ready to face yet another uneventful day.
I opened the door of Hall A and for my surprise, Harry was leaning against a wall, shivering from the cold.
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“Good morning to you too,” He smiled from ear to ear. He turned to his side to face me “You look sad.”
“Don’t say...” I rolled my eyes as I walked to the main building, Harry right next to me.
He stopped halfway in the path near a bench covered with snow. With his hands he cleared it “Sit down,” he said with a sweet voice.
I sighed, but I did as he asked. He sat on my side and took a deep breath. He looked at me, at my face, as if studying it “I know this is pathetic, but I just thought- well, happy birthday.”
He took from his front pocket a flower. A modest, simple white flower.
I was completely taken aback. I smiled so hard my cheeks hurt. I grasped the flower out of his hand and looked at it very closely.
“Oh, my God, where did you find it?!” I asked him.
Harry’s eyes were shining. Your happiness is contagious, I quoted him in my head. Were my feelings that crystal clear?
“I- huh, found it in the woods.”
“Harry, you know that it is very dangerous to go there. A tree could have crushed you!”
“Oh c’mon, don’t be so dramatic,” He said “You really like it?”
“Are you kidding?! I love it!” I wrapped my arms around his shoulders in a suddenly, careful not to crush the flower between our bodies.
“Your welcome,” He said in low voice. I could feel a smile form on his lips. “I will get a kid to go Downtown anyway to buy you something better, something decent.”
“You don’t need to do that! This is more than enough,” I said with honesty This flower was a million times better than what I was expecting (which was nothing at all). I didn’t need anything else “Besides, I won’t let you send a kid in this weather to London, that’ll be insane.”
“I would go myself but-”
“But what?” I asked. I was positive he was going to tell me what happened that day. Harry looked hesitant, so I put my hand on his knee “You can trust me.”
I had never seen her like that. It was just a simple flower, yet she was ecstatic by it. Her eyes lit up and her frown turned immediately into a huge smile when she saw the ridiculous thing, God knows why.
I knew I couldn’t turn back now. It was better if I told her at last what happened. I could trust her; I knew I could. There was no way she would tell it to anyone if I asked her not to, and if she did, it would be her word against mine, not that I doubted for a second everyone would believe her. I had a feeling she wouldn’t tell.
I took a deep breath “You know John right? Of course you do, everybody does, but that’s not the point. After, you know, what happened, his family pressed charges against me-”
“Let me finish,” I said in a firm tone. I couldn’t believe I was actually telling her that “It turns out someone had to have the blame for his death, and that person was me. I had to pay a fine to the family, but apparently that wasn’t enough for them.”
I looked at the ground in shame and played with my fingers “You saw me that day with those guys right? Well, one of them is, I mean, was John’s brother, and he hit the streets with his friends and you can imagine what happened next.”
I had finished my speech and Summer looked at me, apprehensively “So Mr Hansen prohibit you of going to town so you wouldn’t get into trouble?” she concluded.
There was silence. Neither of us knew what to say, and Summer seemed to be looking everywhere but me. Then, after taking it all in, Summer finally looked at me again.
“You didn’t kill him,” she said. That was possibly the best thing anyone had ever said to me in those two years where I regretted that mistake. People thought that I was a monster, and I had nobody, I was all alone when I just wanted to hear those words that at the time seemed impossible to get. I finally got them, and they felt so good.
“I did,” But this was the truth. And the truth always won.
“No, no you didn’t,” She reassured, “At least I don’t believe you did.”