After my little celebration with Harry, things went back to normal. Once I managed to put Harry’s profile back inside Mr Hansen’s office - which consisted of waiting for him to leave so I could sneak inside and put the profile where it belonged - my life went back to normal. Harry and I did the same stuff every day, nothing special really. We sat at the same table, had the same breakfast, went for a walk and talked about the dreams we had the night before and everything that came to mind, we had lunch and we would go to the library where we would play cards or chess (depending on the mood), and finally we had dinner, which was the worst part of the day because we would have to split our ways after that.
When January 8th came along, so did lessons. Everyone was coming back to school and I didn’t know how to feel about it. On one hand, I was thrilled to see Anna and the girls; I bet they had billions of stories to tell and just the fact of seeing them again made me smile from ear to ear. On the other hand, I knew I wouldn’t spend much time with Harry anymore, and that pained me. During the three weeks of holidays, I had forcedly discovered a side of him that possibly no one in that school knew, a side which made him a better person with likes and ideals and values and a lot of qualities.
The students were supposed to arrive at noon to have lunch, unpack and greet their friends. Afterwards, Mr Hansen was organising a welcome back assembly that would be taking place in the auditorium.
I waited for the buses to arrive on the steps of the main building. With me, I had all the other twenty students that stayed in school during those Winter holidays. Harry was not there, but I wasn’t surprised (as sad as it was, he had no one to greet or be greeted by). For as fasr as I knew, he stayed in his room th entire time. I looked impatiently at my watch once in a while, but the handles didn’t seem to move at the pace I wanted them to.
“Look!” one of the kids which was waiting with me shouted as he stood up. Everyone shot their eyes in the direction he was pointing “They’re here!”
In the distance several buses could be seen, one after the other, but they were still too far away to be heard. Nevertheless, everyone got up and ran down the stairs and over the snow. I got up and slowly started to walk down the stairs, staying behind the group of wild kids. The sight ahead of me was like a picture or a painting; the naked trees, the snow-cleared dirt road, the grey sky, the buses in the background, the kids running as fast as their legs could, their scarves dancing in the wind as they left deep footprints in the snow while they waved their arms frantically.
Soon enough five buses parked next to each other and the students started to walk out, carrying their suitcases and bags, and although they were coming back to school (a thought few looked up to), the smiled across their faces were undeniable.
My eyes scanned the vast, loud, confusing crowd for a blond hair. I made my way through the crowd as I recognised some familiar faces, giving them a smile or a welcome back. That was when I spot her trying to get her enormous suitcase out of a bus with difficulty. I come closer to her without her seeing me at first.
“Can I help you with that, Miss?” I said as I leaned closer to her ear. I must have scared her because she jumped at the sound of my voice.
“Summer! It’s you! I’ve missed you so much, how have you been?” the words tumbled from her mouth.
“Hey, move! They are people waiting!” a kid inside the bus shouted as we hugged each other. I rolled my eyes at the obnoxious kid and helped Anna get her suitcase that was stuck in the passage way out. Once we managed to do so, Anna and I went on a quest to find the other girls. We weren’t that many students, so it was pretty easy to find them. There were laughs and hugs and they were all so excited to be back. They had loads of stories they wanted to tell, but outside wasn’t the appropriate location. I helped them carry their suitcases to our dorm.
Lucy told us all about her horse competitions that she participated during the holidays and how well she did. Amanda showed us all the clothes she received for Christmas, which in my opinion were too many. Lottie showed us tonnes pictures she took when she went to Madrid with her parents and taught us how to say “Navidad” correctly, which meant Christmas in Spanish. Anna told us all the adventures she had with her cousins during New Year and all the parties she attended.
“And what about you Summer, what did you do around here?” asked Amanda.
“Not much- “I started but I was interrupted by her.
“And how on earth did you survive three weeks with Harry here?” that question caught me off guard, but I knew they would ask that eventually, I was just hoping it wouldn’t be so sudden “I mean, that jerk even has the guts to stay here after everything he did? I bet his parents don’t even want him in their home,” That comment got a little laugh from everyone, except me.
“Yeah, I bet they are afraid of him or something,” added Lottie. “Or they are killers too and are in prison, that’s why he couldn’t go home,” they laughed once more.
“Actually,” I said way too loud so I could be heard on top of their laughs “He wasn’t that bad.”
“Yeah, because you didn’t talk to him,” said Lucy “I can only imagine what it would be like to even have a conversation with him,” she exaggerated her hand movements.
“He doesn’t know how to have a civil conversation,” Anna added, “He only knows how to be violent and rude.”
They all started to laugh at his expense and I couldn’t just stand there and pretend that it didn’t hurt me too.
“Excuse me,” I said as I walked out the door, head facing the floor. I closed it smoothly, still listening to their mocking laughter, not wanting to appear mad, but deep down I could feel a fire burning inside me. I leaned against the corridor wall, completely unaware of the chaos around me as all the girls struggled to settle in on that floor.
Shame and guilt started to build up inside me. I betrayed him, I didn’t stand up for him, but what could I do? People said such horrible thing about Harry, and he actually became those things, and it made me want to cry because it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that I was the only one that knew the truth. Lucy immediately assumed that I didn’t talk to him, because that would be what they would do if they were in my position, that was the normal thing to do, but if I had said otherwise, that I did, in fact, talk to him, they would all judge me as if I had committed a crime. How did Harry manage to live with people judging him every day, people who shared a roof with him?
But then it hit me; I had been one of those people before. I had judged him without talking to him once, without knowing his story, what he had been through, what he had to endure every day. I made up my mind that he was bad news solely on what people that didn’t know him told me. I was so stupid, so ignorant, so careless, but not anymore. I knew from that point on why he was always hidden away in his room, why he barely appeared, why he didn’t take anything seriously because he was living in a world where no one was giving him second chances.
What could I do? Try to convince them that he was a decent guy? I had a feeling that if I said such thing they would kick me out. If I stood up for Harry, everyone in the entire school would turn down on me and I couldn’t let that happen. I had been trying to fit in since day one, and I couldn’t risk it. After all, they were still my friends.
Half-heartedly, I went back to my dorm. I told them I went to the bathroom and I quickly changed the previous subject, which they were still discussing when I entered the room. As I thought about it, I had to lie about everything that happened during the Winter holidays. What if they asked what I had received? What if they asked how I spend my days? What if they asked how I spend my Christmas day and New Year? Harry was involved in everything.
I had to give the short and simple answers that didn’t require too much development, or just smartly change the subject which I had no problem in doing since I was already a mastered it.
Eventually the girls started to unpack their expensive suitcases and once they were done, we went to the canteen to have lunch. The canteen that used to be empty and silent had now a huge queue that went until to the door. It looked like an army was waiting to be fed after a long and hard fight. We usually didn’t have such big queues, but that day everyone was hungry and tired from the journey to Hudson.
The five of us made a little circle at the back of the queue and continued our conversation, until Anthony joining us with a big smile.
“Long time no see!” he muttered happily.
“Anthony, it’s so good to see you!” I hugged him for half a second, the girls exchanging looks “How have you been?”
Memories of my date with him flashed across in my mind. I surely had a good time, but I don’t think it would happen again. I saw him as a friend, a really good friend to be honest, but it was just that.
“Great, my holidays were awesome! What about yours, did you survive in here?” he asked, chuckling at the end.
“Don’t you see me standing?” I gave him a half smile, because I couldn’t give him a whole one.
“Now, tell us everything, we want to know everything about your Christmas,” Amanda interrupted, and I was happy she did. I didn’t want him to ask any questions about my time at Hudson.
I listened intently to Anthony’s specific description of his holidays when a brown curly hair came into my frame of vision. I immediately looked in his direction and there he was, leaning against a wall with his hands in his pockets, like the first time I saw him, waiting in line just like me.
Harry looked me in the eyes and I gave him a smile, which he didn’t return. Instead, he gave a sad look towards my friends and then looked down. My entire being wanted and preferred to have lunch with him than my friends, but my feet didn’t move. I was petrified, I couldn’t even say his name or call him.
“Summer,” someone called me instead, but I didn’t turn my head away. I wanted him to look back at me. “Summer!”
“What?” I then realised it was Anna’s voice and looked at her. I hoped she didn’t notice me staring at him.
“The queue,” she said, “It’s moving.”
I moved a couple of steps. I then looked back to the place Harry was but found it empty.
Lunch went thankfully smoothly. Apart from eating, I greeted more students and teachers all the time with a small wave or a smile, nothing too formal. But all I could think about was Harry. Apart from his presence in my mind constantly, I was happy to see the canteen full again and noisy. No canteen should ever be silent. The assembly also went well, and it ended rather soon for everyone’s sake. Then we had the rest of the day for ourselves, which was spent in the community room since it was still too cold outside.
All the girls were talking to themselves and laughing loudly and dancing and playing games and the radio was on. There was so much noise I couldn’t even hear myself think, so I got up and went to my room.
I told Harry during New Year’s eve that I would still talk to him after my friends came back, and I intended to keep that promise. We had to meet in a place where nobody could see us, a place that was easy to access and that we could both go at the same time. The ideal was in the main building, or even outside, but people would see us so that wasn’t an option. I thought about meeting in the music room during dinner. That way people would be distracted and not even notice we were missing.
There was only one problem. How would I inform him of that? The only way that came to my mind was to put a piece of paper inside his pocket without anybody seeing, but that required me being in the same room as him, and the only time we would be together that same day was before dinner in the entrance hall, right outside the door of the canteen. But what if he didn’t attend dinner? I would have to wait for another time to talk to him, but I really wanted to do so that exact night. I didn’t waste any more time and ripped a piece of paper from a random textbook. I wrote:
Meet me today at 8:30 in the music room.
Make sure you don’t get up at the same time as I do.
I folded the paper into four and put it inside my pocket. Dinner started at eight and ended at nine, so we had plenty of time to talk and be back in the canteen without anybody noticing we were missing in between.
At ten to eight I got up and headed downstairs to the community room. My friends and I walked side by side to the canteen in the cold and dark night. They were all talking about something they heard on the radio that apparently was really funny because they were laughing hysterically, and to hide my anxiousness I laughed along, although I had no idea what they were talking about.
Harry please be there, Harry please be there, I repeated to myself as we walked up the stairs that lead to the large doors of the main building. As we entered, we encountered the same scenario as lunch time, the corridor was packed full of students. It was suffocating.
“I’m going to see if I find Anthony,” I told them.
“I wonder why...” Amanda smirked at me.
“You know I don’t like him that way,” I protested.
“Yeah sure, whatever you say,” she said and made a gesture with her hand for me to leave. Of course I wasn’t going to find Anthony, I was going to look for Harry.
“Sorry… excuse me- thank you,” I made my way between the starving students, finding it quite hard to move even just a meter. I was hoping Harry might have been in the same place he was during lunch, but he wasn’t. I was starting to think maybe he stayed in his room, but then I saw him walking through those doors, his hair covered in snow as he shook it off.
I instantly started to walk in his direction. I was so scared of people figuring it out, or someone noticing me giving him the paper or if he said something that he shouldn’t, but it was now or never. I faked that I accidently bumped into him and some faces that were around us turned around, making me even more anxious, but I kept a straight face.
“Sorry,” I said in a monotone voice as I slipped the paper inside his pocket. He felt my hand and looked down, but didn’t say a word and continued walking as if nothing happened. Thank God.
I went back to my friends and soon enough we were already inside with our plates. My entire year group was sitting at its usual table, a lot of noise coming from it. Harry was alone in a corner, but he didn’t seem very affected by it. After all, people gossiped about him behind his back but they were all scared of him to death. He was writing again in that journal of his and seemed distracted.
I looked at my watch; 8:29. Time to go.
I looked at Harry and he was still very concentrated in his writing as he occasionally took a bit of his food to his mouth. I started to wonder if he had actually read the note. I hoped so or what I had done was in vain, and I even put myself in danger to do so.
“Anna,” I spoke, interrupting the conversation she was having “I’m going to the bathroom, okay?”
“Yeah sure,” I had to inform someone of my sudden disappearance or someone could go looking for me. I looked once more at Harry, but he was still in his own little world.
I walked out of the canteen and went down the spiral stairs to the music rooms as fast as I could. I couldn’t risk being seen. I decided to go to the room with the grand piano and closed the door. All I had to do was wait.
Suddenly the door opened and I jumped out of my seat.
“Harry I’m so sorry I didn’t want to-“I went straight to the point.
“Shut up,” he said in a harsh, dismissive tone and I backed off “I don’t want to hear you say you’re sorry, you’ve already screwed up.”
I stood silent. Harry placed his hand on the back of his neck and breathed heavily. The atmosphere was so tense and heavy it could crush me.
“I have to choose between you,” I told him. I didn’t want him to get angry, and I knew he had a bad temper, so I tried to use the right words “And if I choose you, I will not only lose my friends but the entire school, and you know that.”
“Yeah, because you have a reputation to maintain, of course you can’t be seen with me,” he said bitterly.
“Do you think I care about that?” I shot back.
“Yes, I do,” he answered.
“Oh yeah? And why is that?” I crossed my arms in front of me, my look defiant.
“Because we are talking in a fucking music room,” he almost shouted. “Because you don’t want to be seen with me, that’s why!”
“No, we are here because I want you both, you and my friends!” I said as I pointed at him “If the only way they will accept me is if I pretend to hate you, then that’s what’s going to happen. If the only way I have to talk to you is by hiding, so be it!”
He looked at the floor and played with his feet.
“Think about it, if I just told them that I was your friend they would totally outcast me,” I explained, “I am not saying this to be mean, but you know exactly how that feels and I don’t want that for myself.”
There was silence. I desperately tried to read Harry’s expression as he turned away from me, clearly offended, but I couldn’t take back what I said. Harry sighed, running his fingers through his hair and looking back at me.
“So from now on we will have to meet in secrecy and at strategic times?” he asked, although he knew the answer.
“Yup,” I said.
He laughed coldly “This is fucking bullshit...”
“Yup...” I repeated, much less enthusiastic now.
We stayed in silence for a couple of minutes and then I broke the silence “So lessons start tomorrow, do you have any free lesson? Maybe we have ones at the same time-”
“Please, every lesson is a free lesson,” he interrupted “I know you won’t miss any lessons so do you have any free one tomorrow?”
“Yes, just before break time.”
“And where do we meet?”
It couldn’t be in the music room again since there would be lessons during that time. It had to be outside, nobody would be outside at that time.
“What about the bleachers?” I asked him.
“Sounds good,” he replied, “We better get going, people will start to notice you are missing.”
“Wait Harry, before we go,” I approached him. He looked at me, “I now understand how unfair they are treating you. They assume you are something before they try to know you, and the sad thing is that I thought you were a bad person too. Their words are powerful, and I’m sorry if I let myself believe in such lies. They are wrong.”
He just stared at me “Don’t be sorry, I’m fed up of you being sorry,” Harry came closer to me “This thing of hiding isn’t so bad you know, now I will have something to look up to every day.”
I looked at our feet and smiled “I’ll leave first,” With that I left the music room, making my way silently back to the canteen.