That night I couldn’t get Harry out of my head, as usual. He was a complexion of such marvellous things and horrid ones, and I was still trying to figure out how that could be.
After what he did, the school couldn’t shut up about it, which I was not surprised at all. Every time someone mentioned what a monster he was, the simple fact that I had to agree made me sick to my stomach. However, the hardest of all challenges was to keep a straight face while doing it. Nobody seemed to notice my lies, maybe because they didn’t know I could be actually lying. After all, technically, I was still one of them.
That day I wouldn’t be able to see Harry and I prayed that he wouldn’t do something stupid in my absence. In my times of solitude, I had come to a conclusion about that matter: Harry wouldn’t do anything dangerous if I was present. It was like I gave him common sense or something that sort, so if I could prevent someone from being hurt, I was glad to do it. It was also becoming clearer in my mind that a completely normal kid would not act like Harry did for no apparent reason, so I was starting to think that Harry could have a reason for acting so impulsively. There was no doubt he had issues concealing his anger, better still controlling it, but why? Why did Harry feel so much hatred? Maybe he was born with him, deep inside his bones, but if that was the case, why was he so nice to me?
I left that question hanging in the air and concentrated on the classes ahead of me for that day. As soon as they came to an end, leaving me mentally exhausted, I walked with the rest of my running team to our first practice after the holidays. It was nice to be back, since I hadn’t run in a long time due to my injury.
Coach Mark gave us a warming welcome, asking the team loads of questions about our holidays. He hadn’t lost his charm or his cheeky smile. I hadn’t talked to him yet about coming back for training, so I just stayed in the back and hoped he wouldn’t see me. I had a feeling that he wouldn’t let me join the practice, but then I remembered we would have a competition soon and I really wanted to go since it would be my first, so I had to stay, I had to.
Mark then dispersed the team to go and warm up. That was when he saw me and called me.
“My wrist is better, I swear,” I tried to convince him “Besides, I need to practise for the race!”
Mark sighed and looked at the rest of the team that was dispersed around the gym “You are one of our best runners...” He thought to himself as he caused me to smile “Okay, fine!” A hushed yes left my mouth “But if you feel very tired you can stop if you want.”
Finally, I was back in the game and I was going to give the best of me to prove Mark that what he said was absolutely right. After warm up, Mark gathered us around.
“Okay guys, for our race next week we will have to run outside, and I don’t know if you noticed but it’s very cold,” he said and cracked a laugh at the end “You need to get used to the cold, so grab your things; we are going to the football field.”
The crowd started to complain and protest. I was also unenthusiastic about going. After all, temperatures at this time of year reached minus ten degrees Celsius, but it was what it was. I grabbed my bag and put a sweater over my body and walked outside with the rest of the team.
The cold was overwhelming. I was in shorts, and my sweater wasn’t very warm. Everyone was shaking and threatening to go back inside, but deep down we all knew that this was for our own good. If on the day of the race it was going to be this cold, we had to know what we were facing, and how our body was going to react to such extreme coldness.
“Five laps in three minutes, to test your resistance,” Mark told us. He blew his whistle and everyone started running on the track that went around the field. The snow had already melted on the track, but ice could be seen creeping from cracks on the floor. The cold was almost unbearable; it made my muscles tense, and breathing was a challenge for it seemed like the cold air entering my body was freezing it from the inside out, making it incredibly difficult and uncomfortable to take a single breath. My exposed legs were covered in goose bumps, and my arms were folded close to my chest to keep warm.
The group started off running very close together, but then dispersed as some got ahead and some behind. I was one of the ones that were left behind, and it bothered me tremendously. Before the accident, I would surely be in the front, leading the pack.
As I was running steadily, my lungs aching and my muscles tensing, I noticed Harry was sitting on the top bleachers watching. I should have known he would be there; he usually wasn’t in his room at that time of day. When he saw me staring, he gave me a little wave with two fingers so that nobody noticed. I smiled and ran past him.
That was when some kid ran past me. I hadn’t even made one lap. I wondered how much time had passed. One minute? One and a half?
I pushed myself harder. I had to keep up with everyone else or Mark wouldn’t let me compete and I had waited for too long to have that chance. Even Andrew, an eighth grader was running faster than me. I sprinted as fast as I could, ignoring the signs my body was giving me to stop. My lungs were yelling, my legs were screaming in pain but I ignored it.
That was when I started to see everything go blank.
I couldn’t breathe. It seemed like my lungs were getting smaller by the second and I had to stop. I went on my knees and wrapped my hands around my throat. The pain was unbearable, and I coughed as hard as I could.
“Summer!” I heard Mark yell as he ran to me. I curled myself in a ball to keep myself warm. It was so incredibly cold, I couldn’t even breathe.
I felt a hand rest on my back. I managed to look up. Andrew was knelt beside me, screaming for help and in less than nothing Mark reached us, as well as the rest of the team. I looked to the left and Harry was still in the bleachers but on his feet. He didn’t move a muscle. Thank God he didn’t do it.
“She’s so pale”, “let’s get her inside”, “she’s so cold”, “she is shaking so much”, “call the nurse!” were some of the words I last heard before everything went blank.
I woke up shortly after they carried me inside the main building. The first thing I noticed was Mark’s warm body as he carried me inside the nurse’s office. The team followed right behind, as well as some random students who were just curious to see what all the fuss was about.
Mark rested me on the table and the nurse’s calming voice that I became so fond of sounded rushed and determined.
“Get as many blankets as you can,” She ordered, “Someone take off her shoes.”
In less than nothing I had tonnes of blankets around my body and my feet were submerged in scalding hot water. I was still shaking a bit, and I still coughed now and then.
“Are you feeling alright Summer?” The nurse asked as she stroked the top of my head that was covered in blankets.
“Yeah,” I managed to say, “what- what happened?”
“You suffered from hypothermia, but you don’t need to worry anymore, your body temperature is going back to normal,” the nurse said as she checked the thermometer under my arm “your lungs also weren’t working very well, were they?” she asked and I simply nodded “We think that you pushed yourself too hard. You hadn’t run in months and your body wasn’t ready for this outburst of extreme sport. From now on you are going to promise me to take it easier, okay?”
Coach Mark was sitting next to me. He wasn’t saying a word as he looked at me, lost in his thoughts.
“You’re not going to let me go to the race, are you?” I asked him, although I already knew the answer. He gave me a sad look and said he was sorry. I was really looking forward to it. I really thought it was my shot to prove myself. Despite being disappointed, I reminded myself there would be more races in a near future, so all I could do was take it slow and hope for the best.
“Now,” said the nurse “I want you to go take a warm shower and have an early dinner. I want you to sleep as much as possible okay? If you feel bad in the morning come see me,” She helped me get up and hugged me. I put on my running shoes and walked out of the nurse’s office with a thick blanket around me followed by Mark.
“I’m so sorry about what happened,” he said, “if I knew you were so out of shape I would have never let you run.”
“Oh, it’s okay. I am the only one to blame, I should have known it was too hard for me.”
With that, Mark turned around and went back to the field where the rest of the team would probably be. Then I heard a sound, a “psst” sound. I glanced around and for my surprise, Harry was hiding behind a shelf that stood in the hallway.
She looked like a bear wrapped in that old brown blanket. I noticed she was still in her shorts and ponytail. The whole time she was inside the Infirmary I glued my ear to the door and I hear everything. How was it possible that a qualified coach would let something like this happen? If I was Hansen I would sack him, for the sake of the next person who would get hyperthermia because of him.
For a person that had passed out and experienced hyperthermia just minutes ago, she looked alright. Actually, her face was glowing. She looked endearing even though someone could mistake her for a wild bear. It was the first time I admitted that to myself. How haven’t I noticed that earlier? The way she smiled every time she saw me (which I had no idea why since I only brought trouble), the way her long hair swept to one side when she turned around abruptly, her glistening eyes that you could literally spend hours looking at. And that voice of hers. I spent hours repeating it inside my head until I could finally hear it.
“Harry, what are you doing here?!” She whispered-shouted in a rush.
“I came to see if you were alright,” I told her as I revealed myself from my hiding spot. That was when I hear that undeniable voice. Anna and the rest of her group walked up to Summer, making me retrieve to my original spot. Summer turned around immediately and greeted her friends with a smile. Fucking great. They are just so loathsome and completely detestable. At least I got to see Summer before they took her away.
That day she told me we couldn’t meet, and after what happened, all the hopes I had of changing that turned to dust, so I had to wait until the next day, which seemed to last forever. I did attend some classes, but I was really just making sure she was okay during the five minutes we had in the corridor as we changed classrooms. Luckily, we crossed our ways in the corridors more than once and although we couldn’t show any type of interaction, not even a glance, I knew we were thinking that same thing.
Eventually classes came to an end, and before going to our meeting place of choice I went to the canteen to grab some food for us. Packed chocolate milk and some sandwiches. I stuffed everything inside my bag and walked outside. Sadly, the snow had already melted entirely, and the overly-excited kids were back outside playing football or riding their bicycles. It was still cold though, very cold, and I questioned if it was safe for Summer to stay outside for a long period of time.
I went to our assigned bench and waited for her. Minutes later, her silhouette started to become visible, and I understood that that was my cue to move inside the forest so no one would see us. She followed me as I took a random trail. I stopped when I spotted another bench surrounded by high trees of different species and a lamp post. It was actually a very pleasant and calm place.
“Hello there!” said Summer as she leaned against a tree. She was dressed head to toe in warm clothes. She was even wearing uniform female trousers. It was so rare to see girls wearing them that I actually thought they were a myth “They’re hideous, I know,” she told me when she noticed me looking at them. She was wearing a thick jacket, a dark green scarf and beanie. She also wore gloves and boots.
“You look like an Eskimo,” I told her as she walked up to me and took a seat on the weather-beaten bench.
“I’m not risking it this time,” she said, “I was reluctant on putting these trousers today, but they serve their purpose.”
“I brought us something,” I told her as I placed my bag between us. I took out our food and she quickly snatched it from my hands.
“You think of everything don’t you?”
“I try,” I gave her a smile and took a great bite of my sandwich.
We ate our sandwiches and drank our milk in silence for a while.
“Have you gotten yourself into any kind of trouble?” she asked me. “You know, since last time?”
“That I know of, no,” I told her as I placed my empty milk package on the floor. She lifted her eyebrows and stared intensely at me “What?”
“Seriously? Are you going to leave that there? After what I said?” She pointed to the package I left on the floor. I rolled my eyes, picked it up and put it inside my bag.
“Happy?” I asked her.
“Very,” she responded with a smirk as she followed my actions and put her leftovers in her bag.
“So, how was your day? How is recovery going?” I asked her and the speech started. I hated when people talked and talked and never shut up. With her it was different. I found interesting to hear everything she said, mainly because we had the same opinion on everybody and everything, but also because she was genuine, she wasn’t trying to impress me with her vast knowledge or telling me things that I wanted to hear. I found myself talking quite a lot too, which was not me at all. I didn’t even know I had so many things to say.
The light from the sun that was hidden behind the trees started to dim as the hours went by. The lamp post next to our bench lit up a bright orange light and I looked at my watch. It was already six thirty, and I knew she would go back to her friends if I told her what time it was, so I said nothing. Besides, she was resting her head on my thigh as she read some random book. I was not going to end that moment so abruptly.
“Do you have more sweets?” I asked her.
“In my bag,” She pointed at her bag which was on the floor next to mine “I don’t have many left though. Eat what you find.”
I grabbed her bag that was near my feet and rested it on my lap. It was an old, dark brown bag, made out of an unidentified material. I opened it, and unexpectedly it was a mess.
“I thought you were organised,” I stated, “I guess I was wrong.”
“Yeah, I have to clean that mess, but I never seem to find the time or motivation,” She said while keeping her eyes on her book.
While I rummage the bag in searched of the plastic bag which should contain some sweets, I found some interesting things on my search. Loads of lost pencils with stupid and ridiculous things written on them, empty water bottle, a science notebook and headbands. There was also a wallet and I opened it out of curiosity; it contained a couple of cents, her ID and a black and white photograph. The image was starting to fade in the corners where it was slightly bent, but the picture was clear. There was this tiny girl in the picture with two braids falling over her shoulders. She was holding a man’s and a woman’s hand. I concluded it must’ve been Summer with her parents when she was little, but there was something that was not quite right about that photograph. In the back, behind the three bodies, a battered, tiny, old house could be seen. It looked more like a barn, a shelter really. The street itself looked very poor, with litter on the floor and shattered street lamps. Even the clothes they were wearing looked old and worn out. Their expressions, however, seemed blissful, happy I guess.
I looked down at Summer who was peacefully reading her book, her chest rising and falling inside that heavy jacket as she breathed quietly. I looked at the picture again. If she lived in a house like that, how was it possible she was in a place like Hudson?
“Summer...” I said, the anxiety building up “Is this your house?” I asked as I showed her the picture. I didn’t want to believe it was true, I wanted it just to be a random picture she cut out from a magazine that she was going to use for a project or something, but by the look on her face it was true. The little I could see of her face turned white, a white that was even scary.
“I can explain,” her voice was barely a whisper, and I was getting scared, not just because of what I was going to hear, but because of what I would say. No way, I couldn’t believe it.
“You lied,” I said sternly “You lied to every single one of us,” I paused as I said each word “Why?”
Tears started to form in her eyes as I got up and took a deep breath “No, I didn’t want to, it’s just that if people knew where I came from they would treat me differently-”
“Everything you told me was a lie then, wasn’t it?” I ignored what she said. I was hurt, I was really hurt, like someone had swiped the carpet under my feet.
“No, I never lied to you!”
“Oh really?!” I shouted “You lied about everything you are! Do I even know you? I can’t believe this… Is this where you live? Is this your house? Is it true what my eyes are seeing? God damn it Summer, what have you told me that was real? Because if everything you told me was a lie, I have no idea who you are!”
She was fully crying, full of sorrow and regret, but I felt worse. I opened up to her and she lied, she lied mercilessly and she knew how incredibly difficult it was for me to do that. I trusted her, I even told her about Tom, and she betrayed me. The pain was too great to keep it all in like I usually did, so I didn’t watch my tongue.
“I trusted you with everything I am, but it’s all just a game to you!” I stated bitterly.
“I was ashamed!” She managed to say in between sobs “I am not like them, I didn’t grow up in a castle or in the best neighbourhood, or had the finest education, or even the best food on the table, but I swear to God, I never lied to you about who I am!” I just stood there and listened, not that she deserved to explain herself.
“My parents left me in this place to go work in Switzerland doing God knows what to save our family, and I felt so intimidated that I- that I lied, but only because I knew I would be left out and be completely outcasted by this bunch of rich kids if I told them that I was poor. I hate being poor, I hate that I wasn’t born in a golden cradle,” she grabbed the roots of her hair “Fuck, I never wanted this... See, I even curse. Have you ever heard them curse? No, because I’m not like them!”
I didn’t know what to say. I just stood there trying to process what she was saying.
She sighed heavily, each breath she exhaled coming out in a white vapour due to the cold air “Do you remember the day of the fire? I was being me when I pushed you, I wasn’t faking anything, my feelings were true as well as my words. And you remember the first time we walked together when you threw little rocks on the windows of the community room? I was being me too. And when we went downtown, and when we spent hours playing chess, and when we shared sweets (and fuck I wasted all my money on them, how stupid of me), and when you asked me those questions in the library I told the truth!”
Exasperated, she let her arms fall by her side “If there is anyone I was being truthful with, it was you. Whether you believe me or not, you don’t have many reasons to anyway, you are the person that knows me best. I understand if you never speak to me again, but please don’t tell-,” she stopped mid-sentence “No, you know what, go ahead. Tell them. That’s what I deserve for breaking your trust.”
She was still crying, and her voice was painful to hear “I really fucked up didn’t I? I should just, die!”
Without thinking, without processing anything or even weighing the pros and cons or listening to my head or any part of my body that was rational, I gave two big steps, grabbed both sides of her face and pressed my lips against hers. She told me herself words were powerful, but only then when she used them to make me see I was wrong did I understand that statement entirely. I didn’t care who her parents were, where she came from, or what she possesses; I knew who she really is, and that was enough for me.
Almost instantly I pulled away, leaving her petrified. She barely moved and I didn’t dare to look into her eyes. The only sound came from our unsteady breathing. I just stared at her scarf and tried to say something, anything, but for instances I said nothing.
“Go have dinner and then go sleep,” I told her as I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I grabbed my bag, pulled it over one shoulder and started to walk away. She, however, stood immobilised in the same spot, and once I was ten meters away from her I heard her distant sobs.