Trying to pinpoint the amount of time that passed since Harry left was a futile attempt, to say the least. It felt like time and space ceased to exist as I stood petrified, in a state of complete numbness, fully in shock at the events that had just happened. So many things had happened, so many words had been said and so many feelings were rushing through my veins that even the air around felt like it was suffocating me.
Harry found out my secret. Those were the only words that played on a loop in my head. He found out my devastating secret, and the way he found out was imprudent of me, so stupid. It could all have been easily avoided if it wasn’t for that photograph. I cursed at myself for being so careless, but what was done was done. I remembered the heartbreaking look in his eyes, my stomach twisting painfully at the memory. I never thought, not in a million years, that that lie, that disgusting thing I had to carry every single day, would hurt someone to the extent that it hurt Harry. It seemed harmless right until that point. His reaction and his words were genuine; his pain was too real for me to handle.
I dreaded the idea that he knew I was poor, a word synonymous to weak, inferior, dumb, mediocre, to pitiful. The idea that he thought of me in any of those ways repulsed me, and that was exactly what I most feared since the beginning; that people would label me as something I was not.
For what it’s worth, I think you should have your first kiss with someone you really like. His words played in my head. I couldn’t believe that he kissed me. In the middle of all that mess, of the arguing, the crying, he kissed me. I could understand anger, I could even understand repulse, but to kiss me? That left me even more confused than I already was, not to mention sadder because I knew that I couldn’t have him and every second I spent thinking about what happened was making me more late to dinner and people would start asking questions and the last thing I wanted was to lie again.
Nobody has ever measured how much a heart could take, and despite mine was completely over flooded with sorrow and regret, it was still beating, so I managed to drag my feet uphill, in the direction of the main building.
I dug my own grave, now I had to get out of it alone.
The night was cold, the brisk air hitting me and making my hair fly in front of my eyes, obstructing the way. I started to see a couple of students near the building, so I knew I wasn’t that late. I kept my head down to hide my face and walked inside the building. I took off my jacket, scarf and beanie and put them in a safe place near the entrance. I was still feeling numb, my every move measured and unhurried, like a robot. I entered the canteen and the first thing I did was look at the place Harry usually sat; he was not there. I sighed in relief, for I couldn’t bear seeing him so soon.
“Hey, where have you been? Is everything alright?” Anna asked when I sat down next to her.
It took all the strength in me to smile, but I managed to do so as I replied “Yeah, I just got distracted with the time. Feeling a bit tired, that’s all.”
My appetite was non-existent, but I forced myself to eat for the sake of people asking questions. As I took a sip of water, I could almost feel my sadness and regret building up in my throat, my eyes getting watery as I felt the weight of my mistake. Even despite Harry not being in the canteen, I could feel him everywhere. Where was Harry? What was he doing? What was he thinking about? I just wanted that dinner to be over with so that I could go to sleep and end that day as fast as possible.
It indeed came to an end, and I made sure to tell Anna I was going to sleep so no one would wonder where I had gone. Silently, I got up and almost invisibly I made my way out of that noisy canteen, everything around me moving in slow motion. When I got to Hall A, the building as silent as a vacant street, I made my way to my dorm and shut the door, the tears threatening to fall any moment. Even though I tried not to cry with all my strength, it was impossible to keep them in as I laid on my bed alone in that dark room.
And again, that question lingered in my head until I fell asleep: why were we allowed to feel?
I woke up the next morning with the sensation that I had just woken up from a nightmare, but my stained pillow confirmed me that what happened was all too real. All of a sudden I felt like vomiting, the prospects of the day frightening the living hell out of me. No matter how painful it would be, I had to talk to Harry, I just had to. There were so many things that weren’t said, so many things I needed to explain. He deserved the truth, the whole of it, I owed that to him after everything I made him feel.
It wasn’t going to be easy, so I decided to get it over with as fast as possible, for I knew that going to lessons with that weight on my conscious was going to be impossible. For that reason, I left earlier so I could have breakfast and find Harry, luckily being able to make it to the first period.
I told the girls I was starving and left without much discussion. I walked down the corridor, my nerves making my hands sweat and my knees tremble. Around me, I heard some girls saying good morning to me, but my head was so clouded that I ignored them. I was completely focused on how my conversation with Harry would be, although I still had time to think about it in more depth during breakfast. I walked down the grand staircase of Hall A and opened the door to go outside.
“Good morning,” I flinched at the sound of that familiar voice, a small scream escaping my lips. Harry laughed slightly “Did I scare you?”
I didn’t know what to say. My nerves from earlier that morning had dangerously increases all of a sudden and I felt like I could faint any second. I couldn’t believe he was already there. It all happened too fast, I had no time to process things or think what I was going to tell him. I stood speechless in front of him, the air around us thick with tension.
“We better go somewhere else or someone might see us,” he said after realising I wouldn’t answer his former question. I was in complete shock but I didn’t protest. I thought I was the last person he wanted to see, yet he was the one who went to look for me. He was acting as if nothing had happened the night before, as if he hadn’t found out my biggest secret, as if he hadn’t kissed me.
I followed him to wherever he was going. He took us to the back of the gym, a place full of garbage bins and junk, but I really didn’t mind. It was quiet and no one would be around.
I knew I had to speak sooner or later, so I decided to test the waters first and see how he would react.
“Did- did you sleep well?” I asked shyly, keeping my eyes on the ground.
“Actually I didn’t sleep,” he said with a not-too-serious tone “I didn’t sleep at all,” Harry leaned against the wall as he looked at his feet, his head down.
“Why?” I asked, although I knew exactly why. I hadn’t slept very well either, and I was sure my reasons were the same as his.
“I was confused,” he said finally “I was trying to, I don’t know, understand why on earth you told such a big lie and how was it possible for you to fool everyone, even teachers. It seems quite impossible to me.”
I didn’t dare look up, as if he was reprimanding me. I could feel a lump form in the back of my throat, but I held a stiff upper lip and carried on.
“Harry…” I managed to say quietly as I fidgeted with my fingers. I took a deep breath and looked up, noticing that he was already looking at me. “I was going to look for you this morning. I want to explain things better, you deserve it.”
He crossed his arms over his chest “Go on, I’m all ears.”
I told him everything. I told him about my old life, how hard it was, but also how it was peaceful at the same time. I told him about Mr Hansen being friends with my dad, that that was the reason I didn’t pay a dime to be a student at Hudson and that he was the only one who knew my secret. I told him about the first time I went downtown with my friends and how incredibly anxious I was to go shopping with them. That was the first time it became evident to me that we were different from each other and there was no changing it. I told him that my parents hadn’t sent me a present because there was no money. I told him how out of place I felt, how different I felt. Most importantly, how ashamed I felt. That was the main reason why I lied, because I was ashamed. All during the speech he was silent.
“I only lied because I felt alone and scared. You believe me, don’t you? I only lied because of that. I don’t have second intentions, I never wanted to hurt you or anyone. I thought that this act would even protect me, but this, this situation between us is making me miserable.”
“Summer…” He said, but I cut him off.
I could feel hot tears forming in my eyes but I kept going “I am so ashamed of myself for lying, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“You shouldn’t be ashamed of anything,” He walked closer to me, keeping his voice calm and contained, a hint of sadness in his tone.
“But I am, and I can’t help it,” I insisted. “Sometimes I forget that I am, you know, poor, and this lie actually becomes the truth. For some seconds, some marvellous seconds, I forget who I am and to be honest, I love it. I just want to be like them, but I can’t and if my friends ever find out who I really am they will treat me like I’m- “
“Nothing,” He finished my sentence, taking me a bit off guard. I sobbed involuntarily, the power of the words that we were sharing hitting me like lightning. Harry frowned, taking his hands to my face.
“No, no crying,” He wiped the tear away with his thumb. “You cried enough yesterday.”
“I already feel like nothing,” I managed to say in a whisper, my strength drained. I bowed my head, biting my lip to keep any more tears from falling.
“Summer, look at me,” He slowly lifted my head upwards to look at him “I said it once and I’ll say it again, there is no need to feel ashamed. I knew you were not like them from the very first day I saw you, and you want to know why? There was just something about you... Something very special that everybody lacks, including me.”
“Oh, Harry…” I shook my head in denial.
He moved his hands from my cheeks to my shoulders “You are just so kind. How is it possible to be so kind? And you are so intelligent, so smart… For someone to carry out such an elaborate lie for so long you have to at least be a little bit clever. And God, everybody wants to be your friend because everyone else here is either full of themselves or absolute pricks that don’t see past fortune or social status. You just light up and entire room when you walk in and you are so humble and I wish I could be more like you. For goodness sake, you were the only person that had a real conversation with me in months during the Winter holidays! That was more than anyone has ever done. And as you said, you were being yourself all this time that I have gotten to know you, and I really really like the person you are. You are an amazing person, and I wouldn’t change a thing about you, you understand?”
My heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. The conviction in his voice was heartbreaking.
“Don’t ever feel ashamed again, at least not when you are with me. Being poor is not who you are, it just happens to be the way you lived for all your life,” He took a deep breath “God, how can I make you see that it doesn’t matter a fucking bit?!”
With his hands still on my shoulders, I reached for the collar of his overcoat and pulled him closer so that our faces were mere centimetres apart.
“Tell me something,” I whispered after a few moments of silence, white vapour escaping my lips “Yesterday, why did you, why did you-”
My eyes flitted from his eyes to his lips as I spoke, my hands trembling at the proximity, my stomach turning into knots.
“I had been wanting to do it for a while,” He simply answered, his breathing becoming shallower. I stared at Harry, thinking that at any moment I could faint. He moved one of his hands to my neck, his thumb moving along my jaw. I couldn’t take it any longer as the tension around us built. I tugged him even closer, our lips barely brushing. That was when Harry finally closed the space between us, fireworks erupting inside me. He ran his fingers through my hair, my hands found their way to the nape of his neck.
Kissing him with no tears or a mixture of feelings felt even better felt even better than when we first kissed. The night before was so full of important and decisive events that took away the importance of that impulsive instinct, making it almost impossible to appreciate it in its whole entirety. But kissing Harry there, behind the gym with litter everywhere, after he said such amazing things about me, that was a whole other level.
Soon enough we parted our lips, our breathing more irregular than ever. Everything around us was so silent that a pin being dropped could be heard.
“Harry?” I called him, although he was just inches from me, his hand still on my neck.
“Huh?” He asked, scanning my face, a soft smile sketched on his face.
“You can’t tell anyone about this,” I told him, our eyes locking.
“About what exactly?”
“My secret, and- and this.”
“Don’t worry, your secret couldn’t be safer. I’m just not quite sure if I understand what ‘this’ means though,” he grinned at me, knowing exactly what I meant.
I sighed, my cheeks turning slightly red “You know, this.”
He chuckled, staring at the ground. Then he looked up again at me “Verbalise it.”
I bit the inside my cheek, but at last, I said: “You kissing me, I kissing you.”
“Ah, that,” He smiled tenderly, his hands moving to my waist “This is going to be our little secret.”
Harry kissed my forehead and I leaned closer to him, hugging him tightly and feeling his warmth. Finally, I could breathe. Finally, there was someone who knew my dying secret. Finally, someone that didn’t judge me. Finally, someone I could be entirely honest with. And in that moment I realised something: this was why we were allowed to feel.
As I hugged Summer, I couldn’t help feeling a huge pride for myself because I, for once, said exactly the right thing. I couldn’t believe our conversation went so well. I was so relieved that, as I hugged her and smelt the sweet scent of her hair, I couldn’t suppress a silly smile my sketching on my features.
The dimension of what had happened was quite surreal. Above all, I could not believe that she was really ashamed of herself for being poor. It saddened me that she was feeling embarrassed. I did understand, however, why she had to do it, to lie. If everyone knew her real background she would be treated like an outcast. I knew exactly how that felt and it wasn’t very pleasant. Yet, being an outcast had its perks: if an outcast got kissed like that ever so often, I didn’t mind being one.
I always had that gut feeling that somehow we were connected even before we said a word to each other, I just never thought it would be because we both held unprecedented secrets.
Oh, that’s right. My secret.
I couldn’t deny that, after I found out her secret, mine seemed to be occupying more space than usual in my mind. I felt so much empathy towards her, I understood her completely, how she felt and what she feared. I felt those things too. But I couldn’t tell her my secret. It was too devastating, too shocking. Her secret compared to mine was nothing. There could be serious consequences if anyone found out, including her. I did feel somewhat guilty for not telling her, but it was the right thing to do. I didn’t have an alternative but to hide the truth.
“So now what?” She asked as she played with the pockets of my overcoat.
“We carry on with our lives as normal,” I stated, “No more drama about this, deal?”
“Deal,” She said as she took a step backwards to look at me “I was thinking about skipping the first class of the day. Mind joining?”
“I would be delighted,” I told her with the biggest smile I could muster, not that it was very hard to smile. I could say with all my confidence that I hadn’t felt like this in a long time. There was no better feeling than genuine happiness. No, it was better than happiness, it was bliss. I was blissful because I was the only person in that place who knew her, the real her, independently of her being poor. She was constantly putting on an act for everyone else, except for me. That feeling was marvellous.