As I walked up those stairs I was surprisingly not nervous or scared as I had been before. In fact, I felt a strange lightness as I walked. I held my head high, and immediately as I opened the huge door that took me inside the main building I was encountered with the busy hour of break time. Almost everyone was in the canteen or in the entrance hall, but at first they didn’t notice me enter as I was barely discernible in the middle of the chaos.
Once in the canteen, I went straight to the table that was full of sandwiches. They were cut in tin loaf slices and wrapped in napkins, and grabbed two of them; one for break time and another for later.
Again I could hear people talking about me, their eyes scanning my body up and down, their accusing looks and giggles. I started to walk out of the canteen, intending to leave that place and go elsewhere, but my eyes had different plans. I found myself involuntarily scanning the room for one person only: Anna.
She was sitting at our usual table with the rest of the group, and they all seemed not to be paying attention to be as they talked to each other like they always did, but there was something wrong with her. She was quiet, wasn’t talking to anyone. She was agitated though, as if she had something nagging her. She was looking in every direction, as if searching for someone, and once she set eyes on me, I knew who she was looking for.
I turned my head around immediately. I felt a slight sting in my heart. It didn’t last long though, as I made my way outside to eat my food in peace, my pride not letting me show any emotion.
I found a bench guarded by the shade that the building provided and unwrapped one of the sandwiches. I hadn’t eaten since the fight, so the food I had brought with me disappeared in a flash. Now that I had food in my body, I could finally plan what I was going to tell Anna.
But nothing came to mind. Nothing at all. It was kind of ironic because there was so much to say, so much to tell her. Where should I start? I knew I had to tell her about Harry and I, but how, with what words? Were there even words to describe such thing? Should I just stick to the point or make it an elaborate speech with every single detail included? Would she even understand, listen? Should I even give myself the trouble of telling her so much for her to spit in my face and go tell everyone my secret?
Then all of a sudden the bell went off. Break time was over and I had to go to class. I wasn’t planning on talking to her at that time, and somehow I found myself relieved that something stopped me from thinking about our destined conversation.
I placed my backpack over my shoulders and instead of going through the main entrance of the building I went through the back door to avoid the usual crowd. However, there was only one staircase and I had to use that one like everybody else. Surprisingly, once I stepped foot on it, it felt like every one of took a small step away from me, giving a little more space to walk. I knew exactly why they did so, but I chose to ignore it and think positively; at least I don’t have to push through idiots.
Once in the upper floor I entered my assigned maths class and was caught by surprised at the display of the tables. There were all separated as if we were going to have a test or something that sort.
It wasn’t just an ordinary test; it would count thirty percent of our final grade. The teacher had reminded us about it before the Winter holidays, I knew about it all along. How could I forget about it?
I just I looked around again, trying to believe that what my mind was telling me wasn’t true. But unfortunately it was: I could tell by the calculators in everyone’s hands, the last minute “memory refreshments” being made and by the nervous looking students that we were actually going to have a test.
How could I have forgotten?!
I tried desperately to think of an excuse to why I had not studied but there was no justification for it, or at least a valid one. I felt a dagger stabbing my stomach. How was it possible that I forgot such thing? I was so occupied with solving my personal problems that it totally passed me. Never in my life had I ever forgotten such important thing, and I felt completely powerless as I watched my classmates making sure they knew the multiple formulas we had to memorise for the test.
I was screwed, and the only person to blame was myself.
The teacher ordered that we sat down so we could start the test. Reluctantly and shaking like green leaves, I took my seat as I took my excuse of a calculator out and looked at the white paper in front of me. Maths was never my forte, so only naturally I would need a miracle to pull it off.
“You have one hour to complete the test,” said the teacher once everyone settled down. “You may start.”
I flipped the first page and all I saw was a soup of numbers. I turned to the next page, and the scenario was identical. The stab in my stomach turned into a feeling of such hopelessness I thought I could faint. The worse of all was seeing everyone around me clicking on the buttons of their calculators, scribbling some numbers on their papers and moving on to the next question. I stood still, eyeing blankly the test on my desk as if it was my death sentence and tried to think. For sure I could remember something, anything. But oh no, my mind was also betraying me.
I looked around the room, as if the formulas I had to remember were hiding behind a vase resting on the window sill, or written on the ceiling or glued to the forehead of my teacher, but they weren’t. I was no longer nervous, but rather desperate.
Time was going by faster than I couldn’t control, and my despair was only increasing by the minute as I stared at the first question. Meaningless numbers scattered all over the page; that was all it was.
“Ten minutes to go,” The teacher announced in a way-too-loud voice, breaking the suffocating silence without warning.
That was it, I was done.
I had always enjoyed silence, but that day was an exception. It seemed like the quieter it got the more noise I heard. The silence, or better, the absence of it, was torture. My thoughts were all over my room, banging on the walls, throwing papers in the air, opening and closing windows. My thoughts were too loud, and I couldn’t stop them.
I had stayed till the very end of the day inside my room, only leaving for lunch, and during all those hours the only thing I could think of was Summer. I wondered if she was coping with the pressure she was surely feeling, and if she was okay. For sure she was fine, but my mind kept telling me otherwise. She had to face them alone, however, and even though I was dying to see her I couldn’t.
I had no idea why she wanted her friends to understand all that happened so badly, but she made it very clear she would do whatever she could to at least explain herself. But it didn’t make any sense to me. Summer did nothing wrong, she actually stopped what could have potentially ended very badly for both myself and the two scumbags, so why was she so keen on getting their friendship back? She shouldn’t be the one fixing things, it should be Anna or any of her other so-called friends.
But fix what anyway? There was nothing to be fixed. Summer did nothing wrong, the problem was her obnoxious and snobby friends that were infected with prejudice. I knew the scandal was as big as it was because it had me involved, because she showed no fear when she stopped me and how direct and honest her words were. If I wasn’t the one hitting those guys, she would be for sure the hero of the school, but since it was me she was now being treated like an outcast. That thought alone was so fucking revolting I physically felt sick, only adding to my distress.
To distract myself, I involuntarily found my old lighter under some old papers inside my bedside table and turned it on and off several times. There was something about that tiny flame that was incredibly comforting. My dark past in that boarding school had been my way of living for a very long time, and it was hard to remember simple times. It felt good to connect with something familiar, because to be honest, I had been out of my comfort zone since that girl came into my life.
I knew exactly what I had to do to be with Summer the way she wanted me to be, and I was quite surprised when I hesitated in stopping that motion of turning on and off the lighter. If I really wanted her, I couldn’t do her more harm, I couldn’t be the cause to her heart being torn and shattered anymore.
I got up from my bed, slowly approaching the window. I opened it, letting the cold breeze cool my entire room in seconds. I looked at the lighter once more, grasped it in my hand and looked at the outside world.
To let go of the things that are comforting to us depends on a great deal of bravery, but to let go of the things that are stopping us from being happy, that’s a whole other story.
I pulled my arm backwards and, with all the force I could muster, the small lighter went flying from my hand and into the bushes down below where I could never find it again.
I watched Anna enter our dorm alone as she carried a huge cardboard box in her arms. Even after a whole day of planning what I would say to her I had no idea where to start or where the finish our conversation, but one thing I was sure of: if I didn’t do it in that precise moment I would lose all the courage, and I needed plenty.
I turned the handle of the door and pushed the door opened. Anna was with her back turned to me as she took some clothes from inside the cardboard box she was carrying, jumping at the sudden loud sound of the creaking door.
“Oh sorry, I didn’t want to scare you,” The words tumbled from my mouth as I closed the door.
She didn’t respond and went back to her previous activity after she glanced at me. The atmosphere in the room was already thick with tension, but somehow I found words to start.
“Harry was defending me,” the words came out of my mouth with a sigh “He hit those guys because of me.”
I pondered if that was the right statement to start our conversation, but that moment of contemplation was shortly cut off as she turned around very slowly, revealing her pale face.
“Why? Why did he have to defend you?” she said slowly, as if afraid of actually saying them or hearing the answer.
I looked at my fingers as I fidgeted with them. My hands were shaking, my breathing was irregular and I thought I was going to faint right in that very spot. Unfortunately, I didn’t.
“Harry and I, we... we are together,” I managed to say.
“You mean together as in together?” she asked rather rhetorically. I bowed my head, agreeing silently. What happened next was expected: she inhaled a sharp breath and took her hand to cover her mouth, her shocked expression clear as day. She was speechless and so was I.
“You have to promise me not to tell anyone,” I said in a low voice, afraid to hear what she was going to say next.
“Oh my God...” she stared at the floor “It’s true then. What everyone is saying is true... What I thought all along is true!”
“What did you think all along?” I asked.
“I always knew you knew more about him than everyone else. I always knew you and him had something going on, and after what happened yesterday the truth was clear in my mind, but now, now it’s confirmed.”
“Anna, I can explain-”
“How can you? How can you even talk to him?! How can you stand in his presence and not feel repulsed? How can you even accept him after everything he did?!”
“He has changed, believe me. He is not the same person he was when he first arrived here.”
“He murdered a little kid Summer! Not with his owns hands, but I don’t really think he would’ve mind! People like that don’t change, they don’t!”
“They do, he did!”
“Then why did he almost kill another yesterday?!”
“He didn’t know what he was doing, that’s all!”
“That’s all?!” she cried in astonishment “See, this is your problem: you aren’t seeing the truth Summer, you are blind! He is a bad person, a horrible, despicable person, and he is going to harm everyone around him, especially you!”
I sighed in frustration and pulled the roots of my hair. I thought I had built a wall tall enough this time, but again it was not strong enough. I was an expert on keeping a straight face, but it was so hard to listen to those words without crumbling down inside. If my own best friend did not understand, who would?
“You have to stop listening to what everyone says about him Anna! You say I’m blind, well, I say you are obfuscated by prejudice, with what people are saying. Do you think I don’t know why you didn’t come help me, or why you didn’t talk to me the whole day? It’s because you can’t be seen with me, because apparently, I am an aberration of some kind now. You have to keep your image and reputation clean right? Because there is nothing more important than that, not even friends-”
“That’s not true,” she tried to cut me off, but failed miserably as I continued my speech.
“Don’t even bother saying anything else, I don’t want to hear it. I thought you were different from everyone else, but apparently you are as snob, self-centred and narrow-minded. To make it worse, you knew that I was suffering, you saw the state I was when I left that horrible scene, but you didn’t even come and look for me to see if I was fine!”
“What did you want me to do? Give up on all of my other friends to help you? You created your own mess, and I don’t want to be part of it, especially one that involves Harry Edwards!”
“You know, that was why I didn’t tell you from the beginning that I was with him, because I knew this would happen. You would exclude me, treat me like you treat him, even though I did nothing wrong! Oh how I wish I could go back in time and chose him over you. I would have done it instantly!”
“You are still in time. No one needs a sidekick of a murder as their friend!”
As soon as she said that, she covered her mouth with both her hands and stared wide-eyed at me. I felt like someone had slapped me. How dare she say such thing? Friend or not, she had no right to say that, and the only thought that came to my mind was to say something along the lines of ‘fuck you’, but I had a better idea.
Slowly, I approached her until I was a few centimetres from her face, and in the lowest voice I could muster, I said: “He is the sweetest, kindest and strongest person I had ever met. He makes me happy, and better than that, wanted. He makes me feel things I had never felt before, which let me tell you, everyone should feel before they die. He doesn’t complain, ever, which is the hardest trait to find in someone in this damn school. He is not like you, he sees through people, he understands them and loves them if he wants to. He almost killed someone yesterday, yes, but he doesn’t stop being better than you, in every single way. If I were you I should be worried: being worse than a murderer mustn’t be very pleasant, does it?”
I stared into her eyes for a couple of seconds, just to make sure my message was delivered. I had said everything I wanted, and although I intended to have her friendship back, after that conversation I knew that that would never happen.
I walked towards the door, but just before leaving, I turned around once more.
“Oh and Anna, I love him, and I don’t give a damn if you or anybody else think he is the worst human being walking on earth. Maybe what people are saying is actually true; I’m just like him, and proud.”
With that, I closed the door with a loud bang, leaving Anna petrified inside that cold room.
Once in the corridor, all the faces that were going down for dinner glanced at me, and I knew that if it was the week before they would be asking themselves why on earth I, Summer Daniels, the sweetest girl around, was looking so furious and mad. I knew better than to think that anyone cared about what I felt anymore, they were probably looking at me because the scandal was still fresh and they were still judging.
Nobody cared anymore, except one person, of course.
A rock came flying through my opened window and collided with the floor unexpectedly, making me jump at the sudden sound. I immediately looked around to see if anything was broken, but the objects in my room were intact. I got up from my desk and grabbed the small stone from the floor. It had a note wrapped around it with a rubber band and I wasted no time in reading it.
Come outside. We need to talk.
PS: Bring the scotch or don’t even bother leaving your room.
I furrowed my eyebrows at that odd note, but as requested I kneeled on the floor and lifted the blanket that covered the sides of my bed and pulled out a box that was underneath the wooden structure. Inside, a couple of clothes were stored, and between the old garments was the small bottle I had kept it since New Year. For her to ask me to bring the scotch down suggested that the conversation she had with Anna went very, very wrong, and even though I was dying to see her, I felt somewhat nervous to see in what state she was in.
I put those feeling aside and grabbed my coat, knowing that it would be freezing cold outside. I put the small bottle inside my pocket and left my room after locking it. I made my way swiftly down the corridor full of guys who were for sure leaving for dinner. Once outside I went to the side of the building where Summer was. She was leaning against the wall of Hall B, waiting patiently for my arrival.
“Are you okay?” Was the first thing I said once I reached her side.
“Hello to you too,” she said sarcastically as she pushed her back off the wall. I could tell all that sarcasm was a barrier that was stopping me from seeing her real feelings. She was faking, and I knew it.
Something very wrong happened.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I said, trying to get her to speak.
She didn’t answer again as she made her way to a near bench. I had no choice but to follow her, knowing that the only way to get her to tell me what happened was to let her talk when she wanted to.
We both sat next to each other, staring at the moon that was shining bright above our heads.
“Did you bring the scotch?” she asked.
“Yes ma’am,” I told her. She extended her hand and I gave it to her, rather reluctantly.
She brought the bottle to her lips and took a sip.
“You remember when I said this tasted awful? I was either already drunk or completely blind,” She took another sip.
I didn’t reply, just let those words sink in. Something very wrong had happened for her to be acting that way, and to be honest, it was worrying me.
“Are you cold?” I asked, scanning her slender body up and down. She wasn’t wearing a jacket, and her bare legs were literally making me have chills.
She shrugged her shoulders, not answering verbally to my question. Automatically, I took off my jacket and placed it over her legs.
“You need it more than I do,” I told her when she was about to protest “Now, will you please tell me how the conversation went or?”
Summer closed the bottle with the lid and placed it beside her.
“Fuck Harry,” he simply said as she stared at the moon, her arms falling by her side “I tried but she was just so, so stubborn and I think I might have aggravated the situation.”
That was it then. I turned sideways, in a way where I was entirely facing her. I reached for both her hands and held them tightly over her lap which was covered with my jacket, serving as a blanket. Although she had not forgiven me yet, I still did it anyway without hesitation of thinking twice.
“Go on,” I said in a comforting voice. “I’m listening.”
She sighed, tilting her head downwards.
“Do you know what I really want, what I truly want? I want to have somebody, anybody. Don’t get me wrong, I have you, but I need something else, someone else. I know this might sound greedy and selfish but I can’t help it. I want to feel like my friends want me, I want to feel like when I leave the group or disappear or miss school they will try and reach me because I truly matter to them and that my absence was felt. I want to be the first to leave a classroom and have someone call my name to slow down so they can catch up with me. I want people to wait for me. I want someone to look at me instantly when a teacher says we are going to work in pairs and I want someone to ask for my help. I want to be someone’s first choice.”
She then looked at me and carried on.
“For my entire life I have always been the poor girl and all I wanted was to fit in, but not in the way you think. I don’t want to be like them, I just want to matter to my friends, that’s all, but what happened between Anna and I completely drained that possibility. It’s okay though, I didn’t believe I was going to convince her anyway.”
I was speechless. Utterly and entirely speechless and I wanted to cry. This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for my stupid and irrational behaviour and now there was nothing I could do.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s my entire fault.”
“It’s not; believe me, it’s not, and in a way I’m happy that her true character was revealed. This only shows that Anna was never my true friend, and I’m glad I know it now.”
We stayed in silence for a few minutes, taking in all that was happening.
“So let me get this straight; you told her we were together, she freaked out and once you realised she wasn’t going to accept it you left?”
“Yes, more or less...” she said.
I raised my eyebrow “What do you mean?”
“Well, let’s just say that I told her plenty.”
“Plenty?” I was alarmed by her confession “What did you say to her?”
“I told her everything she didn’t want to hear, which would obviously make her furious: I told her I was fine without her, that I didn’t need her approval on anything, that you were one hundred times better than her and that I loved you, which let me tell you, was the cherry on top of the cake.”
As soon as those words left her mouth I immediately let go of her hands in shock, that sudden action startling both of us. As I stared at her as if I had seen a ghost, she slowly started to show signs that she was as well shocked by her own words.
“What did you just say?” I asked, completely taken aback by her words.
“You heard me,” her cheeks turned slightly red, which I found most adorable, but was yet still too shocked to admire anything at all.
“Verbalise it,” I had to hear those words again, to make sure that what I had heard was not my head and heart playing tricks on me.
The tension that surrounded us was palpable, and the wait to hear her speak was torture.
“I love you.”
The relief I felt was indescribable. I felt like the whole weight of the world that I had been carrying for days had finally been lifted off my shoulders all of a sudden, giving me the sensation that I was flying. The thick air around us seemed to have evaporated and I could breathe again.
I stared at her for as long as I could, until I couldn’t take it any longer.
“I really want to kiss you,” I said, as my eyes travelled back and forth between her lips and her eyes.
“Then do,” Summer whisper as she came closer to me.
Both my hands went straight to both sides of her face once our lips crashed together. How long had it been? How long had it been since the last time our lips met, the last time that I had held her that close?
Her hands gripped at my hair once the initial shock of the events settled between us, pulling me closer to her and consequently deepening the kiss. The electricity shared between us was undeniable, and as our lips moved in sync, time and reality seemed to become abstract and everything around us disappeared. Such passion and emotions couldn’t be explained by words. All those feelings were completely new to me,
Abruptly and without warning, Summer pushed my head backwards and our lips were disconnected.
“I forgot to tell you,” she said almost out of breath “Today I had a maths test that I completely forgot about.”
“Oh” I said, still trying to make sense of what had just happened. I didn’t care one bit about academics, and talking about maths was a major turn-off for obvious reasons, but I knew she cared and that she wouldn’t forgot such thing. Once again I was the cause of her forgetfulness and it showed that I was a terrible influence to her, my mind reminded me.
“But it’s okay, I’ll ask the teacher to re-do it or something,” she added, looking down at my hands which were resting by my sides. For some moments, no one knew what to say, so we just stayed in silence.
She then curled her arms around my neck unexpectedly and I replied the gesture, wrapping mine around her torso and resting my head on her shoulder, the warmth of her body comforting.
“I forgive you,” She said quietly after a few seconds of being locked in my arms. I knew she had already due to the kiss, but hearing those actual words was a relief beyond imaginable.
“And I threw my lighter away,” I said proudly, a smile from ear to ear sketching on my face.
“What?” Summer asked, clearly not understanding what I had just said. She didn’t have to though, only I did.
“Never mind,” I said as I hugged her tighter “Never mind.”