Fifty: Part Two
It was almost eight in the afternoon and the students were coming from all directions to the main building. I walked alone towards it, the cool breeze hitting my legs, making me shiver. The cold did bother me, but not half as much as the idea of Harry being in the main building, waiting for me. I was so mad at him that I chose to leave the bicycle he gave me behind and go by foot. Every single reminder of him felt like I was going to trip: he manipulated you, he told you he loved you so you would go to his room, you believed him, he used you, my mind whispered torturously. I shook my head to clear my mind. From all people, I was not going to be affected by him; he didn’t deserve that satisfaction.
I entered the main building and my eyes landed on Anna that same second. She was nervously waiting at the door, not knowing if she should go in or not. In the act of observing her, I recognised my old self. One thing I was sure, I couldn’t go inside with her and sit with her at a table, or she would be eaten alive.
That was when, over the sea of heads, I noticed Nurse Marion at a corner, her white coat contrasting between the identical grey and dark green uniforms. She noticed me too, and instead of waving or smiling, she got in the middle of the crowd and pulled at my arm, taking me to a quieter area.
“I have a note for you,” she announced. “And I won’t leave until you read it.”
“A note?” I asked rhetorically “From who?”
Nurse Marion reached inside her pocket, taking out a small, torn piece of paper. “Harry.”
She handed me the paper before I could process what she said. My instinct was back away from it, as if the paper was wired with electricity and as soon as I touched it, I would be electrocuted. But I did hold it, and the desire I had to tear that paper into a million pieces was almost unmanageable.
“How do you have it?” I asked sternly. All of a sudden I felt like I was being observed by everyone around me, so I kept my voice down.
“He asked me to give it to you. Actually, he asked me to help him look for you, but I suggested this was a much better idea.”
I looked at the back of the note, not daring to read it. I looked at Nurse Marion, her sympathetic eyes a reassurance. She noticed my reluctance in reading it, so she tried to convince me as she looked me in the eyes.
“You remember when you told me that it was hard for Harry to ask for help, that he couldn’t trust people that easily? Well, today he did, and I was so surprised when he entered the infirmary.”
“Did he tell you what happened?”
“No,” she said “Just read the note.”
I sighed, unfolding the piece of paper. It read:
Please, come to the music room, like we used to.
Please. That last word. A simple, six lettered word, with a full stop at the end. Begging. He was begging. He signed it the way I did when I threw a note attached to a rock the day when I had the fight with Anna, with a single letter.
“Go,” Nurse Marion said with a tender voice, interrupting my thoughts.
I looked at her, then back at the note. I knew we had to talk sooner or later, I knew that we would end up fighting and discuss what happened, but I was not ready for that. I was not ready to face him; I wasn’t even ready to speak a single word to him. Just the thought of it made my hands start to sweat from the anger I felt.
But he was begging, and I knew he would not stop until he talked to me.
“Okay,” I finally said, folding the paper and putting it inside my pocket “I will.”
I smiled at Nurse Marion, in retribution of hers, but I was boiling inside. The adrenaline started to kick in as I walked down the spiral stairs, and all I could think of was how our meeting was a terrible idea.
My heart was beating faster and faster as I approached the door of the music room. I could hear my heartbeat in my ears and my hands were sweating. The longer I stood in front of the door I grew more nervous, so I took a deep breath and without further due opened the door.
I notice Harry immediately as I entered the room. He got up from the piano seat the second he heard the door open, startled.
“You came,” He stated, clearing his throat. I didn’t answer, for I was afraid of what I would say. The atmosphere was thick with tension as none of us spoke for some seconds. I could feel the walls closing in, the air seemed non-existent and time was frozen. I couldn’t look at a single inch of his body, but I could feel his presence all around me, suffocating me.
I stood motionless with my hands behind my back, clinging to the door knob as if the door was going to disappear the moment I let go of it, leaving me stuck in that room with Harry. My teeth were gritted from the anger I was feeling, and I took deep, silent breaths to calm down. They didn’t help one bit.
“Can you sit down please?” Harry asked, breaking the silence. His voice was hesitant, or as I interpreted it, very caution.
He better be.
“No,” I answered harshly. How dare he give me orders? He was already lucky I was there.
He didn’t answer. He knew I was mad, it was sketched all over my face and body posture. I was still near the door, and now that he said for me to come closer, maybe I stood there because I was stubborn.
It was any moment now, the screaming at each other. He would try to explain, say he was sorry, try to calm me down, the usual. But I was surprised when, instead of the fighting beginning, he sat on the stool of the piano, placing his hands on his thighs and taking a deep breath as he stared at the white and black keys. After a moment of stillness, he placed his hands on the keys and instantly the sound filled the entire room. My eyes went wide in amazement: was it really happening? Was Harry actually playing the piano, in front of me?
I immediately recalled the time when I heard Harry play in that same room, when he scared me to death when he discovered me listening behind the door. I never mentioned that moment to him, but I knew that that topic was floating above our heads since then, waiting to be called to mind.
He was playing another song from the one I first heard, but this one was even better than the one I heard. This one transmitted calmness, hope even. The song wasn’t rushed, and I didn’t dare to make a single sound or it could ruin it. Somehow, it reminded me of the melting of ice in the beginning of spring, but at the same time I could feel the melancholy and nostalgia that lingered in every note. That song had depth, and I had a feeling it meant a lot to Harry. I stood still near the door watching his every movement: the way his hands moved with ease, his back and shoulders, his feet on the pedals. He was deep in concentration, completely submerged in a bubble of his own.
I felt a shiver ran down my spine as the song came to an end, leaving all the emotion it had created hanging in the air as the room fell silent once more. None of us knew what to say. Harry turned his head to the left as he took his hands from the keys to get a glance of my face. I wanted to talk, I wanted to tell him how amazed I was, but not a single word left my lips.
“Summer...?” Harry called, as if he was waking me up. It was all too much to take in and I was still ought to find out what it all meant. I bit the inside of my cheek and crossed my arms over my chest. “You might be a bit confused… You see, this is going to sound strange, but I have no idea what I just played. I just recall what I listen and see. Don’t ask me how I do it, I just know that I listen to a song or see someone play it and I can play it myself.”
I turned my head to the right and stared at him, speechless.
“Are you fucking serious?!” I asked in bewilderment, spitting each word “Did you call me here to show off your talent?!” My body was stiff with anger, and although that song had calmed me slightly, I was still burning inside.
I noticed Harry was taken aback by my harsh words, but he proceeded in a contained tone “I didn’t call you here to hear you compliment me.”
“Funny you say that. I came here to do the exact opposite,” I stated bitterly.
There was a pause as he took in my words “No, you came here to hear an apology, but an apology won’t fix anything this time.”
I stood quiet, knowing that it wasn’t my turn to speak.
Harry took his hand to the back of his neck and looked upwards, still sitting on the piano stool. “I learned how to play like this because my mum was constantly playing it. Every day when we arrived home she would go straight to the piano and play until she had to make dinner.”
That was the first time he was telling me anything about his past, so although I was trying to look uninterested and proud, I listened attentively.
“My father died in sixty-two in the Vietnam War. I was about two years old at the time, and since then it was only my mum and I. I don’t remember anything about him so I don’t miss him.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this before?” I couldn’t help but interrupt him as I came to the realisation of how serious his words were despite my feelings towards him. This was not just a simple apology, he was telling me his past that I so longed to know.
“Let me finish,” he stated softly. He continued telling his story “I had a pretty good childhood despite the absence of my dad. I was lucky to have such a wonderful mother: she had to have both roles as a parent, and as weird as it sounds, she was an awesome dad. She took me to the beach and taught me how to fish, she knew how to fix a broken lampstand and paint the house. Her salary wasn’t that high since she was just a music teacher at an elementary school, but it was enough. Besides, we had the money my dad left us when he died. I never lacked anything, I was a happy kid.”
He stopped talking after that last sentence, bowed his head and sighed, changing the tone of his voice “And then she got ill.”
I held my breath but made sure he did not notice it.
“I was about sixteen when her symptoms started. She would come home from work more tired than usual and she wouldn’t eat much. She said she didn’t have much of an appetite, and then she would go to sleep. During the weekend she always stayed inside the house, she said she was very tired to go anywhere. In about four months she lost a lot of weight, and that was when I made her go to the hospital. The doctors said she had enlarged lymph nodes and it was probably caused by an infection, so they gave her antibiotics and said she would be fine. After that she seemed well. She would play a song or two on the piano and she was eating more, we even made plans for a day at the beach... It turned out that she wasn’t, the antibiotics she was taking were doing nothing because it wasn’t an infection.”
I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I felt like I had to move, say something, but my body was frozen.
Harry parted his lips to speak but for a few seconds he didn’t utter a single word.
“She had cancer,” he stated finally “Lymphoma. It’s not as rare as it sounds, apparently.”
My mind stopped processing what he was saying after the word cancer left his lips. A shiver ran down my spine and I just stared at Harry in bewilderment. He looked so calm as he told me such shocking news, it was making me uncomfortable.
“She was already in an advanced stage, and all the doctors we went to said that it was no use in having treatment, but she did it anyway. A couple months later I had come to the realisation that the doctors were right. There was no progress, she wasn’t getting better, she was constantly in pain...”
My arms fell to my sides.
“One of the doctors said that there was this scientist developing a treatment for that kind of cancer in Germany, and it was getting good results. People were getting better, even the ones in an advanced stage like my mum. They were getting cured. It was very expensive at the time, and my mum even hesitated, saying that we were going to throw money away, but I convinced her with the promise that I wouldn’t go with her, that I would stay in England.”
“Why didn’t she want you to go?” I asked.
Harry looked at me and faked a smile “She didn’t want me to see her suffer, but to be honest, I would do anything to go back in time and live through all that pain-”
He stopped mid-sentence and looked at me once again, pausing. This time he looked into my eyes and I found myself looking away, remembering that I was still mad at him. All of a sudden he got up from the stool. Surprised by his sudden action, I gazed at him and saw turmoil in his expression, as if he was having an inner debate.
“So, you must be thinking that my mum sent me to this boarding school so I wouldn’t be alone at home, right?”
That idea hadn’t crossed my mind, but as I thought about it, it made sense, so I nodded my head.
“Well, that’s not exactly right,” he said. I noticed he was now fisting his hands. “Hansen is my uncle, Summer.”
My eyes widened as I took in his words. Did I hear it correctly? Was Harry actually saying that Mr Hansen, the headmaster of Hudson, was his uncle? No, that was impossible.
He was studying my reaction as I studied his. His face was serious, expectant for me to give him any kind of response.
That was when I started putting together the dots, the thousands of dots that made Harry such a complex being. It felt like I was having countless flashbacks, taking me back chronologically to every moment and every memory I had made in that school since the first day.
“That... That is why you were never expelled...” It was overwhelming the amount of information that was finally making sense in my head; finally, I had the last piece to complete the puzzle. “Mr Hansen was always protecting you... He didn’t pay John’s parents to be quiet when he died to protect the school, he was protecting you. You have always spoken to him in a way that made me nervous, leaving me wondering why you were talking to him with such audacity, but that is because he is your uncle. You were not only left here, you felt like your mum was leaving you, abandoning you as she got treatment. This school, it serves as a prison from keeping you from escaping. Now it all makes sense.”
Harry stayed quiet all throughout my speech. I looked at him, eyes wide in astonishment. He wasn’t denying anything what I was saying, which could only mean they were true, but just to make sure I asked him: “Is it true? What I said, is it true?”
He simply nodded.
My breathing was becoming heavier and my heart was beating faster as the words spilled out. Yet, my mouth couldn’t keep up with my head as I was finding it extremely difficult to make coherent phrases as the truth unravelled around me.
“Calm down,” Harry said soothingly, placing a hand on arm. With that contact I flinched away. I couldn’t calm down; I didn’t want to calm down.
“That was why you treated those kids so badly, so brutally. You were afraid and you were alone and you were mad at everyone, mad because you didn’t want to be here! You never went to class and you never cared if your name was written on The Book because you had bigger problems to worry about!”
“No, that’s wrong. I did care, I always cared! When John died God knows I cared! I just didn’t want them to know that I was weak. They couldn’t know that my father died or that my mum was sick, they couldn’t know that Hansen was my uncle-”
“And why not Harry?! Why couldn’t they know all of that?” I raised my voice now, desperate to hear the truth.
“Oh, come on Summer, don’t be so naïve! Hansen has been giving me special treatment since I can remember. Every single time I went against his rules I was to try and break him, see if he would give up in trying to stop me, but until this day I have only been driving him insane. I never achieved my goal and he always, always backed me up despite my mistakes. How would everyone react if they knew I was at this school because Hansen was my uncle?!” His voice was matching mine, loud and hurried. “How would everyone react when they found out I was not expelled because Hansen payed John’s parents to not file charges against me?”
I clenched my fists and closed my eyes as I took a deep breath. Everything was finally making sense, but instead of feeling triumphant I was feeling so much anger.
“Why haven’t you ever told me?” My voice was much lower now as we stood almost three meters away from each other. This was the only question I had no answer to.
“I wanted to, but I couldn’t. Hansen threatened me...” Harry run his fingers through his hair, pulling at its roots “He said that if you ever found out he would expel you or punish you severely. He had always known you were different, and he knew that we were in some way connected... He told me to stay away from you, but I couldn’t.”
Unexplainably, I felt sick. His words instead of soothing me only caused me to become more agitated and uncomfortable. I took a second to process his words, and I couldn’t help but applaud him for this ability to manipulate me. I knew exactly what he was doing; he was telling me the truth so I couldn’t say I was hurt, because the truth was something that exceeded his mistake. He thought that, by telling me something I wanted to hear, he could mend everything, that I would forget what he had done to me. This only made me feel more used. It made me feel like I was being played around like a doll, like a fool.
“And you decided to tell me this now because this is the last ace up your sleeve, right?” I spat. He frowned in confusion, so I continued to enlighten him.
“Tell me with honesty, would you have ever told me this if you hadn’t screwed everything between us? Would you have told me any of this if you hadn’t taken me to your room only to reject me?!” My voice was filled with pain, but I managed to look at him in the eyes. “You told me to trust you, and I did. You told me that you loved me to persuade me into saying yes...” I felt disgusted as I finally voiced what had been on my mind since what had happened “You know how low that is?! You have done many fucked up things Harry, but this is just too much-”
“I know all that, I know...” He cursed, his cheeks red from all the emotions he was surely feeling. He was panting, and his eyes were glossy “I received a letter yesterday in the morning saying that my mum is going to die! The treatment isn’t working, it’s just delaying the inevitable. She is going to die!”
My heart dropped with that furious statement. He screamed it loudly; he said it with his full lungs.
“I know I hurt you in a despicable way and nothing, absolutely nothing can justify it. But that afternoon I had made the decision to leave, to go to Germany as soon as possible. I couldn’t tell you though, because then I would have to tell you all my secrets, my dark, disgusting secrets!” Tears were accumulating in his eyes as he struggled to keep them from falling. “Please try to understand, although that is the last thing I should ask you: I couldn’t fucking tell you, and I felt lost and I just wanted to forget everything was that happening. I knew it would be the last time I would be with you, and I just wanted- I just wanted one last memory of you!” He stopped, sighed deeply and continued “Please, believe me, I only told you to leave last night because I realised that what we were doing was for all the wrong reasons and I didn’t want to hurt you by leaving the next day without telling you all of this! I can’t do this without you, I can’t leave you!”
I had never seen him like that before. It seemed as if he was going to have an emotional breakdown any second, and I had mixed feelings. My brain was telling me it was all an act to try to manipulate me into forgiving him, but I knew he was not like that. He had just told me the most devastating news anyone could ever receive, and I was being selfish enough to think that he was using that as a way to get my forgiveness.
“Are you telling me- Are you saying that you are torn between going to Germany or staying with me? Why?! That is not even a choice Harry, of course you have to go!”
“I thought that too, and even though regret is stronger than gratitude, why be haunted by something you can’t change instead of appreciating what you haven’t lost? I regret not being able to live with my mum and be with her during her remaining days, but I am so grateful for what you have done for me. The truth is my mum did nothing, while you did everything, so you deserve everything.”
“No, I can’t accept that! I’m sorry, but what you are saying is insane!” I was screaming, wondering how was it possible for him to be saying such things. In that moment it seems like the pain he had caused me was indifferent: how could I be mad at him for what he did when he was telling me he was choosing to stay with me instead of being with his mum, a chance he would never have again?
“No, it’s not,” he said, raising his hand, a signal for me to listen to him “I know this doesn’t make any sense, because for two years my biggest wish was to leave this place, to be with my mum for as long as she was able to live, and now that her days are counted, I shouldn’t be hesitating in going. But after thinking long and hard, the truth is: the moment I leave for Germany you will be more vulnerable than ever to those bitches’ comments. Your biggest fear will become a reality, and I can’t let that happen. At least if I’m here they think twice before saying shit to you.”
“If that is not enough to convince you, how about this: if I leave for Germany, I will be going all alone, I will watch my mother die alone, and then I will end up alone! What am I supposed to do then? Go back to my empty house, come back to Hudson to finish my studies? That’s bullshit! I can’t live without you, you are all I have left. I am begging you to forgive me because I need your help and to know that I won’t end up alone and miserable.”
My heart was hammering against my chest at his words. Tears were streaming down Harry’s face now, and looking at him felt like a dagger was piercing my heart.
“So you are going to stay?” I asked, a lump forming in my throat.
“Yes,” Harry responded firmly.
“What if she dies and you can’t say goodbye? Harry, you will end up resenting me if I take that away from you.”
“First of all, I would never resent you. This is my choice, and I am perfectly conscious of it,” he stated with determinacy “Second of all, if she dies...Well, she should have thought better before dumping me here to the care of someone I loathe.”
I was breathing sharply. My heart was beating at a dangerous rate once again. It was all too much for me to process, too much truth for me to handle. I couldn’t hear it anymore. I knew everything he was saying was correct, absolutely correct. The truth was crushing me, and I needed to think and breathe and get away from him.
With tears running down my face, I took the impulsive decision to turn my back to him and leave the music room, but as soon as I shut the door loudly I couldn’t move away from it. I just stood there, sobbing uncontrollably from frustration in the dark hallway, listening to the distant sound of the students in the canteen.
I didn’t know what I was more upset about: the fact that Harry was in some way manipulating me, the fact that he was only telling me the truth after I trusted him with everything, or the fact that he was going to be an orphan anytime soon. Combining those with how impotent I felt and how I couldn’t fix anything, I was losing all sanity. I could only imagine what was going on inside Harry, which was surely ten times more intense that what I was feeling.
I had always wanted to know the reasons or justifications for the way he acted, for the way he was, but now that I finally got them I felt terrible. I found out why he was so harsh to everyone, why he was so cold to Mr Hansen, why he was so reserved and was always putting on an act... Wasn’t that my personal mission since day one? Wasn’t that why I ultimately become closer to Harry, in the hopes that I would uncover his mysteries?
He was right, I was just curious all along, and at the end of the day I was the one that took an interest in him solely because of how fascinating he seemed to me. But here I was, convincing myself that he was manipulating me. What a bloody hypocrite I was.
I had never thought about the future until that moment. If he did in fact leave, would he ever come back? Would he come back to me? Would I be able to let him go with no guarantee of whether he would come back?
I sighed for what seemed like the billionth time that afternoon and leaned against the wall next to the door of the music room. Thinking was not going to help me in any way; I knew that from previous experiences, so I just stood there in silence, vacating my mind of any thoughts. Then I become conscious of my surroundings and remembered that Harry was still inside the music room. He hadn’t made an attempt to follow me. Half of me believed he had given me some space to breathe and the other half thought he needed some space to get his thoughts straight himself.
“I’m still here,” I said softly as I glued my head to the door.
“I know,” Harry responded back in a deep voice. He seemed much closer to the door than I thought he would be, and also seemed calmer.
“I can’t leave,” I said after pondering my words.
“Me neither,” he said with a much tender voice.
I stood silent for a couple of seconds, thinking what I should say next.
“Don’t you ever do what you did to me again okay?” I said, wanting to sound strong but not achieving the desired effect.
“Never in a million years,” Harry answered from the other side of the door, his voice muffled.
There was silence between us again, the cackling of the cutlery from the canteen filling the empty spaces in the air.
“You could have trusted me, you know? You could have told me about this before… You know I would have never told anyone or judge you for it. I would have shared the burden of the pain with you if only you had let me.”
Then the door opened slightly, just enough to allow me to see half of Harry’s body. I pushed the door even more as I entered the room. After closing it again, I walked closer to Harry and hugged him. Nothing really mattered now. It didn’t matter that he had hurt me or other people, it didn’t matter that I hadn’t eaten for several hours or that it was raining outside. It didn’t matter that he was failing all of his classes or that my friends had abandoned me. It didn’t matter that I was poor. Those things seemed so insignificant compared to what was happening that it even made me consider if they were problems worth of my attention and worry.
“I’m sorry for hurting you and not trusting you and making you go through avoidable emotions,” Harry said close to my ear, his arms holding me strongly.
“That’s past now. Let’s forget it.”
We stayed locked in each other’s arms for some moments. Harry’s heart was still beating fast, for I knew that even though we managed to leave our falling-outs behind, the future held its dose of problems and I knew that from that moment on every day would become more difficult than the previous one.
“I need you,” He sighed, letting his breathing drag. I could tell the adrenaline of our fight was coming down as he spoke more softly, more slowly.
“I know,” I simply replied. “I know.”