Harry and I were sitting at a round table by ourselves during dinner and, for the first time, we didn’t even talk about the people around us. We knew they were glaring at us as if we were dangerous animals inside a cage, we knew everyone was avoiding walking near our table, but I couldn’t care less, and neither could Harry.
Throughout the whole dinner, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He was pale, expressionless, and looked rather lost. He had expressed to me how aimless and how physically sick he felt. I knew that the shock of his mum being in a terminal stage wasn’t what was making him like this, but the fact that he desperately wanted to go but was staying because of me. I had cried because of it, telling him that I was the one torturing him and acting as an anchor, sinking him. However, he did not accept that, which was driving me insane. The truth was, no matter what he said, no matter how scientifically correct and rational his words were, I couldn’t live with myself. No matter how many times he denied it, I was the one who was making him miserable.
“Harry?” I dared to speech. He hadn’t spoken to me once that evening.
He looked up from his food.
“You haven’t eaten anything,” I observed, studying his plate which was practically full.
“I’m not that hungry,” He said, playing his fork.
“I can see that.”
There was no use in trying to persuade him to eating a little bit more. I knew exactly what he was feeling, and forcing him to swallow something down wasn’t going to help in healing his sadness.
“Do you want to go outside for a walk, it’s a lovely night,” I said a little bit more enthusiastically than before. Harry’s stiff features softened and he managed to give me a smile before getting up, leaving his food almost untouched.
I followed him out the canteen, eyes surely on our backs as we made our way out.
“Tomorrow is Sunday,” He stated as we walked down the stairs.
“And? What about it?”
“It’s letters day,” he said, glancing at the gate of Hudson far into the dark distance. “I just hope that my mum sent me a letter, or else I don’t know what to think.”
“What do you mean?”
He stopped in his tracks, and with an expression of bewilderment, he said: “What do I mean?! I mean that if she doesn’t even have the consideration of telling me with her own words what is happening, that if she doesn’t have the courage to tell her own son that she is terminal, what kind of mother is she?”
He didn’t raise his voice like I knew so well he could when exasperated, he simply held a certain accusation in his tone that I totally understood. He was afraid, like the rest of the students at that boarding school (including myself) of being forgotten, of becoming a person of no importance, connected solely to their parents by blood and not by affection. He had all the right to be nervous about letters day, I know I would be, too.
For a second I put myself in his shoes: I would be terrified at the idea that, if my mother was extremely ill, she wouldn’t tell me directly what was going on. After all, Harry found out his mum was going to die through Mr Hansen, and himself through a letter from the hospital, which was something so formal, so banal, certainly far from making up to such an important declaration.
“A letter will arrive,” I stated with confidence, in hopes that I could spark that feeling in him. “Don’t worry.”
He sighed, running his fingers through his hair “It’s so hard... There are so many things on my mind, so many things to worry about... I thought that after making a decision, I would stop thinking about this, and I am trying, but it’s so hard.”
His words tumbled from his mouth just barely making sense, and I didn’t need to decipher their meaning to understand the turmoil he was going though. It was sketched all over his face: he looked defeated, like the world was crumbling down at his feet.
I gave a step towards him and looped my arms around his shoulders. One of my hands caressed his hair while his hands wound around my waist.
“If it doesn’t arrive, it will only confirm what I already know,” his voice came almost as a whisper next to my ear “Staying is the right option, because at least you want me here. For you, I am not a burden.”
I couldn’t hear it anymore. For the last couple of days, this was the only thing that we talked about. We were distant from each other, always trying to make each other feel better while we both felt like crap.
With a swift movement, I held his cheeks in both my hands and looked at him determinedly.
“Harry, I am going with you if that is what it takes to make you go.”
His expression softened while mine seemed to become tenser as I waited for his reply. He chuckled quietly and placed his hands on top of mine, taking them in his and kissing my knuckles.
“Oh, Summer...” He trailed off but I interrupted him. I had no idea why he had reacted that way, but I was glad we weren’t shouting.
“You’re going to tell me you haven’t thought about it?”
“I have thought about it, but I cannot ask you such thing,” He claimed “I don’t want you to come with me because we would be running away from school, which is quite serious and might involve the police if Hansen reports us, your parents would definitely not allow it so you would be technically running away, you wouldn’t do your exams - and let me remind you that without them you won’t pass to form twelve and you won’t graduate. I would be basically taking away your future and getting you into serious trouble, and if one of us is going to be successful, it’s you.”
I cursed under my breath in frustration. It irritated me profoundly that he was always right. He was always a step ahead of me despite being the one with the most things to worry about: he had thought of everything, he knew all the possibilities that could happen and all the thing that could go wrong. He knew the pros and cons of every single action we could take, and he could predict the future with a clear mind although he was clouded with so much feelings. I wish I had that superpower.
“You’re right, as always,” I voiced my thoughts with a defeated tone. What was I supposed to do now to help him?
“But I do thank you very much,” He smiled sincerely, his eyes wrinkling and dimples showing as he made circles with his thumbs on my hands.
What else could I do? Nothing, there was nothing else I could other than take his mind off of this painful subject, so I just kissed him.
My move took as both by surprise as I acted on instinct. I could practically feel Harry relax instantly. Only then did I realise how we hadn’t kissed since that night in his room and how I missed him close to me.
“I love you, Harry,” I said with all the honesty in the world.
“Thank you,” He said, leaving me quite confused, “For loving me.”
That boy was unbelievable. In spite of all we had been through, in spite of his fragile situation, and in spite of him knowing perfectly well that I loved him more than any other living thing on the planet, he was still grateful for that small gesture of me verbalising my love for him, which made no sense. Why would he feel the need to thank me if he knew it perfectly well? Something in me told me it was because he thought that he was hard to love.
“I will take that as an ‘I love you, too.’” I chuckled, Harry mimicking my laugh.
“Please do,” he said “And I further add: from this moment on, I promise, we will never be apart. Whatever happens from now on, we will be there for each other until the end, and someday we will be far away from here and we will be as happy as happy can be!”
His words melted my heart and warmed my entire body in the most comforting way imaginable.
“I can’t wait!” I smiled genuinely, throwing my arms around him. Harry was taken aback by my sudden action of tackling him and lost his balance as he fell on the ground. We laughed uncontrollably at the situation. With my arms still wrapped around his shoulders, I lifted myself upwards. He was supported on one if his elbows, his head was tilted down as he laughed along with me, creating a beautiful melody that seemed so rare. Us laughing, at a time like that…
“This reminds me of when we went ice-skating,” He said, bringing himself to his feet and helping me up.
“Oh yes!” Images from that afternoon flashed across my mind, taking me back to the Winter holidays “Simpler times.”
“You bet,” He agreed with my statement as we continued walking aimlessly through the gardens, the only light coming from the lamp-posts to guide our way.
“So,” he continued, “Do you know what date it is tomorrow, besides letters day?”
He knew perfectly well that I knew it was his birthday, so he cast me a half smirk as I took his hand in mine, intertwining our fingers.
“Oh, you mean the first of February, the day when France declared war on the United States during the French Revolutionary War in 1793, or do you mean the National Freedom Day in the United States?”
Harry, much taken by surprise, stared at me blankly as I waited for his response. After a couple of seconds of looking at me sceptically in silence (and me trying to keep a straight face), suddenly he cracked up laughing.
“How do you know that stuff?!” He asked between laughs.
“Well, I like History,” I shrugged my shoulders.
“I can see that!” He said as if it was obvious, never losing that hint of amusement.
I scooted closer to him, hugging tighter the arm I was already holding.
“I’m glad you are looking forward to your birthday,” I said, happy that he was thinking about something else rather than his mother.
“I am,” he replied “You know, I told Hansen a while ago that the moment I turned eighteen I would leave...I think I should keep my promise.”
“What do you mean?” I furrowed my eyebrows “You just told me that you weren’t going to leave.”
“I told you I wasn’t going to Germany, but I can go elsewhere,” Once again, he gave me that mischievous half smirk.
“Hum, I see… What do you have in mind Harry?”
“Well, we could to London. We leave in the morning and only come back in the evening. We spend all my money on anything we want, anything! If we get lucky Hansen will think that we left and have a heart-attack. That would be the ultimate birthday present!”
“Harry, we can’t do that, it’s wrong in so many ways,” I told him, but he insisted on his idea.
“We could go have lunch at the most expensive restaurant and go for a walk at Hyde Park and explore the city and go to the theatre and-”
“Harry, calm down, I get it!” I giggled at his excitement. It was really hard for me to bring him back down to reality - it was, in fact, the last thing I wanted to do - but it had to be done. “I am not going to let you spend all of your money on useless things. Besides, Mr Hansen will expel me and send me back home when we come back from our little trip.”
“He can’t expel you like that,” He stated simply.
“You told me yourself he can, remember?” I raised an eyebrow at him. He looked at the ground, silently agreeing with my statement.
“Okay fine,” he finally caved in “As long as I am with you, we can do whatever.”
“I was actually planning on surprising you with something, but I don’t know if it’s going to work.”
“Can I know what it is?” He asked.
“Don’t be stupid,” I answered simply, earning yet another laugh from him “If I told you it would ruin everything. Just know that it won’t be what I wanted to give you in the first place...”
“And what was it you intended to give me?”
“Well,” I started “The first time I saw you, well actually the second time, you were writing on this notebook at the canteen, and one time when we went to the city, we passed by this stationer and I thought that I could get you a new one, but...”
“But?” He insisted.
“I- I don’t have any money left,” I said with embarrassment. I could feel my cheeks turning red and my ears burning hot as I said it aloud, bringing once again that dreadful topic that haunted me every day to the table “It’s all gone. I wasted it all on sweets and stupid stuff... That present was perfect, absolutely perfect, and I can’t give it to you.”
“Oh Summer,” Harry sighed, holding me to a stop so I could face him “You don’t have to buy me anything, and you mustn’t feel like you are letting me down if you don’t.”
“I just wanted to give you a present that was as special as the bicycle you gave me,” I explained, dropping my head.
He didn’t respond immediately, just stood there, trying to read my features with a frown on his face.
“You don’t have to make up for anything, okay?” He said softly, but full of conviction “I don’t want you to think that you need to match the presents I gave you, because you don’t. Summer... Just because a present is expensive doesn’t mean it’s better.”
“But it wasn’t even that expensive, I just didn’t have any money,” I told him.
“If it was expensive for you, it was expensive for me... Besides, do you even know what I used that notebook for?”
I shook my head negatively. He chuckled for what seemed like the fifth time that evening “I was writing what I really wanted to say to my mum, you know, the truth about this school.”
That caught me by surprise “What did you tell her when you wrote to her then?”
“Mostly lies,” he said with sincerity “I sugar-coated everything, so basically I told her lies.”
“You sugar-coated what, exactly?”
“I told her that everything was okay, that I wasn’t getting in trouble and that I was fine.”
“Why didn’t you tell her the truth?” I asked him, although I already knew the answer.
“Why make her feel ashamed of her son, especially when she already felt bad for making me stay?” He said “Why make her suffer even more?”
And yet again, Harry managed to surprise me in a positive way.
“So you basically wrote what you would like to tell her in that notebook?” I asked him.
“Yeah, basically, but now it doesn’t matter,” he shook his head “The point is, I would much rather have your company than a stupid, meaningless present.”
“But I wanted to give you present,” I told him, whining like a small child. I felt so stupid, not being able to give him a simple present. It was times like these that reality sunk in, that I was reminded of who I really was and how truly ashamed I felt of being who I was.
“I know,” He said, and with that, he pulled me closer to him, hugging me tightly and kissing my forehead, leaving his lips planted there for some lingering seconds.
“Thank you,” I repeated his words, a lump forming at the bottom of my throat.
“For loving me as well,” I said, trying as hard as possible to keep myself from crying.
And with that, I felt his lips crash into mine like I had done to him before, but this time it was different. He wasn’t kissing me to heal my sadness, or to try and prove that he would stay with me forever, or anything like that: he was just expressing how much he loved me, and that was all I needed.