My plan was almost perfect. Indeed, it could go terribly wrong, but if it went just as I planned, it would be perfect, although I would need all the luck in the world to pull it off.
The idea for Harry’s present came to me as I thought about what I had always wanted on my birthday: a cake. My mother would always bake one herself, but it was always a simple, bland butter cake. I didn’t blame her for saving up on ingredients, but I had always wanted to be surprised with a colourful, delicious cake with intricate flavours. That wish had never been granted, but now I had the opportunity to turn it into a reality.
Since I didn’t have any money left, my plan was to ask the cooks if I could use their kitchen to bake a cake myself. I could use all of their vast ingredients, and no student would find out since no one entered the kitchen. If the cooks asked who the cake was for I would say it was for Anna. I had a recipe and everything. In all honesty, it sounded easier in my head, but I had to try although I was perfectly aware that getting that yes would be incredibly hard to get. I didn’t know of anyone who had ever stepped foot in that kitchen, much less cook in it. It was a long shot, and if I received a no for an answer, I would have nothing to offer Harry.
The more I thought about it, the more I liked my present. For sure Harry hadn’t had a birthday cake when he turned seventeen the year before. I had always thought that the cake was the most important part of the celebration, blowing out the candles being a permanent mark of the end of yet another year and the start of another. It was strange to imagine that he hadn’t had that. How lonely he must have felt.
Shaking those thoughts away, I focused on the plan. My plan was to meet up with Harry in the morning at Hudson’s gate where he would be to see if there was a letter for him, but before that (and without him knowing) I had to go to the kitchen and make the cake, otherwise I wouldn’t have time to do it afterwards.
I had placed my alarm clock under my pillow so that the noise would not wake up Anna, Amanda, Lottie, and Lucy. I set it to seven, way earlier than anyone would wake up on a Sunday, and surely Harry would still be asleep, giving me enough time to go to the kitchen, beg on my knees for the cooks to let me bake a small cake, and surprise Harry.
That night I barely slept, but the reason for such restlessness was the contrary to what I was accustomed to; I was beyond excited. After all, all odds were against me at succeeding this unattainable task, but even so, I was thrilled to simply try. I eventually fell asleep only to wake up what felt like seconds later. I jumped as the alarm clock sounded underneath my pillow, turning it off almost instantly. I looked around the room, but I could only see darkness. Although one of my five senses was useless, I listened attentively. The girls continued to sleep peacefully judging by their steady breathing.
I lost no time and got out of bed as silently as I could, fetching my uniform and changing as quietly as possible in the dark. Once ready, I started walking towards the door, trying to make the least amount of noise possible. The door squeaked as I opened it, and I immediately stopped. I heard one of the girls shift on the bed and I internally cursed at myself. I opened the door just enough for my body to pass through, and as soon as I was out of the room, I sighed in relief.
The walk to the front door of Hall A was quite a task as I felt like someone would jump out of nowhere and scare the living hell out of me. That building reminded me of a haunted house: the old wooden floors, the long curtains that touched the ground, the dark corners and the heavy furniture all combined creating a spooky atmosphere, especially at that time in the morning when everyone was asleep.
The cool air from outside was welcoming as I ran towards the main building. As I ran I looked around me: not a single soul could be seen. The only thing I could hear was the singing of the mockingbirds and the croaking frog from the lake that had now melted entirely. I found it incredibly peaceful, and it brought a smile to my lips.
I eventually reached the main building and entered through the back door, avoiding making a grand appearance through the front door. Once inside, I could hear the distant sound of dishes clattering coming from the kitchen, making me instantly regret the idea, but it was too late to go back. I entered the canteen and walked towards the entrance of the kitchen. I didn’t know of anyone who had ever stepped foot inside that kitchen, which both frightened and thrilled me. Now that I was closer to the source of the noise, I could clearly distinct women’s voices from inside.
The door that gave access to the kitchen was opened so I looked inside. For my surprise, there were only a few cooks inside, much less than I imagined. I had also imagined that it would be chaotic, a complete mess of pans and dishes flying around, but everything seemed to be in order. Nevertheless, the few cooks were making much more noise than they should. They were having breakfast themselves as they chattered happily at the centre wooden table.
Anxiously, I knocked at the wooden door that separated the kitchen from the canteen. My action was almost inaudible and my presence wasn’t noticed as I stood awkwardly at the door, the women continued laughing as they ate. The second time, I fisted my hand and knocked way louder than my first attempt of being noticed. One of them looked in my direction, and the other six heads followed.
“Good morning,” I said shyly in a low tone. They all stared at me as if I had grown three heads, which made me incredibly self-conscious. Saying that I started to regret the plan was an understatement.
“Good mornin!” One of the seven ladies said in a thick, Yorkshire accent “Wha ah thee doin up so early? Breakfast is only served at nine durin the weekend.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know that,” I conceded “I am actually here to ask if I could perhaps... Bake a cake?”
I held my hands tightly together behind my back as I took a step inside the massive room. The cooks looked at each other, puzzled with my surely strange request. They all seemed very amused though, as they all smiled at me.
The cook that had talked to me widened her eyes in surprise “Wha? Bek a cek?”
“Yes. It’s for a friend of mine, it’s his- her, her birthday today! Her birthday,” I fumbled with my words. I was so embarrassed I could feel my cheeks turn bright red.
“Wha a biza request!” Another much younger woman exclaimed, her accent equally thick as the other cooks’ “No un has eva asked us permission for such thin befo!”
“Everyone prefers to buy one, but I think it is much special to bake one, don’t you think? And oh, this is going to be a surprise, she knows nothing about it!”
“How thoughtful of yer. Yer a good frien!” The young cook added. “By the weh, wha’s yer neme dear?”
I was about to answer when yet another woman intervened. She was the oldest of them all, and was the only one with her arms crossed over chest with a displeased look. Her voluptuous figure rose once she started to speak.
“’Old yo ’orses miz!” She said, waving her finger in front of my face. Her accent was so thick she didn’t even pronounce the ‘h’s, making it incredibly hard to understand “It meh be early buh service will star’ in two hours! There iz nor time foh you to bek a cek!”
“Oh but I can make it in just five minutes and leave it in the oven! Look, I even have the recipe,” I waved my hand-written recipe in front of them. The young cook that had talked before this older one, who seemed the most excited, got up from her wooden chair and, after cleaning her hands to her apron, took it in her hands.
“A buh’er ceke? Hell fire! That’s propah nasteh! This is not suitable foh a birthday cek!”
“I only know how to bake this one,” I said with honesty.
“Yer kno’ wha’?” She exclaimed “I fink a chocla’ ceke would be pefect, and I can help yer do it!”
“Daisy, will you stop it!” The prior cook commanded “We canno’ just give ou’ ingredients to a lass who asks us nicely, nor mah’er her reason. The gaffer would ’ave kicked ‘er ou’ at once if she was here.”
“The gaffer?” I asked, wondering what that word meant. Their heavy accents were making the conversation hard to follow, but I did my best to try to understand vaguely what it was they were discussing.
“She is not feelin’ well, and we can’t ‘ave someone wi’ the flu int kitchen, so she appointed Mrs Brame as ’er substitute until she gets beh’er,” the girl Daisy who stood with my recipe in her hand said. She surely was referring to Mrs Brame as the women that was not in favour of my idea. “Mrs Brame, it’s just a cek. It will cause nor faffing.”
“Besides,” I dared to speak “Most people only come for breakfast at ten, especially on a Sunday.”
The cooks all looked at Mrs Brame expectantly.
“And don’t forget Lily and Gwen ar’ comin’ down any minute now, so we will ‘ave more people fo’ the service,” The first woman who spoke to me added. In gratitude, I gave her a small smile from across the room.
I looked at Mrs Brame as she crossed her arms in front of her, showing her authority.
“We neve’ ‘ad a student in this kitchen, especially at this time in the mornin’ to bek a cek foh a friend,” she said “I like your spiri’. Daisy, I give tha twenty minutes to help this doll beke that ceke.”
I felt like fireworks were exploding inside me. I could not believe it. I was a shot in the dark, but I hit the bull’s eye. I felt so much gratitude towards Mrs Brame that I couldn’t help myself and reached forward to hug her. Although she was wearing a stained apron, was three times my size, and was sweating like a pig, I held on to her for dear life. I could hear the other cooks in the background, as if a choir, going “aww”, adoring the scene in front of them.
“Tha arh wastin’ precious time! “she said exasperatedly. Mrs. Brame didn’t say it in an offensive way, which I found most sweet.
“Yes ma’am!” I said, and Daisy led me into the pantry to get our ingredients.
As she had suggested, we made a chocolate cake and even a chocolate ganache to cover the entire cake once it as cooked. I felt like I was in cloud nine. Daisy was so nice to me, and even though we had to bake the cake as quickly as possible, she managed to teach me some tricks to make the perfect cake. I did find her accent hilarious since it was so thick, and we occasional laughed when I didn’t understand what she said. She told me about herself and why she was working at Hudson, and we instantly bonded.
Once the cake was in the oven I asked Daisy when I should come back for the finishing touches.
“In bou’ twenty-five minutes the cek should be ready,” she said “Now if thee excuse me Summer, I have to go back to work or Mrs Brame will be playin pop at me. Thee arh a reight gud sooart”
I gave her a sympathetic smile, not really sure what she meant, and left at once, leaving the chaos that had settled around me and into the calmness of the still vacant canteen.
There were just a few students waiting for the postman to arrive with the letters. I stood at a fair distance, just enough to notice when he arrived and but far away enough for no one to be bothered with my presence.
As I stood there, leaning against the wall that surrounded Hudson with my hands inside my pockets, I couldn’t suppress the nerves that quickly formed at the pit of my stomach. How much I craved a cigarette in that moment. To make it worse, Summer was nowhere to be seen. I knew she was probably getting dressed or still asleep, but I knew that she would come to my rescue in no time. Until then, I was alone with my thoughts and fears.
I knew there were two possible outcomes regarding the letter: the first being that the letter, in fact, did not exist. The second one would be my mother saying that she would die, and since she would tell me not to go to Germany, it would end with her farewell.
I didn’t know which one was worse.
At last the postman arrived, and instantly the kids approached him to get their letters. I had the urge to shove them all aside or even trample over them, but I stood back and waited for them all to leave. I didn’t want to cause any problems.
“Harry Edwards,” I stated my name to the postman once I reached him.
He rummaged inside his truck as he whistled happily. He tried to make small talk as he searched, and I made a huge effort not to get inside the truck and search myself. He was taking too long.
“I don’t think there is any son,” he said, my heart dropping to my feet “Ah! Wait a second, here it is!”
He handed me the white letter with a German stamp. I thought I would be happy once I had a letter in my hands, hoping that it would give me some kind of consolation, but it didn’t change how I was feeling. In fact, I made me feel worse than I already was.
“Are you okay boy?” The old man asked me. I blinked at him, forgetting for a second the postman was talking to me.
“Yeah yeah, just fine,” I said, and with that I left him and walked away.
I was incredibly reluctant to open it. I knew what words awaited me, and I wasn’t ready to read them. Once I knew them, I could not un-know them, but I knew I had to read it. After all, I had wished for it with all my heart. I had to live up to my wishes, even if I had changed my mind.
Cautiously, I opened the letter. Right away I noticed that the envelope did not just contain a letter, but also two rather small papers. I took them out and I could not believe what they were: two boat tickets, from the port of Tilbury, in Essex to the port of Hamburg, in Germany.
With shaky hands, I opened the letter and read it.
My dearest Harry,
I have spent the last couple of days trying to figure out what to say to you. I have written thousands of letters, but none seemed to be adequate. I don’t believe this one is good enough either, but truly, is there such?
I am sure that you already know my fate. Forgive me, I did not keep my promise. I am not able to go back to England, although I would do anything to be able to do so. However, that is not my biggest and final wish. My final wish is to see you. I am too weak to endure the journey, but you and your uncle are not. I bought these tickets for both of you to come visit me, and I beg you to leave England as soon as possible, for I know that the journey will be long.
I had asked doctor Neumann to keep me alive for as long as possible, taking in consideration that my last wish would be to see you. He said that he will do so to the best of his ability, although he guarantees me that, even doing so, I only have a couple of weeks. For the look in his eyes, I am afraid even less.
Harry, you must understand that, despite all the chemicals they will inject in my body every day to keep me alive, time is running out. You have to come here, to the city of Bonn, where I am staying at the St. Johannes Hospital.
Don’t be afraid. You have uncle Gerald by your side all the way here. When you two arrive I shall thank him for everything he has done for our family.
I will patiently await you, and in case this letter arrives on your birthday that is very soon, happy birthday my love. Can’t wait to see the grown man you’ve become.
My heart was beating at an irregular rate as I looked around me. This was not what I expected, at all. It was, however, the only thing that I had secretly wished for.
With the tickets and the letter in my hand, I saw Summer in the distance walking towards me. Her face was glowing with happiness, her eyes shining as she gave me the sincerest smile from the distance. She really was an angle. After all, momentarily, she managed to distract me from the two things in my hands, which was quite the feat.
“Happy birthday!” She said as she, once again, tackled me as if she was a bear. She had the tendency to do so, and I smiled at that characteristic that I loved about her.
“Thank you, my love,” I replied, earning a peck on the lips that should have lasted a little longer.
“I see you got a letter. I told you so, but... But what is that?” she asked “Are those-?”
“Boat tickets. Two. One for me, and one for Hansen.”
There was silence. Summer took a slight step away from me, as if entering in a bubble of thought. That was yet another thing I loved about her, I didn’t need to explain everything from the beginning for her to understand, she knew what those tickets meant.
“Harry, you are going,” She said sternly, looking at the tickets.
“I don’t want to leave you here.”
“But now you know for sure that your mother wants to see you!” She replied.
I sighed “I have to think about this...”
“No, you don’t,” she shook her head, cupping both of my cheeks “Go give the tickets to Mr Hansen. He will know what to do with them.”
“I can’t do that or I will have to explain why I don’t want to go. Besides, I don’t want to give him these tickets, that’s insane.”
“Harry, one of those tickets belongs to him. Your mum wants him to have it,” She insisted, although her tone wasn’t hurried or harsh.
“She only gave him one because she doesn’t know anyone else in this school that would be able to come with me to Germany,” The words tumbled out of my mouth.
She didn’t say anything; she didn’t have to. She knew I was referring to her, although it was the last thing I wanted to say.
We didn’t say anything for a couple of seconds, just looked at each other. I was terrified of the obvious truth that was hanging above our heads like a cloud; we didn’t need to speak to know it. I implied that she could come with me instead of Hansen. In my heart, it made so much more sense. Hansen could never give me the strength or the courage to go on such journey like Summer would, which would certainly be more emotionally taxing than physical. The only person I could envision by my side all the way was her. Only her.
She knew all that, so she didn’t speak.
Summer looked at the main building that was just behind us “Can we go eat now? We haven’t even eaten and we are already talking about serious things. That is not healthy.”
“Summer, stop that. This isn’t funny,” For as much as I agreed with her, I wasn’t in the mood to adjourn the problem. I couldn’t get my mind off it until I reached a conclusion.
With a frustrated sigh, she said “It just pains me to see you so worried and sad on your birthday. So being that said, I am proposing a solution: you put the letter and the tickets away, and then tomorrow we decide what to do. Don’t even tell Mr Hansen that you got the tickets, just forget that they exist for a day. Can you do that?”
For as hard as it would be, I nodded for her sake.
“Besides, you are going to be receiving the best birthday present ever!”
That took me by surprise.
“What? Summer, I told you I didn’t want anything-”
“Calm down Mr Selfless, I didn’t waste any money. And to make you even happier, it’s a present we can both enjoy. How does that sound?”
I paused, taking in her words.
“In all honesty, incredibly sexual,” I couldn’t stop grinning as I said it, raising an eyebrow at her. Summer covered her mouth with both hands and widened her eyes. The laughter that followed was divine. I was more amused by watching her cheeks turn scarlet and her swatting my arm than what I had actually said, which by itself was already hilarious.
“Stop, you ruined everything!” She shrilled, unable to hold her laughter.
“Did I really? Looks like I did the exact opposite,” I said, smirking at her. Pulling her closer, I kissed her, right there in the open. It was amazing how, with her presence, I changed into a lively, perky, joyful person. She managed to put everything that bothered me tremendously in the background for a while. That was quite extraordinary.
“Okay,” I stated after pulling back, a smile sketched on my face “Let’s go have breakfast.”