We walked together towards the main building to eat our usual breakfast. It was still early in the morning, and no one would take their breakfast at eight on a Sunday, so we had practically the canteen for ourselves, with the exception of some teachers.
We sat at a round table, which we normally wouldn’t since it called too much undesired attention.
“The Book is also being updated today,” Summer said out of the blue as she started eating.
“And?” I raised an eyebrow at her, clearly stating how disinterested I was on the matter.
“I have been thinking about it, you know?” she started, capturing my attention “Don’t you think it’s wrong to punish these students this way? I mean, it is a hundred times more effective than putting them in detention or making them clean chalkboards, but embarrassing them in front of everyone? Humiliate them? That doesn’t seem just to me.”
“Summer, we both know that The Book is a sick joke,” I commented, but was soon bored with the subject we had already discussed thousands of times “But enough of it.”
“It’s just so wrong, and nobody seems to notice...” she muttered, more to herself than to me. She looked at the ground, her eyebrows knitted together, deep in thought. I wanted to hear all that was going through her head, discuss with her all that troubled her, but I couldn’t even manage to take a spoon full of my cereals without feeling the white envelope move within the inside pocket of my blazer and remember all that it contained.
Suddenly, Summer rose her eyes to meet mine and took a sharp, almost inaudible breath. She then directed her gaze to the great round clock at the back of the canteen. She grinned, leaving me somewhat confused.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I need you to go to the music room,” she said, her eyes suddenly glowing.
“Right now?” I furrowed my eyebrows in confusion and pointed in the direction of the door.
“Yes! Right now!” Summer said quickly, scanning the room as if someone might be looking for her.
“But Summer-” I tried to call her, but she didn’t listen as she told me once again to go down to the music room.
“There are going to be lessons going on down there!” I finally managed to say with a chuckle at the end. It only made sense that she was only acting this way because she was planning something for my birthday, and it amused me because she was trying really hard to make it all a surprise, but failing miserably. I tried to go along with it and pretend I wasn’t aware of her sudden change in behaviour.
“Oh, you’re right... Then go outside and wait by that bench. You know, our bench.”
“Yeah, our bench...” I repeated, finding her choice of words endearing. It was indeed our bench.
I had never thought about it until that moment; that bench, that weather-beaten wooden bench was part of us, part of our history. It was where we spent the afternoons together during the Winter holidays, where we spend New Year’s eve together, where I found out about her secret, where I first kissed her. It was our safe spot, it belonged to us.
I was so lost in thought that I haven’t even hear her as she called me again.
“Go! Now!” she laughed as she said the words joyfully, clearly excited. Without no further due, I got up and walked outside, intrigued by what was in fact my present.
As Harry walked out of the canteen, I made my way towards the kitchen. The number of hungry students had increased, and now about thirty were sitting at the tables of the canteen. From all the people that were there, my eyes landed on Mr Hansen who walked in moments after Harry had left. He looked impeccable as always, his suit neat and his hair tidy. I wondered if we were, perhaps, on the same level of knowledge regarding Harry’s mum. Did I know all that he knew? I was sure that were we, in some way, parallel in consciousness. Yet, he had no idea that I had his knowledge, which made me feel powerful.
I watched the man walk, and although he tried to hide his sadness with his expensive clothes, I noticed the melancholy in his eyes, the idly way he walked, the despondency in the slope of his shoulders. He looked a bit like Harry, I noted.
Of course, he had no idea I was searching, in fact noticing those negligible signs of sadness. Why would he? I only noticed because I was looking for them, and as far as he knew, nobody was aware of his connection to Harry, so nobody would notice his subtle change in disposition.
I entered the kitchen, and just as I walked down the short three-step stairs, I heard Mr Hansen’s voice call my name.
“You can’t go in there,” He boomed, much as to startle me. That was something I detested about teachers; they thought they would impose authority by shouting and scaring the students rather than by being respected.
“I am just going to get something; I’ll leave right away.”
By now, the cooks had all noticed what was going on and lifted their heads up from the counters to watch the scene.
“Did you not hear me? Out! You are out of bounds,” He insisted.
Boldly, I corrected him “Actually, it does not say in the rules that students cannot enter the kitchen, so no, I am not out of bounds.”
Mr Hansen’s face turned bright red as his anger rose. I thought he was going to shout at me again when I felt Ms Brame’s hand touch my shoulder.
“Good mornin’ Mr Hansen. I talked with Summer this mornin’, she isn’t an intruder. I actually asked ’er to come ‘ere to ge’ ’er birthday cek. You see, she came ’ere yesterday with a cek and asked meh if we could store it in our refrigerators, and we couldn’t say nor. After all, we ’ave plenty of space.”
As she went on with the very intelligent, complex lie. I looked at Daisy from across the room. She was secretly covering the cake with the chocolate ganache, making the cake look perfect and placing it inside a carton box.
She walked up towards us while Ms Brame told the most elaborate story I have ever heard. Still, it was extremely convincing. After all, she was trying to save her job more than she was trying to avoid me from being punished; if Mr Hansen found out that the cake was made in that kitchen, she was surely in trouble.
Mr Hansen’s eyes landed on Daisy as she handed me the box. He did not notice, however, the small note she passed me from under her apron and the wink she gave me as she walked back to her working station.
“Here it is!” I said loudly, interrupting Ms Brame’s speech, “Well, thank you again Ms Brame, for storing the cake. Next time I will buy the cake on the day and save you the trouble I caused.”
And with that I left, the cake warm in my hands.
“Summer, come back here,” Mr Hansen called again. I rolled my eyes, but turned around as he asked, “Who is that cake for?”
That question stunned me because it was obvious he knew the answer. He was just trying to see if I dared to say it was for Harry, and for a split second, I had an urge to spit on his face. I was not sure if he was mocking me by asking a rhetorical question or if he had really forgotten that it was Harry’s, his own nephew’s birthday. Either way, both reasons repulsed me, and I couldn’t hold my tongue.
I inched forward, and with a low voice said “What a pity...you’ve forgotten your nephew’s birthday.”
If it wasn’t for the amount of people in that canteen, I could swear he would have slapped me. I relished on his furious expression for a few seconds and walked away triumphantly. God, how good it felt to say that! I knew I would soon regret slipping out that information because it meant that the great power I had over him was no longer effective. He could come up with some lame excuse and expel me, but that ultimate punishment, that ultimate embarrassment I would have to endure was the last thing I would be concern about if he indeed expelled me to avoid me telling everyone his secret.
The cake’s warmth was being transferred to the carton box and onto both my hands as I held it close to my chest. I finally opened the note Daisy gave me.
I gave it some finishing touches. It turned out great!
Is it just me or is he in a bad mood today?
Hope to see you soon.
I smiled at the note and put it away, mounting my bicycle and placing the cake carefully inside the small basket. It barely fit, so I just prayed it wouldn’t fall off as I cycled downhill into the forest, reaching an overwhelming speed that made me forget about the recent events.
After a while of staring in the direction of the main building, I noticed the red bicycle coming in my direction. I watched her as she came down the hill, not hitting the breaks once. Her hair was flying backwards and I even thought she would suddenly lift off and fly, as if an aeroplane. One day, I promised myself, I would fly one, and if I could, I would take her with me.
Summer was still far away when she shouted for me to close my eyes, and I did as instructed. By the sound of the wheels of the bicycle, I could tell she was closer by the second. She then came to a stop, and I heard her lean the bicycle against a tree.
“Don’t open your eyes!” she shrilled with excitement.
“Summer, if this is my birthday present I am telling you again that you didn’t have to get me anything-”
She interrupted me by telling me to open my eyes. I could hear her feet jumping up and down on the grass, and it was incredibly hard to contain my excitement. Everything she did was contagious.
I opened my eyes and in front of me was a cake, and not just an ordinary cake, a chocolate cake, slightly bigger than the palm of my hand. Summer’s eyes were glimmering with happiness, and her whole self was beaming as she took in my reaction.
“Oh Summer, you didn’t have to buy me-”
“I didn’t! I baked it myself!” she said proudly.
“What?! No way. How?” I asked, staring at the delicious looking cake.
“I woke up really early and I went to the kitchen and I asked if I could bake a cake and this really nice young woman, Daisy, she helped me do it and well, here it is!”
I was speechless. First of all, I had never heard of anyone who had step foot in that kitchen, much less cook anything. How she managed to convince the cooks to let her do it was something out of the ordinary, but I was not surprised. No one could say no to that girl, that beautiful, honest, genuine girl.
It felt like my heart was on fire. The warmth that I felt throughout my body was incredibly comforting. It was impossible to contain my smile, impossible not to feel happy.
“Finally it feels like a real birthday,” I said, looking at the sky. I hadn’t eaten a birthday cake in two years, neither mine or anyone else’s. I hadn’t even realised how much I missed it until it was in front of my eyes. It felt like home.
A suffocating knot as starting to form at the bottom of my throat right before I heard Summer’s voice.
“Let’s dig in?” I turned my head towards her and she had two napkins and a knife in her hand with a smug look on her face.
We sat down at our bench and started to eat. She apologised for the lack of candles, and I immediately told her to forget about it, saying everything was perfect. I wasn’t saying that just to please her, the cake was actually delicious with the chocolate melting in my mouth.
Summer, I noticed, was awfully quiet while we ate. There was something bothering her, I could tell.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her, taking another slice from the cake.
“I encountered Mr Hansen this morning before going to the kitchen. He stopped me, which I was not surprised, but what shocked me was, after I got the cake, he asked who it was for.”
Her lips were closed in a tight line, her eyebrows lowered, her eyes looking straight forward.
“He asked me who it was for,” she repeated, shaking her head “I am not sure if he asked that to mock me or if he had forgotten altogether, but either way, I felt like it was my duty to remind him that it was his nephew’s birthday since he couldn’t remember, so that was what I did.”
“You did what?!”
“You hear me, I told him that is was your birthday. He should be celebrating it because he knows you have no one here, no family to send you a card. He knows you are suffering. He deserved hearing it and I would do it again.”
I just stared at her, not knowing what to say.
“I’m sorry...” she said innocently at the end, hoping that I wasn’t mad.
I should have been extremely angry actually. I asked her, above all things, not to let him find out that she knew he was my uncle. I told her the consequences of doing so, which could result in her expulsion, but as I thought about it, being expelled wasn’t that bad.
It meant she could come with me.
“I’m not angry,” I soothed her “But you will have to tell me how he reacted.”
“He was furious! He looked like a red tomato about to explode!”
We laughed at his expense, feeling power over him now that we acknowledged that he couldn’t lay a finger on us.
It was a strange feeling. We were in the middle of the storm, in the middle of the destruction, yet we were at peace. We had no reason to be laughing, no reason to be celebrating, no reason to feel invincible, but we did. We did and it felt right.
“Come with me,” I told her quietly, inching forward “Come with me to Germany and I swear I will bring you back home once it’s all over.”
Those words. Finally, out. I knew she knew I was dying to ask her, and I also knew what her answer would be, but I had to ask. I knew it went against all logic, and all that I had told her that day in the music room was the truth, but in another life, in another fantasy, she would say yes.
“I can’t,” she gave me a sympathetic smile, “You said it yourself.”
“I know what I said, but- but I just wanted to believe for a second that this reality wasn’t the truth, that this world wasn’t so cruel and that we could just leave with no responsibilities or consequences or anything.”
Summer pulled me closer to her and hugged me, breathing into my neck.
“I walked past Hansen this morning,” I dared to break the comfortable silence as I held her in my arms “He didn’t even look at me, and I know I shouldn’t be sad about it because I hate him, but it’s his duty, he had to at least smile at me, or something... He is still my uncle after all.”
“He is one of them, Harry,” she said, referring the students at Hudson, her breath tickling my neck “Don’t expect him to be any different.”
I sighed, agreeing with the harsh truth.
“I will give him the boat tickets tomorrow. I will let him decide what to do with them. I don’t want to carry this burden anymore.”