Looking back, I thought that Harry and I spent a lot of time together when we were at Hudson, meeting every single day after lessons for hours until it was time for dinner, but compared to the amount of time we now spend together, it was nothing. From morning, to afternoon, until evening, Harry was always there by my side. It didn’t feel strange being with him for twenty-four hours a day, at least not just yet. Our new life was still such a novelty to us that I felt like Harry was my only certainty, and I reckoned he felt the same. After all, I was also the only thing he knew as we travelled through strange seas, in the middle of strange people, as we ventured ourselves into strange countries and towns. We were each other’s safety, each other’s comfort in places we never before explored. I didn’t mind having him with me for the entire day, for his presence helped me distance myself from reality, that being what would happen to us after all this was over, when Mr Hansen found us, when my parents discovered I had run away.
It was almost one in the morning, but we didn’t seem to feel tired. After all, ever since we got on that train at London’s station, we had slept along the way here and there, not to mention that we had slept almost twelve hours the night before.
Despite being at sea and the wind being stronger here than on land, the night pleasant. However, the captain did warn us at the beginning of the voyage that we could experience some turbulence, and he was right. The swaying of the ferry was more intense now than before, and sometimes I struggled to keep balance on my heels. Because of that, Harry and I were sitting at the bar, a rather small but cosy section of the boat. The lights were dimmed, and the air was foggy due to the smoke of cigarettes and cigars. I wondered if Harry was feeling uncomfortable being so close to the smoke and not feeling the urge to smoke a cigarette himself, a habit which I knew was hard to break from. But he seemed totally at ease which pleased me immensely, to say the least. He did have a trick, as he told me, to abstract himself. By having a drink, he had “something to occupy his hands with”.
“Yeah, I’ll pretend I believe that is only an excuse for you to drink,” I said, sitting across from him. His body language spoke mountains of how he was feeling: his laid back posture, his arms resting the armchairs with his drink almost hanging from his right hand, one of his legs crossed over the other at a ninety-degree angle at his knee. He felt relaxed and confident, not two emotions I saw in him at the same time often.
“It’s not that strong, believe me,” he said, leaning forward and extending his drink to me, “Here, try it.”
“For me to hate it and spit it out? No thanks, I believe you,” I said, declining. Harry leaned back again, taking a sip.
“They really know how to serve here,” he said “I remember when I was a kid, I went to a party with this type of environment (and yes I did go because other kids were there and we had our own little room with fake alcohol, but we loves it), and Hansen was there with my mum and he said to his friends, I overheard the conversation, ‘It takes a master at bartending to mix the perfect drink, and sometimes the perfect drink doesn’t need half a bottle of booze’,” Harry looked at his semi-transparent drink “How right he was.”
“You usually went to parties with your mum and Mr Hansen?” I asked, making small conversation over the noise of the all the people chatting.
“Oh yes,” Harry said, leaning forward again “I figured I went because I had nowhere else to stay. They were my only family and my mum couldn’t go alone with no chaperone, so since they had nowhere to leave me I had to go with them.”
“Yeah, I see,” I didn’t have the courage in me to speak aloud that the only reason Harry’s mum needed Mr Hansen to go was because she didn’t have a husband to accompany her, or worse, she went to those parties to find a new one. I knew Harry was aware of this, and I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it, so I changed the subject.
“And what about Mr Hansen? For what you are telling me, he seems to have been a very nice uncle.”
“He was. He was like a father to me at times, but I think life and its circumstances made him became a stressful man who only cares about his own image,” Harry said, taking his glass to his lips as the ice-cubes made a clicking sound as they collided against each other, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
It saddened me to think that Mr Hansen, Harry’s only family, had turned cold and distant to Harry’s eyes, but I did not comment further as Harry’s good humour seemed to decline as we ventured more and more into his past.
“I have an idea, but I don’t know if it will work,” he said at last, placing his drink down, “Follow me.”
“I’m getting quite tired,” I said, getting up and steadying myself on my cushioned chair “Where are we going?”
Without having much choice, I followed Harry to wherever he was taking me. We left the bar and made our way down the carpeted corridor of the ferry, my heels digging into the carpet. If we were in any other setting I would have felt incredibly uncomfortable in the attire I was in, but because everyone around me was dressed the same way I didn’t feel like I stood out.
Harry stopped at the entrance of the restaurant, opening the door and revealing an empty, dark room.
“Why are we here? It’s dark and it’s probably closed for the passengers,” I said, following Harry inside, noting how much bigger the room felt without anyone inside it.
“But the door was open and it’s not even that dark,” Harry said, taking my hand, “Besides, here is the only piano of the ferry.”
My stomach fluttered at the mention of the piano. I had noticed that a jazz band was playing during dinner, and Harry seemed to have noticed it too, but with far more attention than me. For him to know that this was the only piano on the boat, it shows that he had been looking, which meant he was up to something.
“What why is this piano so special, I may ask?” I asked as we reached the piano.
“Well,” he started, tracing his fingers along the side of the grand, black piano, similar to the one at Hudson, “When I first played to you, the atmosphere wasn’t the best,” he said, looking at me with a knowing smile.
“Don’t say,” I crossed my arms, images of the time Harry told me the truth in that music room at Hudson flashing before me. It indeed wasn’t a pleasant time, to say the least.
“And I feel like, you know... I could perhaps play to you again so you don’t remember the only time I played to you in those... unpleasant times.”
I nodded, placing my elbows on the piano, Harry taking a seat.
“And besides,” he added, rolling up his sleeves “I don’t understand why you are so fascinated when I play, but you are. And the truth is, when I played to you, you were trying to show indifference (and rightly so) and you were holding back your smile. I want you to smile this time. I love it when you smile.”
I smiled even before he started playing.
“Harry, don’t be so humble. It’s impossible not to be fascinated. I mean, you told me yourself: you never learned how to play, and I don’t know if you noticed but it’s not every day that you see someone playing the piano (and as beautifully as you do) without having had a single lesson.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said, looking down at the keys, “I can barely see the keys... Can you turn that light over there?”
Harry pointed to a large floor lamp nearby and I stepped off stage to go turn it on. As soon as the lamp lit up, still not enough to bring the furthest parts of the restaurant out of darkness, the sound of the piano filled my ears. I turned around, completely taken aback by the sound that entered my ears.
The familiar relaxing yet joyful sound made my heart flutter with happiness. That song, I had heard long ago, was still the exact way as I remembered it. The mellifluous, easy vibrancy and bounciness to it was still there, the blues nuances impossible to go unnoticed, even by someone who had heard that song only once before, like myself.
“Oh, that song!” I shrilled in excitement, the song I heard Harry play for the first time filling the entire vacant room. I made my way closer to Harry, and he scooted over to let me take a seat by his side on the piano stool. With a swift movement as fast as the speed of light, Harry lifted his right arm and lifted it over my head, landing on my back and resuming playing with his right hand, not interrupting the flow and rhythm of the song.
Looking back, when I remembered hearing that melody Harry was playing now to me brought me unpleasant memories. I was reminded of how much Harry had scared me living hell out of me when he discovered I had been listening. I reminded me that I once thought of Harry as being a mysterious, intriguing person and that alone. But above all, that song reminded me that, because of my curious nature, I had crossed a line I could never step back from, that I had seen a part of Harry that was not entitled to me. With Harry now playing that same song to me and no one else, all I felt was reassurance.
“And what is this supposed to be?”
As soon as those words interrupted the graceful sound of the piano, Harry stopped playing immediately. A cold shiver ran down my spine, and even though we were with our backs turned to the source of the voice, I had no doubt that the person standing behind us was a crew member who had just caught us doing something we clearly weren’t allowed to.
Harry got up from the stool and turned to the man.
“Sir, the door was opened. We thought there would be no problem seen as we aren’t disturbing anyone.”
“Well, you disturbed me,” he said, perking his lips with his arms as stiff as sticks to demonstrate his authority.
I got up as soon as he said that, his words indicating that he was telling us to leave.
Very awkwardly I made my way off stage, trying to bring as less attention to myself as I could, but my rather shiny dress and noisy heels didn’t make that task easy.
“I’m sorry Sir, we didn’t mean to cause any problems,” I said in defence, the strict crew member not moving a muscle as he watched us leave.
I held Harry’s arm and he lead us out of the restaurant, but just before we opened the doors, the scary man said, in an uncharacteristic way:
“It’s unfortunate passengers don’t have access to the band’s instruments. If we had people like you, boy, playing like you do every night, we wouldn’t need to hire musicians.”
Harry grew uncomfortable with his comment so I answered for him.
“Yes, it is a pity... Have a good evening, Sir.”
I pulled Harry out of the room, who seemed to be paralysed after the crew member’s comment. I lead us to the elevator, in the direction if our cabin.
“Did you hear what the man said?!” I told Harry, unable to hide my excitement, “He said you were as good as his musicians! Well, not with these words but that was what he implied!”
Harry was stunned and still quite in shock at what had happened. His reaction was understandable. After all, only I had ever heard him play, so to hear such compliment from a complete stranger must be quite exciting, to say the least.
“Don’t exaggerate. He didn’t say I could replace professional musicians... He said I was good.”
“And isn’t that amazing in itself?!” I hugged him by the neck, kissing his cheek from how proud I was. It was obvious he was an incredible player, and I knew that if the man who kicked us out of the restaurant knew that Harry’s ability to play was, in fact, a gift, maybe he would have opened the doors for everyone see Harry’s beautiful talent, but I knew Harry did not see himself this way. It was normal, he never had an audience before, someone to critic him or give him an opinion. It was his first compliment coming from a complete stranger, so his humbleness was expected.
The elevator doors opened, revealing the vacant corridor which led to our cabin. The moon was already high up in the sky, shining a crystal, magnificent light on the ferry and illuminating our path.
We opened the door of our cabin, Harry walking in first and ducking his head as he did so. The first thing I did was take off my heels, my feet throbbing from the novelty of the high shoe. It felt weird to be standing on my bare flat feet, so I sat down in the only chair in the room so I could lift them off the ground.
“Wow, what a way to end our day,” I said, looking at Harry with a beaming smile.
“You bet...” He said, turning to his suitcase and looking for something inside it “Did I really play that well?”
Automatically, I burst out laughing. Was that even a question worth of my explaining?
“Harry, I have never heard anyone play like you do! It was phenomenal, and you weren’t even playing it that seriously. I can only imagine what you could do if you rehearsed and were focused. You would be next Mozart!”
Harry chuckled taking out of his suitcase his toothbrush “I’d have to learn a bit of music theory for that to happen.”
“And so you’ll learn!” I said with excitement, getting up from the uncomfortable chair and sitting on my bed “I can already see it... You, playing at a massive auditorium in front of thousands of people!”
Harry laughed again, entering the bathroom and speaking from inside “You have greater aspirations for me than I have for myself.”
“Well, you we graduate you will have to do something with your life, so why not music? That’s what you are really good at.”
Harry didn’t respond and I heard him brush his teeth. While he did so, I used that time to change into my light blue nightgown, folding the dress neatly so I could use it for the next dinner.
Harry opened the door of the bathroom as we walked out, his shirt in his hand as he sat on his bed across from me, shirtless “We’ll see what happens.”
I tried not look at his naked torso for too long, afraid that he would notice, but he seemed quite oblivious of my stare as he laid down, his hands behind his head, sighing as he relaxed.
“That was awesome, this whole night was awesome.”
“It was,” I agreed. He was so delighted that his skin was radiating happiness, making him glow. I was mesmerised by his beauty, which seemed to intensify with his good humour.
Laying there, the movement of the ship was almost unnoticeable and I felt extremely at ease. I found myself closing my eyes, even though I was awake.
“Do you want to sleep?” Harry asked in a calm voice, breaking the silence.
“Yeah, it’s almost two in the morning,” I answered, keeping my eyes closed and enjoying the stillness “I don’t know what’s the schedule of the ferry, or if there is one, but I bet we have to wake up early to get breakfast and I wouldn’t miss it even if it was the end of the world.”
“Where’s free food, Summer’s there,” Harry stated light-heartedly. I heard him get up and fumble with some clothes (I suppose they were his pyjamas) and then turning off the lights, getting into his bed.
Even though the silence was welcoming, it felt weird hearing Harry breathing next to me, but not in the same bed. It reminded me of the times we spent in the infirmary together after the burn down of the stables, which, of course, wasn’t that pleasurable. Harry seemed to be thinking the same thing as he spoke, breaking the awkward silence:
“It looks like we are roommates.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. There was silence again, but I felt like there was something missing in my response, so I added, “But we aren’t roommates.”
“No, we aren’t.”
There was silence again. I was staring at the ceiling now, feeling Harry’s presence much more intensely than before. Even though we weren’t speaking, the tension between us was increasing, because as each second that went by, I felt like there was something to be done and the more it was delayed the more tension would build.
“Harry?” I called him.
“Do you want to sleep with me?”
With that, I heard him lift his blankets instantly.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
I giggled as I moved closer to the wall in order to give Harry space to lay down. He brought his own pillow, turning it vertically in order to fit in the single bed. For us to sleep comfortably I had to almost glue myself facing the wall, Harry’s body not an inch apart from mine, our feet intertwined.
“Much better,” Harry said, smiling against my ear, taking my hair and tucking it under my neck to get it away from his face.
“You were not the only one who was disappointed by not being able sleeping together, but a small bed was never an obstacle to me,” I said, tracing Harry’s fingers.
“Good to know we share the same opinion.”
Harry kissed my shoulder, laying his head on his pillow and taking a deep breath as he relaxed and fell asleep, the warmth of his body embracing my own and making me feel safe and loved.