The first thing I noticed when I woke up from sleep was how sore my body was. I moved my shoulders and I felt a tingling pain. I lifted my arm, unable to do so due to a weight over it. I opened my eyes and Summer’s arm was resting above mine as she reached over my torso, her face resting on my shoulder. I tried not to move as I noticed her breathing was steady, indicating that she was still fast asleep.
I didn’t remember what happened the night before, but somehow I had ended up in a room somewhere in that house with Summer sleeping next to me. I noticed we were still wearing our clothes from the day before, a navy-blue blanket over our bodies as we laid on top of the bed sheets. I looked around: the room was a typical old home room with ancient furniture and decorated ceilings, but instead of an old bed to match the surroundings, Summer and I were lying on a hospital bed, grids on each side and a metal rod suspension to hang a serum bag above my head.
I looked out the window. The blinds didn’t cover the window all the way, so I could see the grey sky from the angle I was lying. I occupied my mind with thoughts from the day before, playing back what had happened.
It seemed I had no more tears to cry. My eyes were dried. Even when remembering the way Summer had cried which broke my heart, no tears fell.
I enjoyed staying in the silence, having some peace for the first time since we had arrived. I wondered what time it was, where was Hansen, if my mum was awake.
Suddenly, and pulling me from my reverie, Summer moved. I tried to be perfectly still for I didn’t want to wake her up. Despite my stillness, Summer’s voice danced its way to my ears.
“Good morning,” she said, stretching the arm which was over my body “How are you feeling?”
“I’m not sure,” I said with honesty. On one hand it felt like my feelings were tucked away in a box and I was extremely at ease, but on the other hand I had a weird sensation at the pit of my stomach and a sort of heaviness in my chest, “How did I get here anyway?”
“You fell asleep by your mum’s bed after dinner and Hansen took you here.”
I cringed, an unpleasant picture forming in my mind “Did he carry me?”
Summer laughed “Do you really think he could carry you? You are not four Harry... You came by foot, like a zombie.”
“That makes more sense,” I said, scratching my head. Summer’s leg looped around mine, and I noticed her feet were bear. I enjoyed her touch, knowing that she was close and I had someone I could lean on.
“Did Hansen say anything about us sleeping together?” I asked, curious to know if he had accepted our intimacy.
“He asked me to stay with you actually,” Summer said to my surprise “He didn’t want you to stay alone, that’s what he said.”
“That’s hard to believe,” I said, running my fingers up and down Summer’s arm, “I mean, when we were at Hudson he sure didn’t like the idea of us being together.”
“Yeah, that’s true, but I think he has changed. At least I know he likes me more.”
“As if it mattered,” I added. Just the idea of Hansen saying anything about our relationship, whether it good or bad, made me dislike him even more.
“Of course it matters,” Summer said in a calm voice “He is your uncle Harry, and it makes me happy that he likes me.”
“If you say so,” I answered, playing with a golden strand of her hair.
We stayed in silence for some moments, enjoying each other’s presence. I closed my eyes, seeing the shapes that formed under my eyelids from the light that entered the room.
That was when we heard a knock on the door.
Summer jumped out of bed, the blanket flying in the air, startling me. She moved towards the window, opening the blinds in a flash, the harsh light of the morning invading the room.
“Ah, you’re both awake,” Hansen said as he entered the room. I rolled my eyes, annoyed that he had ended our peace.
“Good morning Mr Hansen,” Summer said, trying to make her hair look neat. One didn’t need to be a genius to figure out she had gotten out of bed in a hurry, and I found it amusing that Hansen had picked up on it easily by the smile which was sketched on his face.
“I brought you two something,” he said, reaching inside the pocket of his suit. I wondered why he was always wearing a suit, even when he didn’t need to. Even when I was a child and he came to visit me and my mum he was always in a suit. From inside his pocket he retrieved two chocolate bars with red wrapping paper.
“To start the day on a happy note,” he explained, handing one to me and another to Summer. I raised an eyebrow, wondering if that gesture was to buy our friendship.
“Thank you,” Summer said, unwrapping the chocolate instantly “I can never resist a good sweet.”
Hansen smiled as Summer enjoyed her chocolate. I studied his features, and I noticed how I hadn’t seen that wrinkled smile of his for a while now.
“Where’s Mum?” I asked him, unwrapping my chocolate.
“Oh, she’s being taken care of. The nurses gave her breakfast and they are washing her now.”
“She needs help for that?” I asked, more curious than shocked.
“Well yes, taking in consideration that she can barely walk on her own.”
Hansen was sat at the edge of my bed with his back to Summer, opening and closing his pocket watch. I could see the side of his face, and I could see he was deep in thought. I glanced at Summer, taken aback by what I saw.
“No way!” I said, my eyes wide in amazement.
Summer was licking her fingers, the wrapping paper of the chocolate all crumbled in a ball inside her hand.
“You ate it all?” I asked, Mr Hansen turning around to look at her.
Summer shrugged her shoulders “I don’t know why you look so surprised, you know I have a thing for sweets.”
Hansen, much to my surprise, burst out laughing. It was a deep, genuine laugh, reminding me of Santa Clause’s gravel and warm laugh. I exchanged looks with Summer, not knowing how to react to his outburst. Summer joined Hansen in his laughing fit, the contrasting properties and characteristics of their laughs complementing one another, creating a pleasant sound. That situation was quite ridiculous, so I joined them.
Hansen eventually left the room, telling us that he would be downstairs having breakfast. That was something I liked about the palliative home, they served food to those who came visit their relatives and allowed them to stay in the house if they wanted, which was our case.
After changing clothes we went downstairs. Hansen was saving us two seats by his table, and we sat next to him gladly. Hansen asked us how our journey had been while we ate, to which Summer and I exchanged guilty looks.
“Well,” I started, “Apart from having to lie to a police officer about our identities at London’s train station, exploring an abandoned house and meeting Jeffery Abbot, the hobo drug dealer, trying to learn how to speak German in two days, being robbed and not being able to buy train tickets and having to travel illegally in a cargo carriage, getting lost in a forest, almost freezing to death but finding two lovely Germans who helped us (by the way, we need to pay them back the money we owe them, I was hoping you could help us on that, Hansen), it was a very pleasant trip.”
When I finished retelling our misadventures I was out of breath, but I would do it all again just to see Hansen’s priceless expression one more time.
“Wait, what? You were robbed?!” Hansen rose his voice, alarmed.
“So you aren’t worried about the hobo drug dealer? Glad to know your priorities.”
Sitting by my side, Summer burst out laughing in the most ungraceful manner possible. Everyone around us looked at our table, startled with all the commotion. I placed my hand over her mouth, remembering we were in a place where noise was forbidden.
“That was too funny Harry,” Summer said once she calmed down, Hansen still in shock.
“But explain it to me again,” he said, putting down his coffee, “You travelled illegally and then got lost in the woods?”
“Essentially,” Summer answered, “At the time we thought we were going to die in those woods, but looking back it wasn’t so bad.”
Hansen looked perplexed. He just couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“And now that we are discussing what happened during our trip, I think it is a good time to tell you that we lost The Book of Judgement,” I added, wanting to see how Hansen would react. For my surprise, he didn’t look as mad as I thought he would be.
“You what?” He said, trying to contain his anger, “You can’t be serious.”
I looked at Summer who had shrunk in her chair. As I thought about it, maybe that wasn’t the right time to bring that topic up judging by the increasing tension between us.
“You know what,” Hansen said, breaking the heavy atmosphere “I was already considering stopping using it anyway.”
Summer and I exchanged looks. If he was lying about wanting to stop writing on the book we couldn’t tell, but we were thankful that he didn’t lashed out on us. At least we had addressed that issue once and for all.
“The important thing is that you got here safely,” he said finally, taking a napkin to his lips, “I bet Theresa is in her room now, let’s go up.”
“Actually,” Summer interrupted as we pushed in our chairs “I have an idea.”
I turned to her, wondering what was it she was planning. She guided us down a corridor on that same floor, passing living room after living room. Inside of each room we walked past I could see some elderly people playing card games with their relatives or reading a book, most of them accompanied by a nurse. Although they knew what destiny awaited them, they did seem quite happy and pain-free.
Summer then opened a door of another room. Inside, apart from the comfortable furniture and the green plants they made sure to have in every room, there stood a console piano next to the window.
I looked at Summer, a devilish grin on her face.
“She is going to love it,” Summer said before I could protest.
I looked at Hansen who was beyond confused. After all, he had no idea I could play, and I had never made an effort to show him my talent. As I thought about it, my mum also didn’t know I could play, for I had only started experimenting the piano when I moved to Hudson.
“Okay, fine,” I said, Summer squealing with joy.
“Mr Hansen,” Summer said with excitement, “We need to bring Theresa down here. How are we going to do it?”
Hansen looked back and forth between me and Summer. He had absolutely no idea what we were talking about. Nevertheless, he responded.
“There is an elevator.”
“Wait,” I said, extending my arms to emphasise my surprise “We have been using the stairs when there was an elevator all along?”
Summer smacked my arm “Don’t be stupid, I bet it is for the patients only, am I right Mr Hansen?”
“Actually anyone can use it,” he said, a mischievous smile growing on his face, “I’m kidding, of course it’s only for the patients.”
If Hansen had made that joke two months ago, I would’ve been beyond annoyed, but now, strangely, I felt my abdominal muscles contracting as I tried to hold back a laugh.
“I’m not sure what you two are planning, but let’s go get her then.”
The three of us started making our way out the room when Summer turned around.
“All of us don’t need to go. Stay behind Harry, warm up or whatever.”
I stayed behind, taking the time to move to the piano and testing it. It seemed tuned, so I adjusted the seat according to my height. I rolled up my sleeves as I always did and looked out the window as I waited for them to arrive, searching for a song. I didn’t know many, and I wanted to make sure I played one I knew extremely well so I didn’t make mistakes. After all, my mum had played the piano her entire life, I didn’t want to make a fool of myself.
I also wanted to play a song I knew she would like. If the whole point was to surprise her, I wanted to bring her back good memories, to transport her to some other place, to take her back to England. When I pondered all my options, I knew which one I had to play.
“... I really want to tell you what it is, but it’s a surprise,” I could hear Summer’s voice down the corridor, her words becoming clearer and less muffled as she came closer and closer to the piano room, “All that I can say is that you will be blown away, I’m sure.”
That moment they entered the room. Instinctively I got up, remember my mum’s words when she told me to always stand up to greet a person when they entered the room.
She was sitting at a wheelchair, a bag of serum hanging high from a metal rod. Hansen was pulling the chair while Summer walked beside her.
It didn’t matter how many time I looked at her, it was always a shock to see how different she looked. People said I had her hair and my dad’s eyes, but her once dark flowing hair was gone. I had to make an enormous effort to conceal my true feelings, for I was afraid she would notice I wasn’t comfortable with the way she looked now. She had warned me though, that she would look different, that she would look like she was in pain all the time. After all, that was the reason why I had stayed away from her for so long, because she didn’t want me to see her in such deteriorated state.
“Good morning Mum,” I said, managing to smile. I walked towards her, kneeling so I could hug her while she was sitting down.
“Good morning Harry,” she said, exhaling in satisfaction as we embraced. Despite the change in her physical appearance, being held in her arms still felt exactly the same, “Summer told me you have a surprise for me.”
All of a sudden I became very agitated and didn’t know what to do with my hands.
“Yes, I do!” I said, way more excited than I really was.
“I was just telling your mum how amazing your surprise is, let’s not keep her waiting,” Summer picked up on my nervousness and helped me deal with the situation. She motioned Hansen to bring my mum closer to the piano and when she noticed I was sitting down at the piano stool she gasped.
“Could it be?” She said, her hand covering her mouth, “Harry, don’t tell me you learned how to play.”
I scratched my head, embarrassed to be sharing such a personal thing “Well, more or less... I guess I did.”
I looked at the three people who anxiously waited for me to start playing. Summer, as always, was beaming with pride and excitement, my mum expectant, and Hansen was in complete shock but at the same times mesmerised with all he was experiencing.
I gulped, staring at the keys. I knew some basic things, like where the C was on the keyboard and what the pedals were for, but I never relied on theory or knowledge to play. Because of that I couldn’t start until I felt a burning flame in my chest, until I felt inspired enough to let my hands play the tune.
I closed my eyes momentarily, transporting myself to the time where I had told Summer all my secrets in the music room. The memory wasn’t very pleasant, but that was not the point. I wanted to imagine I was at Hudson, playing just for Summer that beautiful melody.
I took a deep breath and opened my eyes, pressing my fingers onto the keys.
The music filled the air around us. That song was my mum’s favourite, and I could hear her hold her breath at each complicated yet breath-taking passage. For me, no passage of that song was harder than the other, I saw the song as a whole, and it was beautiful in its whole entirety.
I could feel the presence of my spectators, which made me rush the first pauses of the song. I had to make a huge effort to obliterate them in my mind so I could focus properly.
A streak of light entered through the window as the song came to an end, as if the heavens where telling me I had done a good job.
When the last note left the piano and the room fell silent, Hansen clapped his hands in a very loud, exaggerated way, but I couldn’t hide the fact that I appreciated his applause.
“Wow! That was sensational!” He said, unable to contain his enthusiasm “Where had this talent been hiding?! Why haven’t you ever told us you could play?!”
Summer, who was sat on the nearest couch, was smiling triumphantly at me. She winked when our eyes met, and I couldn’t help but smile.
“That song,” my mum said, reaching for my hands “I remember playing it. It’s so beautiful, you played so beautifully. Wow Hansen, can you believe my boy did that?”
Hansen, who was pacing around the room, trying to make sense of what had just happened said, “I am as shocked as you are, Theresa.”
My mum took a hand to her face, overwhelmed.
“I can’t believe I have missed it,” she said, closing her eyes as if she had a headache.
“Missed what?” I asked.
“The last two years. Clearly so many things have happened, and I wasn’t there. You make me so proud Harry, and I only wish I had told you that more often.”
My eyes started to water again, but I was determined to hold back the tears.
“It’s okay Mum, it doesn’t matter,” I said, although we both knew perfectly well it did matter, “I only started playing like this a while ago, I didn’t know I could play before. You didn’t miss anything.”
In that moment, my mum exhaled very deeply, her hand still holding her forehead.
“Summer, Hansen, could you two leave, please?”
She didn’t look at them as she said it, her back turned to them. However, I noticed Summer and Hansen’s reaction of surprise as they exchanged looks. Nonetheless they did as they were asked, leaving me and my mum alone.
“Do you remember your dad?” She asked me, looking out the window “You were so small when he left us, I doubt you do.”
“No, I don’t remember him,” I said with honesty.
“He has such a kind man, and handsome too. You remind me so much of him, you have his eyes.”
I smiled, studying my mum’s face. She looked peaceful, but at the same time sad, defeated.
“I miss him so much. Sometimes, the idea that I am going to see him again makes it all have meaning and gives me comfort.”
With those words my body turned to stone. I didn’t know how to react or what to say. My mum smiled.
“I’m sorry to tell you these things, but the truth is we belong with the people we love, and I am very tired.”
With that, she slowly started tilting her head to the side, as if she had fallen asleep.
“Do you remember when we went to the south, to the beach? Just the two of us, not a care in the world?”
“I remember,” I said, images of us running on the sand and diving in the sea flooding my mind.
“I’m sorry, I can’t take you to the beach.”
With those words, something very deep in me started to stir. I could feel myself travelling back in time, seeing my mum through the eyes of the ten years old that I had once been.
“But you promised...” I said, emotion welling up at the top of my throat, my tears threatening to fall.
“I know baby, I know,” she reached for me, pulling me closer “I’m sorry. I love you, I loved you every day that I was away from you and I never forgot the promise I had kept.”
With that I burst into tears. There was no point in holding them back, no point at all.
“I am happy you found a girl who loves you,” she whispered, her voice weaker than ever before “I can tell you love her as well. Don’t be afraid of love, it brings only good things.”
The more she spoke, the more I cried, but I wanted her to keep talking.
“Harry, do you mind going outside and buying me The Times? I am sure they sell it here in Germany, I have seen people walk around with it. It was your dad’s favourite newspaper, and I want to feel closer to him.”
That request was extremely odd, but I understood where she was coming from. By playing the piano I had felt closer to my mum, and now she wanted to feel closer to my dad.
“Of course, I’ll go now,” I said, wiping the tears away.
“And take Summer with you. I know she will be able to help.”
I nodded, getting up from the piano stool I had been siting.
“Before you go,” she said, still holding my hands “Give me a kiss.”
I smiled, leaning forward and kissing my mum’s cheek, her hands around my face. She kissed me in return, her fingers curling around my hair.
“I love you, I want you to know that,” she whispered, letting go of my face.
“I love you, too.”
With that I made my way out of the room, looking back and seeing my mum sitting at her wheelchair facing the window, the weak sunshine illuminating her face.
Little did I know that that would be the last time I would speak to her, that I would hug her and kiss her, that I would look into her eyes and see them filled with life. Little did I know that when I came back with Summer after realising The Times was an American newspaper and it couldn’t possibly be sold in Germany, her heart would no longer be beating, that she had asked Summer and I to go out precisely so we didn’t have to see her take her last breath.
Harry was standing by a window which had turned foggy from the cold outside. He had wiped the fog away, creating a circle where the image of the street below was clear. He was looking outside at the pedestrians and the cars of many colours that passed by. Around him, there was only a peaceful yet disturbing silence, and I found myself hesitating to walk closer to him.
“Hey,” I said in a low voice. He didn’t look at me or respond, just kept looking down at the street through the clear circle in the middle of the window “I brought you something.”
That caught his attention. He looked to the side, my hand holding a cigarette and a lighter.
“Where did you find this?” He asked, his voice small.
“I stole it from one of the nurses,” I said, standing on the opposite side of the window and resting my shoulder on its frame.
I wasn’t sure why I had thought giving Harry a cigarette was a good idea, but it just felt like the right thing to do. I knew he had quit smoking, but, I couldn’t explain why, I could tell that that was what he needed, or at least that was something that could cheer him up.
Harry opened the window just slightly so the smoke wouldn’t be trapped in the room. He then took the cigarette to his lips, placing his hand over the end of it and lighting it, a bright orange light increasing in intensity with his first drag. He exhaled, the smoke dancing around him, its smell reaching my nostrils instantly.
“It’s just today,” he said, still staring out the window.
“Yes, just today.”
From the corner of my eye I could see Mr Hansen standing by the door. I looked back, acknowledging his presence. He didn’t say anything about Harry smoking, instead he motioned me to come closer with his finger. I glanced at Harry once again, nothing but pain and melancholy sketched on his features. I placed my hand on his shoulder and let it linger there while I backed away from the window, my hand falling from his shoulder as I moved away from him.
“Yes?” I asked Mr Hansen quietly when I reached his side. He moved out of the living room so Harry couldn’t hear us.
“We have to discuss what is going to happen now,” he said, sighing, the atmosphere around us seemed heavy and oppressive. The last thing I wanted to do was talk about the present.
“What do you mean by now?” I asked, glancing back at Harry. He was with his back turned to us, facing the window.
“I mean, what do you want to do when we go back to England?”
I raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“You weren’t thinking we would stay in Germany forever, did you?” He asked sarcastically.
“Of course not, it’s just that I haven’t thought about this too much. With all that’s happened, I never really had the time to ponder things.”
“I understand,” he said, folding his arms over his chest “But the thing is, I need to write a letter to your parents so we can meet and discuss what is going to happen, but first I need to know what you want to do.”
I leaned against the wall of the corridor, thinking. I knew I couldn’t go back to Hudson, but I needed to finish my studies. I also wanted to be with Harry, but I didn’t know what his plans were.
“Well, I know I need to finish school, I want to do it actually, but I also want to be with Harry.”
“I thought so,” Mr Hansen said sighing “But I’m not seeing you going back to Hudson, am I?”
“I’m afraid not.”
We stayed in silence for a while, lost in our thoughts.
“For what I remember, your father said he would stay in Switzerland for the end of the year, is that correct?” Mr Hansen asked, breaking the silence. I glanced at Harry, his cigarette already half its original size.
“Yes, that’s true, although when you tell them what happened they will want to come back.”
“That can still take a while, we don’t know if their contract of employment allows them to take a vacation whenever they want...” He pondered, taking his hand under his chin “Where are you going to live in the meantime? I can’t simply send you back home on your own.”
I nodded, agreeing that that was not going to happen. With Harry going back to Hudson until he graduated, I couldn’t go back with him either.
“We need to talk with Harry to figure this out,” Mr Hansen said at last, moving towards the door.
I didn’t think it was a good idea to speak with Harry about the future just yet, but Mr Hansen seemed to be on edge and impatient, so I stayed behind as I watched him approach Harry by the window. I couldn’t understand what they were saying from where I was standing, but I could read their body language. Mr Hansen wasn’t speaking harshly like I knew he could in moments of distress, and Harry seemed to be open to dialogue as he faced him. Then, Harry’s shoulders started sloping, his head bowed, is features turned heavy. My heart accelerated because I knew what was coming. When I saw the tears falling I instinctively pushed myself off the wall and made my way towards the door, but someone got there first. To my surprise, Mr Hansen engulfed Harry in a tight embrace, as if he was protecting him from all evil around him. I stopped, not wanting to interrupt that moment. After all, Mr Hansen was the only family Harry had now, and it brought me immense joy to know that they trusted each other.