Three months later
I had missed the May weather. It had been a long, cold winter, and I was glad I could get rid of all the heavy clothes and replace them with loose shirts, throw away the umbrellas and unpack my sun hats from under my bed. However, the student life didn’t allow me to go outside as often as I wished, for exams were approaching and I had to excel them. Even though this was an unfortunate fact, studying for hours on end had its perks. For example, I had an excuse to be alone and something to entertain myself with during those never-ending hours. The other alternative was to try to engage in conversation with people who had made it clear they didn’t want my friendship long ago, and that sometimes felt harder than doing pages and pages of maths exercises.
Ever since Harry and Summer left things were never the same, and gladly so for it meant they had an impact, their story resonated inside Hudson’s walls. The awful pain of rejection I felt from my friends was something I learned how to deal with, and in that oppression I discovered a different kind of freedom from the one I was used to. I discovered that true freedom came to those who accepted themselves as who they really were, those who accepted their values and ideals and didn’t want to change them. To change someone’s essence and values felt like a war, and I learned the price of such effort. I decided to drop the guns, even if that came with the cost of leaving my friends behind. If they weren’t willing to accept me for who I was, I would not fight for them anymore.
But initially I tried, I tried with all my might to make them see that Harry and Summer did nothing wrong. I suffering from my failed attempts, but I recognised that to change someone’s mind it took much more than rational explanation and reason. That change had to come from within, and that I could not control.
At first it was hard to stand in a room full of people and consciously trying to avoid looking at them or commenting on something they said, for those things were natural to me. I had to learn how to be on my own, I had to fight my urge to seek out to the people I once called friends, because I knew that if I approached them I would be greeted by insults and scolds. Nurse Marion had been a good companion in those times where I felt so alone, and her advice to stand on my own two feet did help, but it wasn’t enough. I was seeking friendship while she gave me kind words and advice. Those things don’t make a friend.
I re-read Summer’s letter many times. It felt like I was evoking her in some way by reading her writing, and that gave the strength because I knew my disaffiliation from everyone around me wasn’t for someone who seemed so distant from me. When I doubted myself, I always went back to her letter, and although she wasn’t physically there to remind me about what had happened and why my ultimatum had to be done, her letter served as a way to connect us. I even came to believe that, even though Summer wasn’t there with me, we were rebuilding our friendship from afar.
That was when I received another letter from her.
It was an ordinary Sunday when the letter arrived. At first I was in shock because, after three months, she still remembered that I existed. It gave me even more confidence to keep on going, and I truly felt like that letter was the first conversation I had with someone my age since she left.
The letter was short. After asking me if I was doing okay she said she wanted me to come visit her at her new home. She said she would be waiting for me impatiently, for she had many things she wanted to tell me.
I couldn’t resist her invitation. I was dying to see her, to ask her how her journey to Germany had been, to ask her what she was planning to do now that she was back in England. I had so many questions to ask her it was overwhelming, but the knot in my stomach made me nervous. The truth was, the last time we saw each other I was at the top of the stairs of the main building at Hudson, looking down at her as she ran away with The Book of Judgement under her arm. I wondered if there was going to be any tension between us, if we would be entirely at ease and comfortable with each other’s presence. I just had to wait and see.
I didn’t have to wait for long though, for the train, after just thirty minutes, was almost reaching its destination. Summer had written on her letter the address of the house, and she suggested that I took a taxi.
When I got off the train I walked outside the busy station, the heat from the metal structure radiating a scorching temperature. I entered the first taxi that I saw, the air conditioner cooling me instantly. I indicating the address and in less than ten minutes the driver was asking me to pay him for we had arrived.
The taxi sped away, leaving me at the door of Summer’s home. It was a lovely detached single house, the yellow façade emitting a positive, relaxed atmosphere. The maple tree at the front of the house cast some much needed shade on the path leading to the front door.
Taking a deep breath I made my way towards it. For that occasion I had decided to wear normal clothes as opposed to the uniform, for I didn’t want to bring Summer undesirable memories.
I rang the doorbell, a breeze cooling the back of my sweaty neck. I held my breath, ordering my hands to stop shaking but to no avail. I was more nervous than I wanted to admit.
Finally, I heard the turning of the house keys. I flipped my hair back, a smile stretching on my face as I braced myself to see her after so long.
There she was. After months of trying to picture how she looked like, she hadn’t changed one bit. Her golden hair was still her most striking feature which was longer than I remembered, reaching the middle of her back. She was smiling radiantly, just it had always been, and I had to resist my impulse to jump into her arms and pull her into a tight hug.
“Anna!” She said, opening the door for me and letting me in “I am so glad to see you.”
Finally she pulled me in a tight embrace, and in that moment I realised how I hadn’t hugged anyone that way in a long time. I noticed she had spayed some sweet perfume, my hair getting stuck on her earrings but breaking loose before she noticed it.
I looked around the living room, nothing but warm, inviting colours adorning the space.
In that same moment I heard some footsteps coming down the stairs. I adjusted my skirt, thinking I would greet Summer’s parents, but instead I saw a man in his thirties wearing a dark blue polo. He looked so young he could’ve been Summer’s brother, but I knew for a fact that she was an only child.
“Sorry to interrupt,” he said politely “Just came for the kettle.”
The young man disappeared into the kitchen, not saying another word. Before I could ask who he was, Summer was already a step ahead.
“Chris, Harry’s music teacher. He basically lives here now.”
That comment left me profoundly confused.
“You mean Harry is upstairs? Having a music lesson?” I asked, trying not to sound too intrusive but failing. Since when was Harry good at music? As I thought about it, maybe he had always been but no one ever noticed it. And why was he there anyway? Just visiting?
“This is Harry’s home. The question you should be asking is why am I here.”
That confession made me take a step back. Could it be that I was really inside the home of the guy who tormented my school? The guy who I had once deemed as a criminal?
Summer giggled, surely noticing my eyes jumping out of its sockets.
“Please, take a seat,” she motioned me to sit on the couch, Summer sitting opposite from on a beige fauteuil chair
I exhaled, a shaky breath leaving my lips. Could I be dreaming? After all, I was reunited with Summer after I regarded our friendship over, and Harry had invited me to his own home. After all, seeing Summer in such different setting, in a colourful light blue dress and sandals, it all felt very surreal.
Chris then appeared in the living room, making his way up the stairs with two cups of tea and a teapot.
I didn’t want to be the one taking the lead of the conversation, but sitting in silence was even worse.
“So, Harry’s house then,” I started, my hands folded by my knees, “Is it safe to deduce you two are living together?”
“Yes, it is,” she said, playing with the hem of her dress. Although I knew their relationship was strong, she was only seventeen. How could she be already living with Harry if she wasn’t an adult yet?
“I know what you’re thinking,” Summer said, leaning back on her chair, “It’s not very... What the word?... Conventional of us to be living together at such young age, but you would be surprised if I told you Mr Hansen supported this idea.”
I frowned, too much new information for me to process.
“I’m sorry, I’m not following. What has Mr Hansen to do any of this? I did notice he was highly invested when you two ran away, and even left school for a week, but isn’t that too much?”
Summer looked down at her feet, then back at me.
“Yeah, I see how this might be confusing without a critical piece of information...” She admitted, “I didn’t tell you what I’m about to in the letter because I was afraid people could find it if it fell on wrong hands.”
I noticed her reference to what happened to her, when Anthony discovered her photograph which ultimately proved she was poor. I shook that memory aside, my leg jumping up and down frantically as I grew more anxious to hear her what she had to say.
“What is it?”
“You have to promise you won’t tell anyone,” she said, inching her way closer, “Mr Hansen is Harry’s uncle. That’s why Harry went to Hudson in the first place.”
My mouth fell to the floor, and I had to cover it with my mouth.
“Your reaction was better than mine,” she said, smiling, “At least you didn’t start crying.”
Of course! Now it all made sense. All those times he wasn’t punished, Mr Hansen’s full commitment to find them after they left, the way Mr Hansen spoke to Amanda with such harshness even if she had done nothing wrong on an ordinary day... It all made sense now.
“Wow,” I said, completely blown away, “I really had no idea.”
“And if you didn’t figure that one out then it really proves it is a very safely kept secret.”
I giggled, thanking her for her indirect compliment on my wits.
Suddenly, the sound of a soft piano echoed throughout the house. From the living room, the sound was highly muffled, but I could tell it was a soft, slow song.
“Is that Harry playing?” I asked, looking towards the stairs as if Harry was to appear.
“Yes, it is,” Summer admitted, “It sounds quite good the first times you hear it, but trust me, after hearing it time and time again it gets really annoying.”
We stayed in silence, my brain trying to keep up with so much new information.
“So you were telling me about your decision to come live her,” I said, putting that topic on the table again.
“Ah yes,” she said, raising a hand in the air as she remembered, “So I was saying, Mr Hansen was very in favour of us staying together. He was the one who convinced my parents in the end.”
She told me how, after the three of them came back from Germany two days after Harry’s mum passed away, Mr Hansen wrote a very extensive and thorough letter to Summer’s parents. He told them, firstly, that Summer was safe and sound with him at his cousin’s house.
“And that was important to highlight because my dad knew Harry’s father before he died in the Vietnam war. They had been school friends back in the days, and telling my parents this would hopefully put them more at ease to know that I was in a home of someone they once knew.”
She resumed retelling the contents of the letter. Mr Hansen went on explaining why Summer and Harry had gone to Germany, that that decision (although being taken without Mr Hansen’s consent) was entirely taken on their free will, that Summer wanted do accompany Harry on that emotionally taxing journey.
“I wanted to keep out the part where I lied about my identity at Hudson for fear of insulting my parents, but Mr Hansen told me he had to tell them or they wouldn’t understand why I couldn’t go back there to continue my studies. It was a critical detail for them to understand my motives.”
“How did they react to that?” I asked, eager to know how everything was solved.
“Let me finish telling you about the letter and I’ll go on to that next.”
The remaining of the letter contained a description of Summer and Harry’s journey, because as Mr Hansen had said, “it gave more credibility” if they described some events. They focused on the boat trip mostly, which (according to Summer) was the smoothest part of the entire journey.
“Weren’t you scared of things going wrong?” I asked, interrupting her.
“Very,” she confessed, “But we got there, and that’s what matters.”
The end of the letter expressed what Mr Hansen thought to be the best thing to do. Since Summer couldn’t go back to Hudson but she wanted to complete her studies, she would have to transfer, but she couldn’t live on her own.
“That was when Harry had a brilliant idea,” Summer went on, the soft piano music still playing in the background, “He knew he would never catch up on school, that if he was to graduate he would have to go back to year eleven and restart, but he decided to ditch school altogether.”
I furrowed my eyebrows, not agreeing with his choice. Without graduating, I knew he had no chance of ever getting a decent job.
“It’s not that bad,” Summer said, noticing my uneasiness, “He applied for a different kind of school. Can you guess what it is?”
Summer looked upwards, her ears sticking out of her face. I listened carefully, the piano still playing upstairs.
When I realised what she meant, it felt like I light bulb turned on in my head.
“He did an audition for a highly esteemed music college. Of course that without any musical notions he didn’t stand a chance, but Harry has something many don’t.”
I lifted an eyebrow, intrigued.
“You see what he is playing now?” Summer asked, pointing her finger towards the ceiling, “He is playing out of memory and observation. He has his visual and auditory memory highly developed in music, and when the university found out about his gift, even without having had any musical training before, they made him an offer: if he managed to learn music theory and developed his technique to a certain standard, even without having completed his schooling, they would let him in.”
I exhaled deeply, overwhelmed with the news.
“So that is why Chris lives her now?” I asked in a playful way.
“Yeah, he is preparing Harry for his second audition which will be in the end of August. He has to learn fast,” Summer was beaming with pride, staring at the top of the stairs as if Harry was standing there, “In the meantime, he has been playing in bars, bringing some money home, but it’s not enough to cover all our expenses, so Mr Hansen is helping us on that. We will pay him back eventually, I just don’t know when that’s gonna be.”
Summer sighed, leaning back comfortably in her chair.
“When my parents received the letter, they were in shock. They took the next available flight back to England and came straight here,” she went on, placing her hand over her forehead, “It wasn’t pretty. They shouted at me, asking what the hell was I thinking, going on this dangerous journey with a boy I barely knew... Mr Hansen was so pale I swear he looked like he could faint. No matter how much I explained, they didn’t understand how much I had changed, and how I could never go back to my old life as if nothing had ever happened. They didn’t understand the depth and complexity of the whole situation, and they couldn’t accept the fact that I was so in love with Harry that I wanted to stay with him, to live with him.”
“That’s understandable,” I said, pondering what she had told me, “But clearly something made them change their mind because you’re here.”
Summer nodded, “I think it was a mixture of Mr Hansen’s confidence that we would succeed on our own and Harry’s speech on how much he loved me. That day when we were all here in this house, shouting at one another, all I wanted to do was hide because I knew I was losing that battle, but nothing could defeat Harry’s feelings for me. Well, that and because my dad had known Harry’s father before he was even born which made my dad more prone to accept and trust Harry.”
“What did he say exactly?” I asked, leaning closer to her.
She smiled, taking a moment to go over his words “That there was no one in the world who cared for me like he did, and that now, because of all that happened, he couldn’t imagine spending a day without seeing me. He told them that I had helped him in a time where he was helpless, that my willingness to help him face his mother’s death was the only thing that made him carry on that journey. He made it clear that, for him, separating from me wasn’t an option. He said that, apart from Mr Hansen, I felt like his only family.”
My heart was throbbing at her retelling of Harry’s words. I could picture him perfectly, standing in the middle of that very room, pouring his heart out in a desperate attempt to keep Summer by his side.
“How did your parents respond to that?”
Summer chuckled, the memory playing in her mind, “My dad said Harry’s conviction reminding him of his father, his good old friend.”
Suddenly, breaking the bubble Summer and I were engulfed in, the bell rang.
Summer got up and moved towards the door. For my surprise, the person who walked through the door was Mr Hansen. I got up immediately, feeling extremely self-conscious. While he came inside, all I saw while looking at him were the words “Harry’s uncle” written on his forehead. My heart was beating so fast it felt like it would jump out of my chest, but I did my best to hide my emotions.
“Anna!” He said joyfully once he saw me, “I didn’t know you were coming. I could’ve given you a ride.”
I had seen Mr Hansen that morning at Hudson during breakfast, and I would’ve never guessed he would come to Summer and Harry’s home that afternoon. At Hudson, he was always grumpy, a frown engraved on his face constantly, but now, seeing him with such bright smile, it seemed like I was meeting another completely different man. At least I was meeting a man who now had a nephew.
“I was just telling Anna what has happened since we last saw each other,” Summer said, taking Mr Hansen’s suitcase and placing in on a chair nearby. Under his arm, Mr Hansen brought History, English, and Maths textbooks, placing them on top of the dining table with a loud thump.
“I suggest you sit down Anna, the story is quite long,” he said, laughter filling my ears. Who was this man and what had he done to the Mr Hansen I knew?
“I’ll go check on Harry, then,” he said, making his way up the stairs, “But don’t think just because there is a guest you can avoid our lesson Summer.”
With that he felt the living room, leaving me with more puzzle pieces faster than I could put the puzzle together.
“Is he your tutor?” I asked, my eyes studying the textbooks on the table.
“Yes, he is helping me catch up on the lessons I lost, although I am attending classes at a high school. You know, he may be a headmaster, but he started out by being a teacher, and he knows so much of every subject, he is a well of knowledge!”
We sat down again, feeling much more at ease now that Summer was being so open with me, that there wasn’t tension between us.
“Wow, you are really determined to get your studies sorted out,” I said, placing my hands over my bent knees.
“I know that, but when I told my parents I would get into university I wasn’t kidding,” Summer said, winking at me, “I am going to attempt sitting the form twelve exams next October session, in hopes of skipping a year ahead. If Harry and I want to make this work we need to find good paying jobs, fast.”
Her determination was inspiring. She really was keen on getting her life on track, on becoming independent and easing her parents regarding her education. I could only dream of ever having such fighting spirit in me.
“But tell me,” Summer said at last, leaning forward and resting her elbow on her knee, her head supported on her hand, “How are things at Hudson?”
I sighed, getting ready to talk about the same old.
“After all you said, what I have to tell you is quite boring,” I said with honesty, “Nothing’s changed really.”
“Thought so,” she said, sighing and looking at the floor, “Not even a little bit?”
“Well,” I stated, searching in my mind for any significant event, “Anthony left.”
Summer rose and eyebrow “Really? Why?”
“I’m not sure, he just left without saying anything to anyone,” I explained, “But deep down, I have a feeling he left because he couldn’t stand the weight of his mistake and it was too late to solve anything.”
Summer sat up straighter, “You mean he regrets what he did to me?”
“When I stood up to them, he came after me and told me he never wanted things to get so out of control, that he just wanted to be remembered,” I said, remembering that horrible night where I lost it in front of everyone at the canteen, “He was crying, saying he was sorry...”
“What did you tell him?” Summer asked expectantly.
“I told him to, you know...” I inched closer, not wanting to curse out loud.
“You know, I told him to...” I could feel my cheeks turning red, feeling my face burning up.
“You told him to fuck off?” Summer said, shock evident in her face.
I chuckled, embarrassed.
“Oh Anna, you go girl! Give me five!”
She reached her hand out, our hands colliding with a satisfying clap.
“Well well well, look who’s here!” Harry descended the stairs, a brilliant smile on his face. What was it about that house that made everyone so happy?
“Oh, hi!” I said awkwardly, not knowing how to address him, “Before I arrived I had no idea this was your house. It’s lovely.”
“Thank you, although this is all my mum’s work,” he said, walking closer to Summer, “Now please, tell us what really matters... What is everyone saying about the book?”
Harry looped his arm around Summer’s shoulders, smiling mischievously. His action caught me off guard, making me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to stare at his arm around Summer, but it was inevitable.
“Oh yes!” I said, trying to hide the fact that I was feeling awkward by showing excitement, “At the time I didn’t understand why you took it, but now I do. They were outraged, especially Amanda, but I think it did them good.”
Harry looked at Summer knowingly, “See, I told you they would change.”
“Well, it didn’t actually change the world, but it was a start,” I said shrugging my shoulders.
“Yes, little acts of rebellion can go a long way,” Summer agreed, pleased with her deed and moving from under Harry’s arm, “I’m just going to get a special something I baked. I’ll be right back.”
With that, Summer left Harry and I in the living room in silence. After all, this was only our second conversation so we were both testing the waters.
“You two look so happy, I’m glad you finally found your place,” I said, leaning against the couch.
“It took a while, a lot of stumbling here and there, but we did, yeah,” Harry said, crossing his arms in front of his chest, his muscles taunt. I studied him closely, noticed how his hair fell over his eyes, how long his eyelashes were. He had a healthy glow on his face even without smiling, and only then did I start realising how handsome he really was. It was amazing how having a different opinion on someone changed the way you saw them.
“Look,” I started, feeling more comfortable and confident, “I just want to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t treat you the way you deserved. Coming here really helped put things into perspective... I really hope you get into that college. You deserve it.”
“Oh Anna, what’s in the past stays in the past,” he said, reaching for my shoulder and placing his hand over it, “I’m not gonna lie, I’ve learned the hard way that in order for us to be happy we need to learn how to move on. I don’t know how you are dealing with all those horrible people at Hudson, and I’m not telling you that you should forgive them just like that, but if you ever need to escape, you’re always welcomed here.”
I smiled, thanking him for is invitation.
“And I hope you have forgiven me, too. When Summer told me she had invited you I realised I had never said sorry for all the things I did to you.”
His eyes held nothing but sincerity, and I knew he was meaning every word he said. I knew Harry had changed tremendously with that journey he went on, and I was quite in awe.
“As you said, what’s in the past stays in the past.”
Summer entered the room in that moment, carrying a plate with slices of cake.
“I hope that hand on Anna’s shoulder means nothing but friendship,” she said, placing the plate on the coffee table between the sitting area, not looking at us.
“I really want to retaliate, but that cake looks amazing,” Harry said, walking towards the couch. I stood planted on the ground, processing what had just happened. I smiled, enjoying to see the dynamics of their relationship.
“Don’t you want cake, Anna?” Summer asked, raising a piece of chocolate cake high in the air. I blushed, grateful that they were treating me so kindly. For the past months, I had felt miserable, feeling like I had no more friends in the world who could care for me, that I had no one left I could confide in, that I was paying for my mistakes with my own venom. My visit did not only serve to prove that I was wrong, that I did, in fact, have friends, but also that my punishment was through. By forgiving me, they did so much more than they imagined. I could now stand tall and say it was all worth it, all that pain I suffered had its purpose: to make me see that friends weren’t given on a silver platter, they were earned, and that happiness came to those who were humble enough to strip themselves of all judgements and accepted it.
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