With Your Last Heartbeat
The next day, I woke up at seven in the morning. I had to continue with my student duties, and to do so I had to get up early again, as I used to do every day. But since the moment I turned off the alarm on my cell phone when I woke up, I could only think of one thing: the date I had the day before. I'd had a really good time with Clara at the aquarium, and I wanted to tell her so. That previous night, after I said goodbye to her and met her father, I hadn't talked to her much. She had simply asked me if I had arrived safely at my house, to which I answered yes. After her "I'm glad", there was nothing more.
I was there for about ten minutes, with my cell phone in my hands and the chat application open.
“Hello Clara, I had a great time yesterday with you at the aquarium. I would like to go out with you again.”. My thumb was trembling over the send button, and I couldn't give it the finishing touch to it.
"No, that's very direct. I don't want to bother her," I thought.
I quickly erased everything and wrote again. "Hi Clara, do you have plans for next weekend?". As I read that message out loud, I realized that it was too cheeky.
"No, no, no, you silly"
One more time. “Clara, did you like going out with me yesterday? Because…" I couldn't finish.
I stopped writing again.
"Ugh, what am I thinking?"
I rolled onto my side and lay on my bed, facing up at the ceiling. It turns out that at the time I was very insecure about socializing with other people. I just couldn't help but worry that what I said was going to upset the other person in various ways, causing them not to talk to me anymore. It sounds silly, but it really wasn't.
I closed my eyes and imagined what I had experienced the previous day. All the times we had laughed, when I managed to comfort her and even when I promised her that I would take her to the moon and back. At the thought of the latter, my cheeks turned red and I was surprised to remember it, but it also made me realize how much I wanted it to be repeated. With the speed of light, my nimble fingers began typing on the cell phone keyboard. After writing and without thinking twice, seized my moment of courage and hit “send”.
"It's done," I said.
I stood motionless staring at my cell phone for a few seconds, while I saw that the application marked that Clara had not received my message. It was logical, given that it was very early. I got out of bed, put on the slippers that were at the foot of my bed and left my room.
"Sending her a message so early was not too hasty?" I kept thinking.
I brushed my teeth, made my bed, changed, put my clothes in order, and went to breakfast. The sun coming through the window perfectly accompanied my coffee with toast, spread with butter and marmalade.
"Won't she think I'm despered to see her?" I thought as I took a big bite of toast.
I finished breakfast, washed the cutlery I used, and started studying. More precisely, to carry out practical programming work. The lines of code had me focused, but every once in a while I thought about it again.
"Has she already seen it?"
Despite my concern, I did not take my eyes off the screen nor my fingers off the keyboard. After a lot of trial and error, I managed to finish the exercises that I had to program. It was around 11 in the morning.
"Ahhh, great," I leaned back in my chair.
A few moments later I remembered the Clara affair, grabbed my phone, which I had left on the desk, and took it out of offline mode, which I activated so as not to receive distractions while I was studying. I opened the messaging application and was surprised to see that her chat showed the symbol that she had received the message.
"Oh, did she already wake up?," I asked to myself.
I stared at the gray symbol. I attached a lot of importance to that gray symbol. She had probably woken up recently, so it was possible that the blue symbol changed its color… yes, I now said blue.
"Heh?" my dead expression reflected confusion.
I looked again. My eyes did not deceive me; the symbol was blue now. She had just read it.
I looked away quickly and began to look around the room nervously. It took a few seconds for me to calm down, and when I did, I went back to looking at the screen. It was still blue. It was still blue. It was still blue.
"Mh!" It was the only thing I put express when I saw it.
Unbeknownst to me, Clara at the time had been surprised to see my status go from “online” to “offline”.
"Oh?" Still covered by the sheets and with matted hair, it was the only thing she managed to say.
I put the phone on offline mode again and walked away from it. I went to the kitchen to prepare a 'mate', a drink that always helped me concentrate while studying.
"It's okay, Leo. Everything is alright. Surely she will answer something nice. Don't worry, ” I thought inside myself attempting to calm me down.
"Leo, have you turned on the washing machine yet?" asked my mom, who was passing right behind me.
"Yes. In a while it will be ready,” I replied, without reflecting any nerves despite the situation.
"Fine, thanks," she said as she left.
I heated water in the electric kettle, brought it along with my beverage to the desk and, just as I set them down, determination invaded me. I picked up the phone, pulled out airplane mode, and ten minutes after closing it, I was back in the conversation.
My message said: “Good morning Clara, how are you? I wanted to tell you that I had a great time with you yesterday, and I hope we can see each other again soon. Take care of yourself".
“It's a bit formal, but…” I thought.
I looked down a bit and found her message. It said: “Hello Leo, I'm very well, and you? I also had a great time with you. I had a lot of fun at the aquarium yesterday. Really thank you very much :)"
That comment filled me with tenderness. Inside I felt an incredible relief to see that everything was okay. But it didn't end there. Below was another message.
“Listen, about what you said yesterday about going to the beach, would you like to go one of these days?” she said.
If I was happy before, that moment I became Mr. Happiness.
"Yes!" I celebrated with a shout in a moderate voice.
I quickly began to think of auspicious days to go, and as if life had blessed me, I remembered that these next few days there was an unbeatable date to see her.
“Next Saturday looks like it will be very nice. Would you like to go?" I sent.
This time, however, she saw the message instantly, and she responded in less than a minute.
"It's okay. Shall we meet at the beach at 12?"
"Of course. See you there,” I replied.
"Okay. I can't wait :D,” she closed the conversation.
I put the phone next to me and, with a big smile, I sighed looking at the ceiling.
"Okay, let's go!" I looked determinedly at my computer monitor.
Knowing that I was going to see her again soon encouraged me so much that I worked like never before that day. I was so happy and focused that I ended up doing all the activities I had pending.
That week flew by, and at the same time it took forever. I continued to talk to Clara every day, but I just wanted to see her again in person. I was very eager to see that angel again. It was ten in the morning, and after preparing my things and studying for a while, I decided to check my phone to see if there was any news from Clara. And yes there were. I quickly opened their messages to see what they said.
“I'm sorry, I think I won't be able to go with you today. I forgot I had to do something."
I was frozen at such a message. I thought bad luck had conquered me again.
"It can't be" I thought as I clutched my forehead pessimistically. "Could it be that she regretted seeing me?"
I had been really excited to see again that person who gave me so much happiness to see, inexplicably. But I understood that she could have other commitments, something that was logical.
"Okay, no problem. Thanks for letting me know," I sent.
I sighed as I leaned myself back. My gaze was nailed to the ceiling of my room.
"Too bad… well, it just is what it is" I said hopelessly.
As I returned to my natural position, ready to continue my studies, I heard my phone receive a new notification. I took it intrigued, not expecting much and thinking it was something different, so I was very surprised when I saw that Clara had sent me another message.
"Wednesday seems to be a national holiday. Would you like to go for a coffee near the park maybe? I can't today, but I really do want to see you"
A mixture of excitement and tenderness washed over me. Relieved, I continued the conversation:
"Of course. We'll talk about it later, is that okay with you?"
"Okay :)," Clara sent to close the conversation.
I didn't know why my plan had been changed by her or what was going on, but I was still excited to get that message.
"Hah, damn," I said as I smiled at the phone screen.
And so the few days that remained until that holiday passed and we arrived at the indicated Wednesday. It was another nice day, with a slight summer heat. Around four in the afternoon, I was already in the park waiting for her. That same park where I had first met her.
As I waited for her to arrive, standing alone at one of the entrances to the park with my bike behind, I was afraid that for some reason she might not come. Luckily, my irrational fears dissipated when I saw her walking down the street, as beautifully recognizable as ever.
"Hello, Leo" she greeted me with a raised hand.
"Good morning Cla- huh?"
I was immediately taken aback by her outfit, which I hadn't noticed from afar. Clara was wearing the same jacket than in the aquarium, but now along with thicker clothing. She now also wore warm pants of the same color and high beige boots, as well as a blue thread scarf around her neck, half covered by the jacket itself. Normally, this outfit would be fine, aside from being beautiful, but it clashed with my outfit, a blue short-sleeved shirt and black shorts, and everyone else's outfit due to the season we were in.
"What is it?" Clara asked me about my reaction.
"No, nothing, eh… Aren't you feeling too hot dressed like that?" I told her with a strange smile.
Clara looked surprised by the question, but as if she at the same time knew that I was going to ask it.
"Ah, eh, eh, it's just that I-I prefer to dress like this because of the cold at night. I'll probably walk home and I don't want to catch a cold" she said smiling embarrassedly.
"Is that so? Well, I understand then. Shall we go?"
We both headed out of the park, looking for a coffee. As for me, I clearly didn't understand. I couldn't believe that. In addition, it crossed my mind that, both in the park and in the aquarium, she was also wearing a jacket, despite it being summer and hot. There was something fishy about it, and that made me worry.
We began to walk for a while around the park, looking for a cafeteria to have a drink. The day was a bit cloudy, but a bit of the summer heat could still be felt, leaving a beautiful balmy day. After a while, we found a really nice place to go, I left my bike outside and we ordered something.
"Hey Leo" Clara spoke to me as she put the cup back on its saucer. She was sitting on a long seat, facing me.
"I'm sorry, about the other day. I really wanted to go to the beach with you," she said while concerned.
"Don't worry, I understand. We can go whenever you want," I reassured her, while also telling the truth.
In those moments, Clara noticed something in me that surprised her.
"Did something happen, Leo? You seem more nervous than usual"
Her eyes bored into me curiously. As if she were a puppy looking at something in the distance. Apparently, Clara had a keen eye for detail.
"Well... it's because of my studies. I've been a bit overwhelmed lately. My first midterms are coming up and I notice that it's much more difficult than before. So I'm a little worried about it"
While doing catharsis with Clara, I stared at the cup in my hands. That feeling of pressure was present the last few days, and deep down it worried me more than I realized.
"I see. Can I help you with some of that?"
Clara offered me her help with a very sweet tone, which made me happy to listen. I would have accepted it without question under other circumstances.
"No, don't worry about that. I just have to dedicate myself to studying a little more. Besides, you're still in high school, surely it will be even worse for you," I told her in the same exhausted tone that I had been maintaining, as I looked at her eyes again.
"Hey, don't underestimate me!" she said as she pouted.
"It's not because of that, I'm serious"
I again alternated my gaze at the cup of coffee, ready to lose myself in my thoughts for a moment, when I felt something touch my hair. Looking up, I saw Clara straining to reach across the table to pat my head.
"Don't worry, I know you'll do fine. Good luck with that," she told me as she caressed me and smiled radiantly.
It was a beautiful feeling, which made me very happy without a doubt. The tender side of her was something I could look at for hours and hours without getting bored. And as if that weren't enough, I really felt that the pressure of studying was fading a little.
"Hah, thanks for cheering me on. I will," I said while my radiant smile was shown again.
"You're welcome. I'm glad you're better," she said as she returned to her natural position and took another sip.
I was still drinking my own coffee normally, but I couldn't help but stare at Clara. Every moment that passed, she seemed even more beautiful to me. And at that moment... I realized something. I took advantage of that rush of feelings to ask her something.
"What did you have to do the other day?"
I felt the world stop when I asked her that question. Clara was staring at me now, her cup in her hands, while I reflected on the situation I had gotten her into. I was worried about her and wanted to know if she was okay, but it was a hard question to ask.
"Um, I had to… go to…"
Clara looked embarrassed, but she was reflecting something else inside of her. I probably went too far.
"Okay, don't worry"
I knew I had to disperse the subject quickly, since I didn't like seeing her like this. I took a slightly hasty sip from my cup and continued the talk.
"Ahhh, this coffee is very tasty, don't you think so?" I smiled at her.
"Eh… ah, yes," after looking at me for a few seconds, she replied.
We continued drinking our coffees and eating the croissants that we had been given and they were also delicious. I was hoping to have a nice conversation with her, but for some reason, she wasn't looking forward to it. And more and more, as the time went by, she was fading.
"Clara, can I ask you something?"
"You've been very quiet today. Did something happen?"
I fel sorry for her, but I had to ask the question. All my instincts told me that something was not right. And whatever it was, I had to find out.
"N-no, don't worry about it. It's just me," she answered me hesitantly.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course, do not worry"
It wasn't right. I knew something was wrong. I had to say something to her, without disturbing her, in order to understand her better. I mustered up as much calm as I could muster and spoke to her.
"You know? I haven't known you for a long time. Rather, I could count the times I've seen you on my fingers, including today"
As I said these words, I stared at the table.
"Leo?" She looked at me puzzled.
I plucked up courage and looked into her eyes again, which stared back at me. Those deep and mysterious blue eyes, that were as beautiful as the sea that gets lost in the horizon.
"But, I think that in these few times that I saw you, I was able to understand how you are. You are always curious, very companionable, kind and, above all, cheerful. So cheerful that whenever I see you, you make me smile"
I could see how Clara's cheeks turned red, and how her confusion grew more and more.
"That's why I know you are not like this. Not even when I hit you with the bike, not even when you were hospitalized"
"Leo…" Clara's eyes narrowed a bit.
"I'm sorry if I'm saying nonsense or bothering you, but if something happened, please, I want you to trust me. Is that okay?"
I think I had smiled at her while I was telling her all that, as opposed to the surprised look on her face. I'm not sure, but she must have seen something in me at that moment, because her little face went from surprise to anguish in four steps, closing her eyes more and more.
"L-Leo…" she told me with tears in her eyes.
I was very surprised as I expected her to soften or open up to me, but not to such an extent.
I didn't know what to say.
"I'm sorry… I'm sorry… I didn't mean it to be like this" she said as she covered her face with her hands, hiding her cry while her voice became more and more distressed.
"Clara, wait, I don't understand. You don't have to be sorry for anything. You haven't done anything wrong to me," I leaned forward with my hands pointing at her, trembling from the nerves of not knowing what to do.
"The other day, I couldn't go to the beach because I was not okay. I just wanted to be with you, I really mean it"
"I know, I didn't mean that. I'm sorry," my voiced got even softer while I was trying to convince her.
"No, I know you didn't mean that. Sorry again. I'm a bit emotional these days"
She rubbed her face to dry her tears nonstop. I had to reassure her, but I couldn't even understand what the problem was.
In just a few instants, I decided to go further.
"Clara. What happened?"
I put both hands on the right sleeve of her jacket, after sitting next to her on that long seat. It took Clara a while to start talking, so I left her alone until then. Seeing her cry like that seemed like the ugliest thing in the world.
"On Friday... I had an incident again"
I opened my eyes in an instant. If I was about to stop shaking because of the situation, now I most definitely wasn't.
Clara's voice was now more heartbroken. She spoke in a really high pitched voice that resembled to the one of a scared little kid.
"I had to go to the hospital and, on Saturday, I was hospitalized again. It seems that the treatment I had been given did not work. So…
I decided that I was not going to speak, and just wait for her to let it all out. She was torn, whimpering in between, while I tried to caress her arms to calm her down. Despite my attempts, I too was beginning to worry.
... it seems like they want to use another treatment, but we can't get it. And I don't want the other one. I just don't want it!"
Her last scream was heartbreaking, so high-pitched that it echoed throughout the cafeteria, although not many people paid attention to it. But for me, it made a huge impact.
Huh? She isn't going to have her treatment? What's the 'other'? I don't understand anything, but I can't see her like this for another second, I thought.
"What?" She looked up from between her hands for an instant.
Without thinking twice, I leaned over Clara and hugged her, holding her two arms between mine. I could feel that she was surprised, despite not seeing her face. I could smell the scent of her perfume, and feel how that girl who was so angry when I met her became so small in my arms. I would have loved that that first hug had been given in another not so sad context.
"L-Leo…" I could feel that she was about to cry again, as her voice mixed her affliction with surprise.
She was disconcerted again at the only thing I managed to say.
"I'm sorry, Clara. I don't know what to say right now. Just… don't cry, please"
Without knowing it, I also reflected my anguish in my broken voice and teary eyes. I hadn't realized I was like this at that moment, but Clara did.
"O-Okay" she said as she rested her face against my right shoulder.
She wrapped her two arms around my lower torso and snuggled there. Despite her recent promise, she couldn't help but keep crying for a while. And it was fine. We all have our moments of weakness, and I couldn't even imagine the suffering she was enduring.
We stayed like that for several minutes. Little by little, Clara calmed her anguish and her crying were less frequent. In all that time, we hadn't said a word. I just stared straight ahead or rested my also wet eyes on her shoulder.
"Leo…" she told me in a very soft voice, almost inaudible.
"Yes?" I answered without surprise, as I had been expecting her to speak again.
"I don't want a life like this. I don't want to live this way. I don't want to die"
I started thinking how her whole life had been influenced by her condition, and I couldn't even imagine them all. I felt very bad.
"I know. It must be horrible to have that fear all the time, right?" I told her in a calm voice while carefully caressing her back.
I felt her nod her head against the sleeve of my shirt.
"But I promise you that I will do everything possible to make you better"
"Hah, silly. It's nice that you tell me that, but you can't do anything" she told me as she tried to smile, which I could tell even if I wasn't looking at her.
"Yes I can. You know? Many beliefs say that the heart represents how you feel. And I know that to a certain extent that is true. I may not be able to heal your heart, but I want to make it happy. I want your heart to be happy for you to be happy, Clara"
Once again, I was talking in that mellow and dovelike way. But this time I was convinced that it was the best I could say.
Clara separated her face from my arm and tried to lean back. I released my grip and she snapped back to her original position. She looked at me for a few seconds and then she put both of her hands on my cheeks. So, she stayed a few more seconds. Her face was a mess, tear-stained and hair disheveled, but it wasn't much worse than mine. I was also watery-eyed at this point.
"Heh, you even started to cry, silly" she smiled at me through all her anguish.
"You dummy" I did the same.
It looked like an ackward situation, but at the same time a really sweet one.
"Hey, thanks for wanting to take care of me so much. I don't know what I did to deserve it, but you're a real sunshine"
Seeing her speak so tenderly about me when she felt bad was a very nice thing. Too bad I couldn't tell her why I cared so much for her. At that point, telling Clara what I felt would have been a problem for her. But…
An "I think I like you, Clara" wouldn't have been so bad.
"Of course you deserve it. You are always very nice and sweet to me. Until recently, I was overwhelmed with studies and feeling bad, but you put me in a better mood, despite everything you are going through. Thank you for taking care of me too, Clari," I said as I smiled at her, still shocked.
Clara smiled brightly and nodded her head. She returned to her original position and drank some coffee, which was surprisingly still hot.
"Haha, 'Clari' you say, what a fool," she continued laughing, a little harder than before.
I reacted with embarrassment when I realized that I had let myself say that to her.
"Eh?! S-sorry, but I thought it was cute," my cheeks turned bright red at that moment
"Hahaha, you really are-so-cute," she kept laughing as she jokingly sang.
"Enough already. Besides, you have coffee foam in your mouth, hahaha, clean yourself up."
I returned it just in time. Her embarassed reaction was even bigger than mine.
"Ah! S-shut up, idiot!" Clara said as she quickly wiped her mouth.
For a while, even it it was just for five minutes, I was able to make that angel smile again, when she needed it so much. We finished our coffee and I walked her home again, since I figured she wouldn't feel like doing anything else after all that happened.
"Here it is. Thanks for taking me home," she told me, as happily as ever, as if nothing had happened.
"You're welcome. Well then, get better and we'll see each other again whenever you want, okay?" I told her in the same tone.
"Yeah. Oh, and…
Her expression became a little calmer and softer, and she began to stare at the floor for a few seconds.
...thanks for taking care of me, really," she looked back at me and smiled at me.
She was already turning to her back in order to go inside her building when I interrupted her.
What she was going to receive was a warm smile that I tried to give her.
"Everything will be fine, I promise. Take care of yourself, okay? Promise me that"
"Yes, I promise," she said before smiling at me so radiantly that I could feel my face burn.
Clara turned around and entered the building. As she walked further and further down the hall, I stared at her more intently through the glass door.
"Don't you worry…
I remembered again the so nice moments we had experienced in the aquarium. Her curiosity, her melancholy, her illusion.
... I promise…
As my voice trailed off, I remembered what had happened when I visited her in the hospital. How, despite her suffering, she was always very attentive and she wanted to spend time with me.
... that everything...
Feeling my face wet, I remembered the day I met her. And how it was that, from something as bad as bumping into someone, that same day I had met someone so wonderful.
... it's going to be okay," I said as I tried not to cry.
The attempt was in vain. My face was already drenched, and my voice so thin I could hardly speak. As I watched Clara disappear behind the door, I felt all the warmth around me melt away. As if it were some kind of dire sign.
I closed my eyes and ran to my bike. Without even drying my tears, I began to pedal quickly down the semi-dark avenue, barely illuminated by the street lamps. I dodged everything in front of me, without slowing down.
In my mind, the only thing that took place was that hug I gave Clara. The small body of her trying to find refuge in me made me want to cry like a little child. And that phrase, that phrase that I didn't even want to remember because I knew it would give me the creeps. I didn't want to think about that. That couldn't happen.
"Let's go!" I encouraged myself.
I was not strong. I didn't feel strong after that. I tried to keep up her appearance to reassure her, so that Clara wouldn't have to think about anything other than having a good time. But inside I felt destroyed. And I would continue to be destroyed if I did nothing. That's why I changed my traditional route and instead of going straight home, within minutes I could already see the huge general hospital in the distance.
I hurriedly strapped my bike down and ran into the main hall.
"Good night, where do you have to go?" a nurse at reception asked me.
"Internment Ward! Please!" I told her in a very loud voice, unable to control it.
I ran up the stairs that took me to one of the upper floors. Upon arrival, the corridor greeted me just as it had the other time I had been there: absolutely desolate. There was no one in the long waiting room, and during night the ward seemed even darker.
I ventured into that corridor walking very fast, almost at a trot, and walked it to the end, where I remembered that a certain person was. There, in a small office that could be called a guard booth, he was.
That doctor who had received me and congratulated me that time was there, with his back to me, inside his office. The doctor that took care of Clara after the accident. He turned quickly to see me, taken by surprise.
"You… you're the guy of the bike," he told me after a few seconds.
And there I was. With sweat and tears on my face, with my helmet still on and my muscles exhausted. But more importantly, with a lot of questions that I needed answers to.