Chapter 9:

To Rule and Guide

With Your Last Heartbeat

The alarm went off once again, as it did every morning. I turned off the alarm clock with what little strength I could muster, still groggy, and curled up between the sheets for a few more seconds. I mustered all the strength I had and, with a jump, sat up in bed, throwing the sheet and bedspread at my feet.

"Ahhh," I said as I woke up, avoiding hitting my long black hair with my arms.

The pink pajamas I was wearing, with long sleeves, were way out of place, matching me. It looked like I had slept very well that night. And as I noticed this, I felt that the situation was quite similar to what I had been experiencing every morning. But... at the same time it was different now.

"Well, I'd better go to the bathroom," I said as I slipped on my slippers as I stood up, all the while smiling excitedly.

Going back to school, now, brought me much more excitement than uncertainty. As I started attending at a new school, many doubts had come to my mind about whether I was going to be okay with so many people I didn't know. Fear, worry, terror... but since Friday, I felt more confident than ever. I no longer noticed pressure in my chest when I woke up or a knot in my head, and on the way to school I just wanted to get there faster to meet her.

"Hi," Sofia said to me as I approached my desk.

"Good morning, Sofia," I said standing in place as I smiled.

Classes became a lot more fun when I had someone like Sofia by my side. Many times, when I was focusing on the class, she would throw something at me to annoy me, and sometimes I would do the same. When we were bored, we would exchange papers where we would write about anything, or play games. And also, when we were at recess...

"Hey, Sofia, come play cards with us. I'm really going to beat you today," said one of the girls in the class, named Jennifer, who was sitting in the round with three other girls.

"Okay. Clara, do you want to play?"

Without half a second's hesitation, she turned her head to where I was and asked me. At the same time, I noticed the other four girls smiling friendly smiles at me from a distance, inviting me. I was quickly filled with enthusiasm.

"Yes! Let's go!"

And so, I sat down with them, and the fifteen minutes of recess we spent playing cards and laughing. And not only that time it was like that: she would also call me to go for a walk, study or even have lunch together with her and other kids. In those little moments, I began to get to know each of them a little better, as they got to know me. Sofia was always looking for a way to integrate me into the group, not because they were bad people or because she wanted to prove something to me, but because she knew what was wrong with me and wanted to be with me, and me to be with them. I had never had a friend who helped me in that way, and this made me very happy.

That Monday ended with me having enjoyed my day to the fullest. Being in fifth year with new people was really fun. And best of all, even though I was already leaving school, the day wasn't over yet.

"Cla-ri," Sofia was saying as she suddenly hugged me from behind.

"Ah, Sofi, don't surprise me like that," I said blushing and surprised.

Sofia quickly let go of me and stood in front of me, as she turned her body to always face me upfront.

"I felt like going to the park for a while, do you want to come?"

That cheerful, active smile combined with such a sweet invitation was something I couldn't refuse.

"Yeah, let's go. I was also looking forward to coming back today," I replied, also smiling.

"Good. The weather is ideal again today. That's good luck," Sofia was saying as she walked ahead of me, her back to me.

The moment I tried to start walking, I felt again how something inside my bag moved. At that moment, another of the issues that had been bothering me these days came back to my mind. I opened it and took from inside the only thing that could have caused that movement: my cell phone. As I opened it, I noticed that the notification that had arrived had to do with a junk email.

"An email? Ah..." I said between certainty and disappointment.

I closed the mail app and, without looking up from the screen, opened the messaging app. I was only interested in seeing one thing in that application: the chat I had with Leo. Chat that, as the last message, said 'Okay, take care of yourself'. That message Leo had sent me the same night when, in an act of madness, my father had confronted him at the entrance of my house. Since that day, I had not spoken to him.

Seeing this, I felt a little anxiety rise in my chest. I wanted to talk to Leo again, but after that incident I couldn't bring myself to talk to him. And I feared that something even worse could have happened.



I looked up quickly and noticed how Sofia was waiting for me a little further ahead, confused by my delay, while I was standing with my bag in my hands. She approached me again hopping up and down.

"Are you okay, did something happen?"

"Huh? No, nothing at all," I said smiling, as she kept coming closer.

When Sofia finally approached me, she leaned forward and took both of my hands between hers, her face being only a few inches from mine.

"Come on... don't be nervous, I promise I won't try to confess this time," she told me from nearby with a smug look on her face.

"Huh!" I said embarrassedly before getting angry again, "That's not why!"

I tried to grab Sofia by the arms, but she was more agile than me and quickly jumped onto her back and ran off while laughing loudly.

"Hahaha, I bet you can't catch me," she chirped as she ran from me.

"Come here! Wait!"

I took off running after her, on a tide of emotions that made me want to catch her and tickle her to exhaustion. Those emotions that, I was later to realize, were doing me so good. As I recall, for much of the way we ran to the park I was laughing uncontrollably. Feeling the wind in my face, having a person to follow... these were things that made me feel so good about myself.

We ran only a few blocks, where we slowed down and kept walking. On second thought, that was a good thing, as I hadn't gauged the risk of incident I might have been having while running. Although I didn't feel at all bad while doing so, it was better to be cautious. So, before long we were in the park, sitting on the wooden seats in the same spot where we had been last Friday.

"So, you still don't know what you want to do in the future, huh?" asked Sofia, sitting across from me.

After talking for quite a while about everything about our lives, Sofia brought up the future as a topic of conversation.

"No. The truth is that for a long time I was thinking about how I could enjoy every stage of my life at least a little bit, so I didn't think much about the future yet," I replied.

"I see. Still, can't you think of anything?"

Nothing at all. There were many things about the world that I still didn't understand, and I wanted to experience them for myself before I decided what I wanted to make of the rest of my life.

"Mmm... I don't know. I'd have to think about it. Maybe something to do with sea animals... but it's just a silly idea."

"Huh? That's really cute. You could be a caretaker at the aquarium or a marine biologist, what do you think?"

That idea didn't fully convince me, but it was a really great start to think about it.

"That could be really nice, you know? How about you, Sofia?"

"Let's see... I'd like to study culinary career and become a chef, I think," she told me thoughtfully and then confidently.

"Huh? That's very nice, do you like to cook," I asked her excitedly.

"Yes! I've loved doing all kinds of things in the kitchen since I was little. I grew up helping my mom cook for me and my siblings, plus I learned how to bake at the place where I work, so I really enjoy it."

"Wow, how impressive. It must be really nice to know how to cook like that..."

While I was impressed by her desire to be a cook and her skill with food, I was struck by a part of what she was telling me.

"Huh? Sofia, do you work?"

"Well, yes. For the last year or so. I'm working part-time at a coffee shop near here. It's only four hours after school," she told me.

"I see... why did you decide to do it," I asked in a totally innocent manner.

"Well... since a while ago, my father became unemployed. You know, the economic situation is not the best today... and my mother's job alone is not enough for the five of us, so I have to give them a hand. Sometimes it's a little difficult to study and work at the same time, but it's no problem. After all, there's nothing I can't do, hehe."

It's true. I remembered everything she normally did, and the fact that she worked was perfectly logical and possible. I also noticed that Sofia was telling me this without showing any sadness, and always with a smile.

"So... you study so much in school... and when the other day you had to leave early..."

Sofia looked at my sorry face and my crestfallen posture, and answered as naturally as she had been doing.

"Yes. That's why. Rather, in a while I'll have to leave you again for the same thing."

"... I'm sorry," I said apologetically.


Sofia lunged at me and started pulling my ears with moderate force.

"You don't have to apologize. You're not to blame for anything."

"Okay, let go of me!"

After a few seconds, Sofia let go of my ears, which were a little sore and red. She took a few steps back to give me space.

"Ah... God..." I groaned.

As I tried to ease the slight pain in my ears, I remembered that this situation was almost identical to the one that had occurred between Leo and I. Him trying to apologize and me telling him that he wasn't to blame. As I did so, a giggle inevitably broke out on my face as the sun glinted off my cheeks.

"What is it?" Sofia had noticed my expression.

"Oh, nothing..." I said still smiling.

"Did you remember something? It shows on your face," she said as she laughed.

"Yes, but..."

That last sentence was enough to arouse curiosity inside that blonde girl. She came very close to me again, in giant steps.

"What'll it be? Some nice memory? That you'd like to be with me always?"

With every question, she came closer and closer. As if she were a cat watching her prey, her face was completely alight, and her eyes shone like two huge suns.

"Or maybe... someone you like?"

Unbeknownst to me, my pupils grew larger and my mouth slightly ajar at hearing that option.


I stood for a few seconds not knowing what to do, looking anywhere else. Still not finding an answer, I glanced back at Sofia, who was waiting for some sign from me.

"So that's what it was," she told me with her tender smile.

"This, well... I don't know if I could say I like him, but..."

I intertwined my fingers as I tried to deny it, but I didn't feel that was really the case. I felt too embarrassed to have to talk that way, and I didn't know how to say it.

"Come on, tell me, tell me."

Sofia sat down across from me again and waited patiently for me to decide to tell her. Her curious face didn't seem to fade, and after she tried so hard to make me feel good, I couldn't refuse. Unable to change my embarrassed smile, I began to explain.

"You see... there's a guy I met a while ago... he's always with me, and when I'm sad he manages to get a smile out of me. Rather, he was the only friend I had before I met you and the others... and I appreciate him a lot."

"Huh? Really, really? How cute. Where did you two meet," she asked me, on the verge of bursting with happiness.

"In this very park, to be honest with you. Rather, you see that drop-off on the other side of the lake? That's where we crashed our bikes."

I had stopped to point to a spot on Sofia's back. And the thing is, from that beautiful lookout, you could see that very intersection of roads, where I had once been so lucky despite the situation.

"Huh?! Did he hit you?"

"Mmm, not really. We were both going pretty fast. He because he was late for his faculty and I because... I was going through a bad time."

I recalled both of our reasons for having collided that day, and in doing so I felt a small knot in my chest again. After all, even though my life was changing for the better, that problem was still present.

"I understand. So, a boy who's somewhat older and bumped into you on the bike, then wants to be with, you like him?"

Again, my cheeks took on even more color, and the weather began to feel warmer. My hands were still clasped together from the nerves it gave me to answer.

"I don't know...ever since I met him, I saw him as someone I cherished, as a friend...but....

My mind was filled with the images of all the moments we had shared together. The time he had visited me in the hospital, the date at the aquarium, the time we had cried together... all those little moments I could feel his warmth.

... as time went on and I was with him more I realized that I really enjoyed having him by my side. I didn't want to be separated from him for anything in the world. He made me forget about my problems when I was nervous, and he brought a smile to my face when I was sad. He was cute, tender, and very affectionate when he was with me. Plus... he saved my life once. So... I don't know what to think of him anymore."

The wind was blowing gently, causing my hair to wave a little and I felt the breeze on my neck. At the same time, my eyes felt a bit moist, even though I couldn't stop smiling. I felt a mixture of emotions swirling around in my head. Emotions that I don't think had ever happened to me before.

"I see... but why did you say it 'was'?"

Without having noticed it, I was speaking in the past tense. I wanted to believe I said it unintentionally, but it was actually my subconscious betraying me. Without meaning to, I said my biggest fear on the air.

"The problem is... last week... he ran into my father outside my building. They had an argument and... since that day he didn't speak to me anymore. Maybe he's afraid, or he got upset... and I'm afraid I've lost him because of that. I want to see him again. I miss him so much."

Even I could feel that I was on the verge of tears. My voice would cut off and I could feel a few separate tears running down my face. That was the anguish I had and couldn't tell anyone. The one that made me go to sleep with teary eyes. The one that kept me on the lookout for some blessed cell phone message from him. I really missed Leo.

"A fight... don't tell me... he asked him for your hand and your dad refused? Kyaaa, like in Romeo and Juliet, how cute," she teasingly said to me, while making gestures of love and tenderness.

"That it wasn't like that...silly," I pouted again, although that comment had relieved my distress a little.

"Sorry, I was just kidding..."

The atmosphere was silent for a few seconds, only being interrupted by the blowing leaves and some ducks in the distance.

"Then you go get him."


Sofia looked at me decisively, without losing her pacifying smile.

"He may have his reasons for not writing to you. Maybe it's true that he's afraid, or maybe he's waiting for you to be better after that situation. It must be complicated for him too, so you could try to break the ice. Send him that you want to see him, propose something. I'm sure he'll be happy to see that."

It was hard for me to think that I could break my shyness that way, but it's true that Leo could be affected by that too. I got my hopes up that I could see him again if I was the one to take the step, unlike all the other times.


Sofia continued to talk as she stood up and approached the viewing platform's guardrail. Again, I could see her against the backlight of the glowing sun, with perfect scenery.

...I'm going to let you figure it out on your own, but for a guy to be so helpful and cute with you...I think that means something, don't you think?"

I opened my eyes wide as I felt a whole new world open up in my head. I had never thought of it that way, to be honest. It was obvious Leo was doing it because he felt bad, or because he wanted to be my friend... right? Wait... it couldn't be, could it?

"Thank you, really. These last few days have been very happy for me," I thanked Sofia with a huge smile, while my face still showed the tear marks.

"You're welcome. And I'm glad you've been better these days, did something-"

Sofia paused as she continued to stare at my smile straight at her. As if realizing something, she blushed completely in a matter of seconds, then smiled looking out at the lake.

"I see... I'm glad I could help you," she said a little embarrassed.

I felt that Sofia was one of the people I could trust the most, and knowing that filled me with joy. I just wanted to be able to help her too.

"Fufu... looks like my confession had a lot of effect the other day, silly."

Again, I blushed, but without losing the huge grin she had brought out of me.

"Hey, cut that out!" I said charging at her.

As I tried to punish her by hitting her or pinching her cheeks, neither of us stopped laughing. I think we were like that for several more minutes, until she had to leave to go to work. I went home super happy again, but focused on what I had to do.

Already in my bed, at night, I was holding the phone above my head, resting on the pillow, with the chat open. I had already typed the message, after much hesitation over the appropriate words to tell her how I felt.

"Mmm... go!"

I hit the send button on my cell phone, and the message registered in the conversation. I read it aloud:

'Hi, Leo. It's been a long time since I've talked to you, and I feel like I want to see you again. Would you like to meet up for tomorrow afternoon? We could have a picnic in the park. I'm really sorry about everything that happened in the past week ><'

I had really hesitated whether to tell him I missed him, whether to include the embarrassment emoticon... even whether to tell him how I really felt... but I think that was the best I could send him.


The next day, though...

'Hi, Clara. How are you? I told you the other day doesn't matter. I'm sorry, but I don't think I can'

That was the message I saw as soon as I woke up, and I was already disappointed. I wanted to respond quickly to save the situation.

'Okay. How about another day?'

And after a while, when I was finishing breakfast....

'Sorry, let me see if I can, okay? I'll let you know.'

That message felt much worse than the previous one. Even though I was still happy about other issues, sometimes I couldn't help but feel depressed about it. Tuesday went by like that, same thing on Wednesday. By Thursday, there was still nothing.

"So he still didn't get back to you?" asked Sofia, who since that Monday had been asking me religiously every day about what had happened.

"Mmmm... no," I said as I lay back on my desk, head tucked away, "Could it be that he doesn't want to see me anymore?"

"I don't think it's that, I told you. Maybe he's just busy."

"But... maybe he got bored of me and doesn't want me to give him any more trouble."

By now I was completely pessimistic about the situation. I didn't want our relationship to end so quickly, but I didn't know what to do anymore.

"Wait... you said your birthday was in the next few days, right?"

"Uh... yeah, next Wednesday," I said looking up at her.

"So, ask him out that day. Tell him it's for your birthday, I don't think he can refuse that."

"For my birthday, uh..."

Later that night I texted him again:

'Hi, Leo. Wednesday is my birthday, and I was thinking... would you like to go to the movies with me? There's this new movie that just came out that I'm really looking forward to seeing. We could go in the evening, what do you think?'

That plan had everything I needed. I had arranged a nice outing, with something he might be interested in, and it gave me the perfect excuse to celebrate my special day and be with him. And I thought, besides... it could be an interesting situation for something else to happen. I was still very hesitant, and as I went over this thought I was shaking my little feet all over the bed, but I think it would have made me very happy.

However, he responded much quicker this time:

'Hi, I'm sorry, but I won't be able to. I promise we'll go another day'


I was stunned in front of my cell phone screen, which was twitching from the nervous shaking of my hands.

"Why? Silly..."

I scrunched my face up tightly, not taking my eyes off his message, and smashed the phone against the mattress as I propelled myself with the bed.

"I don't need your promises!"

I remained turned on my side, as I lifted the phone back up so I could see it. I accidentally pressed the button to send a picture, and my tear-streaked face appeared on the screen, captured by my front-facing camera. I hurried to close it.

"Why don't you want to see me anymore?"

That night, after venting, I went back to sleep in anguish. I felt I had lost Leo. I felt I hadn't known how to take care of him. I missed him so much, but there was nothing I could do anymore. It felt horrible. I felt cursed by this life.

"Why does everything have to go wrong for me..."

I think that was the last thing I said before I went to sleep. And I honestly don't remember if it was a bad dream or I was still a little awake, but I have a vague memory of getting dizzy and my heart starting to slow down.

Friday was the same. Saturday and Sunday, I was at home, with little desire to do anything. Monday felt like, with the exception of Sofia, everyone had moved away from me. Leo wasn't talking to me, I was still a little angry with my parents, who I hardly spoke to either, and I couldn't bother Eduardo about it. It was only on Tuesday, my last day before my eighteenth birthday, that something changed in the situation.

"Cheer up, Clari. We can go for ice cream tomorrow if you don't go out with him," Sofia was telling me from her desk, at recess.

"I know, thank you Sofia. But I really wanted to see him..." I said with a small smile, a little depressed.


"Okay guys, open your books again."

The literature teacher had entered the classroom again, which meant the end of recess. I couldn't talk to her anymore, but I felt her look at me for a few more seconds until she focused on her textbook.

That day, I did not go out with Sofia after school, as she was busy. I went back to my house alone, where both my parents were waiting for me. During dinner, I tried to talk to them a little.

"So, your last day of being seventeen, huh? My daughter is already quite the young lady," my mother was telling me as she ate from her plate of spaghetti.

"Haha, thanks mom. It feels... weird," I said as I smiled.

"That's because you're becoming an adult. I still remember when you were a baby, remember that, Armando?"

"Of course I do, Matilda. We are so glad we could have had such a precious gift like you in our life," he said as he referred to me.

I felt such warmth hearing that after all I had been through. In the midst of all that drama, I had been able to reflect a little, and I was confident that they had as well.

"Thank you for always trying to take care of me. Even though I give you guys a lot of grief, you're always there for me through everything. I love you two so much," I couldn't help but smile.

"Aw, Clarita... we love you very much too. And we're so glad you're having fun with friends and hanging out after school. We're sorry that sometimes some things don't go quite right, but we always want our little girl to be very happy and well," my mother told me calmly, with the patience of an old lady.

"We are going to take care of you in every way we can, always. And about the medicine...we're going to do whatever it takes to get it for you. I swear to you on my dying right here that I'm not going to rest until you get it. You're going to be fine, and you're going to get well, Clarita," my father was now telling me, stepping out of his typical tough guy persona, with a warm smile.

Hearing that after almost two weeks of storm was something that filled my heart with joy. Whether I agreed with them or not, they were my parents, and since I was a little girl, they became happy or cried just as much or even more than me when my condition changed. I knew they would always be there for me, and that made me very happy.

"Okay, thank you," I told them smiling radiantly.

"Oops, look at the time. It's five minutes to twelve. Let's get everything ready."

We had started eating very late, since my father had arrived very late from work, so we finished eating only a few minutes before midnight.

"Happy birthday to you… happy birthday to you… happy birthday, Clarita… happy birthday to you!"

My parents ran to hug me amidst the cheering and applause, at the same time that Dayo was trying to jump and lean on my legs while barking. We stayed like that for almost a minute, while they told me how much they loved me and that this year all my wishes were going to come true. I guess there was no better way to start the year.

"It reminds me of when you were born, Clarita. It was a very rainy day, I remember. Six-thirty in the seemed to like to get up early, huh," my mother would chuckle, to which I would respond with an even bigger laugh.

"Huh? Wasn't it at eight-thirty?" my father asked, confused.

"Armando! You can't possibly not know when your daughter was born," my mother said a bit angrily.

"Huh? But if I'm sure..." he said while grabbing the back of his neck.

"'re a mess."

In the midst of this exchange, I couldn't help but laugh out loud. Those little moments were everything to me, and they held a magic that couldn't be found anywhere else.

After a while, I decided to head towards my room to rest for a while, as the day had been exhausting.

"Have a good rest," I said to both of them, still sitting at the table.

"Have a good rest," they dismissed me with a smile.

I closed the door and headed for my bed. There I lay down, and looking up at the ceiling I continued to smile foolishly. I was excited to be greeted the next day. Thinking about it, I picked up my phone from the top of my light table, and saw how the messaging app was full of different greetings. Four, in particular.

The first one was from Sofia, who seemed surprisingly excited to greet me, 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY CLARICHIIII THANK YOU FOR BEING MY FRIEND, LET´S HAVE MANY MORE OUTINGS TOGETHER <3', was what it said.

"Hahaha, what do you mean with ‘Clarichi’, what's that," I said unable to contain my laughter.

'Thank you so much Sofichi ;), I'm looking forward to hugging you tomorrow. Get lots of rest <3' was my reply, returning the nickname she had given me.

The second greeting was from my class group. Everyone was sending congratulations, filling my screen with emoticons and images of good wishes, Sofia included. Inside me, I felt incredibly happy to be part of such a group.

'Thank you all for remembering. I love you all so much <3' I replied, again using the heart emoticon as if it had rubbed off on me.

The third was from Edu, who had remembered to message me while he was on duty. 'Happy birthday, Clara. It seems unbelievable that it's already 18 years for you, when I still remember you were a little kid when I met you. Thank you for trusting me and for being the beautiful girl you always were. May all your wishes come true this year' he sent me, accompanied by a picture of a big cake.

"Aww, Edu..." I said out loud, touched.

'Thank you for remembering, Edu. You are a very important person to me, although you already know that. Thank you for always taking care of me, you deserve the best in the world. I'm going to hug you very tight when I see you <3' was what I sent him. By this point, I was almost automatically typing my heart out.

I left the conversation to look at the fourth message and... when I saw it my eyes widened, completely shocked at what I was seeing. I was overcome with a bunch of butterflies in my stomach when I read the word 'Leo' in the sender. I opened it very quickly. The message was the first of all to arrive, having been sent at 12:01 AM.

'Happy birthday, Clara. I would have loved to be with you in person to tell you, but I hope you can receive the same wish. Thank you for always being such a kind and nice person. I look forward to building more memories with you. I hug you from here :)'

As I finished reading that, my eyes misted up in a heartbeat. I was completely transfixed by the message.

"So you remembered..." I said, trying to smile.

'Thanks for remembering, Leo. Let me hug you when I see you again...

That was what I was going to send... but something held me back from hitting the send button. As if there was something missing to write... and I knew what it was.

... I miss you'. Send.

I put the phone to the side, blushing and smiling goofily at the ceiling, and in less than ten seconds, it rang again. It was another message from Leo, who seemed to still be awake.

'Of course, I was going to remember your birthday. Like I was going to forget about you, haha.'

"Haha, you're right. Like you were going to forget about me... I could never have thought that... how silly..." I nervously laughed

Out of my thoughts, I noticed that underneath was another message.

'I'm sorry if you have plans, but could we meet tomorrow night? It's very important to me'

I didn't understand the sudden change in his posture at all, but I certainly got excited. Without a second thought, I replied.

'It's okay, I have nothing to do, so do you want to go to the movies with me?'

That we could go back to my original plan made me very excited, especially after all the affection I was receiving. But…

'I'm sorry, I don't think I can. Could you go to Café Alba at 9 p.m.? Please?'

Café Alba, although I had never named it that way, was the café we had gone to a few weeks ago. That place where, after I had broken down, I had cried hugging him. It felt a little strange to go back to that place on such a special day, but... I couldn't refuse if he asked me so fervently.

'All right. I'll be there. I'll go to sleep, have a good rest :)' I replied.

'Thank you, Clara. Have a good rest too :)'

A roller coaster of feelings transited my body. I didn't understand why, or how, or what for, but I was going to be able to see Leo again on my birthday. After putting my phone down, I snuggled between the sheets and hugged a big piece of bedspread, thinking about all the nice things that had happened to me these past few hours.

"Now this is nice, hehe," I thought, excitedly, before falling asleep.