With Your Last Heartbeat
In the middle of that wild encounter, as I was taken aback, Sofia would be completely excited as she ran toward me and hugged with all of her strength.
"What are you doing here Clara? Did you miss me?"
"Haha, of course not silly, do you work here?," I said, in the middle of her clutch.
"Well yes. This is the café I told you about. I told you it was near the park”
I would never have guessed that she worked right in this café, although it is true that all the clues she had given me indicated that it was a possibility, indeed.
“And what are you doing here," she said as she got back to her original position.
"This... this is where I was going to hang out with... you know..."
What I remember from the next few seconds is how Sofia was becoming the most curious yet excited person in the world. She had become so bright that you had to watch her with glasses to keep your eyes from burning.
"No kidding, I'm going to get to meet your prince? Ayyy, what a thrill!"
"Well, it looks like-"
"What does he look like? How does he dress? I want to be ready for when I see him," she said jumping up and down at me.
Describing him in words was no easy task, at least for me. I couldn't help but make some comment about him that was very personal.
"Well... he has short brown hair, brown eyes and... he's really cute," I said exploding with embarrassment.
"How nice! I'll be looking forward to it. But, how weird..."
I noticed a bit of genuine uncertainty in Sofia, who was staring at the ceiling with her index finger in her mouth.
"I mean, you said he met you at the park and he lived nearby, right? So, he should know that we're closed by this time."
"Oh, yeah," I asked.
"That's right. Well, don't worry, I'll ask the manager if we can make an excep-"
Sofia was walking toward the service door again, her back completely to me, when she stopped dead in her tracks and became quiet. The atmosphere fell deeply silent again for several seconds. I didn't know what was wrong with her until she turned to look at me, turning her head more than her body, looking shocked and her cheeks super red.
"You said... short brown hair... right?"
I could see Sofia's expression change and flared up. She looked like she had figured something out and at the same time she was terrified. It's hard to put into words what was going through her head, as she was completely stunned. After a few seconds, she tried to control her expression and smile. Emphasis on 'tried'.
"Sorry, Clarichi, could you give me a second," she said in a nervous voice.
"That's okay," I replied quizzically.
Sofia walked in the opposite direction from me again, entering the bar and reaching the service door. She opened it normally, stepped inside, and as I looked in, I could notice how she closed it violently, disappearing behind her.
I couldn't help but be weirded out by it all. Again, my mind was sailing in a sea of confusion. It was much more than I could process in a few moments. I think I was almost a minute that way, which felt like a whole eternity, until the door reopened.
Sofia happily rushed at me, running the whole way, and hugged me very tightly. Being sunk into her body, I couldn't see anything that was going on outside, at the same time I heard many people approaching.
"Happy birthday to you...
Sofia detached herself from me and I saw three people surrounding me, including her. To her right was an elderly man in a white plaid shirt, and to her left was another boy our age, wearing the same outfit as her and a gray beret on his head.
... happy birthday to you...
Everyone was singing and clapping in unison. My ears were filled with the noise of the applause, the voices, and I think some footsteps in the distance, to which I did not give importance.
... happy birthday..."
My heart leapt at that moment. In that last sentence, only one person sang. His voice entered my ears like a bullet train, at high speed and with an incredible surprise. I noticed that, from behind, between Sofia and the store manager, a fourth person appeared. Wearing the same outfit as the guy to my right and holding a tray containing a piece of cake, with a lit candle. Although I don't know how my eyes could notice that if I never really took them off his face. In front of me, smiling with his warm and beautiful face, with those two brown eyes more vivacious than a thousand candles, as if he was a prince coming for me... was Leo.
"...Happy birthday to you!"
The third birthday song I was getting in the day ended with everyone singing at the same time. I could hear their shouts and applause in the background, but I could only focus on that one person in front of me, who leaned forward to set the tray down on my table. Still smiling, in that same posture, he stayed for a few seconds.
"Happy birthday, Clara."
I could have sworn tears were about to come to my eyes, as my eyes felt watery. Had they been, I'm sure they would have evaporated from the heat emanating from my super red cheeks. It was the best surprise I could be getting.
"Leo..." I said with a sheepish smile, still retaining my excitement.
"Go on, make a wish," Sofia was saying from the background.
I looked at the candle, lit, as if it were a torch of hope. I remembered all my previous birthdays, locked up in a hospital or alone with my parents. And I also remembered the love I felt from everyone that day. That's when a singular tear came out of my left eye. I inhaled sharply, and as I thought about my wish, I exhaled. Truth be told, it was the first wish in my entire life that had nothing to do with my heart.
'I wish to always be with everyone like this... forever.'
After a while of excitement, the manager and the other guy were tidying up the bar to end the day. They had prepared me a coffee to go with my slice of cake, which I was eating while Leo and Sofia sat with me.
"You fool! How are you going to keep your friend waiting," Sofia was trying to restrain Leo by tugging on his ear.
"Aw, I'm sorry. Maybe if you had done your job right today, I could have talked to Jairo a lot sooner."
"Huh? What are you talking about?"
"About the table of eight people that came earlier, I had to wait on it on my own!"
"Hey, I was busy too, you know?"
As I watched this little sequence, I couldn't help but hold back my giggles. Leo and Sofia, two of the people I loved the most, already knew each other and were getting along so confidently. I wasn't wrong about that last one, which I confirmed when I saw that they both noticed my laughter and smiled as well, returning to their seats.
"Ahh, sorry to keep you waiting. I had to work out some issues with the manager," Leo explained to me as he grabbed the back of his neck.
"Oh...that's okay. I just didn't know if you were going to make it on time. So, you work here?"
"Yes. I started very recently here. I saw recently that they needed one more employee, so I tried my luck. Luckily, everyone was very nice to me when I arrived, so I really enjoy doing it. It's the two of us, Jairo who is the manager, and that guy over there. Hey, Hikaru!"
Leo turned to speak to that other black-haired boy, who was at the sink washing some cups. He seemed to be listening to everything we were saying, as he reacted quickly.
"H-huh? What's up," he asked somewhat nervously.
"I finally introduce you to her. This is Clara," he told him. Then, he turned to me to make the introduction in the opposite direction, "Clara, this is Hikaru."
"Nice to meet you," I said.
"Ah, a-a nice to meet you too," he said before quickly looking back toward the cups.
"Did you see what a strange name he has," Leo laughed.
"Hey, I can hear you," Hikaru replied angrily and nervously.
"Hahahaha, sorry, sorry," he apologized.
So that nervous boy was Hikaru. It was true that he had a very curious name, but also cute. Surely it had a meaning.
“But seriously, I could have never thought that you two knew each other so well. Well, I'm glad after all. Sadly, Sofia never told me anything before”
“Huh? How could I know? You didn't mention me his name, too”
“Ah, come on. You had enough clues, you braindead”
“No I didn´t, you idiot”
Again, they were both rambling at each other. They had their own way of communicating, I guess.
"I see... but why did you start working, do you have to pay for your studies," I asked Leo, changing the subject.
Leo seemed dryly surprised at my question.
"Huh? Well, let me get to that part later... then-"
Leo stopped talking when he saw that, to his right, Sofia was staring at him very hard, amazed at something. Again, he could see her cheeks take on a little color. After a few seconds, she seemed to react.
"Huh?" she said.
"Hey, stop staring at me like that, silly, do you like me or something?"
Leo reached out to pinch her cheek and bring her back to herself.
"Stop it, dummy, who could like you?"
Leo released her after a few seconds, with a smug grin, which again made me laugh. In a way, it resembled the relationship I had with her myself.
"God... ah, now that I remember... Clara, didn't you have something to give this idiot?"
Both Leo and I were surprised at what she wanted to tell us, with the difference being that I quickly remembered what she wanted to tell me.
I hurried to open my small purse and pull out from inside the cookie I had left over from the morning, in a paper bag.
"I made cookies today for my birthday... here, it's for you."
That curious boy took the bag gingerly and then looked inside. He took out the cookie and, after looking at it for a few seconds, gave it a small bite.
"Mmm... it's yummy. Thanks for remembering, Clara."
"You're welcome," I said happy that she liked my little treat.
"Hey, Leo, can you come over here for a second? I need to finish this."
The caller from afar was the manager, by the name of Jairo according to Leo himself. He was standing by the service door, motioning him to come in.
"Okay," he said, before speaking to us, "Well, I have to finish something, I'll be back in a bit. I'll leave her in your care, Sofia."
"I know, you don't need to tell me."
After a few steps, however, he slowed down and turned back to us.
"Oh, and, Clara... I missed you a lot too, you know?"
After that sentence, which went straight into my heart, he let out a little chuckle and continued walking. He went behind the bar to the service door, which he walked through next to the manager to disappear into the back of the store, leaving me completely struck.
"So you missed me, huh," I said holding my hands to my chest, smiling.
"Of course he missed you"
Apparently, Sofia had heard my whisper, and didn't hesitate to mark me what had happened.
"Yes. A few moments ago, I was remembering that. Everything he was telling us, everything he wanted to do... he's a little sunshine when he wants to"
So it was true that Sofia thought very highly of Leo. Though I wasn't surprised anyone did, least of all her.
"Come to think of it, Clara... I wouldn't have guessed you were the one who had cried so much that day."
I quickly remembered the other time we had been there, while I have him the bad news on my health status, and my face caught fire.
"Did you see it all?"
"Of course I saw it all. I was working at the counter, it's logical."
"God... I want to disappear off the earth."
I was covering my face with a lot of embarrassment on top of it. Now not only Leo, but also Sofia knew I was a crybaby. This was the worst.
"But don't worry. I understand what was going on with you. Besides, it's not bad to let off steam once in a while"
Sofia was always going to try to lift my spirits when I was feeling down, apparently. If I had to count all the times she'd done that, I'd need a giant tally.
"Thank you, Sofia. You're always a sweetheart...so...do you like working with him," I asked to change the subject, since I equally didn't like remembering that scene.
"Of course not."
Her expression totally changed when I asked her that question. Sofia now had a disgusted look on her face.
"It's a mess! He was supposedly older, but he barely knew how to turn on an oven. He had no idea how to prepare pastries or cakes, and even to serve coffee he was very clumsy. Besides, he's very clueless all the time, and when he bumps into me, we often end up arguing."
"This... seems to be quite a problem," I said smiling a little.
"Yes he is! But... he's also a nice guy, you know? And also..."
I noticed that Sofia was once again pinning her eyes to the table, a little embarrassed by what she was about to tell me. Now her expression was much softer and calmer.
"... I think he's the best boy you could have fallen in love with, Clari."
Her eyes were shining with happiness. Clearly, I knew it was because she was so happy for me, and maybe for Leo, but I couldn't pass up the chance to get back at her.
"Sofi... can it be that you like Leo?"
Sofia's face changed from being totally sweet to showing uncontainable embarrassment, mixed with fury.
"Huh?! Of course not, silly! What are you saying? I could never like him! Especially if you like him! Silly! Silly!"
Contrary to what typically happened, Sofia was now the one having the tantrum, trying to hit me. In just a few weeks we had been like this many times, and it was already becoming a classic.
"Hahaha, I'm just kidding Sofi, calm down."
"God! Good thing we have to leave now. You're so mean, Clara. I hate you!"
As she walked away from me, walking quickly towards the service door, my laughter slowly diminished, until I asked myself something again.
"Do you have to leave?"
Sofia stopped short, before the door, and turned her still blushing face towards me.
"You'll see..." she told me trying to smile tenderly, a little upset by my joke.
She finally disappeared through the service door, and I noticed that Hikaru also did the same. In the spacious living room, I was left completely alone again.
Anyone who saw me could easily tell that something very good had happened. My happiness could be noticed even if they were looking at me from miles away. My hands were pressed against my chest as I giggled. In those moments, I finished my coffee and my piece of cake, which were delicious, just before the door opened again. I looked toward it, not imagining for one tiny bit what was about to happen.
"Sorry I'm late," Leo was saying as he tried to close it with his only unoccupied hand, his left.
"No, it's... aaahhh! Eeehhhhh?"
As he began to approach, I noticed that in his right hand he was carrying a flashy, two-colored object. When he was already a short distance away, I could make it out. It was a beautiful bouquet of flowers, small but distinctive.
"Happy birthday, Clara."
As Leo bent down to hand me the flowers, I stopped to look at him for a second. As he was dressed in his work uniform, blue plaid shirt, understated black pants and apron, I could tell that his face stood out even more. As if that wasn't enough, he wore a small gray beret on his head, matching his apron, giving him an old-fashioned air that made him look like quite the gentleman. Behind it, his light brown hair appeared, matching his calm eyes. At that moment, I couldn't think of anything but how cute he looked... so that's what my prince looked like....
"Thank you, Leo," I reflexively pulled him into a hug as I stood up.
Many things were mixed up in that hug. It was partly because of the affection I had for him, as well as the surprise he had generated in me... as well as the urge for something more to happen. At that moment, completely enraptured by his person, I wanted everything to happen with him.
"Haha, let go of me, you're heavy."
I got off him and took the bouquet between my two hands. They were white roses, possibly some of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I knew they had no scent, so there was no reason to try to smell them, but I hugged them against my body like a stuffed animal.
"They are beautiful. You're so sweet, Leo. Thank you. This is the best birthday I could have ever had," I told him.
Leo looked at me with a smile so warm I could melt.
"I'm glad you liked it. Oh...is that a new dress? It looks different from the one you wore the other time."
With the same beautiful smile, I noticed Leo was paying special attention to my new dress.
"Yes. My parents gave it to me for my birthday, what do you think," I asked him as I wiggled my hips from side to side happily, swaying the ends of my new garment.
"I really like it, you know? You look really cut-.
Leo's matter-of-factness in speaking was cut off before I could finish the sentence. He looked a little more nervous and flushed than before, and I think he noticed the same in me. I waited with great anticipation for him to decide how to continue.
"...I mean...you look very cute today."
I smiled almost instinctively after he decided to finish the sentence. I smiled openly at him, gawking inside and happy that he decided to break his shyness to flatter me.
"Thank you, Leo. You look really cute dressed like that too."
The ball had landed in my court, and I had to return it forcefully, while telling him what I truly thought of him.
"Huh? Really?" he said excitedly.
"Well, yes. That beret really suits you, you know?"
"Uh... thank you very much, Clara," he said smiling at me.
I felt like a magical atmosphere had been built in that lonely room. I didn't even remember anymore that time I had had such a bad time in that same place. Besides, it was so nice to feel so pampered by someone I really appreciated.
"Hey... Can you sit with me for a second," she asked.
We sat at the same table I was eating at, on the same long seat as the other time. We were very close to each other, but neither of us seemed to mind.
"Clara...this is the real reason I wanted to see you today. Here you have"
Leo still had something else to give me. He held out his hand and handed me a white, sealed envelope.
"Ahh... a letter?"
"Well...why don't you read it?"
At that moment I thought, clearly, that was a letter. Leo could be quite the romantic when he wanted to be. But as I carefully opened it, I noticed something strange. It was a much smaller piece of paper than it would take to write a letter. Correction... it was a lot of paper.
It was an envelope with money in it.
"Huh? L-Leo, what's this?"
"It's like... $350, I think? Something like that as we counted just a minute ago with Jairo."
With each passing second, I understood less. That wasn't my question.
"But... this... is-"
"What I just got paid for, yes. I want you to have it."
"W-what do you mean..."
"Do you remember when we had been here? I think it was the same table. That day... it was really hard for me too. After everything that happened, I went to talk to Doctor Talos. If I'm not mistaken... this would cover half the cost of your medication, right?"
"No... it couldn't be. What was he talking about? Is he crazy?"
"Stop it..." I said somewhat distressed.
"I know about the sacrifice your parents are making to get you medication. Of the sacrifice Eduardo is making to take care of you. And of course, of the sacrifice you're making to put up with all this....
"I said enough..."
...so, from that day on, when I accidentally saw a sign that said they were looking for employees... I thought I really wanted to help you..."
"I told you to stop!"
I interrupted him abruptly, pushing him back somewhat forcefully, though he didn't move. I stared at him, while my face was a sea of uncontrollable tears. Inside me I had no comfort. I couldn't understand anything that was happening.
"Why... why are you helping me so much," I asked him in a clipped voice.
I felt Leo hesitate inside about what he should answer. He wasn't about to tell me the truth, and I knew it.
"I... I just want to help you, that's all."
"Liar. Leo, you're a liar", I thought. He knew it wasn't about that, yet he lied to me so blatantly. I knew it too, anyway. And thanks to what Sofia had told me a while back, I was absolutely sure that he was. I knew what was going on with him, but at that moment, I couldn't think of anything else.
Not knowing what else to do, I rushed over to him and hugged him, shielding my face against his chest. I didn't want him to see me like this, completely distressed and in a mess.
"I'm sorry... when you didn't want to see me... when you told me you couldn't... I thought that... I thought that..." was all I could say in my voice, so high pitched it was almost inaudible.
All those times I had doubted on him went through my head. How I got angry, how I cried about him, how I, just a couple of minutes before, had thought he would just not come to see me. I felt terrible for not trusting him.
"I know, I know. It's my fault for not telling you anything of this. I'm sorry."
Leo was trying to press my head against his chest, stroking my backhead gently. His embrace was so warm I could have stayed wrapped up in it for an eternity.
"You fool... I promise I'll pay you back every penny. Every last penny! I promise you... I promise you..."
Because I was venting all my anguish and guilt directly into Leo's chest, I couldn't look up to see his smile. He, despite the scene I was mounting, was smiling tenderly at me as he closed his eyes.
"It's okay. I'll be waiting for it. But only when you're healed, okay?"
"Yes... thank you so much...
…I love you so much."
Those last words simply slipped out of my mouth. It wasn't what I wanted to say, but at the same time I feel like I should have said even more to him. Even though I couldn't see him, Leo looked so excited now, his little eyes shining like two stars.
"I love you too, Clara."
I don't remember how much longer I hugged him, or how much longer he was holding me as I wouldn't stop crying, but it must have been a long time. This time, however, it wasn't an entirely sad cry. Rather, it was filled with happiness. Not just because of what I was getting, but because there was someone I could trust so much, to the point that he wanted to help me in this way. Just a few months ago I could not have imagined this. I was just... so happy.