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Your name was Hugo. Or so you told me. I never really took a fondness for that name, but you were a small boy, with a red nose and hair the color of dirt. You may think me rude for saying so, but that is the only thing I can relate the color to: Dirt. Your eyes were the same color and your skin was once tan, but had faded with neglect from the sun and warm weather. The cap was practically interwoven with your skin it had been on your head so long, and your fingers screamed frostbite.
It was Christmas Eve, 1907. Dark. Late. I had been walking home from somewhere. I can’t remember now. It was so long ago.
I stuffed my hands into my pockets and pulled my red scarf up past my mouth. The snow was growing thicker and thicker and even more dense. Even as I sloshed my way through the dark, damp streets of London, I could tell that this Christmas would be something big, something chilly and white and breezy, but beautiful.
Yes, beautiful. I liked that word, I always have. I would go home to Ms. Maria and my roommates, Elsa and Kari, and they’d hug me. We’d find something, maybe Ms. Maria’s newspapers to wrap our boxes in. We’d take the spare nails I had found on the streets and hang our over-stretched socks on the walls. Ms. Maria would give us popcorn like she had done last year and string and we’d string it, hanging it over our dank, dreary window for some color, some life.
Just as we had done last year.
But things would get better. They had to. I had to find some place for my forced sisters. Of course we weren’t really related but I truly loved th—
I cursed under my breath. Some lump, some grungy, soggy, moaning thing lay in a heap at my feet on the sidewalk. I awkwardly kicked it, setting the ball in motion. I hadn’t known it was you, of all people. How could I possibly? How?
You stood and merely smiled at me, extending your naked hand. I stepped back, and I’m ashamed to say the first thought that entered my mind was ‘Good Lord, that boy has a large nose,’ but the thought passed when I agreed to shake your frostbitten hand. It was cold, bitterly cold, or so I sensed. My hands were just as cold, just as freezing.
You asked me my name with such politeness, such charm, that I had to tell you. “Louise…” simply slipped out of my throat, passed my lips.
And you. Hugo. You laughed at my name and told me yours. It was my turn to laugh.
“Hugo? Quite the name. I’m not too fond of it though,” I said through my scarf. The words were a bit muffled, but you heard me. You always would.
“Well, how is Louise any different?” Your smiled never faded.
“It’s very different!” I screeched.
But all you did was laugh at me again.
Thicker and thicker, the snow grew, until giant, fat flurries rained down on our hairy scalps. You told me to turn around, to look at the lights behind me. I did so, turning my heel on the ice and stared at a three story brick building with about a dozen candles on every window sill. I gasped. Did you do it? How could you have?
But your hands were chilly, and I turned back to you when they pressed themselves numbly against my skull. And then, fabric, warmth. I touched my head and realized you had given me that hat of yours. I smiled and tried to return it but you refused. You always were stubborn.
I asked you what your favorite color was out of curiosity. You instantly answered magenta and I laughed again, though I don’t know why. I told you aqua and you agreed that it was a nice color.
I hadn’t met you before, though I knew you from somewhere, I had to. The wind whipped my hair back and forth, in and out of my mouth, and when I finally spat it out, the wind dragged it across your face. I apologized, but you laughed again.
You laughed a lot that night.
I asked you if you had a home. The answer was no and I felt myself grow cold, truly cold, a bitter, lifeless sort of feeling. And I realized… when I bumped into you, you were sleeping. I bit my lip. You slept on the streets?
“Hugo?” I muttered.
“I live in the upcoming orphanage. You could stay there for a night or two,”
“It’s… for girls,” The color seemed to drain from your face. You wanted to stay there, I could tell.
“It’s only a day. No one would know. Besides, I can’t leave you on the streets; it’d be heartless.”
“You’re right, it would be,”
I took this as an acceptance. And I laughed, loud and obnoxious, but I didn’t care. The streets were empty, and my scarf whipped and lashed out behind me. Beautiful.
My room was in the basement of the orphanage, but a single, small window objecting the ground, defying gravity, was attached to it. How did this tiny window do it? How could something inanimate do something I had always longed to do, but never could force myself into it? How?
I squeezed through first, then you. You landed quietly, stealthily, cat-like. I admired this. You stood upright in the tiny cellar. Only Kari, Elsa, and I shared the basement. Only us. Only us. Together forever.
My bed was the same size as the other’s. The same color as well. Grey. It matched the basement and practically the rest of the orphanage. My scarf contrasted perfectly.
You smiled. “Nice room,”
“Not really,” I said half-heartedly.
You sat on a bed randomly. You didn’t realize it was mine.
“You can sleep if you like. Ms. Maria won’t find you down here.” I whispered. You thanked me and lay don, resting your head gingerly on the pillow that had long lost its puff. I asked you where you were from. Do you remember?
“Russia,” You said calmly. “Or, at least, I was born there. My mother and brother and I boarded a train to come to London, but I lost them along the journey.”
I pitied you, but you pushed it aside. I sat at the end of the bed and watched the blanket curved around both of our forms. Your chest was shaky, constricted, and you breathed.
“Are you ill?” I asked.
“Not that I know of,”
And I left it at that. I intended to. I intended on a lot of things.
I intended on going over and sharing a bed with Kari. Neither one of them would tell, they were good girls. I intended on sleeping and waking up with you in my bed across the floor from me. I intended on shaking you awake and going up for breakfast, only eating half, and sneaking the rest down to you. I intended on sending you on your way and seeing you around town every now and then and smiling, knowing I had helped you on Christmas Eve, the night of miracles.
All my intentions were good, great even. But they were wrong.
Elsa and Kari had been adopted that afternoon. I wouldn’t see them again. Never. Not once.
Together for never.
You held me as I cried. Of course I was happy for them, but I was most certainly selfish. I wanted the girls for myself. The same cold feeling that I had when you told me you lived nowhere returned in the damp cellar. The shadows came alive and glared at me with a hatred I had never felt cast upon my shoulders before. I clenched my eyes shut and wrapped the scarf so tight around my neck, I could barely breath for a millisecond.
But what was I doing? I didn’t even know you. This was stupid, strange. Ms. Maria would most certainly catch me!
I stood from the bed. “Does anyone live in that apartment? The one with the candles?”
“Yes,” Your eyes seemed to flicker like a fire in its hearth.
My shoulder slumped. It was such a good idea, too. “Do you know who?”
“Me,” He stared straight at me.
“But… You told me…”
“You asked me if I had a home. No.
No home. But a house? Yes.”
I smirked at this. How were you so sly? “Let’s go then,”
That’s what you did to me. You made my spirits soar and made sure my feet left the ground as often as I liked. You turned me into a rebel. You let me be the person I wanted to be and I still have no idea how you did it, how you do it. How?
You grasped my hands for dear life and pulled me through the small window. Our breath danced out of our mouths and curled over itself, fading off into the nocturnal air. We raced, our hearts beating in our stomachs, our hands cold, and clammy, but I didn’t dare let go of you.
The door to the brick building was unlocked, but most definitely dark. The shadows had come out again, alive, blistering with fury, with rage. I shouldn’t have left the orphanage, but I had and I had wanted to for so long. This aching inside my chest had grown, taller and taller and wider and larger. And you had done it. How?
The candles provided dim lighting, and it was… tolerable? Satisfactory? Awful? Perfect? I’d say it was closest to the latter. You gripped my face in your hands. How did you do it?
“It’s going to be great here,” You muttered. “It’ll be a home now.”
“It’ll be beautiful,” I laughed.
And I handed my scarf over to you. You did say you liked magenta. And, it being Christmas Eve, miracles did happen.
We stood silently, hand in hand, just looking, watching. Watching the candles glow, watching the shadows recede, watching the magenta scarf flow over your shoulders, watching my smile widen, watching your cap warm me, watching the miracles happen.
And they did…