"I don't know who you are." Her red lips had a glint of pain in the gloss she wore, an imperfection amidst carefully planned out perfection. She shook her head and but didn't dare to bite her lip, a habit he remembered her having.
"Yes you do. Now do not lie to me." He tensed and gritted his teeth, fire behind his words.
"I know your name," Her eyes flickered up to meet his. Long, black lashes coated in expensive mascara outlined watery, grey eyes.
"I know your face," Every soft word she spoke dug lines in her youthful face. It aged her to remember.
"but I do not know you anymore."
Silence. He knew that she would do something like this, he calculated that it would hurt, but her words sliced through his skin. "You are not the Hugo I used to know." Fake nails clung to the door that they peeked out of. "Please leave."
He stood strong as he felt the night slowly cave in on him. Streetlights flickered and dimmed, bushes and trees loomed over him, the stars above him stopped shining. The brick steps his feet rested on came to life and brought the wrath of a swaying earthquake. The soft light glowing from the house he stood before and the porch light that hung above him all swung violently and painfully in his eyes. He couldn't feel the cold wind but his clothes scratched across his skin in the breeze.
"I know this is out of the blue and completely absurd, but we need each other. And, I'm still Hugo after all." She just ran her hands through dyed hair and brought them to rest on her neck. She reeked of stress and her shoulders sagged as if she held the weight of the cosmos on them.
"But not Hugo of South Boulevard Lane. Not Hugo, chess player of Terryville High. You left." In that break of her voice he heard the pain of the past four years. "You changed. You are a Hugo. But not the one I knew and not one I want to know. Now leave. Please." Her words grew to be bitter and poisonous, laced with a tone he remembered not to mess with. She always got this upset this quickly.
"You are not exactly who I remember either, Clara." He held back a sneer as his nose twitched in smelling cheap perfume. She was coated and slopped with makeup and bold clothes and fake nails. Her skin didn't even look her own, so fake and tan. She changed everything, and she knew it. That was why she wouldn't let him in again. He stepped away from her doorstep with pride, however. He has learned to celebrate every small victory, and getting her to even open the door was one.
"It's only temporary." He jerked his head toward a far-away voice. "Whatever you are going though. It's only temporary. Get up and kick whatever it is that sucks terribly in its fat behind, if you wish it to even more temporary." He narrowed his eyes at the scrawny girl before him that he'd never seen before. She didn't know what she was talking about, she didn't know him. She needed to leave.
"Come on." She flipped her head to the side, causing boundless curls to dance around her face which held a playful sneer. "What’s the worse that can happen anyway?"
"Change." His voice echoed in the twilight.
If there was one thing he had learned in the years he had left, it was that patience and determination go hand in hand. If there was one thing he learned from Clara all those years before, it was that spontaneous and insane courage gets you to your destination far quicker.
"Are you in my garden? Do you not have a place to say?" Her face was alight with bewilderment and anger.
"That's irrelevant. Look, we need to talk."
"No. We don't. Screw off, Hugo. I have a life to get to." She fiddled with her keys and bag.
"Some life at the office? What happened to being a hot air balloon captain?"
"We were children." Her voice was acidic.
"We were 18."
"Sod. Off. Hugo!" She fumbled into her car and slammed the door.
This rouge dance of insane courage and patient determination continued for days, taking small conversations from her whenever he could. She knew she was playing along, because he hadn't yet heard the cops. He knew, however, he must be careful. He wasn't playing a game. He was constructing a life and one wrong move could be the end of the mission he dedicated his life to.
"We are not who we used to be." She said sipping coffee she reluctantly and annoyingly agreed to.
"Let’s get to know each other again then!" His voice was hopeful.
"No Hugo. We can't. I have my own life now." Her voice pessimistic.
"You did make it that way." The afternoon wasn't hot, but she shifted uncomfortably. He was playing her like a fiddle, knowing just what notes to pluck.
"I know I did." Her reaction was defiant. "You left by the way." She turned, speaking daggers. "You knew I wouldn't want you to come back."
"We would have made a fantastic couple, ya know." He avoided what she was beginning to unearth.
"I don't care anymore."
"Yes you do. You loved me."
"I never loved you. Thank god." She huffed. "Is this what you are playing at? Are you trying to get me to confess my undenying love for you? Well you're wrong, Hugo."
"Clara, what happened? Do you really understand what happened senior year?" He leaned forward, pressing forward, determined.
"You don't understand what happened!" She laughed sadistically. "My best friend abandoned me for the military!"
"Both wrong and right. I never was your best friend. Not then. We still can be though, I've learned a lot more about friendship now, and perhaps you have too."
"I needed you." She narrowed her eyes and hissed at him.
"I've never even had the chance to kiss you. I had planned on it before I left, but-" He sighed deeply. "it just never happened."
"Did you ever want to?" He wondered out loud, glancing at her.
"You are starting to really creep me out.” She jumped up. “I’m leaving. I don-"
"Clara please stay!" He jumped up along with her, reaching out. She can't leave now. They were getting somewhere.
"I don't care! I don't want anymore of this! And of you. You are creepy and disgusting. Get away from me."
"Clara, let me try again!" Heart pounding, he pleaded with her and every god he knew.
She shook her head and closed her eyes. "It's like one day a flip was switched and you became someone I never knew." When her eyes opened, they winced and he saw the brilliant shade of grey recoil.
"Why did you have to change like that?" Her voice broke, her hand went up to reach for curls that she had straightened away that morning.
He couldn't bring himself to answer her question. He just stood there, boiling and storming with emotions and words, but on the outside as blank and dumbfounded as ever. He could only mutter three words she couldn't hear but already knew.
"Because of you."
"You don't talk a lot. You should talk more."
"I find that when I do, people either don't like what I say or don't even hear it."
"Say it with glamour and everyone will love whatever you’re saying. Thats how politicians talk anyway"
"So glitter up a sign that reads 'I will kill your family'?" She laughed as if she what glitter was made of.
"See you're funny Hugo. Show it off more!"
"You don't understand." He smiled sadly and looked down at his lap.
"You keep saying that." She turned to look at him. She was made of fire, ice, hurricanes, tornadoes, and all of it was held together with industrial strength glitter glue. "But has it ever crossed your mind that maybe, just maybe I do?"
"Oh my- Hugo! Stop following me!" She dropped and shattered her glass in surprise, her fury burning everything around her. "What is it this time? Will you just leave?" At one time in his life Hugo would have became paralyzed, just staring at her with eyes wide with fear, uncertainty, and all courage that had been there previously, drained. However he was different now, changed, and had all the courage he needed. He held his head up and waited for her.
Clara took a deep breath and started toward him in an angry march. She crashed into him. grabbed his arms and shook him violently.
"Hugo don't you understand? You were a game! A game to me!" She yelled with tears forming in her eyes. She threw his arms down and yanked at her hair. "I wanted to prove to myself I was suave and brilliant for being able to change someone for the better. You were my little game to see if I could make you not want to jump off a bridge.” Her voice was an acidic sneer. ”You were some little calculated game I played." White hot tears boiled in her eyes as she met his stare. "But, Hugo, I got it all wrong! Jeez- I've always been bad at math anyway."- a sour laugh- "I just wanted to control you! Make you mine! Make you love me no matter what. That's all I wanted. You did that, for a long time I had you around my finger. Then one day, I didn't."
"Hugo? Hello?" She dramatically waved her hand in front of his face. "Can I take a look at your calc? I had a late night last night."
Hugo looked up at her, his heart leapt and sank at what he deduced; “Mikey <3” blinked on her phone, and so did 21 unopened texts from “Hugo :P” "You were out with Mike last night, weren’t you?”
"Yeahhh..." She giggled, lost in remembering her night. "Yeah I was. Sorry 'bout that. I'll make it up to ya."
"You always say that." Hugo bit his lip, heartbroken.
"Well don't schedule surprise dinner reservations on me!" She huffed and turned back to the phone in her hands, which just hummed with another text alert.
"I put it in your calendar and told you last week." He narrowed his eyes.
"Hugo-" She looked up leaned forward, curls slipping over her shoulders, tee shirt stooping a little lower, eyes twinkling with mischievous thoughts. "-you do know that we aren't a couple, right?"
"But were friends. Friends do these things." He puffed out his chest in defense.
"Before me Hugo, you never had friends." He grudgingly handed her his notebook and watched her leave.
"You are my biggest mistake.”
She said that now. He had said that four years earlier. "I thought I could control you. Instead I freaking inspired you. And you know what took me over the edge? I loved who you became. I did love you."
"Class! We need one more person to give a speech about a career choice. Any last volunteers?” The teacher looked around at the rows of blinking eyes.
This, Hugo realized, was his last chance to do something he dreamed about doing. He had always been shy. He raised his hand before he could talk himself out of it.
"Hugo? Are you sure?" The teacher looked taken back at this turn of events.
"Yes." And so that began the transcendent adventure of random acts of bravery. After all, that’s the only thing absent in achieving his dreams, and the one thing he learned to do most. He caught Clara's eyes and smiled brightly, she didn't return it.
"In your defense, you did change me for the better." A memory of himself, so uncertain and scared of life and everything about it, flashed in his blue eyes before he smiled. "You showed me the world could be wild and wonderful. You made me believe that we shouldn't be tamed, that we should be courageous and spontaneous. Because of that, I wouldn't have chased after absurd dreams and end up accomplishing them." He continued, this time, she was motionless. "You were also very, very real. You liked to surround yourself with fantasy, stories and movies, thinking that you would end up being someone unique and mythical. However, you just contrasted yourself among it. Instead of being strong and independent, you were strong, independent, egotistical and beneath all of that, scared and cowardly and to weak to keep up with your big and wild dreams. I saw right through you at the end, although I was angry at you, heartbroken, I still believed that maybe I could save you instead."
"You can't save me Hugo. I've changed." She motioned to the makeup slathered on her face, her discount business jacket and pencil skirt, her straightened hair.
"So have I." The setting sun outlined his buzzed hair and bulging muscles.
"We aren't perfect. We never will be. It's a very sad thing to believe that humans can save humans by trying to fill in broken gaps with love. It simply won't work. You can't be healed or saved when the holes are meant to be there. The holes and imperfections are apart of who we are, why can't people see that?" He shouted, eyes wide in what he just confessed. The military recruiter in front of him faltered at Hugo's unexpected answer.
"It's only temporary after all, Clara. What you- we -are going through. So let’s kick life in its overly fat behind and get on with being who we want to be."
She bit her lip, something she hadn't done since her hair was wild and her age young. She took a deep breath-