It’s a week until combat, and ever since Hugo and I talked in his apartment a while back, it seems he’s been more interested in me than ever. I know in the back of my head what he wants from me, and I’m not sure if I’m willing to give it away. Most people find life partners during Senior Seminaries, so this is the perfect opportunity for me to do so, but I’m just focused on living for myself. I told Vera that if Hugo ever offered his hand, I would decline it. At the time, I never thought he would. The more I think about it, the less I feel the need to decline it – but I try weighing out the benefits of having a partner who joins the war in seven days, and unfortunately I don’t see enough positives.
And right now, a rest my head on his lap and watch the TV from a vertical point of view, I try and work out what the best way to reject his advances would be. Then I almost laugh to myself, because I’m right here in his apartment, lying on his goddamned lap, trying not to feel something in the pit of my heart for him. I don’t think I do, really. But I just hope I don’t.
“I think I’m afraid to die,” Hugo says after a long bout of quiet. “I’m scared, sometimes.”
I turn my head to face him, making sure not to slip off of the couch in doing so. “Why? You’ll just go to Heaven.”
“I don’t care where I go. I just don’t know if I’m ready to go there yet. It should be my choice. I should be able to wake up one day and say, ‘I want to go to Heaven.’ I don’t want to be thrown out to the gates when I don’t feel like it. I need to experience life more. And what if I go to Hell? What if I’m not good enough for Heaven?”
“What would make you think that?”
“I don’t know… I just think about this a lot these days. The closer it comes around, the more and more I think about it. Lying in bed, panicking in the dark. Wondering how I’ll go out. Maybe a bullet wound to the head? A bomb blast?”
“I can’t help it. I’m sorry. I never thought about death much until now. And it scares me a lot. I used to believe in all these afterlives, but sometimes I’m not sure. Sometimes I’m afraid that we live, and then we die, and that’s it. That’s all there ever is to us.”
“Well my ideology is that there is a Heaven. And I believe that nobody has to feel ready for it. They just have to be ready. In my eyes, nobody dies unless they were supposed to.”
“Oh, well that’s great isn’t it?” he grins. His voice is low and husky, signifying exhaustion from a long day of training.
“I don’t mean it in a negative way,” I protest. “I just mean that they are wanted in Heaven. Heaven is waiting for them.”
“...So if I die in the war, you believe that I’m wanted by Heaven?”
My heart sinks, because I knew we would end up here. I frown. “You won’t die.”
“Look me in the eye and tell me why I won’t. Tell me what’s stopping me from dying.”
I sit up, positioning myself towards him so I can grasp his shoulders for his undivided attention. “I have so much faith in you, Hugo. I always have and I always will. I’ve always believed in you. From the moment we were children, up until this point. You have always been like a barrel full of courage and zest, bursting at the seams. You never let anything bring you down. You knew what you wanted in life and that was enough for you not to fear anything. I know that this must feel like a death sentence. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There is always that chance of survival, and you could maybe think about that instead. Hold on to the good thoughts; cherish the people that love you. Know that if you…. If you ever failed to make it back…” I sigh, “Know that I am always thinking of you. I will always be thinking of you. In my heart. Not just me - everyone. You won’t be forgotten. You’ll be a martyr - a hero. You already are one, Hu. You’re braver than you think you are. You are stronger than you know.” I look him directly in his eyes, and the sadness is painted, swirled somewhere within the deep brown colour of his irises. He doesn’t believe me one bit. Maybe there’s a flash of hope in my words, but I’m not sure if it has really sunk in.
This is a turning point for me, because I don’t want him to hurt. I don’t want to watch my best friend fall apart and walk into disaster with no hope for success. He’s had had it all together up until this point. I need him to feel better, and to know I really care.
I wish I could say that I don’t mean to reach out and kiss him, but I do.
I wish I could say that I want so badly to retreat once his hands move up from my waist to my sides, but I didn’t.
I wish I could say that I didn’t give into the sudden overwhelming urge I had to make him feel better, even if just for a day. A night. I’ve never known my heart to beat this fast, or to have such a loss of breath. Not only is there too much adrenaline rushing in my blood like the speed of time, but I feel weightless, like I’m floating between the stars in the window. I keep my eyes closed and pay attention to the sensations around my body; both made by his fingerprints, and by the neurons and signals in our bodies trying to find their purpose again.
I wish I could say that I don’t love any minute of it. But between feeling his hot breath on my collarbone and his sighing into my mouth, I know that I would be lying if I said otherwise.
I’m afraid of his roommate walking in on us, and the thought of it forces me to stop halfway. Hugo reassures me how his roommate was invited to an elite party at some part of the H.D., so I won’t have to worry about any interruptions until I decide to leave. Then I remember where I should even be, which begins to worry me. Both of my concerns are silenced and quickly dismissed, because I don’t want any of this to end. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like this again.
As he wraps his hands around the back of my neck, I start to feel a tingling sensation where he touches it. At first, I feel like it’s due to his fingers’ contact with my skin, but it feels… different. Kind of strange; almost painful.
I pull his hand off abruptly, wincing at the feeling. “Did I hurt you?” He asks, pulling away with concern.
“No, no. I don’t think so. I just feel something on the back of my neck. I’ve never felt it before. It’s odd.”
“When did it start?”
“Well... just a few seconds ago. I just don’t get it.” I rub the area, and decide to press harder into it. Though it causes more pain, I feel something. I gasp at the realisation that there is something under my skin.
“Hold on a minute – hold your hair up.” Hugo demands, fretful as to what I may have discovered. As I turn around, he reaches for his phone to activate the torch device and shine it behind me. “Whoa.”
“What? What is it?” I start panicking.
“It’s pretty faint, unnoticeable without really looking – but it looks like a barcode or something. You know, something you would scan.”
My stomach turns. “Oh, God. What if… what if it’s a tattoo? A modification or something?” I say, reassuring myself more than I am trying to think of other conceivable explanations.
“Yeah. Maybe it’s a subtle modification during your transfer. Something that only Graduates get. I sure know I don’t have it.” He frowns. My heart pounds ferociously. If it is a modification of sorts, why wasn’t I told about it during my transfer? When I was getting my tag removed? You’d think with all the information they were spewing at me that they would let me know. Then, it could be Cheyenne’s fault. She was so adamant on making me get tattoos and all sorts. What if she is to blame? “The only modification I got was a haircut and dye.” I exclaim. “If Cheyenne did anything without my permission, I’ll kill her.”
“Well, I don’t know now. It doesn’t look like a tattoo as such. But you can always find out what it is.”
“I’m just freaking out. Is it supposed to feel how it feels? All prickly and weird? It looks more like another chip. What if it’s malfunctioning? What if it’s harmful?”
“Relax, relax.” He hushes me. “Now it’s my turn to comfort you,” he laughs. “Just ring up Cheyenne, or whoever you need to, and talk to her. Just try not to worry about it too much.” Hugo calms me down ushering me into his arms. “I’m sure it’s no big deal.”
“You’re right.” I sigh. Deep down, I know that whatever it is, it is a big deal. And the fear of the unknown is always my biggest weakness.
I begin fixing up my clothes and neatening my hair once it’s all over. I never let myself or Hugo go any further than fervent kissing, so I pride myself on that. I know I could have gone all the way. I don’t know how I would have felt if I did.
I rise from the couch, stretching out my muscles. Hugo lies still, watching my every move.
“What?” I ask, feeling self-conscious, as if I didn’t just give myself to him twenty minutes ago.
“Nothing. I’m just fascinated by you.”
I scoff. “I’m not very fascinating.”
“Oh, you are. You’re fascinating and you’re beautiful and those two together are deadly.” He smirks. I’m not sure what to say back, so I just shake my head whilst adjusting my collar. “I’ll have to disagree with you. I’m not very fascinating, and I mean it. You’ve known me long enough to know that’s not the case.”
“Don’t you get it? I’ve known you long enough to be in a position to come to such conclusions. I know you. Sometimes I’m not sure if I really do, but I know that I see the most stunning parts of you. It’s normally when you don’t try, which you hardly ever anyway. When you’re watching TV or you’re writing something down. Even when you’re eating; you exude fascination.”
We watch TV for the remainder of the night, and I try my best not to fall asleep. I know I need to head back to my dorm, but there’s something that just compels me to stay here.
I’m definitely not expecting it when Hugo suddenly says, “I think I might be falling in love with you,”
I tense up, not knowing how to respond. There’s no way I could tell him the same thing. I know in the pit of my soul that I would be lying if I did. I don’t think I love him right now. But maybe I’ll wake up next week feeling something. Maybe three months into his combat, I will feel something. Just not tonight.
Sadly, the best way I can respond is to laugh and respond, “Define love.”