Isabelle sat there, listening intently to Papa George bicker with his wife, Mama. Isabelle's 18th birthday was two days away and they couldn't figure out what to let her do. She thought innocently, that just a day with Hugo would be the perfect way to spend her last day of childhood. Just thinking of him made her smile. His image popped into her brain. His mop of black hair, his pale skin, his striking blue eyes, even his still scrawny figure that now towered over her. His musky scent, that faint smell of gasoline that always floated around him was intoxicating to think about. It all came rushing back to her, all the memories, making her heart pound uneven and fast. She spent nearly every day with him for the past 6 year. They would attend afternoon school. They would go exploring, to the cinema and through the alleys. They would read together in the library, and Hugo would teach her how to fix things in his spare time. Sometimes they even went to his hidden loft in the clock tower to look out upon the town. Those were her best memories, especially the ones of their adventures at the train station. Each one in which Hugo was present. They had only ever truly been alone together a few times. The last they sat in the dark corner of the alley behind the cinema, creating alternate endings for the lasted silent film they saw. It was grand fun. Sometimes though, thoughts got in the way. Harsh thoughts, about doing grown-up things with Hugo. But she technically was a grown up. Almost. The sad part was they weren't really in a considerable relationship. She had only seen him as her friend. Papa even calls him her brother. And kissing him would ruin their friendship, she was positive. She was lost in thought when she heard Papa clear his throat. "Isa, what would YOU like to do for your birthday?" She stammered out something that sounded like "I'll think about It." and rushed out the door toward the train station.
When she finally arrived she did her normal check in routine. She glanced at each of the four clocks. Of course, in the Northern Clock, where Hugo's loft is, she could see a pair of eyes searching for her out of the number one. She giggled. He had grown so tall; he couldn't peer out of any other number. She waved at him, and he smiled, holding up one finger. She slyly glided toward the secret entrance to his loft, and waited for him patiently. He then appeared, carrying a blindfold. He tied it around her eyes, and then interlocked his fingers with hers. Not a word was said as he guided her through the tunnels. They walked for what seemed like forever, but she didn't mind. Finally she felt Hugo's arms wrap around her neck. She cringed as he let the cloth fall to the floor.
The first thing she saw was his crooked smile, then his fierce blue eyes, crinkling with a smile. She wandered through the loft, and noticed a miniature cake sitting on the terrace under the clock, with 18 curly candles sticking out of it. She couldn't suppress her happiness. She turned toward him and rushed into his arms. She felt his fingers graze her back. "Happy early birthday." He whispered in her ear. She hugged him even tighter. This was what she adored about him. He knew her inside and out, everything that made her smile and everything that made her tick. They had been best friends for almost 7 years now. How could he not? After years of thinking about this, she at that point concluded, she indeed cared for Hugo Cabret more than she could have ever realized. She let go of him and went out on the terrace. Together they sat there, eating and playing with her cake, spreading icing on each other's noses, licking candles, and dropping crumbs from high above. When they finished eating, they sat against the clock, staring out at the Eiffel Tower, the Arch de Triumph, and the most romantic city on earth. Isabelle nestled her head into the crook of his neck. She thought about telling him how she felt, and how it was bothering her. She couldn't let herself go on like this. But the predicted rejection was almost too painful to bear. With all the courage she had, she began.
She noticed he had had his eyes closed, he was probably thinking of something. New blueprints maybe?
"I need to tell you something. Something important."
At this point he had turned his head and was looking at her.
"Is, you know you can tell me anything right?" He said calmly, gripping her hand. "Go on. What is bothering you?"
"Well, Hugo. I was thinking this morning, about us, and I-"
She stopped. Hugo's head was slowly moving toward hers. All she saw were his thin lips and hollow, rosy cheeks. She had longed to touch those lips. She had longed to know just what lay beyond them. But she couldn't. It wasn't worth it. She shivered. Hugo stopped suddenly, looking confused and embarrassed. He got up and brushed the snow out of his floppy black hair. He held out his hand to her and she gripped it, standing up. He led her back into the loft, and handed her a blanket. He grabbed some stray papers and put them in his trash pail. Lighting them aflame, he could see the fire dancing in Isabelle's mocha eyes. He took a seat in his uncle's old corduroy armchair. He motioned for her to come sit with him. She rested herself on Hugo's lap, snuggling up against his warm sweater. He rubbed the small of her back, feeling her ease up, her body beginning to relax. "I know that you were going to say," he started. "And, honestly I have been waiting so long to hear you say it. I never knew if it was right, but I always felt it. We have a connection, more rare then anyone could imagine. The truth is, I feel the same way." He waited for a response, but a gentle little snore was all he got in reply. Wrapped in his blanket, she looked so peaceful. He kissed her atop her head, her hair smelling of flowers and engine smoke. He leaned back, shutting his eyes again to think. Everything they had ever done together flashed through his mind, from the first day he met her outside her house, to her first day at the cinema, to Papa George's revival and all the adventures they had had since. They weren't perfect kids, but they were perfect for each other. Every moment he spent with her was more fun than the last. Then, he had a marvelous idea. If he could make her birthday more memorable than any other day they spent together, she might have to courage to tell him how she felt. She would spend the night at his house on her birthday. He would tell her stories and they would make forts, just like they always did. But he had a feeling this would be more sentimental than anything he had ever done for her in the past. Being simple, she would love it. All he had to do was convince Mama Jeanne. He lifted his head, opening his eyes. The sunlight was dimming; he knew he had to take her home. He rustled Isabelle's hair, and she unfurled, surprised at how she had been sleeping. She smiled, glancing up at him with her chestnut eyes still groggy from sleep. He stood up, cradling like her like a child. She stretched and he set her down. Draping an arm over her shoulders, he led her home through the winter evening. When they reached her house, he pecked her on the nose and cautiously opened the door. He handed her off to her Papa, and then went off to find Mama. She was in the kitchen, cleaning up after a dinner for two. "Why hello there, son." She said with a genuine grin, her voice chipper and enthusiastic. "What were you and Isabelle up to today?" She sipped some wine and offered it to Hugo, who refused. "I threw her a little birthday party on the terrace of my loft and we watched to people down below us. I got her a tiny free cake, and no I didn't steal it." Mama laughed, like the tinkle of a sleigh bell. "Aw, dear that's very kind of you; I bet she really enjoyed that." She seemed thrilled, it was now or never. "So, Madame if it isn't a problem, I would like Isabelle to spend tomorrow, her birthday, with me. We had so much fun today I figured we could do it all over again. I could bring her to the park and take her to the movies. And maybe, if you would be so kind, as to, let her stay the night? We could go stargazing…." His voice trailed off. He stood there, his eyes wandering. Mama Jeanne was so fond of him. He seemed to have the same wild brain she always remembered and adored. It was running a mile a minute, and she could tell he was excited. "Very well. If it is alright with her, it is alright with me." Hugo's grin stretched ear to ear. "Oh thank you Madame! Thank you ever so!" and with that he raced out the door and back to the train station.
Isabelle, half awake, heard the door slam from downstairs. She had heard her Mama Jeanne's voice trailing down the hallway, but she wasn't paying attention. She was replaying the day over and over in her head. From his face in the clock, to the tunnels and the blindfold. The cake, the cuddling. It was a vulnerable side of Hugo she rarely saw, so genuine and innocent. She longed for more of him. It took all she had not to jump out of bed and race to the station. She longed for him to be there in bed with her. Someone warm and cozy to talk to. She remembered how soft his sweater was as she rested her cheek on his chest. The fire had felt so warm, and so did Hugo. She had heard him mumbling but was too tired to listen. The next thing she remembered was coming to, as she was lifted off his lap and being walked home. Everything was blurred. She wanted everyday to be as sweet, care-free and fun. Her birthday was tomorrow and all she could think about was spending another day with Hugo. If she could she definitely would. She drifted into dreams, smiling in her sleep.
The next morning there was a muffled knock on her door. Mama Jeanne was there holding cards and a pastry. "Happy birthday sweetheart!" she sang. "Papa couldn't be here because he had business at the toy shop. But I know he wishes you the best." Isabelle smiled as Mama took a seat at the foot of her bed. "Now," Mama started, "I think you will enjoy what I'm going to tell you. Hugo has proposed that you spend the day with him, since you had such fun yesterday. He is such a sweet boy, Isabelle, and a good friend to you, like a brother. You must be thankful." She began to pack Isabelle's day bag, a winter dress, socks and a nightgown. Nightgown? An hour later, Isabelle kissed her godmother goodbye, and headed for the station. When she arrived she looked up toward the north clock. He wasn't there. Not at the east, south, or west clock either. Then she noticed him, leaning against the wall near the secret entrance to his loft. She walked over stiffly, nervously. He greeted her with a pleasant smile and took her bag, hiding it behind a potted tree near the entrance way. "So what are we doing today Hugo?" she asked curiously. "I am a boy of many surprises. Come on!" he laughed. He interlocked his fingers with hers, guiding her out of the station and into the cold morning. Paris was beautiful in the morning. They passed Notre Dame, and the Seine, they had to have walked more than 20 blocks. They stopped about an hour later, when they came across a small meadow. There sat a lonely swing set, a slide, and a see-saw. "My dad used to take me here when I was little. Besides my home in the walls, it's my favorite place to be." He smiled at her. As they sat on the see-saw, they began to rock. Back and forth, for a long time, and all they could do was look at each other, falling into hysterics. Isabelle couldn't remember the last time she had had so much fun. She felt so free, like she was flying. The rest of her day, her heart soared. Hugo took her to the cinema to see the newest silent film about a large boat being shipwrecked on an island. "This will be an adventure we must try!" She exclaimed, watching him smile at the thought. He took her to the corner candy store, even the library, where he read her some of the Jungle Book. The sun began to set over the river, the clock tower casting a shadow over the town. They headed to his loft, grabbing her bag on the way. Through the countless tunnels they wandered, his arm wrapped around her waist. His room was dimly lit from the setting sun. A picnic basket sat in the corner, along with a tea canister. He led her toward the back of the room behind the clock. She knew there had always been a door there but had never discovered what was behind it. A set of stairs. Up they went. Next thing she knew they were on the roof. He set up a dinner of croissants and tea and handed her a white rose. It was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen, and the dinner was delicious. The stars were beginning to come out. She yawned, for it had been a long and exhausting day. Hugo packed up and they headed back into the room. "I also have another surprise for you." He stuttered.
"How many more surprises can you possibly have?"
"Just one more. Madame Jeanne gave you permission to spend the night with me."
So that's why Mama packed her a nightgown. She grabbed it and ran back through the tunnels toward the tool closet. She rushed to change, and plumped her hair. She was so excited she could scream. She raced back to the room. She stepped in and set her bag aside. Turning the corner, she halted. There was Hugo, about to put on a nightshirt. She studied him closely. She had never really seen his bare skin before. He had grown up so much so fast. He now had muscles and his pale skin shown in the moonlight. She was enticed. He paused, noticing her presence. Startled, he slipped on his nightshirt, blushing heavily. The bed had been unmade and he gestured to it. She climbed in, feeling snug in his soft wool sheets. He stumbled to the armchair and stared out the window. The wind blew through the loft, making Isabelle shiver. Hugo got up and began to make another waste-bin fire. "No need, don't waste your matches. I'd feel much better if you didn't light a fire tonight." She patted what was left of the empty bed next to her. He crawled in beside her, draping the covers over them. He stared at her face, her every feature, like it was the last time he would ever see it, and burned to image into his mind. He brought his face close to hers. She didn't move away. "Hugo, this was the best birthday I could have ever wished for. Thank you."
"There are other ways to thank me you know." He said slyly.
She suddenly wasn't afraid anymore. He was making it clear that he loved and respected her as much as she did him. She let him lean in to kiss her, and she kissed back, hard. She became engrossed, obsessed. This new feeling of being completely vulnerable and unconditionally in love intoxicated her very being. Overwhelmed, she pulled him on top of her, tugging at his nightshirt. Without thinking, he pulled it off, letting her trace the contours of his chest and stomach. His milky skin glistened in the moonlight, his radiant blue eyes twinkling. She sat up, running her hands through his matted black hair. She had finally given in, and she was glad. She pulled him nearer to her, just enough for her lips to graze his. He places his hands on her cheeks then began to run down her back and toward her hips. He pressed her down, and slowly broke away. He looked down at her blushing face, and she looked up at his. She could see her smile in his eyes reflected back at her. He collapsed beside her, rolling over to face her. He pecked her on the lips, the nose, and last the forehead. She giggled and rested her body into his, her head on his shoulder, letting her hands dance across his bare arms and torso. He played with her hair, letting each golden strand slip through his fingers. "Happy birthday Is. I like you. I love you. I always have, since the day we met you fascinated me. You're like my sister, my bestfriend and my companion all in one. You're my loyal adventurer. I don't know what would have happened to me if you hadn't helped me. I don't know what I'd do without you. You came to me what I needed you as a friend and you helped me. And I'm thankful for you." She smiled, as he wrapped his arms around her, resting his head atop hers. He shut his eyes. The last words he heard before he found sleep, "I love you Hugo Cabret."