We walked to the pub, knowing that it was only about half a mile away from the hotel. Once we got to the Elephant & Castle, we took some seats in a somewhat quieter part of the pub and wasted no time in ordering some appetizers. Killian wanted to make sure Larsa got some food in him before he had any beer, so he asked the waiter for the fastest-available items first.
“Ooooooh,” Larsa said as he browsed the drink menu. “They have specialty coffees!”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Killian told him, turning the menu to the first page. “Back to drafts and bottles for you.”
“Awwwwww,” Larsa pouted.
“You know you don’t need any caffeine this late in the day,” Killian reminded him.
Larsa still did not look satisfied, but he didn’t argue the point. He decided to try the Seattle cider, and Killian asked for the ginger beer. The two of them enjoyed ordering different drinks and sharing them together; Larsa especially was interested in trying as many different things as he could.
Larsa was still browsing the menu when the pretzel bites and crisps arrived. “Can we share the Cajun chicken?” he asked Killian.
That had Stefan stifling a laugh.
“Vad?” Larsa asked him in Swedish.
“Oh, nothing,” Stefan said, trying to sound innocent.
“Ah, be nice tae the lad,” Killian told him. “I don’ want him runnin’ out o’ here like he’s on fire.”
“Fire?” Larsa asked.
I gave Stefan a teasing scowl. “Just tell him it’s spicy already!”
“How spicy?” Larsa asked. He actually looked excited. I know he’d mentioned wanting to try getting used to spicy foods, but even pepper jack cheese just about maxed him out, so there was no way we were going to let him try Cajun just yet.
“It uses loads of cayenne pepper,” I explained. “And paprika.”
“And remember those red peppers they pizza place has?” Killian added.
“Oh…” Larsa sighed, scrunching his mouth to one side and looking disappointed.
Killian laid an arm across his shoulders. “Get what you want, love,” he told Larsa. “I’m getting the salmon dinner.”
Larsa look across the table at me. “You like spicy food, don’t you, Leila?”
I blinked. “Ummm… yeah, but I’m not interested in Cajun tonight.”
“Oh, she’s a fiery one, all right,” Killian said in a playful tone. “See all that red hair? She was born with her head on fire like that.”
“Pot calling the kettle black much?” I retorted.
“Ooooh, spicy girl!” Killian replied. “I was born with just the faintest bit o’ peach fuzz, lass. You, on the other hand, had a full head o’ fiery locks.”
Larsa looked between Killian and me. “Are you talking about pots and kettles because they get heated over the fire?” Yeah, he was definitely confused.
Stefan went about explaining the language issue while Killian teased me. I considered daring him to eat the Cajun chicken himself, but I would probably end up needing to help him finish it, so that put a stop to that. Thankfully, the waiter soon came by, and we were able to restore order to our little corner of the world.
I’ve always loved having dinner with a group of friends, whether we’re cooking or ordering in or dining out– and it helps to have such a great group of friends. The group had changed here and there over the years, as we made our way through school and the world, but Stefan and Killian have always been there no matter who else comes or goes. We’ve always shared the work– cooking, prepping, cleaning– and the cost, unless someone offers to do more or someone else has a certain need.
We’ve managed to mostly avoid people who take advantage or bring drama to the group. That’s not to say that we’re not there for each other, but I’m sure you know what I mean: someone who always has a problem, always needs attention or more, and just gets to be a drain, especially since they’re also not there to help others even with kind words. We did have a friend back in community college who came from a tough background and whose life was a mess, but we helped her get onto the path for improvement, and she was grateful for our advice, and once she followed it, she was able to get a scholarship to pursue a career in forestry at Colorado State University.
Compare that to a guy who tried to follow us around back in high school. He was only in one or two of the same classes as us– not to say that I’m picking on him for not being in honors– and I’m not sure why he wanted to hang out with us so much. He’d complain about how hard his classes were, and we’d try to help him study, but he’d end up saying he couldn’t do it and asking to come to one of our houses.
That might have been okay if there wasn’t a different complaint almost every day– and if he hadn’t joined Killian’s group in home economics class and used the wrong ingredients for a recipe, set the wrong temperature, burned the food, and a couple other antics. He laughed it off when the group only got enough points to get a D. Killian had to re-do the assignment to fix the grade– the other group members didn’t care because the rest of their assignment grades were good so it wouldn’t hurt their average, but Killian’s parents wouldn’t let it slide. By then, we’d had enough of his attitude and told him to mess around with his other friends or on his own.
Stefan and I helped make the best of that little ‘friendship’ arc by letting Killian know that he makes a killer pie crust from scratch. Now he’s the one to make pies, tarts, and quiches for friends and family. That was one of the things we reminisced about that night at Elephant and Castle. Larsa hadn’t heard the story before, but he did know about Killian’s skill with pie.
“So it’s as easy as pie for you?” Larsa asked.
All of us laughed. Larsa had learned English in school back in Sweden, and even though he was pretty good at it, idioms really threw him for a loop– and as I just demonstrated, English has a lot of idioms.
“Aye, lad,” Killian agreed. “‘Tis a piece o’ cake.”
Larsa stared at him. I’m pretty sure he knew that ‘piece of cake’ and ‘easy as pie’ mean the same thing, but he had to think about it for a moment. “Are you good at making cake, too? You’ve never made cake at home– or were those chocolate things cake?”
“Those were brownies,” Killian said.
“So… Is there a phrase for something being easy that uses brownies? ‘Simple as brownies’? ‘Quick as a brownie’?”
“‘Quick as a bunny’,” I told him.
“Maybe ‘fast as fudge’?” Stefan suggested.
“I don’t think that’s a real one,” I said.
“I’ve heard ‘dollars to donuts,'” Killian added, “but that means something else,”
“Donuts?” Now Larsa was excited.
“‘Dollars to donuts’ is like saying ‘I bet,” Stefan chuckled. “‘dollars to donuts,’ you’re doing to want to order dessert later.”
Larsa laughed and looked down at his nearly-empty plate. “I can’t order it now?”
Killian managed to convince Larsa to save having dessert for the next night. After the symphony, the company was putting on a banquet, and their special guests were allowed to come. The dessert there would probably be a lot more decadent than the cheesecake or chocolate cake that the restaurant had. Once that was cleared out of the way, we finished our meal, settled the bill, and started our walk back to the hotel. We’d only had one or two beers each, so even though we were feeling happy and warm, we weren’t so terribly tipsy that we were making fools of ourselves or anything.
Back at the Warwick, we double-checked the hours breakfast would be served, and talked about whether or not we would all go down together. We decided not to make too big a deal about trying to have all four of us there at the same time, but if it turned out like that, great. We would basically play it by ear.
Once we’d exchanged hugs and said good night to Killian and Larsa, Stefan and I were alone in the elevator.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked him. “You look pretty nervous.”
“Leila,” he said after a heavy sigh, as though my name laid heavy on his mind. Then he took in a long breath as though trying to steady himself.
“It’s okay,” I reassured him, “you can ask me whatever you need to.”
He took another slow breath. “Leila are you… I mean,” he faltered again, and his nervousness was starting to make my heart beat faster.
“I’m going to pass out from the tension, Stefan!” I told him, trying to use humor to lighten the mood and get him to spit the words out.
“Gah,” he chided himself, clearly frustrated that he couldn’t just say what was on his mind. “Leila, I just wanted to make sure… I mean, about the bed– I can head over to a nearby Target or something and grab an air bed. I really don’t want you to be uncomfortable tonight.”
“Oh, that whole thing again? Stefan I know very well that your body is not going to reach out for me against your will in the middle of the night. I’m not worried, and you shouldn’t be either. We’ve had plenty of sleepovers together over the years.”
“But…” he went on, still nervous. His voice was shaking. Most people wouldn’t have noticed because it wasn’t very much, but I knew him well enough that I could tell. “We’ve never been in the same bed before.”
The elevator dinged right as I took his hand. “Are you uncomfortable with the idea?” I asked him.
The elevator doors nearly closed on us because he was so focused on our conversation. He managed to reach out and stop them just in time, and we stepped out into the hall together.
“I’m not,” he admitted, “but I want to make sure you’re okay with it.”
“I am,” I reassured him again. You know I trust you.”
He smirked and unlocked the door. “As long as you’re happy.”
Stefan held the door open for me and insisted that I be the first to head into the bathroom to change and do whatever else I needed to get ready for bed. By the time I came out, he’d also changed, and on top of that the bed was set up with blankets and sheets on his side, and another set on my side of the bed. He also had his Sleipnir fuzzy blanket ready to snuggle up with.
“Water?” he asked, offering me a bottle.
I took it gratefully and thanked him for making the bed. He headed off to take his turn in the bathroom, leaving me to gaze out the window. I was trying to focus on the glittering view– the Seattle Space Needle especially– but my brain kept focusing on how cute Stefan looked in his striped flannel pajamas. It didn’t help that I also had on flannel pajama pants and shirt. With Penguins. And Stars. What a pair we made…
“See anything worth writing home about out there?”
I nearly yelped when I realized he was already out of the bathroom and halfway across the room. He smiled at me; it was his warm, charming smile.
“You must trust me a lot to let your guard down so easily.”
“Exactly,” I told him, trying to stifle a yawn.
“You need to do anything before lights out?” he asked. He sounded tired, too.
“Not at all.” I took a seat on the edge of the bed. “It’s been a long day– a fun one, but I’m exhausted.”
“All right, then.” He flicked off the switch and slid under his blankets, his back to me. “Sweet dreams, Leila.”
“You, too, Stefan.”
Today’s song isn’t a minuet, but I do love medieval music, and the way this one speeds up as it progresses is really fun. Happy listening!