This chapter shifts the point of view to that of Stefan Nilsson.
Latvian: Septītā Menueta nams
I woke up when I felt her fingers touching mine. It was still mostly dark in the room, but there were faint hints that dawn was upon us. I stayed quiet and let my eyes rest on Leila’s sleeping form. I didn’t think she realized that she had cuddled up close to me in the night. That’s not to say that I minded; I just didn’t want her to feel bad or anything. It was a little early for me to be reading too much into it. I was enjoying the way the room was so quiet. All I could hear was the faint rustling of the bedding and Leila’s soft breathing. I didn’t even want to move, really. It was just the right amount of warm where I was.
Her breathing pattern changed a little bit, and her fingers twitched on the back of my hand. She groaned a little bit and ended up lacing her fingers with mine. It was hard to choose between pulling away in case it was all involuntary and she didn’t actually want to do that, or just leaving it alone and letting her wake up to realize what she had done. But like I said, I was too tired to read into it much, and really, if I tell the truth, I kind of liked it. If I pulled my hand away– thinking that she wouldn’t have liked it– she would just think that I didn’t like it, and…
I was still kind of tired and groggy, so I lost track of that train of thought. She stirred again, just a little bit. I wonder if she was dreaming of that teddy bear again. I know she had one from way back when, from her infancy I think, but of course no one would tease her about it. She didn’t tease me about the blanket with the little yellow and blue clouds I had when I was little, and she didn’t tease Killian about the little rabbit stuffed animal he kept on a shelf in his room. We didn’t need them anymore per se, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping a memento around; a little nostalgia is good for the spirit.
I remember Layla saying something about thinking that I should have a horse plushie, whether or not it was an eight-legged one. I wouldn’t put it past her to try to track down something like that. Really, now that Norse mythology was so much more popular, especially with Thor and Loki in the movies, it wouldn’t be too hard to do.
Layla started mumbling something.
“What was that?” I asked her, and I realized then that my voice was mumbly, too. I wasn’t typically up this early in the morning. Usually it was just when I had to be, and of course hotels serve breakfast early, so this was one of those have-to-be-up-early occasions.
“Sing it again,” she said, a little groggy and also… I guess I’d label it as worried.
I laughed a little to myself. “Oh, but you’re sound asleep and wouldn’t be able to enjoy it.”
Leila groaned again, and her body started to shift a little. Her hand squeezed mine. “Don’t let me forget this song,” she mumbled this time. “Just one more time, so I don’t forget it.”
“Dreaming about music again?” I muttered. It was mostly to myself, but if she heard me, it’s just as well.
I think she did, because she was a little more roused now. She sighed and yawned, and with a little more wiggling, her eyes started to open. They were just narrow lines of green at first. “Stefan?” she asked, her voice sounding as blurry as her vision probably was just then.
“Yes,” I whispered, holding as still as I could. Her hand felt so warm in mine, her skin so soft, except for the little callus on one of her fingers where her pencil usually rested.
Her eyes blinked rapidly a few times, until they eventually stayed open wider than they’d been before. She watched me drowsily. “What time is it?”
“I’m not sure,” I whispered back. “I can’t see the clock from here.”
“Didn’t you…” She looked down at our joined hands. “You weren’t trying to wake me up just now?”
I shook my head a little bit. “For a moment, I thought your were trying to wake me,” I explained, keeping my voice low. “But you were… you reached out to me in your sleep.”
“I…” She blinked. Her cheeks were flushed. “Oh my goodness.”
“I’m not mad,” I reassured her. She looked like she might be a few minutes away from panicking if I didn’t help her out. “I didn’t want to yank my hand away and startle you awake.”
“You–” her eyes widened.
Oh, man… Did I word that all wrong? “What I mean is, I don’t know if you wanted me to keep away, but even if that’s the case, waking you might be worse.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. Her hand was shaking now, but she still hadn’t pulled away.
“It’s completely okay, Leila. You’re my best friend; I know you, and I trust you.”
She nodded, but I swear her eyes were glistening. I propped myself up on one arm and twisted around to catch a glimpse of the clock.
“It just turned seven o’clock.” I laid back down. “Want me to get you some breakfast? Mountain Dew? Get out of here and beg the front desk for a room with two beds? Or another room? I can still go to Tar-“
I stopped talking when she put her finger to my lips. But it was her other hand; she’d kept holding my hand all along.
“Not another word about it,” she told me, her voice letting me know she meant business. “If you need some space, that’s fine, but Stefan…”
“Yes, Leila?” Now I was the worried one.
She took a long time to answer. It was like she knew what she wanted to say, but she couldn’t say it, and maybe she also kept changing her mind about what to say. I figure it’s best not to be able to read her mind; I’d probably get dizzy from how fast her thoughts race around. I think that comes with the territory for someone who’s smart and imaginative and sensitive.
“I’m not mad, either,” she eventually told me, squeezing my hand.
Something told me that this was a really watered down version of what she really wanted to say. I wish I knew how to reassure her that she could say anything she really felt. Still, encouragement and comfort were better than squeezing the words out like trying to force the last bit of toothpaste from its tube.
“Can we get breakfast now?” she asked me.
“I thought you’d never ask,” I teased. “My stomach is going to be growling by the time he get down there.”
I sat up and gently slid my hand away from hers, then switched on the lamp near my side of the bed. “Oh, yeah… I have a question for you.”
“Oh, really?” She sat up too, and did a bit of stretching. I’m certain she picked up on my nervousness, and I thought she was going to comment on it, but she changed her mind at the last second. “And what would that question be?”
I stood facing her. “I wasn’t going to say anything, but I think maybe I should, in case it comes up later, and I don’t want to make you upset that I didn’t speak up sooner.”
“I’m on the edge of my seat.”
“Were you, uh… Did you– did you dream about teddy bears last night?”
First, Leila’s eyes went wide. Then her cheeks flushed. Then her mouth gaped open. “How– how could you– Stefan, how did you know?” I don’t think she knew whether to blush or go pale.
“Talking in my sleep?!”
“But… But then I also…” Her hands went to her face in shock and embarrassment. “That would mean… Oh my gosh Stefan, did you get up to go to the bathroom early in the morning?”
I nodded. “Again, I’m not m–“
“Oh man,” she groaned to herself. “You were so set on making sure I was okay sleeping next to you, and I’m the one grabbing you in the middle of the night!”
“It’s okay,” I chuckled. “I think you ended up kicking your blanket off while you were sleeping, and you were cold, so–“
“So I cuddled you like you were my teddy bear!”
I laughed again. “You did. And it’s okay. I’m not upset, I’m not saying it shouldn’t have happened. I’m just not keeping secrets… unless you prefer that I not share information like this next time…”
“No– I mean, no, you don’t need to keep it from me. Thank you for being honest.” Her gaze fell, and there was a subtle shift in her demeanor to being bashful. “And for keeping me warm.”
“Any time,” I told her.
I wish I knew how to tell her that it was actually really nice to have her so close; she was warm and soft, and I would have been happy to hold her back, if that’s what she wanted. But I don’t know what she wants, and I don’t want to make our friendship awkward if all those ‘we’re just friends’ comments mean she really wants to keep it that way. I have no way of knowing if she’s thinking and acting that same way, but I value her friendship way too much to cross any lines.
“You’re an awesome friend,” she said, holding her arms open to offer a hug. I didn’t keep her waiting.
“So are you.” Then I slid out of bed and ran a brush through my hair.
Leila headed to the bathroom and came back a few minutes later ready to head downstairs. The order of the day was breakfast first, then showers. I’d said earlier that my stomach would be growling soon; that turned out to be true, not just for me, but for her as well. Larsa and Killian were already in the café, so we joined them at their table.
“You two are up early,” Leila said as we sat across from them.
“Speak for yerselves, night owls,” Killian replied. “Ye both look barely awake, but we’ve been up for at least an hour already.”
“Rolling in the hay?” Leila suggested, giving Larsa a funny look.
“This is a hotel,” he reminded her, “not a barn.”
I wonder how often that boy really doesn’t understand our expressions, and how often he’s just playing around. He’s not so new to English- even though he’s younger and has spent a smaller percentage of his education studying it– that he has to take everything literally. If he is playing, though, I like his game.
Killian leaned over and whispered to him, presumably explaining what rolling in the hay means.
Larsa’s cheeks flushed. “But then you’d get hay stuck where it doesn’t belong!”
“I bet they found the needle in the haystack,” Leila commented while the two of them were joking despite pretending to be proper.
I smirked, trying not to get us too much attention from the rest of the café. The waitress soon distracted us from that conversation, and we ordered our food and drinks.
“So what’s the plan for today?” Leila asked.
“We have a meeting in a few hours,” I told her. “You and Larsa can do whatever sounds fun… or relax…”
“Oh, the company is puttin’ on lunch fer us musicians,” Killian added, “so ye shouldn’t wait fer us tae join ye fer that.”
“Okay, got it,” Leila confirmed.
She and Larsa went over some ideas of what they could do, and the boy seemed excited by all of them. I swear, he’d be happy if she said they had to go get shots at the local clinic. If you want to see someone who’s glad just to be living life, spend a day with him. He was great for Killian, and I knew that Leila would be in safe hands with him for the afternoon. I wouldn’t have to worry while I was at Symphony Hall getting ready for the concert, because good friends always look after one another.