This chapter is back to Stefan’s perspective.
Basque: Zazpigarren Minuetaren Etxea
Seeing Leila having such a wonderful evening really makes it worth having to get so dressed up and put on airs. The great thing is, she genuinely enjoyed the music and the food; she wasn’t there just because it was a high-class thing to do or to show off. I’m not sure if I’d have been interested in the banquet without her and Killian and Larsa to keep me company, so seeing them happy was fantastic.
It was late in the evening when we got back to the hotel. Larsa tried asking if he could go swimming, but Killian was quick to remind him that not only had he had far too much wine to be thinking about the pool, but it was closed for the night. Killian and I hadn’t had much to drink at all, I’ll clarify; he knew we had driving to do, and we weren’t about to take any risks.
We chatted on our way from the parking lot, through the lobby, and up the elevator, all the way to their room. Larsa gave each of us several hugs before kicking off his shoes and lying down on the bed, where he rattled off something in Swedish and proceeded to giggle to himself.
“Have fun with him,” I told Killian; I couldn’t help but chuckle and shake my head.
We exchanged hugs once more and said good night, and I was soon back in the hall, heading to the elevator with Leila.
“What did he say that was so funny?” she asked me.
I looked to her, chuckled again, then looked away. “You’d be mad at me if I repeated it.” She really would be, and despite being a little drunk, I was determined to be a gentleman.
She pressed the button for the next floor up. “It can’t be that bad, if it’s Larsa saying it.”
“Sure it can,” I said with another laugh. I knew they had a bit of an inside joke between them, but I really didn’t want to explain it, even if she probably would have laughed, too. “Just let them keep it between them, okay?”
I think she could tell that I was holding in another laugh. “Killian doesn’t speak Swedish.”
“You have it backwards,” I pointed out to her. The elevator dinged, and we walked down the hallway together. “Larsa doesn’t know any Gaelic, but he is teaching Killian a thing or two about Swedish.”
I tried unlocking the door a few times before Leila took over with the key card and helped me inside.
“I thought Killian said he didn’t want to learn another language.”
Leila led me over to one of the armchairs, then handed me a water bottle from the mini-fridge. She busied herself with little things for a few minutes– putting shoes and bags away, drinking more water, and who knows what else– before she finally sat down across from me.
“He barely pulled that A in French class, and it was only because his mom wouldn’t let him settle for a B.”
“What can I say?” I laughed. “Larsa knows how to motivate him.” I just wasn’t going to give her any specifics on how. She’s the one with the imagination, after all.
“They’re really serious about each other, aren’t they?” Leila said. I noticed her glancing out the window, but I couldn’t tell if she was actually taking in the view or thinking of something.
“Those two were made for each other.”
“You mean… like they just snapped together as soon as they met?”
“Maybe,” I replied. Now I knew she was being more introspective, and I had to be careful. “But it’s different for everyone, you know. Some people fall right into sync with each other, and others take years of being there for each other before they know it’s okay to go deeper.”
Leila stared outside as she finished off her water. Then she got up and closed the curtains before going over to her suitcase.
“I’m going to get changed in the bathroom,” she told me. “Are you getting changed out here, or should I be quick so you can use the bathroom?”
“Take your time, no worries,” I assured her. It was going to take me a few minutes to make myself get off that chair and out of my suit. “I’m not taking a shower till morning, and my pajamas are in my suitcase.”
“Okay, then,” she said. “Just don’t fall asleep in the comfy chair,” she added before disappearing into the bathroom.
That would definitely be an unnecessary way to put some very unfortunate creases in my best suit. I sighed and sipped my water as I reflected on the evening. Leila seemed very happy overall, but there was some kind of tension that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I wasn’t sure whether something had annoyed her– something that had nothing to do with me– or if I needed to say or do something to keep her happy. Or maybe I’d had one too many glasses of wine and was just reading a little too much into things; she could simply be tired after a long, exciting day.
Eventually, I got up and managed to get my tailcoat onto its hanger. I would get each piece of my suit professionally washed and dry cleaned once I was back home and into my normal routine. It was a lot to do to take care of it, but at least it was just the one; Killian played with the symphony a lot more than I did, and I think he had three white tie suits on top of the one or two black tie ones. It felt strange wearing such fancy clothing, especially since we were there to bring music to the people, not to portray ourselves as above them.
Sometimes I wish Leila would try out for performances with us. She plays better than she thinks she does, and sometimes there are youth events that don’t demand professional-level skills. It would be nice to see her more often, and to hear her play. She brightens up a room just by being in it, smiling or not– but we can usually help bring a smile to her face.
I was just pulling on my flannel pajama pants when Leila emerged from the bathroom. She hung up her dress and went back in for a brush, then sat down heavily.
“Taking out your braids already?” I asked as I pulled on the matching shirt and worked on the buttons.
She nodded. “If I don’t, they end up tangling.” I watched her look over at the air conditioner. “It’s cold in here.”
“I’m sure you’ll be okay before too long,” I told her. “You have a teddy bear to keep you warm, don’t you?”
She looked up at me with a mixture of surprise, embarrassment, and ‘you better not keep up that naughty behavior.’ “You’re not going to let me forget about that, are you?”
“Hmm… Perhaps I could be persuaded…”
“I’m not bribing you,” she told me in a tone of feigned petulance.
“Well, you’re far too nice to threaten me.”
“Want me to prove you wrong?”
“Again, you’re too nice.”
Leila got out of the chair, pretending to come after me and laughing all the while. I chuckled and retreated to the bathroom, which was just as well, since I had a few things to do before settling into bed. By the time I came back out, she had the blankets pulled down and was sitting near her pillows, looking through her phone.
“Ready to get some sleep?” I asked her.
She looked up and nodded. “Yeah, but… it’s pretty cold in here.”
“You want me to make sure the air conditioner is working okay? Maybe check the settings on it?”
“I already did,” she told me. “It just might take a while to actually warm up.”
I leaned against the wall as I thought over what she’d said. She was glancing away, not at her phone, not at me, but a little towards the floor. The thing with Layla is, that isn’t like her at all. She’s usually really straightforward. If she felt that she could just tuck blankets around herself and be fine until it warmed up, she would have said just as much, and that would have been the end of it. But that wasn’t what she said, and normally she would have just asked if she needed something different. She would have come right out and asked me to call the front desk to ask for more blankets, and that’s if she didn’t go ahead and do it herself first.
So Leila was nervous about asking for what she wanted that night, and that really was unusual. I took in a long, slow breath as I started to realize what she might be suggesting. I was happy to oblige, but I wasn’t sure how much I could involve my teasing her about teddy bears. I decided to be a little more careful than that.
“Well…” I begin, trying to sound casual instead of nervous, “I’ll tell you what: body heat is better than blankets and air conditioners any day– or night– so we can make a trade. I’ll keep you warm if you keep me warm.”
She looked up at me with a funny smirk on her face. “Always a joker,” she said, shaking her head. Still, she was smiling, so I couldn’t complain too much.
“No, really,” I told her. “Do you hear that wind howling outside? It’s going to be like Jotunheim in here in a couple hours. Being tall doesn’t generate a whole lot of body heat when you have scrawny arms and legs like I do.”
Leila gave me a disbelieving look. It wasn’t all that different from the look a librarian gives someone over the rim of her glasses when they’re too noisy in the library. “You’re not scrawny by any stretch of the word,” she pointed out.
“Seriously,” I countered. “I’m all skin and bones, see?” I stretched out my arms, making sure not to flex them at all.
She shook her head again and turned around to plug her phone into its charger. I could see that she’d been nice enough to do the same for mine; it was now contentedly charging on the nightstand near my side of the bed.
“Could you turn off the lights, please?” she asked. “Unless you need them for something…”
“Not at all.” I flicked the switch and walked over to the bed to sit on the edge.
I felt Leila’s hand reach out for mine, and I returned the gesture as I turned around. My eyes were still trying to adjust to the darkness, and while many hotels never get completely dark, the Warwick was good about taking care of the little things that made it darker.
“Stefan?” her voice murmured in the darkness.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked. I slid down along the mattress under the bedding. Our sheets were still separate, so I could cocoon myself in mine, but she’d stacked the blankets so we could build up some warmth.
“You drove up here from Portland with Killian,” she said. “If he and Larsa are staying an extra night, what are you doing?”
“I’m going home tomorrow,” I told her.
“But…” She paused. “I’d give you a ride Stefan, but–”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” I reassured her. “I’m taking the train.”
“That’ll take you hours! Argh, if only I didn’t have that meeting early on Monday. I could have you home and then get to my own house in less time than the train will take you.”
“It’s not much of a difference, Leila,” I said. “I like the train; you know that.” Part of me thought she missed taking the train places like we used to. It was a great time for relaxing and watching the scenery, or reading, or working on something on the tablet– and it was much less of a hassle than flying.
She sighed and scooted down among the sheets and blankets. “You’ll at least let me drive you to the train station, right?”
“Sure,” I laughed, “if you let me take you to lunch first.”
“Awww, do I have to?” she teased. Then she shivered, pulled the sheet closer around herself, and wormed her body a little closer to mine.
I rolled onto my side and blinked my eyes; they were starting to adjust to the darkness. I could smell the remnants of Leila’s perfume and hair products, and the freshly-laundered scent of her flannel. Leila curled up close to me, resting her neck on my arm and her head on the piles of pillows we’d been treated to.
“You’re warm,” she whispered. she sounded really exhausted.
“Probably from the wine,” I replied with a soft laugh. It was wearing off, but it would tide me over until the blankets had enough body heat in them to get us through the night.
Leila let out a big yawn before saying, “That’s only part of it; you’re always warm.”
“You think so, huh?”
She nodded and scooted closer. “Why else did it help all those times you let me borrow your coat?”
“You might still have one or two of them.”
She giggled at that. “If you want them back, you’ll have to come to my house and help me find them.”
“We’ll see about that.” Now I was the one yawning. “Race you to sleep,” I murmured, remembering a game we used to play at sleeping parties way back when… something from before people somehow got the idea that sleeping was lame and got up to antics that made sure they were no longer invited to sleep at our places.
I think she beat me to it, though, because all I could hear after that was her soft breathing and the faint movement of the sheets as she curled up close to me for warmth. I pulled the blankets close and laid my arm lightly across her side, and very soon joined her in the land of slumber.
An easy, sleepy evening is a great time for this classic: