This chapter is told from the perspective of Stefan Nilsson
The weeks between the concert and the next time I would get to see Leila in person were busy ones. I had a couple music commissions come in, and one of them was fairly complicated. The owner of the record shop had acquired a huge lot of music equipment and wanted my help in getting it ready to sell, so I was putting in a lot more hours.
That, and Killian’s music store needed extra help while one of their own was on maternity leave, so I spent a lot of time there when I wasn’t at the record store. Sometimes it was with Killian, so we got to chat if he wasn’t busy giving a lesson. Other times, if he had to work and I didn’t, I’d head to his apartment to keep Larsa company.
“You’d be done with homework by now If you’d put that on silent for a while,” I pointed out when his phone buzzed yet again.
He made a face at me. “If it was Leila texting you, I’d be getting no help.”
“I know how to focus on the person I’m with,” I scoffed.
“Hey!” I interrupted as soon as I realized what word he was going to use. “Who’s Teaching you that kind of English? You’re never that crude in Swedish.”
He gave me a sheepish look. “Is it really that bad?”
I sighed. Sometimes the nuances of English word choice were hard for him. “It’s not that bad, but it’s not going to get you to be seen as a professional or gentleman.”
“Does…would Killian not like it?”
“I think Killian is worried about the other college students teaching you things that won’t help your career. Besides, part of your charm is how sweet you are.”
“I see…” he said, and he sat thinking for a moment, then wrote out a message to Killian and sent it before saying anything else. “Well, I still don’t see how you’re not sending her a message right this second.”
“Why? I’m over here helping you get this done. You said you wanted to make the council and the rest of your family proud by getting high marks while you’re here in America.”
“I do,” he confirmed, “but Killian’s really special to me, so I can send him a quick message. I just think you could send one to Leila while I’m sending one to him.”
I took his phone from him and set it on the far corner of the table. “Well, you can send him your next message when you’re done with this assignment,” I told him a little more firmly.
“What’s she going to do if you send her messages a little more often than usual?” Larsa asked. “Start thinking that you like her more than than she thought you did before?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I don’t want to talk about this, Larsa.”
“But why?” he questioned me again. “She’s obviously really important to you, and you need to let her know. It’s starting to eat you up inside.”
“It is not,” I grumbled.
“Sure it is,” he said back. “You get angry whenever I try to encourage you to talk to her about how you really feel. So you’re either about to burst, or she’s broken your heart in some way and you no longer have a chance with her.”
I looked away. I was probably frowning as deeply as he’d ever seen. “Drop it, Larsa,” I told him sternly. “I didn’t get in the way of you and Killian being together, and I don’t want you to try to influence my friendship with Leila.”
“Stefan,” he said, “it’s not just friendship anymore. At least you don’t want it to–“
“Shut up!” I admit that I yelled at him. I shouldn’t have, I know, because he means well, but I’ve told him more than a few times that he has to let me handle this myself. “If you want help with your homework, let’s focus. If you talk about her again, I’m leaving.”
Larsa stared at me. His expression was somewhere between pouting and… I don’t know, some kind of angry face, but from someone who’s not used to making angry faces. Larsa is hardly ever mad. “Maybe I will when you quit picking on me for being affectionate with Killian when you can’t even admit that you are in–“
That was when I got out of my chair, grabbed my jacket and phone, and headed for the door. I didn’t have anything else with me, and my keys and wallet were in my pockets, so there was nothing stopping me from getting out the door in just a few seconds. I closed it behind me, took the stairs down before Larsa could even open it back up, and disappeared into the shadows of the parking lot. Larsa was calling out for me to wait, but I wasn’t waiting, and he couldn’t keep up. I’ve been over at his place enough times that I knew he didn’t always put his keys in the same place, meaning he had to try harder to look for them so that he didn’t accidentally lock himself out of the apartment. That would give me more time to get to my car.
The guest parking was in a different part of the apartment complex, so Larsa wouldn’t have a direct view of me from his unit. I took an exit further away from his apartment and headed out onto the main road. I was glad I’d taken my car that day, having needed to run more errands for the record shop and get from there to Larsa and Killian’s apartment quicker. I usually took public transit, but if I had to walk over to the bus stop that evening, Larsa would have gotten on his bike to come find me. I didn’t need him trying to convince me that he had a right to talk to me about this– or what he thought this was.
For weeks on end, he’d been harassing me about something I said after I’d had a few beers in me, and he had misinterpreted it. No matter what, I didn’t want to talk about it, and I didn’t want him to talk about it with her, and he needed to stop telling me to talk to her. Leila was my best friend in the whole world, and I wasn’t going to ruin that for anything. Losing her friendship just wasn’t worth it. Larsa seemed to think there was some kind of trade-off involved that did make it worth it, but he didn’t have as much to lose as I did.
My phone was already ringing; did he really think I was going to answer? I had a personal rule about mobile phones in the car, and it includes not looking at them while driving– not even checking the screen to see who was calling. I ignored it, but since I also had a personal rule about not picking up the phone at all, that meant listening to it ring. It stopped, but then started again. Eventually it got to a red light, and I could slide over the ‘ignore’ button. After a short pause, I got a voicemail verification. Then a text.
I’m calling Killian.
What did I care? Killian could tell him to leave me alone about–
The car behind me honked. I looked up to see the green light, cursed myself, and turned off the screen as I hit the gas. I tossed in on the floor in front of the passenger seat, intent on not checking it again until I got home. Maybe I’d even leave it in the car over-night.
I got some food at a drive-thru on my way home. I ended up taking my cell phone inside with me, but I didn’t answer any of the calls I got. I put it on silent and didn’t check my voicemail. I didn’t read Larsa’s text messages, though a quick scan of them showed he’d eventually switched to Swedish in order to better get his point across. Not that he needed to, though; I knew what he wanted me to do, and I wasn’t going to do it.
I did, however, read what Killian sent.
I had a talk with Larsa. I can’t say that I disagree with him on a basic level, but ultimately it’s your choice. He says he just wants to see you happy. I think I got through to him when I pointed out that you’re unhappy with him nagging you. Have a good night.
There was no reason for me to reply to that right away. I grabbed a cider from my fridge and sat down to watch another episode of “Norsemen” while I ate. I was already current on the “Vikings” series, so this comedic take was a good enough way to pass the time. Once I was done with that and had cleaned up, I grabbed another cider, loaded up my music programs, and got back to work on one of my commissions. About an hour in, I heard a chime on my cell phone– that was odd, as I had put it on silent and left it in the other room on the charger.
I got up and went to check that it was still on silent. It was, but the reason it still chimed was that Leila had been set to get through to me regardless of my other settings. I loaded the text message she sent, my heart pounding at the thought that Larsa might have told her something– I would be seeing red if he had. I loaded up the text she had sent me.
Hi Stefan! Are you at home?
Yeah, what’s up?
Oh, I didn’t see you on Messenger. I haven’t talked to you for a few days, so I wanted to check in.
Always great to hear from you. How’s work?
It’s great! I only have a couple more projects to finish before I’m totally free for when you guys visit.
That’s awesome. I’m really looking forward to seeing your house!
Oh, by the way, I might not be online much before then. I’m still working on these music projects.
That’s okay. I mainly had a question for you along those lines.
Go for it.
If I were to try writing a song of my own, would you be willing to help me?
I stared at her message for what felt like a long time. Leila had been taking a lot more interest in music lately. She’d been keeping in touch with me a lot more often, too. My heart felt like a humming bird. I finished off my cider and tossed the bottle into the recycle bin before sending her one more message for the evening.
Leila, I would do anything for you.