Leila showed me to a room on the third floor. It was right across from hers, which we got to see, too. It was the second-biggest in the house, but it completely suited her. It had a four-poster bed and fireplace, which only a couple other rooms had. One of the others was the second-floor room she’d set up for Larsa and Killian, which was the very biggest. True to her nature, Leila had chosen a room higher up; not the fanciest, but still one with everything she needed nearby.
“This house would be perfect for a cat,” I told her. “Or two or three.”
Leila used to have cats. Back in high school, they’d let me pet them when I went to Leila’s house to study. There was a gray tabby that would play with my hair like it was yarn, and a black one that hid from me whenever I looked at it, only to sneak out later to lick my toes. Her calico would lounge against me and paw at me whenever I stopped rubbing its belly. Her brother had a golden retriever that was younger than the cats, so they’d put it in its place, so to speak. The cats passed on over the years, but the dog still lived with Jonathan, if I recall correctly.
“Maybe one of these days,” Leila replied with a shrug. “When I’m more settled in.”
“Always the practical one,” I commented. I liked that about her, actually; she was the opposite of the type to get a pet on impulse or because it was cute.
“I could just get a husky first,” she said. “Name him Fenrir, take him on hikes with me…”
“Oh, and a reindeer!” Larsa added. “And name it Sleipnir, just for fun.”
I raised an eyebrow and gave Killian an incredulous look. “You realize you’re stuck with that sense of humor of his, right?”
“Ye say that like it’s a bad thing,” he laughed.
“So you’ve been encouraging him!”
“Ooooohh, are there moose around here?” Larsa asked. He ran over to the window to look outside as though there might be one nearby. “You could name one of those Sleipnir!”
“We’re not far enough north,” I told him. “And thank goodness for that.”
“Aaaawwww,” Larsa pouted. “I really wanted to see one up close!”
“You haven’t been close to one before?” Leila asked him. “They live in Sweden, don’t they?”
“Ja,” he confirmed, “but my dad and brothers and Dáidu always kept me away from them.”
“Who’s Dáidu?” Leila asked. She’d joined him over by the window, where fresh air wafted in on a pleasant breeze.
“Oh…” Larsa blushed. “He…”
“Tha’s his first boyfriend,” Killian answered for him. “He’s still a bit bashful about talkin’ about him.”
“You don’t have to be shy,” Leila assured him. “Killian wouldn’t be jealous about your ex.”
“I know,” Larsa said. “I mean… umm… What about you? Do you ever get jealous over someone’s exes?”
Leila furrowed her brow. “Way to change the subject, Larsa,” she teased. “Okay, okay, to answer your question, I don’t see the point in being jealous over something that’s over.”
Then Larsa looked in my direction. “See? I told you she wouldn’t care.”
I didn’t want to react to his teasing. I wasn’t in the mood for it. I never would be. He knew I didn’t like it when he brought up certain topics. So I just stared at him and tried not to do anything that Leila might pick up on.
“Do you have a view of the backyard from that window?” I eventually asked. It might have been just as obvious of a subject change as Larsa’s, but I did it anyway.
“Yeah,” Leila confirmed, “but how about we go see it up close?”
Leila led the way back downstairs, and I let Killian be the first to follow her. I grabbed Larsa’s arm before he got through the door.
“What are you up to?” I hissed at him in Swedish once I was sure their others were out of earshot.
“I’m just trying to help you.”
“Quit acting so innocent,” I snapped. “I told you before not to interfere with my friendship with Leila.”
“Come on!” Larsa groaned. “I’ve seen the way you look at her. It’s about time you figure out–“
“I told you to stop!”
Larsa sighed. “Stefan… come on, just let me find out if she’s even open to the idea. If I’m wrong, she’ll think it’s just me being silly.”
I shook my head. “I’m not letting you play ‘naïve foreigner’ with her feelings.”
Then he grumbled. “And if you keep acting apprehensive about her? She’ll end up meeting someone who can go on hikes with her or something. And you’ll still act happy for her even when you hit the two-year mark of not getting any action except from your ha–”
“Knock it off!” I growled.
“You’re too uptight about her!” Larsa snapped back. “Look at Killian and me; he knows about my exes, I know about his. He knows what I like, I know what makes him happy. Well, you and Leila know everything about each other, except you don’t get to put your hands on her unless it’s for a hug. If you keep hiding what’s inside you, she’s going to end up with her hands on another man, and you’ll be stuck still touching only yourself!”
Larsa stormed out of the room while I was still trying to find the right words to reply to him. I needed him to stop pressuring me to compromise everything I cared about, but I was also really surprised to see him talking so openly about– about– aaargh, how did I end up being the one unable to discuss adult things? It used to be him being shy and me telling him it was ok to talk about, and how to discuss it without crossing the line into being crude.
I ran a hand through my hair and sighed heavily. I did not want Larsa to be right. But I also didn’t want myself to be wrong. I couldn’t sour this friendship by making things awkward. I couldn’t risk sharing unwelcomed feelings. Especially not with my best friend’s birthday right around the corner. I wasn’t going to ruin this for her, no matter what else was on my mind.