A famous Swedish politican once entertained worries about the education of the impressionable minds of Mother Svea. So he came up with an idea that probably sounded real good on paper but not so much in real life; double-hours. A lesson of the duration of two hours, in a subject students have difficulties with. Which in this case is math. Which in this case is mind-numbing, excruciating and boring. I mean, I am actually good at math, I don’t neccesarily despise it overly much, but two hours?!
I make a calculation, and watch the clock. It’s ticking, slowly down towards the end.I make a second calculation. I like physics. I like energy– motion, light, heat, kinetic energy– and it’s a sad fact of life that in order to understand the universe, one needs a certain amount of math. I make a third calculation.
My phone buzz, and I carefully sneak it up. Ingvar Halmarson, our math and science teacher takes a dim view to things that disturb his lessons. If he could, he would probably create an eclipse just so that the sun wouldn’t be able to shine through the clouds, and thus eliminate another obstacle to his teaching.
It’s from Elena;” Come with me to the Orchard later?”
“Can’t.” “What do you mean you can’t?”
“I will be busy.” “Runey, masturbating to German porn does not constitute a proper reason for not hanging out with your BFF.” “Once! That was once. And I have got a legit reason.” I can’t help but feel a bit smug at the last message.
“Oh really?” I look up and meet Elena’s skeptical look across the classroom. “You see– I have a date.” Elena looks down on her phone and squeals in that way that only teenage girls can do. Ingvar looks at her. “Ms Havenius, are you feeling well?” “Ehrm, yes. But I need to visit the lavatory.” “Then do so.”
The moment Elena is out of the classroom I get another message. “Nevena– it’s Nevena, isn’t it.” “Yeah.”
The rest of the lesson pass and then we walk out, each of us with something on our respective minds.
I put my math textbook in my locker, grab my bag, a hipster-ish doctor bag that Hermann once gifted me and decide to find Nevena. That doesn’t take long. She’s standing, waiting, just around corner.”What’s your stance on coffee?”, she asks with an expectant smile. “I don’t drink coffee, but tea…” She nods. “I was thinking that we could go to Ever’s?” “Sounds like a plan”, I agree.
I look behind me quickly. Pontus gives me one of those nods that only action-heroes in 90’s movies can do without looking ridiculous. Elena smiles, while Kai is giving me the thumbs up, in the most unsubtle display of affectation that I have ever seen.
“Are you coming?” I turn back. “Yeah sure, I just saw something.” We walk out to the stalls. Nevena compares her bike to my bicycle with a telling glance. “Race you?” “I think it’s a given that you will win.” She puts one hand over her nose and rubs it.”You’re right. That’s why I will give you a five minute advance.” I use some of that despicable math and make a calculation and make my own bet. “Make it ten and we have a deal.” “Fine, ten it is. The loser will have to pay.”
I jump on my bike and race away. With a ten minute advance she will have to break several laws in order to reach Ever’s Cafe before me. I sverve between several buildings. “Moahaha guess this is my win.”
I spot Miss Lagergren, a local artist on my way, and wave at her. I turn right at City Hall, go straight across the Plaza, which you’re not supposed to do, up the Cracked Road and….
Just as I am about to reach the pasteur-colored front of Ever’s I hear a sound. I turn in time to catch a motorbike fly over my head, neatly landing maybe half a metre from the entrance to the cafe. She takes off her helmet. I just stare at her, dumbfounded. What kind of person violates half a dozen traffic laws, not to mention common sense, just for the sake of winning a bet?! “I guess you’re paying.” “I guess I am paying”, I repeat, dazed.
Ever’s boasts the dignity of being Fallowfell oldest cafe, which isn’t hard to believe. The white, carefully managed upholstery, all of the wooden chairs and tables, neatly ornamented with various animals. It feels as if a duke should walk in and say something along the lines of ‘poor chap’. We grab a table next to the windows. “I still say that you cheated.” I try, and odds are that I fail, at containing the whine in my voice.”Oh, so that’s how it going to be.” Yellow eyes tinkle at me. “Fine. What do you want?” “Hmmm, a danish and coke, pretty please.” I walk up to the counter, and pick her order up, plus one of my own, with cheesecake and fanta.
I sink down in one of the chairs and hand her the plate. We both sit there, looking at each other. “So, Mr Fallowfell.” ” Ms Stanislaw”, I nod in return. “What brought you here today?” “Why, I was invited.” “Is that so?” “Yes– a young woman called me. One thing led to another and well, here I am.” “How curious.” She looks at me, completely serious. And then we both devolve into laughter. I guess the ice is broken then.
She bites a big chunk of her danish, and I start to nibble on my cheesecake. “Okay, give me three tv-series, and why.” I think on that for a second. “Dexter; because I loved the books and I wanted more, Hannibal ’cause Mads Mikelsen rocks a tuxedo and Buffy the Vampire Slayer– well do I really need to give a reason for that one?” “Ooh, there is one thing we have in common then, a certain blonde Slayer. Here are mine; Firefly; because it was essentially the Wild West+the space-age, Luther; because Idris Elba is cooler than a cucumber, Sherlock; because it’s Benadryl Cumbersome and Bilbo Baggins in the same series.”
I spray a burst of fanta at her last sentence. “Benadryl Cumbersome! That one is gold. I’ll have to remember it.” I continue then, tasting the waters. “I guess you know about my family.” She inclines her head. Everybody knows about my family, sigh. Stupid newspapers. “Well I have two sisters; one older, and one younger. Together with my mom that’s my family.” I am about to ask about the omission of any dad when I hear a mental warning bell right in time. If she wanted to talk about her father, then she would’ve mentioned him.
“So you’re the middle child.” I eat some more of the cheesecake.” What’s that like?” She chuckles. “I am like the UN. I try to keep the peace, but all too often I fail. My younger sister is going through puberty with all that stuff you know, and my older sister is taking a sabbatical from the university, and I am caught between them.” “Between a rock and a hard place.” “Exactly.”
I take a deep breath, and her scent, a scent like burning trees hits me. It should smell weird, but it doesn’t.”Does my smell disturb you, O’berserker?”, she says with a knowing smile. I blanche. How did she know what I was thinking? And how does she know what I am? Can she read minds? Maybe she can read minds, maybe that is her magic?
“Relax. I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking that I know what you’re thinking.” “That’s… a pretty convoluted reasoning.” “It’s logic, and habit. Virtually every supernatural that uses scent to identify others have the same reaction to my kind.” I don’t miss the distinction. “Still doesn’t explain how you know what I am.” She shrugs.”My mother used to fight alongside the berserkers, a long time ago, so I recognize the signature of the magic. Besides my kind, and that of the Flight– we’re not that different.” She can tell what kind of soul I have melded with?! I think about Kai’s remark. The berserkers had their moment of glory almost a thousand years ago. How old does that make Nevena’s mother?
“What do you mean when you say that you’re not different from the Flight?” She gives me a big tantalizing smile.”I can’t tell you everything– you’d lose your interest in me.” “I wouldn’t-” “I know”, she adds more gently. She looks over her shoulder, to make sure nobody is looking. Satisfied, she cups one hand around a napkin.
The reaction lasts for a second; her hand turns a irritated red and the napkin combusts in white flames. With a breath she inhales the ash.
I blurt out a question that has been on my mind. “If your mother was a contemporary of berserkers, a millenia ago, then how old are you?” She looks at me seriously for what feels like an eternity. ” I am sixteen– but I have been sixteen for oh so long.” I inhale slowly. And then she laughs at me.
“You should see your face. I am just kidding. I am sixteen standard years.”
With that our conversation segue into simpler things, and before I know it the sun has begun to set and its time for us to part our ways. Honoring our bet I pay for the pastries and the drinks. Outside Nevena starts her bike. She pauses, remembering something.
“Oh yea, there was one thing I forgot.” With a speed that catches me unaware and would probably make Greyscale scream bloody murder she closes the distance between us.
She plants her lips on my left chin in a soft peck that burns like a brand and just like that, she is gone on her bike. I stare after her and in a slow movement I put my hand on the area she kissed. A faint smudge comes off, ash. I can feel the blood in my being re-routed to my face and I don’t think I have ever been so thankful for skintone.
She kissed me.
She kissed me…! And I didn’t even ask her out for a second date.
My phone vibrates. I look down. “See ya tomorrow.” – Nevena Stanislaw.
I walk home whistling and humming a tune. I don’t care if people look at me right now and think I am silly. I feel a bit like I could walk to on clouds.
I enter the villa and just as I have put the jacket on a hanger, Greyscale jumps out of the bathroom with a short-sword. I headbutt him, and while he is distracted, I use the flat end of the sword to slam his nose in. He crumples with a moan. I step on him lightly, and walk inside the kitchen.
Hermann takes one look at my face and begins to laugh. “You have got it bad, haven’t you.” I don’t respond. Can’t argue with truth, can you?