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The Snowdrops. Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The Spirit of the Blue Bird

When Dina opened her eyes, she knew right away that it was late, because her mom was rattling with the dishes, placing them on the table for dinner. It was probably around seven in the evening. Dina sat up, took off a soft blanket. Nicklis was gone, and it suddenly made her sad. She thought he was here, next to her all this time, but apparently not… She could hear Igor’s happy voice from the kitchen. He was telling Olga all he learned while attending a conference today. It was about all the different kinds of orchids. From his exclamations Dina learned that he brought a few pots with some very rare orchids and was meaning to start replanting them as soon as possible.

The younger sisters were playing on the floor, Ira was sitting in the chair and reading the biology textbook. Dina stood up and went to the table.

“Hi,” said Olga, hugging her affectionately. “You slept so soundly, we decided not to wake you up.”

“Sorry, that happened accidentally,” confessed Dina. “Did Nicklis leave long ago?”

“No, about an hour ago. You had been sleeping on his shoulder, he did not want to disturb you, but I made him go home, he has his business,” Olga squinted her eyes cunningly. “Let’s eat.”

After dinner Dina went to her room. There was still so much to do… She quickly took things out of her backpack and started doing her homework, which she absolutely forgot about during the day. It was dusky in her room, only the table lamp threw light over her textbooks and notebooks, and the window. Her family’s voices sounded for a long time, but slowly everyone left for his or her room and at around midnight the sounds of the evening life went silent. Dina worked on her homework until two in the morning, and during all that time a strange, pressing anxiety still nested in her heart. It became much weaker, once Nicklis’s wound was dressed and taken care of, but it did not leave fully.

Could that anxiety depend on his condition? Dina felt uneasy from that thought. The further away she was from him, the stronger she wanted to be closer to him, the stronger became the anxiety. Dina decided to make an experiment and wait until he got well again, to check, if the anxiety would disappear. She stretched, closed her textbooks and stood up to climb into the bed already, when she became scared. Unclearly, inexplicably scared. She was not afraid of the shadows or the dark window, just some mysterious fear creeped into her very soul and froze there, squeezing her heart with cold fingers.

Dina shook her head. Where did this come from? What is going on with her? She quickly put on her pajamas and hid under the blanket. She needed to sleep. In the morning all thoughts find their places, everything becomes clear, she just needs to wait. But the fear did not lessen…

* * *

Dina slept badly that night. She woke up a few times because she thought there was pain in her. But it would go away as soon as she would lift up her head. Waking up at six thirty, ten minutes before the alarm, Dina realized that she could not stay in bed any longer and started to get ready for school. A few times she glanced at the window with a hidden hope to see Nicklis and at the same time not waiting for it to happen. He probably would not go to school today.

She waited for breakfast and then, sliding her arms into the sleeves of the coat, tying up the shoes and grabbing her backpack, Dina jumped out onto the porch. To her surprise and excitement Nicklis was waiting for her at the gate as usual. He did not have his coat on today, it was changed for a sweatshirt. Nicklis was standing with his head low and hands in the pockets, his face was buried into the scarf, which was wrapped around his neck and the end of it thrown over the shoulder. He picked something on the ground with the tip of his shoe. Dina ran to the road and closed the gate behind her.

“Good morning,” said to her Nicklis, stretching out and lifting up his head.

“Hi! Are you coming to school today?” asked Dina, examining his sadly lifted eyebrows and slightly swollen eyes, as if he did not sleep last night.

“Nay, I’ll just accompany you ‘till we get there,” replied Nicklis. “I don’t think I can sit through all the classes. I will try to come after them, though, to meet you if you’d like.”

“Sure, I would enjoy that,” Dina took him by the elbow, and they started on their way.

While walking, Dina talked a lot and very excitedly, told him about Igor’s craziness, how he was running around the house with his orchids and called all his daughters “little orchids”; about Ira’s makeup, on which she spends tons of time; about mom’s idea to get a cat… Nicklis listened to her absently, and to all the questions about his health he replied reluctantly and indefinitely, which made Dina worried. When they got to the school, she had no desire to leave him. He seemed sad and almost lost. It probably is not easy to feel unwell in an unknown world, in an unknown city, but there was nothing to do… After saying goodbye and promising not to stay at the school for too long once the classes are over, Dina ran up the steps of the school. At the door she turned around. Nicklis stood at the base of the staircase, dull and ruffled up, like a sparrow when it gets cold.

Dina sighed and walked into the building. She slipped into the changing room, then to the schedule on the wall of the foyer, and then went to her class. At the door of the classroom her anxiety suddenly grew into actual pain, so that Dina even stopped and pressed her hand to her chest. She was taken by an unbearable desire to turn around and run back, to the street, to her friend, he is in trouble!… Dina rubbed her eyes and told herself quietly:

“Well… You are imagining all this, as usual! Pull yourself together right now!..”

And she entered the classroom.

* * *

To get through a school day with that feeling of trouble turned out to be a whole quest. The attention was scattered, the thoughts went somewhere deep into the heart, Dina listened to this unabated anxiety and talked not to the point. Finally, at the end of the day, after receiving a warning about inattentiveness during the physics class, she ran to the changing room, but was stopped by Dima Tuna. He did not dare talk to her all day long, but after the end of the classes he caught up with her.

“Dina…” he said guiltily. Dina glanced at him in surprise.

“Dina, you know… forgive me, I guess,” mumbled Dima. “I was disturbing you yesterday, I’m sorry… Really, I’m sorry.”

“Well, it’s noble to feel sorry,” said Dina. “I’m in a hurry, so speak up.”

“Listen, can you give this to Nick?” Dima gave her an envelope.

“Alright, I will,” Dina shoved it into her backpack.

“And… tell him, we’re very thankful… again,” said Dima.

“Okay. Is that it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, bye,” Dina ran down the stairs.

There was no one on the porch or by it, and Dina knew right away, when she walked out of the school, that there will be no one. The anxiety hurried her, and Dina went home with a quickened pace. Uncomfortable thoughts crowded in her head. There was no light in the windows of Nicklis’s house. Dina snorted about that because the sun was still high and there was no point in waiting for the lights to be on. Dina ran through the garden and slipped into the house. She threw off her shoes and burst into the living room like a swirl of the wind. A peaceful picture appeared before her eyes: Olga and the three of her youngest daughters all were sitting in front of the fireplace, chatting with Nicklis, and drinking tea.

Dina was incredibly relieved, but a thought appeared in her mind: she must be starting to go insane. What did she feel there in front of the classroom before the lesson? Apparently, those were the impulses of some lovers’ craziness, of which people write in books. She fell in love and now is losing her mind, perfect!.. Dina truly wanted to hit herself in the forehead to knock out all this folly.

“Hi, everyone,” said she.

“Ah, hello, my dear. Sit down, have some tea. We’ll be eating lunch in an hour,” replied Olga with a smile.

“Okay,” Dina flopped on the couch next to her friend.

“I have dealt with Vladimir,” stated Nicklis in a satisfied tone.

“With whom?” Dina was taken aback.

“With the guy who spoiled your life, I think that’s what you said,” explained Nicklis. “After I left you at the school, I went home, and he ambushed me on the street, so we fought. We both got a few good blows, but I managed to knock him down, and he admitted my victory. Though, I got hit in the shoulder rather badly, so I stopped by to see Olga Alexeevna, to check if everything’s alright there.”

“And everything is far from being right,” added Olga.

Dina was scared. That strange pain appeared in her right before classes, that was probably when Nicklis got into the fight…

“I suggest Nicklis stays with us in our guest room,” said Olga. “Until the shoulder heals.”

Dina looked at her friend with a question. Nicklis lifted his eyebrows and replied:

“I’m not sure if it’s a good idea. You’re a family after all, I will be a distraction…”

“You will not be a distraction,” Dina snorted. “We care about you getting better.”

“We-e-ell… Let’s do this: if it gets worse by the evening, I’ll stay,” said Nicklis.

“Well, that’s great,” agreed Olga and stood up. “Would you like to have lunch with us?”

“I would gladly.”

Olga smiled and went to the kitchen, Dina’s sisters went on their ways, and Dina suggested:

“Let’s go upstairs to my room?”

Nicklis obediently stood up and followed her up the steps. In the room Dina realized that she forgot to make her bed in the morning and hurried to do so, after throwing her backpack under the desk. Nicklis, keeping his hands in the pockets of his jeans, carefully entered the room. The sunlight fell upon his freckled face, bright hair, and white shirt with green and brown plaids. Seeing the patches of light wash over Nicklis’s chin and cheekbones, Dina felt that she needed to draw this as soon as possible.

“Sit down here!” asked she, moving a chair into the middle of the room, where the light was the liveliest. Nicklis sat there, clenched his fingers together, and glanced at his friend, bewildered and with strongly squinted eyes.

Dina grabbed her sketchbook, sat down in front of him and started to draw. Her hand glided over the paper, swishing, smoothly, and quickly placing one line after another. It was not Dina’s hands that drew, it was her whole heart. She was swallowed up by this work, and Nicklis was left to look at her, waiting for explanations. But Dina was silent. Her glances were sliding, attentively examining each roughness of the fuzzy triangular eyebrows, thin wrinkles, which gathered on the forehead and the low bridge of the nose because Nicklis kept squinting. Two green sparks were shining through the thick red eyelashes of his eyes.

Soon they were called for lunch, but the sketch was ready. By five in the evening, when the rays of sun moved and faded, Dina finished her work. Nicklis kept patiently sitting in front of her, without a movement, for a few hours. Dina allowed him to read one of the books from her library, and with that book in his hands he looked even more magical. Finally, Dina knocked her brush on the side of the jar with water one last time and put it down. The painting ended up being bright and piercing, just like the beams of that spring sun and like the green lights of Nicklis’s eyes, showing through the red eyelashes.

“Here,” Dina gave the sketchbook to her friend.

“Oh,” Nicklis took it and placed it on his lap.

“Do you recognize yourself?” Dina smiled.

“Through the mirror of your eyes, yes,” said Nicklis and looked up at her, deeply sliding his glance straight into her soul. But by looking inside he opened himself to her, and she felt with surprise that he was very tired.

“How are you feeling?” asked Dina with worry in her voice.

“I’m fine,” replied Nicklis and blinked quickly in embarrassment. “To be honest, I really like your room. There’s so much…”

“Are you ill?”

Nicklis quietened and gazed at her in confusion.

“I’m sorry, I just feel like you’re hurt…” noted Dina. It was the voice of her heart, of her unbearable anxiety, which never left her since the moment by the river. A happy spark flashed in Nicklis’s eyes again, but this time his gaze was paler than usually.

“It’s amazing that you could tell that, but my shoulder does hurt rather badly,” said he.

Dina glanced at the light sickly blush on his cheeks, the droopy tips of the ears and the moisty eyes, and quickly touched his forehead. Nicklis flinched but did not recoil.

“Let’s go downstairs,” suggested Dina. “I think you need to measure your temperature…”

Nicklis sighed.

“Okay,” he glanced at the sketchbook in his hands once again. “You draw really neatly. It’s… just beautiful.”

“Thanks,” Dina smiled and took the sketchbook.

“Mom tried to teach me to draw,” noted Nicklis. “But I never got interested in that… She herself draws a lot and very well too. As far as I can remember, she has been drawing through my whole life, except for one week, after the death of my brother. She did not get up for a few days, and then she rose suddenly and started one huge and sad painting, which helped her come back to life. Art has fascinating ability to heal the wounds of the soul.”

“That’s true,” Dina nodded. “One can express anything from what is in their heart.”

She glanced at her piece and pressed it to herself.

“And those thoughts get expressed unconsciously.”

Voices in the living room rose, as Olga was calling everyone to come have dinner.

“You are right,” said Nicklis. “That is why I like people who can create.”

Dina laughed in her heart, feeling that she was blushing, put down the sketchbook and noted:

“Let’s go eat! Maybe your immortal body will feel better after dinner!”

“Anything is possible,” Nicklis chuckled and stood up. “Let us go.”

Dina turned off the lamp, and they both went down the stairs. Olga was putting the plates on the table, while Ira was running around her, chatting:

“Mom! When’s dad coming back from his conference?.. Late?.. Man! I have questions about biology!.. What?! Ask Dinka? Mom, you think she can teach me anything?… She’s older? Well, it doesn’t matter, I have anatomy, not some plants!..”

Dina interrupted her speech by asking where the thermometer was, which got her into a questioning about why it was needed. After listening to her answers, Olga shook her head.

“It’s in the drawer in the kitchen, as usual,” said she. Dina went to the kitchen for her hunt.

After receiving the thermometer, Nicklis got himself a comfortable seating on his favorite couch in the living room. Ira, who had no desire to ask her sister, but guessed that Nicklis should be her equivalent as far as knowledge goes, went to him with her biology questions. Nicklis gladly dove into explaining something about the construction of spoke-bone and the work of the joints. Dina helped her mother get the table ready, smiling and watching the usual bustle which always came to life before dinner.

Twilight hung over the living room, the lamps around the fireplace were lit, as well as a pale chandelier over the table. Cups, spoons and sauce bowls glittered in its cold artificial light. Dina helped Olga put boiled rice and pieces of cod fried in the batter on the plates, and place glasses with water next to them. Finally, everything was ready, and Olga told everyone to come and eat.

“Well, what you’ve got there?” inquired she from Nicklis. He silently gave her the thermometer and sat down by the table.

“Uh…” sighed Olga, shaking the thermometer. “Not good. You’ll stay for the night.”

“But…”

“And no “but” or “no”! You will stay for the night, you have no need to be in that old moldy house all alone! If you need anything from there, you may go and get it tonight,” said Olga strictly.

“But this is normal,” noted Nicklis guiltily. “I had a fever last night as well, there’s nothing strange in that…”

“Why didn’t you tell of this right away?” Olga seemed to be indignant.

“Because it is not strange. If it was unusual, I would’ve told you. This is a rather large wound, of course, it got inflamed,” explained Nicklis naively.

“Okay, we’ll talk about this later. Sit down you all!”

Dina sat by her friend, her sisters around them, Olga, as usually, on the left edge of the table. Everyone started eating right away, everyone, except for Nicklis, who hesitated a moment in confusion. But, after methodically breaking the piece of the cod and trying the fish, he glanced at Olga in admiration and said:

“This is a magical dinner, Olga Alexeevna, thank you!”

“I’m glad you like it,” Olga chuckled.

Dina felt her friend’s gaze on herself and lifted her head.

“Can you cook like this too?” inquired Nicklis.

“Well, I don’t know, mom taught me some things!” Dina snorted.

“You see, in our traditions, the daughters are always taught how to cook from their mothers, but they don’t bother teaching the sons for some reason. That’s why the first time I made boiled potatoes I had no idea how that is done… It ended up being rather hard to learning to cook by myself,” explained Nicklis, and his ears, already burning, blushed even more.

“Yeah, that’s no fun,” agreed Dina. “How long have you been cooking for yourself then?”

“A few years now,” Nicklis sighed.

“How old are you, if you don’t mind?” asked Dina carefully.

“A hundred and eight.”

“Oho…” Olga seemed shocked. “It cannot be…”

“I’m an elf.”

“How did this happen, though?.. Did time in Elvia go faster than here?” inquired Dina.

“Exactly.”

“So we haven’t seen each other for ninety four years, in your timing?..”

“Yep.”

“I wouldn’t have been able to wait for so long…” confessed Dina. “That’s why you replied to my letters so quickly!”

“I received them not more often than once a month,” Nicklis shrugged. “Elves know how to wait.”

“I can tell.”

They went silent and kept eating.

* * *

After dinner Dina went to do her homework, since she spent all her time during the day on other things again; and Nicklis went to his house to get his things. Olga showed him the guest room, the door to which was across the corridor from Dina’s door. All this moving and anxiety that still kept slightly but confidently pressing on her heart did not let Dina concentrate on her homework. Finally, surrendering, she gathered her books and carefully went into the corridor. The door to the guest room was half-open, and the light from there fell over the dark wooden planks of the floor. Pressing the books to herself, Dina quietly knocked and stepped into the room, onto the hard carpet in front of the bed. Nicklis, who was standing by the table at the far end of the room, turned around.

“I’m sorry,” Dina felt herself to be very impertinent and even stupid now. “I’m sorry, I wanted to ask you…”

She lowered her gaze.

“Yes?” Nicklis smiled.

“I… I’m very troubled,” said Dina finally, burning in embarrassment. “I cannot concentrate on my homework, while you’re so far away… I wanted to invite you to my room, but I can come here and do my homework…”

“Ah,” Nicklis moved a small box to the edge of the table and added:

“I don’t need the table at all.”

“I’m sorry, I’m getting into your personal space…”

“That’s alright. I only need to go downstairs and brew these,” Nicklis showed her his cup and a bunch of herbs wrapped in a piece of cheesecloth.

“Okay,” replied Dina. “I already forgot that you use herbs as medicine. It’s so cool.”

“There are some complicated things with herbs,” noted Nicklis with a sigh. “I never tried your medicine, so it’s hard to compare. I mean, I have tried it once and I will never agree to do it again…”

“Why?”
“It doesn’t help me at all,” explained Nicklis. “It did something to my head, so I slept for almost a day, but it didn’t help…”

“Hm,” Dina shook her head. “Maybe you’re just not used to it? I though aunt Svetlana did numbing for your wound, when she did the stitches. How did you deal with that?”

“It was unpleasant,” confessed Nicklis. “But, you know, I was surprised, because usually numbing doesn’t work on me. When I get it, I can still feel pain, even though it’s not as strong as it would’ve been. I thought everyone is this way, but apparently not… I told Svetlana of this, and she explained that since I’m red-haired, I need more numbing. They just didn’t give me enough of it before. I assume, in my world they don’t know of this fact, and use the same amount of painkillers for redheads as for the blonds and others… But I still was rather dizzy until the evening, usually it doesn’t happen.”

“Yeah…”

“Well, I’ll be back,” Nicklis left the room.

Dina sat by the table and cautiously looked into the box, where dried and powdered herbs, berries, roots and twigs lay among many little partitions. There was even a tiny bottle with a cork as a lid. Once Nicklis was back with his cup of fragrant tea and sat down onto the large bed, Dina felt calmer. She could always glance back and see that her friend is alright.

The work progressed, and Dina was relieved that her homework is obeying her once again. The unusual but pleasant smell of the herbs hovered over the room. Nicklis turned off the full light, leaving only a lamp over his bed and over Dina’s table still lit. Around nine in the evening, during a break, Dina turned around to face her friend. Nicklis was laying prone across the cover of the bed and was reading silently. He was wearing a long green shirt with loose sleeves, and his green skinny pants.

“How’re you?” asked Dina. Nicklis lifted his head and looked at her with moisty eyes.

“Okay,” said he.

“By the way, when do you go to bed? I thought, I probably shouldn’t be here any longer…”

“That’s alright,” replied Nicklis. “I need three hours of sleep a few times a week, so I don’t have to go to bed until two in the morning. Technically, I don’t have to sleep at all tonight…”

“A-ah, you’re an elf…”

“Yeah. Sadly, fevers don’t avoid elves, so I hoped to take a nap by midnight,” clarified Nicklis.

“Okay, I should be done by midnight,” Dina laughed.

Nicklis pulled his arms under himself and sat up.

“My mom was going to come here around nine thirty,” remembered Dina. “Would it be easier for you, if I leave then?”

“You can stay, it’s nothing,” replied Nicklis. “Honestly, I thought, I was going to die last night from that fever!”

He laughed, which strangely contrasted his last phrase.

“Yeah!” Dina chuckled. “I’m amazed over how you jumped into that river. You didn’t hesitate a second…”

“There are moments in life, when you know that if you don’t take the risk, you’ll be ashamed of yourself for the rest of your life,” said Nicklis thoughtfully. “I didn’t think it could be dangerous, there wasn’t much time.”

“It was impressive,” noted Dina.

“How would’ve I lived without the Blue Bird,” Nicklis stretched over the bed and threw his hands behind his head. “She gives me the strength.”

Dina smiled, watching him, and warmth spread over her. Olga entered the room.

“I hope, I did not ruin an intimate conversation,” said she, chuckling.

“No, mom!” Dina snorted, and Nicklis sat up again and loosened the little braid which held his hair brushed back from the forehead. Olga sat down at the edge of the bed, gave him the thermometer, and asked to take off the shirt. Nicklis obediently pulled the shirt off over the head, and Olga started bandaging his shoulder. Dina watched them from the corner of her eyes, quietly admiring in her heart the beauty of Nicklis’s well-shaped and very flexible, muscled body. For some reason she found most fascinating the scattering of golden freckles on his shoulders and elbows. The only other place she saw them was his face.

“Uh, the inflammation is rather strong,” Olga sighed and soaked a piece of cottonwool in iodine. “The intoxication may be stronger than you think. I have some medicine that can help reduce the inflammation, would you like to take it?..”

“No, thank you,” refused Nicklis, flinching and wincing as Olga’s fingers pressed on his shoulder. “I don’t know how my body can react to your medicine, I also already had my herbal tea, it should help.”

“If it will become worse, I’ll drive you to the doctor,” said Olga strictly.

“I beg you, don’t do that!” pleaded Nicklis. “If I will wander out of my mind, because of the fever, and that happens to me, please, don’t give me any medicine, it can make things worse!..”

“Alright, how can we help you?”

“Water and cold wet towels usually help,” replied Nicklis.

“I have a reserve of frozen towels, would that work?”

“Yeah…”

“Well, okay, we will try to stay in the frames of your methods,” Olga surrendered to him. “There, I’ll make the bandage and you may rest.”

“Thank you.”

Finally, the wound was dressed, and Nicklis gave the thermometer back to Olga.

“I’ll bring you some water,” said she, sighing. “And a frozen towel.”

Nicklis looked at her gratefully with his weary green eyes. Dina watched them with worry. Olga left the room, closed the door; and Nicklis hurried to climb back into his shirt. He stretched over the bed again, placing his hands behind his head.

“Can I do anything for you?” asked Dina quietly.

“Not right now,” replied Nicklis. “For now, we can only wait…”

“Okay,” Dina returned to her homework.

For some time Nicklis lay calmly on the bed and read, his legs one over the other. A rather long time passed in this silence. Around eleven in the evening, Dina finally finished her homework, stretched, turned off the lamp and gathered her textbooks. Nicklis lay – his book on his chest – and stared into the ceiling with sad eyes. Dina stopped by the bed and asked quietly:

“How’re you?”

Nicklis looked at her slowly, painfully wincing the bridge of his nose.

“I can live,” he said. Dina pulled the dry warm towel off his forehead, and said:

“I’ll go, get a fresh one.”

* * *

When Dina returned her textbooks to her desk, found the fresh towel in the freezer and returned to the guest room, he heart once again was washed over with painful anxiety. Nicklis lay on his back, his hands folded over his chest, and the yellowish light of the lamp illuminated his pale face with a bright blush on his cheekbones and ears. Dina sat down next to him on the side of the bed, carefully touched his arm. His skin was burning though barely moist, not wet and slimy as it usually is when people have such fever. This confused and scared Dina. Nicklis was looking at her guiltily, without lifting up his head, and was silent.

“Here,” Dina placed the hard towel on his forehead. “I’ll call mom, probably…”

“Okay, thank you,” breathed Nicklis quietly and closed his eyes. Dina sighed sympathetically and ran downstairs to the living room.

The next few hours Dina spent in the painful unease about her friend. Nicklis raved, flouncing his head on the pillow, and time to time he would say some incomprehensible words in elvish. Sometimes they managed to calm down the fever, and he woke up, but these moments of rest made barely any difference. Dina had never seen anything like this before. Nicklis did not reply when she called him, did not hear, or understand her words.

Dina had been experiencing an intolerable nervousness, and she could not find comfort, could not understand how to get rid of the worry. An hour passed – nothing changed. Nicklis lay on his back, his arms, bent in the elbows, were thrown to the sides, spread over the banket. Olga rolled up his sleeves, and Dina with an unusual delight examined his lean, strong hands, thin wrists, and freckles on the elbows. The hands caught her attention for some reason, and Dina carefully reached over and took his cold, rough hand with her small fingers.

Nicklis’s hand squeezed hers a little, and Dina felt like she could help him, if she wanted to. She clenched her fingers together tightly, nestling Nicklis’s hand in her palms, and froze in a marvelous feeling, which covered her whole. Strange, unexplainable images rose in front of the eyes of her imagination. Dina could feel the emotions which those visions awoke, but the meaning of them and even the actual appearance were slipping away from her grasp. Later she could not even remember what she saw. However, Dina’s supportive and caring feelings broke through the mindless thoughts and images of ravings, and she saw the dreary feverish fog weaken and fade. Nicklis opened his eyes.

“Din…” he smiled lightly, slightly tugging on the corners of his lips.

“I’m with you,” said Dina, whose heart was beating fast because of what she just lived through. “Don’t be afraid.”

For some reason she really wanted to tell him not to be afraid. She felt like she needed to say that. Nicklis closed his eyes again, again his eyebrows bent and collected thin sad wrinkles on his forehead. Dina knew this moral help could not keep him in this world for long, the illusions took him away again, they were stronger.

“Dina,” said Olga, who was sitting in the chair some distance away from the bed and watched them with some distrust and confusion. “This can last a while, there’s no need to wear down the systems… I insist on the medicine.”

“Mom, it’s risky,” Dina sighed. “As Nick said, the medicine can make things even worse.”

“It would not be very good without it either. There are no side effects from the antipyretics, let’s take the risk,” suggested Olga.

“Well…” Dina squeezed her friend’s hand and became thoughtful. Mom is a doctor, she should know these things… “Alright, let’s try it. Maybe, he should take half the regular dosage as a start?”

“Alright,” agreed Olga.

Dina closed her eyes again, and again felt the fear and the cloudy, stuffy feeling of the swaying, unpredictable space of illusions and unconsciousness. She thought she could pull her friend’s mind out of this sticky bog by squeezing his hand. He seemed to greedily swallow the air, as if he could not breathe for a long time. Dina opened her eyes. Nicklis looked at her silently, and the corners of his lips were quivering in a weak smile.

“Sit up,” asked Dina and pulled him to herself. Nicklis sat, his eyes were clear, but Dina knew he was a step away from falling back into that creepy slimming mash of raving. Olga diluted something in a glass of water and gave it to Nicklis.

“Here, drink all of it,” said she, taking him by the shoulder.

“What is this?” asked Nicklis after taking a few sips.

“Water,” replied Olga, and Dina threw a worried look at her. In spite of being tired and confused, Nicklis managed to notice it.

“What is this?” repeated he with rebuke in his voice.

“Drink it,” Olga glanced at him strictly.

“”Why?..” whispered Nicklis, lowering the glass to the blanket on his knees. “Why are you doing this?..”

“Because I must,” Olga stood up. “Nothing is going to happen to you because of this medicine. Drink it and rest.”

Nicklis looked at her sadly, guiltily and at the same time stubbornly.

“Drink, or I will not let Dina be with you!” said Olga suddenly. Dina stared at her in horror, and Nicklis closed his eyes and winced as if he got hit. He grabbed the glass with his unsteady hand, drained it in one gulp and gave it to Olga.

“Apparently we will not be able to be together anyways…” said he quietly and lay back on the pillow. Olga shook her head with a smile, but Dina, with her heart pounding in her throat, exclaimed:

“Nick, what are you talking about?!..”

Nicklis did not hear her. His mind slipped out of Dina’s hands and once again drowned in the viscous, slimy swamp of raving. Dina, suffocating in fear, helplessness, and desperation, fell down onto his blanket and started to cry.

“Well, what’s wrong, my dear?..” Olga stroke her on the back. “It’ll all end well, no need to be so grieved. Wait half an hour, the fever will be gone.”

“Mom, why… really, why did you do that?..”

“Dina,” Olga sat in front of her and took her hands. “Don’t worry. What he said was the game of an inflamed mind, nothing is going to happen to him. I’m sorry I scared you, but there’s absolutely no need to cry. Of course I’m not going to stop you from being together just because of a glass of water, you know that. But it worked, as you had seen, he’s ready to suffer for you.”

Dina looked at her in surprise and fear. Nothing from what had been happening to her this evening ever happened to her before. She was so scared for Nicklis, for their friendship, for the time spent together… And now this strange ability to help him, pull him out of raving bewildered and slightly concerned Dina. She had never helped anyone like this, but she also had never had a friend like this…

“Mom, you really think I’m more than just a friend to him?..” asked Dina quietly, turning to see her calmed friend.

“Oh yeah,” Olga smiled slyly. “Much more. I think I have an idea why he came to this world without telling you the reason for it!..”

She stood up.

“Stay here, I’ll be back soon,” said Olga, kissed her daughter in the forehead and left the room.

Dina, who was inspired and worked into a tizzy after her mother’s words, glanced at her friend. Nicklis no longer flounced, he dropped his head to the side and lay with his mouth half-open, breathing hastily. His fiery hair, spread over the pillow and tangled on his ears, seemed unusually dark in the twilight of the room. Dina cautiously touched the tip of his burning pink ear and threw the hair off it. Nicklis jerked, whispered something, and became quiet again.

For some time Dina simply sat in silence and watched the clock. Nicklis was gradually becoming calmer, his breathing started to even out. Dina carefully and timidly touched his arm again. His skin was no longer burning, and Dina sighed in relief. Apparently, the medicine was working the way it should, everything will be alright… It was silent in the house. An hour passed since midnight, and Dina was very sleepy. She felt like she was very tired. She could not remember doing anything hard today, but the worry for a friend always takes a lot of strength. Around one thirty in the night Dina realized that Nicklis fell asleep. The fever was gone, his breathing smoothed down and was barely noticeable.

Dina stood up, filled his cup with water and left it on the bedstand, then turned to see her friend to make sure that everything is alright. Nicklis lay on his back, one hand on his chest, the other thrown to the side. Dina quietly picked the end of his blanket and pulled it up, carefully covered him. In silence, smiling, she was examining his pale freckled face, weary closed eyelids, fluffy and red triangular eyebrows. Unwittingly Dina bent lower and lower over the bed, then cautiously, shaking in excitement, she touched Nicklis’s warm forehead with her dry lips. She kissed him and immediately recoiled, fearing that he had felt it, but he just lightly smiled in his sleep.

Dina sighed, turned off the light, silently left the room, and closed the door behind herself. She dashed to her room, jumped on the bed, and stuck her head into the pillow. What has she done? Why did she do that? Who told her to do that?.. Why is it so pleasing, so magically warm from that feeling? It had never been present before, all these feelings had never been present before, why did they appear and why are they so warm?.. Dina did not know what to do with herself and how to deal with them. She felt like she could sit through the whole night there, next to her friend, and even the need for sleep would not have been able to take her away, but she knew how ridiculous it would seem to her household. All this was so embarrassing… Dina had no interest in sharing all this with people around her, these were her feelings, no one needed to know, but how beautiful the world was!.. Dina lifted her head. The curtains on the windows were not closed, and the stars on the dark sky were shining through the branches of the apple trees. What a beautiful apple tree, how beautiful were the starts, how amazing it was that there was no more fever and no more anxiety… Dina did not realize right away that once Nicklis fell asleep, the heavy anxiety, which pressed on her heart, has weakened. It did not leave fully, but it was no longer a weight. It has transformed into something new, into a different, strange, changing feeling, which

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