The river front was just a bumpy road, which led by the fences and houses along the shore to the docks. The water was high, and it rushed down its course in rough, muddy flows, carrying with it all kinds of spring trash. There were not many people, the river roared, and Dina felt with excitement the strength of its current. She picked up a little chip of wood and threw it into one of the dark whirlpools. The poor chip disappeared in the mighty flows of the river.
“The horror,” noted Dina, not letting her eyes off the spot where it went away. “The current is so strong now. It’s creepy to think what will happen if you end up in there…”
“Dinka, do you hear?” asked Nicklis. Dina glanced at him. He was looking somewhere along the shore, to the docks, and there was worry, burning in his eyes.
“What? I don’t hear anything…”
Nicklis suddenly jumped off the spot and ran down the road, untying his scarf as he went. Dina, bewildered and frightened, followed and caught up with him only at the docks. Here she heard piercing, desperate shout and then saw Dima Tuna, who was flouncing about the docks. He was pointing to the water, but could not say anything, only mumbled something similar to “help!”. Dina glanced at the river and at the tall, red from rust boats that were tied by the shore. Among horrifying whirlpools and several pieces of broken wooden planks, right under the broadside of the ships, she noted a little body, pushed by the merciless current.
Dina froze in horror and woke up only when Nicklis threw his coat into her hands. Then she got her voice back:
“Nick! Nick, are you mad?! There’re planks in there, what are you doing?!..”
Nicklis did not hear her. He threw off his shoes, ran across the docks and jumped. Dina screamed. Something punched her in the heart, some strange, unexplainable, anxious pain rose in her heart, as he disappeared in the water among the cascades of muddy splashes. Nicklis had dived under the floating logjam, which has been forming next to the shore, and had come out of the water on the other side of it. He shook his head, allowed the current to carry him and went to the boats.
Dina dropped her friend’s coat and ran to the edge of the dock. Dima, exhausted because of the fear, helplessly sat down onto the little column, used to tie up the boats.
“Nastya… Nasten’ka…” he whispered, lowering his head and unable to look at the river anymore.
“What were you waiting for?” asked him Dina.
“I can’t swim…” Dima glanced at her guiltily. It was a completely different Dima, scared and no longer as colorful as he was at school. Even his cockish tie seemed faded and pale. Dina sighed and stared at the water anxiously. Nicklis swam down the stream, caught Nastya and disappeared behind the end of the boat. Dina waited with her heart pounding desperately. People, attracted by the shouts, started to gather on the shore. Dina counted the seconds, not letting her eyes off the ships. Nicklis managed to defeat the current, and he swam back into the open part, where he was more visible. Holding Nastya’s head over the water, he pulled her to the shore.
Dina stood on her knees to help him as soon as he would be close enough. Nicklis reached her, grabbed Nastya more tightly and lifted her up. It was deep in this part of the river, and Nicklis’s head went under the water. Dina squeezed Nastya’s coat and pulled her onto the dock. The girl’s skin had a bluish-marble color, which scared Dina to death. She did not breath, and Dina had no clue what to do now. Thankfully, someone from the crowd went over to help, and the first aid was given. Dina looked around. Nicklis, clinging to the side of the platform of the dock, was still in the water. He could not climb out himself, the water pulled him down the stream, and the wall of the dock was covered in seaweed and kept sliding from under his feet. Dina reached out her hand. Nicklis grabbed her sleeve with his wet and cold fingers and climbed onto the platform. To Dina’s surprise, he seemed light for his height and shape. His shirt was torn and the hair sticked to his face. Nicklis fixed it quickly to cover up the ears.
“You’re ok?” asked Dina quietly.
“Aha,” replied Nicklis, shaking from head to toe. Dina hurried to bring him his coat. A strange wave of apathy covered her now. The fear did not leave yet. She was still incredibly worried, even though everything seemed to end well. Nicklis was back on the shore, Nastya woke up and started breathing – everyone safe and alive, why is she still so anxious? Dina looked at Tuna, who wrapped his sister into his own coat and hugged her tightly. Tears were running down his cheeks. Dina gazed at him with curiosity. She never saw him like this before.
“Nick… thank you,” breathed Dima, turning to Nicklis, who was slowly tying up his shoes. He lifted up his pale face.
“Thank you…” repeated Dima.
“No problem,” Nicklis stood up and suddenly took Dina’s hand with his cold fingers. “Let’s go.”
Dina glanced at him in surprise, but silently obeyed and followed him to the road, leading home. Throwing her backpack onto the shoulder, she walked next to him, bewildered by the shortness of his words and quickness of the motions. She felt that something was not right, but she could not tell what. She was delighted with her friend’s courage and fearlessness, but something did happen to make her heart pound worriedly. Why did he have to do this? Why is there this uncomfortable pain in her heart now? What happened…
Something hot and sticky suddenly burned Dina’s palm, which was hiding in her friend’s large hand. She flinched and stopped, and Nicklis unwittingly let go of her hand. It slid out of his wet fingers. Dina stared in horror at the bright, rusty-red spots of blood on her hand. She raised her head. Nicklis looked her in the face, tightly pressing his grey lips together, and there was fear in the depth of his eyes.
“Oh, Gosh! Nick, what is this?!” breathed Dina, smitten by the suffocating numbness and terror. “Where’d this come from?!”
“Quiet,” said Nicklis and came closer to her. “You hear me? Quiet, it is all right.”
“No! It’s not all right!” Dina showed him her hand spattered with blood. “What happened to you?!..”
Nicklis sighed and lowered his gaze. After a moment of silence, he explained:
“When I dove, there was something under that logjam… Something sharp. I did not check what exactly happened, but, apparently, my shoulder is ripped up… Hush!.. Don’t panic, I beg you!..”
“O-oh…” moaned Dina.
“Most importantly, don’t panic, or I would go nuts too!..” pleaded Nicklis. Dina tried to think quickly. What to do with this now?! She felt like she was unable to move, she was so terrified to realize that something this bad had happened to her friend. The fear came in a wave, threw cold shivers into her fingers and treacherously squeezed her throat. But an idea appeared in Dina’s mind.
“Hurry! Let’s go to us, my mom is a doctor, she knows what to do!” exclaimed she. “Is it bleeding badly?..”
Nicklis carefully unbuttoned the top of his coat and put his hand behind it. He glanced at his friend guiltily, not pulling it out.
“Then we need to hurry,” said Dina, trying to give her voice confidence. “Let’s go!”
She grabbed his elbow and dragged him. Nicklis silently followed, pulling his hand out of his coat, while a few drops of blood fell to the ground. Dina thought her world was on the edge of being destroyed. She needed to hurry, she had to come in time, otherwise everything will be taken away…
“Don’t rush, please,” asked Nicklis. “Do you happen to have a handkerchief which is ok, if it gets dirty?”
“Aha,” Dina pulled out of her pocket a handkerchief, and Nicklis wiped his hand with it and put it on his wrist, so that the blood, streaming down his arm, would not drip. They walked quickly. Dina’s fingers were freezing from fear, her mouth dried out. Her heart pounded, echoing more and more of the anxious pain. The closer they were getting to her house, the weaker Nicklis was becoming. Now Dina had to pull him, so that he would not slow down his pace. Never before she happened to be part of such situations, never before she saw so much blood. A few dark spots appeared on Nicklis’s coat, which horrified Dina even more.
Finally, they reached the garden. Dina fiddled with the lock of the gate twice as long as she usually did, rushed into the garden, dragging along her wabbling friend. The blood, which leaked through the handkerchief, fell onto the planks of the sidewalk, and Dina charged for the porch. Nicklis stumbled upon every single step of it, and his hand were in a stranglehold on Dina’s sleeve. Throwing open the heavy door that led to the house, they flew into the living room.
“Mom!” screamed Dina, once they stepped onto the painted planks of the wooden floor. “Mom, where are you?!”
Nicklis leaned to her shoulder and quietly and shortly breathed into her head, as if there was not enough air for him. No one else in the world Dina would have allowed to be this close to her. Olga came out from the kitchen, wiping her hands with a towel.
“Oh, man,” she exclaimed, clinging to the white towel with her wrinkly hands. “My dear ones, what happened?..”
“Nick is wounded!” breathed Dina.
“Sit down here! And take off the coat!” Olga moved one of the chairs next to the table and ran to the kitchen.
Nicklis slowly started to unbutton his coat, but Dina could not stand it any longer. She pushed away his hands, quickly unbuttoned the coat and pulled it off. The shirt, from the collar to the hem was soaked in blood, and Dina felt unwell from this view. She covered her mouth with her hands, suffocating from her friend’s pain, and started to cry. Nicklis, on the other hand, silently sat down and thoughtlessly stared at his hands with his fireless eyes.
Olga brought from the kitchen some bottles and a box of cottonwool.
“How’re you? How much does it hurt?” she quickly opened the package with gauze.
“I can live,” replied Nicklis quietly. In fear and despair Dina stared at his face, white as canvas, with darkened veins on his forehead. His wet hair sticked to his neck and pitifully spread out over his shirt. Olga quickly made a few cotton sponges and put them into the wound to stop the bleeding.
“So,” said she, looking Nicklis straight in the eyes. “This needs to be stitched, I cannot do that. If the bleeding stops, would you survive half an hour? I will get the doctor who knows how to work with such damages.”
“Is there another way?” asked Nicklis, slightly squinting his eyes.
“Well, I do not think you would like to drive to the hospital, not saying that it’s fairly far from us,” with an affectionate motion Olga moved his hair from his forehead behind the long pointy ear.
“How do you know?..”
“I’m a mother, I know everything,” Olga smiled. “Well, will you be able to bear this?”
“Yes,” there was so much courage in Nicklis’s voice, that Dina felt like a true coward next to him.
“Dina, open the windows and make Nicklis some water with sugar. If the cotton fills up, would you be able to change it?” asked Olga, dressing up quickly.
“I would,” said Dina, also trying to be brave.
“I’ll be quick,” Olga slipped through the door. Dina sighed heavily and went to the windows, let them wide open, then walked to the kitchen and dissolved three teaspoons of sugar in a glass of water. She brought the glass back to the living room and sat down in front of her friend, suggesting that he would drink the water. Nicklis obediently took the glass.
“I hate sweet water…” said he quietly.
“So do I, but it’s important,” replied Dina and carefully inquired:
“Does it hurt?”
“It does,” Nicklis sighed.
“How do you stay this calm? I would have fainted long ago,” noted Dina.
“Let’s talk about that later,” asked Nicklis, wincing.
Fear did not let Dina stay in one place. She gazed at her friend’s sharp knees, his grey hands with long fingers, laying on top the green pants. The shirt had been loosened and sticked out on one side over the belt, like a yellowed wing. Nicklis stared at something right in front of him but did not seem to see anything. Dina carefully took his hand. Nicklis did not reply to this movement. He kept staring thoughtlessly.
Dina stood up, went to the window, and stopped, hugging herself with her arms. If only this all ended well… She had never worried this much before; she had never been this scared. And this was not the fear for her own life, it was the fear for a creature so dear to her. The fear came in waves. Sometimes it lessened, becoming disgusting and slimy, squeezing her throat. Sometimes it would rise, pull out warmth from her hands, make her legs weaker. Now Dina felt strong and sharp fear; and the painfully anxiety, which tortured her since the moment Nicklis dove into the river, grew into actual pain.
The further Dina walked away from her friend, the more painful it was. To be next to him, to lift him up was what she had to do, but she felt like she was not a big help right now. Nicklis could deal with himself without her.
“Dinka, come here,” called Nicklis quietly. His voice sounded surprisingly clear in the silence of the living room. Dina turned around, quickly went to him.
“Yes?” she stretched out her hands, and Nicklis squeezed her little palms with his cold fingers. He gazed at her with a guilty and sad look, and Dina wanted to cry from this desperate expression of his face. She could not do anything, and it hurt him so much…
“Tsh-sh… just hold my hands. There,” Nicklis closed his eyes.
“It’s easier this way, isn’t it?” Dina carefully rubbed his straight fingers, trying to warm them up.
“Don’t say anything…” asked Nicklis. Dina squeezed his hands tightly, pressed them together, covered them with her little palms. Nicklis was silent. So tightly silent, that Dina’s heart was being torn to pieces. It was probably easier for him to endure this waiting than for her. Dina remembered about her mother’s request, plucked up her courage and looked into the hole in his shirt. Things seemed bad there. The cottonwool was soaked in clotting blood, and one could barely tell the difference between it and the edges of the wound.
“I’ll let go,” said Dina.
“Just… not for long,” begged Nicklis, opening his eyes. “Please…”
“Nay, I’ll do it fast,” Dina took a bowl from the table, closed her eyes, and reached into the hole. Nicklis also closed his eyes. The cotton was warm, sticky, and slimy. Swallowing shakingly, Dina pulled her hand out and threw the cotton into the bowl. In a few moments fresh cotton was placed in the wound, and Dina sighed in relief and took her friend by the hands again.
They sat like that, hand in hand, for the next twenty minutes. Dina thought she could feel Nicklis’s will to live fading with each drop of blood. He kept his head low, his mouth half-open as he breathed fast and lightly, and the tips of his long ears were now sadly hanging down. But finally the door opened, and Olga entered the living room, followed by her friend since college, Svetlana. She was a tall woman with dark hair, silvered in a few spots, and a long fine face. Upon coming into the house, she went to the one, by whose fault all this had happened. Dina stood up, to give her more space, but Nicklis’s hand squeezed her fingers. She glanced at him, his eyes begged her not to let go… Svetlana clicked her fingers at Nicklis’s chin, which made him lift his head in surprise, and then she nimbly took off his tie with her dry, hard fingers. She hooked up the edge of the shirt and jerked it so that the fabric got torn apart. Once the wound was freed from clothing, Svetlana began her work.
Dina could no longer watch it. She let go of Nicklis’s hand, walked away from the table, and stopped in the middle of the room. For a few seconds she froze, feeling that she should not have left her friend, she must help, but she cannot do it… she does not have enough strength… these thoughts made her feel ashamed and sad. Tears came to her throat, and Dina wept, hiding her face in her hands. At the same moment her mother’s tender arms embraced her. Dina buried her face in her mother’s chest and felt like she was tiny and weak, so helpless in this cruel world.
“Well-well, it’ll all be alright,” said Olga, striking her fair head. “It’s alright.”
Dina did not reply, there was too much feeling filling her soul for her to explain.
“Well.. It’ll all be past. Go, bring one of dad’s shirts, Nick doesn’t have anything to wear to go home,” said Olga, and Dina obeyed.
She walked up the creaky staircase to the second floor of the house and went into her parents’ bedroom. Everything here smelled of wet clay because Igor’s whole bedstand was covered in pots with flowers. Dina spent a long time, going through his shirts, sobbing quietly. Igor was by a head taller than Nicklis, which made the search slightly more difficult. Finally, Dina found one old green plaid shirt, which was a size smaller than other ones and could fit a bit better. Pressing this shirt to herself, Dina ran back down to the living room.
Svetlana was already finishing bandaging.
“Well, my hero, it would be best for you to lay down for an hour or two,” said she, tightening the tie of the bandage.
“That’s alright. It’s not the first time,” replied Nicklis. “I had worse.”
“You’re still under painkillers right now, that’s why you’re so cheery. Drink a cup of tea, eat something, stay here for at least half an hour, and then you may go. You might get dizzy again,” said Svetlana.
“Okay,” Nicklis sighed.
“What were you doing, if that’s not a secret?” inquired Svetlana. “Did a cosplay go poorly?”
“What’s a cosplay?” Nicklis was taken aback.
“He saved a girl from the river,” declared Dina proudly, giving him the shirt.
“Your ears are really cool,” noted Svetlana. “I get to work with role-players. They often get their arms put out and legs broken.”
“I’m not a…”
“Yeah, we were going to have a party with costumes after school, and we made the ears yesterday, so,” interrupted Dina.
“Huh,” said Svetlana. “Well, get well now, fairy.”
She patted Nicklis on the head and left.
“I’m not a role-player, and obviously I’m not a fairy!” noted Nicklis offendedly.
“Let her think that way,” said Dina, laughing. “You yourself don’t like to show off your race.”
“Well, yeah… who are “role-players”?” inquired Nicklis quietly.
“People who do role-plays,” explained Dina. “You want lunch?”
“No, thank you. I would not mind some tea, but I’m not hungry at all,” said Nicklis.
“Okay,” Dina went to the kitchen. The fear was gone. Now, placing the heavy kettle on the stove, she felt absolutely broken and incredibly tired. Once the water boiled, Dina made the tea and returned to her friend. Nicklis moved to the couch and peacefully watched the world of the living room from there. He looked much better now, which calmed Dina down. The paleness now was washed off slightly, the hair started to dry out and stopped looking so slicked and pitiful. Ira came home from school. She started at the spots of blood, but did not say anything, went to her room. Olga, after sending off Svetlana, entered the living room.
“Well, my friend, are you better?” asked she.
“Yes, thank you,” replied Nicklis politely. Dina smiled. She was sitting next to him, placing her head on his shoulder. In any other moment, she would not have allowed herself to do so, but now she was so cold from everything she lived through, and she needed to be next to someone.
“Din… Thank you,” confessed Nicklis quietly, turning to face her. “Your hands saved me…”
“But I let go in the most important moment…” noted Dina in fear.
“That’s okay, because you already gave me enough hope to get through this,” explained Nicklis. “I learned to abandon pain and fear, but in this world my strength is rather strange, for example, I get tired faster for some reason…”
“We have a deferent atmosphere,” said Dina. Nicklis glanced at her surprisedly and with a strange excitement, flaring up in the depth of his green eyes.
“That’s a very precise term,” noted he. Dina smiled, not paying attention to his special happiness, and closed her eyes. How many things happened today… Dina thought that now she could not make herself come off the couch. Her cheek was warmed by her friend’s shoulder, and this calmed her. Dina lowered her eyelids and did not realize how she fell asleep.