Grandma Glasha, Exams, and the Apple Tree Branches
The morning was sunny, and Dina found it easy to get up quarter to seven, as usual, even though she went to bed very late last night and could not fall asleep for a while. Warm, playful, and fresh rays of sunshine flooded the room, washed with morning dew, with a short, but powerful rain in the night, and with moisty spring fog. Dina got out of bed, clicked the latch and opened the window. Tingling, pricky and fragile air of the cool May morning breathed her in the face with the aroma of blooming apple trees. Huge white flowers, covered with pollen and dew, collapsed like a rustling heap over the desk, the textbooks, and notebooks, over all this sore burden of knowledge.
Dina leaned forward and with her shaky hands ripped off a few of those heavy fragrant branches, showering herself with the freezing rain of sparkling dew. She put the branches into a glass with water. Their smell was sweet and light, tiny drops of water remained on their white flowers. Dina pulled on, over her pajamas, the first sweatshirt she found, and peeked into the corridor. Ira was singing in the shower, and the stuffy aroma of roses and lavender filled the corridor. Dina silently crossed it and carefully opened the door across from her room. She glanced behind it, then walked in and closed the door.
The curtains were rightly shut; cool sleepy twilight gathered here. Nicklis still slept, wrapped in the blanket, and facing the wall. Dina could only see his long narrow feet, sticking out of the blanket, and the pile of red hair with the tip of pink ear over it. She sneaked closer to the bed, walking over the striped carpet and, avoiding the chair with his shirt and jeans thrown over it, put the glass with apple branches on the bedstand next to the empty cup. Then Dina stepped over the creaking – eighth – board of the floor and drew back the curtains. The sun was on her side of the house, it could not disturb Nicklis’s sleep. After opening the window leaf and letting in the refreshing air, Dina slipped by the bed and back into the corridor.
She checked that her friend was alright and now felt light and free at heart. Dina started her regular morning preparations for school and the long day.
* * *
That morning Dina was energetic and cheerful to her own surprise, even though it was Friday. In May all the Saturdays were free, and Dina was reveling the anticipation of upcoming two days of the weekend. The sun was shining happily and warmly, the birds were thrilling in the wet, sparkling, and fragrant bushes of lilac, the sparrows were chirping, fighting whole battles in the air for the best place for a new nest. The gourd and the old wooden houses stuffily smelled of mold and moss. Dina ran out of the house filled with the most cheerful and elevate feelings. The spring was in her heart as well, she wanted to sing with the birds in the bushes and fly among the blinding rays of sun with the sparrow fighters. She walked by the road spotted in shining puddles, wearing her unbuttoned coat and her autumn leather boots – she did not dare put on her regular shoes today, it was too wet.
However, the further she walked away from home, the stronger that new feeling in her heart grew; this lump of sense, which developed from her intolerable anxiety and now depended on the condition of her friend. But today there was no more worry, something new, something a little bit sad but at the same time pleasing. Dina did not want to leave just because she had to walk away from her friend. This grieved her. How is she supposed to study now that she is always followed by this thought that she’s lonely and upset because her friend is away?.. Dina shook her head and walked to the school confidently. Friendship can be there, but she did need to study as well.
* * *
The classes ended late, as usual, but to Dina’s happiness the homework was not large, and she only needed to complete a few more practice tests for the exams, which was seeming to leave enough free time, so Dina walked home excited. Also, after listening carefully to the lump of feelings inside her heart, she found that it did not disturb her from her regular schoolwork. But on the way home she did become happier than she was this whole time. She was walking back, they will be together again!..
Thick, heady aroma of beef soup and flowers filled the house. Igor was home today, and all his incredible plants looked like they were glad to see their master back and so they started to bloom and smell even stronger. When Dina walked into the living room, listening to the voices of her sisters and the ringing of the dishes, she found Nicklis to be carefully dressed and combed, as if nothing happened to him. He was talking to Igor standing by the pot with some unusual daisy. Ira and the younger sisters were dealing with the dishes, Olga was bringing a huge hot tureen, from underneath the lid of which escaped the magical smell of lunch.
Dina threw her backpack by the couch, greeted everyone, and went to Igor and Nicklis, who continued to talk.
“Oh, Dina!” exclaimed Igor noticing his daughter. “I have to confess, you managed to find the most fascinating interlocutor! Never in my life have I met a person who would be so interested in everything living and would not be a scientist!..”
“Hi,” Nicklis smiled.
“Well, we don’t choose friends,” replied Dina and glanced at Igor’s face: thin, sun-tanned, and covered with wrinkles. He was wearing his thick round glasses, which kept sliding off his long wiry nose. He also seemed happier than usually, probably inspired by his conference.
“That’s true,” agreed he and started to fix his daisy, cooing and tearing off its dry leaves.
“Who’s school today?” asked Nicklis suddenly placing his hand on Dina’s shoulder and carefully pulling her closer to himself. Dina yielded but felt like she was blushing.
“It was fine,” she said. “You really helped me out by your saving of Nastya, who’s Seal’s sister. He’s afraid to talk to me now. By the way, have you seen his note? I left it by your bed yesterday.”
“Honestly, I’m glad he’s calmed down,” confessed Nicklis. “And it’s easier for you now.”
“I have seen the note. He just thanked me again,” noted Nicklis.
“Sorry about yesterday,” added Nicklis quietly. “I hope I didn’t scare you to death? I think, I raved a lot…”
“That’s fine,” said Dina. “You scared my by not replying.”
“Yeah, forgive me…”
“It’s okay. You talked a lot, but in elvish, so I couldn’t understand it anyways. There was one phrase that I wanted to ask you about… Golte Evere, terine or something of that sort…” remembered Dina and looked up at her friend.
“Ah,” Nicklis smiled. “Golte Evere, tere ne. It makes sense why I repeated it a few times. It means “The Blue Bird, help me”, if word to word.”
“Yes, that does make sense,” Dina laughed. “There was another phrase… also Golte Evere, but the words were different… istete, I think.”
“That’s even easier. ‘The Blue Bird, save us.’” Explained Nicklis.
“I promised you to give you the lessons of elvish,” noted Nicklis. “That was your first one.”
“Hm… let’s try to do it tomorrow? Today my brain is stuffed with knowledge to the full extend. I need to digest it first, and then add more,” said Dina.
* * *
Days passed by, and Dina did not have enough time to enjoy them fully. This weekend was close to the best weekend she ever had in her life. She spent most of the time with Nicklis, working on elvish runes and doing practice tests to prepare for the exams. Dina taught Nicklis the basics of some of the school subjects, including physics, chemistry, and history, and she was left pleased with herself. The hours they spent together strengthened the little lump of happiness in Dina’s heart, which had not been losing its comforting warmth during these days, since Dina did not get to leave her friend for long periods of time.
By the beginning of the new week Nicklis started to recover. The fever came back only in the evenings, did not bother him for long, and the wound started to heal. On Monday after having dinner with Dina’s family, her received the remission from Olga and left. That evening Dina felt very lonely. She could not make herself find anything to do and slouched around the house, watching her relatives, and trying to get a task to do, even though she would lose interest in that task as soon as she would start it.
The feeling in her heart also became sad and started to ache slightly, which made Dina’s life seem full of desperation and yearning. Finally, she walked back to her room and sat down in front of the open window listening to the nightingale in the bush of lilac. What was going on?.. It was hard to even draw. Dina glanced at her reflection in the dark glass of the window. Yes, her heart now belonged to him… Him, and only he could make her happy again. Dina was scared and hurt. Why was life so cruel to her?.. Why was it so hard to live through the parting and so exciting to get together again?.. Why?.. Dina leaned back on her chair and stared at the ceiling. There was something so strange, unknown, incomprehensible, and new happening in her very heart that she could barely understand herself, even though she really wanted to do so.
In the past, when her friend was away, she did not feel so lost and lonely, as if half of her heart was torn off and taken away. And now… how was she supposed to live without him. Dina sighed heavily and wearily stared at her textbook with finished history practice tests. The exam was tomorrow. Dina pulled a piece of chocolate out of the drawer of her desk and put it on the textbook to not forget it in the morning. She needed to concentrate and think of nothing else, but… how could she not think of her friend for whom it would not be easy to get through the questions just because the history of his world is completely different?.. This did not matter! He did not need good grades for these exams as much, as she needed them!
Dina stood up, moved the chair under the desk and angrily threw the cover off her bed. She did not need to think of this now. There was no time for this when there were exams and applications on the schedule!.. What if he thinks she does not care about their relationship?.. What does he even think about it anyways?.. Oh, how Dina wished he was thinking of her! He was so careful with her, so polite… but he smiled so warmly and so genuinely happily every time they got together. He will understand. There was no need to worry about such things. If he will not understand, then it is meant to be this way…
Dina hid under the blanket. She was frightened. What will happen to her tomorrow? What will happen to her in a year? How was she to explain the river of events which seemed to be happening spontaneously but having a very well defined sequence and at the end coming together into one picture which could not have been possible to fit together, if all the little situations did not take place?.. Why, if she entrusted herself to the flow of that river, which carried her soul, things ended up being better than if she resisted it? Nicklis was probably right to say that everything is about the will of the Blue Bird, and, following Her, taking Her caring hand, one can walk through any hardships and come out of battles without a single scratch… Dina smiled. She trusted Her. She never betrayed anybody and will never betray, as She is higher and stronger than any human understanding.
* * *
History was always easy for Dina, and this Tuesday her skills did not abandon her. She knew every date and every influential person, and during the oral part of the exam she had no trouble describing a battle. But during the whole time of the exam she could not stop thinking that she forgot to tell Nicklis about a half of what was asked on the test, and he must have felt very bad about his ignorance. After the oral part of the exam everyone was let go. It was around one in the afternoon, and everyone was glad to leave the school so early. Dina got out on the porch before Nicklis did, but once he appeared, she inquired:
“How did you do?”
“I can live,” replied h, laughing.
“It’s that bad?” Dina felt so outraged by all these teachers who dared to humiliate her friend by asking him the wrong questions that she realized she started to blush.
“I didn’t know the event for describing,” confessed Nicklis. “So that’s what I told the teacher. I think he didn’t quite understand why I said that I don’t know… He looked at me for a while, tried to give me hints, but I couldn’t tell him any useful information anyways. I didn’t pass.”
“How dare they do that! Couldn’t he just give you a different event?! It’s a mockery instead of an exam!..”
“Din,” Nicklis took her by the shoulders. “I beg you, don’t worry so much. They did absolutely no evil to me. There is no difference to me in any case. I was there just for you. How did you do?”
“I’m sorry,” Dina sighed trying not to look at him. “There’s really nothing to fuss about… I did fine, I guess. At least that’s how I feel… Would you like a piece of chocolate?”
“Okay,” Nicklis smiled and carefully – his cheeks burning with color – took her by hand. “I would never say no to chocolate.”
Dina pulled out of her backpack the whatever chocolate she had left and gave him two small pieces. Nicklis took one. His hand was warm, large and soft. Dina’s palm hid inside of his long fingers, and she was comforted by his warmth. She glanced at her friend. Nicklis was squinting in the sun, which made funny soft folds of skin pull together under his eyes, shadowed by the long red eyelashes, and gathered wrinkles just over his eyebrows. The freckles became almost golden in the sunlight, more noticeable, and bright on his pale skin with a slight orange tone to it.
“Tell me, Din,” Nicklis suddenly turned his head and caught her eyes. “Tell me, on Thursday, in the evening, when I was staying at your house for the first night… That evening, I was raving, and then, I think I dozed off and… did you kiss me?”
Dina’s heart was pounding fast and terrified. He had felt it! Burning in embarrassment, she lowered her gaze and quietly replied:
“I… I was very much delighted, Din,” noted Nicklis, unwittingly squeezing her hand harder. Will he say it?.. Dina was afraid to confess first, she was supposed to reply, not say… That meant, he also has that feeling in his heart, which is burning with that unbearable fire, that meant he also knows! Dina was prepared for anything now. She would have taken anything now, even a kiss as a reply to her expression of affection that evening…
“The sky is so blue today,” said Nicklis at ease, staring up with his squinted green eyes. Dina was washed away with disappointment. Even though she knew that it was way too early to say things she wanted to make known, she was upset about Nicklis’s decision to hide his emotions from her.
“Yes,” agreed Dina.
“I’ve always loved spring,” said Nicklis, holding her hand tightly. “When everything is green and blooming again, and it’s so nice in the heart… I’m glad this spring I got together with you. With you it’s even more beautiful…”
Well, he got his courage together. Dina smiled.
“The spring is nice,” she noted. “The sun warms the body, the friendship warms the hearts.”
* * *
When they stopped again by the gate of the garden, which had been just recently repainted with white paint and twined with the flowering loach vines by Igor, Nicklis asked:
“Is math the day after tomorrow?”
“Yeah. You can come tonight, go through the questions again, if you’d like,” suggested Dina trying to find the time for the next meeting as close as possible.
“Thank you, but I cannot join you. I need to go back home, mom invited me for dinner… I will return tomorrow after lunch,” said Nicklis guiltily.
“A-ah,” sighed Dina sadly. “Okay, then come tomorrow in the afternoon, if you will be up to it…”
“I will keep it in mind, but cannot promise anything,” Nicklis smiled. They were silent for a moment.
“Well, bye then,” said Dina. “I need to go…”
“Bye…” replied Nicklis but did not let go of her hand.
Dina slowly walked towards the house, and Nicklis followed her with his body as if it was painful to him, but then Dina’s fingers slipped out of his hand. Her heart was suddenly pricked, as if she was thrust with a sword. The pain did not leave, and Dina became unbearably sad. Nicklis was hurt exactly the same way, she no longer doubted that. The lump of feeling, hidden deep in her heart, prompted that idea.
On the porch Dina turned around. Nicklis was still standing on the road, watching her, waiting for her to enter the house. Dina smiled and opened the door. In the hallway, in front of the mirror, stood Ira, who was putting on her lipstick before going to her after-class English teacher. She noticed her sister and Nicklis’s red head through the door behind her, sighed factitiously and said:
“Ah, Dina, how do you live like this?”
“What do you mean?” Dina was confused. She glanced at her sister’s dyed and evenly cut hair, plucked out eyebrows and bright purple shadows on her eyelids.
“You don’t color your hair, or nails, or lips, you cut your hair once a year, and all together you’re so… plain. You almost don’t have eyelashes even. But for some reason the most handsome guy in the whole town is backing you up, and no one dares to touch you, because he’s there. No matter how bright my makeup or clothing would be, he would not even look at me. You outshine the sun to him. What did you do to him, what spell did you cast on him?” Ira turned around and threw her lipstick into her shiny leather purse, which was hanging on her bent elbow. She shook her head, threw a jacket over her shoulder, and walked out to the porch. Dina silently followed her with her eyes, then examined herself in the mirror.
“No, Irka, you would never understand it,” said she, glancing at the door, and entered the house.
* * *
On Friday evening Dina’s grandma from her mother’s side came to visit. She was a thick and short, quick and very kind woman. She wore huge glasses, kept her grey hair in a bun, and her skin was covered in many little wrinkles, which looked like a net on her face every time she laughed or even talked. Aglaia Petrovna, or just grandma Glasha brought her granddaughters ice-cream which she had made herself out of cow’s milk and was very famous for it. No store-bought ice-cream could be compared by taste to the home-made one.
That evening grandma Glasha rushed into the house with all her knapsacks and string bags like a crazy whirlwind of news and events. She hugged and kissed everyone on their turn, laughed a little as usual, and rolled into the kitchen. Kitten Faramir, who was adopted just the night before – Olga talked her husband into getting a cat – loved grandma Glasha right away and followed her everywhere.
Soon no one could enter the kitchen. Grandma was commanding and making a noise, which was her usual lifestyle. However, even with her attitude of a commander of an army, she loved everyone greatly and showed her affection, as it is appropriate for a common grandmother. Dina loved her in the same manner, the way everyone loves grandmothers – warmly and guilelessly. In the evening, after dinner, everyone sat down in the living room to have some tea. The talks turned to the subject of school right away. Olga argued that the exams will soon torture her children to death, and Dina silently agreed with her. For the last couple of weeks, she had dark circles under her eyes because of the lack of sleep since she had to prepare for the exams at night. After looking at Dina compassionately – Dina was the only child in the family finishing the hard final year of school this time around and so was the one to receive the most attacks from the exams – grandma Glasha said:
“I’ve heard, Dinochka, you have a friend. Your mom says he is an interesting boy, maybe you should invite him tomorrow for lunch?”
“Well, yes, he was going to come. We were going to celebrate the end of the school year,” replied Dina and sipped some tea from the cup.
“Oh, it’s so well!” grandma Glasha livened up. “We’ll have some ice-cream! I hope, he likes ice-cream?”
“To be honest, I don’t know,” confessed Dina. “Maybe elves don’t eat ice-cream at all…”
“What elves, Dinochka?” grandma Glasha laughed. “Have you got your head in the clouds?!”
“Nothing like that, grandma,” replied Dina. “Nicklis – he’s an elf.”
“How come he’s an elf? You said he was a boy,” noted grandma.
“A little too old to be a boy,” thought Dina and said:
“He’s come to our world from Elvia for the second time already.”
“Olechka, is Dina’s head alight?” inquired grandma Glasha.
“Yes, mom. I didn’t really believe it myself, until I saw him with my own eyes. You’ll see tomorrow. He really does have long ears. He doesn’t look like a human all that much. Humans like that don’t exist,” said Olga.
“No way,” grandma Glasha was still not convinced. “I hope you all did not go crazy. Or there is something going on with my own ears…”
“No, grandma, we and you are all alight,” stated Dina. “It’s easy to believe tales and legends, but it can be hard to take in the truth.”
* * *
Dina was always frightened whenever someone would put the reality of her friend in question. She feared that it truly is just a beautiful dream, and that she will wake up once again there, on the shore of the river, and there will be no elvish boy next to her, but there will be red-haired Nickita, who would ask: “how did you sleep?..” But no, it is all true, and Nick is no Nickita, he is Nicklis, and his ears are long, and… their feelings truly exist. This made Dina feel pleased and scared. Really, what was she going to do? How was she supposed to understand and go through all this, how was she to decide?..
After waking up that morning, having breakfast and walking out to the street to go to school – Saturday was declared to be the day of the social studies exam – Dina saw Nicklis by the gate again, devotedly waiting for her. His hair was unusually nicely combed today and seemed to be even trimmed a little. Its ends became more even. When Dina walked out to the street and greeted him, he turned to her, holding his arm behind his back.
“Good morning!” was his reply.
“How have you been?..” Dina glanced at his arm with some surprise and curiosity. He was wearing a white shirt again, his green striped tie, and a blazer, which was thrown over his shoulder. However, today there was a faceted pin on his tie and the leather shoes were shining.
“I’m quite well, thank you… You know what? I have been thinking, you looked so tired and sad yesterday that… well, here you go,” Nicklis, blushing all the way to the tips of his ears, gave her a small bouquet of white snowdrops, which smelled of cool freshness of melted snow, wet earth and the first rays of march sunshine.
“Oh, Nick!..” Dina took the bouquet with both hands, pressed it to her chest and closed her eyes, inhaling the light fragrance. “Nick, thank you, you’re just the best!..”
“You’re welcome,” replied Nicklis embarrassedly, lowering his head and smiling guiltily from under the lifted eyebrows.
“Thank you!..” repeated Dina. “Though, is it okay if I take them home and put them into the water?.. They’ll wither while we’re going back and forth…”
Dina rushed home. Her heart pounded madly, her soul was filling up with joy. For the first time in her life she was gifted flowers! Gifted by a friend! He was not ashamed to make her happy, he told her what she was desiring to hear. She is truly dear to him! This is all happening for real! Dina gave the flowers to Igor and assigned him to find a good vase for them and put the special powder into the water, while she herself ran back to the porch. She caught Nicklis’s hand right away and burst into laughter.
“It truly does make me happier,” noted Dina, pressing her shoulder to his. “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot lately… about you. Sometimes I feel like you’re just a game of my imagination, that I have gone so far as to invent you… But every time you do such wonderful things, I realize that you really do exist.”
“Hm,” said Nicklis thoughtfully. “Honestly, I also don’t always believe you exist…”
“Really?” Dina glanced at him, filled with the gladness that their feelings were matching.
“But you exist, because I hold your hand,” said Nicklis, smiling and squeezing her fingers tightly. “And also, because it hurts so much every time you let go of my hand…”
“Yes…” whispered Dina. “I feel that pain too… why is that, Nick?..”
“Hm,” Nicklis sighed and shrug embarrassedly as if he did not know, then lifted his gaze to the sky. Dina felt his heart rejoicing over her words, but he was too nervous and embarrassed to give explanation to his feelings.
“Listen,” Dina decided it was time to change the subject, since he was feeling too awkward and timid for this heartly conversation to bring him any pleasure. “Remember I told you of my grandma?”
“I do,” Nicklis looked at her with deep gratitude in his eyes.
“She came to visit us yesterday,” explained Dina, smiling. “She’ll be staying with us for a few days.”
“A-ah, so I’m invited to meet with her?” the embarrassment was lessened, and Nicklis started to calm down.
“Yeah, but she didn’t believe you’re an elf,” noted Dina.
“Well, she will,” Nicklis fixed his tie confidently. Dina laughed.
“By the way,” remembered Nicklis, glancing at her. “My parents want to invite you to come as their guest to our house in Elvia… Though, you seem to be really busy, you probably would not be able to make it…”
“That’s true…” Dina shook her head. “To be honest, I would gladly do it, I’m really interested in seeing your parents again, but I need to finish the exams… By the end of June I’ll be able to come.”
“Alright, I’ll let them know,” said Nicklis.
They were silent for a moment, then Dina asked:
“Are you living in the same place where you did the first time you came?”
“No, we moved closer to the city,” said Nicklis. “The village where Orlando and I grew up is almost abandoned now. A few houses there burned down, and no one bothered to rebuilt them.”
“Oh, that’s sad…” Dina sighed.
“But if you would like to come, we could walk around the city, it’s really close to us now,” noted Nicklis. “There’re a lot of coffeeshops and history.”
“Sounds intriguing: coffeeshops and history,” Dina laughed.
Soon they reached the school and parted by the porch as usual. In the school, however, everyone already suspected them as a couple of lovers, but no one dared to annoy them about it thanks to Nicklis’s reputation. He had a fairly slender constitution but was also strong enough to keep up with his notability.
* * *
Right after the exam, after receiving a rather good grade for the oral part and not knowing the results of the test yet, Dina broke out to the porch. She wanted to dance. The school exams were over, she only needed to do the Federal exams and she had a whole free week before that. Rejoicing and singing something to herself, Dina hopped off the porch and whirled around the empty school front yard, swinging her coat in one hand and her backpack, which slid off her shoulders, in the other. She laughed in happiness and stopped finally with her head thrown back, and her face, covered in her hair, facing the rays of the warm May’ sun.
“Are you crazy, Dina?” asked a girl’s voice somewhere from the side. Dina in horror straightened up and fixed her bangs. Taya Burova stood in front of her. She was one of the rare people from the school with whom Dina was acquainted and with whom she could talk without arguing.
“No, why would I be crazy?” asked Dina, throwing her backpack back over the shoulder.
“Are you waiting for Nickita?” replied Taya. Dina opened her moth to answer but could not say anything. She really was waiting for him, but she did not want anyone else to know…
“I know you have a romance with him,” Taya twisted her hand in the air. “He gives you flowers!..”
“You saw it?!” Dina was astonished.
“I live on the neighboring street! I was walking by and I saw you two…” Taya sighed.
“Why are you like this?” asked Dina quietly. “He gave me flowers because I was tired and sad, and he wanted to make me happier. Why can I not be friends with him, so that no one would touch me on that subject?.. As if it was foolish to have friends!..”
“It’s fine to have friends!.. Who falls in love in the eleventh grade? You’re barely eighteen!” stated Taya.
“And that is why I cannot love?!” Dina was indignant, feeling she was ready to cry.
“Not good,” Taya shook her head.
“One cannot command the heart when to love and when not to love,” suddenly said Nicklis’s voice behind Taya’s back. He came so quietly that even Dina who was in the rage of the argument did not notice him right away. Taya dashed to the side and glanced at him with some fear and at the same time envious delight. In Dina’s wide open eyes were tears, she breathed heavily from the understanding of her friend’s words.
“Friendship and love are the greatest fundamentals of our universe,” continued Nicklis, looking Taya in the eyes. “Do not upset Dina because you’re jealous and because you also want to have someone to walk you home. Excuse us, we have our own business.”
Nicklis gave Dina his elbow, she clang to his warm arm in the sleeve of his thin white shirt, and followed him to the street.
“Thank you,” whispered she after a moment. “You saved me again… How do you do it?..”
“Talk so neatly?”
“I say what Golte Evere tell me to say,” replied Nicklis. “I’m sorry you were humiliated again.”
* * *
Soon they reached the gate to Dina’s house and walked into the garden. They went up the porch and opened the heavy main door, and entered the hallway. Dina sat down onto a small bench by the wall and started to untie her shoelace. Nicklis on the other hand went to the mirror and tucked his hair behind the ears. After smoothing down his red-haired head, he earnestly fixed his tie and his tiepin which glittered in the narrow ray of sunshine that fell from a small dusty window. Forgetting of his surroundings, like many who look at themselves in a mirror, Nicklis leaned closer to it and discontentedly rubbed his freckled cheekbone with two fingers. Though a second later he realized his friend was looking at him and faced her with a smile.
“Well, come on,” Dina elegantly took him by the elbow, and they entered the living room together. Noisy pre-lunch atmosphere filled the house. Olga and grandma Glasha were bustling around between the kitchen and the living room, putting together the table, and even Igor in his ironed shirt, fresh pants and sparkly-clean glasses was helping them instead of sitting in the corner cooing with his flowers. Noticing her daughter, Olga called grandma Glasha, and both of them, fixing their colorful aprons, came closer. Dina who was feeling happier than ever, introduced her friend.
After learning grandma Glasha’s name, Nicklis took her warm, rotund, and wrinkled hand and, straightening out the sleeve of her blouse, kissed her in the covered wrist.
It was improper for an elf to kiss a married woman into a bare wrist. Grandma Glasha, who was astonished by the gallant, respectful and old-fashioned etiquette Nicklis was using, happily expressed her excitement in a loud three-minute speech. Once that was done, she breathed out all her emotions and welcomed everyone to the table.
Dina smiled, examining the festive dishes placed on the table and a big white with blue painting tureen, which spread around the room the heavenly scent of lunch. Deep plates and beautiful spoons – everything was sparkling and shining with its white dishware cleanness. Dina sat down by the right side of the table as usually, Nicklis found a spot next to her and on the other side Ira placed herself, twirling and flirting without a stop as she always did as soon as her sister’s friend appeared in the house. Since she almost never had a friend of her own, her only hope was in finding favor in the eyes of any other young man. However, as she herself had told Dina, to get Nicklis’s attention she needed some other qualities than those she already possessed.
During lunch Nicklis skillfully and neatly led the discussion and ate so gracefully and carefully that he immediately gained grandma Glasha’s trust and admiration. Once they were done with soup, grandma Glasha and Olga brought the famous ice-cream, and everyone notably livened up, reminded of dessert.
“May I inquire, what is this?” asked Nicklis as he received his portion and cautiously picked up a small melting piece with a teaspoon.
“Ice-cream,” said Ira who was trying to eat carefully enough not to wipe off her lipstick through the whole lunch. “Every kid knows what it is.”
“To be honest, I have never heard of this,” Nicklis thoughtfully examined his spoon and dared to taste it. “Hm… It is rather good. Is it called ice-cream because it is cold?”
“I guess so,” agreed Dina.
“Elves don’t have ice-cream?” exclaimed grandma Glasha in surprise as if she was very much grieved by such circumstance.
“No, but we are never against learning something new,” said Nicklis smiling to her.
“Oh, I would love to share my recipe! How can it be that some don’t know the taste of true ice-cream!..” grandma Glasha was beaming with happiness that someone was interested in the process of making her ice-cream.
“Grandma makes the best ice-cream in the world,” noted Dina laughing. “So, you are very-very lucky.”
“Oh, I have no doubt in it!” replied Nicklis.
* * *
After lunch everyone sat down in front of the fireplace. Dina placed herself on the couch, leaning her head on Nicklis’s shoulder and silently listening to their conversation with grandma Glasha. With a happy smile she was patting Faramir. Even though Nicklis did not seem to be a cat-lover, the kitten chose his lap to curl up into a cozy ball and start purring, waiting for some caress. Dina fulfilled the role of the hand which would scratch him behind the ear, while Nicklis continued his discussion with grandma Glasha, who was incredibly interested and marveled by his life, so unreal to her. Dina was so tired after a long week and so warm from food and on a comfortable couch that she almost did not hear what they were talking about. She listened to the steady rhythm of Nicklis’s velvet heartbeat somewhere deep inside his chest. This smooth and warm beat made her even more comforted.
* * *
When Nicklis left, grandma Glasha remained under the influence of his visit for a long time. She could not stop admiring him and talking about him with others. Dina, in whose heart something was torn apart once again, pulsing with heavy, aching pain, went to her room to have some silence and alone time. Lately it has been becoming harder and harder for her to be alone, she wanted her friend to be part of this aloneness… Dina could not find a spot for herself when he was not there, when she felt him in the house across the street, but still so far from her…
Twice they were so close to expressing their true feelings to each other… what did he tell Taya? Duna recollected his words in excited agitation and at the same time in fear. Of course, she knew for a while now, she understood that he shared her feelings, but still… Evenings scared her. She lay down on her bed and started to rethink everything that took place today. He invited her to come visit… To Elvia! To Elvia again!.. But before Elvia she needed to finish exams. She needed to once again move away from the magical pleasure of friendship, to preserve this mood of readiness to study and to finish all the exams. All that there are. And then… Then there will be freedom. Freedom to choose how she wants to live from then on. And Nicklis will understand, like he did until now, he will be sad and lost, but he will understand.
Dina feared to think further than beyond exams. It was too far of a future to her. She made a specific rule for herself, a theory, which seemed to promise her help when dealing with desperation from plans, made for a very far future, being ruined. If she would not build very big and vital plans for very far future, which no one knows how may go, she would not need to worry about them being destroyed. Dina always dealt badly with such destructions and tried to avoid them at all costs. Now she needs to do the exams, later – she will see how it goes. In any case, how can one live when life is planned like a well-paced schedule? How can there be space for the adventures and unexpected things to happen?
Dina sighed and glanced at the pile of her textbooks and thought again that she will need to decline her friendship and be alone on her field of studying… was she so much alone? The friendship did not disappear in any aspect of it, even when she was busy… Nicklis supported her, sometimes even from a distance. The lump of feelings in Dina’s heart, which depended on his emotions and their shared moods, brought her happiness and confidence, readiness to fight and struggle for good grades. He never left her, he was a loyal and faithful friend, he understood how much she needed to know that he will take care of their friendship so that she could work on her exams knowing that she can always return to find it safe and sound.
* * *
Almost all of June was devoted to preparation and passing of the tests. Dina was completely taken by that process and was tired as she had never been before. She spent days and nights at her desk – preparing for the questions, memorizing, writing things down and even drawing to give herself some rest. To her delight Nicklis was often next to her. Every time they got a free minute he came and sat in her room, busy with a book or with some other matter of his, without distracting her, without talking, and still filling Dina’s heart with unbelievable energy.
Finally, the crucial day came. On Friday, after her final history test, Dina burst onto the porch of the school, inspired by hope and rampant excitement. The exams were over. Now she will have a few free weeks to receive results, but for now she would not need to do anything else! Once on the porch, Dina glanced around. Nicklis was standing some distance away, waiting for her. He was dressed in his brown t-shirt, unbuttoned green plaid shirt and his usual skinny jeans. He was looking somewhere to the side with such deep thoughtfulness in his sight which no one in this front yard could ever comprehend.
Dina slipped off the porch and ran to him. He heard her footsteps, flinched, and turned to face her. Dina jumped and embraced his neck, laughing insanely.
“Nick, I’m done!” she was hanging down from his warm shoulders still not reaching the ground and not wanting to let go of him.
“A-ah… That’s great!..” Nicklis timidly put his hand in her shoulder, and she slipped to the ground.
“I’m sorry!..” Dina fixed her bangs. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you…”
“It’s okay,” Nicklis was squinting guiltily, and his cheeks were burning. “I really am happy that everything is done!”
“I know!” Dina’s hand unwittingly slipped into his hand, and he squeezed her fingers.
“How was your test?” inquired Nicklis, inviting her to start walking.
“It was alright,” Dina sighed, her crazy happiness was winding out, and she realized how tired she was. “It was all peaceful and familiar, I had no problems…”
“You think you did well?”
“Listen,” said Nicklis, tightening the grip of his warm fingers on Dina’s little hand. “Tomorrow is Saturday. My parents’ invitation is still valid, what do you think of putting together a small vacation?..”
“A-ah,” Dina was thoughtful for a few seconds. “Why not? In any case, I do not have any plans for the weekend, except for getting some rest, and that can well be done by some traveling.”
“Really?.. I mean, you agree to come?” beamed Nicklis.
“Of course. If dad will let me go,” Dina laughed wearily. “Would you come for lunch? Mom was going to bake a pie for tea, and then we can learn right away if I can come with you.”
“Okay, I’ll come,” Nicklis smiled.
“How should I communicate with your parents? How should I call them, so that I don’t embarrass myself like last time,” asked Dina, deciding that in any case scenario it would be interesting to learn of this, even if she would not be allowed to go this time around.
“Hm, I think, we will talk in common language,” Nicklis thoughtfully lowered his eyebrows, collecting his adorable wrinkles on the forehead.
“Em, that would be helpful! I don’t know elvish well enough to be able to have conversations in it,” Dina snorted.
“You’re pretty good at it, to be honest,” noted Nicklis. “It’s a pleasure to teach you.”
“Thank you,” in her proud timidness Dina felt her ears flush.
“My dad is a lord,” said Nicklis thoughtfully. “And many refer to him as “lord Eldar” or “milord”, I think he will expect that from you as well, since he does not know you well enough for a more intimate title.”
“Lord Eldar… that sounds so beautiful,” uttered Dina trying the new words.
“Yeah,” Nicklis squinted in delight. “Since my mom is a wife of a lord, it is polite to refer to her as “lady Annuil” or “milady” the first time you do it, but I’m sure she will be less formal with you right away. She gets along with people much faster than father, and she doesn’t like formalities. However, I ask you to follow this small formality and refer to her as “You”, even if mom asks you to stop. It’s good manners.”
“All elves are different,” added Nicklis. “Just like humans. My dad lived through a lot of things to learn to not trust people from the first minute. He is cautious with everyone. He can be rather unfriendly and it’s not because he doesn’t like you, but because he is afraid, he is going to like you. He doesn’t trust first impressions…”
“I will try to be more open so that he doesn’t doubt me,” said Dina. “Even though it’s hard to call me an open person…”
“That’s partially true,” Nicklis shook his head slowly. “Especially when counting the amount of your real friends.”
He squinted his eyes with laughter, looking at her, and Dina also smiled in response, warmed by his company.
“Wait, so if your father is a lord, what is your title? Is not inherited?” asked she, excited by this thought.
“It is inherited,” Nicklis nodded. “But I need to turn three-hundred-twenty-three years to receive the title.”
“O-oh,” said Dina slightly disappointedly. “How sad. And why do you have to be exactly three-hundred-twenty-three?”
“It’s a long story, let me tell you of it later. We’re almost there,” Nicklis smiled nodding to the white gate, covered with the ivy.
* * *
While Olga was preparing lunch and putting the table together, Nicklis and Igor discussed the question of the vacation to Elvia. Igor listened silently to all he had to say, and then uttered:
“Frankly speaking, I trust you,” he brotherly clapped Nicklis on the shoulder as if he was trying to make an impression on him which was impossible due to the lack of strength in his arms. “And I agree to let Dina go with you. But with one condition! I will let her go for a pledge. Leave something valuable here which you will receive when you come back.”
Nicklis looked at him with alarm in his eyes, then he pulled his notebook from the bag over the shoulder.
“Here,” said he with the firmness in his voice which fitted him very well. Igor looked at the book in surprise but took it.
“Keep my thoughts intact, please,” asked Nicklis. “I am grieved that I cannot invite Dina to visit us without a pledge, however that is your will, and I will not resist it. I understand your intentions.”
Igor thoughtfully examined the cover. On it there was embossing with an image of a four-leaf clover and some elegant runes. Between the pages was a ribbon-bookmark.
“I give you my word I will not touch your thought,” said Igor earnestly.
“Dad, will you let me go with him?” Dina, who was helping with the table but who heard their conversation, came up to them and made big pleading eyes. Not many have seen her that way.
“I will let you go, but you will have to promise to come back,” said Igor with strictness in his voice which was hard for him to maintain.
“Of course, I will come back, dad!” Dina snorted.
“Don’t worry, it’s only for the weekend. And Dina is under my protection, I will not let anyone touch her,” Nicklis carefully hugged her by the shoulders and pulled her closer to himself. Dina smiled, cuddling to his warm side.
“I hope you yourself will not become a danger to her,” muttered Igor as if he was talking to himself.
“You don’t need to doubt me,” noted Nicklis with some chagrin in his voice. “I never lie to anyone; you can test it by the course of this weekend.”
“Alright… okay, I do let you go,” said Igor finally.
“Thank you!” Nicklis smiled. “Should we leave tomorrow then? In the morning?”
“Okay,” Dina sighed happily.
* * *
The whole evening was spent in packing and Olga’s instructions, and after all this bustling and noise Dina was glad to be finally left alone in her room. Everything was ready. Tomorrow was promising to bring something new into her life, something inevitably, relentlessly, and unpreventably was coming into her life, as always, when in the morning she was planning to leave and travel somewhere far away. Dina loved that feeling, even though it scared her sometimes. Nevertheless, that fear of unknown never stopped her from making decisions about the upcoming adventures.
Dina was sitting on her bed and silently thinking about all that had happened during this day, when the branches of the apple tree caught her attention. The flowers vanished from them long ago, and on their spots appeared small green apples. With surprise and childish curiosity Dina was watching a little leaf at the end of the branch sway in the wind. Its petiole, long and covered in funny fuzz, sticked out of the rough, shiny bark, which gathered folds around the former bud. The leaf was dark-green, glossy, and the light of the lamp pierced its dense body and gave it a yellowish tone.
Dina moved her hand to the branch and touched it with the tips of her fingers. Smooth, covered in bumps and offshoots, leaves and tiny fruits, it was strong, firm, flexible… alive. Dina realized with amazement that the branch was fully filled with the power of life. Every leaf, from the petiole to the tiny pointy end, every hard bright-green little apple, every bud was filled with life. Its strength powered the whole tree, all its branches and roots. The same power filled everything alive, and Dina herself.
Dina had never thought before that she could so distinctly feel this special power, which united her and all around her. She was part of this wonderful world, just like the apple tree’s branch. And with the same clearness with which Dina felt the force of life, she understood that after tomorrow’s journey her life will change forever. She felt it and she could not tell what she was thinking, the feeling itself was special. It was similar to a regular anticipation of an adventure of a journey, but something bright and light like a star in the high night’s sky stirred in with it. And also there was this quiet sadness about what time manages to commit in her life. This strange understanding of time, so extensive and almost unexplainable, touched Dina’s soul. She was leaving behind the days of childhood and the early days of youth, they were moving into the past, leaving a foundation of her memory and her own personal character. She grew up, she changed, and she was preparing to step into a new, very different world. And even though she knew her playful youth will live in her until the end, she felt unbearably sad about how much she was leaving behind. But the thought about time had its own incomprehensible line. It was separated from all other Dina’s thoughts, as if it was not her own thought but a thought of a person very close to her, but at the same time very much distanced.
She listened to her little nubbin of feelings. She was longing for Nicklis, upset that he had to be so far away, but the anticipation of reuniting with him again and of their vacation muffled the pain and sadness. They will be together in the morning. Dina saw a withered leaf of the apple tree, which fell behind the leg of the desk. She picked it up. It crunched in her fingers and crumbled. It was dead. Life evaporated from it together with moisture. The resiliency, the brightness, the flexibility, the glossiness disappeared from it… Dina though leaves can be very similar to people. There are flexible, bright, strong people, but there are those dry and stale, who are calm only when no one touches them. As soon as they get under any pressure, they break into sharp pieces.
A great variety of people exists in the world and none of them is the same as the other, just like the apple tree leaves. They all look similar from a distance, but the structure of each is different. One is longer, another – shorter, the third one has a hole. People are very diverse, as there is nothing identical in nature. People are part of nature, and their main task is not to forget it.
Dina carefully pushed the branches off her windowsill and closed the window, then turned off the lamp and climbed under the blanket. She stared with her eyes wide open at her chair and her desk, illuminated with the pale light from the outside, but she did not see them. Her head was crowded with numerous images and long forgotten memories of her first time in Orlind. That magical, mysterious world, which had its own peculiarities and traditions, its own problems, and hardships, stood before her eyes now. She could never forget that land and return there echoed in her heart with unrestrained happiness. Something will change? So let it be! Dina was ready for a change. Let anything that will come take place, her soul was in the hands of the Blue Bird, and there was no sense in worrying about the upcoming events.
 You in Russian has two meanings, “You” formal and “you” informal. In this context Nicklis refers to the formal “You”.