The Snowdrops. Chapter 1
A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed
Dina was standing on the road, in the light of the streetlight, squeezing a watch and a rumpled envelope in her hands. She was gazing with anxiety and thoughtfulness in her eyes at the stars, paled by the glare of yellow streetlights. It was a cool evening in May, and the nightingales soundly trilled in the bushes of lilac. Dina’s heart was filled with impatience and joy. Today! Today it will happen! Today she will meet her friend once again! She had not seen Nicklis in four years. Dina glanced at the letter in her hands.
A few days ago, while checking the mail she found this envelope in the mailbox. Nicklis always sent all his letters with birds, which could fly over the barrier between the worlds. Surprised by this new way of delivering the mail from Elvia, Dina hurried to open the envelope. Nicklis wrote that he had come to her world to do something and can meet her, if, of course, she would like to do that. Dina, who got crazily excited about such news, immediately wrote a reply, suggesting going to her sport sword-fighting training together. It was on Wednesday, so today in the evening. Nicklis agreed, and they decided to meet on the road not far away from Dina’s house, under a small birch tree that grew on the side of the road.
Dina was there twenty minutes before the time, that strong was her impatience. The time passed slowly and with it the moment of their meeting came closer, immitigable and inevitably. At some point Dina felt as if she did not even want to get together again, that she does not want to reborn this friendly affection in herself, that she does not want to talk… And at the same time, she wanted to feel that she truly has a real friend again. During all these years Dina had not found a person, who could have become a good friend to her. She had a few people from school, whom she knew in person, but they did not know how to understand her well enough, so she never called them friends.
Dina’s gaze was tracing down the street. Her inquisitive eyes examined every shadow and every bush, shaking from an indescribable unrest and impatience. Suddenly one of the shadows moved, Dina flinched stronger and froze. From the darkness behind the fence of the old garden, across the street from her own house, appeared a slender shadow. Walking up to the road, the person stopped and looked around, and in the light of the streetlight Dina recognized the bright orange hair. Nicklis turned around, saw the birch tree and his friend under it and walked to her in a silent manner. Dina saw something familiar in his springily gait, but also something new, some other movements, that came to him with age.
He smiled, squinting his glistening eyes and showing a row of his even lower teeth, which funnily stood out a little, compare to the upper ones. The same oddly flattened nose and the scattering of red freckles, the same triangular eyebrows, which gathered cute wrinkles on his forehead, the same long pointy ears, and the same lower jaw. One was different: his face became longer and more angular, the high cheekbones were now softly outlined, and the gaze of his light green eyes became more serious and deeper, than it was before. Dina smiled back unwittingly. Her eyes did not miss any details. Nicklis was dressed in human clothing, into a green sweatshirt without a hood, skinny jeans, and new moss-green sneakers. His hair, as usual, was combed to the back on the top and collected into a disheveled bun, and rest of it, let loose, covered his ears. However, all the humanness of his clothing could not hide his very well-shaped elvish body.
“Early stars shine upon the day of our meeting!” exclaimed Nicklis, walking closer and laughing in a sincere happy way. “Greetings!”
“Welcome to our world… again,” said Dina, smiling too.
“Have you been waiting long?”
“No, not too long,” lied Dina. “Are you dressed well enough for running? It’s our last training, we will not be pitied.”
“I would not say that I like your world’s cloths, but I think it will be fine for the training,” replied Nicklis.
“Just so you know, jeans are not stretchy,” said Dina and laughed.
“Yes, I’ve noticed,” Nicklis chuckled. “Also, why do all the shoes here have heels?”
“That’s not a heel, that’s a regular sole. Sneakers are all like that. If you need something to have a thin layer between your feet and the ground, you will need Converse,” Dina put her foot on the heel, showing him her worn out light-blue Converse shoes.
“I’ll remember it,” said Nicklis businesslike. “Well, shall we go?”
They walked together down the street.
“Well, tell me, how’s your life?” suggested Dina, smiling.
“My life’s good,” replied Nicklis. “I’ve finished the school and have found a job, I do scouting for the Queen of Orlind. I took some time off, for a month, to come here to you.”
“So you’re here only for a month?..”
“No, the speed of time here and in my world depends on me. I can live here for a year and there it will only be a day, and the opposite: it’ll be a year there and one day here. I decide how much time I want to miss in this or the other world,” explained Nicklis.
“A-ah… So, what are you going to do here?” asked Dina.
“I got enrolled into your school!” Nicklis laughed. “I said that I was homeschooled. Now I need to pass the exams, but I am pretty sure I will not be able to do that. I know too little about your world.”
“Hm, that’s true,” agreed Dina.
“What about you?”
“What about me? I’m a senior, finishing school this year and I’m hoping to continue studying in Moscow,” said Dina.
“Interesting,” Nicklis smiled.
“Well, we are actually here. I’ll introduce you to everyone. Are you going to live where you did before?”
“Let’s go home together?” Dina almost begged him. She did not like walking home alone at nights.
Glancing at her friend gratefully, Dina came closer to a small white building, which hid in the shadows of bushes and trees. Pulling on the door, Dina dived into the heavy, oily-black from the chain armor and weapons duskiness. There were many people here, mostly guys. Everyone chatted. There was only one girl – tall, gloomy, very thin, always wearing a black leather jacket with rivets. Dina glanced at her. Her dyed hair was shaped into a high ponytail, which fell onto her face, with painted eyebrows.
Dina plucked up her courage and loudly greeted everyone. The noise died out, and she introduced Nicklis to her comrades. Everyone immediately was interested in the new person in the group, and Dina had a moment to slip into the changing room to put on her training clothes. Blue sweatpants, sky-blue t-shirt, her light-blue shoes… Dina threw her long and heavy light-brown braid over the shoulder and fixed her forelocks. She unwittingly examined herself in the mirror which hung on the wall of the messy changing room. Little in height, but well-shaped figure, rounded face with blue eyes almost without eyelashes, and a rather large nose, fluffy eyebrows, round ears which sticked out – Dina, not fully satisfied after gazing at herself in the mirror, started to bite her lips to let them gain more color, then smother her forelock and let it down her face. Contented with the result of her moves, she calmly went out into the room, where warriors gathered.
* * *
The training was as always tiresome, and, once Dina walked down form the steps of her club onto the road, deep into the evening, she realized that she was extremely weary. Nicklis was well accepted into the group, though, it was the last training of the year, and everyone was upset that such professional came to them only at the end of the season. After showing himself during the combats and games, Nicklis proved to be a good warrior. Dina from her own experience remembered the power of his strokes.
Soon everyone came to the road in front of the building, and Dina sighed, waiting for Nicklis to stop discussing some very specific type of chain mails. She examined him with a smile, his noble handsome face and his strong hands with thin wrists and long straight fingers.
“Dinka, are you going home right away?” suddenly asked a husky voice somewhere from the side, making Dina flinch and come out from her dreaminess. She turned around to see right in front of her a pretty, light face and blond dyed hair, combed to the side. She recoiled and said offendedly:
“I think I already told you not to call me that!”
“Well, sorry, so, are you going home soon?” continued the young man, coming closer. There was no way for Dina to escape – a wall was behind her.
“Yes. And I am going home with Nickita,” replied she, trying to make her voice sound firm.
“What about me?”
“How must I know?”
“Why do you need some Nickita, when you have me?”
“Get away from me,” demanded Dina.
“Well, I will not! Until you will say…”
“Excuse me, Vladimir, but I find it unworthy of your name to do such a thing to a woman,” said Nicklis’s voice seriously and a little indignantly. “Why did you jam Dina like that?”
Vovka, that was what he was called by all the other members of the sword-fighting club, turned around and made a step back, freeing Dina, who hurried to jump away and hide behind her friend’s shoulder.
“Excuse-me-excuse-me!” Vovka put his hands on his hips. “A traitor! Very well, goodbye, you will receive no respect from me from now on! And I will deal with you later! Not now, it’s not the time yet!..”
He turned and walked away down the street, scratching the asphalt with the soles of his red shoes. In fear Dina snuggled to Nicklis’s warm elbow and watched her torturer walk away.
“Let’s go, Dinka,” said Nicklis and, allowing her to hold on to his arm, said farewell to everyone. Dina was so anxious and scared by Vovka’s persistence and by his formidable voice that she could not say anything and only waved her hand. Once it was only two of them on the road, Nicklis asked:
“Are you friends with him?”
A strange, resentful bitterness sounded in his voice, as if he was very offended by this idea.
“What? No!..” Dina glanced at him fearfully. Nicklis’s lips were pursed tightly, and wary, slightly sad wrinkles gathered over his eyebrows.
“No! I never thought of being friends with him, but he wanted me to be his girlfriend,” explained Dina, almost ready to cry. “You see, he… He spoils my life! Last time he walked behind me all the way home, and I even had to call mom, so that I would not be so scared!.. I don’t know what he wants of me, but I am sure there’s no good in it!.. I’m so glad you came back, you can protect me from him now!..”
“Dinka, calm down,” Nicklis stopped and, putting his large warm hands on her shoulders, looked into her wet eyes. There was no more distrust or enmity left in his face. “Its’ okаy, you hear?..” I’m sorry I was so jealous about our friendship, sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Dina wiped off the tears with her sleeve. “It’s alright.”
“I should not judge you for having other friends. People have more friend than just one,” said Nicklis, and they continued walking.
“What about elves?” Dina laughed, but her laughter sounded moisty and shaky.
“I meant “people” as creatures of any race, like “folks”,” explained Nicklis, smiling at her joke.
“Are you here alone this time or with your ancestors?” asked Dina, trying to hide her charging and weariness. She worked so hard to look strong, but it happened to be that the first impression of her new, adult Dina that Nicklis got was that she is a weeper.
“Maybe, it is not as bad for your world to call your parents “ancestors”, but as far as I know, in the society in which I was raised, to say so means to insult the name of the parents,” said Nicklis, embarrassedly wrinkling the bridge of his nose.
“Oh, gosh, I am so sorry!” exclaimed Dina and realized she was blushing. “I didn’t mean to insult your parents, I didn’t know it was bad!..”
“It’s okay,” replied Nicklis. “It’s about as bad as to call my parents “the ones about to die”. Ancestors are those who are already dead. In elvish it would be irlenel – the ones who have left this world or ancestors… Though there’s another world, rather beautiful – lenelverte, literally “the ones who walked before the world,” so, “ancestors”.”
“Aha-a… Right, elvish. That’s why you say such strange harder “e”, instead of “e” sometimes,” Dina squinted cunningly and gazed at her friend.
“So noticeable?” Nicklis seemed upset.
“Sometimes. But that’s not bad! I really like your accent!” Dina laughed.
“Thanks,” replied Nicklis quietly. “Actually, elvish is a very interesting language. I can give you a few lessons on it, if you’d like…”
“I would love to do that, but I’m not sure if I would want to learn something new aside from schoolwork right now… You can’t imagine how much I need to remember when I’m preparing for the exams.” Dina sighed.
“As you wish.”
“So, are you with your parents or alone this time?” Dina was burning with shame, knowing how she managed to offend her friend by that question before. How could she be so careless?!..
“Alone. They need nothing here, and it is hard for us to be here,” said Nicklis.
“But you came here for more than just the exams, right?”
“Yes, that is right, but I cannot tell you more for now,” replied Nicklis guiltily but honestly. “I will tell you everything, once the time comes.”
“Okay,” Dina felt some strange feeling deep inside her soul. Why did he come here? More problems with Orlando or… what else was binding him to this world when the solution for Orlando was found?.. Dina stopped some distance away from the gate that led to her garden and glanced at her friend. The light fell through the open windows of her house on the fence, the road and on Nicklis’s freckled face. Why, why are his facial features so fine? Din could not find one flaw, nothing prevented one’s eye to slide down the lines of his head and shoulders. Why is he so handsome and so far away from her? Why does he live in a different world, why is he an elf? Why is she asking these “whys”? Maybe he is not as far as she thinks he is, maybe, he would want to stay in this world?..
“Let’s go to school together tomorrow?” asked Nicklis, gazing straight into Dina’s eyes.
“Let’s,” she agreed. “Should we meet here in the morning?”
“Good night,” Dina glanced at him, thought for a second, and then suddenly hugged him, and stepped back immediately, blushing. Nicklis seemed to be rather surprised by this movement but kept a calm expression on his face. Dina smiled guiltily and slipped to the gate.
“Let the stars shine upon your dreams,” said Nicklis quietly, into her back. Dina turned around, looked at his well-shaped silhouette in front of the dark garden on the other side of the street, smiled as a sign that she heard him, and ran on the path to the house. She quickly climbed up the stairs, walked into the hallway and, throwing shoes off her feet, she glances at herself in the mirror. Her eyes were glittering, cheeks and ears looked red… Dina sighed, closed her eyes, took a few breaths, which calmed her down a little. She did not want to show her excitement to her parents and sisters.
Dina took two steps up, opened a heavy door padded with wadding and leather, and walked into a large living room, illuminated with light. Doors on the left led to the kitchen and pantry, next to them were stairs to the second floor. On the right there were a few chairs and a couch, draped with a blanket, and next to them stood a long, beautiful table, on which dinner was already placed. Across the room from the chairs was a fireplace. It was rarely used, but during dark winter evenings it created the needed coziness. Dina’s youngest sisters played on the carpet in front of the couch. Olga was finishing putting together the dinner at the table. Igor was placing some ivy on one of the cupboards. He stood on a stepstool, holding a pencil with his mouth. Sometimes he used that pencil to fix the further parts of the ivy. Everything in the house also bloomed – spring came even here. Dina did not have time to recover from the aroma of lilac, as she was blown away with new, astonishing fragrances of the house flowers.
“Hello, dear, how was your day?” asked Olga with a smile, placing sauce bowls on the table.
“The day was amazing,” stated Dina, flopping down on the chair. “Nicklis’s back!”
“Nicklis?” Olga seemed surprised. “Again?”
“Yes,” Dina sighed.
“Well, how is he?” Olga smiled again.
“Very good-looking,” Dina laughed. “Strange as always, but who is there who would be interesting and would lack some strangeness?”
“Yeah, life without strange people would have been boring,” Olga eloquently pointed to Igor, who was trying to reach a pot placed very high up on the wall. Dina laughed.
* * *
Late in the evening, before going to bed, Dina decided to do a few notes in her diary. She sat at the table motionless, already wearing her light white night gown and with brushed hair. She was deep in thought. Her fingers fumbled the pen, but her thoughts did not want to take their places. Then Dina put her hand on the paper, and her wrist, bending, pulled the fingers. Her hand was drawing on its own. Up and down, and a soft outline of a chin appeared on paper, slid up and to the side, stretching out a lean triangle of a pointy ear. Dina smiled, drawing and thinking of how hard life is on her.
In her large family, where there were six sisters, any new “friend” gave hope to the girls that he might fall in love with one of them and marry her. The mentioning of Nicklis’s return lit up that hope in them once again. However, Dina never liked to feel that hope, because it always reminded her of novels about marriage according to the monetary status, and it scared her. This is not how she pictured her future, though her mother always said that you do not pick future, it decides for you on its own. Dina took her hand off the paper and glanced at the drawing. How strange and how well-formed was this Nicklis. Dina felt both pleased and horrified about his appearing in her world. What if he is interested in her, what if… he loves her?..
Dina straightened her back and closed the diary. She needed to realize what was happening to her. Dina always loved. She though, she was always filled with love to all living creatures, she always wanted to share this love, and, maybe, even receive the same love back as a reply. She wanted to love someone truly. Sometimes she felt sad because she did not have such person in her life who would have agreed to take her love and pay back in the same manner. All these four years, while writing letters to her friend, Dina always felt warmth in her heart every time she thought of him. He was there, far behind the barrier, but Dina knew that he existed. But he was there, far, in a different world, though she wanted to have him here, next to her… And now he came back, awoken something new in her heart, something burning; renewed their friendship. But the idea of love seemed wild to Dina. She thought too much of herself to imagine that Nicklis came to this world just because of her. He never confirmed it. It’s just very selfish. Dina was very ashamed for all the words she said wrongly and for all the poorly going situations, but she knew she had no way of avoiding them.
She carefully closed the window, pushing off the apple branches with little white blossoms on them. She pondered about the meeting with her friend, painfully reliving all that went wrong and humiliating. Probably, she shouldn’t have even hugged him, elves have different ways of showing their affection. Dina sighed and, pulling the blankets off the bed, lay down and stared at the ceiling. Tomorrow will be a new day, and she will get the hold of everything then. There was no need to worry about failures which have already taken place, since there is nothing one could do to them.
* * *
At seven in the morning the alarm rang, and Dina opened her eyes. She realized right away that it was cloudy today by the pale light from the not curtained window. Her room was small. It fit a narrow couch-bed at the left wall, a table below the window, shelves with books on the right wall, and there was a tall mirror that snuggled between the shelves, a wardrobe at the feet of the bed and an easel across the room from it, in the corner next to the door. After throwing a glance at all her possessions, Dina climbed from under her blankets, sat at a stool in front of the mirror and started to brush and braid her long straight hair, which wrapped her body like a cape, when she let it hang down.
Morning chores were filling her head. Get ready for school, get dressed, eat breakfast. The last several days Dina kept forgetting to think about her school uniform, but today was a special morning, and she remembered that she has not worn her favorite ribbon-neckties for quite a while.
Deciding on a light-blue shirt and green ribbon, she styled her bang, grabbed a thin coat that was hanging on the easel and a brown scarf and ran into the hallway. She heard her family’s voices on the first floor. Shoving her scarf into the backpack, Dina threw her belongings next to the couch in the living room and went to the table, greeting everyone.
Before leaving the house Dina got to argue with her younger sister Ira on the subject of who will go to school first. They needed to get there at the same time, but they did not want to walk together. Though, today Dina was not in a mood for a quarrel, and she allowed Ira to go first. Ira livingly threw a bag with her textbooks on her elbow and hopped to the porch, clicking her heels. Dina sighed, following her with her eyes. Ira looked five years older than her, and sometimes Dina got disturbed by that fact. Finally, after Ira was hidden by a turn of the road, Dina walked down the path into her garden.
She lifted her eyes. Nicklis was in his place next to the fence, as always. Walking closer and examining him, Dina felt amazement washing over her. He was dressed most wonderfully: a double-breasted wool coat of olive-green color, buttoned all the way to his chin, a long, striped scarf with tassels of the colors of green lichen on the fence, pants of moss-green and classic leather shoes. Dina slipped to the road, not really believing that she had such neatly styled friend.
“Good morning!” said Nicklis, noticing her. “How’re you feeling?”
“Really good,” Dina laughed. “Listen, I was thinking yesterday… Sorry that I hugged you, ok?.. You probably have different ways of greeting each other. Forgive me if it was inappropriate to do…”
“Don’t worry, you did no harm to me. To be honest, elves really don’t do such things after such long separation, but that is alright,” replied Nicklis. “Don’t be anxious about it, you are not at fault for having different traditions…”
“Okay!” Dina felt easier. “How do elves usually greet each other?”
“In this situation, when greeting a young lady, it is allowed to do this,” Nicklis carefully took her hand, bent down, and touched her wrist with his dry warm lips. Dina, laughing, looked into his squinted green eyes, playfully glittering under the shadow of long red eyelashes.
“Alright, then how does the young lady reply?” asked Dina.
“You can nod slightly to show respect – elves rarely bow for real – or do a small curtsy, that depends on you,” said Nicklis.
Dina carefully and easily brought one of her legs behind another, touched the ground with the tip of her shoe, slightly bending her knees, and straighetened out once again.
“Not every Orlind’s aristocratic lady can do greetings this gracefully,” confessed Nicklis, watching her. “Shall we?” He gave her his hand, and Dina carefully took him by the elbow. His coat was slightly rough and very warm, so Dina’s fingers heated up right away. It was an unusually cold day – the aroma of lilac was very strong the previous night. When lilac blooms the weather always turns cold.
The sky was grey, but green grass and small leaves on the trees did not allow the world to gain the colors of autumn. It was spring, despite the weather, and it was spring in Dina’s heart as well. She felt like she was a young apple tree, which bloomed in its full blossom for the first time, and it was a very good feeling.
“Listen,” Dina glanced at her friend. “I always wanted to ask you, what does your dad do for living?”
“My father?” Nicklis looked up into the sky. “My father is a respected art critic and art collector in Orlind. He tried to serve in the military, but he could not continue doing that because of his character and some of his phycological issues, which showed up right away. The thing is that the parents of my father died… were killed, to be precise, before his eyes when he was only nine years old – he is gray-haired since then – and this trauma still does not allow him to live in peace.”
“Oh…” said Dina with sympathy. “That’s hard… Why do you call him “father”, not “dad”?”
“Father always was strict with me,” Nicklis sighed. “He always required seriousness from me, even some formality. Ever since I was a child, he forbade me from calling him “dad”, but I myself never dared to do so.”
“Huh,” Dina slowly shook her head. “My dad is more tender to me, than strict…”
“You are a daughter,” Nicklis laughed. “And I am a son, added that I am the only boy among the kids, I was raised to become an heir worthy of my family… Actually, my father was always more forgiving to my sisters. It used to offend me, because nothing was pardoned for me, and they could escape with their misdoing very easily. Though, father often entrusted me with things he would never entrust to the girls, so I was usually proud of that.”
“Interesting. I never had brothers, so there’s nothing to compare to… Did you fight with your sisters when you were younger?” asked Dina, smiling cunningly.
“Ha, yeah, I did,” Nicklis chuckled. “Most of the time with Filnara, the one, whose birthday is on the first of September, remember? To be honest, she is stronger than me… Our difference is less than two years, and we often didn’t get along, when we were little. My older sister, Mariel, was always “older”, so we never argued with her as much. And my third sister, Linsi, is nine years younger than me, and also, she doesn’t have a warlike character. At first she was little, and then we became friends with her, when she caught up with us as far as in the understanding of life, it became even easier to be friends. I think I have the best relationship with her out of the whole family…”
“Huh… I would have wanted to have a brother,” noted Dina thoughtfully.
“So would I,” replied Nicklis. “I used to have one…”
Dina stared at him in surprise.
“I was six, when he was born. I remember it very well. It was November, the year was very wet and cold. Our little one, sadly, could not survive the winter. He was a month old when he got sick for the first time. We all tried to heal him, that’s when my father showed me the very first methods of using elvish magic… But our work was vain, he died in a week. I will never forget this, even though my memory seems rather blurred. Mom was so shocked, she did not get out of bed for a few days, and we were all afraid, that she would not be able to bear it, but… we managed to bring her back to life. Elves do not give names to their children right away, but, if my brother would have lived, his name would have been “Niladis”. Father wanted all the names of the sons to start with an “N”, in honor of our ancestor – actually ancestor – Niriel The Copper.”
“Such a sad story,” noted Dina, holding on to his sleeve.
“Yes… Because many newborns cannot survive winter many elves in Orlind are born in the spring. My birthday is in March,” Nicklis smiled.
“Cool, mine’s in February.”
“We’re almost at the school… Listen, Din, can we part here?” Nicklis glanced at her guiltily. “I do not want people to think something strange about our friendship, it would be better, if they wouldn’t know… Would you like to meet after the classes, on the porch?”
“What can they think?!” Dina blushed. Nicklis looked at her meaningfully, and she sighed.
“Okay… In which class did you get enrolled?”
“The eleventh, same age as yours,” said Nicklis. “Forgive me, I thought that would be better…”
“That’s okay, I’m not against it,” Dina tried to think logically. Truly, if they would not walk around the school together it will be more peaceful for herself, less problems.
“I’m glad you understood me,” Nicklis looked deep into her eyes. “Good luck.”
“You can go first.”
Dina nodded, let go of his elbow and quickly walked down the street to the school. A strange bright and burning star was shining in her heart… Why, why do they have to part? Why is she afraid of mockery from her classmates?.. Dina sighed heavily. In reality, she herself was wishing to escape all the issues that may arise with them appearing in school together, and she did not want to put Nicklis to danger from jealousy of those people. There were some persons in her class who were ready to fight for her, which annoyed her greatly. None of these persons could even hope for friendship from her by virtue of their behavior and the differences in interests.
Familiar noise and hubbub, endless and tiring, already filled the school. Dina broke through the crowd into the changing room, where she disposed of her coat and walked back to the foyer. Nicklis was already there, he was in front of the mirror, fixing his long green tie.
Before the beginning of the class, when Dina was arranging her textbooks on the desk, Dima Tuna sat down next to her. Now he became taller and slenderer, but never lost his nickname. Dina noticed that he was dolled up like a rooster: yellow tie with embroidery, violet shirt, and bright-pink socks.
“Why are you so nicely dressed today, huh, Dina?” asked Dima, by a slow movement of his had smoothing down his long bang, which was brushed to the side.
“I cannot be dressed well?” asked Dina, placing her hands on the desk.
“Way too pretty,” noted Dima.
“Listen, go back to you place,” said Dina. “Leave me alone.”
“Why? Would you not let me sit by you?”
“I will not,” Dina lifted a textbook and quietly but persuasively smacked his fingers, which were clinging to the desk.
“Ouch!.. Why not?” replied Dima, who clearly did not understand the warning.
“You will distract me.”
“I wouldn’t. Can I stay? Please,” begged Dima factitiously.
“No, that’s my final word.”
“I will let you use my homework for the science class,” Dima started to placate.
“Why would I need your homework? You think I don’t do it myself?” Dina was offended.
“Well, please, Dinka, I will give you a candy,” continued Dima.
“Be gone,” said Dina more strictly.
“Well, I will not be!..”
Dina sighed, grabbed her textbooks from the table and moved to the desk next to Taya Burova. At least she could have a decent lesson here, away from Tuna’s attacks.
* * *
The lessons were slow and painful. Especially tough was algebra, when the teacher was thoroughly and soporifically explaining how to trace a specific type of graphs. Dina was trying to comprehend the explained and also fought with Tuna, who was at the desk behind her and who continued pulling on her braid. Dina could not understand his attachment to her braid. They were not in the first grade to pull girls on their hair, but for some reason Tuna got a lot of pleasure from catching his classmate’s braid and tying something to it or pulling off the ribbon.
At around two in the afternoon Dina – hungry, upset, and tired – walked out to the school’s porch. Strong western wind blew her in the face, and she wrapped her scarf around her neck. The only thing that comforted her in these agonizing surroundings of the school was the thought that she will meet her friend after the classes once again. Oh, how she thirsted for communication with him, for talking to the creature whose thoughts were sent deeper and further than the thoughts of her flighty classmates! Dina did not walk against the current of her class, but all these talks about fashion and new TV series seemed shallow and almost useless to her.
The bell rang a while ago, but apparently Nicklis’s class was delayed. Dina stood on the porch, leaning on the railings and watched the digits on the screen of her phone change with time. She waited. Soon, aside from a group of sixth graders who were busy playing the new game which consisted of throwing a water bottle and trying to make it stand as it landed, appeared two young women from Nicklis’s class: Sveta Tishok and her friend Luba Marakueva, who was left for another year in school. They stopped on the steps and whispered something between them, then Sveta turned to Dina and, unable to hold back the giggles, exclaimed:
“Waiting for your fiancé, are you?”
“I don’t understand what you’re talking about,” replied Dina, though she felt her cheeks treacherously burning. She stared at the tips of her shoes, accompanied by Luba’s sniggering.
“No, she doesn’t understand!” Luba told Sveta in the especially loud voice, which made Dina even more embarrassed.
“Wait-wait, he’s going to come out and kiss her! He didn’t even look at any of us during the classes! Wait!” whispered Sveta, grabbing Luba’s sleeve. The school’s door opened under Nicklis’s strong arm, as he stopped at the entrance, keeping it open to let out a small woman and a little seven-year-old girl, whom she held by the hand.
“Thank you,” said the woman, turning her tiny face with a sharp nose to him. Nicklis smiled politely, and she ran down the steps, telling her daughter:
“Well, you’ll redo the exams and start going to this school, look how nice people here are…”
Dina wanted to cry. Nicklis went to her, fixing his scarf. Sveta and Luba, giggling, dropped down from the porch, and they only saw their dyed ponytails jumping as they went.
“You seem very sad,” noted Nicklis, examining his friend.
“Yes, I’m sad,” replied Dina. “I’m sorry that this poor girl will end up in this school, in this system… How can one live when their interests do not correspond with the interests of the system?”
“You just need to learn to live with it,” said Nicklis. “To find ways to walk away from the system or just ignore it.”
“How can you take this all so easily? You look at these people and don’t get horrified? You hear puns and jokes because you want to be different from everyone else, and stay calm and deaf to this mocking?..” Dina stared at Sveta’s and Luba’s disappearing figures with an empty look.
“You know what I want?” replied Nicklis with a question. Dina gazed at him slightly bewildered.
“I want you to see a different society,” said Nicklis. “So that for at least a little while you could abandon these hardships. I’m sorry it’s so frustrating for you…”
“Yeah, I also want to live somewhere, where I would not be pulled on the braid, because it seems a little too long, and where I will not be told that a bow-tie made from ribbons is stupid. Many think that I am loony, because I draw elves in my math notebook and make plastic eyes for the test-tubes for chemistry…” Dina smiled sadly.
“Golte Evere, how mean it is to say things like that about you!” Nicklis seemed indignant. He gave her his arm. “Let’s go!”
They went down the steps of the porch.
“Listen, did they try to mock you today?” asked Dina.
“They did,” Nicklis snorted. “But I didn’t let them. You see, I am a redhead. I was “strange” since childhood. Red-haired elves are not very common in Orlind, almost like red-haired people in your world, and I was often insulted because of that fact. I had to learn right away to ignore that mocking, though it was much harder for me when I was little. I fought at the Order almost every day, and my poor parents could not make me disregard all that. Now I have gained enough experience in that part of life and learned to stay calm.”
Dina nodded in response. How come, though, that she, so unremarkable, with a light-brown color of hair and not even that beautiful managed to get so many hardships in communicating? Apparently, it was about her on the inside now.
“Should we walk by the river?” suggested Nicklis.
“We should,” agreed Dina. “I have a headache, it’s nice to wind out.”
“Really? I almost never get headaches,” noted Nicklis quietly and sadly. “I don’t have anything to help you with it…”
“Oh, I don’t need anything!” Dina laughed. “It’ll go away with the fresh air.”
“Well, good… What major are you going to be applying for?” asked Nicklis with a strange concern in his tone.
“I want to paint and draw, and to sell my works,” explained Dina. “But for that I need to sharpen my skills better, so I will be applying to the academy, to study to become a classic painter. Mom says that I will not be able to have a family with such an income, but that is what I can do for all eternity, so I decided that I will be surviving, like a real artist! I am ready to suffer!”
“Hm, interesting,” noted Nicklis, smiling. “If you get married well, you wouldn’t need to suffer. You’ll be doing your favorite thing and live on the husband’s earnings.”
“Oh, let’s not talk about that!” begged Dina. “We argue so much about all this at home, I have no strength left for this subject!..”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it… Did you know that there’s an art academy in Orlind too?” asked Nicklis carefully. Dina looked at him with her eyes glittering.
“So… you think it is possible?”
“What is?” Nicklis glanced at her with fear.
“For me to study there?”
“O-oh… That would’ve been so awesome!.. But I’m a human.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Nicklis suddenly became passionate. “I think there’s nothing strange in it. Queen Nerl’ supports the internationality of our country, I’m sure humans are no worse than elves, when it comes to studying! In any case…”
He got embarrassed and cautiously looked at his friend. Dina, gazing away and thoughtfully examining the street, felt how much she was relieved. Can she really hope for his affection to her, and later for even deeper relationship?.. If there is no such huge difference between elves and humans in his world, then, maybe she has a chance to love him and be loved back… But how? Is it really possible? Or is this all just a beautiful dream?.. Dina was scared. She was afraid to think that far ahead, because you never know what can happen in the future, though, she really wanted to think of it…
“You know, what if you do give me elvish lessons on the weekend?” asked Dina, smiling. “I will have some free time.”
Nicklis’s expression brightened, his eyes shone happily.