Somewhere Else

©2019-2020 Kassie N (dear-llama). All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 26: It's Not The End

Despite her reputation as a party animal, Zuzi's apartment has always been a mystery to the rest of us. She likes going to house parties, I've realised – but never hosts one of her own. As such, none of us have ever set foot into her apartment.

This has built up an air of anticipation for the day Zuzi will host us for her turn in our international movie night.

"It'll be colourful," Priscilla declared, the day before we were scheduled to visit Zuzi for the first time. She turned to Zuzi, explaining her claim. "To match your personality." She paused, then leans in, eyes wide. "Am I right?"

Zuzi only smiled.

After Priscilla's prediction, none of us are expecting the all-white, minimalistic look that greeted us when we stepped through her door on Thursday night.

"You live here?" Priscilla asks, spinning around in a circle, eyes wide as she scans the four walls. They are almost empty – only two paintings hang on the walls, so understated that they might as well have not been there.

"It looks like a hotel room," Ludo says.

Zuzi shrugs. "The landlord decorated it. I just left everything as it is."

I peek at Frederik to see his reaction. Out of all of us, he's the only one most likely to have been here, but the expression on his face as he studies the unit tells me that it is all as new to him as it is to us.

"It's very..." I struggle for a moment to find a suitable word, then settle on, "white."

Zuzi laughs. "I know, right? It doesn't suit me at all."

We all nod. That is the crux of the thing. Someone with an explosive personality like Zuzi doesn't belong within these colourless, pristine walls.

As if reading all our minds, Zuzi shrugs again and says, "I'm rarely home anyway. It's just a place to sleep. What does it matter?"

"Fair enough," Priscilla says, even though I know she wouldn't be able to relate to this sentiment. She takes the decor in her apartment very seriously. In the time we roomed together, I've seen bits of her personality splashed all over the apartment.

I find myself wondering, with an anxious pang, what impression my

apartment would give them. Not much has changed since the time Priscilla, Zuzi, and Ludo helped me move in – I haven't put as much of a personal touch as Priscilla has on her place of residence. The only stamp I've put on the apartment since moving in is the messy piles of personal belongings strewn all over the place.

I make a mental note to clean up before my turn for movie night arrives next week. I'm a slob, yes, but my friends don't have to know it.

Zuzi wanders into another room. "Snacks?" We hear her call out, rustling through what sounds like the largest stack of plastic in the world.

"What do you have?" Ludo asks.

"I brought some popcorn," Priscilla says, turning to rummage in her own bag.

We all stare at her.

"What?" Priscilla asks, a touch indignantly. "I had a craving!"

I grin. "Popcorn sounds good."

Priscilla leans over and throws an arm around me. "Emi gets more popcorn," she announces to the room.

Ludo rolls his eyes.

Zuzi re-emerges, tossing a bag at Frederik, who is standing closest to the door. Frederik turns the bag over in his hands, then holds it up with a look of bemusement.

"Baby carrots?" Ludo scoffs, the disgust palpable in his voice. "That's your idea of a snack?"

Zuzi shrugs. "It's all I have."

Frederik disappears into the kitchen, presumably to check the veracity of this claim. We all stand in silence, waiting, until he walks back out, the bag of baby carrots still in hand.

Under our collective stare, he shrugs and holds up the bag. "Baby carrots, anyone?"

I look at Priscilla, who smiles brightly. "I have popcorn!"

When we have settled down into various poses around Zuzi's TV – on her pristine-white sofa, on the furry beige rug – Priscilla claps her hands together. "So, what movie are we watching today?"

"It's called Perinbaba," Zuzi says, scrolling through the options on her TV. She's lounging back on her sofa, squashed up between Priscilla and Ludo, her feet propped up on the glass coffee table. "Hold on – I found it online, but I haven't rented it yet."

"How are we going to watch it, then?" Ludo grouses. He's still bitter about the baby carrots.

Frederik, on the other hand, has poured them out into a bowl and is absently munching on one.

Zuzi shoots Ludo a glare. "I'm going to rent it right now. Chill out. It takes, like, a second."

Ludo holds up a finger, then another, presumably counting the seconds it takes Zuzi to access the film online.

Zuzi rolls her eyes. "Asshole."

I can't help a snort of laughter, and Zuzi turns her glare on me. I widen my eyes at her in a pantomime of the most innocent look I can muster.

She huffs and turns back to the screen, punching furiously at the buttons of the remote in her hand.

Ludo winks at me. "Careful there," he says to Zuzi, "we won't be able to watch anything if you spoil that."

A loud hiss escapes from between Zuzi's pursed lips.

Frederik smirks. "I don't think you should tease her anymore," he tells Ludo. "Or we really won't be able to watch anything tonight."

Zuzi blows out a long, exasperated breath. "I've got it. Are you ready to start, or what?"

Ludo opens his mouth, but Priscilla shoots him such a sharp look, his lips turn up and he silently acquiesces.

"Of course!" Priscilla chirps. "Ready whenever you are."

"It would be better if we were watching this in winter," Zuzi says as she presses the 'play' button, then shrugs. She leans back into her chair as the opening logos fade into view. "But whatever. It's still one of my favourite fairy tales."

"A fairy tale – really?" Ludo grouses, then subsides as Priscilla frowns at him.

"This one is good," Zuzi says, huffing a little. "It's not a typical fairy tale. I promise."

"I like fairy tales," says Frederik quietly. That shuts all of us up.

"Perin is a duvet and baba means 'woman'," Zuzi explains as we are introduced to the opening shot of the character in question. "That's why she's called Perinbaba."

We're not long into the movie when it hits me. I sit up, a stray kernel of popcorn still dangling from my fingers. "It's Frau Holle!"

Then I peer at the others in embarrassment when they all turn to stare at me. Priscilla, who is closest to the remote control, hits the pause button.

"Sorry," I say. "I'll shut up. Let's continue."

"You know the movie?" Zuzi asks me. But before I can open my mouth to reply, she gives her head a sharp shake. "Wait," she says, "what am I saying? It's a fairytale by the Grimm Brothers. Of course you know this."

"Yes, I've watched the German version of the fairytale," I say. "But that's not important. Carry on." I gesture at the television, where the characters are still frozen on screen.

Priscilla reaches out and starts up the film again.

"Maybe you can compare the differences between the German one and the Slovakian adaptation," Frederik says. "Since you'll be the only one who's seen both."

I laugh. "Yeah, that would be pretty cool." Then we all fall silent again as the characters dance to life on screen.

The film turns out to be nothing I could've expected. Instead of a literal adaptation of the fairytale familiar to me, it sets up a different storyline. This version Frau Holle – or Perinbaba, as the Slovaks call her – showers her with magical blue sparkles and gives her a young boy as an assistant. That is, until the boy falls in love with a human girl and embarks on a journey fraught with obstacles to pursue that love.

The film itself is so beautifully presented that it takes my breath away. An atmosphere resembling awe has settled over us over the course of the film and isn't broken even as the last scene fades out.

"Well, how about that," Priscilla breathes, as the credits begin to roll.

Zuzi has on a smug grin. "See? I told you so."

"That was beautiful," I say, because it's the only way to describe the film. "The scenery, the story, and the way it was filmed… It was all beautiful."

Priscilla is nodding so hard, I'm tempted to warn her to stop before she does damage to her neck.

"It was okay," says Ludo.

"That's praise coming from him," Frederik tells us.

Ludo shrugs. "Yeah. I hate fairy tales."

"Juraj Jakubisko's films are sometimes a little…" Zuzi pauses, thinking her word choices over. "I don't know how you call it in English, but it's like, too artistic. Everything means something else. They're sometimes difficult to get. But I think he did this one super well."

"Yeah," I say. I hate to admit it, but this film might even be better than the original Frau Holle I've watched. "It was a different way of portraying the original fairy tale. I liked it."

"Maybe we could watch the German version next week," Priscilla suggests, "and do a comparison. Wouldn't that be fun?"

I wrinkle my nose. "But I've already picked something else!"

"Aw." Priscilla is quick to soothe what she views as my ruffled feathers. "No worries, then. We'll watch what you've chosen."

"We could watch the German Perinbaba together some other day," Zuzi says – unexpectedly, I think. "I'm interested in it, too." She sees me smiling, and cocks an eyebrow at me. "No?"

"No – I mean, I have no problem with that. It's just that it's a little funny to me that you call it the German Perinbaba. To me, Perinbaba is the Slovakian Frau Holle."

Zuzi grimaces. "No way! Perinbaba is a classic."

"Frau Holle is the classic." I stick my tongue out at her. She mirrors my gesture.

"Okay, kids," says Frederik. "Settle down, now."

We both turn our glares on him.

Priscilla steps in then. "So, Emi," she says, and I reluctantly pull my attention from Frederik to focus on her. "What's the movie you've picked?"

Now that the topic has come up, I find the words lodged in my throat. "Ehm," I cough. "Actually, there's something I wanted to discuss with you." I look around at all of them. "With all of you."

"What's wrong?" A tiny furrow has made its presence known between Priscilla's brows.

"You sound like you're about to admit to having killed a man," Zuzi remarks.

That makes me laugh. "No, nothing like that." I swallow, then plunge into the deep end. "No – what I want to say is that… my film is going to be German, of course. But I was thinking… I also want to show you guys a Singaporean film."

"Oh!" Priscilla's eyes have lit up. "A Singaporean film? That sounds really interesting."

"Yes," Frederik says. "I'd like to see that, actually."

"Wait," Zuzi says. "Does that mean you get two films?" She frowns. "That's not fair."

"Maybe it is," Ludo drawls. "She has two cultures, doesn't she?"

"But only one nationality," Zuzi shoots back.

"Well," I say, before another almost-fight can break out, "I just thought it would be nice to show something from a country we all don't know much about, you know? It'll be new for me, too."

"I think it's a good idea," Priscilla says. She turns to Zuzi.

"I wasn't disagreeing," Zuzi grumbles. "I just said it's unfair Emi gets two. But I don't mind watching a Singaporean film."

Priscilla claps her hands together. "That's settled, then!" She looks at me. "Which are you showing next week, Emi – a German film or a Singaporean one?"

"German," I say firmly. Despite the recent embracing of my heritage, I'm German through and through. "I'm still choosing between a few, though."

"Take your time." Ludo yawns, stretching his arms over his head. "It's next week, not tomorrow."

"I bet when it's Ludo's turn, he'll only decide on the day itself," Zuzi says.

"Probably," he agrees. This easy capitulation elicits an eye roll from Zuzi.

"So," she asks, in a tone filled with lilting challenge, "what are you bringing for the class party tomorrow?"

Ludo closes his eyes and groans. "Can I just bring beer?"

"Hey," I stick an objecting finger into the air. "I'm bringing the beer."

Ludo snorts. "You were just arguing that you have two cultures and should get a second movie. Find something else from your other culture to bring."

Priscilla is laughing at me. "He has a point," she chokes out in between giggles.

I screw up my face at them, but fail to find a good comeback.

"Seriously, though," Zuzi says, pushing everyone back on topic. "What are you guys bringing?"

"Beer," deadpans Ludo.

"Rye bread," says Frederik, with such a flat intonation that I'm sure he has to be joking.

"Rye bread?" Zuzi snorts. "That's cheating."

Frederik laughs then. "No, I'm not bringing rye bread. That would be ridiculous."

"What, then?"

He shrugs. "Maybe Frikadeller. I already have some in my fridge."

Nobody seems to have noticed that Priscilla is all puffed up, almost bursting with her own announcement. I take pity on her and ask, "What are you bringing, Pris?"

She turns a stunning smile on me. "My lemon meringue pie!" she chirps. "I told you guys about it,remember?" A quick glance around shows that nobody, in fact, remembers. She huffs a little. "Doesn't matter. It's a family recipe – you guys are going to love it."

"You mean you're going to bake it?" Ludo sounds horrified. I don't blame him – the mere thought of having to put in so much effort for the potluck party tomorrow exhausts me.

Priscilla shrugs. "It's fine. I'll get started once I get home."

Frederik lifts his wrist to look at the watch there. "You should probably get going, then."

"I should, too," I say. "I haven't prepared anything either."

"Just bring some Bratwurst sausages," advises Frederik.

I laugh. "Stereotype, much?"

"What are you planning to bring, then?"

I feel my cheeks heat up. "Potato salad."

Frederik raises his eyebrows.

"Shut up," I mutter.

Zuzi pouts. "Why do all of you already know what you're bringing? I have no idea at all."

We all fall silent, each racking our brains for anything we've ever heard about Slovakian cuisine.

"So…" says Priscilla slowly. "What food do you have in Slovakia, anyway?"

As if having anticipated this question, Zuzi rattles off a list in Slovakian, one that none of us can understand. When she pauses for breath, she adds, "We have so much good food, but… I can't cook any of it."

"What about the Slovak pancakes?" Frederik suggests. "It's something you can make."

"What are Slovak pancakes?" Priscilla asks.

"They're like crêpes," Frederik says. "You serve them with apricot jam or some other sweet spreads." I see a quick flash of his eyes that hints at something more that he's keeping from us.

When I turn to look at Zuzi, she is looking away from Frederik. "Oh, yeah," she murmurs, her voice uncharacteristically soft. "That's a good idea."

I catch Priscilla's eye. She's barely biting back her smile. I clear my throat. "Awesome," I say. "Looks like we're going to have a feast tomorrow."

"No thanks to Ludo," Zuzi says, finding her tongue again.

"Hey," says Ludo. "I'm bringing the most important thing of all."

"Can't argue with that," Frederik says.

Priscilla shakes her head, but even the alcohol she doesn't drink can't put a damper on her spirits. "I can't wait," she says. "It'll be so exciting to see everyone's dishes."

"How many countries do we have in class?" I wonder aloud, already mentally ticking some off.

Everyone falls silent as they do the same.

"Too many," Ludo finally decides.

"We probably have someone from every continent," Priscilla says.

"Except Antarctica," I say, which garners a ripple of laughter.

"And Australia," says Zuzi. "We don't have anyone from Australia."

"Yeah, but we have someone from New Zealand," Priscilla huffs.

Zuzi frowns at her. "Are you guys from the same continent? I thought Australia was a continent by itself."

"They are," says Priscilla. She pulls a face. "We're not a part of them. Nobody knows this, but we are part of a micro-continent called Zealandia that broke off long ago and is now underwater."

"Wait," Frederik says, sitting up at this new piece of information. "New Zealand is what's left of a continent that sank?"

"I reckon so," Priscilla says, sounding very much like a New Zealander with those three words.

"That is very cool," I say. "A little sad, but still. I've always wondered why it was called New Zealand. It makes sense now."

"Yeah," Zuzi pipes up. "Whatever happened to Old Zealand? Turns out, it sank. Who would've known?"

I crack a smile at that. Haven't I often wondered the same thing myself?

"I know." Priscilla sighs. "Nobody knows anything about us here."

"We do now," I tell her. "About this, at least."

She brightens. "That's true."

"You can tell the class this piece of trivia tomorrow," Ludo says. "Then everyone will know."

Priscilla laughs. "Yeah." She strikes a pose, "Educating people about New Zealand, one person at a time."

"If you have the energy for it. I don't care if anyone knows nothing about Italy. It's not my job to educate them on what they don't know, is it?" Ludo yawns, as if to demonstrate his point.

Priscilla frowns. "But don't you want people to know about where you're from? Isn't that the whole point of cultural exchange?"

Ludo shrugs. "What's the point? If they really wanted to know, they could just search on Google."

Priscilla shakes her head. "I love it when I can share information about New Zealand and hear about other countries in return."

"Different folks, different strokes," Frederik says.

"What does that mean?" Zuzi asks.

Priscilla is the one who replies. "It's a saying," she says. "It means that different people like different things or do things differently."

"Oh. Cool."

"Idioms are so interesting," I say. "They can be hard to understand sometimes, especially for a non-native speaker."

"I wonder if there's a Finnish equivalent of that saying?" Priscilla wonders.

None of us know.

"We could ask Elina," I suggest.

"Yeah." Priscilla sighs. "We'd better ask her tomorrow. It's the last time we'll get to see her in class."

This reminder sinks the mood of the room. Even Ludo has turned somber.

"I'm going to be sad when it's all over," says Zuzi.

"Me, too," I say softly. "It's been fun."

Priscilla laughs. "I know. Who would've thought? I was terrified on the first day."

"You?" I stare in wonderment. "I was terrified."

"Not me," says Frederik.

Zuzi rolls her eyes. "Of course not."

"How far we've come," Priscilla murmurs.

"Okay, you don't have to be all doom and gloom now," Ludo says. "There's still one day of class left. Probably the best day, since there's no actual class."

"That's right." Priscilla has perked up. "It's not over yet."

"And you still have a pie to bake tonight," I remind her, a little tongue-in-cheek.

She gives a start as if she's forgotten until right that moment, then taps at her phone to check the time. "Shit, it's almost nine! I need to head to the supermarket before it closes."

I get to my feet as she jumps up. "Me, too." My potato recipe – unlike Priscilla's pie – will only take thirty minutes, tops, but I'm looking forward to getting it over and done with. Ludo heaves a sigh in a breath that seems to hold his entire body weight as he clambers out of his chair. "Time to go. It's a big day tomorrow."

Our last Finnish class is a rowdy affair. As a way to round off our international cultural exchange, we are having a potluck party, with everyone bringing a dish – or beverage, in Ludo's case – representative of their culture.

"Like an international food tasting session?" The Turkish girl seated at the front of class asked, when Elina had instructed us on the proceedings of the day beforehand.

"Exactly like that," Elina beamed.

And that is what we end up with, on that last Friday that wraps up the sometimes torturous, sometimes entertaining language course that not all of us thought we would have gotten through.

It still seems unreal when I look back at how far I've come since that first class, when I had stumbled into class and felt the nape of my neck prickle with anxiety. Here I am now, surrounded by people I've grown to know and like – some of whom I can even speak with in basic, halting Finnish.

The Emi from the past would have been astounded.

"What's that?" Priscilla has come up behind me and is now surveying the spread on the table – or rather, the eight desks we have pushed together to create a larger surface area for the class party. Littered all over the tabletop now are pots and plates of various sizes, each of them containing a mouthwatering dish of some sort.

Even Frederik's Frikadeller – pan-fried meatballs that he's probably thrown into the oven minutes before heading to class – are making my stomach growl.

"Which one?" I ask. But there is so much food, half of which I can't identify, that I'm not sure I can answer her question even if I know what exactly she's referring to.

Priscilla points at a pot almost smack in the centre of the table, filled with what resembles some sort of goulash – except with chickpeas, lentils, and chunks of what look like potato coated in a brown sauce with a consistency similar to that of gravy.

"I… have no idea." I move forward and scoop a ladleful of it onto my plate. "It smells good, though."

"Yeah," Priscilla says, waiting her turn beside me. "I want some, too."

I pass her the ladle, moving along the perimeter of the table for more dishes that catch my eye. Then I notice the lemon meringue pie balanced precariously on the edge. I lightly bump my palm against the side of the Tupperware box so that it stays within the confines of the table.

"Your pie looks amazing," I tell Priscilla. "I'm going to have a slice later."

"You'd better," she says.

"Did you really bake all night?"

Priscilla yawns, half-heartedly lifting a hand to cover her mouth. "Not all night," she says, when she's done. "I stayed up late, though. Only finished around three in the morning."

I pull a face in commiseration.

Having filled our plates with food, we wander back to our usual seats. Zuzi is already eating, stopping every so often to exclaim, "This is so good!" as she samples each dish.

"Did you take a bit of everything?" I ask, laughing as I see her plate.

"Of course!" Zuzi retorts, in between mouthfuls. "How can you not try everything? There's so much food that I haven't even heard of."

"Do you know what this is?" Priscilla asks, pointing to the stew on her plate, the dish that we couldn't quite decipher.

Zuzi's eyes light up. "Yes!" she exclaims, then has to pause and swallow before continuing. "Amina told me what it was when I asked. She's the one who brought it, you know. It's a Moroccan stew – lentil, I think? Yeah – Moroccan sweet potato and lentil stew." A beat, then she adds, a little sheepishly, "I think."

"Sweet as," says Priscilla as she digs in.

"Sweet as what?" Zuzi asks, echoing the thought in my mind.

Priscilla starts laughing mid-bite. Her laughter abruptly turns into coughing. "Sorry," she says, after swallowing the food in her mouth and taking a long slug of water. "It's a kiwi expression. We use it when something is pretty good."

"Oh," Zuzi says, already losing interest.

"That's cool," I say, then correct myself. "Sweet as."

Priscilla holds up her hand for a high-five.

A silence falls as we all tuck in. Around us, the sounds of our classmates' chatter fill the air – I can even hear Frederik's voice, low and calm somewhere in the fray.

Zuzi has already gone back for seconds twice when Priscilla speaks again. "I'm glad I met all of you," she says.

I feel a warmth envelope me. "Me too," I say, then add honestly, "I don't know where I would be right now if you hadn't come up to me at that café and invited me to the festival with you guys."

"You'd still be here," Zuzi says, tongue-in-cheek. She grins. "In this classroom."

I laugh at how literal she's being, but inwardly, I wonder. There are a lot of other paths I could have taken the course of the past months. I might have dropped out of the class; I might have given up and returned to Hamburg; I might have skipped this last class entirely.

"I'm serious, though," Priscilla says. "We have to stay in touch after this, okay? Even if we don't see each other every day anymore."

There is a suspicious sheen in her eyes, and I throw my arms around her. "Of course," I say. "Of course we will."

Zuzi, finally reading the mood, has abandoned her plate and piles herself on top of us. "Don't be silly, Pris," is all she says. But I can detect a little wobble in her voice.

"A group hug? Why wasn't I invited?"

I poke my head out to see a nonplussed Ludo standing behind Zuzi. His expression makes me giggle. The sound disperses the melancholy that has been starting to grip us.

We break apart, and Priscilla says primly, "Girls only."

Ludo raises his eyebrows.

"We were having a moment," I say.

"Hey," says Ludo, looking at Priscilla closely. "This isn't the end, you know."

Priscilla smiles, the curve of her lips an oxymoron against the redness of her eyes. "Yeah," she says. "I know. I'm just sad we won't see each other in class anymore, is all."

Ludo shrugs. "We'll still see each other. We can even meet up for one of your movie nights." He stresses the last two words, trying to get a rise out of her.

But Priscilla doesn't take the bait. "It's not the same, and you know it."

Ludo blows out a long breath, wryly acknowledging that he doesn't have the power to singlehandedly cheer Priscilla up when she's in this mood. "Yeah. I know."

"Hey," Zuzi, who has gone back to her food in the meantime, nudges Priscilla over a mouthful of fried fritters. "We'll still see each other in the next class."

That reminder perks Priscilla up. "Oh, yes." Then she looks at me, flashing her puppy-dog eyes. "Emi…"

"I haven't decided," I tell her. "Don't look at me like that."

She sighs.

"You'll be the first to know if I decide to take the class," I promise her. Or if I decide to stay, I add silently.

Zuzi seems to have read my mind. "I hope you stay in Helsinki," she says. "What's waiting for you back in Hamburg, anyway? Your life is here now."

"Zuzi!" Priscilla chastises.

Zuzi spreads her arms in a universal gesture of indignation. "What? I'm right."

I laugh. "You guys will be the first to know when I decide what I'm going to do next," I repeat. "I promise."

Zuzi makes a snorting noise by pushing air out from the depths of her throat, then shakes her head. "Yeah, yeah. I'm getting more food."

After Zuzi has meandered off, Priscilla and I are quiet, diligently working at our plates. As I scrape the last hints of gravy off the paper surface, Priscilla says, "She's right, you know."

I pause. "What?"

"What Zuzi said," Priscilla says. Then she giggles. "Okay, that sounded like the title of a book."

That makes me laugh. "It does. A book with all sorts of little wisdoms, like…" I try to think back on something eccentric that Zuzi might have said.

"Sushi is the food that will save the world," Priscilla intones.

"Did she say that? When did she say that?"

"Just the other day, when we went for sushi again," Priscilla informs me. "She said it to me when she had her first bite of the salmon nigiri."

I can't help it – I start giggling. "Well," I say in between breaths, "I'd have to agree with her on that."

"This book might be a bestseller," Priscilla muses. "You already find it relatable."

We've digressed so much from the original topic that we don't return to it. Instead, we continue cracking jokes and laughing over minute things. And when Zuzi returns – when both Ludo and Frederik wander back from socialising – we become once again ensconced in our own little bubble.

And, watching Ludo roll his eyes as Zuzi pulls a rude face at him, I feel a pang of the impending loss that Priscilla must have been struggling with. It may not be the end of our friendship, but it is an end to our time together in this classroom. Never again will we be back here, at this very moment, joking and laughing as the rest of the class rages on around us.

I look at my friends again – at Priscilla's giggling face; at Frederik's calm expression as he explains yet another convoluted idea of his – and something deep within me falls into place.

I can no longer afford to put off the rest of my life. It's time to decide.

A/N: It's NaNoWriMo month, and I am ashamed to say I only have this one chapter written. And to think it's already the last week of November... sigh. On the bright side... I am starting to think about the ending (or wait, is that a 'bright side', or no?) I wrote about 11,000 words for the ending scenes years ago, and I've been recently trying to pick out parts that are still relevant. Most of them are not. But since they're already written, maybe I'll still post them somewhere as a "deleted scenes" extra when this story is done. Who would be interested? Let me know :P

Anyway, if there are any inconsistencies that you've picked up in this chapter (or elsewhere), please let me know! I feel like I sometimes forget what I've already written for my own story. Sorry about that. For one thing, I'm not even sure Priscilla hasn't already used "sweet as" in the story, since I learnt about this Kiwi slang 1-2 years ago and have always been meaning to put it in somewhere. Maybe I already have and can't remember it. I tried reading through some of the old chapters, but honestly I'm kind of sick right now (hopefully just a cold) and don't have the energy to look too closely. And I wanted to post the update rather than keep whoever's still reading this waiting.

Replies to reviews:

Guest: Sorry that Aksel doesn't even appear in this chapter! There'll be more moments between them next chapter though :) And thanks for sticking around as well, it still surprises me (in a good way) to discover people follow this story after so long.

rae: Hello! Thanks for following the story - don't worry, your wish will be granted... soon. I'll be sad when it ends too, it's been part of my life for years, even if I left it on hiatus for a long time in between, heh.

Thanks for reading and please review!