By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 47 - Of Mice and Men
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 10th day, after breakfast
While the group is exchanging information they have gathered, Elisa returns with the drinks for Matteo and Ditalidas. She casts a curious glance at Immerine’s hand next to Nik’s before she leaves to continue her duties. Immerine didn’t notice Elisa’s glance as she listens to the conversation continuing, but makes no sign she has heard any of it. “Do you fear yourself, Nik?“ She asks suddenly.
Ditalidas’ relief about the news that the liquor in the flask won’t get Nik drunk disappears at Nik’s strange reaction. Ditalidas is about to say something when Immerine asks her sudden question. She closes her mouth and looks at Nik expectantly, interested in the bards answer. Her hand pets Friends head absently.
Comfortably relaxed, Sleepy Jez slouches in his chair and begins to nod off somewhat as Immerine and Nik begin their tear-felt discussion.
Nik’s head snaps around at Immerine’s question, fear stark in his face and wild in his eyes. He stares at her for a long moment of shocked, terrified silence, before he wrenches his gaze from her and back to his hands. The bard’s hands are large and long-fingered, work-roughened and calloused from the strings of his chosen instrument, and they make Immerine’s hand look childlike beside them. He clenches one hand into a fist and wraps the other around it with such force his bony knuckles crack. “W-what… ?“ He starts, stammering a bit with fear. Noticing Ditalidas’ eyes on him, he swallows hard and finishes with false bravado “What would make you think such a thing?“ It is obviously not what he was about to say.
The tall bard smiles at Immerine and Ditalidas, a weak and brittle attempt at his normal cheer that can’t hide the fear still bright in his sunken eyes. He manages not to meet their eyes, as he adds “There’s enough else in the world for me to be afraid of. Why should I be afraid of myself?“
Immerine smiles sadly at the bard, “You are correct. There are enough things in this world to fear without fearing yourself.“ She pauses for a moment to hold Nik’s gaze calmly. “I ask such a thing because you are a man ripped asunder. I am curious and I am worried. You remind me of a rare condition which arises in a minute portion of the berserker lodges in my homeland. A rare few of our honored warriors reach a point where the rage is beyond their control. They never know who or what will trigger them. They are wild yet they are rare… and, they fear themselves. Such fear brings doubt in abilities and in life. Most are turned away until the reasons behind their wild control are discovered. Many never return, some live as lonely hermits, but a few come back to us as revered soldiers.“
“If you are such a man, know I am here to help. To live a twin life is difficult. To never know where, when or who you may strike out at is unbearable. Your eyes are a doorway to your soul, your music is your life, your fear is tangible – enough that I have seen it too often. I do know that to drink the swill that makes you forget, only makes the memories that much harder to bear. It will also intensify the fear that you allow to control you.“
Immerine reaches a hand to the man’s forehead two fingers extended and two folded beneath her thumb as an arrow. She moves the two extended fingers to touch Nik between his brows just above his eyes. She says: “Ajaa ei antaa pelätä hallita te.“ (Do not let fear control you.) And smiles gently.
The bard’s gaunt face pales as he listens to Immerine, then the fear fades slowly from his eyes to be replaced by a strange sort of relief. Unable to look away from her gentle regard, he trembles as she reaches her fingers towards him, but doesn’t flinch at her touch. Instead, he closes his eyes and sighs, much of the tension draining from his lean form. His clenched hands relax, flattening on the table. A sad, bitter smile pulls at his mouth and he says in a hoarse whisper “You are very right, and yet very wrong, milady. I do fear a… weakness… in myself, a… flaw… a compulsion that I cannot control. Instead it controls me, and yes, I fear it greatly. It has cost me more than you can ever imagine…“
Nik opens his eyes and looks at Immerine, bitterness and self-loathing now as plain as the fear was a moment ago. “I could only wish it were my temper that I fear. That would be easier.“ He looks away from her and sighs, visibly struggling with himself.
Reaching for one of the fresh biscuits, Marc’s attention soon is attracted by the interactions taking place around the tall bard. While nibbling the biscuit, which is indeed very hot, his big sad eyes silently jump from one speaker to another, discreetly watching Nik’s behavior.
“It is not always tempers that are to be feared. I know this first hand. I am sorry for making you feel uncomfortable. I seem to do this too often. If you wish to speak on this – know I will listen. You have friends here.“ Immerine inclines her head towards Ditalidas and Marc. “We care for you, though we know you not.“
Nik sighs, his gaunt frame seeming to collapse on itself with that release of breath. Offering Immerine a bitter smile, the bard says bleakly “Don’t apologize to me, milady. My discomfort is of my own making. There is but one remedy.“ He looks at Ditalidas and then at Marc, finally glancing at the rest of the group scattered along the table. The bard’s craggy face is a battlefield of emotions – pain, fear, bitterness, despair and finally resignation.
His face goes blank, but his eyes are huge and haunted. He looks not at Immerine or the others, but at his hands, which twitch restlessly on the table. “I may quickly come to regret what I tell you now.“ The bard says, his voice a low, dull monotone, barely more than a whisper. “But I feel I owe it you folks to hear it from me, you who would trust me and care for me without knowing what I am. I am not as trustworthy as I may seem.“
He looks at Marc, a brief glance full of pain and anguish before his eyes return to his hands. Still in that same expressionless whisper that barely carries to Ditalidas, he continues “I am a convicted felon, banished from my home and disowned by my family. My name is not that long, ridiculous moniker I go by, as the Torentshed lad would know if he were a more suspicious sort. Seven years ago, in Silverymoon, my name was Niklaus Winter.“
While he speaks, Nik unbuttons the cuff of his right sleeve, rolling it back to reveal a strip of cloth wrapped bandage-like around his wrist. Without hesitation the bard unwraps the cloth from his pale, bony arm, revealing a thick, rucked, puckered scar that can only be from a long time spent in chains.
Now the bard trembles, his face still blank but his eyes filled with a desperate horror. He stares at the manacle scar on his wrist and whispers hoarsely “I take what does not belong to me. I cannot help but do it, no matter how I try not to. And I suffer for it. Gods, how I suffer for it…“ He looks up at Immerine, his eyes filled with anguish and very near panic. “Do you understand my fear now?“ He laughs bitterly under his breath, turning his wild eyes on Ditalidas. “If only you knew what I have lost by my… weakness… you would know why I drink.“
His eyes heavy by boredom and a waning supply of vigor and youthful energy, Jez continues his downward descent into rest when Nik’s confession make a single eye snap open like an astonished clap of thunder. The unexpected look in his single eye sparks a sense of interest in the minstrel who at one time Jez thought was buffoonish and an obvious conner. Jez, now seated properly in his seat leans forward to examine the scars that mark Nik’s past captivity. “I knew there was something familiar about you.“ He says with a smile. “I thought all along you were a charlatan, a pick pocket, a roguish entertainer to say the lease.“ A long smile of irony creeps across Jez’s face.
Returning his stare to his scarred wrist the tall bard sighs, his face now filled with loss, despair and resignation and his eyes bleak and shining with unshed tears. He shivers like a wet dog, narrow shoulders hunched as if he fully expects to be violently rebuffed for his confession.
Immerine blinks once and her face is calm and clear. She reaches a tentative hand to touch Nik’s cheek. “What you were does not have to be who you are. Do not limit yourself by past deeds. Do not bury yourself in old fears.“ She smiles gently. “I see a man of greatness before me, a man of honor, who does not realize his potential. You tell us of yourself fearing and perhaps hoping to drive us away. It is not working, Nik.“
Immerine’s eyes glitter in the light, “You cannot take that which is freely given. All that is mine in the way of worldly possessions I offer to you for your use at your convenience. In my home, life is difficult and no one person survives without sharing his or her bounty with others. Perhaps in the past you have been judged a criminal, but I do not see it. In my land you would be free. My words would absolve all crimes you committed, but here you must take them as an offer of comradeship. I believe in you Nik, now you must believe in yourself.“
The bard starts to flinch from Immerine’s touch, a reflexive twitch of fear that is halted by the gentleness of her voice. He looks up at her slowly, the fear slowly replaced by shock and finally by wonder and a gratitude that is almost pathetic in its desperation. Naked in his gaunt face and sunken eyes is the shy, frightened, lonely man that hides behind the crumbling facade of the performer. Tears spill down his cheeks and Nik swallows hard several times, but speech is obviously quite beyond him at this moment. Wordlessly he reaches up to touch Immerine’s hand where it rests on his cheek, the faintest brush of his long, bony fingers as if to reassure himself that her touch is real.
Having accepted his steaming mug from Elisa, Matteo sits slightly hunched over quietly nursing his drink. The sweet smell of apples, cherries, blueberries, and pears, mingled with the faint aroma of cloves, wafts into the air around him as he stares intently down at the table.
Following the conversation about the ring, and staring at the note with a puzzled look on her face, Emlyn keeps rather quiet, not wanting to break in. Then again, she is quite curious about the mysteries her company has brought her, but is not able to understand it all. As Nik and Immerine have their emotional words, she nods quietly to herself, as if she somehow knew about the man’s problem, how impossible that may seem. As the situation continues, she looks at Immerine with a look of sheer admiration in her big brown eyes. She only knows the wychlaran for a day, but she has not forgotten about the previous day. Clearly, the other woman’s sincerity and worldly wisdom surprise her- in a good way.
As Nik finishes speaking Matteo looks up, his face pale and eyes sunk deep into his skull. “Here.“ He whispers softly, pushing his untouched drink across the table towards the bard. His eyes fall to Nik’s exposed wrist and he gives a twisted smile, more of a grimace really, before looking away. “Not all scars are obvious, Nik. I am sure I have met worse people than you, people who would not have stood with us against the troll.“
The bard’s head snaps around as Matteo addresses him, fear stark in his gaunt face as he realizes the rest of the table has heard him. He swallows hard and struggles with his fear, finally offering Matteo a shaky, embarrassed smile. Self-consciously he rubs at the ugly scar on his wrist, eyes glued on the table once again.
There is a scrap of wood on wood as his chair moves backwards, even as his hand reaches into his jacket to extract a purse of soft velvet, which he lays on the table before Telsom. A soft metallic tinkle can be heard. “Here, this should help with your shopping.“ He says in a strained voice. “I… I think I might go see Lord Sillisten now.“
“If you need me, or would like me at your side I’d have no objections to accompanying you.“ Telsom says in a friendly voice to Matteo. Turning towards Nik, a wry smile crosses the paladin’s face. “I’ve but three things that I truly hold dear, one has been stolen already. My horse and rapier are the other two things, if you can keep (… ) you may borrow either whenever you have need. Simply ask before hand. You’ve no trace of evil about you good minstrel, the demons you carry within, you must deal with, but you’ll have my ear to talk to. And my opinions and words in response I shall also give you freely. A street urchin that steals bread to survive should not have his hand cut off, nor should a friend, if you find yourself in possession of something that is not rightfully yours then please let me know so that I may make reparations for you. To steal the hand of such a gifted minstrel would be a crime far worse than theft, let us see that you keep both attached.“
Nik cringes at Telsom’s words, and he whispers hoarsely “I live in perpetual fear of that, you know.“ The bard looks up at Telsom, his eyes wild and terrified. He looks about to say something else, but he seems unable to force the words past the fear that grips him.
A flicker of understanding flares in her deep brown eyes, and more powerfully than she might have intended Emlyn reacts to Telsom’s words. “Aye, as it comes to stealing hands I may do what my teacher and master did, and offer my own for defense.“
“I’d say your past, present and future are intertwined regardless of whether whom you pilfered or what you have stolen. Hmmm, if you have an uncontrolled urge to steal, have you every thought of tempering it or directing to those who are unworthy. Have you ever considered stealing from people who are well less deserving of wealth and power and giving it to those in dire need?“
Horrified, Nik stares at Jez, clutching his scarred wrist protectively to his bony chest and curling up around it until he is bent nearly double. “I’m not a thief.“ He whimpers, eyes half-blind with fear. Hunched over and trembling, Nik looks pleadingly at the rest of the group. “I’m not a thief!“ He says again, as if repeating it would make it true. “I don’t steal things.“ the bard explains haltingly, desperation mingling with the fear in his craggy face and sunken eyes. “I just… borrow them… I don’t mean to… I can’t help it… I always return them… I’ve never kept a thing, no matter how much I wanted to…“ His voice cracks, as he finishes helplessly “I’m not a thief.“ Face full of misery, he stares down at the table, left hand still wrapped tightly around his right wrist to hide the incriminating scar.
Emlyn looks at Jez, highly amazed, but this time not in a positive way. She doesn’t look angry, but she shakes her head at his words indignantly. “You may have seen too many plays or read too many stories.“ She says softly to the young half-elf. “That’s not how it works in real life… unless you’re a hero. It’s commendable to believe in heroes, but believing you *are* one has only made people fools.“
“Bugger.“ says Jez under his breath. Seeing that Nik missed the hidden meaning of his words, it dawns on him quite quickly to correct the situation before he gets himself head down and knee-high deep in the big muddy. “Me and my big mouth. That’s not what I mean. There is nothing criminal or wrong about what do or did. I mean there are several people who put thievery to good use. Lliira’s laughter, I know one. My father was an adventurer. He was first a thief, then warrior. Then he met my mother, settled down and had a family. With the money he earned, aye not stolen, he eventually became a good locksmith. No, he’s one of the best in the Western Heartlands.“
“Think about it, I betcha every city government from here to the Sword Coast has a rogue or two on the payroll, even in Berdusk. Your caravan of success is bound to roll into town sooner or later. Just give time and commitment. It will make you a happy man.“ Jezbodiah smiles at the bard.
As Jez speaks, the misery and fear in Nik’s haggard face turns to bitterness. He gives a short bark of mirthless laughter, then straightens up and turns to the young man. The bard releases his death-grip on his scarred wrist and lays both hands on the table. “Not criminal? Not wrong?“ He asks harshly, his sunken eyes wild and haunted. A humorless rictus of a grin is fixed on his gaunt face as Nik snarls sarcastically “Oh, so all those judges and magistrates were mistaken, eh? If I’d claimed I took something for the common good I wouldn’t have spent the last seven years of my life in and out of prison?! Hah!“
His voice drops, returning to the hoarse whisper. “I KNOW it’s wrong, taking what isn’t mine. And I’ve had that little fact beaten into me again and again and again.“ The bard sighs, the anger gone now, replaced by pain. He rests his hands on the table once again, staring fixedly at the thick, puckered scar on his wrist.
Finally Nik glances up at Jez, eyes bitter and filled with despair. “I much doubt your idea of ‘honest’ thievery will make me a happy man. That ‘caravan of success’ will lead me before the magistrates again…“ His voice trails off and he shudders, his eyes lost in the horrors of his past.
“If that’s you believe.“ Jez says calmly with no inflection in his voice. He rises from the table and turns his head to Immerine and politely says, “If you ready my lady, I shall escort you to Thunderwood’s Foray.“
Immerine gives Jez an irritated look. She pats Nik gently and whispers close to his ear as she rises, “The boy is a fool, do not mind his tongue. Get some rest and enjoy yourself.“ When she finishes speaking to Nik she again turns to Jez, “I find it odd that a few moments ago the weather was too bad for anyone to go out and suddenly it seems fine. You people never cease to amaze me.“ The look on her face has changed to cold indifference and anger flashes deep in her eyes. “One thing I do not do, young Jez, is pander to people’s whims. Please keep that in mind.“
Immerine picks up her bundle containing her ruined armor and waits for Jez to lead the way. “I shall.“ He says politely. Moving to the entrance of the Running Stag, Jez stops and dons hid cloak and pulls its hood over his head. He then opens the door for Immerine.
Running his hand over the top of his head and through his hair, Matteo throws Nik a wink though his expression remains a trifle forced. “You could at least have that drink, Nik, before it cools. Best cider in all Faerûn. If it helps, Lady Jalarghar’s father is paying a small fortune for it.“
Seeing that Telsom has not taken the proffered purse Matteo leans forward a little stiffly and retrieves it, holding it thoughtfully in the palm of his hand. “I don’t want to break up the party, so to speak, but I think Master Wisp might actually be right, it might be time we gave Nik a little space and started to get ourselves organized for the day. Telsom and I are off to see Lord Sillisten and do a spot of shopping.“ Looking down at Emlyn he smiles softly, “There are writings we need interpreted at Twilight Hall as well as Marc’s sword. Others no doubt have supplies they need for this weather or to replace possessions that may have been lost. It would be good if someone who knows Berdusk could accompany Emlyn and Marc. If we each take some task to do, then we can be back here by lunchtime to consider our next move.“
Marc sensed the bard’s tension grow from Immerine’s question about fearing oneself onward. His large brown eyes express compassion while he looks at the gifted man and admiration when he looks at Immerine. The biscuit cools down untouched in his hand. Eventually he nods, confirming Immerine’s last words, then he smiles warmly up to the crying man, softly touching the scars on his wrist. The lights of the inn mirror in his eyes as he whispers, echoing Immerine’s words, “I believe in you too… You’re strong.“
Even Friend, who leans against Ditalidas’ shin, pushing her head up against her strokes, looks up at the slim man. There’s a sad look in her pale blue eyes too.
The bard looks up at Marc, startled by his touch and his words. “I’m not strong.“ He says softly, shaking his head in denial. “If I were strong I could keep my fingers out of other people’s things, and I wouldn’t have such… reminders… of my weakness.“ He rubs his tanned left hand self-consciously across the white ridge of scar on his pale arm, then offers Marc a faint smile and adds “But I try. Truly I do. And I’ll try harder, if only to live up to the trust you all place in me.“
Emlyn looks at Nik with compassion in her eyes, and the same recognition enters them again. “You’re right, to steal is to wrong people, even if one does it out of compulsion. But conscience you do have, and it doesn’t make things easier, even though it makes you a better person.“ She smiles. “You are right, you are not a true thief.“ Still with the smile on her face, she goes on without visible shame.
“I once was, and a bad one at that. Calimshan is not fond of thieves, not even clumsy ones, especially not when ugly things come of it. After the accident I came within an inch of being put to death. My teacher saved my life and offered me a better one, and I still owe him and the rest of the world… and by our enduring god, I would follow in his footsteps if needed.“
“Perhaps, Marc, you should stay with your lady and possibly learn just what exactly is expected of you to be in the service of one of the noble families of this city. If anyone were to return to the Jalarghar spires would they kindly retrieve my helm and rapier? It would be greatly appreciated but isn’t needed I can always make a journey later to retrieve my equipment.“ Pushing his chair back, Telsom rises to his feet and returns the chair to its place. “Nik, I don’t know if you’ve had people willing to risk their lives and good names for you in the past, but at this point in your life you do. Please try to relax, at least to some degree and have some fun. If I were in your shoes I’d speak to the barmaid, obviously smitten with you and see if she would like to accompany you to another establishment for a meal or a stroll when her shift here is finished. Merely a suggestion, just try to have some fun.“
Immerine and Jez leave the Stag, heading out into the dreary weather as Matteo and Telsom prepare to leave as well. Before standing up, Telsom gives Nik some well-meant advice. Ditalidas has been listening attentively until now. When Telsom rises from his chair she turns towards Matteo. “I’ll go with Marc and Emlyn to Twilight Hall.“ Swiveling her head elegantly to Nik she looks compassionately at the man. “Would you like to come with us Nik? Marc and I would appreciate your escort, and I think Emlyn has no objections either.“ Looking past Nik, Ditalidas notices Elisa working behind the bar, and she hastens to add, “Unless you want to stay here a while longer and follow up on Telsom’s advice.“ She gives Nik a charming smile as she waits for the bard’s answer.
Friend noticing the activity at the table rises to all four feet and looks expectantly up at Marc, head a little cocked and her eyes seemingly saying; ‘Are we going out?’
Embarrassment warring with the rather pathetic gratitude on his craggy face, Nik has been silent while the others offer him their support. Clearly his new companions’ kindness and understanding have left the normally talkative man speechless. A timid smile and the briefest glance is all the bard can manage in response to Immerine and Telsom. He dutifully sips from the mug that Matteo gave him, returning the man’s wink with a shaky grin and a faint “Thank you.“ It is obviously not just the cider that the bard is grateful for.
Emlyn’s compassion draws a slightly less timid smile from the bard; his sunken eyes alight with relief that he is not the only one at the table who has run afoul of the law.
Emlyn gives the man an encouraging nod. Her confession that she has seen life’s underbelly appears to be as true as the rest of the halfling’s straightforward demeanor, but she carries herself as sure as before. It is not exactly pride, more an attitude that comes from knowing herself – and as always, she seems willing to share it.
At Ditalidas’ invitation Nik pales, his eyes wild and frightened again. Swallowing hard and staring at the scar on his wrist, the bard tugs at the scarf at his throat and whispers something to himself, “I can’t do it… it’ll be just like at home… I can’t… I… I have to. I have to try.“ Finally he seems to wrestle down his fear, and he says in a somewhat ragged voice “I’ll come along, if you’ll have me.“ He looks up at them, determination slowly replacing the haunted pain in his eyes. “I promise not to take anything.“ He adds, with definitely forced humor.
“Good.“ Emlyn adds with a wink, “Then that makes two of us. And I don’t think lady Ditalidas, or Marc, or saer Telsom have any objections showing two strangers around.“ She pets the excited Friend on the head. “Ah, finally some time to look around this fine city without any wilderness or trolls getting in the way.“ She says brightly. “A little bit of rain shouldn’t be much of a problem.“
With practiced ease, Nik wraps the strip of cloth back around his wrist, covering the ugly scar. He tugs his sleeve down, and sighs with relief when the outward signs of his troubled past are covered once again. Looking up at those still around the table, Nik says softly “Excuse me. I think I need a word with Elisa before we go.“
Visibly mustering his courage, and running one long-fingered hand over his face to wipe the tears away, the bard stands and goes over to speak to the red-haired waitress. His bearing changes as he walks from the table, as if he buries his past deeper with every step. By the time he reaches the bar his lean form bears little resemblance to the haunted wreck of a man who had left the table.
Ditalidas gives the bard a comforting smile and looks at him walking over to the bar. When Nik starts talking to Elisa, Ditalidas turns her attention to Telsom. “Will you be accompanying us or are you going to join Matteo?“ She asks the paladin. “I think I’ll be safe with Nik, Marc…“ She puts a hand on the young man’s shoulder, “… and Emlyn. Besides we’re in Berdusk. Though I wouldn’t mind if you joined us.“
Marc was focused intently on Nik and Elisa, when suddenly he feels his lady’s hand on his shoulder. Surprise in his eyes he looks up at her. “Ehm… sorry… Oh… ehm… yes, I’ll protect you.“ Proudly he squares his shoulders and pats the sword hanging from his rope-belt. “And don’t forget Friend either…“
With a sincere look of appreciation on his face, Telsom looks first to Ditalidas and then Emlyn. “I will accompany Lord Ashgale on his duties, I will look forward to seeing you two ladies later on today.“ Looking to Marc, Telsom gives the boy a nod and then waits for Matteo before departing the establishment.
“Ready?“ Matteo asks, buttoning his jacket back up again and grabbing another biscuit. “Lord Sillisten doesn’t live too far from here, though it will still take us a short while to get there. Hopefully he will have something further to tell us.“ Raising his hand in farewell to the others Matteo takes his leave of the group with Telsom.
Nik approaches the bar with his old dignified mask firmly in place. He gives the attractive barmaid a cheerful smile and says, “Elisa, dear, I have some business to attend in the city. I’ll be back shortly to resume playing for you. I mean, for the house.“ An embarrassed flush colors his high cheekbones at his slip, and he stares at the top of the bar.
Elisa reaches across the bar and gently cups Nik’s chin in her hand. She lifts his chin up, forcing the bard to look at her. “I would love to hear you play, for me or for the guests.“ Caressing his cheek briefly before with drawing her hand, Elisa gives Nik a wink and blows him a little kiss. “Have fun in the city, but don’t catch a cold in this weather.“
Nik’s eyes are huge and bewildered as Elisa forces his gaze from the bar top to her face. He swallows nervously, blushing crimson at her touch. He clears his throat, then stammers “Ehm, yes. I will. Have fun; I mean, not catch a cold. I hope I don’t catch a cold, that is. But if I do maybe you can recommend something to cure it.“ Shock fills his face, as if the bard is astonished by what came out of his mouth. Then the awkward, embarrassed smile flits across his haggard face, and he adds lamely, “I’m sure you learn all kinds of things in this place.“
“Well, I might have something to cure a cold, or at least something to alleviate it.“ Elisa answers, a playful smile on her lips, “But try not to catch a cold in any case… It would do good to that beautifully warm voice of yours.“ Reaching she places her hand in Nik’s, “Go on, join your friends, but don’t forget to come back tonight.“ She squeezes his hand briefly and smiles warmly as she withdraws her hand.
Blushing even redder, Nik stammers incoherently for a few long (especially to him!) moments. Coughing nervously, he stares at the bartop and mumbles, “Ehm, yeah, I guess I should go back to my friends.“ He gives Elisa a shy ghost of a smile, and adds, “I’ll be back, of course!“ Turning away from her before he can put his foot any further in his mouth, he heads back to the table.
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