Something Better

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Chapter 12

"How do you say hello in Finnish?"

Aksel glanced over at me curiously. "Why?" He was seated at his desk, typing up an essay on his laptop that was due the next day. I, for the most part, was lounging on his bed, half-buried under his duvet to hide from the freezing cold of his room. Even now, I pulled the covers up to cover the sides of my head.

I shrugged, even though he probably couldn't see the rest of me hidden under the covers. I was starting to do that a lot, I realised. Must have picked it up from him. "Just curious." Then I joked, "I'm sleeping with a Finnish boy; why not learn some Finnish while I'm at it?"

The corner of his mouth turned up, but he replied to my initial question. "Hei or moi... We have a lot other variations for an informal hello."

I was too busy laughing. "Oh, my God! Hello in Finnish is moi?"

He was looking at me warily now. "One of them, yeah."

"In Hamburg we say moin moin," I said, in between breaths. I looked at the beginnings of an answering smile start on his face and lapsed back into helpless laughter. "Well, we say moin too, but that's just for mornings."

"Moi moi is goodbye in Finnish," Aksel told me.

"Oh, this is amazing," I breathed, tickled pink. I rolled over onto my back, taking the entire duvet with me.

"You look like a silk worm," I heard Aksel say. I twisted my head around to look at him and saw that he had stood up and gone over to crank up the heater.

"You didn't need to do that," I mumbled, but I was secretly glad. His room was practically a freezer.

He just shrugged and sat back down at his desk.

"Are you done with your work?" I asked.

"Almost done."

I let him work in silence, closing my eyes and nuzzling into the sheets. They smelt of him – a clean, masculine smell that reminded of me pure, white snow. And freedom.

I drifted off to sleep amid the lullaby of his steady typing.

I woke up to the feel of warm fingers against my face. Aksel was sitting on the edge of the bed, brushing my hair out of my eyes. "Hey," he said, when he saw that I was awake.

"Moi," I said to him, but the effect was somewhat spoilt by the fact that my voice came out in a sleepy croak.

His lips twitched. "Moin moin," he replied.

I giggled.

He shook his head at me.

When my laughter petered out, I rolled over and kicked the covers off. The room had become stifling. "Eh," I wrinkled my nose. "Why's it so hot?" I put out a hand to touch Aksel's skin. He was unnaturally warm. "Aren't you spontaneously combusting by now?"

"I thought you were cold," he said.

I hopped out of bed and meandered over to the heater to turn it down. Next, I headed over to the window and shoved it fully open. A blast of cold air rushed in. "Holy shit... Um, well, I was cold, but now it's too hot." But now, after that blast of cold air from outside, it was starting to feel a little too cold again. I slammed the window shut, then rotated the handle so that the tip was pointing up, and pulled again. The window tipped inwards, opening to a small gap at the top. Much better.

"Anyway, why didn't you turn the heater off? I thought you Finns were the type to roll around naked in snow?"

He shrugged. "We have saunas too. I can handle a little heat."

Oh, yeah. I'd heard of the famous Finnish saunas. I tried not to think of Aksel in one of those, in the midst of naked girls... But I was curious, too. "What's the custom like, exactly? Do you..." I grimaced, "Do you typically go to mixed saunas?"

"Yeah," he said, looking surprised that I even had to ask. Saunas were such a big part of Finnish culture, I supposed, that it might have come as a shock to have to explain it to others. "It's normal especially for people our age. You stop going with your family and start going with your friends."

I tried to imagine sitting around in a hot room of close to a hundred degrees Celsius with my friends or family. Even with my closest group of friends, I couldn't quite envision it. "Isn't it... awkward?"

"Why would it be?" he asked, his brow furrowing. "It's a good way to hang out."

I bit my lip. "Do you... hang out with a lot of girls this way?"

"My family has a summer house with a private sauna," he said. "My friends and I go there every summer... And yeah, there are girls in our group–" And all of a sudden, he realised what I had been trying to not ask – and failing.

"Never mind," I said hastily, waving my arms around vaguely. "That sounds fun."

"A sauna is a sauna, Emilie," he said mildly. "Nothing sexual goes on in there."

Yeah, but... Didn't that mean he had seen all his closest female friends naked? And Finnish girls were so pretty...

Then I shook my head at myself. What did it matter? By the time he went back to that summer house of his this summer, we would never be seeing each other again. He could look at all the naked Finnish girls he wanted then.

I cleared my throat, dropping the subject. "Yeah, well... It kinda feels like a sauna in here now."

"I thought you were half-Singaporean," he commented. "Isn't Singapore in the tropics? That makes you half-tropical, no?"

I shot him a look. "What's half-tropical? Half of me loves hot and humid weather?"

Realising how ridiculous it sounded, his lips turned up in a smile. "I would've thought you'd love hot weather," was all he said.

"Nah. Even the summers in southern Germany can get too hot for me."

He nodded. "Me too."

I had forgotten he'd been to Stuttgart. Speaking of which... "What were you doing in Stuttgart?"

"My father was on a business trip. I went with him."

I opened my mouth to ask another question, and then promptly forgot about it when I saw what he was doing. He had reached for the hem of his shirt and was tugging it over his head. Looking at his body, another thought hit me like a sledgehammer. If he had seen his female friends naked... That meant they had seen him, too. I felt my face scrunch up. Nudity wasn't a big deal in his culture, but... I didn't like the idea of anyone seeing him in the buff.

He was saying something. "Are you hungry? Do you want to–"

As he broke off to bend down and grope around for another shirt, I watched the lean muscles in his back move. Something dark and needy surged through my veins, and I found myself sidling forward to hug him from behind. He started, craning his neck to try to look at me, "Emilie?"

I started kissing his neck. When I reached his ear, I whispered, "Moi, Aksel."

He turned around and pressed me to the bed. Then he leaned down and kissed me, hard.

I gave back all I had, wrapping my arms around his neck and pressing closer to him. My heart was filled to the brim with want as I felt his hands slide up my shirt. He broke away to look at me, even though he didn't remove his hands. His soft touch was driving me crazy. "I was going to ask if you wanted dinner," he whispered.

"Dinner comes later," I whispered back. "Dessert first."

His lips quirked. "Okay." Then he leaned back down.

Afterwards, we lay together in his single bed, still pressed up against each other because of the lack of space. Our legs were entangled and I was sprawled half on top of him, but he didn't seem to mind.

"Dinner?" he asked. "The rest must be wondering where we are."

"Okay," I said, but neither of us made a move to get up.

He was absently running his fingers through the strands of my hair, touching, stroking. It felt good. If I had been a cat, I would have started purring out of sheer contentment.

I lifted my head and, impulsively, placed a kiss on his chest, over where I could feel his heart beating. His other hand came up to curl around the nape of my neck, cradling me against him. I laid my head over his chest and closed my eyes.


But not for long.

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