Something Better

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Chapter 8

It wasn't something I was particularly proud of, slipping out of Aksel's room at five in the morning. Not that I'd had any prior experience in the area, but wasn't this the way one-night stands usually went? Get going before the guy woke up and kicked you out himself.

I wasn't waiting around to witness his regret first thing in the morning when he opened his eyes and saw me in his bed. Besides, it was a single bed. It was large for me, but he was a full-grown European male. I had forgotten how we had fallen asleep, but I had woken up on my side, with my back against his chest. He had been squashed up against the wall, one arm thrown over me. It had taken a lot of patient navigating to slip out without waking him.

Then I had scurried down the hall and back into my own room.

The following week or two were spent avoiding him to the best of my abilities, which, I was proud to say, was quite well. Still, I always knew the other shoe had to drop.

My luck ran out on Tuesday night, when I shuffled into the kitchen to cook myself dinner. My last class had only ended at seven thirty, and I was starving by the time I got back. Avoiding Aksel was the last thing on my mind at that point.

So, naturally, I ran straight into him.

He was in the kitchen when I walked in, stirring something in a pot on the stove. He looked up at the sound of the door opening and we both froze when our eyes met.

He recovered first. "Hi," he said.

I cleared my throat. "Hi." Jerking into action from where I had been rooted to the spot, I moved over to the shared refrigerator and busied myself with taking out the ingredients I needed.

"I have spaghetti," Aksel said, his voice sounding oddly strained. "You want some?"

I jumped at the sound of him speaking. "Uh," I said without turning around, "it's fine, thanks. I've got my own food."

Trying my best to ignore his presence, I headed for the electric stove and flicked the switch on. As I cooked, I couldn't stop my gaze from drifting back towards him. His sauce had boiled and he was now standing at the counter, his back towards me. I watched the shifting of the muscles in his back beneath his white shirt as he emptied the pot of sauce into a large container.

I took a deep breath and forced my eyes back onto my dinner preparations. I hated that he looked as calm and indifferent as ever. Sex, to him, really was nothing complicated.

I was so caught up in my own whirlwind of thoughts that I didn't realise I had reached for the side of the pan instead of the insulated handle until a burst of pain exploded in my right hand.

"Scheiße!" I instinctively reverted to the German curse as I jumped back, clutching my burnt hand in the other. Wordlessly, Aksel turned on the faucet and stepped back from the sink. I stuck my hand under the running water and watched as he went around the counter to head for the stove.

"You don't know how to do anything," he said.

"Don't be rude," I muttered. I had been cooking for myself for two years; of course I knew how to do it. It was his fault. His hulking presence in this tiny kitchen was making me jittery.

He grabbed my spatula and poked at the mixture in the pan. "Scrambled eggs?"

"Yeah."

The silence settled over us as I watched from beside the sink as he took over my cooking. I looked at the muscles in his arm move as he scraped at the pan to scramble the eggs, at the way his head was bent and his brow was creased as he concentrated on the pan...

Suddenly, it wasn't just my hand that felt hot; my entire body felt like it was burning from the inside.

He finally turned off the stove and walked back over to me. "Done," he said, reaching out to grasp the hand I had burnt. A burn that I could no longer feel. "Is your..." Then he looked at me for the first time since he had taken over at the stove and his voice trailed off.

I didn't know what he was seeing in my face, but I saw his gaze drop to hover across my lips. I felt my tongue snake out, involuntarily, to wet my lips.

He took a step closer.

Then, all at once, we were pressed against each other, kissing as if our lives depended on it.

We barely managed to make it out of the kitchen into his room.


Only after it was over and we were lying entangled in each other, trying to catch our breaths, did the interrupted dinner preparations occur to me. I shoved Aksel away in one swift move. "Crap! Dinner!"

Even though I was the first one out of bed, Aksel was already dressed and out the door by the time I'd thrown on my clothes. I rushed into the kitchen to see him filling a container with pasta, before taking two bowls out of the cupboard overhead.

I was still scraping my egg into a bowl when he came over and silently handed me a bowl of pasta. "I don't need–" I tried to say, but he took my bowl of egg and emptied it on top of the pasta.

"There," he said.

I stared at the hybrid dish. "That's gross."

He shrugged, moving out of the door. Then he hesitated and looked back at me, "You coming?"

I stared at him blankly. Going where?

Five minutes later, I found myself sitting on Aksel's bed in his room, bowl of pasta in hand. He was slouched back in his chair by his desk, digging into his own. I watched him for a while, wondering why he had invited me to eat with him if he wasn't even going to look at me.

Was he really a jerk, or just socially awkward? Or maybe things were just done differently in Finland. I honestly couldn't tell.

Deciding that this wasn't going to be the day I figured out the mystery that was Aksel, I lifted my fork and bit into my pasta. It was a little soggy, but that probably couldn't have been helped. "So," I said, between bites, "I guess this is going to be happening again."

I heard him exhale a little louder and longer than was necessary. "I guess so," he said, sounding pained.

"I know you can't stand being attracted to me," I said, glaring into my spaghetti, "but this goes both ways, okay? I don't really want to be sleeping with a guy who hates me so much, either."

"I don't hate you." His response was sullen, directly contradicting his words.

"It doesn't matter," I said, even though it did, a little bit. "We're not friends – you don't have to like me."

"I don't hate you," he repeated edgily. "I wouldn't sleep with you if I hated you."

"Um, fine," I said.

We fell back into silence, the occasional clink of cutlery the only noise in the room.

"You're a good cook," I said. Then I wondered why I was trying to strike up conversation.

"Yeah, well," was all he said.

I scowled. This guy wasn't even trying!

"Do you usually cook a lot at once?" I pressed on, remembering that he had put a lot of what he'd cooked into containers.

He shrugged. "Yeah, I usually cook a week's worth in advance."

I scrunched up my nose. "Don't you get sick of eating the same thing everyday for a week?"

"Sometimes, yeah. But it's convenient."

"You're lazy," I said.

He looked unrepentant. "I am."

"You're kind of rude, too."

"You're in my room, on my bed, eating my food while insulting me," he said without missing a beat, "and you're calling me rude?"

I felt my cheeks grow hot, but I didn't apologise. "Well, maybe I'm rude too, but that doesn't mean you're not."

He sat back in his chair. "Okay."

"See?" I asked, gesturing with my fork, "this is what I mean."

"Don't get any of it on my bed," he said.

I stuck the fork back into the bowl. "Why did you invite me in if you're not going to talk to me?"

"I am talking to you," he said, in a tone that suggested I was just a wee bit thick.

I sighed. "Never mind."

I'd thought that would be the end of that, but he spoke after a while. "You're dangerous."

"...Sorry?"

"You're dangerous," he repeated. He had lowered his head, and I couldn't see his expression.

I laughed, the sound vibrating in the otherwise quiet air. "What are you talking about?" When he didn't reply, I added, a little offended, "I don't sleep around. I'm clean."

"I didn't mean that."

"I'm not going to get all clingy either. I know what casual means."

"It's not always about you. Did you think about that?"

It was my turn to fall silent.

"When people stare at you, or ignore you, you assume it's because they think you don't belong. That you're not European enough, or not Asian enough. What the hell is that? Nobody goes around thinking about your heritage all the time. You're too hung up on yourself."

"Who isn't?" I found that my hand had clenched into a fist, and tried to relax it. "People only ever see things from their own perspectives. When something happens, I only see it from my own perspective. I can only interpret events from my perspective. It's the best I can do, to make sense of things. Everyone does that, subconsciously. If they didn't, there wouldn't be so many misunderstandings in the world."

"You said it," he said flatly. "It causes misunderstandings."

"So explain!" I exclaimed, throwing my hands up in exasperation. Almost too late, I remembered I still had a bowl in one hand and lowered it. "I'm not a mind reader."

"I don't want to."

A sound much like a cross between laughter and a sigh of exasperation escaped my mouth. "You are such a jerk."

"Then why are you still here?" he asked mildly.

I huffed, but without much heat behind it. Maybe I was getting used to his rudeness. "Why are you like this?" Without waiting for an answer – and if I knew Aksel, none was forthcoming anyway – I surged to my feet and headed for the door.

He caught the door just as I went to slam it. If I had been expecting an apology, I would've been disappointed.

"Good night," I heard him say, before the door clicked shut. I was left alone, standing at his door, shaking my head in bewilderment.

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