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Yuri Karamov was the oldest son of five siblings. His father was quite an old man, even at the time when I first met him. His mother was as beautiful as she was fragile. She spent most of her days inside, reacting negatively to what seemed like everything around her in nature. During the spring and summer, she refused to set a foot outside. She was pale, even paler than Yuri, and had the longest, shiniest head of black hair I had ever seen.

His father liked to call her his Snow White. He liked to say, in his thick Brommin accent, that he had found her sleeping in the forest of Elhem in the middle of a snowy December morning. He had kissed her and she had pierced his soul with her blue eyes. When he would say this, Yuri's mother would turn away abashed, or wave away his words as if they hovered over her face.

It warmed me, such open display of affection and love. My father and his wife were hostile and frigid in comparison. It was rare that I even saw them kiss on the hand.

There were a lot of things I had to confront about what I thought I knew at eight years old in Yuri's home. I didn't know, for one, that some people lived as if every day was a gift. Not guaranteed but given; a blessing. The Karamovs were a very religious household, and even something as simple as waking up to a new day was attributed to the will and mercy of God.

The start of our friendship began with force. More precisely, with the insistence that I go and pay my respects to Yuri's parents. I suspected that Eline, my father's wife, must have seen Yuri and me riding on his bicycle from one of the windows of our home because I hadn't told her what had happened at the football pitch.

But if that was the case, it didn't quite explain why she would have waited until the start of the weekend to send me out in the frigid November cold. If she had seen us that very day, wouldn't it have made more sense to pay my respects the following morning? It was the odd timing of it all which made me suspect that she had been brooding on her revenge for a while.

Eline had never been one to bother with the Brommian of our town, but over dinner the following Friday—the day before she would force me to Yuri Karamov's house—she took a keen interest in the boy in my parallel class.

I told her he was Brommian, but the feline smile on her lips wouldn't be persuaded.

- And? Do you not think him equal to you? She asked.

It had been just us sitting at the table, which explained her nasal tone. She had the grisliest voice that she disguised from my father. When I was younger I took note of these cracks in her perfect facade, and I would cherish them like trump cards. It seemed wicked that Eline had contrived a character just for my father. And I was sure the moment he found out, he would leave her and bring back my mother.

- His parents only speak Brommin, I lied. The truth was that I didn't know, I hadn't met them.

- He's not sharp. I tried to wane Eline's interest with a disinterested voice of my own.

- That won't be a problem. The cook will have to write a message of our thanks in Brommin. I'll wrap up a stew and biscuits, and you'll deliver it to their door. Tell them the house of Konstantin of Ljerumlup sent you.

- But...but I don't know where he lives, I said, horrified when I realised she was being serious.

- I'm sure Adriana knows, why don't you bring her along?

If anyone would know where Yuri Karamov lived, it would be my cousin. I had kept my mouth shut for the remainder of dinner, but made sure to show my displeasure through slurping the onion soup a notch louder. If it had irritated her in the slightest, Eline hadn't shown any signs of it.

I couldn't explain why I was nervous, and more importantly why I had such a clear dislike for the Karamov boy. I was sure if ever asked, he wouldn't have disliked me quite as much. But the thought of him (and to be honest, ever since our bike ride it was hard not have intruding thoughts of him) I would have the strongest reaction to the suggestion that I might like to be friends with him.

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