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- I still can't believe that you don't celebrate your birthday, I told Yuri.

- You know, I continued, looking down at the decaying leaves and the shrubs in our vicinity, - I told Adriana yesterday and she almost choked on her food. I think she might have gotten you something.

I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively at him.

Yuri rolled his eyes.

- Why would it be strange? He asked.

- Before I met you I knew no one who celebrated their birthdays. If anything, your family is strange.

I was just about to answer him when my eyes caught Mr Benofs's cap. My smile deflated. In the far distance, slightly obscured by the branches of a thin tree, Mr Benofs walked with an orange cap on his head. His camouflage print jacket reminded me of the scowl on my father's face when he had seen me come downstairs with a white knitted sweater and jeans. I had wanted to make my intentions clear from the very beginning. He had disapproved, of course, but hadn't said anything in front of Mr Benofs. My father had taken a long, hard look at me. No one was quite as well versed in the art of expressing so much with so few words.

Just when I had started to think that it was possible for me to forget the reason why we were so deep in the valley of Ljerumlup, something snagged me back to reality. If not Mr Benofs's, or my father's eye grabbing orange caps, then the shrill barks of the Vizslas.

They hadn't found anything worthwhile shooting yet, but there was no doubt in my mind that the time would come. My father wasn't one to head home empty handed. Petra was hoping to make a hare stew, and had said that she wouldn't settle for anything less when we had departed that morning.

I felt treasonous towards my animal friends for wanting to obliterate their suffering from my conscience. I thought chatting with Yuri would keep my mind off the guilt that churned my stomach, but so far, little seemed to be working.

Yuri was also looking at Mr Benofs when I return my attention back to our conversation. His expression had drawn back into whatever thoughts kept his mind occupied.

- They'll get you a gun, you know that, right? I pointed to Mr Benofs's second rifle, strapped across his back. Yuri glanced at me.

- And then they'll ask you to shoot a hare. Anything else would be a waste of ammunition.

I wanted him to ask me how I knew. His eyes darted to Mr Benofs before they settled on my face once more. Several emotions flickered in and out of his expression, none of them lasted long enough for me to pinpoint his thoughts.

- Ru–

He opened his mouth but closed it again. He reconsidered his words.

He stretched two fingers towards me.

- Choose, he said.

I looked down at his outstretched arm, at his forefinger and middle finger which represented two options he wanted me to choose from. Yuri had already predetermined which finger represented which option. My job was to choose a finger at random.

- What am I choosing between? I asked looking up at him.

- Either we get out of here, or we stay and I shoot that hare and bring it back to my mother for dinner.

An internal struggle played out behind his eyes. I saw how much he wanted the latter of the two scenarios to be the one that took place. For the first time, it hit me that maybe, just maybe, Yuri had his own reasons for wanting to hunt.

I was rooted to the undergrowth, unable to move so much as a millimeter. How could he make me choose on the spot?

- Just choose one, he urged bringing his hands centimeters away from my chest. Yuri was determined to execute either one of the two options. There was no going back once I had made my choice.

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