Lika was in love with Vlad since primary school when he sat beside her at the desk and said, “Let’s swap the seats: you’ll take a seat next to that girl, so that Oleg could seat next to me.” He looked at her with such a plea that she could not help ceding the place to him. Thus, they were sitting at neighboring desks for eleven years. She was looking at his back, and he sometimes turned round to write something off her notebook or ask some questions. He was the one, except her best friend Rita, who had an access to her notebooks with homework in Math. Vlad and Rita were the most loved people for Lika after her parents had left her.
Lika was six when her parents divorced. Her mother and her younger sister went to the USA and got lost somewhere on its territory. According to a reached agreement, Lika was to live with her father. But half a year had barely passed when the father departed in an unknown direction whereupon Lika was almost taken to an orphanage. Luckily nothing happened: the widow of her father’s cousin sheltered her. Later her father let them know that he was alright, but Lika still went on living with her aunt. Father called her twice a month and occasionally sent her small amounts of money. There was only once when he disappeared for several years from her life, but, little by little, their brief conversations on the phone came back into her life. He lived somewhere in India for the last three or four years.
Despite not being a kinswoman, Aunt Ann (as Lika called her) treated her niece with great care. Aunt Ann treated her three cats, Mashka, Dashka, and Coco, with the same degree of concern. Coco was her favorite as it was the mother of Dashka and Mashka. All the three were ginger ones with blue eyes, and Aunt Ann was the only one who could distinguish them. Aunt’s favorites were allowed to do anything they wanted. She permitted them to stiff around the plates during breakfast, lunch, or dinner time, and they could even pull off some plums from her plate; she just playfully chid them.
To watch cats having fun was almost the only Lika’s entertainment because even a single mention of a TV-set that Aunt Ann called a “zombie-set” or a “brainwasher” made her aunt feel sick. As for the computer, she bought it for her niece on condition that “no computer games, no films, no useless surfing the Net! Only for study!” However, Lika was not one of the people who violated dear aunts’ bans.
And now, listening to Aunt Ann’s lecturing at Coco that had once again pushed a flowerpot of violets off the windowsill, Lika came up to another window and looked out at the courtyard. Outside the window, July had painted everything in bright colors. The midday Sun blinded her eyes, and sheep-like clouds added some depth to the view. Lika closed her eyes and moved her face to the sun rays. She was smiling; bliss flooded her. She imagined that she was sitting on a bank of a quiet river that gently rolled not only its waters, but tiny boats with white sails as well. Old willows rinsed their dark green locks in riverine light waves. Bustling swallows sped overhead hither and thither. Breeze playing with her hair brought some honeysuckle and sagebrush flavor.
Sudden shiver came down her shoulders, and her daydream melted away. Lika opened her eyes and saw Vlad. He was just entering the courtyard. Giving her a bit sad smile, he waved her “hello’ and went on to his porch. Her eyes followed him as her heart beat unevenly in her chest.
“He’s no match for you!” Aunt Ann’s compassionate voice came over Lika’s ear, and she shuddered.
“Let me sweep?” the embarrassed girl offered and went to the pieces of soil near the window side; she was not going to discuss Vlad with Aunt Ann.
“Оh, Lika, Lika… Well, aren’t there enough good guys around you? Why to dwell on him? You’d better listen to an old wise woman — Vlad’s no match for you!”
Lika was silently sweeping the soil pieces onto the scoop trying to wave away the cats that certainly wanted to smell the wet nubbins. “I say it once again! Not your match!” Aunt Ann concluded and pointedly winked at Coco. “Don’t you want to ask me why?”
Lika shook her head. Somewhere deep inside she knew the answer to that question herself. “I guess we’ll need to buy a new flower-pot for the poor violets if that falls once again”, she said and then left the woman alone with cats.
“Coco, my girl, that’s silly! Just foolish! Agree with me?” Aunt Ann addressed one of the cats.
Coco loyally looked her owner in the eye. It seemed it agreed with anything she had said. Feeling approval from her pet, Aunt Ann went on with inspiration:
“At least you do understand me, dear Coco! He’s made of completely different dough! You can’t make good buns from the dough for gingerbread. I don’t mean gingerbread isn’t as good as buns but I won’t pretend I’ve ever cared for gingerbread. And you, Coco?”
Coco purred loudly in reply.
“I knew it! You don’t fancy it either. And the matter isn’t that he’s a spoiled boy who’s got used to get anything he wants, and our Lika is a poor orphan. No, Coco, it isn’t the case! There are so many examples of unequal marriage… Rich and poor, old and young… And what’s the reason then you ask me, Coco? Suppose it’s… it’s some kinda inner barrier, something inside themselves that doesn’t allow them to be together…”
At the moment Lika was standing at the door in her room listening to what Aunt Ann was saying. She agreed with every word she had heard especially with the last ones. They had always been just friends, but she knew it for sure Vlad was not indifferent to her. First she noticed that he started looking at her in a special way; it was different from the way he used to and from the way he looked at other girls. He eyed her as if he wanted to read what was inside her. And Lika learnt how to recognize those sights of his. They enraptured and hurt her at the same time. Probably, that was the pain of doubt. She felt he needed her but that was just the feeling that she was frightened to trust.
“Does he really look at me in a special way, or it’s just a fantasy of mine? It’s likely to be wishful thinking… Vlad is the most handsome, the bravest, the most… he’s the best! Surely, all the eight-grade girls and older ones are mad about him. And me… What am I? What in me could possibly attract him? Is there anything special about me? No! Nil! I’m fairly beautiful, moderately clever and nothing more,” thought Lika.
“But if I were the most beautiful, if I were the life of the party, merry, sparkling like champagne bubbles, may be then I‘d be a match for him. Оh, no!” Lika cheered up, “Then it wouldn’t be me, but Rita! By the way, where’s she gone? It’s been a week she would not answer the phone…”
Lika once again counted the days she had tried to get through to Rita. It appeared to be exactly seven of them. She saw the friend last on the day when she visited Lika to tell her about the last school ball which Lika had missed; her father had again forgotten to transfer money, and Aunt Ann’s pension was not big enough neither to buy a dress nor to pay for the restaurant. They only could spare some money for the class photo. Being between Vlad and Rita in it pleased Lika a lot. She was not really upset to have missed the ball. Besides, Rita told her about every detail leaving the feeling Lika herself had been there. But there was one thing Rita did not mention of.
The friends were sitting in the kitchen while Aunt Ann was out shopping. They were having tea with pancakes, and Rita was telling her about who of their classmates had had the loveliest dress, who had danced together, what entertainments had been there, the way Tanya, school’s best known newsmonger, had lost her mobile phone, etcetera. Lika was listening to her with an interest; she was afraid to miss any particular detail concerning Vlad, but Rita never mentioned him issuing more and more details about the rest of their classmates.
Lika went on harking; the only question kept on pulsing in her head “And what about Vlad?” She was at the point of uttering it out when Aunt Ann came back from the shops, and the question had to keep on hammering in her temples.
Rita hurried home immediately.
“I’ve got to call Tanya to find out if she’d found her mobile.”
“Call me later, will you? And say ‘hello’ to her from me”
“Ок,” she snapped and left.
Yet Rita did not call either that day or later. Tanya phoned instead. Lika just wanted to ask her about the lost mobile and bring the chat to an end. She did not want to hear latest tattle that the classmate was ready to share with anyone any time of the day or night, but then she thought it would be a good opportunity to learn something about Vlad. At that very moment Tanya as if she had read her friend’s mind claimed,
“Lika! I’m telling you something! You just fall! So you’d better sit!”
There was a moment’s silence.
“So?” Lika could not wait. It turned her stomach when the friend feignedly inflated the importance of the news. She had already imagined how many tedious gossips she would have to get through before the classmate could possibly say something she wanted to hear.
“It’s about Vlad!” Tanya blurted out.
Lika’s heart skipped a beat and went; she cheerfully smiled.
“OK, let it be about Vlad,” she said pretending to sound indifferent.
“Crikey, dear! You should’ve seen “im! He was…” as if been choked with delight, the mute came from the other side of the wire but then broke finally having found the right words, “Swanky! Irresistible! Orlando Bloom nervously smokes on the sidelines and tears his hair with envy! Marsha, my cousin, you remember her — knows his aunt — said his mum bought him — that — in Milan!”
“What did she buy? Who did she buy?” Lika did not understand anything.
“Oh, don’t you understand?! Mum bought him a tux.”
“Ah, now I see.”
“You’ve no idea how chic he was! And that tux…” Tanya said languidly.
“Why don’t I? I do have an idea,” and her imagination drew a picture of Vlad wearing a tux quite easily. And at that very moment Lika regretted she had not been there to see him.
“And this is just the beginning! I haven’t told you half a story yet,”
And again, there was a pause.
“Come on, out with it once you’ve started!”
“So — we were at the tables when he appeared. You know, he likes being in the centre of attention. He went across the hall and everybody stared at him! Even Timokhina (it was their tutor) said he looked stunningly.
“Argh, really said so?”
“Not exactly. She used some other words. And so, after her speech he was off, just evaporated. I asked the girls where he could possibly be, but nobody saw him leaving. Any ideas why he left so early?”
“May be, some troubles at home?” Lika started worrying.
“And that’s not there!”
“Yah! Why are asking if you’ve got the answer? Just say it.”
“Here,” Tanya exclaimed, “we come to the most interesting part! He said to Timokhina that he felt sick and that he had a terrible headache. In all, she let’m leave.”
Tanya was silent testing Lika’s patience. Lika sighed inwardly.
“He didn’t have a headache. He just lied!”
“Was that him who told you that?”
“No. Malik told me. Malik and Oleg joined him later. They had their own party there! Emilie and Rita were sort of going there too.”
“Did they go?”
“Don’t know. I thought you knew. Weren’t you there?” wondered Tanya; her voice full of true disappointment.
“No. They didn’t invite me” Lika drew a sigh.
“And Rita hasn’t said a word about it,” suggested the curious classmate.
“She might never been there,” Lika immediately stood up for her friend.
“She did go there. Know it for sure,” Tanya declared.
Lika did not know what to answer. The thoughts of her friend who might have stopped trusting her began to spin round inside her head, but she threw them away.
“Odd, rather odd,” came from the other side of the wire, “Don’t you find it fishy?”
“No, I don’t. She hasn’t got time to tell me yet.”
“Crikey! What a fool you are! Your Rita took a fancy to Vlad that’s why she hasn’t told you anything!”
Lika was dumb struck.
“What a rave! What does it have to do with Vlad?” She managed to say in half a minute or so.
“Blimey, dear! You’re kidding! I guess, she’ll take Vlad from you! No difference for you?”
Lika was lost for words. Her head seemed to be swelling and getting so heavy that the neck did not seem to be strong enough to hold it and was about to break. She got hold of her head with her hand trying to push back her pulsing temples, but “Rita and Vlad together” was pattering harder.
“Are you still here?” Tanya hollered.
Lika made herself breathe in deeply. “Let it be so,” she ordered in her mind’s eye and immediately calmed down. It stopped rapping in the temples making it easier to breathe.
“Lika, are you listening there?”
“Crikey! Why not answering then?”
“I don’t know what to answer,” Lika avowed.
“It’s okay, don worry. It doesn’t matter, for all know there’s something between you two.
“All?” Lika did not cease to wonder. Somehow, the idea that she was being hoaxed crept into her brain.
“All? The whole school, Lika!”
“Mмм… For how long?”
“Quite long. Malik told me in September. He saw a photo of you inside Vlad’s wallet.”
“What a rave!” Lika thought, “May it appear to be true? How come he’s got my photo?”
“So how long have you been dating? You can spill the beans; it’s not a secret anymore,” Tanya was about to plead.
“You know, Aunt Ann’s calling me — let’s have a talk later. See you.”
“See you,” Tanya mouthed with disappointment on hearing long beeps in the receiver.
And Lika perched herself on her bed; her fingers grabbed a mattress’s edge. She did not have a slightest idea of what had just happened.
“Just a hoax. A prank,” she concluded. “Rita must be up to this. That’s why she neither calls nor answers my calls.”
No matter how hard Lika had tried to hide her feelings toward Vlad, Rita might have guessed the point and made up her mind to support Lika in such an odd way. It was like her. She had always been up to incredible things to raise one’s spirits. And this time she succeeded as well. The very thought that Vlad had her photo warmed Lika’s heart.
Lika instantly urged to have a talk with her friend to tell the truth about her feelings towards Vlad at last as though the chat with Tanya had torn the chains off her heart, and the feelings she had been suppressing came flooding her all over.
She dialed Rita’s number but the number appeared to be disabled, and it was too late to try her home phone number. Having dropped the phone on her bed, she glanced at her own reflection in a mirror. She was smiling. It was a sincere smile coming out of her very heart which also made some tears come down from her eyes.
They say you cannot feel joy and pain simultaneously. In fact, you can only when you are in love.
The next week Lika failed to get through to Rita — the number was either not available or engaged and sometimes Rita’s mother replied that Rita was not at home but promised she would call Lika back. Still Rita never did.
Lika calmed herself down by supposing that her friend was preparing to enroll the university, getting her documents and certificates ready and passing a medical examination. After all, she was doing the same things.
Finally, Lika made up her mind to visit Rita as soon as the doing with the documents was over, and they were sure to have a farewell party. Rita was going to continue study in St. Petersburg. Actually, she did not like the idea; her parents insisted she would get decent education at a prestigious university. Lika was saddened by that fact; it deeply hurt her to part with the dear friend. But what hurt her more was the coming Vlad’s departure — he had enrolled the American University in Bulgaria. That was the way she was going to lose the two people she loved most. The thoughts of future parting haunted her in the daytime and at night, clothed in robes of vague and sad images, they enlaced her with dreams. None of those thoughts left her a single drop of hope for future happiness. Nobody had ever taught her to stand for her rejoice. She had only been taught to take her fate as it was. And if the fate was bound to split her up with the loved one, she considered it to be the only possible way to go.
The chat with Tanya made her perceive the coming parting with a particularly poignant pain. The preposterous talk it had been. It embarrassed and confused her a lot. If only she could get to know the truth!
Lika decided to invite Vlad to a farewell party. “I’ll ask him to come by all means!” that’s what she said to a hairbrush in her hand having finished brushing her long beautiful hair. She put the hairbrush on the cabinet at the mirror and added “You’ll see.”
Lika turned off the light and got under the blanket. She took a deep breath, and permeated with oxygen an innocent phantasy came flowing into her brain. Holding hands with Vlad, glancing at each other, they were walking through the park. He gave her one of his sweet smiles and unspeakable tenderness filled her heart. Her soul awoke with the song by the thought they were together. It seemed the whole world went pouring with sunlight and some kind of bewitching and angelic music. “The same music must be heard up there in paradise,” Lika had thought before the sunbeams began to decay into pieces which turned into huge white butterflies. Their superfine patterned wings fluttered to the music. They were persistently growing in number, and Lika was encircled by them pretty soon. The butterflies were so close to her that they were continually brushing her face with their wings. Lika stood frozen with either delight or fear of the possibility for the beautiful vision being breathed away. First she thought the butterflies were flying around her, but in a while she understood they were moving to the rhythm in a particular order. Their movements started to remind dancing which mesmerized and fascinated her. Having spread her arms, Lika saw the butterflies flying straight through her body as if she had not got one. Besides, her body got slightly transparent and so light that it seemed to start soaring just on a thought of flight. The flight without wings encouraged just by an urge was her precious dream that could fill her insides with real happiness. She tiptoed ready to start, but a wind blow appeared from nowhere; with a single swing it broke the beauty of the butterflies’ dance and swept away the wish of flight. It had a dance of its own, powerful and furious. Its might did not raise any doubts. It caught the fragile butterflies into its wild whirl and took the lot into falling darkness. Then there came the second swing and then there was the third one and so on. The wind was growing stronger; it was getting colder, and impenetrable darkness fell from nowhere. Lika looked around in search of a shelter. She spotted a distant light and embarked to it with all speed.
The light appeared to be a flame of a burning candle standing alone on a table surrounded by the darkness. The flame was hypnotizing her. She felt drowsy and she was about to close her eyes hovering between a dream and reality when she heard a subtle whisper. “Help me,” it was. “Who’s here?” she asked, and at the same moment she noticed a big cube of ice on the table. It had started melting and a trickle of water was coming down from the table forming a puddle at her feet. Lika took a closer look and recognized one of those white dancing butterflies. The poor thing was trying to move its wings, but icy fetters were insuperable.
Lika looked over a dozen of variants of how to rescue the butterfly, but all of them were of no use. As soon as she thought of holding the cube over the candle’s flame, the candle disappeared. As she grabbed the icy thing in order to split it off against the corner of the table, the table immediately vanished.
“What else can I do?” panic embraced her, and her heart gave a leap at the thought that she would not have time to rescue the beautiful white butterfly.
“Please, help me. Don’t leave me here,” she heard. There was so much of a plea in the voice that Lika began to cry. She felt she was short of time; the ice was melting too slowly even though she was clenching it tightly. Her hands got frozen quite soon; she almost seized feeling them. Therefore, she pressed the ice to her chest; struggling goose bumps, she still cheered to a trickle of melted water running down to the neckline. It was getting colder and in several minutes chills covered her. Lika was about to give up. She put down her hand, and at the moment she heard “Thanks!” The butterfly hardly touched her cheek; the sway of white wings, and it flew away.
Lika opened her eyes but did not understand at once that it had been a dream. One of the cats was sitting at her head. It may have been Coco. It awkwardly touched Lika’s face.
“What?” Lika wondered and finally realized that her face was wet with tears. “Oh, dear! Are you sweeping away my tears? Oh, you, my heedful kitty!”
Lika petted the cat for a while and then remembered she had a lot of things to do. She jumped out of the bed and ran to the bathroom.
At breakfast Lika told Aunt Ann about her butterfly dream. After having listened to the niece carefully, Aunt Ann sank into a reverie for a while and then uttered:
“A sapid dream. I guess it’s worthwhile thinking about. The only thing’s left is to get what sense it makes. Butterflies… butterflies, they definitely stand for souls.
“I’m sure. And as they were white, the souls were pure.”
“Whose souls were they? There were so many of them.”
“I dunno but one thing is clear — you’ve saved someone’s pure soul.”
“Yes, you have or probably, you will.”
“Well, I doubt I could be a soul saver,” Lika laughed.
“Don’t laugh,” Aunt Ann flared, “We cannot know for sure what we are deep inside. We aren’t aware of the powers sleeping inside our hearts and what they are capable of if being awaken. We aren’t always meant to know what our fate is, but we are destined to fulfil every inch of what is meant to be done when the time comes.”
“Great! Then I’m off to save some souls,” Lika smiled, “Anyway, I have so much to do today.”
“Exactly! Do you remember you’re going to the university? All the documents ready?”
“That’s where I’m going first,” Lika cheerfully replied and pecked Aunt Ann on the cheek. She hurried back to her room to put the documents into her bag. She was just to take them to the university that she had enrolled and then she would enjoy absolute freedom till the very September.
She finished with the documents and put on her favorite blue sleeveless dress. She spent some time looking at her reflection in the mirror and after making sure she looked enchanting, she left the room.
Aunt Ann gave her a bunch of instructions to deal in case of possible “hardships’ she could face at the university reception. At last, she wished her good luck and locked the door behind her.
Lika fluttered out of the porch straight into thick July swelter. “If it only rained a bit…” she thought. The town was suffering from the heat. Singed by the sun, tired and dust-filled trees stood still under the bright-blue cloudless sky. Only lawns and flowerbeds, which were watered every day, were pleasing to the eye.
On her way back home Lika came across Vlad. They had a talk about this and that, and then he sorrowfully said that it was his last day at home — the next morning he would be going to Bulgaria for studies.
“It’s a pity,” Lika could only mutter. She could hardly prevent herself from tears, and that’s why she looked away and frequently blinked. Still a tear came down her cheek. Vlad did not get a sight of it; he feasted his eyes on her fingers. So amazingly-beautiful, soft with almost transparent skin, they seemed to belong to an angel, not to a corporeal girl. To make sure she was real, he took her hand into his. She gave a start.
“Will you come round by eight tonight?”
“Why?” she asked quietly.
“There’ll be a party… a farewell party. Will you come?”
Lika gave him a smile and a nod. They parted till evening. Her heart went with both happiness and sadness when she came to the porch.
Her aunt was not at home. Lika poured a glass of juice and dropped into the chair at the table. Then she began to tell the cats about the conversation she had just had with Vlad. No, it was not usual for her to speak to cats, but the situation was unusual. Vlad asked her to come to his place, and she urged to tell anyone about it. Coco seemed to become all ears, as for Dashka and Mashka, they did not get interested in the story at all. As those two understood that Lika would not give them anything to eat, they left the kitchen.
And Coco, screwing up her eyes and pricking up her ears, stayed still on the stool opposite Lika. It moved its ears every time Lika went on with the story after pauses. By the moment Lika came to describe the invitation itself, emotions flooded her over, so she choked and started to cough. Coco jumped down from the stool, her back arched; it stretched.
“Hope you won’t go, will you?” Lika heard a strangely muted female voice.
Still coughing Lika sprang to her feet and looked around. There was nobody. She wiped off the tears that had filled her eyes because of the cough.
“Who’s here?” she shouted out. Her own voice distorted with fear made Goosebumps ran up and down her arms; her back got cold at once.
“It’s me, Coco,” there was an unflappable answer.
Lika stared at the cat, which had sat in front of her on the floor and was now unblinkingly looking into Lika’s eyes. It looked downright normal, anyway, as usual: pricked ears and a bit uppity look. By all means, nothing had changed about it. Lika did not know what to think. To tell the truth, she did not manage her thoughts, which like bubbles in a glass of champagne emerged and went phut when dealing with the reality. “Is this a hoax?”, “Talking cats do not exist,” “Just for laughs gags?”, “Did I go mad?”, “Have I fallen asleep and see a dream?” “Yes! This must be it! This must be a dream! I’m sleeping!” the girl cheered at that salvatory idea.
“No, you’re not, deary” the voice seemed to grin. “I’m talking to you in reality. By the way, it’s very difficult for me to provide sound chatter. Would you mind if I switched to a mental level?”
Lika kept on gaping at Coco. She had an itch to grab the cat and make it say something straight into her ear to make sure it was this fluffy creature that was talking. But she saw some kind of bellicose fire in the cat’s eyes, and it stopped her. “It’s a slumber,” she concluded. She had ignored Coco’s question and tried to remember the moment she might have fallen asleep. She attempted to trace back the events from the moment when she came home, got changed, went to the bathroom to wash her hands to the one when she proceeded to the kitchen and poured a glass of juice… No, she could not get the moment she had dropped off. That turned her incredibly upset.
“You don’t remember, do you?” Coco questioned from the far kitchen corner. It was now lying there on the floor with the same uppity smirk if you could say so about a cat and of what Lika had no doubts any more. It was eyeing her.
“Don’t remember what?” Lika was finally distracted from her thoughts.
“The moment you’ve caught off.”
“How come…? Are you reading my mind?”
The awareness of this fact decisively dumbfounded the girl. She sat down on the stool, clutched her head and leaned over the table. “I am sleeping,” she pronounced trying to sound as more convincing as possible.
“No, you are not. I am reality, deary” arouse in her head, and Lika understood at once that they had not been her own mental words. She reproachfully looked at Coco. “I’m sorry,” it went on in her head, “You haven’t allowed me… but it’s really difficult for me to speak audibly… Anyway, you don’t mind, do you, deary?”
Lika was being so tired of sorting out what was going on that she decided to accept the situation as it was. She hardly felt ready for the dialogue when “thank you” came in reply.
“Well-well, still planning to go to the party?” Coco asked Lika sending her thoughts to the girl mentally.
Unsettled by the event with the talking cat, Lika completely forgot about Vlad’s invitation. However, she almost recovered her poise, rooting herself to the thought that nothing was impossible, not excluding talking cats. The most important thing about it was to keep it secret.
“I’m going. It’s settled,” exclaimed Lika.
“Don’t you shout! I can perfectly hear you, even the things you don’t pronounce,” the current of alien thoughts flew into her brain.
“And that’s what I don’t like,” Lika answered in the same mute way. “Anyway, it’s none of your business. It’s up to me to decide! And you’re just a cat of mine,” she added loudly.
“Am I just a cat?” Coco interrupted the girl.
“You are just a cat even if you can talk.”
“So you’d prefer to join the party than to have a chat with the talking cat? After all, it’s not every day that you get a chance to talk to the cat that can answer you. You might be even the only human in the world that’s been given such an opportunity!”
“Do you mean it’ll all finish tomorrow, and you’ll become an ordinary cat again?” Lika asked cheerfully, and a sad sigh was the answer to her.
“Indeed, nothing concerns nowadays humans except their own primitive desires.”
“You, who is constantly sleeping and eating, dare tell me this…” Lika loudly resented.
“That’s being a very superficial judgment, deary. Outward inaction doesn’t always imply inner passiveness. Appearance can…”
“I guess that’s not your case,” Lika unhesitatingly broke the flood of the cat’s thoughts. “Generally speaking, I should be getting ready for the party,” she declared and proceeded to the bathroom having picked a bathrobe on her way. “I have no time to chat with you,” she added as she imagined herself wearing a short pink dress, beautiful high heeled shoes on her slender legs, the dark locks of her hair is blown on by the wind the same way as in a shampoo commercial while she would be walking across the yard to Vlad’s porch. And at the same moment he would come up to the window and would see her so incredibly beautiful that it would make him lose his head.
“Like in a cheap romance,” Coco sighed.
“Do not listen nor watch if you don’t like it!” Lika retorted and defiantly slammed the bathroom door shut.
She opened the tap and got under a cool flow of water. She still hoped she had been dreaming of the talking Coco. She even turned the water cooler; hardly holding back the holler because of the cold pouring down on her.
“Don’t catch a cold,” she heard the cat’s muted voice from behind the door.
Lika shuddered with cold or probably disappointment. The cold water did not work. Her own thoughts were still floundering. She was trying to think about Vlad, but the image of the talking cat extruded everything. “Might they exist? I must google it. There must be someone who’s already come across it… What if no one? What if…? Oh, no! What if I got cranky? What will they do? They’ll take me to the asylum! No, no, no! I can’t go there! I won’t tell anyone about Coco, no means! And what if anyone hears me replying her? Argh! Why is it so difficult? I’ll have to be on the look-out all the time. Oh, it’s so tiring…”
“I won’t speak with you in other human’s presence,” Coco interfered into the flood of Lika’s uneasy thoughts.
“It’s very kind of you,” Lika said loudly and spitefully.
“I will do you some good only if you don’t go to the party.”
“What?” Lika shouted indignantly. She put on the bathrobe and opened the door. The Coco was sitting in front of her as if nothing had ever happened. “My own cat intends to control me. It’s too much for me! Why can’t I go to the party I wonder?”
“I have nothing against parties.”
“Does this mean you’re against Vlad? What has he done wrong? Anyway, you don’t know him at all. You’ve never even seen him!”
“Nevertheless, I know he’s got a rare blood type,” hissed Coco.
“What…? What’s it all about?” filled with indignation, Lika could not find the words to say. She headed for her room. There, she strode from one corner to another pretending she was looking for her dress. She now looked into the closet then opened the door of the bedside table and then for some reason she turned on and turned off the light. She felt aggrieved at the cat’s words. But finally, Lika got tired of endless hubbub in her head and ordered herself to stop that. She opened the window wide and got the full lungs of fresh air, held the breath and then slowly breathed out. Then she had another deep breath. So that was the way she stood making herself breathe deeply and regularly avoiding any thoughts.
“Well,” she said to herself “I’m perfectly well now! I’m ready to get ready.”
Lika shut the window and opened the wardrobe. She took her favorite dress out of it and was about to put it on when she heard the sound of the opening front door. It was Aunt Ann.
“Lika, are you here?” she heard her aunt’s sonorous voice.
Lika went out in to the corridor with a bit of circumspection.
“Something wrong?” Aunt Ann got anxious at once.
“No!” almost shouted the girl and stared at the cats. All three of them were persistently rubbing against Aunt Ann’s legs purring loudly.
“Did they behave badly?”
“No. It’s Okay,” Lika made herself sound calm.
Aunt Ann brought some warm buns from the bakery. And when they sat at the table to have some tea, Lika told her about Vlad’s invitation not mentioning a word about Coco. Aunt Ann was not pleased by the fact of the invitation but she was not going to keep Lika out of it. She just asked Lika to come back home until eleven.
Lika was perfectly happy with the way she looked that evening. That hue of pink harmonized with her brown hair, which Aunt Ann had made into beautiful locks. Eyeing herself in the mirror, Lika smiled and tried to imagine Vlad’s face at the moment he saw her.
“What if he tries to make a pass at you?” it suddenly shot past in her head. She shuddered.
“Coco, are you here?” Lika turned round in search of an uppity cat muzzle, but it was not there.
“I’m not in the room, but it’s been me who asked you that,” it repeated “So what’s then?”
“It won’t happen,” the girl answered turning red at the thought that she could not be one hundred per cent sure of her own words; her heart banging against the ribs and her palms wet.
“Oh, you’d be a brilliant actress with such an ability of uttering something that you don’t really believe in,” Coco said. Lika got all the bitterness hidden behind the words at once and felt ashamed. She wanted to say some words in her own defense, but silence was the only answer to her.
Trying to breathe deeply and slowly, Lika stretched out her hand towards the door-bell. The hand was trembling, and she put it down without pressing the button. Two minutes had gone before she made herself calm and was able to press her finger over the door-bell forthright.
“Hi!” she blurted out as soon as she saw his face in front of her after he had opened the door.
“Hi!” he answered falling into the depth of her eyes. Time came to a sudden standstill. Both of them seemed to fall out of the reality going on beyond the world and time. But the enchanting moment was ruined.
“Hi, Lika!” Emily shouted from the corridor, “Why have you stuck there?”
Vlad and Lika smiled at each other.
“Why are we standing here, indeed? Come in, please,” said Vlad and took Lika’s hand in his one, “Make yourself at home.”
Along a wide corridor they went into a large bright lighted room. There were seven people there — most of them were their classmates. Vlad’s best friends, Oleg and Malik, were talking with Ariana and Angelica, pretty girls from another eleventh grade. Anton, another classmate, was speaking on the phone aside. Vlad brought Lika closer to the armchair in which a lad looking a bit older than themselves was sitting. He might be nineteen or twenty. He had an attractive and very kind face, but his big eloquent eyes were hiding sadness. When Vlad introduced Lika to the guy, he smiled, but his smile was full of rue as well. Lika was about to recognize that smile when Vlad said that Sergei (that was the guy’s name) was his cousin. It made her recollect the fact that Vlad’s aunt who must have been Sergei’s mother died in winter. Lika smiled in return. She did not know why she felt some kind of solidarity with him. That was, probably, because she, having grown up without a mother, was able to feel the same pain as he did. And though her mother was alive, she sometimes forgot about it.
They had a little chat with Emily who had just come up to them. Emily was beautiful, tall, and slender. Her eyes were so black that you could not say whether they had pupils or not. The strange magnetism they disseminated embraced and hypnotized everyone who dared look into their depth. And at the moment, she was trying to catch Sergei’s eye to enchant him with her magic.
Somebody turned on the music. It made it difficult to keep on talking. Ariana and Angelica stepped into the centre of the room coiling in a dance. Somebody drew the curtains, and it got almost dark. The girls’ bodies turned into a weird game of light, shades, and crimson glitters, which was added by Angelica’s bright dress.
As Lika did not want to dance, Vlad offered to show her around the flat. She was happy to leave the room, which was trembling with the loud rhythms she had never been fond of.
Vlad’s room surprised her with its orderliness and minimalism. There was just a sofa, a wardrobe and a table with an armchair near it. On the window sill two flowers in pots seemed to look out into the yard as if they felt lonely in the almost empty room. A photo frame on the table looked lonely as well. Lika picked it up to view it more closely. It was definitely well-turned. A twelve-year-old Vlad and his parents, a happy smiling family, were looking at her from the picture. Love, bliss, warmth and something else, which seemed to be quite familiar but completely forgotten, emanated from the photo and made Lika’s heart ache. She remembered her mother. She often called her to mind but did not allow herself to think about her for too long. So this time she did the same sweeping those thoughts away and looked around at Vlad.
“Crimea. Sevastopol. Look,” he started explaining pointing his finger at the back scene behind the image of his father, “This is the monument to scuttled ships. You can see a small part of it.”
“Oh, yes, I can. It’s a very beautiful photo. You’re so happy here…”
“Yeah, I like it too.” Vlad nodded, and his smile became much warmer as if the southern sun from the photo could really warm him. “Have you been to the sea?” he asked.
“Only in my dreams,” Lika smiled.
“The sea is magnificent!” he uttered with inspiration, “Nothing compares to it. You should see it by all means,” he added looking into her eyes and moving his face toward hers, “It’s like your eyes…”
Lika closed her eyes and felt the same lightness and desire for flight as she had in her dream at night. His breathing so close to her face reminded her of the touch of the white butterflies’ wings.
Lika was about to pull the bathroom door when she heard Emilie’s voice coming from there. The talk was about Rita. What Lika heard plunged her into shock. She stood there rooted to the spot; something cracked deep inside her. It was about her hopes and dreams that were collapsing. A minute ago she was the happiest girl in the world; her dream being so close to coming true befuddled her. Happiness had been so close that she had almost caught hold of it, and now it was spilling out just like sand through her fingers. Poor thing, she wanted to go down the drain, to vanish, to stop being not to hear what she had got to hear but could not make herself get under way. She could not even make herself release the door knob clasping it so hard as if she wanted to force all her pain inside it. Tears went pouring from her eyes, and somehow it made it difficult to breathe.