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Partake on the Journey

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Reynir kept his smile forced on even as the tears trickled down from how much the scratch-marks stung, the fresh cuts red and sharp across his arm. His father Árni shook his head again after taking another look at them. Knowing the source of them, it hadn’t stopped him from hugging his son in comfort when Reynir had run back home, just as it had not stopped Reynir’s mother Maja from doing the same. They knew the cause of it. Reynir was terrible in keeping it secret, but they both embraced him.

The three now huddled around in the bathroom as Reynir sat atop the closed-lidded toilet next to the wash sink, his bloodied arm extended and trying to keep his smile that wasn’t fooling his father. Árni gave Maja a significant look before nodding and excusing himself, but not without a single supportive pat on Reynir’s shoulder, just to let him know he was not angry at him.

Maja worked quietly with the bottle of rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs for a few moments, the only other sounds accompanied by the pitter-patter of the rain against the window and the brick wall and aluminum siding of the farmhouse. Her eyes, a warmer grey than him—Reynir tried to shake his image from his mind—concentrated as best she could with the tremor in her hands and the dimness of the room.

“Hold out your arm,” she said unnecessarily, and Reynir tensed for that moment when the sharp sting came and shot right up to his brain. His unharmed hand clenched over his knee, and he tried to focus on the sound of the rain, trying not to think of the other boy and where he was in this storm in a vast foreign land so alien to him.

“His nails are like a cat, that one,” Maja said gently, shaking her head a little after taking a closer look. “Ferocious little beast.”

“He is,” Reynir agreed and smiled through the quivering lips and tears.

“Your father and I…we saw you two kissing before that argument happened.”

Reynir cringed. There it was. He knew it was coming. He had taken after his mother, after all: kind and persistent, but also to the point.

Maja studied her son above the bottle of rubbing alcohol. “We had never seen something dissolve into a fight that quickly, not even when you and Þórlindur were children.”

“Yeah, that…” Reynir had never told them about the specifics of between himself and Lalli Hotakainen during the expedition he had accidentally become part of. By the time he had reached home, that relationship was over. Or so he had thought until Lalli himself had showed up just three days ago while Reynir and Katla were training out in the field. He had been having a quiet life since (as quiet as life could be with Katla in one’s life), but the moment Lalli showed up, every second dripped with tension, least of all because Reynir was unaware of the emotions that would hit him when he gazed at the young man who had stolen his heart just over a year ago.

“The boy seems important to you,” Maja commented casually.

“I…yeah…” Words normally didn’t fail Reynir. He chewed on his lower lip, his eyes darting to the shampoo by the bathtub, to the little framed painting of an Icelandic coast across from them, then back to his mother.

“Were you two involved together during the expedition?”

Reynir nodded. “I…it’s not bad, is it? You’re not mad or anything?”

“Hmm? Why would I be mad?” Her warm smile lessened the tension in his shoulders. “I didn’t know my son liked men—that is news to me and Árni, but it’s not unpleasant! But I am, as a mother, just a little confused and concerned about a couple things, such as why this young man was kissing you for one moment and then harming you the next. He hadn’t done anything like that while you were away from home, I hope?”

Thinking of many things that Lalli had done out of frustration, against himself or other members of the team, Reynir determinedly shook his head. “Lalli just has his moments, like all of us, actually—but he just needs to learn how to handle his moods better, I guess? He doesn’t really know how to act and it can be annoying. But it’s also endearing and—Katla says a lot of awful things about him. Some of them are true I admit—a lot of them actually, but—um, he just needs time to learn, you know? He can get pretty intense at times—not violently! Just emotionally, Katla says his mind’s wired all differently than us. And if he can’t communicate well, he lashes out.”

Maja continued working as her son spoke, but she nodded occasionally, and he knew she was listening intently on every word.

“Like today. He got frustrated when I told him, ‘we’re going too fast.’ He just said, ‘Why?’ I understood that word from his language, Mom. He thought we could just pick off where we left off, but I wanted to first catch up on the time we were apart, but he just…” Reynir motioned towards his arm, “got a little angry. But don’t judge him too harshly. He’ll cool off, feel bad over it, and won’t do something like this for years. We…went through a lot on that expedition together.”

“It certainly seems like it,” Maja said. “You speak as if you’ve known each other for a very long time. But what about Eskja?”

Reynir chuckled. “I was seventeen, Mom!”

“I know. I haven’t heard you talk about her for a while although you still send one another birthday cards. What’s going on there? Does she know?”

“About…Lalli?” Reynir asked, confused, before the realization hit him. “Oh, not like that, Mom! I liked her! Really liked her, and would still have! I like both women and men!”

He couldn’t help laughing at the look on his mother’s face.

“Oh,” she finally said. “Not like your cousin Ægir then,” she said. “But I would still like to know. You both seemed very much in love.”

“We were,” Reynir agreed. “In that innocent, teenage way. Then she slowly fell in love with another man in the next village. She was too embarrassed and shy to tell me because she didn’t want to upset me, but I sensed she didn’t like me the same way anymore.”

“So what did you do?”

“I asked her openly about it. She was surprised I even could pick up on it, but she confessed, and I decided I wanted her to be happy, so I helped her get a date with him.” Reynir shrugged, smiling. “In the last letter she wrote to me, she said they’ve gotten engaged. I didn’t want to tell you until they sent out the invites, but I’m happy for her! Maybe I can invite Lalli along!”

“Engaged? Really?”

“Yep!” Reynir’s grin nearly outshined the sun peeking through the clouds.

“And you just gave her away like that?”

“She loves him! And we’re still friends!” Reynir said happily. “Gígur is a good man. A grocer. I wouldn’t have let her do it if I thought he was bad news, but they are a good match.”

Sighing, Maja had to close her eyes. “Oh my dear gods—Did you have a boyfriend after?”

“You mean Lalli?”

“Before that? I never heard of this ‘breakup’ with Eskja.”

“Because it wasn’t really such of a breakup? I just let her go on her merry way,” Reynir said. “And, no, I didn’t have anyone else until I met Lalli. I never felt the need to have someone. But…there was a boy before there was Eskja: Stari.”

Blushing he leaned back under his mother’s curious look. “His family lived nearby, and I would see him pass every morning. I made sure I woke up early just to catch a glimpse of him. The sight of him exhilarated me.” The words came out slow, shy under his mother’s gaze, uncertain, but she encouraged him to go on. “He never really stopped to speak with anyone, but I approached him one day, and he just stood there, this thin boy carrying a heavy sack of wheat for his family’s farm, and just stood there listening to me patiently. He reminds me a lot of Lalli, actually…”

“I think I’m starting to remember that boy,” Maja said. “You may have prattled on about him at some point that summer.”

“A little, yeah,” Reynir said brightly. “But I tried to keep most of it bottled up. I was so happy to have been his…well, I guess we were boyfriends, if you can call it that? We worked alongside each other a lot. It was the happiest summer in my life. In August he told me his family were moving to another town far from here. On the evening before they left, I met him by our barn and kissed him. We were both fourteen, and he was my first kiss, and I was so happy it was with him.”

“And all that went on without a single word out of my motormouth son?” Maja shook her head, but her smile was sad. “I missed out on my son’s first love.”

“I…I was scared. I was so happy but scared,” Reynir confessed. “I didn’t know how you or Dad felt about it. I wanted to keep Stari all to myself. I didn’t want anyone to take that summer or Stari from me. After he went away, I thought we would meet some day, in a few months, the next summer, but then when school started up again, I found myself crushing on a new girl—I think her name was Skaði—in the school. She liked me too, but I refused to date her. I was angry at myself. My own heart was betraying me.”

“Why?”

“Because I liked Stari! I liked boys! Why did I notice that girl? I was so confused. I wondered if I was really heartbroken, or somehow angry at Stari for leaving, or I felt embarrassed over who I had kissed that I was trying to act more…normal.”

“Ah.”

Reynir’s face slowed into a smile. “But then I couldn’t deny what was happening: I was noticing both boys and girls around me—not all of them, of course; there were certain features I was really attracted to and others I wouldn’t notice at all, but it wasn’t limited to one gender. I made peace with myself. I wasn’t trying to be ‘normal.’ This is normal! This is who I am: a person who notices and was attracted to both. And when it seemed Stari would never return, Eskja was there, and I crushed on her. Skaði didn’t like that at all. Jealous, I’d say. But we got through that. We had our fun before Eskja met Gígur.”

“As for me, I haven’t been with anyone since. I’ve noticed pretty girls, and handsome boys, but I was more busy with the farm and fantasizing traveling the world. I let myself get obsessed with that instead. I found a nice boy and a nice girl. I was happy. I didn’t think I would meet a nice…a Lalli.”

Maja smiled.

“Well, I’m still coming to terms that anyone can possibly love both men and woman,” she confessed in that same gentle tone, her voice holding none of the venom he was scared he would hear. There was only support and the slight concern over his injury. “I never knew you noticed men too from the way you were so over the moon over Eskja years ago.”

“Honestly? After a while I wondered if everyone did?” Reynir said earnestly. He leaned slightly forward. “Notice men and women, I mean. Didn’t you, Mom? Ever saw a lady you thought was beautiful?”

“Many women in Iceland are beautiful,” Maja said.

“Not like that!” Reynir said. “But someone you noticed.”

“Like if her hair was really nice and I wondered if I could get my own like that?”

“Mmm, not quite like that,” Reynir said. “Someone you noticed and liked. Liked a lot. Like when you were in school, did your crushes seem to hop around? From boy to boy to girl to boy to girl to girl?”

“Goodness, all those crushes!” Maja chuckled, but she considered his question carefully. “No, I’m afraid all of my crushes were men. Of course, Árni was about the third boy I ever crushed on. We were together since lower secondary school! Oh, he was as tall and strong then as he is now.”

Reynir made a face despite himself. “I don’t find men like Dad attractive at all.”

Maja flashed him a look before suppressing her laugh. The corners of her mouth perked with amusement. Belatedly Reynir realized what he had just said, and gasping, he covered his mouth with his free hand just as his mother erupted into a fit of laughter.

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with you marrying him! If you hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t be here!”

“My silly son,” she sighed when the laughter settled down. “But to answer your question, no, I never noticed women the same way you’re describing. If someone pointed to me a pretty girl, I would agree she was pretty, but I wouldn’t feel anything more for her. I never kissed another girl and never desired to kiss another girl. But I suppose I was so taken by Árni that I never had eyes for anyone else after that.”

Reynir’s memory flashed of the barn years ago, leaning over to claim his first kiss with Stari, and of sharing a kiss with Eskja in front of his house one moonlit evening, each lover slowly taking on the form of Lalli in his memory. His heart skipped a beat, and Reynir realized: after Lalli, yeah, I might not have eyes for anyone else either, even if it means I live the rest of my life alone on this farm.

“You don’t think it’s weird for me to feel the way I do?” Reynir asked. “And Dad?”

“Why would we?” Maja said. “Your father was worried as me about Lalli hurting you, not because of anything else. You are no stranger than anyone else in this world, Reynir.” She chuckled. “You are not alone. I just never knew it was possible. I always thought some liked only girls and some liked only boys. Clearly, that isn’t the case for everyone.”

Reynir nodded, so happy his mother understands.

“And types,” Maja added. “Stari, Eskja, and Lalli all must have shared something you love in a person.”

Reynir nodded. “Yeah, I suppose Lalli is my type, isn’t he? Like how Dad is your type.”

Maja smiled. “And are you Lalli’s type?”

“Yes! I think so? He likes playing with my braid, like a cat.”

“So he likes men with braids?”

Reynir grinned. He was about to say, “He likes mage men!” but stopped himself as the ghost of an unpleasant memory threatened to resurface. “We’ve had a very—ha ha!—interesting experience on that expedition. But I think we’ve become very close, even if we did walk away from it with a break-up. I admit, I thought about him from time to time, but I figured he would forget me in a few week’s time. When he came back, he told me he couldn’t stop thinking about me.”

His lips trembled, holding back the tears, as his mother placed on the final bandage.

“I do love him, Mom,” he confessed. “What do I do? Something draws us together, we’re happy, we fall apart. The cycle continues. To make things worse, Katla thinks we’re awful together. Björk hates Lalli, like you’ve already witnessed.”

“You choose your love,” Maja said. “You could have chosen to search for Stari or kept correspondences through letters. You could have chosen to compete with Gígur for Eskja’s hand, or chosen to go with that girl Skaði. You choose who you want to be with. Do you choose Lalli, my son?”

Fighting back the tears threatening to fall, Reynir nodded.

Maja nodded. “Then that’s all there is to it, my son. No relationship is going to be easy. Árni and I have had our hurdles. Love isn’t just something to have, a relationship isn’t just a status, a state, but a journey to partake with another willing to work and grow together. You’re given Lalli a second chance, and you’re thinking of a third. Maybe your heart is telling you something?”

“It is?” Reynir looked up, meeting her eyes.

“If you wish to listen.”

“What should I do now?”

Maja tilted her head to one side. “What do you mean?”

“Lalli…what will happen now?”

“Whatever you decide should happen. Remember, Lalli travelled all this distance for you. He learned more of our language just so he can speak with you. He’s showing he’s willing to get back on that journey. Are you?”

Reynir’s fingers ghosted over the new bandages over his arm, smiling. “Yeah. He did, didn’t he?”

*

He found Lalli perched up on the open loft door, his thin legs dangling down against the wall of the barn. The rain had stopped, and a great rainbow arched from right behind the barn and beyond the hill, illuminated by the late afternoon sun and the parting clouds.

“Hello,” Reynir called out, smiling as Lalli’s attention turned towards him. He sped inside the barn and quickly ascended his way towards Lalli, soon joining him on the loft. Lalli didn’t greet him at first, avoiding his gaze, until his eyes noticed the obviously thicker arm. Gingerly he pulled back the sleeve of Reynir’s coat arm, studying the bandages Maja had carefully placed. Guilty swam in his eyes, all the regret he could not voice, yet it was a sight that touched Reynir all the same. Eventually Lalli dared to meet his eyes, his lips parting as the word struggled out.

F..fyri-fyrirge…

Fyrirgefðu,” Reynir helped. “And I forgive you. I always will. I’m not giving up on you.” He selected the languages he spoke in carefully, choosing either Finnish or Icelandic, or in some cases, Swedish, depending on which words Lalli understood and which Reynir could say. “Do you want to try again? I mean, we’ve tried again this morning and it didn’t work out, but—oh, I hope you can understand me right now, this would be easier if we could just talk in our Havens—do you want try again?”

Lalli met his eyes, his face indiscernible for a moment before the faintest smile appeared. “Yes. Haluan sinut.

He had spoken the same words before, whispered in Reynir’s ear while they were caught in passionate throes, many months ago when things were different. Reynir smiled.

“Yes, I want you too,” he said and opened his arms to accept Lalli into them. Lalli’s lips against his was softer, not urgent, patient, apologetic for his earlier behavior. Reynir’s arms came around him instinctively, recalling their many stolen moments one year previous. Katla was not going to be pleased; neither was Björk, but Reynir didn’t care. His mother and father knew and supported them. He wanted Lalli, and Lalli wanted him. If there were to be any more hurdles, they would get through them together, as they’ve already done.

As the sense of optimism filled him, Reynir glanced out, admiring the rainbow overhead. He hugged Lalli tighter to himself, knowing he enjoyed that when they were being affectionate.

“Look, Lalli, a rainbow,” he said, then realizing that this was a great opportunity to resume teaching him Icelandic, he added, “Regnbogi.

Lalli repeated the word, nodding his head before settling it back against Reynir’s chest. “Sateenkaari.