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Live, Love, Lose - 17. Chapter 17

The week after, one evening, they went back to see Emma at the pub, but this time George came with them.

They had gone there several times between the time Karl had met her for the first time and that time. It’s not as if they had gone every evening, but even when it wasn’t once in a week, Emma was always really happy when she saw them enter the place.

“Here’s my favourite Danish boy!” She exclaimed as she practically ran toward them to embrace him, something he was starting to get used to by that time, even if it was still somewhat hard to have the reflex to hug her back.

“Yeah, it’s nice to see you again too,” Paul said.

She looked at him as she still had her arms around Karl’s neck.

The boy could see a grin appear on her face after she stepped back.

“I knew it; you’re getting jealous.”

“Pff…it’s not as if he could ever love you back.”

Emma kind of glared at him.

She remained quiet as if silence was enough to communicate what was on her mind.

Paul raised her brows at her, certainly amused by her reaction which he had intended to trigger, even though he wasn’t showing it.

“Come on! Relax a bit! You know I’m just kidding! Just play along! Otherwise, it’s not funny, you know,” Paul broke it after a few moments.

Emma smirked only after a few seconds.

“I know this, I just like glaring at you from time to time.”

Paul raised one eyebrow at her, looking rather puzzled this time.

“That’s funny for me, you know,” she added, grinning again, showing her perfect white teeth.

Paul shook his head at her.

“Joking aside, you remember George, don’t you?” He spoke gesturing at the said male.

Paul was standing between the two younger males, and was there a particular reason for this? How could he ever know?

“George…” A pause. She narrowed her eyes at him. “Oh yes! George! Oh my God, it’s been quite a while since the last time I saw you! How are you? You changed your glasses, didn’t you?”

“I’m fine, thanks,” but he looked rather indifferent as he said it. “Oh yes, it’s been a little while since I changed them. I’ve been wearing these since I got sixteen.”

“Oh, I was sure they weren’t the same as last time!”

“Hence the reason why you didn’t recognise him instantly,” Paul chimed in.

“Exactly,” Emma confirmed, her answer almost sounding a bit stern.

Karl smiled. The way they acted with each other was endearing and amusing at the same time. He couldn’t deny that in some way Emma reminded him of Mrs. Hopkins. She wasn’t exactly like her, but still.

“Even if I changed the glasses, I didn’t change that much…” George spoke again.

They all looked at him as if he had just said something out of place.

The silence seemed to be dragging on, and it seemed to make George feel more and more uncomfortable the longer it lasted.

“Oh, I know! It’s the hair cut! It wasn’t exactly the same. And your hair was longer!”

“It was,” Paul confirmed.

“You look much more like a man now,” Emma then said, smiling.

Karl smiled back at her, even though it was a very small smile, a smile that seemed almost to be forced.

“I’m not quite so much of a man just yet.”

Both Emma and Paul didn’t reply anything to that, as though they were too taken aback by his words to find anything to say.

“Well, you’re quite close to it, I mean, how old are you now?” Emma ended up saying, most likely to avoid the kind of awkward silence to drag on too much.

“Twenty.”

“See? You are of legal age to drink!” Emma said smiling, “Good thing you didn’t have to go to fight-“

“Enough now, just leave him alone. You’re talking too much. What about you offer us something to drink?” Paul interfered, and after that Karl didn’t listen anymore. He got lost in thought instead.

He could clearly see that George had been making some real effort to be…well let’s say more sociable. He wasn’t skipping any dinner anymore, but he didn’t eat that much either. It always seemed to be a real obstacle to overcome for him every time. It was as though it was impossible for the food to go through his throat. Well, he still studied a lot because he needed to, but he made the effort to come there while he could have refused.

He definitely couldn’t be sure of it as long as he wouldn’t see it, but he felt that had the situation been different, he wouldn’t have acted like that at all. He felt that he wasn’t like that, that he was a completely different kind of person than what he had been shown until now, and that luck just wasn’t on his side.

“Carl?”

He could feel a hand on his shoulder as he instantly recognised Paul’s voice. Karl looked at him and saw that Emma and George weren’t near them any longer.

“Are you coming or what?” He said, grinning.

Karl said nothing because he just didn’t know what to say.

“You can get lost in thought very easily,” he spoke again, a big smile still plastered on his face. “Come, this way.”

He led him toward the same table they had sat at the first time he had taken him there. The table where they had sat the few other times as well. It was like their assigned and privileged spot as if no one else could sit there, although he couldn’t check whether someone else would sit there when they weren’t.

He sat next to George as Paul sat in front of him. Emma soon came into view with a trail in one hand. She brought three glasses, before she sat next to Paul, facing Karl.

As she started chatting with Paul, both he and George kept quiet. Karl stole glances at him. He was staring into the distance, being there physically but his mind probably elsewhere, somewhere far away. He was probably thinking about his best friend. Or could he be thinking about his family? Karl still knew nothing about them.

Even if he could, he wouldn’t ask Paul or his parents. If he had to learn anything about them, he would have to learn it from George’s own mouth.

He stole another glance at him.

Perhaps he regretted coming there in the end.

He stared down at the glass before him, his arms crossed on the wooden table. This time it couldn’t be anything other than water as the liquid was transparent. He took the glass in his left hand and drank some of it. Yes, it was water. Lukewarm and still water. But it was still good.

He saw Emma stand up and leave the table as soon as he put it down. And he saw the way her hand slid from Paul’s shoulder to his upper arm, the way she smiled. He hid the hint of a smile as he turned his head slightly in George’s direction, even though he didn’t look or glance at him. He looked down at the table, or rather at his elbow.

“What are you waiting for?” He heard George suddenly ask, making him glance at him.

Paul raised one eyebrow at him.

“What are you talking about?”

“Why haven’t you married her yet?”

Paul made a sound that was similar to a sigh.

“I should have known you were referring to this.”

“And so? Why?”

Paul stared at him as if he were trying to stare into his soul with that simple look.

“You know, my mother’s already nosy enough like that, so I don’t need you to start with that too.”

Karl glanced at George again. A kind of crooked smile made its way on his lips.

“You didn’t answer my question.” His tone was rather grave, but there was something taunting in it, something hardly discernible if you didn’t listen really carefully to the sound of his voice.

Paul clearly looked annoyed, and for some reason, it amused Karl. Just like the way George’s reaction to losing to playing cards had.

“I don’t interfere in your love life,” Paul pointed out.

“Because there’s nothing interesting in it,” came George’s answer in a flash.

Paul nodded in a way that kind of said it was hard for him to believe what he had just heard.

“Because you think mine is more interesting. Seriously?”

George shrugged nonchalantly.

“It can’t be worse.” A pause. “And it’s much funnier to tease you about yours.”

Paul scoffed.

“Just like it’s so funny to hear you lose to Carl at playing cards,” the older man retorted.

Now George was the one who had that look on his face. Or no, it was even more intense. Literally as if he wished he could tear him to shreds. His lips pressed to form a thin line, and his jaw clenched.

As for Paul, he looked all satisfied with himself.

“Don’t play that game when you know you can’t win.”

But this was probably not the good thing to say.

“Well,” Paul said as he put both hands on the table. “I’m gonna leave you alone for a bit, just for you to calm down.”

He stood up instantly after saying that and walked away, God knows where.

Things were still the same as they were earlier before George started talking. It’s as if Karl was invisible, but the Danish boy still couldn’t hold it against him.

After a little while, he could see Emma approaching the table again.

“Is everything alright?” She asked, looking somewhat worried as she did.

“Yes,” Karl simply replied, as if nothing had just happened.

She smiled at him, a small but warm smile.

“Would you like anything to eat?” She then asked as her eyes travelled between the two males.

“Not for me,” George was the first one to reply. “But if you had some booze that you could bring to me, that’d be nice.”

Emma smiled at him.

“Sure.”

“Could you bring some for him as well?”

Emma’s smile dropped from her face, seemingly a bit surprised by his question.

“For him too… are you sure?”

There was a short moment of silence before he replied.

“I can pay for both of us if that’s a problem.”

“No…” she shook her head slightly. “That’s not the problem. It’s just that I’m not sure whether he’s eighteen or not, you see…”

“It’s only a number. Does it really matter whether he’s one year younger or older?”

“Yes, it does. Because I could get into trouble if-”

“No one will rat you out for it. People have problems that are much more important than this.”

But Emma definitely looked skeptical.

“Shouldn’t you ask Paul before to be sure?”

“Paul isn’t his father, and it’s not as if he were a child, right?”

Poor Emma was clearly at a loss for words.

“Just one glass. We're not gonna get drunk if that’s what you fear.”

“Even one glass is too much.”

Paul was back, and everyone went silent.

“It’s okay, Emma, you can go back to work, I’ll deal with it,” was what he said before sitting back.

She nodded and walked away without looking back.

“No alcohol for either of you,” Paul was firm, and you could feel that no one or nothing would make him change his mind. “Not even a single drop.”

George looked like he was pouting. He just kept his mouth shut as he was looking away from the table.

“Are you really serious? Making him drink while it’s clear he’s still underage?”

Karl didn’t think the scolding tone was going to help make things any better.

“And how can you be sure he’s not eighteen yet?! Do you have an official paper or something that proves it?”

Paul kept staring at him and remained silent for a little while.

“Do you really think booze will help you solve your problems?”

George didn’t say a thing.

Paul sighed.

“Listen, if there’s one thing I learnt since the time I started drinking, it’s that alcohol will only make them worse.”

“I didn’t want to get drunk!” He retorted to defend himself.

“Don’t lie!” A pause. “I know you too well.” Another one. “And I know all too well how it goes.”

He got silent again.

“Listen, as long as he stays here with us, I am responsible for him when my parents are not there. Same thing with you.”

“I’m not a kid anymore, you know.”

Paul contemplated him in silence for a few instants.

“It doesn’t matter. Even if you’re twenty now, you still have quite a lot to learn, you don’t even know one percent-”

“Okay, okay, I get it. Could you please stop acting as if you were my father? Because you’re not. And I’m not a complete reckless idiot.”

Same thing again.

“Pain can make us do dumb things sometimes.” His tone was solemn, and it was a bit strange to see him act so serious. He looked and sounded much more like his father this way.

“Whatever.”

Paul looked truly concerned, and it seemed to be vital for him to lighten the mood in any way he could come up with.

“Tell me, Carl, how old are you?” He ended up asking.

“He’s been living with you for what…? Practically a month, and you still haven’t checked his age?” George interfered, still looking and sounding a bit angry, or rather a bit reproachful.

“That’s because we’ve been waiting for him to have at least a basic understanding of English.”

The older man focused his attention back on Karl.

“I’m twenty-eight,” he said as he pointed at himself, “and he’s twenty.”

Mrs. Hopkins had taught him how to count in English. So it wouldn’t be a problem for him to answer. He knew well how to count to a hundred. How? Well, simply because the system was quite simple. Once you know how to count to twenty, it becomes a real piece of cake. You just have to learn and memorise tens: twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, hundred, and then you just have to add one, two, three, and so on.

Pretty much like in Danish.

“I’m seventeen,” came his reply.

Even though he didn’t have a calendar back home to get his bearings in the notion of time, he always knew the day when it was his birthday, because it was the only day of the year when he was allowed to have a full day and night off. Yes, because it happened often that he had to work until very late in the evening.

But this year, he hadn’t had his day off yet. So technically he was still seventeen as of now.

June 4th. That was his birthdate. A date he could never forget along with those of his siblings.

“It depends on what month he was born,” he heard George say.

“What year were you born in? 1922 or 1923?”

Karl stared at him in silence.

“No, what month?”

He glanced at George who was looking at him.

She had taught him months too. The English ones weren’t that different from the Danish ones, so this really helped.

“Juni, June,” he corrected himself, trying to get the pronunciation right.

“So he will turn eighteen soon, see? No need to make all that fuss just for one glass of booze.”

Maybe he was finally going to change his mind because he looked like someone who thought about changing their mind.

“Just one pint for each. And with some food otherwise nothing,” he ended up saying.

“Don’t look so mad. There’s a first time for everything.”

~

The three males ended up at the same piano as the first time when Karl discovered the pub, Paul sitting between him and George.

He had tasted what they called “beer”. The taste was unlike anything he had tasted before, but it wasn’t that bad in the end.

“I taught him how to play.”

“No, you didn’t.”

Karl discovered that George could play the piano too, and as well as Paul.

“Didn’t I help you practice when you were around eight years old? I think I did.”

“Since when help means teach? Yes, you helped me practice. But you didn’t teach me. That’s the difference.”

“But I was the first one to show you how to play before you started learning. Did you forget?”

“No, I didn’t. But then I had my own teacher.”

As they were talking, Karl thought about his brother. Or rather about the relationship he had with him. He was the kind of brother who liked very much to tease him. And also who had a real gift for making him play up when he was a kid.

He could remember once when he had been gushing blood after a bad fall. Not that his brother had meant for things to turn out this way. It had just been an accident. But a pretty bad one. His parents had been really mad at the elder for it, and he would have got a real thrashing hadn’t their sister been there to reason them and prevent them from touching him. Fortunately, he had become wiser with time, even though he still liked teasing him occasionally.

Nothing like their sister who had a real maternal instinct. She had always been protective of him, surely because he was much younger than her and their brother. A trait she had most likely inherited from their father. The way she was so soft with him. His mother had been protective of him, but she had a different way of showing it. She wasn’t that soft.

“Then just teach him how to play, so you’ll be able to brag about it in the future.”

“I didn’t wait for you to have this idea.”

Karl was glad he could learn something new, even if he didn’t have any particular interest in the piano. He would feel a bit less stupid.

~

Emma had been watching them from afar, just like the first time when she had met Carl. There was something really moving about them being together.

Paul joined her at the counter. And she gave him a fond smile as soon as he was in front of her, leaning on it.

“I think I will really miss him when he leaves…” she said, the expression of her face matching the tone of her voice. “I may have not known him for a long while, but he’s really endearing.”

Paul gave her a kind of smug look.

“You’re only saying this because I was the one to introduce him to you.”

“I am the kind of woman who becomes attached to living beings very easily.”

“Living beings, really?”

“Yes, animals too, not only human beings.”

Paul hummed in response.

“Just like that time when you found that stray puppy and were ready to adopt it, but your father wouldn’t let you.”

“Thank you for reminding me of this. It made me sick that I couldn’t keep him.”

Paul laughed whole-heartedly.

“Old good times.”

“Anyway, back to Carl, it’s good that George can make a new friend.”

But Paul didn’t seem to share his opinion, given the look on his face.

“It’s not as if they were as thick as thieves. And I don’t think it will happen anytime soon… I mean they don’t hate each other, and at least George has been making some effort so living with each other can go well.”

Emma couldn’t help the smile that brightened her face.

“You know what they say: Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.”

And of course, she had already anticipated Paul’s reaction, the way he looked at her.

“Such wise words from such a wise woman.”

“Of course, only quality words. You know I hate saying nonsense.”

Paul turned his head to look at them. And so did Emma. They were still at the piano by that time.

They both looked away to stare into each other’s eyes.

“I really hope you’re right.”

Hello my dear readers! :)

Once again, I hope you're still enjoying the story so far. I'm afraid it's already too long with nothing much happening...

Please, keep commenting! :)

Take care ❤️

Copyright © 2021 LittleCherryBlossom26; All Rights Reserved.
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I don’t get a sense that Karl is gay or straight.  He doesn’t seem to have a sexual bone in his body lol.  Will be interesting to see what develops between those two!

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I agree that Karl doesn't seem to be very sexual in nature.  It could be delayed social development, lack of exposure to others his age, or simply a matter of hormones developing at a slower rate.  Its the same for many different people.  I knew when I was about 11 years old, before puberty struck.  Maybe it is a factor in George's attitude towards Karl.  Karl seems to innocent and childlike to be a focus of George's emotions, therefore off limits.

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