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This is the entire first chapter, only 9 pages.
Chapter 1: A Fest In Flipstad
Saturday Night, July 7th, 2012 (Tour Stage: 7)
Putting down a bottle of what was arguably the worst beer ever, she
looked up just in time to see a new guest walking through the door. He
was neither the tallest nor the most handsome man in Sweden, but — unlike
the man a few feet away to his right — he was definitely a Swede.
The smartly dressed, blue–eyed, ash blonde removed his shoes by the
door as was customary, losing an inch in the process. But she estimated he
still topped out at six–one or six–two. He looked up at her or rather, she
thought, toward the beer on the table just before her, smiled slightly, then
dropped his gaze momentarily to remove his grey suit jacket then roll up
the sleeves of his crisp white dress shirt.
She picked up a wine glass and began perusing the various bottles, trying
very hard not to laugh. He was so unlike the other guests, a sort of a city
cat among the country mice. But his presence only served to make her own
position less awkward. So she decided to take her time selecting a vintage,
thinking his first stop would be the beer. And too, he would be one less
person she’d have to make an effort to introduce herself to over the course
of what was looking to be a long, dull summer evening, atop an already
long, full summer day.
Why ever had she come?
“Hej,” said the Swede, picking up a beer. Th en he proceeded to rattle
off a sentence to the chic, blue–eyed, golden blonde he assumed was also
“Hello,” Lily replied, with a small smile. Hey–yuh? It was just too funny.
“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Swedish.” That response usually led to some
awkward, stilted conversation and then a parting of the ways. But he merely
nodded and gave her what seemed to be a rather frosty, even stuck–up
look. She wasn’t all that surprised. She was the ugly American, who didn’t
bother to learn any Swedish before showing up.
“You are an American?” he asked, in a dark, rolling voice with a distinctly
She nodded and watched him glance at the floor momentarily. Considering
his options, she supposed. Flight was probably uppermost in his
mind. But his English seemed quite good and, in this crowd, his departure
would have been a loss keenly felt. She’d just have to take the bull by the
“What did you say to me just now, when you walked up? It sounded
He instantly looked up with a slight smile. She smiled back slightly and
looked away to fill her wine glass with something white and not too highly
alcoholic. It was her use of the word elegant that had grabbed his attention.
He liked to be admired. Such a man. But, it was an opening.
“I said I thought you looked very nice, but perhaps had overdressed for
Pot–kettle, she thought, looking at his dress pants, clipped tied, and
gelled hair, but she refrained.
“True, but rather less so now than when I arrived though.” She glanced
at her perfectly manicured bare feet on the perfectly polished bare floorboards.
“I really miss my new turquoise Capri sandals.” She rippled her
toes and her little gold ankle cuffs winked.
“A problem easily solved,” he announced. Th en he walked to the hall
stand, retrieved their shoes and his coat, and returned to her side. “We’ll
go outside.” He handed her her sandals then turned and walked off toward
the back of the large, rambling farm house.
She followed willingly but tried not to appear too delighted to go. Normally,
she would have stuck it out a bit longer. It was just, well, everyone
obviously knew each other. And they were all very happy and maybe a little
tipsy. And it was just . . . so not her scene. Except for him. He was sort of
interesting, with his stiff , swaggering, Captain Morgan walk. Well, not really
swaggering but stiff certainly, and Captain Morgan? Oh yeah.
“May I ask you a translation question?” she inquired, as they sat side by
side on a bench beside the kitchen door slipping on their shoes.
“There was a man inside, very nice, but he said something a bit odd to
me,” she confided in a slight whisper. “He introduced me to another man,
a black man, and his English was spotty, but he called the black man his,
um, . . . .” She didn’t know how to go on.
He stood up, looking at her in expectation. “His what?”
“Well, in America, it’s a racist term,” she said awkwardly, as they started
away from the house down the grassy swathe toward the long dock on the
lake. “In fact, we don’t use it anymore, ever.”
He arched a fine brow. His curiosity was peaked now. “What is the
She looked about to be sure no one else was around. “Sambo,” she
He laughed rather loudly, for a moment, and she smiled. He had a nice
laugh, sort of booming really, especially being they were so near the water.
“He was telling you the man was his partner.”
“Sambo is short for sammanboende, living together.”
“Ooooh. A domestic partnership. Th at makes sense,” she nodded, as
they walked over the ancient wood boards of the dock. “And that term applies
only to gay men?”
“No. The same word applies to any two people who live in such an arrangement.”
“That’s very fair,” she said. “Very, um, . . . .”
“Democratic?” He took a sip of his beer and sat down on the dock
to look out over the wide stretch of water to the tall stand of trees on the
“In a Socialistic sort of way,” she laughed, as she also sat down, a few
feet away, and began removing her sandals so she might dip her toes in the
water. “Well, that’s something. I’ve learned a word today. That brings my
total Swedish vocabulary up to . . . .” She counted on her fingers. “Ten.”
“Impressive,” he teased. “And those ten words are?”
“Hej, adjö, ja, nej, snälla, tack, förlåt, sambo, fi ka — I learned that on a
Gevalia commercial,” she replied. “And another word. A word I can’t say.”
“How do you know it if you can’t say it?”
“It’s a vulgar swear word.”
“Whisper it,” he said, leaning his ear toward her.
He fought to suppress a smile then whispered back, “Sheet–snack is
the proper pronunciation. Although, I think a Swedish person hearing you
“Oh, I doubt I’ll be swearing at any Swedes,” she said, shivering slightly
in the cool wind. “You’re all so courteous and polite.”
“Not all of us.” He gave a wry smile, but proffered his coat, while keeping
his eyes on the shimmering sunset which was dancing on the water
before a house on the opposite shore. “But I’m from Stockholm and every
city has its undesirables.”
“Stockholm? That’s a long way to come for a party,” she reflected, slipping
on his jacket. “You must be a very good friend.”
“I was in the area this weekend, doing some shooting,” he replied.
“But you, all the way from America?”
“Oh, I’m not a friend at all,” she said, glancing up at him. “To tell the
truth, I was just interested in the house.”
He looked up at the old farmhouse perplexed.
“I’m kind of . . . ,” she yawned. “Sorry, jet lag. I’m searching for the
quintessential nineteenth–century Swedish country house, farm, villa, sort
of thing. When I got invited to this party, I thought it would be nice to
have a look around, but . . . .” She shook her head. “Too modern inside.
Too space station meets monastery.”
“Not that it’s bad. It’s just, how much white can one person stand?”
She blinked her eyes a few times. “I practically went snow blind when I
He giggled, despite his best eff ort not to, and spit up some beer into
the lake causing her to laugh and playfully kick up a little water and click
her new gold ankle cuff s together. He quickly reached over to his jacket to
pluck his handkerchief in order to wipe his face. She gave a little start, as
she was wearing the jacket and the pocket was on her breast. But once the
elaborately folded blue cloth slipped out, she merely smiled and averted
her eyes momentarily.
“And that side porch?” she continued shaking her head. “When I saw
that . . . .”
He instantly turned to look back at the house. “What was there? I
“A big old Buddhist shrine,” she said, stretching out her arms. “Full of
idols and candles, and hangings and pillows, and flowers and incense. It
looked as though every color of the rainbow threw up in there.”
He stared at the house. He’d only really walked through the house,
picking up a beer and . . . . this American woman. He hadn’t noticed much
of anything or anyone else.
“I guess that makes up for the rest of the house?” she mused. “Sensory
void, followed by sensory overload?”
“My hunting villa was built in 1904 and is much preserved to that era,”
he said, turning back to the water. “It’s northwest of here, about an hour’s
drive. If you would like to see it?”
“Very much, yes, please! Thank you,” she nodded. Although, she wasn’t
quite sure if that meant he would text her an address, or take her there, or
something else entirely.
He sipped his beer, while she sipped her wine, and they sat for a while
listening to the music drifting down from the house. She waited for him to
say something more, but he didn’t. She wasn’t sure why. He’d cut her from
the herd less than five minutes after arriving. He had to be interested. And
he’d offered to let her see his hunting villa. She stole a tiny glance at him.
Silence was golden, but . . . not very helpful in situations like this. She’d
circle back and fan a topic he’d brought up twice already.
“What is there to hunt in Sweden?”
“Deer, bear, fox, rabbit, moose, wolf, elk, beavers, wolverine, reindeer,
capercaillie, fowl, . . . many things.”
She looked off at the thick woods around the lake with some concern.
Walking over seemed a good choice earlier. Now, thinking about the return
trip, in the dark, near the woods . . . . “What about big cats? Cougars and
“We have lynx, but they’re very rare.” He glanced at her pensive expression.
“The local forests here are quite safe.”
“And with twenty–two hours of daylight every day,” she opined suddenly,
“I should be able to spot anything large and life–threatening long
before I get myself into a desperate situation.”
He nodded and a short silence followed. “Although, you should be
mindful of the huggorm, especially as you are only in sandals.”
She looked at him questioningly. What were the huggorm? Even the
name sounded terrifying.
“Venomous vipers,” he continued.
She leaned over the dock and looked in the water. “Any water snakes?”
“In Lake Storsjön, north of here, there’s a sea monster,” he replied,
pulling up his phone and fiddling with it a bit. “Here we have only natrix
natrix, grass snakes.” He found a frightening picture of one on Flickr and
handed her his phone so she might see. “However, as the Latin name implies,
they love the water and will often swim two or three kilometers to
find a good meal.”
She looked at his picture of a huge, long snake in the water and pulled
up her feet.
“Th ey can grow quite large, almost two meters, but they are nonvenomous,
so their bite, while painful, won’t kill.”
She sat cross–legged on the dock, staring into the lake with concern,
till she saw the amused expression on his reflection’s face. She turned to
him and pointed, about to speak, but thought the better of it. Instead, she
put his phone on the planking between them, shook her head in dismay,
and looked out at the glistening, gilded lake over which laughter and music
were echoing out.
“May I ask you a culinary question?” she continued.
He shrugged, taking his phone back. She hadn’t given him her number.
In fact, she’d shaken her head in refusal as she’d returned the phone. Th at
was disappointing. Was she not interested? But, she’d come on to him the
moment he walked in. Was he being too aggressive? But such women liked
aggressive men. Or was it perhaps that she, being an American, did not
recognize his phone as an invitation?
“Is it very popular to have meat in cake? Th ere’s a layer cake in there
made with salmon, and shrimp, and . . . .”
“Smörgåstårta. It’s often served at parties.” He paused for a moment.
“That might be worth returning for.” He looked to the house then turned
back to her. “Was it good?”
“It was salty,” she replied. “Is that how it should taste?”
“Yes,” he replied. “It enables you to drink more.”
She laughed and stood up. “I suppose I should go back and mingle for
a bit longer.” He clearly wasn’t interested in her anyway. “Probably be easier
now we’re all a little more lubricated. Their English will sound better to me
and my Swedish will . . . probably still sound . . . .”
“Ridiculous,” he said, as she returned his coat.
“Agreed.” She stretched up her back slightly and looked out across the
water yawning. “But I will fall into bed with a clear conscience having upheld
my end of the social contract.”
He nodded, standing up. Not what he’d have preferred falling into bed
with, but she wasn’t asking for his company. He didn’t think.
“Oh, look,” she pointed up. “A star.”
“Yes, we have those in Sweden, too,” he said, setting his empty bottle
down on a pylon. “And sometimes, on long summer nights, we even dance
under them.” He put out his hand and bowed slightly, an invitation so
clear even an American couldn’t miss it.
“I’d be delighted,” she said gamely, putting down her empty glass and
taking his hand.
He was quite a good dancer, excellent in point of fact. Although, still
a shade stiff, like one of those professional ballroom peacocks. After a few
turns, she quite forgot she was dancing on a dock, which might be fallen
off of, or that there were biting misquotes, or that she really ought return
to the house full of people she didn’t know, having a party for a reason she
couldn’t quite understand, to make the rounds and leave before any bears
or wolves or vipers came out for the evening.
“Come here often?” he asked, as the sky turned a slate–colored blue
and a few more stars appeared.
“No, first time to this particular gin joint,” she replied. “It’s rather
strange, but the people are very nice, so I think I may actually like it.”
“Skitsnack,” he said, giving her a graceful twirl. “You feel naked without
your fancy shoes, these very nice people make you uncomfortable, the food
is bad, the drink is worse, and you hate being here in the extreme.”
Rather grateful the light was just dim enough to hide a scarlet blush of
disconcerted embarrassment, she decided to riposte with an intentionally
embarrassing remark of her own; although, she wasn’t sure his alcohol–enhanced
male ego could be pricked at this point.
“I don’t feel uncomfortable — with you,” she purred.
He pulled her back into his arms, in embarrassed silence.
“But you’re an undesirable Stockholmite,” she added as they continued
dancing, “and not a very nice Flipstader at all.”
“Filipstad,” he corrected stiffly.
She tried not to smile.
They went on dancing, but she concentrated on enjoying the view of
the lake rather than making conversation. He did the same. The sky darkened,
making the light from the house seem more golden and the music
more melodious. She felt light as a feather in his arms. Truly dancing with
him . . . it was like dancing on a cloud. They fairly floated over the softly
lapping water in the warm, sweet summer air.
“You follow very well,” he said at length.
“It isn’t hard to follow a man who leads with strength and confidence,”
she replied, a compliment for compliment.
He gave a derisive snort. “You haven’t been in Sweden long enough.”
“Or maybe you’ve been here too long?” she laughed and looked up
with a smile, but his face was grim and the dance came to an abrupt halt.
He stared at her for a long moment, then dropped her and walked
away. She gave an inaudible sigh and frowned. She’d affronted him. He
probably thought she was a know–it–all American calling him parochial.
Or maybe he thought she was insulting Sweden in general? She’d really
only meant, women were different in different countries and that she personally
appreciated him and his masculine qualities. But either way, she
wasn’t bagging any Swedish buck tonight. Pity.
Except . . . . He stopped by a pylon, to hang his coat upon it, slid off his
tie with a whiplike snap, unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt, then
rolled his shirt sleeves up above his elbows. Th is was perplexing. As was the
sudden stillness. She looked up at the house, which had gone rather quite
now. Although, there was still movement and chatter, in the sun porch
mostly, and . . . chanting? But she didn’t have much time to consider the
house or its odd occupants.
He pulled out his phone, and pressed the screen a few times till an
Argentine tango, La Cumparsita, began to play. He then popped the device
into his shirt pocket, walked back, marched really, and stood before her in
international dance pose. She put up her arms and he embraced her at a respectful
distance, for all of two measures. Then he unexpectedly pulled her
so tight against himself, so quickly, she gasped, and he dropped his hand
from her waist to about three inches further down. It was quite thrilling,
but wildly inappropriate for a tango, and especially so for a Scandinavian.
Although, he’d clearly had a couple before the party started and was in a
mood to be inappropriate.
Goodness! There were tangos and, then, there was his tango. He took
the “no daylight between the bodies” rule very seriously. And as for eye
contact, she felt like vole in the sight of a viper, which was all the more
weird and disquieting since they’d been talking on and on for almost an
hour during which time he’d barely looked at her. He danced her right to
the edge of the dock, to the point she gripped him very tight for fear of falling
in, or being dropped in, along with the water snakes. But that seemed
to amuse him and be his strategy at the same time.
Uncomfortable as it all was for the first minute or so, it then became
rather exciting, seeing how close to the edge they could go, in all respects.
The footwork became exceedingly fancy, to the point even he had to look
down once to keep them from going over. And once, he swung her out over
the water, just for a moment, before pulling her back, with a look that was
all male and all wolf. It was pretty clear his inhibitions, what few had been
there, were crumbling. But it couldn’t have been the drink. He wasn’t that
drunk. He was just . . . suddenly different somehow.
He’d arrived a little stiff , and maybe angry, and apparently shooting
things to death hadn’t helped. But dancing seemed to. He gave her a tremendous
dip, such that she found herself being bent back over the dock,
over the water, supported only by his amazingly strong grip and her promiscuously
placed, and rather precarious, leg hitch. After a few long seconds,
he pulled her slowly up. The music went on, but the dancing didn’t.
They simply stared at each other, sweaty, out of breath, and throbbing with
lust. Then he kissed her.