Alike in Dignity

by Michael Arram


'Go for it, Yuli. It's time. I'm rooting for you.'

'Sutzat zumet, Willemczu,' Yuli swore into the grinning face opposite him across the lunch table. 'You're mocking me.'

'Oh, come on,' Willem protested. 'If you two are gonna be sharing a score in the Hofkapelle, you're gonna have to have a social relationship. Stands to reason. Go break the ice. It's not as if he's a girl, is it? When he blows you off, there'll be no humiliation … or not as much anyway. He'll just have proved he is indeed a totally snobbish prick. You'll have won a moral victory, right?'

Yuli cast a sidelong glance at the table three rows over where Freiherr Roman-Rudolf Staufer von Ebersfeld had placed his tray and was sitting alone. He had not looked in Yuli's direction as he did so. 'Fuck it,' he growled to himself. He took his own tray, rose a bit giddily and made his way to Roman's table. The boy looked up as he approached. Here goes, Yuli thought to himself. 'Can I take this seat?'

Those gorgeous eyes looked up at Yuli through their lashes and the artfully arranged blonde fringe of hair. No words. Roman just nodded and then shifted in his seat, all but squirming in embarrassment. Double fuck it! The kid actually was shy. That was the problem all along, though a boy who looked like Roman did really had no business being socially hesitant. Right, it's on me then, Yuli decided. I'm strong enough for this.

'So … er, how long you been singing at the Hofkapelle?'

There was a pause, and finally they were in a conversation. 'Umm … since January.' Roman's speaking voice was soft and warm, and the remark was accompanied by a hesitant smile that almost reduced Yuli's bones to water.

'Your voice is absolutely astounding, by the way,' Yuli added. Nothing like flattery to get a relationship going, something at the back of his mind said.

The smile disappeared and the eyes went down again as a blush coloured his cheek. 'Do you think so?' Roman all but murmured in reply.

Yuli noted that the boy did not contradict the verdict, however. He knew he was good. Yuli gave his best glowing smile, a more potent and lethal weapon than he perhaps realised. 'Yes. It's really something. I'd go so far as to say angelic. I could have listened to you all evening. So what brought you to Herr Pelikan's attention?'

The eyes came back up again, caught Yuli's frank and open smile and widened. There was a pause. Yuli got no direct reply, but a question instead. 'Why were you at the garden party at the Residenz?'

It appeared that Yuli was as much an object of interest to Roman as Roman was to him, and with that realisation an empty feeling again opened up in Yuli's midriff. The odds that Roman von Ebersfeld was gay had just shortened considerably in Yuli's head. 'My father, he's the Staroman of Strelzen.'

'Oh!' the reply this time came without hesitation and a stronger smile. 'But my father's the Burgomeister of Strelzen!'

Yuli smiled. 'Odd that, isn't it. It seems we have more in common than music.'

'It does, doesn't it?' And they laughed. And young Julius Lucic fell deeply in love that very instant.

On the next day, there was no hesitation. Roman and Yuli loaded their trays together at the lunch counter and sat opposite each other at the same table. A somewhat bemused Willem had consented when Yuli tested him out on the move. Yuli had detected no jealousy there, though he had anxiously watched out for it. But he was passionately consumed now by an erotic curiosity about Roman von Ebersfeld which had kept him awake and masturbating much of the previous night, even though the weather had cooled off.

Roman had got into a conversational mode with Yuli which was almost relaxed. They chatted about their mornings and classes, and with that unspoken linguistic etiquette characteristic of Rothenians they had shifted to speaking German, though Sudmesten Central was a Rothenian-language school.

'You were going to tell me how you ended up in the Hofkapelle choir?' Yuli eventually asked.

'Mmm? I was? It was church. My vater takes us to the Fenizenkirche on Mikhelstrasse 'cos it's a German congregation, and I joined the little choir there when I was small, well, ten anyway. Once my voice broke the church organist spotted something about it and began tutoring me for solo work. Herr Pelikan is a friend of his, and last year, when I was cantoring for the priest, he sat at the back of the church and listened. Then he rang Vater and said that there was a place in the Hofkapelle if I'd audition for it. So I did, and I began there on Paulenfest. I got solo work at the Easter mass, though – y'know – that's probably 'cos most of the students have disappeared and they're pushed to find voices.'

Yuli smiled at this first pleasing evidence of modesty in Roman. 'I don't think so,' he said. 'What I heard was class.'

'You really think so?'

There was an artless insecurity about the remark that further reassured Yuli about the boy. Snobbish prick this kid was not, whatever else his problem may have been. Which reminded him of something about Roman that had bothered him.

'So where were you at school before you came here? You only started at the end of Year 10.'

Roman coloured, and Yuli realised he'd skated out on to the ice with this question. The boy did answer, but hesitantly.

'My vater wasn't impressed with my last gymno, though it was a German language school.'

'Oh … the König Heinrich II Deutsches Gymnasium down in the Ninth?' It seemed that Roman hadn't been sexually molested by paedophile priests at St Wladislaw's after all.

'You know it?'

'It's private and fee-paying isn't it?'

'Vater didn't think the results justified the fees they were asking.'

'So you ended up in a Rothenisker state school. Bit of a different environment.'

'Maybe. But I prefer it. A lot.'


'Oh yes. The teaching is better, believe me. Vater says the results here are exceptional.'

'Oddly enough, that was my tatti's reasoning too. He had to call in some favours to get me and Willem on the Sudmesten Central list when we were eleven.'

Roman cast his eyes across to where Willem and Bolo were having an animated conversation about something or other, Willem emphasising his points by jabbing a carrot stick from his salad in Bolo's face. Yuli smiled.

'So Willem Kral,' Roman continued, following the direction of Yuli's eyes. 'Are you two related then?'

Yuli shook his head. 'No, just joined at the hip since birth. His mother and mine were in the same delivery suite together at the Lazarette, and they hit it off bigtime. We share a birthday, like twins. He's the elder by three minutes, We've been friends since … before I can remember. He's the brother I never had, if you like – only better, because I don't live in the same house and share toys with him.'

'Oh … but I thought … people say …'

Yuli's eyebrows contracted, his flesh tingled and his stomach lurched. A thing was about to happen, he knew, which was going to fundamentally change his life. Fuck it. Bring it on.

'People say what?'

'That you and he are … sorta … more than friends.'

Yuli found the strength to smile. 'Wankers. Some people will gossip about nothing. Willem's not gay.'


'But I am.'

Henry Atwood had not often been round to the Radhaus of the Staramesten, though it was an interesting enough building in its way, or at least it had once been. Unlike the Nuevemesten Radhaus, its elder sister on the hill had not been planned on the grand scale of the town halls of Flanders, Burgundy, Italy and the Rhineland. There was no massive phallic tower to flaunt civic potency. Instead the city fathers of the medieval Altstadt had built themselves a broad medieval hall set over an arcaded lower floor that was used as a covered market. Next to it had once stood a fine civic church called the Frauenkirche-zum-Stadt where mass was said daily for the souls of all departed Strelseners.

The Radhaus exterior had been patterned with elaborate Gothic carving and statuary, and the building must have looked flamboyantly quaint in its day. Unfortunately at some time in the 1960s an imbecile in the communist urban government had decided that a modern proletarian city needed no quaintness. The market arcades had been filled with breeze blocks, the interior gutted of its carved wood and stained glass and the whole rendered with painted yellow stucco to look as close as possible to a civic office block. The adjacent Frauenkirche had been brutally demolished. Henry found it tragic, though at least some of the dismantled panels, glass and artworks from the old buildings had found their way into the city museums. Fortunately perhaps, the site of the resulting horror was not too prominent. It was concealed in a small square north of the cathedral precinct, only three blocks east of the Strelsenermedia offices in fact.

Henry took his seat in the reception area, along with a lot of elderly ladies in headscarves and gentlemen under cloth caps of the continental sort. The floors were of scuffed linoleum, the walls were lime green and the lighting was in neon strips hung from the cracked ceiling by naked flex. One of them was buzzing and flickering, making Henry worried that he was having a migraine attack.

Yet despite the dinginess and lack of investment Henry got a sense here, which he had not got in the glass-and-aluminium modernity of the Prefecture of the Nuevemesten, that he was in the real Rothenia. An old fellow with a remarkably leathery and fissured skin tinted by nicotine got out a cigarette, tapped it on the box and lit up, to be immediately challenged by a party of ladies who pointed accusingly at the new NO SMOKING signs. There followed a very Rothenian episode of bickering that went on for five minutes before a security man turned up and terminated the episode. The old man went resentfully outside to feed his tobacco addiction.

Henry had signed in at the desk, and after a quarter hour he was called back. The Starostnjia of the Staramesten actually had a press office, he had been intrigued to discover. Not only that, but the press officer who turned up to shepherd him to her office was young, pretty and personable.

'Actually, Herr At-vood, my office isn't here in the Radhaus. It's across the road in the annexe.'

'I'll bet you're glad of that, Danuska,' Henry observed.

She looked around at the reception room, smiled and shrugged. 'We've not met before have we?'

'Er … no, don't think so. Though we may have been at the same junkets. But call me Henry.'

The annexe was a neighbouring four-storey brick building that might previously have been a legal chambers. Danuska's office had the same institutional lime green paint and strip lighting, but she had deployed posters, baby pictures and rubber plants to transform it into a more human space. There were also soft furnishings, so she and Henry occupied its armchairs.

'Now Henry. Coffee? Tea? No? Okay, what can I do for you if it's not refreshments?'

'I'm snooping,' Henry admitted. 'Not to put too fine a point on it. I've picked up some rumours of a lawsuit brewing between the Staramesten and Nuevemesten.'

'Really? You must have good sources. The papers haven't been on to me.'

'So it's true then?'

Danuska held up her hand. 'As long as you don't quote me on it. Yes. It's hardly a big secret though. The Staroman publishes monthly reports on the proceedings of the Council of the Szcabnyi, and it's been publicly discussed in every bulletin since March.'

'They're not online.'

'You can read them in the public library or pick up a stapled sheet across the road.'

Henry gave his quirky look. 'Well, thanks. I'll do that right after I leave. I have to say the Nuevemesten's not so forthcoming. I got nothing from their press officer and their City Planning Office wouldn't talk to me. '

Danuska's look of distaste at the name of the rival municipality reinforced Henry's sense that something was definitely up in Strelzen. 'So are you going to do a local feature on Eastnet?' she asked. 'Is that what this is about?'

'Probably. But it's just research at the moment. What can you tell me?'

'Again, don't quote me. But it's about the aggression of the Nuevemesten administration under Von Ebersfeld. They've done very nicely out of the development of the business district, and the Peacher Palace in particular. Nothing to do with their enterprise of course. They just put in roads and sewers. It was Trachtenberg who committed national funds to finance the rebuilding and extension of the tram network. '

'From which the Staramesten benefitted too, of course.'

'True. But we were excluded from any direct return. Then there's the sell-off of municipal land to developers in the Sixth and all the luxury flats and executive houses going up.'

Henry shrugged. 'People want to live there. I wouldn't mind moving out there myself, if we could afford it. You seem to be implying something, Danuska, or have I picked up the wrong message?'

'I think you began picking up the message at the press office of the Nuevemesten, Henry. Von Ebersfeld and his CDP backers are very cosy with the developers, and it's the same developers who are now very interested in the remnants of the forest of Strelsau.'

'They call it North Martzfeld.'

'I'm sure they do. And it's on that difference in name that all depends.'

'I'd like to talk to the Staroman if I can.'

Danuska passed him a card. 'That's his secretary's number.'

'Not his PA?'

Danuska laughed a very attractive laugh. 'Herr Lucic isn't the Baron Staufer von Ebersfeld, Henry.'

Willem Kral was redder than Yuli had ever seen him in their sixteen-and-a-half years of common history. They were leaning over the balustrade of the Arsenalsbrücke having just parted from Bolo. But their eyes were not on the stream of barges passing down the river through the great arches beneath them.

'So … he said … people were saying … you and I are boyfriends!'

'Girls talk crap. You know what they're like.'

'But they think we fuck!'

'Well we do do some stuff together, and we are sorta close, and always have been. Also we have suspect friends. Remember those times when we were fourteen when we got into circle jerks with Lucacsz Voynovich and his friend Ludwig from the Ninth? He's come out now.'

'Jesus!' Willem swore. 'That bastard blabbed on us.'

'Woah, Willemczu! That's not Lucacsz's style. He's a good guy … though Ludwig, I dunno. But don't be unfair just 'cos you're annoyed. The point is that Roman thought we were an item. That's why he sorta kept his distance.'

Willem raised his head and met Yuli's eyes. 'Hold on. So you're saying he always fancied you, but he thought I'd got there before him: that he's gay?'

'Er … yes. He said it was alright to tell you. And … Willemczu, you gotta know I'm very happy he's gay, 'cos I am too. There. I finally said it.'

There was a long silence. Eventually Willem took Yuli's hand and pressed it without a word, and that gesture was for Yuli an infinite relief.

'Did you know?'

Willem nodded. 'I guess I've always known. But as long as nothing was said, I was happier. I just wanted what we had to go on for ever, for us to be best friends. Kids are like that. But we're no longer kids, are we.'

'But we can still be best friends. Is that why you were okay about jerking and sleeping together? Was that as gay as you could be for me?'

'Yuli, I'd … Never mind. So, are you gonna come out officially? What does he say?'

Yuli did not quite like the implication of the way that last remark was phrased, but he had to take what came at him for now. 'Roman thinks it's best for us to keep it quiet for a while. But we are boyfriends. The more I get to know him, the more amazing he is, Willem: so shy and quiet and beautiful. So sensitive too. He's just perfect in every way.'

Willem gave Yuli a faint smile. 'You're really in love, aren't you.'

'I suppose I am. He's all I can think of.'

Willem shouldered his backpack. 'I think that may be one of the major symptoms. Let's go home. By the way, my tatti said to tell you we did brilliantly in the shop last weekend, and he's ready to retire on the strength of it.'

'Shut up, asshole.' Yuli laughed and punched his friend's bicep then swerved to avoid the return. He was chased for three blocks up the hill, until they had to stop, out of breath. They walked the rest of the way to Domstrasse arms loosely around each other's shoulders, the way they customarily had for the past eleven years. Yuli appreciated the comforting gesture more than he could tell his friend. As they parted they held each other silently, and hugged for a long time. When they separated Yuli for the first time firmly kissed Willem's cheek. Somehow, it felt right, but all the same it was a gesture which ended forever what once the two boys had shared, and Yuli couldn't shake the troubling apprehension that in its way his kiss was tinged with betrayal.

'The Peacher Palace! She called it that! Fucking cheek.' Henry grinned at Peter Peacher's outrage, and chalked up one point to his revenge score against the American.

Henry strolled across the plush blue carpet of Peter's penthouse executive office and peered out of a neo-Gothic dormer window across the courtyards and rooftops of the award-winning headquarters complex of PeacherCorp Europe.

'I have to say, Pete, she may have a point. It does look like a dynastic statement, rather than a corporate one. If you reinvent an office building as a Gothic Disneyland, people may well take the wrong message.'

'What, I'm like some modern Wizard of Oz holed up in his Emerald City?'

'Nicely put. Anyway, I've had my improving trek along the Yellow Brick Road and stumbled over one or two mysteries along the way.'

'Tell all, Henry.'

'To begin with, it goes a lot deeper than screwing with your business rates. It's all about where Martzfeld ends and the forest of Strelsau begins, and which city it belongs to. The Nuevemesten got all the benefit from the first Martzfeld development and the Staramesten thinks it should benefit from the second phase. The two corporations have never got on, and this time there are issues of social class, poverty and politics which sharpen the divide.'

Peter looked deeply irritated. 'Politics be damned. They're bad for business. If I'm putting up some capital for a second airport in this city I'm not gonna be shaken down by two sets of civic crooks. One set was bad enough last time. So they'd better sort out who owns what pretty damn quick. What the fuck is the problem?' He paused and grinned quirkily. 'And I'm about to get a lecture on just that, ain't I, little dude. Go on, I'm listening.'

'Get yourself sitting comfortably then. It began in the reign of King Rudolf II. He was the first of the kings of Ruritania who had to deal with an Ottoman invasion. He had to improve the defences of Strelsau and upgrade his army. So he took one chunk out of the ancient forest of Strelsau and built the Arsenal fortress and its cannon foundry to the southeast of the Alstadt to cover the city approaches. He also took another chunk out of the forest for the Martzfeld, the army training ground. When the Staroman of the Altstadt protested that he and his people were losing their ancient rights to take firewood and building materials from the woods, and pasture their domestic animals there, the king eventually compensated them with a transfer of the remainder of the forest out of the royal fisc and into the city's hands.

'So far with me? Good. Then fast forward to the First Republic and the time of President Tildemann between the wars. One of his less good ideas was to slash the military budget of Rothenia and unload government assets. So he arranged to transfer the ownership of the old Martzfeld to the Nuevemesten, with the intention the civic authorities build affordable housing on it for the poor of Strelzen.'

'Socialist dude was he?'

'He was a good and fair man who cared for the disadvantaged. Don't you dare scoff, you capitalist cynic.'

'Someone's gotta put up the money somehow is my belief, Henry, if anything's to get done. And he who puts up expects it back some way or other eventually. Where's the cynicism in that?'

'Nowhere. But you might note that the capitalist leaders of the Nuevemesten – the richest conurbation in Rothenia – had been happy to screw their poor neighbours and let them live in abject poverty for a couple of centuries before Tildemann made it possible to demolish the Third District slums. The landlords were never gonna do a thing about it. And that's the thing.'

'What's the thing?'

'This new neoliberal age we're entering is making their sort of social indifference respectable again. Von Ebersfeld and his crew are more interested in money than people.'

'Criminally so?'

'I'm beginning to have my suspicions. They don't behave like people with nothing to hide. Money does that to morality.'

'I never said greed was good,' Peter shrugged. 'So the Staramesten guy, what's his name?'

'Radek Lucic.'

'He's like Tildemann reborn or something?'

Henry shook his head. 'Nope. He really is a very lefty socialist; too left wing even for Trachtenberg. Socialism has a mixed reputation in Rothenia after Horvath.'

'Tell me about it. Osku gets very angry about the old commie days in this country. But he would, wouldn't he.'

'He has his reasons. The Staramesten is relatively poor, Peter. You shouldn't get misled by the villas and gardens of Starel Heights. That may be pretty and select, with awesome views across the river, but most of the Staramesten is run-down housing, a lot of it medieval and difficult to maintain. There's tourism, but not much else going for it, and the communications with the rest of the city are bad. Only two tram lines run up there, and they have to take the long route. It needs investment, and I think that's what Herr Lucic has in mind. But the civic revenues are small, and he won't be able to raise loans.'

'As I said. I'm being set up for being someone's cash cow. It's not gonna happen, dude.'

'Yeah well, I might remind you that you've just had some first class journalistic research delivered to you exclusively at the expense of Eastnet, so don't scoff at largesse freely given. And that's all you get. Tomas Weissman has been a bit unsympathetic about my unrestrained curiosity. I'm under strict orders to get back on track with Eurovision.'

For the third time in a year, Yuli was in a suit. It was the first Sunday he was to join the Chapel Royal, and there was a dress code for student members. Herr Pelikan intimated that there would be a subsidy coming his way for the expense involved if his appointment was made official. He had also been given a palace ID on a lanyard, which was ready in his right jacket pocket.

Rather than take the tram route along Strelsenern Anhöhen he took the long walk down the Domstrasse, across the river, past the looming Osten Tor and up the haul to the Rodolferplaz. And there, perched on the rim of the great Springbrünnen under the statues and cascading water, amongst the rainbows in the spray of the fountain, an eager and beautiful face was searching for him in the crowds. Happiness welled up in Yuli so powerfully as to make him light-headed. He had just seen an image which he somehow knew would stay with him for as long as he lived and breathed in this world. He slid next to Roman, squeezed his hand and they both hesitated as to what to do next. Then they giggled.

Yuli was astonished at the way he and Roman approached telepathy at times. 'Yes! Let's do it,' he laughed. And the two boys kissed long and lovingly on the lips; not the first time this had happened, but the first time in public as the world watched and, it seems, approved. A passing family group smiled at them.

Hand in brown hand they walked up the great square to the statue of King Henry the Lion. 'Disengage, Romeczu,' Yuli said, and they dropped hands. 'Time to be professional.'

'As my lord commands,' Roman breathed in his ear, and Yuli went hard so quickly, his penis bent painfully as it caught in his tight suit trousers. The direction of their sexualities was becoming clear to them, and it seemed nature had destined Yuli to be the leader in matters amatory, while Roman delighted in little displays of submission. It further heightened their erotic fascination with each other.

So they entered the palace grounds walking side by side in the guise of friends.

'I have to go down here, Yuli, so this is goodbye … for a bit.' Roman left him at the garden entrance into the Residenz, to take a side door into the undercroft of the Hofkapelle, where the choir vestry was. Yuli showed his pass to security and headed up the stairs along with the slow-moving throng of the congregation. The ante-chapel was crammed with people drifting in to find their places and lined with guardsmen at ease in full state uniforms of blue, red and gold. Yuli gratefully escaped the crowd and shot up the spiral stair to the loft, to find Mattyas already at the organ bench. They exchanged greetings.

'Your job this fine morning is to turn the pages of my score,' Mattyas said. 'Not too demanding, but Herr Pelikan just wants you to get to know the sequence on what is an ordinary Sunday in Trinity, the first of them.'

'Oh yes. It's the Eleventh Sunday and the colour this morning is green. It was white on Thursday for Corpus Christi. Am I right?'

'Good boy, Yuli. You've been reading the handbook. I'm afraid it's not just enough for you to learn Old Meister Hildebrandt and his ways. You also need to come to terms with the Catholic Church and its millenium-old customs. You're not a churchgoer, I think?'

'I'm baptised. But no, we're not a church family, us Lucics.'

'You've looked through the score of the Haydn?'

'Yes, sir.' Yuli was grinning to himself.

'Take a look down into the chapel. It must be filling up by now.'

The nave of the Hofkapelle below was indeed full of ladies in hats, gentlemen in suits and well-scrubbed children in their best. They were finding seats, whispering and arranging their papers. Every now and then a book was knocked over, to hit the marble floor with a startlingly loud slap. Some worshippers were on their knees, one or two telling rosaries. The stalls of the Rose knights and those of the chapter were also full of the congregation, as was the royal gallery to Yuli's left, though the throne-like chairs of the king and queen at the front were as yet empty. The twelve tall candles on the high altar were lit, and the priest and deacon celebrating were kneeling before it, but in cassocks. They had not vested yet. The choir stalls were still empty, but the chamber orchestra of the Hofkapelle was assembled under the pulpit and behind its rails.

'Time check?' Mattyas called over.

'Ten minutes to ten,' Yuli pronounced.

Mattyas pulled out several stops. 'Show time!' he said to himself, and began a soft introit. The noise and rustling from below subsided. Mattyas played slowly, apparently waiting for something. Then there was an abrupt shout of command from the ante-chapel and a crash as unseen guardsmen snapped to attention. Drums ruffled and a bugle sounded outside. The congregation stood and those in the nave and occupying the eastern stalls craned their heads upwards. Their majesties, the king and queen of Rothenia, appeared at the rear of their gallery, preceded by a chamberlain in gold and green Elphberg livery and followed by a military equerry and a lady-in-waiting. King Rudolf, in suit and tie, handed the queen to her seat. The royal couple acknowledged the bows of the congregation, as the organ and Hofkapelle orchestra burst gloriously into an arrangement of the opening bars of the National Anthem. The king and queen sat as it finished and, with a rustle and scrape, so did the congregation.

Mattyas resumed his introit and called Yuli over. 'You know what's next?'

'Uh-huh. Processional.'

'Okay. Get the score ready for me. Wait for the bell. Pause. And off we go …'

'That was just totally, fucking awesome! Beyond awesome! And you, my Romesczu. Are you actually an angel? That final anthem. That just was not human, what you did. I almost peed myself.'

A blushing Roman took Yuli's hand and quickly raised it to his lips. 'I was singing for you, Yuli. I really was. There was no one in that church for me but you, not even the king, and he's pretty hot in my opinion.'

'There. I have peed myself, now.'

'Oh yes,' Roman laughed. 'I can see the dark spot. Urrgh. You'll stink. Dirty boy.'

He got a punch on the bicep for that. 'What now?' Yuli asked. 'How about a drink or something? There's the big McDonald's just down Mikhelstrasse there. Which one do you usually go to? Bolo says you can tell a lot about a kid by which city outlet he favours.'

'Uh …'


'Well … er … actually ...'

Yuli stared. 'You've never been in a McDonald's have you?'

'Er … no.'

'Burger King? KFC? Quickburger?'

'Vater and Mutta. They don't like them. It's the food quality.'

'Not even on holiday?'

'No. There's the Flavienerhof here. It's not a big queue.' Roman looked anxiously into Yuli's eyes. 'Oh … you've never been in there have you.'

Yuli shook his head. 'Just not my scene; a bit grown up. Probably mutti and tatti have on special occasions, anniversaries and such.'

Roman looked despondent and a little troubled. Yuli pondered whether a hug of reassurance was necessary at this point. Then he brightened. 'An ice cream must be okay though!'

Their telepathic link reignited. 'Berwinckels!' they cried together, and laughed. Social ease was restored … for the time being.

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