Rebeka Ariadne was always sure of everything—maybe except for how she survived the informal business meeting with Küllo and Viktor today. She could remember taking a photo of the café before her future business partners arrived, but she could retain nothing from after she saw Küllo approaching her table.
What brought her back to reality was the light reflected by Viktor’s glasses as he pushed it up the bridge of his nose. Rebeka fixed her gaze on it, mildly fascinated, and only when Küllo cleared his throat did she finally snap out of it.
“Yes, Kü?” she asked tentatively. Only when both Küllo and Viktor stared at her in mild confusion did she realize what she just called him. “Oh, I mean, Küllo. Sorry. What was it?”
“I said I have to leave now,” Viktor answered, sounding sheepish. He gently closed his laptop, averting his gaze from Rebeka. “I have to report back to dad, tell him how smoothly things went today.”
Küllo chuckled and gave him a few pats on the back. “Tell tito you handled it well too, buddy. I thought it was just Aryang who knew business talk like the back of her hand, but apparently, you do now, too.”
Viktor’s expression brightened. For the first time that day, a small smile graced his lips. “Gee, thanks, man. You’re cool, too.” He turned to Rebeka again, eyes wide and almost shining from the compliment he just received. “Especially you, Rebeka. You’re as intelligent as I remember. I’m so honored to be working with you again.”
She felt no honor nor elation at that moment. There was hollowness, and within it swirled a terrifying mixture of guilt, anger, and fear. If she was being honest with herself, Rebeka wanted to forget about the business acquisition entirely and probably burrow into her blankets and fall into a troubled sleep.
Instead, she forced herself to smile. She used one of those she had perfected; first utilized when she was in high school and all she had on her was her charm and her way of talking people into agreeing with her. It seemed to work on Viktor now, as his own smile widened upon seeing hers. “The pleasure is all mine, Viktor. I’m looking forward to seeing our plans come to fruition.” Even her words tasted bitter acid on her tongue, yet she pushed them out.
Viktor chuckled, sounding so relaxed and at ease it made Rebeka want to wither up and probably die. “You’re the best, Rebeka,” he said shyly.
As much as she wanted to keep the box of her past mistakes locked and tucked away in a nearly forgotten corner of her mind, she couldn’t. She could hear it rattling; could hear Auseklis breaking things in his anger, Lucija locking herself in her room for days, Sofija avoiding Rebeka’s gaze every time she tried to reach out, and Andrejs drowning himself in schoolwork so he wouldn’t have to stay at home with any one of them.
“I’ll go now.” She didn’t even notice Viktor finish tidying his things up. “See you again soon. Good night, you two.” Rebeka was grateful he didn’t look back once he walked away, because he nearly saw her break composure and almost cry in the middle of a goddamn café.
Closing her eyes, she slowly lowered her face onto the table. Memories she had worked hard to bury kept resurfacing in the back of her mind—when she got tired of fighting them, she let them play like a fucked up movie instead. There was Auseklis finding out that Rebeka had only used Viktor to teach him a lesson in love , and watched him burn the violin she gave him on his 12th birthday in her head. Again.
“Aryang.” A firm tap on the back of her head made her jerk back upward. From across the table, Küllo retracted his hand, then pointed at the bowl of ice cream in front of her. “I figured that would make you relax a bit. You were tense earlier.”
Rebeka slumped against her seat. What Küllo said struck the insecure girl inside of her—apparently, she was not as invincible on the outside as she thought. Someone could still see through her façade and know exactly how weak she really was.
“Viktor didn’t notice, though,” he added when she stayed silent. Her mood picked up at that, and when she finally tried to meet his gaze, Küllo was already smiling warmly at her. There was a quick, stabbing pain in her chest at the sight of that. “You’ve gotten even better at putting on a business face, Aryang. I almost didn’t recognize you.”
That was enough to make her cry. Küllo didn’t panic at the sight of her tears. Instead, he patiently waited until no more tears were running down her cheeks.
As Rebeka was wiping away tears and what was ruined of her makeup, Küllo finally spoke. “Your ice cream’s melting.” That made her chuckle. While she was relieved that he’d found her to have changed, Rebeka was surprised to find out that Küllo was still the person he was from many years ago; he still knew her love language like the back of his own hand and still made ill-timed jokes.
She tried not to think about how similar he was to Lucija, in their way of knowing her.
Her hands shaking, Rebeka slowly reached out to pull the ice cream bowl closer to her. Cookies and cream. Küllo once said he would die before he ordered that abomination of a flavor, but he had always gotten it for her because she secretly loved it.
“Aryang, I swear to God. If you start crying again, I’ll run away from this table and tell my parents I don’t want to push through with the acquisition anymore.”
“Don’t you dare.” She gave him a half-hearted glare before digging into the treat.
And, because he was Küllo Aasmäe, he didn’t let her go home right away. She was too tired to argue and insist that she had to get home soon, so Rebeka let herself be dragged into some hole-in-the-whole arcade that also sold the most disgusting-looking junk food she has ever seen.
“Am I going to wait for you the entire night?” she asked after growing tired of watching him play and lose against the pinball machine for the seventh time in a row.
Küllo produced another token to insert into the machine’s slot and didn’t give her even a sideways glance when he answered. “I’m not the one who has to say anything, Aryang. I think it’s you.” The cartoonish sound of the game booting up made Rebeka want to bang her head against the nearest wall. “If you don’t have anything else to say, I’ll drive you home.”
Gods, she hated how well he knew her.
Rebeka opted not to answer first. She glanced around them, let her eyes wander around the tiny, colorful arcade filled with what looked like high school students. Taking in a deep breath, she tuned out the cacophony of noises. That’s when it belatedly hit her; Küllo headed here for himself and not her. He was never good at dealing with heavy emotions—sure, he might have been able to console her as she was crying, but he needed to leave or distract himself right away.
She let out a long sigh.
Küllo softly cursed when he lost his game and promptly began another one.
“I didn’t stop Lucija when she said that she wanted to stay far away from me for the meantime. It hurt, of course, as no one else understood me the way she did, and that’s probably why this is going to do the both of us good. She wouldn’t depend on me, and I wouldn’t think of her as someone I have control over. Not anymore.” It was easier to speak when Küllo wasn’t looking at her, but she knew that he was hearing every word. “I honestly have no idea how to undo every mistake I’ve made when I was younger, and I’m so, so sorry for putting off my amendments for a very long time.
“I thought things would heal on their own with time. I realize now how wrong that is. Auseklis still tenses up whenever Viktor is mentioned and he hasn’t touched a violin since he burned the one I gave him. Lucija is still thrown off-course whenever you show up.”
He momentarily tensed at that. Rebeka watched as Küllo shook his head slightly, then continued his game.
“I’m still so far away from completely making up for my mistakes, but I think I’m doing better now.” Rebeka nibbled on her lower lip after that, unsure if she still had to say anything else.
The pinball machine made an annoying fanfare-ish sound. Küllo finally won.