I woke from the couch, looking around it was dark out and I felt rested. I looked at the clock in the kitchen, it was almost two in the morning! I’d been out for hours.
I walked to the table, turning on the light I read the note Patrick had left for me. I picked up the letter, and thought about it for a while. Getting on the phone, I checked when the first flight would be available from Chicago and how much. Then I checked the web and verified that I could get a passport overnight if I had a flight leaving within 72 hours.
I bought the ticket.
I just had to know.
I wasn’t going to find out anything sitting around here. I had the money, I wasn’t working, and until school started there wasn’t much happening. It was the PERFECT time for an adventure. I turned Patrick’s note over and left my own. He and his folks had been great, but it was time for me to step out on my own and move on with my life.
I picked one that left the next night, then packed a bag with some clothes and went out to my car. I wasn’t tired, so I might as well drive. It wasn’t long before I was on the road, heading down highway 95 to get to Interstate 94 east. I stopped at a Walgreen’s drugstore on the way, having them take my passport photo while I loaded up on Diet Mountain Dew and a bag of chocolate donuts. It was all I would need for this little trip. At the register I saw a paperback version of The Last Shewolf, a hot new story that had hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list and put that in my cart as well. The flight was going to be long and I could use the escape.
My phone was loaded with the address of the US Consulate in Chicago, and it showed an arrival time of ten in the morning. I settled into the drive, setting the cruise control and watching for deer as I flew down the freeway towards Madison. I stopped there for breakfast, getting pancakes, bacon, eggs and candied apples at Cracker Barrel before I was back on the road. Traffic in Chicago sucked as I got closer, but at least it wasn’t rush hour anymore. I found a place to park then went inside the building. It took two hours of standing in line, paperwork filled out, before I could pay my fee. They said I could pick it up at noon tomorrow, which would be plenty of time before I had to be at the airport.
Patrick texted me, asking if I wanted to help with the dog socialization again this afternoon. I just told him I had some things I had to do and maybe next week would be better. I didn’t want him worrying about me, I was an adult and I didn’t need them worrying about me. I walked around downtown, window shopping, then decided to go to the Shedd Aquarium.
I was glad I had worn comfortable shoes, a holdover from my waitress days, by the time I was done walking around. I loved the aquarium, it was a huge one and I just couldn’t leave. By the time I retrieved my car, it was past nine. I found a hotel, shocked at the cost per night, and was in bed by ten.
I woke up before nine and went down to their business area where they had computers available for use. I used Google to look at everything I could find about Sergiyev Posad, then checked the travel sites to make sure I could get from the airport to there. The trains connected from the airport station, then I printed out the routes and schedule and put them in my purse. I downloaded as much reading material to my phone as I could, figuring I could continue reading on the flight.
I checked out of my hotel room and drove back downtown to the consulate, this time it only took an hour to get to the front of the line and get my passport. I drove out to O’Hare, parking in the long-term lots, then took the shuttle to the airport.
I checked in early, only one bag and my carry on. I had my book and my phone, plus a back-up battery pack. I planned to sleep half the flight anyway.
I called Father Kempechny back, letting him know my arrival time in Moscow. He told me to call him again when I got to the train station in the town, and he’d take me to see my mother’s grave.
The hours went by fast, I was so engrossed in the story of Vivian that I almost forgot to eat dinner before boarding. I read, I slept, and finally I was back in the country of my birth.
“Purpose of your visit?” The Customs agent was looking at my brand-new passport.
“Visiting a friend,” I said. He nodded and stamped it, a fourteen-day tourist visa. I moved through into the main area, following the signs that were in Russian and English to the train station. I got a window seat, looking fascinated at the city and the countryside of my heritage as we sped east.
All too quickly, we had pulled into the station at Sergiyev Posad and I walked off with my bag. I looked around at the old town, thinking of how my mother must have felt. I called the Father, and ten minutes later he pulled up in a battered old car. “Jessica,” he said as he pulled up. “You look so much like your mother,” he said with a tear in his eye.
“Thank you for helping her,” I said as I quickly hugged him. He put my bag in the back seat and we were on our way. I had him stop at a roadside stand, buying some flowers for her. Ten minutes later, at a graveyard behind a small Russian Orthodox church, I was seated in front of a grave. I laid the flowers down as the tears ran down my face, my fingers running over her name in the small granite marker. The Father had retreated, allowing me privacy with her.
“Mom,” I said as I took a photo, “I wish I had known you. I wish you hadn’t gone to him, hadn’t risked it all for me. Why go to him if he raped you?” My hands gripped the ground as I blinked to clear my eyes. “I know you did what you thought was best, and I had good parents while they lived. I just found out about you, and it’s too late for us now.” I stayed there for another twenty minutes, then walked back to the car where the Father was waiting.
“Come on, I need to show you some things back at my office,” he said. I hopped in and we were off. “You knew Ekatarina well?”
“I’d like to think so. I met her shortly after she moved here, I took her confession when she arrived. She was a mess; still reeling from the rape, her dreams of college shattered, and facing single motherhood. I counseled her for months, helping her get past her feelings of grief and shame. If that wasn’t enough, he own mother was crushed by her return, and her health was failing. It was a lot to take.”
“She was a good woman?”
He nodded. “Your mother was very strong woman. She did the best she could, and when she could do no more, she did what she thought she had to do. She loved you, never doubt that for a moment. Losing her, it felt like I lost a part of myself. I had promised her I would protect you, get you away from him, and that’s what I did. I had her sign the adoption forms just in case, and I found an American family I thought would give you a good life.” He looked over at me. “Did they? Were they good to you?”
“They were good people, but life got in the way. My father died when I was two, victim of a mugging. My Mom had to go back to work, she did her best but eventually her medical bills took everything from her. I had to drop out of school to help her, she died recently.” I wiped a tear. “Can I meet my father?”
“I hope you never meet him, because that man is in the deepest pits of Hell right now. A truly evil, unrepentant man. He died recently, and that is something we need to discuss.”
He sighed. “Your father was a rich man, a VERY rich man. He died with no heir, his estate is tied up in the courts right now. We have the documents that can prove your heritage, and I have more. A DNA test will be conclusive. If you want, we can visit a lawyer and start the process of filing a claim to be declared his heir and inherit his empire.”
I thought about it. Did I want anything from that man? “How rich is VERY rich?”
“The estimates of his estate range from just over a hundred to eight hundred million, but only his lawyers truly know.” My eyes bugged out. “In American dollars, I converted it myself. You’d be a very rich young lady.”
Oh. My. God. “Can we see this lawyer now?”
“I already got you an appointment.”
I hadn’t heard from Jessie since her text, and she hadn’t responded to my phone calls or text messages. Dad had explained to me the danger she was in, and after one last call, I had to know. I got in my car and drove to her cabin; her car was not in the garage. “Jessie?” No one answered.
I looked in the window, it was dark. I pulled out the key my father had given me and used it to open the door. The cabin was dark and quiet; nothing had been disturbed. I looked around for a few minutes before I saw the note on the table wasn’t the same one I left. “Patrick- I’ve gone to find out about my mother. Don’t worry, I’ll be back in a while. -Jessie”
Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck. “Dad? Jessie’s gone, her note says she’s heading to Russia to find out about her mother.”
He roared through the link and called me to come back home. I just hoped we could catch her before she delivered herself straight to her enemies.