"Our Blank Canvas" has been published on ‘GoodNovel’, and I’m only able to keep five chapters of this book on Inkitt. If you’d like to keep reading there, you can do so at: https://www.goodnovel.com/book_info/21000006664
(Please note: my bold/italic text won’t show up on this App; I apologize for the inconvenience, but my editor assures me it will be looked into in the future.)
(Thank you all a million times for your support. More information to come in regards to paperback publishing so stay tuned!)
♡ Dedicated Theme Song: Только Любовь Починит (Only Love Will Fix) - Bi-2 ♡
I hadn’t been to Church in many years. Not since I still lived at the Children’s home, and even then we only attended every so often since we had someone come pray with us locally. Staring up at the white and gold Cathedrial covered in snow, I only hesitated for a second before heading inside.
I let my hand trace along the faded pews as I slowly walked to the front of the stage. The smell of old wood and spice sent chills down my spine, and it only got stronger the more I walked. Elegant paintings of Jesus surrounded me from every wall, but I focused on the one a mere few feet away as I knelt down. I studied his sad face with a slight frown, and allowed the emotions to come. I felt helpless, frustrated. Angry. Despite growing up as Christian Orthodox, that feeling of Religious peace has never touched me.
I was flying back to Arizona tomorrow, and I didn’t even know if I’d have anything to go back to.
Before I could stop myself, I started speaking directly to the painting.
“Why did you let this happen?” My voice sounded raspy, hoarse. “How could you threaten the only happiness I have!?” I stood up and spoke louder as I shook. “If she dies, it’ll kill me. I’ve never asked you for anything except what was entitled to me. My family. You made me this way; Don’t punish Francine for our love. Please keep her well...”
I’ve always been a quiet person. Meek, reserved. I speak when it’s necessary- but living in America, with Francine, has taught me to seek more from the world. Instead of bearing every misfortune that has befallen me, I’ve started to ask questions. The only problem is while I was seeking those answers in Tobolsk, the woman I live and breathe for is laying unconscious in a hospital bed 6,100 miles away.
What’s worse is I was asleep when Liza called to tell me- so I had to hear the news for the first time through voicemail. I haven’t been able to get a hold of her since and had no idea what was going on.
All I had was this Church.
God, let her stay with me. I can’t go on without my beloved ocean.
I screamed, listening to my desperation echo throughout the empty Church. My body wracked with sobs, and I couldn’t stop.
“Yeah- that’s awesome.”
“Good for you!”
Everyone was using simple sentences in English to speak with me. Even though it makes me feel like I’m five years old again sometimes, I appreciate it because my proficiency level in this language is only beginner right now. Francine argues it’s intermediate, but I disagree. Grasping concepts like one word that sound the same but having three different spellings and meanings is really frustrating.
How many “there’s” do you need!? Apparently, three. There, their, and they’re. Now that I recognize the spelling differences, I’m trying to concentrate on applying them to the correct situations.
The only friends I have in this country are my girlfriend’s former roommates, Charlotte and Olivia, Brody...whose legal name is “Nicole”, and her girlfriend Liza. They’re crowded around me now as I hold up my long anticipated green card in the air for everyone to get a good look. It’s taken me just over a year to get approved for this piece of plastic. After arriving in the United States January of last year, Francine gently advised I apply for asylum to get the process moving faster. I knew I wouldn’t be able to continue renewing my Visa forever, and would eventually have to return to Russia if I didn’t do something. I qualified for asylum because of my status as a lesbian coming from a country where my community is threatened.
Francine has been wonderful. She took me to all my interviews and spoke kindly of my character since arriving in the States. I haven’t been able to work since I didn’t apply for this specific Visa, so I spent most of my time practicing speaking and writing English in my apartment in preparation for this moment. It’s still not very good, but I understand almost all the basic phrases and some slightly conversational sentences. I can count to one hundred and read hazardous signs on the road. Francine always keeps me engaged, pointing to simple billboards and patiently waiting while I squint and sound the words out. I remember how afraid she used to be of driving, and now it’s second nature to her.
Maybe it’ll be the same for me and speaking English.
Applying for permanent citizenship can take one to four more years, depending on the specific requirements of my case. It was explained to me that because I’m here on asylum, I might be able to become a US Citizen sooner than most.
Staring at my photo, I can’t hide the smile and my jaw begins to ache. I can stay in America for at least ten years now, and find work at last. Now my only concern is understanding English words like “there, they’re and their.”
Don’t even get me started on “wear and where.” See? It’s so many I want to tear my hair out.
“Thank you.” I look at my friends and grin. I’ve never had anything like this before. Even though they knew Francine for much longer, they accepted me immediately and opened their hearts so I could feel welcome.
“You’ve earned it, Russki.” The really tall one, Brody, squeezed my tiny shoulder and made her way inside Olivia and Charlotte’s living room from the sliding glass door. The rest of us were still out back on the patio, studying my green card. Brody gave everyone nicknames, which I found amusing. It’s likely she couldn’t pronounce “Vasilisochka”, the only affectionate nickname I’ve ever had so I never bothered trying to suggest it. I tried explaining a thousand times how “Vasha” is short for Vasilisa, but it never sticks to that girl’s brain. Francine just laughed and explained how Brody never listens to a damn thing anyone tells her. We have a playful friendship, I just have to remind myself she’s never being serious when I get offended.
“Do you ever take bad pictures?” Olivia asked. I think she was trying to compliment me, but I wasn’t sure. I was showing my teeth in the picture, something I normally don’t do. My hair was behaving that day and I wore a nice, plain black button down shirt.
“No.” I answered honestly with a laugh. Russians care very much about outward appearances. Even when I was homeless, I found ways to keep clean and my clothing was kept in good condition. Looking at me, nobody would have been able to guess I was struggling. “I never leave my apartment without looking my best, in case someone I know sees me. I guess now that I’m living here that makes four people. Francine doesn’t count, she watches me drool on my pillow.”
Olivia laughed, and it made me laugh too. Of all Francine’s friends, she’s the one I’m closest to. She’s much more reserved than her fiancée Charlotte, and less crude than Brody. We enjoy simple humor, and like to joke about immature subjects. I’ve been teaching her to swear in Russian, and if I didn’t know any better I’d think she came from back home when she’s cursing in my native tongue.
“Hey Vasha, we’re coming to my house now. I’m ordering pizza.” Liza grabbed my wrist gently then let it go almost immediately. She’s a very...touchy person. I used to think Americans who smiled as often as she does had something they were hiding. I didn’t find it genuine, but that was before I really got to know her. Liza and Francine have known each other since primary school, and have a very close relationship. I didn’t like it at first, but it’s harmless. I’ll go more into it later.
“It’s ok.” I pointed at her hand and smiled reassuringly. Being around Francine has made me much more comfortable with being touched, and hugged. I didn’t get a lot of this before I met her, and didn’t understand why people were always touching each other! I now see it as a form of bonding.
My relationships and friendships have always felt transactional in nature. I spent the majority of my life alone, and always wondered what people really wanted from me. My girlfriend never gave up on me, and her friends quickly became mine without asking for anything in return...just that I take care of Francine. I missed this sincerity in my life and wanted them to know they could behave normally around me. I wanted to be one of them as badly as they wanted to make me feel included.
Liza pushed her curly red hair back and grabbed my hand again, turning to Olivia and Charlotte, who took seats in their lawn chairs facing the spacious backyard we had all our parties in. Sometimes I missed living here and sitting in this area smoking my cigarettes. Although we were here so often, it shouldn’t have really made a difference.
“Francine tell you? She got a promotion at work! We won’t be up too long tonight if ya’ll want to join us. I’m stealing Brody, but I’m sure you knew that.”
“As amazing as that sounds, we’ve got to pass. We’re flying back to Savannah for Charlotte’s little sister’s wedding tomorrow morning.” Olivia squeezed Charlotte’s flawless brown hand. Their skin complexions reminded me of John Smith and Pocahontas, and I was fascinated by it. Its not a common occurance for people in Russia to date outside their race. I think racism is pointless, and could find a million examples for why. Charlotte’s ancestry is Native American while Olivia’s family is from England. They’ve shared their story with me, and I realized discrimination happens everywhere. Olivia’s father isn’t speaking to her. Not because she’s gay, but because her fiancée isn’t Caucasian.
“Awww, ok. Another time then. Be safe flying out and congrats to your sister, Char.” Liza hugged both of them and I hung back to observe.
I understood the general topic. After a year of hard work, Francine’s boss Joey promoted her to Assistant Manager. She had her eye on the position for a while, and showed her dedication by picking up extra shifts and helping the restaurant out whenever they needed her. It was a much different position compared to when she used to wash dogs for a living, and I was proud of her for not getting frustrated while learning a new trade. My mind trailed to the times Francine would come home smelling like garlic, and she’d try to kiss me. I’d pinch my nose and yell for her to shower. Wet dog probably smelled much worse.
I chuckled aloud.
“Did you understand what I was saying?” Liza asked me softly, pulling me into the living room where Brody and Francine were getting ready to leave.
“Sorry, just a little.” I shrugged indifferently. I didn’t know how to convey how I get lost in thought sometimes.
“Are you hungry? We’re getting pizza, Detka.” Francine always spared me, and spoke in Russian unless we were practicing my English together. Her mother migrated to America from the Ukraine in the 1980’s. This was before the collapse of the Soviet Union. Francine was taught Ukrainian and a great deal of Russian at home, so communicating with her has always been very effortless for me. I rubbed my stomach and nodded. Pizza was one of my favorite American foods, but I only ate it once in a while. I didn’t want to gain weight, and that seemed like an easy thing to do here.
“Who doesn’t like pizza, right?” Brody grabbed the keys to her truck and told Francine to follow them back to Liza’s. I found it odd that Brody hadn’t moved in with her yet, but it wasn’t my business. Whatever works for them, I just want their happiness in the end.
“Yep! Are you ready?” Francine took a step forward and kissed the corner of my lips. I returned it and hurried to the back porch.
“Let me just say goodbye to our friends first.”
Francine crossed her arms and followed. The satisfied smile on her face always made me feel at home wherever we were.
One week later
Everytime I open my eyes for the first time in the morning, I stare straight ahead at the white ceiling. It’s my private time to reflect, while everything is quiet and still in the apartment I share with my girlfriend Francine. I’ve always done this, even when I lived in Siberia. I’ll probably never quit this simple habit. The raised paint greets me, and I blink the sleepiness away. My body is screaming for some plain black coffee and a cigarette, but my mind isn’t awake enough to order my legs out of bed just yet. We replaced the sheets I’d brought with me from Russia when we moved into our own apartment six months ago, but only because they didn’t fit the queen sized bed Francine insisted we needed. Since I’m usually the one kicking her violently in my sleep, I kept silent about the decision. My navy blue floral comforter is a different story, however. It’s the first thing my father bought me when he found me so many years ago, and I’ve always taken great care of it. It comes everywhere with me, and now it’s draped over mine and my girlfriend’s bodies. I brought it to my nose for a second and breathed in. I love it when Francine does laundry....fresh washed bedding is one of my favorite smells. There’s something undoubtedly comforting about it.
“Vash?” I hear my girlfriend mumbling softly from under her pillow and smile a little. I can tell right away she desires more sleep, but she has a shift in less than an hour at the Italian restaurant she works at. It’s her first day as the new assistant manager, and I remind her of this promotion to inspire movement beside me.
“I’ll make coffee. Get up, lazy girl.” I’m scolding, but she knows I don’t mean it. Francine is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. As well as the most beautiful. I watch her stretch gracefully, pointing her small, red painted toes as she finishes. I helped lighten her hair for the second time this year, and it’s about one shade away from being a rich honey blonde. The same color as our friend Olivia’s. The warmth from her magnetic brown eyes radiates through my soul as she crinkles her shapely nose at me.
“Who’re you calling lazy?” Suddenly her head appears in my lap, and she groans with exhaustion. “We stayed over at Liza’s WAY too late. I can’t even count how many hours of sleep I got last night...”
This was true. Liza is Francine’s favorite friend, and my biggest ally since arriving in Arizona, USA to start a new life. Her long bright red hair fits her outgoing personality, and she’s especially fun to dance with. I’ll admit it, we didn’t care for each other at the start of my relationship with Francine, but she’s the sole reason I’m living in the United States today. After Francine left Siberia, I broke up with her because I didn’t know how else to handle my overwhelming emotions. She disappeared off social media by the time I was ready to talk, so I made the choice to message Liza and tell her everything. I realized how much she cared for my girlfriend while she was helping me plan my move to come out here. I couldn’t thank her enough if I tried.
“I know Detka.” I stroked her soft wavy hair. “If you want to straighten this mess, you’ll need to quickly take a shower. Your breakfast will be waiting for you.” I knew how Francine hated the natural state of her hair by all the tiny black pins she used to smooth it down when there was no time to flat iron it. I tried ironing my short bangs once about three months ago and burnt the shit out of my forehead. I didn’t even need to- my hair is naturally lifeless and straight. There isn’t enough hair products in the world to help me, but I still manage to get it looking presentable. I just wanted to see what would happen. Francine heard my surprised scream and dashed into the bathroom, but couldn’t contain her laughter as I cursed myself in the mirror, staring at the angry red print right next to my left eyebrow. From that moment on, I left the devilish straightening tool alone.
“But it’s so warm here!” Francine curled up tighter and wrapped her arms around my waist. As much as I loved feeling her skin against mine, I was growing tired of trying to convince her to get ready for work.
“If you don’t get up right this instant...” I warned through gritted teeth, pushing her hair back to ensure she was looking into my eyes. “You’ll be very sorry to find out what’ll happen next.”
“FINE!” She shrieked suddenly, rolling out of bed and briskly walking to our bathroom, slamming the door behind her. I grinned and swung my legs over, letting my feet hit our white carpet. She never knows what that threat means, but doesn’t test me. It works every time.
Twenty minutes later, I hear the shower shut off abruptly. Steam is rising from the crack underneath our bathroom door, and my cat Ember raises his nose to smell it curiously. It’s been almost two years since he followed me home from work that night, and I adopted him after Francine helped me come up with a name for the little black kitten. I don’t intend to start a family with Francine since neither of us want children, so Ember is regarded as our very loved son.
“Come.” I called him affectionately, and dug my hand in his treat jar sitting on the counter. He meowed promptly and trotted over to eat the soft pellet out of the palm of my hand. “Good boy.” I praised him, and he arched his back as my hand glided over his striking black coat.
“Detka? Could you pour my coffee into a thermos? I’m going to be late!” Francine’s panicked voice echoed from behind the door. I grinned to myself, eyeing her favorite lavender to-go beverage container already filled with coffee and light creamer. I always know when she’ll be late to something, and prepare accordingly. I also wrapped a toasted bagel with vegetable cream cheese in a paper towel to make sure she eats something. After she kept losing weight last year from not eating, I constantly worry.
“It’s ready for you, Bunny.” I respond, taking my black galaxy mug with me to the sofa and sitting down. My routine is usually to start practicing my English workbooks while I’m eating breakfast, but first I check my social media accounts with a cup of coffee. Logging onto VK, I see three messages right away from my dad. He was supposed to come visit us last year in the fall, but his career is very demanding, and he couldn’t take the time to be away from it. I’ve wondered if he’s upset at me for moving to America sometimes, but I remind myself it’s just my paranoia. My father supports me at every turn, and I’m grateful to him. It’s more than anyone else has ever done, aside from Francine.
VK (Andrei Krovopuskov): Beloved daughter, your hair is getting so long! It’s a good look, very stylish. I’m trying to organize a trip to see you and Francine in The United States. I’ll let you know as soon as this is possible. Skype me sometime this week and let’s enjoy a cup of tea together. Your dad loves you.
I save all of his messages, and sometimes record our Skype conversations on my phone. Leaving Russia was very difficult for me. I left behind everything that was native to me...but leaving my dad there was the worst pain. I never let him see how sad it makes me sometimes, because we both know this was the best decision for my future. I’ve experienced pure hell in Russia for being gay, and that’s not including what I endured as an unwanted child in the eyes of my country. I’ll never speak ill of Russia, and I’m proud of who I am...but the life I was living there wasn’t really a fulfilling one. I’m almost still not quite used to holding Francine’s hand in public, or kissing her at the grocery store. I’ve been given a newfound freedom. I lift my fingers and type out a response.
VK (Vasilisa Krovopuskova): Hi, dad. It’s hardly grown. Maybe the bangs. I just style my hair differently now :) You’ll love it in America. It gets very hot where I live in the summer, so if you’re coming soon I’ll need to buy more sunscreen. I’ll make sure to have tea ready when we Skype next. Much love from Francine, Ember, and your daughter Vasilisa.
I smile and go to check my notifications when another message catches my eye. The blonde woman in the profile picture looks oddly familiar, but the photo was taken from far away and I can’t make it out clearly. There isn’t a name attached to it either. I click on the correspondence quickly.
VK (Anonymous): Yulia, I’ve watched you for a while. I couldn’t make myself known because I was afraid you’d disappear from sight. Are you really living in America with another woman now? Maybe now it’s time we had a conversation.
My blood froze. The only two people who knew my birth name were my dad and...
Another message popped up.
VK (Anonymous): Yulia, it’s mama.
“Vasilisa? Are you alright Detka?” Francine’s concerned voice was right next to me, and I observed her fully dressed in the new uniform she’d be wearing for work. I hadn’t realized she’d sat down. Without a word, I handed her my phone. She scanned the messages, and widened her large brown eyes at me.
I couldn’t speak. So I just stared back in shock.
I don’t even remember her. What would she want with me now?