“I need some air. Wanna join me?” Francine traced a single finger along my thigh, and I clasped my hand around her tiny fingers with a reassuring smile.
“No, Detka. I’ll wait here for you.”
“You’re sure?” She leaned in to kiss my cheek softly, and I took a moment to really appreciate the beautiful woman I’d fallen in love with almost two years ago. Francine could be impulsive and emotional. She cried during every sad movie ever and couldn’t always handle my blunt personality. We fought like crazy sometimes too, but I wouldn’t trade my life with her for anyone else.
“Brody and Liza...they’re outside.” I hitched my chin toward the sliding glass door leading to Olivia and Charlotte’s patio, making Francine turn to look. “You’re really close to them. They need you. Go. I’ll be fine here.” I brought her fingers to my lips, and she nodded.
“You know where I’ll be if you need anything.”
I watched Francine cautiously enter the patio with pride. My favorite trait of her’s was the kindness she treated everyone with. Even if I didn’t deserve it, Francine nurtured and comforted me whenever I needed her. She did the same for her friends, and it made me feel lucky to be one of the people she loved.
“Vasha, I’m going to the store.” Charlotte interrupted my thoughts, and I snapped my head up to acknowledge her with a nod.
“Do you want anything?”
English was becoming a little more familiar, and every time I understood a sentence I didn’t before it gave me a sense of personal accomplishment.
“No thank you, Charlotte. I’m good.” I wondered how my accent affected English words, and always hoped my friends understood what the hell I was trying to say. I never shared my concern with Francine, because her immediate response would be to force me to work on my pronunciation until my eyesight became blurry. I knew it was just because she wanted me to get better so I couldn’t fault her for it. My girlfriend was my loudest cheerleader, and I appreciated her efforts more than I let on. It seemed she cared about my English studies more than my instructor in school. I used to scoff at my homework and do just enough to get by in general. I rejected learning a second language altogether because I didn’t see a use for it. I was a poor child from Russia living in a home with hundreds more just like me, why would I ever need to learn English? The thought made me smile a little. Irony sure tripped me by the ankles in the form of a boomerang.
I don’t think I had anything to worry about as Charlotte smiled weakly and left without another word. Something seemed very different between her and Olivia and it made me uncomfortable. I tried telling myself it may have been the overall mood of the evening since Brody told us all the news, but I felt something else too. My eyes trailed down the hall and I fought with my thoughts for a few minutes before sighing and getting up. I decided to follow my instincts and go after Olivia quietly. I’m not an intrusive creature by nature, but I wanted to make sure my friend was alright. Just as I raised my fist to knock on their bedroom door, it flew open suddenly. I kept my fist raised for a second and observed Olivia’s red, wet face. I felt silly asking if she was ok now when clearly that wasn’t the case. Her tears made me angry at whatever caused them.
“Don’t cry.” I took a step forward and hugged her. Our height difference meant my head only barely reached her chest, so she had to stoop down awkwardly to return the hug. She and Brody must have been raised among giraffes they were so strikingly tall. Like my dad. Genetics weren’t on my side in that area.
“Vasha, can I tell you something?” She muttered into my ear. I swallowed hard and nodded so she’d feel it. Olivia broke the hug and yanked me by the wrist into her bedroom. We stood on her shag carpeting, and I wiggled my sock covered toes anxiously.
“What happened?” I asked gently. Olivia looked away, opening her mouth to speak when we heard the front door open.
“Shit. Just...hide here for a second!” Olivia took me by the shoulders and stuffed me into their walk in closet.
What the hell, dude?
I was going to protest but she made the shhhh sound with her forefinger, then begged me silently to not make noise. I rolled my eyes and nodded as if to say she better have a good explanation once I was allowed out. Olivia mouthed “thank you” in Russian (spasiba) to make sure I understood her gratitude, and closed the sliding doors in my face. I eased them open just a little so I could peer out of the crack. I’ve never been good at following directions, but I make it work so I don’t get into trouble.
“You have to talk to me sometime, Liv.” Charlotte sounded defeated, and I held my breath so I could listen closely to Olivia’s response. She’s quiet like me, which is probably a big reason we get along so well.
“I don’t know what to say.” Olivia’s body sank on their colorful bedspread. I could see the back of her blonde head as she rested it in her hands. Charlotte’s silhouette became larger as she approached her fiancée. I saw a flash of dark wavy hair.
“It was a mistake...I’m sorry.” Charlotte started to weep, and I lowered my eyes guiltily. I shouldn’t be listening to this. I pulled my phone out to check my texts. My pocket was vibrating like mad.
SMS: Detka? Is it alright if we have Liza and Brody over? They’re still really upset.
SMS: Where are you, little bat?
Francine. I should have known. I read them quickly and replied.
SMS: Olivia shoved me in her closet. I’ll explain later. I don’t think she’s ok. Yes, it’s fine with me but you’re not entertaining anyone until you take a shower. Don’t think I forgot about it. :))
Satisfied, I tucked my phone back into my jeans and began to fantasize about a cold beer and some leftover cookies from tea in the fridge at home when shouting popped my escape bubble. Unable to resist, I again squinted at the sight happening right outside the closet.
“What am I supposed to do with your apologies, Charlotte? It doesn’t change what you did back there.”
Back where? What did she do!?
“I LOVE you, we can work through this.” Charlotte was becoming desperate, and tried explaining herself with words I didn’t understand. Olivia seemed to be getting angrier and less patient. I bit my thumbnail, which was already sore from always biting it down to the skin. I wanted to disappear from my temporary prison but I’d be noticed. Fuck.
I flinched when Olivia abruptly stood up and took a step back from where Charlotte had sat beside her on their bed sullenly. “People who love their partners wouldn’t ever cheat on them. Remember that.” Olivia choked out painfully. My eyebrows shot up in shock.
“Chto ty delayesh'!?” I whispered “what are you doing?” at Charlotte, but only to myself. They seemed like the perfect couple. Betrayal is the ultimate loss of trust. What the hell was going on? Suddenly, I felt a itching sensation in my nose and the urge to sneeze came strongly.
Oh God, not now. I turned just in time and let it out into my hands. Gross.
“I was drunk! And we were fighting...and-“
My uncontrollable sneezing fit interrupted their argument, and I had about five seconds to explain what I was doing in their damn closet. Charlotte started coming over and I held my breath meekly.
“It’s just Vasha. I asked her to hide in there. We were talking when you came back.” Olivia beat her to the closet and opened it up all the way. I scratched the back of my head awkwardly.
“Sorry.” I mumbled to Charlotte, and slid out of their room before either girl could say anything else to or about me. I heard footsteps and walked faster. I wouldn’t even know how to defend myself in this situation. Charlotte had every right to be cross with me if she was.
To my relief, Charlotte didn’t come back out but Olivia pulled me aside before I had the chance to find Francine. I let her lead me to the dinning room.
“Did you understand everything?” She asked in a hushed voice, peering into my eyes.
“Yes...” I wanted to ask why, but it wasn’t my business.
“I know I’m pushing it here but...please don’t tell Brody. She’s got enough on her plate right now. I understand if you have to talk to someone and you go to Francine...I just don’t know what to do about this right now.”
I strained to understand. Don’t tell Brody, which must mean I can’t say anything to Liza either. It’s ok to talk to Francine. I could do that.
“Don’t worry. Our secret.” I made a fist and pressed it to my heart. Olivia embraced me spontaneously and I returned it.
“I’m so glad we’re friends, Vasha.”
“You’re kidding...right?” Francine squinted her alluring brown eyes and took a sip of red wine. I glanced over at Liza and Brody, who were passed out on our pull out couch. I hoped Olivia planned to tell them soon. Brody was one of the best friends she had, I’d want to know if I were her. We came back to our apartment a few hours ago but didn’t say much. Francine and I just put a movie on and they fell asleep. We felt better about them being here with us for the night anyway since they’d been drinking.
“I wish I was.” I decided to not drink tonight in case I got carried away and couldn’t stop. It happens intermittently, but especially when I’m stressed or something is bothering me. I reached for my diet soda resting on the counter instead and savored the carbonated treat. I wasn’t a big soda drinker until I moved to the United States and I’m still not...but it’s nice to have once every few days or so.
“Did you ever find out what happened? It’s almost like this came out of nowhere...” Francine was just as surprised as me. I retraced my steps so to speak and told her everything I knew. Once I was done, we both took a silent moment for ourselves. Charlotte and Olivia were the oldest members of our group in terms of experience. They’d been together for several years, and had gotten engaged a year before Francine met them. We had most of our parties and get togethers at their place, and one or both of them usually always gave the best relationship advice. We all saw the way they looked at each other, and wouldn’t have ever guessed out of all of us it’d be their future coming into question. I sensed Francine’s uncertainty. It was mutual with mine. Wanting to change the subject, I brought up my personal dilemma.
“I talked to Evgeniya today. Over Skype.” The words flowed freely from my mouth, and I searched Francine’s blank face for a reaction. “She has two more kids....” my voice caught. I felt much more emotional than I thought I would. So what? She moved on. People do it all the time.
And had a whole other life without you. They were wanted. My throat constricted.
“Detka....it’s alright.” Francine’s brow furrowed with concern, and she touched my arm tenderly. I took a deep breath in. I wouldn’t break.
“...she asked me to come talk to her. In Siberia. I already told my dad...I asked for advice. He thinks I should, but I’d only do it for him. I want nothing from her.”
“I support you, no matter what you choose to do.” I felt her arms wrap around me, and my vision blurred.
“I wish she would’ve just stayed away...” I didn’t want to see her, but I knew I had to. The unknown is worse than disappointment, at least for me.
“I know, little bat.”
My body crumpled to the floor, bringing Francine down with me as I cried helplessly. I couldn’t stop. Francine’s soothing voice was whispering in my ear that everything would be ok over and over, but I stopped listening. I allowed myself to cry for the life I never got to experience for the first time, and there wasn’t an end in sight.
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