The more you moved, the more it hurt, and it wasn’t just the torn flesh on your arm. Something had happened when you saw Gilbert earlier. An array of emotions -- far too many to name just one -- had flooded your system, straining your body as well as your mind.
Aimlessly you walked through the corridors of the mansion in a state of discomfort and disorientation, the pain of your wound mercilessly ripping through your arm with every swing. Eventually you took to cradling your arm to your chest for relief, but it brought very little, and the circumstances of Gilbert’s sudden appearance still rattled your brain.How?
How was it even possible for Gilbert Beilschmidt of all people to be here in Russia? Under the same roof, no less! The ocean separating the two of you was one of only good things about being here. You had been kidnapped, held hostage, tormented, worked like a slave, scared half to death, threatened and shot at, but this took the cake.
Trapped in this state of bemusement and unable to focus on work, you continued to wander and speculate. The longer you thought, however, the more questions seemed to arise. Could it be sheer coincidence? Of course. But a deeper, more primal instinct conflicted with your desire rationalize the situation.. Something about this was wrong. You felt
it. The air just reeked of suspicion.Gilbert said he was here on business,
you thought. But what does that mean?
Over the years that you’ve known him, his family’s business has grown quite substantially. They now had multiple locations in the United States and Germany which is nothing to shake a stick at. With that kind of success, it wasn’t completely ludicrous for him to be expanding the business to Russia. But what did any of this have to do with Ivan? After all, he wasn’t in the automobile business….right?
“Come to think of it, I don’t know anything about Ivan’s job,” you realized as you stopped walking for a moment. “What exactly does
he do? Besides boss people around, that is,” you muttered.
Obviously he worked from home a lot; you could count on one hand how many times he had left the house, but that was really all you knew. Strange. You’d think after being here for two months, you’d at least have some
recollection of what he did for a living.
You soon found yourself in a familiar hallway, where countless copies of the same violet eyes followed your every move. The paintings of Ivan that lined the walls brought back a flood of memories from your arrival. ‘Has it really only been two months?’
you wondered, trying to think back on all that had happened since then. It felt like years had passed.
“I just can’t seem to get away from you, can I?” you asked the particularly realistic portrait of Ivan. He was wearing a snow colored suit that complimented his eyes brilliantly. Those heliotrope irises were almost as captivating as the real ones. But something else about this portrait caught your attention, causing your brows to crease.
“He’s not wearing his scarf…” The collar on the suit he wore was high, completely covered his neck. And as you had done countless times before, you wondered why he always kept his neck hidden. The more you thought about it the more the questions began to bombard your mind and that, in turn, caused an insatiable hunger for the truth. You wanted to know why.
You recalled that night when he came into the kitchen without his scarf, how he flinched and cowered when you tried to go near him, the way his voice and shoulders tightened, his refusal to let you turn the lights on. What exactly was he trying to hide? A birthmark, maybe? Gang tattoos?
You laughed at the thought, amusing yourself with your own wild imagination. But then, like a bolt of lightning, sharp pain shot furiously through your arm and you tensed, freezing in place, unable to help the little cry that ripped from your lips.
At that instant your mind was assaulted with the memory. Gunshots. Shattering glass. Screeching tires. Your frantic heartbeat drumming loudly in your ears and the cold sweat that followed suit. Never in your life had you experienced such utter terror...save for the night of you ‘escape’. And you remembered.
The one with the scar and the crooked, toothy grin. He was there; he was one of the three men who attacked you. And he was there at the mall, following you. No doubt he was the one who pursued you and Toris on the road. He might have been the one that shot you! And it was unmistakably that same man that showed up with Winter the very next day. And if he’s involved with a gang like Eduard said, then Winter must be involved, too! And if Ivan invited them over…
You picked your head up and focused on the painting of Ivan again, the one of him in the white suit with the high collar that kept his neck hidden.
And the realization hit you like a proverbial ton of bricks.Ivan’s in the Russian mafia.
Suddenly everything that had happened up till now made perfect sense. How could you have missed it? This was like every mobster movie ever made! And according to the most undisputed of them all, The Godfather
, every mobster either wore a signature ring, had a tattoo, or both. And Ivan never wears jewelry...
Only that scarf.
What did you really know about Ivan anyway? Everything about him seemed to be shrouded in secrecy.
The only time you asked him about the scarf, he snapped at you like a vicious animal and wouldn’t tell you anything. And the only time you’ve seen him leave the house alone, he wouldn’t tell anyone where he was going. Not to mention he spends most of his time in his office doing God only knows what. For all you knew he could be plotting your demise, lulling you into a false sense of security and then WHAM
. You’re a gonner. A heavy sigh escaped your lips as one accusation after another raced through the front of your mind.
Suddenly you grasped at your head, clenching fistfulls of your hair in your hands.
Your head throbbed as you struggled to process so much information all at once. Shakily taking a deep breath and, ignoring your aching head and the pulsating in you arm, you mustered every ounce of resolve you had and kept moving forward.
You were surprised to find yourself walking again, even felt as though the very floor had been ripped from beneath your feet. You wouldn’t dare admit this to anyone - you had barely begun to admit it to yourself. But somewhere in the deepest, darkest chambers of your heart, you had almost
begun to like Ivan. Or, at the very least, appreciate him. Lately it almost seemed like he was actually looking out for you, as if he cared. Ha! You should have known. But now you felt blind-sided.
“How did I get mixed up in all of this?” you asked yourself quietly, slowly raising your hand to your wound, which hadn’t healed at all these last few days. It felt worse, actually, if that was possible. Still, you continued forward.
There was still the matter of trying to figure out how Gilbert factored into all of this.
Speculations of what Ivan may or may not be, or what his plans for you were, would have to wait for the time being. What you were most concerned about right now was Gilbert. Regardless of the reason or the circumstance, he was here. And maybe, for once, that wasn’t such a bad thing.‘Maybe….'
you began to think, stopping at a familiar wood-carved bear statue. ‘Maybe Gilbert can send word to my father…so that he knows I’m okay.'
You missed your father terribly, Antonio and Cynthia too, and they all must be so worried. But it was terrible idea to put any sort of faith in Gilbert. What exactly would he ask for in return for such a generous offer? You continued marching forward. I’m not that stupid,
you told yourself, slowing down a bit. But then again…
Gilbert was the only other person who knew you were here. You had to consider your options — they were very few at this point. Maybe it was time to swallow your pride. You exhaled heavily from your nose and paused in front of one of the large windows, taking notice of the light and delicate midday snowfall.
Gilbert has connections, and wealth. Maybe he would help you. You weren’t crazy enough to think he would pay the money you needed for your freedom. But maybe he could at least bring word to your father you were alive.
“Seriously, how did I get mixed up in all of this?” you asked yourself again. You also couldn’t help but wonder how Gilbert fit into all of this. Could it be possible that Gilbert was involved with the mafia, too?
was a ridiculous assumption.
“He couldn’t be,” you decided. He wasn’t fit for that sort of position. Underground business with shady connections requires a certain finesse and subtlety that he just doesn’t have. Gilbert Beilschmidt was far too cocky and overconfident — he’d be killed on the spot.
But what if it was
You might not like Gilbert, but you certainly didn’t wish literal death upon him.
Another pulse sent pain to your wound, causing you to clutch the surrounding flesh, as if it would bring some relief. The pain felt worse now than it did yesterday, not to mention it didn’t appear to be healing at all.
As the pain continued to plague your arm, an afflictive uneasiness began to stir in your stomach. You sagged against the wall and slid to the rug beneath your feet for a short rest. Taking in deep, shaky breaths, you tried to regain your composure. It was all too much.
“It’s like a bad nightmare…please let me just wake up!” you pleaded to the empty hallway.
“I don’t mean to pry, but rumor has it you’ve been running into a bit of misfortune with some business propositions,” said Gilbert, breaking another uncomfortable bout of silence.
Ivan hadn’t been focusing on making conversation. The tea incident earlier had made him rather rigid. He tried to quiet his mind of all thoughts that weren’t about business, but the more he looked at Gilbert Beilschmidt the more unsettled he became. This pale-skinned crimson-eyed thing before him seemed more like a demon than a man and his natural intuition told him he was not to be trusted easily.
Ivan felt his heart tighten within his chest, reminding him that he needed to take his medicine.
“And how exactly did you come across this information?” he asked, taking in a slow deep breath to keep his composure. The fact that Gilbert knew anything about his business history was unsettling and very suspicious. No one knew of his business problems except for General Winter and himself. What business was it of Gilbert to go poking his pale nose into these affairs? The man in question lifted his left ankle and rested it against his right knee, leaning back on the couch in a casual manner.
“Through the grape vine so to speak, but don’t worry, I won’t breathe a word of this to anyone.” There was something in his tone of voice that Ivan could not ignore - a hidden threat, perhaps? His eyes narrowed upon the German man before him.
“If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were trying to blackmail me,” Ivan said in a calm undertone. It sent a chill up Gilbert’s slouched spine, causing him to sit up slowly. He quickly placed an innocent look upon his features.
“No, no, no, no! You misunderstood me!” he said, waving his hands about. “All I meant is that I can relate to your situation.” Ivan tilted his head in curiosity.
“Is that so?” Gilbert nodded, clasping both hands before him.
“Although I have only been in my grandfather’s business for a few years now, I have seen my fair share of disloyalty and backstabbing in this line of work. There are people that would do such dishonest business. Knowing that makes me sick.”
Ivan blinked. Gilbert wasn’t much younger than he was. Considering the amount of experience he had, it wasn’t too far fetched that he could have had his fair share of scamming con artists. But an instinct told him not to let his guard down.
“It is quite frustrating, but we are not here to talk about my financial problems. I believe we had some business to take care of,” he smiled. “So let’s take care of it.”
Gilbert casually swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. Even with that smile on his face, there was something dark about the energy around him. This man was not to be underestimated, which put Gilbert at a disadvantage. Everything he knew about him was limited to rumors and information from formal business contacts. This was the first time he had met Ivan personally.
All he really knew about Ivan was that he didn’t like him one bit. This man had done everything to ruin Gilbert’s plans for dominating the import and export company. In the past, every client Gilbert made arrangements with has cancelled for some other business proposition — by an amazing stroke of coincidence, Ivan was always on the other end of it.
But it was more than that. Soon to retire any day now, his grandfather was looking for a reliable heir to take over as head of the company. Gilbert was willing to do anything to prove himself worthy of the position, no matter the risk. He had done his research and measured the cost; he knew that Ivan was just as desperate to make this deal work as he was. General Winter had been kind enough to offer him a few details. If this was going to end in his favor, he needed Ivan’s cooperation. If all went well, he’d walk away with his life and completely oversee of the company. Nothing but the hand of God could stop him then.
Gilbert was unsettled. Behind that smile, he had no idea what Ivan was thinking. But he would not allow himself to falter or show weakness of any kind. All he had to do was stay in control of the situation. So he would.
“Of course,” said Gilbert. “Let’s not waste anymore time.” A black briefcase was set on the couch cushion beside him. He opened it with a click. He reached in and pulled out a large blue sheet of paper. “Allow me to present a new model that has never been on the market before. The only person who has seen this is myself-,” he paused to place the blueprints on the coffee table for Ivan to see, “-and now you.”
Ivan allowed his jeweled eyes to scan the plans before him. It all looked very intricate and well thought out. But Ivan was not so easily convinced.
“Tell me more about it,” said Ivan, leaning forward to get a better view. Dealing in automotives was never his forte, but it if this is what General Winter wanted, he would have to learn fast. Gilbert’s eyes lit up as he began his run through.
“I’m sure you are aware that German engineering has always been known to be safe, reliable and top quality. But I’m not just talking cars here,” Gilbert said, leaning forward. “This model, like I said before, has never been viewed by the public. It’s state of the art and one of a kind, perfect for your kind of business.” He said, jerking Ivan’s gaze towards his.
“What do you mean by that?” asked Ivan. Gilbert pointed to the drafts before them.
“Bullet proof exterior. One way mirrored windows. Enough horsepower to dominate any sports car and a heartbeat detector for extra safety.” He gazed up at Ivan. “And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Ivan hummed intriguingly. A heartbeat detector would be able to sense if someone is inside the car, a feature that could very useful in preventing any sneak attacks. Ivan’s attention was definitely captured, but he would not be won over by party tricks.
“And where exactly is this model?” he asked.
Gilbert wagged his finger at Ivan in disapproval as he sat back in his seat. “You don’t think I’ll show it off to just anyone, do you?” he asked, earning a quirked eyebrow from Ivan.
“Are we not doing business together?” He asked, pointing to the draft papers to emphasize his point. Gilbert chuckled a bit, slinging his left arm over the back of the brown leather couch.
“Yes, but since this is a one of a kind model I have to make sure you’re serious about this. I can’t just show it to you without having some reassurance that you’re trustworthy,” said Gilbert, ironically. Ivan let out a short laugh. ‘The mafia is not to be trusted,'
Ivan thought, boring his purple hues into the Albino mans’.
“I honestly do not know why my boss wanted to do business with you, but I suppose I cannot argue with him. So if he wants your products, then so do I.” Ivan wasn’t sure exactly how this was supposed to get Winter his money, but he would just have to wait and watch as everything unfolded.
Deeply satisfied, Gilbert fought to hold back the grin that tugged at the corners of his lips.
Everything was going according to plan...
Natalya slowly pulled her ear away from the office door. ‘That man is up to something, I can feel it.'
Thoughtfully, she paced through the hall, toward her room. ‘I’ll plant microphones in his room just to make sure he isn’t a threat,'
she thought, allowing a minute smirk to cross her delicate lips. She didn’t like the idea of spying on her brother’s business arrangements, but she had a job to do and this man reeked of suspicion.“Let me see it,”
she heard her sister’s voice say from some distance away. She continued walking towards the sound, her deep navy eyes scanning her surroundings. “It’s fine, really. You don’t have to fuss over me,”
said (Name). The voices were coming from down the hallway to Natalya’s left. Just as she rounded the corner she saw a door halfway open. She could see a mirror from her angle, Yekaterena’s reflection consuming the looking glass. She looked worried, as always. Again, (Name) hissed in pain. “Please just let me take a look at it!”
(Name) sighed heavily.“Okay....”
she finally agreed. A few seconds passed. There was sound of gauze peeling combined with more hisses and slight grunts of pain. Natalya heard her sister gasp. “Oh no, this is not good!”
Yekaterena exclaimed in Russian. “See? I told you it wasn’t that-”
she hissed again as the last of the gauze tore painfully away from her skin, “....bad.”
Natalya could just picture her sister clicking her tongue in disapproval and shaking her head. Soon after, she heard a tsk tsk tsk. “I will clean it again and wrap it up with fresh bandage. Now you sit on toilet seat and let me take care of the rest.”
Natalya decided to leave the two of you alone for now. She had microphones to plant.
You wanted to be brave, especially for Yekaterena’s sake. She was being as gentle as humanly possible, but even so, having the bandages peeled from your arm was a painful process that left you feeling exhausted already...and the day wasn’t even over yet.
Back slouched, you watched Yekaterena toss the red-stained gauze in the trash. You couldn’t believe the amount of blood you had lost. Taking a glance at your laceration, you cringed and looked away. It still looked so… fresh. The flesh was still open and not the least bit scabbed-over. In fact, it almost seemed bigger than it was yesterday. It’s shape was fairly odd, not unlike a deep claw mark.
You were lucky the bullet hadn’t lodged itself in your arm, but the deep graze it left was no walk in the park. You would survive, you decided. But you weren’t walking away without a scar. It would be a while before you could wear tank tops again.
Yekaterena earnestly rushed about the bathroom, gathering bandages and such in order to tend to you. You smiled faintly as you watched her. From the moment you met her, the woman has shown you such grace and compassion. She had so much kindness. So much love. She was almost like...
“Mom…” you said in a hushed whisper.
“Did you say something?” she asked, her hands full of gauze and ointments.
“I was just thinking that you’d make a good mom,” you said without thinking. When you realized what you had just said, you glanced up at her and saw that her eyebrows were raised in surprise and her lips were slightly parted.
You lowered your gaze to your lap out of bashfulness and fatigue.
“Um.. I’m sorry, I just meant that—”
“It is alright,” she interrupted with a small smile. “Is wonderful thing to say. Thank you.”
In actuality, those words meant more to her than she could express. Like Ivan, she grew up in hostile and toxic environment, and walked away with a few scars of her own as a result. Because of that, she always doubted her ability to raise a family of her own. She was terrified that she might someday harm her own children the way her own father had hurt her and her siblings; afraid of becoming just like him. But for you to say something so kind to her meant she was doing something right, and that gave her hope.
Yekaterena placed the items in her hand on the counter and sat on the edge of the bathtub, next to you. You lowered your head a bit more and avoided her gaze. She brushed some hair away from your face and craned her head to see you better.
She knew what a difficult time you were having with everything, and she too has carried the weight of losing a mother, so she did her absolute best to shower you with the love she would have for her own children. The love that her own mother had for her. If she could somehow lighten your burdens, even just a little, then she would be happy.
“I know is probably foolish thing to ask why you look so sad…I think I already am knowing why, but…try to look on bright side.” You furrowed your eyebrows, intently searching the air for answers, but none came. For once, you didn’t feel optimistic. You couldn’t see any good in these circumstances.
Finally picking your head up to look at her, you asked,“Is
there a bright side to any of this?” Yekaterena smiled and reached for your hand, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“You are alive. And that is something to be very happy about.” Alive
. Yeah, you were alive. But for how much longer?
you thought darkly, former suspicions oozing back into your mind.
You sighed gently and forced a small smile on your lips.
“You’re right…I’m sorry. It’s just that lately everything’s been so...” Tiring. Confusing. Horrible. Unbearable.
Yekaterena gently lifted your chin.
“I know. But try to just keep smiling…even if it hurts, just keep smiling.” Your small smile managed to widen into a full one, despite the pain.
Your thoughts from earlier began to resurface. You wanted to ask her about Ivan, But as you looked into those beautiful, crystal blue eyes, you decided against it. Knowing how dearly she loved her brother, you didn’t want to upset her with any false accusations against him. You also didn’t want to be the one to break her heart if what you thought turned out to be true. No. Until you could get some solid answers, you would act as if nothing had changed.
“Okay. I will…for you.”
With a fresh bandage on your arm you hurried down to the kitchen, firmly gripping your left wrist in hopes that it would help ease the pain. Your arm throbbed from the ointment that Yekaterena had put on it. She told you that it might sting, but didn’t say anything about increased ache. But you did your best to push the pain aside. There was work that needed to be done.
Passing through corridors and hallways, you managed to make it down the main stairs. The sound of clattering dishes and bustling footsteps could be heard from the kitchen. Eduard and the others were probably already getting started on dinner. Right now it was probably safest to be with the three young men that have become your friends.
Their foreign words flowed out of the kitchen, much like the delicious aromas, as you came closer and crossed the threshold. Eduard was at the stove, Toris off to the left basting some sort of bird, and Raivis was polishing the silverware. You didn’t want to interrupt their conversation, so you entered the room quietly. Eduard laughed at something Toris said and caught a glimpse of you in his peripheral.
“Oh! (Name), I didn’t know you were there,” said Eduard, catching the attention of the other two. You smiled at all of them, following Yekaterena’s advice despite everything.
“Are you feeling better?” asked Raivis, referring mostly to your attitude about Gilbert earlier. You nodded and took another step forward, leaning on one of the barstools.
“I’d like to help, if I can.” You couldn’t do too much heavy work because of your arm, but you didn’t want to be a bump on a log while the boys were working so hard. Toris grabbed a rag from under the sink and walked over to give it to you.
“You can help Raivis polish the silverware if you are liking.” The rag looked like it might have been white at some point, but now it was smudged a dingy gray. Letting go of your wrist, you took it from him with your good hand, the smell of polish cleaner wafting to your nostrils.
As you sat next to Raivis, the boys continued to chatter amongst themselves. You were glad to see them smiling and laughing like this. It was the first time you had ever witnessed such a thing among them. You didn’t want to spoil this moment of happiness, so you remained quiet as you rubbed the polishing goop over the silver implements, watching as the black tarnish quickly disappeared before you plunged it into the soapy water.
For the next hour or so the kitchen remained noisy with the sound of cooking and talking, but not from you. Your mind was preoccupied, thinking about Gilbert and how you could get him to help you, not to mention figuring out what he was doing here. It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. If this was going to work out in your favor, you would have to tolerate his ‘oh-so-charming’ characteristics. That would take a great deal of patience, mental preparation and tongue biting. Lot’s and lot’s of tongue biting.
Toris occasionally glanced over in your direction, a growing concern in his eyes, though it escaped your noticed. Your skin looked paler than normal and the ever creased brows told him that you were, not concentrating, but in pain. He knew that look well as he had worn it many times himself. The way your left hand shook ever so slightly as you polished the silverware and your breathing seemed slightly shallow even though you were sitting down.‘Something is not right,’
he told himself as he leaned his head ever so slightly back to get a better view. You were trying to hide it as usual, but were not feeling well, that much was certain. But it was everything else about her composure that didn’t seem right. She wasn’t like herself. Obviously her wound would be an issue but could it also be that Ivan’s guest was causing her such turmoil? How must this man have hurt her in the past? Why is she so angry at him?
Distracted by these thoughts, he didn’t realize that the pot he was stirring was boiling over, causing a barrage of hissing as the liquid hit the hot burner. ”Toris!
Eduard said for the third time, finally catching the young man’s attention with a smack on the arm. Toris jumped a bit as his head short towards Eduard and then to the pot he was stirring. A gasp escaped his mouth as he quickly turned the burner down and took the pot off the heat. Meanwhile you and Raivis had turned your attention to the commotion behind the two of you.
With his hand ever so slightly burned from the hot liquid, Toris hurried over to the sink and allowed the cold water to run over his right palm. How did he lose track of what he was doing so easily? It appeared his concern for your well being crowded out his sense of the present.”What happened, Toris? You were completely distracted,
Eduard said in a quiet voice as he stood next to Toris, observing the unusual behavior from the ever alert Lithuanian man. Toris sighed and took his palm away from the water, observing it. There was no damage done, just a bit of tender flesh.”I’ll tell you later.”
Dinner time had finally arrived and your nerves were a little worn for wear. Simply knowing that you would be stuck in the same room as Gilbert for who knows how long ate away at your insides. The mixed emotions you had hoped to have sorted out by now remained a giant mess inside of you. Regardless, you pushed them aside. They would have wait until afterwards. You had dinner to serve. Everyone had already taken their seats with Gilbert being fashionably late as always.
The four of you walked into the dining room in formation. You took a platter of bowls filled with borscht. Ahead of you, Eduard carried a tray of beets and green beans. Behind you, Toris carried in the roasted duck while Raivis was placed with beverage duty.
You felt unusually lethargic as you made your way out of the kitchen with the boys. Walking seemed to require an enormous amount of effort and concentration. Normally you had no problem carrying this tray of food, but for some reason, your arms buckled under the weight and you couldn’t figure out why. It couldn’t be fatigue, you had hardly worked today. Low blood sugar perhaps? Regardless of the reason, you didn’t mention anything about it to the boys. Work was a little more difficult with this bullet wound, but you didn’t want anyone to think you needed to be babied.
As Toris set the cooked bird in the center of the table, you began serving everyone borscht in a clockwise fashion, beginning with Yekaterena.
“Thank you, my dear,” she smiled brightly. You smiled back, but noticed that your hand shook a bit as you were placing her bowl down. Luckily the contents did not stain your white glove. Next you moved to the left over to Natalya, who was still very much alive and intact, thank goodness. The dream had been merely that: a dream.
Bowl in tow, your hand descended towards the table and again it shook, with more force this time. Natalya gently gripped your wrist to stabilize your hand.
“Careful,” she whispered to you, helping you to set the bowl down. You silently thanked her and moved on towards Ivan, who sat at the head of the table. Ivan had been watching the moment you began serving. His eyes darted between your hand and your face — he noticed the unsteadiness of your grip, and traces of strain were evident in the creases of your forehead. ‘She’s unsteady today,’
he noted. ‘First the tea tray and now this?’
You looked at Ivan cautiously as you approached him, all of your thoughts from earlier about him flooding your mind upon seeing his face. You didn’t want to appear suspicious so you flashed him a small smile as you had become accustomed to doing. He smiled back, keeping an eye on your hand just in case he needed to assist you, but you appeared to have gained some control. As you placed the bowl down Ivan gave a simple nod as a thank you. He had to act different in front of the others for ethical reasons, but you appreciated the subtle act of gratitude...even if he may have been faking it.
You looked up towards the last person at the table whom had not been served yet. His ruby eyes pinned on you as if you were the wild game he so often hunted. The worst part was you couldn’t say or do anything about it. It was strange and embarrassing to be serving Gilbert anything but insults. But while you were in this servant-client type of relationship, you had to be on your best behavior, otherwise you could put yourself and Ivan’s business deal in jeopardy. That meant you were at the complete mercy of his whims and fancies. You quit your old job as a waitress for similar reasons.
“Just like old times, huh (Name)?” Gilbert said aloud. Your grip in the bowl tightened as your mind flooded with awful memories of his ‘friendly visits’ to the restaurant where he, more often than not, pestered the crap out of you. And this was the man you were supposed to ask for help? Ugh…
This wouldn’t be easy.
Just as you were setting down the bowl, a sudden pressure on the small of your back sent a small unwelcome jolt through your body. It was Gilbert's hand, its heat searing through your clothes.
,” said Gilbert, allowing his hand to linger on you far more than need be before he removed it. Feeling a need to either punch him square in the nose or vomit, you quickly rounded the table and took your place next to the boys, between Toris and Raivis, trying to shake the feeling if his hand off of you. It made you feel so...violated.
Ivan, having raised his wine glass to his lips, paused, his eyes fixated on Gilbert. There was something threatening about the way his fingertips suddenly gripped the fragile glass as his eyes seemed to follow his maid.
Raivis, Toris and Eduard, sensing the sudden tension, shifted uncomfortably in their places. Realizing that all they could do was stand there and wait to see what would unfold with this dinner arrangement. The master of the house decided to take control of the current situation.
Ivan placed his glass down on the table with an audible thunk.“If you don’t mind me asking, how exactly did you take over your grandfather's business?”
he asked, addressing Gilbert in German. “The last time I checked, he was running it as usual.”
Surprised, you glanced over in Ivan’s direction. Russian, English and
German? How many languages does he know exactly? “Oh, well he is still in charge of the company as a whole, I just took over a few business propositions as a way of learning the family business. The best way to learn something is through practice,”
You wished you could understand what they were saying.
In the midst of their conversation, your eyes randomly wandered over to Gilbert. Much to your horror and disdain, he was looking back at you over the rim of his glass. Your eyes met. How revolting.
You could see that glazed look in his eye — you knew he was imagining...things. Still, you wouldn’t budge. You wouldn’t let him win, so you narrowed your eyes defiantly, refusing to look away. You thought that maybe if he knew you were staring back at him, he’d feel some level of self-consciousness and back down. You had used this same tactic on countless other people and felt confident that it would work…
That is, until his eyes lowered to your chest.
Unbelievable! The guy had no shame! And you were supposed to ask him for help?
Enraged by complete lack of decorum and respect, you turned your head with a huff and tried to focus on the red satin curtains adorning the large window. With a look that could kill, you crossed your arms over your chest, ignoring the prickling jolts of pain it caused. You could only stand there as your blood rushed, almost violently, through your veins.
Toris and Raivis glanced ruefully at you from their peripheral vision. Heat was radiating off of you like a roaring fire on a cold night. They sympathized with your situation, knowing you were helpless to stop Gilbert’s wandering eyes (or any X-rated fantasies that were likely lurking behind them).‘I wonder what Mr. Ivan is thinking right now.'
Toris wondered, glancing at the master of the house. He was smiling as usual, but something wasn’t quite right. There was the slightest falter in the corner of his lips, the tiniest twitch of his eye. And if his eyes weren’t deceiving him, Toris could swear that he saw an unusually large vein bulging out of Ivan’s forehead.
Natalya, observant and perceptive as ever, sensed the tension in the room. She glanced up at the German man sitting across from her and followed his gaze leading to (Name), who looked positively rigid and furious. She acted fast, not wasting a moment on propriety. “Vanya?”
Natalya asked, speaking to Ivan directly. Ivan ceased his conversation with Gilbert and looked toward his baby sister. “I don’t care for this man. He seems like a shady twit,”
she said calmly, glancing at Gilbert. “I don’t trust him.”
Gilbert could not understand Russian, thankfully, but Ivan was still shocked that his sister would be so bold, as were the boys, who raised their eyebrows in surprise. “Natalya. This is hardly the time or place for you to be voicing your opinion about one of my clients,”
he calmly replied. In truth his nerves were shot for the day. Between consoling you last night to kissing up to the yutz beside him to watching him manhandle you, he was in no mood to handle her truthful words. “Then would you tell him to keep his eyes on his bowl? He’s making (Name) very uncomfortable,”
she informed him, casually sipping on her borsch. Eduard, Toris and Raivis stifled a laugh in unison, managing to allow only a slight whisper of it leak through their throats. Hearing your name in the conversation caught your attention — Gilbert’s, too. ‘What is she saying?’
Ivan’s violet eyes slowly made their way towards your standing form. He was no fool. It was not as if he hadn’t noticed how disconcerted and stiff you had become ever since he and Gilbert walked in. Though he was still uncertain of the exact nature of your relationship, Ivan was willing to bet that Gilbert’s obvious affections for you were completely one-sided. Somehow, and for unknown reasons, this pleased Ivan.
He would take great pleasure in allowing his anger to get the better of him by slamming Gilbert’s face in that bowl of borscht. But this was a business deal, a very important business deal. He hated that you or anyone else had to suffer for it, but he needed everything to run smoothly. “I will do the worrying about that. Eat your dinner, please,”
Ivan said, going back to his food and conversation with Gilbert. Every time he saw Gilbert’s eyes wander towards you, he would quickly draw his attention by pulling him back into conversation. But the longer this cycle continued, the angrier Ivan seemed to become. He didn’t even realize how tightly he had been holding his spoon until he brought it back up to his mouth to find it nearly bent in half. Again he felt a familiar twinge of pain in his his chest.
As calmly and quietly as possible, he took a slow, deep breath through his nostrils. He had been under far
too much stress, as his heart was clearly telling him.
To his secret shame, he had killed an entire a bottle of vodka this morning — it was the only way he knew how to deal with stress. ‘I will have to try harder,'
Ivan told himself as he glanced up at you, furrowing his light brows. Your complexion seemed drained of its usual color. Your eyes looked weary and tired, and here was no doubt in his mind that the German man to his left was to blame, him and his constant staring — he couldn’t stand the way he looked at you. ‘Maybe this is punishment from Winter. He probably knew this little twit would get under my skin,'
Ivan concluded, sipping from his bowl. Gilbert was a guest in his home, but Ivan still reigned supreme here. As the owner of this beautiful mansion, he could do as he pleased.
“Raivis,” Ivan called, catching the young boy’s attention.
“Y-Yes sir?” answered Raivis. Ivan motioned for the boy to come to him with his index finger. He complied, gingerly stepping forward and approaching the dining table. Ivan gripped the young boy’s arm and whispered into his ear. Raivis nodded and stood upright, heading towards you.
“There is laundry to fold,” he told you. “Come with me.”
You looked at Ivan. When your eyes met, he gave you a small nod. The corners of your mouth upturned in the tiniest of smiles, silently thanking him. Ignoring the burning sensation of Gilbert’s eyes on your back, you followed Raivis out through the double doors. ‘Don’t worry, (Name). I’ll get you out of this hellhole soon enough,'
Gilbert thought to himself, taking a sip of his drink.
You sighed in relief. ‘Thank goodness that’s over with. The nerve of that guy! Touching me like that in front of everyone!’
you thought. Though you were still angry, you tried to calm down and remember what Yekaterina said: look on the bright side. You were finally out of that room and away from Gilbert, after all. And it was all thanks to Ivan, no less. Now all you had to do was follow Raivis to wherever he was taking you.
A small smile crossed your lips upon seeing the dirty blond curly mop of hair atop his head, the way it bobbed with every step he took. He seemed to have grown more mature these last couple of months. His shoulders were filling in and spreading out, and he even looked taller.‘When did that happen?’
Raivis took you up a flight of stairs and past many hallways.
“Uh, Raivis? Where are we going? The laundry room is downstairs.” Raivis glanced at you over his shoulder, his light blue eyes held a certain glimmer you had never seen before.
“We’re not folding laundry.”
“Nope. We’re going to safe place for now.”
He finally stopped in front of a door and opened it. He flicked on a light switch to his left. Once the room was illuminated, you took a step inside — it was a large bedroom. It had three beds, two in the middle of the room and one pushed against the far wall just under a window. A warm coffee brown paint covered the walls. There was a small alcove in the middle of the room between the two beds; a small bookcase pushed in the space with a handful of books filling the shelves, along with a single dresser. The room had a simple, homey appeal.
“Is this your room?” you asked Raivis as he picked a shirt up from the floor.
“Yes. Mine and Toris and Eduard’s.” He walked toward the dresser. You blinked in surprise.
“You all share one room?” you asked in surprise. This house had at least fifty unoccupied bedrooms. Why shove three young men into one room?
“Yes…Mr. Ivan said is easier to round us all up if we all sleep in same location…” he paused as he opened a top dresser drawer. “But enough about that, I want to be showing you something,” he said, placing the shirt in the drawer and closing it.
He headed towards the bed pressed up against the wall and crouched down. You curiously watched him lift his hand under the frame and removed something from underneath his mattress — it looked like a photograph. You approached him as he stood up slowly, keeping his eyes on the photo. He turned towards you and held it out to you.
You glanced down at the photograph and smiled at seeing Raivis’ familiar face. But there were many other children as well as two adults in the photo.
“This is picture of me and my family…this was taken shortly before I was…” he said forlornly. You looked up at him and then back down to the photo.
“Who are all these people?” you wondered.
“These are my brothers and sisters,” he said, sweeping his finger over the crowd of children. “Ervins, Ludis, Rozalija, Nikolajs, Brigita and Kristiana. Three sisters and three brothers. I am oldest.” Your eyes went wide with shock.
Raivis laughed heartily — that caught you off-guard and put a smile on your face. You could count on one hand the number of times you had ever heard him do that.
“I know is strange to believe, but is true. And these are my parents, Raivis and Marija,” he pointed to the adults. You smiled and looked up at him.
“You were named after your father?” you asked, earning a small smile and nod from the young man.
“Yes. He was very proud to have his firstborn be a son, so he named me after him.” You glanced down at the photo and traced a finger over his father’s face.
“You look just like him,” you observed, glancing up at Raivis. “Very handsome indeed.”
A light blush dusted the Latvian’s cheeks as he smiled sheepishly at you. You looked down at the photo again, a small frown tugging at your lips. “You must miss them,” you said earnestly, without much consideration.
When you looked up again, Raivis was staring off to the side, moisture collecting in his teal eyes. Your heart clenched in guilt as you realized the tremendous weight that your words carried. Knowing how sensitive Raivis is, you should have known better than to be so careless.
“I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to bring that up,” you said softly. He shook his head, looking back at you. He was trying so hard to be strong, but you could still see the pain in his eyes.
“Is fine.” He gently took the photo from you.
“If it’s any consolation,” - Raivis lifted his gaze towards you -, “I miss my family too. I’ve never been away from them for more than a few days. I understand how... how hard it is…”
Hearing the way your voice faltered affected Raivis, he didn’t like seeing you hurt. He moved to place the photo back under the mattress — if he turned away, you wouldn’t see his furrowed brow or the crinkled ridges in his forehead. He was worried. Worried that you would leave him - and the others - behind. With Mr. Bersmeildicht here, there was a possibility that you could go home. You could have your freedom. You could see your family again. But...
He didn’t want you to leave.
These last couple of months, he had grown so fond of you - your kindness, your strength, your spirit. You were like a shimmering beacon of hope in an otherwise lusterless, shambled existence. If you left...everything would go back to the way it was before. He wondered, though, if you were to gain your freedom, would he really be so selfish as to try and stop you?
Raivis hadn’t said a word, but you could see his every thought and emotion freely, no matter how he tried to hide it. He wore his heart on his sleeve, after all.
You reached out and touched his shoulder, gently gripping it with your hand.
“Hey,” you caught his attention. Timidly, he turned to face you, his beautiful blue eyes luminous and vulnerable. “I would never
leave you three,” you said genuinely. “When we leave, we’ll leave together. All of us, okay? I promise.”
Your eyes sparkled with such tender affection that it was almost too much for Raivis to bear. Without warning, he threw his arms around you in a gesture that transcended any language barrier and expressed the purest, most sincere feelings of gratitude.
,” he said in his own language. You smiled softly and wrapped your good arm around him, returning his embrace.
“You’re welcome,” you breathed.
Oh, Raivis. What a sweet boy. You’ve come to love so him as dearly as you would have loved your own flesh and blood. It was up to you to protect him, you decided, and to look out for Toris and Eduard. It was unfortunate circumstance that brought the four of you together. But you were family now. You would stand by them no matter what.
Raivis pulled away from the hug and looked at you intently. You furrowed your brows and tilted your head.
“What is it?” you asked.
“I am curious…how is it you know Mr. Ivan’s client?” You felt your mood slip a little.
“It’s a long story,” you sighed, placing your hands in your lap.
“What else do we have to do?” he asked. Ugh. He wasn’t giving up.
“Did Mr. Barginsky ask you to ask me about this?” you inquired, quirking an eyebrow. Raivis furrowed his brows and shook his head.
“No. Just me.” You sighed heavily and looked out the window above Raivis’ bed, recalling the first time you had met that man. It was not a fantastic day by any means.
“Well,” you began, “it all started a few years ago. I was having some trouble with my car…”
“Dad! Dad!” you called out, rushing through the front door and into the kitchen — you found him crouching with a screwdriver, fixing that wooden chair with the wobbly leg again.
“(Name), what’s wrong?” he asked.
“There’s something wrong with my car! It’s making a weird noise every time I turn the ignition and it won’t go away!” you said, flailing your arms around, completely exacerbated. It was much too early for this car to be giving you any problems, you had only purchased it three months ago! Unbelievable! Of course, it was a used car that you bought for $500. Truthfully, you knew it was bit much to ask it to be in perfect condition. But it was still your hard-earned money and you were promised a working car!
“A weird noise?” He set his screw driver down, stood up groaned heartily as his muscles strained and his old bones creaked.
“Yes! Come on, I’ll show you what I mean!”
“Hold on, (Name)! No need to rush,” he called out, following you out the front door to the driveway where the car was parked. By the time he had gotten to your car you had already started it up, and sure enough, it was making odd sounds as you described.
“Turn the engine off for a moment.” Once the engine was off, he opened the hood and instructed you to start the car again. With the turn of the ignition, the car rumbled to life. But soon after, the whine of the engine was overpowered by the constant, high pitched squeaking of whatever was causing the problem. Perplexed and unable to identify anything out of the ordinary, he waved a hand at you, signaling you to shut it off. He hummed inquisitively.
“What is it?” you asked, poking your head out of the front window.
“I’m not sure…it could be the alternator,” he suggested, closing the hood.
“Well, what should I do?” you asked, turning off the engine and getting out of the car.
“Let’s take it to my mechanic. Despite his age, he’s done pretty good work.”
“Ugh. And how much will that cost me?” you groaned. Your father chuckled.
“Oh, he doesn’t charge much. Besides, we both knew this car would need some work when you bought it. Might as well do it now before it gets any worse. And who knows? A beautiful girl like you? He might even give you a discount. Huh?” He winked and playfully jabbed his elbow into your side.
You shook your head, unable to fight the sudden smile. “Oh, Dad.”
You read the sign on the garage aloud upon pulling into the parking lot, having slight difficulty in the pronunciation. It definitely wasn’t from any chain of auto repair companies that you were familiar with. It was a family-owned business, your father explained after you asked. But whether they represented a popular chain or not didn’t concern you.
‘As long as they do a good job, I don’t really care.'
The sitting area inside offered car and gun magazines, neither interested you. And you didn’t care for the sports being broadcasted on the T.V either. So you decided listen to some music on your iPod instead as you and your father waited for the next available person to help you.
Staring out of a window, you silently hoped these repairs wouldn’t weigh on you too heavily. As a waitress, you lived mostly on tips, which didn’t provide much in the way of expendable income. You didn’t even notice when your father had stood up and walked over to the front counter. He had called your name repeatedly and received no response or indication that you had heard him.
“(Name)!” he tapped your shoulder. Immediately, you spun to look at him and took one of your earbuds out.
“I said they’re ready to help us now.” He motioned for you to stand. You did so, shoving your iPod in your bag and followed your father to the front counter. You were met with your father’s presumed mechanic, an older man, probably in his fifties, with grey hair and skin that reminded you of wrinkled peaches. Sewed into the breast pocket of his grease-smudged workwear was the name Richard in red letters.
“So what seems to be the trouble, little lady?” His voice was gruff and spoke with an obscure southern accent, like he was from Texas or Alabama.
“I don’t really know exactly,” you answered. “When I turn my car on it makes a strange squealing noise. Kind of like, uh... —” you mustered a shrill, nasally vocalization that imitated the irregular sound your car was making, earning an amused chuckle from him, as well as an unseen smile from your father. Laughing off your bashfulness, you continued. “It started doing that a few days ago and it hasn’t gone away.”
“Well, car problems don’t usually just go away,” he smiled. “If you’ll just kindly let me borrow your keys.” You handed them to him. “Thank you, darlin’. Now if ya’ll just follow me,” he looked at your father and back at you, “we can go and take a look-see.”
After settling into your car, Richard started the engine and the high-pitched screeching began, earning a few onlooking stares from the other mechanics nearby. Their sudden attention to the situation lead you to believe that your car must be in pretty rough condition. Embarrassed, you tucked your head down and focused on back on the mechanic.
“So what do you think? Can you fix it?” you asked as he turned the engine off.
“I’ll have one of the other mechanics take a look at it for ya,” he decided. He closed the car door and slowly drove toward an open space in the garage. You crossed your arms over your chest and looked at your dad.
“Your mechanic seems nice.”
“Oh, that’s not my mechanic,” explained your father. “He does good work too, though.”
You blinked. “Oh. Well then, who’s—”
Just then, an incomprehensible voice, thick and booming, cut through the air, overpowering the sound of drilling, welding and metal clattering all around you. It was coming from inside the garage, one of the mechanics, but your view of him was obscured by all of the elevated cars.
“I guess we’ll wait inside until we hear back from him,” Your dad said, heading back towards the shop, you following right behind as you watched your car disappear into the garage.
About an hour had passed, back in the sitting room. Your father was reading a book he brought, while you listened to your music (at a slightly lower volume this time). Suddenly the door leading into the garage flew open.
“Edvard! Vhat did you do to zhat car of yours!?” That was the same boisterous voice that had assaulted your ears an hour ago. Eyes wide, you pressed your hand against your chest as a faint shock passed through you. You turned your head to find the source.
The man you saw was tall, brawny, and ruggedly handsome. The arms of his jumpsuit appeared to have been ripped off, exposing sublimely burly arms. His jaw, square and robust, looked sharp enough to cut through diamond. He seemed to be in his late teens or early twenties. But there was also something rather unusual about him...
“It’s not my car, actually, it’s my daughter’s.” Your father turned and motioned for to come introduce yourself. You quickly took your earbuds out and draped them over your neck. “(Name). This is my mechanic, Gilbert.”
You didn’t want to be rude by staring, of course, but the man’s appearance was different. It looked as though he hadn’t spent a single day in the sun — his skin was bone white. His hair, short and white with the tiniest hint of gray, offered little contrast. And perhaps his most peculiar feature: the irises of his eyes were a flaming red.
“Hi,” you casually waved your hand. The mechanic in question softened his look a bit once you approached. A light smirk crossed his features as he placed his grease covered hands on his hips, giving you a nod.
“So…what was wrong with my car exactly?” you asked after an odd moment of silence of just him staring down at you. A light chuckle came from his throat as he jabbed his thumb back towards the garage.
“Zhe internal bearings in your alternator really vorn down. How long have you had zhat car?” he asked.
“Only for a few months, I bought the car used so that’s probably why…” you said, a bit embarrassed. The young mechanic laughed and smacked his knee.
“Vell zhat goes vithout saying!” he said, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I’ll have to replace zhe entire alternator, ozhervise it vill just give you more problems down zhe road.”
You groaned internally, looking exhausted. “And how much is that going to cost me?”
Gilbert was surprised by your blatant straightforwardness, but there was a fiery essence about you that caught his attention. Another smirk crossed his lips.
“Vell zhe alternator itself usually goes for four hundred plus one fifty for the labor.”
Your shoulders sank. That would add up to five hundred and fifty dollars, more than you spent on the car itself. Stress had already began to set in. With you only working 20 hours a week on minimum wage and tips, there was no way you could afford it.
“But for you,” he added, “I’ll do it all for an even two fifty.”
“Seriously?!” you asked, completely taken aback.
He smiled and nodded. “Just promise to take good care of zhat car und bring it in every now and zhen so I can take a look at it. Just to make sure it’s all vorking fine.”
You agreed without hesitation, not even realizing that was his way of saying he wanted to see you more often.
Shortly after this encounter, he suddenly became a regular customer at your restaurant. Odd, considering his auto shop was on other side of town.
“And he hasn’t left me alone ever since,” you finished.
There was short pause.
“So that is it?” asked Raivis abruptly.
“What do you mean?” you asked. He sighed and looked off to the side.
“Tell me, how long ago was it?” he asked.
You gave it a moment of thought. “I’d say it was…about four years ago. Why?” He still did not answer your question. He remained silent as he thought.
“Are you hungry?” he suddenly asked, disarming you.
“Uh..I suppose so.”
He stood up and started heading for the door. “Let’s go then. Dinner should be over by now and I have dishes to wash.” You stood up slowly, unsure of what to make of Raivis behavior. Perhaps you were just exhausted from lack of food and rest, not to mention your arm was still throbbing. How you managed to do anything in that condition was beyond you.
“Okay. Let’s go.”