“Oh my god, Jaz!”
I turn from where I’ve been craning my neck, goggling at one of the stone statues at the entrance to the driveway, and see Vera running towards me at an alarming pace.
“Ver!” I drop the suitcases in either of my hands and wiggle out of my backpack just as Vera crashes into me.
After a split-second hug, she pulls away from me, laughing scratchily. “Jaz! I’ve missed you so much!”
I draw her to myself again and embrace her fiercely. “You too, Vera. You too.” I cry, just a little bit, onto her shoulder. “I’ve missed my best friend.”
Vera sniffles, and we just stand for a while. Then she laughs again, leans back, and picks up both my suitcases. “Well, what are you waiting for? Come meet everyone!”
I shoulder my backpack again and follow Vera into the huge house. “Here, we can dump your stuff in your room first. Follow me.”
Vera takes off running towards the huge, red, velveted carpet staircase. “Come on!”
I walk up the staircase after her, laughing. At the top is a kind of indoor balcony with more doors than I’ve ever seen on one level in my life. Vera pushes open one to the left of the staircase and leads me inside. “Here it is.”
I look slowly around the room, my hand on my backpack strap like some kind of innocent freshman. The room is gigantic, with ten (twenty? I really can’t gauge distance) foot ceilings. Floor-to-ceiling windows with black metal frames curve slightly around a huge windowseat. Long red curtains are pushed to the side. The bed is to the right, and the fireplace--an actual fireplace--is across from that. The door to the bathroom is open, revealing gleaming tile and a double vanity, and there are a few other doors throughout the room as well, no doubt housing things like walk-in closets and, heck, why not a kitchen?
I let my backpack fall slowly to the thick carpeted floor. It lands with a thump. Vera makes an uninterpretable tt sound with her teeth. “D’ya like it?”
I jab her shoulder. “Oh, it’s just a bit bigger than a dank jail-cell college dorm room. I suppose it’ll have to do.” I shake my head. “So how big’s your room then--ten thousand square feet?”
Vera rolls her eyes and nudges my dropped suitcases with her foot. “Whatever. We can deal with your stuff later. Here, come meet my family.”
We walk out and Vera closes the door behind us. “I feel like a boyfriend asking for permission,” I confess as we descend the staircase. “I shouldn’t be this nervous.”
“Oh, you should,” Vera assures me. “They don’t speak English.”
I freeze. Vera whomps me on the back and laughs. “Kidding, kidding. My brother L actually sounds more fluent than I do.”
“Because your English is sooo bad,” I snark.
“Hey,” she responds defensively. “Well, I have a weird voice.”
I snort. Vera’s talking voice is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard. It has a kind of sleepy rasp to it that makes it sound like she smokes (although, to the extent of my knowledge, she doesn’t) and, though I don’t know how a simple tone can denote so much, makes her sound like she’s your cool older cousin who has an amazing modern sense of style and owns a chinchilla. Also, she has the most epic subtle Russian accent that you can’t place. When I first met her, I had no idea where she was from; but once I heard St. Petersburg, everything clicked.
“They should be in here,” Vera says as we reach a set of French doors after walking throughout the house.
Mansion, rather. If this is a house, then Jeff Bezos is poor.
Vera pushes open the doors and we enter into the drawing room. I’m honestly kind of excited. I’ve never been in a drawing room before.
We round the corner and I’m presented with grandeur. A group of maybe a half-dozen adults are sitting regally in couches, sipping--water? Vodka?--yet they’re slightly bent over, curved towards each other, as if they’re having a private conversation. Once they see me and Vera, they all straighten and shut up.
After a pause during which I stop walking and Vera’s family fidgets with the unidentifiable liquid-filled glasses in their hands, a woman gets up and advances towards me. “You must be Jasmine,” she says, shaking my hand and smiling. “I’m Vera’s mother.”
I nod and gulp uncomfortably. “So nice to meet you after all this time knowing your daughter.”
One by one, Vera’s family comes up to me and introduces themselves. I remember no one’s name but L, and only because Vera mentioned him in advance. And his name is one letter, which is kind of weird, but go figure.
After all the awkward few-sentence conversations, Vera, L, and I retreat like teenagers to the bench in the corner and hide behind the grand piano. After a bit, conversation in the main room continues quietly, in a hush. In Russian.
For a while, we just talk. L is hot, of course (brown eyes, curly--or wavy I guess--hair, chiseled jawline, all that jazz), and funny, too. We laugh, and I tell stories of all the interesting things that happened in the airport. They’re mostly made up, but no one knows that. After maybe ten or fifteen minutes, there’s a lull in our quiet conversation and I catch snippets--in Russian, of course--of Vera and L’s family, still talking.
“What are they saying?” I whisper, uncrossing and then recrossing my legs on the wide piano bench, trying not to bump into anyone. Despite my efforts, my socked foot accidentally brushes L’s knee. I flush and quickly fold my legs beneath me.
“Ummm…” Vera’s brow creases. She tilts her head, presumably straining her ears. After a moment she shakes her head and pretends to stop listening. “Nothing. I mean, uh, stalks. Stocks. I said stocks, didn’t I?” She looks pleadingly at L.
L laughs (the siblings of this family seem to have a thing for laughing), flashing his white teeth, and winks at me. “Ah, don’t worry. Just boring family stuff.” After receiving some kind of visual signal from his sister that I guess I missed, L hurriedly continues, “Just our uncle. He recently was kiiiiiiiii…” With each “i,” L’s voice raises in pitch until he trails off, red rushing to his cheeks. “Uh, died. Our uncle died, of… insulin overdose.”
I frown and open my mouth, but before I’m able to get a word out Vera and L have rushed on to some new topic. Quietly, shading my hands by moving my shoulder blades together and curving my body in towards my phone, I pull up Google Translate voice-to-text, switch it to Russian, and quietly slip my phone under the piano, uncrossing my legs again and nudging it far towards the family with my foot. I let it sit there for five minutes or so, then excuse myself when Vera and L are laughing about some childhood memory. I ask Vera for directions to the bathroom (but L responds), then subtly duck to grab my phone from under the piano and exit through a different door than the one I came in. Instead of finding the bathroom, I patter along the hall for a few seconds until I see a corner I can duck into. I sit down, lean against the wall, and start going through the history.
“But surely the police have closed the case?”
“It’s not that simple! Stop being slow! And with your father’s suspicion around the president’s attempted poisoning last year--”
“Oh, get over it. Everyone thinks that wasn’t him.”
“Not Mrs. Borisyuk from two lanes down! She told her husband--”
“And this new girl! What’s her name, Jasper or something? How do we know she’s not out to get us? Do you know how long your father would be in prison if the things he’s done were uncovered? Just think of how he got this house!”
I continue reading and then rereading, hardly daring to blink, my eyes getting bigger until they’ve widened more than your waistband at Thanksgiving. After a while, I pull myself out of my trance and look at the time. I’ve been gone for almost five minutes. Sh--
“Hey, Jaz? Where are you? We thought you might’ve gotten lost, so we decided to--”
Vera passes my corner and her head quickly turns to where I’m sitting--my hands--my phone. She aggressively, throatily mutters something that sounds like “Govno.” L appears immediately after and sees the dark screen under my fingers. I’ve pressed the power button, but it’s too late. She already knows.
Vera whispers under her breath to L. Just a few sentences, then she pulls away from his ear. L shakes his head and reaches behind him--seems to grab something from the back of his pants--pulls his hand to the front again and I’m face-to-face with the barrel of a pistol.
L smiles. His finger rolls lightly, playfully, over where the gun's chamber is. The last thing I hear before the bang is him cheerfully saying, “Sorry!”
And then my consciousness betrays me.
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Wow, this was phenomenal! Funny, consistent, and interesting... plus a killer ending! I especially loved the description of Vera’s voice. Great job! :)
"killer ending" haha thanks!