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Broken Whispers: Chapter 13

Mikhail

Bianca wanted to shop for a present for her grandmother, and I expected us to go to a mall or a jewelry store. Instead, I find myself in a small, cramped shop that specializes in custom-made hats. When we enter, I became convinced she gave me the wrong address. None of the stuff displayed here remotely resembles a hat. Everything is multicolored feathers and ikebana. One, in particular, that attracts my attention looks like a dead bird.

Bianca points to something that resembles a blue plate with an assortment of white and green artificial flowers springing from it. It’s atrocious.

“Are you serious?”

She just nods, takes the blue-green monstrosity, and puts it on her head. I find it hard not to laugh when she walks to the mirror and starts turning her head left and right, regarding the hat from every angle. Even with that crazy thing on, she is heart-stoppingly beautiful. She picked a flowery skirt that reaches to her knees, and paired it with a beige top and heels in the same color. I’ve grown used to seeing her with her hair loose or in a braid, but today, she twisted it into a bun at the top of her head. I think she wants to make a good impression with the day care teacher. She turns to me and signs, “We are taking it.” Then, carries the awful hat to the cash register.

When we leave the shop, I take Bianca’s hand and lead her toward the small restaurant with outdoor tables that I noticed down the street. I have to go back to work after we pick up Lena, and I won’t be back till late, so I want to spend a bit more time with her.

We take one of the side tables, and while we’re waiting for the food, I check out our surroundings. This situation with Albanians is starting to worry me.

“So, you are sure your grandmother will like that . . . thing?” I sip my wine and look at the box laying on the corner of the table.

“She’ll love it,” Bianca signs and digs into her food.

I highly doubt that. “She has a strange taste then.”

“Everybody thinks that Nonna Giulia is a little bit crazy.”

“You don’t?”

“No. She just pretends she is, so she can get away with anything. She hired male strippers for her last birthday.”

Bianca bursts out laughing when I almost choke on my wine. I love her smile, the way it reaches her eyes reminds me of a sunray on a dark stormy day.

V tvoyikh glazakh kusochek neba, solnyshko.”

She looks at me, confused, so I translate for her. “It means, there is a piece of the sky in your eyes.”

I find it hard to believe, but her cheeks actually turn a little red. Sometimes I forget how young she is.

“Does the age difference between us bother you?” I ask.

All things considered, I assume that the ten-year age difference is the least of the things that would be a problem.

“No. Why?”

“I don’t know. Maybe you’d like to go out every night, party, do what other . . . girls your age do.”

“Most of the girls my age haven’t been training six hours a day since they were twelve. Partying until morning was never my thing. But I wouldn’t object if my husband took me dancing sometimes. Or are you too old for that?”

I lean over the table, take her chin between my fingers, and kiss her pouty lips. “We’ll see.”

“How is work?”

“Same as always. Pakhan’s wife invited us for dinner on Monday. Do you want to go?”

“Sure. How is she? She wasn’t at the wedding.”

“Three months pregnant, and very unpleasant lately. I think she might end up killing Roman.”

“Why?”

“Let’s just say that Roman’s behavior became a bit extreme once he found out she’s pregnant. You’ll see.”

“You never told me what you do for the Bratva.”

“I organize drug distribution,” I say.

“Do you know my brother? Angelo.”

An interesting question. “I don’t think we met.”

“Strange. I got the impression he knows you.”

Yes, he probably knows of me. Most of the people in our circles do. I need to change the direction of this conversation.

“When did you start with ballet?”

“My mom took me to my first lesson when I was four. I started with more intensive training at six.”

“Fifteen years. Must have been hard to leave all that behind.”

“The hardest thing I have ever done. I could have stayed, played some side roles with less demanding choreography. Fewer jumps. Instead, I decided to retire. To leave while I was still at the top. It’s vain, I know.”

“It’s not vain.” I take her hand and brush my thumb over the inside of her palm. So soft. “What happened with your voice, Bianca?”

I feel her go still. She pulls her hand from mine, takes a sip of her orange juice, and looks somewhere behind me.

“I was eleven. Father was driving me to training. It was Sunday, around seven in the morning. There was a party the previous night, they were celebrating something. He was still slightly drunk. We crashed.”

I watch as she takes a deep breath and looks at me.

“They said I wasn’t breathing when the ambulance came. They had to intubate me on the spot. The paramedic who did it was young and scared. He messed up something. Damaged my vocal cords.”

“And your father?”

“Dislocated shoulder.” She smiles and looks away. “Bruno Scardoni is like a cockroach.”

It’s evident that she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.

“I’m sorry.” I reach for her hand and kiss the tops of her fingers.

Someone needs to kill that bastard.

 

Bianca

 

I don’t like the way Lena’s teacher is looking at Mikhail. From the moment we entered the playroom, she has been throwing looks in our direction every now and then, so I move closer to him and wrap my arm around his waist. The teacher talks about some books that parents should buy for next month’s activities, and, for a moment, her eyes wander to me, looking me over from head to toe like she is sizing me up. It’s evident she is into Mikhail, and I don’t like that one bit.

After she is done listing the materials, some of the parents gather to discuss the kids, but Mikhail and I stay in the back and wait until the crowd dissipates. As we approach the teacher, I let my arm fall away from Mikhail’s waist, and decide to stay a few steps back. It doesn’t feel right to butt in.

“Mr. Orlov,” the teacher says in a sugary voice. “We haven’t seen you for quite some time.”

She is pretty, in her early thirties, and based on the huge grin on her face, she really likes my husband.

“How is Lena doing? Any problems?” Mikhail asks, ignoring her comment.

“Oh, Lena is a wonderful child, so well-behaved. You are doing such a great job with her.” She bats her lashes at him like a lovesick schoolgirl, and my vision goes red. I cover the few feet that separate me from them in two seconds, wrap my hand around Mikhail’s waist again, and smile.

Mikhail’s arm comes around my back. “Miss Lewis,” he says, “This is Bianca. My wife.”

I can’t remember the last time I felt as much satisfaction as I do now, watching her eyes go as wide as saucers. That’s right, bitch. He is taken. As you should have already deduced yourself.

“If that’s all, we should go. Lena is waiting for us in the hall.” Mikhail nods toward the door.

“Yes, of course.”

As we are leaving, I throw a look over my shoulder to find the teacher watching us. Without moving my eyes from hers, I slide my hand from Mikhail’s lower back down until it lands on his rock-hard ass, and I can’t resist squeezing just a little.

When we exit into the hallway, Mikhail bends to whisper in my ear. “Did you just squeeze my ass?”

“Maybe,” I mouth and do it again.

“Daddy, Daddy!” Lena hops up from the little bench on our right and runs to jump into Mikhail’s arms. “Can we go buy my parakeet now, Daddy?

Mikhail sighs and kisses her forehead. “Yes.”

We drop by the pet store on the way home, and Lena chooses a little blue parakeet. While Mikhail asks the store attendant for the guidelines on feeding, Lena and I go to the rack on the left to pick up some bird toys. The door to the store opens and two boys Lena’s age rush inside, followed by their mother, and run toward the fish tanks displayed on the wall.

“Mommy, I want a goldfish!” one of the boys yells.

“I don’t want a goldfish. I want a black one, like Batman!” the other exclaims. “Goldfish are for girls.”

They are still fighting over the fish when we leave the store, and as we walk toward the car, I look down at Lena, who had suddenly gone unusually quiet. I expected her to be excited, but she doesn’t say a word while Mikhail places the cage with the bird in the backseat, and straps Lena into her car seat. It’s strange, she usually babbles nonstop.

When we’re all inside and Mikhail reaches to start the car, Lena finally speaks. “Daddy? Where is my mommy?”

Mikhail’s hand stills with the keys midway to the ignition. He takes a deep breath, then turns and takes her small hand in his. “Your mommy is with the angels now, zayka.”

“Why?”

“She . . . she was sick, Lenochka.”

“Like Charley’s daddy?”

“Yes, zayka. Like Charley’s daddy.”

I reach over and place my hand on Mikhail’s thigh. This is hard for him. I see it in the way he is squeezing the wheel with his other hand, his knuckles white from the strain.

Lena cocks her head to the side, looks at me for a moment, and turns to Mikhail. “Charley has a new daddy now. Is Bianca my new mommy?”

My breath catches, and at the same time, I feel Mikhail’s body going stone still under my hand. We never talked about what Lena will be calling me. I assumed it would be Bianca but haven’t counted on the fact that she is too young to understand. Based on the slightly panicked expression on Mikhail’s face, he wasn’t expecting this either. We should have, though.

“You remember when we talked about this? That Daddy and Bianca were getting married, and we would all be living together?”

“Yes, Daddy. Charley’s new daddy is also living with them.”

We should have assumed that “Daddy’s wife” might equal “Mommy” for her. I’ve always wanted children, but it seemed like something that wouldn’t come so soon. I don’t think I would mind if Lena starts to call me Mom. I consider for a moment. No, I wouldn’t mind it at all. In fact, I like that idea. If Mikhail is okay with it, of course.

“Well, Lenochka, it’s . . .” Mikhail starts, but I squeeze his thigh and he turns to me.

“You can say yes. If it’s alright with you.”

He doesn’t say anything, just stares at me. Maybe he doesn’t like the idea of Lena considering me her new mom. That realization hurts, but I make sure it doesn’t show on my face.

“You don’t have to. I just . . .” I sigh. “It’s okay. We can try explaining it to her.”

Mikhail reaches out with his hand, cups my cheek, and leans forward. “Lena never talked about her mother, and I…”—he closes his eye and curses—“I fucked up. I thought she understood. She is too young. I should have tried to explain things better. You and I should have talked first. I can’t ask this of you, Bianca.”

“You are a good father, and you didn’t fuck up anything.” I sign and brush his hand. “And I am okay with Lena thinking about me as her new mom.”

“You are twenty-one, baby.” Mikhail furrows his brows.

“My mother had Angelo when she was nineteen. It’s okay.”

“Are you sure?”

I lean in and place my lips over his. “Yes,” I whisper into his mouth and kiss him.


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