I feel someone’s hand on my shoulder and open my eyes. Nina is sitting on a chair next to me, watching me.
“Any news?” she asks, but I just shake my head.
They took Mikhail into surgery the moment we arrived at the hospital yesterday. It lasted four hours. The doctor said the bullet nicked his lung, but everything should be okay and that they will be releasing him from the ICU today. I was waiting for the nurse to let me know which room they would be moving him to, only to be informed that he started bleeding internally, and that they had to take him into emergency surgery again. That was six hours ago.
“Denis brought some clothes for you,” Nina says and reaches for my hand. “A towel and some cosmetics, as well. You need to shower and change. Then, you have to eat something.”
I wrap myself in the jacket Denis gave me and shake my head. I’m not leaving this chair until someone comes to tell me Mikhail is okay.
“There is an empty room two doors down. We will be back in ten minutes, tops. Roman will stay here and call us if anyone comes with news. If Grumpy sees you like that, he will divorce you right away, you know that right?”
I look up at the pakhan, who is standing a few feet to my right, and he nods. “I will be right here and will come get you if the doctor comes out.”
I unfold my legs from under me and slowly stand up. I have no idea how many hours I’ve spent in that position, and my legs feel stiff as if all blood flow to them have ceased. It takes me less than ten minutes to shower, brush my teeth, and put on the jeans and T-shirt I found in the bag. I collect the cosmetics to place them back in the bag when I notice a folded grey hoodie at the bottom. I take it out and start crying again. It’s the one I stole from Mikhail. Denis probably packed it thinking it was mine. I’m not cold, but I put it on anyway and return to the waiting room.
Nina looks me over when I enter and smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. “Shit, honey. Is that Grumpy’s?”
I nod and try to keep the tears from falling again.
Nina sniffs and enfolds me into a hug. “He will be okay, you will see.” She sniffs again. “Come on. Let’s find you something to eat.”
One hour later the doctor comes out from the operating room and informs us that the surgery went well. He tells us to go home and come back in the morning since Mikhail won’t be released from ICU before then, but I just shake my head and go back to my seat. I am not going anywhere.
Across the hallway, Roman and Nina start arguing, but I only catch the part about him threatening to carry her home himself if she doesn’t leave. Fifteen minutes later, two men in suits arrive. The older one with glasses approaches Roman and gives him the laptop he brought. They sit down at the far end of the hallway, discussing something. The other man follows Nina as she comes to stand in front of me and takes my hand in hers.
“I have to go. Roman threatened to tie me to the bed if I don’t go home and grab some sleep, but I’m coming back first thing in the morning. If you need anything, message me, okay?”
I squeeze her hand and nod.
“Maxim and Roman will stay with you.” She nods to the two of them. “Maxim arranged it with the nurse to let you rest in Mikhail’s room until they bring him in. Try to get some sleep.”
I don’t think I can manage that, but I nod again anyway.
The nurse comes a few minutes after Nina leaves and takes me into the room where I showered earlier. I drop down onto the couch next to the window, take out my phone, and send a message to Sisi asking about Lena. We haven’t told her what happened.
I scroll through my phone, going through twenty or so texts from Milene asking about Mikhail and if I need anything. In one, she asked if I’m coming to Father’s funeral tomorrow. I let her know that Mikhail’s condition is unchanged, ignore the funeral part, and throw the phone onto the seat next to me. As far as I’m concerned, I hope my father burns in hell.
* * *
The damn vending machine is stuck. I try hitting it with my palm a few times, but nothing happens. Sighing, I leave the machine and head to the cafeteria on the other side of the building. I’m not hungry at all, but I started feeling dizzy in the last hour, probably my body telling me that I haven’t gotten any food into my stomach other than a salad Nina made me eat yesterday.
As I approach the sliding door that leads into the cafeteria, I notice my reflection in the glass. My hair is tangled to the point that it looks like I was assaulted. My face is ghostly pale, except for the dark brown bags under my eyes, and for a second, I debate going inside with all those people there. I look like a train wreck, but then I decide I don’t give a damn. I pick the smallest sandwich I can find and a lemonade, and I finish both by the time I get back. As I turn the corner, a nurse exits the room and reaches me in a few strides. I remember her from last night when she came to give me a blanket.
“We’ve just brought your husband into the room. He’s still sedated, but he’ll be waking up soon, so just buzz me when he does, okay?”
When I don’t say anything, she smiles and lightly squeezes my arm in reassurance. “He’ll be fine, sweetheart, don’t worry. You should try talking to him, it’ll help in waking him up.”
Roman and Maxim are standing a few feet down the hallway, watching me. I turn toward the open door only a few steps ahead, but my legs refuse to move any closer.. I don’t know why, but I’m suddenly afraid to go inside. I take a deep breath, then another, and finally, will my feet to make those few steps and enter the room.
Mikhail is lying with his head tilted to the side, a white sheet covering him up to the chest. There is an IV stand on the side of the bed, and several other tubes and wires. Some of them are attached to a small monitor above, and for a moment, I’m transfixed with the pulsing line showing his heartbeat.
I grab a chair from the corner, place it on the side of the bed and slowly sit down. I want to take his hand and put it to my face, but I’m afraid it’ll hurt him, so I just move closer and lay my head on the bed next to his pillow. For some time, I just watch him, hating how still he is, until I gather the courage to reach out and place my palm on his cheek. Someone removed his eyepatch. He won’t like that.
The nurse said that talking should help waking him up. I’m not sure what good I’ll be with that, but I’ll try my best.
I come awake with a faint sound close to my ear. I try opening my eyes but fail, so I focus on the sound. At first, it’s like a vibration in my head, but slowly, it transforms into a voice. It’s so weak, barely a whisper, and I need to concentrate to understand the words.
“You scared me . . . so much.”
The air smells of a hospital, but I don’t know how I got here. My head feels like it’s in a fog.
The voice continues whispering, “When you are . . . well enough . . . I’m going . . . to strangle you.”
My mind slowly gets back on track, remembering. Going into that house and finding Bruno with his gun pointed at Bianca’s head. Bianca running toward her father while he was aiming his gun at me. The panic that consumed me when I realized what was going on. My solnyshko, who tried to come between me and that bullet. I don’t know what I would have done if that bullet hit her instead of me.
“I love you . . . please . . .wake up.”
The last words get lost. For how long has she been talking? I will my eyes to open.
“No more talking,” I rasp.
Bianca’s head snaps up from my pillow. She leans over me and cups my face with her palms. My vision is blurred, and there is not much light in the room, but I still notice the puffiness and redness around her eyes and the mess her hair is in. I don’t remember ever seeing Bianca like that. She sniffs, places a kiss on my mouth, and starts signing, but I can’t decipher the shapes her hands make.
“I can’t see shit, baby.” I sigh and reach for her hand. “Come up here.”
She shakes her head, but I pull her toward me. “Come lay next to me. It’s okay.”
She is reluctant at first, but then carefully climbs up to lay on the edge of the bed and snuggles herself to my side.
“Did you tell Lena what happened?”
I feel the tip of her finger press lightly on my chest, drawing the letters.
The door of the room opens, and Roman comes in. He watches us for a few moments, then approaches the bed.
“What’s the damage?” I ask.
“Nicked lung and internal bleeding. They patched you up. Doctor says you should be good as new in a month.”
“When can I go home?”
“In two weeks.”
I look up at him. “I’m not staying in a hospital for two weeks.”
“You will stay as long as they say you should stay.” Roman barks and points the handle of his cane at me. “And you will do exactly what they tell you to fucking do. That’s an order.”
“What about work?”
“I will take over until you are back. You are off the next two months.”
He can’t be serious. “Two months?”
“Shut the fuck up. You almost got killed,” he snarls. “If I catch you working sooner than that, I’m swapping you with Pavel, and you are getting the clubs. You got me, Mikhail?”
I grind my teeth. “Yes, Pakhan.”
“Perfect. We are expecting you two for dinner when you are better. And use your free time to take your wife on a honeymoon or something. You are not getting a two-month vacation again.” He turns to leave, then looks over his shoulder. “Sergei dropped by yesterday when he heard you got shot.”
I raise my eyebrows “Here? What for?”
“Yup. Stormed in, asked about you, told me to pass you a message, then left.”
“He wants you to text him the list of people who were involved in you getting shot so he can kill them. He said he’s free this weekend.”
I sigh and shake my head.
I reach out and brush my hand over Mikhail’s five-day stubble. It’s strange. I’ve only ever seen him clean-shaven. His scars are much less noticeable with facial hair. He looks different. I look up and find him watching me.
“You like it?” he asks.
I smile and brush my palm over his face again.
“Do you want me to leave it?”
He asks this casually, but he is watching carefully for my reaction. I know what he meant. He doesn’t like having facial hair, he told me so once. But if I say yes, he will leave it because he thinks I would prefer his scars hidden. He still doesn’t get it. I think he is the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.
“I like it.” I sign, and he nods, lowering the razor to the sink. “But I prefer when you are clean-shaven.”
His hand holding the razor stills.
“Sure?” he asks, and there is doubt in his eye.
I cup his face with my palms, tilt his head down, and kiss him. “I’m sure, Mikhail,” I whisper against his lips.
“Do you want me to do it?” I’ve never shaved a man before, but his right arm is in a sling because of his shoulder, and I’m not sure he can manage it only with his left hand. “I will be careful. You are going to probably cut yourself.”
Mikhail just watches me for a few seconds, then laughs. “It’s not like it would matter, baby.”
I narrow my eyes at him, take his chin between my fingers and squeeze lightly. “To me, it would matter.”
“Okay, okay.” He smiles, puts down the lid of the toilet, and slowly lowers himself to sit on it. “I’m all yours.”
“Exactly.” I nod, take the razor and the shaving cream from the sink, then proceed to get my husband back to his original handsome self.
After I am done, I turn to put the shaving supplies back when I hear the lock on the bathroom door behind me. I turn and find Mikhail smirking at me.
“No,” I mouth.
“You got shot five days ago. Twice. We are not doing anything that would require a locked door.”
He reaches forward with his hand, hooks a finger onto the waistband of my jeans, and pulls me toward him until I’m standing between his legs. “Turn around.”
I sigh and obey.
“I love when you pretend you are docile.” He whispers in my ear and starts unbuttoning my jeans.
I open my mouth to tell him what I think about that declaration since I can’t sign to him with my back pressed to his chest, but when his hand slides inside my jeans, the words die on my lips.
“Wet already?” he asks, and I feel his finger entering me. “I like that. I like that very much, Bianca.”
He bites my shoulder and adds another finger, making me gasp.
“What do you think, how much time will it take me to make you come, hmm?” He makes a slow circling motion around my clit. “Five minutes?”
I close my eyes and nod my head.
“I doubt it, baby.” He whispers, then pinches my clit lightly. “You won’t last more than two minutes.”
I lean back onto his chest and open my legs slightly wider. The things this man can do with his hand . . . it’s madness.
I open them and watch our reflections in the mirror above the sink—Mikhail’s hand between my legs and a wolfish smile on his face. He removes his finger and I want to scream, but then he thrusts it back all the way in and presses my clit with his thumb, and I shatter instantly.
“Barely a minute and a half, baby.” He kisses my shoulder. “We’ll try again later. See if we can make it in under a minute.”
Wicked, wicked man.