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Fractured Souls: Chapter 13

Asya

 “I hope they’ll let me play again,” I say as I’m walking next to Pasha toward the car.

My anxiety spiked every time I thought about returning to the mall and being among all those people, the noise, and surrounded by all those smells. The memories caused me to shudder. But I also remembered the feeling of utter freedom that engulfed me when I placed my fingers on the keys after so long without music. All the excitement, joy, and happiness I didn’t think I would ever feel again came rushing back. I’ve managed to stifle the need to play again for the past five days, but now I crave it.

I finally caved this morning and asked Pasha to take me over there.

“When did you start playing?” he asks as he fires up the engine.

“I was five. Arturo was trying to find a way to distract me and my sister from what happened to our parents, so he asked a neighbor, who had a piano, to give us lessons.” It’s hard to think about my brother and sister, knowing how much they must be worried, but the idea of facing them still leaves me with bone-chilling panic.

“What happened with your parents?” he asks.

“There was a raid on one of the casinos where they worked. Someone took out a gun and shot at the police. Then, everything went to hell. A lot of people were killed that night.”

“They both died?”

“Yeah.” I close my eyes and relax in the seat. “I can’t even remember them that well. There are photos, of course, so I know what they looked like. But I can’t remember details about them, and if I do, they’re fuzzy. I remember my mom singing to us every night before bed, but I can’t recall the song.”

Pasha brushes the back of his hand down my cheek, and I lean into it. His light touch is there one moment and gone the next. When I open my eyes, he’s putting the car into drive.

“I know what you mean,” he says as he backs out of the parking spot. “I don’t remember my parents, either.”

“They died, too?”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

I watch his hard profile, wondering if he’ll elaborate. He doesn’t, just keeps driving in silence. I look down at his hand holding the stick shift and notice he’s gripping it hard. I stroke his white knuckles with the tips of my fingers until I feel his hold loosen.

“Did you play professionally?” he asks after some time.

“No, not really. I played at school a couple of times, usually when we had a celebration. Music has always been something personal for me. I decided to take a year off after high school to figure out what I wanted to do next. I thought about applying to a music conservatory, but that was . . . before.”

“Do you still want to?”

I look at the road beyond the windshield. “I don’t know.”

 

* * *

 

The elevator dings. I squeeze Pasha’s hand and try to bring my breathing under control. The urge to ask him to go back clashes with the need to feel the keys beneath my fingers once again. The doors open. Pasha steps out, turns to face me, and takes both of my hands in one of his.

“Breathe. We’ll go slow,” he says and takes a small backward step. “I’m here. No one will dare touch you, mishka.”

I nod and step out of the elevator.

There are more people around than there were the previous time. A multitude of sights and sounds overwhelm my senses—lights, laughter, footsteps, children running by while their parents are frantically trying to corral them. I close my eyes.

Pasha’s rough palm cups my cheek and his thick arm wraps around my waist. “It’s okay, baby.”

My eyes flutter open and I take a deep breath. Hooking my fingers through the loops of his jeans I look up at him. His head is bent, barely inches from mine.

“You like music,” he says. “Let’s make this a dance. Almost like a waltz, yes?”

I can’t help but smile a little. “People will laugh at us, Pasha.”

“I don’t give a fuck.”

He takes a step back and I follow. Then another one. And another one. It does feel like some strange dance—him holding me close and walking backward—and suddenly, I feel the urge to laugh. So, I do. People around us must think we’re nuts, but I don’t care. I keep my gaze glued to Pasha’s as I follow him, laughing. It’s so good to feel joy again. He watches me with a small smile on his face and moves his thumb to my lips, stroking them.

“I wish you’d laugh more often,” he says.

“I’ll try.”

When we reach the restaurant with the piano, he slowly lifts his hand off my face. I turn toward the corner where the piano should be, and my smile falls away. It’s not there. Instead, two large flowerpots are in its place. I look around, wondering if they moved it somewhere else, but there’s no sign of it.

“Can we get out of here?” I ask, staring at the flowerpots, trying my best to keep the tears at bay.

 

* * *

 

Pasha turns the key in the lock and opens the door to his apartment, holding it for me. I step inside, heading straight for the bathroom to splash some water on my face. As I cross the living room I come to a stop in the middle of the room. There, by the wall next to the window, is a small white piano. It’s the one from the mall. I cover my mouth to stifle a sob.

“How?” I choke out, staring at the piano.

“I bought it last week and had it in a storage nearby, ready to be brought here when we headed out,” Pasha says behind me, and I feel his hand on the small of my back. “I wanted to surprise you. You didn’t even notice that we took the longer route back—to give the delivery guys more time.”

“But, why?”

“Because you didn’t feel comfortable at the mall. We will go again, only because you need to adjust to being in a crowd. But you should be able to play where you can enjoy it.”

“Thank you,” I whisper, pressing my lips together tightly. I want to turn around and kiss him, but I don’t think he would let me.

“Will you play something for me?” he asks.

“Yes.”

I take his hand and lead him across the room. He even bought the bench that was there with the piano. I take a seat on one end and pull him down to sit next to me.

Leaning forward, I pass the tips of my fingers over the keys, position my hands, and play. I pick one of my favorite modern pieces, Yiruma’s “River Flows in You.” It’s soothing but strong, seductive, and full of emotion. It reminds me of Pasha.

He doesn’t speak. Doesn’t ask what I’m playing. He just sits there—big and silent—watching my hands as I move from one piece to the next. At some point, his gaze moves from my hands to my face and stays there.

 

Pavel

 

For more than an hour, I sit on the bench next to Asya, listening to her play. Or better said, I stare at her while she plays. I find it impossible to take my eyes off her face, seeing every emotion as it crosses her features. When she’s playing a fast and uplifting piece, there is a wide smile on her face. When she switches to something slow and sad, her smile fades. She’s not merely playing the notes; she feels and experiences every emotion as the melody gives and flows through her, lighting her up from the inside out.

When I’m finally able to unglue my eyes from her face and throw a look at my watch, I see that it’s almost two. We’ve only had breakfast this morning, and while I don’t have a problem with skipping meals, I don’t want Asya to be hungry.

I rise off the bench and head to the kitchen in search of the takeout menu from the fast-food joint one block over, but I change my mind and open the fridge. I’m used to having it always nearly empty, so it’s strange to see all the shelves packed full. Asya usually orders whatever she needs online with my phone, so I don’t even know half of the items in there. I move a bunch of vegetables to the side and take out a package of chicken. Well, at least I think it’s chicken. Asya’s been preparing food for us every day, so I guess I could handle that task today. I find the frying pan in the cupboard and turn toward the island where she keeps her spices in a wide black basket. There are at least twenty small jars. I take one out and smell the contents. It’s labeled as sage. Isn’t that tea of some type? I put the jar back and pick up another. This one looks like salt, but it has some green things in it.

“Need help?” Asya’s voice chimes behind me.

“You were playing. I wanted to make something for us to eat. I’m looking for salt. The normal kind.” I turn around and find her smirking at me.

“So, you know how to cook?”

“I know how to heat the leftovers from takeout. Does that count?”

“That doesn’t count.” Asya laughs and I absorb the sound. I love when she laughs. “Come on, I’ll show you how to prepare something simple.”

She takes the jar out of my hand and opens it. Keeping her eyes on mine, she licks the tip of her finger and dips it inside.

“Here. Try it. It’s just salt with herbs.” She lifts her finger, holding it in front of me.

I stare at her. She’s still smiling. Slowly, I take her hand and bring it closer to my mouth. Without removing my gaze, I lick at the tip of her finger, but I can’t focus on the taste. All my attention is glued to Asya’s face. She’s biting her lower lip, looking at me with wide eyes. I take a step forward until our bodies touch. I can feel her chest rising and falling as her breathing quickens. Her free hand comes to land at the small of my back, then slides under the hem of my T-shirt. I can feel the heat of her touch. The urge to grab her, put her over my shoulder, and take her to the nearest bedroom is raging inside of me. Asya’s palm moves up along my spine, and my mind is assaulted with images of her naked under me as I kiss every inch of her body. Just as I’ve been imagining for days. Wrong. So wrong.

I let go of her hand and quickly step back, turning toward the kitchen island. “What else do we need for this lunch?”

I don’t miss the soft sigh as I hear her opening the cupboard behind me. “A bigger pan.”

Asya walks around the kitchen, collecting everything she needs and cutting up the vegetables while my eyes follow her the whole time. I like having her here, in my space, way more than I should. Turning around, she opens the drawer next to me and reaches inside, but her hand falters. I look down and see that there are two different brands of flour.

“It’s the same thing. Just a different manufacturer,” I say.

“I know.” She nods but doesn’t make a move to take one.

For a few moments, I wait to see if she’ll choose, but when I notice a look of frustration on her face, I take her wrist and move her hand toward the package on the left. “How about that one?”

“Thank you,” Asya mumbles, takes out the flour, and walks toward the stove.

She’s mad at me, but it’s better this way. Even if there wasn’t this age gap, we are from two completely different backgrounds. Giving in to temptation and letting something happen between us is out of the question. I’m already treading a thin line, and every day it’s becoming harder to control myself. Sometimes, I wish she’d just call her brother to come and get her, because having her so close all the time, makes me feel like I’m going to combust. Just as often, though, I’m flooded with an urge to find her brother myself . . . and dispose of him before he has an opportunity to take her away from me.


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