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Hidden Truths: Chapter 11

Sergei

I track Angelina with my eyes as she leaves the changing room and brings a bundle of silk to place it on the counter in front of me.
“Gold?” I ask.
“Yup. Looks more glam. Have to compensate for the fact I’m going in flats.”
“Not a heels girl?”
“Nope. Regina, my friend from college, once convinced me to wear her four-inch-high sandals when we went out. I almost broke my neck.”
I smile and give the cashier my card, while Angelina fidgets next to me. She’s been nervous the whole day, but pretending nothing has changed. I keep expecting her to mention last night’s kiss, but nothing. She sure as hell was eager, but the kiss was so innocent, I don’t think she has much experience. So, I’ve had to resist making any more moves on her so far today. But, as soon as we get back from that damn fundraiser tonight, we will be continuing where we left off.
“Marlene booked you an appointment for some beauty grooming thing,” I say. “We’re going there next.”
“Grooming?”
“Haircut. Smearing goo on the face. Eyebrow plucking. That kind of crap.”
Angelina snorts and shakes her head. I like the way she looks at me, I don’t quite remember the last time someone other than Felix looked at me like I’m a regular guy. Not this fucked-up-in-the-head person everyone feels the need to walk on eggshells around.
“Lead the way to the grooming salon, then.” She takes the bag with the dress. “Can’t wait to be plucked and smeared in goo.”
We leave the store, and, wanting to avoid the crowd, I take a shortcut to the parking lot and turn into a side alley. A delivery guy parks his motorbike some distance in front of us, takes a box from the back, and hurries in our direction. As he passes us, he trips over a cobblestone, stumbling into Angelina in the process.
It was an accident, I know that. He barely even touched her, but my brain completely discards that fact, and, as if on its own accord, my hand lashes forward and grabs him by his jaw. The box he was holding tumbles to the ground. The guy gasps, his eyes going wide. His hands scratch at my fingers, trying to free himself from my hold.
“Sergei . . .”
I hear my name being called, but it feels like it’s coming from somewhere far away. I ignore it and bend my head until I’m face to face with the bastard who hurt my girl. He must die. I move my hand lower until my fingers are wrapped around his neck and start squeezing.
“Sergei . . .” A small hand lands over mine and brushes my fingers lightly. “Let him go.”
No. He hurt her. I exhale through my nose and squeeze harder, enjoying the way the guy’s eyes bulge as he fights for breath. I could have just snapped his neck, but that would have been too easy. I add a bit more pressure. The guy starts choking.
Angelina’s hand vanishes from mine, and in my peripheral vision, I see her running to the box the guy dropped and pushing it toward me. I want to ask her what the fuck she’s doing with that thing, but I can’t make myself let go of the guy’s throat. The need to just end the threat he represents is too strong, so I squeeze a bit more. Angelina pushes the box somewhere behind me and disappears from my sight. I put my other hand on the guy’s neck, intending to break it, as something large lands on my back. I gasp for air. Arms wrap around my neck from behind, and legs around my waist, squeezing me.
“Sergei,” Angelina whispers into my ear, her breath fanning at my skin. “Look at me. Please.”
I take a deep breath. Then another one. Angelina squeezes her arms and legs tighter around me.
“Please, look at me, big guy.”
The heat of her body seeps into my back, her breath brushes my ear, and then a kiss lands at the side of my neck. I am trying to focus on the guy I’m holding, but her closeness is distracting me.
“I can’t hold myself like this for much longer, Sergei,” she says as her hold around my neck loosens a bit.
I let go of the motherfucker, and grab her under her thighs, saving her from falling.
“How the fuck did you end up there?” I ask, keeping my eyes on the delivery guy kneeling on the ground in front of me, coughing.
“Climbed the box,” she says next to my ear. “Then jumped on your back.”
“Why?”
“Why not?” she chuckles.
I turn my head to the side, bumping into her nose with my cheek.
“Why not?” I repeat and laugh. “Well, I guess that’s as good as any other reason.”
“I’m going to be late for my goo appointment,” she says and squeezes her legs around my waist. “Can we head to the beauty salon now?”
I look down at the guy, who is still panting. “Watch where you’re going next time.”
He nods quickly, staring up at me. I walk around him and head down the alley. “Are you getting down?” I ask as I walk.
“Nope. I kind of like it up here.”
“Okay.” I bend and scoop up the bag with her dress that I dropped earlier.
* * *
I take my phone and scroll through the news. I can’t concentrate, so I throw the cell on the dash and glare at the entrance of the salon. Three and a half hours. What the fuck have they been doing to her for three and a half hours?
The girl who came to lead Angelina inside told me that it would take a while, and that I should go for a walk and come back later. Leaving was out of the question, of course, so I sat in the waiting room next to an older woman with pieces of aluminum foil sticking out of her hair and fidgeted with my phone. Soon afterward, another woman wobbled in from one of the rooms, walking on her heels with some pink foamy shit stuck between her toes. It looked painful. She came to sit on the other side of me, looked me over and started a conversation with the woman on my right. When the discussion switched from hair products to homemade constipation recipes, I decided I had enough and went to wait in the car. That was three hours ago.
What if Angelina changed her mind and decided to hightail it? Can’t say I would blame her. Anyone in their right mind would run away from a lunatic, so maybe she decided she’d be safer away.
I’ve kept an eye on the entrance the whole time, but maybe they have a back exit. Shit. I leave the car and rush inside the salon just as Angelina emerges from the left-side hallway, and the panic that’s been building dissipates.
“So? What do you think?” She juts her hip and raises her eyebrows.
I look her over. Other than her hair, which is a bit shorter and straighter, she looks the same to me. Even covered in mud she was beautiful, so I’m not sure what she is expecting me to say. I guess after enduring three and a half hours of torment, she needs confirmation of a job well done or something.
“I like the hair?”
Angelina sighs and shakes her head. “You are a lost cause.”
“What did you want me to say?” I ask as I pay the salon assistant.
“How amazing I look?”
“You looked amazing before we came here. What have you been doing in there for almost four hours? Watching Netflix?”
She tilts her head to the side and pouts. “You have an interesting way of giving compliments.”
“I was just making an observation.” I shrug, take her hand, and head to the car. “We should hurry. Those fancy motherfuckers don’t like it when people are late to their events.”
“And what’s the purpose of this event?”
“Roman is bribing the city officials.”
“Publicly?” She gapes at me.
“He gives money under the table as well, but he likes to make donations publicly, as well. He’s snobbish that way.”
“Why doesn’t he go himself?”
“A payback, probably. He said he doesn’t have time for it, but I think he’s still angry with me for . . . let’s say, breaking our connections with Ukrainians.”
“What did you do?”
I glance down at her, wondering if I should tell her the truth. She’s staring up at me with those chocolate eyes, waiting for my answer, and I can’t make myself tell her. Angelina is no shrinking violet. She must know how business in conducted in our world, but I don’t want her to fear me.
“Just, terminated the contract,” I say finally and open the car door for her.

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