The Mouse

Irina Bvozsky was a beautiful girl.  A beautiful girl born in a time and place where beauty went hand in hand with being useless.  She walked the streets of her Ukrainian town, knowing that no one was interested in the books she’d read or her plans to travel the world or that she would sometimes lay awake at night thinking about the gallery she longed to open one day.  A gallery filled with beautiful paintings and portraits of the great artists from around the world.  From places she’d only seen in textbooks.  Maybe a small library attached.  She had often been approached by different modeling agencies, but her brother quickly tossed them aside and told her that modeling wasn’t a career and that her looks would only last so long.  She would show them.

She woke one morning, just as any other.  She got up and brushed her long, dark hair and her teeth and got dressed the same way.  There were days she wanted to scream and pound her fists on the floor when she was overcome with the overwhelming dullness that was her existence.  After her father left, there wasn’t much life left in her home.  There wasn’t much life left in anyone living in it.  Her brother, who was once her best friend and confidant, the brother who danced around playing princess and dragons with her, had hardened.  He took on the role of man-of-the-house and somehow connected this to being curt and disconnected from her and anyone else.  She thought that maybe their father had made him this way, but if she was honest with herself, she knew better.

Father was a lovely man.  He always brought home fresh flowers to her and her mother after working a long day.  He complimented dinner even when mother had burned it for the fourth time that week.  He would play their records so loud that it rattled the windows and made Mrs. Yiranek next door come pounding and screaming to “Turn that racket down!”  His departure was a complete shock and a devastation unlike anything her fifteen years had ever shown her.  She missed him instantly and to the core of her being.  She missed how he’d run his fingers through her hair after tucking her in bed and singing an old lullaby of his childhood to help her fall asleep.  She missed he boisterous laugh, a laugh that exploded easily and completely that anyone nearby fell into it with him.  He’d now been gone a year and she was already forgetting the words to that lullaby.  She was bitterly pleased about it.  She felt that this lapse in memory would hurt him the way she’d been hurt, but knew it was a lost effort as he wasn’t there to realize that it was leaving her.  She missed him just as much as she hated him.  She tried to remember his voice whispering, “Myszko” as he kissed her goodnight.  Mouse.  A Polish word.  Her father enjoyed speaking little phrases from his youth, like a keepsake from his childhood.  He’d moved to the Ukraine in his teens, for work, and met her mother, Liza.  They fell in love almost instantly and were married a month later.  He was seventeen and she was sixteen.

Aleksy and Liza promised each other to do everything the proper way.  They’d met and married so quickly, they wanted to make sure they did not allow this whirlwind romance to get in the way of their dreams.  He brought her to Paris and London.  They ate fancy food and drank expensive wine and waited three years to get pregnant.  Jacov was born and their world was even more complete.  Their love, although it seemed impossible, had grown an extraordinary amount.  They couldn’t wait to feel this joy again.  To have many more children and fill their home with giggles and love.  Aleksy had done very well for them and Liza worked very little and once she became pregnant with Irina, she decided to take some time off to enjoy her family.  She cherished that she had the opportunity to do so.  She cherished that her husband allowed her to make her own choices and supported her wholeheartedly.

There was a shift, however.  Somewhere toward the end of her eighth month.  The Earth titled on its axis and the clouds rolled in overhead.  Mother cried.  All the time. Aleksy felt unable to soothe her.  “Is it the baby?  Is it gone?”  He asked with a lump in his throat.

“No.  There’s just something wrong and they won’t help.  I don’t like this anymore.  I don’t want this baby anymore!”  She screamed into a pillow one night.

Aleksy was pained.  He didn’t know this woman.  He wasn’t sure how to properly navigate this other dimension they had entered in their marriage.  Until now, everything had been happy, lively, utterly and ridiculously pleasant.  But now, it had appeared to come to a sudden halt.   He took some time off work to help Liza with Jacov, and around the house.  He burned more dinners than she ever had, but he sang while he did it.  He bought her jewelry and pink laced bonnets for the baby and helped her through the remainder of the pregnancy.  She had days where he thought everything was better and could see their old life peaking through the stormy cloud, but other days he would find his plump wife curled on the floor of the bathroom, sobbing uncontrollably.

Once the baby arrived, Liza appeared to have taken a turn, as if she never known a moment of sorrow.  The minute she help baby Irina, she was beaming.  As if rays of the sun were actually shooting from her body.  Aleksy couldn’t shake his feeling of dread, like a warning sign he forced himself to ignore.  He wanted deeply to enjoy this moment, this incredible wholeness of their life.  I’ll deal with you tomorrow.  He would tell his anxieties.  They went home a few days later, Jacov was turning three in a few months, but was determined to help in any way he could.  Liza began cooking again, big luxurious meals.  She had Aleksy play his records and they all sang and danced until Mrs. Yirkanek came pounding.

He always loved to talk about the day his little Mouse came home.  His second child, but his first daughter, his only daughter once they realized Liza could bear no more children.  He would talk of how when he had first held her, she was as small as a mouse.  That she twitched her little nose and had the most distinct brown eyes he’d ever seen.  That she smelled of pureness, her soul was light and she had changed him forever.  The night he left, she wondered if she had changed him into hating her mother.  Or her.  How could a man who still twirled their mother around the kitchen and kissed her madly even when she looked disheveled, just leave in such an abrupt and heartless way? He had to have known that without him, they had nothing.  They were immediately destitute.  Mother began working with more clients in her sales job and her brother disappeared for days at a time, but would always come home to stock the pantry and bring them small gifts.  It made ends meet but it was not enough.  Nobody seemed to speak anymore.  The record player broke at one point and broke Irina at the same time.

One day while Liza was in a particularly tender mood, she was silently stirring a pot of stew on the stove when Irina came in.  “You have some mail.”

Irina was stunned at the sound of her mother’s gruff voice.  In the months after her father left, her mother chose to speak so infrequently that her voice was like a rare, beautiful flower that bloomed only once a year.  Irina longed to see it’s vibrant colors, and smell the sweetness of her but those days were gone.  Now, the more she heard her mother speak, the more course her voice seemed to get.  And she began to mimic her brother’s shortness with her.  She could not understand why she was the focal point of their bitterness, but she took it as a penance.  Like when she was younger and Jacov broke her mother’s favorite vase while playing with his model airplane and she took the blame.  Something within her told her too.  Something made her feel as if she was responsible for the upset.  Their home was always happy when she was outside of the room.  The second she entered, it’s as if a wolf had run into the chicken coup and everyone began squawking and fluttering around in disarray.

She’d not had the closeness with her mother that Jacov did.  She was a daddy’s girl through and through… until he left.  Everything she’d learned about life, was from him.  She’d once overheard her parents arguing when they thought she and Jacov were fast asleep.

“You act as though she isn’t your child too, Liza!”  She heard her father say with a strained voice as if he had been crying.

“And you act as though she is your only child!”  Her mother forced back.

“That’s untrue and unfair.  Someone has to care for her.  I love you Liza, you know I do, but you have tossed her aside.  You tossed her aside before she even came into this world.  She’s a beautiful and bright child!  You need to give her a chance to show this to you.  I can’t take this anymore if you don’t try!”  Aleksy pleaded.

Irina pictured him kneeling in front of her mother, begging Liza to love her.  The thought made her feel a pathetic emptiness.  It was true.  Her mother didn’t show her how to sew, or cook.  She didn’t take her shopping for fancy dresses.  Her father did that.  She didn’t help her learn anything.  She didn’t hold her at night when she didn’t feel well.  She was in the room when she’d done it for her brother, but until this moment… she had never noticed that all of these precious moments, were not her own.  Not hers to cling to as she grew older herself.  Her moments were shared exclusively with her father.

“Maybe if we have another baby?  Maybe then I will feel differently?”  Liza’s voice softened.

“You mean… you want to try?  Now?”  Aleksy’s voice also softened and Irina heard her mother begin to giggle as their voices began to moan in symphony.  Irina began to drift off to sleep, but before she did so, a thought popped in her mind… My mother will love me if we have another baby!

The idea of it made her feel warm inside again.  Yes, that’s just what would help!  Her mother would have another baby that would require things of her, so much so that she wouldn’t notice Irina so much as a child, but another family member.  One that she could just enjoy having around, but not feel the burden of responsibility for.  That would move to the new baby… Sorry little baby Irina thought.  But I haven’t met you yet, and I need mother to love me… I need her to love me so that Daddy won’t be cross with her.

Everything would be perfect with another baby!

Only it wouldn’t.  Liza couldn’t have more children.  At least that is what the doctor’s told her after her fifth miscarriage.  They advised her to stop trying and appreciate the family she did have before they grew up and weren’t children anymore for her to enjoy.  This infuriated her.  She appeared to become more agitated with Irina, no matter what she did.  Aleksy was hopeless and Jacov began to feed off of his mother’s anger and the games they played lessened.  The laughter was stifled and the singing almost nonexistent.

Aleksy left in the middle of the night on one of the coldest days in January.  The day after Irina’s birthday.  He’d bought her a beautiful gold music box that she could keep her jewelry in.  He’d baked her a cake and she had her best friend, Alla over to stay the night.  Her mother sat in the corner playing cards with Jacov while Alla and Aleksy sang for her.

She woke the next morning to her mother crying into Jacov’s chest.  She had ruined the family.  She had set into motion the breakdown of their happiness.  Standing there, watching her mother fall apart and her brother’s tears streaming down his face, she vowed never to have children.

For the next few months, she continued to go to school and over the Summer months, she had grown breasts and shot up several inches.  She began to consider contacting the modeling agencies that never stopped calling.  But her brother’s words rang in her head and she knew disobeying him would only make matters worse in their home.  The next week she went down to Mr. Andruko’s coffee shop.  He was a close friend of her family and she knew if any was to give her a job… it would be him.

“You’re too young Little Rina!”  His voice boomed over the espresso machine.

“Please!  I’ll do anything!  I’ll clean floors, tables, make coffee, run errands for you… anything Mr. Andruko, please!”  She begged him, clutching at his swollen arm.  Mr. Andruko was a short man and his body was probably the same size around as he was tall.  He was always smiling and always kind to everyone.  She loved him. She loved him for always treating her like his own family, she loved how he called her Little Rina, and she loved him for giving her a as job.

She began working for him everyday after school.  It was one of his conditions.  She had to continue her education and she had to read at least one book a week and tell him all about it.  In great detail, which she also loved.  He encouraged her to be more than a girl who was abandoned.  They never spoke of her parents.  He was well aware of their unfortunate situation.

She had been working in the coffee shop for three years when a boy walked in while she was cleaning the last table and ready to help Mr. Andruko close the shop for the evening.  At first glimpse, she thought it was Odin Lund Biron, an actor from a popular show she watched religiously.  She began to blush as they locked eyes.

“Rosco!  You’ve come!”  Mr. Andruko boomed from the back of the shop.  The magic holding their eyes together broke as he turned toward him.

“Yes Uncle!  Mother said that you were needing some help around here over the Summer.”  He smiled and shifted his eyes toward Irina to make sure she was still there.  As if they had just been interrupted from a deep and meaningful conversation.

Mr. Andruko slipped into the back to take a call, he was nearing his sixtieth birthday and just as vibrant and kind now than he was when she was a child.

“Irina.  Where is your brother?”  Mr. Andruko poked his head around the corner.  He never called her by her full name and the sound of it was unnerving.

“Uhm.. I believe he’s still at his job, but that’s an hour away.  Why?”  She asked.

“Your mother has been in an accident.  You need to get to the hospital right away.  Rosco!  Take Little Rina to the hospital now please! Do not leave her side until her brother has returned and she is well. Got it?” Mr. Andruko ordered.

Irina felt her body turn to ice.  She didn’t know what to do or how to feel.  She instantly thought of her father and wondered what he would do.  But what did that matter now?  She was alone.

Irina tried not to panic on the way to the hospital.  Her brother called and said she was stable, but things can always take a turn for the worst just as quickly and she was terrified at what that would mean.  She’d definitely have to miss her class this evening.

“Damn… I forgot I had a test today.” She whispered.

“What’s that?” Rosco leaned toward her, keeping his eyes on the road.

“Oh… I… well I have a test later.  I’m just worried I’ll miss it. That’s silly, isn’t it? To worry about a stupid test when your mother lay in a hospital bed?”. She blushed at how she sounded.  “Education is very important for me.” She smiled and faced forward.

“I’m sure your mother is just fine.  You’re just worried. It’s normal to try to focus on other things when you’re worried.”. Rosco’s voice was calm and sympathetic.  He placed a hand soflty on hers as they rode in silence the rest of the way.

They reached the hospital five minutes later and she briskly walked in. Never seem desperate to do anything, Irina.  Desperation is a weakness and nobody finds that attractive.  Command attention in other ways. Her mother’s word rang in her ears as she fought the urge to race to where she was.  Rosco followed behind, still calm but watching her every move to ensure that if she fell, he would be there to catch her.  Irina was pointed in the direction of where they held her mother and with each step, her anxiety grew more intense that when she finally spotted her, she couldn’t contain herself and flung her tiny frame at her mother.

The same mother who she and her brother often compared to a bull.  She couldn’t be broken.  She was a fierce woman who was well respected and took no nonsense.  Her mouth was always pinched as if she just finished reprimanding someone.  But now, her mother was small.  A tiny, mousey woman lying under a big blue blanket with a tube hanging unattractively from her mouth.  Irina had never allowed herself to come to terms with her mother’s age.  She was no longer the tough-as-nails woman she’d once been and now she was even more frail.

“The tube is helping her to breathe.  She’d taken quite a blow.  There is no way to know if she will pull through.  The bleeding is under control, but all we can do now, is wait.”  The doctor rattled out these words as if they had been rehearsed.  No emotion.  He must not know what their family had gone through already.  He couldn’t have realized that Irina and Jacov had only had one parent as it was and they still needed her.

“But, Javov said that she was well.”  Irina kept her voice steady, her hand ached from squeezing her mother’s hand but she couldn’t bring herself to loosen the grip.  With her other hand, she softly stroked her mother’s hair.  She remembered how she so loved when her mother used to do this to her as a child and felt it would offer the same soothing comfort.

“Do you need me to do anything?  Should I call someone?”  Rosco cleared his throat.

Irina looked at him, then down.  It was his hand she had been squeezing.  “Oh… no.  I mean, it’s just us.  There is nobody else.  Thank you.  You can go if you have things to do.  I’m sure you’ve got a million things to do.”  She brought her gaze to meet his as tears streamed down her cheeks.

“I have nothing more important to do.”  He stared right back at her.  Irina flushed and shot her eyes around the room to try not to be so obvious.  She loved him.  She never realized until this moment that she loved Rosco.

“What’s going on?  How is she?  What is he doing here?”  Jacov came bouldering in.  He had become quite a tall and intimidating man.  Sometimes Irina found herself fearful of her brother like she imagined most little girls to fear their fathers when they’d done something naughty.

“He brought me over… she is on life support, Jacov.  What do we do?”  She broke into tears again.  She sobbed and shook as she slumped over, curling into herself.  She knew Jacov wouldn’t offer any sympathy toward her.  He wasn’t the comforting type.  Not like Rosco.  Not at all.

“Dry your face Irina.  You look like a cow when you whine in such a way.”  Jacov scoffed at her and gave a disgusted look toward Rosco.  “You can leave.  I have this under control.  Go back to your little coffee shop.”  He spat.

Rosco swallowed hard, forcing himself not to retaliate.  He knew the reputation Jacov had around their small town and wasn’t going to embarrass himself, or Irina.  “Let me know if you need anything Irina.  We are always here for you and your family.”  He shifted his eyes to Jacov as if you say “yes… even you”.  “I’m so sorry that this happened.”  Rosco exited after giving Irina a quick kiss on her fingers.

“The fuck is that about, huh?”  Jacov seemed not to notice that their mother lay in front of them dying.

“Nothing, Jacov.  It was nothing.  He was being nice.  What do we do about mother?”  She felt herself feeling angry at her brother.  She knew what he was up to when he claimed he was ‘working’.  She knew how he got the money to pay their bills.  She, nor her mother ever questioned him because they were just grateful to have their electricity on and food on the table.  Good food.

There were no decisions to be made.  There wasn’t even time to consider any options to help their mother.  She passed away three hours later while Irina sat by her side.  Jacov had to be restrained as he tried to fight the doctors for not doing more.  They buried her by her grandparents and life moved forward as if nothing had happened.  She didn’t know how to properly mourn her mother.

From that day forward, they worked in sync with one another around the shop.  Mr. Andruko began keeping up the books and allowed them to do all of the “heavy lifting”.  Rosco talked about the hardships of medical school and Irina loved to listen to the intricacies of the field.  She told him about her own schooling and how she’d hoped to open some sort of gallery/library one day.  After traveling first.  They talked about all the places they each wanted to travel, and some they’d want to go together.  But every evening, they closed the shop, said their goodbyes and went on their merry way.  Irina knew she loved him.  He was older, probably a year more than her brother, but it made no difference.  She wanted to be with him, and only him.  And she would wait as long as he needed.  She’d not yet declared these feelings toward him, but she knew he felt the same.  She prayed he felt the same.

They worked side by side for ten years.  Mr. Andruko and his wife, Vera helped her to finish school and move on to her college courses.  They were a family and she was grateful to see that warmth existed in people.  The more time they spent together, even Mr. Andruko started to make small remarks here and there about the little hearts in their eyes when they saw each other.  She longed to kiss him, but she wanted him to make the first move.  Like in the romantic movies she watched on the weekends with her friends.  She pictured him standing outside her window, calling up to her in the middle of the night because he couldn’t wait a second longer to profess his love.  She knew it already, but she would burst with happiness that he would want to express it to her in such a public way.  She had learned, long ago, that her looks made things harder for her.  Some people would think the opposite, but it wasn’t quite true.  Yes, she got attention from men and yes it was easier to ignore the wrong coffee order when Irina apologized for the inconvenience.  But in turn, she had very few friends that she knew genuinely cared for her.  The rest were either so blindly jealous, that they just wanted to see what a beautiful girl did on a daily basis… study her moves and how she spoke in hopes that they would adapt this swan like grace that she had.  Or they disliked her, but because she was pretty, there was an unspoken rule that they had to sit together and go out together because it was an elite and exclusive club to be in… and ousting anyone would make that person all the more desirable.

Irina didn’t care whether or not she was popular.  She didn’t wear makeup like her friends or shop for the designer clothes.  She couldn’t afford it first and foremost, but it didn’t interest her.  She had tried her whole life to gain the attention of the people she loved dearly, but learned that it didn’t matter that she was pretty, or intelligent or kind… something about her was unlovable.

That is until she met Rosco.

Instead of lying awake at night thinking of all the ways she’d ruined her family, she now thought of all the ways her life would change with Rosco.  How once he finished school, they would travel and he could start his own practice anywhere he’d like, and she would go.  She could finish school wherever they settled and finally open her gallery.  She would be the best wife, and she would love him endlessly.  She was desperate to leave this town.  Desperate to unwind herself from a life where she didn’t belong. Where she wasn’t wanted.  Where her brother morphed from a loving, kind boy to a man who did business with criminals and had tattoos that were as menacing as he’d become.

She knew she had to just tell him.  Maybe he was shy too.  He was a little older and maybe afraid to pull her from her own goals.  But she knew that they would be able to support one another.  Neither would make the other feel like their dreams weren’t as important.  Rosco had exams the whole week and wasn’t able to come into the shop.  She was coming up on her tenth year working for them, so she knew he would come Saturday for Mr. Andruko’s surprise sixtieth birthday party.  They had planned it together with his wife, Vera.  She half expected him to have some sort of private gift for her in their own celebration for her.

She’d put on her best dress that she’d saved all of her tips to buy.  She spritzed herself with some of her mother’s perfume that she no longer wore and snuck out after her brother left that evening.  He had become incredibly protective of her and never wanted her out late.  “To school, to work and home.  Got it?”  He would grunt at her while smoking his cigar.  She walked the three blocks to the coffee shop and began putting up the decorations that Vera had dropped off the night before.  She wondered when Rosco would show.  They hadn’t spoken yet and she was anxious to hear about how his exams went and to find some way to discuss their future.  She knew Mr. Andruko would have a few bottles of vodka and wouldn’t notice if they, too, indulged.

She took a quick shot to calm her nerves when she heard the back door slide open.

Her heart fluttered  as she saw Rosco walk in, shaking the snow off of his coat and stomping his boots.

“Hey there!”  She said smiling a bit too much.

“Oh… I didn’t know you would be here this early, Irina.  You look nice.”  He spoke strangely.  In a tone she wasn’t familiar with coming from him.

Nice.  She’d spent all of her tip money hoping to look radiant.  She’d played this moment in her head thousands of times over the last several days and not one of those scenarios included her looking nice… or another woman.  “Oh… well… thank you.  I … uh… am here to set up.  Vera is going to bring Mr. Andruko in an hour and people will arrive in half an hour, so…” She threw her eyes to the ground in humiliation.

The rest of the night carried on with this uncomfortable distance.  They barely spoke and wherever Irina stood, Rosco made sure to be on the other side of the room, in deep conversation with someone else.  People she knew he had no interest in at all.

Irina took the following day off to cry.  She allowed herself one day.  She went back to work and noticed Rosco was being unusually distant from her still.  He had made polite conversation and offered help where it was needed, but he didn’t linger anymore when his shift was over.  He didn’t request one of her special coffees to help him study before his exam the following week.  Then one day, out of the blue, he waltzed in with this blonde beauty and sat in the back corner of the shop.  Irina was crushed.  Who was this woman?  Had she just imagined everything she thought she shared with Rosco?  She was the only one working today as Mr. Andruko and Vera had to get some things done in town.  She forced herself to walk over to their table and felt as if she had walked in on them having a deep, intimate conversation and she was intruding.  She quickly flashed her eyes at the girl, trying not to seem like she was staring or intimidated.  The girl looked at her with a doe-eyed smile that made her feel sick.  She was very tall, even seated, her long torso sat confidently and beautifully next to Rosco.

“Hi, Irina.  Did you need something?”  Rosco flushed red.

“Well… you came to the coffee shop on your day off.  I assume you want some coffee?”  She said through clenched teeth.

“Oh, right.  Well… this is Sasha. She is in a few of my classes… I’m sure i’ve mentioned her to you.”  Rosco seemed nervous.  His hands fidgeted from his pockets to his tie and back again.

Irina looked him straight in the eye when she spoke, “No.  You hadn’t.”

Rosco ordered their coffees and cake, he wouldn’t make eye contact with her.  Irina made their coffees and handed them over wishing she could just have a moment to ask, why?

Three months passed and Rosco and Sasha continued to come by the shop.  Irina felt a burning hatred building within her.  How could he flaunt this woman in front of her?  Was she just not good enough?  Had she meant so little to him that he didn’t care or notice that this was breaking her heart?

They frequented the shop weekly after that.  Sasha was ‘obsessed’ with their tarts.  Just as she was preparing their usual order one afternoon, she heard a booming voice behind her.

“Hey there, beautiful lady!  I’m new to these parts!  When you get a chance, could you whip me up the best of what you got for me and my buddies here?”  She turned and saw a handsome man.  He was older, but still very handsome in that distinguished, George Clooney way.  But he definitely didn’t speak like George Clooney.  This man was loud, as if he had to make sure he was the only one in the room to be heard.  Irina found it attractive and obnoxious all at the same time.  She could feel Rosco staring at her from across the shop.  She immediately decided to use this opportunity to rub in his face the mistake he’d made.

Cam came to her shop every day that month.  Apparently he’d had a business trip that kept his away from the states several times a year.  His stories of all the wonderful places he’d been sounded magical to Irina.  She’d never left their small town, and up until now, had never considered the notion that she could if she wanted to.  The night before he was to head back to the states, he asked her to come with him.  She was shocked… she hadn’t even seen him outside of the small coffee shop she worked.  What about her schooling?  What would Jacov say?  Cam insisted she could finish school in the states.  He professed his undying love for her and she was overwhelmed with the romance of it all.  She said yes.  As she packed her life away one afternoon while Jacov was ‘working’, she wrote out a note letting him know she’d gone.  She knew he’d never agree to her running off with some loud, American stranger to the United States.  It was all too ‘mail order bride’.  But she needed something more.  She had to see what life could be outside of the sheltered existence she’d been allowed up until now.  Just as she was about to leave to meet Cam at his hotel, she heard a knock at the door.  Her heart began to race.  She wasn’t expecting any visitors and the last thing she needed was a wrench thrown into her escape plan.

She opened the door to see him standing right in front of her.  Alone.  Just as handsome as he was the day she met him over a decade ago.  “What are you doing Irina?”  Rosco looked sick.

“What do you mean?”  She stood straight, chin up.  She’d practiced how she would act if they ever spoke again.

“You can’t just run off with this man.  What if he’s not good to you?”  Rosco grabbed her hand gently.

“What does that matter to you?  Shouldn’t you be with your new girlfriend?  What’s her name again?”  She was proud of herself for that last bit.  Of course, she knew Sasha’s name.  It was burned into her brain along with the way she squinted her eyes when she laughed a little too hard at Rosco’s jokes.  She memorized the way she ran her fingers through her hair as she sipped her coffee.  She hated her.

“Irina.  You know how I feel about you.  You also have to know your brother would never have this.  Please don’t make it more difficult than it has to be.  I’m probably in danger just coming here now.”  Rosco begged.

“Not my problem, Rosco.  If you aren’t brave enough to stand up to my stupid brother, and cowardly enough to flaunt your new girlfriend in my face, then you deal with me finding someone else who isn’t afraid to be with me.”  She swallowed hard and dared the tears to fall down her face.  It hurt worse than she thought it would to tell Rosco these things.

“If this is what you truly want…  Then I guess this is where we say goodbye?”  Irina could see he was in pain.  She wanted so badly to fall into his arms and to be running away with him.  But she knew he didn’t deserve that any more than she deserved to suffer the wrath of her brother once he found them.  Because he would.  But she knew he’d never find her in the States.

“Yes, Rosco.  This is our goodbye.”  She reached out to shake his hand.  She noticed tears in his eyes as well and she couldn’t hold back hers any longer.  They held each other for what seemed like hours.  Silently crying into each other.  There were no other words to be spoken.  She pulled him inside her bare home and they made love right there.  It was delicious, painful, and beautiful all at once.  When they were finished, and began to slowly put their clothes back on Rosco turned to her.  “I will always love you with all that I am, Irina.”  She couldn’t speak.  Her words would not be able match the meaning of his.  He’d said it all for them both in that tiny little sentence.

Two hours later, she was on a plane to America with Cam Hoffman.  He drank and told stories while she laughed with his coworkers in first class.  They were married three months later and she never enrolled in school.