Full Circle Ch. 07bytens©
This is one of my fastest updates in long while. I have not edited this chapter as thoroughly as others so one can expect a few more mistakes than usual. Hold on tight; it's another longie.
January 2, 2013
Why today? Persephone thought the question over and over again as she traipsed through fresh snow. The first snow of the year fell last night as she slept in Vanya's arms. Their plan had been to take a walk in it after they finished her dumb sci-fi movie. Now she was slugging through the snow alone, carrying her purse and massive duffel bag. Slowly but surely, she was remembering what it was like to carry around her own things. She'd become accustomed to Vanya doing that type of heavy lifting.
She huffed with indignation; perhaps this was a good lesson to learn. She had broken her rule of total independence. Now she was out in the cold waiting to see how things would pan out since Vanya had acknowledged her and their relationship in front of his father.
Persephone was baffled by how Vanya permeated all of her barriers and slipped into her heart. He had her spouting "I love you" in a matter of four and half months. Where other men had failed, he excelled. She'd never been as open with any person as she had been with Vanya. All the warnings and admonitions to trust no one evaporated when he lured her into his arms. Vanya gave as much of himself to her as was possible given the circumstances; as a result, Persephone had opened up and began to feel love she hadn't expected to experience first hand.
This love was not an obligation of blood. The love he had shown her was also deeper than just being kind and good to others. It involved discovery, adventure, and growth. Because of Vanya she'd learned about her body and its desires. He'd shown her the beauty she possessed and gave her pride in it. He had helped her establish a better relationship with the Bensons. With Vanya by her side, Persephone felt there was little she couldn't do. She'd trusted in his love. Until this morning, that is.
For the first time, Persephone felt uncertainty about the lengths Vanya would go in order to preserve their relationship. Uncertainty about her life's direction was something she had not experienced since that unforgettable evening her parents died. Uncertainty had been unacceptable in the Peterson household; it was a sign of weakness. As much as she hated to agree with her late father she realized that letting someone in made you vulnerable and one had be prepared for the consequences of such a relationship.
Persephone found that she was utterly unprepared for the consequences of a breakup with Vanya. The weight of the duffel bag and the reverberating crunch of her solitary footsteps on the quiet street were immediate physical reminders of that fact. She didn't even want to think about what it would be like to go through school without having him to fall back on. Finn was a good friend, but what she had with Vanya was irreplaceable. A fear of losing it began to creep up on her. It wasn't exactly wise to maintain a relationship with him, but here she was, trying to find a way to make it work after she had stared down his father.
Persephone bet Vanya thought he was being brave by showing her that he was unashamed of their relationship. He'd unabashedly introduced her as his girlfriend after Kirill stepped through the door. He didn't back down from his father's blank stare and ominous silence. She too held Kirill's gaze when he turned to her. After raising an eyebrow, Kirill had simply stated in a deep Russian accent, "Good afternoon, young lady."
"Good afternoon," she said holing his gaze.
"I am Vanya's father, Kirill."
"It's nice to meet you. I'll let you and Vanya chat while I finish up." She smiled politely, raised her book, and began to read, affectively dismissing him.
Kirill then turned to Vanya and switched to Russian. Both men fought to maintain control but Persephone could hear the strain in the curt questions flying between them. Somewhere in the conversation it had been decided that the two of men would go to the Greek diner to talk. Vanya had promised to be back in at least two hours and directed her to wait there and finish the movie without him. She finished the movie but when she found herself alone and pondering over the discussion Vanya was having with his father she chose to bounce.
Although her heart told her to be a little happy, she was upset that Vanya had decided now was the time for her to meet his father without asking her first. Persephone had not wanted to face Kirill Pravdin, and if things had gone her way she would have never met him. Such a plan seemed dumb now that she went over it again, given the direction her relationship with Vanya was going. If they kept at it full steam ahead she should have expected to meet the man at some point.
Kirill was formidable. He was even taller than Vanya although he seemed worn down by age. The two men were unmistakably father and son but Kirill's face lacked the playfulness his wife's genes had bequeathed to Vanya. When he had turned his severe visage toward her, Persephone felt the danger sensors in her stomach tremble. She suspected he dealt on the shadier side of diamonds and real estate but something else about him gave her pause.
In recalling the moments in which she and Kirill had locked eyes, she remembered a strange episode she experienced last summer. Persephone had just bought a book for one of the classes that would begin the following week. She'd been reading on a lawn of the campus' main quadrangle when she noticed a man was briskly making his way toward her. His face was stern and he had a quick, determined gait. Her hands had clasped her book tightly and she prepared for him to come at her, ready to cut him if it came down to it.
She swore she could taste her fear when he stopped five yards away. At that point, he broke into smile and suddenly relaxed. He then explained that he'd like for her to move just in case the sprinkler system maintenance wet her. She let her guard down only slightly, answering him quietly. She hadn't been able to calm down until she had packed her things and moved indoors.
Persephone felt that same anxiety earlier with Kirill; the readiness to pounce. She hoped, for the sake of everyone involved, that he would pretend like they had never met. In the meantime, she resolved to work on regaining some of her independence from Vanya, knowing it was a task easier said than done.
Mikhail was overjoyed that morning when Vanya had called him with a plan to get rid of his meddling detective. Vanya could hear the relief in his cousin's voice and he suggested they patch the family's lawyer into the call to finalize the strategy. They set up a meeting to see the man in person, knowing he didn't have a phone that was completely secure. Mikhail's comments were clipped after Vanya mentioned an idea Persephone gave him to the lawyer. The three-way call ended and Mikhail called Vanya right back to lecture him about letting Persephone in on their business.
That call had been hours ago. It took place before he bathed with Persephone that morning, around seven o'clock. Now, about six and a half hours later he sat in a diner with his father. There was surely some connection between the two occurrences.
Kirill didn't immediately address the issue of Persephone. He made small talk, went over some perfunctory business matters, and complimented the cuisine. They got so far in the breakfast -- Vanya's second that morning -- without discussing her that Vanya began to hope his father was going to it let it go. However, Kirill was a master at making his son sweat over something. Vanya felt like he had broken one of his mother's cherished antiques and was awaiting punishment outside the door to his father's study.
The memory actually gave Vanya more resolve. His Percy wasn't one of his mother's antiques; she was infinitely more precious to him. He would tread lightly -- his father was still a very dangerous man -- but he would not cower before negotiations had even begun. They finished their food and Vanya waited patiently for the ball to drop. Kirill finally spoke after they were served tea.
"Your woman, her name is Persephone Peterson, right?"
"Well, yes...it is," Vanya answered slowly. He was somewhat thrown by the question. Although they didn't go over last names Kirill had just met her in the apartment.
"Persephone Adelle Peterson. And you've had her checked out?"
"Of course, right after the first...our first date. Nothing concerning came up."
"Hmm, well, what did come up?"
Vanya's brow furrowed as he tried to remember anything that Max had told him about Persephone that would be a cause for further inquiry. Did his father know something he didn't? All of a sudden, he understood what was happening. His father was expertly sewing seeds of doubt in his mind. Vanya quickly went through the facts on his girlfriend and steeled his heart against his father's imagined suspicions. He delivered his answers with confidence and conviction.
"Persephone was born and raised by her parents in Texas. Her father, Jim Peterson, was a retired Navy SEAL when he moved out there with her mother, Cynthia Brown. She worked in the Department of State until she married Jim. They moved out to West Texas near Peter Benson, Jim's best friend, also a former SEAL. Peter was married to his college sweetheart and the two couples had children at the same time. The Benson's daughter Emma was Persephone's best friend growing up.
"The summer before Persephone's senior year her parents were killed by a drunk driver named Alex Martins. Persephone's only living relative was her cousin, Berline Alice Brown, Jr., a twenty-something journalist living in China. Since the Bensons were designated as her godparents Persephone spent her last year of high school with them. After she graduated from college she worked in advertising in the city for two years. She was good but she desired more intellectually stimulating work and applied to law school. She also started to attend Roman Catholic Mass regularly in memory of her late mother. Now she just goes because she likes it. She started seeing me shortly after our classes began in the fall."
Vanya thought about adding the fact that blueberries were Persephone's most favored of foods but he knew now was not the time to be a smartass. Kirill sat back thoughtfully and sipped his coffee. He said nothing for a few moments and Vanya knew his father thought he still had control of the situation.
"It seems you've done some thorough research on the girl."
"Yes, there's nothing wrong with her history."
"Sure, nothing besides the obvious."
Vanya's jaw clenched and he fought for control. He wouldn't let the dig bait him into blatant disrespect. He didn't know where this was going and had a feeling he was being manipulated into something. There was no way he'd let his father use his behavior as an excuse to get rid of Persephone. Suddenly, he was hit by the urge to leave. He wanted Persephone next to him. Vanya discreetly glanced at the diner's wall clock near the exit.
"So, Papa, I take it you spoke with Mikhail today?" he asked.
"Yes, Vanya, but it's not what you think. I called him to ask about this situation with the detective. He didn't betray your woman's identity to me. It was Lina who revealed your little secret, albeit, unknowingly. She assumed you had discussed the matter with me and didn't realize her mistake until the end of our conversation. To tell you the truth, I can't decide if I'm proud of Mikhail for remaining loyal to you or mad at him for hiding something so important from me."
"I think you're overstating her importance. Persephone is just --"
"Don't insult me with a lie, Ivan!" Kirill raged. It was the first time Vanya had seen his father lose composure in years. His eyes narrowed and his face turned red. Vanya waited until his father's cheeks returned to their normal color before he spoke.
"You should; I'm upset with you for keeping this from me."
There was silence between them for several moments. As Vanya thought on what to say next a waitress came serve him another cup of tea. When she left Kirill resumed the conversation.
"There are only two reasons I tolerate Ms. Peterson, Vanya. She has proven to be of some use in regard to helping Mikhail with his little problem. Also, her mother wasn't a mere clerical worker in the Department of State. In fact, it's unclear what the woman did there exactly. She traveled a lot and then she died in a car accident with her husband at the wheel, a highly trained military serviceman. Both people had survived much more dangerous situations than a mere drunk boy swerving around on an empty highway. It makes me think this woman of yours knows how to keep a secret. Rather odd, I'd say. Of course, we know accidents like that happen all the time. The thing is, when they happen to people like the young Ms. Peterson, questions are asked. Those questions could come from powerful people -- people I have no desire to answer to.
"Now, Vanya, I know that you're a smart man and I've always been able to count on you to make the right decision. But you're also my son and I can see your heart clearly. The way you can't stop thinking about her, the way you're looking at the clock, worrying for her well-being. I can understand your attraction to Ms. Peterson. Even with just one brief meeting I can see that she's an unusually strong woman. That combined with her tempting curves could easily prove to be irresistible. I can understand the look of anger and defense in your eyes and I realize this is something more than a flight of fancy. It's something with intentions.
"My only reason for visiting you today is to let you know that you have to let go of those intentions and fulfill the goal you came here to achieve. You told me you wanted to go to law school to get a degree and become a lawyer. You told me this would help out our family. Do what you want while you're in school. I don't care. However, once you accomplish the goal you set, you'll leave this behind and return to your duty and your family in the city. Do I make myself clear, Ivan?"
Joy, fear, and anger coursed through Vanya. Persephone was safe for the time being and for that he was glad. He had no intention of not seeing her after graduation and didn't know what the ramifications of such a move would be. It was absurd that his father would even think to put him in that position, to deny Vanya the happiness that he himself had experienced with Vanya's mother. So what if he hadn't known Persephone from birth? Not everyone grew up in the same damn village town outside St. Petersburg. It was unfair to expect that sort of life -- or wife -- for him.
For the first time, Vanya understood Lina's frustrations with their father in regard to her relationships. He had been given more leeway than she, and because of it, he was now the recipient of a rude awakening. Kirill really did feel as if he owned his children, as if they were mere extensions of himself. Vanya expressed his understanding with his mouthy answer.
"You damn well better," Kirill said rising, "I trust you can find your way home." With that, he exited the diner and climbed into his town car after his driver, Bogdan, opened the door to the back seat. Vanya watched them pull out and kept his eyes trained on the luxury sedan. He stared until it disappeared down the street, away from his apartment, and toward the highway back to the city.
Vanya exhaled slowly and sat immobile in the booth for several moments. When he recovered, rather than picking up his cell phone he threw some bills on the table, ran out of the restaurant, and down the block to his apartment building. The elevator couldn't come fast enough. He didn't slow down when he reached his floor; he practically sprinted down the hall. When he burst through the front door he called out Persephone's name and was met with silence.
After taking a quick sweep of the apartment he left without locking the door. He decided to forego the elevator, preferring to fly down the seven flights of stairs to the ground floor. Once he reached the lobby he snatched his phone from his pocket, held the button down, and sternly commanded, "Call Percy."
Waiting for the phone's bleep of confirmation and the tone of the first ring was a torturous three seconds. As it rang he made his way to the parking garage, fighting for composure. His stomps pummeled the fresh snow and he received more than a few angry glares when he pushed past his fellow pedestrians. He nearly mowed over a couple of elderly women dressed in large fur coats.
"Oh, my Lord! What are you doing?" the especially piggy one squealed as she clutched to her taller, thinner friend for balance. At that moment, Vanya's call to Persephone went to voicemail. He couldn't help the expletive that ripped from his throat into the open air.
"Jesus, you behemoth! Watch where you're going!" the taller one shouted as she began to march away.
Though all his anger was focused at Persephone for failing to answer her phone, Vanya couldn't help but think of her reaction to his behavior. She would have been appalled; respect for the elderly was one of the basics of etiquette. Contrite, he shouted back at the old ladies as he continued to stalk toward the parking garage entrance.
"I'm sorry, I'm...I'm trying to find my wife."
His stomach lurched at the lie. Why did he do that? Vanya looked back to the women as if they would call him out on it, but the portly one just waved her hand dismissively and continued walking with her companion. Only after he had reached his car and began the short drive to Persephone's apartment did he ponder his choice of words. The term "wife" seemed appropriate because it quickly relayed the gravity of the situation. It held more weight than "girlfriend." Persephone wasn't some fling. Besides, he'd never see those broads again. Hopefully, the excuse was good enough for them.
Thinking over all this calmed him and kept him from driving like a bat out of hell. The streets had not been paved and causing and accident would surely put him over the edge. He silently gave thanks when he found a parking space in front of Persephone's building and took in a deep breath before exiting the car. He made his way into the building's lobby with the key she had provided him after he gave her the one to his apartment. Unfortunately, upon entering Persephone's flat, it was clear she hadn't been there since their return from the city.
Vanya stood still in the middle of the living room for a few moments and then collapsed in the orange, cushy, Louis XVI chair. He closed his eyes and attempted to think over the pounding of his heart. Where could she be? His mind avoided thoughts of the worst; his father had said he wouldn't interfere with their relationship before graduation. Kirill's word was true, so where could Persephone have gone? If she wasn't in trouble Vanya vowed to ring her neck. Of all the days not pick up her phone!
The ringing of his cell interrupted his internal tirade. Relief and anger washed over him when he saw Persephone's gorgeous face on the screen. Vanya answered immediately.
"Where are you?"
"At Finn's. You called me; did you just get back to your place?"
"No, I'm at your place."
"Because I came home after asking you to stay there and you were gone. And then, when I called you, you didn't answer!" His voice grew angrier with each word; all traces of relief were gone.
"That wasn't even nine minutes ago, Vanya! I'm calling you back now!"
Vanya said nothing and took a deep breath before he spoke. He was inches away from blowing up at her and she didn't understand that he was very upset. She didn't even understand that there was anything to be upset about!