Happy 20th birthday to The Wedding Album!
This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from Chapter 39, “Second Visit to Minnesota,” of The Twelfth Time. While Lyuba is away visiting Ivan for the second time during their temporary separation, her stepsister Natalya and her new boyfriend Rostislav start realizing that Rostislav’s adoptive sister is no stranger to Natalya. (The symbolism of the surname Lebedeva derives from its root, lebed, which means “swan” in Russian. The title of the first book is You Cannot Kill a Swan, in which the various symbolisms associated with the swan played a big part.)
On July Fourth, Rostislav and Natálya take a picnic in Hudson River Park. Natálya loves having a beau, and being treated so wonderfully by a man, albeit one who’s technically still a teenage boy. She’s heard stories about American men taking liberties with their girlfriends, expecting certain things by a set number of dates, and treating them like helpless little flowers. Perhaps Rostislav gets it from his upbringing in a small Siberian town, away from the negative influences of the big city.
“I don’t think you ever told me your last name,” she says as they put jam on their bread. “And you’ve been courting me for about a month and a half.”
“Oh, I guess I didn’t. Smírnov. What’s your last name?”
“Lebedeva. Very symbolic, given what my family went through.”
Rostislav starts choking on his food. After he stops coughing, he looks at her with wide eyes. “That’s one coincidence I wasn’t expecting. My big sister Yeléna’s surname is Lebedeva too.”
“Well, it’s a fairly common name. I doubt we’re related, even if you say your adoptive sister also came from Pskov. We weren’t the only family by that name in Pskov.”
“So, what’s your patronymic? Mine is Vlásiyevich.”
Rostislav starts choking again.
“Don’t tell me that’s your sister’s patronymic too!”
He nods. “I suppose that’s just a coincidence too. Ilya isn’t exactly a rare name.”
“You said your sister is a ballerina. It so happens one of my two missing sisters also was a dancer. Her dream was to be a famous ballerina and live in California. But the godless Reds took her and three of my other sisters to Siberia. My sisters Svetlána and Dinara said she was beaten over her kneecaps very badly. When her condition was found out, the overseers pushed her off a bridge into an icy river. That was sometime in 1920, and we haven’t heard anything about her ever since. My sister Serafima is also still missing. After so many years, you assume the worst.”
“Are you pulling my leg? That’s my sister’s same exact story! But I know you and your sister Véra saw us together at Macy’s, and you didn’t recognize each other. If this were your actual sister, you would’ve known her on first sight.”
“I didn’t recognize the woman, but Vérushka said she looked vaguely familiar. She couldn’t place where she’d seen her before. Véra last saw our missing sister Lyolya when she was only twelve years old, and I was even younger. Vérochka and I have grown up so much since, I doubt anyone from our old lives would recognize us today.”
“My sister’s nickname is also Lyolya, not Léna. Dear God, do you really think my adoptive sister and your missing blood sister are one and the same?”
“Well, if she is, she certainly won’t recognize me, and I didn’t recognize her. My father and much-older sisters would. When is she next performing?”
“Her next show is tomorrow night, Friday. Her ballet troupe is breaking today for the holiday, but tomorrow they’re resuming their two-week run of Giselle. She’s so fantastic as the title role. She says they only give that role to very graceful, accomplished ballerinas. It’s even more amazing since she was nearly crippled for so long, and took a long time to fully heal after we found her.”
“My father and stepmother should go to her next show and see. I’m sure he’d recognize the name on the playbill. And if he managed to see her backstage, I know she’d recognize him, if indeed my father and her father are one and the same. My father has heterochromia, which isn’t very common. My baby brother has it too.”
“Having two different colored eyes. One is brown and one is blue.”
“That’s certainly unusual. As far as I know, there are still seats available. You can go as my guest. I always get a free front-row seat at all her shows.”