This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples also come from Chapter 39 of The Twelfth Time. Though the reader has known since the first book what exactly happened to Yelena (Lyolya) Lebedeva and that she was discovered by a visiting émigré ballet talent scout and taken to America by a circuitous route through Eastern Siberia and Alaska Territory in the second book, her father has no idea she’s still alive and well. To his great joy, he discovers nine of the ten daughters he had with his late first wife are still alive.
On Friday at 7:00, Rostislav and Natálya take their seats just before the curtain rises. Natálya looks around and sees her father and stepmother sitting a number of rows behind them and to their right.
“They’ve got programs,” she reports. “I’m sure my father will see the name and start to wonder. I really hope your adoptive sister is my sister. Then we’ll only have one missing sister left to find. Perhaps all ten of us really are still alive.”
All during the ballet, Mr. Lebedev’s eyes are riveted to the green-eyed dancer playing the lead. He wonders how long she’s been dancing to achieve such effortless-looking grace, poise, and realistic emotion. He’s also struck by how Russian she looks, perhaps one of the émigrée dancers who came from France in recent years.
“I was unsure when Natálya gave us the tickets and said we had to go tonight, but now I’m glad we came,” Mrs. Lebedeva whispers during the intermission. “It’s been quite awhile since we’ve been to the ballet or opera.”
“She says her gentleman friend has an older adoptive sister in the ballet, so she was able to get a pair of free tickets for us. I wish she’d introduce this young man to us. It’s been a month and a half. In our day, decent people always involved their parents in their courting decisions.”
“Well, Lyuba was off doing all those things with all those men while I was away in America. I don’t know if she still would’ve done so many scandalous things had she had parental control.”
“That was all your first husband’s doing, not your fault. And we all know he had you under his spell for quite some time too. Now let’s enjoy the rest of the show.”
As the curtain rises, Mr. Lebedev continues staring at the lead. The more he looks at her, the more he thinks he’s seen her somewhere before, a long time ago. One of his former boarders? A neighbor from Pskov? Someone he’d bumped elbows with on the ship? He glances down at the program and his eyes almost fall out of his head.
“What’s wrong, Ilyushka?” Mrs. Lebedeva asks. “You look like you’re seeing a ghost.”
“The lead ballerina. I thought she looked familiar, and then I looked at her name. Do you think it’s possible my missing Lyolya is one and the same as this Yeléna I. Lebedeva playing Giselle?”
“Oh, what an imagination. That’s not such a rare name combination. And it’s been almost nine years now that anyone we know has seen her. Lyolya and Serafima probably died long ago. It’s just a coincidence that this Yeléna I. Lebedeva and yours are both ballerinas.”
Mr. Lebedev continues to closely watch her for the remainder of the show. As soon as the final encore is over and the curtain is down, he gets up and rushes towards the dressing rooms. He scans the group of dancers heading backstage to try to make her out.
“May I help you, Sir? We don’t normally have meet and greets with the dancers and the audience. If you know one of the dancers, I can give her a message.”
“Za lead dancer, Yeléna Lebedeva. I zink she may be my daughter. May I please have a chance to see her? I had ten daughters in my first marriage, and two are still missing. My Lyolya vas also a ballerina. Can you please tell her a Mr. Ilya Nikoláyevich Lebedev vants to see her?”
“You’re probably just imagining things, but I guess I don’t see the harm. You do share the same name, so it might not just be wishful thinking or a coincidence.”
Lyolya is taking her hair down and removing her makeup when a knock sounds on her door. She slowly gets up and goes to the door of her private dressing room, half-expecting it to be a fellow dancer wanting to borrow something. Instead she finds one of the backstage workers.
“Sorry to disturb you, Miss Lebedeva, but some fellow was rather insistent about meeting you. He’s one of those ‘I knew you when’ types. He says his name’s Ilya Lebedev.”
“What! That couldn’t possibly be!”
Mr. Lebedev appears next to the worker and peers into the room. The worker walks away to give them some privacy. Lyolya scans him quickly, not sure she’d even recognize any potential friends or relatives after so many years of separation. Then she looks him over again and her eyes lock on his. Heterochromia. One blue eye, one brown eye. She feels a shortness of breath.