This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples continues where last week’s left off. After the ballet, Mr. Lebedev is allowed backstage to see a dancer he suspects to be his missing daughter Yelena (Lyolya), whom he hasn’t seen since 1917 and has given up for dead along with his other missing daughter Serafima. Lyolya recognizes him because of his heterochromia, one blue eye and one brown eye.
Króshka is the family dog, a little Pomeranian. Her name means “crumb” in Russian, since she was as tiny as a little crumb when she was a puppy.
“Papa?” she whispers. “Ilya Nikoláyevich Lebedev of Pskov and Moskvá, husband of Yevgéniya Yermoláyevna, father of ten daughters?”
He nods, tears welling up in his eyes and his face contorted by a mixture of grief, joy, and relief. He puts his hands over his face and starts sobbing uncontrollably, falling onto his knees.
“My father is still alive!” Lyolya shrieks. “My father still lives!”
Mr. Lebedev slowly pulls himself back up to his feet and stumbles towards Lyolya, his eyes so clouded he can barely see straight. Lyolya throws her arms around him and feels him violently shaking.
“Thank God you’re alive,” she sobs. “I thought I was the only one left. Praise God. Praise God. I thought I wouldn’t be reunited with anyone till the next life.”
“We’re not the only ones,” he chokes out. “Eight of your sisters are here, and you have five beautiful little nieces now, and a little brother. Even little Króshka is still alive.”
Lyolya feels as though she’s dreaming. “God has been good to me. This is an even bigger miracle than learning to walk and dance again.”
“You’ll be the guest of honor at my house as soon as your stepsister comes back from Minnesota next week. You’re going to love your stepsister and stepmother. I’ve known my stepdaughter for nine years, long before I ever dreamt I’d remarry her mother. She’ll be like another sister to you. Thank God nine of my daughters are still on this earth. I’d given up hope for all of you to be found.”
Lyolya leads him over to a spare chair and helps him sit down. “If I make nine, then who’s the only one left missing?”
“Serafima. I don’t suppose you know anything about her whereabouts.”
“No, I don’t. I haven’t seen anyone from our family for nine years. Are they all here in the city? When can I see them again?”
“Yes, they all live here. Gálya, Mótya, Dína, and Állochka are married now, Vérushka has graduated from college, and Natáshka will graduate college soon. Fyodora is in high school now, and Svéta is an infant nurse. They’re all going to be so happy to see you’re alive. Your little brother is named Ósip, after your uncle. He’s five and a half, and starting school in the fall.”
“I wish I could cancel the rest of my shows and spend the next week and a half getting reacquainted with everyone!”
“No, don’t do that. This was your dream since childhood, and you’re not going to do anything to jeopardize it. You should do whatever you can to earn money and build your name.”
Lyolya goes over to get the door and finds Rostislav with two people she doesn’t recognize. “Rostik, my father is alive! Can you believe my good luck?”
“My girlfriend and I figured it out yesterday. This is one of your sisters, Natálya Ilyínichna Lebedeva. The other woman is your stepmother, Yekaterína Iósifovna.”
Mr. Lebedev sizes up Rostislav. “So you’re the young man my Natálya has been seeing and not bothered to introduce to me.”
Rostislav puts out his hand. “I am very honored to meet you, Ilya Nikoláyevich. I’m Rostislav Vlásiyevich Smírnov, and I’m from Bulun, Siberia. My brother and sisters and I found Lyolya unconscious on top of some rocks in the Léna River nine years ago and carried her back to our house. She’s been my big sister ever since. We live together in the city. I had to come with her when the ballet talent scout took her to America. She needed a reminder of home and a male escort.”
Mr. Lebedev shakes his hand. “You and your family are angels for rescuing my daughter and taking care of her as your own for so long. Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you as a reward for your righteousness. No price is too high to express my gratitude for saving the life of my child.”
“Could I have Natásha’s hand in marriage?”
“What!” Natálya gasps. “We haven’t even been going out for two months!”
Mr. Lebedev smiles at him. “At least some young men know how to ask a girl’s father for permission. I’d be glad to give you my blessing, but Natálya herself has to agree or nothing can happen.”
“I don’t want to be married at my age. I just want to continue dating. But it’s nice to know Rostik thinks so highly of me. Maybe I’ll say yes if he asks again in a year or so.”