Hugging his sister tightly, Sergei kissed the top of her head, saying, “It’s going to be alright, baby. It’s going to be alright.”
Inside the limousine, Seri found herself seated on the floor, her head on her brother’s knee as she told him everything that had happened. She had used to do this as a child during the rare instances that Fyodor had gotten angry with her.
Remembering those times made Seri squeeze her eyes shut, and she whispered, “He still hates me, doesn’t he?”
Looking up at Sergei, she said in a small voice, “Fyodor.” When her brother just stared, she admitted faintly, “I can’t make myself call him that—-”
She nodded. “I feel like I don’t deserve to anymore, after w-what I did, and if you saw the way he looked at me that night—-” Seri choked back a sob.
Sergei sighed. “You cannot blame him for being furious and for not seeing or thinking clearly, Seri. Papa has always been terrified of raising you the wrong way – of doing something that would besmirch Marianna’s memories.” Choosing his words carefully, he said, “That was why when you acted like his worst nightmare come to life – if you think he came down hard on you, believe me when I say Papa was harder on himself.”
“He looked like he wanted to kill me that night,” she remembered painfully.
“His anger is entirely self-directed, baby. He blames himself for how he thinks you turned out.” He stroked her hair, saying, “It’s the same reason why Vassi found it so easy to believe your lies.”
Seri stiffened. “W-what do you mean?”
Sergei smiled. “Did you really think Misha and I were unaware of his feelings – or yours?”
She could only stare at him in shock.
“When you pretended to be a suka – forgive me if I cannot use the word in English. I do not like using it when talking about you.” Sergei grimaced. “In any case, when you pretended to be that type of person, Vassi no doubt saw it as his divine punishment. Even without him saying anything, Misha and I had always known he felt guilty about loving you. He believed it was wrong of him to want something that could destroy our family.”
Seri looked away.
“What is it, Seri?”
“But it did destroy our family.”
“No, it didn’t, Seri. Once the truth is out, you’ll see that it’s only made us stronger.”
The car slid to a stop then, and Sergei frowned when he realized they had made it to Maximilian Rockford’s condominium. “Are you sure you still wish to stay here?”
“Yes.” She hesitated before blurting out, “Thank you, Sergei. I was so scared that—-”
“That Misha or I would feel the same as the others?” he guessed.
“That won’t ever happen.” He smiled down at her. “For Misha and me, you will always be our baby sister.”
As Sergei accompanied her up to Max’s place, Seri asked hesitantly, “If I go to Papa now, d-do you think he will forgive me?”
“Absolutely.” Sergei’s tone became grim. “And once you make him understand the truth, you must help him forgive himself.”
She bit her lip. “Is he at home then?”
“Unfortunately, no. He’s probably on his way to our summer place.”
“Maybe I can catch up—-”
Sergei was already shaking his head before she could even finish talking. “I heard from the weather report that there’s a storm coming tonight. It would be better if you stay put and wait when he comes back.” Sergei kissed her cheek. “I have to go now. Take care of yourself and please do not go after Papa. It can wait. There’s no need to hurry, Seri.”
But there was.
She didn’t know how to explain it, but she just had this feeling that she had to apologize to Fyodor now.
After making sure Sergei had left, she called for a cab and gave the address of their summer cabin. Halfway to their destination, lightning started to flash and thunder began to roll.
“You sure you don’t want us turning back?” the cab driver asked. “We’re still an hour away.”
She nodded firmly. “Very sure.”
When they made it to the last main road before reaching the cabin, it was to see their path blocked by barricades. Policemen in raincoats hailed them down.
“Sorry, sir, ma’am. You need to turn back due to inclement weather.”
“But we have a place just up ahead—-”
“I’m sorry, ma’am. It’s the sheriff’s order.”
Seeing that there was no point arguing with the officer, she forced a smile, saying, “I understand.”
When the police officer left, the cab driver glanced at her through the rearview mirror. “Do we go back now?”
She shook her head slowly. “I’ll need you to drop me off somewhere else instead.” This time, she had the cab driver drop her off at a narrow back road. As she guessed, the police hadn’t barricaded it and she would only have to walk five minutes to access the cliffside road leading to Fyodor’s summer cabin.