Elizaveta wandered downstairs, humming along with the song playing from her headphones, which were looped around her neck. She tromped into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. She needed a snack.
She settled on pretzels, a bag of sliced apples leftover from co-op lunch yesterday, and a tub of caramel dip, along with a can of iced tea. Out of habit, she paused on the stairs and leaned over the banister to listen in to the conversation in the living room. Her parents were chatting with some work colleagues or something. She was trying not to hate said work colleagues, but work was what had dragged her away from Russia and her entire life and best friend there, so it was a little hard to keep an open mind.
“So how’s Elizaveta settling in?” This was Mallory Swift. Her American accent sounded so weird – she was originally from Texas or somewhere down there, so she sounded different from everyone else here in Pennsylvania.
Good, a conversation about me, Elizaveta thought as she waited for her parents’ reply. Like there haven’t been enough of those since we got here.
“Logistically,” Elizaveta’s father Alexei replied, “she is settling in great. She joined the local homeschool archery team here, which is good, and she has a couple friends in the neighborhood. By all rights she should be happy.”
“So she isn’t happy?” Mallory’s husband Ryan asked.
“No,” said Elizaveta’s mother, Darya, in unsteady English. “She hardly talks to us, and when she does, it is only about Feliks.”
“Feliks?” Mallory said.
“Her best friend from Russia,” Darya explained. “They were really close, so the move was hard on her. Now is like she hates us.”
Well, maybe I do, Elizaveta thought.
“How close were she and Feliks?” Ryan said.
“They were like twins,” Alexei said. “They spent every possible second with each other.”
Tears pricked Elizaveta’s eyes. “Yeah, we did,” she whispered. “And then you had to rip it all away.”
Clutching her snacks to her chest, she rushed up the stairs and tucked herself away in her room once more. She set herself up in her bed – snacks on one side, drink on nightstand, school scattered around her comforter, laptop sticking out of her nightstand drawer, iPod by her legs – and grabbed her laptop. Feliks still hadn’t replied to her email. She’d sent it almost a week ago. Normally he replied within the hour. Silly boy, he never slept. Seriously: once he’d gone an entire week without sleeping. He had then conked out in the middle of his lawn and taken a twelve hour power nap. His date, with whom he’d been stargazing, had not been pleased.
Personally, Elizaveta thought it was hilarious, but she’d been supportive and talked to said date for Feliks (no luck), like any good best friend would have.
Now, though, he probably had to rely on that kid across the street, Vyacheslav or whatever, to be his wingman.
She stared at the time and date stamp telling when she’d sent him the email. What if there was something wrong? What if he was in hospital? Had he been kidnapped or something? Was his mother swamping him with homeschooling work? Had she sent him to school?
Elizaveta scrambled out of bed, history homework papers flying, and grabbed her boots out from under her bed. She had to talk to Kat and Lily about this.
She grabbed her purse and her coat and ran downstairs, making it sound like as much like a herd of elephants as she could. “I’m going to Lily’s,” she yelled, and ran out of the house before either of her parents could stop her.
“Two nines. So you think Feliks is dead?” Kat said bluntly.
“Kat, oh my gosh!” Lily exclaimed.
They were in Lily’s bedroom, sitting on her bed in a circle playing cards, talking, and listening to Lily’s Metallica collection. As soon as Elizaveta had gotten there Lily had called Kat and told her to get her butt over (and bring snacks, as Elizaveta had forgotten hers). Kat showed up three minutes later with a deck of cards and no snacks.
“One ten,” Elizaveta lied, putting a two facedown on the pile of cards. They were playing Baloney. “I do not think he is dead, I just think there is something wrong. I do not know what to do.”
“Don’t,” Kat muttered. “There’s. Don’t.”
“Please stop the grammar police thing,” Lily said. “Elizaveta, do you think there’s any way we can figure out what happened to him?”
“No,” Elizaveta said. “That’s why I came to you. I need your experience with figuring stuff out.”
“Ah, yes,” Kat said, “many years of playing Clue have trained us well. Lily, you gonna play or what?”
“Of course,” Lily said, “although I’m a little more concerned about Elizaveta’s predicament. Two jacks.”
“One queen,” Kat said.
“Baloney,” Elizaveta said instantly. She had all four queens. Kat mock-glared at her and took the pile.
Elizaveta played a seven. “One king. Do you guys have any ideas?”
“Baloney,” Lily sang. “And I’m not coming up with anything, no, sorry. Three aces.”
“We could fly to Russia to track him down,” Kat suggested, sorting madly. “Lily, hold those aces. I gotta see if anyone lied.”
“Fly to Russia?” Elizaveta repeated, nearly falling off the bed.
“No offense, Kat, but are you insane?” Lily demanded.
“It’s just a suggestion, and baloney,” Kat said.
Lily took back her not-aces.
“We can’t fly to Russia.” Elizaveta set down her cards. “Alexei and Darya would freak out.”
“It’s JUST A SUGGESTION,” Kat repeated. “What about that do you guys not get?”
“Wait,” Lily said. “What if we did?”
“SUGGESTION,” Kat practically shouted.
“No, but what if we did?” Lily threw her cards into the air. “Your mom would probably pay for it, Kat, because she’s fine with everything you do. We just got our passports earlier this year because we all went on that trip to Canada. We could go right after archery practice – nobody’s parents will suspect because we normally go get lunch anyway!”
After a moment of consideration, Kat shrugged, tossing her deck at Lily. “I’m good with that.”
“Wait,” Elizaveta said. “Are you guys serious?”
“Sure,” Kat said.
“Of course,” Lily said.
“You’d get in trouble for me?” Elizaveta said.
“Duh,” Kat said. “I mean, I probably won’t, but if my mom ever enforced rules then heck yeah, I’d get in trouble for you.”
“I’m willing to brave my mom’s anger,” Lily said.
Elizaveta beamed. “Wow. Thank you.”
“So are you in?” Kat demanded.
Elizaveta hesitated. Her parents would probably actually likely kill her. They'd never been lenient, and they were still getting used to America. It wouldn't go over well.
“Oh, Elizaveta,” Lily said. “This is your best friend we’re talking about. Your parents won’t even let you visit Russia to see him. Why would you pass up this chance?”
Her parents could try to ground her or whatever for this. This was Feliks, her best friend, her emotional crutch, practically her entire right side, her will to live. If they couldn’t understand that, let them disown her. Feliks’s mother would probably adopt her, and then everyone would be happy.
“I’m totally in,” she said, a grin breaking across her face.
There was an awkward silence as she realized she’d spoken in Russian. “I mean, I’m in,” she said, making sure it was English.
“Awesome,” Kat said. “I’ll go ask my mom, you guys refine our plan.”
Kat came back later to announce that – no surprise and yet surprisingly – her mom had said yes. They packed bags and stowed them at her house to pick up on their way to the airport, and the next morning they walked to practice going over the details of their plan.
“We’re going to where after archery, as far as the parents know?” Lily checked.
“Chipotle,” Elizaveta said.
“Gotcha,” Lily said.
“What gate are we flying out of?” Kat asked.
Both girls shrugged.
“Alrighty, good to know,” Kat said. “Are we bringing our bows?”
“I think we should,” Elizaveta said. “If we keep them in the cases I think they’ll fly, and Russia is an interesting country, so . . . better to be safe than sorry.”
“What an astounding amount of faith you have in your country,” Kat said. “Hey, let’s bring our bows, because Russia is a downright dangerous place, and we’re going in there without an adult! Yay!”
“Kat, calm down,” Lily said gently. “I think you’re forgetting something?”
“My mom didn’t say she was coming with us, did she?” Kat looked alarmed.
Lily snorted. “No, I’m afraid not. You’re forgetting my black belts.”
“All three of them,” Kat muttered.
“Three more than you have,” Lily pointed out, in a ha-ha-I’m-right voice. Most of the time she was a delicate flower who was nice to everybody no matter how rude they were being to her, but occasionally she let that façade slip and showed her true colors, as a sassy, snarky, every-bit-as-sarcastic-as-Kat girl who could beat people up in a heartbeat and would.
“Don’t get that stupid know-it-all tone with me,” Kat snapped, stopping.
“Who are you, my mom?” Lily crossed her arms. “I can talk to whoever I want in whatever way I want, whenever I want!”
Elizaveta decided it was time to step in. She whipped out her arm, nearly smacking Lily in the nose, and made a huge show of looking at her nonexistent watch. “Well, jeepers, would you look at the time? We’re going to be late if we don’t move fast.”
“Russian?” Kat groaned. They started walking again, Elizaveta setting the pace because hey, this was her best friend they were going to go find – that is, after they did archery.
“So is there anything else we should go over?” Lily asked after a couple minutes of almost-comfortable silence.
“Yeah, whether we’ll get arrested in the airport for underage flying and bow transport,” Kat said.
“ENOUGH,” Elizaveta ordered before they could start bickering again. “Gospodi, you two are like an old married couple!”
“Thanks . . . ?” Lily said. “I think?”
“I’m pretty sure that was an insult,” Kat said.
Lily adjusted her pink knitted hole sweater and rubbed her arms. “I’m cold. I think it’s going to snow.”
Kat looked down at the sidewalk, which was covered in dirty white snow, then at her. “You moron, it already snowed. Also, you’re wearing a skirt and tights, and that sweater is doing nothing to keep you warm. Of course you’re going to be cold.”
Elizaveta frowned. “You’re wearing a skirt to Russia?”
“Yeah,” Lily said. “Why?”
“It’s not practical, that’s why,” Kat said.
“Kat,” Elizaveta said. She sighed. “Lily, the average temperature in Russia nowadays is around ten degrees celsius. That’s fourteen degrees fahrenheit. The average temperatures here are around twenty-eight degrees, and it’s thirty-three today. You are going to freeze.”
“I’ll be fine,” Lily said uncertainly.
“Bring two pairs of jeans and lots of extra leggings,” Elizaveta advised. “You’ll need them.”
“Need what where?”
All three girls jumped. None of them had realized they were at the facility where their archery class was held. Coach Adrienne was looking at them expectantly. Behind her were a couple other kids from the team: Chelsea (great), Tucker, Patrick, and Quinn.
“Uh,” Kat said. “Uh, um . . .”
“Stuff to hug,” Elizaveta said quickly. “And the kind of popcorn she’s able to eat. We’re going to be watching lots of scary movies tonight at our sleepover.”
“Didn’t you just do that last week?” Chelsea asked snarkily.
Beside Elizaveta, Lily went stiff as a board. Elizaveta planted herself a little more so that if Lily attacked – it was just a matter of time until it happened – she could stop her before she got past Coach Adrienne.
“We did,” Kat said, casually slinging an arm around Lily’s shoulders. “But we didn’t watch all of them then, so we’re doing it now.” Her voice was barbed. Elizaveta got a feeling all three of them looked ready to murder Chelsea.
They all had good reason, though. Multiple times Kat had caught her talking trash about Elizaveta; she’d “accidentally” broken Kat’s bowstring on three occasions; and she’d dated Lily’s older brother Casper for two years before brutally dumping him in front of everyone at his high school graduation. She was like the popular jerk queen from all the high school chick flicks, except in real life.
Before anything else could happen, Coach Gertrude jogged up, followed by her eleven-year-old son Philip. “Sorry I’m late, there was an accident on Pine Street.”
“It’s fine,” Coach Adrienne said. Coach Gertrude unlocked the doors and let them all in.
Other than a brief spat with Chelsea (same old “You dumped my brother” from Lily and “I did not, he suggested we break up because he was going off to college” from Chelsea), archery passed smoothly. They did Rodeo, which was an arrow-grouping exercise. Lily and Kat shared a target, leaving Elizaveta to share with Tucker, her crush. They were stuck in this perpetual I-like-you-and-I-think-you-like-me-but-I’m-not-quite-sure-so-I-won’t-do-anything dance and had been since the fourth week of archery, so it was a little awkward, but she didn’t mind that much. Nobody had burst into the meet yelling “HOW DARE YOU THINK OF FLYING TO RUSSIA” and everything was going to plan. She was too hopeful to worry about whether or not Tucker liked her.
She’d be back in her country, her home court, with all the snow and stone buildings and people who talked fast who she could actually understand (sometimes when Lily and Kat were talking they’d go too fast for her to decipher – she’d only started learning English when she was fifteen). With the familiar money and St. Basil’s Cathedral and her neighborhood and holy crap she was going to see Feliks again.
This was on a loop in her head for the entire practice.
By the time they got out she was chomping at the bit, raring to go and the most impatient she’d ever been in her life. When they got to Kat’s house the two of them were panting. She hadn’t even broken a sweat.
“Morning, girls,” Kat’s mom called, poking her head out of the kitchen. She was one of the most laid-back people on the planet, always saying yes to Kat and offering to bake cookies for them too. Kat complained about it a lot. “Sometimes I just want to have to sneak out of the house,” she had said once. “But I can’t sneak because there’s no reason to and she’d be hurt by it and there’s just no point.” The only thing she’d ever said no to Kat about was underage drinking, and that hadn’t even been Kat’s idea. It had actually been Chelsea’s, and probably half the reason Kat’s mom had said no was because Kat was standing behind Chelsea shaking her head violently and running her finger across her throat.
Elizaveta was still kind of surprised that she was paying for them to go to Russia by themselves. Like, yes, she was an awesome mom who said yes to everything, but . . . just like that? It seemed like her casualness had crossed the line of lax parent into carelessness. Not to mention if Alexei and Darya ever found out they’d give her a sixteen-hour lecture on parenting.
It just all seemed surreal.
Not that she was complaining. She grabbed their bags from the mudroom and hauled them back to the front hall, where Lily and Kat were leaning against each other, gasping for breath.
“Jeepers creepers, Elizaveta,” Lily panted. “Are you trying to make us die?”
“Russia Russia Russia,” Elizaveta responded, pushing their bags at them.
They exchanged a glance. Lily muttered something, and Kat muttered something back, and then they both accepted their bags.
“Bye, Mom!” Kat called.
“Bye!” Kat’s mom called back. “Have a nice time!”
“We will,” Kat yelled. “Go,” she hissed, “before she bombards us with cookies.”
They scrambled out of Kat’s house and made a quick stop at Lily’s so she could pack some jeans and leggings, then walked down to the bus stop. They just barely made it in time: the bus doors were closing when they ran up. They still managed get on, though, and found three empty seats in the very back. The engine's noise made it impossible for them to talk, but Lily fished the boarding passes out of her backpack and showed them to Elizaveta and Kat. They were flying out of terminal A (the international one), gate twelve. Their flight boarded in three hours.
An hour later, they were climbing off the bus at the airport. They paid the driver and headed into the checking area. Elizaveta’s ears were ringing, but she could still hear her own voice, so she said, “The flight’s going to be somewhere around ten hours, so we should bring two meals. They’re eight hours ahead of us too, so we’ll be landing at eight pm there. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay at Feliks’s house.”
“Cool,” Lily said. “Should we check our bows?”
Elizaveta shrugged. “My bow was shipped with all our stuff when we moved.”
“Lily and I had to for Nationals,” Kat said, "so it's probably the same.”
“Let’s get in line, then,” Elizaveta said, steering them towards the shortest line for getting things checked. “I hope we don’t need ID.”
“We probably will,” Kat said cheerfully.
Elizaveta looked at Lily, waiting for her to add something, but she was staring at the floor, lost in thought. After a moment she looked up at Elizaveta and said, quietly, “Are you saying we’ll kill people?”
Elizaveta knew from the way the man in line front of them stiffened that he had heard. She laughed outright. “In the book we are writing? Obviously. We are trying to make it a tear – a, uh . . . Kat, what’s the phrase?”
“Tear-jerker?” Kat supplied, looking at her like she was insane.
“A tear-jerker.” Elizaveta watched the guy in front of them. He still seemed to be listening in to their conversation “We should kill off at least three people. I was thinking Anatoly, Ginger, and Yaroslav.”
“Ginger?” Kat yelped. “Oh my God! Elizaveta, we can’t kill the main character, that’s insane!”
“Divergent did it,” Elizaveta pointed out, elbowing Lily.
“Divergent was bad,” Kat said. “We can’t kill Ginger. She’s too awesome.”
“Fine,” Elizaveta said. “Then we kill Anatoly, Yaroslav, and . . . Carson.”
Lily gasped, finally catching on. “Carson!? But he’s Ginger’s boyfriend!”
“Exactly,” Elizaveta said maliciously. “We need to break Ginger so that she finally will do whatever they want her to.”
“I’m in,” Kat said.
The line moved up two people before Lily spoke. “Fine,” she said.
“And then we can bring him back and kill him again,” Kat said.
“No,” Elizaveta interrupted. “That’s too cliché. We should make it seem like he’s been brought back to life, but have it be someone else instead.”
“Isn’t killing Carson and having Ginger break because of it implying that she depends on him too much, though?” Lily said. “Maybe we should kill Tucker instead.”
Elizaveta choked. “Excuse me?”
“You know,” Lily said, “her brother?”
“No,” Elizaveta said. “No, no, no, no. I’m not killing Tucker.”
“But Carson is so much better than Tucker,” Lily said, eyes gleaming.
“Here’s an idea,” Kat said, before Elizaveta could retaliate. “We kill both of them, plus the rest of Ginger’s family, and then she can go murder everyone. Maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this in an airport, either. People walking by are going to think we’re serial killers.”
“In a way we are,” Lily said. “At least we are if we go about it your way, doofus. We can’t kill everyone in the book. That’d be so boring.”
“And like Game of Thrones,” Elizaveta said.
“I thought you weren’t allowed to watch that,” Kat said.
“I’m not,” she said. “But Feliks talked about it all the time. You know guys, obsessed with death and blood and stuff.”
Lily and Kat nodded and they lapsed into silence. There was a small fiasco regarding the bows, but they managed to get them in by saying they were going to an archery tournament in Russia that Elizaveta was qualified for because technically she was still a citizen there.
She felt a little bad for lying blatantly about it, but when she remembered the unanswered email to Feliks and how he always always ALWAYS replied but not this time, she felt better about it.
They made it through security relatively easily and bought lunch and dinner with Kat’s debit card, which her mom had stocked with something like seven thousand dollars. (Kat didn’t give the specifics, probably embarrassed.) They found their gate and sat. They had an hour of time to kill.
Elizaveta checked their surroundings, then scooted a little closer to Lily. “What were you saying back there when we were checking our bows? About killing people?”
“So you said that we might need our bows,” Lily murmured. “Do you intend to kill people with them?”
“Of course not!” Elizaveta exclaimed. “Coach Gertrude said that the arrows probably won’t pierce flesh, and even if they do, we won’t be aiming at places people will die from. We don’t even know if we’ll need them, either. I mean, Russia is a great country, but there can be a lot of crime in Moscow and we’re three girls traveling alone, so . . . you’ll be able to protect us with your jujitsu, but it’s a security thing.”
“It’s not jujitsu. Also, I don’t think I’d be able to shoot anyone,” Lily said.
“You don’t have to,” Elizaveta said.
“We could also get arrested for it,” Kat pointed out.
Elizaveta nodded. “That’s true.”
“So what is Feliks like?" Lily asked a couple minutes. "I think we should probably know a little bit about him, right?"
"Yeah," Elizaveta said. She launched into a story about Feliks involving a water hose and several dozen pastry vendors which turned out to be more funny if you'd been there in person. After getting no laughs from Kat or Lily, she just told them little random things about him.
And then it was boarding time and they had to wait in line for a few minutes and then they were on the plane and time started to blur because all Elizaveta could think about was that they were finally going to see Feliks.
The flight passed surprisingly quickly. She listened to her favorite playlist on repeat until she couldn’t stand it, ate, and read three books. Then they were in Russia.
They got their bows from baggage claim and hailed a taxi. The driver was a friendly man somewhere in his sixties who only spoke German, Norwegian, Italian, Mandarin, and Spanish - no Russian or English. Luckily for them, Kat spoke Mandarin, because of her Chinese grandparents, so instead of Elizaveta translating as she thought it would be, it was Kat. They gave him Feliks’s address and off they drove.
“Imagine that,” Elizaveta muttered to Lily. “A taxi driver in Russia who doesn’t speak Russian or English.”
“I forgot Kat spoke Mandarin,” Lily murmured back, smiling as she watched Kat chat up a storm.
It was only half an hour in the car to Feliks’s house. They paid the driver, Kat said something to him in Mandarin that they both laughed about for a good minute, and then they were out of the car standing in Feliks’s driveway. A light layer of snow covered everything in the neighborhood. It felt like home.
A cluster of butterflies had slowly been forming in Elizaveta’s stomach on the car ride and now it was a full-tilt pterodactyl roller coaster, complete with loop-de-loops and the vertical drop. She was going to see Feliks again. It had been six months since she’d seen his face in person. There was Skype, but the time differences made it hard to communicate that way, and there was always so much lag.
“You excited?” Lily asked, breaking the silence of the cold night.
Elizaveta’s gaze strayed to the house to the left, her old house. She hadn’t really paid attention to who had moved in, but her parents had said something about a young family. She could see glow in the dark stars on the ceiling of her old bedroom. They were a lot brighter and newer than the ones she'd had.
She looked back at Feliks’s house. The light in the front window was on, but Feliks’s wasn’t. It was only about ten o’clock.
That only strengthened the feeling that something was wrong - he should still be awake. She marched up the driveway, only realizing when she got to the garage that she hadn’t answered Lily's question.
She turned and hurried up the front walk, not waiting for Kat and Lily before ringing the doorbell. She listened for footsteps, but there was nothing.
“Elizaveta, jeez,” Kat said as she and Lily jogged up. “Where’s the fire?”
There was a faint whump as Lily elbowed her in the ribs.
Elizaveta rang the doorbell again. “Feliks’s light is out. He never goes to sleep before eleven.”
“Dude,” Kat said. “He could have changed his sleeping habits.”
“No!” Elizaveta spun. “You don’t understand! He can not go to sleep before eleven, it is physically impossible for him! He can’t just change his sleeping habits on a whim!”
“Okay, okay,” Lily said, stepping between them. Seeing as she was half a head shorter than them, it didn’t do a whole lot, because they could still glare at each other, but it worked.
Elizaveta spun back to the door and pounded on it three times. “Mrs. Vasiliev!”
Memories drifted through her head, memories of doing this exact thing five years ago when Feliks had broken his leg at the park and she’d practically carried him home. She’d been scared then, but it was nothing on how terrified she was now.
After a couple more seconds of pounding, the door opened a crack and Mrs. Vasiliev peered out at her, eyes wide, eyebrows furrowed in fear. “Ye - yes? I – Elizaveta?”
“Mrs. Vasiliev,” Elizaveta exclaimed, lapsing into Russian. “I missed you!”
“I missed you too, dear,” Mrs. Vasiliev said tiredly, opening the door further. “Come in. Who’s this?”
“This is Kat Blue and Lily Willis,” Elizaveta said, walking inside and gesturing to each in turn. “They’re friends from Pennsylvania. Where’s Feliks?”
“Nice to meet you,” Mrs. Vasiliev said to Lily and Kat in skippy English. “I am Mrs. Vasiliev.” She switched back to Russian. “Elizaveta, dear, what are you doing here?”
“I want to see Feliks,” Elizaveta said, an alarm bell joining the ones clamoring in her head. She eyed her best friend’s mother. She didn’t look good: her dark hair was falling out of its bun and more streaked with gray than she remembered. There were dark circles under her eyes and one or two more worry lines on her face. “Is he upstairs?”
“Your parents are going to be furious,” Mrs. Vasiliev said. “And they’re probably worried sick. Would you like some borscht? I made some for dinner.”
Another alarm bell started clanging, the harshest of them all. Feliks hated borscht, and Mrs. Vasiliev knew that, because the first few times she’d given him borscht, he’d barfed it all over the table.
“Mrs. Vasiliev,” she said fiercely. “Nadezhda. Where is Feliks?”
“Feliks?” Mrs. Vasiliev stuttered. “Feliks?”
“Yes.” Elizaveta was losing patience, but she tried to curb it. “You know. Your son, my best friend, the sloppy teenage boy who lives here?” A stab of pity darted through her.
“What are you guys talking about?” Lily asked, the English jarring after hearing so much Russian.
“Shh,” Kat whispered, “they look angry.”
“Feliks,” Mrs. Vasiliev said, and her shoulders sagged, all her fight leaving with her heavy sigh. “Go upstairs and look.”
Elizaveta dropped her things and ran up the stairs, taking them three at a time the way she always did. Her feet followed the well-worn path in the carpet to Feliks’s room. The door was open. She stood there for a moment, breathing in the familiar piney scent that made her heart ache, and flipped on the lights. “I’m back, nerd” she said . . .
. . . and she said it to an empty bed.
An empty room.
“Feliks?” she said. She scanned the room, but nothing seemed out of place, at least not until something on his dresser caught her eye. She ran over. It was a dusty piece of notebook paper with a dried reddish-brown liquid splattered on it that she didn’t want to think about. She unfolded it with shaking hands.
Ne vopros Krug Krovi.
Do not question the Circle of Blood.
“Nadezdha!” she shouted. And then, “Lily! Kat!”
Lily and Kat shot into the room, flanking her. Neither of them could read Russian, but they both saw the drop of blood on the paper. Lily sucked in a breath and Kat cursed quietly.
“The Circle of Blood,” Elizaveta said. “Feliks was digging around with a buddy about something or other, he wouldn’t tell me, but he said that he might have accidentally provoked the Circle of Blood. That was months ago – I thought it was over, I thought nothing happened!”
“He’s gone?” Lily whispered, looking around.
“Dang, I was looking forward to meeting him,” Kat said.
Elizaveta bit back a barrage of sharp words, sighing instead. A thick silence fell.
“Let’s take them on,” Lily growled abruptly.
Elizaveta and Kat looked at her, startled. “What?” they said in unison.
“Go after them,” Lily said. “Take them down.”
“We can’t do that,” Elizaveta said. “Number one rule in Russia: never mess with a gang.”
“Number one fact in Russia: number one rule was made up by a Russian gang,” Lily said. “Let’s do it. I’m feeling deadly.”
“I don’t even know where they are,” Elizaveta protested.
“I do,” Kat volunteered from the other side of the room.
“How the heck do you know?” Elizaveta demanded, as she and Lily turned to stare.
Kat tore a post-it off Feliks’s desk and waved it at them. “It says the Circle of Blood’s address right here in Mandarin.”
“Feliks doesn’t know Mandarin,” Elizaveta said.
“Google Translate?” Lily offered.
“He loves Google Translate,” Elizaveta muttered. “Okay, wait, so – are we serious?”
They all looked at each other, and then Lily and Kat nodded.
“Okay,” Elizaveta said. A grin started to stretch across her face. “Okay. Okay, wow. I have awesome friends. Alright. Wow. Okay, um, are either of you tired?”
“Yeah,” Kat said. “But it’s fine, I’m not exhausted.”
“Neither am I,” Lily said. “All this adrenaline in my body is making me feel like I’m in the middle of a fight.”
“We will be soon, probably,” Elizaveta said. “Alright, guys. Do we have our bows?”
“Yep,” Kat said.
“I think that’s all we need,” she said. “We good to go?”
“Can we get your friend’s mom to drive us?” Kat asked.
Elizaveta shook her head. “I don't want to involve her, she's a wreck. I'll drive. I learned years ago.”
“That’s illegal,” Lily said. “I looked up the driving age in Russia, it’s eighteen. You’re seventeen, and you were younger than that years ago.”
“Since when has illegal stopped anybody?” Elizaveta said. “I can pass for eighteen. Let’s go.”
They jogged back down the stairs.
We are so stupid, Elizaveta thought. It's great.
Mrs. Vasiliev was still standing by the open door, looking heartbroken. Elizaveta hugged her. “Don’t worry, Nadezhda. We’ll get Feliks back.”
“That’s impossible,” Mrs. Vasiliev whispered.
“No, it’s not,” Elizaveta said. “Not if you've got enough nerve and jujitsu and sarcasm. Can I take your car?”
Mrs. Vasiliev nodded. “Thank you, dear.”
“Hey, he’s pretty much my family too,” Elizaveta said. "I'll need your car keys, though." She pulled away, accepting the keys, and said in English, “Let’s go, you guys.”
They headed out the door. The drive to the location was tense and quiet, broken by Kat and Lily opening bowcases in the backseat and taking things out. The Krug Krovi’s base was a warehouse in a slummier part of Moscow. It looked empty, but Elizaveta knew looks could deceiving.
They got out of the car. Elizaveta was nervous, but she was also furious. How dare this stupid gang take her best friend. How DARE they. Kat and Lily were awesome, but this was different. Feliks literally was family to her.
Lily distributed the bows and Kat the arrows. They put the extra arrows in their boots, bumped fists, and walked up to the door to the warehouse. It swung open before they got there and a tall, thin man with blonde hair pulled into a low ponytail intercepted them.
“Who are you,” he said, his Russian low and dangerous. He was a native speaker. (It was easy to tell the difference.)
“I’m here for Feliks Vasiliev,” Elizaveta said. Her voice sounded just as threatening as his. “Give him back to me right now.”
“No,” the man snapped. “He endangered us. Now we endangered him.”
Elizaveta sighed. “Lily?” She gestured to the man.
Lily stepped forward, cracking her knuckles, and kicked the man in the jaw. Bam, just like that. She was wearing leggings now – she must have changed during the car ride.
The man crumpled. Holding her bow in easy draw position, Elizaveta stepped over him into the warehouse. Lily and Kat filed in next to her, Lily holding a flashlight.
“I thought getting on a plane was the stupidest thing we’ve ever done,” Kat said. “This totally trumps that, though.”
“Agreed,” Lily said. She shone the flashlight around. It landed on a sign on the right-hand wall that said DUNGEONS in bright red lettering and pointed down a flight of stairs.
“Ooooooooh, boy,” Kat muttered.
“Let’s go,” Elizaveta said. Lily led the way and Kat covered them from behind.
They tiptoed down the stairs. Elizaveta glanced behind her at Kat and when she looked back at Lily, the short girl was slamming a man’s head into the wall with a kick to his throat. Elizaveta found herself wincing sympathetically.
“Let’s start checking,” Lily said, because there were a dozen doors on each side of the hall, plus one at the end. Aside from the man now on the floor, the place was deserted. “I’ll stay here at the end and intercept anyone who comes down. Scream if anyone tries to abduct you.”
Elizaveta took the rooms on the right, turning the handles and then kicking them open as she drew her bowstring back to her cheek. She was about halfway down the hall when Kat called, “Is this your friend?”
She spun and ran to Kat, hoping she didn’t trip and stab herself in the eye with her arrow. Kat had flicked on the light in the stone room and was crouched next to a dark lump on the floor. As Elizaveta approached she backed away.
Elizaveta already knew it was Feliks before she rolled him over. She could tell from the shape of his shoulder. And it was a good thing she knew what his shoulder looked like, because his face was covered in so much dirt and blood – dried and fresh – that she barely recognized him. There were at least three open cuts on his face and there appeared to be one somewhere in his hair, which looked darker than usual. He probably hadn’t showered in a week.
“Feliks,” she said. “Feliks Vasiliev.”
“Dude,” Feliks muttered, not opening his eyes. She nearly screamed upon hearing his voice. He sounded horrible. “A lady to beat me up. That’s new. Just give me a minute to mentally prepare myself.” He was silent for a moment. “Okay, I’m good now. Have at it. Maybe this time you can practice some karate on me, though? Last time the dude just kicked me in the ribs a bunch of times. That didn’t feel very karate-y. One would think that a gang would have at least one martial artist, but hey, I didn't design this. Maybe I should have."
“What’s he saying?” Kat hissed.
"A bunch of sarcastic stuff," Elizaveta replied. “Feliks Pyotr Vasiliev. C'mon, we need to leave."
“We kind of need to leave,” Kat whispered.
"I just told him that."
Feliks crinkled his nose. “Are you calling yourself the suspension? Because the suspension is killing me - ELIZAVETA?!” His eyes shot open and he lurched upright, wheezing and couhging and grinning at the same time. “Elizaveta! Ow my ribs. What are you doing here? Is everything okay? Are you hurt?”
She laughed outright at him. Here he was, covered in blood, not having showered in ages, maybe with his ribs cracked or broken, and he was asking about her welfare.
“I’m fine, you great lump of idiocy,” she said. “You obviously aren’t, though. What happened to you? What were you thinking?"
“Oh, you know, same old same old.” He groaned, his half-closed blue eyes glinting oddly in the dim light. “Got involved with a Russian gang, captured, beaten, et cetera et cetera. Did you guys hack the cameras?”
Elizaveta’s head snapped up and she locked gazes with Kat. “Cameras?”
“Yeah.” Feliks pointed feebly at a thing in the corner that, sure enough, was a camera. “Cameras.” When there was a drawn-out silence, he sighed. “You didn’t know about the cameras.”
“What’s he talking about?” Kat asked. “Why – oh, crap, are there cameras?”
“Yeah,” Feliks said in English. “Cameras.” He went back to Russian. "We're so screwed - no offense, E."
"None taken." Elizaveta dragged him to his feet, ignoring his protests and grunts of pain. “We need to leave immediately,” she said, also in English. They’d both learned it together. “Oh – Feliks, this is Kat. Kat, this is Feliks. She’s my friend from Pennsylvania.”
“Pleasure,” Feliks said, sticking out his hand.
Elizaveta took that opportunity to lever herself under his shoulder like a crutch. “Yeah, we should probably go now."
“Yeah,” Feliks and Kat agreed. Kat grabbed Elizaveta’s bow and they hurried out of his holding cell just in time to see Lily roll backwards in front of them and come up hurling herself at an enormous brute of a man standing there in the hall. Kat let out a fierce yell and ran to join them. She leaped up and swung her bow out. It hit the man in the temple right as Lily tackled him. He didn’t stand a chance.
Kat pulled an arrow from her boot and nocked it as Lily scrambled to her feet. “Oh, you found him,” she said. She waved at Feliks. “I’m Lily from Pennsylvania.”
“Hi Lily from Pennsylvania,” Feliks replied, smiling and wincing as the cuts on his face moved. “Hey, Elizaveta, do you think we could talk for a second? I just remembered something.
“They don’t know Russian,” Elizaveta said.
“Okay.” He switched to Russian. “Okay so long story short the people who kidnapped me think we’re twins.”
“What?” She laughed. “That’s ridiculous.”
“It’s not, though,” he said, looking somber. “They showed me the file.”
“They have a file on us?” she exclaimed. Curses started flowing through her head. If a gang - especially the Krug Krovi - had a file on you, it was bad news and should probably be burned ASAP.
He nodded. “The file room’s at the end of this hall. I think you should see it.”
“Guys,” Lily said, “We should go. Like, now.”
“No,” Elizaveta said. She felt like she was trying to swim in a footrace. “We can’t. Fel – Feliks and I need to look at something. You guys could go up and clear the place out, though.”
“Oh, that’s a great idea,” Kat said, dripping sarcasm. “Why don’t we just light the building on fire, too, while we’re at it?”
An evil grin spread across Lily's face.
“NO,” Kat said. “NO, NO, NO.”
“Just – we’ll be back in a minute,” Elizaveta said. She turned the two of them and they headed down the hall to a door at the end. The door was locked, but Feliks leaned on her and kicked it hard, right above the handle, whispering a curse as the pain registered. However, the door flew open, so it was worth it. He flicked on the lights, revealing row upon row of filing cabinet.
“We’re under S,” he said. “For Smirnov. Apparently that was the name of our biological mother. They’ve been keeping tabs on us for our whole lives, too.”
“Stop,” she said, scanning the cabinets for S. “Don’t talk about it, please.”
Our ENTIRE lives.
She found the S and led them down to Smirnov. She opened the drawer and rummaged through the files until she found it: FELIKS i YELIZAVETA.
She pulled the file out, noticing as they swished into place that the other files in the drawer were dusty. It was smooth against her fingers, the edges worn from use, and she couldn’t decide whether it was too heavy or too light to be something that was holding her entire life documented inside. She shut her eyes, breathing in Feliks’s familiar laundry detergent, partially hidden beneath a week of dirt and sweat. If anything could ground her before she looked inside this yellowing paper-filled file, it was that detergent, as odd as that sounded.
She opened her eyes, blinking against the harsh fluorescents glaring down at them. She was scared, and she knew it. But she also knew they didn’t have a lot of time, so she plopped the file down on the drawer in front of them and opened it.
The first thing she saw was SMIRNOV, ELIZAVETA across the top in big bold letters. A few photos of her were paperclipped to the file. One was of her as a baby, in black and white. That one surprised her - in all her family's photos, she was a chubby baby, and she wasn't in this one. Another was from when she and Feliks had first met, at age six. They were having a who-can-push-each-other-into-the-sand-more fight at the sandbox in their park. The last one was of her staring out the window in her Pennsylvania house.
She kept reading. There was information about her when she was born: weight, eye color, gender, et cetera. Under SIBLINGS was Feliks’s name, and a T for twin.
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
“Look at the DNA strand,” he said, pointing to the bottom. “Mine is nearly identical.”
“We have to take this with us,” she breathed.
“They’ll just start it over,” he said.
“I don’t care,” she said. “Well – I do, but that’s not why. I want to show this to my mom and dad. Ask them if they knew.”
“Okay, give it here,” he said. “I’ll carry it.”
She handed it over and they hurried out of the room. The hall was empty, but by the time they got to the stairwell Kat had trotted down halfway. “Lily just took everyone out!”
She was flushed and breathless and her hair was a wreck. She also had blood on the upper limb of her bow and was missing three arrows from her boot. But she was alive and relatively unharmed, so Elizaveta didn’t really care how much she’d hurt other people.
They got out of the warehouse fast, Kat chattering about how they’d taken the guards by surprise. “I shot an arrow at the wall behind them,” she said, “and then while everyone was surprised I bashed one on the head – hence the blood – and Lily just went ballistic beating them up. It was great.”
“Shotgun,” Feliks said.
“WHAT?!” Lily spun in a circle.
“No,” he said patiently. “I call shotgun. Ow, E, please don’t poke me there. I think that’s the broken rib.”
“I think all of them are broken,” she replied, but splayed her hand across his sternum instead of poking him in the side to keep him steady.
“No, there’s at least one that’s intact,” he said. “I haven’t gotten a punctured lung yet, that’s good.”
“Uh huh,” she said, shaking her head. They loaded into the car and once they were all safely buckled, she floored the pedal. It had to be at least midnight by now.
“I can’t believe we did that,” Kat said after a few minutes. “I can’t believe we just broke into a gang’s base and got Feliks out.”
“Me neither,” Lily agreed.
Elizaveta grinned and said to Feliks in cheerful Russian, “They let us escape. Laugh.”
He laughed. “You're probably right.”
“We can’t understand Russian,” Kat said.
“I said it was like they were rabbits,” Elizaveta said.
Everyone fell silent, and that allowed questions and concerns to flood her head. First, there was definitely something off. It was almost like the Krug Krovi had wanted her to break Feliks out, and find the file too. It had been too easy. Why would they kidnap Feliks if they wanted her to just go and break him out again? Why had they kidnapped Feliks in the first place? Why were they keeping tabs on them? How many other people were they keeping tabs on? Judging by the amount of filing cabinets in that room, it was a six-digit number. If she and Feliks were twins, why had they been separated at birth? Someone obviously wanted them to know each other, so why hadn’t they just been raised by the same parents?
She glanced over at Feliks. He was deeply absorbed in the file, but felt her looking at him and met her gaze. “It says in here that they know when I introduced you to twenty one pilots, and Muse too. How do they know that?”
“I don’t know,” she said. She glanced into the backseat. Lily and Kat were both asleep, their fingers wound together in the middle seat. She lowered her voice and proceeded to repeat the questions in her head to Feliks.
“The only one I can answer is the one about why they kidnapped me,” he said when she was done. “Mom had told me I was adopted, so I started looking into my birth stuff. They kidnapped me a few months later, but I don’t know why, because they proceeded to tell me all about our biological mom anyway.”
“Who is she?” Elizaveta asked.
“Was,” Feliks murmured. “She’s dead. Her name was Oksana Smirnov. She worked at an investment company and supposedly died of an overdose of something like horomone supplements or whatever a couple days after she gave birth to us. They don’t know where our dad is, or at least that’s what they say. All they know is that his name was Pyotr Mikhailov. Apparently there are a lot of Pyotr Mikhailovs out there.”
“Mm,” Elizaveta agreed. She reached over and patted his arm. “Why don’t you get some sleep? After you and your mom see each other again I want to go to Pennsylvania. Your passport still works, right?”
“Yeah, I just took that vacation to London,” he said. He closed the file and folded his hands over it. “Can I go to a hospital once they're done slowly throttling you?”
“Of course,” she said. “I’d tell you to stay here, but I just don’t want to be separated again.”
He grinned. “Neither do I. Goodnight, twin sister.”
“Goodnight, twin,” she said. A few minutes later he started snoring.
When they got to his house, Mrs. Vasiliev ran out and there was a lot of crying on both her and Feliks’s part. And hugging. Lots of hugging. With everyone. Feliks took a quick shower and put some Band-Aids over the cuts on his face, and then they all piled into the car to drive to the airport.
“Joy,” Kat said at some point to Elizaveta. “Another ten-hour plane ride.” But she smiled and squeezed Elizaveta’s hand after, letting her know it was okay.
Mrs. Vasiliev insisted on coming with them to Pennsylvania, and there was no reason to refuse her, as she'd already packed a bag. They flew through customs and security and soon enough they were on the plane back to Pennsylvania. Elizaveta and Feliks talked for half the ride, sharing news and updating each other on everything they hadn’t been able to tell each other over email. Once they were done they leaned on each other and went to sleep.
Elizaveta spent the car ride home from the airport rehearsing what she’d say to her parents. Kat paid the Uber driver and they walked up the front walk of Elizaveta’s house.
“This is cool,” Feliks muttered in her ear. “I get to see your house.”
“I hate it,” she replied. Her parents’ cars were still in the driveway, despite it being something like eight in the morning. (She’d lost track of the time.)
She pulled the spare key out of the hanging flowers and unlocked the door. She sucked in a deep breath, grabbed Feliks’s hand, and pushed the door open.
“Hi, Mom, Dad,” she called. “I’m home.”