The car trundles along the uneven pavement of the abandoned and empty warehouse alleyways. They’re dressed in surveillance disguises, simple ones, but she sees no one to watch, knows of no one they currently keep tabs on that frequents areas like this.
Philip was cryptic when he lured her out of the house after dinner. She’d wanted to say no. It had been a long week and they both had work for the travel agency to catch up on.
But there had been something in his eyes and his voice that made her change her mind. Whatever he wanted her to do, wherever he planned to take her, it was clearly important.
In silence, they got into the car. In silence, they donned their disguises. In silence, Philip drove them to their unknown destination. In silence, she sat, fidgety and nervous.
Her mind races, thinking back over the last few weeks. Had Philip’s behavior been off? Were there periods of time he was gone that she couldn’t account for? Was he running an operation without her? She drew blanks on all three, but that didn’t rule out the possibility of the latter one.
Was it something about Gabriel? Tuan? Stan? Martha?
Philip’s body language betrays nothing. If anything, he seems calm.
Her mind full of questions, her patience running thin, she breaks the silence.
“Come on, where are you taking me?”
He gives no answer.
“I don’t like surprises, Philip.”
“It won’t be long.”
That’s all she gets. An annoyingly unhelpful response and a furtive smile followed by more silence.
Philip’s non-answer does nothing to ease her nerves and abate her confusion. Luckily Philip is true to his word and a moment later the car slows.
He puts the car in park and kills the engine. The headlights go out.
She holds her breath and waits. She watches in continued suspense as Philip removes his disguise. First, his glasses, then, his hat, his movements slow and precise. Piece by piece he returns until he is just Philip.
She takes his cue, though she remains in the dark about his endgame, and hurriedly removes her own hat and glasses. She runs an uncharacteristically shaky hand through her hair, willing herself to calm down.
Philip glances at her and sighs, steeling himself. For what, she does not know. A request? A confession? He’s leaving? He’s done?
His hand reaches into his jacket pocket.
Her eyes remain fixed on Philip until she hears the crinkle of paper fill the silence between them. Philip unfolds the thick, yellow sheet and her eyes drop down to see what it is.
“Do you remember when they gave us this?”
She blinks. Her eyes quickly scan to read the words printed in large, ornate cursive, trying to catch up to what the hell is going on here.
As she takes in the aged and creased page in Philip’s hands, she recalls General Zhukov’s office in Moscow. A desk littered with papers - the most important documents for their covers.
‘This is everything,’ he had said.
A lifetime ago. They were so young. They hardly knew each other.
And yet, there was a paper proclaiming them to be Philip and Elizabeth Jennings, married.
Philip’s voice cuts through her memory, the reason for their mysterious journey finally made known.
“You wanna make it official?”
She blinks. Once, twice, eyes transfixed on the fake marriage license.
She swallows and looks up to meet Philip’s stare, hoping to find something there that will make this fall into place for her.
His face is serious, his eyes earnest.
He means it.
She sits there for another moment in silence, shell-shocked. Of all the things she speculated, this was nowhere on her list.
And then her brain finally catches up with what’s happening, and she realizes she’s been silent for far too long. Philip’s brow has started to crease and his grip on the marriage license tightens.
“Right now?” she blurts.
From the look on Philip’s face, that’s not quite the right response. She can tell she’s definitely botching this, but she’s never been proposed to before. They never trained her for this.
“If you want to,” Philip responds. “I know a guy. He’s here. For us.”
She looks down at the marriage license again, considers all it claims to represent, but does not. Then she looks back to Philip and sees reflected in his eyes what it could mean, what it really already does mean, to her.
“Do you want to?” he asks.
This time when she answers, she gets it right.
She follows Philip from the car and into the warehouse. Their footsteps echo loudly on the concrete. She’s still unclear on how this plan of his will unfold, but she trusts him.
He leads her down a dark staircase, and he slows his pace, turning to speak to her.
“So...keep in mind I didn’t have many options. Gabriel ran this guy for years. And he’s from home.”
She nods in understanding and they round corner at the bottom of the stairs. She doesn’t know what exactly she was expecting, but once again the reality of the moment catches her by surprise and renders her speechless.
A priest in Russian Orthodox vestments stands waiting for them in the semi-darkness. The glow of the candles on the small table beside him casts long shadows on the concrete floor.
“This is Father Andre,” Philip says as they approach the tall, bearded man.
He nods to her in greeting. She nods in return, processing it all.
“You look different,” Father Andre says to Philip. “No mustache.”
Philip smiles back, wide and free.
“I didn’t have to worry about anyone seeing us.”
Pleasantries out of the way, Father Andre gets to the matter at hand and addresses the purpose of their clandestine meeting in what is probably the unlikeliest place to bear witness to a marriage.
“You will be married,” Father Andre says. “As for the state, whoever comes to Moscow first will have to file the paperwork.”
“It’s okay,” she finds herself saying. The formalities hold little weight with her. She will know and Philip will know, and that is more than enough. It is difficult for her to envision the circumstances under which one or both of them will ever return to their homeland.
Father Andre gestures to their hands.
“Take them off.”
They both remove their current wedding rings and shove them into their pockets.
Father Andre turns his back to them as he goes to retrieve something from the table.
Philip glances over at her.
“I know it’s not perfect, with...God and everything,” he says.
She chuckles softly. No, it’s certainly not like any wedding she’s thought of - not that she really ever imagined having one - but Philip is wrong. For them, it is perfect.
Father Andre approaches with their new rings on a platter. She briefly wonders when Philip went out and got them new wedding bands, and then the ceremony begins.
She tries to follow everything, tries to take everything in, but it seems to be happening too quickly and too slowly all at once. She captures snatches as the ceremony unfolds.
Father Andre placing their new rings on the third fingers of their right hands.
The sound of their given names being spoken aloud in their native tongue.
“God eternal who united strangers and gave them an indestructible union of love...bless and behold these Thy servants Mikhail and Nadezhda.”
The deeply traditional phrases of the service as Father Andre speaks to each of them in turn.
“You have not promised yourself to any other bride?”
Philip’s response, steadfast.
And then the same questions are put to her.
“Have you a free will and a firm intention to take as your husband this man, Mikhail, whom you see here before you?”
Her own answer, equally as strong as Philip’s.
Their hands clasped as they stand on the ritual cloth, the weight of her new ring foreign yet comfortable.
Candles lit and placed in their hands.
The crowning before their union is sealed by the Priest’s blessing.
“Oh Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor.”
And suddenly, it ends.
They are bound together in the eyes of a God they don’t truly believe in, a church they aren’t parishioners of, and a priest who also serves as a KGB agent.
The drive home is the same as the drive there - silent. But it is now a silence of a different type: comfortable, calming.
She feels lighter than she has in a long time.
Philip’s eyes watch the road, and her eyes watch Philip.
She has so many questions she wants to ask him.
Why her? Why now? How long had he been planning this for?
She doesn’t know where to begin so she keeps quiet, content to hold his hand in hers, to feel the newness of the cool metal that adorns his finger.
She doesn’t have much time to appreciate the small thrill it gives her to see the matching bands on their right hands instead of their left. They really should swap back to their old ones before they get any closer to home, but she can’t bring herself to do it just yet.
Philip glances over at her and catches her staring at his ring. He gives her a smile, small and tinged with sadness, before his eyes flick back to the road.
He squeezes her hand and she squeezes back.
She releases her grip and he extends his fingers, allows her to slip his ring off. She grasps it tightly as she removes her own. She slides them carefully into a pocket on the inside of her coat and zips it closed.
She lifts her hips from the seat slightly and reaches into the pocket of her jeans, procuring their cover rings. They feel clumsy and heavy in her hand.
Philip holds his left hand out to her and she slides the more familiar gold band back on his finger. It slots reluctantly back into place, and just like that he is Philip Jennings once more.
She shoves her ring on and twists it back and forth several times.
It took her several years to get used to it when she first got it. Putting it on every morning and taking it off every night became part of her routine. Philip almost always had his on unless he was on a mission that didn’t require it.
There were many moments where it would catch her eye and she’d almost balk at it, as if she was still surprised to find it there after nearly three years of their false marriage.
Eventually, it finally became a part of Elizabeth Jennings, another part of the lie. She’d take it off on her way to see Gregory and put it back on when she’d pull into the garage. Toward the end, she’d kept it on. Whether to hurt Gregory or Philip or herself, she still doesn’t know.
When they get home they hide their new rings away in the electrical box safe, his larger, hers smaller. She cradles them in her palm one last time before giving them up. Philip plucks them from her hand and delicately places them in the safe.
He pulls her to him and holds her close. She wraps her arms around him and presses a kiss to his cheek. She looks over his shoulder at their rings as he flicks off the light and closes the safe.
Locked away, something for just the two of them and no one else.
Later that night, Philip appears in their bedroom doorway, a broom and dust pan in one hand, his other hand hidden behind his back. He closes the door behind him with his foot.
She watches, confused, until he pulls his hand from behind his back to reveal two crystal glasses.
She smiles and he nods toward the bathroom.
She rises from the bed and takes one of the proffered glasses from his hand. Philip leans the broom and pan against the wall and they stand in the bathroom doorway.
Their eyes meet and Philip counts, his voice a whisper.
"Один. Два. Три.”
On ‘three’ they raise their arms and hurl the glasses to the tiled floor. The crystal shatters loudly when it meets the hard tile. The pieces scatter.
She worries for a moment as she counts the shards of her glass and only identifies five distinct pieces. According to tradition, each shard represents a year of happiness that the newly-wedded will spend together.
Philip’s voice behind her soothes her as her eyes land on the remains of his glass.
“Looks like you’ll be stuck with me for a long while.”
Philip’s crystal has splintered into a multitude of tiny shards, pieces so small she doesn’t bother to count them.
She relaxes against him and he wraps his arms around her waist. He presses a kiss to her bare shoulder, another at the curve of her neck, and then a third at the sensitive spot just below her ear.
Her eyes slip closed and she leans into him further.
“I’ll clean up,” he says. “And then…” he trails off.
He grips her hips and she feels him buck beneath her.
“I intend to make love to my wife.”
After, she lies on Philip’s chest, her body draped over his.
Beneath the blanket, Philip’s hand alternates between drawing lazy, indiscriminate swoops across her back and more distinct patterns that feel like letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. Her mind is too hazy and full of other thoughts to discern their meaning.
She lifts her cheek from Philip’s chest and props herself up to get a better look at him.
His eyes glint in the darkness of their bedroom - sated, content, happy.
She enjoys seeing him like this. It’s too rare of an occurrence.
As much as she’d like to stay wrapped up in their cocoon of post-coital bliss, temporarily free from the worries of the outside world, there’s something she has to know.
Philip’s hand stills on her back.
“Why now ?” she adds, though she doubts he needs clarification.
He stares at her for a moment, breathes in.
“Do you remember when I - when Clark - married Martha?”
The back of a church.
Philip, a bouquet in his hands.
“Congratulations. It was touching.”
A skeptical sigh.
“No, it was. I...didn’t expect it to be.”
“You and I were never really married.”
“It’s funny, I know they’re just words people say. Do you think things would have been different between us if we would have said them? ”
A sigh and a shrug.
“I don’t know.”
His back to her as he walks away.
How could she forget.
He goes on.
“I was wrong. All this time. It would have mattered. It did matter. And I...I should have seen that sooner. I should have asked you sooner. Ages ago, really. But neither of us was ready then. I thought I was, but I wasn’t. Now just...felt right. And…”
“I didn’t want to lose you.”
“Lose me? To what?”
He looks away, ashamed.
“To Stobbart ?”
She pushes herself off of him and sits up.
“You think I would leave you, leave the kids, for him ? I told you it’s not like that. It is not like that at all .”
“Philip…if she runs again -”
“You should tell her that you’ll join her, that you’ll have a life together. She needs that hope, to get her on the plane.”
She goes on.
“If you could go back…”
“Back? What do you mean back?”
“With Martha. If our kids were grown, and you could just get out of this...whole life.”
“Wh-what are you talking about?”
“Would you? Go with her?”
“Are you crazy? Martha and I…”
“It is not like that at all.”
“It’s different, I know. I know.”
“You should get her that ice before it melts.”
“I love you.”
He sits up and reaches for her hand. She lets him take it.
“I know. I know. I didn’t...I don’t think you’re going to leave us for him. But maybe one day there could be somebody else. When all this is over and we can go home again, have real lives.”
He squeezes her hand.
“You’re that person for me. And I...I hope I can be that person for you, too. I didn’t want you to think you had to go looking anywhere else.”
How could he think that she ever would?
She looks at him as though seeing him for the first time. And perhaps she is, finally, seeing him. Not as her colleague, not as her cover, not as Philip Jennings, but as Mikhail.
She knows what she needs to say and she is not afraid.
“I love you."