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a bolt of lightning

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Love and marriage in many ways are antithetical. One is a bolt of lightning, an epiphany. And the other is planting, tilling, tending. It’s hard work.


He is just a boy when he meets her.


Mourning a lost love but still committed. To the cause, to the mission, and to his new wife.


She is an enigma. Cooly polite and impeccably capable.


He knows it is foolish, but he thinks he could love her.


He might already.


. .


America is bright lights and endless choice.


He quite likes it.


He would never say that outloud, but then he hardly needs to. Elizabeth knows, and she loathes him for it.


Sometimes, he wants to shake her and shout: I would never betray my country.


Or you.


. .


He thought having children might change things.


In a way, it does.


Elizabeth loves them. Cares for them more than she wants to.


It endears him.


And they are a family. No matter what she might say.


He knows it is true. (She does too.)


But between them, their marriage…


It is frustrating how much the distance still lingers. Every time it cedes a little, it ruptures all over again.


. .


He decides quickly.


In truth, it was not much of a choice.


Timoshev raped his wife. He has killed people for far less.


She stands across from him, in their stifling garage.


Her eyes are wide open. She is in shock, disbelief.


He holds her gaze, hopes that she might finally understand.


He would do anything for her.


. .


She leans across the passenger seat. Kisses him with a tenderness that he has spent years dreaming of.


They have had moments before, when something resembling real affection has passed between them.


But the way Elizabeth looks at him now, the softness in the corners of her eyes, she has never given herself to him like this.


So open. So vulnerable.


This time, it is different.


. .


She asks him if he would leave with Martha. Go back home without her.


The thought is unfathomable to him. And so he tells her.


It’s not like that. At all.


She claims that she knows.


He doubts that she does.


For him, it has always been her, and only her.


That isn’t going to change.


. .


He asks her to come home, and she says she cannot do it.


She won’t let a fellow comrade die. Even if it means she dies in the process.


He’ll be damned if this is how it ends. Over a coded phone call, miles away from each.


He goes to her, and he can see it awakens something in her.


She confides to him about a cyanide pill that haunts her neckline.


He wants her to throw it away. She won’t, of course.


But she still trusts him enough to tell him. And he thinks, that for the first time in all these years, he is betraying that trust.


. .


His old life fades away before his eyes. All of their belongings left behind. Whatever that is left, thrown into a makeshift ditch.


She removes her ring, tosses it into the pile of dirt. He does too.


He wonders what will happen if they make it to Russia. Will she leave him after all?


And then Elizabeth goes to her jean pocket, removes the remnants of that night all those years ago.


When they made vows to each other in an abandoned warehouse, crowns on their head, glowing in the candle light.


Mikhail and Nadezhda.


He can’t believe she remembered.


She hands him his ring, a faded echo of a smile on her face.


. .


They abandon their son, and their daughter abandons them.


When he sees her on the platform, it breaks his heart. But he understands, she made her choice.


A part of him is even relieved. He isn’t sure Paige would have liked Russia.


But his wife, it will devastate her.


He acts without thinking, rushes to be with her.


They need each other; it is all they have left.


. .


On an empty bridge overlooking Moscow, she imagines what could have been.


She is a factory worker. No, a factory manager.


She stumbles when conjuring his life, but she is sure when thinking about them .


They would have met, on a bus.


He pictures it in his mind.


A cold Sunday afternoon. He runs for the bus.


There is an empty seat, next to a beautiful woman.


He seizes it without hesitation. He smiles at her and she returns it, though shy and hesitant.


They start talking, two strangers falling in love.