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After the Grand Hotel

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Elizaveta sat down on the seat behind the driver, while Raffaela sat down next to her and Witt in the co-driver seat.

‘We don’t have much time left,’ Witt muttered, looking down at his watch. ‘The train to Vienna leaves in 20 minutes. Step on it!’

The driver pushed on the gas and the elegant car started to move, leaving the revolving door of the Grand Hotel Berlin behind.

‘Oh, how could I have been so silly?’ Elizaveta laughed nervously. ‘He said he would wait for me at the station, with an armful of roses.’ She grabbed Raffaela’s hand, which had rested on the soft fabric of the car seats between them.

‘Raffaela, do you think he’ll be there?’ Elizaveta asked, clutching her confidante’s hand with both her hands now and leaning in Raffaela’s direction. ‘We’re so late. Won’t he think I’ve abandoned him?’

Raffaela slowly opened her mouth, the horrible truth on the tip of her tongue, but when she looked into Elizaveta’s eyes, the words failed her. Elizaveta stared back, silently begging for comfort.

‘Yes, he will surely be there,’ she finally managed to say, conjuring up a smile.

‘Yes, he will be there,’ Elizaveta repeated, exhaling in relief as she sat back in her seat. ‘With an armful of roses. Red roses for passion.’

The car raced through the rainy streets of Berlin, followed by a second car carrying the many suitcases Elizaveta had brought with her.

While Witt was looking down at his watch and muttering incomprehensibly every ten seconds, Elizaveta wasn’t bothered by their hurried ride at all. Although the sky was grey and the puddles on the streets reflected the headlights of the cars passing in the opposite direction, the sun was shining in Elizaveta’s heart. Felix would be waiting for her. Felix, the young, handsome man who made her want to dance again. Felix, who said he loved her. Elizaveta couldn’t remember a moment in her life she had felt happier than she had felt in the last twenty-four hours.

The car screeched around a corner and the high arch of the Berlin Central Station appeared. The car had barely stopped when Witt and Raffaela jumped out of the car, signalling some porters to come over and get the luggage from the second car, while Elizaveta calmly exited the car and elegantly flung her fox fur around her shoulders.

‘Hurry!’ Witt shouted at Raffaela, as he would never do it straight at the famous Elizaveta Grushinskaya herself. Raffaela took Elizaveta’s arm and kindly but firmly led her to the entrance of the station.

‘Platform 2!’ Witt yelled, frowning under the pressure of time. ‘Everyone’s already on the train, so go and join them. I’ll handle the luggage!’

Raffaela paced through the revolving doors and straight towards platform 2, but Elizaveta pulled her arm out of Raffaela’s and stopped.

‘Where is he?’ she asked to no one specifically, looking around. ‘Where is Felix?’

‘I’m sure he is already on the train, madame,’ Raffaela said quickly, her eyes shooting upwards to the big station clock. Five minutes left. ‘He probably thought you wouldn’t make it if you had to look for him first.’

‘Oh yes!’ Elizaveta replied, her face beaming. ‘He must be! How thoughtful of him.’ She once again took Raffaela’s arm and let herself be guided to the train heading for Vienna. She heard Raffaela sigh in relief as they boarded the train, but as she opened the door to their private compartment, no one but Sandor was there.

‘Madame Grushinskaya, I am so happy you made it!’ he shouted, spreading his arms welcomingly. ‘The people in Vienna will be thrilled to see you perform!’ Elizaveta didn’t share his enthusiasm. She turned back to Raffaela.

‘Where is he?’ she asked.

Raffaela looked at her and opened her mouth again, but her voice didn’t come.

‘Madame…’ Sandor said behind her, but Elizaveta closed the door behind her without breaking the gaze between her and Raffaela.

‘Raffaela, where is Felix?’

Raffaela opened and closed her mouth as if she had forgotten how to speak, her eyes shooting down to the floor, back up at Elizaveta’s and back down again.

‘Raffaela, where is he?’ Elizaveta repeated, more insistently this time.

‘Madame,’ Raffaela started, but her voice abandoned her once again. She took Elizaveta’s hands in hers and softly squeezed her long, elegant fingers through both their gloves.

‘What’s wrong?’ Elizaveta asked, her tone switching to desperate.

‘Madame, I have to tell you something,’ Raffaela said softly. ‘Last night, the baron…’

As Raffaela spoke, the world around them seemed to change. The noises of the station grew faint, as if the world no longer existed except for this tiny hallway of the train to Vienna. Elizaveta listened, slowly changing along. The strength in her hands grew weaker, the corners of her mouth got heavy and the light in her eyes slowly went out like a candle at its end.

‘Felix is… dead?’ Elizaveta whispered. Raffaela nodded briefly.

‘I see,’ Elizaveta said and slowly pulled her hands from Raffaela’s. She turned to the open door on her right and stepped down onto the platform, back into the noise of the station.

‘Madame, the train could leave at any moment,’ Raffaela said after her.

‘I need some air…’ Elizaveta slowly started walking alongside the train. The noises around her grew louder.

‘Madame, please get back on board!’ Raffaela shouted, looking back at the big station clock in a frenzy. Elizaveta kept walking. The sounds grew louder and louder. The hissing of the heavy steam engines, the rumbling of the trolleys transporting suitcases, the shrill whistle of the station chef, the thundering of the oncoming freight train.

‘Madame, you have to board..!’ Raffaela’s voice sounded far away, almost drowned out in the overwhelming cacophony that grew louder and louder.

‘Just give me a moment…’

The sounds were nearly unbearable. It consumed Elizaveta’s brain, overwhelming all her senses. She looked to her right, to Raffaela.

‘Madame?’

She looked to her left, to the oncoming freight train that made the stone platform beneath her feet vibrate.

‘Madame!’

She closed her eyes.

‘ELIZAVETA!’

Silence.

Elizaveta opened her eyes. She was still at the station, but the noises, the people, the trains… They were gone all gone. The sun was shining through the stained glass windows, creating rainbow-coloured pools on the floor.

‘Elizaveta.’

She turned around. A young, handsome man clad in white held out a magnificent bouquet of red roses.

‘Felix…’ she breathed. Baron Felix von Gaigern smiled at her.

‘I told you I’d be here, waiting, with an armful of roses.’

‘Red roses for passion,’ she said with a peaceful smile.