"I want you to know that I'm not angry with you. I don't hold a grudge."
Florence frowned faintly. There was a crease of confusion between her eyebrows. She had not expected to be approached by Svetlana Sergiesvky after the match, and what she was saying wasn't making much sense. "What?"
"About Anatoly. He chose you, and chess, and his life in England. I understand."
"Mrs. Sergievsky..." She flinched slightly. Not the thing to call a woman whose husband had abandoned her. "Svetlana? He didn't choose me. He chose himself, or chess, or... something. He was supposed to throw the match."
"What? They got to you, too?"
Florence laughed softly. "My father... There was a political ploy to get him out of a Russian prison. If Anatoly lost."
"Oh." Svetlana Sergievsky looked even sadder than she had before. "I'm sorry. I know you loved him, just as I did. I thought..."
"He's going back to Russia, now."
"But not back to me."
"He left us a long time ago. It's alright."
"I was always afraid of this, you know."
"Of Anatoly's ambition?"
"That you'd be nice."
"I could imagine that you were bad for him, the way Freddie was for me, and that it was alright, what we did to you. I knew it wasn't, but I could pretend."
Now she laughed, tired and worn but still beautiful and polite. "You aren't the first. It's Anatoly, not you, that I would have blamed. But I don't blame him. He hasn't loved me in years. He loves you."
"Not as much as he loves chess. But I knew that already."
They eyed each other quietly for a moment, considering their losses.
"Florence. I shouldn't have done this. I wouldn't have bothered you, if I'd known."
"It's alright. Are you headed back to Russia, then?"
"In two days."
"Oh. Well, what are your plans for those days? Tour Bangkok?" The attempt at small talk was stilted but determined.
"No, I-- I was brought here by the government. I haven't left my hotel but to see the games. I don't have any money."
Florence winced. "Yuck."
Svetlana smiled at her. "I've seen a few things. It's a beautiful city."
"Let me buy you dinner," she blurted impulsively. "Would they let me? You've got two more days."
Svetlana's eyes widened. "I don't think-- I'm sure they wouldn't care, but why? Surely there are other things you'd rather be doing."
"I don't know anyone here but Anatoly and Freddie, and I'm not about to go to dinner with either of them." She made a face, and Svetlana laughed again. "We're both stranded here, thanks to him. Let's go out."
Florence spent an hour getting dressed, which was almost twice as long as it usually took her. She didn't know Svetlana well. She didn't know the restaurant the hotel's front desk had recommended. She also hadn't really packed anything but monochrome professional clothes, with the exception of one red dress, in case of some kind of fancy emergency. It was probably too dressy. She'd picked it out to impress Anatoly, to be honest, in case he unexpectedly decided to take her to dinner, which he hadn't. She was going to wear it anyway, and she was going to curl her hair, and she was going to move on with her life.
Svetlana's dress was black-- it had to be a Soviet thing, between Anatoly and Viigand and her-- and simple and elegant. Florence felt a little ridiculous. Her own dress felt too showy by contrast, though the other people on Bangkok's evening streets had made her look boring.
"Hey," she offered, awkward but smiling, as she approached the table.
"Florence!" Svetlana looked hopelessly relieved. "Forgive me. I was early."
"That's fine! Have you ordered?"
"No, I was waiting for you."
"What looks good?" Florence sat down across from her and opened the menu.
"I live in the Soviet Union. Everything."
Florence laughed and leaned forward across the table. "I'm ordering a bottle of really fancy wine, and I'm going to expense this whole thing to Anatoly's sponsor. Order whatever you want."
Svetlana tried not to smile and failed. "I think that sounds lovely."
Svetlana already knew everything she could have wanted to explain about Anatoly. It was a huge relief. They spoke of him fondly, but reservedly. The Sergievsky children were twelve and fourteen, a boy named Pyotr and a girl named Katerina. Florence had no children, but she had mothered the hell out of Freddie, so she explained him as best she could, and then suddenly she was talking about her own childhood without knowing how exactly it had happened.
"--father and mother were both lost. I thought they were dead for the last twenty five years... But now, they say my father might be alive in some Russian prison. I have to know, you know? I have to be sure. I don't know how I'll ever be sure."
Svetlana set down her wine glass and gave Florence a heart-wrenchingly gentle smile. "Come to Russia. The government is very pleased that Anatoly is coming home. I know a few people who could help you. If he is alive, you'll find him."
"I couldn't ask you to do that. Besides, I don't speak any Russian, and I wouldn't know where to start--"
"Stay with me. Me and the children. I think you've been through enough with your family-- and I don't just mean your parents. I would be glad to help you."
"Svetlana, I couldn't impose on you like that."
"Where else will you go?"
"I... I don't know."
"Come and stay with me. We'd be glad of the company."
Something in her voice made Florence wonder just how lonely life might be for an abandoned single mother in the USSR, particularly one whose husband had defected.
"I-- Alright. Alright. But you have to teach me some Russian, and first I'll have to close up the apartment in England, and... God. There's a lot to do."
"It isn't a hard language. Not like English. I'll make preparations to get you a visa. Take your time, Florence. This has been a trial for us both. When you come to Russia, I'll take you out to dinner, instead."
"Alright, thank you. You don't know how much this means to me, you really don't."
There were several letters, and a couple of crackly long-distance phone calls, and then suddenly it had been two months and Florence was stepping off of a train in Leningrad with a suitcase in each hand and her heart pounding.
Svetlana and the children were waiting.
She was more than surprised when Svetlana rushed forward the last two steps to hug her, but she still dropped her suitcases and hugged her back. She was warm and slender and she smelled like soap and lavender. Florence stepped back quickly and smiled. She'd stayed in much less friendly places in her life.
She was folding laundry in the spare bedroom that had become her own when Svetlana came in, breathless and teary-eyed.
"What's wrong? Svetlana!"
"The paperwork. It's here. He didn't even bring it himself. Oh, God, I didn't think I'd be so emotional about it."
"Tolya. The divorce."
"Anatoly. I'm sorry. I'm not making sense. Anatoly's sent me the divorce papers. Tolya is-- It was his nickname. All Russians have one."
"Oh! Oh, I'm so sorry! Come here, sit down." She patted the edge of her bed and Svetlana sat slowly. "You're allowed to be upset. You loved him. You've been married for what, fifteen years? It's okay. You can cry. But you can start over now, too." She pressed a hand gently to her back and rubbed soothing circles there.
"You're right. I know. I'm alright, but it just-- It never felt real. I haven't thought about it in days. But now..."
Florence reached for something to distract her with. "Hey," she tried softly. "So all Russians have nicknames?"
"Yes?" Svetlana leaned into her shoulder and let out a shaky sigh.
Svetlana hesitated, looked up at her oddly with wet blue eyes. "...Svetka," she admitted, finally. "It's Svetka."
"You're alright, Svetka. Don't let him upset you. He doesn't deserve you. You'll be happier."
Anatoly, by their agreement, got to spend one weekend with the children a month. That was open to negotiation, as Svetlana wasn't nearly as angry with him as he seemed to think, but, in any case, Florence had been staying with the Sergievsky-Vostokov household for just over three weeks before he came to pick them up.
Apparently, he hadn't known she was in the country. She wasn't sure how he would have, as they'd both felt that it was better not to stay in touch, but she was still confused by his transparent shock at seeing her in the kitchen.
"Anatoly! You're here for Katerina? Svetka said you were picking Pyotr up from school."
"I did. I-- You--"
Svetlana heard them talking and came to join them. She stopped short at the look on Anatoly's face. "Anatoly?"
Florence slid around her and squeezed her shoulders lightly, reminding her to relax and face him calmly.
"Svetlana. I-- You know Florence?"
"Thanks to you. She's staying with us. I'm helping her find her father."
Florence smiled awkwardly and took another step back. "I'll go get Katerina." She left them together to hash out whatever awkwardness was brewing and knocked lightly on Katerina's bedroom door. "Trina? Your dad's here."
"Tell him to go."
"I know, I know, I'm coming." She opened the door with a bag of clothes on her shoulder and a childish pout still in place.
"I don't want to go with him," she announced as she entered the kitchen. "Florence was going to help me with my math tonight."
"Your father is great at math," Florence chided gently. "He'll help you. I'll be here when you get back, and you can call me if you need me, okay?"
Anatoly was staring at her like she'd grown another head, and Svetlana looked flushed and slightly upset.
"Is everything okay?" Florence glanced between them.
"Can I talk to you, Florence? Just for a moment."
She didn't like his tone and wanted to tell him so, but swallowed the comment. "Of course. What's wrong?"
"Okay... Let me put my shoes on."
She met Anatoly outside the front door of the apartment and met his probing gaze head on. "What's wrong, Anatoly?"
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm looking for my father. Svetlana is the only person who's been able to help me. I don't begrudge you that, I really don't, but don't flatter yourself that this is about you, okay?"
"Florence, I need to ask you something. I don't want you to think I'm being... rude."
"Okay...?" She could admit that she was slightly offended already.
"Before you were my manager, and before you managed Freddie Trumper, you mentioned managing someone else, once or twice."
"Judit?" Florence raised her eyebrows. "What about her?"
"Yes. Exactly. I was under the impression, from the way you spoke about her, that the two of you were... close."
"Anatoly." Her voice was flat. "You don't want to be rude? Just ask me what you want to ask me. We know each other too well for this."
"You and Judit were involved, weren't you? Romantically."
"Yes. We were. You're the last person who has any moral ground to disapprove of that, anyway, so I don't get why--"
"What are you doing with my wife?"
There was silence for a moment while Florence processed the question.
"Yes?" He sounded strained.
"First of all, she's not your wife. You divorced her, remember?"
"And secondly, I haven't done a thing to her, and it wouldn't be any of your business if I had. What's wrong with you? Do you think people can't care about each other without having sex? Do you think--"
"You called her Svetka. For god's sake, Florence, I used to call her that. No one else does. She won't tell me why. You're living here. My daughter would rather spend her weekend with you than--"
"Your daughter would rather spend a weekend with the corpse of Lenin than with you, Anatoly. They all deserve better than the way you're treating them. They're not things, you know. They're people. We're people."
Anatoly took a breath, and then another. "You're right. I'm sorry. It's not your fault that Katerina is angry. It's mine. But I'm worried about Svetlana. I've never seen her act like this."
"Take Katerina. Go to the park. Help her with her math. Ask her about her dancing. She wants to be a ballerina. Help Pyotr with his English. Svetlana is going to be fine."
Florence sat down on the edge of her bed and flopped back across it. There was a soft knock at the door and Svetlana was standing there, twisting her fingers together nervously.
"Florence? Are you alright?"
"I'm fine. He's an ass sometimes, that's all."
"What did he say to you?"
"He asked me why you let me call you Svetka."
Svetlana's pale cheeks flushed. "What did you tell him?"
"I told him that it's none of his business. You're not his wife anymore."
"Ah." She looked a little lost. "I'm sorry. I should have told you that nicknames like those are usually for... family, and lovers. But I thought--"
"Svetka. It's alright."
Her blush brightened. "He asked me, too."
"What did you say?"
"I said that I liked the way it sounded, when you said it. And that he had no control over me anymore."
"Good. That's good. Come sit with me." Florence pushed herself back up to a seated position and patted the bed beside her.
Svetlana sat, focused on twining her fingers together in her lap. Florence took a breath. Maybe she was really wrong about this and she'd find her father by sharing a cell with him in a gulag. Maybe not. She pushed a few stray strands of blonde hair away from Svetlana's face.
She looked up, and Florence kissed her.
Florence buried her nose in soft blonde hair and sighed out another breath. "Svetka," she murmured softly.
There was no response.
"Svetka." She traced her fingers down Svetlana's side gently, and, after a moment, got a sleepy sound in return. "We have to take Katerina to her dance class in two hours."
Another sleepy mumble.
"...Alright, alright, another few minutes won't hurt anything."
Svetlana's cold toes slid up her calf and into the crook of her knee. Florence's eyes drifted shut again and her lips quirked up into a small smile. She was home.