A Russian Summer

by James Keogh


"I heard your voice," Princess Anoushka rushed up to me.

I had only that minute entered the lodge and bade good morning to her mother, who appeared to me to look much older than I remembered, her face drawn and haggard.

Princess Anoushka looked at me intently, "I am so pleased to see you. I was beginning to think I would not see you again. I know I have sometimes tormented you, but all the same I am not what you imagine me."

She turned away and strolled over to the window, she stared out at the gardens beyond and the little lane that led to the lodge. I wondered if she were expecting to see someone arriving.

"Believe me Anoushka," I said, dispensing with all formality. "I don't know why or what led you to my father. Money, love, power, he is all those things, and he is also married to my mother, who has left and returned to Moscow."

"Yes, I have heard." She turned towards me, stepped close and embraced me.

I do not know what she sought from me, I did not hate her, but neither could I forgive her. Truthfully, she had been both kind and indifferent, much like my own father, he too I did not hate, or hold an opinion of any strong conviction about his philandering. I was not a person who could pretend to be more righteous than another, I had my own yearnings and desires which were no more pure than anybody's. She left me standing there and rushed out, if this was a farewell it was an odd way to bid goodbye, but then again was quite in keeping with her nature as I had come to know it.

I went out of the lodge with the strangest feeling that I was leaving behind a world which had changed. It was without any doubt though, not the world which had changed, only my perception and understanding of it. I searched for Spartak and had no trouble finding him, I wanted to reassure him that nothing was broken in our friendship and I appreciated him for his honesty, his frankness, and his caring nature. I told him I was uncertain how much longer I would be staying as I imagined quite soon I should have to follow my mother back to Moscow, my father had already intimated at it, without being precise.

"I will miss you greatly," I told him, and he smiled and kissed me on both cheeks.

"I will too," he said, and we embraced, holding each other close.

"You will understand when I say I have to find Konstantin?" I asked him.

"I do, and he is waiting for you at the lake."

"What!" I said, completely surprised.

His smile was as sublime as his sister. "Yes, he was here early and said he wished to see you. I explained how to find our swimming place and said I would send you there. I trust I have made the right move?"

"Oh yes! Yes you have. You are the ideal little brother."

I left him there and hurried off to find Konstantin. He was there at the lakeside skimming small stones across the still water. I had been here so many times, spent half the summer swimming with Spartak, but the time I had spent alone with Konstantin was very little, I cannot say exactly why, it was a mixture of circumstances, of discovery, of realisation, it was all manner of things and all kinds of reasons.

"Alexei!" He beamed a beautiful smile when he caught sight of me, and I sped into his arms. We hugged each other and sat down on the blanket he had laid on the grass. "Spartak told me how to find your spot by the lake. It's nice," he said.

"Yes, I have just left him, and yes, it is nice. Even nicer with you here."

He learned over and touched my arm. "He's a good friend, I think, your young Spartak."

"The best." I smiled back at him. "No doubt you have heard what has happened?" I asked.

He nodded, "Not from Spartak."

I looked at him inquisitive, "From whom then?"

"Princess Anoushka, although it was not entirely surprising, I had talked with Vyacheslav."

"He talks in riddles," I said.

"Indeed, only I think to not offend sensibilities, and not to presume, you might say he is discreet."

"Perhaps," I was not convinced on that point.

"Enough of those matters. Let's profit from today." He jumped up and began stripping off his clothes. "A swim?" He looked down at me half undressed, and I nodded because no words would come.

He ran naked into the water and I was as quick as I could be, almost tripping over myself, to undress and run after him. We splashed and wrestled and swam together, laughing and joking like children. We lay side by side as so often I had laid next to Spartak, but this was not like then, my emotions were almost too much to control and for Konstantin it was the same. He moved atop of me and I smelt his sweet breath on my face, he planted soft kisses on my neck, our bodies pressed one against the other. The dappled light beneath the overhanging branches of the broad, thick trunked, tree cast tiny shadows here and there, and the sun warmed our skin. He was strong and vigorous in his ardour, for myself it was at once what I had longed for and at the same time a surprise. His soft moist lips found mine and I flung my arms around his neck pulling him to me, our bodies wrapped around each other, he kissed me deeply. When finally we were spent, we again lay side by side and let the warmth of the sun on our naked flesh lull us easily to sleep. I do not know how long we lay like that, something, a touch, a breath, awakened me, and I looked up at Konstantin, his body framed by the rays of the sun. He stretched out his arm and I took his hand, together, hand in hand like children, we ran into the lake, splashing and jumping. I was filled with an indefinable joy, almost overwhelmed and close to tears. He hugged me to him and lifted me up towards the blue, blue sky. He cocooned me in his powerful arms and pressed his body into mine, kissing my lips.

"Will I see you again?" I asked, emotion tainting my voice.

He touched his finger to my lips and looked into my eyes. "I do not know, only destiny may deem it so."

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