Home > The Breath Before Forever

The Breath Before Forever
Author: Bethany-Kris

 


1.

 

 

“Happy birthday, to you. Happy birthday, to you.”

One wouldn’t think Vaslav Pashkov was the type of man to serenade his wife on her wedding night—even if that night also happened to be her birthday. Yet, he did exactly that, crooning happy birthday softly to Vera, and out of earshot of the scattered, few people that remained in the sitting room.

Mira promised Vera a wedding dinner worthy of celebration with her family and friend and delivered. After everything had been said and done, and the plates cleaned, Mira even refused help from anyone when she took her leave to tidy up.

“Enjoy your time,” Mira had told Vera earlier.

And oh, she was.

“Happy birthday to you, my Vera,” Vaslav finished, keeping the same harmonized tone. She hadn’t realized how good his gravelly voice sounded signing a song and made a mental note to get him to do that again later.

Despite the song being over, he kept them rocking in a slow semi-circle, some bastardization of a waltz. Wrapped in his arms with her face tucked—hiding, and smiling—against his throat, she didn’t care if they danced properly or not. Every soft kiss he grazed upon her forehead during and after his serenade, cemented her right there with him.

Present.

Pleased.

“How does twenty-seven feel?” Vaslav asked her.

Vera laughed. “I don’t know; you tell me. You’ve been here before. I’m still brand new.”

Basically. That’s what she planned to tell herself every year as she got older, anyway.

Even Vaslav chuckled at her joke while one of his hands stroked dangerously low on the small of her back.

Vera tipped her head back to see Vaslav’s almost wistful gaze finding something to focus on at the far end of the room. It wasn’t her mother who stood in the entry alcove between the dining room and a connected space meant for entertaining. Her father helped Igor to shove the leather sectional aside earlier. Doing so offered plenty of floorspace to dance.

Claire, busy showing off her pictures of the day to her husband, didn’t seem to notice the other two people talking quietly, and very close. Only a few steps away in the corner, Igor and Hannah didn’t notice the room, either, lost in their own conversation.

Staring at one another.

Vera couldn’t help but pick up on it.

Nonetheless, whatever Vaslav found that interested him over her shoulder, it couldn’t be important. In a blink, his attention came right back to where she wanted it.

On her.

“It’s been a minute since I was that young, that’s what I’ve settled on saying,” he said.

Ah.

That’s what had him looking lost in his eyes. She understood getting lost in another time of one’s life. Even if that time hadn’t necessarily been better.

He shrugged, too. Nonchalant.

The fading smile on his lips told her that he hadn’t offered the entire truth. Or rather, he did, and simply phrased it differently than she might expect.

Complex people; complex thoughts.

“Are a lot of years like that for you?” she asked, choosing her words as carefully as he clearly had. “A lot of time?”

The edge of his mouth twitched like he almost answered without first thinking. Of course, he caught himself and only muttered, “If not fragmented, it’s practically not there at all. Like white space and noise. I’m told that’ll get worse.”

She was ready for his next puzzle piece—the bit of information that helped to explain something else about this fascinating man. He only offered them occasionally, and she understood the reasons for that now. Part of him didn’t always know what the real story was; the rest, he held terribly close.

She hadn’t expected him to outright answer her with the truth, or rather—the reality he so easily handed to her with his words. That wasn’t his typical way, and for a second, it took Vera off guard.

She didn’t have a quick reply.

Vaslav was already moving on, saying, “Although, what I know of it, it couldn’t have been too bad of a year. My release was coming up.”

Vera tried to imagine herself from thirteen to beyond her current age, under incarceration. How did something like that change a person? She couldn’t quite wrap her head around it, or maybe the living, breathing man holding her was a testament to why she shouldn’t.

Even though she shouldn’t ask, Vera was too curious to stop herself. “What was that like—growing up in those places?”

Pulling in a deep breath and pausing to hold it before releasing the air in a long woosh, Vaslav’s brow lifted in his contemplation. “How do you explain it if you don’t know anything different?”

She had never thought of it like that, either.

Vaslav then untangled his left arm from hers to circle his fingers around her wrist before dragging their connected hands high enough for him to kiss her engagement ring, and the new matching band made of simple white gold resting beneath the larger diamond.

He picked the wedding band out. A classic choice, and she absolutely loved it. His, also one he chose, was a thicker band in the traditional gold. Amongst his many others, the wedding ring wasn’t that amazing, and it certainly didn’t stand out between ones topped with rubies and onyx stones.

Except she hadn’t asked him to wear a wedding ring at all after they married, but he did so anyway. Without prompting, his band showed up wrapped in a similar box to hers from the same jeweler, according to the invoice. And now, she couldn’t see any of his other rings except the one he chose to represent her.

“I can think of better times to have this particular conversation, no?” he asked before kissing her hand, and ring, again.

His gaze never left hers. They were still terribly close, too.

How was she to argue with that?

Vaslav arched an eyebrow, waiting for her reply.

Vera only whispered, “Fair enough.”

On the room stereo, where Hannah had connected her phone via Bluetooth to play through a playlist of songs she created for the evening, the tune changed. Vaslav and Vera’s semi- not-quite-a-waltz came to a stop. Too busy getting lost in the arms of her new husband—was that so bad?—and she hadn’t noticed the lyrics of the singer sweeping through the space until her husband had stopped them on the spot. A song meant for a father and his daughter.

Although, no one else in the room except for them seemed to notice the change in tune first. Vera didn’t step back from Vaslav right away, but his tight hold around her didn’t loosen up, either.

“Did you pick the songs, or no?” he asked.

She grinned. “I didn’t know Hannah even made the playlist until this morning, actually. I had very little to do with it.”

Nothing about the wedding had been intricate in the details or planning. It might have seemed like it on the surface, but mostly, things fell together when she needed them to, and Vera was fine to let it happen. Maybe it wasn’t a huge event—instead of the ballroom dance floor at a swanky hotel for her reception, she danced with her husband behind the safe walls of their home.

And that—all of it—was perfect.

She couldn’t ask for more.

Vaslav smiled back. “Ah, well—she picked good songs.”

Vera had to agree, and made a mental note to thank her friend in a special way once all of this was over, and she had the chance to do something meaningful for Hannah. The girl deserved it for simply coming through to do her part at the wedding when she hadn’t even been asked to in the first place. Never mind the fact that Hannah’s initial thoughts about the marriage had been less than great. What were best friends for?

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