Immediately after inhaling his lunch, Aleksei leaned against a wall of the cafeteria as he tried to call his sister on his cellular phone. All he reached was the voice message recording. He glanced at the clock.
'She should not have any classes right now,' he pondered. 'Maybe, she forgot to turn the ringer back on.' He needed to tell her he would be staying over at Yegor’s house to study.
He was simply going to let it pass and try again later, but for some reason he felt uneasy, so he dialled the college office. One of the teachers would be in the lounge and was bound to pick up.
“Allo?” a male voice answered him.
“Allo, I was wondering if my sister has been in class today.” Aleksei asked.
“And who might your sister be?” the voice replied.
Aleksei gave a near robotic rundown of his sister‘s features, “Maryja Yakovna Sharova, she’s always wearing a red prayer scarf, has dark brown hair, blue eyes.”
“Oh, you must be Aleksei, I’m Professor Chekhov, her English instructor.”
“Ah, then we’ve met…” he began awkwardly as he nervously swallowed. 'This is uncomfortable… what am I going to say… Oh dear! I’ve been silent for several seconds!' “Well, um,” he continued frantically, “did Mashka… err Maryja check in? I ask because I have been trying to call her and I think her ringer is off.”
“Yes she has. Would you like me to give her a message? My class is her next one,” Chekhov replied.
Aleksei hesitated a moment, but finally answered, “Alright, just tell her I‘m not coming home tonight. Going to Yegor’s house. Have her call me when she can.”
“Will do Aleksei, da svidanya.”
They both hung up. Aleksei breathed a sigh of relief. 'She’ll probably call me later anyway. It’s not as if I never go to Yegor’s place. But… how did he know whether she “checked in” anyway? I don’t know how things work at college, but he must really be keeping tabs if he knew whether she was in, or not. Not much I can do now, anyway.'
So Aleksei went back to his lunch and jokes with Yegor. But Iosif walked out of the lounge and ducked into an empty classroom. He made another phone call.
The administrator answered pleasantly, “Iosif, is something the matter?”
“Da, Alek--, subject two just called and said he was not able to get a hold of subject one. Where is she?” Iosif asked, “I checked the roster and she has not attended any classes.”
“She is not available because she passed the evaluation test and is currently recovering in the hospital.” The Administrator answered casually.
“I was under the impression I would be informed." Chekhov responded, "Furthermore, this was scheduled for a week later.”
“And you were just informed,” The Administrator replied coolly, allowing a slight hint of irritation to pass through his charming front, “After you are done with your classes you will collect her from the hospital. Now I suggest you get on with your day. Maryja is being well cared for. We will call you when needed.”
Iosif dreaded to think what the test might have been. 'On the bright side, at least this means that I am done with my day job.'
Aleksei was about to sit down at the table with Yegor and a few friends, when he paused, “Yegor, I’ll be right back.”
“Ah, well, sure Yakych.” Yegor was not generally a snoopy person, but his gaze followed his friend. He nearly fell out of his seat when he saw where Aleksei was headed. “Wai-”
Aleksei sat down right next to Radik, who had attempted to hide himself at a corner table, and asked impudently, “Where is your posse?”
Radik’s fearful eyes darted toward Aleksei. He moved to get up, but the smaller youth caught his arm and held him in place.
“I want to talk with you.” Aleksei urged.
“Well I don’t!” Radik hissed.
“Relax, I’m not going to do anything with all these people around. And if you run away now, just think how much more your image will deteriorate.”
“Do you care?” Radik spat angrily.
“More than I should.”
“And why’s that?”
“Because I wronged you.”
Radik’s hasty retort died before leaving his lips, his expression frozen in pure bewilderment.
“Yesterday, I did not have to terrify you. I could have let you beat me up, let you keep your image. You see Radik, I’ve always been jealous of you.” Aleksei smiled bitterly. “You would always come to school, knowing what your purpose was. It was your purpose to create and protect your kingdom, wherever you went. Then there was me. A boy with no ambition or desire. I have only looked at the happiness of my past. I lost the drive to secure the happiness in my future a long time ago.”
Radik could not believe this. Aleksei was jealous of him? “Hey--”
“You were right,” Aleksei interrupted. “I really was just a crab, hiding under a rock, imagining that I was safe, when really, danger was just over the horizon.”
Radik’s teeth ground together in frustration. “What is wrong with you?” he asked, slamming his fists on the table. “You smile, you laugh, you’re smart, and you have a friend that really cares about you. There’s nothing I have that you could ever want! I can’t even keep a single friend because they are too scared of me! I’m just the monster that everyone sees me as. My own mother doesn't have hope for me.”
Aleksei watched in amazement, as a few tears escaped from the bully’s eyes. He bit his lip as he searched for the right words. As Radik hurriedly wiped his face, Aleksei rested his hand on the boy’s broad shoulder and cautiously began. “You did not do anything out of the ordinary. Those who can’t find love or admiration, will seek fear as a substitute.” Aleksei chuckled a moment. “It’s not that unusual, you know. Even God will inspire fear if he is not loved, because he wants his love returned, and humans respond well to fear. But at the same time, you are not God, so your tactics can’t work the way they can for Him.”
“Is this going anywhere?” Radik muttered, shrugging off Aleksei’s hand.
“I don’t have all the answers…But I would like to be your friend. It’s the least I can do after playing the thief.”
Thrown off guard by the offer, Radik stared at Aleksei as if he had grown a second head.
Aleksei offered his hand.
“Just take my hand.”
Aleksei rolled his eyes. “Do we need a repeat of last night?”
Without further hesitation, Radik grabbed the smaller boy’s hand and reluctantly allowed himself to be pulled to where Yegor sat with Ilya and the Volodina sisters. “You are much better at making enemies than friends, da?” Radik muttered.
“That makes two of us.” Just out of the corner of his eye, Aleksei thought he could see the side of Radik’s mouth twitch upwards, but it could have just been his imagination.
Mashka blinked a few times before fully opening her eyes, taking in her strange surroundings. She remembered why she was not in her own bed. A memory from a few hours ago came to mind, when she had woken up from the surgery and threw up her partially digested breakfast. She grimaced in disgust. She sat up slowly and rubbed her eyes.
She yawned and surveyed her surroundings, noting how perfectly the room reflected the image of a hospital. But there was something wrong. Where was the pain, the nausea, or discomfort? It was all wrong. When she had her appendix removed, she felt awful for days. But right now, it was like waking up to the weekend. The only discomfort she felt was an agonising itch on her leg. Frantically, she lifted the blankets and saw the bandage over the wound. The itching worsened.
Without thinking much else, she carefully removed the bandage. She gasped in disbelief when all she saw was some dried blood and a pink scar. She touched and scratched it, relieving the irritation.
How long have I been out? she asked herself.
She looked at the clock which read 3:17pm. Not willing to believe the time, she checked the calendar, which blatantly told her that it was the same day. In a mere ten hours since she was injured, all that was left of her injury, was what looked to be a two weeks’ old scar.
A panicked thought entered her mind, 'What happens when the doctor checks in on me and I’m healed? Is this my ability?' At the possibility of her “gift” intervening again, she mumbled her frustration, “This is crazy.” 'How many more freakish things is my body going to try?'
She rose and found her shoes near her bed. As she slipped them on, she realized that she did not have any clothes, save the hospital gown. There were going to be no hospital breakouts in that apparel. She looked at the clock again.
'Aleksei will still be in classes, and he doesn’t know how to drive, or have a car for that matter.' Mashka bit her lip. 'There really is only one other person who knows about this.' She did not like her only option. Conveniently beside her sat her cellular phone. She closed the curtain around her bed and dialled.
As he sat in his car, Iosif’s phone rang. He picked it up and answered. “Allo, Chekhov speaking.”
“Iosif,” Mashka began nervously. “I need a big favour from you.” her voice trembled hesitantly.
“Did something happen? You did not attend class.” he asked faking an ignorant tone.
“I injured my leg, badly, and now I‘m in the hospital.” She explained. “It’s a long story. Anyway, I need you to get me out of here. If the doctor comes in and sees nothing but an old scar, he will want an explanation.”
“Prastite? A scar?” Iosif was honestly surprised this time.
“Da, a scar. I should still be bleeding but I‘m not. I think it’s another side effect of my... talent.” Mashka explained.
“Alright, and you want me to take you home?” Iosif asked, mentally complimenting the Administrator’s intuition.
“I will get down there as soon as I can. Just stay put Maryja, and don’t speak to anyone.”
“Da,” she replied, “Oh, and before you hang up, I need some clothes. I will pay you back. All I have is my shoes and a hospital gown. Just get a sensible piece of clothing. I’m a ladies’ small.”
“Umm, alright…” Chekhov sounded awkward.
“Oh come on! Don’t tell me you have never shopped in the women’s department!” Mashka exclaimed.
“Not in a very, very long time.”
Mashka sighed, “Just don’t get anything skimpy, and a scarf if you can. And whatever you do, nothing expensive, second hand would be fine. It does not have to be fashionable, just as long as I look decent enough to get out of here.”
“I will get right to it. Which hospital are you at?”
“St. Petersburg General,”
“Will be there soon then. Thirty minutes, if I beat rush hour.” he assured her.
“See you then, and Iosif, spasibo.”
“Bis prablem, Da svidanya.”
He hung up and sat in the car. A full outfit of women’s small clothing was sitting next to him in a paper bag. He glanced at his watch. He would wait thirty-five minutes, just to be safe, before he walked from the parking lot to the hospital.