We arrived at our next stop.I woke with small, wet and gentle kisses to my neck from behind.Realizing how much I liked it…my first thought was about his not being there one day.I sighed trying to push that thought back in my own mind.I should have known that after all this time, I couldn’t hide my feelings from Tony.
“What are you thinking?”Tony asked quietly.
I rolled over to face him and kissed him gently.“We said to tell each other the truth and what we are thinking.”I nodded and smiled at him.“I was thinking how much I love it when you wake me up this way.”
Tony’s eyes widened as he grinned moving his face so I could see his eyes better.“Really?”Then those eyes narrowed.“But that is not what I saw.”
I nodded.“Yes, really I did.”And then I frowned because I insisted we be honest.“That’s when I though about you not doing it later.”I admitted softly.
“Oh.”Tony said equally quiet.He thought a moment but looked in my eyes.“Don’t stop telling me the truth, Mitch.”
“I don’t lie well, Tony.You know that.”I grumbled and sighed again.“The idea of pushing that thought away was next.Neither of us knows what this is.”I touched his bare chest.“I’m sorry it keeps coming up.”
“It will come up.”Tony gave a grudging nod.“We know it’s in the family and probably is what we fear.”
“It might be.”
He nodded and smirked.“I saw this show once.”He began with a smile.“Two people were falling down this dark hole…they knew they were going to die.”
My eyes widened.“How horrible!How is that factoring into this?You don’t…”
“Wait.” Tony put a finger to my lips and then raised that same finger.“It should have been.”He nodded.“The unseen ground was coming faster and faster, but it didn’t happen.”
My eyes widened.“What?”Now I was even more confused.
Tony shrugged.“Perspective.After a while their heart rates returned to normal as they got tired of screaming…they knew there would be an end and got bored with nothing to do after hours of falling and nothing happened.They even said they wished it would happen already.”
“We don’t know there is a bottom.”I argued.
“Right.My point is…”He leaned in kissing me gently.“You and I are going to go back and forth with this unknown I’ve got.”He smiled at me.“Right now, I’m seeing this with the right perspective.”He grinned.“Not that what you thought is wrong, it will happen to me or you, but…”
I nodded.“I got it.”I wrapped my arms around him.“I’ve been worrying about the ride without having the horse or saddle.”I admitted.
“Yes, you were.”Tony chuckled and shrugged.“You appreciate me.”His lips traveled from my lips down my jaw to my neck.“I appreciate you.”He said logically.“That’s a good thing.”He grinned.“Appreciate me now and I’ll appreciate you!”
We “appreciated” each other twice before we got up.Tony was right, but my perspective would take time to change and then again, we didn’t have all the time I thought we might.I kept reminding myself, I had nearly been killed.He or I could die in something totally unrelated.Hell, we could go down in the plane on the way home…no one knew!I just needed to be reminded and appreciate what we had right now.
We met Ivan and Katya in The Queen’s Grill.They had arrived before us, Ivan rose as we came toward them.
“Ah,” Ivan began much softer and his smile was softer.“My two dearest and good, best friends.”He said hugging Tony as Katya rose and hugged me.He looked at Katya.“Was that better?”
Katya chuckled, kissing him quickly on the cheek and then hugged Tony.“Much.”
Ivan chuckled as he hugged me.“She told me I was often too loud.”
I grinned as his arms swallowed me as I patting his back to comfort him.“Weeell,” I drawled out and chuckled, “that’s just you, Ivan.Tony and I love you.”
“And you, Katya!”Tony assured.
“That is not true what Ivan said.”Katya said smiling.“I said he wasn’t the Russian Raging Bull here and he doesn’t have to perform…so tone it down.”
“It’s the samething.”Ivan growled.
What we found out once we got off in Adelaide was that…well…Katya and Tony got along great!Don’t misunderstand, Ivan and I got along great with both of them, too, but…well…Tony liked to shop!So, did Katya!Adelaide was a sizable city with about a million or more people that called it home.The were a number of stores that had the usual tourist wear…claiming to be one of a kind and Tony’s and Katya’s love of clothing just took control a while.Poor Ivan and I were often just…standing there as they were enjoying themselves.
I looked at Ivan as Katya handed him her few bags and went to try something else on.I laughed at what I saw.
“I don’t see what’s funny.”Ivan groused as he came to stand beside me more directly.“We come on the Queen Mary and she can shop at home!”He stated crossing his arms over his large chest.
“Because, Ivan…” I patted him on the arm, “you’re proven that some things are just universal.”I pointed to what Katya had given him to hold as she tried on the clothes.“Husbands are always left holding the purse.”
Ivan brought his wife’s purse and chuckled.“Yes, I guess I should be grateful.”He chuckled.“I almost never get to do this with Katya.”
I frowned.“Katya and you don’t shop in Russia?”
Ivan shook his head.“Not without planning ahead.”He looked at his casual outfit consisting of a nice t-shirt and shorts.“I can’t disguise this back home in Russia.Here, I don’t have to!”
I hadn’t thought of that.“I guess not.You are more famous there.”
Ivan gave a slight nod.“Yes, and there are…other dangers like kidnapping.”He said unhappily.
“Kidnapping!?”I blurted surprised.“You are loved in not only Russia, but most Eastern European countries.”
Ivan shook his head.“Not me…” he waved in the direction of Katya.“Her!”
“Her!?”I thought quickly.He was famous and had money.“For any ransom.”
“Yes…Sasha told you about Bratva?”Ivan asked.
I nodded.“He said he wanted Alik away from them…he feared they would try to use Alik there for a number of reasons.”
“Yes,” Ivan said as we tried not to look like we were just standing there waiting and looked at somethings near us.“Not just for sex and drugs, but to use in the Brotherhood itself.”
“Brotherhood?You make it sound like a fraternity.”
“Sure.”Ivan nodded.“They even predate the Soviet Union.They’ve been around for hundreds if years…Hell, even before the United States became a nation!The Brotherhood is very dangerous.It is beautiful in Russia, but Bratva is pretty big.There are other groups…gangs…but they are the most dangerous for the very poor and very desperate.They have just gotten bigger since the collapse of the Soviet Union.Cells are in every city.There are…” he used a word I knew, but… “босс,” he said and it sounded pakhan. I knew the word but used like this…Ivan saw my confusion and he chuckled.“One that is in charge?”
“Boss?”I offered.“Do you mean кримебосс?”I used a word I had heard on Let Them Speak for crime boss.I didn’t know every word and how they were used sometimes in the English language either.
“There is boss in crime.”Ivan nodded with a smile.“And they have…” He said a word I did know.“Бригадир?”
“Brigadier.”I repeated nodding.
Ivan nodded, grinning more.“I saw them in the Godfather, too.Different names for what they are were different…you know this, yes…the Brotherhood does follow a Code of Conduct.The Vorovskoy Zakon.”
I moved away slightly because he knew this not doubting what he was talking about, it was personal.“How do you know this?”
Ivan looked a little guilty.“I was…approached by the Bratva…to join them. I was seventeen or eighteen.”
“To know these things, you worked for…” I ventured.
“For a year.”Ivan admitted.“It was good money!”He defended shrugging.“That was their bait.My father warned me about them.”He waved at Katya.“This was before I met her.I’m glad I didn’t join them.” He chuckled.“The Brotherhood don’t have family.”
“What?”I shook my head.
“They can have lovers, but…you must forsake your mother, father, brothers, sisters.Take no wives and absolutely no children…whatever the boss says…you do…Sasha was wise to join the military.No one in the Brotherhood can serve in the military.”
“They recruited you?”
“They sent Boyevik…a man whose job is to find young men to potentially serve.They wanted me to become Shestyorka.”Ivan said sadly.“You enter as the lowest member of the brotherhood.”
“Shestyorka?Aren’t they the low cards in a deck of playing cards?”I asked.
Ivan nodded smiling again.“That’s right.”He waved again at his own body.“I am a big man and they wanted to use that.”He shrugged.“They sent me on little assignments and they paid well.”He grinned shaking his head in Katya’s direction.“Then I bumped into her.”He got a silly grin on his face.“I knew I was going to marry her.”He shrugged.“I couldn’t do that working with the Bratva.”
I shook my head at what he told me.“Sasha never mentioned that.”I wondered if he really knew.“I’ve seen you in the ring, but you are not a violent man.”I threw my hand out.“Neither is Sasha.”
“Most of what I did was transport things.”
Ivan shrugged.“I never knew what it was.It could have been.”He waved at Katya as she came toward us.“I could be violent if she’s threatened.”
I chuckled.“I saw that.Mr. Grison?The Lottery guy?”
“And I was holding back!”
Katya came back carrying a piece of cloth smiling as she placed it in Ivan’s hand and kissed him quickly on the cheek.“We should get this.”She put a little…it was one of those garments you put an infant in.It was both pink and blue.No specific gender color for a baby.The left side was pink becoming blue on the sleeve and the right side was blue becoming pink on the sleeve on the right side.The almost cartoon image of baby kangaroo in the pouch with a happy smile on the joey.Kangaroo Island was written across the chest.It had the flap in the back for a baby in and out of the outfit.“If for no other reason to give us a visual goal.”She patted him on the arm and walked back to get something else.
As Ivan held the onesie out to see it better, smiling.
“You may need one that’s bigger.”I touched the soft fabric.
Ivan looked alarmed.“I hope not.Poor Katya!”He grinned.“I was just over two and half kilograms when I was born.”
My mind was getting used to calculating.“Six pounds.”I shook my head.“That’s hard for me to imagine.”
“Are you sure Australia is mostly British?”Tony surfed the Internet on his phone as we walked.Not that we were that much before, but now we no longer even considered if anyone was bothered about our being together as his arm was over my shoulders as we strolled.
“Botany Bay?”I asked. “The penal colony, the lepers…Australia was settled by the British.You know that with all the names of all those kings and queens…”
“I know that…” Tony’s head wavered a little.“I said that because there are a bunch of Italian Restaurants here.”
“Sure.”I said.“We let one in and they just…keep coming.”
Tony’s eyes widened as he tightened his grasp around my shoulder.“What? Are you comparing us to rats or roaches…or something like that?”
I squeezed him back.“Of course not.”I poked him gently chuckling.“Interesting that you thought of infestation from what I said.”
We ended up at a place called Chanti.It was Italian. I even met the owner, an Aussie-Italian!He even recommended something I had never had before.I had barbequed octopus!!It was good.
We had a great time.Ivan and Katya were good company and they enjoyed ours and I felt we were really becoming friends.
That evening we again went to the table we shared with the others we were assigned to dine with.The next day was at sea again.
We were again by the pool, even if my tan was applied, the sun was warm. I never thought I would be where I found myself.I sighed as I sipped on my frozen fruit flavored drink.Tony’s eyebrows rose without opening his eyes, he smiled with a light chuckle.
“Feeling it are we?”Tony asked me.
“The boredom.”Tony grinned knowingly.His eyes opened as he looked at me as he took my hand from the other lounge beside me.“Cruises more than two weeks can get a little…tedious.”
I looked over at him.“That should be impossible.”I said simply.“This is the Queen Mary!”
Tony chuckled.“We’re bored with falling down that hole, too.”He shrugged.“Only seven more days left.”
I took another sip.“Yes, it is agony.”I grumbled.
Our next stop was Melbourne.This time it was worse for Ivan and me!Katya and Tony realized where we were!They found Queen Victoria Market!It was all about shopping there!Really, it was like this…a shopping Mecca!We were fair though.There were the many, many bars and restaurants.I’d need to go on a diet when we got back.There were coffee bars…this was a delicious city!This particular voyage we would be in Melbourne twice.We would travel the following day to Kangaroo Island which was almost all about nature and then travel back a day and see Melbourne again.Australia had a lot of vineyards.There were all kinds of wines.They were in Melbourne, too.
The days had become a sort of routine.Get up, have coffee, tour around where had arrived or the ship.Sir Samuel’s in the afternoon for coffees.Dinner with our friends to catch up with what we’d done.As impossible as it seemed, I was ready to go home.Forgetting there was a bottom for this hole toward an unknown we were falling down just happened.Tony was right.He was here.We were together and it was fine.
I contacted David back at home…taking in account of the time difference calling with my phone from our breakfast at nine in the morning was seven in the evening in Charleston.
“Well, hello, Mitch!”David answered happily.“Are you ready to come home yet?”Video calling was great.I saw him as Sasha asked him something in the background.“Yes!Mitch is calling from…” he turned back to the screen.“Where are you now?”
“We’re on our way to back to Sydney now.” I said.“There’s been a little change of plans for Tony and me.”
“Oh?”David asked puzzled.
“We’re stopping off in Boston and then New York before we come back.”I informed.
David’s eyes narrowed.“Okay, New York I get, but Boston?Why Boston?”
Tony leaned toward the phone.“Mitch and I are getting married.”
David looked even more confused.“You’re already married!I was there!”
“We’re getting legally married.”I clarified.
“Which is limited to that state…though the others are catching up, but…” David shook his head.“Why not wait until it does and do it here?It may take a while, but it will happen.”
I gave a slight nod.“We have a reason.”I smiled at my cousin. “Which I will tell you about when we get there.”I said in a way that asked him not to ask now.“You and Sasha will know.We’ll see you before heading to the McKenzie Homeplace.”
David looked suspicious but nodded.“Okay.”
I heard Alik’s voice, heard a stomp as he must have jumped the last steps to the floor and rapid steps as he came toward David.“Is that Uncle Mitch?”He asked excitedly in accented English.“Is he and Uncle Tony coming home now?”I watched as the phone’s screen moved to show Alik’s happy smile.“Привет, дядя Митч!Вы вернетесь домой?”English was harder when he was excited apparently.
“English, Alik.”I heard Sasha’s voice say tolerantly as he must do often.
“Are you coming home?”Alik asked accented English again and with a roll of his eyes.
“You need to use English, but…Сначала у нас две остановки, но мы увидимся на день благодарения.”I laughed saying we had two stops and would see them at Thanksgiving.“Actually, I’ve been speaking almost all Russian recently.”
Alik bounced.“With the Raging Bull?”He asked even more excited.
“Yes, with Ivan, yes.”I grinned at Tony.“In fact, he gave me something to give you.”
“No…WAY!!”Alik declared in English with no accent at all.
“Yes, way!”Tony said back laughing.
“What is it?”
“That you’ll find out when we get there.”I said knowing it would drive him crazy.As a result, Alik would drive David and Sasha crazy.It was a win, win for me.
“Aw, Uncle Mitch!”Alik whined stretching out the single syllable of my name.
“Come on, Alik.”David took the phone back.“You know he always comes through.”His face came back.He looked at me and the smile was still there, but he asked seriously. “We’ve know each other all our lives, Mitch.I can see there’s something.Is it serious?”
“I’ll tell you when I see you.”I said.“It might be nothing…” then I gave a shrugging nod.“You’re doing it again.I’ll tell you when I see you.Tony and I will see you that Tuesday before Thanksgiving.Okay?”
“Okay.”David replied knowing to let it go.
“See you soon.”I said to my cousin and ended the call.