The Queen in Exile
I stood in the terminal at Anchorage International Airport. It had been three years since I'd seen Tania, and I couldn't wait to tell her everything that had happened to me that she didn't know about. She was going to be surprised.
Tania and I had kept in touch since our adventure in Russia, but we hadn't gotten together. I came to Alaska to study my ancestor's while she pursued her studies in New York City. At times I'd envied her, but I loved Alaska. It had become home to me.
Tania had told me all about her life. She'd become a teacher of Russian History and was working on her doctorate so that she could become a full professor at New York University. The trip and everything that happened to us had put her on a path. Before we'd traveled to Russian and found out that I was the heir to the throne there, she hadn't known what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Once we'd returned, she quickly got herself together and became a scholar. I was very proud of her.
I knew that she worried about me. She was very upset when I decided to move to Alaska and pursue my immersion version of learning about Russian culture. I'd had no other real avenue to pursue. I couldn't go back to Russia, so I did the next best thing. I moved to Ninilchik, Alaska. There was an involved Russian history in that town. Everything that I wanted to learn about the culture, I could learn there. For the three years that I have lived there, I have learned. The things that I couldn't learn first hand, I've learned while I've gotten my masters in Russian studies at the University of Alaska.
The problem that I had as I stood in the terminal, waiting for Tania, was where to start. There were so many things that I didn't tell her, because I didn't want her to worry. Now that she was coming to my home, she would have to know all about what had happened to me over the last three years.
I watched her plane land. I could feel my palms sweat. I couldn't wait to see her. She was my best friend, and she was like a sister to me. I'd waited for three years to see her again. It had been an endless string of e-mails and chats on My Space. Finally, I was going to get to see my best friend. I was finally going to see the one person who understood all about who I was and what I dealt with in my life.
I hadn't told anyone in Alaska that I had any connection with the royal family of Russia. I didn't want anyone to know about my legacy. I wanted to be this strange little woman who was fascinated with Russia and its culture. I didn't want anyone to know anything about my family. Considering the fact that I didn't trust the government in Russia, I didn't want anyone to know much at all about my family.
Tania was the first person to enter the terminal from the plane. She hadn't changed a bit in the last three years. She still had that fiery red hair and bright blue eyes. She still looked young and full of energy. Her whole face lit up when she saw me. She ran toward me and grabbed me and hugged me like she hadn't seen me in decades.
"I can't believe I'm finally seeing you!" she screeched as she strangled me.
I choked and laughed at the same time. I was so happy to see her. "I've missed you," I said.
After a long time, she finally let go of my neck. She stepped back and looked at me. "Look at you. You are quite the northern woman." She flipped the hood on my parka as it hung down my back. She pointed at my fur boots. "When did you turn into an Eskimo?"
I laughed. "Well, when in Rome you know."
"Yes. It's still cold here a lot of the time this time of year. It's best to come prepared. Besides, I love fur boots. You have no idea how warm and comfy these things are."
"You'll have to show me where to get a pair," Tania replied. She stood and took a good look around the terminal where we stood. "This place is really different. I've never seen an airport with a moose head in it." She paused and looked around some more. "So, where do we go to get my bags?"
I took Tania to the baggage carousel. She was stunned that there were only three of them. "Well, at least you can't get lost in this place," she said. "In New York, it's almost impossible to get through the airports without getting lost." She paused. "Man, I feel like that doctor guy in that old show 'Northern Exposure.'"
I knew exactly what she was talking about. We'd discussed the show online. I'd actually ordered a couple of seasons of the show so I could see what she was talking about. It was a great fish out of water story. "Well, Dr. Fleischman, welcome to Alaska."
After we got her bags, she turned to me. "Okay, I'm all set. Now, how to we get to that little village of yours? I saw that we can take a train, or did you drive?"
I giggled. This was just one of the many surprises that lay ahead for Tania. "I drove," I said. I motioned for her to follow me. "Right this way."
I led Tania to the hangar where I'd parked my Cessna Skyhawk. "Well, here's my ride," I told her.
Tania stopped dead in her tracks at the door of that hangar. "What the hell are you talking about?"
This was the part of our get together I'd been looking forward to and dreading. We'd talked about a lot of things over the years, but there were several things that I just hadn't mentioned. The fact that I now flew planes was one of them. "This is my ride. Surprise! I know I should have told you, but I learned how to fly. This is my plane. I also run a taxi service with it. It's my job when I'm not teaching or at school or anything else."
Tania dropped her bags on the ground and walked over to the plane. I watched her as she walked around the plane and took a good look at it. She didn't say a word for a very long time. Finally she came over to where I was standing. "Not bad. I can't believe you know how to fly!" She took a step back with attitude, just like she always did. "What else haven't you told me?"
I looked at the ground. "A lot," I admitted. I looked up at her. "I just didn't know how to tell you a lot of the stuff. Don't worry, you'll know it all soon."
Tania's expression got very serious. "Stacie, have you been all right? You know that if you needed me for anything, I would be there in a second. I'm always there for you."
"It's nothing like that. It isn't that things have happened to me that I can't handle. I can handle just about anything. I learned that when we were in Russia. It's just that some of the things that have gone on in my life are a little bit involved and hard to digest. I wasn't sure how to tell you a lot of it. I just decided that it would be better to wait until I had a chance to see you, so I could show you and tell you in person."
"Well, as long as you don't get me killed," she mused. She looked at the plane again. It stood there all shiny and white, with its wings extending over our heads. "Can you really fly this thing?"
"This is nothing," I replied. "I learned how to fly this little single engine guy a couple of years ago. I have a helicopter too."
Tania's mouth dropped open. "You can fly a helicopter too?"
I smiled. I knew I would shock her with that one. "You bet. I was saving that one for later though. I thought I would take you on a flight seeing trip."
"Sounds cool. I can't believe that you've learned to do all this rugged stuff."
She had no idea. I opened the door for her. "Well, climb aboard. Let me show you my neck of the woods."
"Is this the most shocking thing you have to show me?"
The weather was beautiful. We got lucky. It was spring break for Tania. Her students had talked her into finally making the trip to visit me. She'd asked me how it was in March. I told her that it was still cold. I don't think that she was prepared for how much snow was still on the ground. There isn't much in Alaska that isn't some kind of a mountain. The terrain is very rugged with peaks and volcanoes in virtually every region. There are mountains along the shore as well as inland. In between the mountains there are many glaciers leftover from an ice age that just won't leave Alaska.
We had a beautiful view from my plane. The skies were unusually clear for springtime. It had rained and snowed for a week up until the night before her flight landed. Tania was a lucky traveler. The terrain was in constant change below us on our trip south to the Kenai Peninsula and the village of Ninilchik.
Tania looked out the window, taking in the lay of the land below. "Wow, it's so rugged up here. I can't imagine you in this kind of place. Do you like it up here?"
"Well, I do have to take my plane to go to a mall, but it's all right. The people are friendly. A lot of them speak Russian, especially in church. That gives me practice at that. I also get a lot of practice in the classroom."
"So, you did get the job as the Russian teacher?"
"Of course. I'm way over qualified."
Tania continued to look out the window as she talked. "So, you have a plane and a helicopter. How do you pay for all this stuff?" she asked.
"Well, that's just another part of the equation that I didn't tell you about."
"What are you talking about?"
I wasn't sure how to tell her as I saw the look of betrayal on her face. She'd trusted me for years, and now she was feeling betrayed because of all the things that I hadn't told her about. "Well, I'm not exactly single anymore."
Tania's eyes grew wide. "You shit! How could you not tell me you got married?"
"I'm sorry. It's just so complicated."
"Complicated? How complicated can it be? Who's this guy? Is he cute? Tell me. I can't believe you didn't tell me. How could you keep this from me?"
I waited for her to take a breath. "Well, I don't know how to explain it." I gestured to my wallet that sat on the floor between us. "Look in there."
Tania looked at me suspiciously. She reached down and picked up the wallet.
"I keep a wedding picture in there," I told her.
She opened up the wallet and looked inside. She flipped open the section where I kept pictures. When her eyes landed on the first picture, her jaw dropped. She slowly looked up at me. She held up the picture to me. "This is your wedding picture?" she asked.
She pointed to the picture, as though I didn't know what it was of. "That's Peter."
"I told you it was complicated."
"How did the two of you end up getting together and getting married?" she asked. She studied the picture for a moment longer. Her eyes grew wide at me again. "Who's the kid?" she asked, barely above a whisper.
"That's Michael." I said, not wanting to tell her the rest.
I could see that she was getting angry. "Dish," she ordered me.
I took a deep breath. "Peter and I kept in touch after we got back. We e-mailed and things like that. I don't know how to tell you everything. I didn't know how to tell him either."
"What?" she said.
I took another deep breath. "Well, remember how sick I was when we were running all over Russia? I wasn't sick. I was pregnant. I had no idea. It was that night at Peter's grandmother's house."
Tania's eyes grew wide again. "You slept with him? And you got knocked up?"
"Yeah. Surprise. One snowy night in Dubna and voila." Tania glared at me as I continued. "Well, things were going so well with Peter long distance and all, that I didn't mention the baby. Finally, Tish talked him into not worrying about her and getting on with his own life. That was when Michael was about six months old. We'd just moved to Alaska. Peter and I decided that it would be a great place to have our life together. He was more than a little surprised when he met Michael."
Tania just stared at me. "Oh, my God."
"Exactly. Once he got over the shock, we got married. It took about a year. Michael had just turned two in that picture. We've been together ever since. He works for Tish still, but he does it from our computer. He makes a great living. We have a really nice house and all. I got to finish college and start teaching. I take people flight seeing in the summer. It's great."
"I can't believe you never told me any of this. How could you keep this from me?"
"Wasn't it bad enough that your best friend was the heir to the throne of Russia? Wasn't it bad enough that the government there could show up on our doorsteps at any time and do something awful to us? Now I have a son. I couldn't tell anyone about that."
"Good God, your son. Peter's Russian."
"That's right. I have all kinds of treachery now. Not only is my son the heir to the Russian Throne, but he's actually Russian."