10

The Queen in Exile

Part I

"I grew up in a family of secrets; there was a lot of pathology in the family."

-Naomi Judd

I stood in the terminal at Anchorage International Airport. It had been seven 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 ancestors 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 proud of her.

I knew that she worried about me. She was 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 a culture that emanated Russian History in that town. Everything that I wanted to learn about the culture, I could learn there. For the six years that I had lived there, I had learned. The things that I couldn't learn firsthand, I'd learned while I'd gotten my masters in Russian studies from 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 hadn't told her, because I didn't want her to worry. At that point in time she was coming to my home, so she would have to know all about what had happened to me over the last seven 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, even though we lived thousands of miles apart. I'd waited for seven years to see her again. It had been a Messenger and Skype relationship, but we had remained close. 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 gotten close to many people in Alaska, and I hadn't broadcasted my connection with the royal family of Russia. I didn't want word of the scandal to run amuck. I wanted to be this strange little woman who was fascinated with Russia and its culture. Outside of Ninilchik, no one knew about my sordid history. I didn't want the general public to know about my ancestors. Considering the fact that I didn't trust the government in Russia and knew that they were monitoring me in many ways; I wanted to keep information about my family quiet.

Tania was the first person to enter the terminal from the plane. She hadn't changed a bit. 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've missed you."

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."

"Really?"

"Yes. It's cold here a lot of the time. 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 not to get 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 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. "Here's my ride."

Tania stopped dead in her tracks at the door of the 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 hadn't mentioned. We always talked on devices. We used cell phones and the internet. I knew that Yuri was spying on me, so there were a lot of things that I hadn't mentioned so that he would never find out. The fact that I now flew planes was one of them. "This is my ride. Surprise! I know I should have told you. 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 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 like she always did. "What else haven't you told me?"

I looked at the ground. "A lot." I looked up at her. "I didn't know how to tell you a lot of the stuff without Yuri Kostov finding out somehow. Don't worry, you'll know it all soon."

Tania's expression got serious. "Stacey, 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 not like that. It isn't that things have happened that I can't handle. I can handle just about anything. I learned that when we were in Russia. It's that some of the things that have gone on in my life are a little bit involved and hard to digest. There are a lot of things that I can't risk the Russians finding out about. I decided that it would be better to wait until I had a chance to see you to explain it all 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 co own a helicopter and a Lear Jet too."

Tania's mouth dropped open. "You can fly a helicopter too? And a jet? And you own a business?"

I smiled. I knew that would shock her. "You bet. I was saving that one for later. I thought I would take you on a flight seeing trip. The business is called Natural Views. We do flight seeing and run a bush taxi service. There are a lot of places in Alaska that you have to fly to reach. I operate it with a woman named Jissika Tulugaq. Her father is the chief up in Kotzebue."

"Sounds cool. I can't believe you've learned to do all this rugged outback stuff. You never cease to amaze me."

She had no idea. I opened the door for her. "Climb aboard. Let me show you my neck of the woods."

"Is this the most shocking news you have to tell me?"

"No."

The weather was beautiful. We got lucky. It was spring break for Tania. Her students had talked her into visiting me. She'd asked me how it was in March. I told her that it was still cold. The Spring Equinox happened in the end of March and it wasn't until after that when Alaska got awesome with the long days and warmer weather. There isn't much in Alaska that isn't mountainous, which makes a lot of the land hold onto snow. I don't think Tania was prepared for that. There are mountains along the shore as well as inland. In between the mountains there are glaciers left over from the last ice age.

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 Tania's flight. I glanced at Tania as she watched out the window. I saw amazement on her face. The terrain was in constant change below us on our trip south to the Kenai Peninsula and the village of Ninilchik. I remembered my first trip over this land and how amazing it had looked to me.

Tania gazed out the window. "Wow, it's so rugged up here. I can't imagine you in this kind of place. Do you like it here?"

"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. Russian Orthodoxy is all over Alaska. That gives me practice. I also get a lot of practice in the classroom."

"So, you did get the job as the Russian teacher?"

"Of course. I'm over qualified."

Tania continued to look out the window as she talked. "You have a plane, a helicopter, a Lear Jet, and a flight seeing business. How do you pay for it all? I know you co own it, but that's still a lot of money."

"That's part of the equation that I haven't told 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 single anymore."

Tania's eyes grew wide. "You shit! How could you not tell me you got married?"

"I'm sorry. It's complicated."

"Complicated? How complicated can it be? Who's the guy? Is he cute? Tell me. I can't believe you didn't tell me. How could you keep this from me, you bitch!"

I waited for her to take a breath. "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. "Bitch," she mumbled as 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?" I nodded.

She pointed to the picture, as though I didn't know what it was of. "That's Peter."

"I told you it was complicated. It's one more thing that I didn't want to tell you over media. I'm so scared of what could happen to us if the information fell into the wrong hands. Social media is way too easy to monitor and hack."

"How did the two of you end up getting together and getting married?" She studied the picture for a moment longer. Her eyes grew wide at me again. "Who's the kid?"

"That's Michael," I said.

I could see that she was getting angry. "Dish," she demanded.

I took a deep breath. "Peter and I kept in touch after I got home. We e-mailed for a little while, but it was hard, so we knew we had to meet face to face so that we could have a real conversation. It's hard to explain the rest. He never went back. There's so much to tell. I don't know how to tell you everything."

"What?"

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. Things weren't going so well with Peter long distance, because, for obvious reasons I couldn't mention the baby. Finally, Tish talked him into not worrying about her and getting on with his own life. Michael was six months old by that time. Michael and I had moved to Alaska. Peter was more than a little surprised when he met Michael. Once he got over my not telling him sooner, we worked everything out and got married."

Tania stared at me. "Oh, my God."

"Exactly. It took about a year for us to work things out. It didn't happen overnight. Tish was pissed that she hadn't known. She had to come over here to find out too, because of security. Hell, she stormed out and went back to Russia for a bit before she calmed down. I don't blame her. Anyway, we got married. Michael had just turned two in that picture. We've been together ever since. Peter works for Tish still, but he does it from home. He makes a great living. When my mom died there was some money too, and I sold grandma's house and mom's farm. We have a really nice house here in Alaska. I got to finish college and start teaching. I had the money to buy in with Jissika for the business, and 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. Can you imagine what Yuri would do if he knew about Michael?"

"Good God, your son. Peter's Russian."

"That's right. None of us are safe now. Not only is my son the heir to the Russian Throne, he's male and, he's actually Russian."