The discovery was a complete accident, of course.
Nadezhda never set out to make an enemy of the woman she believed to be her adoptive mother.
She would never have suspected that anything was odd in her family. Her adoptive mother, Nikolina, was...Kind to her, in the sense that always ensured that her basic needs were fulfilled. True, they weren't close, she had never called Nikolina 'Mama', they rarely hugged or kissed, but her mother had adopted her as a baby and cared for her patiently ever since.
She was vaguely aware that this couldn't have been easy. Nikolina was a busy woman, working as a lawyer in the bustling centre of Moscow, the city they lived on the edges of.
And as for her...Nadezhda had to concede she hadn't been the perfect child. Half the time, she was a reserved girl, shy, even, leaving her mother worrying that she didn't have many friends. Then there was her stubborn side and her hot temper. They rarely surfaced, but sometimes...Well, she could remember fighting a war that lasted months with her mother over whether or not she could get piano lessons.
Overall, though, they had managed. Her mother had told her she had never fallen in love with someone she could start a family with, but had always wanted a child, so she had chosen her. That always made her feel happier on those days when Nikolina worked late and she was at home, lonely. She had been chosen.
It got her through the rough parts, like the little niggling doubts whenever she saw other kids with their more affectionate parents and the moments when she wanted to find her real parents or know more about her true heritage but was denied every time she asked.
Mostly, though, her life with Nikolina, and in general, was normal. Ordinary. Dull. She went to school, got average grades, didn't dislike or like anyone or anything there strongly, then went home and waited for her mother to arrive.
On the evening of a long spring day, Nikolina was still out, so Nadezhda was sitting by herself at home. Bored, she got up to look for something to do. Perhaps there was a book around here that she hadn't read yet or something... She strolled over to her mother's bookshelf and leant against it as she scanned over the spines of the volumes there, looking for anything of interest.
Her weight against the shelf made it wobble, and a pile of old, discarded hardbacks that had been shoved on top of it, out of sight, crashed down. She jumped back, dodging the flying books, then dropped to her knees to scoop them up.
To her surprise, they were music books. Was her mother interested in music? She didn't think so, given the row they had had over the piano. Curiously, she opened one, gasping as she revealed something very unexpected...
Tucked inside the cover lay was a photo of a young man and woman, newlyweds by the look of it. Nadezhda froze. The woman in the picture was very familiar. She had long platinum blonde hair, wound up in a bun, emerald eyes and beige skin. She knew those features too - it was her mother!
Even though the idea of Nikolina in a wedding dress was totally unfamiliar, it was her. The photo was old, worn and faded. And the woman was younger, not to mention smiling more than Nadezhda had ever seen her stern-faced, sharp-eyed mother do, but it was undoubtedly the same woman.
That was surprising enough, but then her gaze was pulled to the man. He had the same light brown hair, blue eyes and pale skin that she was so used to seeing when she looked in the mirror! Blinking in surprise as the realisation hit her, she looked at the picture again. Her parents. They were her parents. She had birth parents... Of course, she knew she did, but knowing anything about them was a strange concept. That was without trying to process the idea that her adoptive mother was her real mother. And had lied to her...
In the background of the photo, as her confused brain searched it in hope of finding some sort of clarity, she spotted another familiar person, similar to Nikolina, with long platinum waves flowing around her shoulders and sparkling green eyes. Her Aunt Ekaterina, she realised. Well, Nikolina will admit nothing, even if I confront her with the picture, she mused. Maybe Aunty Katya will tell me the truth?
She hoped so. In her childhood, she had got the affection her mother hadn't been able to give from her doting Aunt. Katya was Nikolina's energetic little sister. She loved children, according to Nikolina, because she practically was one. The two sisters had an odd kind of relationship. Ekaterina seemed fond of her sister, yet Nadezhda got the impression her mother didn't return the feelings... She used to, and when she had been young, Katya had often visited. But then the visits had stopped, and the two sisters had stopped talking.
But Ekaterina was definitely the 'fun' one of the family. Nadezhda loved her company. She had a key to her nearby home, using it to pop in when those afternoons home alone got too boring. Ekaterina ran her own business online, so she was almost always at home and usually flexible enough with her work to pay attention to Nadezhda.
So, the young girl made her way over there and found her Aunt sitting peering at her computer screen. "Oh, Nadya! Hey, it's good to see you again," She called out affectionately as her niece, having let herself in, entered.
It was only having greeted her cheerfully that she seemed to remember that this wasn't really normal. Her smile, sparked by seeing her niece, faded abruptly. "What's up?" she asked, sounding concerned. Was something wrong? Nadezdha should be at home, if everything was normal. And the girl did look a bit shaken.
But she didn't overreact, wanting to let her explain herself, and Nadezhda soon began to, though she was hesitant at first, unsure how Katya would react.
"I was hoping you could explain something to me, Aunty Katya," She played it safe to begin with.
"What is it you need explaining, and I'll do my best to help you," As Katya assured Nadezhda of that, she rotated her seat 180 degrees to face her niece.
Nadezhda instantly seized this opportunity and pressed the picture into Ekaterina's hand.
The older woman held it as though it was somehow fragile, staring down at it nervously.. "How did you find this?" She asked nervously, wondering if Nikolina knew. Had she told her? Perhaps there had been a row at her sister's house. The inevitable row that had been brewing for years. She had tried to tell Nikolina that Nadezhda would find out one day...
"I just stumbled on it," Nadezhda brushed past that bit, not wanting to explain that it had been among her mother's things. Katya might think she had been prying. Besides, that was far from the most important issue here. "Anyway, can you explain? I want to know why she'd hide this. Why would she lie to me?"
After a small pause that seemed like an eternity, Ekaterina spoke, "I don't understand it myself, but she said she was afraid." She explained.
"Of what, being a good mother?" Nadezhda questioned sharply, bitterness creeping into her voice.
"No!" Katya's rejection of her comment was sudden and almost scolding. This, from her laidback Aunt, stung. Katya saw Nadezhda's expression and softened again, "No. She was afraid for you," She revealed.
The room fell completely silent. Even Nadezhda's heart seemed to skip a beat. She hadn't thought her mother cared for her that way, let alone wanted to protect her from... From what?!
The anger flooded back. What could possibly be so terrible that you had to lie to your own child to keep them safe? Safe, when they already lived in a boring little suburb anyway?
"Huh!" She snorted, tossing her head. "What the hell do I need protect from?!"
Ekaterina gave her a stern look, unusal for her, and suddenly looked a lot like her mother. "More than you might think. But I can't tell you unless you promise not to blab to anyone else," She insisted.
The girl wavered. She was angry, but only because she wanted the truth. Was this her chance to get it?
"I don't think anyone else cares, but fine, I won't. Now tell me!" She responded after a moment's hesitation, curiosity beating anger in the long term.
"Right," Ekaterina nodded, "So there's four of us who know about the wedding, me, you, the priest and Lina," She began.
Nadezhda nodded. 'Lina' was her mother's much-hated nickname. Her Aunt used it whenever she could. Then her brow wrinkled as confusion hit, "Hang on, what about the groom?"
"You mean your father?" Katya pointed out.
She nodded, her mouth dry all of a sudden. That wasn't a word she'd ever said, in relation to herself, anyway. And now, she felt she couldn't.
"He was killed within four days of the wedding. That's why Nikolina never told you the truth. She didn't want you to be in danger as well. She didn't tell anyone about you being her real child, even your Uncle Sasha thinks you're adopted, and you know how close they are," Now her Aunt had turned away again and was speaking in a monotone voice, hitting her with facts now and trying to conceal her own feelings on the matter.
Another time, she might have questioned that, and demanded to know all of Katya's hidden thoughts. But there was a bigger issue. Murder. Her blood ran cold. Her father had been murdered, and she was in danger. Why?
"He was killed? What happened?!" She demanded to know.
There was another long silence. Then Ekaterina reached into her drawer and took out a slim leather-bound book. " I don't know. Maybe this says something."" She told her, handing it over.
Nadezhda took it shakily, "What is it?" She asked.
"Your father's diary. I don't know a lot about the situation, I didn't even know him that well. I only met him at the wedding, I was the only witness...And afterwards, he gave me this to give to his child. I don't know how he knew your mother was pregnant. And I certainly don't understand how he knew he was going to die. But he wanted you to know about it." Ekaterina revealed.
"Why did he give this to you? Why not my mother?" Nadezhda only spoke two of the questions that jumped into her head. Her mind was reeling.
Ekaterina shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe the answers are in the diary?"
"Well, I..." Nadezhda looked down at the book in her trembling hands, hesitating.
What now? There must be more to the story than Ekaterina had revealed, in this little diary her father, a figure who was growing more and more mysterious by the minute, had left behind for her. It was her only connection now. And knowing it existed, she couldn't go back, walk away and ignore what she had discovered.
"I'll find out what I can. I'll do whatever it takes," She vowed, looking back to her Aunt, visibly shaken but determined now, her mind made up. "Thanks for helping,"" She added with as much of a smile as she could muster in her shocked state, before heading out.
Stepping out onto the street, she barely felt the freezing evening air hitting her face. It had been mid-afternoon, just after school, when she had rushed over to her Aunt's. She had planned it to be a short visit. She'd get the facts she needed and rush home before her mother finished work. The conversation had taken far longer, but it didn't matter. Suddenly all sense of urgency had vanished. She simply sank down onto a low wall nearby and, with trembling hands, opened the diary.
The first page read:
To my child,
I'm sorry I was never around. And I'm sorry if you and your Mama had to live with the legacy of my work, if you lived in fear all these years.
I would loved to be there for you, but if I can't, then I can leave this for you. I've found someone to keep it, so that it won't be near you all the time, putting you in greater danger. The moment you start wanting answers about me, you will be given this.
I didn't have long to write this, so there was no time for the full explanation. You need to find Dariya Volkova. She's a friend of mine who knows everything, even more than your Mama could tell you. Find her and trust her, she's promised to help you. In the meantime, trust no one. Here is what you need:
Underneath, there was an address. Nadezhda stared at them for a little while, tracing her hand over the line of text thoughtfully, then flicked through a few more pages. That appeared to be all that was written in the whole diary.
Well...That's a waste of paper, she thought idly, before her brain kicked back in. Seriously, at a time like this? She snapped at herself.
I have so much to do. Let's find this "Dariya" woman and see what she knows. But first...First I need to go home. I need to speak to Mama, She thought, with a hint of sarcasm betraying her newfound bitterness towards Nikolina. Besides, all my things are at home...She thought as she stood up and started her walk back.
She had intended to go home sooner before her mother would have left work, but now she was late. Somehow it didn't matter to her anymore. For the first time in her entire sixteen-year long life, she was yearning to see the woman who had deceived her for years: her own mother.
"Nadya? Is that you?" Nikolina's voice called from the older woman's bedroom as she let herself into her mother's apartment.
Stupid question, I'm the only other one with a key, Nadezhda thought crossly. "Yes, Mama." She replied, intentionally breaking Nikolina's lifelong rule. She had been brought up to call her Nikolina, or Lina, like everyone else. Despite their relationship, they had never been a close mother-daughter pair.
Her mother stepped out into the doorway, "Do not call me that! I am not your real mother!" She almost shouted, looking flustered.
"Don't lie to me!" The words snapped out of Nadezhda's mouth as she thrust the photograph at her mother accusingly.
The older woman slipped her pale, trembling hands under the picture, staring at it, "But this is... I got rid of these!" Nikolina's usual perfect mask of emotionless-ness vanished and she suddenly seemed very flustered.
Her daughter narrowed her eyes at her angrily, "You lied to me!" She shouted.
The mother rolled her eyes dramatically, "Calm down Nadya, I only wanted to protect you from our mistakes. Where have you had this attitude from?" She questioned her as her calmness returned.
"Aunty Katya told me everything!" Nadezhda snapped, not being entirely truthful as her anger got the better of her, "You just hid everything from me! How the hell did that 'protect' me?!" She yelled.
Then she stopped, taking a deep breath, before walking across the room and started gathering some of her things, never looking at her mother. She grabbed hold of some of the music books. That was where she had found the picture... Maybe it was helpful in some other way.
"I'm leaving." She told Nikolina coolly as she picked them up.
"No! Do not be stupid! Where will you go? To Ekaterina, no doubt?!" Nikolina glowered to her daughter, spitting her sister's name bitterly. She had told her too much, and taken her daughter away.
"No. I'll find someone to help me," Nadezhda replied shortly, not wanting to reveal anything else. She pushed past her mother and hurried to the door.
Behind her, Nikolina snorted, "Help you with what, exactly?" She asked sharply.
"Finding out what you never told me. And the information Katya won't tell me." Nadezhda answered in a blunt, cold tone of voice, then she turned, her father's diary and her other belongings in her grip, pushed open the door and strode out into the world determinedly.
Nikolina stared after her, dazed, wondering what would happen now.