The ring of the queen (t.., p.36
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       The Ring of the Queen (The Lost Tsar Trilogy Book 1), p.36

           Terri Dixon
 
I looked across at Tania who shrugged at me. She picked up her glass and took a sip of her tea. She swallowed hard and set the glass back on the table. She didn’t say anything. I picked up my glass and took a gulp of the tea. My throat immediately felt as though it was on fire. I could feel my eyes bugging out and my face turning bright red. I didn’t know what was in that tea, but it really packed a punch.

  Boris giggled. “You should take smaller sips.”

  I was trying to suppress a cough, but a little of it got out. “What is that?”

  “What do you call it in America? A hot tottie.”

  “I mean, what’s in it?”

  “Vodka. You are in Russia, remember?”

  I took another sip of the tea. It was harsh, but I kind of liked it. “Why does it taste like mint?”

  “There’s a little Crème De Menthe in it too.”

  “What else is in this drink?”

  “Let’s see, tea Crème De Menthe, Vodka, some tea. That sums it up.”

  “It seems strong.”

  “That’s because the tea isn’t the main ingredient.”

  He couldn’t have been more right about that. I guessed that one glass of tea would probably knock me out. I looked over at Tania. She’d almost finished her tea. No good would come of that.

  I glanced out the window again, as I drank my tea and tried to think about what I would do when I finally got back home. I don’t know why I kept thinking. I believed that the train would suddenly move and the sun would shine and I would see the world going by. That's why I kept looking through the window.

  In a way I’d spent my whole life looking through windows. I’d always wanted to see how the rest of the world lived. I’d always believed that I was missing out on something because I was stuck in Indiana learning only about corn and GM trucks. I dreamed of being famous like the movie stars and living the glamorous life of travel and wealth. I’d always wanted to live like a queen. The irony of it all was staggering.

  Be careful what you wish for. My grandmother always said that.

  “You look like you’re a million miles away,” Tania said. “So, where are you?”

  “I was just daydreaming.”

  “Was it good?”

  “Yeah. I was thinking about the irony of my life. I always dreamed about living like a queen.”

  “Well, be careful what you wish for.”

  I turned to Boris. “So, are all Russian trains like this, or just the amazing Red Arrow?”

  He giggled at me again. “This is not the Red Arrow. You Americans know only a few of our trains. We have many trains with names. This train is called the Nikolaevsky Express. It is the only one with a bar car that I am aware of. Convenient for you.”

  “I would think that if there are going to be snow storms bad enough to hold up a train that they would all have bar cars. What else would you do when this happens?” I said, throwing my arms in the air and nearly knocking my tea across the table.

  My head was spinning already. I hadn’t even finished half of my tea. I was a real light weight. should I keep drinking? Sure! I didn’t care. I knew it was the alcohol talking, but I didn’t care.

  Tania was sitting directly across from me laughing. She was no light weight. She started her second drink. The waiter had set the second drink in front of Boris when he’d brought it over. He was as surprised as I was that Tania grabbed it. That waiter was such a sexist pig.

  “So, why is it that everyone in here is drinking special tea?” Tania asked, giggling every word she uttered.

  “If everyone were sitting here doing shots in the middle of the day, it would be crass,” Boris told her.

  “So, you put it in a glass of hot tea and make it even more potent?” Tania asked.

  “Yes.”

  Though I hadn’t known Tania forlong, I’d come to know her well enough to see that the mounting stress of our situation was going to eventually come to a crux. It was at that moment, in a cloud of alcohol hidden in hot tea, that Tania went insane. I would like to describe it differently, but to this day, it seems the most accurate description. It was a temporary insanity, thank God, but insanity nonetheless.

  Tania gulped her second cup of tea and slammed the tea glass down on the table. “God, I love this country!”

  “Oh crap,” I muttered. “Tania, calm down. You’ve had too much tea.”

  She looked up at me with crazy eyes, smiling like a serial killer that had come up with a new scheme. “I know, ain’t it great?”

  “Where else can you get drunk on discreet glasses of tea at 11:00 in the morning? I don’t mean just drunk either. I mean…” She paused as though she’d lost her train of thought in her drunken haze. “Stinking drunk.” She giggled. She waved her hands at me excitedly. “But that’s not even the best part. I could pass out right here, sleep for twelve hours and never know the difference. It’s always night in this God forsaken country, no matter what time it is. And you know what the crazy part is? I could do this in summer too. Yeah. I could get stinking drunk at night on real out in the open drinks, pass out for twelve hours, and wake up to daylight.” She pointed her finger right in my face. “You see how that works? They don’t have summer and winter here. They only have day and night. And they only have one of each every year. How cool is that? They don’t have to worry about extensive wardrobes. Hell, if they change clothes once a day, they only have to change twice a year. How cool is that. More money for booze. I love how they dress too. There are no dresses in the entire country. Have you seen one? I haven’t. You know why? Because it’s too damn cold. Fashion around here must be defined by how classy your long johns are. But honestly, I’ve been looking at this trip all wrong. I’ve been looking at this country all wrong. There are real perks to living this way. Warmth is a fashion statement. Night is a season. Fucking incredible.”

  Tania slumped back into her seat. Everyone in the bar car, including the waiter and the bartender were watching and listening to her performance. She’d stopped talking, thank God. I watched her. I didn’t want to say anything for fear that I would start her on another rant. I looked at Boris. He watched Tania very carefully. She sat catatonically looking out the window. I wondered what she saw in her drunken state in the darkness.

  A few moments passed before Tania completely passed out and slumped over onto Boris. He hoisted her over his shoulder and carried her out of the car. He told me to wait, not to order any more tea, and that he would be back to sit with me. He said that one passed out girl was enough.

  As I watched Boris carry Tania out the door, I started to feel a little queasy. I pushed the rest of my first tea away from me. The waiter came over and asked me if there was anything he could do for me. I asked him if he could bring me a real glass of tea with no additives. He smiled and took my tea glass away. It was only a brief moment before he came back with another glass of tea. I took a sip. It was only tea.

  When Boris returned he told me that Tania was comfortably sleeping it off in our cabin. He’d left a bucket by her bed just in case. I didn’t know what to think of her performance. I was stressed too. I’d had a queasy feeling in my stomach all morning. I was sure that the stress catching up with me. Both Tania and I were way too young to handle our situation. Home was too far away. Daylight was too far away.

  Boris watched me stare into the darkness for some time before speaking. “Do you see something, or are you going mad as well?”

  I looked at him. “I don’t know.”

  “I see you ordered another drink.”

  “It’s just tea.”

  “You Americans are not big drinkers, are you?”

  “I’m only 18.”

  “Ah, yes. It is not legal to drink in America until you are 21. I forget these things, because I do not see many Americans. Most Americans go to St. Petersburg and Moscow. Once in a great while Americans come to Tver. It
is a shame. It is a beautiful town. That is why the Tsars were so fond of it. I suppose that is why rebels burned it to the ground.”

  “What do you mean, burned it to the ground?”

  “That museum that you visited with Peter? That used to be Catherine the Great’s home when she was in transit between Moscow and St. Petersburg. There was an incident during her rule when nearly the whole town burned down, including the house where she stayed. I have never heard it confirmed that it was any kind of plot, but rarely in Russian history has an entire town burned down by accident.”

  “ Tver was special to her?”

  “Yes, very. She had many special spots. You should know all about that.”

  “The reason I came to Russia was to take a class in Moscow and learn about the Tsars. I’ve certainly been learning on my feet.”

  Boris smiled. “I can’t wait until they get this train moving.”

  “Me either. I can’t wait to go home.”

  His smile faded.

  “What?” I asked.

  “I hope that you can leave soon. If the train is stuck here for this long, then it will probably be some time before the airport is open.”

  Another road block. Another log in the jam. Another lock on the door. When I heard his words, I instantly felt bile coming up my throat. I wanted to go home. At the rate we were going, we were never going to get there. I knew that sooner or later someone would come to St. Petersburg looking for me. I knew that I was still in great danger and running out of time. My head felt foggy and I wanted to puke.

  “Stacey, are you all right?” Boris asked.

  “How long does the airport close for a storm?” I asked.

  “I do not know. We will find out. I promise, as soon as it is humanly possible, I will get you on a plane. I swear.”

  “I don’t know how long I can deal with this before I pull a Tania.”

  “We will move soon, and then we will be in the city before you know it. I have arrangements to stay at my sister’s house. It is big and beautiful. Her family works for Tish. I will teach you what you came here to learn. I will take you to their homes. You can see it with your own eyes.”

  I found the idea of seeing the homes and learning about their lives intriguing. I had come to Russia to learn about the Tsars. They did live in St. Petersburg. They died there too. Except for Nicholas II. I wondered why my fascination with the Tsars was equal to my desire to flee the country. Maybe it was because they were my ancestors.

  “You would do that for me?”

  “Absolutely. I cannot imagine, what you are going through. You should not leave this country without learning all that you can about them. You, above all people should know about them. It is your family. I will take you to the Hermitage, St. Peter and Paul Fortress—I will even take you to Tsarskoye Selo if possible.”

  “Tsarskoye Selo?”

  “The royal village with several palaces. It is called Pushkin now for the famous poet who studied there. It is a fascinating place.”

  “It would be a shame not to learn about them.” I felt my stomach lurch. I covered my mouth with my hand. “Where’s the bathroom?”

  “At the end by the door.”

  I couldn’t speak any more. I was going to throw up. I jumped out of my seat and ran to the bathroom at the end of the car to vomit. As I closed the door behind me in the tiny water closet, I heard a voice on the speaker say, “The plows are finished. We will be on our way in a few moments. Our next stop will be St. Petersburg.”

  The Ring of the Queen

 
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