TIMESTAMP — Three days after apologizing to Cece
A Zima Family Reunion
Very rarely did Mika ever find himself driving to Pinehurst. It wasn’t that he had anything against the neighboring town and Edenridge’s rival. Actually, the times he did venture across the bridge (so to speak), Mika had never complained about it. It was the antithesis to Edenridge. It’s north and south side were like a greater version of Eden’s northside and just slightly better. It had always been clear to Mika that the neighboring town was the wealthier city, yet something about it always had that stink of “too perfect”. Like something dark was hidden within it.
How long had it been? Two months? Three? Yeah, it’s been closer to three months since he drove across the way, taking the backroads. They weren’t well kept, but compared to the infrastructure that the majority of the southside had (or lack thereof), Mika welcomed it. Then again, his Toyota Tacoma was meant for rough terrains, so roads that haven’t been maintained over the years were more or less ideal. Almost like it was the perfect truck for Mikhial Zima. It represented the roads he left behind and how he bulldozed his way through a lot, yet always could go back if he wanted to.
Maybe that’s why he hadn’t taken this trip in a while. Dangers of his life made it next to impossible to go to Pinehurst. He had to be careful. He didn’t know when the life he lived, those dangers from New York and of Edenridge, would come around and put those he loved most in danger. In the back of his mind, he wasn’t sure if now was the right time. He could be putting his sisters in danger. He could be exposing them to a world that neither Katia nor Anastasia knew about. Yet, if he didn’t do this for himself, especially with everything going on from Hyde being back and those letters, Mika felt like he had to. He needed a few hours just for himself. Or a day.
He took a turn off the highway, making his way through the vastly different, yet somehow eerily similar town of Pinehurst. Looking at it, Mika could have sworn he was driving through a version of Edenridge that was not plagued by the demons and ghosts it had in the time he lived there. It was better looking in terms of presentation and the appearance, but if there was one thing Mika observed was that not everything was how it seemed on the outside. He wouldn’t doubt there were skeletons in Pinehurst’s closet, begging to come out.
But that’s not what he was here for.
Making his way into a suburban neighborhood, Mika made a note of the houses. They towered over those on Scott Street, where the “royals” of Edenridge’s Northside resided. He knew where he was specifically.
It was one of many neighborhoods that Mika knew of in this sister town, but not where their royals lived. But Mika didn’t care to know about that. Knox Hill, that gated community, it was where he needed to be. At the center of the gated community, there was a park. It was a nice park by all accounts. Too green grass for Mika’s taste. He was used to Edenridge’s Southside lack thereof greenery. Or at least the mild-green shade Lyon Park had. But this park was of a totally different calibur. It was the photogenic kind of well-kept grass. The park itself had a few ponds spread throughout, paths leading from all corners of the surrounding neighborhood, trees for shade, benches spread throughout where parents sat as their dogs ran through the grass and their kids that played at the jungle gym setup with old favorites that probably filled them with fond memories.
When Mika pulled into the parking lot, in his mind, he couldn’t help but think about how this was the ideal life. It was perfect. A nice slice of americana. That picture perfect suburbia that was featured in movies. It wasn’t that he was jealous because now he’s secure in where he lived for the past six years and wouldn’t change it for a damn thing. It was just a feeling of what if for him. Would he had thrived in Pinehurst? Maybe, but that was neither here nor there. That wasn’t why he came all the way out here.
As he hopped out his truck and slammed the door shut, the alarm went off (force of habit) and Mika pocketed his keys. He walked down a concrete path, observing those he passed behind a pair of aviators, soaking in all exits he could fine in his casual surveying of the land. Maybe it was his bad habits or just a genuine curiosity to rediscover this area. It’s been way too long for his own comfort since he was last here and if things had been any better, he would have came sooner. But that was neither here nor there (again).
About fifteen minutes of walking, Mika was on the opposite end of the park. He knew it was the opposite end because, though he still saw the parking lot from the hill part of the park he was now at, he couldn’t make out his truck. He laughed, almost a chortle, realizing how far he walked.
“Mikhail, you made it. Finally,” the voice of an older man said as Mika turned around.
So few people could get away with calling him Mikhail. His mother, Reynoldo Gonzalez, his second father, and his father’s brother. “Uncle Gus!” With a smile, admittedly wider than Mika realized, he approached the older Russian-Hungarian man, bringing him into a reasonable embrace. Gustav Capek (born Vladimirov Zima) was shorter than Mika and due to his age, frailer than the young Zima man was. But he was indeed a Zima. Mika could tell by the way he hugged back. The Zima men had a certain pride in holding those closest to them in an under armed embrace. One arm under the others and patting the middle of the back three times.
“You have been working out, yes? I can tell. Your back feels firmer than last time we were in front of each other.” Gustav Capek stated with a gruff laugh, releasing his nephew from the embrace. He has lived in Pinehurst for many years, but because the majority of his life was spent alternating between Russia and Boston, his accent remained.
“You noticed that, huh?” Mika had a hint of red in his cheeks. Even in the sun, no doubt his observant uncle could tell there was embarrassment on his face. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. You always did notice the little things.”
“This is true, nephew. But I notice big things too. You seem…less troubled. Last time you had the face of a man being crushed by his demons, but now…Now, you smile wide. And smile like you mean it.”
Damn it, old man. Mika laughed because his uncle was right. Since having that meet with Cece, it was safe to say his mind was in a better place. Hyde’s presence in his life was still a shadow hanging over him, but coming mostly clean to Caitlin took some of the weight off. “I’m trying, Uncle Gus.”
Gustav nodded. “It is all any of us can do.” He cleared his throat. “But anyway, shall we get to why you’re really here?” As he whistled, Gustav’s wife and Mika’s Aunt Ester came from behind a tree.
“Mika!” Ester gave her nephew a smile as the two people who Mika had been dying to see above all else were at her side. To the right was Katie, his opinionated younger sister. The splitting image of their father with none of the qualities that made him a bastard. To the left was Katie’s twin, Stacy, his less-opinionated younger sister who was the heart of their family and always gave Mika reasons to smile
“It’s great to see you two--” Before he could get that thought out, Stacy rushed Mika into an embrace that caught him off-guard. Her arms wrapped tightly around him and he could already hear her start to cry into Mika’s shirt. “Damn sis, miss me that much?” He chuckled as he held Stacy tight for a few moments before she willingly let go and he was able to look at her. Aside from her now-puffy eyes, she had an expression of pure joy and unadulterated happiness on her face.
Katie just watched and glanced over to Gustav and Ester. “So maybe ya should leave us be? Sorry but this isn’t a regular thing and you know the deal--”
“Katie, be nice!” Mika interjected and he could see the sass come from her but she sighed.
“It’s quite alright, Mikhail,” Gus said, “we know how important this time is for you three. We will give it to you as we always have. We’ll be back in a couple hours to pick them up.”
Mika nodded and then glanced at Katie. “Satisfied?”
“Totally!” She wasn’t being sarcastic or a smartass. Katie meant it and before Gustav and Ester left, she gave them both a hug.
When the Capek’s took their leave, Mika had to take a moment for this moment. He couldn't say what it was, whether it was actually being here despite everything happening in Edenridge right now (from Hyde to Cece to the weeks that passed since finding Boa passed out in the cemetery), he needed to a moment of silence.
For which Katya put to a rest.
“Helloooo! Earth to Mikhail!” The blonde snapped, waved, and moved her arms in very obvious ways until she sighed, looking at her twin. “Think we lost him, Stace.”
The brunette giggled. “Well that’s a bummer,” she admitted, turning her head to face her twin, “guess that means he won’t be hearing about my new boyfriend--”
“I’m still here!”
It wasn’t the boyfriend part that snapped Mika out (though his curiosity was poked hard enough). It was knowing full well that he never needed a moment of silence to gather himself when he was with these two. It didn’t matter how much time passed in-between visits: three weeks or three months, there was something undeniable when he was with them. Like part of his light he had to keep buried when he was in Edenridge because of the ever-growing darkness of that town came out. It brought him back to old times. Those old times when there was still that shadow of his brother and father looming over him, but his sisters and mother always being what made him smile.
“Good to know, Mikhail. You were giving Stace some stress!” Katie teased her twin.
“He was not! He just looked like some kind of Walker or whatever those things on that show you watch are called.”
Katie shrugged. “I don’t know which ones you mean. There’s the Walkers from Walking Dead and the ones from Game of Thrones! You’re gonna have to be just a little more specific sis.” Katie had her usual teasing grin, which always happened whenever she and Stacy got into it (always with Katie giving her twin hell about how she knew very little about nerdom).
As Stacy sighed, Mika found himself smile. “So you still like things like that? You were always a nerd, Katie..” He smiled more and found himself chuckling, remember how embarrassed she was about her nerdy interests. “I remember you never spoke so…proudly about them. Now you’re fearless about it.” Mika was proud of his sister.
Both Katie and Stacy fell silent, looking at their older brother. Three months went by since they lost saw him, but even they probably knew something in Mika had changed. Stacy made a subtle turn to Katie, their twin-leptathy taking over as they had a silent conversation about what was up with Mika. They sensed it in how distant he was, but both of them were in mutual agreement that there was something else.
“Mikhail, you seem…off? Ya okay?” Katie asked.
“Yeah sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you. Truth be told, I guess I’m just happy to see you come into your own. And you too, Stacy. Both of you are so grown now. I know things haven’t been easy, ya know with us and how we don’t see each other as often as we’d like.”
They were old enough to understand the truth. They may not know everything Mika was going through nor everything that was happening in his life, but now that they were older and the reasons they were told about them being in Massachusetts was no longer what they knew to be the truth. It was around the shooting when they found out. When they found out that Ivan was a gangster. That their mother kept it from them. That the reason they had to be separated was so his enemies didn’t find them. They never did, of course, which often kept Mika up at night, but that didn’t change anything.
“Mika…” Stacy looked at him for a few moments. Mika looked back and wondered what was on her mind. His gentle, quiet sister. What could she be thinking? “You know I was never bothered by that, right? I mean, we both never cared about how long went between visits. What matters most is that you always try to make it happen.”
“To follow up, you need to really stop blaming yourself or saying all this shit about ‘why’ this and ‘why that’. You’re our brother and both…Anastasia and I--” She realized it was dangerous for them to use their names, but fuck it. Nobody but them was within earshot, “--No, not just us but we are all our father’s children, right? Like come on, Mikhail! At the very least, let’s stop pretending like we don’t know him. Uncle Gus told us everything.”
Wait, what did she say?
“What do you mean?”
As Stacy looked down, Katie wasn’t afraid to look her brother in his eyes.. She had the fire that burned in Mika and, if he was being honest, that also burned in Hyde, Anya, and Viktor in all different ways, but she had it. “It was two years ago. Three years on the dot that we were sent to live with him. He felt like we had a right to know. Yeah, it was due to me being tired of not being told the whole truth. Only ‘it was for our protection’ and ‘you’ll know when you’re ready’. That kind of BS pissed me off in ways you can’t even understand. You live in Edenridge and I know that’s a whole different life you’ve had to live. Uncle Gus wasn’t very specific, but he told us that our father’s enemies tried to assassinate him. That’s what that explosion that one night was, right?”
Somewhere deep down, Mika knew this day would come. The day that not only would his sisters no longer be kids who were shielded from the darkness of his father’s world and his work, but from the pain that came from knowing that. For the longest time, they were protected because their mother felt it absolutely necessary that they never found out about it. The problem was the two Zima twins were children. They weren’t children but young women who were about to start their final year of high school. As much as he hates that their uncle decided to tell them, he couldn’t change that. All he could do was be proud of the women they were becoming.
“Yes, it’s true. And it’s why we couldn’t live under the same roof. I--father was adamant about that.” He may have felt the way he felt about Ivan and how he would never call him father to anyone, but to his sisters, even though they knew he wasn’t a good man by any means, they still had the memory of him as a loving father. “Did Uncle Gus explain why you needed the name change?”
“He might’ve mentioned it. To be honest, I miss being able to use my full name. Katie is so…boring!” She complained with an exaggerated groan.
“I don’t know! I kinda like being called Stacy--”
“You mean you like when he calls you Stacy--”
Mika interjected, “Okay enough of this! You two have been mentioning her boyfriend enough times. As your older brother, I need the damn scoop! Who is this boyfriend you have, Anastasia?” Mika demanded to know!
They both looked at him. Stacy damn near gasped when Mika used her full first name , but he certainly didn’t care. Well, he did but at the same time, those protective older brother instincts were dominating everything else. “It’s not like I was trying to hide it or anything. I certainly wasn’t trying to disrespect you or anything. It’s just…” Stacy looked down, fiddling her thumbs together in a nervous manner.
“This is your first love and you don’t know how to tell your older brother?” Mika laughed, almost nodding comically at how he knew he was right. “Listen, I get it, Stace. I’m not mad--”
Katie cut him off mid sentence. “No, you idiot! When did you ever take her to be afraid? And clearly she’s not worried about that. He’s just--”
“Katie, I can tell him!” Both the twins seemed to be in an interrupting mood. She coughed, cleared her throat, and looked Mika straight in the eyes. “He’s just older, Mika.”
The part of him that didn’t want to overreact knew that if he did, he’d come across as a bit of a hypocrite because, while he wasn’t necessarily the type to hook up with older women, in the world he lived in, Mika knew plenty who dated up and down their age range. Yet the part of him that was an older brother (and one who had a tendency to overreact in some situations), he was about to lose it. But Stacy was smart. She had a good head on her shoulders.
“Just older..” His voice trailed off and he inhaled deeply. Exhaling, he said, “well how much older?”
“Not much…” Stacy said, biting her lip. A clear habit of hers when she was nervous about anything at all. “Like five years, maybe a lil more.”
Lord help me…
“Is he good to you?” When he asked that, Mika saw a stark shift in Stacy’s mood. Her eyes lit up with a delightful shock. “Why are you surprised? Did you expect me to overreact or something?”
"Yes!" The twins said in unison.
“First of all, ouch! That hurt. Second of all, I do not overreact that often.” Yes he did.
“Sixth grade. You sucker punched a boy who I actually liked because he didn’t get on his knees and simp me,” Katie reminded Mika and he scowled.
“Not my fault he wasn’t good enough--”
“I was in Sixth! Grade!” Katie stepped forward, glaring at Mika. “And you had no business doing what I was about to do anyway!”
Stacy felt her anxiety rising with every passing second. “Guys…--”
“Oh, I’m sorry! Guess I didn’t know because I’m not a fucking mind reader like that Magneto guy you always go on about!”
“Magneto doesn’t read minds, you dumbass! He moves metal objects. Professor X is the mind reader. And you wouldn’t have to read my mind if you wouldn’t let your anger guide you!” Katie raised her voice, hints of her typical anger breaking through
Katie and Mika stepped close, their tempers flaring such a fiery red that one could see the auras of their respective egos surround them, causing static to clash from their foreheads. Katie was shorter than Mika by almost six inches. She was 5’5” and Mika was an inch shy of six feet tall but that never stood in the way of her standing firm on stubborn ground with her brother. “Remind me, Mikhail, who was it that nearly got expelled because you couldn’t handle a mama joke?”
“Oh forgive me for fighting for our mother’s honor.”
Katie rolled her eyes. “Typical schoolyard justification. It’s reasons like that why Daddy--”
“ENOUGH!” Stacy shouted, shoving herself between Katie and Mika, both of her arms separating her temperamental siblings. Both of them looked at her, shocked by the sudden explosion of the usually mild-mannered brunette. Katie was impressed while Mika was more shocked than anything else. “You two always do this and I hate it! We never spend this much time with each other and I literally am up to here with it!” She raised her arm up above her head, leveling her palm in a horizontal angle. “Just stop it and can we get some ice cream or something?”
It was amazing. Somewhere between the last time he saw Stacy and now, she had grown up leagues beyond what he remembered. She was never the type to display loud outbursts nor a total wallflower. She was the softest of the four of them: him, Viktor, and Katie were the loud ones, but maybe it was just a matter of time. Everyone had their limits and Stacy clearly found hers. It was funny, though. In that short moment when she had the same fire in her eyes that Mika saw in himself, as well as their mother. If he didn’t know any better, maybe she was the most like Mary-Anne than any of them were.
Mika took a moment to look at Stacy, realizing that maybe what he always thought was harmless bickering with Katie (something that has been pretty commonplace for a while now) wasn’t all that harmless after all. “I’m sorry, Stacy. I didn’t think…” Mika paused and stopped himself. There were no excuses. This was the first time in three months that the three of them had been able to be with each other and there were absolutely no excuses for making Stacy stressed.
As his eyes fell on his blonde sister, he offered an apologetic smile. “Sorry I overreacted to your…claim about me overreacting.”
“Yeah, you should be--” As Katie felt the ground beneath her be slightly vibrated from a firm stomp from Stacy, she sighed. “--Fine, I’m sorry I mocked you for still being a man-baby who can’t take jokes.” In her own way, Katie was apologizing and as she and Stacy shared a tense glaredown at each other, this was as good as it was gonna get with the blonde.
With a sigh, Mikhail decided to take the road he didn’t travel often and ignore that last, sneaky dig she made at him. He was the older brother, after all and he wanted to make the most out of the time they spent with each other. There was no telling how much time was wasted when he allowed his temper get the better of him and he wanted to use every bit of it with his sisters. Plus, ice cream sounded great right about now.
“Lets get that ice cream you mentioned, Stacy,” Mika said after a few long moments of silence on his part.
And immediately, her blue eyes lit up and she had jumped up and down in place. “Yay! Ice cream!”
Ah there was the Stacy he remembered.
As she led both Katie and Mika down the hill, tugging at both of their arms, the three Zima siblings were off. They climbed inside Mika’s truck and before he drove out of the park, Mika turned around, looking at Stacy who was in the back seat. “Oh by the way--”
“Yeah?” Her blue eyes met Mika’s with a curious gleam in them.
“You never did tell me your boyfriend’s name.”
He could see it in Stacy’s eyes: she had forgotten and wished Mika did as well, but now that the dust had settled, he needed to know. “Dylan! His name is Dylan Doyle. Uh, here’s a picture of him!” Stacy reached into her pocket, pulled out her cell phone. She spent a few seconds scrolling through her gallery until she stumbled on a photo. “This is him!”
Mika made a noise that was an extension of a few thoughts he had. “Nice enough guy. Maybe next time you can bring him. I’d love to meet him, Stace.”
“Yeah! Maybe next time!” She gleefully smiled at Mika.
He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about the way Stacy was acting about it seemed off. Was it his tendency to overthing certaint hings? Maybe. Was it him looking too much into something that was probably nothing? Again, a possibility. He wasn’t going to worry about it right now. There was only so much time left until their time together would come to an end and at the most, they were going to enjoy some ice cream together.