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About the author:
Olga Toprover was born in Russia, lived in Canada for a few years, but currently resides in Los Angeles. Olga holds Master Degree in Computer Science from Moscow State University. She is also a published media author. Her scientific education and journalistic experience as well as living in different cities and countries formed her into the writer she is today. Olga believes that true literature is about people. Her stories, above all, are about us.
Here is a short sample from the book:
She loved September in Moscow. Fall always came suddenly, catching the city by surprise. It was only yesterday that Mother Nature had held on with all her strength to maintain an air of lazy summer, a fleeting sense of happiness. But could one ever really trust sly August – a month of sun and chilly nights, still-green grass and yellowing leaves? Of course not. It comes, like a downpour of cold autumn rain, as a rude awakening from a wonderful dream. And the prickly morning air and the smell of wet asphalt mixed in with the straw-like scent of changing foliage, all of it snaps you back to reality, back to the boring hurry-scurry, the truth of everyday life.
With the rain comes a revelation. The sky, covered by the darkening woolly clouds, pedestrians, trying in vain to hide under their umbrellas, the busy rush of boots slurping through puddles… Undeniably there is plenty of joy in autumn, too. Sometimes the early signs of cold weather sound in unison with the soul, plucking at deeply sentimental heartstrings.
Svetlana felt right at home in the gloom of autumn. Ever since she was a little girl, this had been her favorite time of year. After summer break, she couldn’t wait for the first of September to roll around. It was the first day of school. All the nonsense would be over, and the adventurous season of pure creativity and hope for a bright future would begin.
Along with the radiant gladioli and the scent of the yellow leaves of the first month of fall, the start of the season meant a world of new possibilities. Even now, watching out of the taxi window into the endless drizzling rain, Sveta was sure: everything would turn out exactly as planned.
The car pulled up to the curb, splashing the sidewalk in a wave of muddy water and, with a self-satisfied little squawk, jerked to a stop. Sveta paid the driver, opened the door and pulled out her umbrella, pressing it open all in one fluid motion. Then she ducked swiftly under the protective dome of her umbrella, noting, happily, that her hair remained almost dry. Once when she was younger she decided that the rain was just autumn in mourning, crying tears for summer’s end. All of nature sobbing. Yes, that’s pretty much the truth of the matter. Sveta slammed the taxi door shut and stepped assuredly towards a modern glass and concrete high-rise.
The umbrella in her hands quivered, revealing a monumental reflective cylinder above her, the top hidden behind some low hanging clouds. When you find yourself in the company of such a gargantuan facade, you can’t help but feel small, insignificant as an ant, faceless, just one in a crowd. Here, at the foot of this overwhelming behemoth, where important people were going about their day, her life hung in the balance. And here was a question: would she, Svetlana, be able to grab destiny’s attention? Would it all work out?
It is so easy to switch from total confidence to a complete maelstrom of self-doubt. Would the meeting go well or, would her pitch flop? No one knew the answer. Even if failure was waiting around the corner, Svetlana was surely not the first or the last to fail? Where were all these nerves coming from? Spent emotions and tragic pessimism never make for good results. Doubt doesn’t help, either. The cocktail of feelings that was brewing under the immense structure that was the Moscow City was just that, feelings, not anything real. You’ve got to get yourself together. Just don’t look up, that’s all. There’s no need to contemplate the enormity and importance of the work being done within these walls. No matter how many millions these businessmen crank out, even they must have to come back down to earth like the rest of us every now and then. Down from the high-rises, right down here to the Presnenskiy riverside.
Where was Kirill? They had arranged to meet at the entrance. Sveta was already a few minutes late and Kirill was nowhere in sight. Ducking behind a column beside the door, she closed her umbrella, letting a stream of water roll onto the granite floor. As if he was standing her up on such an important day!
Ah, there he was, popping out of the metro. Eagerly she waved him down. Among all the new-age skyscrapers, Kirill, walking over in a confident stride, fit right in. He looked fantastic in a long trench coat with an open umbrella in his hand. She caught herself thinking this and laughed. To be honest, even without any of the accessories Kirill was gorgeous. Tall, broad-shouldered, at a single look he oozed confidence, in himself and their relationship. He nodded as he got closer, fixing his hair with his free hand only to have it fall perfectly in place. Ah, how she loved his black, almost coal colored hair. The dark color set off Kirill’s bright green eyes, with a thoroughly mysterious spark. Well, thank God, he'd arrived.
"Nerves be gone!" Svetlana forced herself to smile.
"Alright babe, you want just to cancel the meeting and get out of here?" Kirill’s smile curved around his mouth as he stepped under through the entrance, closing his umbrella.
She wrinkled her nose and took his hand.
"Just be careful. In this day and age, progress doesn’t stand still," he laughed. "Someone else will just invent it themselves and we won’t get any credit."
She knew him well. His laugh didn’t seem all that sincere to her. That meant that he was nervous too, although doing a pretty good job of hiding it. In any case, she always knew how to hold her head up high in difficult situations. Well, she thought so anyway. Unlike her, he was able and willing to risk everything he had. All the same, Kirill said many times that her presence meant everything to his work. Her special charm filled his life with meaning. Did that mean he did everything for her? She thought that even without her he was more than enough. Although, she helped and supported him and, in some cases, sacrificed things in her life to make sure he got what he needed.
There was only one time when Svetlana truly stood up for herself. Kirill was about to pay a pretty big sum of money for the rights to sell anti-ageing cosmetics. His head was full of ideas but Svetlana approached the situation critically. She gathered evidence about the product and studied all the commercial material.
"The biologists agree that this stuff doesn’t work," she told Kirill.
"So, what?" he had said. "Sometime scientists make mistakes. It doesn’t even matter! The most important thing is that we can make money of this."
"Then it’s all a lie," she retorted. "And I want nothing to do with it."
The money belonged to both of them, so Kirill couldn’t go behind her back. But, afterwards, he would often bring up the disagreement. Sometimes in company he would crack a joke: remember the time when his better half was as stubborn as a mule? Well, what of it? She was right in the end! After about three months the lie was discovered and the cosmetic “pioneer” line had been closed down. But Svetlana knew that if it hadn't been for her, Kirill would have made a huge mistake. That’s how it was, and the awareness of self-righteousness made her feel uncomfortable. There was nothing she could do to stop feeling guilty about being so stubborn.
Nevertheless, during the five years they spent living together, this sort of situation only ever occurred once. Usually she accepted Kirill's point of view, helping him any way that she could. He might even welcome more suggestions on her part. But as far as things went, such confrontation didn't happen again. She respected his right to make mistakes and didn't want to watch his every move or, worse still, judge him. But at the same time, she couldn't separate herself from him. They were one whole unit – a family.
Svetlana reached for Kirill and buried herself in his trench coat, inhaling that familiar smell. Magnetic attraction, that's what she felt most of all when they were together. Being close to this man calmed her down. Even when they had disagreements, it never seemed to matter. They loved each other and that was the most important thing. In modern day Moscow, which had long since decreed an unwritten law of monogamy – to power, money, love – it was more than enough. Their very exclusive love seemed to operate in a parallel universe, one in which different forces reigned, having nothing to do with power or money or the intrigues that preoccupied others. For five years they found themselves searching for new ways to love one other. Their tender feelings knew no bounds. Wanting each other desperately, they were aware that there was something stronger than attraction keeping them together. Their love was fed by mutual interests, respect and, to be honest, a kind of preoccupation with each other. All of these things came together to form the bouquet of their happiness.
In these days of dizzying busyness and obsession with success, it had become kind of crude, unfashionable, to talk about happiness. Of course, we all read stories and watched too many Hollywood movies where a hero strives for happiness. Sometimes it even works out. But is life really like that? Everybody just wants to move ahead in their careers, make a million dollars, inherit a fortune from a distant, wealthy relative or, in the end, find a bag of money to marry. What's happiness to these people? A hollow sound. An old-fashioned concept. Svetlana and Kirill were brought together because they were both romantics; both preferred the classics to modern literature, and both valued that much-mocked idea of "happiness".
"Well, what are you thinking about?" Kirill said, taking her hand. "Everybody's waiting for you, let's go!"
"What do you mean they're waiting for me, why not us?" She laughed, following him as he led her inside.
"Well alright," he smiled. "Who am I, anyway? Just your husband. But you are a specialist among specialists." He slyly winked, opening the door for her. "With a number of published papers on biology under your belt! These guys know who you are and they trust you. It's you they want to talk to, not me."
Kirill kept on chatting as they made their way across the marble foyer to the elevator. The doors opened right as Kirill pressed the button. She made a step forward and found herself face to face…with herself. The elevator was made up of mirrors and she found herself staring at a spooked young woman with a flattened, misshapen light colored hairdo. What a nuisance, the umbrella hadn't saved her in the end! Could such a wreck of a girl stand any chance of landing a contract?! She kept looking at herself in the mirror where over her shoulder she caught his reflection – a handsome, confident and successful man. He pressed the number of their floor and, again, turned towards the mirror and rested his chin on her shoulder. The elevator doors closed behind them and Kirill hugged her with both arms. Svetlana caught herself thinking that the reflection showed two very different people. Maybe even two people somehow unfit for each other? Nerves, it was just the nerves…
Kirill interpreted her smile differently.
"Oh, thank God, you're feeling better!" he said.
In that moment, the handsome face in the mirror changed expression – suddenly free of all worry and doubt. "I've got to stop this silliness," Svetlana thought, turning away from the doppelganger in the mirror to the real thing. He leaned down and brushed her cheek with his still-cold lips, smelling of September rain. She let her eyes flutter shut…
This story is from about two years ago when she was working on a genetics project, discovering that DNA analysis could tell you more than your parents, it could drill down to distant relatives. It should be said, this wasn't a ground-breaking discovery for the scientific community, but Svetlana was able to find a cheaper way to formulate a DNA portrait, something that could take off en-masse. Such discoveries have the potential to spill over into greater technological horizons and, more importantly, to shake up the way we see ourselves as people. Although we should let the psychologists take care of the second point. Svetlana was only interested in the first possibility. She really wanted to see her ideas extend into more humanitarian realms. Because scientific progress, after all, is only worthwhile if it helps people. That sounds logical, no?
Not that Svetlana was interested in personally relating to every individual on the planet – that would be useless. She was only interested in a select few, just those with DNA sequences close to those of orphans and forgotten children…those are the people worth finding! She might not be able to find all of them; after all, you could only get DNA samples from willing participants. But the problem could be approached from a different perspective: they could start a DNA bank for abandoned children. Anyone who wanted to adopt a child could check their DNA and find a child with a closely matching sequence. That way you were not adopting a complete stranger, but rather a relative, in a way. With this, the act of adoption would become even more satisfying and sincere than it was currently. Future parents would know what science had confirmed: that the child they adopted was truly close to them. Fleshing this idea out could mean the end of awkward conversations around adoption risks and unknown family traits and all the factors that often prevent the process from going through. Svetlana was sure that as soon as a similar DNA structure was found, more and more families might be open to a new addition. There was a chance that every child in need could find a home.
Not long before, such an approach might have sounded insane, like science fiction. But today, the story is unfolding before our eyes. It is unbelievably fantastic! Thinking everything through, down to the last detail, Svetlana managed to figure out not only a cheap way of matching DNA strands for potential families but a mathematical database model to house the DNA bank, too. Interestingly, Kirill also liked the idea. He thought it was for a wonderful cause and helped think through how to organize all the moving parts. For any regular person, the project could have gotten completely out of hand. They needed the help of some very important and wealthy people. That's why they were here.
When they first started hashing out the details, they never thought that working closely side-by-side would harm their relationship. That just couldn't happen. If things worked out, the success would just further fuel their happiness. And if things didn't work out they just assumed that their good humor and ability to self-reflect would let them laugh at their mistakes. It was true that they might not find any backers, anyone to help them make their dream a reality…then they'd have to dig deep. And sad as that would be, their mutual failure would only bring them closer together. They'd been through hard times before. Nothing, no possible hardship, could put a damper on their genuinely happy marriage.
The elevator stopped. The doors opened, letting them out into a narrow hallway. The floor was quiet. Instead of the cold marble of the lobby, they stepped out onto soft carpeting that dampened any loud sounds typical of a workplace. It was if they stood suspended in silence. Behind the table that, for lack of a better term, must have been the reception, a secretary stood up to meet them. What a lady! Long earrings hung bejeweled from her ears… Svetlana couldn't begin to guess how much they must have cost. Her full lips glowed with a bright shade of lipstick…a look that was timelessly sexual. A deep décolleté – so deep, in fact, that Svetlana felt uncomfortable looking too closely…And hair that was perfectly styled. "She must have gotten to work before the rain" Svetlana thought, suddenly remembering her own damp bangs. Instinctively, she raised her hand and brushed her hair back even though she knew it was too late to make much of a difference.
"Hello!" The young woman announced.
"Are you Svetlana?" Her voice was strangely soft in contrast with the vivacious, almost stereotypically secretary-ish look.
"That's right," Kirill said on her behalf, taking his wife by the hand. "Here she is. And I'm…"
"Ah, welcome!" The secretary carried on, interrupting. "Only I'm afraid you'll have to wait a moment."
"How long?" Svetlana asked, automatically.
"About a half hour! Well, maybe closer to forty minutes."
"Alright." They answered in unison, clearly relieved that the challenge ahead was postponed, if only for a bit. The break felt like a gift.
"Why don't you follow me," the young lady said, popping out from behind the desk to reveal a pair of raspberry colored stiletto heels.
"Just over here to the waiting room!" She led the way down the hall.
"Sixteen centimeters!" Kirill whispered to Sveta on the way, raising his eyebrows in surprise.
Smiling, Svetlana shook her head, corrected, "All of nineteen!"
He motioned a crazy sign with his finger. Svetlana knew him well. He was mocking the poor girl because she hadn't bothered to hear his name.
The secretary stopped in front of a door and opened it to let them in.
"Please, make yourselves at home."
They stepped inside and the door snapped shut behind them, leaving them alone together. The waiting room was cozy. Beside a glass coffee table stood a black leather couch and two matching armchairs. On one wall hung an enormous television and on the other, stood a little table with the kind of coffeemaker you would expect in any self-respecting hotel. Svetlana walked over to the coffee table and picked up the remote, about to turn on the TV. But in that moment she heard a click behind her. Turning to face the sound she saw that Kirill had locked the door.
"Why did you stop?" He winked at her. "Turn the TV on, babe! It'll drown out the sound."
"What a joker," Svetlana laughed, noticing that all-too familiar spark in his eye. Then she tensed up. "No Kirill, come on."
Catching her eye, Kirill flicked off the light. They fell into darkness and it became apparent that they were in a room somewhere in the middle of the building far away from any windows. He took a step towards her, softly taking the remote out of her hands and pressed the power button. Everything suddenly lit up with the blue light of the TV screen. The voices of a daytime soap surrounded them. Later she wouldn't be able to remember the name of the show, for the life of her.
"Sveta, baby, we've got a whole half an hour." He whispered into her ear while unbuttoning her jacket. "Half an hour at the very least!"
Caught completely off-guard, Svetlana shut up. He was already holding her close under her opened jacket. His hands slipped along a brand-new, and expensive, blouse she wore especially for the occasion. His lips still tasted like the autumn outside and, touching them, she could almost feel the drops of rain on the tip of her tongue. Yes, he always managed to surprise her. How was he still able to do that, after all their years together? In a moment she was moving, as though in a dance, towards the couch and, finally, Svetlana gave in. She fell onto the leather cushions, stopped protesting his intense rush of emotion and kissed him back – the man of her dreams – with even more passion and impatience…