Yveta’s Rhythm

As I lie in Luka’s arms, safe and warm, I think, we are alike, you and I. We are damaged. We are broken. Repaired, but uneven, and we are alike. And I wonder, can you love me? Is it possible? When I do not love myself?My mother’s people say, “With patience, it is possible to dig a well with a teaspoon.” I hope that is true.

Because I am in love with this man. His body heats the cool sheets of my bed. But his ravaged heart belongs to another.

I am his Snow Queen and he is my Winter Prince. We are frozen, two shards of ice: beautiful and brittle, but cold to the touch. So cold, our breath freezes; so cold, we burn.

My mother was from Ukraine—it is second-largest country in Europe and poorest. She traveled from Kiev to Moscow to meet a rich Russian husband. Instead, she met many men and one of them put a baby in her belly. I was born in frozen wastelands of Siberia; as a child, all I knew was cold and ice and hard work.

I had my mother’s beauty, a dancer’s body, and my own fear of poverty. They said I was too tall to be a dancer, but what was choice? Alternative was working as escort for rich Western men who came to my remote, oil-rich town—or I could dig potatoes in Ukraine, like my mother and grandmother, bent and broken by thirty.

So I work and work and work, dreaming of a better life, a kinder world. I dream of glittering, neon gods of dance; halos of electric lights; theaters filled with applause and approval, velvet seats and gilt chandeliers. I dream, I dream. And a hungry wolf is stronger than a satisfied dog.

When I was 14, I won a scholarship to important dance studio in St. Petersburg. Yes, 3523 miles, and yet I was in same country, speaking same language, with my provincial accent, cheap clothes and new dance shoes.

As a tall and awkward teenager, I met my best friend Galina who came from a small town near Novosibirisk. We fought and clawed our way to top of class and then across whole world. We thought we had found happiness in high heels and a towering headdress—real Las Vegas showgirls.

Foolish, foolish children who believed in happy endings.

We did not find liberty in land of free—we found only Bratva, pain and suffering: Russian crime lords who owned our bodies, our blood, and our souls. We danced to stay alive, and I did. I danced and I lived.

Was I lucky to survive? Sometimes, I do not think so. Sometimes, I wish that my bones lie beside Galina’s in a shallow, desert grave. And on too many nights when I remember what Bratva did to me, I think I will join her soon.

But then Luka shakes me from my nightmares, and soothes me with words and caresses.

“Yveta,” he says, “you are strong.”

I touch the long scar from my lip to my cheekbone, Bratva gift. I’m tired of being strong. So very tired.

I like to watch Luka as he sleeps, as if then I can hear his unquiet thoughts. He is a man between two worlds. He is father to Beth, his daughter who lives in England, but it is not Beth’s mother that he loves, but her uncle. Oh, yes. That was big shock too all—a man who loves brother but makes baby with sister. A remarkable family, I say to myself in dark moments, and it always sounds like sneering. I do not mean it like that—I am jealous.

Love is simplest of emotions, but has complex consequences.

Luka is dancer, like me. His hair pale gold, like me. His eyes the blue of a winter sky, like me. We are both tall and we share these high cheekbones of our Eastern European forefathers. We are often mistaken for brother and sister, but my feelings for him have always been more.

Love me, Luka! My battered heart cries, willing him to hear me.

I don’t sleep much—dark scares me. Always, I need light in hallway. Coming soon are long nights of another Chicago winter. In parks, leaves blaze with color, but they are dying and will soon shrivel. Sometimes, I think I am like leaf—dying a little more each day. Sometimes, I am like tree—my roots going far into ground as I cling to life.

I am victim, I am survivor—two sides of same coin.

I stare from window into glittering darkness. I see pale reflection of a woman afraid to live. But then there is second face at window.

“Yveta, did you have another nightmare?”

Gently, his arms wrap around me, and his warm chest presses against my back.

“You’re shivering.”

Yes, Luka. I’ve been cold for such a long time. Such a long, long time.

“Tantsui so mnoy,” he says softly, stumbling over the Russian I have taught him. Dance with me. “Pojaluista.” Please.

He takes my hand and leads me into living room. Sofa is pushed out of way, and music flows around us. My eyes close as rhythm pulses like beating heart. My scarred mouth lifts in half-smile. I know this music. Is good music. Is music of Spain, a place of heat and sun and sloe-eyed women with midnight hair; is music of passion. Flamenco is passion; Paso Doble is fight for domination—marching like matador at start of bullfight, I am cape to taunt and entice bull; and then is Rumba, dance of lovers, sorrow and sadness and sometimes hope. Rumba is hello; Rumba is goodbye.

This music is Andaluzaby Granados and it rises around me, around us, as Luka leads me into dance. Beautiful, evocative, shifting, rising and falling, joyful and sorrowful as guitar sings song of love and loss, hope and peace, at last.

My hands flutter, soft like bird wings; my fingers curl, hard like castanets; my back arches and my neck extends, my face lifting to a heaven I do not believe in—except here, in dance. Luka paces towards me, arms at his sides, his face proud, full of intent as his eyes lure me toward him. We swoop, we dip, we spin, we fly.

The dance crescendos and Luka stamps feet like Flamenco dancer, the apel; his carriage proud. My eyes glint with passion as I curve toward him and away, towards and away, on and on. My arms express more than my lips; my body speaks and his replies.

And then we are dancing Rumba, a tale of passion. Our movements slow, teasing, tempting, flirting, forward and retreat, teasing, longing, connecting, moving away, passion and need and desire. And love.

I love you, Luka.

And his body replies, Come closer. Feel my heat, burn for me, Yveta.

And this heat, this passion scares me, but I am moth to flame. Fire starts with sparks. Can I light a fire within my winter prince?

His pale skin and frosted hair gleam in moonlight, muscles moving in his arms and chest and thighs. A dancer’s body is beautiful—but Luka’s beauty glows more fiercely from inside.

But then music ends, final note hovering in air like last leaf clinging to tree before winter.

“Will you sleep now?” he asks, darkness stealing blue from his eyes.

I nod, but this is lie.

“My Snow Queen,” he says with a smile. “You’re beautiful, Yveta. What’s the Russian word?”

“Urodlivy. I am urodlivy.” Ugly.

He frowns. “Hmm? Well, I will say it in my language. Ti si lepa. Beautiful Yveta.”

He holds out his hand again.

“Are we going to bed?”

He is half in darkness, half in light. He smiles and shakes his head slowly.

“My Snow Princess is sad, so we will dance through the night. This song is for you.”

As he takes me into his arms, I recognize this song, and he sings to me, his voice soft and husky.

“In the pain there is healing, in your name I find meaning.”

We dance. We dance shoulder to shoulder, the open hip twist, the Alemana, the fan. We dance and we dance and we dance.

I was broken by Bratva, broken inside and out. But here, in this moment, I feel hope.

I am a dancer. I dance through darkness.

And this is my rhythm.

If you found this a little darker than my usual story, it’s true. I first wrote Slave to the Rhythm several years ago after reading about human trafficking.

The second book in the Rhythm Series followed the story of Luka through love and loss and fatherhood.

Yveta featured in both these books, a central but shadowy character. Here is more of her story. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you found it hopeful.

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