The passage of time brought Elena closer to her escape, however, by necessity, the charade she played to deflect suspicion, had everyone assuming she and Dmitry were inseparable, the perfect couple.
Coming to work each morning, her hand clamped in his, made her skin crawl. They both knew it was an act. Elena couldn't stand him, but couldn't rock the boat, and Dmitry didn't care how she felt and threatened to expose her if he didn't get what he wanted. Even a rumor of Elena passing over Dmitry for a foreign woman, would have the kind of impact on their firm, as a giant meteor. Not that an extinction level event at work worried her as much as Olga finding out. She was the one force that had all the weapons in her arsenal to bring Elena down.
It felt like she was teetering on the edge of a chasm: one wrong move and she was doomed. She had a ticket to Kiev, but was closer than ever to being married off. Going away changed nothing. Done with the Kiev nonsense, she was bloody well marrying the man she led on for nearly a year. Olga's impatience was going through the roof. Her daughter was twenty-seven: an old maid living with her parents. Olga's failure was impossible to hide!
Guilt tripping, manipulation, threats and derision wasn't moving her daughter out, Olga had to take action. Forcing Elena into a flat with Dmitry, and things would just have to work their way out naturally. With no escape, she would be knocked up and tied down in no time.
On their way home, Olga broached the subject. "Are you two thinking of a flat at all?"
Elena was dumbfounded. Did she have to lie, yet again, or tell her how she really felt?
"No. Not yet."
"Why don't you? I have some money. Why doesn't Dmitry add to it?"
That blindsided Elena. The threat was far greater than she thought. All Olga needed was Dmitry's name on the deed and marriage certificate. After that, he owned her. With her own society against her, she would be finished.
Olga, walking beside her in the dark, scheming, annoyed and fuming, made Elena squirm. She wanted to scream, to run, to do anything at all to get away. To stop what was approaching, overwhelming her. She needed to act while she still could, and entirely on her own. Those around her, everybody in fact, were a pack of hyenas. They wouldn't let her say a word in her defense. She would simply be detested before they ripped her to pieces, mostly because they could.
She was afraid to even look at her mother. What separated her from disaster was her own silence. So much as breathing a word to Olga about what she really felt and wanted, would have sealed her fate.
Elena knew then, more than ever, she had one chance to escape, to survive, and that was to make it to Ukraine. She was afraid to think of what could have happened had she and Meg never met. She would have tried to convince herself that she was happy with Dmitry, that Olga's proposal about the flat was reasonable. She would bury her terror deep inside, deny it until she forgot it was even there. Without knowing Meg, she would never have been honest with herself or known she had a right to acknowledge her feelings. If they missed each other online, she would be gone by now, drowned in the horror of her own submission. Watching her life escape through her fingers like water.
* * *
Nosy about Elena's gorgeous catch, Tanka invited her and Dmitry over for tea. Unable to keep her eyes off him, she served them at her kitchen table, vexed by Elena's lack of enthusiasm for her beau. Polite, educated and handsome, he was all the man Tanka could ever dream of. Seeing them off, she pulled Elena aside to tell her to: "Stop this nonsense already. What else is there you two can do? A few more months and you'll be married."
Tanka's admonishing premonition sent chills down Elena's spine. Could it still happen? Was she really making her escape on February sixteenth? Was Meg real? Most frightening of all, Tanka had shaken Elena's faith in herself.
She was defenseless against people around her. She was fighting for her life, completely on her own. She was one-to-one with her programming, and her society reinforced it everywhere she looked. Her fear of standing out, and her conviction that she had no right to resist, was as entrenched in her, as ever.
Dmitry put it to good use, manipulating Elena like a marionette. He declared her sick, lost, perverted; giving himself the right to force her to gratify him under the pretense of setting her straight. No matter what wonderful things Meg wrote about freedom, self respect and following one's heart, nothing had, or could, change for Elena. She spent evenings in Dmitry's company. Her hours didn't belong to her, they were Dmitry's. Her days always ended the same way, with him.
"You're lucky I am nice to you." He said, beside her on his bed. "I didn't make you pregnant. No other man would be so kind."
* * *
There were so many adorable plush-toys to choose from. Elena had a hard time finally selecting one, a bunny rabbit with a bow. She imagined, Meg would love it.
"Is it for Tanka?" Asked Dmitry.
Elena lied. The last thing she wanted was another sarcastic remark about her and Meg. She was going to Kiev in just three days! How could he possibly not know she was getting it for Meg? That Meg was all she could think about? Was Dmitry really that thick? Or, like everyone else, he simply rejected anything about her that didn't suit him. Totally disregarding and nullifying who she was and how she felt.
It wasn't much, but Elena cherished what she had chosen as a gift for Meg: the plush-toy, a jar of caviar and a bottle of Russian vodka. She held the rabbit in her hands for minutes, adjusting it's bow and big soft ears. It was as though, holding it, she felt for it, what she felt in her heart for Meg.
Falling asleep, Elena couldn't stop imagining her and Meg together. Them searching for each other in the airport, their eyes meeting for the very first time. Handing the toy rabbit to Meg in their Kiev apartment. Elena's fantasies were mostly a blur. But one part was always central and clear – Meg, smiling, like in her photos, to Elena.