Chapter 12: Child of Pain
5 years earlier:
Liana quietly made her way down the hall, careful not to alert anyone of her presence. Her eyes rested on her bedroom door at the end of the hall yet the images that flashed before her were of earlier that day – when the love of her life was taken from her. She stared down at her dress. The blood splattered across the yellow fabric had now darkened from a bright red to a reddish-brown hue. She bit her lip as she struggled to hold back her sobs. Just this morning she had been filled with so much hope and joy for the future and now it felt as though her heart had been ripped out and torn into a million pieces. There were no words that could capture and describe her anguish and despair. As she came closer to her room Liana heard a voice coming from one of the rooms off the hallway. She stopped and realized that it was her Father’s voice coming from his office. She inched closer to the door and silently peered into the room. She saw him sitting at his desk, talking in a rather hushed tone on the phone.
“It’s been taken care of” Norvan spoke into the phone. He listened to the response from the man on the other end of the line. Once he was finished responding, Norvan spoke again. “It’s a shame Erik couldn’t be persuaded to join our cause. He had all the makings of a remarkable leader. Tsk tsk. Such a waste…Until later….Goodbye Dalmar.”
Liana stood there in shock, her face ashen white. Try as she might, she couldn’t comprehend what she’d just heard. She hardly dared dwell on the thought yet it couldn’t escape her, Her father’s words echoed in her mind. It’s a shame Erik couldn’t be persuaded to join our cause. He had all the makings of a remarkable leader…Such a waste. Had her father been behind his death, him and this “Dalmar” person. Even though she was scared to learn the answer she knew she had to find out no matter what it took.
Present-day – Hours Earlier:
Milena sat in her Father’s office chair holding the photograph of him and her that graced the desk. This evening her thoughts had been on a multitude of things. Her father. Her life. But especially on tomorrow night. Everything she had worked for had led to this moment. If things went according to plan her goal would be within reach. Only a few months ago she thought her dream would never be a possibility, now it was nearly reality. She glanced from the photo to the gun and knife strapped to her hip. Her life, who she had become, in some weird way, captured in a single frame. Before such a sight would have frightened her. But now her heart did not even race slightly at the image. If she was honest to herself this was not how she imagined her life but the one thing it gave her, that she wanted more than anything, was control. Growing up she never had any. Over her mother dying. Over her sister leaving. Over her father being taken from her. But now she did. She was the one who dealt out the cards. Who held the fate of not only herself but for others as well.
Milena heard a knock come from the front door. She sat up and made her way to the entrance of her family home. She opened the door and found Elias standing there. “Well, this is a surprise. Not sure which type though.” She sassed.
“Nice to see you’re in a good mood” he responded sarcastically.
She held the door open for him. “Come in.” Elias walked into the house into the parlor and Milena shut the door behind him. She turned to him and crossed her arms “What’s up?”
Elias feigned confusion. “What’s up?” He repeated.
“Oh please.” She rolled her eyes. “You’re forgetting how much we’ve worked together over the past couple of months. I know that look you get when you want to talk. So get to it.”
He sighed. “I’ve been thinking about this plan and I don’t know if we should go through with it. I recognize the opportunity that this is but in my experience I’ve found it best to carefully consider every step I take.”
“I have thought about this. Many times in fact. And every time I come back to the same conclusion. Our entire plan hinges on making sure our targets are brought in. We do that, we’re home free.”
Elias held up his hand. “I agree. But perhaps this isn’t the best way to go about it. This whole deal with the Avagyan brothers. I just feel the fewer people involved in this whole thing the better.”
“Fine.” Milena stretched out her arms exasperatedly. “You want to grab some NSA agents off the street, go right ahead. Be my guest.” She pointed at herself. “I for one am sure not going to do something so stupid! Especially after all the time and effort, I’ve put into getting here. This is what the last months have been about. Getting right here. Taking Dalmar down. Carrying on where my father left off.”
“I know. This is why I strongly believe you should reconsider this. You said it yourself, we know who the actual players are in this game—”
“Exactly! This is why I’m not going to let Dalmar slip through my fingers or do something to screw it up. Now I’m almost certain we could take them ourselves but what if something were to happen? What if word got around about those responsible? I’m sure as heck am not getting charged for attempting to kidnap two agents. The less they have on us, the better. Besides, your ledger is already full enough.”
“You know one could say the same about yours soon enough.”
She stared intently at him and swallowed hard. “Believe me. I know.”
15 years earlier:
Liana lay on the foam of the black interlocking mat, struggling to escape the forearm held to her neck. She locked her legs behind the girl’s back and strained to lift her hips. Inch by inch she struggled to raise herself off the ground. She was utterly exhausted and felt as if her entire body was on fire. Try as she might to push her assailant off she knew she didn’t have enough strength left. Finally, her body gave way and she collapsed to the floor. The other girl pushed more firmly against Liana forcing her into submission. After a few seconds, Milena lifted her foreman and stood up.
The Krav Maga instructor walked towards the two girls and spoke. “Alright. That’s enough for today. Great job girls! You’re getting better every single lesson. I can clearly see your impro—”
Norvan walked towards the instructor and interjected, “Let them go another round. Liana needs the practice.”
“They already have. Six more in fact by your insistence. You can see they’re exhausted. I’m sure I don’t need to explain how the more tired you are, the greater your chances are for injury.”
“Fine.” He relented, “We’ll see you on Tuesday.”
“Until Tuesday then.”
He looked at his daughters, “Grab your things. Let’s go.”
Liana and Milena walked to the side of the room to grab their backpacks. “Are you okay?” Milena asked as she slid her backpack on.
“I’m fine. Nowhere near as good as you though.” She responded without looking at her older sister.
“Hey.” Milena lightly touched her little sister’s arm. Liana looked up at her. “You did great…besides, I’ve been practicing longer than you have. A few more lessons and I’m sure you’ll catch me in no time.”
“Thanks.” She smiled.
“Best get over to Dad. You know how much he hates it when we’re late.” She said as she began walking towards him.
“Yeah…I know how much he hates…” Liana sadly whispered to herself. She quickly picked up her bag and made her way over to her Dad and sister. The three of them exited the martial arts school.
“Milena, do you mind taking your and your sister’s bags to the car?” Norvan asked. “We’ll be there soon.”
“Sure,” Milena responded. Milena took the bag from her sister and started walking towards the car. Once Milena had rounded the corner of the building Norvan slapped Liana across her face.
Liana didn’t even wince or cry. She didn’t even take a step back from him. For her, her Father’s abuse and beratement were as normal as breathing. They simply were a constant part of her life, a part her father took great effort to conceal from others.
“What the heck was that?! Every time we come here you look more pathetic!”
“I’m sorry. I tried my be—”
“Your best.” He spat “You know what the difference is between you and your sister?!!!”
Liana stood there silently, wondering whether or not to answer. She felt her father’s hand once again strike her across the face.
“I…I don’t…” she stammered.
“She’s not an imbecile” he leaned down and stared directly into her eyes. “Like you.”
Liana shuddered and bit her lip to keep a sob from escaping. Norvan straightened up and grabbed her hand. “Come on.” He yanked her hand and pulled her alongside him down the sidewalk. Liana glanced to the right and saw an ice cream shop across the street. She saw a father and daughter sitting at a table outside the shop, laughing and giggling together as they ate their ice cream cones. Smiling. Giggling. With Dad. That life, that picture, couldn’t be further from her world. She looked back up at her father as he tightened his grip on her hand and pulled her towards the car.
Liana sat on the edge of her couch, an old photo album placed on the table in front of her. Her eyes intently looked at each one of the photos, thinking back to the moment each image was taken, moments forever frozen in time. She turned the page of the photo album and saw two pages filled with photos of her and her sister. She ran her fingers over the images. In some ways, those times seemed like yesterday and at the same time like a lifetime ago. One was an image of them having one of their “famous” tea parties. One was of them dressed as princesses. And another captured the two of them holding on to each, laughing hysterically. They hadn’t had much to laugh about back then yet strangely enough she couldn’t recall what had resulted in such a display of laughter from her and Milena.
Liana snapped out of her reverie as she heard a knock at the door. She stood up from the couch, made her way to the front door, and opened it.
“Hi, Mrs. Agassi.”
“Hello, Ms. Vardyan. I brought over some of your mail.”
“Thank you. You can set it on the kitchen table.” She held the door open wider for Mrs. Agassi.
Mrs. Agassi entered the apartment. “I was over in the mailroom and saw your box. My, it was overflowing.” She set the letters and packages down on the tabletop. “Thought it best to come over and give it to you before someone leaves another one-star review because of the property’s ‘lack of neatness or cleanliness.’”
“Thank you. I have been rather busy lately.”
“Think nothing of it doll. I saw you get back in a little bit ago. I just got back myself from one of Dalmar’s rallies.”
“Really? What was it like?” Liana feigned ignorance.
“It was quite something. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. The hall was full of his avid supporters.”
As Mrs. Agassi spoke images of the rally earlier that night, Dalmar on stage, the throngs of people, the cheers echoing from the crowd, flashed in Liana’s mind. She crossed her arms. “And what do you make of him?”
“When it comes to my judgment of men, you should know I’m no expert. Just look at my relationship history.” Mrs. Agassi laughed. “But in my experience, these up-start politicians are usually in it for their own gain. The only one who seemed to actually care for the people of Krudia was Erik.”
Liana swallowed hard as she heard his name. “Erik…Erik Davtyan?”
“Yes.” Mrs. Agassi sighed. “He seemed so genuine and real. He was so bright. So charismatic. A natural-born leader. It was a dark day when he….” She trailed off. “I along with many others believed he was this country’s hope. Its future. It’s a shame that we couldn’t see what he’d become.”
“Yeah. It is.” Liana willed herself to keep her composure.
Mrs. Agassi noticed the old photo album laid across the coffee table. “Reminiscing?” she smiled.
“Something like that.”
Mrs. Agassi walked over to the table and picked up the photo album that lay on top. “I don’t believe I’ve seen these photos of you.”
“I found the album in a box with some of my old things.”
“You never know when you will stumble on something from your past. Heck, I still find some of my ex-husband’s argyle socks all the time. And we’ve been divorced for ten years now.” She laughed.
Liana forced a light chuckle.
“So who’s the girl in these pictures with you? She looks a lot like you.” Mrs. Agassi asked as she looked down at the photos again.
“Your sister huh? I don’t believe you’ve mentioned her before.”
“I guess it just never came up,” Liana replied coolly.
Mrs. Agassi placed the photo album back on the coffee table. “Are you two close? Do you keep in touch often?”
Liana tried to find the words. “Um..we…” she sighed. “It’s one of those things. You know.”
Mrs. Agassi, sensing that Liana did not want to speak further on the subject, decided not to press her anymore. Something that she was not inclined to do as she was a very curious woman.
“Well, I best be going. Apparently, Mr. Balian is having more trouble with his plumbing. I keep telling him it’s that cookie dough his wife makes but hey what do I know.”
Liana gave a slight smile. Mrs. Agassi then made her way to the door and left the apartment. After closing the door behind her landlady Liana went back to sit on the couch. Her eyes once again drifted downward to look at the old photographs.
It was the first time in years she had mentioned her sister to anyone. Truth be told she tried her best not to even think of her, let alone mention her. They had been close at first growing up, but over time had drifted apart. Try as she might, it was impossible to forget that because of her, she was never good enough for their father. After all, how could anyone, let alone a girl like her, ever compare and live up to Milena – the epitome of what a daughter should be. Everything she did she excelled at. She was just like their father as he would so often remind the both of them. While she was the complete opposite. Never excelling in anything she did no matter how hard she tried, always the object of her Father’s disappointment and rejection. Worst of all her mother had died while giving birth to her – something which her dad had never forgiven her for. She couldn’t recall how many times he told her to her face that it was her fault her mother was dead. That she had killed her. Due to this, she had been forced to endure her father’s anger and abuse for years. Suffering silently. Praying that it would end. But it never did. Out of all the hurt and pain her father had inflicted on her, nothing could ever compare to him cruelly taking Erik from her life. Only when she left home, and in doing so also Milena, did her torment at his hands finally end. But still, she was left with the trauma and emotional scars he had caused and consuming anger towards him for all that he had done. No matter how hard she tried not to be she was also angry and bitter at her sister for being the perfect daughter. For being an unattainable standard she was forced to measure up to and become. Still, she didn’t wish upon or take any pleasure in causing Milena pain or grief. Deep down she still loved Milena and shared a bond with her that would never fully be broken. She wished, with all her heart, that things didn’t have to be this way between them but they did. Their father had decided that a long time ago.