Regina Galante firmly believed people's positive traits were balanced by their negative. She believed no one was truly better or less than other person. This is something she'd always tell herself whenever she'd fail a test, get hurt in P.E. or botch up her art class. She was virtually useless in any sort of academics, physical activity or art project.
She always grew up being behind other children, always in shadows. It got to the point where she preferred no company, and when people were around, she developed a nasty sort of shake. Regina had no idea when she started shaking; it began as a tremble and left as a nasty tremor when she was worked up enough. The stutter that came along with the shaking added to the embarrassment.
A small change brought light into her lonely life. Her dear uncle. He loved all his children, but she was his favorite little niece. He was a kind man, but terrible old and ailing. Nobody was surprised when he suddenly died, and she was terribly heartbroken. Regina normally cried a lot, but she was inconsolable through the whole funeral and months afterwards. Her parents and brother tried their best to console her, nothing seemed to work.
Months later, Regina would still sniffle or whimper whenever she thought of him. She lost a close friend and confidant. Her fifteenth birthday was just a week away, but she hardly thought of it.
She was just thinking about him when her parents came into her room with grave faces. Oh, what now? She didn't want anymore bad news or attempted consoling. She began to shake harder than she normally did, her big eyes looking ready to pop out.
"Regina, dear," Her mother had a soft smile. "Your uncle left you something in his will."
She sniffed and felt her eyes get wet. She didn't want any money, why would they think that? As her mother quickly went to wipe her tears with a dirty apron, her father said quickly, "You'll like it. It's beautiful."
From behind his back he retrieved a black case. It was clearly for a violin, with real black leather, with gold embroidery going up and down it to form glittering daisies and oak trees- the national flower and tree of Latvia, her family's true home, the birthplace of her parents. She gawked at it when her father handed it to her. It was showing age, but the leather was so soft and the detail of the embroidery was amazing. She saw her uncle's name engraved in silver on the side. Raivis Galante.
Her mother chuckled gently, "Well, are you going to open it?"
That just now occurred to Regina. The case itself would've been enough. She undid the clasps, and stared in awe at the instrument before it. She wasn't a craftsman at all, but she knew this was a handsome piece of work. It had a nice wood smell, she wouldn't have known what sort of wood it was, but it had such a lovely color. She smiled at the little daisy on the tailpiece, and the body had two tall oak trees with birds peeping from the leaves. It was stunning, and she felt herself crying and shaking again. "Th-th-thank you," She mumbled over and over, closing the case as her mother held her.
They honestly didn't expect her to play it, but were grateful for her considerable lift in mood. Besides, it was more of a decoration to be put in a display case, to be viewed in her uncle's memory. That's where it went, a lovely display her father constructed, placed in her room. Regina always loved classical music, but didn't believe she could play it. Regina had some experience with the piano, but a violin seemed to be in a completely different class.
Maybe it was weeks, months or even days that passed. One very ordinary, simple day, Regina went to the case and removed the stringed instrument. She brought teaching books from the library. She made sure her parents or Eduard weren't home so they wouldn't hear if she messed up.
Regina shook as she put the oak instrument under chin, so very afraid it'd sound terrible or she'd break it. She tried to hold her hands steady as they held the bow. And finally she played a single note.
It sounded wonderful. She tried again, playing the warm-ups on the books.
Within an hour she was playing the nursery rhymes they provided.
The next hour she played their more complicated songs.
And by the time it was late at night and her parents and brother came home, she was writing her own music.
Regina breathed clearly, smelling the wood finish on the violin. She never thought her hands were graceful, but here they were, shake-free and gliding the bow across the strings. The peace was interrupted when her brother burst into the room, and he was the first applause she ever got.
Regina finally gathered the courage to try out for her school's orchestra. She became the star pupil after three or four concerts.
By the time the school year was over, Regina had starred in several of the school's programs, including background music for their plays. Her teacher said she'd be famous. No one ever said that to her, joking or not.
The next year Regina struggled with her math, but nobody cared as long as she played. Her teacher took her with the older orchestra students to national competitions. Soon the teacher just brought her, and she played before hundreds to thousands. She gained attention throughout Russia. This small, mousy girl who cried if you so much as said "boo" could play beautifully. Not just beautiful, she could play sad or powerful. Strong and loud or light and sweet. She could play many styles.
Regina wasn't too aware of her fame. She was still shy and shook once the bow stopped moving and the song ended. She still stuttered, even when mumbling thanks and bowing in front of clapping hands. But she did love the applause. She loved people saying they liked her music, because she knew they wouldn't like anything else about her.
When Regina was seventeen, her teacher was very excited. She'd be performing in Moscow, before thousands, during December. She along with many other musicians would be playing and singing in honor of their great Soviet Union, led by their equally great Stalin.
Regina had never been to Moscow. She felt excited to visit a big city. Her parents didn't share her happiness. She heard them talking when they thought wasn't listening.
"What is this, to the city? She hasn't been out of this village," Her mother sighed.
"Dorogaya moya, this is the only chance she'll ever have. When could we afford to ever visit Moscow?" Her father reasoned. "And you've heard what the radios say: it's a beautiful and very modern city, with great people. She'll be comfortable."
Her mother sighed again, heaving her shoulders as she did so. "I don't know, I don't like it…"
Regina's heart sunk and she wanted to cry right there. But her brother came into the room and startled her parents.
"Think about her feels," He scolded. "It's the biggest audience Regina has ever played for. She'll feel like a princess, and she deserves that."
Regina thanked her brother deeply in her heart. Her parents didn't protest when she left weeks later.
Bundled in a thick coat and boots, her teacher helped her weave through the crowds. Some people performed outside, even if it was freezing. They said she would play inside a massive and stunning theatre, the grandest in all of Europe. She'd feel like a real artist, they said, it'd be like playing before royalty in the times of the czars. She was never taught anything about the time of the czars, but she assumed it to be a very good thing.
Moscow was beyond anything she ever dreamed of. She'd never seen so many tall buildings or so many people bustling about. She wondered how everybody kept track of everyone; in her village she knew all the families and children. She saw more people in a single street than her whole school.
She could stare and sightsee all day, but her teacher took her to the massive Bolshoi Theatre. The outside was amazing enough; it looked so elegant and important with its tall white columns and the bold statues at the top.
Inside, it was the first time Regina had seen what "electricity" was- of course, it was available in her village, but shortages and blackouts were common. The theatre was just so big, with so many pretty looking seats that were soft and cushioned. There were even large balconies. Could so many people really be gathering in such a dazzling place, just to hear her perform? She felt her face heat up.
Her teacher took her to a small part of the backstage, a little room called "make up". Well, she knew what that was, but her teacher explained it. "You need to look your best for the performance."
Regina was expecting a pretty but simple traditional dress her mother packed with her hair braided and put in a bun. They completely discarded her dress. She had always been short and rather flat, but they put her in a beautiful, flattering maroon dress. They styled her messy, long brown hair into heaping curls. Her mother never let her wear make up due to their family virtue of frugality, but the artists put it on by the pound. Lots of powder on her cheeks, lots of odd pencils around her eyes, lots of bright colors put on her lips. They gave her white heels- again, another thing she wasn't allowed to wear or couldn't afford to. She was given sparkling bracelets, earrings and a necklace she couldn't imagine what was worth. Regina felt uneasy wearing, let alone touching them.
When they were finished, they proudly gave her a mirror. Regina blushed and trembled. She went from a plain and pale village girl to a very appealing and well-kept woman. She gave the illusion she went to perform and watch at the theatre often, and had money to prove it. She didn't have time to completely observe herself because her teacher ran in, flushed from running and a sudden anxiety.
"I-I've just heard! Comrade Colonel Ivan Braginski will be here with his sisters-!"
That blew the wind out of the whole room. They ran around frantically, dragging Regina out. She struggled to keep up with them in her heels, and honestly didn't understand what the panic was for. She didn't know who Comrade Ivan Braginski was, but they did, and she knew she'd get scolded and yelled at if she inquired. Perhaps just a typical, high ranking official? It was natural he'd be here with family, but everybody was making a huge deal and Regina was nervous. She shook a bit harder, thinking of things that would go wrong.
She was placed in the middle of the stage, with her familiar violin. The staff insisted she used an especially decorated and new one, as hers had visible wear. She was thankful her teacher told them off. Regina was given typical words of encouragement as they waited for the audience to have their seats and for some important man to finish his speech.
When he was done, the audience clapped politely. Just a thin curtain separated her and the man and she hardly heard a word he said. She didn't have to go over her music mentally; she knew it completely by heart.
She could see the faint outline of the familiar yellow hammer and sickle on the other side of the curtain. She watched it rise for only a moment before turning her attention to the full theatre house. Everyone was dressed up like her, the women in beautiful dresses and the men in black military uniforms. They all smiled as the announcer said her name. Regina always flushed when that happened. A full orchestra was behind her, just as ready. The clapping died down and she attacked her violin with the bow as soon as the conductor signaled it. The sound bouncing off the theatre almost startled her into stopping. It was louder than any other concert she'd done.
As the concert when from song to song, up high in the largest balcony, the famed Comrade Colonel Ivan Braginski was already bored of the whole program. He took to studying his large hands as the, God, the sixth song played. He didn't have any taste for music. But Yekaterina loved this kind of thing; she intensely studied every famous composer and every song they ever played. He couldn't refuse his cute older sister, she looked like a little kid at Christmas, even if this was small pickings compared to the lavish concerts they'd attended before.
"Oh, Vanya, she's so cute!" Yekaterina whispered quickly as the song ended and the orchestra readied for the next one. "And she plays beautifully. Don't you think?"
He didn't know what decent or beautiful playing was. He just knew that when the violin screeched and the strings broke, that was bad. But he replied, "Da, Katyusha. It's lovely."
His sister smiled so sweetly he almost felt bad for being disinterested. Yekaterina turned to their youngest sister, who was on her brother's side. "Nataha, are you enjoying yourself?"
The stiff woman tensed, but she nodded solemnly. Ivan always thought his sisters were opposites. Yekaterina was big and warm, and although Natalya was much prettier, she was cold and a little... touched in the head. The three quickly shut up at the next song began, because Natalya and Ivan knew theatre more than a hobby or source of entertainment for their sister. They were both inattentive, and Ivan drank a few shots while Natalya glared holes into the stage.
The set ended, and Regina bowed shyly, like she always did. Her faced turned the color of her dress and she wanted to very much leave and just listen to the applause from backstage, but being the star, she had to stay. The audience wished for encore and she played a solemn lullaby, one of her favorites, that was in stark contrast to the powerful and intense music played just before. It felt familiar to Ivan, as he had known that song all his life.
The people around them stood and began to leave and Yekaterina's face fell. "Oh brother," She sighed, "Can't we meet her? I want to thank her in person."
"I will see what I can do," Ivan smiled. Why did his sister always ask things like that? With his position, he could give his siblings half of Russia. He didn't bother to stand up, instead sending for the manager to get the violinist. He knew they wouldn't hesitate to send her up. But he always wondered why Yekaterina insisted on personally thanking musicians they saw, as if they gave her some great gift. Sometimes she was as odd as Natalya.
Fifteen minutes and two shots of vodka later, Ivan was looking directly at the girl. He couldn't believe how small and young she was, even in the heels and makeup. Natalya was probably her age, but everyone always thought she was older. He noticed the girl was quivering, making the flowing dress shake. He noted the color looked lovely on her, even if her body was rather plain and she looked like the wind could blow her over. He thought it was funny how girls either shook or flirted when near him.
Yekaterina stood up quickly; she was wearing flats but towered over Regina. "Regina Galantaya? I loved your performance," She praised, deciding to stay by her seat because if she got any closer she'd have to look down. "The third song especially, I could distinctly hear you above the others."
"Th-thank you..." Regina could only mumble this. She cursed herself for not adding "Comrade Braginski" (but was she really worthy to say such a thing?) or complimenting the woman in some way. She felt it was Yekaterina's overwhelming height, her sister's cold eyes or their brother's heavy stare that was draining her confidence. She told herself she didn't care about these people, she didn't know them, but the man's decorated uniform and the girls' jewels expressed their status and importance.
Yekaterina continued, "Oh, I wish I could play something, even a little instrument, like a flute. I wasn't given that blessing, but I still just love to see concerts like this, ballets are just as well. I could name every song you were playing." Regina could have sworn the woman was going to start crying, her voice was certainly quivering enough. Regina's nerves only grew more uncomfortable as she began fiddled with her diamond bracelet.
"Th-thank you, m-miss... Thank you..." Now she felt like crying from embarrassment or happiness, she wasn't sure which yet. Fear would be a good reason to cry too.
Ivan chuckled to himself as the two girls' eyes began to brim with tears without them realizing it. Yekaterina was always generous with tears for everybody. She never thought of herself for a moment. He glanced down at Natalya, who was attached to his hip, as always. She was a little less tolerable, but his sister, so he loved her as well. She was quiet, watching Yekaterina thoughtfully, as if wanting to thank Regina too. He wasn't going to, so he knew she wouldn't. He was thinking how Regina Galante wasn't a very Russian name- she was probably from some other territory in the Soviet Union.
Yekaterina continued to babble on about all the ballets she saw as a child, and Regina was nodding in agreement; she loved ballets too. Twenty minutes of Yekaterina crying and chatting and Regina bobbing her head was enough for Natalya. Her brother was patient because of the alcohol, and he never let her drink, so she was restless. Almost everyone had cleared out. She turned to him, "Brother, we will miss the other festivities." She didn't want to see those either, but anything to get out of the stuffy theatre.
Ivan was thankful, because Yekaterina heard them and sighed. "Da, you're right. I said I'd see everything." As Ivan took one last shot, Yekaterina said her goodbyes to Regina. The shorter girl was saddened by their leave, as she was actually very comfortable around the sweet woman. Yekaterina retrieved her purse, and as she and her siblings headed for the door, she called over her shoulder, "If I see or hear your name, I will certainly come listen to you again!"
Regina flushed all the way to her hotel room, hours later, after she and her teacher listened and watched all the other performances. They toured as much as they could of Moscow, because Regina just couldn't get enough of all that she saw. It was like another world.
Regina was happy to be in the warm room, because even with a thick shawl and scarf, her dress and heels were freezing her to the bone. They insisted she wear the finery all day, even if it meant semi hypothermia. The make up artists took the jewels and heels back, but assured her she could keep the dress. This was more than Regina asked for, and along with this, the eldest Braginskaya's praise and the whole concert, she was floating on clouds all the way to her bed. It was bigger and cozier than she'd ever slept on or imagined, and went to bed as early as she could so she could relax in it.
On the other side of Moscow, the Braginskis had checked into a very lavish inn with beautiful rooms, reserved for those of political importance. Each sibling had gotten their own room, but the girls stayed in Ivan's room while they talked and readied for bed.
The sisters were already in their nightgowns, thick robes wrapped around them. Yekaterina was brushing Natalya's hair as she talked. "I thought the dancers were very nice. The crafts they displayed by the stage were lovely as well. I bought a few nesting dolls."
Ivan smiled at her as he took off his uniform. "You already have so many Katyusha."
"Oh, da, Vanya, but I love them so much! Especially if they're as well made as these." To prove her point, Yekaterina dug through her purse and produced the little dolls. They were very detailed and one set was bright pink, while the other was green. She already had so many lining her shelves, desk and book case at home, but no one had to spoil her fun. Ivan smiled at the youngest, "And you, Nataha? Any lacquer boxes suit you?"
That's what Natalya collected, and she always filled the boxes with some odd thing or another. "I did not," She said simply. She was very particular about what she bought, always picky, no matter what she was shopping for.
"Vanya should've bought his own souvenirs!" Yekaterina smiled, returning to the task of her sister's hair. Ivan smiled back but thought why on earth would he want anything street artists had to sell? That's probably what stopped Natalya from getting anything. That was a small thing they had in a common, a taste for expensive items. The conversation went on until Yekaterina went from talking to yawning. Natalya had already fallen asleep on the couch, and after Ivan carried her to her room and kissed Yekaterina goodnight, he retired himself.
Millionth Edit: This is seriously the eighth edit I've done with this chapter. Jeez xD More to come, I'm sure!
Anyhoo, I'm going over all the chapters and 'Russian-ifying' and 'Soviet-ifying' to make them much more realistic. If anyone has ideas for future chapters or info on the Soviet Union during the 60's, please don't hestitate to drop a review, PM or email~!