Roman lifts his sunglasses, rests them atop his head, and looks directly at me. Does he know that I know? Does he know that I know that he knows? His eyes tighten with curiosity or maybe he just squints against the harsh Miami sun. The corner of his mouth lifts into a half smile. The kids continue to swarm around him, demanding his attention. It reminds me of how Nate jumps all over me when I come to visit. He wants to tell me things, show me things, be near me at all times, waits for his gifts because I never come empty handed - to him, Aunty AJ is the coolest. These sprats feel the same way about Roman.
He attends to the kids, handing them treats from a small bag. Russian candies, maybe. Or just plain old sugar filled goodies from the good ol' US of A. I wonder what kind of traditional candies they have in Russia… Can't imagine they're much different than any others. Except Asian snacks because, oof, they have all kinds of weird shit. Roman sends the kids away, their hands full of goodies, and makes a direct line for me. I steal up and square my shoulders.
"Roman!" Porshe squeals.
"Porshe!" he shouts back.
They embrace and exchange air kisses. A sting of jealousy runs through me but is quickly replaced by a strange anger. Anger over him working for the 'enemy' and for him being so handsome and charming, anger because everyone seems to adore him, including the woman who is supposed to be enamored with me.
"Who's your friend?" he asks, looking at me.
"Oh," Porshe giggles. "Roman, this is AJ. AJ this is Roman."
I wait for him to extend his hand, wanting a handshake, which I will not give him. It doesn't come but what does come is a hug. I'm sucked into a long, uncomfortable hug. I do my best to hug this stranger back but it is all too much so I just tense up more. He releases me.
He better fucking not try to kiss me.
He holds onto my shoulders and starts proudly shouting in Russian.
Porshe interrupts him. "She doesn't know Russian."
I shake my head and shrug.
"Oh." He lets out a good, jolly laugh. In a few years, maybe a decade, Roman will become a chubby old man, most of his hair gone, who speaks with a gruff raspy voice from too many cigars and chain smoking those thin Russian cigarettes or Marlboro Reds and shooting vodka straight, who has a booming laugh and loves to pass out candy to kids because he's just that kind of guy. If he makes it to that point, anyway.
For now, he is a good looking man of mystery and intrigue, or at least he thinks he is. All of us in this business, the espionage game, think that what we are doing is right, that we are the right side, and that our country is acting in the best interest of its people and people all over the world. Roman and I are in the firm belief that what we are doing is protecting our home countries and that the other is the enemy. We each need to spy on the other to get the information we need to keep safe and free.
Our definitions of freedom vary, however.
His version involves keeping the US from meddling in Russian affairs. Or, he's determined to help Russia meddle in US affairs, such as our elections. The Cold War never truly ended, it just went quiet and underground. The States let its guard down, thinking it had won and defeated the big bad Soviets, and while that is partly true - the Soviet Union did crumble, it did not win the war, just a battle in a very long war. The Russians simply waited patiently for the right time, the right people, and all the pieces to fall perfectly in place.
And it did.
Oh, how it did.
And right now, Russia is quickly sliding into the top spot, to the world's greatest superpower, to finally defeating its greatest adversary and all of it done in the smoothest, easiest, almost undetectable fashion. It gives new meaning to cold war. They have started to undo the US from the inside. Is it my job to stop this? No. Is it my duty as a US citizen? Somewhat. Is my duty as a person who took a sworn oath to protect and defend the US constitution and defend the country from both foriegn and domestic threats? Yes.
"Ah, I see," Roman says. "Could have fooled me, with those natural Slavic features…"
"Close," I say. "Norwegian."
"Our cold neighbor to the north." He smiles. "A beautiful country."
I nod. "I guess. I've never been."
"You've never been to your mother country?" he asks. "You should."
"One day," I say. "I'll see if I can take booking there."
He looks Porshe then back at me. "Are you a - do you work with Porshe? A model?"
I laugh. "I'm flattered, but no."
"She's a wrestler," Porshe adds.
"Semi-retired," I tack on for good measure.
"Semi-retired, huh? What do you do with all your free time then?" he asks.
"A little bit of this, a little bit of that," I answer. "Living out some childhood fantasies."
"What are those?" he asks.
"World travels, lady killing, saving the world from nuclear annihilation," I say nonchalantly.
They both chuckle.
"How very James Bond of you," Roman says.
I shrug and take a sip of my beer. "Something like that."