by Vanzetti

An anonymous message provided the body's location; Katya is a fool, but she understands me well enough. Of course I did not go. Love, as I might have told Jack, is the most destructive emotion, but there was no reason to engage in self-destruction. The girl was dead, and seeing her body would not make me believe it more.

My vision did blur, but only for a moment. The morgue photographs I'd procured were grainy in any case, and did not match my memories: white and gold and pink. I'd warned her against her own ambitions, and she'd laughed at me, all red lips and white teeth.

I can see what you're thinking: eyebrows raised, the old question about Olivia Reed's identity, the missing Derevko sister, perhaps? Don't bother; some of my secrets remain my own. In this case, I held back for another reason entirely. She was, after all, my student.

Our first meeting: she was fifteen years old and still fumbling her way into adulthood, sent to an apartment I had in Moscow at the time. Don't bother trying to trace it. She lived with me for a summer, pretending to be a Russian teenager, just moved to Moscow from some provincial town or other.

Yes, of course I know which town it was. I made the legend for her.

She had talent. It's easy to forget, to suggest that Michael Vaughn was a soft target, but the opposite was true. He was entirely consumed by his obsession with Sydney. You might say that I did him a favor by sending Lauren to him. Another three months, and he would have been dead by his own hand. We'll see whether or not that was a misjudgment on my part.

Lauren was absurdly proud of her successes that summer, as if inserting herself among teenage cliques in an apartment building were a real mission. What did she think she would do, blackmail sixteen-year-olds for staying out late and cheating on their physics exams? A great victory, surely. How she sulked when I pointed that out. A pretty girl even then, and how well she knew it. She tried to use that against me.

Was I interested? Certainly, artlessness has its charms. She suddenly started to ask my opinion about the most ridiculous things, she would brush up against me, let me catch her nearly naked, that kind of thing. She looked through my closet and tried my clothes and perfume when I was away. She blushed well. You can't teach that. And she wasn't entirely without subtlety--although for a while I was worried that she'd just crawl into my bed one night.

Don't look so shocked. I'm not responsible for your illusions. This is a dirty business and anyone who told you otherwise was lying. I tried to teach her what she needed to know: how to use her own body, instead of allowing herself to be used. Women, in my experience, learn that more easily than men.

Lauren didn't learn it as well as she needed to. She enjoyed herself too much, perhaps. That was part of her appeal.

Of course it's tempting to compare the two of us, but you should never allow surface similarities to distract you. I live carefully. I have to. The stakes are too high for anything else. Lauren knew that as well as any of us, but refused to care. She was as free as she could make herself. Reckless, careless and sentimental. We fought about it, the last time I saw her; I warned her not to give in to her emotions. She laughed at me, told me she wouldn't make my mistakes, She was right of course. She would make her own.

That's how I choose to remember her: red cheeks, red mouth, shouting insults at me. Jealously, heartlessness, coldness. I wanted her, she said, and since I couldn't have her I didn't want anyone else to. Stupid girl, but that last kiss she gave me was sweet.

She never understood the risks. I would not have been so fond of her if she had.



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