When Cecile Boudreaux and
husband, Armand, adopt six-year-old Natalia from Russia, they think
their dreams of being a whole family are complete. But things don't
go exactly as planned. Natalia has her own agenda to get back to
her brother, Nikolai no matter what. When things reach a breaking
point, unthinkable decisions have to be made. It will take love and
loss before everyone recognizes the many faces of
The 1st May celebration in Russia had begun. Fresh strawberry grass and tiny yellow bedstraw sprouted throughout the meadow after a long and frigid winter. They tickled four-year-old Natalia’s ankles as she sprinted toward the pigeon lofts to find her grandfather. She peeked from behind each stilt trying to surprise him. Small twigs snapped under her feet.
Yuri Sokolov stopped scooping seeds from the burlap sack. “Ya slishu tebya,” he chuckled. “You can’t creep up on me.”
“Ah Dedushka, I wanted to surprise you.” Natalia came from her hiding place with a steel grey pigeon, its neck ringed in fluorescent green, perched on her shoulder. She planted a kiss on her grandfather’s rugged cheek.
Yuri frowned behind his thick mustache, but his grey eyes sparkled with love. “You mustn't turn the pigeons into your pets. They'll make poor carriers.”
“But I love them, Dedushka, and they love me.” She reached toward her shoulder and the bird hopped onto her arm. She stroked the bird's back and cooed into his invisible ears. The soft feathers tickled her fingers. “Hurry, Dedushka, it is festival day.”
“Then put Ivan back in the loft and make yourself useful. We must work before we can play. Fetch the pail and fill it with seed. Now spread it in the pens. Nice and even, and don't give Ivan any extra. He'll get too fat to fly.”
She loved to hear the story, how his birds were descendants of the carrier pigeons that delivered messages for the Czar a lifetime ago, how they had won many contests throughout Russia, always finding their way home. Natalia happily followed his orders and climbed the steps to the lofts, working her way down the narrow corridor. “I thought you didn't name the pigeons, Dedushka . . . because they're not pets,” she said, giggling.
He furrowed his untamed brows. “Shush, Natalia. Where is your respect?”
She blew him a kiss and moved on to the second of the nine lofts.
He shook his head and turned the hose on the loft floor.
From high in the next loft, Natalia waved to her brother, Nikolai, making his way through the meadow towards her. At fourteen-years-old, his arms and legs sprouted liked the spring grass from clothes perpetually too small. Straight brown hair poked from a navy cap balanced on the back of his head. She could hear him singing as the melody carried across the field. Behind him, the rising sun glistened off the blue and gold dome skyline of the churches and monasteries. From her perch, she could see the two small churches where their parents worked, the winter Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist with its green bell-shaped roof and directly behind it, the summer Church of the Epiphany with multiple spires. Papa tended the elaborate gardens and Mama gave lectures, explaining how the buildings were constructed after fires destroyed the earlier wooden structures built in 1739. She could recite the drill in her sleep.
Across the winding Kamenka River, Natalia could see the rambling white Monastery of Saint Euthymius with its high red stone walls and the gold stars on the blue dome of the Cathedral of the Nativity where Nikolai said he would someday be parish priest. It was no wonder Suzdal was called “The City of Churches.”
“Golubka, it's time to come home,” Nikolai said when he reached the foot of the lofts. “Mama and Papa are waiting for us to go to Mass before the festival. Come Golubka (Pigeon), come Dedushka.”
“Nika, why do you call me Golubka?” Natalia dropped the pail, climbed down the steep ladder of the last loft and slipped her small hand in his.
He tousled her blond hair with his free hand. “Because you're like a pigeon. You spend more time in the lofts than they do. I’m afraid someday you’ll fly away.” His voice cracked in mid-sentence and she watched his cheeks flame red.
“You’re silly.” she said. “I don't have wings. Even if I did, I’d be a homing pigeon, like Ivan. I’d always come home”