Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Summer vacation, pt. 2

While Yulia was on vacation with Derek, Yuri had to take on all of the selling duties in his gallery. He had Calista play piano (which she enjoyed, because it meant she got to sit near her beloved pottery), so that he could give his full attention to customers,

and to restocking. Orlando stayed on hand at the gallery to answer customers' questions about art, though he didn't really have the right personality for selling.

Sales were brisk, and before long Yuri realized he needed help at the cash register. He checked the employment agencies for a couple of days, but no qualified candidates were available. Then, chatting up customer Jill Fleig one day, he discovered that she had a silver badge in cashiering and a gold badge in restocking. "Hired!" he said with glee.

Since Yuri had never seen Jill in anything but extremely casual dress, he thought it best to establish a uniform for her.

'She sure cleans up nicely,' Yuri thought admiringly.

Jill turned out to be a terrific employee, dashing over whenever she had a free minute to restock merchandise if she saw that Yuri was with a customer.

The gallery--which was dark and cool, and for that reason was a welcome respite in the hot summer--was crowded throughout the week.

Yuri sold a dozen of Calista's pots, and also sold so many of Orlando's paintings that space became available in the gallery. Since Yuri had no time to produce more paintings, he asked Orlando to bring in some of Meadow's handcrafted quilts to offer for sale.

By the time Yulia returned from Alaska, Yuri was more than ready for a vacation. "I'm exhausted from all this selling!" he complained. "I can't wait to get down to the island house and relax."

"Fine, but you should try to paint, too, while you're down there," Yulia advised her brother. "Your reviews were great and, at this rate, we'll be nearly out of paintings by the time you come back."

"We'll see if the fair Rebecka gives me any 'time off', if you know what I mean," Yuri said with a glint in his eye. Yulia sighed quietly in disgust.

Kennedy and Yelena's new island house had its own beach. "This is fabulous!" Rebecka said, in hushed tones.

Yuri was amused. "Actually, my parents think it's kind of a wreck, and that it needs a ton of work." Kennedy had given his son a list of tasks that needed to be done, and instructed him to hire local contractors and to oversee their labors. "Oh, but the house has such good potential!" she told Yuri. " C'mon--let's do a walk-through!"

But Yuri opted instead for the beach, so Rebecka took Kennedy's list from Yuri and went through the house alone.

She checked Kennedy's list: 'Living room carpet has to be ripped up; hall closet is a waste--should be a powder room; main room is dark--that whole wall needs to come down; eat-in kitchen is out-of-date and unstylish, Yelena wants dining table to seat eight.'

Rebecka continued to the second floor, with Kennedy's list: 'Upstairs hall is a horrendous waste of space--should reclaim some of it for the two bathrooms; can't believe some idiot walled up the fireplace in the master bedroom;'

'and there is NO excuse for a master bedroom balcony being this stingy!'

After about an hour, Rebecka loped down to the beach with the list in her hand, brimming with excitement.

Yuri looked up at her through one half-closed eye. "I know you think this renovation business is fun--for some odd reason--but I don't want to do anything today. I just want to tan and swim. I'll start looking for workmen tomorrow."

"Oh, don't worry, hon'--I've already hired a crew," Rebecka assured him. "The foreman's coming over this evening, and the workers will be here first thing in the morning."

Yuri sighed. 'There goes my plan for sleeping late,' he muttered to himself.

They swam for a while,

then Yuri idly built a sandcastle while Rebecka continued to obsess over the renovations. "Is it okay if I call your Dad and suggest ripping out the beadboard in the bathrooms?" she asked Yuri. "It's getting a bit moldy and, with the humidity down here, tile would be much more practical."

"Sure, knock yourself out," Yuri said, without paying much attention to what she was saying.

Rebecka phoned Kennedy and met with the foreman before fixing a light dinner for herself and Yuri. The house held only one cheap double bed, and Yuri and Rebecka were not very comfortable trying to sleep in it. "As soon as I get the crew started tomorrow morning, I'm going furniture shopping," Rebecka told Yuri. "Your father opened accounts with several local merchants, and he told me I can get anything I think is right for the house, within reason."

Yuri silently wondered what "within reason" meant to Rebecka.

The next morning, Yuri awoke to the sounds of carpet being ripped up in the living room below, and found a note from Rebecka in the bathroom. "Dearest--as SOON as you wake up, please direct the workmen to demolish the wall surrounding the fireplace in the master bedroom. Kisses, Becks."

Yuri grumbled and went downstairs.

The house was so noisy that Yuri headed outside. He set up his easel on the beach deck, and found that he very much enjoyed painting there.

Rebecka returned from furniture shopping in late afternoon, and checked in with the foreman before going down to the beach to see Yuri. She elected to have the crew work into the evening (they were making good progress, and she decided it was worth offering them a performance bonus if, by the end of the night, they had taken down all the walls she had specified, had put up the new walls she had specified, and had cleaned up the resulting construction debris). Because of the commotion, Rebecka suggested to Yuri that they go out to dinner.

"I thought this vacation was supposed to be for rest and relaxation," he complained. "So far, there's been little of either."

"Trust me--" said Rebecka, "you'll be very happy if I can get the master bedroom finished two days from now."

Throughout dinner, Rebecka talked nearly nonstop about the house--the wonderful beds and lamps she'd purchased, the dining furniture, the kitchen cabinets that were just "to die for--perfectly in the appropriate style for this house."

Yuri quickly came to the conclusion that shopping and bossing around manual laborers was what Rebecka regarded as an enjoyable vacation.

After they'd finished eating, Yuri expressed his desire to go home, saying he was tired.

Rebecka asked the food stand chef what time it was. "Oh, we can't go home yet, Yuri--the workcrew will be there till midnight!" she told him.

So, they killed some time by dancing together on the boardwalk.

"So," Yuri asked her, "are we ever going to have some 'alone time' while we're down here? Or is this alleged vacation going to be an endless round of noise, debris, and strangers marauding throughout the house?"

Rebecka gave him a serious look. "Yuri, we can't disappoint your parents. They're expecting certain things to be accomplished down here. Your father gave us a long list of stuff he wants done, and your mother was very firm about getting everything finished in time for your father's birthday." She paused, and looked deep into his eyes. "I really, really want your parents to like me--you're so special to them, and I just get the impression they think no girl deserves you. Not that any girl does, of course," she smiled.

Yuri looked chastened. "I suppose I should be helping you more, Becks."

"Nonsense!" Rebecka cried. "You worked non-stop all sophomore year producing beautiful paintings. You should be resting, and painting when you feel like it. I'll take care of the renovations. And, there'll be at least one lovely bedroom in a couple of days--just look forward to that. Believe me," she added coquettishly, "I'll make it worth your while."

The work crew had in fact finished the walls, cleaned up, and departed by the time Rebecka and Yuri got home shortly after midnight. The next morning, Rebecka paid the foreman the promised performance bonus.

Mid-afternoon, Rebecka came home from shopping, changed into a swimsuit, and joined Yuri on the beach. "Did you run out of money?" he teased.

"Very funny," she replied. "The new kitchen cabinets will be delivered in an hour or so, and I need to supervise their installation."

After the kitchen had been set up to her satisfaction, she took a quick shower, prepared a simple supper for Yuri and herself, and dashed out to meet a rug dealer who was keeping his shop open late for her.

Kennedy called in the early evening to check on progress. "How's the house look, son?" he asked.

"It's really starting to shape up," Yuri replied.

"Glad to hear it," Kennedy said enthusiastically. "Your mother will be pleased. That girl of yours is a really hard worker."

"I'll say," said Yuri. "An hour ago we were eating supper, and talking,

and she keeled over right into her plate of food."

He continued. "And still she got up and went out again, to see some some rug dealer."

Kennedy chuckled. "Your mother was much like that when we first got together."

Rebecka spent much of the following day setting up the master bedroom, including hanging a painting of Opal while she gritted her teeth. Yuri, who had acquired a bad sunburn that afternoon, lit the fire in the newly revealed master bedroom fireplace. "Looks like it works just fine," he said. "No smoke in the room."

Yuri joined Rebecka on the new, comfortable bed. Rebecka had given the foreman the cheap double bed that had been in the master bedroom. "He was glad to get it," she told Yuri. "You have to keep these people happy."

She continued. "And now that we finally have a decent bed, we can get a good night's sleep."

"I was hoping to do a bit more in this bed than sleep,"Yuri said, winking at her, "but my sunburn's so painful I don't think I'll be any use to you tonight."

"That's okay, Yuri," she said soothingly, patting his hand. "I'm so exhausted I can't stay awake another minute, anyway."

Rebecka was up early the next day, and headed off to a ceramic tile store. Yuri spent the day painting.

That evening, the living room was finished, and Rebecka and Yuri tried out that fireplace.

"Nice work, Becks," Yuri complimented. "The 'rents will really like this."

A day later, the guest bedroom was finished, and Yuri and Rebecka moved into that room, and Yuri was glad of it. "It was kind of creepy sleeping in my parents' bedroom," he admitted.

Their last night on the island, Yuri and Rebecka went out to dinner at the Twikkii Beach Hotel.

Yuri had made clear that he needed to return to his gallery, which his sister had reported was extremely busy, but Rebecka was upset that she hadn't been able to get the tiling of the two upstairs bathrooms finished--the local contractors' skills had sadly not been up to the task, although the tile was all delivered and stacked in boxes in the house.

"You know what?" Rebecka suggested, "George McCarthy knows how to tile--he mentioned it to me once a few months ago. How about if we offer him and his girlfriend a free week of vacation down here if he'll take care of the bathrooms? Or two weeks, if you think that's better." Rebecka was an expert at floating an idea while letting someone else think it was his idea.

"Good idea," replied Yuri. "And I bet George and Tosh will jump at the chance."

Yulia was glad to have her brother back to work in the gallery. "We've been so busy here," she told him.

She updated him on the latest news. "Orlando and Meadow found a small 2-bedroom house to rent on Peanut Street--way over on the other side of campus. Orlando, Kevin, and George moved all the furniture to the new place a couple of days ago, and Calista has of course offered them more stuff." She laughed. "And today, Derek and Alvin are picking up the changing table and one of the cribs from Mother and bringing those over."

Meadow came home from the library to find Derek, Alvin, and some baby furniture in her front yard.

"Meadow--you look great!" Alvin said. He hadn't seen her for a few weeks, at which time she'd been considerably heavier.

"Thanks," she said. "I'm trying to manage my baby weight."

"Where would you like this stuff?" Derek asked.

She had them put the crib and the changing table in the small upstairs room that also housed her sewing machine,

and thanked them for their generous help.

George and Tosha were thrilled to get a free island vacation in exchange for tiling a couple of bathrooms.

"This place is huge!" exclaimed Tosha. "Either the Andropovas are planning on entertaining a lot, or they're hoping for grandchildren to fill the house." George was amused--Tosha frequently viewed everyone else's life through her own family-oriented lens.

Tosha had gone to visit Meadow every few days since Meadow had announced her pregnancy, and she delighted in sharing with George the intricate details of Meadow's morning sickness, weight fluctuations, and obstetrics appointments.

The two got right to work, not stopping (except for a quick supper) until nearly 10 p.m. They shared a late-night swim, then danced together on the beach.

"Tosh, I've been wanting to say something to you for a while," George said. "I love you, and I want to be married to you--eventually, and I want children with you--eventually. But I'm serious about a professional dance career, and that probably means I won't make a lot of money, and also that we might have to wait a few years to start a family."

Tosha stayed quiet.

George continued. "I can't do what Orlando's doing--he faces a lot of sleep-deprived nights coming up. Being a dancer is much more physically demanding than being a painter. And, the early years are crucial--I can't spend my twenties doing anything but concentrating on my career. I know that's not what you want to hear. But I love you," he emphasized again, "and I feel I have to be honest with you."

Tosha was disappointed, but quite frankly she had expected to hear this from George sooner or later. She had picked up on George's lack of enthusiasm for her frequent updates about Meadow and Orlando. "I do understand, George," she assured him. "Really I do. And I'm resolved to wait until you're ready."

He dipped her and kissed her,

and they retired to their separate rooms for the night.

The next morning at breakfast, George tried again. "I hope I didn't upset you last night, Tosh."

Tosha sighed. "I meant what I said last night, George. I will wait till you're ready for a family. But that doesn't mean I have to be ecstatic about that wait every day, so I'm not going to pretend that I am." George started to say something in response, but decided against it.

They worked all morning and took a short break only for a brief swim, after which they rested in the gazebo. "Tosh," George ventured, "you don't seriously want to get pregnant while you're still in school, like Meadow, right?"

"Of course not," replied Tosha, tersely.

At lunch, their conversation continued. "I just worry," George said, "that you romanticize what Meadow and Orlando are going through."

Tosha replied simply, "No, George," but she was inwardly seething.

They had completed the bathrooms quickly, and treated themselves to dinner at the boardwalk on their last night in the islands. "You're awfully quiet," George observed.

"What do you expect?!" Tosha exploded, testily, catching George by surprise. "You tell me all of a sudden that we have to wait to get married, that we have to wait to have children, that we have to wait to enjoy being together!"

"Why are you so upset?" George asked her, genuinely confused. "Nothing has changed between us."

"Nothing?!" Tosha demanded angrily. "You're taller (true--George had undergone a late-teens growth spurt over the summer), your hair is longer (true--George was growing his hair for a role coming up in the fall), and all the reviews of you sophomore year have emphasized your good looks, and your body, and your hotness, and--and--and--I don't know what else!!" she sputtered.

George really didn't know what to do about Tosha's reaction, which he felt was completely unreasonable. "Tosha, none of that has anything to do with you and me as a couple," he said, as calmly as he could manage. "If you and I are going to make it together, and if I'm going to be a success as a dancer--and, make no mistake, I expect you to support me in my career--you're just going to have to get used to occasional public adulation. Please understand that favorable--even fawning--public reaction is tremendously useful to me, professionally. And I told you a over a year ago that you would never have to worry about me and other women, and I meant that. And," he emphasized, "I mean it still." He took her in his arms.

Yelena and Kennedy flew down to the island house in time for his birthday, which they intended to celebrate together and privately.

"This amazing," Yelena pronounced, when they had reviewed the renovations to the first floor.

"Very nice," agreed Kennedy. "Elegant, clean, airy, and not overdone." They proceeded to the second floor.

"This so much better than before," Yelena observed.

They went to the master bedroom balcony.

"Excellent--an appropriately sized deck," said Kennedy.

Before bed, they both tried out the renovated master bath.

"This beautiful," said Yelena.

The next morning, Yelena fully appreciated her new kitchen. "This very elegant," she said. "Nice appliance, nice cabinets--looks good, right, Kenny?" she asked.

"It's lovely," Kennedy agreed. "I think we may have underestimated Rebecka--she did a much better job than even I expected, and I talked to her nearly every day she and Yuri were down here. I guess I understand what our creative son sees in her."

Yelena said nothing.

That night, they both tried out the second bathroom. "Another beautiful and relaxing space," declared Kennedy approvingly.

"Is heavenly," replied Yelena.

They lit a fire in the newly revealed master bedroom fireplace,

and settled into the sofa. "I can't wait till we have some grandchildren to share this place with," said Kennedy. "Though it's tough to know whether Yuri or Yulia will come through first," he chuckled.

"My money on Yuri and Rebecka," Yelena replied succinctly. "Of the four of them, Rebecka seems the most eager to produce grandkids."

"Are you serious?" Kennedy asked, looking at his wife in surprise. "Rebecka seems like the kind of girl who wants a career--not early motherhood."

Yelena patted his hand. "Kenny, you never knew first thing about women, and you don't now. But is okay, because I here to set you straight."

Though it was the end of the summer, Meadow was determined to start a vegetable garden, now that she had enough space to do so.

Having planted and watered her tomato plants, she felt a little queasy. Meadow had not had an easy pregnancy, so she went inside to lie down on the sofa. She was there for only a few minutes when she started having contractions.

Orlando came running. "What can I do? What can I do??" he cried.

It was over before he could even catch his breath--Meadow gave birth to a baby boy.

The couple had agreed that, if they had a boy, they would name him Marcus. "After Marcus Aurelius," Orlando had smiled.

"Hello, Marcus," Orlando cooed to his new son while feeding him his first bottle.

Meadow and Orlando put the baby to sleep in the crib Yelena had lent them. "We'll be fine, honey," Orlando assured her. "You'll see. I'm selling paintings now, and we can afford a part-time nanny for when we're both at class, and otherwise we'll just have to watch our pennies."

"We'll make it work, Orlando," Meadow answered. "We have to."

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next week, for Meadow and Orlando's late-summer wedding, and Marcus's baptism!