Meadow and Orlando were both hard at work one of their first evenings in the off-campus house they had rented. Orlando, an art major, was working on a painting, and Meadow was quilting, to earn some extra money.
Calista knocked on the door of their tiny house. Meadow invited her in.
"Welcome Wagon!" Calista exclaimed, and presented Meadow with a housewarming gift.
It was a food processor, which Meadow said would come in handy. "I was just about to start dinner, and this will certainly make it easier. That was very thoughtful of you, Calista."
Meadow began to cook,
while Calista talked to Orlando about his latest painting.
Orlando, unlike Yuri, was an abstract painter. "This is great!" cried Calista. "The air, the space, the weight on top!" Orlando was happy to find someone who appreciated his work.
The three sat down to dinner. Calista complimented Meadow on one of her quilts, which was one of the few decorations besides Orlando's paintings in the grimly underfurnished house. "Thanks," said Meadow. "I actually already sold it. The buyer's coming by tomorrow morning to pick it up."
"You know," Calista offered, "I have a ton of stuff still in storage here--I had all my furnishings shipped over by sea--and most of them don't fit into my small house. Would you like to borrow some of them--a sofa, lamps, rugs, that sort of thing?"
Orlando looked at his fiancee. "Um, I don't think we need charity. We'll be fine."
"Oh, but this wouldn't be charity--my furnishings are all like individual friends of mine!" exclaimed Calista. "I'm sure they absolutely hate being stuck in some dark storage place, and they'd be so much happier if they could be here, in your care, till I get a bigger place."
"Well," said Meadow, eyeing Orlando, "since you put it that way...."
The next night, Calista had Yuri over for dinner. "Meadow and Orlando have nothing," she told him. "They're as poor as churchmice. We have to do something."
"I'm lending them some furniture," Calista added. "Maybe you could offer some of Orlando's paintings for sale in your gallery? You've said that you're working virtually non-stop to get enough paintings for an opening."
"That's an idea," Yuri agreed. "Though Orlando's style is very different from mine."
"Well, you could make it a 'local artists show' or something," Calista suggested.
"I think I'd rather do the opening with only my own stuff, but I could add some of his stuff the following week," Yuri said. "And yours, too, if you're interested."
Calista had been producing pots prodigiously in her spare time. She took Yuri out in her back yard to show him her progress.
"This is a lot of pots," he said.
He continued. "Please don't tell me that they're all 'individual friends' of yours, and that you won't sell them."
"Oh, I would sell them, but only to people who really appreciate their essence," replied Calista.
Yulia met Derek Friday afternoon at the Student Union to play pool. "Go easy on me, okay?" pleaded Derek, kiddingly.
"You wish!" Yulia teased back.
Derek approached pool with the same intensity he showed in his studies,
but Yulia still beat him handily. "But you played with heart," Yulia told him, laughing.
"How about a consolation prize?" Derek asked her. "I get to take you out on a real date."
"That would be lovely," replied Yulia.
"Wonderful!" said Derek. "May I pick you up at your dorm at eight?"
"Terrific," Yulia smiled.
Derek took Yulia to Londoste, a high-end restaurant where she had often dined with her parents.
When they entered the restaurant, the maitre d' was busy seating another party, and Yulia took advantage of that opportunity to dart into the ladies' room, telling Derek he should go ahead and be seated. By doing this, she hoped to avoid the sort of over-the-top obsequious greeting from the maitre d' she had experienced at the Twikkii Beach Hotel restaurant with her friend Bryan.
When she saw that the maitre d' had come back, she stopped by his station, greeted him, and asked him please not to make a fuss over her that evening, and not to comp their table any food or drink. She knew that Derek wanted to treat her to a very nice dinner. "I would really appreciate it, Nolan," Yulia said, politely but firmly, to the maitre d'.
"Absolutely, Miss Andropova," the maitre d' replied. "Whatever you wish."
"Derek, this all sounds delicious!" she said after she'd sat down. (He had stood up as she approached the table.)
Fortunately, the server was new, and didn't know Yulia.
Derek ordered the lobster, and recommended it to Yulia. Yulia (who had had the dish many times before at Londoste), said "That sounds like an excellent idea."
The two talked about school,
and about their dormmates. "I found out just the other day that one of my dormmates, Rebecka Louie, is dating your brother--what a small world, right?" asked Derek innocently.
"Yessssss...." replied Yulia, slightly stunned.
"Rebecka speaks so highly of you," Derek continued.
Yulia took another bite of her lobster, to give herself time to think.
If Rebecka had talked to Derek, she realized, and told him she was Yuri's girlfriend, there's no way the subject of the Andropovas' wealth hadn't come up. And Yulia had watched girls pursue her brother for years because of their family's money, and she didn't want someone to pursue her for that reason.
But she decided to give the amiable Derek the benefit of the doubt.
"Would you like to go dancing after dinner?" Derek asked her.
"That would be fun," replied Yulia. "I haven't been dancing in years."
They went to the Lulu Lounge.
Because the hour was early, they were the only people on the dance floor.
But even if there had been other people, Yulia and Derek wouldn't have noticed them.
A few days later, everyone met at Meadow and Orlando's house to move in the furniture Calista was lending the couple.
Chloe arrived first, to make food for all of the others, who were at the storage facility loading items into a van.
"It's so nice of you to make food for all of us, Chloe," Meadow said gratefully. "It's a lot of people!" Including Meadow and Orlando, there would be 13 people for supper.
"I'd much rather be cooking than lugging furniture, I'll tell you that!" laughed Chloe.
Orlando had gone with them in order to select from Calista's huge amount of furnishings those he wanted for the house.
The van arrived just as Chloe was plating the hamburgers (which all the guys had requested, despite Chloe's advanced cooking skills),
and Meadow told anyone who wanted a hamburger to come get one.
Kevin sat down immediately, but Rebecka (who'd insisted on coming along with Yuri, though she didn't know Meadow and Orlando at all) observed, "I think we need to unload more chairs before we can sit down to eat." ('What a miserable little dump', she said to herself.)
Kevin ate quickly before he had to run to a class, everyone else moved in Calista's belongings, and Yulia helped Chloe serve the rest of the food.
With the additional 4 chairs that Calista had supplied, six could be seated at the dining room table,
though Yulia, Tosha, and George had to eat on the sofa, holding their plates in their laps.
"This is like eating at the kids' table at Thanksgiving--except there's no table!" laughed Tosha.
"Believe me--there was a table," George advised. "You didn't go inside Calista's storage space. She's got enough stuff to furnish the entire campus. It's just that Orlando didn't think there was enough clearance between the sofa and the dining table for a coffee table."
Brittany ate sitting at Meadow's sewing machine,
Calista ate at the computer,
and Derek ate sitting in an armchair, and was the first one to do dishes.
Tosha also helped with dishes, and Chloe cleaned the kitchen.
This was the first time Yuri and Derek had met, and Yulia was a bit nervous about it.
Rebecka monopolized George. "I just think it's wonderful about Yulia and Derek, don't you?"
"I don't really know him," said George, "but he seems like a nice guy."
"He's almost perfect," Rebecka gushed. "Perfect manners, straight-A student, well liked by everyone in our dorm. And Yulia certainly deserves to be happy--she does so much for other people."
George was a bit surprised to hear such effusive praise coming from Rebecka. He had had the impression that she was a bit self centered. Also, he'd rarely seen her and Yulia together, and had gotten the impression from Yulia that she was not Rebecka's biggest fan. Still, if Rebecka could say such nice, supportive things about Yulia and Derek....
'Perhaps I've underestimated Rebecka,' he thought.
From Rebecka's point of view, George was the perfect vessel for the messages she was trying to send to Yulia and Yuri. George was certain to pass on to his circle the pleasant things Rebecka had said about the new couple, which would undoubtedly get back to Yulia. Rebecka needed Yulia to be less opposed to her and Yuri being a couple.
Also, Rebecka loved having the attention of a handsome man, especially one she thought was going places. And she suspected that Yuri was more than a bit envious of George's combination of looks, talent, and magnetism (especially where females were concerned). Though Yuri was still talking to Derek and had his back turned to her, Rebecka's peals of laughter while she was with George cut through all the other noise in the room, and she'd seen out of the corner of her eye that Yuri had glanced at them several times.
Once their guests had departed, Orlando and Meadow relaxed. "Your friends are very generous with their stuff and with their time," Orlando said. "By my count, we now have 1 sofa, 1 easy chair, 4 dining chairs, 2 floor lamps, 2 ceiling fixtures, 1 table lamp, 1 sconce, 1 mirror, 1 end table, and 5 rugs more than we had before."
Meadow worried that they had taken too much of Calista's furniture. "What if she decides to move into a bigger house before we graduate?"
"Not to worry," Orlando laughed. "That girl has an unbelievable amount of stuff."
Yuri and Opal were beginning work on another painting. "Recline to your right, please," said Yuri, and Opal obliged.
"Don't you already have a picture of me in this pose?" asked Opal.
"Yes, but I want to interpret the pose differently now," Yuri replied.
Opal and Yuri had worked steadily nearly every day, and he now had more than a dozen paintings completed of her. He had come to know Opal quite well, and now saw facets of her personality that he hadn't previously.
"'Differently--in what way?" Opal inquired.
"You'll see when it's finished," Yuri answered.
"Okay, you can look," Yuri said finally, after hours of work.
Opal got up and walked around the easel to view the painting. She was astounded. "It's so different from the other one. Can I see them next to each other?"
Yuri took the new painting off its easel and hung it in the gallery next to the previous painting.
He and Opal looked at the two side by side. "You seem to see things in me now that you didn't before," she observed.
"Before you were just my model," Yuri told her. "Now you're my muse."
For some reason, the White Witch chose that moment to bathe the gallery in light.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next week for the gallery opening!