Near the end of sophomore year, Yuri came back to the dorm after a night of work at the gallery and found his sister in the upstairs study lounge. "I had just about given up on you," said Yulia, shelving a book.
"I finished hanging the whole show," Yuri said proudly.
"That's terrific!" cried Yulia. "Though I'm still wondering why you didn't want any help."
"I really needed to think about what painting looked best next to what other painting, and it took me a long time. It would've annoyed the crap out of George and Alvin and Kevin to wait for me to decide, and I didn't want to be rushed, so I just did it myself. Man, do I need a shower."
"I can't wait to see your work--you've been so secretive," admonished Yulia. "No one's seen the paintings--besides your model, that is."
"I need to be completely happy with it before anyone else sees it," Yuri said adamantly.
"Oh--hey," Yulia said suddenly, "Mother and Daddy called while you were out."
"Any news?" asked Yuri.
"I'll say," Yulia responded. "One, they're definitely coming to your opening. Two, they bought a house on Twikkii Island. Mother said she guessed it would come in handy, since she heard from a land agent down there that you're now persona non grata at all the hotels."
Yuri grinned. "What can I say--Rebecka and I had a really good time on vacation."
"So you've said," Yulia replied, disapprovingly.
Yuri and Calista were both done with their exams, and went to the Campus Lounge to play.
There was a good crowd--George and Bryan were at the bar,
and Rebecka had shown up with three of her girlfriends.
"You must be sooo excited about Yuri's show!" squealed Kiera Curtin.
"Yes, but it's a lot of pressure," said Rebecka. "I'm in charge of the opening night reception, and it's sooo much work. And--" she added dramatically, "it will be the night Yuri introduces me to his parents."
"Are you nervous about that?" asked Elle Livingston.
"Of course," replied Rebecka. "His mother's a legend--who wouldn't be nervous?"
"Is it true you haven't seen any of the paintings yet?" Kiera asked.
"He hasn't let any of his friends see them--he says he has to make sure the show is perfect before he lets anyone in," Rebecka explained.
"Such a perfectionist!" admired Elle.
"Umm, I've heard Opal Wilson has seen them," said Emma Macarevich, cautiously.
"Well, of course--she's his model," replied Rebecka shortly, though she composed herself quickly.
Emma continued, "You're really understanding not to be jealous of your boyfriend spending so much time with an attractive female who's always naked."
"Look," explained Rebecka with seeming calm, "you can't be with a gifted painter, and be jealous of his model."
Soon thereafter, Rebecka departed, after bidding Yuri goodbye.
Yuri and Calista played for about another half hour. "Hey, George," Yuri called, "do you want to stop by the gallery with Calista and me on our way back home?"
"Sure thing," said George enthusiastically.
Yuri let George and Calista into the gallery, and hurried into the back room to answer the phone.
His two friends wandered around the gallery, taking in all the paintings.
"Wow--this was a lot of work," observed George.
"Yeah," Calista responded.
"Do you think he's sleeping with her?" George asked.
"Most definitely," declared Calista. "I can tell from the paintings."
Yuri re-entered the room. "That was the White Witch--she's coming over to see the paintings."
"The White Witch uses a phone?" George deadpanned. "Doesn't she just know you're here?"
"Sure, but she calls out of courtesy," Yuri explained. "She knows magic unnerves some people."
The White Witch arrived, and Yuri introduced her to his friends.
Calista, understandably (given her interest in all things occult), was fascinated by the White Witch.
"Are you ill, dear?" the White Witch gently asked Calista. "Your lips are blue--do you require a healing spell?"
"Oh, no, ma'm--this is just part of my look," explained Calista.
After the White Witch left, George took Yuri aside. "Listen, man, if you don't want a horror show at your opening, you better let Rebecka see these paintings ahead of time."
Yuri looked at George uncomprehendingly. "Rebecka knows Opal's my model."
"Yes, but." George stopped. "Just trust me, okay? She's going to go ballistic if you blindside her with the content of this show."
George and Tosha were eating breakfast together the next morning, and George updated her about Yuri and Opal.
"Well, that's not a happy development," observed Tosha.
"I don't think Yuri's serious about her, if that's what you're worried about," said George. "You know Yuri."
"No--I worry about Opal." Tosha lowered her voice. "She volunteered for a study in the Psych department--you know we pay students a stipend who take part in our clinical trials--and she's got borderline multiple personality disorder."
George sat back. "I suppose that explains why all Yuri's paintings of her look so different. And here I figured she was just a versatile model."
On the other side of the dorm, Chloe and Brittany were brainstorming ideas for cocktails.
Rebecka, whom Yuri had asked to help with the reception for opening night at his gallery (which Rebecka had interpreted as "being in charge" of the reception), had instructed Chloe to come up with a signature cocktail for the event. "Something memorable--" Rebecka had said, "something they'll associate with Yuri's exhibition. Maybe try to work the word 'Russian' into it, somehow, or Yuri's name--or mine!" Rebecka had laughed. "Just kidding!" but Chloe wasn't sure she had been.
"It's not that a 'signature cocktail' isn't a good idea," Chloe explained. "Heck, I probably would have thought of it myself, given more than 5 seconds. It's just that she's so bossy. I can't wait till Yuri gets tired of her."
"Hate to tell you, but I don't think that's going to happen," said Brittany. "I think we're stuck with her. Not that I think that's an entirely bad thing," she added.
Chloe looked at her friend. "You can't be serious."
"Hear me out," said Brittany. "We all love Yuri, but we shouldn't be blind to his flaws. He's arrogant, self-centered, and frequently thoughtless and rude."
"And this makes Rebecka perfect for him?" Chloe laughed.
"Look," said Brittany. "Yuri would walk all over a nice girl. And this--" she pointed to herself, "-- is coming from a nice girl. At least Rebecka--as pushy as we think she is--"
"You mean," Chloe interrupted, "as 'arrogant, self-centered, and frequently thoughtless and rude' as we think she is."
"That's right," Brittany nodded. "At least she's got the emotional toughness to deal with a boyfriend like Yuri."
"Well, I sure wish she didn't exercise her 'emotional toughness' on everyone else, including me," moped Chloe.
"Just don't let her get away with it," advised Brittany.
Chloe looked miserable. "Girls like Rebecka have been pushing me around my entire life."
"Stop it!" Brittany was exasperated.
"You're 'Catering by Chloe,' for Pete's sake. You got a dozen catering gigs this past year--4 from the Dance department, and the others from people who came to your other parties. You've got a thriving enterprise. And--unlike Rebecka--you have a nice boyfriend who loves you without qualification. So, just put on your hot black pantsuit and display your 'Catering by Chloe' sign and business cards at the gallery opening, and come up with a 'signature cocktail' that will garner you--not Yuri, and not Rebecka--some attention."
Randy London came upon Kevin engrossed in a book. "I thought your exams were done--what are you studying?"
"Mixology," Kevin answered. "I'm helping Chloe out tending bar at Yuri's gallery reception. You're coming, right?"
"I really should, but I'm so busy, with my summer internship starting, and my custom car business just getting off the ground," said Randy.
"Look, Randy," Kevin said firmly, "you grew up with Yuri, and in two whole years you haven't gone to hear him play even once at the Campus Lounge."
"You're right," said Randy, ruefully. "I really have to make time to go and support him. Besides, the most fascinating woman I know will be there."
"Chloe?" asked Kevin brightly.
"No," Randy laughed, springing up from the couch. "Not that I don't think the world of Chloe. I meant Yuri's mom."
On the day of his opening, Yuri had gone to the gallery early to wait for the floral arrangements and the bar to be delivered. He'd also invited Opal to see the completed exhibit.
"Yuri, everything looks gorgeous!" Opal cried, hugging him.
"It even looks different than it did a couple of days ago."
"Yeah," admitted Yuri, "I rehung the whole room yesterday. But now it's perfect. Really."
He continued. "Hey, thanks for not being annoyed that I asked you not to come to the opening. Rebecka would go nuts if you were here. She's already jealous enough of you."
"I think a muse should be mysterious, anyway," Opal replied, philosophically. "If I were here, everyone would be comparing me to the paintings, and that's not what we want, right?"
"Right," said Yuri.
"But I have to tell you, Yuri," she continued, "and, I'm speaking as your muse here." She giggled. "I just don't see you with Rebecka long term. I always thought you would be a better match with Calista."
Calista, whom Yuri had asked to play piano throughout the reception, arrived early to "get in the groove."
She had even toned down her look for the day.
"Kevin, love, I've set up everything here," said Chloe. "Are you ready to take over as bartender?"
"Absolutely, cupcake!" Kevin was thrilled that Chloe was depending on him.
"Now, remember--if anyone asks you what's in the 'signature cocktail', you can divulge only the purple ingredient--nothing else," Chloe cautioned.
"Got it!" Kevin responded, with enthusiasm.
Rebecka approached the gallery, quietly fuming. Yuri had told her only that morning that the entire exhibit comprised nude paintings of Opal, and was called "Yuri's Women".
'Make it work, make it work, make it work,' she muttered to herself as she walked. 'Keep your eyes on the prize--you're the girlfriend, not Opal, and you're meeting his parents tonight, not her. Make it work.'
She composed herself and went through the doors. She spied Yulia, and headed for her.
"Your de la Renta is exquisite!" she gushed.
Yulia resisted the urge to say 'Oh--this old thing?' and instead responded, "Thanks, Rebecka. It's my mother's, and she's tired of it."
Rebecka walked away thinking 'I sure wish someone would get tired of designer clothes and give them to me.'
Yuri had encouraged Orlando to come to the opening, telling him he should feel free to introduce himself to the attendees as a local artist whose paintings would be featured the following week.
Yulia approached Orlando. "Where's Meadow? I thought she was coming with you."
"She wanted to," Orlando replied, "but she's not feeling well today."
"Please give her my best," implored Yulia, "and have her call me if she needs anything. Derek and I aren't leaving for vacation till next week."
As people entered the gallery, Rebecka directed them to the bar, since Yuri felt that people would be more comfortable viewing paintings with a drink in their hand. The "signature cocktail"--whatever it was--seemed to be going over well with the crowd, and Rebecka went to investigate.
"Kevin, dear, why don't you make me one of your special cocktails?" Rebecka cooed.
"Sure thing," replied Kevin, and went to work constructing the elaborate drink. He was actually developing a bit of a flair as a bartender, and was proud of that.
Rebecka tried to pay close attention while he was mixing her drink, but couldn't figure out all the ingredients. The drink was a beautiful, clear, golden color, and for the final touch Kevin dipped a straw into a container of purple liquid, closed the top of the straw with his finger, placed the straw all the way into the glass, and slowly released the liquid while swirling the straw slightly. The result was an elegant purple spiral in the center of the golden drink.
"Impressive technique!" gushed Rebecka. She took a sip. "This is amazing--what's that flavor? In the purple spiral?"
"Basil," replied Kevin. "Chloe made up the mixture beforehand, but the principal ingredient is basil."
"But what makes it purple?" inquired Rebecka.
"Oh--" said Kevin. "It's opal basil, the purple kind."
The secret of the "signature cocktail" was slowly dawning on Rebecka, and she gritted her teeth. "So, what do you call this delicious concoction?" she asked sweetly.
"Chloe calls it the 'Golden Opal'--you know, in honor of the model in all of Yuri's paintings," Kevin answered, innocently.
Rebecka took her drink and stood in a corner, fuming. 'Make it work, make it work, make it work,' she said to herself.
Randy London arrived at the gallery the same time Yuri's parents did. "How's the custom car business, Randy?" asked Kennedy.
"Just fine, sir. I restored and sold two cars this semester. I have a few more orders pending, and I should be able to fill them this summer. That is, when I'm not at my regular job--I have a summer internship at Ferrari in the city. That's so I can learn how to run a high-end dealership, for when I start my own."
"You good boy, Randy," said Yelena approvingly. "I sure you going to be millionaire before long."
Rebecka saw Yuri's parents come in, quickly put down her drink, and rushed to greet them before anyone else could.
"Hello, Ms. Andropova--I'm Rebecka Louie. Welcome to Yuri's gallery."
"How do you do, Rebecka," Yelena answered, while Kennedy stared around the gallery in wonder. Toby Breunig greeted Kennedy from across the room, and Kennedy started to walk over to him.
"Mr. Cox?" Rebecka intercepted him. "I'm Rebecka Louie. Welcome to Yuri's gallery."
"Nice to meet you, Rebecka," said Kennedy, shaking her hand. "I see our son is quite busy with his customers. Any sales yet?"
"Oh, we're not selling tonight. This is just the opening reception--to get reviews and generate interest. We'll start selling tomorrow, after the reviews come out."
"Is good idea," said Yelena.
Randy noticed the blonde at the piano, who was quite an accomplished musician.
He listened for a while, then asked Yuri, "Who's that angelic creature you've hired to play piano?"
"That's Calista Gothier. She's my bass player when I'm at the Campus Lounge--which you'd know if you ever came to hear me," Yuri chided.
"She's gorgeous," admired Randy.
"Uhh, she doesn't always look like this," Yuri said, ungallantly.
Ignoring this, Randy asked "Can you introduce me? I'd love to meet her."
Just then, Matthew Smith walked over to Calista. "Gee whiz, girl, you play like a house on fire. Are you available for private parties? My wife and I have a golden anniversary party coming up."
Calista stopped playing to talk to Matthew. "Sure! What style music do you like?"
"Whatever style you were just playing," said Matthew, admiringly. "What do you call it?"
Calista launched into a long, detailed explanation involving Art Tatum and Thelonious Monk. Yuri laughed. "Let's come back when she's done," he said to Randy. "I've heard this story before--it'll take a while."
But Randy hovered nearby. Several minutes later, as Calista was saying "And that's from the last time I attended the Hua Hin Jazz festival. Did you know the current king of Thailand is a sax player who once jammed with Benny Goodman?" Yuri walked by again.
"Is she still at it?" he asked Randy, laughing. Randy appeared mesmerized. "I love her English accent," he said. "I could listen to her forever."
"Well, this could work out, then, because she never stops talking," Yuri deadpanned. "Come on," he said, as Matthew walked away from Calista in a daze.
He introduced them: "Calista, this is my friend Randy London. Randy, this is my friend Calista Gothier."
"Delighted to meet you, Randy!" said Calista.
A few feet away, Yulia was introducing Derek to her parents. "Mother, Daddy, this is Derek Vijayakar. Derek, these are my parents, Yelena Andropova and Kennedy Cox."
Kennedy shook Derek's hand energetically. "Verrry pleased to meet you, young man!" Kennedy said with obvious delight. "Yulia has told us so much about you."
Yulia had told her parents over the phone that Derek was "the one", but she was still surprised--as was Derek--when her mother embraced him.
"Derek, so wonderful to meet you finally! Come here, honey!!"
Calista had returned to playing,
and Yuri, Yulia, and Rebecka were attending to their customers.
Randy was talking business with Yelena,
and Kennedy ordered a drink from Kevin. "So, you're Chloe's boyfriend?" he asked.
Kevin became nervous. "Yes, sir, and I really, really love her," he stammered.
Kevin looked over Kennedy's shoulder. Chloe was off entertaining customers, trying to drum up more business for her catering company.
Kennedy smiled. "You've got a great girl, son," he said. "I hope you'll be very happy together."
Kennedy and Yulia stood together. "You and your brother are doing a nice job of this, princess," he said.
"It's going pretty well so far, Daddy. We'll see what sales are like tomorrow."
Yelena was giving the floral arrangements a close inspection,
and Rebecka hurried over to her. "Do you like the flowers, Ms. Andropova?--I designed the arrangements myself."
"Really?" Yelena asked. "Because I thought they were much better than what's usually available from the local florists."
"Thank you, Ms. Andropova." Rebecka managed to blush. 'I work really hard on my design skills."
"What else have you done?" Yelena asked, imperiously.
"I did the Christmas Windows for SimsWear in the city," Rebecka answered, "and their Easter windows. And I also did the Easter windows for Goodness Bakery. And I did the interior decoration for Dr. Prentiss's waiting room."
"I know all of those," said Yelena, "and they're all lovely and very elegant."
"Oh," Rebecka looked down, "thank you, Ms. Andropova."
"You know," Yelena continued," my husband and I just buy vacation property on Twikkii Island. Would you be interest in having look at it, to see if is something you want to decorate? I assure you--place is hideous. Wall-to-wall carpet, bad fixtures, unacceptable kitchen, etc., etc., etc."
'Bingo,' thought Rebecka. "I would be very happy to go down there and take a look," she offered.
"Good," replied Yelena. "You and Yuri should go down there soon. I want place finish for Kenny's birthday in August. But don't think you have to work non-stop. You and Yuri should take time to go out to clubs, and restaurants--that sort of thing. There lots of nice places down there."
"Oh," Rebecka managed to look embarrassed again, "I don't have the clothes for that sort of thing. I'll be happy just being in shorts and a T-shirt working on the house."
"Nonsense," replied Yelena. "I store tons of clothes in house. Please feel free to borrow whatever you wish."
On their way out, Yelena and Kennedy congratulated their son. "Good job, Yuri," said Yelena, hugging him. "We very proud of what you doing here."
"You and Rebecka go down see Twikkii Island house very soon, and let me know what you think."
"We will," Yuri assured her.
A short distance away, Randy kissed Calista's hand as he left the gallery.
"May I call you next weekend?" Randy asked.
"That would be cool!" said Calista.
As Kennedy and Yelena were walking out to their car, he asked his wife, "So, what do you think of Derek and Rebecka?"
"Derek is gold, obviously," Yelena replied succinctly. "As for Rebecka--I don't know. Is cagey girl, but has talent and drive. We have to see what she and Yuri make of each other."
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next week for "Summer Vacation"--the reviews of the exhibit come out, several paintings are sold, Yulia goes away with Derek, Yuri goes away with Rebecka, Calista pursues the White Witch (and Randy pursues Calista), and Meadow has big news.