Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Maria's Party

Near Christmastime, Yulia and Derek, George and Tosha, and Yuri and Rebecka all attended the Holiday Gala benefit for the City Ballet Company. Yelena Andropova, who was a trustee of the Company, had invited her children and their friends to sit in her box with herself and her husband, Kennedy Cox.

After the performance, which featured solos and duets by established stars of the Company and group numbers including newer dancers such as Maria Ivanova, the attendees set out for various post-Gala parties, including one thrown by a City Ballet trustee, Count Rich, and another thrown by Maria, who had recently moved into the same apartment building as Count Rich.

The friends alighted from their cab. "George, are you sure this is the right address?" Tosha asked as the driver departed. "Because this is a pretty ritzy looking building for an allegedly impoverished junior dancer," she said suspiciously.

George had no response.

"Well," said Yuri, uncertainly. "This is the address Rebecka told me, too. Which I agree is pretty impressive." (Rebecka, who had decorated Maria's new apartment, had also helped the dancer plan her party, and to that end had tonight gone on ahead of Yuri.)

"I guess we should go in, then," suggested Yulia, reasonably.

The friends proceeded into the foyer.

While Tosha fretted that she wasn't dressed elegantly enough,

("You look fine, hon'," George assured her. "You'll be the prettiest girl here!"), Derek and Yuri examined the foyer's furnishings.

"Damn," said Derek, running his finger over the carved detail of an antique table.

"You got that right," said Yuri.

Yulia stopped short in front of an immense oil painting of a regal looking woman.

"Friend of yours?" her brother teased.

"How the heck does Maria afford this place?" Yulia asked her brother, with whom she never minced words.

"Don't know," he answered, "but I'm sure she works hard for it. In some way or other," he said, grinning wickedly.

Yulia grimaced.

The friends proceeded into Maria's first-floor apartment.

A red-haired man in white gloves approached Yuri and asked, "Is there something you need, Mr. Andropov?"

After Yuri answered, "No, not right now; thanks," Tosha asked him, "Who the heck was that?"

Yuri replied, "Looks like a butler to me; maybe Rebecka hired him for the occasion. But I don't know him, and I've got no idea why he knows my name."

Maria, as it turned out, had made the most of her brief time at the City Ballet.

After a short stint sharing a Company-owned apartment with 3 other junior ballerinas, she had whined to Count Rich--who, as a trustee, had attended several of the events showcasing new and promising members of the Company--that she could not get enough sleep in her existing apartment and therefore could not possibly be expected to do her best as a dancer.

Count Rich,

who, along with his wife of 50 years, the Countess Rich,

owned a building containing 4 condominiums (the top floor of which he and his wife inhabited), had then invited Maria to take a unit in their building. The Count regularly rented out the units to musical and dramatic types he'd met in the course of his artistic endeavors.

"Oh--you're here," Rebecka said to Yuri, walking into the room and sounding relieved.

"You doing okay, Becks?" Yuri asked her. "You seem a little tense."

"It's that kind of an event, Yuri. I just go with the flow," she answered, seeming a bit unsettled.

"Hi, Rebecka," said Tosha (who had, since her engagement to George, decided that Rebecka was no real threat to her). "Who are all these people?"

Rebecka looked into the foyer. "The guy talking to Maria is Thomas Olajuwon, the opera singer. He's in town just for this season, doing Othello at the City Opera."

"That stunning blonde just coming into the foyer is his wife, Theresa. She and Thomas live in another apartment in the building, upstairs,"

"with their two little girls," Rebecka continued, "who are around here somewhere."

"The dreamy hunk whom Maria just followed into the living room is Carlo Casagrande. He's also in town just for the season--he's a guest conductor with City Opera. He lives in another apartment upstairs."

"This seems like quite the dishy building," Tosha observed, out of earshot of her fiance.

"Well, the tenants change every season," replied Rebecka. "Count Rich, who owns the building, is a bit on the eccentric side and doesn't run the condo much like a business. Though I've tried--during the weeks I've worked on Maria's apartment--to convince him to choose his tenants more wisely in the future."

"I'd sure like to live in a building like this after graduation," admired Yuri. "Will any units become available this summer?"

"That's what I was thinking," nodded Rebecka. "That this building would be perfect for you."

Tosha noticed that Rebecka hadn't said "this building would be perfect for us," and wondered if that meant anything.

Tosha had assumed, like most of her friends, that Rebecka would push to move in with Yuri right after graduation.

"Rebecka!" Maria called sharply from the living room. Rebecka excused herself and hurried over to the dancer.

"The party's going very well, don't you think?" Rebecka asked, eagerly.

Maria sniffed. "Carlo needs limoncello so that the bartender can make him the cocktail he desires. You must get some immediately."

Wondering where she was going to find an Italian specialty liqueur at nearly midnight, when all the liquor stores were closed, Rebecka had the bright idea of calling Kevin, who was working his regular weekend bartending shift at the Lucky Shack.

"Kev, I'm desperate!" Rebecka said.

"Not to worry," Kevin replied, "I'll send over a bottle right away. We don't go through much of that fancy stuff around here," he laughed. Kevin had grown quite fond of Rebecka, ever since she had helped him find a diamond ring for his fiancee, and he was happy to be able to return the favor to some extent and help Rebecka get out of a jam.

Relieved, at least for the moment, Rebecka turned to find George.

"Hey, Rebecka, great party!" he said. "You could probably do this for a living."

She smiled weakly and thought to herself, 'Yes, but I'd have to choose my clients more carefully, so that I don't end up with another Maria.'

"And this is certainly quite the place! And you did another wonderful job at decorating." George continued, looking around and marveling. "Yuri said you might be able to get him an apartment here after graduation?"

"You, too, probably," Rebecka assured him, "if you and Tosha would be interested. Let me show you around," she offered.

Maria's apartment featured a kitchen (in which she had installed a ballet barre), a formal dining room, a powder room,

a marble-floored foyer, small office, full bathroom, and bedroom with walk-in closet, and a living room with a fireplace.

George whistled. "Even with Tosha's good job as a police psychologist, I don't think we could afford a place like this," he observed. "Not considering the pittance I'll be making as a junior dancer."

"You'd be surprised," Rebecka replied. "The Count looks very favorably on artistic types, and you'll be a member of the Company where he's a trustee, and I'm sure Maria would put in a good word for you."

George looked doubtful. "Does she really have that much pull with him?"

The Count came downstairs from his apartment just as his fellow trustee, Yelena, arrived from the Gala.

"Count Rich!" she cried. "What a glorious Gala we just had!!

"Certainly we will get many new members and patrons!!!" she exulted.

Yelena proceeded into Maria's apartment. The Count spied the lovely Theresa, who was trying to corral her spirited children, straightened his tie and went over to her.

Maria greeted Yelena with considerable enthusiasm, and her manner was much different than when she had been speaking to Rebecka.

"Hello, Ms. Andropova," she gushed, kissing her. "Thank you soooooo much for coming!"

"Not at all, dearie," replied Yelena. "Kenny and I always want to support the rising stars of the Company. My kids here?"

"I think they're in back, ma'am," Maria replied, meekly.

"I hope Mr. Cox is with you?" she added.

"Yes, he parking helicopter," Yelena answered. "He be here shortly," as she turned to go into the back room.

Count Rich entered the apartment, made a beeline for Maria, led her by the hand into the living room, and embraced her with an ostentatious show of affection.

"They seem ... close," observed Tosha, who had joined George and Rebecka.

"Oh," said Rebecka, dismissively, though she seemed uneasy. "It's just a European thing."

The Count held Maria close, and the two seemed to be sharing a secret, whispering in each other's ears.

"I think we just figured out how Maria affords this apartment," Tosha said quietly.

"I don't judge," said Rebecka, blithely.

"I can't imagine the Countess is happy about this relationship," Tosha ventured.

"Oh, Maria gets on quite well with the Countess, I can assure you," Rebecka hastened to add.

The elderly and glamorous Countess arrived shortly thereafter.

Witnessing the warm exchange between the Count's wife and Maria, Tosha huffed and made a mental note to herself never to let George get involved in any sort of "European thing".

Rebecka, noticing Tosha's reaction, added, "And I wouldn't be feeling sorry for the Countess, if I were you."

At that moment, the intense young conductor, Carlo, exited Maria's apartment, and Countess Rich joined him near the stairs.

"She's good at finding her own fun," Rebecka informed them.

Kennedy arrived soon thereafter. "Hi, Maria!" he said brightly. "Are my kids here?"

"They're all in the back," Maria replied, shaking his hand chastely.

After conversing briefly with his father, Yuri went in search of Rebecka. Not finding her, he ran into George and Tosha. "Hey, did you realize that red-haired guy is Maria's own personal butler? I thought he might be on loan from the Count upstairs, but no--he cooks and cleans for Maria fulltime!"

George and Tosha looked at each other without commenting.

Yuri turned to George. "Hey, I hear there's a workout room here--want to come see it with me?"

The two guys left the apartment just as Rebecka was exiting the powder room.

"Yuri was looking for you," Tosha told her. "He and George went across the hall."

Rebecka looked distracted, and Tosha, who had become very good at reading people through her psychology studies, decided to do a little prying. "Hey, are you and Yuri really considering taking an apartment in this building?" she inquired, in an innocent sounding tone of voice.

Rebecka looked surprised. "Oh, not me," she said. "But I think Yuri will want to live here."

"Aren't you two moving in together after we all graduate?" asked Tosha, trying to look genuinely confused.

Rebecka leveled her gaze at Tosha.

"Not being engaged to Yuri," she told Tosha, "I can't really take that chance. He doesn't seem much interested in marriage, and I'd be foolish to move in with him unless we were engaged."

"In fact," Rebecka added, considering for another moment, "I wouldn't move in with Yuri unless we had a wedding date set in stone."

Tosha's surprise registered on her face.

"It's different with you and George," Rebecka observed. "Your guy has got a completely different attitude toward commitment than Yuri does."

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next week, when everyone (except Derek, who's only a junior) graduates from college and begins their adult lives.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Senior Fall

Checking her email one evening at the Secret Society’s lot, Yulia opened a message from her mother.

"Hey, cookie, you father and I just back from vacation. Call me, okay? Love, Mother." Yulia, wondering if she should be worried, went immediately to the phone and dialed her parents’ house.

"Mother? Is everything okay?" she asked.

"Of course, dear,” Yelena answered. “I just want to hear from my baby. How you doing? Where are you now?"

"I'm at Landgrabb House," Yulia answered, lowering her voice. Though her membership in the Society was supposed to be a secret, Yulia had told her mother all about it.

"Having fun with you rich-kid friends?” her mother teased.

“Not everyone here’s rich, Mother,” Yulia chided.

“Let’s see…” Yelena mused.

“... Bryan Kratz family big in furniture, Leonid Chan mother is internet millionaire, Emma Macarevich dad is big rock star….”

“Well, my best friend here is Lilly Thompson,” Yulia defended herself, “and she’s got no money at all—she’s a hardworking scholarship student.”

“But she come from very old, good family,” Yelena informed her. “Thompsons use to have money—use to be big in retail. Then something bad happen; I don’t know what. Hey,” her mother changed the subject, “how you brother?”

Yulia knew that Yuri never called their parents. “He’s fine,” she assured her mother.

“How his girlfriend?” Yelena pressed.

“She’s fine, I suppose,” answered Yulia, indifferently. “I don’t really know.”

Her mother picked up on Yulia’s dismissive tone. “Why you no like Rebecka?”

“Let’s see…” Yulia said. “Perhaps because ... she’s a money-grubbing golddigger?”

Yelena exhaled sharply.

“You no like Yuri's girl because she got no money and want to have some?” she challenged her daughter. “That not fair. It not like Rebecka lazy—she do good job on island house...."

"And she give Meadow solid business advice on farmstand. And she get Kevin verrry good deal on engagement ring for Chloe. And,” she continued, because her daughter had not uttered a word, “if you brother love her, and want to marry her, then it okay with you father and me.”

Yulia talked to her mother for a few more minutes, then hung up, troubled.

She was sure that her brother did not love Rebecka and didn’t want to marry her. Or, at least, she thought she was sure.

“Is something wrong?” Lilly Thompson asked Yulia, in her breathy, little-girl voice.

“Not really,” Yulia answered, unconvincingly. “My mother was just asking me about Yuri. I wish he’d just call her himself, so I wouldn’t have to get involved.”

“But you love your brother—the two of you seem so close!” Lilly said, surprised.

“She was asking about Rebecka,” Yulia explained, “and I just loathe that girl, and I don’t even really know why. It’s just a feeling I have about her.”

Lilly looked sympathetic.

“I don’t know Yuri that well, but he seems like a guy who can take care of himself,” Lilly observed.


‘Ugh,’ Chloe said under her breath as she read the Music and Culture section of the morning paper.

“What is it?” Tosha asked.

“Nothing!” Chloe said, brightly, quickly turning the page.

Tosha rolled her eyes. “Let me guess—Maria made the gossip pages again.”

“You got it,” Chloe replied grimly.

“Let me see,” Tosha said impatiently, grabbing for the paper. “I’m actually amused reading about her shenanigans these days, now that she’s someone else’s problem.”

Maria Ivanova had graduated from college the previous spring and, during her senior year, had been the dance partner of Tosha’s fiancĂ©, George. Maria was now embarked on her professional career at City Ballet and, though she was a very junior dancer at the company, she was managing to create a fair bit of press for herself in the local newspapers via her outlandish public behavior.

“Oh for heaven’s sake!” Tosha snorted, reading. “She threw a hissy fit because she didn’t get her favorite table at a restaurant? Give me a break!”

“You reading about Maria’s latest escapade?” asked George, as he plopped down beside Tosha on the sofa. “It’s all anyone was talking about in Movement class this morning.”

“Maria’s pretty over-the-top for a new member of the company,” Tosha observed.

George took the newspaper, threw it on the floor, and put his arm around Tosha.

“That’s exactly why she behaves as she does,” George explained. “A dancer is at her peak for only a few years, and Maria’s trying to get the public interested in her so that City Ballet—which after all is a business, with its eye on the bottom line—will notice she has drawing power and will cast her in bigger parts—sooner rather than later. Maria’s doing what she can to raise her profile early.”

“Well,” Tosha replied, “at least she’s out of my hair. And, I’ve got to go to Psych now.” She kissed George on the cheek, got up from the sofa, and headed out to her class.

Once Tosha had left the room, Chloe gave George an uncomfortable smile.

“Your lovely fiancĂ©e seems not to realize that you will very probably be dancing with Maria again next year, once you join the City Ballet,” she said.

“And I’m going to put off telling her as long as possible, believe me,” George replied.

“Hopefully, once we’re married and Tosha’s got her own career going, she’ll be less concerned about Maria,” he added.

“Hopefully,” Chloe echoed, but privately she doubted it.


One night mid-semester, Yuri was abducted from Pinenut Plaza, his hands bound behind him.

‘Excellent,’ he thought to himself. ‘Being taken captive by a nice-looking blonde is my idea of a good time,’ he thought as he was put into a limousine.

After being inducted into the Landgrabb Society, he ran into Lilly Thompson, which only improved his evening.

“My sister's never going to believe this!” he exulted.

“Yes she will,” countered Lilly, “because she’s already been a member for a few months.” Yuri was slightly peeved to discover that his sister had again beaten him to an achievement.


Yuri was very happy to have the opportunity to spend time with Lilly, who for 3 years had rejected his many advances. “So,” he asked brightly as they were playing chess one evening, “how about going out with me this weekend?”

Lilly frowned and rubbed her forehead. “We’ve been through this several times, Yuri--you have a girlfriend. And even if you broke up with Rebecka to go out with me, that wouldn’t make you someone I’d feel comfortable dating.”


“George, that’s terrific!” Rebecka squealed into the phone. “Thank you soooo much for thinking of me!!”

“What was that about?” asked Derek, looking up from working on his term paper.

“George’s former dance partner, Maria Ivanova, needs an interior designer for her new apartment, and he recommended me!” Rebecka reportedly happily.

“I thought she was living in one of the City Ballet-owned apartments with three other ballerinas,” Derek said. “That’s what George told me, and I didn’t think there was much decorating you could do in such a place.”

“She’s apparently found some way to afford a place of her own,” Rebecka said. “I’m going over there tomorrow to see what I can do for her. Even if it’s a small job, and even if I have to do it for next to nothing, it’ll be worth it, because I should at least be able to wrangle a few introductions to higher-ups in the City Ballet, and you know all their trustees are absolutely loaded!” she announced with glee.


One evening near the end of fall semester, Yulia looked up from her studying and asked her brother, “Where the heck’s Rebecka? I just realized I haven’t seen her in weeks.”

“She’s finishing up Maria’s apartment,” Yuri answered. “She works night and day, whenever she’s not in class. Even I haven’t seen her in weeks—whenever she’s got a project, she sure gets independent. She promised to drop by tonight, though, and we’re going to go out and grab a bite.”

At just that moment, Rebecka came up the stairs, looking a bit harried.

Yuri had surmised that Maria was a bit much to handle as a client, even for Rebecka.

“Hi, you two!” Rebecka said with forced gaiety, as she collapsed onto the sofa next to Yulia.

“How are things going with your job for Maria?” Yulia asked politely. She was trying to be nice to Rebecka, having taken to heart her mother’s reprimand.

“Oh, just fine,” Rebecka answered, somewhat unconvincingly.

“Becks,” chided Yuri, “it’s obvious Maria’s been driving you crazy for weeks, and still you won’t say anything bad about her.”

“Yuri, she’s a client,” Rebecka protested, sounding a bit desperate. “And I do not talk about my clients on a personal level.”

“Whatever,” Yuri responded. “Will this job ever be done?”

“As a matter of fact,” Rebecka replied, “it will be done in a couple of days, and Maria is throwing a party next weekend to celebrate, and you’re both invited. And Derek, too,” she added, turning to Yulia.

“Is it a housewarming?” asked Yulia. “Should we bring her some sort of gift—a coffeemaker, a blender, something like that? She must need stuff for her new apartment—everybody does.”

“Um, that won’t be necessary,” said Rebecka slowly, obviously uncomfortable for some reason that was not apparent to the twins. “She seems to be doing fine all by … umm … herself….”

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next week for "Maria's Party."