Tosha was only too happy to babysit for her godson Marcus on any day when Meadow and Orlando had classes at the same time.
"Do you like helping your mommy garden?" Tosha asked the baby. She mimicked Marcus's own little spitting sounds.
"He likes your yellow hair," Meadow observed, laughing, putting down her watering can. "Okay, Tosh, I've got to go to class now. Thanks heaps."
Tosha loved spending time at Meadow and Orlando's house, even when her friends weren't there. Having time alone with their baby, she was able to imagine that she had her own child, who loved her and her alone, and this fantasy was a welcome respite from her current everyday experience.
"Okay, Tosh," George said, trying to be soothing. "I'm just going to be in the hallway, right over there."
He left the room, and Tosha sank into an armchair, feeling miserable.
"She's here--again," she said, to Chloe and Brittany, both of whom were studying nearby.
"You can't be seriously worried," Brittany said. "He's only one room away, for heaven's sake, in full view of the entire dorm."
"You don't know her," Tosha replied.
"But neither do you!" Chloe protested. "You know only her reputation, which may or may not be deserved."
The "her" in question was Maria Ivanova.
Maria was a senior, and the undisputed star of the Dance department. She had--against her express wishes--been partnered with George for the Le Corsaire pas de deux for the department's upcoming fundraiser. Since George was a mere junior, Maria felt he was not worthy of her. But the Dance department, being cannily aware of George's marketing appeal, pushed the pairing.
The demanding number required extensive rehearsal and, since Tosha was upset at the amount of time George spent away from her, George had convinced Maria to come to Landgrabb House a few evenings a week to work with him there.
This, however, was not working out as well as George had hoped, as Tosha was growing weary of the parade of guys who "just happened" to pass through the hallway while the dancers were working.
"Man, she's hot!" Larry Kimbrell exclaimed, as he peered around the corner again. "George is one lucky guy!" he added, insensitively.
Addison Toyonaga was in awe of her. "I'd give anything to have my hands all over a girl like that!--I wonder if I should start taking dance classes?"
Maria reveled in the attention, and spent her breaks preening for her many male admirers.
Maria could of course never be really interested in the likes of Larry or Addison.
Impossibly tall and thin, beautiful, gifted, and arrogant, Maria was rumored never to have written a term paper or completed an assignment by herself. In her first three years at school, she had reportedly slept her way through much of the faculty.
She was always careful to pick classes taught by attractive, susceptible male professors--whether or not she was at all interested in the subject--and to sit among attractive, susceptible male students.
Not surprisingly, Maria would not have been Tosha's first choice as a dance partner for her boyfriend.
"I feel like a hobbit next to her!" Tosha complained to Chloe.
"Well, you're not getting any sympathy from me," Chloe said, exasperated. "I spent my entire teen years being the fat, unpretty friend of you and Brittany."
"And if I can get over feeling inferior, so can you!"
"Hey, how's the prettiest girl on campus?" Yuri asked Lilly Thompson when she stopped by the dorm one evening. "I sure hope you're here to see me!"
"Not quite," Lilly laughed. "Though it is always pleasant to run into you," she added politely.
"So, you'll go out with me then?" Yuri teased.
"Yuri," Lilly admonished, "You have a girlfriend."
"But that's only because you won't go out with me!" Yuri protested. "If you did, I'd dump Rebecka in a second!!"
"Well, that certainly makes you fine boyfriend material," Lilly said, disapprovingly. "Actually, I was looking for your sister, but someone said she's at the library and not expected back till midnight, so I'll come back then."
Yulia, tired from working on her biology project, had fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow. It seemed she had been asleep only seconds when she was abducted and whisked off to a secret location.
The Landgrabb Society was a super-secret organization, and Yulia was surprised to find that her friends Bryan Kratz, Leonid Chan, and Lilly Thompson were all members. "Welcome, Yulia!" they cried.
Meetings took place in a mansion that had been donated by a wealthy alumnus, and the building was very comfortable and had lots of amenities.
Yulia was watching winter sports on TV with Leonid when he asked her if she was interested in a business opportunity. "Bryan reminded me that you like the beach, and I know you're pretty good at running a business, and my dad's a realtor and he told me about a small beach venue that's for sale. I thought you'd like to know."
Getting into the limo on her way back to the dorm (Landgrabb Society members always traveled by limo), Yulia thought that a beach venue might be a fun project.
Yulia went to check out the lot on Saturday, and asked George and Tosha to come with her. They were both handy (they'd certainly done an excellent job on the bathrooms in the Andropovas' island house), and Leonid had warned Yulia that the venue needed a lot of work.
George went inside the small building to check out its condition, and Yulia and Tosha chatted up the few potential customers who were milling about outside.
From David Ottamas, Tosha learned that the venue was overpriced, and Matthew Smith told Yulia that he really only came to play cards, and wished there was more than one card table.
Yulia and Tosha went inside. "Tile's in good shape," George reported. "The exterior walls look like crap, though--how about stucco? I know how to do that." Yulia thanked him for the idea, and suggested that he and Tosha investigate the hot springs, while she sat down to play cards with the two customers who were inside. (One of Yulia's motives in inviting George and Tosha to accompany her was to give the two some time together.)
George headed outside, but Tosha lingered, ostensibly checking out the dartboard. "Needs a few more darts," she called to Yulia.
Yulia left the card game, and joined Tosha. "Gee, thanks for your acute observations on the inadequate number of darts, but wouldn't you rather be soaking in the hot springs with your boyfriend?"
"I'm not too happy with him these days," Tosha admitted.
"Why?--what's he done??" Yulia asked, slightly panicked.
"Well," replied Tosha, "in addition to rehearsing with the objectionable Maria several nights a week--in my face--he's now spending his other evenings at the Music & Dance hobby lot, giving ballroom dance lessons. And you know those housewives just loooove having the attention of a guy like George," she said, annoyed.
"So, he must be making good money, then," Yulia observed pointedly, taking aim.
Yulia was nothing if not pragmatic about business, a trait she'd inherited from her mother. "Oh, and if you're going to insist on being jealous about a perfectly decent guy, I'd like to bring to your attention that Jill Fleig is now in the hot springs with him," Yulia said, looking out the doors. "Not that any reasonable woman would think that she's a threat."
"She likes your brother," Tosha said testily. "I know that much."
Rebecka kissed Yuri goodbye. "You're sure you can't come away with me for the weekend to my cousin's engagement party?" she asked, disappointed.
"No way, babe. Sorry," Yuri said. "The gallery is so busy, it's a lot even to spare you for a couple of days."
Rebecka, flattered, gave Yuri a quick kiss and waved gaily to Jill, the cashier. "You keep an eye on him for me, okay?" she suggested, and left.
Yuri approached his employee and asked her, "So, do you want to 'keep an eye on me'?", he teased. "You could accomplish that by actually going out with me."
"Please, Yuri," Jill answered, coolly. "Your alleged 'girlfriend' left 10 seconds ago."
Yuri went into the back room, and dialed the phone. "Opal--what are you doing tonight?"
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next week, as Yulia works on her new venue, George and Maria do their Le Corsaire pas de deux, and Yuri continues to find some interest besides Rebecka and the gallery.