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.
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.
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.