"This looks really good, George," Yulia told him. "What did you say the color's called?"
"'Honey Pot Stucco'," he answered.
George had prepared a sample panel to show Yulia what her building could look like. She liked the color, so he and Derek proceeded to stucco the entire building. "Thanks a lot for this job," George told Yulia. "It'll really help my finances."
While the guys worked outside, Yulia scoured the bathroom clean,
hung a mirror,
updated the chairs with new slipcovers that she had paid Meadow to sew,
put up attractive lighting,
set up a comfortable TV area,
installed a chess corner,
and added a second card table, as Matthew Smith had suggested.
She also set the venue's price to "Ridiculously Cheap," as her parents had advised.
That evening, Yulia, Derek, and George soothed their sore muscles in the hot springs.
"My customers seem to be happy enough playing cards indoors," Yulia observed to her friends, "but why do you think they aren't using the hot springs?"
"It's a little too dark out here," suggested Derek. "And maybe some plant life would make it more inviting."
"Good point," observed Yulia.
The next day, George and Derek finished the exterior,
and Yulia had some trees, plants, and outdoor lighting installed. She chatted up her customers,
and in the evening settled into the hot springs again with her friends.
"This is a big improvement," George remarked. "And I bet it wasn't cheap."
"As my mother's always said: 'Must spend money to make money'," Yulia told them.
The Dance department's fundraiser took place at the end of the fall semester, and the Le Corsaire pas de deux between George and Maria turned out to be its most well-received number.
The reviews would be ecstatic: "A perfect pairing!"; "Two of the most physically beautiful dancers of all time!"; "The chemistry between the dancers is palpable!";
"When the Slave, danced by George McCarthy, kissed Medora, danced by Maria Ivanova, the effect was such that there were audible sighs from the audience."
After the performance, Tosha firmed her resolve and headed backstage. She came upon George hugging Maria close.
Tosha fumed inwardly, but she had determined that she would not say or do anything to spoil George's triumphant night. Whatever she had to say to him could wait until the following day.
Upon seeing Tosha, George broke away, and Maria left the stage. "You were brilliant, Maria," Tosha said, generously.
"Thank you," Maria said airily, and she passed Tosha without really looking at her.
Tosha blinked in the bright lights. "George, you were wonderful," she said, tentatively. "You and Maria both."
"I'm so glad you liked it!" George said, excitedly, not noticing Tosha's obvious discomfort. "Listen, there's something really important we need to discuss."
Tosha held her breath.
"Tosha, you know I love you. And I know this semester's been tough on you. And I know you've been unhappy much of the time. And I want you to know that I really appreciate that you haven't been on my case about how much rehearsal time I spent with Maria."
'Or all the time you spent teaching housewives ballroom dancing,' Tosha thought to herself.
George went down on one knee.
"As I said, I love you." He reached into his pocket.
" Will you please do me the honor of agreeing to marry me?"
Tosha was speechless--for a moment. "George, this is gorgeous!--You can't possibly afford this!!"
She put on the ring.
"Well, with all those ballroom dance lessons I gave, and all the work on Yulia's beach venue, I made enough money to get you something really nice. Of course, I still owe a little bit on it."
Tosha squealed again.
"Does that mean your answer is 'yes'?" George asked, laughing.
"Yes! Yes!! Yes!!!" Tosha cried.
Yuri's art was selling very well, and throughout the fall of junior year he and Opal met at his gallery a few nights a week to work on paintings. Their physical relationship continued, as well.
"Don't worry, Rebecka," he would tell his regular girlfriend. "It's all business between Opal and me."
George had tried to talk to Yuri seriously about the perils of being involved with Rebecka and Opal at the same time. Tosha--who knew some disturbing things about Opal's personality from the latter's participation in psychology department workshops--had expressed her view to George that Yuri's behavior was abusive to Opal. "At the very least," she'd insisted, "he's taking advantage of her."
Yuri laughed off George's concerns, and especially his suggestion that he break off with Rebecka and date Opal instead. "Rebecka," Yuri argued to George, "would be a good life partner. I'm not serious about Opal--she's just a bit of fun for me."
But Yuri started to feel a bit guilty about Opal (if not about Rebecka), and the next time Rebecka had to go away for a few days, Yuri suggested to Opal that they spend the weekend at the Andropovas' island house.
"It would be a nice change to paint down there, don't you think?" Yuri asked her. Opal readily agreed.
After spending a few hours working on a painting, Yuri and Opal took a break to lie on the beach,
swim in the ocean,
build a sandcastle,
They took a short nap,
then showered before heading out to the boardwalk for dinner.
Opal was thrilled that there were paintings of her throughout the house. "It's cool of Rebecka not to be bugged by that," she remarked to Yuri. "Not many girlfriends would be so tolerant."
"If it bothers her, she certainly keeps it to herself," Yuri replied, though he was somewhat annoyed that Opal had brought up Rebecka at all, especially when he and Opal were having such a fun time.
At dinner, Yuri realized that what annoyed him was not that Opal had brought up Rebecka, but that Opal didn't seem to be at all jealous of Yuri's relationship with Rebecka.
"Hey," he asked her at dinner. "Do you ever think about you and me? As a couple, I mean?"
"Come on, Yuri," Opal said dismissively. "That's not what I'm into."
Yuri remained quiet while she finished eating.
Seeing Yuri was moping, Opal suggested they dance.
"I can see you're upset," she said to him. "I thought we had an understanding--I model for you, and you pay me. And I really like being a painter's muse. And the woohoo part is fine, too, if you want that. I just don't want anything more than that."
"You mean you couldn't get used to this kind of life?" Yuri asked, holding her close. "Think of the things I could offer you."
Opal smiled. "That only works for certain girls, Yuri. I don't want to be anyone's wife, and I don't want to be anyone's mother. I don't want to be tied down."
They returned to the house.
Yuri tried again. "But we're so good together," he protested.
"I think so, too," responded Opal. "But we can't be, if you're expecting more."
He put his arm around her. "Let's sleep on it, okay?" Yuri suggested.
"Yuri, don't take this the wrong way," Opal told him. "But I'm going back to campus tomorrow morning. I really like you, but you're starting to creep me out a bit."
"Oh, you can't be serious," Yuri chided, but left it at that.
The following night, Yuri turned over in bed. "Hey, gorgeous, how're you doing?"
"Just fine, Yuri. You were right--this is a nice change from the gallery."
"I thought you'd like it, Jill," Yuri said, cuddling up to her. "And thanks for flying down on such short notice."
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next week, for the end of junior year and Marcus's birthday party.