Both Orlando and Meadow spent a lot of time training their young son,
with the result that, before long, Marcus was potty-trained,
and sing a nursery rhyme.
"You're a star, Marcus," Orlando told the boy as he put him to bed one night.
Orlando was thinking of joking to his wife that they should try for another baby right away, since Marcus had turned out so well, but he decided not to say anything. 'We really should concentrate on our schoolwork during our senior year,' he thought.
Though she had started growing her own fruits and vegetables just to save money for her young family, Meadow had become quite a skilled gardener.
With some of the money Orlando had earned from his paintings that Yuri and Yulia had sold for him, Meadow leased a tiny building downtown for the summer and set up a farmstand--figuring that, if she could make it quick and convenient for busy working people to buy top-quality fresh produce on their lunch hour and on their way home from work--they'd be willing to pay higher prices.
She sold her own fruits and vegetables, as well as those of other local farmers. (All the local farmers had their own weekend farmstands in the rural outskirts of town, but Rebecka had had the bright idea that Meadow should visit the farmers and point out the advantages of letting her sell their produce on weekdays in the city.)
Before long, her little business was succeeding beyond her expectations.
She hired Ethan Barrett to run the cash register so that she could attend to her customers and to restocking.
She frequently brought young Marcus to the store with her, so that Orlando could paint at home in peace, without the intrusions of the nanny, whom he found objectionable.
Marcus was quite cute in his own little overalls, and amused himself during the day by playing quietly with his toys.
Meadow always brought a couple of bottles of milk for him, and stashed them in the vegetable cooler till Marcus was hungry,
and Marcus, an agreeable child, never made a fuss because the milk wasn't warm.
In the slow periods between lunchtime and the end of the workday, Meadow had time to play with her son.
'This is really the way to live life,' she thought. 'It would be great if I never had to get a job outside the house.'
Calista's grandfather, Berjes Gothier, though he had a few years ago retired as the Andropovas' butler, still lived with Yelena and Kennedy, and--though Yelena now did all the cooking because of Berjes's tendency to wander away from the stove and set off the smoke alarm--he liked to contribute by doing the daily food shopping for the family.
Berjes possessed a fine palate, and was very impressed with the quality of the produce Meadow offered. "And it's much easier to shop here than to visit all the farmstands separately," he observed to her.
Meadow frequently had to scramble to keep up with demand.
One evening, temporarily overwhelmed by customers, she panicked because she couldn't see Marcus, then found him outside (his potty was behind the small building, which had no bathroom) playing peek-a-boo with Jill Fleig.
Jill, an influential young tastemaker who worked in Yuri's gallery (and who was quietly rumored to be involved with him), often reviewed local businesses for the press. Meadow, worried, asked if her toddler was annoying Jill. "Of course not," Jill laughed. "He's quite a treasure--in fact, he could be your little public relations guy!"
A couple of days later, a favorable review of the farmstand showed up in the local papers.
"Good job, son," Orlando said, kissing the boy's forehead as he put him to bed. "You're a big help to Mommy and Daddy."
Unfortunately, the summer was not going as smoothly for Chloe.
As a Culinary Arts major, she was required to do an externship during the summer between junior and senior years, so she was working at Red's Famous '50s Diner for the summer, while Red and Mrs. Red (which was what everyone called Red's wife) were spending the summer in Alaska.
As its name implied, the diner was a famous local hangout,
with a popular hostess in Melissa Fancey,
and a well-liked server in Jan Tellerman.
But Chloe, who had taken courses in restaurant management, because she and Kevin wanted to open their own restaurant someday, found the place difficult to manage.
For one thing, it was a cavernous space,
obligating acquaintances who found themselves seated at nearby tables to raise their voices in order to converse.
There were also the attractions of a pool table, a couple of video games, and a jukebox, all of which patrons could enjoy without spending a dime on food or drink.
Chloe opened the diner on a Wednesday and lost money, and on Thursday lost more money, and on Friday--when the fresh fish, meat, and produce was delivered for the weekend--lost a lot more money. She finally turned a profit--but only for the day--on Saturday, the biggest night of the week for the restaurant, but Sunday was already starting out at a loss.
She spied Jill Fleig, and took a break from cooking brunch to speak to her.
"I hope you're not here to review the diner, because that wouldn't really be fair to Red," she argued, a bit unnerved.
"No," smiled Jill reassuringly, "I'm more here just to see what you do with it. I'm interested in following your career, because this is obviously just the beginning for you. What do you want to do in food, eventually?" she asked Chloe.
Chloe thought a moment. "Well, based on four whole days of experience in the restaurant business," she laughed, "I think I'd like a small, country French place, with community tables. Something my boyfriend Kevin--who's a good bartender--and I could run together."
The summer proceeded at a breakneck pace. Chloe worked 5 days a week from dawn to well after midnight at Red's, and spent the other 2 days catching up on her sleep, planning menus, and visiting purveyors. Kevin had taken a summer job bartending at the Lucky Shack to make money, figuring he would never see Chloe, anyway.
At the end of the summer, Kevin asked all Chloe's friends to meet at the diner between lunch rush and dinner rush. "It's been a tough summer for her, so let's give her our support, okay?"
Kevin arrived just as the lunch rush should have been dissipating, but Chloe was still frantic.
'There's my woman, making great food!' he thought happily.
Chloe had time only for a quick kiss.
"Kev', I'm way too busy," she said, apologetically.
"That's okay, doll," he said cheerfully. "I'll just be over playing videogames till you free up."
But Chloe never did free up while Kevin was there and, when he saw Rebecka Louie alight from a cab out in front of the diner, he went out to meet her.
"Ready, big guy?" she asked, encouragingly.
"Yeah, but I'm really nervous," Kevin admitted shyly.
"Don't worry," she said, taking him by the hand. "I have lots of experience with this."
"Your boyfriend just left," Jan told Chloe.
Not looking up from her sauce, Chloe answered, "That's fine with me--I don't have time to talk to him, anyway."
"Yeah," Jan said, "but he left in a cab with that hot blonde."
Chloe dropped her ladle. "What 'hot blonde'?" she demanded.
"You know," Jan replied, "the one with the too-tight ponytail. The big tipper, who always makes me feel like she's doing me a favor."
"Oh," Chloe visibly relaxed. "Rebecka Louie. She's okay." Jan looked at Chloe squarely.
"Well, then you'd have to be the only woman in town who feels that way. Everyone else thinks she's an absolute snake."
The rest of Chloe's friends arrived around 3 p.m. and settled into booths.
George and Tosha had all summer been excitedly planning their wedding, which was to take place immediately after graduation. "And how about you guys?" George asked Alvin and Brittany. The latter two had been best friends since toddlerhood, and some of their friends--including George--had always expected them to end up married.
"Yeah, how about us, honey?" Alvin asked eagerly.
"Oh, I can't possibly think about anything but school till after graduation," Brittany answered, sounding desperate. "I have my thesis to do, and that's really all I can think about."
This left an uncomfortable silence hanging over the group. Tosha caught her fiance's eye, warning him not to pursue the issue further.
In the booth around the corner, Calista said to Meadow, "My granddad is just over the moon about your produce shop--are you planning to continue it during the school year?"
"No," Orlando answered for his wife. "Meadow can't grow her own stuff without a greenhouse once it gets cold, and we're not allowed to put a greenhouse up at our rental place."
"But you could buy a community lot and put up a greenhouse there, right?" suggested Calista.
"Yes," Orlando said, "but, if we were going to undertake a non-academic project senior year, it would probably be another baby, and not a produce market."
At the next booth, Rebecka whispered to the others about her afternoon shopping trip with Kevin. Derek said to Yuri, teasingly, "Hopefully, your sister will let me make an honest woman of her before too long."
Yulia smiled fondly at her boyfriend, and was about to say something when Yuri interrupted.
"Oh, you don't want to get married too quickly, Yulia," he said adamantly. "You've got serious work to do, and you should concentrate on it and not get distracted by other stuff."
Yulia looked surprised at her brother's remark, Derek's face turned to stone, and Rebecka pretended to be interested in something on the other side of the room.
Kevin pulled Chloe away from the stove. "Come on, hon'," he pleaded. "Come see your friends before the dinner rush starts. They've all made a special effort to be here."
Chloe sighed, and complied with Kevin's wishes, walking over with him to the 3 booths where their friends were sitting.
No sooner had they gotten there than Kevin went down on one knee. "I know I've got only about 60 seconds here," he said, laughing, "but I really want to tell you that I'd just love to be married to you, and you don't have to give me your answer right now--you can wait till after dinner service!"
Chloe caught her breath.
Kevin continued. "But, just in case--" He pulled out a ring.
Chloe put it on, in a daze.
"I never thought I'd receive a marriage proposal while wearing an apron and support shoes," she said.
"Well, that's who you are, babe," Kevin replied, "and I love who you are."
"That," said Orlando, only a couple of feet away but trying to give Chloe and Kevin a little privacy, "is the most romantic thing I've ever heard."
Chloe jumped into Kevin's arms.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I'll be away in Mexico for a week (yeah, I know--I'm a little old for spring break), so there won't be another post till sometime next week, when we'll follow the friends through senior year.