One evening midway through spring semester, Orlando took a break from painting and went to check in with Meadow, who was working on her senior thesis. He was surprised to find his young wife in tears.
"Honey, are you okay?" he asked, worried at her apparent distress.
"Of course," Meadow sniffed, getting up from the computer. "I just get a little emotional about my subject."
Meadow, who was a Literature major, had to Orlando's mind developed an unhealthy obsession with the character of Ophelia in Shakespeare's Hamlet. Though it seemed to Orlando that, after several hundred years, not much more could be written about the character, Meadow had made "Rescuing Ophelia" the subject of her paper.
Orlando and Meadow had agreed that she would not find a job after graduation, but would instead have another child, as both of them very much wanted. Their firstborn, Marcus, had become quite self-sufficient, content to play by himself for hours a day,
but his parents didn't want to raise him as an only child. Because Marcus got on so well by himself, Orlando wondered whether Meadow had enough going in her life to occupy her mind profitably.
He was very relieved when their parish priest, Father Powers, called to ask Meadow to help out with the church gardens.
"You're such an accomplished gardener, Meadow," the priest said, "and the Lord and I could really use your talents here."
One afternoon a few weeks later, Tosha hung up the phone and joined Chloe and Brittany.
"Three guesses who'll be the first couple married after graduation!" she squealed.
Her friends looked at each other, mildly exasperated.
Though they much preferred the new, confident Tosha over the previous, insecure model, their friend's nonstop bubbliness in the weeks leading up to her wedding was becoming slightly annoying.
"Uhhh, you and George?" Brittany offered good-naturedly, assuming she was playing along with Tosha's game.
"Nope," Tosha replied, coyly. "Guess again."
"How could it not be you?" asked Chloe. "Your wedding is 2 weeks from now!"
"I'll give you a hint--the wedding will take place next weekend at the Andropova-Cox house," Tosha said.
"Is it Yulia and Derek?" Chloe asked. "But I thought they were going to wait until he graduated, and that's a whole year from now!"
"As far as I know, that's still the plan," said Tosha, calmly.
"It's not Yuri and Rebecka, is it?" said Brittany, tentatively, hoping against hope.
"No. Although I bet Rebecka will get Yuri to marry her sooner rather than later," Tosha said. "Okay, that was your 3 guesses--give up?"
Her friends were stymied.
"Randy and Calista!" Tosha announced triumphantly.
"You're kidding!" Chloe and Brit exclaimed in unison.
"Nope! That was Calista on the phone just now," Tosha revealed. "You know how conventional Randy's always been--all he's ever wanted is to be 'married with children' and build his car business into some humongous empire. And Calista--as unconventional as she may seem--does really love Randy. And she adores her grandfather, Berjes, who--as you probably know--has always disapproved that his daughter--Calista's mom--has been 'living in sin' with Calista's father these many years. Berjes is getting pretty old--and he's becoming more and more forgetful--so Calista and Randy decided to get married now, while Berjes is still around to take part in the wedding, and to enjoy a great-grandchild. Which great-grandchild is, by the way, 'already in progress'...."
Brit was speechless.
"What happened to 'sex is boring'?" said Chloe, recalling one of Calista's more famous utterances.
Tosha shrugged. "I agree she and Randy seem like an odd couple. But, hey, it's been a couple of years, and they're still together, so...."
Yulia discussed her friends' impending nuptials with Yelena during their weekly phone conversation.
"I was so surprised you could have knocked me over with a feather," she admitted to her mother. "Calista is such a bohemian--money doesn't matter to her at all--and Randy is so money-oriented. I just can't imagine this is a match made in heaven."
"Is very easy to get used to having lots of money," Yelena assured her daughter.
"Hey," she said, changing the subject, "how you brother? He painting a lot?"
"Not really," Yulia replied, scowling, "seeing as how his model is taking this semester off."
"Opal?" asked Yelena, surprised. "But isn't she same year as you and Yuri, so--like you two--she got only one semester till graduation?"
"Yes, she's our year," Yulia answered, "but Yuri says she's never been very serious about school, and he doubts she could complete enough credits this semester to be able to graduate in the spring, anyway. He thinks Opal's taking the semester off just so she doesn't have to be around the rest of us who will be graduating."
"Meadow, dear," said Father Powers, sounding concerned. "You're doing a lovely job on the Church gardens, but it's quite a hot day--I implore you to come inside, drink some water, and cool down a bit."
"Besides, young Marcus has composed a new tune on the xylophone," the elderly priest chuckled, "and I think he'd like to play it for you."
Meadow straightened up from her watering. She was grateful for the distraction that her volunteer work at the Church of the Good Shepherd had allowed her. She was done with her own academic work and was trying to stay out of Orlando's way while he finished his.
All she could think of was Orlando's promise that, after they both graduated, they could have another baby and Meadow could stay home with Marcus and the new sibling while Orlando pursued a career as an artist. 'We'll make it work somehow, babe,' Orlando had assured his wife. 'Money isn't everything,' he said, ruefully.
In fact, the young couple had managed to save enough money--from the gallery sales of Orlando's paintings and Meadow's quilts, from Meadow's farmstand the previous summer, because they'd rented a very small, cramped house, and because they'd bought almost no furniture of their own (having borrowed nearly everything they had in their rented house from Calista and from the Andropova twins)--to be able to afford a vacation after graduation.
They had bought plane tickets for themselves and Marcus to Twikkii Island, since Yelena and Kennedy had offered to let them use their vacation home for a week. Meadow and Orlando's plan was to start their "new project"--conceiving a sibling for Marcus--on that vacation.
'That will be different for us,' Meadow had giggled to her husband. The couple hadn't even had a honeymoon.
'Just having a planned baby will be different for us,' Orlando had replied.
Meadow brushed the soil off the knees of her jeans and headed up the stairs into the cool, dark church.
She didn't notice the person who was watching her intently from a parked car some distance down the street....
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us in a couple of days for "Rescuing Ophelia," when we find out who is stalking Meadow, and why....