"So, why did you of all people want to go bowling?" Alvin asked Yuri as they went through the doors of Sugar Cube Bowling.
"Rebecka told me this business is for sale," Yuri answered, "and my mother's been bugging me to find something to run. Sure, bowling's a little down-market for me, but this place also has a bar and dancing, so I thought I'd give it a look."
Yuri made sure to say this loudly enough so that Lilly Thompson, who was walking behind them, would overhear him. Yuri knew that Lilly was much more likely to be at ease if she thought this was a casual outing with a bunch of Yuri's friends, rather than a date between herself and Yuri (which, in Yuri's mind, it was).
"I love bowling!" exclaimed Alvin. He turned around. "How 'bout you, Lilly?"
"Oh, I think it's fun, but I'm afraid I'm not very good," she said, worried she'd embarrass herself.
"Don't worry--I can teach you!" Alvin offered.
"Yeah, Lilly, 'Superbrain' here can teach anyone anything," Yuri affirmed. Lilly looked somewhat hopeful.
Alvin began by bowling a strike. Lilly hooted her approval and clapped.
"You're a surprisingly good bowler for a summa cum laude math major," Yuri observed wryly.
"Not at all," insisted Alvin. "A lot of this is trajectory, and figuring out angles and surface response." Yuri rolled his eyes.
"Come on, Lilly," Alvin encouraged her. "Just throw one, and let me see your natural form."
Lilly promptly threw a gutter ball.
Yuri, sitting behind the lane, considered that he was in a great spot to appreciate Lilly's "natural form".
Kevin and Yulia had also joined the outing. Kevin was a great bowler already, but wanted to keep up his skills so that he could join the policemen's bowling league.
Yulia was somewhat indifferent about bowling, but had come along on the outing because her brother had convinced her that she should take at least one night off from her medical job and her beach venue business. Yulia also wanted to catch up with Lilly, whom she liked tremendously.
"Gee, Alvin," Yuri teased, "I'm not surprised to see that Kevin owns his own bowling shirt and shoes, but you?"
"Brittany got them for me," Alvin told him. "You know Brit--if you're going to do something, do it all the way."
"Where is your non-fiancee?" Yuri needled.
Alvin ignored the jab. "She said she'd come by when she's off work. Oh--there she is!" He spied Brittany walking past the DJ and jumped up to greet her.
Brittany, who--ever the overachiever--had actually hired a bowling coach and come to the lanes several times to practice in advance of tonight's outing, promptly bowled a strike.
"Are you doing a dance to the bowling gods?" Yuri kidded her.
"Watch out, Yuri, or the 'bowling gods' will get you for that!" she teased back.
Yuri got up to throw his next ball, and Yulia took the seat next to Lilly. Yuri lost his balance, flailed his arms wildly, and stepped over the line.
"Foot fault, Yuri!" Brittany taunted him. "I can see it from here!!"
Yulia snickered, and Lilly, trying hard not to laugh out loud, was wiping tears from her eyes.
"I know it's mean to laugh, but that was kind of comical!" Lilly gasped.
"I shouldn't laugh, either," Yulia admitted, "because I'm not much better. Pool's my game." She got up and headed to the pool table to join Kevin.
Yuri, his pride somewhat injured, suggested to Lilly that they join Yulia at pool. "Come on--let's see if we can beat Little Miss Perfect."
"Oh, let me practice my bowling a little while longer, and then I'll come and just watch you play your sister," Lilly said.
Yulia beat her brother in a matter of minutes.
Yuri gave an audible sigh and turned to Lilly, who had joined them by that point. "How about we try something non-competitive?" he suggested. "Wanna dance?"
"Sure!" she said, and seemed pleased. She followed him to the dance floor.
"So, did you find a job?" Yuri asked her.
"Yes," Lilly answered. "I got into the Abercrombie & Fitch management training program. They have a store over on Fairmont Street."
"That's a funny sort of job for a history major," he opined.
"Well, I don't feel really passionately about doing anything in particular," Lilly explained, "and my grandfather was in retail, so maybe it's in my blood."
Yuri remembered his mother saying something to the effect that the Thompson family had once been big in retail, but for some reason no longer was.
"How's the money?" Yuri asked.
"The training program doesn't pay that well," admitted Lilly. "I've been thinking of looking for some kind of part-time work in the evenings."
"Hey, if I buy this place, do you want to work here?" Yuri offered. "Be the bartender or something?"
"Oh, I don't know the first thing about mixing drinks," Lilly apologized. "And I'm kind of shy, so I don't know if I'd be the best person to be chatting up customers."
"Nonsense," Yuri assured her. "Kevin's worked at the Lucky Shack for years, and he'll tell you nearly everybody in a place like that--or this--orders beer. And I bet he'd be happy to give you some pointers on basic mixed drinks. And customers want a bartender who listens, and you're really good at that."
Lilly looked pleased by the compliment, and Yuri congratulated himself on his instant brainstorm. "Come on," he took her by the hand, "let's go talk to Kevin."
He let go of her hand quickly, trying not to make her uncomfortable, but he'd felt a shiver when he'd touched her.
Kevin was enthusiastic about teaching Lilly some mixology basics, and spent a few minutes asking bartender Blair Upshaw what the venue's customers tended to order.
"So," Kevin said to Lilly. "Beer's really easy, so let's start with simple cocktails--the Collins, the cooler, the highball."
"I just want to know enough initially not to embarrass Yuri," Lilly pleaded.
By the end of the evening, Yuri was certain he was going to buy the bowling alley, and to hire Lilly. As everyone said goodbye for the night, Yuri embraced his sister. "Bye, sis--it was great to see you!"
This was odd behavior from her brother, Yulia thought,
but when Yuri next moved to embrace Lilly ("Night, Lilly!" he'd said breezily, though he'd held her close a little too long for just a friendly hug),
'Oh, so that's why Yuri was so affectionate to me,' she figured. 'He was trying to establish a behavioral norm for Lilly's benefit.'
At his apartment, Yuri climbed into bed in the stylish master bedroom Rebecka had decorated for him,
but he had no thoughts of Rebecka.
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Yuri got another promotion during this update,
so his score in the Million Dollar Challenge is now 20 (2 promotions times 10 points).