Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ophelia and Christopher; the Beare house

As she did every morning before her children woke up, Meadow tended to her backyard orchard.

This first day of fall, she was happy to see that she finally had an apple harvest--it was Marcus's first day of school, and Meadow planned to teach him to do homework that evening, and she knew that apple juice would help Marcus learn to do homework faster.

She went back into the house and began making breakfast. To her surprise, Orlando came downstairs and sat at the dining table.

"But honey--you don't have to go to work till 1:00 p.m. on Tuesdays," Meadow told him. "And you were up late last night painting in the garage. Did you get up this early just because it's Marcus's first day of school?"

"Yup." Orlando yawned. "Will there be food soon?"

"Right here, hon'," Meadow said, smiling.

'I sure married the right guy,' she thought, again. Meadow put down three plates of pancakes, placed the rest of the food on the counter,

and went to wake Marcus.

"So, are you excited about starting school, son?" Orlando asked.

"Yes, Daddy," Marcus answered enthusiastically.

Marcus ate his pancakes, and went back into his bedroom to get dressed for school. His mother started to clean up from breakfast.

Ophelia woke up from napping on her sleepy blanket, and toddled into the kitchen, cranky. She was not at all enthusiastic about her big brother's leaving for school for the first time.

"Mommy!" she wailed loudly. "I want to go to school, too!!"

Meadow picked up her daughter. "Sweetiepie, you can go to school with Marcus next year. But you and I are going to have lots of fun today--we're going to see your godmother Calista, and her little boy, Christopher. He's just about your age."

Meadow put Ophelia back down on the floor, and continued cleaning up. Marcus emerged from his room, dressed for school. He knelt down and patted his sister's arm.

"It's okay, Oph," he assured her. "I'm going to be away for just a little while. And, like Mommy said, you're going to have lots of fun today. And I'll be back pretty soon, and then we'll play some more."

Marcus left for school,

Orlando went back to bed,

and Meadow and Ophelia left to visit Calista.

The two friends were able to relax and chat,

while Ophelia and Christopher drew at the activity table.

"I'm so relieved you were free this morning," Meadow told her friend. "Ophelia was so unhappy that Marcus would be away all day, and I really needed to get her mind off that."

"I think it's great that Christopher has a playmate," said Calista. "And he's been missing Granddad and Nanny, because they spend so much time at their new dress shop now. We should definitely do this more often. "

"Absolutely!" Meadow agreed. "In fact, once my harvest is sold and I close up my downtown farmstand, you can drop Christopher off at our house every day."

"So, what are your plans for the farmstand?" asked Calista. "I just loooove the quality of your produce, and your business seems to be doing so well."

"Thanks, Calista," Meadow responded. "As soon as Orlando and I can afford it, we're going to put up a greenhouse at home. That way, I can be home all day with Ophelia, and I'll always be there when Marcus gets home from school. Whatever vegetables I raise through the end of the year I'll just sell to restaurants and gourmet stores. Then, once Ophelia starts school after New Year's, I'll start a farmstand in my front yard. I probably won't have all the customers I had downtown, but I'll save a lot of money by not having to pay rent for the downtown space."

Meadow was interrupted by a happy squeal from her daughter.

"They play together so nicely," Meadow observed.

Ophelia and Christopher--both of whom could talk--were conversing animatedly about something their mothers couldn't hear, though it was clear the kids had hit it off.

The two played with blocks for another hour,

then Ophelia wandered over to the aquarium, which fascinated her.

"You have lots of fun stuff at your house," she said to Christopher. She gazed in wonder at a giant clam that was spewing air bubbles.

About 1:00 p.m., Meadow said, "I think we have to get going," rising from the sofa and picking up Ophelia.

"Can't you stay for lunch?" Calista asked.

"We'd love to, but, no," Meadow responded, sounding apologetic. "I want to be home when Marcus gets back from school, and I still have to stop by my farmstand, to check in with Ethan and Lyndsey."

"So, what's wrong with this house?" Chloe challenged Rebecka.

"Well, as I told you before, Chloe, the kitchen is very yellow--including the appliances. And the entire house is big and square, and to some extent unimaginative," Rebecka responded.

"Do you actually sell a lot of houses with this approach?" Chloe asked, an edge in her voice.

Rebecka had not grossed $100,000 in her one summer since college by having bad sales instincts. She was always deferential to her customers, and spent a lot of time subjugating her own considerable ego. She knew Chloe didn't particularly like her (and she knew there was quite a bit of envy among women about her recent Realty Today magazine cover), but she wasn't about to let any of that get in the way of a sale.

"Look," she reasoned. "I know you and Kevin both work really hard, and that you're under a lot of stress with a young child. And I know you're trying to save money for your own restaurant. So, though this place isn't perfect, it has good potential, and--because the market is soft--it's something you guys can afford. And it's near Meadow's house. And there's a good-sized backyard. With a treehouse."

"So," Rebecka continued, "just please keep an open mind, and come see the interior."

Rebecka wondered at what point she would finally be able to stop paying penance for whatever horrible crime she had committed--in Yuri's friends' minds--by having dated Yuri during college.

The first floor was open, and largely unfinished.

When she saw the kitchen, Chloe laughed out loud. "Well, the quality of the appliances is fine, but what the heck were these people thinking with this color?" she said. "For one thing, it really shows dirt."

"There are no 'these people', Chloe," Rebecka told her. "This place was built on spec. So, no one's ever lived here, and that's why it's unfinished. And, no, I have no idea why the builders thought this was a good look for a kitchen."

"It's okay, though, I think," said Chloe. "I mean, the layout's good, and as long as we don't paint the walls yellow, I think it's manageable."

Rebecka silently congratulated herself. She knew that, once a prospect said something like "as long as we don't paint the walls yellow," the prospect was already seriously considering herself the owner.

The two women walked out the back kitchen doors. "Big deck," Chloe commented. "Room for a grill and a picnic table."

The first floor also contained a room the family could use as a study, a bedroom for Charlie (with an attached bathroom), and an unfinished room that could be made into a powder room.

The second floor contained a large, open room with its own deck, and 2 small rooms that, together, could serve as a bathroom.

After letting Chloe wander around in the house by herself for a while, Rebecka joined her client upstairs. "I think you're right about this house, Rebecka," Chloe said.

"Let me discuss it with Kevin, and we'll call you with an offer."

Meadow had lunch ready for Marcus when he got home after his first day of school.

"Once you eat you lunch, honey, do you want me to help you with your homework?" Meadow asked her son.

"Not until later, okay, Mommy?" Marcus pleaded. "I'm really tired, but I want to play with Ophelia. But I think I need to take a nap. And I'd like to watch TV. And then maybe I'll be able to do homework."

True to his word, Marcus played with his little sister,

then collapsed into bed, exhausted.

When it was time for him to get up, his mother made him apple juice,

and then taught him how to do homework.

"You should have see Nanny face," Yelena told her husband. "It like she see ghost or something."

"What on earth could be scaring Nanny?" Kennedy asked, genuinely confused. "It's not as if she's led a dangerous life--I'm pretty sure she's spent all her years caring for little kids."

"Trust me, Kenny; I been spy for long time. Something up with her, and I going to find out what."

"Maybe I put Yuri on it," she added.

"Yuri?" Kennedy asked his wife. "Why Yuri?"

"Yuri good spy, Kenny," Yelena chided. "Surely you no think I hire kid into SCIA because he our son."

"No!," Kennedy laughed. "I would never think that."

"That right," Yelena affirmed. "His whole life, Yuri been sneaky kid. He think like criminal. So, that useful to SCIA. And me."

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next time, as the Thayer-Centowski family starts the fall, Kevin and Chloe move into the big square yellow house, and their baby Charlie grows up.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

I Know What You Did Last Summer--Finale

On Monday afternoon of Labor Day weekend, Alvin came upon Brittany perched on one of their sofas, engrossed in a science book.

"Hey, Brit--I'm thinking of going swimming or something. Maybe hang out with some of our friends--do you want to join me?" he asked.

"Ummm, no," Brittany answered, without looking up. "I want to finish this book before going back to work tomorrow. It might really help me with the research proposal I'm about to submit."

So, Alvin changed into his swim trunks and headed to the pool by himself. It was a hot late-summer day, and a few of his neighbors were already there, including Kevin--who was in the pool,

and Chloe--who was just about to do a cannonball. "Banzai!!!" she cried,

and hit the water. "Good one, babe!" Kevin complimented his wife, enthusiastically, when she surfaced.

"You're awesome, Chloe!" Alvin agreed.

"Is Brit coming in?" Chloe asked Alvin.

"Nah, she can't," Alvin answered. "She's reading up on some scientific theory--she's really gunning for a promotion into the research department."

"Wouldn't that mean she'd be working weekends?" asked Kevin. "And you--being a schoolteacher--you don't work weekends, right?"

"Yes, but Brit says those are sacrifices we have to make," Alvin said, still sounding cheerful. "It's not like it will be forever--in the top jobs in Science they don't work weekends--and Brit will certainly eventually get one of those jobs. So, I'll just look forward to that."

Alvin's friends had always admired his upbeat attitude.

After a short while, Chloe went inside to check on Charlie,

before getting ready for her job as a prep cook at a downtown restaurant.

She was just about to change for work when the phone rang. It was Rebecka Louie.

"Hi, Rebecka," Chloe said. "Are you calling for Kevin?"

(Though Chloe's husband had a fairly good relationship with Rebecka--to begin with, Rebecka had gotten Kevin a very good deal on Chloe's diamond engagement ring--Chloe and Rebecka had never been close.)

"Actually," said Rebecka, "I'm calling for both of you--I might have found you a house. It's decently priced--it's been on the market for a while, and it hasn't sold I think because the interior is kind of overwhelmingly yellow. But the kitchen's huge, and open," she added enthusiastically.

"Yellow isn't a problem for me," said Chloe, "if the kitchen's right. I don't have to work tomorrow, so how about we see it sometime in the afternoon?"

The two women made plans to meet the following day.

On Chloe's way out to work, she stopped at Yulia's apartment to put some prepared food into her friend's refrigerator.

She was just about to let herself in with the key Yulia had given her when, to Chloe's surprise, Yulia opened the door.

"What are you doing home?" Chloe asked. "I figured you'd be at your beach venue, it being Labor Day weekend, and all."

"My manager, Brittany Wendlund, is running the place today," Yulia responded. "But I am just on my way out," she added happily, "because Derek's coming home from summer school in Germany in about an hour, so I'm meeting him at the airport, and helping him get settled back in at his dorm, and then we're going to dinner."

"Orlando, honey, I'm leaving for Tosha's now--you sure you'll be all right with the kids?" Meadow asked her husband. "I know you wanted to paint this afternoon."

"Of course." Orlando seemed amused. "I'll take Ophelia and some of her toys into the garage with me. And I think Marcus will probably just fish in the pond the whole afternoon."

George, Kevin, and Alvin had helped Orlando install two huge plate-glass windows in the back wall of the Centowskis' garage, so that Orlando would have enough light to paint.

(The couple owned only one motor vehicle--Meadow's pickup truck--so half of the garage (formerly a barn for the old farmhouse) had previously gone unused.)

'I sure married the right guy,' thought Meadow.

Orlando retrieved his toddler daughter, a couple of her toys, and her sleepy blanket, set them all down in the garage, and resumed working on his current painting,

while his son fished in the family's pond,

and while Meadow headed out to Tosha's house (still thinking about how wonderful her husband was).

"Okay, Sugar Plum Fairy, Daddy has to go to rehearsal now," George told Tara. "But I'll be home in time to tuck you in."

He put his daughter down at her activity table.

"Tosh, I'm leaving for work. Have fun with your girlfriends--I'll be home just after 9:00."

Downtown, Calista asked her husband, "Are you going to be okay with Christopher while I'm at Tosha's? Because Granddad and Nanny are going to be at their clothing business all day."

"What could go wrong?" Randy asked her. "I'll take Chris to the dealership with me for a while, though--since Monday of Labor Day weekend isn't usually all that good for car sales--I'll probably knock off early. I have to drop off some architectural drawings at Kennedy's house later, but you know how he loves little kids, so that shouldn't be a problem--I can just bring Chris with me."

So, Calista kissed Randy, went out in front of their building, and teleported herself to Tosha's house.

She got there at the same time as Meadow. "Wow, you really know how to make an entrance!" Meadow laughed.

Tosha invited her friends in to sample an appetizer plate she'd just learned to make. "This is pretty good, Tosha," Meadow asked. "Where'd you get the recipe?"

"From Chloe," Tosha answered. "I must call her about a dozen times a day--I have to learn to cook. George has given me ample warning that we'll be expected to give a fundraiser/cocktail reception for his ballet company around Christmastime, but I've at least got a few months to practice."

After they ate, the friends gave Tosha their presents for Tara.

"It's an outfit I got in Paris when Randy and I went there for the 'late honeymoon' we took after Christopher was born," Calista said. "It's similar to the outfit I gave Ophelia."

"And I made this for Tara," Meadow explained.

"It's a winter coat, for when it gets colder."

"You're both so sweet!" cried Tosha. "Though I honestly can't promise I can convince Tara to wear anything but her pink ballerina dress, most days. She's just crazy about it--George thinks we have a budding dancer in her."

Yulia had met Derek at the airport, and was helping him move back into the same University dorm he'd lived in for the preceding 3 years. She was surprised to find out that--with 1st pick of rooms (as a senior)--Derek had nonetheless chosen the room nearest the front door on the ground floor.

"Don't you think there might be too much noise here for you to concentrate on your studies?" she inquired, concerned.

"Oh, hon'," Derek answered, "I'll rarely even be here. I'll be in class, or in the lab, or at the library. Come on--give me a minute to change clothes, and let's go to dinner."

Across town, Randy and Christopher arrived at the Cox-Andropova house to deliver some architectural drawings that Kennedy needed to review. Randy knew that his boss usually worked out late in the day, so he and Christopher went around to the back door.

"Hey, son!" Kennedy greeted Randy enthusiastically. "And look who you've brought with you!" Kennedy immediately got off the treadmill and took Christopher from Randy's arms.

"What a fine little boy you are, Christopher!" Kennedy remarked. "Good job, Randy!"

"Thank you, sir." Randy was thrilled at the compliment. Since he had been a child, and had made friends with Yuri and Yulia in private school, Randy had idolized the twins' parents. He looked around the room. "Is Mrs. Cox-Andropova home, by any chance?" he asked hopefully.

Kennedy smiled to himself as he set the boy down on the floor. Kennedy knew that Randy had had a mad crush on Yelena since Randy had been a young teenager.

"Sorry, son--she's out at Berjes and Nanny Kendal's dress shop."

At her new business, Kendal had been delighted to ring up a sale that afternoon for Father Powers.

"Why, Father, how lovely to see you here!" she exclaimed.

"Well, Nanny, I have a christening coming up next week," he told her, "and I always like to get my newest parishioners a small gift, and you and Berjes have such a charming selection here. And your prices are certainly well within my means."

Kendal and her husband were making fine progress with their new venue--Berjes had gotten his bronze sales badge,

Kendal had gotten her bronze register badge,

and the store had reached Rank 3, allowing Kendal to take a $10,000 cash award.

Berjes paid particular attention to the older customers, whom Kendal thought were underserved in many other stores.

That afternoon, two of the most stylish women in Pleasantview were patronizing the shop: Yelena Andropova,

and Rebecka Louie, who hurried over to greet Yelena. "Hello, Ms. Andropova! How are you, ma'am?"

"Oh, if it isn't Pleasantview's newest covergirl!" Yelena teased.

(Rebecka was suprised--but thrilled--that Yelena had hugged her.)

"Oh, the reaction to the Realty Today magazine has been a little embarrassing, I have to say," Rebecka admitted.

"All of a sudden, fully half the phone calls to my office don't involve real estate in any way."

Yelena smiled. "Even so, was verrry smart thing for you to do. Trust me--is possible to be local celebrity and still have good home life."

"And," Yelena added sternly, "You should never be so busy that you and Yuri don' visit Kenny and me! How 'bout you two come for dinner sometime soon?"

Rebecka was momentarily taken aback by this comment.

'Well, that's interesting,' Rebecka thought. 'Yuri obviously hasn't told his mother we're not a couple these days.'

"I'll mention it to Yuri, ma'am," Rebecka assured Yelena, while thinking privately that it was Yuri's problem how to handle the issue.

"Now, excuse me, cookie, but I have to go home to husband!" Yelena said.

On her way out, Yelena looked around for Kendal, to say goodbye and to wish her good luck with the shop. But the elderly woman wasn't at the register.

Yelena spied Kendal peering out one of the store's front windows.

It seemed to Yelena that Kendal looked worried,

so she went over to ask if anything was wrong.

Kendal whirled around, startled.

"Oh, no, ma'am," she stammered. "Everything's fine. Just fine," though even to herself she didn't sound convincing.

Kendal could tell that Yelena wanted more of an explanation. "I--I--just thought I saw someone I knew. Outside. But, I'm just sure my eyes were playing tricks on me...." Her voice trailed off.

Derek took Yulia out to dinner at Londoste, where they'd had their first date almost 3 years before.

Yulia--though she had spoken to Derek via cellphone several times a week all through the summer--talked almost nonstop during dinner about her medical career, her beach venue, her brother's relationship (or lack thereof) with Rebecka, her parents, etc.

Derek listened attentively with his usual good manners,

and Yulia eventually realized that she was monopolizing the conversation. "Oh, Derek, I'm so sorry--you've finished your dinner and I've barely touched mine, which means of course that I'm rattling on and on and on!"

"But I love to listen to you rattle 'on and on and on', honey," he laughed.

"But, I do feel the need to say at least one thing," he interjected, seriously.

He placed a black velvet box on the table.

Yulia gasped.

She opened the box,

and took out a diamond ring.

She put it on,

and happily accepted Derek's proposal.

The young couple leapt out of their chairs and kissed. Everyone else in Londoste applauded.

A few blocks away, Yuri was running his venue, Qube. The business had finally reached Rank 6 during the holiday weekend

(though Yuri still had quite a bit of work to catch up to Rebecka Realty's success--in fact, he needed 55 more customer stars to match what his ex-girlfriend had accomplished for her own business for the summer), and he'd chosen his first Connections perk.

(Yuri had built up a lot of perks over the years from helping run first his family's art gallery, then his own.)

Shenene, the venue's DJ, had gotten a good-sized crowd dancing that night,

and Lilly, as usual, had a barful of men vying for her attention.

Late at night, Yuri always turned the lights down, to lure his customers away from the bowling lanes and onto the dance floor, and this presented Lilly with a problem. She still didn't know a lot of drink recipes and, whenever a customer ordered something unusual, she had to look up the recipe in the reference book that Kevin had lent her. Once Yuri dimmed the lights, that meant she had to do this in relative darkness.

"Does this bartender have any idea what she's doing?" Nathan Gavigan, having waited ten minutes so far for the drink he'd ordered, asked Malcolm Landgraab IV, who was sitting next to him.

"Maybe not so much," Malcolm answered, grinning, "but she sure looks pretty doing it."

By midnight, the bar was very crowded, and Lilly needed a break, so Yuri took over bartending duties for the next half hour.

Once he had cleared the thirsty dancing and bowling crowd, he turned his attention to the guys still sitting at the bar.

He served Nathan, and was making another drink for Julien, then asked, "What can I get you, Malcolm?", gritting his teeth. Yuri had long resented Malcolm Landgraab IV, who was the sole surviving member of a very old and wealthy local family that had always looked down upon the Cox-Andropovas as "new money".

Malcolm, for his part, seemed to enjoy needling Yuri. "I'm good--two's my limit. But how about a date with your pretty blonde bartender?" he asked, smiling almost imperceptibly.

"I'm not in charge of that--sorry," Yuri retorted, peeved, and turned his back on Malcolm.

"Fair enough," Malcolm responded. "And I guess I can do that for myself, anyway." He got up to play pool with his friends Matthew and Linda.

Yuri, irritated, moved on to the next customer at the bar, a guy in a striped short-sleeved polo shirt that Yuri thought looked like designer wear, and therefore expensive.

"Hi," Yuri greeted the customer, "this is my place. I've seen you here a couple of times, so, welcome to the neighborhood." Yuri had noticed that this new guy seemed to be hanging around Lilly. Yuri didn't much care for that, so he had resolved to learn something about the guy. "I'm Yuri Andropov--what's your name? And what'll you have?"

The man regarded Yuri for a moment. He had previously determined that the time was right to reveal something about himself to the neighborhood, and that Yuri would be a useful vehicle for this information, and the man had just been waiting for the appropriate opportunity.

"My name's 'Damian'," the man responded. "Nice to meet you, Yuri. And I'll have a 'Dead Bastard'--know how to make it?"

"Sure thing," Yuri responded, and he set about preparing the complicated drink.

With his next question, Yuri tried to sound casual. "You got a last name, Damian?"

"Just 'Damian'," the customer responded, evenly.

"Well, 'Damian Just-Damian'," said Yuri, regarding the man closely and presenting him with his drink, "here's your 'Dead Bastard'. Enjoy."

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Join us next time, for Marcus's first day of school, his younger sister Ophelia's unhappiness with Marcus's sudden absence, Meadow's attempt to deal with Ophelia's unhappiness, and the house that Rebecka has found for Chloe, Kevin, and Charlie.