To mark the upcoming Valentine’s Day, this week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from Chapter 8, “Anastasiya in Paris,” of The Twelfth Time, my Russian novel sequel. While fashion designer and salon owner Anastasiya is at her first fashion show abroad on Valentine’s Day 1925 and unknowingly receives a permanent souvenir that night, back home, villain Boris is stepping up his seduction of his young teaching assistant Kseniya. Even though Boris is the antagonist of the first two books, I gave him my dream car, a red Duesenberg. I love antique (pre-WWII) cars, and collecting, repairing, driving, and showing them is my dream hobby, if I ever have that kind of money and space. Of course I’d be happy to start off small, with a humble Model T, but I’d be happiest with a luxurious, colorful Duesenberg!
Kúkolka móya is an endearment that means “my little doll.”
In Manhattan, six hours behind Paris, Borís is taking his new red Duesenberg for a drive when he sees Kséniya walking along the street. He slows down to the side of the road and politely honks at her.
“Guess who’s got himself a brand-new car for Valentine’s Day!”
Kséniya tries her best to avoid looking him in the eyes, still overcome with embarrassment over what they did two weeks ago. “Is this really your car?”
“Of course! Father Spiridon pays me enough money for me to afford a car. I bought it on credit, though, since even my salary can’t afford a car in full. Won’t you hop in?”
“You really thought you needed a car? You always seemed fine with walking and taking subways and cabs everywhere.”
“I’ve known how to drive for awhile. I just haven’t had a chance to do it in so long. But it’s like riding a bike or having relations; you never really forget.”
Kséniya turns bright red and looks down.
“Come on in the car, kúkolka móya. Now that we’ve got a car, we can be together a lot more often. Since young people have had access to cars, courtship has moved from the veranda to the car. We can go on dates outside of the immediate area and not worry we’ll get caught, and best of all we can just climb into the back and couple whenever an urge strikes us! We’ve got no more worry about finding a place we can be alone without fear of getting caught, or having to finish in a certain time!”
Kséniya feels numb with horror as she climbs into the car. “If your parents found their own home, you wouldn’t need to worry about that.”
“My therapist has suggested I take them to counseling with me, but they keep refusing. I’ll keep trying, though. Maybe if an outside professional with an unbiased view of the situation talks to them, they’ll finally see how unhealthy, unmodern, and inappropriate it is for them to expect to live forever with their adult son. We’re not in the old country anymore. In this decade, in this country, young people live on their own. They don’t live with their parents until or past marriage, and their parents don’t move themselves in with their adult children and expect them to smilingly accept it. But anyway, today’s Valentine’s Day, and Saturday is the perfect date day. How about going out to a fancy restaurant in the Upper West Side, followed by seeing a movie on a balcony in a luxurious movie palace?”
“Would you like to split the cost?”
“Nonsense. I guess if a girl wants to pay, that’s okay, but it’s the guy’s job to pay, particularly if he asked her. No self-respecting man should ask or expect his girl to pay her way.”
Kséniya is alarmed by Borís’s wild, borderline dangerous driving style. She can hardly believe he was allowed to get a driver’s license and buy his own car when he admittedly hasn’t driven in years. At the very least, he should’ve been required to take a refresher course before anyone allowed him behind the wheel. Several times, he almost runs into pedestrians and policemen directing traffic. He also brakes too suddenly and last-minute, starts up again too fast, almost bumps into other cars, and lays on the horn every other minute for the most minor aggravations. Kséniya still likes him, but is already starting to question the wisdom of agreeing to date him in secret. Her primary reason for continuing this relationship is the fact that he took her maidenhood, and she’d feel like a slut if she left him and married anyone else after such a serious thing.
Katrin drops her fork in shock when she sees short, chubby Borís walking into the restaurant Sándros took her to for Valentine’s Day. Even more shocking, he appears to have an actual date, a pretty young girl instead of some unattractive spinster who would only choose him out of desperation.
“Is that Malenkov?” Sándros whispers. “What’s he doing here?”
“Lyuba did mention something about him courting someone. I guess he finally succeeded, though I’d bet you anything she just feels sorry for him and wanted to get him off her back.”
The waiter seats Borís and Kséniya right next to Katrin and Sándros. Borís looks uncomfortably at them, but doesn’t want to arouse suspicions or whispers by asking the waiter to change their table.
Katrin breaks the ice after the waiter returns ten minutes later and takes down their orders. “So what exactly did you do to get a pretty girl to go out with you?”
“Ksyusha’s my assistant teacher. Isn’t she a sheba? I impressed her with my good manners, my command of classic literature and romantic poetry, how well I write my own poetry and love letters, all the gifts I’ve given her, and even my prowess as a lover.”
Kséniya blushes and hides her face.
“So you weren’t lying when you said you were having a breakthrough with your little medical problem? Not that I even want that image. You must look even more repulsive naked.”
“I even have my own car now. I came here in my new car, a gorgeous red Duesenberg. Even you don’t have your own car! Take that! You live in a fancy penthouse suite and don’t even work beyond writing for left-wing presses, while I work as a religious schoolteacher and have my parents living with me! What’s your excuse for not having a car?”
“Pride goes before a fall,” Sándros says. “Kati and I are perfectly content to take public transportation. Who really wants to own his own car in such a crowded city that doesn’t even have many free parking lots? I take the subway and a ferry to my job on Ellis Island, and do the same thing on my way home. And if Kati wants to go somewhere, she takes a cab or walks. Víka does the same.”
“Well, a modern man needs to escort his modern woman around in an attractive high-end car. And since we can’t be together at each other’s houses, a car is the perfect place to do what we must. We don’t have to worry about parents coming home early or walking in on us if we’re coupling in the backseat!”
Katrin grimaces, and Sándros looks away in embarrassment. Kséniya wonders what she ever got herself into, and hopes no policeman ever comes across them coupling in the car and arrests them on assumption of being a prostitute and her client.