Welcome back to Sweet Saturday Samples! This week, I’m featuring another scene from my current mammoth WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, which is set from 1933-48 and spans three continents and at least 15 countries. This scene from Chapter 41, “Roman’s Legacy,” features Valentina Kuchma from last week, and takes place in January 1938.
While out picking up some groceries for a welcome-home party for her adoptive sister Inessa, who’s just had a baby, Valentina runs into her friend and summertime co-worker Rodion (Rodya) Duranichev. She’s agreed to let him carry her heavier basket, and to select some exotic fruits.
Durian fruit really does smell something awful when it’s cut open, but the taste isn’t that bad.
Ródya selects pomegranates, starfruits, dragonfruits, and bananas, naming each fruit as he picks it up. He smiles when he picks up an enormous green object covered in prickles and kept in a thick mesh bag.
“I’ve had this a few times from an exotic grocery store. I’ll never forget that this is called a durian, since its name is so similar to my surname.”
Valentína realizes she can’t remember Ródya’s surname, since he only said it the once, when they met. “What’s your surname?”
He gives her a jestfully disapproving look. “I’m disappointed in you, Válya. I thought you knew all your friends’ full names. I remember your surname is Kuchma, even if you haven’t been repeating it over and over again.”
“Well, what is your name? I don’t think I’ll ever forget it again after hearing it’s similar to some odd-looking fruit.”
“Duranichev. It’s also similar to Jimmy Durante’s name.”
“He’s some radio and stage star with a big nose. Apparently you don’t see enough American movies or listen to the radio. Perhaps you and Vládka should go to more movies with us.”
“There’s not really a point when we don’t understand enough English to follow along with everything. Right now I can mostly only understand enough to read magazine articles and have basic conversations. That’s a lot of progress after only five months.”
Ródya continues to tag along with her as she puts the rest of the items on the shopping list into the two baskets. He stands behind her and smiles as she goes to the cash register to pay, looking over the impulse buys at the counter. After she’s gotten her change back, Ródya slips a bag of gumdrops into her lighter basket and tells the cashier he’s paying for that. Valentína feels somewhat embarrassed to accept this gift, though she doesn’t immediately leave the store. She still needs Ródya to carry the heavier basket back to her apartment.
“Your place is within walking distance, right?” he asks when he catches up to her by the door, setting his small jar of pickles and box of rugelach in the lighter basket. “Might I be so bold as to ask you to have a hot chocolate with me after we’ve deposited the groceries in your pantry?”
“But it’s cold out. I just want to get back home and stay warm the rest of the day. I’ll have to turn in early so it’s easier to get up for work when it’s pitch-dark outside.”
“That’s the whole point. You can warm up even more with hot cocoa. If you don’t want cocoa, I can buy you some hot cider instead. Or maybe you’d like some hot soup and a warmed sandwich at a restaurant? I’ll have you back home by eight.”
“Are you trying to ask me on a date?”
Ródya hangs his head. “I really like you, Válya. For the last five months, I’ve been trying to get my nerve up to ask you out. Usually I ask girls out much easier, but you’re not like the American girls I’m used to. Most American girls wear makeup and have had a string of beaux. I’ve never seen you wear makeup, and I don’t think you’ve had a lot of dates or prior beaux.”
“I’ve known you’re sweet on me. Vládka knows Pátya is sweet on her too. Tánya keeps suggesting we all go on group dates.”
“You’ve known I like you? Was it that obvious?”
“Pretty obvious from the way you always smile at me and try to get me to go to church with you. And you often sit next to me when we all go out socially.”
He shifts the basket to his other arm. “Well, would you like to go out? I know it’s kind of crass to ask a girl out so spur of the moment instead of scheduling it in advance, but I just thought this was as good of a chance as ever to finally tell you. I wasn’t expecting to see you here, so it seemed like a good opportunity to seize.”