My Internet is finally up and running at my new place, so I’ll finally be able to be more active in visiting other participants this week!
Welcome back to Sweet Saturday Samples! This week’s excerpt, from my current WIP Journey Through a Dark Forest, picks up where last week’s left off. Twenty-one-year-old Valentina Kuchma was at a nearby grocer’s to pick up some things for a party when her adoptive sister Inessa comes home from hospital with her new baby, and she ran into her friend Rodion (Rodya) Duranichev. When Rodya finally admitted he likes her and was trying to ask her on a date, Valentina said she already knew he liked her.
Valentina speaks first, after Rodya asks if she’d like to go out or not.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had a beau before or even gone on a date. I have no idea how to behave on a date or how to end it gracefully.”
“Really? You’ve never been on a date before? I thought all girls had been on at least a few dates by your age. You really are twenty-one, aren’t you? You can tell me if you’re really younger and had to lie about your age for whatever reason. Or maybe you’re one of those people who doesn’t know your own birthday or birth year?”
“Of course I’m twenty-one. The papers Dyadya Díma got from his estranged, jailed wife’s former orphanage gave my birthdate as September 1916, and I already knew I was three years old when I arrived there in late 1919. We had one girl, Sarah, who really didn’t know her own birth year, but Ínna figured her approximate age based on observation and some personal factors.”
“Yeah, I believe you. Most women wouldn’t want to claim to be older if they were really younger anyway. So, would you really like to go out with me? It won’t be anything fancy or overwhelming. Boy, I can’t believe a twenty-one-year-old woman has never been on a date. It’s kind of cute. I do like that you’re more old-fashioned and down to earth than a lot of other American girls.”
Valentína shrugs. “If you want. You can walk me back to my place and help me put this stuff away before the cold stuff spoils, and then you can take me to have something quick to eat. You could even treat me at Séva’s restaurant downstairs.”
“Sure, that works. It’s probably most convenient for you.”
Valentína quietly trudges along next to Ródya on the way to the family apartment. When they get upstairs, Vladlena looks questioningly at them, but takes the lighter basket from Valentína and helps with putting the food away.
“You were my counselor,” Andréy says, looking up from making a little storybook for Rómek.
“Yes I was,” Ródya says. “I’ll be your counselor again in the summer if you go to camp again. That’s my summer job as long as I’m a college boy.”
“Are you staying to dinner? We like guests.”
“No, I’m afraid I can’t stay, but I am going downstairs with your Tyotya Válya to have something to eat and drink. If you’d like, I can come back and visit you sometime later, if I have time. Mostly I only have a lot of free time on weekends.”
“We say Tsyotka in Belarusian.”
“We’re having a party when our mama comes home from hospital with our new baby,” Veroníka says. “You can come if you want.”
“Oh, no, I can’t intrude on your family’s private celebration.” Ródya beckons to Valentína. “Coming downstairs?”
Valentína follows him into the restaurant, where they take a seat at an empty back table. She’s relieved that Ulla and Yuliya are cooks, not waiters, and so won’t have the chance to come over to their table and playfully tease her about being out on her first date. The waiter who does come over isn’t someone she knows.
Ródya orders two large glasses of hot chocolate ice-cream soda, one for each of them, and a bowl of vegetable soup for himself, while Valentína asks for mushroom barley soup. They don’t say much as they’re eating, and after Ródya has paid the bill, they quickly walk to the front door.
“So, when we all go to Bickford’s on Sunday for Tánya’s birthday, you’ll be there as my date?” Ródya asks hopefully.
“It can’t hurt. It won’t be much different from our usual group outings.”
“Can you be a little more enthusiastic? All the other girls I’ve ever taken out have acted more excited and happy about the prospect.”
“I’ve never dated before. I don’t really know how I’m supposed to act. But I do like you. Just don’t try anything funny. I’m not that kind of woman.”
“I never try anything funny after only a few dates. I’m not fast like some guys. An honorable guy shouldn’t expect anything after a certain number of dates. All I want is to have a nice time.”
Valentína waves goodbye and quickly goes back upstairs, where she settles down to helping the children with their drawings and picture books. Even Damir has been given crayons under supervision, and is squealing in delight over the colored lines appearing on the paper because of him. For better or for worse, this baby probably considers Inéssa his real mother at this point, after nine months in her care.