This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is the conclusion of Chapter 39 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba meets her new stepsister Lyolya after she comes home from Minnesota, and then everyone has a welcoming party for Lyolya at the Lebedev home in Greenwich Village. Little Kroshka is especially delighted to see this missing member of their family. (Zaychik, Darya’s nickname, is Russian for bunny.)
When Lyuba and Dárya get off at Penn Station, Mr. Lebedev, Mrs. Lebedeva, Katrin, and a strange woman are waiting. Dárya looks uncertainly at her mother as they draw closer to the welcoming party.
“I’m sure she’s a good person. You can’t distrust all strangers, záychik.”
“Welcome home,” Mr. Lebedev says. “This is your stepsister Lyolya. We’re going right home to my house for her welcoming party.”
Lyolya hugs Lyuba. “So this is the stepsister I’ve been told I have. I guess it’s a bit late to welcome you to my family, since our parents have been married for six years.”
“Are you my new aunt?” Dárya asks.
“Yes I am, darling. What a cute little girl you are.”
“I hope you weren’t postponing your party till I got back,” Lyuba says. “You didn’t have to put yourselves out like that.”
“I was committed to finishing the run of my show before I had much free time. And then my father just wanted to wait a few more days for you to be here. We’re all going to enjoy a nice supper at his house.”
“Don’t even think of going home first to unpack and settle in,” Mr. Lebedev says. “There will be plenty of time for that later.”
“We just got a new Model A while you were away,” Mrs. Lebedeva says proudly as they walk away from the station. “Unlike Iván, your stepfather actually spends his time making sales instead of making friends. It’s so nice to have your own car.”
“I think it’s so touching how you changed your patronymic to Ilyínichna,” Lyolya says. “Even if Serafima is never found, my father gained a new daughter in you. He still has ten daughters, even if one of them isn’t blood.”
“He’s been more of a father to me in the last nine years than my blood father ever was,” Lyuba says. “Though my evil parents-in-law are always calling me by my old patronymic. I think they’re doing it on purpose.”
“We see them sometimes,” Mrs. Lebedeva says. “Várya is rather cute. It’s too bad she has those two for parents.”
During the ride down to Greenwich Village, Lyuba tells her company about her second visit to Minnesota and how nice life is there. As she’s narrating, she watches the tall buildings and busy streets going by, and can’t help feeling she’ll miss big city life. Even if the long-term reality is anything but idyllic, it’s nice to at least be located in such a metropolis and have access to so many things. In a small Minnesota farming town, she won’t have the option of regularly going to the movies, museums, the ballet, a large library, or anything Manhattan has to offer.
“It’s only a one-story house?” Lyolya asks. “Our houses back in Russia had two stories and were bigger.”
“We’re lucky we even found a real house,” Mr. Lebedev says. “Most people here, even the rich ones, live in apartments. I was living in Lyuba’s tenement with five of your sisters till I remarried. Then your stepmother and I moved with your youngest sisters to our own house and let her sister’s family keep the first house.”
Ósyenka gets the door and stands back shyly at the sight of the stranger. Fyodora gently pushes him forward.
“Is this little one really Fyodora?” Lyolya asks. “She’s so big!”
“I don’t recognize you,” Fyodora says. “I haven’t seen you since I was three.”
“This is your brother, Ósip,” Mr. Lebedev says. “He’s got heterochromia just like I do. Your oldest blood niece Zhényushka also has it.”
In the living room, twenty-one-year-old Króshka starts barking hysterically and leaps off of Svetlána’s lap, running into the entryway. She jumps at Lyolya’s feet and continues barking and panting until Lyolya picks her up. Once she’s in her arms, she starts licking Lyolya’s face.
“Welcome home,” Svetlána says. “Thank God you’re alive. As you can see, my dog is alive and well too. She hasn’t been so animated for awhile. I think she recognized your smell and wanted to welcome you home. She gave me a similar reception too, when we were reunited after five years.”
“She must be an old lady by now,” Lyolya says. “Wasn’t she born in 1908?”
“She’s very old in dog years. I always thought she was holding on longer than most Pomeranians because she knew you were alive somewhere. She wanted to see you one last time before God took her to the other world.”
“Does this mean Króshka will be going away soon?” Ósyenka asks. “I don’t want to lose her.”
“Dogs age a lot faster than people,” Véra says. “She’s a hundred in people years. I think if she could talk, she’d ask you why you were gone for so long.”
“Now only Serafima and our cousin Nádya have to come to America, and our family will be complete! I can’t wait to meet them too!” Ósyenka goes back to playing with a model aeroplane.
“Yes, it’s nice to have a completed family,” Lyuba says. “One day my own little family will be back in the same place too.”
“Be thankful you know everyone in your own family is alive,” Svetlána whispers. “There’s no guarantee Serafima and Nádya are still out there.”
“You never know. Nobody thought Lyolya could still be alive, and here she is. Miracles happen to those who deserve them.”