Juvenile Wiction: Chapter Two
The next day, after school, Lucinda and Susan walked together down Front Street to the brick building Lucinda’s uncle owned. It was three shops in a row downstairs, and two apartments upstairs. Uncle Nick, who owned the building, had the biggest retail space, for his jewelry store, in the middle. To the right of the jewelry store was Uncle Stefan’s cutlery shop, and Lucinda’s mother’s place was at the other end of the building. As the two girls walked closer, they could see the deep blue velvet curtains that covered the lower part of the big windows. The gold lettering on the door said “Sophia Dimirovitch, Personal Counselor”.
Chimes tinkled harmoniously as the girls pushed the door open and stepped into the waiting area. It was cozy and comfortable, with two soft armchairs and a loveseat, in soothing colors of dark blue and green and gold. The lamp on the table cast a warm glow; the velvet curtains blocked harsh daylight and provided privacy for clients awaiting appointments. There was no one waiting at the moment, and at the sound of the door chimes, Lucinda’s mother emerged from a back room and stood in the doorway, beaming at the girls.
Lucinda hugged her mom while Susan watched rather shyly. Lucinda’s mom had the same thick, wild black hair as her daughter. She wore it in a loose French braid that hung down her back all the way to her waist. She was dressed in a colorful skirt that was long and full, with a black silk blouse and several gold chains. She looked across the top of Lucinda’s head and smiled at Susan.
“Hi. You’re Susan, I guess,” she said.
Susan nodded. She knew she should say something, seem more friendly, or polite, at least. She hated being shy. How did people know what to say, how to act all the time?
Lucinda’s mom was looking at her intently, and her smile did not falter.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she went on smoothly. “I’m glad you and Lucinda are friends.”
“No appointments, Mom?” Lucinda asked.
Her mother looked at her watch, which was set into a gold bangle.
“Got one at 4:00,” she said.
“Okay. We’re going up to the apartment to do our homework and stuff.”
“Fine. I went to the store this morning so there’s food in the fridge for a change. Remember the TV rule.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Lucinda, rolling her eyes.
“What’s the TV rule?” asked Susan as the girls went to the stairway at the back of the building that led up to Lucinda’s apartment.
“TV stays off till homework is done.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Susan. “We have that rule too.”
The girls sat at the kitchen table and ate bagels with cream cheese and drank apple cider while they did their math and their spelling. Afterward, they went to Lucinda’s room and flopped on the bed, looking up at the ceiling. There were a few cracks in the plaster, a cobweb hung in one corner, and Lucinda’s mom had stuck glow-in-the-dark stars and planets on the ceiling, in the patterns of the actual constellations.
“What does your mom do?” Susan asked. “I mean, what is a personal counselor?”
“My mom helps people with their problems. Sometimes all they really need is someone to talk to. She listens, gives advice, helps them figure out how they want to deal with different things.”
“Like a therapist?” Susan asked. “I saw a shrink for a while after my dad died.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Lucinda. “It’s like therapy—only it’s not really psychology that she does, unless you count Jung. She calls it ‘intuitive and spiritual counseling’.”
“Oh,” said Susan, nodding her head, though she didn’t really understand.
Susan liked Lucinda’s room. There were lots of bright colors—India print curtains and matching bedspread, with lots of pillows and stuffed animals. Posters and prints covered the walls, shelves were crammed with books and CDs, her little desk overflowed with papers and notebooks and art supplies. It reminded Susan of her own room. She got up and went to the window and looked out. She was looking over the small parking lot at the rear of the building.
“So your uncle lives in the apartment next door?” she asked.
Lucinda nodded. “Uncle Stefan. The one with the knife shop. Uncle Nick, the jeweler, has a house and a wife and kids and stuff.”
Susan nodded, still gazing out the window. She saw a man crossing the parking lot below, walking from the far corner of the building toward a white Cadillac parked in the shade of an oak tree at the back of the lot. He had thick, black hair and was wearing a beautiful shirt. Susan had never seen a man wear such a beautiful shirt. It was loose and soft and open at the collar—not like the stiff, white shirts the men in Mom’s office wore. More like the shirts Dad used to wear on weekends. But Dad never had a shirt like this—it was three or four different colors all swirled together like watercolors. The man wore black trousers and shiny black shoes. He had a way of walking that was different, somehow. Smooth, comfortable, and graceful—almost like dancing. It was the way Lucinda walked.
“Is that your uncle?”
Lucinda got up and crossed to the window.
“Yes. That’s Uncle Nick.”
Lucinda pushed the window up and leaned out.
“Hey, Uncle Nick!” she shouted.
The man turned and looked up at her. His smile was a white flash in his dark, handsome face. He had a thick, black mustache. Susan saw that he wore gold around his neck. When he waved at Lucinda, rings glittered in the late afternoon sunlight.
“You going home already?” Lucinda asked.
“Yeah, baby, I’m a rich man! I go home when I want!” He had large, shiny black eyes. Susan shivered a little when he looked at her.
“This is my friend, Susan,” Lucinda explained.
“Yes. From school.”
Uncle Nick beamed. “Nice to meet you, Susan.”
Susan stammered something and he waved again and got into his big white car. The windows were tinted so she couldn’t see him inside. The gold and chrome trim gleamed as he pulled out of the parking lot, sounding the melodious horn in farewell.
The girls remained at the open window, looking down at the nearly empty parking lot. Only Lucinda’s mother’s gray Toyota and Uncle Stefan’s black Corvette were still occupying spaces. Beyond the lot was an empty field with a few trees around the edges of it and a mound in the middle where someone dumped some dirt and rocks they didn’t want, and weeds and bushes had grown over it. Almost directly below the girls, between the building and the parking lot, was a small patio garden with a picnic table and some flowering plants in containers.
“That’s where Mom and my uncles eat lunch and have coffee breaks, on nice days,” Lucinda explained.
Just then Lucinda’s mother emerged from the back of the building. She stood for a moment, taking a deep breath of the fresh autumn air. Then she let it out, giving her whole body a little shake, as if ridding herself of something she didn’t want. She seemed to sense that the girls were there, because she turned and smiled up at them without surprise.
“Hi, Mom,” said Lucinda. “Done with your session?”
“Yes, thank goodness.” She sat on the top of the picnic table, with her feet on the seat. She propped her elbows on her knees and rested her chin on her hands. She sighed and looked pensive for a moment.
Lucinda’s mother smiled. “Yes,” she said. “I’m fine. I was just feeling a bit sad for a client. Some people bear terrible burdens.”
“Lucky for you. Keeps you in business.” Lucinda’s Uncle Stefan had come out of his shop to have a cigarette and this was his cynical comment.
Uncle Stefan looked very much like Uncle Nick, but taller, and no mustache. He also wore a beautiful shirt. It was a solid teal color and looked like it was made of silk. There was gold at his neck and wrist and on one pinky finger. And, as he looked up at the girls in the window, Susan saw that he wore a small gold hoop in one earlobe.
“Hey, come down and join the party, girls,” he said. “And stop in my apartment and get me a beer.” He glanced at Lucinda’s mother. “You want a beer, Sophie?”
Lucinda’s mom looked down at her wristwatch and said, “Yeah; I’m done for the day.”
“Girls—you bring down snacks and beverages,” Uncle Stefan directed. “My apartment is open. There’s beer and sodas in the fridge. Find whatever provisions you can.”
Lucinda led Susan down a short hallway at the back of the building that led to the door of Uncle Stefan’s apartment. They went inside, Susan looking around curiously as they walked through the living room to the kitchen. Uncle Stefan had a long, low black leather couch with lots of fancy pillows in bright, wild colors and fabrics. They looked like pillows from a sheik’s tent. There was a white fur rug on the polished wood floor before the fireplace. Leaning in a corner of the couch was a musical instrument. It was a stringed instrument, made of wood, like a guitar, but it was smaller than a guitar and was shaped differently. Lucinda noticed Susan looking at it.
“That’s my uncle’s mandolin.”
“A mandolin. Does he play?”
Lucinda smiled. “Of course. Like an angel. We’ll take it down to the patio with the beer and get him to play for us.”
In Uncle Stefan’s small, messy kitchen, the girls soon found beer, sodas, a bag of pretzels that were not too stale, and a jar of dark, strong olives that had cloves of garlic and hot peppers floating around with them. Lucinda seemed to know her way around the cupboards and drawers; Susan guessed this was not the first time she’d rummaged for snacks in her uncle’s kitchen.
They put the food in a grocery bag, and Lucinda picked up the mandolin as they left the apartment.
When they got down to the patio, Uncle Stefan had brought out a CD player and was just popping in a disk. The music that burst out was unlike any Susan had heard before. At first she thought it sounded like Spanish music, like flamenco, but there was something about it that also made her think of India or the Middle East. It was exotic music, mysterious and strange and oddly exciting. It gave Susan goosebumps, though the afternoon sun was warm on her face, and the patio was well shielded from the breeze. She sat at the picnic table and accepted the Dr. Pepper Lucinda handed her. Lucinda put the jar of olives on the table. Her mother and uncle both made moaning sounds of approval and reached for the olives at the same time. Uncle Stefan was a little quicker; he got it first and snatched it away from his sister, laughing and holding it high over his head where she couldn’t reach it. Susan watched the two adults teasing and playing and goofing around like kids. It made her smile; reminded her of how her mom and dad used to be together. She tried not to let that memory make her sad. Uncle Stefan was feeding his sister an olive. Then he put the jar back down and cracked open his beer.
“So, Lucinda,” he said. “Who’s the gorgeous blonde? You gonna introduce me to your friend or what?”
Susan blushed crimson when she realized he meant her. Her hand crept up to her short, straight hair.
“My hair’s not blonde,” she stammered. “It’s brown. Light brown.”
He grinned at her. His smile was dazzling, framed by deep, curving dimples.
“Listen, tootsie, where I come from, you’re blonde, believe me.”
“Anyway, her name is Susan, Uncle Stefan,” Lucinda said. “She’s my friend from school.” She looked over at Susan as she said that, wondering if it were true. Were they friends now?
Lucinda’s mother stood up and stretched her arms up over her head, making her bracelets jangle. The CD had moved on to another piece of music, this one having a driving beat and an infectious rhythm that made Susan’s feet move as she listened to it.
“Oh, I love this one,” said Lucinda’s mother. “Dance with me, Stefan!”
Uncle Stefan did not need to be asked twice. He swept his sister into his arms and they began to move around the patio together. The dancing was like the music—wild and emotional, but graceful and quite wonderful to watch. Susan sat, entranced, almost hypnotized by the fluid way they turned and whirled.
“My mom loves to dance,” commented Lucinda.
“She’s a good dancer,” said Susan. It seemed like a lame thing to say. The music and the warm, late afternoon sun and the way Uncle Stefan’s feet moved and the spicy perfume that wafted from Lucinda’s mother’s hair were all buzzing around in Susan’s head, and words were always such clunky, awkward things. She wanted to tell Lucinda that this was maybe the most interesting afternoon of her life, so far, but that sounded lame, too. So she just smiled at her.
“Thanks for inviting me over,” she said. “I’m having a really good time.”
Lucinda nodded. “You want to dance?” she asked.
“Me?” said Susan. “I don’t know how to dance; I mean, not like that.” She leaned her head toward Lucinda’s mother and uncle, still moving their feet to the music throbbing from the boombox.
“Oh, that? The dance is easy; the steps are very simple. Those two are just fooling around, showing off, adding fancy little whirls and flourishes. And look at Mama. She loves to shimmy. That’s not even a part of the dance.”
“It is now,” said Lucinda’s mother, without missing a beat.
Lucinda stood up and took both of Susan’s hands.
“Come on. I’ll teach you. It’s fun.”
Susan looked up into Lucinda’s steady dark brown eyes and saw that she would not laugh at her if she couldn’t dance well. More than that, she saw that Lucinda believed she could dance. And as Lucinda clearly know more about dancing than she did, perhaps she should take her word for it and give it a try.
“Okay,” Susan said, and stood up.
A half an hour later, there were two couples on the patio dance floor. Uncle Stefan’s CD player still wailed on the picnic table. The music still made Susan’s feet move practically by themselves. But now, she had learned the steps, so when the music made her want to move, she knew what to do with her feet. Lucinda had agreed to lead, to be the boy, because she was taller, and because she knew how to dance. Gradually Susan’s feet learned the steps, till she didn’t even have to think about it anymore, and she and Lucinda danced as a team, leading and following and feeling the music. It was great fun. They danced until beads of sweat sparkled on Susan’s forehead. There was a pause between songs and Uncle Stefan pushed the “stop” button.
In the quiet, they all flopped down at the picnic table and drank from their respective cans, wiping wet brows. Lucinda said, “Uncle Stefan, we brought your mandolin out. Play something for us.”
“Nah. I’m exhausted.”
“Oh, please. Please? You must.” Susan watched how Lucinda made her eyes big and tilted her head a little as she asked. “Please, Uncle Stefan. Susan has never heard you play, and I told her how good you are.”
“No, no; how could I possibly live up to such high expectations?” He shook his head, but he was smiling as Lucinda put the mandolin in his lap.
“You must. Play whatever you want. Mama and I will sing with you, won’t we, Mama?”
“Of course,” said Lucinda’s mother.
“Oh, all right,” he said. “If you insist.”
He sat on the picnic table with his shiny black boots on the seat, hunched forward a little, cradling the mandolin. Lucinda and her mother sat on either side of him (“We’re the backup singers,” Lucinda explained). Susan sat cross-legged on the warm cement which was still dappled with late sunlight, looking up at the three of them.
When Uncle Stefan began to play, strumming and plucking with fingers that moved fast and smooth, Susan felt the goosebumps prickle up and down her arms and the back of her neck. It was a lovely, strange, foreign sound, a little like the music on the CD, but different, somehow. Susan was trying to remember where she’d heard music like this before, because it seemed familiar in some way. It “rang a bell”, Susan’s mother would say.
And then Uncle Stefan began to sing, and Susan didn’t think about anything else for a while. He had a strong, rich voice, but the way he sang was wild and edgy, as if the song made him sad or angry. He sang in some language Susan didn’t know, and Lucinda and her mother joined in, singing harmony. Meanwhile, the notes and chords kept pouring out of the mandolin; Stefan’s long fingers were lightning fast; and Susan just listened, entranced. She didn’t understand the lyrics, but the feeling in the song had grabbed her, and even when the music stopped—the song was done and Uncle Stefan and Lucinda’s mother were smiling at each other—she scarcely breathed, and hated to speak and break the spell.
But of course she did. She clapped her hands and tried to say how much she had enjoyed the music, but only managed to mumble, “That was good.”
It seemed like enough to say, though. She realized that Uncle Stefan had played to please himself as much as anyone else.
Lucinda’s mother looked at her wristwatch. “What time did your mom say she wanted you home, Susan?” she asked.
“Oops. We better get moving.”
“No! Susan’s not staying for dinner?!” Uncle Stefan sounded appalled.
Susan sighed. She wished she could stay. But her mother had said no, Susan had to be home for her famous crockpot meatloaf.
“Not this time,” said Lucinda’s mother, sounding equally disappointed, but resigned.
“Next time,” said Uncle Stefan. “Next time come on a Friday—no school in the morning. We’ll fire up the grill, have a barbeque!”
Susan nodded, and felt the heat in her cheeks that meant she was blushing again.
It was a short drive to Susan’s apartment. Susan could have walked if it hadn’t been getting dark. Lucinda’s mother parked outside Susan’s building and got out of her car.
“We’ll walk you to your door,” she said. “I’d like to meet your mom.”
“Okay,” said Susan, wondering how that would go over. When her mother got home from the office in the evenings, she tended to be a little tense.
Susan let herself into the apartment with the key on the lanyard around her neck. As they stepped into a small hallway, she called, “Mom, I’m home.”
Susan’s mother emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on a small towel. She wore a tan skirt and a white blouse; the blouse was loose at the neck and had been pulled out of the waistband of the skirt so that it hung own to her hips. She still had her work pantyhose on, but pink fluffy slippers replaced the brown pumps she wore to the office. When she saw Lucinda and her mother, she lifted a hand to the tendrils of straight light brown hair that escaped from the knot at the back of her head. She smoothed her hair a little, then smiled tentatively.
Lucinda’s mother extended her hand. “My name is Sophia Dimirovitch. I’m Lucinda’s mother.”
“Sandy Anderson,” said Susan’s mother, taking Sophia’s hand. As she did, Susan saw how she visibly relaxed; as if the warmth of the touch convinced her of Lucinda’s mother’s good intentions.
“We so enjoyed having Susan over today.”
Susan’s mother was genuinely smiling now. “Well, thank you for having her.”
“Yes,” Susan chimed in on cue. “Thank you, Mrs. Dimirovitch.” Susan had been practicing pronouncing the name, and it came off flawlessly.
“My pleasure, Susan. You must come again. On a Friday, like Stefan said. We’ll barbeque.”
Susan beamed and looked at her mother. “I would love to do that,” she said.
Susan’s mother looked at her thoughtfully, then said to Sophia, “I’m sure that could be arranged.”
Lucinda and her mother left, and Susan caught her mother staring at her again, with an odd expression on her face.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Nothing, sweetie. It’s just that you’re smiling.”