At first when her father had come up with the idea of her seven-year-old son spending the entire summer in a foreign country without her, she had balked. But he insisted spending time with a male role model under sixty would be better for Aaron than another summer in all-day camp. Plus, Aaron had wanted to visit his Uncle Steve and his cousins, and he was such a good kid, she found it too hard to deny him one the few big things he’d asked her for.
But now it felt like it had been fate’s way of cutting her a break. She just hoped she could get this situation with Alexei mitigated before he returned in three weeks, further complicating an already complicated situation.
She arrived at the airfield, which was located about fifteen minutes outside Drummond with an extra large coffee in hand and wearing a pair of large white sunglass to protect her bleary eyes from the bright Texas sun.
She parked her car outside the small, corrugated metal building, which held a couple of benches for departing passengers to sit on. When she got out, she was surprised to see Berta’s maroon Lincoln also parked outside the tiny building. And she was even more surprised when she walked in and found her father’s longtime assistant and three other middle-aged black ladies sitting on the benches, waiting for her. Two of them worked in civil services like her and Berta, and one of them was a vice president at Drummond Oil.
“How ya’ll doing?” she asked, the typical Texas greeting rolling off her tongue, despite the fact she was emotionally and physically exhausted and did not at all feel like being social during the short time she had before her flight was set to leave. Still, she was the mayor’s daughter, and she had been trained to be unfailingly polite to the town’s citizens, no matter what. “Ya’ll came to see me off? How sweet.”
But Berta’s eyes were glued to Eva’s yellow T-shirt and red denim skirt paired with Croc flip-flops. “See, I told you we would need to do an intervention,” she said to the other three women. “Well, come on then. We don’t have much time.”
And before Eva could protest, the four ladies set upon her, stripping her down to her bra and panties, and replacing her comfortable clothes with a slinky black dress that showcased her cleavage and just barely walked the line between sophisticated and out-and-out sexy.
They then pulled a cordless flat iron and manicure supplies out of nowhere and proceeded to straighten her hair, which she had been wearing in a large twistout, and paint her bare nails a vampy red. Last but not least, they chucked her beloved Croc flip-flops and forced her poor feet into a pair of stilettos.
“Really, stilettos?” she said.
Berta sucked her teeth. “Your father might have been fool enough to trust you to dress yourself, but I knew better.”
“Berta, you have always excelled at complimenting yourself and insulting me at the same time,” Eva said. “It’s like a special talent.”
Berta harrumphed. “I got two years before I can retire with a full pension. You best do whatever it takes to convince that man to keep the headquarters here in Drummond.”
The vice president peered over her glasses at Eva. “Whatever it takes,” she repeated in such a way that made it clear to Eva that these women were totally fine with her prostituting herself for their job security.
“Well, Berta, please use the same amount of effort you put into this makeover to finish that pile of work I left on your desk before I get back.” This was, at best, a hollow command. Though Berta was supposed to assist both her father and herself, she’d yet to do a lick of work for Eva and whenever Eva confronted her about it, she said something to the effect of, “When your mother was here, she didn’t need any extra assistance.”
This was another reason Eva was keen to leave Drummond after Aaron returned from Italy. Sometimes it felt like the town was so set in its own ways that it was going backwards as opposed to forward.
In response to her stated wish, Berta just harrumphed again.
And If Eva thought she was going to get away with bringing her clothes with her so she could change back into them on the plane, she was sorely mistaken. When she tried to reach for them, Berta held them above her head and said, “Get along, now, Miss Eva. You got a meeting to get to.”
And that was how Eva came to board Alexei’s private jet looking ten times more sexy than she had wanted to and grumbling about the audacity of old black women.
On the plane, she wrote a long offline email to Aaron, since she had no idea if she’d be back in Drummond in time to Skype with him at their usual hour before dinner, which was right before he went to bed. But while she was trying to compose a light letter filled with silly news from town, her thoughts kept drifting back to the man who had summoned her to New York, and her father’s hand in making sure she did exactly as he asked.
She could still remember the one time they’d all had dinner together those many years ago. Her father had come to town for the National Conference of Black Mayors convention, which was being held in Dallas, and he had made a side trip to to take his daughter to dinner. Eva had known from the start he wouldn’t approve of Alexei, who she’d been dating for three months at that point. But Alexei had insisted on joining them.
“I will not be dirty secret,” he’d said, like she was asking him to help her hide a dead body as opposed to gently suggesting he not come by to see her that night. After their first fevered coming together, they’d spent most of their time at her much larger apartment even though it was further from campus than his efficiency. However, Alexei refused to lay low the one night her father would be staying over.
So she had taken the chance that the two of them might find some common ground and brought Alexei along to dinner. This was the decision she would mentally kick herself for over and over again for the next eight years. Their first and last meeting had been nothing short of disastrous.
Alexei had taken offense on her behalf whenever her father teased her about not being as smart or responsible as her older brother. “Eva is very smart,” he said. “And she is very good with people. She will be excellent social worker.”
“Her brother’s even better with people,” her father said. “He’s in the Foreign Service program. He might even become an ambassador someday.”
“I think Russians and Americans maybe agree, we need more good social workers, not more rich ambassadors and politicians.”
At that point Eva had audibly groaned and said, “Can we just agree to disagree? Personally I am a fan of both my brother and myself and I know we’re both looking forward to serving our communities in different ways.” She patted her father’s hand, which was now clenched around his dinner fork. “Just like you, Daddy.”
But her father kept on glaring at Alexei like she hadn’t even spoken. “Are you trying to say you know my daughter better than I do?”
“No, I am saying you should be more proud papa. Eva very good, very smart, very kind, but you choose to, how do you say…“ The angrier he got at her father, the thicker his accent got. “… put her down for not being same person as her brother. You should be happy to have such wonderful daughter instead.”
Eva opened her mouth to offer up a quip that would hopefully diffuse the situation, but it was too late. Her father threw down his napkin. “Eva, if you thought bringing around some Russian boy to insult me and my parenting to my face is a good way to gain my respect, then you were surely mistaken.”
“I am not boy,” Alexei said, his voice growing dangerous.
Eva ignored him and tried to bring the conversation out of the death spiral it had entered. “Daddy, it’s a cultural thing. He’s very blunt,” she said, trying not to feel guilty for failing to stick up for Alexei the way he’d stuck up for her.
“Well, then you obviously need to find a boy from another culture, because I’m not going to put up with you living on my dime while dating this fool. I’ll meet you in the car.”
With that he stood up and stormed out of the restaurant.
In the wake of his departure, Eva said. “Wow. That went so well, way better than I expected when I said it would be an awful idea for you to come to dinner with my father and me.”
Alexei narrowed his eyes. “This is joke, da?” He wasn’t great with sarcasm on his best English days.
“For sure da, that was a joke.” She sighed and tabled her own napkin. “And I was really looking forward to dessert, but I guess I should go after him.”
“You are leaving?”
“He’s my father, Alexei. He’s given me everything I’ve ever asked for and he’s currently paying all of my expenses. Yes, I’m going after him. I’ll call you later, okay?”
She’d dropped a pile of bills on the table for the expensive dinner, which she knew he wouldn’t be able to afford on his salary. Then she’d run after her father.
But she hadn’t called him later. Instead she’d shown up at his door with an overnight bag. “Do you love me?” she asked him before he could even greet her.