Rebecca Solo finished her chapter for the day and pressed print. Sitting back, she moved her head in a small circle to loosen the tight muscles. As always, she mused about the changes that occurred when she went from pen to computer. Her first draft was hand written on paper, using every other line so she could go back to correct/add/delete after she finished. Then she would type it slowly into the computer and that's when her mind saw the need for rewriting.
She thought about the way technology had moved into her life. From the microwave that Hannah had wanted to the technology filled box that sat behind her on the computer table. Napoleon had gotten it for her for Christmas the year before and she'd resisted it for weeks before sitting down to try. And now, she couldn't imagine ever having done without it.
The microwave had turned out to be quite useful as well.
I guess you're never too old to learn new tricks.
She gathered the pages from the printer and tore off the last page at the perforations. Tearing the pages apart, she spread them out before her on the gleaming cherry wood desktop. Now was when she could see her mistakes and make the changes that would go into the 'saved file'. Such language idioms, she shook her head. Learning a new language at her age ... who'd have thought it.
The next hour was spent finding spelling mistakes, dangling participles and non-sentences. After making the corrections in the file and saving, she sat back and finally looked at the clock. 11:30. Not too bad for a day's work, she thought. I wonder what Hannah has for lunch.
A gentle knock on the door interrupted her train of thought. "Come in, I'm done."
"Oh good, we were hoping that you would be." Napoleon's smiling face appeared, followed closely by Illya's shy smile. "Are you really, really done? Can you come out and play now?"
"What do you two have in mind?" Rebecca smiled at the eager look on their faces.
"A picnic at the lake." Napoleon said excitedly. "Hannah made all our favorites and we want you to come with us."
Rebecca's eyes met Illya's and saw his quiet acquiescence. "Well, how could I turn down just a lovely invitation. I'll just go change my shoes for something a little bit more robust then I'll join you in the rose garden."
"Oh good." Napoleon's eyes sparkled and he rubbed his hands together gleefully. "This is going to be so much fun." He ushered Illya out ahead of him and she could hear his voice telling him of the boats and the wildlife that both used the lake.
She changed into her sturdy walking shoes and made sure that she had three handkerchiefs in the various pockets of her cardigan. Using the bathroom before going back down stairs, she looked for her sunglasses and finally found them in the pocket of her rain jacket. Taking one of the purple silk scarves from the scarf hanger, she wrapped her hair in it before heading for the kitchen.
Illya turned at her entrance and offered her his good arm. She took it happily and let him lead her from the kitchen with Hannah calling good bye to them. Napoleon followed with a heavily laden picnic basket, mock grousing about Illya running off with his grandmother. She laughed at that and while they walked down the wide gravel path, she answered Illya's question about the lake. They soon left behind the garden and took to the trail worn by the Solo family over the last fifty years.
That led to stories of Napoleon's summers with her and she took great care to mention all his favorite excursions. Napoleon groaned pitifully at her stories but Illya just egged her on to expand on some of her grandson's more ... decorative exploits. She enjoyed the sound of the young blonde's laughter and the look of gratitude in her grandson's eyes told her that the relaxed young man didn't often let go. He had a sense of humor but seemed to be hesitant about releasing it.
Of course, she'd heard several outbreaks of laughter from their bedroom and that had won her acceptance faster than any words would have done. She'd always known her grandson was a brave man but his courage in telling her of their relationship had been exceptional. She was not so divorced from the 'real world' that she didn't realize that being bisexual was frowned upon in the government circles in which Napoleon and Illya moved.
That sweet Mr. Waverly had to know about them, she had too much respect for him to think otherwise. And this sudden move to give Napoleon the directorship of Section Five looked like a ploy to get him off the streets and into a safer job. Now, that was something she would willingly work towards. From what they'd let fall about Illya's double masters degrees and his Ph.D. in chemistry, the young man would be a real asset in their research labs.
She listened to them banter back and forth with a smile. They were well matched in intellect if not in education. She rather approved of their strengths not being the same; it betokened a much better relationship. They'd be able to lean on each other when the going got rough and at some point, it always got rough. She and Salvatore had had their share of rocky patches in their thirty-five year marriage but they'd bolstered each other during the hard times just as Napoleon and Illya seemed to have done.
"We're almost there, Illya." Napoleon said excitedly. "Has it changed much, Nana?"
"Not a bit, sweetheart. The old canoe is still there if you'd like to take it out." She felt Illya shiver against her arm. "Don't you like boating, Illya?"
"It is the deep water that I seem to fear."
"Here it is, Illya. You're right, Nana, it doesn't seem to change at all."
The deep blue of the placid lake was almost purple in the early afternoon sun and Rebecca sighed contentedly. Long lazy days on the water had been one of their favorite ways to spend the summer when Napoleon was a child. Salvatore had been a sleek seal in the water and his grandson had learned early to imitate him.
"You never did finish your story about the psychic at the party during your University days." Napoleon swung the basket up onto the wooden picnic table and raised an eyebrow at his partner while Rebecca looked on.
Illya looked a little uncomfortable but nodded. "It will sound silly."
"Sillier than ghosts?" Her grandson smiled sweetly at him and pulled out the red and white checked tablecloth, spreading it out on the table.
Blue eyes glared at him but Rebecca could tell that he was only hesitating because he was probably ashamed of his youthful self. "She had styled herself Madame Zola and most of her pronouncements were the usual predictions of money, travel and weddings. I was discussing quantum physics on the balcony with one of the professors who had come to the gathering when she came out to get some fresh air."
Rebecca helped set out the contents of the basket while she listened. Hannah had outdone herself with a three-course meal and a tin of cookies that had scented the entire house that morning. She thought that Illya would enjoy them since the recipe came from him and Hannah loved trying new recipes.
"What did she look like, Illya?" She asked while handing Napoleon the bottle of chilled Zinfandel.
"She was about your height with dark hair in a chignon on her neck and deep set brown eyes that seemed to look straight through you and into another dimension. I did not believe in her pronouncements but I thought perhaps she was genuinely open to paranormal phenomena." Illya shrugged and took the wineglass that she handed him.
"And what was your position on the paranormal?" Napoleon popped the cork and began to fill the glasses.
Illya looked out over the lake, his eyes unfocused. "I am a scientist and I believe in physical laws that govern the world we see around us. But I am also a child of peasant Russia and the belief in a power greater than myself was fed to me with my mother's milk." He shrugged and seemed to be trying to hide a blush.
Rebecca laid a gentle hand on his arm. "You explain it very well, Illya. I have come to the realization that the Power is called by many names and described in a myriad of different ways. But it exists, no matter what it is labeled."
The blue eyes looked shyly into hers and he nodded. "Yes. The professor to whom I'd been speaking nodded coldly to her and left the balcony. He was a little more rigid in his beliefs but I stayed, wondering what she might say. She leaned against the parapet wall, looking out over the city and clasping her hands in front of her like a little girl at her first catechism. She spoke with an educated accent and I will never forget what she said."
"You do not seek your fortune, young sir?"
"No, I believe I will make my way on my own."
"Ah, but the past is always with us. And your past has many holds upon you."
"You do not like to swim in deep water because of an old fear. Not of this life but of one many centuries ago."
"Of course, so much of our past we must relive again and again."
"Does a person ever get it right?"
"Sometimes ... sometimes we learn our lesson and move on to another."
"And what lesson was it that I did not learn?"
"Three thousand years ago -- give or take a century or two, you were a fisherman off the coast of ... America. The boats were made of hollowed trees and you were dark complected with shiny black hair. A great storm blew up out of nowhere and swamped your fishing party. All of you drowned and to this day, that fear of water holds you fast."
Illya shrugged. "That's all she would say and ever since then I have wondered if she saw true or simply made it up."
"Well, since she didn't know you and you'd never met before, how could she have made it up?" Napoleon set the picnic basket on the ground and made sure the benches were clean before sitting Rebecca down with a flourish.
"Gossip. I'd turned down a boating party on the Thames one weekend and some of the others might have speculated in her hearing. Con artists are notorious for making inspired guesses."
"But how did you feel at the moment she said it, Illyusha?" Napoleon sat down across from Rebecca and Illya.
The young man blushed. "It was one of those 'aha!' experiences we have spoken of before. When you took me to the ocean, it felt as if I were coming ... home."
Napoleon's eyes melted and his hand reached across the table to his lover. "You are home, Illya."
"Home is where ever you are, Pasha." He met the hand and squeezed it gently.
"Gentlemen, I propose a toast." Rebecca hid a sniff at their endearing sentiment. "May this always be your home and may you have many more happy years here."
They clinked their glasses above the table and took a sip of the golden wine. The next few moments were spent in apportioning out the food onto their paper plates. Rebecca was beguiled into telling more stories about Napoleon's youth while Illya listened and chuckled. He was in turn teased into telling some of his memories of the same age although his were more somber recollections.
Rebecca ached at the thought of the beautiful pale child he must have been, fighting for survival in the bleak gulag and learning the harsh lessons that Napoleon had only learned in a war zone. Silently, she said a prayer for them both, that they might always be there for each other in good times and bad. She was glad that she'd taken the steps she had at the beginning of their visit.
They were squabbling about some point in a story they were telling her about one of their missions when she tapped her fork on her glass and cleared her throat. Two pairs of eyes met hers curiously and an almost identical eyebrow raised on each brow. She smiled at them tenderly and reached out a hand to them both, which they immediately took.
"When you first came, I knew almost immediately that you were in love. It warmed my heart to hear you laugh freely, Napoleon. For too many years, that laugh was silent and I prayed that you would find the spark that would re-ignite your soul." She squeezed his hand and felt it returned. "And Illya, you were everything he'd told me and more. Kind, intelligent and so much in love with my grandson that it shone from you."
He nodded slowly, returning her grip.
"So, I took a step that I'd been planning for some time. Napoleon, you know that I hold title to five properties in various places, including this acreage and the island off the Windward Islands in the Caribbean." She waited for his nod. "Well, no longer do I hold title to this land. You do."
"What?" His eyes couldn't get any wider. "But this is your home."
"Yes, it is. And I hold a life interest in it which will last as long as I do." She smiled again and held onto their hands. "But the others don't care for this place the way that you do. And now I see that Illya feels the same way. In a very real sense, boys, you have both come home. When the spy business gets to be too much, you can come here to recharge your batteries. And if you retire in the distant future, your home will be waiting here for you."
"Nana, I ... I don't know what to say." Napoleon fumbled, unable to put together a coherent sentence. "It's too much."
"No, it's not. People up here tend to mind their own business. This can be a safe haven for you when tolerance is hard to come by. You haven't chosen an easy path in loving each other but here you can rest and be yourselves." Rebecca watched Illya's eyes fill with tears that never fell. She ached for the young man who'd learned so early how to control his emotions.
"Thank you, Nana. For this," Napoleon waved an arm in a full circle that included the forest and lake. "But most of all for accepting us. And still loving me."
"Oh, sweetheart. You are so very welcome. Especially for bringing home such a sweet young man like your Illya." She smiled at them both.
"Thank you." Illya leaned over and kissed her cheek.
She could see all the things he couldn't say and she returned the kiss. "Which would you like to call me, Illya ... Nana or Rebecca?"
His eyes darted to Napoleon and whatever he saw there must have reassured him because they came right back to her. "I called my grandmother, Baba. Would you mind if I called you that?"
"Short for babushka?" Rebecca rolled the word on her tongue and watched him nod shyly. "I would be honored to be your Baba, Illya." And leaning over, she kissed his cheek, meeting his hug with one of her own. They sat in the early afternoon sunlight, at peace with each other and their world. Rebecca could feel them relax, content and replete with the wonderful meal. "Napoleon, open the cookies. Hannah made them especially for Illya."
The blonde reached the cookie tin first and opened the lid to expose the small cookies layered in wax paper. "They are just like Mama made for Christmas. Are these preserves that Hannah put up this summer?"
"Yes, except for the walnuts which we collected last fall and the yellow quince which is from the Petersons. The raspberries are from the original canes that Salvatore planted when we first moved here. The deep purple filling is from our blackberry bushes. We have a short growing season but we're protected from the north wind by our pines so there's enough time to bring them all to ripeness." She accepted one of the quince filled cookies and bit into the sweet-tart treat with enjoyment.
Illya was savoring one of the walnut filled cookies and Napoleon was licking away some of the raspberry filling that smeared on his upper lip. The silence was a contented one and each one they tried was declared the best one of all. Until they tried another, finally giving up the judging and enjoying them.
Leaving their picnic things on the table, Rebecca walked the broad path arm in arm with both her grandsons. This time she spoke of Antonio and their early married years when they were struggling to establish his small business and start a family. She reminisced with the familiar old stories that Napoleon already knew and a few new ones that he'd never heard before.
He was old enough now to know about the first son who died of polio in the 1947 epidemic. Little Reuben was named for her father and only six years old when the high fever and paralyzed lungs spiked and took him before they could get him to the doctor. She still grieved for the bright light taken from her much too soon. But young James had been spared and grown up to have Napoleon and his sisters.
Napoleon asked questions about those early years while Illya wanted to know when she started writing. The journal she'd kept through good times and bad had led her to try her hand at magazine articles when every little bit of extra cash was welcome. Modest success had just fueled the fire of her ambition and she'd begun setting aside time for writing and the freedom it gave her.
Illya understood the need and admitted that he'd begun to sketch again for the sheer joy of creating. Napoleon teased him about his bird watching and his partner teased him right back with the quiet comment that he'd taken to drawing Emperors. For some reason that made her grandson blush bright red and go silent.
Rebecca was looking forward to finding out what that code word meant. In fact, she was looking forward period. Perhaps a trip to New York was in the near future. She had to thank that sweet Alexander Waverly for helping to bring her two boys together. She smiled to herself and mused over the fact that he was a widower. And she was a widow.
The future was looking up.
The end of Life's a Picnic Affair
Russian Tea Cakes (from Mrs. Fields Cookie Book, page 63)
|1 cup salted butter||1/2 cup fruit preserves or|
|1/2 cup confectioners' sugar||1/2 cup (2 oz.) chopped walnuts|
|2 tsp. pure vanilla extract||1/4 cup confectioners' sugar|
|2 cups all-purpose flour|
|1/4 tsp. salt|
Yield: 2 dozen
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
In a large bowl cream butter and sugar using an electric mixer. Add vanilla, scraping down bowl as needed. Blend in flour and salt, mixing until thoroughly combined.
Roll tablespoonfuls of dough into small balls about 1 inch apart. Press down the center of each ball with a spoon, forming a depression. Fill each with a teaspoonful of preserves or nuts.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer cookies immediately to a cool, flat surface. When cookies are completely cool, dust them lightly with confectioners' sugar.
(Absolutely yummy and I have to admit to liking the quince preserves the best.)