A long wail sounded from down the hall, followed by quick footsteps. Genya ran out after the auditors, clutching long strands of jewelry in her arms and several hats on her head. “NOT THE VALENTINO!” She howled, “Just leave the Jimmys! You can’t take my Jimmys!” she tried to snatch a pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos from a stone-faced collector, to no avail.
“Shut up and pack,” snapped Zoya from the other side of the hall. “Or you’ll have nothing left at all.”
Genya sniffed and ran back into her room. David was sitting in the corner on his phone, his leg crossed over his knee. “Da-viiiiiid,” Genya said with a stomp of her foot.
“Zoya is right,” he responded, not looking up from his phone. “You should pack your most important belongings. Social security card, birth certificate, prescriptions -”
“Oh! They didn’t get the McQueen dresses!” She interrupted.
Nikolai followed the head collector. “I don’t understand what happened,” he said, turning on a charming smile and running a hand through his blonde hair. “We’ve done everything by the book -”
“Well someone’s been cooking your books. Tough luck.”
The four of them sat on a couch in front of the auditor, their luggage saved, as people carried their furniture out. The woman, dressed in a pantsuit, seemed completely uninterested in any of their protests and waited for them to stop talking.
“For fuck’s sake Nikolai will you shut up,” Zoya finally said, rubbing her temples. “Let her speak so we can get on with the worst day of our lives.”
“Well,” the woman looked. “You haven’t paid taxes on your $150 million assets in -” she flipped through. “Ten years? So you’re not getting anything. The only thing you are allowed to maintain is the deed to a town you bought a few years’s back. Dva Stolba. Maybe go lay low there.” She shrugged. “Wait for this lawsuit to run it’s course.”
“Wait, I don’t understand,” Nikolai chuckled. “I’ve lived in Os Alta my entire life. I can’t move to some hick town near the Shu border.”
“I’m from a hick town near the Shu border, Mr. Lantsov,” she said with an unimpressed tone. “You’ll learn to deal with it. Maybe next time don’t trust an accountant from…” she squinted. “Apparat Inc.? What is his name Rasputin?” She chuckled. “Goodbye, Mr. Lantsov.”
The four of them were deposited at the only hotel in Dva Stolba - a tiny place named Sungate Motel.
“It’s not even a proper hotel,” Zoya said, staring at it. She wore a tight sparkly silver dress with tights, and six inch platform heels that finally made her the same height as Nikolai. She clung her long and expensive cardigan around herself, oversized sunglasses hiding her face. “The room service is going to be shit.”
David looked up from his notepad curiously, then looked back down. “I don’t think there’s room for my workbench.”
“David,” Genya sighed. “You don’t have a work bench anymore.”
“Oh.” He stopped writing. “Correct.”
They piled into the front office where a half-Shu girl with white hair in a shag cut with blunt bangs sat, book in hand and leg up on the reception desk.
“Uh? Excuse me?” Zoya waved her hand at her and looked at the name tag. “Joseph?” She raised an eyebrow in confusion. “Your name is Joseph?”
“Yupp,” the receptionist responded, still reading her book. “What’s up?”
“We own the town, we need three rooms. One for the annoying couple, queen sized for this man,” she motioned at Nikolai. “And a California King for me. I only sleep in luxury.”
The woman stared at Zoya. “I can get you a queen or a double twin.” She looked at her notepad. “And you are only allotted two rooms according to the mayor.”
“Well show me this mayor and I’ll -”
Nikolai pushed in front of her. “Listen,” he peeked down. “Joseph? Listen Joseph. I’m so sorry, it has been a very long day. The lovebirds there will take a queen room. Is there any possible way we could swing two separate rooms for my lovely taskmaster and I?” He gave her his most winning smile.
Joseph seemed to consider it. “No.”
Genya dropped her head on the front desk and when she stood up, there were tears in her honey-brown eyes. Her red hair was draped carelessly around her shoulders. “I’ve just had a really bad day and I would love it if you could maybe tweak and pinch and -”
“Oh a bad day?” Joseph said, furrowing her eyebrows. “Wow.” She looked down for a moment. “No.” She laid back and put the book up in front of her face so they couldn’t look her in the eyes. “Do you want two rooms or not.”
* * * * *
Zoya sat on her twin bed, trying to ignore Nikolai’s obscene whistling from the other side of their motel room. Her entire life was packed in front of her in $3500 luggage. She was stuck in some backwater hick town in a room with the infuriating, clueless, ravishingly handsome Nikolai Lantsov.
“You don’t have to be here,” Nikolai said. “Genya’s my half-sister and has an incentive to stay. So if you have other people you could -”
“I didn’t spend the last ten years of my life clawing my way from intern to the senior advisor to the Lantsov Chief Development Officer, and getting very accustomed to a life of luxury, to not see this shit through.”
“Your love and dedication is, always, inspiring.”
“I have too much stake, I will drag you and this company back if it kills me.”
* * * * *
David’s face was pinched as he looked around his new bedroom with Genya, who was looking at her much-smaller wardrobe space. “Oh my god.”
“When you say ‘oh my god’ like that, there’s something wrong,” David said, looking at Genya. “What’s wrong?”
“I have almost no closet space.”
David looked around the room. “Just hang it from the curtain rod.”
“Ew, David!” She said. “No!”
David furrowed his brows. “Is this one of those times where you need to complain and I shouldn’t try to help?”
Genya collapsed back onto their bed. “Yes, David.”
* * * * *
Nikolai was sitting on his own bed, contemplating his new existence when a strange man walked into his room. This man had a mullet and a struggling moustache that was curled ever-so-slightly at the end. “Welcome! You must be the Lantsovs.”
“Who the fuck are you?” Nikolai asked, staring. The man was dressed in a flannel overshirt, white t-shirt, and worn jeans. “And why are you standing in my room?”
“I’m Joshua, but everyone calls me Joost. I’m the mayor of Dva Stolba.”
“Joost. Why are you standing in my living room?”
Zoya walked out of the bathroom and stared. “Nikolai, why is there a man in our living room?”
Joost let out a hearty chuckle, before sitting down on Zoya’s bed. “It’s nice to meet the people who own our town! My wife Anya has a welcome basket but, you know,” Joost bobbed his head. “I wanted to get a head start. You must be Zoya! Make sure you stop by city hall. Turns out you have some community service hours due.”
“I have what?! ” Zoya exclaimed, her face reddening.
“Community service - apparently you,” Joost held his arms in quotation marks. “Beat up someone for looking at you wrong. Fifty hours! We had a good time looking at that file.”
Zoya and Nikolai’s mouths fell open in twin expressions. She then snapped her lips tight.
“Listen, Joost,” Nikolai said. Is everyone in this town named Joshua? He thought. “Today has been very traumatic for me and my friends. If we could have some privacy…”
“Oh don’t mind me,” Joost interrupted, picking up the remote and turning on the TV.
“Joost,” Zoya finally snapped. “Get the fuck out of our room.”
The mayor frowned. “Well. Fine. If you need anything, you can get the fuck over to the office and ask Alina. Good luck getting anything out of her.”
* * * * *
David was trying to make the best of the situation and went up to the front desk, where Not-Joshua was sitting, playing on a switch. “Alina, right?” he asked her. He made sure his expression was passive and pleasant the way Genya told him to be. Relaxed forehead. Upturned lips. Polite cadence.
“What’s up?” she muttered.
“My wife used all our towels, could I please get some?”
“After I finish this fishing tournament on Animal Crossing,” she replied.
David paused. “I don’t understand.”
“I don’t know what to tell you buddy. I gotta catch three fish in three minutes for this beaver.”
David stared at her. All her body language indicated she was being completely serious. “Is this a video game?”
Alina nodded. David went to sit on the couch in the lobby, back straight and hands on his knees. Three minutes and fifteen seconds later, Alina stood up and went to the back to grab some towels, handing it off to him. “Thanks for waiting.”
“Fish are important.”
Alina considered this. “I like you David.”
* * * * *
A week later, Zoya was standing on the side of the road in four-inch black Louboutins, a black Ted Baker dress, and a bad attitude. It was ridiculous. The man she beat up had absolutely deserved it and it wasn’t her fault that her stiletto drew blood.
But when her community service partner showed up, she was exponentially more interested. A tall man with long hair pulled back in a braid, tawny brown skin, and gray-blue eyes approached. He had a sunburst tattoo on his arm and wore a white t-shirt and jeans. Good to know not everyone in this town is a dumpster, she thought, and flipped her hair over her shoulder.
He looked her up and down, arching a brow. Perfect, Zoya thought. Let him see.
Until he opened his mouth. “You’re going to pick up trash in those shoes?”
“I can do anything in these shoes,” she replied. “I’m Zoya.”
“Mal,” he replied. “Nice to meet you.”
Zoya shook his hand. “Yes it is.”
He frowned a bit, but Zoya knew he had no idea how lucky he was. After all, she had set her sights on him. If she was going to be stuck in Dva Stolba she may as well have some fun with this tall glass of water in front of her. He didn’t look like some scrawny backwater farmer, not with that build. She couldn’t tell his ancestry. Perhaps part Suli like her, or Shu, or Hedjut.
There was only one restaurant in town, so Zoya went to meet everyone there for lunch. Tired from the community service, the rubbery seats of the booth squeaked obscenely. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a menu this big,” Nikolai commented. He unfolded section after section until the 4-page 11”x18” monstrosity was laid out before him. Zoya swatted it away from her, trying in vain to keep her space.
David frowned in his own frustration trying to fold it back up, eventually giving it up and laying it on the table. Genya didn’t bother, leaning over and putting her chin on David’s shoulder to discern herself.
A freckle-faced tall blonde walked over to them, with bright blue eyes. “Hello! Welcome to Dva Stolba’s Cafe. My name is Nadia. Would you like to hear the specials?”
“You have specials?” Nikolai asked, perturbed. “That aren’t on this menu?”
“We’re fine,” Genya said. “I’ll have a large caesar salad.”
“French onion soup and grilled cheese,” David ordered. “Please.”
“The green smoothie, and a chicken sandwich,” Zoya declared.
“Surprise me with the special,” Nikolai finished off.
Nadia wrote it all down. “Great! I should just let you know we’re out of lettuce and chicken.”
The four of them looked at each other. This was Dva Stolba.