“Romych, are you going to take a break this year?” Sergey said on the last day of May. I tore myself away from the papers, looked at my partner and his wife, and thought for a moment.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I haven’t thought about it at all.”
“I mean, Verok and I used to go to the sea every year back in ‘Sasha’. We used to take the kids and go by car… But last year we couldn’t go… ‘Sasha’ closed down, then we merged, started a business… Well, you know… And now everything seems to be going well – the warehouse is working, Petya is delivering…” Sergey continued.
“So, what do you suggest, should we go on vacation?” I said.
“Well, do you mind?” Sergey sniffed his nose and put his ankle on the other leg.
“No, it’s a good idea!” I leaned back in my chair at the table and thought. “I’m just thinking… When do you want to take a vacation? You want to go to the sea?”
“Well, yes,” Vera replied. “We’d load up the kids and go, wouldn’t we, Seryozha?”
“Yeah, I’d get some rest!” He put his foot on the ground and exhaled as if relieved. “It’s already the second year without a vacation, and we have to take the kids to the sea to warm them up… We can go from June 1st! What day of the week will it be?” Sergey said, putting his hand in his pocket for the phone. In the next ten minutes everything was decided – the first two weeks of June will be a holiday for Sergey and Vera, and the second for me.
“So, will you be okay here alone?” Sergey summarized. “Senya and Petya will load, so you don’t have to carry anything, just collect orders and prepare waybills. We don’t have to hurry with the non-cash payments, they can all wait two weeks, and when Vera comes back she’ll pay everything that’s due. You don’t have to get cash either, let it sit there, why do you need it? No need to waste time with it…”
There was a knock at the door, and Petya came in, turning his eyes and breathing heavily, as if he were eavesdropping, and cried from the threshold: “Roma, Seryozha, I mean… what about us? Could we take a break this year, or what? Or are we like serfs… without rest?”
“Like serfs, Petya!” Sergey supported the joke.
“Hee hee hee hee!” The driver burst out laughing and covered his mouth.
“When do you want to go on vacation?” I clarified.
It turned out that Petya wouldn’t mind going on vacation from the beginning of summer for the same two weeks.
“How can we let you go? Who will carry the goods?” Sergey said stubbornly. “No, we can’t…”
Petya rolled his eyes in surprise and opened his mouth.
“No, Seryoga, we can’t let Petya work without rest!” I intervened.
“How will we work then!?” he wondered.
“Well… We could ask Anatoly Vasilievich…” I suggested.
By the end of the day, everything was settled – Petya would go on vacation at the same time as Sergey and Vera, my father agreed to work on a delivery truck this time, and Senya refused to take a break.
“So you’re going to the Black Sea by car next week?” I summarized.
“Yes, we are…” Sergey nodded.
“Then you owe me a sea souvenir,” I smiled.
Since Monday, it was as if my father and I were back in the past – we started driving together again. I couldn’t afford to let my father go on his own and just chill in the office. The growing sales of dichlorvos quickly fueled my excitement and I forgot about time and conventions and worked hard every day. Two weeks flew by, and on Monday, June 19, Sergey and Vera came to work rested and tanned. Petya came too.
“So, Romych, how are things going?” my partner said cheerfully, as soon as he crossed the threshold of the office with a radiant face and a good mood.
“Fine, Seryoga!” I smiled and shook his soft, warm hand. “I made a load of dough in two weeks! Wanna know how much the office made?”
Sergey’s mood became even more benign, his nostrils fluttered as if trying to catch a whiff of profit. Vera, sitting at her computer, clicked her mouse, smiled and said:
“Let’s see what you’ve been up to while we’ve been away… Whoa!”
“How much is there, Verok?” Sergey leaned towards his wife.
“One hundred and eighty thousand, Seryozha…” she said.
“One hundred and eighty thousand!?” Sergey knitted his eyebrows, gave me his patented look, looked at the monitor. “Romych! Have you sold all the dichlorvos or what!?”
“Not all of it, but I load all the customers! Sales are good, so my father and I worked so hard that I was tired at the end…” I leaned back in my chair with the relief that comes to any man who has done his work honestly and to the limit. “So, Seryoga, the next two weeks are yours! Work just as hard and we’ll make a lot of money for the month!”
“Romych, we’ll do everything we can, when are you going on vacation, tomorrow?” he said.
“Yes, tomorrow,” I nodded. “The first vacation in all this time, you know, Seryoga!”
“Yes, Romych!” Sergey put the briefcase on the table and put his hand inside. “As promised, we brought you a present! Here you go!”
A glass penis emerged from the briefcase and stared at me. I was stunned and stared at the gift. Vera blushed, smiled and looked down. After I got over my surprise, I realized that the gift was a bottle filled with brown liquid. The dick-like container ended with a neck and a cork. Sergey held the bottle by the neck and watched my reaction with a satisfied face.
“Seryoga!” I rolled my eyes. “What the fuck is this?! Damn!”
“It’s a gift,” he chuckled, shaking the cock bottle in the air. “Here! Take it!”
I took the gift in my hands and began to look at it.
“Is that cognac in there?” I guessed.
“Cognac,” Sergey sniffed. “You wanted a present, so here’s a present for you!”
“Aha…” I said, confused, feeling the mood souring and irritation growing. The way the gift was presented was mocking.
“Thanks, Seryoga,” I joked, suppressing my negative vibes. “How am I supposed to carry it home? Just like that, in my hands? I’ll scare the people on the bus!”
Satisfied with his prank, Sergey pushed the briefcase into the cupboard and sat down in the chair by the door. Vera, still smiling and blushing, took a bag and handed it to me: “Here, take it.”
“Oh, thank you, Vera!” I said, slipping the gift in the bag and putting it on the shelf in the cupboard.
The rest of the day passed noisily and happily – Sergey and Vera shared their impressions of the holiday, and I was looking forward to the beginning of mine. In the end, Sergey drove me home and went to the dacha with his wife. I looked at the bag in my hand and felt another wave of irritation. I didn’t know what to do with it, the package burned my hands. The gift felt more and more like a slap in the face. I came home, angrily shoved the package to the back of my desk, and tried to forget about it immediately.
“Seryoga, show me the figure!” I said impatiently, flying into the office on Monday morning, July 3rd, and barely having time to say hello to my partner and Vera.
“Just a minute, Roman, wait,” he murmured, sitting down softly in a chair at the table, grabbing the waybills prepared for the day and shouting: “Se-enya-a!”
There was a murmur behind the wall, a hurried step in the corridor, and the storekeeper appeared in the room. Sergey handed him the papers and Senya went out. The office was quiet – Vera was clicking and jingling with accounting papers, Sergey was half lying in his chair with a colorless, blank look on his face.
“Seryoga!” I shouted impatiently, squirming in the chair by the door. “What’s with the figure? Show me what you’ve earned while I’ve been resting! More than me and my father, I hope! Vera!?”
I looked at Sergey’s wife.
“Vera, show him,” he muttered, slightly irritated.
“Just a moment, Roma,” she ran her fingers over the keyboard and froze. “Shall I print it out for you?”
“No, I’ll just look at it!” I jumped up from my chair, walked over to the monitor and looked at it. “Well, what is it!? How much!? … Oh… Sixty???”
I looked at Sergey stunned, he didn’t move.
“Seryoga!??? Sixty!??” I said. “Seryoga, why so little!??”
Completely baffled by the figure, I returned to the chair and sat down.
“Roman, that’s the way it is,” Sergey waved his hands. “We sold as much as we could.”
“Why so little!?” I stared at my partner in complete disbelief. “My father and I delivered so much, you sold nothing…”
“Roman, but how am I supposed to sell more if you loaded them all!?” Sergey became agitated. “Wherever I call, there are goods, nothing is needed yet!”
“It’s still not enough…” I said, feeling a huge hole of frustration growing inside me. I remembered how my father and I worked selflessly for two weeks – every day I meticulously called customers, collected orders, then loaded the “GAZelle” to the brim and rolled with my father to the customers, where I bypassed all the offices, then unloaded boxes with my father in the warehouses and rolled back to the warehouse, wanting to have time for the second run. And so on for two weeks. We were exhausted, but the result was excellent. And my understanding of working with expectation extended to the next two weeks, which Sergey worked for two. Did he? I looked at the softened body in the chair, and resentment and universal injustice burned me from the inside. I realized that Sergey had not strained himself for two weeks and had spent them half-lying like that, realizing that the money for the month had already been earned. It was as if I had been robbed. I struggled with the lump in my chest for the rest of the day, but my mood was already ruined. In the evening, not knowing what to do with the accumulated anger, I grabbed the package with the cock bottle and threw it in the trash.
My father started with the tomatoes. I have to admit, he built a great box. It was roomy inside and I could stand almost to my full height. My father was always good with his hands – everything he made with them was well thought out, practical and sturdy.
One evening my father called me from some stanitsa in the Krasnodar region. He and his friend Vasya had gone there in their “GAZelles” to buy tomatoes, a thousand kilometers away. The conversation was short. My father said that they had a safe trip, they would go to bed right in the cabin of the car, in the morning they would start buying goods from the local population, and in the evening they would try to return. Even though our communication was dry, I was really worried about my father. I wanted him to succeed and I wanted my father to start making good money. Although his partner was a slippery guy, he was very smart in this business – he knew everything – where, when, how much and at what price to buy and sell. It was easier to start with someone like that and avoid a lot of mistakes. But there was a “but”: fruits and vegetables are perishable. Remembering the ordeal with the beer, I decided not to deal with perishable goods. I expressed my doubts to my father. And the fact that this business is difficult for him because of his age – after fifty, loading and unloading a ton and a half alone is not easy. I encouraged my father to find a business similar to ours, but my words went unheeded.
The next evening my father called me again and said he was on his way home. I wished him a good trip and worried about my father for twenty-four hours until he called again the next evening. I came home around 1:00 a.m. – my father was already asleep in his room. When I got up in the morning, he was gone. I called him – my father was busy trading at the wholesale market. In the evening at home we were able to communicate for the first time. I was curious about everything, so I asked my father a lot of questions.
We arrived, slept overnight, started buying in the morning, finished late, about ten in the evening, loaded two tons into the box, decided with Vasily to leave early in the morning, went to bed… When I woke up, Vasily was gone, he had left alone at night, I had to drive back alone on an unknown road, I got a little lost on the highway, I successfully bought tomatoes, sold half of them on the first day, the car was left at the market at the trading place.
My father was smoking on the balcony, and I stood next to him with my shoulder against the door and listened.
“Vasya is an asshole!” I said, remembering Vasya’s wrinkled, mustachioed face, the swindler with the shifting, lying eyes, and instantly seething with anger; I wanted to punch Vasya in the face, but all I could say was, “Why did you have to mess with him, I don’t get it!”
“Who else was I supposed to mess with!?” My father twitched and glared at me indignantly.
“No one!” I parried. “You should have worked yourself, that’s all!”
“It’s all very well to say that – you should have worked yourself! And what about driving alone on the highway? What if something happens on the road? A breakdown for example? Stop talking bullshit!”
“Well, the road, yeah…” I nodded. “I don’t know, ride with someone else!”
“Who??” My father stared at me.
“I don’t know, there must be someone else,” I was confused. “Vasya rides alone after all.”
“He’s been doing it for years!” My father shook his hand with a cigarette in the air.
“Well… that’s true,” I shrugged. “Still, it’s not okay… Vasya is a jerk! Leaving you alone at night like that… He left you there on purpose!”
“On purpose!” my father said, getting really angry. “So!? What can I do? That’s the way he is! And so are you! You and Vasya would make good friends! With friends like that, you don’t need enemies! You’ll set your friend up if you get the chance!”
It hurt. My father threw mud at me again. All my efforts to repair the relationship were shattered by a verbal slap in the face. I didn’t want to talk to him anymore.
“I see,” I muttered, depressed. “Only assholes around you, and you’re the only one wearing white…”
“What, you don’t like the truth?” my father said, glaring at me angrily and nervously, greedily pulling out the rest of his cigarette. “You listen!”
“Okay…” I brushed him off. “Sell tomatoes… Have a good sale…”
“Don’t worry, I will!”
I turned and walked away.
“Romych, why don’t we spend some time outside tonight?” Sergey suggested in the middle of the week.
“What do you mean?” I didn’t understand.
“Well, we do that sometimes with friends, we get together and just go to the countryside, we take some food – salads, meat… take some good wine or cognac… And we just drive out to the countryside in cars and sit for a couple or three hours, just relaxing… drinking, socializing… just relaxing!”
“Well…” I pictured it in my mind and thought about it.
“I’ve got a folding table and chairs with me, ‘Hunter’… in the trunk… So we just need to stop by the store, get some food… and something to drink. I could use a few shots of cognac. I don’t know what you drink in your clubs… gah-gah!” Sergey cackled. “Tequila or whiskey? I don’t know what’s in fashion now!”
“Seryoga, I haven’t been going to clubs and drinking what’s in fashion for a long time!” Feeling the sharpness of the words, I parried. “I drink what I like, not what’s in fashion… I can drink beer too…”
“Well, my Romka likes beer too!” Sergey said.
“Why, will he come too?” I was surprised.
“We can take him with us! I’ll call him, find out…” Sergey took his phone out of its case. “Yeah, hey, bro! We’re going to hang out in the open with Romych after work, how about you?! Yeah – me, Romych, Verok and you if you want… Where? We haven’t thought about it yet…”
Sergey looked at his wife, she said: “Maybe in the park near our house?”
“Oh yeah! Bro, Verok tells me that we can do it in the park! Yeah, aha! Yeah, let’s do it, huh? I don’t know yet… around seven o’clock I guess… aha… Yeah, call me around six and I’ll tell you for sure! Uh-huh… yeah, okay, bye, bro!” Sergey put the phone back in its case and looked at me. “Romka’s coming too! So, are you in?”
I told him where we could buy some excellent ready-to-eat food, and we stopped on the way to the store. Salads, roasts, a bottle of wine, several bottles of beer and a bottle of cognac – everything we bought was put in the trunk, and in forty minutes we were near Sergey’s house. The park was within walking distance – a hundred meters along the asphalt road that led to the iron gates of the park. We drove up to them. There was a lock on the gate.
We went to the park through an open wicket, found a place under a spreading tree and carried the contents of the trunk there. Sergey’s brother came over and started to help him unpack the camping chairs and table.
“Hey, you see what kind of set I got?” my partner said. “My bro gave it to me – ‘Hunter’! It’s an expensive set, worth eight grand, and I got it for free!”
Sergey shook the unpacked table in the air and began to assemble it. The set was the usual one – a table and four chairs with tarpaulin seats. But Sergey drove me crazy within a few hours, praising it, mentioning it ten times in conversation:
“I’ve been to the stores, I’ve checked the prices… blah, blah, blah… but ‘Hunter’ is better.”
Or: “Romych, you can see for yourself – I have everything good, branded, I don’t buy shit, we’re sitting on my ‘Hunter’…”
Or: “… well, what did you expect, it’s ‘Hunter’!”
The only thing I remember from the whole meeting was that and Sergey eating salad. Vera drank wine, Roma and I drank beer. Sergey, having made it clear that beer was not for him, theatrically enjoyed cognac.
I was bored during the gathering. I wanted to leave almost immediately. And I understood the reason for this reaction – there was too much of Sergey and Vera for me. These faces at work, so let’s have a rest with the same group? No, thank you. The concept that Sergey insistently imposed – business in a close circle of friends, holidays together – began to weigh on me. Besides, I was not interested in spending my free time that way. I agreed to the meeting because of my innate tactfulness and the very “not to offend anyone” thing. I sank into the soft “Hunter” chair next to the “Hunter” table, listened and watched Sergey practice his eloquence. The alcohol quickly awakened hunger, and everyone began to put food out of containers onto disposable plates.
Ready-to-eat food is a separate topic. It has long been a result of conflict in our family. My mother, who shut me and my father out, left the issue of food to us. My father and I ate mostly randomly and on the run. My stomach began to show signs of trouble again. One day, my father stumbled upon the prepared food section of a store on the street next to our house. The food in this section was excellent. My father and I began to buy it regularly, and our diet improved. And it was this section that I recommended to Sergey.
My partner got up from the table, took a forkful of salad from the container, and shoved it into his mouth, chewing. Threads of cabbage hung from his lips and chin.
“Yeah, that’s a pretty good salad,” he said, slurping a few times and tasting it. “Pretty tender…well soaked…will do!”
His “will do” stuck in my mind, along with his oily, fat, munching lips and the lazy, careless movements of his fork. The image of Sergey appeared to me from the other side.
Natasha and I agreed to meet on Saturday at eight o’clock. It was unbearable at home, so I left at five, came to the center and walked along the avenue. After walking all the way down, I turned around and walked back. In one of the summer cafes I noticed Inna. She waved friendly and I approached the table. Inna was with two friends. I sat down next to one of them, across from Inna and the third girl.
“Taking a walk?” Inna looked at me with her usual attentive squint.
“Yes, I went downtown to see who was here and what was going on,” I nodded.
“Alone?” the girl probed me with her eyes.
“Well, yes… alone for now…” I leaned back in my chair, “… and then we’ll see…”
“Not married yet?” Inna said.
“Not yet…” I said, feeling more and more like I was being interrogated. “I still have time…”
“Sure,” Inna smirked. “Plenty of time!”
There was a flicker of disappointment in the girl’s barely perceptible expression. Finally, Inna looked away and fixed her gaze on her hands, which were lying on the table, holding the phone.
“You’ll never get married…” she waved her hand doomedly, looked at her friends, grinned, and added caustically for them: “He’s a chosen one!”
I felt awkward. Inna looked at me and I looked at her. Inna’s friends did not understand our dialogue, but we read between the lines. Sensing my indifference and calmness, Inna couldn’t resist and slapped me in a feminine way.
“Do you even have a girlfriend?” she said with the same squint.
“I do,” I replied calmly, smiling only at the corners of my eyes and mouth.
My phone, as if coming to my rescue, screamed “Hit me!” from my pants pocket and beat a drum. I pulled the phone down to the table and it went on:
Can you keep up
Baby boy, make me lose my breathe
Bring the noise, make me lose my breathe
Hit me hard, make me lose my (hah, hah)
“Yes, hello, hi!” I put the phone to my ear and stared at Inna, who was all ears. “Me? I’m here, in the center, in a cafe with some girls I know, met them by chance, chatting… No, just acquaintances… I was just passing by, they saw me, I saw them, they were sitting at a table, I came over and here I am, waiting for you…”
The first time I heard a hint of jealousy in Natasha’s voice, I realized I’d gotten myself into a stupid situation – telling her where I really was and with whom – and so I took the initiative:
“Where are you now? Are you going to the center? Ah, well, let me walk towards you, I’ll meet you at the hotel then? All right, I’m on my way… Okay, bye.”
I said goodbye to Inna, came to the hotel in ten minutes, and saw her almost immediately. Natasha was on the crosswalk. She smiled at me and ran towards me.
“Hi!” we said almost simultaneously and kissed.
“So?” Natasha dramatically put her hands at her sides and clicked her heel. “Who are those girls you were sitting with in the cafe?”
It felt good. I suddenly felt needed, smiled and joked.
“You shouldn’t sit there with any girls!” Natasha said sharply, crossing her arms over her chest, her face becoming serious.
A forbidding sentence. I tensed inwardly, preparing myself for a retort.
“Come on, Natasha, don’t be silly!” I smiled. “We were just chatting…”
“Ah, just chatting!?” The girl became even more serious and took half a step away from me. “I call him and he chats with some ex-girlfriends!??”
I suddenly realized that Natasha was really stuck on what had happened. Reasonable jealousy, yes, it felt good. But Natasha flew past the point of measure in a flash, and there was panic in her eyes.
“Come on, Natasha…” I smiled again. “I was just talking to an acquaintance… I have friends, acquaintances… What, I can’t talk to them?”
“You can’t!” Natasha cut me off excitedly.
“So how am I supposed to live, you’re the only girl I can talk to, right?”
“Yes!!! I’m the only one you can talk to!” Natasha screamed.
You can, you can’t. I’ve heard that somewhere before. I was fed up with women’s prohibitions.
“You know what!” I said softly, with pressure, suppressing a burst of anger with an effort. “I will talk to whoever I want, whenever I want! And if you can’t understand that all my interactions with other girls are of a friendly nature, then that’s your problem!”
Natasha was silent and looked at me fearfully. I softened and repeated again:
“I was just walking along the avenue, a girl I know was sitting in a cafe with her friends, she saw me… There was still time before our meeting, so I just chatted with them! That’s it! There’s nothing to talk about!”
Natasha stood tense as a cord.
“Oh, never mind! It’s okay!” she said, cheered up, smiled, came closer to me, hugged me with a jerk and squeezed her arms tightly around my chest. “I won’t give you to anyone!”
In my head I immediately experienced a whole bunch of feelings – I thought I had finally met the one who would say such important words. That all the previous failures in the relationship were worth this luck. And that I had never dreamed of such luck, although of course I had. My thoughts were all mixed up, I hugged Natasha and we walked slowly down the street, cooing softly.
“Roman, are you still seeing this, what’s-her-name…?” Sergey said suddenly, switching from the usual office chatter to the personal.
“Natashka, you mean? Yes,” I nodded.
“I just thought we could go out together. You could take your Natashka and we could go to a barbecue – me and Verok and you and your Natashka…”
“I don’t know, I guess we could…” I shrugged and looked at Vera, who was minding her own business and listening to our conversation with half-closed ears.
“Your Natashka is beautiful, isn’t she?” Sergey asked a strange question.
“Well…” I was stunned and smiled confused. “Well… she is… I mean… not bad!”
Vera looked at her husband with ironic surprise.
“Roma, tell him – all my girlfriends are beautiful!” she said.
“Seryoga!” I said immediately, breaking into a smile. “All my girlfriends are beautiful!”
“So take your beauty today after work and let’s go for a barbecue!” Sergey leaned back in his chair. “I just feel like eating a normal shashlik! After all, we seem to be living in the dacha, and it’s been a long time since we grilled shashlik, right, Verok?”
“Well, yeah…” Vera nodded, wrinkled her nose, and smiled. “I’d like to eat some shashlik!”
“There! All the more! Let’s go, Romych!” Sergey insisted.
Not very eager, but I agreed.
We left work early and arrived at the park at seven o’clock. We drove down to the reservoir and sat down about twenty meters from the water. I got out of the car. The silence of nature immediately filled my ears. The wind lazily moved the greenery of trees, bushes and reeds. In my pocket my cell phone came to life.
“I’m at a barbecue, Vova!” I said, answering the call.
“Who is it? Vovan?” Sergey asked, looking at me through his glasses. “Tell him to come to us!”
“Ramses, fuck, sure thing!!!” Vovka yelled into the phone. “I’ll be right there!!!”
In about forty minutes, he was walking awkwardly from the entrance of the park toward us. By that time we had already settled down – we had set up a table and chairs and built a fire. I didn’t notice how Sergey’s skullcap appeared on his head. He took it out of the trunk, put it on the back of his head and began to show all sorts of activity – laughing, joking, inquiring about the state of the fire and giving instructions to his wife. Vovka shouted, “What’s up, Ramses?”, clapped my hand with his palm, shook Sergey’s hand with restraint, nodded to Vera and muttered something under his nose. Sergey’s deft hands moved metal shots from the trunk of the “Mazda” to the table.
“I got it at ‘Travels’,” he explained. “I usually buy everything there. That axe there is from ‘Travels’, and the flashlight…”
Sergey bragged about an expensive tourist shop. I looked at Vovka, who was serious. I noticed that the relationship between Sergey and Vovka had never gone beyond the formal. There was a slight, neutral tension between them.
“No, I won’t drink cognac!” said Vovka, seeing the bottle in Sergey’s hand. “I’ll take a beer!”
I opened a bottle of beer for myself and another for Vera. Sergey poured himself a shot.
“Seryozha!??” His wife looked at him seriously and with restraint.
“Come on, Verok, I’ve only got one shot, I’ll eat meat soon, everything will be fine…” he waved away his wife’s reproach. “Besides, we are close to the house, there are no cops here…”
Everyone clinked glasses, took a sip of beer, Sergey drank the cognac in one gulp and said:
“Well? It’s time for shashlik?”
Vovka and I put the meat on skewers and put them over the coals. Natasha arrived. A jeans suit and cowboy boots, a crop top supported from the inside by her large breasts, pushed her jacket open, a snow-white, luxuriant head of hair – the girl looked graceful. For the first time I saw how Vera’s composure betrayed her – she fixed her eyes on Natasha’s breasts, and no matter how hard she tried to look away, it was all in vain – I noticed her gaze there again and again. And there was only one feeling in it: envy.
For the next hour Sergey acted as an entertainer. I cooed with Natasha and made shashlik with Vovka. Vera bounced around the table, keeping up the various topics of languid conversation. The conversation did not go well. Like pieces of different human clay, we didn’t fit together even under the pressure of a shared pastime. Natasha stayed close to me and Vovka, while Vera and Sergey were the other part of the group.
The shashlik was eaten. Suddenly Sergey took a chair and went down to the water, found a free place in the tall coastal grass, sat down with his back to us and looked at the water. The group broke up completely. Vovka fretted with boredom, constantly scratching the back of his head. Vera, with the automatic movements of family life, cleared the table. Soon Sergey returned. In everyone’s eyes was the desire to end the meeting. The rain helped – it began to drizzle. Everyone ran, threw the table and chairs into the trunk and rushed to the car to escape from large drops. It began to pour. As soon as we left the park, it was over. The group broke up. The rest of the evening was spent by the three of us – me, Vovka and Natasha – walking around, and towards nightfall we went to a club.
By mid-July, we had sold almost all of the dichlorvos. It was time to bring in the next batch, so Sergey placed an order.
“Seryoga, why are you ordering so little? The best sales are ahead of us! It’s not enough! – I stared at my partner with a sheet of paper in my hand.
“Roman, we have all the customers loaded to the brim!” He relaxed and waved his hand. “It’s already the end of July when everyone will be chewing up the leftovers! And we have three tons for early August!”
Sergey ran a pen under his throat.
“Fuck, that’s not enough…” I was surprised. “I would have ordered more, ten tons, the same order as the first one, just for the second half of the summer…”
“Roman, for what?” Sergey grimaced. “This way the dichlorvos will stay for the winter for sure!”
“So what?” I retorted. “Let them stay! What’s it to us? We’re not paying for them! We’ll write a letter explaining what’s what, I think the factory will agree!”
“What if they tell us to buy them back?” Sergey grumbled.
“Well… if so – we’ll buy them back!” I replied. “There will be three hundred boxes left… How much is that? One hundred and fifty thousand! Fuck! That’s bullshit! We’ll buy it back, hands down!”
I dismissed the possible difficulty, realizing its utter insignificance.
“But in the spring we’ll earn an extra ten to fifteen percent on the reassessment… That’s fucking great too!” I added, raising my eyebrows upward for convincing.
“No, let’s order it this way! Why do we need to overstock? Then buy back unnecessary goods in winter and bury money in it until spring!?” Sergey was stubborn.
“Well, okay,” I nodded. “But you’ll see, we’ll be left without goods in the middle of the season…”
We ordered three tons and started waiting for a container by the end of the month.
In the middle of July, on Friday the 14th, I turned twenty-nine. I told Sergey and Vera in the office at noon, adding that I was inviting them to a table at the entertainment complex the following evening. They said the usual congratulations, shook hands, and Sergey gave me five thousand ruble bills from both of them.
I met Natasha first on Saturday. She looked as minimalist and stunning as ever, wearing flesh-colored breeches and a strappy tank top. For the second week in a row, the heat of the day had forced everyone to wear the bare minimum. Natasha stomped her stiletto sandals toward me, and we kissed and hugged. Soon Vovka appeared. He shook my hand until my shoulder ached, shouted many sincere, pleasant words into my face, and pressed rolled-up green banknotes into my palm.
“Here, Ramses!!! Congratulations, you bigwig! It’s the birthday of such a man!!! How could I not come!!! Well… Where is your accomplice!!!?” Vovka turned his head. “Ah, he hasn’t come yet!!!? Ah, fuck him… Anyway, develop your business with him, I wish that you, bigwig, buy up everything here in this fucking town!!! That you buy up this whole fucking town!!! Oh… one more thing…”
Vovka noticed that his escapade made Natasha laugh and was immediately embarrassed.
“… yeah… you know!!! Fuck, where was I!!!” Vovka scratched the back of his already disheveled head. “Anyway, Ramses, have everything and don’t be accountable for it!!!”
I hugged my friend and thanked him. After watching them go up to the second floor of the building, I went back outside and stopped on the steps of the entrance. A few minutes later, Vera and Sergey emerged from the darkness of the park. Vera was dressed in the same colors as Natasha. Flesh-colored breeches down to the middle of her shins, light sabots on her feet, and a white fitted T-shirt. I didn’t even get a glimpse of Sergey; Vera came up the steps, stood beside me, cupped my face in her hands and kissed me on the lips.
“Many happy returns!” she said quietly.
Sergey came up the stairs next, stretched out his hand in a haughty manner, shook mine subtly, and said with a half smile: “Congratulations…”
I escorted them upstairs as well. Our table was already generously filled with food and alcohol. The evening began and passed in a typical way – each guest congratulated me again, and after that the conversations began sluggishly. Communication hardly worked. Sergey and Vera sat on one side of me and Natasha, Vovka on the other. If Sergey had been an active leader during the meetings in the park, here he sat relaxed and silent, leaning back on the sofa and spreading his arms over the backrest. After half an hour, the alcohol eased the general tension. After another hour, the music started blaring and the dance floor was filled with customers. Natasha and I sat with our arms around each other, whispering and kissing all evening. Sergey smiled at us, shook his head and spread out even more on the sofa with a bored look on his face. Vera, on the other hand, seeing our tenderness with Natasha, felt like a woman, embraced her husband, pressed herself against him and tried to kiss Sergey on the lips several times. Each time he reluctantly pulled his face back and turned away. Vera smiled guiltily and pressed her lips to his indifferent cheek. An hour before midnight, Sergey began to yawn regularly. Everyone was tired. Even Vovka calmed down, sat silently on the sofa and watched the performance on the stage with glassy eyes. It was time to go. Half an hour before midnight the party ended, everyone was outside. Sergey and Vera said goodbye and left.
“So, shall we go for a walk?” I looked at Vovka and Natasha.
“Yes, let’s go!” Vovka nodded.
We walked leisurely through the park to the movie theater. After two hours of club music, the silence of the park was a balm to my ears. Shortly after midnight we found ourselves at the hotel. Vovka left. Natasha and I walked a few more stops and took a taxi. Twenty minutes later we entered her apartment. That night I stayed at Natasha’s place for the first time. Falling asleep, I thought about the fact that my life was coming out of the darkness and into the light – my apartment was being built, my business was growing, and I was dating a beautiful and intelligent girl. What more does a young guy need on his birthday? The positive events in my life finally began to outweigh the negative ones – my difficult relationship with my father and my mother’s crazy behavior. But I hoped things would get better in my family, too. I reflexively hugged Natasha’s hot, sleepy body tighter, pulled her close to me, buried my face in her hair, relaxed my muscles, and immediately fell asleep in the middle of the humming, empty room on the only mattress on the floor.
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