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Faces: Chapter 8 (Part 1)

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It was December. The average temperature was always below freezing, and snow showers happened every 3-4 days. It's was beautiful time of year, but mostly for those who could afford to keep themselves warm.
Irina and Vasily were able to manage, but only so well. They did without heating their apartment when both would be gone, but then it would get nearly as cold inside as it was outside. Vasily had kept his bassoon in its box right next to the stove so it would retain some residual heat, but there was risk every day that it would crack, as Vasily always had to worry about at this time of year. It was the most valuable thing he owned.
As was typical of the Theatre season, there would be a host of performances in both theatres. Vasily had enough influence to get his engagements not to conflict, and if they did, he would get associate conductors to replace him for those few. But it came to the point that he worked away from home nearly every night, to his neglect of Irina. She couldn't help being unhappy.
"Although I understand what it is to be a musician, I think you're stretching yourself too much, Vasily," she told him in a serious voice one evening he came home. It was almost midnight, but she had stayed up.
"I know it's like this, Irina, but it's all temporary. Things will get better."
"Well, things are like this only in the winter."
"But that's the point. It's the worse time to be busy. I think you should get more associate conductors then if you're going to do this."
"I'll see," he muttered. Vasily wondered if he could ever get her to stop nagging him about it. Preferring to set the topic aside, he went on to other things.
"I would like you to come to one of our performances, Irina. We're doing a splendid production in the Maly Theatre 2 weeks from now (cough cough). It would be free for you, and I think you would enjoy it. Instead of wondering what business I do, I think you should see it for yourself. Then you'll see why I still do what I do (cough cough). And I don't cough as much in performance too," he grinned.
"I hope so," Irina frowned.
It wasn't just his health she was thinking about...

A week later, Vasily arrived home with an unexpected gift for Irina.
"A fur coat?" she couldn't help being amazed. "It must have cost a fortune!" she held up the sparkling jacket of brown fur.
"It was expensive, but I think it proper. I think you should wear it when you come to the performance. Many illustrious people will be there, you see. Even some of the royal family."
"I've never felt like I needed to dress 'equally' for such occasions, Vasya. Make no mistake, we're not very middle class even."
Vasily grimaced. "That's not going to last long. We're having decent savings. 400 roubles right now. With that, we could even get a loan on a new place, and get out of this dusty, drafty hole (cough cough). I've thought it over: in 6 months, we'll have enough savings to get us to that new apartment complex by the Ivanovsky Cathedral, you know of that?"
"Those apartments? Those are very expensive, I don't think it necessary. Aren't they rather small too? Not much of a size change, but just a status change."
"But that's what matters, Irina!" Vasily pleaded with her irritatedly. "We can't go on like this when better things are ahead. We must make a change for the better, and sooner the better. You'll understand, I know you will (cough cough)."
"Who have you been talking to?" Irina squinted her eyes suspiciously.
"What? Nobody, why do you ask that?" Vasily looked at her confused.
"You seem different," she said frankly.
"You are more independent in spirit than you use to be..."
"And what's wrong with that?"
Irina's eyes flashed, but she said nothing. Her heart sank instead, and she turned away.