Hey Maksyl fam! This is the 4th chapter of Time at the Studio!
Warning: there is one swear word in this chapter. It’s nothing too bad, but I felt I should let you guys know.
I hope you all love this chapter!
It was so awesome to write this, and I really hope you all like where the story’s going. Thank you all for your continued support and feedback!
The wooden door swung open immediately after the brothers knocked.
A woman with styled blonde hair and rosy red cheeks stood in the doorframe.
“Здрастуйте хлопці! Вечеря готовий. Давай всередині!”
Meryl took a moment to translate in her head.Hello, guys! Dinner is ready. Come on in!
The blonde had the kind voice of the woman Meryl had previously heard on the phone—yes, this woman definitely had to be Mama C. in the flesh.
The boys ran upstairs to change into dinner-appropriate attire, and Meryl took the opportunity to greet their mother.
“Hello! I’m Meryl. It’s really nice to meet you,” she introduced, offering her hand for a handshake.
Mama Chmerkovskiy took her hand and pulled her into a hug.
Meryl was caught a bit off guard at first, but she quickly processed what was going on, and responded appropriately.
She had briefly forgotten that Ukrainian culture was so affectionate.
She didn’t mind; she was affectionate, too.
“Hello, Meryl! It is so nice to meet you; my boys couldn’t stop talking about ‘Meryl from dance class.’ From the things they were saying, I knew I wanted to meet you!”
Meryl blushed at the newfound information. The boys talked about her?
“I can see why they talked about you the way they did, too; you’re absolutely gorgeous! I’m so happy you can stay for dinner!” She continued, grinning.
Her voice carried a thick accent, and certain words sounded more Ukrainian than English, but the message behind the words was undeniably sweet.
Meryl knew she liked this woman right away.
“Of course! Thank you for having me, Mrs. Chmerkovskiy,” Meryl smiled.
“Please, call me Larisa,” the woman insisted in her thick accent, and Meryl chuckled.
“Thank you, Larisa,” Meryl rephrased, which earned her another quick hug.
“Mama, stop hugging the poor girl. You’ll scare her away,” Val joked, rejoining the two at the foot of the stairs.
“Oh God, Mama, please don’t frighten her. We just got to like this one,” Maks’ voice carried from upstairs, and Val laughed.
“Папа,” Val called, and a gravelly voice originating somewhere else inside the house replied.
“Олександр, у нас є компанія закінчилася,” Mama C. replied instead, and Meryl chuckled semi-awkwardly, not fully understanding what was going on. Her Ukrainian still wasn’t perfect.
“Sorry, my Papa didn’t know you had arrived yet,” Val explained, and suddenly, a man emerged from an adjacent room.
The man’s green eyes found Meryl immediately, and upon seeing her, they lit up.
Meryl realized that this man must be the boys’ father.
“Hello,” he grinned, “you must be Meryl! It’s so nice to finally meet you after hearing my sons’ nonstop chatter about you!”
Meryl glanced over at Val, who appeared vaguely embarrassed.
“Папа,” Val whined.
“Що??” The man replied, feigning innocence.
What? Meryl mentally translated, then caught herself grinning. The boys definitely got their mischievous sides from him.
“You’ll have to forgive us, Meryl, we are not used to speaking English around each other. As I was saying,” Papa Chmerkovskiy continued, eyeing a handsome-looking Maks as he descended down the stairs to join the group, “the boys talk nonstop about you. It is nice to put a beautiful face to the name!”
Meryl accepted Papa C.’s hug, laughing freely when she heard Maks mutter what sounded like an embarrassed ‘really, Papa?’
“We are so happy to see you here, dear,” Mr. Chmerkovskiy smiled warmly at Meryl, ignoring his sons’ embarrassment.
“Come, food is ready inside. I hope you like varenyky?”
“I’ve never had it, actually,” Meryl admitted sheepishly. “What is it?”
Maks joined her side. “Varenyky is dumplings filled with different things. Usually it’s meat and vegetables, or fruit and vegetables. My Mama makes the best kind; potatoes and mushrooms taste awesome together!” He explained.
It sounded pretty good to Meryl.
She made sure to say so.
Then the five of them, all lively chatter and affection, made their way to the dining room.
An oval platter of what appeared to be dumplings—definitely the aforementioned varenyky—mixed with fried onions lay in the center of the table. Next to it sat a bowl of sour cream. Meryl’s mouth watered at the very smell of it.
The food was absolutely delicious! Meryl managed to eat her meal without spilling a drop onto her dress, which was an accomplishment that Meryl internally celebrated. She was, after all, kind of messy when it came to condiments.
The conversation flowed freely at the table, and it seemed there was never a pause. Meryl contributed a lot to the conversations; she felt incredibly comfortable around the family already. It seemed they were all extremely comfortable around her, too; she knew the parents on a first-name basis now, and they made no effort in hiding what they thought of her.
“Aleksandr, Larisa, this was amazing,” Meryl hummed appreciatively.
“Thank you! You’re welcome for dinner any time, dear,” Aleksandr smiled.
“You absolutely are! I’m going to go get dessert,” Larisa agreed, then got up to head towards the kitchen.
“I’ll help, дорогий,” Aleksandr excused himself.
“God, our parents love you,” Val spoke once Mama C. and Papa C. has left the room.
Maks piped up as well.
“Yeah, they love you more than they love me!”
“They love everyone more than they love you,” Val retorted, which earned him a swift punch on the arm.
“Your parents are awesome! I’m glad they like me,” Meryl felt a smile coming on.
Maks chuckled at her admission.
“It’s kind of impossible not to like you, Meryl. You’re like a Disney princess or something.”
Meryl was just beginning to blush at the sentiment when Val jumped in.
“She’s stronger than that, bro. If she’s a princess, she’s like a Mulan or a Megara or something,” Val laughed.
Meryl liked that description. She felt happy that they saw her as strong, yet that they had no expectations of her. She really felt like she could be herself with them, which was something she didn’t feel too often in her adolescent life.
She and Val high-fived while Maks rolled his eyes.
“Я намагався дати їй комплімент, але ні, це не може бути так просто. Потрібно було, щоб моє життя важко,” Maks uttered.
Val chortled. Noticing Meryl’s confused look, he translated:
“Maks said ‘I tried to give her a compliment but no, it could not be that simple. You had to make my life difficult,’” Val mimicked Maks’ slightly-deeper tone.
Maks put his head in his hands, a combination of embarrassed and annoyed. “You’re a dick, Val.”
Meryl leaned over to side-hug Maks.
“Aw, Maksim,” she cooed, “I understood what you were trying to say.”
“Why is it that this seems to be a pattern? I say something, Val screws it up for me, you say ’Aw, Maks,’” he imitated her higher-pitched voice, “and then you try to hug me?”
“It’s because you’re a teddy bear,” Meryl giggled, and Val, upon hearing Meryl’s comment, immediately began crowing with laughter.
“That, again?” Maks groaned, exasperated.
“Yes, ‘that again,’” she confirmed smugly.
When Mama and Papa Chmerkovskiy returned to the table, they returned with platters of cookies.
“Zefir,” Maks explained to their American guest, “they’re kind of like meringue cookies, but they’re not crunchy.”
The zefir were varied in color; rose-colored, off-white, and chocolate-covered zefir spanned across the platters.
Meryl gazed contently at the cookies in front of her, unsure if she could eat one just yet.
“Mama and I are both tired, so we’re going to retire upstairs, but feel free to continue keeping our boys company, Meryl,” Aleksandr announced.
The kids all nodded, saying their ‘goodnight’-s. With one last hug from each parent for Meryl, the couple ascended up the staircase and out of sight.
Val immediately reached across the table and snatched up three cookies.
“Hey,” Meryl pouted, “I mentally called dibs on that one,” she pointed to a rose-colored zefir in Val’s hand. It was childish, maybe, but she’d already decided which one she wanted to eat and it slightly bothered her that she couldn’t follow through.
Before Val could process her statement, Maks reached over and plucked the offending cookie from Val’s hand.
“It’s not like he needed the extra cookie, anyway,” Maks jested, handing it over to Meryl.
She happily took the cookie from Maks’ hand and popped it in her mouth.
“Bro,” Val complained.
“Deal with it, Val,” Maks replied.
“Thank you, Maks,” she praised him around the cookie. Maks gave her a kind smile in response.
“Whatever,” Val mumbled, biting a chunk from another cookie in his hand.
“Val, you know I love you,” Meryl clucked, and Val had to smile. “Yeah, yeah,” he replied.
“Take cover,” Val bellowed.
Meryl immediately dove behind a sand dune and removed a gun from her coat.
Maks whipped a grenade out, ready to bomb any enemy he could see.
Yes, the three of them were playing Val’s favorite video game, and they were all getting into it.
“Maks, look out!” A terrorist was headed straight for Maks’ character, a machete in hand.
“лайно!” Maks swore, turning his soldier around at the last second.
Meryl took aim and pressed ‘A’, firing her character’s gun into the back of the enemy’s head several times.
Real-Life-Maks looked over at her, clearly impressed.
“Thanks, Mepiл,” he smiled.
“You’re welcome,” she countered, clearly pleased with herself.
“You know,” she continued, suddenly curious, “I think it’s weird how they don’t have any female characters. Like, what are the game’s creators insinuating?”
“That girls aren’t as physically strong as boys,” Maks answered.
“Okay, but that’s not true! Girls can definitely be stronger than boys,” Meryl argued.
“Definitely not. Boys are tougher and more dangerous than girls. Girls aren’t nearly as tough—or dangerous—as guys,” Maks retorted.
Without another word, Meryl turned her character around, pressed ‘A,’ and fired her weapon right between Maks’ character’s eyes.
Fatality, the game declared in bloody writing on Maks’ corner of the screen.
“What was that you were saying, Maks? Something about girls not being tough?” She sounded smug.
“That wasn’t tough! That was insane,” Maks grumbled.
“I think it served my point,” Meryl smiled.
Val laughed. “Well, if that’s what you get for speaking the truth, bro—”
Meryl was, frankly, annoyed at their attitudes. She decided to solve the problem the same way adolescent boys usually solved theirs; through violence.
Meryl picked up a grenade Maks’ character dropped and threw it at Val’s character.
It was still in the air when Val rolled his eyes. “You didn’t even pull the pin!”
Meryl wordlessly pumped a bullet into the grenade, detonating it just as it hit Val’s character’s head.
“Fatality,” the screen bled again as Val’s gore covered the screen.
“Do you want to test me, Valentin?” Meryl tapped a finger against her chin, joking.
“I’m thinking we should hang out outside,” Val declared suddenly.
“Далеко від ножів на кухні,” he muttered to Maks as an afterthought.
Away from the knives in the kitchen.
Meryl smiled; she had proven her point. Girls could be tougher and scarier than boys. Girls could do anything boys could do.
The trio walked outside together, eyeing the sunset warily. None of them wanted Meryl to leave.
“So,” Maks drawled. “Bike ride?”
Val nodded, swinging the Chmerkovskiy garage door open.
“But I don’t have a bike,” Meryl paused.
“We have an extra somewhere from one of Mama’s old fitness kicks,” Val explained, blowing dust off an old bike.
Maks walked towards the back of the room to grab what must have been his bike.
“And she won’t mind?” Meryl questioned.
“Nah, she runs now. Go for it, Mepiл,” Maks grinned.
Meryl found the bicycle in question after a few moments of searching. It was a bright blue color, so it stood out amongst the dark walls of the inside of the garage. Meryl adjusted the seat to fit her height and glanced at the two boys on their bikes.
“Could we speed this up a bit?” Maks joked.
“Hey, I’m ready to go,” Meryl huffed, blowing a loose strand of hair out of her face.
The three biked down their street and across the town.
Eventually, they’d reached the edge of a side street on the far side of town. It was a dead end, but on the other side of a chain-link fence, Meryl could see the beginnings of a dirt trail.
“Time to turn around?” Meryl guessed, hopping off her bike.
“Or,” Maks cocked an eyebrow, “we could go through the large hole in this fence right here and carry on into the unknown.”
“I say we carry on,” Val quipped.
Maks must have noticed Meryl’s hesitation, because he held out a hand for Meryl to take. She puffed air out of her mouth, loosely clasping his hand in hers.
“Mepiл, we’ll protect you from the wild bears or whatever it is you’re scared of. You’re not getting hurt on our watch, Princess,” he said softly.
“Yeah, Meryl, we love you. Just like you kicked our asses in my favorite video game, we’ll kick the asses of anything trying to hurt you,” Val added.
Meryl smiled at the two boys, climbing back onto her bicycle. She felt safe around them.
“Onward and upward,” she declared, and the boys crowed in agreement.
Maks lead the pack, and Meryl followed close behind. Val flanked Meryl to make sure she was safe from all angles.
After a minute, they reached a fork in the dirt path, and Maks brought his bike to a slow stop. He looked back at the two for a moment.
“I say we go to the right,” Maks asserted.
“And what if I say left?” Val questioned, but then quickly followed with an “I’m kidding, I’m kidding,” when he saw the distress on Maks’ face.
“Alright,” Maks smiled, “right it is.”
They continued on the right path until they saw a decently-sized wooden house at the end of the trail.
“Woah,” Val breathed.
“D’ya think it’s empty?” Maks questioned.
“I’m sure it is,” Meryl frowned. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”
The boys agreed to go check it out, and Meryl decided to join them.
The three peddled quietly towards the front of the shack and peered inside.
Cobwebs everywhere. Meryl wasn’t even sure the place had electricity.
It was empty, save for some old furniture.
“Definitely empty for a long time,” Maks confirmed.
“Is the door unlocked?” Val wondered.
Meryl tried the door handle, and sure enough, it swung open.
Stepping inside the shack, she coughed at the dust that immediately assaulted her lungs.
“Oh God,” she coughed, “if either of you have a dust allergy, don’t come in.”
The brothers looked at each other and shrugged. They walked in moments later.
On a wall to their right, the word ‘CLUBHOUSE’ was etched into the wood paneling.
“I assume this was someone’s clubhouse,” Maks declared.
“It can be ours, now,” Val grinned.
“It’ll need some renovations and refurnishing, first,” Meryl thought aloud.
“I’m sure we could do it if we wanted to.”
“Wait, wait, wait, what’s that noise?” Val questioned.
The trio paused, allowing silence to settle over them to listen out for ‘that noise.’
The sound of steadily-running water became evident within seconds.
Meryl walked over to the back of the house and glanced out the window.
“Oh, frick,” she breathed.
“What?” Val and Maks questioned at the same time.
Meryl walked over to the back door and swung it open.
Before them was a beautiful, tiny stream, water flowing peacefully on as it ran over a bed of rocks.
“This is definitely going to be our new clubhouse,” she insisted, and the boys promptly agreed.
“After our dance class next week, maybe we could come back here and redecorate—y’know, make it a bit nicer,” Val suggested.
Meryl and Maks nodded in agreement.
“How does no one else know about this?” Meryl questioned, still in awe.
“Well clearly, people did in the past,” Maks spoke, pointing to the ‘CLUBHOUSE’ engraving, and Meryl rolled her eyes.
“But I mean now. Like, how come no one has come here in what looks like years?”
“Maybe they all took the left fork in the road,” Val replied.
“True, true,” Meryl mumbled.
At that moment, Meryl’s old flip phone buzzed to life in her bike’s basket.
She pulled it out and glanced at the caller I.D.
“Hey, mom,” she greeted, and her mother replied immediately.
“Hi, sweetie! It’s 8:00. We need you back home, but maybe if it’s okay with the Chmerkovskiy’s, you can have the boys over to watch a movie? Clayton’s studying in his room for his chemistry regents tomorrow so he won’t be using the television,” Her mother’s pleasant voice rang clearly over the water from the stream.
“Okay, mom, I’ll ask them. Hold on!”
“Hey, boys,” Meryl said, and the two brothers looked over at her. “Wanna come over to my house and watch a movie?”
They both had twin smiles on their faces at her offer. “Definitely,” they nodded.
Maks shot a quick text to his mother explaining where the boys were going to be.
Once Meryl got off the phone, she exited the house and hopped back on her bike. The boys followed suit.
“So we’re meeting here again on Saturday?” Meryl questioned, smiling.
“It’s a plan,” the boys agreed.
“Guys, don’t tell anyone else about this, okay? This can be our secret place,” Maks spoke up.
“But we can tell our parents, right?” Val questioned.
“Sure,” Maks agreed. “If they ask, we tell them. They have a right to know where we’re spending our time at. But that’s it.”
Val and Meryl nodded.
“Sounds good. Ready to go watch a movie, guys?” Meryl smiled.
“Maybe you could invite your friend Zendaya over, too?” Val requested, and Meryl laughed.
“I’ll see if she’s around, Val,” she agreed.
And they were off.