Their food was brought to them at that moment and when they were once again left alone he stated enviously, “Yours looks real good. You’ll have to let me try some.”
She gasped and stared at him. He, on the other hand, frowned. “You okay?”he asked.
Violet blinked and shook her head. “I... um....I ... sorry...you just sounded so much like Richard. Sorry,” she stammered, willing her heart to go back to normal. She shook her head again as if to clear it. “Um, we met in kindergarten.”
His eyes widened. “Are you kidding? Was it love at first sight?” he asked excitedly.
Violet rolled her eyes.“Five year olds do not fall in love, silly,” she admonished.
“That is patently not true. I fell in love with Rosie McIntyre when I was a wee lad. She was adorable, dark red hair in two pig tails tied with colorful ribbons, freckles across her cute little nose and she always wore such pretty dresses. I was lost,” he said dreamily.
Violet stared in amazement. He had just described her when she was little.
“And in the first grade it was Valerie Shaver. What a beauty! Curly blonde hair and big blue eyes...I fell hard for her...and then there was Cilia Vargas in the third grade, the dark-hair and coal-black eyes had me in a strangle hold.” He suddenly stopped and frowned. “ Hmm, I’m starting to see your point. It might not have been love, huh?”
She giggled and shook her head at him. She then held up her plate.
“What? You don’t like it?”
“You said you wanted to try it so take some. You’ll die if you don’t. It’s very good.”
Surprised but pleased he did as told. He closed his eyes savoring the favors. “Mmm, that is good. Next time I’m getting that,” he stated confidently.
She lowered her plate slowly, staring at him. Did he mean a next time with her? He just better not! “So, um, how did you meet your wife?” she asked nervously.
“In a hospital. I had sprained my ankle playing rugby. She was working there, we hit it off and there you go.”
“She’s a doctor?” Violet asked, looking impressed.
“Emergency room administrator at the time. She runs the hospital in Oneonta now. Ironically, that’s probably where she met Andy. Go figure.”
“Did he sprain his ankle, too?” she asked with a giggle.
He laughed. “He’s a paramedic. Perhaps that is why they get along so well. Both in the medical field. Maybe I would have fared better if I had married another lawyer,” he replied with a shrug.
“That guarantees nothing. It’s not like I was a firefighter and Richard and I couldn’t have been more perfect for each other,” she told him.
With difficulty Victor ignored the twinge of jealousy that statement gave him. “Where do you work?” he asked seemingly curious.
“Mio Caro Bambino,” she answered with an unusual note of pride in her voice.
He gazed at her with a dreamy expression. “Only my mother ever called me that. Not in Italian, though, but thank you. I’ll bet you were a cute baby, too.” He grinned at the bewildered expression on her face.
“The child care center,” she said rolling her eyes after she figured out what he was talking about. “Bit of a wise guy, aren’t you?”
“I thought you were calling me a sweet little baby. It was a very nice thing to say,” he replied, all innocence.
She made a weird face. “Yeah, I’m sure,” she retorted sarcastically.
He laughed. “What can I say? You and Fred bring out the jokester in me.”
“Is that it? I always told Freddy he was a bad influence on Richard and now he’s doing it to you.”
When their dinner dishes were cleared he tried to entice her into picking out a dessert for herself but she refused.
“Come on, Violet. You know what the French say. No meal is complete without a bit of sweet. I read that in a cook book once,” he said coaxingly.
“Really? And here I thought they only said ‘Death to America’,” she quipped. He almost choking on his wine. “Omigosh, Victor, are you all right?” she asked anxiously as she pounded on his back.
“You are one dangerous girl. I’m telling Fred you tried to kill me. He’ll get a kick out of that,” he told her still chuckling.
“Don’t ever apologize for making me laugh. That’s how I’d like to leave this world, with a big smile on my face.” He paused contemplating for a minute then said, “If you don’t want your own dessert you’ll have to share mine. You’re not diabetic, are you?”
Violet’s eyes just about popped out of her head. Was nothing too personal for this man? “No, but I’d like to keep it that way. It runs in the family and if I get too chubby...”
“Then we’ll go for a long walk everyday so that won’t happen. I’ll bet you’d like a walk at the botanical garden. Spring will be here soon enough. We can watch the season progress. That way you’ll have your exercise and you can still have some dessert,” he said brightly as a luscious chocolate cake was placed before him. He held out the first bite to her.
“Come on, you know you want it,” he said coaxingly but then he noticed she got that strange look on her face again. “What is it? Did I just do another Richard?” She nodded slowly. He tilted his head staring at her intently. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing, Violet?”he asked genuinely concerned.
“I don’t know. Does it have to be either?” she asked feeling rather flustered. This man was such a quandary. How could he remind her so of Richard? He was very different and yet, was he? And now he insisted they would go walking everyday and out to dinner again like they were some sort of couple? He had said he was not interested in dating and yet this date that wasn’t supposed to be a date very much felt like a date.
He watched curiously as the many emotions flittered across her face.“I’ll bet you like chocolate, am I right?” he asked trying to distract her. He still held the spoon out to her bringing it closer to her lips until she relented. She could only resist chocolate so far. She took the luscious cake into her mouth and moaned in pleasure. He chuckled and said, “I think she likes it.”
He handed her the fork and slid closer to her so they could share it. He picked up his own spoon and tasted it. “Hmm, it is good. I wonder if Philippe would give me the recipe? But what I’d do with it heaven only knows. I suppose I’d give it to you. I can’t follow the instructions on a box of Jello without having my neighbors calling the fire department on me.”
It was her turn to laugh. “I’m sorry. That was mean of me, laughing at your cooking deficiency. I have the opposite problem.”
“Now why in the world would you consider being able to cook a problem?” he asked curiously.
“Well, now this is providence. You have leftovers you don’t know what to do with and I can’t cook to save my life. We’re a perfect match. See? I told you we’d be great friends.”
Stunned, she gaped at him. Had she inadvertently implied she needed someone to cook for? Or was this man just assuming she did? She didn’t know how to reply to that until a thought came to her. “If you don’t know how to cook why do you read cook books?” she asked accusingly.
“Another present. I don’t understand why people insist on giving me books when I could really use a batch of home-baked cookies. But I don’t suppose there are very many people that actually bake anymore. Do you?” he asked expectantly.
Violet stared at his eager face and for a minute she thought about lying to him but she was not the lying type. “Once upon a time I was the queen of the bake sale. My peanut butter cookies were, and I quote, to die for. My sister-in-law loves them and she’s like you, can’t cook her way out of a box of Betty Crocker cake mix.”
Victor laughed again. “I know. Poor Laurie! She tries so hard but her talent is not in the kitchen.”
Startled she stared at him then realized of course he knew Laurie, too. “Have you been to dinner?”
“Many times,” he said with a pained grimace which made her laugh but also gave her a twinge of something she couldn’t define. Richard always had that same look on his face when asked to dinner there.
“What would I have to do to get you to bake me some cookies? Name your price, Lady. My kingdom for a batch of homemade cookies!” he said longingly.
“Silly man, don’t you remember, you paid for my groceries and you said that’s how you wanted payment,”she reminded him.
“You didn’t say you would. Thank you, Violet,” he said, beaming.
Judging by the happiness on his face Violet wondered if she had unwillingly agreed to something extra. Her nerves jangled.
Carlos came by just then asking how everything was and if they wanted anything else.
“Everything was wonderful. My compliments to Philippe. Just the check and we’ll be going,” Victor told him cheerfully.
Carlos gave his head an adamant shake. “No, your money is no good here. We shall never be able to thank you enough for all you do for our Manolo.”
“No, argument, Sir,” Carlos insisted with a huge smile and another elegant bow to Violet. “Do come again, Mr. Romanoff, and bring your lovely lady friend.”
“I will. Thank you, Carlos. My best to Marisa.”
They left the restaurant and on the drive home curiosity got the better of Violet. She asked, “What exactly did you do for their Manolo, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Manny got into a bit of trouble, into the wrong crowd a few months back. But he straightened himself out. He’s a good kid. He’s at Stanford now and doing quite well. I got an e-mail from him just last week. Manny will be fine. He’s even considering law school,” he replied happily. He noticed the glow to her eyes as he spoke. “It’s no big deal. It’s my job. It doesn’t always work out so well. This time it did.”
“They’ll love you forever now. It’s wonderful to be able to do so much good in the world,” she said with obvious admiration in her voice as well as on her face.
“You do your part to that end. I’ll bet there’s a few bambinos that adore you at the center.”
“A few, yes. Poor little kids. Some of them don’t seem to get any love except from us at the day care center. I see their parents rushing to drop them off as if they were a huge burden. I wish I had the courage to ask why they would bother to have kids in the first place if they weren’t going to raise them themselves but it’s not for me to say,” she said sadly.
“Sure it is. You see what’s wrong and you wish to make it right. You have clarity of mind. It’s refreshing,” he stated.
“Don’t put me on the soapbox, Victor. You’ll regret it,” she told him ruefully. “I’m too opinionated for my own good.”
“I worry more about those with no opinion. If you have too many people sitting on the fence, the fence is likely to topple and then who’s going to fix that?” he declared in mock horror.
Violet giggled. “Guess you have a point. Thank you so much for dinner and for not killing me and leaving me in a ditch. I really appreciate that!” she said brightly. She almost felt sorry she would never see him again but she was determined it would be so.
He laughed at her as he pulled along side her car. “Violet, you are most welcome. Give me your keys so I can get it warm for you before you leave.”
She stared at him realizing she should have been surprised by such gallantry but coming from him it somehow seemed natural. It was the kind of thing Richard would have done. Two peas in a pod, she mused again. “You don’t have to do that,” she said softly.
“Give me your keys or my Mama will think she did a bad job raising me and I never want to disappoint my mama,” he explained.
“Is your mother here to see you?” she asked laughing at him.
He suddenly looked sad. “Unfortunately, no. She was the last one to bake me cookies. She died a few years back but I still don’t want to disappoint her.”
Violet sobered instantly. “I’m so sorry, Victor,” she said sincerely.
He leaned over to her and whispered, “That wasn’t your fault either.” He held his hand out and she gave him the keys. He got out of his car, unlocked her car and got in. She watched him start it and saw him frowning. He shut it off again and got back into his own car.
“What are you doing? Why didn’t you leave it running?” she asked, bewildered.
“How long has it been making that noise?” he asked sternly.
Foreboding crept into her. “What noise?” she asked nervously.
“Violet, we need to get it checked. I’ll get it towed tomorrow morning,” he told her authoritatively as he re-fastened his seat belt and started out of the parking lot.
She grabbed his arm in a surprisingly strong grip stopping him instantly. “Wait one minute! I need my car. I have work in the morning. It worked fine today,” she stated angrily.
“Well, it’s not fine now. How long has it been since you got a tune up or an oil change?” he retorted with infinite calm. The look on her face was his answer. “Not since Richard died I take it. That’s too long. You might consider getting a new car. This one’s getting up there in miles. I wouldn’t want to worry about you in an unsafe car,” he said sternly.
She glared at him in shocked indignation. “You don’t have to worry about me at all! I’m not your wife!” she huffed.
“But you are now my friend and I don’t leave my friends in trouble,” he replied completely unperturbed. “Where do you live? I’m taking you home.”
“You are not! Give me my keys. My car is fine,” she said stubbornly. Ignoring her he proceeded to leave the parking lot. “Stop! You can’t just leave my car!”
“Violet, I said I will get it towed in the morning and have it checked. Now, do you want to go home or should I take you to my house? I won’t mind. I haven’t had a house guest since the boys have been home from school. I’m betting you’re a lot neater than they are,” he stated again with that annoying authoritative calm.
“What kind of person do you think I am? Just going home with perfect strangers?”
“Thank you but really I’m not perfect. So, my house, is it?” he said smirking.
“I...no...I...” she stammered.
He stopped at the intersection. “Hard for me to take you home if you don’t tell me where you live... so...” He waited expectantly.
She was caught between a rock and a hard place and she didn’t like it, not one bit. “I need to get to work tomorrow. There’s a girl on vacation and another’s out sick. They really need me,” she said anxiously.
“Of course they do. I’ll pick you up and take you to work myself. It’s right near my office so it’s on the way. What time do you have to be there?” he asked placidly.
Violet couldn’t believe this was happening. This man was taking over. “I have to be there by eight-thirty but...”
“I’ll be there by eight if you’re willing to make me breakfast. So...your place or mine?” he said smiling devilishly.
Violet gulped, her eyes wide as saucers. That was the same kind of smirk Richard wore when he had bedroom activities on his mind. “Uh...take the next right and follow it to the hill...”she recited the directions very reluctantly. She wondered if Victor might suddenly turn into the axe-murderer or worse. The entire evening left her feeling quite disquieted . How had it happened? She had planned a quiet evening of sappy movies and instead she got the date that wasn’t a date with a man that had suddenly latched onto her like a tapeworm. Would she ever be rid of him?
Victor’s sleek car pulled into her driveway within ten minutes. He slipped out of the car and opened her door. He helped her out and escorted her to the front door of her house. He then unlocked the door using the keys he had not relinquished. He opened the door and allowed her to enter.
This very much felt like a date, a date with an exceptionally gentlemanly person. Violet couldn’t help comparing Victor favorably with Richard. She hated to admit it but she kind of liked Victor. Much to her annoyance, he seemed to like her too, perhaps more than she felt comfortable.
“I’ll be here at eight unless you’re not willing to feed a poor, unfortunate bachelor that can’t even boil an egg without getting the fire company up in arms. I have them on speed dial, you know,” he said with a sad puppy-dog face that surely would melt many a female heart.
Violet’s heart was a block of ice, however, or rather she wished it were. After a few minutes internal struggle she sighed. “What would you like for breakfast?” she asked half wary, half irritated.
He smiled broadly. “I’m easy. Anything is fine,” he said happily. “Thanks for coming out with me tonight. You really made my day. I hate eating alone. It’s depressing. See you tomorrow, bright and early. Good night, Violet.”
“Good night, Victor,” she replied. She stared up at him frowning. Instead of leaving he just stood there staring right back at her with that wonderful smile on his extremely handsome face. What, she wondered, was he waiting for? It better not be a goodnight kiss!
“Um...aren’t you leaving?” she asked, her nerves about ready to give out on her.
“Not until you’re safely inside your house. Go on, Mama’s watching,” he told her shooing her inside. He then closed the door between them with the final admonition. “Lock the door.”
She had to laugh as she indeed locked the door. He was as bad as Richard, equally protective. She felt strangely unsettled and yet touched. Victor was a very kind man it seemed.
“But he could easily turn into a ax-murderer,” she hissed to the nearly empty house. Of course she didn’t believe that for a minute. Victor was pretty much the perfect date. Blast him! And he was to come to breakfast, take her car into town and take her to work? There went her plan of this being the first and last time she saw the man. Blast him again!