Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ch 16: Car Trouble

It was close to noon and Violet was in the playroom leading a small group of three and four-year-olds in another sing-along complete with finger play when Cheryl opened the front door. She gasped and stared hungrily up at Victor and not because he carried several pizzas.

“Wow, Tony’s has got some delivery staff,” she muttered still staring avidly up at him.

“I don’t actually work for Tony,” he countered with a winning smile.

 “Oh, I know that. I’m just teasing,” she exclaimed, before moving aside to allow him entrance. “You’re Violet’s new guy and I’m Cheryl.”  She cleared the front desk and motioned for him to place the pizzas there.

Victor beamed as he put down the steaming boxes. Violet’s new guy, huh?  Sounded just right to him. 

“It’s nice to meet you, Cheryl. I’m Victor Romanoff. I thought  you lovely ladies, hard-working as Violet says you all are, would appreciate a little lunch. I hope this isn’t a bad time,” he said, raising his elegantly arched eyebrows in question. 

Cheryl gazed adoringly up at him and even allowed a tiny sigh to escape before realizing she was staring. She quickly blinked. “Is there ever a bad time for pizza?” she said waving a dismissive hand. “Most of the kids are taking naps now, so it’s a great time. Violet’s in with a bunch that will soon be leaving for preschool. I’ll go get her for you.”

“Is it all right if I just go in?” he asked politely. “You can take the pizzas to the other ladies and I can help Violet with the kids."

"Oh, sure. You wanna job?” she said giggling. “Thanks for the pizza, Victor. Keep this up and we’ll all fall in love with you.”  She winked then took the pizzas to the back room.

“I only want one pretty little flower to fall in love with me,” he mumbled to himself before heading towards the sound of an angelic voice which could only belong to one person. And there sat the absolute angel surrounded by a half dozen even smaller angels. Violet demonstrated to a little boy how to move his fingers to the song. Victor had never seen anything so sweet, a vision to treasure forever. He took out his cell phone and took several pictures.

“The itsy-bitsy spider went up the water spout....” Violet  sang slowly. She smiled at little Joey who was trying so hard to do the spider correctly. “That’s right, sweetie, you got it. Let’s do it again.”

Victor silently stood behind Violet smiling down at the kids in front of her. They all stared up at him wide-eyed. He suddenly knew what Gulliver must have felt like in the land of Lilliput.

Violet paused in mid-song frowning. Every little face was staring above her head. She  turned, looking behind, gasped and nearly fell out of her chair.

 “Victor! What are you doing here?” she shrieked.

“Hello, Violet. I hope you don’t mind but  I want to learn how to do this. I’m hoping to get some grandchildren one day and I should know this stuff,” he said as he came around to the front and sat down next to the cutest blue-eyed girl he’d ever seen. “Hello. My name is Victor. What’s your name?” he asked the little girl.

“Heather,” she replied promptly. She stared up at him as if she’d never seen such a fascinating creature in her life.

“Victor, you can’t be here,” Violet said desperately.

“Sure I can, Cheryl said I could. Can you show me how to do this, Heather? It looks very hard,” he said seriously.

Heather beamed seemingly very pleased to show him. She giggled at his feeble attempt but soon he got the hang of it and she clapped for him.

“You’re a great teacher, Heather, just like Violet,” he stated with fervent nodding.  Heather glowed with pride. She grinned up at Violet who sat watching them with a curious expression.

“Miss Violet? Arn’tcha gonna sing some more?” Joey asked.

 Instantly she snapped back and they did  the spider song two more times. She’d never felt so nervous but why she couldn’t say. She’d only done the Itsy-Bitsy Spider several thousand times, but then, never in front of the imposing figure of Victor Romanoff. She felt totally discombobulated by his presence yet much to her bewilderment none of the children thought it at all odd that an immaculately dressed man was sitting on the floor with them singing silly songs.

“What’s next? I’m on a roll,” Victor said grinning up at Violet. The kids shouted for their favorites. Violet sang two more songs before they were interrupted.

“Cheryl wasn’t kidding. You are looking for a job here, aren’t you?” Diane said smiling broadly at Victor.

“Mommy, Victor says I’m a good teacher just like Violet,” Heather exclaimed so excited she bounced on her knees.

“That’s wonderful, Honey,” she said. She extended her hand to Victor saying, “I’m Diane. I see you have a way with women of all ages. Violet, I’ll take over. You go have some lunch. Oh, and Victor,” she said as they were leaving the playroom. “Thanks for the pizza. You’ve succeeded in making several women fall madly in love with you.”  She gave Violet a sly wink as she left.

“You brought lunch? For everybody?” Violet asked, astonished.

“Least I could do,” he stated blandly.

She made an exasperated  face at him. “No, Victor. The least you could do would be nothing. You didn’t have to, you know. Truly you needn’t work so hard to get people to like you,” she told him unaccountably annoyed. “These women are all your slaves now. Pizza does that to them.”

He had a good laugh as he held open the door for her and they entered the back room. They were greeted by his newest fans who thanked him profusely for lunch and gushed at him as if he were a movie star. After fawning over him far more than Violet thought necessary or decent, they  left them alone.

“Whenever you start dating, these girls have first crack at you,” Violet informed him. She sat down at the long table and waited for him to do the same.

He grinned and sat next to her. “I already told you, I’m off limits. Sorry to disappoint.”

“Yes, they will indeed be very disappointed. But when you do start dating again keep them in mind, won’t you?”she said before taking a calming breath. “So, why are you here? I asked you not to come.”

“Did you? I don’t remember that. Perhaps that Old Timer’s Disease  is contagious. We did share that cake last night,” he said trying to sound serious but his smirk gave him away. He laughed again when she glared at him.

“Why are you here?” she repeated sternly. “And don’t tell me it’s because you want me to eat. I can feed myself.”

He sobered quickly and said,  “I spoke to the mechanic. Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” he said bracingly. When  he saw  anxiety fill her eyes  he placed a reassuring hand over hers. “Don’t look like that, Violet. It’s not as bad as all that. Your car needs a new transmission but a car that old, with so many miles on it, it just isn’t worth putting any money into it and the cost of repair would be a good amount to put toward a new car.”

“I can’t get a new car! I can’t afford that. Do you have any idea how much a new car costs?” she shrieked. “I’ll just get it fixed.”

“And if you get this fixed within a month’s time something else will go on it. That’s how it is with older cars. You need a new car. I can loan you the money. That’s no problem,” he told her calmly. “Do you have a preference? Chevy, Dodge, SUV, sedan, pickup?”

She frowned at him. “Are you being deliberately obtuse? I just said I can’t afford a new car and now you’re asking if I want a Hummer or a corvette? I’ll be lucky if I can get a golf cart!”

He couldn’t help it. He laughed at her. “I’m sure we can find something you can afford if not brand new then gently used,” he said reassuringly. “I’m an excellent negotiator. After I’m done the dealer will almost be paying you to take the car. Do you think you can get off work early? We can go to a dealership I trust but it’s a little way from here. In Treadwell.”

“So far? But I don’t want a new car,” she whined sounding to her own ears like one of the brattier kids at nap time.

“But you need one. I could be your chauffeur and take you wherever you need to go... in return for breakfast, of course. I won’t mind,” he replied trying not to look too hopeful.

“You might not but I sure do!” she shouted vehemently.

“Then the alternative is allowing me to take you to Treadwell to meet my friend who will give you the best deal around and get yourself a new car. So, can you get off work a little early, like three or four?”

“Uh... I don’t know. Are you sure my car’s no good? It was working fine,” she asked suddenly suspicious.

“Fine is a relative term, Violet. The fact that it was well overdue for an oil change didn’t help but it is an old car. It’s in horrible shape actually. The bottom’s completely rusted out and the tires...they could have given out at any moment..... You could have been stuck in the middle of nowhere at any time, ” he said sounding quite angry now. “I’m going to have a chat with your brother. He’s not doing a very good job watching out for his little sister.”

She put her head in her hands and groaned. “It’s not his job to take care of me. Richard used to do all that. I’m clueless about that stuff,” she said miserably.

His anger abated instantly. He squeezed her hand and stood up. “We’ll fix that. Have some pizza and I’ll see you later,” he told her kindly and he left. 

After several minutes she reluctantly got up and warmed up a slice in the microwave. She wrung her hands fretfully as she waited for the ding. How much would a new car cost? Too much, she knew but used cars were hardly any better, not with her income.  She suddenly thought of Freddy. Surely he could tell her what to do instead of relying on the advise of a virtual stranger.

“Freddy, I’m sorry to bother you at work but I need your help,” she said into the phone.

“Violet, hey, how was the date? Isn’t Victor a great guy?” he asked excitedly.
This boded ill. Her brother already thought Victor was a marvelous person. “It was not a date. Everyone may have forgotten about Richard but I have not,”she snapped.

Freddy sighed. “No one’s forgotten Richie but it’s til death do you part, Vi. You have to move on. Richie wouldn’t want you to spend the rest of your life  all alone when you’re such a wonderful person,” he said, his voice earnest.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” she said, taking a grumpy bite out of the pizza and regretting it instantly. It burned the roof of her month.

“I want you happy again, Violet. Please, give Victor a chance. He’s really a nice guy. I know you’ll like him,” he insisted.

“I’m not dating and Victor said he wasn’t either so if we’re going to be anything, which I very much doubt, it will only be friends. That’s the only reason I agreed to have dinner with him in the first place,” she stated before taking a tentative bite.

“That’s convenient. You not dating, he not dating. You can both not date together. Sounds perfect,” he retorted, his tone casual though he was positively gleeful.  “He did mention how he’s had it up to here with the bimbos he usually gets set up with. Guess he’s really given up on romance, just like you. Yeah, sounds good.”

Violet frowned as she took a bite of the crust and slowly chewed. She knew Freddy too well. He sounded as if he were smirking.“Like I said we’re only acquaintances but that’s not what I called about.” She then told him about her car troubles and all Victor had said.

“What do you think?” she asked anxiously.

“I think you should listen to Victor. He’s right. That car is too old. I’ve been saying it forever. It’s horrible in the snow. You need something four-wheel drive. I worry about you driving in that thing especially after what happened a few weeks back. Remember when you plowed into that snow bank so close to Johnnycake Bridge? You could have been killed!”he growled. The thought of that day still struck terror in him.

“It wasn’t that bad! The road was a bit slippery, is all, but I know how to drive and I’m  fine,” she told him dismissively . She closed her eyes shuttering. Yes,  it still kind of spooked her too, though she wasn’t about to admit it, not to Freddy anyway. “Victor wants me to get a new car and I told him I can’t afford it but he won’t listen.”

“Of course you can. You don’t have your heart set on a Ferrari, do you?”

“I don’t even know what a Ferrari is,”she countered, dropping wearily into a chair.

“Then you’ll be fine. Just tell Victor your statistics and he’ll figure out how much you can afford,” he told her wisely. “He’s a brilliant guy. He gave me a tip that tripled my stock portfolio.”

She rolled her eyes. “You know that stuff goes over my head. What do you mean statistics?” she asked making a face.

“How much you make, your expenses, how much you have squirreled away, that sort of thing. Oh, wait, you don’t really know any of that, do you?”

“Are you insane? Divulge private information to someone I barely know? I don’t think so!” she shrieked.

“He’s a lawyer and he’s my friend. Client privilege, you know?” Freddy explained sensibly.

“I’m not his client,” she exclaimed anxiously. “I don’t feel comfortable telling him that stuff....even if I did know it.”

“And how do you expect him to know how much you can afford? You can trust him. I do. You don’t actually think he’s devious enough to cheat you, do you? He’s not stupid enough to ruin his reputation by swindling widows out of their nest-eggs. Come on, Vi, have a little faith. He’s a man of integrity,” he said then sighed dramatically. “Do you want me to buy you the car? It’ll take some doing but I can take off work and...”

“I can’t let you do that,” she said quickly.

He grinned to himself. That was exactly what he knew she would say. Just then he saw Victor come through the front door. He watched him confer with his secretary and waved him into his office. He grinned up at him, motioned for him to sit and continued chatting with Violet.  “Then let Victor help you, Vi. He’s a smart guy and he’ll get you a great car at a great price. I promise and if he doesn’t I’ll kill him!” he said joyfully, winking at Victor who shook his head very amused.

“Oh, all right. I just hope I’m not selling my soul to the devil!” she said hanging up but not before she heard Freddy burst out laughing. “What’s wrong with everyone thinking I’m so darn hilarious?” she grumbled. A chilly gloom settled over her and she shivered as she ate the rest of the now cold pizza. She wished for her boring life back.

Gloom wasn’t only settling over Violet. Right beside her stood Richard looking miserable. He also wished for their old life, the life that didn’t include Victor helping his wife with her car trouble.

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