“Oh, I’m sorry. I was being so rude staring at you like that but...but...you have the prettiest eyes I’ve ever seen,” Violet gushed completely shocking Jocelyn into speechlessness. Violet a bit surprised herself added, “Hasn’t anyone ever told you that before?”
“What in the world could make every parent in Catalpa Valley dump their kids off at daycare on a Saturday?” she said to herself.
“Maybe they’re giving away free money down at the park,” Richard replied.
“You goof! Nobody gives away free money... except the government. And anyway, little kids are closer to the ground so they would have a better shot at grabbing whatever falls,” she quipped shrugging her shoulders and heading to the front door.
Richard chuckled. “You’re right, Babe.”
He followed her into the warm and cheery daycare center and found a most bizarre and a rather disturbing sight before them, something never seen before. Jocelyn Lefleur seemingly not in control of a situation. She stood holding twin four month old babies who were screaming their heads off, and around her long, jean-clad legs ran around a trio of toddlers making quite enough noise of their own. The music blaring out of speakers was not quite of the kind conducive to calming savage beasts but rather to excite them.
Wondering whatever happened to Wheels on the Bus or the usual Disney sing-a-long Violet went behind the front desk and turned off the stereo. Why anyone would play Panic at the disco to a bunch of little kids at a daycare center was not her concern at the moment. Her best friend, however, was. She gaped in utter astonishment. This was not the Jocelyn she had known for some twenty years.
Jocelyn was an impressive woman. She always had been even at age twelve when Violet first set eyes on the girl and thought her the most beautiful person she’d ever seen. She recalled quite vividly how stunned she was to see this tall, skinny, black girl with eyes that hypnotized sitting in an ordinary school cafeteria in the middle of the “sticks”. Violet imagined she should be on a throne in Egypt, draped in silk, adorned in precious gems and gold and lording over the commoners.
Jocelyn, expecting a much different reason for Violet staring at her, had promptly stood up ready for a fight. She glared down at little Violet who stood a good fourteen inches below Jocelyn’s shoulders. “What the hell are you staring at, white girl?” Jocelyn snapped, her silvery eyes mere slits in her livid face.
“What happened here, Jocelyn? Where are your helpers? And what is that little boy doing?” Violet asked gaping at a two year old boy who was banging his head on the wall. “Stop him, Jocelyn!”
Jocelyn blinked several time before getting her voice back. “No white girl, no,” Jocelyn replied.
Then they both laughed, sat down and had lunch together talking nonstop. From then on they were the best of friends.
Jocelyn hadn’t changed much except to grow another six inches to end up being six foot two and that was when she didn’t wear her usual Prada heels and she always wore her Prada heels. Of course, she wasn’t right now. Instead she wore ordinary, serviceable boots. And where, Violet wanted to know, were her sleek designer clothes and her usual makeup which always emphasized her exotic, almond-shaped, pewter-colored eyes and those full pouty lips that put Angelina Joli to shame?
Jeans and an ordinary albeit bright, cobalt blue chenille sweater was simply not done by Jocelyn unless she was bumming it as she liked to call it.
“Who are you and what have you done with my friend?” Violet said as she took one of the babies out of Jocelyn’s arms. “There now, sweetie, no more tears,” she cooed to the baby, swaying gently on the spot and reaching for the other.
“Never been more happy to see a white girl,” Jocelyn shouted over the screams of the babies, the toddlers and the constant bangs and crashes from the playroom.
Violet had to laugh. At least her friend hadn’t changed much inwardly. She was still the only one in Catalpa Valley who was outlandish enough to speak unspeakable truths, like pointing out race differences and the fact that Violet was lily white and Jocelyn was a rich mahogany color.
Violet hushed the babies in her arms and as was her charming way with children they almost instantly quieted down and stared up at her. At least she thought they were looking at her. In truth they were transfixed by Richard who stood just behind his wife looking over her shoulder at the babies.
He smiled and made funny faces at them and just like with Molly and Jimmy they saw his ghostly image quite clearly. He didn’t know what it was about him but babies simply loved him and it was good to know it didn’t even matter that he was a ghost now. The weird thing was he never paid must attention to babies. Only babies he liked were his own and then only after they were semi-mobile and not so fragile.
“Well, since you got them down a few decibels I’ll take care of these,” Jocelyn said snatching two toddlers by the hand and leading them to the playroom. Violet followed and stared in amazement at the mess. Granted kids weren’t the neatest creatures around but this looked like a tornado had gone through it.
“There’s a feud between Wendy, the craft fair matron and Patti soccer-mom-supreme and since neither of them have kids smart enough to have anything good at the science fair... there you go,” Jocelyn answered with a careless shrug.
“That,” Jocelyn said bracing herself, releasing the toddlers and going to the boy, “is Jeffery and he’s a terror. Don’t know what is up with him. Come on, Honey-bun, let’s get you a nice toy to demolish.”
She gave him a tiny wagon fitted with colorful blocks. As soon as he took them he dumped them on the floor and went back to the wall with all intentions of banging his head on it again but this time Richard stopped him just by shaking his head and looking stern. The little boy stared, pointed a pudgy hand at Richard and said, “Ay–yos, ay-yos, ay-yos....”
Violet who had just placed the babies on the changing table watched him with a creased brow. “What is he saying?”
“Who knows? He doesn’t talk much and what he does say doesn’t make much sense. But never mind him. What are you doing here? Come to rescue me? How did you know?” Jocelyn asked now popping a DVD into the player and setting the kids in front of the TV.
“I... well... I just wanted to see you. But why are you here alone? Where are those three girls you had working here? They seemed nice,” Violet said as she deftly changed one diaper and went onto the next.
“I wasn’t coming I today at all except that I got several calls from irate parents. Seems those “nice” girls were turning away people so they could have themselves a party. I came in to save my business and fire their sorry as...”
“Don’t curse! Not in front of little kids, anyway. They pick up everything, you know,” Violet told her in a vehement whisper, trying to be stern but at the same time not frighten the babies.
“No kid here is old enough to speak much, Vi,” Jocelyn commented with a gesture to encompass the whole room and all its tiny inhabitants, all of whom were seemingly under three years of age.
Violet found that odd. “Why did everybody leave their babies here today. It’s Saturday,” she asked, now placing one contented and smiling baby into a swing before getting a bottle ready for the other not-so-contented twin.
“Well, you wouldn’t know, would you? Hibernator as you are. They’re having three simultaneous functions in town. First a massive craft fair at the fairgrounds, an indoor soccer tournament in the high school and a science fair at the elementary school. Oh, and I almost forgot the winter festival at the park but that’s not until later today,” Jocelyn rattled off.
“What brilliant person decided on putting all those together?” Violet asked sitting herself on a rocking chair and finally getting to quiet the hungriest of babies.
“Of course you can trust me, but with what?” Violet asked, now a curious and bewildered expression on her face.
“But they used to be such good friends. What happened there?” Violet asked, her hazel eyes wide with surprise.
“Damn, girl, do you hear nothing of what’s going on in town? Wendy’s ticked off that Patti stole Billy from her. It’s all over town,” Jocelyn said frowning at Jeffery who now took to lining up blocks, trucks and dolls in a crooked line all over the room. As that was the least destructive of his activities she left him to it.
Violet’s mouth hung open. “Seriously? Wendy and Billy split and he’s now with Patti? What did Patti want with that old grouch?”
Jocelyn gave her friend a condescending look. “Do you not know the ratio of available men, even grouchy old red-necks, to desperate women in Catalpa Valley? No, of course you don’t,” she answered herself with a sigh. “You live in your own little dream world, don’t you? And you’re even worse since Richie.... died.” Out of the clear blue she burst out in tears further shocking Violet.
Violet almost dropped the baby bottle she held between her knees as she burped the baby on her shoulder. “Jocelyn! What’s wrong?” She couldn’t get a coherent word out of her friend so she put the now sleepy baby in a small crib, placed a blanket over her and went to the phone out front. She dialed a few friends’ numbers but none were home. On the fourth try she hit it. She talked quickly then returned to Jocelyn whose eyes were now red and swollen.
Violet took a good look and only just realized how strained she appeared, as if Jocelyn hadn’t slept well for weeks.
“Tell, me, Jocelyn. What is wrong?” Violet pleaded, her arm around her friend’s waist, tugging her gently to a comfy seat.
It took a bit more time but it all came out. Jocelyn’s mother was dying. The ovarian cancer that had been in remission for some years had returned and there was nothing to be done now.
“Oh, my... Jocelyn....I’m so sorry. What can I do?” Violet asked, taking her hand and squeezing it, her own eyes now flooding with sympathetic tears.
At first Jocelyn only shook her head but she stopped and stared at Violet as if only just seeing her for the first time. “You could, couldn’t you? I could only trust you,” she said, not making much sense at all.
In truth she had been answering Richard who had suggested she go down to Mississippi to be with her mother until the inevitable while leaving the daycare center in Violet’s care.
“Baby, you just got yourself a job,” Richard whispered.