Monday, January 17, 2011

Chapter 7: Battle with a Ghost

Freddy’s mind was on several things at once as he drove home from work this blustery, snowy day. First, he was getting pretty darn sick of winter and it had barely begun. With all these blasted icy roads, snow piled up in heaps in parking lots, barely a day without a snow shower and a bitter cold that seeped easily through warm, down parkas he was ready for a trip to the tropics! Second, he wished tax season would be over already and yet that had only just started too. And third, he hadn’t seen Violet in over a week. He had been way too busy.

He was worried about her but he was more worried Richard’s ghost would show up wondering why he hadn’t done something to help her as he had promised. He had put off calling Victor as long as he could. He grabbed the cell and waited for Victor’s distinctive, cultured voice to sound in his ear.

“You’ve reached the law offices of Victor Romanoff....” a recorded female voice he recognized as Victor’s gestapo-like receptionist.

He groaned and pushed another button, Victor’s personal cell. “Romanoff,” he heard and his heart leapt into his throat.

“Hey, Vic. How ya doing?” he said somewhat nervously.

“Fred, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Victor replied with some surprise. “Thought you were hiding under a mountain of tax returns about this time of year?”

Freddy chuckled. “Maybe I’m calling to have you bring me a shovel to help me out from under it.”

Victor laughed. “I’ll be right over!”

“, actually... I do kinda have a request. It’s really gonna sound weird but...”

“Like the shovel wasn’t?” Victor commented, a smirk in his deep resonating voice.

“Much weirder, believe me,” Freddy said trying to get up the nerve and realizing he hadn’t a clue how to ask this of his friend.

“Fred? Still there?”

“Yeah, uh....”

“You aren’t in trouble with the IRS, are you?” Victor asked now sounding concerned.

“Oh, hell, no! Nothing like that. Wish it were that easy.”

“Fred, you’re going to have to explain this before I start worrying about you. Spill it!”

“Okay, okay! It’s my sister. You remember...”

“Is she all right? Something happen to her?” Victor asked now sounding anxious and ready to spring into action.

“Well, no, she’s... well, you remember I told you about Rich and....”

“Yes, of course. Her husband died in that terrible fire eight months back now, isn’t it?”

“Damn, Vic, you forget nothing, do you?”

“Part of the job. And your request?”he replied, his voice now serious and business-like.

“She’s so... miserable, you know? She never comes over anymore. She just sits around the house crying and... I’m afraid she’s.... I just....” Freddy couldn’t go on with the constriction that had sprung up so suddenly in his throat.

“I’m sorry, Fred,” Victor said compassionately. “ I know how you must feel, helpless. But what could I do? I don’t know her, you know?”

“Would you like to?” Freddy asked recalling Richard’s words.

“I’m telling ya, Freddy. He’s in love with her. I just know it.”

Victor’s mind reeled. Was this man kidding?  Yes! Yes! And Thousand times yes! He wanted to scream out but his courtroom training told him to chill. “I... of course, Fred. She is your sister and I’ve heard such wonderful things about her. I’m certain she’s a lovely person.”

Freddy couldn’t tell anything from that measured response. Certainly didn’t sound like a man madly in love. “The favor is for you to ... uh, meet her and maybe, you know, ask her out to dinner? It doesn’t have to be anything romantic,” he added quickly. “She probably wouldn’t like that anyway. Actually I know she wouldn’t. It’s not been a whole year yet since Rich died. But we’ve got to do something to get her out and doing something other than sit at home mourning Rich, you know? Do you think you could... I don’t know...come to dinner and maybe between us and Laurie we could come up with something. What do you think?”

Victor gripped the phone with such force he wondered why it didn’t splinter in his hand. He gulped, his heart doing a crazy drumbeat in his chest. How often had he gone to Freddy’s house hoping and praying that this time he would finally get to meet the amazing, beautiful and fascinating creature that was Violet Bennett? And now he would, with Freddy’s permission no less, actually get to ask her out? Had he suddenly found a magic lamp with a genie waiting within to grant him his every wish?

“Vic? Still there?”

Victor cleared his throat. “Yes, sorry I was... yes, we can see about that. Let me know when. I’ll come right over. I miss my little Molly,” he said a genuine smile lighting his face at the thought of the precocious little cutie. Then a thought struck him, Laurie’s less than perfect cooking. He grimaced slightly and added as casually as he could,  “Or I could take all of you out to dinner. Make it a sort of party.”

Freddy stifled a laugh not fooled for a minute, and rather agreeing although he’d never tell Laurie! “That might be nice but I’d have to hogtie Violet to get her there. Well, We’ll see. Thanks, Vic. You’ll never know how much I appreciate this,”he said, relief washing over him like he hadn’t felt since last year’s tax season was over and done.

“You know I’d do anything for you and your family, Fred,” Victor replied.

Freddy, grinning like fool, put away his cell and had been thinking of going to Violet’s house when he passed the Mio Caro Bambino daycare and saw to his astonishment, Violet’s battered old car parked to the side.

“What the hell?” he muttered as he turned in and parked in front. He opened the front door and was instantly surrounded by very welcoming warmth and the delicious scent of freshly baked cookies. The front desk as usual was devoid of staff but there were the cookies as if by magic! And they were his favorite,  chocolate cookies with white chocolate chips. Violet had obviously baked them. He knew her baking anywhere.

Not being able nor willing to resist, he grabbed two and stuffed them hungrily into his month. He closed his eyes and savored the yummy delight as if he were a starving man finally allowed a morsel of food. He grabbed two more and had just taken a bite when he heard coming from the large playroom  the sound of song, laughter, talking and the occasional bang and crash of what must have been toys continually dropped on the floor.

He entered and was further astounded. Violet was sitting with her back to him in a tiny chair surrounded by a troop of two and three year olds all mimicking, or at least trying to, Violet’s hand movements while she sang the Itsy Bitsy Spider song.

Beside this group was another rather large one led by a young woman he seemed to remember from church, a daughter of one of his father’s old army buddies, Paul Murphy. He thought her name might have been Diane though he wasn’t certain. She also had a group of kids surrounding her, seven to ten year olds this time, all cross-legged in front of her chair, their faces in rapt attention as she read from one of the Harry Potter books, The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

Freddy stared in amazement when he heard to his left a gruff voice he’d know anywhere. It was old Mac Smithers, the supreme fly fisherman of Catalpa Valley, and he was teaching a large group of boys and two girls, all between seven to twelve years old, how to hook a fishing line.

Mac’s gravelly voiced loomed above all. He stalled his demonstration to give a stern look to a boy who seemed intent on hurting his neighbor with a lethal looking hook.

“Do that again, Pete, and I smack you,” Mac growled. “And don’t think I won’t. I got permission from your granddad, just so’s you know.” The boy gulped and put his hands in his pocket.

Freddy stifled a laugh. He remembered Richard and himself being told the exact same thing many years before. Good to know some things like great old fishing enthusiasts never change. To the right of the fishing table was Mac’s wife Glady who also had a  group mostly of girls of all ages and they were doing a variety of crafts from sewing buttons, gluing glitter, stringing beads and joining little bits of fabric together and some of the older ones were actually doing needlepoint and loom knitting.

There was also one boy separate from all the others who was making all the noise. Jeffery was dropping armfuls of large wooden blocks then flapping his hands and spinning himself on the spot until he grew dizzy and fell over. He then got back up and did it all over again.

Freddy stood staring at the funny little kid and all this buzz of activity, still munching on the stolen cookies when Mac caught sight of him and bellowed across the room.

“If it ain’t the taxman! Whatcha doing here, boy? Ain’t ya got my tax return to do? You can’t be done yet. Only gave it to ya last Sunday at church.”

Violet  turned and gasped in delight, “Freddy! What are you doing here?”

“Looking for you,” he replied as she stood on tiptoe to hug him. He looked at her searching her face. She looked good or at least better, still too thin and a bit peaky but better. She wasn’t yet as she had been before Richard’s death, that was certain, but she was out of the house. He had to be thankful for that.

 “Fancy seeing you here. Can we talk for a bit?” he asked looking around to see all the little kids now being lead by Heather in singing Wheels on the Bus.

“Sure,” Violet said leaving the playroom. She took him to the back where there was a small kitchen area with a microwave, sink, mid-sized fridge and a large table on which were more cookies on a crystal platter. These looked like regular chocolate chip cookies but after one bite Freddy knew Violet gave them an unexpected twist.

“Peanut butter with chocolate chips! Man, these are good, Vi,” No, Freddy couldn’t resist these either. He took another two.

“Can I get you some coffee?” Violet asked smiling at his undying enthusiasm for cookies.

“No, Vi, thanks. Where’s Jocelyn?”he asked through a mouthful.

“In the time it takes to tell you that you could have a nice cup of coffee to go with the cookies so sit down and listen,” she said with her usual giggle as she went to the coffee maker. He hadn’t realized how much he missed her laughter until that moment. He missed it almost as much as he missed her cooking!

He stared at her as if she were from another planet as she told him about  Jocelyn being in Mississippi with her whole family and how Violet came to be not only working at Mio Caro Bambinobut running it quite successfully with Diane and a few others, also procuring all sorts of volunteers to teach the kids good, useful skills.

“So, here I am, trying to be of help to her. I feel so bad though. Poor Mrs. Lefleur, such a lovely, vibrant person to be so sick. But at least she’ll have everyone around her until.... until the end,” she finished sadly.

“How long you think Jocelyn will be gone?” he asked drinking the last bit of coffee and longing for another. He had missed her delicious coffee, too.

She shrugged. “Who knows? Could be weeks, could be months. All depends, doesn’t it?”

He smiled at her. “Good to see you out of the house, Violet. Real good. You should come over soon. The kids miss you. I miss you!”

She nodded behind her tea cup but distinctly avoided his eyes when she said, “Sure, real soon.”

“How about tonight?” Freddy pressed her, knowing how evasive she could be.

“Freddy, I couldn’t possibly.”  She stood up taking both cups with her and washing them in the sink.

“Why not? Pressing engagement? Got a hot date?” he quipped.

“Of course not!” she snapped.

“I was kidding, Vi. You used to be able to take a joke.”

“Not at Richard’s expense when he’s no longer here to defend himself.”

“Defend himself from what? He could take a joke and anyway he would want to know you aren’t in perpetual mourning. He’d want you to get on with life. I know he would.”

“You know nothing of the sort,” Violet retorted grabbing a towel and drying the cups with undue vigor.

“I do. I....” He paused here re-thinking it. He couldn’t exactly tell her he had seen and talked to Richard. She’d send him off to Mason. She hardly needed another family member at the institution. “You forget, Rich was my best friend. I knew him better than I know myself. I know exactly what he would want because it’s exactly what I would want for Laurie if I were to die. He would want you to meet some nice man and.....”

“Stop right there,” she said glaring at him. “Richard may have been your friend but he was my husband, is my husband and forever shall be. I will never date nor remarry. Just not going to happen, so don’t even think about it.”

He signed in defeat. This wasn’t going to be so easy even with Victor on board. “So, get this. Laurie is planning a surprise birthday party for me,” he said, as a diversion and just as planned, it worked.

Violet gaped then burst out laughing. “Some secret.”

“You know how she is, blonde right into the brain. She could probably use your help, at least with the cooking. It could be your gift to me. I’d love you forever.”

“Weren’t you going to love me forever anyway?” she asked her typical sass coming back.

“Hmm, you got a point there. Well, then I’ll owe you. How’s that?”he replied smirking at her.

She giggled. “I’ll see what I can do.”

He stood up, kissed her forehead and hugged her warmly. “Love my big sister.”

“Love my bigger-than-me-by-a-foot little brother,” she returned giggling again.

After dinner that night which consisted of something Freddy sort of recognized as some kind of fowl he sat in front of the TV and drifted off to la-la-land just as some celebrity started dancing with some babe in a fraction of a dress.

“Get up, you ass!”

Startled, he awoke and saw Richard looming over him, his face livid, his fists clenched. and ready to punch something by the looks of it. “What? What’s wrong?”Freddy asked shaking the sleep out of his head.

“You, trying to set up my wife with some  fricken  lawyer guy, that’s what!” he bellowed.

Freddy gaped. “What the hell, Rich? You told me to!” Freddy yelled right back.

“I did not!”

“You did!” Freddy returned. “You told me Vic was half in love with her.”

Richard glared at him knowing perfectly well that he had said all that but he wasn’t willing to concede this fact. “I ...I didn’t mean it,” he said lamely.

Freddy’s brown eyes widen as did his mouth. “You didn’t mean it?” he repeated, incredulous. “Dude, I know you’re dead and a ghost and everything and  perhaps we gotta make allowances for that, but you can’t tell me to do something for you, for Violet, and expect me to not believe you mean me to really do it. You said it was the only way for you to move on.”

Richard made a growling sound in his throat, annoyed that he had told Freddy any of  this. “I changed my mind, then,” he retorted  irritably.

“Oh, yeah? Why is that?”

“I know what my mission is.”

“And that’s what exactly?” Freddy asked trepidation stealing over him.

“I’m supposed to stay here, earthbound. I have to for Violet. I just gotta keep her from being lonely.”

“But she’s not lonely anymore. She’s got this job at Jocelyn’s daycare. You know how much she likes kids. She was so happy, Rich. You should have seen her. It was exactly what she needed just like you said. She doesn’t need y... I mean... you don’t have to be here anymore.”

“You think so, huh?” Richard said looking unduly angry again. “And was she particularly happy when you told her to move on with her life and forget about me?”

Freddy gaped. Of course, he should have known Richard would be there to hear the entire conversation. “So what? I told you it was too early for her to date and she obviously agrees. That wasn’t my intention anyway. I just wanted to...”

“Don’t play me for a fool. I heard you on the phone with Mr. Perfect lawyer guy, your new best bud. Well, Violet won’t go for some slick city dude. You can forget that. She’s got me,” Richard said looking both defiant and a bit menacing.

 “For Cripe’s sake, Rich, are you listening to yourself? She doesn’t have you. You’re dead.”

“Not to her I’m not. She’s sleeping now,” Richard said. At Freddy’s confused expression he elaborated. “I can make her see me and feel me when I wake her up. It’s like I’m alive again. We even.... we spent the night together, like we used to... if you know what I mean,” he said giving him and significant look.

Frowning in utter bewilderment Freddy shook his head. “You have got to be kidding me. Please, say you are kidding! My sister and a ghost... doing the nasty all night?”he said, aghast.

“I’m not a ghost when I’m with her. It’s like I’m alive again, Freddy, really and truly alive.”

Fred stared at him slowly shaking his head. “What are you saying?”

“I can feel, I can touch and I can taste and smell, everything a real live person can do.”

“Doesn’t mean you’re alive. You’re still just a ghost, Richie.”

“I’m not, dammit!”

“You are! And no amount of wishful thinking’s gonna change that. Violet deserves to be happy, truly happy and she can only be that when she lets go of you.”

“But she won’t and she doesn’t have to now. I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Here on earth with my wife.”

Freddy had never seen Richard look so stubborn and dangerous, for Violet’s well being at least. 

“Well, I know one thing,” he said watching him through shrewd, narrowed eyes. “It’s not Violet that needs to let go nearly as much as you have to let go of her. I thought you said you loved her.”

“Of course I love her!”

“Doesn’t look like it to me. You’re being very selfish, more than I ever thought you capable of. You could think about her, you know, and her feelings and what is best for her.”

A twinge of guilt assailed Richard then just as quickly vanished when he recalled Violet’s words to her brother.

“...he was my husband, is my husband and forever shall be,” she had said adamantly.

“I’m not being selfish if I’m giving Violet exactly what she wants and what she wants is me. That’s what I’m giving her,  me, so she won’t be alone.”

Freddy stared at him again shaking his head. “I’m not gonna let you do this to her. I’ll fight you every step of the way if I have to. She’s my sister, the only one I’ve got and I won’t let you ruin her life.”

“Ruin her life? By making her happy?”Richard yelled.

“By haunting her and forcing her to remain stuck to a husband that isn’t even real especially when she could have Vic...”


Richard punched Freddy in the face knocking him back onto the couch. “Don’t you dare push the fancy pants guy on my Violet. She’s mine, now and forever,”Richard snarled.

In a blink he was gone and Freddy could only put his hand to his aching jaw moving it gingerly and wondering vaguely as he fell back to sleep if he truly was now in a battle with a ghost.

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