Violet giggled and stood up with their empty plates. Gosh, but it gave her such a good feeling to cook once again and for an appreciative someone no less!
“Yes, actually, Kenny used to say it all the time. He said the proof was all his friends who would mysteriously show up around dinner time. You’d think they’d never had a real home-cooked meal the way they went on and on about how great it was here. Funny kids. They told me their mothers never cooked. Can you imagine that?” she asked shaking her head in disbelief.
He stood up and followed her to the sink rolling up his sleeves as he went. “Well, yeah, I married and divorced one,” he said with a grimace.
“Really? Your wife never cooked? That’s horrible!” she shrieked.
“Actually it was more horrible when she did cook,” he said, smirking.
“Victor! Be nice,” she admonished.
“Sorry. I should be like you and try to remember only the good times, as few as they were,” he replied, a rueful twist to his mouth.
“I just don’t like divorce,” she grumbled.
He chuckled. “How many times are you going to say that?”
“Until people stop divorcing!” she exclaimed earnestly, as she filled the sink with hot sudsy water and placed the dishes in it.
Victor leaned on the counter and peered into her face. “So you would rather we be condemned to a loveless marriage?”
Her face fell. “But you must have loved each other at some point. Couldn’t you just have worked it out?”
She stared up at him, eyes pleading, pure innocence pouring out of them. He got the barely controllable urge to take her into his arms and never let go. He ran a tentative finger down her cheek and forced himself to do no more.
“My dear little Polly Anna, not all of us can have it like you and Richard. We were never a cohesive unit, even at the beginning. Fought like cats and dogs. That should have been our first clue but.... hind-sight, you know?” he told her wistfully.
Her cheek tingled where he touched her. She forced her eyes away from his penetrating stare, unaccountably shaken. She focused on washing the dish with deliberate, slow circles. She hoped that might help slow her erratically beating heart. Why did Victor affect her so?
“So, um... you think you never should have been together?” she asked, her voice a bit shaky.
“I can’t say that. It would make my boys non-existent. I love them too much for that. I love them more than anything,” he said fiercely. “They were the only good thing that came from our marriage.”
She looked up at him again, pouting and mumbled, “I just don’t like divorce.”
He gave her an indulgent smile. “Tell you what. I promise I’ll never divorce again. Of course that’s because I’ll probably never marry again,” he said trying not to look as dejected as he felt at that prospect. He looked at her hands still swirling the sponge round and round over a sparkling clean dish. “I think you’re done with that. I’ll dry,” he said taking it out of her hands and rinsing it under the tap.
She picked up another plate as he picked up a towel and dried the first. “That soured on love, are you?” she asked tentatively.
“No. I definitely would like to marry again when I ...” He stopped abruptly and looked away from her. He knew if he kept going he’d spill his guts and then where would that leave him?
“When you find the perfect woman?” she asked.
He nodded slowly and took a deep breath. “I want someone I can love completely, someone made just for me. Someone who gets me, who will love me.... despite myself.”
“Of course. That’s what everyone wants,” Violet said.
He turned his intense gaze on her and had been about to speak when a voice in his head said,“Fat chance, buddy. She ain’t over her husband, remember?”
It was Richard’s ghost whispering in his ear and he had a malicious grin on his face. He knew Victor could hear him perfectly.
“Yes,” Victor muttered more to the disembodied voice than anything. “But anything less than...than what you and Richard had isn’t worth dealing with. I’m too old for that nonsense. Besides, I don’t want another divorce. Don’t ever want to disappoint my new friend.”
To his astonishment she smiled brightly up at him. “Well, there you go! I’ve got loads of friends for you to choose from. They’re all very nice. I’m sure one of them would be perfect for you.”
He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Are you trying to set me up, Violet? Didn’t I tell you I wasn’t dating?”
“Well, how else are you going to find little Miss Perfect if you don’t start dating?” she asked pointedly and handing the next plate to him.
He took it still gazing fixedly into her eyes. Those lovely eyes he had longed forever to look at him precisely like that. He had half a mind to tell her he had already found his Miss Perfect.
“You do and it’ll be the worst mistake of your life,” Richard snarled.
Victor nodded absently, agreeing with the voice. Before he could stop himself he said, “Freddy’s right. You have the most beautiful eyes.”
They widened in surprise and stared up at him. “When did Freddy tell you that? Did you know me before we met?” she asked suspiciously.
Derisive laughter filled Victor’s head. “Put your foot in your mouth that time, didn’t ya bud?”
Victor could have kicked himself. “I told you already. Freddy often spoke about his beautiful sister.”
Violet narrowed her eyes. That still sounded awfully fishy. “Why in the world would my eyes come into one of your conversations with my brother?”
Victor bought himself some time to think while looking into several cabinets for the proper place to stash the dishes. Violet pointed to the one he purposely missed and he stacked the dishes within before looking at her.
“Well, we were actually talking about families, his and mine. He told me about his wife but his description didn’t mesh with the one of the woman I saw him hugging at the post office one day. I thought she must have been his wife but he described a tall blonde.....obviously not who I saw with him. I had to assume he was having an affair. Didn’t much like that idea. He seemed like such a nice guy and I didn’t want to hate him.” In fact Victor had decidedly hated him then.
A stricken look came over Violet’s face. Freddy? Her precious, wonderful brother cheating on Laurie? It just couldn’t be! “Who...who was this woman?” she asked, sounding almost fearful.
Victor laughed. “Well, it turns out it was you.”
Victor chuckled recalling quite clearly how he felt when he spotted Freddy embracing Violet right off her feet. He instantly took a severe disliking to Freddy and not just because he thought him a cheating bastard but one who got to Violet before he could and had made her into “The other woman”. He still remembered Freddy’s reaction when Victor confronted him. He couldn’t stop laughing for fifteen minutes.
“I assumed he was cheating on Laurie with you until he told me you were his sister and .....”
“So, you did know I was his sister!” she shouted. “You knew and you lied! Freddy put you up to this. He told you to...”
“He didn’t. I didn’t know you were the woman at first. I didn’t see your face. It was from a distance and you were all bundled up in scarf and hat, and a bulky coat. He just told me you were his sister but I didn’t know it was you,” he said as quickly as he could.
The confusion was evident on her expressive face. “That makes no sense. You knew it was me but....” She stopped abruptly and glared at him. “So, then you thought I was some sort of home wrecker?” she shrieked, utterly indignant.
“Absolutely not!” he shouted. “I would never think that of you.”
“But you just said.....”
“You didn’t let me finish. I can explain,” he said frantically. This wasn’t going well at all.
“No, it’s not and it’s all your fault!” Richard said gleefully. “I’d leave now if I were you, before she takes the frying pan to your head!”
“Then finish why don’t you?” she hissed folding her arms over her heaving chest.
“Violet, I met your brother when I first moved up here. I didn’t know him or his character. I hardly knew anybody in Catalpa Valley except my kids, their mother, Andy and.... and you.”
“Me? You didn’t know me unless Freddy...”
“No! Not Freddy. He didn’t have anything to do with me coming up to you yesterday.”
“And you expect me to believe that? Freddy’s been trying to get me to meet you, his new best friend for..”
“Violet, listen to me. I’m good at reading people. You’ve seen that, but I can be fooled same as anybody. I liked Freddy as soon as I met him, but I didn’t really know what kind of man he was. He could be the kind that chases skirts despite being married. I’ve known plenty of men that don’t blink an eye about cheating on their wives. I didn’t know what Freddy was up to and it was hardly my business anyway. I don’t listen to rumor nor do I perpetuate it so I’m usually out of the loop and frankly, I like it that way. I didn’t know what kind of relationship you had with him. But I knew you were a widow. That was all I knew. I thought maybe you and Freddy were just friends. I hoped that was all there was to it because I didn’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Hurt?” she repeated numbly.
“If you had fallen in love with a man you didn’t know was married don’t you think you would have gotten hurt?” he asked earnestly.
“But I wasn’t. Freddy is my brother.”
“Yes, but I didn’t know that then. I’m sorry I lied to you but I didn’t want you blaming Freddy. He didn’t have anything to do with this. Nothing.”
She made an impatient sound and turned her back on him. “Sure, whatever you say. If you’re quite done...”
“If you must know it was Ronnie, my son,” he interjected hastily, before she could throw him out of her house and her life forever. “Ronnie and Sophie were classmates, remember? He told me the firefighter that died last year was her father and I knew who her mother was because I saw you together...you and Richard and your kids.”
“You....you knew us? But how?”she said turning back to stare at him.
“No, not really. I just saw you around town. You know how it is in this small town. Everybody knows everybody. I just knew you as Sophie and Kenny’s mom. But that wasn’t the most memorable thing about you. I was struck by how happy you and Richard seemed to be and I couldn’t help envying you very much. I wanted to be that happy and I knew I never would be.”
Violet gaped at him nonplussed.
“After Richard died I saw you, Violet, walking around like a zombie, half dead and so dreadfully sad. I had seen you before so happy and to see you like that...devastated and so alone, even in a crowd you seemed so alone....you broke my heart. You looked so sorrowful. You looked like I felt.”
That stopped her stone cold. “What....?”she whispered.
“I’ve wanted so much to take your sorrow away because...stupidly I thought if I took away your sadness I would make mine go away too.”
“But why...why did you care? You didn’t know me,”she asked
“I thought you’d had enough pain. Losing your husband, losing someone you loved so much. I knew what you were feeling and I figured you shouldn’t hurt that badly anymore,” he said quietly. “I’m sorry I lied but I didn’t want you blaming Freddy. It’s all on me.”
That silenced her completely.