“Victor’s return perhaps?” Heidi suggested.
Violet frowned at that thought. No! It is not that, she told her inner voice adamantly. She had started to like having her very own Jiminy Cricket but not today. It was saying things Violet would rather not listen to nor acknowledge. She was not thinking of Victor! Although it was his dark, fury‑filled eyes that came to mind every time Sherry caught her hand which was very often. The little girl did so like and trust Violet.
She hugged Sherry recalling quite clearly the muscle that throbbed along Victor’s jaw line and how he hissed, “How could anyone do that to an innocent child?” The memory made a shiver run down her spine. She certainly wouldn’t want to be a criminal coming up against him in court or down a dark alley for that matter.
It was with this at the back of her mind that Violet allowed Sherry to help with the twin babies, with sing‑along‑time and even with clearing up some of the scattered toys. She usually encouraged all the kids to play together or at least to learn to entertain themselves, but this time she felt Sherry kind of needed a bit more reassurance.
Violet didn’t mind. The kids did keep her busy and having a helper around was not only nice, but it reminded her of when her own daughter Sophie would tag along “helping’ with everything from laundry to baking cookies.
It was fun and yet Violet had to stop herself from checking the clock on the wall every few minutes and the watch at her wrist just to make certain the clock was right. Time seemed to drag today. Why was it taking so long for it to be lunch time and why did she care? She never much paid attention to trifles like eating when there were kids that needed attention.
“You’re particularly hungry today? Perhaps you’re eager for whatever a certain someone will bring for lunch?” Heidi asked with a tiny giggle that irritated Violet no end.
It wasn’t at all that she wanted to see Victor. Of course not! She barely knew the man. So why in the world would she want to see him again especially so soon? She had spent practically every minute of the passed day with him and then dinner the night before, too.
“Plus you had such a nice breakfast together. Comfortable and easy and safe. Almost like when you and Richard were still together, wouldn’t you say?” Heidi teased.
Violet had almost nodded in agreement but stopped abruptly and frowned. Why was she having such arrant thoughts?
Soon enough Victor would be here to get her. She was to go with him that afternoon to pick up her new car. The car! That must be it! She was getting the jitters because of the new car. Oh, but she almost sighed in relief. It truly wasn’t anything to do with Victor. After this day, after getting the car, she need never see him again. The passed two day was more than enough time to be with such a....
“A wonderful man?” came Heidi’s gentle, inquiring voice.
No, that wasn’t it, surely! But it kind of was if Violet had been willing to admit it which she wasn’t. He certainly was a forceful, pushy sort of man and he was always so annoyingly in her space, but he had proved himself thoughtful, protective, considerate and kind to both children and animals.
Surely, that should earn Victor some brownie points. It certainly hit a soft spot in Violet, though she didn’t particularly care to admit that either. But no, she didn’t actually want to see Victor. It was just a vague, unsettled feeling about the new car, she was sure, and it had little to do with Victor.
She told herself this repeatedly and still her eyes strayed to the ever‑so‑slowly ticking hands of the clock.
“Miss Violet?” came a tiny voice at her elbow accompanied by a tug on the skirt.
“Yes, Heather, what is it?” she asked, giving Heather a smile she didn’t quite feel.
“Mommy says you gotta come to da break room,” Heather said.
“Why?” Violet asked, looking confused.
“Cuz dere’s lots of food,” Heather replied.
Violet frowned. “What do you....”
“Come see!” Heather insisted tugging now on her hand.
“Go on, Violet, I’ll take care of this bunch. Was thinking a telling a story,” Mac Smithers interjected as he stood up hitching his carpenter pants higher. They kept slipping down over his thin frame. “You kids know about whales that go around swallowing people whole?”
“Like Pinocchio?” Sammy asked, raising his hand as if he were in school.
“Heck no!” Mac growled. “That’s not real. I’m talking about Jonah from the bible. Now there’s a whale of a tale!”
“Oh, brother,” muttered Glady, his long-suffering wife. She rolled her eyes and waved Violet out of the playroom, assuring her without words that she would keep Mac from frightening the children too much.
When Heather tugged Violet into the break room she gasped in surprise. The long counter was completely covered with enough food to feed an army, a very large army too. There were several crusty loaves of Italian bread, a large pan of spaghetti with meatballs, another of sausage and peppers, a meaty, cheesy lasagna and several pizzas. Along the other counter by the sink was a tray of cookies and a large bowl of fresh fruit and several bottles of juice.
“What in the world, Diane? What are you thinking getting all this?” Violet asked.
“Me?” Diane shrieked. She gave Violet a smug look before grabbing an envelope off the counter. She opened it with a flourish, extracted the elaborately decorated notepaper and employing a lofty voice read aloud, “To the lovely ladies and dear, sweet children at Mio Caro Bambino daycare center, I hope you will find this little gift to your liking. Do enjoy it and consider it a thank you for allowing my intrusion yesterday on sing-along time. You may also consider this a bit of a bribe for future intrusions. Yours most sincerely, Victor Romanoff.”
“He didn’t,” Violet whispered, her hand clutched to her throat.
“He did,” Winnie replied brightly, taking plates out of the cupboard.
“He’s got some way of saying thank you!” Cheryl said, delighted.
“Yeah, and for what? A sing-along,” Helen said, shaking her head incredulously as she took cutlery from the drawer.
Pamela giggled and added, “Yeah, wonder what he’d give you for a roll in the...”
“Uh, Heather, go tell the kids we’ve got pizza, okay?” Violet interjected while giving Pamela a stern look. “Must you be so crude in front of the children? They pick up everything, you know.”
“Oh, you’re such a fuddy-duddy, Violet. She wouldn’t understand what I meant,” Pamela said with a flippant wave of her hand.
“I should hope not,” Diane said, appearing grateful for Violet’s sense of decorum.
Violet ignored them all. “What is wrong with that man?” she muttered, still not believing what she saw before her.
“So far, not much,” Helen stated happily. “You realize there’ll be enough left over for dinner tonight? For all of us, which is great! My girls have a basketball game tonight leaving me no time to cook.”
“I love Tony’s stuff,” Winnie said while piling her plate with a bit of everything. “Violet, don’t ever break up with this guy!”
“Break up? I’m not dating him!” Violet shouted, indignant. All eyes turned to her with a “yeah, right” look about them. “I’m not! He’s just my brother’s friend. That’s all!”
“Uh-huh, and he’s not completely in love with you either,” Pamela said sarcastically.
“Absolutely not!” Violet said vehemently.
Behind Violet, Diane shook her head warning the others not to press the issue. Thankfully they got the message.
“Sorry, Violet. You know how we are, always finding romance where none exists,” Winnie said avoiding Violet’s eyes.
“It’s wishful thinking, you know,” Helen said, a tiny smile playing about her lips.
“Of course, Violet, we’re just being silly. Victor’s just a very nice man,” Diane added. “It’s obvious he loves children.”
Violet, quite relieved to hear them being reasonable, said in a somewhat breathless voice, “Yes, well...I’ll go fetch the kids. They love pizza.” With that she went back out, missing the muffled giggles of the others.
Come four in the afternoon Violet had finally stopped looking at the clock. So, of course that was when Victor showed up. He wasn’t alone though. He had bags, several of them, full of toys. She gaped at him open-mouthed as he proceeded to shout, “Hi, kids, I have toys, one for each of you!”
“Victor, what the hell are you doing?” she muttered between clenched teeth.
“Violet, please. Language in front of the children,” he said frowning disapprovingly at her.
She gaped, further stunned. She was usually the one admonishing others that way. She bit her lip, blushed and silently watched as the kids walked, ran and in some cases crawled their way to Victor. He made them form a proper line for all the world as if he were Santa holding court. He talked to each child, assessing them carefully and then pulled out the perfect toy. He wasn’t satisfied until he got a smile.
“So, that’s why he asked how many kids we had here,” Diane whispered to Winnie. “He asked for their ages and everything. I thought he was planning on suing us for something.”
Winnie burst out laughing. “Well, we may not have anything to worry about then. Except your daughter falling head over heals in love with him.” She pointed to Victor getting a huge hug and kiss from Heather who was holding a princess Barbie. She continued right beside him, reminiscent of one of Santa’s elves, naming the kids as he passed out the rest of the toys.
Sherry was the last one in line and she looked apprehensive. However, with Violet’s encouraging smile she went up to Victor.
“This is Sherry and she’s very shy,” Heather informed him.
“Well, Sherry, we have a problem,” Victor said, smiling brightly at her.
“Oh,” Violet said, grimacing. “You ran out of toys.”
“Oh, no, I have a very special friend for Sherry. It’s just too big to bring in here. Come and see,” he said standing up and holding out his hand to the tiny girl. When Sherry grabbed Violet’s hand instead Heather seized Victor’s and led the way out into the lobby.
Violet was the first to gasp.
“Wow, dat’s a big teddy bear! It almost reaches the roof,” Heather said, half envious, half dazzled.
Victor laughed. “It’s not that big, Heather.”
“Are you insane? How in the world is she going to take that home?” Violet asked shaking her head at him.
He, however, was watching Sherry who slowly approached the bear and reached out a tentative hand, stroking its fur.
“So soft,” she whispered. “Blue. I like blue. It’s for me? Really?”
“It is if you like him, Sherry,” Victor said.
“She can’t even carry it, Victor. It’s bigger than she is,” Violet interjected.
“He’s not for carrying around, Violet. He’s a watch Teddy,” Victor replied.
“A what?” Heather asked also going to the giant bear to touch the fur.
“He’s going to be Sherry’s own personal protector. He’ll sit in Sherry’s bedroom and watch over her so she’ll always be protected,” Victor told them.
“Like a guardian angel?” Heather asked with a giggle. “Sherry, you have a guardian teddy bear! Dat’s so cool!”
Sherry looked up at Victor and smiled. “Tank-que,” she said. Then she giggled and she hugged the bear mumbling, “My po-tec-er.”
Victor grinned and turned to Violet who was gazing at him with obvious admiration in her eyes.
“You are a strange, funny man, Victor Romanoff,” she whispered.
He couldn’t help it. He swelled with pride.