“She won’t be alone! She’s got tons of friends,” Richard hissed at him.
Where, Victor wondered, were these voices coming from and why were they so adversarial?
“Huh?” he said, trying to ignore that strange inner voice.
“You looked funny for a minute. You okay?” Violet asked.
He forced himself to smile. “Yes, of course...I’m....I just don’t like being away from home.”
“Oh, I see,” she said, nodding. “I wouldn’t either. Um, when will you be back? Do you know?”
He shook his head. “No clue. Couple of days or a few weeks.”
“Really... oh dear...well, um...I guess...uh...,” she stammered, not quite knowing what to say to an almost perfect stranger that had done so much for her.
“Now, Dear, Victor’s hardly a stranger anymore, is he?” Heidi’s sweet, coaxing voice whispered in her ear.
“No, guess not,” Violet muttered to herself.
“Guess not what?” Victor asked, frowning slightly.
“Huh? Oh...no, nothing...” she replied, a bit of a blush starting at her cheeks.
“You’re okay to drive back home then?” he asked.
“Of course, I am. You leaving for the city from here?”
He shook his head again. “I’ll follow you home first, make sure you’re fine,” he replied.
“You don’t have to do that, Victor. I know my way back home. I’m not completely devoid of brains!” she said suddenly miffed.
“I know that, Violet. That’s not it at all,” he answered soothingly. “You’ve only ever driven your old Betsy and you’ve said so yourself, this is very different. You’re not used to a new car yet. It’s only after you’ve driven it for a bit that you can say for sure it works for you, okay?”
She stared up at him with an accusing look on her face. “But it’s a used car. You said so.”
“Oh, yes...I mean… new for you, of course,” he said, backtracking quickly.
Her eyes suddenly widened. “Oh, I didn’t think of that!” she said. “It could be the people that owned this car before found something wrong with it right away, but they didn’t tell Al and they gave him some false excuse for returning it.”
Victor had to suppress a smile. “You’re right, that could be,” he replied. “You can never tell.”
“Well, I’ll be careful and watch for anything funky.”
Victor chuckled as he got into his car and followed her the entire ride back home. He wouldn’t smile the rest of the ride back, however. He had no clue why the voices in his head kept cursing him out, calling him all sorts of vile things and insisting he wanted to do Violet harm when that was the furthest thing from his mind.
“Don’t you go thinking Violet’s gonna give you a roll ‘tween the sheets cuz you got her this fancy car. She’s a high class lady and she’s still in love with her husband. She always will be! You’re just a no good, lousy, stinkin’.....”
It was, of course, Richard snarling in Victor’s ear. If this was his only way of lashing out at Victor, then this is how Richard would do it. He had planned on haunting him until he was driven mad or, at the very least, he simply forgot about Violet.
Violet, on the other hand, had a much friendlier voice accompanying her on the extremely pleasant ride home.
“I just love this car!” Violet kept saying, still amazed that she was now its owner.
“Of course, you do, Dear, and you owe it all to Victor. He helped you find a wonderful car and at a bargain price, too, didn’t he?” Heidi said.
“Oh, yes,” Violet answered aloud, even though she knew she was talking to thin air, thin air that had that extraordinary new car scent.
“He’s been very sweet to you, you know. He’s rather a bit like a protective older brother, wouldn’t you say?”
Violet giggled. “He is a lot like Freddy. I wonder if Freddy puts him up to it?”
“I doubt that. They just think alike. He’s also somewhat like Richard, don’t you think?” Heidi prompted.
“In some ways... yes...,”Violet said, a bit reluctant. “But he’s very different in others. It’s a little strange how he can remind me of Richard one second and be so totally different the next.”
“Hmm....Perhaps they have similar qualities yet show them in different ways,” Heidi suggested.
“Yes, that must be it!” Violet agreed
“You should thank Victor properly, you know. You could make him a nice home-cooked meal when he gets back home, like his mother used to do for him. You know he would love that,” Heidi suggested.
“I...I suppose,” Violet said, frowning slightly. “I just don’t want him thinking...”
“Oh, he won’t! Heidi insisted. "You’ve made it perfectly clear. Romance is not what you want, neither of you, actually. He’s just been so lonely, you see, what with his boys gone to school and his mother no longer among the living and most of his friends are back in the city. You can understand that, can’t you? Missing the people you love and wishing for something to fill the void?”
This struck a painful cord right in the middle of Violet’s chest. “Me of all people, yes,” Violet agreed, adamantly nodding. “ I miss my Richard and the kids. Gosh, I never get to see them anymore and I haven’t seen Jocelyn in so long.”
“Well, then,” Heidi happily responded. “A motherly approach to Victor will work wonders for him, and you too. You miss that mothering thing you do so well, don’t you?”
“Yes, a little,” Violet muttered. “I did like cooking beef Stroganoff for him. He was so appreciative.”
“Oh, yes! It is his favorite. Made him think of his mother, you know,” Heidi said a tad wistfully.
There was a lengthy silence sliced only by the soft music coming from the radio. Violet started singing along.
“Victor is so pleased to have found such friendly, amusing and kind people in town. Laurie, Freddy, their kids and now you too," Heidi said. "You’ve all made him feel at home. He’s smiling again. It had been a long time since he’s been happy. You know about that.”
“I do indeed,” Violet replied. “And...he makes me.... smile, too.”
“He does, doesn’t he? Seems you are quite good for each other,” Heidi said brightly.
Just then Violet’s cell phone sounded.
“Oh, no,” Violet muttered biting her lower lip. She kept one hand on the steering wheel and tried to keep the car going straight as she fumbled with her purse on the passenger seat, reaching over the middle console to rummage through her things tossing aside each item until she found the phone.
Meanwhile, her driving had become erratic enough that Victor grew alarmed. “What the heck is she doing?” he said watching her move dangerously into the next lane then jerk the car back again. He slowed down to match her speed which had decreased to a virtual crawl.
Richard groaned. “She’s probably looking for her phone. Idiot girl! She knows she can’t drive and talk on the phone at the same time. I’ve told her a million times!”
“But I told her she’s got blue tooth now. Why isn’t she using it?” Victor shouted.
“She doesn’t know what that is, you moron! And you didn’t show her how it works anyway,” Richard said huffily.
“Violet honey,” Heidi said nervously. “Please, watch what you’re doing.”
“Got it!” Violet shouted triumphantly, getting her phone to her ear and speaking into it. “Hello?”
“Violet...Mama... Mama’s gone...she’s...” the rest was lost in gut wrenching sobs.
“Jocelyn! Oh, Jocelyn!” Violet said, her own heart now aching for her friend. “I’m so sorry. What can I do? I’ll come to you.”
As she spoke she pulled the car over to the side of the road. Victor, beside himself with worry, jumped out of his own car and was at her side almost before her car had stopped.
“What’s wrong?” he shouted through the window. She shook her head at him as tears welled up in her eyes. He yanked the door open and caught her last words.
“....down to Mississippi for the funeral. You shouldn’t be....”Violet said.
“No, I need you to look after Mio Caro until I get back,” Jocelyn said between loud sniffling.
“You promised you would, Violet. There’s nothing you can do here anyway. I just needed to ...to tell you and....”
“Oh, Honey! I’m so sorry,” Violet said now crying just as much as her friend. Victor crouched down and grabbed her other hand squeezing it gently as he pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped at her wet cheeks. For several minutes there was silence on both ends, both women finding comfort through the wireless connection, unwilling to sever it just yet.
“I..uh...I guess I’ll go now. Loads to do. Should be back home in a week or so,” Jocelyn mumbled, her usual rich, confident voice now weak and uncertain. “Anything new with you?”
Violet looked up then and saw Victor’s face full of concern and sympathy. He smiled and her heart gave a wicked leap. He was so close she could smell that seductive scent he wore and it didn’t help that his fingers were not so much simply holding her hand but caressing it, sending tingles up her arm. She could only call it a many faceted sensual delight, looking into his handsome face and having him so close. He was simply too gorgeous to be allowed. How in the world would she explain Victor to Jocelyn without her thinking he was a love interest?
No, she decided quickly, there was no way of doing that, not with Jocelyn. “Um...I got a new car,” she said.
“Holy crap, girl! You finally got rid of Betsy? There is hope for you yet!” Jocelyn said boldly, sounding much more like her old self.
Violet giggled. “Had no choice or I would still have her,” she said, herself sounding sassy now.
“Appears there’s a great deal of new I’ll be coming home to. New staff at Mio Caro, new car for you. Now if we can just find us a couple of filthy rich, gorgeous, classy men, we’d be all set.”
Violet giggled nervously, staring at the exact description her friend just gave and silently hoping Victor hadn’t heard. “No such luck on that front. You’ll have to find yourself a southern gentleman. Mississippi should still have a few, no? Only a southern gentleman will do for Catalpa Valley’s Ebony Queen.”
Jocelyn’s rich laughter sounded like music to Violet’s ears. “Nowhere to be seem in this dinky town,” Jocelyn said. A long pause followed before she added, “Thanks, Violet.”
“For making me laugh. I’d forgotten how, for real I mean. Been forcing myself to... for Mama. I’ve missed Catalpa Valley’s Lily White Princess,” she replied with a crack in her voice.
“Since when am I a Princess? You’ve always called me a pauper. I dress like one and everything,” Violet said deliberately injecting joy into her voice, refusing to allow her friend to sink back into misery.
“Maybe it’s like you’ve been telling me forever. Clothes don’t make the man, or woman in this case. I’ll see you soon, Honey, kay?”
“Real soon. I can’t wait. Bye,” Violet said and hung up quickly before a sob ripped out of her.
Victor scooped her up into his arms and held her as she cried her heart out. “It’s all right, Honey. It’s all right,” he kept repeating while stroking her hair, rubbing her back and loving the feel of her pressed against him.
It took her fifteen minutes to cease crying long enough to explain the phone call and even more to untangle herself from his arms. Or rather to force herself to relinquish the comfort she felt there. She sniffed and took the handkerchief from his hands, feeling utterly embarrassed but at the same time comforted.
“First Calendula’s fur and now my tears. Between the two of us shedding and crying all over you, you’ll be lucky to have any clothes left to wear,”she said sniffling some.
He pushed a strand of hair out of her face leaving more tingles along her cheek and chuckled. The sound now so familiar to her, also provided some comfort. She suddenly knew she would miss it. She would miss Victor.
“I think I’ve got enough clothes to keep from being totally naked, kitty cat hair and a few tears notwithstanding,” he replied, peering into her face. He tilted her chin up so she would look at him.
She wished he wouldn’t. She felt like a bug under a microscope with his dark eyes boring into her own. She knew he could see right through her which made her heart jump erratically in her chest. He was too close for comfort.
“And yet just now you found comfort being very close to him, didn’t you? Funny how that is,” Heidi interjected, just barely suppressing a giggle. “A nice sisterly peck on the cheek would be lovely just now, truly show your appreciation.”
Without thinking, Violet did exactly that, kissed him on the cheek. The shock on his face made her blush.
“I just... I just wanted to thank you, Victor, for everything. You’ve been so nice to me. I wish I could thank you properly but you have to go away. I could...I could make dinner for you when you get back home....if you.... if you like?”
His heart gave a grand leap. The words rang in his head like angelic music. If he liked? He thought that the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. “Hell yes!”he wanted to shout. Of course, he knew better than to say that. Instead he nodded.
“That sounds very nice, Violet.”
They stared at each other for what seemed like hours, Violet lost in thought, Victor wishing for things he couldn’t have and both already missing the other and missing this connection, so new, so strange, so bewildering and yet so wonderful.
“We better get going, huh? It’s getting late. You okay to drive?” he asked.
Violet nodded and took her seat. He reached in and buckled her seatbelt and this time she didn’t mind so much. She grabbed his hand before he could close her door.
“You have a safe trip, okay?” she said, earnestly.
He smiled. “You too.”
She smiled back and started the car as she watched him hop into his car in the rearview mirror.
“That is a very good beginning,” Heidi said, casting Richard a smug look.
“You would say that,” Richard retorted, glaring at her. He turned smirking and zoomed back into the passenger seat of Victor’s car while Heidi took her seat next to Violet.
They both quite enjoyed being the strange inner voices of these two unsuspecting people.