Not surprisingly, he wore, along with his snug-fitting jeans and soft chambray shirt, a satisfied grin which had nothing to do with the constant looks of overt interest in each of the many passing women. Women of all ages went out of their way just to get a better look at him, and, no doubt, with the hope he would take an interest in them. No such luck though. His mind was completely elsewhere.
As usual, he thought of nothing but Violet, even as he waited for his boys and the flight that would take them across the country. This time he had good reason to be thinking of her. He had set up several surprises for Violet. These would take place in his absence, the first of which would be waiting for her at the daycare center this very morning. Oh, but he would love to be a fly on the wall when she opened up the card.
“I’ll be on her mind as much as she is on mine. Seems only fair,” he thought, chuckling to himself. He recalled what fun he had picking the items to be sent to her, one for each day he would be gone. There was no way she would forget of his existence now.
Victor turned at the shout, beaming, and saw his two sons coming toward him. Ronnie in front, grinning broadly as usual, broke into a run. Simon, on the other hand, looked unconcerned, bored and dignified as ever, much like his mother. You would think he was simply going to the dentist and not on a fun-packed camping and hiking holiday to the Grand Canyon.
His boys were as different as night and day and yet, Victor marveled that he could love them both equally and so very much. To think, he had been fearful that he simply could not love Ronnie as much as he did Simon. He thought he had given all his love to his first born and would simply not have enough for another son. How silly he had been to imagine that! Love, he soon found out, expanded and grew and was never-ending, at least, where your children were involved.
Too bad the same could not be said of marital love. That, oddly enough, made him think of Violet again, not his ex-wife.
“I don’t like divorce!” Violet had said, too many times to count.
Victor still found it amusing and yet....she did have a point. To this day, he continued to feel guilty for the divorce and for what he did to his boys, practically abandoning them. But then, hadn’t he done that even before the divorce? Work had come between him and his family. Would that guilty feeling ever go away?
“Dad!” Ronnie shouted again, this time completely unnecessarily as he was now hugging the stuffing out of his father.
“Hello, Ronnie. I take it you missed me?” Victor said, laughing at the enthusiastic show of affection and returning it in full. “Well, I missed you, too, so there!”
“Dad, I got so much to tell you!” Ronnie said finally releasing his father.
Simon stood an arm’s length back watching the other two with an odd expression on his face, half amused derision, half annoyed envy.
“Dear God, Ronnie, you’ve grown another inch,” Victor muttered, incredulous. Being six foot four himself, he imagined his boys to be at least that tall when fully grown, but bigger by two, maybe three inches? He hadn’t thought it possible. And when the heck were they going to stop growing?
“Yeah, well, I eat good,” Ronnie retorted. He then stepped back smiling at a passing flock of giggling teenage girls who obviously were on their way to spring break, too.
“Hey, Dad,” Simon said in a much more subdued manner than his exuberant younger brother. He stuck his hand out to shake his father’s hand.
Ronnie turned back in time to see this and scoffed, “He’s not the mayor, Simon. He’s our dad. Get that damn stick outta your ass, will ya? Give him a hug.”
“I figure you’re enough for the both of us, Ron. Besides, I wouldn’t want to embarrassed him. He’s got you for that.”
Ronnie glared at him. Victor, on the other hand, took the proffered hand and pulled Simon into his embrace. Whether he liked it or not, Simon was going to know he was loved. He held his first born a heartbeat longer than he might otherwise have done. He tried so hard to gain Simon’s approval or at least his forgiveness, but it always seemed just beyond his reach.
“I can never get enough hugs from my boys, Simon, you should know that by now,” Victor whispered in his ear before releasing him. He stared at him and smiled, though sadly. “You look good. You’ve grown, too. You’re both bigger than me. College must agree with you.”
Simon smirked. “I think it’s the lack of Mom’s cooking actually.”
“Simon,” Victor said, a bit of warning in his voice.
“I know it’s gotta be that!” Ronnie agreed.
Victor tried not to laugh. He didn’t quite succeed.
* * * * *
“Guys, we’re perched precariously on the edge of the world. Let’s not do something that will make your mother hate me for bringing you here,” Victor said not for the first time as the three of them sat with their legs dangling off the Grand Canyon North Rim.
“Dad, you actually think she can hate you more than she already does?” Simon stated sardonically.
Ronnie elbowed his brother none-to-nicely in the ribs. “She doesn’t hate you, Dad. Don’t listen to him. He’s just being an ass, like usual,” he said, glaring at his brother.
“You want a short cut to the bottom, Ron? Be my pleasure,” Simon countered, elbowing him back.
“Guys! Precariously perched on the edge of the world, remember? Cool it with the rough play,” Victor said. “Fine thing that would be to find both my boys plunging to their deaths.”
“Sorry, Dad,” they said in unison.
“Did you tell your mother where you were going?” Victor asked bracing himself for the answer.
“Hell, no,” they said simultaneously.
Victor laughed. “Think she would rather you were at some spring break hot spot drinking until you puked and doing who-knows-what-other nasty things that get college kids in trouble?”
“Actually, I think so,” Simon replied chuckling. “She’s always wondering why we don’t show up with a dozen girls on our tails.”
“Maybe she wonders about you. I always have more tail than I can handle,” Ronnie remarked smirking.
“Puppy tails don’t count, Ron,” Simon retorted.
“Shut it,” Ronnie warned with a punch to the brother’s shoulder.
“Guys! It’s a long way down,” Victor said, exasperated. “You’d think you were still five years old.”
“Yeah, Ron, grow up,” Simon said, taunting him. Ronnie punched him again and Simon retaliated in kind.
“Do I have to separate the two of you?” Victor said sternly. Ronnie promptly got up and went on his dad’s other side and grinned at him. Victor laughed and threw an arm around each. “Thank you. I love my boys.”
“So, Dad, seeing anyone?” Ronnie asked eagerly. “You promised you’d tell us.”
It never failed. It was the first question put to him each time they spent more than two minutes together. Usually he had nothing to say, but now? Victor continued watching the sun going down in a blaze of sherbert colors as he thought of Violet and what he could possibly tell his sons about her.
“I see lots of people,” he replied evasively.
Simon raised an eyebrow. “Oh, really? When are we going to meet all these people you see?”
“I meant a girl, Dad. Do you have a girlfriend?” Ronnie asked, sounding half exasperated, half dejected.
“Not really,” Victor replied, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth as he imagined introducing Violet as his girlfriend.
Simon and Ronnie exchanged looks.
“You’re not telling us something, Dad,” Simon said, a shrewd glint in his eyes.
“Come on, Dad. You are seeing someone!” Ronnie shouted.
“Stop it. I’m not,” Victor said, not looking at either of them. He wished Violet was sitting right beside him witnessing this lovely sight. “Just beautiful,” he whispered dreamily.
“Look at him, Simon. He’s in love! Who is she, Dad?” Ronnie said gleefully.
“Come on, Dad, tell us. You said you were on a date that day we called,” Simon said.
“Hey, that’s right!” Ronnie shouted.
“We’ve been waiting so long for you to find somebody,” Simon said almost as eager as his brother.
“It’s nothing like that. We’re just friends, really good friends,” Victor conceded, refusing to look at them.
“Friends with benefits is good,” Simon stated, nodding. “You are getting benefits, right?”
“Friends isn’t good enough. I want a step-mom. You like her enough to marry her?” Ronnie asked.
Victor burst out laughing. “Aren’t you a bit old to want a step-mother?”
“Not when you consider we never had much of a real mother,” Simon retorted, a sneer on his face.
“Simon, be nice,” Victor admonished.
“But it’s true, Dad,” Ronnie said. “Mom never loved us as much as you do and if you got married we’d have a real mom...almost.”
“Don’t let me ever hear you say that again. Your mother loves you very much, the same as I do,” Victor said gruffly.
“That’s just not true,” Ronnie said quietly.
“It is true. We just have different ways of showing it, is all,” Victor insisted.
“I’ll say,” Simon muttered then swiftly added, “So, who’s this friend? Do we know her?”
“We don’t know any of Dad’s friends,” Ronnie snapped. “You ashamed of us?”
“Of course not!” Victor shouted.
“I think Ronnie might be right for once in his life. If you weren’t ashamed you’d introduce us to your girlfriend,” Simon stated.
“She’s not my girlfriend, so there’s nothing...I mean...she’s just a friend so...”
“Come off it, Dad. We’re not five anymore,” Ronnie said angrily.
“Ronnie still acts like it but....”
“Shut it!” Ronnie growled.
“Guys! Okay, I like her. Is that enough?”
“No,” they replied together.
Victor laughed and shook his head. “Okay, I really like her, but she doesn’t want anything more than friendship, so..... there it is.”
“Why? You’re a great guy and everyone says you’re good looking...you know... cuz you look just like me,” Ronnie said grinning.
“Ever think that might be the trouble?” Simon countered irritably.
“I can have any girl I want and Dad can, too,” Ronnie snapped, glaring at his brother. “So, what’s wrong with this woman? She blind or something?”
“She’s wonderful, she’s perfect except....” Victor hesitated for a second, before stating what he knew the problem to be. “Well.... she’s still in love with her husband.”
“Holy crap, Dad! She’s married?” Ronnie shouted so loudly Victor was surprised it didn’t echo across the canyon and back to them.
“No, he’s dead but she’s still in love with him. It’s...it’s complicated,” Victor told them wearily.
“Gees, Dad, you scared me.” Ronnie said clutching at his heart. “Thought you were going around stealing another guy’s wife.”
“Like Dad would do that,” Simon muttered scornfully.
“Kind of feels like it. She talks about him sometimes. It’s almost like he’s still right there between us, like.... a ghost,” Victor said, half joking.
“Maybe he is,” Simon replied, looking serious.
Victor grinned. “I think I would have noticed if he were there.”
“Not necessarily. Not all ghosts show themselves.”
He stared at Simon, incredulous. “You actually believe in ghosts?”
“There’s too much un-explainable stuff out there, Dad. I just can’t say they don’t exist when.... Grandpa’s ghost came to me in a dream a couple of times,” he said quietly.
“My father? He died before I even met your mother, Simon. There’s no way...”
“I was a little kid, really little, like maybe three or four. He told me who he was and he talked to me about when you were a kid. He said you used to play the weatherman game for grandma and that you started a band with Uncle Charlie and his brothers. He told me that I’m a lot like you even if I look like Mom,” he finished on a slightly proud note.
“I know what I know, Dad. It was grandpa. I saw a picture of him. It was him. He came to me in my dreams. Maybe he wasn’t really a ghost but his spirit talked to me after he was dead. What would you call that?” Simon asked.
“It’s real, Dad,” Ronnie said, surprising both his father and brother.
“You saw Grandpa?” Simon asked skeptically. “You never said...”
“No, it was grandma, right after she died. I dreamt about her all the time. She told me not to worry about...stuff.” he said evasively.
“What stuff?” Victor asked apprehensively.
He shrugged carelessly. “Just.... some stuff at school.”
“You never told me. Why didn’t you guys tell me this?” Victor asked disbelievingly.
“I was a little kid.” Simon stated simply.
“And I didn’t think you’d believe me,” Ronnie said.
“I still don’t know if I believe this. It’s crazy. You actually think Vi...my friend’s husband is a ghost coming between us? That’s insane.”
“Not if you think about it with an open mind, Dad. You should try talking to him,” Simon suggested.
“Who?” Victor asked.
“The ghost husband, of course.”
“Yeah, Dad, tell him to leave her alone. Tell him you’ll take care of her from now on. He might not even know he’s dead,” Ronnie added excitedly.
“Are you kidding me?” Victor said, exasperated.
“No, Dad… This is serious stuff,” Ronnie continued adamantly. “Sometimes spirits are more in tune with the living than live people are. If they were married for a long time their souls might be kinda connected still and you just have to break the connection by....”
“By telling him to move on. Ronnie’s right, Dad, for the second time in his life. Maybe we should make him live in the Grand Canyon. Desert air must be good for his brain function,” Simon said snidely.
For several minutes Victor said nothing while the boys continued bickering. Was Violet’s dead husband a ghost now haunting her? Victor shook his head of such fanciful thoughts. There were no ghosts. They weren’t real.
“Sure about that, Cowboy?” a highly amused voice whispered in his ear.
A shiver ran up his spine.