“So, you knew nothing about what Victor’s been doing for the past few weeks?” Diane asked incredulously.
“No, nothing,” Laurie replied. “Freddy told me he took her out to dinner once and helped her find a new car, but I knew nothing about the presents. Every single day he sent something?”
“From the moment he left, yes. Each getting more elaborate, romantic and whimsical as they went,” Diane said. She then proceeded in telling Laurie what the gifts consisted of. “I’m telling ya, the man’s in love big time.”
“I don’t think you can really say that, not yet anyway,” Laurie said, a tiny crease between her brows.
“Are you nuts? What man would go around giving presents for no apparent reason?”
“But that’s just it, Diane. You’re thinking of normal guys. Victor’s rich. More money than he knows what to do with, according to Freddy. He’s been bringing things over for the kids and for me since Freddy and he became friends. It’s the kind of thing he does. Doesn’t mean he’s in love with us, does it?”
“Laurie, you haven’t seen the way he looks at Violet,” Diane said, a dreamy expression on her own face.
“I see it right now. Looks normal to me,” Laurie said, looking over Diane’s shoulder to get a good look without either Violet or Victor spotting her doing it.
“You’re so clueless. Maybe you don’t see it cuz you’re so used to it,” Diane said laughing at her.
“Used to what?” Laurie asked, now looking confused.
“Laurie, Victor looks at Violet the same way Richard used to and the exact same way Freddy looks at you.”
“Really?” Laurie tilted her head to the side staring at Victor. He hadn’t stopped grinning since talking to Violet, she noticed, but was that the look of a man in love? “Is that really how Freddy looks at me?”
Diane laughed and nodded.
“They do look rather chummy,” Laurie said happily as the couple in question filled their plates at the buffet.
“I think the less we mention it the better, though,” Diane whispered.
“What do you mean?” Laurie asked.
“You know how stubborn Violet can be. We’ve been teasing her about Victor ever since the gifts started coming...well...actually from the moment he showed up. He brought her to work a few times, you know, after her car broke down.”
“It wasn’t completely broken. Freddy told me Victor just refused to allow her to use it. Insisted she get a new car.”
“See?” Diane said triumphantly. “Is that the action of a man who just wants to be friends?”
Laurie shrugged. “It’s what Freddy would do,” she said simply.
“Yes! Because he’s in love with you. Now do you get it?”
Laurie still didn’t look convinced. “Well, it really doesn’t matter, does it? Violet is not going to fall for him. You know what she keeps saying.”
“I’m married to Richard forever,” Diane said in a dull voice of one who heard the same thing numerous times. “Well, I’m thinking if anyone can change her mind, it will be Victor. Look at him, Laurie! He’s gorgeous.”
She shrugged. “Beauty isn’t everything, Diane,” she said in a lofty voice.
“Yeah, but it sure helps,” Diane retorted and they both laughed.
“But how did you come up with this un-birthday thing? It seems so totally out of left field,” Diane asked.
“I was cleaning up the family room and all of a sudden the Alice in wonderland book dropped off the shelf and I remembered the tea party. A little voice told me ‘Wouldn’t that be nice for Violet? An un-birthday party.’ and there you go. I thought it was so cute and it worked!” Laurie exclaimed gleefully. “Just look at her, Diane. Violet’s laughing, actually laughing again. She hasn’t done that since....”
“Since Richard died. I know,” she replied and they both turned to see Heather climbing up on Victor’s lap. “Let’s cross our fingers. Violet may just surprise us all and fall madly in love.”
After the food was eaten, the birthday song sung, the cake cut and devoured, the presents opened and admired and most people went home, Freddy threw an arm around Violet, kissing her cheek and another around Victor.
“Victor, do me a favor and take Violet home for me. I’m beat ana bit the worse for drink. I shouldn’t be driving….nope, nope, nope.” Freddy swayed slightly and shoved Violet towards him.
“Some brother you are! Dumping me on others. What if Victor has better things to do?” she said, glowering.
“I don’t,” Victor interjected carelessly.
“Oh, stop it. Victor’s my pal. He’ll do anything for me. Won’t you, Vic?” Freddy said, swaying some more.
Victor laughed. “Indeed I will, especially when you’re this funny. You better let Laurie drive home, Freddy, okay?”
“Got that right. Where’s my girl?” Freddy asked looking around.
Victor took him by the shoulders, turned him slightly to the left and shoved him toward Laurie. He watched Freddy stumble forward and had to suppress a laugh. He enfolded his unsuspecting wife in his arms and started kissing her rather soundly.
“Never knew he was such a funny little drunk,” Victor said.
“That’s because he rarely drinks,” Violet retorted shaking her head in disapproval.
“Let me get your presents, Violet, and we can go,” he said, gathering her many gifts.
Violet went over to Freddy and pulled him off of Laurie. “Excuse us, please, Laurie.”
“We’ll finish this back home,” he said to Laurie with a lewd wink. She giggled.
Violet, rolling her eyes, pulled him into a corner and frowned up at him. “I know what you’re doing, Freddy,” she hissed menacingly.
“You mean, you know I wanna have sex with my wife? What was your first clue?” he asked, smirking.
“You’re wasting your time,” Violet insisted.
“No, I’m not! Believe me, Laurie likes having sex with me. It’s my birthday so she kinda has to,” he retorted indignantly.
“I’m talking about Victor, you idiot!”
“He better not try to have sex with my Laurie!” Freddy shouted.
“Will you listen to me? Victor and I, we’re just friends and that’s all we’ll ever be,” she said through clenched teeth. “Got me?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he said frowning. Without missing a beat he grinned and asked, “Have a good time tonight?”
She blinked at him, taken aback. “Uh, well, yes, I did,” she replied, amazing even herself with the revelation. “Thank you for making me come, but I just wish you had let me drive here. I don’t like bothering Victor. He only just got back home. I’m sure he’s tired and has tons to do, more important than taking me home.”
Freddy waved a dismissive hand. “He won’t care. It’s on the way home for him. He only lives a few minutes from you. Didn’t you know?”
“No, I never asked where he lives,” she admitted, wondering how she had neglected to ask.
“Nice house, up on Stoney Creek. Big, beautiful!” he said throwing his arms expansively about and whacking Valerie on the back of her head.
“Daddy! You hit me,” she said reproachfully.
“Sorry, Valley honey!” he said. He then turned back to his sister and gave her a rib-crushing hug.
“Thanks for coming, Vi. It was good to see you with friends, laughing and stuff,” he said just as Victor came back. “Thanks for coming, Vic. You know you’re gonna hafta to show me what that thing is. ”
“It’s an Ipod,” Victor said.
“Yeah, whatever,” Freddy then slapped him on the back, kissed Violet on the cheek again and walked away.
“I think I got everything,” Victor told her. “Ready to go?”
She nodded and followed him to his car.
“I’m sorry you got stuck taking me home. That’ll teach you to be the last one to leave a party. No good ever comes to those who linger after most of the guests have left. I learned that the hard way long ago,” she said apologetically.
“Oh? How’s that?” he asked.
“I always end up cleaning up because I’m stupid enough to ask if there’s anything I can do to help, and of course, there always is,” she said derisively.
He laughed. “Tell you what. Next party we go to, I’ll sneak you out before you say anything as foolish as that. No clean-up for Violet. Easy, huh?” he said, gesturing for her to open the back door for him.
“Uh… okay,” she said as he placed all her boxes and bags on the back seat. He then opened the passenger side door for her.
“Did you like all your presents?” he asked casually, after getting in and buckling up.
“The ones you sent me all these weeks or what everyone else gave me tonight?” she asked sounding perturbed again.
“Truly, I never knew anyone having a problem with presents. You are quite a quandary,” he said, shaking his head in wonder.
“Why did you get me a cell phone? I already have one. And besides, I’m only ever one of two places, home or work.”
“Yours is ancient and that’s not exactly true. I called you last week and you weren’t home and it was too late for you to be at work. I called Freddy but you weren’t there. He gave me your cell number, but you didn’t answer that either. Where were you?” he asked, almost sounding accusatory
“What did you want?” she asked, a crease between her brows.
“Just to say hello. Where were you?” he repeated.
“If it wasn’t important why did you have to bother Freddy? No wonder he’s all....”
“At that point, I was worried. I wanted to make certain you were all right. Where did you go?” he asked more urgently.
“Must have been shopping. I don’t remember,” she replied. She pulled the phone out of its box and looked it over.
“You’ll have to show me how to use it. It looks too complicated.”
“It’s easy. I’ll show you at home,” he said frowning. He knew evasive maneuvers when he saw it. Why wouldn’t she just tell him? Where had she been? “So, the other presents, did you like them?”
“Yes. But you still shouldn’t have gotten them for me!”
“But I wanted to. It’s my way of saying I appreciate you.”
“That may be, but it’s not right.”
“Are we going to start that again? Why not?” he said, exasperated.
“It’s like…little kids shouldn’t take candy from strangers. I shouldn’t take gifts from someone I barely know,” she stated sternly.
“But you do know me now. At least you know I’m not going to kidnap you or anything so devious,” he said.
“You don’t have to kidnap me. My brother handed me to you on a silver platter,” she said with a grimace.
“Oh, stop! It’s no big deal. And it’s just a few gifts, Violet.”
“It makes me feel…obligated,” she said quietly
“Obligated?” he repeated, incredulous. “Do you think this is some underhanded trick to get something from you?”
“No,” she lied after a long pause.
“You still don’t trust me, then” he said sadly.
“I told you… I don’t trust easily,” she reluctantly replied.
“How can I fix that?” he asked seriously.
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
“You’re funny,” he mumbled, frowning.
Here he thought he was making a bit of headway and all he managed was to stumble back to the beginning.
Here he thought he was making a bit of headway and all he managed was to stumble back to the beginning.