Victor pulled into Violet’s driveway and hopped out opening her door first. He then got the gifts out of the back seat. He followed her to the front door and grabbed the keys out of her hands opening her door. Stepping in before her, he turned on the lights and looked around.
“Huh? No. Can never be too careful. Wow, nice balloons,” he said looking at the huge bunch tied to the banister. “Didn’t think of that.”
“Yes, Freddy brought those over when he came to get me. I thought it was you behind them,” she said ruefully, taking off her coat and hanging it up.
Victor went into the living room and deposited the gifts on the coffee table. He then sat down on the sofa next to the cat who stretched and climbed onto Victor’s lap. He scratched her ears while beckoning Violet to join them.
“Aren’t you going home? It’s getting late,” she said nervously.
She tried to concentrate on all he was explaining, but being so close to him was utterly disconcerting. His cologne was mesmerizing. She hadn’t noticed at the party with so many other scents competing for dominance.
“Violet? Are you listening?” he asked watching her curiously.
“Um, okay,” she said, giving herself a mental shake.
“Sophie’s number? I’ll show you how to put it in.”
She rattled it off and watched him enter it.
“I’ll even put her on speed dial for you and that’s it. Have any questions?” he asked.
She had only one as she gazed into his handsome face. “What’s the name of that cologne you’re wearing?”
“Excuse me?” he said taken aback.
She flushed bright pink. “Um, you’re cologne smells nice.”
He stared at her, then smiled. “Thank you. Simon gave it to me for Christmas. Eau Savage, it’s called. Is it too strong?”
“No, it’s very nice. What does Eau Savage mean?”
He grinned sheepishly. “Scent of a savage, I suppose.”
She stared at him for a minute then said, “I’ve been hanging around the wrong kind of savages then.”
He burst out laughing. “I love y...I love your sense of humor,” he said catching himself just in time. “Can you show me the rest of your presents?” he added quickly.
“My...my presents? What for?” she asked perplexed.
“I didn’t see most of them. I was talking with my two dates, you know. I don’t want to get you something you already have. That’s no good,” he said simply.
She stared at him astonished. “You are not still thinking of continuing with the presents, are you?” she shrieked indignantly.
She fought with herself for a minute and, at last, lost the battle. “January thirtieth.” she said reluctantly.
“Pardon me?” he said, raising his eyebrows.
“That’s my birthday. Now will you please not send me presents?” she pleaded.
“But it was so much fun. Don’t you want me to have fun?” he asked, a sad expression on his face.
“And I’m the quandary,” she said rolling her eyes.
“If I don’t give you something you won’t feel obligated enough to bake me some cookies,” he countered smirking.
She glared at him. “I see you’re using my own words against me.”
“I thought it would be best that way,” he replied smiling devilishly.
“I respond much better to a simple request,” she retorted hotly.
He got off the couch, putting a reluctant Calendula on the floor, and went down on one knee, reached for her hand and asked, “Will you, Violet, please bake me some cookies?”
“Honestly, you silly man!” she shouted. He laughed again and kissed her hand. Her heart jumped.
“Is that a yes or a no? I need to know, so I can plan the gifts for the next couple of weeks.”
“Victor...” she said, exasperated. With a resigned sigh she added, “Do you want me to bake them tonight?”
“That’s awfully nice, but it is rather late and I’m sure you’re tired,” he said getting up off the floor. “I would like to take you to dinner tomorrow and then you can bake them for me. Would that be all right?”
“Um, I guess so, but if I just make dinner here, I could make the cookies at the same time.”
He gaped at her. “You can make dinner and bake cookies at the same time?” he said skeptically. “What are you, a wonder woman?”
She scoffed. “I can put together a dinner party for twenty without blinking an eye,” she retorted dismissively waving a hand about.
Brought up short, she stared at him, astonished, mostly at her own carelessness. Why had she even put the idea into his head? Didn’t she know by now nothing got by Victor? He seized on everything.
“Uh ... I’ll let you know,” she returned.
“Remember, my birthday’s in August. That gives you plenty of time. I already told you I like chocolate, but I like balloons, too.”
She had to laugh and she didn’t stop until Victor pulled her up off the sofa and hugged her warmly. She stiffened instantly then slowly relaxed and melted against him. She hadn’t been held like this in so long....too long. It felt rather nice....too nice, perhaps.
“Nonsense,” Heidi told her sternly. “No such thing as a too nice embrace.”
“Sez, you,” Richard grumbled.
“What...why...what was.... that for?” she asked breathing in his intoxicating scent. Scent of a savage, was it? Savages were never like this before Victor came around.
“I always hug the un-birthday girl. Besides, I missed you all this time away from home,” he whispered in her ear.
Oh, the tingles that went down her spine! He pulled back and smiled down at her. Her smokey eyes pulled him in again, urging him to kiss her.
“Don’t do it, cowboy!” Richard snarled in his ear.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Victor whispered, gazing steadily down at Violet.
“Right? About what?” she asked dazedly.
Had he spoken aloud? “Uh...it’s late. Should let you get some rest. Good night, Violet,” he said and with infinite restraint, he tenderly kissed her cheek and whispered, “Thank you for being my friend.”
He left before he changed his mind and before she could respond.
She sunk back down on the couch, weak-kneed and breathless. “What am I going to do with that guy?” she asked herself. Calendula mewed at her and crawled onto her lap.
“Oh, I’m certain you’ll think of something,” Heidi replied with a tiny giggle. “The thing is you had fun tonight, didn’t you? You should do that more often. It’s good for you. And it made Freddy and Laurie and all your friends so happy to see you out again, laughing and enjoying life.”
That had brought back good memories of doing the same with Richard. It was almost like reliving it. And she recalled having fun making beef stroganoff for Victor. Victor had made her laugh, he and his pathetic onion peeling. He had liked her cooking more even than Kenny.
Oh, but she couldn’t forget the night at the botanical garden. She had loved that! Richard had once taken her there long ago and Victor had reminded her of that. Tonight was fun, too. She smiled remembering Heather, Molly and the other girls taking turns dancing with Victor, they standing on his toes. Richard used to do that too.
Those little girls have the biggest crush on Victor. Heather had even invited him to her birthday party. All Violet’s friends enjoyed themselves, too, flirting shamelessly with him. And Freddy singing and dancing like a fool. Yes, it had all been fun.
She liked best just talking with Victor. That is, when he could get away from his many admirers. He was very nice to talk to. They always had good conversations. She’d forgotten how much she liked just to chat about...well, anything and everything and nothing, too, just like she and Richard used to do late into the night.
Violet realized, with a tiny jolt to her heart, that there was a running theme through all these fun times. They all occurred with Victor. Victor being very much like Richard. He was doing exactly what Richard used to do, make her laugh and get her out of her self-imposed isolation. What set him apart from Richard, however, was that he constantly asked questions about Richard and their life together. It was as if Victor wanted to get to know Richard, almost like he expected to see him some day.
No one ever talked about Richard anymore. That she appreciated more than anything. Victor allowed her to keep Richard alive. She supposed he was a true friend for that reason alone. Victor made her feel so....
“Loved and cherished?” Heidi suggested.
“No! Of course not,” Violet shouted. Calendula, not liking the sudden noise, gave a reproachful hiss before she jumped off her lap and went toward the kitchen, her fluffy tail up in the air.
“Victor said he wasn’t in love with me,” she added vehemently.
“Did he? I didn’t quite catch that,” Heidi mused.
“He did!” Violet insisted.
“And you?” Heidi asked.
She also jumped off the coach and sauntered toward the kitchen, leaving Heidi to giggle and say, “I do believe she does protest too much.”