Victor turned his gaze on Violet. He watched her carefully place a bib around Missy and offer her a toy key ring. The baby promptly tossed it away, uninterested. Victor thought Violet still looked rather uncomfortable, but she was making a great effort not to appear so. She also seemed to be avoiding looking at him.
He wouldn’t tell Violet, of course, but he was practically floating on air. He had wanted to jump up and kiss Cathy for what she said about them. It still rang in his head like sublime music.
“You look like the perfect little family.”
“This should be okay for her. I remember Simon loving them when he was teething. Of course, he used to get it mostly in his hair. He used to have the cutest little blonde curls as a baby. ‘Course, it wasn’t all that adorable with bits of mushy bread in it,” he said chuckling. “Man, did that piss off his mother.”
He looked up expecting Violet to smile or at least to be looking at the baby. Instead, she sat stony-faced and rigid staring out the window. She looked as if waiting for someone to rescue her. Missy’s mother, Victor mused.
“I suppose, you never fed your kids inappropriate foods,” he tried again.
“What do you mean inappropriate?” she asked now fiddling with her cutlery, but still not looking at him.
“Oh, I assume a good mother like you would only nurs...” He stopped abruptly. Perhaps this wasn’t the best thing to talk about when she was already feeling uncomfortable. Instead, he looked to Missy and grinned. “Hey, Mikey, she likes it!”
Violet turned to see the baby sucking away at the bread stick and grimaced at the mess she was making.
“Oh, Missy, your mama’s going to kill me.” She then grabbed her napkin with every intention of cleaning her up, but Victor stole it away from her and for good measure took her hand.
“Let her have her fun. What good is being a baby if you can’t be messy every so often?”
“But she’s going to get it all in her...oh!”
“Yup, right in her hair, just like Simon,” Victor laughed.
Missy stared from one to the other grinning.
“Are you happy now?” Violet said glaring at him, trying to tug her hand from his, but he held it fast.
“Yes, I am, actually, for her and so is she,” he said. “Violet, what’s wrong?”
She stopped tugging and looked out the window again. “Nothing.”
“Sweetheart, you’re the worst liar in the entire world. Look at me. Tell me what’s wrong?”
“This! This is all wrong,” she hissed angrily.
“Sorry? I don’t understand,” he said, in all honesty.
“You and Missy and...you heard Cathy. She thinks...dear God, it’s even worse than.... She thought I had remarried and had a baby,” she whispered, sounding perilously close to tears.
“There, that, too! You can’t call me stuff like that,” she said, her chest now heaving.
“Call you what?”
She glared at him. “Sweetheart and honey and...whatever,” she snapped.
“Violet...” he shook his head, not quite knowing how to proceed.
“Tell her you always use terms of endearment, my love. You know you do,” Heidi whispered in his ear.
“Violet, I call Margie at the supermarket Honey. I call Laurie cutie-pie. I call Molly sweetie and, if you had paid attention, you would have heard me calling Cathy, someone I only just met, dear. It’s my thing,” he explained, painstakingly gently. “I like terms of endearment.”
“Just like you like to play Santa Claus, I suppose,” Violet mumbled through gritted teeth.
“Guilty as charged,” he said, unabashed.
She gave an impatient shake of the head. “People already think...”
“I thought we settled this last night,” he said calmly, although his patience was running thin. “It does not matter what others think and...”
Just then Cathy came by with a dish of apple sauce. “Um...should I give this to the baby?” she asked uncertainly looking from Missy to Violet.
“I’ll take it. I’m expert at this,” Victor said, taking the dish from her hands.
“Uh, okay,” Cathy said and she was gone.
“Since when?” Violet asked.
“Since when what?” Victor asked spooning up a bit and putting it to Missy’s lips. “It’s yummy, isn’t it?” he said to the baby.
“Since when are you expert at feeding babies?”
“Let’s see. Simon’s twenty-two now so...”
She rolled her eyes. “Yes, but that was twenty-two years ago. Hardly counts anymore,” she snapped.
“So, you’re telling me you spoon-fed Simon yesterday?” she said folding her arms over her chest.
“He’s been feeding himself for quite some time, actually. I meant Cheryl’s baby, Billy,” he said, still feeding Missy.
“You fed Billy?” Violet asked, incredulous.
“I did. Only for a few minutes, though, while Cheryl answered her cell, but I managed,” he said, grinning at her.
His hand with the spoonful of apple sauce was suspended in front of Missy as he spoke to Violet. As it was just out of reach, Missy leaned forward desperate to get at the spoon.
Violet had been about to reply when Missy banged her tiny fist, the one holding the mushy remains of her bread stick and clearly said, “Da-da-da.”
They both gaped at the baby, then looked at each other, Victor smiling brightly.
“She called me dada. She thinks I’m her daddy!” he said excitedly.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Violet said, a tiny bit excited herself, yet unwilling to show it. “That’s the first word all babies say. Oh, Missy, your first word and your mama missed it.”
“Is this the first time, really?” Victor asked, finally giving the apple sauce to Missy.
“Well....yes, but…it’s just gobble-de-gook. Means nothing.”
“Nonsense, only Goblins speak gobble-de-gook. JK Rowling says so and Missy is no goblin,” he said, with a decisive nod.
Violet’s jaw dropped.
Victor smirked. “Suppose you don’t think I read kids’ books, do you?” he said smugly.
She had opened her mouth to reply just as Cathy came with their dinner. Throughout the meal Violet proceeded to question Victor, mostly on children’s literature.
He laughed and said, “You just won’t be satisfied until I recite something from memory, will you?”
“It would help, yes,” she said haughtily.
“Let’s see...Big A, little a, what begins with A?” he said. Missy choose just then to squeal in apparent recognition. “Guess she knows it by heart, too.”
Violet’s eyes could not have been wider if she tried. She listened to him run through the entire alphabet in between bites of food, much to Missy’s delight and her own utter incredulity.
“Did I pass the test?” he asked, that smug expression on his face.
“You are a strange, funny man, Victor Romanoff,” Violet muttered. He just laughed.
By the time they had only coffee in front of them, Missy was drooping in her seat.
“Let’s get this cutie home and to bed,” Victor said, gently lifting her from the high chair. He held her while Violet dressed her for the bitter cold outside.
“She’ll be asleep before we get her tucked in,” Victor whispered.
Violet looked up at him and suddenly imagined “the perfect little family” Cathy spoke of. She and Victor tucking in their little girl and then turning toward their own bedroom and....
She gasped at her own wayward thoughts and blushed a pretty pink.
“Violet, you all right?” he asked, grabbing her arm.
“Fine...yes, fine. Just warm in here,” she mumbled, looking anywhere but at him.
Victor raised a questioning eyebrow but said nothing.
“Violet’s a strange, funny girl,” Heidi whispered in his ear.
Victor had to agree.