“This is Kenny’s room,” Violet absently said as she passed the room on the left.
“Still? Don’t have faith his marriage will work out?” Victor asked, smirking.
“Of course I do!”
“Violet, I’m teasing,” Victor assured. “I suppose when Missy’s older we can set her up in there.”
Deciding to ignore this, she cleared her throat and said, “And this one’s Sophie’s.”
“No, we can’t go in there, Missy,” Victor said in a mock serious voice, talking to the baby who stared at him over Violet’s shoulder. “Sophie will have our heads if we give away her room. Big sisters are like that, I hear.”
Missy squealed and Violet ignored that too. Taking a deep and she hoped, a calming breath, she walked into her own room. She scanned it and wondered what Victor would think of it. Too girly? Too small? Shabby perhaps? Then she realized it matter nothing at all what he thought. It was her room after all and not his, nor would it ever be his.
Her eyes fell upon her bed, the one she and Richard shared for so many years, the one in which they…. she suddenly blushed scarlet. Why in the world had her thoughts drifted there?
Not noticing this, Victor looked around and asked, “So, where did you have the crib last time? Doesn’t seem to be much room here unless I move this dresser. What do you think? Violet?”
She hadn’t heard any of this. She was staring at the collection of family photos on the dresser Victor indicated, Richard’s dresser, the one still filled with his clothes. As she stared at the photos -- Richard with the kids on his lap, Richard in his fire fighter’s uniform, a cocky grin on his face, Richard and Freddy with their catch-of-the-day dangling from their hands and Richard with his arms around Violet just after they wed-- she could feel Richard as if he were still alive and right beside her.
Little did she know that he was. Richard had his ghostly arms about her exactly as in the photograph. He even nuzzled his face in her neck and whispered, “I love you as much now as I did then.”
Wonderful warmth filled her being. It was the first time she actually felt Richard’s presence since his death. No, that wasn’t quite right. It was after that. She recalled all too vividly those wonderful dreams in which they….
She shook her head. There she did it again, thinking of things she ought not to be thinking of, especially with Victor right here! She turned away from the framed pictures of her life with Richard and sat on the bed, cuddling Missy as if the baby could make her stop these guilty feelings.
Funny, how she never noticed it before, but she could certainly feel Richard’s presence here now. There was indeed a ghost in this house, more than one actually, but she couldn’t know that. But why could she feel him now when she hadn’t felt him in so long? Was it, she wondered nervously, because Richard was angry with her for allowing another man in their bedroom, their private sanctuary? Did he, in fact, consider this base betrayal on her part? Did he imagine, in some bizarre fashion, she was cheating on him?
“Richard,” Heidi sternly chastised. “Tell her.”
“What?” Richard replied, even when he knew perfectly well what she meant.
“Do not allow her to feel guilty when she’s done nothing to warrant it.”
His expression defiant, he stayed where he was. Then Heidi lifted a disapproving eyebrow, and darn it if that didn’t work! She could always make him feel about five years old. Grudgingly, he sat beside Violet placing his arm around her and whispered, “You are and angel, Violet, pure as snowflakes and nothing you do, nothing at all will ever make you less than perfect. You can do no wrong.”
Victor had been looking with mounting jealousy at the photo gallery of the boyishly charming Richard and the adorable children who obviously loved their father to no end and who had no qualms of showing it. Victor couldn’t imagine anyone more enviable. Richard had everything he so desperately wanted, loving children and an adoring wife, but not just any wife. No, he wanted the very same wife Richard so obviously loved too. He wanted Violet. The very same ecstatically happy one captured in those pictures with the dashing and brave fire fighter.
His thoughts so intent on this, he didn’t notice the real and present Violet, her lips trembling and tears streaming down her face and falling into Missy’s hair. It was only when he turned away from the photos that he saw her and his heart lept into his throat. He fell to his knees and put his arms around her and the baby on her lap.
“Violet, what happened…what’s wrong?” he asked, but in truth, he already knew. “You still miss Richard. I’m so sorry. I wish…oh, Violet, I wish I could bring him back for you.”
He silently cursed himself for upsetting her so. It was his fault. He had to go and overdo it with the “daddy” business! He realized too late Violet was still…what? Too sensitive? Grieving? Yes, that was it. She was still grieving and all that talk of daddies made her think of Richard. As much as he liked having Missy call him daddy, he would have to stop it. He just couldn’t upset Violet like this anymore. He wouldn’t!
Missy stared at them with a bemused expression. Violet sobbing into Victor’s chest and Victor looking unusually grave didn’t make sense to her and she certainly wasn’t used to being ignored by them.
“Da-da, da-da,” she said clearly but softly and that did it. She smiled when they both looked at her.
“Missy, I’m sorry,” Violet said wiping at her cheeks with her fingers.
Victor handed her a handkerchief, took Missy and stood up.
“It’s okay, Honey. Violet just misses her husband. See?” he said showing her the pictures. “This is Richard. He was a very brave fireman. He saved a little girl and her dog from a terrible fire and now he’s gone. It’s very unfair, but sometimes bad things happen to good people and there’s nothing we can do about it. It makes Violet very sad, so, we have to be extra nice to her, okay?”
He spoke as if the baby understood every word and to look at Missy and her solemn expression, you would think she did.
“Da-da,” she said patting the picture with her chubby little hand.
“Yes,” Victor said quietly. “He was a very good daddy. See here? This is his son Kenny and this is Sophie, his little girl. They loved their daddy so very much. You can tell in this picture. They’re all so happy. You would have loved him, too, Missy. I just know it and he would’ve loved you.”
This speech so astonished Violet that she stopped her crying and gaped at the two of them with their backs to her, wondering how Victor knew all that.
“Sweetie, you told him, that first day at the Mount Claire. Remember, Dory?” Richard whispered in her ear, his hands on her shoulders.
“Oh, yes,” she mumbled. “I do.”
Victor spun around. “You do what?” he asked.
“Uh…”she said looking around until her eyes fell on the crib. “I do think…uh… we have to move that dresser to make room for the crib.”
“Okay,” he replied setting Missy on the floor. “I’ll move it then we can put together the crib.”
“You’ll need some tools,” Violet said.
“Shoot! I forgot the tools.”
“Don’t worry. I have them in the garage,” she assured him and went off before he could tell her what tools were needed.
“Heck, it’s not like I know anyway,” he muttered to himself. Then looking at Missy he added, “Do you know by chance?”
The baby giggled.
“No, I didn’t think you would,” he replied laughing at himself. “But I can move this.”
He then went over to the dresser and removed a few of the drawers. He placed them on the bed, trying to ignore Richard’s neatly stacked t-shirts, socks and underwear. He took all the framed photos down too, lest he knock one over in the move and shatter the glass.
“I suppose you know which tools are needed for the task?” Heidi asked Richard, who was glaring at Victor.
“To put together the crib?” he asked derisively. “All he needs is a screwdriver, maybe some pliers and a wrench. Man ain’t no good if he don’t know that at the very least. I could do it blindfolded.”
“I’m sure you could,” Heidi replied, her lips curving slightly.
It was only after Victor placed the dresser in its new home, when Violet showed up, lugging a heavy tool box and saying, “Here….it….is.”
“Violet!” Victor shouted angrily, taking it out of her hands. “What are you doing carrying that? It’s too heavy for you. You should’ve told me to get it.”
“Oh, hush! It’s not that heavy. You sound like Richard,” she snapped.
“Good to know he was a man of sense,” Victor retorted.
Violet ignored that but then frowned at the drawers on her bed. “What are you doing looking in Richard’s dresser?”
“Not looking. I had to remove them in order to move the dresser. It’s easier when it’s lighter.”
“I could’ve helped,” she said, indignant now.
“I wouldn’t have let you,” he said raising a hand to stop her. “It’s done now, so, no need to start. Anyway, this might be a good time for you to clear out Richard’s things.”
“Clear out?” she repeated, as if the words were foreign to her. “Why would I….”
Victor raised an eyebrow. “Violet, Missy will need room for her things, won’t she? You could empty these out and give the clothes to the Salvation Army or the church for their open closet give-away. Or give them to family. That’s what I had to do when my mother died.”
Seeing her stricken face, he wanted to kick himself. He had done it again. He had upset Violet. “But that can wait,” he said quickly. “Will you help me figure this out? We have to hurry. Missy looks sleepy now.”
This was a complete lie. Missy seemed even more wake than she had been all day, crawling over the crib railings and making a grab for the small plastic bag full of the crib hardware.
“Just like a man! Completely clueless,” Violet snapped, snatching the bag and Missy out of the way. She stomped out of the room leaving Victor to wonder if she was coming back at all, but she returned within a minute with a few stuffed animals which she placed on the floor with Missy. Then she stood up, hands on hips and glared at him.
“Well? Come on! Let’s put this thing together,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am,” Victor replied, hiding a grin.
Between the two of them and with Richard’s silent admonishing which truly weren’t so silent-- “No, use the Philips screwdriver….. You’re gonna have to use the Allen keys there….. Don’t forget the washers…. Tighten the screws good and tight.” --they got the crib set up and after Violet rummaged in the linen closet for a makeshift sheet and a baby blanket she had made herself and kept for sentimental reasons, Missy had her bed ready.
“Well, Missy, what do you think?” Victor asked lifting her up to show her the crib. She didn’t look remotely impressed nor tired, but she did start crying.
“What? She doesn’t like it?” Victor said, looking so crestfallen Violet laughed at him.
“No, silly, she’s probably hungry. Come on, Sweetie, let’s get you some milk and…” Violet suddenly gasped and looked up at Victor who had heard it too. A car door slammed.