Victor went to the window and peered down. While they had been snug inside the house, the world outside had been blanketed in snow several inches thick. Through the blizzard he saw a beat-up old car parked behind his truck and a young girl carrying something large to the front porch.
“I think that might be Karen,” he said. “I better go help her.”
“Help her? With what?” Violet said, but Victor had already left and bounded down the stairs.
Karen jumped and stared at him. “I’m sorry, I must be at the wrong house.”
“Not if you’re looking for Violet and Missy. Come in, Karen. I’ll get that for you,” he said taking from her hands what now he saw was a port-a-crib.
“Omigosh!” Violet shrieked as she came quickly down the stairs with Missy clinging to her. “Karen, what are you doing out in this weather and why are you not wearing a coat? Get in, hurry! Let’s get you warm.”
She grabbed the girl’s frozen hand and almost dragged her into the living room. Karen’s lank hair and her thin, faded sweatshirt were sprinkled with melting snow. Violet had her remove it then thrust a hand crocheted blanket at her and forced her to sit on the sofa with it wrapped around her.
“Here, you stay with Missy while I get you some hot cocoa,” Violet said turning to go.
“But Miss Bennett, I was just gonna bring you some of Missy’s stuff and leave,” Karen said as Missy crawled up on her lap. Karen enveloped the little girl and gave her a cuddle and a kiss on her cheek.
“Stay there! You’re going nowhere until you’re warm,” Violet said sternly. She met Victor in the entry carrying in several bags. “What’s all that?”
“Looks like clothes and stuff for Missy,” he said putting them down. He went to her, first casting a swift glance toward the living room and lowered his voice. “Violet, there’s about four inches out there now and it’s still coming down fast. I don’t think it’s safe for Karen to be driving in this. Her car…it isn’t great and I doubt she has snow tires even. I could take her home. I’ve got four-wheel drive.”
He stopped here and just looked at her hoping she could read his meaning. She didn’t disappoint him.
“She should stay here then. I have room,” she said straight away.
He smiled and stroked her cheek with two fingers. “You have a good heart, Violet,” he said quietly, almost a whisper.
She stared up at him speechless, her eyes as wide as they would go and a tingle spreading heedless throughout her being. Then she got her voice and said, “And what are you? Chopped liver?”
He burst out laughing and continued to chuckle as he followed her into the kitchen.
“Still think my Victor is the devil incarnate, do you?” Heidi asked, her eyes mere slits as she glared at Richard.
“No,” he replied, rather reluctantly. If Richard had lived to meet the man, he knew he and Victor could truly have been friends. That didn’t mean he didn’t still reserve the right to hate Victor for being alive, for wanting his Violet and for making her happy.
“What are you doing now?” Victor asked as he watched Violet pour milk into a pan and place it on the stove.
“What does it look like, Silly?” she retorted going on tiptoes and reaching up into a cabinet overhead.
He went behind her and grabbed it for her, the canister of unsweetened cocoa.
“Thank you, Victor… um, for everything, actually,” she said.
“Meaning?” he asked, a curious expression on his face.
“Well, I couldn’t have put the crib together by myself and…well…it’s your crib…so, thank you,” she explained, spooning out cocoa and stirring it into the milk. “I’m making enough hot cocoa for all of us but I can make you coffee if you’d rather have that.”
“No, cocoa’s fine. You make it with milk?” he said, as if this was a bizarre thing to do.
She gave him a rather pitying look. “You only ever have that watery instant stuff they like to call hot cocoa, don’t you? You poor thing,” she said, shaking her head.
He laughed. “I like it when you feel sorry for me. I’m likely to get something extra out of it,” he said, a hopeful gleam in his eyes.
Her eyes widened. “Just as long as you only mean a cookie,” she said turning back to the stove.
“You mean you got no pie? Oh, man!” he said in mock disappointment.
“Silly man. I need to get a bottle for Missy too. Don’t let me forget,” she said as she took down three mugs, each with a different flower painted on it and she poured the hot cocoa into each.
She then went to the pantry and took out a bag of mini marshmallows, but she stopped and stared at Victor frowning at him. “Hmm,” she said.
“I can’t decide if you’re the little marshmallow or the whipped cream type?” she said narrowing her eyes.
“Can’t I have both?”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course. I should’ve guessed, Mister Sweet-tooth.”
He laughed and grabbed the bag out of her hand. “I’ll do that. Get Missy’s bottle and don’t forget the whipped cream.”
“Heaven forbid,” she mumbled, going to the fridge.
When she turned back to him, the can of whipped cream in hand, she gasped. “What in the world? You can’t put that many marshmallows on there. There’s no room for the whipped cream!”
“Of course there is,” he retorted snatching the can and proceeding to pile it several inches high on each cup.
“So, Mister Sweet-tooth wasn’t at all an exaggeration,” she said shaking her head in disapproval.
In reply he put a tiny dab of cream on the tip of her nose.
“Victor! Are you insane?”
“Maybe. You better get Missy’s bottle before I lick that off your nose.”
“You will not!”
“I might not, but Mister Sweet-tooth…..never can tell with him,” he said taking a step toward her, a devilish grin on his face.
“And what would your mama say?” she said, taking a step back.
Heidi giggled and answered. “I’d say go for it!”
“You would,” Richard snapped.
“I’m pretty sure she’d tell me to go for it,” Victor said with a careless shrug and another step toward her.
Just then a shout of glee came from the living room. “Ms. Bennett, come quick! You’ll never believe it!” Karen shouted.
Victor wiped the cream off her nose with his finger and winked at her saying, “And Violet is saved from Mister Sweet-tooth.”
“Silly man,” she said, breathing heavy, then over her shoulder shouted, “I’m coming, Karen.”
She wondered, as she turned to the mugs of cocoa, placing each on a tray and sprinkling the whipped cream mountains with cinnamon, what would have happened if Karen hadn’t called to them just then? Would he really have done as he threatened and what would she have done if he did? She blushed just thinking about it. Her vivid imagination made her heart thump frantically in her chest and she cursed herself for sort of wishing Karen hadn’t been here.
She grabbed the tray and whisked away not daring to glance at Victor and completely forgetting Missy’s bottle.
“What is it, Karen?” Violet asked, setting the tray down on the coffee table.
“You’ll never believe it! Missy said her first word,” Karen said, her excitement quite evident.
“Oh….” Violet said, before turning to Victor grabbing his arm in a fierce grip and adding, “Victor, did you hear that? Missy said her very first word.” She glared at him silently imploring, “Don’t let on, whatever you do!”
He grinned down at her, placing his hand over hers and squeezing it replied, “I did hear. That’s amazing, Karen. I’ve been trying to get her to talk all day and got nothing. She was obviously waiting for her mama to hear it first. What did she say?”
“Well, that’s the weird part,” Karen said with a little laugh. “She said mama. I thought dada was always the first thing babies say.”
“Well…usually, but not always, Karen,” Violet replied, giving Victor a glowing look of approval before releasing his arm.
“We’ve got one bright little girl here, don’t we, Missy?” Victor said.
Missy, seeing her bottle in Victor’s hand—he hadn’t forgotten-- said, “Da-da-da!”
Karen gasped and stared up at Victor. “She called you Da-da! She thinks you’re her father,” she shrieked, even more excited than before.
Victor laughed and held up the bottle. “I’m thinking this is what she’s calling da-da, not me,” he explained. “Isn’t that right, Missy?”
“Da-da-da,” Missy replied even louder, now reaching for the bottle.
Karen hugged and kissed the little girl. “Oh, Missy, you’re so smart!”
“May I feed her for you?” Victor asked.
“Uh….okay,” Karen said, a bit reluctant.
“Just so you can have your hot chocolate. We want you to warm up,” he assured and picked up the eager baby.
Missy grabbed the bottle and stuck it in her mouth before he got to sit down. “My-my, we’re hungry,” he said nestling her tiny body against him.
Violet handed Karen a steaming mug. “Drink it. It’ll warm you up nicely.” She then passed her hand over her hair. “Oh, Karen, your hair is still wet. Would you like to use my hair dryer?”
“No, that’s okay. Thanks, Ms. Bennett,” Karen replied, cradling the mug in her chilled hands.
Violet then turned to Victor. “She should have a bib, Victor. She’ll get formula all over herself and you if I know this little cutie, and I do, don’t I, Missy?” Violet said as she sat down beside him and reached over snapping the bib around the baby without interrupting her furious feeding. “My goodness, you’d think she hadn’t eaten in years.”
“Well, baby years are different from adult years, you know,” he said, smirking.
She stared up at him smiling and mouthed, “Thank you.”
“You already said that, remember, Dory?” he whispered.
“Silly man,” she said. Then, before she could stop herself, she kissed his cheek. She didn’t know what had possessed her to do it, but looking at the warmth radiating from his gaze, she couldn’t say she regretted it.
“Don’t you just love her soft curls?” Violet said, gently stroking Missy’s hair.
“Hardly a speck on this little kid I don’t love. She’s adorable in every way,” Victor replied. “Look! She’s smiling at us. She knows she’s a cutie.”
“Hmm, I’ll bet she does…the silly goose,” Violet said. “You should burp her now, Victor.”
“You think she’ll let me pull this thing out before she’s done? She might bite me!” Victor replied, feigning fear.
“If you haven’t noticed, she has no teeth yet,” Violet informed him, as she placed her hand over his and pulled the bottle from Missy. “Want me to do it?”
“I know how to burp a baby. I just rub her back,” he said indignantly sitting the baby on his lap. No sooner had he done this then Missy let out a loud burp. “See? Told ya.”
“What a piggy!” Violet said, giggling.
“That is a bit odd, isn’t it? Missy not having teeth yet,” Victor said. “I remember Simon getting them at three months.”
“Some are born with them but Sophie didn’t get them until she was almost a year old,” Violet said.
“Seriously?” Victor said, incredulous.
“Why in the world would I lie about that?” she retorted, before turning to Karen and adding, “This man thinks he knows everything!”