An odd sound attempted to penetrate Violet’s not quite awake brain.
Swoosh-thump, swoosh-thump, swoosh-thump.
In her half sleep state she couldn’t quite make out what was making such a noise, but she didn’t care.
She wanted a bit more sleep. But then another sound came to her ears and this time she knew perfectly well what—or rather who—made that sound and she woke up fully.
“Ma-ma-ma, da-da, ma-ma, ba-ba-ba.”
Opening her eyes, Violet saw Missy’s chubby cheeked face smiling at her through the intricately carved wooden bars of Victor’s antique crib and she started to laugh.
“Well, that’s a nice way to wake up. Good Morning, Missy!” she said somewhat brightly. She sat up and stretched then paused midway to listen.
“What the heck is that?” she said pulling a robe over her flannel night gown and peering out the window. She saw nothing but white. It was still snowing like mad but the sound persisted. She went to the other window for a better view and there she saw a flash of red through the snow. And it finally hit her. Victor was the one making the noise.
“That man is the limit! He’s out there shoveling snow while it’s still snowing. What sense does that make?” she said to Missy, who seemed supremely unperturbed about the whole thing.
“Da-da-da,” Missy said happily.
“Yes, daddy is a nut. Come, my love, let’s get you changed. Oh, dear. I forgot your diaper bag downstairs. Hmm,” Violet said looking around with her brow furrowed. “Guess we’ll have to go downstairs for it. It’s okay. Your milk’s down there too.”
“Ba-ba-ba,” Missy babbled.
“Well, you’re a chatterbox today. Mmm, Victor made coffee. That man’s good for something, isn’t he?” she said to the baby, as she sniffed the air appreciating the aroma.
Upon reaching the kitchen she stopped abruptly in the archway. There stood Victor with one of her flowery mugs in his hand, looking for all the world as if he owned the place.
“There’s my girl!” he said brightly, coming toward them.
“His girl?” Richard snarled. “Since when is Violet his girl?”
“Oh, hush,” Heidi replied carelessly. “He doesn’t mean it that way. If you calm down long enough, you’ll see for yourself.”
Violet’s heart jumped when Victor dropped a tiny kiss on her forehead and said, “Good morning, Violet.” He then grabbed an excitedly squirming baby out of her arms and kissed her until she squealed with delight.
“My happy girl!” Victor said laughing along with Missy.
“See?” Heidi said, “He meant the baby.”
“Are you blind? He kissed my Violet!” Richard snarled.
She waved a dismissive hand. “A sisterly kiss at best.”
“You are unbelievable!” Richard growled. “He’s moving in on my wife! He’s moving in PERIOD!”
“Ho-hum,” Heidi said, rolling her eyes.“Try singing a new tune, why don’t you?”
“Victor, how…what…you weren’t just outside shoveling?” Violet asked.
“No,” he said rubbing Missy’s nose with his own.
“I thought it was you,” Violet said, going to the window and looking out. “Who is that?”
“That is my favorite snow removal guys. I think that’s Larry here and Gary’s at the end of the drive…or the other way around. I have a hard time keeping them straight. They look so much alike.”
“You mean the fourteen year old Cetera twins?”
“Fifteen and do you know any other twins with a snow removal business in Catalpa Valley?”
“Snow removal business?” she said, making a face at him. “They just do odd jobs in the neighborhood. They cut the lawn for me in the summer.”
“That is enough to constitute a business. I told them they would get more steady customers if they presented themselves more professionally and made up cards stating their areas of expertise. Lawn care and snow removal. Wanna see what they came up with? It’s really cute,” Victor said pulling a card from his pocket and handing it to her.
She gazed at it and giggled.
Etc./Etc. lawn care and snow removal plus everything in between was at the top of the card which was split on the diagonal to show a little man on either side. The one holding a rake was under blue skies surrounded by grass and autumn leaves and the other was bundled up in a parka with shovel in hand and a pile of snow next to him.
“Etcetera, huh?” she said. “Don’t suppose you gave them that idea too, huh?”
He chuckled. “Could be.”
“And what exorbitant amount of money are they charging, I wonder?”
“Never you mind. They might really like some hot cocoa though, if you’re up to making some this morning.”
She rolled her eyes. “Oh, let me see…can I spare two minutes of my life to keep two boys from freezing to death?”
He laughed at her. “Okay then, they should be done in about twenty minutes and then they’re heading to my house and then Freddy’s.”
“Why do you have them out there while it’s still snowing?” she asked.
“It’s not snowing anymore. That’s just blowing snow. They’re very busy today so it’s lucky I got them first. They like me,” he said needlessly.
“I don’t suppose their college funds are doing poorly with you for a customer,” she remarked.
“Now, Violet, what did I tell you just last night?”
“What? Charity begins at home? I can remember some things you know,” she said and she went to take the baby from him. Like always Missy started crying and clung furiously to Victor, refusing point blank to be removed. “Missy, I have to change you before I can feed you.”
“I’ll do it. She likes me, too, you know,” he said smugly. “You go get dressed, Violet, and get to making breakfast for our girls.”
“Our girls?” Violet said, looking amused.
“Well, Karen may not have eaten much if anything last night, but I think we should let her sleep in for as long as she wants. Growing girls need sleep, too.”
Violet’s eyes popped open. “Omigosh, I didn’t think of that. She’s probably starving!” she said going straight to the refrigerator. “Hmm, waffles or French toast, bacon or maybe an omelet with cheese and bits of leftover ham…and I should make muffins, too. She should like some of that, right?”
“Well, whatever she doesn’t like, we’ll have…you’re making us hungry,” Victor said rubbing Missy’s tummy.
“Silly man. Missy’s breakfast is ready now,” Violet said handing him a bottle. “I’ll get dressed then. Don’t bother changing her clothes. I ought to give her a bath.” With that, Violet left.
“Silly lady. I can give you a bath just as easily as she can,” he told Missy, who made a grab for the bottle and brought it to her hungry mouth. “Well, after you eat obviously.”
Once showered and dressed, Violet stepped out of her room and almost ran into Karen who was also dressed and ready to start the day. Violet almost cringed at the ratty sweatshirt and torn jeans she wore. She forced smile however.
“Karen, I hope we didn’t wake you. I wanted you to sleep as long as you wanted,” Violet said.
“No, I just…I always wake up at this time…for Missy. Just used to it. Um, are you sure school’s closed today?”
“Oh, Honey, have you looked outside?” Violet said brushing her hair out of her eyes. “There’s about a foot out there and it’s still coming down...well, blowing around. We’ll be lucky if we can get out in a week!”
“Oh, that’s not good. You shoulda let me go home yesterday,” Karen said biting her bottom lip nervously.
“Absolutely not!” Violet replied. “You would have gotten stuck somewhere. I didn’t even let Victor go home and he lives much closer.”
Karen looked around her to peer into Violet’s bedroom. “He’s still sleeping?”
“Victor? No, he’s downstairs feeding Missy. I swear, that baby adores him. Won’t let me near her when he’s around. She must want….” Violet stopped here and brushed a hand down Karen’s hair. It looked much better all properly washed and combed. Karen might actually be a very pretty girl, Violet thought, if she had better clothes.
“Karen, let’s find you some warm clothes. My daughter might be just about your size. Well, sort of. Sophie is about a foot taller than I am but skinny like her dad. A string bean!” Violet said laughing and leading Karen down to the next room.
“Won’t she get mad?”
“Sophie? Heavens no! She may never need these anymore if she stays in Florida,” Violet said, a sudden ache in her heart. “Let’s see….try these on and this and this blue one will bring out the blue of your eyes…hmm, well, you can pick out whatever else you like later and put them in your room.”
She handed Karen two pairs of corduroy pants, a turtleneck sweater and then rummaged in the drawer for socks. What she found there was even better than she had hoped.
“Well, that’s my Sophie. I bought these for her and she never took them with her to college. Guess you can have them. She’ll never remember she had them here,” Violet said handing over unopened packages of underwear and socks.
“But Miss Bennett, are you sure?” Karen said, looking at the items in her hands as if they were buried treasure.
“Sweetie, yes, it’s fine.”
“You really think we’ll be snowed in for a week?” Karen asked, sounding incredulous but looking hopeful.
Violet smiled and shook her head. “Maybe not but…. let’s have a chat, okay?”
She sat down on Sophie’s bed only just realizing Victor had slept here last night. The bed was perfectly made up, even with the few stuffed animals back up against the pillows. She didn’t think Richard had ever made a bed in his entire life. It never had occurred to her that Victor would be any different and yet he had fixed it up good as new.
She smiled and passed a hand over the simple pinwheel quilt she had made many years back and mumbled, “His mama would be so proud.”
Karen sat down on the bed, too. She looked around at the room and imagined herself as Violet’s daughter. How lucky Sophie must be! She not only had a nice home and many wonderful things but a real family and a brother, too. Karen was an only child. She had always hated that.
This room was sunny and bright, a creamy yellow with flowery lace curtains at the two windows and posters of famous soccer players on the walls. There was also a small picture of the Catalpa Valley high school soccer team taped to one corner of the US soccer team poster. Sophie must really like soccer, Karen thought. And she certainly must like to read. One entire wall was devoted to books, all sorts. There were cheap romances, text books and classics mixed in with kid’s books and even magazines and what seemed to be a folder full of sheet music. Perhaps Sophie played an instrument?
Karen had always wanted to do that, too.
“Karen, did you sleep well?” Violet asked, intruding on her thoughts.
“Oh, sure. It was great. Thank you,” Karen said.
“Good,” Violet said, passing her hand once again over Karen’s soft hair. She had almost forgotten how nice it was to have a teenage girl in the house and just chat with one. She missed Sophie so much. Without notice, her eyes filled with tears.
“Miss Bennett, are you okay?”
“Um, yes,” Violet said. “I just…I haven’t been in this room for a long time. I miss my daughter very much.”
Karen knew the feeling. She may not have the best mother around, but she did still love her and yes, she missed her, too. It was on the tip of her tongue to say this, but Violet beat her to it.
“I suppose…do you… miss your mother?”
“Yeah,” Karen said biting down on her bottom lip.
“And…and just being a kid?” Violet asked.
“You’re younger than Sophie, yet you have the responsibilities of someone much older. That must be tough. It is tough. You miss being a kid which is a lot easier than being a teen mom.”
“Uh…yeah,” Karen said, looking down at her hands.
“I’ll bet you miss your old, carefree life,” Violet said.
Without looking up Karen nodded. Violet took her hand and squeezed it until she looked up. As she suspected, Karen’s eye swam with tears. Violet enveloped the girl in her arms and held her as tightly as she had done the night before.
“Well, Honey, I think there’s only one thing to do then,” Violet said.
Karen wiped at her face looking her confusion. “What?”
“I miss having kids, kids that I can take care of and love and fuss over, and you miss having a mother that cares about you and will let you just be a kid. Maybe, we need each other. ”
Karen’s pale eyes widened dramatically. Could it be? Was God answering her prayer this quickly?
“You want me to…you won’t adopt Missy but you wanna adopt me?” she asked incredulously.
Violet laughed. “No, not adopt...exactly. Just you stay here with me… and Missy, of course. We can be a little family of females for as long as you want. If you want, that is. I hoped that you might like it here a little bit and that maybe you’d let me fuss over you and Missy. What do you think?” Violet asked.
The smile on Karen’s face said it all. “Okay,” Karen said needlessly.
Violet laughed and gave her another hug. “Good, then you get changed and come down for some breakfast. Waffles, pancakes, omelets? Any of that sound good?”
It all did. “Anything is fine. Thank you, Miss Bennett,” Karen said, barely able to contain her excitement.
“Hmm, maybe you should call me Violet. How about it? We will be living together, you know. Seems right, I think.”
Karen nodded and said, “Okay...Violet.”
Violet grinned all the way down to the kitchen, but once there she gasped.
“Victor Romanoff, what in the world are you doing?” she shrieked.
Victor turned and made a face. “Really? I gotta tell you? We’re having a bath, of course.”
He was correct about the “we” part. Missy was in the kitchen sink splashing so enthusiastically that Victor was at least as wet as she was…and the floor too, for that matter.
“Victor, you can’t give a baby a bath in the kitchen sink,” Violet said, exasperated.
“Why not?” he asked. “My mama used to give me a bath in the kitchen sink all the time…well, when I was a baby.”
“I did,” Heidi said with a reminiscent smile on her ghostly face.
“And you remember this?” Violet asked skeptically.
“No, but I’ve seen pictures and I loved it just as much as Missy,” he said, just as Missy sloshed half the water onto the floor and all over Victor’s highly polished shoes.
He grimaced then grinned sheepishly at Violet. “Oops?”
She merely grunted her displeasure and grabbed the mop.
“You’re not using dish soap on Missy I hope?” she said.
“Do I look like an idiot?”
“Do you really want me to answer that just now?” Violet countered.
In answer to that he showed her a bottle of baby shampoo.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Um, I brought it over last night…with the other stuff,” Karen said, shyly coming into the kitchen.
“Ma-ma-ma!” Missy said, grinning at her mother and punctuating each “ma” with a splash.
“Good morning, Karen!” Victor greeted her with a big smile. “My, but you look beautiful today. That sweater really brings out the blue of your eyes.”
“Thank you. Um, Miss Benn…Uh, Violet said the same thing,” Karen said slowing coming toward the baby.
“Ma-ma, Da-da-da!” Missy shouted, reaching out to Karen.
She looked up at Victor. “Can I?” she asked.
“What? Take your baby? Of course! Grab a towel first so you don’t get soaked,” Victor said.
Holding the towel open, Karen waited for Victor to hand her the baby. He lifted Missy out of the water wiggling and squealing. “She’s adorable but a handful!” he said chuckling.
“Yes, well, maybe now you’ll leave the bathing to those who know how to do it without destroying the kitchen and soaking themselves,” Violet muttered as her mopped up the water from the floor.
He stole the mop out of her hands. “Get to making breakfast. We’re starving! I’ll clean this up and I’ll have you know I’m an expert bath giver. I always gave Simon and Ronnie their baths when they were babies,” he said smugly.
“Hmm, in the kitchen?” Violet asked.
“Well…no. Their mother wouldn’t go for that,” he said, a grumpy look on his face.
“Wise woman,” Violet said and she burst out laughing. “Victor, look at you. You’re totally soaked.”
“Just a bit. May I borrow something from Richard’s closet and maybe I can toss these into the drier?”
“Hell no!” Richard shouted.
“And what, pray tell, do you need them for? The afterlife fashion show?” Heidi asked, glaring at him.
“Richard was a string bean. You’ll never fit in anything of his. You’re huge!” Violet said.
“He’s not that big,” Richard grumbled.
“Not even a bathrobe?” Victor said.
“Richard in a bathrobe?” Violet said, incredulous, going to the fridge and pulling out eggs, butter and milk and placing them onto the counter. “He always went around half naked.”
Karen tried but didn’t succeed in stifling a giggle.
Victor joined in and said, “Well, I don’t suppose you’d want me doing the same, would you?”
“I don’t think you’d mind that at all,” Heidi whispered to her, a giggle in her voice. “But we do have children in the house, so clothes would be a good idea.”
Violet suddenly blushed. “Come on. I’ll find something if it kills me.”
Victor turned and winked at Karen. “We’ll be back soon, Sweetie.”
Karen watched them leave with a huge smile on her face as she dried her happy baby.
“Guess what, Missy. We have a new home…a new family. God answered my prayer. Isn’t that amazing?” Karen whispered, hugging Missy tightly. “I might not have to give you up if…maybe…I hope not.”
“Da-da-da,” Missy said.
“Oh, that would be great if your daddy…but we shouldn’t ask God for too much at once. He may get mad,” Karen said fearfully.
Funny thing was, it hadn’t seemed like such a little prayer last night and that one was answered straight away. Would it be really too much to ask God to keep Wally safe, so he could come home and that maybe, just maybe he would love his baby as much as Karen did? What did she have to lose?