Violet happily hummed as she popped the last of the pumpkin muffins into the oven and pulled out the pumpkin bread . Oh, but the house smelled heavenly! No, April wasn’t the usual month for pumpkin baked goods, but as Violet had a bumper crop of Sugar baby Pumpkins last summer, her freezer still held a few batches just asking to be baked this fine yet still cold early spring morning.
She knew Karen would like them and perhaps even Missy may like a nibble or two, and of course, Victor would gobble up the rest of them.
“At least most of the snow is gone,” she murmured to herself as she glanced out the window into the backyard. She did this every day hoping to catch a glimpse of the very first crocus peeking out of the ground. It shouldn’t be too long now.
It was more than three weeks after the blizzard and they all had fallen quite naturally into a homey routine. Violet couldn’t have been happier. She had a family again…sort of.
Karen was visibly changed from the surly, harassed girl she had been. Now she was joyful and spirited. She had blossomed under Violet’s solicitous care. Her grades were up, she was no longer continually tired and cranky, she looked prettier than ever and she was now a loving mother for Missy.
Karen’s pitiful wardrobe had been substantially improved, too and not just by Sophie’s discarded winter clothes. Victor had surprised her one day by picking her up after school and taking her shopping. When they got home with several bulging bags, Karen was so overwhelmed she could barely speak coherently. For the first time in her life she was being spoiled rotten.
Oddly enough, Violet didn’t disapprove. She hugged Victor and planted a tiny kiss on his cheek saying, “You keep this up, Mr. Romanoff and Karen’s going to start calling you daddy.”
Victor laughed. “Then my plan’s working!”
It wasn’t just Violet and the girls who were supremely happy with the arrangement. Victor came over most days straight after work brimming with good cheer and spent the evening with them. They had dinner together, watched TV, had fast and furious scrabble matches or simply sat around chatting and playing with Missy. They had truly become a family.
Karen didn’t even seem to mind Violet bossily telling her, “And you will wear a real coat. Hoodies are not winter attire!” That, after all, is what a real mother would say.
Violet had just been about to check up on Missy who was napping when the doorbell rang. She glanced at the clock needlessly and frowned. It was way too early for Victor to be home and she knew it. And was it very likely that he had finally, after all this time, figured out how to knock?
“Not a chance,” she muttered as she wiped her hands on a dish towel and went to answer the summons.
Upon opening the door her eyes widen dramatically. There stood erectly before her a tall, serious looking young man in Army fatigues. Violet doubted he was much older than Sophie and yet his oddly familiar dark eyes looked old, as if he had seen or experienced too much misery in a short amount of time.
“Hello,” she said, smiling tentatively up at him. “May I help you?”
“I hope so, Ma’am. I’m looking for the Bennett residence?” he said, glancing briefly at the number beside the door then looking back to Violet.
“Yes, I’m Violet Bennett,” she replied, looking confused now.
He swallowed hard and went on, “And is Karen Struthers staying here? I was told I could find her here.”
Violet’s eyes brightened upon hearing this. “Yes, she’s just upstairs in her room. Are you a friend of hers?”
“I…I hope so, Ma,am. I...was. It’s been a long time since…since I saw her,” he said quietly.
She smiled up at him and placed a reassuring hand on his arm. “Time doesn’t erase friendship and neither does distance. Come in,” she happily said, opening the door wide to allow him entrance. “Karen will be so pleased to see you. How long has it been?”
“About fifteen months, Ma’am,” he said, removing his beret.
“Well, then you’ve missed a very important development in Karen’s life. Come and see,” she said leading the way into the living room.
Violet went to the window in front of which the playpen sat. Missy was wide awake and playing with a busy box. Upon seeing Violet she smiled showing off her first tooth.
“Missy honey,” she said, leaning over and picked up the baby. “We have a visitor. This is Mommy’s friend…oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t ask your name.”
“Walter Cambry, Ma’am. My friends call me Wally,” he said, his eyes glued to the baby who smiled up at him.
“Well, Wally, this is Missy, Karen’s baby. Bet you didn’t know she was a mommy now. I’ll have you know, Missy’s the sweetest baby ever! And I’m not at all biased,” Violet said giggling.
“Are you…are you related?” Wally asked still staring at the child.
“Gosh, no. We just…Missy!” Just then Missy let out a squeal of delight and threw herself into his arms.
“Missy, you naughty girl! I wish you wouldn’t do that. Oh, I’m so sorry, Wally. She just loves men. Missy, leave the poor young man alone,” Violet said trying to pry the baby away. Missy wouldn’t allow this and started to cry.
“It’s all right, Ma’am. I don’t mind,” Wally said holding the baby like an expert and gazing at her fixedly, as if he wanted to memorize her cute little face.
“She does that every time Victor comes over, too, the little flirt,” Violet said shaking her head with an expression of mixed annoyance and amusement.
“Who’s Victor?” he asked, suddenly harsh.
Slightly taken aback Violet stammered, “Uh…he, uh …Victor is…he’s a …he’s my friend.” She watched with some concern a muscle work along the boy’s jawline as if he were trying to contain his emotions. But why, she wondered, would he need to do that? Why did the mention of Victor upset him?
“Is…is Karen dating?” he asked in a much softer tone. He held one finger out and Missy grabbed it, grinning up at him.
“I wish. The poor girl spends all her time studying. She never goes out with friends. She just stays home all the time. Although, I think Victor and I have got her convince to go out for the girls softball team. I think it would be good for her. Some exercise and a chance to be away from the books and around girls her own age just to have a bit of fun.”
She watched the young man with the baby. He appeared to be mesmerized, almost melting in the baby’s presence. She had seen it happen with Victor countless times and couldn’t help but smile. Apparently, Missy had some strange power over the entire male population.
“Well, I guess I should get Karen. Will you be all right with Missy? “she said watching him carefully.
“If you don’t mind, Ma’am. I'm used to babies. I have little brothers and many cousins. We’ll be okay,” he said, his eyes never leaving the baby.
“How nice. Okay, I should only be a minute.” Violet then left and hurried upstairs.
“Missy,” Wally whispered, after Violet had gone.
“Da-da-da,” Missy said distinctly.
“Yes,” he replied, his eyes filling with tears. “I’m your daddy.” He then closed his eyes and held her close, dropping kisses on her dark curls.
Violet found the door to Karen’s room opened. As usual she was sitting at the desk, her nose buried in a book with pen in hand and paper by her side.
Violet knocked and said, “Sweetie? I don’t mean to bother you, but you have a visitor downstairs.”
“What?” Karen said, distractedly.
“A visitor,” Violet repeated.
Karen looked up grimacing. “Not the Cetera twins again,” she moaned.
Violet laughed. Ever since the day after the blizzard, the Cetera twins had been stopping by the house on the pretext of being helpful. In truth, they were both quite smitten with Karen. They had come in that day after shoveling about two tons of snow to have a hot cocoa and warm up when they stopped dead in their tracks. They took one stunned look at Karen and simultaneously said, “Hot damn!”
Karen bristled. “What? You never saw a baby before?” she snapped. She had been feeding Missy and assumed they were making fun of her for being a teen mom.
“I’m thinking they don’t even see the baby,” Victor interjected with an amused grin directed at Violet. Violet tried to stifle a giggle as she served the hot cocoa.
The twin boys sat staring at Karen the entire time which, she said several times since then, “Kinda creeps me out!”
“No, Sweetie, it’s not Larry and Gary. It’s…”
A soft ding sounded downstairs and she jumped. “Oh, the muffins! Karen, I have to get them out before they burn. Don’t dawdle, okay? Your friend Wally’s down there with Missy and you know what a bug-a-boo she can be.”
Violet whisked out of the room so quickly she missed seeing the blood drain from Karen’s face.
Karen sat for a moment paralyzed. On one hand she was thrilled to have Wally safe and so near. Here, he was actually here! She so desperately wanted to see him. But on the other, she didn’t know how he had found her and what he could want. He had broken up with her after all. Yes, they had said they would stay friends, but when did that ever happen? Did he know about Missy? What would he say? What would he do?
Her mind whirled and she could barely breathe. After a few minutes, she slowly got up, dropping the pen to the floor and with her heart racing a mile a minute she went down the stairs taking each step as if going to the gallows to meet her executioner. Her heart beat like that of a captured bird and if she didn’t draw breath soon, she might just pass out.
After what seemed an eternity, she reached the living room. There, her heart stopped completely.
Wally stood with his back to her exactly where Violet had left him, by the playpen still holding Missy who now was playing with his hat and babbled happily. In many ways he was exactly the same, tall and lean, but she could see quite clearly he was more muscular than when he’d left. His once long, wavy hair, although still dark as night, was cropped short. He looked hot in his uniform.
Karen couldn’t believe Wally was right here in front of her, holding her baby…his baby…their baby. It was exactly what she wished. She wanted to run to him, to hold him, to kiss him, to tell him how much she missed him and most of all to tell him she still loved him dearly.
Then, as if sensing her, he turned. For several minutes they merely stared at each other. She could see he was as gorgeous as ever. His eyes, his dark, carefree, dancing eyes, still made her quiver as they always did when he looked at her. She remembered those eyes perfectly. They were Missy’s eyes too.
“Wally,” she said, her voice a mere whisper. He took one step toward her then stopped and stiffened. The stony expression on his face froze her to the spot. An ache like she’d never felt seared through her. He had never looked at her that way. “Wally?”
He glared at her, the muscle in his jaw working again. How dare she look even more beautiful than he remembered! He simultaneously wanted to kiss every last bit of her and thrash her within an inch of her life.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he said through clenched teeth.