Victor hummed tunelessly as he walked up the steps and opened the door. His smile swiftly vanished upon seeing Violet standing in the hall just outside the living room, tray of cookies in hand, with tears streaking her lovely face.
“Violet, what’s wrong?” he said, anxiously going to her, completely forgetting to wipe his feet on the doormat.
She quickly held her finger to her lips, grabbed his arm and dragged him into the kitchen.
“Omigosh, Victor, you’ll never believe this,” Violet said in a hushed voice, putting down the tray and wiping the wetness from her face. Then she explained what she had just overheard between Karen and Wally Cambry, her old boyfriend and Missy’s father.
Victor gaped stopping her once for clarity. “You mean she never told him about Missy? He didn’t know at all? Why would she do that?”
Violet explained that too and everything else she heard up to the point he walked in.
“So, are they still fighting?” he asked.
“I don’t think so. You got here just when it was getting good. Now we’ll have to wait for her to tell us…if she tells us. Oh, I hope they work things out!” she said anxiously.
Victor took her into his arms without thinking. It was more to sooth himself than Violet. He got the awful feeling—and he really felt quite ashamed of himself for feeling this--that things would change now and that he would be right back at square one again. The past few weeks had been like a dream, his favorite dream. It was almost like he had a family again.
“Just my luck,” he muttered.
“What?” Violet asked pulling away to look at him.
“Just my luck, I missed all the fireworks,” he joked.
“Silly man,” she said giggling. “I just baked some pumpkin bread. Want a slice?”
“Really? You gotta ask?” he replied.
Meanwhile, back in the living room:
Missy was confused. She was still being held by the loud man and she liked that fine, but now she was being a little bit crushed between Mommy and him. She didn’t really understand why this loud man was trying to eat Mommy’s face. Did she taste good? That reminded her that she was getting hungry. Auntie Violet was cooking something good. She could tell. The smell was nice and sweet and yeah, she really could use a bottle right about now. But Mommy was ignoring her and this man…well, he seemed nice even if he did like to shout.
“Ma-ma-ba-ba-da-ba-ma,” she said and just to show she meant business she yanked Mommy’s hair and patted the loud man on the cheek.
They both turned to her and laughed. “Okay, so maybe she can be a little trouble,” Wally said grinning down at Karen.
“Very little though. Violet said she never knew an easier baby,” Karen said, biting her lower lip. She did so want Wally to love Missy.
“Who is this Violet? You’re aunt or something?”
She shook her head. “She’s just a really nice lady. She works at the daycare center where I take Missy when I gotta be in school. She’s helped me so much. Victor, too.”
“I thought…” Wally said. “He’s not your boyfriend?”
Karen’s eyes widened. “No! He’s Violet’s…well, they keep saying they’re just friends, but it’s obvious they’re in love.”
“He lives here too?” he asked frowning slightly.
She shook her head again. “But he comes over almost every day after work for dinner and just to hang out with us. Sometimes he helps me with my homework. It’s almost like having a dad. He’s really nice and Missy loves him.”
They stared at each other for a minute.
“Did you miss me?” he asked.
“Me, too. I tried to forget you, but I couldn’t,” he said.
“Does this mean…maybe… you still like me…a little?” Karen asked tentatively.
He laughed. “What do you think?” he said pulling her closer still and for good measure he kissed her again.
Now Missy was getting mad. No one had ever ignored her this long! She started squirming and hitting the both of them until they stopped.
“Now what?” Wally asked.
Karen giggled. “I’m sure she wants a bottle.”
“That can wait. I have something for you.”
Karen’s eyes widened. “For me?”
“No, for the other mother of my child,” he said grinning.
Missy had had quite enough of all this useless talk. She started crying big time and she wasn’t going to stop until she had something in her belly!
“I guess it can’t wait,” Wally said grumpily. “Get the bottle. We’ll wait here. I want to feed her. My first time,” he said, a big smile on his face, which quickly vanished as Missy’s howling increased.
“I’ll be right back.” Karen sprinted to the kitchen and stopped short when she saw Victor and Violet having coffee and cake at the kitchen table.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were here, Victor,” she said breathlessly.
“Just got here. How are you, Karen? Need me to feed the baby?” Victor asked, watching her curiously. She looked flushed with happiness. That said it all.
“Uh, no, Wally wants to do it…uh…”Karen said, biting her lip and debating whether to tell them more.
“Get the bottle for Missy. Hurry! Wally’s likely to start crying, too if you don’t hurry back,” Violet said.
“Yeah, okay,” Karen agreed and quickly ran back with the bottle. By this time Missy was red in the face and Wally did look ready to cry, just like Violet said. “Here!”
Wally barely took it from her hands before Missy pulled it to her mouth and sweet silence reigned again.
“Man, I don’t ever want to hear her cry like that again,” he said obviously relieved. “I thought listening to the Sergeant yelling at us was bad!”
Karen giggled and sat down next to him. For a while they just watched Missy gobble up her milk.
“She's amazing. I still can’t believe we made a baby,” he said. “We were so careful.”
“Yeah, but condoms are only 95% effective. Learned that in health class... a little too late,” Karen said with a shrug.
Wally gaped at her then looked at Missy. “So, that’s what 5% looks like. Kinda cute.”
They both laughed.
“I have something for you,” he said. “I was gonna give it to you before I left. I was trying to get the courage up anyway, but our goodbye didn’t go like I planned.”
“I’m so sorry, Wally,” Karen said, and she’d never meant those words more. How different might everything have been had she just told him?
“I was worried cuz you were so young , barely sixteen,” he said, reaching inside a chest pocket.
“I’m not that much older,” she told him.
“Seventeen now. I missed your last birthday. Maybe this can be for your birthday,” he said holding out a small black jeweler’s box. “I’ll get you something else...”
Karen’s eyes widened. So this was what Wally had in his pocket the day they said goodbye. She stared at it then looked up at Wally who smiled nervously at her.
“Well? Arntcha gonna take it?” he asked.
With shaking fingers she reached for it and slowly opened it. Snug inside the black velvet sat, not a diamond, but a ring with a clear, pale blue.
“I liked it cuz it reminded me of your eyes. I kept it with me all this time…thought about you all the time. It was just supposed to be a promise ring…cuz…well…you were still in school.”
“But I’m still in school,” she said.
“Yeah, but we have a baby now. That changes everything,” he said, looking down at Missy who was almost done with her bottle. He looked back up and said, “You’re so beautiful, Karen.”
“No, I’m not,” she said automatically.
He grinned. “You are to me… prettiest girl I know. If you don’t like this ring…”
“I do! I love it! Thank you, Wally.”
“Well, then you can keep that and I’ll buy you something else too if…”
“If what? I don’t need anything else,” she insisted.
“You will if…if you marry me.… will you marry me?” he asked nervously.
“Me?” she said stupidly.
“No, my other girlfriend. Of course you!” he said laughing at her.
She stared at him, feasting her eyes on the face she didn’t think she’d ever see again. “Okay,” she said breathlessly.
“How about tomorrow?” he said.
“What? Are you serious?” she said, shocked to her toes.
“I only have a ninty-six hour leave. It took me most of the day just to find you. We don’t have much time left.”
“You got leave just to find me?”
“Pretty much and to see if I had a chance with you. Now that I do, I’m taking it. I want us married before I go back.”
She gaped at him. “You’re serious,” she said, incredulous. This was even more than she dared pray for.
“Please?” he said taking her hand and squeezing it. “I love you so much, Karen. I don’t wanna lose you again.”
“You never did, Wally,” she said. “Okay, tomorrow.”
“Great! Go get ready,” he said standing up with the baby.
“Ready for what?” Karen said, dumbfounded.
“My parents will want to meet their granddaughter and my future wife before the wedding,” he said excitedly. “Hot damn, we’re gonna be married!”