Monday, April 4, 2011

Ch 56: Rumor has it


Point, eraser, point, eraser, point…snap!
That was the fourth pencil Victor broke in as many minutes. He tossed this one into the waste bin behind his desk with the others and just barely kept himself from screaming in frustration. Why was it every time he thought he was getting closer to Violet--so close he could almost taste it--something happened to set him back?

Karen and Missy had been a major step forward. He has been so close to actually having Violet believe they were something more than just friends. They were practically a couple, a family, in fact, but then Wally had to come back and ruin everything…everything for Victor anyway.

He sighed as he stared at the new pictures on his desk. Karen had sent him one of herself with Wally and Missy. They made a lovely little family, he had to admit. They were still in their wedding clothes and looking happier than could be imagined. Victor, however, could very easily imagine it. He so wanted it for himself and for Violet. What killed him was he had been all the closer to it that day.


His eyes shifted to the next photo. He held Violet in his arms, she looking up at him smiling as they danced. Memories of the wedding flooded his brain, warming his heart. Violet had been utterly delightful. She held his hand throughout the ceremony even as tears slipped down her lovely face.
“Happy tears, Victor,” she’d whispered, squeezing his hand.

At the reception, she only corrected a few people when they assumed she and Victor were married and also that they were Karen’s parents.

"Oh, forget it," she'd said to Victor after the fifth time someone called them Mr. and Mrs. Struthers. "They'll figure it out eventually."

He had no idea who had taken the picture, but he hardly cared. He was infinitely glad to have it. It was proof he could make her love him. At least he saw it that way. Talk about heaven on earth! He had walked on air that day. Of course, that was all before her thoughts went back to Richard.
One step up, two steps back…Dammit!” Victor muttered.
 
He rubbed his chin and swiveled in his chair. Now facing the window he could see the meadow, brown, sodden and bleak as ever. Granted the snow was all gone now, but this lonesome, muddy view did nothing to improve his mood.
“Where the hell is spring when you need it?” he said to himself. At least he thought it was to himself.

“All in due time, my love,” a tiny, caring voice whispered in his ear. Heidi stood behind him, her small, bejeweled hands on his massive shoulders.

He felt a severe longing to talk to his deceased mother just then. She would be able and most willing to tell him how to proceed with Violet. She would be such a comfort to him. She always had been.

“Oh, Mama, you would love her,” he mumbled.

“Who?”

Startled, Victor turned in his seat and stared irritably at his receptionist. “Ella, anyone ever tell you you’d make an excellent jewel thief?” he said.

She smiled and stepped further into the office carrying a cup of coffee on a silver tray. She placed it in front of Victor then gave him the usual x-ray-like, penetrating look.

“Last week you said art thief. Which one is it? I have to know so I can hone my skills accordingly.”

He laughed and picked up the cup. “I just wish you wouldn’t sneak up on me like that,” he said, feeling his annoyance slip away like morning mist in the bright sunlight.  He glanced at her over the rim of the cup. “You look particularly pretty today. Hot lunch date?”

She patted her hair as was her custom upon receiving a compliment. “Don’t change the subject, Dear. Who would I love?” she asked, as she straightened his already immaculate desk.

He slowly shook his head, astonished. Ella really did think of him as one of her many children. It amused as much as touched him.  Nonetheless, he didn’t want to discuss Violet with anyone, least of all this formidable gossip.

“Do we have any appointments scheduled for this afternoon?” he asked casually.

“Again with the subject change, I see.” Ella gave him a stern look so reminiscent of his own mother he almost quailed. “No, not a one.”

“Then I need not be here,” Victor said, finishing his drink. “Maybe I can drag Freddy away from his desk long enough for a racket ball match.”

“What? No, hot lunch date?” she asked pointedly.

“You know I’m not dating, Ella,” he replied.

“Not what I hear,” she retorted.

He looked at her raising an elegant eyebrow in question. “Oh?” he quietly said.

“Yes. Rumor has it you’re frequently seen about town with a pretty little widow, the widow no less, of Catalpa Valley’s favorite hero, the one who’s getting a statue erected in his honor.”

“No statue. It’s going to be a gazebo now with a small garden around it,” he replied.

“More changing subjects,” she persisted, looking unusually anxious. "And what of you and the little widow?"

“You shouldn't believe all you hear, Ella,” he said carelessly. He put the cup down and closed over his laptop.

“Are you denying you went to the Cambry wedding with this woman?”

Victor gaped completely speechless. Was her connection to Catalpa Valley’s grapevine that good?

As if hearing this question, Ella waved a dismissive hand. “Yes, I know about Wally coming back home on leave from the Army, finding out he’s a father and getting married all on a four day pass. Everyone does,” Ella said. “And no, I didn’t have to see the pictures on your desk. I’m distantly related to the Cambrys…almost everyone in Catalpa Valley is one way or another. I would have been there, too, but my granddaughter had a birthday party. They’re the oldest family here, the Cambrys…apart from the Kramers, of course.”

When Victor said nothing, she continued. “I only have one question.”

“Really? Only one?” he sarcastically muttered.

“Yes. Are you Karen Struthers’ long lost father?”

“Excuse me?” Victor said, completely taken aback.

“That’s what they’re saying. You paid for the entire wedding, you gave her away, you…”

“And you think me so vile as to do that?” he said angrily, springing to his feet. “You actually think I would ignore my own child for seventeen years and only claim her when I could marry her off?”

“Of course not,” she replied calmly, a small, triumphant smile on her face. “And that’s what I told all those busy-bodies at the hairdressers yesterday. My Victor would not do such a thing.”

“Her Victor?” Heidi shouted jealously.

“If you knew then why…”

“Of course I know! Don't you think I know you by now?” Ella interrupted.  “So, tell me about this young Bennett widow. How long have you been seeing her?”

“Ella, Violet and I are….”

“That’s her name? I heard it was Virginia or Valerie,” she said, her brow creased in concentration or consternation. “Perhaps I better get my hearing checked.”

“We’re just friends, Ella, so don’t go spreading any rumors saying differently. Violet is very…”

“Well, I’m glad to hear it,” Ella said, the relief showing on her face.

 Victor frowned. “Oh? Why is that?” he said with some trepidation.

She waved a dismissive hand again and headed for the door. “If you’re just friends it hardly matters.”

“Ella, tell me!” he said, more forcefully than he had intended.
She turned back in surprise, her eyebrows hiding under the silver hair artfully hanging over her forehead.

Victor calmly sat back down onto his chair. “Ella, she’s Freddy Norton’s sister and he’s become a very good friend to me. He asked me to… to watch out for her,” he said. “If there is something going on with her, I should know about it. Tell me what you’re so concerned about.”

“Well, I’m not concerned about it at all, not now that I know she hasn’t a chance at breaking your heart. I feared she was stringing you along with all the others,” she said.

“Others?” he said, surprised.

“There’s supposedly ten or so men who have been chasing after her ever since her husband died.”

“Ten men?” he scoffed. “Your grapevine is way off there, Ella. She’s not dating anyone, especially not ten at once.”

 “Again, not what I hear. Of course…” She paused putting her hand to her chin and frowning slightly.

“What?” he asked, anxiously leaning forward with his fists balled up on the desk.

"There were nasty rumors going around about someone named Violet, now that I think of it. It may have been this widow, but that was..oh, twenty or so years back."

"What about?" he asked.

“Really nasty stuff and it may be where these new rumors stem from."

"And these new rumors say what exactly?" he said, now furious.

"Well, I overheard at a fund raiser the other day, this man… I’m trying to remember his name. Ned Bartutti or something.”

“Ed Ballucci?” Victor said, dread creeping down his spine. “He was Richard’s best friend. Violet told me about him. They’ve known each other since childhood.”

“Must be him. Well, I heard him say he’ll be doing some work at the widow’s house.”

"Work? What kind of work?" he said, completely taken aback.

"Well, how am I to know that?" Ella asked, hands on hips. "I'm assuming the regular stuff handymen take care of for widows, leaky faucets, loose doors, light switches... whatever goes wrong in a house."

"Ed Ballucci is a handyman?" he asked, utterly panicked now.

"Apparently," Ella retorted, giving him a stern look. "As he's the one saying he's going to do some work at her house."

Victor could have kicked himself. He was the one who had insisted Violet get someone to take care of those petty little things which were in need of attention at her house. When she never did, he went to Freddy who had arranged things with a supposedly trustworthy fellow. Unfortunately, Freddy hired the very man Victor wanted furthest away from Violet, her old childhood friend, Ed Ballucci.


 "But who's to say this is about Violet? It could be anyone,"   Heidi whispered to him and relief flooded him.

“Ella, she’s not the only widow in town, surely,” Victor said, relaxing.

“Only one who is younger than me,” she retorted.

“Yes, but…”

“The only one everyone calls the hero’s pretty little widow,” she said pointedly.

“Oh,” Victor said.

"Precisely," Ella said triumphantly. "The handyman was talking to another man about her. I didn't hear his name though. He told him they would be perfect together."

"Ed said he would be perfect for Violet?" Victor asked frowning.

"You're not listening, Dear. The handyman was acting the matchmaker. He told this other man he had to ask her out on a date before someone else does it first. He mentioned a third man, John Yearly. He said that John would surely get to her first if he didn’t get going and I must agree,” Ella said.

“Why do you say that? You know this Yearly man?” Victor asked.

Ella visibly brightened, much like a kid given an extra scoop of ice cream--or in this case, gossip. “I do indeed! He’s newly divorced and is always chatting her up at church. Even before her husband died he had his eye on her and that was long before he got the divorce. Some say she may have been the reason for his marriage breakup. See what I mean about her getting around? The old rumors...”

“Nonsense! She’s not like that at all, Ella!  She’s eternally faithful to her husband and would never think of another man. Especially while he lived and yes, even now that he’s dead she's faithful to him. It’s not her fault if men get ideas in their heads,” Victor said angrily. “Who was the other man? What’s his name?”

“I don't know I told you,” she said a slight crease between her eyebrows. “He’s a very nice looking man, good humored and…oh, yes, he’s widowed too. His kids are at the daycare center where she works. That was the connection. Anise is the little girl and the boy… Cody I think. Darling children,” she said, smiling as only a doting grandmother would.

Victor sat up straighter. He knew Anise and Cody. He'd played with them at Mio Caro and Violet had said their mother died a short time after Richard had, last summer.

“What did they say?” he asked stiffly.

“Well, the one guy…the handyman…” she said. “He said he was going to be doing some sort of repair at the fireman’s house and he said he’d put a good word in for the widowed man. He thought they would be good together because she likes children so much.”

Victor sat with a clenched jaw. “But this is all hearsay. Surely…” he said, his throat feeling dry now.

“Victor, I heard it all from the horse’s mouth. There was no middle man relaying the story to me,” Ella said. “They stood no further than you are to me right now. I heard it all myself. The handyman pretty much said it was a done deal, that the lady would love him… the widowed man, that is… if not now then soon, because she already loved the kids and she’s the kind of woman that needs to be married and cared for and to be needed. The man was thrilled to hear this and then suddenly he looked very confident. He said he’d ask her out to dinner the next time he saw her, probably when he picked up his kids. The handyman, however, told him to hold off until he saw her and chatted him up a bit to her.”

Victor felt as though his heart had been plunged into ice water. So, Ed Ballucci was indeed a threat to his happiness, only not in the way he had imagined.

"Victor, Dear, are you all right?" Ella asked, a concerned crease between her brows.

"Yes, of course," he said, hardly knowing what he answered. "And this handyman, did he say when he would be doing the work?"

"Well, I heard all this last week and he did say first thing next week, so, I'm assuming today most likely. Victor, where are you going?"

He had jumped up and grabbed his overcoat. He turned to look at her and said the first thing he could think of. "Racket ball. It's a good day for it, don't you think?" He left before she could answer.

"Well, I never! For a man who claims to detest gossip, he sure got into it. Hmm, he'll be back," she muttered to herself as she glanced to the corner of the office where stood his custom made racket beside his gym bag.

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