“Oh, my God,” Violet mumbled, a pack of seeds in one hand and a trowel in the other.
“My, he does look rather God-like, doesn’t he?” Flora Trenton said as they both watched Victor approach and start talking with Walter Bettencort. He was dressed most unlike his usual manner. He wore snug jeans and a cambric shirt. There was no telling the difference between him and the Marlboro man, except his lack of a cigarette, a horse and a cowboy hat.
“Do you know that man with the director?” Flora asked. “What do you suppose he’s doing here? You think he’s a model on a photo shoot?”
“Yes, I know him,” Violet said, her heart giving a decided leap which she tried and failed to ignore. “He’s Victor Romanoff and I’m guessing he’s here to play with the kids just like he does at Mio Caro. What am I going to do with that man?”
“Well, if I were single, I know what I’d do with him,” Flora remarked.
“Flora!” Violet said, stunned.
Flora laughed. “I’m married, not dead, Violet!” she said, a devilish grin on her face. “He’s a…what does Claire say? Ah, yes, stud-muffin, I believe is her term for a gorgeous man you’d want to…get to know.”
Violet blushed scarlet and turned away. It didn’t matter if Victor wore a parka. She would know what lies under those clothes and the mere thought of it made her quiver. She gathered up the seed packs and pretended to sort through them, giving herself a mental shake down, but it was no use. She simply didn’t think she was ready to face Victor, not after several nights filled with dreams of….waterfalls. She’d made excuse after excuse to keep him away for as long as she could and look at him now, strolling in looking better than anybody has a right to.
“You can’t avoid him forever, you know,” Heidi told her.
“I can try,” she muttered angrily.
“I’m sorry, did you say something?” Flora said.
“Uh, just, that I’ll be fine here with the kids. You go on do your errands and I’ll call if there’s a problem, but there won’t be. The kids know me by now,” Violet said just as several of them gathered around Flora for quick good-bye hugs and kisses.
“You all be good for Miss Violet, you hear?” Flora said, dropping the last kiss on Julian’s cheek.
“We will!” they chorused and off they went.
“I’ll be back after my meeting at the hospital,” Flora said as she waved to the kids. In a subdued voice she added, “Seems there was another baby anonymously dropped off early this morning.”
“Oh, Flora! The baby okay?” Violet asked, anxiously.
“By all accounts, yes. My job is to find the proper parents for him. I have a list a mile long, so no problem there. He won’t be with us for long. Wish I could say the same for this bunch,” she said sadly, looking over at her lot.
“They’re all so darling. Why can’t they get adopted?” Violet asked.
“They have siblings and we don’t like to separate them. That makes it drastically more difficult for us to find the proper family willing to take them all in. Few couples will take two kids, but three and four like the Menendez and the Silber kids? I fear they will be with us until they’re all grown up,” Flora said.
Then she smiled and placed a hand on Violet’s cheek. “You are a doll for caring so much. They already love this outing. Many of them have every Wednesday marked on their calendars as Violet’s Garden day. Isn’t that cute? See ya soon!”
Violet watched her go with a sad heart. If only there was something she could do for these kids.
“Violet, how are you today?” Walter boomed, startling her so much she dropped her trowel.
“Quite well, thank you, Mr. Bettencort,” she replied forcing a smile, as she scooped the garden tool back up.
“You must call me Walter,” he said. “Especially now. I’ve brought a gift for you.”
“A gift?” she said, looking at his empty hands.
“Yes, a helper,” Walter said beaming at her and throwing an arm out to beckon Victor forward.
“Hello, Violet,” Victor said.
“May I assume you knew of this?” Walter said.
“No, as always, Victor surprised me... yet again,” Violet said.
“Well, surprises, in my experience, are good. I leave it to you, Violet, to whip this man into shape. He tells me he adores kids which is great but that he doesn’t know a tulip from a hydrangea. We mustn’t have that at Weston!” he said punching Victor playfully on the arm. He then strolled off laughing at his own joke and patting a few kids on the head as he went.
“I’d ask what you’re doing here, but it seems where there are kids, there is Victor,” Violet said in a snippy sort of voice.
“See? You are smarter than you look,” Victor replied. “What are my orders, Ma’am? Today I do your bidding.”
Her bidding. She pondered that for a second and felt herself grow warm under his intense gaze.
“Are you all right?” he asked softly. “I’ve barely seen you for two weeks. Did I do something to upset you?”
“We have to turn the soil in the plot. Could you get the older kids to the shed to fetch the shovels and rakes? I’ll set simple tasks for the little ones,” she said briskly.
Victor smiled. “Yes, Ma’am,” he said and clapped his hand. “Come on over here, gang!”
“Victor, what are you doing?” Violet asked as the group of mismatched children crowded around.
“I want to get to know them before we do anything,” he replied. He then smiled at the group before him. “Hello everybody. My name is Victor Romanoff and I’m Miss Violet’s assistant. She just told me we have loads to do today, but what we have to do first, is get to know each other. So, each in turn give me your name and something special you’d like us to know about you."
He pointed to a tall girl toward the back. “You go first,” he said.
“I’m Claire Havik and I’m fifteen and…um… I like horses,” she said, giggling.
“Hello, Claire. Horses, huh? Remember that, Violet. That may come in handy,” Victor said as he tuned to the boy next to Claire.
“I’m Joaquin Menendez, I’m fifteen, I have three sisters, and I like horses, too,” he said grinning.
“Two for horses. Anybody not like horses?” Victor asked, looking around.
“I like puppies better,” a little blond boy piped in.
“Oh, yeah?” Victor said. “Puppies are nice. What’s your name, buddy?”
“No, not Buddy. I’m Peter,” he said, his blue eyes wide and as innocent as morning dew. “And I’m four years old.”
“That’s great, Peter,” Victor said.
Violet watched in stunned silence as Victor went through the entire bunch of kids, all fourteen of them, and made them instant friends. He learned their names, ages, who were siblings, who were friends and some even confessed their deepest desires.
“Okay, Joaquin, Claire, Lucia and Janey, you come with me,” Victor said leading the way to the shed. Each grabbed a shovel, spade or rake and went to work. A small hand tugging on Victor’s arm made him stop.
"What's up, Kelly?" he asked.
“Victor, I don’t like vegetables. Can’t we grow flowers instead?” Kelly asked, in a hushed voice, obviously hoping Violet wouldn't hear.
“But Kelly,” Victor said, going down on his knees so they were face to face. “Don’t you know that veggies taste so much better when you grow them yourself?”
“Are you sure?” she said making a funny face.
“You should taste them when Miss Violet makes them. So yummy!” he said, rubbing his stomach for good measure.
Kelly stared at him with huge brown eyes. “Miss Violet cooks for you?”
“Sometimes and if we’re really nice to her and help her make this the best garden ever, she may cook yummy vegetables for all of you, the ones you help to grow,” he said, conspiratorially.
“I still like flowers better,” she whispered.
He laughed. “Then we’ll see if we can grow some that we can eat,” he told her.
“You can’t eat flowers!” Jeff interjected, coming up behind Kelly.
“There are some you can eat. I just don’t know what they’re called,” Victor said.
“I’m axing Miss Violet,” Jeff said, sprinting toward her.
“Yeah, she’ll know!” Kelly shouted, running after him.
“Oh, yes, many flowers can be eaten,” Violet answered. “Nasturtiums, Pansies, Violets, borage, chive blossoms, Chamomile, Daylilies and the flowers that grow on pumpkin vines are delicious and don’t forget sunflower seeds!”
“Ooh, can I plant some of those?” Kelly pleaded.
Violet handed her a seed packet showing a large bright yellow sunflower and took her to the garden plot. “This is your section of the garden. Plant your sunflowers here after the others get the soil prepared. You will be caring for your plants all summer.”
Kelly beamed up at her. “Thanks, Miss Violet. I’ll take real good care of them. I promise,” she said.
“I know you will, Honey,” Violet said.
Violet gathered the younger kids and started them filling small pots with soil, all the while surreptitiously watching Victor. She marveled how well he got along with all of the kids, male and female, the young ones and the teenagers, too.
Some of the kids already seemed enthralled by him, Peter especially. She had to call him back to task several times. He kept wandering off to talk to Victor. After the third time she let him go, but she continued to watch for any sign that he might be bothering Victor. This never happened. Instead Victor got down on his knees and had Peter help rake the soil smooth. They talked and laughed as if they’d known each other forever. Little Peter beamed and at one point Victor gave the tiny boy a big bear hug and kissed the top of his blond hair.
A lump formed in Violet's throat as she watched. At that moment her eyes met Victor's. They stared at each other for a long moment. Something--she didn’t quite know what-- passed between them and then he smiled and her heart did a tumble.
The oddest desire popped into her head, one she quashed straight away, lest it take hold and grow like the seeds she was planting.