Violet snatched her eyes away from Victor just in time to see two and a half year old Carmencita putting the plastic trowel to her mouth.
She gasped and pulled it away saying, “No, Carmencita. That’s yucky.”
Her sister, Maria, who was busy filling pots with soil, laughed. “She don’t understand you. She only knows Spanish,” she said.
“Oh, well, then, um…no hagas eso. Es malo,” Violet said, wrinkling her nose at the baby and shaking her head to show displeasure. The baby smiled and put the trowel down.
“Only very little. You can teach me so she understands me, okay?” Violet said. “Mira, Carmencita, asi.” Violet showed her how to use the trowel hand over hand and helped her fill the little peat pots with soil.
“You’re in your element here,” Victor said, his deep voice making her jump. “Sorry, to startle you. The kids are just finishing up. The plot looks good, but we need your seal of approval and we await further instructions.”
Violet looked up to see him carrying Peter. “I see you’ve made a friend,” she said.
"Indeed I have." Victor grinned, kissed Peter on the cheek and he sat down across from her with the boy on his lap. “Maybe you can plant something here with the others, Peter. What do you say?”
“Will you help me?” Peter said, his big blue eyes pleading.
“Well, I think Miss Violet wants me to help the others,” Victor said, giving Violet a questioning look, almost asking permission.
She suppressed a giggle and stood up. “I think you and I can switch places for a while, if you think you can handle this bunch.”
“That would be great,” Victor replied. “So, we’re just filling pots?”
“And planting seeds. Three or four in each pot. The kids know and will show you,” she said starting to walk away with Carmencita still in her arms.
“Where are you taking the baby? I thought I could have a turn with her,” Victor said, reaching up for her.
Unlike all other babies, Carmencita clung to Violet and merely looked at Victor as if he was an alien being.
“She only likes girls. She don’t even like Joaquin too much and he’s her brother,” Maria said, shrugging.
Victor looked so crestfallen, Violet patted him on the shoulder. “She may just need to get used to you, Victor. For now you have Peter who seems to like you plenty,” she said.
“Yeah, I do!” Peter said.
“It’ll have to do I guess,” Victor grumbled and Violet walked away giggling.
He looked around the long trestle table and watched the kids diligently filling in pots and placing seeds in them, then covering them up with a bit more soil. “Miss Violet has taught you well, I see,” he said, impressed.
“It’s super easy. Momma used to let me help her with the flowers and Papi used to have Joaquin help in the ortalisa. That’s Spanish for vegetable garden. They said working with plants is in our blood,” Maria said, as she carefully sprinkled marigold seeds into a pot, pressed them slightly down, then dusted a little soil on top. “Julian, do you have any more water? These hafta be watered, but not too much!” Maria told him.
“Gotta get more. Be right back!” Julian said, running off with the huge watering can.
“Julian’s my brudder,” Peter said.
“Yes, I thought so. He looks very much like you,” Victor said.
“Georgie’s my sister, too,” Peter added, pointing to the small and skinny girl just opposite and down a few seats from them.
Victor laughed. “You don’t call her Georgiana?”
“Uh-uh, only Mommy does, but she’s in heaven now,” Peter replied.
“She could be in hell, too, you know. My mom is, my grandma said so,” Jeff snapped, in a loud bitter voice, which carried all the way down the long work bench.
“Don’t say that, Jeff, please,” Timmy, his brother, said, his head down.
Victor’s smile faded. He watched Timmy surreptitiously wiping a tear and realized with an uncomfortable jolt that all these kids must have a similar story. Someone they loved, who had presumably cared for them—some better than others it seemed-- were no longer around to do so. It left a dull ache in his mid-section.
“Uh-uh, Mommy was sad. Ya don’t go to hell cuz you’re sad,” Peter said defensively.
“Why was your mommy sad?” Billy asked, grimacing as he tipped too many seeds into his pot. “Oh, no!”
“I’ll help you, Billy,” Maria said, and she picked a few seeds out and placed them into another pot. “See? All fixed.”
“Thanks,” Billy said, smiling at her.
“Mommy was sad cuz my daddy left,” Peter said, “I don’t ‘member him.”
“You were too little,” Georgiana interjected.
“You don’t die just cuz you’re sad,” Jeff said, rolling his eyes. “That’s stupid.”
“You can if you take too many pills,” Georgiana replied in a tiny voice.
Victor jumped in before Jeff could retort. “Jeff, can you help Julian with the watering can? I think it’s too heavy for him,” Victor said.
“Oh…okay,” he said and he sprinted off.
“My brother wasn’t always mean,” Timmy whispered, looking up at Victor, with eyes so sad, they could break your heart. “He’s just mad cuz…cuz…our aunt Paula couldn’t keep us. Her boyfriend... he didn't like us and…our last foster family wasn’t nice to Jeff.”
“I’m so sorry, Timmy,” Victor said, feeling totally useless.
“Mr. and Mrs. Trent are real nice though. He should be happy now,” Sally piped in.
“He probably wants a real family,” Kelly said.
“We’re almost a real family,” Sally said.
“Almost doesn’t count,” Georgiana muttered, just as Julian and Jeff arrived with the watering can between them.
“Jeff, you have to be very careful. Not too much or the seeds will drown,” Maria said, as he started tipping the water onto the little pots.
“Yeah, yeah, stop being so bossy! I think I know how to water dirt,” Jeff snapped.
“It’s not dirt. It’s soil. Miss Violet says so,” Maria retorted.
“Miss Violet says so,” Jeff mimicked in a high-pitched voice.
“Come on, guys. Let’s be nice to each other,” Victor said. “If you are nice to others they will be nice to you.”
Jeff scoffed. “Yeah, right. And unicorns jump over the rainbow and trample all the fairies in never-neverland,” he snidely replied.
“Actually, fairies ride the unicorns over the rainbow and then trample the mean old trolls and the occasional little boy with a bad attitude,” Victor replied, with a smirk.
The kids burst out laughing and even Jeff grinned sheepishly.
“Come here, Jeff,” Victor said beckoning him forward.
Jeff stopped smiling and stepped back away from him. “You can’t hit me. Miss Violet won’t let you!”
Victor gaped at him, shocked to the core. “I would never do that. Who hurt you, Jeff?” he asked quietly.
“Nobody,” he said and he turned and ran to Violet and the others.
Victor watched him go and had half risen to follow him.
“Aunt Paula had a mean boyfriend. He …he was big like you,” Timmy said, giving Victor an apologetic look. “Don’t be mad at him.”
Victor forced a smile. “No one’s mad, Timmy and no one will ever hurt any of you ever again…not as long as I’m around,” he said.
“He can’t promise that to these kids,” Richard said. “He doesn’t know where they’ll end up.”
“No, he shouldn’t,” Heidi agreed, frowning slightly.
“What the hell is he thinking?” Richard said.
“I’d like to know that myself,” Heidi said.
“So, how are we doing?” Violet asked, looking at all the tiny, sopping wet pots.
“Jeff is not a very careful gardener,” Maria whined. "He made half the seeds float outta da pots!"
“Well, it's fine. Some of us are better at other things, Maria. Grab your pots and let's place them inside the cold frame, okay?” Violet said, setting Carmencita down on the grass. The baby promptly started crying.
“Oh, honey, what’s wrong? I mean…que pasa?” Violet said picking her up again. The crying stopped immediately.
“My sister likes to be held. She’s a bit whiney whenever you put her down, Ms. Violet. I’ll take her so you can help the kids,” Lucia said, taking the baby.
“Thank you, Lucia. You’re such a huge help,” Violet said, cheerfully.
“Violet, would it be all right if I have a little chat with Timmy and Jeff?” Victor said.
Violet’s eyes widened. “Is there a problem?” she asked looking at both boys who looked as perplexed as she did.
“Not at all. Just wanted to clear something up if we could,” Victor said, forcing a smile.
“I didn’t do nothing!” Jeff shouted.
“Of course not,” Victor replied calmly. “I just want a little time to talk with you and your brother, if that’s okay.”
Timmy tugged on his older brother’s arm. “It’s okay, Jeff. Mr. Victor’s really nice. He’s not gonna hurt us,” he half whispered, half pleaded.
Victor held out his hand to both boys, but only Timmy took it. They walked away from the others hoping Jeff would follow.
Violet placed her hand on Jeff’s shoulder and smiled when he looked up at her. “He really is a nice man. Victor’s my good friend and I know he loves kids of all ages,” she said. “Timmy likes him. Maybe you will too. You won’t know for sure until you talk to him. Go on. I’m right here if you need me.”
Jeff hesitated, then set forth dragging his feet all the way. Violet watched him sit by Timmy, glancing at Victor suspiciously. She couldn’t imagine what Victor might be telling both boys. She knew Jeff had a bit of an attitude problem, but not Timmy. She supposed he’d tell her later. She turned away and smiled. She wouldn’t be at all surprised if Victor actually “fixed” Jeff’s attitude problem.