“You stay here and I’ll be right back.”
Victor ran to the truck and was back with a thick multicolored blanket, a large wicker picnic basket and a bottle of strawberry wine. It was deja vu all over again, Violet thought, a shaky feeling coming over her.
Victor spread out the blanket, fixing the corners down just right and he placed the basket and the chilled bottle of wine in the center. Then he knelt down and extended his hand to her, a smile on his handsome face. Violet saw Victor do it all, and yet this image merged so well with the one in her mind’s eye, the one of Richard doing the same.
A mess of contradictions flooded her brain. This felt familiar and yet foreign, good and yet bad, it made all the sense in the world and yet was confusing as anything. Tears stung her eyes. She looked up at the sky blinking furiously.
“Violet, you okay?” Victor asked, anxiously.
She took a deep breath and smiled. “Yes, it’s such a lovely day. So...what’s for lunch?” she said, forgoing his proffered hand, sitting down and opening up the basket.
“Let’s see,” he said, peeking in. He pulled several containers out of the basket and a couple of sandwich wraps. “This looks promising.”
He opened one small container and frowned. “Gravy?”
Violet dipped a fingertip in, tasted it and shook her head. “Chocolate, very yummy chocolate, too,” she said.
“What do you suppose it’s for? Cake?” Victor asked, looking for evidence of this.
She shrugged. “It’s not dessert time anyway. Have a wrap. Turkey or roast beast?”
“What’s so funny?”
“Well, you sound like the Grinch,” he said, unwrapping one and taking a bite. “Love roast beast.”
She giggled. “Sorry, that’s what Sophie called roast beef when she was little. Guess I’m flashing back in time.”
“Of course you are. I would too if my best memories were all here. I can see why you like Somerset Hill so much,” he said, as he watched her open up the containers to see what each held.
“You haven’t even seen the best of it. This place is huge. Ooh, potato salad. That ought to be good. There’s hiking trails and waterfalls, blueberries bushes everywhere plus raspberries. Ooh, pasta salad. I’m having some of that. Hmm, I don’t like black olives, though. Do you?”
“I could do without them, but I don’t mind them either,” he said, shrugging.
“Well, after we fill our tummies I can show you this place. We should come back when the blueberries are ready to pick and…Victor, you have got to be kidding!” she said suddenly holding out a container full of strawberries. They both laughed.
“Well, now we know what the chocolate is for. They’re not as good as yours,” he said after he popped one into his mouth, shaking his head in disgust. “Kind of tasteless.”
She took a berry and bit into one. “Home grown is best. Oh, yeah, definitely needs chocolate.”
“My mother loved chocolate-covered strawberries,” Victor said, looking out to the lake in the distance. “She would have loved this place. Perfect spot for a house. Exactly the kind of view I’d want from my bedroom window.”
Violet gaped at him, her fork half way to her mouth. How often had she heard Richard say the exact same thing?
“It’s too bad you didn’t know about this place a few years back when Mr. Kramer had this land up for sale. Of course, I heard he wanted an insane amount of money,” Violet said. “I always dreamed of having a house here.”
Victor gaped at her. “Did you really?” he said, incredulous.
“I know. Silly, but unreachable dreams are like that.”
“No, Violet. Not silly at all,” he said, contemplating this new development.
They enjoyed their little picnic eating until their bellies protested. “You have redeemed yourself, Victor,” she said, a contented smile on her lips.
“Have I? how?”
“Bringing me here, this lovely picnic. My peace has been restored and I have you to thank for it.”
“Anything for my very own Julie Andrews. I never had anyone sing just for me, except for Mama, of course,” he replied happily.
“It wasn’t just for you,” she countered, throwing her head back. “I sing for the trees!”
He laughed. “So that’s why they look so happy.”
She looked up at the sky and frowned. “Not a cloud in the sky today,” she said wistfully.
“You sound disappointed,” he said. He watched her lay back on the blanket and squinted at the bright blue expanse.
“Sophie and I used to lay back and watch the clouds. She used to see the most absurd things in them. Like elephants eating ice pops and roller-skating leprechauns. She had some imagination.”
“That is so cute,” he said. “What about Kenny?”
She made a face. “He was just like Richard. Imaginations stuck in concrete. They always made fun of us. “Hey, Dad, look over there, it’s a cotton ball on top of snow.” “Kenny, look, it’s the inside of my pillow”, “My teddy bear just puked, Dad.” They were horrible,” she grumbled.
Victor laughed. “Pretty funny, though, you must admit,” he said grinning down at her.
“I don’t have to admit any such thing!” she stated adamantly.
“I was planning on a little horse backing riding with our angel kids. I wanted to ask you if you thought it would be okay, even for the little ones. I could get ponies for them. I think we ought to come here. I think they’d love Somerset Hill.”
“Oh, I’m sure they would, Victor. Do you ride?” she asked. “Oh, what am I talking about? You’re a city slicker. You probably don’t know the difference between a horse and an ostrich.”
“You think so, huh?” he said and he dropped onto his stomach next to her. “I’ll have you know I took my boys to a real dude ranch out west. For a whole month we were cowboys. We had loads of fun and not one of us fell off the ostrich.”
She burst out laughing and playfully pushed him away just as a shadow fell across them.
“You folks know you’re trespassing?” The growl startled them.
They scrambled up to sitting. “Mr. Kramer? I’m Victor Romanoff. We spoke on the phone this morning,” he said getting up and offering his hand. It soon became apparent the old man wouldn’t take it and he withdrew it. “This is Violet. We came to look over Somerset Hill and we stopped for a picnic. Hope you don’t mind.”
“Would you like to join us, Mr. Kramer? You probably don’t remember me. I was your niece Dana’s best friend through school,” Violet said.
Recognition entered the old man’s eyes softening them instantly. “You’re that little Violet girl,” he said, staring transfixed. “You’ve grown up some. Not too much but some.”
She giggled. “Come sit with us. That must have been a long walk for you,” she said, filling a plastic cup with wine and handing it to him. He took the cup, his eyes still fixed on Violet, as if she were a ghost.
“This is nice,” he said. “I guess I can sit for a while.” He sat down awkwardly and stretched out his stiff legs. Violet offered him food and after a few minutes he was eating like he hadn’t eaten for weeks.
“Violet can work wonders, can’t she?” Richard said, smirking.
Victor had to agree. He watched in astonishment as Violet turned the surly man into a pussycat just by talking over old times.
“I was just telling Victor how we used to ride horses here when I was a kid and then my own kids did. Such fun times on Somerset Hill,” she said. “Mr.Kramer would it be all right if we bring a group of children here for blueberry picking or a picnic during the summer?”
“How many kids you got, Missy?” he asked.
She laughed and shook her head. “No, they’re not my kids. They’re orphans and we’ve taken to bringing them out a bit. We haven’t done much yet.” She looked to Victor who smiled at her.
“Just one wonderful bike ride. They’re still talking about it,” Victor interjected.
A funny expression came over Morris Kramer’s face. “Orphans you say?” he asked, with obvious interest.
“Yes, the Littlest Angels. It’s a wonderful organization,” Violet said, casting a furtive glance at Victor. “I hear some mystery benefactor started it with a huge trust fund or something. It’s so nice that people with more than enough money for themselves can do great things like that.”
Morris Kramer gave her a sharp look, but it quickly softened. “Well, I’m the last one, the last of the Kramers. Ain’t got one stinking relation left. The good name of Kramer dying with a cranky old fool like me. Shouldn’t happen to a dog,” he grumbled. “I should look into this…what did you call it? Little Angels?”
“Yes, the Littlest Angel Orphanage,” she said, smiling brightly.
“Well, someone has to get my money when I die. May as well be some nice little kids instead of those thieves in congress, huh?” Morris Kramer said.
Victor chuckled. “Yes, I’m sure our angels would be very grateful, unlike congress,” Victor said, taking Violet’s hand and giving it a squeeze.
Morris suddenly cast his eyes on Victor, as if he’d forgotten he was there. “So, what you thinking, son? Want this place?”
“Yes, sir, I do,” he said staring at Violet who stared back wide-eyed and obviously confused.
“Well, there’s a problem I forgot to mention and that might make you want to forget the whole thing.”
“I doubt that, Sir,” Victor replied. “Somerset Hill is special, in more ways than one. It must be preserved. And I’m the one to do it, if allowed.”
“I’m not long for this world, but what I have left, I’d like to live out here in my home which is, of course, still part of the property,” Morris said carefully.
“Say no more, Mr. Kramer. You can stay as long as you want. I’ll keep it exactly as it is and that means with you staying quite snug in your home,” Victor assured.
“Thought you said you’d build a house for your retirement,” he said suspiciously.
“There are too many memories here. I don’t want to ruin them all by building a house but I’d like to do some fishing here and the occasional picnic and maybe some horseback riding,” Victor looked to Violet who still look baffled.
“But Victor, this is the perfect spot for a house. You’d love it here. I know you would,” she said earnestly.
“Wait a minute. Weren’t you married to that firefighter? The one who died a while back,” Morris suddenly said, pointing a gnarled finger at Violet. “He came by a dozen times asking me to sell him this meadow, just the meadow.”
“My Richard…he did?” Violet asked, stunned. “I never knew that.”
“Yes,” Morris said, his expression softening. “He said he wanted it for his wife who had her heart set on living here.”
Her eyes misted over. “Oh, my,” she whispered.
Victor put his arm around her. “See? Richard is still here, watching over you. I’m certain he’d want me to buy this for you. I’m positive,” he said, kissing the top of her head.
“I’m sorry, Missy,” Morris said. “Sorry I never sold it to him, but your new man here, he’ll make sure you get it at last. I think we got us a deal, son.” Morris Kramer then held out his hand and Victor shook it.
“Thank you, Sir,” Victor said, beaming. “We’ll take good care of it for you.”
“See that you do,” Morris said as he struggled to his feet, Victor giving him a hand up. “Damn knee. Shouldn’t have let those butchers touch it. You got my number, Sonny. Give me a call and we’ll fix it up. Thanks for lunch. It was nice. Hope to see you out here often.”
“Goodbye, Mr. Kramer,” Violet said, giving the man a hug.
“You’re a sweet girl,” he said, giving her a rare smile and he lumbered away with a decidedly happier aspect than he had when he first showed up.
They watched him go and when he was out of view, swallowed up by the trees, Victor smiled.
“Welcome home, sweet Violet, to Somerset Hill.”
She giggled and threw her arms around him.