Violet suddenly gasped. “Victor, do you think, Mr. Kramer thinks we’re…married?” she asked anxiously.
“Why would you say that?” Victor said.
“Because he said, “your new man will finally buy Somerset Hill for you”. To me that says he thinks we’re married,” she said.
“No… you think?” Victor said skeptically. “Even if he does, is that a problem?”
“Cripes, man, are you trying to get her goat?” Richard moaned.
“Of course it is! If he thinks…It’s not even been a year since Richard…It’s just not right!” she shrieked.
“He certainly seemed happy to know Somerset Hill was for you.”
“But it’s not! He might be selling it to you only because he assumes we’re married and that your house will be for me. You have to tell him the truth,” she said earnestly.
He shrugged as if this were a castaway thought. “I could build a house here for you. This is your favorite spot in the world. Richard wanted it for you, remember?”
Her mouth fell open. “I can’t let you build me a house here,” she said.
“But I could, just the same, and you’d have no choice but to live in it. It would have your name on it and everything,” he said sitting back down on the blanket and grabbing a cup to fill with wine.
Richard hit his ghostly forehead with his hand. “What the hell are you doing?”
“You’re forgetting, Victor. We’re not married, are we?” Violet said, slowly and distinctly.
Victor laughed. “Easily rectified,” he said.
“You’re killing me here!” Richard shouted as he yanked fists full of hair out of his ghostly head.
“Victor, stop talking nonsense!” she said. “I’m married to Richard, now and forever.”
“It’s til death do us part you know,” he murmured into the plastic cup.
“What…what are you saying?” she squeaked in the tiniest voice.
“You keep this up and Violet’ll run off like a scared rabbit and good luck finding her again when she does,” Richard snapped. “Just look at her face!”
Victor watched the stunned and frightened expression on her face and knew he had gone too far, just like his inner voice just told him. Damn him and his impatience! How stupid of him to think he could take shortcuts with Violet.
“Violet, you know I’m just teasing you, don’t you?” he said, smiling. “I’m not asking you to marry me. I know you love Richard…and only Richard. I was only trying to make you laugh. I’m sorry if…”
He saw the emotions flicker briefly over her expressive features and wondered. He saw relief. He expected that one, but he was a little confused with what he thought or perhaps imagined he saw. Could she possibly be disappointed and maybe a little sad?
Violet stared at him for a moment then quickly looked away. She imagined her thoughts were being read, exactly like the Dr. Suess book he had told her she was on that first day they met. He could see right through her like he could do with all his clients, be they guilty or innocent.
“He’s only in tune with your thoughts and feelings because he knows you so well, Dear,” Heidi whispered in her ear. “That’s nothing to worry about, really. He’s your friend, remember. One of the best friends you’ve ever had. He will never mean you harm. You know that, don’t you?”
She supposed she did, but still…she hated the feelings Victor evoked in her; treasonous, unfaithful, selfish thoughts which in turn made her feel horribly guilty. For a split second she imagined herself living on Somerset Hill in a lovely Tudor-style home on her favorite knoll overlooking Kramer Lake. She actually could picture herself staring out the window in one of the round turret rooms. But she hadn’t been alone in her daydream and it hadn’t been Richard wrapping his arms around her as they both admired the view and enjoyed their new life together.
How could she think of Victor like that when she could still feel Richard around her, still longed for him, still mourned for him?
“Violet, my love, it is perfectly natural what you’re feeling,” Heidi said. “It comes from being lonely. We… none of us were meant to live alone. It’s an instinctual need to find a partner in life, one we can’t hide from forever.”
“Violet, please don’t worry about it,” Victor said, intruding on her thoughts. “I’ll explain it all to Morris Kramer when we get together and finalize the sale, okay?” Victor said.
She nodded then frowned. “You are going to build your house here, right?”
He smiled and shook his head.
“Victor, you have to. You can’t buy this land just for fishing and picnics. That’s insane,” she said vehemently.
He chuckled. “Then call me nuts!”
He refilled her cup of wine and handed it to her. “Maybe we can come here with a couple of horses next week and have another picnic, just you and me. I think we could entice Morris Kramer to join us again. He seems rather lonely. He sure brightened up with you talking over good times.”
“Yes, he does, but don’t change the subject. You want a house here. There’s no better place for it than Somerset Hill. It won’t bother me,” she insisted.
“But it would bother me,” he said. He reached out and grabbed her hand. “Listen to me. I wouldn’t have a guilt free day for the rest of my life if I built my house on your beloved land, on top of all those memories. I simply couldn’t do it.”
“Oh, Victor, I shouldn’t have told you any of that,” Violet said, suddenly angry. “This would be the perfect spot for a … what type of house were you thinking of building?”
“Tudor, tell her Tudor. Just say Tudor!” Richard hissed in his ear.
“Don’t laugh,” Victor said, smiling and leaning back on one elbow as he stared off to the treetops with the lake glistening in the bright sun. “I’m not thinking rustic log cabin, nor a modern farmhouse and not even one of those sleek glass-fronted chalets.”
“A mini-mansion?” she suggested, the expression on her face clearly showing her disdain.
“Hell no! I’m living in one of those now. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but it has no character. You know what I mean?”
She nodded. “Oh, yes. So what are you thinking?” she asked, curiosity burning inside her.
“I know what I’m thinking doesn’t remotely fit the style of house usually seen in Catalpa Valley. It’ll probably stick out like a sore thumb, actually, but it would be my first choice.”
“What is it?” she asked her eyes wide.
“I once visited Rochester upstate and I saw the most phenomenal Tudor style homes all lined up on the historic main street in town,” he said, smiling at the memory. He and Catherine had just been dating for about a month then and while he loved them, she had hated them. She only liked modern things and he was old fashioned in taste. Although they were thoroughly, madly in love by then, that should have been their first clue of things to come.
“A few of them even had those round turret rooms just like you would see in castles, you know? They were beautiful, Violet! I wish you could have seen them. Oh, I could so easily see myself as Lord of the manor in a house like that,” he said. “Me, Lord of the Manor with a butler, stiff and proper, and a cute little Yorkshire-speaking chambermaid, who curtsies every time I pass her in the hall and a cook in the kitchens banging pots all day long and yelling at anyone who dares enter her domain, and a stable boy tending my noble steed.” He laughed suddenly. “I suppose you think I’m being very silly, don’t you?”
He turned then and saw tears rolling down her cheeks. Alarmed, he sprung up to sitting and took her hand in his. “Violet, what’s wrong?”
“Victor, you have to build it exactly like that. You have to! Please,” she said.
“Just tell her you will, on one condition,” Richard said. “Tell her she’ll have to promise to help you pick out colors for paint and tiles and rugs and furnishings. Tell her!”
“Okay, I’ll build it, but only if you will do me a great big favor,” he said.
“Well, isn’t it obvious? I’m just a guy. I don’t know the first thing about picking out stuff for the house. I know it’s asking a lot, but would you help me?”
She wiped a tear off her cheek and grinned. “Can I do your landscaping, too?”
He laughed and kissed her hand. “Indeed you must. You will be the official gardener of the Manor at Somerset Hill.”
A pleasant, warm tingling went up her arm and spread throughout her being. She looked at their entwined hands and guilt filled her again, pushing aside the lovely feeling of his touch. Reluctant though she was, she pulled her hand out of his and started putting things back into the picnic basket.
“You don’t have to worry, Victor,” she said, trying for casual. “I work cheap.”
He burst out laughing. “Good to know. It’ll be tough what with the butler, the chambermaid, the cook and the stable boy to pay, too. And a gardener of your quality…well, any discount you give me will be greatly appreciated.”
She giggled, but quickly sobered. “You aren’t just teasing me, are you? You will build it,” she said, almost pleading.
He nodded. “The Lord of the Manor must do his best to please his subjects and that includes you, Milady.”
“Shall I call you Milord?” she teased.
“Oh, please, do!” he said closing over the basket and standing up. He held his hand out to her.
“Come, Milady, let us pick wildflowers while the sun is still high in the sky.”
“Now, we’re talking!” Richard said grinning at Heidi.
“Yes, indeed we are,” she replied smiling at Victor as Violet’s soft hand slid into his.