Violet tried to steady her heart, but soon gave it up as a bad job. What would be the use of it, after all? She spun around to see Victor holding Peter who looked sickly and very sad.
“Victor,” she said staring at him hungrily. She had indeed missed him something dreadful, but before she could tell him that, her maternal instincts stepped in. “Peter, how do you feel, honey?”
“Not good,” he whined, laying his head on Victor’s shoulder.
“Oh, I have some medicine that should make you feel better.” Violet went to her purse and came back rummaging through it.
Peter shook his head and clung fiercely to Victor.
“Come on, Buddy,” Victor soothingly said. “If Violet says it’ll make you feel better, you should take it.”
“Pills are bad…make you die and go to heaven, like Mommy did,” Peter grumbled.
“No, Sweetie, pills are only bad when you take too many at once,” Violet said.
“Peter, we would never let you take too much medicine,” Victor insisted.
“They taste yucky,” Peter said.
“No, this one tastes like bubblegum. I think you’ll like it. Just try it, please?” Violet said, holding out a pink tablet.
With a bit more coaxing Peter nibbled on the tablet until it was all gone.
“There’s my good boy,” Victor said, kissing the little boy on top of his head, while staring at Violet.
Violet couldn’t help remembering Peter’s wish: “I want Victor to be my daddy.” She wondered if Victor knew this. To her equal delight and distress he already seemed to be acting just like the little boy’s father. Should she let him know to put him on his guard? She’d hate to see Peter hurt and she knew Victor would feel the same way.
“So…do you have anything good for my boys? The one’s at school, I mean,” Victor said, looking over the baked goods. “Is there anything left you think they would like?”
She shook her head with the same contemptuous expression he remembered so well from all those years ago. It made him laugh.
“I always get here at the wrong time, don’t I?” he said, grinning.
“I…I do have a nice strawberry shortcake… with your name on it…at home. Maybe you can stop by later…if you want,” she said feeling both hopeful and anxious.
Stunned, Victor at first couldn’t speak. Had Freddy been right all along? He must have been!
“I could after I bring the kids home, although,” he said, looking at Peter. “Perhaps we should go home now. Peter’s not feeling well and Carmencita needs a nap.”
A general groaning and moaning erupted amongst the kids, but Violet quickly silenced them.
“No, you go and have fun with the kids and leave Peter and the baby with me. Joaquin, go to my car,” Violet said handing him the keys. “You know what it looks like, right? It’s parked closest to the entrance gate. There’s a blanket or two in the back. You bring those to me, okay? And I’ll fix up a little bed for each of them right here in the booth.”
Joaquin nodded and ran off.
“Are you sure, Miss Violet?” Lucia asked. “I don’t want her to be trouble for you.”
“She’ll be fine with me. Won’t you, sweetie?” Violet said, taking the sleepy toddler from her sister.
Joaquin returned within a few minutes and Claire helped him spread the blankets out on the plywood floor toward the back of the booth where thick dark red curtains hung to keep dust and dirt away from the food. It would also serve to protect the kids from the bright sun and noise.
“I wanna stay wiff you!” Peter whined clinging to Victor.
“Aww, Peter, it’s only for a little while and Miss Violet is much better at taking care of sick little boys than I am,” Victor said, rubbing his back. “If you stay now, I promise I’ll come to the garden on Wednesday…if it’s okay with Miss Violet.” He then looked to her for a favorable answer.
Her smile and nod melted his fear of being denied and once more sent away. He couldn’t believe his luck. He kissed Peter’s cheek and put him down. “We’ll all be back soon. We’re just going to walk around a little bit. Okay?”
Victor then motioned the other kids to follow him and they were gone.
Violet had the baby almost asleep when John Yearly showed up.
“Whoa! Where’d the rugrats come from?” he bellowed startling the baby and setting her to howling.
“John! Must you…oh!” Violet said in frustration.
She soothed the baby as well as she could and after a few minutes Carmencita settled back down and slept peacefully. “Peter, how are you feeling? Is the ginger ale making you feel better?”
He nodded and sat back watching John with a decided scowl on his cute little face.
John frowned right back at him. “Who stuck you with their kids?” he asked.
“No one,” Violet hissed. “They’re orphans.”
“Did they escape?” he said, smirking. “Shoulda known they’re not related. She’s a bit too toasty if you know what I mean.”
Violet crossed her arms over her chest and glowered, looking very much like a protective mother hen. “No, I don’t think I do,” she coolly said.
“She’s obviously not from around here. Probably not even legal,” he said, oblivious to Violet’s frosty tone.
She had just opened her mouth to let him have it when she spotted Victor coming toward them with no kids in sight. She shoved John aside and rushed to him.
“Victor, where are the kids?” she asked.
“On the merry-go-round. Lucia, Joaquin and Claire can watch them for a bit. I wanted to bring this to Peter so he wouldn’t get bored. Think he’ll like it?” he asked, showing her a picture book. To his astonishment, Violet tossed her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. His arms automatically went about her nearly lifting her off her feet and he eagerly kissed her back.
“Wow, Violet,” he muttered when they broke apart. “What would I get if I brought Peter a train set?”
Violet giggled nervously then whispered in his ear, “Silly man. Returning the favor, remember?”
That was when Victor saw John looking daggers at him, clenched fists by his side. It was a bit disappointing to know it wasn’t a real kiss given because he was missed, but as it surely felt as if it was and the expression on Violet’s face spoke differently, he couldn’t complain too much. After exchanging a look with John which clearly said, “That’s right, chum, she’s mine, so back off!” he called to Peter who came out of the booth grinning.
“Hey, Buddy, feeling better?” Victor said, crouching down to his eye level.
“Uh-huh, a little,” Peter said.
“Great, look what I found for you. Hope you like it,” Victor said handing him the book.
“Awesome, thanks, Victor!” he said giving him a huge hug.
Victor held the tiny boy and smiled up at Violet. “I love you,” he said, and watched as her eyes widened.
“I wuv you, too,” Peter said.
“Now, go sit down and read your book and before you know it, you’ll be all better and we’ll come back for you and Carmencita. Okay?”
Peter nodded and took his book with him back to the blanket.
“Victor,” Violet said, placing her hand on his arm. “I need to tell you something.”
“All right,” he replied, casting a sideways glance at John.
“Who’s your friend, Violet?” John said.
“Not here, not now,” she whispered to Victor. Then she reluctantly introduced them.
“You the new lawyer in town?”
“Yes, although, I can’t say I’m new anymore,” Victor said, grinning. “I’ve been living in Catalpa Valley on and off for more than ten years.”
“Ten?” Violet said, surprised.
“Yes, while my boys were little I came up most weekends. I wonder, how long until you’re old news around here?”
“Depends if people want you around,” John coldly replied.
“Well, in that case, two minutes after you moved here permanently,” Violet interjected, conspicuously slipping her hand into his.
Victor chuckled. “Thanks, Honey. I kinda like you too,” he said, dropping a kiss on the tip of her nose.
“Um…you better go. Never know what the kids are up to,” she said, a faint blush coloring her cheeks.
“All right, my love. Nice meeting you, John,” he said. He waved to Peter and he was gone.
“So, you’re dating,” John said, looking unaccountably angry.
“Uh…yes,” Violet replied, her face glowing. Her natural inclination was to deny it, but that would have defeated the purpose. She put her hands behind her back and crossed her fingers. A childish gesture, yes, but it made the deed just a bit more tolerable. Anything, even a blatant lie and possibly setting forth a rumor mill on steroids, was better than having the unwanted attentions of a despicable bigoted misogynist.
“I’m a little surprised, Violet. Richard was a good friend of mine. I didn’t think you would forget him so quick.”
“I’ll always love Richard. I could never forget him… no matter what,” she mumbled. Tears filled her eyes, but she held them back.
An awkward silence followed which was only alleviated when a large group of teenage boys came to the booth following closely behind John’s daughter.
“Dad, they want you in the dunk tank,” Judy said.
“Again?” he said, obviously annoyed.
“I can help Miss Bennett til you come back,” Judy said, smiling at the boys.
“Fine,” John said, giving Violet one last resentful look before he stomped away.
Violet, though pleased to be finally, and--knock on wood--permanently rid of John, couldn’t help but groan inwardly as the annoying gum popping filled the air.