Monday, May 30, 2011

Ch 64: The perfect job


While Violet thoroughly enjoyed her time with Garret—he was such a wealth of knowledge and he seemed thoroughly impressed by hers as well!—within an hour she had started to feel guilty about being away from Victor. He did bring her to the Weston Botanical gardens, after all, to keep him from being bored. And here she had pretty much abandoned him! She felt horrible.

“As you can see it takes several months to get the mums to…” Garret explained showing her what they were already working on in early spring in preparation for the autumn displays.

“Garret, forgive me, but I really should get back to Victor,” she anxiously interrupted him.

“Who?” Garret asked, pushing his glasses up his nose while turning away from the metal frame pyramid on which thousands of mums were being held in place.

“Victor… Victor Romanoff. The man who introduced us,” she said smiling indulgently. The poor man knew every single detail about horticulture and every inch of Weston, but he obviously struggled to do half as much with people. It was all he could do to remember the names of those who funded his baby, the gardens at Weston.

“Ah, yes…yes, we should go then. Pity, I wanted to show you the poinsettias for the Christmas displays, but another time, surely,” he said allowing her to exit ahead of him through the “Employees only” door from the off-limits green houses.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you showing me all of these wonders! I’d give anything to be able to follow you around for just one day. I’d learn so much from you,” she gushed.

“Well, we could use a few more volunteers to help with the spring planting. They help put together the seasonal flower borders. I’m sure you’d be good at that. You at least know an aster from a zinnia!” he chuckled. “Where did you say you worked? I’ve never heard of the Mio Caro. Is it a very large nursery? Is it near here? We might be willing to work with them and use their services for plants if…”

“Oh, no! Mio Caro is not a plant nursery. It’s a daycare center…for children,” she said, just barely able to resist a giggle.

“Indeed,” he said somewhat bewildered. “Children, you say? How odd!”

“This guy obviously doesn’t understand why anyone would want to nurture kids when there are plants to fondle,” Richard grumbled.

Heidi giggled and poked him playfully in the side. “It does take all kinds, Richard,” she said.

Violet noticed how uncomfortable Garret became with each step further into the fray of party-goers. She managed to keep him from jumping out of his skin merely by distracting him with questions about this plant or another until she was fortunate enough to spot Victor.

“Oh, there he is,” she said, waving happily at him.

“Who?” Garret asked as he plucked a pair of clippers out of a pocket and snipped a broken twig off a Scotch Broom.

“Victor Romanoff,” she said smiling brightly. Victor beamed when he spotted her. He spoke briefly to the man beside him then headed in her direction accompanied by the rotund man. He was very nearly Victor’s considerable height, but his bulk made him appear even larger.

“There you are, Sweetheart,” Victor said, brushing a kiss on Violet’s cheek and making her heart skip a beat.

“I wish I never told him to do that,” Richard huffed. “He’s deliberately taking every opportunity to kiss her.”

“Oh, hush. There’s no harm in it,” Heidi insisted.

“Says you,” he mumbled.

“I thought you said you were going to stop haunting her and instead become a help to her, a spirit guide instead of a ghost, remember?” Heidi snapped.

“Yeah, I am! Victor’s gonna ruin everything if he pushes her too soon. She’s not ready for all that,” Richard insisted.

Heidi gave him a stern look. “Richard, your jealousy knows no bounds, does it?”

 “It’s got nothing to do with that. I’m serious, Heidi. Violet’s not gonna jump into bed with him just like that,” he said snapping his fingers.

“And how many times do I have to tell you Victor does not only want a roll in the hay! He loves her and wants to marry her. He’s in this for the long haul. He would do anything for her,” Heidi huffed.

“I know that. But he’s doing it all wrong! It has to be subtle and he’s being anything but subtle tonight.” Richard countered.

“I’m sorry we took so long, Victor, but Garret was showing me so many amazing behind the scenes stuff it was just too…”

“Too wonderful to pass up the opportunity. I know, my love. Don’t worry. We both know how much you love flowers and now Garret does too. You’ve found a plant lover after your own heart, haven’t you, Garret?” Victor said, snaking a possessive arm around Violet’s waist.

Heidi frowned at Violet whose face wore an expression of unease and bewilderment as she stared up at Victor. She was stiff in stance too, as if afraid or nervous of Victor's proximity.“Perhaps you’re right. You must tell him, Richard, before he does something he’ll regret,” she whispered anxiously.

“I have? Who’s that?” Garret said, slipping the clippers back into his pocket.

The rotund man shook his head, exasperated. “Garret, my good man, your lovely companion, of course,” he said, smiling at Violet as if she were a favorite niece.

“My lovely what?” Garret asked, totally bemused.

“Violet, this is Walter Bettencort. He’s the director of Weston Botanical,” Victor said, wisely ignoring the absent-minded Garret whose attention drifted to a nearby cluster of calla lilies where he bent over to snip off a spent flower.

“Ms. Bennett, Victor has told me so much about you, I feel I almost know you,” Walter said, grasping her hand with both of his beefy ones.

“Uh, you do?” she said, her eyes wide as she searched Victor’s face for some clue. Victor, to her astonishment was squeezing her to him as if he owned her. And why in heaven’s name was he calling her sweetheart and my love again? Was Silvia near by? She glanced around her and sure enough, Silvia was staring daggers at her from across the way. That explained that!

“Yes, he has,” Walter spoke heartily. “You have quite a thing for plants for one thing and you obviously know how to handle Mr. Plant guy over there. That’s two points in your favor. Garret, leave those plants alone and come join us. This concerns you.”

“Two points?” she mumbled, utterly confused.

“Yes?” Garret said coming back to them as he slipped the clippers once again into his pocket.

“Garret, what say you about the abilities of this fine young lady?” Walter said, placing his arm around the squirrelly man.

“Abilities?” he repeated, pushing his glasses up his nose.

“Horticulturally speaking of course,” Walter said, before whispering to the other two. “It’s the only thing he relates to, after all.”

“Oh, Ms. Bennett has a wide knowledge of plants. Far better than I’ve encountered in a very long time. She has a thirst for knowledge and a keen understanding as well of the subtle differences in cultivars,” Garret said, suddenly showing interest. “I think she would greatly benefit both herself and the garden by volunteering. We’ll be planting the spring beds next week and…”

“Come now, Garret, I was thinking a bit more than just having her plant a few annuals,” Walter said with a jovial laugh.

“There are perennials, too,” Garret said defensively.

Walter rolled his eyes. “Yes, of course, but what I’m saying is I think Ms. Bennett would make a wonderful assistant for you.”

“Assistant?” Violet gasped, looking from Walter’s indulgent face to Garret’s bemused one and finally to Victor’s beaming one.

“Assistant?” Garret repeated, his interest now profound. “Oh, that would be good.”

“Yes, I believe you would benefit from having someone personable and knowledgeable to intervene between you and the people you should be talking to, Garret,” Walter said in a grumpy sort of voice. “And that would leave you to deal with the plants, which you can relate to…probably because they don’t talk back.”

“That would be greatly appreciated,” Garret said, looking relieved.

“Yes, I thought so. Plus, we need someone to take over the children’s outdoor garden. Agnes Mills was our director for that project, but she won’t be able to continue in that position. She suffered a stroke over the holidays and though she has recovered rather well she has chosen to retire and spend more time with her children and grand kids.”

“Oh, what a shame for Weston, but I would do the same. Family should come first,” Violet said.

 “Well, she was a wonderful member of our staff for over twenty-two years and will be sorely missed, but I do believe you would more than fill her shoes,” Walter said. “And since you have great skills with kids, you, Ms. Bennett, make the perfect candidate for the position.”

“How do you know…” she started to say before she was interrupted.

“Well, Ms. Bennett, I must confess,” Walter said, looking slightly sheepish. “I had heard of you before Victor. I believe you may know my granddaughter who speaks rather highly of her favorite person at Mio Caro Bambino. Emma?”

Violet blinked stupidly for a few seconds. “Emma Schwartz is your granddaughter?”

“Indeed she is. Apple of my eye,” he said proudly. “What do you say, Ms. Bennett?”

“Oh, Emma is a darling. I adore her,” Violet said, thinking of the little girl with freckles across her chubby cheeks and eyes the same pale blue as her grandfather.

Walter and Victor laughed. “No, I mean about the job offer. Will you join our family at Weston?”

She blinked a few more times. “You mean you’re serious?” she squeaked.

“We’re in need of someone exactly like you, Ms. Bennett. I couldn’t find someone more perfect if given a month to look. Actually, I’ve had three months with no luck, but with schools scheduling their spring field trips in a few weeks, we’re now a tad desperate. Please, Ms. Bennett, say you will consider it. Emma won’t like me stealing you away from Mio Caro, but she can always come here to see you.”

She gaped, her eyes as large as the hydrangea blooms beside them. “Really?” she said.

“Violet, darling, Walter is going to think you’re daft if you keep asking that. He’s not a man to foolishly hand out job offers without need. He’s too busy for that,” Victor said. “I think it’s the perfect career for you, combining the two things you love most in the whole wide world, gardens and children. Seems like a no-brainer to me.”

Violet suddenly went into hysterical giggles which swiftly turned to tears welling in her eyes.

Victor turned to Walter and smiled. “I think that’s a yes.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ch 63: Same old, same old


Victor grinned as he watched Garrett Johansen and Violet turn the corner and disappear behind the black culmed bamboo clump at the entrance to the children’s garden. That would be the last time he smiled for the next hour.

“Victor, I wondered if I’d see you here.”

The sultry voice sent a shiver down his spine and wiped the smile off his face. Bracing himself he turned and came face-to-face with his ex-wife. 

“Hello, Kat. Nice to see you,” he said with zero enthusiasm.

She smiled coldly. “Don’t call me that,” she said, through clenched teeth.

“Yes, I forgot. It’s Katherine now. You look well,” he said.

“Don’t sound so surprised. I try to keep fit,” she retorted.

“Yes,” he said stoically as he recalled how she always ditched the boys every chance she got to go to a Pilates class. Glancing over her golden head, he added, “Where’s Andy?”

“He had to work tonight,” she said, looking intently at him. “You brushed off Silvia, I hear. How’d you manage that? You couldn’t do it while we were married. What’s changed?”

“Might it surprise you to know I’ve learned a thing or two since our divorce? It truly helps when you ignore those who bother you,” he retorted, looking every bit as if he wanted to employ such a tactic now. He even turned and took a few steps away. Unfortunately, Katherine followed in step, apparently not taking the hint.

“And it’s not the little chippy you brought here?” she said, smiling slyly.

Victor glared at her. “Could be,” he remarked, a warning in his voice.

“Who is she?” Katherine asked. “Have you been seeing her long?”

“When that’s any of your concern, I’ll make certain to let you know.”

“It is my concern if you marry this tramp and she ends up with the boys’ inheritance,” she replied coldly even as she smiled to a passing acquaintance.

“Not this again,” he mumbled. “Must we do this here?”

“And when would be a better time? When this babe’s got you by the balls?” she asked her brilliant blue eyes mere slits in her classically beautiful face. 

“Now, you’re confusing her with you, Kat,” he said, snidely.

“Don’t call me that. Gordon just told me you’re never in the city anymore. What’s up with that? You’re a partner for goodness sake!”

“Again, when that concerns you…”

“It concerns the boys, so it concerns me. You’ve seen them?” she said, changing the subject at the speed of light.

He sighed. “If you mean for spring break, yes. We had a great time. Ronnie’s supposed to get a picture CD out to me soon. I’m sure he’ll send one to you if you ask.”

“It’s been more than a month, hasn’t it?” she said.

“Yes, but you know how he is. Even vacation pictures have to be a musical production,” he said, nodding to a passing acquaintance as they continued walking the length of the conservatory.

“If he’d only apply himself to his studies as much as he does to that blasted music of his, he might not be failing all his classes,” she snapped. “That’s your fault, buying him that stupid guitar for his birthday. I swear you do it to spite me.”

“Yes, everything I do is to spite you. I learned from the best,” Victor sardonically said stopping and turning to her. “He’s not failing all his classes, surely.”

“Do you even care?” she retorted waspishly.

“Of course, I care. He’s my son,” he said.

“You might act like it sometimes, instead of being his best buddy and letting him get away with murder,” she countered. 

“Don’t you dare put that on me, Kat. You’re the one that practically stole them from me and then promptly got them a new daddy. What was I to do? I was forced to be nothing more to them than a distant uncle with no say about anything. But that was your intent all along, wasn’t it? To get me out of the way, so you could have full reign. I never could understand your logic.  You never wanted them and yet…”

“That’s not true!” she shouted.

“I was there, Katherine. Don’t rewrite history. You fought me tooth and nail. And when you finally gave in, or, as you so often liked to put it, I forced you to be a baby factory, you never let me hear the end of it,” he said, his jaw clenched so tightly he thought he might break a tooth.

“As usual, you exaggerate,” she said dismissively. 

“Do I? You hated being just a mother, hated the boys for ruining your dreams and you hated me for ruining your life. Well, I think we’re even. You ruined mine too. You didn’t want the boys yet you refused to let me have them. Einstein couldn’t figure you out.”

At that point they came upon a knot of people and they paused in their discussion to greet them in a civil manner they simply couldn’t manage for each other.

“Victor, don't go,” she said tugging on his arm, once they were alone again.

“Aren’t we done yet? I’ve got people to see,” Victor said impatiently.

“Ah, yes, you must get back to your gold digger,” Katherine said snidely.

“I suppose you would know a gold digger being one yourself,” he muttered.

“If you will recall, I took none of your money though I was entitled to it.”

“Only because Marty threatened to disinherit you. It’s all about money for you,” Victor said, triumphantly.

“Don’t call her that. Her name is Martha. No decent seventy year old woman goes by Marty.”
“She hates being called Martha and she’s sixty-eight. I would think her own daughter would know that.”

“As always happens, you divert me from my point,” she huffed, hands clenched by her side.

“You mean you had one other than destroying my good mood tonight?”

“My point and the only thing I ever have to talk with you about, are my sons.”

“Our sons, if you don’t mind.”

“Yes, well, there’s my point. You’re turning them against me.”

He glared at her, incredulous. “Do you hear yourself, Katherine? You are actually accusing me of what you’ve been doing for over a decade. I’m certain this will astound you, but I’ve never spoken a word against you to either of them…ever.”

“You expect me to believe that? They never want to come home anymore. They’re too busy going here and there with dad,” she said, her eyes oddly bright all of a sudden.

“I’m lucky the boys call me dad at all, so, I won’t apologize when they want to spend time with me. You’ve had them long enough. You’ve punished me enough, too, I’d say.” 

 “You’re always making me the bad cop with them.”

“You were born the bad cop, Kat. That has little to do with me and everything to do with your father and you know it.”

That stung her, Victor could tell. He almost regretted saying it…almost.

“While you’re Mr. Let’s-go-on-spring-break, I’m always the one that has to push the boys, Ronnie especially, to do something useful, to make something of himself. You fight me at every turn. Why can’t you ever back me up?”

“Back you up for what? To destroy their spirit, to quash their dreams?  You made it quite clear several years ago that I have no say in their lives and they know it. So, all of a sudden, I’m to be consulted, but only if I agree with you and back you up? You’ve got some nerve, Katherine.”

“So, you’re just going to let Ronnie flitter away his life on his stupid music?”

“What do you want from me, Katherine? You’ve got him where you want him, at Wharton taking business course he has no right taking. If he's floundering, it's no one's fault but yours.”

“Well, with his own father telling him he can’t do it…”

“I never told him he couldn’t. I’ve always told both Simon and Ronnie they could do whatever they set their minds to do, if they have a passion for it. You lucked out with Simon. He was quite willing to follow in your father’s footsteps. He wants to be a doctor. He’s suited to that life and good for him, but you had to twist Ronnie’s arm until he agreed to go to business school. What good is that? He has no passion for it. He is ill suited to it, but he doesn’t want to disappoint his mother, so there he is, struggling with something he cares not a whit about because his mother put a guilt trip on him.”

Victor shook his head and continued, before she could interrupt. “Did it ever occur to you Ronnie might not want to come home because all you ever do is spend what little time you have together bitching about his music. That is his passion and you belittle it. How do you think that makes him feel?”

“There’s no future in that, Victor. He actually thinks he can be a rock star. And so what if he could? You actually want him wasting his life like that when he could be…”

“Miserable being a business executive?” he suggested. “Yes, I would. I would much rather see him struggling with something he loves than miserably being successful at something he hates. You don’t want to hear it, Katherine, but he’s good at music, very good.  So, don’t you expect me to back you up.  Not on your life.”

With that he stalked off and very nearly,  in his anger, decapitated a flowering Rose-of-Sharon topiary. He didn’t, however, because he knew Violet wouldn’t like that. He smiled thinking about her and had the most intense desire to be with that wonderfully cheery woman. 

Violet was so NOT Katherine.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ch 62: Disappointment and delight

Violet had never seen a more beautiful sight and it wasn’t just the million orchids on display all over the place. The people were dressed in stunning apparel and most of them sparkled with untold fortunes in jewels.

“Makes me look like a poor relation in comparison,” Violet muttered behind her glass of champagne. 
 
“No way! You’re gorgeous and everyone here knows it,” Richard told her as a man passing by gave Violet an appreciative look. He glared at the guy despite the fact he couldn’t be seen and said, “Move on, buddy. She’s taken.”

Violet, having been looking at the flowers in front of her, didn’t see the man nor the other few leering at her.

“How do they do it?” she mumbled stepping closer to what appeared to be a thousand orchid plants formed into a huge ball.

“Never mind that. Where’s Victor?” Richard irritably asked looking around.

“He’s being bored to death by Julian Rothchild. Oh, but he loathes that man,” Heidi said sympathetically. “Violet dear, you must rescue him.”

Violet tore her eyes away from the flowers and spotted Victor nodding to a bombastic man whose voice was as loud as his belly was large. Violet could tell even from this considerable distance that Victor’s eyes were glazing over. But that was until he caught her eye and his face suddenly seemed to glow. She smiled and read his thoughts –something along the lines of “Help me, Violet!” -- quite as clearly as she could hear the stout man speaking over the rumble of the crowd.   

She giggled and turned in their direction just as a very tall, thin woman stepped in her way.

“Lovely,” the woman said, unenthusiastically looking at the orchid display.

“Oh, yes! Extraordinary. I was trying to see how this was done. I think they must have mesh to hold the roots together and…”

“You came with Victor Romanoff, didn’t you?” the woman interrupted, her voice somehow accusing.

“Uh…yes,” Violet replied, her eyes wide with wonder.

The woman then gave Violet a thorough looking over up and down. “Christian Dior,” she said.

“Hello, Christian. I’m Violet Bennett,” she replied.

The woman raised an indolent eyebrow and smiled coldly. “The gown,” she muttered through clenched teeth.

Violet then looked at the woman’s dress. It was made of a slinky silver fabric and was as sparkly as the hundreds of diamonds she wore around her long ivory-colored throat and down onto her chest--her unnaturally well-endowed and barely concealed chest which was annoyingly at eye level. Violet never wished she was taller more than at that precise moment.  To have those huge globes right in her face was beyond embarrassing. The woman, she noticed, was thin as a rail as well and Violet fleetingly wondered how she managed to stay upright.

“Does she not have any idea how ridiculous she looks?” Richard asked, unable to remove his eyes from the woman’s ill-proportioned body.

“Sadly, no,” Heidi answered, staring daggers at the woman.

“For Pete’s sake! She makes Barbie dolls look totally normal,” he shouted.

“Yes, we all know that body came from a surgeon, but that’s hardly our concern, Richard. We must get Violet away from this cougar or she’ll be eaten alive, almost literally!”

Richard scoffed. “Violet can take her. A stiff breeze and Barbie’ll topple over and lay there like an upturned turtle unable to move. I’d actually like to see that!” He suddenly laughed raucously until Heidi poked him hard in the ribs. “Hey!”

“I’m serious,” she snapped. “This is Silvia, a vicious, back-stabbing woman, and she’s had her claws out for my Victor since she was ten years old.”

“Betcha she didn’t have those headlights then. That’s why he didn’t notice her.”

“My Victor has better taste than that!” Heidi angrily retorted.

“Obviously. He wants my Violet,” he said.

Go get Victor. Hurry! There’s no telling what Silvia’s capable of doing to our sweet little Violet,” Heidi earnestly said, shoving Richard away toward Victor.

“Um…it’s a very pretty gown, Christian,” Violet said, forcing a smile.

“My name is Silvia,” she said, scornfully.

“Okay...oh, Silvia Middleton? I just met your mom and dad. Nice people,” Violet said.

“I’m so glad you approve of them,” Silvia sarcastically countered.

Without anything to say to that, Violet turned back to the orchid display and attempted to read a small plague which bore the botanical name of the plant. “Dor-it-a-en-op-sis. Ooh, that’s a mouthful. Don’t know if I’ll ever remember that,” Violet muttered.

 “Where did Victor find you?” Silvia asked, incredulous.

“We met at a supermarket, but he was friends with my brother first,” Violet replied while trying to read more about this particular plant.

“Indeed,” Silvia said her mouth twisting ruefully. “He didn’t mention you at my Christmas party. So you couldn’t have been with him then or he would have brought you, surely.”

“Huh?” Violet said distractedly. “I didn’t know Victor at Christmas.”

“Really, then how long have you two been…”

“Violet, my love, you must try this,” Victor said suddenly appearing with a plate full of appetizers, one of which he held in his hand and promptly stuffed into Violet’s gaping mouth. “Isn’t it yummy?”

Her mouth being full she could do nothing more than nod and stare up at him, aghast. My love? Since when did he ever call her that? That question, however, was not to be asked nor answered directly.

“Hello, Victor,” Silvia purred, smiling brightly at him.

“Silvia, I didn’t see you there. I saw your parents before. They’re looking well,” Victor said, only glancing her way long enough to be polite. He then smiled down at Violet and added. “You should try this one. It’s even better.”

“Victor, please. I can feed myself,” Violet said, stopping him from shoving another into her mouth. She had only just swallowed the other one after all.

“I know, Sweetheart, but you’ll love it... as much as I love you,” he said seductively. He then whispered in her ear, “Play along, Violet, I beg of you.”

Her eyes as wide as they would go, she hesitated a moment before she nodded and allowed Victor to bring the tiny bit of food to her lips. 

“If you really want Silvia off your back, you should kiss Violet,” Richard mumbled. “Just a tiny peck, should do it.”

Victor liked that idea very much. He bent down and dropped a kiss on her dewy lips and then another and yet another.

“What the hell, dude! I said one little kiss!” Richard snarled.

Victor reluctantly pulled back, smiled and held the morsel of food to her lips again.

“Victor…” Violet mumbled, gaping at him.

“Yes, my love,” he said.

Blushing Violet glanced at Silvia, who wore an expression of one who had just swallowed a very bitter pill. Violet quickly looked away and almost bit Victor’s finger in her haste to have something to do to take away the feel of those sensual lips on her own. She then grabbed another one off the plate and downed the rest of her champagne. She’d need a few of those, too, she thought, looking at her empty glass.  A good buzz might make her forget that kiss.

Just then a rather attentive waiter replaced her empty glass for a full one and whisked away before she could thank him.

“How convenient,” she muttered, before taking a sip.

“It was very nice seeing you again, Silvia, but you’ll have to excuse us. I have several people I need to introduce to Violet,” Victor said merrily, his arm snaking possessively around Violet and leading her away.  

When they were outside of the stony-faced Silvia’s hearing he quietly rambled, “Thank God you were here, Violet. I can’t thank you enough. You just saved me big time. Once that woman gets her claws into a man…well, you don’t want to know! I swear, you’re the best friend I ever had.”

“Charlie isn’t going to like that!” Heidi reminded him.

“Well, that’s except for Charlie, but he’s more like a brother really,” Victor said, grinning and giving Violet little squeeze. “Really, Violet, I owe you. I’m buying you one of every orchid they have and building you a greenhouse to keep them all in.”

Violet stopped suddenly and glared at him. “You will not! I have zero knowledge about orchids. I’ll end up killing them all,” she shrieked.

“Well, then,” he replied, laughing at her. “It’s a good thing you’re about to meet Mr. Orchid himself. He’ll tell you all you can stand to know about the pretty little plants and anything else at Weston.” 

With that he took her across the little stone bridge which spanned the babbling brook between the north and south sides of the wide conservatory. They stopped next to a small and rather nervous looking fellow who appeared to be trying to hide himself behind a large camellia bush. 

“Mr. Johansen, I wonder if you remember me?” Victor said.

The man spun around, startled. “Yes, yes, of course I do,” he replied, fidgeting with his bow tie and pushing his glasses up his nose.

“I have someone here who is dying to ask you about your marvelous orchid displays. Violet Bennett this is Garret Johansen, a master gardener if ever there was one,” Victor said.

“Oh, I’m so pleased to meet you, Mr. Johansen,” Violet said. “Did you really design all the exhibits here?”

“Yes, yes, I…I’m the one,” he said, smiling nervously. “Do you know Orchids?”

“None personally,” she replied. Then realizing what an odd thing she said she giggled. “I mean, I don’t have any at home. They can’t survive in my garden in Catalpa Valley after all.”

“Ah,” he said, visibly brightening. “So, you garden? You know a bit then, about horticulture?”

“Very little,” she replied, modestly.

“Nonsense, Violet,” Victor interjected. “You have a lovely garden, the envy of the neighborhood if not the whole of Catalpa Valley.”

“Victor, don’t exaggerate,” she mumbled, her cheeks turning bright pink.

“Mr. Johansen, you should hear her when she walks around the conservatory. She knows each and every plant by name. I can’t wait for the weather to truly warm up so she can see the gardens outside. I could use the lesson. I know Violet will know every tree, shrub and perennial out there,” Victor said adamantly nodding. “I tell you, she’s good.”

“That so?” he said, smiling at Violet. “May I give you a tour of the conservatory, Ms. Bennett? I can show you the behind-the-scenes work involved if you’re interested and I’m quite willing to answer any questions you may have.”

“Oh, that would be fantastic, Mr. Johansen!” she said excitedly.

“Garret, please,” he replied.

Violet's eyes brightened but then she glanced at Victor who smiled indulgently. “Would it be all right, Victor?” she asked.

“Of course. That’s why I brought you here. Go on, have fun. I have a few people I need to speak with. I’ll catch up with you in a bit.”

He watched with a satisfied grin as the two walked off already animated in their discussion of every plant they came to. 

“Aren’t you afraid he’ll steal her away from you?” Richard asked. “They have tons in common you know, a crazy love of plants."

“No, can’t say I’m too worried,” Victor answered. “I see good things coming from this little meeting.”

Richard scratched his head and wondered what exactly that meant.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ch 61: On the red carpet


“Oh, Victor, you poor man! I’m so sorry to keep you waiting so long. I just didn’t want to be an embarrassment to you,” Violet said rushing down the steps. 

She stopped abruptly two steps up from the bottom where Victor stood staring at her.  She expected him to be angry or even annoyed, but he was none of those things. His expression was nothing short of rapturous. Violet remembered all too well that look on Richard’s face whenever she got dolled up, as he called it. It warmed her from head to toe.

“Do I look all right?” she asked needlessly.

He chuckled. “All right? No, I wouldn’t say that. Beyond beautiful, most definitely,” he said, taking her hand and kissing it without once taking his eyes off hers.

She flushed happily. “Thank you.”

“Doesn’t seem fair, does it?” Victor said wistfully, helping her down the stairs.

“What?”

“That Richard isn’t here to see his lovely wife and my mother isn’t here to enjoy her favorite event of the year,” he said.

“Oh, Victor,” she said sympathetically. “You miss your mother as much as I miss Richard.”

He chuckled. “I don’t know about that. She’s been gone far longer than your Richard,” he replied. “I suppose I’m used to it or should be.”

“I don’t think time has anything to do with it. I miss him just as much now as I did on the day he died and I know you feel the same about your mom,” she insisted.

He stared at her and nodded. “Very true. Never bought that out of sight out of mind stuff, but it does make me wonder if they might be together, Richard and my mother and that they’re watching over us,” he said.

“Like angels standing by. That’s one of my favorite songs,” Violet said, her eyes glowing. “Such a lovely thought! Do you really think they might be?”

He shrugged. “I’d like to think so. Would keep us from getting too lonesome for them, wouldn’t it?” he said.

“That’s all very nice, but don’t you think you should give her the jewelry in your pocket and get going?” Richard impatiently hissed in his ear.

“Oh, I almost forgot. I have something for you,” Victor said, pulling the velvet box out of his pocket.

Violet gasped. “You didn’t!”

“I did,” he retorted, opening the box and showing her the jewels. “I thought they’d go with the gown.”

“Omigosh…you’re trying to get rid of me,” Violet said, gazing at the dazzling emeralds and diamonds. 

“I’m what?” he asked, stunned.

“Obviously you spent a fortune on these and if I wear them I’m bound to be kidnapped!” she said excitedly.  She grinned as Victor laughed. She took the earrings out of the box and putting them on added, “Of course, that’s not going to stop me from wearing them.”

“Thatta girl!” he said. He waited for her to finish with the other ear then handed her the box. “Hold this.”  He took the necklace out and went behind her putting it around her neck and fastening it. He then turned her toward the mirror on the wall. “What do you think?”

“Oh, Victor! They’re lovely,” she said.

“I thought so, too,” he said, taking the bracelet and fastening it on her delicate wrist. “And now I think we are ready to go.”

“I’ll need my coat,” she said reaching for her old red wool coat.

“Actually, it’s rather warm tonight for a coat. I think a pashmina will do,” Victor said, pulling a length of emerald green velvet out of the closet.

“A what? Oh, where’d it come from? ”

“Pashmina ...I brought it just for the occasion,” he said draping the soft fabric over her shoulders.

“It’s wonderful! I love it!” she said excitedly. “But it’s a shawl.”

He chuckled. “You sound like Marty.”

“Is that your ex-wife?” Violet asked.

“No, I told you about Marty. She’s my mother-in-law…ex-mother-in-law. I keep forgetting to just call her my boys’ grandmother,” he said opening the door and leading her outside. “She may be at Weston tonight. She usually is for anything charitable and formal. I’d love you to meet her. You’d get a kick out of Marty. She’s a super sweet lady. Very different from her daughter. I suppose she might be there too.”

Violet frowned as she entered the car and Victor closed the door. Why in the world should she meet Victor’s former mother-in-law? She also didn’t much care for seeing Victor’s former wife. She didn’t quite understand why, but the prospect made her unaccountably nervous.

“So, tell me what to do,” Victor said starting the car and heading out.

“Um, about what?”

“I promised you dinner, but if we do that we’ll be rather late.”

“We shouldn’t be late for a charity event. That's bad manners. I’m not hungry, but you may die if you don’t eat,” Violet said earnestly.

“Violet, you’re so funny. I doubt I’ll die missing dinner. There will be endless hors-doeuvres, of course. I think we can make do with that, if it’s okay with you,” he said.  

Violet rolled her eyes. “If you knew there would be hors-doeuvres why did you bother asking? Of course that’ll be all right, Silly man!”

“Violet’s nothing if not low-maintenance,” Richard said, smirking as he sat back comfortably in the backseat.

“So low-maintenance it’s not even funny,” Victor mumbled.

“Me?” Violet said giggling. “Richard used to say that all the time. I’m like a house with aluminum siding.”

Victor laughed. “I would never compare you to a house! But it is true. Any other person would be whining if I didn’t take them to dinner first.” 

“Who needs food when there’s flowers to be met?” she said completely serious.

“Indeed,” he muttered, utterly delighted.

Violet’s first reaction upon entering the Weston Botanical Garden’s intricately worked wrought iron gates was that they had taken a wrong turn along the way and found themselves far removed from Catalpa Valley and closer to Hollywood. As Victor pulled up to the conservatory  entrance, two red-jacketed young men approached opening the doors for them. Victor handed the keys to one and the other helped Violet out of the car and onto the red carpet. Yes, there was actually a red carpet and a row of photographers snapping away!

“Victor,” she squeaked, her heart frantically beating as the relatively subdued paparazzi’s cameras continually flashed at them. “You didn’t say anything about this.”

“Didn’t I?” he said innocently, taking her hand. 

“No, you didn’t! I… I’m not ready for this,” Violet said nervously smiling around at all the people gawking at them.

“You are. Just think of the flowers, all those orchids, daisies and dandelions…”

“Dandelions?” she shrieked.

He laughed. “Okay, maybe not dandelions, but now you’ll be looking for evidence of one and not worrying about all these people, won’t you?”

She giggled, albeit nervously and stepped away from the car and closer to Victor.

“Yes, you better stay close to me. Wouldn’t want you kidnapped!” he said, tucking her slightly shaking hand around his arm. He then led the way down the red carpet stopping occasionally to greet an old acquaintance and introduce Violet.

“I will never remember all these names,” she mumbled as they entered the grand ballroom where a throng of overdressed people stood talking in hushed voices. 

“I’m pretty sure State Representative Woods will remember you though,” he said trying to suppress a grin and failing miserably.  “I almost died when you said, “Oh, you’re the one with the private jet who tells the little people to ride their bikes to work. I didn’t vote for you.” Precious, Violet, positively precious!”

She blushed. “I’m sorry, Victor. Will that get you in trouble?”

“How could that get me in trouble? I don't fly in his private jet and don’t be sorry. That pompous ass needed a good letting down and who better to give it to him than you? You’re a tower of virtue,” he said.

“You’re teasing me,” she said biting her lip.

“I’m not. It’s…”

“Victor, my boy! So good to see you.”

Victor turned around already knowing who this was and braced himself. He forced a smile and grabbed the older man’s hand. “Wentworth, how are you? And Carla, lovely as ever,” he said kissing the cheek of the stately woman beside him.

“Victor, where have you been all season?” Carla said reproachfully. “New York has been dreadfully dull without you.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I spend most of my time in Catalpa Valley now,” he said.

“Whatever for?” Wentworth said, incredulous.

“I love the peace,” Victor retorted, his expression growing stony.

“Peace? Surely you jest!” Carla huffed. “There’s nothing here.”

“I wouldn’t say that. I keep busy,” he said, putting his arm around Violet’s waist and drawing her forward. “I’d like you to meet Violet Bennett. Violet, this is Wentworth and Carla Middleton. They are friends of the family.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Violet said meekly. She couldn’t help noticing that these two people looked at her much like a speck of dust.

“Silvia’s here, Victor.  She’d love to see you,” Carla said, ignoring Violet completely.

“Yes, she told us she last saw you at a Christmas party and that she invited you to our place in the Hamptons. You must come this summer,” Wentworth insisted. “We can play a course or two.”

“We’ll see. I have various projects lined up for summer,” Victor replied coolly. “If you’ll excuse us. I told Violet I’d introduce her to the horticulturist in charge of the orchid displays.” Without another word he practically dragged Violet away.

“Um, I don’t remember you saying that,” Violet said, as he whisked her away to the other side of the conservatory.

“Talk about pompous ass,” Victor snarled under his breath.

“The orchid guy?” Violet said, stunned.

Victor laughed. “Violet, you’re adorable.”

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ch 60: The spirit guide by Glory Lennon

Richard stood with a disgusted expression on his face and his hands stuffed deep into his front pockets, staring at Victor. “How the hell can you stand wearing that monkey suit?” he muttered.

Much to his surprise, Victor laughed and answered. “I’m used to it,” he said. “Not much different than a suit, really.”

“I wouldn’t be caught dead in something like that,” Richard said. Then he looked down at his clothes, just to make sure. Nope, no tux for him. He was clad in his usual well-worn jeans, comfy, old t-shirt and sneakers. 

What a contrast he made to Victor! But he wasn’t going to worry about that. Not now that he finally understood things better. At least, he thought he did. According to Heidi he wasn’t a ghost after all, but instead he was a spirit guide. Of course, that put some pressure on him to do things right, to be of use to Violet. Too bad he didn’t have the slightest idea how to do that. 

As he pondered what to do first, he curiously watched Victor walking slowly around the room, looking at photos on the wall and knick-knacks on tables. He had a rather contented look on his face for someone who had already waited a half hour and probably would have to wait more still.

“You’re a patient man, aren’t you?” Richard said.

“Compared to some, I suppose. Depends on what I’m waiting for,” Victor said, just as the cat jumped up onto the coffee table and meowed at him. He went over to her and scratched her behind the ears.

“Did Violet forget to feed you again? Let’s go see, okay?” He then went to the kitchen with Calendula following at his heel and looked for the cat’s bowl. 

“Yep, she forgot. That Dory, huh? I’ll feed you, Ginger Fluff. Don’t worry,” he said, grabbing the bowl and a can of food.

“I suppose Violet is worth waiting for,” Richard said, wondering if he would agree.

“Better believe it,” Victor replied, putting the food down on the mat. He smiled as Calendula leapt onto the bowl as if she were starving.

“Even if she’s still grieving for her husband?”

“Even then. I’d like to help her get over it or at least ease her pain. I don’t like to see her sad. Hate it actually,” he replied, looking serious.

Richard gulped. He knew without quite knowing how, that Victor wasn’t lying. “Do you…do you…love Violet?” he asked, although he already knew the answer.

Victor smiled sadly and carefully washed his hands, trying not to get water on his sleeves. “What do you think?”

“Yeah. Uh…she’s probably gonna be another fifteen-twenty minutes, you know,” Richard warned, trying to ignore the ache he felt in his chest.

“I’ve waited over a decade. What’s a few more minutes?” Victor said, wiping his hands on a tea towel before heading back into the living room.

Richard followed him again and saw him pulling a photo album off the shelf. “You won’t want to look at those. They’re boring to anyone other than Violet. Just the kids and stuff,” he said. Much to his bewilderment Victor studied each page as if for an exam.

“You’re kinda…weird,” Richard mumbled, frowning at him. “Why the hell would you look at those? They can’t be interesting.”

“Are you kidding?” Victor said, shaking his head. “They’re fascinating. They tell of a happy life, a good life, one anybody would kill to have. I just wish I knew how a guy like that got a wonderful, amazing girl like Violet.”

Feeling suddenly insulted Richard puffed up his chest. “And what’s that supposed to mean? A guy like that?” he asked angrily.

“Look at him! He’s a normal, everyday guy. When they fell in love they were still in school, so it wasn’t that he was this brave fireman then. He got Violet to fall in love with him before he got a chance to be anything special. He was a football star though,” Victor said, frowning slightly as he spotted a picture of Freddy and Richard in their football uniforms, their helmets tucked under their arms and their grins cocky and fun-loving.

“Naw,” Richard said looking over Victor’s shoulder to glance at the pictures, too. “She hated football. Took Freddy three weeks of pleading to get her to go to the only one she ever went to and she only went because he promised to take her to the dance afterwards. ‘Course, it took more than that to convince their dad to let them go. Matter of fact, they kinda snuck out of the house. Well, Freddy snuck her out,” Richard laughed remembering. “She pretended to be sick and went to bed early. Freddy pulled her out of her bedroom window. Fun times!”

Victor laughed too. “I’ll bet. Freddy told me about that. Wonder why their father was so…strict?”

Something told Richard he should not divulge that information just yet.

“Still, how did Richard do it? I would give anything in the world to know that secret,” Victor muttered with such longing, anyone could feel it.

Richard blinked at him and slowly smiled. “Cowboy, you may just have given me my mission.”

 Victor sighed, having not heard this. “Oh, how beautiful she was then…and still is,” he whispered, looking at Violet’s wedding photos. “How did he do it?”

“Well, it helped that he was her brother’s best friend, but you figured that out on your own, so you’re at least on the right track,” Richard said.

Victor suddenly snapped the book shut and cursed under his breath.

“Hey, it ain’t all bad,” Richard said, startled. Then he watched Victor pull something out of his pocket. “What’s that?”

Victor held a long, black velvet covered box and opened it to reveal a sparkling emerald and diamond pendant with matching bracelet and earrings. “I forgot to give this to her,” Victor mumbled.

“Wow! That must have set ya back some,” Richard said.

“Worth every penny if she likes them,” Victor retorted.

“Don’t worry about it, Cowboy. She’ll be down in a bit and you can give it to her then. I’m sure she’ll love them,” Richard told him. He frowned looking at the brilliant jewels then rose through the ceiling and into Violet’s bedroom.

“I’d have to work a year to afford that,” Richard said. 

“Afford what, Richard, dear?” Heidi absently asked as she watched Violet do up her hair. “Now sweep it up on this side and let it drape loosely over that shoulder. That’s right. Oh, that’s lovely! Just enough throat showing to entice and allow for nice jewelry.”

“Oh, but I don’t have anything good enough for this,” Violet said, anxiously rummaging through her trinket box.

“Tell her not to worry, okay? Victor’s got something for her downstairs,” Richard muttered.

“Does he now?” Heidi said watching him curiously. Of course she knew about the jewels, but she marveled that he wasn’t putting up a fuss about it. She turned back to Violet and added, “Well, then maybe it’s best to leave it as is. You look a peach already and Victor’s been waiting long enough, dear.”

“Oh, yes, he has!” Violet said jumping up.

“Just a dab of that orange blossom perfume should do it,” Heidi said smiling.

“Oh, yes! I love this,” Violet said smiling at the tiny bottle. “Victor likes it too.”

“Yes, he does,” Heidi agreed, hooking her arm around Richard’s. “I think we’re ready to go.”

“I think I know my mission now,” Richard told her as they followed Violet down the hall and to the stairs.

“And?” she asked her eyebrows arched in surprise and wonder.

“I need to make Victor exactly the man Violet would want to…to fall in love with,” he said, rather reluctantly.

“Indeed!” Heidi said. “And how do you propose to do this?”

“I have no idea,” he replied truthfully.

“Well, then, perhaps I can help with that, shall I?” Heidi said, giving him a motherly smile.

“Okay,” he said, “I can use all the help I can get. It’s not so easy being a spirit guide.”

“No, but it is rather satisfying, I’d say.” She giggled.

Richard would have to take her word for it.