Violet gazed at the sweet little antique ruby ring on her left hand and a pang of guilt swept over her.
“What would Richard say if he were here right now?” she miserably thought.
“Well, Honey, if he were here, you wouldn’t be wearing it at all. You’d still have on your own wedding band, he would be right beside you, probably holding your hand and you might never have met Victor, let alone be pretending to be engaged to him merely to fool his friends,” Heidi reminded her.
Violet did see the logic in that, but she’d never known logic to clear away guilt and it certainly wasn’t helping now. She unconsciously tugged on the necklace from which her wedding band dangled and marveled how well the ruby ring fit her. She and Victor’s mother were probably very similar in size. How odd!
“Violet, are you all right?” Victor asked, even though he already knew the answer.
“Huh? Oh, I’m fine,” she said, attempting a smile.
“Liar,” he replied, setting down his wine glass. “If you’d rather not do this I won’t make you.”
“Do what?” she said avoiding his eyes.
He raised both eyebrows. “Come on, sweetheart. Don’t play dumb. I can tell Bret and Eliza it was all a ruse. Or we don’t have to see my friends at all.”
“It’s obvious you can’t stand to be without your wedding ring on your finger and you’re certainly putout about wearing that one. You feel you’re betraying Richard.”
Violet shook her head just as the lights of the restaurant flashed and loud clapping and singing ensued. She gasped when she looked over her shoulder and found a troupe consisting of the wait staff coming straight toward them with a small, sparkler-topped cake in hand.
“Oh!” she said. “It’s for you!”
Violet joined in with the birthday singers, clapping along with them.
“Happy Birthday, Victor,” she said, giving him a tiny kiss on the cheek.
“Violet,” Victor said, grinning at her. “How did you do this?”
“Me?” Violet said. “I didn’t have anything to do with this. I’m as surprised as you.”
“Come on. You must have,” he said.
“Really, Victor, I didn’t. I wish I had thought of it.”
Victor stared at her and knew she wasn’t lying. “Then who?” he asked.
Violet shrugged. “Bret and Eliza?”
“No, no one knows we are here. I told no one.”
The waitress serving the cake, placed a slice in front of each of them and had been about to leave when Victor stopped her.
“Would you be able to tell us who ordered this birthday surprise?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know who exactly,” the young woman said, taking her notepad out of her pocket and flipping it open. “But there was a note tucked into this telling me precisely what to do for you,” she said. “Happy birthday, Sir. I’ll be right back with coffee.”
“Thank you,” he said and looked at Violet. “This is very odd.”
“What a mystery, huh?” she said, taking her first bite of cake.
“And delicious, too,” Victor added.
Heidi giggled as she hovered over their candle-lit table.
“You know who did it?” Richard asked. “Who ordered the surprise?”
“Of course I know. It was me,” she replied, a smug smile on her face.
“You? Do you mean to tell me you can talk to other people, not just them?”
She gave him a scathing look. “Are you being deliberately obtuse? Didn’t you tell me you spoke to your niece and nephew and even Violet’s Brother before you ever spoke to Violet? How is this any different?”
He frowned thinking back. He used to have such a great memory when he was alive, so why couldn’t he remember this one seemingly memorable year of his ghostly existence? He had spoken to the kids, Jimmy and Molly, many kids in fact. Kids he coached, kids he knew from the neighborhood, but adults didn’t always hear him. Some did, but not all. He had talked to Freddy, but he had been asleep and he saw Richard…maybe in a dream? Violet had too once…one incredible night. Laurie on the other hand, only could hear Richard some of the time. What the heck was up with that? He thought it had been volume; the softer you spoke the clearer they heard, but that didn’t always work either.
“It’s been more than a year now and I still don’t get how this works. Can you finally tell me? How the heck did you do that?” Richard asked pointing to the birthday cake.
She laughed. “Trade secret.”
“Hey, I’m in the ghost trade, too!” he whined.
“Hmm, but I don’t think you’re ready for such responsibility,” she said, all mirth gone.
“Why do you say that?”
“I didn’t see you trying in any way to ease Violet’s guilt,” Heidi said, her eyes narrowed and accusing. “Instead, I saw the scowl on your face when you watched her pull off her wedding band. I also saw the pained grimace when Victor slipped my old ring on her finger. That told me two things one of which is you are not ready to be a spiritual advisor for anyone, least of all Violet.”
Richard clenched his teeth in anger, but said nothing. He waited a minute then asked, “And the second thing?”
“You need Violet as much, if not more, than she needs you. Until you can let go of her, she won’t let go of you. That means she’ll be in limbo. Victor can’t take much more of this, Richard. He’s ready to give up. If he does you’ll get your wish. Violet stays forever as is…alone and lonely with no one to care for her. Is that what you want?”
“She won’t be alone.”
“No? She’ll have you, will she?” Heidi said.
Reluctantly, he shook his head as he stared down at Violet. Tears filled his eyes watching her smile at Victor. “I just don’t want her to forget about me,” he whispered.
“Has she yet?” Heidi asked, not unkindly.
“But she will when…if…when she falls in love with him,” he said.
“You really don’t know your own wife very well if you think that,” Heidi said.
“Richard, the heart has endless capacity for love. She will always love you, even when she loves another. But until you believe that, nothing changes.”
“Why do I have to believe it? It's Violet who has to believe it. I don't matter at all. I'm dead!”
She sighed. “Richard, have you not noticed…no, apparently not.”
“What? Tell me. Please, Heidi. I have to know.”
“Your emotions, your moods, she can feel that, Richard. Live people might never hear us, but they can feel us. They may not understand it and many don’t even acknowledge it for what it is. They’re too afraid or too logical. Whatever the case may be, when you feel bad or jealous or angry, like when Violet took off that precious ring you gave her so many years ago as a token of your loving devotion, she felt that,” she explained.
“How do you know?” he whispered, incredulous.
She smiled indulgently. “You know that old movie with the little kid who saw dead people?”
“Sure, the Sixth Sense…oh,” he said, catching on. “That’s what that means, huh?”
“Exactly,” she said. “It’s the ability many people have to feel the residual emotions of lost souls, of wandering spirits and ghostly beings. Your emotions infest Violet like fleas on a mangy dog.”
“Yes, Richard. If you can’t change the way you feel, neither can Violet.”
He frowned and looked down at Violet who still fussed with the engagement ring and fiddled with the chain around her neck.
“What can I do?” he asked.
“Perhaps you need to…be gone.”
“Gone? Where?” Richard shouted.
“Where do spirits normally go, Richard?” she asked, her tone condescending.
“Heaven…I hope? I sure don’t wanna go to the other place. You think that’s where I have to go?”
She laughed and gently stroked his cheek. “My dear boy, you may not be a saint, but you certainly aren’t a demon either.”
“I’m not convinced of that, so I’m not going anywhere, if you don’t mind!”
She laughed again, loudly this time.
Victor looked up just then.
“What is it?” Violet asked.
“You’ll think I’m nuts, but,” he said shaking his head slightly. “I thought I heard my mother laughing.”
“Oh, Victor,” Violet said, grabbing his hand and squeezing it. “I’m sure she’s looking down on you right now and wishing you, her precious baby boy, a most happy birthday. Who knows? Maybe she sent you this birthday surprise!”
“Well, that only makes sense! She did love me,” he retorted.
They both laughed.
Little did they know…