“Ready for the best tourist thing to do in New York?” Victor asked, leading Violet to a horse-drawn carriage in front of which stood a smiling man in old fashioned livery and a top hat.
“Hello, Raul. How are you and Chester doing this fine evening?” Victor said to the man as he patted the horse on his neck.
“Very well, Mr. Romanoff. So good to see you. It’s been a long time,” Raul said beaming as he bowed and doffed his hat to Violet. “And I finally get to meet the lovely Mrs. Romanoff.”
“Uh…we’re not…” Violet started to say.
“Not yet married, but one day soon,” Victor interjected. “We’re engaged as of today.”
“Ah, congratulations!” Raul said. He then opened the little door to the carriage and offered his hand to Violet.
“No need, Raul,” Victor said lifting Violet as if she were a little kid and placing her gently within before climbing in himself.
“Very well, Sir,” Raul said, closing the door after Victor settled beside Violet. “Where to?”
“Give us a tour of the park, Raul,” Victor replied smiling at Violet and putting his arm around her. “Comfy?”
“Oh, yes. Victor, this is wonderful. Thank you,” she gushed as the stately horse started forward.
The gentle trotting lulled them into a peaceful repose. Violet lay her head on Victor’s shoulder and he pulled her closer to him. She felt safe and secure within Victor’s arms…not to mention, loved and cherished, and he couldn’t have been happier. The moonlit night was perfect for the romantic ride. He lifted her hand and kissed it. When she turned to him and smiled he couldn’t resist a real, albeit small kiss-- and miracle upon miracle-- she allowed it.
They slowly passed the Conservatory pond where tiny sailboats floated on the murky water during the day, but now it lay still as glass, quiet and undisturbed.
Victor told her of the various spots of interest, The Dakota buildings where JohnLennon lived and died, the 2 acre teardrop shaped stretch of land dedicated to his memory, Strawberry Fields Forever, the botanical garden, the zoo, all of which he told her they could visit the next day if she wished and the Balcony, Eaglevale and Bow Bridges.
“What about Jeff and Lloyd Bridges?” she asked, a coy smile on her lips.
He laughed and kissed the tip of her nose. “My little cutie all of a sudden is a wise-ass. Knew it would happen once I brought you to the city.”
She giggled. “Are any of those the bridge where Meg Ryan met Tom Hanks at the end of You’ve Got Mail?”
“No, sweetie, that was Riverside Park, but I do have a special surprise you might like. It’s coming up soon. Raul, let’s stop at Wonderland,” Victor shouted.
Raul made a sign he heard him and within a few minutes he stopped.
“Come, my love,” he said alighting from the carriage, putting his hands around her waist and taking her down.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“What do you mean, wonder…oh!”
Violet gasped at the sight before her, a huge bronze statue of Alice, the Mad Hatter, Dinah the cat, the Dormouse and the White Rabbit all sitting on and around a group of mushrooms.
“Oh, my goodness! This is beautiful! It really is Wonderland,” she gushed.
“Come, I’ll sit you up with Alice and take your picture,” Victor said.
“No, Sir, let me,” Raul said, offering his services as photographer.
They posed in front of the large mushroom in front of Alice and besdie the little Dormouse, Victor with his arms around Violet, both smiling at Raul.
“One more, maybe a little kiss?” Raul suggested.
Violet nervously looked up at Victor.
“It is his birthday, dear. You didn’t really give him a present, now did you? This would make up for it,” Heidi whispered in her ear.
Violet smiled, placed her hands on his chest and went up on tiptoes. She had only intended a tiny brushing of her lips against his, but everything was against her for that. The lovely summer night, the romance in the air, the marvelous, carefree feeling that all was well in the world, and best of all, the company, were all too much to be satisfied with merely a tiny kiss.
Victor had never looked more handsome, been more attentive and he had kept her happy most of the day. They did get along exceptionally well. If there really was a cloud nine, Violet was, this very moment, joyfully floating on it and it was all due to Victor.
One kiss lead to another and then another until—she didn’t quite know how it happened—she felt her feet leave the earth and her arms somehow made it around his neck, her fingers tangling in his once neat-as-a-pin hair.
“Whaddaya think, Chester?” Raul said to the horse. “Enough kissing pictures? No? Few more? That’s what I thought.” He took plenty more with Victor’s Droid and then stood waiting several seconds, his eyes diverted. “Don’t look, Chester. It may give you ideas.”
“I guess we better go,” Victor whispered, at long last, kising her one final time. “Can’t stay in Wonderland forever. At least not this wonderland.”
“Hmm?” Violet said, a bit dazed, her feet still dangling in the warm summer air.
Victor smiled and set her gently back to earth, and with his arm still around her, he led her back to the carriage, lifted her up into it and climbed in himself. “Thank you, Raul.”
“No problem. Chester liked it,” Raul smirked. “He’s a sucker for newlyweds…or close to it.”
“Is he?” Victor said, laughing.
“Oh, yeah!” Raul said, climbing into his own seat up front. “True romantic , that Chester. He asked me to tell ya, to keep us in mind when the wedding day comes. Chester loves getting all spiffed up for a wedding, you know.”
“Sounds great!” Victor said. “I’m sure my new bride will love it almost as much as I love her.”
“He really is full of himself, isn’t he? We’re engaged. My new bride…pfttt,” Richard said in a rather snotty voice.
“Hush! He’s no such thing as you well know,” Heidi chided.
“He’s using her and completely disregarding her wishes,” he snapped.
Heidi rolled her eyes. “Ho-hum. She doesn’t appear too distraught at the moment so shut it.”
“Really?” he said, pointing to Violet who now wore a slight frown.
“She was perfectly fine two seconds ago. You did that!” Heidi shouted.
“What the hell are you talking about? How did I….”
“She obviously heard you.”
“She did not and so what if she did?” Richard said, but he didn’t sound convinced of it himself.
“Sweetheart, what’s wrong? You chilled?” Victor asked.
“Chilled? It’s eighty degrees out,” she retorted.
“All right, then are you too hot?”
“No, you’re not. What’s with the furrowed brow?”
She bit her lip which still tingled from the kiss and she looked down at the ring on her finger. “Victor, you mustn’t do that anymore,” she said.
“What?” he said, utterly perplexed.
“Must you tell everyone in New York City that we’re engaged?” she whispered.
“But we are.”
“No, we’re not…not really,” she said earnestly. “I told you this was just…”
“Are you honestly going to do this again, on my birthday and after that kiss?” he said, incredulous.
“I’m not doing anything, except setting things straight. This is a one-time thing, just…it’s your birthday and …and to fool your matchmaker friends. I’m still married, you know. See?” she said pulling the chain out showing him her wedding band.
“All I see is evidence of you clinging to a dead man you used to be married to.”
The stunned and hurt expression on her face told Victor he had gone too far, but he didn’t care.
“As far as I’m concerned, we are indeed engaged to be married and we will be married one day, as soon as you get it through your thick head that your dear Richard will never come back, that you can't be married to a corpse, and that the very live man right in front of you cherishes you, worships you and will do anything and everything in his power to make you happy. And you know what else? You love me, too. You might not know it, and you’re sure as hell going to refute it, but you do. I wasn’t at all certain of it until just now, until that kiss. So, spare me. Your beloved Richard is no more. I’ve replaced him.”
“Oh, no. I was totally wrong,” Richard said, snidely. “Not full of himself at all. He’s just madder than a March hare is all. Violet in Wonderland... oh, yeah."
Heidi couldn’t find anything to say to that.