“Are the Trentons coming for the kids?” Violet asked, as she braided Kelly’s hair and tied it with a ribbon.
“No, I’ll bring them home,” Victor answered.
Violet waited in vain for the invitation to join him which always followed. When he remained silent, she looked at him as he tried one more time to show Julian how to tie his shoes.
“I just can’t do it, Victor!” he whined.
“It’s okay, Jules. We’ll try until you get it,” Victor said.
“I’ll never get it. Peter already knows how and he’s younger than me.”
“Age has nothing to do with it. Some people pick it up quicker than others, that’s all. We can practice some more at home. Would you like that?”
“Really? You'll stay longer?” he said, looking stunned.
Victor chuckled and kissed the top of his head. “We’ll see what Reverend Trenton says first, okay?”
“Okay,” Julian said. He hugged Victor then skipped off, joining the other kids who were either putting reluctant feet in socks, slipping into shoes or combing unruly, still wet hair.
“Are you doing anything special tonight?” Violet asked, gathering wet towels and bathing suits and tossing them into a laundry basket.
He shook his head and took the full basket away from her.
“Are you still having the Labor day party?” she said, following him into the mudroom.
“Oh, yes. That’s still on,” he replied, placing the laundry basket on the washing machine.
Violet stared in shock. That was the perfect opening for him to invite himself over to her house--presumably to make plans--and he didn’t take it. What was going on?
“Is there anything you need me to do?” she said.
“No, not really,” he said going back outside. “The kids will be ready to go in a few minutes and we’ll be on our way.”
“No, I mean for the party,” she said, frowning at his vague and confusing answers.
“No, I don’t think so,” he said, counting heads and frowning. “Where’s Sally? She’s not out here.”
“Um…maybe bathroom?” Violet said. “I’ll go check.”
Just then Sally ran out of the house terrified and screaming her head off.
“Sally, what’s wrong?” Victor said, scooping her into his arms.
“It…it was gonna bite me!” she shrieked.
“Oh, honey, there are no tarantulas in Catalpa Valley. I’m sure it was just a harmless, little spider,” Victor said.
“No! It was huge and mean-looking and …”she hugged him around the neck and burst out in tears.
“Aww, Sally, I won’t let it get you. I’ll make sure to get rid of it, okay?” he said, trying his best not to laugh. He turned to the other kids and shouted, “Come on, guys! Let’s go home. Say good-bye to Miss Violet.”
Violet’s jaw dropped as she watched the children quickly approaching. He wasn’t even asking her to join them like he usually did? Had the world suddenly turned upside-down? Or was he avoiding her now because he thought she was crazy?
Come to think of it, he had been stand off-ish, not his usual affectionate self. Had he fallen out of love with her? Was Victor just like her father?
“Bye, Miss Violet,” Lucia said, giving Violet a kiss on the cheek before she pried her little sister from her arms. “Come Carmencita, say bye-bye.”
As always happened, Carmencita started crying, but Lucia quickly whisked her away soothing her with a favorite lullaby as she did so. Violet passed out hugs and kisses to all. Each kid hopped into the van and strapped themselves into their designated seat and all Violet could do was look forlorn standing by the van as Victor climbed into the driver’s seat and buckled up.
“I’ll clean up the house while you’re gone,” Violet tentatively said.
“No, you don’t have to. Go home, Violet. I have a few things to do. I think we’ll try those shoelaces again,” he said, grinning.
She nodded and waved as they left her behind, a sickeningly hollow feeling at her core.
Things had changed somehow, but she didn’t exactly understand it. Or perhaps it was Victor who had changed? What could he have to do without her? He never didn’t invite her to join him before... unless it was work related.
She shook her head and went back in the house—into Victor’s house. Not like she had anything better to do than clean it.
“That’s what I’m thinking,” Victor said, looking from Reverend Trenton’s open, honest expression of concern to his wife’s look of stunned surprise. “I get the feeling you’re about to tell me I’m nuts.”
Louis Trenton chuckled. “Well, I think you can see why we would.”
Victor nodded. “I’m single and male. Two huge strikes against me,” he said.
“Not just that, Victor,” Flora interjected. “They are three of them. Adopting one child is…nothing short of a handful to a single parent, but three all at once…”
“I love them,” he said.
“That is apparent,” Louis said. “Although… in all honesty, Victor, I never saw a particular preference for any of them. I mean…you always take all the kids here on these outings.”
“Yes, not just the three you say you wish to adopt,” Flora interjected. “That is mostly why we’re so surprised by this.”
Victor sighed. He opened his mouth to speak then shut it again. “What I say stays here, I believe?”
“Of course. Lawyers and clergy, we know about confidentiality,” Louis said, with his typical easy grin.
“I asked Violet to marry me, twice,” Victor said.
Flora gasped and covered her cheeks with her hands. “Oh, that’s wonderful!”
Louis reached out to his wife and touched her arm, almost like a warning. “What do you mean twice?”
“She refused me point blank the first time and the second time…well, she didn’t say no, but she didn’t say yes, either.”
It was almost comical how swiftly Flora’s happy countenance faded and changed to abject incredulity. “But…but why?” she stuttered. “You’re perfect!”
Her husband gave her a look which clearly asked, “Is he now?”
“For Violet, Honey. He’s perfect for Violet,” she quickly said, her cheeks suddenly a bit rosy. “Did she give a reason? Because I know it isn’t that Violet doesn’t love you.”
“Has she told you this, Flora?” Louis asked.
“Well…no, not exactly, but a woman can tell!”
Louis looked to Victor. “I’ll bet she said she wasn’t ready yet. Am I right? To Violet it hasn't been very long since the death of her husband.”
“Exactly. She’s still…haunted, if you will, by Richard and I don't see an end in sight,” Victor said, with a heavy sigh.
“So, you don’t think she’ll ever marry you?” Flora asked.
He shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“And yet you wish to adopt the Silber kids?” Louis said. “Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?”
Victor shook his head. “It’s keeping a promise I made to Peter several months ago. I told him I’d adopt him as soon as I got Violet to marry me, but he’s waited long enough. I’ve waited long enough.”
“You’re not giving up on Violet, are you?” Flora asked, obviously distressed. Again her husband reached out and patted her arm.
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to,” Victor replied. “I love her. I want her. I even need her, but I don’t need her to be a good father. At least, I don’t think so.”
“That too, is obvious,” Louis said. “You have children of your own I believe?”
“Two boys…Simon and Ronnie. They're men now. They’re on their own for the most part and I never really had them with me much after the divorce. They lived with their mother and her husband, so I…I admit I see the Silber kids as my last chance to be a real father. There’s something about Peter in particular that tugs at me. Reminds me of Simon.”
They were silent for a long moment in which time they could hear the older kids ushering the younger ones through their bedtime rituals.
Victor smiled as he heard Joaquin shout, “Who wants a piggy-back ride up the stairs?” and Janey’s reply of, “Well, I do, but you’re too puny to carry me!”
“I want to be part of that every night,” Victor said pointing to the closed door and the kids just beyond it. “If I thought I could manage them, I’d adopt them all; every single one of them.”
Flora and Louis exchanged startled looks.
“Now that’s just crazy talk!” Louis said.
Victor laughed. “Probably. That may be why Violet refused me the first time. I actually suggested if we got married that we could adopt them all. For a minute, I really thought she would say yes. I know she loves them just as much as I do, but Richard’s ghost got in the way.”
“And you don’t think adopting the Silber kids might ruin your chance of getting her to marry you? I mean, what woman wants to marry a man with a ready-made family?”
“Or maybe he’s thinking it might better his chances,” Flora said, shrewdly.
Victor frowned slightly. “I didn’t think it would matter one way or the other. If she didn't take me without kids why wouldn't she take me with them? I doubt it matters to her. She has her ghost to deal with and… I’m just getting in the way.”
“So, you are giving up then?” Flora said.
He shook his head. “No, I’m just giving her the space she needs and in the meantime, I’m thinking about Peter, Georgiana and Julian. I can’t offer them everything, no mother, but I’ve got other things to make up for it. You think about it and let me know what you think.”
“I don’t think we have to think about anything,” Louis said, smiling at his wife who also smiled.
Stunned, Victor stared at them. “Do you mean I can have them?”
“Well…being a lawyer you know how it goes, Victor. Nothing is done without a whole load of endless, repetitive, very annoying and somewhat useless paperwork,” Louis said, opening up a drawer in his desk as he spoke and pulling out a two inch thick folder. “I think they make it extra difficult just to make quite certain you really have the patience for kids and really want them badly enough to make the effort.”
Victor laughed and grabbed the folder. “Being a lawyer I’ll whip through this lickety-split…but…”
“But what?” Flora said.
“All the same, take your time finalizing this,” Victor said.
“Excuse me?” Louis said.
“I know most people would like this rushed, but…I’d still like to give Violet enough time to maybe say yes. I really would like to be able to offer the kids a mother too. It’s a long shot, I know, but…”
“We understand,” Flora said, standing up and taking Victor’s hand in both of hers. “I better go see what the kids are doing. Would you like to say good night to them? Julian, Georgiana and Peter, I mean.”
“I don’t want to single them out from the others just yet, but I will say good night to all of them. If we’re done here?” Victor said holding out his hand to Reverend Trenton.
“Victor, we’ve only just begun,” Louis said, also standing and shaking his hand.