Although Violet appeared by turns jovial, calm and optimistic, she was actually as serious as a heart attack, as nervous as a mouse suddenly dropped into a room full of hungry cats, and well on the way to being frightened out of her wits. For heaven’s sake, she was just about to meet someone-- a stranger no less-- who had just had a real heart attack!
In fact, Violet was a total wreck, but no one seemed any the wiser. There she was surrounded by Victor and his sons and they were staring at her as though she had tentacles growing out of the top of her head. Even her knees shook, so it was amazing that she was still standing.
What must they think of her? She could guess since they both knew she had gone away with their father for a romantic weekend. Did they think she was a money grubbing floozy trying to steal their inheritance? Perhaps they thought she was another Chenille? Surely not! They seemed to like her…at least Ronnie did. She was not at all certain about Simon, though. Although his words were kind, his sardonic expression made her slightly nervous, and she didn’t quite know why. Perhaps it was his strong resemblance to his aristocratic mother.
Goodness! She hadn’t thought of this before, but what if she actually met Victor’s wife, the formidable Catherine? She was already afraid of the woman and she’d never even met her! Violet inwardly groaned. If she made it through this day it would be a miracle.
Violet supposed the invalid grandmother could be worse than Catherine even though Victor insisted Marty would like Violet, but would she really? She couldn’t see why, but Victor insisted they meet. Oh, bother!
As if her disheartening thoughts had transmitted through the air, the next words spoken only caused her more distress.
“Uh…Dad, what about Mom?” Ronnie said, just as the elevator doors opened onto the sixth floor.
“What about her?” Victor replied.
Ronnie glanced briefly at Violet then leaned forward and whispered in his father’s ear, “Might not be a good idea to let her see your girlfriend.”
Victor stared at Ronnie a moment, then looked to Violet who remained seemingly oblivious and unperturbed, and then to Simon who nodded, apparently also seeing the wisdom in this suggestion. “Let’s see where Marty is first, shall we?”
“I’ll stand watch,” Ronnie said, ominously looking right and left down the corridors.
“Watch for what?” Violet asked.
Ronnie grinned and leaned down to say, “Gremlins, dragons, flying monkeys, zombies, you know, the usual bad, creepy things hanging around hospitals.”
“You’re so cute," Violet said, forcing a smile. "Not much different than when you were little.”
“Room six-ten,” Victor said, returning from the nurse station, looking at each son. “Only two of us can go in at a time so…”
“You should go first, Dad. She’s asking for you,” Simon said.
“I’m sure she’d rather see her grandsons over her lawyer,” he answered.
“She’s been asking for ya, Dad,” Ronnie said.
“And you’re not just her lawyer,” Simon added. “You know she considers you as good as her son.”
“That’s so sweet,” Violet said, smiling up at Victor.
“If no one’s watching we can all sneak in, you know,” Ronnie muttered, making sure the nurses couldn’t hear.
“You three go. I’ll wait here,” Violet said, going to sit on a stiff, puce colored plastic chair.
“You boys go,” Victor said, sitting down beside Violet. “We’ll go after your visit. Take your time.”
“Okay, but she’s just gonna tell us to come get you,” Ronnie said, going down the hall with Simon keeping pace.
“Keep a look out for Mom,” Simon mumbled looking this way and that, before reaching the room.
“Don’t gotta tell me twice. Mom will eat Violet alive if we let her,” Ronnie said, knocking on door number six-ten.
“So, let’s not let her,” Simon agreed, following his brother inside.
“Grandma?” Ronnie whispered, opening the door slowly.
Marty looked up from the fashion magazine she had been flipping through and smiled broadly. “My boys! My wonderful, beautiful boys!”
“Grandma, look at you,” Simon said, his relief so great he almost felt dizzy and his eyes stung. “You’re beautiful!” he said circling the bed and planting a kiss on her soft, but slightly pale cheek.
“Oh, Grandma,” Ronnie said, kissing her other cheek and clasping her hand. “We were so worried, but you look great! ”
“Of course I do. I’m fine!” Marty haughtily replied, patting Simon’s cheek and squeezing Ronnie’s hand.
"You sure don't look like you had a heart attack," Ronnie said.
“That's because I didn't. How are my amazing grandsons?”
"You sure don't look like you had a heart attack," Ronnie said.
“That's because I didn't. How are my amazing grandsons?”
“Good now that I know you’re doing well. Mom scared me half to death,” Simon exclaimed.
“Your mother is a bit of a drama queen,” Marty retorted.
“I get it from you, Mother dear.”
Ronnie and Simon jumped and spun around. There, almost hidden by the door, sat their mother also flipping through a glossy publication with obvious impatience.
“It was merely indigestion, I’m sure,” Marty snapped.
“Indigestion doesn’t numb your left arm, Mother,” Catherine retorted.
“Hey, Mom,” Ronnie nervously said, his heart thudding madly in his chest. He stumbled forward and awkwardly kissed her cheek, then stepped back to safety by his grandmother’s side.
“Mom, good to see you,” Simon said, recovering far better than his brother. He went to her and kissed her cheek. “You look great. I hope Andy is well.”
She stared appraisingly at him and his brother for a moment, then she stood up. “He’s fine. Did either of you speak to your father?”
“Yes,” they spoke simultaneously.
“Did you tell him to come?” she asked.
Again they both replied, “Yes.”
“Well, where is he then?” Catherine snapped.
“He’s waiting outside,” Simon explained.
“He only just got back from…Uncle Vladimir’s,” Ronnie said, wincing when Simon elbowed him while giving him a what-the-hell-did-you-tell-her-that-for? look.
“Why didn’t he come in with you? Doesn’t he want to see me?” Marty asked, sounding hurt. “I need him.”
“He didn’t want to stress you, Grandma, not with too many visitors at once,” Simon soothingly said.
“The nurse told him only two visitors at a time,” Ronnie added.
“Oh, pish-posh! What does it matter how many people come to see me? I thrive on company,” Marty said, excitedly.
Catherine rolled her eyes. “Stupid man. I’ll get him.”
“No!” the brothers shouted at precisely the same time.
“What is up with you two?” Catherine asked, narrowing her eyes.
“I’ll get him for you, Grandma,” Ronnie said, slipping out of the door before anyone could stop him. Once out of the room he ran down the hall.
“What is it?” Victor said, jumping to his feet once he saw Ronnie running toward them.
“Mom’s with her. Grandma’s asking for you. I’ll stay with Violet,” Ronnie said smiling down at her. “Want a cup of coffee? I sure would.”
“Uh…okay,” Violet said, and she yelped as he pulled her up from the chair lifting her clean off the floor for a second.
“Try not to break her, Ronnie,” Victor sternly said. “She’s the only girlfriend I have.”
“Sure, Dad,” he answered with an apologetic grin. “So, um…how’s Sophie doing? And your son, Kevin?” he said to Violet, leading her to the elevator.
“Kenny,” she corrected.
“Oh, yeah, that’s him,” Ronnie said. “Sophie’s at Florida State, right?”
“No, University of Miami,” she replied.
“Oh, yeah? Hear that’s a great party school,” he said grinning.
Violet looked back to Victor with a horrified expression.
Victor sighed, shook his head and went down the hall, bracing himself. He entered the room and smiled. “Marty, how are you, Sweetheart?”
“Victor! I knew you’d come to save me,” she said, lifting her frail arms to him.
Like the boys, he kissed her and even gave her a little hug. “Don’t over exert yourself, Marty. You have to take it easy,” he warned.
“Oh, pish-posh! There’s nothing wrong with me. I want you to tell the doctors to release me. I want to go home!” she whined.
“You’re going nowhere,” Catherine said, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Hello, Cat,” Victor said, turning around to look at her.
“Victor,” she replied, glaring at him. “Don’t call me that. Tell my mother she can’t go home. She can no longer care for herself and she knows it, but she won’t listen to me.”
“I’d have to first talk to the doctors to know what’s right for her,” he replied.
“So, you, a lawyer, and a doctor barely out of med school who only just met my mother know more than I, her own daughter, of what is best for her? Somehow I don’t think so,” she retorted with years of pent up venom.
Victor sighed and turned back to Marty with a smile. “How are you really feeling, Honey? Any discomfort?”
“Of course I have discomfort! I’m in this miserable, dreary looking hospital away from my lovely things and my wonderful friends and my charming home, aren’t I?” Marty whined.
Victor chuckled and kissed her forehead again. “Well, let’s see what we can do to fix all that. Do you consent to have me speak to your doctor?”
“Of course, Victor dear,” she said, smiling sweetly and patting his cheek. “You are my champion. I know you’ll take good care of me…unlike some who merely wish to stick me in a cave to rot, tossed away like yesterday’s trash.”
“Pleasant Valley is the best senior assisted living facility in all of New York, Mother. Hardly a cave,” Catherine interjected.
“I won’t be driven from my home just so you can steal your inheritance before I’m even dead,” Marty said her voice too loud and her color rising—a sure sign she was working herself into a frenzy.
“Marty, please, calm yourself,” Victor soothed. “No one is sending you anywhere you don’t want to go. I promise.”
“Victor, my mother…”
He lifted his hand, effectively silencing her. “Don’t upset her, Cathy,” he said in a dangerously low voice, “Unless you wish to continue this at her grave site.”
“Mom,” Simon interjected, swiftly coming between his parents. “You look like you could use a break. You’ve been stressed out being here all this time on your own. Let’s go down for some coffee. I know I’d love some after the long ride with Ronnie.”
“Well…all right, but do not make any decisions without consulting me first,” Catherine said, giving her mother and Victor a withering look.
“Well, of all the nerve! You’d think she…” Marty started.
“Marty, don’t distress yourself. She can do nothing without your consent. That’s what I’m here for, right? And who am I?” he said smiling at her.
“My champion,” she said, giggling like a school girl.
“There’s my sweetheart,” he said.
Catherine rolled her eyes and Simon asked, “So, where is Ronnie, Dad?”
“He went to get coffee with…” Victor paused and glanced at Catherine who watched him with interest.
“With a cookie no doubt,” Simon said, with a significant look at his dad.
“Yes, probably. You might want to text him, so you can…so you don’t miss each other,” Victor said.
“I wouldn’t mind missing him, Dad,” Simon said, smirking. “I’ve been in the car with him for almost three solid hours.”
Victor laughed. “But now you’ll have the pleasure of your dear mother’s company,” he said.
“Maybe they’ll both ditch her and come back to be with their old grandmother before she’s put out to pasture,” Marty whined.
Catherine rolled her eyes again and left in a huff, a quickly texting Simon right behind her.
“So…” Ronnie said, gazing at Violet with a mixture of adoration and bewilderment. “You and my dad. Never in a million years… I mean, you’re Sophie’s mom and… well, I never thought… I figured he’d want a super model or something, but you… you’re so much better.”
Violet nearly choked on her hot chocolate. “What? Me better than a super model? How in the world do you figure that?”
“Easy,” he said, shrugging. “You’re a perfect mom, so you’ll make a great step mom.”
“You mean you actually want a step mother?” she said incredulously.
He laughed and nodded. “Sure do, especially one like you.”
Intrigued, Violet stared at him in question. “Don’t you know all those fairy tales about evil step mothers?”
He laughed and shook his head. “In our case it’s the evil natural mother. You see, I really envied your kids,” he said softly, stirring his coffee with a bright red, plastic stick before putting it in his mouth and chewing on it. He then leaned back in his chair and smiled, albeit sadly, his arms folded loosely over his broad chest. “They had a mom who went on field trips with them and baked cookies for the whole class, you gave your kids birthday parties and invited all the kids in class, not just two or three. I remember, ‘cause I was there at Sophie’s birthday party, just a month after we moved up here. That was awesome. Made me feel at home, and you’re so nice to everybody, all the kids, not just yours. You used to cheer for every single kid playing whatever sport and you gave hugs and kisses freely. If anybody got hurt you were there to comfort them. You were a perfect mom to me ‘cause… ‘cause you’re nothing like my mother.”
A ton of bricks falling on her head right that minute couldn’t have shocked her more than that speech. What could she possibly say to that? It was all true, but… to be so unfairly compared to his mother. Could Catherine really be that awful, that uncaring as he just inferred?
“Ronnie, that’s not the whole story, you know. You only saw my good side,” she said. “You didn’t get a chance to see me yelling at Kenny for leaving his muddy shoes in the foyer and books all over the living room or scolding Sophie for her messy room and constantly nagging both of them for not doing their chores. That’s part of being a mom, too.”
He just grinned. “If you think I’m buying any of that faggedabodit!”
She giggled and sipped at her drink.
“You make my dad happy. That’s all that matters, really, but I still like it that you’ll one day be my step mom. I could use some motherly love…assuming you marry my dad.”
Violet’s eyes widened. “I… my husband only died…it’s not been very long since…”
“It’s been one year, three months, two weeks and three days,” he said, calculating it on his smart phone.
She blinked at him, stunned. “How did you…”
“There's an apt for that. Besides, we went to his funeral. Everyone did. Hardly anyone went to school that day. Everyone loved Coach Bennett. He fixed my swing, did ya know?”
“Swing, for baseball. Couldn’t hit a ball for my life until…” Ronnie stopped to laugh. “It was so funny. There I was…I think I was seven… I was behind the dugout practicing my swing where Coach Starcher wouldn’t see me before I had to go up to bat and he sneaks over to me…your husband I mean. He said, ‘Hey kid, c’mere. You gotta pick up your bat before you swing.’ I didn’t know what he meant, so I said, ‘But Coach Starcher says…’ and he shook his head at me. ‘Don’t tell him I said so, but he’s an idiot. He should stick to coaching football.’ Then he took my bat and showed me what he wanted me to do. Then he said the bat was too heavy for me and told me to get a lighter one, but to make sure my coach didn’t see me. I’ll never forget that, cuz I really could hit after that. He was so cool! Just like Andy. That’s my step dad. He was a great coach, too, still is, but he never did correct my swing like… hey! Why are you crying?”
“I’m not,” Violet lied, wiping away a tear as it slipped down her cheek.
“I’m sorry, Ms. Bennett. I didn’t mean to upset you. Dad’s gonna kill me,” he muttered.
“It’s fine, Ronnie, really,” she said, with a sniff. “It’s so nice to hear that people who have died won’t be forgotten too soon…especially my Richard. Thank you for telling me such a nice story.”
Ronnie watched her sniff and wipe at another stray tear. “You’re still not over your husband, are you?”
She shrugged and forced a smile. “I’m not sure I’ll ever get over him. He was everything to me.”
“But what about my dad?” he asked in earnest.
“I care very much for him.”
“But you don’t love him?” he asked and his tone was one of disappointment.
“I wouldn’t say that. It’s just…”
Just then his cell phone made a funny little whistle sound signaling a text. “Oh, crap! Mom and Simon are coming down. Let’s get outta here.”
“Um…why? Don’t you want to see your mother?”
“Uh… not right now. Less time I spend with her, the better,” he said, draining his Styrofoam cup of the last bit and tossing it into the trash. He then grabbed Violet’s arm and nearly dragged her to the elevator. They were nearly there when he saw a glimpse of his mother’s platinum blonde hair as the doors of the elevator opened and he swiftly steered Violet out of sight down a short corridor to the right.
“Where are we going?” she asked, startled by the abrupt move.
“I think we should get something nice for Grandma, flowers or something. Whaddaya think?”
“Oh, everyone loves flowers,” she said brightly, as they turned into the gift shop.
“Cool!” Ronnie said, relieved when he spotted his brother-- who had obviously seen them-- pointing and showing their mother something in the opposite direction as they passed them.
“Do you know your grandmother’s favorite flower?” Violet asked, as she looked over the sundry bouquets and arrangements in a refrigerator case towards the back of the shop.
“Uh…I think I heard my dad say something like honeysuckle?”
“No, that’s your other grandmother’s favorite,” she said, without thinking.
“Did you know my other grandmother?” he asked, apparently shocked.
“Oh, no. Wish I had, but Victor speaks often about her, so…almost feel like I know her.”
“Cool,” he said. “Umm…maybe roses?”
“Oh, definitely pink!”
Violet smiled as she opened the sliding door and pointed to a lovely arrangement of pink roses, white baby’s breath and pink spider mums. “How about this one?”
“That looks nice. Okay!” he said, grabbing it and heading to the cashier.
After paying and making certain his mother was nowhere in sight, he ushered Violet to the elevator while carrying the flowers.
“So, uh… you were saying you care for my dad, but you don’t love him. That mean you don’t ever want to marry him?”
Ho-boy! This guy really doesn’t mince words, does he? In dismay, Violet almost wished she was the one weak and fragile from a recent, mild heart attack in a hospital bed, receiving pretty flowers and getting loads of attention from her loved ones.
Better than getting the third degree!