Simon stared across the table at his mother as she slowly sipped her coffee, and pulled out his smart phone. He knew without a doubt that texting was the best spy tool ever created, and he also knew best how to put it to maximum effect. He quickly texted a message to Andy, his step-father:
Grama ok. Mom trd, won’t go hme. Pick up, plez? Thx.
“Who you texting?” Catherine asked, distractedly straightening the sugar packets in the tiny, clear plastic container sitting on the table next to the napkin holder.
“Oh, just my adviser at school. He asked me to keep him informed of grandma’s condition,” Simon lied smoothly.
“Why in the world would he care about her? He doesn’t even know her,” she said, mildly irritated, but not only about that. She didn’t particularly care for Victor being here either, nor her mother insisting on it. Why her mother couldn’t get it through her thick head that he was not her son-in-law any longer…well, it was useless to try to make her see this…useless and exhausting.
“Dr. Larimar is a very compassionate person, Mother. He doesn’t wish harm on anyone. He saw how upset I was when you called and insisted I come, even though I will be missing several important classes,” Simon explained, his usual insouciant expression replaced with an angry one.
She sighed. “I see. Is he the psychiatrist that got you working at the nuthouse?”
He clenched his jaw and curtly nodded, just as his text signal sounded. He read it and his jaw relaxed. He texted their location—cafeteria on first floor-- and pocketed the phone. “Would you like something to eat? I’ll bet you haven’t eaten anything all day. Did you sleep at all last night?”
She shrugged. “No to both. We should get back upstairs. Who knows what garbage Mother is telling your father, and he’s stupid enough to listen and do everything she wants regardless of what is good for her. I can’t believe he came at all.”
“Why wouldn’t he? You know he adores Grandma and she him, plus she specifically asked for him.”
“Well, how did he know that? I certainly didn’t tell him. Mother insisted I call him, and so I did, but I neglected to tell him that.”
“I told him and probably Ronnie did as well,” he said, somewhat defiantly.
She glared at him. “Figures. Should have guessed you would. Never thought he’d actually come, though. Like he doesn’t have better things to do than babysit a grumpy old woman and listen to her fanciful mutterings.”
“Yes, he had tons better things to do, I’m sure,” he said, just itching to tell his mother about Violet. Of course, his first instinct was to protect his father’s first real, serious girlfriend from his vindictive mother. He could only imagine what nastiness could come from his mother upon learning Victor was happy with another woman.
“Cutting short a trip upstate with his family to come here…why would he do that? To annoy me, no doubt.”
“You never really knew Dad, did you?” he asked, his eyes narrowed.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake! Not this again,” she muttered angrily. “You’re a bit too old to be pitting your divorced parents against each other, aren’t you, Simon?”
“You obviously don’t need me for that. Dad’s not your enemy, Mom. He never was, so don’t treat him like one. He cares about Grandma. End of story. It’s not about deliberately smiting you.”
“Right now he’s listening to Mother whine and she’ll get her way like she always does, but she can’t live on her own anymore. She’ll end up hurting herself, or killing herself, like she almost did this time around. Do you know what she was doing when she had the heart attack? Rearranging furniture, at her age! If it wasn’t for her neighbor coming around …” She paused as a shudder ran through her. “She would be dead right this minute. I swear I want to kill her myself.”
“So, she’ll take it easy now. We’ll explain it to her that she has to slow down and take it easy,” he said calmly.
“She won’t listen! You heard her just now. Indigestion, my butt! There might not be a next time, Simon. Do you not understand that?”
“But a nursing home will kill her faster. You know she won’t like it. I don’t even like the idea of it. Can you really see Grandma surrounded by strangers with some goons shoving pills in her face and telling her when to go to bed and when to get up, when to take a bath, when to eat and what to eat and insisting she’ll be content for the rest of her life doing kindergarten-level busy work?”
“Now you’re exaggerating as bad as she does. It’s not like that,” Catherine said, drinking the rest of her coffee and standing up. “Let’s go. I won’t have your father filling her head with promises he can’t keep.”
“Mom, sit!” he snapped.
The tone of his voice shocked her into silence, but only for a second. “What did you say to me?”
“You heard me. We’re not done talking,” Simon snarled. “I’m quitting school. I’ll stay with Grandma, and I’ll take care of her.”
“Over my dead body, you will!”
“Shall I start digging your grave for you, Mother?” he said, his insolence back in full force.
She gasped indignantly.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean that,” he quickly said, grabbing her hand, pulling her back into her seat.
“Which part?” she asked struggling to keep the hurt out of her voice.
“If it’s the only way for Grandma to be safe…”
“But it’s not!”
“Safe and happy…then I will quit school. I’m sure you could get me a job at your hospital or even this hospital. You don’t want me to be a psychiatrist anyway.”
“I didn’t say that!”
“You didn’t have to,” he retorted. “Dad doesn’t even like the idea. So that’s two strikes against it and…”
“Hey, Simon! Didn’t know you were here already.”
Two faces turned up to see Andy’s smiling face, his sandy blond hair looking windblown and tousled, his clothes like he had slept in them, but his pale blue eyes, although tired with dark circles under them, were bright and shining. He stooped down and kissed Catherine’s lips, lingering ever so slightly, caressing her pale cheek.
“How’s my beautiful girl?” he whispered. “You look so tired, Honey.”
“Andy, what are you doing here? You had the night shift last night. You should be sleeping. You have to work later,” she said, the perpetual scowl vanishing instantly, as it always did in Andy’s presence.
“I have the night off. Traded with Frankie. Besides, you know I can’t sleep without you stealing the covers away,” he joked, kissing her again. He then turned to Simon and offered his hand. “How ya doing, Buddy? How’s your Grandmother? Better now that you’re here, am I right?”
Simon grinned. “I think so. Good thing you came just now, Andy. Mom could use a little nap, some food and some TLC. Think you can handle that?”
Andy laughed. “Be my pleasure. Come on, Cutie. You need a rest.”
“I can’t leave now, Andy,” Catherine protested. “Mother is plying to get released, and the thirteen year old doctor she has is stupid enough to do it!”
“Now who’s exaggerating?” Simon said, standing up. “Mom, we’ll make sure she stays put, even if we have to strap her down, and nothing else will matter for now. Come back in the morning and we’ll all talk with her and decide what’s best. Okay?”
Before she could protest, Andy put his arm around her and steered her out of the cafeteria, speaking soothingly to her as he mostly dragged her. Simon, right behind them, waved as they left through the revolving doors and vanishing into the night.
He breathed a sigh of relief and muttered, “Thank you, Andy. I owe you one,” before he bounded down the hall to the elevators.
“Um… I still don’t think your grandmother will want so many people in at once to see her, especially someone she’s never met before,” Violet said, trying her best to stay put in the waiting area even as Ronnie easily dragged her forward.
“Whaddaya kidding me? She’ll love meeting you!” he insisted. “She’s been praying for years that Dad would find a great girl and that’s you, the answer to her prayers. She likes proof that all that praying works.”
Violet might have laughed if she wasn’t scared to death of meeting this woman. Despite what Victor said, she couldn’t imagine truly getting along with her. What kind of person could have given birth to the evil witch which was Catherine, after all? She had to be just as bad, maybe worse! Violet envisioned a cruel, beady, black-eyed vulture sitting atop a bare-leafed tree ready to pounce, and then just to truly frighten herself, Violet made her ten times worse by giving her fangs so she could easily strip the flesh from her bones. Yes, that is what she imagined Victor’s former mother-in-law to look like.
Imagine her surprise then when she saw no such creature in the hospital bed.
Martina Regent was a regal looking woman in her early seventies who looked considerably younger, as if she had somehow found the mythical fountain of youth a decade or two too late. Better late than never!
Although she did look a bit tired and slightly gaunt, for someone having recently had a heart attack, Marty looked rather well and beautiful. She wore a frothy, pink chiffon bed jacket over an elegant, snowy-white cotton gown buttoned up to her neck with a ruffled collar framing her delicate heart shaped face. Her makeup was immaculate and she wore tasteful but obviously expensive jewelry. Only thing missing, Violet fleetingly thought, was a tiara and possibly a septor, although they would have clashed horribly with the beeping machine to which she was connected.
Ronnie tugged Violet further inside the room bringing her to stand right beside the bed, and he said, “Grandma, look what I found.”
Marty looked at her kindly, her silvery hair gleaming in the artificial light which made her dangling earring swing as she slowly shook her head. “No, I don’t need any more magazines at the moment, but thank you. I have my grandsons with me now…” She paused to pout. “Well, one of them. Where is Simon, Ronnie? You must tell him to come back to me. I may not be long for this world.”
“Stop saying that, Grandma!” Ronnie snapped. “This isn’t a hospital volunteer. This is Violet, Violet Bennett. She’s Dad’s new girlfriend. Isn’t she awesome?”
Marty gasped and clasped her hands together at her chest. “Why that little sneak! He told me nothing about you!”
“He didn’t even tell us,” Ronnie grumbled, tugging Violet closer to the hospital bed. “Isn’t she perfect?”
Marty stared at the gaumless expression on Violet’s face and might have thought otherwise had she not also noticed fear in her eyes. She held out a hand and smiled. To her relief Violet automatically took it.
“You mustn’t look like that, Dear. I’m quite well as you can see. Perfectly fine, in fact,” Marty explained. “Victor is telling this to my doctor as we speak, so I can finally go home. Now, tell me, dear, when did you and Victor meet?”
Violet looked from her to Ronnie who nodded encouragingly, but just as she wondered how to get out of saying anything, Victor came into the room. The only time she felt more relief was after giving birth to Kenny. That kid hurt coming out, all nine pounds, three ounces of him.
“Violet, there you are,” Victor said, kissing her cheek. “You’ve met Marty then?”
“I’m quite put out, Victor!” Marty snapped, and Violet flinched.
“What happened?” Victor said, looking from one face to the other.
“Why have you not told me anything about this lovely creature? Are you embarrassed by me?” she whined in dramatic fashion.
“That’s what me and Simon think,” Ronnie said, frowning at his father.
“Of course not!” Victor said. “We’re just…”
“Uh…We…we…we…uh…” Violet stammered, as all eyes turned to her.
“All the way home?” Simon suggested as he entered the room smirking. “Like the little pig?”
“Hey! What are you doing back?” Ronnie shouted, looking behind his brother in a panic. “Where’s…”
“Relax, Andy came by and took Mom home. She was about ready to drop,” Simon said, going around everyone and going to Marty’s side. “So, you meet Dad’s new squeeze, Grandma? What do you think? We kinda like her, but she doesn’t talk much, so we can’t really tell.” He grinned at Violet, who looked ready to faint or something.
“Well?” Marty said, staring at Victor and Violet.
“Oh, yes,” Victor started. “Well, I spoke to the doctor and he said...”
Marty rolled her eyes. “Not that! What do I care about that now?” she said thoroughly annoyed. “What I want to know is the important stuff. How long have you two been dating? Where did you meet? Where Does Violet live now? Are you living together? When are you getting married? How did you…”
“Whoa! Whoa!” Victor said, holding his hands up. “Marty, you’re entirely too…excitable right now and that’s not good for you.”
“Oh, pish-posh!” she said, folding her arms over her chest. “Are you going to tell me everything about the two of you or what?”
“What,” Victor answered calmly. “Now is not the time to talk about Violet and me. We need to talk about your condition. Dr. Walter said…”
“The next words out of your mouth better be you’re perfectly fine and they’re releasing you within the hour or I’m going to be a very un-happy camper,” Marty hissed under her breath.
“You need to stay overnight for observation,” he finished, holding his hands up to stem the coming tantrum. “Sweetheart, listen to me.”
She turned her face away and stuck her nose up in the air. “I won’t!”
“Marty, you have to realize this wasn’t a slight thing. Catherine was rightfully scared and so am I. Yes, it was mild…this time, but it was a warning that you’re doing too much and you need to be cared for. You are no longer a teenager, you know,” Victor said.
Marty glared at him. “And you call yourself my son?” she dangerously whispered.
“Former son-in-law, actually,” Violet corrected, but as soon as she did she wished she would fall through the floor and disappear forever. She took a step back and hid behind Victor.
Simon and Ronnie were dying. Any minute they were going to bust out laughing and then they’d be in trouble.
“Treason…this is pure, unadulterated treason,” Marty said, putting on the water works now. She sniffed and pulled an embroidered hanky out of her left sleeve and dabbed at pretend tears. “It’s quite apparent no one loves me at all.”
“That’s not at all true!” Violet said, coming out from behind Victor. “Of course they love you! They wouldn’t be so concerned, and they wouldn’t care to make certain you’re well looked after if they didn’t. They wish the best for you so you’ll be around for a very long time.”
Marty stared at her for a minute, and just when everyone thought she would have Violet for dinner, she did something most unexpected.
She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the pillows with a sigh. Her hand rested on her chest, just over her heart and she made a slight moaning sound.
“Marty! Are you all right?” Victor said, rushing to her and taking her hand.
“Victor, you might want to get the nice doctor for me. I’m feeling…” she whispered and took a labored breath in before speaking again, “I feel a bit faint.”
“Ronnie, go get the nurse and have her summon the doctor, quickly!” Victor demanded.
“No, Victor, it must be you,” she said, her voice so weak they could barely hear it. “They won’t listen to a young boy. You have the authority to make them listen. That’s why I wanted you here. Please, Victor, I need you.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Victor said, looking up at his sons he added, “Stay with her,” and then he was gone.
The boys each took her hand, but she wearily shooed them away. “I need Violet. Come to me, child.”
Stunned, Violet automatically obeyed and took the frail woman’s hand, making the silver bangles on her arm clink against each other. “I’m here, Marty,” Violet said in a kind, caring voice. “What can I do for you? Some water? Would you like a little drink? A cold clothe perhaps for your forehead? Tell me what I can do?”
Marty’s eyes popped open and her head came up with a mischievous grin on her face. “Well, you can start at the beginning, when you and Victor met, and don’t leave anything out. Spill it all, Honey. We’re dying to know the juicy stuff.”
Violet gaped, her jaw dropping to her chest. She may just have met the greatest actress ever to NOT have graced a Broadway stage.