“Victor? Are you not going to answer me?”
He looked at Helen for a long moment. “Do you really want to know what I want?”
“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t,” she replied, tilting her head to the side again and she smiled.
He liked when she did that; tilting her head as if signaling she was ready to be kissed and happy for the privilege. He looked down to her lips. Her pretty, smiling, glossy pink lips, tempted him for a taste, but before he indulged in that, he needed to find out a few things, or rather, he needed to explain to her what he required.
“Would you like to step out onto the patio?” he asked.
Her smile broadened. “You wouldn’t be trying to get out of our dance, I hope. Cuz if you are, you’ll get none of my dessert and I’ll take all of yours!”
He chuckled and shook his head. “We can dance all night if you like, or at least until the babysitter expects you back.”
“Oh, I’m pretty sure Mrs. Silverstone is already sound asleep with her crochet hook in hand and a ball of yarn at her feet, and my girls are pigging out on her freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and will soon be snoozing away too, so no one is expecting me back too soon.”
“I see,” he said, reading between the lines. “Okay, we’ll dance until your tiramisu starts beckoning. Then over dessert I’ll give you my answer. That sound all right?”
She laughed. “Okay,” she said, wrapping her arms around his neck. “But I warn you up front, Victor. I’m hearing nothing but music right now.”
“Good,” he said and he twirled her around, dipped her and straightened her up again.
“God, I love that!” she said. “It’s better than a roller coaster ride.”
He laughed and they continued dancing.
“Oh, he’s precious,” Violet said pressing a tiny kiss to the top of her brand new nephew’s tender head. She softly passed a hand over his silky, blond hair which stuck up like a punk rocker—just like Richard’s did. She smiled wistfully. “I remember when Kenny was this little…a million years ago.”
Laurie laughed. “Not that bad, but they do grow up so fast,” she said, detaching the baby from her breast and bringing him up to her shoulder. “Seems like decades since Molly was this little.” She rubbed his back until a tiny burp erupted.
Violet giggled. “I love when they do that,” she said, watching as Laurie settled him to her other breast and he searched for it and clamped onto it as if he was still starving.
“My goodness, this kid never gets full,” Laurie said, surprised at such voracious suckling. She smiled at the baby, then settled back and looked at Violet. “How are you, Violet? How did you like your weekend trip to the falls? We haven’t seen much of you since then.”
Violet gaped at her. “How in the world did you know about that?”
“Well, Victor came by and told us you were going. He wanted to make sure I was well looked after while he was gone. He arranged for the mother’s helper to come here while I was on bed-rest. He insisted. God, I love that man! He’s such a sweetie,” Laurie said, looking down at the baby for a second then looking up again. Her smile vanished upon seeing the stricken expression on Violet’s face. “Violet, what’s wrong?”
Violet shook her head and turned to a basket of clean laundry and started folding it, her face averted.
“Oh, Violet, you are upset about the name!” Laurie said. “I told Freddy to ask you first.”
“No, I’m not…not at all,” Violet said, blinking back tears before turning back to her sister-in-law. “Richard would be so honored. He’d love his little nephew, his namesake.”
“We can call him by his middle name if you’d rather. Ashton would be fine, even if Freddy thinks it’s too Hollywood for Catalpa Valley,” Laurie said. “I just don’t want it to upset you.”
“I’m not, Laurie, really,” Violet said. Again she caressed the baby’s soft hair and smiled sadly. “It’ll be nice to have another Richie around.”
“With the blond hair and blue eyes, it just fits,” Laurie said. “He sorta looks like Richie…like big Richie.”
Violet suppressed a laugh. The baby looked exactly like Laurie, but she wasn’t about to point this out to her sentimental sister-in-law. “I’m just glad he’s healthy. We were so worried he’d be born premature and with that comes trouble.”
“That’s why Victor came by almost every day, just to make sure I wasn’t doing what I shouldn’t have been doing…which apparently was everything! He actually yelled at me when he caught me tying Molly’s shoes. Really, he was as bad as Freddy, maybe worse!”
“Believe me, I know,” Violet muttered, returning to the laundry.
“Seems he’s been like that ever since his mother’s sudden death. He blames himself, you know.”
“Why?” Violet asked.
Laurie shrugged. “He figures he should have…known or done something. I dunno,” she said.
“Like force her to visit a doctor,” Violet said, as she rolled up a pair of Jimmy’s socks and put them on his pile.
“Yeah, exactly!” Laurie said. “He still misses her so much… like you miss Richie. That’s one thing you have in common.”
“Yes, one thing,” Violet said, biting down on her lip to keep the tears back. “Laurie, may I ask you something?”
“Sure,” she replied. “But I won’t give up my baby Richie. I wuv him too much!” she then giggled.
Violet forced a laugh. “No, didn’t think you would. I was just wondering… would you say Freddy is your best friend?”
“Freddy?” Laurie said, genuinely astonished. “Gosh, no! He’s my husband.”
Violet bit back the impatient retort which sprung to her lips and mildly said, “Yes, I know that, but…you’re very close. You tell each other everything, right?”
“Well, I didn’t know how he would feel about having a fifth kid so…no, I didn’t tell him right away,” Laurie said. “If he was truly a best friend, I would have told him first and I didn’t. I told Darlene instead. She’s my best friend. I tell her everything.”
“Just like Jocelyn is mine,” Violet mumbled, a worried crease on her brow as she folded a pair of jeans which must belong to Nick. She, however, didn’t really tell Jocelyn everything, she realized just then. Richard had been her one and only true confidant. The closest she had to that now was…
“But…don’t you at least consider him a friend?” Violet said, somewhat earnestly.
Laurie laughed and shook her head. “Not really,” she said, then her smile vanished. “I guess you and Richie were, huh? Oh, how sad for you! I never thought of that. You didn’t just lose a husband, but your best friend, too. Oh, Violet, I’m so sorry.”
Violet hid her face behind a sheet as she folded it. “It…it’s okay. I have a new…uh, I mean, Jocelyn is always there for me,” she mumbled, lying through her teeth and trying not to cry. Since the Labor day party, she hadn’t seen hide nor hair of Jocelyn. She’d been consumed by Marcus, but of course, Violet would never begrudge her friend some fun.
Violet thought she had one very close friend, but it seemed she had none.
“Aunt Violet!” Molly shouted and ran to her, hugging her tightly. “You come to see Da baby? Isn’t he cute?”
Violet smiled and kissed her niece’s forehead. “And to see you. You’ve grown so much, Molly,” she said.
“I’m a big sister now,” she said proudly.
“I know! How wonderful,” Violet said. “You look so pretty today. Where were you?”
“Lisa Panfield’s birthday party. She had a Victorian high tea and no boys allowed!” she said importantly.
“Oh, how lovely. I’m sure the boys missed something very special,” Violet said.
“Uh-huh,” Molly replied and she ran off just as her father walked in.
“Yeah, ten chattering females in fancy garb, with their mothers there doing the same, having tea and cakes and tiny sandwiches and I wasn’t allowed even a nibble. I thought I was gonna die!” Freddy said, coming in looking exhausted and plopping down next to his wife and the baby, which he kissed on top of the head. “Hey, kid, don’t get too attached to those things. They were mine first. I’m just letting you borrow them for a while.”
“Oh, shush!” Laurie said. “You men and boobs!”
“Yes, men like boobs. What’s your point?” Freddy said, kissing her cheek. He smiled at her and added, “Isn’t Laurie the most beautiful girl ever, Violet?”
“Absolutely!” she replied, hiding her smile behind a towel as she folded it. Her brother always asked her that after each child of theirs was born, so she knew what was expected and she never disappointed. “You’re the luckiest man in the world, Freddy, but I think you know that.”
“I sure do,” he said, with a sigh. “So, how are you, Vi?”
“Fine,” she said. “but I should be going home. Dinner’s in the oven. Just needs to be heated. Now Laurie doesn’t have to bother. I know how it is with a little one, even if I don’t remember it much.”
“You’re the best, Vi,” Freddy said. “Why don’t you stay and eat with us?”
“I have some stuff to finish up for the Halloween party,” Violet said folding the last t-shirt and placing it on Valerie’s pile. “Oh, I suppose you won’t be able to make it now that the baby’s here.”
“And have Molly and Jimmy scream bloody murder?” Freddy said, shaking his head. “We’ll be there.”
“Good,” Violet said, forcing a smile as she rose from her seat. “I’ll see you then.”
Freddy watched her with a furrowed brow. He waited until he heard the front door close behind her to ask, “Did she seen okay to you?”
“Not really. I think she might be upset about us naming the baby after Richie,” Laurie said, bringing the baby up to her shoulder to burp him again. “She said she wasn’t but… I dunno.”
“No, I doubt that was it. Could it be Victor, you think? Maybe they had a fight,” he said.
“No way! They’re so good together and they did go away for the weekend together. I think things are moving along nicely,” she said smiling. “Really soon they will be announcing an engagement, I’m sure of it!”
Freddy, on the other hand, was not so confident.
“Oh, Victor, you are such a great dancer,” Helen gushed, as they went back to their table and their waiting desserts. “I can truthfully say this is the best date I’ve ever been on.”
Victor tried not to show his surprise and utter dismay. This was hardly his best date, not by a long shot. Yes, he was enjoying himself but this was nothing compared to…oh, there he goes again, thinking of Violet!
“Surely not. You’re just dizzy from all the twirling about,” he said casually. “It leads to feelings of euphoria, you know, dancing does. That’s why men insist on it.”
She laughed. “Nope. I can go ten rounds with the nastiest, topsy-turvy, spinning ride at any amusement park, so no, I’m perfectly fine in the head,” she said, grinning up at him. “I’m having the time of my life, I assure you.”
“I’m glad,” he replied, forcing a smile, as he held her chair out for her.
“So,” she said, propping her chin on her hand, her head tilted to the side again.
“Oh, yes,” he said taking a sip of water, stalling for time. “Yes, I’m having a wonderful time, too.”
“No, I mean, you promised to tell me what it is you want,” she said, picking up her fork, taking a bit of her tiramisu and holding it out for him.
He raised both eyebrows. “Are you quite sure you’re not dizzy and disoriented? You’re offering me the first taste of your coveted dessert, after all. That is a sure sign of …well, close to insanity.”
She threw her head back and laughed. “You may be right, but let’s just say I’m in an especially generous mood due to you, so you definitely deserve this. Come on, Victor, have some.”
He bit down on the fork and couldn’t help recalling doing this very thing only a million times with Violet, but he couldn’t imagine why it didn’t fill him with joy this time. Actually he could. He just didn’t want to admit it.
“Very nice. Thank you, Helen,” he said.
She studied him again. “Something has upset you. Was it something I said?”
“Not at all,” he said, stalling for time again. He picked up his own fork and brought up the first bit of cake for her to try, but she gently pushed his hand away from her mouth.
“I think I can guess what you want,” she said, tilting her head to the side with a sad smile on her face.
“Oh, I very much doubt that,” he muttered and he stuffed his mouth with cake.
“Do you? Well, then tell me. I’d rather hear what you have to say first anyway,” she said. “And do try for that honesty thing, please. It’s been working so well for us, surprisingly enough.”
He dropped his fork and put both elbows on the table before taking a moment to stare at her. “Brace yourself, Helen. This might get rough.”
Her eyes widened, but then she giggled. “This I have to hear! Go on, tell me.”
He cleared his throat, took a deep breath then said, “I want…everything. I want… love,” he said, then cleared his throat again and looked down at the table.
Helen stared in fascination. “Is that all?” she whispered.
“Hardly. I’m just getting started,” he said, looking back at her. “I want a loving wife beside me come what may. One who won’t balk whenever I show her affection and shower her with gifts, and yes, I will do both to excess. It’s my thing. I want a wife who will love me for me. I want her to love my kids as much as I will love hers. In other words, I want happily ever after in real life. So, what do you think? Is that too much to ask?”
Helen stared in silence, her breathing short and quick, her heart racing. She shook her head. “No, not too much to ask. I’m pretty sure everybody wants happily ever after in one form or another. I know I do.”
“The trick is to want the same things in the same proportions, I think. That’s the hard part. We both have baggage, you know,” he said, licking his lips nervously before plunging ahead. “I also need a mother for my children.”
She looked her confusion for a moment then smiled. “I wouldn’t call college boys children, Victor, especially when they already have a mother still alive and well.”
He cleared his throat again, fleetingly wondering why he had a frog in there at this crucial moment. “I’m adopting,” he said, barely above a whisper.
Helen gaped, her mouth hanging open. “Like…before you… you know…find a wife?”
If he could only get rid of this frog in his throat he might get this over and done more quickly. “Yes, by the year’s end I will have them.”
“Them?” she shrieked. “You’re adopting more than one kid?”
“They’re siblings and I can’t separate them,” he said earnestly. “There’s Georgiana, she’s a darling, smart as a whip and pretty as can be, mature for her age, about the same age as you Bethany but perhaps more like Regina in maturity. She had to grow up fast when her mama died. She’s practically mother to her two younger brothers. Julian is just turned seven and he’s a nice boy, so kind and trustworthy. Then there’s Peter.” Victor shook his head and smiled wistfully. “I love that kid best of all. He’s so sweet and loving. You’d love him on first sight…I think.”
“Three kids,” she said, her eyes as wide as they would go. She swallowed hard. “I can barely handle my two.”
“But you have no help now. I’m a hands-on kinda dad. I change diapers, read bedtime stories, help with homework, give baths and everything in between.”
“Change diapers?” she shrieked. “Peter is a baby then?”
“No, he’s four, but…” Victor said slowly, getting ready to drop the last of his dozen shoes. “I also would like to have another child…make a baby with my loving wife and make her truly the mother of my children, all my children. Sort of a … a seal the deal act, bounding the separate families into one.”
She stared at him for a long moment, then slowly smiled and placed a hand on his and in a coaxing sort of voice, said, “Wouldn’t it be better to just make our own kids?”
He bristled and withdrew his hand. “You mean abandon Julian, Georgiana and Peter? No, I won’t do that. They are mine already, even if the law doesn’t say so as of yet. They are as much mine already as Bethany and Regina are yours.”
Helen nodded. “Okay, I see. This is…this is what you want. Okay,” she said softly.
“Don’t think of this as a proposal, Helen. You wanted to know what I want out of dating, so I told you,” he said, trying for casual. “We have time, we need time to get to know each other and see if we can… if we fit together well….all the pieces.”
She nodded and actually smiled. “You are something, Victor. I’ve never had so much honesty in my life, let alone on one first date,” she said, seemingly dazed from all this information. Then she drew in a deep, calming breath and smiled again. “This is a lot to absorb, but I am very willing to give it a try, if you are. When can we all meet?”
Stunned, Victor just stared. That was not what he expected to hear. “Well,” he said, again with the clearing throat, “I was taking the kids to a play on Saturday. Catalpa Valley high school kids are putting on Beauty and the Beast. Would your girls like to go?”
She laughed. “They’d love it and so will I.”
“Very good,” he said, a sudden pressure on his chest, and for some strange reason his neck tie seemed to be choking him.
“Are you sure? I’m all in for this and I’m going to give this my all, but I need to know. Are you really all in, Victor?”
Victor gulped, fleetingly wondering why he suddenly felt as if he was hanging off the edge of a cliff.
©2013 Glory Lennon All Rights Reserved