Meanwhile, back in Catalpa Valley…
Simon surreptitiously watched his father with his new favorite son, Peter, and he couldn’t help--try as he might-- feeling a tinge of jealously. Okay, it was more like an avalanche.
Peter wouldn’t leave Victor’s side for anything, not for the lure of steaming mugs of hot cocoa heaped with marshmallows, nor the opportunity to play with cool toys with Ronnie and Julian, nor even bribes of forbidden candy whose only purpose in life was to spoil appetites before dinner.
Or so Marty shrieked as she snatched the candy bar away from her husband before he came within two yards of the child.
“Now, woman, whatcha do that for?” Morris hollered back at her. “I’m just practicing being a good grandfather, is all.”
“Good grandfather did you say?” Marty snapped. “Well, I like that! An old geezer like you wouldn’t know how to be a good grandfather if I handed you step-by-step instructions!”
“Are there instructions somewhere round here?” Morris asked, pulling a handful of Hershey kisses out of his pocket, winking at Victor before smiling at Peter. “Come with me, Laddie. We can eat them out on the porch. Only way we’ll get away with it before the harpy catches us.”
“No, tank-que, Mr. Kwamer.”
“You’re supposed to call me Grampa. You sure you don’t wanna bit o’ chocolate?”
“Uh-uh. I wanna stay wiff my dad,” Peter said.
“Suit yourself then. More for me,” Morris said, turning away and placing a pumpkin colored Kiss in Simon’s hand before he went back to the kitchen.
Simon knew it was irrational and worse, just plain mean, to feel jealous of a little kid who—according to his sister Georgiana-- had never known his own father and barely remembered his suicidal mother. Simon was a grown man, after all. He knew he would not, could not begrudge his father starting a new life with new kids. Victor, of all people, deserved to be happy.
Simon knew this.
So, why did he have to suppress the urge to pinch the little kid until he cried?
He knew all about human emotions and their play of the psyche, so wouldn’t that mean he who was conscious about it would have a good grasp on things and therefore not feel this way? Apparently, it had little to do with it, although he refused to accept it.
“Get a grip. I’m a psych major, for Pete’s sake,” Simon muttered under his breath.
“Huh?” Peter said. “Did you call me, Simon?”
“What? Uh…no,” he said, grinding his back teeth and trying to watch the TV.
Unfortunately, the little boy was sitting on Victor’s lap as comfortable as you please. They were watching an ancient movie, and he had a stupid question to ask every two minutes.
“How come his little brudder broke da ice? The bigger boys didn’t.”
“Why did she stick her tongue out at the udder girl? She didn’t say anyting mean.”
“Why did that old man hit George? He didn’t do nuttin bad.”
“Are you sure Clarence is an angel? He don’t look like one,” Peter said, making Victor laugh for the umpteenth time.
Victor, of course, answered each question with infinite patience and much to Simon annoyance, he seemed to love every minute of it. He’d had just about enough of this happy little father-son scene and was thinking of going to the kitchen to get away from it. He’d probably be better off listening to the two lovebirds snipping at each other than wishing to do bodily harm to a little brat who wasn’t a brat at all.
Just then Georgiana stood in front of the TV and held her hand out. “Peter, come and help me. Grandma Marty wants us to set the table cuz dinner’s almost ready.”
“I don’t wanna,” Peter whined.
“If you want to be part of the family you gotta do it. She said so!” Georgiana insisted. “She’s our grandmother now so we gotta listen, right, Victor? Uh…I mean…uh…Dad?”
Victor smiled. “That’s true. Go on and help your sister, Peter. It’s the rules,” he said, setting him on his feet.
He laughed as Georgiana half dragged him to the dining room. He then grinned at Simon. “Kinda reminds me of you,” Victor said.
“Wh…what?” Simon stammered.
“Peter. He reminds me so much of you when you were little,” Victor replied.
“How…how is that?” Simon asked.
“Well…the obvious is his looks, blond hair, blue eyes, cute as anything, but there’s more to it. He asks a hundred questions just like you did back then. It’s nice to relive that.”
“Did I…do that?” Simon said, skeptical.
“Of course you did!” Victor said, laughing. “Don’t you remember when I’d read bedtime stories and you would interrupt a dozen times per page? Why did Winnie the Pooh try to go out that tiny hole? Didn’t he know he was too fat and he’d get stuck? Why was Eeyore so gloomy all the time? He had nice friends and Pooh bear wasn’t eating any of his honey. He doesn’t even like honey. Why were they afraid of being attacked by jagulars when there were none in the hundred acre wood?”
Simon gaped. “You used to read me bedtime stories?”
Victor stopped laughing. “You really don’t remember that?”
“Are you sure you’re not thinking of Ronnie?”
Victor shook his head. “Ronnie wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to get passed a page or two. He was never interested in reading like you were and soon after he was born work got increasingly demanding and...you really don’t remember any of this?”
“You…you were never there…when we were little,” Simon said, accusingly.
“No, Simon, not quite right,” Victor corrected sadly. “I was definitely there, but apparently only when you were too young to remember. You only remember when I wasn’t there.” He sighed. “How ironic. You don’t remember all the good times we had together. No wonder you hate me.”
“I don’t hate you,” Simon whispered. “I just…I didn’t think you cared… back then.”
“Amounts to the same thing,” Victor said, staring at him. “We never could go back to that once Ronnie came along and work took too much of my time.”
“Ronnie’s always getting in the way, and now there are three more siblings to contend with,” Simon muttered, before he could stop himself.
Victor gaped at him. Here he thought Simon was okay with the adoption, but he wasn’t at all.
Peter came rushing back just then. “All done. Gramma Marty says come eat, Dad. Dinner’s ready.”
“Okay. Go tell Ronnie and Julian. They haven’t heard, I’m sure,” Victor told him.
“But you gotta come too,” Peter urged grabbing his hands and attempting to tug him forward.
“We’ll be there soon, but I have to speak to Simon for a moment,” Victor said, sending a grumpy Peter on his mission.
Victor waited for the little boy to be out of earshot and turned back to his first born. “I hope you’re not thinking I’m replacing you with Peter, because that would be impossible, nor would I ever want to do it. Simon, you and Ronnie…”
“Don’t you mean Ronnie and then me? He always comes first, after all,” Simon grudgingly said.
“I never understood why you were so hard of Ronnie when you had so much more going for you than he ever would. But that wasn’t it at all, was it?” Victor said, a new understanding dawning. “You always thought I loved him better than you. That’s it, isn’t it?”
Simon lifted a haughty eyebrow. “Don’t you?”
Victor shook his head. “Can’t believe you think that. I love both my sons equally… although differently,” he said, quietly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Simon asked. “What’s the difference?”
Victor sighed heavily. “My God, Simon, you’re the smart one so I figured you knew it and that was why you were forever teasing your brother.”
“You’re not supposed to have favorites, Simon, no parent should, but regardless of knowing this rule, it happens on a regular basis.”
Simon gave a sardonic laugh. “We all know who your favorite is, Dad, but you may have a new favorite now which is fine with me. Forgive me but somehow, knowing Ronnie might not be the favorite anymore gives me a perverse pleasure. Pity it’ll go over his dimwitted head.”
“Clearly, Ronnie’s not the only dimwit in the family,” Victor said stepping closer and lowering his voice. “I’ll tell you a secret, Simon, but if you ever repeated it, especially to your brother, I’ll deny it. You are my favorite son, Simon, you always have been and very likely you’ll always be so.”
“Yeah, right!” Simon scoffed.
“It’s a strange thing but we humans tend to like people who are similar to us and in this case, parents like it when they produce children who turn out to be just like themselves,” Victor whispered. “Parents are funny that way. You may understand when you have kids of your own.”
Simon stared, incredulous. “I’m nothing like you, Dad. Don’t look like you or anything. I’m like Mom, that’s why you…”
“All you can say is you look very much like your mother and have a few of her quirks, but you’re not exactly like her. You’re not…” He stopped abruptly, knowing he shouldn’t name the character traits he abhorred in Catherine. “Simon, looking at her today…” Victor said, glancing up to see his ex-wife placing her baby right beside her in a mobile bassinette at the dining room table while chatting in delighted tones with Georgiana. “I’d say you’ve been rubbing off on her. She’s becoming more like you!”
“You’re kidding, right?” Simon said, stunned.
Victor laughed. “You’re so much like me it’s scary, Simon. You have focus, you have drive, you have vision, clear and precise. You’re brilliant, trustworthy and upright and wise and…heck, you’re a better version of me. I couldn’t be more proud of you.”
“Is a sweet kid, a good guy, a joy to be around, and I love him to pieces, but he’s scatter-brained, clueless at times and lacking so much, so much of which you take for granted. He’ll never be the success you already are, not in the usual sense of the word. For that reason alone I do wish you’d stop teasing him about it. It’s not his fault he can’t measure up to you. He does the best he can.”
“But…but you encourage him to be a screw up!” Simon spat. “You fawn on him and let him slide on everything. He gets away with murder.”
“No, Simon, I encourage him to find his happiness since he may never reach what most people call success. But I do believe, despite his lack of drive, he can be happy with less, and that’s good enough for me. Of course, I realize that is not good enough for your mother and she’ll keep riding him hard. I can’t afford to do the same and risk having him hate me. I didn’t have a hand in raising him, remember? It may not be fair to your mother, but that’s the way it is. I’m sorry you think that’s favoritism. It’s just…I don’t have it in me to criticize or chastise him. Not with your mother doing it so well, and I never had to do it with you, because you were perfect as you were. Andy was a great father for you in that respect.”
“Sure he was, because you needed someone to be your father and I wasn’t allowed to be. He may not have your genetic code, Simon, but he played the role of dad and rather well, too. I’m glad you had him in your life since you couldn’t have me much.” Victor stared at him. “It’s not that I didn’t want to be there for you and Ronnie when you were little.”
“I know,” Simon muttered, half angry, half guilty.
“I just didn’t want to…I don’t know…to be in the way, the supposed real father doing a half-ass job. Not with Andy right here doing perfectly everything I should have been doing. Do you understand now?”
Simon took a while to answer, his bewilderment clearly on his face, but after a moment he nodded and for the first time since he could remember, he initiated a hug and held on tightly to his father far longer than he’d ever done with anyone.
“I love you, Dad,” he whispered.
“Me too, Simon, but I think you know that… at least you do now,” Victor said.
“Hey, you guys coming? Dinner’s on the table and I’m starved!” Ronnie said, frowning at them. “Hey…what’s up?”
“Can’t a guy have a conversation his father without being harassed?” Simon snapped.
“Sorrry!” Ronnie muttered. “Fine, talk all you want.”
“We’re coming now, Ronnie,” Victor said, clamping a hand onto Simon’s shoulder.
“Dibs on the drumstick!” Ronnie shouted and he ran off.
“We okay?” Victor asked.
Simon nodded. “Dibs on the other drumstick,” he said, smirking.
Victor laughed. “You’ll have to fight Mr. Kramer and Andy for that!”
“Don’t you mean Grampa?” Simon corrected.
“Yeah, I guess I do.”
“Some weird family we got, don’t you think?” Simon said.
“Tell me about it!” Victor replied and they went into the festive dining room full of misfit relations.
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