Ronnie scrunched up his face. “I think somebody did a real stinker,” he said.
“Well, don't look at me!” Cassandra said. “I've been potty trained for a few years now.”
He laughed. “Good to know, but I was talking about Andrea,” he said, just as she started fussing and whimpering in discomfort. “Come here, cutie.”
“Give her here then. It's not like you know what to do,” Cassandra said, holding her arms out for the baby.
“You girls think you know everything...”
“That's because we do,” she retorted. “Give me the baby.”
“No! I can change a diaper, you know,” Ron said, all indignant. “I'm a godfather.”
She scoffed. “Oh, really? You ever put a severed horse head in someone's bed?”
He burst out laughing again and shook his head. “No, but that won't help change a diaper, so I think I'm good.”
“Shows how much you know. You need a different sort of fortitude to handle this stuff,” she said squeezing his bicep. “Yeah, you could sever a head no problem but...”
“Cassie, I would never cut off a poor animal's head, but I can deal with poop.”
“Uh-huh, sure. My brother could blast away ten terrorist without blinking an eye, but show him a poopy diaper and he runs screaming like a little kid,” she said, grabbing the diaper bag. “Okay, Rambo, show me. So, where do we do this?”
“Guess it's too much like a Britney Spears move to do it here, huh?” Ronnie said.
“On the dining room table? Are you nuts?” Cassandra shouted, punching him on the arm. “What are you thinking, boy!”
He laughed. “How about the couch in the living room?”
“And have Sophie and Simon freak out yelling bloody murder and scaring the baby? No thanks,” she said, giving him a dig in the ribs. She suddenly looked past the foyer catching Sophie glaring at her. Her eyes met Sophie's briefly and she could almost feel the venom.
“Umm... in my dad's den? He won't mind,” Ronnie said.
“I think in a bedroom would be best. That way there's a bathroom nearby in case it's so bad we need to give her a bath,” she said.
“Whoa, never gave a baby a bath before. Could be fun, right Andrea? You'll like that,” he said cradling her in his arms, walking into the foyer and turning to the stairs without catching the expression on his brother's face. Good thing because he might have disintegrated into a pile of ashes had he done so.
“What are you doing that for?” Sophie said, pushing away Simon's feeble attempt to comfort her. “You made it clear you don't like me. You just finished threatening me, remember?”
“I never said I didn't like you and scaring someone is different from making them cry,” he said.
At such ridiculous logic Sophie rolled her watery eyes which made another tear slip down her cheek. She swiftly brushed it aside. “I wasn't crying about anything you said. I just...I hate being back home. Everywhere I look I see my dad.”
“And you still don't believe in ghosts?”
“Not for real, you moron!” she snapped. “Everything reminds me of him. I remember...so much about him and what we did, what we talked about, where we went and...In Miami I was too busy fending off drunk college guys, especially Antoine and singing with the band and...I was just too busy to remember my dad. Here he's...everything reminds me of him and I miss him so much I can barely breath. It... it sucks!”
She burst out in tears again, hating herself for doing it in front of Simon, of all people!
Simon would have preferred she didn't do it while he was around, too, but you can't always have your own way, can you? Though he hated having to do it, he tentatively put his arm around her.
“Now you know how Violet feels,” he said uncomfortably patted her shoulder.
“There ya go again, assuming stuff about her.”
“You don't think Violet remembers everything she ever did with your dad? Every place she went with him?” he said, incredulous. “That's the problem. She can't forget him.”
“You have it entirely backwards. She doesn't want to forget, like ever. She loves it here because of all the memories. She loves remembering everything about him cuz those were the best days of her life.”
“So far, perhaps.”
“You don't get it, Simon. She'll never leave this stinking town. She'll never sell that house. She'll never marry again and have kids again and do everything she did with my father, not ever again. She just won't because she'd have to leave all those memories behind and...because she'd have to forget my father and she just can't. Too many memories would fade away and she'd lose too much of herself and her life if she left and she couldn't handle that.”
“Are you sure?” he said. “You don't give Violet enough credit.”
“Yes, I am sure!” she shouted springing up. “Damn you, Simon! Why you gotta... just leave me alone!”
“Hey, what the hell!”
For the first time ever Ronnie sneaked in unheard and made Simon jump. Ronnie dropped the diaper bag and went to Sophie, putting his hand on her arm and she gratefully flung herself into his arms.
“Are you okay?” he said anxiously. Then turning to his brother in a menacing growl he added, “What the fricken hell did you do to her?”
“Cool your pits, dude,” Simon said carelessly. “We were just talking.”
“You might oughta try keeping quiet then, Simon, if just talking makes people that upset,” Cassandra interjected coming in behind Ronnie carrying the baby.
“It's not him...not really,” Sophie mumbled. “I just can't stand this place.”
“My dad's house? Why, what's wrong with it?” Ronnie asked, utterly perplexed.
“Not the house, you idiot,” Simon said. “Catalpa Valley.”
“Oh,” he said, still bewildered.
“You never hated it before, Sophie,” Cassandra said. “Did you like Florida that much?”
“No, it's not that. Forget it, just...” she shook her head and sighed, reluctantly leaving Ronnie's embrace. "Just forget it, okay?"
Simon went to Cassandra pretending to be interested in the baby, but he whispered in her ear, “She misses her father and when she was in Florida it was out of sight, out of mind, so it was easy to forget, but that's not the way it is at home.”
“Oh,” she said, biting down on her lip. “Um, Sophie, why don't you and Simon go ice skating?”
“Trying to get rid of me now?” Sophie said, glaring at her again.
“No, I mean... you're obviously bored here, aren't you? And so is Simon so I just figured you could do something fun.”
“So we can leave you and Ronnie alone to play house together?”
“Wait... what?” Ronnie said, but everyone ignored him.
“It's just babysitting, Sophie,” Cassandra said, turning her back on Ronnie so he couldn't see her mouthing the rest. “I'm not interested in him, and you know it, so quit being a bitch.”
“Oh, so now I'm a bitch?” Sophie snapped.
“Wait, what?” Ronnie repeated and again no one listened.
“Hey, take it down a notch,” Simon warned. “If you don't want to be here, I can take you home right now, Sophie. Nobody's holding you prisoner.”
“But...but you don't wanna go home now, do you?” Ronnie said. “We're going to the concert in just a couple hours and we're gonna grab something to eat first.”
Sophie stared at the anxious expression on Ronnie's face and the icy feeling in her chest melted away. “You're the only one who doesn't seem to want me gone,” she said.
“That's not true!” Cassandra said, handing the baby to Ronnie. “Something's upset you and my guess is it's me, so maybe I should go. Simon, can you....”
“No, I can't,” Simon said sternly.
“Why not?” she said. “You offered to take Sophie home.”
“I'm not taking you home because you've been having fun for a change. You've said it yourself that you're never allowed to do anything fun so I'm not about to let it end now, not before the concert anyway,” Simon said, staring daggers at Sophie. “Sophie can just chill, maybe take something for PMS.”
“You son-of-a-bitch,” Sophie muttered.
“Why, yes, I am my mother's son. Thanks for noticing,” he replied lazily.
Cassandra, nervously looking from one to the other, turned to Ronnie first. “Go put Andrea in her basket. She looks ready to take a nap and then we can...uh...play a game or something. Monopoly or cards. That sound okay?”
“Delightful,” Simon said, though he certainly didn't sound as if he meant it.
“Sophie, can you help Ronnie for a bit while I set up the game?”
“Me?” she said. “I already said I know nothing 'bout birthin' no babies.”
“Just grab the blanket for him,” Cassandra said through clenched teeth. Geeze-Louise, did she have to hold everybody's hand around here? “Sing the baby a song until she falls asleep. Think you can handle that?”
Now there was something she could get behind! Sophie shrugged and followed Ronnie into the dining room.
“Wish you hadn't done that,” Simon said grimly.
“Send her to Ronnie,” he said.
“Didn't seem like you were enjoying her company and she damn sure wasn't enjoying yours,” Cassandra replied, holding a Monopoly game in one hand and a pack of cards in the other, debating which to take from the hiding place in the coffee table. She decided on the cards and started counting the deck.
“Got that right, but they should not be left alone,” he said.
“They're not alone, Simon. We're right here,” she said, sitting beside him. “What is it with you and Ronnie? Why are you so... I don't even know what it is.”
“They like each other, okay? And that can't happen,” he said.
“Who made you their keeper? And why the hell not? They, you know, have the music thing in common if nothing else,” she said shuffling the cards as well as any experienced casino dealer.
“Play cards much, do you?” Simon said, impressed as hell.
“Mostly solitaire if you must know and concentration, but my father likes to play poker so...”
Simon grinned. “I'd love to play strip poker with you sometime,” he said. “Could be fun.”
To his surprise she smiled. “Oh, it would be...for me. So, you like baring all in front of card sharks, do you? You better dress in multiple layers when you play with me.”
“Is that what you think you are? No wonder you picked cards instead of Monopoly. I always get Park Place and Boardwalk, so I always win.”
“Hmm...good thing I didn't pick that then, cuz I never lose. Wouldn't want to break your winning streak and put you in the poor house,” she said. “Not without your pants. You might get chilly.”
“Oh, really...I'd like to see that,” he said laughing.
“I bet you would, but anyway, what's your problem with Ronnie and Sophie?”
He took a deep breath and explained.
“That's silly, Simon. I mean...it's not like they'd get married...Ronnie and Sophie I mean. Even if they go out for a while...it's not a big deal. It surely wouldn't stop your father and Violet from getting together. Why would it? Nobody has to know that they--Ronnie and Sophie--I dunno, hooked up once or twice. I doubt it would go further than that. You heard her saying how she hates kids and Ronnie obviously loves them and he just told me he wants a family some day. Sophie's the exact opposite, wants none of that. Deal breaker if ever there was one. I think you're worrying about nothing,” she said dealing the cards. “Texas hold'em all right with you?”
He picked up the cards as she dealt them all the while watching his brother and his future step-sister in the next room. She was now singing to the baby...but it was Ronnie who was transfixed. That look of complete adoration was hard to shake off. Simon shook his head sighing deeply and wished rather than believed Cassandra was right.
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