Victor had never seen Freddy so furiously indignant. It warmed his heart to know he cared so much. While Freddy wasn't a very large man, nor intimidating on a normal day, his barely contained fury was almost scary. Victor briefly wondered how much worse he would be if it was his own kids' happiness being threatened.
But it wasn't Freddy's kids. It was Victor's.
“And... what? They...he can't possibly want them back!” Freddy said, fists clenched at his side. “The asshole can't just come back after all this time, after what he did and...and expect to...”
Just then Victor's cell rang again.
“That's odd,” Victor said anxiously, putting it to his ear. “Hey, Joaquin, how ya doing? You okay?” He listened for a minute then visibly relaxed and smiled. “That would be fine.... Just you or all the kids?.... either is okay...How about tomorrow after school? I'll pick you up then and we'll head to the mall. All right? Cool. See ya then.”
“Who's that?” Freddy asked, watching Victor pocket his cell.
“Joaquin...remember Darth Vader at the Halloween party?” Victor replied. “Joaquin just wants me to take him and the other orphans Christmas shopping.”
Freddy stared at him, aghast. “I don't get you. With all this going on and you're still...” he slammed his fist down on the desk. “They can't take those kids away from you. Not now!”
Victor raised his hands. “Easy, there. I didn't say anything about him wanting them back... although...I don't exactly know what he wants...yet.”
“You haven't talked to him then?” Freddy asked.
Victor shook his head. “I just know he's been found and....”
“Where was he?”
“Detroit...mostly. He's been all over, though, randomly shacking up with several girlfriends each with a few kids...some, all or none of which could be his. Who knows? He smokes, drinks, regularly indulges in heroin, is mostly unemployed although he performs at dance or jazz clubs on occasion and...”
“Well, there ya go! He's unfit and that's that! Don't know why you're worried about it. No sane, responsible, person with common sense would allow these nice little kids anywhere near...”
“We're talking about children who are wards of the state and have you ever known the government to do anything sane or responsible or with the remotest bit of common sense?” Victor asked.
Freddy stared at him, dismay slowly displacing fury, but swiftly switching back again. “So, the moral question is whether or not I'll help you bury the body? Answer is yes. I know the perfect place where nobody would find it.”
Victor gave a weak smile. “Not exactly what I was thinking. I...”
“Vic, just pay him off. How much you think he'd take? Five, six thousand? It'd be worth it just to be rid of him!”
“Unless he's an absolute moron...” Victor started.
“Which no doubt he is...” Freddy interjected.
“He'd take no less then ten thousand..."
"Ouch," Freddy said grimacing.
"For each child,” Victor said.
"Ouch," Freddy said grimacing.
"For each child,” Victor said.
Freddy's jaw dropped. “Holy frick!” he muttered. "I'll help ya anyway I can, if that's what it takes...”
Victor waved a dismissive hand. “If it were only that I'd gladly go into debt.”
“What else is there? You just gotta keep this bastard away from the kids any way you can.”
Victor looked up, misery etched in every line. “That's the crux of the problem, Freddy. Do I have the right?”
“The right? Of course you do! They're your kids,” he said, then swiftly shook his head. “Okay, not technically, but emotionally they are your kids. They adore you! And I know you love them and it's up to you to protect them.”
“Bull shit!” Freddy said. “That douche lost his rights to those kids when he walked out on them.”
“Freddy, listen to me. It's not his rights I'm concerned about. I don't give a rat's ass about him or what he wants,” Victor said fiercely. “But the kids, what if they want to see him?”
“Why the hell would they?” Freddy said. “You told me Peter never knew him at all, he was way too little, just a baby. Julian just barely remembers him. Only Georgiana...well, I still can't see why she would want to see the bastard even if she does remember him.”
“But they have the right to, whether or not I like it,” Victor explained.
“Still...you don't know what kinda crap he'll tell them. They could wind up hurt, even traumatized.”
“A grave concern indeed, not one I can easily dismiss, but... Freddy, I don't want them coming back to me five, ten or even thirty years from now ticked off at me because I didn't allow them the chance to see their father...”
“Sperm donor, you mean,” Freddy snarled. “You're the only real father they've ever known, and you know it!”
“Biological father, then,” Victor conceded. “They might want to...I don't know, just talk to him, see him, get to know him or maybe just to vent their spleen. Perhaps they'll get some semblance of closure or whatever. The point is, I shouldn't stand in their way of doing what they want to do with regard to their biological father.”
Freddy stared at him frowning. “Don't know why you bothered to come to me for advice. You sound like you've already made up your mind what to do...way before you got here.”
Victor slowly nodded. “Perhaps...perhaps all I needed was a person to play devil's advocate. You did rather well in that capacity, Freddy. I thank you,” he said grinning.
Freddy suddenly straightened up, looking extremely pleased with himself. “Devil's advocate, you say? I ought to add that to my resume!”
Victor was still chuckling when he headed back to his office, suddenly feeling a slight lessening of the heavy load he'd been carrying for days. He had a few phone calls to make and then he'd have to have a little chat with his kids. Perhaps then the burden would be completely lifted.
Georgiana hit a jarring note on the piano and turned to grimace at Ronnie, but he wasn't listening. She wasn't surprised to see he was now fast asleep on the sofa and he looked so darn cute she had to smile. She went on practicing—as quietly as possible now-- but after a few minutes, she felt the presence of someone else in the room and she looked up.
It was Sophie, but she wasn't looking toward her or the piano. She stood at the archway staring at Ronnie, a sad expression on her face. Georgiana continued playing all the while wondering at the stupidity of it all. Ronnie liked Sophie and she obviously liked him, so why couldn't they just acknowledge that they liked each other and be done with it? Okay, so Sophie might one day be their new step-sister, but until that happened...why couldn't they be together? It simply didn't make too much sense to the little girl.
Georgiana liked the idea of a new step-sister very much—she got giddy just at the thought of it! She only ever had brothers, after all. She sighed sadly, though. She would only get to be Sophie's little sister if Victor ever married Violet, but that didn't look likely; could be years from now or never! It just wasn't fair.
She hit another jarring note and did grimace this time. She hoped she didn't wake up Ronnie yet. He seemed so tired after working all night.
Sophie came to the piano at last, watching Georgiana's fingers move slowly and carefully over the keys. “I used to play the piano a bit. Guess I quit too soon,” Sophie whispered.
“Why did you quit?” Georgiana said, quietly.
Sophie shrugged. “Parents couldn't afford a piano, not even an old, crappy one, so there was no use,” she said smiling at the memory of her father who searched forever on Craig's List for a piano, any piano at a great price and he eventually found one for sale in Binghamton—nearly two hours drive away from Catalpa Valley-- but it turned out the darn thing was missing half the keys and was beat to hell. Boy, was her dad pissed off about it—he nearly killed the guy for posting it as “fair condition”! But Sophie and her dad had a fine time on the long trip home and went for a fancy dinner complete with ice cream for dessert instead of crying about it.
Of course, that precious memory made her sad again—she so missed her dad and the fun things they used to do together. Yesterday's night time visit only seemed to make it worse—so close yet so far. She couldn't stop a tear from slipping down her cheek before Georgiana saw it.
“What's wrong, Sophie?” Georgiana asked. “You look so sad.”
She shook her head. “Nothing, just thinking of my dad,” she said with a sniff.
Georgiana nodded. She knew the feeling. “Your dad died rescuing a little girl and her dog,” she said. “He was very brave.”
“And stupid,” Sophie said, bitterly, wiping at her face. “So, what are you playing? I don't think I know this song.”
“It's Ronnie's,” Georgiana said, going back to playing, looking up at the sheet music propped up in front of her.
“What...you mean he bought the music, right?” Sophie said, but she looked at the handwritten music sheets, her eyes widening. “Did he write this?”
Georgiana nodded. “He writes alla time. Nice songs. I like 'em.”
Sophie listened to her play for a few minutes and looked at the scattered music sheets on the piano, most of them handwritten, some with lyrics scribbled here and there. “He never told me he wrote music,” she mumbled.
“He doesn't tell anybody about it.”
“Probably cuz he doesn't want Simon to make fun of him. He would tell their mom and...that would just cause trouble.”
“I'll bet. Simon's such an assho... I mean... uh...” Sophie searched for a non-disparaging word for this kid's new big brother, but nothing came to her.
Georgiana sighed. “I know. He was mean to all of us today...especially Peter.”
Just then Ronnie started snoring and both girls giggled.
“He's so cute, even when he snores,” Sophie said, looking at him with longing. What she wouldn't give to wake up with him snoring in her ear every morning.
“You like him, huh?” Georgiana whispered.
Sophie looked at her, slightly embarrassed. “You like him, too, don't you?”
“Yup, but I don't want him to be my boyfriend,” Georgiana said.
Sophie sighed. “I'm that obvious, huh?”
“Yup. He likes you, too, but he wants your mom to marry our dad, so...you know.”
“Yeah...I know,” Sophie reluctantly muttered. “It'll be a little weird...if they did get married I mean...having so many new brothers and a sister. I only have one brother right now.”
“I know...hope we don't bug you too much,” Georgiana said, frowning slightly. “Like we bother Simon.”
Sophie attempted a smile. “We'll see...when it happens...if it happens.”
“We can pray for it. Reverend Trent says it always helps to tell God what you hope for, cuz even if it doesn't go your way, then you'll know it's cuz God didn't think it was the right thing for you,” Georgiana said.
Sophie thought on this for a minute. “You know...that makes sense. I'm gonna do some praying and then I'll know...one way or the other,” she said, casting a furtive glance toward Ronnie.
Georgiana giggled. “Good things happen when more people pray for the same thing. Did you know that?” she said.
“Really? Maybe we should get the Mormon Tabernacle choir to pray with us. There's hundreds of them so God would surely hear us then!”
Georgiana stared up at her wide-eyed. “I don't know who they are, but okay, you should call them and ask,” she said.
Sophie laughed. “You're kinda funny.”
“Um...Okay. Uh...Sophie...can you do me a favor? I know you sing real good, so...”
“How do you know that?” Sophie asked.
“I saw your video. Ronnie says you're great. I can't get this song right, but I don't wanna wake up Ronnie. He came home late and ...”
“Not that late. He couldn't have been more than a half hour after dropping me off and I got home around ten thirty. He musta stayed up late playing video games or something.”
“Nuh-uh...He got home after two in the morning, cuz he had to work with his friend,” Georgiana said.
“What friend?” Sophie asked, frowning.
“Um...Frankie, I think. He's the brother of that girl Simon likes....uh...Cassie something.”
“The little sneak! She didn't tell me anything about that!” Sophie said, her voice rising.
Georgiana put a finger to her lips and shushed her and they both watched Ronnie shift position on the sofa and continue sleeping. “Ronnie said the Danfield place was crowded and...”
“Danfords,” Sophie corrected.
“Yeah, there, and he was helping at the bar all night. That's why he's so tired. Julian woke him up real early and he was all grumpy, so I told him to lie down while I practiced...and he fell asleep.”
“Oh...okay,” Sophie said, curiously watching Ronnie. What else had he done all night, she wondered.
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