Victor wondered which of the crying kids he should try to comfort first, but he knew all of them was the right answer. So, he picked up Julian, took his place between the other two placing Julian on his lap, then he wrapped arms around the other two pulling them close.
“Come on, guys, you don't think I'm giving you up without a fight, do you? You are mine, we are family no matter what.”
“But if ...what does he want? He didn't see us for almost four years. Why is he bothering with us now?” Georgiana said.
Great question, Victor thought to himself. “You are about to be adopted, so he must want to know how you are, and if you like it here with me and if you're okay with me being your new father.”
“Like he cares,” Georgiana mumbled with a sniff.
“Your father must want to see...to make sure you are happy and that you are well and safe.”
Georgiana made another skeptical sound, and wiped at her wet face with the sleeve of her sweater.
“What if we don't wanna see him?” Julian said.
“I don't know him,” Peter said again. “Never sawed him before.”
“I did, but I don't remember him...much,” Julian said.
“You're lucky, cuz do remember him,” Georgiana said, bitterly.
“It's natural to want to stay away from someone who... who seems to not care about you, but people change and as you don't know what he's thinking or feeling...it would be a good idea to just ask him. At least I think you should,” Victor said.
“Why?” Juliana said. “He doesn't even know Peter, cuz he wasn't born yet.”
“That may be exactly why. He missed the birth of his second son. He probably would like to know Peter,” Victor explained.
“Sure, four years later he suddenly wants to know Peter. Does he even know his name? I doubt it,” Georgiana said.
“I know you are angry now, Honey, but if you don't see him when you have the chance you might regret it many years from now. It could be the last time you ever see him,” Victor said. “Listen, your father wants to see you, but that doesn't mean you have to talk to him or anything. You can just stand there and glare at him or close your eyes and refuse to look at him or you can tell him...well, I'm sure you can think of something to tell him.”
“Where does he live?” Julian asked, wiping at his wet cheeks. “Where do we gotta go?”
“You don't have to go anywhere,” Victor explained. “You can meet him at my office, or a noisy restaurant or a busy store, or some other place here in Catalpa Valley. Wherever you want. We'll tell him where and he'll meet us. He doesn't have a say in that. He's coming to New York in the next few days. He'll call when he gets here and we can let him know.”
The children exchanged worried looks.
“Are you sure he's not gonna take us away?” Julian said.
“Nobody takes my family away,” Victor said fiercely, giving him a little squeeze.
“Can I really NOT talk to him and NOT look at him and you won't get mad at me?” Georgiana asked.
Victor laughed and nodded. “Promise.”
They exchanged looks again.
“I'm not going to force you to do this. You don't even have to decide now. Think about it, talk about it amongst yourselves, and let me know when you decide. Take your time. Whatever you decide will be okay with me,” Victor assured them, before standing up. “Would you like to talk about it now or after dinner?”
The three siblings exchanged looks again and after a minute the boys shrugged, leaving the decision to their sister.
“After dinner,” Georgiana said, nodding at her brothers before standing too. “I gotta help Cassandra. Ronnie's probably starving by now.”
Victor laughed again. “No need to worry about that, Sweetie. I'm sure he's stuffing his face with chips to hold him over.”
Violet was nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof as she approached the front door of Victor's house, which only made her wish she was back home, sitting in front of her TV with Calendula by her side and the nearly finished knit afghan she was making for Laurie on her lap with Elizabeth Taylor's flawless complexion and stunning figure on the screen to entertain—and distract--her.
She steadied herself and raised her hand to knock, but just then the door swung open and she was pulled inside before she knew what was what.
“Hey, it's about time you got here!” Ronnie said, giving her a brutal hug, as usual lifting Violet right off her feet.
“You'd think she was your mom the way you...never mind,” Sophie said, rolling her eyes.
“I love your mom!” Ronnie said, and stuck out his tongue at her for good measure.
“Sorry I'm late. I had to feed Calendula first,” Violet said. “Are you ready to go home now, Sophie?”
“What! Before we feed you? Hell no!” Ronnie said, ripping the coat off of her shoulders before pushing her to the kitchen. “Cassandra has been slaving away in front of a hot stove all day long just for this, so you can't insult her by running out on her. You'll hurt her feelings!”
“She's been in the kitchen for like an hour. Not exactly all day long,” Sophie said, but no one was listening.
“Uh...but how did she know I was coming?” Violet tried to ask as Simon spotted her, gave her a wide smile, a far more sedate hug and bent down to kiss her cheek.
“You're finally here. We were wondering if you got lost. Great to see you again, Violet. It's been so long. We missed you,” he said.
“You...you just saw me yesterday,” she said, smiling at Cassandra. “Hope you didn't go to too much trouble for me.”
“Well, it wasn't so bad until my helpers left me all alone to do everything myself...I feel just like Daisy on Downton Abbey!” Cassandra said, but the unhurried way she was spreading garlic butter on long loaves of Italian bread and her impish grin belied these words.
“Mom, before I forget, can I have a credit card?” Sophie asked, holding out her hand.
“Um...now?” Violet said, frowning.
“I was online looking for Christmas presents for...oh, Mom, wait til I tell you what's happening with John!”
“Don't tell her now,” Ronnie muttered. “It's too depressing.”
“Tell me what?” Violet said. “Is he all right?”
“He's...fine, but...I'll tell you about that later. Now can I have the card, please? I'll pay you back. I just don't have a card of my own yet.”
“It's in my pocketbook,” Violet said.
“Which is where?” Sophie asked. “Did you bring Ronnie's cell?”
“Of course I did! It's the reason I came, isn't it?” Violet said, indignant.
“So...where is it?”
Violet looked around then frowned. “Must have left it in the car.”
“Okay, I'll get it,” Sophie said.
As she walked out of the kitchen she saw Victor and the kids coming down the hall, all of them looking rather gloomy. “Who died?” she said.
“Huh?” Julian said.
“You all look so sad. What's wrong?” Sophie asked.
He sighed. “We gotta see our father,” he said.
“We don't have to! We gotta think about it first,” Georgiana said.
Sophie looked up to Victor confused. “And that's a bad thing?”
“Our real father,” Julian said.
“I dunno him,” Peter said for the umpteenth time.
“Because he isn't a father at all!” Georgiana snapped.
“Let's talk about this later, guys, okay?” Victor said. “Are you leaving so soon, Sophie?”
“No, just getting my mom's pocketbook out of her car,” she replied, pulling on her jacket.
“Your mother's here? Now?” he said, looking both stunned and panicky.
“Uh-huh, Simon invited her to dinner...if that's okay,” she said.
“Uh...no...I mean, yes, that's fine...fine,” he mumbled, grinding his back teeth together in irritation.
“You look like you could use a drink, Mr. Romanoff? Should I get you a tequila or something?”
“I...no, thanks, Sophie,” Victor said, grimly. He watched her go outside and shook his head. Could things get any worse today?
“I wanna see Viowet,” Peter said.
“Me too!” Julian said. “Can we, please?”
“Yes, I'm sure you do. Just don't say anything to her about...about...anything, okay?” Victor said.
Peter and Julian looked to their sister for a translation, but she wasn't there anymore having just stepped into the kitchen.
“Can we say hello?” Julian asked.
“Yes, of course you can. Just don't hound her about... about marrying me and being your mother, or anything like that, okay?” Victor said sternly.
They nodded and followed their sister into the kitchen.
“Dear God, give me strength,” he muttered. Perhaps Sophie's tequila suggestion was a good one. If he were ever so slightly relaxed—and is there a person in the world who wouldn't get relaxed after a shot of that Mexican firewater?-- he could handle being around Violet and how his kids react to her might not set his teeth on edge.
He could dream couldn't he?
With that wonderfully numbing thought in mind he headed for his liquor cabinet and first took up an unopened bottle of Jose Cuervo, a fine tequila if you're really into tequila. Unfortunately, Victor wasn't. Then his eyes landed on the big square bottle of the rare blue agave tequila, a smoother blend as any tequila connoisseur could tell you and much more palatable.
“We have a winner,” he muttered. He took out a shot glass, filled it to the rim and shot one back. “All-righty then.”
Victor smacked his lips, hesitated a moment, then poured himself another and shot that one back, too.
“So, you took my advice anyway, huh?”
Victor spun on the spot--annoyed to be caught while contemplating having yet another--by Sophie of all people.
“It's been a harrowing day,” he offered as explanation. “Would you like one?”
Sophie laughed as she shook her head. “Think my mom would have a problem with that,” she said.
“Right...I forgot...you're under-aged,” Victor mumbled, screwing the top back on the blue bottle and setting it into the cabinet.
“Mr. Romanoff, are you all right with my mom and me being here?” she asked, coming further into the room.
“Of course. Why do you ask?”
She shook her head walking up to him. “No reason. Um...Mr. Romanoff, can we talk?”
He stared warily at her. “Yes, I suppose so,” he said. “Although, I think you've said quite enough...the last time we spoke, that is.”
She bit down on her bottom lip—the first sign that Sophie had gotten any of her mother's quirky traits, Victor noticed.
“I'm sorry,” she said in a near whisper.
She looked up at him with her vivid blue eyes wide in her Florida-tanned face. “I'm sorry for what I said about you...and Mom. I'm sorry I got between you and her.”
Victor frowned, not at all convinced she meant it, even if she did look contrite. Of course, he had nothing to say to this. What could he say? “Sure, no problem. So what that you ruined my life and cost me the love of my life and a mother for my children?”
Not a chance in hell.
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