As the laughter subsided, Reggie continued to smile staring at them all. “You... would you mind if I...uh... could I take a picture of you?”
“What for? Didn't ya like the pictures we just gave ya?” Julian said.
“Oh, no. I love those, Julian, really I do, but I want a picture of all of you together, with your dad... your family,” Reggie said.
“That... That's real nice,” Georgiana said, staring at Reggie. Then she smiled at Victor. “Can we, Daddy?”
“Of course. Peter, come sit on my lap,” Victor said. The other kids gathered around him and they all smiled for ...well, not the camera. Reggie used his cell phone and he took several shots.
“Thanks. Now I can show my....everyone,” Reggie said, as Linda brought them the bill and he reached for a it. “Oh, I'll get that.”
Victor, being quicker, gave his credit card to Linda before Reggie could. “Next time,” he said.
They gathered their things, the kids waving merrily to Linda as they exited the restaurant.
“Thanks for all the pickles!” Peter shouted.
Julian grabbed Reggie's hand as they walked out to the parking lot. “You will call us when we can come see ya again and our gramma and grampa, right?”
“Julian,” Victor warned. “Let's not badger Reggie.”
“I'm not badgering!” he said, then he thought about it and looking up at Reggie asked, “Am I?”
Reggie laughed and shook his head. “No, you're not. I have your dad's number and he just gave me his email too so...I will let you know when we can get together.”
“It might have to wait until after Christmas and New Years. We're all very busy this time of year, you know,” Victor said, opening the car door. “Say goodbye to Reggie. He has a long ride back home.”
Peter, displaying more of his newly learned manners, held out his hand again. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Reggie. Thank you for the gifts,” he formally said.
“You're welcome, Peter,” Reggie said, solemnly shaking his little hand. He stood staring at the other two kids. “Well...I'm so glad we could do this. Thanks for coming to see me and thank you so much for the awesome present. I'll always cherish it.”
“Yeah, Merry Christmas, Reggie!” Julian said, giving him a one-armed hug as he held onto the box of toy cars with the other arm.
“You're a great kid, Julian,” Reggie said, leaning forward and kissing the top of his head. He smiled as the boy jumped into the back seat of the car and settled into his seat.
“Daddy, can Reggie come to the Christmas party?” Peter asked as he hopped in after his brother.
“I... I'm not sure that is a good idea, Buddy,” Victor said. “Reggie has his own family to be with for the holidays.”
Reggie wasn't listening. He was staring at Georgiana who stood a bit apart from the others, staring down at the Teddy bear clutched in her hands. He bent his knees and sank down so he could peer into her face.
“Goodbye, Gi...Georgiana. I'm so happy you came to see me. It's nice to see you've grown up to be a beautiful, intelligent, sweet girl.... just like I always remembered you. Merry Christmas, Gi...Georgiana.”
“You...you can call me Gigi...if you wanna,” she said so low, he could barely hear it. She bit her lip, raised her eyes to his, saw him smiling, and she gave him a quick hug before hurriedly getting into the front seat.
Last they saw of him, a sadly smiling Reggie stood by his shiny black Cadillac Escalade waving to them as Victor backed out of the parking spot and drove carefully out onto the road.
“Reggie's nice,” Peter said, taking his new cars out of the box.
“Yeah, I like him,” Julian said, running his cars on the space between him and his brother. “Can't wait til we meet our udder gramma and grampa.”
Victor only half listened to the boy's cheerful chatter which didn't bother him very much. The boys, after all, didn't understand subtle nuances revealed by this meeting, nor the troubles which could arise from it. He worried about Georgiana's silence, however. Unfortunately, she seemed to understand too much of it.
“What did you think of Reggie?” he asked.
She merely shrugged and kept her head down, her hair falling in front of her face so he couldn't even see her expression.
“Say something, Honey,” he said, after several minutes of silence except for the boys doing Vrrrooom-vrrrrooom car sounds in the back.
“What did you think of Reggie?” she asked.
“I … I thought he seemed... sincere,” he said, surprised to be asked. “That means...”
“I know what it means,” she said quietly. “Honest... you don't think he's a... a liar.”
“No, I don't think he's that. I'm a pretty good judge of character... usually. I mostly can tell when someone is lying to me,” he said. “It makes my work easier if I get it right the first time so... I try to get it right. I have been fooled before, of course, but I don't think so this time. I think he's a good guy, generally speaking. He just...well, he was very young when he first became a father and when we're so young we don't always do things the right way, the way we ought to do them. Sometimes it's just too much for some people, to have a family and so much responsibility so soon. It was probably an overwhelming time for him, even if he didn't know it then. He handled it as best as he could...better than a lot of people would have done.”
Victor drove several highway miles and waited, but she remained silent. “Please, Georgiana. Tell me what's running through that fertile mind of yours,” he said.
She bit her lip again and flipped her hair out of her face to look at him. Then she looked back at the toy bear on her lap. “I'm glad I listened to Violet.”
Victor was NOT expecting that. “Oh...yes, Violet is often right about such things,” he said cautiously.
Georgiana nodded. “I'm glad cuz...I remembered everything wrong. The man I thought was my father wasn't. I didn't remember anything about Reggie. I thought I did but....I got it all mixed up and wrong. It's good that I know the truth now. I only remembered the bad stuff about that other man, the bad man...um...Jesse. So that's good.”
“Yes, it is good to know the truth,” Victor said, frowning and thinking of something else Reggie told him. “Even if it is painful.”
She nodded again and fell back to silence.
“So... what did you think of your father, of Reggie?”
“I... I liked him,” she whispered.
Okay, that was clearly a stab in the heart, thought Victor, although he tried not to acknowledge it, but it wasn't as bad as it might have been. He waited. It could get worse, after all.
“That's... good,” he said.
“I like him, Daddy, but I love you,” she said suddenly earnest.
“Okay,” he said, caution telling him not to overreact.
“I don't wanna leave you,” she said. “Please don't let him take us away even if he is our real father and a good guy.”
“Oh...Honey, I don't think...” He stopped. In truth, he didn't know what the future held. He had no idea what Reggie was thinking, what he would think and feel after some time, after he spoke to his parents and his wife. Everything could blow up in his face when he tells his wife that he has a few kids by another woman, and Reggie in turn could blow apart their lives just by claiming what he was legally entitled to get, namely full custody of his biological children. Victor didn't know what to say to Georgiana. He certainly didn't want to lie, but to do otherwise was to cause her more anxiety.
Damn, he could really use Violet and her motherly wisdom right about now.
“Daddy, please don't be mad, but...I know you said not to...not to bother Violet, but can I talk to her one more time when we get home?” she pleaded. “Please, Daddy? She helped me last night. Maybe she can help me now.”
Victor drove on automatic for several miles, his mind whirling and his stomach churning.“I think that might be a very good idea, Honey,” he said at last. “I'll...I'll call her and we'll see if she can come over tonight. Okay?”
“Ronnie! Ronnie! Look what we got!” Peter shouted running into the house clutching his new toys. “Where is he?”
“I don't think he's home,” Julian said, looking in the living room.
“His car is here,” Peter said, looking in the garage and seeing the truck.
“But maybe they took Simon's car. It's not here,” Julian said kicking off his dress shoes, wiggling his toes and bouncing up the stairs.
Without knocking, he opened the door to Ronnie's room and there he was at his deck, perusing another boring music website on his laptop with earbuds in so he couldn't hear anything except the music blasting in his ears.
Julian pulled the buds out and smiled at him. “Hi!”
“Hey, little dude! You just get home?” Ronnie said.
“Yup!” Julian said, excitedly placing his new cars on the desk. “Look what we got from Reggie. Aren't they cool?”
“Um...Reggie who?” Ronnie said, picking up the baby blue mustang. “Awesome car!”
“Reggie's our bi-log-ickle fadder,” Peter said, coming into the room also showing off his cars.
“Wow, these are awesome!” Ronnie said, taking each car in hand to look them over carefully. "So, how was the meeting with your father?"
“We had some lunch and I got lots of pickles,” Peter went on. “And den he gave us presents and we gave him a present, too, and den he cried a little bit and den we...”
“Wait... what?” Ronnie said, putting down the white Thunderbird to examine the black Trans-Am with a golden bird on the hood. “Who cried?”
“Reggie,” Peter said, holding out a bright blue car. “What is dis car called, Ronnie? I don know it.”
“It's a '72 Nova. They don't make them anymore. Pity,” Ronnie said. “It's a fantastic car. Would love to have one.”
“I'll let you pway wiff dis one,” Peter said.
Ronnie laughed. “I mean a real car to drive, but anyway, tell me about your dad. You liked him? Was he nice?”
“Uh-huh,” Julian said. “He's nice and..oh, Ronnie, guess what! We have anudder grampa and gramma. Reggie told us we can meet 'em.”
“Seriously?” Ronnie said, putting down the corvette with a slight pang as he recalled his own corvette and how stupid he was for selling it even if he could barely fit in it, being so big and all. “Wait... how can that be true? I mean...if you have all these relatives alive, a father and real grandparents, then why were you in an orphanage?”
“Reggie didn't know where to look for us,” Georgiana said, suddenly at his door.
“Hey, Georgie,” Ronnie said, watching her enter his room and sit on his bed, the brightly colored Teddy bear clutched to her chest and a sad expression on her face. “I see you got a present too. Your father's sexist.”
“Huh?” she said.
“You just got a silly stuffed animal and the boys got cool cars. Totally sexist! I'd be pissed too,” Ronnie said, smirking.
She just gave him an annoyed look. “When have you ever seen me playing with cars?” she said.
“Just teasing ya,” he said, his smile slipping. “You okay, Georgie? How'd you like your father?”
She shrugged. “He's okay.”
Ronnie frowned. “Where's um...where's Dad?”
“He's calling Violet. We need to talk to her,” she said.
“About what?” Ronnie said, an ominous feeling creeping in.
“It's...it's complicated,” she said and she stood up, walking out of the room without another word.
“She's upset again cuz she thinks Reggie will take us away. I heard her talking 'bout it wiff Daddy in da car,” Julian said.
“Oh, crap,” Ronnie mumbled.
“But he won't. Daddy won't let him,” Julian said, confident as you please.
“How do you know that?” Ronnie asked.
“Cuz...cuz he has a family of his own. You can't have two families!” Julian said, as if that was obvious.
“You wanna play wiff us, Ronnie?” Peter asked.
“Sure...” Ronnie said distractedly, but he wasn't nearly as confident of a happy ending as his new little brother clearly was.
He wondered though...would they even be his little brothers for much longer?
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