"Come, Dear. It's time to wake up."
Violet made a tiny sound, like the coo of a dove, but remained quite asleep.
"This is going to be a very big day for you, Luv. Please get up."
"No wanna," mumbled Violet. All toasty warm, she snuggled further into her pillow and sighed. She was way too comfortable to leave her bed and short of an earthquake, tornado or other so-called act of God she was going nowhere.
It was the soft laugh that made Violet frown in confusion as sleep slowly drifted away. "Mom?" she said, her eyes trying to flutter open.
"Not exactly, but I always thought of you as the daughter I never had… or rather, had for very long anyway."
In a flash, the events of the previous night flooded Violet's mind—Richard's ghost coming to her one last time, he telling her all sorts of things about Victor--things she suspected even Victor himself didn't know-- then Richard saying a final goodbye and ascending up to heaven, no longer earthbound, never to be heard from again. Her eyes popped open. She sat up and gaped at the slight, elegantly dressed older woman standing serenely by her bed.
"There now," Heidi said, smiling down at her. "We can have you dressed and ready in no time, now that you're somewhat awake."
"Ready for what?" Violet said, then she shook her head as if to dismiss a totally irrelevant question and shakily added, "Who… who…who are you?"
"Rather early in the morning to be sounding like an owl, but I think you already know who I am, don't you, Dear?"
In fact, Violet did, thanks to Richard… or rather she suspected she did. That jet black hair with the thin threads of silver running throughout, the piercing dark eyes framed in delicately arched brows and that knowing little smile…who else could she be?
"You're Victor's mother," Violet whispered.
"Bingo! It is so nice to finally get to meet you face to face," Heidi said, then briskly added, "Now that we have that out of the way, we don't have much time. We have to take extra care in our appearance today."
"Pardon?" Violet said, suddenly feeling rather self-conscience in her flannel nightgown with her tasseled bed hair and morning breath, but in any case it was December twenty-sixth, the day AFTER Christmas, which, as everyone knew, is the least important day of the year. Yes, it's Boxing day as our Canadian friends would call it, but it was NOT a holiday in the USA. Why in the world would she need to get all dolled up for that? She didn't even have to go to work today.
"The reason why is a short-lived secret, which is to say you will find out as soon as we can get you ready. Let's just say you'll regret it forever if you don't dress particularly nicely," Heidi said answering her unspoken question.
Violet's jaw dropped as it always did when Victor seemed to read her mind. "It must be a family trait," she muttered under her breath.
"No, not really in this case," Heidi answered. "Have you forgotten ghosts can read minds? Or more accurately put, we can hear your thoughts."
"I'll not speak then so I won’t offend you with my morning breath," Violet said.
Heidi laughed again. "Victor is right. You are funny."
"Yes, well…um…you should forgive me. I don't really know what you want with me," Violet said.
"Don't you? I rather thought Richard had explained everything," Heidi said, stepping over to the closet to rummage through Violet's wardrobe, looking at each item then pushing it to the side until she found what she liked. "Ah, this is the one…Victor's favorite."
Violet looked at the frilly dress in Heidi's hand- one of her personal favorites as well-- and noticed it was the exact shade of sapphire blue which she wore. Violet wondered if there was a connection, but she couldn't deny that dress was Victor's favorite. He had told her so several times.
"Victor picked out this dress for me to be buried in. I suppose he likes his women in blue," Heidi said, smoothing down non-existent wrinkles in her skirt as if in answer to Violet's silent question. Then she added with a good dose of snark, "Another reason Catty Catherine never would do for him. She always wore red or black despite knowing he loved blue."
"Um… Mrs. Romanoff…" Violet timidly started.
"Oh, no, Dear. After all this time please call me Heidi," she said, draping the dress over the chair in the corner of the room.
"Yes…Heidi," Violet said. "Might I… I mean…I don't quite understand…"
"My Dear, please don't fret," Heidi said. "You do too much of that already without you adding me to your guilt list. My Victor loves you and you love him that is all that matters."
"But I broke his heart…several times," Violet said. "And I'm not so sure he does love me anymore."
"Nonsense! He was just being unusually pigheaded yesterday. If only you had seen his face when he let you leave… Please forgive him. My Dear, you were in no position to do other than refuse him when he first asked you. Victor should have seen that, but like most men he was too goal-oriented, selfish, impatient and bull-headed to notice," Heidi said, then sighed. "I hardly blame you, Dear, when your own heart was in tatters. A tattered heart is rarely open to love. I know… believe me. I've been there."
"Have you? Really?" Violet asked.
Heidi smiled and sat down beside her, taking her hand. "Let me tell you a story, one you'll find rather familiar, I dare say. My darling Aleksandr, God rest his soul, was taken from me much too soon—Not as soon as Richard was taken from you, but too soon for me. It is always too soon when you love them so very much. I was devastated, needless to say. You know how that is all too well."
"Yes, I do," Violet said. "Tell me, how did you manage? How did you cope with the loss?"
"Well, I had Victor. He called me every day even though he was so very busy at law school," Heidi said. "My brother-in-law Vladimir and his wife, Lucy… You know them, don't you?"
"Oh, yes, I like them both so much," Violet said.
"Yes, at the time they happened to be my closest friends and they would have been there for me, but they didn't live next door, as you well know. That was just after they bought their bed and breakfast upstate and they were trying to make it the very best little B&B in New York. They couldn't just leave their new business and home to hold my hand you know. I did miss them terribly. They did as much as they could, but nothing really eased the pain of losing your other half."
"My brother and his family and all my friends, they all tried to forget Richard and told me to do the same. I couldn't…I wouldn't! It just hurt too much," Violet said.
"Yes, I know. It was the same with me, but then a miracle happened," Heidi said with a sweet smile. "I certainly didn't recognize it as such, but you never do see the significant moments of your life while you are living them, do you?"
"I guess…so what happened?" Violet asked, her curiosity piqued.
Heidi smiled at the recollection. "There I was minding my own business, safe to say still wallowing in my own misery, when a long forgotten childhood friend appeared out of nowhere and he stuck like glue. Mikhail was his name, and he drew me out of my self-imposed funk, although I fought him tooth and nail."
"How did he do it?" Violet asked.
Heidi laughed. "Almost exactly the way Victor did for you," she said.
Violet's eyes widened. "You mean he accosted you in the supermarket, forced you to go to dinner with him, he bought you a car behind your back and…and …"
"And forced me to live …and love again," Heidi said.
"You did?" Violet said. "Victor never said you had…um, did you marry him?"
Heidi stood up and paced the floor in front of the bed. "More's the pity that I didn't," She mumbled.
"Pardon?" Violet said.
"Mikhail did ask me to marry him…a few times actually," Heidi said.
"Wow, just like Victor," Violet said. "Did he know about Mikhail?"
"Yes… but not that I was spending so much time with him and that I had fallen in love with him," Heidi said. "I was frightened of his reaction to it so…"
"You didn't marry him?" Violet asked.
"No," Heidi said sadly. "I had finally accepted Mikhail's proposal and I was just getting the courage up to tell Victor about it…. but I was too late. I got ill, declined rapidly and… you know the rest."
"Oh, no!" Violet said in anguish.
Heidi nodded and reseated herself. "My greatest regret and it shouldn't have happened. If I had only..." she sighed. "The first entire year after Aleksandr died was nearly a complete blank. I know I did things, saw people, went places, went about the normal things we all have to do on a daily basis, but I can't say I remember any of it. I was as close to a zombie as you can get, a soulless, lifeless creature just pretending to live… That is until Mikhail came along."
"Yes…Yes!" Violet said. "That's exactly what I felt."
Heidi patted her hand. "I know, Dear," she said. "That was probably why I was so drawn to you from the start. We had that indefinable connection."
Violet looked her confusion. "But…we never met before today… did we?"
"Not technically," Heidi said slowly and evasively.
Violet's eyes widened. "What in the world does that mean?"
"Do you recall Sophie's graduation?"
"Uh…barely," Violet said. "It was so soon after Richard died and…I wept the whole time, I think."
"Yes, you did," Heidi said. "I was there. I saw you."
"Why on Earth were you there?" Violet asked astonished.
"Recall, Dear, it was also my grandson's graduation…Ronnie," Heidi replied.
"Oh…that's right! I forgot…I…but…"
"Yes, I was there only in spirit, as they say," Heidi finished for her. "I was with Victor nearly the whole time, as he was thinking of me and wishing I was there to see such a proud moment. I might add Richard was with you too for some of the time."
"Only some?" Violet asked, bewildered.
"Yes, he spent most of the time with Sophie who was more in need of his support that day. She came very close to bolting out of the ceremony several times and if it hadn't been for his calming presence that day…well, she might not have made it through it."
Violet bit down on her lip until it was painful, fighting tears. "I didn't know. I was so wrapped up in my own grief I didn't know how upset she was," she said.
"Grief makes us a bit myopic," Heidi said.
"Call it what it really is," Violet said harshly. "Self-centered, selfish, indulgent."
"There you go again being way too hard on yourself," Heidi said, patting her hand again. "Besides, there is nothing we can do to change the past. Que cera, cera."
Violet was quiet for a long moment, then frowned. "Doesn't that mean whatever will be, will be? It has nothing to do with the past and has everything to do with the future," she said.
"Hmm…I believe you are right," Heidi said, rising. "I stand corrected and with that said, let's get you ready."
"Uh…may I ask why you are still… um…"
"Earthbound?" Heidi finished for her. She then laughed adding, "Actually, I'm not earthbound at all."
Violet could not hide her skeptical expression as she stood in front of this clearly earthbound ghost.
"I'll tell you all about it while you shower," Heidi said, giving her a push toward the bathroom.