Confused, Nikki and Victor looked at each other and shook their heads before walking back into the livingroom with Cindy carrying the plate of cookies.
“The kids always heard me talking about you, reminiscing about when we were growing up. Suzzy started calling you that a few months ago.”
“Oh.” Victor still couldn’t quite take it in.
“Mommy talks about you lots,” Suzzy said with a mouth full of cookie.
“Suzzy, what have I told you about talking with your mouth full?”
Suzzy nodded and finished her cookie before continuing. “You stood up for her when a mean girl made her cry, when she was little.”
“Well, I didn’t think she should be treated that way.”
“No, it’s not nice to make people cry.” Suzzy agreed with a smile.
“It certainly isn’t.”
“I’m glad you came back, I wondered what you looked like.”
“You did?” Victor asked with a chuckle.
“Yeah, Mommy has lots of pictures of you in boxes upstairs, but they’re all old ones; ones that are from when you were little.”
Jumping off the couch, she turned to them and said, “I’m going to go play. Bye Uncle Chris.”
After she had scampered off upstairs, Cindy turned to them and said, “I’m always telling her stories about when we were growing up. I guess that’s why she calls you Uncle Chris, she feels like she knows you. We had some good times, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, we did.” Victor’s smile was soft, but there wasn’t a trace of sorrow in it.
“We’d better get going, it’s been a long day,” Victor said as he rose from the couch.
“Wait a minute, I have some boxes that belong to you. Your mother left them for you, in case you ever came back.”
He looked at Nikki who nodded and said, “This is part of why we came, isn’t it?”
A few minutes later, Cindy had carried the dozens of boxes down and into the entrance.
“Where’s your car?” she asked as she picked up one of the boxes.
“At the end of the driveway.”
“Well, park it in the driveway and I’ll help you with the boxes.”
“You really don’t have to.”
“Chris, I’ll help you with the boxes. Don’t argue, you won’t win.” When Victor said nothing, only leaving to get the car, Nikki turned to her and said, “Nice work.”
“Thank you. He knows not to mess with me,” Cindy joked as they talked a little more before Victor came back in.
“Are you sure you should be lifting any of these?”
“Nikki, they’re not that heavy, I’ll be fine.”
Not wanting to argue with him in front of his childhood friend, who knew nothing about Victor’s health, or why they were there, Nikki didn’t push the issue. They said their good-byes and headed out.
As they climbed back into their car, Victor turned to her and asked, “Would you mind if we went back to the hotel? I’m a little tired and anxious to look and see what’s in those boxes.” Nikki answered softly. “Of course, I was going to suggest we head back, you look like you could use some rest. Tell me the truth, today took a lot out of you, didn’t it?”
“It took a lot more out of me than I expected.” Victor offered no further explanation as he started the engine and the car roared to life.
They finally made it to their room.
All the way back to the hotel, Victor hadn’t said a word and Nikki hadn’t pushed him to talk to her.
Somehow, she had sensed that he needed this time to himself, time to just reflect on the past and on what coming back home to face it meant to him.
He had carried one box in with him.
As he sat on the bed with it beside him, Nikki walked over to him and gently put her hand on his shoulder. He smiled softly and hesitantly, slowly opened the box.
There sat piles and piles of papers, photos and drawings he’d done for his mother as a child.
“She kept them.” Victor couldn’t keep the wonder out of his voice if he’d wanted to, nor could he keep the tears from rising in his eyes.
“Of course she did, they were from you,” Nikki told him softly as she looked at what was in the box.
A small off-white envelope caught his eye. “What’s this?” he thought to himself out loud. Carefully he opened the envelope and read.
By now you’re all grown up and you’ve made a life for yourself. But, you haven’t forgotten who you are and where you came from. You never could. I always knew you’d come back, always knew you’d come home. I hope by now you know that I didn’t send you away, I didn’t give you up because I didn’t love you or because I didn’t care, but because I did. I had no choice. I couldn’t let you and your brother starve, I just couldn’t do it. I loved you and your brother with all my heart. And, I always will. But, after your father left, the money ran out and I couldn’t keep both of you with me so I had to make a choice. I’ll regret what I did for the rest of my life and I only hope that, one day, you can forgive me.
With tears burning in his eyes and pouring down his cheeks, he stuffed the letter back into the envelope and threw it back in the box. Furious, he stalked toward the window. “Bastard!” he swore softly as a bitter cold edge crept into his voice.
“Victor,” Nikki whispered softly as she walked up to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“If ever I doubted whether Albert Miller, my father was a bastard, this proves it! The man walked out on his family, left us destitute and never looked back. He left my mother to pick up the pieces with two young children. What kind of monster does that? My mother adored him, she gave him everything she had! She gave him everything she had, and this is how he repaid her!”
Stalking to the bar, Victor snatched up the decanter of brandy.
Glaring, he slammed it back down on the bar and stalked back to the bed.
Helpless, Nikki could do nothing but sit and watch as he slumped down onto the bed and gave into the bitter, furious tears he’d held in for so long.
“Darling.” Nikki whispered as she wrapped her arms around him and held him tight.
She rocked him back and forth for what seemed like forever, until finally, he closed his eyes and fell asleep, exhausted by all that had happened.
The next day, as rain fell softly on the ground outside the room, Nikki and Victor awoke and dressed.
“Are we going home?” Nikki asked, hoping on some level they were.
“No, there’s one more place I need to go.”
“For heaven’s sake, where?” Nikki asked unable to think of where else he needed to go, especially since time was certainly not on their side!
“I need to see my mother,” he told her simply.
Nodding silently, Nikki followed him out of the hotel.