“Victoria, I know you’re worried but-”
“Don’t! Don’t tell me I have no reason to be worried!” Victoria snapped as she bit down hard on her bottom lip to try and stop her chin from quivering, trying to stave off the flood of tears that threatened to break free.
“Okay, I won’t.”
“Mom, you don’t have to be so damn strong all the time! You don’t, I wish you’d realize that! I wish you’d lean on me for a change! It may sound selfish but it’s the only thing I can do at this point so I wish you’d let me do it. I wish you’d let me take care of you for a change.”
“Okay, I’ll try.”
“Good. Can I get you something to drink, how about something to eat?” Vicki asked softly, hoping her mother would at least have some juice or something.
“No thanks, I don’t think I could keep anything down.”
“Okay, fine. Let’s talk.”
“Whatever gets your mind off of this.”
“Mom, come on, humour me.”
“Fine. What do you want to talk about?”
“You and Dad.” Vicki replied with a cheeky smile.
“Still, that’s a pretty broad subject.” Nikki replied, trying to keep from smiling.
“I know, but it’s all good.” Victoria told her, again not bothering to hide her cheeky smile.
Nikki gave up trying to hide her smile and with a small chuckle and a shake of her head asked, “Okay, where do you want me to start, what do you want to talk about?”
“I don’t know; you pick.”
“Okay, sit down and get comfortable.”
Smirking and quite pleased with her win, Victoria sat on the couch beside her mother.
“Did I ever tell you about your father posing as an interior designer and a butler while we were, well; we weren’t even dating at the time. He was still being so damn careful!”
“Dad posing as an interior decorator and a butler? You’re kidding right? No way!”
“Okay, spill it!”
“You’ve heard this all before Victoria.”
“No, I haven’t. I’d remember Dad posing as a butler! That’s not something you forget! Dad despises taking orders! He’s quite adept at giving them, but he absolutely doesn’t take them; he doesn’t even listen to them!”
“Okay, fine.” Nikki relented with a small smile.
Victoria smirked as she sat back and listened to her mother.
“When he first saw me at the club, I was just up there, doing my act and I didn’t even know he was there.”
“That changed pretty quickly.” Victoria said with a smirk.
“What? What did I say?” Victoria tried to play innocent.
“Any way, your father found out I wasn’t on contract, and he wasn’t happy about it. Not only that, he bought the club and demanded the owner put me on contract!”Nikki smiled softly, sweetly as she always did when she thought back to that time.
“And?” Victoria prompted impatiently, with a smile, although it was shadowed by disgust and anger as questions reverberated in her mind and made the doubts she’d been fighting for months fester within her. “What happened next, how’d he make up for that? Obviously it was good, or you never would’ve given him a second look.”
“Some things never change.” Nikki replied with a shake of her head.
“What?”Vicki tried once again to play innocent.
“You never could wait and let me tell a story in my own time. You always wanted me to get to what you wanted to know.”
“No, I always wanted you to get to the good part; I still do, so spill it!” Victoria told her cheekily.
“I’m not even touching that one.” Nikki told her before continuing. “Any way, he got Douglas to pose as Victor Newman and shower me with gifts. All while he was posing as Victor Newman’s butler.”
“Not too bad.”
“To see if I had a price, Victoria.”
“What, was he stupid?”
“No, he had just come out of a divorce that hurt him a lot, coupled with his past and his childhood, both of which you already know about.”Nikki reminded her puzzled.
“Yeah, that still doesn’t excuse what he did!” Vicki exclaimed outraged.
‘The way she says that something’s definitely going on here. And, it’s a lot more than just the situation with Victor and the one with Jeff and Gary. She’s angry at him for something. But; what?’ Pulling herself back to reality, Nikki went on. “It was a long time ago. Anyway, when he realized he had nothing to worry about, he bought The Bayou redecorated my dressing room, asked me to move into the ranch and the rest is history.”
“No way, there’s more than that, and we both know it!”
“You always were impatient and sceptical.”
“In this family, that’s par for the course, you should know that by now.”
“Yes, of course, I don’t know what I was thinking.”Nikki replied dryly trying to hide the smirk.
“So, come on, I want to hear the rest.”
“Don’t be so impatient.”
“I wouldn’t be if you’d just tell me.”
Dutifully, Victoria did as she’d been told and waited for her mother to continue.
“That’s better. Anyway, where were we?”
“Dad getting Uncle Douglas to shower you with presents to see if you had a price. Still say he needed his head read,” Victoria replied unimpressed.
“Thank you so much for the commentary. Anyway, while this was going on, he was the perfect gentleman. He wouldn’t even kiss me; not really, all I got was the kind of kiss you’d give your sister.”
“And you want to argue with me that he needed his head read?”
This time Nikki couldn’t help but chuckle as she continued with the story. “Be that as it may, eventually he asked me to move in with him.”Thinking better of it, Nikki quickly amended, “Actually, that’s not quite accurate. The invitation to move in came from your Uncle Douglas.”
“What? Why didn’t he just come out and ask you? Why use Uncle Douglas to do it? Why involve a middleman?”
“He had his reasons, I suppose.” Nikki replied vaguely, cryptically. “And, I doubt your Uncle Douglas would appreciate being called a middle man.” She told her with a smile.
“Like what? He obviously didn’t realize what he had when it counted-no news there, I don’t know why I expected anything else, anything more or better.”Victoria replied, her voice dripping with derision.“In the meantime, he was still being the gentleman, nothing ‘improper’ right?”Victoria continued to pepper her mother with questions, oblivious to her attempt to get her to relax.
“Frustratingly so, yeah.”Nikki replied as she thought to herself, ‘Something’s not right, I’ve never heard Victoria talk this way about her father, never heard her be this hostile toward him.’
Victoria took a minute to glare at her father as she fought the fury rising within her, the origin of which nobody, least of all Victoria herself, had expected, or indeed ever dreamed of. “Normally I’d admire his stubborn streak, but that’s just not right! He must’ve been crazy, or temporarily blind, one of the two. Then again, maybe it was a combination of the two, who knows.”
“Moving on,” Nikki began again, wondering if she’d ever finish her story and unable to hide her amused smile.
“I don’t know if you remember this, but I used to play the piano.”
“Of course I remember; you were good at it. Why did you stop?”
“I don’t know, life just got in the way, I guess. There came a point when I just never made time for it.”
“You might not know this, but your father is the one who made sure I learned to play. It was part of turning me into a lady.”
“What? You don’t need him to do that, you never did. You’re more lady than any of the other ladies I know. Tied with Katherine, since you’re also one of the strongest women I know.”
“You always were good for my ego.”
“At least I’m good for something.” Victoria whispered as reality set in once again as she looked around the room.
“Victoria, you’re doing more than you realize. If it weren’t for you and Nicholas, I’d have gone crazy by now.”
At her daughter’s heartbroken silence, Nikki realized it was best to continue. “He even tried to teach me French.”
“That didn’t last.” Victoria said, not bothering to try and hide her smirk or muffle her laughter.
“Not interested I guess?”
“Not in the least. The only thing I was interested in was your father and getting him to quit being such a gentleman! God, I wanted to shake him sometimes!”
“He’s said the same thing about you, on several occasions.” Victoria told her helpfully with a smirk.
“Trouble maker.”Nikki said smirking and shaking her head.
“Hey, you know me; I like to spice things up a bit. You know about that. In fact, you know a lot about that.”
“Victoria.” Nikki’s voice held a note of warning as she tried to hide the smirk that mirrored her daughter’s. “He taught me horseback riding too.”
“Another thing you don’t do any more.”
“I know, it’s pretty hard to do, and dangerous, when you’re pregnant.”
“You’ve got a point.”
“Your father even got Miguel to teach me Spanish.” Nikki said with a soft smile as the memories washed over her, so crystal clear it felt like it was just yesterday that they’d made them.
“This is how frustratingly proper your father was when we first got together, when I moved in, he insisted on separate rooms for heaven’s sake! To top it all off, he made a point of telling me my room had a lock on the door.”
“Are you kidding me? What was wrong with him?”
“You got me. Only one of the many times I’ve wanted to shake him over the years!”
“Join the club.”
“Your father was so intent on being a gentleman in the beginning that I didn’t even get a proposal until three years after we’d met. The first real kiss he gave me,” Nikki stopped a moment to smile as she savoured the memory, cherished it, “the first real one, wasn’t until New Years Eve the year we met.”
‘Too bad it was just in the beginning. Too bad it was just an act, that he was fooling us, fooling us the whole time.’ Victoria thought to herself ruefully as she tried to keep the anger surging through her under wraps as it shone in her eyes, tongues of bright red fire. “New Years Eve nineteen eighty-one? More and more I’m wondering why you didn’t just shake him and get it over with!” Shaking her head in disbelief, Victoria said, “Three years? You mean to tell me he made you wait three years for a proposal? You should’ve shaken him-hard!”
“You’re usually the non-violent type.”
“Sometimes it’s the only way to get results!”
The tone of voice, the steely look in her daughter’s eyes set off alarm bells for Nikki. ‘Something’s definitely going on. I’ve never heard her talk like this. The question is, how much of it has to do with Jeff and Gary and how much of it has to do with Victor?’
“Thank God he gave up on feeding me oysters!” Nikki said with a chuckle.
“What?” Vicki asked with a bemused smile.
“When we first got together, your father would have all these romantic candle lit dinners prepared for us.”
“Nothing new there.”
“No, but he had a habit of getting me to try food I didn’t like, including oysters. In fact, especially oysters!”
“And the problem with this would be…?” Victoria asked still confused.
“I hate them! I’ve always hated them!”
“Again, no news there.” Victoria replied with a chuckle and a cheeky smirk.
Chuckling as she shook her head and thought back to that time, Nikki told her, “He had a habit of hiding jewellery in them.”
“I remember one night in particular. He insisted I try the oysters, raw ones at that. Anyway, I was just about fed up by the time we got to the last one. I told him I’d settle for a hamburger and fries, but as usual, he didn’t listen and when I lifted the oyster out of the shell there was a pearl ring in it.”
“Score one for Dad-finally!” Vicki said with a bright smile.
“That was when he told me about how pearls are formed. I never knew that.”
Victoria smiled sweetly and tried to cover her huge yawn, but wasn’t fast enough.
“Okay, enough stories for now, you need a nap.”
“No I don’t. I’m not tired.” Victoria argued.
“Yes you do, you’re completely exhausted.”
“No, I want to hear more. I want to hear more stories.” Victoria replied a little petulantly.
“Victoria, you need rest!” Nikki tried to reason with her.
“No I don’t, I need more coffee. I’ll get some and be right back.”
“Victoria, sleep first; then coffee.” Nikki told her adamantly.
“Fine, but while I’m at it, I’m getting you something.”Victoria agreed, a little too easily for Nikki’s taste.
A few minutes later, Victoria walked back into the room, much to Nikki’s dismay. “What are you doing here? I thought you were going home.”
“Yeah,” Victoria replied simply before sitting beside her mother at her father’s bedside.
“What happened?” Nikki asked impatiently.
“Nick’s gone home to grab something to eat and take a quick shower. And, there’s a huge line-up at the cafeteria, so that’s out too. Besides, I’m not leaving you alone here, so you can just forget it.”Victoria told her firmly, the determination shining in her eyes speaking volumes.
“Fine, curl up on the couch and get some rest.” Nikki told her just as firmly.
“Did you?” Victoria countered wisely, knowingly.
“I’m not even tired, Victoria.”
Taking in the dark circles under her mother’s eyes, Victoria scowled at her and said, “You’re just as bad as Dad sometimes, you know that? How do you expect to help him if you’re a zombie, completely exhausted?”
“Victoria, don’t push me!” Nikki snapped as she got up and began to pace the room.
Considering her next move carefully, Victoria sat on the couch and told her mother, “Look, I’m sorry, I don’t want to fight; I really don’t.”
“I know, neither do I,” Nikki told her wearily.
“I’ve been thinking about our talk earlier and there’s something I don’t get.”
“What’s that?” Nikki asked intrigued.
“Why you’re completely forgetting what you did for Dad! It’s no secret that he helped you with your life, but you did the same for him. In fact, when it comes right down to it, you did more for him than he ever did for you and I don’t understand why you’re selling yourself short!”
“Where is this coming from? Victoria, this isn’t like you!”
“What? You can’t tell me it’s not true.”
“We helped each other, Victoria.”
“That’s my point!” Victoria snapped as she rose and began to pace the small hospital room, fury pumping off her.
‘Something isn’t right. Why is she acting this way? It’s like she hates her father, I’ve never seen her this way.’ Nikki thought to herself as she watched her daughter pace the room, taking special note that her fists remained clenched the entire time.
“Mom, I’ve been right here the past thirty-some years. I’ve been here, I know what’s happened, how he’s completely disregarded the impact you’ve had on his life, I saw how he took you for granted. Don’t try and brush it off, he’s never forgotten what he’s done for you, and yet when it comes to what you’ve done for him, he’s got complete amnesia! Convenient, isn’t it?”
“Victoria, what are you talking about? Where is this coming from?” Nikki tried once again to get the answers she knew were just below the surface; answers that for one reason or another, Victoria was intent on keeping to herself!
“I’m seeing things in a new light.” She replied cryptically as she sat beside Nikki on the couch, not bothering to look at her or Victor.
“What things?” Nikki pushed.
“Many things, but primarily Dad and his relationship with you.” Victoria hedged; still not looking at either of her parents. ‘It’s all been a joke, from the very beginning, it’s just been a joke, a sick, twisted game he’s played, the worst part is, he doesn’t see anything wrong with it. He doesn’t see a damn thing wrong with the twisted games he plays with people’s lives, especially my mother’s!’ Victoria thought to herself ruefully as the fury burning inside her began once again to bubble up to the surface, straining her tenuous hold on it, threatening to break free in a torrent, a maelstrom, the likes of which would surely tear her family apart.
“I don’t understand this. Your father and I have had problems before, that’s no surprise, I’ve never denied it, neither has your father.”
“He’s never accepted responsibility for the problems either, not really. He’s never really accepted responsibility for his actions and the effect they had, the effect they still have on you. He’s mentioned them from time to time, but, instead of really admitting he’s messed up, that he’s made mistakes, he brushes it off, he acts like what he’s done, the mistakes he’s made aren’t important, like they don’t matter. He acts like hurting you the way he has over the years isn’t important, like it should all be forgotten, like some bad dream or misunderstanding, he just doesn’t get it, or he doesn’t want to, I don’t know. Maybe he just doesn’t give a damn.”
“Where is this coming from? I’ve never heard you talk like this, ever.” Nikki asked shocked and thoroughly confused.
“I’m seeing things more clearly than I ever have.” Victoria told her before heading for the door.
“Freeze, you’re not going anywhere until we straighten this out! For God’s sake, Victoria, your father might be on his deathbed and all I’ve heard from you is attitude, attitude that’s coming from out of the ball park!”
Still fuming, Victoria walked back to the couch where her mother sat, her eyes blazing into her daughter’s, making it painfully clear she demanded answers!
“Victoria, you’ve got some serious explaining to do! Where is this attitude coming from? You’ve always adored your father, you idolize him!”
“Not anymore.” She replied cryptically.
“Why? What happened?” Nikki prodded.
“Looking back, I realize he never gave you the credit you deserved, the credit you deserve. Your contribution to this family went unnoticed, he never gave you a damn bit of credit for anything you did, nothing! Everything you did, everything you had was because of him, or so he thought!”
“He did open a lot of doors for me.”
“And I’m not denying that. I’m just saying he never showed any true gratitude for what you did for him! Would that have been so terrible, why was it so hard? Why is it still so damn hard?”
“Your father’s never been good with words, Victoria. He’s never been good at putting into words what he feels, you know that.”
“On the contrary, words are what he excels at, pretty words; it’s the actions that he needs to back them up that he never follows through with!”
“What?” Nikki asked getting more and more confused.
“You’ve done just as much for him as he has for you and yet he’s never acknowledged that, not once.”Noticing the confused expression on her mother’s face, Victoria went on. “I know he had a hard life when he was growing up.”
“Hard life doesn’t even begin to describe it, Victoria; your father went through hell!”
“I know, but that still doesn’t give him the right to do what he’s done over and over again.”
“Blame everyone else, especially you for his mistakes, his shortcomings and failures! How many times, Mother, how many times has he admitted he messed up only to blame it on something someone else did? He’s never just stood up and said ‘I messed up, I didn’t do what I should’ve done and someone got hurt, I’m sorry.’ He messes up, blames someone else for it and just when something happens, just when he does something to make us think that maybe by some miracle he’ll change, he does the same damn thing over and over again! He’s never shown any true remorse for treating you like he has the past thirty-some years! He’s waltzed in and out of your life like it was his right! He acts like he didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Victoria, you don’t know everything, so I’m going to give you a crash course in what it was like for your father growing up and what it was like when we first met.”
On a huff of breath, Victoria folded her arms stubbornly and fell silent.
“You know your father did a lot for me, he’s the first person to really give me the incentive, the drive, to make me want to better myself. Before I met him, I had no direction, I was living my life day to day, with no plans for my future, not even a thought of what I wanted my life to be.”
“So, he opened a few doors, you walked through them. That took courage.”
“Maybe so,” Nikki agreed thoughtfully, “but he had to open the doors for me to walk through them.”
Barely resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Victoria stayed silent while her mother continued. “Your father had nobody to count on, nobody he could turn to when he needed it. Nobody was there to make him feel safe; he only had himself to rely on.”
“I understand that, mother.” Victoria told her impatiently.
“Do you really?”Nikki asked before continuing. “Your father had been betrayed so many times over, most notably and painfully by his parents. Even though his mother certainly didn’t want to give him up, didn’t want to leave him at that orphanage, she did. Whether or not you realize it, Victoria, that one moment changed the course of his life forever, it left lasting scars; scars that, to this day still aren’t completely healed. I’m not sure they’ll ever heal.”
“It still doesn’t give him the right to disregard what you’ve done for him!”
“He’s never disregarded it, not really.”
“He did and we both know it. He did it every time he turned to another woman, every time he cheated on you. He did it every time he walked out on you, left you to pick up the pieces like nothing happened, like it didn’t matter. He did it when he walked out on this family time and time again without a single thought to what it would do to you or us!”
“Victoria, listen and listen well. Before you were born, long before you were born, your father had closed himself off to everything and everyone, he was determined not to let anything or anyone hurt him. The scars he had to carry and still carries with him, the life that he had growing up, growing up on the streets made him tough and bitter, made him cold and guarded. He used that as a kind of self-defence mechanism, I guess.”
“Is there a point to this?” Victoria bit out impatiently, angrily.
“Simply this, because of everything he went through as a child, things no child should ever have to go through; your father couldn’t trust or love anybody completely, not at first. It takes a long time for him to open up that way. It takes so much, much more than I can put into words for your father to open his heart to those odds, the odds that, although he may get more than he ever dreamed, there’s an equal chance he’ll end up heartbroken. A lot of what motivated your father in how he dealt, and to some extent still deals with relationships, is fear and the need to protect himself from getting hurt, the need to protect himself from that fear of being hurt by someone he loves, because he knows just how much the ones he loves can hurt him if he lets them, if he lets them in, lets them get close enough to do it. He knows that because he learned it at a very tender age, Victoria.”
“It took a long time, years in fact to get your father to realize that he didn’t have to do that with me.”
“I get what you’re saying, I guess.”
“You guess?” Nikki echoed intrigued.
“What I don’t understand is this; once in awhile, when he doesn’t think I’ll really notice it or that I’ll remember or whatever, he-I don’t know how to explain it-it’s like he has this moment of clarity or whatever you want to call it and finally realizes what you’ve done for him, what your presence in his life has done and still does for him, you fix all of that, you’re the one who brings out the good-the best-in him, you bring out his humility, his sensitivity and his tenderness, things few others are capable of doing. You make him a better man; I’m not just saying that, Dad’s said it too, just not in those words and I’ve never remembered to write it down or grab a tape recorder when he does come out and say that.” Victoria ended on a cheeky note with a smile to match before continuing. “Why does he keep things like that to himself anyway? Why is it so hard for him to tell you that?”
“It probably stems from that fear I told you about earlier. Anyway, your father doesn’t need to come out and say that, he doesn’t need to say anything. It’s in the way he looks at me, it’s in the way he’ll touch me or take my hand, the way he’ll wrap his arms around me late at night. It’s those things, Victoria; that let me know without a single word exactly how he feels. When we got together, when we became a couple, we helped each other change for the better and I think our love is stronger for it. That’s the magic of your father and me, the magic of our history and who we are as a couple, what we did for each other and how it’s made our love stronger, made us stronger as a couple and as people.”
“Why does it always have to be about what Dad did for you? You did just as much for him as he did for you, so why does it always get overlooked? What, does he think it’s your job to make his life better? It’s a two-way street, or it should be! Your role in his life is just as important as his in yours, why can’t he remember that?”
“Victoria, right now he can’t remember much of anything.”Nikki gently reminded her.
“You know what I mean; it’s always been about what Dad did for his diamond in the rough. He forgets, completely overlooks, what you did for him! All that’s overshadowed somehow, he allows it to be overshadowed, why, I’ll never know, never understand!”
“Your father’s never been the type to…he’s never been compelled to write poetry or give me pretty speeches, that’s just not who he is, that’s not your father Victoria.”
“On the contrary, that’s all he’s ever done, he tells us, all of us what we want to hear and then does what he damn well pleases. All he’s ever given us is pretty words, darling speeches, words and speeches with no substance!”
“Victoria, where is this coming from? I’ve never seen you like this, never heard you talk like this, especially about your father!”
“For the first time ever I’m seeing things the way they really are, I’m seeing him the way he really is!” Victoria rose to stalk the little hospital room, heat and temper pumping off her.
“What in God’s name are you talking about? What are you talking about?”
“Nothing, let’s just forget it, okay? You were going to tell me some more things about Dad.” ‘Why doesn’t she see it, why doesn’t she see what he’s done to her over the years? Then again, maybe she does, maybe she does and she’s just too damn stubborn to call him on it, either that or she doesn’t want to face it, call him on it because it hurts too much. That I can understand, that kind of pain, that kind of fear I understand all too well.’ Victoria thought to herself as her temper hit a fever pitch and she had to clench her fists to stop herself from throwing something.