Thirty-One and a Half Regrets Page 10

“No. But we’re looking at a few options in a couple of days. The baby’s due in three weeks.”

“Well, that’s wonderful news. And if I can help at all, just let me know.”

“Thanks, Rose. I’ll miss you.”

“Well, it’s not like you’re leaving Henryetta, is it? We’ll still see each other.”

“Yeah.” But she sounded sad. We both knew it wouldn’t be the same.

The boys ran off the porch. “Mommy! Let’s go trick-or-treating!”

I grabbed her arm and squeezed. “It will all work out, Heidi Joy. I promise.”

She nodded then herded her boys into a group, forcing the bigger ones to hold hands with the little ones. I climbed in my truck and watched them walk down the street, a lump in my throat.

Change was the way of the world. Only it never seemed to work in my favor.

I shook my head, irritated with my wallowing. I had more blessings I could count. I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself.

Ashley was waiting at her front door dressed as a pink princess.

“Muffy!” she shouted as we walked up, Muffy still trying to shake off her costume. “You’re so cute!”

At least somebody appreciated her costume.

Muffy jumped into her arms and licked her face, making the little girl giggle.

“Hello there, princess. Have you seen my favorite niece, Ashley?”

Giggles erupted. “It’s me, Aunt Rose!”

“Oh, my goodness! It is you!”

“And I’m your only niece.”

“When’d you get so smart?”

She put her hand on her hip and cocked her head. “I’m in kindergarten now.”

“Well, no wonder then.”

Violet was in the kitchen trying to get Mikey stuffed into a dragon costume. She twisted her head to look at me. “I thought you’d be here by now.”

“I was dressing Muffy.”

She just gave me a look.

I put a hand on my hip. “Well, she can’t go trick-or-treating without a costume.”

Her mouth pursed. “Hmm.”

“Daddy’s here!” Ashley shouted, running from the room.

Violet made an ugly face. “Yippee.”

A few moments later, Violet’s estranged husband walked into the room with Ashley on his hip, Muffy trotting behind them. He set his daughter down on the floor, laughing. “I stumbled upon this beautiful princess and her valiant mosquito.”

“Muffy’s not a mosquito, Daddy,” she giggled. “She’s a bee.”

He bowed low, sweeping his hand wide. “Excuse my mistake, my royal insect. No insult intended.”

Ashley covered her mouth, still giggling.

“I heard there was a fire-breathing dragon in the bowels of the kitchen, and as the princess’s knight in shining armor, it’s my duty to save her from the beast.”

“I don’t know about fire breathing,” Violet muttered. “But he’s passing enough gas that we could light his farts on fire. I have no idea what on earth your mother feeds him for lunch, but I wish she’d stop.”

“Violet!” I hissed.

Mike shot her a glare and snatched up Mikey. “I’m not afraid to wrestle a dragon,” he laughed as he carried the toddler into the living room, Ashley trailing behind. Muffy gave me a long look then ran after them.

Traitor.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Violet Mae Gardner Beauregard, but you stop it right now!” I whisper-shouted.

Her eyes flew open in shock.

“I don’t care how angry you are at Mike. You be nice to him in front of your children, and you sure as tarnation should not speak badly of his mother. That woman loves them more than life itself. Not to mention that she watches your children without pay.” Unleashed, my bitterness spread through my body, saturating every word. “You have no idea how lucky you have it.”

Violet’s mouth fell open. “What in the world has gotten into you?”

“I think you should count your blessings because a lot of people have sacrificed to let you keep them.”

Her eyes narrowed. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I couldn’t believe I’d let myself say so much. “Nothing.” I walked into the other room to get away from her.

Violet acted hurt until it was time to go trick-or-treating, and then she announced that she’d decided to stay home and hand out candy. Mike and I left with the kids, Muffy trotting next to me on her leash. Ashley and Mike had coerced her into wear her antennae while I was in the kitchen with Violet, but the look of indignation on her face told me that it hadn’t been consensual. We walked down the street, Ashley not as excited as she was before we left. It felt awkward and sad without Violet, as if one leg of a three-legged stool was missing. The three of us had always taken Ashley and Mikey out together.

Mike and I stood at the end of a driveway and watched the kids walk up to a neighbor’s front door. I held Muffy’s leash, trying to keep her from flopping onto her back again. One of her wings was already dented and had a small hole in it.

“I was sorry to hear about you and Joe breaking up,” Mike said, keeping his gaze on the kids. “I hope Violet didn’t have anything to do with it.”

I sighed and mumbled, “Not how you think.”

He spun to face me. “What?”

“No. She didn’t.”

He relaxed and stuffed his hands in the front pockets of his jeans. “I miss seeing you, Rose. You’ve been like a little sister to me. I should have called to check on you, but I wasn’t sure…with Violet.” He cleared his throat. “How are you handling everything?”

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