"Viktoria, it’s time to wake up. You’ll be late for the bus if you keep sleeping.”
Snuggled up in her bed with a plush black blanket nearly covering her head, Viktoria made a noise and rustled in her sleep. She was hesitant to leave the warmth of her bed but when a large hand caressed the top of her head, she smiled softly and opened her eyes. The curtains had been drawn back and she blinked a few times as she sat up and yawned. Her deep brown eyes looked up to her father, Isaac, who smiled warmly down at her.
“Good morning, Daddy,” she said.
“Good morning, Viktoria,” Isaac watched his daughter pull back the blankets, dangle her lithe legs over the edge of the bed before sliding down and letting her feet touch the carpet. “Breakfast will be ready soon. Be sure to wash your face and brush your teeth, okay?”
Isaac ventured back downstairs to allow his daughter time to get ready. A small black and white kitten lay sleeping in one of the chairs in the kitchen when he stepped through the entryway. A slight frown graced his lips but it vanished when the kitten’s eyes opened, its green hues turned to him and a tiny meow fell from its mouth followed by a rather loud yawn. Isaac covered his mouth to stifle his laughter at the cuteness of the kitten and allowed it to stay where it was. He moved across the floor to gather ingredients: a few eggs, a pack of bacon and several pieces of bread. There wasn’t much that he could make but breakfast foods were something he’d gotten into the habit of cooking.
Upstairs, Viktoria rummaged through her closet to grab her favorite dress that was hanging up. She tugged it down without wrinkling it and slowly pulled it on. It was a black and white dress that came to her knees and she pulled a gray sweater over it. She then slipped on her socks and boots and brushed her long, straight black hair, tying it into a ponytail. Viktoria admired herself in the mirror. Not only had she gotten good at getting dressed but her hair was smoothly tied into the ponytail with only a few strands of hair sticking out her and there. She smiled at her reflection then grabbed her backpack, exited her bedroom while closing her door behind her and trotted down the steps.
The TV was already turned on and the local news was playing. Most children would want to watch cartoons and such and Viktoria enjoyed them but she also didn’t mind listening to the news. Isaac was happy that his daughter wasn’t like most children who disregarded the news as ‘boring’ or ‘stupid’. She told him a couple of times that the news was interesting to listen to. To him, it showed she would be an intellectual when she got older and that made him proud.
Viktoria entered the kitchen and her gaze fell onto the still sleeping kitten. She giggled and gently rubbed its head. The gesture made the small creature purr softly.
“Lily, it’s already morning. You have to wake up,” she told the kitten who merely turned onto its backside and pawed the air.
“She’s a very lazy thing, isn’t she?” Isaac chuckled.
“Cats are sleepy animals, Daddy,” Viktoria said as she plopped herself into one of the other chairs. “That’s why Lily sleeps all day. If she were a dog then she would run around a lot.”
“You’re right about that.” Isaac brought over a plate of ketchup covered scrambled eggs, smoking bacon and buttery french toast with syrup. “The bus should be coming soon so hurry and eat.”
About ten minutes later, a familiar honk greeted them. Isaac peered out the kitchen window and saw the large yellow school bus waiting by the curb. The bus driver caught his eyes and they waved to each other. Viktoria kissed her father’s cheek, gave a little kiss to the kitten then grabbed her keys from the dresser in the hallway and skipped out of the house. Isaac watched his daughter board the bus and take a seat by the window. He was able to see her face and waved as the bus pulled away. A soft sigh escaped his lips as he adjusted his tie.
“I should head over to the courthouse now.”
Isaac was assigned to a case to prove a young woman innocent of attempted murder. The woman’s name was Ruby Burns, only twenty years old, and despite being charged and accused of trying to kill her boyfriend of two years, she never spoke ill of him or she never badmouthed him. But she didn’t love him anymore, she didn’t want to be with him anymore. There was more to the story, more that Burns wouldn’t say.
Witnesses were brought to the stands for her defense. Close friends, co-workers, even her uncle, they all testified that she would never do anything to hurt anyone. The prosecutors brought out good points and strong witnesses as well but everything came down to Burns. The only piece of the story that was missing was her piece and with Isaac’s encouragement, she was able to relay her story and her fate was decided by the jurors. Ruby Burns was deemed not guilty and her boyfriend was arrested. The judge sentenced him to ten years in jail while he screamed and kicked the guards holding him down. He shouted obscenities in Burns’s direction but all she could do was hang her head and stay quiet.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Clarke.”
She thanked him once the court was dismissed. They stood out on the steps of the courtyard underneath the late afternoon sunshine. He gave her a kind smile and gently patted her shoulder.
“You’ll be alright, Miss Burns,” he said gently. “Please contact me if you need anything, alright?”
“I don’t want to be a bother,” she spoke, suddenly bashful.
“You aren’t a bother at all.”
“Thank you again. Bye bye.”
With a slight wave, Burns descended the stairs to where her friends and uncle were waiting. She was given comforting hugs and pats on the head. Isaac was glad that he could prove she was innocent, a kind and sweet woman like him had no business rotting in a prison cell.
Looking over his shoulder, a thin smile fell onto Isaac’s lips when a companion of his came toward him, a loud, boisterous man named Sage Evans. Sage was a social worker and at times, he would end up in the courthouse. He never missed an opportunity to chat with Isaac and there was a reason for that.
“Are you heading home now?” Sage asked.
“Yes,” Isaac replied, pulling out his smartphone. “I have to make dinner for myself and Viktoria.”
Sage grinned at him. “How about I come over and cook something for the three of us?”
“Aren’t you terrible at cooking?” Isaac questioned with an eyebrow raised.
“I’m not that bad,” Sage leaned close to Isaac. “Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to see your place, maybe even your bedroom-”
Isaac’s palm suddenly pressed against Sage’s face. The man was pushed back, not roughly but enough to push him out of Isaac’s personal space. He adjusted his silver frames and looked calmly but sternly at Sage.
“I’ve told you plenty of times already. I’m not interested in dating you and I would appreciate it if you would stop coming onto me.”
His words induced a frown from Sage. “I don’t understand why, though. You have such good looks, you’re an amazing man with so much talent and good qualities that other people would kill for. What’s wrong with finding someone to spend time with?”
“I’m busy with work and I’m busy with Viktoria. I don’t have the time to deal with another relationship. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
He strode off without another word, leaving Sage’s gaze to follow him, disappointed and rejected. Isaac unlocked his silver Explorer and climbed inside, setting his briefcase in the passenger seat. He started the engine, shifted gears to drive and took off. It took him under twenty minutes to get home. It was half past five by the time he got home. Viktoria was settled on the couch with his laptop on her lap and a colorful cartoon playing. She paused it and moved the device so that she could stand and rushed over to hug him.
“Welcome back, Daddy.”
“I’m home. Were you a good girl, Viktoria?”
“I was. I finished my homework at 3:45, I swept the hallway and the living room and the kitchen and I folded my clothes.”
“Very good.” Isaac rubbed the top of his daughter’s head. “Say, since you were such a good girl this week, why don’t we go out shopping?”
Viktoria’s eyes widened with happiness. “Really, Daddy?”
He nodded, his expression soft. “Yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve gone out together and I think shopping could be fun. What do you say?”
“Yay! Let’s go shopping!”
So, Saturday morning, Isaac and Viktoria dressed to go out for the day. Viktoria adorned a navy blue sweater with black jeans and white and gray sneakers. Isaac wore a simple long sleeved black shirt, tan pants, and black sneakers. They both wore their long coats, Viktoria’s being red and Isaac’s being gray. With Viktoria buckled in the backseat of the car, Isaac drove off to the shopping district. He didn’t favor malls and neither did Viktoria. Both of them hated the crowds, the noises, the assault of various smells that came from too many food places being jammed together. Instead, they preferred the shopping district. It was several street blocks filled with various establishment one would find at a mall or plaza but without the stress or confusion.
Isaac parked the car in the underground structure and they walked around for a while, heading into different stores that caught their eyes. They went into a bookstore where Isaac purchased a few novels and material for work while Viktoria gathered an armful of short storybooks. They stopped in a few clothing stores to buy some outfits, footwear, and accessories. And around twelve thirty, after putting the load of bags they’d collected in the car’s trunk, they stopped at a nearby fast food place to grab something to eat. Isaac enjoyed seeing his daughter smiling as they went from place to place. He truly missed going out and spending the day together with her, they hadn’t done so since the divorce. He felt a little guilty that he’d let his unhappiness affect his daughter.
“Where do you want to go next, Viktoria?” Isaac asked as they weaved through the thickening crowd. “Viktoria?”
He didn’t receive any response and when he looked down, Viktoria was gone. Panic attacked him but he quickly swatted it away and calmly strode around, calling out for his daughter and asking the people who passed by. No one had seen her. As the minutes passed, he started to become more nervous and panicky but he tried to stay calm. What good would it do if he began to become hysterical in an open area such as this?
“Excuse me! Sir!”
Someone was shouting. Isaac glanced around to look for the source and found a tall blonde man wearing a chef’s uniform waving. He was confused. Was the man gesturing to him? It didn’t look like he was speaking to anyone else. With a look around, Isaac quickly walked over to the man. He was given a smile by the foreigner.
“Hello there,” The man’s accent was smooth and blended well with his English. “I believe you’ve lost someone, yes?”
Isaac nodded, his heart pounding in his chest. “My daughter, Viktoria. Have you seen her?”
“I have. In fact, you’ll find she is perfectly fine.”
He led Isaac inside the shop, a bakery called Divine Delights. Viktoria sat at one of the tables, swinging her legs back and forth as her small hand gripped a fork that stabbed at the chocolate cake in front of her. She was eating with a pleased smile on her face. Isaac let out a relieved sigh.
“Thank goodness… I’m so glad she’s alright.”
“I saw her staring at the pastries I have in my window but I suppose you must have walked off without noticing her stop.”
Embarrassed, Isaac glanced at the man who gave him a reassuring smile. Viktoria finished her cake as the two adults came over to her. The owner took the plate while Isaac scolded Viktoria. She listened to him without crying or pouting, perfectly calm and understanding of her actions. She then turned to the owner and smiled apologetically.
“I’m very sorry I troubled you, sir, but your cake was really delicious. Thank you for letting me have some.”
“You’re very welcome. I love it when cute little girls like you enjoy my baking.” He held out his hand to Isaac. “I forgot to introduce myself. My name’s Blake, Blake Collins. I own this bakery.”
“Pleasure to meet you, I’m Isaac Clarke.” Isaac took the handshake.
“My name is Viktoria,” Viktoria said proudly as she also shook the baker’s hand.
Blake smiled at her. “Do you eat sweet things often, Viktoria?”
“Sometimes, Daddy isn’t good at baking so we don’t eat them at home too much,” she said with a shrug.
“Viktoria,” Isaac flushed.
The man stifled his laughter. “I see. And how about you, Dad?”
“Do you like sweet things?”
“Well,” Isaac thought to himself. “I guess so. I could enjoy a piece of cake or a brownie every now and then.”
Viktoria gazed up at her father with sparkling eyes. “You should taste Mr. Baker’s cake! It was so yummy!”
“That’s a good idea,” Blake said with a nod.
“Oh no, that’s alright. It’s just good that you liked it, Viktoria.”
“I insist. Think of it as a gift for our strange meeting. Mind waiting here for a minute?”
“Ah, alright, I suppose.”
The two watched the blonde disappear into the back. Viktoria giggled and rocked back and forth on her feet. Isaac looked down at her with a smile.
“Why are you laughing?” he asked.
“I like Mr. Baker,” she responded. “He seems funny and his voice is funny too.”
“That’s because he’s not from here, Viktoria.”
“Not from here? He’s not American, like us?”
“No, I’m not,” Blake reappeared with a small white box in his hands. “I’m actually from London.”
“I know that place!” Viktoria exclaimed. “That’s where the Big Ben Tower is! I saw it in a history book at school.”
“Very good. You’re really smart.” Turning his attention to Isaac, Blake held out the box to him. “This is for you, one for both of you. Make sure you eat them after dinner tonight, okay?”
Isaac chuckled softly. “Why not? They better be good. If not, I’ll come back here and complain.”
Blake laughed heartily. “Well, if you come back, I hope it’s not because of that. And I hope to see you too, Viktoria.”
“You will!” she said happily. “See you again, Mr. Baker!”
“We’ll visit again.”
Later on that evening, Viktoria was in the living room with the TV turned on. A few months ago, Isaac had bought her a new gaming system and various dancing games. She had put in her favorite disk, Let’s Dance X022, and picked out her favorite song from the bunch. With the remote gripped tight in her small hand, Viktoria tried her best to match the dancer on the screen while singing along. Isaac was in the kitchen, cleaning up the dishes from dinner. As he was putting away the rest of the food, his gaze fell onto the small white box they’d gotten from Blake. He pulled it out and set it on the counter, curious about its contents.
He lifted the tuck in the flap of the box and peered inside. Settled against white plushness were two exquisitely decorated cupcakes. One was vanilla, he could see by the yellowish wrapping, and the other was chocolate. The icing was a creamy white and pink with a perfect swirl with chocolate kisses layered on each swoop. Isaac was taken aback. He hadn’t expected Blake to give them something so splendid but he couldn’t deny the cupcakes looked delicious.
“Wow!” Viktoria had appeared beside him, her eyes wide as she gazed at the pastries. “So pretty...”
“Aren’t they? It’s incredible that he made these,” Isaac said.
“Can we eat them now?” Viktoria asked.
“Sure. Which one do you want?”
She pointed to the vanilla one and Isaac carefully handed it to her before he picked up the chocolate cupcake for himself. They sat down at the table and bit into their cupcakes at the same time. Viktoria made a noise of satisfaction and smiled widely.
“It’s so good!” she gushed.
Isaac nodded his head, licking the chocolate crumbs from his lips. “It’s delicious. So sweet and moist and not too sugary. The icing is amazing too.”
“I told you it was tasty, Daddy!” Viktoria said with a smug grin.
“Alright, alright, you were right.”
Once finished with her cupcake, Viktoria wiped her hands and mouth, stood from her seat and jogged upstairs to get ready for bed. After discarding the wrappers, Isaac sat back down and leaned back in his seat, taking off his glasses with a soft sigh.
“They were very good.” he murmured, his tastebuds still tingling. “And he was very nice… I should go back and thank him soon.”