“Vinnie,” a man’s voice said late one night. Violet was sitting at the top of the staircase at the back of her house. She should be in bed sleeping, but sometimes she couldn’t get her body to relax and had gone in search of her mother to lie with her. When she couldn’t find her, she started to walk down the back staircase and heard the men’s voices and stopped.
“Steve,” her father said. “I’m not sure why you are here.”
“Vinnie,” the man named Steve said again. “We go way back. I’ve done business with you and your father for twenty years.”
Her father let out a not so funny laugh. She’d heard it a few times in her life. It was a sound that meant he didn’t find it funny. Even at five years old she could figure it out.
“What business you had with my father isn’t the same business that I’m trying to run,” her father said.
“I just need another thirty days,” Steve said.
“I already gave you thirty. I told you before,” her father said.
“I know,” Steve said. The man’s voice was getting higher. “Bruno paid me a visit this morning. Twenty days. Fifteen? Half the time. I can get the money by then.”
“It’s a lot of money,” her father said. “I know my father floated you all the time.”
“And I came through when I needed to. I can win it back. A line of credit in the casino,” Steve said. “That’s all I need to win it back.”
“Or go into more debt,” her father said. “Men like you are good for business but not if you can’t cover your debts. You owe me outside the casino. I told you I was done with this once you were paid up.”
She wasn’t sure what her father was talking about. She knew he owned a casino in Las Vegas where they lived. Not that she’d ever been there or would be allowed to. But it wasn’t a secret the business her father owned.
“I know, I know,” Steve said. “I can get it all for you. I’m feeling lucky.”
“I’ve heard that before,” her father said. “Your ten percent just jumped to fifteen for those extra fifteen days.”
“That’s steep,” Steve said.
“So is my time with you right now,” her father said.
“I get it,” Steve said. “I’ll take it. How about the line of credit? It’d help me out.”
“Five grand,” her father said. “It has the fifteen percent interest on it too. I expect payment in full in fifteen days.”
Her father’s voice had gotten deeper than normal. Firm too. She’d heard that when she wasn’t supposed to.
“I know. Bruno will come to collect on that day.”
“Not a day later.”
“Maria Violet Sorrentino. What are you doing on the stairs?”
She turned her head and saw her mother moving toward her quickly down the hall. Guess she’d gotten caught. The full name was proof she might get in trouble. “I was looking for you, Ma.”
“You’re not going to find me sitting at the top of the stairs in the dark. You know better than to come to this end of the house at night,” her mother said.
She’d always been told it was off limits and she didn’t know why. The stairs led to her father’s office in the back and then toward the kitchen.
“But I couldn’t find you,” she argued.
Her mother grabbed her hand.
“Fifteen days,” Steve said. “Heard loud and clear. You’ll get your money.”
Her mother yanked her up and moved her back down the hall to her room. “Why were you looking for me?”
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said.
“And you thought listening to your father was going to help?”
“Well, no. I just wanted you. I thought you might be in the kitchen.”
“I was taking a bath,” her mother said.
“I didn’t look in the bathroom,” she said. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe because it was earlier than she was used to her mother going to bed. She’d gone down the stairs in the front of the house. She walked around to the living room and the room her mother did some crafts in. She couldn’t find her. Not even when she walked by the kitchen.
She’d passed her parents’ bedroom on the way down and had looked in. When she got back to her room she heard a door shut and thought her mother had left and just come back and was going to that end of the house to find out.
Her father’s voice stopped her though. She knew she shouldn’t be there, but she sat down waiting to see if she heard her mother’s voice too.
“Let’s get you back in bed and I’ll read you a story,” her mother said. “Is that why you were looking for me?”
“You can read me a story,” she said. “But I just wanted you to lie down with me.”
“I can do that too,” her mother said. She was tucked in, her mother lying down next to her on the bed, running her hand over her hair. “What’s on your mind, sweetie? Why can’t you sleep?”
“I’m nervous about school starting next week,” she said. “I won’t know anyone.”
Her mother sighed. “That is what you will do though. Learn to meet people and make new friends.”
“Why don’t I have any friends now?” she asked. “No one I can call and play with?”
“It’s complicated,” her mother said. “You have friends though.”
“Cousins,” she said. “And kids that come with your friends. But never any of my own.”
She couldn’t figure that out. She went to a Pre-k and met lots of kids, but they were never allowed to come over. Or some of the kids’ parents didn’t want her playing together with their children either.
No one ever told her why.
“You’ll get some now. You’ll like this school. I know you will.”
She’d been told she was going to a private school. A driver would bring her back and forth daily. She hoped it was fun, as she wanted to meet more people.
“Why do I have to start going by Violet and not Maria though?” she asked.
“I thought you liked the name Violet more,” her mother said.
“Isn’t that a good enough reason?” her mother asked.
“I guess. But you said my last name is going to be spelled differently too. Why?”
“It’s shorter,” her mother said. “For now it’s just better if people don’t know who your father is. Someday it will all make sense. I promise. Maybe in the future it will be different. That is what we are aiming for.”
She didn’t understand any of this, but as long as they didn’t send her away for good, she’d just have to accept it. At five she understood that she didn’t have a lot of choices in her life, but she just didn’t know why.