The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco by Laura DiSilverio

The white suit was a bad idea. I knew it when I bought it at the outlet mall, but it was seventy-five percent off and the A-line skirt disguised the extra ten pounds that tend to cling to my thighs. I knew it when I put it on, but the forecast was for an unseasonable ninety degrees in Heaven, Colorado—the temps didn’t usually climb into the 90s until July in our little Rocky Mountain hollow on Lost Alice Lake–and the white linen made me feel crisp and cool. With my copper-colored hair twisted into a chignon, an aqua camisole under the jacket, and nude pumps, I was the image of chic professionalism as I set out to meet my new client. Until the kitten.

It sat at the corner of Eden and Paradise, underneath the four-way stop sign, a tiny ball of bedraggled gray fluff. It had rained hard the night before and the kitten’s damp fur convinced me she’d been caught out in it. My windows were down so I could enjoy the rain-washed and still cool air, and I heard a plaintive mew as I waited for a pick-up to cross the intersection. The kitten put a paw in the gutter as the truck caromed into a pothole and almost drowned it with a tsunami of muddy water.

“Get back on the sidewalk, kitty,” I ordered. I didn’t see a collar.

She mewed again and looked at me with big blue eyes.   It was my turn to go and I rolled slowly into the intersection. I didn’t have time to rescue stray kittens. The bride-to-be was expecting me at nine o’clock sharp at The Columbine, the most upscale B&B in Heaven. Someone else would stop for the kitten; its owner was probably combing the neighborhood for it this very minute. I’d come this way on my return trip to the office and if she was still here, I’d bundle her up and take her to the humane society. I flat out couldn’t do it now.

On the far side of the intersection, I hit my brakes and pulled over with a gusty sigh. Slamming my door harder than necessary, I stalked across the street and looked down at the kitten who tilted her head back and stared at me unblinking.

“Come on, then,” I said, scooping her up. She didn’t weigh much more than a wet washcloth and I carried her balled in my hands, my arms outstretched, to protect my suit from the muddy droplets dripping from her. She squirmed when we reached the van. Yes, a van. It wasn’t the sporty convertible that would have reflected my personality better—I mean, a van doesn’t exactly say hot, single, young thirties professional like an Audi TT—but I’d ended up hauling potted plants, tubs of crystal, and even peacocks for my event planning business too often to consider a smaller vehicle. With a harried glance at my watch, I put her into an empty Champagne box and moved it to the front seat, tossing The Maltese Falcon, the book my Readaholics were discussing tonight, into the back. Pulling a yoga top from my gym bag, I tucked it around the kitten who didn’t seem to object to its ripe smell. I couldn’t keep thinking of her as “the kitten,” so I mentally christened her Misty. There’s a law, I’m pretty sure, that requires all gray cats be named Smoky or Misty.

Hurrying around the van, I climbed back into the driver’s seat, flashing a bit of thigh at a young man who honked and grinned as he drove past. I inspected my suit, relieved to see not a speck of mud or one long gray hair. Hah! I’d foiled the forces of the universe that direct their energy at smirching white suits. I hit the gas. The B&B was only two blocks away and I pulled up right at nine.

“Mew.” Misty had her front paws over the box’s top and her head peeked out. She looked around curiously.

“Don’t—” I started as the box wobbled.

I put out a hand, and caught the box as it toppled toward my lap. Whew! Another bullet dodged.   Misty slumped into a corner as I righted the box. “Mew.”

“Don’t get snippy with me,” I said. “You’re the one who tipped the box over.” I slewed my lips to the side. I couldn’t leave her in the van, even with the windows open. My meeting might go two hours and it would be hot enough to melt asphalt by the time I got back. With another sigh, I tucked the expandable leather folder that held my notes into the box and hefted it. “Kittens are to be neither seen nor heard at important business meetings,” I told her sternly, mounting the six stone steps leading to the Victorian B&B’s double oak doors. The building dated from the late 1880s when the town was incorporated, and Sandy Milliken and her husband, transplants from the East Coast, had spent beaucoup bucks fixing it up.

I nudged one door open with my hip, cradling the box in the crook of my elbow. The foyer, graced with wide-plank oak floors, Laura Ashley fabrics and a Tiffany chandelier, murmured of history and the expensive restoration.   It smelled like lemon furniture polish and bacon. Misty apparently liked the latter scent because her tufty head appeared over the box’s rim, tiny nose working. “After we’re done here,” I promised her, “I’ll find you some tasty kibble.”

Pushing her gently back into the box, I headed toward the patio where I was supposed to meet my new client, a Madison Taylor. I didn’t think she was a local girl, but I’d been happy to agree to plan her wedding when she called me out of the blue last week. It wasn’t unusual to have out-of-town weddings scheduled in Heaven. Brides liked the idea of being married in “Heaven,” and the crafty town council had built a lovely wedding chapel by the lake when they renamed the town fifteen years ago. It used to be called Walter’s Ford, but Walter was only a footnote in the town’s history, and folks didn’t seem to know if “Ford” referred to a Model T or a water crossing no longer in existence, so our elected officials went with a name they thought would attract more tourists and business development. I’d been a sophomore at the time and there’d been something of a kerfuffle when our football team suddenly became the Heaven Demons, but that was resolved by the students voting to adopt a new mascot: the Avengers.

The clinking of cutlery and the splashing of a small fountain drew me toward the patio where I knew breakfast was served on nice mornings. Wrought iron tables spaced a gracious distance apart dotted the flagstone patio that was surrounded by lush greenery and flowers: lavender,hostas, lemon trees and oleanders in pots, and daylilies just beginning to bloom now that we were into May. They bobbed as flurries of wind, left over from last night’s storm, gusted across the patio. A trio of cement goldfish spurted water into a basin six feet in diameter, attracting a sparrow that sat on the rim. It got a shower whenever the wind blew the fine spray the fish were sending up. Only two tables held guests finishing their eggs, bacon, and Sandy’s award-winning cranberry-carrot muffins. Sandy herself refreshed their coffee cups from a steaming carafe.   I set Misty’s carton in an unobtrusive corner behind the open French doors, extracted some papers from my expandable folder and arranged it atop the box to keep her inside.

“Stay put,” I told her. She blinked at me. I took it for agreement. Rising, I smoothed my pristine skirt, put a smile on my face, and moved to meet my client.

“Here’s Amy-Faye now,” Sandy said to the petite blond woman sitting closest to the fountain. The motherly Sandy filled an extra cup for me and I gave her a grateful smile. “Amy-Faye, this is Taylor Madison. She’s been telling me all about the ‘Heavenly’wedding she wants. I’ve told her you’re the gal can make sure every detail is perfect.” She gave a half-wink before responding to a request for more marmalade from the older couple at the other table.

“Well, I’ll do my best to put together your dream wedding,” I said, holding out my hand to the blonde. I knew she was a New York City lawyer, but she looked dainty and unthreatening, more of an angelfish than a shark. In her late twenties, probably. She was no bigger than a minute, with a heart-shaped face, a straight nose, and strong brows that winged up at the ends. She would look ethereal in clouds of white tulle, or maybe a strapless satin column dress, if her taste was as modern as her name. She rose with a smile and shook my hand, hers slim but strong.

“Actually,” she said, “It’s Madison Taylor. I get that all the time. Two last names, right? I don’t know what my folks were thinking. Call me Madison.”

“Amy-Faye Johnson,” I said. “Pleased to meet you.”

We exchanged a few pleasantries about the weather and how beautiful Heaven was before Madison’s voice took on a more business-like tone. “I always assumed I’d get married in Manhattan since that’s where I live, but when Doug suggested we get married in Heaven, I figured why not? My family would have to travel from Wisconsin to New York, anyway, so they might as well come here instead. And Colorado is so . . . refreshing this time of year. New York’s all smog and noise and humidity.” Her smile invited me to applaud her reasoning. “So, I was thinking a morning wedding, with six bridesmaids in carnation pink, followed by a brunch reception . . .”

She’d lost me at “Doug.” No, it couldn’t be. I began taking notes and offering suggestions, but half my mind worried at that “Doug.” There were lots of Dougs in the world. I didn’t even know if her Doug was from Heaven or just thought it would be a romantic place to get married. We discussed caterers, florists and photographers; her three-year-old twin niece and nephew who would make an adorable ring bearer and flower girl; the pros and cons of an outdoor reception by the lake; and the sticky etiquette of how to involve both her father and step-father in the wedding. Routine stuff. She didn’t say why they were marrying in such haste—three weeks was barely enough time to organize a garage sale, never mind a wedding—but I didn’t feel I could ask. Her groom’s last name never came up and it was driving me crazy. Doug Who? I wanted to shout.

When we segued into a discussion of my fees and contract, I couldn’t help myself. “Where did you get my name?” I asked.

Madison smiled. “Doug’s mother, Elspeth Elvaston. She said you were the best event planner in Heaven, a real perfectionist, and that you’d gone to high school with Doug. She said if anyone could pull this wedding together on such short notice, you could.”

Multi-colored lights blinked before my eyes and it was suddenly hard to breathe. “You’re marrying Doug Elvaston?” My Doug? My former boyfriend and the reason I came back to Heaven after college in Boulder? “I . . . I didn’t even know he was dating anyone.”

With a girlish laugh, Madison leaned forward. “We met in New York—I’m sure you know he’s been spending a lot of time there on a class action case—and it was kind of a whirlwind thing. Lots of long hours of legal work turned into romantic dinners and walks in Central Park, a weekend at a little B&B on the Hudson.” She tucked a strand of silky gold hair behind one small ear. “I knew he was the one for me almost from the moment we met. He said it was the same for him, that he’d never felt this kind of connection with anyone before. You know how it is when you can finish each other’s sentences, when you can share a joke just by meeting someone’s eyes?” She fairly glowed.

I felt nauseated.   Her total lack of self-consciousness told me Doug hadn’t even mentioned my name to her. Sure, we’d broken up almost six years ago, but I’d been so sure that we’d eventually get back together—

“That silly kitten’s going to fall into the fountain if it’s not careful,” Madison said, looking over my shoulder.

I spun in my chair. Misty had managed to clamber onto the fountain’s low rim and was stalking the oblivious sparrow. Her concentration was total, her gaze fixed on the bird, her tiny body taut as she moved forward in a slow crouch. Predator mode. How had she gotten out of the box? Caught up in the planning, and obsessing about Doug, I’d completely forgotten about her. I scraped my chair back.

“A cat!” The older woman at the other table sounded like she’d found a cockroach on her plate. Her husband remained semi-comatose, even when she said, “William, you remember how I told Mrs. Milliken that I was allergic to cats and she assured me—”

“She’s mine,” I apologized, moving toward the fountain. “That is, I brought her. Come here, Misty.” I held out my hand. She ignored me. Big surprise. We’d had a cat when I was growing up and he’d turned selective hearing into an art form. I was reaching for her when a powerful gust of wind drenched me with water from the spitting fish.

The chill surprised me. “Oh!” I shivered, told myself it was only water, and plucked the disappointed kitten from the fountain’s rim as the sparrow flew away. Careful to hold her at arm’s length again, I deposited her back in the box and repositioned the folder. “Just a couple more minutes,” I told her.

“Mew,” she complained, her look saying she could be breakfasting on tasty sparrow if I hadn’t interfered. Fat chance. She was so light the sparrow could probably have carried her away without much effort.

I hurried back to Madison, apologizing to her and the other couple as I went, and explaining about rescuing Misty from the roadside. “Really, it’s okay,” Madison laughed, signing my contract and handing over a deposit check. “My law firm tried a ‘bring your pet to work day,’ but it didn’t work out too well. One of the partners brought his pit bull and it got hold of my paralegal’s ferret. Not pretty.”

I hated that the woman Doug wanted to marry instead of me was so dang nice. I wanted to be able to tell him he was making a horrible mistake, but it didn’t look like he was. She was younger, thinner and more successful than I, and a decent human being, to boot. At least my suit was as sharp as her gray slacks topped with a navy linen blazer. We shook hands again and her eyes widened. I thought she was going to say something, but then she shook her head the tiniest bit and told me she looked forward to working with me.   “I know you’ll make our big day perfect.” Her smile outshone the sun.

Unable to choke out an assurance, especially since I was wondering if I could engineer a disaster that would stop the wedding—Food poisoning? A tornado? The wedding chapel burning down?–I nodded and turned away, eager to leave before I embarrassed myself by crying.

The old gentleman at the next table was staring at me, looking a lot livelier than earlier. He gave me a once-over and I wrinkled my brow. What was the old guy–? I followed his gaze and saw that the fountain water had rendered the white linen of my skirt totally see-through. I could distinctly make out the lacy pattern of my undies. Really? This morning wasn’t miserable enough already? I flushed and fought the urge to run for the door, knowing Madison had noticed, too. I grabbed up Misty’s box, held it low enough to provide some coverage, and walked with as much dignity as I could muster to the van.

Leaning my forehead against the steering wheel, my arms hanging limp, I looked sideways at the kitten in her box on the passenger seat. “This day has got to get better, right?”

“Mew,” Misty agreed.

 Continue reading The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco.