THIS PAGE WILL BE DEDICATED TO SHORT STORIES, BOOK CHAPTERS AND IDLE RAMBLINGS! AS THE TITLE SAYS, IT’S JUST FOR FUN!!!
As I’ve said before, some people knit and crochet, we write. Writing was our hobby long before we ever got the idea to try to publish something together. Mary also quilts and travels and works for her husband, but she always has a book in her head that she’s working on in her “spare” time. I amuse myself in my retirement by writing short stories. Many of them I’ve been writing and rewriting over again for years now.
With the publication of our seventeenth novel, I thought we might go back to one of my favorites. I call them the “blue books” but they are the Cayden and Cat Adventures. The first book of this trilogy is titled, The Wright Move. The character is Cayden Wright, who moves across the country with her cat, Mrs. Woo, to begin a new life. Here are the first three chapters for your enjoyment. Hope you like them and if you do, you might want go to Amazon and get the entire book. –Debbie
The cat and I were packed into my trusty rusty mostly blue Honda. She glared at me, her gold-green eyes suspicious slits, ears laid back against her little round head. Her name is Mrs. Woo; mine is Cayden Wright. She is a twelve-pound gray Persian, I’m an underemployed substitute teacher, and we’re on our way from Connecticut to California to start a new life.
She certainly knew something was up from the chaos in our apartment lately but I hadn’t actually broken the news to the Woo. She can get a bit fussy about change. When we moved into the apartment, she yeowed for most of the day and then shredded the copy of the lease I had left out on the counter.
“Okay, Woo, we’re going to California.” I sighed. “It’s going to take for bloomin’ ever to get there, especially in cat time, and you’re not gonna like it much. But we’re going to Grandma Lucy’s and you’ll like it there.”
I pulled her wobbly cat body into my lap and raised her furry face to meet mine.
“We’re going to be in this car together for about four days. So here are the rules. Your litter is on the floor of the back seat.” Grunting just a little, I hoisted her bulk around the seat so she could sniff the litter. “See? And your food and ice water are over here on the other floor mat. Try to keep it tidy back there, okay?”
The ears had not relaxed from their flattened position. I settled into my seat and stroked her velvet head.
“I’m not gonna sugarcoat it for you. We don’t have a lot of money and we’re making this trip on the cheap. This is not the fun part of our new life.
“I will not tolerate any caterwauling, frenzies, or smacking me across the eyes with your tail while I’m driving. If you don’t behave, I will give you a pill and lock you in your carrier for the duration. Are we clear?”
There was silence for a second and then, “Weooowww.”
I gave her a quick kiss on her cute little nose and shoved her favorite CD, Andrea Bocelli’s Greatest Hits, into the player. She settled down onto the front seat with her paws tucked underneath her, looking for all the world like she was up for it.
I thought I was, too. Yet, five minutes later, I was still sitting in front of the brick apartment complex where we had lived since leaving college, unable to put the car into drive. It had taken me the better part of two years to get this far. My beloved grandmother and kindred spirit, Lucy Idella Carney, had been taken from me by a sudden heart attack. She wanted me to have a place of my own so she willed me her house. Seemed like a no-brainer, but it wasn’t.
Here’s the thing. We east coasters tend to view California as a whole state on valium. Maybe it’s just the lulling ocean waves or the warm drowsy sunshine but I wasn’t sure I could slow down enough to live there, no offense. Visiting Lucy was one thing; shifting my whole life out there was another. Besides Westport, Connecticut had always been my home. I knew where everything was. I had high school and college friends still in the area. It took me six months and four paint samples to get the right color on the bedroom walls of my small apartment and I had recently finished the final coat! I had a library card and a sizeable gift certificate to a great local restaurant I hadn’t used yet, for heaven’s sake.
On the other hand, my practical side knew that I wouldn’t be giving up much if I went. Although I’d gotten my masters in English three years ago, the only job I’d been able to find was substitute teaching at a local high school. It paid the bills, most of them, most of the time.
Leaving my family wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I was supposed to be out on my own by now. They loved me, I knew that, and would be there for me if I needed them but they couldn’t hide the hope and relief in their faces when they heard about Lucy’s bequest.
The house is actually a cottage by west coast standards. It’s a small jewel box set in La Vista, a charming town on the Pacific, more like a village really. There are shops and restaurants and a boardwalk for biking and jogging, all within walking distance of the cottage. The small but pristine beach is maintained by a whole crew of senior volunteers who take great pride in it.
As the months went by, I nagged myself to get off the fence and make a decision. I couldn’t let the cottage sit there, sad and empty. I didn’t want to rent it out to strangers. I know that’s not what Lucy intended. I still couldn’t seem to start packing.
But, at long last, common sense prevailed and so, one beautiful May afternoon, we sat in the Honda with Mrs. Woo looking at me expectantly while I took a last look at my apartment building.
It was only nerves, I told myself, and finances. The Woo and I had, between us, the painfully small sum of $2,239 and change. It wasn’t much for a cross-country move with no job waiting at the other end. That money was going to have to stretch like a bungee cord. My parents had paid for my education and expected that I would be supporting myself by now. I really tried.
So began the adventure which soon became a test of endurance. Mrs. Woo proved to be neither a great co-pilot nor long-distance traveler. If you can picture yours truly trying to sleep in cheap hotel rooms on thin foam pillows and mattresses that had seen better days, with a stressed out cat wrapped around my head or cowering under my armpit; and then add sound effects like the headboard thumping against the wall from the next room, loud music blaring from somewhere upstairs, a screaming baby across the hall; and blend in some unrelenting traffic noises as the 18-wheelers zoomed down the interstate located right outside the door, you have captured the essence of our road trip.
I will spare you a blow-by-blow but you can take my word for it, there were blows.
Entertaining a cat, who has no idea why the two of you are in this moving box hour after hour, proved more of a challenge than negotiating the width of the country. I told her fairy tales, sang along to the radio, and soothed her as best I could. I had warned her up front that it wasn’t gonna be fun, hadn’t I?
As we approached the La Vista city limits, I actually leaned forward over the steering wheel in anticipation. When we turned onto Amberton Avenue, I started bouncing up and down. When I shut off the engine in front of the little yellow cottage, I yelled, “We’re here, Woo. We made it!”
She favored me with a quick, deep purr that sounded equally relieved.
Perhaps it was my worn-out and worn-down state that made it hard to get the key in the lock. I knew what I would find on the other side of the door: the cottage exactly as I had left it after the funeral. Fighting off the tears and the out-of-body feeling of still being in the moving car, I put the Woo down on the tile floor and collapsed into a soft floral armchair. She stayed put, checking the place out by swinging her head from side to side from the safety of between my feet.
“Go ahead, look around,” I urged her. “This is home now.”
She looked up at me for confirmation and then ventured as far as the sofa. She hopped up, and settled in, resting her head on her front paws, her luminous eyes fixed on me, awaiting further clarification. We sat in silence for a few minutes before I struggled to my feet.
“I don’t suppose you’re gonna help unload the car?”
“Eck, eck, eck,” she chuckled in response to such an absurd question. The Woo does not do physical exertion.
I looked around the quiet room with tears filling my eyes, then reached down and stroked her soft furry head. “She’s really gone, Woo. It’s not gonna be the same here without her.”
“Neooow,” she replied and closed her eyes.
After a run to the market for grocery essentials, I yawned through the evening news, waiting to be exhausted enough to overcome the strangeness of sleeping in Lucy’s old room. Woo would likely spend the night on the sofa although I had offered her the spare bedroom. I pulled my pajamas out of my suitcase and brushed my teeth. I kept reminding myself that this was as close to a real home as I’d had for awhile and I would be safe and comfortable here.
Once I started school at the University of Connecticut, my parents figured their divorce wouldn’t be a big deal. Heaven knows how many years they’d actually stuck it out for my sake. I didn’t really want to know, still don’t.
My college breaks and summers turned into a choice of going home, or what used to be home, and sharing Mom with her latest, or going to Dad’s new house with his new wife and, senior year, new baby. My choice was c) neither.
When my Mom’s mother, Lucy, whom I had met once or twice while I was a kid and mostly only spoken to on the phone, offered me the chance to spend a summer with her in California, even though I barely knew her, I jumped on it. It had to be better than my other options.
I was surprised to find that Lucy was so much more like me than Mom. Or I guess I hoped that I was more like her with her quiet and thoughtful demeanor than my loud-mouthed, easily-bored mother who seemed to thrive on a permanent state of chaos.
Mom was always redecorating the house or joining a new book club or starting up a yoga group; she was writing poetry one week and taking art classes at the local college the next. She was exhausting and the divorce gave her opportunities galore for a whole new drama series. That woman should seriously have her own reality show, although I’m not sure anyone would believe it was her life and not made up by a whole team of writers on some heavy medication.
After that first summer, I came out to Lucy’s every chance I got. Each visit gave me the reserves needed to withstand the obligatory phone calls and visits with Mom and Dad throughout the rest of the year.
The cottage itself was uniquely Lucy. At barely eight hundred square feet, a realtor would call it cozy and charming; Mom would say it was a walk-in closet. It consisted of a living room, kitchen with dining area, two bedrooms and a bath. There was no basement and the small attic space provided barely enough room to store a few boxes of Christmas decorations.
The kitchen looked like something out of a ’50s TV show with its gray Formica-topped table with metal legs and matching vinyl-covered chairs. The Formica countertops were gray with red and yellow speckles.
There was an antique red rooster clock on the wall that ticked loudly and a set of four red rooster canisters on the counter. The appliances were fairly new but retro in design. The walls were painted a cheerful yellow which warmed the small space.
In a concession to California living, Lucy had all of the floors in the cottage done in gray slate tiles, easy to clean and comfortable underfoot with an occasional cheery area rug in place.
Her style was comfortable and maybe a smidge eclectic.
The two small bedrooms each had flowered wallpaper and double-globed glass lamps with hand-painted roses on them. Each held a double bed covered in a soft chenille bedspread. Shaggy rugs covered the floors on each side of the bed in solid colors that echoed the wallpaper. Two windows in each room let in the sunlight during the day but were covered by room-darkening blinds at night or for Lucy’s mid-afternoon naps.
There was a claw-foot bathtub in the only bathroom. An old dresser with plenty of drawers for toiletries and towels had been converted into a vanity and was topped with a porcelain sink with classic white knobs. An antique mirror hung on the wall above the sink. A closet in the corner of the bathroom held a stackable washer and dryer. Lucy said that the cottage suited her because it was worn and dated and so was she, but she made good use of the space and it had everything she needed.
The cottage held one completely unexpected surprise. But before I share that, let me describe the layout. When you open the front door, you’re in the living room, which is the largest room in the house, a long rectangle about 12 feet wide by 18 feet long, I would guess. To the right is the kitchen and an archway straight ahead leads to a small hallway that has three doors off it, one to each bedroom and the bathroom located in the middle.
At the far end of the living room, to your left, heavy burgundy draperies cover the entire wall. Push a button by the light switch or use the small clicker kept in a basket by the door and prepare to be amazed. Tah-dah!
The drapes draw back slowly. The wall is entirely glass, showcasing the fact that the cottage is built against the side of a rocky hill. Its natural beauty is breathtaking: a stack of gray rocks peppered with flowers and greenery with water trickling down to its base.
Nature gave Lucy a rock basin at the top of the hill which gathered rainwater but she took it up a notch. She turned it into a solar-powered waterfall that begins at the top of the hill and meanders down its face to disappear at the bottom. Hate to ruin the trick but it actually goes through a hidden pipe and is pumped back up to the top again.
The two center panels of glass slide open so you can add sound effects: the water splish-splashing boisterously down the hill or the wind rustling the leaves of the ferns and flowers. On rainy days, the hill is gray and subdued like an Ansel Adams photo as the rain washes it clean and makes it shine. On sunny days, it turns into a glowing Kinkade with every nuance of color. Watching the birds make nests and care for their fuzzy-headed babies is better than watching TV anytime.
Why, I once asked Lucy, had she covered this wonder wall with heavy burgundy drapes she had salvaged from an old movie theater?
She nodded her understanding of the question (I’m sure she’d been asked it many times) and said quietly, “Sometimes our heads and hearts can be overwhelmed by beauty. Have you ever noticed that when you go to a museum, for example, you will, at some point, need to simply must stop and close your eyes? When you open them again, you’re ready to appreciate what you see.”
After opening the drapes and assuring myself that Lucy’s little tableau was thriving, I pushed the button on the remote and went to bed.
After a so-so night’s sleep which alternated between tossing and turning and dreaming I was still driving, I woke early and put on my running shoes. I hadn’t run in a week and my body felt heavy and sluggish.
Running is the only exercise that has ever held my interest. I ran cross-country in high school and for the first two years of college. For some insane reason, it comes easily to me.
I’m about 5’9” and, in case you were wondering, slender, not skinny, and have shoulder-length light brown hair and dark brown eyes. I clean up pretty good although I’m not big on makeup.
One of my favorite things about being at Lucy’s has always been running on the town boardwalk. Running on sand is simply an invitation to a torn Achilles, as far as I’m concerned. I like those slow-motion movie scenes where someone is running ever so gracefully up a beach as much as the next person but no thanks. I also like to run before breakfast, before the day gets too hot or too busy.
I felt more like myself after my run and was sitting in the living room nursing a second cup of coffee and watching a mother bird drop bits of worm to her three little guys when my cell phone rang. I nearly dropped my cup.
“Hello?” I answered tentatively, expecting a wrong number.
“Cayden? It’s your Uncle Warren,” a voice boomed in my ear.
To say I was surprised is an understatement. Dad’s brother, Warren, had sent me birthday cards and Christmas gifts but I couldn’t remember ever having met him. Our family pattern seemed to be to keep each other safely at a distance.
“Well, hello.” I tried to sound more mature and less shocked.
A chuckle rumbled through the phone. “How ya doin’, kiddo?”
“Uh, I’m fine. Thanks.”
“So, you’re stayin’ in Lucy’s place, I hear.”
I couldn’t imagine how he’d heard. “Yeah, just got here yesterday.”
He hesitated. “Well, I guess you’ll need some time to settle in.”
It sounded like a question so I answered. “To be honest, Uncle Warren, I’ve got to get a job pretty quickly or I won’t be able to pay the taxes on this place.”
“I see.” He sounded oddly pleased to hear it. “Okey-dokey. So how’s about I buy you lunch?”
“Do you, uh, live near here?”
“Saffron Hills. Not more than twenty minutes from you. So you just call your old uncle if you need anything, kiddo. Want me to pick you up?”
Having been raised in a generation of cynics armed with pepper spray and police whistles, I resisted the urge to ask him a trick question to prove he really was my uncle, and settled on having my own car in case I had to bail.
“Well, I can find my way around La Vista pretty well. Where do you want to meet?”
Hows about Marabel’s on Grandview? Ya know it?”
“Sure, it was one of Lucy’s favorite places.”
No surprise there since it was one of those shiny silver bullets with jukeboxes on the tables.
“Great. See you there ‘round one.”
I clicked off the phone, looked at my watch. 9:30. So I unpacked a couple of boxes of books and hung up a few clothes before I went to shower. Well, bathe. The Woo watched from the toilet seat lid; she found this new activity fascinating, especially the bubbles. We discussed the call.
“What do you think, Woo? It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? I don’t even know this guy and he’s my uncle. All those summers I was here and he never showed up. Now he calls me out of the blue. Hmm.” I pondered while I soaked away the last few days up to my neck in bubbles. “I betcha Dad called and asked him to check up on me.”
“Eck, eck, eck.” Then she closed her eyes.
My ex-boyfriend had said that noise was a hairball but Mrs. Woo doesn’t do hairballs, at least as far as I know. They’re simply beneath her dignity so she lets me brush her once a week. Back to the “eck” noise, it’s clearly a laugh or at least a chuckle. It’s at least one of her positive responses.
So I relaxed, confident in Mrs. Woo’s calm acceptance of this unexpected lunch with my uncle.
I closed my eyes and thought to myself that as good as this bath felt right now, I really might have to see about installing a showerhead.