Tabitha woke up late Sunday morning to Thistle sleeping on her hip and Fritz cuddled up against her stomach. Ugh. I’m spooning a dog, she thought, pushing Thistle off of her and rolling away. It was way too hot to sleep with so many warm, furry bodies. Danny had stayed over an hour the evening before, but she was pretty sure that when he left Fritz was in a better mood. Fritz was quiet enough while they slept and didn't stir when she moved.
Thistle got up with her and followed her into the bathroom. “We can start questioning suspects today,” he told her.
“You’re serious about this,” Tabitha said, reaching for her toothbrush.
“As a heart attack.”
“Do cats have heart attacks?”
“Are you going to help us?”
“Sure. I always spend my Sundays looking for murderers. Get out so I can shower—I feel gross.”
Tabitha took her time showering, relishing the temporary privacy of the bathroom. She ran the water only lukewarm to wash off the sweat from sleeping with Fritz and Thistle. She’d always had a hard time justifying an air conditioner because there were usually only a handful of too-hot days a year in Ohio, but one night in a bed full of animals was enough to make her second think that decision.
Fritz was in the hallway when she got out of the shower and he gave her a low whimper. “What is it boy?” she asked, feeling like she was in an episode of Lassie.
“He has to pee,” Thistle said coming out of the bedroom, sounding bored.
“Oh! Okay. Just a second.” She pulled on a light summer robe and slippers and was ushered down the stairs. Both Fritz and Thistle rushed out the back door when she opened it, and once it was shut she leaned against it and stifled a groan. Too many animals…
“Are you ready to play detective today?” Thistle asked as Fritz rooted around the yard for a good spot. Thistle used his usual space under the tomato plants. They were starting to not look so healthy.
“What’s detective?” Fritz asked, and raised his leg on the apple tree.
“It’s where we question people and find out who killed Janine.”
“My Janine!” Fritz answered with a howl. “She’s gone gone gone!”
Damn, Thistle swore. “And that’s why we must avenge her death. Do you know what that means?”
“Good enough. Let’s get back inside—I’m starving.”
Fritz perked up a little. “Food?”
Thistle went back through the door and was greeted with the smell of brewing coffee while Tabitha busied herself with breakfast preparations.
“It’s a wonderful day for interrogation,” he remarked to her as she opened the door to let Fritz back in.
"And how exactly are you going to interrogate people?" Tabitha asked Thistle.
"You're going to take us for a walk over to Kyle's to check on him. Be a concerned neighbor and all. Mrs. Garret is always out working on her lawn on Sundays—we should stop by all friendly-like."
"They might believe I'm walking Fritz, but what about you? You can't just follow along and stop when we do without calling attention to yourself."
Thistle closed his eyes. "You can put me in the harness." He hated the idea, he really did. Being strapped into something and stuck on the end of a leash sickened him, but it was a valid way to get around town. Tabitha had gotten many comments about how 'well trained' he was. The very thought made him want to cough up hairballs in Tabitha's shoes.
"Well, if you insist," Tabitha said. He knew she was fully aware of how much he hated it, and how serious he was.
Tabitha fed Fritz his own food in his own bowl (eventually Maya had let her retrieve a few items for him) and made eggs for both herself and Thistle. Tabitha made vegetarian sausage for herself--Thistle was content with just egg. It was their normal Sunday breakfast ordeal, but everything was strange with Fritz crunching away at dog chow in the corner.
"Do you think the son will come take him?"
"I don't know," Tabitha said, sitting down at the little table in the kitchen. (Her house was smaller than Janine's with no dining room.) Thistle noted her stiffen, raising her guard. She didn’t want him to know she was attracted, but he didn’t have to ask. It was in her body language, they way she leaned in close to Danny while they spoke the night before, in the way she laughed. And she smelled a little different. You didn’t hide things from a cat.
"Maybe he'll move into the house next door," Thistle suggested, knowing it was an evil thing to say. Sure enough, Tabitha tensed even more. "We can all be best friends."
"Stop teasing me," Tabitha said. She concentrated on eating her breakfast and did her best to ignore him as he continued to make offhanded remarks about Danny, never coming right out and accusing her of attraction. It was fun to live with a woman.
Once Tabitha had finished cleaning up and gotten dressed she turned to Fritz. "Wanna go for a walk?" she asked. It was as if a little switch had been turned in the dog's brain, and he went from completely depressed to jumping up on her legs and even giving a hopeful bark. "I take that as a yes," she said. "Let me get out the leashes."
Fritz's leash was hot pink--courtesy of Janine--but Thistle had insisted on basic black, if he had to wear one at all. He stood still and let Tabitha strap the harness around him, his skin crawling at the feeling of it around his middle. She snapped the leash onto it and he felt claustrophobic in the middle of the room. “I hate this,” he told her.
Thistle had to resist the urge to slink along on his belly when they left the house but did his best to look normal. Fritz didn't care about the leash, trotting happily across the red brick sidewalks. As Thistle predicted, Mrs. Garret was outside, working on her postage stamp sized yard, little more than a strip of flowers and a strip of grass behind a hip-high iron fence. She plucked every weed from the beds weekly and combed the grass for dandelions wearing pink garden gloves and a wide-brimmed hat even on a cloudy day. “Good morning Mrs. Garret,” Tabitha said.
Mrs. Garret gave them a studying look over her bifocals. “You had two different men over at your house yesterday.”
Thistle wanted to laugh, but that wouldn’t have been professional. “The police and Janine’s son,” Tabitha answered. “It was business.”
“There’s no such thing as good business over there,” Mrs. Garret said. “That girl got what was coming to her.” A funny thing to say, Thistle figured, since Mrs. Garret wasn’t more than ten years older than Janine.
“That’s a little harsh.”
“Sinners are always punished. You’ll see. You might not come to such a pleasant end either.”
Thistle had to hand it to her—Tabitha kept her cool. “Thank you very much for the advice,” she said. “I’ll certainly take it under consideration.” Mrs. Garret seemed somewhat mollified by this. “So did you see anything out of the ordinary at Janine’s Friday?”
“Do you think I spend all my time spying on that—that—slut?” She cut off short to whisper the word like it was dirty. “Why do you care so much anyway?”
“At church they always tell me I should love thy neighbor. Even someone like Janine. She could have been saved, you know. And now she’ll never get that chance.”
“Too true,” Mrs. Garret said with a nod. “You go to church then?”
“All the time,” Tabitha said.
“Well then. You should know better than to have all those men over at your house. A girl your age should be married anyway.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Tabitha assured. “Thank you.”
Thistle suppressed his laugh as they walked away. “Don’t,” Tabitha warned. “It’s not funny. Do you still think she did it?”
“Probably not,” Thistle admitted.
“I don’t like this,” Tabitha said as they walked on. Kyle Harding lived with his parents two blocks away. It was beautiful out and a lot of people walked up and down the streets, some residents, some tourists taking in the architecture and shopping in the many little boutiques and antique stores scattered throughout the area. “I don't like going around suggesting that my neighbors are criminals.
They walked past an older couple who turned and glanced at Tabitha. “People think you’re talking to yourself,” Thistle said softly.
Kyle Harding lived in a house built right on top of the brick sidewalk, behind the same type of iron gate as Mrs. Garret’s home. Tabitha felt nervous going up to the door, but one look a poor Fritz was enough to give her enough courage to ring the bell. She stepped back a little when Kyle’s mother answered the door.
Tabitha didn't know Sylvia Harding very well, except that she was on every neighborhood and city committee or council she could manage. She often came to Tabitha’s door with fliers or petitions, the most recent being for a leash law for cats.
“You see,” she couldn’t help but exclaim, gesturing towards Thistle. “It’s such a simple matter, and he’s so much safer that way.”
“Er, yeah,” Tabitha said, not wanting to get into it. “I was just passing by walking the animals and I thought I’d pop in on Kyle.”
“It’s so nice to see him interacting with girls his own age,” she said.
“As far as I’m concerned, within ten years is his own age.” Her voice had an edge to it. “You know he never even considered dating until that woman showed up. I thought she was being so nice, offering to pick up Kyle from school one day when my car broke down. And she seduced my poor little baby. I thought he would lose interest when I sent him away for school—he wanted to give up Brown for her! He came home even more obsessed than before. I’ve tried everything short of locking him in his room. I took away his car, his allowance. He said he’d just go get a job. And the police were no help. There was a dangerous predator after my baby, but he was eighteen, as though that means anything, just look at the poor dear, so young, so fragile. I’m so worried he’ll never have a normal, healthy relationship and—“
She stopped her rant, perhaps realizing she was going too far. “Well. Good riddance to bad rubbish I say. The world is not going to miss anything with her passing. Maybe you kids would like to go out for food or something? My treat.”
“Uh, maybe,” Tabitha said. What have I gotten myself into?
Sylvia disappeared into the house only to reappear with a sullen Kyle at her side. He looked like he hadn’t slept much, and was wearing the same clothes from the day before. “You two have fun,” she insisted, and pressed a twenty into Kyle’s unwilling hand.
“Want to go to Java Hut?” Tabitha asked, trying to smile.
They walked in relative silence to the coffee shop. Tabitha knew that Kyle hadn’t killed Janine, just as Maya knew it. He had lost his first love—this was not going to be an easy conversation.
Tabitha tied Fritz and Thistle to the leg of one of the outdoor tables. “Be good,” she told them, knowing they would be.
Breakfast had only been an hour ago and Tabitha wasn’t hungry, so she just got an iced mocha.
“The same,” Kyle said, his voice flat as he paid.
“Have you eaten since yesterday?” Tabitha asked, suspicious.
“He’ll also have a banana muffin,” she said, and Kyle didn't object.
“I thought maybe you’d want to get away from your mother,” Tabitha said when they went outside and sat down. It was warm but not hot—a perfect June day. She had taken more care in her clothes that day and wore a blue tank top and floral print skirt with low wedge hemp sandals.
“Yeah,” he said, picking at his muffin. “She really hated Janine. But I loved her.” Tears sounded in his voice, but he managed to hold them back. “The cops said that Janine was seeing someone else.”
Tabitha nodded. “I’m sorry.”
Kyle began to cry a little and stared at the tabletop to try to hide the tears. “I knew it would be hard for her to stay faithful while I was in school.” He looked up at Tabitha. “She was—you know how she was. She liked sex.”
Tabitha nodded, smiling a little. “Yeah. She did.”
“I thought that when I came home anyone else would go away. She loved me too, you know.” He wiped at his face with his napkin. “She might not have acted like it, but she did. We were online talking every night when I was away. She was so smart—and funny too. You wouldn’t think it to look at her. And she didn't treat me like a little kid, the way my mother does. I was an adult to her.”
“It sounds like you two suited each other,” Tabitha said, trying to be kind.
“We did. I know people like you and my mom think we were freaks, but I didn't care.”
“I am sorry, Kyle,” she said, feeling guilty for judging them.
“Who do you think did it?”
“I really don’t know,” she said. But I have my suspicions.
The big news is that a sold a short story, Sky, to an e-book company. It's a gay erotic post-apocalypse romance. :) That's fun, huh? When I have more news (like release dates) I'll let you guys know.
I managed my children's story in a week--but my monitor blew up (again) so a large portion of it is in a notebook as I have no computer at the moment. The story turned out a lot shorter than I thought, but I know there's a lot of stuff to add on to. I'm questioning the POV character, but I think I might just expand to 2 characters. It's not ready yet, but there is a first draft, about 13,000 words long.