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The main difference between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.
The cat’s eyes had been on me during the entire service. I’d seen him right away despite his attempts to remain hidden behind a distant gravestone—I’m a sucker for an orange face. Plus, he was the only spot of color in this bleak, gray, sad day. Every time I glanced in that direction those green eyes blazed a hole right into me, like I emanated some kind of cat-attract radar. On second thought, I probably did. Cats were my weakness. I’d never met one I didn’t love instantaneously. Not even the one who had nearly scratched my eye out at a shelter I’d volunteered at years ago.
Now that most of the crowd here to mourn my grandma had dissipated as everyone headed back to their cars with the postfuneral luncheon on their minds, the cat seemed to feel more comfortable. He—I assumed it was a he, given his color and size—took a tentative step forward, big paw moving gingerly as if still unsure of his actions. One of his ears looked bent, as if he’d had an ear infection from which he hadn’t recovered well. Sadly, a common ailment for strays.
I moved closer to his position and crouched down, holding out one hand to coax him forward. I wished I still carried treats in my purse. There’d been a time I never left my house without cans of cat food and Temptations treats packed in my oversized purse. I could see him pondering, assessing, then one paw started to move …
“Maddie!” My dad’s voice rang out through the quiet. I sighed as the cat darted back to hiding; then I stood up and turned around.
“When Grandpa’s ready, we’ll be in the limo.” He pointed to the sleek black car idling on the main path of the cemetery. My mother, sisters, and aunt were already safely tucked inside. “Take your time.”
Which really meant, We’re on a schedule here. I gave him a thumbs-up to acknowledge his request. He returned to the limo and I returned to waiting. Grandpa Leo still stood in front of my grandma’s grave a few feet away, head bowed and hands clasped, saying the final good-byes he hadn’t been able to say with the other mourners watching. I thought I’d give him another minute, which might give me time to coax the cat out again. Besides, I hated looking at the coffin poised over the hole in the ground. Even though I knew Grandma’s spirit wasn’t in it, it still seemed so final. And claustrophobic.
I tugged my black sweater tighter around me, wishing I’d chosen pants instead of a dress. Especially since I’d forgone tights. I hated tights. But even though it was almost June, the air still held a chill, exacerbated by the sea breeze ruffling through the trees. It was the reality of island living, being surrounded by water that hadn’t completely warmed yet from the harsh New England winter. The damp weather today wasn’t helping. Rain had chased us on and off all day, and thick moisture hung in the air. I wondered if the orange cat had found shelter.
Movement behind the gravestone perked me up. My orange buddy must still be there. I took a few quiet steps closer, buoyed by the sight of one cat ear poking out. “Come here, cutie,” I called softly.
The cat eased around the stone in a one-sided game of peekaboo and looked at me curiously. I could see him weighing his options—trust her? Don’t trust her? Once again, the minuscule movement. And once again, a voice rang out, startling both of us.
“Leo! I’m glad I caught you.”
A curse on my tongue, I turned around in time to see a short, older man who looked vaguely familiar loping toward my grandpa, whose head was still bowed in front of the grave. His pasty face, thinning white hair, and glasses made me guess late sixties. He looked like he fought a good fight to keep the pounds from settling in his middle and was slowly but surely losing the battle.
Grandpa looked up from the casket, disinterested. “Frank,” he said, nodding at the other man but making no move to shake his hand. “Thanks for coming.”
I looked back for the cat, and he’d vanished again. Giving up, I trudged toward Grandpa, hoping to rescue him from the visitor he didn’t seem eager to see.
“Ah, Leo, so sorry,” Frank said, the hint of an Irish accent dancing through his words. “Lucille was one of a kind. Good Irishwoman.”
Grandpa inclined his head in acknowledgment, his eyes suddenly wet. “You remember my granddaughter Madalyn,” he said, nodding at me.
Frank turned his attention to me, smiled. “’Course I do. Though it’s been a long time. Frank O’Malley, if you don’t remember. President of the Daybreak Island Chamber of Commerce.” He puffed his chest out a bit, then leaned over and bussed my cheek. I smelled wine on his breath, even though it was barely eleven in the morning. “I’m sorry for the loss of your gran.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Frank adjusted his glasses and turned back to Grandpa. “When things calm down, we need to get together. Continue our discussions about the house,” he said. “We’ll do it over dinner.”
It almost sounded like a directive. I held the frown back as I watched Grandpa. I didn’t know what they were talking about, but Grandpa wasn’t usually on the receiving end of directives. If someone tried it, they got The Look—bushy white eyebrows drawn together in a wild slash, the usual twinkle in his brown eyes dimmed by dark storm clouds. He’d perfected The Look during his long tenure as chief of police of Daybreak Harbor, the largest of the four towns that made up Daybreak Island. I waited breathlessly for it.
But The Look didn’t surface. Instead, defeat slouched his shoulders forward, exhaustion settling into the lines around his eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “Give me a call.”
Frank nodded. “You’ll be hearing from me,” he said with a smile. “We’ll take care of you, Leo.” He patted Grandpa’s back, then lifted his chin to me in acknowledgment. “Madalyn.”
“Maddie,” I murmured, but he was already walking away. I glanced at Grandpa. “What was he talking about? What house? Who’s taking care of you?”
Grandpa Leo looked at me, his mouth working. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something,” he said finally. “But not now. Let’s talk tonight over dinner.”
I frowned, warning bells dinging in my brain. The tone of his voice sounded ominous even though he tried to pass it off as nothing. “Okay. But is everything—”
“They’re waiting for us,” he said, nodding toward the limo where my dad had reappeared out of the car, checking his watch. “We have to go.” He started walking, not looking to see if I followed.
I didn’t. Even though I wanted to race up to my grandfather, grab his arm and demand he tell me whatever secret he was keeping. Instead, my gaze slipped back to the gravestones by the tree line, one last-ditch effort to glimpse the cat again. But I didn’t see anything beyond the stones. Disappointed, I started to walk back to the limo when I heard a squeaking sound. I paused and scanned the area. My eyes finally landed on the orange cat sitting a few feet away next to a different gravestone. His clear green eyes radiated calm and wisdom. He was the most handsome cat I’d seen in a long time, with his perfect ginger patterns. And he sat perfectly still, like one of those statues people put in their gardens.
I moved forward slowly, one hand extended to the cat. He watched me, unmoved. I’d almost reached him when my dad came up behind me, startling both of us. I wanted to cry out in frustration.
“Maddie? What are you doing? They’re holding the limo for you. We need to get back to the house.”
“Coming,” I said. “One second.”
My dad sighed, but didn’t argue. Between me, my sisters, and my mother, he was used to being overruled.
I turned back to the cat, but I’d had three strikes, and I was out. He was gone.
Copyright © 2017 by Liz Mugavero