Chapter Twenty-Three

“Say what?  What did you just mumble Charlie?”

Abby closed the refrigerator door where she had gone to get more half & half for our coffee.

“I missed what you said.”

“I said… that’s when the night got a tad complicated.  Last night…someone said ‘Good-by Charlie’ or ‘Take it easy, Charlie’ or…something like that…I can’t remember exactly…”

“Hannah and I were starting to leave.  Then I turned and waved a huge good-by to everyone around me.”

“You know the wave.  One of those very tipsy, all encompassing waves that includes the whole room.  It was just before last call.”

“How the hell does anyone at Doyle’s know my real name, Abby?  Hannah and I have been so careful.”

Abby was still standing with the half & half container in one hand.  She sat down,  added cream to her coffee,  stirred and took a thoughtful sip.  Then she took a more thoughtful bite of her eclair.

“Describe how ‘happy’ you and Hannah were last night…on a scale of one to ten.  Ten being really, really ‘happy’ but still conscious.”

She gave me one of those piercing “I am not in the mood for BS looks” that is going to work so well for her when she has kids.  Her mom could do the same look.  It truly was a gift.

“Well…Hannah was driving, so she was a definite one.  I was a definite eight.”

“Earlier in the evening, Hannah was singing a lot…along with the band.  She really got carried away a couple of times.”

“She was trying to impress the band…prepping for tonight’s amateur night…you know Hannah…”

“Oh…I know…not that practicing will make a difference with that voice.  She is persistent though.”

Abby got up to get some tomato juice from the fridge.

“So…is it possible that Hannah may have said your real name at some point…maybe as she was singing, as in c’mon Charlie, sing with me.”?

Abby sat down and looked at Stella who had suddenly paused during one of her many mini baths to look at me.  It almost appeared as if  she was waiting to hear what I was going to say.

“I can’t wait to hear this story,” mumbled Stella.

“Why is Stella looking at you like that? sputtered Abby.  “Honest to God, Charlie, I swear that cat understands everything we say.”

I ignored her comment.

“Are you  actually expecting me to remember if Hannah used my real name last night?” I answered sarcastically.

“I was flat-out drunk and that’s being charitable.  Of course she could have used my real name.  Hell, I could have used my real name.”  I reached over and scratched  Stella under her chin.

“Good answer.”

Chapter Twenty-Five

Abby was silent.  This was a rare occurrence for her.  Then…

“Was there anyone at Doyle’s last night that you ever see at the other bars? ” Abby asked.

“You and Hannah go out every weekend and most Wednesday nights.  Do you always use the phony name/job bit?” she continued.

I answered quickly…”Always.”

Suddenly Abby slapped her hand down on the table.  “By Jove, I’ve got it,” she said….using just a terrible English accent.

“Maybe…maybe it was someone who works at the Journal with you or Hannah…but neither of you knew they were there last night.”   Abby said.

“You know…you could be right…that kind of makes sense. ”  I took another swallow of my now very tepid and therefore unappetizing coffee.

My head was starting to scream at me and I got up to get two aspirin.

Just as Abby had finished putting yet another piece of eclair on Stella’s plate, the front doorbell rang.

All of us just froze in place.  No one came to our house on the weekends…NO ONE.  Even Stella had paused…tongue again hanging out.

Both Abby and I said in unison.  “What the hell?”  I know we were both thinking the same thing…this has to be bad news.

Abby was way more appropriately dressed than I was.. so she went to see who was disturbing our little Saturday morning brunch.  I returned to my place at the table…headache momentarily forgotten.

“I wonder who it is?” whispered Stella.  Never one to miss any action,  she had moved over to be closer to me.

Stella was a very friendly cat. She always loved the few people who came to visit us…but this was Saturday morning on a frigid, cold day in Minnesota.  I think even she thought something wasn’t quite right.

“I don’t know.” I said quietly.   “Why are we whispering?”

I could hear Abby talking and then heard her say, “Hang on”.   She soon appeared back in the kitchen.  She had a puzzled look on her face.

“What’s up?” I asked…eager to have this mystery solved.

“I need a dollar for a tip.”  She opened up the cupboard over the sink and took down the old Apple cookie jar where we kept change and dollar bills.  It made tipping delivery people a snap.

“For what?” I asked.

“For.  A.  Tip.” Abby said evenly…and gave me a look of exasperation.  She then went back to the front door.

I looked at Stella.  “Well, that was rude.”

“You have a killer hangover.  Everything will seem rude today.” she said knowingly.

I heard Abby say ‘thank you’ and then heard her shut the door.  I could feel little trickles of cold air that had filtered back to the kitchen from the opened door.

She walked into the kitchen carrying a long, white, rectangular floral box.  It was heavily wrapped in clear plastic to protect it from the freezing cold.

The label on the box said “Flora’s Fresh Flowers”.  It was very skinny and looked like it could only hold a single flower.

“Who’s it for?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Abby said.  “There was no name on the delivery ticket.  Only an address.  This one.”

“Well, well,” said Stella.  “The plot thickens.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

Abby put the package down on the kitchen table.  I got up and carried some of the dishes to the sink and got a scissor so we could open it up.

“I can’t see a card, can you?” I asked as I gently cut away the layers of protective cellophane.

“It would be just like Ralph to forget a card.  Oh well, he’ll probably call me later this morning and we can know for sure.”  Abby said confidently.  Then she reached up her arms and stretched her back.

“That’s very good for you,” said Stella…who watched every move that Abby made…thinking…I’m sure…that another morsel of food could be placed on her plate at any given moment.

“Did you hear that Charlie?” Abby exclaimed as she quickly brought her arms down to her sides.  “I swear to God she said good!”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Abby.  Stella is just a cat.  One I happen to talk for…on occasion.  You do know that, right?  Do you not see my lips moving?”

“Well, sure I do…but sometimes,” Abby said in a soft voice, “I forget…especially when she makes sounds…strange sounds.”

“I resent the phrase ‘just a cat’,” complained Stella…to no one in particular.

I had opened the box and finished unwrapping the soft white paper.   I gently pushed some white tissue to the side.

Lying inside the box was one, beautiful yellow rose…and a small white envelope.

Abby had peered over the wrappings and had also spotted the envelope.

“Oh look!!’ she said.  “There is a card,” and she started to reach for it.

But I was quicker and I grabbed it before she did.

“I got it.”  As I picked it up and turned it over I saw just one word written on the front of the envelope.    It said…”Charlie”

Abby…who had also read the card…sat down in her chair and took a bite from her eclair and said,  “Well…this is interesting.”

“I can’t believe it!” I cried.  “It’s for me!”

I looked over at Abby who was no longer so interested in the package and squinted my eyes suspiciously at her.

“Is this from you?  You know, to make me feel better?  Considering ‘the anniversary’ and all that?”

“Nope.  And if you don’t open that envelope pretty damn soon, I’m going to.”  And she made an attempt to grab it.  But I was too fast.

I moved away and sat down opposite her at the table, holding the card in my hands.

I was almost afraid to open it.  Could it be from Bobby?  Or maybe from Jake? I would be happy either way…really.   But neither knew my real name…or for sure…my address.

At least I didn’t think so.  After the incident last night, I wasn’t so sure of anything.

“Open it or I’m leaving.”  Stella hurried.  “I have to take a nap.”

Abby looked from Stella to me and then back to Stella.

“I’m with her…open it!” Abby ordered.

“All right, all right,” I said.  “Sometimes…anticipation can be fun…”

At this point…I didn’t really care what the card said or who it was from…as long as it didn’t say, “Charlie.  Hand this rose over to Abby.  She will be so surprised.  Thanks. Ralph..”

Chapter Thirty-One

Damnation!  Whose voice was that…and how the hell did he know my real name?

I reached over and grabbed my phone to call Hannah…but then I hesitated…it was kind of early.  She may not even be alone…she and that detective had been pretty cozy last night.

I’ll wait…maybe in an hour or so when I’m sure she’ll be up…and awake…and in an agreeable mood to talk..

Stella peeked her head out from under the covers.

“You look so cute under there.”  I said.  “I bet it’s really cozy.”

In the winter, Stella often burrowed under the covers on my bed, turned around  and then just poked her nose and ears out from underneath.

And…of course I have several photos on Instagram to show everyone just how darling she looked…in case you were wondering…

I started to move the covers so I could slide in next to Stella.  I kicked off my fuzzy slippers and carefully crawled in.

“Hey!  Don’t squish me!” said Stella whose yellow eyes flashed open but then  immediately closed again.

Before my head hit the pillow, I looked one more time at that beautiful yellow rose.

To think that someone…someone I didn’t even know…cared enough about me to let me know that they were thinking about me…and…even worried about me.

To my complete surprise, tears welled in my eyes…and  I felt the deepest loneliness than I had felt since mom had died.

“Me.  You have me, you know.” said Stella.

“Indeed.  Oh, indeed.” I said and rolled over and meant to give some careful thought to all that was going on or not going on in my life.  But then Stella snuggled a little closer and  I fell asleep before one little thought could even appear.