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Old 02-29-2016, 09:53 PM   #131
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trying to groom the B&B cat, and Sunshine let her do it. He liked dogs. He liked everything and everyone, and his run-in with the woman who kicked him didn't faze him at all. Sunshine was the star of the inn, and he enjoyed that to pieces.

Suzanna mingled with her guests, making sure they were comfortable, refilling cups, and saying a grateful prayer that everyone was accounted for. No one had been out in the storm, which had been particularly fierce that day. Carrie and the cats were safe, Ralph and his family were fine, and Paul Draper, way out on the mountain in Carrie's old home, was doing fine as well. Joyce, iced and snowed in at home, was swearing at the weather and griping about her power being out, but she was fine. Pook and Saav were bored and complaining about not being able to get to Ralph's kitchen. They had their priorities.

Carrie didn't bother to open up the shop that Tuesday, but she didn't feel like sitting at home. She wrapped Bart and Belle up in blankets, tucked them into a big picnic basket, and lugged them outside and down the street to the B&B. She dropped them off to visit Meows in the cottage, and waded through the snow to the inn.

"Hey, girlfriend!" Suzanna was surprised to see her. She helped Carrie with her coat, and hung it on the coat rack in the back hallway to dry. "I didn't think you'd be out in this mess."

Carrie shrugged. "I just didn't feel like staying home. Thought I'd come down here and see if I can help. I saw the firetrucks and the power people down here. Bart and Belle are visiting Meows."

"I don't need any help, but I sure love your company. They'll have us back up and running in about an hour. Paul called a little while ago, and said he'd lost a couple of pines up in the back of the house."

"Yeah, he knew those were going to go. I offered to take them out before he moved in, but he said that since they weren't threatening the house, he wasn't really worried about them and didn't want me to spend the money to get them out." Carrie accepted the fresh cup of coffee Suzanne placed in her hands. "I sure didn't think your tree would fall, though. Weird."

Suzanna shrugged. "It's not too bad. Have you talked to Joyce today?"

"Not yet. She doing okay over there?"

"Well, besides screaming about not being able to get to work, she lost most of that big maple tree in her front yard."

Carrie frowned. "That's a shame. That is a gorgeous tree...I bet Joyce is heartbroken."

"She is," said Suzanna. "She's just sick over it. She said that tree was the only thing that was decent about that place when she bought it."

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Old 02-29-2016, 10:09 PM   #132
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"Ohhhh, it was. That place was trashed. She had to completely gut it and start over from the subflooring. It was a foreclosure, and I guess the people who had it before didn't care and just ruined it. Joyce got an incredible deal on the house, though, because it was so nasty and the bank just wanted rid of it. It had sat there empty for months. You'd never know it now."

"Did you see it before?"

Carrie nodded, and sipped her coffee. "Yes. It was disgusting. I stepped inside the front door and the smell was so gross I had to stay outside and peer in through the windows. I was almost sick."

"Yuck! Boy, she was brave."

"Braver than I would have been. I wouldn't have touched that place with a barge pole. But sure enough, now it's nice and I don't feel like I need to get my shots updated when I walk in."

Suzanna laughed. "I like her little house. It's almost as big as my cottage. Well, I do have the separate dining room and a bath and a half. She only has one bathroom, doesn't she?"

"Yeah. I told her she had room to put another bath off the master bedroom, but she doesn't want to give up that big walk-in closet," said Carrie.

"I don't blame her. Isn't that Saav's favorite hangout too?"

"Oh yes," laughed Carrie. "She likes to climb up the clothes to the top shelf and yowl and swat Joyce when she changes clothes. Scares her to death, every time."

Suzanna chuckled, picturing that. "I bet. I'm glad Sunshine and Meows don't do that to me."

"Speaking of...." said Carrie, looking toward the dining room.

The elderly lady who had Sunshine was in the dining room with him, and slipping him tidbits from the party trays Suzanna had set out. The lady looked around guiltily, as if she'd been admonished one too many times when she was a child about feeding pets at the table. Suzanna snickered.

"He likes ham better than turkey, and if you'd give him a good-sized chunk of that smoked cheddar, he'll love you forever," Suzanna told the lady.

She looked at Suzanna, blushing. "He's so sweet. I didn't know if you allowed him to have table scraps or not, but I couldn't resist." She cut a chunk off the cheese, and he dove into that.

Suzanna winked at her. "He can have just about anything. He doesn't like sweets much, but his favorites are cheese and seafood."

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Old 02-29-2016, 10:53 PM   #133
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"I'll be sure to remember that," said the lady with a big smile. Suzanna smiled back, and took Carrie's arm.

"Come with me," she said. "There's a gorgeous German Shepherd in the Friendship Parlor I think you'll love."

Carrie and Suzanna were sitting by the fire in the Friendship Parlor when the lights came back on about an hour later. Everyone cheered the power and fire crews, and Suzanna invited them in for coffee and sandwiches. There were five men on the fire department crew, and three on the power crew. They came up the front porch steps and were about to step inside when one of the firefighters stopped.

"Hold up, fellas. She's got nice carpet in there." He pointed to his wet boots. "We better leave these out here."

"Oh, yeah," said another one, and they sat down and pulled their boots off.

"Geez, I hadn't thought of that," Suzanna admitted. "Thanks, guys."

They came inside and Suzanna seated them around the big dining room table, and the staff served up coffee, sandwiches, and sugar cookies for them. Suzanna had just put a tray of cookies on the table when she happened to glance out the window, and saw a snowplow clearing Main Street, with Joyce's red car right behind it.

"Hey, Carrie, look who's here," she smiled.

Carrie looked out the window. "Oh, good! The more, the merrier. Hope she brought the cats."

"Bet you she did," said Suzanna.

Joyce managed to fight her way into the driveway at the cottage after half a dozen tries, parking rather precariously on the snow and ice. She picked up Pook and Saav, stuffed them into her coat, and dropped them off at the cat door in the back of the cottage, then headed for the B&B.

"Howdy, y'all," she said as she came in the front doors.

"I see you finally got out," said Suzanna, taking her coat and scarf.

"I had to. Pook and Saav were making me crazy and I was getting major cabin fever. A friend is out in the front yard with a chain saw for a while, so I decided to break loose and get out. Phew! The roads are a mess!" said Joyce.

"I heard about your tree. That's terrible," Carrie said sympathetically.

"Oh, it's awful. I lost about two-thirds of it; I hope it comes back," sighed Joyce. "I dropped the girls off at the cottage, I figured you were here when I saw the shop closed. I see there's been a tree problem here too."
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Old 03-02-2016, 12:35 AM   #134
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"Yes, and a power problem," replied Suzanna. "Did you get your power back yet?"

Joyce shook her head. "Not yet, but they think it will be on by tonight."

"Do you need anything?" Suzanna asked.

"Oh no, I’m fine, thanks. I have heat and plenty to eat, and water. I'm going to run by the store later...do you girls need anything while I'm out?"

Carrie shook her head. "I stocked up before the storm."

"So did I. I'm good for a couple days," said Suzanna. "Want some hot tea?"

Joyce smiled. Suzanna always had her favorite tea on hand for her visits. "I'd love some."

"Be right back," she said.

Joyce looked at the hungry fellows at the table, digging into huge sandwiches on sub rolls. "She thinks of everybody, doesn't she?"

Carrie smiled. "She sure does. Belle was right when she called her the 'magic lady.'"

"She is." She peeked into the Friendship Parlor and saw the German Shepherd.

"Wooo, nice puppy in there."

"Yeah, she's a sweetie. She likes to groom Sunshine, and he tolerates it," Carrie said.

"Poor Sunshine," Joyce smiled.

Suzanne returned with her tea, and refilled her and Carrie's coffeecups. "Boy, I'm glad the power's back on. I think it's my turn to cook tonight, isn't it?"

Carrie laughed. "Damn right it is. I cooked the last two times in a row, you slacker."

"What's for dinner?" asked Joyce.

"I don't know yet," Suzanna smiled. "Why, you want to freeload tonight?"

Joyce shook her head, smiling. "No, hon -- I have some hamburger I need to cook before it goes bad."

"But what if you don't have power back on?" asked Suzanna.

"Oh, it's no problem. I'll just fry up some hamburgers on the grill. It'll be a little cold, but at least I won't have to throw it away. I hate wasting stuff," said Joyce.

"Ugh. So do I." Carrie made a face.

"Hmm," said Suzanna. "How about burgers here too, Carrie? We haven't had those for a while."
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Old 03-02-2016, 12:43 AM   #135
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"Sounds good. Throw in a salad and maybe some fries for Belle," Carrie suggested.

"Salad and blue cheese dressing, no less," laughed Suzanna.

"Blue cheese dressing?" Joyce asked.

"Oh, absolutely. She only likes Ranch on her veggies, not her salad," Carrie told her.

"Oh, my," said Joyce. "She's such a funny little one."

"That she is," Carrie agreed with a smile.

Suzanna's day in court against the woman who kicked Sunshine was the following Friday, and she was nervous as she got dressed and ready to go.

"I don't know why I'm nervous about this, Meows," she said to him as she brushed her hair.

"She's evil," said Meows. "She hurt Sunshine pretty bad, on purpose. She's pure, unadulterated evil. And that makes good people a little nervous."

Suzanna sighed. "I guess. I shouldn't be nervous, though, it's not like I'm a total stranger to a courtroom."

"I still think you should have hired a lawyer, though," Meows fretted.

"What for? I have all the proof, and I am still an attorney."

"She's going to have an army of them, you know," Meows warned her.

"Good for her. She's still going to lose," said Suzanna.

"I wish I could go with you," Meows sighed.

"Oh, I can see trying to explain that to the judge," she laughed at him, and scratched his back. "Don't worry, we'll run right to the shop and tell you guys how it went first, okay?"

Carrie was going with her as a witness to Sunshine's injuries and for moral support.

"I guess," said Meows morosely. "I don't like that woman, Suzanna. And watch your back. If you win today, she may go for a payback. She looks vindictive. We cats can all feel it."

"I'll be okay. I know she's not a nice person. Don't worry so much, Meows."

"I can't help it," he said, nuzzling her hand.

She petted him, and looked at the clock. "I guess I better go."

"...and the judge took one look at her and her four lawyers, and then he looks at me, and the whole time her lawyers are bellowing and going into theatrics about how Sunshine was an imminent threat to her dog, and there's
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Old 03-02-2016, 12:47 AM   #136
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her dog in her arms yapping and barking and snarling and he just kind of shook his head. Finally he says, 'Where's the cat?' and I tell him Sunshine's at the B&B where he belongs, not in a courtroom..." said Suzanna to Ralph and the cats.

"Oh yeah, that was pretty funny," laughed Carrie. "Then the judge tells her he wants to see for himself how bad a threat Sunshine actually is, so he calls for a 15-minute recess so we can go get Sunshine...so we bring him back to the courtroom and there's Sunshine, draped over Suzanna's shoulder like a fluffy rug, not even flicking an ear in the dog's direction. The dog goes insane, barking and snarling his head off. She takes Sunshine up to the judge's bench and plops him down next to the gavel, and Sunshine just lays there and purrs at him..."

"And the judge looks at the woman and pronounces her guilty as charged, and nailed her with 90 days in jail and community service for something like one thousand hours and he pounds the gavel. Sunshine wasn't expecting that, so he flies up in the air, lands back in front of the judge, looks at the gavel, and jumps on my shoulder, his eyes all big and wild like 'What the hell was that?' I thought the judge was going to die laughing. The woman was furious! One of her lawyers took the dog, and they packed her butt off to jail," concluded Suzanna.

"Uggghhh," said Pook. "I like the jail part, but can she do the community service thing in the city? If she can't, that means she'll be right here in town until that's done."

"Unfortunately, no, she has to do it within this court's jurisdiction so they can verify her compliance," Suzanna replied.

"Make her pick up trash at the B&B," suggested Belle.

"No way," said Meows. "That would be fun to see and exactly what she deserves, but I don't want that creature anywhere near our Sunshine. I think she'd try to hurt him again if she could."

"Oh," Belle nodded. "No, we don't want that at all."

"They'll come up with something appropriate," Meows said.

"I don't think this will do anything except make her mad," said Bart. "She'll be back."

Pook and Saav nodded. "I think she will. She's mad as hell now, and three months in jail is going to give her plenty of time to plot revenge and then she's still going to be here when she gets out, so that gives her the time to carry out whatever plan she hatches," said Saav.

"That was kind of in the back of my mind, too. I've got that ADT security system in the B&B, but I think I'll have them install one in the cottage, too," said Suzanna.
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Old 03-02-2016, 12:52 AM   #137
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"You might want to think about putting it in here too, Carrie," Bart suggested.

Carrie looked at Ralph.

"Let's do the whole building, both floors, and split the cost. You do live here, Carrie, and she did threaten you a while back. I'd feel a little better," said Ralph.

Carrie nodded. "You're right. We'll do that."

"I hope she just goes away," sighed Belle. "I don't want her hurting any of us again."

"We can always pray for that, Belle, and in the meantime we can do something to make ourselves a little safer. People are nuts sometimes," said Suzanna.

"I hate to resort to this," Carrie frowned.

"Unfortunately, it's necessary. That woman is trouble," said Meows. "And we haven't seen the last of her, either. I can feel it."

Three days later, it was Christmas. As usual, Lowery's Porch was bustling early in the morning as the friends and volunteers showed up to help with Christmas dinners for the poor. Paul came to help, as he saw his children and grandchildren the day before Christmas. He and Ralph had become friends very quickly, and Paul believed in helping people. This year, Suzanna jumped into it, and as she slid her special pumpkin pies into one of the big ovens, she smiled.

"What are you grinning about?" asked Joyce, swatting Carrie’s hand as she attempted to steal a cookie.

"I remember this time last year. I was all alone with just Meows in that hotel suite," she replied. "I was thinking what an incredible year it's been for me."

"It has been a year of massive changes," agreed Carrie.

"I learned a lot about cats," Ralph said with a wink. He had to be careful what he said, as Paul was there, and didn't know the secret.

"So did I," agreed Carrie.

"This building sure changed," Joyce added.

"So did that property on the corner," Ralph said.

"The year of changes," Paul smiled, sliding three pans of biscuits into an oven.

"Good changes," agreed Suzanna. "Even though we got thrown a few nasty curves."

"Yeah we did," sighed Carrie.
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Old 03-02-2016, 12:56 AM   #138
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Paul looked at Carrie sympathetically. "You sure did. The New Year will be better, though."

Ralph loaded up the cats' plates with seafood leftovers from the day before. "Want to help me upstairs with these?" he asked Paul.

"Sure," he replied, picking up two plates. Ralph got two, and Carrie reached for the last one. Together, they went upstairs to Carrie's apartment and opened the door.

The cats were talking back and forth, loudly as the door opened. They were gathered in Carrie's computer room, with their laptops up and running, helping Belle with Greek mythology.

Paul turned pale. Carrie and Ralph exchanged a look.

"I need to sit down," he said weakly. The cats whirled around, aghast, and fled from the room. Carrie set their plates down for them, and Paul sat down in Carrie's desk chair, shaking.

"Those cats were talking, weren't they? And using computers?" he asked shakily.

"Yes," said Carrie. "They're very different. We don't tell people about them doing that, because it's too much of a shock."

"If it got out," said Ralph, "it could be very dangerous for them, if someone wanted to exploit them."

"Nobody would ever believe what I just saw in here," breathed Paul. "I'm not saying a word...people would think I was senile. You're right, Carrie, it's a shocker. How did -- what --?"

Carrie smiled. "How did we find out they talked? I heard a rumor that Pook and Saav spoke to people to mess with them. So I asked. They answered. Then I somehow ended up with Bart and Belle, and Suzanna had Meows. We just ended up with them."

Little Belle came back into the room slowly, and gently put a paw out to Paul. "We're sorry we scared you," she said.

He reached for her, and she jumped into his lap with a purr. Paul just stared at her, amazed, as he scratched her chin. "What incredible creatures," he said softly. "I'll take this secret to my grave, I promise. This really could be dangerous for them."

"Thank you," Carrie said, relieved.

The other cats peeked in, and Paul smiled at them. Carefully, they approached Paul and Ralph returned to the restaurant, leaving Carrie with Paul as he calmed down.

"Do you think that maybe you and certain other people were chosen to have these special cats?" Paul asked.

"I try not to think about it," said Carrie. "That's a little scary."
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Old 03-02-2016, 01:01 AM   #139
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"Oh, I guess it might be," he replied, raising an eyebrow. "Who all knows about them?"

"Ralph, Suzanna, Joyce, you, and me," she said.

"Hmm. Well, that's enough, I guess. Whew! That's quite...a shock." He took a deep breath. "Well. I guess we'd better get back to work."

"You ok?"

"I think so." He laughed. "I'll let you know later when this really does sink in."

That evening after the restaurant closed and they cleaned up, Paul sat upstairs in Carrie's apartment with her and Suzanna, watching the three cats on the laptop computer. Tonight's topic for Belle was the French Revolution, and Paul was amazed at how much Bart and Meows knew.

"You know, if I didn't actually see this, I wouldn't believe this," he observed.

"It is a little unbelievable," said Suzanna. "The first time Meows spoke to me, I almost fainted."

"Did you really?" he asked.

Meows looked through the doorway. "That's a little of an understatement. She actually screamed. Good thing we were alone."

"Well, I thought I was going to faint this morning, so I can imagine screaming too. How did Joyce react when hers spoke?"

“She’s such a cat freak she probably expected it," said Carrie.

"I can believe that," laughed Suzanna.

"What about Ralph? What did he do?" Paul asked.

"Belle accidentally spoke in front of him, and he took it pretty well. It was a bit shocking to him, like it was for you, but he didn't faint or scream," said Carrie.

"Hmm. And Sunshine doesn't talk? He's a regular cat-cat?"

"Right," nodded Suzanna.

Paul watched the cats, and shook his head. "This is unreal. I never in a million years would ever have thought I'd see this."

Carrie rose and went to the kitchen, returning a moment later with a tray of hot tea and pound cake. Paul reached gratefully for a cup, and cake for the cats was broken into cat-sized bites and put on saucers for them. They abandoned the laptop, and jumped up on the coffeetable to enjoy their cake and warm milk.

Paul looked over at the cats eating. "I wish my cat talked. That would be some neat company, but he's a good guy anyway."

"Did you ever ask him?" asked Carrie.
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Old 03-02-2016, 01:06 AM   #140
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He looked at her, surprised. "Well, no, I really never thought about it until now."

"Try it when you get home," suggested Suzanna.

"What happens if he does talk? Then what?" asked Paul.

"Start a conversation," smiled Carrie. "Just don't faint. You might fall and hit your head and knock yourself out."

"Hmm. Don't think I want to do that," he grinned.

"It probably wouldn't really be too much of a shocker for you, now that you know talking cats do exist," said Suzanna.

Belle looked up. "How old is your cat, Paul?" she asked.

"He's about two years old," he replied, reaching to pet the little one's head.

Belle purred. "I'd like to meet your cat sometime," she said.

"Well, if it's okay with Carrie, I'll bring him out one evening for a visit. How's that?"

"I'd like that," smiled Belle.

"Me too," said Meows.

Bart belched. "So would I."

"Fine with me, anytime," said Carrie. "He is a beauty."

"What's his name?" Belle asked.

"Booger," said Paul.

Meows choked. "You named a cat 'Booger?'"

Carrie almost dropped her cup. "You're kidding!"

Suzanna roared. "My God, that's funny!"

Belle looked up. "What's 'Booger' mean?"

"We'll Google it later, Belle," Bart said hastily.

Carrie and Suzanna laughed. "That's going to be fun," chortled Suzanna.

"Is it a bad word?" Belle asked, perplexed.

"No, just a little gross. Like Bart said, you can Google it later," said Meows. "Really, Paul, why in the world did you name a wonderful feline that?"

"I didn't," said Paul. "My sister's feral cat had kittens and she gave me the runt, and she named him. Actually, I think her daughter named him. I don't know, but it kinda fits him. He has quite a personality."

"Joyce had a huge orange tabby, bigger than Bart there, named Monster," chuckled Carrie. "And I tell you, he was definitely a monster!"

"Monster...geez," Suzanna laughed.

"His real name was originally Squeaky, but he shredded her German lace curtains and tore up the house pretty bad when he was a kitten, and then

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