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Old 02-28-2016, 10:07 PM   #81
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“I know,” smiled Saav. “Sometimes just knowing I could really mess with him is enough for me.”

“Geez, you two,” sighed Joyce.

“Think about it, Mom. If you knew you could really get away with pulling stuff on people, would you do it just to do it or would just knowing you could do it be even funnier to you?” Saav said.

“I think just knowing would be funnier,” Joyce replied.

“Exactly,” nodded Saav. She looked back at the screen, pawing the keyboard. “Now here comes the train…”

“Saav!” groaned Joyce.

“Go, Saav!” Pook cheered.

Saav laughed at them. “See what I mean? Just knowing you can is all the fun.”

“You should be a psychiatrist, Saav,” Pook observed.

“Naahh. But I am going to mess with the wedding plans in this, though,” Saav said, typing away.

“Now what?” asked Joyce.

“They just ran over a skunk on the way to the church.”

The next morning, they stopped by the animal supply store on the way to the shop and found Meows a couple cat toys, some treats, and a soft blanket with kittens on it. At the mall, Joyce found Suzanna a pretty green sweater and a matching scarf. Then she picked up snacks and goodies at the grocery store and headed for the shop.

Pook and Saav bounced in through the cat door, anxious to see how Belle was after her first visit to the vet. "Happy New Year’s Eve!" they yelled as they ran in, startling Carrie and Suzanna.

"How'd it go, Belle?" Pook asked the kitten, giving her a kiss.

"Ugh! They got this thing called a thermometer, and you're not going to believe where they put those! That thing--"

Saav interrupted her quickly. "Oh, we know about that. How many shots did you get? Were you good?"

"I got a couple shots and I was good. Then I had to take a pill for worms! Ew! But she was nice and gave me treats when it was over," said Belle.

"Merry belated Christmas," said Joyce, dropping the brightly-wrapped packages in Suzanna's lap. She looked up, surprised. Apparently Carrie had

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Old 02-28-2016, 10:10 PM   #82
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the same idea, as there were more packages for Suzanna and Meows on the counter.

Suzanna shook her head. "Oh my! We're getting spoiled!"

Meows patted the packages on the counter gently, smiling. "We didn't have a Christmas this year...until now, thanks to our new friends."

"Well, open those up," laughed Carrie.

Ralph poked his head in. "Happy New Year's Eve!" he boomed. "Here, Suzanna, for you." He handed her a generous gift certificate from Lowery's Porch.

Her eyes widened. "My goodness! Thank you!"

Meows smiled. "I can taste those leftovers now. Thank you, Ralph."

Ralph laughed, and petted all the cats and little Belle. "Speaking of leftovers, your plates are ready," he said to them.

"We'll be right over," Bart replied.

"You guys go on over. We'll start on the snacks here," said Carrie.

"Okay," said Belle. "But don't open those til we get back, okay?" She nosed toward the presents.

"Yeah, we don't want to miss that," nodded Pook.

The humans laughed at the insatiable curiosity of the cats.

"Okay. Hurry back," said Suzanna. The cats flocked toward the cat door and headed for their plates in their usual corner of the restaurant.

When they returned, Suzanna and Meows opened their gifts. Carrie had given
Suzanna a lovely painting of her new little town, painted by a local artist. Meows received more treats and toys, and a different graphics program for his computer. They enjoyed the gifts, but more than anything, they enjoyed the company on New Year's Eve. The cats retreated to the laptop behind the screen after the gifts were opened, and Belle began asking questions again...this time about Russia.

Joyce shook her head with a smile. "I don't think little Belle will ever run out of things to ask questions about."

Meows stuck his head around the screen. "I quite agree with you, Joyce," he said, and disappeared back to the computer.

The humans laughed.

"Damn cat ears," Suzanna smiled.

The little party broke up around 6:00 in the evening. Carrie's husband, Kyle, was due home for three days in a couple of hours, and Carrie was stopping at the store for some champagne on the way home. Suzanna and Meows were headed back to their suite at the hotel to call Suzanna's little sister, who lived in Vermont. Joyce headed home too, for she had holiday

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Old 02-28-2016, 10:13 PM   #83
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calls to make and Justin from the computer shop was coming over later to watch the ball drop in Times Square on TV.

They shared one last sparkling grape juice toast, and wished each other a Happy New Year.

Bart sighed after they left. He was stuffed on the cheese and slices of summer sausage they had at the little party, and there was Belle, eating again.

"You're going to explode one of these days, you know that?" he said.

She turned to look at him with a parsley sprig hanging out of her mouth. "No I'm not," she mumbled around it, and returned to her plate, gobbling and slurping up the macaroni salad and raw vegetables. He smiled at her, rolled his eyes and settled down for a bath and a catnap. Belle was already much healthier-looking now, putting on weight and filling out. She was learning as fast as they could teach her, absorbing everything, and besides eating, Bart and Meows agreed that learning was her next favorite thing to do. She would spend hours on the computer, Googling words and finding facts; saving pictures and maps; downloading E-books and working on spelling, grammar, and math. History was a favorite now, as well as reading plays, and in Pook’s and Saav’s forum, she was learning to keep a journal. She was incredibly smart and Bart was proud of her.

No one mentioned her misstep with Ralph, and no one would. Belle felt badly enough about it, so there was no need to make her feel worse. And, they all realized, Ralph was very special to the cats, and the idea that now the cats could be themselves around him as well and express their gratitude for his delightful plates and other things he gave them actually made all of them more comfortable. Humans are pretty neat, Bart thought, washing his face and peeking at little Belle still eating noisily. Well, at least this bunch was. He'd spent the first part of his life on the streets, where the humans weren't so nice all the time, and he knew how lucky he was. Belle knew how blessed she was; she still found it completely awesome that she had plenty to eat and a warm, safe place to live. Bart was grateful that she didn't have to endure almost two years out on the streets like he did; cold, hungry, and unloved. Still, Belle's close encounter with Anna's car on Christmas Day had frightened him. That was bad enough. He curled up on his big catbed, content, and took a nap.

"Look at these lamps, Meows. What do you think?" Suzanna pointed to a page in a catalog and turned it toward the big grey tabby.
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Old 02-28-2016, 10:15 PM   #84
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He wrinkled his nose. "A little frilly. You're going to have guys in these rooms too, you know."

She sighed and turned the page back. "How about these?"

"Now, that's better. I don't feel like I should be clutching a lace hankie if I sat next to those."

Suzanna laughed at him. "That's an interesting visual -- you and a lace hankie. Kinda like me and a jackhammer."

"Speaking of mechanical things, have you thought about getting rid of that silly car of yours?" he asked.

"Why is my car silly? You used to like it," she replied, confused.

"Oh, I can just see you hauling lumber and paint around in that Mercedes with the leather interior."

She looked at him. "Oh my! I hadn't thought of that."

"I know. You might want to."

"Guess I should trade it in on a truck," said Suzanna. "That would be a lot more practical."

"That would be my first guess," he smiled.

She returned his smile brightly. "You know, you're pretty smart...for a cat."

"And you're pretty clever...for a human," he retorted with a wink.

Shaking her head, she reached over and scratched his chin. "Well, I guess we go truck shopping after New Year's Day."

"Why wait til then?" Meows walked across the bed to his nightstand and pawed his computer on. "We can get an idea of what you'll need and prices now. This way, you go to the dealership knowing exactly what you want and don't want, which reduces your chances of falling prey to a pushy salesman and ending up with something you aren't happy with."

"My, you use that little cat brain of yours well," Suzanna marveled.

"Just part of my feline charm," Meows grinned. "First, let's see what your car is worth...

The holidays were over, and the little village returned to its usual sleepy pace. Except for one part of Main Street; the big Victorian on the corner lot buzzed with activity. Hammers rang out, saws screamed, and men yelled over the racket. Suzanna went back and forth in her new blue Toyota 4WD pickup truck between the house and the hardware store, fetching everything from paint and ladders to decorative outlet covers and curtain rods. She made trips to and from Sullivan's Antiques and Gifts, picking up lamps, tables, chairs and other things that Carrie either found for her or ordered for her. A week later, she and Meows were able to move into the
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Old 02-28-2016, 10:20 PM   #85
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tiny 2-bedroom caretaker's cottage in the back, as it was in good shape to begin with. The last renters had taken care of the little place very well, and after a little remodeling and new appliances and a good cleaning, it was ready for Suzanna and Meows to call home. However, Meows hated all the noise going on practically in their front yard, so he stayed with Carrie in the shop during the day, still teaching Belle and visiting with Bart, Pook, Saav, Carrie and Ralph. He was also becoming quite attached to Ralph's endless plates of goodies. Suzanna was in and out of the shop sometimes as many as three or four times a day, and always had lunch with Carrie. Joyce dropped Pook and Saav off now every day during the week after little Belle asked her to, and they settled into a pleasant routine. On Saturdays if Joyce had a lot of errands to run, Pook and Saav came to the shop, and on the first Sunday of every month, all of them, humans and cats, had lunch at Lowery's Porch with Ralph and Brenda.

The entire town watched the changes to the big Victorian B&B, and the day after Suzanna and Meows moved into the caretaker's cottage, her sign arrived and was put up. Until now, she hadn't told anyone -- not even Meows -- what the name of the new B&B would be. She did, however, hint that it had something to do with how she felt on New Year's Eve. Now it was up for all to see:

Sunshine Inn -- Bed And Breakfast.

The day the sign went up, Justin tied a bottle of champagne to the porch railing and flung the bottle against a corner of the brick foundation and pronounced it christened. The small crowd of shopkeepers and passers-by who stopped to watch the sign go up cheered as the bottle broke and wished Suzanna the best of luck in her new venture. By now almost everyone in the tiny downtown area knew her, and everyone liked this vibrant, happy woman with the dazzling smile.

The first day of March saw the grand opening of the transformed B&B, and Sunshine Inn was officially in business. It looked incredible, and the staff, hand-picked and supervised by Suzanna, were professional and bursting with pride to be working there. Within just a couple weeks, Sunshine Inn was booked full through August, due to effective advertising and promotion -- masterminded by the eternally-researching Meows. Now that the inn was open, the group of friends at the shop saw a lot less of Suzanna and missed her breezing in and out, but she always came to have lunch with Carrie and to say a quick hi to Ralph and the cats. Carrie was busier now, too -- with the inn open, many people asked Suzanna where various items decorating the B&B came from, and she sent them to Carrie. In turn, Carrie often sent her customers to Sunshine Inn to see what a
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Old 02-28-2016, 10:25 PM   #86
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particular antique looked like in a residential or commercial setting. Sometimes they ended up making a reservation for a night or two at the inn. Bart called it "commercial back-scratching." Belle loved the tasty breakfast leftovers Suzanna always brought at lunch, and Carrie enjoyed seeing the successes Suzanna was now experiencing.

No one would have ever guessed this was the same angry, depressed woman Suzanna was two years ago. With her marriage collapsing and her husband forcing her to sell her part of the law practice they had started together, she vowed to get out and do what she wanted to, where she wanted to, and how she wanted to. The divorce settlement was simple; there were no children, and with her share of their assets, she was able to pull together her Sunshine Inn. It was all hers. No bank or mortgage company owned so much as a book of matches on the property on the corner, and already it was a success. It was exactly what the little town needed, and part of the reason for its success was the fact that Suzanna asked the shopkeepers and townspeople what they wanted in a B&B...and she listened. Interspersed with the antiques and the 19th-century look, local potters and artists, woodcrafters and even a luthier had display cases of their handiwork scattered throughout the big 10-bedroom house, the space provided free of charge with the name of the artist and the address and phone number. This gave them free advertising, and in return, Suzanna enjoyed the variety of items that just added more flavor and interest to Sunshine Inn. She had no staff problems. She paid the staff well and, with Meows's help, found a group health insurance policy that was affordable for her, and free for them. Hopefully soon with savings, she would be able to offer them a retirement plan.

She didn't miss her former life of courtroom arguments and, later, domestic arguments. It was a relief to be out of the city and in her own space with only what she chose to have in that space, not what she was forced to have or accept. Never again. She didn't even bring any of her law books with her. Instead, she packed what she could into her car and left, on the hunt for the perfect place to start over. It took ten months before she stumbled into the tiny town of Stony River, named after the river that snaked its way through the middle of town, providing picturesque scenes of whitewater rushing over rocks and boulders.

Now, with spring in full swing in the mountains of North Carolina, she stood on her tiny cottage porch looking at the back and side of the big B&B, swelling with pride.

Sunshine Inn -- Bed And Breakfast. No Vacancy. Pets Welcome.

Meows came out and jumped on the porch railing and put a paw out.

"Yep. You did it, Suzanna," he smiled at her.
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Old 02-28-2016, 10:29 PM   #87
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She looked down at him, then scooped him up, holding him close. He always knew exactly what she was thinking.

"Not by myself. I had a lot of help from a lot of great people, especially you," she replied softly.

He purred, and Suzanna watched as the day staff arrived and quietly went in.

"Time for work," she said, picking up her purse. Meows nosed her hand and went down the street toward the shop as Suzanna went to greet her staff and guests.

Pook and Saav came blasting in through the cat door into the shop, ready for fun and food.

"Watch out!" yelled Carrie.

The cats saw the puddle too late and tried to stop, but skidded and bounced off the opposite wall. Belle gasped. Bart laughed. Meows frowned, and Carrie threw her hands up.

"Dang, what happened in here?" asked Pook, seeing the huge puddle and the mop leaning on the counter next to Carrie.

"Roof leak. It rained last night," said Bart.

"Oh-oh, did anything important get wet?" Saav asked.

"No, thank goodness," Carrie replied, mopping up more water. "But before it does, I have a fellow coming to fix the roof today."

"Good," said Pook, shaking the water off her paws.

"I'd hate for anything to be ruined," said Saav. She loved looking at the beautiful things in Carrie's shop.

"Me too," smiled Carrie. "How's your Mom?"

"She’s doing okay. Just busy at work, and working like crazy on her column at home," Saav told her.

Carrie nodded. "I can understand that. I saw that series of articles she’s doing on the town council candidates and the issues. Pretty informative – I like it.”

Ralph poked his head in. "Good morning! Hey, what happened?"

"Roof leak," said Carrie.

"Yuck. I had one a couple years back, remember? Ruined the carpet. Glad you didn't put in carpet," he said.

"So am I. I thought about it, though."

"If you need any help, let me know," Ralph smiled. "Cats! Bart! Belle! Breakfast is ready!"
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Old 02-28-2016, 10:31 PM   #88
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"Yay!" shouted Belle, hopping down from the counter. She was bigger now, and on her way to looking like the sleek, healthy feline Bart believed she would be.

"Thank you very much, Ralph. I am sure it will be, as always, delicious," Meows said in his usual formal way, going past Ralph toward the kitchen. Meows never did leave his people manners at home, even among friends in the shop.

Ralph smiled and shook his head. "You're most welcome."

The rest of the cats thanked him as usual, and went to their plates. Purring, they dove into the fried catfish, steamed shrimp, crab cakes, and plenty of coleslaw, salad, tomatoes and broccoli for Belle.

They were back in the shop washing up after their tasty breakfast when suddenly Suzanna burst in, her eyes wide.

"Oh, Carrie, you're not going to believe what's happened!" she cried. "The front parlor is just about destroyed!"

"What?" Carrie turned pale, and led Suzanna to a chair. The cats froze, staring at Suzanna. "What happened, Suzanna?"

Meows ran to her as she sat down and he jumped into her lap, looking up with worried eyes.

She cuddled him to her. "Apparently a couple stayed in the B&B last night who weren't married to each other. The woman's husband was driving back early this morning from a business meeting, intending to surprise her by coming home earlier than expected, but he saw her car and his best friend's car parked at the B&B. They were coming downstairs holding hands when the woman's husband confronted them at the bottom of the stairway, and I guess she was trying to calm the men down and got them in the parlor, then all hell broke loose and the guys started beating the heck out of each other and ruined the parlor. The lamps are all broken, the vases are in the floor just shattered, the bay window curtains are ripped down, most of the furniture is in pieces, and there's coffee and water all over the carpet. I have the insurance guy coming in to see it and I took pictures, but I'll have to wait til later to get the cleaners in. It's awful! That beautiful room! And Tracy Poole's pottery display case and all her dishes and goblets are broken. What am I going to tell her? The police came and I asked if they could be charged for damage to property, and they were, but it's going to be awhile til the court date. It's awful!" Suzanna was almost in tears. She hugged Meows closer. The other cats gathered at her feet, and little Belle put a paw out and patted her ankle.

"Oh, I am so sorry, Suzanna," murmured Carrie. "But thank God no one else was involved, and you and your staff didn't get hurt."
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Old 02-28-2016, 10:34 PM   #89
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"It'll take forever for the insurance to pay. I won't be able to make that room look right again until they come through. I'm just now getting to where I am making a profit. People expect to be able to use that parlor, it's part of the package of Sunshine Inn," said Suzanna sadly.

Carrie reached out and hugged her friend, being careful not to squash Meows. "I know what we can do. We can have that room looking incredible again by ten o'clock tonight."

Suzanna looked at her. "That's impossible, Carrie. You can't do it. I can't do it in that time. The time it took to do that room, I can't even do it in two days."

"Oh yes we can. Get the cleaners in there the minute the insurance guy leaves, and we'll have it looking perfect by ten o'clock. You go back to the B&B now, and just wait. Trust me," smiled Carrie.

"What are you going to do?"

"What any neighbor would do. Trust me. Now get on back there and I'll be over soon," replied Carrie, giving her friend another quick hug and helping her up.

The moment Suzanna left, Carrie burst into action. She pulled the curtains closed, set out the 'closed' sign, and picked up the phone. The cats watched as she began calling every shopowner she knew downtown and told them what happened to Sunshine Inn's parlor. Four big fellows from the lumberyard showed up and Carrie began selecting replacement items from the shop and the back room. The guys began putting these in two big pickup trucks, and Carrie ran to Ralph's and told him what happened. Up and down the street, 'closed' signs came out and doors were locked as the shopowners left their stores and headed toward the B&B.

Carrie opened the passenger side door to her Jeep. Just before shutting the shop door, she called the cats. They ran out of the store and jumped up into the Jeep, and she closed the shop door and locked it. She pulled out of her space and drove to the inn, where she parked in the back behind Suzanna's truck.

They all piled out, and saw the insurance car leaving and the carpet-cleaning van pull in. Carrie went inside with the cats, and there were the shopowners and other townspeople getting the broken things off the floor and moving the intact furniture and other pieces into the foyer so the cleaners would have a clear floor. Suzanna stood in the doorway of the formal dining room, looking completely shocked as all her new friends worked hard to clean it up for her. Guests were helping as well.
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Old 02-28-2016, 10:42 PM   #90
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She saw Carrie, and the cats scattered to the library, where they gathered in the doorway watching everyone bustling about. Carrie went to her.

"My God, Carrie, look," she breathed. "I can't believe this. You did this. Look at all these dear people. They told me not to help, to relax, that I'd just be in the way."

Carrie smiled. "This is normal for us. Something happens to one, it happens to all of us. Now, look out the window."

She turned, and her hand flew to her mouth as the two big pickups pulled in with the furniture and other things from the shop. "Oh my God. I can't afford this, Carrie. Not yet."

"What do you mean you can't afford free furniture? Honey, that stuff is free -- but I know how you operate, so here's the attached string. You put up a little sign somewhere in the room saying some of the items in this room are for sale and to ask you which ones. Then the person wanting it buys it from you. You call me, tell me what's been sold, I hightail it back here with a replacement and pick up the money -- minus ten percent commission for you. Now tell me you can't afford it."

Suzanna stared from the trucks to Carrie, back to the trucks, and back to Carrie. She threw her arms around Carrie in a bone-crushing hug. "Oh my God, Carrie. Thank you. Thank you. But not the commission. My commission, as you put it, will be the time I get to not lose this room waiting for the insurance check. That could take six weeks."

"If that's what you want," said Carrie.

"Yes, please. This is incredible!" she exclaimed. "I can't believe you people."

In the library doorway, the cats smiled.

Ralph arrived shortly after the carpet cleaners left with two huge floor fans. They put them on opposite ends of the huge room and opened the windows and turned them on.

"These'll have you dried out in less than two hours," he told her. "By six o'clock tonight, you can put the furniture back."

"Thank you, Ralph," said Suzanna, still amazed. She hugged him.

"I'll be back," he promised, and whooshed out the door.

The morning staff offered to stay over without pay and help put the room back together, and one by one, the shopowners and townspeople left, hugging Suzanna and wishing her luck, promising to return and see the new look of the parlor. Ralph brought out a small buffet for the staff and the guests of Sunshine Inn, getting Sam Murray, who owned the steakhouse at the end of Main Street to help with the non-seafood items. The two men set

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