Sometimes, bitter can change to sweet. You just have to open yourself to life’s possibilities.
Carol put down her book and looked at her hands. The fingers were straight and strong, but the skin looked thin and fragile.
“Marmalade, how did I get so old? I was an old bitty before you were a kitten.”
The cat blinked sleepy golden eyes and nodded her regal, orange head to honor her mistress. The fat tail bounced languidly against the carpet. Any lover of felines would recognize a happy, healthy cat. Carol smiled.
Trying to get back into her reading, Carol realized what was nagging her. She put the book down again and stretched.
“You’re probably hungry, aren’t you? Let’s get you some canned food, Marm.”
She rose without so much as a wince, grateful for the martial arts class that kept her limber. Carol had realized a long time ago that it was never too late to start anything. While she might never be a black belt, she felt better nearing eighty than at forty.
“What’ll it be? Do you want ocean whitefish or chicken medley? I swear, your food sounds better than some of the stuff I ate before my writing took off.”
Carol listened to the sound of the surf through the open window as she held two cans of cat food down for Marmalade’s interested inspection. Whichever one ended up being marked with a cheek would be the cat’s dinner.
“Chicken it is.”
A knock at her door straightened Carol from her task with a start. She couldn’t imagine who would be calling. Setting the empty can on the counter, she whirled toward the sound. From the end of the hall she made out a compact figure.
“I’ll be right there.”
A young man’s voice called, “Mom?”
Now Carol had been a lot of things in her life but a mother wasn’t one of them. Intrigued, she picked up her pace. Now she could make out a duffel bag being swung upon the narrow shoulder. She unlocked and opened the door.
“This is Mrs. Youngblood,” she announced. “Carol Youngblood. Can I help you?”
“Oh. This isn’t the Negalis residence?”
He was obviously of Asian descent, with effeminate Japanese features and friendly brown eyes. Carol didn’t recognize the name.
“I’m sorry. I’ve lived here about a year but don’t know who owned the house before. I got it anonymously through a broker.”
Just then, an orange streak flew out the door. Alarmed, the young man looked at her.
“Is that your cat?”
“Yes! And he shouldn’t be outside! He doesn’t have any of his shots for that, let alone flea prevention treatment.”
“I’m Hiro,” the young man said. “Let me get him for you.”
He dropped his bag and darted off her porch. The cat made a beeline for the neighbor’s sandbox with Hiro hot on his trail.
Hiro never did catch the cat. Instead, he tripped over a child’s toy and landed in a heap. Carol resisted the urge to laugh, not certain if he was really hurt. She raced to the groaning man’s side.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m… how did you get here so fast?”
“I ran. You could have been seriously injured.”
“You’re not even out of breath,” he panted.
“This was nothing compared to my classes. Sensei Yamamoto works his students, even us old folks, very hard.”
“You’re in martial arts?”
Nodding, she helped Hiro stand and together they made it back to her home. A quick phone call to her attorney would solve the mystery of what happened to Hiro’s family. In the meantime, he’d dusted himself off and found himself facing her blunt questions.
“What happened with your family? Did you have a falling out? Forgive me if I’m being forward. I’ve learned that life is too short to do anything short of getting to the point.”
“That’s okay. It’s refreshing, Mrs. Younglbood.”
“Please, call me Carol, Hiro.” A scratch at the back door interrupted her. “Excuse me but it seems my wayward cat has made her way home.” She introduced Marmalade, who entered and resumed eating at her food bowl as if nothing had happened.
“Does that happen a lot?” Hiro asked, laughing.
“Honestly, no. I think someone wanted us to meet in more than passing.”
“God, for lack of a better name. Would you still be here if you hadn’t just about been knocked senseless?”
“No. I’d be looking for someplace to stay. But… Why?”
“You look like you need a friend.”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Then tell me about your family. Say what you were considering before we were so rudely interrupted,” she continued, giving Marmalade a mock angry look.
“They kicked me out when they learned that I’m gay. Well, Dad did.”
“Oh? I’m so sorry. And they moved without telling you?”
“They didn’t know where to find me, but then I read in the newspaper that my father died.”
“That’s horrible! We need to get you home. How about some tea?”
“Yes, please. Thank you.”
Within an hour, Carol learned where Hiro’s family had moved. Before he left, impressed by her agility, the amused Asian American arranged to accompany her to her next karate class and fill out an application.
“I think I’ll be staying, Carol, thanks to you and Marmalade.”
“And I think you’re the inspiration for my next story. I hope you don’t mind.”
“You’re a writer?”
“CW Youngblood, at your service.”
“I’ve read all your books!”
“Then let me pour another cup of tea and we’ll drink to Marmalade.”