Just the Way You Aren’t
by Lynda Simmons
What happens when an everyday Cinderella makes a play for the prince?
A moment of madness. That’s all muralist Sunny Anderson expected when she donned a glittering mask and a fabulous gown to crash the gala at Manhattan’s newest boutique hotel. Project manager Michael Wolfe has no idea that the beauty staring up at the mural on the ballroom ceiling is also the artist who painted it. He’s captivated and she’s willing, but when their moment of madness on the sofa in his suite comes to an abrupt end, his princess is off and running, leaving nothing behind but a pair of earrings. He’s determined to find her again, but all he has to do is look closer at the woman painting the mural in his office to see that the one he needs is standing right in front of him.
As Ophelia liked to say, it’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta’ do it. Just never thought it would be me down here in the basement, cleaning up the litter pools.
When I first moved in, I thought using wading pools for litter boxes was nuts, till I realized it was genius. Nine cats and three pools means more space and fewer cleanups. If only it meant no cleanups.
Pushing some bits of crap to the back and covering those that have been left au natural, I can’t help wondering why she took us all in. Just a good soul, I guess. A woman with a heart of gold. And every time I walk past her body, I let her know I miss her. Not out loud or anything. Just a happy thought inside my head.
Bernard and Old Tom want to blame Boots and Newcomer for her falling down the stairs, but they’re wrong. It was a tragic accident that’s changed all of our lives. And in times like this, you have to rise above your own hurt and anger, get to a place of peace and understanding. That’s why I send her those happy thoughts, to try and get to my own place of peace. But I swear, if anyone nibbles on that body, I’ll be right there with Bernard and Old Tom to take the fool out.
Bernard’s our leader, a Maine Coon who ain’t no gentle giant and runs the place like he owns it. Far as I’m concerned, he can call himself king or captain or even Lord of all Cats if he wants to. I’m just happy to have a roof over my head. I always thought I’d live out my days in this house, but now that Ophelia’s gone, I can hardly wait to get out. Better to take my chances on the street again than stick around to see who finally comes looking for her, and what new hell they’ve brought with them.
Boots and Newcomer are upstairs working on a way out, but I don’t know how much longer those boys can go without something to eat. Mr. Large and In Charge says he’s only withholding food until their guilt or innocence is established. If that’s so, then why won’t he hold the vote?
We all know it’s wrong to starve those boys. More of us need to find the guts to say so.
Maybe it’s because I’m finally done mucking around in the litter pool or maybe Ophelia wants me to put my money where my mouth is, but whatever the reason, I can hear noises coming from Bernard’s private quarters in the rec room, making this as good a time as any for me to grow a pair.
No one gets into Bernard’s quarters without being invited, so I make my presence known at the door and wait. No answer, but I can still hear rustling so I ease the door back and stick my head into the room. Instead of Bernard, the Calico Twins look back at me. They’re over by the La-Z-Boy, taking something out of a box.
“Whatever that is,” I tell them. “You need to put it back right now.”
“Stuff it old man,” one of them says.
“Where the cat won’t see it,” the other adds.
They do that annoying high-five thing before tearing into whatever they’ve found. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it’s a bag of treats, but all the food has been accounted for and rationed. Still when the bag spills, it really does look like treats scattering everywhere and my mouth starts to water.
“Where did those come from?” I ask.
“The box, idiot,” they say together.
I throw rules and caution to the wind, creep closer and discover they’re right. That box is full to bursting with treats and sample bags of crunchies.
I stare at the twins. “What’s this doing in here?”
“The real question is, what are you doing in here,” Bernard says.
I swing around. Watch him make his way down from the top of a bookcase.
He strolls toward me and I lift my chin. “I wanted to talk about Boots and Newcomer, but now I’m more curious about this.” I paw a few of the bags. “Why isn’t all this food upstairs?”
“Because it’s my personal stash, carefully assembled over time.” He picks up a packet and drops it on the floor. “I was saving them for a rainy day.” He drops another and slides it toward me. “And I’d say it’s pouring right now wouldn’t you?”
I shove it back at him. “You have to let the others know about this.”
He blinks at me then turns to the twins. “You should leave.”
“Can we take a bag?” one asks.
“A chicken one?” the other says.
“Get out,” Bernard says, and this time, they don’t argue.
When they’re gone I turn back to him. “Why were they in here?”
“They’re making themselves useful. They talk, I listen and everyone leaves satisfied.” He slides an open bag toward me. “You could enjoy the same luxury. Smart guy like you must hear plenty.”
“I hear that everyone’s hungry. And they won’t take kindly to you hoarding food.”
“I’m sure they won’t.”
“We could say you found it. I’ll back you up, say I was with you. You’ll be a hero.”
He takes a step toward me. “What a lovely idea.”
“We’re all in this together.”
“Of course we are. “ He comes closer, crowding me, trying to force me to back up, or maybe back down. But sometimes, even a king needs to know when he’s gone too far.
“We can take the bags out to the laundry room,” I tell him. “Set everything up real nice.”
“Perhaps later.” He walks over to the door. Closes it. “But right now,” he says. “We need to have a little talk.”
And my mouth dries right up when I hear the latch click.
Sunny’s feet moved of their own accord and she stared straight ahead, horrified and thrilled at the same time. Wondering what she was playing at and not at all surprised when he fell into step beside her.
This was why she wasn’t ready to leave, she realized. She was enjoying herself too much. Enjoying the fact that as Sonja she could do anything or say anything. Be shocking and sexy, and make Michael Wolfe sit up and take notice.
She glanced over at him as they walked, feeling beautiful, powerful, but most of all desirable. Because if that wasn’t hunger she saw in those dark eyes, then she’d been out of circulation for far too long.
Which was a distinct possibility given that her last sexual encounter had been almost a year ago in the back of Vince Cerqua’s convertible when the top wasn’t the only thing that wouldn’t go up. She’d spent the drive home assuring him that it happened to men all the time; at least that was what she heard in the tearoom.
She felt her face warm, knowing instinctively that Michael’s top would never let him down. Not that she wanted to find out. Not really. Not now, at any rate.
“Where will you be going in the morning?” he asked.
He drew his head back and she laughed. “There’s a theater group I’m rather fond of. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. I’m just a wanderer. Never in one place long enough to plant a garden as they say.”
“Is that what you’d like to do? Plant a garden?”
“Yes,” she said, slipping in a touch of Sunny, but staying true to Sonja. “Of course, with so many emerging artists, I’m not thinking about that right now.”
He stopped and took her hand. “What are you thinking about?”
Trouble. And sex. Mostly sex. For all the good it did her.
Truth to tell, Sunny wasn’t the kind to have a one-night stand. She was conservative in her thinking and cautious when it came to matters of the heart. She was the kind who delivered hampers at Christmas, painted faces at the community center on Halloween, and made sure her organ-donor card was signed. No question about it, she was Sunny the good: Balanced. Friendly. And utterly predictable.
But Sonja? Now there was a real vixen. A woman who traveled the world, took risks every day, and was never, ever predictable. It seemed a shame to make her leave the ball so early when she was only in town for one night. And Sunny had the rest of her life to spend being good.
Michael ran his thumb across hers and the pull was stronger than ever, bringing her back a step. After all, it wasn’t as though he was a total stranger, some masked man she picked up at the sushi bar. This was Michael Wolfe, Beast of Brighton, Terror of the Tradesmen. And she already knew he looked good without a shirt.
Maybe Hugh was right. Maybe a moment of madness was good for the soul.
The music changed again, the singer launching into a slow, sultry torch song that begged an answer to the question women had been asking for centuries: what is it with men and commitment?
Sunny had wrestled with that issue herself for years, convinced that the boy she’d loved too much would come back for her one day. Pale and contrite, wanting nothing more than to love her the way he should have all along. But commitment wasn’t on her mind at all when she twined her fingers with Michael’s and gave him Sonja’s best come-hither smile. “I’m thinking we should go to your place,” she said, and was sure she was floating as they headed for the door.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Lynda Simmons is a writer by day, college instructor by night and a late sleeper on weekends. She grew up in Toronto reading Greek mythology, bringing home stray cats and making up stories about bodies in the basement. From an early age, her family knew she would either end up as a writer or the old lady with a hundred cats. As luck would have it, she married a man with allergies so writing it was.
With two daughters to raise, Lynda and her husband moved into a lovely two storey mortgage in Burlington, a small city on the water just outside Toronto. While the girls are grown and gone, Lynda and her husband are still there. And yes, there is a cat - a beautiful, if spoiled, Birman.
When she's not writing or teaching, Lynda gives serious thought to using the treadmill in her basement. Fortunately, she's found that if she waits long enough, something urgent will pop up and save her - like a phone call or an e-mail or a whistling kettle. Or even that cat just looking for a little more attention!
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Lynda-Simmons/e/B001KI3Z4O
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