[Note from Frolic: Looking to get into the holiday spirit? We’ve got the perfect romantic suspense novella for you! Come back every day this week for a new chapter!]
Three hours of shit-work later, Roman dropped his keys into the bowl on the table by his front door and hung up his jacket. There were no Christmas lights and definitely no tree. The house was mostly dark except for a small side table lamp shining from the living room.
“Honey, I’m home,” he called down the darkened hall.
There was no movement from the interior of the house. With a sigh he walked into the living room.
On the couch, Cleo stretched as long as possible, covering the majority of the cushions, and then gave two pathetic tail wags—thump, thump.
“I love you,” he said leaning over and scrubbing her ruff, “but you’re lazy. You’re my lazy girl. You got no hustle.”
Cleo rubbed her face into his hands and looked pleased. She was a brindle mutt with an underbite and the ability to turn on puppy-dog eyes at the drop of a hat. The only person who had not been charmed by Cleo was Cassidy, his ex. After the wedding, Cassidy had spent months hinting that maybe he should give Cleo to a better home with someone who could give her more time. He’d finally said absolutely not and thought the matter was settled until one of the asshats on the job had pointed out a Craig’s List ad with his dog’s picture on it. It had been the final straw in their marriage, although it had taken another year to wind up. When it came to choosing between Cassidy and Cleo, Roman was pretty sure that he’d made the right decision.
After Cassidy “accidentally” burned his house down, he’d become absolutely certain of it.
He stood up and went into the kitchen, trying not to notice how empty this house was. No pictures, no art, no Christmas décor. Cassidy had never really cared for holiday decorating. It had always been up to him to get the tree. But it was as if the fire and the divorce had sucked all enthusiasm for the holidays out of him.
He took off his shoulder holster and put the gun on the counter.
Moving to an entirely new state wasn’t helping him any. It wasn’t as if it was easy to make friends in his line of work. Why would he want to hang out with other people like him? Too many guns, not enough social skills, and a negative outlook on life.
It wasn’t until he opened the fridge that he heard the click, click of Cleo’s toe-nails on the floor. “Sure, for me you don’t move,” he said, looking over his shoulder at her. “But the fridge door, that commands attention.”
Cleo wagged her tail gently and looked smug.
He pulled out materials for a sandwich.
“I met a girl tonight,” he said, tossing a piece of turkey to Cleo, who reared up and caught it mid-air. “Unlike you, she has lots of hustle.”
Cleo finished her turkey bite and stared at him, looking attentive.
“I don’t know her feeling on dogs, but she is pro-alpaca, so there’s that.”
Cleo cocked her head.
“I know, she sounds weird, but trust me, she’s funny. She also has a half-way decent plan for robbing a bank.”
Cleo cocked her head the other way.
“Don’t look at me like that.”
Cleo whined. He threw her another piece of turkey.
“So I like bad girls. Everyone’s got a type. But this one is loyal and cares about her friends.” Cleo snuffled the floor. “You can look unimpressed all you want, but I’m just saying, she’s clearing the Cassidy bar by a mile already. Also, she said she’d see me tomorrow. I’m not sure she meant that, but I’m thinking about going back.”
Cleo looked up hopefully.
“She’s really pretty,” he said to the dog as he bit into the sandwich. “And her name’s Violet. And I may have spent like a minute just staring at her. She has these really great blue eyes.”
A little string of drool dropped from the dog’s mouth onto the floor.
“Well, yes, I felt a little like that,” he agreed. “But I’m hoping she didn’t notice.”
Violet climbed the stairs to her apartment, trying to balance her purse, her bag full of school stuff, and her laptop bag. She staggered through the door and dropped everything on the table. She always thought walking from her apartment to the Starbucks sounded like a good idea, but somehow nothing went back into her bags neatly and walking home was a disaster.
She looked around her one-bedroom apartment with a sigh. The lights twinkled on her tiny, sad tree in the living room. “If I had a cat, I could be talking to it,” she said out loud. She tried to picture a cat bounding out to meet her and immediately pictured having to scoop kitty litter. That just didn’t sound fun. It would probably destroy her Christmas tree anyway.
“See you tomorrow,” she said out loud to her invisible cat. “Why did I say that? He probably thinks I’m insane.”
Her phone rang and she saw her sister’s number.
“Hey,” she said picking up.
“Hey,” said Rose. “What do you think, Cadmium Yellow or Cad Red?”
“What’s it paired with?”
“Hooker’s Green and a Phthalo Blue.”
“Oh, the Cad Yellow then. Use the red and it’s going to go Christmas.”
“I really hate that Christmas has co-opted such a great complimentary color pairing,” complained Rose.
“It’s kind of a bitch,” agreed Violet. “But I mean, what are you going to do? Tear down the Christian Patriarchy?”
“In my free time,” said Rose, blithely.
Violet snorted. Rose had no free time. Rose had three kids, a floppy boy-child husband named Steve, and a struggling career as a painter. The puppy husband provided the funding to make their lives work, but Rose did all of the everything else.
“Anyway, I was calling to ask what you’re doing for Mom on you know… the day.”
“Don’t do this, Rose,” said Violet.
“Don’t do what?”
“I’m not married to you. You don’t have to remind me of my social obligations and tell me to buy cards and when to show up. I’m fully capable of doing my own emotional labor.”
“That is not fair,” said Rose.
“To who? You or Steve?”
“Either of us. And I wasn’t trying to backseat drive. I really want to know what you’re going to do because I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Violet sighed. “I was going call her. And maybe take her out for dinner. But I’m not sure about that because I want to go out to Chinese and I’m not sure she wouldn’t cry into the Sweet and Sour Soup.”
“Oh, I want to go to Chinese food,” said Rose. “I haven’t been since…”
“Yeah, I haven’t been since before Dad died either,” said Violet. “I just thought it would be nice to go and remember good stuff.”
“That sounds really nice.”
“Yeah, but I don’t know if Mom would want to go or not. And of course, to really do it right we’d have to go at like nine right before they close.”
“Remember that time he pulled us out of bed in our PJ’s to go to the Bamboo Garden?”
“Mom was so pissed,” said Violet with a laugh.
“He promised us he’d be there for dinner. It’s not his fault that he caught a case right before he got off shift.”
“I was thinking about him tonight,” said Violet. “I was talking to this guy and—”
“Wait, you were talking to a guy? What guy? What’s he look like?”
“Well, as I was about to say, he’s thirty-eight, six-two, and two-ten.”
“Oh,” said Rose, sounding disappointed, “you ran his stats. You were always better than I was at that game.”
“He’s also gorgeous.”
“But I don’t know his name.”
“But I might see him again, so I think I’m going to ask. Anyway, cute Mystery Guy aside, I was just thinking about how we used to play Threat Assessment with Dad.”
“That was the lamest game. Leave it to a cop to try to come up with a game to make spotting predators fun.”
Violet decided not to mention Mystery Guy’s predilection for packing heat. Sometimes Threat Assessment lost out to Ass Assessment, but without the visual aid she didn’t think Rose would be persuaded. “Yeah, but it’s worked out well for us and you know it,” Violet said instead.
“Yeah, I always had better perv-dar than any of the other girls in college. All four years, grope free, what, what!”
Violet laughed. “I had one or two try it.”
“Khaki sacked ‘em, didn’t you?” asked Rose knowingly.
“Nothing says college like kicking a preppie in the nuts.”
“I feel so cheated. I’ve never had to kick anyone in the nuts.”
“Well, I didn’t have to every time,” said Violet. “I’m just vindictive. People should really get the message. I shouldn’t have to repeat myself. I find that people gain clarity with a little physical underscoring.”
“You are so bad.”
“Because I think that no means no? Yeah, I’m a rebel.”
“I ran into Bernie at the Fred Meyer,” said Rose, changing topics like she changed lanes— without warning.
“Oh, how’s he doing?”
“He’s officially retiring from the force. He invited us to the retirement party.”
“Aw! That’s sweet of him,” said Violet. “Shoot me an email with the date and stuff. I wouldn’t mind going. I haven’t seen Bernie or any of Dad’s old posse since I moved away from Cutter’s Point.”
“Yeah, that’s the entire reason I never go to that coffee shop. I can’t stand all the cop talk. He asked after you. I told him you’d relocated to working out of the Starbucks downtown with Melissa. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pops in.”
“I hope he does. Although, you know he’s going to rub his leg and look pained at me.”
“Probably. Anyway, the party is next week. I’ll send you a text. I was thinking about bringing Claudia a Congratulations You Get Your Husband Back cake.”
Violet laughed as she picked up her bone folder from the jar of pens by the door and began opening her mail with it. The white pointed instrument made of some form of bone was intended to be used to help score and fold paper. Ninety-seven percent of the time she used it to open mail. Two percent of the time she used it scrape tea leaves out of the tea strainer. The remaining one percent was for paper.
“Oh, ugh,” Violet said, staring at her credit card bill. “I swear I’m going to die broke and alone.”
“The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee is hosting an adopt-a-thon next month,” said Rose.
“I’m not buying a cat.”
“They’re so sweet and plump and squishy!”
“You’re not having another baby, Rose.”
“But these ones here are getting too big to cuddle,” said Rose, quoting Raising Arizona.
“I really should rob a bank,” said Violet.
“You say that every time you get your credit card bill,” said Rose. “You do realize that Dad’s point with Smarter Than a Criminal was to develop creative problem solving, not to actually plan crimes?”
“Yeah, but didn’t you ever want to find out if any of your plans would work?”
“Maybe a little. Don’t tell Mom.” Violet snickered, then Rose sighed. “God, I hate cancer. I miss bullshitting like this with Dad.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“He’s supposed to be here. It’s Christmas.”
“Why do you think I’m wasting time planning bank heists?”
Rose sighed. “I don’t think Mom is ready to go to Chinese food. I know it’s been five years, but I don’t think she’s ready.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Violet. “But I still want to go. I feel like I’m ready for things to be somewhat normal again. I’d like Christmas to be happy for once.”
“I hear you,” said Rose. “I’m just not sure we’re there. I think if you want Chinese, you’re going to have to go on your own.”
About the Author:
Bethany Maines is a native of Tacoma WA, who is actually very much like her fictional heroines: she travels to exotic lands and has the ability to kick some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate. And while her travels may not necessarily include fighting super agents of evil so much as eating spicy foods and hiking to the tops of mountains (okay, really big hills), her black belt skills are mainly employed in teaching karate to a classroom full of kids (although there was that one time in Paris), and her day job is something she actually enjoys (graphic design is fun!), she’s pretty much a secret agent in her own right. Find her here: https://bethanymaines.com/