Sofie Kelly and Sofie Ryan

Sofie Ryan's

Second Chance Cat Series

Totally Pawstruck

Totally Pawstruck


I was running behind, so it didn't help that when I walked into the bathroom I discovered Elvis was in the shower.

"What are you doing?" I asked. At this time of day he was usually sprawled in front of the bedroom TV waiting for Jeopardy! to come on.

Elvis didn't so much as glance in my direction. He just continued washing his face as though I weren't there.

So I was getting the silent treatment.

"Your dinner is in the kitchen," I said. I thought that would get a reaction—Elvis was very particular about mealtime—but his gaze didn't dart in my direction for even a moment.

I was out of patience and getting tight on time. I leaned into the shower, picked him up off the floor and then set him down on the fuzzy bath mat—which was easy, because he was, after all, a small, albeit very obstinate, black cat and not the King of Rock and Roll.

He narrowed his green eyes at me and gave an indignant meow.

"You know the rules," I said. "Showers are five minutes or less." I pointed a finger at him. "And you better not have used all the hot water."

The cat's response was to flick his tail at me as he stalked from the bathroom—his way, I suspected, of saying he didn't appreciate my humor.

I pulled my hair up into a high ponytail so it wouldn't get wet, turned on the taps and stepped into the shower, letting the hot water unkink the knots in my shoulders. I was grateful that I'd taken Mr. P.'s recommendation on which low-flow showerhead to buy.

Alfred Peterson was a true renaissance man. He looked like someone's kind-hearted grandpa, but he brewed the best coffee I'd ever tasted, he read extensively and widely and there wasn't a computer system anywhere that he couldn't hack his way into. The last attribute still made me nervous. Mr. P. was also a private investigator, duly licensed by the state of Maine. On occasion that made me a little nervous, too.

When I got back to the bedroom I found Elvis still washing his face, settled in on what had been my favorite chair before he claimed it. I pulled on a pair of jeans and a soft pink sweater that had been a Christmas gift from Rose, who insisted the color brought out the pink in my cheeks.

"It gives you a little glow," she'd said, reaching over to pat my cheek.

Rose and Mr. P. were . . . in a relationship was the best way I'd come up with to describe the two of them. I'd called him her boyfriend once and she'd shaken her head at me. "That makes us sound like a couple of teenagers making out in the backseat of a car." Mr. P. had smiled and raised one eyebrow at her comment. Rose's own cheeks had turned a glowy shade of pink, and I had immediately decided this was not a conversation I wanted to continue.

Rose may have been a very practical woman but she did have a romantic streak. She and her band of merry matchmakers—aka her friends Charlotte, Liz and Isabel, my grandmother—had made a valiant effort to get me together with Charlotte's son, Nick, who was one of my oldest and best friends, but there was just no spark there. Now, much to my amusement and his frustration, all four of them were trying to find someone for Nick.

In some ways I was hoping they did somehow succeed. I loved Nick the way I loved my brother, Liam, and I wanted to see him with someone who was, as Rose put it, the peanut butter to his jelly. When I had pointed out that not everyone liked that combination Rose had beamed and said, "Exactly." And once again I'd decided that was not a conversational road I wanted to start down.

"Nick spends too much time working," I said to Elvis as I pulled the elastic from my hair. The cat looked up from his face washing, one paw paused in the air. His whiskers twitched.

"Yes, I know it's none of my business."

He murped his agreement and went back to his beauty routine.

I brushed my hair, added mascara and a berry-colored lip gloss and decided that was enough. I made sure the timer was set on the TV so Elvis could watch Jeopardy! and I bent down to stroke the top of his head. "I won't be late," I said.

I wrapped the thick, black scarf Rose had knit for me around my neck and pulled on the matching beanie as well. I decided to wear my quilted jacket and an extra pair of socks in my lace-up boots because January in North Harbor, Maine, only had two temperatures: cold and colder.

My breath hung in the frosty air as I started my SUV. I nudged down the cuff of my glove and checked my watch. I'd only be a couple of minutes late getting to The Black Bear pub, where I was meeting Jess. It had been a cold, snowy winter so far, with way too many big storms—even for Maine—that had started way back in early November. Jess and I had had our plans to get together derailed twice by the snow and I had sworn to her that we were having dinner even if I had to snowshoe down to the pub. I had gotten home later than I'd planned thanks to a group of snowboarders who had arrived at my repurpose store, Second Chance, in three SUVs just as we were about to close for the day.

I'd always had a pretty much stereotypical image of a snowboarder being, for the most part, someone under the age of thirty who called everyone "dude." These people challenged that narrow-minded generalization the moment they came through the door talking about how great the snow had been. They were all in their mid-forties to early fifties and I didn't hear anyone use the word "dude."

I sold a stack of old 45s, along with a very nice Fender amp from the 1990s to one of the men who explained he was a collector. One of the women bought a handmade guitar that I had absolutely no backstory on other than the fact that it had been found in an actual chicken coop. I liked the look in her eyes as she strummed the strings. The fact that I couldn't tell her who had made the guitar or how old it was didn't bother her. "I just like thinking about all the possibilities," she said with a grin.

The rest of the group pretty much decimated the selection of band T-shirts that I had found at a swap meet just across the border in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, right before Christmas, and Elvis, as usual, got lots of attention.

When I got to The Black Bear Jess was already there, deep in conversation with Sam, who owned the place. Sam Newman had been my dad's best friend and he'd made a point of staying in my life after my father died. Jess smiled when she caught sight of me and Sam turned with a smile as well. He was tall and lean. His shaggy hair was a mix of blonde and white, as was his beard. His dollar-store reading glasses were perched on the end of his nose. I gave him a hug. As usual he smelled of coffee and Old Spice aftershave. Sam was the reason I had Elvis. He'd discovered the cat wandering around the waterfront and started feeding him. He'd even given the cat his name, insisting the feline liked the King's music over the Rolling Stones.

"Your hands are cold, kiddo," he said, wrapping his own hands around my icy fingers.

"Cold hands—"

"—warm heart," Sam finished.

I smiled at him.

He rubbed my hands for a minute before he let them go. They were already warmer.

"I need to get back to work," he said. "I'll send a waiter over." He raised an eyebrow.

"I'm assuming I'll see both of you for the jam on Thursday."

"Absolutely," Jess said.

I nodded. "I'll be here." Jess and I were regulars at Thursday Night Jam, also known just as the jam, at The Black Bear. The house band, led by Sam, played classic rock and roll, and anyone could sit in for a song or a set or the whole night.

"I'll see you then," Sam said. He gave my arm a squeeze and headed in the direction of the kitchen.

"It's so good to see you in person," I said to Jess.

"You too," she said. She had already gotten to her feet and now she came around the table and gave me a hug. "I was ready to make a pair of snowshoes from duct tape and my vacuum cleaner hose if we had to cancel again."

Jess and I had been friends since she answered my ad for a roommate back when we were in college. She'd actually done more than answered my ad: She'd taken it off the bulletin board where I'd stuck it so no one else could call me before she did.

I got a mental image of her making her way down to the pub on homemade snowshoes. She was five foot nine in her stocking feet and since she usually wore heels she seemed taller than that. "Not the worst idea you've ever had," I said with a grin. "And winter's not over yet." I started unwinding my scarf from around my neck.

Jess caught one end of it. "Oh, I like this," she said. "It's so, so soft."

I nodded. "I know. It's not itchy at all. Rose made it for me."

Jess ran her fingers over the textured pattern. "Do you think she could teach me how to make one?"

"If Rose can teach me how to cook, she can teach you how to knit a scarf," I said.

"If Rose can teach you how to cook, she can teach anything to anyone."

I nodded. "Pretty much."

Jess grinned and gave my arm a squeeze before she sat down again.

I unzipped my coat and hung it on the back of my chair, stuffing my scarf in one of the coat sleeves so it wouldn't end up on the floor.

Our waiter arrived just as I sat down. We listened to the specials and settled on the shepherd's pie and cranberry carrot salad and big mugs of coffee.

Jess leaned back in her chair. Her long, dark hair was pulled back in a messy bun and she brushed a loose strand back off her face. "So, what's been happening at the shop?"

I told her about the skiers.

"You actually sold that guitar from the chicken coop? And you told the person where it came from?"

I nodded. "Plus, we sold the rest of those shirts we got at the swap meet. And the two quilts you made from that bin of fabric from the flea market."

"That reminds me, I'm working on two more quilt tops," she said. "But it's going to take me a while. The store has been a lot busier than January usually is, and I'm redoing a wedding dress—grandmother handed down to granddaughter. It needs a lot of work." Jess was part owner of a popular clothing shop on the waterfront.

She was also a very talented seamstress. She could and did do everything from hemming a pair of jeans to designing and making some gorgeous wedding gowns. But what she liked best was reworking vintage clothing from the 1950s through the '70s. Just about everything she restyled that she didn't wear herself ended up in her shop.

The waiter came back with our coffee. After Jess had doctored hers, she took a sip and then folded her hands around the mug. "Cool thing happened this afternoon," she said. "One of the costume people from that movie that's filming down in Portland came in and bought two of my jackets and a vintage pair of Levi's that I had done some embroidery on."

"Your clothes are going to be in a movie. Jess, that's wonderful!" I said.

"Maybe." She shrugged as though what she'd told me wasn't a big deal. "Just because the designer bought something doesn't mean it's going to show up onscreen."

I looked at her for a long moment. One side of her mouth twitched and then she grinned.

"Okay, it is pretty exciting."

"We have to go see the movie when it comes out."

"I looked around online, and it's a romantic comedy with Jennifer Lawrence and Leslie Odom Jr." She held up one finger. "And wait for it . . . Steven Tyler!"

"You are making that up," I said, glaring across the table at her.

Jess put one hand flat on her chest. "I swear on all that is righteous in rock and roll that I am not."

"Steven Tyler is within driving distance of North Harbor," I said slowly.

"Not at the moment, but he will be in less than a month. I see a road trip in your future." Jess tried to keep a straight face but it didn't last long.

"I still have scars from the last road trip that involved Steven Tyler."

I had been thirteen and my friend Michelle and I wanted to go see Aerosmith in concert in Portland. Gram, Rose, Liz and Charlotte had taken us in Liz's big Lincoln Continental.

During "Walk This Way," Tyler came down off the stage. He was just a few feet away from us and I was so excited I could barely breathe. Until he started dancing with Rose.

"They were all but doing a bump and grind," I reminded Jess, who had heard the story more than once over the years. "And then she kissed him—and not a grandmotherly kiss on the cheek. There's video of the whole thing floating around on the Internet somewhere."

"I keep meaning to google that," Jess said.

I stabbed a finger in her direction. "Fine. You can drive Rose to Portland if she finds out Steven Tyler is there."

"I'm game." She got a sly look in her blue eyes. "For the record, I'm a pretty darn good kisser, too."

© Sofie Ryan

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