Tea, Barrettes, and Mr. Whiskers

Submitted into Contest #30 in response to: Write a story about someone who loses their cat.... view prompt

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“Excuse me, Dear, but I can’t seem to find my sweet Mr. Whiskers”

Her elderly voice drifted through my ears like a soft wave on the beach. I looked up from my Facebook feed to see only to see no one. I took a finally glance left and right before resuming position. 

Ding! Ding!

A small wrinkly hand retracted from my desk. I leaned up and over the desk to see a short old woman adjusting her glasses at me. It was Mrs. Mink from 212. 

Her gray hair was tied up in a tight bun, showing a life time of hardship and happiness on her face. She pulled her carpet bag purse more on her shoulder which was covered in a dark green knitted sweater. It stretched the length of her knee length black dress, and had patches of a different shade, my guess is from where she needed to patch up holes. 

I stood up from my chair, walked around the desk, put my phone in my back pocket, and kneeled down to her. “Are you sure he’s missing this time, Mrs. Mink? Matthew said when lost him last time, he was just in his litter box.”

“Oh no, I’m sure of it this time. Could you please some up and help me?”

I looked around. No one was in the lobby, but I still had another hour before my shift ended. I took a deep breath and debated my options: Go up now, and risk getting in trouble with the boss, again. Or wait. The buzz in my pocket made my decision.

“Mrs. Mink, I would love to help you, but I cannot leave my desk right now. Please go back to your room and check again, call the front desk if you do. If you can’t find him before my shift ends in an hour, I’ll come up and help you look for Mr. Whiskers.”

She looked disappointed at first, then her face lit up and she smiled. 

“Okay dear, I understand.”

Mrs. Mink turned around and hobbled towards the elevator.

The Hotel Maverick was a ten story, four-hundred room building where the second and third floors were reserved for long-term residents, including Mrs. Mink. The main floor, which included the large lobby, one of the several bars throughout the hotel, a fine-dining restaurant, and a cafe attached to a library, was the oldest part of the building outside of the first two floors. Mr. Harvey James Maverick, the one and only owner, has been here since the grand opening in 1942. Every Tuesday he has a team meeting and every Friday he hosts a meet and greet for the guests. He is a very personal owner, unlike the other hotels I have worked for. He comes into the hotel every morning at 10am sharp and stays until about 8pm, sometimes longer. Once a month though, we will come in disguise and rent a room for the night. Those who can catch him checking in get a bonus for calling him out. I have yet to do so.

3 pm finally rolled around and I made my way to the door. I stopped before opening it. There had been no calls. I took a deep breath and pulled back my hand. 

I could just leave, but I would hate for her to say anything about not being helpful.

My phone buzzed again so I pulled it out. 

Jesse: Don’t be late again. We’re leaving at 4 with or without you.

I growled as I turned around and made my way to the elevator. I sent a text back as I waited for the doors to open; assuring I would be there. 

There was a Ding! and I took three steps forward. I pressed the number 3. I looked at myself in the reflection of the silver doors. Nothing too special, there were no uniforms so today I decided on a pair of dark blue jeans and a black and white stripped top. Casual, but still nice. My brown hair was in a low bun to keep it out of my eyes. It’s not really my place to be flashy. The finally opened, breaking my concentration, and I fixated my eyes to the hallway. 

I passed by six doors before reaching 212. I took one last look at the time on my phone, 3:15 pm, I took a deep breath and knocked on the door. 

“Who is it?” The voice called.

“It’s me Mrs. Mink. The receptionist from downstairs? I just got off my shift to help you look for Mr. Whiskers.”

The door snapped open and I was greeted by the same old woman from downstairs. She smiled at me. I grinned back stepping through the door. Mrs. Mink headed around the corner and to the left into the kitchen area.

The heavy smell of candles and freshly baked cookies overwhelmed my senses.

“Would you like me to make you a cup of tea, dear?” She called.

“No thank you Mrs. Mink, I’m only here to help you look for you cat.” I responded.

She came back with a large plate of cookies, “At least have a cookie. They just came out of the oven.” 

I took one and looked around, moving further into the room. She cleared her throat causing me to make direct eye contact. She looked expectantly at me for some reason. Motioning to the cookie, I figured out what she wanted. I reluctantly took a bite, and she smiled. I finished it and looked around her house while she slowly went to set the plate down on her kitchen table. I made it to the living area where there were only two chairs around a small table with a bookshelf on either side and photos covered the opposite walls. 

She called from the kitchen again, “Did you say you wanted Peppermint tea?”

I rolled my eyes, “I never said I wanted tea, Mrs. Mink, I am just here to help you look for Mr. Whiskers.” 

She came into the living room with a tray holding a small teapot, two cups and several bags of tea. She set it on the table between the two antique chairs and started preparing the cups. I peered around the corner into the kitchen, I needed to find this cat and get out of here.

“Did you say you wanted sugar or honey?”

I took another breath and faced her. “Mrs. Mink, I really don’t have time for this. I have plans tonight, I really cannot have tea or cookies.”

The light faded from her face and she sat down. “That was the last thing Edward said before he left forever.”

A knot settled in my stomach. It was my third week working here when I heard the news of Mr. Minks car wreck. She got the cat a week later. It was about 3 years ago. I walked over and sat in the chair across from her. I took a breath, looking for the words to say. 

“I am sorry. I know it must be hard to be here without…” 

“It’s fine dear,” She paused a moment, grabbing a cup from the tray, “It’s just lonely around here, especially without Mr. Whiskers.”

“How long has he been missing?” I asked, trying to get a hold of the situation.

“Well, I put food in his bowl yesterday morning and this morning it was still there. So I guess since at least yesterday.”

I scanned the room and then I looked at my phone. 3:39pm, “Does he have a favorite place to hide? He seems to go missing once a month.”

She swallowed loudly, “Of course he loves to hide, but when I checked his usual spots, he wasn’t there, so I started to worry.” She paused a moment, gazing into her cup, stirring the contents “You know, when I was much younger, I used to read tea leaves.”

“Really?” I grabbed my cup to play along. “Would you like to read mine?”

“Oh no dear, my eyes are much to old to figure out fortunes.” She look a sip, “Besides, then I would have to dig out my old gypsy clothes and the shelf is way to high.”

The last part seemed more like a joke so I chuckled a bit. I poured the liquid into my mouth, it was hot and bitter. I quickly grabbed the honey and spooned it in.

“Honey is always my first choice too. This is way too bitter to drink without it.”

I pointed to one of the photos on the wall, “Who is that in the photo?”

When she turned her head I bobbed my head, searching for the cat. 

“That’s my daughter, Leah. She flew planes.”

“Do you get to see her often?” I asked.

“Well she…” she paused a moment looking for her train of thought. “She loved planes.” Her emphasis on the word loved gave a whole new meaning to she flew planes. She switched the conversation again, “I love your hair. Would you mind if I styled it? I have some very pretty barrettes in the bathroom you can have. I was a hairdresser back in the day, I think I could make you look even prettier.”

“That’s not necessary, Mrs. Mink.” I said nervously, “I’m not one for dressing up.”

“Oh pish, posh, a young woman like yourself deserves to be pampered and spoiled, go into my bathroom and grab whatever you would like.”

I set my cup down, “I don’t think I should, it wouldn’t feel right.”

“Now you listen to me. I don’t have anyone to pass along anything to. I don’t want to leave behind so much… So much stuff. Now go into that room and grab the prettiest thing you can find.” She spoke so clear and firm that it almost scared me. I stood up and went to the only closed door. I turned the knob, opened the door and stepped into the room. 

It was the cleanest bathroom I had ever seen. Organized too. Not at all what I was expecting. I first opened the medicine cabinet. Nothing but a tooth brush, a razor, and toenail clippers. I looked down at the sink which only had a glass bottle of French perfume and a large bottle of hand soap. I looked in the cabinet above the toilet. Hand towels and wash rags. Under the sink. Towels. Finally, I looked in the small cabinet next to the dark tinted glass shower. There was an assortment of jewelry and trinkets, hiding a small photo. It was a young woman wearing a string of pearls and her hair pinned up with jeweled barrettes. Mrs. Mink. I grabbed the photo and several similar looking barrettes to the photo. I checked my phone: 3:55pm. I closed the door holding my treasures. Before I turned, I saw a tail swoop across the wooden door. I looked up to a pair of green eyes and took a small sigh of relief. The vent behind him seemed to be open. I made a mental note to tell the custodian about this. I was about to shout out to Mrs. Mink but stopped. 

Mr Whiskers meowed and purred at me. “You stay right here okay? Just a little longer.” The cat continued to purr as he hopped down to onto the toilet seat and started to groom himself. 

I walked back into the room to see a nervous Mrs. Mink. Her knee bounced and she carried a look of sorrow. 

“I found-” she started to get up form her seat, “The barrettes. Do you mind making me look like this?” I showed her the picture and watched her face light up. 

“This is my high school photo. It was when I first started studying cosmetology. I copied this look out of a magazine.” 

“That’s really neat, Mrs. Mink. It looks like you were really good at it.”

She sighed, “I was alright, made enough money to get us through some hard times.”

The familiar sound of purring filled the room. We both stopped and locked eyes. Mr. Whiskers then hopped up on the chair I had been sitting on before. 

I pet his soft fur. “Would you like me to get you a cookie, Mrs. Mink.”

“If you don’t mind dear.” 

“It is no problem at all.” I responded, making my way to the kitchen.

We spent the rest of the night talking. By the time I left her home was around midnight; I had several text messages joking about me never showing up to group functions. I scurried through the lobby trying not to make too much noise as I left through the front door. Finally making it home.

The next evening I was scheduled to work the late shift when the one and only Mr. Maverick appeared at my desk.

“Mrs. Mink says you found her cat.” 

“Yes sir, he’s a very good hider.” I said adjusting the barrette in my hair. 

“Thank you for helping her.” He placed a plastic bag on the desk, it smelled like food, “Here’s a little pick me up if you get hungry tonight. Just make sure there is no one in the lobby if you eat at the desk.”

“Yes sir.”

He continued to the elevator. I pulled the food behind the desk and smiled as Mrs. Mink walked through the front door. 

February 22, 2020 01:20

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