I knew he was going to die that day. Call it women’s intuition. Or, maybe I just knew that no one was going to treat my best friend and business partner that way and get away with it! Veronica and I had owned The Hot Cuppa for five years already, but it seemed like the grand opening was just yesterday. Our little tea shop was a mutual endeavor; something to free us from the daily rat race. She was on Wall Street and I, ironically, had been an exterminator for ten years. Both of us had reached maximum burn out in our lives. So, when we struck up a conversation in that alley one grey rainy day it was a no brainer.
Veronica utilized her Wall Street investment skills to secure us the down payment for a space in the strip mall. I helped her clear it of the rat infestation that threatened to close our doors before they opened. Then we worked day and night, night and day painting and prepping the space. We added in a smart little kitchenette and an ornate front counter complete with plush topped wooden stools. Together we picked the color of the velvet curtains and decided how they would hang from their thick, irresistible tassels. We hunted down a luxurious array of throw pillows from the antique store for the reading nook which I personally tested for fluffiness. Cozy little tables were strategically placed to catch the warm rays of morning sunlight. Expensive ergonomically superior chairs circled the tables and WIFI was installed to encourage workers to stay longer and order more tea. Veronica piped in pleasant upbeat music that was relaxing but not too distracting. We soon offered a full selection of caffeinated and decaffeinated teas- full leaf, locally sourced, organic. We even partnered with the gluten free baker across the street to get a supply of scones and muffins (my idea). Together we had engineered the perfect refuge for our patrons- a ‘tea topia’ if you would.
We were a good fit, Veronica and me, me and Veronica. We could sense things about each other. We instinctively knew what the other needed before she did. Soon we decided to move in together. Heck, we already ate all our meals together and were working sun up to sun down together. Most nights we would fall asleep at the tea shop together from exhaustion and not wake up till the next morning, look at each other, laugh, and get back to work. All of my stuff was already at her place so it just kind of happened. The transition from ‘work friends’ to roommates went smoothly and easily. The grand opening was a success. Life was good. Until he showed up.
Cliff walked through the door on accident one cold and rainy day. He wasn’t even a tea drinker! He said he had just had a tire blow out on his car around the corner and needed a warm place to wait for triple A. I immediately saw through him, but Veronica fell harder than a ten-ton weight in a Looney Tunes cartoon. She fawned over him! Brought him free tea and scones and before I knew it, I’m here alone all day keeping an eye on the place while she’s out having lunch in the park with him. Soon she didn’t even come home for dinner anymore! I wound up eating cold leftovers in the dark while she enjoyed dinners out at fancy steak houses and endless dates to the movie theater.
Sadly, like all good fairy-tales, Veronica’s relationship with Cliff simply had to come to an end. As it turned out, prince charming was not quite as chivalrous as he seemed. One day I was clearing up the dishes from the morning rush, enjoying the warmth of the sun through the reading nook window when I saw him, with her, at the park across the way. She was thin, beautiful, blonde like him but at least twenty years younger. They were taking, then laughing, then hugging, then he leaned in and planted a kiss on her cheek. Then he turned and mouthed the words, ‘I’ll call you,’ as he set off across the street.
I cringed as the bell above the door tinkled signaling that Cliff had entered the shop. The nerve! Veronica was in the back alley throwing the trash, but that was just as well- I would handle him for her! I shot out from the kitchen like a rocket and locked eyes with him. I let him know in no uncertain terms that he had to tell Veronica the truth. He gently stroked my hair smoothing down some of the wayward strands that had loosed themselves in my fury. Then he sighed, got up, and said, “I know, you’re right. I’ll tell her now. Now where did she run off too?” I glanced toward the door for the basement storage area. He nodded and opened the door.
As one of his size twelve dress shoes reached out for the top step I raced over and threw myself under it. Cursing, he tripped over me and tumbled hard down thirteen stairs. He lay still on the concrete floor at the bottom. His neck at an odd angle. Justice having been done, I nudged the door closed and set myself up, innocently enough, in the reading nook with a leftover scone and waited.
Before long Veronica returned from the dumpster and found me munching my scone. ‘There you are,” she said. “Did we have a customer just now?”
I stared blankly back at her.
“I guess not. Sorry, I thought I heard something a minute ago. Well, If I’m not mistaken It’s ‘kitty snuggle thirty’ isn’t it?”
She picked me up and I purred in her arms as she scratched all the right places on my ears and neck. I loved ‘kitty snuggle thirty’. But then the jingling of that damn bell interrupted us. It was her- the blonde bimbo from the park! Here! I arched my back and hissed at her. Veronica gave me a weird look and tossed me to the floor where I took refuge behind the door to the kitchen.
“Can I help you,” I heard Veronica say.
“Yes, I’m Betty. I’m well, I’m Cliff’s daughter. I was supposed to meet him here so he could finally introduce us, but he doesn’t seem to be answering his phone and I can’t find him anywhere!”