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Case of the Strawberry Stabbing

As she paced back and forth in the entrance hall of her modest home, cracking her fingers every couple of minutes as the nerves grew, Beatrice was slowly coming to terms with the unarguable fact that she had been stood up. Hung out to dry. Kicked to the curb like last night’s trash. What was meant to be a romantic dinner for two had very quickly become a sobering meal for one.

Beatrice still couldn’t believe it. Sure, she should have believed it. And as she glanced at the large grandfather clock for what must have been the fiftieth time, she should have told herself that it was time to face reality And if her past was any indication of how tonight was going to go down, then this latest event couldn’t have been more par for the course. But, despite the mounting evidence, Beatrice was still having a hard time coming to grips with the situation.

What annoyed her the most was the time wasted. She had spent the entire day preparing for her date tonight. And of all that needless preparation, there was one aspect in particular that held her attention the most. She licked the end of her thumb as she lamented on this fact; still able to taste the chocolate coconut frosting that had been on it earlier. As she did so, she tallied in her head all the work and personal preparation that went into what was supposed to be a magical evening.

The triple layered dessert that she had made for tonight wasn’t just an ordinary cake, but a thing of beauty. It had taken her hours to prepare too. Beatrice was so excited about this date, that she even used her secret family recipe; a form of pulling out all the stops that was sure to have her date impressed and most likely guarantee a return.  

The cake had a meticulously created fluffy and light texture; so much so that it was like eating a cloud. And this was perfectly balanced with a thick and creamy center that ensured the cake melted in both your mouth and your heart. Beatrice considered herself a semi-professional baker, and through this objective lens, even she had to say that this cake was her best yet.

Well, it was her non-date’s loss. Really, wasn’t it? She tried to use this reasoning to explain away the sinking feeling in her stomach at being stood up. Although she told herself that it was a waste of time and a perfectly good dessert that had her so upset, the truth was that she was also a little heartbroken.

The sophisticated woman checked the grandfather clock again, and as she did, she caught her reflection in the glass. At sixty-years-of-age, Beatrice was what you would call a refined beauty. With short cut hair that was beginning to border on silver, and a few more wrinkles than she liked to admit, Beatrice hadn’t quite hit her twilight years yet; she could feel them coming.

She nervously pushed at her outfit, a flowery white Sunday dress with a yellow knitted sweater. As she did, she made the mental note that from now on she was going to start dressing a little younger. She may be getting a bit older, but that didn’t mean she had to put it on display.

The clock hand suddenly ticked over, chiming the coming of a new hour. It was now official; her date was exactly two hours late.

Giving up entirely now, Beatrice shook her head at herself as she slowly made her way over to the dining room, where the table had been pre-set. It was quite the setting too if Beatrice was modest. Sparkly bright silverware flanked both sides of the good china she had decided to use for the evening. And these little pieces were topped off by the crystal vases that she had placed in the center of the table. Was it a little over the top for a first date? Maybe. But Beatrice didn’t care. She was old fashioned that way and was doing everything she could to impress. It had been that long since her last romantic encounter that she wasn’t going to leave anything to chance.

And it wasn’t that she was unattractive. As stated, she may have been in her sixties, but she was a refined beauty from an era where beauty was a natural commodity, not something that was injected or paid for like the ladies of today. In her hay-day, Beatrice could have gone toe to toe with any of the young harlots that today’s men considered ‘beautiful.’

No, the reason for Beatrice’s obsessive singleness was purely circumstance. It’s just with trying to run her home catering business while also trying not to lose her bakery at the same time, her mind and time had been elsewhere. Dating was more often than not, the last thing on her mind.

And this was a shame too because if her best friends were to be believed, she had had more than one opportunity to capitalize on not being single of which she had missed due to her lack of interest. While working with her at the cafe, her friends often commented about how younger men still looked her up and down as she walked by. And if one of them was to be believed, they even tried flirting with her a few times too.  But she wasn’t interested; she was holding out for someone special; like tonight’s discarded date.

His name was David, and she had met him at the local neighborhood market of all places. He was about her age, early sixties, but held himself like he was twenty years younger. It was his height that caught her eye at first. At over six feet tall, he stood out from the majority of men in the area like a sore thumb.  

Then, when she was finally able to get closer, Beatrice remembered how she had to stop herself from gasping. It was his eyes that did that to her. A piercing shade of blue that constantly sparkled; giving him a dazzling, movie star effect that he was very aware of. Pair this with the charm he possessed in spades and the elegant way that he dressed, and David was a man to be desired by most and had by only a few. To use an old expression, David was the cat’s meow.

It was funny that at the exact moment this expression crossed her mind, she heard a soft scratching at the kitchen window. Sighing to herself, and with her hands still full of unused silverware, Beatrice hurried from the dining room into the kitchen where the other male in her life waited for her. Sure enough, as she entered the tiny kitchen, he was sitting there, staring at her like she was late to her party. Sylvester, the cat.

Sylvester sat on the other side of the closed kitchen window, pawing at the glass as he demanded to be let inside. Unable to stop herself from smiling, Beatrice hurried over and let him in. At least there was one reliable male who would always turn up when food was on offer. As soon as the window was open, Sylvester darted inside, offering an appreciative purr as he did.

Sylvester was a stray. He had made himself known to Beatrice a little over a year ago, and since then he had officially adopted her house as his own. This was most likely because Beatrice had gotten into the habit of feeding him every day – even buying cat food now when she went down to the shops. Her best friend, Stella, had warned her the first time he turned up not to feed him, that this would only make him come back. But Beatrice just couldn’t help it. She always had a soft spot for the needy, and this cat fell into that category like no other.

Sylvester was half Siamese and half goodness-knows-what-else. The reason for the confusion was that the poor thing looked like someone had run him through the blender for a significant portion of his life. With an ear missing, scars on his body and large missing patches of fur, it’s a wonder that he had survived on his own for so long. He looked considerably better now of course, but some scars can be healed, even with time.

And besides, Beatrice couldn’t be happier that she had started to feed him. Since then Sylvester had become the extra bit of company that she didn’t even realize she needed. When she was home alone cooking, or reading, it was nice to have someone else to talk to. Even if he didn’t always talk back.

“Guess it’s just us tonight,” said Beatrice, picking up the blue-brown eyed cat. When he first started coming around, Sylvester wouldn’t come within ten feet of Beatrice. He was more than happy to eat her food and drink her water, but physical contact was a big no-no. But over time, like a choreographed dance, he slowly but steadily came closer and closer. Until finally, she could pick him up without fear of reprisal.

With him in hand, she fetched David’s portion of the lasagne. The lasagne was almost as good as the cake, truth be told. Four layers of cheese, meat sauce, and white cream made this a lasagne that was probably a little too good for a cat to appreciate fully. But then again, as she served the cold dish up to Sylvester, she decided that it was too good for David too. He didn’t deserve her cooking anyway. In fact, she knew that he didn’t. The pasta sauce that she used for the lasagne was so good that she’d thought about adding it to the menu at her bakery as a side-dish.

As Sylvester dug into the meal, Beatrice leaned back on the kitchen bench, perfectly content to watch her little friend feast. But as she did, she suddenly became aware of how very empty the house was. The silence was so great; it was deafening. It was only broken by the light slurping from the cat and the ticking of the grandfather clock in the adjoining room. Beatrice had lived alone for a while now, but tonight above all, served to remind her of just how lonely she had become.

She’d be lying to herself if she hadn’t admitted she was looking forward to tonight. She’d even gone to the salon yesterday, just to make sure that she looked her very best, which was something that Beatrice never did. It was just that she was so looking forward to the change in company from her two friends. Someone her age that she could talk to, laugh with and maybe, just maybe, share some chemistry with.

And she was so sure that this was going to be David.

She met him by the fresh vegetable section at the local market where he’d whipped up their conversation in the first place. He started by making some clever observations about what she was buying; indicating that he was both well read and a good cook. He then launched into a conversation about his travels all around the world, the famous people he’d met and the adventures that he had been on. He wowed her with his stories and seduced her with his charm.

This kind of bravado and self-congratulations didn’t usually work on Beatrice, and a few of the stories were so over-the-top that she wasn’t sure she believed them all. But she didn’t care. He was so dashing that he could have spoken about darn near anything and she was sure it would have captured her imagination. And on top of all that, the fact that it was her that he was speaking to…well that was the icing on the proverbial three layer cake.

It was probably because of that, and before she knew it, Beatrice had invited David over to her home for dinner and a drink. She almost cursed herself out loud the moment the words had left her mouth. It was something she’d never really done, and she was sure that he would say no. I mean, why wouldn’t he? He was David after all. But to her surprise and delight, he flashed her that charming smile touched her on the arm and agreed. He couldn’t have looked more genuine.

She had planned to cook the debonair gentleman her very best that evening. And she even told him so, making sure to emphasize that her cooking was something worth coming over for on its own. He wasn’t exactly modest, so why should she be? Anyway, he winked at her and said he couldn’t wait. It made her heart flutter, and her knees shake. A feeling that she hadn’t experienced in years.

And now, sitting alone, she was beginning to remember why she hadn’t experienced it in so long. Or better yet, why she had guarded herself against it. It had been so long that she had forgotten that with love and romance, comes heartache and pain.

Sylvester, finished with his meal, gave off another long purr as he made his way to Beatrice, stretching out under her hand as he readied himself to be petted. It was nice being needed like that…and it was sad that it was only a cat that needed it.  

In her heart of hearts, Beatrice knew that to be so guarded was ridiculous and foolish. She couldn’t wish to be with someone while at the same time being against putting herself out there. Because at the end of the day she did want to meet someone. No one would ever replace her husband, but that wasn’t the point. She had a hole that needed to be filled. It would be nice to have someone she could have good conversation with, eat and share food with, and someone who could make her laugh. Why was that so hard?

She closed her eyes, inhaling the sweet and tangy scent of the lasagne, the aroma still wafting through the air even hours after it was cooked. That was how she knew it was good when the smell hung around long after the body had passed. At least that was what her husband used to say. She took another long whiff, relishing the smell of Italian herbs blending with tomato and cheese. It was a dish that always reminded her of her husband, as it was his favorite.

She felt a stab of pain, as she realized that she had made the dish for another man. A man that didn’t even show. A betrayal of the worst kind.

“Well, Arthur,” she said, speaking to her deceased husband. This was a pretty common occurrence by now and something that she always did whenever she was alone and found herself thinking of him. “You said to move on, to find someone who would love me. Not sure that’s going to happen. Not like you loved me,” she said with a chuckle. She laughed mostly to keep herself from tearing up. She was much too strong for that. Tears were used by the weak to get sympathy, was something that she used to say. Well, that was before she lost her love. Now she was starting to see their usefulness.

As Sylvester started to paw her at her hand, demanding more of her attention, she decided that it was time to kick the little freeloader out and maybe call it a night. She had nothing else to do and may as well. At least that was a way to stop herself from becoming depressed. But, as she tried to shoo him out the window, he became uncharacteristically clingy. It was as if he too were having a bad day and just needed someone to be around; to remind themselves that they weren’t alone.  

In the end, Beatrice’s heart gave way, and she decided to let him stay inside for the evening. “Just tonight,” she said to him. But heck, the rate that the two were going, she wouldn’t be surprised if she was never able to get him out. And she also wasn’t sure if she wanted to.

Sighing, she picked Sylvester up and carried him into the living room. As she did, she thought on where she had gone wrong. Heck, where the two of them had gone wrong. She was at a loss to decide who had it worse, her or the cat?

What it came down to was how busy she always was. Nowadays, when she wasn’t running her catering business or trying to keep her bakery afloat with her girlfriends, Beatrice kept herself busy volunteering at the local animal shelter. There were also the rare occasions her daughter decided to drop by, the very rare occasions.

Still sitting on the couch, Sylvester calmly sleeping on her lap, Beatrice decided that she’d guzzle the glass of red wine in front of her. And maybe another after that. It was an expensive wine after all, and she couldn’t let it go to waste. If David weren’t going to enjoy with her then maybe she would just drink away her problems for the evening. She deserved that much, at the very least.

She sat in silence for several moments, slowly drinking the oaky red, enjoying the way it made her taste buds dance and her head swirl. It wasn’t a big glass, but Beatrice had never been a heavy drinker. And as she came closer to finishing it, she found her eyelids getting heavier. Her thoughts became hazy as she slowly drifted off to sleep…

A loud whistle startled her awake, followed by a “Hey beautiful.”

Beatrice sat straight up rubbing her eyes as Sylvester flew off her lap from the sudden movement. At first, and in her groggy state, she thought it was her dead husband talking to her. She often dreamt of him, but this wasn’t a dream. This was real. It was only after several seconds, all of which comprised of Beatrice trying to snap herself back to reality, that she remembered it was Buzz, her parrot.

That darn green parrot did such a good impersonation of her dead husband that it was uncanny. When her husband had first passed, too often, she would come home to Buzz, mimicking his voice. And before she knew it she would be on the ground, swimming in a pool of her tears. It wasn’t that bad now of course, more a gentle reminder of the man she once loved so dearly.

“You just want more food,” she said with a smirk, eyeing the parrot as it sat on its perch in the corner of the room, locked away in its big metal cage. Sylvester was eyeing him too of course. Beatrice liked to imagine that they were good friends, which was the main reason she called him Sylvester in the first place.

She gradually pushed herself up from the couch and made her way toward the large bird cage where a bowl of bird seed was sitting just out of reach. Placing the bowl in the cage, Buzz eagerly pounced on the meal with gusto, guzzling the seed like he hadn’t eaten in days.

She often wondered if she should get him a partner. At least then he could have someone to chirp with and maybe even start a little parrot family. “At least someone thinks I look nice tonight.” She joked as she continued to watch him eat. “I’ll tell you one thing, Buzz, if I were twenty years younger…”

She laughed to herself as she made her way back to the dining room. The table was only half packed up, and now that she was up again she figured that she might as well finish clearing it up.

But again it wasn’t meant to be, as no sooner had she picked up one of the crystal vases that she heard her phone vibrating from the living room. Sighing to herself, she hustled back to the living room to look at the caller-ID. She wasn’t really in the mood for talking and probably wasn’t going to answer, regardless of who it was.

But the moment she saw who it was, she rolled her eyes, reaching for the phone. It was Stella of course, her best friend. She wondered whether or not she should answer it but then realized how pointless that would be. If she knew Stella, which she did, she would continue to call and call until she picked up. It was as endearing as it was annoying.

“What is it?” Beatrice spoke into the phone. She knew that some form of self-contrived drama was about to hit her from the other end. She could only imagine what it was going to be.

“Is that any way to answer the phone when your best friend calls?” said Stella, sounding a little huffy. Her voice had a way of always being high pitched and dramatic as if she were the star of a midday soap opera.

Beatrice pursed her lips, taking a seat at the dining table as she traced the lace tablecloth with her manicured fingernails— specifically done for tonight of course. “Aren’t you supposed to be wrapped around some stripper pole or something tonight?”

Her promiscuous friend groaned at Beatrice’s joke that was just a little too real to be funny. Stella wasn’t a stripper of course, but the way she lived her life she could give them a run for their money. “Funny and no. I prefer belly dancing. Anyway, you’ll never guess what I heard.”

The one good thing about Stella was that she always had the latest gossip from around the retirement community they lived in. She claimed that it came to her organically and she never sought it out. But Beatrice knew her best friend better than that. She’d even caught her one or two times spying from the bushes as she attempted to eavesdrop.

Stella only lived across the street from her so Beatrice wondered what was so important that she couldn’t just come on over. “What now? You know I don’t like gossip.” It was a lie of course. Who didn’t like a little gossip? And considering how dull Beatrice’s life had become, a little gossip lately went a long way towards entertaining her.

Her best friend gasped, taking in a huge breath as if she had the tale of the century to tell. But for Stella, every tale was a story of the century; a weekly occurrence by now that relied more on her dramatic flair than the actual event. “Well, you’ll want to hear this one.”

Beatrice sighed as she caught her reflection in the crystal vase sitting in front of her. Another day, another wrinkle. Those once blond hairs were slowly being replaced by gray ones. And that once curvaceous figure that her husband loved so much was now sagging into a sack of potatoes. Well, maybe that was a small exaggeration.  

She still did look amazing for her age, having been a model before she became a schoolteacher, but she failed to see it. It was no wonder David hadn’t shown up. Maybe he was just friendly, and she misinterpreted it as something more? Was she so desperate that she would mistake an act of friendship as a romantic engagement…

“Earth to Beatrice,” said her best friend, raising her voice to an even higher pitch. It of course worked, quickly snapping Beatrice from her trance.

Beatrice groaned as she looked away from her reflection. “Make it good and make it brief,” she said, knowing that this story was going to be anything but. She secretly wished for all the juicy details and knew that her friend wouldn’t spare any.

Stella gasped again as if she were performing for an audience. Beatrice could almost see the woman in her typical tight-fitting outfit, grasping at her pearls in mock dramatic fashion. “So … You know that new man in the neighborhood that everyone’s been talking about, David?”

Beatrice cleared her throat, suddenly very glad that this was a phone conversation and not face to face. The way that her face dropped at the mention of his name would have screamed her current downtrodden mood. She didn’t want to hear the man’s name again, let alone have him brought up in conversation. “Who? Oh, him …” She said in her most casual of tones.

She hadn’t told anyone, including her best friends, about the date. This wasn’t because she was a secretive person by nature or anything sinister like that. It was more because she didn’t want any gossip around her retirement community ruining what she had hoped would be a magical evening. And on top of that, she didn’t know if it was going to work out or not and didn’t want to jinx the night. Not that it mattered much anyway.

“Well, he’s at the church bake-off right this moment,” said Stella. Their community church had a weekly bake-off to raise money for the building fund. It seemed to Beatrice that the church was always trying to raise money for the building fund, regardless of how much they made each week. That was one of the reasons that Beatrice rarely participated anymore. She was pretty confident that the never-ending projects and the money they made lined the pockets of the pastor and his brand new porch, rather than that of the needy.

“The church bake-off, eh?” Beatrice’s blood boiled as she tried to keep her voice calm and steady. So, that’s where he was tonight? Had David completely forgotten about their date or had he purposely stood her up? If it was baked goods that he was desperate for, she could have made them for him. She was the best baker in the neighborhood after all. Although right now she would have been more inclined to shove a hot pie in his face rather than serve it up for him to eat.

“Yes, the church bake-off, working as the bake-off auctioneer and get this, he’s been flirting all night with a young blonde girl, sources tell me,” Stella confirmed, scoffing at the end as if she wouldn’t be doing the same thing, were the roles reversed.

The church always had a volunteer auctioneer to auction off the tastiest of dishes. As much as she hated to admit it, the role was suited to David. A man like that, with his level of charm and class, could make even the stingiest of women empty their pockets for him and ‘the cause.’

By now Beatrice had heard enough. Her mama had raised a lady, one who didn’t get tangled up in drama and the like. But she also hadn’t raised a fool, and right now that was exactly how she felt. She had one thing on her mind and one thing only. “Stella, call Sophie. I suddenly have a craving for something,” said Beatrice.  CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE THE ENTIRE NOVEL