On her way home, Bex stopped at the feed store to pick up some cat food and some of the environmentally friendly disinfectant she used to clean the cats pens and the sickroom. As she walked in, she was greeted by a man in his 30s who had unkempt hair and was sweeping the floor.
“Hi Bex!” he waved enthusiastically and headed in her direction. Bex stopped and smiled.
“HI Johnny, how are you today?’ The large man came over and wrapped his arms very lightly around her to give her a gentle hug.
“Wow, that’s really good Johnny, what a great hug!” Bex backed up a step and smiled up into his innocent blue eyes. He beamed at her. “Yeah, mom and I have been practicing. She tells me that I don’t know my own strength, and it’s hard to learn my own strength, but I’m doing it!”
“You sure are. But it’s good to be strong. Look how much help you give everyone.”
“Can I help you?
“You sure can. I’ve got to pick up a couple of big bags of cat food, and I think I’m going to get some bird seed too.”
“Bird seed?” An incredulous voice was followed by a small woman in her 50s with gray hair. “You got a place full of cats and you want to invite the birds to come visit? What are you, anti-bird?”
“Hey Dot,” Bex smiled at the older woman. Dot was a no nonsense type of gal, and had been running the feed store and raising her son alone for the last 15 years since her husband had died.
“Mom, Ms. Bex said I hugged her just right!” Johnny smiled as he told his mother.
“Oh honey, good job!” Dot’s demeanor changed completely with her son. Her pride showed as she reached out and touched his arm. “But remember, you can only hug the people you know who have already told you it’s o.k.”
“I know,” he turned to go back to his sweeping. “And I can’t ask people I don’t know if it’s o.k.”
“That’s right,” Dot said, and saw Bex’s raised eyebrows and her smile.
Dot shook her head. “Oh, some fancy city woman came in here the other day looking for something. Of course as soon as he saw her, Johnny asked if he could help her find something. She just looks him up and down like he smells bad and tells him ‘no thank you.’ So then he asks if he can give her a hug. I guess he just assumed she’d say yes so he started walking toward her with his arms out. Well, her scream like to have brought in the entire town. I had to explain to Johnny that some people just don’t understand wanting to be hugged.”
Bex shook her head. “Oh no, Dot, I’m really sorry that happened. I’m sure that must have upset Johnny.” Bex couldn’t help but smile at the thought. “Sure sounds like she needed something, though.”
Dot smiled back at her. “Amen to that! And Johnny is just fine. It really didn’t upset him. He just didn’t understand why she shouldn’t want a hug.”
Bex finished up with her purchases, and Johnny carried everything out to the old pickup. As she left Bex gave him another hug and told him, “I love your hugs Johnny, don’t give away too many because I always want you to have one for me, o.k.?” Johnny nodded and waved as Bex drove away.
After a quick stop at the grocery store, Bex headed home. Ronnie and Lindsey were already gone, and it was turning into a nice evening. Bex poured herself a glass of the cheap red wine she’d gotten at the store, and headed outside to enjoy the stillness and the quiet.
She took her glass down to an old picnic bench that was off to one side of the cat pens, sat down and took a sip of wine while she looked around at the landscape. Before long, she could see several of the cats heading her way to enjoy a little socializing.
The first to arrive was Popeye. He jumped into her lap, and reached up his head to rub under her chin. He began purring almost immediately, and while he was rubbing she could feel the skin underneath her chin starting to get wet from his drool. She laughed and pulled him up under his front legs so she could look at him. His sweet face looked back at her, his one eye permanently closed where he’d lost it, the other yellow/green eye looking back at her.
“Hey mister,” she said, bringing him against her for a hug. “I hope your day has gone better than mine.” As she was talking, a black cat with a white chest and paws jumped up on the table and came over to her. She reached out a hand to pet him.
“Well hello there, Fred,” she said. “Looks like I’m going to have a full house tonight.” Several of the other cats were heading their way, lured by the sound of her voice in the evening air. She sat, slowly sipping her wine as the day slipped away into night. Just before it got really dark, she gave the cats a few final pets, stood and stretched, and headed back to her trailer.
“Good night, babies,” she called. “Be sure to get into your shelters and stay warm.”
The next morning she woke up feeling discouraged. Her visit to the library the previous day hadn’t been much help. Trying to read through the legal language and understand what the laws meant had made her brain dizzy. She was going to need help, but who would help her? The phone ringing interrupted her thoughts. Assuming it was one of her clients she answered on the second ring.
“Good afternoon, Miller Productions,” Bex answered crisply, in a professional voice that her steady clients jokingly referred to as her “phone voice.”
“Ms. Miller?” she didn’t recognize the voice right away.
“This is Kyle Stephens.” Bex’s first thought was to hang up the phone, but she knew it was inevitable that she would have to talk with him, and alienating him probably wasn’t the best idea.
“How can I help you Mr. Stephens?”
“Oh, I’m fine. I just wanted to let you know that was a very expensive pair of shoes your cat ruined.”
“Popeye didn’t ruin your shoe. In fact, Popeye showed extremely good manners by using the litter box. If you stuck your foot in someone’s toilet, you would hardly blame them for ruining your shoes, would you?”
“Perhaps not, but then again it’s rather distressing to have a $400 pair of shoes ruined.”
“Four hundred dollars!” Bex gasped. “You spent $400 on a pair of shoes? That’s absolutely obscene!”
There was a slight pause at the other end of the phone. “Yes, I suppose it is. Actually they were a gift. And if I’m being perfectly honest, not one of my favorites.”
“So it sounds like Popeye did you a favor,” Bex couldn’t resist taunting.
“I thought Popeye had nothing to do with it?”
“Of course. Mr. Stephens, did you call to try and get me to buy you a new pair of shoes?”
“No, Ms. Miller, I was hoping we could discuss an offer of settlement in more neutral surroundings.”
“I’ve already told you Mr. Stephens, I have no intention of settling. I need this land and I won’t displace my cats.”
Bex heard a small sigh on the other end of the line. “Ms. Miller, I really do admire your dedication, believe me, but this is simply a battle you can’t win. If I read the situation correctly, and believe me Ms. Miller I make a great deal of money by correctly reading situations, you’re barely getting by as it is. You simply can’t afford the time to try and do your own research, nor do you have the resources to hire someone to help you.”
Bex felt a moment of panic. “Perhaps not, Mr. Stephens, but I have friends who are willing to help me.”
“Ms. Miller,” he sounded so calm, so sure of himself, “trust me when I tell you that in a county as small as yours, no attorney wants to gain a reputation for being a troublemaker. In addition, Ms. Szczepanski is quite a wealthy woman in her own right and I’m sure most people do not want to get on her bad side.”
Bex was silent. Of course he was right. She couldn’t afford the time to do her own research, plus it was obvious that he was a very good attorney. Despite the fact that she knew almost everyone in town, the Szczepanskis had been well respected and it was likely their daughter would be too, despite the general gossip that she was a spoiled, lazy young woman.
“Well, I’m just not sure.” She was trying to buy time so she could think about what to do.
“Ms. Miller, let me give you a little free advice – and trust me, the 15 minutes we’ve just spent on the phone are worth well over $200 to me – and tell you to take the money. I don’t like losing Ms. Miller, and against an unskilled, uneducated, emotional adversary such as yourself, well, quite frankly you have no hope of success.”
“Uneducated!” Bex was furious, furious with herself for being near tears, stunned at the amount of money he could command, and furious he felt he had to throw that in her face. “Listen to me you pompous, arrogant, morally bankrupt jerk, I don’t care how much money your time is worth, or your shoes or your stupid car, this is my land, and I will not just give it up!” and she slammed down the phone.
Breathing heavily she sank down in a chair and blinked back tears. What was she going to do? Well, there was one thing for sure. She wasn’t about to just give up. She’d figure out something. She went into the kitchen and started brewing some coffee. “Just one cup,” she promised herself, since she had to go out, as she did every day, and take care of the cats. She sipped slowly at her coffee, and when she finished she sat in her chair awhile, thinking. After checking on Dinah, she got ready for her day. Maybe some hard work would give her subconscious time to solve the problem.