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Part Three


Kearney turned toward the noise that had roused her. In the gray light of morning, in the doorway, she spied a blob that resolved gradually into the form of her cat. Lexie obligingly repeated the sound, enabling her to identify it as a plaintive meow.

Damn. What time is it anyway? She turned sleep-encrusted eyes toward her clock radio, just in time to see its numbers flip to 6:00.

“I got you, babe. I got you, babe…”

“Augh!” She lunged for the machine, which had its volume set to Seriously Annoying and was purposely placed out of easy reach. Sonny and Cher had finished their chorus and the announcer had launched into the news and weather for Friday, December 19, before she managed to slap the snooze button and return the room to near silence.

“Miaou!” Turning off the alarm had, unfortunately, not muzzled Lex.

She sat up groggily. “What is with you this morning? Cool your jets till I get mine revved, okay?” Lex, looking slightly abashed, muted her cries. “That’s better.”

She stood. The cat rubbed against her legs hard enough to threaten her balance.

“I’m living on borrowed time, eh?” Bowing to the inevitable, she shuffled into her slippers and down the cold hallway, behind Lex’s self-satisfied saunter. “Aaah!” The aroma of freshly brewed coffee welcomed her to the kitchen. Thank god she’d remembered to set the timer last night.

“Whoa!” Her eyes swiveled to the kitchen window and its view of the Jarretts’ driveway. The tracks of the previous night were gone, erased by what looked like more than a foot of fresh flakes. “Holy…”

She scooped Lex up, melting as usual when the cat wrapped her forepaws around her neck in a little hug and nuzzled her under the chin. “Look, babe. No sparrows or robins today, just snow, snow, snow.”

“Babe.” The word rang a tiny bell. Oh yeah, Sonny and Cher. Ick. And that snippet of weather report I heard. Ah. School closings! Children throughout the state are glued to the morning TV broadcasts, waiting for the magic words that will release them to the wild wonder of a day of sledding.

“No such luck for me, though.” Lex bumped her chin with her head. “The students have headed home for the holidays, but college offices will be open still, I suppose. I might get away with it if I lived farther away, but I really have no excuse for not being able to hike ten blocks. Unless …” She looked at the thermometer. Twenty-five above. Not life threatening. Especially on what was shaping up to be a clear, cloudless day. “It’s worth checking, though…”

She flipped on the tiny television set she used to keep her company while she cooked and studied the trailers scrolling under the CBS Morning Show. Hmm. Bloomington, Blue Earth … got a ways to go before they get to Northfield. Lexie stirred in her arms. Time enough to take care of this, I hope. Let see, what can I pontificate about today? She took a deep breath and expelled it slowly. Hmm … Okay, that'll do. She lowered the cat to the floor and returned to the back door.

“Today’s word to the wise, Lex, is simply this: Wake up and smell the coffee. Not that coffee means a whole heckuva lot to you, I realize. Wake up and smell the catnip? No. That implies something entertaining, instead of unavoidable and unpleasant. Wake up and smell the kitty litter? Ah, much better …

“In any case, buddy, it is time to read the paw prints on the wall.” She cracked the door open. “To see the light. Bite the bullet. Call a spade a spade and the heart of winter the heart of winter.” She watched the inrushing cold freeze Lexie in place. “In short …” A shudder rippled through the cat, breaking her free of her trance-like state. “In short, it’s time to face the music and – dash!” She laughed as the cat skedaddled back to the bedroom.

“Oops!” The scrolling announcements had reached Northfield. School’s cancelled … She imagined she could hear the cheers of the children down the block – and their parents’ groans as they tried to figure out day care options. “Looks like Christmas vacation will be starting a day early. Oooh! And four hours late for the colleges. All right! And speaking of java …”

She danced over to the coffeemaker and filled a mug, adding an inch of 2% milk and a packet of sweetener. She climbed onto the stool to contemplate her breakfast options. A day like today called for something more substantial than the usual Toaster Strudel. Something like …

She flipped open the cupboard door. Yes! Malt-o-Meal! Not only had the hot cereal been a staple of the snow days of her own childhood in Nebraska, but it was manufactured locally. She put some water on to boil, her mouth watering in anticipation of the sweet toasted grain taste.

Her morning wakeup call tickled her consciousness again. Weird… She took a sip of French roast, waiting for the wisp of memory to come within reach. She swallowed another rich mouthful of coffee, teasing forth the association …

“Oh my god! Groundhog Day!”

She’d seen the movie in college – and a time or two on television after that. The intriguing notion that there were definitive moments in a day, moments that determined who you were, where you would ultimately end up, had showed up in shows like “Quantum Leap,” “Early Edition,” even “Xena.” Still, the thought of doing the same day over and over again, until you got it “right,” was downright … scary.

Especially if every day begins with listening to Sonny and Cher. Ugh! Still. Bill Murray eventually found the incentive to go on living. Once he recognized the opportunity he'd been given to get to know himself better. Not to mention the opportunity to get to know the delectable Andi MacDowell.

“Wait a gosh darn minute.”

Unable to shake the sense that something was terribly wrong, something more serious even than Sonny Bono’s lack of talent, she trotted down the hall to the bedroom and checked the setting on the clock radio. 89.3. “The station’s set for public radio, all right. I shouldn’t have heard anything remotely resembling Sonny and Cher. One of the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach, maybe, but not … Huh. Must have been dreaming.”

Kearney grinned at Lexie, curled up on the comforter, and slid into the bathroom. A dream? Ha. More like a nightmare! She stared at her reflection as she scrubbed at the fuzz on her teeth. Or maybe my subconscious trying to tell me something? She spit and rinsed. Nah. More likely a byproduct of eating that piece of cold pepperoni pizza while I was reading Orlando. Heh! Now there’s a combo guaranteed to generate apparitions.

* * * * *

“It’s all about you, isn’t it, Lexie?”

Kearney refilled the cat’s dish with dry food and placed it on the floor, whipping her hand out of the way as Lexie dove in and began to chow down. She put her cereal bowl in the sink and started pondering how to use the time with which she’d been gifted. While it was tempting to just crawl back in bed and read, she was reminded of all the times she’d wished for an extra hour or two. What had she wanted them for?

Well, last summer she would have used them to tend to some yard work. She’d been chagrinned to learn during her dinner with the Jarretts last June that the tiny blue flowers that she’d admired in the lawn when she was buying the house were not approved ground cover, but Creeping Charlie, a noxious weed. At least as far as Frank was concerned.

“Just nuke it,” he advised, right after suggesting which dentists, doctors, vets, carpenters, plumbers and electricians she should patronize. “Creeping Charlie’s a real bitc.. er, a beast to eradicate once it gets a foothold, and yours is headed straight for my lawn. Go to Lansing’s Hardware and get the weed killer Jess uses. It’s dynamite. Keeps the yard looking like a veritable golf course.”

She’d reached for another lemon bar, careful not to catch Jesse’s eye, sure she’d find another indulgent twinkle there at Frank’s use of the word “my” in relation to the lawn. Kearney had seen him patrolling the yard on occasion, paying particular attention to the point at which the lots adjoined. Scouting for insurgents probably. She’d yet to see him do much more than that, however. Except for watering it now and then.

What is it with guys and hoses? she wondered. Dad spends hours in the yard, standing there like some kind of Bermuda-shorted garden gnome, hose in hand, pondering exactly how much water each patch needs.

Frank didn’t lave every blade in the loving way her father did. He saved that level of care for his Eddie Bauer edition Ford Expedition, washing it down every sunny Saturday without fail – despite the fact that the SUV rarely traveled outside of Northfield. When it was on hand, he also washed his sister’s car, a compact Honda Hybrid. Always to the accompaniment of Car Talk on one of the cars’ radios.

She grinned, remembering the first time she’d witnessed the weekly ablutions. He’d just been so darn cute, guffawing at the antics and advice of Tom and Ray Magliozzi while polishing the finish on the cars to a high luster. It was like watching a Greek god doing chores – while wearing orange flip flops, a sleeveless T shirt, and a pair of faded 501 jeans.

Jess was the one who actually worked on the yard, the one who spent her Saturdays pushing a reel mower, the old-fashioned, non-combustion kind, over the lawn, her bronzed arms and legs glistening with the effort it took to keep the surface groomed within a centimeter of pure perfection.

Kearney laughed out loud, remembering the day last June when Jesse had revealed to her the secret of cultivating the quintessential lawn.

It had been, too. The beginning of an abiding friendship, that is. She didn’t see Jesse often, due to the demands of the lawyer’s work, but over the past six months Kearney came to prize their conversations. Like that first exchange on the back stoop, they always left her with a better understanding of Frank … and of the interesting woman who was his staunchest supporter. “Don’t have to worry about the heat today,” Kearney noted. “Just the lack of it. Too bad 20 below wind chills don’t kill Creeping Charlie. We’d be the lawn capital of the world!” She snapped out of her reverie. “Quit procrastinating, Cooper. Time to shift snow – or you’ll be spending Christmas on your lonesome instead of with Auntie Nancy and the cousins in the Cities. Look at it, though. It’s going to take hours!”

Next door, an engine coughed to life and drew her eyes to a tall, fur-hatted figure in Carhartt brown coveralls bending over a snow blower.

“My hero! We’re saved, Lexie! The cavalry’s arrived!”

With a little gas-guzzling help from next door, it would take no time at all to clear the sidewalk for pedestrian traffic and free her VW from its snowy prison. Kearney hurried down the hall to throw on more warm layers.

After assuring herself that her human was fully occupied in those incomprehensible fur-changing activities of hers and wouldn’t be doubling back unexpectedly, Lexie leaped to the counter top and peered outside. She jumped back down before Kearney could catch her, landing with her usual grace and with a heart made much lighter by her survey of the scene next door.

Continued in Part Four

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