Chapter 2: Just Missed
It was an unusually busy day at the diner. The weekends brought in people from out of town on vacation, and Catherine was loaded down with stress from impatient customers. What made it worse was seeing all the families together. It just reminded Catherine of the life that had been denied her and her daughter. Pushing herself out of her daydreams, Catherine returned back to her hungry customers. As she catered to a family of eight, she didn't notice the elderly gentleman being seated in her section. If she had, Catherine would have immediately taken her break.
The man was served a cup of coffee while he waited. He took a sip from his mug before taking some papers out of his briefcase. They were for an estate and he wanted one more review.
The man looked up from his work to see a toddler smiling up at him. She wore a pink dress and white shoes. Her skin was fair and she had an adorable kitten nose. Her hair was a slightly rustic, golden strawberry-blonde that fell past her shoulders. The man marveled at how fairy-like the child was, but it was her eyes that caught his attention. They were a deep, yet bright shade of blue.
If it wasn't for the hair and eyes, I'd swear she looks just like… Remembering he had been spoken to, the man smiled and replied, “Well, hello little one. And who might you be?"
"Rosie," she answered.
"What a pretty name," he commented. "My name is Peter. Is there something I can help you with?”
"Can I sit down?” the girl asked. Before he could answer, Rosie slid into the booth across from him.
Peter was stunned. "All right, but don't you want to sit with your parents?"
"Mommy working and Auntie Kitty in da kitchen," Rosie said.
"Well, what about your daddy?" Peter asked. Rosie tilted her head down, and her hair covered her face. Now who does that remind me of? Peter thought as he recognized the familiar gesture. Peter was about to say something when there was a shout.
"How many times I need to tell you, stay away from me. Or so help me, Johnny, I'll call the cops!"
Peter looked over to see a strikingly handsome young man and a pretty, blonde waitress. The man was holding his wrist as the woman glared back at him. He looked to make another move when a red-headed woman’s face appeared from the kitchen.
"Damn it, Johnny! I warned you bout-harassing Margaret. Now you’re gonna have to deal with ol' Bertha." She disappeared back into the kitchen. Everyone except Peter seemed oblivious to what was happening as a loud noise came from the kitchen.
As if taken from the scene of a horror movie, the cook burst through the doors brandishing chainsaw. The blade had been splattered with red paint, with M.E.O.W. tattooed on the side. The man called Johnny turned white and before Peter could blink, the cook was chasing him.
As she ran out the door after him, Peter could hear her yelling, "I may be retired, but my license to kill ain't expired yet!"
Once they were out of earshot, everyone continued their business as if nothing had happened. Peter was flabbergasted that everyone just acted like nothing happened. "Isn't anyone going to stop her?"
Rosie started giggling. Peter didn’t know what was so funny. He then reviewed the events that had taken place, and realized he would do no less if anyone harassed his own daughter. Soon he started laughing right along with Rosie.
Meanwhile, noticing her daughter was no longer at the counter, Catherine looked for her through the crowd of people. Hearing her daughter's laughter, Catherine called her name.
"Mommy calling. I bedda go."
"Well thank you for the wonderful chat," Peter said. Rosie excused herself from the booth and waved goodbye before running off to find her mother.
What a delightful young girl. Reminds me of when Cathy was that age. The thought of his deceased goddaughter brought on another wave of sadness. Peter paid for the coffee he ordered, and left the diner. He was going to check into his motel for the night, deciding to go up to the Chandler's cabin the next day.
"Mommy, we see Tasha?" Rosie asked as her mother finished cleaning the tables.
“Well, I don't see why not. We haven't had a chance to visit since she returned from her trip to India."
Tasha was Katie's daughter, and ran the local animal shelter owned Katie's husband, Brutus. Tasha was spirited and very active. She spent a lot of time in self-defense classes with her mother and she rode a Harley. Her motto was, "I always take life with a grain of salt… plus a slice of lemon… and a shot of tequila." Tasha also babysat for Catherine when she had to work the late shift. The two had become close friends.
Catherine punched out and said goodbye to Katie before heading out with Rosie. Soon they were in stepping into the office of the animal shelter. Hearing the bell, Tasha came around the corner and smiled at the sight of her two favorite people.
"Tasha!" Rosie cried as she saw the young, red-haired woman.
"Hi there." Rosie ran over to Tasha and was welcomed by the older girl in a tight hug. Catherine smiled as she saw the two laugh and talk about the day.
“Hey, what am I? Chopped liver?" Catherine said as she joined them.
"Sorry," Tasha apologized. "Almost forgot about you. How've ya been, Cathy?" The two women hugged while an excited toddler jumped up and down.
"New aminals, Tasha?" Rosie asked.
"As a matter of fact, I do have a new friend for you to meet," Tasha said. She led Rosie and Catherine to the back room. "His name is Thomas, and he'll be living with me. He came in a few weeks ago after Murray rescued him from a smuggler."
As they came into the back, Catherine noticed a very large box with holes on the side. There was a sign that read "CAUTION" in bright yellow letters. Catherine turned to Tasha with a puzzled look on her face. Tasha smiled and told Rose to step back as she opened the box. The creature inside made Catherine freeze.
"Mommy look!” Rose squealed. "Lion!"
"It’s okay, Cathy," Tasha reassured the startled woman. "Thomas is as safe as any house-cat. The smuggler we liberated him from stole him from a circus. His teeth are dull, so he mostly drinks milk, but he does eat steak and burger meat. He's too domesticated to be returned to the wild, and there are no zoos around that will take him."
"What domestifcated?" Rosie asked.
"Domesticated," Tasha laughed, "means that Thomas is too use to people. If he were released into the wild, he wouldn't be able to take care of himself."
"So what will happen to him?" Catherine asked, coming out of her trance.
"Well, since he's taken a likin' to me, I decided to get all the permits in order and, ba-da-bing ba- da-boom, he's mine."
"You mean, Thomas is now your pet?"
Catherine looked down at Thomas, and her thoughts drifted back to the man who resembled this large cat. And her daughter.
Although she lacked the facial features, Rosie often exhibited some of Vincent’s unique characteristics. She often tilted her head in that endearing way Vincent would do. Her nails had sharp tips, and had to be cut as a baby to keep her from scratching herself. Catherine was glad Rosie didn't need a dentist. When her teeth came in, Rosie appeared have fangs though it was hard to tell. Although the most extraordinary was what Rosemary did when she was really happy: she purred. It made Catherine wonder if Vincent also possessed this trait.
While Catherine pondered these thoughts, Rosie decided that Thomas was just another kitty-cat to play with. She walked up to the lion and began stroking him. Thomas, having grown accustom to little children from his circus life, didn't seem to mind the attention to his fur and mane. Then Rosemary found a spot behind the lion's ear to scratch, and Thomas instantly became the girl's new best friend.
Catherine was brought out of her daydreaming at the sound of her daughter's laughter. Thomas was licking Rosie’s hand and, out of excitement, the girl threw her arms around the lion's neck. The sight brought tears to her eyes and Catherine wiped them away, but not before Tasha noticed.
"You okay?" she asked then looked down. The sight of her six-year-old lion and Catherine's three-year-old daughter playing on the floor made her laugh.
"Don't worry, Cathy," Tasha assured her. "Like I said, Thomas is tame and, as you can see, he loves kids."
"It's not that. It's just, seeing Rosie with Thomas reminds me of Vin…" Catherine quickly closed her mouth when she realized she almost said Vincent's name.
Tasha saw the tears were coming again. She knew Catherine's story, but the topic of Rosie’s father was still a mystery. Even her mother and aunt didn't know who the mystery man was, but they could tell Cathy loved and missed him a lot.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! Catherine grabbed her pager and checked the message.
"Oh great. The weekend rush hour just pulled in, and Katie's low on staff," she groaned. "Tasha, do you think you can look after Rosie tonight? This 911 your mother sent me means I won't get back until late."
"Hey, no problem. I can look after the little squirt tonight, but is it all right if I bring Tom? I can't leave him alone or he'll go berserk."
“It’s all right with me."
Rosie, who'd been listening while playing with Thomas, got very excited about having a lion in her house. “Yeah! Tom and Tasha come play.”