Worst Best Man
Part Two, Replanted
Earlier in the day, I'd called and let the phone ring twenty times with no answer. That wasn't unusual with my parents. It wasn't odd even when they were home and my father could hear the phone. I kept trying. By the fifth call, late in the afternoon, I managed to connect with my mother.
"Hold on a second," she said as soon as she heard my voice. She set the handset down on the foyer desk. The screen door slammed behind her. She must have been holding it open. Something else rattled on the desk, probably her gardening trowel. She pulled off one glove, picked up the phone, and removed the second glove. "Okay, I'm ready."
She wanted to talk about her gardening first. After a few minutes, I managed to mention my idea of moving back to Maryland. Instantly, my mother volunteered to host me and Andrea.
"You could stay with us until you find an apartment," she said. "What do you think?"
"That would be nice." I'd been planning to ask for a grace period of two weeks. Since she had made the offer, I mentally gave myself a couple months. "We're coming to stay in Maryland for the long term, I think, but the reason I want to make the change now is because Tucker is getting married at the end of the summer. Staying across the street from his family would probably be smart. You don't mind?"
"No, it's fine."
"What about dad?"
"Oh," I heard her arm move as she waved off his opinion. "He'll be fine. But you should know, he's complaining about us having a mouse problem in here. One of them ate the bottom out of his box of crackers. There were cardboard pieces and cracker crumbs everywhere."
"Don't you still have the cats?" In my teen years, sometimes she'd had over thirty of them after the females had given birth to three litters at once. My mother had given most of them away, of course. She always kept a few because she had grown up with barn cats. In her view, the cats had a job. They were in charge of pest control. "How can you have mice in the house?"
"Well, we have only three now and I guess they're all too old to go chasing mice. They're not catching them. Didn't you say that one of your neighbors had a batch of kittens?"
"Yeah, they're cute."
"Are they weaned yet? See if you can bring two of them down with you."
In my mind, she still had a houseful of animals. It was weird to hear that she didn't have enough. "You want more?"
"Kittens. Two of them." She loved keeping pets for themselves but this was business, too. "I want to make sure we get a mouser."
"You know the trick for that," I said. And she did. Let a cat have a litter of kittens and she'll turn into a hunter every time.
"Right." She paused, probably nodding to herself. "Make sure one is a girl."
There was only one female in the litter. I knew I'd better get my dibs in on it right away. After the phone call was over and my mother returned to her gardening, I put on a jacket and headed out to reserve our kittens.
So one of our first decisions when moving to Maryland was to acquire cats for my parents. When we got out of the car at the end of the long drive in early June, we were ready to call Tucker, but first we had to stretch and unpack. And introduce the kittens.
Eight hours is too long to keep any animal in a box, even a pair of reasonably sleepy kittens, so we had given up on containing them early. We let them out to roam the car as soon as we crossed the state line south into Connecticut. The young male, Jasper, took a liking to my lap as I drove. Aside from climbing to my shoulder once or twice for a look around, he seemed content. His sister, Scrapple, roamed a little too freely. Once, she scrambled around my feet as I worked the brakes and clutch. Andrea snatched her up. We decided Scrapple was too dangerous. Andrea took charge of both kittens and kept them entertained, except during their naps, for the rest of the trip.
We reached my parents' house at six in the morning. After I parked in the gravel driveway, we unkinked our bodies and paused to take inventory. The kittens made it easy. They ran to the cracks at the top of the windows to smell the Maryland air.
"It does smell nice," Andrea allowed. She had been eager but a little uncertain about moving south. "That's a whole lot of tree pollen, though."
We scooped the kittens into their box. We gathered up our first round of bags. But as we headed out across the yard, I could see the kittens trembling in awe. The Massachusetts woods had been nearly silent. In contrast, the Maryland forest was a cacophony of rude sounds from crickets, cicadas, and songbirds.
"Wow." Andrea stopped to listen to the difference. It impressed her, too.
I bent down and let out the orange, long-haired male, Jasper.
"Are you sure?" Andrea said.
I could tell Jasper trusted us. And he was eager to get down into the grass. When he reached the ground, he stiffened. It was too much for him all at once.
"Let out Scrapple, too," I said, "It'll be fine."
As soon as Andrea put down the kitten, Scrapple headed toward her brother in three big pounces. She bumped him and bumbled on past. Jasper turned to follow. They veered their own directions. The two of them inched through the grass, which was freshly cut but still half as high as them. Every few steps, they paused to listen. They twitched their tails. They froze when they saw a beetle. After a moment of study, Jasper advanced to nudge it on the head. The beetle turned and tried to march away over the green blades. The kittens hunkered down to watch.
A grasshopper chirped nearby. Scrapple and Jasper jumped. Their hackles rose. They landed with their claws extended and searched for source of the noise.
For a few minutes, we let them explore. Every time Jasper felt he'd gotten too far away, he dashed back to my feet. His sister roamed farther but she bounced back to us. Every bug in the grass, every bat fluttering overhead in the twilight, every call from a songbird was new to them. The yard was a source of fascination, caution, and curiosity.
Thirty feet north of us, we heard the front door open. My mother strode out of her house.
I turned to see she was dressed for the day in jeans and her gardening jacket. She must have heard us drive up. She strolled across the porch, down the steps, and approached the nearest kitten, Scrapple, with a smile. Scrapple dashed toward her for a few steps but stopped, feeling a momentary sense of panic. Andrea scooped her hand underneath the cat's furry belly and raised it beside her shoulder.
Next to me, my orange ball of fluff bumped into my foot. I grabbed it.
"Mom, this is Jasper." I held the cat up in my arms as my mother came closer.
"And this is Scrapple," Andrea said, "your future mighty huntress."
My mom paused to give Andrea an approving smile. She put an arm out, let the kitten sniff her fingers and, after a moment, she petted Scrapple's head. She withdrew her hand. We all waited a few seconds and watched the animals as they, in turn, watched her. She stroked the kitten again. This time, it started to purr. I could hear it from a few feet away. Andrea and my mother smiled.
My mother strode over to me to give Jasper as similar treatment.
"You said Tucker would call." She gave me a stern look as she let the cat sniff her hand. "He hasn't."
"Well, he told me that he would. No big deal." Jasper accepted a few pets. He didn't purr but he seemed happy anyway. "It's too early to ring him up. Later today, I'll see if we can talk. We need to meet, really. I've got to get info from him and Laura both."
"I'm not sure how to help Laura," said Andrea.
"Yeah, and I don't know what Tuckers wants me to do as best man." I nodded. "He's been too busy to talk on the phone. But now I'll get to see him."
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