By this point, I was feeling more than a little put out.
I loved these ladies. I’d had nothing but positive experiences with each of them, but I was perilously close to reaching my limit of being taken to task in my own home.
Fortunately, at that moment my chihuahua Foster stirred himself from his spot at the end of the couch, and hopped onto the floor.
This was my chance to catch my breath and regroup, tame my rancorous thoughts, so I did not spew out a lecture I would regret.
Pushing back from the table, I straightened the sash on my housecoat…again…and grabbed Foster’s leash off the dryer.
“Be right back,” I said, almost adding, ‘Help yourself to more coffee,’ knowing perfectly well they would do exactly what they wanted while I was gone.
Attaching the leash to Foster’s collar, I opened the garage door and we stepped out into the muggy night. There had been a downpour that afternoon and the frogs were bellowing.
Leash in hand, I clasped my hands behind my back. Foster trailed along behind as I walked down the long driveway, mumbling, and grumbling.
“Backstory,” I said. “Zeke has no backstory. He’s supporting cast. You can’t explore every single character. You can’t overload a reader. Omit needless words.”
We reached the street. I was turning to go back to the house, when I spotted a well-endowed woman rounding the curve in the road. Because several of my neighbors were exercisers—runners, walkers, bike riders—I thought nothing of seeing one of them on an evening stroll.
As the woman drew nearer, I noticed she was carrying a large tote bag, which swung back and forth as she marched.
This was not a neighbor, not one of mine anyway.
Waving in her direction, I turned to head back.
“Wait a minute,” she hollered. “Is that your house? Can’t make out the number on the mailbox. Can’t half see during the daytime, much less at night. I had no end of trouble finding your street.” She continued to speak in full voice as she approached. “Shot right past it on my way in. Had to double back. But like I said, it’s dark. Late for you to be out, isn’t it?” Reaching my driveway, she set down the tote bag, swiped the back of her hand across her forehead, and flicked the sweat onto the asphalt.
Bridey Ludlow had arrived at her destination.
Adding her to the pressure cooker inside was not a pleasant prospect, but what could I do? We were face to face. Dark or not, she had found the person she was looking for.
I spluttered. “Had to take my dog out.”
“I see that. Hello, pup.” Foster edged behind me. “Are they still inside?”
“Who do you mean?” I said in a feeble attempt to deflect her.
She lifted the tote bag and hugged it to her ample bosom. “Ivy Leigh and the other two. Mary Beth and Connie Lee or something like that. Could we go inside? It’s hotter’n blazes out here.”
I couldn’t argue with that. June nights in Florida were often stuffy. We started toward the house.
“It’s Maybelle and Bonny Bee,” I said.
“Whatever,” she said. “They won’t care what I call them when I show them what I brought.”
Foster walked faster, straining at his leash.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Fruitcake? It’s June.” No wonder the bag was swinging independently of its own weight—nothing in the known world was heavier than Bridey Ludlow’s fruitcake. “Have you had that since December?”
“Don’t get so high and mighty with me. It’s been in the freezer.”
I opened the back door. Foster made a beeline for the couch, leaped up, and burrowed under his blanket.
Ivy Leigh and Bonny Bee were peering into the open refrigerator.
“The top half,” Ivy Leigh explained, “is for items like milk and eggs and produce.” She slid out the freezer drawer on the bottom. “And this is the freezer, which keeps food longer.”
“Look who’s here,” I said.
Ivy Leigh, never rattled, turned to face us. “Bridey. We weren’t expecting you.”
No one’s every expecting Bridey, I thought.
Ivy Leigh closed the freezer and the four of us lingered in a makeshift huddle. When Bridey deposited the tote bag on the counter, she spotted the paper towels, tore off three, and wiped her face.
“I brought fruitcake,” she said.
Maybelle, still at the table, perked up. “Homemade?”
“Yep,” Bridey said, taking the foil-wrapped offering from the bag. “My mother’s recipe.”
“It’s been in the freezer since December,” I said, feeling obligated to inform them.
“Of course, it has,” Maybelle said, hopping up and taking a glass plate from the cabinet. “A good fruitcake will keep up to a year in the freezer.”
“And be even better than the day it was made,” Bridey said, yanking open the silverware drawer.
“Exactly,” Maybelle said.
“Freezer,” Bonny Bee said. “What will they think of next?”