Must Love Cats by Tara Brown

Chapter 1

December 24, 2019

Halifax, NS

“Can you hear me now?” I joke as I start the freezing cold car in the dark lot at work. The parking area streetlight above me flickers on and off, threatening to go out completely though the threat is empty since it’s barely giving off light as it is. I make a note to remind the maintenance guy when we get back from Christmas break on the thirtieth.

“Did it switch over to Bluetooth?” Shawnee, my best friend, asks. “I hate talking on speakerphone. That old car’s so noisy.”

“No, stupid thing,” I say and blow warm air on my aching fingers which are frigid from scrubbing my car windows with my credit card again. “I thought we weren’t supposed to have freezing rain yet. This weather is awful,” I moan, not emotionally prepared for the wintery season to hit. Four months of bleak, dark, and wet. The typical East Coast Canadian experience. It’s no wonder so many snowbirds flee for Arizona and Florida when they retire.

“Yes, the weather sucks, but the real villain here is Rod. Your Bluetooth is awful. I can’t believe you let that man install a ridiculous aftermarket system instead of getting a new car,” Shawnee says, teasing as she’s quite aware of my feelings on the matter. “I think we need to talk about the big ‘D’ word.”

“Divorce?” I ask, hoping not to discuss this again. At least not on Christmas Eve.

“Disposal. It’s time, my girl.” She scoffs. “Though divorce might be an apt word too.”

“How dare you?” I say just above a whisper, petting the icy steering wheel that is worn enough for me to see my finger marks from years of gripping it. “You know I love this car.”

We giggle at my lack of defense of Rod, my husband.

“You should make Rod drive that thing and steal his Mercedes. Better yet, divorce him and take it.”

“Listen, you’re jinxing me with your blasphemy. I have to drive home on icy roads. Good old Helen will break down on the way home if you keep this up.” I look at the dashboard. “Don’t listen to her, Helen.”

“You’re so weird,” she says and laughs harder, always tormenting me about the car I proudly bought outright, on my own, five years ago. “You know what though? Helen is exactly the name that old white-lady car deserves.”

“You know my favorite aunt was Helen. And the Bluetooth wasn’t having problems until Rod borrowed the car last week,” I add and crank the heat. “Can you hear me over the fan?” I ask and put the car in reverse, backing out of my parking space.

“Barely. But don’t suffer without some heat. It’s freezing out and I can’t talk long anyway. I need some sleep. What did you want to tell me?” Her words are mixed with a yawn.

“Oh, is that why you’re being cranky?” I torment her back as I join the Halifax traffic heading for the bridge.

“I’m not cranky. I’m still on London time. It’s technically almost nine at night for me.” She yawns again. “And the fact it was dark at four thirty isn’t helping me stay awake. God, I hate winter.”

“Stop being such a grinch. It’s Christmas Eve. Anyway, I wanted to see if we’re still on for your parents’ house on the twenty-sixth.”

“You know it.” She yawns again. “I came home early for it.”

“Perfect.” I leave the steady stream of bridge commuters, grateful I don’t have to go that way, and drive for the Bedford Highway home. Not that this route is much faster. Everyone is creeping over the icy roads. Freezing rain is the worst and it’s a month early. I hope that doesn’t mean an extra month of this nonsense. “Are you in town until the new year then?” I ask.

“Yes, I’m home for a bit, thank God,” she says with a hint of relief in her tone. “Then it’s on to Vietnam at the end of January for nine weeks. After that, we are going back to Kenya in May for my Bibi’s birthday. Are you going to come with my family this year? Mom’s been asking again. You will love it there. The food and family—”

“I can’t. I already spent my travel money for the year.” I wait, knowing she’s about to get spicy.

“Let me guess. Cancun at the end of January. Cuba in May with Rod’s golf friends and their wives. And Vegas in September.” She mocks me with the travel schedule that never changes. “Why do you spend your money on these all-inclusive resorts you don’t like? Why does Rod always get to choose? You guys don’t even share money!” she snaps.