Catherine Hurley clutched her ghost-tour costume close, bracing for the trouble that could smash her flat as roadkill.
Nothing could be as devastating as last time.
Evening shadows darkened the sidewalks, and most of the people on the French Quarter streets this time of day were either coming home or going to work. They didn’t usually hang around at the corner grocery like the guy with longish blond hair and skinny shoulders heading her way.
Lately her baby brother had been staying out of her sight, so something must be up. Cath juggled her bags and the dry cleaners’ hanger, waiting for him to get close enough to read her lips. “What are you doing here?”
“I thought I’d come visit.” Les hitched his backpack higher and hunched his shoulders against the cold. “I don’t have any classes until next week.”
O-kay. Her held breath swooshed loose. His appearance on her doorstep did not imply disaster. “I’ve got all the fixings for spaghetti if you want supper.”
She handed him one of her grocery bags and pulled him closer to dodge a waiter in a rush to get to his shift. Her brother still flinched and stared at the guy disappearing around the corner. “What the—?”
“It’s okay.” Even with his hearing aids, Les did not hear sounds behind him. Cath gave him the hanger from the cleaners and pushed open the wrought iron gate.
The piano player in the upstairs rear apartment practiced some ragtime, its bouncy beat drifting down to the patio. She unlocked her back door and set her groceries on the kitchen table inside.
“Sorry,” she said and also signed to make sure Les understood the most important word. “I didn’t have time to warn you about the guy running down the sidewalk.”
“The sidewalk?” Her brother hooked the dry cleaning on the fridge handle. “No problem.”
“But you seemed—” To overreact. She spoke and signed her next words. “Never mind that. To what do I owe this surprise?”
“Last time I heard, there weren’t any laws against surprises.”
“True.” She nodded and signed.
“Right now, I need a place to stay.” Les raised his eyebrows in question. She held aside the bead curtain, and he followed her into the small front room. “The pipes froze this week. Then they broke when it warmed up again.”
A fairly typical New Orleans problem in the city’s old houses.
Les dropped his pack on the couch and stripped off his jacket. “If it’s too much trouble, I’ll find someplace else.”
“No you won’t.” She punched his shoulder playfully. “Everything’ll be booked now, anyway.” Mardi Gras always brought hordes of tourists to town and jacked the prices sky-high. Not that either of them had the money for him to stay in a hotel.
“You don’t mind?”
“Of course I don’t mind.” She signed, “Doesn’t matter.” Her kitten, asleep in the upholstered chair, woke and stretched. Cath stroked a hand down the cat’s back. “You should have texted me to pick you up after my bus tour.”
Les studied the framed poster on the wall. Which he’d seen many times before. He finally looked at her again and she signed, “Did you understand? I could have come to get you.”
“Yeah. I got that.” He hesitated, a hand at his ear. “Wait a minute.”
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