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  Angels in the Mist                 Purchase Now

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Chapter 1

Angels in the Mist by James Paddock

Friday
September 7, 2001

   The wisdom of time is divine

   The wisdom of rhyme is mine

Natasha tapped her foot against the table leg until Maureen looked up at her. "Well?" Natasha said.

"The wisdom of patience is divine."

Natasha scrunched her nose. "Huh?"

"Patience, Natasha . . . patience. A virtue you weren’t born with. I’ll bet your mother went into early labor because you were rocking back and forth and tapping on her rib cage."

"All right. I know I’m impatient. What do you think though?"

Maureen looked down at the sheet of plain white paper with the two neatly printed lines and then presented it back to Natasha. "Don’t quit your day job."

Natasha snapped the paper from Maureen’s hand. "Some friend you are. I have to have a job first." She wrote two more lines and turned the page back to Maureen.

   It’s September, though not too hot

   This cold ice cream sure hits the spot

"It rhymes," Maureen said.

"All right! So I’m no Emily Dickenson."

"You’re not even Emily Dickenson’s hand maiden."

"I like playing with the simple two-line rhythm. There’s something clean and unassuming about it."

"Unassuming? What does that mean?"

Natasha opened her mouth, considered the question and then said, "I don’t know." She made a pout face. "But I like poetry."

"I like music, but have you heard me sing?"

"Yeah, and you stink."

Maureen tilted her head and raised her eyebrows.

"Okay! Okay! But I’m sure you still sing in the shower. This is my equivalent of singing in the shower. I just want to share my shower with someone."

Maureen bent forward, put her hand on Natasha’s arm and lowered her voice. "That guy right behind you would be thrilled to share your shower, and in return he would probably be glad to give your poetry a very positive critique."

Natasha let a spoonful of cherry cheesecake yogurt slowly melt down her throat. "I’m not going to look."

"Suit yourself." Maureen pushed her half-eaten salad aside. "I hate you, you know."
"Huh?"

"The way you can thumb your nose at calories and eat anything you want. It’s disgusting."

"I have a high metabolism. What can I say? You’re the one I’m jealous of though."
Maureen laughed. "Jealous of what? My love affair with green leafy food? Yeah, right."

"No. You can keep that crap. You’re so damn beautiful. Every hair in place. A perky little nose. Impeccably dressed."

"Do you have any idea how hard I have to work to look like this? I’d give my eye teeth to be able to roll out of bed in the morning with that fresh, alive, athletic woman look. All you have to do is shake your head to fluff up your hair, and throw on a sweat shirt and jeans. If I shook my head, the guys, if there were any to begin with, would run away. If I put on jeans and a sweat shirt I’d look like a migrant worker." She picked a piece of lettuce out of her salad. "Basically, Natasha, I hate you because you’re naturally beautiful."

"You’re lying and you know it, Maureen. You could have any guy you want just by snapping your fingers. You’re successful and beautiful. Why wouldn’t they come running?"

Maureen leaned forward. "You want to know a secret? I haven’t slept with a guy in over a year. And since I don’t drop my pants right off, I can’t get past the second date. Sure, I know a lot of single men, but ask any of them about me and they’ll say, ‘Oh sure, I remember her. I dated her twice.’"

"So, you’re not ready to commit yet. What’s the big deal?"

"My point is, Natasha, the reason I don’t get in bed with a guy is because the next morning he’ll see the real me. I don’t wish that on anyone."

Natasha laughed. "You’re beautiful no matter what you say. I sure don’t see any guys beating down my door." She stared at the dripping yogurt on her spoon before slipping it between her lips.

"You’re my best friend, Natasha, and I think I need to be straight with you, not give you a bunch of consoling bullshit. It’s been nearly six months. It’s time for you to come back to life."

"I’m back to life. I’m here at lunch with you, aren’t I?"

"Once a week lunch with me asking for a critique on two line poetry and moping around Saturday garage sales is not what I call getting back into life."

"I don’t mope . . . much. I’m very happy today. Really. At least until you started picking on me."

"I’m not picking on you."

"Right. The next thing you’re going to say is ‘get a job!’"

Maureen tilted her head and raised her eyebrows again.

"Okay! I’ve been thinking about it."

"The insurance money isn’t going to last forever. Maybe you should consider selling the house. Get into something smaller, a fresh new apartment maybe."

Natasha looked at her friend and shook her head. "No. I can’t."

"I would help you and charge no fees."

"I can’t. Just the thought of it turns my insides into knots. I’d rather not talk about this, please."

Maureen lifted her chin from her hands where she had been resting. "Sure. I just worry about you is all." She opened her wallet, pulled out a five-dollar bill. "I’ve got to get back. This should more than cover my part. Also. . ." from a folder under her wallet she extracted a large brown envelope, and slid it across the table against Natasha’s hand. "Keep this for me. Don’t open it unless . . ." Maureen stared at it for several seconds then extracted her hand.

Natasha studied Maureen’s smile. She was sure that that smile, Maureen’s trademark, was solely responsible for her being one of the most successful independent real estate brokers in Helena. For a second she noticed a flicker or a passing shadow. Was it worry, fear, fatigue, or a reflection off a passing car? They were close enough friends, Natasha wanted to think, that if it was something really important, Maureen would share it. They would discuss it, tear it apart, analyze it until they had transformed a big problem into a number of insignificant trifles.

Even if Maureen didn’t want to talk to her about the envelope’s contents or what meaning it was having in her life, Natasha was more concerned about something else, something even more valuable. Maureen called me her best friend, she thought, and now she’s trusting me. She felt the corner of the envelope under her hand. For once in my life I will not violate it . . . unless . . .

"Unless what? What is it?"

"Never mind. You don’t want to know. Just keep it safe. I’ll get it back from you when I pick you up tomorrow morning."

"Okay." Natasha took the last bite of her dessert.

"Put it in your purse."

Natasha looked at Maureen’s calm and smiling face again and then put the envelope in her purse. "Why the mystery, Maureen? Are you in trouble or is your ex after you for something?"

"I haven’t seen Trevor in years. No, everything is fine. It’s no big deal, really." She looked away, out the window and then back. "I’m just being cautious."

There it was again, that shadow. It was in her eyes, just as quick, just as questionable. And twice in a matter of seconds. What the hell is going on? she wanted to ask. Instead she scraped at the bottom of the parfait glass, licked the spoon and waited out the silence.

"So, Natasha, are you going to look, or what?"

"Look?" She reached into her shopping bag-size purse. "You told me not to look."
Maureen quickly grabbed her arm. "No! Not the envelope." She lightened her grip. "The guy behind you. I know you’re dying to look."

"No, I’m not. I forgot all about that."

"He’d look good in your shower."

Natasha rolled her eyes, blotted the corner of her mouth and then let the napkin slip off the edge of the table. "Oops! I dropped my napkin." She grinned at Maureen, stood, turned around, picked up the napkin, looked at the guy and then sat back down.

"Gag me with a razor blade, Maureen. He’s older than Moses, and wears white shoes for God’s sake."

Maureen stood. "Maybe, Natasha. But you know what they say."

"No, what?"

She bent over the table and whispered, "An old, ugly man is better than no man at all." Then before turning and walking away she said, "Guard the envelope and don’t forget the guy." Natasha stuck her tongue out at Maureen’s retreating figure. After watching her turn left outside the door, she pulled a pen from her purse and wrote two more lines."

   Trust, trust, of course you must,

   But if you dare, give in to lust.

She pondered those until she saw the white shoes breeze past her table. She then wrote,

   Unless of course, he wears shoes white

   Then lock your doors and windows tight.

She wondered where that came from, shrugged her shoulders and wrote,

   A redheaded blond, some have said,

   The next one who does is going to be dead.

She closed her pen, folded the paper into her purse, added another five dollars to Maureen’s, carried it to the cashier and stepped out into the September sun.

   It’s a sad Montana afternoon.

   Do I deserve happiness so soon?

 

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