"Willow's Tail" 27
Perfidia walked quickly towards the pet contest’s building, she didn’t want to miss seeing Willow take the trophy but it had taken her longer than she’d intended, bringing the orchid and her trophy to the car. All the neighborly, well wishers, who’d stopped to congratulate her, were not in any hurry to move on and she'd had the darnedest time, biting her lip and trying not to be rude, ending those conversations.
She was nearly to the building when she saw Martha and Willow emerge and walk down the steps. Martha was carrying a gold-plated pet dish and a first place trophy and Willow was sauntering with confidence.
“I missed it?” Perfidia asked the obvious.
“Yes, the three feline finalists ran through the event pretty quickly but of course, Willow completed it in record speed.”
“No surprise in that, but did Jon’s cat try to out do Willow again?”
“That’s strange, why wouldn't he?”
“I think yesterday’s impressive performance by Jon's cat had something to do with that hired havoc maker and his cat Max.”
“You think they embellished his cat’s talents?”
“If that’s true,” Perfidia mused, “then his cat isn’t-” before she could finish her thought the subject of their conversation stepped out of the building, with said cat, and Perfidia’s eyes widened, hoping he hadn’t overheard them.
“Good afternoon Perfidia, Martha and congratulations to you Willow, you’re an amazing cat and deserved to win,” Jon said amicably as he walked over, holding his fluffy smoke-colored cat in his arms.
“Thank you Jon,” Martha accepted the compliment for Willow, “and congratulations to Mannix for placing second.”
Jon chuckled. “Mannix couldn’t care less; he isn’t impressed by anything inedible, but I’m pleased,” Jon told her then turned his attention to Perfidia, who he’d noticed was slowly inching backwards and trying to walk away, “And congratulations to you Perfidia for taking first place in the Orchid contest.”
Perfidia’s eyes darkened with mistrust.
“I’d say thank you but I’m sure you’re just being cordial.”
Jon took a deep frustrated breath and Perfidia stared coldly at him.
Martha decided they needed a chance to settle whatever was brewing between them.
“I think Willow deserves a treat,” Martha said then added, “And if you like, I can take Mannix along with us, I think he deserves a treat as well.”
“That’d be great; thank you Martha” Jon said it gratefully but it was through a tight smile.
He handed Mannix over to her and Martha settled the contented cat in her arms then reminded Perfidia, “And don’t forget the tea contest is in an hour Perfidia.”
Perfidia’s eyes continued to blaze into Jon’s as she answered.
“I’ll be there.”
The two waited until Martha walked far enough away before confronting the tension.
The first to speak was Jon.
“Whatever anger you’re harboring towards me Perfidia is probably deserved. I did leave without talking to you.”
“Did you? And why would I care if you did, since you’d left me long before that; don’t you think you should be apologizing to Gloria?”
“Don’t play shocked; the two of you were together everyday.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Perfidia cut him off, “and I have a few things to do before the tea contest, so I’ll see you around.”
She turned to leave but Jon gently placed his hand on her arm, stopped her.
“Please Perfidia; we need to talk. Will you be at the closing reception tonight?”
Perfidia’s mind suddenly whirled with a delicious idea and she looked over her shoulder at him.
“I’ll be there.”
“Can we talk over a glass of wine?”
“I’d rather talk over a cup of Martha’s winning tea,” she counter offered sweetly.
“Tea it is,” he nodded.
“Perfect, then I’ll see you later,” she said breezily and walked away, hiding the wicked smile of victory that lit her face.
“Two down and one to go,” Perfidia reminded Martha when she found her sitting at a table near the food stands, with the two felines resting nearby.
“And let’s not forget, after I win, we’ll find out what this was all about.”
Perfidia was skeptical on that probability. “Sure,” she said with little enthusiasm then looked at Jon’s cat lying next to Willow, slumbering peacefully.
“Are they friends now?”
“It seems they are.”
“Huh, who’d have thought it,” Perfidia shook her head, “but since Jon’s cat is here that means Jon will be here soon to get him, so I’ll be going.”
“You didn’t settle things? You know that’s why I left you two together.”
Perfidia scoffed, “I know that’s why you left us but I’m sorry to say, we didn’t resolve anything. Although, I did agree to meet him at the reception so maybe, we’ll talk then.”
“And you’re willing to listen to him?”
“I will, if he tells the truth.”
“And you’ll know if he’s telling the truth?” Martha asked with interest.
Perfidia wouldn’t look her in the eye. “I’d love to stay and chew this over with you Martha, but I have to go, there’s something I need to do before your contest begins.”
“Hmmm, then I guess I’ll see you later.”
"Yes. later." Perfidia echoed.
Martha watched her walk away, with a growing premonition she was up to something.
“You may begin,” the judge announced from the stage and the three finalists in the tea brewing contest began to blend their signature teas.
Martha carefully placed her aromatic base leaves into a bowl with the spices for her special brew. It was a secret recipe, one she’d cultivated over the last five years; even to her, it was magical.
Miriam scowled at Martha, hating how unsure she felt competing with her. Martha was an expert at blending fine teas but she’d been working out this blend for the last three years and believed she’d created an excellent signature brew. But could it compete with Martha’s flair for the unusual? She wasn’t confident of that answer.
“Time is up. Please pour your tea into the cups.” The judge instructed.
The contestants poured their brews into teacups and the judging began.
The judges lingered over each entry, taking second and third sips and making notes on their clip boards before moving away to confer.
Twenty minutes later, the judges walked to the stage with their results.
“We have chosen our winner but first, we want to acknowledge all three blends were worthy of this final compete, but there was one that was exceptional. The winner of this year’s tea brewing contest is Martha Kendelite for her Summer’s Delight signature tea blend.”
Miriam crossed her arms in annoyance as she watched Martha accept the first place trophy.
Miriam’s name was announced for second place and she had to plaster on a fake smile before she walked over to accept it and she had to keep that smile in place while she stood next to Martha.
As they stood side by side, Miriam whispered, through that fake smile, “I never could be first with you around. Why did I ever think that could change?”
Martha turned to respond but Miriam walked back to her kitchen area to gather her items. Martha followed her.
“I’ve never felt in competition with you Miriam and I’ve always counted you among my friends.”
Miriam frowned but said nothing as she placed the lid on her container of tea leaves and gathered up several small jars of spices placing them all into a box.
Percival was about to walk up the steps of the stage to help her but Miriam saw him and shook her head and he paused, and waited there for her.
“Congratulations on your win,” Miriam said to Martha without sincerity then turned on her heels and walked off the stage towards Percival.
Perfidia and Willow passed Miriam as they walked up to the stage and Miriam made a point of turning her head away.
“What’s with her?” Perfidia asked Martha.
“I don’t know but whatever it is; she isn’t willing to discuss it.”
Willow’s tail twitched ever so slightly and they heard Miriam cry out.
"Oh help!" Miriam cried as her feet tripped over each other; she saw nothing she could have stumbled on. The box she held teetered on the brink of falling and she was about to fall as well. If Percival hadn’t been close enough to steady her and catch the box, they both would have landed on the hard wood floor.
“Lean on me and I’ll get you out of here safely,” Percival promised her.
Miriam turned and gave Martha a scowl of suspicion as she took hold of Percival’s arm.
Martha shook her head at Willow, giving her a scolding look, but the feline was unperturbed and sat down to lick her paw, not in the least repentant.
Perfidia wasn’t bothered by it either, she thought Percival should have let Miriam fall on her snooty rump.
“Try to behave you two.”
“What? I didn’t do anything,” Perfidia said defensively..
Martha wasn’t so sure about that but she didn’t bother to dispute it.
“Anyway, I’m all packed up and ready to head over to the café.”
“Shouldn’t we drop off your tea blend for the reception first?” Perfidia inquired as nonchalantly as she could.
“No, we don’t have to. The judges give it to the reception committee.”
“Oh, that’s nice of them,” Perfidia said with little care as she followed Martha off the stage, but in truth, she cared very much that the tea had been delivered.
“There’s the café.” Perfidia nodded to Martha.
“Yes, and where this all ends.”
“If you say so,” Perfidia shrugged, “but after your disappointment in there Martha, you can meet up with me and Willow; we’ll be at the hamburger stand enjoying a well deserved treat.”
“I don’t know why you won’t come inside.”
“Because, there’s no point in both of us wasting our time.”
“Fine, I’ll meet you after and give you the name of our mischief maker,” Martha stated.
Perfidia narrowed her eyes on the café doubting there’d be anyone inside willing to confess.
“Good luck, come on Willow I need a pineapple smoothie and a cheeseburger stat; how about you?”
The cat telegraphed her preference as the two walked away.
Martha stepped inside the café and hesitated when she found Percival sitting alone at a table. She didn’t want to believe he could be their troublemaker but why else was he here at this exact moment? He looked up at her and smiled and she walked towards his table.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m waiting for Miriam; she’s meeting me here. You’re welcome to join us.”
"No thank you," Martha declined as the café door opened behind her.
Percival stood up and smiled past Martha, waving to Miriam as she entered the cafe.
“I’ve ordered us some lemonade.”
Miriam gave a silly laugh. “Oh, I think I’d rather have it outside; it’s such a lovely day and much too crowded in here,” she added the last sourly as she stepped around Martha.
“Whatever you prefer,” Percival acquiesced, “I guess we’ll see you later Martha at the reception?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Enjoy your day Marha,” he said as he stepped around her and over to Miriam, then he told the waitress they’d decided to have their lemonade outside.
Martha felt like a fool and looking around the café she didn’t see anyone waiting to meet her. Maybe Perfidia had been right to doubt this mischief maker’s integrity.
She was about to leave when the door opened and a man walked in.
Martha froze in his gaze and hated that his eyes were unforgettable, and that his smile could still stop her breath.
“Dillon,” she whispered with distaste.