"Willow's Tail" 23
Martha stepped into the bedroom as the memories rose up like lit paper causing a brush fire of emotions she didn’t want to feel. That long ago summer needed to stay buried along with the frustration that one small detail could have derailed it. She’d wished it then and lamented it now, if only Percival had told her his brother Dillon was an identical twin, but he hadn’t.
She didn’t want to think that Dillon was the choreographer of all the havoc but that family crest did point in his direction.
“But why would he provoke these challenges,” she mumbled sourly while opening the glass doors that led to the twilight lit garden beyond.
The fragrance of summer blossoms enveloped her and the perfumed air fed her serenity. It was what she needed to lighten her disposition and clear her thoughts.
She’d nearly reclaimed her peaceful center when a loud knock on the bedroom door brought her out of her restorative meditation. She stepped back into the bedroom just as Perfida's cheerful voice came through the door.
“Martha, the pizza’s been delivered and I’ve opened a nice bottle of wine.”
“Thank you Perfidia; I’ll join you in a few minutes,” Martha replied as her eyes strayed to her reflection in the dresser’s mirror and the clouded countenance belied her chipper response. She could use a few more hours in garden’s soothing elements she thouhgt as she walked out of the bedroom.
The dinner table was set with fine china and crystal wine glasses, a bit overdone for pizza perhaps but it was elegantly welcoming and Martha appreciated it.
“That pizza does smell wonderful,” she admitted as she sat down at the table.
“And your taste buds will not be disappointed either,” Perfidia promised lifting a bottle of red wine and pouring a generous amount into a glass for Martha.
An unusually, blissful meow came from behind and Martha turned to find Willow daintily eating a filet of fish.
“I’m assuming Willow placed an order for dinner too?”
“She sure did,” Perfidia chuckled.
“You may have a friend in that feline yet,” Martha predicted.
Perfidia gave the cat a curious look and contemplated that possibility. “I’d have to say it isn’t as bothersome a prospect as I’d once thought it to be.”
Willow responded with a non-committal meow but didn’t bothering looking up from her tasty meal.
“She’s taking it under consideration,” Martha interpreted the cat’s response.
“Under consideration…? That’s ridiculous! There are endless benefits to having my friendship,” Perfidia stated with a bit of indignation.
“Of course there are,” Martha said, soothing Perfidia's ego, her friendship had challenges but she was a loyal friend.
"Thank you Martha," Perfidia smiled as she placed a slice of pizza on her plate.
“Oh my, this is delicious!” Martha stated after her first taste.
“I told you it would be and the wine is superb too; you should taste it,” Perfidia encouraged and attested to her words by lifting her glass of wine and waiting for Martha to do the same.
Martha lifted her glass and took a liberal sip of the wine and Perfidia lowered her own from her lips; its contents untouched.
It would take time for her potent potion to take effect on Martha; she’d have to wait to ask the questions clambering in her head.
When Martha was sipping on her second glass of wine, Perfidia casually began the conversation she’d been waiting to start.
“So when did you learn Percival had a twin brother?”
Martha nearly choked on the bite of pizza she’d just taken and looked at Perfidia with irritation, wanting to tell her it was not a discussion she’d care to have but to her utter surprise, found herself recounting the first day she’d met Dillon, offering up all the mortifying details of that first summer day. How she’d thrown her arms around the man she thought was Percival, foolishly happy to see him home two weeks earlier than expected from a business trip and even confessing her annoyance at Percival’s oversight in not telling her his brother was his identical twin, leaving her no reason to doubt the man she'd welcomed so warmly that day wasn’t Percival.
Martha's words tumbled out, seeming to her, impossible to stop.
Perfidia was impressed her potion had worked so well, she'd thought Martha would have had stronger protections. She'd have to tell her to build some...after she got the whole story of course.
“Dillon didn’t correct you when you called him Percival?”
“No he did not and he didn’t disengage from the embrace either,” Martha added the fact even as she grew concerned at the amount of information she was offering.
“You must have been very upset when he told you the truth.”
“I was more than upset, but Dillon never confessed to his duplicity; he pretended to be his brother the whole two weeks Percival was away. It was only when Percival returned home that I was enlightened to his true identity.”
Perfidia’s brow rose higher with interest and Martha clamped her lips shut, fighting the urge to tell her more. Something was off within her. She leaned back in her chair to consider why she’d become a font of personal information, especially when it was not her intent to do so. She was not comfortable thinking of those days much less speaking of them, so this unusual openness had to have a reason.
Martha took a small sip of wine and her gaze slid to the ruby liquid in the glass. It was an excellent vintage, highly potent, but did it possess a tongue loosening quality as well and was that influence a property of its grapes, or had it been added with intent by her hostess?
Martha lowered the wineglass and gave Perfidia an assessing look.
“What have you done Perfidia?” she asked with gentle accusation.
Perfidia’s eyes widened with an attempt at innocence.
“What? I’ve done nothing.”
Martha's unwavering stare crumbled Perfidia's false façade and her expression slipped into defensive.
“I’ve done nothing untoward; I merely helped you relax.”
Martha remained silent but her brow lifted in a skeptical arc.
“I have,” Perfidia insisted, “You were extremely tense on the drive home. You held the steering wheel in a death grip and your driving was erratic. Admit it Martha, your usual over-cautious driving principles were not being applied tonight. In fact, you drove like a speed demon and it was a concern for both Willow and me.”
“Nonsense, I drove perfectly well.”
“Did you? You nearly hit that frog in the road.”
“And nearly hit the squirrel on the other side.”
“He made it to the tree,” Martha defended.
“Barely,” Perfidia mumbled under her breath.
The squirrel had frantically leaped onto a tree and scurried up to a limb where he gave them an angry tail shake and hurled his precious, newly unearthed, walnut at them.
The memory was vivid but Martha refused to concede, giving Perfidia a defiant look instead as she defended her actions.
“Even so, the squirrel and frog were both unharmed.”
Perfidia could have argued that further but decided to take a different approach.
“Be honest Martha, whatever negative thoughts took over at the sight of that family crest you needed to release and I knew you wouldn’t release them easily, not without help, so I helped,” Perfidia concluded and nodded to the wine.
“You mean forced, don’t you?”
“Maybe I gave you a potent push in a liberating direction but let’s not forget you once put a little insight into my cup of tea.”
“That was to help us get to the root of those havocs and view them in a clearer light and it was not just you, I drank the tea too….and you’ve not touched your wine.” Martha’s pointed look at Perfidia’s full glass of wine emphasized her allegation.
Perfidia shrugged. “Okay, maybe you drank the tea too…maybe…but we’re in this challenge together Martha and what affects one of us, affects all of us. Don’t you agree?”
“Of course I do.”
“So your silent anger wasn’t going to be helpful to us and besides…no matter what you tell me…you know you can trust me.”
Martha’s eyes lost their sheen of annoyance, she couldn’t dispute the merit of Perfidia’s conclusion but she would not be coerced by potion, not even when given with good intentions.
Martha gave a side look to Willow whose ears had been turned towards their conversation. She knew the cat would intuit her request and saw the slight twitch of the feline’s tail just before she felt her will fully restored.
Martha returned her attention to Perfidia with eyes clear of persuasion, and only slightly tinged with annoyance.
“You thought it wold be beneficial for me to reflect on that past?”
“Yes I did,” Perfidia nodded, “It needed to be set free.”
“And telling you all the sordid details so they will not interfere with my challenges, that was your goal?”
“There are sordid details?” Perfidia’s eyes widened with interest, “you definitely should vent them or they’ll fester and cloud your judgment.”
Martha gave a short cynical snort at Perfidia’s transparent hunger for a story but she wasn’t all together wrong. Maybe she did need to exorcise those memories to get them out of her head.
“Sorry to disappoint; there are no sordid details to tell, but you might be right about my disposition; I was put in a dangerous mood tonight by the sight of that family crest. It brought back the deception of Dillon's masquerade, his accepting of affections not his to have has been difficult to get over.”
“I certainly wouldn’t have let him get away with it. I’d have made a special potion of revenge for him but…how much affection did you-?”
Martha’s sharp look stopped her prying question.
“Sorry,” Perfidia apologized in earnest but her curious nature wouldn’t let it go and she couldn’t help asking, “Did he kiss like Percival?”
Martha’s expression darkened and her mind raced to stop the memory of those kisses but it wasn’t able to derail them.
No, Dillon didn’t kiss like Percival but that fact hadn’t register as a caution because at the time she had no cause to doubt he was Percival. Maybe she’d noticed the changed technique but since it was better…she didn’t have a complaint.
“Well did he?”
Perfidia pressed for an answer and Martha gave her a withering look.
“Since I was calling him Percival and he was wholeheartedly answering to that name, why would I question anything?”
Martha’s eyes turned the color of obsidian and Perfidia felt a distinct chill all the way to her bones. She finally had the good sense to drop the query.
“What happened when Percival came home and Dillon had to explain why he’d led you?”
Martha gave a short mocking laugh.“It didn't go that way."
“When Percival arrived home he called to tell me he was back. I was of course confused by his words until he said he’d had a surprise, his brother Dillon, who’d gone to UCLA for college and stayed there after graduation, had come to visit him while he was away, and he wanted me to come over to meet him.”
“So that’s when you knew the truth.”
“That Dillon and Percival were identical twins and Dillon had been my companion for the last two weeks? Yes.”
“And you told Percival?”
“No, I was too furious to say anythng but I believed the dubious honor of telling Percival belonged solely to Dillon.”
“I agree, so what happened?”
“I drove to Percival’s house and he introduced me to Dillon. Percival was oblivious to the tension in the room as I waited for Dillon to tell him about his ruse, but he didn’t and his silence was challenging me to tell Percival. I was infuriated and after five minutes of this impasse, I made some feeble excuse and left, and I thought Dillon would tell Percival once I’d gone.”
Martha shook her head. “No; he left the next day and Percival was none the wiser but I wasn’t able to forget, or forgive. It rattled my composure more than I want to admit and I tried to find a way to bring it up to Percival but my anger at Dillon kept getting in my head.”
“So that was it?”
“Not entirely, two days after Dillon left, Percival and I had a petty argument but it escalated all out of proportion; that argument led to the week of Percival writing letters to me and as you know, all those letters were diverted to Miriam.”
Perfidia’s eyes lit with understanding. “And that’s when you left.”
“But besides Percival and Miriam who would have cared about switching those letters, unless you think it was Dillon?”
“As far as I know, Dillon had gone back to California.”
“Did he ever contact you again?”
“I cut off all communication when I left, so I wouldn’t know.”
“You did disappear," Perfidia nodded, "And how is it Willow didn’t sniff out Dillon’s deception?”
“Willow was away. She’s a very well traveled cat.”
“That was certainly bad timing.”
The annoyed meow from the eavesdropping cat didn’t deter Perifida’s opinion. She turned her full attention to the cat.
“You should have known Martha was in need of you.”
Willow’s eyes glowed emerald and the tip of her tail twitched ominously before she went back to her scrumptious meal.
Perfidia waited for the windstorm to start or a swarm of bees to appear but nothing happened.
“What was that?” She asked, bewildered by the calm.
“A warning, she knows your concern is well intentioned so she isn’t taking offense but don’t go down that path any farther.”
“So do we conclude Dillon is behind all these havocs and you'll have your revenge when we win?”
“I don’t know. It feels too easy to claim it’s him but that design is the Goodfellow’s family crest and Dillon did wear a ring engraved with it.”
“You’re right Martha; it feels too easy to assume it's him, and something else bothers me, if you never betrayed Dillon to Percival why would he have cause to havoc you now and why havoc Roger, Gloria, Willow or me? The mischief's been personal to all of us, not just you. I think the crest may have been planted to throw us off.”
Martha frowned at the idea. Who beside Dillon would know of it? She’d never spoken of it to anyone, not until tonight but…had he?
Martha’s eyes darkened with trepidation.
“That would raise some bothersome questions. Who has a cause to disturb that memory and a desire to mischief our lives?” Martha asked with concern.
“We're close to the end of these contests so they’ll be unmasked soon enough. And once we’ve won our respective contests, we'll exact our revenge,” Perfidia stated with confidence.
Martha wasn’t as confident it would be that easy but she didnt dispute it with Perfidia.This night's events left her much to ponder and she intended to search a few leads before the conclusion of the contests.
"Does Dillon still live in California?” Perfifid asked casually.
The unexpected question drew Martha’s reluctant attention.
“I wouldn’t know.”
“Can we ask Percival?”
“No!” Martha exclaimed harshly but quickly softened her tone, “let’s leave Percival out of this, he doesn’t need to know and, as you've said, we’ll have all our answers once we win.”
“Hmmm maybe,” Perfidia mused, still curious to know all.
“Let it go Perfidia. It's a distraction and we need to stay focused. I’m certain the havocs aren’t over yet.” Martha warned as she lifted her glass of wine but Perfidia stopped her from sipping any by placing a hand over it.
“Maybe I should open a different bottle,” Perfidia offered.
Martha chuckled. “I suppose it’s done its job in loosening my tongue; yes, I guess you can save the rest for another victim.”
“I don’t have victims," Perfidia defended as she poured the wine from Martha's glass into the sink, "but sometimes people need to delve into their hidden feelings, and I help them.”
"That you do," Martha said but she was no longer upset with Perfidia and in fairness, she had once served her a cup of insight tea. “But don’t open another wine Perfidia; I think I’d preferred a cup of tea instead.”
“I agree, tea sounds lovely,” Perfidia nodded, “and it will compliment the cheese cake I have for our dessert.”
Willow's ears picked up at the words cheese cake and she gave a long, plaintive meow, making her request clear.
“Yes, you’ll get a slice too,” Perfidia promised the cat as she began to brew the best blend of tea she had, without ulterior motives.