The Cinderella Deal(4)

By: Jennifer Crusie

Daisy froze and then turned to face her friend. Julia stood beside the table in the light from the stained glass lamp, looking fragile and cautious and sympathetic, and Daisy loved her for the offer as much as she was angry that the offer had been made. “No. I can make it.”

Julia bit her lip. “Then let me buy a painting. You know how I feel about the Lizzie Borden painting. Let me—”

“Julia, you already own three of my paintings.” Daisy turned back to the cat. “Enough charity already.”

“It’s not charity.” Julia’s voice was intense. “I bought those paintings because I loved them. And I—”

“No.” Daisy picked up the plate with her pita on it. “Want some tuna? I can cut this in half.”

“No.” Julia sighed. “No, I have papers to grade.” She shoved her chair under the table and looked at Daisy regretfully. “If you ever need my help, you know it’s there.”

“I know.” Daisy sat down next to the kitten, trying to concentrate on it instead of on Julia’s offer. “If you come across an easy way to make a thousand bucks, let me know.”

Julia nodded. “I’ll try to remember that.” The kitten screeched again, and she retreated to the door.

“Teach that cat to shut up, will you? Guthrie is not going to be amused if he finds out you’re keeping a cat in his apartment building. The only reason Liz gets by is that she’s ninety-eight percent potted plant.”

Once Julia had gone, Daisy got down on her knees next to the table so she could look the kitten in the eye. “Look, I know we just met,” she told the cat. “But trust me on this, you have to eat. I know you’ve had a rough childhood, but so did I, and I eat. Besides, from now on you’re a Flattery cat. And Flatterys don’t quit. Eat the tuna, and you can stay.”

Daisy picked up a tiny piece of tuna and held it under the kitten’s nose. The kitten licked the tuna and then took it carefully in its mouth.

“See?” Daisy scratched gently behind the kitten’s ears. “Poor baby. You’re just an orphan of the storm. Little Orphan Annie. But now you’re with me.”

Little Orphan Annie struggled farther out of the towel and began to eat, slowly at first and then 

ravenously. Daisy pushed the unruly fuzz of her hair back behind her ears as she watched the kitten, and then she began to eat her pita.

“You’re going to have to lie low,” she told the kitten. “I’m not allowed to have pets, so we’ll have to hide you from the landlord. And from the guy upstairs too. Big dark-haired guy in a suit. No sense of humor. Flares his nostrils a lot. You can’t miss him. He kicked Liz once. He looks like he has cats like you for breakfast.”

The kitten finished the tuna and licked its chops, its orange and brown fur finally a little drier but still spiky.

“Maybe you’re an omen.” Daisy stroked her fingers lightly down the kitten’s back while it moved on to cleaning the plate. “Maybe this means things will be better. Maybe…”

She began to tell herself the story again, the story of her new life, the one she’d been building for the past four years. She’d given up security to follow her dream, so of course she had to face years of adversity first—four was about right—because without adversity and struggle no story was really a story. Now the next chapter would be her paintings finally selling, and maybe her storytelling career suddenly taking off too. And a prince would be good. Somebody big and warm to keep her company. It had been seven months since Derek had moved out—taking her stereo, the creep—and she was about ready to trust somebody with a Y chromosome again.

Not marry anyone, certainly; she’d already seen what that part of the fairy tale could do to women. Look at her mother. The thought of her mother depressed her, but Annie abandoned the empty plate and began to lick the dampness from her fur, and the scratchy sound brought Daisy back to earth. Forget the prince. Stories were all well and good, but princes weren’t stories, they were impossible. Daisy had known that from the time she’d realized that her mother’s promises that her father would be back were a bigger fairy tale than anything the Brothers Grimm had ever spun out. Nobody was ever there when you needed someone. You’re born alone and you die alone, Daisy told herself. Remember that. Now think of something to get yourself out of this.