Sylvia A. Nash is a free-lance writer who lives in West Tennessee. Her publications include articles, poetry, and short stories. She is currently working on her first novel, a cozy mystery. Her short story “The Mystery Man” is a lighthearted, romantic take on Agatha Christie's mysterious Harley Quin. Nash, a former high school English teacher, holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts with a major in English. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters in Crime. Visit her at her website and blog: The Mystery Begins in the Past (http://sylviaanash.com) and Past and Present (http://www.sylviaanash.com/blog/). Contact her at email@example.com.
“If this rain doesn’t stop soon, I’ll go mad! Two weeks is enough!” Mary closed her eyes to the dark, wet scene outside her window and drew Harley Quin closer. The cat, as dark as the night except for tiny sparkles of white surrounding his eyes like a mask, purred and rubbed his head against her chin. “I know. My mood isn’t from rain or thunder. I want to be in a relationship. Just not with Paul.” Paul was her latest ex-boyfriend. “Although I miss his flowers. The apartment looks kind of drab since we broke off, doesn’t it?”
“So you’ve noticed, too. And seeing that dark figure just now protecting that beautiful bouquet of spring flowers underneath that huge umbrella didn’t help matters much. Especially the way he moved. Everything about him made me think of William.”
Mary sighed and held Harley Quin cheek to cheek, swaying the old cat back and forth in her arms as she shuffled to the overstuffed chair in the corner. “Life would have been different if I had married William. For me anyway. I wonder how things turned out for him. Couldn’t be worse than this!” She fell back into the chair.
“Sorry, Harley! I didn’t mean to sit on your tail. Or are you trying to tell me something else? That at least I have you? I know.” She scratched behind his ears. “Oh, well. I guess I could buy some flowers for myself to brighten up our little home.”
Mary absentmindedly picked up the remote, turned on the TV, and ran through the channels twice. “One hundred channels and nothing to watch.” She turned off the TV.
“You know, Harley, it’s partly your fault. I gave up a man who loved cats but couldn’t be in the same room with them because of his allergies and then became engaged to a man who hated cats and discovered he couldn’t be in the same room with me.”
Harley’s purring reverberated against her chest. “I love you, too. But you did cost me the love of my life. All this melancholy makes me hungry. What about you?”
“Yeow-w-w!” Harley jumped down and rubbed his back against her leg.
“I’ll take that as a yes.” Ten short steps to the cupboard. “I don’t believe this. I thought I had two cans of tuna, and I don’t have any! You haven’t been pushing cans around in the cupboard again, have you, Harley?”
“Meow.” Harley turned his attention to grooming his whiskers.
“Only for you would I go out in this weather.” Mary stroked Harley’s arched back then crossed to the front closet for her slicker and umbrella. “I hope this cheap thing can take that wind! I’ll be back!”
Outside, Mary turned back and saw that Harley had jumped up on the sill and watched her as she struggled against the rain and wind.
Mary pushed against the wind as she walked the two blocks to the corner drug store. When she started back, tuna safely tucked in her slicker pocket, the wind pushed her from behind and twisted her umbrella inside out. She raised her fist to shake it at the storm but found herself looking at the underside of a huge black and not-so-cheap umbrella. She turned to see who held it and almost lost her balance in her surprise.
“Where did you come from?”
“I was visiting a friend in the building behind us.”
“Not exactly what I meant, but that will do for starters.” They both laughed. Mary’s eyes widened as she recalled the mystery man with the flowers. “You brought flowers to your friend!”
“I did! Actually, I brought them to my friend’s wife. She’s been sick. Why don’t we get in out of the rain to talk? Mom and Pop’s has great apple pie.” He nodded toward the little family-owned restaurant. “Maybe the rain will slacken.”
“I doubt that, but I’d love the pie.” They ran arm in arm across the street, the huge umbrella protecting them both.
“Two coffees and two apple pies, please, Ellen.”
“Ellen?” Mary asked as she slid into the booth.
“I come here often. I can’t believe you and I haven’t run into each other. You must live nearby to be out on a night like this!” He reached across the table to brush wet strands of hair from her eyes.
“I do. You moved to Atlanta.”
“I did. Until after my fiancée and I split up.”
“Oh?” Mary tried not to sound happy.
“Yes. Happens to the best of us!” He smiled and unfolded his napkin. “Anyway, I got restless and found an announcement for a tenure-track English position at our undergrad alma mater. I applied. Here I am! I thought you moved into an apartment in that old Victorian on Maple Street after graduation.”
“I did.” Ellen arrived with their order. “How did you know?”
“I’ve kept up with you through my brother. He said you were with someone, and it seemed serious.”
“Hmmm. He missed a ripple.”
“We split, too.” Mary hoped she didn’t imagine it, but she thought William’s eyes lit up for a second. “We talked about getting married and looked at houses—we both lived in rented apartments on the same street. When we split, I wanted to move away from him. My new apartment has the added benefit of being close to my studio.”
“Well, then, maybe we could see each other again?” He raised an eyebrow.
Mary studied her coffee. “William, I still have Harley. But I still think we could have worked it out if we hadn’t gotten so angry. And we hadn’t left for grad school so soon after our argument.”
“You’re right. I mean, it wasn’t just cats I was allergic to. But I’m terrified of needles.”
“If we had gone to the same school, we might have patched things up.”
“But you went to UCLA, and I went to UTK.”
“And I still had Harley.”
William finished his last bite of pie before continuing. “I tried the injections.”
“Yes. And they actually work. I’m still terrified of the needles, but the injections do help. By the time I gave in and tried them, though, you’d gotten engaged.”
“Oh.” Mary groaned.
“Then I got engaged. The kicker was she hated cats!”
“No! My fiancé hated them, too!” They both laughed. Their eyes locked.
“I think the storm is letting up.”
Mary looked away first and folded her napkin. “I should get back to Harley. He probably wonders where his supper is!”
“I’ll walk you home.”
They walked the two blocks in silence. At the door, William brushed Mary’s cheek with his lips. She felt the darkness inside lift. “Call me?”
“How about I come over? We could see a matinee, take a walk in the park, and then I could make my double-stuffed pizza.”
“I loved your pizza. How about my place? Harley would like to see you. Especially now that you can be near him without sneezing your head off!”
Mary awoke to sunshine. She and Harley stretched. She smiled as he flicked his ears. She picked him up and went to the window to open the blinds. “Not a cloud in the sky, Harley!”
She spent half the morning cleaning the apartment—which really needed it—and the other half showering and then changing clothes ten times. She had barely finished her makeup when the doorbell rang. She ran to open it. William stood there with a huge bouquet of flowers.
“Flowers,” she whispered.
“Oh, just something Harley and I discussed yesterday.” She smiled at William’s puzzled expression. “They’re beautiful!” She took the bright bouquet of pink, peach, and purple from him and breathed in the mingled fragrance of hydrangea, lilies, roses, asters, and Sweet William. “Perfect!”
That evening, exhausted and full of pizza, the three of them relaxed on the sofa, William with his arm around Mary’s shoulders, Harley stretched across their laps.
“Well, Harley Quin, he was no mystery man after all, was he? But I think you knew it. And I think you sent me out for tuna on purpose, didn’t you?” As Mary bent to rub cheeks with Harley, she could have sworn he closed his eyes and nodded in agreement.