"Boomer!" Amber sang, slipping easily from Candy's lap to rush over to her sister's lover, flying into his open arms.
"Hey there, Sunshine!" he returned, settling a large shopping bag down on the ground so that he could heft her into the air before settling the kitten in his arms. "What's the matter?" he asked, stepping aside to allow Malki, his miniature younger brother, to slide through the door before he shut it securely behind him.
"Sugar was talking about the people and the people are really big and the people are-" Amber babbled and would have continued in her chatter had Boomer not pressed his to her rambling lips, effectively silencing her.
"Amber, why does that bother you?" he asked.
"Because, the big people are mean." she explained. "They try to get you when you're sleeping and they're really strong, too!" she declared, passionately.
Something wasn't right and Boomer had a fair suspicion of what was foul. "I see." he said, quietly. "Tell me, Honey, was it just what Sugar was saying that made you think this way?"
"No." she said, shaking her head. "Malki and me watched a movie and the wolfs were being really mean, but I didn't know that they were so big, not until Sugar said-"
"AMBER!" Malki cried, sitting neatly on the handoff counter. "You're such a blabbermouth!"
A low growl rumbled from Boomer's chest. "So, you watched THAT movie after I specifically told you NOT to?" he roared at his younger sibling. "And you made Amber watch it, too?"
"Amber wasn't supposed to tell!" the child retorted.
"That doesn't excuse the fact that you weren't supposed to watch it in the first place!"
"But, I wasn't scared! It wasn't scary at all! Only because babies like Amber are scared of-" he started to argue, but a stern look from his elder sibling quickly ushered the youth into a reverent silence. He'd said too much and now, if he didn't want to find himself in more trouble than he was already courting, he knew better than to say anything more. Instead, he scooted across the counter to where Mint was finishing up drying the blenders.
"We'll discuss this later." Boomer said, ending the conversation. "And Amber, what you saw in that movie wasn't real. Don't be afraid of those things, alright?"
"Really?" the girl practically whimpered.
"Really." he promised, pressing his nose to hers. His word seemed to be enough for the lass and she warmed in the safety of his promise and the night didn't seem quite as dark.
"You're going to be such a good papa, Boomer." Candy sang, cheerfully.
"I think so, too." Tange chimed in. "You're so good with kittens."
"I enjoy them." he said, placing Amber upon her feet. "So it makes it easier to get along with them."
"That and the fact that you don't have half a million of them scampering around underfoot." a voice said, emerging from the kitchen.
"Delightful as always, Plum." Boomer grinned.
"Blah blah blah
" the purple cat replied, sauntering over to the tom. "I mean it. If you had a dozen youngsters running around all the time, your patience with them would be just a little more than thin."
not like your little brothers and sisters, Plum?" Sugar asked with trepidation.
"Oh, Sugar," she cooed, "of course I love my siblings, ALL my siblings. If I didn't I wouldn't make as many sacrifices for them as I do. But, even so, sometimes they wear me out. I
was never really groomed for motherhood." she explained, taking comfort in the arm that Boomer slid easily about her shoulder. "It was just suddenly thrust upon me. All of a sudden I was responsible for the lives of my younger sibling and had to assume the role of mother even though I'm just an older sister. I didn't even have time to prepare for it. It was just
there out of the blue."
There was a still quiet throughout the restaurant as laments of the past and the terrible things that life and inevitably death had wrought upon the people of Catriona. Calico was a region known for its flooding. Being a country that depended on the sea for so much of its means, it was practical for its people to make their living around the waters. However, in as much the seas gave to the people, much was also taken away.
Coastal flooding and monsoon rains were rampant during the wet season. Hardly a family existed in all of Calico that hadn't known the painful sting of the wrath of the floods. Homes destroyed, livelihoods shattered and families violently torn apart. It was the case with many of the country's people, including Boomer and Sweetheart. Very few were without the understanding of the ache of losing a loved one. But, with Plum, the situation was different. Long ago, her parents had departed on a vacation for two. The couple were long overdue for a break and needed the recreational time apart from the children to renew the bonds that had brought them together. But, what should have been a wonderful experience to charge and brighten the soul ended in heartache and longing as Plum's parents never returned from their journey, leaving an unsure teenage girl and her twin brothers alone to rear their nine younger siblings. Life was difficult for them, even with the help of the community. There never seemed to be enough clean clothes or hot cooked meals and someone was always sick. In a house swollen with so many lives within, when one person was sick, the others were quick to follow suit.
It wasn't long after her parents' departure and subsequent absence that Plum dropped out of school in favor of staying home with her siblings to take care of them. Her brother continued on, taking part-time jobs after their classes to help keep milk on the table. It wasn't until all of the younger children were attending school that Plum was able to escape the confines of the household and take a more sociable job for herself and seek out a new career. It was at this time that Sweetheart, her long time best friend, invited her to take up the position as assistant manager for the Sweet Shoppe, construction for which had just begun to get underway. As generous an offer as it was, Plum initially refused her friend, fearing that Sweetheart was making a sacrifice on her behalf and on their friendship. She didn't want her friend's business to suffer or get run into the ground because she was making a choice to help her out. But, Sweetheart insisted that Plum was who she wanted for the job and who she believed to be most capable of being the helpmeet that she needed to run her store. She knew her friend well and knew that when it came right down to it, she would not only offer support and wisdom, but would also give her the honest insight that she knew she was going to need. Plum had never let her down when it came to honesty and intuition, so she had no reason to think she would begin then.
And so, a year later, Plum was still Sweetheart's assistant manager and the shop was doing better now than when it began. And if things continued on as they were, with time the shop could only do better still.
"Goodness, why do you all look so melancholy?" another honeyed voice asked as it entered into the room. "What's happened?"
"Oh, nothing, Sweetheart." Tange offered. "Plum is just depressing everyone, as usual."
"I might have guessed." Sweetheart sighed, emphatically. "Why are you so dismal, Plum?"
is tough." the girl replied with a simple firmness, earning a collective sigh from her companions.
"Oooh! Boomer, can I have some of this?" Amber's voice chirped from within the bag that Boomer had brought in.
"OH!" he exclaimed. "That was the whole reason why I had stopped by." he recalled as he knelt beside the bag, fishing Amber out. The little girl giggled as she was excavated from the bag, holding a large container that held the distinct aroma of savory seafood.
"Ooooh! What's that?" Candy asked. "It smells delicious."
"Shrimp and fish pasta." he replied. "We had a potluck for one of the retiring fishermen down by the docks and had quite a bit left over. I knew that Sweetheart and Plum were going to be working late tonight so I figured that I'd stop by and bring a little late night snack for all of you girls."
"FOOD!" Candy exclaimed.
"FOR US!?" Tange cried, merrily and with that, the terrible twosome were off, diving for the bag of delectable delicacies giving Boomer hardly a second to pull Amber and Plum out of the way of reaching ravenous hands. "CRAB CAAAAAKES!" Tange sang as Boomer stepped aside, moving a safe distance from the carnage.
"BUTTERMILK TUNA BISCUITS!" Candy chirped, her eyes sparkling with anticipation. "Oh, these are delicious!" she purred as she took a bite of the mouthwatering morsel of food. "You girls want any? OH! Thanks, Boomer!"
"Thanks, Boomer!" Tange sang as well.
"Ah, no thank you." Mint replied, politely. "It seems that it is dangerous to try and procure anything at the moment. But, the offer is appreciated, nonetheless. Thank you both and thank you, Boomer."
"Me, too." Sugar added, kindly. "Mummy always expects me to eat when I get home. I think she just wants to make sure that I eat something before I go to bed, really. But, thank you."
"Well, I certainly want some." Sweetheart said, making her way over to where Boomer held her sister who held tenaciously to the carton of food she had salvaged from the bag. "I love shrimp and fish pasta." she purred, nuzzling her lover, fondly.
"I know you do." he purred against her. "That's why I made sure to set some aside for you."
"Ugh!" Plum moaned, slipping away from the company of the amorous pair. "Any appetite I may have had has just been ruined. I think I'll just take a bit home for my siblings."
"Somehow, I knew you were going to say that, too." Boomer said, handing Amber off to Sweetheart and turning for the door. He released the lock and ducked outside briefly, only to pop back in a moment later with another bag. "I prepared this bag with you in mind." he said, locking the door once more and presenting Plum with the new bag. "I had a feeling you'd want to take something home to your family so I made a separate bag for you. But, I knew that if I brought it into the store it would have been torn to bits, so I left it outside to give the twins a chance to tear into that one."
Plum blinked in surprise and found herself at a loss for words. "Aww
" she murmured, setting the bag down to embrace the thoughtful tom. "Thank you, Boomer. That was really sweet. I
thanks." she murmured.
He chuckled and squeezed her closer. He placed a chaste kiss upon her brow as he said, "I know your situation isn't easy. You do the best you can, you and your brothers and for what it's worth, you're doing a really great job. All of your siblings are healthy and happy and doing well and considering how many of you there are, that's no small achievement. I just want you to know, though, that you don't have to do it all alone. Everyone is behind you. When I said that I was packing a special bag for you, everyone down at the pier leapt to help me make sure it was full. We all really love you, Plum and we're all really proud of everything you've done, too."
Tears she wasn't even aware were shed trickled down her cheeks. It was the way the community was, eager to help. But, sometimes she needed to be reminded that they were there, even when they were all around her. And to know that her people were proud of her made her feel as though her hardships were somehow lighter. Without a word, she leaned into him and simply enjoyed the warmth of his embrace.
"I love how Boomer can just make EVERYTHING alright." Tange sighed. "Are all your people so
perfect?" she asked.
"Eh?!" Boomer mused, blushing beneath his fur. "I'm not
goodness, Tange, don't say weird things like that!" he protested.
"Oh no, Boomer, I agree." Candy chimed. "You are definitely a catch! Everyone should have a 'Boomer' in their family and if they're lucky, they'd have a 'Boomer' for a mate!"
"Candy!?" he choked, blushing furiously, the crimson hue showing even through his cinnamon coat.
"WOW!" Tange exclaimed. "That's some compliment coming from Candy! She doesn't even like boys." she added, clapping her friend on the back.
"I don't." Candy admitted. "Every living body in my household is male and my brothers are
brothers!" she said, the sum of all her frustration surmised in the single word. "But, if I had someone like Boomer, I think I would like boys a little more. You're more like Dad and I like Dad."
"They say girls look for mates that are like their fathers, after all." Tange pointed out.
"Oh! Well then that makes sense, then!" she sang. "See, Boomer? It's perfectly normal." she added, latching onto his arm and snuggling against him.
"Hey! I wanna cuddle with Boomer, too!" Tange pouted.
"You wanna share with me?" Candy offered, arranging herself so that part of the male's arm was exposed to her friend.
"Thaaaaaaaaaaaank you!" Tange cheered, accepting the offer presented to her and holding tight to the arm of her manager's beau alongside Candy.
Boomer sighed, defeated.
"Alright, alright you two." Sweetheart said as she worked at the counter to fix plates of food for both Amber and Malki. "Leave my poor Boomer alone. He's-"
"Hey!" Malki interrupted. "I need another plate for my friend."
"Your friend?" she repeated.
"Yeah, he's a ghost, but he gets real hungry." the child explained.
Puzzled, the golden cat turned to her lover for some semblance of an explanation. Boomer offered her a helpless shrug as he elaborated.
"Lately Malki has been going on about an imagi--
a friend that only he can see."
that friend is a
ghost?" she asked, baffled.
"He's not a mean ghost." Malki offered. "You don't have to be scared of him, okay?" he said, rubbing her arm in a manner that a parent would to a frightened child. Had it been anyone other than a child, she may have been insulted.
"Thank you, Malki." she cooed. "I won't be afraid, thanks to you. Tell me, how much does your friend eat?"
"A lot!" he replied. "A really really lot!" he added.
"Okay, okay." she cooed. "How's this?" she asked, displaying a towering plate of sumptuous victuals for his approval.
"Yep. That'll do alright." he declared, scampering down from the countertop. He reached up for the dish but seemed to think the better of it and asked, "Can you give me his plate?"
"Sure." she said, handing him the meal.
"Thank you." he chirped, hopping over to the door, negotiating the lock and slipping out leaving the others in his absence.
"Where is he going?" Sweetheart asked, handing Amber her dish.
"He says that his friend is shy and doesn't like people to see him." Boomer said, trying in vain to free himself from the vice-like grips of Candy and Tange. "But, this is
the first time he's
attempted to feed
him." he managed to say, still struggling with the playful maidens.
Sweetheart chuckled. "Come on you two." she giggled. "Leave my Boomer alone."
"You're so stingy, Sweetheart." Tange whined.
"Yeah, there's only one 'your Boomer'." Candy added. "You should really share." she added, snuggling against the tom, playfully.
"Sorry, girls." Sweetheart apologized, leaning easily against the counter. "When it comes to my tom, I can be very selfish."
The two girls shook their respective heads before reluctantly releasing their holds on Boomer's work-toned arm. "Some girls have all the luck." Tange sighed, chuckling as she exhaled.
"Mmmhmm." Candy murmured. "But, maybe someday we'll be that lucky, too."
"Yeah." Tange murmured. "Say, you two have been together forever. Why haven't you tied the knot, yet?"
"What knot?" Amber asked, innocently as she tried to get a forkful of pasta into her mouth.
Tange chuckled. "It's an expression, Amber. When someone ties the knot, it means that they got married."
" she cooed.
"So, how about it, Boomer, why haven't you asked our beloved manager to marry you, yet?" Tange teased.
"He did ask her to marry him," Amber supplied, managing to get a few tendrils of noodles into her mouth, "but Sweetheart said no."