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A Bit of a Kerfuffle

by Pamela Stockwell

 

This story won first place in my category in the Midnight NY 2021 Short Story Competition, Round 2, in which I had the challenge to write a 2000-word short story in three days based on prompts they provide.

 

My prompts were genre: comedy; Character: stepsister; object: hand-me-down. On to Round 3!

 

 

“We are not breaking into Mitzi’s apartment,” my roommate Katrina said, hands on her hips.

“I’m going to get them back,” I said. 

“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Hildy. Let it go.”

“No. If my mother is going to give away her diamond earrings, then she should give them to me. Mitzi has been her daughter for like five minutes.”

“It’s been a little longer than that.”

“She was fifteen when her dad married my mom. She was practically an adult.”

“Your mother always treats her like a daughter.”

“Well, I’m her actual daughter, and those earrings should be mine.”

“She said your mother handed them down to her.”

“I find that very hard to believe.”

Katrina threw up her hands. “Do what you want. Just leave me out of it.”

“I need help,” I said. What I really needed was support but that’s pretty much the same thing, isn’t it? “And remember when I rescued you from that bad date? You said you owed me big time. Big time has come. So let’s get moving.”

“We’re doing this now?”

“No time like the present! Mitzi’s at a bachelorette party, so she’ll be gone for a while.” I grinned at Katrina. “You said ‘we!’”

I had it all planned. We would wear dark clothes. This was the easy part. What twenty-something woman doesn’t have black pants and a black shirt? As it turns out, Katrina did not have black pants. She came out of her room wearing khakis.

“You’re supposed to be dressed in dark clothes.”

“All my dark-wash jeans are dirty.”

“Don’t you have black slacks?”

“No. I gave up most of my black stuff when I left my goth stage behind. You’re lucky I have this black T-shirt.”

“Fine. But you stand out like a glowing sore thumb.” I didn’t even mention the neon red Rolling Stones tongue and lips on the shirt.

We had a couple of hours to kill until I deemed Mitzi would be involved in her party. We had a drink to calm our nerves. Or two. At ten p.m., we drove to Mitzi’s, parked down the block under an enormous tree that gave my car some cover. Katrina stepped out of the car.

“Oof!” she said and disappeared from view. I ran around and found her sprawled on the ground between curb and sidewalk.

“Are you OK?”

“Do I look OK?” she said to the dirt.

“What happened?” I reached out a hand and helped her up.

“Two Cosmos plus one huge freaking tree root,” she said, brushing off her pants. “That’s what happened.”

She limped beside me to Mitzi’s apartment. I was familiar with it, because despite the myths about evil stepsisters, she and I got along quite well. We even joked about which of us was the wicked one. Her place was on the second floor of a sprawling building, with staggered balconies that gave residents some privacy. But it also provided privacy for people wanting their earrings back. An expansive live oak grew next to Mitzi’s windows, with low branches that practically offered a staircase up to her balcony. And because it was in the back of the building, against a line of trees, Mitzi should really rethink her habit of leaving her balcony door unlocked. I knew this because one time when I was visiting, we left to go clubbing, and I asked if she was going to lock the door.

“Nah,” she replied. “I’m on the second floor.”

Even Katrina with her banged-up knee had no trouble climbing the tree and getting over Mitzi’s balcony rail. I said a silent, pleading prayer as I gripped the handle of the door that led to her living room, but it turned easily. I sighed with relief. This was going to be a piece of cake.

I assumed the earrings were in her bedroom, so we headed there. Katrina grabbed my arm.

“What if she’s wearing them now?”

“I don’t think she’d wear them to a bachelorette party. She probably picked something dangly. More fun.”

“I hope so. Or maybe not. This is a stupid idea.”

I didn’t want to turn on a light, so I used my phone’s flashlight to guide our way. As we entered the bedroom, Katrina stifled a scream. Two red eyes pierced the darkness. I focused my phone in that direction.

“It’s Kerfluffle.” Mitzi’s long-haired, gold cat crouched on the bed, staring at us.

A guttural growl rumbled across the room. I ambled over, talking gently. “Hey, Kerfluffle. It’s me. Hildy.” I held my hand out and the cat hissed, the sibilant sound making me hesitate, but I was certain she would remember me.

“Ow, shit!” I yanked my lacerated hand back. “Damn cat. I can’t believe she scratched me.” She now stood on the bed, back arched, tail fat as a puffed pufferfish. I took a folded blanket from the foot of the bed and shooed the cat away, keeping my bare skin away from her. The cat took the hint and ran off.

“I didn’t know Mitzi had an attack cat,” Katrina said, clearly amused.

“That cat has an attitude.”

“I thought all cats had attitude.”

“That one in particular. That’s how she got her name, although Mitzi added that middle L to make her seem cute. Ker-FLUFF-le. Get it? But she’s not fluffy. She’s demonic.”

I stepped into the bathroom and examined the back of my hand. Little beads of blood dotted the scratch like rubies in a tennis bracelet. It stung like hell. I ran water over it for a few minutes, then wrapped my hand in several yards of toilet tissue.

With the cat out of the way, we got on with our task. Mitzi’s jewelry box sat on her dresser. I opened little doors and drawers, searching for the crystalline sparkle of the diamonds. And there they were. I plucked them out of their velvet compartment and placed them in my ears.

“You’re putting them on? Now?” Katrina said.

“It’s way better than stuffing them in my pocket,” I said. “What if I went through all this trouble and then lost one?”

“It just seems . . . I don’t know. Weird. Of course, this whole thing is weird. Can we go now?”

We headed for the living room but stopped short when we heard the click of a key in the front door. I grabbed Katrina’s arm and dragged her back into the bedroom.

“Quick! Under the bed!” I squealed.

“What?” Katrina yanked her arm back.

“Someone’s coming in!” I pushed Katrina to one side of the double bed, and I ran to the other and scooched under the bedsprings. Katrina and I bumped shoulders halfway. “I am going to kill you.” She whispered. “You now owe me big time.”

I couldn’t argue with her because she was right. I also couldn’t argue with her because Mitzi was coming into the bedroom. I recognized her tottering red heels. She was not alone. Kissing doesn’t sound enchanting when you’re not the one doing it. She and whoever she’d dragged home were slurping at each other like pigs at a trough. A piece of cloth fell on the floor next to me.

 

Then I heard a hiss and it wasn’t Katrina. Or Mitzi. Or unknown person with Mitzi. The light on my phone was still on--it hadn’t occurred to me to turn it off but thankfully Mitzi was too busy to notice the glow under her bed. I shined the beam in the direction of the noise. Kerfluffle crouched inches from my head, ears pinned back, tail whipping back and forth. “Shit,” I whispered. “Good kitty.”

Kerfluffle was not a good kitty. Kerfluffle thrust one paw out and scratched my cheek. I yelped and threw my hands up to keep from losing an eye. She took another swipe but when she realized she wasn’t getting at my vulnerable facial features, she ran away.

The room had gotten mighty quiet. Footsteps came near and a shaft of light blinded me. I felt momentary sympathy for Kerfluffle. Having a bright light aimed at your eyes does make one want to lash out.

“Hildy?” Mitzi asked. “What in the . . . ?”

“Hi, Mitzi.”

“What are you doing under my bed?”

“Well, funny story that,” I said, as I scrambled to think of a funny story. 

“And is there someone with you? Were you shacking up in my bed?” There’s a note of horror in her voice.

“Oh, God no,” I said. “That’s just Katrina.”

“I am so going to kill you,” Katrina said, and slid out from under the bed.

Mitzi straightened and stepped back, allowing me room to wiggle out from under the furniture though not from out of my dilemma. Between the glow of her phone and mine, I could see the garment that had dropped to the floor was her shirt. She scooped it up and slipped it back over her head. Her phone light ricocheted around the room and glanced off a tall male figure standing at the end of the bed.

Mitzi turned on the overhead light, and we blinked like owls. The male figure was, in actuality, a gorgeous Greek God. He noticed me eyeing him and stepped forward. “Hi,” he said as though he often ran into people under the beds of women he was trying to sleep with. “I’m Tristan.”

I shot a sideways look at Mitzi. “I thought you were at a party?”

“She was,” the Greek God answered. He reached into his back pocket and handed me a business card. Tristan Vaughn, it said. Lady’s Choice Male Revue.

I widened my eyes at Mitzi. “You brought home a stripper from a bachelorette party?”

“Oh, no. We’re not making this about me. Why were you under my bed?” Mitzi crossed her arms.

“We were, uh, I just . . .” I stammered.

“Your cheek is bleeding,” Mitzi said. “And your hand looks like a mummy’s.”

I touched my tissue-wrapped hand to my face. When I pulled it away, I now had a streak of blood on either side of my hand. I hated that cat.

“Kerfluffle did it.”

“Oh my God, really?” Mitzi started laughing. “Did Kerfluffle do that?” She pointed at Katrina’s ripped and bloodied pants leg.

“No, a tree root did,” Katrina said.

Mitzi suddenly leaned forward, peering into my face. “Are those . . . Are those my earrings?”

OK. Not peering into my face. Peering at my ears. I spilled the beans like an upended can of limas. “Sorry, but I always liked these, and I didn’t think it was right that Mom handed them down to you.” 

“Oh, Hildy.” She drooped. “Hildy.” She shook her head. 

“I know I shouldn’t be so materialistic. But it’s not about the value.”

“It’s not that. Why didn’t you ask your mom why she gave them to me?”

“I did. She said she wasn’t going to discuss it.”

“Can I see one please?”

“What? No!”

“Just give me one for a minute.”

“Hildy, do it.” Katrina shoved me with her shoulder.

I yanked the back off of one and handed her both pieces.

Mitzi placed it on the dresser, slipped off her stiletto, and smashed the spike of the heel onto the glittering piece of jewelry. It shattered into powder.

“Mitzi!” I gasped.  I don’t know what shocked me more—that she destroyed a diamond or that she could wield her shoe like it was a ninja weapon.

“It’s fake, Hildy. Your mother lost the real ones years ago. She didn’t want to tell your father. So she gave you the matching necklace—with a genuine diamond in it—and gave me the fake earrings.”

“Oh.” I said. “Well, Katrina, looks like we should be going.”

We headed out the door but not before Mitzi called out, “This settles the question of who’s the wicked stepsister, you know!”