Burn Notice: I don't own it, I just like to play with it.
This is what happens when the pressure to write gets to be too much, and someone on Twitter mentions "fluff".
The pouring rain and the darkness outside matched the sadness in Maddie's heart. Nate, her baby, was gone, killed by an unknown sniper. Michael was trying to find the killer, but it wouldn't matter in the end. Nate would still be gone. Michael called her countless times trying to apologize, to get her to talk, but she couldn't be in the same room with him much less speak to him on the phone. She wanted him to hurt as much as she did, because if it weren't for him, Nate wouldn't have been there to get shot. It was his fault.
First, she divorced herself from Michael, and by extension, his girlfriend Fiona, and his friends Sam and Jesse. She cancelled the afternoon poker parties. She rarely went out, except for groceries and cigarettes. After a month, she began to feel the walls closing in on her. It finally hit her, on this dark, lonely, stormy night that she was the only one there. Everyone left her alone to grieve, and until she made the first move, they weren't coming back. Even Michael gave up eventually. She wanted to be angry with him for that too, but she really couldn't blame him.
The power had gone out over an hour ago, so she sat in the dark with a lone oil lamp on the dining room table as the only evidence that anyone was in the house. The rain hissed against the windows, rolled down the glass and plopped into the sandy soil around the house. It pattered on the large leaves of the plants outside. Now and then the sky lit up, quickly followed by the rumble and crash of thunder. She stared at the wisp of smoke curling up from her lit cigarette and watched the lightning illuminate it. If she kept up with the things, maybe she could smoke herself to her grave, and then she wouldn't have to hurt anymore.
The quick flash and immediate crackle of thunder made her jump. Or maybe I'll just have a heart attack and get it over quicker. She felt her heart racing inside her chest and she put a hand there in a futile attempt to slow it down. Something pricked her ears. It sounded like a baby crying, and it came from her porch. It had to be her imagination, but no, it continued. Alarmed, Maddie stubbed out her cigarette, got up, and hurried to the door. She tried looking out through the window next to the door, but with the street lights all dead, she couldn't see anything. Not thinking, she tried to turn on the porch light, but it wouldn't work. The crying continued. As she unlocked the door, a flash of lightning lip up the area again and she saw a small bundle on her doorstep.
Maddie opened the door and the noise increased in volume. It wasn't a baby. It was a small kitten. She couldn't tell what color it was, because the fur was all wet and matted with mud. She wasn't an animal person. When Michael and Nate were kids, she never let them have pets, except for a lizard or two that they caught and kept secret from her until the critters made themselves at home in her bed. But for some reason her heart went out to the little helpless creature. Maybe because it reminded her of herself: alone and broken-down.
"Oh, come here you." The kitten was so small, it fit into her two hands like a baby bird in a nest. She used her foot to push the door closed, juggled the squirming creature in one hand, and locked the door. "Let's get you cleaned up, and then take a look at you. I think I might have some tuna in the cupboard. I bet you'd like that, huh?" She spoke softly to the kitten and stroked its fur, even though it was sticky with the muck.
Maddie put the kitten in the sink, brought the oil lamp over to set on the counter, and used the light to see as she worked. The kitten scratched and clawed at her as she cleaned it.
"Will you stop, please? I'm only trying to help!" The kitten lay on its back looking up at her with big eyes. It mewed, opening its mouth, and the teeth were so small, Maddie could barely see them. When the fur seemed to be clear of dirt, she wrapped the little creature in a towel and held it close to her to warm it. What she would do with it later, she had no idea.
Maddie fed it the tuna from her cupboard and it ate like it had never eaten before. It lapped up some milk. She made up an impromptu litter box using a short plastic pan and ripped up newspapers. Then she silently hoped that it knew how to use a litter box. When all its needs were taken care of, she sat with the kitten in the living room. It climbed up to her chest, kneaded her shoulder, and settled in against her neck. She heard the slightest of purrs and felt the vibration in the kitten's chest, and to her surprise, it brought tears to her eyes and a peace to her heart. She fell asleep in the chair with the little fluffy kitten cozied up to her.
The storm worked its way out to sea overnight and left in its path downed trees, power lines, and lots of damaged buildings. Sam and Elsa stood in the hotel lobby looking over a field of broken glass, the result of an uprooted palm tree crashing through the plate glass window.
"I don't know how this could have happened, Sam. This is hurricane glass! It shouldn't break like that." Elsa said as she shook her head in dismay.
"It happens, Elsa." He held his cell phone in his hand and stared at it. "I haven't been able to get through on the cell. I should go over and check on Mike and Fi. Jesse's out of town, so I don't have to worry about him."
"What about Michael's mom?"
She said it the moment he thought about her. He pursed his lips. "Yeah. Mike isn't going to go over there. He's still hurting over her rejecting him." He let out a deep sigh. "I'll head over to Mike's first, and then go see Maddie. But I'm not telling him I'm going there. Who knows what he'll do." He gave Elsa a kiss on the cheek.
"So you're going to leave me with this?" She indicated the broken glass.
Sam grinned. "That's what you have staff for, honey! Once the phones are working again, we'll call somebody to fix the window. Relax, just have the maintenance guys board it up for now." He paused and turned back. "Do they have a chainsaw? They're gonna need it for the palm tree."
"I don't know."
"I'll see if I can borrow one at Maddie's. Be back in a while."
Sam approached the loft door and found it locked. The Charger sat parked in the courtyard, so he knew that Michael and Fiona were home. He banged on the door. There was no answer. He tried again and called their names. "Mike! Fi! Are you okay? It's Sam!"
Michael shuffled to the door and opened it. He looked tired as he blinked at Sam. "What's wrong?"
"I was just worried about you and Fi, that's all. We had one heck of a storm last night!"
"Really? Fi and I just, uh, slept right through it." He took a step back and Sam saw that Fiona still lay in bed sleeping. She was naked.
Sam nodded and decided it was best to stay outside.
"Was that it, Sam? Is that why you came by?"
"Yeah. The cell towers seem to be out, so I couldn't call, and a lot of phone lines are down too, so I figured it was best to just come on over and check on you guys." He gave his friend an embarrassed smile. "Sorry to have gotten you up."
"No problem, Sam." Michael's eyes locked on his with gratefulness in them. "Thanks for being concerned." Little things like that meant so much, and Michael was beginning to see that. "Thanks."
"You're welcome, Mike. I'll see you later." Sam turned and stepped down the stairs, careful of the slippery treads. He heard the door close and the lock snapped.
"Two down, one to go."
He drove to Maddie's and discovered that her neighborhood had taken a greater licking in the storm. He found it necessary to park two blocks away and walk, because the road was so littered with debris. Thick branches shared the road with toppled palms and pieces of lawn furniture, garbage cans, and a child's bike. Dark streaks of water-swept sand ran down the middle of the road to the gutters and beyond. If he didn't know better, he'd think a hurricane had come through.
Sam arrived at Maddie's and trotted up the front steps. The blinds on the side window were open, and he was able to look inside. He saw her in a chair, her legs stretched out, and her arms draped over the sides. Her head lolled to one side in a most uncomfortable looking fashion. She looked like she was dead. Sam's eyes darted around but he didn't see any blood or a weapon or anything. The door was locked.
He knocked on the door. "Maddie?" She stirred, and he moved away from the window, because he didn't want to startle her. "Maddie, are you okay?"
Behind the door he heard her shuffling to unlock and open it. "I'm fine, Sam. What are you doing here?" She stood with her arm blocking his way, and Sam took a step back.
"Sorry, Maddie. After last night's storm, I was worried about you. Your neighborhood is a wreck, so I think I had good reason to be concerned!" He looked down into her eyes and saw the pain in them, and a hint of anger still for the circumstances of Nate's death. His heart ached for her, and he wished that he could do something to get her over this, to forgive and not isolate herself. "I'm sorry to have bothered you. If you don't want me to... to come around anymore..."
At that moment, Sam felt something run up against his shoe and cling to his pant leg. He looked down and a rambunctious little white ball of fur clamped onto the material and bumped against his ankle.
"Fluff! Stop that!" Maddie bent at the waist and pried the kitten off of Sam's leg.
Fluff? Sam mouthed the name. Once she disengaged the animal from his pant leg, Sam took another step back. "Maddie, what is that thing?"
"It's not a thing, it's a kitten! He came to my door last night all wet, cold, and covered in muck. I took him in, cleaned him up, fed him, and he fell asleep on me." She snuggled the animal in her hands and held it up to her cheek. A smile stretched across her face and made it to her eyes. "Isn't he the most adorable thing you've ever seen?"
The way she held onto the kitten, Sam could see the underside. "Um, Maddie, I think it's a she, not a he." He waved an index finger in the air, drawing an invisible circle around the area that gave it away.
Maddie turned the kitten so she could see. "Oh. Oh, you're right." She laughed. "Girl, boy, whatever! I'll still call you Fluff."
Sam watched her with growing concern as she kissed the kitten's head. Maybe Maddie finally went around the bend. The isolation and grief finally got to her and she was talking like a crazy cat lady. He didn't even know she liked cats! "Okay, well, if everything's okay, I guess I'll just get going. Take care, Maddie."
"You too, Sam." She glanced up from the kitten and her eyes bore none of the animosity she held close when she first opened the door. "Could you do me a favor?"
"Sure, anything." He meant it.
"Could you take a look out back and see if there was any damage?"
"No problem, I can do that." He gave her a slight smile as he watched her play with the kitten. "Oh, and can I borrow your chainsaw? If you have one?"
"Of course." Her brow furrowed. "What do you need with a chainsaw?"
"A palm tree went through the window at the hotel. The maintenance guys don't have one to cut it up and get it out of the lobby."
"Okay. It's in the garage. Just be sure to bring it back when you're done." She turned her attention back to Fluff, and Sam went to check on the back yard and garage. He found the chainsaw, found some minor damage to a couple of trees, and fired up the chainsaw to not only see if it still worked, but to clear the broken limbs right away.
Maddie watched him from behind the screen door. Fluff stood on her hind legs, claws curled into the screen, looking like a victim of a robbery with her eyes wide and her front legs up over her head. It was all Sam could do to not laugh. He met Maddie's smile with one of his own.
"Thanks, Sam. You didn't have to do that."
"Yeah, well, it's gotta get done. Might as well take care of it now." He shut down the chainsaw, balanced it in one hand, and dragged the branches to the curb with the other. He returned to the back door. "After I'm done with the chainsaw I'll come back and help clear up what's in the street so you can get out if you need to." His gaze moved to Fluff, who had given up trying to break herself out through the screen and decided that chasing her tail was more fun. "Do you, uh, need anything for the cat?"
"I don't have anything here, but I improvised."
"Oh." Sam nodded. His attention went back to Maddie. "I'll bring some stuff along back." He raised his hand and waved. "See ya later, Maddie!"
Later that morning after the palm tree was cut up, Sam ran to the store to pick up some things for Maddie's new kitten. With everyone concerned about their property and cleaning up, the pet store was quite empty, making it easy to find a salesperson to help. He walked out with two bags full of things. It cost him a good bit of money, but Sam didn't care. If Fluff was working to bring Maddie back to her old self, he would spend ten times, a hundred times, or more, just to help make it happen. He parked in the same spot as that morning and walked to Maddie's. With no electrical service, and the house getting stuffy, she had all the windows open and the screen doors helped to bring in a slight breeze. He stepped up to the door.
"Hey, Maddie, I'm back!"
"Sam! Come on in," she said. Not in her usually cheerful voice, but it was an improvement from the cold welcome he got earlier.
He left the chainsaw on the porch and brought the bags inside. "Here you go, Maddie. I got a few things for Fluff. I'll, uh, take the chainsaw out and start clearing the street."
The breath caught in Maddie's throat when she looked into the bags and saw them stuffed with everything she needed. She looked up at him and swallowed hard. "You... you bought all this for Fluff? For a cat you don't even know whether I'm going to keep?"
The corner of Sam's mouth tipped up into a smile. "You're keeping her, Maddie. I can tell."
Without another word, Sam turned and went outside. Maddie left the screen unlatched for him when he returned. The whine of the chainsaw echoed off the houses, soon followed by others as the neighbors came out and cleared the street and sidewalks of debris. While Sam was gone, Maddie set up a real litter box for Fluff in the laundry room, filled the tiny water bowl and set it beside a matching bowl full of canned cat food in the kitchen. She placed the cat bed in the sun room where the afternoon rays would be sure to keep Fluff toasty warm. And the toys she scattered on the floor and tried to play with the kitten, but she didn't know what to do.
"Maybe when you're older, sweetie pie." Maddie picked her up and cuddled her. That was something that Fluff did very well. That and purr. She fell asleep on Maddie, despite all the racket outside. When the chainsaws stilled, she heard footsteps nearing the house. Maddie set Fluff in her bed as she saw Sam come up to the porch and prepare to knock. "It's unlocked. Come in."
His hands were empty. "I put the chainsaw back in the garage."
"Thanks, Sam. And thanks for helping out there. It looks much better." She turned her attention back to him and noticed that his shirt was damp and stained with perspiration. "Would you like to have a beer?"
"Oh, Maddie," Sam said with a wide smile. "You said the magic words!"
She mirrored his smile and waved toward the dining room. "Go ahead, have a seat at the table. I'll be right back." She stepped into the kitchen and brought out two bottles. "I'm afraid they're not that cold. We've been without power for awhile."
"Right now it doesn't matter." Sam ripped the cap off the top and downed a good portion of it in one gulp. He let out a gasp of pleasure and set down the bottle. "Hey, where's the fluff ball?"
"Sleeping." Maddie's face lit up with a grin, the kind he used to see there before so many things went wrong. "Thank you, Sam." She choked up and her hand moved to cover his on the table. "Thank you for being so kind."
"Any time, Maddie." He blinked a few times and swallowed back another draft of his beer while he grasped her hand with his. "It's okay."
"I'm..." She couldn't finish. She broke down in front of him.
Sam set down his bottle, leaned forward in his chair, and took Maddie into his arms. "It's okay, Maddie. We still love you. Mike still loves you."
She couldn't speak for the longest time, but Sam held her as she let out all the pain and the tears that she didn't allow herself to release after they said goodbye to Nate. His back started to feel the pull of overextending himself, but he ignored it. She needed this more than anything right now. He heard a high pitched little meow and looked down. Fluff sat next to his foot, her head up, staring at him. She meowed again and pawed at his leg. With tears in his own eyes, Sam reached down and scooped her into his hand and held her for Maddie.
The three of them stayed that way until Maddie's tears were spent and she blotted the remnants from beneath her eyes. Sam held out Fluff and said, "I think she needs her mommy."
"Oh, you do? I'm here, Fluff. Mommy's here."
Sam glanced down at the floor, then back up to Maddie. "I know someone else who needs his mom."
Maddie turned her glistening eyes toward Sam, and she nodded. "I know," she whispered. "Do you think you could take me over to the loft to see Michael?"
"Yes, now. I'll leave Fluff here. She should be okay, don't you think?"
"Maybe you should put her in the bathroom until you get back. Less chance of her getting lost."
Maddie sniffled. "That's a good idea. God knows I've been lost for far too long."
He got up, put the kitten's dishes and litter box into the bathroom, and Maddie gave Fluff a kiss and a tender squeeze before putting her inside. "I'll be back soon, honey. You be a good girl!"
Sam made sure the back doors were locked, and then he locked the front after them as he let Maddie go ahead. "I'm parked just down the street."
"That's okay. The exercise will do me good." Maddie looked up at him and smiled.
They never did find out where Fluff belonged, or who her mother was. No one in the neighborhood knew of any cats with kittens. It didn't matter in the grand scheme of things. That little fluff ball was the miracle that helped open Maddie's heart and reunite her with her son and the adopted family that she'd forgotten in her grief. Fluff was a gift from heaven.