Russell Peterson was lonely. Another Valentine’s Day was approaching, and he didn’t have a girlfriend. Rather shy, he found it somewhat difficult to talk with the pretty young women who came in the stationery store where he worked. He always managed to find the perfect paper to wrap gifts for their beaus, and was happy at the looks of delight on their faces – he only wished someone would come in with a gift to wrap and a look of secret happiness for him.
It was just past closing time at Kimmel’s Stationers. He had stayed a little late to help the pair of giggling girlfriends who had just left with Valentine cards. He sighed as he clicked off the light switch. Wrapping his coat tightly about his trim frame, he braced himself as he stepped out into the frigid February evening. He locked the door and dashed briskly to the diner across the street.
Inside, Mrs. Emery poured him some hot coffee. “Cold enough for you?”
“Yes, Mrs. Emery, indeed it is.” He ran his hands through his thick reddish hair and rubbed them together briskly before clasping them around the white ceramic mug.
“Selling a lot of Valentines?”
“You bet. We’re getting some chocolates in tomorrow – they should go pretty fast.” He took a sip. “I’ll bring you a sample tomorrow.”
She beamed. “You’re such a sweet boy! When is some girl going to snatch you up?” He opened his mouth to reply, but she continued. “Did you see that moon tonight? That’s a lovers’ moon.”
He put a dollop of cream in his coffee and stirred. “Well, I never heard of a lovers’ moon.”
“Oh, sure. Haven’t you heard the poem? Lovers’ Moon is white and gold, make a wish before it’s old. Moon can make your dream come true, but not the way you expect it too.”
He smiled. “Well, that’s a cunning rhyme.”
She winked. “Better make a wish, Russ!”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Inside his apartment, he laid his long coat over a straight-backed chair. Soft meows greeted him.
“Hey, Sweetheart. How’s my girl?” Ruby slipped around his ankles, rubbing affectionately. Russ maneuvered to the icebox, and took out a small carton of milk. He peeled open a can of sardines. Getting some mustard and crackers, he fixed a plate for himself and a plate for Ruby. Russ munched his dinner in silence, a solitary fixture in the kitchen his only light.
It sure would be nice to have a warm home-cooked meal to come home to. Lathering mustard on his fish, he thought about what Mrs. Emery said. “Lovers’ moon, huh?” He had never heard of such a thing. She was probably just being cute because it was almost Valentine’s Day. Still, it would be grand to meet someone. He washed the dishes and drifted off to sleep listening to the radio, Ruby’s purring, and the hissing of the steam radiator.
The next day, Russ was on his way to open the store. He went to the diner for some bacon and eggs. Mrs. Emery had a frown on her usually jovial face.
“Late delivery, Mrs. Emery?”
“No, just that I hope our town is not attracting too many of those kinds of women.” She frowned in the general direction of a svelte form perched on a counter stool. “Big city life will do all kinds of things to small-town girls.” Russ looked, then tucked back into his meal. He was so timid around women that he automatically skipped over any opportunity he had, even when one was thrown in his lap.
On his way out, he felt a light touch on his arm.
“Excuse me, sir?” The voice was somewhat exotic.
He turned and beheld a little minx of a woman, with impossibly green eyes and a platinum – almost silver – coif. Her attire did nothing to hide her curvaceous figure – and she didn’t seem to mind at all.
“I’m looking for a special card for a special someone. The lady said you are the proprietor of the store across the street.” Mrs. Emery, clutching a coffee pot in her pudgy arm, gave her a scowl that would freeze bees out of their hive.
Russ sighed inwardly. The same old story. “Yes, I’m heading over right now. Why don’t you come along?”
She smiled. “What is your name?”
“Russell. Russell Peterson.
They crossed the street and entered the shop. “Please look around, Miss . . .?”
“Just call me Cerise.”
He showed her some cards with satin hearts, some trimmed with lace.
“These are lovely, but not quite what I was looking for.” Undeterred, Russ was reaching for a box of cards from France – when she stopped him.
“Mr. Peterson, I would like you to take me out.”
Russ nearly fell off his chair. “You can’t be serious!”
“Well, I’m . . . No one ever . . . That is. . .”
She stared at him. “Well, I suppose you can’t change a leopard’s spots.” She stalked off towards the door.
“Wait! I would like to see you.” She turned and looked at him with an unreadable expression. “After I close the store, I’d like to take you to dinner.”
Cerise fairly shrieked: “AFTER?!? Close the store now! You’ve been slaving for that old fool Kimmel for years. And what thanks has he given you?”
Russ goggled at her. “I’ve never seen you before. How do you know so much about me? Where are you from?”
“I’m from the city. I dropped by to visit you. Just call me someone from your past.”
There was indeed something familiar about Cerise. Russ couldn’t put his finger on it, but he was so awestruck by her interest in him, that before he knew it, he was swinging the sign to “CLOSED,” and locking the door at thirty minutes past nine in the morning.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Where do you want to take me?”
“Well, the park, then a picture, then . . .”
“Here in town? Everyone will wonder why you aren’t working. If you call in ill, you have to lie low. Let’s go to the city. I’ll show you around. It’ll be great fun.” She slipped her arm into his.
Just going with the flow, Russ wondered if he were dreaming. He furtively pinched himself. Ouch. If he were sleeping, he was out good. “The city . . . the city it is.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The looming buildings of New York were approaching over the freeway. The drive was pleasant. Cerise spoke of growing up in New York, surviving on her own as she had no family to speak of. “I know Manhattan like the back of my hand.”
“Let’s get a bite to eat, then we can catch a show.”
“I know the perfect place.”
They ate at a little Italian café. The view was of an alley, but the chicken parmesan was exquisite. Then they saw Roberta at the Winter Garden Theater. Russ almost fainted as Cerise led them through a back door and they slipped into seats without buying tickets. He couldn’t relax until the second half of the show.
They went to the Museum of Natural History, had coffee, then went ice skating at Rockefeller Center. Moonlight shone on her hair and eyes, making her look like the orb itself.
“You look more radiant than usual.” Leaning on the wall, watching couples glide and twirl, he clasped her shoulders and pulled her close. “I want to see you again.” His boldness surprised himself.
She turned her head away. “I can’t. I have to go. I could only stay for one day.”
In disbelief, Russ said, “No, that can’t be!” Then he thought: Is this the lovers’ moon? Did my wish come true? That had to be it. Whether it was better to have loved and lost or never to have loved at all seemed insignificant as he put his hand on the back of her head and passionately drew her in for a kiss. The cold no longer mattered. They walked the streets until around midnight, when she bade him goodbye and slipped away into the night.
The ride back to town was quiet. Alone again, Russ sped along the surreal freeway in the surreal night. He wouldn’t have traded that day for anything in the world, yet an ache began in his heart that the happy images of the day would not quell.
Home, he lay on his bed. The radio produced only static; the time for broadcasting had long passed. Yet the static was better than nothing. It meshed with the confusion in his brain. Let it go for what it was; a wish from the Lovers’ Moon. He finally rolled over and slept.
He was woken the next day by a frantic knocking on his door. He groggily fell off the bed, twisted in the blanket. Bright sun disoriented him. For a moment he forgot the events of the previous day. Then the events rushed back in a flood.
“Hold on. I’m coming!” His neighbor Walter was at the door. Walter’s face was ashen. In his arms he held a small cardboard box.
“Russ, I’m so sorry. I was backing out and didn’t see her.”
Russ took the box. Inside was a small, white form. Blood was on her pink ear.
“I know how attached you were to the little thing. God, I can’t believe it. I didn’t even know she was out. If it’s any consolation, I’ll buy you a new one. Any kind.”
“Walter, it wasn’t your fault. She must have slipped out without my noticing. Thank you for bringing her to me.” He stepped back in and locked the door. In a haze of grief, he cursed himself for not looking out for the creature who had been his faithful companion for years, the little white cat with the green eyes that he had picked up a long time ago on the way home from an interview in New York. A stray who came out of an alley . . .
Oh, God. Impossible. Yet all the pieces fell together. Now he knew why she had been wearing a white coat and boots trimmed with fur. How she knew the alleys of Manhattan. She was her. Cerise was Ruby. She must have turned back into her real form after midnight and hid in the car to return home.
Suddenly, he held the womanly form of the cat. Her face was pale and her breathing shallow.
“Cerise! Oh. Oh, dear. Some wish this turned out to be.”
Her eyelashes fluttered, wet with tears. “It wasn’t your wish . . . It was mine. I wanted to be with you, so I wished . . . that night you talked about a lovers’ moon . . .” Her breath became ragged.
Russ held her tenderly in his arms. He stroked her hair. “Darling, it’s all right. Don’t try to talk. I’ll get a doctor – ” But it was too late. He again held the limp white cat.
Russ crumpled to the floor. “No! I wished for someone to love, and now . . . now I’ve lost her and I’ve lost the one I had . . . Please, don’t take Ruby away. I want her to stay with me.” His voice dissolved into sobs.
The sobs turned into a curious screeching. Russ stopped. He looked into limpid green eyes. Ruby! Ruby was alive! He reached for her and his paw landed on her back. His paw?
I guess the Lovers’ Moon granted your wish after all. Come on, let’s go.
The two cats dashed through the milk door and out to a big new world.
Lovers’ Moon is white and gold,
Make a wish before it’s old.
Moon can make your dream come true
But not the way you expect it too.
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