Hunting the Moo Cow Creamer
The shrill ring of the telephone had Selma jackknifing straight up in bed. Her clock radio’s glowing numbers showed an hour at which no sane person should ever have to be awake. Heart pounding double-time, she dove for the phone. “Hello,” she croaked out, tongue rasping against the roof of her mouth.
“Selma, you’re awake.” Cousin Annabelle’s voice rose on the last syllabus.
“It’s 5.30 am. Who’s dead?” Selma took a sip from the glass on her night stand and quickly spit it out again. Judging from the strong taste of dust, the water had been by the side of her bed for a while.
“No one’s dead,” Annabelle lowered her voice to a whisper, “but it’s definitely an emergency.” Selma’s cousin had a strong flair for drama, so instead of answering, Selma plodded out to the kitchen for fresh water. Annabelle took a deep breath for the finish, “Mother flies in this afternoon. She’s coming to my dinner party.”
Trying to wake up and still unclear on why Aunt Rose coming to town constituted an emergency, Selma mumbled incoherently to encourage Annabelle to get to the point.
“I need the Moo Cow back,” her cousin finally said.
“The creamer.” Her now high-pitched voice pierced Selma’s ear drum. She tore the receiver away, but could still hear Annabelle. “Mother gave me this ugly-ass creamer shaped like a cow and I gave it to you.”
“I’m vegan. What would I want with a dairy pitcher?”
“I brought it to that weird party of yours last weekend. You know, to fit with the animal theme.“
“Are you talking about the White Elephant gift exchange?” Selma ran her fingers through the snarl of limp strands on top of her head, trying to follow Annabelle’s twisted thread of logic. “But you didn’t come to that party.”
“I was going to, but in the elevator up to your apartment I met this cute guy and went out for drinks with him. But I dropped off the gift first.”
Selma groaned “I have no idea who has your gift. There were more than fifty people here that night.” Plus, there’d been a burnt pie incident in the kitchen and she’d missed most of the gift exchange. “I don’t even know what it looks like.”
“I’m emailing you a link right now. You need to find this or Mother will throw a fit because I didn’t keep her gift.”
“Just buy a new one.”
“Can’t. I’m broke. Plus, I need to clean my apartment before driving to the airport.”
Annabelle was always broke. She considered manicures, pedicures, facials, and shoes—lots and lots of impossibly tall heels—absolute necessities and always managed to afford those. Rent and utilities on the other hand, often had to be covered by friends and relatives. She rarely had to worry about food or drinks though. Her hour-glass figure, big baby-blue eyes, and a waterfall of shiny blond curls cascading down her back took care of those.
“Annabelle,” Selma groaned. “I don’t have time to be dragged into another one of your crisis.” She put her empty glass in the dishwasher. “I have a deadline for my strip.”
“You owe me, Cousin. Without me, you’d still be working in the coffee shop.”
Sighing, Selma stumbled back into the bedroom. Annabelle had introduced Selma to the entertainment editor of the newspaper who published her comic strip. Kind of. “The only reason you set me up with Kim was because you thought we should date.”
“Firstly, I’m not a lesbian and neither is Kim. Secondly, you had no idea she worked for a magazine or that she was looking for a new comic strip. It all happened by accident.”
During the silence Selma imagined Annabelle twirling a shiny lock of her hair. Her cousin sighed. “Honestly, the way you two dress anyone would assume you dated women. I did introduce you to your agent though.”
That was true, and the agent made sure Selma’s strip was syndicated. Basically, thanks to Annabelle Selma made a living doing what she loved. Even if that too had originally been a blind date setup since her cousin still hadn’t believed Selma preferred boys. “Fine. I’ll find you another cow pitcher.”
“It needs to look like what Mama gave me.”
“Got it.” Selma hung up. Aunt Rose bought most her stuff at second-hand shops and garage sales. It couldn’t be that hard to find a replica of whatever tacky porcelain cow she’d purchased.
* * *
Four hours and ten thrift stores later, Selma returned to the apartment, cow-less. San Francisco, the Mecca of gently used goods had not delivered. She’d found plenty of pitchers, many of them in animal shapes, some of them of the bovine persuasion, but none that looked like what Aunt Rose bought Annabelle. With only two hours left before the dinner party, Selma booted up her laptop, fingers shaking. Aunt Rose was a lovely person, but when offended, she’d hit a person hard with the silent treatment.
In seventh grade, Annabelle and Selma blew their curfew by an hour when attending their first real party. They’d been too caught up in dancing, with boys. Selma’s parents had grounded her for two weeks, which was bad enough, but Aunt Rose’s punishment cut deeper. She didn’t speak to Selma for a month and every time she saw her, she’d give the I-am-disappointed-and-heartbroken look. Remembering the guilt she’d felt back then, Selma shivered. No one deserved that look, not even Annabelle.
She googled cow creamers as fast as her fingers could type. Two postings on Craigslist looked promising. One listed the owner as living way out in Santa Rosa, so she tried the phone number of the second listing. A woman answered and after Selma begged and pleaded, the woman rattled off an address and told her to come over. “I won’t be here though. I have to go to work. My brother can show you the cow pitcher. Just tell him you want to look at item number 537 and make sure to bring cash.”
Twenty minutes later, Selma carefully parallel parked her car in the South of Market neighborhood. Rows of converted warehouses lined the street. The correct numbered house had a freight elevator big enough for an elephant that slowly lumbered up the floors. Instead of a doorbell, a rubber mallet hung attached by a string to a blue door painted like the Tardis. The thump of the tool hitting wood echoed down the hallway.
The door flung open, ripping the mallet from Selma’s hands. She reached for it, misjudged the distance, and toppled head over feet into the apartment.
“Wow, that’s quite an entrance,” a deep voice said and then chuckled.
Selma raised her gaze to see who’d spoken, but got sidetracked by muscular legs clad in soft denim, a trim narrow waist, bare tight abs, and shimmering pectorals strewn with water droplets. She swallowed loudly. Twice.
“Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?” The man squatted down and used the tip of his fingers to slowly lift her chin. Warm brown eyes studied her face, concern and worry reflecting in their deep pools.
“I’m fine.” Selma pushed off from the floor and almost went down again when her boot slid on the slick surface.
The man grabbed her elbow. “I’m sorry. I just got out of the shower. I must have dripped on the floor.”
Her skin tingled where he held it and she stared his slender, yet strong fingers. A piano player?
“Are you sure you didn’t hit your head or something?” The man gripped her chin and tilted her head.
Electricity shot down her jaw to the back of her head. She shivered. “No,” she croaked. “I’m fine thanks. I’m here for the cow.”
A frown marred his strong brow. His nose was slightly crooked. Had it been broken? Pushing unruly brown curls back from his forehead, he smiled. “I’m not sure you’re in the right place.”
Selma cleared her throat. “I’m buying a pitcher shaped like a cow from your sister. Item number 537?”
The man threw his head back and laughed. Warm, melodic, beautiful full-on belly laughter. “That explains a lot. My sister is going crazy selling things on the internet.” He grabbed her elbow again, steering her into the loft apartment. What looked like hundreds of plastic small Rubbermaid boxes with numbers on them were stacked against the back wall. “Here,” he pulled out the one numbered 537, “rummage through this and take what you need.”
Selma opened the box. Five shiny Moo Cow Creamers faced the ceiling, blank white eyes staring at her. Creepy. “How much are they?”
“The price should be at the bottom of each item.”
She turned one of the pitchers over. Thirty dollars for an ugly porcelain cow seemed steep. “I’m not sure I have enough cash. Do you think your sister would take twenty for one of them?”
The man leaned back against a dining table. He watched her, amusement glittering in those velvet brown eyes. “Why don’t you tell me why you need that weird thing and we’ll see if we can work something out?”
* * *
Selma steered her sedan toward Annabelle’s house, twin Moo Cow Creamers riding shotgun beside her. One for Annabelle and one for herself. A memento for meeting Thomas and telling him the story that made him laugh for a full two minutes before he asked her out on their first date. Technically, Annabelle owed Selma this time. Considering what she caught while hunting down the Moo Cow Creamer, Selma would just let this one slide.