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Hanky Panky- Elle Druskin

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A huge crowd gathered around the square, all awaiting the arrival of Mayor
Wilson. The town was infested with Wilsons; Woody could count on enough votes
from the Wilson clan alone to get elected as many times as he wanted. It was a
slam-dunk. Come to think of it, Woody had played basketball in high school, along
with Hank.
In spite of his prejudiced relatives, Woody was a good mayor. No complaints
from anyone, although having a mayor named Woodrow Wilson startled the
handful of out of towners who came for the ceremony.
The high school band played some kind of marching song, while cheerleaders
froze their butts off in those little skirts, tossing around pom-poms and whipping
up the crowd, and the school color guard was waving flags all over the place.
Hank stamped his booted feet in the cold. Man, it was freezing, and the gray
sky guaranteed another big snow dump. Didn’t take any groundhog to work that
one out.
Hank shot a glance over all the heads and caught a glimpse of Ellie and
Hayley, threading their way through the crowd. Dana was dragging behind them as
if she’d rather be anywhere but here, but she was holding one of the twins and
surprisingly, she was playing around with the kid, rubbing noses together, and
Mandy giggled.
“Got your hands full. Gimme one.”
Hayley handed over Jeff and shifted the baby in her other arm. All three kids
were dressed in cute little snowsuits, and Jeff yanked on Hank’s nose. Without thinking, he did a quack. The kid giggled like his sister.
He shot a look at Dana who was right behind him. She was probably annoyed
at him for making sounds again.
Surprisingly, a glimmer of a smile appeared on her lips as if she approved. She
cleared her throat and lifted her chin. Those silvery eyes met his, and his heart
banged against his chest for no reason he could think of that made sense.
“Thanks very much for the flowers. They’re beautiful, and it wasn’t necessary.
I was in a state yesterday and over-reacted.”
Hank grinned at her. “Yeah, it was necessary. Honestly, I didn’t mean to upset
you. How’s it going?”
Before she could answer, a whine buzzed over the microphone, and Mayor
Wilson stepped onto a platform. “It’s a cold day, and it looks like snow. Now I’m
aware that normally, February second is the day the groundhog tells us if winter is
over or going to last another six weeks.”
Woody gazed upward at snow clouds that were thickening by the second. “I
don’t know that we need the groundhog to tell us what’s coming, but I’d like to
invite Paulette Stone to bring out the groundhog.”
Whistles and cheers went up from the crowd, and they parted to make space for Paulette. Paulette Stone had to be the daffiest movie actress in the world with her crazy critters. She waved to the crowd and strolled forward to applause, acting like this was a red carpet event. Dressed in white ski pants and a matching fake fur jacket with a hood, she clutched a brown, furry something to her chest that looked more like a monkey than a groundhog.
Dana blinked, and her eyes widened. “That doesn’t look like a groundhog,”
Dana said.
“It isn’t.”
Jake squeezed through the crowd and stood behind them. He hefted Jeff out of
Hank’s arms and held the boy on his shoulders, so he could see the peculiar
ceremony. “It’s a meerkat. We couldn’t get a groundhog, so Paulette volunteered
Algernon.”
“Algernon?”
Hank shot a wicked grin at Dana. This woman was so easy to read. She thought that either they were crazy, or she was, packed in a crowd, watching a meerkat decked out in a bright red sweater with the word ‘Groundhog’ knitted in white, into the sides.
“Looks like something Grandma would knit,” Hank said.
“Yep, she did,” said Ellie, handing out red balloons with a picture of Algernon
on them to the kids.
“Is everyone ready?”
Woody stepped aside, and Paulette lowered Algernon onto the patch of
synthetic turf and plastic burrow that had been placed in the square explicitly for
the purpose.
“This is the craziest thing, I’ve ever seen,” Dana muttered.
“Shhh. Don’t rile the animal. You’ll make him nervous,” Alice Finster said.
Everyone stared as Algernon stood on his hind legs, leashed to Paulette in case
he got any funny ideas about stage fright and took off. His tiny head bobbed, he
gazed at the crowd, and then peered into the burrow. For a brief second, the sun
broke through the clouds and cast its golden light on the square.
“Uh-oh, there’s a shadow. That means six more weeks of winter. Good thing
we’re going to Hawaii for a honeymoon.”
“Hey, yeah, I heard. Finally lassoed Ed. About time,” Hank said and kissed
Zena Rydowski’s cheek.
“Yep, more than fifteen years, and enough is enough. Valentine’s Day wedding, and just to be sure Ed doesn’t chicken out, I’m making certain one of the
guys stays over with him the night before. If you’re around, please come to the
wedding.”
Zena whirled around and greeted Dana. “Hi, honey. I heard what happened,
and you don’t have any underwear.”
Hank’s brows arched, and he couldn’t hold back a wicked grin. Dana didn’t
seem the type to go commando. This was getting interesting, especially the bloom
on her cheeks.
“I’ve got a load of stuff for you. And don’t forget to come to the wedding, too.”
Dana swallowed. “I won’t be here that long, but thanks, and I can’t accept
charity.”
Zena shot a glance at Hayley, Jake, and Ellie then back to Dana and Hank.
“Uh-huh.”
Dana tried to explain, but before she could open her mouth, Zena cut her off.
“This isn’t charity. I’m doing stock take before we go away, and I have to get rid
of some stuff for tax purposes that didn’t sell, so you’d be doing me a favor.”
Zena walked away, and Hank saw the embarrassment on Dana’s face. He
wasn’t sure which was worse: that Dana realized he knew she was minus her
panties, or that she believed herself the object of charity.
She didn’t understand Liberty Heights. This was how people were here, the
best thing about the town. People helped each other without any thought of a
payback, although he wouldn’t mind if Dana decided to ditch the underwear offer.
The thought of a panty-less Dana shot an arrow of heat into his center. He couldn’t
suppress a huge grin as the high school band struck up a marching song, and a
choir sang, “Forward Liberty Heights,” the old high school song from football
games. Groundhog Day, or Meerkat Day, was over for the year.

©2012 Elle Druskin

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