In a small bed and breakfast near Flathead Lake in rural Montana, there lived two sisters and a tabby cat. The sisters' names were Tammi and Tina Carmody, and the cat's name was Esmie. Tammi and Tina got along well enough, but the sisters could not be more different.
Tammi, the older sister, approached her forties with gentility and ease. With a slim, graceful figure and a full head of dark hair with elegant streaks of silver only just beginning to show, Tammi seemed verily an embodiment of those two words. She maintained the flowerbeds around the yard and provided the quiet amusements for their guests, such as reading or art or needlework.
Tina, on the other hand, was still as rambunctious at thirty as she had been at twenty. If Tammi led the outdoor excursions and poured the tea, Tina provided the music and led the dancing. She would not let a single auburn hair on her head turn to grey, and rarely missed an appointment with the hairdresser to ensure this.
Tammi liked to wear soft sweaters and muted colors. Tina preferred bright fabrics and plenty of jewelry. Tammi liked to sit and think about things. Tina would far rather talk about them.
The name of their bed-and-breakfast was Pierce House, after their grandparents, John and Paulina Pierce. It had a sitting room in the front with wide windows overlooking the flower beds and the lane leading from the main road to the little house, and a parlor in the back where stood a stately upright piano, flanked on the walls by two portraits, one of John and Paulina, the other of Paulina's Scottish cousin, Butterfly Whistlestop and her husband, Horatio.
On this particular morning, Tammi was reading a heartwarming novel, Mr. O’Grady’s Impossible Flight, at the dining room table when her sister’s voice floated from the parlor.
“Tammi? When will the first guest arrive?”
Tammi set down her novel and rolled her blue eyes in mild irritation. Marking her place with a delicate finger, she called back to her sister, “If you’re writing letters, dear, the calendar should be posted right over your head.”
“Oh…” Tina’s voice faded abruptly as the truth of her sister’s words dawned on her. Suddenly, Tammi heard the snap of Tina’s shoes as the energetic woman charged into the dining room with a paper in her hand.
“Wait—“ she blustered, “If we have someone coming on September the fourth, then how does this happen?” She showed her sister the paper.
Tammi put down her book a second time. This time, she didn’t bother leaving her finger there; when Tina had a problem, it wasn’t usually answered with a sentence or two. She glanced at the bulletin in her sister’s hand. It advertised a traveling circus coming through the area, and it would be during the same weekend as the new arrival—and both of them knew that new boarders always took at least two days to settle.
“I suppose the new guest won’t be having any of your circus,” Tammi mused, thinking that perhaps, after all, she could return to her novel sooner than anticipated.
“But Tammi!” Tina protested. “It’s a circus! Don’t you recall how long it has been since either of us has been to see a circus? And now one is coming to us! Right here to Flathead Lake! How could we miss such a grand opportunity?”
Tammi snorted, “Your grand opportunities are a dime a dozen, dear sister!” she remonstrated Tina. “I am sure you’ll find another one more suited to the guest’s taste.”
Tina dropped into the nearest seat in a decidedly unladylike fashion. “What could you presume to know about the personal tastes of this S. Morton?”
Tammi smiled demurely. “I know, my dear, because I know he is a schoolteacher. That is why he is boarding here.”
“A schoolteacher? Where?”
“The Academy across the brook—you remember! It was one of the reasons mother thought this bed-and-breakfast boarding house would be a good idea at this particular location, because the unique teaching methods of the school would attract a number of students, and they would need somewhere to stay, if not on the grounds of the school itself—thus, we would be the likeliest option, since most of the provided housing would go to the students, which meant that the faculty would be needing somewhere to stay.”
“And where else but Pierce House?” Tina’s eyes sparkled and she grinned at her sister. “Well, all right, then, no circus—but the next event that comes along…”
Tammi nodded, “You can plan away to your heart’s content.” She picked up her novel again and flipped to the page she had bent to mark her spot. “Now, hush! I’m nearly finished with this chapter.”
Tina snorted, "I guess you can keep our guest entertained well enough! You two have something in common, unless I miss my guess." She nodded to the book in Tammi's hand.
The woman blushed a little. "I highly doubt a studious Academy teacher will have any desire for entertainment, anyway!" she blustered. "And he's German," as if that was the final straw. Tammi buried her red face in her book. "Don't you have letters to write, or calls to make on the telephone?"
Tina smiled a knowing smile and left the room. The house lapsed into silence as the sisters became engrossed in their respective activities. By afternoon tea, Tina had finished the solicitations and filled the reservations, and Tammi had verified that the house was still very clean from the last time she had scrubbed and dusted and swept. She also finished Mr. O'Grady's Impossible Flight.
Tina and Tammi sat in the front sitting room, enjoying their tea and listening to the gramophone play the music of legendary New York crooner Cal Parker warble his latest songs like "Stella Luna," a song dedicated to his daughter Bella and the sisters' favorite.
"In the gray of cold December,
On the streets of old New York,
Stella Luna, I'll remember,
And our walk through Central Park.
Don't forget me, Bella Luna,
Even though we're far apart,
You'll be always in my heart,
"Such a pretty song!" Tammi sighed as Tina leaned over and adjusted the needle.
"Indeed—especially the fact that he made this recording because he wanted to show how much he loved his family," Tina remarked. As Cal's voice began again, she pouted mischievously. "Too bad he's already obviously married and happy; we could have invited him out to Montana."
Tammi nearly dropped her teacup in alarm. "Tina!" she cried. "How can you say such a horrible thing?"
Tina smiled without the slightest hint of remorse or embarrassment. “What? We aren’t getting any younger, my dear… haven’t you ever thought about having a family? Or would you rather Pierce House fall into the hands of some unscrupulous stranger who would raze it upon our deaths?”
Tammi set her cup and saucer on the tea tray, and her hands trembled. “You do say the most disturbing things sometimes, Tina.”
But her sister was not listening. For once, Tina Carmody did not have the last word. Tammi glanced up to see if she had suddenly fainted, but Tina’s eyes were wide open. She was staring at something out the window.
“Tina,” Tammi began softly, “what—“
“Hush!” Tina snapped, her eyes fixed on whatever it was. She raised a finger to the glass and pointed, “Who is that?”
Tammi followed the tip of her finger. Pulling down the long gravel lane was a Ford Model T.