I think I got all the words for this year’s story challenge, including two bonus words that Elizabeth excluded because they didn’t seem very friendly: sharp and fang. Old 2021 was a big year for cats for me — I went from two to 15 in my house, and my husband’s aunt is now keeping house with six (they often come to visit, since she’s next door and lets them out). It’s a little scary to think of a 20-year commitment for all 13 babies, but there’s so much love and happiness in my house now. I was born to be a cat lady!
Here’s wishing you all a wonderful 2022, and may your goals achieved increase like my cats! Now, on to the story.
Betty’s 2021 had been one of the worst years she could recall. She lost a good friend, not to COVID, but to overcrowded hospitals that had to tell one more patient to just wait at home a little longer. Turned out that Anne couldn’t wait at home, after all. She’d died before the sun came up.
She’d lost a favorite aunt not to COVID, but to annoying conspiracy theories and right wing propaganda. She still loved Aunt Karen, but the way Betty’s blood pressure kept spiking every time Aunt Karen let loose a careless confidence such as Bill Gates was promoting climate change theories to sell computers to fund biological weapons . . . well, she didn’t talk to Aunt Karen at all these days. Betty just wasn’t fluent in bullshit.
Betty’s work, at least, was steady – even better than before the pandemic. She’d met some wonderful pet owners this last year, and her veterinary practice was satisfying. All in all, 2022 looked like it was going to be a great year. She stretched in her new daisy pajamas, enjoying the warm feeling of being in bed on New Year’s Day with no hangovers, no romantic regrets about the night before, and nothing to do for the rest of the day except feed herself and the cats.
Bebe, an ivory and chocolate Siamese mix, leaped on her white sheets, demanded pets, and then wandered off again. Sigh.
The doorbell rang. She wasn’t expecting any guests, so she wanted to ignore it, but there was a funny feeling niggling between her shoulder blades saying she needed to get up and answer the door. So, she shrugged on her bathrobe, the navy one covered in white stars, and slid into her bunny slippers.
She looked out the sidelight and saw it was her neighbor, from his coat. They hadn’t exchanged any words since she’d moved into the house two years ago, but they would wave at each other from their respective driveways in the morning. He was stamping snow from his feet, and his breath came out silver. She opened the door.
“I’m sorry to bother you on New Year’s Day,” he said. “But I noticed that you have cats.”
Five cats were hard to miss. Warren Harding came to check out the open door and brush against her ankles. “Yes,” she said encouragingly.
“Maybe you’d know what to do with this,” he said. He loosened the zipper of his coat and a kitty peeked out from his collar. It was a long-haired tabby-striped fluffball, about three months old and with matting around the neck and under the front legs. Fluffball piteously meowed, and Warren Harding bounded back into the house to tell the rest of the gang.
She looked up at her neighbor. From a distance, she’d never noticed what dreamy eyes he had – big and chocolate brown, shining over his mask. His black brows were like ravens’ wings on a sunset flight. She had to shake the loose bits of poetry from her head and concentrate on what he was saying.
“I figured all the vets would be closed today, and so I thought you might know what to do.”
“It’s your lucky day . . . .” She let the sentence hang until she got what she wanted.
“It’s your lucky day, Matt. I’m a vet, and I’ve got some kitten formula in the kitchen. Bring her in.”
Her vet instincts took over, and she sat him down at the kitchen table, grabbed a towel and some crunchies and coaxed the kitten to her. The kitten didn’t need much coaxing. She checked out the baby, who seemed in pretty good shape.
“She was at my door this morning when I went out for a run, and sneaked in the house.”
“Well, first things first, you’ll have to put up posters.” She gave the kitten back to him, and watched Fluffball wind in and out of his strong hands. He gave the cat gentle strokes. “If she doesn’t have any owners, are you prepared to take on the kitty?”
“Oh, right.” He pulled up the Neighbor Corner app on the phone and showed her a blurry photograph of Fluffy on a very nice piano. LOST KITTEN. “The thing is, I’m often on tour for weeks at a time. I’d need a cat sitter.”
“I can help you find a cat sitter,” she said. Her eyes got caught again in the lovely melty goodness of his.
“I don’t know very much about cats,” he said.
Her hands reached out and petted Fluffball, accidentally-not-accidentally petting his hands in the process.
“I’d have to ask you for a lot of advice, I bet.” He petted her hands back as Fluffball passed between them. Fluffball very gently nibbled her pinky with her sharp fangs. His eyes had taken on a slightly out-of-focus, whacked-by-a-flyball look.
“Good thing I’m a vet,” she said.
“Very good thing.”
Fluffball climbed Betty’s arm, then looked through her soul with golden eyes. Call Me Daisy. And Get Me Some Tuna.
“Have you got anything I can give Daisy here to eat?” Matt asked.
Betty was startled. Oh, Daisy was going to be one of THOSE kind of cats.
Don’t Knock It. I’m Bringing You Matt, Aren’t I?
Oh, yes, 2022 could be a very good year indeed.