By Isaiah Boyce
I feel the rhythm of Jake’s breath as we lie next to each other. His arm drapes over my shoulder, and his cold fingers are intertwined with mine. His hands are always cold. I try to match his breathing, the slow deep movements in his chest. Slow and cold, like he is floating just above the icy River Styx mere inches away from drifting to the land of the dead. I nestle up tighter in the blankets and try to catch some sleep.
Sunlight hits my face and rouses me to life. Jake’s not there. He’s probably been up for a while, working on some project. I can hear the rhythmic clacking of his keyboard from down the hall occasionally interrupted by the hasty firing of the backspace key. I grab my phone to look at the time. I get out of bed, take a quick shower, and throw on some old clothes: a stained white shirt, and some old jeans with small holes starting to form at the knees. Jake insisted that I throw them away, but I can still get a few months out of them. I make myself some quick breakfast and brew a pot of coffee. I pour a mug and walk into Jake’s office. He’s still typing away; he doesn’t notice me enter. His eyes are glued to the screen. For a moment, I watch the lines of code grow, shrink, and grow again as Jake pounds away. I place the mug on the desk and hug him around the neck.
“Good morning, babe,” Jake says, his eyes staying on the screen. He grabs the mug with one hand. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” I give him a kiss on the cheek, prickly with stubble. “I’ve got to go to work now.”
“Love ya babe.” He’s still looking at the screen.
I let out a quiet sigh. “Love you too.”
The commute to work is a bit colder today with the fall air carrying the first signs of winter. I catch the bus out to the Warehouse District and walk the half mile to the Amazin warehouse. Work is monotonous as usual. I trudge around, grab items, put them in places, grab other things, put them in other places. It’s tiring, but the pay is good. After work, I begin the half mile walk back to the bus stop. I can feel the aches starting to grow in my soles. I should get a bicycle or a motorized scooter to make this part easier.
I feel an itch in the back of my mind, and the hair on my neck starts to rise. I’m being watched. I whip my head around and see it. Following me about thirty feet back is a cat. Its glossy black coat ripples as it walks in the light of the setting sun, and its green eyes shine like emeralds, brimming with intelligence and curiosity. It stops midstride as I lock eyes with it. Its tail swishes playfully, and its lips curl into a facsimile of a sly smile.
“I caught you,” I say.
The cat plants its rear on the ground, tilts its head to the side, and lets out a small “mreow.” The perpetual smirk of its lips makes it look as if it’s saying, I let you.
I crouch down and extend my hand. The cat pads over, stepping silently on the pavement. It sniffs my hand, and I can feel the hit of its breath on my fingers. It gives my fingers a little lick. Its abrasive tongue tickles my skin. I let out a light giggle, and the cat nuzzles into my hand. The cat rolls over on the sidewalk presenting its underside to me.
“Mreow?” She wriggles on the ground expectantly.
“Alright, just for a bit.”
I begin to gently pet her stomach, burying my hand into her soft fur. Her stomach is warm, and I can feel a rumbling in the rise and fall of her breath. It doesn’t take long before her purrs grow audible. I feel a warm sensation bubbling up within me. It starts in my stomach, warms my chest, and rises to my face where I can feel a flush spreading in my cheeks. I don’t know how long I spend petting her, but when the aches in my legs snap me back into focus, I can tell some time has passed.
“Oh shit, the bus!” I scamper off.
I turn to see her stretched out on the sidewalk, belly up, head twisted towards me, her eyes staring into my soul. I mouth “I’m sorry” one more time before sprinting away. I barely manage to get to the stop in time. I climb on board gasping and struggling for my bus pass.
I catch my breath as I take my seat. I can still feel the warmth of her fur on my hand. I keep looking out the window hoping to catch a pair of the gleaming emerald eyes in the night.
Jake is still in his office when I get home, the occasional clacking on the keyboard ringing throughout the apartment. The coffee pot is empty now; the mug I gave him earlier sits on the counter. I make a simple meal and set the table with two plates.
Jake shuffles into the room, stretching. He takes his seat opposite mine and begins pecking at his food. We exchange nothings about our days. Jake pauses mid-bite, his fork hanging halfway between the plate and his mouth. He shoots me a questioning look before a quick chuckle escapes him, and his lips curl into a slight smile.
“Did you get out at all today?” I ask. “Being holed up in the office all day can’t be good for you.”
Jake lets out a sigh as he looks away.
“I’ll take that as a no. You can’t just shut yourself up in a room and look at a computer all day. I barely see you these days.”
“I know, I know. It’s just…” Here it comes again. “I’m so close to finishing this project. Once I wrap this up, I’ll have plenty of time, and I’ll make it up to you I promise.”
“Okay,” I say again. I know it won’t be the last. “Promise?”
Jake manages to make eye contact. “I promise, Sophy.”
“Good, cause there’s a lot of awesome stuff out there that you’re totally missing.”
“I saw a cat today.”
“Don’t ‘oh’ me. It was totally sweet. She let me rub her tummy and everything.”
“You got to first base with a cat? That’s what I’m missing?” Jake eyes me, his smirk teasing me in the cute way it always has.
I fire back. “We almost got to second. You better be careful, or she might steal me away.”
“I’m shaking. What’s the name of this feline temptress?”
I blurt out the first name that I can think of that might break him. “Lady Katarina the Furst.”
Jack starts to cackle. I’m soon to follow. Soon we’re both wiping tears from our eyes, and I can feel the soreness spreading in my cheeks.
After dinner we snuggle up on the couch together and watch a movie, Jake taking my hand with his cold fingers. We spend the evening in silence before turning in for the night, where I once again share the bed with his deathlike slumber.
The next morning is more of the same. Wake up. Breakfast. Coffee. Bus. As I’m stepping off the bus, I hear her. A soft mewing from a fuzzy black mass under the bus stop bench. I excitedly rush over and kneel next to her. She looks at me, emerald eyes wide, before turning her head in a huff.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I really had to go.” I extend my hand, and she regards it, disinterested. I prostrate myself before her, getting lower and looking towards the ground. “Oh, great Katarina, I beg of your mercy.”
I feel her head nudge against mine. The soft fur of her cheek tickles my ears. She lets out a soft purr. I nuzzle her back, burying my face into her side. I sit up, petting her with my hand.
“So, I take it you like your name, Katarina.”
Katarina lets out an affirming meow as she buries her head into my hand. I think I’ll just call her Kat for short. I stand up and begin walking towards the warehouse. Kat lets out a curious meow and begins to follow me, weaving in between my legs where her flicking tail occasion tickles my knees through the holes in my jeans. Jake be damned, I knew these jeans were worth keeping.
“I’ve got to go to work Kat, you can’t stay with me forever.”
Kat looks up at me with that sly smile. Just watch me. Her tune changes as we approached the warehouse. She goes from a confident strut to hiding behind my legs. She must have been chased off by security at some point. I kneel and give Kat a few comforting scritches on her chin.
“Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”
I shoot her some finger guns as I back towards the warehouse and another day of work. Work goes slow. I can’t stop thinking about Kat and whether she’ll be waiting for me when I get done. I keep checking the time, counting down the hours, minutes, seconds, until my shift ends. When the time comes, I hurriedly punch out and rush towards the parking lot.
I don’t see Kat. I can feel my stomach plummet, and I struggle to fight back tears as I walk to the bus stop. I can feel the aches in my soles with every step. I take my seat on the bench of the bus stop and let out a long sigh. I guess it was temporary friendship.
“Kat?” I look down, and there she is, curled up beneath the bench. Her black coat melts into the shadow on the pavement. Kat rubs her nose against my ankles and gives a few nibbles to my shoelaces.
“Come here.” I pick her up beneath the shoulders, her legs drooping down, and place her in my lap. “Not even my boyfriend will touch my feet.”
Kat paces a few small circles on my lap, her paws pressing into my thighs. I feel a slight tingle that shoots up my spine. She then plants herself across my thighs, and I can feel her warmth intermingle with my own. I begin to slow stroke her spine. Kat begins to purr loudly, every exhale sending deep vibrations into my legs and stomach. I match her breathing effortlessly, and we enjoy the glow of the sunset together. I’m so enraptured in her comfort that I barely notice the bus pulling up to the curb.
“Sorry to interrupt, Sophy.” The driver waves from his seat. “Is that your new friend?”
“This Katarina, but I just call her Kat.”
He barks out in laughter. “A great name. Are you coming on, or do you two lovebirds need a moment?”
I look down to Kat. She is still curled up in my lap, purring to each of my light strokes. “You know what? I think we will need a moment.”
“Sure thing, Sophy. I’ll be back in an hour. Will that be enough?”
“I don’t know if it’ll be enough, but any longer and my boyfriend might actually notice I’m late.”
“See you soon.”
The driver pulls the bus away leaving me and Kat to ourselves on the bench. She stays in my lap for the whole hour as I gently run my hand through her fur. I feel like I could stay like this forever. Just me and Kat, basking in the warmth of each-others company. I should just keep her. The thought is so simple I almost can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it yet. I look down at Kat and she turns to make eye contact.
“Hey Kat, do you want to live with me?”
“Mreow!” Kat’s eyes glisten brightly in the light of the nearby streetlamp.
“I can’t speak cat, but that sounds like a yes.” I hold the sides of Kat’s head. “I’ll take you back home with me tomorrow. Can you stay here and wait for me?”
Kat lets out an affirming nod. I think she gets it. As the bus begins to pull back around, she hops off my lap. It pains me to leave her, but I should be getting home.
“It’s alright,” the driver says as I scan my pass. “I’m sure she’ll wait for you. What you’ve got there is special.”
On the way home, I swing by the store and pick up a few cans of cat food. Perhaps I can feed Kat before I go in for work. I also grab some microwave meals for me and Jake. Its getting a little late so something easy will probably be for the best. When I get home, Jake is still clacking away in his office; he doesn’t even here me enter. I heat up the meals and call him in for dinner.
“A lazy dinner. I missed the first bus and didn’t want to postpone the meal.”
“I didn’t even notice.”
“I gathered.” I sit down and gesture for him to do the same. “Can we talk?”
“About what?” He slowly takes a seat eying me suspiciously. “What did I do?”
“Nothing.” But that’s a separate issue. “This is about Katarina.”
I watch his face go through a whirlwind of emotions. Concern, fear, relief, ending on confusion. “Who?”
“You know, the cat I met yesterday. The one you were so worried would steal me away from you.”
He cracks a slight smile. “What about it?”
“I want to adopt her.”
His smile fades. I can’t quite read his expression. “No.”
“What do you mean no?” I try to keep the tone light, but I can already see Jake’s mood plummeting. “Afraid she’ll get between us?”
“Of course not! I just don’t want a cat interrupting my work.”
“Of course! Of course, you’d make it about your work.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, geez Jake, I don’t know. It’s not like you spend all your time and energy on your work. Not at all.”
“That’s not true.” He’s getting angry now.
“Sure thing, Jake. You know, maybe I do want her over you. After all, Kat at least acknowledges my presence when I show up.”
“Sophy… I…” He pauses to collect himself before driving the nail in the coffin. “I said no.”
Three days later, I’m coming home from work. I hop on the bus and say my greetings to George. He wishes me well and I tell him, “Thanks but I’m already as well as can be.” As we ride past my usual spot, George gives me a questioned look. I give him an assuring nod, and he keeps driving along. I get off five stops later at a small apartment complex. I thank him as I leave and begin to climb the stairs to my door.
As I open the door, I’m greeted by the warm nuzzles of Kat at my feet. She follows me towards the kitchenette bobbing between my legs with agile grace. I open a can of food for her as I prepare my dinner. Afterwards, when I go to bed, Kat jumps up, crawls along my legs, and settles on my stomach. My hands drift down and begin to gently pet Kat, tracing the sleek curves of her body. We lie there, breathing as one, sharing in the warmth of our cozy new home. I think of Jake and the life I left behind. I think of his cold hands that would intertwine with mine. I pet Kat, my finger running through her warm fur, her soft purring warmth on my stomach. I can’t help but smile.