She glanced at the clock. Eleven-thirty. With a sigh she stood up. It was time to get Mr. Daws' lunch. On the days he did not have a lunch meeting he would eat at his desk, working. And so she had to work too, eating her lunch at her own desk in case he needed her for anything. (He always did.)
She grabbed her purse and pushed her rolling chair away from the desk, taking her cell phone out of its pocket as she walked across the room. Two text messages from Caleb. "Babe, we still on for tonight?" was the first one, the second "Tabby, where are you?" sent ten minutes later. She was surprised he hadn't kept texting.
Her fingers flew across the tiny keyboard as she took the elevator down to the ground floor, nodding at the doorman. How did this become my life? she wondered as she waited for the light to cross the street. "You know I'm at work," she texted. "I'll see you at seven." Because Mr. Daws made her work late whenever he did, and he relished a long Friday afternoon.
She ordered Mr. Daws' usual tuna salad on rye at the deli across the street and decided to indulge in a cookie to go with the packed lunch under her desk. Caleb texted back the equivalent of an eye roll.
Like she didn’t get enough of that from Thistle. "I have too many men in my life bossing me around," she muttered to herself.
"So do something about it Girl," Leticia said, sliding the wrapped sandwich across the counter. "That'll be six-ninety-five." Leticia worked the register at the deli and was probably the closest thing to a best friend that Tabitha had, and she only saw her to get lunch every day.
"I didn’t meant to talk to myself that loudly," Tabitha said, feeling her face color as she handed Leticia exact change and put another dollar in the tip jar. (Her dollar, not Mr. Daws's. He didn’t believe in tipping.) "My boss and my boyfriend are both getting on my nerves. And the cat."
Leticia laughed. "I'm a dog person myself."
"Wouldn't that be nice," Tabitha said, taking her cookie from its wax paper sleeve and biting into it. "Thanks Leticia."
“Seriously,” Leticia said, sliding the paper bag holding the sandwich across the counter. “No one can make a change in your life but you.”
“I know.” She scooped up the sandwich and marched back across the street, determined. She didn't have to take this, did she?
Getting back off on the seventh floor she found Mr. Daws sifting through the papers on her desk. "Mr. Daws?" she said uncertainly, all resolve melting away at his red face and cold eyes.
"Where is it?"
"My notes for Kennedy vs. the State of Ohio? Dammit girl, it goes to trial next week!"
"I typed it up and put it in the computer," she answered, breathing slowly to keep herself from screaming. "I'll print you a copy right now." She handed off his sandwich and maneuvered around him to her chair.
"I told you--I don't want my notes in the computer. What happens if we get hacked?"
"That's why we have firewalls," she tried to explain.
"Well what if it crashes? Do you want these bastards to walk just because you couldn’t be bothered to keep track of a few pieces of paper?"
Tabitha sighed and pulled up the documents he needed. When she didn't type his notes he complained about not being able to read his own handwriting. "Why don’t you go eat your sandwich and I'll bring you your notes in a few minutes."
"Don't patronize me, young lady. I'm old enough to be your grandfather." All the same, he stalked off into his office and slammed the door with a huff. Tabitha closed her eyes and let her forehead fall onto the keyboard.
“The sordid affair of J and Z continues,” Thistle typed on Tabitha’s laptop. She always left the computer open for him on the antique vanity she used as a computer desk. His typing had improved over the years, alternating between using paws and nose.
Thirteen months ago he had started a gossip blog based on the people and animals on the street. Humans had a perverse interest in the personal lives of others, Thistle had found, and took advantage of it. “Tails from Town” averaged 1.1 million hits a day and made a comfortable seven hundred a month in advertisements and CoffeePress merchandise. (Women couldn’t get enough of his cute kittie logo.) Of course it was all in Tabitha’s name, but she didn't know that. She was completely unaware of her online checking account set up with a bogus email and her actual social security number. (It wasn’t his fault if she left that sort of thing laying around.)
After documenting the morning’s discoveries in intimate and exacting detail—the more salacious the better—he answered his email and checked his stocks (they were doing well). He ate an early dinner of hard cat food and a few houseflies before he went back next-door.
Janine didn’t work. She had a wonderful human thing called “alimony” which Thistle fully approved of. He liked the concept of being able to sleep in and take naps without the stress of a real job. She was sitting on the back steps smoking a cigarette and throwing a stick for Fritz. Over and over the little dog chased after it—it was enough to make Thistle dizzy.
He lounged on his tree branch watching Fritz until he fell half asleep, jolting awake when he heard the sound of a bicycle bell. Kyle Harding barreled through the strip of side yard and dropped his bicycle in the honeysuckle, so eager he was to see Janine. Not two in one day, Thistle thought, already planning his next blog entry.
Kyle was even younger than Zach, only nineteen and just home from his first year of college. As far as Thistle was concerned that meant he was old enough to get himself into this mess on his own, so it didn't occur to Thistle to warn him about Zach. (Not that the boy would listen. Most of the time when he did try to talk to humans they would look around, confused at where the voice was coming from. They were more willing to believe he was a ghost than a talking cat. Which was why Tabitha was so special.)
Thistle jumped down from his branch and wound his way around Kyle’s skinny legs in support—regardless of responsibility, he felt sorry for the poor boy, especially since he would make fun of him in his update that night. “Hey cat,” Kyle said, scratching him behind the ears and running a hand across his back. It felt good, so Thistle began to purr despite himself.
Janine put out her cigarette on the steps and rushed to put her arms around the boy’s lank frame. “Missed you, baby,” she purred into his ear, and the boy flushed with pleasure. “So what do you want first? Dinner, or dessert?”
“Depends on what we’re having,” Kyle said, attempting to sound cool but failing. Janine laughed and led Kyle into the house through the back door. Fritz whined and tried to follow, but Janine shut the door in his face.
“What do you make of all this?” Thistle asked his doggie friend, half fearing the answer.
“Maybe we’re going to have puppies!” Fritz’s cheerful demeanor returned, his tongue half hanging out of his mouth as he trotted off to retrieve his stick.
Thistle tried not to look down at his friend’s naiveté. After all, few animals were as sophisticated as himself. He understood that sex was recreational for humans, even if he didn't know why.
“Hey Thistle,” Fritz said, talking through the stick in his mouth. “This time I’ll throw the stick and you can go after it.”
“You are a simple creature,” Thistle told Fritz, and chased the stick when Fritz threw it. Hey, sometimes you couldn’t resist.
Caleb met Tabitha in the parking deck below her building at seven sharp. She had changed her clothes into yellow flats and matching leggings, belting her long purple shirt with a wide red elastic belt rescued from a bad eighties dress. She knocked on the window of Caleb’s car, but he had to stare at her for a few moments before unlocking the door. “Hi,” she said, climbing in and leaning over to give him a kiss.
“How old are you?” he asked her in lieu of greeting.
“Twenty-eight,” she told him. “A year older than you.”
“You dress like you’re an eighteen-year-old art school reject.”
“Thank you.” She tried not to be annoyed. He hated the way she dressed. “So can we go to dinner or what? I’m starving.” He shook his head at her but smiled anyway, to show her there were no hard feelings. On his side maybe…
“Passion unfolds again,” Thistle wrote later that evening, missing his usual meal of canned food, mouth feeling dry from the kibble Tabitha insisted was edible. “The ineffable J is presently occupied in a second liaison for the day, this time with barely legal K. They have already made love—loudly might I add—and are off to dinner at some awful chain restaurant and then a movie afterwards, probably something PG-13. Is a cougar to be looked down upon, or applauded? And what of the young kittens these males pass over in preference to their more mature counterparts? Don’t they feel inadequate?”
Thistle posted this and waited for the comments to come flooding in. In half an hour it had been explained to him that cougars were predators feeding on the emotions of the young, and that young women preferred older men anyway. Humans were strange. Why didn’t they want mates of the same breeding age? It was no wonder their young had so many problems, growing from expired sperm and egg. (Thistle knew the importance of good breeding. He had his eyes set on a few choice females, but hadn’t made any rash decisions. He was not so old yet.)
Thistle got up with a stretch and jumped off the vanity, then used the leg to sharpen his claws. ‘We can never have anything nice,’ Tabitha liked to complain, but once he explained that de-clawing a cat was like cutting off its fingers with a meat cleaver, she shut up. He thought it was important to inform humans that just because it made their lives easier didn't mean it was a good thing. Tabitha had also gone vegetarian since he came into her home, though he didn't find that necessary.
He checked on Fritz through the back window before settling down for an evening nap. Fritz was snapping at some unseen bug, his chain rattling behind him. Being tied up was no way to live, but the poor Terrier was too hyper to be left alone in the house and it was better to be on a chain than in a cage. At least that’s what Fritz told him, and he didn't seem to mind much. All the same, Thistle knew that he was both lucky and privileged to be a cat.
Tabitha came home sometime after midnight, her head aching from the thumping of dance music, but she couldn’t help but note that Janine Bukowski still had her lights on. What is she up to? Tabitha wondered, knowing the answer well enough. She wondered which neighborhood boy was over that night.
Everyone knew about Zach, but fewer were aware of Kyle since he’d only been home from school for a few weeks. Tabitha looked over the wall and noticed his ten-speed leaning against the honey suckle growing along the side of Janine's house. While she had a hard time of approving of Janine dating a boy almost young enough to be her grandchild, she couldn’t help but feel a little envious. Janine never had her boyfriends telling her to grow up.
Caleb had been a pain, drinking too much so that he commented on her outfit again, and Tabitha had to drive him home in her car. He’d asked her to stay, pawing at her in the car, but she was too disgusted by the whole evening and was almost relieved to walk him to his apartment door and retreat.
Thistle was waiting for her at the back door, rubbing against her legs and purring as soon as she got inside. “Yes, I remembered your cheesecake.” She held up the small Styrofoam container from the restaurant earlier that evening. “Marcello’s.” One good thing about Caleb was his excellent taste in restaurants, and Marcello’s had the best cheesecake. Thistle settled into his treat readily enough and Tabitha dragged herself upstairs. It had been such a long day, and she was so tired.
If anyone can come up w/ a better title for this chapter. It needs to follow the formula of "The _____ and the _____." Its an homage to Bones--most of the episode titles are "the blank in the blank." (I love that show.)
Hello new readers! I know this is mostly ETW ppl reading this, but I hope there will be some new people too. I encourage everyone to suggest this story to their friends and family, really spread it around. Post a link on Twitter, your facebook--I will reward you all with imaginary gold stars. (You know you want one.) We got a total of 79 hits last week--lets try to double it this week.
I'm working on a pretty title graphic, but my new computer doesnt have a decent graphic program and I have no downloading capabilities, so it's a long going process. This is what I have so far, but there is no color and it's not the right size/shape for anything useful. What I want is some 19th century line art of a tabby cat. I had a book when I was a kid, "Great Comic Cats" or something, that would be perfect for the art I want, but its been lost for forever.