The Peace Bringer
A Balance Bringer Chronicles Short Story
(This is a short story written from Crystia’s POV – Ana’s sister. Remember, this piece is being shared before any major edits have been made.)
Stripes and splotches, fuzzy fur all around. I want to eat them all up!
“Enough with the kittens. Can we go?” Chris shifts restlessly at my side, a six-pack of soda and a bag of chips in his arms.
It’s mid-morning and the market is already buzzing. The parking lot, full. I can see why they set up the cute little kitty adoption at the front of the store. It’s working on me. I want to take them all home. “Can you give me a minute?” I snap.
“Come on, Crystia.”
I ignore him and stick my fingers through the cage. The kittens are brawling, a frenzy of color toppling and turning.
“Come here. Come see me,” I beckon.
As if the sound of my voice calms them, the play stops and the kittens sit up and stare, wide-eyed. A sweet little black and white takes the lead and approaches my fingers, rubs against me. I wiggle and scratch his fur. “How much are they?” I ask the girl working the pet adoptions.
“Fifteen dollars and a signature,” she says with a smile.
“Only fifteen? I can do that!”
“You are not taking one of those fur-shedding creatures in my car,” Chris says.
“It’s less than a five-minute drive. How much hair is he going to shed in such a short time?”
“You’d be surprised.” Chris’s face morphs into a scowl.
“You no want a meowsers, anyhow.”
“What?” I blink wide.
“Not you,” I cut Chris off and look to the pet adoption girl. She’s averting her eyes, staring down the front the store. Probably embarrassed to play witness to our bickering.
“They too little. Immeowture. Tear up and chew up everything.”
Who else is here? I glance back and forth. No one. There is only the girl, myself, Chris, and the kitties. Everyone else is quick to move straight past. My body jerks and I stare closer at the cats, my gaze moving down the line, away from the kittens until I pause upon an older wise-looking cat; beautiful with his long orange fur.
“Yes furless one, I am talking to you.” The cat blinks.
“What’s wrong with you?” Chris yanks on my arm.
I pull away, wave him off, and stare at the cat. Holy flipping kitties! Did I just understand cat speak? “How am I hearing you?” I ask the cat, totally not caring how crazy I appear.
“Superb question.” He lifts his paw and begins to groom, then pauses and looks up at me. “Don’t know.”
I wrench open my purse and dig out my wallet, tearing it open. My cheeks flush. Five dollars and change. How can I not have fifteen dollars? I sigh.
“Can we go now?” Chris says.
“In a minute.” I turn my attention to the girl. “What’s that one’s name?” I point to the orange tabby.
“That’s Oscar. He’s a sweetheart.” Again, she smiles and I feel a tiny pang in my chest.
“Can you save him for me?”
Her smile falls. “I can’t make any promises. Of course, the kittens are always the most popular so there is a good chance he will be here if you come back fairly soon.”
“How late will you be here?” I ask, feeling a sense of urgency spread through me.
“We’re here until two o’clock.”
I look at my phone. Ten fifty-seven. I have plenty of time. Still, I don’t want to push my luck. “Let’s go.” I grab Chris’s arm and make way for the parking lot.
Heat rises through me and my feet fall heavy against the pavement. I imagine steam rolling off me as I make my way to the car. I don’t say anything. I only walk directly to the passenger door and wait for Chris to let me in.
He unlocks the door with a click of his alarm remote. “What’s your deal?” He asks, then pulls open the driver’s door and slips in behind the wheel.
I drop into my seat and sigh. “Just take me home.” He grunts an ugly sound of disgust, then starts the car. We drive away from the store and Oscar the orange tabby in silence. Less than ten minutes later we’re pulling up to my house. A black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda sits in the driveway.
“Great. Ryland’s here,” Chris mutters, pulling the car to a stop at the back of the driveway.
Relief washes over me. If Ryland’s over that means my sister’s home, which means no alone time for us. “Doesn’t matter. It’s not like you were going to get some,” I say, then turn my body to face him. He looks like I just punched him in the gut.
“Is this about the stupid cat thing?”
I take a deep breath, steel my core, and think about all the emotions that have been swirling within me over the last week. Ever since we took our relationship to the next level.
“That comment makes you sound like an insensitive jerk.” He starts to open his mouth but I throw up my hand stopping his rebuttal. “Right now, I’m asking myself why I would want to give so much to such a person and the truth is…I don’t. I think it’s time we call it.”
His nose wrinkles and brows furrow and he stares at me in silence.
I guess I’ve felt this brewing for a long time but I didn’t think this process out. Didn’t plan what I would say or how it would go. Not that I believe something like this would ever stick to any plan. Still, he deserved better than I was giving him. He used to make me laugh and smile―once. We used to be happy. Somewhere along the line things changed yet, out of habit our relationship continued. It’s time for us both to find something better.
“We’re done, Chris. You deserve someone who’s more into you.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” His voice slams into me like a hammer. “I’ve invested two years in you! You can’t cut me out now.”
My mouth drops open, then I snap it shut, and jump out of the car. I turn and look back at him. “It’s over!” I yell, then slam the car door and march to the house, refusing to look back. Invested two years. What a steaming pile of cat poop!
I burst through the kitchen side door. Only after I am inside with the door shut do I hear Chris drive away. The tension that had seized my body unfurls, I lean against the door, close my eyes, and attempt to find serenity. Chris and I hooked up in the middle of my freshman year. I never even considered anyone else and yet, when I think about him I don’t get the slightest bit excited. Not sure I ever did. But I should, shouldn’t I? He became like a favorite jacket or hoody. The one you grab when you want comfort and ease. That was him, comfortable and easy and always there. When did he become such a jerk?
I jolt ramrod straight and stare across the kitchen. I hadn’t heard her walk in. My sister Ana carries a dirty glass to the kitchen sink. She pauses, glass still in hand and looks me over, then meets my gaze.
“What happened?” she asks, a crease forming between her brows.
I relax and step away from the door. “I just broke things off with Chris.”
She sighs, sympathetically. “You can do better.”
“Probably.” I set my bag and phone on the kitchen table and silently wonder if my lack of emotion towards Chris is a sign of a deeper issue. Maybe I’m incapable of feeling that kind of connection, of finding love.
“You will. When the right one comes into your life you’ll know it.” She turns toward the sink and begins to run water into the dirty glass.
I mull over what she said. Consider smarting off about her lack of effort in the area of relationships and dating. The thought lasts all of a second. It’s more time that I care to spend on boys, especially my now ex-boyfriend. “Can I have fifteen dollars?” I ask.
“That came out of nowhere.” She shoves the dish brush into the glass and swooshes it around in circles. “What’s the money for?”
“I want to get a cat.”
Ana spins around so fast I think her head might snap off. “Are you crazy? Mom would kill you!” Her face is covered in panic and voice pitches, the kitchen sink gurgles and thumps, and suddenly water is spraying the ceiling and falling down upon us like the overspray of a firehose.
I squeal screams of delight. It’s like I’m five again and running through the sprinklers. Only this time the sprinklers are inside the house.
“Holy Gaia and God!” Ana yells. “What’s happening?”
I feel a devilish smile taking hold of my face. “It’s because you’re a beautiful freak! Just like me.”
“I am not a freak!”
“Are!” I get right up in her face. “Just accept it.”
“What’s going on in here?” Ryland’s voice breaks through our bickering.
I look past Ana toward the family room, but I don’t answer the question. I’m captivated by the sight before me. My sister is about to shove me. I see her hand raised, I know the look on her face, but I don’t think she’s realized her fingers are sparking with blue electricity.
Her hand slams into me, the current sending my body into a wave of quakes and twitches.
“Oh no! Oh no!” Ana says. Her voice washing into garble. And then…everything around me is blotchy…then black.
A low moan rumbles through my chest. Did I make that sound? Something squeezes my hand. Heavy with the weight of sleep, my eyelids fight the desire to open. I’m damp like I threw myself down on the bed after walking in a light rain. Weird. I take a deep breath and stare, blurry-eyed, at the ceiling. I don’t recall what day it is or what I was doing before I laid down. Actually, I don’t even remember lying down.
“I’m so sorry, Crystia,” Ana says, and squeezes my hand a tad tighter.
I blink and everything leading me to this point illuminates. My thoughts reel and the memories surge.
I sit up with a bolt. What time is it? In a frantic motion, I twist toward my nightstand to see the clock. It’s one twenty-three. Oscar! In a leap, I tear my hand from Ana’s and am up and tossing clothes out of my dresser drawers. I don’t care if what I grab matches. It’s dry and that’s what I want right now. Dry bell-bottom jeans, a dry gossamer top, and dry pink tennis shoes.
Ana is sitting on the bed behind me, her eyes narrowed and face tight. Her head tilts to the side. “Are you alright?”
“You mean after you electrocuted me?” My tone is snarky and irritated but I don’t care. Waking up wet, confused, and with a headache…and more importantly, losing all that time…is not my idea of fun.
“I didn’t…” Her gaze drops to her lap. “I didn’t mean…I don’t know what happened.”
I can sense the onset of a sisterly moment and I don’t mean to be insensitive, but―ugh―I have to go. I scan my dresser and nightstands but don’t see my phone. It must still be in the kitchen.
I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna make it, I chant to myself, then turn and leave Ana alone in my room. My goal – straight to my car, picking up my phone, keys, and some cash along the way.
I power down the hallway, through the family room dining area, and into the kitchen where I find Ryland examining the faucet.
He looks up from his prime-time investigation. “Glad to see you up and moving.”
I pause mid-step and glance his way. My feet are anxious to keep moving. To reach Oscar before the pet adoption thing closes shop.
“Yeah. That was weird. Guess I needed a nap,” I say sarcastically.
His stare narrows. “Can we talk about what happened?”
“Later.” I grab my bag and phone off the table.
I hear Ana call my name from down the hall. Kitty crap. She’s coming.
I reach past Ryland and retrieve Ana’s money jar off the shelf above the sink. I don’t even care that Ryland’s present, playing witnesses to my actions. To save Oscar I need the money. Within Ana’s jar there’s a mix of coin and folding cash. I snatch a twenty dollar bill and slide the jar back into place.
“I think something was wedged in the pipe and the pressure buildup must have blasted it clear,” he says.
I roll my eyes. “What made the water spray up to the ceiling instead of following the path of the faucet into the sink?”
He starts to rattle off some explanation about compression, gravity, and polar something or other. I don’t know what he’s saying. I’ve stopped listening. Without another word, I fish my car keys from my bag and head out the door.
As I walk across our dirt driveway I shake my head and wonder to what extreme Ryland and Ana will go to explain away the strange occurrence. “When is everyone going to accept the fact that there is something off about us,” I mumble.
I get in my car and pull out of the driveway, head for the market, all the while obsessing over Ana and myself. I can talk to cats. She can electrocute things and probably manipulate water. Heck, at school I’ve seen her hold her breath underwater like forever! She’s a stronger and faster swimmer than anyone else on the swim team. Is her ability inhuman? Is mine?
My face is flushing and fingers tapping. Drumming nervously. I rock back and forth in my seat. Yell at other drivers on the road. Move people! I need to get Oscar before it’s too late. I need to figure out what I’m capable of. My palms sweat and I have to grip the steering wheel tighter than usual to keep it from slipping through my hands.
I pull into the store parking lot and catch sight of a truck stopped at the front of the market. The girl with the cats now has someone helping her and they are loading supplies into the back of the truck. My heart pounds like a rabbit on the run. It’s not yet two o’clock and they are already packing up. Quick as I can, I park the car, lock up, and speed walk toward Oscar.
“Hey,” the girl says, seeing me rush toward her. “I didn’t think you were going to make it.”
“Almost didn’t by the look of things.” I survey the cats. Three of the five kittens are now gone. Hopefully off to new loving homes. The other side of the kittens, Oscar sits at attention watching me. My heart and breath calm.
“You still had fifteen minutes,” the girl says. “I would have waited, just in case.”
“Thanks.” I shove my hand into my back pocket and pull out the twenty dollar bill I borrowed from Ana’s money jar. “Let’s get the process started.”
“Alrighty!” She grabs a form and pen from the table and before I know it, I’m a new cat owner, with five Ana dollars to spend on pet supplies.
“That’s all there is,” she assures. “It’s not about the money or overwhelming paperwork at Perfect Pet Adoptions,” she says, her lips lifting at the edges. “It’s about finding our furry friends a good home.” She hands me my copy of the adoption along with a flyer on proper cat care.
I fold the paperwork and shove it in my back pocket and nod, maybe a little too enthusiastically, but I’m excited to start exploring this new talent I’ve discovered. I can talk to cats!
“You look so nervous,” she says, her entire face brightening. “Relax. Owning a cat is a great experience. You’re going to love it.”
“I don’t doubt it.” I turn and walk toward Oscar, eager to talk to him more. The girl follows me.
As I walk past the kittens they move to the cage siding, meowing and press their little paws against the grating. “Mea. Mea,” they whine. Beyond their cage is Oscar. He lifts his lazy gaze to mine and meows. “Didn’t I tell you those meowsers would be trouble?” He shifts his gaze to the kittens. Can we go now? He licks his paw and then presses it to the barrier between us.
“In a minute,” I say, and lean down in front of Oscar’s cage to get a better look at him.
“You have a way with the cats,” the girl says.
“Yeah. So it seems,” I reply, and touch my hand to the metal separating Oscar and me. He moves his paw and presses his nose to my fingertips. “I think I need to figure out what to do with this newly discovered talent. Maybe get a job like the one you have.” I’m about to say more but then stop myself, clamp my mouth shut. Why am I telling a stranger my secrets? I need to contain my excitement and…
“I don’t think you’d do well working a position like mine.” She starts folding together the cardboard cat carry box. “The animals respond too favorably to you. You’d probably want to take them all home.” I swear I detect a hidden giggle in her voice.
I sigh and turn to face her. “You’re probably right.” My heart sinks into my stomach and my gaze drops to my pink tennis shoes. I must have this Doctor Doolittle ability for a reason. My mind starts tossing around all the jobs I can think of that involve animals.
“I might have an idea, though…If the size of the cat doesn’t matter to you.” She sets the completed cardboard carrier on the table next to Oscar’s cage. “My name is Natalie, by the way.” She shoves her hand toward me.
My gaze pops up to meet hers and I shake her hand, squeezing a tad too tight. “Crystia,” I say. “What kind of idea?”
“Well…” She hesitates and looks back at her co-worker. He’s packing the kittens into the back of the truck. “After we’re done here I’m going over to help my sister at the Feline Preservation Center. I’d be happy to introduce you.”
“Seriously?” Mini kittens are doing somersaults inside my ribcage. “You’d do that for me?”
“Sure.” She smiles, and it’s like the world just opened up a thousand and one possibilities. “I can’t guarantee anything will come from the introduction, but it’s worth a try.”
My mind is whirling, creating day-dreams of me working with tigers, panthers, and cheetahs.
“Thought we were special.”
I stare at Oscar. “Can I hold him now?”
“Of course. Just be careful. We wouldn’t want him running into the parking lot.” She opens the cage and pulls Oscar from his confines. Hands him to me.
I pet him, bury my face in his fur. “I’m blessed we found each other, Oscar.”
“You’re going there now?” I ask Natalie.
“Yeah.” She leans in and smiles at Oscar. “I’m going to miss you, old boy.”
“Can I come?” I rub Oscar at the back of the neck.
“Of course.” Her face morphs, like she’s mulling something over. “If they do decide to take you on it will be hard work and they won’t allow you near the cats. It’s too dangerous. You should know that going in.”
“Don’t need monster cats. You ‘ave me.” Oscar purrs and rubs his face against mine.
“Don’t be jealous, Oscar. There’s plenty of me to share.” I continue to pet my new orange friend and his fur sheds, flies all around us. I guess Chris was right. His car would have been filled with cat hair.
“Do you want to follow me over there?” Natalie asks.
“What about Oscar?” I place him in his temporary cat carrier.
“He can hang out with the office staff for a bit. They will love him.”
“No. Home now.”
I glance between Natalie and Oscar, he’s shoving his paw out one of the holes cut in the box. “Great. This is exciting. Thanks!”
“Awesome. I’m driving the little Toyota over there.” She points to a brown car parked in one of the front spots.
“What about…” I point to the loaded truck.
“John got that. I’ll just help him with the last of it and then we can head out.”
I set Oscar’s box on the ground and help Natalie and John fold and load the last table. Natalie pulls a small bag of cat food from the back of the truck. “To get you started,” she says.
John closes up the back and heads for the cab. “See you later,” he calls out and then drives away.
“Let me help you get this to the car,” Natalie says, continuing to hold the cat food.
“Thanks. I didn’t know carry-out service was provided.” I grab Oscar in his box and Natalie laughs. Together, we walk to my little, old silver mustang parked in the middle of the lot.
I set Oscar’s box in the front passenger seat, open the top, and whisper to him, “This will be quick. Don’t worry.” If I didn’t know better I’d think he rolled his eyes at me before looking away. After closing the lid of the box I make sure he is firmly situated in the seat so that there is no shifting or toppling to the floor while I drive.
“You lead I’ll follow,” I say to Natalie.
“Great!” She hands me the bag of food and I place it on the floor of the car, pressing up against Oscar’s box.
Minutes later, I’m driving my car with Oscar at my side, following Natalie to the Feline Preservation Center.
I can’t remember the last time I’d visited the Feline Center. It must have been years ago. It’s one of the few things we have in this small town that’s worth a mention but my mom never felt it was worth our time. Not sure why but it might have to do with her anti-animal position. Or the money.
Gah! She’s going to be so irritated that I adopted Oscar.
We turn into the long drive that leads to the Feline Preservation Center. Dirt and gravel spray the sides of my car.
“Holy dust field!”
Thank goodness my decade-old car has a crappy paint job. Benefits of a no-budget life.
I park my car in the open spot next to Natalie’s car, then grab Oscar’s box and lock up the car. Together we walk toward the office.
Greenery and brick line the front walk, a stark contrast to the dirt and chain-link of the parking lot.
A meow from within Oscar’s box beckons me to look down. His orange paw is pushed through one of the side air holes.
“Got me. Why you want big cat?”
I try to sooth him with a hush. “Everything is going to be fine. Stop your worrying.”
A couple seconds later we step through the door of the office. To our immediate right are the counter and register. The rest of the room is filled with racks and shelves of stuffed animals, books, and a variety of touristy knickknacks.
“Hey, Hank,” Natalie says to the tall, thick gentleman behind the register. “Mind if Oscar hangs out with you for a while?”
“Not at all,” he says with a smile.
I hand Oscar’s box to the man and whisper to my new furry friend, “I’ll be right back.”
No sound returns from the box and I swallow against the pain at the back of my throat.
“She in the yard?” Natalie asks, her hand already on the door leading into the center.
“She is, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting at the moment.” Hank sets Oscar’s box down behind the counter.
“Why’s that?” Natalie stops and turns to face Hank.
“Sable is giving them a bit of trouble. Most of the crew is trying to calm him, maybe move him to the back. Not a good time for interruptions.”
“Gotcha.” She looks at me. “Come on,” she says with a wave of her hand.
I pause, reluctant to leave Oscar. I just found him and I am already disappointing him. I hear the slight squeak of the door.
“You coming?” she says.
I turn and follow.
No sooner has the door behind us swung to a close than I hear a cat speak from the path ahead.
“Nuw smell.” This time, the sound comes from several feet beyond the first.
My gaze shifts from one to the next.
At the far back of the square, a semi-large cat steps up to the fencing. I don’t know what the various breeds are but he looks like some kind of tiger. “
Dis one different,” he says.
Soon, cats in every pen are appearing at the fencing.
“Wow,” Natalie says, looking around the square at all the activity. “You sure do have a way with the cats.”
“Apparently.” How have I not realized this gift earlier? My gaze shifts this way and that, taking in all the cats but I stay close on Natalie’s heals and follow her down the path and around the corner.
We move deeper into the complex, which isn’t all that big, following the sounds of raised unease and aggravation.
We turn another corner. And there it is, the source of the commotion. Five workers are gathered around a large enclosure in which paces, hisses, and…and moans an extraordinary black panther. It was her growls and roars that lead us here. She’s thrashing around her confinement, throwing herself against the cage walls with such force I fear she will hurt herself. The workers probably fear the same. They try to keep their tones calm and soothing but, I can hear the hint of their anxiety and fear. It’s in the crack of their voices or the heavy shuffle or their feet. And if I can hear it, no doubt the panther can, too.
One guy is holding what looks like a gun, he’s loading it with darts, and another has a large shield made of plywood.
My heart takes off at a run and I lose all refrain.
“What’s wrong?” I shout and rush the panther’s pen.
I’m so fast I slip past the staff before they know I’m even present. I drop to my knees at the caged wall and curl my fingers through the grating. A plaque with her species and name is clipped a few inches from where I kneel. The beauty pacing the cage before me is named Sable. And at my appearance, she stops, stares directly at me, and assumes a sedated demeanor.
“Pain,” Sable says, stretching out on the ground and laying her head down between her front paws.
“What kind?” I ask, and then I tumble backward, slam butt to grass.
“What do you think you’re doing?” An angry, pocked-face man stares down at me. He has a firm build and his stature screams alpha. The other staff members stare at me, as well, and I suddenly feel like I’ve been called to the principal’s office. I want to blink, look away, but I hold my gaze steady.
Sable rises and roars.
“Helping,” I say.
“You could have been hurt,” a woman to his right says.
Natalie rushes to my aid. “You okay,” she asks, slipping her hand in mine. A buzz washes over me and my train of thought evaporates. I let her pull me to a stand and I stare at her, feeling hypnotized by her big bedroom eyes. She stares back, saying not a word. At that moment I realize things never had a chance of working between Chris and me. I like girls.
“Um,” I mumble, stumbling over my thoughts.
“Missing,” Sable says, from beyond the wall of staff members.
I shake my head and blink. Focus. “What’s missing,” I ask.
The man is in my face again, his hand shoved up in a stop or backup manner. “You need to leave. This is no place for you.”
“Charmel. Loki. Asper.”
I look beyond the angry man- wall in front of me to the woman who spoke a second ago. “You don’t need the tranq gun,” I say. “It’s an emotional issue. Sable is sad.”
“What?” The woman’s face twist into a mask of confusion.
“This is ridiculous.” The man torts. “You’re just a kid. What do you know?”
“Did she come from a tight pack or something?” I throw out a guess since I know nothing about panthers. I keep my focus on the woman and move quickly to my right, avoiding the guy’s attempted grab for my arm.
“Me littl’ ones.” Sable rolls and lowers her head.
“Cubs! She’s missing her babies!” I say, and my entire body tingles with excitable energy.
“How do you know this?” The woman asks.
“She told me.” I clamp my lips shut, knowing how ridiculous that sounds.
“Enough already.” The guy grabs my upper arm.
“Hold on, Jim. I’d like to talk to her for a sec.” The woman approaches.
“Yeah, Jim. Let her go.” Natalie brushes Jim’s hand off my arm. She presses up against me, protectively. Like we’re each a magnet meant for the other. “Sue,” she says, nerves racking through her voice. “I was bringing Crystia here to meet you.” She glances at me and smiles, timidly. “We met at today’s cat adoption and I noticed she has a rather unique way with the cats.”
“Is that so?” Sue says.
“Let her show you,” Natalie says, straightening her back.
“This is absurd!” Jim throws his hands up.
“Take a break and cool down, Jim.” Sue hooks her fists on her hips. “Your mood isn’t helping Sable.”
Jim huffs, glares at me for a moment, then turns and marches off.
“Okay, girl.” Sue is now looking at me. “Show me what you can do.”
I take a step toward Sable. One, then two steps, then several more.
“That’s close enough.” Sue’s arm swings up in front of me like a barricade.
Sable, watching us, stops pacing and sits facing me with her head perched inquisitively.
I study Sable and feel what I perceive as heartache and longing rolling off her fur.
“Does Sable have any cubs?” I ask.
“Sable is new here. She was transferred in a day ago. Rescued from a bad situation.” Sue looks between me and Sable. “I’ll have to look through her records.”
“I think you should.” I sigh. “She needs to know.”
“Again, how do you know this? Sue asks, moving closer to exam Sable. Sable’s peer tracks Sues every move.
“Like I said, she told me.”
“Uh huh,” Sue grumbles, taking another step closer to the panther.
Sable leaps to her feet and a low rumble moves through her chest.
“It’s cool, girl,” I say. “We’re going to find your cubs.”
Sable turns her head toward me and chuffs, then moves to the back of the confinement, as far away from Sue as possible, and lies down.
“We’ll hurry. I promise.” Even as the words slipped from my lips I worry how I am going to keep such a promise.
“How did you do that?” Sue stares at me, her eyes wide and her mouth hanging slightly open.
“I don’t know. Just good with cats, I guess.” I shrugged.
“That’s why I brought her here.” Natalie grabs my hand and a thrill of prickles races across my skin. I’m now staring at her and no longer paying attention to Sue or Sable. “We thought maybe she could work here…as a volunteer, of course.”
Of course,” Sue repeats. “Is that what you want?” she says to me and I shift my gaze, giving her my full attention.
I nod. I’m afraid to speak. Afraid my voice will crack and betray the new emotions I am feeling.
“You’re still in school?” Sue asks. “High school, I presume?”
Again, I nod.
“Alright. Come see me tomorrow after school.” She turns and motions to the staff to drop the side tarps on Sable’s pen. “Have the front office page me.”
Sable chuffs but I can no longer see her.
“Okay.” I study the way the tarp cuts off all view for Sable. “What’s that about?” I ask.
“It’s to help Sable acclimate to her new surroundings.”
“Don’t worry, Sable.” I want to move closer to her but suspect I’ll be prevented from doing so. “It’s to help you get used to the new sounds and smells.”
“Hurry.” It’s all she says.
“The cubs,” I ask Sue.
“I’ll look into it this afternoon,” she says. “See you tomorrow?”
“Definitely.” I smile.
“Did you need anything, Natalie?” Sue barely throws her sister a glance.
Natalie hesitates. She looks at me and her lips twist to the side. “Nope. Can’t think of anything.”
“Alrighty then. I suggest the two of you scram.”
Almost in unison, Natalie and I turn and walk away, toward the office and exit.
“Um…” Natalie bites her lip and stares at the ground. “You can talk to cats.”
“Crazy, right?” I don’t look at her. This day has been full of revelations and I have yet to find a place for all of them.
“Yeah. But I believe you.”
My heart leaps into my throat.
“Would you…” she pauses.
My nerves are tied in a knot and they’re pulling my chest in tight. “Do you like pizza?” I blurt.
She stops and looks up at me. A smile brighter and more beautiful than the rising sun graces her lips. “I love pizza.”
A giggle shimmers up my throat and escapes before I can stop it. “Do you want to…”
“Yes.” She answers before I can finish my question.
We walk silently toward the parking lot. She takes my hand in hers for the third time. It excites me more than anything I experienced during my relationship with Chris. My skin heats and my heart swells. I like girls. I like Natalie.