Harris woke up sometime around midnight to the sound of crying. He groaned. The cat was at it again.
Maybe, he thought, shuffling beneath the covers. Maybe If I wait long enough, it'll tire itself out and stop.
It was a mean thought, he knew, but he was tired enough not to care. He pulled the covers around him and buried his head beneath the pillow.
After a long while, the noise stopped. He was just starting to relax again, thinking it had worked, when the piteous mewling began again, this time much louder and more heart rending than before. Guilt gnawed at his stomach. His little cat was scared. It needed him.
Sighing, Harris crawled out of bed and went to tend his pet.
He'd only gotten the cat just recently. A few months earlier, his girlfriend Cecy had left him for some guy she worked with. A drinking buddy of his had suggested that if he wasn't ready for another relationship (which he wasn't), then he ought to get a pet to stave off the depression.
After sobering up and giving it some thought, Harris had found that he quite liked the idea of a pet and had set off to find one. Unfortunately, no matter where he had looked, no matter which store or pet shelter he'd gone browsing through, none of the prospective companions had been right.
He went to the kitchen, figuring the cat might be hungry. As he brought out the can of cat food, he remembered the first time he'd seen the cat. He smiled.
The poor thing had been a stray, wandering the streets on its own. Harris had found it digging through a dumpster by his work and had fallen in love. In love with its patchy red and white coloring, in love with its wide green eyes, in love with the way it had looked at him, as though it had been saying 'please take me home'. Despite the silent plea, it had taken Harris a better part of the day cajoling, threatening and eventual snatching to catch the cat.
As he finished pouring the food onto the cat dish, he caught sight of the scars on his arms. He smiled despite himself. His kitty hated being picked up.
Once the food had been heated up for a few seconds -only the best for his cat- Harris went to the back room where the cat was.
He'd read somewhere that it took anywhere from a few days to a few months for a cat to recognize a new place as its home. Judging by the way the cat had freaked out when he'd brought it home, it would probably be closer to the latter than the former. At first he'd wanted to give it free reign over the house, but it kept screeching and clawing at the windows and doors, trying to get out. After it had knocked over his end table and made a mess of the living room, Harris realized that he'd have to keep it locked up. At least until it trusted him.
He unlocked the door, then knocked so as not to surprise it.
"Hey, little guy," he said, opening the door. "I got you a snack."
The cat looked up at him, eyes wide. It was, he noticed, still fairly young, on the upper side of adolescence but not quite an adult. It sat on the bed he'd brought in for it and watched as he locked the door behind him. Around its neck was the belled collar he'd had made for it.
"Hey there," Harris said, crouching down. "Here kitty kitty. How're you feeling?"
The cat didn't react.
He waved the bowl of food out in front of it. "You hungry?"
It started shaking. Harris stuck out a hand to stroke its head. It flinched away.
"Oh come on, now. Don't be like that."
His new pet looked up at him, its eyes red rimmed from crying.
"Please let me go," it said. "Please. I-I'm sorry for digging through your trash, I didn't think anyone minded-"
Harris put his finger to the animal's lips, silencing it. "Quiet, kitty," he cooed. "I'm right here. It's okay." He gently cupped the cat's face in his hands. It squirmed. "Hold still a sec," he said.
Carefully, he peeled off the section of bandage covering the cat's forehead. Despite several days worth of healing, the gash there was still ugly; he'd have to clean it out again soon.
Maybe I shouldn't have hit him so hard, he thought guiltily. But it had been the only way to get the cat into his car. . .
"Please," said the cat. "I don't feel good. I think I need a doctor."
"No," he said. "I can take care of you."
The cat looked like it was about to cry. "I told you, I'm not a-"
Harris' hand flew, slapping the cat hard enough to knock it over. "Bad kitty. You do not hiss at me."
The cat lay curled up on the old mattress, shivering. Harris crawled beside it and patted the red patch of fur on its head.
"Its okay," he said to the sobbing animal. "You're a good cat. I'm not mad."
He sat down cross-legged and pulled the unresisting animal to his chest. He rocked back and forth, running his fingers through its fur and enjoying the warmth his companion gave.
Yes, he thought, his hand resting on the animal's chest, feeling the comforting beat of another's heart. I could get used to this.
Harris tried to imagine what life would be like once the feral was fully tamed.
Everyday it would welcome him home from work, eagerly following him around the house as it vied for his attention. They would sit on the couch together, the cat resting on his lap while he stroked it. At night, it would curl up beside him in bed, its steady breathing helping him sleep, its warmth staving off cold dreams. . .
A half-hysterical giggle snapped Harris out of his daydream. It took him a moment to realize it had come from him.
The cat began to wriggle in his arms, struggling to get away. For a moment, Harris considered holding onto it, forcing it to stay with him. It wasn't as though he would have had to try all that hard; years of being on the street coupled with its recovering illness had made the cat weak.
Oh, said a small voice in the back of his head. Is that what you want? To force it until it hates you?
He looked down at his terrified companion. "No," he whispered. He didn't want to force it. He didn't want it to hate him. Regretfully, he loosed his grip.
The cat scurried away, falling over itself until it was huddled in the corner, its paws still bound together with the duck tape Harris had used that first day.
"Okay, fella," said Harris, getting to his feet. "I get it. Crowding a cat is a bad idea, and you're a shy little guy. I'll go and let you eat in peace."
He went to unlock the door. Halfway out into the hallway, he stopped.
"You know kitty," he said, making sure to keep his eyes forward. "You're going to love me eventually. When you do, maybe we can pick out a name for you."
The cat didn't answer him. He hadn't expected it to.
On his way back to his room, Harris had a thought. The cat had let him touch it. Hell, it had let him hold it. It had only been for a moment, but he'd been able to hold his feral. Been able to feel its heartbeat, smell its fur. . .
He oozed himself back into the still warm covers, a large smile splitting his face. It was working.
Just a few more weeks, he thought. Just a few more weeks.
He fell asleep and dreamed of his cat.
Where is your LoveQuest now?!