Friday, September 30, 2011

Everyone Loves a Cat

"Thank you, thank you so much," my best friend Sara said, giving me a relieved grin.
"No problem," I answered. We worked together in the same insurance office. She and her husband Ned were taking off for a week's Caribbean cruise, and I had agreed to stop by her house daily to water her plants and tend her cat, Alice—a beautiful, lovable calico, she said.
But there was a problem: as cute and cuddly as cats can be, I was afraid of them. Not that I'd had any bad experiences with cats—I'd never been close to one. It was my mom who had transferred her anxieties about cats to me. A neighbor's cat had bitten her when she was seven, and she'd had to go through a series of painful rabies shots.
But I couldn't tell Sara I had some stupid phobia about cats simply because my mom had been bitten by one. I couldn't let Sara and her husband down; they'd been planning this trip forever. "Glad to help," I said. Besides, if Alice and I could cozy-up, maybe I could shake this unreasonable fear.
Monday after work, biting my bottom lip hard, I stopped at Sara's house. When I unlocked the door and stepped inside, Alice sat on the carpet six feet away from me. I froze. A beautiful, cuddly calico cat, indeed. White. Orange. Black. Her head tilted, Alice probably wondered, Who's this stranger? The cat swished her tail. I backed up. She stood and arched her back—and then bolted through the open door into the late afternoon sunshine.
By the time I kicked off my heels and cleared the front porch, a dog's barking sounded from the backyard. Oh no! As I rounded the back of the house, the next sight nearly grounded me: A black Labrador retriever stood quivering at the base of a willow tree. It's square head raised, the dog barked frantically at Alice, who crouched in the tree crotch eight feet up.
I stood with my hands jammed into my hips, wanting to die. What have you done now, Jesse?
"My fault," a male voice said behind me.
I whipped around and stared at a totally handsome man who appeared to be about my age—late twenties—with very sheepish blue eyes. My heart quivered. "Your dog?" I asked.
Nodding, he snapped a leash onto the barking dog's collar. "I'll be right back," he said. "Without Blackie."
The man and the dog disappeared into the house next to Sara's. Then the man reappeared lugging a ladder. While he positioned the ladder under the tree to climb up and rescue Alice, I explained who I was and what had happened. He said he was Jimmy Stevens, Sara's new neighbor. He'd just moved in. He hadn't seen much of Ned or Sara; they appeared to be a very busy couple. Jimmy was a lineman for the city; he'd climbed lots of trees and telephone poles to rescue cats. When he got to the top of the ladder, he sweet-talked Alice in tones so soft and low that I imagined they'd melt any female's heart, feline or otherwise. As he started coming down the ladder, Alice cradled in one arm, he called to me, "Here, take her."
That's when I broke into a sweat and started trembling. Really, in my entire life I'd ever touched a cat. I remembered my mom cringing and turning white if a cat even strayed close to her.
I swallowed and backed away from the ladder.
It's time to shake this unreasonable fear, Jessie.
By this time, Jimmy had reached the ground. "Take her," he said again. "I'll grab the ladder." When he saw me hesitating, he smiled. "She won't bite. She's happy to be rescued. Listen, she's purring."
I gulped. I was shaking. My arms inched out. Jimmy eased Alice into them, and immediately the cat snuggled close to me. I was amazed and almost tearful. I was holding—and now petting—a cat, who was, indeed, purring. Wait till I tell my mom!  But I was still shaking.
"You all right?" Jimmy asked.
"Fine. Just happy. And amazed."
"You seem a little shaky."
"I'll be okay."
Jimmy folded the ladder. "Look," he said, "after you finish next door, why don't you stop by my place? I'll show you around. Bring Alice. She can properly meet my dog Blackie—they'll be neighbors. They'll get along, I'm sure."
Something warm stirred inside me. I glanced at Jimmy's ringless left had at the same time he glanced at mine. "All right," I said. "I'd like that."
That night Sara called to see how I was getting along. Breathlessly, I told her the entire story—phobia, cat, dog, tree. And Jimmy. Sara apologized over and over saying Alice must've recognized me as a stranger, and that's why she bolted outdoors as soon as the door in the house opened.
"I'm glad she ran," I said happily. "Really glad. Jimmy and I have an awesome date planned for tomorrow night. And this weekend we're stopping—would you believe it?—at the Animal Shelter. So I can adopt a kitten."

The End
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