Contrary to the warnings he’d gotten from overly concerned parents, Zack was finding parties endlessly educational; among other things, he’d learned that cats hated beer pong.
Zack and Justin were attending a party at Zack’s house, about to add another win to their beer pong record, when an unholy yowling interrupted the proceedings. At first, Zack assumed it was a partygoer unhappy with the beer selection, because he’d made similar noises himself at shitty beer, but then a furry orange blur leaped onto the table, scattering red plastic cups and their dreams of winning. Beer splashed everywhere, and the yowling blur slowed down long enough to become a cat who sat on the table, licked its paw, then promptly picked up speed again, zoomed across the room, and disappeared under a bookshelf.
“Did you guys see that? Was it a real cat? We deserve a do-over.” One of Zack’s opponents was apparently drunk enough to doubt the cat attack. Okay, it was pretty weird. Cats didn’t simply materialize from out of the blue to disrupt beer pong, or indeed for any other sort of reason; cats came from somewhere.
“Yeah. Zack, did you get a cat without telling me? That’s against the bro code, man,” said Justin.
Zack didn’t recall the bro code saying anything about cats, though maybe he’d forgotten or missed that update.
“I’d tell you if I was getting a cat. I’ve never seen that furry thing before in my life.”
As if it knew it was the center of attention, the cat returned, looked at the wrecked beer pong game, and meowed, loudly, in a voice that belonged with the local demon population. It was worse than certain douchey exes named Ryan who’d been to Europe, though at least the cat was cute. Justin had no taste, though Ryan’s whole persona possibly worked better without the stupid cap he always wore, yet at the same time he was the exact sort of asshole who thought hats like that were attractive. Without the hat, he’d be a different kind of jerk altogether, though Zack doubted he’d ever approve.
“I should find that cat before it decides to destroy more than the beer pong,” said Zack. Maybe the furball would have a collar instructing how to return it to its owner.
Cats were a conspiracy. They had domesticated themselves thousands of years ago just to make his life harder. Feelings, especially cat-related feelings, were also a conspiracy. Together, they were an unstoppable force of pure madness, not that Zack would succumb to the madness. He was too cool for madness.
He wasn’t too cool to embark on a journey of kitty-wrestling and do-it-yourself cat carriers. Without a proper carrier in his apartment, he and Justin had improvised one out of an old cardboard storage box with extra air holes poked into it and stray bungee cords. It worked well enough, though the true test came when they tried to put the cat inside. The cat, in the mysterious way of cats, had decided that Zack was its human, having climbed into his lap earlier after Zack had petted its head for only a few moments. That claiming was the only rational explanation for getting the cat into the carrier; what feline without a connection to the human trying to confine it would behave so calmly?
At the vet, they confirmed their guess that the cat was male. He was microchipped, though they couldn’t find the owners. The chip provided an address and a phone number, with nobody to answer it. Zack couldn’t leave the cat to fend for himself, even if he had disrupted their game of beer pong.
And yet, later that day… “This is a bad idea. Pet deposits, man,” said Zack.
Justin said, “Conscience deposits. Can you pay those?”
“Depends. What’s the exchange for conscience dollars?”
“Your soul, probably.”
“That is way too expensive.”
“That’s the point. Keeping the cat is cheaper.”
“Even though it shredded the couch?”
“You picked up that couch for free from Craigslist.” Justin brought up a good point.
“I still need a new couch. But fine. I’ll keep the cat.” He looked up at Zack with big green eyes, like he was both begging him to stay and assured that Zack couldn’t say no.
Zack kept his eyes away from Justin as the cat knocked over a cereal bowl, scattering Cheerios over the floor.
Justin said, “You’re still keeping the cat.”
“I know.” Even if the cat had some kind of vendetta against Cheerios, the most venerable of breakfast cereals.
The cat nosed at the Cheerios he had so callously uprooted from their bowl but didn’t even try to eat them, turning his head disdainfully. It was cuter than it should have been.
“You’re not gonna like this.” Zack grabbed the handheld vacuum to suck up the stray cereal. Predictably, the cat—who needed a name beyond the generic species designation—yowled and made a break for shelter elsewhere, in stark contrast to how calm he’d been getting into the cat carrier. It wasn’t even that loud a vacuum; maybe cats hated vacuums like dogs were supposed to hate mail carriers, or the vacuum was possessed by demons. That was surely a rational explanation for the cat’s hatred of it.
Whether or not the cat needed energy for running from vacuum demons, catkind in general could not live on disdain for beer pong, vacuum cleaners, and humanity alone. Zack needed to buy more cat food, as well as litter and a cat tree. Cats were picky, so it was best to have options. Obviously, breakfast cereal wasn’t going to cut it.
“Do you want to go spend beer money on cat stuff?” said Zack.
“It’s your money, so yeah.”
Good friends were always willing to help their friends spend their own money. The trip would be easier with Justin there.
“Do they sell couches at the pet store? They should sell shred-proof furniture there. Profit, man,” said Zack.
“Cat couches, maybe?”
“Do you think the both of us could fit on a cat couch?”
“Maybe one sized for really big cats. Like a Maine Coon couch. If you didn’t mind a tight fit.”
“I don’t mind a tight fit.”
At the pet store, Zack and Justin considered a cat tree with hidey-holes in the forms of various planets (Pluto attachment no longer included) and a built-in scratching post shaped like a rocket ship, but the price was astronomical. The fancy new litter box, expensive enough itself, resembled a futuristic escape pod, so Zack had a space theme going on, or he would have if he could have afforded the luxury cat tree. It was enough that he needed a new couch.
Deciding to focus on the cat’s comfort first, Zack glanced at the display of pet beds—none of which looked large enough to house two adult humans, even those who didn’t mind squishing themselves together. After that encounter at the train station, he and Justin had crashed on the same twin bed because it was a rule of bro reunions that you didn’t leave a bro you’d almost lost alone. That was bad bro karma. They could more than handle physical closeness but not to the point of defying physics and fitting on a bed designed for a much smaller species.
As they contemplated the options for feline sleeping spots, Justin held a bag of kitty litter and smiled at Zack, which was almost funny since kitty litter wasn’t usually so uplifting. It was practical, but not as cute as it somehow was in that moment.
When Justin remembered they had a cart, he tossed the bag in. His perfectly practical move put him right next to Zack, who leaned on the cart... only to have it roll away and send him flying into the display of cat beds. He’d been at drunken parties where he’d conducted himself with more grace.
Equally graceful, Justin tripped and fell onto the pet bed display with him, landing on top of Zack. Aerodynamics smiled upon them, or maybe it was laughing. Neither of them moved, though they should have; other people might want to buy pet beds, and two bros lying on top of each other wasn’t a practical advertising strategy for this product. It was, however, surprisingly comfortable.
Zack came to his senses enough to get up, a bit, but he made no real effort to push Justin away. He simply got his face closer to Justin’s own; they’d both climbed some kind of invisible wall delineating acceptable personal space, without caring enough to pull back to their own sides. Zack ignored whatever the bro code might have said about correct behavior after such a transgression.
Instead, Zack closed the rest of the distance and kissed Justin, hoping he hadn’t misread the situation.
He hadn’t, because Justin kissed back, with all the fireworks and lightning bolts a good kiss promised. Okay, that could have been the faulty fluorescent lights, but minor details like that didn’t matter. Zack reached for Justin’s head, and his confidence in his actions grew when Justin didn’t object to having his hat knocked off.
They stopped only when they kicked a pet bed the wrong way and hit uncovered floor, where the lack of cushioning broke the spell. They were lucky that nobody had seen them, and nearly as lucky to be able to fix the scattered cat beds before a employee came to kick them out without getting food for the cat. As excellent as kissing was, the cat needed to be fed. They were both on the same wavelength about that priority, retrieving the cart from where it had rolled away and pushing it to an aisle with enough food flavors for a discerning cat to reject a different one each day for weeks on end.
Zack knew they were on the same wavelength for real when Justin arrived one day with a sign reading: "Do not leave food or drinks unattended (the cat is an asshole)."