Bill. Bill. Credit card solicitation. Bill. Junk. Uh-oh. . . Hammacher Schlemmer catalog. Better hide that from Rafe.
Faraday finished shuffling through the mail before tucking it under his arm as he slid his key in lock and opened the door to the condo. He placed everything on the entryway table, along with a bag of bakery-fresh chocolate-chip muffins, and was just about to slip off his jacket when Maria and Ethel—alerted by the sound of clanking keys—came charging down the hall, barking happily, almost running him over.
“Yes, yes, hello, I'm home,” he chuckled, squatting down to pet them. “And no, I don't have any treats on me,” he added, as Mimi started sniffing around his pockets. “You've confused me with the one who spoils you rotten.”
Said spoiler of dogs rushed up to him at that point. “What are you doing here?” Rafe demanded, a touch of frustration in his tone.
“Um, last time I checked, I live here,” Faraday remarked, as he stood up. “Oh, and you're welcome for the muffins.”
“You're supposed to be with Fernando!”
Faraday's brow furrowed in confusion. “Why would I be with an ABBA song?”
Rafe rolled his eyes in exasperation. “The caterer! We're sampling dishes today!”
Way back when Faraday had proposed to Rafe, he had hoped the man was joking about having a huge wedding with 300 guests, but as the months went by, and the appointments—and the bills—mounted, it was obvious Rafe had been serious. The wedding was six months away, and they had only checked off about half the things on Rafe's 'to-do' list. Thankfully, Faraday had been able to talk him out of having the shindig at Rose Creek stables.
Be grateful for small mercies, as his Grams would say.
“I thought that was next week.”
“They had a cancellation, so they bumped us up but we our appointment is in 20 minutes,” Rafe told him. “Didn't you get my text?”
“You mean the plate and fork, clock, and 2-heart emojis? How was I supposed to piece that together?”
“Seriously? How could you not?”
“Sorry I don't speak emoji. What's the big deal anyway? Can't you just pull up a menu on-line and pick something?”
Rafe clutched dramatically at his chest and gasped. “Mi amor (my love), it is a very big deal! Soup. Salad. Appetizers. Main courses. Next to the cake, this is the most important thing about the wedding!”
“What about the groom?” Faraday asked, dryly.
“Well, of COURSE you're important, too, mijo, but. . .appetizers!”
“Right. How silly of me. Do we need to drop the girls off somewhere?”
“They'll be fine,” Rafe replied, grabbing his jacket off the coat hook. “We won't be gone that long.”
“You know, it's not too late to just elope to Vegas,” Faraday suggested half-jokingly/half hopefully.
In response, Rafe looked pointedly at his watch. “18 minutes.”
'Lord, give me strength', Faraday thought for the hundredth time. “Got it. I'll drive.”
* * * * * * * * * *
“So, caterer is settled,” Rafe announced with a grin, drawing a checkmark on the 'to-do' list he had pinned to a clipboard. “I think we made a good choice, yes?”
“At a buck fifty a plate, I hope so,” Faraday answered, sliding into the driver's seat.
“But worth it! Those bacon-wrapped scallops were sinful! I could have eaten a whole tray!”
“I think you did.”
“Well, excuse me, Mr. Mini-Crab-Cake Hoarder,” Rafe snarked, buckling himself in.
“I didn't have lunch today, okay?” Faraday said, adjusting his own seatbelt. “I was hungry.”
Rafe pouted. “You could have saved me at least one.”
“I didn't notice they were gone until they were gone.” Faraday put the key in the ignition and started the truck. Flipping on the windshield wipers, he added, “Besides, you were busy 'sampling' the entrees. Why do we even need three entrees?”
“One meat, one fish, one vegetarian,” Rafe explained, patiently. “We have to accommodate all our guests.”
Faraday lowered his visor, slid out his favourite Blake Shelton CD and fed it into the player. “Well, anyone who would pick rabbit food over sirloin tips is a fool,” he commented as he pulled out of the parking lot.
Rafe snickered. “I'll be sure to tell them that.”
“Please don't. Your friends will probably think I'm a big enough loser as it is.” Faraday rarely felt insecure, but the thought of meeting Rafe's famous, glamourous friends made him more than a bit nervous. He had seen enough pictures, and heard enough stories, to fear he wouldn't measure up. The last thing he needed was to give them another reason to judge him, and find him lacking.
“Why would you say that? They're going to love you.” Faraday just snorted in disbelief. “It's true,” Rafe insisted. “And if they don't, who cares? I love you. My family loves you. Our friends love you. The girls love you. No one else matters.”
Trying to cover up the burst of emotions that simple sentence did to him, Faraday muttered, “I still think it's too expensive.”
Rafe brushed his concerns away with a wave of his hand. “Stop worrying. We'll make it back with interest. My friends are very generous. And besides, we're saving money on a photographer.”
“You are NOT running around the reception taking pictures,” Faraday informed him in no uncertain terms.
“Of course not. Barry is.”
“Who the hell is Barry?”
“An old friend.”
“Friend?” Faraday repeated knowingly, as he slowed down for a red light.
“Boyfriend, if you want to get technical.”
“And you invited him to our wedding!?” Faraday squeaked.
“He's an excellent photographer. Covered the last two royal weddings. Said he'd do me for free.”
“I'm sure he did.”
“Don't be jealous, guero. It was a long time ago.”
The light turned green, just like Faraday's eyes. “Not jealous,” he mumbled, as he stepped on the gas.
“Of course not.”
Trying to change the subject, Faraday asked, “So, what's next on your list?”
Rafe checked his clipboard. “Invitations. There's a stationary store on Dexter Street that got excellent reviews on YELP.”
Faraday shot him an incredulous look before turning his attention back to the road. “You're kidding. Actual paper invitations?”
“How else are we going to tell people about the wedding?”
“I thought we sent out 'save the date' cards a few weeks ago.”
“Those are different from invitations.”
“Then why did we send them?”
“To let people know they'd be receiving an invitation.”
“Why didn't we just send the invitations then?”
Rafe laughed and shook his head. “Silly man! You don't send invitations eight months in advance!”
This conversation was starting to make Faraday's head spin—pretty much like every step of the wedding planning so far. “Well, what's wrong with emails or texts?”
“We're NOT texting invites to our wedding!” Rafe stated decisively.
“Why not? Just send the church, calendar, and party face emojis. They can figure it out.”
“Aren't paper invitations kinda old fashioned?” Faraday queried, as he made a left turn.
“Nothing wrong with going traditional. I'll even let you pick the font.”
“Ooooh, lucky me.”
“What do you have against paper invitations?”
Faraday shrugged his shoulders. “Nothing. I was just trying to make things easier for you.”
“And less expensive,” Rafe deduced.
“Hey, at this point, what's another couple hundred dollars, right?”
Rafe fidgeted in his seat before admitting, somewhat sheepishly, “Couple. . .thousand.”
Faraday internally grimaced, but forced a smile. “Right. Put me down for the stamps.”
“You don't have to do that.”
“Yeah, I do.” Rafe might have been picking up the bill for the big ticket items, but Faraday's pride was determined to pitch in as much as his bank account would allow.
It grew quiet between them, as Rafe perused his check list and Faraday sang along to 'Neon Lights'. After a few moments, Rafe reached over and placed his hand over Faraday's on the steering wheel. “Gracias, mijo,” he said, softly.
“For what? Buying some stamps?”
“For letting me do all this,” Rafe clarified. “I know this isn't the wedding you wanted, and it means a lot to me that you're letting me have it.”
Faraday brought Rafe's hand up to his lips and brushed a kiss across his engagement ring. They had finally gotten around having it engraved, and it still gave him a thrill to see his initials, JCF, on Rafe's hand. “Babe, as long as I'm married to you at the end of it, I don't care how we get there. Just do what makes you happy.”
Rafe turned in his seat and flashed Faraday a smile. “You make me happy, querido (darling).”
Faraday glanced over, and joked, “And you do me so well.”
They were both chuckling at that when suddenly Rafe expression changed and he cried out in alarm, "Joshua! Detener!”
Reacting automatically, Faraday slammed on the breaks and turned the wheel sharply towards the curb. Before he could say a word, Rafe had jumped out the truck and was running across the street. Faraday's breath caught in his throat as a car coming down the road swerved, missing Rafe by mere inches. He watched as his fiancé crouched down on the opposite sidewalk for a moment, then stood up. Checking the traffic this time, he waited until a car passed before starting across the street. He slid carefully into his seat, clutching something to his chest; faint, pitiful mewls echoed through the cab.
“What is it, Rafe?” The curiosity and concern could be heard in Faraday's voice. “Are you okay?”
Rafe uncupped one of his hands, allowing a little pink nose to peek out, and Faraday gaped at the small, dirty, gray fluff ball he was holding. When the head poked out further, Faraday suddenly found himself staring into a pair of big, frightened, bright blue eyes.
“You shouldn't pick up stray animals. . .” At the sound of Faraday's deep voice, the tiny kitten pulled his head back and snuggled closer to Rafe's chest.
“Mijo,” Rafe scolded, gently. “Not so loud. You're scaring him.” He resumed tenderly stroking the kitten, murmuring soft, calming nonsense. “Shhh, sweetie, it's okay. We're not going to hurt you. We're going to help you.”
Remembering to keep his voice low and nonthreatening, Faraday said, “What's wrong with it?”
“I think its front leg is broken. It was limping pretty badly.”
“Babe, we can't take an injured cat home, especially not with Meems and Ethel. How will we care for it?”
“Well, we can't leave it here,” Rafe challenged. “It still gets cold this time of year once the sun goes down, and it won't be able to find food or defend itself. It's a death sentence.”
Faraday studied the sad, little kitten, realizing Rafe was right—the poor thing wouldn't last the night on its own. “Maybe it belongs to someone nearby. We could go door to door, see if anyone knows.”
“I doubt it. There's no collar. And look how skinny it is.” Shaking his head, Rafe whispered, “I don't think it has anyone.”
Already knowing the answer, Faraday asked the question anyway. “I guess a shelter is out of the question, huh?”
Rafe nodded. “They'll probably just put it down. They have a difficult time placing healthy animals, let alone an injured one.”
Faraday sighed. It was obvious Rafe's mind was made up. “I don't know anything about cats. Do you?”
“We had a couple when I was a kid. I think I remember how to handle them.”
“The girls won't be happy.”
“Nonsense. They're friendly dogs. And we're just keeping it until it gets better, then we'll find it a nice home. Maybe Goody and Billy will take it in.”
Faraday sighed again. He knew damn well that once that kitten entered the condo, it was never leaving. “Well, if the invitations can wait until another day, there's a vet not too far from the office, next door to Mustang Sally's.”
Rafe laughed at that. “I didn't know that dive was still open.”
“It may be a dive, but it's got the best steak sandwiches in town.”
“Probably seasoned with a good dose of ptomaine.”
“Whatever their secret ingredient is, it works.”
“What are we waiting for then?” Rafe gestured towards the steering wheel. “Let's get this little one checked out, and we can grab some sandwiches.”
“We just ate,” Faraday reminded him.
“But we'll need SOMETHING for dinner, yes?”
Faraday was still stuffed with crab cakes, but the thought of one of Mustang Sally's cheese-steaks was too tempting. “If you say so.” Gesturing with his chin toward their passenger, he asked, “You're really sure about this?”
Rafe looked down at the tiny, helpless creature in his hands and grinned. “Yeah. I'm sure.”
Faraday nodded, resigned to a new life filled with cat-hair covered shirts, although with all the fur Ethel tended to shed he supposed it wouldn't make much difference. “You know, this could take a while. Maybe you should call Red to check in on the girls in case we're late.”
“Good idea.” Rafe pulled his phone out of his coat, then gently tucked the kitten in tighter to his chest. “And can you turn up the heat? Poor thing is shivering.”
Reaching over, Faraday gave the kitten a quick scratch under its chin before ratcheting up the heat. He glanced into his rearview mirror, then cautiously eased back into traffic.
* * * * * * * * * *
FOUR HOURS LATER:
Faraday strolled out of the kitchen balancing a large food-covered TV tray, Maria and Ethel scampering after him. He sidestepped the many half-filled shopping bags from Pets-R-Us and new kitty toys littering the living room floor and placed the tray on the coffee table before flopping down on the couch next to Rafe. Grabbing the remote, he turned on the big screen, and flipped through the stations until he stumbled upon 'Road House'. He paused, waiting for Rafe to complain or wrestle him for the remote so he could change it to something—ANYTHING—other than 'Road House'. Rafe, however, didn't even notice, completely captivated by the small kitten in his lap.
Leaning down to the dogs, Faraday joked, “I think we've been usurped.”
“Hmmmm?” Rafe replied, distractedly.
Faraday began unwrapping the steak sandwiches, knowing if he waited for Rafe to do it, he wouldn't get to eat until midnight. “I said, dinner is served,” he stated a little louder, sliding Rafe's meal closer to him.
Rafe finally glanced up. “Oh. Gracias.” He reached down, careful not to jostle his ward, and picked up half of his sandwich.
“The little guy's settling in, I see?” Faraday noted, opening a large bag of chips.
“Yeah, he's doing great.” Rafe looked down at the bandaged—but now clean—kitten and smiled. “I owe you for this, guero.”
Faraday took a big bite of his sandwich and moaned blissfully. “You buy me a few more of these badboys, and we'll call it square.”
“These things are a heart attack on a bun,” Rafe declared, even as he took a bite of his own sandwich.
“Totally worth it,” Faraday muttered around another bite.
The kitten, alerted by the new, delicious aroma, lifted his head and noticed the sandwich Rafe was holding. He reached out with his unhurt paw and batted at Rafe's hand, demanding a sample.
“Oh, no you don't,” Rafe laughed, jerking his hand away. “You've already had your din-din.”
Faraday joined in with a chuckle of his own, remembering how the kitten had plowed through an entire can of tuna. “Who knew such a tiny animal could eat so much? Reminds me of his papi.”
Not to be denied, the kitten again batted at Rafe's hand, throwing in some sad, forlorn eyes for good measure. And Rafe—always a push-over when it came to animals—caved at the look. “Okay,” he said, breaking off a small piece of steak and feeding it to the kitten. “But just a bite.”
Faraday rolled his eyes. “Great. Not even here an hour, and you're already spoiling him,” even as he reached down and fed some steak to Ethel.
“But of course! He's one of the family now. And after the day he's had, I think he deserves a little pampering.” A tickle to the kitten's tummy produced a particularly loud purr. “Oh, you like that, don't you, bollo pequeño (little bun)?” he cooed in baby-talk.
“Jesus, Rafe, have some dignity,” Faraday groaned, snagging a few chips from the open bag. “It's just a kitten.”
“Oh, really? Then why did you insist on staying with him at the vet's office?” Rafe said with a knowing smirk.
“Because I didn't want to see how much money you were going to spend at Pets-R-Us,” Faraday deadpanned.
“Come on, mijo,” Rafe teased. “You can't fool me. You love him just as much as I do.”
“Is that a fact?” Faraday remarked blankly, fighting to keep a straight face.
“Uh-huh. And you know what else?”
Rafe looked over at Faraday, a soft smile gracing his stupidly handsome face. “You made me very happy today.”
Faraday answered Rafe's smile with one of his own. “That's all I want for you, babe” he murmured, leaning over and claiming Rafe's lips in a kiss. “A life filled with happy moments.”
“Dios mio (my god), guero,” Rafe laugh/snorted. “If you were any sappier, I could pour you over my pancakes.”
“I'll try for something more porn-y next time.”
“Please do. Now, give me a REAL kiss.”
“Oh, yeah,” Faraday sighed, pressing closer. His mission was thwarted, however, as the kitten swatted playfully at Rafe once more.
“Oops, someone doesn't like being ignored.” Breaking off another small bit of his steak and feeding it to the kitten, Rafe crooned, “Is that what you wanted, Shelton?”
“You already named him?”
“You got to name the dogs,” Rafe countered.
“Technically, I named only one of the dogs. Maria came pre-named. Why Shelton?”
“You were playing a Blake Shelton CD when I found him. It seemed fitting.” Taking a bite of his sandwich, Rafe asked, “Why? What did you want to call him?”
“I was thinking maybe Sir Murder Britches.”
Rafe just gave Faraday a look. “We're sticking with Shelton.”
Faraday shrugged, nonchalantly. “Suit yourself,” he said, taking a big bite of his sandwich.
“I will. And besides, he likes the name, don't you, Shelton?” The kitten, in response, rubbed his head against Rafe's hand and purred.
“Rafe, you're feeding him cheese-steak,” Faraday pointed out. “He'd answer to just about anything right now.”
“You're just jealous because he loves me so much.” Lapsing back into baby-talk, Rafe tickled Shelton under the chin and cooed, “Don't you, bollo pequeño? Yes, you do!”
“You don't say?” With that, Faraday reached over and scratched the kitten behind the ears. “How's it hanging there, Sir Murder Britches?” he quipped, as Shelton's purring grew even louder
Rafe watched as the kitten quickly changed allegiances and huffed, “Yeah, well, if you scratched me behind the ears like that, I'd probably purr, too.”
“I have. . .and you do,” Faraday replied, smugly.
“Cabrón,” Rafe laughed, even as he curled up against Faraday's side.
“Love you back,” Faraday chuckled, swinging his arm around Rafe and pulling him close.
Finally noticing what was on TV, Rafe frowned. “Guero? What are we watching?”
“ 'Road House'.”
With a laugh, Faraday handed him the remote. “No hoity-toity PBS crap.”
“Not even 'Bake-Off'? It's cake week.” Because of course, the only thing that Rafe enjoyed as much as eating pastries, was watching people make them.
Pressing a kiss to Rafe's cheek, Faraday sighed, “Sure, babe. 'Bake-Off's' fine.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Shelton watched the two strangers bicker back and forth, but he wasn't afraid. Their voices were soft and friendly—they didn't seem to be angry at all. Indeed, the kiss at the end of their 'quarrel' confirmed they hadn't been fighting. Shelton was young, but he had been around. He had seen a lot of things and had met a lot of humans. Some were nice, some not so nice. These two were nice, of that he was certain.
When he had woken up that morning, cold and hungry, he could never have guessed how adventurous the next few hours of his life would be. At that point, his only thought was to find someplace warm where maybe he could beg a few scraps. He was making his way to an apartment where he knew an old lady lived—she could always be counted on for a bite or two—when he had slipped off the wet porch railing. He hit the ground with a 'thud' and it took a moment to shake the stars out of his head. As he stood up, he instantly realized something was wrong. He had never known such pain and his front leg wouldn't work right anymore, but he started walking anyway, instinctively knowing he couldn't stay still.
Still was bad.
He was just hobbling down a familiar street when his path was suddenly blocked by a pair of worn cowboy boots, and a hand was reaching down towards him. Panicked, he tried to run, but his leg buckled, and he stumbled instead. The hand gently scooped him up and pressed him close to. . .oh, so much warmth!. . . as a soft, droning voice washed over him. He didn't understand the words, but the tone was soft and comforting, and while still afraid, he didn't feel threatened. He snuggled into the warmth, soothed by the scent of this pleasant-smelling stranger.
After a few moments, he felt the stranger stand and begin to move. He soon found himself in a small, enclosed area, where he encountered another stranger. This one was bigger than the first one, and had a loud, rough voice. But the bright green eyes were kind, and his fear quickly disappeared. He snuggled against the pleasant-smelling stranger and fell asleep.
Then, a bright room and another stranger, this one dressed all in white. He felt a sharp, quick pain in his hindquarters, then nothing more. When he awoke, he found his hurting leg was bound, and the stranger with the kind green eyes was talking to him softly. A bowl of warm soapy water was brought over and the stranger started washing him. He attempted to struggle but he was too tired, and settled instead for an air of bored aloofness that caused the stranger to make weird sounds. He had never heard chuckling before, but decided he liked the sound, and liked this large stranger, too. Soon after that, the other stranger, the tall thin one who smelled good came back, picked him up, and carried him from the bright room. . . and brought him here.
His new home.
He looked around the living room, surveying all the soft, cushiony furniture that he could lounge upon. There was a new 4-foot tall scratching-post tree set up in the corner, just waiting for him to climb. Numerous toys were scattered around that he could play with. Some of them were dog toys, but he didn't care. He could make it work.
Speaking of dogs, one of them was sitting on the floor near the sofa, head cocked, regarding him curiously. He waved his bandaged leg peevishly at it, only to have a gentle hand carefully stop him. “Hey, be careful there, Shelton,” the dark eyed stranger crooned. “Don't want to hurt yourself. Meems is just trying to be friendly.”
“I think she's trying to figure out who stole her favourite lap,” the green-eyed man laughed. “C'mere, girl.” He waved a piece of that tasty meat towards the dog, who happily trotted over to him, where another dog was already seated. Those two would make fun playmates—and perfect scapegoats for any mischief he managed to get into once his leg was healed.
Yes, his injury was going to be an inconvenience for a while, but Shelton couldn't complain. He was warm and clean, and his tummy was full for the first time since he could remember. And best of all, he now had not one, but *two* devoted slaves, prepared to cater to his every whim. If cats could smile, Shelton would have been beaming. Instead, he snuggled deeper into the tall stranger's lap and yawned, contentedly.
He was going to like it here.