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The Cat Knows Best

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It had been two years since Helen had moved in. She’d gone from a cozy little house with five cats and a husband to an open, empty apartment that felt too big for just her, even though she knew it was smaller than the house. But Helen knew that she had to take some time to heal before finding new animals or humans to share it with her. For most of those two years, she could barely look at a cat without thinking of the five she had lost.

 

But now, two years on, she felt like she’d clawed her way out from thick spider webs, looking around at her empty apartment, devoid of life and personality. It was the first night after she’d decided to make a change that the Cat showed up.

 

At first, Helen assumed that she was just an ordinary stray cat, looking for food and a warm place to sleep. It seemed real enough when it turned up on her fire escape, yowling pitifully and scratching at the door. She’d let it in, fed it some canned tuna, and set a soft blanket on the couch she rarely used so the cat would have a soft place by the radiator to warm up. Sure enough, the Cat curled up on top of a coat she’d left on the floor instead, purring as it fell asleep. The sight made Helen smile for the first time she could remember in months.

 

It was only in the days that followed that she noticed a few odd little things. Though the tuna (and later, once she’d had a chance to run to the store) and cat food vanished from the plate, she never saw the Cat eat. The Cat never used the litter box Helen bought for her, and never seemed to want to be let out, showing up outside again, meowing at the door like it was the most normal thing in the world. 

 

She was starting to wonder if she was having memory issues when she caught the cat stepping through the door like it wasn’t there. The Cat, hearing her gasp, paused halfway through the definitely closed door, then turned around and came back, tail flicking in obvious annoyance. She stood there for a moment, seeming to size up Helen, before walking through the living room to paw at the front door and meow once, decisively.

The Cat had never gone out the front door before, since it led into the building instead of outside, but Helen went and opened the door for her, barely even surprised when the Cat trotted out and stopped to turn and meow at her again in a way that seemed to be a demand that she follow. Without stopping to consider why she was doing this, Helen grabbed her coat and her keys and followed the cat out, letting her lead her downstairs and out of the building. She only started worrying when the cat led her down a dark, narrow alleyway that she never would’ve dreamed of walking down normally. She didn’t want to think that this strange cat would lead her somewhere dangerous, but she also was very, very glad for the pepper spray on her keys.

 

She relaxed a bit when she heard the frantic, tiny squeaks of a litter of kittens and followed the sound to a niche between two dumpsters. There were five tiny kittens, squealing and flailing about, all alone. Helen looked around for the Cat, who stepped over to her and nudged her closer to the kittens, then vanished.

 

“Okay, I get the message.” She said, not sure who would hear her now that the Cat was gone, and took off her coat to bundle the kittens up and get them safely home.

 

As she leaned in to retrieve them, she found a collar in their midst. She paused to examine it, finding it to be clean and new looking, having popped open as though it had gotten caught on something. Helen eyed it for a minute, then put it in her pocket. Perhaps the collar had belonged to the kittens’ mother? She’d have to call the number and find out.

 

For now, she carefully gathered the kittens, grateful that they were so small and weak that she didn’t have to chase them, and brought them to her apartment, setting them up in the bathroom with blankets, towels, and a heating pad so they could warm up while she stepped out to find some KMR and a bottle. She had cat food, but these kittens were too young for anything but formula.

 

She went out and back as quickly as she could, worrying about the kittens the whole time. It had only been fifteen minutes, but she couldn’t be sure how long they’d been alone or how badly they were doing. Helen was very relieved to find five hungry kittens, much more active in the warm bathroom, when she returned with the bottles. 

 

As she fed them, she gave them all a closer look. They were all very small, though as their eyes were open and they were less wobbly now that they were warm and fed, so she realized they must have been older than she’d initially thought. The five of them all had some teeth growing in and the little triangular tails that came around the time kittens would start properly exploring, and they did that eagerly now that they could. One of them that she’d thought was grey proved to be white, under the grime from the alley. After she discovered that, she took the time to carefully clean them all with a damp washcloth, checking for any injuries or other surprises she might find. They all seemed to be surprisingly healthy despite their ordeal, though she wouldn’t know for sure until she got them to the vet in the morning. While she sat with them on the floor, the black one started trying to climb her shirt while the white and gray ones explored the nook behind the toilet, the ginger struggled to balance on the edge of the bathtub, and the tortoiseshell one curled up comfortably in her lap.

 

The tortie looked almost exactly like the Cat from before, which Helen took as confirmation that this was her litter. She tried not to think about what that meant, instead focusing on the kittens themselves, watching over the active ones and petting the one who seemed to have fallen asleep on her lap. By the time she got up and went to see about her own dinner, she’d completely forgotten about the collar in her pocket, distracted as she was by making plans for their care.

 

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The next morning, after getting very little sleep between feedings, she was woken up by a cat pouncing on her head. Helen opened her eyes to find the Cat, ears flat against her head and hissing.

“What’s wrong?” She asked tiredly, checking the clock next to her bed. “I took them in, I fed them all night, they’re safe. They’re even going to the vet in…” She sighed. “About an hour and a half now.”

 

The Cat jumped off the bed, dug in her clothes hamper, and pulled out the forgotten collar, placing it on the bed right next to her head.

 

“Oh, right! I’m sorry, there was so much going on last night. I’ll call in a few hours, so I don’t wake whoever it is.” Helen was shocked at how normal it felt to be talking to this cat knowing that on some level, she understood far more than a cat should.

 

The Cat batted her phone onto the bed next to her with another angry meow.

 

Helen sighed. “Okay, fine. But if whoever it is gets mad I woke them up, that’s on you, okay?”

The Cat curled up next to her smugly and started washing her tail, seemingly blowing her off entirely.

 

She held up the collar, trying to get a better look at it. “Sadie Hawthorne, huh? It suits you.”

 

The Cat started to purr, which made Helen laugh as she dialed the number on the tag.

 

“Hello?” replied the tired sounding voice on the other end.

 

Helen flashed the cat a glare. “I’m sorry if I woke you. My name’s Helen. Did you happen to lose a cat recently?”

 

There was a pause for a moment, then a much more awake reply. “Did you find Sadie?”

 

“... Not exactly. I found a pile of kittens with Sadie’s collar in their nest.” Helen replies cautiously, opting not to mention the apparent ghost cat on her bed.

 

“Her kittens?” He repeated, voice a bit raspy. “But no sign of her?”

 

“I’m sorry, no. They seemed very hungry and grimy, I don’t think they’d seen their mom in a while.”

 

He was quiet for what felt like a very long time. “Are the kittens okay?”

 

“Oh, yeah. I think so. I was going to take them to the vet in… an hour when they open, but all five of them have been eating and playing pretty enthusiastically.” Helen felt a bit guilty she hadn’t checked before calling, but she was pretty sure Sadie wouldn’t have told her to go ahead and call if there was a problem with the kittens.

 

“Oh, good. That’s good. Can I… come see them?”

Helen smiled a bit at the timid tone in his voice, like he was seriously worried she’d say no. “Of course, yes. I took the day off to take them to the vet and keep an eye on them, I’ll text you when we’re home from the vet, you can come by anytime after that.”

 

“Oh, great, thank you. I… work from home, so I can come by whenever. I’m Harry, by the way. I think I forgot to say.”

 

“Nice to meet you, Harry. I’ll let you know when you can come by.” She hesitated. “Were you planning on taking them? I’d been thinking about getting a couple cats lately, if you weren’t planning on keeping all five I’d like to maybe keep a couple?”

 

“Oh, yeah. Sure. Five is a lot of kittens. I was planning on giving all of them away before. Now I’d like a couple. Five is still too many though, my landlord would have kittens” He laughed a little. “And then he’d have more to deal with.”

 

Helen laughed as well. “Okay, great then. I gotta go feed them, I’ll talk to you later, alright?”

 

“Right, yes! Don’t let me keep you, I bet they’re hungry little things. I’ll see you later.” He said, then hung up.

Helen put her phone down with a smile and reached over to pet Sadie, only to find that the cat had at some point vanished. That was fine, Helen knew she’d be back. She had the distinct sense that whatever was keeping her here wasn’t dealt with yet.

 

She yawned and stood, heading for the bathroom where she was relieved to find five eager, hungry kittens climbing all over each other to be the first to get to Helen and the food she had for them. As she fed and pet them, she looked them over, wondering what Sadie’s human was like and which kittens he’d want. She couldn’t help but hope that he wouldn’t want the black one that was once again using her as a jungle gym. He was a charmingly goofy little guy and he had definitely won her over.

 

Harry seemed pretty agreeable though. If she told him she particularly loved the black one before he could get attached, she had a hunch he would respect that. Maybe he’d one the tortie, since she looked so much like her mother? He clearly adored Sadie. She liked a man who wasn’t afraid to show that he loved his animals.

 

Not that she was thinking about that sort of thing these days, she hastily reminded herself. She was still a recently divorced woman, after all. Getting cats again was one thing, getting interested in men was quite another. Still, it would be nice to have some human company again…

 

She shook her head and stood carefully, setting the black kitten down gently and going to get her own breakfast before she made the trip to the vet. After being woken so early, she could use a coffee, maybe that would bring her back to a more sensible frame of mind. 

 

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The trip to the vet went about as smoothly as wrangling five kittens possibly could. All of them squirmed and ran as fast as their short little legs could carry them once she pulled out the carrier she’d grabbed for the purpose the night before, to the point where a very annoyed Sadie had to materialize just to retrieve the white kitten who’d managed to hide under the fridge somehow.

 

Still, Helen thought of that as a minor inconvenience compared to the relief of knowing that the kittens were indeed all as healthy as they could be under the circumstances. They were such sweet little creatures, it would have been too much to handle finding out that there was something seriously wrong with them.

 

‘Hey, this is Helen. We’re back from the vet ’ She texted Harry, once they were home and she had the kittens fed and settled back in the bathroom. ‘ You can come by anytime now.’

 

‘Oh, great. How are they?’ The reply came back almost at once, and Helen suspected he’d been watching for her message.

 

‘The vet says they’re fine. A bit underweight, but that should sort itself out now that they’re getting regular meals.’

 

‘Oh, wonderful. I’ll come by now? What’s your address?’

 

Helen grinned at her phone and sent him her address, then settled in to try to get a little work done while she waited for him.

 

It hadn’t occurred to her that since Sadie escaped from his house, he’d live very close by. It was only five minutes later when he knocked on her door. Sadie opened it to find a short, worn out looking man with messy brown hair and a nervous smile. “Helen?” he asked hopefully.

 

“You must be Harry. Come on in. They’re in the bathroom.” Helen smiled at him and felt as least as nervous as he looked, waving him into the house.

 

“Oh, thank you. I really appreciate it. I didn’t know what I was going to do when Sadie escaped, she was so pregnant then and I was worried I’d never know what happened to her or the kittens. I mean… I guess I still don’t know what happened to her but at least the kittens are okay! It’s a lot better than nothing. Sadie was such a good cat, I want to do what I can for her babies.” He said all in a rush, following Helen back.

 

“It’s okay. Take a breath. I can tell she meant a lot to you.” Helen said sympathetically. “I was such a mess when my last cat died, I understand.”

 

He looked at her hopefully. “Yes, it’s terrible. Do you mind if I ask..?”

 

“Uh, sure.” Helen tensed up a bit despite herself. “There was a faulty wire in our wall, the last place I lived. It sparked, and I wasn’t home that night... By the time I found out there was a fire it was too late.”

 

“I’m so sorry. That’s awful!” Harry shivered at the thought of it. “I see why you wanted to keep a couple of these two. Having a cat around to take care of helps take some of the sting out of the memories of the ones you’ve lost.”

 

Helen hesitated, hand on  the bathroom door, and smiled at him. “You know, you might be on to something there. I’ve shut myself up in here alone for years. It’s nice having them here now.”

 

Harry beamed at her. “Wonderful! Cats are great company.”

 

Helen nodded and opened the door, stepping further in to give him space to join her. Her bathroom was not particularly large, and it was a bit of a cramped fit. With both of them sitting on the floor, their knees were touching. Helen adamantly refused to blush like a twelve year old about it, but somehow came close.

 

“So these are the kittens. If you don’t mind, I’ve gotten pretty attached to this little guy.” She started, gesturing at the black kitten who was already climbing into her lap.

 

Harry was staring at the tortie with tears in his eyes, and did not seem to hear her. 

 

“Is something wrong?” Helen asked gently

 

He sniffed and wiped his eyes, reaching out to pet the kitten. “She looks just like Sadie. There’s no doubt about it, these are Sadie’s kittens. Thank you for finding them and helping them. Thank you so much.”

 

“Oh, it’s no problem.” Helen said awkwardly, handing him a bit of toilet paper to use as a tissue. She couldn’t exactly tell him that the ghost of his beloved lost cat led her to the kittens. “I just heard some meowing and followed it.”

 

“Still, I can’t thank you enough. Seriously.” He wiped his eyes again and gently lifted the tortie into his lap.

 

“I’m just glad I found that collar so I could call you.” Helen said, petting the black kitten fondly.

 

“Me too.” He replied, smiling shyly at her. 

Helen did blush that time, and got very busy playing with the kittens to try to cover it up. Harry wasn’t necessarily a conventionally attractive guy, but he seemed very sweet and open, and she had to admit she had a thing for messy haired boys. 

 

Harry, for his part, seemed so startled by the blush that he didn’t know what to do about it, and he focused on the kitten in his lap. The two of them might have continued on like this for quite some time, had Sadie not seemingly gotten frustrated enough to appear in the middle of the bathroom and nudge their free hands together.

 

They both jumped, and Sadie meowed in satisfaction before walking through the bathroom wall.

 

“Was that..?” Harry asked, stunned

 

“Uh. Yeah. She keeps walking through my walls. She led me to the kittens.” Helen admitted with a wry smile.

 

He laughed a little. “Wow. Sadie always did look out for me. And now look at her. Manifesting from beyond the grave to help me flirt with a pretty girl who likes cats.”

 

Helen blushed again. “I don’t know that you really needed that help. Without her, I probably would still be locked in here alone all the time avoiding the world.”

 

“Mm, maybe. But I can’t imagine someone as vibrant as you shut away all alone.” Harry said, reaching out to brush her hair behind her ear.

 

“You… you think I’m vibrant?” Helen asked, shocked. She’d felt like a ghost for so long, she didn’t know what to do with the idea that she was not.

 

“I do. From the moment I heard your voice, actually. Something about it was like…” He blushed. “Like a ray of sunshine, if you’ll let me be corny about it.”

 

“I’ll allow it.” Helen teased. “But I dunno that I’d actually make a good date. I really have been a shut in since the fire. I even ended up divorced because of it.”

 

“Well, if you’re a shut in, you’ll do just fine with me. I’m also something of a shut in. We could have shut in dates and get takeout and watch movies or something.”

“... I haven’t eaten lunch yet. You want to order from that Chinese place over on Bailey?”

 

Harry grinned at her, and Helen tentatively smiled back.