Julio Olmedo was not fond of animals.
At least, that's what he told himself as he tacked up another "lost cat" poster. Andrés' fluffy face stared up at him from the flyer, all big amber eyes and disheveled whiskers. The picture was actually a snapchat he'd sent Maite last month while she was visiting a friend for the weekend. With no one home during Julio's shift at the station, Andrés had been nervous and hyperactive, and had somehow managed to tear open a bag of frozen chicken nuggets, which he'd proceeded to roll around in. When Julio had stumbled up the stairs to the apartment after a particularly stressful workday only to find the cat flopped on his back and clutching a defrosting nugget, he'd lacked the energy to do anything but laugh himself hoarse and take dozens of cell phone pictures. Somehow, Andrés never failed to cheer him up.
Oh, who was Julio kidding? He loved his cat. Ever since the evening last year when the bedraggled, dark gray kitten had turned up on the steps to his building, Andrés had been...well, his best friend. Which sounded pathetic. It wasn't that Julio lacked human friends, but his communication skills had sort of lapsed during his year-long prison sentence. After his release, and subsequent very ugly breakup with Cecilia, he'd deliberately fallen out of touch with his friends back in Blancaró--it was easier than having to endure the awkward silences, the forced small talk, and later, after Cristina's death, the platitudes about better places and time healing all wounds.
The truth was that Cristina had been his best friend. Until his sister's death, Julio had never felt particularly compelled to get out there and connect with people. Cristina had been just about everything he needed: confidante, advisor, protector, occasional wing-woman--and he'd been the same things for her. Some people had found their closeness odd, but Julio had thought nothing of it at the time. It was only now, in Cristina's absence, that he realized just how much they'd shared, how much he'd depended on his sister. Without Cristina, he didn't feel bereft so much as adrift, as if there was nothing to anchor him to the earth anymore.
Hence the desire for some kind of friendship.
These days, he supposed Maite was his friend. She had only moved in a few months ago, but so far they got along well. Well enough that they snapchatted, anyway. Well enough that she'd volunteered to put up "lost cat" flyers at work and at the university where she was a grad student. Come to think of it, Maite was pretty great.
But his roommate had a large and active social circle, while Julio had...a cat. A cat who was missing.
With a last glance over his shoulder at the picture of Andrés, Julio slogged home through the dirty snow heaps and patches of black ice that littered the sidewalk. This time of year the city's buildings became a kind of wind tunnel, sending the temperature even lower--yet another reason to worry about his missing cat.
Maite was sprawled on the couch watching the weather report when Julio arrived home. "Any luck?" she asked, burrowing deeper into the cushions to avoid the blast of cold air that had followed him in.
"No," replied Julio, tossing his keys into an ugly wooden bowl that Maite's parents hadn't wanted. He set what remained of his stack of flyers beside it on the counter.
Maite didn't ask any follow-up questions. He liked that about Maite: she wasn't afraid to call him on his bullshit, but she also knew when to stop pushing things and change the subject.
"Hey, so I'm going out of town again this weekend. One of my friends is having a thing at her family's ski chalet," she told him, rolling her eyes a little at the last bit.
"Would this be the super rich friend?"
"Julio, I went to Dartmouth. You've just described, like, eighty percent of my friends."
"Eighty percent? I thought they were the one percent," said Julio lamely. Maite didn't dignify his bad joke with a response. "Seriously, Maite, I'm sure freezing your ass off with the one percent will be highly entertaining. Where is this ski chalet?"
"Vail. In Colorado," she answered. Julio was silent. He sometimes forgot that Maite was also technically the one percent, and could do things like fly out to Colorado for the weekend.
Before an awkward amount of time could elapse, he nodded his acknowledgement. "Bueno. I have to work on Saturday, so it won't make much difference."
Maite grimaced. "You're spending Saturday down at the station sorting files and being sent out on donut runs? Try not to miss me too much."
As it turned out, he did kind of miss her. As the sun sank beneath the skyline on Saturday evening, he found himself making excuses to stay at work longer. Not that he really needed excuses--he still had about fifty years' worth of police reports to finish entering into the computer. Usually this task was pure torture, with only Hernando's increasingly complicated donut requests to interrupt the monotony, but when the alternative was going home to his dark second-story walkup, currently empty of both Maite and Andrés, wading through decades of old paperwork suddenly seemed much more appealing. Finally, when half of the lights had been turned off and even Ayala had gone home for the night, Julio sighed and switched off the outdated monitor. Eleven PM on a Saturday and he was still at work, preparing to walk home and go to straight to sleep. Pathetic.
The empty apartment was as depressing as Julio had anticipated. He checked his phone: three snapchats from Maite. Drunk rich people he didn't know, more drunk rich people he didn't know, and an acerbic observation about drunk rich people he didn't know. The last one got a chuckle out of him; usually the more shitfaced Maite got, the snarkier she got. She also stopped speaking English, which must have been inconvenient for her friends. He knew that a couple of the trust fund kids she hung out with were fellow Spanish expats--he wondered if any of them were in Colorado to interpret for Drunk Maite.
Julio dropped his bag of leftover paperwork onto the couch. Was working from home at eleven PM on a Saturday more or less pathetic than being at work at eleven PM on a Saturday? He suspected it was the former. Would it be less pathetic if he smoked a cigarette first? He'd been craving one all day. Julio had been trying to quit smoking since his release from prison, but he lacked the discipline to do it cold turkey. And right now he needed to do something other than sit alone in his apartment pondering his life choices and wallowing in self-pity. Smoking it was.
There were no cigarettes in the apartment, so Julio resigned himself to venturing back out into the cold. He threw on a coat, fished his keys out of the bowl, flung open the door, and almost tripped over the most attractive girl he'd ever seen.