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Poppy catches a movement from the corner of her eye. A shadow at the window. A rap on the glass. She glances at the clock and smiles. “Nine after nine. Right on time,” she murmurs before opening the door.
Doug stands on the doorstep with his cat in his arms. ‘Hello, dear! Hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“Of course not! Come on in. I enjoy your visits.” Poppy steps back and Doug steps inside. “And you brought your cat again. Lucky I anticipated your visit and took an allergy pill first thing this morning.” She slowly extends her finger toward the cat. It hisses.
“Did Miss Poppy scare you again, my precious Ting?” Doug coos at his cat and chuckles.
Poppy rolls her eyes and steps into the kitchen. “Would you like some tea?” she calls over her shoulder.
“Yes, please. And some catnip for Miss Ting, if you would be so kind.”
“I saw some growing wild in your backyard between your shed and the fence.”
Poppy shrugs, turns on the stove, and rummages in a drawer for a pair of scissors. “Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back.” A few minutes later, she returns with fresh catnip. Poppy puts the nip in a bowl and sets it on the floor.
Doug smiles as Ting munches the leaves.
Poppy pours the tea. “You must have exceptional eyesight to be able to see all the way across my yard and through my shed.”
“Ha! While my eyesight is exceptional, I didn’t see the catnip through your shed. I saw it while visiting your other neighbor, Mr. Caleb.”
“Ah. You certainly are neighborly. By the way, thanks for re-fastening my bag of trash, and putting it back in the trash can last night. Most nib-noses wouldn’t bother being so considerate.”
“You’re welcome.” He strokes Ting’s head and kisses her ear. “I was looking for recyclables. Did you know pizza boxes can be recycled, as long as they aren’t too greasy?”
“You recycled my pizza box?”
“I re-purposed it. My precious Ting loves to shred cardboard. Well, she pretty much loves to shred everything.”
Poppy smirks. “You certainly are devoted to that cat.”
“Of course. My precious Ting hooked me with her sweet little claw and pulled me out of my shell. She gave me the confidence I needed to be a productive member of society… and a friendly neighbor. She’s a miracle worker. A real people-cat.”
“Hmm… Cats usually like me, but Ting seems like she wants to slash me to pieces.”
“It’s her way of communicating. When Ting first showed up at my house, I was a very cold man. Icy. I didn’t have any friends. I was afraid of people. Miss Ting used to hiss and growl at me, but I discovered that was my fault, because I wasn’t completely open to her. And when I finally decided to try to pet her, she corrected me. She ripped my face open.” He points to a scar running from his ear to his nose. “Likewise, there must be something in your personality that sets her off. No offense.”
Poppy gasps. “Ting gave you that scar?”
“Yes.” Doug beams. “It was a gift. She opened me up – and not just literally either.” He chuckles and strokes Ting’s head. “That slash hurt like the dickens and bled for days. But I survived my cat scratch fever. The antibiotics helped. My precious Ting opened me up and made me realize that reaching out wouldn’t be the death of me. And now we’re the best of friends, and I’m not longer a lonely recluse. I actually talk to people. I even joined Toastmasters. And now I’m toasty-warm.” He chuckles. “I’m even going to my first Toastmasters meeting this weekend.” He sips his tea. “I hope I can count on you to watch Miss Ting while I’m gone. It will only be two days. I hope you’ll say yes. I already asked Mr. Caleb, but he said he’s babysitting some pet mice this weekend.”
“You want me to babysit your cat?”
“For less than two days. Overnight, really. Miss Ting won’t be a bother. Usually kitties do just fine if left to themselves for a few days, but I don’t want my precious Ting to feel neglected. She’s a very sociable kitty.”
“I don’t know, Doug. Ting doesn’t seem to like me.”
“Don’t be silly. She’s just reacting to your aura.”
“And I usually go out with friends every weekend. I’m a real partier. My friends call me pyro Poppy. Hot stuff. I’ve already told you about some of my tamer girls’ nights out. But I’ve left out the stories that would make the cast of Jersey Shore blush. I set the town on fire, burn bridges, all that. I’m not very responsible.” Poppy frowns and studies the floor.
Doug grins. “Miss Ting won’t mind if you leave her alone a few hours. All you’d have to do is open a can of Fancy Feast for her before you leave.”
“I’m allergic to cats.”
“Well, you haven’t sneezed once since we’ve been here.” Doug shrugs. “You’ll have my eternal gratitude, Miss Poppy. And one-hundred dollars as a token of my appreciation.” He pulls a bill from his pocket and gently presses it into her hand.
“I guess you talked me into it.” She smiles.
Doug kisses the top of Ting’s head. “See, I knew Miss Poppy would be neighborly.”
The next morning, Doug peeks through the window and raps on the glass.
“Nine after nine. Right on time.” Poppy opens the door, and Ting jumps out of Doug’s arms and into the house.
“Well, if that isn’t the Miss Ting stamp of approval,” Doug says, dabbing his eyes. “Bye-bye, my precious Ting, I’ll see you tomorrow!” Doug motions to the wagon behind him. “I do hope you’ll forgive me, but I’ve no time to chat if I’m going to catch my plane. These are Miss Ting’s things.” He points to a suitcase and litter box in the wagon.
“No problem.” Poppy grabs the wagon handle and pulls it inside. “Have fun.”
She shuts the door. “Okay, Ting, I don’t want any trouble from you. Think you can manage that for twenty-four hours?” She puts the litter box on the floor, opens the suitcase, and dumps out the cat toys and the can of Fancy Feast.
Ting sneeks a peek at Poppy from around the corner of the hall and growls.
Poppy shakes her head. “You certainly are a hateful thing.” She sits on the sofa and switches on the TV. Ting pops her head out from under a sofa cushion and hisses.
“Whoa! That was sneaky.” Poppy gazes into Ting’s eyes. “Can’t we be friends?” Poppy slowly reaches out her hand until it hovers below Ting’s nose. A blur of fur, a flash of claw, and Ting springs out of the sofa and streaks across the room. Poppy blinks at the puddle of blood spreading on the cushion. “What the… ” she whispers. She grabs her wrist, closing the gaping wound. Rolling onto her back, she gasps for breath. Tears stream down the sides of her face. She bites her lip, and her body convulses. Poppy screams.
That night, a knock at the door. “Poppy? You home?” a woman calls out. “My cousins from the cape are visiting for the weekend. I told them all about you.” The woman giggles. “We tried calling, but there was no answer. Poppy?” A couple minutes later, the woman leaves.
Poppy slowly exhales.
In the wee hours of the morning, she opens the can of Fancy Feast. After watching Ting eat, she steps out of the house. She wears a long coat, a hat, and sunglasses, her wrist wrapped in bloody gauze. In the parking lot of the hardware store, she waits. At eight o’ clock, she’s the first customer. She purchases a circular saw, a mud flap, a hammer, and some nails. Back home, Poppy installs a cat door.
Ting rubs against the door and sniffs.
“I’m sorry I can’t get any more cans of Fancy Feast, Miss Ting.” Poppy bends and kisses the top of Ting’s head. “But you’re a smart kitty, my precious Ting. You know how to find food on your own.”
Ting sniffs the bloody gauze and purrs.
That evening, another knock at the door. Poppy covers her ears, shuts her eyes, and curls into a ball. A few hours later, she rises. She turns off the house lights and closes the blinds. She carries a bottle of ice water to the cellar and climbs inside a freezer chest. She takes a long drink. “My precious Ting hooked me with her sweet little claw and pulled me into my shell,” Poppy murmurs before reaching up and shutting the lid. “She gave me the wisdom I needed to be a respectful member of society… and a private neighbor.”
Upstairs, Ting sniffs the dried blood, purrs, and exits through the cat door.
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