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Not Quite Purrfect

By Gretchen E. K. Engel

Melinda curled up on the couch, reading Little Women for the sixth November in a row. She’d received an abridged version for her seventh birthday and identified with Amy March because Amy was the only character who wasn’t yet a teenager. And maybe Melinda, like Amy, was a little bit spoiled. Melinda did agree with Jo, the main character, that November weather was certainly disagreeable. Rain. Again. Several creeks overflowed their boundaries, including the little spring by their mailbox.

The back door rattled. The familiar thump of a briefcase being set on the banquette bench was followed by the sound of a suitcase on the kitchen floor.

“I’m home,” her father called from the kitchen.

She dropped her book onto the sofa and scuffed into her canvas tennis shoes so her socks would stay dry. She hurried into the kitchen and into his arms. “Daddy!”

Mom was on her way to pick up Melinda’s older sister from ballet class, and they wouldn’t be home for another hour, so she’d get Daddy all to herself.

Drops of rain darkened his brown hair as he wiped rain speckles from his glasses. He was home from a business trip, not from war like Amy and Jo’s father, but the trip had been long enough that he’d missed her birthday.

“Lioness.” He hugged her. “I came home to a teenager.”

Her cheek pressed against his shirt. His aftershave masked the stale airplane scent that clung to his suit. She grinned at the nickname he’d given her when she was little, when he’d said she wasn’t a dainty princess or a sweet kitten.

“I have something for you.” He let go and unlatched a plastic carrier that sat on the bench where his briefcase usually resided. “We almost didn’t make it home. Our road is almost washed out. Now, close your eyes and hold out your hands.”

Melinda obeyed.

Meow.

Had he bought her a kitten? Maybe even a Himalayan kitten? She forced herself from bouncing on her toes. It was all she’d asked for this year. Ever since she’d seen them in an issue of Cat Fancy, she’d wanted a Himalayan cat, had already named him Everest. But… she’d overheard her parents talking about kittens and breeders and the expense.

The softest fur she’d ever felt touched her hands. Her eyes flew open and beheld a tiny ball of beige fur with brown tipped ears and tail. She cuddled it close.

“Thank you so much. Little Everest is so cute. He’s going to be beautiful. I can’t wait to enter him in cat shows.” She embraced Daddy, then plopped into a kitchen chair, Everest in her lap. “I can’t believe you bought me a Himalayan kitten. You said you’d never pay for a cat. Wow! I am so happy.”

“About that…” Daddy ran a hand through his hair. “First, Everest is a she.”

“That’s okay.” Melinda snuggled the kitten. “I want her to be named after one of the Himalayas. The tallest mountain for the best kitten. But Everest is kind of a masculine name. Maybe K2 for Kitty-Kitty. K2 is the second highest mountain in the Himalayas.” Holding her at eye level, Melinda cooed, “Who’s a tiny mountain of fluff?”

“I like K2.” Dad petted the kitten’s head. “Good, Kitty-Kitty.”

The kitten’s fluffy tail caught her eye, and Melinda traced its length. “Her tail is kinked at the end.”

“I know.”

Melinda couldn’t hide her disappointment. “She’s really cute, but, well… Daddy, she’s defective. She can’t be shown.”

“Melinda, that’s an arbitrary criterion for a show animal. She’s so sweet. Do you really think it matters?” Dad scratched under K2’s chin and tipped up the kitten’s face.

Blue eyes blinked and her tiny ears, two dark triangles matching her face and paws, twitched. Too cute.

Petting her kitten’s fluffy fur, Melinda shook her head. The tiny furball climbed her like a jungle gym.

“That defect is why you have her.” Daddy crouched to scratch the kitten’s ears but paused.

Melinda looked up.

“No, she won’t be a show cat,” Daddy continued. “You know how I feel about spending money on a purebred cat. Besides, your mother and I travel too much to take you to cat shows. You’re lucky to have K2.”

Melinda plucked K2 from her shoulder and curled the kitten’s bottlebrush tail around its tiny body. She imagined K2 dipping her tail into Amy’s paints or Jo’s ink. Kittens had a way of making messes with their curiosity.

“Honestly, she’s not even a purebred, but she is beautiful.” He sighed. “It’s a long story, but your grandmother knew how much you wanted a Himalayan kitten. She found a breeder who had a litter of mixed kittens that needed to be destroyed since they couldn’t be sold.”

“What? My kitten was going to be killed?” Horrified, Melinda held the tiny furball as if the breeder would fling open the kitchen door and snatch K2 from her arms. “Do breeders really do that?” K2 squirmed and a tiny claw pricked Melinda’s thigh through her jeans.

He nodded. “You saved her life. Her tail is the only reason she’s sitting in your lap.” He grimaced, then mumbled, “That and her dubious parentage.”

Melinda giggled as she stroked K2’s fur.

“Thank you so much, Dad. I really do love her.” Now that they’d met, she couldn’t imagine anyone killing her kitten. She dodged K2’s cactus feet to tickle her round tummy. “Not quite perfect. But you’re mine.”

If only she had a cute neighbor boy to show off her new kitten to. Now that she was a teenager, she might relate to Little Women’s main heroine, Jo, more, but she’d never turn down a handsome and wealthy boy who loved her.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gretchen E. K. Engel writes steampunk romance and urban fantasy. This story is a prequel to her urban fantasy heart project. Several of her short stories and flash fiction pieces have been published in anthologies and magazines. As an environmental engineer, Gretchen is paid to research her STEM characters. When she’s not working or writing Gretchen loves to ski and travel. She lives in the mountains of Arizona with her husband, two children, and a trio of cats, two lucky black cats and a Maine Coon mix. Like Melinda, her dad braved November rains to deliver a feline birthday present.

15 comments - Join the conversation

Leave a Reply to Heidi Glick Cancel reply

 

    • K2 was created about 10 years ago, but 2 years ago, Euro, the Maine Coon mix, showed up at our house. His random markings including a cute mustache and a heart murmur make us think he was abandoned by a breeder. He’s the sweetest pile of fur and fits right in (most of the time) with his two rescue siblings.

  • you captured the reality of show breeding so well. i’m glad Melinda’s dad will help her learn more about it. have a great life, K-2,

    • Yes, we prefer rescue kitties. Ours have all been shelter, stray, or rehome kitties. But as a young teen, I did want a Himalayan. Although Calvin, my kitten birthday present was well-loved from the moment Dad braved high waters to bring him home.

    • Thanks! You’ve had the chance to meet a bit older Melinda and a couple of cameos of the full-grown K2. I’m excited about your upcoming book. Congratulations!

  • That was so cute! And so poignant! This is the story of real life lessons and the heart of wisdom. Well done, Gretchen!

    • Thank you! This is a prequel to a heart project, and K2’s origin story plays a subtle role in that story. Also, I have a fondness for rescue kitties and their stories.

    • Thanks for stopping by! You’ve already met Melinda and at least caught a glimpse of K2 (who doesn’t get much page time). I hope you enjoyed learning how K2 came into Melinda’s life.

  • Getting rescues (as opposed to purebreds from breeders) is important to me, too. I have two rescue dogs, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Our cat, left on our porch by her mother (feral), recently passed away at the ripe old age of 18.

    • High five to adopted pet owners! Sorry to hear about the loss of your longtime kitty companion.

  • I enjoyed this story but I’m also a major cat lover. So many cats and dogs wind up killed for reasons as little as a kink in the tail. Living in the country, I’ve seen a lot of feral cats due to people dumping them near barns. I currently have one that found a way to get to a warm spot under my trailer for warmth the last couple winters. I can’t get near her, but I keep an eye on her as best I can as she comes and goes. She won’t pass up tuna I put out for her unless it’s so cold it freezes before she dares to come out of her warm hiding spot and get it. She’s a pretty tortoise shell coloring. If cats won contests based on how healthy they look and their ability to catch mice, she would win.

    • Yes! I’m a cat lover too! Catch-neuter-release is a wonderful thing. One of ours is a “feral neuter” with a clipped ear. He’s gone from aloof neighborhood couch surfer to lazy old man with a fondness for ear scratches. Our girl came to us as a pregnant “teen mom.” We rehomed her two adorable babies and had her fixed. Too many dumped kitties in this world. Your wild tortie sounds like a great one. Yay for the huntress!

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