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.”
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.”
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.