It'll Be Alright

Written in response to: Start your story with the flickering of a light.... view prompt

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Fiction Friendship Contemporary

The beast rose from its protective crouch in front of apartment 1A, its back arching up as the hissing grew more intense. The hall light began to snap and start to wink out, setting off a strobe-like effect and giving Willow the impression that she had just moved into a house of horrors. A long wave of coppery hair had escaped the messy bun on the top of her head and the emerald green sweater that matched her eyes was crumpled and dusted with grime after a day of hauling boxes. She blew a breath out of the corner of her mouth to move the hair off her face. She just wanted this day to end.

“Hi, kitty,” Willow said cautiously in a singsong voice, as she balanced boxes of kitchenware in one hand while tentatively reaching for the doorknob with the other. The sound emanating from the crazed animal was guttural and reminded Willow of the cat fights that would happen on the farm in the middle of the night when a tom strolled through the yard.

“It’s ok sweetie, I’m not here to hurt you.” Her foot slowly swept the floor in front of her, trying to scoot the cat out of the way. “I just want to get in here, if that’s ok.” The black and white tufts of angry fur were sticking up all over the place, but the cat finally settled down on its haunches and traded in the spitting for a low growl as it backed up enough to let Willow pass. “I know, sweet kitty. Life sucks,” Willow mumbled. And she would know. This had been one of the worst weeks of her life. 

Willow dumped her last box of stuff onto the floor and looked around her new apartment. The meager 500 square feet of space, the stark walls and the piles of her belongings in the middle of it all. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat, but it was no use. She had held it together long enough. Willow sank to the floor and finally let herself have a good cry. 

***

The next day, Willow barely left the apartment. Instead, she spent hours unpacking and trying to make her meager space livable. Around 11am, a rumble tore through her insides and she remembered that she hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast the day before. On her way out to stock her fridge, the cat sat hunched in the corner of the hall, growling softly and giving Willow the side eye.

Willow kept her distance, but crouched down, making kissing noises in an attempt to draw the creature closer. Instead, its ears flattened and the cat backed closer to the wall. “It’s ok, sweet pea,” Willow said softly, “I’ll be back.” 

***

“Willow, let me in before this psycho bites me!” Sam shouted from the hall, before he started to pound on her door. “I didn’t know your place came with such a determined guard animal,” he said when he finally made it inside. “It looks pissed.” 

“Yeah, it just showed up outside of my door a few days ago. I didn’t see a collar, but I bet it belongs to the old guy down the hall,” Willow said with a shrug. “It finally stopped hissing at me yesterday, but won’t let me get close enough to pet it.” And then she looked up at Sam with a mischievous smile and a twinkle in her eyes. “Yet, that is.”

Sam groaned. “You’re such a softy. You know, not every animal needs to like you.”

She feigned incredulity. “I don’t need it to like me! I need it to love me so I can pick it up, snuggle it, and rock it like a baby. I bet it’s so cute and cuddly when it’s not angry. What do you think her name is?” She thought for a moment,  “I would call her Beans, she’s like a black bean on the bottom and a creamy butter bean on the top. Oh, I guess she kind of looks like an open faced Oreo. Hmm.” 

“First, that’s totally a dude cat,” Sam said, giving the beast another assessment through the peephole. “Second, he looks more like a Killer. Fuckface, maybe? No, Chad! All the Chads I know are definitely angry little shits.”

“Stop!” Willow laughed and playfully nudged Sam out of the way. “Oh sweet baby,” she placed a hand on the door and whispered lovingly, “I would never call you Chad.”

“Anyway. How are you holding up?” Sam turned to her and wrapped her in a big hug. 

Willow and Sam had been serving up caffeinated drinks together at Cuppa Love for the last eight years. He knew her before her last relationship had even started. He knew how serious she had been with Neil and how crushed she was when, instead of a proposal, she got the boot. It turns out that after years of living together, Neil had grown bored, found someone else and she hadn’t seen a goddamn thing coming. After the breakup, Willow realized that Sam was essentially her only friend. She’s not sure when that had happened, when she started pushing people away and when life became all about Neil. But here she was, single again and friendless except for this big, bulky guy with a heart of gold.

“You know, I’m doing alright,” Willow said. “I forgot how nice it is to have my own space. Like, I can hang up anything I want without someone else’s judgment. Neil always found my taste in decor too bright, or too hippy dippy, or just too… something.” She surveyed the room. Progress had been made since she moved in, but plenty of boxes still cluttered the floor, pictures lined up waiting to find a place on the wall. “Anyway, thanks for coming to help, I really appreciate it.”

“Hey, of course,” Sam said gently, giving her a side squeeze. “Why be bossed around by you only at work when I can have that on my days off, too?” Willow chuckled and lightly punched him in the arm before leading him to the pile of furniture that needed to be moved into place. Living alone definitely had its perks, but there was something about having another set of hands around when you needed them.

***

Willow left her apartment so early the next morning that she missed the lump of fur, curled up asleep at the end of the hall. But the creature was not to be ignored when she came home that afternoon. He paced back and forth in front of her door, no longer spitting mad and hissing, but yowling. Willow stopped and the cat ventured closer to her, weaving in and out of her legs at a frenetic pace, meowing pathetically. “Oh, sweet kitty!” Willow bent down and, ignoring the streaks of hair left behind on her black leggings, stuck out her hand for the cat to sniff before attempting to pet him. She felt a mixture of delight, for finally being chosen by this cat as one worthy enough to give him affection, and despair, because he sounded so sad.  An angry cat she could handle, but a sad, pathetic one pulled too much on her heart strings. 

He let her softly trail her fingers over his creamy back and she gasped as she felt his protruding bones. “Oh, honey. You must be hungry! Should we go find your home?” She tentatively reached out to see if she could pick him up. Surprisingly, he let her. He was thin, but his coat was still glossy and soft. So snugly! Willow thought. 

The overhead light began to snap and flicker ominously as they walked down the hall to apartment 2B. A hunched man of maybe 80, permanent frown lines etched onto his face and a cane in one hand, answered the door. Willow could tell instantly that he did not take kindly to visitors and she began to wonder if she had made a mistake.

“Hi,” she said cautiously, “I’m your new neighbor. Your cat has been hanging around my apartment and I think he might be hungry.” Willow offered the cat up as the man’s scowl deepened and without a word, the door slammed in her face. She stood momentarily confused and utterly shocked by his rudeness. 

Willow snuggled the cat to her chest and said, “Ok, we’re going to leave the mean man alone. He is obviously not a cat person.” She grimaced. “Or a people person, for that matter.” She set him down outside her door and went in to retrieve some food. She came back a few minutes later with a small bowl of water and a plate of tuna with bits of cheese on the side. She placed the food and water in front of him and he dove in greedily as if he hadn’t had a proper meal in days. 

Just then, a burly man in overalls appeared in the hall, a long ladder propped up on one shoulder. He nodded in Willow’s direction. “You must be the new tenant in 1A. I’m Jim, the super. Here to fix this.” He gestured to the temperamental overhead light.

“I’m Willow,” she said. “Thanks, I couldn’t reach it with my step ladder, otherwise I would have taken care of it myself.”

“No worries,” Jim grunted as he unscrewed the light bulb. “You know, that cat will keep hanging around if you feed it,” he said, pointing to the corner where the little one was happily feasting. 

“Oh! Do you know him? I’ve been looking for his owner.”

“As far as I know, he’s a stray. Been coming and going for the last 10 years or so. As long as Evelyn was here anyway. She used to live in 1A. Passed on a couple months back. Pretty sure she had been feeding him, too.” He shook his head, obviously not a fan of strays. 

Willow felt a tightening in her chest as she realized the only person that was probably caring for this cat had passed away two months ago. How was he surviving on his own for so long? Empathy bubbled in her chest, bringing her close to tears. “Do you know what Evelyn called him? I’d like to know his name,” she asked.

“Couldn’t tell ya. But if you name him, you keep him,” he gave her a pointed look. “I only put up with that thing because Evelyn was as mean as a hornet. I got on her case about it once and all of a sudden I was over here everyday to fix her garbage disposal. She claimed to not know what was happening, but I knew she was putting tea bags down there on purpose, string and all. That was her way of telling me she was pissed off. It was better to let her do whatever she wanted.”

Willow laughed nervously. “Don’t worry, I wouldn’t do that.” She looked down at the cat, who had finished the meal and was contentedly licking his paws. From his chin down to his toes, he was the color of midnight, but everything above was creamy and dotted with tiny black spots. He stopped cleaning himself and sat, gazing up at her sweetly. Willow's chest tightened at the sight of him. He looked like a chocolate cupcake, topped with whipped cream and sprinkles. 

Willow bent down to give him a stroke and before she knew it, he was brushing his whole body against her legs, relishing in this brief moment of human contact. She couldn’t help but feel a kinship with this creature. So lonely, sad, and starved for attention. “It’s ok, little guy,” she said softly, lowering herself to the floor to sit next to him. “Everything is going to be alright.” And when he climbed up into her lap, purring contentedly, she knew that was true. Everything was going to be alright. She was going to be alright. And with little, spirited Cupcake by her side, they would get through this together.

June 11, 2022 01:49

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