I hadn’t intended to stop - in fact I was in a hurry - but, as I walked briskly by, a black flash of fur caught my attention. I turned to look in the window.
It was just past dusk in Seattle. October evenings were usually dark and dreary, but this one seemed darker and drearier than normal. The light rain drizzle spattered the layer of wet maple leaves on the ground. Fremont was a charming neighborhood with plenty of old sprawling brick homes, large trees, and small friendly shops. Tonight, it seemed determined to push back against the gray of the season.
The streetlight behind me lit up the sidewalk and, as I stared at the full-length window, I could see the shadowy shape of a cat directly in front of me looking out.
I glanced up at the sign above the door. Black Coffee Cat Cafe, it read. Next to the words, an illustrated cat was curled up with a steaming bistro mug between its paws. A poster on the door invited visitors in with, “Enjoy a cup of coffee and visit our adoptable cats!”
The door jingled open and I backed hastily away. The smell of coffee and pastries came spilling out along with several customers. They were excited, happy, talking about how “the cute gray girl sat on my lap” and “the fat orange tabby would make a great Christmas present for Silas” and “I wonder if the sleek Siamese will get along with Chester?” The door closed behind them, and the light and warmth and sweet smells vanished.
Next to the entry door, the front of the shop had full-size windows open to the street where passersby could view the transient felines as they relaxed in a room separate from the coffee shop. I squinted and by the dim lighting inside I could see several cats in the background. Most were curled up sleeping on various pieces of old, overstuffed furniture. A kitten or two were attacking toys on a tower.
I looked back at the section of the room nearest the street, by the window. The black shadow hadn’t moved from his position. I guessed by the size it was a male, and he looked like he’d been through some rough years. He was a large longhair and inky black from head to tail. He had a kink at the very end of his tail and was missing a few whiskers.
I realized that I had actually seen him before around the neighborhood. I was new to the city with no friends or family and I often took walks by the shops in the evenings. He was often out and about in the evenings as well, and seemed to keep to himself (most cats do, but him especially so). I noticed he didn’t wear a collar like some of the others that wandered the neighborhood. I had caught glimpses of him on my strolls, but never had gotten this close before. Obviously something had changed, as he was now inside the cat room instead of prowling the dark streets.
He must have seen me gazing closely at him because his fur puffed up and his ears flattened slightly. His golden eyes stared at me suspiciously. I couldn’t hear him through the glass with the rain and traffic behind me, but I imagined there was an unfriendly rumble coming from his chest.
Something about him looked tough, street smart, like he was daring me to challenge him. We held each other's gaze for a long moment until I shivered and broke focus.
The cold rain had grown steadily stronger, and I could feel it running down my neck. My breath escaped from my mouth in small white clouds. I realized I was cold, wet, and hungry.
I thought about going inside. The poster on the door said the shop was open until eight o’clock, but I had no idea what time it was now. I had things to do, places to be. But the black cat in the window intrigued me.
As I was standing there thinking about what to do, the door swung open suddenly from the inside and I jumped back. A friendly face looked out at me. “Well hello, sir, would you like to come inside and warm up?” It was a young lady, probably eighteen or nineteen, wearing a dark apron over her clothes, with a smile and a smudge of coffee powder on her cheek.
The inside definitely seemed more welcoming than standing out here in the cold. I hesitated and took a couple of steps closer to the door. I looked back, but the black cat had vanished from the window.
The girl held the door open for me as I walked in. She looked delighted that I was coming inside, and she chattered away excitedly. “I’m so glad I spotted you out there; I haven’t seen you around here before. You must be so cold. This is our coffee shop and lobby,” she said proudly. “Customers come in and they can order a cup of coffee or a pastry if they want. I help make the lattes, and right now our specialty is Pumpkin Maple and I decorate the top with a maple leaf in the foam.”
There were no customers in the lobby at the moment, so it was quiet except for some slow jazz playing in the background. She must have noticed I was looking in the direction of the cat room, because she started talking about the cats. I found her voice comforting.
“We have six cats up for adoption right now; two of them are kittens. The Siamese is Lily, the fat orange tabby is Harold, the little gray cat is Asha, the two kittens are Lynx and Lennox, and the fluffy white one is Jonas.”
I was still looking around for the big black cat but didn’t see him anywhere. My new friend reached down, stroked my head and said kindly, “And I think we can find a place for you in here too, on the other side of the window.”