The next morning I felt better, as Sasha had predicted. I had whimpered at Daddy–not being particular which daddy it was–and my pan had been brought up to the master bedroom, along with my regal if semi-conscious self carried up on my new bed like a teatray. I had thought at first that the bed was a stupid idea, but it was cushy, made of a good material for luxurious kneading, and saved me having to hop up and down from the big bed. Terry asked Pharaoh to do some sorcery to make sure it stayed warm, but was turned down.
“Can’t have charmed objects just lying about. What about an electric blanket?” Terry pouted at the pragmatism of this, but the chore of going to the drugstore in Harvard Square and then coming home and tinkering until the temperature was of Goldilocks perfection had saved him from too much inquiry about the Tarragons. I gathered from morning conversation that Terry and Lynn had known each other at grad school at Harvard, which didn’t add up to me, because he had gotten his degree some years ago. Maybe she was slow. It was, after all, Harvard.
I also gathered that there was something fishy in the air: Sasha muttered to me, “He’s lying about how he knows her, kitcat. Not that I’m jealous, but what is up with that?” I had no answer. Her outer soul’s basenote was warm and inviting, and I thought she looked as if she’d make a good lap; there was certainly enough of her for it. But I knew the humans didn’t always see that as an unmixed blessing. There was also the whole gender issue, but humans were complicated about that. I hoped my TV counseling wouldn’t have to switch from Dr. Phil to Oprah. Or Maury.
Going down the main stairs was uncomfortable, but I made myself do it, because I could feel myself start to stiffen up. I knew that if I malingered, it would have been no problem for the cubs to bring up my food–and I was starving after yesterday’s fast–but I wanted to get back to normal. I wanted to play with my new mouse!
Terry was downstairs at the big dining room table, cold tea at his elbow. He had all the stuff with him that meant he was supposedly working on an article, but he was staring into space, colorless eyes huge and thoughtful, outer soul a million miles away. Or not; he started when I passed, hoodlum twitch of a bad kid.
“Heeyyyy, look who’s back in the land of the living!” He went to pick me up, but as I flinched as his hands brushed the incision, he thought better of it and let me continue to mince into the kitchen. His long legs made two of about a dozen of my now-tiny steps, but he met me there wielding the can-opener enticingly.
“We’re out of Prairie Picnic, but they had some Lavaliver at CritterMart.”
Oh, great. Lavaliver was so last Tuesday. It was a specialty food, with mild spices (hence the “Lava”) and I’d been mad for it for six and a half days. I wasn’t in the mood for it now, especially since I’d been urping the day before. Terry wasn’t a complete stupe, though, and this last also occurred to him.
“But maybe not on a delicate tummy. Hey, how about I make you some chicken? Take about ten minutes, maybe less.” He began to rattle pans. Terry was a great cook and private catering of human food was a tremendous treat which I only got on Thursdays–today was Thursday, which was actually planned into the whole surgical adventure, I recalled, so that a Daddy would be home with me. I curled my tail around my paws and sat down to wait.
As a rule, Terry didn’t talk to me the way Sasha did, let alone the way Pharaoh did, but after a while, he said, “Say, Eureka? Ever wonder about what happened to the cat you were living with at the dead lady’s house?”
I meowed in response before I could stop myself. I did wonder! Terry smiled a little half-listening smile at the “coincidence” of my answering him, and went on. “I know they took him to the pound. I’m betting they left out a few details about him–God knows my little toes wouldn’t have felt safe. But what happened after that? Who did he meet, where did he go? And do you think he ever wonders about you too?”
Fred? Not a chance. Not that narcissist. But we weren’t talking about Fred. I was betting my new mouse we were talking about Lynn Tarragon. I hurried through an old Sentence of Contemplation I had learned at the shelter from one of the resident cats, so as to groom my outer soul down and not betray my quickened heartbeat. But would he just be vague and metaphorical?
He got out a packet of chicken breasts and his wickedest looking filet knife and set to work. “I met Lynn Tarragon in the summer of 1977. I was sixteen, she was fifteen. We were on the Staten Island Ferry, we got high, she had a great rack, and I was still in deep denial about the whole Sasha thing, which had hit that spring. But despite having every reason in the world to never want to touch a woman in any way, shape, or form, there was something about Lynn.” He dashed on a soupcon of garlic. “The Sashmeister was all the way off in Lionshead Academy in Alaska, and–there was something about Lynn. Not Lynn. Her name is Arianlyn, so I called her Aria. Couldn’t believe nobody had ever done it before.”
He put the savory mass into a pan and sighed. To my consternation, I could feel tears building up in his outer soul. Not a trace of them on his pale Irish face, though. Terry wasn’t a cryer. This Aria thing went deep. “Long story short, my hellbitch mother didn’t like the idea that there might be competition in Normalland for my carnal attentions.” He brushed a lock of non-existent hair out of his eyes while I blinked. Did I put that together the right way? Did he mean what I thought he meant? No wonder Terry’s mother was a forbidden topic in our house. No, not forbidden, just non-existent. Even the word “mother”would sometimes cause a random spike of something savage in his outer soul.
Her own kitten. She might better have eaten him alive, from what I knew of the tangle of human sexuality. I felt a surge of something complicated. I would never have kittens of my own, never make an ass of myself for a tom, never scream from the clamp on my neck and the serration tearing me bloody inside–maybe just as well, all that. But I knew what it was to love, and I loved Terry Riverly. He was towering over the range, tossing my chicken in its own sauce, with a finger of his outer soul on me the while, loving me back. I limped over and rubbed his ankles as hard as I could, mourning the fact that he’d just think it was only the food.
He cleared his throat and set the kettle on to make himself a cup of tea, getting out Sasha’s little bag of tsain, a Th’nashi herb which was calming. “Talk about mothers with real lack of supervision problems. She knew I was up to my neck in dope, she just didn’t care. She knew the flour canister on my desk didn’t have flour in it.” He grinned down at me and stroked me with the back of his non-cooking hand, the right one. “I liked the way it looked, all shiny and white and sitting there in a huge heap. I could have sneaked it out of my trust fund, all that dope money, but it was more fun to steal cars. Still is. Don’t tell Sasha.” I knew it! Oh, how I wished the Crucio could make that spell into tea or something! I had so many questions. I nuzzled him, and then got out of his way, as he went back to the stove.
“There we go. Now let’s just spread it out to cool. Don’t want real lava, kitcakes. Problem was, I had more than enough for ‘intent to distribute.’ She called the cops on me, did Mother Mary, and because I was too much of a stiff-necked ass to let them plead or bribe me out, I ended up in upstate New York for three years in a charming little town called Ossining. The pen, my love. Daddy’s a felon.” I knew this, of course. With difficulty, I propped my front paws on his legs. I knew it would hurt to be picked up, but I wanted it anyway. But he tsk’ed “Stitches!” and poured his tea, sitting down at the table with it and my plate, which he kept mechanically dicing to make sure it was cooling.
“And all during those three years, heard I not word one from little miss Arianlyn. Eureka, you would not credit how long and how many and how drippy those letters of mine were those first two months. But not a word back–and here’s the thing, kitten: When New York’s Finest scooped me up that night, I was on my way to go propose to her.” He rattled the fork alluringly and set the plate down at his feet. Oh yum!
He slid out of the chair and sat next to me, stroking my back and sipping his tea while his eyes were hard, seeing things he had not wanted to see in a long time, and which Lynn/Aria’s advent had brought back to him.
“So let’s fast-forward, oh, fifteen years. There I am in Biff’s seminar at Harvard, and I’m looking at the class roster, and there it is: Arianlyn Lannon Tarragon. And despite not a letter, not a word, not a freaking congratulations call the night I won the ViddieTV contest–and despite by the way having come the rest of the way out of the closet, although Other Daddy and I were in a bad patch then–despite all that, my heart STILL went pit a pat.
“And then in she comes, and she’s put on like, a hundred pounds. I’m not kidding, Eureka, I’m not exaggerating.” He laughed. “I know that to you that means jack shit, and that’s a good thing, because I wish the hell I didn’t have that sort of cultural baggage. And to be fair it’s not like I’m your basic humani about it. But still, to humans that’s ‘Oh my God, my ex-girlfriend turned into a moose, call Jerry Springer.’ And I was brutal about it. Pretended I didn’t even know her. Didn’t recognize her. But of course I did. And it broke my heart.
“I’ll skip over a lot of unnecessary stuff about how Daddy had a major nervous breakdown over various bullshit, but when that was over, there finally was a letter. From her. And she was in my corner. Broke my heart all over again. So we kept pretending we were different people, but we were friends, in a kind of weird way. Heartbreak, reprise, when she went out to the Sea of Grass flyover with her husband and little Rita.” I did a lightning check of my conversation with the Crucio. Sea of Grass was another District, this one comprising the Midwest.
“I knew she wasn’t happy in the marriage. Never had much use for the hubby. And maybe, just maybe if they’d been Th’nashi, hell, if they’d been Contract citizens, I’d have tipped the Lions off to do a check on the situation. But she wasn’t, so I didn’t. God knows what and how much she put up with before leaving.” His outer soul and head snapped up together. Somebody was coming up the path in the backyard.
I narrowed my focus. It was Meeze, who was the only one of the gang to use the back door, saying that with him having been raised migrant trash, it only seemed right in that house. This pissed everybody else off–it wasn’t anybody’s fault that Auntie Rosa had such nice stuff, but in reality, I had realized it meant he could raid the refrigerator on his way in to check in with the humans.
He entered and swept a low bow to us both, twirling the tip of his braid. “Si vale, valeo!”
“Wally what?” Terry got up and put the kettle back on.
“Latin. If you are well, I am well.” Meeze dug through the cupboards.
“We’re still out of Earl Grey,” said Terry. “Unless one of the rugrats remembered to pick some up.”
“Bah. I’ll settle for Sasha’s sneezy tea. I feel something coming on. You too?” He cocked his head a little, assessing Terry’s reddened eyes.
“Allergies.” I heard him banish the whole Lynn Tarragon issue as far into the future as he could pitch it. I could have bitten the big redhead for his lousy timing. Terry had just said something that hadn’t made a word of sense. What did he mean by her not being Th’nashi? I thought they could spot each other as well as I could.
Meeze picked up on my flash of annoyance, a flicker of hurt in his green eyes. I repented–how was he to have known he was interrupting Terry spilling his guts to me? First time too, and it was a doozy. I went up to him and nuzzled him hello, to show that I was over it; not that it really had anything to do with him anyway. He scritched the place right between my jaw and my ear that I loved, sitting down at the table with his mug.
Meanwhile, Terry went about washing up the pan. As a rule he wasn’t great at cleaning up after himself, but it gave him some stage business to do while he got back into his everyday devil-may-care persona.
Still scratching me, Meeze asked, “How’s the invalid?”
“Just polished off a slice of chicken breast, and she made it down from upstairs under her own steam. In other words, better than we would be after major abdominal surgery.”
“Speak for yourself, wussyman. I have every faith that I’ll swing in during half-time from the middle of the bb court to get my stitches taken out, should it ever be so.”
Terry gave a shriek of laughter. “You? You’re a pitiful mess when you get a cold.” Meeze harrumphed, but was distracted before he could retort. Joel poked his head into the kitchen, smiling at me.
“Excuse me, sir, but the humani lady from last night is here. Asked for you. Are you in?”
Terry left the dishtowel in a damp heap on the counter in front of the microwave and heaved a huge loins-girding sigh. “Yeah, I am. Meeze, how would you like to be a buffer zone between me and somebody with whom I have a complicated history? Ia tseradi’ae, by the way, and I’m in no hurry to have that change.” There it was again! “Ia tseradi’ae” was their code phrase in Th’nashi that meant a particular humani didn’t know they were vampires. But she was one herself! Or a Grail, which was the same thing. I waited to see what Meeze would make of her.