“Kittens!” I said to Nichelle and immediately dropped to the floor. “Look at them!”
“You touch it, you bought it,” Mrs Murray said in a dire voice.
“Now hush.” Her longtime companion, Mrs O’Shea, patted me on the shoulder. “Though that one does look rather attached to you, Rocky dear.”
Nichelle snorted. “If by ‘attached’ you mean ‘it’s caught in her skirt.’”
“She’s so cute, look at her.” I attempted to help the little bundle of black fur detach from my skirt and riiiiiiiiip—make that little bundle of black fur and claws, oops. “She’s so freaking adorable, though!”
Nichelle rolled her eyes in disgust and stared down at us. “When did you become a cat person exactly?”
Before going any further I should clarify that I’m not really an animal person for any species. At least I never was before I dog-sat my former chem teacher’s springer spaniel while he (my chem teacher, not the spaniel) was in jail for killing his husband (he hadn’t). Since my cute little holy terror of a houseguest had been reunited with his dad I guess I’d kind of missed him a little.
Also I still had a ton of his toys and junk. Do kittens play with dog toys? Did they care if a fluffy pet bed smelled like dog? No, right?
“They’re a set,” Mrs Murray said, dumping the other ball o’ fur and claws in my lap.
“Wait, no, I can’t—I’ve never even had one cat before! I can’t take two.” I appealed to Mrs O’Shea who looked back at me with perfect understanding.
“I’m afraid she’s right, dear. You’ll have to take both of them.”
Make that: perfectly indifferent understanding. Little old ladies DGAF, you heard it here first.
“No, but I haven’t even decided if I want one yet!” I mean, wanted, maybe, but there’s a huge gulf of being a rational human between wanting a kitten and actually acquiring one. Except now I had two cuddly little kittens in my lap, the first one of whom was batting decisively at the second one’s tail while the second one seemed weirdly into grooming my knee through my skirt.
Also, literally no one has ever been like, Oh, Rocky, yeah, dictionary definition of a rational human being. Did I mention I almost got me and the dog killed a couple of months ago by a super messed-up bear shifter? Because I did. Double oops.
I looked up at my best frenemy, whose expression was unimpressed. “What?” One of the kittens began to climb up my arm and I hissed. Wow, those claws were like tiny needles.
She sighed. “You know you’re going to get the cats. I knew you were going to get the cats the second Mr B mentioned them.”
We’d just been next door visiting Mr B (and Higgins, the little monster—and I mean that sort of literally) when he mentioned the kittens. “Such a sad case,” he’d said, shaking his head. “I took them just to foster you know, because Catharine Edwards had been trying to find a home for them and I couldn’t stand to let her down, but Higgins…” He’d bent down to scratch the canine in question. “It turns out, Higgins does not get along with kittens.”
Nichelle had started laughing so hard she had to turn it into a coughing fit and walk outside for a few minutes. I didn’t laugh exactly, but I could have told Mr B (or anyone else) that Higgins did not want kittens. Higgins was an only-pet down to his mostly-canine bones.
So Mr B had shoved the kittens off on the little old ladies next door…and then somehow shoved us off on the kittens.
“You should get one of them, Niche! Wouldn’t that be fun? We could get them together for playdates!”
“That is not how cats work.”
“How do you know? You’ve never had a cat!” Which I knew because we’d been friends practically since birth.
She assumed a seriously haughty look. “One of my roommates had a cat. In Sacramento.”
Most of the time I’d forgiven her for going away for college and leaving me in Conquistos without her. Every now and then it really stung. I buried my feelings in kitten fur, holding one of them—I’d lost track of which one—up to my face.
“They really seem to like you,” Murray said dryly. “I’ll package up their things.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but O’Shea started talking before I could. “Now, did Franklin tell you about their situation? It was truly the saddest thing. Cat already has, you know, quite a few cats—”
“—and her husband’s a dog person,” added Mrs Murray with relish.
“—and that’s right, Mr Edwards does not like cats—well, other than Cat herself of course—”
Niche held up a hand. “Is that her nickname or something?”
“Short for Catherine, dear.”
Our eyes met. “So the cat lady’s name is…Cat?” I asked.
“I think you’ll find ‘cat lady’ is a very misogynist term, dear.”
For a second I thought Niche was going to lose it again. I only managed not to burst out laughing by lowering my eyes and biting my tongue really hard. “Uh, you’re right. Sorry.”
“And then,” she continued blithely, “these two sweet kittens were left in a box on her doorstep—”
I couldn’t help it. “What, like Harry Potter?”
“He didn’t even get a box,” Niche muttered.
“They were left quite safely in a box on Cat’s doorstep and what could she do but take them in? But Mr Edwards, after a few nights of what we can only imagine was a great deal of discomfort—”
Mrs Murray chimed in, “She said they needed to be in bed with her to benefit from her body heat.“
With a repressive look at her partner, who didn’t seem at all moved by it, O’Shea kept going. “In any case, the kittens became too much for her, which is when she tried to find a new home for them.” She surveyed me, with one kitten playing with a shoelace and another clawing its way up my arm. “I can’t imagine why Franklin thought he’d be up for such a thing, but I’m afraid he is not always good at saying no to people.”
Side note: Mr B (Franklin to his little old lady neighbors) is a vampire. Of the non-murdery sort. I couldn’t even look at Nichelle since the idea of a vampire being too much of a people-pleaser to say no to kittens was kind of hilarious.
“So Mr B took the kittens,” Niche said, sounding kind of choked. “And then he decided he couldn’t keep them and dropped them off on your doorstep in a box?”
“Of course he didn’t. He brought the box straight inside and promised us he’d find someone to take them off our hands as soon as possible.” Mrs O’Shea smiled. “And he did! Because here you two are!”
“Oh no.” Niche waved her hands back and forth decisively. “This has nothing to do with me, Rocky’s the one who thought ‘just going to look at’ kittens was a good idea. I just came along for the ride.”
“I didn’t say I’d for sure take them!” How could a little monster who’d just left scratch marks all up my arm still be so cute? But now it was nuzzling in my hair and it was so effing cute. Unfairly cute. They’re probably made that way for survival purposes—I would not want to nurse anything with claws like that, yikes.
“But you were so good with Higgins, dear. I’m sure it makes perfect sense that you want a pet of your own now.”
“Two!” Murray added. “Non-negotiable.”
“I was getting to that, Annabel. They’re sisters, so of course you can’t separate them.”
“Aren’t litters separated all the time?” Niche pointed out.
“This isn’t a litter, it’s just two little abandoned orphans. I’m sure Rocky wouldn’t dream of only taking one of them.”
The (okay, really quiet) voice in my head that had been forming an argument to do just that thing abruptly went silent. “Two’s…probably not that much more work than one, right?” I asked the room.
The little old ladies assured me it wouldn’t be, the kittens continued their exploratory paths of destruction, and Nichelle said, resignedly, “Where’s the kitten box? Let’s get this over with.”
Was I really going to do this? No, right? Except…gosh, they were super cute. And even though Higgins was kind of a pain in the butt a lot of the time, having him in my place had been kind of nice.
Though kittens were not really security animals. I glanced up at Nichelle, who was already straightening the box out and futzing about inside it. If she thought it was a really bad idea, she would have said something. Probably. Definitely. For sure if Niche thought I was really fucking up she would say something.
They wouldn’t bark if a goblin was in my apartment waiting to low-key threaten my life. Then again, they’d already be in my apartment waiting for me when I got home from…anywhere. And I wouldn’t need a babysitter for them. “You don’t need a babysitter for cats, right?”
“Of course not, dear,” O’Shea said, lifting shoulder kitten and dropping it into the box. “Incredibly easy to take care of, cats. Just shovel out their litter box—”
“—which I have right here—”
“—and feed them, couldn’t be easier.”
Their sales pitch was pretty good, considering Murray had just pushed the litter box and food into Niche’s arms. A minute and a half later we were being politely herded out the door, me with a box of kittens, and Niche with a bunch of kitten junk.
“We have to stop bringing my car when you’re in a pet-rescue mood,” she grumbled, dumping things into the trunk of her two-seater.
“I wasn’t! And it’s not like I asked you last time. In fact, I told you not to come and you insisted. And this time we weren’t trying to do anything like that, we were just saying hi to Mr B! I didn’t know I was going to end up with…um…kittens…”
“Uh huh.” She shut my car door, which I’m just enough of a romantic to find it kind of…well, never mind. I don’t need to be having any kind of thoughts like that about Nichelle. Or anyone! But especially her.
I shifted the kitten box on my lap and laboriously managed to connect my seat belt, which took me half of forever. Long enough for Niche to round the car, get in, do up her own seat belt, watch me struggle, and offer to help. But she smirked as she did it, like a jerk, so I ignored her.
“This fucking seat is not made for fat people,” I said tersely.
“You fit just fine when you’re not trying to sit with a box of kittens. Also, those kittens are tiny, I don’t know why they needed to use a box this big.”
Since I happened to be staring down at it I checked out the address and gulped. “Um. You don’t think…Mr B mail-orders his blood, do you?”
“I thought he had the little old ladies finding hotties for him to suck.”
Both of us burst out laughing.
“Oh my god, you know what I meant. Literally suck. Wait.” She shook her head. “His blood. Not his other things. Well, maybe his other things. Hell. You know, I never had conversations like this before I came back to Conquistos, Rocky.”
“Lucky you. I’ve been having—well, not quite conversations like this, but definitely conversations about vampires for a long time.”
“Ha, picture talking to your parents about sucking in any context.”
“Ew, no. Also, you’re on the hook for dinner, right?”
“Obviously. Hey, that reminds me—did Luis finally tell everyone he broke up with that woman? I swear Nana asked me if he was single the other day.”
I laughed. “That’s so sweet.”
“You only think that because she’s not trying to set you up with people.”
“Yeah, you know, should I be offended that Nana doesn’t care enough about me finding love to set me up with people or is this like a compliment because she thinks I can find love on my own?”
Nichelle pulled off onto a side street next to my building and directly into the spot I’d started to think of as “hers” as in “the spot that if anyone other than Niche parked there I was kind of annoyed that they were taking her space.” Which was ridiculous. Because it was my place. And she had her own place. And it’s not like we were dating. At all. Even a little. I mean sure there was that kiss that one time when she thought my life was in danger, but that’s not dating. Obvs.
“I made her promise not to set you up with people, but I guess if you’re into that I can—”
“No, no,” I said quickly. “I love Nana, but I’m not sure we have the same priorities.”
“Also she’d start setting you up with literally every woman she knows with short hair and/or fingernails.”
I gasped. “How does Nana know about the fingernails thing? Dammit. That was top secret lesbian business!”
Niche rolled her eyes but I could tell she was trying not to smile. “Show me your fingernails.”
I curled my fingers into my palms. Which hurt a little because my fingernails were not that short. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I may have to call in the Lesbian Compliance Squad.” She got out of the car, then leaned back in. “Actually, you’d probably like that a little too much.”
Oh my god. She was such a jerk. Also, hey, Lesbian Compliance Squad, that sounded superhero-sexy, right? Like would one of them, you know, sex-torture me with her long nails to show how wrong it was to have long nails? Because I’m not saying no to that…
Since I had a box full of kitten on my lap and also I was kind of up against a hedge, I waited until she came around to open the door for me. Which didn’t give me nearly enough time to stop thinking about the Lesbian Compliance Squad and what form they’d take and did I have a sturdy enough chair for them to tie me to and would there be visual aids when they came to do the lesbian brainwashing on me? I was really into visual aids. And lesbians.
Nichelle laughed out loud when she let me out of the car. “Oh my god, you’re thinking about a gang of butch women right now, aren’t you?”
“No!” Fuck, it was hot. Was it hot? I felt hot. “Plus, they weren’t all butch!”
“Mmm hmm. Give me your keys.”
I balanced the kittens against the car and surrendered my keys. “I don’t know why I put up with you.”
“Because I’m so helpful.” She slammed the trunk shut and lifted the cat junk in illustration. “See? Helping.”
“I’m pretty sure you only help me so you can hold it over my head later,” I grumbled, following her up to my own apartment.
Also, shit, my apartment. “Um, Niche? Did I just…I mean…did you just let me adopt two cats?”
“Oh, let you? Like I could stop you!”
“But…did I just…I mean…”
“Yeah, and you better take them to a vet to make sure they’ve been fixed or whatever so they don’t get knocked up.” She opened my door with a flourish. “Welcome home, new family!”
“Oh fuck me, seriously. I’m totally blaming you for this.”
She dumped the litter box and stuff on the floor beside Higgins’s old bed. “Everyone else is going to blame me anyway. ‘How could you let Rocky do that?’ Story of my life.” She flopped down on my couch and gestured. “Well? Let the little monsters out of their box.”
“I’m sure they’re not—”
Our eyes met.
“But…they’re just kittens, I’m pretty sure,” I said.
“We thought Higgins was just a springer spaniel.”
“True. But look, it’s not like Mr B would bring more, uh, hybrids into his house? Right?”
She just raised her eyebrows. “I mean, what could they be mixed with? Sphinxes? Is that a thing?”
“No. I mean, not that I know of. Though I’d never met a wendigo either.”
Scratching from the box. Regular kitten scratching. Not like hellbeast-kitten-hybrid scratching. Probably.
“Maybe I should call Mr B,” I said.
She eyed the box suspiciously. “Maybe you should. Just to make sure.”
Mr B, when I asked him, sounded incredibly surprised, maybe even a little hurt that we weren’t totally secure in his pet choices. He assured me that as far as he knew the kittens were just ordinary felines, unmixed with other species, and that if Catharine Edwards was anything other than purely human he would be deeply shocked.
I got off the phone and shrugged. “Here goes nothing. Welcome to your new home, kids.”
Two little black kittens. One of them immediately scrambled up the side of the box and started sniffing everything. The other peered up at me almost meditatively, as if we were having A Moment.
“It’s not dead, right?” Niche asked from the couch.
“No! We’re just kind of looking at each other.”
“Oh. Um. Neat?”
The kitten tilted her head to the side. “I wonder if she wants me to get her out of the box?”
“She’s like two months old. I bet she doesn’t have a lot of strong wants, Rock.”
“True.” Still I lifted her up and put her on the couch next to Nichelle. She took a few steps toward Niche’s knee and sniffed. “God, she’s cute, thought, right?”
“I can take care of this one, but you might follow that other one. It just went toward your bedroom.”
“Shit! I mean. Do kittens damage things?” I followed RogueKitty and discovered it trying to climb into the toilet. “No, little rogue. No toilets for you.” I shut the lid and then the bathroom door. And my bedroom door just in case. “Come back out into the living room with your sister.”
Her sister was contentedly exploring Niche’s clothes, apparently taking a olfactory inventory. It was exactly as adorable as it sounds, down to the expression on Niche’s face, which was caught between transfixed and merely tolerant.
I set my rogue down in the middle of Higgins’s old bed, which she set about scratching into some other structure. “Um. Shouldn’t you just like…just lie down peacefully and sleep for the next twelve hours? I thought that was a cat thing.”
“Maybe not a kitten thing, though.” ScientificExplorerKitty was batting at the drawstring of her hoodie. “They’re gonna need names, you know.”
“Um. In my head I’m referring to them as Rogue and Scientific Explorer?”
“I guess Rogue could work…” She started flicking her drawstring around the kitten’s head. The kitten, clearly convinced the drawstring was A Thing To Be Hunted, was attempting to capture and probably kill it.
I watched uneasily. “I really hope they’re just kittens.”
She laughed. “Right? Imagine trying to tell your mom you’d adopted some kind of creature from the—” She broke off. “Oh my god, I just figured out the perfect names for them. Mulder and Scully!”
“Mulder and Scully. You’re a genius.” I smoothed the fur between my little kitten’s ear back. “You’re clearly Mulder. You’re the troublemaker, missy.”
“And this one’s all like trying to gather data and stuff. Definitely Scully. Aww, Rocky, you’re a cat mama.”
“Okay, let’s not be weird about it.” But it was kind of intense. I’d left my house with no pets. And returned with two kittens. “Wow, though. I kind of have kittens now.”
“You totally do.” Niche lifted little Scully up and placed her on the table. “I should go. I’ll see you later, little kittens.”
“You don’t want to stay?” I asked, hoping I sounded super casual. Not that I wasn’t casual. I totally was. Super casual.
“Can’t. Work early tomorrow. But you’ll be at dinner Friday, right?”
I slumped dramatically. “God help me. I temporarily forgot about dinner.”
She grinned. “I’ll see you then. Mom and the grands are coming too, I bet your dad is in heaven.”
“Yeah, probably. I’ve sorta been dodging him.”
“Stop dodging your dad. Have fun with your kittens. Do you want me to set the alarm?”
“I’ll get it, thanks.”
She waved and let herself out.
And yes, my best frenemy knows how to set my security system. But so does my cousin, so that doesn’t mean anything. I mean, sure, Luis only has the code because Nichelle already did and he got all Ohh, so what makes Nichelle special? about it.
Whatever. Doesn’t matter. I got up and stretched…and then yelped because little needles had just pierced my thigh. And not in a risk-aware consensual kink way, either.
“Excuse me,” I said to Scully, who was clinging to my skirt and desperately trying to climb it. I scooped her up and nestled her against my boobs—once I made sure she’d pulled in her claws. “Lay off my fashion, lady. Also, when did you last eat?”
It took me some time to sort out where to put their food and how to set up the litter box (thank god for the internet, though since any five cat links led to at least five different commandments for how a litter box must be set up, what litter to use, whether or not to use a liner and on and on, it was also kind of obnoxious). Eventually I’d nudged the litter box into the corner on the far side of the peninsula, crammed in between my two stools and the wall. Mulder was making quick work of repurposing an empty water bottle, a spool of thread, and a ball point pen into cat toys.
Which, hey, that’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the unholy amount of money I spent on dog toys for Higgins.
Scully, on the other hand, had made it to the fourth shelf of the bookcase and was clearly trying to decide if she could leap to the curtains from there.
It seemed like a good time to make dinner.
I intentionally didn’t tell anyone about Mulder and Scully. As if adopting them wasn’t a commitment until I told my parents or something. Though my parents were, notably, pro-adoption, see: Rocky Fitzgerald, adopted human daughter of gargoyle folks. I mentioned my entire family is gargoyle cops, right? ALL OF THEM. Mom, Dad (retired), uncle, cousin. As if being the only human in the family wasn’t enough, I’m also the only non-cop. Except for my one adventure in crime solving I’m pretty much just your regular slightly Insta-famous fat white queer girl life coach.
Now with kittens.
I’d have to go to the pet store in the morning and get…stuff. Scratching things. Litter. Cat food. Other…things. Probably. Though it was nice I still had Higgins’s food bowl and water bowl, and M&S didn’t seem at all bothered by sharing.
I carefully inspected my bedroom, threw everything that wasn’t furniture into the closet, closed the closet door, and pulled Higgins’s old bed in. “You two can sleep there,” I told them severely. Could cats be trained? Probably, right? Though I knew dogs could be trained and I’d never managed to keep Higgins in his bed at night.
Still, I’d try. Before I’d even turned my back both of them were making a run for it. Which…oh well. I went to bed. So did Mulder and Scully. In my bed. Scully on my pillow. Mulder curled up at the foot of the bed. And you know, it was cute as fuck so I just nudged Scully to the side and lay down myself.
Which is where I stayed until the incessant ringing of my phone woke me up sometime the next morning. I hadn’t changed Niche’s contact name from the years we’d been fighting so it showed FRENEMY CALLING.
“God, what, it’s still practically nighttime.”
“What have you gotten us into this time?” Her voice was terse.
“What? What do you mean?”
“Seriously, Rocky, what the hell is up with those cats?”
“Nothing! What?” God, I’d forgotten about Mulder and Scully. But nope, now they were curled up together in a pile of microfleece blanket. “They’re asleep.”
Her voice rose. “I’ll be there in a second!” Then lower again. “Rocky, she’s dead. The cat lady. The literal woman with cats. She’s dead.”
“Wait, like Cat-the-cat-lady?”
I sat there in the darkish morning light coming in from the sides of my curtains, my brain trying to crank up to functioning. “But…how?”
“I can’t talk. You call around to your fairy friend and whoever else to see what you can find out about her. You know the kind of thing I’m talking about. I’ll come by later.” Click.
I put down my phone and sank lower in bed until I could tug the covers up to my chin.
As much as I resented the implication that this was my fault, I also understood it. Because as I couldn’t stop thinking about Cat-the-dead-cat-lady. And wondering what the hell I’d gotten us into this time.
For all the goodies about Two Black Cats, check out the book page!