Star Dillon was quietly playing with her toy cars in the living room one day, waiting for her mother and brother to return from the doctor’s office, and then her father appeared with a smile on his face.
“There’s a surprise for you in my workshop,” he told her, motioning with his hand, and she got up to follow him. She hoped he’d built something fun for her, as he did from time to time.
“What is it?” she asked as they walked into the workshop, which had been converted from the family garage.
“Shhhh,” Roscoe whispered, and directed her to look under one of the tables. She poked her head underneath, and saw a cat curled up with a litter of newborn kittens.
“Kittens!” shrieked Star excitedly. “Can we keep them, Daddy?”
“I don’t think so,” he said with firm conviction. “What are we going to do with six cats?”
“Ohhhhh, but they can stay in my room!” she pleaded. “Can we keep one or two? I’ll feed them and look after them! Pleeeeeeease?”
“Well…maybe one or two,” he conceded with a slight smile, and her face lit up. “We’ll have to ask your mother first.”
“She’ll say yes!” Star declared confidently. She scooped up one of the kittens, despite the concerned look from the mother cat, and cuddled it to her cheek. The kitten mewed feebly and squirmed.
“Be gentle. It’s just a baby,” Roscoe cautioned, putting a hand on her shoulder to slow her down.
“Why are their eyes all closed?” she asked curiously.
“Because they’re very young. When they get older, their eyes will open and they’ll walk around. But for now, they need to stay with their mom.”
“So they can’t sleep in my bed tonight?” she asked, disappointed, and he shook his head. She placed the kitten back in the nest, and it squirmed up to its mother, finding her by sense of smell and touch.
“Can I at least name them?”
“Of course, but you should wait until Nate gets here. He’ll be unhappy if he doesn’t get to help choose some names.”
“Oh, his names all stink,” she scoffed. “He’ll call them ‘Blackie’ and ‘Kitty’ and stuff like that.”
“Nevertheless, you should wait. It’s only fair.”
Star looked exasperated, but knew her father was not likely to budge on the matter. Instead, she knelt down next to the cats and privately started thinking up names for them in her head. With an approving smile, Roscoe returned to his drawing table and began designing plans for an automatic cat food dispenser.
When Lisa and Nathaniel returned home an hour later, Star met them at the door.
“Mommy, Mommy! Guess what we found in Daddy’s workshop? Kittens!”
“Kittens?” Lisa and Nate exclaimed in unison, and the little boy jumped up and down with delight.
“Daddy said we could keep one or two if you said yes, Mommy, so can we pleeeeeeease?”
“I don’t see why not,” Lisa said with a smile, and the kids celebrated by dancing around her with excited joy.
“I wanna see the kitties!” Nate demanded, so Star led them into the workshop and pointed out the nest. He stared at them in awe, never having seen anything like it before. “We should name that one ‘Blackie’!” he announced, and Roscoe had to suppress a grin.
“They’re so tiny!” Lisa noted with surprise. She was expecting an older litter. “Roscoe, what are we going to do with them?”
“I figured we could take them to the Humane Society or something,” he replied, shrugging.
“No way, they’re too young! We should keep them until they’re old enough to leave their mother.”
“That’ll be weeks,” he reminded her, getting a sinking feeling they would end up with more than two cats.
“That’s okay, I’m sure the kids would love to have them around for a while.”
“Yeah!” they agreed enthusiastically.
“I’m going to teach them to follow me around and do tricks!” Star declared, and Lisa giggled a bit.
“Cats don’t usually work that way, sweetie,” her mother told her. “They like to do their own thing. I had a kitten when I was little…”
Her voice suddenly trailed off, and Roscoe could tell by the look on her face that it involved an unpleasant memory. Considering her family background, he could reasonably guess what might have happened.
“All right, hon,” he replied, trying to take her mind off it and distract the kids before they could ask her. “We’ll keep the kittens until they’re old enough, and then find homes for them if we can. And for the mother.”
“You guys are the best!” Star squealed happily. “C’mon, Nate, let’s name them.”
Before heading to bed that evening, Lisa had placed some old towels under the little family, making sure they were warm and comfortable. The mother cat sometimes seemed a bit anxious about the humans’ presence, but mostly appeared sleepy and content.
“What precious little babies!” Lisa cooed as she climbed into bed, maternal instincts fired up by the kittens. She cuddled up to Roscoe, who had been reading in bed for the past hour. “Maybe we should have another baby.”
“Good God, why?” he asked, appalled. “Two are a handful as it is.”
“Well, maybe…but I miss having a baby around the house.”
“Hopefully the kittens will get it out of your system. I don’t think I could handle another child; I have enough grey hairs already.”
“Oh, you’re such a grump,” she scolded. “I know you love kids, and enjoy having someone to teach. And wouldn’t you like to show off your virility with another baby?”
“You are attempting to manipulate me, and it won’t work.”
“You’re no fun,” she grumbled petulantly, pouting at him. “But I’ll convince you eventually...”
“Wouldn’t count on it, hon,” he replied calmly, and picked up his book again. Chagrined, Lisa snuggled closer to him, intent on ensuring he couldn’t ignore her. He put an arm around her in response, but simply kept reading.
“How do you figure the cat got inside?” she asked.
“I left the garage door open for a while, so maybe she crept in then. Guess I shouldn’t do that in the future.”
They were silent for several minutes; he read patiently as she teasingly rubbed her hand over his chest and belly in an attempt to seduce him or win him over.
“Have you changed your mind yet, Roscoe?”
Roscoe awoke early, as he often did, for he rarely slept more than a few hours a night. He wandered down to his workshop to get some tasks done, only to find Star curled up next to the cats’ nest.
“Star!” he exclaimed with surprise and a little consternation. She looked up at him sleepily, yawning. “What on Earth are you doing here?”
“I thought the kitties might be lonely…” she confessed. “And since you said they couldn’t stay on my bed, I came down here to sleep with them.”
“Well, I want you to sleep in your own bed, all right?” her father told her. “It’s chilly in here, and I don’t like you in here unsupervised. This equipment is not for kids to play with.”
“I wasn’t touching anything!”
“That’s fine, I still don’t want you sleeping in here. Go back to bed.”
“No fair!” she complained as she stomped away to her room. Her outrage disturbed the mother cat, who looked around anxiously, and the kittens began squalling when their mother stirred. Roscoe looked over at them and made a face.
“Oh, for heaven’s…” he muttered with exasperation, and walked over to squat down next to them. Tentatively, he offered his hand to the mother, who rubbed against it, and he scratched her head. After petting her for a few minutes, he reached over and stroked some of the kittens.
“Maybe you guys are cold in here too,” he mused, feeling the chill in the barely-insulated garage. He’d been meaning to get around to fixing that for quite a while. “I can put a heater next to you, but it might get too hot, so…well, Lisa and the kids will be thrilled, at any rate.”
He carefully picked up the cats and carried them into the living room, then fetched the towels and set up a new nest for them in a quiet corner. The mother seemed to accept this, spending some time rearranging the bed into a comfy configuration, and settled down for the kittens to nurse. Roscoe watched silently, thinking back to when his own children were newborns -- Lisa was right, the kittens were fairly reminiscent of them. Tiny and helpless. It had always frightened him a bit, even as he’d wanted to protect them. He’d been afraid he would break them or his mental illness would inadvertently cause him to harm them, which was what had finally convinced him to get and stay on medication. He wanted to be stable for the sake of his family.
“I hope you guys are comfortable here,” he said softly, not wanting to wake the other residents of the house. “It’s nice and warm, and probably safer away from my tools anyway. I guess you’re officially members of the Dillon household now; welcome to the Hotel California of families.”
He scratched the mother’s head as she purred contentedly, and went back to his workshop to finish building the cat food dispenser.