“I can’t believe you did this.” Lori glared at the two lumps of fur and bandages. The landlord better not find out they were harboring animals or they’d get slapped with a non-refundable fee on top of the rent they could barely afford.
Her husband raised helpless hands and gave her a bleak look. “You know I didn’t mean to.”
“I know. It’s just…” She ran her hands over her swollen stomach and tried not to cry. This last trimester of her pregnancy had made her so emotional, and she hated it. “It was a lot of money, Jerry. We were already tight on cash and now this.” She wasn’t trying to rub his face in it. He was a good husband and a hard worker, but $2800 to a vet was ridiculous.
Jerry’s shoulders slumped. He hugged his arms around himself, his worried gaze spread between the yellow dog and the black cat before staring at Lori’s eight months-worth of baby belly. “If I can’t take responsibility for hurting a couple of strays, what kind of father will I ever be?”
She did cry, just a little, and kissed him with a smile. He was a good man with a good heart. How could he ever be anything but a great father? “I love you. You’re going to do just fine.” They shared an awkward hug until he settled on holding her carefully from behind while they watched their house guests. The kitchen clock chimed 7 p.m. and the dog lifted his wobbly head, ears pricked, eyes glazed. “He looks better than he did when you brought him in here. I guess the drugs are wearing off.” There was no movement from inside the gray cat carrier. “How long do you have to leave the cat in there? Is it a him or a her?”
“Him. They’re both boys. The vet said to keep them separate for another day or two. He said since they’re familiar with each other and they’re both hurting, they might want to sleep together, but the dog might accidentally roll over on the cat and undo everything they fixed.” He squeezed her a little tighter. “I told him what happened. What I did.”
“Hey.” She turned around in his arms and put a hand on his face. “It was an accident.”
“Hitting the dog was an accident. Hurting the cat was on purpose.” His voice was bitter, full of self-recrimination.
“Jerry! If a cat attacked me I’d kick the hell out of it, too. Anybody would!” she said fiercely. “You were defending yourself. You’re lucky it didn’t claw your eyes out.”
“I guess,” he said, shrugging. “It sure tried.” The scratches on his face had scabbed over but there would probably be scars through one eyebrow.
She tugged on his earlobe. “Are you listening to me? You could have left them out there and you didn’t. You braved rush hour traffic to get the dog off the highway.”
“But the cat-“
“You said the dog was either chasing the cat or following it. Maybe if they were smart enough to stay off the damn highway, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” She paused, taking a deep, calming breath and laid her head against his chest where she could hear his heartbeat. “You could have wrecked. Or worse. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Jer.”
There were worst case scenarios in the back of her brain, but Jerry started to pet her hair and it helped her relax. “Guess I just feel bad. I think they’re friends. I think the cat was trying to protect the dog.” She made a noise in her throat and Jerry chuckled. “I’m serious. He’s a beautiful dog, isn’t he? There was blood coming out of his nose and mouth and one of his legs was all—“ She swatted his hip, hard. “Sorry. It’s just, I thought I killed that dog. He was crying when I dragged him off the road. And then that crazy black cat tried to scratch my face off and, Jesus… You know me, Lori. You know I don’t go around kicking cats. I love cats. But I thought maybe it had rabies and…” He swallowed loud enough to be heard, and said hoarsely, “I didn’t mean to hurt it like that.”
He wiped surreptitiously at his face and Lori sighed. Her husband the animal lover. The cat could have been rabid and foaming at the mouth and Jerry would still have guilt.
“The dog, did I tell you? He looked like he was half-dead but he came back to life with a grudge as soon as I put my hands on that cat. That's when I figured out they were just trying to protect each other. From me. That's what made me feel terrible. Maybe they grew up together. Is it weird they made me think about how I’d feel if somebody hurt one of my friends? Or you?”
Lori hadn’t thought of it like that, what with animals being animals and people being people. She turned around to look at the huge dog who was staring back at her with sad, dark eyes. It shuffled around slowly, as well as the cone and bandages and hard cast allowed, until he could get his face next to the carrier where the black cat still slept. He snuffled at the cage door and whined once before he laid his head down and closed his eyes.
Friends. Family. She watched them, considered it. Shit, was she really going to cry about a couple of animals who might love each other? Her hormones were out of control.
The baby kicked hard, and then started shifting and stretching, feeling like a little sea lion inside her. She couldn't wait for the pregnancy to be over. And once she could hold her baby in her arms? God help anyone who ever hurt her family.
“Are we keeping them?” She didn't even know if she wanted them, but she knew Jerry would say yes.
“I forgot to tell you. The vet doesn’t think they’re strays. The cat had a couple of fleas on him—don't worry, they cleaned him up before surgery—and he’s underfed, but the dog might actually be pedigreed. He suggested we put an ad in the paper.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared. “An ad? Is he going to pay for it?”
“I can, uh… make some ‘Found’ signs and print them from the office instead?”
She smiled. “Okay.” He smiled back at her. “I’m not messing with the cat litter or changing the newspapers so don’t even ask.” He smirked, cocking one dark eyebrow. “I mean it, Jerry!” He laughed silently. She sighed. “I might feed them though. While you’re at work.”
When the ad was answered Lori was sad to see Cat and Dog go. It didn’t take long, a little over a week, and one phone call from a kid who sounded like he was about to cry right there on the phone. Two teenagers came by during dinner. Dog had started hobbling around and howling before the doorbell ever went off and Lori’d had to bite her lip while Jerry answered the door.
The animals were barely mobile, Dog healing much faster than Cat, but Lori could tell by the way Cat struggled to get to his feet and the way his tail curled into a vibrating, black question mark that he was happy to see his owner. Or owners? She was confused if the boys were brothers or friends and whether Dog and Cat lived together or not. But it didn’t matter. What mattered was Dog and Cat had been found by their family.
The blond boy introduced himself, polite and soft-spoken, while the dark-haired boy moved straight past them to roll around on the carpet next to the animals, touching them gingerly. She could tell by his voice he had been the one on the phone. She could also tell he loved them very much. It pleased her. Dog and Cat had been inseparable; sleeping together, cleaning each other, cuddling. It looked like cuddling to her anyway. They deserved to be with people who loved them as much as they loved each other.
An older man came in, gathered Dog gently into his arms, and carried him out to the car. A nice car! He put Dog in the backseat where Dog immediately pressed his face against the window, anxiously watching the man walk back to the apartment. She offered the small carrier for Cat and in less than ten minutes everybody was gone and she looked at the empty place where she’d gotten used to seeing her pets.
Jerry walked over and started breaking down the kiddie gate where it encircled part of the dining room. “I guess this thing came in handy early, huh?” He sounded just like the kid on the phone. She started to cry and turned away, noticing an envelope on the table. Small, waxy manila, unsealed. It was a cashier’s check.
“Oh my god!”
“What? What’s wrong? Is it the baby? Is it time?”
She gawped and gave the check to Jerry, who gawped, too. “Oh my god! He said there was a reward but he didn’t say how much! Oh my god, Lori!”
Sniffling, she wiped her eyes and chuckled, and the baby kicked and kicked until she took the check away from her wonderful husband who was incapable of saving money. She said, “For the baby.”
“Fine. Yeah, that’s good. Wow.” He was dazed and smiling. It was a good look on him. She hated to spoil his joy but she had to ask.
“Did you tell them what happened? Everything?”
Jerry sobered. “Yeah. Guess what? This isn’t the first time Cat and Dog have gotten into trouble. The kid even had a couple of scars on his hand from Cat, too,” he said, grinning.
“You know, Jer, we keep… did you ask for their real names? Cat and Dog?”
Jerry looked crestfallen. “I can’t believe I didn’t ask. We were talking about other stuff and then the older guy took the pets and... I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. They’ll always be Cat and Dog to us, right?”
They finished dinner in quiet contemplation, the cashier’s check on the table between them.
“Honey,” she said, stabbing at her green beans. “I know we’ve talked about having just one child but I’ve been thinking. How do you feel about at least two?”
He leaned across the table far enough to smoosh her lips with a quick kiss. “At least two sounds perfect. Can we get a dog, too? And a cat?”