“I’m not criticizing or anything, mate,” says Stevie. “But don’t you think you’d be better off getting an actual girlfriend instead of another cat?”
Pepe has thought of that, yes. “A cat’s easier to take care of. And David could use a friend.”
“Some electroshock behavior correction is what that monster could use,” Stevie mutters as he turns to scrub at the sink. Behind him he hears Pepe telling a lady sorry, they’re closing in about five minutes, the espresso machine is already off, but she can come back tomorrow morning at nine when they re-open.
“Sorry, what were you saying?” Pepe asks once the disgruntled customer has been sent on her way.
Stevie slaps on a smile. “Oh, nothing. So have you thought of a name yet?”
The foster kitten’s previous owner was a guy who recently moved back to Spain. Probably for the best, Pepe figures, given he’d named his month-old kitten after the town where he was born; once you’ve hit that point, it’s better to actually do something about your problems instead of projecting onto your pets.
(And that might sound hypocritical, but Pepe does not need a girlfriend. No matter what Stevie says.)
Balancing the carrier carefully under his arm, Pepe unlocks his apartment door one-handed and nudges it open with his foot.
“I’m home,” he calls softly. Moments later the faint clicking of paws on tiled floors resolves into a black blur tangling around his feet. David nips at Pepe’s ankle and purrs into his sock. Pepe doesn’t understand why Stevie hates David so much, really; David is a perfectly affectionate cat. Just misunderstood.
Pepe sets the carrier down, and that catches David’s attention. He stares at the box suspiciously, ears flat against his head as he backs into Pepe. Pepe scratches David’s neck.
“Want to meet your new friend? He’s a foster, too, just like you.”
David hides behind Pepe, watching his human undo the wire latches and reach inside, murmuring coaxing sounds all the while.
“So this is Silva,” Pepe says, scratching the new tabby kitten under his chin. He says Silva the way he says David, the i warm and drawn out like a Spanish afternoon. “Silva, meet David. You’re going to be friends.”
Silva yawns, blinks sleepily at the black cat staring up at him.
David stays like that—frozen, tail twitching—for exactly two and a half seconds. Then he runs into Pepe’s bedroom and hides there for the rest of the evening, refusing to come out from behind the laundry basket and hissing whenever Pepe tries to bribe him with his favorite football squeaky toy.
Luckily for all of them, Silva proves irresistible. Even to David.
“You know, I’m impressed,” says Stevie as they watch Silva chase David around the living room, pouncing on his tail and darting away before David can catch him. Eventually David gets tired of this and just sits on the smaller kitten. Silva lets out a rather pathetic mew, but David doesn’t budge. After a couple of half-hearted wriggles, Silva gives up and nips at David’s nose instead.
It takes Pepe a moment to tear his eyes away from his stupid cats, and a moment more to remember what Stevie was saying. “Impressed about what?”
“That your cats haven’t killed each other yet? I was under the impression that your David hated the entire world.”
“He was abandoned when he was a kitten,” Pepe says defensively. “He’s had a tough life.”
“Yeah, because he likes to pick fights with animals twice his size. Remember that time with the red fox?”
“Shut up. Silva likes him.”
“So you have a pair of gay cats. Like I said: impressed.”
Stevie manages to keep a straight face until Pepe hits him with a pillow. David looks up at the humans for a moment, curious, before putting his head back down on Silva and closing his eyes.
Silva has a visit to the vet’s scheduled for Thursday. Now, David has always been difficult when it comes to any kind of exams or shots, but Silva is so docile Pepe thinks he might actually get through the ordeal unscathed for once.
He continues to live in hope right up until he tries to leave the apartment and—
“Son of a bitch! David!”
David stares up, unrepentant. He’s latched onto Pepe’s pant leg, claws sinking through Pepe’s newest pair of khakis to inflict sharp pinpricks of pain on his shin. Pepe shakes his leg, attempting to dislodge his cat.
“David, for the love of—”
That does nothing except nearly make him lose his balance, as David stubbornly holds on. Pepe puts the carrier down, and finally David lets go, revealing the ten identical tears left by his claws. Pepe swears and stomps back to his bedroom to change.
When he returns, David is sitting atop Silva’s carrier with an obstinate look in his eyes. Pepe groans inwardly.
“Okay, fine. You want to come along?” He gets David’s carrier as well. “Come on, then. You’re not going to both fit in there.”
Which is how Pepe ends up lugging not one cat, but two down to his car (“You need to stop sleeping on Silva all the time, David. You’re getting fat.”), muttering to himself about possessive boyfriends and unhealthy relationships.
(Eventually, Pepe will buy a carrier that’s big enough for two, because watching David press his face against the wire caging to stare mournfully at Silva in the other carrier is the most pathetic thing ever and, really, it’s just easier this way.)
Stevie drags his feet like a sulking six-year-old. “If I’d wanted to spend my Saturdays shopping, I could’ve just asked Alex out.”
“Yes, but that would involve you asking a girl on a date,” Pepe replies blithely, strolling into the pet store with his shopping list in hand. He smiles at the scowl on Stevie’s face. “C’mon. You’re helping out a friend in need. Think of all the good karmic points you can rack up for your next life when you’re reborn as a handsome, successful footballer.”
“Ha, ha,” Stevie mutters. “I hope you’re reborn as a mouse and your cat is reborn exactly as he is.”
“Please. David loves me.”
“Because you feed him.”
“He loves Silva, too.”
“Two words, mate,” Stevie says, stomping through the chew toy section. “Gay. Cats.”
“I prefer codependent.”
“I suppose you’d also prefer a candlelight dinner and maybe some chocolate roses to go with that kibble!”
Pepe opens his mouth to say, only if you’re paying, but notices the store clerk giving them a furtively curious look. Replays the conversation over in his head, from an outside perspective and. …okay, awkward.
“Hello,” the clerk says politely. “Can I help you find anything?”
“No. I’m good, I’m.” Pepe waves his shopping list. “I just need to pick up a few things. Be right back, Stevie, don’t move!”
And before Stevie can formulate the words with which to yell at him for being irresponsible and evasive and a bloody terrible friend, Pepe ducks into the adjacent aisle.
Twenty minutes later, during which he has not been a.) chased down, b.) shouted at, or c.) threatened with imminent catnapping, Pepe cautiously backtracks to the chew toy section. Where he finds Stevie engaged in conversation with the same clerk from before.
That clerk’s name, as Pepe learns on the drive home, is Xabi.
Xabi is from Spain, loves to cook, and works part-time at the pet store to pay for graduate school. He is charming and eloquent and has a lovely smile. He also owns a dog and, apparently, Stevie has agreed to walk him sometime.
“I thought you didn’t like dogs,” says Pepe.
Stevie’s ears are pink. “Its owner’s not half bad. ...Shut up, Reina.”
Pepe manages to keep his snickering in check until they reach his apartment and, upon opening the door, are greeted with the sight of David and Silva attempting some form of rough-housing in which Silva doesn’t so much fight back as roll over and let David paw at his belly, nipping back only when David bites his nose.
Stevie finds his voice first. “What are they doing?”
“I dunno,” Pepe deadpans, “but maybe you'll be able to tell me after you’ve walked Xabi’s dog.”
The combined effect of Stevie’s strangled protest and Pepe’s laughter makes the cats pause, looking up at the humans as one. David flattens his ears when Stevie shoves Pepe, but Pepe just laughs harder, and after a while Silva gets bored and nuzzles at David’s neck again.
By the time Pepe manages to finally shut the door in Stevie’s blushing, indignant face, David and Silva have relocated to their basket and are snoozing with paws intertwined.
Pepe reaches down to scratch Silva’s cheek. Only his fine reflexes, gleaned from years of living with a murderous feline, save him from digital amputation by David’s instinctive bite. The black cat glares at him through slitted eyes.
David flicks one ear warningly. Smiling to himself, Pepe goes to unpack the shopping bags.