Akihito rests his head on Asami’s chest, listening as both their heart rates calm down. He’s nearly drifting off to sleep when he hears rain.
That’s strange. The forecast said it would be clear.
He shifts to look out the window. Moonlight is streaming in.
“What’s wrong?” Asami asks.
“It sounds like rain, but the sky is clear,” Akihito says.
“It’s probably just a train or a truck,” Asami says.
But Akihito’s reporter instincts have already kicked in. He slides out from the covers and gathers his clothes from the floor. He goes out onto the small terrace attached to their bedroom, and the sound grows louder. He tracks it down to the basket where he keeps his spare potting soil. When he peers in, he can’t see anything. When he reaches his hand towards the basket, a pair of golden eyes suddenly appears, glowing at him with vertical pupils.
Asami comes hurtling through the door, gun in hand. “What is it?” he asks urgently.
Akihito reaches his hand hesitantly towards the basket. Something rough scrapes against his hand, and he sighs in relief. “It’s a cat. I think it’s probably Momoe from downstairs.”
He reaches down to pet her, and her fur feels wet. She meows plaintively, as if she’s in pain, and something next to her makes that rain-like sound again. Akihito reaches towards the source of the noise and feels a tiny fluffball.
Momoe growls a warning.
“I think she’s had kittens! She feels wet. Can you please grab a light?”
Asami turns on the terrace wall sconces before heading inside to grab a flashlight.
“Oh, no, I think she’s hurt!” Akihito cries.
He takes the flashlight from Asami and gently examines her head. She’s got a long gash on the back of her head, and it’s still oozing.
“She probably needs stitches.”
Akihito shines the light on the kittens, inspecting them without touching them. As far as he can tell, they look fine.
“They can’t be that old; their eyes aren’t even open yet,” he says.
“Which apartment is the owner in?” Asami asks.
“I’m not sure. She lives on the thirty-eighth floor, and her name is Nakamura-san.”
While Asami calls the lobby so they can track down the owner, Akihito lines a cardboard box with a blanket. He places a hot water bottle in the box then places the box just inside the door. He gets some leftover fish and a bowl of water from the kitchen and places them in the box.
“Momoe, here, girl,” he calls softly.
Momoe sniffs the air. She stands up, but stays in the basket, eying Akihito warily. He backs up to the far corner of the bedroom, and after a few minutes, she comes over, quickly inspects the box, and then returns to the basket. She brings the kittens over one at a time. Whenever she’s away from the basket, the rain-crier mews piteously again. Momoe brings the rain-crier in last.
As soon as Momoe has all three kittens in the box, she licks them clean, settles down on her side, and then reaches out towards the food. She can’t quite reach it, so Akihito tilts the bowl for her.
Asami comes back. “Nakamura-san was taken to the hospital in an ambulance this afternoon. Apparently she fell on her balcony trying to save the cat from a hawk.”
“Oh no! I wonder if that’s how Momoe got this scratch,” Akihito says. “And I wonder if the kittens are alright. Do you think the hawk got some of them?”
Asami says, “I have no idea. How did the cat get up to our terrace?”
“She must have scaled the building, looking for a safe place to keep the kittens when she couldn’t get back inside,” Akihito muses. “I think we should take them to a vet. This cut’s still bleeding, and it looks pretty deep. If she’s been bleeding since this afternoon…”
“I’ll get the car ready. Do you think she’ll let you move them inside that box?”
“I’ll close the flaps,” Akihito says.
Within two minutes, they’re on the elevator. “Did Kirishima-san find an emergency vet?”
“Matsunaga-sensei will meet us at her clinic.”
Akihito raises his eyebrows.
“She’s Aki-chan’s vet.”
Matsunaga-sensei anesthetizes, cleans, and stitches the wound on Momoe’s head while she’s still in the box with the kittens.
“Do you know how old they are?” Akihito asks.
“About a week,” Matsunaga says. She looks at Momoe’s chart (it turns out she’s actually her regular vet). “That lines up with when she was bred.”
She examines each of the kittens in turn, pulling them out of the box but making sure Momoe can always see the kitten. Momoe watches her carefully and growls once or twice but is otherwise well behaved.
“Two boys and a girl. They’re all healthy,” she declares. “Now it’s Mama’s turn.” She takes Momoe to a back room for x-rays.
As soon as Momoe leaves, the littlest kitten starts crying like the rain again. Akihito scoops her up and holds her against his heart, and she soon calms down. “I’ll call you Amaya for now. Mama will be back soon, Amaya. Shhhh.”
When Momoe returns, he places Amaya back in the box with the others. After another few minutes, a vet tech brings the x-rays in along with the preliminary blood results.
Matsunaga examines them and frowns. “She has some internal injuries. She’ll need additional surgery. And her blood count is low.”
“What about the kittens?” Akihito asks.
“She’s going to be too sick to care for them for the next day or two, at least. We’ll need to find someone to foster them.”
“We can take care of them,” Akihito immediately volunteers.
“It takes a lot of work. They need to be fed every two to three hours around the clock,” Matsunaga warns. “And they need to be stimulated to go to the bathroom.”
Akihito gulps. “I’ve helped my friend before. Just teach me what to do, and we’ll manage. I have friends who will help.”
Asami looks at him. “You can’t just volunteer other people to help.”
“Kou works from home, and he’s taken care of abandoned kittens before. I know he’ll help. Anyway, my schedule is pretty flexible for the next few days, so I’ll be doing most of the work.”
“Don’t get too attached to them. Remember that they belong to Nakamura-san.”
“I know,” Akihito says.
“You’ve already named one of them,” Asami points out.
“Well of course I need to call them something!” Akihito counters.
While Matsunaga prepares Momoe for surgery, the vet tech teaches Akihito how to care for the kittens and sends them home with enough supplies to get through the next twelve hours (including a heat lamp to keep the kittens warm).
On the way home, Asami sends a message to Kirishima to inform him of the situation. “We can have some of the guards help take care of the kittens while you’re working, if Kou can’t help.”
Akihito texts Kou with one hand while he soothes the kittens with the other. Amaya is crying the whole time, so after he finishes sending the message, Akihito scoops her up and holds her to his chest. She soon falls asleep.
When they head upstairs, Asami carries the box while Akihito carries Amaya.
“Remember not to get too attached,” Asami warns.
“Maybe Nakamura-san will let us buy her,” Akihito says, peering up at Asami with puppy eyes.
Asami sighs. “Bombays are a rare breed. Nakamura has probably already sold her to someone.”
“Oh.” Akihito’s face falls. “Well, I’m still going to take good care of them. She misses her mama, don’t you Amaya?” He lifts the kitten to his face and nuzzles her with his head. Amaya starts purring. “That’s so adorable,” Akihito squeals.
Asami sighs again but doesn’t say anything else.
Akihito feeds Amaya. Asami picks up the two other bottles and holds one up for each of the boys. “It’ll be faster if we feed them all at once,” Asami explains.
A half hour later, Asami and Akihito settle into bed. Amaya immediately starts crying again. Akihito lifts her into the bed.
“Matsunaga says it’s important to keep them together in the box. You could roll over and smother her,” Asami says.
Akihito sighs and puts her back in the box. He thinks for a moment then snaps his fingers. He goes and gets a futon from the storage closet, making a bed for himself right next to the box. He lies down and reaches his arm into the box, rubbing Amaya’s back.
“Are you going to sleep like that all night?” Asami asks.
“Why not?” Akihito asks.
“It looks uncomfortable.” Asami settles back on the bed.
Akihito sets an alarm for three hours later, but they’re awakened in two and a half hours by the plaintive cries of one of the boys. Akihito pats his head then tries to pull his hand away to prepare the next bottles, but the boy grabs onto his hand and starts suckling on his finger.
“Hey, I’ll get your milk. Just give me my hand back,” Akihito whispers.
Asami sits up. “Is it time to feed them again?”
“I guess so,” Akihito says. “This boy is hungry and couldn’t wait for the alarm.” He’s still trying to free his hand.
“He thinks he’s the king of the castle, eh?” Asami asks, getting up to help. Asami prepares the bottles while Akihito soothes the kittens. They feed them the same as before, and they’re back to sleep in less than thirty minutes.
Akihito is awakened by a phone call at 6am.
“Kittens?!” Kou cries excitedly.
“Good morning to you, too,” Akihito grumbles.
“I’ll be right over. When do you have to work today?”
Akihito falls back asleep. He’s awakened by the intercom thirty minutes later.
“I can’t believe you forgot to tell the lobby I was coming,” Kou grumbles. “It took me fifteen minutes to convince them to call up to you.”
“Sorry. I’m exhausted,” Akihito says. “I was up half the night.”
He leads Kou back to the bedroom but pauses just outside the door.
“Shh. Asami’s probably still sleeping,” he warns.
But Asami is crouched next to the box, rubbing Amaya’s back when they enter.
“I think they’re ready to eat again,” he says, standing. Akihito blushes when he realizes Asami is wearing nothing but a pair of briefs. Asami walks over to the chair and grabs his robe, wrapping it around his waist before coming over to shake Kou’s hand.
“Did you sleep here all night?” Kou asks, crouching down to pet the kittens.
“The littlest one cries if you’re not holding her. She misses her mama,” Akihito says. “I’m calling her Amaya for now.”
“What about the other two?”
“I haven’t named them yet.”
“And we don’t need to,” Asami points out. “Nakamura-san, their owner, might be coming home today, for all we know.”
Akihito ignores him. “The biggest one acts like the king of the castle, according to Asami. What about Shiro?”
Asami raises his eyebrows. “The cat’s black,” he points out.
“I know. That’s why it’s funny. Shiro, using the kanji for castle, not white.”
Kou laughs. “That’s a great name. What about the third one?”
“Hmm. He’s also a boy. I guess he’s the middle child; he doesn’t draw attention to himself the way the other two do.”
The unnamed kitten raises its face expectantly.
Kou and Akihito laugh.
“What about Hitoshi?” Kou suggests.
“And we can call him Toshi for short,” Akihito agrees. “See how clever he is? He knew we were trying to name him.”
“He can’t even open his eyes,” Asami points out. “How can you tell if he’s clever?”
“He is,” Akihito defends, scooping Hitoshi up to cuddle him. Hitoshi begins purring, but Amaya starts crying again.
Kou scoops her up. “No wonder you chose Amaya for her,” he says. “She really does sound like the rain.”
Amaya won’t stop crying until Akihito trades cats with Kou.
“Wow, she’s really attached to you,” Kou says.
“She’s so sweet,” Akihito says.
“And she belongs to Nakamura-san,” Asami points out again. I really hope Nakamura comes home soon before this gets any more out of hand, Asami thinks to himself.
They each feed one of the kittens.
“You guys look exhausted. I’ll take care of them out here until you’re ready to get up,” Kou says, lifting the box.
“But…” Akihito says.
“They’ll be fine,” Asami says. He shuts the bedroom door behind Kou.
Four hours later, Akihito stumbles out into the living room.
“How are they?” he asks.
Amaya immediately perks up at the sound of his voice and crawls her way to the nearest corner of the box, crying to be picked up. As soon as he places her next to his heart, she starts purring.
“I’ve never seen a kitten get so attached to a person so quickly,” Kou says.
“It’s because she misses her mama,” Akihito says. “I’m sure once she has her mama back, she’ll forget all about me.”
As Akihito strokes her back, Kou eyes him closely. “You’re not fooling anyone. Asami’s right. You’d better not get too attached.” Kou saves his work on his laptop and stretches. He stands. “I can make some breakfast for you. They’re due for another feeding as soon as Shiro decides it’s time. It should be soon.”
“That’d be awesome. Thanks.”
“Is Asami-san going to eat, too?”
“Yeah. Are you?”
Kou glances at the clock. “It’s pretty much lunch time for me, actually…”
“We usually eat a traditional Japanese breakfast, but whatever you want to make is fine. There’s some leftover chicken karaage in the fridge. You know where everything is. Help yourself to whatever.”
As Kou heads to the kitchen, Shiro announces that it’s lunchtime for the kittens. Akihito prepares the bottles one-handed, holding Amaya in his other arm. Asami comes out of the bedroom and helps feed them.
At four o’clock, Akihito calls Kou.
“How are they?” he asks.
“They’re doing fine. Amaya misses you,” Kou says.
“How are you holding up? I’m done with work for now, but I wanted to stop by the hospital to see Nakamura-san.”
“She’s the owner, right? Go ahead and visit her. We’re fine here.”
“Thanks, Kou. I’ll cook your favorite for dinner tonight.”
Akihito buys a bouquet of flowers in the hospital gift shop.
“Takaba-kun!” Nakamura cries when she sees him. “I heard you found Momoe and the kittens. I’m so relieved. How are they doing?”
“The kittens are fine. Matsunaga-sensei called and said that Momoe has made it through surgery and is recovering.”
Nakamura nods. “I just talked to her. Apparently the kittens can rejoin Momoe in another day or two, but her milk supply might dry up, so they might have to be bottle-fed.”
“We can keep taking care of them as long as you need us to,” Akihito says.
“That’s very kind of you. I’ll pay you,” Nakamura offers.
“Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly! The kittens are so sweet,” Akihito says.
“How many survived?” Nakamura asks.
“Umm… there are three. How many were there?”
Nakamura sighs. “Four. The hawk got one of them, after all. I should have never let Momoe outside, but she loves it so much, and I had a nice basket for the kittens. I’ve never even seen a hawk out there before.”
“I’m sorry,” Akihito says.
“I promised the stud owner that he could have his first pick of the boy cats, and I’m going to keep one of the females for myself, but if you want, I can give you the third cat,” Nakamura said.
“Really?” Akihito cries. Then his face falls. “There are two boys and a girl. The girl is really sweet.”
“I’m too old to deal with a male cat spraying things,” Nakamura says gently.
“The boys are sweet, too,” Akihito says. He tells Nakamura about the kittens’ escapades.
After ten minutes, Nakamura seems to be tired, so Akihito excuses himself.
“Thank you for taking such good care of the kittens. You chose good names for them; I’ll keep them.” Nakamura reaches for her wallet and pulls out a two-thousand yen note.
“I told you, you don’t have to pay me,” Akihito says.
“I should at least pay for their food,” Nakamura insists. “I’m going to be here for at least a month. If it gets to be too much for you, please let me know, and I’ll find someone else to take care of them. This won’t cover all their expenses, but please keep the receipts, and I’ll reimburse you for the rest.”
Akihito reluctantly takes the money. He stops at a store to buy some more supplies for the kittens before heading back to the penthouse.
As soon as he walks inside, Kou thrusts Amaya at him. Akihito holds her to his chest and she stops crying.
“Finally,” Kou breathes. “She was starting to drive me crazy. She started when she heard your voice over the phone, and she hasn’t stopped since.”
“Nakamura-san is going to keep her,” Akihito says. “So I’ll be able to visit her whenever I want.”
“I’m sorry, Aki,” Kou says. He can see how attached Akihito is to the kitten already.
“But she said I can keep one of the boys,” Akihito says, his face brightening.
“Which one?” Kou asks.
“I don’t know. Whichever their daddy’s owner doesn’t want.”
“Ah.” Kou says. Akihito isn’t as attached to the boys. “I think it would be a good idea to try to help Amaya get used to other people,” he says. He gently takes her from Akihito and holds her to his own heart. She cries at first, but after a few minutes, she calms down.
“I know,” Akihito sighs. “It’s amazing how fast you can start to care about something.”
“That’s the hardest thing about kittens,” Kou says.
The next day, Asami picks up Momoe and brings her home. She’s still very weak, but she lies down next to the kittens in the box. The kittens nurse, and Momoe’s milk supply hasn’t dried up, though they have to supplement it some with the formula. Matsunaga-sensei stops by twice a day to check up on Momoe, but after a few days, she declares the little family healthy.
The night after Momoe gets her clean bill of health, Asami moves the cats’ box to Akihito’s workroom.
“They’ll get lonely.”
“They’re with their mother. They’ll be fine.”
“What if they need a bottle?”
“They haven’t needed one all day. Momoe can feed them on her own now.”
“What if they get into the darkroom?”
“They can’t even get out of the box, and Momoe can’t open the door to the darkroom, anyway.”
“What about you? Aren’t you the one getting lonely?” Asami asks, wrapping his arms around Akihito.
Akihito looks up at him. “Oh. Why can’t you just be honest?” But he lets Asami lead him back to their bedroom.
For a short while, there’s less work involved in taking care of the cats, though Kou still finds an excuse to stop by daily. Soon, though, the kittens begin to explore the apartment, and after Shiro pulls down the blinds in the dining room, Asami declares that they can’t be left unattended until they “learn to behave.”
“They’re just babies,” Akihito protests.
“They’re destructive beasts,” Asami retorts, holding up a shredded pair of socks.
“They just need some toys,” Akihito says.
“You’ve already bought them more than enough. Not that they play with any of them.”
Over Akihito’s protestations, Asami purchases spray bottles and cat repellant to put on the furniture where the kittens have started scratching. When Kou stops by that afternoon, he chimes in. “Asami-san is right, Aki. The kittens will be much happier if they learn consistent rules now rather than having to unlearn bad behavior later.”
Akihito sighs. “I know you guys are right, but they’re so little. They just want to play.”
“And we need to make sure they play safely,” Kou says.
Once the kittens start eating solid food, they begin to occasionally nap away from Momoe. At night, Amaya curls up on Akihito’s chest. Shiro tries to lie next to Asami’s head, but Asami moves him to the foot of the bed.
“Don’t get too attached,” Akihito warns.
Asami merely grunts.
When the kittens are seven weeks old, Nakamura is allowed to come home from the hospital. “The doctor doesn’t want the kittens in my house yet, though,” she tells Akihito. “He’s worried I’ll trip over them.”
“We can keep them a little longer,” Akihito says. “We’re really used to them by now, anyway. And I can bring them downstairs to visit you twice a day. As long as you’re not moving around, you won’t trip on them. Do you need anything at your home? I can pick up some groceries for you.”
Nakamura makes a list and hands him some money. Akihito also buys a bouquet of flowers. When he lets himself into her place, he rearranges some of the furniture so that she’ll be able to navigate more easily with her walker. When he goes to water the plants on her bedroom terrace, he remembers that she has a futon instead of a regular bed. How is she going to get up and down from the floor with a broken hip?
He calls the hospital and discusses the situation briefly with the doctor. Based on the doctor’s recommendation, he decides that his old bed will work for Nakamura until she can use the futon again.
When he gets to the penthouse, Kou is there. “Can you help me move my bed?” Akihito asks him.
“Downstairs to Nakamura-san’s place.”
“Who’s going to stay with the kittens?”
“They’ll be fine for five minutes.”
They line the bed frame pieces and mattress in the hallway before calling the elevator. While Kou holds the door open, Akihito loads everything into the elevator. They do the same thing on the thirty-eighth floor to unload the elevator.
When Akihito’s nearly done unloading, the intercom crackles. “Is the elevator stuck?” a voice asks.
“No, we’re just unloading some things,” Kou says.
“Please remember that the elevator is used by all the residents,” the voice says snootily.
“I’m sorry. We’re nearly done,” Kou says.
They set up the bed in Nakamura’s bedroom. Kou goes back upstairs, but Akihito stays to freshen up the place.
A minute after Kou leaves, Akihito’s phone buzzes. When he sees it’s Kou, he picks up on the first ring. “What did they do now?”
“Nothing. But I think something’s wrong with Maya. She’s breathing funny.”
Akihito rushes to the hall and jabs the elevator button repeatedly. When he sees that it’s on the twentieth floor and heading down, he races to the emergency stairs instead. I hope there’s a card-reader to get onto the floor. He’s never taken the stairs before, but he figures there’d have to be a way to go up if the power were out.
Sure enough, he’s able to leave the stairwell. When he gets to the front door, he finds that Kou has already unlocked it.
Kou is holding Amaya just inside the front door. Akihito snatches her from Kou’s arms. She’s wheezing, so Akihito opens her mouth to see if there’s anything blocking her airway. He can see the end of a string inside. He grabs the end and gives it a gentle tug, but it doesn’t move.
“She’s got a toy or something in her throat. I can’t get it out.”
The wait for the elevator feels interminable. Akihito hands Kou his phone, and Kou calls Matsunaga-sensei. They hold the phone up to Amaya so the vet can listen to her breathing.
“She’s still getting air. Try to keep her in the same position so the toy doesn’t shift. How quickly can you be here?”
“Five minutes,” Akihito says. “We’ve only got a motorcycle to ride, though. Will that be okay?”
“As long as you can hold her steady. It’d be better to get a taxi if you can find one quickly.”
The elevator finally arrives, and Akihito pushes the intercom. “I’m sorry, could you please hail a taxi for me? It’s an emergency.”
When they get off the elevator, the receptionist is holding the door open for them. “Is that one of Nakamura-san’s kittens?” he asks.
“Yes. She’s choking on something,” Akihito says.
“I hope she gets better,” the receptionist says.
Yoneda hurries into the cab behind them.
“Sorry, I didn’t think to call you,” Akihito tells him.
“It’s fine, Takaba-sama. I’ll ride with you. We could have used one of Asami-sama’s cars, you know.”
Akihito groans. “I didn’t think of that. Oh, well.” He gives the address to the driver, then tells Yoneda, “No one’s with the other cats right now.”
“I’ll send Sakuragi up.”
Matsunaga-sensei is able to remove the string from Amaya’s throat without performing surgery. “You should never let your cats play with string,” she admonishes. She shows them the knot that had formed in the end of the string, which was caught in Amaya’s throat. “If this had been any longer, she might have needed surgery.”
“How did she get that?” Akihito asks. He looks at Kou.
Kou shrugs. “I have no idea. I would never give a cat string.”
“We don’t really keep this kind of string in the house,” Akihito says. “I thought we’d made the place pretty cat-proof.” He furrows his brow in confusion.
“Well, just double-check everything when you get home,” Matsunaga says more kindly. “Cats are very intelligent. Some can open doors and drawers, even if they’re latched. If they’re doing that, you can use baby-proofing items to keep the cats safe.”
“I bet it was Shiro,” Akihito says.
When they leave the clinic, Saji is waiting for them with a car.
Back at the penthouse, Sakuragi reveals that the cats somehow got into Asami’s office. “I closed the door again, but they left kind of a mess,” he says.
Akihito opens the door and groans. Papers are scattered across the place, and a few of them have been nibbled on.
He closes the door again. “I wouldn’t know how to organize them,” he says.
When he goes back downstairs to finish getting Nakamura’s apartment ready for her, he brings Amaya with him. “I just want to keep an eye on her,” he tells Kou.
“You’ve really gotten too attached,” Kou admonishes him.
“I know she’ll be going home soon, but she’ll be right downstairs,” Akihito retorts. “Nakamura-san said I can visit every day. Besides, you and Asami have gotten attached to them, too.”
“I just visit. I’ll be fine. But Asami? Seriously?” Kou raises his eyebrows in surprise.
“He lets Shiro sleep at his feet.”
Kou whistles. “Well, at least he’s got a fifty-fifty shot that he can keep him.”
“Knowing Asami, he’ll figure out a way to make it a one-hundred percent shot.”
That evening at dinner, Akihito reminds Asami that the stud owner will have first dibs on the male cats. “We might not get to keep Shiro.”
“How will he decide?” Asami asks casually.
“He’ll probably pick the one that matches the breed standards the best. They can be really crazy, with criteria like length of tail, body proportions, face shape, eye color, coat length and color – even the undercoat color, which you usually can’t even see.”
“What are the criteria for a Bombay?” Asami asks.
“You’d have to look them up online. I guess you could figure out which one the breeder is likely to want, but if they’re both within the standards, it would probably fall to personal taste. They are pretty similar.” Kou says. He eyes Asami.
“What?” Asami asks.
“Akihito’s right. You really are attached to Shiro, aren’t you? I hope you get to keep him.”
Asami merely grunts noncommittally.
The next day, Yoneda drives Akihito and the cats over to the hospital to pick up Nakamura. Yoneda waits in the car with the cats while Akihito escorts Nakamura out. He opens the door for her, and she bursts into tears when she sees the cats.
“Takaba-kun, you’re too sweet,” she tells him. As soon as she’s in the car, Momoe crawls into her lap. “That’s my sweet girl.”
Shiro follows his mother and expectantly waits for Nakamura to acknowledge him.
She laughs. “You must be Shiro,” she says.
Meanwhile, Amaya crawls up Akihito and settles on his chest.
“And that’s Amaya?”
“So that must be Hitoshi.” Nakamura reaches down with one hand to allow the patient boy on the floor to sniff her. She pats the middle seat. “Come on up, boy.”
Hitoshi jumps up and settles next to her, but Shiro squeezes between Hitoshi and the backrest.
“He really does think he’s the king.”
“He’s Asami’s favorite.”
“Ah. I thought you must be staying with Asami-san.”
Akihito flushes. “Er…”
“Oh, don’t try to deny it now,” Nakamura says. “There aren’t very many people who live above me, you know.”
Yoneda carries Nakamura’s things while Akihito carries the cats into her apartment. As soon as Nakamura is settled into her chair, Akihito lets the cats out.
Momoe jumps right into Nakamura’s lap. Shiro gives himself the grand tour of the place. “Uh-uh,” Akihito tsks when he sees Shiro eying the blinds.
“Is he a climber?” Nakamura asks.
“He gets into everything.” Akihito tells her about Amaya’s close call the day before. “We’re pretty sure that Shiro’s finally figured out how to open doors. We’ve caught him trying before, and Asami’s positive he closed the office door. We didn’t cat-proof that room, so he’s been really careful. Oh, but don’t worry. It’s cat-proof now.”
Yoneda clears his throat discreetly. “Where should I put your things, Nakamura-san?”
“Please put the suitcase in the bedroom. I’ll unpack it later. I’ll take the box right here.”
Nakamura starts removing items from the box and telling the men where she’d like them. Most are food gifts, and she piles them on the floor next to her chair. Once the box is empty, she looks at the pile in disgust.
“One child, two nephews, two nieces, and three grandchildren right in Tokyo, and all anyone can do is send me treats. Not one visit. If it weren’t for you, Takaba-kun, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“I’m sorry, Nakamura-san,” Akihito says.
“There’s absolutely nothing for you to be sorry for. I’m so grateful to you,” Nakamura says. “I won’t be able to eat all of these,” she adds. “Please, take whatever you’d like.”
“I couldn’t possibly. They’re your gifts,” Akihito protests.
“Some gifts,” she sniffs. She lifts the top box. “Christmas Kit Kats. With hazelnuts. Obviously bought on sale, since Christmas was two months ago. And my daughter knows that I’m allergic to hazelnuts.” She hands the box to Akihito. “Please, take them. You’ll be saving my life.”
Akihito reluctantly takes the chocolates.
“What’s your friend’s name again? The one who’s been helping with the kittens? Kou?”
“What does he like?”
Akihito shrugs. “He likes most things. He mostly likes to try new or exotic flavors of things.”
Nakamura selects a package of sakura macarons and cream cheese Kit Kats for Kou.
“What about you, young man?” Nakamura asks Yoneda.
“Oh, I don’t need anything,” Yoneda says, waving his hand.
Nakamura clicks her tongue. “None of that false modesty now.”
“It’s not false,” Yoneda protests.
“You look like you enjoy fruit. Here, have some candy oranges.”
Yoneda casts a plaintive look at Akihito only to realize that Akihito has been giving him the same look. He grudgingly takes the package of candy oranges.
“What about Asami-san?”
“Asami doesn’t like sweets,” Akihito says truthfully.
“Hmm. He looks like a man who can appreciate fine things. I got another bottle of nice scotch from my oldest son for New Year’s. At this point, he’s given me more scotch than I could possibly drink in my remaining lifetime. Take that for Asami-san. It should be in the cabinet next to the refrigerator in the kitchen.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly,” Akihito protests. “This is really too much.”
“Nonsense. It’s hardly a beginning to show my gratitude. Please accept these small tokens after everything you’ve done for me and Momoe and the kittens.”
Akihito grudgingly accepts the gifts. “We should probably get going so you can rest,” he says. “I’ve made a few simple dishes for you so you won’t have to cook today. Let me know what you like to eat, and I can bring you something everyday.”
“I don’t want you to go to any more trouble than you already have,” Nakamura protests.
“There’s really no difference between cooking for two or three, anyway,” Akihito says. “And I’ll already be coming down here with the cats, anyway.”
“Then I gratefully accept your offer.”
Akihito and Yoneda gather the kittens and head upstairs.
After another month, the kittens are big enough to move to their new homes permanently. Nakamura has graduated from her walker, and the doctor has approved Amaya and Momoe moving back in with her given their docile natures.
That Saturday, Akihito and Kou bring the kittens down to Nakamura’s apartment. Akihito has a little bag packed with each cat’s favorite toys and some treats. One set will be going back upstairs with him, but he feels weird not knowing which it will be.
Asami declines coming along with them, saying he has a phone conference he can’t reschedule. He goes into his office without saying goodbye to the kittens an hour before Akihito and Kou leave.
When Akihito’s ready to leave, Kou hesitates. “Should we tell Asami-san?”
“He knows. This is his way of coping. He let Shiro sleep on his pillow last night.”
“Man. I really hope he gets to keep him.”
“Yeah,” Akihito says. He’s holding Amaya in his arms. “You’re going to be right downstairs, okay? I’ll come visit you every single day, and you get to stay with your mama.”
Kou is holding the box with the other three cats.
Nakamura introduces them to Kouichi, the kittens’ father’s owner, who will be taking one of the male kittens. Kouichi doesn’t say anything to anyone as he examines the two boys carefully, checking their teeth and measuring various attributes. He records everything in a notebook. After he’s inspected both kittens, he looks at their measurements and frowns.
After several minutes, he picks up Hitoshi again and examines his fur carefully, rubbing it in various directions, focusing especially on his paws and belly. Hitoshi meows pitifully a couple of times but lies there docilely. Next, Kouichi gives Shiro the same treatment. Shiro kicks against him with his claws when Kouichi tries to examine his belly, so Kouichi starts near his neck. When he reaches the fur between Shiro’s shoulders, he pauses, frowning.
“I thought you said Momoe was pureblood Bombay for ten generations.”
“She is. You saw her papers,” Nakamura retorts.
“Then how did her kitten get white fur? Obviously there’s too much shorthair in her stock.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Momoe’s stock. You were the one so knowledgeable about how papers can be forged; maybe you were speaking from personal experience.”
“I’ll take this Hitoshi. But don’t think I’ll ever agree to breed Shinobu with your mutt again.”
Kouichi puts Hitoshi in the carrier he brought. He wrinkles his nose but accepts the bag of cat toys Akihito offers him.
After Kouichi leaves, Akihito asks, “Is Hitoshi going to be okay?”
“He’ll be fine. He’s so good-natured, he could thrive in any environment. And Kouichi does treat his cats well, even though he views them as a business. But I certainly won’t let Momoe near any of his cats ever again. The nerve.”
Amaya starts crying when she realizes Hitoshi is gone.
“Wow, she really does sound like rain,” Nakamura says. “Here girl,” she calls.
But Amaya runs over to Akihito’s leg and paws at him until he picks her up. Once she stops crying, he hands her over to Nakamura, and Maya curls up on her lap for a nap.
“Does Shiro really have white fur?” Nakamura asks Akihito. “Several people warned me that Kouichi has been accused of forging his cats’ papers before, and if I could prove it…”
“He doesn’t,” Akihito says. “I’m sure of it. I’ve given him a bath several times already with all the things he keeps getting into.”
He picks Shiro up and examines his fur.
“What the? That definitely wasn’t there yesterday,” he says, pointing at the small patch of white on Shiro.
Nakamura plucks one of the hairs. “It has black roots. This hair has been dyed.”
Akihito buries his head in his hand. “Asami and Shiro really bonded. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. Asami-san made a wise choice. Shiro is too independent; he wouldn’t have fit in at Kouichi’s. And Bombays often pick their special human. It would be cruel to separate them.” Nakamura stares off into space as she says it.
Akihito and Kou say goodbye to Amaya and Momoe. When they arrive at the top floor, Akihito looks at Kou. “I’m sorry, Kou, but I…” He trails off.
“I understand.” Kou gives Akihito a hug. “Remember, she’s right downstairs. You can visit her whenever you want.”
Akihito takes a shaky breath and nods. Kou hands him Shiro’s box and steps back on the elevator.
Akihito manages to get back inside the penthouse before he lets out a big sob. Asami appears at the end of the hall and opens his arms. Akihito rushes into them. He manages to pull himself together quickly, and pulls back a little to say, “I brought Shiro back. Apparently he doesn’t quite meet the standards for a Bombay.”
“He doesn’t? How odd,” Asami says.
“What did you dye his hair with? I hope it was safe,” Akihito says.
“Of course. I’m sorry I couldn’t do the same thing for Amaya.”
Akihito’s phone starts buzzing.
“Takaba-kun, come downstairs and get your cat.”
Akihito rushes down the stairs. He can hear Amaya crying even through Nakamura’s soundproof front door. He knocks on the door.
“Take her,” Nakamura says.
“Seriously? But I thought-” Akihito says. Amaya crawls up his pants, and he pulls her into his arms.
“Matsunaga-sensei says Momoe can have at least one more litter. You and Amaya are obviously very special to each other, and it wouldn’t be right to separate you. Just bring her downstairs to visit Momoe sometimes.”
“Of course, Nakamura-san. Thank you!” Akihito throws his arms around the elderly lady, who hesitates for a moment before hugging him back.
“You take good care of him, Amaya,” she tells the kitten, giving her a last pet before Akihito returns upstairs.
Asami is waiting in the genkan.
“Did you do this?” Akihito asks.
Asami shakes his head, confused. “You can keep her?” he asks.
Akihito nods as Amaya licks the tears off his chin.