Living for Two

In family lore, that first one was a tragic coincidence. Sitting in the waiting room, he stopped looking at anything, diverting focus to that day, doing the math that he’d done before. He’d been six, so almost fifty years had ridden by. Memories of that day sharpened, expanding in his mind. Running across the street, he’d only seen a sliver of turquoise and chrome after the car’s tires were screaming with braking noise and its horn was blowing.

He’d not felt anything. It’d been like flying off a swing and sailing through the air. He remembered seeing one of his red Nikes leaving his foot. “That’s all I remember,” he used to tell people who used to ask. Not many asked any more, halle-fucking-lujah. Truthfully, when he cracked the vault open, he remembered it all. Didn’t like telling people about the pain like a glove closing on him, or the view from above as people ran to his bloody body, and his sister’s screaming and sobbing. He’d need to be a masochist to enjoy remembering that day. No, thank you. Lost in that day to all but the family was Pancake’s death, like him, hit by a car, but unlike him, failing to survive.

That’d been the first time. Second was ten years later, when he’d had pneumonia, missing all of December. Most of the second and third weeks were spent weaving in and out of consciousness and delirium. When he emerged, they told him that Butterscotch had died. While that loss saddened him, they were relieved, because they were sure that he was going to die.

His third near miss was while he was in the sandbox. An IED took out some of his squad. As the scrambling to cover and save them commenced, three rounds went through him. He lived. Back home, though, someone shot and killed sweet little Crystal with fur like black velvet and emerald eyes.

This time —

The nurse called his name. He was led into the doctor’s inner sanctum. There he was, tall, black, and elegant behind his desk, managing to be solemn and smiling at once. “Please sit,” the doctor said, as he was doing it. The doctor was always courteous and polite.

He said, “You look concerned, doctor.”

“Because I am,” the doctor said with a smile flash. “It appears that all pancreatic cancer has vanished. There are no signs that I can see of it at all.”

It should have been good news, but he felt sad. “I’m not surprised. My cat died this morning.” He’d meant to say, “of cancer,” but he’d truncated the statement.

“Your…cat?” Puzzlement flickered in the doctor’s light brown eyes. “I’m sorry for your loss.”

“So am I,” he distantly said, extending the logic of what he was experiencing. The doctor spoke more, and he listened and responded, but mostly he was thinking, should I get another cat? If I do, and something else tries to kill me, the cat will probably die. I’ll live, but is that fair?

When he stepped into the California sunshine on the quiet street, he’d decided. He’d already killed four cats. That was enough death for him. As he started his car, he acknowledged, his decision made him very, very nervous.

It was a miracle that he saw the little flash of movement as he pulled his BMW out of the parking lot. Slamming on the brakes, he stared for seconds and thought, “What the hell was that?” Then he knew, it’d been a cat. 

Rushing out of the car with sudden urgency, he found the little gray fellow under a bush. Looking up at him, the cat opened his mouth and wailed before jumping into his reaching arms.

He held the animal against him. A deep purr replaced its meow. With the feline against his chest, he closed his eyes. “I promise you, I’ll be very, very careful,” he said.

The cat chirped back. Resolve coursed through him. Of course, he’d be careful. He had no choice.

He was living for two now.

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