If you haven’t read part one of this story, please click here.
Scout lunges at the fence with a snarl and the woman screeches and cowers, throwing her arms over her head.
“Scout!” I snap the back of my hand against her leg to bring her attention back to me. “Bad girl! Sit!”
Scout slowly lowers to the ground but her nose continues to poke at the air.
“I mean no harm.” The woman says keeping her arms curled over her head.
I shew Scout away and step through the door. “I am so, so sorry. I—” I stumble backward as I begin to sneeze. “I’m sorry—I don’t—I—don’t” I give up trying to talk until the fit subsides. When it finally does, my head is pounding and tears pour down my face. I’m itching from head to toe. “Do you have a cat?”
The woman carefully peers from beneath her arms and sees that Scout is safely away. “I,” she pauses, “I do.” From beneath her coat she pulls an old messenger bag and a round orange head pokes out of the corner with a yowl.
A new sneezing fit takes hold of me. “I don’t—take cats. Go—away!” I sneeze until I’m dizzy. “Please, have mercy on me. Leave!” I stumble back through the gate, half blind. I fall to my knees and crawl. The whole pack of dogs are immediately on top of me barking and bouncing like I’m playing some sort of game. I send them away and crawl a little further, lying with my eyes closed until the fit lets go of me.
Opening my eyes, I find Scout standing over me, her head tilted and concern on her face.
“I’m okay, girl.” I won’t be able to breathe through my nose for a month, or see for a year, but I’ll be fine. The world is still a little wobbly when I sit up, but at least I’m up.
Looking over, I see the woman is still standing by the gate. The orange devil is hidden again.
“This is private property and I don’t take cats. Please, leave. Or I’ll—I’ll call security.”
The woman’s mouth turns down, her chin and shoulders drooping. But she doesn’t move.
Great. I call the dogs back to me and pop on their leashes. Carefully I make my way back up the hill to their rooms. I find my medication in my office and gobble down a dose.
Scout noses my leg again, my vibrating phone in her mouth. I take it and see it’s my sister, again. “I wish I could teach you what calls to ignore, girl.” Patting her head, I put the phone in my desk drawer. I lie my head back until my stomach growls reminding me of my half eaten apple butter and swiss cheese sandwich. “Now, to finish my—” I look around my office. “Now, to go back and get my lunch.”
The wind nips at my ears when I step outside. I glance at the sky and find the clouds rushing in. It’s going to be a wickedly cold week if the sky is any indication.
I pull my jacket up around my ears and keep my head down, practically tripping over my feet, as I run to the fenced-in acre. Pausing by the shed, I look toward the gate and can’t help but shake my head. The woman is still here!
Tucking my lunch pail under my arm I stomp toward the gate. “Ma’am,” I put my coat up over my nose and mouth, “we don’t take—”
“Please, a blanket. A blanket is all I want, if you have any extra.”
I don’t know what to say and a feeling of shame creeps over me. Her eyes grow large and for the first time I realize how big her coat is on her.
Her chapped lips quiver, her sunken eyes silently begging.
I look around, wondering where she came from and thinking of how far away the nearest shelter is. Does she have a family, or someone who loves her? “Do you have somewhere to stay tonight?”
“You don’t take cats,” she says, protecting the bulge at her side, “and I understand why. But if you have a blanket to trade,” she glances at the ground, “that’s all we need. I can—” she digs through her pockets, “I can give you five dollars for it.” She begins to shake. “Please, it’s all I have.”
The wind shifts and my eyes water at the smell of her. Stepping forward, I unlock the gate and open it.
“You don’t take cats. I get the point.” She says.
I stand back and motion her through. “No, but I have someplace warm it—”
“Her name is Popsicle.”
“I have some place warm for Popsicle while you come in.”
She clutches her side, shaking her head violently. “No! I won’t let you have her!”
Raising my hands I let my coat fall. “I don’t want her! Believe me. You saw that she almost killed me.”
She glances to her side.
“Please, I—” an idea pops into my mind, “I get so lonely this time of year, with only the dogs around. I’d love some company tonight.”
She takes a small step forward and stops, her eyes wide in terror. “The dogs won’t kill us, will they?”
“No! Scout smelled the cat, but I promise she won’t hurt anyone. I’ have somewhere warm for Popsicle too, and I promise you’ll know exactly where she is, and be able to check on her as many times as you want.”
“Can I trust you to keep that promise?”
I stretch my hand to her and she shakes it with a bony, ice like grasp.
I lead her to a heated shed beside the office. “Popsicle can stay here. This place has been puppy-proofed, so I doubt there’s anything she could get into trouble with.”
“This is a palace,” she says, the first smile I’ve seen all day spreading over her face. Carefully, she removes her coat and folds it on the floor before opening the bag to release Popsicle. “We’ll be just fine out here.” Her eyes drift to the pail under my arm and she absentmindedly licks her lips.
I swallow the lump in my throat. “If you come into the main office we can share lunch beside the fireplace. I’d really enjoy that.”
After considering a moment, she nods. “My being inside won’t bother you, will it?”
Tears come to my eyes, but I can’t help laughing. “If it does I’ll just take another pill. Having you as my guest will be an honor.”
To be continued…
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Check back on Monday for the conclusion of this story. Thank you so much for reading.