Rain was sheeting down in a never-ending grey haze when Ivy Pennington opened the front door of her 4th level flat to brave another workday. Papers to file, files to study, she thought with irritation. When she’d set out on her career as a young accountant, she’d expected that companies would be a lot more up-to-date where e-filing was concerned. So she had to have the sodding luck to sign up with a store that had apparently never heard of computers yet – and in this day and age! She stepped out into the passage and turned in a fluid movement to close the door, her above-knee navy skirt swishing just a little too flippantly for the gravity of her professional image…
That was when she glanced down. At the toes of her stiletto shoes sat a small, black kitten, staring at her with intent green eyes. The poor little fellow looked bedraggled from the rain. Ivy reached for it, meaning to scratch its ears; it backed away a little before allowing her to touch it.
“You poor little thing!” She put her briefcase down and returned inside to pour some milk into a flat tupperware, for lack of a saucer (she didn’t own such old-fashioned things). When she put it down on the floor she realized that the kitten had followed her into the flat.
Ha, flat, she thought sarcastically. This was not a flat. It was a box. The walls were painted ever so tastefully light-grey in keeping with modern interior decorating, and while Ivy subscribed to everything that was fresh and young, somehow the colour grey didn’t seem to make the grade. She wasn’t even allowed to repaint.
Later, she thought impatiently, watching the little fellow – she didn’t even know if it was a tom or a jenny – thirstily lap the milk. Her thoughts were working on hyperdrive now – she was running late. She’d need a place for him to sleep; and he needed to get out, to do his business – that would be a problem, on the fourth floor! And when she came home from work, she’d have to find out where he belonged…
The green eyes lifted to stare at her again, and a tiny pink tongue slipped out and licked a small black nose. There was a lot of milk left in the saucer, but the kitten seemed to have quenched its thirst.
“Have you lost your mommy then?” asked Ivy. “Did you lose your way? Where are you from?”
“Meow,” came the quiet response.
Ivy decided that this couldn’t wait. She took out her smartphone to text her boss – then remembered that the boss only had a landline. With an exasperated grunt she dialled his number.
“Oates and Son, how can we help you?” chirped the voice of the chicklet who manned the receptionist desk.
“Biljana, please tell Mr Oates I’m only coming in at noon,” said Ivy. “Family crisis.”
“Shall I put you through to him, Ivy?”
Those honeyed tones! As though being under twenty gave Biljana a preferred – hmm. Maybe it did, thought Ivy.
“No, just relay my message to him please,” she said but realized she was speaking to a line in transit.
“Graham Oates; good morning.”
Ivy gnashed her teeth.
“Morning, Mr Oates. I have to solve a family crisis this morning, it really can’t wait – so I’ll only be able to come in to work at noon – is that alright?”
There was a heavy sigh.
“Oh dear, Miss Pennington. There’s a lot of work. I hope it’s nothing too serious?”
“No – that is, not that serious for me, but it might be in future,” she waffled frantically. Just accept it and let me go, boss!
“What’s the matter?”
She had so hoped he wouldn’t ask! It was none of his business; but to say that to your boss’s face…
“My niece,” she invented. “She’s going to have a baby and she’s still in school. I have to prevent greater disaster.”
A momentary shocked silence, then, “Well, I’ll see you at noon, Miss Pennington. Good luck!”
Ivy ended the call and stood for a moment, disoriented. How on Earth had that lie slipped off her lips? She was a dead-honest person, she never lied! Well, scrap that good record, she thought acridly. She gazed down at the kitten, unable to understand herself. She wouldn’t have studied financial science if she’d had a dishonest hair – hmm. Maybe she would have, she thought with irony. Maybe, specifically.
“Come, baby,” she murmured to the little black cat and scooped him up. He clung to her collar with little claws, his fuzzy baby hair tickling her neck. “Let’s find out where you belong.”
The funniest little sound came from the cat. It sounded like a mini motorbike trying to start its engine. She realized he was learning to purr, and it made her smile. Well, she’d better come up with a good explanation for her boss, backtrack and let him know that it had turned out to be only a scare and that her niece would be staying with her for a while until temperaments had cooled… gosh! She was spinning the lie further! She shook her head at herself, changed her shoes for more comfortable walking pumps, and left the flat – this time with a handbag rather than her briefcase, and the kitten nestling cosily inside on a towel.
It was mid-morning when Ivy sank into a corner seat at a little bistro. She had asked all the neighbours in the flat block, poster, called the SPCA to hear if there had been a call for a missing kitten, and made the round of all the local vets she was aware of.
Apparently the kitty was a tom. She decided to call him Peridot, after the colour of his intent eyes. If he didn’t belong to anyone, she supposed she could keep him. He had been very well-behaved, sleeping quietly in her handbag. At one stage he had started scratching at the towel; at which point she had quickly put him into a flowerbed, where he dutifully did his business and even covered it up. She made a note to get a cat box on her way home, and a bed for him. And of course cat food.
And the call reached her.
Oh shucks. Here was her own lie, coming back to haunt her! Somehow that bastard of a boss must have investigated with her family…
“What’s up, Bonnie?”
Bonnie Pennington, her niece with whom she didn’t have too much contact. Unlike Ivy, Bonnie wasn’t a fiery redhead but a gentle, sweet-natured brunette. The kind of kid one would wish to have. She was fifteen now, and never gave her mother a day of hassle.
That her boss had bothered her niece, irritated Ivy. To cause Bonnie such –
“Can I come and stay with you for a while, please?”
Ivy nearly fell off her chair.
No ways! She couldn’t take Bonnie in right now – she’d just adopted a kitten! Argh! What kind of logic was that? But there wasn’t space in her bachelorette box! It was tiny – just a place to crash, until she could afford better!
“Why, Bonnie, what’s the matter?”
“Well, I’m not sure how it could have happened… there was this boy…”
No, something said inside Ivy, in disbelief. It’s not what I think!
“… and … we sort-of fell in love, and we… got together – and… and now…”
“…you’re pregnant,” completed Ivy.
“No! I mean – yes, but it wasn’t like that! Mom wants to throw me out…”
I’m dreaming, thought Ivy. I’m seriously dreaming.
“Come and crawl in with me for a little while,” she offered despite herself. “But Bonnie, there are house rules. Okay? And I have to find us a bigger pad, can’t have you sleeping in the bathtub forever…”
“In the bathtub?” squeaked Bonnie, horrified.
“Kidding,” said Ivy. “When will you be around?”
“After school,” said Bonnie.
“Fine.” Ivy hung up and proceeded to stare at the fifth dimension in confusion. Right.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
Oh. She’d been staring at her waiter without realizing it.
“The bill please.”
Outside, the rain was still falling persistently.
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