Marie Anderson: Scaredy Cat
“Insulin shots? You mean with a needle?”
The vet smiled. “It’s not hard, Nick. I’ll show you.”
Nick watched the vet draw insulin from a vial into a syringe, then lift Taco’s skin at the scruff. The vet inserted the needle.
Nick felt blood drain from his face. His legs shook.
“There!” the vet said. “All done!”
Taco purred and gobbled a treat from the vet’s hand.
“Brave boy,” the vet said.
Nick shook his head. “I’m not brave when it comes to needles.”
The vet laughed. “I was talking to your cat, Nick. Don’t worry. You’ll do fine.”
The vet gave Nick more instructions, then sent him on his way.
When Nick reached his apartment building—a six-unit brick building two blocks north of Wrigley Field—he saw that once again his neighbor’s visiting fiancé had parked his Lexus in Nick’s assigned spot. Street parking was nonexistent on game days at Wrigley, but today the Cubs were playing out of town. Street parking was still a challenge, but not impossible.
Taco was meowing, anxious to leave the cat carrier in the back seat. The building’s remaining five parking spots had cars. Nick grabbed his cell phone and called his neighbor.
“Hey, Nick,” Kate answered.
“Brad’s car is in my spot,” Nick said. “Again.”
“It is? Oh, Nick, I’m sorry. He’ll be right out to move it.”
Minutes passed. Finally, both Kate and Brad appeared, Kate apologizing, Brad scowling. Nick lowered his car window, scowled back at Brad, and shook his head.
“Why are you still using my parking space, Brad? I thought you agreed to stop doing that.”
“Chill, dude,” Brad said. “Street parking’s bad around here.”
“Right,” Nick replied. “That’s why I need my spot so I can park and get my unhappy cat inside.”
“Taco sure is crying,” Kate said. “Everything OK?”
“Vet just diagnosed him with diabetes. I’ll be giving him insulin shots twice a day!”
“It’s a cat,” Brad said. “Just replace it with a healthy one. Or better yet, get a dog. Cats are for little girls and grandmas.”
“Brad!” Kate punched his arm. “Loving in sickness and health applies to pets, too!”
Brad laughed and patted Kate’s head. “No worries, Kitten. You’re too cute to replace.”
Nick rolled his eyes and wondered again what his pretty neighbor saw in Brad. Sure, Brad was a handsome lawyer in a huge Chicago firm where Kate worked as a paralegal. One year ago, Brad had won a nice jury award for Kate’s grandpa who’d suffered severe whiplash and broken ribs when a CTA bus rear-ended his Ford Focus. Kate’s grandpa had slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting a dog who’d run into the street. The CTA had unsuccessfully argued contributory negligence. So, of course Kate’s whole family was probably forever grateful for Brad’s personal injury litigation chops. Nick figured that Brad probably earned triple Nick’s salary as a public grade school teacher one year from tenure.
Brad drove off to find parking, and Kate accompanied Nick to his apartment. Nick opened the cat carrier, and Taco shot out to his favorite spot on the sofa.
“Taco can move pretty fast for an old boy!” Kate exclaimed. She sat on the sofa next to Taco and rubbed his ears. Taco began to purr. Kate knew the story: how Nick and his wife had adopted Taco from a shelter, and when they divorced, Nick kept Taco because his ex’s new boyfriend was allergic to cats. Nick had told Kate the whole story during one of their occasional runs together along the lakefront.
Now Taco climbed into Kate’s lap and closed his eyes.
“So,” Kate said. “Insulin shots?”
Nick sighed. “I hate needles. I’ll just have to get over it.”
“Are you saying,” Kate asked, “that you’re a scaredy cat when it comes to needles?”
Nick felt his face grow warm. “I guess I am. Don’t tell my sixth graders that!”
“Aww,” Kate said. “Everyone’s a scaredy cat about something.”
“What frightens you?”
She looked at the diamond ring on her finger. Her dark eyebrows pinched into a slight frown. She bit her lower lip. The only sound was Taco’s purring.
She’s scared of the next step, Nick thought. Brad’s not the right guy for her! Come on, Kate! Just say it! You are way too good for him!
“I’m scared,” Kate said, “of spiders.”
Nick forced a smile. “I saw Taco eat one once.”
Kate laughed. “My hero!” She gently moved Taco off her lap and stood. “Brad should be back soon from his search for a parking spot. I better get back to the meatballs baking in my oven. Spaghetti and meatballs and bruschetta. Brad’s special request for dinner. We’re celebrating the one year anniversary of our first date.”
Nick nodded. He could not bring himself to say congratulations. He knew it was also the one year anniversary of the jury award for Kate’s grandpa. Brad and Kate’s family had gone out after court for a celebration lunch. Brad had just happened to have two tickets to an evening performance at The Lyric Opera House. How could Kate say no? (Even thought she’d later confessed to Nick that she didn’t like opera, but Brad was determined to turn her ears into opera ears.)
Nick knew that Brad had later given her a year’s subscription to the Lyric for her last birthday, though Kate had hinted that she’d wanted tickets for Carrie Underwood at Ravinia.
Nick—though he did like opera—would have bought her the country music tickets. People should get what they want, Nick believed, not what others want them to want.
“Hey!” The dimples in Kate’s smile hit Nick square in the heart. “Show me what to do, Nick. I’ll give Taco his shots! I owe you for Brad always taking your parking spot when he visits.”
They soon settled into an easy routine. Mornings before work they’d have coffee in Nick’s kitchen, and Kate would give his Taco his first shot. Evenings, Kate always managed to fit Taco in, even when Brad-outings loomed. If neither Kate nor Nick had other plans, they would have a glass of wine over a Scrabble game, then Kate would give Taco the second shot. When Kate was around, Taco acted as playful as a kitten. One time, Taco knocked a Scrabble tile to the floor and batted it around like hockey puck. Soon, Kate and Nick found themselves laughing and kicking at the Scrabble tile, too.
Then one morning Kate showed up with puffy eyes. She slumped on Nick’s sofa. Taco jumped in her lap, and she stroked his fur. Nick sat next to her. He kept his eyes on Kate’s hand trembling in Taco’s fur. The diamond in her engagement ring caught the sunlight shining through the window behind the sofa.
Damn sun, Nick thought.
“I have to do something really hard,” she said.
“Oh?” Nick felt his heart jolt.
“We’ve set a date,” she said. “I’ve been meaning to tell you, but . . .”
“Oh?” Nick forced a smile. “That’s great!” How, he wondered, could a smile hurt so much?
“My lease is up next month. No point in renewing it, Brad says. He wants me to move into his condo.”
“That makes sense,” Nick said. “I mean, you’ve set a date . . .” His voice trailed off. He clenched his hands. So, he told himself, the hard thing she had to do was tell him she wouldn’t be coming by anymore. Maybe she was even starting to sense that their time together was (pathetically?) the best part of his day. So, even though he and Kate weren’t a couple, she was going to be breaking up with him like they were a couple. It was going to hurt like they were a couple. Well, he’d try to get through this with at least some dignity intact.
“Hey!” he said, his voice so loud and cheerful he saw her flinch. “I’ve watched you give Taco his shots enough times that I can do it no problem. Starting right now! You can go! Thank you! Thank you for helping me get over my fear of needles!”
He stood. “So, hey. I’ll be fine. I’ll walk you to the door!”
“Nick!” She looked up at him. “I have to do this. I’m the one being the scaredy cat now, but I have to do it. I . . “
Nick lifted his hands. “It’s OK. You don’t have to spell it out for me. I get it. You can go. No hard feelings. Really.”
Two pink spots flared in her cheeks. “Not yet.”
Nick felt his own face heat up. “You’re getting married,” he said.
“We set a date,” she said.
Nick felt something pop in his chest. The last tiny kernel of hope.
“My best friend wants to start shopping for bridesmaid dresses. My mom emailed me a list of caterers. My dad told me that Brad can start calling him Dad. It’s all good, right? Brad is great in so many ways. He’s generous, hardworking, handsome as hell, but . . .but”—she rubbed the wetness under her eyes—“hey, he would’ve replaced Taco in a heartbeat!”
“No one’s perfect,” Nick murmured.
She nodded. “No one’s perfect.”
“So what’s the problem, Kate?”
“Brad,” she whispered, “isn’t you.”
Nick stared at her. Then he sat back down on the sofa. Next to her. So close he could smell a strawberry scent in her hair. He loved strawberries.
She took a deep breath. She looked for a long moment at her engagement ring. Suddenly, she twisted it off and set it on the coffee table.
Taco jumped after it. With a swipe of his paw, he batted the ring under the couch. DSS
Marie Anderson, of LaGrange, IL., has worked as a newspaper columnist, a lunchroom monitor, a pension processor, a bakery clerk, a student loan representative and a secretary. She's also had 27 short stories published in literary magazines. She writes she's a law school dropout who is now married with three adult children.
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