He threw two in the cart and some water bowls too. “What do kittens eat, do you think? As opposed to cats. Is the food different?”
I shrugged, having no idea. Hunter had already picked up a bag of cat food and was reading the back. “This says for cats over one year old. What do you feed kittens, then?”
He scanned the aisle. Someone who worked at the store came over to talk to us. He had dark hair and glasses, and was only a few inches taller than me. Hunter towered over him. “Can I help you with anything?” he wheezed.
“Yeah. I’m looking for food for my cats,” Hunter said.
The guy was wearing a nametag that said TODD. “How old are your cats?” Todd asked.
“I don’t know,” Hunter answered.
Todd looked exasperated. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well,” he said. “Do you know if they’re older or younger than a year old?”
Hunter looked at me over Todd’s head and smiled. “Yeah, they’re definitely less than a year old.”
“Well then you need kitten food, obviously,” Todd said, emphasizing the last word as if Hunter was a buffoon.
I laughed silently, noting the plight of the tall and muscular. Hunter could pretty much snap Todd in half if he wanted to, but he was putting up with Todd being a jerk to him anyway.
“Okay,” Hunter said gamely. “Where is the kitten food?”
Todd stomped down to the other end of the aisle and held up a yellow bag of food. “It’s the one that says ‘For Kittens.’”
Hunter nodded. “Okay, but these are really little kittens. Can they eat that?”
“Where did you get these kittens?” Todd asked.
“I rescued them.”
“How small are we talking?”
Hunter used his hands to show how small they were. I would have just said “super tiny.”
Todd’s eyebrows shot up. “And there’s no mother cat?”
“Well, you should really get them to a vet as soon as possible, but at the end of the aisle you’ll find kitten milk, syringes, and bottles. There’s a little manual with the supplies that should teach you what you need to feed the kittens.”
Hunter nodded and looked over at me. “This is going to be a lot of work,” he said.
Was he thinking about giving them up for adoption? “They’re really cute, though.”
“Are you going to help me with them?” he asked.
“Sure,” I said, shrugging. Who didn’t want to play with kittens?
“No, I mean are you going to really help me? Like co-raise them.”
What was he talking about? I looked at Todd, who was standing there dumbly.
“They’re going to be staying at your apartment, right?” I asked.
“I’ll give you a key. I’m just saying, if we need to be feeding these little guys constantly, having some help in case I have to be gone would turn this from being impossible to being a fun challenge.”
I took a deep breath. It felt like no matter what I did, I was getting closer to Hunter. “Okay, that does sound fun actually. But you’re not afraid I’m going to snoop around your apartment and find things I shouldn’t?” I teased.
He grinned. “Nah, I trust you.”
Todd cleared his throat. I had totally forgotten he was there, and my face grew hot. Why was I constantly managing to do embarrassing things?
“Yeah dude, thanks,” Hunter said. Todd scampered away as Hunter turned back to me. “Lorrie, thanks for agreeing to help me. I think this will be fun.”
We picked out our syringes, bottles, rubber ni**les, kitten milk, and manual. I began flipping through the guide to feeding newborn kittens as we walked to checkout. There was a lot to make sure you got right. I was already feeling a little intimidated by it all.
The cashier that checked us out eyed Hunter flirtatiously from under her dark bangs as she rang up our kitten formula, but then her eyes caught the sight of his tattoos and her expression changed.
“You’re bottle-feeding kittens?” she asked.
“Yup,” Hunter said. “Just rescued them.”
She nodded, her lips a thin line. “Well, make sure you get them to the vet,” she said. “Kittens are very delicate at that age.”
“Thanks for the advice,” I said as politely as possible. Why did everyone treat Hunter like he wasn’t capable of taking care of some kittens? People seemed to love jumping to conclusions about others so quickly. Like people assuming I was depressed and suicidal, or assuming I was having sex with Hunter. Why couldn’t people just give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the best?
“Yeah, thank you Stephanie,” Hunter said, reading her name tag. “We’ll be sure to get them into the vet as soon as possible.” He flashed a smile. I was glad that at least he could take the way people treated him in stride even if I didn’t.
We finished checking out and left the mall. The muscles on his tattooed arms stretched against his black t-shirt as we walked to the bus stop. It made me feel strange to admit it, but being seen with such an attractive guy made me throw my shoulders back and feel more self-confidence than I had in years. Even if we were just friends.
We didn’t get back to the gym until after five-thirty. The people training changed from younger, college-aged guys like Hunter and Gary to older guys in their late twenties and older. I couldn’t help but notice that there were no women training in the gym. The smell of man sweat was everywhere.
Gary was holding a sleeping kitten with a big white spot right between its eyes as we approached. He put one finger up to his lips telling us to be quiet.
“These things do nothing but sleep,” he said. “But wow, are they cute when they sleep.”
The kitten fit into his hand easily. “Check it out,” he said. He used a finger on his other hand to tickle its stomach softly. The kitten squirmed and grabbed at the finger with all four paws without waking up. My heart melted.
“How cute is that?” Gary said.
I looked over at Hunter, who was smiling. “Pretty cute,” he said. “These little guys are probably super hungry by now, though. We have to figure out how to feed them.”
“You don’t just give them regular cat food?” Gary asked.
“Nope. There’s a whole manual on how to do it. I guess you have to bottle feed them when they’re this little.”