I toss a blue silk scarf around my neck and just as I spin around to ask Ms. Pac-Man’s opinion, she launches herself off the bed, skids across the hardwood floor, and fishtails like a bus into the living room. Curiosity gets the better of me, so I follow her. She’s scrabbling at the windowsill, barking her snout off.
“What is it, girl? A squirrel? Or is it the horny pug?” I make my way to her side, and my eyes pop when I see what’s causing the commotion.
A devil cat, perched on the railing.
But a devil cat who belongs to my friend.
I race to the front door, yank it open, and dart across the stoop. But Chaucer is wily for a reason. He’s possessed.
He swats a plant off Hayden’s front stoop, knocking the tiny terra-cotta fern to its death, then he leaps off the porch.
“Oh no, you don’t.”
I’m not fast. I’m not agile. But I’ve had enough of that cat’s troublemaking.
He scrambles under the stoop, and I cackle. There’s only one way out, and I’m blocking it. “Ha. You’re cornered, buddy.”
Crawling under the stoop in my new jeans and silky scarf, I lunge for him, thrusting out an arm and grabbing.
He slinks back, but he’s cornered. I grab his scruff, tug him out, and then cradle him.
“It’s okay. Let’s get you inside,” I tell him, switching gears immediately to a soft, cooing tone.
He remains stiff in my arms, but lets me carry him. I rap on Hayden’s door with my elbow, and seconds later, Lena yanks it open.
“Chaucer!” She holds out her arms and reaches for him. He slides into her grasp, kicking up the purr-o-meter and rubbing his face against her, as if he’s not the most dastardly animal of all time. I swear, this cat has nine lives and nine personalities.
“Thank you, McKenna.” Lena bats her eyes at me. “I was worried. I couldn’t find him when I got home from my Spanish lesson, but . . .” She glances around. “I think I might have accidentally let him out. I was just about to go looking for him.”
“Well, here he is,” I say, releasing a deep breath.
She kisses the top of his head. “Want to come in?”
I pretty much already am, so I close the door behind me. “Is your mom around?”
Lena shakes her head as she coddles the cat, petting his chin. “She’ll be home in a few minutes. Dad is working late. Do you want some rice and sautéed garbanzo beans? I was going to make some for a snack.”
“That’s what you eat for a snack?”
“It’s tasty.” She narrows her eyes. “What happened to you? You don’t look good.”
I sigh. “It’s a long story.”
“Does it involve the guy you really like?”
I blink. How is this child so observant? “Why do you say that?”
“The way you sigh and seem all out of sorts. It makes me wonder if it’s about a boy.”
“Hmm. I’m not sure I believe that.”
I shake my head, amused. “You’re your mother’s daughter, you know that, right?”
She smiles, heads to the couch, pats it, and tells me to sit. Chaucer curls up in her lap. “What’s the deal?”
“I really like him,” I blurt out, then I correct. “Wait, I think I love him.”
“That’s good, then.”
“Why is that good? Love is awful and terrible, and it eats you alive.”
“You’re just saying that because of your ex, who’s a big turd,” she says.
I stare at her. “Excuse me?”
She lowers her voice. “Well, you don’t want me to say what you and my mom really call him.”
I shake my head vehemently. “You’re right, I don’t.”
“You can’t let him get you down though. It’d be like if I let myself believe all cats are as crazy as this one.”
“But this cat is crazy.”
“Yet I love him, and he loves me, and that’s all that matters.”
And I might officially be more confused. A door clicks open, and I snap my gaze toward it. Hayden walks in, eyes me, Lena, and my clothes. “Let me guess. You’re wallowing in self-pity and the utter terror of admitting you’re in love again.”
“My God, are you a witch? Can you read minds?”
She shakes her head. “No. I heard the last few things you two said as I opened the door.”
Hayden moves around the couch, sinks down between us, kisses her daughter’s forehead, then turns to me. “Tell me how you’re your own worst enemy.”
“She thinks not being in love with the guy she likes is better than being in love with him,” Lena says, confidently summing up our brief conversation.
Hayden arches a brow, studying me. “Is that so?”
I shrug an admission. “I’ll just get hurt again. Why bother?”
“Oh, sweetie. Tell me what happened.”
Hayden asks Lena to leave, and when she’s in her room, I spill all, detailing the phone call and Chris’s words and seeing Amber and the terrible taste of fries and the utter horror that the whole damn day has wrought on me.