Sixteen and a half days after my first encounter with the cat, I found its owner.
She came clambering through my window – the same one employed as a makeshift door by my feline companion – and slipped on a stack of magazines resting on the bench beneath the sill, tumbling onto the hardwood floor with an echoing yet muted thud. Even though I was slightly irritated by the unannounced entrance, as well as the muddy prints from combat boots that marked her path, I couldn’t help but say nothing as she stood and awkwardly brushed invisible dust off the front of her cardigan. I noticed that wildflowers were spilling out of the stretched-out pockets, the pastel blossoms contrasting pleasantly with the woven olive shades of her outer layer of clothing.
In the shock of her intrusion, I had completely forgotten about the reason why she had come; I was reminded of her motive when I felt a furry warmth press against my bare leg and emit a cocky meow. I stared down into a pair of golden eyes, their reflective quality calling to mind two perfectly round coins. After a final parting chirp, the cat brushed past me and leapt into its owner’s arms with grace.
“Well, in terms of balance, you and your pet are polar opposites,” I cautiously began, eyeing the gleaming bracelets and glittering necklaces embellishing the girl in front of me, which were being batted at by her energetic cat. The girl stared, alarmed, then offered a sheepish yet apologetic smile, which I reluctantly accepted. I didn’t really want to study for my exam the following Monday, so I was willing to be sidetracked by anything, including a stranger retrieving her cat.
Her cat suddenly escaped from her loose grip and sprinted back home, only adding to the unbearable tension between me and my guest. “I’m assuming you’re my neighbor,” I went on, abruptly overcome with a twinge of self-consciousness; I was wearing a plain white (but coffee-stained) shirt, paired with my half-shredded jeans that were two years past their expiration date. She smiled, thankfully, and didn’t seem to care about my just-rolled-out-of-bed style.
“Yeah. I don’t think we’ve met before? I’m Beatrice. Bea for short. Like the buzzy things -- bees,” she answered, grabbing my hand and shaking it enthusiastically. A jolt of electricity shot through my veins, causing my eyes to fully fly open as I took a step backwards out of sheer instinct. She was equally caught off guard by my reaction, anxiously inquiring, “Oh, shoot, did I hurt you?” Still frazzled from the crackling charge, I wearily shook my head and sank onto the tangled blankets piled on top of my mattress. Relieved, she hastily went on, “I really am sorry, I’m just not totally used to managing this. I’ve never been good with handling lots of responsibility, and I really miss my friends…” She trailed off, and I realized with a sighing heart that a bubbly sob had floated out of her throat and lingered in the room, temporarily alone before she burst into a gale of tears.
I rose to my feet and got her to calm down by making two mugs of tea. She stirred the leaves with a charcoal pencil she pulled out of the tangled violet hair she had scraped into a bun. Blinking her bangs out of her downcast eyes, she cheered up after finishing her drink and lapsed into silence as she studied the muddled remains at the bottom of the cup. “Did you just move here? If you’re overwhelmed with the landlord, I can help you out. He tends to be a pain in the ass during the colder months like this October. I think fall and winter make his arthritis act up,” I confessed, inwardly cursing the impulsive politeness my mom had relentlessly instilled in me.
Beatrice’s gaze snapped up from the table as she released a nervous giggle. I made a mental note to myself that if she turned out to be an emotionally unstable serial killer, I’d find a way to come back from the grave after being brutally murdered just so I could kick my best friend’s ass. This is what happens when I live by myself, I would insist, I told you to turn down that god damn internship offer in Africa. My pretend argument vaporized under her stare, which made me shift my weight in my chair, which creaked with age as I did so.
“Sure, that would be great. I have no idea what the hell I’m supposed to do about paying rent in a few weeks,” she confessed, drawing out her words like chewing gum between two fingers. I tried to ignore my suspicion that pawed through her response, doubtful over the shifty slowness in her voice. But she grinned again, a genuine flash of pristine teeth, relaxing me in an odd way. She placed her hands on the worn wooden surface separating us, spreading her fingers apart and revealing multiple rings. Some proclaimed sparkling inset jewels, others were wrapped with ornate carvings, and a few had tarnished in certain areas. Leaning back, I studied the details of Beatrice. The four or five knots in her shoelaces that seemed deliberate, patterned. Her turned-in knees tucked underneath her pleated skirt as she sat. And, unsurprisingly, the cat hair on her shirt, sprinkling life into the grey, faded fabric that had succumbed its original design to the harsh elements years ago. She had to repeat her invitation a second time, pulling me out of my reverie.
I blinked, feeling stupid, and listened as she patiently asked again, “Do you want to watch the movie they’re showing at the refurbished theater down the street?” Outlining the handle of my mug, I said, savoring the bitter taste of the last sip of my tea, “What’s the film?”
Smiling for what felt like the millionth time, she innocuously informed me, “Hocus Pocus.”

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