The Christmas Nanny
Copyright 2020 Elizabeth Kelly
I watched the black and white cat wind its way around Sam’s lower legs. He reached down and stroked its back. It arched and purred and rubbed against him again. As I watched his long fingers rub the side of the cat’s face, I decided it was much too weird that I wished I was the damn cat.
I concentrated on the little orange tabby I was holding. Her name was Marmalade, she was fourteen months old, and I was already completely smitten with her. We had walked into the cat room at the humane society and I thought Oscar was going to lose his mind with excitement. Cats of all colours and ages were wandering freely around the room. Some were sitting or sleeping in the big overstuffed and clawed up armchairs, some perched on top of the multiple scratching posts scattered around the room and others had curled up in the empty cardboard boxes or cat beds that were placed in various spots in the room.
Three volunteers were in the room and I wasn’t at all surprised when one of them made an immediate beeline for Sam. She had latched onto him with the fierceness of a winter storm, but I couldn’t blame her. He was damn hot. It was a bit unsettling that jealousy brewed to life in my stomach when she touched his arm and giggled and flirted. I was mollified by the fact that Sam seemed completely immune to her flirting. Either he totally didn’t catch on to her flirting, or he wasn’t into blonde women with amazing curves.
He knew she was flirting with him. Maybe he just prefers dark-haired women with slender bodies.
Yeah, maybe. I turned my attention back to Marmalade when she butted my chin with her forehead. She purred loudly as I scratched her throat.
Sam was suddenly standing next to me and I had to stop myself from leaning into his body. God, he smelled good. I don’t know what aftershave he used but it smelled delicious. I shifted Marmalade in my arms and tried to ignore the way my girlie parts were starting to tingle.
“I like her,” I said.
“So, she’s the one?” he asked.
“She’s the one.”
He reached out to pet Marmalade just as I did, and our fingers brushed. He immediately jerked his hand away and I tried not to let my disappointment show. It was only a brief touch, but butterflies had swarmed to life in my stomach and I was suddenly much too warm.
“Sorry,” I said.
“My fault,” he said before searching the room for Oscar. “Oscar? Buddy, it’s time to go.”
“Daddy! I found a kitten for Tess,” Oscar said from behind us.
We turned, and my jaw dropped as Sam made a croaking noise of surprise. Oscar was holding a large grey, long-haired cat around the middle of its body. Its front paws draped over Oscar’s shoulders and its fluffy tail dragged along the ground as Oscar smiled happily at us. Despite the awkward way Oscar was holding it, the cat lounged contently against him.
“Is that cat missing a leg?” Sam said.
“Yep,” I said, “and an eye.”
Sam trailed off as the cat turned its head to stare at us. It was indeed missing an eye and the sunken socket where his left eye used to be was more than a little disturbing. His muzzle was covered in pale scars and a big chunk was missing from his nose. His right eye, a bright green orb of colour, studied us for a moment before judging us lacking. He turned his gaze to Oscar and the little boy giggled when the cat licked his chin with his scratchy tongue.
“He likes me, Daddy!”
“Oscar, buddy, Tess has already -”
“Do you like him, Tess?” Oscar asked eagerly. “The lady said his name is One-Eyed Jack and he’s been here a really long time.”
“I can’t imagine why,” Sam muttered into my ear.
I tried not to laugh as one of the volunteers approached us and said, “How are we doing? Need any help?”
“We want this one!” Oscar said.
“Buddy, no,” Sam said. “Tess has already picked out her kitten.”
Oscar studied the orange cat in my arms. “But I like One-Eyed Jack.”
“It’s Tess who’s getting the cat, remember?” Sam said.
Oscar’s face drew down into a pout and he held the big grey cat a little tighter. “But Jack likes me.”
“I know he looks a bit rough,” the volunteer said, “but Jack is actually a great cat. He’s very laid back and he likes other cats, so he and Marmalade would get along just fine.”
“My landlord is only allowing me to have one cat,” I said.
I stared at Oscar’s sweet face, torn between my desire to have Marmalade and my desire to not hurt Oscar’s feelings.
“Tess,” Oscar said, “why don’t you like Jack?”
“It isn’t that she doesn’t like him,” Sam said. “It’s just that she also likes Marmalade. Marmalade will be a better cat for Tess than Jack. Besides, Jack will find a new home, won’t he?”
He gave the volunteer a pointed look. She nodded. “He sure will. In fact, if no one takes him home tonight, tomorrow he’s going to a beautiful farm.”
“He is?” Oscar said.
“Yes,” the volunteer said. “There are lots of other cats to play with and fields of catnip for him to roll in. He’ll be very happy.”
Oh God, I was getting a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I stared at Sam. He looked as alarmed as I felt.
As Oscar buried his face in Jack’s fur, Sam said to the volunteer, “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
The volunteer nodded. “We have a lot of cats right now and not enough room. Jack’s old and most people are grossed out by the missing leg, eye, and scars.”
“So, tomorrow One-Eyed Jack’s going to be…” I couldn’t say it.
“One-Eyed Jack will be walking with Jesus tomorrow,” the volunteer said in a cheerful voice. “Now, let me get the paperwork started for Marmalade.”
As she walked away, I stared wide-eyed at Sam. “Sam…”
He studied Oscar and the old grey cat before staring at me. “Well, shit.”