Annabelle had been staring at the screen for fifteen minutes. She could not make herself reach for the mouse to click on the print icon – or, for that matter, for the delete key. Those words stared back at her, freezing the blood in her veins.
Free to good home, two female cats. Loving and gentle and bonded to each other; inseparable, must take both. Owner must move; house is too big, too drafty, and too expensive. Elderly woman must move.
She winced at that last, and changed “Elderly” to “Older”. She was older, but wasn’t ready to call herself elderly yet.
Bubbles hopped up to the edge of the computer table, stretched, and strolled across. She was a petite longhair calico whose black and orange were in “bubbles” on her white fur. She had one black ear, one orange ear, and a black nose. She also had possibly the purest lemon yellow eyes Annabelle had ever seen on a cat. Bubbles’ mama’s eyes had been a more usual golden yellow color, so maybe the eye color came from the unknown male who was her father. Bubbles settled daintily by Annabelle’s left hand and stretched again onto her side. She knew belly rubs were sure to follow, and Annabelle couldn’t disappoint her.
Misty followed less than a minute later, loping in from the next room. The two of them must have decided her inaction meant they could get attention. Misty sailed onto Annabelle’s lap without even seeming to leap, landing and curling up in a fluid motion. Misty was not a longhair, but was fluffier than a shorthair. Her fur was a light gray with silver “mist” tipping every hair. In the right sort of light, she almost glowed. Her eyes were also special, with two bands of color. The band around the pupil, which changed shape with the pupil, was jade green. The outer band of color, which did not change shape, was golden yellow.
Annabelle leaned back slightly in her swivel desk chair, making her lap more stable for Misty, who was feigning sleep so that she could be awakened by a scratch behind the ears. Annabelle sighed, and complied. Misty squirmed lazily to get in a better position for her ears to get proper attention, while Bubbles soaked up the belly rub, wrapping her forepaws around Annabelle’s arm in a gentle caress.
Annabelle was drawn back to the screen; the words there almost burned her eyes, accusing her of unfaithfulness. It hurt, because she felt it so deeply herself. She almost couldn’t look at Bubbles and Misty without imagining the hurt in those little eyes when someone took them away; away from her, away from this house, away from everything they knew. Tears welled in her eyes and her breath came in ragged gasps. She had to reach away from a very offended Bubbles to grab a tissue; then Misty was also deprived of “her” hand as Annabelle blew her nose.
What could she do? The mortgage was paid off on the house, but the bills were eating her meager funds. She would be eligible to “retire” in another three years, but in the meantime she was living on savings and a trickle of income from her writing. She’d done the math; even figuring lower bills than she could reasonably expect, she’d be out of money in two years.
Ah, but try explaining math to two cats. She’d actually tried, but the only reaction had been purrs and nuzzling as each tried to comfort the distress they could sense but not understand. Annabelle had to reach for another tissue.
She stared at the words again. The tiniest idea flared in her mind; it was silly, impossible, even absurd, but she couldn’t shake it. Her hands moved to the keyboard, erasing and typing, until the text now read:
Good home to loving family. Too big, too drafty, and too expensive for current occupant. House comes with older woman and two cats, very loving and bonded to each other; inseparable, must take all three.
Annabelle shook her head. It was stupid, but it’d give her a few days to think. When it didn’t work, maybe she’d come up with a better idea. She copied it into the classifieds submission page of The Tennerville Courier, filling in the information for payment and clicking “send”. She laughed at her own silliness even as she hoped for something, anything.
First, the Tennerville Courier sent a reporter to interview her about her ad. Annabelle dutifully answered the reporter’s questions, explaining that the only alternative she could see was giving the cats away and moving to a local place that would subsidize her rent but would not allow pets. The reporter was polite and sympathetic; even so, Annabelle was astounded to see her story headlined “above the fold” on the Courier’s second section.
Next, the local TV stations each sent crews to film the house and get interviews for their own “human interest” stories on the local news.
And then, oh my, then the calls; dozens of them, from families of all types. Some seemed to think they could get a free ride by moving in with her, others were more genuinely interested in her and how they could help. Annabelle spoke politely to each, but there was just something missing, and she couldn’t quite put a finger on it.
Then the doorbell rang.
She opened the door to meet two young adults, David and Paula, and their girls Jenny (Virginia) and Lissa (Melissa). When she invited them in, Jenny and Lissa stormed through the door like they were coming home from a trip. They gawked at the stairway, the arched door to the living room, the carpeting, and – when they entered – at Bubbles and Misty. Almost together, they thumped down on the carpet and patted it to lure the cats over. Bubbles and Misty approached them cautiously, and Annabelle was both relieved and charmed to see that the children were gentle and loving with the cats. She looked back to David and Paula, smiling.
David explained that his parents had cats; they’d always taught the girls to be gentle with them.
The family had moved from the opposite coast to follow David’s job when the company moved. They’d lived in an apartment since moving to Tennerville; it was too small for the four of them, but larger places were far too expensive. They were running out of ideas when they saw Annabelle’s story on the Channel Six News. The wording of the ad, especially the part about her and the cats being inseparable, had reminded both of them of David’s parents. That was the part which convinced them to contact her.
David had picked up the phone to call, but Paula had stopped him, saying they ought to come in person and introduce themselves properly. David had instantly agreed, so there they were.
Annabelle suddenly knew what had been missing from all the phone calls.
To make a long story short, the family moved in by the end of the week. David and Paula could contribute enough toward the bills that Annabelle’s recalculated figures showed easily stretching her finances through to retirement.
Annabelle cooked, reawakening a long-disused talent she’d learned from her own mother. She was NOT about to serve ready-made “store bought” to those little girls. Paula helped cook and contributed to the housework, and David kept the yard neat and made small repairs which reduced the draftiness of the house. Annabelle was amazed at the difference a few patches, insulation, and caulking made.
To Jenny and Lissa, she was a live-in “Gramma”, a substitute for the grandparents left behind on the opposite coast; though she was careful never to let herself become a replacement. She wrote long letters to those distant “Grammas” and “Grampas”, telling them all about their children and grandchildren and also reading their replies to the family in the evenings. Though she never really thought of it that way, she kept the families close together and more in touch than they’d ever have been otherwise. David and Paula eventually began writing their own letters, and when Jenny and Lissa learned to write, they would pick up the habit as well. When the two sets of grandparents pooled their resources to fly out for a visit, it was like meeting old friends.
Little Lissa couldn’t quite manage her name and called her “Nanabelle” instead. It stuck. She became “Nanabelle” to the entire family.
Annabelle occasionally thought back to the ad which triggered the whole thing, shaking her head that she’d ever thought of giving up her home or her cats, but grateful for the way it all worked out.
Bubbles and Misty were loved, pampered, and spoiled. They never knew about the fate they’d avoided; but, being cats, they likely would have taken it all in stride with unbroken faith. Mommy Annabelle had handled it, just as she always did.