I watched the white moving van slowly maneuver out of the short driveway and pull away from the house on Autumn Lane. It moved in fits and starts down the tight side street, making sure not to collide with any of the vehicles parked along the curb. Moments later, having successfully navigated its way through the old cobblestone street, the van rounded a sharp turn and disappeared out of sight, taking any lingering hope I had of this being a bad dream with it.
I stood, gazing down the lane a little longer, just to make sure that the van’s driver hadn’t changed his mind. Fifteen minutes later, I had no choice but to conclude he wasn’t coming back for me.
Why would he, after all. I was just another client to him, my life, and my desires of no importance to him. Even if it was, there was no benefit in it for him to turn around and pluck me up and take me back home.
I turned to look at the century old Victorian house that sat less than twenty-five feet from the curb. The mere sight of the structure launched a kaleidoscope of butterflies in my stomach. I could feel them dancing and darting around inside of me, their delicate wings fluttering against the lining of my tummy. I didn’t like this feeling. Not at all.
The deep latin voice had a familiar texture and tone to it. It was happy and warm. Its measured meter invited me to come and surrender my problems to its owner, who was peeking at me from the top of the porch.
“How are you doing?”
He stepped out from behind the railing and hopped down. I could not help but smile at him lumbering towards me, his large belly swaying from side to side like a ship being tossed about a stormy sea until at last he came to a stop directly in front of me.
“I’m … doing.”
The words caught in my throat. Such a burdensome question. He could tell I was having a difficult time with this move. I could see the way his eyes began to glass over a little. The deep inhale and slow exhale confirmed that he was concerned about me. Then, he hit me with that smile of his. The way his lips curled up and his chubby cheeks puffed out, how could I not giggle.
“Okay Rapi, I am struggling a little.” I admitted.
His given name was Raposo, a play on the Brazilian word for ‘fox’. I have seen photographs of him as a baby and can confirm that indeed he did look more like a skinny fox that the chubby orange cat that he was today. We all called him Rapi for short, but with the Portuguese accent it sounded more like Hoppy.
Everyone that knows Rapi and I likes to call us the odd couple. Not because of anything to do with the movie or the television show. Not even because we look famous. He is just a portly orange cat, and I am a regular run of the mill brown dog, who admittedly, may be carrying a few extra pounds on her. I guess we are seen as different because a dog and cat have chosen to be best friends for life.
“Why,” he asked, bringing my thoughts back to our conversation.
“Because everything is,” I hesitated for a minute, was I unsure or why, or was it because I just didn’t want to admit it.
“Everything is different!”
The orange cat scrunched up his forehead and tilted his head to the right. I tried to avoid his gaze, but his eyes were piercing right through me to the very core of my being.
“I miss the tall buildings and the smell of the city!”
“You miss the smell of pee?”
Now he really did have that confused look on his face.
“New York City has other smells besides pee Rapi!”
“Like … garbage?”
I could not help it. The noise just involuntarily escaped. I lowered my eyes to the ground and let out a deep breath. I did not want to be having this conversation. I just wanted to be home. I had that sensation that no matter what I tried to do, I would fail. I felt like I could explode.
When I looked up, I found myself face to face with Rapi, his eyes had grown wide, and the sight of him backing away from me was unnerving. My mind raced to uncover what was happening, and that is when I noticed the unmistakable sensation of the hair between my shoulder blades standing on end.
“Sorry Rapi,” I heard myself mumble.
The cat halted his retreat and held his ground. His eyes locked on mine, and he began to let his weight shift from one side to the other then back again.
“I am really sorry Rapi. I just want to be back home.”
“This is home now, Cindee. Look around, it’s beautiful and the air is clean.”
For the first time, I took in my surroundings. The slate blue house had a porch that overlooked a pair of pink rose bushes that were kind enough to share their space with purple, blue, and white hydrangeas. Each of the flowers had their own unique aroma, which I had to confess were very relaxing. A stone walkway ran along the side of the house and disappeared into another bed of flowers in the back.
Behind the front window stood the figure of a dark-haired woman in her mid-forties. Her locks tumbled over her shoulders in eddies and swirls of curls. She smiled and waved to us. The world knew her as Sarai Oliveira, author of several bestselling mystery novels, but to us, she was plain old Mommy.
A sudden thought flashed through my mind and before I had a chance to think it through, I blurted it out.
“Do you think Mommy will let me stay with Mrs. Landers?”
The image of Mrs. Landers filled my mind. I could see her with that raven hair, lined with streaks of grey smiling at me. You see, Mrs. Launders had a black and tan beagle named Chester, who just happened to be my best friend back in New York. Unfortunately, not that long ago Chester had gone to live on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge. What had brought her to mind was a conversation that Mrs. Landers had with Mommy several months ago when Mommy had asked if she would get another dog.
“Someday, maybe, but not right now, it’s too soon.”
The words floated through my head and the sight of her face hung vividly in front of me. The deep lines in her forehead, the sorrow in her eyes, and the need for something more. It all cut deeply into my heart. Once I had combined that image with all the feelings swirling around inside my head, I couldn’t help but wonder about the possibilities.
“Are you crazy,” the cat grumbled.
His face had contorted into something that resembled a mixture of pain and anger.
“No, I am serious,” I barked back.
“Is New York more important than Mommy?”
Rapi hesitated for a moment. I should have said something, but what?
I stood silent, completely caught off guard by where this was heading.
The big cat turned and started to walk away but hesitated after a few steps. He cast a melancholy glance over his shoulder.
My mouth fell open in disbelief. Instead of confronting me, he shook his head and continued towards the house, not bothering to look back at me again. He stopped at the door for a moment.
“I thought we were friends,” he called out, still looking at the door.
I could hear the agony in his voice. I felt a growing sickness in the pit of my stomach at the sight of his body trembling. He waited a few more seconds for an answer. No answer would come to me though. His head slumped and he pushed through the pet door and disappeared into the house, leaving me to stand in solitude at the end of the driveway.
I exhaled deeply and closed my eyes. This is my home. I let the thought linger for an instant.
“I am never going to make any new friends.”
The words came out in a whisper. I prayed that when I opened my eyes Rapi would be standing in front of me, he wasn’t of course. Life never seems to work that way for me.
I cast one last fleeting look down the street for the moving van. When it didn’t appear, I forced myself to come to terms with the fact that this really was my life now.
In that moment, I realized that Mrs. Landers was a pipe dream and that really, I belong with my family, even if I am not happy with the circumstances. I made a slow pivot and schlepped my way down the driveway until at last I found myself standing in front of the pet door.
I closed my eyes and pushed through the opening, uncertain of what lie in wait for me on the other side.