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Old 02-26-2016, 08:42 PM   #31
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“Not a litterbox,” Carrie laughed. “A toy box.” She put Saav down and headed for the restaurant, leaving the adjoining door open. The cats watched her go, and heard the sound of laughter and pots and pans clanging. Ralph came through the door almost immediately.

“Cats! Bart! Pook and Saav!” he boomed. “Come get your Christmas breakfast!”

The cats laughed quietly, but Bart looked a little distressed. “Good grief, I didn’t get through that pile of goodies he left for me last night,” he whispered. “I think all I do is eat any more.”

“Then you must be real good at it by now. C’mon, I smell whitefish and cream sauce,” Pook teased. The cats trotted after Ralph, who had warmed up more leftovers from last night and placed three tempting plates in their usual corner.

A third cat door had been installed in the adjoining kitchen door for Bart so that he could go back and forth catching the mice and eating the delectables Ralph left for him every night. The three popped through, and saw turkeys and hams being prepared for warming up on the counters. Ralph and Brenda were glazing and basting, Joyce was working on biscuits and stuffing, and Carrie was opening bags of frozen veggies and putting them in steamers. Keeping their tails close and watching out for feet, they made their way over to the corner and dove into their plates.

Joyce watched them. “Ralph, you’ve got them so spoiled!” she smiled.

Ralph laughed. “Well, they sure have spoiled me. Free rodent control, and not only that, but I don’t use the garbage disposal half as much any more. Saves on the electric bill too!”

Suddenly, from the front, they heard tires squealing and a crash. Alarmed, the humans dropped everything and ran to the front door of the restaurant, and the cats abandoned their plates and ran behind them, jumping up in the big front windows as the four humans ran out the door.

A little green car was up on the sidewalk, and had crashed into the lightpole in front of the building. It didn’t look to be too badly damaged, and an older woman was trying to get out, obviously shaken.

“You ok?” Ralph asked as Carrie and Brenda went to help her.

“I’m fine,” she said, her voice trembling. “There was a kitten in the road, I tried to avoid hitting it…I don’t know where it went, or if I hit it…”

“Here, sit down,” said Carrie, leading her into the restaurant. Brenda went with her, and the others stayed out, looking for a kitten. Ralph found it, cowering in the doorway of the toy store two doors down. He picked it up and they all went back inside the restaurant.

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Old 02-26-2016, 08:46 PM   #32
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The little calico kitten was scared but unhurt, and the driver was terribly relieved. It seemed healthy, but awfully young, barely six weeks old. The other three cats went over to investigate, and the kitten was being petted by Ralph when it saw Bart.

Bart froze and stared in recognition.

The kitten yowled at him, and began to purr. Bart looked embarrassed.

Carrie caught his eye. “Excuse me just a minute,” she said, getting up, and making that slight motion with her hand that told Bart to follow her. They went to the storage room behind the shop.

“You know this kitten, don’t you?” she said kindly, scratching his chin.

He hung his head. “I found her in the alley about three nights ago. I’ve been feeding her, giving her the leftovers and some of my cat food, and I let her in to get water. I was going to ask you if you could maybe find her a home after the holidays. She talks too.”

“Another one from the same bunch you came from?”

“Yes,” he nodded. “Her mother just died in the mountains last week, and she found her way into the alley by hiding in the back of someone’s pickup truck and hitching a ride into town. She found this alley back here and I almost ran into her going out the cat door. I knew her mother.”

“How many of you talking cats are there, anyway?” Carrie asked, shocked.

Another one! Was she attracting them somehow?

He looked up at her. “More than you would ever believe.”

“Well, we can’t leave this little thing out in the cold. She almost got herself killed out there. She’s too little to fend for herself, anyway.” Carrie thought for a moment, frowning. “Would you like a roommate?”

Bart gasped. “Really? Yes!”

“Okay, then she is your Christmas present. How’s that work for you?”

Bart flew at Carrie, purring and nuzzling. “I’ll take good care of her. I’ll teach her to hunt. I’ll make sure she doesn’t make a mess. Belle’s a good little girl, kinda like Pook and Saav.”


He coughed and looked a little embarrassed. “I – uh, I named her.”

“I love the name,” she smiled, “but I have to ask – why Belle? Any particular reason?”

Bart nodded. “You know that little silver bell on the shelf by the little crystal angels in that china cabinet thing?”


“And remember when that little girl with that scarf and hat with those…what did you call them? Something colors.”

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Old 02-26-2016, 08:49 PM   #33
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“Fall colors,” said Carrie. “Okay, I follow.”

“She picked up the bell and rang it. Belle sounds a little like that when she laughs, maybe reminds me of a little bunch of silver bells ringing, and except for the green, those ‘fall colors’ in her hat and scarf are the same as Belle’s fur.”

Carrie smiled. “Bart, if I ever decide to have children, you’re going to have to help with the name. I like it. C’mon, Bart my man, let’s go welcome Belle to our odd little family.”

Bart jumped up and draped himself over her shoulder and together, they returned to the restaurant. Pook and Saav were watching the kitten drink from a saucer of watered-down milk, and the driver of the green car was calmer now, enjoying a cup of fresh, hot coffee. She was a pretty woman, about sixty-something, with short, curly graying blonde hair and twinkling blue eyes. She wore no makeup, but looked quite festive in her green wool skirt and red wool sweater. Twin tiny enameled Christmas trees dangled from her ears, and a gold cross on a chain around her neck glittered softly in the muted light.

“I was out delivering surprise presents to some friends, and on my way back when it ran across the street…just about under my wheels, I thought,” she was saying. “I hit the brakes and swerved into the pole.”

Ralph came back in, and returned her keys. “I don’t think it’s bad. The pole’s okay, the car runs fine – I moved it back on the street and parked it – and all I see is a good-sized bash in your bumper and your grille is cracked. That’s just cosmetic. The hood isn’t damaged, and neither are any of your lights. You couldn’t have been going very fast at all when it happened, because your airbags didn’t deploy,” he explained. “It’s fine to drive it.”

“Oh good,” she said. “You all are so nice. I’m sorry I caused such a panic…I didn’t expect you to be open, though. I brought my sister here back in October for dinner, and we enjoyed it very much.”

“I’m glad,” smiled Ralph. “Do you eat out much?”

“No, I’m on a special diet, so I eat at home pretty much all the time. When I do go out, it’s usually not for a meal. I go have coffee and ice cream as a treat somewhere.”

Ralph understood diets; his cholesterol level had forced him to make some changes in his own diet not too long ago.

“Diets are no fun,” he commiserated. “Can you eat turkey?”

“I sure can,” she replied.

“Can you stay for dinner? Free turkey and ham dinners for folks today. We do it every year,” offered Ralph.
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Old 02-26-2016, 08:52 PM   #34
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“Oh! You’re the ones who do that!” she laughed. “Could you use an extra pair of hands? I’d love to help.”

“You sure? You don’t have to, dear,” said Brenda.

“I don’t have any plans, and I can cook and serve, clean up, anything you need done, I can do. I volunteer three days a week at the at the women’s shelter over in Stansfield.” Stansfield was 35 miles away, just over the county line.

“Then you’re on!” exclaimed Ralph.

Obviously pleased, the lady told them her name was Anna Holloway. They all introduced themselves, poured another cup of coffee, and Carrie picked up the kitten, who had licked the saucer clean.

“And this little one, apparently, is a stray,” she said. “Her name is Belle, and she is going to be Bart’s little roommate. I think we have room for two, don’t you think, Ralph?”

The kitten’s eyes grew wide, as she looked questions at Bart. He smiled at her.

“Of course!” Ralph exclaimed. “She’s a little cutie, and I’d rather have her here than out in the street.”

“That’s wonderful!” said Anna, pleased and smiling. “I can’t have pets in my apartment, or I wouldn’t mind taking her in.”

Bart went over and licked Belle’s ear. “Welcome home,” he whispered quietly, so the humans wouldn’t hear. Pook and Saav smiled. Now they had another new friend.

The kitten purred, and looked at the happy faces around her. As the humans drank their coffee and talked, the cats listened and little Belle fell sound asleep in the middle of the table between Bart and Saav.

Lowery’s Porch was a hive of activity by nine o’clock in the morning, when the first ones showed up for a meal. The turkeys and hams were pre-cooked, so they only needed warming, and everything else was ready. More volunteers showed up, scheduled and unscheduled, to pitch in. Anna was the model of efficiency keeping the folks served and cleaning up. She had the energy of five younger people, and bustled busily about.

The cats retreated to the shop, and there, Belle was shown around, and Bart, Pook, and Saav were delighted to see this little rambunctious kitten take in all her surroundings. Plates came in, and Belle was amazed at all the food put in front of her. She dove into it, gobbling and smacking vigorously. With a tummy full of goodies from next door and all the fresh water she could drink, she ran and played until she wore herself out and fell asleep again, tucked into Bart’s bed.
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Old 02-26-2016, 08:55 PM   #35
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The older cats watched the tiny kitten snoring away under Bart’s blanket, as laughter, conversation, and Christmas carols filtered over through the open door into the shop. Carrie and Joyce came in with four plates of ham, turkey, potatoes and gravy, and stuffing for their lunch around noon, and set them down.

“It’s a little busy in the kitchen,” said Carrie. “Plus it’s noisy. We thought we’d bring this out here so you all can eat in peace without getting stepped on.”

“Thank you,” the older cats said with smiles. Belle woke up when the aroma from the plates tickled her nose, and got up, stretching.

“Oh boy! More food!” she exclaimed, dragging her already full tummy out of Bart’s bed and over to a plate.

They all laughed, and the cats attacked their plates. Carrie and Joyce went back to work next door, and through the day, the cats ate, played, slept, ate some more, and watched as Belle discovered Bart’s Christmas toy box.

Out came the catnip mice, the balls with the little bells in them, and all kinds of different cat toys. Belle latched onto a catnip mouse and dragged it under an antique desk, where she rolled and rubbed on it. Pook and Bart played floor hockey with one of the balls, and Saav snagged a little soft stuffed bear and took it to the top of Bart’s kitty condo, curling up with it and dropping into deep, blissful sleep.

Carrie came into the shop again later, and found Saav on top of the condo snoring, Bart and Belle curled up in his catbed, and Pook stretched out on the counter next to the cash register, all fast asleep. She looked at them and laughed.

“You little messes are the laziest things I ever saw,” she teased them.

Saav looked up and belched. “We’re not lazy, we’re stuffed.”

“Uggggghhh, I ate too much,” groaned Pook, starting to rise but giving up and flopping back on the counter.

Bart looked up helplessly. “I think I put on twelve more pounds today. You might want to think about widening those cat doors if I keep this up.”

Belle just smiled and snuggled closer to Bart. “When’s dinner?” she asked.

The other cats looked at Belle as if she were nuts, then smiled at Carrie, who laughed at the tiny scrap of a kitten. “Soon, sweetheart, in just a little while.”

“Oh, good,” sighed Belle, smiling. Carrie patted her head and went back next door.

Pook raised her head barely enough to eye the kitten from the top of the counter. “You still hungry, Belle?”
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Old 02-26-2016, 08:58 PM   #36
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Belle thought about it. “No, I guess not really…I just like the idea of being able to eat when I get hungry and not have to go without.”

Bart licked the kitten’s ear. “I know how you feel. I came here begging the mice those two had caught but didn’t eat. I was so hungry, I was weak. I was skinny. But those bad days are behind us now.”

Pook smiled. “Yep, Belle, you have a forever home now, with Bart. We’ll be here two or three times a week to visit.”

“What? You and Saav don’t live here?” Belle cried, her eyes sad.

“We have a forever home just a few blocks away, a nice house with Joyce in there,” Pook nosed toward the kitchen.

“We visit all the time,” Saav assured her. “Don’t worry, we’ll always be around.”

“They are,” nodded Bart. “Though not every day as I’d like, but almost every other day. But now I’ll always have you to keep me company, so now I won’t be so lonely.” He gave Belle a whisker-kiss.

“Oh. Well, okay. But I wish you lived here too,” said Belle stubbornly, then put her head back down.

Pook smiled over at Saav. This one was going to be a little handful.

But right now, she was a sleepy, full and happy little handful. Pook and Saav knew that now she was here, the visits to Sullivan’s Antiques and Gifts were going to be twice as much fun.

Bart purred, feeling like a proud big brother, and made plans for teaching the little one how to get the best out of her life as she slept safely next to him. The older cats quietly discussed this over Belle’s sleeping head.

The dawn came late on the day after Christmas, the skies grey and leaden. Freezing rain was falling and though the shop was warm, the damp and chill outside almost made Bart shiver down to his pads. He turned and watched as the kitten woke up, yawning and stretching. She was tired from playing with their toys from the box all night, and in order to get her to calm down a little so he could sleep, he had cuddled up to her in the big catbed, tucked his blue chenille blanket around her, and told her stories about ancient talking cats and cats that could fly until she dropped off to sleep, purring. Now she looked at him, with her bright little round blue eyes.

“Good morning,” he smiled.

She yawned again, showing little tiny needle-sharp kitten teeth. “Morning, Bart. Is there anything left to eat?”

“Some ham, a little turkey, pie, veggies, and you can have my sweet potato if you want it,” he replied. “Plus our cat food in the bowl.”

Belle smacked her lips. “You don’t want that sweet potato? You sure?”
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Old 02-26-2016, 09:01 PM   #37
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Bart smiled. This little calico was interesting – she loved vegetables. “Of course, help yourself. Carrie will be in here in a couple hours or so, and she knows where Ralph keeps the leftovers for us. She’ll get us more when she comes in, then Ralph will be coming in to start lunch, and we’ll get even more then, if you want.”

Wide-eyed, she looked up at him on the windowsill from the catbed. “Do we always get this much to eat? And it’s warm in here. Is it always this warm?”

“It’s always warm, and there’s always lots to eat.” He laughed. “We live next to a restaurant. Humans can be rather wasteful, and they don’t always finish their meals…and they pay for those.”

Belle frowned and shook her head. “Well, more for us, I suppose. It was nice of Joyce to bring me a litterbox and put it back there. Now I don’t have to go outside. Bart, I never knew what it really was to be warm.”

“Now you do, Belle.”

“Pook and Saav said I would be here forever?”

“Forever, Belle, with Carrie and Ralph and me,” he assured her.

She sighed happily and smiled. Stretching and yawning again, she made her way over to the plates on the floor by their food and water bowls, and tore into the vegetables.

“What’s this?” she asked, pulling out a fairly large piece of what sort of resembled a tree to Bart.

“Yuck. That’s broccoli,” he said.

“I like it,” she said, and devoured it. Next was the sweet potato, then the rest of the beans and corn, and on to the pumpkin pie.

“Now get some of that ham and turkey, Belle, remind me you’re a cat, okay?” he told her sourly.

She put her little pink kitten-nose up at him, but helped herself to the ham and turkey anyway. Bart smiled. This one was just full of everything, especially attitude. He watched her eat hungrily, as if she were starving. Well, she used to be, he thought, so you just eat up, little one.

The little kitten stepped away from the plates, and over to the water bowl, slurping away. After a moment, she walked over to the window where Bart was and jumped up to join him on the wide sill.

“What are we going to do today? Are Pook and Saav coming over again?” she asked.

“They might. A lot of times Joyce drops them off on her way to work in the morning and picks them up in the afternoon,” Bart said.

“How old are they? Are they really sisters? Can we go see them at their forever home?”
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Old 02-26-2016, 09:03 PM   #38
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This little thing was full of questions, he thought with a smile. “They’re about a year old, not quite full-grown yet. They aren’t blood sisters from the same litter, but they were both adopted as kittens and raised as sisters together. Yes, we will go see them when you get a little bigger. They live with a huge dog, and I want you to be able to defend yourself a little better and grow a little bigger before we go over there.”

“I don’t like dogs. They chase me.”

“Their dog won’t. She’s a sweet girl. The worst she’ll do is drool on you and try to groom you.”

“Gaaahhhh!! Dog drool is nasty!” Belle shivered, making a face.

“Well, dog bites are worse, and she doesn’t bite cats. I think you might like her,” smiled Bart.

“Hmm. Well, I’ll try. So what are we going to do today?”

“When Carrie gets here, she’ll want to visit with us for awhile and see how your first night here went. She’ll probably get you some things you need and bring those. Then we’ll see…I don’t really know. Every day is fun and different.”

“I don’t need anything,” said Belle.

“Yes, you do. I heard them talking over there while you were playing with Pook and Saav last night. You need kitten food and vitamins, kitty litter, and your own bed and blanket, stuff like that.”

“What’s wrong with your bed? I like sharing your bed.”

“It’s fine for now, but you’ll want your own bed and your own blanket when you get bigger. And you shouldn’t be on regular adult cat food yet, you’re still growing.”

“But Pook and Saav are still growing, and they’re on adult cat food. They told me yesterday,” Belle argued.

“Yes, but for the most part, they’re big girls. You’re still tiny, and you’ve been starved. That’s not healthy for little teeth and bones. You want to grow up big and strong and pretty, right?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Then you eat the kitten food and take your vitamins. Drink lots and lots of water to keep your insides healthy. And in no time, you’ll be a big, beautiful, sleek and strong cat. Okay?” he smiled at Belle.

She sighed. “I guess. Gee, there’s a lot to this growing-up stuff.”

“Oh, yes,” Bart agreed. “Hey, look, there’s Carrie’s car now!”

The kitten followed his gaze out the window. Carrie’s blue Jeep pulled up in the reserved spot in the front, and she began unloading a huge bag and a big box out of the back. She stacked them at the front door, unlocked and opened the door, and dragged it all in.
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Old 02-26-2016, 09:06 PM   #39
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She saw them on the windowsill. The kitten, so happy to see her, flew from the sill up into Carrie’s arms, purring. Carrie laughed.

“Good morning, Belle. Did you sleep well and have fun?”

“Oh yes I did! And Bart gave me his sweet potato this morning. I like broccoli. Can I have more, please?”

Bart raised his eyebrows and shook his head at the kitten’s impetuosity. Carrie smiled.

“You can have as much as you want. Vegetables are good for you,” she replied.

“Cats are carnivores,” Bart pointed out loudly.

Carrie gave Bart a good-natured glare. “Yes. But veggies won’t kill her, Bart. She needs the vitamins in them anyway.”

“Gaaahhh,” sniffed Bart.

She put the kitten down on the floor and went over to look at the plates. “There aren’t any vegetables left at all. Did you eat all those, Belle?”

Belle nodded. “Pook and Saav ate a little, but they gave me the rest of theirs, I
finished mine, and Bart gave me the rest of his too. He doesn’t like them too much.”

“Well, good, now there’s that little piece of ham left there. One of you finish that up and I’ll get you fresh plates.”

Belle looked at Bart. “Go ahead, Bart. You gave me your sweet potato, you can have my ham.”

He smiled. “Okay, thanks.” He jumped down and went to the plate and finished the ham.

Belle sniffed toward the boxes and bags Carrie had brought in. “What’s in this?” she asked.

“Well, let’s take a look.” Carrie sat down and pulled a box toward her chair, and pulled out a catbed like Bart’s, and a pink chenille blanket.

“Oooooooo!” Belle purred loudly, smiling.

“Your own bed and blanket,” Carrie told her. She opened a bag, and got out a lovely pink china bowl, a bag of kitten food, a jar of kitten vitamins, and several tiny, soft stuffed animals. “These are for you, too.”

“Wow!” said Belle, looking at the pretty pink bowl and the collection of stuffed creatures. She watched as Carrie opened the bag of food and filled her new bowl, putting it next to Bart’s blue one.

“Try this,” Carrie said. The kitten went over and sniffed, then tasted a few bites.

“It’s good,” Belle nodded. “But I’m still full.”

“It’s about time,” snickered Bart, coming over to investigate the goodies.
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Old 02-26-2016, 09:09 PM   #40
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“One more thing,” said Carrie, opening the last box.

Belle’s eyes widened. “Ooooo, what’s that?”

“It’s a recirculating water fountain. It will keep your water a lot fresher than sitting in the bowl. I’ll set it up and you can try it.”

Bart sniffed her bed and blanket. “This is nice, Belle. Just like mine, but pink.”

“Yeah, it is. Maybe I will like my own bed. The food isn’t bad, it’s just a little dry. I like what they give us from the restaurant better, though.”

“I do too, but we have to eat the other stuff as well.”

Belle sighed happily, looking around at her surroundings, and pawed her blanket. “So soft,” she said dreamily.

“Sure beats sleeping in cold, dirty corners on trash and rocks, doesn’t it?” Bart smiled.

“Ohhh…” Belle shook her head. “A home, and friends, and…I wish all animals had these.”

“Well, at least cats and dogs, anyway, and other pets. I don’t think a walrus or a polar bear would want a cat bed in an antique shop,” Bart teased her. He could see she was a little overwhelmed and trying to take it all in.

I know how you feel, he thought. It happened to me, too. Ain’t life great? Bart smiled to himself as Belle inspected a tiny teddy bear.

Carrie returned, and plugged the water fountain in. The water began to move and swirl a little, entrancing Belle. She watched it intently, tilting her head and flicking her ears at it, then she pounced face-first into the basin. She let out a bubbly yowl, and flew back out of the fountain, shaking and hissing.

“That’s wet!” she squawked indignantly, pawing water out of her face.

Carrie and Bart laughed. “It’s water, Belle. It may be moving, but it’s still water,” said Carrie.

“You’re supposed to drink it, not swim in it,” remarked Bart.

Belle gave the fountain a dirty look, and set to drying herself off. Just then, Pook and Saav came blasting in through the cat door, and immediately saw the drenched kitten.

“What happened to you?” asked Pook. “They give you a bath or something?”

“She took a dive into our new water fountain,” said Bart.

Saav giggled. “Poor thing.”

Pook looked over at the water fountain. “That looks cool. How’s it taste?”

“Right now it probably tastes like kitten,” Bart scowled.

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