77: Lonely Leo

77: Lonely Leo

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Can't Believe My Cat Did That!

Lonely Leo

There is something about the presence of a cat . . . that seems to take the bite out of being alone.

~Louis J. Camuti

Waving goodbye to the movers, I slid the patio door shut. The frozen smile I’d been wearing all day melted off my face.

“If war is hell, moving must be purgatory,” I muttered.

My cat circled my ankles, willing me to pick him up. I knelt and rubbed his neck. “It’s just you and me now, Leo, but let’s cuddle later. You’ll feel better once we get organized.”

I scanned the stacks of boxes. Which one held his feeding bowls? A good guess found them and a bonus teacup for me. Another foray located the cat food and teabags.

“Let’s start making this home, shall we?”

I chose a spot in my small apartment for his feeding area and poured his food and water. No interest on his part. More circling.

I brewed a cup of tea and headed for the couch. The boxes could wait. I plopped down and tapped the cushion. Leo jumped on my lap, hiding his head under my arm in his “gimme shelter” pose. I stroked his downy soft Maine Coon coat.

“I know, I don’t like it either,” I sighed, “but you learned to like our other new homes.” A mental count brought me to six. Six new homes in his short ten years.

But this time, we were alone.

Husband gone; stepchildren gone; Rottweiler gone. I wondered who Leo would miss the most. One thing was for sure, it would be quieter, but this kind of quiet hurt. Leaning in, I pulled his cheek to mine. We needed this moment, he and I, the last remnants of family. The rays of a sinking sun cast shadows among the boxes. I blinked back tears. “You’ll see,” I whispered. “We’ll make it.”

The sprawling apartment complex turned out to be jammed with singles. Single. A word I had to get used to, but these welcoming people changed my world. Barbecues and poolside meets filled my nights. The quiet apartment sounded with music and happy chatter, and through it all, weaved Leo.

So many laps to choose from! So many willing hands for a stroke of the fur. More people at the door? Leo greeted each group with a wiggly flop on his back. “Here,” he seemed to say, “scratch my tummy. That’s the spot. I’ll keep acting like a dog if you’ll pet me.”

The summer months flew by and I marveled at the quick adjustment we made. I was happier than I had ever been, and Leo was content.

Or so I thought.

I gave a sleeping Leo a quick caress on my way across the open patio. No time for more. The new girl, Laura, was hosting a Labor Day party, but I had only a general idea where she lived. My hurried pace soon turned to a stroll. The winding trail along two lakes allowed me the enjoyment of tiki torches, aromatic food grilling, and neighbors who tossed invitations to join their holiday revelry.

Laura’s guests overflowed her tiny place, spilling onto the lawn. Reggae songs blared through extra-large speakers. Hours passed, wine flowed, and the music got louder. It seemed people couldn’t resist turning up the volume when their favorite songs played. I left the lawn chair and went inside, seeking shelter from the assault on my eardrums. I joined a group of women chatting in the kitchen.

“I think I hear someone calling you,” my friend said.

How could she hear anything over the din? A head popped around the corner and a hand clutched my shoulder.

“There you are,” Laura said. “I’ve been looking all over for you. Leo’s here.”

I blinked. My eardrums must have been in worse shape than I thought. “What did you say?”

She shook my shoulder. “Leo. He’s in the living room. I think he wants you.”

Pushing my way through the crowd, I scanned the ground. There he was, in a forest of legs, looking up at each face in a concerted search.

I lunged and scooped him up, holding him baby style. “What are you doing here, you crazy cat?”

He went limp in my arms. I sensed relief flow through him. In what can only be called kitty adoration, he locked his tired gaze on mine. And deep in those green eyes was an unmistakable question. “Have you forgotten me?”

A rapid-fire picture show of the week’s activities shot through my mind. Each frame showed me somewhere other than home. Work during the day, out each night, and the worst frame, brushing by Leo on my way out the door.

“I have to leave,” I said past the lump in my throat. I clutched Leo to me.

“That’s some cat,” I heard someone say.

Leo made no attempt to leave my arms during the long walk home.

Some cat is right.

“How on earth did you find me? Did you check each of these parties along the way?” A guilty mother feeling swept over me. How lonely does a cat have to be to come find you in a sixty-acre complex?

I set him on his favorite “watch the world go by” patio chair, but he streaked toward the bedroom the minute I slid the door open. He stopped once to look back in his “follow me” pose.

I lay next to him on the bed, rubbing his chest and little paws. “I’m so sorry, Leo. Did the quiet get to you? I shouldn’t have left you alone so much. How could I forget you lost your whole family, too?”

Long after my soothing words should have sent him to sleep, the slightest stir caused his eyes to open. “I’m here,” I assured him, until his soft, even breath told me he would not awaken.

I studied him while he slept. I’m no animal expert, but I knew one thing for certain. His feline world was rocky and only I could smooth it.

The call went out the next day to my closest friends. From now on, we’d throw the shrimp on the barbie at my place.

“Leo’s lonely,” was all I needed to say, and these kindhearted people understood.

Soon, I wondered just who they were coming to see. Leo got the first hello, the last goodbye, and a million treats and cuddles in between. Okay with me. What can be wrong in a world with a contented cat stretching nearby?

Now when I close the door after the last guest has left, Leo and I watch the shadows of a setting sun nestled in a warm, peaceful, quiet.

Just right for a family of two.

~Sammie Callahan-Hutchens

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