Josh sneezed for the third time in a row.
“I’m done saying bless you,” Rebecca said. He glanced at her to see the woman giving him a crooked smile. “Are you allergic to cats?”
“I never have been before,” he said, looking through the window at the cat condos. “I grew up with a cat… Maybe that’s why I could suddenly breathe better after moving out to college.”
Rebecca laughed, but paused before entering the cat condos. “Should we not get cats—”
“No, I’ll be fine,” Josh said, reaching around her for the door handle. “If anything, it just means I’ll need to get allergy medicine.”
She leaned back and let him open the door. “Fine, but if you start wheezing, I’m hauling your ass out of there.”
“I appreciate that you would do that for me.” He gave her a cheeky grin and led the way into the shelter’s cat condos.
Meows and fur flew through the air as soon as the pair entered the room. A long-haired cat batted at Josh’s leg as he attempted to walk in, its tail twitching, and he tried to let Rebecca in after him while simultaneously blocking the exit to be sure the cat didn’t leave.
“That’s Shelley,” a shelter worker said as he caught up to the entrance. Scooping the long-haired cat up, he added, “She likes to try to escape.”
“Can’t be that bad in here, can it?” Josh joked.
The worker grinned. “We do our best,” he said, putting Shelley atop a cat climber. “I’m Markus. If you have any questions, I’m your guy.”
“Thank you,” Rebecca said. “We’re actually looking for two cats.”
“Ah, a pair of bonded cats?” Markus asked. “So they can keep each other company when you’re at work or away?”
“Well, no,” Josh said. “She and I are friends and neighbors, both looking for a cat for different reasons. She would like a cat for her sister and I just want someone to talk to so I don’t become crazy from talking to myself at home.”
Markus grinned wider, showing off a pair of dimples. “Any one of these rescues would be fantastic roommates for you, sir. I suggest just wandering around and meeting the cats, see who you think would be a good fit for you. As for your sister…”
He turned to Rebecca, asking questions about Sarah’s personality and the type of home they had. Josh wandered further into the room as Rebecca mentioned Moose, which probably helped narrow down the cat choices for the woman. Josh found himself at the head of an aisle of cat tunnels and climbing structures, seeing about half a dozen pairs of cat eyes gazing at him. Glancing back at Rebecca and Markus, Josh watched with amusement as the worker gestured enthusiastically with his words, his hand brushing back his red hair every so often.
A mew caught Josh’s attention and he turned to the side to come face-to-face with a light brown cat. The cat was standing at the top of a climbing structure, stretching its neck out to try to sniff Josh without moving its feet. Josh slowly moved closer, bringing up a hand for the cat to sniff. The cat’s paw darted out to grab at his hand, gently trying to move it closer.
Josh was patient as the cat smelled his hand before suddenly chomping on a finger.
“Ow.” It didn’t really hurt, but Josh was surprised at the action. He wiggled his finger loose and the cat blinked at him.
“I heard an ‘ow.'” Markus appeared at the head of the aisle and Josh pretended he didn’t jump at the other man’s sudden appearance.
“Oh, I’m fine,” Josh said. “This little bugger just decided to see if my finger was a snack. Didn’t even break skin.”
Markus came closer, close enough for Josh to smell his cologne as the shelter employee inspected Josh’s finger. With an amused glance at the cat, Markus said, “Peanut was playing with you.”
“Biting is playing?”
“Nipping is a common way for cats to play,” Markus said. “She also has her play face on. See the half-open mouth?”
The cat’s gaze was darting between the two men, her thin tail lazily swishing behind her. Markus grabbed a toy mouse that jingled from another shelf and tossed it atop of the cat’s ledge. Peanut pounced immediately after it before bringing the toy back to the ledge and dropping it to the ground at Josh’s feet.
“Think she likes you,” Markus said.
Josh thought so too.
It didn’t take too long for the adoption papers to be filled out and, by the time Peanut was being prepped to go home, Rebecca was making her choice for a cat.
Josh waited much more patiently for Rebecca’s cat than Peanut did — the cat paced in her cardboard carrier, meowing all the while. Soon enough, the Miller’s cat was ready to go as well. Fairly young, around the same age as Peanut, the cat Rebecca had picked out was mostly black with a few white splotches notably around his feet, eyes, and one ear.
“Markus said this little guy came from a home with three small dogs,” Rebecca said. “Hopefully he and Moose will get along just fine together.”
“I’m sure they will,” Josh agreed. “If not… Well, maybe the cat can have his own room.”
“That’s true,” she said.
“Besides, you can always call Markus for any questions.”
She gave him a curious glance. “Yes, I’m sure the shelter will help out however they can.”
Josh raised an eyebrow and fished a business card from his pocket. “Didn’t Markus give you his card and number?”
Her lips twisted up in a crooked smile. “No, he didn’t.”
Josh’s stomach did an odd flip. “Oh… Well, I have it if you need it.”
She hummed in agreement and slid into the driver’s seat. “Thanks for coming with me.”
“Let’s be honest, I invited myself,” Josh said, getting into the passenger seat with Peanut on his lap and the Miller’s cat by his feet. “I should be thanking you for putting up with me—Hey, hey, none of that, you two.”
Both Peanut and the Miller’s cat, no doubt from the anxiety of leaving the shelter and being stuck in cardboard crates, gave each other a couple of hisses. Josh maneuvered Peanut’s crate so Peanut was looking in Rebecca’s general direction rather than the other cat by Josh’s feet.
Rebecca spared a glance at the cats in their crates. “Guess kitty playdates are out of the question.”
“Most likely,” Josh agreed. He paused a moment before adding, “But, uh, Sarah and you are welcome over anytime, you know, to watch movies or something. I dunno if that sounds creepy at all, or anything, but—”
“No, you’re fine.” Rebecca gave him a quick grin. “Thank you for the invitation. We’ll take you up on it and return it at some point.”
He relaxed in the passenger seat, smiling at the side of Rebecca’s face as she kept her eyes on the road. The rest of the ride was in companionable silence, with the occasional hiss or meow of a cat. It was a little awkward trying to maneuver Peanut and all her belongings into the house, but Josh made due. He hadn’t wanted to make Rebecca leave her cat in the car, not when their cat was beginning to use the cardboard crate as a scratching post.
“Alright, Peanut.” Josh shut the door, put Peanut’s crate down on the ground, and released her. “Welcome home.”
The cat walked out of the crate like she knew she owned the place, her tail swishing lazily behind her as she gazed around. With a mrrow, she deftly leaped from a kitchen chair to the counter and sat, her tail draping around her front paws, while staring at Josh.
He sneezed. “I’m going to have to get used to cat fur on everything again, aren’t I?”