Dreams Unwind

[t w o]

“C’mon, Tubs, I know you’re not happy, but stop biting at me and let me stuff you in your carrier.”

Tubs growls at me, swipes at my face with extended claws, and I just barely manage to yank my head back in time. Frustration grows deep in me the more I fight with the cat, and I stifle the stream of curse words when he twists just right and the cloth folds under his weight. Eventually, with a little more force than I usually use, I get him in and the flap zipped up. His ears flatten against his skull, and he hisses as I clip the zips together.

“Sorry, dude, but you’re a dick.”

I make sure the door is locked behind me before heading to my car. Buckling the carrier into the front passenger seat, I scratch my nails lightly on the mesh top, close the door as gently as I can, and round the vehicle to slide into the driver’s seat. Tubs is very vocal in his displeasure at being confined and in a car, and I turn the radio up so I don’t have to hear him any more. I know he’s fine. He’s just being bratty.

A small smile twists at my lips when the song from yesterday starts playing. I relax back in my seat and lets the scratchy, silky voice fill my ears. Tubs falls silent eventually but not until I’m putting the car in park. I roll my eyes when the cacophony starts up again once the engine is off. I call him a dick again and grab my phone, the carrier, and my purse.

The appointment goes about as well as I could have expected: Doctor Simmons tuts over the cat’s weight, his lips thin and brows furrowed, even though Tubs has been forced to stick to the diet he was put on - minus the occasional treat. The poor vet tech gets a nice set of sharp claws to her cheek when she leans down too far to keep Tubs from moving as Doctor Simmons takes his temperature. I somehow manage to catch my cat before he can successfully leap off the examination table, receiving a growling hiss in return. Finally, he receives his vaccinations, I shove him back into his carrier, and we head back to the lobby so I can pay for the visit.

I’m not even sure how it happens: One second, I’m carrying a yowling, angry cat to the car, and the next, said yowling, angry cat is running off through the parking lot, carrier hanging limply from my shoulder. I freeze, staring after the blur of white and grey before it disappears into the bushes surrounding the building, then my brain snaps into action. I drop the useless carrier and take off in the direction that Tubs has gone. Unfortunately, there’s no sight of the fat cat when I duck down to search the hedges. My heart races painfully against my ribs, and my throat tightens. Nausea grabs hold, accompanied by an inhuman dose of panic and fear, and my hands tremble as I shove thin branches aside to look more closely.

“Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no, this isn’t good. Tubs! C’mere, buddy. Come on, fat cat, I can’t handle this today. Please.” I click my tongue over and over and over, but unlike every other time, he doesn’t come running to my side. “Fuck. Tubs McFatty, come on, come here.”

“Uh? Is everything okay?”

I whirl around at the voice, and the guy’s eyes widen. I know how awful I must look right now, between the tears and puffy eyes and snotty nose, but I can’t care about that - all I care about is finding my cat. “I… my cat. He’s, he’s gone. He ran off. I can’t lose my cat.”

“Okay. What does he look like?”

“What?”

“I’ll help you look. What does he look like? Do you have a picture of him?”

“I, yeah, um…”

“All right, why don’t we sit right here, take some calming breaths -”

“I can’t calm down! I’ve lost my cat, and he’s - he’s the most important thing in my life, I need to find him!”

The guy raises his hands in the air and slowly approaches. “I get that, I promise. But panicking is only going to make things worse. Trust me.”

“Trust you?” I let out a laugh that sounds less derisive and more manic. “Dude, I don’t even know you. Okay? I don’t know you, I don’t owe you anything. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going back to searching for my cat.”

I turn my back to him and push myself further into the bushes. It’s no use - wherever Tubs has run off to, it isn’t here. A sob tears from my throat, and I slam my hand against the ground, yelping when a piece of mulch pricks my palm. Cursing, I flop down onto the curb and bury my face in my knees. A hand, warm and gentle, rests on my shoulders, squeezes comfortingly.

“I’m sorry. I was just trying to help, but I guess it came off wrong. I didn’t mean to upset you more.” He sighs, holds out a tissue. “How about you text me a photo of your cat, and if I see him, I give you a ring? I can even help put up some missing posters, get the word out more?”

I scrub a hand over my cheeks, though it doesn’t do a lick of good; I’m still crying too hard at the thought of having lost Tubs. The guy wiggles the tissue closer to my face, and I reluctantly giggle at the exaggerated pouting expression on his face. Taking it from him, I dab at my eyes. We sit in silence, cars speeding past the only sound around. Eventually, I drag in an unsteady breath.

“Sorry about the whole ‘being a bitch’ thing.”

“No, don’t worry about it. You’re scared, stressed… It’s understandable.”

“I would appreciate your help, though. Thank you.”

His arm slides across my shoulders, and I let myself get tugged into his side. My heart is still pounding in my chest, and I’m barely managing to prevent myself from throwing up. But I have to admit it’s nice to not be alone right now. Not when the one thing that matters most in my life has disappeared and I’m left freaking out. After a few minutes, I push away, wiping my face with a hand. A stinging sensation zips through my palm, and I glare down at the shred of wood embedded in my flesh.

“Fuck.”

“Let me see.” His hand is gentle as he pulls mine toward him, and I shiver slightly at the touch. “Okay, do you trust me?”

“Again with the trusting,” I quip, laughing despite myself.

“Well, it’s either trust me, or have your hand fall off because your stubbornness caused the splinter to get infected.”

“Oh, those are my only choices? Those are both terrible.”

His green eyes narrow. “You’re being very mean right now. I don’t know why I’m trying to help.”

“Because you’re obviously a sweetheart. Fine. If you think you can fix my hand, have at it. On one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“Your name. So I know who to blame and subsequently haunt if I die.”

“Harry,” he responds on a chuckle, “my name is Harry.”

I raise my brows when he leans over my hand, his nose nearly pressing to my palm, but I don’t say anything. He murmurs an apology at the hiss of pain I let out as his nails search for a good grip on the mulch piece, and I shrug though he can’t see it. The stinging grows in intensity, becomes actual pain, but then the splinter slides out of my skin. I flex my fingers and bite my lip as the skin stretches around the tiny wound. Nodding to myself, I glance over at Harry.

“Thanks.”

“This means you’re not going to haunt me, right?”

“It absolutely does not. I could still die from this, y’know.” I turn my attention to the bushes behind us, chest tightening with loss when there’s still no mass of fur hiding in there. “Fuck.”

“Come on. Let’s get a coffee or something, then we can search for - what’s your cat’s name?”

“Tubs McFatty,” I mumble, repeat it louder when he tilts his head closer to mine.

Harry stares at me, face scrunched up in incredulity, before he bursts into laughter. I huff and shove myself to my feet. I’m halfway across the parking lot when he catches up; his grip on my arm, though easy enough to pull away from, stops me short, and I sigh, facing him.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have laughed. I wasn’t expecting something like that.”

“What, something so ridiculous? Yeah, I get it. I got him when he was already eight, so changing his name wouldn’t have been easy. He answers to Tubs well enough, so I kept it. I mean, he also answers to ‘Hey, you dick’, but I think that’s because he expects treats every time I talk to him.”

Harry falls into step beside me, and we walk in silence to my car. The carrier still lies in a pile of cranberry-coloured polyester near the sidewalk. I deliberate leaving it where it is, but Doctor Simmons and his staff don’t deserve the littering, so I pick it up and unlock the car. I toss the carrier into the backseat, slamming the door shut, and rounds the front to stand by the driver’s side door.

“You said something about coffee?”

Harry nods, gestures toward the passenger seat. “Can I get in?”

“No, I’m gonna make you walk after you so gallantly rescued my hand from a splinter.”

He rolls his eyes but opens the door, sliding into the seat, and I let out a sigh and stare at the hedges. Wherever Tubs is, he’s probably long gone by now. So Harry’s suggestion of missing posters is most likely my best bet. I still scan the side of the road as I drive to the closest Starbucks, hoping in spite of the reality of the situation that he will be found frolicking happily in the grass in front of some building. It hurts, though it really shouldn’t, when there isn’t a sighting of him by the time I pull into a parking space. Harry waits until I’ve turned off the engine before unbuckling his belt. We come to a stop by the trunk of the car, and he presses his fingertips against the back of my arm.

“How about I go get our drinks while you find a place to sit? What do you want to drink?”

Once he has my order, he heads off toward the door with a smile, and I examine the tables out front. The umbrellas are up, casting shadows in the bright sunlight, and I make my way toward the one that seems to be putting off more shade than the rest. I pull out my phone, tapping the button to compose a new message to my dad.

<< Will need ice cream. Tell Uncle Henry I’m sorry, but his mint chocolate chip is gonna have to be sacrificed to the greater good…

>> Everything ok??

<< I’ll explain when I get home. Love you.

>> Love you to starlight

I grimace but don’t say anything about his grammar. Instead, I lock my phone just as Harry approaches the table, two drinks in hand. He passes one over to me, and I take a sip while he sits with his back to the window. I scrub a hand over my face, wincing at the tightness in my cheeks from the dried tears. As he stares out at the traffic and people passing by, I rake my gaze over him.

The outfit he’s wearing is certainly… something else, something I never would have imagined working as well as it does. His dark hair curls at the edges, but the majority of it is swept up and to the side; the amount of volume in his hair is, quite frankly, astonishingly and worthy of my jealousy. I question whether he’s wearing mascara because there is literally no way anyone has lashes that dark and long naturally, and the green of his eyes is much more pronounced now that I’m no longer looking at him through fear-filled tears. He looks oddly familiar, though I can’t place where I might have seen him before. Harry catches me staring and gives me a soft smile while I hurriedly take a drink to cover my embarrassment.

“So about that picture of your cat.”

A garbled sound escapes my throat, and I quickly swallow down the mouthful of coffee. He waits patiently as I put in my PIN and scroll through the photo gallery until I find the photo I took of Tubs not even two days ago. My breath comes out in a shaky rattle, and I hand him the device. His aww is soft but still audible; I reach over, blindly swiping across the screen so that the next image will load. He snorts, bites his lip, and belatedly, I remember which photograph it is - Tubs had gotten upset with the lack of attention from me and crawled across my chest until he was lying on the lower half of my face, staring down at me with an almost bored expression on his feline face. Too caught up in my panicked thoughts about what I’m going to do if I don’t find my cat, I see but don’t register the way Harry’s fingers tap at the screen of my phone. He hands it back after a moment.

“How much do I owe you?” I ask quietly, the silence between us having grown to an uncomfortable level.

“For what?”

“The coffee, duh.”

“Nothin’ doing. It’s on me.”

“Harry -”

“You’ve had a bad day. This is the least I can do to make up for it.” He cocks his head, giving ne an impish grin. “Now the surgery I performed on your hand, though… that’s a different story.”

His face loses some of the amusement when someone shouts from behind me, and I frown at him. He sighs and glances at his watch. I keep her gaze on him even as the voices get louder, closer. He squirms in his chair, keeps his face toward the ground.

“Wanna get out of here?”

He shoots me an appreciative smile, and with that, we both start speed-walking toward my car, sliding in and buckling up. He checks that no one is following as I drive away from the coffeeshop. There is no set destination in mind, just away. Something tells me I should feel awkward, reluctant to have this perfect stranger in my car, but I ignore that voice in my head. Harry helped a perfect stranger today, so it’s only right that I do the same for him. I eventually pull into a turnout alongside the highway, putting the car in park. The buildings of downtown jut up from the ground, small with distance yet still daunting despite it. Harry grabs his coffee from the cup holder.

“Thank you.”

I drag my gaze away from the Hollywood Bowl. “What?”

“Thank you.”

“For getting you away from a situation you looked insanely uncomfortable to be in?”

“Yeah,” he chuckles. “I just -”

“You don’t have to explain.”

>> Mint chocolate chip is sitting here melting. If I had known this was the sacrifice, I would have said no.

“Ah, shit,” I mutter as I read Henry’s text.

“What is it?”

“I need to get home. Sorry.”

He nods slowly, and I stare out at the scenery in front of us before reversing out the spot. It isn’t too much longer, or so it seems, that I arrive back at Doctor Simmons’s office. Harry hesitates but turns to face me. I force a smile in response.

“I really hope you find Tubs McFatty.”

His voice cracks with stifled laughter, and I roll my eyes, shove half-heartedly at his shoulder. “Get out of my car, jerk.”

The quiet once he does so is deafening. I know I should head back to my house, but I decide to sit there and watch over him - just to protect him, of course. If he gets mugged, at least I’m right there to intervene. Purely protection. And maybe a little bit the fact that looking at him kicks up a fluttering beneath my breastbone, one that I’ve not felt in so long. Harry waves a goodbye to her as a car pulls into the lot, and I wiggle my fingers in response, bite my lip while he slides into the passenger seat of the vehicle. After they’ve left, I put my car in drive and point the wheels toward home.