8. Watercooler Chat
Bandit found Little One drinking from the container full of water the Twolegs had left in the bathroom sink. Bandit hopped onto the toilet lid and then up onto the counter next to the sink. He settled down and dipped his paw into the water. He sucked the water from the fur between his claws as he watched Little One lap water from the dish.
“Have you talked to your mother?” Bandit asked.
“No.” Little One replied. “Have you?”
Bandit had sensed that Little One’s kittenhood had diminished with the arrival of the strange Twolegs a week ago. He mourned the loss of Little One’s innocence. More than Little One would ever know, Bandit was actually hoping that Little One was right. Bandit had become attached to the male Twolegs of the house. Bandit had faintly smelled the trace other cats on the Twolegs when he had showed up in the junkyard. It had been the opposite of what Little One had smelled on the Twolegs couple. It was the scent of several generations of cats, some Bound and some Free, but they all had marked this Twolegs as one to be trusted. Bandit had been in no shape to fight the Twolegs when he was pulled from the drum of the dryer. Matted, dirty and starving, Bandit had been forced to hide from the junkyard Tom. Too early, Bandit had challenged his supremacy over the females of the junkyard colony. Bandit was now worried that he had destroyed the trust Little One had in the Twolegs Nofurs.
“And what should I be talking to her about?” Bandit asked.
“That you and I have been talking.” Little One replied. “That now I can tell whether the female Twolegs is happy or sad from across the room or that there is something wrong with the male Twolegs. That you taught me the nuances of Scent.”
“Do not use that term.” Bandit’s melancholy was quickly replaced with anger. “That is a term of the Free. And you are not one of the Free.”
“Neither are you.” Little One replied. “Not any more.”
“I was born of the Free and I will always be of the Free.” Bandit challenged. “And what are you Little One?”
“I don’t know anymore.” Little One admitted.
“Then maybe you are ready for more stories.” Bandit acquiesced.
“More of Blackpatch.” Bandit replied. “I think you are more like him than your mother would like. Also, I can teach you the Memory of the Free. I will have no offspring of my own to teach, Little One. I can teach you the secrets if you wish.”
“What about Momma?” Little One enquired.
“She has accepted you for who you are.” Bandit replied, “She hates me for teaching you the Scent. But she knows it probably saved Eppy and Alyssa from a very unhappy life. You are at crossroads, Little One. Once you cross it, you will never truly be able to live as a Bound Cat. It may prevent you from ever having the life your sisters and your mother enjoy.”
“I can not remain as I am.” Little One said sadly, “I can never live as Uncle Magoo or Momma now, but I will never be like you either.”
“Then listen to more of Blackpatch’s story.” Bandit stated. “Maybe it will help you find your Path. I believe the last time I left you with Blackpatch vowing to ensure his sister Whitepatch would get more to eat…”
Longfur returned to the den after a successful hunt. She found her kittens either playing or curled up sleeping. It had been four weeks since their birth. The Shadow was gone off several of her kittens, but it was still lingering over the littlest female, Whitepatch. Longfur could sense that it was growing stronger and darker. Longfur looked to her other four kittens. Blackpatch was completely free of the Shadow and the strongest of the remaining four, followed closely by Haze, Nightpaw and Blazefur. Longfur settled down and was soon mobbed by her kittens. By choice, she positioned her body between Whitepatch and the other feeding kittens. Blackpatch’s promise to his sister was forgotten as his own hunger overcame him and he attached himself to a teat.
“Momma.” Whitepatch cried out. “I can’t reach.”
“”You’ll have to climb over, Whitepatch.” Longfur guided her tiniest kitten.
Whitepatch strained to climb over her mother’s furry body. She finally reached her mother’s upper teats after much effort and exertion. Unfortunately, they had already been drained by her brothers and sisters. She managed to find an open lower teat, but there was not much milk left for Whitepatch. She suckled until it was dry.
“I’m still hungry.” Whitepatch complained.
“I’m sorry. Whitepatch.” Longfur licked Whitepatch’s head lovingly and regretfully. ”You have to be quicker. I don’t have more milk left right now.”
“I’ll be quicker. Momma.” Whitepatch murmured as she fell asleep under her mother’s grooming. “I promise I’ll be quicker.”
“…But Longfur had smelled and tasted the Shadow of the Darkening Road falling on her tiniest kitten.” Bandit softly concluded his story.
“What was the purpose of that?” Little One complained, “That wasn’t a story. When you want to teach me something, come find me. Otherwise leave me alone. I’ll be with the male Twolegs.”
Bandit regarded his little companion. The fuzz of kittenhood had fallen off Little One and was suddenly replaced with the sheen of adulthood.
“Meet me in the sunroom tomorrow.” Bandit called to Little One, as he trotted away. “When the sun hits the wicker chair.”