"Nekofurenzu" (Feline Friends)
Out into the air of the town I plunged, sprinting for the nearest store. Surely one would be close. All I needed was a bag of flour. At the first store sign I saw, I hurled my limbs through the door, nearly knocking a man over as I skidded down the aisles. I stopped at the drier foods section, beholding before me sacks of flower, then my jaw dropped in horror.
There must have been seventeen different types of flour! So many different brands, how did I know which I needed? I studied one after another, becoming more and more irritated as I scanned the package. All I wanted to see was “when using with cookies” on the side, or even the word ‘cookies’. Just something that told me I had the flour I was looking for. Finally I hotly flagged down an employee, nearly throwing the flour container in his face as I implored him to clarify for me whether or not I had the right kind of flour.
As soon as he said ‘yes’ to one of the flour sacks, I shouted a quick ‘thanks’ as I leapt for the checkout stand. I already had my money ready by the time the lady was ready to receive it, and once the change entered my hand I was out the door and back down the street. From there I leapt past people and over pets as I sprinted for the car. Once I saw my car, I picked up the pace until I was around at the driver’s side. I was in the car and slammed the door so fast I almost got my arm holding the flour stuck in the door.
Once I was back in the apartment, I sprinted down the hall towards my room. With only a few feet to go, a grin crossed my face until a door close to mine opened. Natalie walked out into the hall, all dressed with her purse under an arm. I slowed as best I could, but my feet tripped and I went down just inches in front of Natalie, my chin resting on the sack I was carrying. Thankfully it didn’t tear.
Natalie seemed unsure of how to respond, but eventually tentatively asked “Mr. Jacobs, are you alright?”
I looked up, grunting as I rose, smiling reassuringly. “I’m fine, and call me ‘Matthew’. I just stopped off to get some flour. I planned on making some cookies before I go to work.”
“Oh, alright, Matthew. Where do you work?” Natalie asked, sounding like she felt unsure to even ask me that.
“I work from home mostly as a printer consultant.”
“Oh.” Natalie said, sounding a bit more relaxed as she continued. “I see why you wanted to make cookies then…”
“The cookies were for you.” I said, nodding. Natalie looked me in the eye.
I smiled. “You were so nice to give me cookies the other day I thought I could repay you.”
Natalie seemed unsure on how to take that.
“I figured me being the one to give you something was the more traditional ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ gift.”
Natalie smiled, looking up. “That’s true, isn’t it?” She chuckled. “I was so anxious about moving into a new place and all.”
I chuckled. “That’s understandable. I should have been the one introducing myself. My door is always open if you need anything, by the way.”
Natalie smiled, understanding. “Thanks.”
“So what’s your favorite type of cookie?” I asked, lifting the flour bag.
Natalie smiled as she replied. “Chocolate. It’s like my cat-”
“Huh?” I asked, simply requesting clarification, but Natalie immediately looked shocked as though she’d said too much.
“I-I’m sorry, don’t mind me. I have to go.” Natalie again ducked her head and started walking down the hall.
“Wait a second,” I said, walking beside her, “you said your cat likes chocolate?”
“I-it’s nothing, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by it.” Natalie said, immediately sounding fearful and alarmed. Like she thought I wouldn’t take her seriously or something.
“What is it? Just tell me.” I said, having a hunch as to where this was going. She had a cat. Maybe what the alley-cat girl told me was true.
“I’m sorry, I won’t bother you.” Natalie said, sheltering herself more.
I finally stepped in front of her to stop her. Natalie jerked to a stop.
“Did your cat turn into a human?” I asked, going out on a limb as I looked at Natalie with a serious expression.
Natalie faltered, then asked disbelievingly “what?”
“My cat changed overnight. I don’t know why it happened. Is that what happened to yours?”
Natalie’s whole demeanor changed. She nodded her head, looking like she was about to break down. I was startled to say the least.
“Hey, you alright?”
Natalie sniffed, then answered. “I thought I was going crazy. I knew it was my cat, and yet, it wasn’t. I mean, how does that make any sense?! I was so scared to tell anybody. I’m new to this town, and don’t have any…”
I got down so I could meet Natalie’s bowed head and replied sincerely, “It doesn’t make any sense. But what’s different is, you have a friend now.”
With that, the conversation dissipated. I went to making my cookies, answered my emails, and stayed up with Mewsy that night over some cups of hot chocolate (there was extra chocolate left over) talking about what I’d seen that day. Mewsy was happy to discuss things, but really didn’t have much to contribute. I couldn’t blame her; she only walked one section of the street any given day. Not much of a prowler, that one. So I finished packaging Natalie’s cookies then got to bed, ready for another big week.