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Alfie and George: A heart-warming tale about how one cat and his kitten brought a street together Rachel Wells The Sunday Times bestseller is back, with his biggest adventure yet. The perfect read for fans of A Street Cat Named Bob.As the residents of Edgar Road know, Alfie is no ordinary cat. Since his arrival in the street, he's made every house his home, helping this group of neighbours to become friends for life.But now there's a new cat on Alfie's turf – a tiny ball of fur called George. With no home to call his own, this little kitten is in desperate need. And little does Alfie know that they’ve got quite an adventure ahead of them to get him through this most difficult of times…A heart-warming story that's impossible not to love – Alfie is back and more adventurous than ever! Alfie & George Rachel Wells Copyright (#ulink_1a6a7869-e1c2-57be-861b-bf4111bf6dd6) Published by Avon an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street, London, SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by HarperCollins Publishers 2016 Copyright © Rachel Wells 2016 Cover photographs © Shutterstock Cover design © Head Design 2016 Rachel Wells asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. 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Source ISBN: 9780008181642 Ebook Edition © November 2016 ISBN: 9780008181659 Version: 2016-10-27 Dedication (#ulink_cf2381bb-b072-5da6-9d8e-c4323e2ee9d4) To Jo with love Contents Cover (#ufdbe502e-a9f2-5b52-a5cf-ba204783108e) Title Page (#u5d42ca15-7f25-534d-bbe9-9991afc365c9) Copyright (#ub181bc64-5455-5ff7-88bb-555e5ff8ae22) Dedication (#u3b572464-c2de-5da8-8610-d8ee4909a351) Chapter One (#ufeed983f-af2a-52fb-8e3c-db5f669c61d3) Chapter Two (#u06a3761a-ca69-5b68-a75b-85883c8f66c5) Chapter Three (#uebece0eb-36cd-5739-b824-848b443b9265) Chapter Four (#u779a7eea-ce28-5d93-9eab-26e4e7cf0b6e) Chapter Five (#u845d1067-6de8-5ef1-bf4a-2a42a6a9cc26) Chapter Six (#uadfcfe38-003b-539e-b96a-7b79c6e5898f) Chapter Seven (#u67914f19-a1ce-5c34-926d-678bbd6631b5) Chapter Eight (#u44eb1719-e27b-53da-8e32-7c1295f08de7) Chapter Nine (#u342ae519-3ae8-54f4-93b2-83527919aab0) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Sixteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seventeen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eighteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nineteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-one (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-two (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-three (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twenty-nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-one (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-two (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-three (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirty-four (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading … (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One (#ulink_939fc2d7-5dca-5d7b-9e94-019a6e8aa7f8) ‘What on earth is THAT?’ I looked at Snowball, my cat girlfriend, then at the creature. We were standing by the wooden fence that surrounded the garden of our holiday home, staring at the strange creature roaming around on the other side. It was quite plump, had a very sharp beak, spiky fur, which looked feathery, and small, mean eyes. It made a funny, high-pitched noise as it eyeballed us, pecking in our direction. I backed away nervously. ‘Oh, Alfie, it’s just a hen! You must have seen one before?’ Snowball laughed. I took offence, though in actual fact I hadn’t seen a real-life chicken before. But I was supposed to be the man in the relationship so I tried to square up. ‘Hiss,’ I said. There, that’d show him who was boss. But then the hen rushed towards me, wobbling its tiny head and flapping its wings. I jumped back. Snowball laughed again and tickled me with her tail. ‘It’s harmless, Alfie, honestly.’ I certainly wasn’t convinced. ‘Well, you don’t get many hens in London,’ I huffed, stalking away. We were somewhere called ‘the country’, and very nice it was too. We were staying in a house in the middle of nowhere, with nothing around for miles except fields. My family – Jonathan, Claire and Summer – and Snowball’s family, the Snells – Karen, Tim, Daisy and Christopher – had rented a house for a week, and they had brought both me and Snowball with them. Cats don’t normally go on holiday so we felt very lucky. When I told my friends, the neighbourhood cats, they were shocked, but we were having a lovely time so far and I thought that perhaps us cats should holiday more often. A change is as good as a rest, my first owner, Margaret, used to say, and she was right – it was just what the vet ordered. The house itself was large, with five bedrooms, and there was a lovely open fire in the living room, which Snowball and I curled up in front of in the evenings. It was very romantic – although we had to be careful as sparks jumped out every now and then, once nearly singeing Snowball’s beautiful white tail. We had been told that, if we went out, we mustn’t leave the garden. Our humans were worried about us getting lost – as if that would happen – but so far we had obediently stuck to exploring said garden and doing as we were told. It was a good size; pretty, with lots of interesting bushes and flowerbeds. There was enough to keep us occupied, as it was much bigger than the small back garden I had to put up with in London. However, beyond the garden, where the chickens lived, was the lure of some very lush fields. It was a big temptation for an inquisitive cat like me. Snowball was less impressed. She’d been a rich cat before she moved to Edgar Road (my street in London), and her family had had an enormous garden in their old house in the country. She didn’t boast about it anymore, but when we first met (a time when she had done her best to be rude to me) she did a bit. But anyway, I had won her over and captured her heart and we’d been together for two years now. The best two years of my cat life. People always seemed surprised by our relationship at first, but then cats can fall in love just as easily as humans, if not more so. I should know, as I’ve had an awful lot of experience of humans. Being a doorstep cat, I have a wide variety of humans I call family. I visit more than one home and have many ‘owners’. As well and Claire and Jonathan, I regularly spend time with Polly and Matt and their two children, Henry and Martha, and my Polish family, Franceska, big Tomasz and their children, Aleksy and little Tomasz. I am one busy cat. I’ve managed to bring my families together so they are all the closest of friends. In my time with them, on Edgar Road and beyond, I’ve seen so much change. Humans seem to change a lot, or at least their lives do, and us cats are often the bystanders that have to sort out the inevitable debris. I take care of my humans, it’s what I do, and I’ve seen the ups and downs, the good and bad, and even the downright ugly, but I have always taken my role of looking after my families very seriously. ‘We ought to go in, I’m getting hungry,’ I said to Snowball, licking my lips. I could have almost eaten the hen, had it not been so formidable. But then I’m not much of a hunter, and neither is Snowball; she’s far too beautiful to kill anything. I still remember how mesmerised I felt when I first laid eyes on her. Even now, after two years, I am one smitten kitten – or smitten cat, more accurately. ‘Race you back,’ she said, giving herself a head start. I bounded after her and we arrived at the open back door at the same time, both slightly breathless from the run. ‘Ah, there you two are,’ said Claire, smiling at me as we padded into the kitchen. Summer, who was two and a half years old, was balanced on her hip. Claire put a bowl down on the highchair and wrestled Summer expertly into the seat as she wriggled in protest. Summer, my human sister, was what Claire called a ‘madam’ and what Jonathan called ‘spirited’. Although she could sometimes be a pain, and tried to pull my tail a bit too often for my liking, I loved her very much. And she compensated with some lovely cuddles. Summer smiled, picked up her spoon and threw it on the floor. She never tired of this game, although in my opinion she was old enough to know better. ‘Toast,’ she said, in her lispy voice. ‘Eat your porridge, then you can have toast,’ Claire replied sternly. ‘NO!’ Summer screamed, throwing her bowl of porridge on the floor. As usual, I had been standing too close to her highchair, and I carefully licked some of the stray porridge from my fur. When would I ever learn? Summer was my charge, I felt. I had to look after her, even when she was being a madam. It amused Jonathan, our dad, who said he liked a woman with a strong will. I did too, which is why I liked Snowball and my best cat friend, Tiger. However, Claire found it a bit annoying, I think, although since having Summer she was so happy that I didn’t worry about her too much anymore. Not like I did before anyway. When I first came to live with Claire she had just got divorced, and she was quite broken. It took a lot of time and effort to put her back together. But then eventually she met Jonathan, one of my other humans, and now they are happily married with their child, Summer, completing our family. ‘Alfie, Snowball, breakfast,’ sang Daisy, Snowball’s teenage owner, putting bowls of tuna down for us. ‘Miaow,’ I thanked her. Daisy was beautiful – tall and lovely. She and Snowball actually looked alike in that they both had almost white fur – or hair, in Daisy’s case. Since Daisy had turned eighteen she’d been working as a model. She was becoming fairly successful already, and that was why she’d come on holiday. She might be too busy to come away with her family in the future, if all went to plan, so she needed to take the chance while she could. Snowball missed her when she was working but was very proud of her, which was touching. Christopher, Daisy’s sixteen-year-old brother, sat at the table eyeing Summer suspiciously, making sure he was far enough away from her to avoid being hit by any food. He was much more sensible than me. As I enjoyed my breakfast, I basked in happiness. Although my other families weren’t sharing my holiday, it was almost perfect. I had all the other people I loved around me and of course my beloved Snowball. As the humans ate their breakfasts, happily chatting and making plans for the day, I couldn’t help but feel my heart swell. Life didn’t get much better than this. After breakfast, the sun slowly emerged, heating the morning into a warm spring day. Summer was playing with some teddy bears on a picnic blanket in the garden, whilst Claire and Karen sat beside her, drinking tea and chatting. Daisy had gone for a run and the men and Christopher had gone to the local town to do some grocery shopping – although Claire said they’d really gone to find a pub. Meanwhile, Snowball and I were relaxing, sprawled out on a warm patch of grass. ‘This is the life.’ I stretched my paws out and rolled onto my back, letting the sun warm my fur. ‘It really is,’ Snowball replied.‘Shall we go and see if we can find some butterflies to chase?’ I didn’t need asking twice. This place was certainly different than London. Not only were there more animals around, but there was a sort of peacefulness that I hadn’t really experienced before. And the wonderful thing was that it was rubbing off on all of us. All the humans seemed relaxed, which was nice because that didn’t happen often in London; they were usually too preoccupied with work and other stresses. We had all been through some trying times in the last few years; my humans had faced many challenges. Adjusting to life in a new country, trying to have babies, post-natal depression, bullying at school, secrets, heartache – you name it, we’d been through it. I’ve been with them through each experience and have helped to resolve many problems, if I do say so myself. I think the problems brought my families closer together, and it was nice to see that we had finally entered a harmonious phase. Long may it last. Snowball and I found a flowerbed, which looked as good a place as any to find butterflies. We sat silently, side by side. We were so happy together that we often didn’t need words. I actually felt as if I knew what Snowball was thinking, and vice versa. In the event, there were no butterflies, but we both dived into the flowerbed when a noisy bee appeared. We tried to lay low as the bee took what it needed from its chosen flower. I knew bees were good – I’d heard enough people saying that – but if you got too close, a sting could be pretty nasty. After the bee buzzed off we rolled around, enjoying the sun and the soft scents of the flowers. It was a pretty romantic time. ‘Alfie, being on holiday with you is the best thing I’ve ever done,’ Snowball purred, putting her paw on mine. I felt quite emotional as I looked at my love. ‘It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, too,’ I replied – and I meant it with all my heart. Chapter Two (#ulink_7a7ecfe5-1d17-5049-b2bb-27ecb85d4ef8) Summer was playing ball with Christopher. Although he treated her with suspicion when she had food, he could be quite good with her at other times. ‘Throw the ball, Sum,’ Chris said. Summer clutched it to her chest and shook her head. She then put it on the ground and sat on it. Christopher laughed. I went over to her and nudged the ball with my paw. Summer giggled and wobbled, rolling off it. She laughed as I lay next to her on the grass, tickling her with my tail. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Jonathan approaching us. ‘Honestly, neither of you will play for Chelsea at this rate,’ he said, laughing. He scooped Summer up and swung her around. ‘Jon, she’s just had breakfast, she’ll be sick,’ Claire said, joining them. I stood up and stretched, brushing some grass off my fur with my tongue. ‘Sorry.’ Jonathan rolled his eyes. I gave him a conspiratorial look; Claire did fuss sometimes. ‘Ready?’ she asked. Jonathan nodded. ‘Right. Alfie, Snowball, we’re off for a day trip, so you guys need to stay here and keep out of trouble.’ He looked at me when he said the last bit. ‘Miaow,’ I said, indignantly. ‘Do you think it’ll be OK to leave the back door open?’ Tim asked as he went to put some bags into one of the cars. ‘Don’t see why not, it’s pretty deserted here,’ Jonathan said. ‘Gosh, I love that we can do that. We’d never be able to on Edgar Road would we?’ said Karen. She and Tim exchanged a look; I wondered if they were thinking about their old homes, as Snowball sometimes did. I would catch her with a faraway look in her eyes, and as much as I knew she was happy, she did miss it. I understood – I still missed my first home at times and, although I loved my home and all my families now, I would never forget it. It wasn’t bad to miss things, I realised. Although it meant you had lost something or someone, it also meant you loved them in the first place. It was hard, but that was how life worked. We sat by the stone steps that led up to the back door as we watched our families go out for the day. I was quite excited, as it meant a day for us to have our own adventures without worrying about the humans for once. ‘Do you think we should go and explore a bit?’ Snowball asked. ‘Well, the humans said we shouldn’t in case we get lost,’ I replied. I was sometimes a foolhardy cat, but the last thing I wanted to do was get lost in the country. I might never be able to find my way back home! ‘Oh, come on, let’s live a bit. And anyway, I’ve got a good sense of direction.’ Snowball nuzzled me, which meant she knew I was going to give in. However, I couldn’t forget the time that she had got horribly lost, and I had had to launch a rescue mission as a result. I didn’t dare mention it though – I wasn’t looking for an argument or for Snowball to sulk, which she was rather good at when she was cross. ‘OK then, let’s go.’ After all, I told myself, what could go wrong? We headed out of the garden for the first time and into the neighbouring field. The long grass pleasantly tickled my legs as we ran through it side by side. There were insects buzzing around us, and as we travelled further from the house, we found some more chickens. These ones were actually quite friendly, clucking and scratching at the ground as we crept near them. I got quite close to one actually, trying to demonstrate my bravery, although inside I was like cat-food-in-jelly. We went through another field and jumped onto a fence. ‘Are your legs OK?’ Snowball asked gently as she saw me grimace. I had an old injury that sometimes affected my back legs, but they weren’t too bad, despite the odd twinge. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ I jumped down from the fence smoothly to show her that I was all right. Then, feeling my confidence growing, I ran into the field. I was having a lovely time, the wind in my fur, the sun gently smiling down at us. I could get used to living in the country, I thought. Little did I know I was about to get a rude awakening. ‘Moo,’ a voice said angrily. ‘Yelp!’ I screamed, stopping suddenly. I found myself level with a leg, and as I looked up I started shaking. I was facing a monster, and he didn’t look happy to see me. He stared down at me with big, dark eyes, snorting loudly.‘Yelp,’ I screamed again. ‘Snort,’ the monster said, sounding angry. I realised that he was unhappy about us being in his field. He started to stomp and, as I saw the grass being flattened, I started to imagine being squashed beneath those big hooves. He shook his head, violently, as he eyeballed me again. Surely he was about to pounce. I managed to spring back, bouncing off Snowball and back in front of the cow again. He lifted his head, snorted loudly again and swished his long tail from side to side. ‘It’s OK, Alfie.’ Snowball was beside me. At the sight of her the monster seemed a bit less aggressive. She gently led me a safe distance away.‘It’s just a cow,’ she continued.‘They’re big, and seem aggressive, I know, but they’re really quite gentle.’ I had never seen a cow this close up before and it seemed anything but gentle to me. ‘But it’s … it’s … enormous,’ I stammered, unable to take my eyes off the black-and-white patchy creature. I could feel my back legs trembling with fear, although the cow had turned away, flicking its tail and eating grass as if we didn’t exist. I was flooded with relief. ‘They’re harmless,’ she explained. It seemed I had a lot to learn about these farm animals. I gladly followed her away from the monster cow. It certainly didn’t look what I would call ‘harmless’. The rest of our trip passed without incident, although I felt as if I was more skittish than I had been when we set off. But it was also one of the best days ever. We romped through fields, found some lovely trees to admire and were not attacked by any other farm animals, although we saw some sheep and I thought that one of them seemed to take a fancy to Snowball. But they were the same colour and maybe she thought Snowball was a lamb. After all, as Snowball explained, sheep weren’t known for their brains. Not like cats. Later that evening I was having a catnap, curled up in front of the fire. I needed a rest after our expedition. Although I was generally an active cat I was totally worn out. Maybe it was the country air, whatever that was. Claire kept referring to it, so it must have some effect. Jonathan said it was ridiculous to have an open fire when it was so warm but Karen and Claire wanted it lit, as we didn’t have fires like this at home. I wasn’t complaining; I loved being toasty warm. Snowball was with Daisy, in her room, I think, and I must have nodded off as I started to slowly awaken to the sound of soft voices. ‘Are you sure?’ I heard Karen say. I opened one eye to see her and Claire sitting on the sofa. ‘Pretty much. I’m afraid it’s definitely the case.’ Afraid? What was this? As far as I knew all was well with my families. ‘Oh, honey, I am sorry, I don’t know what to say.’ Karen’s voice was rich with sympathy. ‘Well we have Summer and she’s perfect, even if she is a little diva, but you know I would have loved another child, and Jon would too, but it hasn’t happened. Our doctor has run tests, but it looks as if we’ve been blessed with the only child we’re going to have.’ Although Claire sounded a little bit sad, she wasn’t crying. I hoped that this wasn’t the start of something. I worried about all my humans, but Claire especially. After the dark times she had faced in the past I knew she was prone to sliding into depression. ‘But you had no problems with Summer,’ said Karen. ‘No, it’s just one of those things – nature. It’s funny, but with Summer I was so desperate to have a baby that I really got into a state before I conceived her, but now we’ve been trying for over a year and a half and I’m still quite calm. I guess I feel lucky having such a gorgeous little girl, and of course Jonathan, that I have to count my blessings rather than dwell on what I can’t have.’ ‘Have you thought about IVF?’ ‘I did do some research but I’m not the most balanced person and with the hormones and injections and stuff, I worry that I’ll become unhinged. Not to mention that it might not work, and would cost a fortune. No, I need to be a good mother to Summer, and with working part time now, I need to be on top of things. To be honest, I’d love to adopt a child, but Jon’s reluctant.’ ‘Adoption?’ ‘Yes, my dad’s a social worker and I kind of always grew up thinking that giving a child a home would be a great thing to do. I hadn’t thought about it in years but when we found out we couldn’t conceive naturally, my mind immediately turned to adoption. But unfortunately Jon just doesn’t see it the same way.’ I stayed perfectly still as I listened. Of course I knew they wanted another baby, and there had been quite a few hushed conversations behind closed doors, but because everything had been so good for us all, perhaps I had turned a blind eye to the struggles they were having. Or maybe I had been more caught up with Snowball than I realised … ‘Ah, the whole man thing, wanting their genes to run through the veins of a child.’ ‘Probably, but he’ll come round, I know he will. We have so much to offer a child, I just need to persuade him that it’s a really good idea,’ said Claire. ‘You know how it is with men, you need him to think it’s his idea.’ They both laughed. ‘Glass of wine?’ Claire suggested. ‘Why not? We are on holiday after all.’ As Karen and Claire drank their wine I marvelled at how far Claire had come. When I first met her she had been a mess – divorced, heartbroken, drinking too much and miserable. But now she was so happy and not even this setback, something that would previously have threatened to derail her, could defeat her. She wasn’t a victim anymore, and I was so overjoyed that I jumped up onto her lap and touched my nose to her hand. I wanted her to know how proud I was of her. ‘Oh, Alfie, I love you.’ She kissed the top of my head. I snuggled into her, thinking that this holiday lark wasn’t bad at all. Despite the monster cow. Chapter Three (#ulink_d04d7783-e2cd-5c90-b31d-d48fe9ccda61) This holiday was making me love Snowball even more. Before we left Edgar Road, both cars full of cases and me in my cat carrier in one car, Snowball in the other, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to love her more. Yet I did. Spending this time away together, away from the day-to-day stresses of Edgar Road, had brought us even closer. If cats could get married like humans, I would have married Snowball in a heartbeat. I knew it wasn’t possible, but when I told her as we lay by the fire she said it was the most romantic thing she had ever heard. Which gave me an idea. As a very organised cat, I do like to make plans, and I thought that in order for us to always remember this holiday, the first one we’d had together – and also the best holiday any cat could ask for – I would plan something for us. The humans were going to the beach for the day. They had packed up lots of food, fussed a lot, and made it seem as if they were going for days rather than a few hours. Finally though they left the house, and Snowball and I were alone. I wanted to have a lovely day with her, and that meant being brave, bold and taking a risk. This cat was ready to do just that. I wanted to put a smile on Snowball’s face and for us have a day we would both remember. Of course, I wasn’t sure where the day would take us. When we went out the other day, we hadn’t ventured too far. We still didn’t know the area but I figured if we headed towards the big farm there would be lots of fun to be had. I outlined my plan to Snowball. We would leave the garden – hopefully avoiding the giant cows – and explore the luscious green fields that led to the big hill. Once at the top of the hill we would admire the views that our families had been talking about. I thought if we just headed off in one direction we would be fine, there would be no way we’d get lost. In fact, I was quite excited and feeling adventurous. ‘I love it, Alfie. Although I thought you were still worried about the cows and getting lost?’ ‘Not me,’ I replied, with more bravado than I felt. I just hoped those cows would keep away. When our families had finally piled themselves into their cars and driven off, Snowball and I finished our ablutions and got ready for our own adventure. My legs were almost trembling with excitement; I just knew we were going to have the best day ever. We headed towards the farm, greeting the hens as if we were old friends. They wobbled their heads and clucked but weren’t very interested in us. I don’t know why I was ever scared of them: they were quite sweet really. We watched them for a bit before heading off. Before too long we came across a field with incredibly long, green grass. It was even taller than us. We made our way into it, and at one point I couldn’t see Snowball at all. ‘Yowl!’ She jumped out at me and I almost fell over. ‘Yeah, nice one, this is meant to be romantic – not scary,’ I pointed out, smoothing my fur. ‘Sorry, Alfie, I couldn’t resist. This grass is the longest I’ve ever seen. It’s so much fun! Come on, let’s go.’ She started running and I joined her. We ran through the grass, letting it tickle our fur, until we emerged on the other side of the field. I felt invigorated as we looked around, deciding where to head next. ‘Let’s avoid that way. Remember those sheep? I really think that one wanted to kidnap me,’ Snowball said, looking a bit worried. ‘As if I would ever let them do that,’ I replied, with a raise of my whiskers. ‘Alfie, would you ever want to live in the country?’ Snowball asked as we trekked through another field. ‘I don’t know. I mean … it’s very nice. But it’s quiet. And all these animals … I’m not sure it’s for me, to be honest. I’m a Londoner through and through.’ ‘When we lived in our old house, it was a bit like the country, but not as much as this – it was far more built up. I think it was a nice compromise.’ ‘I know you miss your old home, Snowball,’ I said, trying to be understanding and not feel hurt. You see, I didn’t like to think of Snowball before me. It sounds silly but I felt jealous that she had a life that didn’t have me in it. ‘I do a bit, but I would never want to go back, not without you, Alfie.’ I felt my heart melt as I looked into her beautiful eyes. A big black cloud loomed, interrupting our moment. ‘Oh no,’ I said, as I felt a drop of rain land on my nose. It seemed to have come from nowhere. Just a minute ago we had been enjoying the sun on our fur. ‘We might have to make a run for it,’ Snowball shouted, as rain started to patter all around us; neither of us liked getting wet. As Snowball bounded off I followed her, not thinking about where she was going. After a bit of a run we came across a building and hurried inside. There was straw on the floor; it was a bit scratchy, but at least we were dry. ‘Thank goodness, Alfie,’ Snowball said. ‘It’s a proper rain shower out there.’ ‘But what is this place?’ I asked. ‘Some kind of barn.’ ‘Oink.’ We both looked up to see a group of fat, pink pigs moving towards us. They shuffled and snorted and didn’t look very friendly. Five of them descended, all pink skin and rounded bellies. Although they didn’t move quickly, as they banded together I could see we were in trouble. ‘Oh dear,’ I said, as Snowball and I backed away, until we were huddled in the corner of the barn. ‘Pigs seem very mean,’ Snowball said, not reassuringly at all. ‘I’ve never been this close to any but I’ve heard all sorts about them. Apparently they eat anything and everything.’ ‘Which could include us …’ We were literally backed into a corner. They were coming closer, heads shaking a little, feet stomping beneath their immense weight. They looked at us with hungry eyes. Snowball cowered behind me. We were going to be pigswill at this rate. I had to get us out of this mess. After all, I was the tom here. I took some deep breaths, trying to calm myself down even though the animals were almost upon us. ‘OK, they aren’t as big as cows. How about we run through their legs?’ I suggested. Although I was terrified, I couldn’t see another way out. ‘We could try, but look at those feet, the weight they carry. I wouldn’t want to get trampled under them.’ Snowball shivered. We were both cold and scared. This romantic day wasn’t turning out quite how I had expected. ‘I know,’ I said, ‘but look, we have no option – they look like they want to eat us!’ I tried to be the man of the relationship – the pigs were only inches away from us. I had to act, so I sort of pushed Snowball a bit and then darted between the legs of the nearest pig, looking behind to check she was following.‘Come on, Snowy, it’ll be fine,’ I encouraged, as one of the pigs gave an angry snort. Snowball didn’t hang around; she ran for it and joined me. The pigs looked a bit confused but luckily their bulk slowed them down as they tried to come after us. We were far quicker and after a couple more pig-dodges we emerged triumphant, relieved, and thankful to be safe. The rain had eased off and was now more of a drizzle. ‘Shall we risk going back home in this?’ I asked. ‘Best do, I don’t fancy my chances with those pigs.’ ‘You’ve been so calm around the farm animals so far,’ I pointed out. Snowball looked even more terrified than I felt. ‘I know, but pigs … As I said, I don’t have much experience of them, but I’ve heard things.’ Her eyes shone with fear. ‘They did look as if they’d be happy to eat us both.’ I looked around so we could start our journey home and my heart sank yet again.‘Snowball?’ ‘Yes, Alfie?’ She was trying to clean some straw from her fur. ‘Which way is home?’ I asked. She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. I stared glumly back at her. I had no idea where we were. ‘Oh no, we were in such a rush to get out of the rain, I didn’t even notice which direction we were going,’ she cried. Could this day get any worse? I looked around again but all I could see were fields. Fields in all directions – and they all looked the same. We were well and truly lost. As we discussed what to do next, I led us to a nearby hedge so at least we could shelter from the rain while we argued. ‘I think we just head off and hope for the best,’ I said. ‘Great, Alfie, you always have a smart plan and now you’re saying that we just head off with no idea where we’re going,’ Snowball snapped. I knew she was cross but I felt that was unfair. It wasn’t just my fault we were lost after all. I was nestling further into the hedge when something – or rather someone – stopped me, and I found myself nose to nose with a rather large, shabby tabby. ‘Hiss,’ he said. ‘Hello.’ I kept it friendly. He was much bigger than me after all. That said, I liked to pride myself on staying trim and taking care of my appearance, and the same certainly couldn’t be said for this cat. ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I’m Alfie and this is Snowball. We’re on holiday with our families.’ ‘Don’t be ridiculous, cats don’t go on holiday.’ He grimaced, showing quite sharp teeth, and for a moment I wasn’t sure if he was going to attack. I tried to keep calm, my ears moving sideways with nerves and my tail swaying. I wasn’t an aggressive cat but I did have my girlfriend to protect. ‘I know it’s quite strange, but honestly we are,’ Snowball replied, stepping forwards. The tabby took one look at her blue eyes and white fur and immediately preened himself, sitting up straighter and waving his tail in a friendly gesture. A bit too friendly, if you ask me. ‘How are you doing?’ he asked, grinning. ‘Let me introduce myself. I’m Roddy and I’m a local resident. I’m sorry if you think me rude but, well, I’m not used to visiting cats.’ He blinked at Snowball, which is our equivalent of blowing kisses. Just who did this Roddy think he was? ‘We live in London,’ I replied haughtily. Anyone who thinks that cats don’t flirt should have seen him as he stretched out his paws and wrapped his tail neatly round his body. I decided he was too big and scruffy to be considered good-looking, which was a relief. I, with my blue-grey fur and svelte figure, was often complimented on my handsomeness. In any case, I was pretty secure in my looks and I knew Snowball was loyal, so I tried to relax a bit. ‘London, you say? Well I don’t know anything about that.’ He was looking directly at Snowball. ‘The thing is,’ Snowball said, a little bit too flirtatiously, ‘we’re a little lost. We tried to shelter from the rain and ended up trapped in a barn with some rather unfriendly pigs and now we don’t know how to get back to the holiday house.’ She tilted her head, and I saw that already Roddy was smitten. ‘Where are you staying?’ he asked, puffing his chest out. ‘I’m a bit of an expert on these parts.’ ‘A big house,’ I replied, not exactly enjoying this exchange, though I acknowledged he was probably our best hope. ‘That narrows it down,’ he said sarcastically. ‘Well Roddy,’ purred Snowball, stretching out her paws, ‘it’s near the farm, we have hens on the edge of the garden and there’s a field of cows directly in front of us.’ ‘Ah, I know where you mean. Right, city cats, follow me and I’ll have you home in no time.’ Despite us getting a bit wet and being a little bit stressed from our adventure, Roddy got us home safely, and although I was still a bit annoyed at his flirting with my girlfriend, I thanked him graciously. I was relieved. As we left him at the door, he was still marvelling at how odd it was for cats to go on holiday. The fire wasn’t lit as the house was empty, but it was warm as we lay down in front of it to dry off. I decided that, as our romantic trip had been my idea, I would be magnanimous. ‘I’m sorry that our day went a bit wrong,’ I said, nuzzling into Snowball’s neck. ‘And I’m sorry I snapped. I was just scared. But you took care of me, like always,’ she said, returning the nuzzle. ‘Well, it was Roddy who saved us,’ I pointed out. ‘Maybe, but you’re my hero, not him,’ she said, and I couldn’t have felt happier. The door opened and our families, dripping wet, walked into the living room. ‘Let’s light the fire and get ourselves out of these wet clothes before we catch pneumonia,’ Karen said. ‘Look at those two, just relaxing by the warm hearth while we nearly drowned on the beach,’ Jonathan said, getting the kindling into the grate. With our eyes half closed, Snowball and I grinned at each other. How little they knew. Chapter Four (#ulink_5a73ff21-a7f1-592a-8d25-6feabc34df7a) ‘Hope it hasn’t been too boring for you two,’ Jonathan said, as everyone breakfasted together on our last full day of the holiday. ‘Nah,’ Christopher replied.‘It’s been good.’ He looked a bit sheepish, but then he was a teenage boy and apparently they are all somewhat monosyllabic. ‘I’ve enjoyed doing nothing,’ Daisy answered.‘If it all goes to plan I’ll be busy with work when we get back.’ ‘According to Polly, you’re going to be the next Kate Moss,’ Claire said. ‘If I could be just a fraction as successful as she is, I’ll be overjoyed,’ Daisy laughed. She didn’t realise how stunning she really was, I thought – a bit like Snowball. Although Snowball had been aloof when I first met her, it wasn’t because she thought she was a beauty, and even now she was still unaware of the effect she had on other cats and people. Like Roddy, most male cats started drooling like dogs when they first saw her. Myself included, I have to admit. ‘So what shall we do today?’ Karen asked as she buttered another piece of toast. ‘How about we hang out here, maybe go for a walk, and then have lunch at home?’ Tim suggested. ‘Sounds nice,’ Claire said, trying and failing to spoon cereal into Summer’s closed mouth. ‘TOAST,’ Summer shouted. Claire looked exasperated but Jonathan laughed indulgently. ‘I wish she could learn to say fruit or porridge at least,’ Claire said. ‘My girl knows her own mind,’ Jonathan replied.‘Chip off the old block.’ Claire swiped at him with her arm. ‘God, then I’m in trouble,’ she joked. ‘I’m going to do some computer stuff,’ Christopher said, looking bashful. He was turning out to be quite a chip off his old block himself, if that means what I think it does. He was following in his father’s footsteps by being a computer genius, or something along those lines. ‘Hey, Claire, I know you’ve got that book you keep trying to read, so I’ll take Summer out round the farm this morning. She loves the animals and you can stick your head in your novel,’ Jonathan said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. ‘My God, now I remember why I married you.’ ‘I’ll come with you, Jon,’ Karen said, and Tim nodded. I looked at Snowball. It would be just the two of us again; maybe we could go for a romantic meander in the garden. After our adventure on the farm the other day we had stayed close to the holiday house, and I wasn’t sure that it would be a good idea to explore. For a while, Snowball and I stayed in the garden, close to where Claire sat in a lawn chair, reading. Chris was inside, Daisy had gone for a run, and the others had gone for a walk. As the morning drew on we decided to visit the hens. We nodded at them in greeting – I was no longer afraid – and they wobbled their heads in response. I knew they weren’t scary now. Being in the country was an education about other animals, ones we didn’t really get in London. ‘All right, city cats,’ said Roddy, suddenly appearing from behind the hen enclosure. ‘Hey, Roddy,’ said Snowball. ‘We need to thank you again for the other day,’ I said, remembering my manners. ‘You’re welcome. Anyway what are you guys up to?’ Roddy asked. ‘It’s our last day here, we leave tomorrow,’ I explained, feeling relaxed and friendly. I definitely found the country enjoyable, though I missed many things about London, like my friends, especially Tiger, and my other families. I also missed the hustle and bustle, the constant noise. At night here, it was eerily quiet, but back home I could hear cars, voices and the odd siren. Silence took a bit of getting used to. ‘In that case, how about I take you to my favourite place?’ suggested Roddy. ‘What is it?’ Snowball asked. ‘You’ll see, it’s lovely. Come on, come with me.’ He ran off and we sprang after him. As we crossed a different – and thankfully cow-free – field, I realised how nice the country smelled. I breathed in deeply, enjoying the fresh scents. I was happy that we were having a last adventure and with Roddy with us there was no danger involved. Well, I hoped not anyway. We set off and took a route that we were more familiar with, passing the outskirts of the field where we’d met the giant cow. There were a few cows there, but they were at the other end of the field and were so busy eating grass they didn’t pay us much attention. I can’t say I was sorry. ‘Come on, let’s keep going,’ Roddy said, as we followed close behind him. I blinked at Snowball and she blinked back as we came upon a stream. ‘I am not a fan of water,’ I stated. ‘Nah, me neither, Alfie. But look, there’s a bridge just up here. Come on.’ Roddy led us across a small wooden bridge and then came to a halt. As I looked around, I almost felt my breath being taken away. We were standing in a clearing on the edge of a wood, trees densely surrounding us. Sunlight glinted between the branches and reflected off the leaves, it was beautiful. ‘It’s a forest,’ Snowball exclaimed. ‘Yeah, it’s my forest,’ Roddy said, although I was pretty sure it wasn’t. ‘Wow, it’s beautiful,’ I stated.‘Almost as beautiful as you.’ I nuzzled Snowball. She smiled coyly and raised her whiskers. ‘It reminds me a bit of my old home,’ Snowball said. ‘We had a big wood just outside our garden and I would chase squirrels, although they could be mean. They were particularly protective of their nuts.’ ‘I can see why you’d miss it,’ I conceded. As much as I loved Edgar Road and London, I did see the beauty of this place. We stood at the bottom of a large tree. Roddy said that if we climbed up it we would see the most spectacular view. Snowball looked at me questioningly and gestured towards the tree. I shook my head – I was staying on the ground. I’d been stuck up a tree in the past, twice in fact, and it wasn’t fun. So I stayed put and watched as Roddy and Snowball climbed higher and higher, feeling a little bit jealous and half wishing I could join them. But ultimately I was glad to be on firm ground where I found some leaves to play with. After a while I saw Snowball scaling back down and I was relieved that she was managing it easily. ‘Right, let’s get back before you’re missed,’ Roddy said, bounding off. He took us a different route home, and I felt so energised by the journey, with the wind in my fur, the warming sun above and the tickly green grass beneath my paws, that I started fooling around a bit. I turned and walked backwards. ‘What are you doing?’ Snowball asked, raising her whiskers. ‘Hey, I can go backwards, look at me,’ I said, showing off. I started trying to run backwards, which wasn’t as easy as I thought – in all honesty, I’d never tried it before. I felt my legs tangle and I tried to turn around but ended up falling on my bottom. Luckily, something soft broke my fall. ‘Yelp!’ I said. But what was that smell? I stood up and, trying to get away from the smell, ended up running round in circles – wherever I went, it seemed to follow. I heard laughter from Roddy and saw that Snowball was hiding behind her paw. ‘What?’ I asked. ‘You fell into a cow pat!’ she said. I looked down and saw that the soft thing that had broken my fall was in fact the source of the terrible smell. Those monster cows had left a monster mess, and I was now covered in it! As I walked dejectedly home, my earlier energy deflated, I knew that there would be only one thing for it: a bath. I really dislike baths, or actually water in any form – even rain upsets me, and don’t get me started on puddles. But I knew I had no choice. We said a fond farewell to Roddy back at the house. ‘You’re a lucky guy,’ he said to me, gesturing towards Snowball. She purred and looked coy. ‘I know I am – she’s wonderful. Thank you for everything,’ I said, as I bade him a warm goodbye. I was still covered in mess and I didn’t dare enter the house. ‘Maybe if you go inside, you can miaow loudly and get someone’s attention?’ I said to Snowball. As much as I hated baths, I really wanted to get this mess off me as soon as possible. Snowball went off and returned after what seemed like ages with Claire. I was beginning to really hate the smell. It was another reason for me to add cows to my list of things to be avoided. ‘What on earth?’ Claire said. ‘Snowball was making such a racket, I thought something was wrong.’ She took a closer look at me. ‘Oh God, Alfie, did you roll in something bad?’ I miaowed to show my disagreement – as if I would do anything like this on purpose! Claire wrapped me in a towel to carry me inside, holding me at arm’s length as she took me straight to the bathroom. I could see that Snowball found the whole thing amusing; we would be having words about that later. As Claire ran a shallow bath, muttering about the way I smelled, I stayed very still. She gently put me in the water and I tried not to squirm, but as the warm wet stuff started to engulf my body, I found it so uncomfortable that I wriggled a bit. I wasn’t sure which was worse, the bath or the smell. Actually, it was definitely the smell. ‘Keep still, Alfie,’ she said crossly as I squirmed. I couldn’t stay still. Eventually, after what felt like forever, Claire carefully lifted me out and dried me off.‘Go and lie by the fire, you’ll soon be all dry and warm,’ she said. She didn’t need to ask twice, and I quickly ran out of the room. I curled up by the fire and Snowball joined me. ‘You smell much better, thank goodness,’ she said, nuzzling into my neck. ‘You know, I’m going to miss a few things about this holiday but the fire is definitely one of the things I’ll miss most,’ I said, yawning. What an eventful day we’d had. I closed my eyes, and soon I was dreaming of pilchards. A while later, I was aware of voices as I woke up, and sensed the presence of everyone in the living room. ‘I can’t believe we have to leave in the morning,’ said Jonathan. I kept my eyes closed, enjoying the warmth in my fur as I listened. I could picture him, stretched out on the sofa. He sounded quite mellow. Jonathan was often uptight, and it was clear the holiday had done him good. ‘It’s been a good holiday though, mate,’ Tim said. ‘I’m just worried about how Alfie’s going to be you know, if …’ I heard Claire say. I pricked up my ears. I could tell that Snowball was still asleep next to me. She made this really sweet noise as she slept. Some called it snoring but to me it was music. ‘And Snowball,’ Karen added. ‘It’s weird, I never thought cats were like that, we’ve always been led to believe they’re solitary creatures, certainly not animals that mate for life.’ ‘Like lobsters,’ Tim said. ‘What?’ Jonathan asked. I was trying to follow this conversation but it wasn’t proving easy. ‘You know, lobsters, they mate for life,’ Tim explained. ‘But look at them,’ Claire said, sounding sad.‘Snuggled up together. They definitely love each other.’ ‘God, I feel guilty already,’ said Tim.‘But this time, it’s not my family I might be letting down, but my cat.’ ‘It might not even happen,’ said Karen. I gave Snowball a gentle nudge, but she was fast asleep. This conversation made no sense to me, and my fur suddenly felt freezing cold. ‘It’ll be such a shame if you did,’ Claire said. ‘Anyway it might not happen,’ Karen repeated, indicating that that was the end of the conversation. What on earth were they talking about? It was as if they were talking about something that would be bad for me and Snowball. I tried to put it out of my mind but I couldn’t. As the humans all went to sort out dinner that evening, and Jonathan put Summer to bed, I finally got Snowball on her own. ‘I heard something weird when you were sleeping. Your family were talking about something strange, but I didn’t understand what. It sounded like something that might happen to us. Do you know anything about it?’ Snowball surveyed me with her cool blue eyes. ‘What do you mean?’ She sounded shocked; she obviously didn’t know anything. ‘Tim said something about letting his cat down if it happened. Karen said it might not happen, but I don’t know what “it” is. I didn’t like the sound of it though.’ ‘Alfie, you’re talking in riddles! I have no idea what you’re going on about. We both know what you’re like, always looking for drama.’ Snowball yawned and stretched. She didn’t seem worried but I couldn’t shake the feeling that all wasn’t well. ‘OK, if you say so, but let’s see if we hear anything.’ ‘Of course, Alfie. I love you, and I love that you worry so much, but we’ve had a wonderful trip together. Let’s just focus on that.’ I couldn’t argue. Chapter Five (#ulink_e235702b-0461-5228-9808-b352d0e70958) I was suffering from what I had learnt were called post-holiday blues. Being home was exciting at first. I saw Tiger and my other friends and was reunited with my other humans on Edgar Road, which of course was lovely. Still though, I was fed up. I missed spending all my time with Snowball; I still saw her but not as much. I also missed the country walks, the fresh air, the romance, the fire we slept in front of … Even the hens. And of course it had rained every day in London since we’d been home, so after my initial visits to all my friends I had been largely stuck indoors. I felt as limp as the weather. I was totally bored and listless. And there was something bothering me. I was still a little perplexed by the confusing things I’d heard on the last day of the holiday. No one had said anything about it, so I still had no idea what they had been discussing. Snowball and I had been listening out for any more clues, but apart from the usual hushed conversations that humans were so keen on, I hadn’t noticed anything amiss and neither had she. Perhaps she was right, we should just ignore it and not worry. It was probably nothing … So why did I still feel so unsettled? I tried to tell myself it was the post-holiday blues that were making me feel so rattled, nothing more. As I sat on the living room windowsill, I saw a man putting something on a nearby lamppost. Soon after, I saw Tiger approaching my front gate. I ran to the kitchen, dived through the cat flap and made my way round to the front of the house. My blues were momentarily cheered at the sight of my friend. ‘Hey, Alfie,’ Tiger said, a bit breathlessly. ‘What’s going on?’ I asked. She lifted her head towards the lamppost and I saw that there was a picture of a tabby cat on it, along with some words – which, of course, being a cat, I couldn’t read.‘What is that?’ I asked. ‘Not sure, there were two others that went up on lampposts while you were away. None of us cats know what they mean.’ ‘I’m not sure either.’ I felt puzzled. ‘Let’s go and see the others,’ I suggested.‘See if they know anything.’ Something was bothering me, but I wasn’t sure what. As we made our way to the end of the street, we saw the other two cat pictures, but we didn’t recognise the cats. ‘Are these the only other two?’ I asked Tiger. ‘Yup. Weird, huh?’ We found Elvis and Nellie at our usual meeting place. They were sitting away from the damp grass, on a strip of concrete that was relatively dry. ‘Guess what?’ Tiger said. ‘What?’ Nellie loved drama and looked excited. ‘We just saw a cat picture going up on a lamppost,’ said Tiger. ‘Another one? What can they mean?’ Elvis asked. ‘I’m not sure,’ I said.‘But something is niggling me.’ ‘I think we should definitely keep an eye on it. This all seems very strange,’ Tiger said. As we lapsed into silence, Salmon, our nemesis cat, approached. ‘He might know,’ hissed Nellie, although we were all loath to ask him. ‘What are you up to?’ Salmon asked, narrowing his eyes and flicking his tail in a hostile way. Salmon was the meanest of cats and never missed an opportunity to be horrible to us. ‘Just hanging out with friends, something you know nothing about,’ Tiger replied. She was the only one of us not scared of Salmon. ‘Very funny, Tiger.’ ‘Salmon,’ Elvis cut in quickly.‘We just saw another cat picture going up. Do you know what they mean?’ Salmon flicked his tail again.‘Of course I know, but I can’t possibly tell you.’ ‘Which means he doesn’t have a clue,’ I cut in. ‘I do! I know far more than you think,’ he hissed.‘Why don’t you find that girlfriend of yours and ask her what’s going on.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I felt angry now – how dare he bring Snowball into this. ‘I just heard her owners talking to mine, and let’s just say it doesn’t look good for you.’ He licked his lips, looking pleased with himself. ‘Salmon, tell me right now, or I’ll, I’ll …’ ‘You’ll what? Set your girlfriend on me?’ he laughed, and before I could say anything else, he bounded off. ‘What could Salmon mean by that?’ Nellie asked. But as my cat friends looked at me, worry in their eyes, I knew there could only be bad news to come. I had to get to Snowball. I found Snowball waiting by my front gate. As soon as I saw her, I knew that something was very wrong. ‘We’re in trouble, Alfie,’ she said. ‘What have we done?’ I asked. I was prone to a bit of trouble but I didn’t think I had done anything lately. ‘No,’ said Snowball, wiggling further into the bush. It was still a bit damp from the rain but she looked so serious that I didn’t complain.‘Not that sort of trouble. You know that conversation you heard? Well, it seems it wasn’t nothing after all.’ ‘Snowball, slow down, you’re not making any sense at all.’ ‘OK, well, Tim and Karen were talking to Daisy and Christopher last night. It seems that we’re moving away, because Tim’s been offered a really good job.’ ‘Moving away?’ I asked, my heart sinking into my paws. The Snells had been through a terrible time when they first moved to Edgar Road. It had taken quite a while and a lot of planning from me to make them part of our community, but we had done it in the end. Surely they wouldn’t move away now? ‘The worst thing is that the job is in Cheshire.’ Snowball looked glum. ‘Cheshire? Where is that? Is it far away?’ I asked, fearing the answer. ‘Yes, it’s hours away. Christopher will have to go to a different school, although he doesn’t mind, and Daisy said she would be travelling for work so much that it didn’t matter to her. And she has friends in London she can stay with. Of course, no one asked me what I thought.’ ‘Of course they didn’t. Humans can be so selfish. Hold on, does this mean you’re leaving me, Edgar Road, us?’ My eyes were so wide I thought they might ping off my face. Salmon had been right. ‘I don’t know when exactly, but it sounds like it.’ Snowball looked sad and I started to panic. She couldn’t go, not when we were so in love. Not when we’d had such a wonderful holiday together. Though I knew full well that although human life worked very differently to cat life, there was no way they could be so cruel to us. It had to be a mistake. It just had to be. Snowball and I moped around for the rest of the day. ‘I don’t want to go home,’ she said. She was angry and confused, as was I. I did try to be positive, but there’s only so much of that you can do in such a dire situation, especially when you have the post-holiday blues to boot. I led Snowball into my house and we curled up in my basket in the living room, both of us upset and worried and trying to take some comfort where we could. We must have fallen asleep because when we woke up, Claire, Jonathan, Summer, Tim and Karen were all staring at us. ‘It’s as if they know they’re going to be separated,’ Claire said. ‘Alfie is a very perceptive cat,’ Jonathan added. ‘But how can they know? They’re cats,’ Tim said. ‘Miaow,’ I objected. ‘See,’ Jonathan said. ‘Alfie knows.’ Snowball glared at her owners as, now fully awake, we sat side by side. ‘Maybe …’ Karen sounded uncertain. ‘Maybe you should try to explain it to them, properly. You know, man to cat?’ ‘Really?’ Tim asked.‘You want me to talk to the cats and tell them?’ ‘I think it’s a good idea,’ Claire concurred. ‘Yes, go on, Tim.’ I wasn’t sure if Jonathan was goading Tim because he found it amusing, but he was smirking a bit. I gave him one of my looks and thankfully he had the grace to look ashamed. After all, this was clearly no joking matter. Tim cleared his throat. Snowball and I looked at him expectantly. ‘We love living here, on this street, and we’ve made some great friends.’ Tim looked really uncomfortable. ‘But just as moving here was a big decision for our family, and far from ideal at the time, actually, we have had to make another difficult decision. You see, Snowball and Alfie, I’ve been offered a dream job, a really amazing opportunity. It means we can buy our own home again, so I can give my family the security they need and deserve.’ He was a bit pink. I looked at Snowball, who looked at me. I felt a sense of disbelief. Although I had heard they were moving already, having this confirmation from Tim wasn’t making it any easier. I had been holding onto the hope that the rumours weren’t true. ‘As much as we hate to leave here,’ Tim continued,‘having spoken to the family, we feel we have to take this opportunity. We’ll be leaving in a few weeks. It’s all happened very quickly actually.’ He looked at us expectantly but we just stared back at him. ‘And I never wanted to part you two,’ he added. ‘Oh, Alfie, it’ll be all right,’ Claire said, scooping me up in her arms. But I knew it wouldn’t. As I looked at Snowball sitting in my cat basket, her manner changed from sad to angry, I knew it would never be all right again. I felt a sense of rage building inside me. How could they do this to us? I thought about running away. Maybe Snowball and I could run back to the country, to where we’d been so happy, but I knew we wouldn’t. I couldn’t do the homeless thing again, no matter how much I loved her, and I knew that even though I was angry with our families right now, we both loved them very much. It was an impossible, impossible situation. All I could hear as the humans began trying to reassure us was the sound of my heart breaking. Chapter Six (#ulink_db10ffa4-82f0-58ca-91d2-785660ea66c0) It was the day before they were due to leave. The day before my true love was to be ripped away from me. I had been beside myself since Tim’s chat a few weeks ago. Snowball and I had snatched as much time together as we could but something had changed: it was awkward between us, because we knew that it was coming to an end. When we spent time together, it hurt badly. We both felt so sad that our time together was almost over. Yet again, I was losing someone that I loved; how much could my cat heart take? Claire looked glum as she picked me up and gave me a kiss on the top of my head. Jonathan looked sombre. I had heard them talking, and although they were sad for Snowball and me, I knew they’d also miss the good friends they had made in Edgar Road. I didn’t have the energy to feel sorry for them; I didn’t even have the energy to miaow. I just wanted to curl up in my bed and cry silently. Saying goodbye is one of life’s biggest cruelties and I had spent a lot of time in my short life saying it. It never got any easier, and this looked set to be the worst one yet. Claire carried me next door to say a final goodbye to the Snells and Snowball. Tim answered the door, and everyone hugged awkwardly as we walked into the house. It was almost all packed up and the sight of the boxes made me want to wail. Claire gently put me down. ‘Snowball’s in the garden, she’s very unhappy,’ Karen said as she led the way. I went into the garden and sat next to Snowball. The humans stood on the other side of the patio door but I could feel their eyes on us. For a few minutes neither of us spoke. ‘So this is it then,’ Snowball said. She raised her whiskers but I could see the despondency in the gesture. ‘I just don’t know what to say,’ I replied.‘I wish I could say that we could do something to stop this, but for a cat who is used to solving problems, I have nothing here.’ I felt the pain of her impending departure in every fibre of my fur. ‘Remember how awful I was to you when I first met you,’ she said. ‘Yes, you weren’t very nice. Even after I rescued you, when you accidentally got yourself lost all those years ago. But I never gave up.’ ‘And you taught me so much. I don’t want to go, Alfie. I don’t want to leave you but at least I can say I learnt a lot from you.’ ‘I can’t even begin to tell you how much I’m going to miss you,’ I told her. She rested her head on mine. I almost felt as if I would stop breathing. ‘Alfie, don’t come and see me tomorrow. I don’t know if I could bear it,’ she said. I could feel her pain as a mirror to my own. ‘I’m not sure I could either. But remember I will always love you and you are in my heart forever,’ I said. ‘And mine.’ Her voice broke and we stayed like that for as long as we could bear it, before we had to tear ourselves away. Cats might not produce tears, but believe me, we were both weeping. And when I slowly made my way back inside, I saw that Jonathan, Claire, Karen and Tim all had tears in their eyes. Our ‘purrfect’ love had touched everyone. I just wished it didn’t hurt so much. I sat in my front garden staring at a big removal van. I normally loved the sight of removal vans, as they heralded the arrival of a new family, an area of fascination for a doorstep cat like me, but today as I smoothed down my grey fur, I hated that van. It was taking the Snells’ furniture away, followed by the family and my beloved Snowball. The nightmare we had first heard about on holiday was actually coming true. I didn’t know how to cope with the despair I was feeling as I stared at the removal van. I wanted to tear myself away and run inside, but I couldn’t stop watching. I was both horrified and mesmerised. I heard a noise as my best cat friend, Tiger, squeezed under my gate. Although Tiger could be feisty and she hadn’t exactly been Snowball’s biggest fan when they first met, she had thawed towards her and the two cat women in my life had formed a rapport, almost becoming friends. ‘Oh dear,’ she said, looking at me. Tiger wasn’t known for sugar-coating anything. ‘Look, they’re filling the van, and by the end of today they’ll all be gone,’ I said, wanting to yowl with pain. ‘I know and I am sorry, Alfie, it’s really tough. Oh boy, I don’t know what to say. Look, I know you and Snowball have already said goodbye but don’t you want to see her one last time?’ ‘Tiger, every day since we heard the news it’s as if we’ve been waiting to say goodbye and it’s been horrible. I would rather be chased by a dog and get stuck up a tree than go through this again. Besides, we said goodbye properly yesterday. I promised her I’d stay indoors today – but I couldn’t.’ ‘Look, come on, I’ll take you to the park and we can chase birds, or tease dogs, it’s your choice.’ She patted me with her paw.‘I promise I won’t let you get stuck up a tree.’ I knew she was trying to cheer me up but I couldn’t feel anything but gloom at the idea of never seeing Snowball again. ‘OK, but I can’t promise I’ll be good company. In fact, I know I’ll be terrible company.’ ‘Yeah, well, I’m used to that,’ Tiger said, but she gave me an affectionate look at the same time. I tried to take my mind off Snowball, and goodness knows Tiger did all she could, but it was still too raw. Tiger tried everything to cheer me up: finding butterflies for me to chase, telling me how Nellie tripped on something – she’s a bit clumsy – and landed on Rocky, which apparently was funny if you were there. She even tried to involve me in the mystery of the pictures on the lamppost, but I couldn’t muster up enthusiasm for anything. I felt as if I would never be happy again, but I was clinging onto the hope that one day I would start to feel better. I knew I would eventually; I had been through enough in my life to know that although heartbreak never fully went away, it did fade – you just had to give it time. I was quite wise, having accumulated much life experience during my eight cat years. I would never stop loving Snowball or missing her, but the way I was feeling right now would get easier. The pain of losing someone you loved never totally disappeared, but you did get used to living with it. That was how I saw it. ‘I’m sorry, Tiger. I’m so miserable. I’m just not great company,’ I said as I lay down by my favourite flowerbed. A leaf flopped on my head and I brushed it away listlessly. ‘It’s fine, I understand. Remember when Tom went away?’ Tom was a grumpy cat who used to live on our street. He was sort of Tiger’s boyfriend, although she never seemed to like him that much. His owner had died and we had all rallied around trying to figure out where he could live, but a relative took Tom to live with them and he was happy to go. Tiger had been a bit sad but then she didn’t exactly love Tom the way I loved Snowball, although for a few days she had been like a cat with a sore head. ‘Yeah, you were really scratchy,’ I said. ‘OK, yeah, so you’re miserable and I was scratchy but the principle is the same. We’re friends, and friends stick together no matter what – even when they’re not the best company. So if you want to wallow or sulk or cry or even be angry, I’m here for you. Whatever you need, Alfie, I’ll always be here for you.’ ‘Tiger, you’re such a good friend and I really appreciate you. I hope you know that.’ ‘Well, good, and luckily for you I’m not going anywhere.’ ‘Please don’t, I couldn’t bear to lose you as well.’ And then I crumpled. To preserve what little dignity I had left, I shuffled fully under the nearest bush and then I yowled. I could feel the pain in every sound that escaped my mouth. Finally, when I was exhausted and could make no more noise, I emerged, tired and feeling as if I had lost something of myself. Tiger, who had been waiting patiently, put her paw on mine. ‘Come on, Alfie, I’ll take you home,’ she said. The van had left by the time we got back to my house and so had the Snells’ car. They had gone. Tiger walked me to the back door and bade me farewell at the cat flap. I went through it, although even that felt like a major effort. I padded sadly to the kitchen. Claire, Jonathan and Summer and Polly, Matt and their children – Henry and Martha – were all there. They looked at me and I saw the sympathy in their eyes. Well, not the children – they just played on the floor, oblivious to my pain. I noticed that my favourite food, pilchards, sat in my bowl, but I had no appetite. ‘Alfie,’ Claire said. I just looked at each of them, sadly, and walked out, ignoring the food and going upstairs to my bed on the landing. I curled up in it and begged for sleep to come. Chapter Seven (#ulink_f93aecfd-5498-53a3-add1-379800c22f0d) I sat on the sofa, listlessly watching the sun stream through the window. It had been a week since Snowball left, and the longing I felt, just to see her, speak to her, hear her voice, was all consuming. I had barely been out; I didn’t even want to see my friends. I just wanted to be alone with my poor, aching heart. Even Summer’s lovely smile had been unable to cheer me up, although I did put on a brave face for her, letting her cuddle me and even pull my tail, although that took all the energy I had. This evening, my Polish family – Franceska, big Tomasz, Aleksy and little Tomasz – were all coming over in yet another effort to cheer me up. It was Claire’s idea. I wanted to try to be more like my old self, if only for my humans’ sakes, as they were being so kind and trying so hard, but I was oh so tired. It was like I had an illness of the heart. ‘Alfie?’ Jonathan sat down next to me, interrupting my thoughts. I nudged my head lethargically against his arm. It was the most I could offer. ‘Right, Alfie,’ he said. He was wearing his work clothes, the smart ones he normally kept away from me in case a bit of my fur snuck onto them, and he had a beer in his hand. This must be serious if he was risking his best clothes, I thought, and I couldn’t resist rubbing my head against his suit sleeve. I might be a bit down in the dumps but still … Especially as he didn’t even tell me off! He took a sip of his beer and then, looking solemn, he put it down on the coffee table. ‘I know that this sucks,’ he said, looking slightly embarrassed.‘We were very sad that Snowball had to go – we knew how close you two had become. But it’s human stuff. Jobs, houses, schools, it all added up to the Snells having to move away, and unfortunately you’re a casualty of that.’ He paused to lean forwards and take another sip of beer. I looked at him; I had no idea where this was going.‘The thing is that women, well, we love them and we lose them sometimes – but then you might find someone like I found Claire.’ He beamed as if he had solved all my problems. ‘Miaow.’ He found Claire, really? I think he’ll find I handed her to him on a plate! I rolled my eyes, as I thought back to my careful matchmaking when I first arrived on Edgar Road. ‘Claire is wonderful, and I love her deeply. She may have her moments, but when I think about some of the women I have been with … Goodness, I still shudder to remember them.’ No, I still had no idea where this was going. ‘So, anyway, the thing is, you need to dust yourself off and get back out there. You know, back in the game. Stalking alleyways for new cats the way we go to bars.’ Was he for real? Was he telling me to go down an alleyway? ‘You see,’ Jonathan continued. ‘The best way to get over heartbreak is to put yourself out there, even if it’s just for a bit of fun. Oh yes, the rebound is actually quite healthy, and you must have ways of meeting cat ladies. That Tiger down the road is pretty cute for a stripy cat. Anyway, it’s like they say, you need to get back on the horse.’ He looked pleased with himself as he downed the rest of his beer and stood up. I looked at him. Was he mad? Horses? Tiger? I might be heartbroken but Jonathan had lost the plot. If I could talk to humans I would have had a lot of questions to ask him. Instead, I put my head down, even more exhausted than before. Claire came into the room. ‘Oh, there you are.’ She came up to Jonathan and kissed him.‘How did it go?’ she asked. ‘Yeah, I think I got through to him,’ he said as I lay down on the sofa and curled myself up into a ball. ‘Really? He still looks sad,’ Claire pointed out. ‘Give him a bit of time. We had a chat, like you asked me to. You know – man to cat. It’s all good.’ As they both left the room, Claire looked back at me – she clearly wasn’t convinced. But then again, neither was I. After a short catnap, I got up and greeted my other families. Although the adults could deal with my heartache, I knew the children couldn’t, especially my first-ever child friend, Aleksy, who was nearly eleven now and had always been a sensitive boy. He would hate to see me sad. Little Tomasz, who wasn’t so little, nearly as big as Aleksy despite being three years younger, was more of a physical child, and he didn’t really pick up on emotions. Polly and Matt’s children, Henry, who was almost five, and three-year-old Martha, were too young to understand my pain. As I played with them, mainly with a ball and ribbons, I made a huge effort. It wasn’t easy, but to see my friends smiling and hear them laugh was a tonic. I made a special fuss of all the children, especially Aleksy, and it did cheer me up just a tiny little bit. It was lovely to be surrounded by the love of my families. Having all of them there was such a treat, and I just about managed to be like the old me for a short while. My families got together frequently. Polly and Matt lived on the same street and I often spent time at their house, where they had been kind enough to install a cat flap for me. Frankie and Tomasz lived a few streets away, above the restaurant they owned. The restaurant food was delicious. Talking of food, I was distracted by the smell of it. Tomasz had brought a feast from his restaurant for everyone and he’d brought me sardines which, even though my appetite wasn’t quite what it normally was, were quite welcome. I tried my best to appreciate the food and count my blessings, although it wasn’t easy. Nothing at the moment was easy – it was as if my paws were stuck in mud. ‘So how is Alfie?’ Franceska asked Claire. I could hear them, as they had a habit of talking in front of me as if I didn’t understand. They did the same with the younger children. ‘Sad. He seems sad. He’s been off his food and he’s barely been out. I know he’ll recover but it’s heartbreaking,’ Claire said. She liked to read books, and lately she had been reading classic romances, which seemed to have made her even softer than normal.‘I just feel so terrible for him, to love and then to lose. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?’ ‘He’ll be fine,’ Jonathan cut in. ‘He’s a man, he’ll soon bounce back.’ ‘Typical male point of view,’ Polly added. ‘I’m sure Jon’s right. He’ll soon be his old self,’ said Matt. ‘Hey, why doesn’t he come and stay with us for a couple of days,’ big Tomasz suggested.‘A change of scene might help.’ ‘That’s not a bad idea,’ Claire said.‘Maybe next weekend?’ I gave up eating and curled up by Franceska’s feet, nestling into her legs. A weekend away wouldn’t solve my problems, but it would be nice to be with them all and it would mean I wouldn’t have to look at the empty house next door. Plus, I’d have the boys to keep me occupied and I’d get to spend time with my cat friend Dustbin. I felt something akin to hope for the first time since I had heard that Snowball was leaving. ‘Yeah, can he come?’ Aleksy said, sounding excited. It seemed it was all settled. I would take my broken heart away for the weekend. That night, I was thinking about my weekend away when I heard Jonathan and Claire arguing. It was a funny kind of argument though, because ever since Summer was born, they rowed in whispered voices. I was worried. After all, whilst I had enough problems of my own, I didn’t want anyone else to be unhappy – I wasn’t sure I could bear it. I crept closer to their room to listen. ‘Look, we can get a second opinion,’ I heard Jonathan say. ‘You mean a third opinion. Jon, I am trying to tell you, it’s pointless, and it’s time we faced facts. I’m OK, really. We were lucky with Summer, but there aren’t going to be any more babies. I’m sorry I can’t give you another child but at least we have her.’ ‘I know, we’ve got Summer and Alfie … It’s fine, as long as you’re all right. I mean … OK, yes, I would ideally love another child but it’s more important that our family – you, me, Sum and Alfie – are all right. I love you.’ I felt a bit relieved, it seemed they weren’t really arguing after all. ‘No, I’m fine. Please don’t worry, this isn’t going to send me back to my black days, it really isn’t. I’m disappointed, but I think deep down I knew, the tests just confirmed it.’ Claire did have dark moments, which made us all worry terribly, but it was only when things went wrong. She seemed to be coping with life so much better these days – there was no doubt that Jonathan and Summer had brought great joy into her life. It was if they had taught her how to be happy. ‘So we’re OK? Then why are we arguing?’ ‘I don’t know.’ I saw Claire sit down on the bed.‘Jonathan, I don’t want Summer to be an only child.’ ‘But you just said you were OK?’ ‘I am, but that doesn’t mean we can’t adopt. There are so many children out there who need a good, loving home. We’ve got all that and more. We have space, we can afford it …’ ‘I don’t know.’ I could hear the doubt in Jonathan’s voice. ‘But why not?’ ‘Because.’ I could almost hear Jonathan folding his arms across his chest. He could be such a child sometimes. ‘Because why, darling?’ I saw through a crack in the door that Claire had put her arm on his. ‘It’s complicated. I just think it’s a big step, taking in someone else’s child. And then the adoption process is gruelling, we might not even be accepted.’ ‘Oh, Jon, I’m sure we will, I’ve spoken to Dad … We might not get a baby, but I know that they are crying out for homes for older children. We’re not criminals or insane …’ She attempted a laugh. ‘I’m not so sure. I mean about adopting, not being a criminal. Or insane.’ ‘OK, but will you at least agree to let me look into it?’ I heard Claire’s pleading voice and then Jonathan’s sigh. ‘If you really have your heart set on it then we can look into it, but I’m not promising anything.’ ‘Hey, like you said, we might not even be accepted, but at least let me find out. I don’t want to wonder about it, that’s all.’ ‘Hey, I’d be more agreeable to you adopting a new girlfriend for Alfie,’ Jonathan joked. He often did this when he was uncomfortable, tried to make a joke. A pretty poor joke, in my opinion. ‘Jon, that’s not funny. But now you mention it …’ ‘I was joking,’ he said. ‘I know you were. OK, let’s go to bed.’ As I saw them settle down for the night, I went back to my basket, thankful that everything was fine and there was nothing to worry about. Apart from myself of course. Chapter Eight (#ulink_26f3e774-b7ec-5a54-831f-1a30cbb4f0be) ‘So you’ve never been in love?’ I asked. I was in the small yard behind the restaurant with Dustbin. Dustbin was my friend and the cat who sort of worked for Tomasz’s restaurant. He was what he referred to as feral; he had never lived in a house before and liked it that way. He lived in the yard outside the restaurant and Franceska and big Tomasz’s flat and he kept the vermin under control. We’d known each other since I had started visiting here and he was also one of the wisest cats I’d ever met. It was nearing the end of the weekend and I have to say that it had done me the world of good. I’d eaten well, having found my appetite, and I found it easier not to pine, being a bit further away from Snowball’s old house. ‘Can’t say I have,’ Dustbin replied, eating some leftovers that Tomasz had put out for him, baring his teeth at a foolhardy mouse who had come a bit too close. Dustbin was the master of multi-tasking.‘I’m not that kind of cat. I like my own company most of the time. I like hanging out with you and passing the time of day, and I don’t mind hunting with some of the other cats around here, but romance and all that – nah, it’s not for me.’ ‘But love is wonderful,’ I continued, feeling quite poetic, despite the fact we were surrounded by bins and rodents in a pretty ugly yard. It certainly wasn’t like my last time away, in the country. A picture of Snowball and me popped into my head, running through the long grass without a care in the world, and I yowled. ‘That’s as maybe, but you’re not feeling wonderful now,’ Dustbin pointed out. I couldn’t argue with that. ‘Look, mate, I know you loved that cat. I remember when we rescued her when she ran away, I saw how much she meant to you then. I’m sorry it’s been so tough for you.’ ‘Thanks, Dustbin. And you’re right, but spending the weekend here has been such a tonic, I do feel a bit better.’ ‘Yeah, well, I think it’s good for you to have a break from home, and sometimes a bit of distance can give you perspective. I know that when I have a problem, going off to roam away from here often gives me clarity.’ ‘You’re a wise old cat, even if you’ve never been in love,’ I said, and I meant it.‘But I’d better go now, I think my visit here is nearly over.’ ‘Ta, Alfie. Right, make sure you come back again soon, now you’ve got a bit more time on your paws. And maybe I’ll teach you to hunt,’ he grinned. ‘No. I mean, yes, I’ll come back, but no to hunting. It never ends well for me.’ I shuddered. The last time I had been bitten by a cheeky mouse. It was too humiliating. ‘OK, but we can hang out nonetheless. I have to get on now, there’s this awful rat who thinks he can come here whenever he wants, and it’s time for me to show him who’s boss. Unless you want to come with me?’ ‘Um, as tempting an offer as that is, I think I’ll give it a miss,’ I said, backing away. Yes, the weekend had done me some good. The boys had been fun to hang out with: we’d played football – or paw-ball – at the park and I had been given plenty of treats. I felt as if the adults were being extra kind to me, especially food-wise, like they were trying to feed me up. I missed my other humans, especially little Summer, but I was happier than I had been since Snowball left. Although missing Snowball was still occupying most of my time, the weekend had proved a distraction. I couldn’t stop hurting, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to. I loved her so much that the pain was a reminder of that, and in some ways it comforted me – although I understood that that made little sense. I made my way back up to the flat where Aleksy and little Tomasz were playing a game on their games console. Franceska was sitting down, which was rare for her, and having a cup of tea. Big Tomasz was sitting at their small dining table, planning menus for the following week. It was a lovely, harmonious family scene. ‘Ha ha, I win,’ Aleksy shouted, punching his arm in the air. ‘You cheated,’ little Tomasz replied. ‘I didn’t, how could I cheat?’ Aleksy looked at his brother who threw the game controller down in a huff. OK, maybe not so lovely. ‘Enough, boys,’ Franceska said.‘If you can’t play nicely together you lose the games. And anyway, we have to go soon to take Alfie home.’ ‘Oh no, does he have to go?’ Aleksy came over and picked me up. Little Tomasz stroked me, all arguments forgotten as I nestled into the boys and purred. ‘Yes, unfortunately, then we’ll come home and you have to do homework. It’s school tomorrow.’ The boys started complaining and big Tomasz shushed them as Franceska went to get my things together. They decided that, as it was warm, we would walk home, though I got carried some of the way as I still hadn’t fully regained my strength. I was glad to be in big Tomasz’s arms when we walked past the Snells’ house. There was a ‘To Let’ sign outside it now, which made me feel terrible all over again; I was almost as empty as that house. We stood on the doorstep and Jonathan opened the door. ‘So glad you’re here,’ he said.‘Can you all stay for a bit?’ ‘Just for half an hour,’ Franceska replied. ‘The boys have homework.’ ‘I’ll put the kettle on then,’ Jonathan said. As I walked in, I immediately knew something was different. I could sense something, or I could smell something – I wasn’t sure what it was. As big Tomasz put me down in the hall, I knew that something was wrong. ‘Oh my,’ I heard Franceska exclaim from the kitchen. I stayed where I was, trying to figure out what was going on. The boys stayed with me. ‘My goodness, what on earth?’ I heard big Tomasz say as he too entered the kitchen. ‘It was Claire’s idea and I’m not sure it’s one of her better ones,’ Jonathan replied, sounding tetchy. ‘It’s gorgeous,’ Franceska said. ‘I tried to talk her out of it but she wouldn’t budge,’ Jonathan moaned. ‘I mean really!’ He didn’t sound happy. Just what was going on? ‘Well, you gave me the idea. You know, when you said you wished we could adopt a new girlfriend for Alfie,’ Claire said. ‘Yes, but I was joking and I certainly didn’t mean this.’ Oh boy! I couldn’t move. Had they got me a new girlfriend? That was crazy. But it made sense with the smell I could detect. Although it didn’t exactly smell like a female cat but, yes, there was a definite scent. There was another cat in this house! Oh, what had Claire done now? ‘Well, of course we couldn’t get him a new girlfriend, you don’t just get over love like that,’ Claire snapped. Phew! I was relieved, but if it wasn't a female cat, what was it? ‘No, but I’m not sure this is going to help him – or us, for that matter,’ Jonathan snapped back. ‘Oh, ignore him. It was fate. I saw an advert on the local Facebook “for sale” page. So we went to see him,’ Claire said. Went to see who? ‘It was just such brilliant timing. He was supposed to go to a family who had paid a deposit and everything but then changed their minds, so he was ready to go.’ ‘How old is he?’ big Tomasz asked. ‘Fourteen weeks.’ I felt my fur stand on end. ‘It does sound like fate, and he’s very, very beautiful, little kochanie,’ Franceska said. I heard a tiny little mewing sound. ‘Where’s Alfie?’ Jonathan asked. I was full of trepidation as I finally walked into the kitchen, terrified as to what I would find. And there, my worst nightmare was confirmed. OK, maybe not my worst nightmare – I mean, it wasn’t a dog! But still I shuddered. Claire was cuddling a bundle of fur. A small, orange-and-black striped bundle with grey eyes. Oh, what had she done? ‘Alfie, kitten,’ Summer said, pointing at it. ‘Alfie’s kitten?’ Aleksy asked, coming up beside me. ‘Wow, look at him, he’s so cool, I love him!’ We all looked at the kitten. The kitten stared at me. He was tiny, and he was in my kitchen, in my house. ‘Yes, darling, that’s right. Everyone, meet George. Alfie, he’s your kitten.’ Chapter Nine (#ulink_9d429a53-1b8f-525f-82cb-2f4c3596c044) My paws were rooted to the spot as Claire bent down to bring me nose to nose with the kitten. My kitten. I felt a wave of panic, as he, George, eyed me suspiciously. He really was incredibly small, and somehow also mesmerising. The children were all so excited by him, but I didn’t know what to do. ‘Can I see?’ little Tomasz said, saving me, as the three children crowded round and took turns having a cuddle. George made these quiet and very cute mewing sounds, and I wanted to both take care of him and run away in equal measure. I used the distraction of the children fussing over him to head to the back door. I needed some fresh air, time to breath and think. Yes, that was what I should do, just take a few moments to clear my head and then I would come back and deal with the situation. What on earth was Claire thinking? How was I supposed to cope with George when I couldn’t cope with myself? At times like this, I couldn’t help thinking that Jonathan was infinitely the more sensible of the two. How on earth could Claire think that getting me a kitten would help me in any way, shape or form? I needed to get out. I wanted to go and see Tiger and tell her about this terrible turn of events, so I ran to jump through my cat flap. ‘Yowl.’ I hit the cat flap with force, but it didn’t move and bounced me backwards, taking me by surprise as I landed on my tail. Ouch, that hurt. ‘Oh goodness, sorry, Alfie.’ Claire rushed forwards.‘We had to close the cat flap because of George. It’s not forever, only until he’s allowed out.’ She looked a bit guilty at this, at least. ‘So how is Alfie going to go out?’ Aleksy asked, echoing my thoughts. He was holding George and cuddling him. Normally I might have been put out by the fact that they all seemed far more interested in this striped kitten than me, but I didn’t have the energy to be jealous. Especially as I now had a sore tail and no idea how to escape. ‘Well, we’ll just have to kind of figure it out I guess,’ Claire said, looking as if she hadn’t thought this through. ‘We’ll let him out if he stands by the door and then when he wants to come in, he can miaow loudly so we hear him. He is a clever cat after all.’ She sounded as if this was the most normal thing, which for me it certainly was not, and Jonathan rolled his eyes. I wished I could do the same; it seemed I was to be a prisoner in my own home. On top of everything else, I had lost my freedom. ‘And anyway, he’s been out all day. Alfie, you need to stay in and bond with George,’ she said. Great. I’d had a lovely weekend away and now I was trapped with a kitten. He might be adorable, but still … This was not what I wanted, not at all. However, showing my displeasure would have taken energy and, despite the fact that Claire had just managed to make my terrible life even worse, I still loved her. I guessed she was trying to do the right thing. I could hear Franceska saying what a great idea it was and even big Tomasz seemed to agree. It seemed only Jonathan and myself had any reservations about this George. And anyway, what kind of name was that for a kitten? As we saw my friends out, I nuzzled the boys, wishing in a way that I could go back with them. How simple my life had been that morning: just me and Dustbin, playing with the boys, sardines on tap, heartbreak. But now … Now I had a kitten and no idea what I was supposed to do with him. I went to the living room and Summer came bounding in after me. She cuddled me, a little roughly, as she always does, but I knew she meant well. I worried fleetingly for George. Summer wasn’t the gentlest child and he was so small and fragile. ‘Sum, you have to be really careful with George,’ Claire said. I felt immediately relieved. She carried George in and put him on the floor. He stood up, not quite as tiny as he had first seemed now that he was on four legs. I tried to remember being that young but my memory failed me. I remembered when I went to my first home, feeling scared, and then having to face the formidable Agnes, my owner’s other cat. Though she didn’t like me for a few weeks, she eventually became like a sister to me. But that was all I could recall. As George came right up to me, sniffing me, I looked kindly at him. It wasn’t his fault. He was just a helpless kitten. Oh goodness, he was my helpless kitten now. I nudged gently at him with my nose. I didn’t have it in me to be anything but kind to the poor little thing. As he looked at me with those eyes, waving his little tail gently, I knew that, somehow, I had to take care of him. He was my kitten. ‘Look, Jonathan, look, Alfie already loves him. I knew it!’ Claire sounded triumphant. George looked at me questioningly. Although Agnes had eventually come round, it had been difficult and scary for me at first, and I couldn’t do that to George. I wouldn’t do it to anyone, but especially not this little chap. But then I’m a tom and we are typically far less difficult than women. Well, I think so anyway! George came closer to me and then Summer approached with a piece of ribbon in her hands. He was wide-eyed as he bounded over to play with it. As Summer giggled and George chased the ribbon, Claire looked on happily. Even I couldn’t stop a smile finding its way onto my face. ‘I knew it would work out. Adding to our family isn’t a bad thing, Jonathan. In any way we can,’ she said pointedly, giving his cheek a kiss. He hugged her back but he didn’t reply. That evening we ate our first supper together. Though George had his own bowl of food he kept looking longingly at mine. ‘Hello,’ I said warmly, when the humans were out of earshot. ‘Hello,’ he replied in his little voice. ‘This is your first tea here. I hope you enjoy it.’ ‘Thank you.’ I could hear his voice shake a little and I thought he must be terrified; he certainly looked it. George had special kitten food, which meant they couldn’t leave my food down on the floor in case he ate it. Claire had told me that if I wanted it I had to eat it all at once. This kept getting worse! I, like many cats, liked to graze, not always licking the bowl clean straight away. But now I had to eat it all or lose it. George ate from his bowl tentatively; the poor thing really did seem confused, and after tea, he followed me to the living room. ‘Aren’t you going to clean me?’ he asked, as I began my ablutions. ‘What? No,’ I replied. ‘You clean yourself.’ I immediately felt guilty for sounding so irritated. It was enough effort to keep myself spick and span, but that wasn’t George’s fault. He looked at me, wide-eyed, and I melted a bit. Damn, he was just so cute. ‘My mum always cleaned me,’ he said, sounding so forlorn I wanted to wail. ‘I miss her.’ I almost crumpled. This poor kitten was in a strange home for the first time, and although it happened to all of us, it would take some getting used to for him. Yes, he was lucky to have ended up in such a loving home, but that didn’t mean it was going to be easy for him. I needed to be the strong one for him. I had been thinking about myself too much and someone else needed me more: George. ‘Look,’ I said, more gently this time. ‘Watch me and then you can learn how to do it.’ I slowly cleaned myself while he looked on. Later that night, Claire announced she was going to bed, picking up George, who had been sleeping on her lap. He yawned and blinked. I followed them upstairs. His tiny bed had been placed next to mine. I climbed into mine and Claire placed George in his. I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep. Some time later, I was woken by distressed mewing. As I opened my eyes and pricked my ears I saw it was George, crying in his bed. ‘George? What’s wrong?’ I asked, sleepily. ‘I miss my mummy,’ he cried, and I felt very sorry for him. I don’t remember my cat mum, and I knew that George would forget over time, but now he was distraught and I felt my already broken heart break some more. ‘I understand,’ I said. ‘I know plenty about missing those you love, but you’ve got us now – me, Claire, Jonathan and Summer and the other families. You’ll be OK.’ The poor mite deserved comfort, so I tried to sound reassuring. I stretched across and climbed into his bed, curling up and wrapping my tail around him, in the way I hoped a parent would. ‘Are you my new mummy?’ he asked, looking at me hopefully. ‘No, George. I’m male, a boy. A mummy is female.’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/rachel-wells-2/alfie-and-george-a-heart-warming-tale-about-how-one-cat-and/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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