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Alfie the Doorstep Cat Rachel Wells For all fans of A Street Cat Named Bob, this is the only book to find in your stocking this Christmas.Can a pet really change your life?Alfie is homeless, abandoned after his elderly owner passes away. But when he stumbles on to Edgar Road, Alfie knows he’s found his new home.However, the street’s residents don’t agree – the last thing they need is another stray cat, and he is shooed away from many doorsteps.But as life throws its worst at the residents of Edgar Road, they soon realise how much they all need Alfie – a cat who brings hope to the darkest times, and who will always be a friend to those in need.Heart-warming and uplifting, Alfie the Doorstep Cat is the perfect read for fans of ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ and ‘Solomon’s Tale’. Copyright (#ulink_a08c2960-3cc9-536f-90d4-62ba0114198e) AVON HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 77–85 Fulham Palace Road, Hammersmith, London W6 8JB www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers 2014 Copyright © Rachel Wells 2014 Cover image © Shutterstock 2014 Cover design © Emma Rogers 2014 Faith Bleasdale, writing as Rachel Wells, asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record 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. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008101626 Ebook Edition © October 2014 ISBN: 9780008101619 Version: 2014-09-15 Dedication (#ulink_53969628-e78f-5c2d-bfdd-3cb873ca543b) To Ginger, my first cat who I took on walks on his lead and let me treat him as if he was a doll. You are long gone but never forgotten. Contents Cover (#u0e5786e7-91ab-5f0b-bcf8-fdc70b089848) Title Page (#u366180ea-0988-5f81-b8c3-5e2a39639f53) Copyright (#u277d176b-7c1d-5ca7-ab08-b95458d8f4d4) Dedication (#ud5c7c627-48dc-5530-ba94-b120894a6e1f) Chapter One (#uee567bc0-c69b-5491-9bee-09091df559d3) Chapter Two (#u4d82fc9a-375f-5d36-8273-855bbe1cb10b) Chapter Three (#ubf3a35b5-1178-5fa9-a823-121421d9920f) Chapter Four (#u5a6cf04e-e674-5b89-a24d-9b34ed225c15) Chapter Five (#u2eff7a10-4738-5a75-86ba-1a54aedb1eae) Chapter Six (#ufd6c828e-687f-5cbd-abfe-5d7943b808f8) Chapter Seven (#ufe5e1280-d91b-5937-8f43-66f8b410319e) Chapter Eight (#u9a65c127-4a8b-57f6-b13e-112223ace197) Chapter Nine (#ua41989b7-32e4-5bbb-8439-723d00eb5dac) 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) Chapter Thirty-Five (#litres_trial_promo) Epilogue (#litres_trial_promo) About the Book (#litres_trial_promo) About the Author (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) (#ulink_a827987d-9a62-5a34-88c0-912087272384) ‘It’s not going to take too long to pack up the house,’ Linda said. ‘Linda, you’re so optimistic; look at all the junk your mother collected,’ Jeremy replied. ‘That’s unfair. She’s got some nice china and you never know, some of it might be worth something.’ I was pretending to be asleep but my ears were pricked up, listening to what was being said as I tried to stop my tail flicking in agitation. I was curled up on Margaret’s favourite chair – or rather, the chair that had been her favourite – watching her daughter and son-in-law discuss what would happen; determining my future. The past few days had been so terrifyingly confusing, especially as I didn’t fully understand what had happened. However, what I did understand as I listened, trying my best not to cry, was that life would never be the same again. ‘You’ll be lucky. Anyway, we should call a house clearance place. Lord knows we don’t want any of her stuff.’ I tried to sneak a look without them noticing. Jeremy was tall, grey haired and bad tempered. I had never really liked him, but the woman, Linda, had always been nice to me. ‘I’d like a chance to keep a few of Mum’s things. I’ll miss her.’ Linda started crying and I yearned to yowl along with her, but I kept quiet. ‘I know, love,’ Jeremy’s voice softened. ‘It’s just that we can’t stay here forever. Now the funeral’s over, we need to think about getting the house on the market and, well, if we get it packed up, we can be off in a few days.’ ‘It just seems so final, though. But you’re right, of course.’ She sighed. ‘And what about Alfie?’ I bristled. This was what I was waiting for. What would happen to me? ‘We need to put him in a shelter I suppose.’ I felt my fur stand on end. ‘A shelter? But Mum loved him so much. It seems so cruel to just get rid of him.’ I wished I could voice my agreement with her; it was beyond cruel. ’But you know we can’t take him home. We’ve got two dogs, love. A cat just won’t work for us, you know that.’ I was incensed. It wasn’t that I wanted to go with them, but I absolutely couldn’t go to a shelter. Shelter. My body shuddered at the word; such an inappropriate name for what we in the cat community thought of as ‘death row’. There might be a few lucky cats who got re-homed, but then who knew what happened to them? Who was to say that the family that re-homed them would treat them well? The cats I knew unanimously agreed that a shelter was a bad place. And we knew full well that for those that weren’t re-homed, the death sentence loomed. Although I considered myself a handsome cat with a certain kind of charm, there was no way I was going to take that risk. ‘I know you’re right, the dogs would eat him alive. And they’re very good at these shelters these days, so he might be re-homed quickly.’ She paused as if she was still mulling things over. ‘No, it has to be done. I’ll call the shelter in the morning and the house clearance company. Then I guess we can get an estate agent round.’ She sounded more sure of herself and I knew my fate had been sealed unless I did something about it. ‘Now you’re thinking straight. I know this is hard, but Linda, your mum was very old and honestly, it’s not like it was a huge surprise.’ ‘That doesn’t make it easy though, does it?’ I put my paws over my ears. My little head was reeling. In the past two weeks I had lost my owner, the only human I’d ever really known. Life had been turned upside down and I was heartbroken, desolate and now, it seemed, homeless. What on earth was a cat like me supposed to do? I was what was known as a ‘lap cat’. I didn’t feel the need to be out all night hunting, prowling or socialising, when I had a warm lap, food and comfort. I also had company; a family. But then it was all taken away, leaving my cat heart totally broken. For the first time ever I was all alone. I had lived in this small terraced house with my owner, Margaret, almost my whole life. I also had a sister cat called Agnes, although she was more like an aunt, being so much older than me. When Agnes went to cat heaven, a year ago, I felt a pain that I had never thought possible. It hurt so much that I didn’t think I would ever recover. But I had Margaret, who loved me very much, and we clung together in our grief. We had both adored Agnes and we missed her with every ounce of our beings, united in our suffering. However, I recently learnt how incredibly cruel life could be. One day, a couple of weeks ago, Margaret didn’t get up from her bed. I had no idea what was wrong or what to do, being a cat, so I lay next to her and yowled as loudly as I could. Luckily, a nurse who came to see Margaret once a week was due, and when I heard the doorbell I reluctantly left Margaret’s side and leapt out of the cat flap. ‘Oh my, what’s wrong?’ the nurse asked, as I wailed for all I was worth. When she pushed the doorbell again, I pawed at her, gently but insistently trying to convey that something was wrong. She used the spare key and found Margaret’s lifeless body. I stayed with Margaret, knowing she was lost to me, as the nurse made some phone calls. After a while, some men came to take her away and I couldn’t stop yowling. They wouldn’t let me go with Margaret, and that was when I realised that my life, as I knew it, was over. Margaret’s family were called and I yowled some more. I yowled myself hoarse. As Jeremy and Linda continued talking, I quietly jumped off the chair and left the house. I prowled around looking for some of the other cats to ask advice from, but it was pretty much tea time so I struggled to find anyone. However, I knew a nice elderly cat called Mavis who lived down the street, so I went to seek her out. I sat outside her cat flap and miaowed loudly. She knew that Margaret had died; she’d seen her being taken away and had found me shortly afterwards pining after her. She was a maternal cat, a bit like Agnes, and she had taken care of me, letting me yowl until I could yowl no more. She had stayed with me, sharing her food and milk with me, until Linda and Jeremy arrived. Hearing my call, she came out of the cat flap, and I explained the situation to her. ‘They can’t take you?’ she asked, looking at me with sad eyes. ‘No, they say they have dogs and, well, I don’t want to live with dogs anyway.’ We both shivered at the thought. ‘Who would?’ she said. ‘I don’t know what to do,’ I lamented, trying not to cry again. Mavis nestled her body into me. We hadn’t been close until recently, but she was a very caring cat, and I was grateful for her friendship. ‘Alfie, don’t let them take you to the shelter,’ she said. ‘I’d take care of you but I don’t think I can. I’m old and tired now and my owner isn’t much younger than Margaret was. You have to be a brave little cat and find yourself a new family.’ She rubbed her neck into mine affectionately. ‘But how do I do that?’ I asked. I had never felt so lost or scared. ‘I wish I had the answers, but think what you have learnt lately about how fragile life is, and be strong.’ We rubbed noses, and I knew that I had to leave. I went back to Margaret’s house one last time so I could remember it before I left. I wanted a picture to lock in my memory and take on my journey with me. I hoped it might give me strength. I looked at Margaret’s trinkets, her ‘treasures’ she called them. I looked at the pictures on the wall that had been so familiar to me. I looked at the carpet, worn where I had scratched at it when I was too young to know better. This house was me, and I was it. And now I had no idea what was to become of me. I had little appetite but I forced myself to eat the food that Linda had given me (after all I wasn’t sure when I would get to eat next), and then I took one final, lingering look around the home that had been mine; that had always kept me warm and safe. I thought about the lessons I’d learnt. In my four years in this house I had grasped a lot about love, and about loss. I had once been taken care of, but not any longer. I remembered the time I arrived as a tiny kitten. How Agnes hadn’t liked me and had treated me as a threat. How I had won her round, and how Margaret had always treated us as if we were the most important cats in the world. I thought about how lucky I had been; but now my luck had run out. As I mourned the only life that I had known, I felt instinctively that I had to survive, but I had no idea how. I prepared to take a leap into the unknown. (#ulink_8dd583d6-b3eb-5318-994e-3688d30fabd1) With my broken heart, and fearing no reasonable alternative, I set out from the only home I’d ever known. I had no idea where I was going, or how I was going to manage, but I knew that relying on myself, and my limited abilities, would be better than relying on a shelter. And I also knew that a cat like me needed to have a home and love. As I crept off into the dark night, my little body shaking with fear, I tried to find a way to be brave. I knew little but I was certain that I didn’t ever want to be alone again. This cat desperately needed to find a lap, or even a number of laps, to sit on. With a sense of purpose, I tried to muster my courage. I hoped, prayed, that it wouldn’t fail me. I started walking, letting my senses guide me. I wasn’t used to prowling the streets in the dark, unwelcoming night, but I could see and I could hear well and kept telling myself that it would be all right. I tried to hear Margaret and Agnes’ voices as I walked the streets, to drive me on. The first night was hard – frightening and long. At some point, as the moon shone down, I found a shed at the bottom of someone’s back garden, which was lucky because my legs were hurting and I was exhausted. The door was open, and although it was dusty and full of cobwebs, I was too tired to care. I curled up in a corner on the hard, dirty floor, but somehow I managed to fall fast asleep. I was awoken during the night by a loud yowl, and a large black cat loomed over me. I jumped into the air in fright. He stared at me angrily, and although my legs were shaking, I tried to stand my ground. ‘What are you doing here?’ he hissed, spitting at me aggressively. ‘I just needed to sleep,’ I replied, trying and failing to sound confident. There was no way I could get past him easily, so, trembling, I stood up and tried to look menacing. The cat grinned, an evil grin, and I nearly buckled. He reached out and swiped my head with his claws. I yelped and felt the pain from where he’d scratched me and I wanted to curl into a ball but knew that I had to get away from this vicious cat. He came at me again, claws glinting, brandished at my face, but luckily I was more agile than him. I launched myself towards the door and ran past him, brushing his wiry fur but managing to get outside. He turned and hissed at me again. I spat back then ran as fast as my little legs would take me. At some point, I stopped and breathlessly looked back to find I was alone. I had had my first taste of danger and I knew that I needed to develop a thicker fur if I was going to make it. I used my paw to smooth my coat and tried to ignore the scratch, which still smarted. I realised that I could be fast when I needed to be, and that was something I could use to get myself out of danger. I yelped some more as I walked on, fear flooding through me, but also driving me. I looked into the night sky, at the stars, and wondered, yet again, if Agnes and Margaret could see me, wherever they were. I hoped so, but I didn’t know. I knew very little. I was so hungry by the time I felt able to stop again and it was very cold. Used to sitting by Margaret’s fire day after day, this was an alien life to me. I knew that if I needed food I would have to hunt; something I hadn’t had to do very much of in my past and something I wasn’t adept at. I followed my nose and found some mice skulking around the bins outside a big house. Despite my distaste – I usually ate food from a tin, except on special occasions when Margaret gave me fish – I chased one into a corner and went in for the kill. Because I hadn’t been used to hunger like this, it tasted almost delicious to me and it gave me the energy that I needed to continue. I wandered on through the night until the day began to dawn, trying to remember that I was still me, Alfie, the playful cat, as I chased my tail and practised my bounding. I hunted a fat fly, but then I remembered I needed to conserve my energy; I didn’t know where my next meal would come from or when I’d get it. Still with no idea where I was heading, I came to a big road and realised I would need to cross it. I wasn’t used to roads and traffic; Margaret had lectured me about not going near roads when I was a kitten. It was noisy and scary as cars and vans zoomed past me. I stood on the pavement, my heart pounding, until I saw a gap. I almost closed my eyes and ran, but managed to steady my shaking legs before I did anything stupid. Fearfully, I put one little paw down onto the road, feeling the rumble of traffic as it grew nearer. A horn blared and as I turned to my left I saw an enormous pair of lights bearing down on me. I bolted, running faster than I ever had in my life, and to my horror I felt something brush my tail. I yelped and leapt as far as I could, landing on the pavement. Heart beating, I turned around and saw a car speed past, knowing I had nearly ended up under it. I wondered if I had used up one of my nine lives – I was pretty sure I had. Eventually I caught my breath, again fear was becoming my driving force, and legs like jelly, I walked for a few minutes away from the road, before I collapsed by someone’s front gate. After a few minutes, a door opened and a lady came out. She had a dog with her, on a lead. The dog lurched at me, barking wildly, and once again I had to dodge out of harm’s way. The lady yanked the lead and shouted at the dog, who snarled at me. I hissed back. I was learning very quickly that the world was a dangerous and hostile place, a million miles away from my home, Agnes and Margaret. I began to wonder if a shelter wouldn’t have been safer after all. However, there was no going back. By now I had no idea where I was. When I first set out, I didn’t know exactly where I was going or what would happen to me but I had my hopes. I thought I would have to travel a bit but in the back of my mind, a kind family, perhaps a sweet little girl, would find me and take me to my new home. As I faced daily terrors, sometimes running for my life, and often feeling like I was ready to collapse from hunger, this was the picture I kept in my head. By now, I was disorientated, thirsty and tired. The adrenaline that had kept me going was deserting me and being replaced by a heaviness in my limbs. I found my way to a back alley, where, if I jumped on fences and balanced like a ballerina, I could make my way along, looking down from high enough to feel safe. I tapped into my energy reserves in order to do so. I spotted a garden with a big bowl of water on a post; Margaret had had one in her garden for birds to drink from. I jumped down and managed to climb up it, so desperate for a drink that I would have climbed the highest mountain. I drank greedily, grateful for the immediate relief it gave me. I swiped some birds away; this was my water now. When I had all but emptied it, I returned to the fences and made my way further and further away from my old life. I spent a thankfully uneventful night. I met some other cats but they ignored me, too concerned with their cat calling and mating to pay much heed. Most of what I knew about other cats, I had learnt from Agnes, who could hardly move by the time I met her, and the other cats on our street, who were generally friendly, especially Mavis, who had shown me such kindness. I wanted to approach the cats to ask for help, but they looked too busy and I was scared after the black cat incident, so I trotted on carefully. The next morning, I felt as if I had come quite a distance. Yet again I was hungry, so I decided that I would try to look my most appealing in the hope that some kindly cat would help me out with food. I happened upon a cat who was basking in the sunshine outside a house with a shiny red door. I tentatively approached and purred. ‘Goodness,’ said the cat, who was a rather large lady tabby. ‘You look dreadful.’ I was about to take offence but I remembered that I hadn’t really groomed myself properly since leaving Margaret’s due to the fact I was more concerned with staying alive and out of trouble. ‘I’m homeless and hungry,’ I miaowed. ‘Come on, I’ll share some of my breakfast with you,’ she offered. ‘But then you’ll have to go. My owner will be home soon and won’t like to find a stray in her house.’ It suddenly struck me that I really was a stray. I had no home, no family, no protection. I was among the unfortunate cats that had to fend for themselves; living in fear, always feeling hungry and tired. Never feeling quite their best; never looking anything near their best. I had now joined their ranks and it felt horrible. I gratefully ate and drank and then went on my way, thanking and bidding farewell to the kindly cat. I didn’t even know her name. My state of mind reflected my physical being. Grief was such a part of me; causing me physical pain in my heart as I missed Margaret with every fibre of my fur. But I had known love; the love of my owner and my cat sister, and I owed it to them, to their love, to carry on. Now, with food in my tummy, I felt renewed energy as I prepared to do just that. (#ulink_1f0b198f-5927-540a-855b-6aca1b9afb7c) A few days passed, increasing the distance between my old home and wherever I was heading. I met some kind cats, some angry ones, and many mean dogs that delighted in barking at me but thankfully couldn’t get me. I was kept on my toes, literally, as I danced and jumped and ran away, and I could feel my energy depleting all the time. I learnt to fight back when I needed to; although aggression didn’t come naturally to me, it seemed survival did. As I dodged cars, cats and dogs, I was slowly developing a more streetwise persona. However I was getting thinner by the day; my once gleaming fur was patchy and I was cold and tired. I barely knew how I was surviving and I had never imagined that life could ever be like this. I was sadder than I had ever been and more lonely than I thought possible. When I slept, I had nightmares, and when I woke, I remembered my predicament and cried. It was a horrible time and sometimes I just wanted it all to be over. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could carry on. I was learning that the streets could be mean and unforgiving. Physically and mentally it was taking its toll on me and I was beginning to feel so downhearted that it was a struggle to put one paw in front of the other. The weather reflected my mood. It was cold and raining, and I felt a chill in my bones as my fur never seemed to be fully dry. In the time that I had been homeless – searching for my future, the kind family – the sweet little girl hadn’t materialised. No one had come to my rescue so far and I was beginning to think that no one would. To say I was feeling sorry for myself was an understatement. Once again, I came to a main road. Roads still filled me with fear; I’d got better at crossing them, but I still felt as if I was taking my life in my paws every time I stepped off a kerb. I had learnt to take my time when crossing, even if I had to wait for a very long time. So I sat, head moving side to side until there was a break in the traffic that made it safe enough. Despite this I still ran as fast as I could and ended up breathless on the other side. Unfortunately, I had been so busy concentrating on getting across the road that I hadn’t noticed the small fat dog standing on the other side of the road. He squared up to me, snarling, showing his sharp teeth and dribbling saliva. Unfortunately there was no lead or owner in sight. ‘Hisssss,’ I replied, trying to deter him, although I was terrified. He was so close to me I could smell him. He barked at me and suddenly lunged forward. Despite my fatigue I leapt back and started running, but I could feel his breath on my tail. Increasing my speed I dared to look back and could see him coming after me, snapping at my heels. For such a fat dog he was quick and I could hear him barking furiously as I ran. I rounded a corner and came upon an alleyway. I swerved and sprinted down it as fast as my legs would take me. After what felt like miles I slowed and hearing only silence I looked back; thankfully the dog was nowhere to be seen. I’d managed to escape. Heart pounding, I slowed my pace, and made my way down the alley which led to some allotments where people grew vegetables. As it was still pouring with rain there were only a couple of people about, so despite my dampness and fatigue, I strode confidently to find shelter. One of the allotments had a shed with a door that was slightly ajar. I was too tired to worry about what might lie in wait inside, and gently nudged the door open with my nose. I was so cold and insecure, I feared that if I didn’t find somewhere dry to rest soon I would become very sick. I slunk into the shed and was grateful to see a blanket at one end. It was musty and a bit rough; it certainly wasn’t the luxury I had been used to in my old life but at that moment in time it was like a palace to me. I curled up and tried to rub my fur dry as best I could, and despite being half-starved, I couldn’t face going to find any food. I could hear the rain hitting the shed as I cried, silently to myself. I had always been a very spoilt cat, I saw that now. If I thought of all the things I took for granted when I lived with Margaret, it was a very long list. I knew I would be fed, loved, warm and cared for. I spent cold days sitting by a warm fire in Margaret’s living room. I spent cold days sunning myself by the window. I was mollycoddled and my life was one of pure luxury. It was funny how it was only now it was gone that I realised how lucky I had been. And now what was to become of me? When Mavis had told me to leave I really didn’t foresee what would happen. I didn’t think I would be here, wondering if I could carry on. I really wasn’t sure that I could continue. Was my journey going to end here in this shed, on a smelly blanket? Was that my fate? I hoped not, yet I didn’t know what the alternative was. I knew that feeling sorry for yourself was wrong but I couldn’t help it. I missed my old life so badly and I just didn’t know what would become of me. I must have fallen asleep because I was awoken by a pair of eyes staring at me; I blinked. There was a cat stood in front of me, as black as night, eyes shining like torches. ‘I don’t mean any harm,’ I said immediately, thinking that if she wanted to fight I would let her finish me off. ‘I thought I smelt a cat. What are you doing here?’ she asked, although not aggressively. ‘I wanted to rest. A dog chased me and I just ended up here. It was warm and dry and so …’ ‘Are you a street cat?’ she asked. ‘I’m not supposed to be but I guess I am at the moment,’ I replied sadly. She arched her back. ‘Look, this is my hunting ground. I’m a street cat and I like it that way. I get the rich pickings of the creatures that come here looking for food - mice, birds you know, anyway, I kind of call this my patch. I just wanted to check that you didn’t think you could take it over.’ ‘Of course not!’ I was indignant. ‘I just needed shelter from the rain.’ ‘You get used to the rain eventually,’ she said. I wanted to say, ‘perish the thought,’ but I didn’t want to upset my new comrade. I slowly stood up and moved toward her. ‘Does it get easier?’ I asked, wondering if this really was my future. ‘I don’t know, but you get accustomed to it.’ Her eyes darkened. ‘Anyway, come with me I’ll let you hunt with me and I’ll show you where to get a drink but then, in the morning you move on OK?’ I agreed her terms. I ate and drank but I didn’t feel better. As I curled up on the blanket again, and my new friend left me, I prayed for a miracle because as things stood I didn’t think I would come out of this journey alive. (#ulink_a9137f9f-5e18-59dd-aec3-63ba497b4006) I set off again the next morning as promised, but I felt despondent. As a few more days passed I experienced a mass of contradictions. One day I would feel I couldn’t carry on; the weather, the hunger and the loneliness would get to the core of me. But then the next I would push myself further, telling myself I owed it to Margaret and Agnes not to give up. I would see-saw between feeling hopeless in my quest or determined not to fail. I got by with food and drink, and learnt to be more self-sufficient. I even began to get used to the weather although I still hated the rain. I hunted slightly more effectively, although I didn’t enjoy it, but I had discovered how to be a little bit tougher. I was just not convinced I really could be as resilient as I needed to be. Not yet. One night, feeling in a more positive frame of mind, I came across a group of humans. They were all huddled around a large doorway; there was lots of cardboard and it smelt very bad. They all had bottles in their hands and some of them had almost as much fur on their faces as me. ‘It’s a cat,’ one of the furry men slurred, taking a drink. He waved his bottle towards me; the stench sent me reeling back. They laughed as I started slowly moving backwards, not sure what danger I was facing, if any. The man who laughed then threw a bottle at me, I dodged it but only just as it smashed to pieces next to me. ‘It’d make a nice hat to keep me warm,’ another laughed, slightly menacingly, I thought. I crept further back. ‘We ain’t got no food, bugger off,’ a third said, unkindly. ‘We could skin ’im for a hat then eat ’im,’ another said, laughing. I widened my eyes in horror and backed away. Then, from nowhere, a cat appeared. ‘Follow me,’ he hissed, and I ran after him down the street. Thankfully, just as I thought I couldn’t run any more, we stopped. ‘Who were they?’ I asked, breathlessly. ‘Neighbourhood drunks. They don’t have homes. You should keep away from them.’ ‘But I don’t have a home either,’ I cried, and I felt like yowling again. ‘I’m sorry to hear that. But you should still keep out of their way. They aren’t exactly friendly.’ ‘What’s drunk?’ I asked, feeling very much like a little cat with no idea about the world yet again. ‘It’s something humans do. They drink stuff and it changes them. Not milk or water. Look, come with me. I can sneak you some food and milk tonight and find you somewhere safe to sleep.’ ‘You’re very kind,’ I purred. ‘I’ve been where you are; I was homeless for a while,’ the cat said, and then stalked off, gesturing with his paw for me to follow him. His name was Button, which he said was a silly name for a cat but he had a young owner who said he was ‘cute as a button’, whatever that means. The house we went to was in darkness and I was so happy to be inside, somewhere warm and safe. It reminded me that I desperately needed to find a home before long. I told Button my story. ‘That’s sad,’ he said. ‘But you have learnt, like me, that one owner isn’t always enough. I visit another house on my street sometimes.’ ‘Really?’ I said, intrigued. ‘I think of myself as being a doorstep cat,’ he said. ‘What’s that?’ I was curious. ‘Well, you live somewhere most of the time, but you go to other doorsteps until they let you in. They don’t always, but I have another house, and although I don’t stay there, if anything happens I feel I have options.’ As I questioned him he went on to explain that a doorstep cat got fed multiple times, by multiple families, they got petted and fussed over and enjoyed a high level of security. Like me he had hated being homeless; and unlike me the young child had come to his rescue although he said that he’d engineered it. When he found his new family he’d looked as helpless as possible, ensuring they took pity and adopted him. ‘So you just looked like you needed feeding and grooming?’ I asked, ears pricked in interest. ‘Well I really did look like that. But you know, I got lucky, I pleaded for help and someone took me in. I’ll help you if you like.’ ‘Oh I would love that,’ I replied. He let me curl up with him in his basket, talking late into the night. And although I wouldn’t get much sleep, because I needed to leave early the next morning before Button’s owners woke, I felt safe for the first time since leaving Margaret’s. I also had a plan forming in my mind: I would make an excellent doorstep cat. (#ulink_671ea344-c139-582e-8414-4cd883791086) I left Button’s house the next morning. I felt sad about going, after the safety of the night, but at least he’d advised me where to go, pointing me in the direction of the nicer streets in the area. He suggested I head west, towards the area that was popular with families, until I found the street that felt right to me. I had to trust my instincts and he seemed to think I would know when I had arrived. With a good sleep and a full belly I headed off in the direction he’d suggested, dodging danger and following my nose. I was more optimistic but life after Button didn’t suddenly change overnight. There were still days where I had to keep my wits about me and more still where I felt hungry and tired, having to keep going when my legs shook with exhaustion and my fur stuck to my body with the rain. I survived but it was a long, hard journey. I just kept telling myself it would be worth it in the end. And, finally I arrived at a lovely street and as Button had suggested, I knew immediately it would give me what I needed. I didn’t know how exactly, but I knew; I just knew, that I belonged here. I sat by a sign that said ‘Edgar Road’ and I licked my lips. For the first time since leaving Margaret’s, I felt that everything was going to be all right. I immediately liked Edgar Road. It was a long street with many different types of houses; Victorian terraced houses, modern boxes, larger houses and some buildings divided into flats. What I especially liked was that there were a number of ‘For Sale’ and ‘To Let’ signs. Button had explained that these signs meant that new people would soon be arriving. And, I strongly believed, what new people needed most of all, was a cat like me. In the next few days, I met some of the neighbourhood cats. When I told them what I was up to, they insisted on helping me. I soon discovered that, on the whole, the Edgar Road cats were a pretty nice bunch. After all, it was important to me to live in a neighbourhood with good cat neighbours. There were a couple of ‘Alpha Toms’ and one pretty girl cat who was particularly unkind to everyone, but apart from that they were friendly, and they shared their food and drink with me when I was at my most needy. During the day I spent my time speaking to the other cats, getting as much information as I could out of them, and casing out the empty houses, searching for my potential homes. At night, I would go hunting, just to keep myself fed. One evening, after I’d been at Edgar Road for just under a week, a particularly mean Tom found me sitting outside one of the empty houses that I was keeping an eye on. ‘You don’t live here. Maybe it’s time you left,’ he hissed at me. ‘I’m staying,’ I hissed back, trying to be brave as I faced him. He was bigger than me and of course, I was still not at my best. After all I’d been through, I felt as if I had no more fight inside me but I couldn’t give up. I was suddenly distracted by a noise, and I looked up to see a bird swooping quite low overhead. The Tom took his chance and swiped at me with his paw, scratching me just above my eye. I yowled. It really hurt and I quickly felt blood. I spat at the Tom as he loomed in, looking as if he was going to bite me. I vowed to always keep my eye on him in future. A brightly striped cat called Tiger lived next door to this empty house, and she and I had become friendly. She suddenly appeared, and stood between me and the Tom. ‘Get lost, Bandit,’ she hissed. Bandit looked as though he might fight, but after a while, he turned on his heel and stalked off. ‘You’re bleeding,’ she said. ‘He caught me unawares, I was distracted,’ I said, haughtily. ‘I could have taken him easily.’ Tiger grinned. ‘Look Alfie, I am sure you could, but you’re still delicate. Anyway, come with me and I’ll sneak you some food.’ As I followed her, I knew she would be my best cat friend on the street. ‘You don’t look very good,’ Tiger commented as I was gratefully eating. I tried not to feel affronted. ‘I know,’ I replied, sadly. It was true. By the time I arrived in Edgar Road I was thinner than I had ever been. My fur was certainly no longer shiny and I was tired from living outside and from malnourishment. I had no idea how long it had taken me to get there, but it felt like a long time. The weather had changed; it was getting warmer and the nights were lighter. It felt as if the sun was getting ready to come out. As I became friends with Tiger, I was also becoming accustomed to my new road. I had prowled extensively, so I knew the street as well as the back of my paw. I knew where every cat lived and if they were nice or not. I knew where the mean dogs were, and after a fair few escapes from such dogs, I knew which houses to avoid at all costs. I had balanced on every fence and wall in Edgar Road. I knew it as my new home, or homes, to be more accurate. (#ulink_2494be39-a4fc-508b-b93a-a6540a899c72) I sat and watched as two burly men unloaded the last of the furniture from the removal van. I was, so far, pleased with what I had seen: a comfortable looking blue sofa; large floor cushions; a fancy upholstered armchair which looked as if it might be an antique, not that I was an expert. I had seen lots more being taken off the van; wardrobes, chests of drawers and lots of sealed boxes, but I was mostly interested in soft furnishings. Flicking my tail in satisfaction, I felt my whiskers rising as I grinned. It looked as if I had found my first potential new home; 78 Edgar Road. While the removals men took a break and were drinking out of plastic flask cups, I seized the opportunity to sneak into the house. Despite my curiosity, I first made my way straight through to check out the back door. Although I had been in all of the gardens in the street, and felt confident that this house did, in fact, possess a cat flap, I still needed to be sure. It did. I purred with pleasure at my cleverness and slid through it, deciding to hide out in the garden. After chasing my shadow around in the tiny garden, and looking for flies to torment, I shivered with excitement and decided to groom myself thoroughly one last time. I was brimming with expectation as I made my way back into the house and anticipated how nice it would be to be a domestic cat again. How I yearned for a lap to sit on, milk to be given to me and food aplenty. Simple needs but, as I had learnt, not needs to be taken for granted. Nothing could ever be taken for granted again. I wasn’t a silly cat. My journey, and those I’d met along the way, had taught me many things. There was no way I was going to put all my whiskers in one basket ever again. It was a lesson I’d learnt the hard way. The worst way. Some of my peers were either too trusting or too lazy, but I had discovered that I couldn’t afford to be either. As much as I wanted to be a loyal cat with a loyal owner, it was just too precarious. I couldn’t ever be in the situation I was in before. I couldn’t bear to be alone ever again. I felt my fur stand on end as I pushed the terror of the past weeks out of my head and instead turned my attention to my new owner. I hoped that they would be as nice as their soft furnishings. As I padded around the house I noticed the sky begin to turn dusky and I sensed the temperature drop. I wondered why someone would move their furniture into the house, but not themselves; it didn’t make sense. I started to feel a little panicked for the owner I hadn’t yet met. But then I told myself to relax and gave my whiskers a lick to calm myself down. I needed to look my best for when the people arrived at their new home; I was getting far too anxious. The problem was that I had spent too long as a homeless cat, and I couldn’t face it any more. Just as I felt as if I might start fretting again, I heard the front door open. I immediately pricked up my ears and stretched out my body. It was time to go and meet my first new family. I plastered my most charming smile on my face. ‘I know Mum, but I couldn’t help it,’ I heard a female voice say. There was a pause. ‘I couldn’t be here because the blasted car broke down just two hours into the journey and I have just spent the last three hours with a very talkative RAC man, who, quite frankly, nearly sent me mad.’ Another pause. Her voice sounded nice although she was clearly exasperated, I thought, as I crept nearer. ‘They did. It looks like all the furniture is here, and, as I asked, the keys were posted through the front door.’ Pause. ‘Edgar Road isn’t the ghetto, Mum, I think it’ll be fine. Anyway, I’ve just walked through the door to my new home after the day from hell, so I’ll call you tomorrow.’ I rounded the corner and came face to face with a woman. She looked fairly young, although I wasn’t very good at judging age; all I could say was that her face wasn’t full of wrinkles, like Margaret’s. She was quite tall, very thin and had untidy dark-blonde hair and sad blue eyes. My first impression of her was that she gave me a nice feeling, and her sad eyes drew me to her strongly. My cat’s instinct told me that she needed me as much as I needed her. I, like most cats, didn’t judge humans on appearance; we read personality, and normally cats have a special talent for knowing who is good and who is bad. ‘She’ll do nicely,’ I immediately thought feeling pleased. ‘Who are you?’ she said, her voice suddenly soft; the type of voice so many people reserve for pets and babies as if we are stupid. I would have given her a disdainful look, but I needed to be charming. So instead I gave her one of my best grins. She knelt down beside me and I purred, moving slowly towards her, gently brushing her leg. Oh yes, I knew how to flirt when I needed to. ‘You poor thing, you look half starved. And your fur, it’s all patchy, as if you’ve been fighting. Have you been fighting?’ She sounded very tender and I purred in agreement. I had only seen my reflection in water lately but I knew from Tiger that I didn’t look my best. I just hoped that it didn’t put her off as I nestled into her legs again. ‘Oh, you are sweet. What’s your name?’ She looked at the silver disc hanging from my neck. ‘Alfie. Well, hello, Alfie.’ She gently picked me up and stroked my ‘patchy’ fur. It felt heavenly after all this time. I felt as if I was bonding with the lady, learning her smell, transferring mine and reminding me of my past, my kittenhood. I felt myself relax in a way I had only dreamt of recently. Once again I purred my best purr and snuggled into her. ‘Well, Alfie, I’m Claire and although I’m pretty sure a cat didn’t come with the house, let’s find you something to eat. I’ll call your owner in a bit.’ I grinned again. She could try all she wanted, but the number on the disc wouldn’t work. I triumphantly strode next to her, tail upright, my way of saying a proper ‘hello’ to my new friend, as she went back to the front door, picked up two carrier bags and carried them into the kitchen. As she unpacked her shopping, I looked properly at my new feeding area. The kitchen was small but modern. It had white shiny units and wooden work surfaces. It was clean and uncluttered. Mind you, I reminded myself, no one lived here properly yet. In my old house, which it still pained me to think of, the kitchen had been very old fashioned and cluttered. It was dominated by a huge sideboard and there were decorative plates everywhere. I accidentally broke one when I was very young. Margaret had been so upset that I didn’t go near them again. However, I doubted that Claire had any decorative plates. She didn’t look the type. ‘Here you go,’ she said triumphantly, laying down a bowl that she had unpacked and poured some milk into. She then opened a packet and laid some smoked salmon on a plate. ‘Oh, what a glorious welcome,’ I thought. Obviously I hadn’t expected her to have cat food, but at the same time I hadn’t imagined getting such a treat. I would have been happy with anything today, even just milk. I decided there and then that I liked Claire. As I ate, she picked a glass out of the same box that had contained the bowl and pulled a bottle of wine out of the carrier bag. She poured a glass, drank it greedily and then poured another. I raised my eyes in surprise. She must have been very thirsty. I finished eating, and rubbed against Claire’s legs in thanks. She seemed a bit lost but then she looked at me. ‘Oh dear, I need to call your owners,’ she said, as if she’d forgotten. I miaowed to tell her I didn’t have any, but she didn’t seem to understand. She crouched down and looked at my silver disc. She punched the numbers into her phone and waited. Although I knew no one would answer, I still felt nervous. ‘That’s odd,’ she said. ‘The phone line is dead; there must be a fault. Don’t worry, I’m not going to kick you out. Stay here tonight and I’ll try again tomorrow.’ I purred very loudly in thanks, and felt immensely relieved. ‘But, if you’re going to stay for the night, you need a bath,’ she said, picking me up. I pricked up my ears in horror. A bath? I was a cat, I bathed myself. I cried, as if to object. ‘Sorry, Alfie, but you smell terrible,’ she added. ‘Now, I’ll just go and unpack some towels and then we’ll sort you out.’ I resisted the urge to jump out of her arms and run away again. I hated water and I knew what a bath meant, having had one at Margaret’s a long time ago when I came home covered in mud. It was an awful experience, although, I reasoned, not as bad as being homeless, so I decided to once again be a brave cat. She put me in front of a big mirror in her bedroom while she went to find the towels. I looked and I yelped in surprise. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought that I was looking at another animal; I looked even worse than I had initially felt. My fur was patchy, I looked so thin that I could see my bones poking through and despite my best efforts at cleaning myself, Claire was right, I looked dirty. I felt suddenly sad; it seemed that since Margaret’s death I had changed both inside and out. Claire fetched me and took me to the bathroom where she ran the water and then put me gently in the bath. I screeched and wriggled a bit. ‘Sorry, Alfie, but you need a good wash.’ She looked a bit confused as she held a bottle in one of her hands. ‘It’s natural shampoo so it should be OK. Oh God, I don’t know, I’ve never had a cat before.’ She looked a bit upset. ‘And you’re not my cat. I hope your owner isn’t too worried.’ I saw a tear escape out of her eye. ‘This isn’t what was supposed to happen.’ I wanted to comfort her; she clearly needed it, but I couldn’t because I was still in the bath and I felt like I resembled a giant soap sud. After the bath, which seemed to go on forever, she wrapped me in a towel and dried me off. When I finally felt dry again, I followed Claire to the living room, where she slumped onto the newly delivered sofa and I jumped up next to her. It was every bit as comfortable as I had hoped, and she didn’t tell me off or try to push me down. Like polite strangers, I sat on one side, she on the other. She picked up her glass, took a smaller sip, and sighed. I studied her as she looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. There were boxes that needed unpacking, a television that sat in the middle of the room and a small dining table and chairs tucked into a corner. Apart from the sofa, it wasn’t organised and it wasn’t really home yet. As if Claire had read my thoughts, she took another sip of her drink and then she burst into tears. ‘What the hell have I done?’ she said, crying noisily. Despite the noise, I was upset at how distraught she had suddenly become, but I knew what I had to do. It was as if there was a reason I was here now; I felt a sense of purpose. Perhaps I could help Claire as much as she could help me? I moved across the sofa and nestled into her, laying my little head gently on her lap. She automatically stroked me, and although she was still crying, I was offering her the comfort that I somehow knew she needed and she was doing the same for me. You see, I understood, because at that moment I knew with certainty in my heart that we were kindred spirits. I had come home again. (#ulink_eed34999-8355-50f4-bc32-608f517f3ebb) It had been a week since I’d been living with Claire and we had settled into quite a comfortable routine, although not an entirely healthy one. She cried a lot and I snuggled a lot, which suited me just fine. I loved to cuddle, and I had a lot of lost time to make up for. I just wished I could do something to stop Claire from crying so much. It was clear that she needed my help and I vowed I would give it in any way I could. Claire had tried to phone the number on my disc again, then she’d phoned the telephone company and discovered it had been disconnected. She assumed I’d been abandoned, and that seemed to make her like me even more. She cried over it and said that she couldn’t understand how anyone could do that to me. She also said that she totally understood, as it had happened to her, although I was yet to discover the details. But I knew that I had a home with her. She started buying me cat food and special milk. She got me a litter tray, not that I really liked using them, and she was talking, luckily only talking, about taking me to the vet. Vets tended to poke around where they were not wanted, but she hadn’t called them so far, so paws crossed she’d forget about that. Despite the almost constant crying, Claire was very efficient. She managed to get all her furniture arranged and her boxes unpacked in only a couple of days. She organised the house and it quickly looked like a home. Pictures were hung on the walls, cushions scattered literally everywhere, and suddenly warmth flooded into every room; I had chosen well. However, as I said, it wasn’t a happy home. Claire had been unpacking and I had watched her, trying my best to work out her story. She arranged lots of photographs in the front room, telling me who was in them; her mum and dad, pictures of herself as a child, her younger brother, friends and extended family. For a while she was animated and happy, and I rewarded her positivity by brushing up against her legs the way she told me she liked. I did this a lot for her; after all, I needed her to love me so I wouldn’t have to go back to the streets again. I needed to love her, too, although I was finding this increasingly easy to do. One evening, she unpacked a photo which she didn’t tell me about. It was a picture of her in a white dress, holding hands with a man who looked very smart. I’d learnt enough about humans to know that this was what they called a ‘wedding photo’, when two people joined together and said they would only mate with each other – something this cat certainly didn’t understand. She sank into the sofa, clutching the photo against her chest, and started sobbing loudly. I sat next to her, giving her my equivalent of a cry, which was a loud yowl, but she didn’t seem to take any notice of me. But then I started yowling in earnest; like Claire, I couldn’t stop, as my loss flooded my memory. Although I didn’t know if the man in the suit had left her, or died the way my Margaret had, I knew then that she really was on her own. Just as I had been. We sat side by side, her crying, me yowling, at the top of our voices. After a couple more days, Claire left early in the morning, saying that she had to go to work. She looked a bit better, as she put on a smart outfit and brushed her hair. She even had some colour to her face, although I wasn’t sure it was exactly natural. I was also beginning to look better, even in a few short days. My fur was beginning to even out a bit and I was putting on weight again, now that I was eating so much and exercising so little. As we stood side by side, looking in Claire’s big mirror, I thought we made a very cute couple. Or we had the potential to be, at the very least. But although Claire left food for me, I missed her company when she was at work and felt sad to be alone again. I had Tiger of course and we spent time together, our friendship growing as we chased flies, went for short strolls and basked in the sun in her back garden, but that was my cat friendship; I knew that more than anything now I needed humans I could rely on. When Claire was out at work, it brought back unwelcome memories and made me think that it was time to carry on with my plan. If I was going to ensure that I was never on my own again, I would need more than one home. That was the sad fact of life. I’d seen a ‘Sold’ sign go up outside number 46, at about the same time that one had been erected outside Claire’s house and I’d been scoping both, but of course Claire had arrived first. However, I’d noticed that 46 was now also occupied. This house was just far enough apart from Claire’s to give me a short walk. It was on the part of the road that had the larger houses – the ‘posh’ bit, as I had been told by the cats that lived here and who seemed very proud and a little bit boastful of the fact. It looked like it would be a good place to live too, for at least part of the time. Edgar Road was an unusual road; because of the different types of houses, there was a real difference in the types of people who lived there. The house I had lived in with Margaret, the only house I had ever known, was a small house on a very tiny street – completely different to some of the huge houses that lined the far end of the road. Claire’s house was medium sized, and this house – number 46 – was among the best. It was bigger than Claire’s house; taller and wider, and the windows were large and imposing. I could imagine myself sitting on a windowsill looking out of one of them quite happily. As it was a big house, I assumed that a family would be living there and I quite liked the idea of being a family cat too. Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked Claire very much and had grown extremely fond of her. I had no intention of abandoning her, but I needed to have more than one home – just to make sure I didn’t end up alone again. It was dawn when I turned my attention to number 46. A very slick car with only two seats was parked outside, which worried me, as that didn’t seem to be appropriate for a family. But still, I had already made my decision, so I wanted to investigate further. I made my way round to the back of the house where I found, to my delight, that there was a cat flap waiting for me. I found myself in a very smart room with a washing machine, dryer and huge fridge freezer. It loomed over me, like a giant, making a loud humming noise that hurt my ears. I pushed through an open door and walked into an enormous kitchen, which was dominated by a large dining table. I felt as if I’d struck gold; a table that big would definitely need lots of children around it, and everyone knew that children loved cats. I’d be spoilt. I felt my excitement grow; I really wanted to be spoilt. Just as I was dreaming of all the food, games and cuddles I’d get, a woman and a man entered the room. ‘I didn’t know you had a cat,’ she said, screeching slightly. The pitch of her voice was quite high, a bit like a mouse. I was disappointed to see that she didn’t look at all motherly; she wore a very tight dress with shoes that were almost higher than me. I wondered how on earth she managed to breathe or walk. She also looked like she hadn’t seen any grooming in a while. Now, I’m not a judgemental cat as a general rule, but I pride myself on always taking care of my appearance. I started to clean my paws and lick down my fur in the hope that she’d take the hint. Her voice was like the woman in one of the soap operas I used to watch with Margaret. EastEnders, I think it was called. I blinked at the man to say ‘hello’ but he didn’t blink back. ‘I don’t,’ he replied in a cold voice. I looked at him. He was tall with dark hair and quite a handsome face, but he didn’t look very friendly and as he looked me over, he began to seem a bit cross. ‘I moved in a couple of days ago and only just noticed that there’s a bloody cat flap which I’ll have to block up before all the scraggy neighbourhood cats take up residence here.’ He glared at me, as if to convey that he was talking about me. I shrank into myself defensively. I couldn’t believe my ears. This man was horrible and it was a huge disappointment that there were no children around. There were no toys in the kitchen anyway, and these two didn’t seem to be capable of looking after a cat or a child. It looked as if I had got it very wrong. So much for a cat’s intuition. ‘Oh, Jonathan,’ the lady said. ‘Don’t be so mean. He’s a cute little thing. And he might be hungry.’ I instantly regretted my unkind thoughts; this lady might look like a mess but she was kind. My hope began to rise. ‘I know very little about cats and I don’t care to know more,’ he replied, sounding haughty. ‘But I do know that if you give them food they’ll come back, so let’s not go there. Anyway, I have work to do. I’ll show you out.’ The woman looked as upset as I felt, as Jonathan led her to the door. I curled myself up, trying to look my youngest and cutest for his return. But instead of melting, as I expected, he picked me up and threw – literally, threw – me out of the front door. I landed on my feet, so luckily I was unhurt. ‘New house, new start, not a new bloody cat,’ he said, as he slammed the door in my face. I shook myself off, mortally offended. How dare that man treat me like that? I also felt sorry for the woman he threw out. I hoped he hadn’t manhandled her in the same way. I suppose that should have been the end of my attempt to make a home out of number 46, but then, I’m not a cat to give up easily. I couldn’t believe that the man, Jonathan, was as horrible as he seemed. Using my cat senses, I got the feeling that he was more miserable than mean. After all, when the lady left, he was clearly alone, and I knew all about how hideous that could be. I rushed back to Claire’s to see her before she went to work. I could tell she’d been crying, because she was putting lots of stuff on her face to hide it. When she’d finished making herself look nice (which took her much longer than it took me), she fed and petted me, before grabbing her bag and leaving the house again. I walked her to the door, rubbing myself against her legs, purring and trying to convey that I was there for her. And wishing that there was more I could do to make her feel better. ‘Alfie, what would I do without you?’ she rewarded me by saying, before she left. I preened myself. After being horribly rejected by Jonathan, it was nice to be appreciated. I was falling in love with this sad young lady that I somehow knew I needed to help. People accuse us cats of being self-centred and egotistical but that is often far from the case. I was a cat who wanted to aid those in need. I was a kind, loving type of cat with a very special new mission to help people. I should have left Jonathan and number 46 alone, but something drew me back. My Margaret used to say that angry people were really just unhappy people, and she was the wisest person I’d ever met. When I first moved in with her, Agnes was very angry and Margaret said that it was because she was worried I would take her place. Agnes confirmed this, when she thawed towards me. I learnt then that anger and unhappiness were fine basket mates. So I returned to number 46. The car was absent from the front so the coast was clear. Feeling brave, I went through the cat flap and took a look around. I’d been right, the house was big and looked as if it should contain a family but, on closer inspection, it was a manly space. There were no soft touches, no floral patterns, no pink. It was all gleaming surfaces, glass and chrome. His sofa was the sort that I’d seen in some of the smart looking furniture shop windows I’d passed on my travels; metal and cream, which would never suit children – or cats, for that matter. I walked across the sofa, back and forth a few times, feeling satisfied. My paws were clean though, so I wasn’t being that naughty – I just wanted to test it out. I made my way upstairs, where I found four bedrooms; two had beds, one was an office, and the last was full of boxes. This house had no personal touches. No happy photos, nothing to suggest that anyone lived there apart from the furniture. It seemed as cold as the big, scary fridge freezer. I decided that this Jonathan man would be something of a challenge. After fending for myself for so long, I knew what I was capable of. This man clearly didn’t like me, or any cat for that matter, but that wasn’t a new experience for me. As I thought of Agnes again, her near-black face popped into my head and made me smile. I missed her so much, it was like there was a part of me missing. Agnes was the opposite to me in every way; a very gentle old cat. She would spend most of her time sitting in the window on a special cushion watching the world go by. When I arrived, a playful bundle of fluff, she immediately took umbrage. ‘If you think you’re staying in my house, you can think again,’ she hissed at me when we first met. She tried to attack me a couple of times but I was too fast for her, and Margaret would chastise her before making even more of a fuss of me, giving me treats and buying me toys. After a while, Agnes decided that she would reluctantly accept me as long as I didn’t bother her, and slowly, I charmed her and won her round. By the time the vet said that she had to go to cat heaven, we were family and we loved each other. I felt a physical pain as I remembered how Agnes would groom me, just as my mother had done when I was born. If I could get around the intimidating Agnes, then surely Jonathan would be cat’s play? After stalking round his house wondering what he would do with all that space, I decided that I would go out and get him a gift. Despite the fact that hunting wasn’t my favourite pastime, I wanted to make friends with him and this was the only way I knew how. My cat comrades from my time on the streets had given me mixed messages. Some of them took their gifts in constantly, despite the fact that at times, it made their owners angry. Others, like me, were smarter about when it was appropriate. It was, after all, our way of showing we cared. And I presumed that Jonathan was a man who liked to hunt, he seemed quite like an Alpha Tom, so I was pretty sure he would appreciate a gift. It would show him that we had something in common. I called for Tiger and asked if she wanted to join me. ‘I was sleeping. Why can’t you be a normal cat and hunt at night?’ she sighed, although she reluctantly agreed to come with me. She was right, cats normally hunted at night, but in my time on the streets I had learnt that it was also possible to find prey during the day which was my preference. I started prowling, and it didn’t take long for me to locate a juicy mouse. I crouched down low ready to pounce and then I quickly went in for the kill. The mouse ran one way then the other so I had difficulty trapping it with my paw. I flicked this way and that as it continued to elude me. ‘You are such a terrible hunter,’ Tiger laughed as she stood back watching. ‘You could help me,’ I hissed but she laughed again. Finally, just before I ran out of patience the mouse ran out of energy. I pounced again and at last I had it in my paws. ‘Do you want to come with me to take it to Jonathan’s?’ I asked. ‘Yes, I want to see your second home,’ Tiger replied. I decided that as I wanted Jonathan to like me, I wouldn’t decapitate the mouse, and so I carefully carried it in my mouth through the cat flap. I deposited it by the front door, so there was no way that he could miss it. I briefly wished that I could write, because if I could, I’d leave a note saying, ‘Welcome to your new home,’ but instead I could only hope he would get my lovely message. (#ulink_4b643573-23d9-5797-b467-dd76e2c42a37) I was late getting back to number 78, because Tiger and I had been lurking in the bushes, playing with falling leaves and waiting for Jonathan to get back. But as it got later, the sky began to darken and I started to get hungry. Due to my sacrifice of the mouse, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so, reluctantly, I made my way back to Claire. I let myself in through the cat flap and found her in the kitchen. ‘Hello, Alfie,’ she said, bending down to give me a stroke. ‘Where have you been today? she asked. I replied with a purr. She reached into the cupboard and brought down a tin of cat food. She opened a carton of special cat milk. ‘Don’t mind if I do,’ I thought, as I tucked in. When I’d eaten, I cleaned my whiskers thoroughly, while I watched Claire tidy up. I was learning more about Claire every day. Despite the fact that she seemed depressed, she was also very clean and tidy – that explained my horrible bath. She wouldn’t even leave an empty glass on the side in the kitchen. Everything was washed up, and put away. She was the same with her clothes. The house was immaculate, and she cleaned all surfaces frequently. More than was necessary, I thought. She had bought me special bowls to eat from and she’d place them on the floor for me, but when I’d finished dining, she would scoop them up and clean them immediately, and then she would spray and clean the floor. I was a pretty fastidious cat when it came to personal hygiene, but being with Claire made me clean myself more than usual; I didn’t want her to think I wasn’t worthy of her spotless house. And I especially didn’t want another bath. Every day when she got back from work, which she had told me was in a big office, doing something called ‘Marketing’, she would shower – she was always moaning about the dirt in London – then she would change into pyjamas, pour herself something to drink, and go and sit on the sofa. She would then normally start to cry. It had become a set routine in the short time that I’d been here. She did eat, but very little, and I couldn’t help but notice that she was really quite bony, the way I had been when I’d first arrived here. I knew I needed to try to get her to eat more food but I had no idea how. She seemed to drink quite a lot from a fancy glass, though. She always kept a bottle of wine in the fridge and she would empty it almost nightly. It made me think of the homeless people who had threatened to eat me. I know she wasn’t like them, but Button had explained the human concept of being drunk and I think Claire spent most nights a little bit so. After all, it was usually after a couple of these drinks that she would start crying. And although I would always comfort her when she did this, whatever I did, I couldn’t get her to stop. It made me sad, because all I wanted to do was to make her smile or at least put a stop to her tears. So far, I had tried playing ‘hiding behind the curtains’, to make her laugh, but she had acted as if I was invisible. I even fell off the windowsill once in my attempt to cheer her up and she didn’t notice that either, despite the fact that I yelped in pain. I tried crying with her; purring, nuzzling into her with my little warm head, giving her my precious tail to play with, but to no end. When she got very sad she would shut everything out, including me. At night, when she went to bed, I would go and sleep on an armchair next to her. She put a blanket on it for me, so it was perfectly comfortable, and it meant I could keep an eye on her. I would doze a bit but for most of the night I would watch her sleep, trying to make her feel that she wasn’t on her own. When her alarm went off in the morning, I would gently jump on her and lick her nose. I wanted her to feel loved when she opened her eyes every day, just as I did. But still, I felt sad myself, sometimes. Worrying about Claire was emotionally tiring, but I hoped that if I just stuck to my plan to help her, somehow I would know what to do; the answers had to be there somewhere. We had just gone into the sitting room that evening; her with her glass, me with my catnip toy that she had kindly bought me, when the doorbell rang. She looked a bit surprised as she went to open the door. I followed her protectively, touching her legs as she walked. A man stood on her doorstep. At first, I wondered if it was the man from the photo, but on closer inspection it wasn’t, although I did recognise him from some of the pictures. It was Tim, Claire’s brother. She didn’t look very happy to see him, though. ‘Didn’t take long for you to embrace the cliché,’ he said. ‘What are you talking about?’ she snapped. ‘Single women and cats. Sorry Claire, only joking.’ He smiled, but she did not and neither did I; we both stood aside and let him in. We followed him into the living room. ‘What are you doing here, Tim?’ she asked, as she gestured for him to sit down. I stayed by her side. ‘Can’t I visit my sister?’ he replied. He tried to stroke me but I arched myself away from him; I wasn’t sure if he was friend or foe. ‘Who’s this?’ he asked. ‘Alfie, he came with the house. Anyway, why didn’t you tell me you were coming? It’s not as if you could have been just passing.’ ‘I’m only an hour and a half away, Claire, and it was a spur of the moment thing.’ Claire seemed to be scrutinising him as she sat down in an armchair. I jumped onto her lap, trying to give Tim a haughty look, although I’m not sure I pulled it off. Sometimes it’s hard being as cute as me; people and cats don’t take me seriously. ‘Why didn’t you call me, at least?’ she pushed. ‘OK, let’s cut to the chase. I’m guessing you’re not going to offer me a drink?’ he asked. She shook her head resolutely. ‘Mum asked me to come. She’s worried about you. You know, it’s only been six months since Steve left you. You sell up and move a four-hour drive away from your home and Mum and Dad; from your friends and your job, to London – not exactly a friendly city – where you’ve never lived, and don’t know anyone. Of course we’re worried. Worried sick. And Mum is beside herself.’ ‘Well you can stop worrying. Look at me, I’m fine.’ She looked and sounded angry. ‘Claire, I am looking at you, and you seem anything but fine.’ Claire sighed. ‘Tim, I needed to get away, can’t you try to understand? Steve left me for another woman and they live down the road from my old house, not to mention near Mum and Dad. I couldn’t bear to see them every day, which I would have done if I’d stayed. I think you should all be proud of me. I gave him the quick divorce he wanted. I didn’t make a fuss. I sold our home, got myself a really good job, and bought this house. I did all that while my heart was broken into a thousand pieces.’ She stopped and wiped the tears from her cheek. I nestled into her as much as I could. ‘And that is great, Claire,’ Tim sounded softer too. ‘But we’re worried about how you really are. You’ve done amazingly, but you’re unhappy and Mum feels that you’re too far away. Can you just do me a favour and go home for the weekend soon, just to reassure her?’ I thought that it might be a good idea; Claire would see her family and it would give me a chance to explore further, without having to worry about her. Was I being selfish? I hoped not. ‘Listen, Tim, I’ll make a deal. I’ll go home one weekend if you promise to tell Mum that I seem all right to you.’ ‘OK Sis, I’ll do that, but you know what? Can you at least make me a cup of tea before I start the long drive back?’ I decided to make friends with Tim when I realised he was an ally for Claire. We played with some of my toys together and I liked the way he got down on his hands and knees to fuss me, not minding that he looked daft. I rolled on my back, with my legs in the air and let him tickle my tummy; one of my favourite things ever. And while we played, he asked me to look after his sister and I tried to convey to him that I definitely would. I felt the weight of responsibility but I was ready for it. After we waved him off, I wondered if I could sneak out and go and see if Jonathan was home, but instead, Claire picked me up and carried me up to bed. (#ulink_357a7ffc-51b9-57b2-a2fc-93b160a8dc02) I arrived again at number 46 when it was barely light. Claire had told me that she had an early start at work and although she took the time to leave me some food, she rushed out of the door without giving me any affection. I tried not to be offended; humans were like that, they had a lot more stuff going on than we cats did. But still, it reinforced my view that I needed more people to look after me. I let myself in through the cat flap. The house was so quiet, almost eerie. It was also in darkness all the curtains were drawn and the blinds down. Being largely nocturnal animals, we cats are very good at seeing in the dark and using our other senses to negotiate our way around. I was quite an expert at dodging both indoor dangers, like furniture, and outdoor ones, like trees and other animals. I wondered for a moment what it would be like, being Jonathan. Having this big space, but being in it alone. That made no sense to me. In my cat basket in my old house, I would curl into the side, making myself as cosy as possible. If I’d had a basket that was any bigger, it wouldn’t have felt like home. Actually, my favourite times were after Agnes thawed towards me and we shared a basket. The warmth and the comfort that I got from her was wonderful. I missed it every day of my life. I wondered if Jonathan felt the same, and whether that was why the woman had been in his house yesterday. Did they snuggle like Agnes and I did? I thought they probably did. Although, if he wasn’t nicer to her, I doubted she would come back. I sat in the hallway at the bottom of the staircase. One of the many things wrong with Jonathan’s house was his lack of carpet. Every floor was wooden, which could be quite a lot of fun for a cat – I had already discovered the joy of sliding along the floor on my bottom – but it was cold, and I loved a carpet to scratch at. And instead of curtains to play with, he had these rigid things which weren’t any fun. I realised, yet again, that this wasn’t really a house meant for a cat, but I still couldn’t help but be drawn to it. After what seemed like ages, a dishevelled Jonathan appeared on the stairs, still wearing his pyjamas. He looked tired and scruffy; a bit like I did before a good groom. He stopped and stared straight at me, but he didn’t exactly look pleased to see me. ‘Please tell me you didn’t leave the dead mouse on my mat?’ he said crossly. I gave him my best purr, as if to say, ‘You’re welcome.’ ‘You bloody cat. I thought I told you that you weren’t wanted here.’ He looked and sounded angry as he pushed past me into the kitchen. He took a mug out of the cupboard and started pressing buttons on a machine. I watched as coffee poured into the cup. He went to the fridge, which looked like a spaceship, and pulled out some milk. As he poured some into his mug I licked my lips hopefully. He ignored me, so I let out my loudest miaow. ‘If you think I’m giving you milk, you’ve got another think coming,’ he snapped. Honestly, he really was playing hard to get. I miaowed again to convey my disapproval. ‘I don’t need a pet,’ he continued, as he sipped his drink. ‘I need peace and quiet, to try to get my life here sorted out.’ I pricked my ears to show I was interested. ‘I don’t need dead mice on my doorstep, thank you very much, and I don’t need anyone disrupting my peace.’ I purred again, this time in an effort to win him round a bit. ‘It’s bad enough being in this bloody cold country again.’ He looked at me as if he was speaking to a human. If I could have, I would have told him that it wasn’t that cold, after all, it was summer. He continued. ‘I miss Singapore. I miss the heat and I miss the lifestyle. I made one mistake and that was that. Back here. No job, no girlfriend.’ He paused to take another sip of his drink. My eyes narrowed as he began to open up. ‘Oh yes, she left me soon enough when I lost my job. Three years of paying for everything for her and she couldn’t even console me for one day before she buggered off. And yes, I was lucky that I had enough money to buy this house, but let’s face it, it’s hardly bloody Chelsea, is it?’ I didn’t exactly know what ‘Chelsea’ was, but I tried to look as if I agreed with him. I felt happy as I flicked my tail up in triumph. I was right; he was sad and lonely and not just a grumpy man, although he was undoubtedly grumpy. But I saw an opportunity; a small one, but one all the same. Jonathan needed a friend, and this cat made an excellent friend. ‘And why am I talking to a bloody cat? It’s not as if you even understand.’ How little he knew, I thought, as he drank the rest of his coffee. To show that I did indeed understand, I rubbed up against his legs, giving him the affection that I knew he craved. He looked surprised but he didn’t immediately pull away. I decided to push my luck, so I jumped up onto his lap. He looked surprised. However, just as he looked like he would soften, he bristled. ‘Right, I am going to phone your owner and tell them that you need collecting,’ he said, angrily. He gently took hold of my disc and then he did what Claire had done and dialled the number. When the number didn’t work, he tutted and looked annoyed. ‘Where the hell do you live?’ I tilted my head at him. ‘Look, you need to go home. I can’t stand around all day dealing with you. I’ve got a job to find and a cat flap to get removed.’ He looked at me with mean eyes before walking away. I felt happier, though. Firstly, he had started talking to me, which was a very good sign, and secondly, he hadn’t thrown me out. He had walked away knowing I was still in his house. Maybe he was growing to like me. I really thought this man might have a bark worse than his bite. I tentatively followed him upstairs, but kept out of the way as I looked around. I wanted to learn more about him, so I thought observing him would be a good idea. He was a tall man, and not fat at all. I prided myself on my appearance and, by the looks of it, Jonathan did, too. We definitely had something in common there. He took a very long shower in a room which was attached to his bedroom, and when he came out, he opened a long built-in wardrobe and picked out a suit. When dressed, he looked smart, like one of those men in the old black and white films my Margaret used to love. She said they were ‘suave and handsome, just as men should be’, and I have to say, I think she would have approved of Jonathan’s looks. Quietly I made my way downstairs, careful that he hadn’t seen me watching him, and I waited again, at the bottom of the stairs. ‘You still here, Alfie?’ he said, but he didn’t sound quite as hostile as before. I miaowed in reply. He shook his head but I felt warm inside; he had used my name! He went to the cupboard under the stairs, where there was a row of black shiny shoes, and picked out a pair. He sat on the stairs to put them on. Then he pulled a jacket off the coat rack and took his keys from the console table in the hall. ‘Right, Alfie, I guess you can show yourself out this time, and please don’t let me find you here when I get back. Or any more dead things.’ As he shut the door behind me, I stretched my legs in pleasure. I knew now that I could help Jonathan. He was sad, angry and lonely and, like Claire, he really needed me. He just might not have realised it yet. He was softening, and so quickly. I thought about what I could do to win him over, and I realised that despite what he said, he needed another present. But not a mouse this time, something a bit prettier. A bird! That was it, I would bring him a bird. After all, nothing says ‘let’s be friends’ like a dead bird. Later that afternoon, I deposited the bird on the doormat as I had done with the mouse. Surely now Jonathan would understand that I wanted to be his friend. I felt quite happy, so I decided to take a walk to the end of the street, basking in the sunshine. It wasn’t exactly hot, but it was a nice day and if you found the right spot, you could sunbathe. I found a lovely sunny area in front of one of the uglier modern houses that had been split into two flats. The front doors sat side by side; 22A and 22B, and they looked identical. They both had ‘Letting Agreed’ signs standing outside, with a logo I had seen many times in this street. I enjoyed sitting in the sun for a while. There was no sign of anyone at either house yet, but I made a note to myself to come back – I knew that people would be coming soon. And after all, life was still a bit precarious. Claire loved me but wasn’t at home during the day, and she was going away at the weekend. Jonathan, well, that could still go either way, despite my determination. I needed more options. I had discovered that I could rely on myself, but that didn’t suit a cat like me. I didn’t want to be feral, and fighting. I wanted to be on someone’s lap, or a warm blanket, being fed out of tins and given milk and affection. That was the kind of cat I was; I couldn’t change that, and I really didn’t want to. The cold, lonely nights of the past few months were still fresh in my mind: the fear that had lived with me every minute; the hunger; the exhaustion. It wasn’t something I would ever be able to face again, and it wasn’t something I would ever forget. I needed a family, I needed love and I needed security. It was all I wanted, yearned for, and I would never ask for anything more than that. As the sun began to disappear, I strolled back. I thought about how funny life could be. I was so lonely when Agnes died, it made me ill. I pined for her terribly and my owner took me to the dreaded vet. I had stopped eating and relieving myself, and Kathy, the vet, said that I’d given myself a bladder infection. She said it was due to grief, as she prodded and poked around. Margaret had seemed surprised; she hadn’t thought that cats felt emotions like humans. Maybe it wasn’t exactly the same, but it was pretty bad. I was mourning Agnes, and it had made me ill. And Claire was mourning Steve, the man in the suit, and Jonathan was mourning something called ‘Singapore’. I saw the grief in them as I had felt it myself. So I decided I would be there for them, as any decent cat would be. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/rachel-wells-2/alfie-the-doorstep-cat/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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