Cats are never there when I need them. People are always underfoot when I want to be left alone. Story of my life. Or, at least, it's been the story of these last couple days. I searched thoroughly but Gray was nowhere to be found. He'd apparently left the apartment for fairyland again. I sighed.
I entertained thoughts of skipping town; leaving the whole mess for the landlord. I wondered what the expression on his face would look like when he stumbled on the fairy. Then I thought about Gray. He was a city cat, a concrete tiger. But without an owner, he'd become a stray. He didn't need me to cook for him or talk with him or look after him, but he needed my legal protection. Strays were routinely rounded up and taken to the local pound. Since I lived in a big city, cage-space was at a premium. Cats without owners didn't last long. No. If I wanted to run, I'd have to wait until he reappeared. In the mean time, I continued searching.
Maybe it's something particular to Gray, I reasoned. Maybe he can see things I can't. Or maybe he looks in places I don't. That's how he found the faeries.
I'd gotten Gray shortly after moving to the apartment. It had been a practical decision. The city was loud, the nights were long, and I'd wanted some company. Buying cat food was a bit of a pain, but he was a cheaper mouth to feed than mine. I didn't mind the expense too much, and he practically earned his keep during his second week with me. There had been a mouse nesting in one of my couch cushions, and he'd killed it. Before that, I'd only been vaguely aware that there was a mouse. I'd never thought to look in the couch.
Different perspective. Different world. If Gray was seeing something I wasn't, it was probably because he was looking at things from a different angle. I considered getting down on my hands and knees to look, but quickly dismissed the idea. Instead I walked back to my bathroom. I felt my hand rise, unbidden, and I knocked on the door. "Come in," Called the fairy. When I stepped onto the linoleum, she asked "Did you find him?"
I shook my head. "He's gone again. I can't find a trace of him in the apartment, and the front door's still locked. I think he went to your place, but he's bound to come back soon. I feed him."
The fairy didn't look reassured. She didn't let her worry overtake her, either. She just wrapped herself a little bit tighter in the hand-towel and tried not to be afraid. "Why are you back here, then?"
"I think you can help me help you," I said, "Help me help you help me get my apartment back. I can't find the door or whatever that Gray's using, but you probably can. You're closer to his size."
"You want me to search the apartment?"
I blinked. "Why?"
"He'll kill me." She looked helpless. "If I set foot on the carpet again, he'll come back and kill me."
I gritted my teeth a little bit, but not enough that she'd notice. "What if I stay right next to you?"
"I don't want to."
"Neither do I, but I'm willing to make that sacrifice."
The fairy untangled herself from the folds of the towel and stood up. "Alright. Help me down." I held out my hand and she stepped onto it, then she knelt and wrapped her arms around my middle finger as I lowered her to the tile. She looked up at me from the floor. "If I do find my way back, what's to stop Gray from coming after me again?"
I shrugged. "I don't know."
I'd always thought that under stress, people get talkative. A chemical switch somewhere in the brain got flipped, and they started yammering away about the stupidest stuff. It was a defense mechanism of sorts. It kept them from focusing on how bad their situation really was. Well, it turned out I'd been wrong all those years. It wasn't just people. Faeries did it too.
She must've asked me five times how things looked from my height. The first time I thought it was an honest question, something to help with her search. I explained to her exactly how things looked, right down to the number of buttons on the couch. When I was done, I realized she'd only been half-paying attention. The next four times she asked, I told her "Probably the same way they look in your apartment."
Of course, she was naked, confused, and afraid. She was under a lot of stress, so she kept talking. I just gritted my teeth and followed her, grunting the occasional answer. "There's a lot of dust. Do you clean back here?" She asked from behind the couch.
No, I don't ever have to go back there.
"The cabinet here's empty. Don't you buy movies?"
No, they cost money.
"You're almost out of dish-soap. You need a refill."
Right. That's what I'm worried about right now.
"Tell me about yourself."
"What?" We were in the hallway, standing outside the door. She was sitting on the carpet, peering up at me. I almost stepped on her. "What does that have to do with anything?"
She levered herself into a standing position and walked a few steps, staring at the ceiling. "Well, when I'm not talking, I'm thinking about the jaws of your cat closing over me again. It scares me bad enough that I can't think about anything else. So talk to me. Distract me. If you're uncomfortable with it, we don't have to talk about you."
I was. "What do you want to know?"
"Anything. I don't care. What kind of student you were. Where you were when you had your first kiss. Whether this is you first apartment or not."
"B-student. The back of a pickup. No." I've never cared much about small talk, and I've never had a lot of practice with it. The fairy finished looking around the hallway and we walked into the kitchen.
"What was your first job? What's your favorite color? Do you have any brothers or sisters?" She called that over her should as she walked under the table. I leaned back against the counter and shook my head.
"No. You asked your questions. My turn. What's it like being a fairy?" I guess my grandma's stories died hard.
"I'm not a fairy, whatever that is."
"Then what's it like being you?"
"I was born middle-class, went to a good school, graduated near the top of my class. College was too short, but I met Matthew there. We've been staying together for a year. I guess I've had a pretty good life." I grunted. "What's it like being you?"
"I really don't see how this is helping you search faster."
"It is." Stepping out from under the table, the fairy glanced around. "I think I'm done here. Where do we go next?"
"There's just the bedroom." I led, shuffling my feet at a snail's pace. She followed, taking big strides across the carpet.
"So, what about you?"
"I'm fine, thanks."
"I meant, what's it like being you?"
"I'll be even better when this is over."
"You're avoiding the question. Do you want me to ask a different one?"
We were standing next to my computer. I started to respond, but the fairy's eyes suddenly fixed on some invisible point in the air. "There it is."
"You found it? There's really some kind of gate…thing in my apartment?"
I knelt down, then I crouched even further. When my head was level with the fairy's, I looked up. A few feet away from my computer and three feet off the ground, there was an eight inch wide hole in the air. It looked out onto a ceiling that was only slightly different from mine. If not for the fairy standing beside me, I might have missed it entirely. "Huh," I said. Then I stood up. "I guess this is it."
"No," The fairy shook her head vigorously. "Your cat's in there somewhere. He'll find me if I go back."
Cats have a highly developed sense of dramatic timing. An instant after the words left her mouth, Gray wriggled out of an empty space in the middle of the air. He dropped, struck the carpet with all four paws, and his tail began to lash. The fairy tried to climb up my right pant leg. I pulled her off and then held her up, out of Gray's reach. He glared at me. She started to shake.
"Gray, get out of here. You don't get to eat her." He walked over to me and sat down. His tail swept the carpet. I nudged him with one foot. He danced back a few steps, angrily. "Go on. Get." I stuck my foot out again and he flinched. Then, giving me a wide berth, he calmly walked out of the room. As far back as I can remember, I'd never threatened him before.
"Hey, he's gone," The fairy wasn't listening. She had her hands over her ears. I sighed. She was too frightened to thank me for it, but I knelt down on the carpet anyway. My eyes found the little gap I the air, and I lifted her through it. When my wrists disappeared from sight, I tilted them. The last I saw of the fairy, she was rolling off my hands into her apartment.
Five minutes later, I pulled all the cushions off the couch and stacked them on my computer chair. I pulled the whole tower over to where the hole in the air was, and I blocked it off.
Half an hour later, I found Gray hiding in one of the kitchen cabinets. When I reached out to him, he hissed. I left him alone.
An hour later, I started watching a movie on my computer. It was the one I'd begun hours ago, back before Gray found the second fairy. I didn't get through the credits this time, either.
For a while, I couldn't figure out what was bothering me. As long as I didn't look in my trash or my inbox, the incident with the faeries seemed like a bad dream. I had my cat back. I had my privacy back. And yet, I still felt unsettled.
It came to me when I was lying in my bed that night. My eyes were open. I was staring and the ceiling and wondering if it was mine. Deep in my mind, something clicked. I wasn't living alone any more. I shared an apartment with faeries. My privacy was ruined.
I rolled over, trying to forget it. The sheets twisted around me, making a cotton cocoon. I live alone. That's how it's always been. Except for the faeries, of course. I sighed. In the morning I resolved to find the landlord and make one last joke about his parentage. Then, I promised myself, I would tell him that I was moving out.