This cat, I said to myself, scratching Licorice behind the ears as we sat on the front porch of my home, has to be one of the most gorgeous cats I've ever seen. He was too, with the satiny black fur coat that earned him his name – no white hair whatsoever – and those huge, glowing, golden-yellow eyes which always gave me a little shiver when I looked into them. Of course I didn't tell him that – he was already vain enough for both of us.
"Why don't you have a collar?" I asked him instead. He turned his face away, looking deeply offended.
"Well, sor-ry! It's just that you look so...healthy. You can't really be a stray, can you? Even though you keep coming over here to beg."
Licorice swished his tail, fidgeted, and lay down with his front paws in front of him like a little sphinx. I went on stroking him, something he never seemed to get enough of, and we were silent for a while. It was a lazy, golden, late summer afternoon; I could already feel the growing chill in the air, but I didn't feel like coming inside.
"Hey, Licorice?" I said, feeling in the mood for confidences, even – especially – if the one listening was only a cat.
Licorice flicked an ear at me.
"You know who you remind me of? Jason. He goes to school with me and he's..." As usual, I couldn't find the words. "He's amazing. In a way I can't really describe."
Licorice jumped as if he'd seen a mouse in the shadows, then settled back and fixed his golden eyes on me as if he were looking straight through my body to the house next door.
"He's quiet, like you...sometimes he looks out the window, all by himself, sitting quietly like a statue with everyone else making a racket around him. It's like...he always looks like he's thinking something interesting...and I so badly want to ask him what it is." My face was hot. "I like him. I mean, really like him. Which of course is stupid. He wouldn't want to be bothered by someone like me."
I sighed. Licorice's feline gaze looked positively fierce.
"Not exactly beauty queen material here, am I? Not to mention someone who'd rather talk to a cat who can't hear her than go to a party like a normal teenager. No guy's ever been interested in me, and I don't blame them."
At that Licorice summoned all his charms and jumped on my lap, purring like a motor. Comforted in spite of my sulky mood, I buried my cold hands in his fur and laughed.
"Aww, thanks. You like me anyway, right? Or at least the snacks I give you. You're one smooth operator, Mr. Licorice."
He bumped my hand with his sleek head, gave me a very pointed look as only a cat can, then jumped down from my lap and ran away.
Now I began to feel cold all over. A thin, silvery crescent moon was already up and the sun was almost gone; I told myself that I really ought to go back in.
I really like him. That was the first time I'd ever said those words aloud...to a cat, of all things. How stupid...but at least the cat would never tell.
The next morning, I found a letter in the mail. It was in a white envelope punctuated with tiny tooth marks, as if an animal had carried it. There was no address and no postage stamp, nothing but my name. I opened it slowly, nervously. Whatever could it mean?
Then in my state of shock, I almost dropped it.
Don't let anyone ever tell you you're not beautiful or not normal. You're wonderful just the way you are. You were so nice to me I was scared to tell you, but I want you to know the truth. I really like you too.
You're the interesting thing I think about most often when I'm looking out the window during recess. The way your eyes crinkle when you smile. The way your hair shines in different colors in the sunlight. Everything about you I know or want to know. Also, how to talk to you without saying something stupid.
So anyway, I'd better stop before this letter gets too long.
Sorry for 'spying' on you like this...I didn't mean to invade your privacy. And thanks so much for the food you gave me.
And at the bottom of the letter was an inky paw print.