Get a pet, his friends had said, when the end of a relationship left him in a flat that was too big for just one, and too lonely as well. He was in a new city, which never helped and he'd not got a network of friends, or even an evening pub sorted yet. Truth be told, he was still trying to figure out which of the supermarkets nearest him he preferred to use.
Twenty four wasn't a bad age to be picked up by the company he'd been dreaming about for years. He'd made the move without a second thought. And so far, he was settling in well. The only gripe he could find was that he was a little lonely. From the train to the office, to the train to his flat to have dinner and to watch the television for an hour or so, a little longer maybe if a film caught his eye, or to surf the web for a little and laugh at web comics, and yes, trawl for a little bit of porn before bed. There wasn't much else to his life at the moment.
Damon often wondered whether the skin mag trade hit a downer once broadband prices dropped to relative affordability. He knew he didn't buy solid copies very often any more.
Pet, they'd said. Everyone had agreed. It would be good for him, lower his stress levels. Animal owners were statistically less likely to die of a heart attack, less likely to do all kinds of things. Well, right now, Damon didn't agree with them at all.
Marcus was sitting in the middle of a pile of shredded socks grooming himself. All he could do was splutter.
He wasn't even a dog! Cats were not supposed to chew things to shreds.
The owner of the local pet shop - a guy who must have been a similar age to him, perhaps a few years older, was beginning to know him by sight. He should do, he was the one who'd sold him the blasted animal.
"He ate my socks," was his complaint and Luke - his name tag said Luke - tried to squash a smile. "All of them."
The rather attractive man rolled his shoulders and his head into an shrug that made it look exactly like he was trying to duck out of responsibility. "He must like your feet?" he chuckled, glancing back to catch his eye.
Damon melted just a bit and decided that maybe he didn't mind Marcus' antics all that much after all. But it wouldn't do to show that. He set his jaw and let his lips narrow.
"It sounds like he's bored," he relented, reaching to stack a sack of dry dog food on a higher shelf. Damon tilted his head a little under the pretext of nodding thoughtfully to catch a better glimpse of the way his airtex shirt rode up just enough to let him get a glimpse of the man's stomach. "Does he have access to the outside?"
"Um." Damon pulled himself together, blinking some sense into himself. "No, not at the moment. Would that be alright - letting him out?"
Luke came down the step stool and reached for another 10kg sack and Damon tried to keep his puzzled expression on his face as he watched the man's arm muscles flex. "He's had his jabs?"
Damon nodded. Luke climbed back onto the step stool.
"You live on a busy road?"
"No. Juniper Gardens," Damon rattled off, then cringed a little internally as he realised that hadn't been Luke asking for his address.
Luke's smiling eyes lingered over him a moment. "Oh yeah? Nice round there." His shoulder muscles rippled as he shifted another sack higher. "He should be fine. Just watch him the first week or so. Only let him out a bit at a time, not at night, you know?"
Damon bit his lip, frowning slightly before he committed to the idea and nodded. A cat wasn't like a hamster or a rabbit, after all. It could take care of itself. He had the claw marks all over his hands to prove that.
"Right. Thanks." He gave another nod, a little stiff this time, and turned away, making for the door.
Luke rolled his eyes and hopped down from the step stool with a quiet chuckle to himself. He followed Damon down the aisle with an unhurried walk, plucking a selection of cat flaps off hooks on the side as he walked past.
"Hey - uh - Guy with the sock eating cat," his voice rose above the general noise of the other customers, but not so much a shout. For a moment, Damon's heart raced with the unlikely possibility that the man was going to ask him if he wanted to go for a drink, or for his number, or anything like that. "You'll be wanting one of these." His eyes sparkled as he fanned out the selection of cat doors like an over large hand of cards.
Damon practically blushed. "Oh. Yes," he blustered, walking towards the counter with a laugh. "Yes, I will. Thank you." He was not the smoothest operator the world had ever known.
If he had been, he knew exactly what he'd do - slip the man his phone number, or ask if he had any other tips for how do deal with his pet – maybe he wanted to come over and see him for himself? As it was, the most he could manage was to make it over to the counter without tripping over anything, pay without any further embarrassment and leave.
Marcus calmed down a lot once he was allowed outside. The instances of shredded letters decreased, and Damon's sock collection started to grow again, but every time the cat flap was shut he would make the most inhuman howling noise until Damon was forced to let him out.
He would listen to the excited patter of his cat's feet as he ran as fast as his round little body would carry him to the neighbour's window, where he would mewl pathetically, looking as angelic as he'd never been, and be let in by the pretty girl who lived next door and never even smiled at him when he walked past her in the street, all friendly faced and open to neighbourly advances.
"Oh my poor little pussy kitten. Are you hungry? Isn't that big bad man feeding you enough?"
This went on for another week, before Damon found himself back in the pet shop, arms folded across his chest, while Luke raised his eyebrows and tried to keep the smile on his face from turning into the laugh it wanted to be.
"May I help you?"
"My cat's cheating on me."
"And you want... relationship counselling?"
Damon fought the automatic urge to say 'yes' and managed a glare. Luke chuckled to himself, shaking his head, hands raised in a shrugged surrender gesture as he walked off into the depths of the store, presumably to find something to help.
"Does he have enough toys?" he called back and Damon followed after him, along to a rack of brightly coloured balls, feathers on strings, things with bells and mirror tiles, tiny rattling things and balls that bounce at unpredictable angles. The underlying scent was green and pungent – cat nip – something Marcus had seemed decidedly nonplussed by when Damon had bought him a knitted mouse, stuffed with it.
"Does he like his bed?"
Luke had plucked an armful of crinkle wrapped toys from the shelves and heaped them into Damon's arms before guiding him deeper down the aisle. He showed him Igloo beds and podium beds and cat palaces complete with adventure centres and scratching posts and Damon scratched his head with the stick of a feather teaser, wondering whether that was all necessary. He gulped a little at the sight of the price tags and his eyes must have flared wider, because Luke changed his tack.
"Or we have these radiator hammocks. They like those."
Once again, Damon left with an armful of things and a rather decreased bank balance. Only time would tell whether his cat would learn to behave.