CHAPTER ONE

I have a natural aversion to cats. I know everybody thinks they're cuddly, adorable, innocent balls of fluff, but I know better. Never forget that a cat can claw you across the nose as soon as look at you. I speak from experience, here- every cat I've ever met has hated me on sight. Every single one.

So when my little sister stumbled into my room with a ball of tabby fluff in her arms one day, I was less than thrilled.

"Annie, what is that?" I asked, trying to stay calm as I very slowly paused my videogame and began to edge away from her. Naturally, she didn't pick up on that, nor on the angry tone of my voice that warned her away. Four year olds aren't too good at that sort of thing.

"Issssnnn't he cwute?!" she squealed, bouncing toward me. The cat, who was slowly slipping out of her arms, had its back legs dragged across the carpet, and didn't seem to be appreciating the feeling. In fact, it seemed to be growling low in its throat, and I kind of doubted it was in the mood to make friends. Annie remained oblivious in her rush to make the introductions. "Harry wants to play wiv you, doesn't he, Harry-kitty-kins?"

It was probably useless, but I decided to try and persuade her against playtime. "Harry looks like he wants to play outside," I suggested hopefully, but she wasn't buying it. She stopped dead and glared at me as only a four year old can.

"Don't be meeeeaaaan to Harry, Jamie, he just wants to be fwends." she said sternly. "Here Harry; meet Jamie." She bent over and plopped Harry firmly into my lap.

I didn't move an inch as Harry sprang to his feet and glowered at me, back arched, fur fluffed to nearly three times its' normal state. A strange growling moan rose up from his throat, his ears flat back and his eyes wild-looking, more like an angry cougar than a housecat. I debated for a moment- should I wait for him to spring away, or should I try to get an arm up to protect my face? I went with protecting my face, but the second I took the weight off one hand to free it, Harry struck. His outstretched claws caught the corner of my lip and whipped across my jaw at blinding speed, and before I even had time to flinch away, he was off, tail streaming behind him like a banner, yowling like a lion cub. Annie took one look at my face as I touched the wound gingerly in shock, and wasted no time delivering a swift slap to the head for good measure. "Bawd Jamie- you scawered Hawwy!" she shouted as tears began to stream down her face. She ran after the cat, and I had barely had time to take my hand away and notice I was bleeding before I heard my mom down the hall, sounding alarmed.

"Annie! Honey, what happened?! Are you okay?!"

I didn't catch all of Annie's answer, but I definitely heard "Jamie", "Harry", and "scawered him bawd" before my mom called "Jamison Carl Joshua Peterson, what did you do to your poor little sisters' cat?!" The volume went up with the progression of the sentence, and my mom appeared in the door, looking angry as I hauled myself to my feet.

"What cat?!" I countered angrily, one hand still on my face as I rifled through my desk drawer in pursuit of a Band-Aid. "Since when do we own a cat?!"

"Don't take that tone wi-." mom started, then stopped abruptly as I turned around and she caught sight of my face. "Jamie," she asked in an entirely different, slightly sheepish attitude, " what happened?"

"What happened?" I repeated, feeling self-righteous wrath supplying my words for me. "What HAPPENED?! Psycho-kitty happened, that's what! Psycho-kitty and the four year old terror of the neighborhood! You KNOW I hate cats, so why was there just one in my room?!"

"She found Harry in the alley." Mom explained, avoiding my eyes. "She's always wanted a cat, and so we thought we would let her keep it. It's been so long since Snowball, and we thought you'd be over it by now."

I winced at the mention of Snowball. When I had been Annie's age, I had unwittingly begged my mom for a pet until she finally relented. Snowball had been a tiny kitten when we got him, and, upon being presented to me had laid a line of pink scratches across my chest before fleeing through the open kitchen window. "You thought I'D be over it? I'm not the one with the problem! I can't help that cats hate me."

Mom sighed, and I could see she was about to pull the guilt card. "I know, honey, but maybe we could just try it for a little while, for Annie? She gets so lonely with you off at school, and... well, she needs a friend to keep her company. She cries for you when you leave, you know..."

Dang it. What was I supposed to say to that? I applied iodine to my face, wincing at the sensation as I thought it out. Great- first day of my sophomore year at high school tomorrow, and I would get to explain to all my friends about the terrifying kitten that had attacked me. Really wonderful, they wouldn't give me a hard time at all.

"Please, Jamie?" my mom wheedled. "Harry might warm up to you, if you just give him time. He's just scared."

I snorted in doubt. "Fine." I grouched at last, fitting an extra-large Band-Aid onto my face. "But if that cat comes through that door again, he leaves as kitty soup."

"Thanks, Jamie." Mom said, ignoring the last comment and sounding relieved. "It'll work out, you'll see."

"Won't be able to see if he goes for the eyes next time." I muttered, but mom was already gone and I had to content myself with grumbling to thin air as I prodded gingerly at my bandage. If Annie could have a cat, maybe I could have a dog. For me, dogs were the exact opposite of cats- strong, smart, and useful- when's the last time a kitten scared away a robber? Yeah, that's what I thought. Dogs loved me, too, unlike the feline Tasmanian devils I seemed to encounter all my life. And you can't teach a cat to play fetch, which I can only see as a major drawback. Yep, dogs win, every time.

Even so, unless I could perfect a four year olds' pleading look, I wasn't likely to be getting a puppy any time soon. My parents saw only the bad things in dogs- like that they drool, and that you have to pick up their poop, and that some grow to be really big. Whereas cats clean themselves, and use a litter box, and shred your face. I locked the door to my room and sat on my bed, feeling depressed. There was actually a cat in my house, and it had already found its' favorite scratching post.

Me.