"Tell me you are not where I think you are." Jake's voice echoes out from the speaker of my phone. I smile sheepishly, noting my surroundings. The wall of kennels, filled with cats of various ages and colours look back at me. The one in the middle, labelled 'Hank', a grey tabby with white markings and long fur, turns over on his back exposing a large white belly. My heart explodes at the cuteness.
"Fine, I won't tell you." I reply blithely. This is my happy place, the cat adoption center at the pet store. It's where I come when the world is falling apart. Unfortunately, somebody doesn't exactly approve. But today is the day. I'm going to do it. I'm getting a cat and there's nothing Jake can say to convince me otherwise.
I hear a sigh on the other end of the line, "Elise…"
"Nope, I have no time for reasonable arguments. I just want to fill the emptiness of my life with unconditional love. I think I'll name him Captain Fluffypants…or Rhett Butler. I haven't decided yet, it depends on how cute he is." I steamroll over his protest, looking back at the selection of furballs.
"Resist the call of the cat. You don't need a cat." He repeats, in a clear and decisive tone and I resist the urge to scoff.
"I think I do. I've given up. I'm going to live out the rest of my sad spinster years in sweatpants and surrounded by cats and I'll laugh at all of their quirky high jinks! Every single one!"
"One bad relationship does not mean you'll be alone forever."
"I won't be alone. I'll have Han Solo…that's a good name right? I'll tell him I love him constantly, and he'll meow back that he knows. It's perfect. And it wasn't just one bad relationship. It was a lot of bad relationships."
Jake groans so loudly I have to pull the phone away from my ear. "Have you considered therapy?"
"Have you considered that the entire male population is terrible?" I ignore his yelp of anger and continue my rant. "No offense, Jake, but I've been a witness to all your doomed relationships. You're my best friend, but you're the worst when women are involved."
"The worst? Girls know exactly what they're getting when they go home with me. We enjoy each other and then go our separate ways. I never lie to them and promise a future. It's just sex."
"And that's the problem most men have. They want the sexy nympho to come over, screw their brains out, and leave the next morning." I ignore the scathing glance of the elderly lady picking up a bag of food in the adjacent aisle. An older gentleman joins her and her face just lights up, and I just want to cry. Now I'm jealous of disapproving old ladies. What next? A love of smooth jazz? They join hands and continue moving at a glacial pace away from me, matching orthopaedic shoes squeaking on the linoleum. So. Freaking. Precious.
I turn back to the cats before continuing, "I want a forever. I want to become one half of a boring old married couple playing euchre on the porch of their retirement home. It's not like I'm asking for a fairytale. I just want…contentment. And in the absence of any potential Ed Asner to my Betty White, I'm going the way of the spinster while I'm still young enough to enjoy it."
"You do realize Ed Asner and Betty White aren't a couple, right?"
"They should be! He's so grouchy, she's so sassy. They're perfect for each other."
"So what you're saying essentially is that because I personally have commitment issues, you're adopting a cat." I roll my eyes. It's just like him to think it's all about him. But it's not. Well, not exclusively his fault. He's a manwhore, and it works for him. Unfortunately, it also works for most men.
"Maybe two. I could get a boy and a girl and name them Hades and Purrsephone. Get it? Purr-sephone."
"Ha. Ha." He says dryly. I frown at how easily he dismisses my perfect pun.
"Seriously, I've been thinking about this for awhile. Last night was just the final straw. The last drop in the bucket. The cow that broke the camels back. I'm done."
"Not all guys are like that creep. A proper dude does not go picking up girls at a bar when he's married with a baby at home."
"And what about Derrick? Mister 'I just wanted to try being straight for one night'. What about Gavin 'Have you considered a boob job?' Douglass? How about Fred, Paul, Steve or George? All disasters!" I take a calming breath and look back at the cat display. Oh, the brown cat on the corner is playing with a little mouse toy! "Boys are terrible, cats are good. I might start wearing socks with sandals while watching rednecks on TV. The end."
"Anomalies. And if you start wearing socks with sandals, I will never acknowledge you in public again."
"Liar. You and I both know how much you love brunch. Your manwhoring ways prevent you from taking a conquest out. You need me to get your eggs Benedict and Mimosa fix."
"You wouldn't dare threaten a brunch embargo."
"Oh, I dare." I warn in a low voice.
"Don't get a cat." I frown, looking at the furry faces in front of me. One of them deserves a real home, no matter the reason that brought me here.
"Yeah?" He asks, echoing my previous response. He sounds apprehensive and I feel a tad guilty at what I'm about to say but he deserves it. I am a full grown woman and I make my own decisions.
"Fuck off." At that I slam my thumb down on the end call button. It lacks the dramatic flair of slamming down a telephone or flipping shut an older cell phone. The sacrifices our anger has made for shiny new technology. I turn to the last cage on the left, a small black kitten with big hazel eyes and tiny white paws looks back at me and I smile broadly. That one.
"What is that!?" I swear my voice isn't normally this high. But the sight of Jake with a seven foot tall carpet-covered monstrosity in the hallway outside of my apartment is apparently enough to make me reach a new octave.
He shrugs, his broad shoulders stretching the limits of his suit jacket. He points at the thing and says in his familiar baritone, "Peace offering. And it weighs a ton, so would you open the door already and tell me where you want it?"
I'm frozen in my position three feet away. My keys hang loosely from my hand, threatening to fall if I make one little movement. He quickly stomps over to me, pulls the keys from me and in moments has my door open. Before I can even mutter a word of protest, he heaves the thing into my tiny living room, muscles clearly at work, and shoved it in an empty corner. My mouth, I'm sure, is hanging wide open. Don't drool, I repeat to myself. Manual labour is not attractive. Who am I kidding? I follow him mutely, shutting the door behind me and sitting quietly on my couch.
"So, where's the cat?" He finally asks, settling himself beside me. "The little dude better appreciate his new wonderland. Your doorman is never going to stop laughing at me."
"No wonder Enrique looked at me weird when I came in." I mutter under my breath. It had been curious why the normally stoic older man had started laughing the minute I entered the building. He was the British palace guard equivalent of a doorman. Jake and I had been trying to make him crack for over a year, guess I lost that bet.
"So, cat?" Jake repeats his question, leaning back on the couch and making himself comfortable.
"How do you know I got a boy cat?" I ask softly.
"Boy cats are easier to name hilarious things. It's the first thing you ever taught me." I smile widely, remembering when we met. I had been sixteen, working part-time at the local pet store. He had been seventeen, taking his little half-sister to get a kitten. I had fallen head-over-heels at the sight of the gangly boy with wild red-hair. His sister, under the evil influence of Jake, got a Labrador puppy named Puddles; I got a new best friend. Over the years, our friendship had overridden any previous romantic notions I had possessed. His endless stream of one-night-stands and my poor choice in boyfriends had served as our running commentary for years.
"He's been hiding under the bed ever since I brought him home." I finally say, pointing towards my messy bedroom.
"Name?" Is this twenty questions or something?
"Why do you care, Jake? I thought you were against the cat thing anyway. You call them fluffy terrorists."
"They are fluffy terrorists. They hold you hostage, have only demands, and kill things for fun."
"Such a dog person thing to say. At least they're self-sufficient."
"Elise, it's not the getting a cat thing I have a problem with. That's what the cat tower is for. I've had it in my storage locker for years. You getting a cat was inevitable. It's the giving up that I'm concerned about."
"You've had that thing for years?" I ask incredulously. "That's so…so…weird. That's weird."
"It was on sale when I went to pick up some food for Puddles awhile ago." He says with a shrug. This nonchalant behaviour is starting to irk me. You don't do something this weird and out of character and then shrug. That's not how the world works. When people do crazy things, they're supposed to act, well, crazy.
"Still weird." I state and eye the monstrosity again. I glare at it and the confusion it's causing. Jake never prepares for the future, especially not other peoples futures. He is a purely live-in-the-moment dude. He has the attention span of a goldfish. I had to force him to go to the bank at eighteen to get a credit card so he'd start to build a good credit history. I'm the one who forced him to finally sign a lease for the first time at the age of twenty-four. His longest relationship was a week, and that was because she just wouldn't leave his apartment.
"You can't just give up on finding someone." He says quietly and I groan. Not this again.
"Why not? I can't keep meeting these losers and getting my heart pummelled. This way, I get something to cuddle with while watching my favourite bad TV shows and I get to embrace comfortable footwear decades early." I reach down and pull off my heeled boots and flex my aching feet. "Damn, that feels good. Besides you have your random gullible sluts. I have a single body impression in the center of my bed. How is it that different? At the end of the day, we're still alone, I've just accepted it."
"It's very different. I'm temporarily filling the void in my life with sex. You are choosing to permanently leave a hole that will never be filled."
"Dirty." I interject in a low voice.
He laughs, realizing his folly before regaining his serious composure. "Shut up. You know what I mean."
"I understand your intent. I just don't agree with it." I retort in a clipped manner, arms crossed and eyebrow raised. He stares at my stubborn expression for a second before turning to look at the monstrosity once more. I take the opportunity to peek in the bedroom and see a tiny white paw protruding from under the bed. Progress.
"So the cat's name is?" He asks brightly, changing the subject with all the subtlety of a hammer.
"I don't know yet. I'm waiting for inspiration to strike. It's a forever name, so it has to be perfect."
"You spend way too much time worrying about forever."
"One of us has to." I reply with a snort.
He looks momentarily pensive before tactfully countering, "I have a healthy respect for it."
"You fear it, Jake."
"I'm a child of divorce, it's in my blood." He quips running his hand through his thick red-hair. I shake my head in response.
"Your parents have been happily married to their current spouses for over twenty years; it's not a genetic thing. It's a you thing." I punctuate my final statement by poking his bicep. He grips my wrist preventing me from repeating the action. I gulp audibly and try to pull out of his grasp. He maintains his hold and looks me dead-on before replying.
"Then maybe it's a case of me knowing what forever I want and it being unattainable." He's using that gravelly serious voice again, and I don't care for it. He finally lets my wrist go and I give him a confused glance. What the hell is he talking about?
"Please, there's nothing unattainable to Jake Masterson. Twenty-eight years-old and you've never been denied a single thing. I'm pretty sure if you called up NASA they'd just let you go up to space, no questions asked."
He looks at me tenderly, before replying in a hushed voice, "Trust me. Some things will always be just out of reach for a guy like me."
"Like what?" I mirror his soft tone. His hand reaches out for mine, and softly clasps it. Time starts to slow down, and I look down at this strange new development with curious eyes.
"You." I gasp silently, the unexpected confession wrecking havoc on my senses. My heart starts to resume a curious beat I haven't felt since we were sixteen. Or maybe it's been there all along.
"Come again?" I ask, not moving a single inch. He moves closer and I can't breath.
He whispers with only a few inches between us, "You, I want you."
I start to involuntarily giggle before asking, "Are you kidding me?" My voice is reaching a new high frequency and he's making a very put-out expression at my hysterics.
"No joking. I've been waiting for so long for you to figure it out. Do you know how much work it took to scare away all those undeserving losers?" I finally manage to move and curl up on the far side of the couch, placing precious inches between us. My suddenly freezing feet tucked up underneath me.
"But-but you're the manwhore. The commitment-phobe. You don't…You don't…"
"I don't what?" He says icily, enunciating every syllable, and I cringe a little.
"Pick a girl like me." I say meekly, carefully focusing on the ground.
"Elise, I picked you the moment you told me dogs are the pets of the overly co-dependent. But at the time you were with Paul."
"The stoner with a heart of tarnished silver. Two years of my life I'll never get back."
"Yes, him." Jake confirmed in a flippant tone, annoyed by my interruption. "By the time you were single again, we were friends. Every time I would manage to work up the courage to tell you how I feel, you would meet another of those assholes. Your penchant for serial monogamy is a serious problem."
"So you waited?"
He nods and replies quietly, "So I waited."
"Why now?" I ask, "What changed?"
"I couldn't have you give up on finding your forever." His dark eyes penetrate mine, and I melt just a little bit more on the inside. Feelings I've spent years quashing down welling back to the forefront.
"Jake..." I shift towards him, urging his precious words forth. He's closing the distance too, knees bumping together, a hand coming to rest on my cheek. He beams back at me, finally saying the words I want to hear.
"Because when I think about my future, the only constant I've ever seen is you."
We reach out for each other with equal fervency, slamming our lips together. Our noses bump and the angle is a little wrong. But quickly we adjust to each others rhythms and the kiss grows deeper. His hands are tangled in my long brown hair. Mine have discovered some interesting stomach muscles. The careful boundaries we've maintained for almost eleven years crashing down around our fumbling limbs and duelling mouths. It's awkward and weird, but utterly perfect.
We pull away slowly, but not moving far. Our hands run over each other, unwilling to detach from the moment.
"Still thinking about forever?" I ask softly, wishing fiercely he hasn't changed his mind, that the kiss hadn't just ruined everything.
"Oh yes. But I have some interesting ideas for the present." A sly grin has taken over his face, and tingles run down my spine.
"I've been making a list since I was seventeen. I have enough ideas to last us sixty years."
I do the only thing I can to wipe that wicked grin from his face: another bone melting kiss. We let our hormones take charge once more and surrender to the passion. Gradually, we work our way into a horizontal position, him on top, me between his legs, and some of our clothes have become acquainted with the floor.
A loud meow interrupts us, and we both turn to look at the monstrosity at the same time. The little kitten has somehow managed to climb up to the fourth tier and is sitting there expectantly, tail curled delicately around himself. We both laugh loudly at his self-satisfied expression.
"I think he likes it." Jake says, "And I think I know the perfect name."
"Really?" I ask between heavy breaths.
"We'll work on it." I manage to say through my laughter and resume our previous activities. We may have forever, but we have a lot of lost time to make up for.