“You’re coming home with me,” Siobhan announces, bringing Leslie reluctantly back to the present. She holds up a hand to stem Leslie’s incipient protest. “I know you, Les. You have been OCD’ing over John since the cops told you what happened. You probably hadn’t eaten since then until I showed up. You’re brooding.” Siobhan brushes her red curls out of her eyes, but they just fall back into place. “It’s not healthy for you, and you love the Terrible Trio. They’ll cheer you up.”
“I can’t leave Josephine,” Leslie protests. Josephine meows her agreement. She hates being separated from her human for any appreciable amount of time—meaning more that twenty-four hours.
“Bring her with. You know she loves the Terrible Trio and the Beastie Boys, too.” The Terrible Trio consists of two boys and a girl, ages ten, eight-and-a-half, and seven-and-a-half. The Beastie Boys are brother cats, one a gray tabby, and one a ginger with streaks of white, and both completely besotted with Josephine. It’s funny to watch a six-pound girl cat dominate two sixteen pound former tom cats.
“Oh, all right.” Leslie doesn’t even bother to put up a token protest because she doesn’t actually want to be at home alone with her memories of John. She has spent most of her time in her computer room because that’s the room in which he had spent the least amount of time. They had converted one of the other bedrooms into his office, and that’s the room Leslie has so far refused to enter. She had tried, but his smell was everywhere—and she had fled the room, crying, with Josephine hot on her heels.
Leslie goes up to her room to throw together a duffle bag. She doesn’t know how long she’ll be staying at Siobhan’s, but it doesn’t really matter as they live in the same neighborhood, only two streets apart. If she forgets anything, she can just walk back home to get it—or borrow it from Siobhan. They are approximately the same size, though Leslie has more boob than does Siobhan. Siobhan, on the other hand, had twice the junk in the trunk than had been afforded Leslie. Still, since neither of them wear very tight clothing, they are able to borrow each other’s wardrobe with little problem.
“Meow!” Josephine lets out a tiny meow, her tail drooping. Leslie’s heart smites her because she knows Josephine is missing John, too. Leslie had explained to Josephine what had happened to John, and while Josephine had nodded her understanding, she still didn’t seem to quite grasp the concept of ‘never coming back’.
“I know, Josephine. I miss him, too.” Leslie strokes the tip of Josephine’s nose, letting the silky-satin feel calm her agitated nerves. After indulging herself for a minute and fifty-three seconds, she returns to packing. She opens her closet to take out Josephine’s carrier case, and Josephine hops in with alacrity. She is the rare cat who enjoys visiting the vet, maybe because the vet had to take such intensive care of her when she was first delivered to the rescue, and she also knows that a trip in the carrier could result in something fun. As a result, Leslie never has any problem with Josephine balking at being put in her carrier. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Leslie has stocked the carrier with a fleece blanket Josephine loves plus half a dozen of the little felt mousies that Josephine so adores preying on. Leslie gathers her things and Josephine and embarks downstairs, back to the living room where Siobhan is standing in the middle of the room..
“You ready?” Siobhan asks, jingling her car keys in her hand. She’s an impatient woman by nature, and she hates being made to wait for anything or anyone. On the other hand, she runs perpetually twenty minutes late, so she really isn’t one to talk.
“One more stop.” Leslie sets her duffle bag and Josephine’s carrier down on the couch before striding to the kitchen. She opens up Josephine’s cupboard and pulls out Josephine’s Pet Guard wet food, Greenies, and assorted other organic treats. She is a food snob when it comes to feeding Josephine, and she knows that Siobhan is more lax in what she serves her boys. For the humans, Siobhan insists on organic, so Leslie will be fine in that respect. Next, Leslie opens a different cupboard and takes out a large Tupperware container. She fills it with Solid Gold Indigo Moon dry and then packs all the food into a shopping bag. She takes this into the living room where Siobhan looks as if she’s about to explode from impatience.
“Food for the princess?” Siobhan asks, lifting an eyebrow at Leslie’s bulging shopping bag.
“Yes.” Leslie makes no apologies for pampering Josephine. She hands the food bag to Siobhan before picking up her duffle and Josephine’s carrier. With that, Siobhan drives them to her house.
“It’s a mess.” Siobhan tosses this explanation, not an excuse, over her shoulder to Leslie as they entered Siobhan’s Tudor. “Antonio is sick.” Antonio is Siobhan’s husband. He does most of the housework and cooking because Siobhan works forty hours a week as the director of Yes, We Can!, a fledging non-profit that helps underprivileged youth succeed in their educational goals. Well, technically, the non-profit is called A Bridge to Success, but someone had nicknamed it, Yes, We Can! after Obama won the 2008 election, and the nickname had stuck. ABS is on all the official documents, but no one in the organization calls it that any more. In addition, Siobhan works twenty to thirty hours a week at the boutique she and Leslie co-own. In her spare time, she takes her kids to whatever activity they are currently engaging in.
“Whatever.” Leslie shrugs. She is the queen of mess. John is, no, was the one who had kept the house from looking like a cyclone had hit it. As a result, Leslie rarely notices the condition of other people’s houses as long as there isn’t any live culture growing on the walls or the furniture. She walks towards the guestroom, which she knows is located upstairs. She is derailed before she even takes two steps, however, by three kids clamoring for her attention. Their grandmother, Antonio’s mother, had been watching them while Siobhan was gone, and while they love her dearly, she isn’t really a playing type of person.
“Leslie! Leslie! Let Jos’phine out so we can play with her!” Aileen is the spitting image of her mother with her wild red curls and long legs, except her eyes are bright green instead of hazel, and she has a liberal sprinkling of freckles on her nose. Said green eyes are dancing with merriment as she eyes Josephine in her carrier. Josephine purrs loudly as she stares back at Aileen.
“Give her a minute to get settled, Leenie,” Siobhan says with a laugh. “Can’t you see her arms are full?”
“Let me take that bag for you,” Eduardo says, holding out his hand. He is stocky like his father with the same lush black curls. His dark eyes are serious as he solemnly surveys Leslie. He was labeled as a genius when he was three, and he feels the burden heavily, though his parents try to lighten the load. He is in the seventh grade, having skipped two grades, in all honors classes, plays the trumpet, and paints in his spare time. If it weren’t for his very dry sense of humor that broke out at odd times, his parents would be exceedingly worried about him. As it was, they were only very concerned.
“Thank you, Eduardo,” Leslie says, favoring him with a wan smile. He nods his head as he takes her duffle into the guestroom.
“Hi, Leslie,” Eamon says, fluttering his thin fingers at her. He is the changeling in the family as he does not look like either parent. He is a thin boy, almost painfully so. No matter what he eats and how much, he simply cannot gain weight. His hair is not quite as dark as Eduardo’s, straight, and he has light green eyes. As Leslie nods at him, he executes a jeté without thinking about it.
“Your ballet is really improving,” Leslie says in admiration. She had taken ballet classes for twelve years as a child, but she never had the aptitude for it as Eamon so clearly does.
“I practice at least an hour a day,” Eamon informs Leslie. “The other boys call me a faggot because I don’t want to play football with them, but I don’t care.”
“We tell Eamon never start a fight, but finish it if you must.” Siobhan’s eyes flash as she speaks. All her children have had boxing lessons, and they had been taught to defend themselves at will.
“If you ever want to come to tai chi class with me, let me know,” Leslie says. She has been taken classes for three years, three months, and seventeen days, and starting tai chi is what finally lightened her chronic depression and put her on her journey of mending her broken soul. Now that she has graduated from the Solo Form, she is learning the applications for the postures, which is really what she wanted to know, anyway. She has also started the Sword Form, which she had immediately loved.
“Lesleeeeee! Hurry up and settle in so Jos’phine can come out and play!” Aileen is clapping her hands and giggling, which summons the Beastie Boys from out of the shadows. Houdini, the gray tabby, is thus named because he has a talent for slipping free from any restraint. Houdini observes Leslie with his yellow eyes, not coming any closer. He is a reserved cat, wary from his hard-knock life before living in the lap of luxury. In the five years Leslie’s known him, she’s only been able to pet him a dozen times or so. P.T. Barnum, on the other hand (the red boy) is a lover through and through. He marches over to Leslie, tripping over his own feet in his haste to reach her. She can’t help but laugh at his goofy antics—which makes him the clown of the duo.
“Mrrreow!” Josephine lets her presence be known with a loud, but still delicate noise. In tandem, the boys’ heads swing towards the carrier. They stare at it with unnerving dedication. Leslie knows she has to let Josephine out before things get chaotic.
“Here you go, Josephine. Go break their hearts.” Leslie lifts Josephine out of her carrier and sets her on the ground. Josephine takes several seconds to delicately groom herself before marching over to the boys. They stare at her in fascination as she approaches. Without warning, she reaches out and whaps each of them across the nose with her paw, claws retracted. They both accept it without flinching, and they are suddenly chasing each other all over the house. Aileen screams in delight and races after them. Eamon follows at a more sedate pace, practicing his pas de bourrée. Eduardo is nowhere to be seen—Leslie presumes he has gone off to do brilliant things after taking her bag to the guestroom.
“Thank you,” Leslie says softly to Siobhan once they are alone.
“For what?” Siobhan looks startled; Leslie is not someone given to thanking others.
“For this.” Leslie nods at the house around her. Siobhan doesn’t say anything, but simply pulls Leslie to her and hugs her fiercely. As Siobhan’s arms close around Leslie, Leslie flashes back to sex with John.
From the start, John had taken control of their sex life. He was naturally dominant, and Leslie happily went along. She loved the way he dominated her, but she wanted more. She wanted the humiliation she had received before—she craved it. However, she couldn’t find a way to tell John that she wanted it until he asked her once as they were having sex what she wanted. When she was finally able to stutter out her desires, he had looked at her with such compassion, she burst into tears. After he dried her tears, he told her that he couldn’t do that, but that he could dominate her in other ways. He showed her that her body was made for love—not for pain.
“Leslie, snap out of it!” Siobhan shakes Leslie, bringing her back to the present.
“I miss him, Siobhan. God, I miss him so much.” Leslie collapses into Siobhan’s arms and starts weeping. Siobhan says nothing as she pats Leslie on the back. “Why did he have to leave me? Why?”
“You’ll feel better with some food in you.”
“It’s too late for food.” Leslie glances at her watch, her eyes still watery. “It’s 7:32 p.m. and 13 seconds. You know I eat dinner at 6:23 p.m. and 17 seconds.”
“Not when you’re not at home, remember?” Siobhan’s voice is firm. She and Leslie had hashed it out early in their friendship nearly fifteen years ago that Leslie’s numbers did not count as much outside the house.
“Oh, yes. I forgot. OK. I will eat something.” Leslie knows she will not be able to choke down any food, but she also knows better than to argue with Siobhan. “Where’s Antonio?”
“He has to work overtime tonight. A client is in a panic because he has suddenly decided the current ad is totally wrong. I don’t think Antonio will be back before midnight.” Siobhan’s voice is even, but there is an undercurrent of anger. Antonio is an easygoing man, and Siobhan hates that he lets his clients walk all over him. It is an old argument, however, and it’s not going to be resolved any time soon. “The kids have already eaten, of course.”
They walk to the kitchen. Leslie leans against the counter as she watches Siobhan rummage through the fridge. Siobhan is muttering to herself as she pushes around the contents. “Old.” “Stale.” “What the hell is this?” Siobhan has given up swearing for the most part, but she still slips from time to time. Occasionally, she pulls out a Tupperware filled with a mysterious substance and sets it to the side. When it’s all said and done, she’s found leftover spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, a salad, and a container of freshly-cut fruit. Gathering up the bounty, Siobhan marches Leslie into the dining room and glares at her until she picks up a fork and starts eating. Siobhan is prattling about how Antonio’s mother is from the old country and how her spaghetti is the real thing, but Leslie is not listening. She is methodically shoveling the food into her mouth and not taking time to swallow between bites. She knows she needs to fuel up in order to keep going, but she is not sure she even wants to keep on living in a world without John. She keeps this thought to herself, however, because she knows it will only worry Siobhan. And, more selfishly, Leslie does not want to have to deal with Siobhan nagging her for hours on end to call Dr. Thompson, her shrink. He had told her to call him Scott, but she simply could not do it. She got around the problem by not addressing him as anything during her sessions, but in her head, he is always Dr. Thompson.