The eyes staring at me when I glanced up from the tomatoes I was weeding were part of a rather large animal and yellow, with horizontal slits. Beyond the eyes, the rest was orange with stripes.
Scary. Maybe a tiger?
No doubt about it, I was about to become dinner.
Then I looked again, took a deep breath, and acknowledged what I should have noticed before. That the animal was an unusually large cat that was missing part of one ear and had a body criss-crossed with old battle scars. A tough, scary cat, but a cat, nevertheless, an orange striped tabby with an expression that said he was king of the jungle and also of my back yard.
And as tough-looking as any cat I’d ever seen. I carefully removed my gardening gloves and slowly, very slowly, rose and backed until I was in the house. It was just a cat, but it was large and silent and staring at me. No sense taking chances. It could have my yard for a while. I didn’t care.
An hour later, after consuming two cups of chamomile tea and another chapter in my current book, the yard was clear so I returned to the tomatoes. And discovered that one of my gardening gloves was missing. Drat! I wandered about the yard, looking for it.
“Are you missing a glove?” I looked up. Hanging across the fence that separated our yards was a tallish, lanky man about my age with wind-creased lines around his eyes, brown hair burnished by the sun, my gardening glove in one hand, and a droll expression on his face.
I reached for it. Stopped in mid-air. And asked, “How’d you get it? It was in my yard.”
Those eyes – brown? – blue? – green? – it was hard to tell because they seemed all colors – rolled expressively. “I suspect Genghis Khan stole them.”
Another eye-roll. “My cat. At least I consider him my cat except he thinks it’s the other way around. He thinks he’s the ruler and I’m his obedient subject.”
“Like Genghis Khan ruled many people during his time?” His nod said I knew my history and that I also understood the nature of the cat that had visited me earlier. ”But how’d you get my glove?”
A third eye-roll. “He brings me things. Gifts. Presents. Treasures.”
“My gardening glove is a treasure?”
“Evidently he considers it to be one.” He waved the glove. “So I’m returning it because he shouldn’t have stolen it even if his purpose was generosity.”
I took the glove and we talked aimlessly for a few minutes before he returned to his house and I to my tomatoes. That is, it seemed like a few minutes but all too soon the sun was sinking and night was dropping like a cloak around me so it must have been much longer.
How odd. What had we talked about? I couldn’t remember except that his name was Jared and that his voice was low and pleasant and rumbled a bit and that the fence between our yards was the perfect height for him to lean on and that his shirt was worn with rolled-up sleeves revealing arms that went with the rest of him – totally masculine — and that he rested his chin on those arms in a most companionable way as we chatted about what must have been nothing important because later I couldn’t remember anything except the man himself.
The next day I returned to the garden, having brought my gloves inside at night to keep them safe. And couldn’t find my hat, the one I love because it keeps the sun off without being too cumbersome.
Could Genghis Khan have taken my hat? Was it even now a treasure in my neighbor’s house?
I debated for a long time and then opened the gate between our yards that had never before been open – never – and, with stealthy steps, trespassed on someone else’s property in search of a potentially stolen hat.
“Are you looking for this?” I jumped and my face turned red as I scrambled to explain, but it wasn’t necessary. “I was going to return it as soon as I finished breakfast.” He handed me my hat as the smell of bacon and eggs wafted through the air. Then, unexpectedly, he asked, “Are you hungry? I’ve lots.”
I grabbed my hat and shook my head that, no, I wasn’t hungry even though my stomach was telling me differently. I zipped back to my own property, forgetting to close the gate behind me and later rationalizing leaving it open because if a closed gate didn’t stop one orange striped cat burglar, why bother to close it? I spent the rest of the day inside, finishing that book and all the chamomile tea in the house as my red face slowly paled back to normal.
The third day since meeting my next-door neighbor and his cat – or it was my neighbor cat and his human servant? – I opened the door and cautiously examined my back yard to see what was missing now. Because surely something was.
Except it wasn’t. Instead, the yard was empty except for one very large, orange striped cat with yellow eyes, a partly missing ear, and a battle-scarred body that was heading for me as fast as a cat can travel and that’s pretty fast.
Genghis Khan was after me. I drew in my breath and prepared to close the door.
Too late. He swooped into the house and around me, chasing me out of the kitchen and into the yard, where he proceeded to herd me towards that open gate. And he yowled. And yowled. And yowled. Loud enough that I wouldn’t have been surprised if my neighbors from a block away came running to see what was going on.
“What’s he yowling about?” Jared’s face appeared over the fence. Saw Genghis Khan and me and listened to the commotion and thought about the situation for a moment. Then he laughed and came through the open gateway. “Now I know. He’s yowling about you. You’re ‘it’.”
“It?” I was terrified as Genghis Khan herded me through the gate and into another yard. Had been terrified until Jared showed up and seemed to know the situation wasn’t dire after all. Seemed to think it was funny. Funny? Really? I was insulted but it was nice to think that, even though I didn’t know what was going on, Jared didn’t seem to think I was in any real danger.
“I believe that, thanks to Genghis Khan, you’re my latest treasure, or at least you’re supposed to be.” I blinked, so he explained. “Genghis Khan has decided that you are the most valuable treasure around so he’s giving you to me.” And he laughed again but this time with the kind of expression that said he hoped I’d see the humor of the situation.
It took a moment, but I did. And I began to laugh too as my insides relaxed and I wondered just how I’d manage a future next to a large orange cat burglar and his good-looking human but whatever the future held, I wasn’t in mortal danger. “So I can just go home again?
I started for the gate. And stopped because Genghis Khan yowled louder than ever. Forget the neighbors a block away, the sound could easily bring onlookers from miles. So I stopped and wondered what to do now. Looked at Jared for help.
He smiled and indicated the two lounge chairs on his patio. On the table between them was a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken. “How about lunch? I always buy extra so there’s plenty.”
I shook my head as I tried to figure how to escape without someone calling the fire department and possibly the police to investigate the strange and very loud goings-on in the neighborhood. “Does he always meow so loudly?”
“Only when he doesn’t get his way. Since that seldom happens, we live a quiet life.” Then, realizing I was frozen in place, he added, “And I doubt he’ll quiet down until he gets what he wants now, which is you here, at least for a while. And I mean it. I’ve lots of chicken.” He waved a leg. “Why not give him what he wants and have lunch at the same time?” He pointed to the second chair. “Let him see you in that chair eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
Silence would be nice and I happen to love Kentucky Fried Chicken so I sat and gingerly picked up a piece of chicken and started eating.
Genghis Khan immediately went silent. Came over and regarded us for a few moments, then he climbed all over Jared for a second or two before jumping across the Kentucky Fried Chicken and into my lap.
I was so scared I almost dropped my chicken but there was no need. He merely curled up and lay his head in my lap, as peaceful and happy as a new-born kitten. And he began to purr.
“He got what he wanted,” Jared said quietly, regarding the two of us, Genghis Khan and me. “But he usually does, and, considering the lovely lady he graced me with, I’d say that he has good taste.”
Gingerly, I reached out and touched Genghis Khan. Stroked his head. Watched his eyes close and heard his purr grow louder as he curled deeper in my lap and settled down for a nap.
As I examined him, so peaceful and content, I wondered if Genghis Khan was smarter than me. Maybe so, because he’d just got two people together who otherwise might never have met. Might never have become friends. As I glanced up and caught Jared’s look, I knew that was precisely what he, too, was thinking.
Friends. And who knew, maybe eventually we’d be more.
And just like that, the day became brighter, the future more interesting and one cat burglar became the nicest cat I’d ever met.