THREE LITTLE KITTENS
What was that sound? Soft and squeaky and – scared? Angry? What?
I didn’t want to investigate. My back ached. I rubbed where I could reach and promised myself a hot bath once I finished my chores and could finally – finally – go inside. Besides, I told myself, it was clearly an animal. Did I want to confront what could be something disagreeable and dirty and scary? No, I did not.
But then I heard it again. Squeaky, that was it for sure. Now what kind of animal squeaks?
As I asked myself the question, I answered myself. The young kind and what if this was a miniature skunk or something similar that was best avoided?
Another squeak. This time more than one. Did I have a family of skunks in my new-to-me barn? I’d only moved in a week ago and if I’d have known how much work I was letting myself in for I might have reconsidered. But the house was lovely, old and rambling, the kind for families and Ricky and Josie would love it, along with the barn that showed years of neglect but still stood straight and strong. All it needed was paint, a lot of work to clean it out, and a lot of TLC.
An awful lot of TLC.
The squeak came again and this time I faced facts. Ricky and Josie would be here in two days. If whatever was making tiny noises in my barn was there when they arrived, who knew what would happen when they explored their new home? And, yes, the barn would be the first place they went just as it had been the thing that had first hit me when the real estate agent had pulled up to the old farm.
I didn’t want them bitten by whatever was in the barn. So, with a sigh and a promise of a hot bath later, I started for the barn. The door was slightly ajar.
I’d almost reached the door when I saw movement inside. I stopped. Should I proceed?
Then, before I could make a decision, the squeaks came again. And three tiny, cute, differently colored kittens appeared in the door.
Three kittens. My first totally irrational thought was there’d be one kitten for each of my children and one for me. Then I shook my head because animals hadn’t been in my life plan. Yes, the barn was half the reason I bought this particular place but just because it had character, not because it could house animals.
They stood there, three tiny kittens looking at me. Meowing. Crying. Before I knew what was happening I was on my knees and they were crawling all over me. They were clean and seemed well fed but something was wrong. Surely no baby animal would make sounds like that if they weren’t in trouble.
I looked around for the mother. Nothing. I called. Then I whistled. Again, nothing but the kittens now were somehow in my lap, still mewing, still crying, still asking for help. But what kind of help?
I couldn’t leave them to their fate. If I couldn’t find the mother – and I couldn’t – I’d have to do something. But what? I knew nothing about cats or kittens or any animals. Growing up in an apartment with a father allergic to animals had that effect.
One kitten crawled all over me and managed to find its way into the crook of my arm. With a sigh I set them down long enough to find the jacket I’d discarded. I scooped them into the jacket. They settled down and snuggled with each other and the plushy lining. But they still mewed. They still cried. They still needed something.
A voice made me jump. I looked up into the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. All the way up six feet something of rugged male in work boots and a baseball cap covering brownish hair with a body encased in a shirt with rolled up sleeves and jeans that fit way too well. “So here they are. I’ve found them at last.”
“Who are you?” I held the kittens closer. “Do you know these kittens?” I covered them with my body. I protected them. He didn’t look like a kitten destroyer, but looks can be deceiving.
“Will Jackson.” He tipped his head in a guy kind of way and I wished I was standing up instead of sitting in the dirt. “And yes, I do know these kittens.” I half covered the kittens with the jacket. “I own the mother.”
“Oh.” Not much I could say. Except one thing. “Then where is she?” And why’d he have to go looking for his own cat’s babies? Didn’t he take care of the mother? Didn’t he care?
He looked at the sky and beyond. His eyes darkened, changing from sky blue to the color of a thunderstorm. “She had an accident.” He shook his head. “They have no mother now.”
I pulled the tiny things close. Now I knew why they were crying. “Oh no!” I cuddled them and somewhere deep inside of me I vowed to care for these orphans.
Will Jackson leaned down. Reached for the kittens. “I’ll take them.”
I pulled away, protecting them with my arms and my jacket. “No you won’t.”
He straightened once more. Scowled. “They belonged to my cat. They are my responsibility.”
He was only doing his duty. He didn’t care about the kittens themselves. They were soft and warm in my arms and I realized I was already in love with them. “You don’t have to do that. I can care for them.” I pointed with my chin to the barn because I wasn’t about to let loose of a single kitten to be able to point with a finger. “They live in my barn. The mother chose this place for her family.” I sat up as straight as possible though I was still on the ground and looking up at him. “You don’t have to do a thing.”
His arms folded in front of him. “I think I do.”
“You don’t have to concern yourself with them.” They were a warm puddle of kittens in my lap. They were quieting down with a safe place to be but they must be hungry. “I’ll feed them.” Surely You Tube had videos about feeding orphan kittens?
“I have some KMR that I can let you have.” He inspected me while hiding a smile. What was he smiling about? Was my hair out of place? Of course it was, I was sitting on the ground with a pile of kittens in my lap after pulling a wheelbarrow full of weeds. “Do you want it?”
“KMR?” I wished I’d not spoken out loud because he now knew that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. What’s KMR? Do kittens like it? Need it?
He knew what I was thinking. “KRM is Kitten Replacement Milk.”
“Oh.” Questions crowded my mind. “How do you happen to have what they need in your truck?” And more questions. “What happened to the mother, anyway?” The whole thing sounded suspicious to me.
He rocked back on his heels. “She was run over by a truck.” Oh dear. Poor cat. Poor kittens. “Russ Thorsen. He was panicky because he needed help. He didn’t see her in time to stop.”
“To save the calf that was trying to be born on his place and was dying.”
“So he ran over a cat to save a cow?”
“Not intentionally.” He was doing his best to be patient but I kept hold of the kittens. Maybe he was a nice man. I wasn’t sure yet but there was something about him – a warmth – that got to me. Maybe he liked kittens after all. Maybe.
But I could to this. I could raise three kittens. I could get KMR myself. Surely I could. “Don’t worry about the kittens. Go save his calf.” I wanted to add that he could leave my kittens alone except I wasn’t sure just whose kittens they were. I didn’t know the legalities of kittens from his cat in my barn.
“I did. We saved it together.” He waited but I said nothing. When he realized I wasn’t handing them over he once more reached for the kittens. “So if you will stop hiding them, I’ll take the kittens.” He held up his hands and I was sure a smile played across his face. Because he was a nice man? I couldn’t take that chance, not with my tiny kittens. “I’m guessing you don’t know how to care for kittens.”
“I’ll learn.” I fought tears because he was right that I didn’t know a thing about kittens. “I want to learn.” I had a brilliant idea. “I’ll find a vet. I’ll ask what to do.”
That possibility of a smile became a real one. “Good. I look forward to seeing you.”
He stepped back, turned on his heel and went to a pickup that I hadn’t noticed until then. “In the meantime, here’s some KMR because those kittens are hungry.” He reached into the back seat of the truck and pulled out a small package. “And the syringes to feed it with.”
That smile again. “Yes, syringes. Because they are so small.” He knelt beside me and reached out tentatively to touch one of the kittens. “I knew Casey had had her kittens. I looked everywhere for them. Couldn’t figure out where to look next.” He took a deep breath. “Then when Casey was killed I knew it was super important to find them before they followed their mother.”
Reluctantly I moved enough for him to sit beside me. He took one of the kittens in his lap and that was when I realized he’d brought a syringe and something in a small bottle that looked like infant’s formula. “Is that KMR?”
He nodded and held the kitten in the crook of his arm. He looked at it with pure love. How’d I thought he might do them harm?
“Do it like this.” Soon the kitten was drinking greedily and took everything in the syringe. I watched carefully so I’d know what to do.
“I have more. Just a sec and I’ll get some and you can try it so you’ll know what to do.”
Everything was suddenly different. If he was showing me how to feed the kittens it must mean he wasn’t taking them away. I felt my insides melting and wasn’t sure if it was because I’d get to cuddle the kittens or because Will Jackson truly was a nice person.
“Here,” he said upon returning and handing the full syringe to me after showing me how to fill it. “You can do it.” His voice was warm and encouraging. Because he’d given up and the kittens were mine? Or was he prepping me for a fall?
I took the kitten and after several tries, figured out how to feed it and soon all three kittens had full bellies and were sleeping, two in my lap and one in Will’s. We’d fed them in silence, but now he spoke. “You do know, don’t you, that they must be fed every two hours around the clock?”
Every two hours? Really?!
This Will Jackson was a puzzle. How’d he know about kittens and why’d someone ask his help to save a cow? Calf. Whatever. And why’d he have KMR in his truck along with a syringe to feed the kittens with? I no longer thought he might have bad plans. No one with that gentle touch could mean harm to any animal. But there were unanswered questions.
I decided to ask. “Who are you, anyway? What are you? How come you know about kittens? And who ever said they must be fed every two hours?”
He smiled a smile that said he’d been waiting for my questions. “You mentioned checking with a vet?”
“And remember me saying I’d be seeing you?”
“Yes, but — ?” It hit me then. “You’re a vet?”
He nodded slowly, that grin growing. “At your service, Ma’am.” He checked the kittens to make sure they were sleeping soundly, which they were. Then he took them, coat and all, from my lap and rose, holding them so carefully that not one of them woke up. He lay the coat and kittens on a nearby tree stump and returned, reached down, and pulled me up beside him. “Do you have anyone to help with the two-hour feedings?”
My heart sank. Every two hours. I was already tired. Could I do it? “My kids will be here in two days.”
“You have children?”
“Two of them. They are with their grandparents while I’m getting moved in.”
“What about your husband? Can he help?” His expression said what he thought of men who were too tough to feed a helpless kitten.
“He died three years ago.”
“Oh.” We looked at one another awkwardly, sizing each other up, changing our thoughts about one another. “I can help. I can change my schedule for a couple days. Then, when the kids come, I can teach them how to feed the kittens.” A pause, then. “They’ll love the kittens. Three kittens. One for each of your kids and one for you.”
“That’s just what I thought when I first saw them.”
He tilted his head and something happened inside of me that I’d thought would never happen again. A warmth. “One thing, though.”
“I get to visit the kittens.”
He called his office and said he’d be busy for a couple days. He had a change of clothes in his truck, something he said most country vets did. Then we took the kittens, now waking and wanting more KMR, into the house.
I’d worked hard on the inside of my new house. It was beginning to look like a home and he glanced approvingly at the furniture, the pictures, the general air of home that I’d worked hard to achieve for the kids. “I’ll visit a lot if it’s okay with you.” And, after a pause, “Not just to visit kittens. To get to know you and your kids.”
I looked around. At my new home, the pictures of my children, the three kittens now telling us that they were hungry again. And I smiled. “Come as often as you like.”
He smiled too, wider than before if that was possible, and we proceeded to feed three very hungry kittens.