Chapter 1–Santa Cruz, CA Present Day
I kiss kitties for a living. I once wanted to write, but found I was much better at kissing kitties. I have a large home and an even larger backyard with trees and kitty tree houses. All cats are neutered and spayed and their vaccines up to date. Over a hundred live here. I know each by name. If a cat is ill, I can sense it right away and herd her to the the vet, my sister, Lisa, who hates cats, which makes her brilliant when it comes to putting them to sleep and cutting them open. Cats hate her too.
That’s where I come in. I have no husband, or wife. Who wants to kiss a woman who kisses cats for a living? It’s pretty gross even when I think about it. Yet, kissing kitties is akin to kissing love itself, but better. Kittens are the easiest. I kiss their pink paws, their fuzzy bellies, their silken heads. I kiss and I kiss and I kiss and it’s never too much for them. I could charge a lot less than I do for them, but I charge more because of higher demand. Its supply side economics. After I’m done with them, you’ll have yourself quite a smashing kitty. Someone who loves you, greets you at the door, follows you from room to room, and will even sleep on your head. Most people don’t like that last bit. It’s a joke between the cats and I. I tell their humans it’s just part of their new kitty’s nature, but we both know better.
The older cats, the ones who’ve been abused, abandoned, ignored, and even never loved, well, they’re my specialty. I don’t charge much for them. They’ll be dumped again, or killed if someone doesn’t like my price. My sister would like nothing better.
That’s how I met William, an irascible orange fellow who’d lost an eye and part of his ear in a barroom brawl. William was mean. My sister was about to kill him, but because she enjoys it when I fail said, “Here, take him. Just try kissing him. He’ll scratch your damn face off. You’ll probably end up killing him sooner than I. I’ve got a backlog. Cancer. Incurable. They’re dropping like flies.” Then she laughed like the villain she was.
I took his cage and looked at him. What to do with William? We squared off. Don’t you dare, he said.
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” I said. Kissing kitties meant getting them to want to be kissed. And their psychology wasn’t too hard to pin down. Make them think you don’t want them. But William was used to that. I had to think about this one.
“I think you care more than you say you do.” I said. Lisa stood in the kitchen cutting steak into cubes.
“I think you care less than you say you do.” She said. She lifted a glass of expensive merlot to her lips. Johnson, her new whatever, was coming over. Both of them were meat eaters. Fresh blood dripped down her hand and dribbled down the glass.
“Blech,” I turned my head. “Prove it.”
“William,” she snarled
“What about William?” I spat.
“We love each other.” I paused. “He just doesn’t know it yet.”
“Hah! Ridiculous. Admit it. He’s just not that into you.”
“That’s correct.” She pierced a chunk of bloody flesh with a skewer.
“Has William told you something? Have you been talking to him?”
“He talks to me.”
“Why is he talking to you and not to me?”
“He’s begging me to put him down.”
“What? He’s suicidal and you didn’t tell me?”
“Don’t be dramatic.”
“You’re such a witch!”
“And you’re so boring.”
Tears streamed hot down my cheeks. “Why? Why do you hate me?”
She raised an eyebrow. “I don’t hate you, dear girl. Now go. Johnson is coming and he needs to think I’m a good person. I can’t be good when you’re around. You’re too irritating.”
“Where’s William? What have you done with him?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you kill him?”
“Absurd. I don’t do anything for free.”
“You would if it hurt me.”
“True. But no. I actually haven’t seen him since last Tuesday.”
“That’s when I last saw him.”
“So go. Find him.”
“Do you think he’s dead?”
She was right. I would know. I always knew when one of my own died. I don’t know how I knew. I just knew. I ran from the house and let the screen door slam. Dear William, don’t give up on us, you jerk.
Chapter 2 Los Angeles, five years earlier.
“I believe in you.” Chloe said. She was my first cat, a tiny calico with enormous grass green eyes. “I believe you can do anything because you’ve always done everything. You saved my life lots of times.”
“I did, didn’t I?” I was sobbing, again, because of all of the failures.
“I love you, mom. You always figure it out.” She stared at me. Charlie, her brother, an orange domestic, said nothing. Like most guys, he was useless in a crisis.
Chloe had three chronic illnesses. I’d been keeping her alive with love, the right food, and prescription medication. Now that I’d lost my car and my job, we were all about to be homeless. She’s right. We’d been destitute before, but I’d had hope. I’d always had my eye on the next thing. Always had one foot out the door. Always had the resources to get there. Credit. A car. A winning smile. My youth.
But Los Angeles had stolen all of that from me. Rent was too high. School loans were in the triple digits. I quit or was fired from every job I’d had in ten years. At the end I worked, in sales at a for profit screenwriting school, peddling dreams like snake oil. The CEO charged thousands to cash-strapped writers and tacked on interest when they couldn’t pay. One day, because a writer didn’t make her payments, he ran her debit card three times consecutively. She stood at the grocery store checkout line trying to pay for groceries for her three children and found that he’d emptied her account. Los Angeles, land of the great con. I first came out to write movies, perhaps direct. Now, I was a cliché like the millions who preceded me and the millions on their way. Exhaustion plagued me day and night, as it does in poverty. He paid us $30,000 annually.
Writing was out of the question when getting out of bed was the major accomplishment everyday. In addition to shattered dreams, disastrous jobs, I’d left a string of empty, useless relationships behind me. I was incompetent in life, career, and love. But not at kissing kitties. Charlie and Chloe were the only reason I didn’t throw myself in front of a bus. Every earth-shatteringly terrible day when I returned from the seventh circle of hell that was my job, both greeted me with enthusiasm with loving eyes, and their little tails tucked around neat paws.
Yet, today was an exception. Today they weren’t at my door when I came home. The apartment echoed. Not soul stirred in the dark, dusty place.