by Mary E. Lowd
A Deep Sky Anchor Original, March 2016
The dance was over, like most high school dances, around eleven. The music stopped, and amid barks and yips of outrage, the lights came on. Without the blasting music and strobing lights, the crowd dissolved into a mass of individual dogs standing around awkwardly. Katasha’s ears flattened, and she drifted away from the bandstand, suddenly feeling weird as the only cat in the audience. The band playing tonight, Dog-Step, didn’t exactly have a lot of feline fans.
Katasha wanted to talk to the dogs she recognized from her physics class — especially Jaseph the brindle boxer. But she was too nervous and scared. Her littermates had laughed at her when she’d told them where she was going tonight. The dogs here would probably laugh at her too. It was better to head straight home, now that the head-pounding music was over.
Near the exit Katasha paused, the tip of her striped tail twitching. She scanned the room, a silent farewell, and held her blue-eyed gaze an extra second when she saw Jaseph. His jowly muzzle was built to hold a serious frown, but he always looked happy anyway. His limbs were long and lanky, and his ears flopped just a little forward.
Oh god, he was coming her direction. Katasha’s heart beat thunderously, and visions of herself and Jaseph — tabby-point Siamese and brindle boxer holding paws, sitting beside each other in physics, whispering to each other as they walked down the halls — shot like lightning through her head.
The vision was over as fast as it had begun. Katasha knew Jaseph wasn’t coming to see her — he had a girlfriend, a long-furred Yorkie who wore bows on her ears and colorful sun dresses. She looked like a perfect little teddy bear. Whereas Katasha was a sullen cat who slunk around wearing goth black tunics.
Katasha sighed and turned away. About to leave, she heard something she’d never heard before. Jaseph barked across the floor: “Katasha, could I have a minute?”
Had he ever said her name before? Katasha hadn’t realized he even knew it…
“Course,” she said. Afraid of falling over from the shock of her crush talking to her, Katasha’s tail lashed wildly behind her.
Jaseph bounced up to her. He gestured back at the group of dogs from their physics class that he always hung out with and asked, “Have you been following us?”
Katasha would have been less surprised if he’d called her an otter and asked to borrow scuba diving gear.
With Jaseph’s handsome smiling-frown face in front of her, Katasha froze. She was supposed to answer. It was a straightforward yes or no, true or false, right or wrong kind of question.
She wished she could cry, “Oh, Jaseph!” and faint into his arms, making the question go away. But she wasn’t that kind of cat. She’d only fainted once before, and that was with the help of a careless scramball player and a fast-moving ball to the head. Not something she cared to duplicate. Besides she wasn’t that melodramatic.
The more she thought about it, Jaseph probably wouldn’t even catch her.
His words felt like an accusation, and she wanted to defend herself. The problem was… Katasha had been following them. Hadn’t she? She wanted to be part of that group of smart dogs from physics class, and she thought about Jaseph all the time. Her eyes followed him down the hall between classes, and all she wanted was to be near him.
But it was a high school dance, and anyone could come to it.
Except cats didn’t.
They didn’t come listen to the howling bwammp, bwammp, bwammp of a group like Dog-Step.
Unless the cat had a crush on a dog.
The pause was already uncomfortable. Katasha’s pale blue eyes looked down, and she stammered, “Why do you ask?”
Jaseph’s brown eyes were so soft when Katasha looked up — she had never seen them this close before — but his words were hard: “Well, if you have, would you stop?” That simple. That awful. Leave us alone. You’re not one of us.
The scramball to her head had hurt less. “Sure… I mean I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry… I…” Katasha wished she were a turtle with a shell to hide inside. She didn’t even care if that meant she were no longer uplifted, simply a feral animal whose heart wasn’t breaking.
Jaseph said, “Fine. Thanks.” And he bounded away, back to the other dogs from physics class.
Katasha felt sick over the weakness of her answer. Why couldn’t she have retorted snappily, “Looks like you‘re the one who followed me across the room.” Or maybe apologized to him for outscoring him on the last physics test… She knew he’d been expecting the top score. It must have killed him to lose to a cat.
Was there anything she could have said that would have made him like her better?
Anything at all?
When Katasha got home, she went straight to her room, avoiding her littermates. She stared at her feline face in the mirror. Pale blue eyes surrounded by a mask of dark tabby stripes, triangular ears, angular muzzle. So feline.
Why couldn’t she be a little teddy bear of a dog like Jaseph’s girlfriend? Or a big boxer of a dog like Jaseph. Any kind of dog.
It was hard enough even admitting that she wanted to hang out with the dogs. None of the cats she knew did. But there was no reason a cat couldn’t be friends with dogs. Or even date one. Some day.
Katasha didn’t need a dog like Jaseph putting her down for trying. She hoped the dogs in college would be nicer.
At least, they would be different. Only five months more, and Katasha would be done with high school. She was so ready for a new start.