by Mary E. Lowd
Petra hated waiting. The waiter was taking forever, and her three kittens were crawling all over her and Lucky, grabbing at the silverware and condiments on the table. The paper packets of sugar had already been counted, arranged in patterns, and finally scattered across the table top. Why did kittens have to make restaurants so hard? Why couldn’t they sit still?
To make it worse, Petra could tell that Alistair and Kipper were still talking politics, but she couldn’t follow their conversation at all. Every third word was covered by a kitten’s mew. Her train of thought was constantly interrupted by inane, unanswerable questions: “Which sand castle am I thinking of?”; “Do you remember any fish?”; or “Can you make me a dog like Daddy?”
All Petra could say to her hassling but precious kittens, staring at her with wide, innocent, heart-tugging eyes, was, “What?” Over and over again, she answered their confusing, childish questions with “What?” while trying to hear past them to what her own littermates were discussing.
Then her phone rang.
Petra pulled the cell phone out of her pocket and held it out of reach of Robin’s grasping claws. The number on the screen was international. No — it was from the space station. “Kipper!” Petra shouted past the baby orange tabby on her lap. “I think this call is for you.”
Robin mewed a complaint when his aunt Kipper took the phone. Kipper put the phone up to her pointed ear and kept walking, away from the busy table, straight out of the restaurant. Petra hated her for being able to do that, for being freer than her.
“The space station?” Alistair asked, speaking up so that Petra could hear. “I thought we agreed that she was staying here.”
“You agreed,” Petra said, sarcasm dripping. “She borrowed my phone and called her otter friends.”
Alistair looked like he was going to disagree or argue with her, but the waiter — a Norwegian Forest cat — finally showed up to take their order. The big cat’s fluffy fur overflowed his apron. His ears flattened as Petra and Lucky’s three kittens shouted their orders at him in piercing tones, but he took diligent notes. Petra could find no fault with him.
After the kittens ordered their kid’s meals, Lucky ordered tuna toast, shrimp bowls, and a family style tureen of chowder for the table.
“Would the kittens like balloons?” the waiter asked, nearly cringing. Clearly, it was a question he was required to ask — not one that he wanted to ask.
Petra cringed and closed her eyes in frustration as Robin, Allison, and Pete exclaimed their delighted joy at the mere idea of balloons. When the bright red balloons actually arrived, the kittens were pushed over into frenzies of ecstasy. The joy soon died. Calamitously. The loud bang of a popping balloon was followed by the heartbroken, disappointed wails of a kitten. Then again. And again. Each kitten had to be given at least two balloons before learning not to bat at the delightful object with unsheathed claws.
By the time the balloon ordeal was over — each kitten quietly coloring the pictures on their kid’s menus with balloons tied to their wrists, floating unmolested in the air above them — any semblance of adult conversation had been obliterated.
The waiter brought over the platter of tuna toast to get them started. Kipper came back with Petra’s cell phone. She handed the phone back, and Petra slipped it quickly into her pocket before Robin noticed it. Fortunately, he was busy scribbling with a blue crayon all over the outlined picture of a dancing seagull.
Kipper looked smug.
Petra hated it when someone other than her was smug.
Petra started to snap something sarcastic at Kipper, but Lucky put a paw on her shoulder. He dug his rough paw pads and dull claws into her fur just enough to steady her. She hated it when he did that. But she also loved it.
“I have to leave right after lunch,” Kipper said. “Captain Cod is booking a series of flights for me down to Ecuador. The first one leaves in three hours.” She picked up a piece of tuna toast.
Petra wanted to dash the toast out of her sister’s gray-striped paw.
But Lucky’s paw was still on her shoulder, steadying her.
She shouldn’t pick fights with Kipper, especially when Kipper was doing what Petra wanted her to do. It just made her crazy that Kipper got to do it instead of her.
Not so long ago, Petra was the cat with dreams, and her littermates were following on her coat tails. Now her brother was president, and her sister was a space pirate.
Petra had three kittens.
What did that count for?
Anyone could adopt a few kittens. Hell, most people gave their own kittens away to catteries. That’s why there were so bloody many of them to adopt.
Petra flattened her ears and tried to stop this line of thinking in its tracks. It went nowhere good. She had wanted to adopt Robin, Allison, and Pete. Most of the time, she didn’t regret it. She loved them.
The Norwegian Forest cat waiter brought over the family style tureen of chowder and bowls of shrimp. Lucky served up chowder for everyone, valiantly ignoring the sulky tone between Petra and her littermates. Or, possibly, he was actually unaware that all three of the adult cats were mad at each other.
“Aunt Kipper, why do you have to leave?” Allison asked. The little gray tabby climbed from her own chair and onto the larger gray tabby’s lap.
“I have a very important, very secret mission,” Kipper said, wrapping her arms around the gray kitten and hugging her.
“Will you be gone long?” Robin asked from his perch on Petra’s lap. His wiggling made it impossible for Petra to eat her clam chowder without spilling it on her fur.
“I don’t know,” Kipper said, carefully. The adults hadn’t discussed the raptor situation around the kittens. Petra didn’t want to scare them. Neither did Kipper. “It depends on how the mission goes, I guess.” Kipper hugged Allison tighter.
Then Kipper reached over and ruffled Pete’s ears. He ducked his head, focused on his coloring, and whined, “Aunt Kipper!”
“I’ll miss you,” Kipper said, looking at Robin on Petra’s lap. Or maybe she was looking at Petra. Either way, it mollified Petra a little.
She couldn’t be Kipper and save the world. But she could protect and cherish the kittens who would inherit the world Kipper was saving. “We’ll miss you, too,” Petra said, speaking for her kittens. But also herself.
Continue on to Chapter 5…