Since it looks like Rick has decided to take a mental health break from the current arc for a little while, I thought now might be a good time to get those creative juices flowing. Though in my opinion, he was asking for it by teasing us with that last heart-wrenching strip.
That's right, Rick, I blame you
Housepets! and all related characters are the property of Rick Griffin, and are used here without permission. This work was not written for profit, nor was it written to libel Rick Griffin or Housepets!
~"... her name was Gapre. All at once, when Petir's eyes met hers, it was like an arrow shot in the air, and when the arrow landed in the depths of his heart, he was hers fully." -- Grape Jelly Sandwich
It was quiet. That, perhaps, was what surprised Grape most of all.
She had expected the farm to be a noisy place, and while the sun was still up, it had been; the day had been filled with the neighing of horses, the lowing of cows, and the clucking of chickens as Rufus herded them into their coops. She could clearly remember the harsh, grinding sound of Uncle Reuben's tractor as it chugged through the cornrows. Now, however, it was late in the evening, and all was silent save for the chirping of the crickets; the tractor had long since been put away, and all of the animals were asleep.
Well... all of them except her
Grape had always been something of a night-owl. She supposed that, as a cat, it was in her nature to be nocturnal; she had spent many a restless night simply pacing the halls of the Sandwich household, searching for something to do. Occasionally, her nightly rounds led to the discovery of fresh prey, and once had even caused her to stumble upon a pair of raccoons that had gotten into the trash, although lately, she had been trying to break herself of the habit; she was growing increasingly worried that she might mistake her neighbor Squeak, a mouse, for a midnight snack.
The very thought made her grimace; how would she ever manage to explain to Joey that she had accidentally eaten his girlfriend?
She shook the uncomfortable image from her mind, but felt her stomach rumble nonetheless. She could have used a meal right about now. Uncle Reuben had given her some canned tuna for dinner, which was different from her usual diet, and while not unpleasant, it had been far from filling. Her eyes quickly scanned the area around the barn as she approached it, but she could see nothing except the brief flare of the fireflies that blinked and signaled to each other in the darkness. Grape was disappointed; it was reasonable to assume that with three cats already living in the barn, Uncle Reuben's property would be kept quite free of any roaming vermin.
She paused at the entrance to the barn, lightly rapping upon the door. A feminine voice with a thick Southern drawl answered, "Y'all come on in!"
The door's hinges quietly creaked in protest as Grape pulled it outward. She smiled as she poked her head through the opening. "Hello, Mary Ellen," she said. "Are you decent?"
"Shoot, I ain't never decent, darlin', but don't let that bother you none!" the voice laughed in reply. "Y'all come right in!"
Grape stepped inside and drew the barn door shut behind her, her paws lightly crunching upon the errant bits of straw that were strewn across the floor. The barn had a musty, old smell to it that stung her nose, but she had found that after being inside for a while, it would eventually fade away. The interior was dark, save for the oil lantern that hung by the doorway, its warm, flickering glow casting shadows upon the walls of the spacious room. Grape found herself wondering why it was even lit; all of the cats in the barn would be able to see in the dark just as well as she could.
Mary Ellen herself was seated upon one of the large bales of hay stacked near the rear of the structure. One of her legs dangled over the front of the bale; the other rested in her lap, where it was carefully manicured and tended to by the file she held in her paws. Her fur was a light brown in hue, mottled here and there by patches of pale orange that marked her arms, legs, and the tips of her ears. She glanced up at Grape as she entered, her violet eyes sparkling. "Well hey there, sugah!" came her jovial greeting. "Y'all ready to hunker down for the night?"
Grape couldn't help but smile. All of the barn cats, Mary Ellen included, were unfailingly polite, and seemed perpetually happy, always smiling at one another as well as anyone else who happened to come their way. Grape guessed that they must have lived a relatively carefree existence; it was clear that they had never attended school, they had no apparent chores apart from catching mice, and she had never seen them read. She supposed that if she had nothing more stressful to do than lie around and gossip all day, then perhaps she
would have been more cheerful, too. "Yeah, I think so," she said. "It's been a long day. Have you seen my friend around?"
Mary Ellen had already returned to her filing, but Grape could see the way her eyes lidded and the almost wicked smile that spread across her face. "Mmm... you mean that handsome dog that's been a-taggin' along after you? What did you say his name was, again?"
"Peanut," Grape replied.
." Mary Ellen said the name with a certain relish, as if she were tasting it rather than speaking it. "Mmm, he even sounds
delicious." She bowed her head and briefly blew upon her uplifted toes, then leaned back where she sat to admire her handiwork. "Yeah, he came in here not too long ago, all ready to turn in. He took one look at me and looked about like he'd seen a rattlesnake. Before I could so much as open my mouth t'say hello, he took off like a shot up that ladder into the loft." She set down her file and lifted her head to face Grape directly, a concerned expression upon her face. "I was just tryin' t'be social. I swear, that boy's jumpier than a Georgia jackrabbit."
Grape sighed. "I'm sorry, Mary Ellen," she said. "It's not your fault. I don't know what's gotten into him. He was so excited to make this trip, but he's been behaving strangely ever since we got here. He doesn't usually act like this at all."
In an instant, the worry had vanished from Mary Ellen's face, and she was her usual, chipper self again. "Aw shucks, no hard feelins," she said. "Everyone gets a bee in their bonnet every once in a while. Why, I reckon that with a few more days of good ol'-fashioned Southern hospitality, he'll be right as rain."
"Maybe so," Grape grumbled, "but I just wish he could behave himself. He embarrasses me sometimes."
A sly smile creased Mary Ellen's lips. "Is that right?" she mused. "Tell me... is he spoken for?"
Grape blinked. "What do you mean?"
Mary Ellen rose from the spot where she sat and walked toward the spot where Grape stood with long strides. Grape noticed that she moved silently across the straw-strewn floor; she had probably lived in the barn so long that she could navigate every inch of it without making a sound. "I mean is y'all a-courtin'?"
Grape was nonplussed. "I don't follow you," she said.
Mary Ellen could do little to hide the look of amusement on her face; she was still smiling as she leaned in closer to Grape and spoke in a lower, almost conspiratorial tone, her fangs peeking out over her lower lip as she did so. "Darlin', what I am tryin' to ask is if you two is arranged
Grape's initial reaction was to stare blankly at Mary Ellen, uncomprehendingly. She could almost hear the light bulb click on over her head; when it did, her yellow eyes promptly widened, and she almost leaped back from the other cat, her violet fur standing on edge. "Are we what!?
" she gasped. "No!
Mary Ellen looked crestfallen; she lowered her eyes to the floor, her triangular ears folding back atop her head. "I was just askin'," she mumbled apologetically. "I didn't mean nothin' by it."
"No, no, it's okay, it's just... he and I... I mean..." Grape stammered, lifting a paw to the back of her head and feeling an unwelcome tinge of heat in her cheeks. "I mean... why would you even think
"Well, any fool could see that y'all are close, and besides that, he's a good-lookin' boy." It was Mary Ellen's turn to look puzzled; she faintly tilted her head to one side, regarding Grape with a quizzical expression. "You don't think so?"
Grape could feel her cheeks grow hotter as her blush deepened. "It's not like that," she blurted out, more loudly than she had meant to. "We're friends... just friends."
Mary Ellen's implacable smile returned. "Well, that's good to hear." With that, she promptly spun around where she stood and returned to her place upon the hay bale to resume her filing.
Grape was dumbfounded. "It is?" she asked. "Why?
"Well, we're all a little bit sweet on your friend
, even though he's as bashful as a barn owl," Mary Ellen said, running the file across her clawed fingertips. "But none of us would go muckin' up another lady's prospects... 'round these parts, that sort of thing would be just askin' for trouble. The other girls'll be glad to hear that your friend
Grape felt a sudden lump rising in her throat; for a moment, she was afraid she would be unable to speak. "Glad I could be of help," she finally managed. She was silent, for a moment, then asked, "Mary Ellen... can I ask you something?"
"Shoot, sugah," Mary Ellen said without looking up.
"Doesn't being attracted to a dog... bother you?"
That was enough to give Mary Ellen pause. She looked up at Grape, genuinely startled by the question. "Shoot no!" she replied. "Why in tarnation would it?"
Grape was caught off-guard by the surprise in the other cat's voice. She meekly shrugged her shoulders and said, "Because he's... not a cat?" It suddenly seemed like a rather weak excuse.
"Well, hell's bells, girl, that don't matter none." Mary Ellen narrowed her eyes. "You ain't some kind of... dog-hater
, is you?"
Grape held up her hands defensively. "No, no, I'm not," she said, quickly. "It's just... back home, people tend to think that cats and dogs being in a relationship is a little... strange."
Mary Ellen gave a dismissive snort. "Sounds to me like y'all city folk are the ones that's strange," she said. "Why on earth do you think ol' Rufus stays in here with us?"
"Rufus," Grape said. Uncle Reuben's sheepdog. Grape had thought that he stayed outside because of the young children living in the farmhouse; it hadn't occurred to her that there might be another reason. "Are you and he, uh... 'a-courtin''?"
Mary Ellen burst into laughter. "Rufus would court a bullfrog if he liked the way it croaked!" she giggled. That particular statement drew only a stunned silence from Grape, so she continued, a smirk upon her muzzle. "It ain't nothin' serious, hun. That ol' lunkhead flirts with all of us. But that's okay, we like the attention. Rufus has been here longer than any of us, and he takes real good care of us, too. We all do our share of the work around here, him most of all. So when he comes in dead tired after a long day in the fields, cuddlin' up for a spell to keep him warm for the night is the least we can do for him. 'Cause we love him. Just 'cause the boy's ears are longer and his tail is shorter don't make him no kind of monster. He's got a heart just like you and me."
Grape found herself grasping at the fish-shaped tag that hung from her collar. She looked down at it, absently stroking her fingers across the metallic orange surface, lost in thought. After a time, she said, "I'm sorry if I offended you."
Mary Ellen merely giggled again. "Shooooot, sugah, I've been in plenty of cat fights in my time. I don't think y'all could offend me if you tried," she said. "I s'pose you'll be wantin' to know where your friend is, hmm?"
Grape nodded, and Mary Ellen cupped a hand against the side of her muzzle. "Betty Lou!" she called out. "Is that handsome city-dog a-hidin' up there with you?"
"No he ain't, Mary Ellen, but I sure wish he was!
" replied another cat. From where she stood, Grape could see her sprawled across one of the barn's rafters, an ash-gray cat with glittering green eyes. She was half-dangling off the edge, a position that would have been precarious if it didn't look so... lazy
. "If you see him, you tell that cutie pie that I've got a treat for him, y'hear?"
Mary Ellen gave an amused chuckle. "What about y'all, Clarabelle?"
"Ah reckon that boy of yours is up on the roof, Mary Ellen!" replied a second voice. Grape could not see the source of this one; it came from somewhere on the upper level of the barn. "Ah saw him go up there jus' two shakes ago!"
"Well, there you go, sugah," Mary Ellen said, smiling. "Your friend's up on th' roof, sure as shootin'. I dunno what he could be doin', though; ain't nothin' up there but the sky." She pointed to a ladder in the corner behind Grape. "If you wanna find him, just take the ladder on up and then go out through the ceilin'. Easy as pie."
Grape nodded again. "Thank you." She turned around and had already laid one hand upon the ladder when she heard Mary Ellen's voice behind her.
"Mind if I ask y'all a question of my own, darlin'?"
Grape looked back over her shoulder. "Go ahead."
"If'n you ain't got no intentions toward the boy, then what do you want to see him so bad fer?"
Grape felt that unwelcome heat return to her cheeks, her ears unconsciously folding back. She was silent, for a moment, before replying, "I have to keep an eye on him... make sure he stays out of trouble."
Mary Ellen smiled again. Grape thought she saw something in that smile, but whether it was belief, mischief, or something else altogether, she could not be certain. "I understand," she said. "Good night, sugah."
"Good night, Mary Ellen."
Grape felt an uncomfortable knot in her stomach as she ascended the ladder to the second floor of the barn. She had lied to Mary Ellen. Peanut could be a handful, at times, particularly when he was in the mood to play, but he was usually level-headed enough to keep from causing any serious damage. There were exceptions, of course, such as the time the nefarious Weather Wizard had flooded their parents' living room with water--although, admittedly, that had been as much her fault as it was his--but for the most part, Peanut could take care of himself. She wasn't trying to watch out for him.
She just didn't want to be alone tonight.
Grape didn't particularly care for sleeping in the barn. Peanut took a childlike enjoyment from it, as if he were camping out, but Grape didn't think it was nearly as much "fun" as he did. The barn cats, of course, would sleep anywhere: on the floor, on the hay bales, on the rafters, on each other. Grape sometimes wondered if they simply slept wherever they happened to fall each night. She realized that she had been spoiled back home in Babylon Gardens, where she could simply curl up on a warm windowsill in the sunlight, or on top of the dryer as it hummed away, or even in the softness of her own cat bed. The wooden planks of the barn were stiff, the straw was scratchy and dry and irritated her nose, and sleeping on the hard floor brought to mind painful memories of nights spent wandering the streets, cold and hungry, when she had no home at all.
But Peanut didn't. In a way, he was better than all the rest. She had spent many a night nestled up at his side, feeling his warm, fuzzy body against her own, or resting her head against his belly, listening to his heartbeat, and the way he would sometimes growl in his sleep, no doubt dreaming of a rawhide bone or chasing after an imaginary ball. Although she would never admit it to him, he made her feel comfortable... made her feel safe
Grape sighed. Maybe she did
have 'intentions' for him, after all.
The barn's loft reminded Grape of the attic in her house; it was just as dark, and had the same slanted ceiling. It also had the same dusty smell, and while there was a liberal smattering of straw, there were no bales of hay as there were below. Grape guessed that at his age, Uncle Reuben probably didn't bother to come up here unless he had to. The floor creaked ominously with each of her steps upon it, until a sudden movement in the corner of her eye caused her to give a violent start. A third cat with ruddy orange, almost red fur was lounging in the shadows. She had eyes that were the same color as Betty Lou's, gleaming like a pair of emeralds in the darkness.
"Hello, Clarabelle," Grape deadpanned.
"Hey sugah," Clarabelle replied. She smiled the same clever smile that Mary Ellen did, and her drawl was even thicker. She pointed over Grape's shoulder at an indentation in the ceiling that she could barely make out. "Right through theyah. Ya cain't miss it."
"Thanks," Grape muttered. She walked toward the spot Clarabelle had indicated, pressing against it with her palms. The hatch opened easily enough, swinging to the outside more quietly than she thought it would; she had imagined that, much like the barn door, it would have creaked upon hinges that had not been oiled in quite some time. A smell stepladder beneath the opening allowed her to climb out onto the barn roof.
At first, her eyes had difficulty adjusting to the night. While she could normally see quite well in the dark, the flickering lamplight within the barn had thrown off her senses and distorted her vision; everything looked blurry and out of focus. "Peanut?" she asked. "Are you out here?"
There was a jumble of movement off to one side, along with a dull thud that made the whole roof shake, a sound that made Grape's breath catch in her throat. A moment later, Peanut's voice came from the dark, soft, but shaky. "Grape?" he asked. "What are you doing up here?"
"Trying to find you, you knucklehead, what does it look like?" She crawled out of the hatch and onto the roof, slowly; the slant of the structure was rather steep, but her tail allowed her to keep her balance with relative ease. She could see better now, enough to make out Peanut's silhouette. He was sitting near near the front of the barn, with his back to her, looking over his shoulder at her with an expression that she clearly recognized as one of anxiety; his fur was standing on edge, his eyes were wide, and his paws were clutching at the surface of the roof. She had apparently startled him so badly that he had almost fallen off the barn. Mary Ellen wasn't kidding when she said he was jumpy. "I've been looking all over for you. What are you
doing up here?"
Peanut gave her a sheepish grin. "Sorry," he murmured. "I came up here to look at the stars. You can see them much better here than back at home." He gestured toward the sky with a hand. "Take a look."
Grape's eyes followed his hand toward the heavens. He was right; she was struck by how astonishingly clear the view was. In Babylon Gardens you were lucky to see a few stars on any given night, or even the moon; out here, you could see everything, stars littering the sky like sparkling diamonds, and the moon a sharp, white crescent that stood out against the blackness. "Wow," she whispered, taking a seat at Peanut's side.
Peanut nodded. "Yeah," he said. "I always liked looking at the stars, but you can't see anything at home because there are always houses in the way or the street lamps are too bright. But out here, you can see it all." He tilted his head far back as he gazed at the night sky, a broad smile upon his face. "You know, I used to want to become an astronomer."
Grape was smiling too, but for a different reason: she had never seen Peanut quite like this before. He often had a naive air about him, but he spoke with a kind of wonder that was positively infectious. She was pleased to see him so happy. "So why don't you?" she asked.
Peanut shook his head. "You need a doctorate in Astrophysics just to get into the field. I'd be an old dog before I got out of school, let alone by the time I started working. Besides, us dogs have poor eyesight... you'd probably be better at it than I would." He looked upward again, but his expression was different; his eyes seemed sadder now, their childish light somehow dulled. "Maybe I should just stick to sitting in the back yard with a telescope."
"Aww, you shouldn't think like that, Peanut. You should always follow your dreams."
Peanut turned to look at her. "You really think so?"
Grape shrugged. "Sure, why not? I mean, you've only got one life to live... and if you don't at least try, you'll never know, right?"
Peanut's reaction was not what she had expected; his face fell even further, and his chocolate brown ears drooped. "Right," he said, simply. He turned away from her, looking out somewhere into the night. "I think I'll sleep out here tonight, if that's okay with you."
Grape stared at him. "What? Why?"
It was his turn to shrug. "Why not? It's a warm night, and the air is fresh."
Grape furiously shook her head. It was
a summer night, late in July, but that was hardly the point. "Are you crazy?" she said. "I've seen how you toss and turn in your sleep. You could roll right off the roof!"
Peanut lidded his eyes. "You don't think I can avoid falling off a building?" he muttered.
"That's not what I mean and you know it," Grape said, sternly. "Mom and Dad would skin me if I let anything happen to you, Peanut. I have to watch out for you." She placed a hand upon his shoulder. "Come inside... please."
Peanut glanced at her hand, and then looked at her. Grape couldn't understand why, but there was something in his eyes that concerned her... a look she had seen before, after being woken up from many of her scheduled catnaps, when he was nervous about something and needed to tell her, like the time he found out that he'd accidentally been setting off Bino's shock collar. When he spoke, it was in a soft tone, one that he only used when he was upset. "I don't want to, Grape," he murmured.
"Why not?" She inched closer to him where he sat, her hand falling from his shoulder to rest atop his own. "Are you okay, Peanut? What is it? What's bothering you?"
Peanut lowered his eyes to the roof. He bit down upon his lower lip, and for a moment, he said nothing. "It's those barn cats," he mumbled. "They make me... uncomfortable."
Grape let out a relieved sigh. "Oh, is that
all," she breathed. She thought it might actually be something serious. "Peanut, you're not still hung up on that 'cat-lover' business, are you?"
Peanut kept silent, his eyes still downcast. Grape leaned in closer to him, lightly rubbing her palm along the rear of his paw. "Look, I know all that stuff upset you, but it's okay. You already know that I don't think you're a cat-lover. The cats in the barn hang out with dogs all the time, and they think it's perfectly normal. Nobody here is going to think you're a cat-lover, either."
"And what if I was?"
Grape blinked. "What if you were what?"
"What if I really was a cat-lover?" Peanut asked. His voice was barely a whisper.
Grape was quiet; she didn't know what to say. Peanut lifted his eyes to hers, and spoke again with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "Hypothetically," he said. "Would you think any less of me then?"
The edges of Grape's lips quirked upward into a smile. She gave Peanut's hand a squeeze of her own and tried her best to sound reassuring. "What do you think, Peanut?"
Grape felt his paw squeezing at hers, and saw him smiling back at her, but his sky blue eyes were filled with uncertainty. He took in a deep breath and let it out slowly before he spoke. "There's something I want to tell you, Grape... something important... but I want to ask you something, first."
Grape felt a sudden tightness in her chest. "Go on," she said, nodding.
"What do you think of Max?"
Grape nearly choked. "Max?" she asked. "What about him?"
Peanut shrugged. "How do you feel about him?"
Grape furrowed her brow. Maxwell was one of the neighborhood tomcats, but she didn't know him very well. He had always behaved genially toward her, and apart from making a few awkward passes at her, he was generally inoffensive. "Max... well, he's our friend, right? So... he's okay, I guess."
Peanut positively wilted before Grape's eyes. He turned his eyes away from her once more, casting them back down toward the roof. "Okay," he said, glumly.
"'Okay' what?" Grape asked, impatiently. "What is going on?"
"I understand," Peanut replied. He looked as if she had swatted him on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper. "When we get back home... I won't get in the way."
"Get in the way of what? Peanut, what in the world are you talking about?"
Peanut lifted his sullen eyes to hers. They were brimming over with tears. "You like Max," he stated, simply. "You don't like me."
Grape blanched. "Say what!?
"No, no, it's okay," Peanut said. His voice was softer now. "You don't have to explain. You don't like dogs. That's why you want to hang out with cats instead."
Grape's jaw hung open where she sat. For one of the very few times she could remember, Peanut had left her absolutely speechless.
"I overheard you talking to Max on the phone," he continued, morosely. "You said you wanted to spend more time with cats. I know I get on your nerves sometimes, and I understand if you'd rather not be around me. I used to think it was my fault, but now I know it's because I'm a dog. I wanted you to know that if you want to spend time with Max instead... I won't try to stop you."
Peanut lifted his head and was shocked by what he saw. Grape was staring dead at him, but looked as if she had seen a ghost; her yellow eyes were as wide as saucers, and he could have sworn that he saw the purple hue of her fur drain out of her face. Then her jaw tightened, her lips curling back to bare her fangs. The hand that had been resting upon his shoulder rose up, drew back, and then slapped him across the face, harder than she ever had before. "How dare
you!?" she yelled.
Peanut would have toppled off the roof right then and there, but Grape wasn't finished with him yet; she grabbed hold of his collar and yanked him forward, his face scarce inches from her own. "How could you say that to me?" she shouted. "How could you even think
Peanut didn't understand it. Grape was irate; every hair on her body stood straight up, her tail as stiff as a board behind her. She was hissing at him with every unsteady breath, her ears were pinned back atop her head, and the pupils of her eyes were narrowed to dark slits. Peanut had never seen her so angry. "I... I thought you'd be happy!" he whimpered.
" She was literally screaming at him, her voice breaking as she did so. "Why would I be happy to lose you? You're my best friend in the world! Do you really think I'd just dump
you for some alley cat!?" She was shaking him furiously by the collar, crystalline tears welling up in her eyes.
Peanut's fingers clutched at Grape's own in a vain attempt to pry them away from his neck. She'd been mad at him before, but never like this; the occasional quarrel between them rarely lasted very long, and any slight was forgiven by the day's end. But this was different... he had never actually been afraid
of her. "Please, Grape, stop, I'm sorry!" he whimpered. "You're... hurting me!"
" came her incensed reply. "You don't know what it is
to be hurt, you mangy mutt! What it is to be forgotten!
Just discarded like a piece of trash! Maybe if you did, you'd think twice before saying such thoughtless things!" She was raving at him now, breathlessly, shaking her head back and forth, both her eyes wrenched shut. "Don't you even know how I feel about you, you idiot!?
Grape abruptly released her hold upon his collar, causing him to slump down to the rooftop below. Peanut could do little more than stare up at her fearfully, hunched forward upon his paws. Grape had turned her back to him, wrapping her arms around herself.
She was sobbing.
For the longest time, neither of them said anything. An awful silence hung in the air between them, broken only by the crickets and the sound of Grape's weeping, like an invisible wall that neither of them could scale. Eventually, Grape grew calmer, and her sobs died away completely. When she finally spoke again, it was in a soft, trembling voice that even Peanut's keen ears could barely hear.
"When I was a stray, I was completely alone," she whispered. "I didn't have anyone. No friends. No home. I'd spend most nights just looking for a warm place to sleep, or just stay out of the rain, when I could. Sometimes I'd eat out of garbage cans. Sometimes I wouldn't eat at all for two, maybe three days at a time. I stopped grooming myself entirely... I was always so dirty, there was no point in bathing."
Grape bowed her head forward. She was clutching at the tag around her neck again, squeezing it tightly within her hands. "You don't know what it's like to live on the street, Peanut... you can't
know. To be unwanted... to be unloved
. To have no one you can even talk to, let alone ask for help. To have to hide from roaming packs of ferals trying to steal what little food you had... or worse." Peanut saw a hard shiver course through her.
"The shelter wasn't much better. All those animals locked in cages, crying for their parents at night, wondering when they were going to come back. I was too young to understand why my parents had abandoned me... why they had just thrown me away. I thought I'd be trapped in that awful place forever. And then Mom and Dad came and rescued me and took me home to meet you, and you were all so wonderful to me. You didn't even know me, and you still treated me like your sister. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to have a friend... to have a family."
Grape looked over her shoulder at him. Glistening tears were flowing freely down her furred cheeks.
"I wouldn't give you up for anything, Peanut," she whispered. "Not for anything
. I don't want to be abandoned... not again." She bowed her head again. "I think I'd rather die."
Grape went quiet, not knowing of anything else that could be said. She gasped at the feel of hands gripping her by the arms, turning her around where she stood. It was Peanut.
He was crying, too.
"I won't abandon you," he whispered. "I promise."
She stepped forward and threw her arms around him; it was all she knew to do. He hugged her in return, tightly, as he had done so many times before, pressing his paws against her back. She found comfort in his embrace, as she often did at night, in the closeness and warmth of his fuzzy body; whatever faults Peanut may have had, he made the hurt go away. She leaned back to look at him, lifting her hands to his chest; he was smiling at her, the same big, stupid grin that was always on his face, damp as it was with his tears, the quarter-moon glowing in the sky behind him. Mary Ellen was right... he was
rather handsome. As one of his paws gently pressed against her cheek, his fingers gingerly brushing the tears from her eyes, she couldn't help but cant her head into his touch. He leaned closer to her, his eyes half-lidded, much like her own... even now, after all this time, he could still melt her heart with those pale blue, puppy-dog eyes of his.
She wasn't even that surprised when he kissed her.
It was a light, almost timid contact, the faintest press of his lips to her own, as if he were afraid he might somehow harm her; and yet, he could not have been more gentle with her, caressing her violet fur as if she were a lilac in a garden. Perhaps that was why she did not draw away from him. On the contrary, she leaned into his touch, allowing her eyes to drift shut.
She was actually disappointed when he broke away, although he did not go far; he rested his forehead against hers, his own eyes closed. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I shouldn't have--"
"Shut up."Illustration by Two_Twig!
This time, it was she who kissed him. A small, nagging voice somewhere in the back of her mind told her it was wrong, but a much louder, cheering voice said it felt so right
. She wanted it, and right then, in that moment, she needed
it. While the second contact was still experimental, it was also more comfortable than the first. She allowed her hands to rise from his chest, sliding her arms around his neck, encouraging him; he obliged her, wrapping his own arms around her waist to draw her close. There was a soft clink
of a sound as the fish-shaped tag around Grape's neck came into contact with the doggy bone that dangled from Peanut's own collar. She realized she was blushing again, but this time, the sensation was a welcome one, part of a pleasant warmth that seemed to spread through her chest and limbs. A long moment passed between them before they drew apart again, a sly smile upon the cat's lips.
"Mmm... who taught you how to kiss a girl like that?" she asked in a whisper.
He was grinning at her in kind. "You did," he murmured in reply. "All those times we performed Romeo and Juliet
"Oh yeah?" she mused. She paused for a moment, and then said: "Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take. Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged."
Peanut smiled, and closed his eyes, his brow furrowed in concentration. It had been a long time since they had done any rehearsals, and he quickly skimmed over the text of the play in his mind. "Then have my lips the sin that they have took," he said, speaking the words slowly.
"Sin from thy lips?" Grape asked. "O trespass sweetly urged! Give me my sin again."
And he did, more eagerly than before, pressing his lips more firmly against her own. She found herself enjoying it, felt her fingers unconsciously clutching at the fur upon the back of Peanut's neck, when he suddenly pulled away, gagging for breath. "Oh, man," he croaked.
Grape's ears splayed back. "What is it?" she asked, looking hurt.
Peanut smirked at her. "You have tuna breath," he said.
Grape gasped sharply, but smirked right back at him. "Oh I do
, do I?" she said, jestfully. "Well, you could use a mint yourself, Mr. Toilet Drinker."
Peanut's expression was one of sheer horror. "I do no such th--"
Grape silenced him with another kiss, one that he accepted without further complaint. Unlike those that had come before, it was blissfully uninterrupted, long, and deep, and sweet. They held each other beneath the light of the curved moon, each content in the arms of the other, enjoying the silence of the night, and the feeling of their shared affection.
Grape wasn't certain of how much time had passed--it could have been mere minutes or nearly an hour--before she heard a soft, muffled giggle from behind them. Both she and Peanut abruptly broke their embrace, turning to discover three pairs of gleaming feline eyes staring back at them from the entrance to the barn. It wasn't until then that she realized she had left the hatch open.
"Aww, ain't they cuuuuuute?
" crooned Clarabelle.
"Reminds me of the first time ol' Rufus kissed me behind the chicken coop," Betty Lou sighed.
"Y'all are nosier than a pair of anteaters!" Mary Ellen scolded. "Get back downstairs and leave them young'uns to their own business before I tell Rufus you've been stirrin' up trouble again!"
Clarabelle and Betty Lou promptly dropped out of sight. "I'm mighty sorry about that," Mary Ellen said, apologetically. "Y'all two lovebirds can get back to doin' whatever it was you was doin'. Just don't go rollin' off the roof an' gettin' yerselves killed... ol' Rufus would wring our necks if'n we let y'all break yours."
With that, Mary Ellen was gone, and they were alone again. Grape let out a sigh. "Well, I thought I'd embarrassed myself enough for one night, but I guess I was wrong," she muttered. A muffled sound from Peanut turned her attention to him; there was an uneven smile upon his lips. She realized he was stifling a chuckle. "Peanut? What is it?" she asked.
Peanut bit down upon his lower lip in a vain attempt to silence the sound, but failed miserably; he was laughing openly now, and loudly, a sound that Grape found to be contagious. He was actually leaning lightly upon her in an attempt to keep his balance. "What?" she giggled. "What's so funny?"
"Oh, nothing, it's nothing, I just..." He smiled at her, more broadly than ever, cupping her cheeks within his palms. "I'm just glad you know how I feel, that's all."
Grape closed her eyes, enjoying the touch of his hands upon her face. She leaned forward to nuzzle beneath his chin, rubbing her face into the fur upon his chest, a soft purr thrumming from within her throat. "Mmm, me too," she murmured. Her ears suddenly folded back, and she tilted her head to look up at him. "Oh, Peanut... all those horrible things I said..."
Peanut merely shook his head. "Don't worry about it... I've already forgotten."
Grape lidded her eyes, lifting a paw to gently scratch between the canine's ears. "You really are a good dog," she whispered.
The gesture coaxed a pleased rumble of a growl from within Peanut's chest, his own eyes slipping shut. "I try," he murmured.
Grape leaned forward against him once more, her fingers absently toying with his dog tags, their tips gently stroking the surface of the gleaming, reflective metal. "Peanut... we need to keep this a secret."
Peanut's head came to rest atop her own. "What do you mean?"
"Remember when Bino and the other neighborhood dogs kicked you out of their social club?" she asked. "That was because you drew a picture
of a cat. If they found out how you feel about me, they could end up causing both of us problems. Fido would probably keep them from getting too out of hand, but... well, you know how Bino can be."
"Yeah," Peanut sighed, "I know."
"And then there's Mom and Dad. They can't know about this, Peanut. They just can't. I know you don't like to keep things from them, and neither do I, but if they ever found out, they'd kill us both."
Peanut winced. "They're going to find out sooner or later. We all live in the same house, it's not like we can hide it forever."
"We'll have to be careful for a while. I'll have to talk to Sabrina, she knows more about this kind of thing than I do. We'll tell them eventually, but only when we're ready... when we know what to say."
"What about your date with Max?"
handle Max. For now, let's just keep this between us... okay?"
Peanut nuzzled her between the ears. "Okay." He sighed into her fur, and glanced at the opening in the roof. "We should probably head back inside, huh?"
He tilted his head to look down at her. "What?"
Grape flashed an impish smile, her fangs protruding from beneath her lip. "You said you liked to look at the stars, so... would you show them to me?"
Peanut smiled back at her, the edges of his mouth slowly turning upward. "It would take a while..."
Grape teased a finger beneath the edge of his collar, tracing small, meaningless patterns in the scruffy fur of his chest. "I've got all night..."
Peanut's smile broadened, and he clasped her hands within his own, coaxing her to sit at his side. She did so readily, and turned her gaze skyward, pointing to the first cluster of sparkling lights that she saw. "What's that one?"
"You know that one, silly," he said. "That's Ursa Major, the Big Dipper. It's actually supposed to be a bear."
"A bear?" she replied. "I don't see it."
"Neither do I."
"Well, what about that one?"
"That's Draco, the Dragon. He guarded the golden apples of the Hesperides from Hercules."
"Uh-huh. And that one?"
"Orion, the Hunter. He was killed by Scorpius, which you can see over there."
"Ooh! And that one?"
~Thanks for reading!
There's no center tag? Why don't we have a center tag?
E' TUTTA DI DIAMANTI