Read A Picture-Purrfect Christmas (A Klepto Cat Mystery Book 13) Online
Authors: Patricia Fry
“Thank you, Peaches,” Marissa said, hugging the mare around the neck. “That was so much fun. I hope you aren’t too tired after all that walking.”
“Want to brush her down?” Savannah asked when she returned from putting the tack away.
“Can I?” she asked.
“Sure. Stand here on the platform and reach over the railing. I don’t want you getting stepped on or knocked down.”
“She likes having her hair brushed,” Marissa said, her eyes sparkling. “Can I give her a treat?”
“Yeah, here, I brought this apple out for her. Just hold your hand flat so she won’t think your finger’s a worm and accidently take a bite.”
Marissa giggled when she felt the mare’s muzzle on her hand and laughed while she watched her bob her head up and down, letting everyone know she was enjoying the juicy apple.
“Okay, let’s wash up and then we’ll have some grub,” Savannah said, mimicking a cowboy on a trail ride.
“You’re funny,” Marissa said, taking Savannah’s hand as they walked back toward the house. Before reaching the steps to the large wraparound porch, she leaned over a little, saying, “My sides ache from laughing so much.”
Savannah looked concerned. “Are you okay?”
“More than okay,” the child said, squeezing Savannah’s hand. “This has been such a fun day.”
“And it isn’t even half over,” Savannah reminded her.
“Where’s Lily?” Marissa asked upon entering the kitchen.
“I put her down for a nap,” Michael said. “She’ll be up pretty soon.”
“Okay, then I’d better wash up.” The girl made her way as far as the dining room, where she stopped and stared at the Christmas tree again, examining some of the ornaments. “Each time I look at it, I see something new,” she reported.
“Food’s getting cold,” Michael called out good-naturedly. “Don’t dillydally.”
“I’m going, I’m going,” she said, laughing. “Dillydally? Never heard that before.”
“This is real good,” the child said as the three of them sat around the table eating lunch. She looked at Savannah inquisitively. “You made these plums?”
Savannah chuckled. “Well, they grew on some of the trees out in our orchard and I preserved them so we could enjoy them during the winter when the trees are barren.”
“Oh, is that how it works?” Marissa asked. “That’s a good idea.” She thought for a moment. “I guess that’s why we have canned pears, corn, peas, beans on the shelf at the grocery store all the time—people think ahead and…what did you say…preserve them.” She examined one of her plums before eating it. “Interesting.”
Michael and Savannah smiled at one another, then he said, “Yes, it’s important to plan ahead. Marissa, do you have a plan for your future…a dream?”
“Oh yes,” she said, putting her fork down. “Lots of them, actually. I want to be a helper.”
“A helper?” Savannah questioned.
“You know, in a helping job—as a doctor, nurse, teacher, maybe. I want to be in a place where I can help other people.” She looked down at Rags and Buffy, who were sitting near her. “…or animals. Maybe people
Michael turned to Savannah. “I’ll bet she’d like to volunteer at your aunt’s place.”
“What a wonderful idea,” Savannah said, her face lighting up. “Marissa, my aunt and uncle run a cat shelter. You met her the other day when she was here entertaining Lily. They help unwanted cats and kittens find homes. They have volunteers who come in and socialize the more frightened cats and kittens.” When she saw the confused look on Marissa’s face, she added, “You know, get them used to being handled and cuddled so they’ll be happy living with people—like Rags and Buffy and Walter are.”
“Who’s Walter?” the child asked.
Savannah looked surprised. “Oh, you haven’t met Walter, yet? He’s our shy cat. He hangs out under a blanket on that plum-colored chair in the living room or in one of the bedrooms upstairs.”
“Oh,” Marissa said. “I want to see him. Maybe I can go look for him after lunch.”
Savannah smiled. “So do you think you’d enjoy doing that kind of work—socializing frightened kitties?”
“Work?” she said boldly. “Playing with cats isn’t work. Yeah, I’d love to do that.”
“How about after lunch we go over to the shelter. I heard they just got a new litter of kittens in.”
Marissa’s smile widened. “Sure!” She then frowned. “Where did the kittens come from?”
“Kittens and cats arrive at the shelter from all sorts of situations,” Savannah explained. “People find them living in Dumpsters, under porches, in fields, and they bring them to my aunt because they know she and her husband will take good care of them and find them forever homes.”
The child thought for a moment, then said quietly, “A forever home. That sounds so awesome. Everyone should have a forever home—especially children and baby animals.”
Savanna locked eyes momentarily with Michael and he noticed hers were brimming with fresh tears. He said under his breath, “If only children ran the world.”
Once lunch was over and the dishes were done, Savannah helped the child put on her jacket. “The cat shelter is next door. Do you want to ride over in the car or you can sit in Lily’s stroller and I’ll push you over there. Which mode of transportation would you prefer?”
“Oh,” she said sounding surprised, “would I fit in the stroller? That sounds kinda fun.”
“I can unlatch the tray and move it aside. I think you’ll be able to ride rather comfortably. Shall we try it?” Once they had her situated, Savannah asked. “What do you think? Comfy?”
“I feel like a princess riding in one of those…chariots. Yeah, it’s pretty comfortable. Are you sure you want to push it with me in it? I weigh more than Lily does, you know.”
“Not by much,” Michael said.
She winced. “Yeah, I’m working on that. I know I’m too little for my age.” Her face brightened. “But I ate a good lunch, don’t you think? And breakfast, too!”
“Excellent,” Michael said. “You have a good appetite. Do you always eat so well?”
She shook her head and looked down. “I eat what I’m allowed. That’s it.” She then smiled up at Savannah. “Let’s go, charioteer!”
“Wait,” Michael said. “I think I hear Lily. Let me get her up and we’ll walk over with you.”
“Okay, hon,” Savannah said. When she saw Marissa start to get out of the stroller, she asked, “Where are you going?”
“Oh, I thought you’d want to put Lily in her stroller.”
“No, no,” Michael said. “I’ll carry her. She’ll be just fine.”
“Or she can sit on your lap,” Savannah suggested.
“Yeah, I can hold her. That would be a fun ride.”
Minutes later, Savannah wheeled the stroller into the greenhouse-turned-cathouse at the Sheridans’ cat shelter. “Well, hello there,” Max said when he saw them enter.
Savannah lifted Lily off Marissa’s lap. “Hi Max, this is Marissa. We came to visit the cats.”
“Well, nice to meet you, Marissa,” he said, helping her out of the stroller.
“Hi.” She laughed a little. “Getting into that contraption was kinda awkward. I forgot to think about what it would be like to get out. Thanks for the help.”
“You’re welcome,” he said with a slight bow.
Just then, Margaret stomped into the cathouse.
“What’s wrong with you?” Savannah asked.
“Oh, there are more cat food recalls. I just can’t keep up with it all. I’m so irritated with manufacturers who want our trust and who can’t be trusted. It just throws me into a rage. How are we supposed to keep our cats healthy when the powers that be can’t get it right—when they’re manufacturing food that’s tainted? I’m not even sure what we feed them is good for them anyway—if it is, why do so many cats get kidney disease and other maladies?” She thinned her lips and added, “Plus, I can’t find my glasses…AND, I broke a damn fingernail.”
Suddenly, Margaret heard a melodic voice and turned abruptly toward it. “Hi, Ms. Maggie.”
“Oh, hi Marissa. I didn’t see you there. How are you? Come to see the kitties?”
Marissa nodded. “You have so many. It must cost a lot to feed them all. Why are they in cages? Did they do something wrong?”
“Oh no, it’s to protect them,” Margaret said, smiling. “…to keep them safe.”
“Where did they come from?” she asked, wide-eyed.
Margaret thought for a moment, then said, “Each of them has a different story and we hope to give all those stories happy endings.”
“Like all us children who live in my house,” Marissa said quietly, “we all have different stories, too.” She looked up at Margaret and then Max. “I’d like to hear some of the kitties’ stories.”
Margaret gestured toward a large orange cat with an unusually short tail. “Well, this big guy here, he lived in a
over behind the old lumber yard probably for a very long time before someone decided to catch him and bring him to us. A family may have moved and left him behind or someone could have taken him to that location to be a mouser—to catch mice. When he’d done his job, they just decided to let him fend for himself. He has known people. He isn’t afraid. But no one has cared about him for a long time. He needs someone to step up and take him into their home and heart.”
Marissa moved closer. Peering into the pen, she asked, quietly, “Can I pet him?”
“Yes, certainly,” Max said. “Come on, you can go inside with him if you want.”
Once Max had helped Marissa get situated on a cat tree in the pen, the cat walked right up to her. She sat petting him for a while, then leaned over and seemed to be whispering something in his ear.
“What did you tell him?” Savannah asked.
“I told him I’d pray for a home for him.” She looked up at Max and Margaret. “Do you think he’ll get a home?”
Margaret nodded. “Yes, there’s a real good chance that we can find him a home. We’ve placed seventy-four cats in forever homes this year.”
“Yeah,” Max said, “we wish it was more—lots more—but we can only handle so many kitties here at a time. Thankfully, there are other people doing the work we do, so there are lots of people helping. Still, too many cats are being dumped, abandoned, abused…”
“That’s sad,” Marissa said scratching the cat’s cheeks and looking into his eyes. She then noticed another set of eyes looking at her. “A kitten!” she exclaimed. She shifted her position and got a better look at what was in the adjoining pen. “Three kittens!”
“Yes, they came in a few days ago. It’s unusual to get kittens this time of year, but not unheard of.”
“Are they friendly?” she asked.
“Yes, and they love to play. Want to sit with them for a while?” Margaret asked, smiling.
Savannah stepped closer. “Kittens can never get too much attention. Marissa would be helping to socialize them by playing with them, right, Auntie?”
“Absolutely,” Margaret said.
Max nodded and smiled. “We are always grateful for any help we can get around here.”
Marissa stared solemnly into the pen at the kittens. “I’d like to just scoop them up and take them all home—to
forever home. But I can’t have pets where I am and my forever home is still just a dream.”
Margaret winced, then cleared her throat. “Come on, let’s go play with the kittens.”
Once Marissa was settled in the pen with three rambunctious kittens rolling, crawling, and playing around her, she asked, “Where’s their mother?”
“We couldn’t find her. She may have been picked up by someone else and that person didn’t know about the kittens. Or it was time for her to move on and she left the kittens to be on their own.”
“Tough love,” Marissa said under her breath.
After a few minutes, Marissa said, panic in her voice, “Hey, this white kitten’s hurt; something’s wrong with its leg!”
Max nodded. He stepped into the pen with Marissa, knelt next to her, and picked up the kitten. “Yes, she was born with a crooked leg or it was damaged and not repaired. We’re not sure what happened.” He glanced at Michael. “Dr. Mike and I are keeping an eye on her to decide whether or not to do surgery.”
Marissa looked up at Michael. “Oh yeah, you’re an animal doctor.”
He smiled and nodded. “So is Savannah.”
Marissa peered at Savannah. “You are? I thought you were a mommy.”
Savannah chuckled. “Well, that, too. But my profession…when I’m working…is veterinarian.”
“Ohhh,” she said. “Nice.” She reached out for the kitten, placed her on her lap, and stared down at her. She then ran her hand over the kitten’s crooked leg while tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Marissa, are you okay?” Savannah asked gently.
“Yes, I’m just sad for her. She may have to go through her whole life…different from all the other cats…deformed…a freak.” She raised her face and looked at Savannah and the others. “…like me.” She took a ragged breath. “She’s just like me.” She laughed a little. “It’s even the same leg as mine…look at that. Well, both of mine are crooked, but one more than the other.”
She held the kitten close to her face and whispered to her.
An hour later, Max helped Marissa climb into the stroller for the ride back to the Iveys’.
“Thank you,” she said to Max. “And thank you for letting me play with your kitties. I just love them all.”
“You are so welcome,” Margaret said. “We appreciate you taking time to be kind to them. They need all the kindness they can get.”
Marissa was quiet on their way home, until suddenly she said, “Ms. Savannah, do you want to know what I told Angel?”
“Angel?” she questioned.
“The crippled kitten. I named her Angel in my heart.”
“Oh,” Savannah said. “Yes, I would like to know what you said to her.”
“I told her that she is beautiful just the way she is and that I will pray for just the right forever home with a very special person who will care for her forever and ever.” She looked up at Savannah. “Do you think my prayer will come true?”
“I’m sure of it, Marissa. Just keep those pure thoughts in your heart. Keep believing.”