Both Worn Jeans and Green Shirt looked at me.
“Well, I have been having a hard time getting patients.” I said. “How did you know?”
“You told me about it. Before you knew I was sentient. And you’d told everyone else about it just before then, if not so bluntly as you did me.” The kitten glared at its owners. “What else did you think all those tales of financial woe were about? So, since you nodded and listened and did nothing to help, I decided to do so. After all, I had problems, and here was a psychologist in need of patients. You would have paid for the sessions if it had been your idea.”
I vaguely recalled that day—it had been at a party. Unfortunately, I’d been so down I’d had a little too much to drink to remember details.
“So you do have a heart,” I said. My friends bristled, but the kitten gave me a wry smile.
“I wasn’t about to let you know that. I am a cat. But,” it sighed, “it appears circumstances have forced me to reveal myself. Don’t go telling anyone.”
“I’d thought you were just being down on yourself,” Worn Jeans said to me.
“How are you paying for this office?” Green Shirt asked.
“Weren’t we here to talk about…” I waved my hands in their general vicinity. To tell the truth, I was embarrassed to admit that the only way I’d been able to afford the office for the past year or so was by subsisting off of less-than-stellar food. Which hadn’t helped my emotional state, that was for sure. “Was this only about the bank, or is there more?”
“Well, clearly there’s more,” remarked Worn Jeans.
And then proceeded to say nothing more.
“Ah, yes, well.” The kitten cleared its throat. “I went to more than the bank.”
“You what?” said both my friends in aghast chorus.
The kitten ignored them and addressed me instead. “Have you heard of the cat cafe that opened up in our neighbourhood?”
“The Cat’s Paws?”
“Take a Paws. Yes. They’re… willing to give me a job. If I have a bank account so they can deposit my paycheques.”
My friends and I all sat back. Hadn’t the kitten lectured me at length about the unfeasibility of kittens getting jobs? In great detail? Over Skype and email? Without giving me a chance to say much more than three words in a row?
“What will you be doing?” asked Green Shirt.
“Roaming their establishment, entertaining their customers by virtue of being feline. In return, they would provide me the means with which to pay off the debt I have incurred and, afterwards, continue to make use of this fine psychologist’s knowledge and experience.”
“Provided everything you do is your idea,” I said, a little dazed at being called a fine psychologist.
“Precisely. I do have my dignity to maintain.”
“And that’s why you went to the bank,” said Worn Jeans, as though not quite sure to believe these words.
The kitten nodded.
“You did all of this to help our friend?” asked Green Shirt. Oh. Wow. I hadn’t even thought of that.
“A friend who did everything possible to help all of us when my first strategy fell apart.”
“So what do we do now?” asked Green Shirt, but not of me. Of the kitten. Worn Jeans had also turned away from me and to the young cat.
The kitten, in turn, drew back and gave me a pleading stare.
Be honest, I mouthed.
The kitten’s head drooped, but only for a moment. It took a breath, drew itself up, and said, with the kind of poise only a cat can have:
“I cannot do this by myself. Will you help me?”
Maybe one day, the kitten won’t need a psychologist. Maybe one day, I won’t need a kitten. That’s what I’d thought more times than I could count ever since I decided to grow a conscience. But, before I left my office on Wednesday with my friendships intact and the kitten, impatient, had already gone outside, I paused a minute with Worn Jeans and Green Shirt.
“It’s hard to think it was scared of going outside when it first spoke with you,” said Worn Jeans. “I wish we’d known, but it looks like you really helped.”
I guess I did.
“Will our kitten’s visits be enough to help you keep afloat?”
“Not really, but it’s better than nothing.”
“Anything we can do?” asked Green Shirt.
I considered. Referrals would be great, but how awkward was it to tell your friends to go to a psychologist?
Probably no more awkward than telling them their cat was sentient.
“Let your kitten make its own choices,” I said. “And if you hear of anyone needing a psychologist, send them my way.”
“What if those people include us?” asked Worn Jeans.
“Just make sure you pay me,” I said, with a bit of a forced chuckle. My friends smiled, but I remembered our previous sessions. “How about, for now, let’s focus on being friends for a while. I’ve been moping around by myself long enough.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Worn Jeans. “Want to come over for dinner tomorrow?”
“That sounds amazing. I’ve… uh… been having a lot of Kraft Dinner lately.” I paused. Did I want to leave the reason in the blanks for them to fill in? But I supposed that, for all the talking we’d done, it was the things we hadn’t said that had led to all this trouble in the first place. “For the last year, actually. That’s how long my finances have been this tight.”
“Then,” said Green Shirt, putting a hand on my shoulder. “Come over as often as you like.”
There once was a little kitten who had decided that the outside was bad. One hundred percent, unequivocally, without question or shadow of a doubt dangerous. And yet, one day, outside it went.
Now the time had come for its psychologist to go outside, too.
And, once my friends and the kitten had left the building, that’s exactly what I did.
This story was first published on my Patreon. If you pledge $5 or more a month, you’ll see all the short fiction I publish there two days before anyone else, plus ebooks, access to my process journal, and more.
*The graphic for this series was created by Amy Laurens :)