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My name is Gracie Springs, and I’ve always been a pretty normal girl. I work as a barista while working toward my master’s degree in Sociology. I’ve finished all my coursework but still haven’t landed upon the perfect thesis topic. And I can’t earn my degree until I do.
Meanwhile I live in a small suburban town in Southern Georgia called Elderberry Heights. And the name fits it to a T, because most of my neighbors are somewhere north of seventy years old. I’m living in my grandma Grace’s house, which she left behind when she chose to move south to a trendy retirement community in the Florida Keys.
She gave me the home where she raised my father and all my uncles, saying it was my early inheritance and that I’d always been her favorite, anyway—and not just because we shared a name.
She left all her furniture and decor, which means my house has at least three dozen hand-crocheted doilies and the living room is made up of brown floral couches and honey oak side tables. I don’t have the heart—or the money—to change anything.
Grandma Grace also left me this ragamuffin cat that turned up at her doorstep only days before she’d been scheduled to move out and me to move in. The vet says he’s a Maine Coon. I say he’s much larger than any cat should ever be, especially considering all that stripey fur that poofs out from his body and makes him look like a literal fluff ball.
I guess that’s why I named him Fluffy.
Keeping a cat I hadn’t wanted was a small price to pay for being handed a free house, and over time Fluffy has started to grow on me. He’s not exactly the cuddly type. In fact, every time, I’ve tried to pick him up, he’s gone for blood. And succeeded in getting it twice.
I don’t try to pick him up anymore, but if I sit really still and pretend I’m not interested, sometimes he’ll help himself to my lap. Once he even purred.
Fluffy does love food and often takes a bite of whatever I’m having for dinner. He also enjoys running up and down the hallways in the middle of the night like a creature possessed.
I hadn’t meant for him to be an outdoor cat, but he’s such a good escape artist that eventually I just installed a pet door so I wouldn’t have to worry about it, anymore.
That brings me to this morning…
I was running late for work, thanks to having a particularly difficult time following a new makeup tutorial from my favorite beauty Tuber. In the end, I scrubbed off the whole thing and went with a smoky eye and nude lip. That’d teach me to try something new so close to the start of my shift.
Especially since my mean old boss would take any excuse to dock my pay. He’s still bitter that a popular franchised cafe moved in a couple streets away and cut his profits considerably. But he’s also stubborn and not quite ready to admit defeat, which is why he’s kept the whole staff on while slashing our hours and looking for any excuse to pay us less.
Great guy, that boss of mine.
I hadn’t seen Fluffy since breakfast and wanted to make sure everything was okay with him before taking off for my shift.
“Fluffy! Fluffy! Here, kitty, kitty!” I called and clicked my tongue, but he didn’t come running. He never comes running. It’s always up to me to find him.
And so I looked under the bed, behind the couch, and out the front window.
Finally I spotted him with his butt in the air and face toward the ground in that classic pre-pounce pose. Across the way stood an unaware robin bathing in the stone birdbath Grandma left behind with whatever few drops hadn’t yet been evaporated by the hot summer sun.
Wiggle, wiggle, went Fluffy’s butt.
He leaped, but the robin saw him coming and flittered away.
Fluffy flittered after him.
Not just a normal cat leap, either. He looked like a tiny feline athlete about to slam dunk a basketball. Up and up he went after that frightened avian target. He must have gone at least six feet into the sky and was still climbing up, up, up.
That’s when he turned his head my way and saw me watching. Those emerald eyes bored straight into mine, and for a moment he remained stuck mid-jump just hanging in the air.
Then he turned again, and the sudden movement broke the spell. Fluffy came crashing straight back to earth, then skittered out of sight, leaving me to wonder: What in the heck just happened?
* * *
I chalked the whole gravity-defying cat episode up to poor sleep and an overactive imagination, then hurried my way over to Harold’s House of Coffee.
Despite ignoring both speed limits and stop signs, I wound up three minutes late for my shift. My boss, Harold himself, stood just inside the front door waiting for me.
He tapped his wrist even though he never wore a watch and shouted, “When will you learn? Three minutes means three dollars, and since this is your second offense this week, I’m doubling it.”
I snorted and rushed past him to clock in.
“Gracie! Aren’t you listening to me?” he demanded, trailing after me like a demented duckling.
“Yes, you’re docking me six dollars for being three minutes late, even though we have no customers and you only pay us minimum wage. And even that’s because you’re legally obligated. Pretty soon I’m going to be paying you for the pleasure of standing around with nothing to do while our customers hang out at Mermaid’s Brew down the street. Does that sound about right?”
Harold’s face turned bright red. “The insolence!” he screamed. “If it didn’t cost so much to train someone new, you’d be out of a job. In fact you’re lucky that I—”
He took a step back, shook his head, and tried again. “Listen here, Gracie. You’re lucky that—”
His words stopped coming as he gasped and crumpled to the floor. From hotheaded to out cold in mere seconds.
“Harold, Harold!” I cried and fell to my knees to check if he was breathing.
I grabbed his wrist and tried to find a pulse.