Alma hadn't meant to fall asleep. Now she awoke, still curled in the armchair, pleasantly warm and sleepy under a blanket. A delighted sounding coo caused her to lift her head. Jowd sat on the floor with Kamila in his lap and a picture book in front of them. Alma couldn't tell exactly what Kamila was excitedly looking and pointing at from her spot, but she was fairly certain it was a farm tractor. Tractors over sheep, huh? she thought, nestling back into her chair with a smile.
"Sissy is a magical cat," Kamila said and Jowd was treated to a solemn look.
Jowd forced back the surge of concern. What did she know and dear gods, how? He kept his voice calm and cheerful. "Oh? And why is that?"
"He listens to me. I think he understands me." She tilted her head curiously. "He never gets bigger and if he doesn't grow does that mean he'll never get old? He'll be our cat forever."
"He is a special cat," Jowd said lightly.
Kamila nodded. "I knew it," she said before hopping off the couch and scampering away and Jowd could breathe again.
"Uncle Cabs come here, come here!" Kamila grabbed Cabanela's hand and tugged him toward the nearby tunnel. Alma and Jowd trailed behind as the pair ran off.
"It echoes!" Kamila yelled loudly and grinned as her voice bounced back. "It's so cool."
"You should try it at niiight," Cabanela said slyly.
"That sounds spooky…"
Cabanela laughed. "Exactly! Like a…" he paused dramatically before finishing with a loud "Ghost!"
Kamila's eyes widened as the 'ghost' echoed back to them. Then she put her hands on her hips and frowned up at Cabanela. "That's scary! But ghosts don't really exist, do they?"
"Cabs!" Kamila scolded as he chuckled and patted her head.
"We don't really knooow, but probably not," he added reassuringly.
Jowd prayed they would never find out otherwise.
"Just how big of a sundae did you get her?" Alma asked, eyeing the large container and Kamila slurping away happily.
"Only the beeest!" Cabanela said while spinning away to leave.
"Not what I asked!"
Jowd squinted into the darkness at Kamila's urgent whispers and sat up against the headboard. "What's wrong?"
Kamila clambered onto the bed and into his lap. "Bad dream," she whispered.
He wrapped an arm around her securely. "Tell me about it."
"It was dark, and there was a big monster and it was cold and so cold and I was alone." She shivered. "It felt real and I woke up and it still felt real and I'm scared dad. I don't wanna see it again."
"It's okay. You're okay. None of it is real and nothing will get you, all right? You're safe and we'll always protect you."
"What if… what if something happens to you and mom?"
Jowd looked down at her and wished again that he could block out all the memories. Only normal childhood fears. It meant nothing. Not this time. Never again. "We'll both be here," he said firmly. There was a small meow.
Kamila sniffled. "And Sissy?"
Sissel jumped up beside the pair and sat next to them. "And Sissel," Jowd said.
Kamila leaned her head against his chest and sighed. "Can I stay here tonight?"
Alma watched Kamila adjust a long line of string with a look of intense concentration. The contraptions she built were both bewildering and fascinating and Alma often found herself setting aside whatever she was doing to watch Kamila at work.
Her gaze fell on Sissel who sat by, ears pricked forward with an intense stare at the string. Alma quietly laughed to herself. It looked like she wasn't the only one interested, but could she expect anything less from the cat?
It was a double ploy. They needed a sitter and Cabanela, who had been neck deep in work needed a break but would never admit to let alone act on it. Favours, on the other hand, were generously and lovingly bestowed. So Jowd and Alma returned home with slight unspoken nerves between them of what they might find.
The house was quiet. A peek into the kitchen revealed a platter of cupcakes iced in multiple colours and liberally decorated with sprinkles. Further investigation found the pair in the living room while the credits of a movie rolled. It was past Kamila's bedtime, which turned out to be okay, as she was sound asleep against her equally asleep sitter. Mission accomplished on both fronts.
"Will the little lady be okay?" Sissel asked.
"She'll be fine. Just that flu going around," Jowd replied.
"She was up all night…"
Jowd glanced down at him at the feeling of worry around Sissel's thoughts and the rapidly flicking tail. He had to pause. Was it any surprise? The cat spent his former life with a man who couldn't be injured or ill.
Jowd just hadn't figured on having both a sick kid and overly worried cat to contend with.
Kamila knocked on Lynne's apartment door. Her mouth dropped open when she heard yapping from inside and Lynne's urgent voice. "No! Shh shh."
There were hurried footsteps and the door partly opened. Before Kamila could say much of anything or react Lynne tugged her inside. "Quick!" she hissed.
There was a loud yap then Kamila gasped as a puppy that was far closer to a ball of fluff with legs bounded over to her. And around her. And bounced off her legs.
"You got a puppy?!"
Lynne grinned. "Sure did! Kamila, meet Missile."
"He's so cute!"
Missile barked and Kamila crouched down. She just barely managed to get some petting in between the frantic wiggling and licking.