Alley

It had to be done. Even though it was a grey, drizzly, miserable day, Jake just couldn't put it off any longer. Closing the window on the game of solitaire he'd just lost, he got up, stretched and ambled to the "break room". In actuality, it was a small table in the corner of his office which held a coffee maker, styrofoam cups and sundry coffee fixings.

Wrinkling his nose at the small trash can currently overflowing with empty cups and coffee grounds, Jake tried not to remember whether or not Monday's lunch was still at the bottom. Gingerly lifting the sides of the plastic liner, Jake had almost gotten it out without toppling the precariously placed cups on the top. Just as he was tying the top and lifting it out fully, a box corner poking out of the side caught the lip of the can and ripped a wide hole, spilling the oderiferous contents onto the dingy brown carpeting.

"DAMMIT!" Jake clenched his teeth, hands curing into fists. "Stupid rain! Stupid trash! Stupid carpet stains! Stupid business hasn't had a new client in two weeks! GAH! I hate this job! I hate this building!" Jake seethed for several more seconds before placing the ripped bag back in the container in disgust.

His outburst over, he blushed slightly, suddenly feeling rather foolish. Helen had mentioned this might be the cause of his current lack of new clients. Jake sighed and went to get the dustpan and paper towels from the tiny bathroom. At least no one had been just outside the door this time.

With both the girls off at college, Jake realized how much he and Helen had let their marriage slip into mutual complacency. Without their children to force interaction, or even create a reason to be home at least occassionally, Helen had been spending more time at the office, determined to make partner, leaving Jake to either sit alone at home or alone in the small space he called his business.

Looking around the drab space, he wondered why he opted to spend time there. Maybe being home without the girls reminded him of how big and empty the house was. As he cleaned up the mess, Jake thought about Quinn's last visit home. They'd gone out to dinner together (Helen had met them there after work), stopping at his office so he could pick up some paperwork first.

"Daddy, you really need a decorator in here."

At the time, Jake had thought it was just his little girl's passion for style talking, but later that week, after she'd gone back to school, she'd sent him an email with some articles about professional spaces and their impact on client volume. Jake smiled to himself, his flighty little Quinn had found her niche in college, designing her own major of 'Business Design'- a combination of business and interior design that was sure to lead to a lucrative career someday. The last time he'd spoken with Daria, he was surprised to learn she had convinced Quinn to add some Psych classes as electives.

"Knowing how people think would be a benefit to both parts of her major."

He was so proud of his girls and more than a little sad they were gone. Maybe Quinn was right, the office could use some brightening up. Maybe he'd email her and see if she had any ideas. Unless he was way off, Quinn probably had a full worksheet of detailed ideas already waiting to be sent.

Maybe we didn't do so bad with the girls after all.

With the garbage re-bagged securely, Jake headed out the door to the alley in the back where the dumpsters were. A car parked by the sidewalk suddenly pulled away, its tires splashing gutter water onto Jake's pants and shoes.

Jake caught himself just before launching into a rant. It's a good excuse to go home early, he thought to himself. Maybe he'd stop at the grocery store and pick up some fresh ingredients and try out another recipe from the cookbook Helen had given him on their last anniversary. He knew his earlier attempts at cooking had always been a private family joke, but with the extra time he had now, he'd been getting better at it. Turkey chili, maybe? It was the right weather for it, the kind of damp cold that seeped in and chilled you from the inside out. Thinking of Helen's ulcer, he mentally cut out the jalepeno from the recipe. Bell peppers instead.

Tossing the bag into the open dumpster, Jake raised his arm in triumph. "Two points!"

A noise to his left made Jake pause. He'd never felt unsafe in this neighborhood, but it was dim in the alleyway and you never knew. The small shuffle-scrape sounded again. He didn't see anyone, and the sound was to soft and low to the ground to be a person. It sounded like it was coming from a cardboard box in the middle of the alley. Rats? Jake involuntarily shuddered. He was about to scoot by it, hoping not to disturb whatever was inside when a soft mewl came from the box. Rats didn't make sounds like that did they?

Cautiously Jake stood over the box, debating if he should see what was inside. Another soft mewp came from inside. Noticing the top of the box seemed rather dry for being outside in the crappy weather, Jake opened the flaps, prepared to jump back if attacked.

Two eyes looked up at him, one green, one yellow. They clashed with matted and mottled fur that stuck out at odd angles from the kitten's tiny face. Mostly orange and black, it's fur was unkempt and scruffy-looking.

"Mewp?"

Jake grinned, it had to be the most pathetic looking creature he'd ever seen. Holding out a hand he wondered if the kitten would try to run away. She backed up and puffed out what fur wasn't matted together, but she didn't hiss.

"Come here, Jakey's not going to hurt you." Getting hold of the scruffy thing, Jake's face suddenly darkened. The car that had been parked by the sidewalk- they had dumped this kitten here! How could they? He held up the tiny creature. Sure, her eyes were different colors and she definitely needed a brushing. Or a bath. Or both. But why would someone abandon such a tiny helpless thing?

Muttering about cruel, insensitive, heartless idiots, Jake held the kitten close and brought her back inside. Glad for the warmth, the kitten began a loud rumbling purr.

Placing her gently on the floor, Jake grabbed a few paper towels to dry off his pants as best he could. Needle-sharp claws intecereded when he unwittingly flicked his shoelaces out of the way while drying his shoes. Unprepared for the sudden onsalught, Jake's laces didn't stand a chance, they were untied in a matter of seconds.

Jake laughed like he hadn't in a long time. The kitten followed as Jake went to gather some things from his desk before heading out. As he paperclipped and stapled, the kitten began her first attempt to scale his pant leg. Halfway up, Jake disengaed her claws from his calf and placed her in his lap. She purred and started kneading his leg.

"I wonder how Helen is going to take this," he mused out loud. One thing was sure, Jake was not going to put the kitten back outside to fend for herself. "Maybe if I tell her I'll take you with me to work every day."

The steady rrrr-rrrr-rrrr was all Jake needed to convince him the kitten approved. Stacking his papers together and putting them in his briefcase, he picked the kitten up with one hand. "I always wanted a cat. Ready to go home Alley?"

"Prrrt!"

Better pick up some kitten food, too. And flowers. I haven't gotten Helen flowers in ages.

Though the sun was setting, it felt like a new day as Jake and Alley drove home.