Oh, awesome -- food! Mr. Whiskers said to himself as he watched Anna open the fridge. He nudged up against her leg, but she shooed him away.
"Not for you, kitty," she said. "I'm making dinner for Kevin."
Ugh, Kevin. Mr. Whiskers licked a paw and dabbed at his ear. That guy was no good; why didn't she see it? He had seemed nice enough the first couple of times he'd come over, but he had pulled Mr. Whiskers' tail -- twice -- when she wasn't looking, just for trying to get on his lap. And he was quick to snap at her when he was in a bad mood. Anna might have overlooked it so far, but Mr. Whiskers certainly hadn't.
You don't need him! Mr. Whiskers tried to will the words into her mind by head-butting her leg, but she just picked him up, kissed him on top of the head, and put him on the floor next to his food bowl.
This is no time for kibble, Mr. Whiskers decided. It's time for action. After today, no more Kevin.
Anna turned on the oven and moved a pile of papers off the counter. Mr. Whiskers settled on the linoleum and crossed his paws, watching her with affection.
She worked so hard in her job as a home care nurse; her patients were lucky to have someone so gentle and sweet looking after them. He had spent many evenings curled up in her lap after a long shift. She always made time for him even when she was tired, and he always kneaded her lap as hard as he could to show her that he loved her back.
Anna was such a good person -- his person -- and he wouldn't let her end up with someone who wasn't just as kind to her as she was to everyone else.
But what to do about it? He watched her pull various ingredients out of the fridge. Maybe if he ruined dinner, it would drive Kevin away at last.
He waited until her back was turned and leapt onto the counter. She'd left the milk carton open; he nudged it hard, and it tipped over into the sink.
"Oops!" Anna cried, snatching at the falling container. Milk splashed into the sink, and Mr. Whiskers sat back to watch in satisfaction as it swirled down the drain.
"You naughty baby," she crooned, leaning her face into his fur, and he arched his back against her. "It's a good thing I have another gallon, or how would I make my homemade mac and cheese?"
He meowed as she placed him back on the floor, wishing he could make her understand.
"I'd be annoyed with you if you weren't so cute," she said.
Right back atcha. Mr. Whiskers turned to pace the kitchen floor. He was going to have to try something else.
He knocked the box of macaroni off the counter as soon as she put it down, but the top didn't pop open as he'd hoped. And when he climbed into the mixing bowl, she finally just cried, "You're having your nighttime crazies early today, aren't you!" and shut him in the spare bedroom.
The time dragged by while she worked in the kitchen. Mr. Whiskers crouched down and flicked the end of his tail when he heard Kevin's voice. He huddled near the door, listening and waiting. Their conversation went on and on.
When the door finally opened, he trotted out ahead of Anna and hesitated just inside the kitchen.
"I was just hoping to talk about my day," Anna said timidly, continuing the conversation that Mr. Whiskers had missed. "Sometimes my job is intense. It helps to have someone to talk it out with."
You can talk to me! Mr. Whiskers wanted to say.
"Look, I don't come over here to hear stories about people throwing up," Kevin snapped.
Mr. Whiskers' tail began to swish.
"No, it wasn't that kind of story ..." Anna insisted.
"I drove all the way over here because you didn't want to go out," Kevin continued, ignoring her. "I don't know why you have to dump all your gross stories on me."
Mr. Whiskers prowled under the table and toward Kevin's foot.
"Sometimes, Anna ..." Kevin chuckled harshly. "I don't know why I bother with you."
Oh, that's it! Mr. Whiskers bared his claws and swiped at Kevin's ankle.
Kevin yelped and jumped up; Mr. Whiskers shot out from under the table and cowered near his bowl, his back arched, hissing. Anna stumbled to her feet.
"That's it!" Kevin yelled, shoving his chair back. "I'm gonna kill that freaking cat!"
He pulled his foot back to kick Mr. Whiskers, but Anna shouted, "No!" and shoved him.
Kevin tumbled forward and landed with one hand in Mr. Whiskers' food dish and the other in his water bowl.
Mr. Whiskers bit back his instinct to protect his kibble and instead ran to Anna. He huddled behind her and stared up as Kevin climbed to his feet.
"This," Kevin said coldly, "is over." He headed for the door.
"Yeah," Anna said, and there was more strength in her voice than Mr. Whiskers had heard in a long time. "It is."
When the apartment door closed behind Kevin, Anna took a long, shaky breath and looked down at her cat. "Why do I get the feeling you understand a lot more than I give you credit for?"
Because it's true. He nuzzled her ankle and blinked up at her.
"Well ... I guess I'm on my own again." Anna smiled down at him. "But you still love me, right, buddy?"
You bet I do. Mr. Whiskers rubbed against her leg and turned on his loudest purr as she scooped him up in her arms.