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Excited chatter filled the back seat as I parked in front of the store. A red neon sign blinked in the window that read-The Pet Stop.
Ben, my eleven-year-old son, threw open the car door. "Finally I get my kitten. Hurry up you guys," he said to his younger siblings, Joe and Bethany.
Inside the store, we watched several kittens romp and play in a large pen. Ben reached through the open cage door toward a gray fluff ball. "I want this one." The kitten scooted away from his hand and wedged itself into the back corner of the cage, inches from his fingertips.
"Are you sure?" I said. "He appears to have a bit of an attitude. What about the orange tiger? He seems friendly."
"I vote for the gray striped," said Joe. "I want the tiger," added Bethany.I laid my hand on Ben's shoulder. "I know everyone has an opinion, but this is Ben's pet because he had to give up Smokey when we moved."
Several months earlier, after a period of unemployment, my husband found work in another state and our family relocated. Besides leaving our home and friends, our hearts ached when we told Ben his cat couldn't make the trip. Through tears we drove Smokey to our vet who had found a family to adopt him. Ben missed his companion and the soft purrs which lulled him to sleep at night. His dad and I had promised when we settled in a new place he could choose another cat. And today was the day.
"No. I want the fluffy gray," Ben insisted, as he managed to drag the blue-eyed kitten from the cage. He tried to cuddle the obstinate character while it clawed its way up his tee-shirt onto his shoulder.
Ben stroked the kitten's back. "See how soft he is, Mom. I'll name him Smokey."
Tempted to have him choose one of the friendlier felines, I hesitated. But seeing the content smile on my son's face, I realized this kitten might be just what he needed to help ease the pain of missing his friends. "Oh, all right. Maybe with lots of love and attention he'll calm down." Arms loaded with kitty supplies, I paid the clerk for what I suspected was a six-inch bundle-of-trouble.
A Quick Stop
As we started our twenty-mile drive out of town, I remembered we needed milk. Making a quick detour, we pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store. I flipped off the air conditioner, then realized we couldn't leave the kitten in the car for even a few minutes in the sweltering August heat.
With a raised brow, I zeroed in on Ben. "You carry the kitten, but hold him tight while we shop."
"I will," he assured me as we climbed out of the car.
Ben held the kitten against his chest. But just as we approached the store's front doors, Smokey squirmed his way loose. He leaped to the ground. In a gray blur the kitten streaked to the nearest hiding place-three huge bins piled high with watermelons.
I spotted a furry tail disappear into the pallets beneath the summer display. "Oh no! How will we ever get him out of there?"
Bethany held a finger to her lips. "Shh... I hear him."
Meows emanated from the melons. Lying on the hot pavement, I tried to coax the kitten out. When he refused to budge, I reached between the wood slats. Reminiscent of his behavior in the pet shop, he tilted his head to one side, gazed at my hand, then scampered under the middle pallet and up into the bin.
Hovered over the boxes we peered into the dark spaces around the fruit but couldn't spot our fugitive. Moving several melons, we caught glimpse of a paw. Ben grabbed for Smokey who skittered to another hiding place. In our frantic search, one by one we removed melons from the box and set them on the ground.
Voices of a gathering crowd began to buzz. "What's going on?" a shopper whispered to the person standing next to them. "I don't know. I think they've lost something."
Using our feet the kids and I tried to keep the melons corralled. Oops. One melon too many. Like wild horses, they broke free. A downward slope in the parking lot escalated the stampede.
Laughter erupted from the on-looking shoppers.Joe slapped his hands on a melon. "I got it," he shouted as another barreled passed him.
Bethany's flip flops slapped the pavement as she chased a runaway melon. "I'll catch it."
While we scrambled to collect the loose fruit, a courtesy clerk spotted the commotion. He abandoned his train of shopping carts and raced in our direction waving his arms. "What are you doing?"
Sweat dripped down my burning cheeks. "Our kitten is hiding in the watermelons."
With a smirk the teenage boy rushed to retrieve several grocery carts. One by one, we scooped up melons and loaded them into the carts.
Standing by the store's disheveled summer display Bethany pointed. "There he is."
Ben dove into the box and captured Smokey. With a secure grip on the tricky escape artist, he headed to the car. The rest of us helped the young man reassemble the display.
Exhausted, we left town without the milk. Ben cuddled and talked to his new friend all the way home. That night I looked in on Ben, who lay sound asleep in his bed. Snuggled beneath his chin on his pillow, purred the gray kitten. Smokey became his constant companion and did help Ben adjust to our move.
Although, as I suspected the day we purchased him at The Pet Stop; the watermelon incident was only the beginning. Always the prankster, Smokey continued his wild antics. We retrieved him from the roof of our house and rescued him from the fir tree in our front yard. Yet, we soon grew to love his smug sense of humor even as he tricked us into endless rounds of his favorite game - Hide and Seek.
**Note: "Hide or Seek Anyone?" first printed August 2014 in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cat Did What?
© 2014 Kathleen Kohler