They filed into the community meeting room and took their seats around the green, carpeted area. Maggie sat beside Don on the edge of her chair. The air smelled like old building, long gone coffee and paper. There were lists of OSHA regulations on the bulletin board and an outdated calendar. An additional new announcement pronounced in bold colors the upcoming Climate Change Impact meeting.
“Relax,” Don said, his voice was low. “If you are too tense, they will sense it and won’t want anything to do with you.”
He was right, of course. Maggie took a deep breath and let it out. There were three other couples in the room. She studied them to distract herself. The first couple looked very naturalistic, longish hair, no makeup on her, he sported a goatee. Their clothes were clean but worn. The second couple were closer to her and Don’s age—mid 50s, early 60s, looking as if they’d just stepped out of a boardroom, all suits and stiff quietness, not acknowledging each other. The last was a couple in their mid-50s—dressed in new looking jeans and sweatshirts. The sweatshirts had a matching logos—a cat sleeping. They radiated an excited sparkle and held hands as if to contain each other. Maggie glanced at Don. He and she were somewhere in between. They too, were dressed in jeans but had on nicer shirts, their good shoes. Her long gray hair was pulled back in a bun. He had shaved and wore a ball cap that said ‘American Made’ on it.
The sparkly woman leaned toward the suits. “Have you ever had one?”
The male suit looked startled and exchanged a glance with the female suit. The man shook his head. The woman said “I did. When I was young. It was old by then,”
“What about you?” the woman addressed the younger couple.
“No,” the young man said. “We’ve read about them but never had one.”
Sparkly woman looked at Maggie who nodded. “When I was growing up. We had three. I lived in the country though. Cities didn’t have them,” Maggie said.
“We had two. Long ago.” Sparkly woman said, her hands clasping in front of her now. “We’re so lucky to get another chance.”
The door to the room opened and a woman walked in. About 35, dark brown hair, face sun lined and without makeup. She was thin, like a long-distance runner, with large brown eyes and a half smile.
“Welcome. I’m your Moderator. While I know you are all anxious, I wanted to make sure you don’t have any more questions.”
“How could we?” Don muttered.
“Shush,” Maggie whispered.
She knew why he was irritated. He, like her, remembered the old days when there had been many. While he’d been patient throughout the application process, the required schooling on care, the interviews and home inspections, Maggie knew it all bothered his sense of freedom. It also chafed they could come inspect and remove any time they chose.
“We have found the best way,” the Moderator continued, “is to let them choose you if they will. When they have a preference, we like to get those matched up. They don’t always, so don’t be upset.” She chuckled. “Please. Relax. Take a deep breath. You are all here because you cared enough to go through the process. We made it as much of a pain as we could to weed out those who weren’t serious. This is a lifetime commitment. What we put you through was meant to drive that home.”
Maggie heard Don’s quiet ‘oh.’ She patted his knee.
The door opened again and a young man entered carrying a pet carrier. He set it on the carpeted area in the center of their circle and opened the door.
“They have collars on so you can identify male and female,” the words came out a whisper.
Maggie held her breath.
“Are they awake?” The Moderator glanced at the man.
He peered inside, smiling. “Yes. Just taking their time.” He stepped aside.
The first one to come out was an orange tabby who looked like he’d fallen face first into white paint. He had a big white splotch on his nose and one on his chest. The second one to come out was black except for four white feet. She stood beside the orange tabby, noses poking at the air. Maggie’s ‘oh’ was involuntary as the third emerged. She pushed past the two looking like a Van Gogh painting; awash in oranges, tans and browns.
“A tortoiseshell!” the sparkly woman exclaimed.
Last was a long haired gray and black tabby whose tail was oversized for its body. It leapt onto the orange one, knocking it to the carpet before moving way from the carrier.
“Maine Coon,” the Moderator said.
They watched. Maggie gave the other humans a quick glance and saw they had the same silly grin she knew she wore.
The kittens slowly spread out from the carrier, steps tentative, ears and noses working, tails erect.
“As you know, the virus was so devastating we lost most of the breeding stock, including the general population. These kittens are not from the same litter because cats don’t have litters anymore. Each was from a single breeding and we were lucky to get them. The Maine Coon was a special success. The Tortie a gift we didn’t expect. As you know, each of these kittens are intact and you’ve agreed to allow them to breed when the time comes. The Maine Coon and orange are males. The Tortie and black are females. We already have their counterparts picked out for the program.”
Maggie nodded with the rest.
“The females, once pregnant, will be kept in your home. We don’t want to traumatize them trying to keep them at our facility. The kittens become ours. You are also aware of the issues that go along with an intact cat.”
Don chuckled. They’d been sent a video. The male hadn’t been bad, aside from the spraying, something the organization said they would provide cleaning for if it happened. The females, on the other hand, had made it very clear she had needs.
“If you find you have a preference, please speak up,”
Maggie liked the Maine Coon. He was currently crouched, wiggling his butt about to attack the black female. He was gorgeous and had so much personality! She felt Don nudge her. She glanced at him and he tilted his head mouthing “look down.” She did. The orange tabby was at their feet, playing with her shoelace. He seemed to sense her watching him and looked up, eyes wide, forgetting the shoelace. He rose on his hind legs, nail catching in the lace and making him fall over. He shook it off and tried once more, reaching out a paw toward her.
Maggie looked quickly at the Moderator for permission. When she nodded, Maggie carefully picked the kitten up, holding him against her chest, feeling him begin to purr. Don reached over to stroke the kitten’s head.
“Can I hold him?”
Maggie transferred the kitten to Don.
“Hey little guy. Want to come home with us?”
Maggie could hear his purring as he studied every detail of Don’s face. Don handed him back to her.
“Oh sweet boy,” she kissed the top of his head. He bumped it on her chin. Sharp pains on her leg made her wince. The Tortie was climbing up her leg.
“I’m afraid you can only have one,” the Moderator chuckled, watching.
The black had chosen the sparkly woman and her husband. The Maine Coon was busy trying to eat the necklace of the woman in the business suit who was laughing. Maggie looked at the young couple. She said, “I have a feeling this girl is going to keep you very busy. Could you please come get your cat?”
The woman leapt up, as if she’d been waiting of permission. She gently detached the Tortie from Maggie’s leg and said, “Come, little girl. We have a lovely home for you with lots of toys,”
The Tortie twisted around, eyes wild, and bit the woman’s thumb. Then she licked it, as if apologizing. Her purr filled the room as she wiggled out of the woman’s hand and began climbing her arm, fascinated with the woman’s hair.
“She should calm down when she gets older,” the Moderator said. “Torties are known for a bit of attitude though,”
“We love attitude,” the woman was smiling, eyes glittering with tears.
Maggie knew how she felt as she looked at the orange kitten in her lap who was on his back, trying to catch his tail. Don leaned over and wiggled a finger at it. The kitten’s eyes went wide and he captured the finger in tiny paws.
Rebecca L. Monroe lives in Montana in a log cabin by a river and has been writing for most of her life. She has over 100 published stories and a book of short stories Reaching Beyond published by Bellowing Ark Press. Along with writing, she loves to read, spend time with Luke, her yellow Labrador retriever puppy and volunteer at the local animal shelter.