48 • Emily
Will sat back on his knees and motioned to Cameron, pointing straight down to the bed. Cameron got down on the floor on the other side and lifted the bed skirt. Joe turned his head in her direction, with barely enough room to clear his belly and the cat under the springs of the old bed. He smiled.
“Am I allowed to laugh?” Cameron asked, rolling back onto her heels and dropping the skirt. She pulled her hair away from her face and stood. “Out, Joe. Let’s go.”
Joe inched his way out from under the bed, pushing with one hand against the floor and the other hand holding onto Emily, until he was out past his waist. “She knows I’m not suited for this sort of nonsense anymore.” He gently lifted the cat off his chest and held her out to Will. “Here, hold her a minute so I can get up. If I let her go, we’ll never find her.”
“I uhh—” Will stepped back.
“Now, she may be unfriendly, Will. But that’s just the enigmatic legacy she’s trying to live up to. She’s not unkind.” Joe held her out again. “Please. Just for a minute.”
Will reached down gingerly and took the cat in his hands, holding her under the arms out in front of him, her legs dangling and gray eyes looking mournful.
Joe pulled himself the rest of the way out from under the bed and rolled to his side, then pushed up on an elbow, eventually getting to his knees, where he braced himself on the footboard and eased himself to his feet.
He reached for Emily. “Goodness, Will. She’s a cat. Not a child with a dirty diaper.” He held Emily close and soothed her with soft strokes along her back. She looked toward Will and opened her mouth, showing her small teeth. Will was certain he heard a hissing sound and jumped back, bumping into Cameron.
“Whoa, there, ” she said, pushing against him with her hands to regain her balance. “Like Joe said. It’s a cat. And a scrawny one at that.”
“But it just—” Will started. Joe leaned his head down and kissed Emily’s fur. “Never mind.”
“We should get going, Joe.” Cameron looked around the room. “Do you have a suitcase so I can pack up the things we put on your list?”
Joe pointed to the closet. “Should find one in there.” He sat on the bed, still scratching the cat’s ears.
Cameron stepped inside the closet and came out with a battered brown hard-sided suitcase that looked like it came from a 1950s movie. She opened it across the bed. “Will, grab some t-shirts and things from the dresser.”
He opened dresser drawers and found boxers and t-shirts. Picking them up in a single pile, he plopped them into the suitcase while Cameron pulled several hanging shirts and jeans from the closet. Joe watched his friends moving around his room from the side of the bed, a contented look on his face.
“Can you move things so I can get his hanging clothes in?” Cameron folded the clothes over her arm.
“Just lay them on top, ” Will said.
“Works the same way if you put them in front and I pile the boxers on top.” Will smiled at his packing logic, well-practiced after years of traveling with a stuffed duffle bag.
“’Pile’ is kind of the problem, ” Cameron said, lifting the underwear out with one hand and laying the shirts into the suitcase with the other.
“It’s a short trip. And I’m pretty sure Pearl will be happy to iron for him. She’s always offering to show me how her ironing board works.”
Cameron folded a t-shirt and slid it into an opening in the side of the suitcase without looking up at Will. “Not sure I’d recommend following that logic with Pearl.”
“What else was on your list, Joe?” Will rubbed his hands together. “Books maybe?”
“Well, we didn’t put her on the list, but it looks like we’ll be needing to bring Emily along. I’m afraid she’ll stop eating altogether if I disappear again. She’s skin and bones since I left. And look—” He turned the cat toward them. “She’s peaked.”
“Peaked?” Will tried to hold in a snicker. “Joe. She’s covered in fur. How do you see peaked?”
“She does look a little gaunt, Joe.” Cameron leaned down and caressed Emily’s face in her hand. She glared at Will at the same time the cat opened its mouth and hissed at him again.
“I’m just not sure how it will go over with Pearl, bringing a cat into the house.” Will put his hands in his pockets and stepped farther back. “She was pretty adamant about no pets when I moved in.”
“Well, who says we have to tell her?” Joe asked.
“What?” Cameron said. “You think we can sneak a cat into Pearl’s house?”
“There is no sneaking anything where Pearl Jenkins is involved, ” Will tugged at his boxer hem with his hand in his pocket. “Trust me on this.”
“Well, let’s think about this, ” Cameron said. “It’s not like she would be chasing around the place. Would she stay put in your room, Joe?”
“Of course she would. And she’s very quiet. We could just bring her carrier and litter box and Pearl would never have to know.”
“Yeah. A cat and a litter box in Pearl Jenkins’s house. What could possibly go wrong?” Will shook his head. “Listen, if the cat gets made, I’m denying everything.”
“Right.” Cameron closed the suitcase with a laugh. She put a knee on top and snapped the latches shut with a hard click. “Now I almost want Pearl to find the cat just to watch you try to pretend you didn’t know a thing about how a poor old invalid got a cat and her litter box upstairs next to your bedroom without you noticing.”
“Hey now with the invalid stuff. I’m right here.”
“Sorry, Joe, it’s an expression. Was just using it for effect.” Cameron patted his shoulder. “It was for Will’s benefit anyway. I’m expecting you to go with me and Finn on our walks in the morning.” She set the suitcase on the floor. “What else do we need?”
“It’s just for a couple of days, right?” Joe asked.
“Right, ” Cameron and Will blurted out at the same time.
“Clean clothes, a couple of books, and sweet Emily. I shouldn’t need anything else.”
Will picked up the suitcase and motioned the others to the door with a sweep of his hand. “Shall we?”
(to be continued)