WRITTEN BY GLYNIS SCRIVENS
Letting a new cat into your life can be as difficult as letting a new person in, but occasionally the timing is just right…
What was wrong with Jonathan this morning, Sarah wondered? Her new boss looked miserable. Had something happened? She didn’t know him well enough to ask. She’d only just joined the teaching staff at his yoga centre.
In his grey track pants and long-sleeved black T-shirt, he cut a sombre figure. “We’ll begin with a Salute to the Sun,” he said.
Several of the students smiled. “What sun?” someone whispered, a bit too loudly. It was a showery day and a fresh breeze had sprung up. More rain was forecast with a possible storm during the afternoon. Outside it was just seven degrees Celsius.
Sarah was grateful to be indoors with the yoga class in this heated space. She relaxed as soon as she entered the large log cabin. Inside, the décor was pale and calming with patchwork quilts and big cushions. There were candles everywhere and incense burning. It made a refreshing change to the more conventional centres where she’d previously taught yoga.
Sarah had put on her bright blue yoga pants with a warm white top. She always felt better when she was wearing cheerful clothes. Today she needed this psychological boost. She had her own issues to deal with.
On top of her list of priorities was the urgent need to find homes for two Himalayan Persians. One was deep charcoal with almost orange eyes. She was an old cat, set in her ways. The other was cream with impossibly luxuriant fur and pale blue eyes. He was only six months old. Their names were Shadow and Almond. She hoped it’d be possible for them to stay together but wasn’t confident. As she was quickly learning, they were high maintenance.
As she moved into the Salute to the Sun pose, she felt herself relax
After several more moves, Jonathan asked her to take over. It was considerate of him to ease her into the teaching role. And today of all days she needed this.
“Imagine you’re a snake,” she said to the class. And demonstrated a move that began with a coiling movement and then she slowly turned her body in circles. Several students watched with a blank expression on their face. She needed to demonstrate this pose several times. Then she walked among them, correcting their positions.
The approving look in Jonathan’s eyes lifted her spirits. She hadn’t felt sure he’d approve as this was different to the usual moves he taught. But Sarah felt it was important to develop her own approach right from the beginning and to use what she’d already learnt from her own experience. Her skills should complement his, not simply be a carbon copy. That was her philosophy. She’d found in her previous teaching experience that it helped those with less flexibility.
After leading the class in an hour of flexing and stretching, she was happy when Jonathan took over for the twenty minutes of meditation that concluded the session. It meant she could enjoy this element of the practice. As she lay on her yoga mat, eyes closed, listening as he guided a relaxation, she felt herself beginning to let go.
What a week it had been…
This time last Friday she’d been driving her best friend to the airport. Alice was moving to Australia, to take up an exciting new IT job in Sydney. She’d begged Sarah to find a home for her two cats. They’d been friends since nursery school. It was hard to say goodbye and Sarah was bereft.
Unexpectedly, the tension melted from her body as she listened to Jonathan’s soothing words.
As they all opened their eyes and slowly stretched, she wondered what had drawn these various people to the class. Everyone carried his or her own issues, she’d learnt. Something that created this need to connect with themselves – and with others. Yoga wasn’t simply about exercise.
There was a spiritual dimension. She looked around at the group. There were several grey-haired men who looked sedentary, a teenage school student with her hair in braids, a young woman who said she climbed mountains, and even a pastor who looked in her late thirties, about Sarah’s age.
“There’s herbal tea if you’d like some,” Jonathan said to her, as the group slowly dispersed and it was just the two of them.
Would there be an opportunity to mention the cats, she wondered? Or would it be inappropriate today? She wasn’t sure.
She’d thought of writing an advertisement and putting it on the noticeboard she’d seen near the front entrance. But something held her back. She’d promised Alice to find a good home for the cats. Maybe it’d be better to exhaust all her existing options before asking people she didn’t know? She’d feel more assured if she knew in her heart that the new owner would cherish them. That meant asking people she knew and trusted. But how long would it take? And little Fletcher would inevitably get attached to them the longer she was looking after them at home. She didn’t want her son getting upset.
Lost in thought, she filled the kettle and took mugs from the cupboard, aware of Jonathan’s eyes on her. Then she hesitated, annoyed with herself. She had to stop doing this, assuming the traditional female role. He’d offered her tea, so why hadn’t she simply said thank you and let him make her a cup? She’d been too passive in her relationship with Fletcher’s father and was determined to change her ways. For her son’s sake as well as her own.
Jonathan noticed her hesitation.
“Why don’t you sit down and let me do this?” he said. “You look exhausted.” His kindness caused her eyes to well up with tears. The tears she’d been unable to shed yesterday as she said goodbye to Alice. She blinked and wiped her hand across her eyes while his back was turned.
“We have chamomile, peppermint or lemon twist,” he said, turning to her.
“Peppermint, thank you.” Did he notice the slight wobble in her voice?
“I’ve been asked to run a retreat here this weekend,” he said. “I’d love your help but I realise this isn’t much notice.”
He’d mentioned these retreats during her interview last week. She’d explained that she had a five-year-old son so would need prior warning. Thankfully her mother was eager to help. When she’d phoned her to tell her about her new job, she’d offered to mind Fletcher whenever Sarah needed her to. Her mother was retired now and a widow. She’d been a primary school teacher and missed the constant contact with youngsters. Fletcher was her only grandchild.
Sarah sipped the tea. It was too hot and the flavour of the teabag was still infusing, but it was something to do while she gathered her thoughts.
“I’ll have to let you know later,” she said. “My son would need someone to look after him.”
Jonathan nodded. A comfortable silence developed. He dunked his teabag up and down, his mind clearly elsewhere. The sound of his phone broke the silence. He glanced at it but didn’t take the call. He looked at her with a sheepish smile.
“I don’t usually ignore my phone,” he began. “But right now I really need a cup of tea.”
“Is everything all right?”
A shadow crossed his features. Should she have asked?
“I’ve just lost my cat and the house feels empty without her,” he said. “She was only five years old. It doesn’t seem fair when she was so young.”
Would Sarah mention the two Persians? It seemed the right time. And such an unexpected coincidence. Was this fate intervening?
“You know what they say,” she began. “The best thing to do is to get another.”
“Then they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he said, without looking at her. And he finished his tea in silence.
Sarah could’ve kicked herself. Why had she spoken so soon? It must’ve sounded insensitive.
She’d owned a dog when she and Carl were together. It had broken her heart when her ex had taken the Labrador with him when he’d left. If someone had suggested then that she should simply get another… And she hadn’t had to cope with the death of her pet.
She washed the cups thoughtfully, wishing she could wind the clock back and unsay those words.
“Forgive yourself,” she whispered to her reflection in the mirror, as she drove home.
There was an appetising aroma of chicken casserole as she opened the front door. It was now six o’clock. Home felt warm and welcoming.
Fletcher ran down the hall towards her, whooping and laughing. She whisked him up into her arms. He was already in his new dinosaur pyjamas. She kissed his pink cheeks and rested her head on his soft curls.
Closing her eyes, she inhaled the sweet scent of shampoo and soap, silently blessing her mother.
“Where’s Grandma?” she asked him.
“She’s in the kitchen,” he said. “Can we play?”
“I’ve survived my first shift,” she said, kissing her mother.
The kitchen smelt wonderful. Rich aromas of tomato, chicken and garlic filling the air. On top of the stove was the blue casserole dish. She glimpsed a tray of roast potatoes in the oven and suddenly realised how hungry she was.
Shadow was rubbing her back across her mother’s legs, purring loudly. Almond was nowhere to be seen.
“Thanks so much, Mum,” she said. She’d wait until later to mention the weekend retreat so she could gauge how things had gone this afternoon.
“Is it too early for me to dish dinner up?” her mother asked. “Fletcher wanted to wait and eat with you.”
“I’ll just put my things away and then I’ll be ready,” she said.
As she went into her bedroom, her phone rang. To her surprise it was Jonathan.
“I’m wondering if you’ve taken the keys home by mistake?” he asked.
She bit her lip, remembering too late that they were in her handbag. She’d needed to use the storeroom key and then forgotten all about it. As she began to apologise, he interrupted.
“It’s not a problem,” he said. “Perhaps I could drop by and pick them up? You’re on my way home.”
“Of course,” she said.
Would she invite him to join them for dinner? She didn’t usually combine her personal and professional lives but Jonathan seemed different to other men she’d worked with. He had a strangely durable quality.
Sarah was cutting Fletcher’s chicken into bite-sized portions when the doorbell rang. She quickly ran her hand through her hair and wiped a smudge of gravy from Fletcher’s mouth.
Jonathan smiled as she opened the door. The sudden gust of cold air caused her to shiver. Before he could speak, Almond appeared out of nowhere, purring loudly.
“What a magnificent cat,” he said. “Is he always this friendly?”
Sarah smiled. She couldn’t have choreographed this better if she’d tried!
“I don’t know. He’s only been here a week,” she said. “Would you like to join us for dinner?”
As he sat in the empty chair opposite Fletcher, Almond leapt up onto his lap.
“Be careful or he’ll try to take the food off your plate,” she warned. “He behaves more like a puppy than a young cat.”
Fletcher giggled. “Can we keep him, Mummy?”
Sarah had been worried he’d ask this sooner or later.
We’re looking for a home for him and Shadow.
“So, he’s not your cat?”
She could tell by the expression in Jonathan’s eyes that he was remembering her earlier comment that the best thing when you lost a cat was to get another. She wouldn’t make the same mistake. She told him about her promise to Alice and left it at that.
“You’re not tempted to keep them?” he asked, stroking Almond and rubbing behind his ears.
“They’re beautiful and I’m enjoying having them here,” she said. “But I can’t find an extra two hours every day to give them the grooming they need.”
“An hour each?” He shook his head. “That’s a big commitment. You might find it hard finding someone prepared to take both of them.”
She nodded. “Alice wants them to stay together. But they don’t actually spend of lot of time together,” she said. “Shadow looks annoyed whenever Almond tries to play with her.”
Sarah helped herself to more roast potatoes. How did her mother get them so utterly perfect?
After the meal she gave Jonathan the keys. “Sorry about that,” she said.
After he’d gone, her mother gave her a significant look. Not hard to guess what she was thinking. But that wasn’t going to happen.
Next morning Fletcher was in his dinosaur pyjamas eating a chocolate pancake at the kitchen table as she left for the retreat. Her heart lifted. It was selfish, she knew, but her mother’s retirement couldn’t have come at a better time for her.
Jonathan was brushing cream fur off his grey track pants when she arrived. She couldn’t help smiling. Almond certainly made sure his admirers remembered him.
“I see what you mean about that hour of grooming.” He sounded more cheerful this morning. “It’s a wonder your cat has any fur left.”
She smiled. “He’s not my cat and I don’t think he ever will be,” she said. “But I confess he’s getting under my skin. Despite being so demanding.”
“So, you might keep him?”
She shook her head. “That’s not a decision I can make quickly,” she said. “There’s so much involved.”
“I know what you mean,” he said. “Even though some so-called experts reckon one cat can just be replaced by another. It’s not like that, is it? Not for me – and I suspect not with you?”
His brown eyes held hers. She didn’t know what to say. Judging by the expression in his eyes, he was talking about more than just cats. Had her mother mentioned Carl? Or otherwise said something she shouldn’t?
There’d been a connection between them last night. It felt like the most natural thing in the world for him to be sitting down to dinner with her, her mother and Fletcher.
Fletcher had even asked her if Jonathan would be coming to dinner again tonight. She needed to be very careful not to let her son’s feelings be hurt, not again.
Or her own, for that matter. She’d let her guard down. Enjoyed a man’s company again.
But it was daylight now. She had a job and becoming involved with her boss was out of the question.
Did it have to be?
The honesty and goodness in his eyes were breaking through her defences…
“That’s not how it works for me either,” she said. “With cats – or with people.”
“But anything’s possible?”
“Now that we know where we stand, let’s get this retreat underway,” he said.
She didn’t really know where she stood. Just that it mattered. As it hadn’t done with anyone else for quite a while. These feeling were unexpected, unplanned, and wrong timing. Just like the arrival of Shadow and Almond.
She shifted them to one side so she could focus on her work. Knowing she’d come back to them later, to reflect and wonder upon them.
Would he reflect too? There was something in his eyes that suggested he would.
Would she keep the two cats? She really didn’t know. Would she see more of Jonathan outside of work? She didn’t know that either.
But the arrival of both in her life felt right. And for now, that was enough.