All James felt while he was witnessing his friend Rose suffering was anguish. He couldn’t sleep or eat properly when he knew that she was distressed and miserable alone in her apartment opposite of his.
Rose, James’s best friend borderline the girl he was in love with, had been feeling wretched for the past few days because of the death of her beloved cat. Bingo, her childhood friend, her first pet, has passed away suddenly because of sickness. He still remembers her frantic banging on his door at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning, face pale and stricken with tears. His heart constricted when Rose continued crying while they were waiting for the people from the vet clinic to come and take away the small body.
It was so unlike Rose to fall apart completely, not that he would ever blame her. Bingo was truly her favourite creature, her dear friend. The cat would always curl in Rose’s lap when she and James were binge-watching tv-series together; it followed her around the flat in the mornings, it crawled under her blanket and purred all night while she was sleeping. Bingo even liked James a little (that meant a lot per Rose’s words). The calico cat bumped its head into James’s bicep affectionately and accepted treats gladly from time to time.
So, naturally, it was a huge blow to Rose’s morale when she woke up on a Saturday morning only to find her friend no longer alive.
James was ashamed to admit that he was happy that Rose chose him to search for consolation and support. The consolation and support were generously given, of course, although James wished the circumstances weren’t quite so dreadful.
He called into Rose’s work and asked them to give her a day off that Saturday. It was her shift at the shop, the second day out of two filled with 12-hours-shifts. The manager refused to let Rose go for the day for that ‘silly reason’ and that was where James had to start threatening the staff to file dozens of complaints against violating workers’ rights that he had witnessed in abundance after meeting Rose.
Needless to say, Rose was given the day off.
James couldn’t think of anything better at that moment but offered Rose some heart drops with sedative effect and helped her clean out the apartment from Bingo’s toys, bowls and unused packages of food. He stayed with Rose throughout the day, stroking her hair while cuddling on the small couch in front of the telly. He half expected Rose to beg him to stay the night but she pulled herself together to some degree and thanked him profusely before apologising for dumping her emotions on him.
James only smiled in return and caressed her cheek gently.
“That’s what friends are for, love.”
James wasn’t to blame for the crush that he harboured on Rose. He really wasn’t. Miraculously, she stayed single ever since he helped her chase away the bloke who couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. What was his name, James wonders. Paul? Matthew? Adam? Something Biblical for sure.
Anyway, Rose has been ‘single as a cat abandoned on the side of the road’ (her actual words) ever since the Biblical-named-pretty-boy accident. John pondered half-heartedly if it was possible that Rose reminded him of her availability continuously because she wanted him to act on that fact. She smiled a lot around James, she did, and it was the ‘flirty’ smile from Rose’s arsenal (James knew all the other smiles, too). She spent more evenings with him than without him, they talked all the time, they shopped together and were there for each other when life was dire...surely, that didn’t mean that she considered him more than a friend, did it?
But...how could he? How could she? He was twelve years senior to Rose, not suiting her male beauty standards, he was rude and boring and hated going to loud places where all 24 year olds liked to chill. Look at him, using the word ‘chill’!
James felt rotten enough as it is for demanding and taking too much of Rose’s free time and attention even if she swore that his company was a pleasure to be in. Yeah, right. Him, a pleasant company.
Rose was just too kind-hearted for her own good.
Rose was just too good for James, period.
Now it’s late evening and it’s his day off. Rose is out, working, looking pale and lonely, smiling wanly to the customers, dreading to come home and not be greeted by her best cat friend. His heart goes out to Rose for the hundredth time that week. Should he order takeaway? She loves Indian food, it’s bound to awaken her appetite. He might even pop into the Target and see if there are any DVDs with Colin Firth or that David Tennant available...bloody pretty males, always capturing Rose’s eye.
James sighed grievously and pushed himself off the armchair. Time to get that takeaway and boost Rose’s morale.
Time to cheer up the girl he loves.
He sees it when he steps into the underground passage. A tiny black and white creature, no bigger than his own palm. Poor fella. Must have been left by someone who couldn’t deal with another mouth to feed and find a loving family for.
A small blue-eyed kitten with black fur and white-coloured chest. The creature’s ears are ridiculously big and James chortles suddenly, blessing fate.
Fortuna, it seems, is smiling upon him today.
James picks up the kitten carefully and tucks it into his leather jacket, protecting it from the cold, and maneuvers to turn the way he came from.
Hopefully, his intentions won’t be a road leading to Hell.
James knocks on Rose’s door loudly knowing that she’d be home already. Alone, brooding.
Well, Heavens help him, not for long.
The door opens to reveal a tired-looking Rose. Her face lights up when she sees him, traces of sadness melting away. The wide smile that blooms on her face is enough to power James up for launching into space without a spaceship.
He is suddenly nervous, however. Here she is, smiling, lighter than he had seen her this week, welcoming him into her apartment.
What if he’s about to make a mistake?
James backpedals, about to offer some inane excuse to hide the stowaway behind his jacket so as not to dishearten Rose when said stowaway meows loudly, demanding attention (and probably food).
Rose perks up, lips forming a perfect ‘o’ in wonder.
“James! What is it you’ve got there?”
His shoulder drop. There. He’s about to bollox up everything good in his life. Everything worth living for.
Resigned, he opens the lapels of his weathered leather jacket.
Suddenly, his vision is filled with Rose’s blonde hair as she coos over the teensy kitten sitting in his inside pocket.
“Oh, James! Oh, what happened to this poor baby? Look at him, so small and so thin!” when he doesn’t answer, Rose turns up her eyes to look into his eyes. The whiskey brown of her irises is brimming with awe and compassion and a little confusion. Right. He must explain his intentions.
“Uh...Rose, I was out for food for our usual binge-watching evening and then I saw it in the underground passage. I thought...oh, Rose. I don’t know what I thought. You were so sad this week,” James doesn’t dare to speak Bingo’s name out loud, he isn’t brave enough to bring Rose’s pain up again, “and I saw this beggar and I didn’t even think twice…,” James feels like an utter idiot right now, he sees all the faults in his impromptu plan. He continues beating himself inwardly when Rose puts her palm on his cheek (he hasn't shaved in three days, for God’s sake, why hasn’t he done that?) and he is boldened by her tender gesture.
“You don’t have to do anything, honestly. Christ, why didn’t I think beforehand. I’ll take it in but maybe you’ll want to visit it from time to time, eh, Rose?”
James is mortified when he notices that Rose’s lips tremble and she just stands there, eyes wide, barely breathing.
Fuck. Oh, fuck, he made everything worse. She’s only just stopped tearing up while stepping into her apartment back from work…
James is gobsmacked when Rose’s hands stretch out to him as if asking to hold the kitten. Stupefied, he relents his hold on the creature.
Rose starts caressing the kitten’s ears delicately, prompting the tiny animal to purr like a one-horsepower car.
James is watching, mesmerised by the glide of her slender fingers, drawn in by the warmth both Rose and the creature radiate.
Finally, she looks up to him.
“I...I love it, James. It’s precious. But...don’t you want it? You’re the one who found it. Or, maybe, it found you!” offers Rose, continuing to emit soft rumbling noises from the kitten. “I must say, James,” Rose smiles slyly, one corner of her mouth turning up to create a flirty grin, “I dare say it has your ears!”
“Oi!” James lets out indignantly and starts laughing. God, she isn’t angry. She isn’t crying anymore and she holds the black and white kitten close to her chest, stroking its fur lovingly.
“I saw it and thought of you, yeah, and I’d love you to have it. It’s not like we don’t see each other at all, yeah? I’ll probably see this beggar regularly with the way we meet. Not that I brought it to you as an excuse to hang around your flat more,” James supplies, cringing, ashamed of what she must think he implies. “The thing is, Rose, if you want it, I’d love you to have it. Another stray for you to take care of!” Rose snorts at that comment and blushes prettily.
Oh, how he missed seeing her happy. He loves Rose, he loves any Rose in any mood she’s in but looking at her now, cheeks rosy, lips stretched in a tentative smile, cooing over someone to keep her company...it’s a remedy to his lonely soul.
Rose nudges James to stroke the kitten, too. He does so willingly, relishing in the warmth of her aura. Such a little person, Rose is, yet so much love and compassion is stored in her mind, body and soul.
He’s never met anyone quite like Rose.
James sighs heavily, shaking head at his ridiculous crush, and looks down at the new tenant of Rose’s apartment.
He is a little jealous of the attention the kitten receives. Although he would never admit it out loud. Even under the threat of being tortured. No tiny kitten will make him jealous of Rose’s affection.
The kitten opens one blue eye lazily and looks entirely too smug for someone this tiny.
James is brought back from his musings when Rose speaks shyly.
“James, it’s a miracle. Thank you so much...I’d love to have it. I know it won’t replace Bingo but...it already feels better here,” Rose takes his hand and presses it palm down in between her clavicles, trapping his hand beneath her own one. James hates feeling tied down, trapped, obliged usually but this...he’s only too willing to be ensnared by Rose.
They look into each other’s eyes, Rose smiling, her eyes once again brimming with unshed tears, and he puts his other palm to her face when one tear escapes down her cheek.
“Don’t cry, Rose, it’ll be alright. It’ll get better, yeah?”
Her lips tremble, she breathes in with a shudder, closes her eyes, nuzzling into his palm, and nods.
He gives her a toothy grin.
The kitten meowls, demanding the food.
“But James...is it a he? Or is it a she?” He plucks the animal from Rose’s hands carefully and inspects it.
“A he,” confirms James, “how will you name him, Rose?”
She puckers her lips, pondering. Then she takes the poor hungry creature from his arms and tells him, “You name it! You’re his saviour, after all.”
James wants to deny being anybody’s saviour but the pleading look in Rose’s eyes is impossible to resist.
“Hm,” acts out James dramatically, thinking aloud, “well...let him be Gizmo!”
Rose's surprised roar of laughter is music to his ears.
“You...you and your mechanic jokes!” she breathes out in between giggles. “Well, then, Gizmo, let’s go find you some food!” Rose stops and looks skyward as if listing something in her mind, “and book you an appointment at the vet’s, and buy you some bowls, and…”
James marvels at Rose’s ‘domestic approach’ as he closes the door to her flat behind them (he has the key to her flat in case of emergency just as she has a key to his own). They go to the 24/7 supermarket two streets away and buy Gizmo several cat food tins.
Then they pop to order Indian takeaway. And to rent that romantic movie with David Tennant. Rose also drops a DVD box with a space documentary on it because she knows that even if it makes her sleepy and bored to tears, James enjoys documentaries.
And Rose enjoys James’s company.
It’s a quiet evening filled with comments about pretty boys, abandoned space stations and showers of love and affection given to Gizmo.
Gizmo witnesses the kiss between his owner and the jumper-wearing bloke not a week into his new life complete with warmth and full belly instead of cold tiles and penetrating rain.
It’s a good life, muses Gizmo as he kneads his favourite blanket on Rose’s knees.