Steve cleaned his paws diligently for the seventeenth time that day, wondering if his foster mom might offer him second dinner. At least, that’s what she called herself. Steve had no idea what a “foster mom” was, or how he ended up here.
The last thing he remembered was wandering through the freezing, lonely streets of Jersey City, searching for a fresh meal and a warm bed. He somehow ended up here, where he finally got the scrumptious bowl of food he was looking for — but it wasn’t the best meal he’d ever eaten, mainly because they clipped his ear and put him back outside at the end of it. It was only after he stayed put for one whole week that they agreed to let him come inside again, stopped calling him “Stray,” and started calling him “Steve.”
He’d been living in this house for a few months and finally established a respectable daily routine for himself:
He woke up.
He ate breakfast.
He cleaned himself for six hours straight.
He ate dinner.
He begged for second dinner.
He gave up begging for second dinner and cleaned his unspeakable bits.
He went to sleep.
It was a pretty good life, he had to admit. But there was one problem: For some reason he couldn’t quite put his paws on, Steve didn’t feel settled.
Suddenly a whispery sound caught Steve’s attention, making him think of a cat tiptoeing on a cloud. Reluctantly, he stopped cleaning his unspeakable bits and glanced up…only to discover another cat in the house! Steve immediately readied his greatest and most intimidating weapon (the Big Tail), until he remembered that he already inspected every crevice of the house for other cats when he moved in. Plus, this cat wasn’t quite like the others he’d encountered on the streets. For one thing, his colors were muted to a dull greyscale. He was also blurry at the edges.
“Are you a ghost?” Steve asked the mysterious cat. Unlike humans, cats aren’t afraid of ghosts. Ghosts are far less terrifying than actual threats (cucumbers, grocery bags, etc.).
“I’m Sonny,” the cat replied. “I’m an Australian ghost.”
“What’s an Australian ghost?”
“We’re just like regular ghosts, except we’re more laid back and we have an accent.”
Now that he mentioned it, Steve thought Sonny sounded rather strange. Nevertheless, he had more important things to address than accents. “Can I help you with something, Sonny? As you can see, I was in the middle of an important task that really can’t wait.”
Instead of getting defensive, Sonny offered him a peaceful grin. “I can’t stay long, but I’m here to deliver some wonderful news. My family is moving to Jersey City in the next few months, and I’ve been searching high and low for a cat who will fill the hole in their hearts that I left when I crossed the rainbow bridge. Steve, I’ve inspected every cat in this city, and you’re the only one who ticks all of my boxes. You’re kind and gentle, you believe that second dinner is a basic necessity, and you look somewhat like a cow. Dad loves that. Plus, and most importantly, you have FIV like I did.”
“I have FIV?” Steve had heard of FIV and knew that it affected cats with rough lives like him, but he didn’t know much more about it. Then again, he had to admit he hadn’t been feeling like himself these past few months. He was as hungry and playful as always, but his nose was constantly stuffy. Lately he found himself sneezing on his foster mom’s pillow, but she didn’t mind. I’m worried no one will love you like I do, Steve, she sometimes said to him.
The thought of his foster mom’s words made Steve hesitate. “But…I don’t know your mom and dad, Sonny. How can I be sure they’ll want me? After all, I’m an older cat. My nose is always sniffly, and I don’t even have an entire ear on one side.” He gestured to the clipped part of his ear that they gave him when they still called him Stray.
“That doesn’t matter.” Sonny wiggled his right paw. “I didn’t have this leg when I was living on earth. As a matter of fact, I didn’t have much of anything. I was rescued from an awful street in Sydney, where I spent my life being abused by the people who lived there. Only one man was kind enough to feed me and keep me alive.
“I never thought I’d trust a human until I met Mom and Dad. It took months of patience, surgery, and love, but they taught me how to be a part of their family. I spent most of the early days hiding in a closet in their room that they dubbed ‘Sonny’s Closet,’ and Dad used to call me a rusty car engine because of my growls. But by the end of my life, Dad and I were spooning in bed every night and I was confident enough to purr at Mom for second breakfast. And speaking of Dad, his nose is always sniffly, too!”
Second breakfast?! Steve had never considered such a glorious thing. The thought of living with Sonny’s family with their closets and jokes and sniffly noses was almost too good to be true. But so was the thought of meeting an Australian ghost. “Okay,” Steve finally announced. “What do I have to do?”
Sonny’s edges glowed with joy. “In a few days, Mom will stumble across your photo on Petfinder. She’ll reach out to the rescue that took you off the streets, and they’ll schedule something called a ‘video meet-and-greet.’ All you have to do is look extra mushy on that call. Mom will eat it up, trust me. Leave the rest with me, and soon enough, you’ll be home.”
Home. Steve could finally picture that settled feeling he’d been searching for his entire life. Suddenly a spark of something alighted in him that he had never experienced before. It’s hope, he realized. Hope for a family, and for a happily-ever-after that didn’t always happen for cats from the streets. Cats with FIV. Cats like him. “Sonny, how can I possibly thank you?”
“Sit on Dad’s lap,” Sonny told him, “even if he’s trying to type on his laptop. Make Mom laugh every day. Greet them when they walk through the door, and show them every ounce of love that I can’t show them anymore because I left this world too soon.” His edges began to flicker. “Speaking of which, I have to go. It was an honor meeting you, Steve.”
Sonny began to fade away, but Steve had one more question. “Wait! What is it like over the rainbow bridge?”
Sonny’s voice sounded like it was coming from the other side of a long cat tunnel. “Oh, there’s nothing like it here on earth. Picture giant tables full of trinkets to knock off all day long, spots of warm sunshine and deep closets for napping, and soft laps of all shapes and sizes. They also let us check in on our families. That includes you now, too, Steve.”
Steve wanted to say more, but the other cat was already gone. Nevertheless, Steve didn’t feel any regret. Rather, he was overcome with a sense of peace. He had a feeling they’d meet again someday. And he knew, even if he couldn’t see him, that Sonny would be there by his side as he joined his new family.