A Woman and Her Cat (Short Story)

(This is a first draft/rough draft that I wrote today. It’s a little over 7300 words. I’ve done a few passes for editing and errors, but it’s likely that there are still more lingering. I’ve also posted this to Wattpad but I’m learning how to use that site so you’re probably better off just reading it here. Enjoy!)

***

“Turkey club,” Bob said.

“Just the sandwich, or do you want a meal?” Her finger hovered over a green button on the register

“I’ll have the meal.”

The finger pressed down. She handed him a cup and smiled. “You’re order fourteen, the chips are on the right. Thank you.”

Bob pressed the cardboard cup to the metal tab. Pepsi sneezed from the spout and sprayed his fingers. “Oh, Pepsi just ran out,” said a skinny teenager in a red apron. “I’m swapping it now if you wanna wait.”

Bob shrugged. “I should just have water anyway. Thanks.”

Bob weaved his way through the small shop. The four tables inside were full, but he had no intention of sitting inside. He stood by the door, waiting for his number to be called. Through the glass, he saw a beautiful woman approach. She wore black heels and a skirt that struggled to cover her knees as she walked. Her white buttoned shirt was tight against her chest, its short sleeves barely extending beyond her shoulders. Her hair was as black as the ravens outside that hopped from crumb to crumb. Small pearls studded her ear lobes. She carried a black leather wallet in a left hand that wore no rings. Bob opened the door.

“Thank you,” she said, looking him in the eye.

“You’re welcome,” Bob said.

She paused briefly, smiled, and then stood in line. Bob stole a glance of her rear and found that it was even better than her front.

A shout came from the register. “Fourteen! Turkey club, fourteen.” Bob went to the front.

“What kind of chips?”

“I don’t care. Uhh,” he pointed, “those stupid baked ones.”

“Here ya go,” said the teenager. “Oh, the Pepsi is in now if you still want some.”

Bob shook his head and turned. He exited directly beside the line, inching his way by, rather than go around the tables. As he passed by the woman, he caught the subtle scent of her perfume. He gently grazed her arm, but she didn’t seem to notice.

The weather was warm, but a breeze stirred the air well enough. Bob picked the table furthest from the street. He enjoyed the food, but it always left him feeling a little sad that the shop was located on a corner. The owner of the shop, Grandma’s Sandwiches, had converted old feeding troughs into flower beds. The petals of purple, red, and blue danced in the wind. A crow watched with impatience as he bit into his sandwich.

The woman exited the door and found the last empty table, which was closest to the street. She sat, pulled a white cloth napkin from her black wallet, and stirred at her salad. Bob did his best to peer around the group of large women that were seated between them. The particularly offensive blocker wore a bright orange t-shirt and cackled like a witch from the 1800’s. He ate slowly and waited for the unpleasant ladies to devour their meals, which they did in shameless fashion.

They left just in time for Bob to see the woman take a long drink from her bottled water. She titled her head back, spilling her hair over her shoulders and showing her white neck. He noticed her fingernails were painted a dark red, like fresh blood. When she brought her head back down and returned his look, he had forgotten that he was staring at her. She gave a smile and fluttered her fingers at him in a playful wave. Bob smiled back, embarrassed. She stood, gathered her things, and walked over to him.

“May I join you?” she asked.

“Of course. Yes, please.” Bob brushed away the crumbs on his t-shirt.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Bob.”

“Hello, Bob. I’m Catrina.” She extended her hand. Bob gave it an awkward shake.

“So, Bob, what’s it like being a palindrome?” she asked.

Bob grabbed a chip. “What?”

Catrina smiled and stirred bits of chicken under the leaves of her salad. “Your name, it’s a palindrome. You know, it’s spelled the same way forwards and backwards.”

“Oh,” Bob said. “Oh! Huh. Well how about that? I never realized.”

Catrina smiled and took a bite. She was careful not to smear her lipstick.

“And yours,” Bob said. “I imagine you spell it with a K.”

“With a C, like Cat.”

Bob chuckled. “So do all your friends call you Cat?”

She paused and fixed her dark brown eyes on his. “Only if I ask them to.”

Bob nodded and drummed his fingers on the black metal of the table. “So, what do you do?”

“What do you think I do?” she asked, taking another bite. The fresh lettuce crunched in her mouth and for the first time in months, maybe years, Bob found a salad to be appetizing.

He gave a shrug. “I don’t know. Lawyer maybe? Accounting?”

She smiled. “Paint.”

“Paint?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’m a painter. I paint and I sell paintings.”

“Oh, neat. Anything I would know?” Bob asked.

“No,” she said, giving her head a subtle shake. She swiped her hand at a loose bang. “There are a lot of paintings in the world. The only chance a painter has to truly be recognized is to die. It seems living painters have no place in the art world.” Bob laughed. It was a laugh that started loudly and came to a quick end when Catrina didn’t join in.

“Well you must do pretty well for yourself,” he said.

“I do. What about you? Do you do well for yourself, Bob?”

Bob shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess not. I mean, I’m paying the bills and all that, but I hate my job. I’m sick today, as you can tell.” Bob put his hands to the air and shrugged at his clothes. “The other day I was thinking about buying a lottery ticket just so if I won I could tell that pain in the ass Harken what I really thought of him.” Catrina smiled. “But,” Bob said with a sigh, “Those kind of things only happen in fiction.” He took a chomp from his sandwich. The bite was much smaller than he would normally take.

“Bob, may I see your phone?” she asked.

He gave her a puzzled look. She smiled and only nodded. Still chewing, he fetched his phone from his pocket and set it on the table. She gave delicate taps at the screen with the tips of her fingers and added her number.

“Call me,” she said.

Bob swallowed. “Okay, yeah. I will.”

Catrina laughed. “No. Call me so that I can add your number to mine.”

Bob felt a redness find his cheeks. The redder he felt the larger her smile grew. He thumbed the screen and gave her phone a ring.

“Well, Bob, I need to go.” She whipped her cloth napkin from her lap and sent a waiting crow to the air. “Thank you for lunch, it was a pleasure talking with you.” She rounded the small table and leaned in close. She rubbed the tip of her nose to his and kissed his cheek. The blood so recently in Bob’s face rushed to his groin “Thank you for opening the door for me.”

“My pleasure,” he said. He moved to touch her side but she captured his hand and held it in hers. She kissed a knuckle and smiled again and left him with the crows. Bob watched her and nothing else until she turned the corner and out of sight. The crows cawed at him with anger as he shoved the rest of his sandwich into his mouth.

***

“Dude. Dude!” Bob slapped at his steering wheel.

“Hey man, what’s up?” said the voice on the other end of the phone.

“Dude, you will not believe what just happened to me.”

“What’s going on, did you finally tell Harken to fuck off?” The crunching sound of chips being eaten came through the line.

“No, no,” Bob said, “Nothing like that. I called in sick today.”

“Oh, no kidding? Me too.”

“Why? Are you sick?” Bob asked.

“Hell no. I went in Monday and things went well enough. Then the afternoon rolls around and the floor supervisor calls me over and just start railing on me. ‘Mitch, you gotta do this. Mitch, I expect that.’ Just bla, bla, bla, for like twenty minutes straight.”

“What was he so pissed about?” Bob held the phone away to try and thin out the thundering sound of Doritos being destroyed.

“Hell if I know,” Mitch said. “I didn’t pay attention. The fuckin’ guy went on for almost twenty minutes, right there on the floor. Why’d you call in?”

“Oh, I don’t know. It’s a Tuesday and Harken’s a dick.” Bob said. “Look, listen. God, you’re not even going to believe me.”

“Well spit it out.”

“So I go to the sandwich shop, and there’s this girl there.”

“Why do you to there? That place sucks,” Mitch said.

“Would ya shut up? This girl walks in and she is just smoking hot gorgeous. I mean, seriously. It’s unbelievable how hot she is.” Bob turned the corner, spinning the wheel with one hand.

“Yeah?” The crunching stopped. Few things could bring a premature end to Mitch’s eating of chips; women was one of them.

“So I open the door for her and she says hi and all that. I get my sandwich and go outside to eat it.”

“You’re story is that you opened the door for a hot chick?” Mitch said. “What kind of shit story is this?”

“She comes out,” Bob continued, “and she just ups and sits with me totally out of the blue. All I did was stare at her when she was drinking her water and she comes and sits with me.”

“No way,” Mitch said, drawing the words out. The crunching resumed.

“I’m serious.”

“Uh huh,” Mitch said.

“Then she takes my phone and puts her number on it.”

“Right.”

Bob laughed. “Then she calls her phone with mine so that she has my number.”

Silence.

“Then she gets up, says thank you for lunch, and kisses me.” Bob squeaked his truck to a stop in the apartment complex parking lot. He slapped the steering wheel as fast as he could.

“Dude, you really expect me to believe this?”

Bob laughed while he sprinted up the stairs. “I’m serious.”

“Well it sounds to me,” Mitch said, tossing another chip into his mouth, “like you’ve been smoking a lot of pot instead of just a little. Remember when you said you were going to smoke just a little bit of pot?”

“Dude,” said Bob. “I’m serious.”

“I told you not start up again,” Mitch said. “I told you that were going to quit your job and screw yourself because you’d have to take a piss test for screening. I said you’d just smoke the whole damn bag as soon as you got it. I tried to warn you, man.”

Bob plopped onto his couch and flipped on the TV. He shook his head. “I’m gonna call her.”

“Right, right. You’re going to call your imaginary girlfriend and prove me wrong. Man, you have been smoking. You got any left? It has to be some good shit if it’s got you trippin’ this bad.”

Bob laughed. “I’m not high!”

“How did you even manage to dial the phone? You have yours set up for voice commands or something?”

“I can’t wait for you to see her,” Bob said. “The look on your face is going to be so sweet.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Mitch went into a terrible coughing fit.

“You alright?” Bob asked.

“Yeah,” he said, trying to swallow the cough down. “Fuckin’ chip tried to go down the wrong pipe.”

“Good,” Bob said as he flipped mindlessly through the channels. “That’ll teach you to talk and eat chips at the same time. It’s really loud over the phone.”

“Aww, poor baby. Why don’t you call your invisible girlfriend and talk to her about it?”

Bob shook his head.

“Alright, on a serious topic,” Mitch said. “Fantasy Football, live draft, two weeks, don’t forget.”

“I won’t,” Bob said. “I’ve got my picks all planned out.”

“I’m sure you do, Mr. LAST PLACE!” Mitch filled the phone with crazed laughter and hung up.

Bob laughed and then sighed. He stood and looked out the sliding glass door to take in his wonderful view of the parking lot. Oil stains marked almost every empty spot. The hedges that divided the lots were gashed from foot traffic. On the far side, a man strolled with a leaf blower strapped to his back. He swung the nozzle back and forth, back and forth, as though he’d be sentenced to do it for all of eternity.

He looked back across his apartment with disappointment. His couch was dirty, its gray surface dotted with stains. An unpacked box full of books served as the end table. He looked at his coffee table and wondered why he ever thought it was a good idea to buy one with a glass top. Water-rings layered it like leopard print.

On the other side of the couch was the ugly tile counter that started the kitchen. The cabinets were cheap and old and one had an imbalance to it that it permanently cracked open. The refrigerator kicked on and sent its electric hum into the room.

He went to his bathroom to look in the mirror. The florescent light flickered to life and buzzed a heavy buzz. Bob stirred his brown hair. It hung over his ears and was wavy, but he couldn’t remember the last time he washed it. He rubbed the stubble on his face. A pulse of stupidity shot through him when he saw the stain on his shirt. It was from the sandwich he had for lunch. He shook his head. “Classy, Bob,” he said. “Real classy.” He stripped the shirt off and showered.

***

The afternoon droned into the evening. Bob flipped through the channels without paying attention to what came on the screen. None of it seemed to matter. He surfed the internet without goal or reason. Multiple trips were made from the couch to the fridge that ended in him remembering, yet again, only when the door was opened, that he had nothing to eat. He patted at his belly and figured he could stand to not munch on something for one afternoon. He thumbed his phone again and again, staring at the name Catrina. He remembered the feel of her lips on his skin, the stickiness of her lipstick, the curve of her calf as she walked away. He rubbed at his knuckle where her lips last fell.

And then his phone rang.

For a moment he thought it was only a malfunction. The display did not change, it just stared the same name and numbers at him. Catrina. Realization sat in, then panic. He answered the call just before it was sent to voice mail.

“Hello?”

“Hello, Bob,” she said. “How’s my favorite palindrome?”

Bob laughed. “I’m alright I guess. What’s up?”

“I was wondering if you’d like to get together this evening. I felt so badly for leaving you at lunch the way I did.”

“What do you mean?” asked Bob.

“I left so suddenly. I wanted to explain but I didn’t have time. I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Uh, yeah. Don’t worry about it.” He brushed at his shirt again and checked it for stains. There were none.

“So then? Can you come by my place in a few hours? I’ll cook you dinner. Do you like spaghetti? It’s nothing fancy, but I make pretty good meatballs and garlic bread. Spaghetti is the excuse I use to make the others.”

“That sounds fuc—” Bob forced a cough. “Uh, amazing. Yes, that sounds amazing.”

“Great. I’ll text you my address. Come by around seven or so.”

“Okay, yeah,” Bob said. “I will.”

“See you soon,” she said, and hung up.

Bob dropped his phone on the couch and shoved his hands in his hair. He stared at the TV while an advertisement for fabric softener played itself out on the screen. He paced the path from his couch to the fridge, shaking his head. He grabbed his phone and made a call.

“Yeah,” said Mitch.

“Dude. I’m going to her place. Tonight.”

“What?”

“Catrina just called me. She wants me to come over. She’s cooking me dinner.”

“What?” Mitch repeated.

“I know, right?” Bob still had one hand in his hair.

“Is this chic, like, psycho?” Mitch paused. “Don’t get me wrong, Bob. You’re my best friend and I love ya and all that, but what the fuck?”

“I don’t know,” Bob said. “I mean, I don’t even get it. Maybe she really likes it when guys open doors for her.”

“Where does she live?”

“I don’t know. She’s going to text me her—” His phone chimed. “Yeah, she just texted me her address.”

“Well look at it!” Mitch said.

Bob pulled the phone down and brought up the address. A map of his home town popped up, and he zoomed out to see the area. “Oh shit,” he said. “She lives uptown.”

“What does this chic do?” asked Mitch.

“She’s an artist I guess, a painter.” Bob scratched at his head.

“So let me get this straight,” said Mitch. “A hot, well off, painter wants you to come by her place, which is probably a fucking mansion, so that she can cook you dinner.”

Bob nodded in silence.

“She’s gonna kill you,” Mitch said. “She’s going to murder you in her kitchen and eat your liver.”

Bob laughed. “What should I do?”

“What?” Mitch squealed. “What do you mean? Go! Take a shower, grab some condoms, and go. Hell, forget the condoms. The crazy bitch probably wants to have your babies. Dude, Bob.”

“Yeah?”

“You’re sure she’s hot? Like, seriously. She’s hot?”

Bob sighed. “I can’t even begin to explain to you how smoking hot this girl is. It blows my mind.”

“Alright,” Mitch said, “if you say so. But I want a picture, you hear me? When you get there you tell your psycho girlfriend that I don’t believe you and I want a picture.”

“Fair enough,” Bob said.

***

Bob glared at his truck. It was a gray, if you could tell through the layer of dust, 1997 Ford Ranger. The headlights looked like they had cataracts, the paint was peeling away above the tire wells, and the passenger window was broken and no longer rolled down. He opened the door, brushed some crumbs from the bench seat, and got in.

He made his way through town, swerving into a Walgreens at the last second to buy some flowers. They were terrible looking things, but he hoped the thought would count. He palmed his phone and made his way out of the grid layout of down-town and into the sweeping, curving lanes of Oak Ridge. “Where the sun always shines,” Bob said, reading the sign. He shook his head.

The homes weren’t mansions, but they were close. Manicured lawns with lush gardens spanned in front of wide two-story houses with three, sometimes four, car garages. Stone arches were suspended over grand entryways. Luxury sedans and sports-cars sat in every driveway. Catrina’s house was no exception. Bob stopped his truck with a squeak and headed up the slate path to her door. When he rang the bell, he half expected an orchestra to start playing.

“Hello, Bob,” Catrina said with a smile. She swung the door wide and held her arm high on its side. She wore a long black dress that hugged her hips and flowed away from her ankles. The cut in front was low and clung to her shoulders with the thinnest of spaghetti straps. A small diamond was nestled at the top of her cleavage, hanging from a thin silver strand.

“Hi,” Bob said.

She smiled. “Come in.” She turned and revealed a bare back.

“Wow,” said Bob as he entered. The entry opened up into a wide living room of vaulted ceilings and thick wooden beams. Dark cherry wood lined the floor. A wide, stone fireplace dominated the southern wall. Two long couches of black leather faced one another before a grand painting of thick blacks and heavy reds. The western wall was almost all glass that looked out into her backyard where a large pool lay undisturbed. Water rippled over a stone fountain and flowed into the shallow end.

“You did this?” Bob asked, standing in front of the painting.

“That’s me,” she said.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “There’s so much texture. I didn’t know you could make paint look so thick.” He stepped closer to examine its surface. The black paint hung like an anchor on the wall. Cracks ripped through its surface like broken down asphalt, revealing the red and purple tones that lurked underneath. Splotches of red were scattered across the black like the blood trail of someone who was violently stabbed.

She smiled. “Thank you. That’s my favorite one, the only one I’ve kept. All of my others have been sold. Well, sold or trying to be sold. Lost souls stuck in some gallery, begging to be claimed, waiting for someone to give them purpose once again.”

Bob looked at her. “Huh?”

She laughed and played with the diamond glittering above her breasts. “Nothing, Bob. Nothing. Would you like some wine?”

“Sure,” he said.

“Would you like to hand me those flowers before you strangle them to death?”

Bob looked at forgotten flowers in his hand. “Oh! Yeah. Here. I got these for you.”

“Thank you, Bob. That’s very sweet. Do you have a particular wine that you enjoy?”

Bob gave her a long look. “No.”

She smiled again and gave the flowers a smell. “Very well. Walk around if you like. Make yourself at home. There are plenty of other paintings throughout the house, pieces that I’ve bought or received as gifts. You may like them.” She disappeared into the kitchen.

Bob wandered through the house. Each room was as amazing as the one before. Paintings hung on nearly every wall. He didn’t recognize a single one, but they all looked equally expensive. He suddenly found himself wishing he had paid closer attention during his one semester of art history. Catrina found him in a guest bedroom staring at another piece. She flicked a switch to illuminate the painting properly.

“What is this?” Bob asked.

She handed him a glass of red wine. “Jesus,” she said.

“Yeah, I know. But what’s this about?”

“This one is titled The Blood of Life.” She swirled the wine in her glass and took a slow sip. “What do you think?”

Bob squinted and shook his head. “It’s horrible. I mean, it’s amazing, the painting itself is so powerful. But, my god. It’s horrible.”

“They tortured him to death,” she said. “It wasn’t a pretty thing. Crucifixes bother me because they’re always depicted in such a modest way. This,” she said, pointing a finger, “is a crucifixion. This is what it looks like to be bound to a cross and left for dead. This is what real suffering looks like.”

Bob stared at the face and found he was uncomfortable doing so. The horror that was captured in the eyes was too well rendered, too real. He took a long drink from his wine. They stood together in silence for several minutes. Catrina sipped at her wine while Bob finished his.

“Are you hungry?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said, sidestepping away from the painting. “Yeah, let’s eat.”

She led him to the dining room where their meal was waiting for them. They sat at a long oak table that could easily seat twelve. The plates were placed in the middle, across from each other. Catrina pulled the covers to reveal plump meatballs, drenched in sauce, sitting atop a pile of noodles. Small plates of garlic bread completed the scene.

“This is amazing,” Bob said, sitting down. He tucked his cloth napkin into the collar of his gray t-shirt.

Catrina giggled. “Thank you, Bob. I enjoy cooking. It’s one of my hobbies.” As she leaned forward over her plate, Bob couldn’t keep his eyes controlled. Her diamond necklace winked at him relentlessly and her dress hung so low.

“How did you do this?”

She looked up. “Spaghetti?”

“No, this,” he said, pointing to the room around him. “I mean hell, I’m twenty-four and you look younger than me and I don’t have a damn thing to show for myself.”

She smiled, dabbing her napkin to the corner of her mouth. “Well,” she said, “I’m not younger than you, to start with. And truthfully? I got lucky.”

“Lucky?” Bob’s phone vibrated in his pocket.

“Yeah. My father is a lawyer for a very big bank in New York. If there is anyone to know in New York, he knows them. He probably worked for them at some point.” She tore at a piece of bread and took a small bite. “Growing up was easy. My father was gone a lot but he was always very supportive of the arts. I played a lot of music growing up. When I told my parents I liked painting and wanted to do more, they set me up. Classes, personal instruction, materials, all of it at the mention of the word.”

“That must have been nice,” Bob said.

She shrugged. “I missed my father, and I think he really missed me. It bothered him that he had to spend so much time in the city. He tried to compensate as well as he could.” She swirled her wine and took another sip. Bob joined her. “So my father being who he was, it was easy street to high clientele. I loved painting, got good at it, and here we are today.”

Bob shook his head.

Catrina laughed. “What? Why are you shaking your head?”

“I don’t know,” he said. His phone vibrated again. “I’m jealous, I guess.”

She reached over the table and stroked her finger across his hand. “Try a meatball.”

Bob cut one in half and shoved it in his mouth. Catrina watched with an amused smile as he rolled it in his cheeks, chewing and tasting, tasting and chewing. He swallowed it down. “That,” he said, pausing as if catching his breath, “was fucking amazing.”

Catrina smiled and plunged a fork into her own. She held it in front of her face and took a bite from the side. A black cat jumped onto the end of the table.

“Well good evening, Nibbles,” Catrina said. “Nice of you to join us.”

The cat strolled its way to the middle of the table and sat beside Bob’s elbow. Bob gave it a scratch behind the ear and Nibbles turned his head in kind, purring immediately. His hair was long and shimmered in the light.

“Oh, he likes you,” Catrina said. “Do you have a cat?”

“No. No pets allowed in the apartment complex.”

“I got Nibbles when I first moved here,” Catrina said. “Someone to keep me company. This house is so big, so empty sometimes. It’s nice to have someone else inside it, even if it’s just a cat.” Nibbles sniffed around Bob’s plate. “Oh, sorry. I let him eat on the table with me.” She scooped some sauce onto a piece and bread and set aside. Nibbles took to eating.

“He’s beautiful,” Bob said. “His hair, god. He could be a cat model.”

Catrina smiled and laughed. “Yes, Nibbles is quite the feline. A very special cat, indeed.”

The three of them ate together and enjoyed the silence. Any time Bob looked Catrina in the eye she would smile right back until he looked away. He did his best to keep to her eyes, so beautiful and brown, but that damned diamond taunted him. They ate their fill and enjoyed their wine. Catrina poured some of hers for Nibbles who lapped it right up.

“That was, god,” Bob said, stifling a burp. “That was amazing. I’d forgotten how good a meal like that can be.”

“Thank you,” she said. She started to gather up the dishes.

“Oh no, please. Let me, please. I feel like I’m taking advantage of you or something. You’ve done so much.” Bob hurried to his feet and grabbed what he could.

Catrina sat back down and pushed her chair back. She slid skirt up so that she could cross her legs, exposing a bare thigh. “Thank you,” she said. “The kitchen is through there.”

“What do you do with your leftovers?” he asked.

She tugged at the diamond around her neck. “Just pour it back into the pot.”

The kitchen was a cook’s dream. Marble counter tops spanned in every direction with more surface area than Bob thought he had in his living room. Two ovens, a deep sink, a giant stainless-steel refrigerator, and a large island that held the gas range. Above it hung more cooking utensils than Bob knew existed.

Catrina got up and watched him from the doorway as he rinsed the dishes and put them in the washer. Nibbles roamed around him, watching, purring. Bob finished and gave his hands a quick rinse.

“Towel?” he asked.

“Oh, here,” she said, handing him one.

“Thanks.” He sat the towel on the counter and looked at her as she approached. She leaned in. Her brown eyes filled his sight as she rubbed the tip of her nose on his. Dark strands of hair tickled his forehead. Her scent filled his nose. She kissed him full on the mouth, softly, slowly. She licked his tongue and ran her fingers through his hair before pulling away.

Bob caught his breath. “Wow.” His hands fell to her waist and rested there lightly. His phone vibrated again.

She gave him a long gaze. “Bob, is that a vibrator in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?”

Bob smiled and fumbled in his pocket. “It’s my fucking friend. He doesn’t believe I’m here.”

“What?” she asked, taking half a step back.

“It’s dumb, I’m sorry. I’m dumb. After lunch I got so excited that you ate with me and everything that I called him and told him. He thinks I’m making it all up.”

She put a hand to her hip. “Oh really?” she said.

“Yeah, he says you’re my invisible girlfriend.”

“Well, you’ll just have to send him a picture, won’t you?”

Bob sighed and looked down.

“What?” she asked.

“I told him earlier that I would, to prove it to him. I’m sorry. It’s dumb.”

She laughed and gave his chest a light pet. “Oh Bob, it’s not your fault. You’re just a guy and guys are funny. I’m flattered that our lunch together made such an impression. Here,” she said, taking his hand and leading him outside. “Let’s take the picture in front of the pool.”

She went behind the bar and flipped a row of switches for the lights. She reached down and music soon followed. “Would you like another drink?”

“Yeah, that’d be great,” Bob said, looking around. The pool was longer than he first thought. It extended down to a shallow portion that ended next to a large Zen garden and a hot tub. Weeping willows lined the edge of her property. A large oak dominated the middle of the backyard. An old fashioned rope swing with a wooden seat hung from a limb.

“What’s with the swing?” Bob asked.

She shrugged, handing him a glass. “I love it. I don’t know why, it doesn’t make sense to me. But there are days when I’ll come out here and just swing for hours and hours. No music, no drink in my hand, nothing. Just me, the trees, the breeze, and that swing.”

“Hmm. Neat.” Bob sniffed at the glass. “What’s this?”

“Scotch. It’s really expensive so pretend that you like it.” She walked over to the edge of the pool. The curves of her body were accentuated by the water of the pool. “Let’s get this picture nonsense out of the way,” she said.

Bob held his phone and snapped a quick photo. Catrina held out her hands like a model in a game show. He sent the text, and they waited. The reply was almost instant.

“What did he say?” she asked.

“Uhh,” Bob said, rubbing at his head. He laughed. “It’s mostly just a bunch of F-bombs and some degrading things about women.”

She shrugged and took a drink. “Let’s swim,” she said.

“Oh,” Bob said, turning off his phone. “I don’t, I didn’t bring shorts.”

Catrina let her dress fall away from her and smiled. Her body looked as though it were carved from white marble. She slowly turned around for him, never taking her eyes off his. The sparkle of the diamond seemed faded and distant. “Well?” she asked.

Bob kicked off his shoes. She smiled and dove in.

Bob felt a panic like none he had ever experienced. He removed his clothes as quickly as he could yet it seemed a lifetime before he was free from them. He knew now what it must feel like to be a rescuer trying to save someone from the water. He launched into the pool with a dive that almost made him feel proud about himself. He arced under the water and resurfaced in front of her. She smiled and rested her arms on the edge of the pool. Bob lost himself in her eyes.

“Why am I here?” he asked.

“What do you mean” she replied.

“I mean—” He sighed and looked around. “Look at this place. Look at you. What in the hell is someone like me doing here?”

“Bob,” she said, “you’re here because I invited you. You’re here because you accepted my invitation.” She stroked her hand gently down the side of his face. “You’re here because you’re a kind man who took the time to open a door for a lady.”

Bob only looked at her. The diamond sparkled at him again. It hung just above the waterline. “I just, I don’t know.”

She put a hand behind his neck and pulled him close. Their bodies pressed together and she tangled her legs around his. She kissed him slowly, softly. She dragged her nails along his scalp as he wrapped an arm around her waist. Each time Bob tried to pull her closer she would playfully push him away. It was delightful torture.

“Easy, tiger,” she said, feeling him start to grind. “Take your time, we’ve got all night. I want to play.” Bob’s heart was racing, his body throbbing. He took a long breath and smiled. Catrina laughed. She tapped his nose with her finger and they kissed again. The breeze stirred the leaves of the weeping willows. Bob heard a heavy purring and opened his eyes.

“Oh.” he said.

Catrina turned. “Hello, Nibbles, kitty kitty.”

“How did he get out here?” Bob asked.

“There’s a door for him in the garage.” Nibbles looked at Bob with brilliant yellow eyes and licked at the water on Catrina’s shoulder, purring, purring. Catrina ducked under the water and escaped, swimming to the shallow side. “Let’s get in the hot tub,” she said.

Bob nodded. “Okay.” Nibbles licked at his fingers. “Hey kitty,” he said. Nibbles squinted a cat-like smile while Bob rubbed a finger against his head.

As Bob went to leave the pool, he suddenly felt nervous. Catrina slinked into the hot tub and watched him closely. “What’s wrong, Bob? Got something bobbing down there?”

“Uhh, yeah,” he said with a smile. He laughed. “It’s been awhile for me.” He shrugged.

“Ahh,” she said. “That’s why you’re so eager for my beaver.” Bob laughed. “Well come on, cowboy. I showed you mine, you show me yours.”

Bob shrugged and climbed out. His nervousness went away when he thought of the standard effect that pool water had on him. He was glad to be excited. He smiled when Catrina gave him a nod of approval.

“Oh, drinks!” she said, pointing to the bar. Bob brought them along and hopped in next to her. She pushed him back to his side of the Jacuzzi. “I want to see your eyes,” she said. “I want to see you look at me.”

“Fair enough,” he said. “I like looking at you.” He took a drink of the scotch. “Wow, that is good.” Catrina nodded and sipped at her own.

“So what’s your deal then?” Bob asked. “I’m just a nobody with a shitty job, shitty truck, and shitty apartment. How are you single?”

“I’m an artist, Bob.” She waved her hands around in dramatic fashion. “I’m too deep to understand, too difficult to deal with. I simply cannot be kept.” She put her wrist to her forehead and laughed.

Bob smiled and took another drink. It really was amazing scotch. “No, really” he said. “What’s the deal?” Nibbles jumped up onto the side of the hot tub.

Catrina shared a long look between Bob and Nibbles. She twirled the diamond dangling from neck. “I’m different, Bob. That’s all I can say. I’m not a bad person, I don’t do bad things. But there comes a time when I make people feel uncomfortable. You’ll have to decide for yourself. You’ll have to make your own conclusion about me. I can’t do that for you.”

Bob stared at her as she took another drink. She stared right back. Nibbles came around to where Bob sat, licking at his ear and purring. Bob gave him a scratch.

Catrina sighed. “Bob, I have to be honest,” she said, setting her drink down. “I’m tired of talking.” She stood and walked to him and took the drink from his hand. Bob leaned his head back as she slid her body on top of his. Nibbles purred and began to lick. Catrina pushed the cat away. “Not now, Nibbles.”

The first round was over in a flash. Catrina smiled and kissed Bob’s face, never releasing his body from hers, while Bob hung his head and laughed. He did a much better job at the second attempt. The water churned around them as their bodies writhed. Catrina climaxed twice, and Bob felt like a god. Nibbles watched from the bar with sleepy yellow eyes that glowed in the light. They sat and talked between soft kisses and watched the moon and the stars fill the night sky.

“Let’s go in,” Catrina said. “I’ve pruned.”

Bob nodded. “I need some water.”

“Yeah, you’ve got more work to do,” she said. She climbed from the tub and began to dry. She laughed when she saw Bob’s eyes. “Well you didn’t think you were leaving, did you?”

Bob stood naked on the cement and shrugged. “I don’t know. I had no idea what was going to happen tonight. Hell, I didn’t even know you twelve hours ago.”

She tossed him a towel. “You should stay, Bob. I would like it if you stayed.”

Bob shrugged. “Okay. I can stay.” He dried himself and reached for his clothes.

“You don’t need those,” Catrina said. She took his hand and led him into the house. They passed through the kitchen for refreshments on the way to her room.

“What’s that one?” Bob asked, pointing to the wall.

“Blood Ocean,” she said, lighting candles. “A close friend of mine made it.”

“It’s strange,” Bob said. “What’s the thing floating in the distance?”

Catrina looked at the painting and then at Bob. “Whatever you want it to be.” She turned off the lights and pulled back the silk sheet. She crawled onto the bed like a prowling cat. “From behind this time,” she said. Bob took a long drink of water and climbed in after her. The third go around was better than the first two combined. Bob consumed her body with confidence. She dug her nails into his flesh and bit at his shoulders and Bob only gave her more. Nibbles watched with patient eyes from the dresser.

As they slept, Bob fell into a strange dream. A great shadow with yellow eyes stalked him through empty streets. He bumped his way through allies and empty stores. Everything around him was shrouded in darkness, and he could not find his way. The yellow eyes closed in on him, drawing nearer and nearer. Bob could only scream silence. His body was swallowed by the shadow. The yellow eyes came down upon him, growling deep and fierce. Its fangs glistened in the black night.

Bob sat up with a start. He was covered with sweat. He looked at Catrina who was lying awake beside him. She had a strange look on her face. Her lips were red.

“What the fuck!?” He felt a nip at his other wrist. He looked and saw Nibbles licking at his blood from an open wound. He slapped the cat off the bed and flung himself out. “What the fuck is going on!?”

Catrina stood and wiped the blood from the corner of her mouth. Her body glistened in the candle light.

“Is this some kind of vampire shit or something?” Bob rubbed at his wrists. The wounds were small and the bleeding was already beginning to taper.

“Bob, vampires aren’t real,” she said.

“Well this sure as fuck is,” he said, holding out his wrist. Nibbles jumped up onto the dresser and licked at his paws. Bob saw the open door of the bedroom. He started walking.

“Wait, please!” Catrina called out, following.

“No fuckin’ way, man. I’m not into some freaky blood shit. That is not happening.” Bob stormed to the sliding glass door for his clothes.

“Bob, please, it’s not what you think. This isn’t what you think” She closed the door behind her as Bob dressed.

“You’re drinking my blood!” he yelled. “Your fucking cat is drinking my blood. I mean, seriously, what the fuck!?” He stumbled with his pants and had to prop himself up on the edge of the bar.

“It’s not a big deal.” she said.

Bob gaped at her. Despite his shock he still couldn’t believe how beautiful she was.

“Cultures around the world have celebrated blood for thousands of years.” She said the words quietly, calmly. Bob had the feeling she’d said them before. She walked to him and took his hand, turning it over to show his wrist. A small red mark remained. “Are you really that upset about this?” she said, looking at the bite.

Bob let out a heavy sigh. He avoided looking her in the eyes. “Dude, I just can’t. I mean, what if I had hepatitis or something?”

“You don’t have hepatitis, Bob. Either do I.”

He headed for the front door and Catrina followed.

Don’t do this,” she said. “We had such an amazing night, such a beautiful night. Don’t let something so trivial ruin that.”

“I’m sorry, Catrina. You can’t drink my blood, okay?” Bob opened the door. A yellow piece of paper was attached to the windshield of his truck. He turned to look at her. The diamond around her neck sparkled a brilliant light. Her naked body was a work of art. She took his hands into hers and kissed the same knuckle she had kissed at lunch.

“Please, Bob. Stay.” She leaned in closer. He could smell her sweat. He could smell his blood. “You know now, why I’m single. This is the thing about me no one can tolerate, no one takes the time to understand.” She rubbed her nose against his and placed his hand to her breast. “Stay with me, Bob. Stay with me.”

Nibbles watched from the table with his yellow eyes. He licked at his paws and purred.

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