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Saturday, August 14, 2010
Sparkle Threw Us Together by Christina Hugh
Caitlin Foster was worried; her cat Sparkle hadn’t eaten in the last two days. She’d read in a book that baby food would always tempt a cat with a poor appetite, so she ducked into the grocery store on her way home from her new job.
She didn’t recognize anyone in the store. Were there really that many new people in town? The store had been remodeled and expanded, like much of the town. Caitlin had been away for ten years, ever since her high school graduation, and all the newness made her uncomfortable, but she loved the little town and she loved her new job as the town newspaper’s editor. Even though she’d come home, she felt like she was starting over.
Caitlin took a quick peek at herself in a hand mirror in the cosmetics aisle. She was thirty, with a pert nose and a saucy blond haircut. She didn’t look much different from when she was a high school cheerleader. She sighed as she remembered Rob, the captain of the football team. They’d dated all through high school, but then they’d gone off to different colleges. They promised to stay in touch, but they didn't and Caitlin married Steve. Now she was divorced and home again. She wished for a moment that she could go back to those days and make better decisions. She still remembered Rob’s straw-blond hair and eyes as blue as a summer sky.
Caitlin shook herself and went to the proper aisle to get the what she needed. She chose three jars of baby food: pureed ham, beef and chicken. At the checkout counter she paid, then paused for a moment to put her pocketbook back in her purse while the man in back of her bought a quart of milk. She bumped into him as they were leaving the counter.
"Excuse me," she said, and turned her face up to look at the man politely. He was tall, handsome, well built and clean cut. He had short straw blond hair and sparkling blue eyes. "Rob!" she said.
Rob smiled the biggest smile Caitlin had ever seen. "Caitlin!" he exclaimed. "It’s so good to see you, how are you?"
They hugged and Rob stood back to look at her. "You’re even prettier than I remembered! How was I ever fool enough to let you go?" Caitlin spun around playfully, showing off her new dress, delighted beyond words to see Rob again.
"Would you like to--" Rob began, then his eye caught the plastic grocery bag Caitlin was carrying. It was easy to see what was inside it. Baby food. Rob looked crestfallen; naturally he assumed that Caitlin was married and had a baby.
Just as Caitlin started to stammer an explanation, Rita, one of her top reporters saw her. "Oh, Ms. Foster, I’m so glad I ran into you. I just wrote a big story, and I wanted to talk with you about it!" Rita was a terrific reporter, but Caitlin had already noticed she sometimes became too enthusiastic when she was excited about a story. Caitlin could hardly get a word in edgewise. She tried to interrupt Rita so she could introduce Rob, but by the time Rita took a breath, Rob had disappeared.
Caitlin went home. Sparkle didn’t eat any of the baby food, not even after Caitlin warmed a bit from each jar in the microwave. That night Caitlin cried for the first time in months.
The next day was Saturday. Sparkle had a veterinarian’s appointment at 4:00 pm, and Caitlin decided to take a walk in the park in the early afternoon. She was still thinking about Rob. She sat down on a park bench and watched children playing a Little League baseball game. The parents were cheering and all the kids were having a great time. Caitlin wondered if she would ever marry again and have children. Maybe someday she’d be out there with her husband, cheering for her own kids. She thought about Rob again.
The baseball game ended. It looked like the home team had won. Like good sports, both teams shook hands and exchanged smiles. Then two of the winning players, a blond boy and girl who were obviously brother and sister, ran off the field and gave a big hug to a tall man with straw blond hair. He picked them both up and spun them around. She didn’t know the children, but she recognized the handsome man. He was Rob.
Caitlin went home, did some chores and tried to get Sparkle to eat, but he still didn’t have an appetite. Caitlin looked at the clock. Three in the afternoon. She felt disappointed to know that Rob was obviously married with children. "Well, I’m happy for him," she told Sparkle. "I was the stupid one to let him go." Then she put Sparkle in his carrier to take him to the vet. She put a little dish of his regular food inside the carrier in case he decided to eat after all. "Maybe they can see us early, and we can find out what’s wrong with you," she said.
At the vet’s office, the receptionist was very kind. He asked about Sparkle’s symptoms so that he could write them in Sparkle’s chart. Caitlin told him about the baby food. "That was very smart of you," he said. Then someone walked by the other side of the receptionist’s desk, the part facing the inner office. She couldn’t see who it was, but the receptionist gave the chart to whoever it was. Then he turned back to Caitlin. "Excuse me for the interruption," he said. "I was going to say, you must have done a lot of reading about cats. You’re a very caring pet owner."
Caitlin blushed. "That’s kind of you to say," she said. "Thank you. I know I'm a little early, but I thought maybe if the veterinarian were free, perhaps he can see Sparkle now? If not, we can wait for our appointment."
"If you don't mind seeing a different vet, I think Dr. Winston's partner might be avail--" the receptionist began, but he broke off as the outer door opened and two excited Little Leaguers burst in. They were the children from the park. A dark-haired man followed them, laughing good naturedly.
"Is Uncle Rob here?" the children asked. "We want to invite him to ice cream!"
"Now, now," the dark-haired man said, looking at Caitlin. "This lady was here first. Let’s let her finish, and then we’ll ask for Uncle Rob."
A man's voice said, "Did someone say Uncle Rob?" Caitlin was surprised to see Rob appear from around the corner, wearing a white lab coat and holding Sparkle’s chart. He didn't notice her right away. "Hi there, John," he greeted the newcomer. "Where’s Sis?"
"Mom’s at home, ordering pizza!" the children said.
"Well," Rob said, looking at the chart. He still hadn’t noticed Caitlin. "I have a very important patient here right now who hasn’t been eating even though his owner has been tempting him with baby food." Dr. Winston isn’t here yet, but if you’d the cat to be seen now, Miss... "He suddenly smiled, looked around and found Caitlin. He looked straight into Caitlin’s eyes, and she looked into his. They both smiled. Now he knew that Caitlin was single, and he understood the baby food. And now Caitlin knew that Rob was single. The children weren't his; they were his niece and nephew.
Suddenly a series of rhythmic hacking sounds erupted from Sparkle's cage. As Caitlin and Rob and even the receptionist and children looked on, Sparkle coughed up a huge hairball. Then he moved to the little food dish clipped to the door of his carrier and placidly began eating.
Everyone laughed. "Well, it looks like Sparkle has his appetite back," Rob said to Caitlin. "But I'd still like to thoroughly examine your cat." He put the chart down and took Caitlin's hands in his. "And then let's have ice cream with the family."
About the Author: Christina Hugh is a lawyer and former high school math teacher. She lives in California with her husband and two cats.