"Barney!" I lean out of the back door and holler up into the meadow. "Barney, damn it, come on in!" As I have for the past several days, I hope to see him dart out from our rickety barn, his namesake and his favourite haunt, and plummet down the gentle slope to our back door like a ginger lightning bolt. Barney enjoys nothing more than lurking in that dusty old barn, chasing field mice and sparrows and lizards, then resting after his hunts in my lap.
We inherited Barney when we bought this old farmhouse ten years ago. After we moved in, we told Mack Grayden, the owner, that we'd found a cat in the barn.
Mack had shrugged and spat on the ground. "Just an old barn cat," the crusty old man had grunted. "And I got no use for him where I'm going. Keep him or call animal control to pick him up, don't matter none to me. Reckon you might want a good mouser, though. Keep mice from gettin' into the place."
We decided to give the unnamed mouser a trial period. I set out dry cat food in a dish, and the cat acted like it was wild salmon on a bed of caviar. Apparently Mack had never fed the cat at all and had just left him to fend for himself with mice and lizards and whatever else he could catch. The poor, scrawny thing was just skin and bones. We fattened him up, got him checked out at the vet, and invited him into the house. Our hand-me-down cat proved to be a well-adjusted and contented pet, as well as a very, very good eater. He'd rolled with the punches delivered by his neglectful previous owner Mack, and was more than ready for the next phase of his life. Now Barney, as we named the orange barn cat, is part of our family, a huge, tough tomcat who sleeps at the foot of our bed and curls next to me while I write, as loyal as any dog.
I wait and I hope, but there's no lightning bolt this morning.
Michael comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist. "I'm afraid he's gone, babe," he says quietly, and plants a kiss on my neck. "He's been missing for six days now."
Fear stings the back of my throat and I swallow painfully. I just can't bring myself to believe it. "He's been gone for a week before and come back, hungry and filthy and covered in burrs. He's probably just out hunting," I insist. I cup my hands around my mouth and shout once more into the air. "Barney! Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!"
Michael leaves me to my yelling and walks to the coffee pot.
I shut the back door with a sigh. "You think he's really gone for good?" I ask quietly.
Michael pours two cups of coffee and sloshes some cream in the mug intended for me. He hands it to me and answers carefully. "Barney's an old cat, Ivy," he says quietly. "And he was starting to move pretty slowly. He's had a good, long life, but he may have gone off to die if he felt the time was near. Outdoor cats do that sometimes, you know." He sees me bite my lip and quickly adds, "But I could be wrong. He could show up any minute, begging for some Fancy Feast and a nap in your lap. What do I know, right?" He smiles at me over his coffee cup, blue eyes glinting warmly.
Two months into his biannual buzz-cut has given a nicely tousled look to his wavy black hair. I love how he can't be bothered with frequent haircuts, yet manages to look devastatingly hot with his hair at every length from shaved to shaggy. I think that now is my favourite hair length on him, though-long enough to run my fingers through his short waves, and still short enough to stand up on its ends.
"Wanna go for a ride this afternoon?" Michael asks. "I've got an appointment this morning, but we could get a nice little putt in after lunch. It's going to be gorgeous today. I've got the Chief waxed and ready to ride." He clears his throat before continuing. "I thought today would be a good day to get started on our new tats. Joe and Chloe have time for both of us at two o'clock."