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Stories by Laura Lagana
TJ and the Farm

            Mary lifted TJ from Elizabeth’s arms. “Oh, he’s quite heavy.”

Elizabeth sneezed and wiped at her watery eyes with a tissue. “Yes, he is. I’m sure going to miss him.” She sniffled and sneezed again. “I can’t believe the doctor said I was allergic to him. My poor kitty.”

TJ balked at being in Mary’s arms and she let him jump to the floor.

Curious at his new surroundings, the cat tiptoed around the room and explored every nook and cranny.

“He’s my baby. Will you take good care of him?” Elizabeth met Mary’s gaze. “I feel horrible about leaving him here at the farm. He’s not used to change.”

Mary patted Elizabeth’s arm and handed her a clean tissue. “He’ll be fine. I’ll make sure he’s comfortable.”

Elizabeth wiped her nose and walked over to TJ who was batting at a fly buzzing in the window sill. His silvery fur spread around him like a cloak. The fly flew over the cat’s head and TJ did a flip, falling off the window sill and landing on the floor in a heap. He shook off his embarrassment and jumped onto the window sill and stared at the sheep walking past.

“I’m going to miss you terribly,” said Elizabeth, leaning over to kiss him on the top of his head. Instead, she sneezed. “I need to get going.” She walked to the door and blew TJ a kiss.

TJ turned his head and watched her walk out the door, not comprehending the situation.

Mary waved to Elizabeth, shut the door, and then sat in the rocking chair in front of the toasty warm fireplace. After pulling out a ball of yarn and a pair of knitting needles, she wrapped the thread around her finger and began to knit a scarf. “I know this is a big adjustment for you, moving from the city to the country, but why don’t you go outside and make some friends?”

            He lifted his head and gazed at her with piercing blue eyes. His eyes grew round as he saw Elizabeth drive away without him. A few seconds later, he ran out the dog door and followed her down the dirt road. After wheezing and panting from the exertion, TJ sat on the ground and watched the car disappear from sight. He blinked several times and inhaled the country air. The smell of cow manure pierced his nostrils and he cringed.  He tiptoed back to the house. Flopping down on the window sill, TJ glared at the passing animals and sulked.

            Mary sighed at the cat’s lack of enthusiasm and she continued with her knitting, all the while rocking back and forth in her chair.

            Faint scratching came from behind the wall drawing TJ’s attention. Turning his ears forward to better listen to the sound, he twitched his nose and waited. A minute later, a little gray mouse with dark brown eyes poked his head out of the hole in the baseboard and scurried across the wooden floor.

            Shrieks from the farmer's wife made TJ's hair curl on end. Mary jumped onto the chair and pointed at the mouse. “Kill it TJ. Kill it!”

            The hackles on the back of TJ’s neck rose as he hissed and leapt on top of the lamp, sending it crashing to the floor.

            After running around the living room, the mouse dived back into his hole. Mary grumbled while picking up the scattered yarn. She set the lamp back on the table next to her chair and settled back to continue her knitting.

            TJ kept a wary gaze on the mouse hole and jumped onto the window ledge, waiting for another sight of the offensive creature. Snorting coming from Mary made TJ jump.

            “It’s a shame that you’re a cat and don’t catch mice,” said Mary. “What’s the use of keeping you indoors if you do nothing but eat and sleep?”

            He blinked several times and turned his head away.

            Mary finished a few more rows of stitches and then put away her knitting. “I’m going into the kitchen to start dinner. Why don’t you make yourself useful and kill the mouse? This is a farm and everyone earns their keep around here.”

            TJ tucked his ears back and narrowed his gaze on Mary’s retreating form. With the lithe movements that only a cat has, he jumped off the ledge and landed on the carpet. Muffled feet padded toward the mouse hole. A moment later, he peered inside and purred. “You can come out now. She’s gone.”

            The mouse popped his head out of the hole and met TJ’s piercing blue gaze. “What do you want?”

            TJ rolled onto his side and licked his paw, rubbing it over his head. “We need to come to an agreement.”

            “What sort of agreement?” The mouse’s nose twitched.

            “It seems I am going to live here and the farmer’s wife expects me to catch mice. I’m from the city and I eat cat food…not live bait.”

The mouse shrugged. “What do you want me to do about it?”

            “I have a feeling that if I don’t catch and kill you, Mary will throw me out of the house and turn me into a farm cat.” TJ shivered. “I’m a long haired Siamese cat. I’m not meant to be an outdoor cat.” He sat, working himself into a fit of hysteria. “Why, my fur would matt horribly and turn a dingy gray color.”

            “Calm down. I’m sure we can come up with something.” The mouse took a hesitant step and patted TJ on the paw.

            “Got you!” Sharp claws snaked out and yanked the mouse up by the tail.

            “Hey!” He kicked his feet as he hung upside down over TJ’s opened mouth. “I thought you couldn’t kill mice?”

            “What choice do I have? I’m vain and my fur is quite important to me. I can’t live outside.” TJ lowered the mouse toward his razor sharp teeth. A flash of sunlight glinted off a pointed canine.

            “Look, you won’t like the taste of me. I’m full of bones and gristle. My fur could give you a hairball.” The mouse squeezed his eyes tightly shut and turned away.

            TJ cringed and flicked his tongue over the mouse’s fur. He gagged and set the mouse next to him. “Who am I kidding? I can’t eat you.” He flopped onto his belly and rested his chin on his paws. “I’m a pathetic cat.”

            Shivering from the close call, the mouse cracked open an eyelid and peeked at TJ. He noted the frown and slumped shoulders of the cat. Pity came over the mouse. “You shouldn’t feel bad. You at least tried to eat me. That counts for something.”

            “Yes, but you’re still alive and Mary will eventually tire of my failure and toss me out on my furry tail.” The tail in question lay flat on the floor, swishing back and forth and revealing to the mouse how anxious TJ was.

            “Well then, we’ll just have to outsmart the farmer’s wife.”

            TJ lifted his head off his paws and furrowed his brows. “I’m open to suggestions.”

            He crept over to TJ”s ear and cupped his paws together, whispering in the cat’s ear.

            An unholy grin spread across TJ”s face. “Can we start tomorrow?”

            The mouse nodded. “The farmer’s wife likes to knit in the afternoon. I’ll scurry across her feet and you pounce on me and pretend to eat me. She’s bound to notice.”
            TJ arched a brow. “You think?”

            He waved aside the sarcastic comment. “I need you to return the favor.”

            “You aren’t trying to take advantage of me now, are you?” The fur on TJ’s neck bristled.

            “No, not at all. It’s just that if we follow this plan, I will not be able to sneak into the kitchen and steal food anymore. And to be quite honest, I know you like cat food, but I would rather steel food from humans than to share a bowl with you.”

            “Quite right. I agree. I’ll sneak in every morning and night and grab a bite for you. Would that be to your satisfaction?”

            The mouse nodded.

            “Then it’s settled. From here on out, we’re partners.” TJ shook paws with the little mouse, sealing their agreement.

            “I’m Sean,” said the mouse, by way of introduction.

            “I’m TJ.”

            Next afternoon, Sean scurried across Mary’s feet and TJ caught him as planned, releasing him into the back yard.

            The next day, Sean had covered himself with the farmer’s brown shoe polish and scampered in front of Mary. The next day, Sean rolled himself in flour, turning himself white. Each time, TJ caught and released him in the backyard. This went on for several weeks, with Sean changing his appearance and TJ catching and releasing him.

            On the fourth week, Mary set out a nice piece of grilled fish and a saucer of milk. “I must say TJ, you have turned into the best mouse catcher I ever had. I think I’ll keep you indoors where you will be most appreciated.”

            TJ lapped at the milk and hid his smirk.

            Later that night, he jumped onto the counter and stole a piece of coconut cake for his new friend. TJ carried it to the floor and dropped it next to the mouse. “Thanks for your help. I’ll never need to worry about going outside and you can have all the food you want.”

            Sean lounged on a bed of frosting and grabbed a hunk of coconut, shoving the sweet into his mouth. “This plan has worked out better than I ever thought. I’m a genius.”

            TJ smirked. “I don’t know about being a genius, but you’ve become a great friend. Thanks.”

            He nodded. “No problem.”

            Throughout Scotland, TJ became known as the best mouser. He grew quite fat and lazy from Mary’s cooking; who thought it was because TJ caught so many mice. Little did she know.

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