She scowled. After the scare she’d given it last time, why would it even think about coming back? Tiptoeing into her room, Libby inched forward until the open section of the house came into view.
And back it was, all of it so crammed into the second floor that hardly any room was left for a tail. That end of the cat snaked through a doorway and was draped across the stairs leading to the attic.
Above the fireplace on the far wall, a vase of flowers lurched forward. It hung on the edge of the mantelpiece as the cat continued its vigorous grooming. Libby crouched down. Less than a second later, the vase tumbled off. Her hand shot out and caught it before it hit the floor.
Libby slipped the vase into her pocket. She was starting to back away when the cat caught sight of her.
Jumping to her feet, she ran to the rear of the house. The cat’s head whipped around. Its ears flattened at the sound of a latch being unhooked on the other side of the wall. Libby eased the roof open. And there was the cat, sizing her up through a break in the stairwell.
The yellow of its eyes had all but disappeared.
Even though she wasn’t worried.
An entire attic floor separated them, and it couldn’t try anything crazy without bringing the house down on itself.
When the cat didn’t move, she called to it again.
“Don’t they feed you back at your house?”
Not that she knew where it lived. A red snowflake with aggressively pointed arms dangled from its collar, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to get close enough to read what was pressed into the metal. Something about this cat made her a little uneasy. It never purred, never returned any friendly overtures, or made any. It just stared.
Almost like if—nah. Dumb. She hadn’t been mean or anything to the cat, so why would it dislike her? Besides, it clearly wanted to move in. . . . And in fact, it had.
“Oh, come on cat.”
The gray cat flicked its tail off the stairs and gathered itself, tensing for flight.
“SHOO—go away! Before you break something again!”
The cat dove into the shrubbery and flitted through a tangle of bushes. It ran up the trunk of a tree in the back of the garden, followed a branch that stretched above the fence, and plunged into her neighbor’s backyard. Libby tested the door and waited until she could no longer hear any rustling from the other side of the fence. Extracting the vase from her pocket, she returned to her bedroom.
She was dabbing some glue on the back of the flowers when the corners of her eyes crinkled.
Libby could just see the look on her father’s face.
He was convinced she had critters living in the room that she didn’t know about, and now that the cat had proved him right there was no way she would ever get him to let up about her stuff. Libby positioned the vase over the mantelpiece and merrily pressed it into place.
Lowering the roof on the dollhouse, she stood for a few moments with her hand on the latch.
What was her dad going on about, anyway?
She knew she hadn’t gone near the house in ages. Still, that didn’t mean she’d outgrown it! Libby hadn’t responded, and her father didn’t broach the subject again.
She ran her fingers over the scuffed paper shingle, noting the places where it had peeled away from the roof. Time had not been kind to the house. It had grown crooked over the years, fighting her father’s valiant attempts at repair. Only a hint of the original color remained in its paint. About half of the furniture had long vanished.
Using her nail, she worked at a curl of shingle until it lay flat. It was an old house, older perhaps than many of the other things that had accumulated in the room, but Libby didn’t care what any of it looked like. And despite his teasing, she knew her dad understood. The dollhouse was a present, a garage sale find of her mother’s, and Libby wasn’t ready to give it up.
Not yet, anyway.
She fastened the latch, and checked her watch again. Her face brightened. It was a quarter past noon.
Libby was halfway down the hall when she stopped to look back. She did have real critters that lived in her room.
They’d even been there for some time.
And they were nothing like her father had in mind.