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SPRINGFIELD
Day Five

Cabin Fever:
Day Five

Created by Robin

I don't understand how it is I manage to get myself into these situations.
It's as if I see myself doing things I know can only lead to trouble, and
part of me is scared and already cringing in fear of the fallout, but I am
just so hurt and angry that I'm unable to stop myself. Almost like I become
two different people, one who goes about her business screwing up everything
she touches and another who gives up in despair and merely sits back, taking
it all in from a distance, wondering what she's to be left with when the dust
settles this time. And, to make matters worse, the part that merely observes
is usually the one in control of what precious little common sense I happen
to possess. Case in point...

Yesterday, I decided to go for a little jaunt through the woods, a quick hike
to stretch my legs and air my life's grievances to a wide open sky. That's
what I told myself, at least. But I was lying. Big surprise.

If I weren't absolutely incapable of being honest, even with myself, I would
have admitted before I ever stepped off the porch that I had ulterior motives
for my little excursion. What else could have possibly explained my
irrational behavior? I had more than enough reasons not to go. I thought a
storm was probably coming, strongly suspected I'd heard the telephone
ringing, and it goes without saying that I knew if he couldn't reach me, Ross
would be extremely worried and more than a little angry... which was, I
suspect, what I wanted all along. Well, for once, I got precisely what
wanted.

Things started off okay enough. Okay enough, in fact, that I almost
convinced myself I'd actually thought of a good idea for once. Jogging at a
good clip all the way down to the lake, I'd managed to work most of the knots
out of my neglected leg muscles and was just beginning to work on the ones in
my nervous stomach when the storm broke. I mean really broke. The chilly
drizzle that had dripped and drabbed from the slate gray sky up until that
point had been only a prelude to the main event. Lightning, thunder, deluge...
Mother Nature pulled out all the stops. It poured so hard the rain drummed
an infinite tattoo as it hit the forest floor and rebounded off the surface
of the lake. Within seconds my clothes--borrowed and otherwise--were
thoroughly saturated and making strange suction sounds when I pulled them
away from my blanched skin. All the hair that had been piled on top of my
head was now one huge, dripping tangle plastered flat against my skull. My
tennis shoes slid dangerously in the mud at my feet, and at times I had to
concentrate very hard just to remain upright. But if I had to pick one
particular moment when good fortune turned its back on me completely and
momentum did a full-tilt shift down the inevitable slope of disaster, it had
to be when I got it in my head to play Ranger Rick and rescue a kitten.

Per my usual routine, I'd realized the error of my ways too late to save
myself from a drenching and was belatedly scrambling for cover. I picked the
closest of the small white gazebos lining the lakeside at semi-regular
intervals and set off for it immediately. During less inclement weather, the
shelters are used for picnicking and socializing, but they're shorter than
the surrounding trees and made of wood, so I knew they'd suit my purposes,
too. In other words, I was doing exactly what I should have done under the
circumstances, the sensible thing, the considered thing, the
if-Ross-were-here-he'd-approve thing, but still I managed to find trouble.

At first I thought it was a brown paper bag. Granted, I wasn't paying too
close attention--I only glanced it from the corner of my eye, and at that
moment I was more concerned with finding a way to stop the rivulets of icy
rainwater running down into my bra--but at first I thought the little
orange-ish, brown-ish, nondescript blob was a sack that someone had balled up
and tossed beneath a bench. It wasn't until the blob decided I was a threat
that I realized it was alive.

I was standing on the second of the three cement steps leading to the gazebo,
my hand on the banister and one muck-encrusted cross-trainer raised, ready to
mount the third step, when what I had previously thought to be an inanimate
object suddenly jumped up and sprouted legs. I froze. No matter how cold I
was or how wet my cleavage, there was no way I was rooming with some rabid
squirrel or pissy rabbit or whatever it was it may have been. I wanted only
to get back down those stairs with all my frigid digits still intact and to
take my frosty rear onto the nearest unoccupied gazebo. Calmly, gradually, I
placed my foot down on the step behind me.

The unidentified furry creature reacted to my polite retreat by pinning its
pointed ears back against its head and hissing. My breath lodged itself
somewhere between my lungs and esophagus, refusing to go any further. The
animal wasn't a particularly large one--perhaps a good-sized rodent of some
variety--but that was immaterial. For one thing, it was in the middle of a
forested area, which generally equals wild animal, which generally equals a
certain skill with teeth and claws. For another, what it lacked in mass, it
more than made up for in attitude. I could just see myself getting mauled by
the crazed little thing and becoming a carrier of some dreaded woodland
disease. Wouldn't it be fun explaining that one to Ross? I dropped my other
foot down onto the lower step.

It hissed aggressively again, and the skin covering my scalp prickled and
tightened even as something about the sound struck me as familiar. Moving
very slowly, I wiped as much of the water as I could from my eyes and gave
the mangy-looking critter a closer look.

Small enough to fit into both my hands cupped together, with longish, mottled
cinnamon-and-orange-colored fur, white whiskers, slitted eyes, and an
elongated, twitching tail, it didn't appear nearly as intimidating as it
sounded. What it did appear, however, was exactly like a very wet, very
irate, slightly overgrown kitten.

Suddenly realizing the vicious animal I had been so terrified of was nothing
more than someone's lost pet, I climbed the stairs, sighing in relief.
Nevermind that now I could stop worrying about "Night of the Lepus," I was
glad just to get a respite from the rain. The tabby cat skittered back
beneath the bench as I neared, growling and spitting the entire time. I
ignored it. Domesticated animals, I can handle.

Since I wasn't in any bigger of a hurry to make its acquaintance than it was
mine, I perched myself atop the waist-high latticed railing directly opposite
the cat. The railing creaked a bit beneath my weight but held up just fine
as I sat about doing what I could for my soaked clothes. My teeth were
chattering hard enough to dislodge fillings. I needed to warm up. Even if
the pneumonia I was bound to catch didn't kill me, it would be impossible to
hide from Ross; he'd find out everything, and then he would do what the virus
couldn't. Skimming the sweatshirt off above my head, I twisted it up and
wrung it out, surprised yet not at the amount of liquid that fell at my feet.
The lower half of my non-husband's t-shirt was pulled out away from my torso
and given a similar treatment. The cat carefully watched each of my
movements with palatable disdain. A lightning bolt struck close by, judging
from the ear-punishing concussive force of the resulting thunder. Both my
company and I shuddered.

"I guess neither of us had enough sense to stay in out of the rain, huh?" I
sighed rhetorically, anxious to hear something other than the monotonous roll
of rain and thunder. The kitten crouched down on its haunches and eyed me
with an even greater amount of suspicion. A visible tremor passed through
its thin body with each damp gust of the wind. I rubbed my bare forearms and
huddled my back to the breeze.

"Cats don't care for the cold much, do they? Water, neither. I had a cat
once," I shared with the tiger-striped militant, and if for no better reason
than I had spent too much time alone over the last few days and fate had
unexpectedly handed me a captive audience, I continued, "Her name was Morgan.
You look a little like her, I think. At least you might if your fur wasn't
all matted down like that. She was given to me by someone very special, and
I was absolutely nuts about her, but she got sick and had to be put to sleep
a few years ago."

My fellow refugee seemed to take exception to that bit of information. It
sneezed once and shook its head, then retreated behind a bench leg, putting a
little more distance between us.

"Believe me, it wasn't an easy decision," I explained, craning my neck to
keep the cat in my line of sight. Too big to really accurately be called a
kitten, it was at that graceless stage of prolonged adolescence when
everything was either just a shade too much or too little and nothing seemed
to fit together quite right. One day soon it would no doubt grow into an
innate beauty, but at that moment the best it could hope for was cute, in an
awkward, promising, ill-tempered sort of way. "I cried a lot, but there was
nothing else that could be done."

The cat narrowed its eyes and sniffed skeptically.

"Sometimes, it's like that. The right thing is the hardest to do." I slid
off the railing and crouched down on the plank flooring, indifferent to the
dirty puddles at my knees. "So, kitty, where do you belong, huh? It's not
safe for you to be out here all alone. Is there a worried little boy in one
of these cabins, waiting for you to get done playing around and come on
home?"

From the angle I was kneeling, I couldn't rule out the possibility of a
collar. I crept closer. "Or a girl, maybe?"

Pawing nervously at the ground, the kitten dipped its head and let out the
saddest, most plaintive meow I ever could have imagined. I never did need
much encouragement, and that one forlorn cry was all it took. I fell in love.

"Oh, it's alright," I crooned. Wiggling my cold-stiffened fingers playfully,
I inched them across the floor. The kitten's tail warily whipped back and
forth as it watched the advancement of my hand. "You don't have to be
scared. Everything's going to be okay. We just need to figure out where you
belong, that's all."

It opened its mouth as if to meow again, but nothing came out, which was
somehow even more pitifully adorable.

"Well, don't be so sad." I talked to it in the same singsong voice I use to
soothe Clarissa, not wanting to traumatize it any more than it already had
been, but my hand was steadily worming its way closer all the while. "It's
not like you're the only one. There's a lot of that going around, yes there
is."

I was within inches of being able to gently reach out and scoop it up off its
feet when the kitten seemed to abruptly comprehend that the big, sneaky human
was up to something. From the tip of its tiny pink nose to the end of its
at-attention tail, the cat's entire body tensed in preparation to bolt. I
harbored no illusions of being able to chase it down if it got past me. One
good opening and the lost pet would be but a soggy memory. Finesse was no
longer an option. Instantly, I formulated another plan.

I threw myself at the poor thing. That was my new plan in its entirety.

Needless to say, it didn't work. I pitched forward, arms outstretched, and
the slippery little kitten shot right between my hands. Its claws scratched
me as it ran up my shoulder and down my back. I was too busy sliding
painfully across the floor on my stomach to take in much more than that.

Eventually, I skidded to a stop several inches from where I'd landed. I sat
up to inspect the fresh scrapes on my elbows and palms and was amazed to see
the cat only a few feet away, agitatedly licking at one of its front paws.
Stationed midway between the steps and me, it had apparently decided running
the risk of another surprise attack was preferable to braving the storm.

"Look, kitty," I sighed, wiping my grimy hands first on the knees of my
jeans, and then on the sleeves of my t-shirt when that didn't do much good,
"hard telling how long that rain is going to last. When I was here on that
little gestation vacation I took, it was nothing unusual for it to storm for
days at a time, and that was during winter. This is tornado season. You
really don't want to be out here."

The kitten stopped grooming itself in order to focus its attention on me as I
gingerly rose to my feet. The delicacy of my movements this time had nothing
to do with wanting to appear non-threatening. Between the cold, the wet, and
the unladylike tumble I had taken, I was awfully sore. At least the nervous
tension was gone from my stomach, though. My body wasn't capable of
generating that kind of energy anymore. Being wired takes a lot out of you.

"So, why don't you make it easy on both of us?" I circled to my right and
retrieved the sweatshirt from where I'd left it hung on the railing to dry.
I had the vague notion of somehow using it as a net. The resolution not to
traumatize the cat had been abandoned right about the same time I left pieces
of my epidermis behind me on the ground. "You give up and peacefully come
along back to the cabin with me, and as soon as the weather clears, we'll
find where you belong, okay?"

Guess not. The tabby saw me coming, hissed, and leapt up on the railing.

As much as I wanted to give up and leave the animal rescue to the Humane
Society, I couldn't help thinking that there was probably some kid, maybe
about the age of my boys, crying its eyes out over the homely thing at that
very moment. Besides, kitty didn't look like it was doing so well. Out in
the open now and silhouetted against the dark green of the forest, I could
easily tell just how thin it was. Forget about ribs--I could see the
vertebrae in its back. My best estimate said the cat had gone without the
comforts of room and board for a few days already. If I let it get away, I
wasn't sure it could wait long enough to be found again. I shook out the
sweatshirt and held it wide before me.

Much more agile than its ungainly form suggested, the cat paced the length of
the railing and back again, disconcerted. I slid my right foot forward--not
so much a step as a shifting of my weight--and it bared its tiny fangs at me
and growled low in its throat. One chance. I was going to get one chance
to charge the kitten, throw the sweatshirt over it, and trap it against my
body, all before it jumped down off the railing and out of the gazebo.

Yeah, right. I had about as much of a chance of catching that cat as I did
of convincing Ross to marry me, and I knew it.

But still...

I crouched low in my runner's stance, took a deep breath, dug in my heels,
and then for the second time in under five minutes, attempted to tackle the
cat. I took off through the gazebo at full speed, Ross' shirt flying out in
front of me like a war flag.

The cat didn't move. Its turquoise green eyes actually seemed to widen, but
whether out of shock or fear, it remained rooted to its spot. I could hardly
believe my eyes. I was really going to be able to do this! Closing the last
few feet separating us, my success was already a certainty in my mind.

That, of course, was when all hell broke loose.

I think I must have slipped in a puddle of water. I remember a feeling of
uncontrolled acceleration... spinning out of control... my arms and legs
pinwheeling in an attempt to regain my balance...

And that's it. That's all I can recall. Everything from that moment on,
until I woke up in a hospital bed a few minutes ago, is one big chunk of
missing time. I wouldn't even know it was the next day if it wasn't for the
date on the newspaper folded up in Ross' lap. I have to squint so hard to
read the blurry print that it makes my head swim, but I'm fairly certain
that's what it says. A whole day has passed, and I am unable to account for
it.

I'd appreciate some help filling in a few details, but Ross and I are alone
in the private room, and since he's asleep in a chair shoved up against the
side of my bed, I don't suppose any will be immediately forthcoming. I could
always grab the on-call button and summon a nurse, but that would necessitate
moving; the pain I'm in just from laying still tells me that would be a big
mistake. So I'll remain clueless a while longer, no big deal. In the
meantime, the view is rather nice.

If my favorite ex-husband has ever appeared more dirty or disheveled, my
memory is in worse shape than I think. I don't know which is more
remarkable--that he's wearing jeans and a t-shirt for once, or that they're
covered in not only dried mud but also what looks to be dried white paint.
Congealed bits of both adorn his sandy brown hair, causing it to stick out in
odd directions. The sparse brunette fuzz we generously call his five o'
clock shadow dots his chin. I have no idea what I missed, but it must be one
incredible story.

Ross mumbles to himself, shifting uneasily in the chair. His hand fumbles
blindly over the bed until it locates mine. I squeeze it reassuringly,
grateful for the warmly familiar pressure. Before long, his wide chest once
again rises and falls in a nice, even rhythm. When he wakes, there will be a
lot of explaining, and perhaps a little yelling, but for now the room is
quiet. The only sound I hear is the faint, mingled susurrations of our
breaths. It's a sound I've dearly missed. Feeling truly at rest for the
first time in days, I close my eyes and just listen, until I'm lulled to sleep.