[NOTE: This has been replaced by The Near Side of Forever]
Wordcount: 483 words
Summary: Of cats and unicorns and hope.
The Cat Who Walks Alone
It was as if the room had died somehow, leaving behind only an echo of what had been. Wendy smoothed the sheets, tucking pillows and stuffed animals back into place in unconscious habit. The bright sky blue comforter was still lying in a rumpled pile in the reading nook, and she wondered, in the same numb voice that had dominated her thoughts since the accident, if Heather would remember how to read.
The doctors had explained, first in medical babble and then in simpler terms, that head injuries were tricky things. Sometimes people woke up from comas and were fine, and sometimes they didn’t. And sometimes, Wendy sank onto the bed still holding one of her daughter’s stuffed unicorns, and sometimes they didn’t wake up at all.
It wasn’t the way the world was supposed to work. Twelve year old girls weren’t supposed to die. They weren’t supposed to lie so horribly still, lost in hospital beds that seemed to swallow them up in a sea of white. They were supposed to be running through the garden singing made-up tunes and vanquishing imaginary dragons. Wendy picked at a worn seam on the unicorn, who might have been Moonstar or Comet or Winterlight, she could never quite tell them apart. “If only you were real,” because she remembered from Heather’s stories that one of the unicorns healed people, and one of them places, and one of them time, or something like time.
There was a rather hefty thump as Cat leapt up on the bed, demanding in his portion of lap. It was the first time since Wendy’d been home that the grey tabby had come near her. He was normally aloof, preferring Heather’s company or none at all, but here he was head-butting her hand, demanding attention. She scratched his ears, and felt the first rumblings of the bone-deep purrs.
“So much for The Cat That Walks Alone,” and he turned his head to look at her, or maybe just so she could reach the spot just behind his ear, eyes squinting in contentment. “She’ll be back you know,” and for the first time since she’d first passed on that hope to friends and family, it sounded like the truth, “so no need to butter me up.” Cat sniffed and delicately sprawled along her lap so she could rub his tummy. She wondered for a moment if she could smuggle him into the hospital somehow, but the tom was too massive to hide.
They sat for a while, Wendy soaking in the comforting feel of fur against fingers, and cat becoming more and more boneless until he melted over her lap in a warm blanket of purrs. That was how Terri found them, stopping by to drop off a casserole and lend an ear or a shoulder, and she laughed which sent Wendy into sympathetic giggles and Cat stalked off in a huff.