Part 5: The Other Kitten

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For the next few hours Hannah fell in and out of consciousness, the feeling of Aaron's embrace blending with her dreams of metal tumbling toward him, blood running down his face as he lay lifeless on the ground, the kitten clawing for footing in the mud, and the sting of the rain like needles on her skin. The few times she awoke, startled by an image from her dreams, she felt Aaron's solid presence next to her and the gentle rise and fall of his chest beneath her head, and she drifted back to sleep.

The storm eventually triumphed over the power lines and the lights in the shelter failed, blanketing the lobby with blackness cut only by dim drifts of foggy light floating in through the one narrow. Hannah slept in restless exhaustion, waking to noises nearby only to fall asleep again immediately. The moving circles of flashlights clicking on and the startled voices of her shelter-mates mingled with her troubled dreams.

Several hours later, Hannah awoke. She was curled up on the ground now, a sweater from her suitcase bunched up under her head. From the lack of light coming through the window, she guessed it must be night. The howling storm outside had lessened somewhat, people were scattered about the floors and tables in various degrees of rest, and the darkness of the room was broken by a patchwork of propped-up flashlights and cell-phone screens. Hannah sat up. The dim glow of a nearby flashlight lit a small circle around her, but she couldn't see much beyond that. Aaron was stretched out on the floor beside her, snoring slightly. Their suitcases were on the floor just beyond him; he must have dragged them over while Hannah slept. Hannah felt inside her shirt for the one tiny kitten, and it rubbed its face against her hand. She scooted over to her suitcase, searching it by feel only, and pulled out a small bag of kitten food. She sat cross-legged, sprinkling some food on the floor between her legs and settling the kitten within them to eat.

As the kitten ate, Hannah did her best to block out all thoughts of the afternoon. The memories came at her in waves of emotion. She was embarrassed about publicly freaking out about her kitten; she was angry at herself for not noticing the kitten had fallen; she was ashamed that her rashness in running out into the storm had forced Aaron to come to her rescue once again; she felt guilty about Aaron getting hurt and she was nervous about his gashes and injured ankle; she was anxious about how their efforts had put others from the shelter at risk; she was terrified at how close they all had come to being hurt even worse; she was thankful that they had rescued some of the animals; she was upset that she hadn't been able to save them all. If only she had thought through her plan first, rather than reacting emotionally like she always did, and just running out into the storm, then maybe things could have been different. How had she thought she would carry the animals in by herself? She hadn't even thought about that. She had just rushed out – into a hurricane – without any sort of plan. Her rash actions had caused Aaron to get hurt, and when he lay on the ground unconscious and bleeding, she froze in panic and other people had to come to her (and his) rescue, again! And on top of that, in her panic, she hadn't even noticed that her own kitten got left behind. This is why she needed Aaron. He was always the one with the plan, while most of the time she felt like just a frazzled tangle of emotions that could do nothing but react, and poorly at that. Hannah reached for Aaron, pushing the hair back from his forehead. The gash had stopped bleeding, but now there was a trickle of dried blood down the side of Aaron's face. He was breathing slowly and steadily. A sense of almost-lost settled over Hannah. He had been spared further injury just by luck – it could have been so much worse. Thank goodness he was okay. She sighed.

An older woman a few feet over flicked on her flashlight. "Are you okay, honey?" she asked.

"Yes, I'm fine," Hannah said. "I was just thinking. I'm sorry; I didn't mean to bother you."

"I'm Peggy," the woman said.

Hannah wasn't really in the mood for talking. She wondered if she was going to get some kind of well-meaning pep talk, a sympathy speech, or maybe even a lecture about how running out into the storm had been a dumb thing to do.

"I'm Hannah." She gave Peggy a weak smile.

Peggy scooted closer. "Hannah," she said, "I was hoping I'd get a chance to talk to you."

Hannah felt her insides tighten. In Hannah's experience, "I want to talk" usually preceded some sort of criticism.

"I just wanted to thank you," Peggy said. She pulled out a small crate from the shadows behind her, and reached inside it, lifting out a green Amazon. She stroked the bird gently, then placed it on her shoulder, where it nudged her face with its beak and began playing with her hair. "This is Arty," Peggy said. "He's 50 years old. Been with me since I was 10. Did you know these parrots live as long as humans? When I was told he had to go out to the shed, I was beside myself. He's been with me almost all my life – he's like family to me!" She scratched the feathers behind Arty's head, and he leaned into her hand in pleasure. "I tried to keep him inside," she continued, "But the guards took him, and out he went. When the shed started caving in, I didn't know what to do. When that man opened the door, I thought maybe I'd go with him, but the first gust of wind set me straight on that. As much as I wanted to, there's no way I could've made it even a foot out there in that storm. But then you went flying out, brave as anything. If it wasn't for you, my Arty would've still been in that shed when it collapsed, and not just him, all those other animals, too. Thank you. You saved a lot of families from heartache today."

Hannah stared at Peggy, and then at Arty. "You're welcome," she said.

"I'm sorry about your kitten," Peggy said.

Hannah looked down. "Thanks," she replied.

"Is your husband okay?" Peggy asked. "He is your husband, right? I'm sorry; I just assumed."

"Yes, he's my husband. And yeah, he's okay. I think. At least, he will be."

Peggy gave a quick nod, then scooted back over to her spot against the wall.

The dark closed in on Hannah again as Peggy's flashlight circle grew farther away. She looked down at Aaron. The flashlight nearest to them was flickering, and she could barely make out the shape of his body in the darkness. She placed her hand on his side and felt the rhythm of his breathing. The kitten had finished eating, so Hannah opened her suitcase, carving out a little pocket of space for the kitten to sleep, and padded it with her clothes. She zipped the suitcase partway up so the kitten wouldn't wander, leaving a small section unzipped, then grabbed her comb from her toiletry bag and turned it sideways in the opening, propping the space open a bit more for better airflow. It wasn't as good as a cat carrier, but it would do. Hannah scooted over against Aaron, leaned her head on his legs, and was asleep within moments.

A few hours later, rays of sun broke through the small window and spread along the floor of the lobby. It was morning, and the sky outside was clear. As people began to wake and move around, the Supervisor clicked on the shelter's battery-powered radio and tuned to a local news station. The people packed in around it to listen.

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