Wrong Way Charlie

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Do you remember your very first best friend? I do.

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Midnight was giving birth in the closet at the end of the hall. The repeating pattern of deep growls and shrieks woke me.

Kittens! I nearly shouted as I crawled down from the top bunk. My sister stirred on the bottom bed. I paused on the ladder, held my breath, hoped she wouldn’t open her eyes. After a moment, she rolled onto her side and fell back into deep sleep. I was glad she didn’t wake; I wanted the kitties all to myself.

Midnight continued to scream.

I cracked opened my bedroom door and saw my parents kneeling in the hallway, peering into the closet. They noticed I was standing there and told me to get back in bed. “But I want to make sure Midnight is okay,” I protested. She was mine, too. I should've been allowed to check on her. Dad refused to let me come out of the room. He said he would get me when it was over. Mom agreed with him. She said I was too little to watch.

Too little? I was four years old and knew that babies came from a mommies belly. Plus I had been waiting forever to see the kittens. My parents weren’t being fair!

“Please let me?” I begged. “I’ll be good.”

Mom commanded me to go back to bed. I crossed my arms and shook my head. Dad threatened to spank me. I stomped my foot and cried, thinking a tantrum would make them understand that I was right, and they were wrong. Dad didn't care much for my new approach; he picked me up by the arm and carried me to my bed. He said to keep quiet or else he would take the nightlight and lock me in the dark.

"It's not fair!” I screamed, instantly regretting it. Dad squeezed my arm so tight that I began to cry for real. When he let go, I rubbed the spot, trying to make it look worse than it really was. He told me I was punished, then pulled the nightlight from the wall.

"No, don't!" I cried out.

Ignoring my pleads, Dad went back into the hall and slammed my door shut.

I heard my sister sobbing from on the lower bed. I felt bad that she had to suffer for my mistake, so I climbed down and cuddled up next to her. I told her I was sorry. She was terrified of the dark, more so than I, but eventually she relaxed and fell back to sleep while holding my hand. I couldn’t rest though. Midnight’s persistent shuddering cries and gargling noises, kept me from closing my eyes. I stared into the black, waiting.

It felt like forever.

I'm not sure how it happened, but the next thing I remember is Mom waking my sister and me. "Come see,” she urged. The sunlight coming through the window lit up her smile.

The kittens were tiny versions of Midnight. Eight of them in total. All the same jet-black color — except for one; he had a speck of white fur above his nose, with white front paws to match. That one . . . that one was mine. I knew the moment I saw him.

Dad said we could give them names. It wasn't an easy task since they all looked the same. After several failed attempts to remember which was which, my sister decided the best thing to do was to call them Kitty-Cat, but she was only two years old and pronounced it Key-ca. The oddball was the only exception; he was mine to name, so I named him Charlie.

Charlie was more playful than the rest of the litter. Whenever my sister and I were allowed to pick them up, he would roll on his back to let us pet his belly. Sometimes he would try to suck on our fingers, mistaking them for a part of his mother. It never failed to make my sister laugh. And sometimes, when Midnight laid down in the box to feed them, he would get turned around, managing to walk away from her. Mom would pick him up, turn him in the right direction, and say, “You’re going the wrong way, Charlie!"

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