I awoke to find Leanne nudging my shoulder. I frowned at the worried expression on her face. When she saw I was awake, she put a finger to her lips in a gesture for me to stay quiet.
"There's a stray cat on your bed," she whispered. "I don't know how it got in - none of the doors downstairs have cat-flaps."
I slowly sat up. There, with sleek and glossy fur which gleamed in the pale morning sun was Timothy in his feline form. He appeared to be asleep. His chest rose and fell softly, and I envied how comfortable he looked.
"Morning Tim'thy," I murmured, my speech slurred by sleepiness.
The cat opened one eye and gazed at me. ‘Morning, Tani' came his voice in my mind. I wondered at his ability to communicate with me when I noticed his paw had reached out to rest upon my foot.
"Tim'thy?" Leanne shot me a puzzled glance, but her eyes returned to the cat. She regarded him warily.
I nodded. "Tim'thy." I lay back down and fell asleep again.
When I next awoke, Leanne was sitting on my bed watching the cat closely. It looked back at her, its expression unreadable. ‘What do I do, Tani, darling?'
‘Darling? Am I really your darling?'
‘'Course you are. Now, what do I do?
‘Capture my heart and melt it.'
‘Pardon? Oh, no, I didn't mean ‘what effect do I have on you?'!' He laughed in my head. ‘What do I do with regards to your friend?'
‘Oh, I don't know. Purr? Investigate? Do something cat-like.'
Does she like cats?
I watched with interest as Timothy stood up, stretched and wandered over to Leanne. She sat stock still as if afraid. Timothy leant towards her and sniffed her hand. He licked it. Leanne giggled.
"You should have told me you got a cat," she murmured to me.
"Sorry," I told her. "I rescued him from the street, gave him a bath and I've been looking after him ever since. I haven't gotten round to telling my parents yet though I expect I'll have to let him go, one day."
"Can I have him? My parents love animals."
I frowned. "Um..."
Leanne turned to face me, absently caressing Timothy's fur. "What's wrong?"
‘Er, help,' I thought, hoping Timothy would be listening. But, seeing he wasn't responding, I shrugged.
"I think he'd be better out on the streets."
Leanne looked confused. "Why? It's dangerous out there."
"Well, um, I think he's gone slightly feral."
"Feral? He's seems pretty tame."
To help me, Timothy suddenly hissed.
Leanne jumped up, and slowly backed away from the bed. "Whoa. Um, why are you keeping him, then?"
"Well, he's sort of keeping me. He refuses to leave. I'm trying to work something out for when my parents get back."
"Okay..." Leanne looked dubious but she didn't say anything more on the subject. "Um, d'you think it will be okay to leave him here while we go down for breakfast?"
"Oh, it should, yeah."
Timothy seemed to have other ideas. He startled me by suddenly jumping onto my legs.
‘No. I want to keep you here,' he thought playfully.
"Tim'thy, get off," I laughed.
‘Tani, stay here,' he thought, mimicking my tone.
Timothy purred, bending his head down to nuzzle against me.
"Um, you go down without me," I told Leanne. "I'll just have to wait until he lets me go."
"Would you like me to try and lift him off you?" she asked.
I shook my head. "He might bite you."
"Well, be careful then."
"I will. Why don't you go and use the bathroom while I try to persuade him to get off me?"
Leanne nodded. "Okay." She left the room.
Seconds later, her head appeared around the door. "Um, do you have any balls of wool?"
I shook my head. "I'd just wait for him to decide when he wants to get off."
When Leanne had gone, I reached out and caressed Timothy's fur.
"You're so mischievous," I told him.
I know. I couldn't let you leave me here on my own, though. You'll have to carry me down to breakfast and keep talking to me and everything.
I snorted. ‘That's what you think.'
That's what I know.
I shook my head in wonder. ‘Sorry to disappoint.'
But you're not going to disappoint.
He nudged his head up against my arm. ‘You love me, remember.'
‘Yes, but I'm not carrying you downstairs and talking to you in front of Leanne. She'll think I've gone crazy.'
I don't care. You are not leaving me here alone. If you don't carry me, I'll just follow you, and if you don't talk to me, I'll meow at you.
‘I can stand the first bit, but I am not going to talk to you. What would I say in front of Leanne?'
Um, Tim'thy, you're so cute?
‘Oh yes, I'm going to talk to you lovingly in public,' I thought sarcastically.
Well, just talk to me about any random stuff.
‘What random stuff would be appropriate to discuss with a cat?'
‘Oh, I don't know. Previous pets? "I had a cat like you once,"' Timothy suggested.
‘"Though not nearly as adorable"', he added. I could imagine a wicked grin on his face. ‘That sort of thing.'
‘Okay. You win.'
He snorted in my mind. ‘Don't sound as if you're giving in graciously - this outcome was practically inevitable.'
‘Why? Because you're ‘adorable'?'
No, because I'm irresistible as a cat.
It was my turn to snort. I stood up and wandered downstairs to pour out some cereal for myself. Timothy followed. He walked with an air that seemed to suggest he owned the place.
I sat down on at the table when I'd put my breakfast on the table. Gracefully, Timothy jumped up and sat on a chair facing me. He watched me with a meaningful gaze as I began to eat.
"Oh!" I realised he didn't have anything to eat. I jumped up. Touching his fur, I asked, "What do you want?"
Um, I don't suppose you have any cat food?
"Er, no. I can cook you some bacon, if you like."
Yum. Yes, please.
I bustled around the kitchen to get him some food. Suddenly, I stopped.
I turned and faced him with my hands on my hips. "Hang on. What's stopping you from making yourself some breakfast?"
I touched his fur.
You're the hostess, of course. You have to attend to your guests as if they were customers at a restaurant you worked at.
"That's awfully cheeky," I told him reproachfully. "You should've at least offered to make your own. Are you going to help me or just sit there and make me wait on you?"
Timothy leapt of the chair. Once standing on the floor, he got up onto his hind feet and sort of stretched upwards. I gasped as the fur shrank into his skin and clothes and the tail retracted into his coccyx. The change was one fluid movement and was like nothing I'd ever seen before in my life.
He rolled his eyes. "Can I help you?" he asked caustically.
I nodded. "Yes, please. How old are you anyway? Do you still live with your guardians? Do they wait on you?"
"Nah, I moved out when I was 18. I lived with a couple of mates while I finished my education, but now I live alone. I'm 23."
"What? Did you just say 23?"
Timothy nodded. "Witches look younger than they actually are."
"But, you don't act your age. Even your behaviour would have inclined me to think you were only slightly older than me."
"Well, we sort of get treated how we look, so because humans have been treating me as if I was my perceived age (that's what witches call the age they appear to be), I act 19."
"Oh, I see, I think. You realise, I'm only 18, don't you?"
"Yeah, that was one of the reasons I couldn't believe you were my rose-dove, actually. You don't mind too much of an age gap in a relationship, do you?"
"Oh, no," I laughed. "I was wondering if you did. I'd only really mind if you were something like ten years older than me."
"Well, I don't mind that you're 5 years younger than me. Incidentally, an age gap in a male witch/female human relationship can be a slight benefit. It means we have a while before I start looking younger than you."
"Um, well, when I'm in my thirties, I'll look about your age and, during that period, I'll gradually start looking younger than you."
"That's crazy," I spluttered.
He shrugged. "That's witches. Oh, and while we're on the subject of age, I'll stop looking older when I get to about 75."
"How long d'you live for, then?"
Timothy winced. "About 200 years. I think the oldest witch ever lived to about 240."
I sat down. "Whoa," I murmured.
Timothy stroked my shoulder. "It's mind-boggling, isn't it?"
"Er, yeah." I nodded. I looked up at him. I hesitated as I asked. "Won't your later life be... slightly ... difficult? Lily told me kingfishers and rose-doves were two halves of the same heart."
He sat down and squeezed my hand. "I don't want to think about that. I can't imagine my life without you."
At that point, Leanne walked in. She saw Timothy and gasped in shock.
"How did you get in? I didn't hear the doorbell" she said wonderingly.
Timothy looked up at her and smiled sheepishly. "I let myself in through the back door."
I moved onto his lap and buried my head in his shoulder. I felt like time was against us even though I was probably going to live another 60, 70 years. In fact, 60 years actually seemed comparatively short when I thought about Timothy's lifespan.
"Is something wrong?" Leanne asked, sounding concerned.
"No," Timothy said gently. "She had a bad dream, that's all."
I thanked him mentally.
‘Anytime.' I was so surprised by the rush of emotion that filled an impossibly vast space in my mind that I jumped in shock. I'd grown so used to the sensation of open space that I hadn't noticed it. Leanne noticed me jerk.
"Are you sure she's okay?"
I felt Timothy nod. "She's just reliving it."
He stroked my back. "Will you be okay, now, Tani?"
I nodded. I lifted my face from his shoulder. I realised my cheeks were wet. I wiped them with the back of the sleeve of my pyjama top.
"I don't think I've introduced myself," Leanne said suddenly. "I'm Leanne."
She held out a hand. Timothy took it and shook it. "Timothy."
I gave him a last hug as I slid off him and sat in the seat nearest to him.
He stood up. "Is the bacon in the fridge, Tani?"
I nodded, standing too. "I'll put the cooker on."
"Oh no, it's okay - I can do it. You just sit down."
He patted my shoulder as I sat down. He turned to Leanne. "What did you want for breakfast? Some bacon, too?"
Leanne looked pleasantly surprised by his offer. "Oh, no, I'll just get myself some cereal."
They both helped themselves to what they wanted for breakfast. Soon the kitchen was filled with the smell of frying bacon. I finished my cereal and went to place it in the sink. I kissed the back of Timothy's shirt as I passed the cooker. I started washing up my plate. I wasn't really concentrating on what I was doing. I was imagining Timothy and me kissing.
Suddenly, something caressed my back and Timothy kissed my hair, murmuring in my ear, "Watch what you're doing. You might hurt yourself if you're not careful."
"Oh, um, Rani?" Leanne asked suddenly. "Is Tim'thy okay?"
I smiled to myself. "He's fine."
"Won't he be hungry?"
"Um, I'm sure he'll come down when he's hungry," I replied, secretly grinning.
"Is this Tim'thy the cat we're talking about?" Timothy asked.
"You've met him?"
"Not personally, but I've heard about him. Do you like cats?"
"Oh yeah, they're brilliant animals. Independent yet affectionate."
"Quite enviable then," Timothy murmured quietly. In a louder voice, he said, "I like them too. They're probably my favourite animal."
There was a brief silence.
"So, um how long have you known Tani?" he asked conversationally.
"Um, since we were in year 7. Alex and I have both known her since then and we consider her our best friend."
"Alex?" Timothy asked politely.
Leanne blushed. "Um, yeah - he's the guy who beat you up." She frowned. "He said he broke your nose... Your nose didn't appear to be broken when we saw you later that day."
Uh-oh, I thought, but Timothy was quick to invent an excuse.
"Oh, I think he just punched it pretty hard. It did bleed quite a bit."
I sighed in relief. I'd finished washing up now, so I dried my hands on the tea towel draped over one of the doors of the cupboard beneath the sink and returned to the table to perch on Timothy's lap.
"Where's Alex been?" I asked. "I haven't seen him since Friday."
Leanne frowned. "He's ... not too happy with me. He acknowledges you're better in someone's company than on your own because of the river incident, but ... he thinks I spend too much time around you. He thinks sleeping over was really overdoing it." She sighed. "I suppose you can't please everyone."
Timothy's brow furrowed. "Is there something I'm missing? Aren't you two just friends?"
I remembered Timothy didn't know my friends were going out. "Um, he's her boyfriend," I told him.
"You're very kind for staying with Tani for all that time," Timothy said to Leanne. "I think she'll be okay now, so you can go and visit Alex. Thank you."
Leanne smiled. "Anything for Rani."
I smiled. "Perhaps we could go out shopping as a foursome. We could split up in town and meet up for lunch."
Timothy looked as if he'd suddenly thought of something. "I have to buy you something!" he said to me.
"Because of all the times I was nasty to you. And while we're out, you'll need a dress for tomorrow. Or something else - in red, orange or yellow. There's going to be a big party."
"You don't need to buy me anything. And, what's this party celebrating? Is it your birthday? And why those colours?"
Timothy shook his head, looking confused. "I thought you knew my birthday was in September ... oh, but I only told you about the February stone..." He looked as if he understood whatever he'd been puzzling over. "The party's, um, to... celebrate a change. It's a big thing in my calendar."
I realised he was talking about witch celebrations. But he hadn't answered all my questions.
"The colours?" I asked again.
"Oh, the celebration's to do with fire."
Leanne looked interested. "Is this a different culture we're talking about?"
I nodded. "Yeah. Timothy's a ..." I trailed off, unable to think of anything.
"Witch," he finished. I frowned at him. He winked. "My family believe in magic and all that stuff."
"Oh, wow, that's interesting. It'd be nice to think there were secrets in the world we haven't unlocked yet. Wouldn't it be boring if we discovered everything? What would we do with ourselves?"
I was surprised by her reaction. I thought she would have scoffed at superstition.
‘She's very open-minded,' Timothy told me.
I blushed. ‘Don't read her mind!' I thought to him.
‘That's okay. Just don't do it again.'
"So, what were you saying about stones?" Leanne asked, looking fascinated.
Timothy smiled. "Well, you know birthstones? Witches have different ones and they believe these are magical. My one's sapphire, which is incidentally the same as the non-witch birthstone for people born in September, and Tani's would be cornelian rather than... amethyst I think?"
I nodded. "Yeah, it's amethyst for February."
Timothy grinned. "Amethyst is for August witches."
Leanne looked intrigued. "What would my birthstone be?"
"November, hmm. That's ... beryl."
I bit my lip. ‘Timothy!' I hissed in my mind.
Oh, oops, I'm so used to hearing other people's thoughts and she just thought the date of her birthday.
Leanne looked amused. "Did Rani tell you when my birthday is?"
I let out a breath, relieved. She didn't appear to notice. She was staring at Timothy as if he'd just performed the most wondrous magic trick ever.
Timothy nodded. "Oh yes. She tells me so much about you."
Leanne frowned slightly. "How much?"
"Oh, nothing embarrassing, don't worry."
I put my head in his shoulder, wishing the world would swallow me up.
‘That's exactly what would make her suspect I had, you fool,' I thought.
Oh, I'm sorry for not understanding girls (!) I'm a guy, after all.
I lifted my head. "Leanne, I only told him that you were the best friend anyone could ask for and when your birthday was. Nothing else."
She looked relieved. "Oh, phew. Thanks for telling him I'm a good friend. You're too kind."
"Oh no, I was just being honest." I grinned.
She smiled back.
"So, when shall we go out, Tani, darling?" Timothy asked.
"Oh, um, I don't know." I'd quite forgotten why we'd been talking about witch stuff in the first place. "Leanne and I will get ready and then we can go and visit Alex. After that, we can go to town. Did you want to change?"
He smiled. "Oh, yeah, I'll just pop back home. I'll meet you back here." ‘Could you bring my sapphire with you when we go out?'
‘Oh, sure. Oh! You might want to make a show of leaving as a cat, just so Leanne doesn't think you've suddenly disappeared into thin air.'
Ah. Good idea.
I moved onto another chair as Timothy stood up. He kissed my hair and ruffled it affectionately. He took his plate and Leanne's empty bowl to the sink and began to wash up.
"Oh, um, I can do that, Timothy," I said.
"Let me help," Leanne said, jumping up.
I stood up. "Um, okay, do you two want to wash and dry while I put the dishes away?"
"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea," Timothy replied as Leanne nodded.