When Kevin Met Tabitha
They say that everyone has a perfect mate. Somewhere in the world, they assure us, there is someone that shares your interests, laughs at your jokes, and does not mind you eating crackers in bed (or whatever other nocturnal activities you might enjoy). The fates have decreed that such a mate exists and your only job is finding him, her, or it.
I searched a long time for such a person. I two-stepped at all the dopey dances in high school, drank at the hottest college parties, and mingled at the most happening singles places. All for nothing.
What was I thinking? Obviously the place the fates wanted me to look for my perfect mate was in the storage room of my apartment building just after midnight on a Wednesday morning.
My apartment was in a converted office building in downtown Indianapolis. The apartment's advertising called the two closet-like bedrooms "cozy" and the living room/dining room/kitchenette "modern." The good news was that it did not cost too much and was only a five minute walk to my employer's office. I was editing textbooks and the occasional technical manual for a large publishing company. It was tedious but not difficult and I was able to work out of my spare bedroom most of the time.
I had other ambitions of course. Just as every actor wants to direct, I did not intend to be an editor all my life. I was constantly churning out new papers and submitting them to various historical publications. After several years of rejection letters a small Civil War journal had published two of my articles. They did not pay much but the thrill of seeing my name in print drove me to continue trying. I had also found that actually being published was helping my submissions to other magazines.
One such late-night endeavor required some information that I knew had been referenced in one of the enormous Shelby Foote tomes on the War Between the States. After searching my apartment high and low – an activity which did not require a great deal of my time – I realized that the book must be in my storage area in the basement. I groaned but grabbed a flashlight and took the elevator to the bowels of our building.
A long hallway in the basement led away from the elevators and followed one of the exterior walls. Windows high on the left wall gave an ankle-high view of the sidewalk outside and let in dim light from the street. The other wall of the basement was interrupted at regular intervals by doors leading to small storage rooms. The rooms had originally been used for file storage and nasty little offices for interns but were now available for the tenants to use as additional storage space. Mine was mainly filled with books and a few odds and ends that had traveled with me from place to place in the same set of slowly degrading cardboard boxes.
The books had been in a sensible order once upon a time. History in several boxes, fiction in several others, and one or two miscellaneous boxes made up my so-called library. Travel and searches like this one had made a hash of my sorting, though, and so it was that I found myself bent over a box, flashlight in my mouth, one hand braced against the wall and another pawing through books at a time when any normal person was fast asleep.
My rummaging and grumbling was interrupted by a sudden noise outside of my storage room. The soft creaking was not terribly loud, but it was too loud and prolonged to be one of those odd little noises buildings make from time to time. I was so startled that the flashlight fell into the box, my hand slipped off the wall, and my head smacked one of the other boxes as I lost my balance. At the same time, I realized I was hearing something else in the corridor, a strange rushing sort of noise.
A sensible man might have stayed quiet or perhaps cautiously peeked into the corridor. I was embarrassed about being so jumpy and angry about dropping the flashlight, though, so I yanked open the door and barged into the hallway. "What the hell is going—"
My legs and my voice came to a sudden halt as I took in the scene in the corridor. A sleek dark grey cat was walking away from me down the hall. The window nearest to the cat was still wobbling a bit on its hinged fame. That explained the first noise I had heard.
The strange rushing noise, though, seemed to be coming from the same direction as the cat. It was growing louder and a slight glow was surrounding the cat. The glowing feline stood on its hind legs as it walked, as calmly as though cats spontaneously became bipedal every day. This was merely strange. The impossible occurred a moment later as the cat's form began to change shape. Its thin legs filled out and lengthened. The torso stretched out as it gained smooth curves. The cat's fur faded to reveal smooth lightly tanned skin. Heavy waves of blonde hair fell from its head. The cat's tail shrank into the growing body until its nub vanished above a rounded bottom. The changing figure placed a paw on the handle of one of the storage room doors as it divided into delicate fingers. The rushing noise stopped, the glow winked out, and a naked blonde woman calmly stood in the dim corridor in place of the cat, one slim hand on the door of a storage unit a few doors down from mine.
Normally the sight of a naked woman causes a predictable reaction for me. This time was different though. I fainted.
Yes, fainted. Just like a teenybopper swooning at the sight of the latest boy band. I am sure you would have done much better had you seen a cat rearrange itself into a woman but my poor brain had taken all it could for one night.
This being my first attempt at fainting, I'm not sure how long I was out. I do know that the first thing I was aware of was how much my head hurt. The second was that a woman was talking somewhere near by. She sounded worried about something.
I opened my eyes and blinked at the pretty face peering down at me. I recognized her immediately. She was a neighbor of mine; Tabitha something from two floors down. She was a pretty blonde whose attention I had hoped for on more than one occasion.
And, I suddenly recalled, she had been a cat not too long ago. My vision started to get dark again.
"Woah, big boy, stay with me!" Tabitha said. I tried to focus on her. She was wearing a summer dress with a nice floral pattern. I wondered where it had come from and then remembered her opening a storage unit.
"That's better," she said with a smile. "That was a nasty spill you took. Are you ok?"
My eyes seemed to be working now so I thought I would give my voice a try. "Me? Are you ok?"
Her eyes narrowed. "I'm fine. Why do you ask?"
"It must hurt to change like that," I said. I did mention that I am not the most sensible of men, didn't I?
She took a deep breath. "You must have hit your head harder than I thought. What do you mean?"
In for a penny, in for a pound I decided giddily. "I mean that a few minutes ago you were on all fours, and I don't mean hands and knees. When I came out of my storage room you had fur and whiskers. I mean that you just played fast and loose with your species, family, and kingdom. You were a cat and now you're not. I mean—"
She rolled her eyes and placed a finger on my lips. "You talk a lot," she said with a smile. "You poor thing, you must have a concussion or something. I mean, really, babbling on about me being a cat."
She made the mistake of moving her finger. "So are you a girl who became a cat or a cat that became—"
She was quick with her hands and silenced me by placing one across my mouth. "You're not going to give up on this, are you?" I shook my head silently. "Damn it," she muttered. "I suppose I'll just have to do a memory clearing spell." She looked down at me, her eyes dark in the dim corridor. "I'm not all that good at those, you know. If I get it wrong you'll have to relearn things like the second grade. Or potty training. Can't we just agree that you must have hit your head too hard?"
I mumbled against her hand. With a giggle she moved it. It was a very cute giggle. "I'm sorry. It's not every day that your entire world view is flipped upside down. That was magic, wasn't it? Not some sufficiently advanced technology?" My brow furrowed. "You're not an alien, are you?"
She rolled her eyes. "Maybe I should give the memory thing a try. An alien? No, dear boy, I'm something much worse. I'm a witch."
I considered several possible responses. They ranged from fainting again (a habit I decided I did not want to develop), to scoffing at her, to running away as soon as I could find my feet. I sat up against the concrete corridor wall to give myself time to think. I eventually decided on a middle road. I looked to where she was leaning against the other wall, arms folded. "OK, you're a witch. I suppose I've already seen proof of that. Why a cat?"
She grinned at me in a way that reminded me of the feline she had been moments before. "What better way to go for a midnight walk? No one looks twice at cats or tries to mug or rape them. Well, there is the occasional tomcat but I have my ways of discouraging them."
I chose not to explore that little comment. "Um, ok. But how?"
She rolled her eyes. "I knew you weren't listening. I'm a witch. A card-carrying spell caster. You know, eye of newt and wing of bat, all that good stuff?" I nodded. "Well, forget most of it. I don't brew potions or have a little magic wand or any of that nonsense."
"But you do turn into a cat."
"Exactly," she said with a radiant smile, as though that explained anything. "Transformations are a bit of a specialty of mine."
"Not memory spells though." Two and two was rapidly adding up in my head.
She shook her head, the dim light from the windows catching silvery highlights in her swirling hair. "Not my strong suit, no. I'm still learning some things."
"Tabitha, please, don't do it. I won't tell anyone, I'll swear on a Bible or whatever holy book you want. I like being me. I'll—"
She stared at me in disbelief at first and then she began to giggle. I stopped begging when she burst into a full-throated snorting laugh. She covered her mouth and blushed. "I'm sorry, Kevin. It is Kevin, isn't it? From upstairs? I just realized what you must have been thinking. Let me guess, it involved toads."
I nodded slowly. "Well, yeah. You talked about wiping my memory but said you were better at transformations. What was I supposed to think?"
"So you thought I might do something like—"she wiggled her fingers at me and then grinned at my reaction. "Oooh, nice jump! You would make a fine toad." Somehow I could not take the threat seriously, perhaps because she was laughing so hard that she had slumped against the wall for support.
I should have been mad but how can a guy stay mad at a beautiful girl with such a joyful laugh, even when that laughter is at his expense? I stood slowly, folded my arms and cleared my throat. "Through?" I wondered.
She experimentally wiggled her fingers at me again. She pouted when I did not react. "Aww, you're no fun anymore."
"So what do we do from here?" I wondered.
She shrugged. "My grandmother would definitely make you a toad or something else that she thought was…interesting. My mom would have some complicated scheme for making you think you were seeing things. I think it's simpler than all that. Tell or don't tell; it's up to you." She stepped closer to me and looked into my eyes. I had not realized just how tall she was until then – I have to look down at most girls. Her eyes were beautiful even in the shadows. "What you have to ask yourself is: ‘would anyone believe me?' I think you would be in a sanitarium a lot more quickly than I would end up tied to a stake in a bonfire. C'mon. Girls who change into cats? That's just crazy." She winked at me, and her eye was suddenly the golden orb of a cat, vertical pupil and all. She winked again and her normal blue eye was back.
Tabitha turned on her heel and started to walk away down the corridor. Her body swayed gracefully in her dress and I could almost imagine her erstwhile tail swishing behind her.
To this day I'm not sure why I did it. A sensible person would have kept his mouth shut and done his best to forget what he had seen.
Instead, I called out to her. "Tabitha, wait."
She stopped and looked over her shoulder. Her face in profile was breathtaking. Thick blonde hair framed the pouty lips, cutely upturned nose, and the curving brow arched over her sparkling blue eye. "Yes?" she purred.
"Would you like to go out? For coffee or a beer or whatever witches drink?"
Her eyebrow was getting quite a workout as it rose even further. She smiled. "Alright, Mr. Kevin AlmostAToad. Where shall we go?"
I groaned and stepped up beside her. "Wherever you like, as long as you don't call me that again."
We began to walk together as she gave me a wide-eyed innocent look. "How about Hoppy?"
And so began my relationship with Tabitha. I did not know if she was my perfect mate but it seemed my searching was over.