Gatito was not a bad cat. He was not a good cat. He was the best cat in the world.
Jefferson thought his neighbor Hector was so very lucky to have Gatito, who was grey with black stripes and greenish-grey eyes. Every evening at dusk Hector’s father would walk out onto the porch of their home and call, “Gatito, Gatito, Gatito,” until the cat came running.
Hector told Jefferson stories about Gatito during their rides to school on the bus every morning. When Hector’s family brought him home as a kitten, Gatito had no manners. He would jump up on the counters and sniff around for food. But they had trained him to stop doing that, only he still did it sometimes.
Jefferson asked his mother if he could get a cat. She said no. He already had two turtles.
One day when Jefferson got off the school bus, Hector’s mother was there, but his mother was not. Hector’s mother told them that Jefferson’s mother had called her. She was running late. Jefferson was to go to Hector’s house for a little while.
Hector and Jefferson watched television and played with Gatito. When Hector’s mother served them empanadas, they gave Gatito little bites.
Winter came. It was time for Hector and his father to go to stay with Hector’s grandmother in Florida. Hector wasn’t sad about leaving. He went to Florida every winter. But Gatito was lonely without Hector.
Every day at the bus stop, Jefferson stared at Gatito sitting out on Hector’s mother’s front porch.
When Hector’s mother asked if Jefferson’s family would take the cat, Jefferson’s mother said yes.
First they took Gatito to the vet. When they brought him home, he was sleepy and quiet, but after two days, he started jumping up on counters and sniffing for food.
Spring came. Gatito spent his days in and out of the house. Jefferson loved Gatito. He slept in Jefferson’s room at night and would wake his family up in the morning meowing for his breakfast.
Once, Gatito tore up the curtains in the living room.
When the cat knocked over the tank that held Jefferson’s turtles, water and glass went everywhere. Jefferson’s mother was furious.
“That cat has to go,” she said.
She put up a notice at the grocery store that said Gatito was “free to good home.”
One week later, someone called and said he wanted the cat.
Jefferson and his mother put Gatito into a carrier and loaded him into the car. They followed the directions out into the country to the home where they planned to leave Gatito.
The sun was sinking. Branches turned black against a pink and orange sky.
Jefferson’s mother pulled up to a leaning wooden farmhouse and got out of the car. The grass was tall enough that it almost reached Jefferson’s knees. He saw two kittens peering out of a wooden shed near the house.
Wait, there were more. In the dimming light, Jefferson could make out the silhouettes of several cats sauntering in and out of the shed, their tails waiving in the air.
A man or boy walked out of the farmhouse, followed by a little girl a few years younger than Jefferson. The man-boy was younger than Jefferson’s father, but probably older than the biggest kids who rode Jefferson’s bus. The little girl was wearing a tattered sundress. Her pinkish brown hair was mussed and tangled. She had a bow-shaped doll’s mouth and porcelain skin. Her legs were covered in scrapes and scratches as if she had been attacked by a cat, and in her arms was a quiet, motionless black and white kitten.
“You the folks that has the cat to get rid of,” the man-boy asked.
“Yes, I think so,” Jefferson’s mother said. “It looks like you already have a lot of cats.”
“The new one’s for her,” the man-boy said. “Her kitten’s dying. We don’t know what’s wrong with him.”
Jefferson’s mother addressed the girl.
“Did your kitty scratch your legs?”
“She scratches them herself,” the man-boy said. “She’s always itching. We don’t know what’s wrong with her.”
Jefferson’s mother looked back at the car, where Gatito was waiting in the carrier.
“I’m so sorry your kitten is sick,” she said. “I’m sorry, I don’t think we can leave Gatito. I thought we could, but we can’t.”
Then Jefferson and his mother got back in the car and drove back into town with the cat.
Jefferson decided it was the best day of his life.
The next day, he heard a crash in the kitchen. Then he heard his mother saying bad words.
He rushed down the stairs.
“What happened?” he asked.
“Jefferson, take that cat and go outside,” she said. “That darned Gatito ate my pie!”