The alarm clock on my phone irritated me awake.
"Graarrrrrr!" I bellowed, grabbing the offending device and changing the alarm to wake me up in half an hour. Ever since I found out my store was closing and I would soon be out of a job I had lost a lot of interest in leaving for work an hour early to make sure I was on time. I threw the covers back over my head and whined to myself. I buried my cheek as far into my pillow as I could and waited.
But what was I waiting for?
"Rex!" I realized, popping my head up. He normally came running at the sound of my alarm clock. Where was the tell-tale jingle of his bell? Where was his familiar demand for breakfast and a snuggle? In fact, where had been his demands for dinner the night before? I jumped out of bed.
"Rex?" I called, softly.
There was no answer.
I filled up his food dish, empty since his breakfast the day before, and cleaned out his litter box. Still no hungry cat. I went into the kitchen.
Aidan ran to meet me. "I'm here!" he offered, wagging his tail furiously.
"Hi, sweetie," I said absently. "I'm looking for Rex."
"I don't know where that guy is," said Aidan, giddily. "Did you know that I have a toy that squeaks? It also has fur, and a tail. I like to chew on it, and sometimes my Dad throws it!"
I started some water for tea and put my toaster in the bagel. While that was all heating up I went into the bathroom to check out my hair.
"Come get meeeeeeeeeee."
I stopped. Was that Rex? It had been so faint.
"Come get me!"
The sound wasn't coming from inside the house. I ran into the backyard and around the side to where I thought I had heard the sound. No Rex.
I went into my bedroom.
"Come get me! Please!" His voice was so quiet! I couldn't tell if I was imagining it or not. For all I knew, I was making a big deal out of nothing and Rex was hanging out in Big Dave's room. I went back to the kitchen. Big Dave was sitting on the edge of his bed in his bedroom off the kitchen.
"Is my cat in there?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"When did you see him last?" I asked.
"Yesterday," he said.
"Me, too," I said, becoming frantic. I hustled back to my bedroom, where I had last heard his voice. Davey was getting dressed and struggling not to fall onto the bed and fall back asleep.
"What's wrong with you?" he asked.
"I can't find Rex," I said, clasping my hands together in distress.
He began looking around. I wandered through the house, keeping my ear perked for his cries. He was silent. I had to leave for work soon if I was going to skate in on time. I went into my room to get dressed.
"Where are you?" Rex called.
I ran into the hallway. "Davey!" I called through the bathroom door. "Did you hear him, too?"
"Yeah," said Davey.
I ran back outside and around the house. He had to be there. He was underneath something. I knew it. There! A vent to the crawlspace under the house was missing its screen. I knelt down and peered inside. I could only see a foot ahead of me. There was so much trash. Visions of broken glass and hypodermic needles danced through my head. How was I going to get under there to retrieve my cat if he was hurt? What could I sell to pay to vet bills to get him sewn back together or set his bones? My poor little boy! I struggled to see him in the pitch black space under the house, but to no avail.
"Rex!" I called.
"Where are you?" he called back. Two glowing disks rotated into view, fixing their beams on my face.
"Mom!" Rex rejoiced.
The twin beacons bounced towards me. I could feel the stiffness fall out of my back. Rex stopped beneath the vent, where I could see him. "I'm so glad you found me!"
He jumped up and squeezed through the space. I picked him up and squeezed him to me.
"It was cold out there, and I was hungry!" he said woefully. It was clear I would never understand the torture he had just endured. I carried him back to the house, surprised that he wasn't taking his usual tack and trying to slip out of my arms so he could run halfway across the lawn to the tree before getting scared and freezing. I guess it had been a longer night for him than I had realized.
"Hi, Rex!" said Aidan when I brought the cat inside.
"I didn't have any breakfast or dinner, Aidan!" Rex announced.
"Oh, wow. I really love breakfast. I would hate to miss it,"the pug commiserated. "Hey, can I smell your butt?"
"No," said Rex, scrambling to be let down once I had shut the door. He rushed to the bathroom, where his food was waiting.
"I'm still going to smell it," yelled Aidan, following him. "Mom wants me to be friendly, so you have to just deal with it!"
"She's not your Mom," Rex said dismissively, scarfing down his food.
"You're not the expert on anything," Aidan said flippantly.
"Mom, hold me," Rex begged. "My night was so scary!"
I picked him up and rubbed his back.
"You could have come to the door to be let in," I said.
"What if someone saw me out there all by myself and hit me with a rock or chased me?" Rex demanded, indignantly. It was clear he liked the idea of being outside better than the reality. "I was hiding from the bad guys."
"Mmmm. Mexicans," said a certain racist empathetically. "I bark at them."
"You're both ridiculous," I said, putting Rex down and grabbing my purse. "I'll see you little nuts later."