As much as the dark night called to me, in the end, I stayed right where I was. Safe in the light, in Penny’s room and surrounded by people who were bigger and more powerful than I was.
I wanted to know who it was that I’d caught wind of. I wanted to know what my mother could be doing here after I hadn’t seen her for so long. I wanted to get answers to so many questions, but I didn’t want to cause problems for anyone else.
I knew if I followed my instincts and pounced outside, I’d wind up in a barrel of trouble, and, worse, Penny would wind up in the same barrel with me.
“So does this mean we’re all sleeping over tonight?” Betty asked.
“You can if you’d like,” Penny said. “Mom’s still adjusting to the whole ‘witch’ thing but she’s happy that I’m making new friends.”
“But it means I don’t have you all to myself anymore,” Rosie said. She gave Penny the same kind of hug that she gave me when she was teasing me about something.
“Oh like I could get a word in edgewise for the last hour!” Penny said.
I left them to plan out their impromptu sleepover and ventured out into the house to see if there was any trouble brewing inside our walls. My whiskers were still tingling with the anticipation of danger, despite there being no signs that anything was amiss.
I crept down the stairs, careful at each step to make sure that no hostile forces had snuck in through the protective charms that Penny and Grandma Apples had installed on the house. I felt comfortable and warm knowing that there were some defenses standing between us and the scary things that lurked about, but my old instincts told me not to trust that we were really safe.
“Hello September,” Penny’s Dad said as I padded silently into the living room.
I stopped and glanced at him. I know I’m not the best stalker in the world but I’m fairly small as cats go, I’m close to silent and I’m solid black so I blend in pretty well. And somehow he sees me every single time I leave Penny’s room! There are hawk’s with eyes that aren’t that sharp!
“It sounds like the girls are having a good time,” he said. “Were they threatening to dress you up?”
“Penny wouldn’t do that,” I said, confidant that my witch respected my dignity more than that.
“Yeah, I guess she’s a little too old for that sort of thing now,” he said.
My first meeting with Penny’s parents hadn’t been quite so casual. At first they were appalled that she snuck a cat into the house at all. Then they were horrified and adamantly opposed to her when she said I was going to stay with them. They’d told her that wasn’t possible and that she knew they couldn’t have a cat as a pet.
I think her father nearly had a heart attack when I said that there were spells that could keep a cat dander-free, which would reduce or eliminate any allergic reactions her parents might have.
Penny probably should have warned them that I could talk. It might also have been a good idea to tell them about magic and spells before I mentioned those too.
To their credit, Penny’s parents took the whole thing rather well in the end though. Penny’s mother talked about her grandmother (so Penny’s great-grandmother) and how the family had a tradition of magic that Penny’s mother had grown up to believe was just something she imagined as a little kid.
Penny’s father said he’d never experienced magic as a boy. It wasn’t until after Penny was born that he saw his first glimpses of it. From strange glows around baby Penny late at night, to, one time, seeing the ghost of his own grandmother changing her diaper when Penny’s Dad had been up for forty eight hours straight. He’d brushed all of the incidents off as sleep deprived hallucinations but in retrospect he wasn’t sure he’d ever really believed that.
I helped explain what I could, though I don’t know all that much about how witches work or what kind of things are out there. For the questions they had that I couldn’t answer we called in the big guns to supply the answers they wanted.
Grandma Apples made a house call the day after Penny let her parents know that she was a witch and I was coming to live with them. I didn’t get to hear much of what they talked about but they talked for a long time.
The next day, Inspector Brooks dropped by and talked with them for a much shorter period of time, but whatever topics they covered it was apparently enough. I was able to stay and Penny was able to start seeing Grandma Apples for official training.
From what Penny explained to me later, there’s no formal restriction on the Rodriguez’s talking about her being a witch, but life is simpler if you only tell people that you trust. I knew that from well before I met Penny of course. “Talking” and “cat” are not two things that most people are comfortable finding together in one package, so I learned to keep my mouth shut about ten minutes after I figured out how to talk like a human.
I thought it would always be like that. I figured being able to speak human was a neat trick but that I’d never get to do it much without people yelling and screaming and running away. That was based on them yelling and screaming and running away every time I tried to talk to someone.
Then I met Penny, and she didn’t run away.
Then I met her parents. I think they wanted to run away at first, but they didn’t. They stayed, probably for Penny more than for me. Over time though? Well, they got to know me. I think what was startling and amazing and unnatural became ordinary pretty quickly. Also, I mean, I’m just a little cat, however strange it is that I can talk human, it’s not like I’m all that threatening.
“I think the girls are going to sleep over tonight,” I said.
“I foresee a busy morning in the bathroom tomorrow then,” Penny’s Dad said. “Is everything ok?”
I considered letting Penny tell him what was up, but since it seemed to concern me more than her for the moment, I decided it was my job to fill him in.
“I think I saw my mother outside,” I said.
“Is she ok?” Penny’s Dad asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I haven’t seen her in a long time, and she ran away when I tried to find her.”
“They aren’t thinking of chasing out after her are they?” Penny’s Dad asked.
“No they want to stay here to keep Penny safe in case it wasn’t really my mother,” I said.
“You’re going to stay here too, right?” he asked.
“I am not leaving this house,” I said. “I don’t want to get Penny in any trouble.”
“Good,” her Dad said. “As long as she’s here, she should be fine. I can give Inspector Brooks a call in the morning if you want?”
“That might be good!” I said. I wanted to find my mother, but if someone else could do all the dangerous work for me, I’d be glad to let them at it.
Contented with that though I started to head back upstairs, but when I got to the door to basement I thought I heard something.
Part of me wanted to run upstairs and try to pretend I hadn’t heard anything. I imagined spending all night working very hard at pretending that. Another part of me felt silly. We were inside the house, protected both by its walls and by the charms meant to keep things out. The basement was perfectly safe.
I still didn’t want to go down into it though.
So I went upstairs and told Penny about the noise. Because that’s what sensible familiars do.