Mr. H had a passion for contests. He’d won gift cards, free golf lessons and even a dozen bagels. But Mr. and Mrs. Hatcher were left scratching their heads when Mr. H won a coupon from a school raffle, good for one nail clipping, shampoo and lion trim at Five-Star Feline, a pet salon at the mall.
“They actually shave the cat’s coat to resemble a lion’s?” said Mr. H. “Why?”
“On some cats it is attractive.” This came from Mrs. H whose raised eyebrows said, Blossom is not one of them.
“I think Blossom would look awesome with a lion trim,” Willow said, rubbing Blossom’s ears. At least Willow knew that Blossom was the best-looking cat on Tulip Drive.
With feather-light feet, Blossom pranced down to where the fences came together to boast about her upcoming visit to Five-Star Feline. “I’ll get my nails clipped,” she meowed, stretching a paw toward Riley, her best feline friend forever. “And, after that, a lion trim and shampoo,” she explained to Merle, the neighbor bulldog.
“Blossom, I hear there’s a fish restaurant at the mall, if you know what I mean,” said Riley, licking his chops. “But you don’t speak their kind of English.” He shook his head. “The servers wouldn’t understand you.”
Blossom batted a paw. “Who needs English with meows like mine? I’ve been purr-fecting my communication skills with Willow. When I practice assertive meowing, she nods her head and sometimes says, I know, or Really?”
Merle gave a little hop. “Assertive meowing? Blossom, you truly have a gift if people can understand you. Perhaps you should focus more on using your gift to help others. Besides, how can you dine at the fish restaurant and have time for your lion trim appointment?”
Merle was very wise, for a dog, but Blossom didn’t want advice on helping others. And because she was determined to eat fish and get a lion trim, she just mewed politely, not mentioning she’d already filed Merle’s wisdom in the trash containing yesterday’s litter.
The next day Mrs. H dropped Blossom off at the check-in counter of Five-Star Feline but before leaving, waggled a warning finger at Blossom. “You behave, Blossom! I’m off to Macy’s One-Day Sale and will be back in two hours.”
Blossom had every intention of behaving, although the minute Mrs. H’s shoes clattered off toward Macy’s and the cat groomer wrapped her strong hands around Blossom’s middle, the smell of seared salmon nearly made Blossom drool. The sizzle of salmon came from across the mall hall. In big red letters over a storefront was a sign, CRAVE. Blossom turned her head to the groomer who blinked down at her with big brown eyes. “Let’s get started, Blossom.”
Blossom looked to the CRAVE sign, beckoning like a stick of butter. She calculated she could wolf down a salmon fillet in two whiskers and be back before the groomer could pick up her nail clippers. “I’ll be back in a flash,” she meowed, slipping right through the groomer’s grip. She bounced to the floor and shot off into the crowd of mall shoppers. At the entrance to CRAVE, Blossom crept up to a tall desk that resembled the pulpit in the Hatchers’ church, the one she’d hid behind on Blessing of the Animals Day. No one was stationed at the desk so she trotted over to an open booth and hopped up. Her feet made a soft crunching sound as they touched the leather-covered seat. She held her head high to be noticed. Her whiskers twitched with irritation. “Why is no one coming to take my fish order?” she huffed.
A server in black uniform with white apron, sat slumped in a booth across from Blossom. Tears streamed down the woman’s cheeks. Her nose was the purplish hue of a coneflower. Another server stopped by, patted the sad woman on the shoulder and said, “Lacy, I’m very sorry to hear that your grandmother passed.” The consoling server then moved on, never looking in Blossom’s direction.
Blossom shifted her weight in the booth, making the leather crunch again. Puffing up her chest, she meowed assertively, “Excuse me, Lacy, I see you’re crying but I’d like to place my fish order.”
Lacy looked up to see what had just meowed. When she saw Blossom sitting patiently in the booth, her eyes lit. “Grandma?” she called to Blossom. “Is that you?”
Blossom looked behind her. She did not see a grandma, was that question meant for her? Lacy had gotten out of the booth and was heading Blossom’s way. Finally. “I’d like some of your seared salmon, please,” Blossom said. “But I don’t have all day. I have to get back to Five-Star Feline for my lion trim.”
Lacy seated herself across from Blossom, making the leather crunch three times. She placed her elbows on the table and leaned in. “It’s a sign,” she said in barely a whisper. “Grandma, I knew you’d come back to let me know you were OK.” Her face turned sad again. “I miss you, Grandma.”
Seeing how mistaken Lacy was, Blossom decided she’d use her purr-fected communication skills to point the server’s nose in the right direction, that being the salmon. “I’m not your grandma, Lacy. I’m Blossom Hatcher of Tulip Drive,” she meowed sternly. “I’d settle for plain old fish sticks, though. ASAP.” Another tear rolled down Lacy’s cheek. You should focus more on using your gift to help others. Blossom silently snarled at Merle’s barks of wisdom, working their way out of the trash. She stretched out a paw and patted Lacy’s arm. “I lost my grandma too,” she mewed. “She’s buried in our back yard. I take great comfort in knowing that I was her favorite grand kitten. But I must get back to Five-Star Feline.”
Lacy cocked her head as if she’d understood every single meow. “Grandma,” said Lacy,” You always say the right things. You knew how much I loved cats and, look, here you are, back as a cat!” As if letting Blossom in on a big secret, she lowered her voice. “Grandma, I come in here every day and say to myself, Lacy, you love cats. Go over to Five-Star and see if they have any job openings. Should I, Grandma? Should I apply?” She held up her index finger. “Just give me a sign, one little sign.”
Glancing out into the mall, Blossom spotted the groomer from Five-Star Feline searching up and down the hall for her runaway client. The groomer went back into the shop. “Lacy, I must go!” she cried, springing from the booth and sprinting over to Five Star Feline.
“Grandma, where are you going?” Lacy stood up. “To Five-Star? I knew it! I knew you’d give me a sign!”
Feeling light as a finch from her good deed-doing, Blossom couldn’t help but grunt to find the Five-Star check-in counter was deserted. Nonetheless, she howled at the empty counter, “I’m ready for my lion trim. Hurry up before Lacy comes over here and takes up my appointment time asking about job openings.” The groomer did not appear, however, an entirely new smell had wafted Blossom’s way. It was wafting right out of another storefront kitty-corner from Five-Star Feline. WILLIAMS-SONOMA blazed over its entrance. Blossom sniffed. What was this new odor? It reminded her of home. Cooked potatoes? She looked to CRAVE. Lacy must have decided to stay put. Blossom figured she could gobble down a few potatoes and pop back by the time the groomer showed up, so she ventured back out onto the mall’s gleaming white tiled floor. Standing in front of the WILLIAMS-SONOMA entrance, she had to blink three times at so much copper and colorful cookware on display.
A woman wearing a forest green apron was at a central counter demonstrating a silver appliance about the size of a cat. “This is our new state-of-the-art air fryer.”
Blossom joined the spectators, waiting as the air fryer lady handed out French fry samples. Over the din of curious customers and the hum of the air fryer, Blossom roared, “Excuse me, but the fish restaurant didn’t serve me salmon.”
For one moment Blossom’s heart froze as she spotted the familiar red star of Macy’s on a large white bag, thinking Mrs. H had already returned. She relaxed upon seeing it was a stranger, one that nodded at Blossom and said, “We were here first. Wait your turn.”
“It’s just that I’m late for my lion trim appointment and could use a few fries to hold me over,” Blossom meowed as assertively as possible.” You should focus more on using your gift to help others. The next time she saw Merle, she’d let him know his annoying do-gooder comments belonged buried with his bones.
The air fryer lady turned to another worker. “Call Security about the cat,” she barked.
“What an unfriendly store,” Blossom meowed as a security guard carried her out of WILLIAMS-SONOMA. “And all they serve is potatoes.”
The guard marched Blossom across the mall and into another room, one in a dark corner. This place was called OFFICE. Once inside, she was cast into a cage. The cage’s latch snapped shut and the guard said, “I hope your owner comes for you. If you don’t get picked up in 24 hours, we’ll call Animal Control.” Then he left and Blossom was alone in the very quiet OFFICE.
Blossom hung her head. Merle was right after all. She couldn’t have her fish and lion trim too. And, the more she thought about it, the more she realized she’d really used her gift to help herself. In fact, paws down, she’d displayed very catty manners to 1) the groomer, 2) Lacy who’d just lost her grandma, and 3) the crabby air fryer lady. “Now Mrs. H will return from Macy’s and the groomer at Five-Star Feline will tell her I ran away.” Blossom whimpered, consumed with kitty self-pity. “And I won’t get my nails clipped or my lion trim or my bubble bath.” Then an extremely doggish thought popped into her head. Maybe Mrs. H wouldn’t think to come to the OFFICE in search of Blossom and she’d just go home with her Macy’s purchases. Fear sprinkled through Blossom’s fur. “I’ll be here forever,” she wailed. “Oh wait, I’ll be at Animal Control.”
As Blossom continued her kitty pity party, her ears turned to the sound of footsteps outside the OFFICE. “I figured this was the only place you could be.” It was the groomer, running her fingers through her hair. “I could have lost my license because of you!” She waggled her finger at Blossom. “I won’t tell anyone about your running away. But if you so much as put ONE TOE outside of Five-Star again . . .” The silence hung thick as tartar sauce. She unlatched the cage and snatched Blossom up. “I can just fit in your appointment if we hurry.”
Back at Five-Star Feline, Blossom got her nail clipping, lion trim and shampoo. She couldn’t stop admiring her slim tail with a poof of fur at its end. “You look good in a lion cut, Blossom,” the groomer said, drying her hands. She bent down to Blossom’s level and looked her straight in the eyeballs. “I like grooming cats, I really do. But sometimes I think I’d rather do something less stressful. Like sell phone cases from a mall cart or serve fish at the restaurant across the way.”
Blossom’s ears did a double-flick. This was her Meow Moment, her chance to really help others. Looking into the groomer’s big brown eyes, she meowed with enough assertiveness to plow down a field of mice. “Do you know Lacy, the server at the fish restaurant? Anyway, she just lost her grandmother and she’s interested in working here. Maybe you two could switch jobs?”
The groomer didn’t appear to be listening. She was looking up toward the ceiling, which was an ugly mess of pipes and fluorescent lighting. “Or maybe. . .” The groomer’s eyes flashed. “I could hire an assistant!” The groomer grinned proudly, as if she was the brightest bulb in the mall. Blossom was about to meow aloud how this happy ending was all a result of her misbehaving, but decided she’d done enough assertive meowing for one day.
And while waiting for Mrs. H’s return, she saw Lacy making her way over to Five-Star. Tomorrow Blossom would let Merle know how much she appreciated his woofs of wisdom regarding gifts. But today the biggest gift of all came when Mrs. H returned with her many packages from Macy’s One-Day Sale. Dropping her purchases at Five-Star’s check-in counter, Mrs. H took a step back to take in what she was seeing. “Blossom, is that you?” she cried. “You look absolutely stunning.”