Marie sat alone in her kitchen, deep in conversation with Toonces who was only listening because he was getting his head scratched.
“I don’t know what I was thinking. I knew he was creepy from the first time I caught him sniffing Mom’s sweater. But he sang to her. It was tender and sweet and…disturbing, but in a sweet way. Oh, Toonces! I never should have allowed him to take me to his basement. I had no idea he was “collecting” me, too!”
Just then, the doorbell rang. Toonces jumped down and walked out of the kitchen as silent as a ghost. Marie peeped out of the window by the front door to see who was there. She was cautious. No one ever came to visit her in the evening like this.
Standing on the front porch was Jeff holding a bouquet of red roses, his breath frosting in front of his face. Her heart jumped. Quickly, she checked herself in the little mirror on the wall by the window. She walked back to the door, put her hand on the knob, and drew a quick breath to calm herself. Then she opened it.
“Jeff? What are you doing here? Were we supposed to have a date tonight?” she asked, breathlessly.
He handed her the flowers. “No. I just wanted to stop by and tell you how much I enjoyed seeing you Friday night. Marie, I’m crazy about you.”
“You are?” she asked.
“Aren’t you going to ask me in? It’s a getting a little cold.”
“Of course.” She stood aside to let him in. He left a trail of musky cologne as he walked by her.
He removed his coat and hung it on the coat hanger behind the door.
“I just had to see you, Marie. Julie and I had a fight.”
“You did?” she asked, hopefully. “What did you fight about?”
“It’s not important. What’s important is that I came to see you. I think I may be falling for you, Marie.”
She blushed as he drew her into his arms.
Oh my! I can’t believe this is happening to me. He’s really here. He really likes me! He might even love me!
He kissed her hard on the mouth and held her tightly. But then it was all wrong. His grip was too tight. She tried to pull away, but he wouldn’t let her go.
“Jeff! You’re hurting me! Let me go!”
He let her go. She took a few steps away from him. Suddenly, she felt afraid. This man who had shown so much interest in her and who had treated her so tenderly, was showing a different side.
He walked toward her slowly and spoke soothingly, “Marie. I’m sorry. I just can’t contain my feelings for you. I just want to hold you forever and ever. I’m going to leave Julie. It’s no good any more.”
“I don’t believe you,” she said, flatly.
“Come on, Marie. It’s all over. It’s you I want.”
“Jeff, ever since I’ve known you, it’s been Jeff and Julie. J and J. You’re going to marry her. I don’t think you love me at all. I think you’re just a creep, and I want you to leave.”
“Listen to me, Marie.” He took another step toward her and she backed away. “There’s so much I can do for you. I know that management is watching you. Do you think they’re just going to let you keep on working at Henri if you can’t come up with any good ideas? Your last proposal was a disaster. You’re one bad proposal away from getting fired. I can help you. They’ll listen to me. ”
“I don’t need your help, Jeff. I’ll come up with something.”
He backed her into a corner of the living room. There was nowhere else to go. She was trapped. She could scream, but she didn’t think anyone would hear her, or perhaps no one would even care.
But then he stopped. He looked down to find Toonces rubbing up against his calf. And in a rush of motion he shrieked and hopped to the middle of the room.
“Get it away! Get it away! He’s going to bite me!”
Before she could say a word, Toonces had backed him into the opposite corner. The grey tabby raised his back and hissed.
“Marie! PLEEE-HE-HE-HE-HE-EASE! Get him away from me!”
She walked toward him. “Are you ever going to come to my house again?”
“No. I promise!”
“Are you going to say anything to my boss?”
“Please! Just get him away from me!”
“No! I promise. I won’t say anything!” he sobbed.
She watched him sob and tremble. He was pathetic. She could see it now. He was a cheat and, apparently, terrified of cats. She couldn’t think of anything more pathetic.
“Toonces!” she called. The cat turned around and gave her a knowing glance before sauntering off to the kitchen.
Jeff grabbed his coat and scrambled out the door. He would never bother he again.
Then Marie began to cry.