Madeline stood across the street for a moment thinking about what she was about to do. She had always considered herself an intelligent woman; she had a good career and a lovely new home. She believed that she was mildly attractive. And yet, she was lonely. Her divorce had come through a few weeks ago, just before a job offer here, in what for her was a new town. She had no family and no friends nearby. Essentially she was starting her life over. Alright, she thought. Change is in the air. Let’s do it! She squared her shoulders and crossed the street to the Pet Adoption Agency.
When Madeline entered, a young woman behind the desk immediately looked up and smiled. A huge, tabby, feline-like creature also looked up, yawned and promptly went back to sleep. Upon closer inspection, it was indeed just a very large cat. He sat, or more correctly sprawled across the top of the desk. It seemed to be a generous desktop, but underneath this huge feline it almost looked small.
“Hello,” said Madeline, “I’m looking to adopt a cat.”
The young woman’s smile became even more pronounced.
“Well we can certainly help you with that. Are you looking for any particular breed, sex, or colour?”
As the two women spoke, the huge cat raised its head, yawned once again and stretched out a paw to Madeline. Almost without thinking she scratched behind his ears, and smiled for the first time in days.
“He likes you, and he’s available for adoption.”
“What exactly is he? He’s so big. It’s a he, isn’t it?”
The young woman behind the desk chuckled. “Yes, he’s a cat. He’s a Maine Coon; they’re an extremely large breed. But they’re very gentle, curious and they like people a lot. He would make a great companion.”
Madeline thought about it for a moment. “Why is he here? He certainly seems well fed and content. Is there something wrong with him?” She wanted someone to share her new life with, but she wasn’t sure she was ready to take on any complications.
For the first time since Madeline had walked in the door the young woman lost her smile.
“It’s sad. He was abandoned, left alone in an empty apartment. Someone just packed up their belongings and left. It’s awful that anyone would do that to such a beautiful creature.”
The anger on this young woman’s face was obvious. Madeline shared it. Cruelty to animals was one of her pet peeves.
“Does he have a name?”
“He was found with a name tag: Valentine.”
Madeline’s heart missed a beat. Maybe she was too much of a romantic. Valentine’s Day was just a few weeks away, maybe it was a sign that she should take this abandoned cat into her heart. At least he wouldn’t steal her blankets in the middle of the night like her ex-husband used to, well, hopefully.
Several hours later, after filling out the paperwork and the cat having one final check-up, Madeline took her new roommate home. It wasn’t a long drive and Valentine was surprisingly calm throughout. She was curious to see what his first reaction would be to his new lodgings.
The condominium Madeline had recently purchased was quite comfortable but not overly large. She didn’t think a cat would take up that much room. Of course, that was before she met Valentine.
When she set the pet traveling case down on the floor, Valentine refused to venture out. She peered inside but he didn’t look afraid, he was quite comfortably curled up at the back of the carrier. With a little coaxing he did amble out and for the next hour he investigated every corner, every nook and cranny in the apartment. Madeline made herself comfortable on the couch and watched. Of course, there were a few times she had to get up to go and open a door or cupboard because Valentine could be quite insistent. His meowing was surprisingly loud. He wanted to see it all. Fortunately in his wanderings he had found his water dish, his food dish and his kitty litter. Everything had, apparently, been deemed acceptable.
Eventually Valentine returned to where Madeline was sitting, jumped up onto her lap, turned around twice, curled up into a sizeable a ball and went to sleep. Madeline smiled and figured there was going to be a substantial part of her life that would now be spent not moving so as not to disturb her beautiful tabby roommate.
Valentine continued to explore over the next several days. He had to get used to his new home, and both of them had to get used to a new routine. When Madeline looked into the eyes of her newly-acquired companion, she saw intelligence and perhaps a little mischief. His eyes were liquid gold with flecks of amber. White and black whiskers stood out at a sharp angle from his all-white mouth. Evidently a trait of the Maine Coon cat was a long and full coat. Valentine had that in abundance. Curling up with him on a cold winter’s night was going to be like cuddling up with a warm blanket, one that purred.
It seemed that Valentine had behaviours more in common with a dog than with a cat. He liked to be a part of whatever Madeline was doing. He found it necessary to go through her clothes and the drawers they were in. He wanted access to all the cupboards and he was not shy about telling her so, loudly. He also liked to be fed at particular times. Madeline felt that she should have a sign made: “Humans Trained Here”. Valentine was a great coach.
There was something else that Valentine insisted on: physical contact. He would sit on her desk as she worked, just within reach. If Madeline didn’t pet him, then he would reach out a paw and touch her, repeatedly. He was by no means an aloof cat; he liked attention. And when he got it, he purred like a small outboard motor.
Valentine became her salvation. He needed her. She came home from work every night tired, and every night he was waiting for her at the door. He greeted her with bright eyes and a welcoming purr.
Over the next several weeks things went well for Madeline and Valentine. Then, early one evening, the phone rang and everything changed.
A deep, strong voice identified himself as Martin Gordon. “A mistake has been made and I believe you have my cat.”
Suddenly, Madeline’s world turned upside down. Valentine was a part of her now, an important part. She could not imagine having to give him up. He was her Sweet Valentine. She also knew that she had to listen to this man, to hear what he had to say. The Pet Adoption Agency would never have given him her number had he been a flake.
When Madeline opened the door an hour later, she was presented with a well-dressed gentleman, tall, and extremely attractive. His hair curled up just behind his ears like a little boy’s. His shoulders were wide. He obviously took care of himself. It was almost funny but he did have his hat in his hands. He also had a story to tell.
Madeline invited Martin in and he began to speak as he moved towards the couch and sat down.
“My mother is widowed and lives alone in England. I received a call stating that she was gravely ill. She wasn’t expected to live. I was the only one who could take care of her affairs, her estate.”
He paused for a breath and continued.
“I immediately made arrangements with my next-door neighbour to take care of Valentine while I was away. I thought I was only going to be gone for a few weeks. And while I didn’t know her well, I believed Valentine would be safe with her.”
Martin went on to explain how his mother had miraculously survived her illness. She didn’t want to come and live with him so he was forced to make arrangements for a live-in companion. He couldn’t leave her until he was certain she would be well cared for. As a result, he was out of the country for more than three months.
Madeline sat pensive and sombre on a chair across from Martin, waiting for him to continue.
“I made the mistake of trusting the wrong person.”
Madeline could see the pain on his face.
“She was a young woman and I had only known her for a few months but Valentine seemed to like her. While I was in England, final arrangements were made for a house I had recently purchased and since Valentine was going to be living in my neighbour’s apartment I felt it was a perfect opportunity for the movers to come in and pack up my apartment. Unfortunately the woman I trusted with Valentine proved to be irresponsible. She moved. She didn’t want to take Valentine so she just left him. She didn’t even try to contact me. According to a neighbour, the superintendent found a cat in her empty apartment and called animal control. I never thought an indoor cat needed an identity chip. Obviously I was very wrong. Now I regret that decision.”
It was starting to rain outside, Madeline noticed. Perhaps it was appropriate for the mood she was beginning to feel.
“I was devastated,” said Martin.
When he returned from overseas, Martin was in a state of panic. The young woman had not returned any of his calls for several weeks and he had imagined the worst. The superintendent didn’t know about his cat. Another neighbour told him about her move and about animal control picking up a cat. He spent the next few weeks trying to find Valentine. Unfortunately, there is no central database for animals and he was forced to go to each individual agency, veterinarian’s office, and pet store in his search. What he discovered was that animals were not kept for long. They are sometimes given to other agencies in the hopes of adoption and sometimes euthanized. It was several weeks before he happened on the right agency. They remembered Valentine.
Martin looked around the apartment. His eyes grew large. Valentine wasn’t here.
“Please tell me you actually have Valentine,” he said, a desperate tone in his voice.
“I have him.” Madeline’s voice was low. She had to accept that Valentine belonged to this man. But she didn’t want to believe it. She had grown to love her Sweet Valentine. The thought of giving him up brought tears to her eyes. But as she looked at this man she could see that he also felt as she did. They both loved the same cat.
Madeline stood. A second later, so did Martin.
“I gave Valentine to a neighbour,” whispered Madeleine. , “I needed to be sure, I needed… I’m sorry. I’ll get… I’ll get Valentine.” With that she left the apartment.
Martin continued to stand, waiting, unsure what to do.
A moment later Madeline returned hugging the large cat tightly in her arms. When Valentine caught sight of the visitor he jumped down, raced across the room and leapt into Martin’s arms.
Madeline could only watch as the two companions became reacquainted. Martin had tears in his eyes. She could hear Valentine’s purr from across the room. They belonged together.
After a moment, Martin raised his head. “Thank you,” he whispered, but the message was loud and clear: she had lost Valentine. Unable to watch the two any longer, Madeline set about gathering Valentine’s belongings.
“I have… I have some food… and toys… and… and…”
She was trying very hard to maintain her dignity. She would not cry in front of this stranger. But he was taking her Sweet Valentine!
“Please, Ms. Bellamy—”
“My name is Madeline.”
“Please, Madeline, please sit for a moment.” Madeleine sat as requested, but she couldn’t look Martin in the eye.
The moment she was seated, Valentine left Martin’s embrace and jumped into her lap. He now wanted her attention. And his purr was as loud as it had been for Martin.
“It seems we have a dilemma.” She could hear the smile in Martin’s voice before she looked up to confirm it.
“We both love Valentine. And he obviously loves both of us. I think we need to have joint custody.”
Madeline could not believe her ears. She wasn’t going to lose her Sweet Valentine!
“As I mentioned, I have bought a house,” continued Martin. “It’s only two blocks from here. I’m often away on business and I am sure Valentine would love to spend any time he doesn’t spend with me, with you. We’re going to be neighbours, we could also be friends.”
Madeline hugged Valentine even closer. She didn’t want Martin to see her tears falling. Her Sweet Valentine was not leaving. She could share him, especially with this very attractive gentleman standing in her parlour.
“Thank you. I do love my Sweet Valentine and I’d love to share him with you.”
“It’s going to take me a few weeks to get settled in my new home. Would you be willing to keep Valentine here and let me visit him every day?”
Madeline didn’t trust herself to speak again; she just smiled and nodded.
On her lap the object of their mutual affection looked from Madeline to Martin and purred.
Ah yes, thought Valentine, washing his immaculate whiskers with his paw, humans are so easily manipulated.