by Barbara Hill
Line art by Terrie
First appeared in a B&B
"Hold still, Vincent." Devin rubbed his hands over the thick blond hair of his small companion, desperately trying to smooth the unruly mop. With a sigh of defeat, he finally gave up.
"Oh, the heck with it. The old man's not gonna to be paying any attention to you or your hair anyway." Devin's eyes dropped to the wriggling bundle of fur held tightly against the chest of the smaller boy staring up at him with adoration. "In fact, I'd say your hair is the last thing he’s gonna notice."
"Devin, do you think Father will be mad at me?" Anxious blue eyes stared at Devin in fear. Vincent hated having anyone mad at him, especially Father.
"Don't be silly. Father never gets mad at you, Vincent. You're his perfect little boy, remember?"
The usually calm eyes flared in anger. "Am not!" Vincent stomped his foot stubbornly, eliciting a soft hiss of disapproval from his furry charge. A gentle pat on the head and soft words of reassurance calmed the small kitten immediately.
"Relax, Vincent. It'll be okay. Just go in there and tell Father exactly what I told you to. You'll see. It'll work out."
"Okay, Devin. Whatever you say." The toddler nodded his head in eager acceptance. As far as Vincent was concerned, Devin could do no wrong. This feeling was not shared, unfortunately, by one very important member of their community, but then Father did know Devin much better and Vincent was only four years old.
Devin smiled down at his brother and made one last attempt to make him as presentable as possible. "That'll do. At least the kitten didn't scratch you when we gave it a bath." Devin glanced at the softly furred hands holding the kitten and realized he couldn't really tell if Vincent had been scratched or not. "That thing didn't scratch you, did it?"
Vincent gave his older sibling a slight look of irritation. "Of course not, Devin. And it isn't an it! It's a she."
"Now, how would you know that?"
Vincent shrugged his small shoulders and grinned smugly. "I just know."
Nodding his head, Devin accepted Vincent's announcement. He'd long gotten used to Vincent "just knowing things. With one last pat at the unruly blond mane that surrounded Vincent's kitten-like features, Devin turned his brother around and gave him a gentle shove in the direction of Father's chamber entrance.
"Go on, Vincent. Let's get this over with. I'll wait here for you."
Vincent walked slowly, hesitantly into the large, comfortable chamber where Father sat at his desk going over work orders for the next day. With a parent's ingrained awareness, Father was at once alert to the calm, gentle presence of his youngest son. Without turning, he spoke. "Good evening, Vincent. Dinner will be ready soon. Have you washed up?"
"No, Father, not yet."
As if sensing Vincent's unease, the kitten began squirming nervously. Lowering his head to one tiny ear, Vincent whispered softly, "It's all right. Hold still."
"What did you say, Vincent? Father turned to find his son trying valiantly to calm a small, nervous bundle of fur. "Vincent, what on earth have you got there?"
Sparing a fleeting glance at his wriggling charge, Vincent looked back up at Father. "It's a kitten, Father." Enormous blue eyes, filled with four year old patience, plainly said, anyone can see that, though Vincent was much too polite a child to ever voice the thought aloud. The tone of his voice made Father smile.
"So I see. Where did you get it?"
The kitten hung haphazardly from small arms wrapped around her gently, protectively. As if suddenly sensing the need for a calm decorum, she sighed softly and stopped squirming. Father smiled inwardly as two pair of vivid blue eyes pinned him with a look of gentle defiance.
"It's not an it, Father. It's a she. Her name is Tigger."
"All right then, Vincent, where did you get Tigger?"
Squaring his small shoulders, Vincent brought himself up to his full height, all three and a half feet of it, took a deep breath and spoke the first words that came to mind. "She followed me home."
From his hiding place outside the chamber Devin cringed, certain that Vincent's chances of keeping the kitten had just been blown. "Nice going, baby brother. I can't believe you said that. Followed you home? Let's hear you explain that one."
"The kitten followed you home, you say?" Father turned his sternest look on the tunnels' fair haired wonder who was rubbing his cheek gently against the kitten's face. Watching him, Father realized suddenly that bright blue eyes was not the only thing these two furry creatures had in common. The resemblance was uncanny! "And just what were you doing Above in the first place?"
Vincent was very indignant that Father could possibly think he had disobeyed his orders that he never go Above. "I didn't go Above, Father. You always tell me it's too dangerous for me Above. I would never go up there." At the tender age of four the thought of ever venturing into a world he'd only heard about had not entered his mind and wouldn't for several more years. Father knew his son was telling the truth.
"Then how could the kitten have followed you home?" Realizing his mistake, Vincent tried to come up with an explanation that would satisfy Father and not get his older brother in trouble.
"I was in one of the upper tunnels and I found her.. .she must have wandered in from the park. She was alone and scared and hungry and I got her some food and cleaned her up and then she followed me back here when I came home and she likes me and she's real friendly...and I promise I'll take care of her and clean up after her and I promise she won't get in the way or be any trouble or, or...." Teary eyes pleaded with him. "Can I keep her, Father, please?"
Father had to turn away for a moment to stifle a laugh. Normally, Vincent was a child of few words. His last comment was probably the most words he'd ever used at one time and he'd said them all without so much as taking a breath.
Vincent waited patiently for Father to answer his plea while fighting down the slight twinge of guilt he felt. He had found the kitten in the upper tunnels just as he'd described. He'd merely left out the fact that Devin had been with the kitten and he hadn't bothered to mention that Devin had found the kitten in the park and brought it back. He hadn't really told Father a lie, though, he told himself. He just hadn't told him everything and that wasn't quite the same as lying, was it?
Father turned to look at his son. Once more he found himself bombarded with two pair of intense blue eyes: one begging him to let him keep the scrawny bundle dangling precariously from his arms, the other seemingly begging him to let her stay. As a rule pets were not allowed in the tunnels. Vincent, however, was not always bound by the same rules as the rest of them. Everything about this youngster was unique and very special, and everyday rules simply did not apply to him at times. Looking at his sons s exquisite face as he gazed down at the kitten, Father realized just how much having the pet meant to him. He knew how lonely Vincent got at times when the other children were allowed Above. The child so rarely asked for anything for himself. Father made up his mind. For once the rules could be bent.
"If I say yes, Vincent, you must promise me that you will take good care of her. You will have to feed her and clean up after her. You will also have to see to it that she does not get in the way around here. It will mean a lot of work on your part. Having a pet is a big responsibility. Are you sure you can do it?"
Vincent's face broke out in a broad, toothy grin as he realized he'd won. He was going to get to keep his new friend!
"I promise, Father. I'll take good care of her." Shifting the kitten to one arm, Vincent hugged Father's waist with his free one. Father returned the hug, making a mental note to contact a helper above who just happened to be a veterinarian. "Thank you, Father. Thank you so much. I love you."
Father shook his head slowly, his eyes brimming with tears. It took so very little to make this little boy happy. He patted the kitten's head. "I love you, too, Vincent. Welcome to the tunnels, Tigger."
The kitten meowed softly as if to say thank you. Breaking free, Vincent bolted for the entrance without a backward glance, shouting Devin's name. Father laughed softly. He wasn't the least bit surprised that Devin was involved with the sudden arrival of Vincent's new friend.
"Devin, he said yes! We get to keep her. Tigger gets to stay!" Clamping his hand over his brother's mouth, Devin dragged him away from the chamber entrance out of earshot.
"Keep quiet, kid. You wama spoil everything?" He reached over to scratch the contented kitten behind the ear. "Tigger? That's a stupid name. Where did you come up with that name?"
"It's not stupid! I like it. You said she was mine. I get to name her and I named her Tigger."
"Okay, okay. She's yours and you can name her whatever you like."
Tigger snuggled sleepily against Vincent's chest and looked at Devin calmly as if saying she thought the name bestowed on her was just fine. She had a safe and loving new home. As far as she was concerned, they could call her whatever they wanted. Vincent looked at his brother with love and gratitude.
"Thanks, Devin, for bringing her."
Taking a quick look around to assure himself they were alone, Devin wrapped his arms around his brother for a hug. "You're welcome, kid." He ruffled Vincent's hair fondly. "You just make sure she doesn't get into any of my stuff in our chamber."
"Devin, Father doesn't usually let animals in the tunnels. How did you know he would say yes?"
"That's easy. I figure any time we really want something, we should let you do the asking. As long as it isn't dangerous and won't hurt you, the old man can never say no to you! Come on, let's go find Tigger something to eat."