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One freezing winter day, Marie finds a sickly kitten on the street

The wind stung Marie’s cheek. She shivered, despite her warm jacket and hat.

“I knew I should have brought a scarf,” she said out loud, but there was no one but the wind and her dog, Kora, to answer. It was the time of winter where people stopped being happy at the cold and the snow and instead stayed inside. All except the people who had dogs. Marie—though she loved Kora—did not necessarily want to be outside. But Kora needed to be walked, and so here Marie was, outside in the freezing temperature. The relentless winter. Regina never walks Kora, Marie thought grumpily. It’s always me. Not that Marie minded when it was still warm out, but now it was all cold and unforgiving and Marie had no desire to be outside. I’m making Regina do it tomorrow, Marie thought with resoluteness. The weather reminded her of a poem she had read in English class just the day before, just before winter break started.

The whipping wind,
Red cheeks,
Cracked lip—
A winter cold and unforgiving

Yep, Marie thought bitterly, that describes the weather right now. That was the only stanza Marie remembered. There were probably more, but Marie was not known for her memory. It also probably didn’t help that Marie spent much of her day daydreaming. She only remembered that stanza because she had liked the play on “cold” in the last line. The winter was literally cold, and it was also cold as if distant. Marie dug her face into her coat and kept walking at a brisk pace, dragging Kora behind a little.

“Come on, Kora!” Marie said, exasperated. “Don’t you want to get out of the cold?”

Kora, in response, sat down. Oh, the advantages of having a fur coat, Marie thought wistfully. Not that Marie would ever buy an actual fur coat. She was an animal lover and could never stand even the thought of that. Marie bent down to scoop Kora up, meaning to carry her the last block to her house, when she saw something: a shivering kitten hidden in a bush. Its fur was covered in dirt in some areas but so shiny in others that, for a second, Marie thought she was hallucinating. Can frostbite do that to a person? she wondered. Can hypothermia? Did I slip on the ice and hit my head? Marie closed her eyes, but when she opened them the kitten was still very much real, and very much in need of help.

Marie dropped to the ground and then sucked in a breath as the cold snow reached an unbearable temperature. But Marie kept crawling toward the kitty, who was shivering under the bush. Marie gently pulled the kitten out of the bush and ran the rest of the way home. Kora, remarkably, didn’t put up much of a fight. Maybe she sensed that something was urgent, or maybe she just knew that Marie wouldn’t stop for her.

“Regina!” Marie called, bursting through the door. “Look what I found.”

“What?” Regina asked, gliding into the room and bending down to unbuckle Kora’s leash.

“A kitten!” Marie explained, holding her out to Regina.

Regina sucked in a breath. “Yikes.” Regina was a veterinarian major in college, home on winter break. “That cat’s on death’s door.”

“Can you help it?” Marie asked, eagerly.

“I don’t know,” Regina said doubtfully.

“Oh, please, Regina. Please, please, please!” Marie begged.

“Alright! Fine . . . Go give the kitten a bath while I go get my kit.”

“Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” Marie exclaimed. She would have probably jumped up and down as well, if not for the frail kitten in her arms.

“Bath,” Regina said sternly, but Marie could see that she was smiling.

“Oh, right. I’ll do that right now!” Marie said, hurrying up the stairs.

I have a pretty cool sister, Marie thought. Marie cradled the kitten and sang it a soft lullaby; it stirred a little but didn’t wake. In fact, it wasn’t until Marie started washing it that it fully opened its eyes. It took a while for Marie to clean the kitten, due to the fact that she was doing so slowly and carefully. She wasn’t sure if the kitten had any open injuries, and she wanted to make sure to be extremely careful and thorough. When she was finally done, you could see the kitten’s fur: it was beautiful, the color of an ocean pearl, with an adorable little black splotch on his left ear. Marie thought that he, for Regina had told her the gender, was the most beautiful kitten she had ever seen—not that she had seen many kittens—and nothing could sway her mind.

Marie cradled the kitten and sang it a soft lullaby; it stirred a little but didn’t wake.

Marie had never really considered herself a cat person. Her family had had three dogs during the span of her lifetime alone, and up until now, she had never even held a cat. Maybe I’m not a dog or a cat person. Maybe I’m both, Marie thought while gently drying him with a towel. She carried the kitten downstairs to Regina, who had set up a makeshift veterinarian’s office. Marie had wanted to stay while Regina did a checkup and diagnosis, but Regina insisted that she leave.

“That’s not fair!” Marie protested.  “I found him!”

“And I’m fixing him,” Regina said calmly.

“He doesn’t need fixing!” Mare shot back.

“He does if he’s sick. Marie, I’m not a professional—not yet anyway. I know enough, but if I have to operate I can’t have you in the room. You’ll just make me more stressed out,” Regina said, in the same tone Marie found irritatingly calm.

“But it’s just a simple diagnostic!”

“Maybe yes and maybe no. But if it is more, and I’m not saying that it will be, then I can’t have you getting all anxious on me.”

Queen of Cats

Marie protested, but eventually Regina won. Marie gave the kitten a quick kiss on the top of his head, then left. She ran upstairs, her hand trailing lazily on the wall. She waited in her peach room, decorated with lots of art and photos of her and her family and friends. She walked over to a photo of her and Regina from three years ago. They were on a beach, and Regina was laughing at something silly Marie had done. They each had an ice cream cone: pistachio for Marie, hazelnut for Regina. Marie smiled at the photo, letting her memory take her back to that day.

Marie and Regina used to be so close, but when Regina went off to college, they drifted apart a little. Those photos served as reminders to Marie of a time when her sister, her best friend, was still there every day.

Somehow Marie found herself in Regina’s room. Most of Regina’s books were about veterinary science. Marie studied their covers and chose one about cat anatomy. She took it back to her room and sat in her beanbag chair, flipping through the pages. It used a lot of technical terms, and Marie didn’t understand most of it, but the words comforted her regardless. It made Marie feel like she was in the room with Regina and the kitten, even though in reality she was a floor away. Marie got about halfway through the book, flipping through the pages, when she heard Regina’s voice.

“Marie!” Regina was calling. Marie raced down the hallway and down the stars.

“I’m here!” she responded, mere inches from the door.

“I need you to get my scalpel and stitches. No—actually, just bring me the blue kit.” Regina’s voice sounded strong, but Marie knew her sister well enough to hear the drop of fear in her voice.

“Is everything okay?” Marie asked, not even bothering to try to hide the obvious concern pouring into her words.

“That kit. Now,” Regina replied, her tone leaving no room for argument. It was a voice she only used in an emergency, like the time when their mom had been at work and Marie broke her arm before school but tried to go anyway—there was going to be a bake sale! Marie was hopeless against double-chocolate brownies—and Regina had demanded they go to the hospital.

Marie ran quickly upstairs, located the blue kit, and ran back down. Regina opened the door just enough to grab the kit, but not enough for Marie to see what was going on. Marie opened her mouth to say something, then closed it. She didn’t know what  she would say, and she wasn’t sure she even wanted to know the answer to whatever question she might ask.

Marie went to the kitchen, grabbed an apple from the counter, and fled to her room. Kora tried to follow, but Marie closed the door. She just wanted to be alone. Marie could hear Kora scratching against the door, trying to get inside. Marie ignored her and jammed her earbuds into her ears, drowning out all sounds. She closed her eyes and cried into her pillow. She cried for whatever was wrong. She cried for the kitten she had just met. She cried for what might happen.

She cried for whatever was wrong. She cried for the kitten she had just met. She cried for what might happen.

She barely noticed when Regina came into the room, kitten in her arms. When she finally looked up, Regina just sighed and put the kitten down. She wrapped Marie into a hug. That only made Marie cry harder.

“Shh. It’s okay. The kitten is going to be fine. You got him to me just in time. It’s okay.”

Marie just kept sobbing, and hugged Regina back.

“I’m going to miss you when you go back to college,” Marie got out between sobs.

Regina smiled. “I know.”

And they stayed there at that moment. Two sisters and a cat. Two sisters against the world.