Jane stands outside the front door and braces herself. If she completes this mission, then surely anything is possible. “Here goes nothing,” she says to herself as she pushes down the door handle. She enters the kitchen, trying not to look too rushed while simultaneously trying not to look too conspicuous.
Her mother is where she always is at this time of day; standing over the kitchen sink, peeling potatoes for an army of three. She doesn’t look at Jane. She doesn’t need to look to know that one of her daughters has arrived home from school. “You’re late, Jane,” her mother says without missing a stroke of the peeler. “Yeah, I got caught up on the way out of school,” Jane replies. Not a complete lie, just not the whole truth. Jane didn’t want to tell any more lies than necessary; besides, her mother had a built-in lie detector that was on permanent transmission.
“Caught up?” Jane’s mum asks. “Yeah, I got chatting with Pam about this boy she fancies. You know how it is, Mum—girl stuff.” Jane’s mother gives a compulsory “tut” and raises an eyebrow at the potato in her hand. “Dinner will be ready about five o’clock. Have you got any homework?” her mother asks. “Loads,” Jane answers, bounding up the stairs.
Again, not a lie, just not the immediate truth. Jane did have homework, just not school-related. Jane seizes the handle of her bedroom door, makes sure the coast is clear, and then slides into her room and firmly shuts the door. She sighs in relief, but in the next instant wonders whether her mother suspected anything. Better not to think about it, Jane tells herself as she moves toward her bed. She carefully puts her hand into her coat pocket and pulls out the illegal load she has just managed to smuggle into the house.
The tiny black kitten sits on Jane’s bed, looking groggy and confused. Jane goes over to the wardrobe, not taking her eyes off the precious package, and removes a plastic cat bowl she’d stashed away a few days earlier. She scoops out some tuna from a tin she’d stolen from the kitchen this morning and mashes it into the dish, which she places on the floor. She looks over at her new friend, who is currently sniffing a pillowcase. Mrs. Jameson had said she might not eat straight away and would need time to settle into her new home.
As Jane watched the kitten circling her bed, leaving tiny paw dents in the duvet, she thought about what to call her. “You definitely look like a Sophie,” she finally decides, not really knowing why. “Yes, Sophie it is!” Jane declares, smiling brightly at the kitten.
“The kittens were born at three this morning,” Pam told Jane on the way to school several weeks ago. “Mum says you can come over in a few weeks and pick which one you want. I’d go for the small black one; she’s a real cutie. I still can’t believe you managed to persuade your mum to let you have one. You sure it’s still okay?” Pam asked as they turned the corner onto Thornhill Mews.
“Yeah, why wouldn’t it be?” Jane replied a little too quickly, knowing full well why it wouldn’t be okay and, more to the point, why it isn’t okay. She hadn’t asked her mother; she already knew what the answer would be. Her mother had no love for pets of any kind, no matter how adorable. The answer would have been no, plain and simple. So she never mentioned the kittens to her mother.
Jane had it all planned out. She would bring home one of the kittens and keep it hidden in her bedroom until it was old enough to go outside. She would let the kitten go outside via the blossom tree conveniently located underneath Jane’s bedroom window. The tricky part would be keeping the kitten concealed in her room, but she had already thought that through. Her mother came into her bedroom only when it was a mess, when she needed to put away Jane’s clothes, and when she changed the bed linens. As long as Jane kept her room tidy and put away her own laundry and changed her own bedding, there would be no need for her mother to come into her room. The rest of the plan would be easy.
“Wow, Jane! What’s that?” Sara, Jane’s elder sister, cries as she, quite rudely, enters Jane’s room unannounced. “Quick, shut the door and keep your voice down, will you!” Jane whispers loudly while shutting the door behind Sara, who appears immobilized by the new visitor. “Is that what I think it is?” Sara asks, knowing full well that it is. Sara hurries to the bed and begins stroking Sophie’s tiny head, besotted in their first meeting. “Jane, Mum is going to have a fit. I take it she doesn’t know?” “And she’s not going to, either,” Jane says, sitting next to her sister on the bed.
“You can’t hide a kitten, Jane,” Sara says in a mature manner. “It would be difficult enough hiding it from anyone else’s mum, but this is our mum we are talking about, the all-seeing, all-knowing presence.”
Sara leaves this thought with Jane for a moment before asking if the kitten has a name. “Sophie, her name is Sophie,” Jane replies with a note of sadness creeping into her voice. “Dare I ask how Sophie ended up in your bedroom?” Sara inquires.
Jane sighs and tells her sister how she picked up the kitten from Pam’s house after school and smuggled her into the house. She tells Sara how she plans to keep Sophie hidden in her bedroom until she is old enough to go outside. Sara doesn’t look convinced.
“You will never get away with it,” she says as she tickles Sophie’s exposed tummy. “Mum will find her. She will probably smell her before she sees her. What are you going to do about toileting Sophie?” Jane pulls out a litter tray from underneath her bed. “Ta-dah!” she sings. “A slight problem . . . there is no litter in it,” Sara observes. “I know. I managed to save up enough money for the tray but not enough for the litter.”
“And what are you going to do about food? She can’t live off stolen tins of tuna,” Sara says, now beginning to sound very much like their mother. “Oh, but look at her, Sara! Just look at how fluffy and vulnerable she is. Would you have been able to refuse such a tiny, precious angel?” Jane protests. Gazing into the sweet face and sorrowful eyes of Sophie, Sara takes a deep breath. “No, I probably wouldn’t. I am with you on the cuteness thing. I think I would have struggled to bring home just the one. Joking aside, though, you are going to have to tell mum. It wouldn’t be fair on Sophie.” “But she’ll make me get rid of her. I’ll have to take her back to Pam. I don’t want to. Sophie is mine.” Jane sniffles.
“You never know, Mum might let you keep her,” Sara says. Looking first at Sophie and then at her sister, a frown of doubt clouds Sara’s face. “On second thought, she probably won’t. But think of it this way, if you don’t tell Mum and she finds Sophie, she will just take her away without you having a chance to say goodbye.” Jane looks sadly at Sophie, who already appears to have settled in well and is playfully attacking Jane’s favorite teddy bear.
“Dinner’s ready!” their mother’s voice trails up the stairs and under Jane’s door. Even Sophie stops what she is doing.
“Coming!” calls Sara. “You are going to have to tell her, Jane. Tell her now before it is too late.” Carefully shutting Jane’s door, the girls make their way to the dining room and take up their usual places at the dinner table. Their mum sets the steaming plates of shepherd’s pie in front of them and instructs the girls to dig in.
“Everything all right at school?” she asks, aimed at no specific daughter. “Everything is fine, Mum,” Sara speaks up. “Nothing new to report!” “What about you, Jane? Anything exciting to tell me? Any school gossip?” she asks. Jane looks blankly at her mother, then at Sara. Should she tell her now or wait until after their dinner? Her mouth is open, suspended in midair as the silent confession floats out across the dinner table, dancing in front of her mother’s eyes, mingling with the steam from the shepherd’s pie. “Ooh, before I forget, I have some good news,” their mother says cheerily. “I was in the supermarket last week and bumped into Linda, you know, Pam’s mum.” Jane’s heart stopped beating, she was sure of it. Ever so slowly, daring not even to blink, she looked over at Sara for reassurance.
“Do you know, she was telling me about that cat of hers, Poncho, the one they thought was a boy and turned out to be a girl,” their mother continues. “Well, she had a litter of kittens a few weeks back, and Linda is having a difficult job finding homes for them. Now, I am not keen on household pets, but I couldn’t help thinking how you two have never had a pet of your own and, now that you’re both a bit older, it might be nice to have something to call your own. It might teach you a bit of responsibility. What do you think, girls?”
Jane didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She couldn’t believe her ears. What was she going to do now? She was still going to have to confess, and that would be it, her mum would be so upset they wouldn’t be allowed any cat at all. Here was their one chance to have a pet, and now she’d blown it. Why hadn’t she asked her mum? Jane was on the verge of tears as her mother stood up to go get some water for the table.
A large grin elongated her face as she looked down at Jane. “Besides,” she says, “you’ll need a friend for the one upstairs.” Then off she strolled to the kitchen, but not before aiming a well-timed wink at Sara.