The coffee maker made an awful racket when he put the glass decanter back on it. Alan had hoped he could get a few moments to himself this morning, before Jessica woke and he’d have to toughen up. He wanted to collect his thoughts, get himself psyched up, and centered all at once. All of the self-help books, radio shows, healthy eating, and meditation would come into play today.

Alan poured himself a cup and sat down on the new leather couch. The condo had been bought just a couple years ago, with money he’d made with some good investments. Everything he had furnished it with was new, and it even still smelled new. He was proud of that.

He closed his eyes and started breathing through his nose. Tapping himself on the top of the head, he moved his way down to the forehead, and then the nose, and then the heart. Then he started the whole cycle over. EFT tapping, this was called. The EFT stood for Emotional Freedom Techniques, and Alan had been practicing it for three months. He felt slightly freer from his emotions, but certainly not three months’ worth.

Jessica stepped into the kitchen just as he finished up, and he could hear her fumbling around with the coffee maker. The glass clanged against the plastic, increasing in intensity until she violently slammed it into position. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Her feet creaked on the floor and she stopped, standing behind him.

“Are you meditating?” she asked.

“Just finished up.”

She kissed the top of his head. “I love you, baby.”

“I love you, too.”

She sat down on the chair across from him and started looking at her phone while sipping her coffee. He asked her how she slept and if she knew what she wanted for breakfast, and was she feeling okay? A fine, a no, a yes. He reminded her that their appointment was at ten and it was already eight-thirty. She said she knew that, he’d told her a few times, and that she would be ready at nine-thirty.

Alan grabbed a book and went out to the back porch of the condo. He was underdressed for the cold and rain, but it was colder inside anyway. He sat on the new lounge chair, and watched the rain fall off the gutter. It collected on the wood railing, and soaked in, rotting the wood from the inside. He sat out there for twenty minutes, pretending to read a book called Empathy Now! and shivering, before finally trudging back in. Jessica was in the shower, so he quickly dressed and went back out to the living room to wait for her and do some breathing exercises.

They got into the Camry and turned out of the parking lot. Good car, the Camry. Safe. Jessica sat in the passenger seat, looking out the windshield and watching the wipers go back and forth.

“How are you feeling?” he asked. “I know you said you felt sick yesterday.”

“Alan. I am fine. I’m excited. Trust me.”

“Okay, just checking,” he said, shrinking in the driver’s seat.

They sat in traffic for a while. Every now and then, he would look over at her and she would smile at him. He took her hand and squeezed it. She squeezed back, just as the traffic started moving again.

The woman that greeted them at the front desk of Paws-itive Thoughts Animal Rescue was cheerful, and seemed genuinely interested in them. She asked how they had met and what kind of place they lived in. She checked each answer off on her clipboard.

“Have you guys had pets before?” she asked.

Jessica let her head fall toward her chest. The air went out of Alan’s lungs and a ringing started in his ears. How had he not thought they would ask this?

“Yes. We had…she had a cat but it…it passed away three months ago.”

The words clawed their way out of his throat, and he almost wanted to ram them back down after he said it. The front desk woman made the corners of her mouth go down, and she tilted her head to the side like a confused terrier.

“So sorry to hear that. Take a seat and we’ll take you to the cat room in a few moments.”

The cat room had walls of fogged glass, and a gigantic cat tree in the middle. There were about fifteen cats in it, and the woman almost stepped on an orange tabby as they walked in.

“They’ll sleep anywhere, so you gotta be careful,” she said. “I’ll leave you two to get acquainted with a few of them.” And with that, she left, carefully shutting the door behind her.

Alan and Jessica stood in silence for a long time. There was a bench on the far wall of the room and their shoes squeaked and echoed as they walked over to it to sit down. One of the cats jumped on Jessica’s lap right away and started scratching at her legs and purring. She picked it up and put it down on the ground. Another one jumped up on the bench, and started rubbing its head on her arm, rolling around and purring. She scooted further down the bench and crossed her legs.

“I love them all, it’s hard to choose,” she said, looking toward the door.

“I like the one with the black eye patch,” Alan said, pointing to one that curled up at Jessica’s feet.

“Totally,” she said.

Alan waited a long time before saying anything else. He could hear every shuffle of a cat’s paw, and every time Jessica’s jacket rubbed up against her jeans. He heard her thumb tapping on her phone, and a symphony of purrs that was going unappreciated.

“Will you please tell me what’s wrong?” he whispered, staring at the floor.

Jessica glared at him with narrowed eyes and then melted into a puddle. She sobbed into her hands and laid down on her side on the bench. Alan stood still, listening to his heart echoing in his ears and the sound of long cries from deep in his girlfriend’s gut.

The front desk woman opened the door and peeked in, taking a long look at the scene. Alan knew they had just become a story for her to tell her co-workers.

He gathered up Jessica and they walked out, brushing past the averted eyes of the other people waiting in the lobby. He got her in the car, and they started the long drive back in traffic.

Alan sat in the driver’s seat, inching along and listening to Jessica weep softly next to him. He thought about when Jessica moved in with him, and more importantly, when her cat Winston moved in. Winston was a black Bombay that never took to Alan, and certainly hated the move. He would always rub on Jessica’s leg when she came in door, purring loudly. He was sweet to her, and acted more like a dog. If Jessica whistled somewhere in the condo, he would come running. They had only been dating about six months before she lost the lease on her apartment and moved into his condo. It was fast, but she needed somewhere to live. Alan didn’t mind; he had been living there alone for a long time.

A few weeks after moving in, she had to go out of town for a wedding, leaving Alan and Winston alone for the first time. She left detailed instructions for the feeding and care of the cat on the fridge, one of which was, “Tell him you love him every day.” When he read that, he cringed and shook his head. He hadn’t even said that he loved her yet, and he certainly wasn’t going to make that commitment to the cat first.

The night before Jessica was supposed to come back, Alan had a dream. He was standing on top of a mountain with his mother, looking out onto a large field. His mother put her hand on his back, and started rubbing it. Her hand movements became faster and more frantic, eventually waking him up. He so rarely remembered his dreams, but this one he couldn’t shake as he got up and got dressed, brushed his teeth and started making coffee.

When he turned to get the milk out of the refrigerator, he saw the note taped to the door and went to find Winston so he could feed him the fancy wet food Jessica had laid out on the counter. He started looking around for him under the couch, his favorite hiding spot, but he wasn’t there. Alan cracked open a can of food, which never failed to bring him running to the kitchen greedily from wherever he was. Still, there was no sign of him.

Alan walked all around the house, calling his name and shaking a can of cat treats, but found nothing. He went back into the bedroom and looked under the bed fruitlessly before sitting down on it. As he leaned back on his hand, he felt fur and spun around, relieved that he had just been sleeping, buried under the covers. His relief was short lived, though, as he realized that Winston was, in fact, not sleeping.

As Alan pet his side, he could feel that where his ribs once were, was now a soft, mushy texture, and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth. It didn’t take long for Alan to realize that he had rolled over on him in his sleep, suffocating him and breaking his insides. His heart raced.

“No, no, no, no, oh god, no!” he screamed.

Jessica would be home in a few hours. She would walk in the door and immediately look for the cat. He picked up the limp, dead thing from his bed and wrapped it in an old t-shirt. His hands started tingling and he started hyperventilating as he wandered aimlessly around the condo.

When Jessica got home that afternoon, Alan was sitting in the living room with a gin and tonic sweating in his hand. She set down her bags and sat down next to him, confused.

“I’m glad you’re back. I need to tell you something,” he said.

Jessica got very still. It felt like the entire room was holding its breath. He told her everything: how it was an accident and how he had not been careless, it was just a thing that happened.

She took in a few small breaths and got up without looking at him.

“Jessica, I love you,” he said.

She went out onto the patio and didn’t come back in for a long time. Alan sipped his drink and tried to keep his hands from shaking.

In the car, she was now taking the same small breaths and avoiding looking at him. She had sworn up and down that she forgave him, but he knew she would never forget. They got home and took a silent elevator ride upstairs before going inside to have a silent lunch and finish out the silent afternoon.

Later that night, Alan was in the bedroom reading a Tony Robbins book, while Jessica stared at her phone with the television blaring. He could feel her out there. It felt like there was a fire in the other room and he had to ignore it. He put the book down and walked into the living room, leaning on the wall and looking at Jessica. She looked back at him and gave a half-smile.

“I think I’m going to go for a walk,” he said.

“Okay, have fun.”

“Want to come with me?” he asked, knowing the answer.

“No, I’m okay. I’ll just be here,” she said, and went back to her phone.

Walking into the hall, he heard her call his name and froze.

“I really hate you,” she said.

“I know.”

He took the elevator downstairs and stepped out into the rain. The street was wet and reflected every light that touched it. He walked for three hours, down every alley and every back road in his neighborhood. He thought about his mother’s hand on his back in the dream, and wished he had turned away now that he knew it was poor Winston trying to wriggle out from under him. There was no reason for Jessica to be mad at him. He didn’t much care for the cat but he certainly hadn’t done it on purpose. And there was no reason for him to be mad at her, either.

When he got home, all the lights were out in the condo and he was shivering from the cold. He went into the bedroom, expecting to find Jessica asleep, but there was just a Tony Robbins book on her side of the bed. He called out her name but there was only more silence. Her purse was gone, and when he noticed a few books that she hadn’t put in storage missing from the shelves, as well as an empty drawer in the dresser, he knew she wasn’t coming back.

He sat down on the couch and closed his eyes. He started taking deep breaths and tapping on his forehead. His arms felt heavy and he let them fall in his lap, defeated. A scream came out of him, angered at the silence in the room, and he heard a few dogs in the building start barking. He got up off the couch and went into the kitchen, pouring himself a gigantic glass of gin with a splash of tonic. Gulping it down, he poured another and stood leaning on the counter, listening to the refrigerator run.

He went out to the back porch and sat down with the drink. It felt empty out there, too. He wondered where she would go. She needed him so badly just a few months ago, and she had left so easily. He looked out onto the city—she was down there, somewhere, crying for that damned cat.

He was about to go inside when he heard something jump up onto the porch. It was a dripping wet black cat, moving slowly back and forth on the rain soaked railing. It meowed at him and he swiped at it with his hand, trying in vain to shoo it away. It was the last thing in the world he wanted around him. Just another reminder of that horrible morning and this horrible night. He opened sliding glass door to go inside and pour another drink and the cat slipped past his feet and into the condo.

“Goddammit,” he whispered.

He went in and looked around, following the trail of wet paw prints on the hardwood floor. He found it in the bedroom, rolling around on Winston’s old cat bed, purring as it dried itself off.

Alan got a towel from the bathroom and picked the thing up with it. They sat on the couch together and he dried it off.

He sat there for a long time, petting it and letting its purrs fill up the empty condo. He got up to go to bed and it followed him. Picking it up, he set it on the bed, on Jessica’s side, and got ready in the bathroom.

As he brushed his teeth, he looked in the mirror. His eyes had bags under them, and he was starting to lose a little bit of hair at the top his hairline. Tony Robbins couldn’t help that. He leaned on the counter, shut his eyes and began tapping the top of his head. He breathed in through his nose, letting his stomach expand, and then out through his mouth, letting it contract. It didn’t work. None of this stuff worked.

When he came back, the cat was fast asleep on her pillow. He picked it up and set it on the floor. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.