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Bette stood in the hallway of Grahame’s house and tried not to cry. It was six-thirty on a miserable, wet London morning in late October, but none of that was the reason.
‘I’ll send you videos, darling.’ Her neighbour stood holding Chomsky, who was staring at Bette with, she felt, betrayal in his stunning amber eyes.
‘Don’t let him in your bedroom,’ Bette said. ‘He goes for feet.’
‘Oh, I won’t. Malcolm’s got the bed anyway.’
Malcolm was Grahame’s cat. How he would cope with two new housemates was anyone’s guess, but Graham wouldn’t hear of Bette putting her pets into a cattery while she was in the States with no specific return date, so they’d all have to lump it.
Bette scratched Chomsky’s ears. He purred loudly and leaned towards her.
‘Do you want a minute?’ Grahame said, his rather heavily pencilled-in eyebrow raised knowingly.
A huge lump formed in Bette’s throat, so she just nodded, and Grahame handed her the huge fluffy cat. Bette felt his weight, the familiar ridges of his spine, the softness of the fur on his legs. He pressed his head against her chin.
‘I’ll miss you,’ she whispered. The purring got louder. And then she saw a shape scampering down the hallway. ‘Hey . . .’ she said. ‘Tibbsy . . .’
Setting Chomsky down, she picked up the other cat, a much smaller tortoiseshell, and kissed his head and said, ‘I’ll miss you too.’
Mr Tibbs didn’t like being handled as much as Chomsky did, so she set him down again, ran her hand firmly down his back, the way he liked, scratched him under the chin and then straightened up.
Okay, get a grip.
‘Grahame?’ she called.
Grahame appeared from the living room. ‘You all right?’
Bette smiled at him. ‘Thank you.’
‘Any time, luv, and listen – don’t worry about these two.’ He indicated the cats, who were now sitting side by side at the bottom of the stairs. ‘Just go and have a bloody good time and come back the most fabulous granny in the world!’
He posed like a glamour model. Bette laughed. Then she hugged him, placed a last kiss with her fingertip on her cats’ heads, then turned and left.