She Came With the House
A story excerpt from Chicken Soup for the Soul's "Life Lessons from the Cat: 101 Tales of Family, Friendship and Fun"
The impeccably dressed woman was trying to dislodge a furry bundle from its perch on her shoulder. Like a baby, the furry bundle was voicing her displeasure at the attempted separation.
“Oh, my goodness, who is this?” I asked, abandoning my purse and coat at the door and walking over to the real estate agent. I scratched the small cat on the head, and she began to purr.
“This is Mouse,” the woman answered cradling the cat against her shoulder once more. “She thinks she’s a baby.”
“Mouse!” I was delighted, and continued to pet the seal point Siamese. Mouse had an overbite, her two small fangs protruded from the sides of her mouth, and her bright blue eyes were slightly crossed. My husband, Chris, cleared his throat, and I stepped away from the cat reluctantly to commence our tour of the house.
The ranch house sat on a quarter-acre, treed lot. It was tastefully decorated with gorgeous details that we both loved, including a floor-to-ceiling fieldstone fireplace, a kitchen nicer than any I had ever cooked in, and a four-season sunroom built onto the back of the house. I pictured our family sitting by the fire in the winter and eating together in the big dining room. I pictured myself writing in the sunroom, inspired by the quiet calm. I had never been in this house before, but it felt like home.
As we walked through the rooms, Mouse followed us. She jumped on and off the chairs in the sunroom and stayed at our heels as we inspected closets. She jumped onto a bench in the master bedroom and started meowing at us as we peeked into the small bathroom ensuite. Chris smiled at her.
“I know,” he said, moving to her and scratching her behind her big brown ears. “This is your home. We’re just looking.”
My husband was not usually one to fawn over animals, but it was hard not to be smitten with Mouse.
We were visiting my in-laws in my husband’s hometown, three hours away from Toronto, where we had lived for ten years. Our two small girls were at their grandparents’ house, splashing in the pool and eating watermelon, while Chris and I attended the open house. With every recent visit to my in-laws in their quiet, historic town, we had begun to talk about how much we were all enjoying our time there, allowing a “what if…” to creep into our conversations.
Our life in the city was becoming more stressful each month, stretching us beyond our means financially and emotionally. The company where I had worked for more than a dozen years was on the verge of a transformation I didn’t feel able to make with them. I was also craving more time with our daughters, who were three and five years old. Chris was trying to shift his work schedule to accommodate our needs, and the constant worry for our future and wellbeing was taking a toll on all of us. We needed to make a change.
After spending more time in the house than we had anticipated, we spoke to the agent regarding a few of the home’s details. After crouching to give Mouse one last pat, we left. We had barely made it to our car before I made an announcement.
“I want the house. And that cat too, please.”
Chris laughed. “I liked the house, too. A lot. And I liked the cat, but I don’t think she’s part of the bargain.”
We talked about the house the entire three-hour drive home and throughout the next two weeks until our conversation morphed from “What if?” to “Why not?”
My husband could work full-time from home. I could switch to being a freelance writer since the cost of living was so much cheaper outside of the city.
The girls were so young they would adjust quickly. We could come back and visit Toronto whenever we wanted. It felt nearly perfect, although I wished that there had been a sign, a spark of providence that went beyond logistics and planning to show me that this was meant to be. Don’t be foolish, I admonished myself silently. You don’t need a sign. You just need to make a choice.
We drove back the next weekend and made an offer on the house. It was accepted. We were leaving Toronto for a small town and our dream life.
On our final tour of the house, we held Mouse as we measured rooms, discovered nooks and crannies, and began fantasizing about our future there.
“Oh Mouse,” I said. “I’m sorry you have to leave this place, but we’ll take good care of it for you, and I know you’ll love your new home, too.”
But the real estate agent dropped a bombshell on us. “Oh, no,” she said. “Mouse isn’t going with the homeowners, they’re moving to be closer to their family, and their granddaughter is allergic to cats. Mouse is going to the shelter.”
My heart sunk at the thought of this beautiful, friendly cat going to a shelter, but then I realized something. I had my sign.
“She’s staying here,” I said definitively. “We’ll adopt her. After all, it’s her house.”
A quick phone call with the sellers and the casual adoption was complete. When we moved in a few months later, there was a bit of a welcome package for us, and a lovely note about Mouse – her age (nine or ten), her health (perfect), her personality (easily gleaned, immediately loved). We settled in together.
Mouse became my first and most loyal friend in our new home. She was my comfort during those lonely early days and my constant companion as I eased into a routine that allowed family and work life to finally be balanced. She was also the best ambassador and co-host we could have hoped for. Her friendly demeanor won over everyone who visited. There was never a lap or shoulder Mouse did not want to perch upon, no scratch behind the ear or backrub she would deny a potential friend.
For the seven years we had her, our girls doted on Mouse, cuddling with her in bed or sprawling with her in front of the hearth, warmed by the fire and each other. If there was ever any moment of trouble adjusting to our new surroundings, Mouse, with her boundless affection, vocalizations and charm, helped rectify it immediately. It was impossible to be in a bad mood for long when Mouse jumped on our laps and began to purr.
“She came with the house,” we proudly told anybody who made her acquaintance – a lucky, lovable sign that showed us we were exactly where we were meant to be.