Aside from his one trip to Rome on the way to visit his grandfather in Greece, Art had never seen so many cats in one place. Before he could begin counting them, his parents dragged him through the enormous front door with the stained-glass window at the top and a cat door at the bottom. Squealing elders clustered around him, pinching his cheeks, patting his head, shaking his hand, and peppering him with so many questions his head spun.
A silver-haired woman with a big nose inspected him like he was for sale. “Small for ten years old. Eyeglasses? No one else in the family is near-sighted. You must read too much.” She glared at him. “Well, what do you have to say for yourself, young man?”
A chubby woman in a red and green flamingo-bedecked muumuu took his hand. “Pay no mind to her, dear. Do you like desserts?”
“Come with me. I made a fresh batch of baklava.”
His mother placed a hand on his shoulder. “No sweets before dinner. Go play.”
“Okay, Mom.” Eager to escape his weird relatives, Art raced outside to the porch. Cats were everywhere. Lounging cats, stretching cats, standing cats, strolling cats, rolling cats, rubbing cats—cats, cats, cats! Two huge cats sat like Egyptian statues at the top of the banister, black tails dangling down in question marks, masked golden eyes boring holes into his forehead. Rocking chairs meant for humans seated two and three felines, in furry piles, paws splayed in all directions. All bicolor, the herd of kitties sported stripes, spots, or random patterns in an endless variation of shapes.
How many are there?
He started a mental tally, turned a corner, and immediately lost count. A girl, one foot curled under her, sat reading on a wicker bench. She pushed a strand of long blonde hair away from her eyes and tucked it behind her ear. Her pointed ear. Entranced at the sight of another kid at this old folks’ home—much less an elf—he couldn’t tear his gaze away from her.
Without taking her eyes off her book, she said, “It’s rude to stare.”
“S-s-sorry. Y-y-your ears are pointed?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he hated himself.
Frowning, she glared at him with ice blue eyes. “You don’t like them?”
“N-n-no—I LOVE them!”
Her face reddened. “Really? You’re not just saying that?”
He shook his head. “I’ve n-n-never met anyone like you.”
I’m an idiot. Why can’t I say anything right?
She stuck a piece of paper at her page and closed the book. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Elva. Why are you here?”
“V-v-visiting relatives.” He ventured a question. “Wh-wh-what are you doing here?”
She shrugged. “I live here.”