He was the master of the bay. No one controlled him. Coerced him. Made him wait for breakfast. Any people he encountered existed only to serve him and departed quickly thereafter. His life was perfect.
Yet it was empty. Because she had left. And he only had himself to blame.
Bartholomew remembered well the day he met Josie. He was walking in the park and couldn’t cross the creek. The rains had swollen the waters, and his usual stepping stones were now an inch submerged. His paws would get wet. Unacceptable.
She had noticed his predicament and instead of offering assistance, she dipped her paw into the water and splashed him. Splashed. Him. “There!” she said. “You’re wet already. Now you can cross.”
He stood there, stunned. No fury arose. Nor misery, despite his dank state. He simply stared at her, wondering how such beauty and personality could exist in a single feline entity.
“M-my name is Bartholomew A. Bittlebun!” he called to her, shivering as a breeze blew on his cold fur.
“Too snobbish,” she called as she bounded across the water-covered stones. “I’ll call you Bart. My name’s Josie.”
“Josie…” he mused as she disappeared into the woods. He didn’t even notice the human who stepped up behind him until he heard a voice croon:
“Aw, that’s so cute!”
Bartholomew hissed. The man was of average height, muscled, with a most ugly haircut. “The master of the bay is not cute.”
“You like her!” the man continued. “You should tell her.”
Bartholomew sniffed at this simplistic solution. Tell her. Of course. But first he had to find her again.
The man helped him. He knew Josie’s owner and told Josie that “Bart” wished to meet again, if she was agreeable. And she was. They spent every weekday at the river–talking, laughing, and learning about each other’s lives. Sometimes they snuck treats from the humans, who happily fed them bits of sushi and tuna smeared with wasabi and something called Mayo-Naze. Josie defied convention and pushed him to do the same. She said he brought out her soft side.
It was a whirlwind of joy, an unforgettable summer season. Bartholomew hoped it would never end. Perhaps it didn’t have to.
“I wish to propose marriage,” he declared before they departed one Friday in September. “Please describe how I may secure an affirmative response.”
Her face fell. “You…wish to? Why not just do it?”
“Too spontaneous. Too many risks.” He smiled in his perfect logic. He had never done what others wanted. He imagined it to be the purest torture, and yet…he would do whatever Josie desired.
Her pink nose turned up in disapproval. “Whatever. Ask me next June. Good-bye, Bart.”
June? He scoffed as she hurried away. Neither of them were young kittens anymore. Odds were they’d die of old age before next–
“Oh.” His ears drooped. A crushing sadness shadowed him as the literal shadow of the ugly-haircut man approached. “That was her way of rejecting me, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah,” the man said. “Probably.”
Bartholomew combed his whiskers, trying to look unperturbed. “I…I see.” He walked home, his heart heavy and broken.
It was the first snow before he and Josie met again.
The meeting place was the man’s idea, but it was Bartholomew who executed it. He thought he cared about what Josie wanted, and yet, he hadn’t truly listened to her. It might be too late, but still…he had to try once more.
Josie shivered as she followed him through the greenhouse door. “It’s freezing outside,” she said. “What did you call me here for–” She stopped. Gasped and looked around.
The place wasn’t perfect, and before coming here, its imperfection bothered him. Then he realized this was part of what made Josie so special. She made him realize perfection wasn’t in the gold-detailed serving bowls or the hand-crafted caviar blend. Perfection was the two of them. Together.
“I…confess my inability to pick up on such things as, erm…facetiousness,” he said.
She rolled her eyes. “Snob.”
“Ah…sarcasm, then. So I do not know if you were sincere if your offer, but…” He sat and lowered his head. “This is as close to a June wedding as I could create. Josie, you have made me happier than I have ever dreamed, kinder than I have ever dared. Even if you turn me down, it remains my greatest fortune to have met you. If you accept, my fortune will be all the greater. Will you marry me?”
With tears in her eyes, she licked his face affectionately. “Dummy…”
“…all you had to do was ask.”
The ugly-haircut man married them right there. Bartholomew never knew such happiness could exist. He was the master of the bay. Josie was the master of his heart.