Excerpt: Smoke Signals #InternationalCatDay

Mike felt as though he’d earned the right to take it easy, retiring early that evening with his computer and getting up early the next day to continue. Around 11, he was letting an install run and adding a few rows to one of his new winter slippers when, to his surprise, Zali’thurg spoke from behind him:

“What is that?”

Taking his feet off the desk in a hurry, Mike sat up straight and flashed a quick glance at the screen to make sure he hadn’t got distracted and let work slip. He hadn’t; the install was still running. “What is, uh—? It’s only got one install after this to go, I just need this bar to finish first—”

Zali’thurg was still in human form, and was dressed in a perfectly-fitted blood-red suit. He looked even more as if he’d walked right off the cover of a drugstore romance novel about nobility, The Manor’s Lord and His Lady, or something like that.

“No,” he said. “The other thing. Are you knitting?”

Mike felt his shoulders rise a bit, defensively. “It’s a useful hobby. My mom taught it to me when I was just a kid, and I find it a good way to pass time when I have to wait for things to finish—”

“It isn’t usually a man’s hobby,” Zali’thurg commented, awkwardly.

Mike huffed a breath. “Yeah, I get that a lot.” And then, carefully, seeing if revealing the detail was going to cause trouble, or even just that weird conversational cannonball effect it so often got, he added, “Everyone thinks, oh, sure, the gay dude knits. But it’s got nothing to do with masculinity, one way or the other. People like what they like.”

He wasn’t entirely sure why he said it—usually, revealing as little personal information as possible with clients was for the best. But Zali’thurg seemed to be making some kind of effort with him, and maybe he wanted to do the same.

Zali’thurg just continued to look at him curiously. If the personal reveal was any kind of surprise, it wasn’t one that seemed of interest to him. “I wasn’t questioning your masculinity,” he said, seeming only slightly offended. “I simply hadn’t expected it of you because it’s unusual. What are you making?”

There wasn’t any mockery in his voice, despite the somewhat huffy edge. Mike looked down at his knitting as if to confirm it hadn’t transformed into something else. “…Slippers,” he said. “My last ones got a hole in them and my floors are cold.”

“Ah. I am sure that will be much more comfortable,” Zali’thurg said uncertainly. “Is this what you usually do in your spare time at home?”

He was, Mike realized abruptly, trying to make small talk. Mike slowly reached over and clicked for the last installation to run. “Yeah. My cat always tries to chase the yarn, though, so I get more done on breaks at work.”

“Oh. You have a cat.” Zali’thurg said. Then, as if struggling to find the next logical place for the conversation to lead, “What is its name?”

This was starting to get surprisingly cute. Mike nudged the second chair around in invitation. “Josephine,” he said. “She’s a Balinese.”

Zali’thurg sat. He put his hands on his knees, stiff and uncomfortable. “I have no idea what that is,” he said bluntly.

Normally a conversation-killer, but Mike could work with it. “Hang on,” he said, and image searched it. “Like this.”

“That’s your cat?’

“The cat’s breed anyway. My cat is…” Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound. He picked up his phone from the desk and pulled up his photos.

Somehow, it was a half hour later when he remembered the time.


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