Chapter Thirty-Six: “Why did you bring your cat to church?”

Finch went to church every Sunday morning. He wasn’t very religious, but Gord was the organist at the Presbyterian church two blocks over and Finch hadn’t missed a service since Gord had been hired. His very Catholic father was both incredibly pleased and displeased at the same time. On the one hand, he was delighted that one of his children willingly attended church. On the other hand, he would’ve much preferred if Finch went to Sunday mass at the enormous Catholic church three blocks from his apartment in the opposite direction. His older brothers, Neil and Nathan, were convinced that Finch only did it in an effort to kiss ass. That wasn’t the case, though. For whatever reason, Finch found the hymns soothing.

It used to be that Finch always sat alone. The rest of the congregation wasn’t interested in sitting with him, most likely because he looked like a threatening degenerate in his perpetual leather jacket and motorcycle boots. He was also the only one of Gord’s friends that ever came. Gavin claimed to be allergic to church and their other friend Amare, who lived in an apartment by himself because he was, as he claimed  “actually a successful adult”, refused to spend free time at church that he could otherwise spend at the gym. Finch was more than okay with being alone though. He craved space and isolation more than most people he knew.

But then Robin’s roommate Joey sat with him one morning and that all changed. Finch had no idea why Joey had been there. He’d looked like hell with his usual black eye and a bloody tear in his pant leg. Finch was used to getting suspicious and curious looks from the elderly Scottish people that made up the majority of the congregation, but Joey had attracted even more attention of his own. They must’ve looked quite a pair; Finch with his shaved head and his threatening glare, Joey with his obscenely visible collar bones and his sunken eyes. Finch had been half-tempted to assure the people closest to him that it would be a one-time spectacle. As it turned out, that would’ve been a lie because Joey showed up to church every single Sunday morning after that, usually underdressed and battered, but still grinning and laughing wildly every time he made an elderly woman uncomfortable.

Joey’s laugh was a terrifying and amazing thing. It was enthralling and worrying all at once. It hinted at the promise of excitement, but also danger and all things absurd and unwise. Finch figured it was a pretty accurate representation of who Joey was as a person. He was the kind of person that Finch’s father would call a ruffian and the kind of person his mother would tut at, even after Finch shaved his head in grade eleven and pierced his nose in grade twelve. 

Finch was already seated in his usual pew near the back of the sanctuary on Christmas morning when Joey slipped into the space behind him. Even though Joey had been turning up every Sunday morning for weeks, Finch was still surprised to see him. He assumed Joey would have other places to be on Christmas morning. As it was, Finch was pushing his luck by going to church when he could’ve been at his family’s usual Catholic church with his brothers and parents. His mother had been most distraught that he wouldn’t be there. His father had sighed deeply for an impressive length of time when Finch had told them he would be at their house after the sermon ended. His father was clearly torn between demanding Finch show up to their church instead and the pride of knowing at least one of his sons was attending church of his own free will.

“Morning, cupcake,” Joey grinned at him, sliding over far closer than necessary until their thighs were pressed together. Finch grunted and shot him a sidelong look. Joey at least looked more presentable than he normally did. He didn’t have a black eye or a split lip for one. His face looked weirdly bare without it, younger and fresher. He was also wearing dark jeans that didn’t have holes in them and a collared shirt.

“I’m glad I caught you,” Joey continued without bothering to wait for Finch to respond as he likely knew he wouldn’t. “I have something for you.”

The way Joey grinned after that statement implied that whatever he had for Finch was definitely not for polite company. Finch ran through a list of possibilities in his head, none of them great. And then Joey held out his left hand, which had previously been keeping tucked under the flap of his open peacoat. Finch hadn’t noticed before and, when he looked closely, he saw that Joey had his hand closed around the softly purring midsection of a very small black cat.

“That’s a cat,” Finch said unnecessarily, stunned.

“Yes,” Joey nodded, still grinning shark-like.

“You got me a cat,” Finch continued.

“Yes,” Joey nodded again.

“Why,” Finch replied. It wasn’t even really a question.

“I found it on the street,” Joey launched into a story. “She was just all alone, meowing pitifully in the snow next to a dumpster and I thought of you immediately.”

Joey grinned at him like it was meant to be a flattering comparison, but Finch couldn’t find it in himself to follow that specific logic.

“I remind you of dumpster cats,” was his flat response. Joey laughed wildly, throwing his head back and startling the kitten. A few people around them turned to look, which was a bit of a problem since Finch would’ve liked to conceal the live cat Joey had smuggled into the Lord’s house.

“If it makes you feel any better, I think she’s very cute,” Joey wagged his eyebrows at Finch ludicrously until Finch literally had to look away. Joey laughed again and more people turned to stare. Up at the front of the church, Gord had begun to play the organ. Soon the choir would fill into the raised pews just in front of the alter and the service would begin. Finch looked back to Joey, who was now petting the kitten with his free hand. His knuckles were cracked and bruised, which at least was reassuringly normal.

“What if I don’t want a cat?” Finch asked. He didn’t think it would make a difference; he was definitely leaving the church with a cat. But he also felt like it needed to be addressed at the very least, even if it would go ignored.

“How could you say no to this fucking face?” Joey asked and Finch inwardly cringed at the swear word. Joey held the kitten up to Finch’s face until their noses were about half an inch apart. Finch went slightly cross-eyed trying to keep the cat in focus. It mewled at him, opening its tiny mouth so he could see its tiny pink tongue. He sighed deeply and resignedly.

“What’s its name?” He asked reluctantly. He was already trying to figure out how to explain to his roommates that they now had a kitten. A dumpster kitten no less.

“Eartha,” Joey answered simply with another grin and Finch frowned at him. “Eartha Kit…ten.”

Joey’s sharp grin could’ve eclipsed the sun in that specific moment. Finch rolled his eyes so hard it hurt.

He spent the remainder of the service trying to keep Eartha occupied with the minimal help of Joey, who was much more interested in making Eartha’s fur stick up in a line down her back. Joey claimed it made her look like a stegosaurus. Finch disagreed. He thought it made her look mangy and a little like she’d been electrocuted. He said as much to Joey, who laughed directly in his face and called him a snarky bastard. The way he said it made it sound like the world’s biggest compliment. The elderly couple in front of them found it significantly less charming. They kept giving them pointed glares over their shoulders during the hymns, which didn’t bother Joey in the slightest and only made Finch feel marginally guilty.

At the end of the service, Joey handed Eartha over to Finch fully, clapping him on the back and beaming yet again.

“Merry Christmas, you beautiful bastard!” He said cheerily. Then he grabbed Finch on either side of his head, kissed him full on the mouth, and turned to walk away, leaving a wake of scandalized octogenarians in his wake. Finch flushed an embarrassing shade of red and tried to ignore the looks he was getting. Moments later, he was joined by Gord, who had ditched his turquoise choir gown. He was a little out of breath, probably from dodging members of the congregation. His mouth dropped open when he saw the cat.

“What the fuck is that?” He asked. More people stared. Finch was starting to think he needed to educate his friends on proper church etiquette.

“It’s a cat,” Finch answered.

“Yes, I know it’s a cat, but what the hell are you doing with it?” Gord demanded.

“Well, it’s my cat,” Finch said. Gord stared at him for another moment.

“Your cat,” he repeated dully. “You don’t have a cat.”

“I do now,” Finch returned.

“Why did you bring your cat to church?” Gord asked. Finch was a little surprised he wasn’t more bothered by the fact that they now effectively all had a cat.

“Joey gave it to me,” Finch explained somewhat reluctantly. He hadn’t really told Gord about his weird, new friendship with Joey. It was hard to explain and Joey was a disaster.

“Oh, Joey,” Gord said knowingly and Finch wanted to punch him in the face. “Okay. What’s its name?”

“Eartha,” Finch answered, a little like he was chewing on broken glass. “Kitten.”

Gord stared at him for another moment before responding.

“Get the fuck out.”

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