A NEW FRIEND
Part 1
By Poet


It had been raining rather heavily when Dr. Luka Kovac stepped outside his door to retrieve the morning newspaper. As he bent down to pick it up, a plaintive meow caught his attention. After looking around and seeing nothing, he started to go back inside, wondering if it had just been his imagination.

The meow came again, louder this time. Luka followed the sound around to the side of the building. A small kitten was huddled there, vainly trying to escape the rain. Looking totally miserable, it uttered another sad meow.

Luka tucked the newspaper under one arm and reached down to scoop up the kitten. As needle sharp tiny claws dug into his hand, he said, "It's okay. I won't hurt you," in a soothing tone of voice. He held it close to him as he hurried for the door.

Inside, Luka tossed the newspaper on the couch and carried the kitten into the bathroom to dry it off and look it over. Carefully setting it on the sink, he picked up a hand towel and began to briskly rub it, trying to get all the water soaked up. All the time he was talking to it in the same soothing tone of voice. "It's okay, little one. I'm not going to hurt you."

The kitten wasn't taking kindly to his attempts at drying it off. It puffed itself up, trying to look threatening and failing completely. Giving an angry hiss, it waited for the opportunity to vent its frustration.

Luka leaned closer to take a look at the kitten. Suddenly a white paw lashed out and needle claws got him in the nose, leaving a trail of tiny blood drops.

He jumped back, surprised, and nearly lost his balance. "Why'd you go and do that for, huh? I was only trying to help," he asked and stared at the kitten through narrowed eyes.

The kitten glared at him with eyes the same deep green as his own. It shook itself hard, sending drops of water splattering everywhere.

Luka was determined that no little scrap of a kitten was going to get the better of him. He picked it up, taking care to keep his nose out of reach of the claws.

He held the kitten in one hand while his gentle sensitive fingers carefully felt over it, taking note that he could feel bones and ribs through its skin. As he worked, he told the kitten his findings. "well, no fleas or ticks so I won't have to deal with that. Nose, lips are a healthy pink so you're obviously not anemic. Is a cold nose a sign of health? How should I know? I'm a people doctor--not a veterinarian. Looks like you missed a few meals, huh? That's easily taken care of. Now to determine your sex."

The kitten meowed as it was gently turned onto its back.

"I'll be quick, okay. I just need to know so I'll know what to call you. I can't very well call you 'Cat'. You're a little girl kitten," Luka said when he finished his examination. "A very pretty little girl kitten."

She meowed at him and resumed shaking herself.

He studied her calico markings for a moment and then thought of a name. "Well, you have 'Kovac' eyes so you need a proper Croatian name. I have just the perfect one--I shall call you 'Katica'. A very pretty name for a very pretty little kitten," he declared.

The kitten stared at him for a moment and then meowed as if expressing her approval.

"So you like the name, huh? Katica it is. Now to find you something to eat, Katica. I'm afraid I don't have any cat food but I do have tuna--packed in water not oil," Luka told her. He headed for the kitchen to locate and open the tuna.

When she heard the sound of the can opener, she came prancing in and stood in front of his feet. Looking up, she meowed insistantly.

"Okay, okay. I know you're hungry," Luka said, laughing. He set the plate of tuna on the floor and sat down at the table. He started tearing newspaper into strips. "I don't have time to buy you a proper litter box this morning so you'll have to use this."

The kitten immediately gobbled up the tuna and meowed for more.

"No-no. That's enough for a little thing like you. I don't want you to overeat and get sick," he admonished her. Finishing up with the newspaper, he scatered the strips in a cardboard box and set it down. "I sure hope you're litter box trained."

Luka glanced at the clock and realized that he'd better get to County before Kerry got onto him for being late. Forgetting all about his scratched nose and the cat hairs on his shirt, he grabbed his keys and headed for the door. "Make yourself at home, katica," he told the kitten.

Luka arrived at County just in time to sign in. He headed for the lounge to grab his lab coat and stethescope and found Kerry there. "Good morning, Kerry," he said cheerfully.

"Well, Luka, you're certainly in a good mood," Kerry replied and looked up at him. "What happened to your nose?"

"Oh, that. A kitten scratched me," Luka answered as he pulled on his lab coat.

"A kitten?" Kerry asked.

"Yeah. Found her out in the rain and she didn't take kindly to my atempts to dry her off," he replied.

"So, where is this kitten?" Kerry wanted to know.

"Inside my house. Except for being a little thin, she looks well cared for. I think she's probably someone's pet that got lost. I'll check the papers for any lost kittens and put an ad in the paper about finding her," Luka said.

"What about an animal shelter?" Kerry inquired.

"No shelter. Don't they usually keep an animal only a few days? If it isn't claimed, it gets killed?" Luka asked.

"Most of them do," Kerry replied.

"I want to give the owner a chance to claim her," Luka said and headed for the board to start work.

"Better put a bandaid on that scratch or you'll have everybody asking questions," Kerry told him. She slammed her locker door and followed Luka out of the lounge. *It's good to see him looking happy again--even if it's just a stray kitten.* she thought.

That evening, his shift over, Luka made a stop at the closest discount/grocery store to pick up what he'd need for the kitten as well as some food for himself. It was easy to choose a small litter box and scoop. He quickly decided on scoopable litter--no mess. But it took longer to find the kitten food--he was looking for the most nutritious, carefully reading ingredient lists and labels. As an afterthought, he threw in a couple of toys--a catnip mouse and a ball with a bell in it. Then he went looking for the few items he needed for himself.

When Luka got home, he carefully set his purchases down outside his house and cautiously unlocked and opened the door. That was partly to keep the kitten from getting loose and partly because he didn't know what condition he'd find his home in.

Katica had been stretched out asleep on the back of the couch when she heard the door open. she sat up yawning and jumped down. Making her way to the kitchen, she meowed as if to say, "What took you so long? Come on. I'm hungry!"

"Okay, okay," Luka said. "Don't be so impatient." He picked up his sacks and carried them to the kitchen.

"Meow!" *Come on, feed me!* she insisted, starting to walk in circles around him.

"Okay, okay," Luka replied and tore open the sack of kitten food, dumping some in the dish. He refilled her water bowl and checked the cardboard box, noting with relief that the newspaper had been used. maybe he wouldn't have to clean up after her.

Katica gobbled up her food and then rubbed against him, meowing softly. *Thank you.*

"You're welcome," Luka told her as he put away his groceries.

Later that evening, the litter box had been set up in the bathroom. Luka was stretched out on the couch, reading the newspaper and nearly falling asleep. Suddenly, he felt needle claws pricking his arm as Katica padded her way up to his head. he kept perfectly still, wondering what she was going to do. He felt a paw step on his nose and another reach out to swipe at his unruly hair.

He let her take another swipe before he reached out to gently capture that paw between his large thumb and forefinger. "So, you find my hair a more fascinating toy than your catnip mouse, huh?"

Katica pulled her paw free, took another swipe at his hair and danced back a few steps. He reached up a hand and lightly stroked her back. She stood still and to his delight, he could feel a hesitant soft purr.

After a while Luka folded up his newspaper, yawned and said, "Time for bed. Now you can sleep anywhere you want." He got to his feet and headed for the bedroom.

Katica followed him to the bedroom and jumped up on the pillows, staking her claim.

"All right, all right. You can have one pillow," Luka said as he began unbuttoning his shirt. "And please don't play with my hair while I try to sleep."

"Meow." *Maybe*

Luka undressed down to navy blue boxer shorts and crawled into bed, pulling the blanket over him. "Goodnight, Katica," he said and switched off the lamp.

She curled up in a ball by his head amd he listened to her purring until he fell asleep.

The next morning Luka was awakened by Katica walking all over his chest and meowing loudly. He groaned, opened sleepy eyes and rolled over to look at the alarm clock. "I've got an hour until I have to get up. Go back to sleep," he muttered and pulled the blanket up over his head, trying to ignore her.

She only kept up her walking and meowing and after a few minutes, Luka conceded defeat. Throwing off the blanket, he sat up and swung his feet to the floor. "All right, you win. But tonight I'm not sharing my bed," he grumbled.

"Meow." *I win! You're out of bed. Now feed me!* She headed for the kitchen.

"Maybe I should have left you out in the rain yesterday. Then I'd be able to sleep in peace," Luka muttered as he put kitten food in the dish and gave her fresh water. "I was only joking." He reached down to give her a pet.

"Meow." *Good. I'll have you trained in no time.* She gobbled up her food.

"I'm going back to bed now," Luka told her. This time he made sure the door was closed.

Despite his best attempts to get back to sleep, he couldn't. So after half an hour of staring at the ceiling, he got up to start his day a little earlier than planned. After cleaning the litter box, Luka went about his morning routine of showering and shaving.

As soon as he finished dressing, he stalked into the kitchen to fix himself some breakfast. Catching sight of Katica, he said, "I hope you're happy--I never did get back to sleep."

"Meow." *I'm happy--I got my breakfast.* Katica looked down from her perch on top of the refrigerator.

Luka opened the door to withdraw a bottle of juice when he felt needle claws on his back. "Ouch! What are you up to this time?" he asked.

She jumped from his back to the counter and then to the floor where she rubbed against his ankles. She gave him her innocent look. "You accusing sweet little me?" she seemed to say.

Luka ignored her and rubbed his back with one hand while he tried to remove items from the refrigerator with the other.

Katica stared at the food with keen interest and loudly meowed. *Oh, goody! What are we eating now?*

As though understanding what she was saying, he firmly told her, "This is what I'm eating. You've already had your breakfast." He started to mix up a ham, cheese and vegetable omelet.

Katica rubbed against his ankles, making it hard to walk. The kitten looked up and mournfully meowed. *Come on. Give me a little taste. Please?*

Luka finished the omelet and sat down at the table with itand a large glass of orange juice. Deliberately ignoring the cat, he started to eat. But he couldn't resist her begging and after a few minutes, he gave her a small bite. "Okay, okay. You can have some. It's pretty good stuff, huh?" Luka asked. As soon as he was done eating breakfast, he set the dishes in the sink. "Well, I'm off to work. I'll see you tonight." He reached down and quickly petted her.

Once Luka got to the ER, he barely had time to sign in before he was busily treating patients. A bus full of summer school kids had overturned with multiple victims. Fortunately most of the injuries had been relatively minor and only several kids would have to be admitted to the hospital.

Luka finished up with the last of his patients and pulled off his gloves. Turning to Chuny, he commeted, "What a way to start the day, huh?"

"Yeah," Chuny replied. "Hey, Dr. Kovac, I heard you have a pet."

"How did you find out? I'm taking care of a stray kitten I found until the owners can claim her," he replied.

"Lots of luck. She was probably abandoned so people wouldn't have to worry about more kittens," Chuny told him.

"Well, maybe," Luka said thoughtfully. "Meanwhile I'll keep checking the newspapers."

Later on, Kerry asked, "Still have your roommate, Luka?"

"Huh? Oh, you mean Katica. Yeah. She decided to sleep on my bed and woke me up an hour before the alarm clock," he replied. "Demanded her breakfast and then she begged for mine.

"Well, pets can take a lot of care," Kerry reminded him.

"I know," Luka replied and paused. "But it is nice to have someone to talk to when I get home. Even if it is just a stray kitten."

"Well, it can get lonely living by yourself," Kerry admitted. She knew the reason why Luka lived alone and was treading carefully with the direction the conversation was going.

Luka semed to realize what she was doing because he said, "It's okay, Kerry." He smiled slightly. "Well, back to work. Talk to you later."

"Okay," Kerry said. She went to the board to check on the next available patient.

When Luka got home, he sat down on the couch and beckoned the kitten to come close. When she jumped up on the arm of the couch, he said, "Okay, Katica, we need to get a few things straight if you're going to stay here. First of all, you do not wake me up before my alarm clock."

"Meow." *We'll see about that.*

"Second of all, you will not interrupt me while I'm talking. You'll get your say later." *I sound like I'm talking to one of my children.* he thought. He reached out to stroke the kitten. "Tonight you can sleep out here. The couch is comfortable enough."

She began purring and licking her little white paws.

Luka watched her for a minute and then went to fix his supper.

The next evening, Luka had finished his shift at County and headed home, stopping only to buy ingredients for a salad and some kitten treats. If Katica was a good girl, she'd get the treats.

He was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on the salad and was mixing up his own special dressing. Katica was watching from the refrigerator when the doorbell rang. She used her route of his back to the counter to the floor and ran for the door.

Luka glared at the cat and headed for the door, curiously wondering who would be stopping by this time of night. Unlocking the deadbolt and opening the door, he saw Chuny, Amira, Abby, and to his surprise, Kerry. "Come in, come in," he said.

"Hi, Luka, we brought you some kitten supplies," Abby said.

Luka noticed that each of the four women had some sort of package which they set down by the door. "I was just fixing supper," he said.

"Oh? Did we come at a bad time?" Kerry asked.

"No, no. I can find something to serve. I'm glad you stopped by," he replied.

Chuny caught sight of Katica and asked, "Is this the kitten? She's so cute."

"Yes, this is Katica. Katica, these are friends of mine from the hospital. Chuny, Abby, Amira, and Kerry. Be especially nice to Kerry since she's my boss," Luka said.

Katica surveyed the four women, sizing them up. She headed straight for Kerry who had sat down on the couch. Rubbing against the doctor's legs, she meowed. *Hello.*

Kerry reached down to stroke the kitten which began purring. "She's so soft," she said.

Luka, trying to play the role of the congenial host, asked, "Anybody want something to drink? I have some cold cans of Coke." He headed for the kitchen.

"How about ordering out for pizza?" Abby suggested. "I hear that there is a buy one--get the second for half price deal going on."

"Sounds good. What shall we get?" Amira asked.

"How about the veggie lovers' and the meat lovers' with four kinds of cheese?" Chuny suggested.

"Two mediums should be enough," Abby said. She turned to Luka who had returned to the room with a couple of cans of Coke. "Where's your phone?"

"Over by the couch," Luka replied. He handed the Cokes to Kerry and Chuny.

"We're going to order out for pizza. By the way, what were you fixing for supper?" Abby asked.

"A salad," Luka replied, going to get more sodas.

"Perfect. That will go great with the pizza," Abby told him. She quickly dialed the pizza place and gave the order. "Could we get a double order of garlic breadsticks?"

"I'll go to the store and get some plates and other things," Chuny volunteered. She headed for the door.

Abby hung up the phone and said, "The pizza will be here in 35 minutes."

Luka had put the salad and dressing in the refrigerator and returned to the living room. He watched as Katica walked from woman to woman getting pets and praises.

Kerry was looking around the simply furnished room. "It's a nice place you have here, Luka," she said.

"Thank you," Luka replied. He sat down on the couch and opened a can of soda.

Chuny returned with her purchases and carried them into the kitchen. Returning to the living room, she took a seat on the floor and reached for the kitten. "Come here and let me see you," she coaxed.

"Time to see what we got for the kitten," Abby announced and carried the packages over to Luka.

Katica jumped up on the arm of the couch and looked at the packages, meowing. *Is that for me?*

Luka reached for the first package, noting that it was from Amira. He opened it and pulled out several balls of yarn. "Thank you," he told the desk clerk.

"I know kitties like yarn, and being alone--it should keep her busy," Amira explained.

"Okay," Luka said, setting the yarn aside. He had been struck by a mental image of coming home and finding yarn from one end of his house to the other.

Katica reached out a paw to touch one of the balls of yarn and meowed. *Looks like fun.*

"She's sure a talkative little thing," Kerry observed.

"Yeah. Sometimes I think we can carry on a regular conversation," Luka said, opening the second package. It was from Chuny and inside was a large package of kitten treats. She'll only have theese if she's been good." *And no yarn for me to untangle.* he thought.

The package from Kerry contained sturdy food and water dishes. Abby had gotten an assortment of toys. Luka picked up a furry, squeezy something or otherand tossed it to Katica to play with. "Go on and have fun," he said.

She ignored the squeezy toy and instead patted the ball of yarn and meowed. *I want this.*

"Not tonight," Luka said firmly.

Abby had been looking out the window, watching for the delivery from the pizza place. She saw it pull to a stop in front of the house. "Pizzas' here!" she announced.

Kerry looked over at Luka and said, "I'll help you in the kitchen."

"Okay," he replied.

Once they were alone, Kery asked, "You didn't mind us showing up unannounced, did you?"

"No. I didn't. Surprised me though," Luka admitted as he got the salad and dressing out of the refrigerator.

"It was Abby's idea. But she did ask me if you'd be mad if we did it. Anyway, I was curious to meet your new friend," Kerry replied. She helped set out a stack of plates and plastic forks.

Luka gave the dressing one last stir and set it down. "I hope you like this because I don't have any other kind," he said.

"What kind is it?" Kerry asked.

"MY own special recipe--it's something I used to fix a long time ago. I'm surprised I even remember the recipe," Luka replied.

Abby and Chuny came in carrying the two pizzas and set them down on the counter. "Mmm. Salad. Looks good. What kind of dressing is it?" Abby asked.

"My own special recipe. I guess you could call it a sweet and spicy vinaigrette," Luka told her.

Katica was licking her lips and staring at the pizza. She meowed loudly to get their attention. *Looks yummy. Can I have some please?*

"No. Pizza is not for kittens," Luka said firmly. He scooped her up and carried her to the living room where he set her down. "Go play with your toys."

Kerry had went to work dishing up salad onto plates and setting them on the table. "I'll take care of this," she told Luka.

"Okay," he replied and picked up the dressing to drizzle on the salad. Grabbing a plate with two pieces of pizza in his other hand, he headed for the couch.

Abby came out to sit on the floor by him. "Delicious dressing. Can I get the recipe?"

"Yeah. I'll write it down for you," Luka said. He spotted Katica heading toward him to snatch some pizza. He reached out to grab her. Getting to his feet, he carried her to the bathroom and shut her in.

One by one, the rest of the women came out with their food and sat down by the couch. "Delicious salad," Kerry said as she sat down by Luka.

"Glad you like it," he replied.

"Where'S the kitten?" she asked.

"I put her in the bathroom. She doesn't need to beg or steal pizza," Luka replied. "As soon as everybody is finished eating, I'll let her loose."

"She reminds me of a kitten I had when I was little. That creature was into everything," Kerry said thoughtfully.

"My kids would've loved a pet but I could barely support the four of us on my salary," Luka told her.

"Did you have any pets when you were growing up?" Abby asked.

"I had a dog and of course there were barn cats on my grandpa's farm," Luka replied.

"My landlord doesn't allow pets unless I want to pay a deposit that I can't afford," Amira said.

As soon as everyone had eaten and and the food safely put away, Luka let Katica out of the bathroom. She came bounding in, meowing indignantly. *You're mean. I don't like you anymore.* She crawled up on Kerry's lap looking for sympathy.

Luka sat down on the floor and reached up to grab her. He held her on his lap and stroked her. She wiggled free of his grasp and jumped up on his shoulder to begin licking his ear. That made him laugh. "Now quit that, okay," he told her.

Katica jumped down and went over to Abby who picked her up and cuddled her. "You're so Sweet," she said.

The kitten meowed. *I am that.* She moved on over to Chuny who gave her a stroke.

Kerry laughed and said, "She looks like she's the Queen, visiting her subjects."

"Yeah," Luka agreed, watching as Katica moved on to Amira and rubbed up against her.

Kerry glanced at the clock and said, "Well, it's time for us to be going. Thank you for letting us visit, Luka."

"It was my pleasure, Kerry," he replied and got to his feet. He picked up the kitten and held her in his arms as he moved to the door.

"It was a fun evening, Luka," Abby said as she gave the kitten one last pet. "I'll see you in the morning."

"Bye, Luka," Chuny said as she and Amira headed out to her car. "We enjoyed the evening."

"I'll see you in the morning, Luka," Kerry said as she left.

Once their last guest had left, Luka set Katica down on the floor and said to her, "Well, it's time for us to go to bed. It turned out to be a fun evening after all."

Katica looked up and meowed. *I like your friends.*

"Now what are you saying? This is the first time any of the ER staff has come to visit. I guess they are good friends. And you made a good impression on Kerry. Not that I was trying to impress her or anything. I just didn't want you to get into a mood and claw her," Luka told the kitten.

She looked up at Luka and meowed. *I would never do that. I'm too sweet.* She had her most innocent expression.

He laughed and said, "Goodnight, Katica," as he headed for his bedroom, firmly shutting the door.

Luka didn't realize how much of an effect Katica was having on him until a few days later. He'd had a very bad and frustrating day.

First of all, he and Kerry had dealt with a multiple victim MVA--all fatalities. An entire family had been killed when their SUV was hit head on by a drunk driver. The deaths could have been prevented but no one had been wearing seatbelts. Then Romano had decided to pay a visit to the ER. That was what neither he nor Kerry wanted and were in mood to deal with him. Romano had been in a bad mood and was determined to take it out on his available ER attendings. A patient who had waited a very long time for treatment was threatening to sue the hospital. Even though her injuries were not that serious. All she had was some pulled muscles from too much exersizing.

Luka slammed the door--hard. He picked up his newspaper and flung it across the room along with anything available and unbreakable. "Damn, Romano! Damn the hospital! Damn this whole day!" he yelled and reached for a magazine to join the paper.

Katica moved to his side and began rubbing against his ankles, purring and meowing. *Hey, calm down! Things can't be that bad.*

Luka dropped his magazine and knelt down to pick up the kitten. Holding her close, he listened to her purring as he carried her to the couch. "I'm sorry for yelling but I've had a very bad day," he said. Sitting down and putting his feet on the coffee table, he leaned back and closed his eyes.

Katica wiggled out of his arms and jumped up on his shoulder, licking his ear.

Luka laughed and reached up to pet her. "Ah, Katica, you know just what to do to make me feel better," he said quietly. "Thank you."

Katica paused in her licking to meow. *You're welcome.* Then she went back to purring and licking.

Luka reached up to take her in his arms and sat cuddling her. He slowly relaxed, letting his anger drain away.

Katica snuggled up against him and went to sleep, purring contentedly. She knew that in his arms was exactly where she belonged!





 

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