“Okay, already.” Raymond Gardner yawned, opened his eyes, and gave the short-haired tortoiseshell cat a scratch behind her ears to take the edge off the grumble in the tone he’d directed at her. Clearly, he wasn’t going to be able to ignore the wet nose determinedly nudging him, let alone the piteous caterwauling. He rubbed his neck where she’d been kneading and gave himself a mental kick in the ass for not trimming her claws when he’d thought of it yesterday.
He rolled to check the time on his phone, then flopped back onto his pillow with a groan and what his ex-boyfriend, Leon, would have called a drama-queen maneuver—although frankly, Raymond didn’t consider throwing a forearm across his eyes to be all that theatrical.
“Daylight Savings Time has been over for a month, Pandy. Get with the program.” But Raymond sat and stuffed his feet into his slippers anyway, because once Pandemonium decided it was feeding time, she wasn’t going to let up until the deed was done.
She could wait until he’d shuffled into the bathroom to take care of business first, though. That was part of their routine, and Pandy apparently knew she’d already won, so she quit yowling and didn’t try to trip him while he peed and brushed his teeth.
After washing his hands, he filled the tea kettle and put it on the stove to heat before putting a fresh scoop of cat food into Pandy’s food bowl and replacing the water in the other. That was also customary procedure, so the cat tolerated the delay, although she seemed to glare from where she sat impatiently waiting. It was hard to tell if it was truly a glower, since it was the same expression she wore while purring whenever he scratched behind her ears.
Raymond dropped a couple biscuit slabs of Shredded Wheat into a bowl and scattered a handful of blueberries atop it. He’d wait until his green tea was ready before he poured the milk.
Even this early, his copy of the Sunday edition of the Kansas City Star should be waiting in the hallway, so he opened his studio apartment door. Another door down the hall, the same from which movers had shuffled in and out the previous day, creaked open.
As he lifted the newspaper, a white blur ran across—across!—his slippers. Raymond produced a high-pitched yelp that would have sent Leon’s eyes rolling all the way back in his head before he could stop himself.
He hopped from foot to foot and shrieked, “Rat!” as the pale streak detoured into his apartment.
The new neighbor down the hall muttered, “Shit,” no doubt regretting his choice of apartment building since it was apparently infested with rodents of unusual size as if escaped from The Princess Bride’s fire swamp.
Raymond’s one sentient thought was to get to higher ground, so he ran into his apartment despite the imminent threat of rabies, or plague, or whatever the hell rats carried, because…furniture. He left the apartment door open because he wasn’t about to be trapped inside there with the gruesome creature.
“Get it, Pandy!” he shrieked. “Get it!”
The instruction was superfluous since the cat hadn’t missed the flash of premium breakfast streaking by. Pandemonium was on it like stink on poo. Particularly her own nasty poo, which eating a sewer rat wasn’t likely to improve.
His new neighbor from down the hall shouted, “No!” and rushed into Raymond’s apartment. The man put up a hand and said, “Sorry, sorry. I’ll take care of it,” while Raymond channeled Jennifer Beals frenetically dancing to She’s a Maniac in Flashdance on his loveseat.
Pandemonium lived up to her name as she squalled and dove under Raymond’s bed, where the unfortunately-not-drowned-rat had dashed. It had better not be burrowing into his box springs. So help him, if that rodent ravaged his bed, the landlord would be paying for the damages.
Despite the horror of the rat invasion, Raymond couldn’t help but appreciate the vignette unfolding before him. His new neighbor, wearing only a ratty (no pun intended) pair of blue jeans and an unbuttoned shirt, lunged after the animals, coming to the rescue like a knight in shining flannel, which was far sexier than armor from Raymond’s perspective.
The sheer bravery of the man feeling around under the bed with his bare hands with a river rat on the loose was swoon-worthy, until a shoebox Raymond had under there came tumbling out, and his dildo collection and vintage gay porn DVDs—Teamplay, How the West Was Hung, and Kansas City Trucking Company—skittered across the concrete floor. He was still likely to faint, but now it would be from mortification rather than manly-man overload.