Rivals

Part Two

By Birana

 

Genevieve Arthur looked on in sorrow at the line of kittens waiting for the transport. The sight of them in the underground garage had stopped her; she hadn't known the kittens were being transfered that day.  She knew she should get her packages back to the classroom and forget about the kittens that were leaving, but their sad faces haunted her.  In the four years since she'd started working at the complex, she'd never worked up the courage to ask where the kittens were transferred to.  She knew how hard life was for the cats that remained and couldn't imagine their lives being any easier anywhere else.  She heard a gasp from the end of the line, as if someone was trying to hold back a sob.  She knew that gasp.

 

“Timi!” she whispered in horror.

 

            The almost all-white female turned toward the sound and jumped slightly at who she saw.  Genevieve, her eyes seemed to say, help me!

 

            Thoughts raced through Genevieve's mind.  She wanted to save Timid, she really did, but how?  As the line moved slowly into the transport, she stepped forward.

 

            “Excuse me!” she said to one of the guards, forcing her voice to be pleasant.

 

            “Yeah?  Whaddaya want?” the guard asked gruffly.

 

            “That kitten on the end, the white one with the brown patch on her ear?  She's not supposed to be here,” said Genevieve, hoping she didn't sound as nervous as she felt. 

 

            The guard looked at Timid, then Genevieve, then shrugged.  “Whatever,” he said, releasing Timid from the chain that held the kittens together.  “Have a nice day.”  He shoved the last of the still-bound kittens into the transport, climbed aboard himself, and slammed the door.

 

            Shifting her packages as to take Timid by the hand, Genevieve started walking out of the room, her heart beating wildly.

 

            As soon as she was sure they were out of sight, Timid hugged Genevieve.  “Thanks,” she said simply.

 

            Tears filled the dance assistant's eyes as she carefully returned the hug.  “I'm not sure you're really safe,” she said softly.  “If someone finds out what I did...” Genevieve shuddered at the thought.  She released Timid and stood up straight, flicking her brown ponytail out of the way and shifting the packages again.  “We'll have to convince everyone that you're such a good performer we can't afford to lose you.”  She paused.  “Can you do that?”

 

            Timid nodded slowly.  “I will try my hardest,” she said.

 

            The two of them walked in silence until they reached the classroom.  Sounds of chattering kittens came through the locked door, a sign that the instructor was out.  Genevieve put down the packages, slipped her key card from the string around her neck, and unlocked the door.

 

            The chatter stopped abruptly as Genevieve and Timid walked into the room.  “Hello, class.  You can talk, it's all right,” said Genevieve.  She picked up the packages and turned to Timid.  “Go join your friends.”

 

Timid smiled shyly, then scurried over to the other kittens.  “Hi,” she said softly, slipping down to where they were seated on the floor.

 

            “Where were you?” demanded a brown-and-gray male who had been named Jump.  “And where are the others we saw you with?”

 

            Already in the act of arranging herself on the floor, Timid could pretend she hadn't heard.  “What did you do in class today?”

 

            A white female made a disgusted noise.  “He asked you a question,” she said irritably.

 

            “Be quiet, Pretty,” said a black, white, and red female.  She had been named Bright, after the time she swung on the ceiling and a light had fallen down.  “Maybe she doesn't want to talk about it.”

 

            The white female snorted.  She had named herself Pretty, but the other kittens secretly called her Mean.  “She should talk about it.  How do we know the others aren't being set free, or getting extra rations?  Talk, Timid.”

 

            Timid moaned and buried her face in her arms.  “They're not getting extra rations,” her muffled voice floated up.  “They're not being set free.”

 

            “Well, where are they then?” Pretty demanded.

 

            The white-and-brown head burrowed further.  “I don't know.”

 

            “You don't know?  But you were there!  How can you not know?”

 

            A moan escaped from the ball of fur that Timid had become.  Bright put her arms around her and glared at Pretty.  “If you don't stop that right now I'll get Tutor,” she warned.

 

            “Tutor?  Ha!  She wouldn't hurt a flea!”

 

            “Maybe not, but she'd hurt someone who's being mean to one of our best performers!”

 

            Pretty screwed up her face in a scowl.  “Tutor's pet!” she said.

 

            “Teacher's pet!” retorted Bright.

 

            Pretty scowled again and walked over to a corner and sat by herself.

 

            Timid, Bright, Jump, and the others breathed a sigh of relief.  “I'm sure glad she's gone!” said Jump.  “How come Mean's still in the class, anyway?”

 

            Bright sighed.  “Maybe because she's such a good dancer that Teacher doesn't notice how she treats us,” she said bitterly.

 

            “Yeah,” said a reddish male.  He had been named Fire after both his color and his temper.  “Whenever Teacher's around, she acts real nice.’  He scooted over to Timid and tapped her on the shoulder.  “You okay, Timid?”

 

            Timid lifted her head and nodded.

 

            “What happened, anyway?” asked a black, white, and gold female named Lilly.  She paused.  “Unless you don't want to talk about it.”

 

            “That's okay, I guess I can tell you,” said Timid.  She took a deep breath.  “The guard said we were being taken to a new home.”

 

            “A new home?” asked Lilly.  “That’s not so bad.”

 

            “Yes it is!” cried Timid.  “You didn’t hear the way he said it.  It was just… awful!  Like he knew some big secret that we didn’t, and it was bad for us!  And the humans put chains on our collars, then attached the chains.  They were loading us onto some kind of vehicle...”  She stopped and shuddered.  “I was last in line.  I would have gone on if Gen- if Tutor hadn't saved me.”

 

            Jump looked at Timid suspiciously.  “Gen?  Who's Gen?”

 

            “Um... she's...”

 

            Pretty's ears pricked up at the apprehension in Timid's voice.  “Yes, go on,” she said eagerly.

 

            “You stay out of this!” shot Fire, glaring at Pretty.

 

            “Well sorry, it just seems to me that there's a lot of secrets around here!  How do we know Timid wasn't rescued by some general, or-”  Pretty's eyes went wide as she remembered what her keen ears had heard Teacher calling Tutor.  “Oo, Teacher's gonna be ma-ad!”

 

            “What do you mean, Teacher's gonna be mad?” asked Jump.

 

            “I mean...” Pretty glanced meaningfully at Genevieve, who was sitting at a desk doing paperwork.  “She's-” she stopped as the door opened.

 

            “All right class, break's over, get into positions for ‘The Jellicle Ball,’” said Amanda Ferran, coming through the door.  “Miss Arthur, I require your assistance.”

 

            Genevieve jumped up, put down her pencil, and walked over to join the instructor. 

 

            Amanda clapped her hands to get the class's attention.  “Class!  Into positions!”  She fingered her controller.

 

            The kittens scrambled into position, mindful of what the small machine could do.  Timid put a hand to her collar.  Teacher'll be mad, she thought.

 

            Timid's instincts were correct.  As soon as Amanda saw her she sucked in her breath, making a sound not unlike a kitten's hiss.  “Genevieve,” she whispered fiercely, “what is that no-talent doing here?”

 

            “Uh... what do you mean?” asked Genevieve nervously, knowing exactly what was meant.

 

            “That white kitten with the brown patch over her ear.  I ordered her to be transferred.  What is she doing here?” Amanda pressed, glaring straight into Genevieve's eyes.

 

            If looks could kill... thought Genevieve.  “She-she's a very good dancer,” she stuttered.

 

            “Oh?  Then why is she falling over her feet whenever I see her?”

 

            Maybe because she's scared to death of you!  “She...ah…why don’t you have her dance for you now?  Just to see how good she is?” she said.  Forgive me, Timid.

 

            Amanda exhaled loudly.  “Fine.  She can do Victoria’s solo dance, and the little part with Mistoffelees.  If she’s perfect, she can stay.  But if she stumbles even once-”

 

            “I understand,” said Genevieve hurriedly.  “I’ll get her.”

 

            Timid had been listening wide-eyed to her own fate.  As Genevieve walked over to her, she gulped.  “Help,” she whispered.

 

            Pretty, who had also been listening, smirked.  Using the hushed voice that the kittens always effected in front of Amanda she crowed, “Ha!  Told ya she’d be mad!  You can’t dance in front of Teacher for your life!”

 

            Fire glared at Pretty.  “Shut up!” he whispered through clenched teeth.

 

            It was then that Genevieve reached them.  “Come with me, Timid.  You have to dance for Teacher.  Don’t be scared of her.  You have to dance well.”

 

            Timid gulped again.  “What do I have to dance?”

 

            “The solo dance.  Just like we’ve been practicing.  You’ll probably be doing the end part with…um…whatever that black one’s name is.”  Genevieve’s knowledge of the kittens’ names was still limited to Timid.

 

            “Okay,” said Timid in a small voice, “I’ll try my best.”

 

            Genevieve bent down slightly to look Timid in the eyes.  “You have to do more than try, Timi.  This could be a matter of life and death.”  She put her hands on the kitten’s shoulders, enforcing her words.  “You must be perfect, Timid.”

 

            Timid was about to reply when Amanda’s sharp voice cut in.  “Miss Arthur!  Bring the kitten here, now!”

 

            Genevieve dropped her arms and whispered, “Remember, don’t be scared of her, or you won’t dance right.”  Then she gave Timid a little shove towards Amanda.  “Coming, Miss Ferran!” 

 

            “Good luck!” whispered all the kittens except Pretty.  Fire and Jump flashed twin thumbs-up signs.

 

            Smiling weakly, Timid reviewed the dance in her mind until she reached Amanda.

 

            “Hello, kitten,” said Amanda, not quite unkindly.  After all, they did need all the new dancers they could get.  “Are you ready to dance?”  When Timid nodded slowly, Amanda called over the black kitten to play Mistoffelees.  “You!  The black male with the white around your eyes!  Come over here!”

 

            The kitten, who was far younger than Timid and easily the smallest kitten in the class, scurried forward.

 

            “Do you know the part Mistoffelees does in ‘Invitation to the Jellicle Ball?’”

 

            The young kitten nodded.

 

            “Good.  You wait with me until it's your turn,” Amanda said placing a hand on his shoulder to reinforce her order.  She pressed a series of buttons on the remote in her hand and the music for “The Naming of Cats” began to play.  “Kitten,” she said, speaking to Timid, “when your music comes on, start dancing.”

 

            Timid was almost too terrified to nod.  As she waited for the music of the solo dance, she looked at her friends.  They silently urged her on.

 

            “Kitten, face me!” snapped Amanda.

 

            Slowly Timid turned, not daring to look up.  Her eyes fell on Genevieve’s feet, and she raised her head to look at her human friend.  Genevieve had her eyes turned toward the ceiling, and her mouth was moving in a silent prayer.  Her hand was at her throat, fingering her lucky necklace in a gesture that Timid recognized as her nervous habit.

 

            Everything that Genevieve had done for her came flooding back to Timid.  She has done so much for me.  Now she needs me to do something for her.  I will dance for Genevieve.  The solo dance music came on, and slowly, gracefully, Timid lifted her leg in back of her to begin.

 

            Amanda gasped as the dance progressed.  Never in a million years would she have guessed that the stumbling white kitten with the brown ear could dance so beautifully.  She was so engrossed in Timid's portrayal of Victoria that she almost forgot to give the black kitten his cue.  She felt him stiffen when his part grew near, reminding her of his presence, and she nodded.  "Go," she whispered as Timid balanced in her final position.

 

            Skipping a little, the kitten made his way over to Timid and began dancing and singing.  Timid danced just as well during the fast part as she had during the solo dance.  The entire class, excepting Pretty, joined in for the last line of the song.

 

            “Jellicles come to the Jellicle Ball!” they sang, then burst into applause.

 

            As Amanda stood speechless, Genevieve rushed over to hug Timid.  “You did it, Timi!” she whispered.

 

            Timid smiled up at Genevieve.  “I was dancing for you, Genevieve.”

 

            Tears came to Genevieve’s eyes as she hugged Timid tighter.  “You sweet little thing, oh you sweet little thing!  I’m so proud of you!”  Then she pulled away, saying, “Come on, let your friends congratulate you.”  She went over to Amanda to discuss Timid’s talent, leaving Timid to the other kittens.

 

            A ball of gray fur with white and light orange patches rolled over to her and expanded into a kitten.  “Great job, Timid!” the kitten said, hopping to her feet.  “I think you’re even better than Mean!”

 

            If Timid hadn't been covered in fur, she would have blushed.  “I’m not that good…”

 

            “Yes you are,” said Jump, approaching them with a silver-and-black striped male.  “Gigglebim’s right.  You’re better than Mean.”

 

            The silver-and-black kitten nodded.  “I bet you’ll be Victoria someday.”

 

            “You really think so, Brave?”

 

            “Take a look at Teacher and Tutor.’

 

            Timid looked.  Amanda and Genevieve were in an animated conversation which, from the stunned expression on Amanda’s face and the ecstatic one on Genevieve’s, appeared to be about Timid.

 

            “They’re talking about you,” came a gloomy voice near Timid’s ear.  “They’re talking about how good you are.”

 

            Timid jumped.  “Pretty!”

 

            Pretty’s eyes were burning with a hatred she tried to conceal.  “Nice job,” she said, holding out her hand.  “Shake and be friends?”

 

            Reluctantly Timid put her hand in Pretty’s, then gasped as she felt the sting of sharp claws.  She snatched her hand away, looking in horror at the five red droplets.  “Pretty,” she started in a voice choked with tears, “why…?” But Pretty was already on the other side of the room.

 

            Bright came rushing up.  “I just saw Mean, and she had blood on her claws!” she whispered.  “What happened?”

 

            Wordlessly Timid extended her trembling hand.

 

            “Did she do that?  That’s awful!” cried Bright forgetting to be quiet for a moment.  She quieted again at Timid's shush. “Tell Tutor!”

 

            Timid just nodded, unable to trust her voice.  She never imagined that one kitten would trick another like that.  She opened her mouth to speak and a little sob escaped.

 

            On the other side of the room, Genevieve broke off in mid-sentence.  “What was that?”

 

            Amanda shrugged.  “Don’t worry about it.  As I was saying, that kitten has enormous potential-”

 

            “I think that was the kitten,” Genevieve said positively, hearing another sob.  “I’m going to check on her.”

 

            Amanda shrugged again.  “Suit yourself.”  The intercom on the desk buzzed. Amanda reached for it, but stopped as the display flashed the location of the caller: Dr. Ferran's office.  “Excuse me, I have to go.  Have the kittens dance ‘The Jellicle Ball.’ I want the white one with the patch as Victoria and the other white one as Bombalurina.”  She turned and walked sharply out of the room.

 

            “Thanks, I will,” Genevieve called back, knowing exactly who had to be on the other end of the line to make Amanda tense up like that.   As soon as the door shut behind her superior, Genevieve briskly walked over to Timid.  “Timi?  What's the matter?”

 

            Timid sniffled and held out her hand.

 

            “How did that happen?” asked Genevieve, horrified.

 

            “Mean did it!” piped up Gigglebim.

 

            “Mean… is that the white one?” asked Genevieve.

 

            All the kittens within earshot nodded.

 

            Genevieve sighed.  “I’m really going to have to learn their names someday,” she muttered to herself.  To Timid she said, “Come on.  Let’s get something for that hand.”  She gently guided the teary-eyed kitten to the closet that housed the first-aid kits.

 

            Timid regained her voice.  “Why did she do that?  No one’s ever done anything like that before.  Not even her!”

 

            Shaking her head, Genevieve took medicine and gauze from her kit.  “I don’t know, Timi, I really don’t.  Some people – or cats – are just like that, I guess.  Give me your hand, I’m going to put something on it to make it heal faster.  Don’t worry if it stings a little, it’s supposed to.”

 

            Timid held out her hand, and Genevieve began applying the medicine and gauze. “You danced so well today I’m not surprised that she’s jealous,” Genevieve continued.  “You’re rivals for the same part, you know, because of your similar colors.”

 

            “Rivals?” asked Timid, wincing at the pain in her hand.  “What’s that?”

 

            “It means… you’re not enemies, exactly, but there’s competition between you, you both want the same thing, and only one of you can get it.  The other one might be very disappointed.  Like when I applied for the position of assistant dance instructor, I would have been disappointed if the job had gone to someone else.  Do you see what I mean?”

 

            Timid nodded.  “Pretty wants to be Victoria, but I might, so she’s angry at me.”

 

            “Basically, yes.”  Genevieve paused.  “I thought they said her name was Mean.”

 

            “That’s what we call her by ourselves.  When she’s around we call her Pretty.”

 

            “Oh.  Well, I think you should stay clear of her for a while, just to make sure she doesn’t hurt you anymore.  Over the next few weeks Teacher’s going to be making the decisions about who gets what role, so Mean – Pretty – might try anything to keep you from being Victoria.  There, that’s done, we should get back to class.  Teacher wants everyone to practice ‘The Jellicle Ball.’”  Genevieve put the first-aid kit away, then went to take her place at the front of the class.

 

            Timid followed, taking her place with the other kittens.

 

            “I see your human friend fixed your hand,” Pretty greeted her.  The hatred still glinted in her eyes.  “I sure hope it feels better.”

 

            “You do not!  You’re the one that hurt her in the first place!” said Fire angrily.  “That was a real mean thing to do!”

 

            “For once I agree with Fire,” remarked Brave.  “You shouldn’t have done that.”

 

            Pretty glared at everyone in general.  “Shut up, will you?  You don’t know what it’s like to think you’re getting a part, and then someone else comes along!”  She stormed away to her corner, almost bumping into the young kitten who had danced with Timid.

 

            “Um, hi, Pretty-” he began, but was cut off.

 

            “Get out of my way!” Pretty hissed, shoving him towards the group.

 

            “Yow!” he cried as he landed near Timid’s feet.

 

            She knelt down.  “Are you alright?”

 

            The kitten nodded, winced, and slowly stood up.  “I’m okay,” he said in a small voice. 

 

            “You’re sure?” asked Timid, seeing that his eyes glittered with tears.

 

            The kitten nodded again and wiped his eyes, masking his action by making it look like he was brushing the dust off his shining black fur.  “I’m sure,” he said in a stronger voice, and began dancing to prove it.

 

            Bright looked at him admiringly.  “Wow.  I could never just get up and dance like that if Mean shoved me.  You must be really strong.”

 

            The kitten glowed at her words and tried some more difficult steps.  “Not really.  I can barely lift another kitten.”

 

            “Then you’re something else…I forgot the word…it means that you can take a lot without getting hurt, and that you’re brave…do you know what I mean, Timid?” asked Bright.

 

            “I think you mean ‘hardy,’” said Timid.  A thought popped into her mind.  “Do you have a name?” she asked the black kitten.

 

            He shook his head and continued dancing.

 

            “Then I think we should call you ‘Hardy.’  I’ve seen you do things like that before, you’ve earned the name.”

 

            The kitten stopped dancing abruptly.  “I’ve earned a name?”

 

            “In my opinion, yes,” said Timid.

 

            “And mine too!” put in Bright.

 

“Hardy,” the kitten said thoughtfully.  He twirled around a bit, and grinned.  “I like it!”

 

Just then Genevieve clapped for attention.  She had given the kittens a moment to work out whatever situation had arisen on the other side of the classroom but it seemed to have been dealt with now and she needed to get on with the practice.  “Class, Teacher wants you to dance ‘The Jellicle Ball.’ Timid, you dance Victoria.”

 

Pretty let out a short, curdled screech as she heard her beloved role being given to someone else.  I am Victoria!” she whispered to herself.

 

“And you, all-white one,” said Genevieve.

 

Pretty looked up sharply.

 

“Dance Bombalurina.”

 

Pretty felt as if a cold hand was twisting her heart.  Bombalurina!  I don’t want to be Bombalurina!  I want to be Victoria!  I am Victoria!  Biting her lip to keep from crying, she took her position with the other kittens.

 

Timid, at the front of the formation, looked nervously over her shoulder.  She felt there was more to Pretty’s anger than the usual hatred of everyone in general, and she didn’t like the thought that the anger might be directed at her.  Genevieve programmed her remote for “The Jellicle Ball,” and the dance began. 

 

It passed like a whirlwind for Timid; dancing her new role was as natural to her as breathing.  Before she knew it, Fire gently bumped her with his head.  “Oh, so you’re playing Plato?” she whispered as they danced.

 

“For now, ‘Victoria,’” he whispered back, setting her down on the bench that served as Skimbleshanks. 

 

“Don’t call me that!  Pretty’s- ssh!” Timid hissed as the music paused.

 

At the second set of notes opening the second part of “The Jellicle Ball,” Hardy got up, soon followed by the rest of the class.  The dance continued, and every time Timid was near Pretty she got the impression that she was in the presence of great suffering.  Not that Pretty ever said anything; it was in her eyes and dancing.  There could be no mistaking the anger in the fierce, deliberate movements, but there was a sadness, as well.

 

When the dance was finally over, Timid approached Pretty in the way her name suggested.  “Pretty?  Are you okay?”

 

“What do you care?  Get away from me!” Pretty growled in return. 

 

Timid skittered backwards.  “I’m sorry, I just wanted to know if I could help-”

 

“No!  You can’t!  Besides, I don’t need help!”  Pushing Timid aside, Pretty returned to her corner and buried her head in her arms.

 

Timid watched her, trying to guess what could make her so upset.  She felt a hand on her arm, and jumped around.  “Hey!”

 

“Hey what?” asked a small brown, red, and white striped female meekly.  “I just wanted to say that you should let Mean alone.  She gets real tough when she’s like that.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, Circuit.  I know she can get tough” – Timid glanced ruefully at her bandaged hand – “but I think there’s something bothering her.”

 

“You mean other than hating everyone and everything?” snorted a male who looked just like Circuit, though minus the red.  “Come on, Timid, she’s always like that!”

 

Timid smiled at the two younger kittens who had yet to gain her perception of emotions.  “I don’t think so, Ace.  There’s something…more…”

 

^^^^^^

 

            That night, Timid awoke with an uneasy feeling.  The silence in the little room off the practice room had an unusual quality, fiercer somehow, as if someone intensely unhappy was trying desperately to hide it.  Timid slipped quietly off her bunk, searching for the source of the feeling.  In the moonlight that came through the barred windows she could easily make out a white form in the center of the room, dancing Victoria’s solo dance.

 

            Pretty?” Timid whispered, wondering if she was dreaming. 

 

            The form turned toward the sound, proving itself to be the cantankerous kitten.  “Go away!  I want to be alone!” she whispered.

 

            Convincing herself that it was not a dream, Timid went closer.  She could faintly see grooves in the white fur of Pretty’s face, as if she had been crying.  The watery glimmer on her hazel eyes and the droplets collecting on her chin lent depth to this theory.  “Pretty, please tell me what’s wrong.”

 

            Pretty lifted her leg higher than she ever had before, her agony giving her enhanced flexibility.  “Nothing’s wrong,” she said, going into a split. 

 

            “Nothing wouldn’t make you cry.”

 

            “I’m not crying!”

 

            “Then what’s on your face?”

 

            “I…”  Pretty sighed.  “Alright, I’m crying.  So what?” 

 

            “It’s because of me, isn’t it.”  Timid’s words were a statement, not a question; she already knew the answer.

 

            Pretty exhaled loudly.  “Yes.  It’s because of you.  All my life, the only thing I’ve ever wanted is to be Victoria, and now you’re taking that away.”  The last syllable broke into a strangled sob.

 

            “Ssh, we don’t want to wake the others.  What do you mean, the only thing you’ve ever wanted is to be Victoria?”

 

            “Well, I guess I can tell you,” Pretty said, sitting down and hugging her knees close.  “When we were just joining the class, and we saw that performance, I fell in love with the character of Victoria.  She was just so…beautiful, so something, I don’t know.  But I knew that either you or me would be her someday, and I wanted it – still want it – to be me.  That’s when I started being mean to you, remember?”

 

            Timid nodded, remembering.  “We were talking with the older kittens about what we wanted to be, and you said, ‘You can’t be anything, you’re too stupid.’  You had never said anything like that before.”

 

            “And then you started crying.  I felt bad then, but I knew that if you got too confident you would take away my part.  Then when you started being friends with everyone, I had to be mean to them, too.  But it was all because I wanted to be Victoria.  My whole life, my whole personality- even my name!  I called myself ‘Pretty’ because I figured that if anyone overheard you and the others calling me that, they would think I was pretty enough to be Victoria.”  Pretty sighed again and lifted her eyes to the window.  “Even through the bars, you can see the moon,” she said, as if to herself, and began quietly singing lines from Jemima’s song.  Moonlight, turn your face to the moonlight, let your memory lead you, open up, enter in.”

 

            Timid joined in, hesitantly putting her arm around Pretty’s shoulder.  If you find there the meaning of what happiness is, then a new life will begin.”  Her soft voice blended harmoniously with Pretty’s richer one.  “We’re going to begin a new life soon.  Have you found the meaning of what happiness is?”

 

            Pretty laughed bitterly.  “My idea of happiness has always been Victoria.  But with you actually dancing well – I think you’re even better than me – I don’t know if I’ll ever really be happy.”  She sniffed and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.  “Have you?”

 

            “Friends,” said Timid simply.  “As long as I have people I care about, and who care about me, I’m happy.  And getting over my fear of Teacher sure helped.”

 

            Pretty smiled sadly.  “I think I’m the one who made you scared of her in the first place, always talking about the collars and how much they hurt.”  She reached up to touch Timid’s hand where it rested on her shoulder.  “And I haven’t had a real friend since before we joined the dance class.”

 

            “I’ll be your friend, Pretty.”

 

            Pretty snatched her hand away and spun to face Timid.  Suspicious hazel eyes stared into sympathetic pale green ones, searching.  “You mean that?” Pretty whispered hoarsely.  “After all I’ve done to you?”

 

            “You’re sorry for that, aren’t you?”

 

            “Well, yeah, but-”

 

            “Then as long as you apologize, we’ll all be your friends.”

 

            Pretty’s eyes threatened to overflow again.  “You’re so nice, and forgiving…you’ll make a great Victoria.  And I’ll…be Bom…balurina…”

 

            Before her new friend could start sobbing, Timid said quickly, “You’ll make a great one.”

 

            “You really think so?”

 

            “Uh-huh.  You’re the best singer in the class – well, besides Lilly and Bright, but they can’t be Bombalurina, can they?  You’re a great dancer, and I think you have the right character for it.  I saw you in class today, and even though you were upset-”

 

            “Understatement of the year,” muttered Pretty, wiping her eyes.

 

            “-you were perfect for the part,” Timid finished.  Then she giggled.  “Besides, I think you’d look nice dyed red.”

 

            “Red!  I forgot about that!  I don’t want to be red!”

 

            “Would you rather be brown?  Or striped?”

 

            “You know what I’d rather be,” Pretty sighed, blinking her eyes to keep them dry.

 

“And you should know that I think you still have a chance,” said Timid.  “But as you insist you lost Victoria, I’m trying to make you feel better.  That’s what friends do.”

 

            “Oh.  Well, I guess it would be better for me to be Bombalurina.  Then when the younger kittens move up, they might not recognize me as Mean.”  Noticing the hint of surprise in Timid’s face, Pretty grinned wryly.  “Yes, I know about my little nickname.  I deserve it, I guess.”

 

            Timid hid her eyes with her long lashes.  “You certainly did.  But,” she said, looking up, “now that you’re starting a new life, we can make sure no one calls you that anymore.”

 

            Pretty looked at her gratefully.  “Thanks.  Just warning you, I’ll probably hate you for this in the morning, but right now I’m glad we talked.  Come on, let’s do the solo dance.”  She gracefully stood up, brushed herself off, and held out her hand to Timid.

 

            Timid smiled, took Pretty’s hand, and stood up.  “Duo dance.”

 

            Pretty grinned, nodded, and began to dance, her movements being mimicked by Timid.  The almost-identical kittens danced for a long time, making up their own steps when the originals were finished.  They danced until the moonlight faded from the sky.  Tired and happy, they slipped into their bunks, being careful not to wake Bright, who had the bunk above Timid’s, and Gigglebim, who had the bunk below Pretty’s.

 

^^^^^^

 

            Genevieve woke to the shrill sound of her alarm.  She groaned, rolled over, and slapped it off.  Her first conscious thought was, Why do dance instructors have to get up so early?  Her second was, I hope Timid’s hand is okay.  Her third was, I better get up.

 

            Groaning again, Genevieve got out of bed and stumbled towards her sink.  She splashed a little water on her face and felt much better.  Four years and I still can’t wake up in the morning, she thought, taking off her nightshirt and pulling on the tank top, leggings, and leg warmers that served as her dance outfit.  And my hair still looks like a bird’s nest.  She dragged a brush through her hair, tied it back, looked in the mirror, and sighed.  Guess that’s the best I’ll get for today.  After her ritual morning stretch, Genevieve started down the long hallway to the cafeteria.  Living at the complex was cheaper than getting a place in town, but sometimes the cafeteria food made her wonder if it was worth it.

 

            “Heya, Gen,” greeted Kathy Baker, the singing instructor, coming out of her room as Genevieve passed.

 

            “Kath,” sighed Genevieve, “How can you be so cheerful?”

 

            Kathy giggled.  “Still not a morning person, huh?”

 

            “Got that right.”

 

            “Well, maybe if you didn’t stay up so late writing in that diary of yours, you wouldn’t be so tired…”

 

            “But sometimes I just have to write!  Like yesterday, for example, my favorite kitten finally got over her fear of Amanda!”

 

            “The white one with the patch?  Really?  That’s wonderful!  How’s her dancing?”

 

            “Best in the class!” Genevieve announced proudly.  “I think this means she’ll be Victoria!”

 

            “Great!  I’m doing voice tests today, and pretty soon we’ll know what parts those two white ones get.  Here, take a tray,” Kathy said, reaching the beginning of the cafeteria line.

 

            Genevieve took a tray and slid it along the rail.  “Oatmeal, please,” she said to the server.  To Kathy she said, “Voice tests?”

 

            Kathy nodded.  “You know, having the kittens sing different songs, and see what part they’d be best at.”

 

            “Oh.”  Genevieve got her oatmeal, spoon, napkin, and milk, then went to the special table reserved for the instructors.  Kathy followed.

 

            Amanda was already seated.  “Hello Genevieve, Kathy.  I’ve drawn up a tentative cast list for the 13- and 14-year-olds,” she said.  “Here.”  She handed Genevieve and Kathy each a copy.

 

            Genevieve skimmed the list.  “You have the white one with the patch as Victoria, good, the white one as Bombalurina, that could work, the red one as Macavity, definitely, the gray one as- transferred?  You’re transferring the gray one?!”

 

            Amanda looked surprised.  “Of course.  She’s only mediocre at dancing and scratchy at singing, besides being an odd color.”

 

            “Can’t you dye her?”

 

            “She’s not worth it.”

 

            “But...”

 

            “Genevieve, these are animals.  They don’t have feelings,” said Amanda patiently, repeating the words she had to tell her assistant so often.

 

            Genevieve felt sorry for the gray kitten, but she really wasn't as big an asset as Timid was.  If Genevieve tried to save her as she had Timid she'd undoubtedly loose her job, or, considering what went on at this facility, possibly worse.  She sighed.  “Well, I guess you’re right.”

 

Amanda nodded approvingly.  “Kathy, what do you think of the list?”

 

            “Looks good to me,” Kathy said.  “Are you going to move up the red one this year?”

 

            “Might as well.  There’s no one else his age besides the gray one.  Though I think I'll wait until the white ones get settled in the troupe.”  She looked to see if Genevieve and Kathy had any more questions, which they didn’t.  “Alright, discussion is now closed.  Excuse me, I have to get to work with the troupe.”  She stood up, cleared her tray, and disappeared out the door.

 

            “Bye,” Genevieve said belatedly.  She fiddled with her spoon, thinking about the conversation.  “Kath,” she said, “do you think it’s right to send the kittens away when they've worked so hard to join the troupe?”

 

            Kathy shrugged.  “I don’t see why not, if they’re of no use to us.”

 

            “They’re of use to each other!”

 

            “They’re animals, Genevieve.  I’m not like Amanda, I think they have feelings and a limited intelligence, but they’re still animals.”

 

            Genevieve bit her tongue to keep from talking about Timid and the rest.  Limited intelligence, ha!  She stood up.  “I should get to class.”  After clearing her tray, she swung open the door that led from the cafeteria to the practice room.

 

            At first glance, everything looked normal.  The kittens were in their usual clump, chattering away.  Something didn’t feel right to Genevieve, however, so she looked closer.  The kittens seemed to be gathered in a circle, and every so often, Genevieve caught a glimpse of white fur in the center of the crowd.  She walked over to them.  “Timid?”

 

            The circle parted to reveal Timid and Pretty, the former radiant, the latter sheepish.  Timid nudged Pretty, who stepped forward.  “Hello, Tutor.  My name is Pretty.  I am Mean no longer.”

 

            Genevieve’s eyes telegraphed to Timid, You’re friends with her now?  When Timid nodded, she said, “Nice to meet you, Pretty.”

 

            Pretty smiled shyly.  “Thank you, Tutor.”

 

            Timid spoke up.  “We want you to know all of our names, Tutor.  You know me.  This,” she said, taking Genevieve’s hands and guiding her to the red tom, “is Fire.”

 

            Genevieve smiled, thinking of the red kitten’s fiery temper, smiled.  “Aptly named, Fire.”

 

            Timid led Genevieve on.  “This is-”

 

            “Jump,” said the white and brown tom, grinning.

 

            “Another good name,” said Genevieve.

 

            As Timid led her instructor on, Pretty sniffed.  “You look like Victoria – leading Grizabella – when you do that,” she said, her eyes suspiciously liquid.  Then she blinked valiantly and attempted a smile.  “You’ll be a great Victoria.”

 

            Genevieve’s eyes flicked from Timid to Pretty.  They appeared to have made some sort of peace, but she still distrusted the white kitten.  “Yes, she will be great, if she’s chosen.”  When she’s chosen.

 

            Timid ducked her head, then quickly led Genevieve to Gigglebim.  “This is Gigglebim.”

 

            Genevieve felt a pang of sorrow.  The bubbly, lively kitten known as Gigglebim would soon be transferred, and there was nothing she could do about it.  “Hello, Gigglebim.”

 

            Timid led Genevieve to all the other kittens, sometimes saying their names herself, sometimes letting her friends speak.  Hardy almost burst with pride when he said his name.  Circuit and Ace said theirs together, in the oddly clashing voices that somehow belonged with each other.  Lilly said hers in the sweet voice that turned anything it said into music.

 

            Genevieve met them all graciously, though she kept an eye out for Amanda and Kathy, who had entered the room while the kittens were being introduced.  They were talking together, so engrossed in their conversation that they didn’t notice what was going on with the kittens.  When all the kittens were introduced, Genevieve decided to interrupt.  “Miss Ferran?  Miss Baker?   Are you ready to work with the kittens?” she called to the other side of the room.

 

            Amanda and Kathy turned toward her voice.  “In a minute, Miss Arthur!  For now get them in a single-file line!” Amanda called back.  To Kathy she said, “I want to try to place those two white kittens today.”

 

            Kathy nodded.  “I’ll have the all-white one sing ‘Macavity,’ and see if she’s right for Bombalurina.”  The two instructors made their way to the almost straight line of kittens.

 

            Pretty, at the front of the line, shifted nervously.  She knew that whenever they were lined up like that, they had to sing, and since she was so close to moving up, she knew that this time would probably determine her role.  She felt a tap on her shoulder, and turned around.

 

            “Good luck, Pretty,” Timid whispered, her lips barely moving.  “You’ll be great.”

 

            Pretty rolled her eyes, and turned back around to face Kathy.

 

            “Hello, kitten,” Kathy said condescendingly.  “Can you sing Bombalurina’s part of ‘Macavity’ for me?”  When Pretty nodded, she said, “Good.  And” – her eyes searched the line and landed on Lilly – “you sing Demeter.”

 

            Pierced by Kathy’s gaze, Lilly shuffled out of the line and joined Pretty.  Amanda turned the music on and she began to sing.

 

            Pretty felt the music flow over her, and from somewhere inside her, Bombalurina flowed up.  She sang her part, feeling as if she really was the red queen, as if she did know about the Hidden Paw.  As she sang, she felt herself changing, becoming less the innocent young Victoria and more the experienced Bombalurina.  She sang as if she were onstage, singing for an audience, yet for no one but herself.  For a few minutes, she became Bombalurina as she had never been Victoria.

 

            Kathy scrutinized Lilly and Pretty’s performance.  “Still a bit childish for Demeter, but that’ll improve with time, wonderful expression for Bombalurina…”  She whispered to Amanda, “I think we have our Bombalurina!”

 

            Amanda smiled with satisfaction.  “I thought so.”  She clapped for attention.  “Class, I want you to perform the ‘Macavity’ sequence, song and fight.  All in you usual roles, please, and you white ones in your new roles.  Miss Arthur, you take over, Miss Baker, come with me.”  With that, she walked to the door and motioned for Kathy to follow her out.

 

            As the door closed behind her two colleagues, Genevieve breathed a sigh of relief.  She never felt quite comfortable with Amanda and Kathy; she was always afraid she would slip and start talking to the kittens.  “Alright, class, you heard what she said, get into positions.  Pretty, congratulations.  You were great.  You too, Lilly.”

 

            Pretty and Lilly grinned and took their places at the center of the class.  The opening lines of “Macavity” played, and they did the little dance, then started singing.  Lilly was perfect as usual; Pretty was floating on air.  “Macavity’s not there!” they cried at the end.

 

            “Psst!  Fire!  Get into the Old Deuteronomy costume!” hissed Jump.

 

            “Oops!  Forgot about that!  Thanks!” Fire whispered back, slithering into the rug-like costume and matching wig.  “Got it!”  Imitating Old Deuteronomy’s walk, he made his way to the center of the class. 

 

            Pretty had to stifle a giggle as Lilly leaped on Fire’s back, forcing the Old Deuteronomy costume off.  Though average-sized for her age, Lilly was much smaller than the older male.  It also looked rather strange when Fire and Brave swung Lilly by her hands and feet until Jump took her from them.

 

            Genevieve groaned inwardly as Fire and Brave began the fight dance.  In the excitement over Timid and Pretty she had almost forgotten bout the constant bickering between the Munkustrap- and Macavity-to-bes.  Both of them had mischievous gleams in their eyes as they pretended to attack each other, and Genevieve could see that their hands were positioned in such a way that would make it easy to extend their claws.  She also noticed that Brave, although still mischievous, looked slightly disgusted.

 

            “Fire, I’ve never liked you and I probably never will, but I don’t want to really fight if I don’t have to,” Brave whispered as they circled each other.

 

            “What’s wrong, poor wittle Bravey afwaid that big bad Fire’s gonna hurt him?” jeered Fire, taking a swipe.

 

            Brave sighed.  “Actually, I’m afraid that my claws might be a bit to sharp for you, and I don’t particularly want to get in trouble.”

 

            Fire put a hand to his collar.  “Oh yeah.  Forgot.”  He paused and grinned.  “Nothing to stop me from throwing you extra hard though, huh?”

 

            “Oh, you!” Brave lightly rapped Fire with his claws, just hard enough to feel.

 

            “Hey!”  It came time for Fire to throw his opponent, which he did.  Extra hard.

 

            “Yah!”  Brave’s shoulder smashed against the floor, and immediately most of the female kittens came to his aid.

 

            “Wow, you’re getting really good!  That looked like you really got hurt!” said Gigglebim admiringly.

 

            Brave gave her a look.  “I did really get hurt!  That red idiot over there” – he motioned to Fire, who was getting ready to make his dramatic exit – “threw me so hard I can barely move my arm!”

 

            Gigglebim looked embarrassed and moved away, but Timid sat bolt upright.  She knew that Brave would never say something like that unless it was true, but she felt the need to deny it.  “He didn’t.”  The words lingered in her mouth, as if saying them would make them true.

 

            “Um, actually, he did,” said Brave.  He stood up, wincing and carefully holding his shoulder.  “Ow!”

 

            Genevieve, occupied with watching the other kittens pretend to attack Fire and then the big exit, didn’t notice Brave’s plight until he stood.  “Brave?  You’re supposed to be in the spotlight with Lilly.”  She looked at him, wondering why he had gone against the choreography.  “Are you alright?”

 

            Brave’s eyes flickered from Genevieve to Fire to Timid to the rest of the class.  He saw that Genevieve was a bit puzzled, Fire smug, and Timid tense.  The rest of the class had various expressions.  Jump was holding his head in his hands as if trying to hide from the rivalry between his two best friends.  Brave sighed and dropped to the floor without explanation.  He then crawled towards the spotlight.  “Careful of the shoulder,” he cautioned Lilly.

 

            She nodded and carefully nuzzled him.  “I think that was real mean of Fire,” she said.  “You should tell Tutor.”

 

            Genevieve clapped for attention before Brave could answer.  “Nice job, class!”  She checked her watch: 11:47.  Lunch at 12:05.  “You can rest until lunch.  Brave, come here please.”

 

            Brave shifted nervously as the rest of the class got back into their clump and chattered away.  He knew that he would have to tell Genevieve about what Fire did, but for some reason he had trouble with getting others in trouble, even if he hated them.  And especially if he had done something wrong first.  He shuffled over to Genevieve.  “Yes, Tutor?”

 

            “Brave, why did you stand up during the dance?  Did you get hurt?” asked Genevieve with a concerned look in her eyes.

 

            “I…I didn’t do the fall right, so I hit my shoulder,” Brave said unconvincingly.

 

            “You’re a horrible liar, Brave.  It was Fire, wasn’t it?”

 

            Brave nodded, eyes downcast.  “But it wasn’t all his fault,” he added truthfully.  “Before he threw me I hit him with my claws.”  He hung his head lower.  “I’m sorry.”

 

            Note to self – Brave’s gonna be a great Munkustrap, thought Genevieve.  “Apology accepted.  You can go back to your friends.  Tell Fire that I want to talk to him.”

 

            “Yes, Tutor,” said Brave with relief.  He quickly joined the group and gave Fire his instructions.

 

            Fire glared at his rival, but didn’t say anything until he reached Genevieve.  “You wanted me, Tutor?”

 

            “Yes.  Brave tells me that you threw him harder than you were supposed to, and he got hurt as a result.  I this true?”

 

            “He hit me first!  It’s not my fault!”

 

            “So he said.  But the fact remains that you did throw him, and his shoulder did get hurt.  I’m going to have to punish you, Fire.”  Genevieve said the words sadly.  She had always liked the red kitten, no matter how much trouble he gave her.

 

            Fire instinctively reached for his collar, but other than that, he didn’t flinch.  “Yes, Tutor.”

 

            “Oh Fire, not the collar.  I wouldn’t do that,” said Genevieve.

 

            Fire’s relief was visible. 

 

            Genevieve thought quickly.  She needed a just punishment, and not one too harsh.  “For the rest of the day you will sit by yourself, except when you’re dancing, and no one can talk to you.  And you to no one.  Alright?”

 

            Fire made a face, but nodded.

 

            “Good.  Now go sit by yourself until lunch.  It should be ready in ten minutes or so.”

 

            Fire nodded again, and went to a corner of the room to sit by himself.

 

            Timid looked up from her conversation with Jump and glanced at the sulking Fire.  She approached him cautiously.  “Fire?”

 

            “Go away, Tutor says I’m not supposed to talk to anyone,” he mumbled.

 

            “But I can talk to you, can’t I?”

 

            “No.  You’ll get in trouble.”

 

            Timid touched her collar.  “Okay.  I’ll tell everyone else not to talk to you, too.  But I want to talk to you when I can.”  She turned and slowly walked away.

 

            “Timid?” Fire called softly.

 

            Timid stopped and looked at him.

 

            “I’m sorry.”

 

            Timid smiled, waved, and continued on her way.

 

Part 3

 

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