Michael stood in front of the convenience store, counting the money in his palm. The flickering LED lights did not make this easy. Still, it was something he needed to do. If he was caught failing to pay for 4 boxes of instant ramen one more time, the man was ready to die from embarrassment.
He walked inside, the sensation of warm air reminding him how truly cold the weather. Absent-mindedly, he began filling his reusable plastic bag with groceries.
How did this happen to him? Newport was a beautiful place, that much was clear. But seeing all those yachts passing by only reminded him how much worse off he was. The fact that he studied economics almost seemed ironic.
At least he had his parents to aid him, chipping in whatever they could. He was their first child to leave the family farm in Oklahoma, so they must at least have some faith in him. His only hope was that their trust did not turn out to be misplaced.
“That’s all?” The cashier asked, clearly not wanting to be here as well.
“Yeah, that is all. Thanks.” Michael unloaded the necessary amount, dropping several patches of coins into his opened hand. The cashier didn’t even bother to count the money, handing him a receipt.
“It’s not that bad.” Michael said to himself, walking back into the cold. “Gonna find a part-time job, buckle down, study, and make something of myself. Buy one of those big apartments which actually has room for guests. And a yacht I will only use once a year.”
Lost in a disorganized daydream, he began marching back to his small apartment complex. The man only snapped back to reality when it began to rain, with his stride turning into a proper run as he booked it to the building. The water washed down the city’s many drains as he made it underneath the main entrance, a small roof shielding him from the onslaught. He sat down on the stone stairs to catch his breath.
“Michael!” A voice came from behind. It was Miss Chen, an east Asian woman in her early 40s who looked perpetually stuck in her late 30s. She had a short black hair cut that way for convenience. Currently wearing an oversized sleeveless shirt, it was a miracle that the woman wasn’t shivering.
The smell of smoke originating from her cigarette grew stronger as she approached him. “Ah, Miss Chen! Nice weather we’re having!” He squeezed out. It also turned out that the woman was his landlady, and that he was about 3 days late on the latest payment.
“Yeah, haha!” Fortunately, she interpreted what he said as a joke rather than a gaffe. “Listen, could you please take out the garbage? I asked you to do it this morning, and the collectors will be coming tomorrow.”
Ok. She isn’t talking about the money. So good so far.
“Yes, of course Miss Chen! I will get right on it.”
Whistling to himself, Michael marches his way down towards the dumpster. He felt guilty about screwing over Miss Chen the way he did, especially with how attentive she was to the block. Without being able to travel much, it pretty much became his entire world. It was surrendered by similar-looking apartment complexes which weren’t swept clean daily and where the owners didn’t stop for a nice chat.
“She really is something…” Michael thought to himself as he threw the heavy black bag into the green dumpster. As he was about to walk out, he noticed a strange cardboard box found near the container. It was the type of box in which people would sometimes dump off the stuff they didn’t need anymore - clothes, books, wherever.
The man walked up to it, inspecting the box. It was completely drenched in water, with its cardboard walls slowly collapsing. “Ah, shame.” He thought, poking the box with his foot. And as he did, a sound came from within.
It was a sound similar to that a bothered cat would make, like when his nephew would come over and not give the farm’s cat - amber - a break. Kneeling in front of it, Michael carefully opened the box. Inside, there was a red blanket wrapped around something small - something gentle. It hid underneath it, with a shape resembling a feline ear poking out.
“Looks like this is my problem now.” He groaned, lifting the box, and holding it so that it did not immediately fall apart. His consciousness wouldn't let him just leave the poor animal there, but now he had to feed it and keep an eye on it and waste time and money printing out posters. Already being overworked, he was in no mood to become the owner of some makeshift animal shelter.
Arriving at his apartment, Michael flipped the lights and turned the heating on. The radiator grew warmer, allowing the man to remove his jumper as he sat down on his bed, inspecting the damage. Everything was pretty much the same as he had left it. There was a pile of old energy drink cans he promised himself he was going to take out neatly stacked in a corner, and the old TV continued fulfilling its duty of collecting dust.
Reaching inside, he took the creature out, unwrapping it from its blanket. He blinked in disbelief, rubbing his sore eyes. The pitter-patter of the rain broke the silence, punctuated by a distant lightning bolt. No, it was still there.
Underneath the red fabric, there was a woman, standing at about 2 ft in height. She had messy medium-length brown hair with a decayed pink ribbon attached to it. Despite her small height, the visitor had a plump body, with thick thighs and large breasts - although it could just have been the proportions. What drew his attention, however, were the cat-like ears and tail which she possessed. Her ears were held back and her tail was tucked in, a look of restlessness on her face. Looking at her hands, they looked red and quivered violently.
Getting over his initial confusion, Michael's mind went back to aiding the creature - whatever it was. The first order of business was getting those drenched clothes off her body. She wore two black socks with a cute little white paw pattern imprinted on them. There was a large hole in one of them around the toe, meaning that he was likely going to have to throw them out. Then came her shirt. It was gray and comparably simple, although he had to be careful while removing it to avoid frostbites.
His face grew red as Michael discovered that the cat woman wore a kind of black mini-bikini underneath. "Was she dressed for the beach? No wonder she was cold, then! It was a miracle that she survived that long in the late autumn frost. Who the hell wears a mini-bikini in November?!" Considering that he found her in a cardboard box near a dumpster, this really seemed like the least of his concerns. But Michael just really wanted something he could actually understand to complain about.
“Fuck…fuck…” He thought to himself, rubbing his forehead. “What now?”
After a few minutes, he had a wide range of towels set up near the radiator, using them to softly rub against the sleeping woman’s skin.
“She looks so peaceful now. Hard to imagine that she was dying a few seconds ago” He squatted down in front of the Neko, seeing her snuggled up against the white towels. “I guess she will survive.”
Walking up to his own bed, Michael spent a few minutes just looking up at the ceiling, restlessly thinking to himself. Was all of this real? If yes, not only was this another mouth to feed, but also another body to clothe. But hey, at least it wouldn’t be boring.