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He enjoyed detail. He drew lines straighter than any ruler could. The layers of carbon paper covering his desk and floating to the floor were like symphonies to his large ears. Arcs in the ceiling high above his head made him feel inferior to his work, and almost part of it. He designed his house himself, three stories with intricate doorways and angles built for two. And there were two. But as of now, it felt like just him. In the end he knew it would only ever be him.
He had started young, building things with his dad while he waited and hoped that one of the kids in the neighborhood would come over and play while his mother hummed in the kitchen. He used to fall asleep at night curled up with his cat who was a birthday present when he turned four. Her name was Pearl. She died when he was sixteen and he put her dark body to rest in a small coffin he constructed after finding her in the neighbor's trash can. The Smiths moved away shortly afterwards. What exactly happened has never been explored by either parties.
Moving silently through high school and the beginning of college he put up a wall. He knew everyone was everyone's friend, but no one knew him. He rose to the top of his architecture class with almost no effort, and has remained there with even less. He began dating Sheila freshman year, and they had moved into his raw house that summer. Sheila was the closest he'd ever come to having a real companion. She was a physiology major, and people would mistake them for sisters. Something about his tall figure and slim shoulders looked feminine to elderly women.
He moved out of his childhood home at eighteen and proceeded to float like his papers until he had finished building his house on the outskirts of the city long after he had moved into it. He liked the idea of aging. The feeling of disintegrating bones and thin flesh seemed right. He wanted to age alongside his house until they were both crumbling and screaming for the fire. As his twenty first birthday passed by he couldn't wait to see the next decade and then the one after that.
It was late September, his house was crisp and smelled of new oak and maple, and his mother was coming over to celebrate his birthday. Sheila was in the kitchen, swearing because she could never find anything in this bloody house. He lay back on the couch and sipped coffee mixed with scotch before his mother arrived, he smiled at the noises coming from the kitchen that echoed through his halls and earlobes.
"Jesus, Tom, she's here," Sheila exhaled from the kitchen window.
"Let's begin then," he smirked down his drink, popped a mint, and let his mother in. She shrugged off her coat into his arms, and stared at the house. She had never seen it before. On the floor next to her feet she had placed a small cylindrical box with black and green stripes. Without remarking on the house at all, she insisted that he button up his shirt properly, patted his chest high above her head, squeezed his hand so tight her wedding band dug into his knuckle, and shuffled past him all at once. He followed her shape down the hall with his eyes and closed the front door. He picked up her box and brought it into the living room.
Sheila emerged out of the kitchen to greet Mrs. Harling, only to disappear once more when steam rose from a pot on the stove top.
"Do you think she needs help?" Mrs. Harling whispered eagerly to her son who was looking up at the raised ceiling.
"Leave her be. You'll only mess her up,"
"Manners!" she hit him across the arm hard enough for him to break his gaze and smile at her. "You would've thought I'd done a better job than that," she said as she plopped onto the couch, her feet not touching the ground. She looked at the wilted flowers on the coffee table. As she tried to perk them up with her hands as if they were her hair, she asked "well aren't you going to open it?"
He glanced at the strange box he had carried in earlier, stretched to pick it up, and was struck again by his mother for moving it too fast.
"Be careful for goodness sake!" fearing she had given too much away she added "you never know what it might be,"pointing at the box again. He rolled his eyes and pulled off the lid. Inside was a small grey kitten wrapped in a black blanket. He didn't say anything. "What do you think? Isn't she just the sweetest thing?"
"She?" he felt his heart drop and darkened memories of Pearl flooded in from behind him.
"I thought you could name her Shelly." Just then Sheila came in wringing off her hands on a dish towel and saw the small grey ball Mrs. Harling was pulling out of the box. She sat down next to Tom, took his hand, and didn't say much.
"That's so thoughtful of you Mrs. Harling," thinking fast she added "would you mind helping me with the table?" she smiled at the kitten and couldn't look at Tom. He pulled away from her and ran his hand through his hair, closing his eyes. Eagerly his mother dropped the kitten into his lap and led the way into the kitchen with Sheila close behind.
Left alone with the kitten he stared down at her, his dislike for his mother and his lonely childhood making him limp. He knew his life was completely fake, and he thought about Sheila. Her voice mixed with his mother's and other sounds from the kitchen began to drown out the shrieks from the small kitten and he held her tight until her eyes closed. When he heard them calling for dinner, he placed the kitten back in the box, curling her in a natural shape, and making sure she was wrapped securely in the small blanket. He stood up, unbuttoned his shirt at the top once more, and went to join them in his dark wood house.