The back door is open. I know because I can feel a fresh current of air on the back of my neck. Ears alert, I pick up the sound of soft padding as the carpet depresses beneath the weight of the intruder. The atmosphere thickens and beads of sweat form on my forehead as I strain to hear the muted footsteps that are now crossing the threshold and moving toward me. My hands slowly close the book in my lap, the nerves in my shoulder jump in anticipation of a heavy hand landing on it. My eyes pinch into slits, as I brace myself.

Something brushes against my leg and I gasp. Piewacket. She’d abandoned me days ago and I’d given up hope of ever finding her. Like a taunt string being snapped with a jackknife, my limbs sag in relief. I should have known. It’s the men in my life who abandon me, not my cat. Slanted green eyes sparkle against her ebony fur like emeralds scattered across velvet as she stares, unblinking at my astonished face. I reach down and smooth her fur from head to tail. Her back arches like a coiling anaconda. She’s been out hunting, for days, although there isn’t a twig, leaf or spider’s web tangled in her perfectly coifed fur. Has someone been sheltering her? I spy a bulge in the side of her mouth. Small and round, no tail poking out from between her pointed teeth. Another gift, a tribute to me, the only member of her family left.

Pie was a college graduation present from my first husband, Mark. That was fifteen years ago. Mark gave himself a graduation present too. He decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail before settling down and getting a job. He was gone for five months. Never came back. Turns out he’d been sharing his tent with a beautiful, blond Yoga instructor who practiced the Kama Sutra on him every night. I guess all that hiking never tired her out. I couldn’t compete with that. I can’t even do one chin up. But, I am one of those lucky people who can eat ice cream every day and not gain an ounce. The downside is, my chest is kind of flat. I entertain my friends by balancing a can of beer between my breasts while in a supine position. Piewacket is not amused by such antics, having a much higher opinion of me than I do.

I cock my head to get a better look at Pie, but I can’t figure out what she’s brought me this time. As a kitten, she started with limp mice, snatched and shaken until their poor hearts gave out. Then, she moved on to various insects, toads, and tiny mammals which she ceremoniously deposited on my doorstep, some stone cold, some barely warm and twitching. I scolded her and banished her from the house, but the tributes continued to appear — on the carpet, under the table, in my shoes.

One morning, after finding an especially grisly specimen in my dirty clothes hamper, the doorbell rang. Stressed about the bloody mess and without thinking, I raced down the stairs in my nightie and flung the door open to find my new neighbor standing there. He was much more handsome than I’d first thought, only having seen him once or twice as he checked for his mail in the community mailbox (conveniently located near my driveway). He wore a fitted leather jacket and an expression of pure lust as he gazed at my skimpy attire through black rimmed glasses. I took in the thick almond colored hair, the lanky build and his hand in mine before I pulled him inside and shut the door.

We emerged from my damp, disheveled bed several hours later and that’s when I found out his name was Brandon and he’d come to return my emerald ring, the one my mother gave me before she passed away. The ring gleamed from his pinky finger as he twisted it thoughtfully while telling the story. He’d found it on his doorstep along with my cat. Pie had led him across the street and right up to my door before vanishing beneath the rhododendron that borders my yard.

Brandon was the biggest tribute Pie left on my doorstep, he was also the biggest disappointment. We were married for five years, experienced the same ups and downs as other couples, and then, I got pregnant. Only it wasn’t a baby, it was a tumor. Cancer. Brandon left while I was being hooked up for my first chemo. He took the giant screen TV, the Subaru, and my emerald ring. When I returned from the hospital, I left a tearful message on his phone begging him to return it, but got no answer. After months of treatment, I left another message telling him the chemo had worked and I was in remission and he could come back, forgiven, ring and all. Brandon never called back. When I tried again a week later, his phone was out of service. I received divorce papers two weeks later and signed them, uncontested, so I wouldn’t have to see him in court or ever again. And I never did. See him, that is. But, I find myself itching to tell him I’m in my second year of remission, I’m working again, and I’m alone. Every night.

Except for Piewacket, who sits before me, silently waiting with her mouth full and not in the least bit wary that I might be upset with her for maiming another poor animal in my honor. Her soulful green eyes, furry cuddles, and vigorous purring were my constant and only sources of comfort as I healed from the fight for my life.

Neither of us are as young as we used to be. Her gifts are rare now. I must be patient with my old friend. My open palm lingers just below her mouth, signaling I’m ready for the drop, no matter what it may be. Pie looks down into my palm and opens her mouth showing two perfect rows of needle-point teeth. The light weight of her gift lands solidly on target. It’s cold and dead, but not what I expected. My emerald ring gleams in my hand, a tiny smear of blood clings to edge of the gem. It’s not Pie’s blood. The blood belongs to the pinkie finger encircled by my ring, severed at the bloody base, the edges rough as if torn by sharp teeth.

Written for Julie by Jeanine Lipp