Toby

Ruthanne has a rocking chair in her room, so he sits there. The light is off, though a nightlight partially illuminates the room. He is home from his mission and waiting to go back to BYU. She is seventeen and is trying to keep pace with school, though she has suffered with the Epstein Barr virus and related maladies for more than a year now. She is in and out of school, depending on her health on a given day.

Her cat Toby eyes the man suspiciously as he rocks. Toby has been with the family for about eight years. He is gray, long, slim, and tall–he reminds the man of a cheetah in miniature. After several moments of the man’s rocking, Toby relaxes, moves to the foot of the bed, and lies down.

“How’s Ms. Mathis?” the man says.

“She’s good. Always talks about you. I think it was the greatest thing ever for her that you were a football player and did so well with her.”

The man laughs. “I don’t see what football has to do with it.”

“You just don’t get a lot of those in concert choir.”

“I guess not.” He yawns and notices that Toby is standing up and positioning himself atop a a large, stuffed white cat.

“So what are you thinking about for college?”

“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about,” she says. “Mom thought you’d have some good ideas.”

“Fire away.”

“I’ve already missed a lot of school. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to graduate. I mean, I have to have a high school diploma to get in, right?”

Toby begins to paw the stuffed white cat.

“Well, that’s what they say.

“What do you mean?”

“When is your application due?”

“End of December.”

“And when do they send their decision?”

“March, I think.”

He notices that Toby now has his hips grinding on the stuffed cat.

“Will you have graduated by then?”

“Obviously not.”

“Then, graduation is not technically a requirement for admission. So you just apply as though you’re going to graduate. And if you don’t, deal with it then. And only if they ask. Most schools don’t even bother checking.”

“Really?”

“Yep.”

“They don’t even check?”

He shakes his head. “Most don’t. And if they do, you frame yourself as someone who has overcome a lot, and you get your GED and go from there.”

Now Toby is really working the stuffed cat.

“That’s good to know.”

Now, the man can’t ignore it. “I’m sorry, but are you aware of what your cat is doing down there?”

“Oh yeah,” she says.

“I mean, you actually know he’s trying to pound that stuffed cat?”

“Yeah, he does that every night.”

“And he’s neutered.”

“Yeah, he’s neutered. Doesn’t stop him.”

“And you just let him do that. Just pound that stuffed cat. Which is looking pretty ratty these days, by the way.”

Ruthanne laughs. “He’s slept in here since he was a kitten. When he first started doing that to the stuffed cat, I was too young to know what he was doing. By the time I was old enough to figure it out, he had been at it so long I couldn’t really stop him. It was too much of a habit. So yeah, he does that every night.”

“Freaking neutered horn ball,” says the man. “That’s so weird.”

She laughs again. “He’s a good cat. Just a little funny. Not sure why that stuffed cat does it for him, but it’s his now. I never mess with it.” She yawns. “Well thanks for all this. I’m gonna fall asleep.”

“Sure thing,” the man says, as he stands up.

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