“It came highly recommended,” Noel said.
Caleb was still thinking it over, and looked at me questioningly. “Maybe one of the other characters, like Aslan?” I said. “Or Tumnus? Though neither of those characters are girls.”
Caleb nodded eagerly.
“Tumnus?” I said, and Noel echoed, “Tumnus?”
“What kind of a name is that?” said Emmanuel.
“Neither a witch nor a fairy,” I said. “A faun, in the Greek style, who befriends one of the girls from our world.”
Emmanuel snorted again. “Fairy tales.” He pointed his coffee spoon at me. “We don’t pay you to fill his head with nonsense, Carmichael.”
“Fairy tales teach children to be brave,” I replied. Caleb brought the kitten to me and I stroked her soft head. Her ears were like velvet, her nose a pink jelly bean. She licked my palm with her tiny rough tongue. “Tumnus,” I said again, and Caleb nodded. “All right. Her name is Tumnus.”
“I like it,” said Noel, getting to his feet. “Now, Caleb, she’s yours, which means you’ll need to take care of her. Feed her and give her water and play with her and clean up after her. It’s not fair to Mrs. Bell or Willie to expect them to take care of your pet, so she’s your responsibility.” He looked at me and gave a little squint, almost like a wink. We would help, of course. “Deal?”
Caleb stuck out his hand. Noel laughed and shook it.
“Deal, then. Come on, I brought a bed and a litter box for her, too. Let’s go set them up.” His hand on Caleb’s shoulder, they took the kitten out of the dining room, followed by Willie.
Emmanuel and I drank our coffee in silence, until Emmanuel said, “He’s spoiling that child. Rewarding him with a pet after he ran away — it’s ridiculous.”
“I think,” I said, “the idea is to give him something to help him feel safe.”
“I still say–“
“I know what you say, Mr. Thibodeaux,” I said.
He snorted but didn’t pursue it further. I was glad — I was exhausted of the subject.
I finished my coffee and said good night to Emmanuel, to which he grunted in return, and went upstairs to see how the kitten was settling in. Noel and Caleb were still in Caleb’s room, deciding where to put the kitten’s basket, as the kitten picked her way across Caleb’s coverlet and sniffed his pillow.
Noel saw me pause in the doorway and got up to join me. “I probably should have talked to you first.”
“Why start now?” I said, and he chuckled in response, watching the kitten — Tumnus, I should say — clamber onto Caleb’s arm and up his shoulder. She stuck her nose into his ear, and he looked up at us, beaming. “I think it was the right choice. It gives him something to love.”
Noel nodded slowly. “What does Tumnus do in the story?”
“He gives Lucy tea and a warm place to spend a snowy afternoon,” I said. “We haven’t gotten far enough into the story to see what else he’s going to do. But her brothers and sister don’t believe she went to the magical land in the wardrobe, which I think Caleb finds upsetting.”
“Poor kid,” Noel said, and then chuckled. “Listen to me, sympathizing with a fictional character.”
“Empathy is very attractive,” I said before I thought, and he cut his eyes to me for a moment before he laughed dryly again.
“Indeed. I’ll put Caleb to bed tonight. Will you tell Mrs. Bell, if you see her?”
“I will,” I said, feeling dismissed, but I didn’t mind. I was insanely attracted to empathetic Noel, just like how I was insanely attracted to loving uncle Noel. I needed some time to settle myself.