It’s Monday, a week since she met Rowan, and Andy doesn’t want to go to school. She trudges to the bus stop, remembering the way Rowan had said she’d “see you around, friend,” as she left Andy’s apartment after an afternoon of hanging out, listening to music, and trying to help Andy with her homework. (Rowan hated math, but she had spent about half an hour flipping through Andy’s science textbook.) When is “around”? Andy wondered. She hadn’t seen Rowan since.
She was almost at the bus stop when a small black cat stepped off of a stoop and into her path, meowing at Andy until she stopped. The cat wound its way around her legs, and Andy reached down to pet it. It purred and let her rub its ears, and then said in a scratchy little voice, “Hey, it’s me. What’s up?”
Andy jumped. “Rowan?” she whispered.
“Yeah. Wanna hang out?”
“No! I have to go to school! I mean I’d love to, but… School. Also I have to catch my bus, like, now.”
Cat-Rowan hooked her claws in Andy’s jeans. “I’m coming with, alright?”
“I don’t think they let animals on the bus, Rowan.”
“Alright, gimme one second.” Rowan darted into an alley and came out seconds later, in human form. She grabbed Andy’s hand and pulled her along. “C’mon, we’re gonna miss it!”
Rowan pays for her ride in quarters and dimes and some pennies, Andy swipes her bus pass, and they walk to a seat. For most of the ride, they chat about small things- Andy’s cat, a concert Rowan saw last Saturday, the weird hat someone at the front of the bus is wearing. When Andy gets off the bus at her stop, Rowan follows. They walk a couple blocks to Andy’s school, and Rowan only turns to leave when they reach the doors.
Andy quickly puts a hand on her arm. “Hey, are you free this afternoon?”
Rowan cautiously nods, and Andy continues, “We could like…. get coffee or something? Go to a park? There’s a nice one by my apartment building.”
“Sure. Meet at this bus stop? 4:00?”
“Awesome!” Andy turns and, waving goodbye to Rowan, walks into the building.
When Rowan gets to the bus stop at 4:05, Andy is waiting. Her face lights up when she sees Rowan strolling toward her, movements loose and graceful like a cat.
The next few weeks fall into a pattern- three or four days a week, Rowan will ride the bus with Andy to school in the morning, and then after school, they go to a coffeeshop or a park and just hang out. They listen to music, joke around, and sometimes just sit. Andy starts to count Rowan as a good friend.
But even as this goes on, Rowan is still shrouded in mystery. Andy isn’t sure where Rowan goes when she leaves Andy, or where her house is. They only go to Andy’s house, or to parks in the city. Sometimes, Rowan gets strangely edgy, staring around at the people around them as if worrying one of them will attack her.
After a few seconds, though, she goes back to normal. And she’s always calm when she’s in Andy’s room, even when Andy’s mom comes home. The strange moments pass quickly, and then the Rowan she knows is back, smiling and twirling one of Andy’s reddish curls around her finger, calling her “strawberry kid” because she says the first thing she noticed about Andy was her hair. The nickname makes Andy smile.
One day, they’re at Andy’s house when Andy finally asks what she’s been wondering.
“So where do you live?”
They’re sitting on her bed, drinking cheap cappuccinos from the bodega around the corner.
Rowan takes another drink of coffee, holding it in her mouth for a second before she swallows. She’s hesitating. “I live in the city.”
“Where, though? We could hang out at your house sometime if you want…”
“Um, it’s near downtown.” Rowan fiddles with the loose threads around a hole in her jeans.
“Do you live with your family or like, with grandparents or somebody?” Andy asks, trying to redirect the question, because Rowan seems uncomfortable.
Rowan curls both hands around her coffee cup, pulling her knees up and resting the cup on them. She looks down, a conflicted expression on her face.
After a few seconds, she raises her head, and says quietly, “I live under a bridge, mostly. Near downtown. Sometimes I move. I’m- I don’t actually have a house.”
Andy is incredulous. “How long have you been homeless?”
“About two years. Don’t worry, I have friends. They take care of me.”
“Rowan, that’s so dangerous!”
Rowan shrugs. “I know.” She reaches into an inner pocket of her jacket and takes out a switchblade, flipping the shiny blade out. “I protect myself.” She looks up, notices the expression on Andy’s face, and quickly puts away the knife. “Listen, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
Andy sighs. “No, I’m just… Do you want to stay for supper?”
Rowan smiles. “That would be great. I mean, if it’s no trouble.”
“You can stay here.” Andy blurts out. They’re sitting in her room after supper, Rowan’s reading a book from Andy’s bookshelf, and Andy is trying to do homework.
Rowan looks up from her book. “What?”
“You can stay here. I mean, if you want to. It’s October, it’s getting cold. I’m worried. Can you please stay?” Andy stares down at the math work laid out on her desk. Her back is turned to Rowan, but Rowan can see that she’s nervous by the tensing of her shoulders.
“I can’t. It would only put you in danger.” Rowan says quietly.
Andy turns around, pushing her chair away from the desk. “What? But you’re the one in danger! You can’t be safe sleeping in the streets!”
“I don’t sleep on the streets in this form, alright? I’m usually, like, a cat, a bird, or a squirrel. My friends and I stay together. We’re as safe as we can be. I’m sorry, but I can’t stay.”
Andy still looks worried. “You wouldn’t put me in danger. It would be fine!”
“No.” Rowan says firmly. She gets up and walks to the window. “I have to go.”
She opens the window and steps out onto the fire escape. Andy watches as she shifts to raven-form and flies away.
Andy’s eyes well up with tears, and suddenly she’s crying. She pulls her knees to her chest and sits curled on her chair, tears running down her face. After a while, she huffs out a breath and tries to calm down. “Listen, it’s not a big deal. You shouldn’t be crying. You made her uncomfortable or mad or something and she left, ok? Get over it,” she mutters to herself.
Once she’s halfway calmed down, Andy gets ready for bed. Eventually, she falls into a restless sleep.
Five days pass. Andy sees no sign of Rowan. She doesn’t see her at the bus stop, on the bus, or on any street. A couple of times, Andy’s almost sure that a large black bird perching across the street is Rowan. Every black cat she runs into gives her pause as she wonders if it’ll run up and speak to her in Rowan’s gravelly cat-voice. She can’t just walk up to every animal she sees and ask “Hey, do you happen to be a homeless shapeshifter who I only know a little bit and really kind of miss hanging out with?”
For now, all she can do is wait and wonder.
Author’s note: Oh no, our fave gal pals had a fight! :0 Don’t worry though, it’ll be alright. Probably. New installment next week, I promise.