Golden Tickets

Mr. Gatto closed the book about the candy man with a sigh. He stretched and licked a paw and smoothed down his fur. It was nice that the candy man had found a family in the end.

Mr. Gatto understood the loneliness that comes from trying to stay in the shadows while running a multinational corporation.   It was hard to let anyone close. Especially if there was the added challenge of having to pull the strings so that none of the workers knew who they were really reporting to.

He sat at his laptop and started two-paw typing. He’d reviewed the camera footage and read the reports and interviews.   It was time to send out performance evaluations.

That evening, he thought over the story again. Sending out tickets to everyone certainly didn’t give the candy man much of a selection in the end. If he were to look for a family, he’d find a way to narrow down the pool.   Mr. Gatto started to make plans.

And so it was that the Good Choices Health Food Company, which made healthy packaged dinners for humans, announced a contest. People were asked to recommend someone they knew that did good deeds. A committee would go through the essays and pick four people to send on a nice vacation with their families.   The mysterious company president would pick a fifth himself.

Mr. Gatto stepped off the private plane and into the waiting car with the committee member in charge of greeting the contest winners. He was excited to meet Mrs. Simons, who had knit booties for preemies for decades. She sounded perfect.

He wandered through the reception. The other winners seemed nice enough, but just weren’t right.   They had cats or dogs already, or had a close family member allergic to cats. He approached Mrs. Simons and his heart felt like it dropped.

She was wonderful, perfect. But, she was very ill and didn’t know it yet. She wouldn’t last much longer. He sadly nuzzled her side. She patted his head and cooed over him. She offered him a taste of the lovely food he’d ordered for the reception. It tasted terrible. He left as soon as he could.

When she got her diagnosis, he anonymously paid her hospital bills. He sent flowers to her hospital room every week until she died.

The next year, he tried again. The committee picked another round of nice people. Mr. Gatto picked a college professor who taught free English classes in his spare time. Perhaps he understood loneliness too? Mr. Gatto was hopeful.

He entered the reception feeling even more nervous than last time. He saw the professor and headed straight for him.   As he approached, the professor backed up, sneezing. Mr. Gatto retreated to the far corner of the room. This had been a terrible idea.

Just then, little Maisie Pendwick who read to children in the hospital every other week for years, rounded the table filled with silverware and stopped.   “Mom, look it’s a cat,” she said.

She crouched down and Mr. Gatto cautiously sniffed her hand. She smelled healthy. She pet him. He suddenly felt warm all over from the tip of his nose to the ends of his toes.   This could be it.

“Mom, he’s wonderful. Can we keep him?” Maisie looked up at her parents.   They crouched down and let Mr. Gatto sniff them before petting him. Healthy, no other pets at home. Mr. Gatto looked up at them.

“I’d love to, but he looks well cared for. I think he belongs to someone,” Mr. Pendwick said.

“He is a very beautiful cat,” Mrs. Pendwick said. “And so friendly.”

They pet him for a while, and then left to sit down when the awards ceremony began. Mr. Gatto slipped out of the room. He had things to arrange.

When the Pendwicks came home from vacation, Mr. Gatto was waiting on their front porch, feeling terribly nervous. They welcomed him into their family at once, even though they weren’t ever sure how he found them. “I guess it was meant to be,” Maisie said.

He had a family. It was everything he’d hoped it would be. It was awkward at first to disappear into the underground office he’d built while the Pendwicks were away, but they got used to him being gone for hours everyday, so neither his business or family life suffered.

He continued the contest annually, but never went to the awards reception again.   He hoped the candy man was just as happy with the family he found.