All the Love I Need
The restaurant manager prepared for Valentine’s Day the same way a soldier prepared for a battle. He restocked his supplies, called in every available man, and prayed that he could survive the madness. The servers, cooks, and bartenders stood in a stiff line that morning as the manager walked by like a sergeant inspecting his recruits.
“We are completely booked from opening until close. You can bet almost every couple in town will be here, and they’ll want an unforgettable dinner. This is a day meant for love. Let us not ruin it with oversalted soup and slow service. Dismissed.”
As the manager opened their doors, the building was flooded with hungry lovers. It reminded the staff of Noah’s Ark, as every patron seemed to come in two-by-two. They didn’t have anyone enter alone until well after seven o’clock that night. It was a quiet woman who had put on her best dress. She sat at the bar and ordered a shot of the strongest whiskey they had.
This loner, Naomi, observed the happy couples with daggers in her eyes. Everyone was so cuddly. She watched one couple share a passionate kiss. A grumble escaped her dry throat. “Get a room, for God’s sake…”
“Did you say something?” the bartender asked.
“Yeah. Give me another shot. Make it a double.”
Much to the staff’s surprise, a second individual entered on their own. This woman headed directly to the bar as well, causing most to think she had to be the one Naomi was waiting for. However, this was not the case. Kate sat a few stools away from Naomi, and she didn’t seem to notice the other woman at first. When the bartender handed Naomi the tall glass of whiskey, Kate glanced.
“That’s quite a drink,” Kate commented.
“Yes. It is. You got a problem with it?” Naomi replied.
“Not at all. I’d like one,” Kate said. She flagged the bartender. “I’ll have what she’s got.”
This brought a faint smile to Naomi’s lips. “Are you alone too?”
“Yep. My girlfriend dumped me a few weeks ago. We came to this place on our first date, so I thought it’d be appropriate to get wasted here.”
“That has a certain poetry about it,” Kate agreed.
“I thought so. Happy freakin’ Valentine’s Day. Or, as I like to call it, Single Awareness Day.”
Kate had to laugh. “I like that. Same to you. I’m Kate.”
“Naomi. You know, I really thought this last girl was the one. I could see us growing old together. All that stuff. But I thought that about the one before her. And the one before her. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. There has to be, right? Why else would I end up drunk and alone every February 14th?”
“Maybe you’re looking for love in all the wrong places,” Kate suggested.
“Could be. What’s your story?”
“Me? I have all the love I need.”
Scowling, Naomi felt herself deflate. “Great. I thought I’d found another broken heart, but no. I’m still the only single woman in here. Well, tell me about this love of yours. Where’d you manage to find it?”
October 6, 2021
Kate sat on the edge of her bed. Her elbows dug into her knees as her hands cupped her wet cheeks. Her left hand felt cold and empty without her engagement ring. The other side of the mattress was wrinkle-free, as no one had slept there in weeks. Although she had thrown out the photographs, her ex’s smile was a clear image in her mind. She wondered again how they lost the life they had built together.
Sitting in her apartment was certainly not helping things. It had been their apartment, after all. Every room seemed to hold the echoes of laughter that had long since faded. Kate was sick of the hollow sounds and painful memories. She figured going for a walk would disrupt the darkness within her.
Coat in hand, Kate hit the street. She walked up and down the many sidewalks of her town, pausing only to catch her breath. The clouds overhead began to thicken and turn an ominous shade of gray. She was several miles from home when the sky finally opened. Rain pounded upon the earth like a torrent of hailstones. Kate ran for cover.
The nearest building was an animal shelter: Small Miracles and Fluffy Tails. Kate was thrilled to see that they were open. She ducked into the warm lobby just as thunder cracked. The receptionist, a gentleman with quite the mustache, looked at Kate’s wet outfit with a whistle.
“It’s coming down like crazy out there, huh?” he asked.
“Yeah. It’s getting nasty. I’m a few miles from home, and I don’t even have an umbrella. I’m hoping it’ll die down in a few. You don’t mind if I stand in here, do you?”
“Go right ahead.”
After an awkward pause, Kate had to say something. “So, you’re a rescue?”
“Yes. Dogs, cats, rabbits—you name it. Do you like animals?”
“I love them. Especially cats.”
“Good. It’s feeding time and my volunteers aren’t here yet. Did you maybe want to help? I doubt the rain will clear up in the next ten minutes.”
Kate gave a shrug. “Sure. I don’t mind.”
“Great. We’ll start with the cats.”
They left the lobby and entered the kennels. He showed Kate where to find the kibble and cans of salmon puree. As Kate helped fill bowls, she spotted a cage towards the back of the room. She wandered up to it, finding a fluffy gray and white cat. The cat was lying calmly on the floor of her kennel, and she looked at Kate with the gentlest green eyes.
“Oh, I see you found Eleanor,” the mustached man noted.
“Yeah. What’s her deal?”
“She’s lucky to be here. One of our volunteers found her in a high kill shelter. She was pregnant, but they were going to put her down anyway. We got her out and had someone foster her. She had her kittens a few months ago. They all got adopted, but she’s five years old. Most people don’t want the older cats. She’s the sweetest thing. Calm and loving. Want to pet her?”
He unlocked the cage, which allowed Kate to get closer. Kate gently stroked Eleanor along her spine. Eleanor purred quietly in response. When Kate decided to hold Eleanor, the cat curled in her arms and rubbed her face against Kate’s chest. The mustached man smiled at the interaction.
“I think she’s picked you,” he said.
Kate grinned. “You knew I’d fall in love with one of these cats. That’s why you asked me to help.”
“What can I say? They don’t call me a matchmaker for nothing. Would you like to start the adoption papers?”
By the time the adoption papers were completed, the rain had drifted off. Kate walked home with a bag of cat food in one hand and a pet carrier in the other. She would later visit the pet store for the rest of Eleanor’s things. Until then, she’d spend the afternoon in her apartment with her furry roommate.
Her heart was already beginning to heal.
February 14, 2022
Naomi paused. “Your love is a cat…and that’s enough? You don’t want another relationship?”
“Who ever said that humans have to be in love to be fulfilled? Why can’t we feel complete with the companionship of friends, family, or pets? I know everything on TV makes us feel like we’re worthless if we’re single, but that’s not the case,” Kate replied.
This, Naomi considered. “You mean to say that I’m not a loser because I don’t have someone?”
“If you ask me, a cat is a far better option than a relationship.”
“You might be onto something there. Do you have pictures?”
“Of Eleanor? Enough to fill a gallery. Come here. I’ll show you.”
As Kate showed Naomi photographs of her cat, Naomi felt a weight lift from her shoulders. Perhaps life wasn’t about falling in love. Perhaps it was about finding the kind of love that could erase the emptiness.