All I want for Christmas is my cat back. Kinda.

Christmas is over and we all made it out alive if a tad, ahem, heftier. I mean, c’mon. Don’t tell me you didn’t quadruple-dip in the cookie plate, too.

(If I am admitting publicly to quadruple-dipping you can bet it was more than that.)

I think I mentioned that we spent Christmas with my family up in the ‘burbs. It was a quiet year what with Meredith and Tony being gone. My brother, Ben, left Christmas day for my dad’s in Pennsylvania and it got even quieter. And when the baby left to spend the afternoon with her dad it was practically silent. Or maybe I just passed out from the sugar crash, I don’t know.

Dudes, I’m not even gonna lie, it was a weird Christmas.

First, we stayed in a motel about two blocks from my parents’ house, which meant we didn’t wake up on Christmas morning to the smell of oven French toast baking, hot chocolate simmering on the stove and my mom shouting at us all to get our asses downstairs because she can’t contain herself anymore, she’s so excited for us to open our gifts. It was entirely our idea to get a room; when you have a houseful of people (my stepsister and niece live there now, on top of everyone else) and there is no available bedroom for you and you might possibly have to sleep on the super squeaky and uncomfortable futon that is right out in the open, not to mention tiny, and you aren’t even guaranteed a hot shower in the morning because aren’t there like seven other people who need showers, too? When it gets to be that, you flee. To the shabby but clean and very inexpensive motel around the corner and its king-sized bed and mostly hot but kinda iffy shower.

I haven’t even gotten to the REALLY weird stuff yet, though.

So we walk into the motel lobby at midnight on Christmas Eve because we are awesome planners and totally had a room reservation (but really what happened was that we woke some poor lady up to check us in because we didn’t think about sleeping arrangements until 11:30. Yeah, we win at life) and who do I encounter in the lobby but my very own cat. WHO CLEARLY LIVES THERE. With his thick squishy blanket bed and his food dishes and open cans of wet food. Yes, I said cans. As in, there were two. For just him.

Elmer was actually my stepdad’s cat from before he married my mom. When they got married and we moved into the house they currently live in, Elmer and my cat Shep decided they were mortal enemies. And, being indoor-outdoor (but mostly outdoor by choice) cats, Elmer went one way and Shep went another and they’ve just sort of agreed to stay away from each other. Shep is almost always within calling distance of the house even today, but it wasn’t long before we were only seeing Elmer a few times a month. And then we realized he was hanging out over by the little nearby motel because neighbors mentioned it and we sometimes would see him hanging around outside as we drove by, oh hahaha isn’t that funny and adorable.

We hadn’t realized that he, uh, actually moved in and took over the joint.

Christmas morning, as we were on our way back to my mom’s to enjoy the aforementioned oven French toast, a framed picture on the wall right beside the check-in desk caught my eye.

That is Elmer. In a chair in the motel lobby. On the cover of Cat Fancy magazine.

After I was done making bug eyes at Zack and my little whisper-shrieks had subsided (one could possibly classify me as an overreacter) and I’d taken a decent picture with my iPhone, I finally did what any normal person would do. I bent down, petting Elmer, and asked the man who’d paid not one moment of attention to my hissy fit what his cat was called.

“Joey!” he said enthusiastically.

“Oh he’s cute!” I gushed out loud. Then, under my breath, “Merry Christmas, Elmer,” as I scratched his ears. We shared a conspiratorial look and a few more pats and I stood up to leave.

My family asked why I pretended not to know Elmer when I told them this story and the answer is, I don’t really know. I guess I was worried – probably ridiculously – about ruining the good thing he’s got going over there. I would feel really awkward if someone came into my home (or office, as the case may be) and tried to lay some sort of claim to one of my pets. It might actually sort of piss me off, if you want to know the truth, since I know I would get defensive about it. We have our Elmer a few times a month and they have their Joey and that cat, whatever his name is, is loved and extraordinarily well fed.

The little hustler.

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