Katarina’s father called again. “Come down! There is someone to see you.”
Katarina turned to her mother. “I haven’t done anything wrong,” she whispered.
“No, of course not. Why would you have done?” replied her mother, but her eyes were wide. “What have we come to?” she murmured and squeezed Katarina’s hand.
They ventured down the stairs together and as they turned the corner onto the half-landing that over-looked the hall, they saw a teenage boy standing awkwardly next to the grandfather clock. It was Seamus.
* * *
Seamus looked surprised at the greeting he received from both mother and daughter. Mr Rohinton raised an eyebrow, too, at their wide smiles and the way Katarina skipped down the stairs.
“Mother, Father, this is Seamus McIntyre! He’s from school. Seamus, meet my parents.”
There was much shaking of hands and welcoming until suddenly the room fell silent and no-one knew quite what to say or do.
Seamus recovered first. “I hope you don’t mind my calling round like this but I was wondering about some homework. I’m really stuck you see. Mrs Rohinton,” he smiled across at her. Though he was only a couple of years older than Katarina he was almost as tall as her father. “Katarina tells me that you are rather an expert at languages. And I’m not you see and I’m falling behind. And I came to see if maybe you would be kind enough to give me some tutoring. I could … well, my father could, pay.”
“Oh, of course. That wouldn’t be necessary. I’m sure I could help you out a little here and there.” Mrs Rohinton smiled warmly at him.
“Seamus said he’d help me with my maths,” Katarina broke in.
“Well that would be kind, Seamus, though my husband does what he can to help.”
To her own surprise, Katarina found her heart sinking a touch. “But sometimes it’s not convenient and Seamus has done the syllabus…” She blushed slightly. “Can I make you a cup of tea?” she blustered.
“Er, thank you,” he replied.
Katarina clattered mugs in the kitchen half-listening to her mother discussing when Seamus could come round for tutoring. They seemed to be agreeing on the following Monday after school. She smiled and reached for the milk jug. As she did so she caught a glimpse of something grey outside the window. It was Ditto balanced on the windowsill looking in. He opened his mouth and Katarina could hear a faint ‘miaow’. He rubbed his face against the glass and mewed again. She reached over, raised the catch on the window and opened it.
The cat strolled in, leaped elegantly over the kitchen sink and onto the floor. He rubbed round her legs then padded across to the door. Katarina followed, tea tray in hand and opened the door. The cat marched into the hall.
“Ditto! What are you doing here?” Her mother’s voice was sharp. The cat was rubbing around Seamus’s legs.
“Ditto?” asked Seamus leaning down to stroke the cat behind his ears.
“The cat. He lived next door.”
“With Mrs Malcolm?” asked Seamus.
Mrs Rohinton looked surprised. “Yes.”
“That was bad, wasn’t it?” Seamus continued.
There was silence.
“What she did, I mean” he added.
Katarina stared at him. He was looking coolly at her mother, not, apparently, in the least flustered by the fact that he might have been misunderstood.
“Yes, yes, terrible,” her father broke in shifting awkwardly in his carpet slippers. He was dressed for a restful weekend but was always full of nervous energy, especially in the presence of strangers. “Come and sit down and have some tea. Come through…what’s that cat doing?”
Ditto was heading up the stairs. At the half-landing he paused, turned and looked at them and mewed.
“Come back! Naughty cat!” called her mother.
Ditto mewed again and slipped off round the corner of the stairs.
“I’ll get him!” Katarina set off at a run.
“Can I help?” asked Seamus and came after her, the cat dancing ahead, just out of reach. Ditto gave a delicate leap onto a wooden plant stand on the landing, batted a green tendril hanging down from the plant and jumped off.
“Here Ditto!” Katerina knelt down and reached her hand out towards him but the cat put his head to one side as if thinking, mewed once then turned and walked into Katarina’s bedroom, tail held high. The next moment his tail was disappearing under the bed.
“No!” squeaked Katarina and scrabbled after him, reaching for him as he lay down against the wall, not far from her shell.
“Let me help.” Seamus was down on his knees beside her, his hands sliding under the bed too.
“No!” This time the word came out as a yelp. “I mean, let’s leave him. He seems happy.” Sure enough Ditto was purring. “I’ll get him out later.”
She wriggled back out from under the bed and found her face close to Seamus’s. He gazed at her for a moment before rocking back on his heels and seeming to sniff the air. He gave a half-smile, stood up and offered her his hand as she got to her own feet. But she backed away, pulled herself up and brushed down her skirt. It was a short brown skirt and it suddenly seemed childish.
“Sure,” said Seamus, sliding his hands into his pockets. “Leave Ditto. He’s happy there. And I should go down and drink my tea and talk to your parents.”