They don’t call them the mean streets of the city for nothing. He’d wandered them for as long as he could remember. Ducking around corners when people came too close, hiding in any small space he could rush into when they pursued him.
Not at first, of course. After he lost his mom and sisters in the park, he went straight to people, begging for help with his eyes. When he got hungry, he whined and they fed him. No one took him home, but he was cute, so they fed him.
Months spent sleeping in the rain had turned his soft, shiny coat into a matted mess. Months of eating what scraps he could beg had thinned his small frame until people offered him a boot instead of a meal. He wasn’t cute anymore.
Old man winter shared his freezing embrace, finding him even in his pile behind the dumpster at the restaurant. A hole in the bottom of the building permitted entry into its basement.
Inside, the water heater radiated heat. He curled around the base of it, whimpering his hungry complaints. His bruised ribs ached, the pain in his hip kept him from sleep. A warm tear trickled down his cold, wet nose, the only compassion he’d felt since his mother’s gentle baths.
He whined softly, huffing a deep breath that puffed out the pilot light. Not a single shiver disturbed his fur. By the time the basement cooled, the trickling gas had taken him home.