The tabby adopted us gradually. The latest Secret Headquarters has a cat door, so it was no surprise that at least a few li'l folks around the neighborhood use the Secret Headquarters as a Midnight Snack Bar. Only one was brave enough to raid the food bowls while the People were still awake.
Every now and then we'd catch a dark and tawny glimpse of our little raider. At first, any eye contact, the slightest movement, and the little stranger was gone. By slow, painful degrees, he learned that no one here meant him any harm. He also learned that breakfast is a fine meal for Midge and Butler, and that three dishes could go out as easily as two.
Before I knew it, he was sleeping in the house at night. One morning, bribed with fresh fish, he let me pet him. For maybe three seconds.
Did he have a home? Did anyone miss him? If he didn't have another family, where did he go when he left? Was I taking in a stray or stealing someone's beloved pet? I gave the little fellah the freedom of the house, long as he played nice with the others. As it happened, he was pretty mellow and played well with others. (Not 'played' the way Butler does-- I once saw him scare the hell out of a German Shepherd-- but you know, nicely.)
We got used to having the little guy around. Still not officially part of the household, he didn't have a name. I called him Tabby Cat, Buddy, Little Man.
One night he didn't show up for bedtime. The next morning, he wasn't at breakfast. No sign of him all the next day. I told myself he'd gone back to his 'other family', that it was just as well we hadn't named him anyway.
It was cold that night, the rain like ice. I heard the cat flap and ran to open the lounge door. Nothing. I moved further down the dark hallway. Wet fur brushed my leg in passing. My little buddy was home.
And limping. His right front paw was in bad shape, and one side of his face was covered in blood. He'd been hit by a car. I don't know how far he traveled to make it back to the house, but he curled up in the cat bed in front of the fire and passed out. I stroked his flank and prayed he'd live through the night.
I knew then he was our cat. That this really was his home.
The next morning, the receptionist at the vet's asked for his name. For the first time, I had an answer.
"His name is Buddy."
Update: Buddy is well on the mend, now only favoring his paw when he wants an extra helping of wet food or a warm lap made available. That's right-- he's gone from spooking at every movement to deciding that laps are great places to sit!