In spite of befriending Sir WHIP and spending a great deal of time with him, perfecting his fire aim and other interesting skills (like flying! Wow!) Kid Joey managed to make a friend in the neighborhood his very age. He first met Cindy Lou Melon at his bus stop, and had been playing with her ever since.
Earlier in the week she had adopted a new kitten - Smudge.
"Cindy Lou Who!" Kid Joey called out to his friend, smiling and waving.
"Hi Joey," Cindy Lou said, but she missed Kid Joey's smile and wave, because when she said hello she'd never taken her eyes off whatever she was looking at in the tree. And she didn't smile at Kid Joey's calling her Cindy Lou Who, either. Her name really was Cindy Lou, and Kid Joey thought that was really cool, like Cindy Lou Who in the Dr. Seuss books, so he had tacked on the Who for fun. That had been just fine with Cindy Lou who also liked Dr. Seuss and all of his weird little characters.
"Whassup?" Kid Joey asked when he got to Cindy Lou's side, and smiled, because it was the first time that Whassup was actually a question about something that was up - they both looked up into the tree now, and before Cindy Lou could even answer, Kid Joey knew what the problem was.
"I was having a little picnic with Smudge and some of my stuffies, and as I was setting up the plates and stuff, all of a sudden, Smudge saw a bird up in the tree and chased after it. He was so excited to chase the bird that he didn't pay attention to how far up he was climbing, and when the bird flew away he turned around to come back down and chickened out. How am I going to get him, Joey? Look how high up he is!!"
Cindy Lou blurted out the story, very upset, and Kid Joey listened to his friend, casting a glance upward at the mewling kitty who had been so silly to climb too high.
But that's what cats did, Kid Joey thought. Silly stuff. Of course, so did dogs, he thought as he looked down at Kato. Maybe that's what pets were for - to do silly stuff to make their humans laugh. Of course in this case things weren't so funny. Smudge was in trouble.
"I shouldn't have brought him outside. But it's such a nice day, I thought a party under the tree would be fun," Cindy Lou said.
"It looks like fun. You have cookies and stuff."
"It's my afternoon snack. Mom let me bring it out, and I'm sharing it with my friends." (The beauty of sharing an afternoon snack with stuffies was that after all was said and done, the human mostly ate the all the snack anyway. It was real live friends that tested a person's generosity - they actually ate whatever you put in front of them.) "Well I was." Cindy Lou kept staring up into the tree at her fuzzball friend, who was really cute, but naughty today. "You know, I'm a little mad at him for getting himself into this mess, but he's so cute sitting on the branch up there, mewing for help. He was all feisty when he saw the bird, he must be embarrassed now that he's stuck and can't get back down. Maybe he's learned his lesson and won't run up trees anymore."
"He's a cat. Chasing birds is one of the silly things they do. But I'll bet you're right - I'll bet he feel foolish now that he's stuck."
"What are we going to do?" Cindy Lou asked, and Kato whimpered, as if he were asking the question too.
"Well, it just so happens that I can climb trees pretty well, and this is an easy one. The branches are close enough together that they are just like climbing a ladder. I think I can climb up and get him."
"How can you carry him back down, though? And what if he sees another bird? If he jumps out of your arms it might make you fall."
"Well, I think the birds will be smart enough to stay away from this tree if there's a kitty in it. And I have an idea about how to carry him down." Kid Joey took off his trusty backpack, unzipped the big part and took out his hoodie (he always carried it, just in case) and his flashlight and placed them on the blanket Cindy Lou had put down for her picnic.
Then he put the backpack on and starting climbing up the tree. Getting to the first branch was always the hard part. He swung sideways and kicked his leg up, hooking it over the branch and hoisted himself up on top of it. Then he reached up and grabbed the branch above it and stood up, holding on, and began climbing up the branches until he came nose to nose with Smudge, who stood up and arched his back, his tail curling and straightening. He seemed happy to see his friend, Kid Joey.
Especially when Kid Joey leaned sideways so that his open backpack was right in front of Smudge's paws on the branch. "Climb on in!" Kid Joey said, leaning forward and sideways so the kitten just had to step onto his shoulder and crawl into the bag.
Smudge took him up on it, even though it hurt his dignity a little bit, having to be rescued by a human, and a child human at that, but he was a child kitty, and did silly things. He would have time to grow his dignity later. All he cared about right now was getting back down onto the ground and getting hugs from Cindy Lou.
He balanced his front paws on Kid Joey's shoulder, and pushed his head into the backpack. It smelled like finger-paints and paste and stuff that Kid Joey had brought home in it last year when it was his school backpack. Smudge knew that Cindy Lou's backpack, hanging on the hook on the back of the front door smelled a lot like that inside - he'd explored it right away when she and her family had adopted him.
In Smudge climbed, and then Kid Joey took over the climbing - down the tree to where Cindy Lou waited, jumping up and down, so excited to see her little friend was safe and sound, his head poking up out of the backpack as Kid Joey dropped to the ground and backed up to her so that she could pull Smudge into her arms.
"I am so happy to see you down here, all safe again! No more chasing birds, Smudge! Please," Cindy Lou said to Smudge as she hugged him.
"Maybe we could find something safer to do with Smudge later - inside," Kid Joey suggested, and Cindy Lou agreed.
"Yes, from now on I think Smudge will be an indoor cat," Cindy Lou agreed, and then a thought occurred to her. "Why don't we move the picnic to the back porch? Smudge would be safe there, and you could join me and my stuffies!"
"Good idea!" Kid Joey said, eyeing the cookies on the plates, thinking how chocolate chip were his favorite.
"Can I put Smudge back into your backpack while we carry all the stuff back to the porch?"
"Sure!" Kid Joey said, turning back around so Cindy Lou could reach the pack.
Cindy Lou gathered up the picnic dishes and cookies, and when she had them stacked and held them, Kid Joey said, "Time for a ride!" to all her stuffies which he sat in the center of the blanket. He then grabbed the corners and edge of the blanket and held them together like a big sack with the stuffies inside, and carried the whole kit and caboodle through the side-yard to the back porch.
Cindy Lou shifted the stack of dishes in her arm so she could open the screen door, and then backed up to it, holding it open for Kid Joey as he carried the stuffy-stuffed blanket inside and over to the picnic table.
When Smudge realized he was somewhere familiar (Cindy Lou played with him on the porch a lot) he pulled himself up and out of the backpack and leapt from Kid Joey's shoulder to the picnic table, inspecting each dish and cookie that Cindy Lou set upon it.
Cindy Lou's mom showed up in the back door with another plate - a real plate, not one of Cindy Lou's play plates - it had extra chocolate chip cookies for Kid Joey, "and I put a peanut butter cookie on there for Kato, because chocolate isn't good for dogs and cats," Mrs. Melon said. And there was a thermos of milk for him too. He didn't mind that it was pink with princesses on it. He was used to using his sister Ro's pink stuff sometimes, just as she was used to using his camouflage and car stuff sometimes.
"Thank you, Mrs. Melon," Kid Joey said, remembering his manners.
"Thank you for rescuing Smudge, Kid Joey!" Mrs. Melon said. "I thought I was going to have to climb up there myself, there for a while."
Cindy Lou's eyes got big with surprise. "You know how to climb trees?" she asked her mother.
"I wasn't always a grownup, you know. And I had four brothers. Climbing trees got me their respect. It also got me into their tree fort," Mrs. Melon said, smiling and winking.
"Thank's Mom!" Cindy Lou said, accepting the plate and thermos from her mother and placing it on the table across from her own.
"You're welcome. And thanks again, Kid Joey!"
"You're welcome. That's what friends are for!" Kid Joey said, sitting between Kato and a stuffy giraffe while Cindy Lou took her place between a stuffy zebra and her best stuffy bear friend who always slept under her covers with her no matter what. "Here you go, Mr. Boo," she said, holding a piece of cookie up to his nose where the fur was worn away. Then she held a piece of cookie over to Smudge, who licked it, but was much more interested in the little kitty treats Cindy Lou had placed on his plate.
"This is turning into a celebration picnic!" Cindy Lou said, happily, very much relieved that her kitty was safe and sound. "I will have a lot to tell Daddy during dinner tonight after he gets home: all about the picnic under the tree, your brave rescue of Smudge, and now a picnic celebration on the porch! He will laugh and be very happy!"
"It's been a good day!" Kid Joey agreed, happy to have been able to help his friend Cindy Lou Who.
Smudge polished off his last treat long before the children and their friends finished their cookies and milk, and jumped from his place at the table down onto the bench next to his friend Kid Joey, and began sniffing and inspecting his backpack. He had put his hoodie back inside, and Smudge decided that even though it smelled like little boy, and was very close to Kato, who was much bigger than he, it was still warm and soft and a perfect place to take a nap.
He crawled inside so quietly that Kid Joey didn't even know he was in there until he picked up his pack when it was time to go home and Smudge leapt out, almost landing on Kato. The kitten, grumpy about being awakened, meowed loudly, and scampered off inside the house to find his favorite place on the sofa that was warmed by the afternoon sun. There he would continue snoozing in peace.
Kid Joey and Cindy Lou laughed at the grumpy kitten.
"You have a silly kitty, Cindy Lou Who! See you tomorrow!" Kid Joey said on his way out the screen door.
"Bye-bye!" Cindy Lou called out, waving to her friend, and Kato barked his farewell, wagging his tail.