One Bug, Two Bug

The old Volkswagen nickered in the pre-dawn, its engine struggling against the cold. Mike goosed the gas pedal, feeding the motor. He slugged back his own fuel, a gulp of instant coffee. A grimace marred his lips as the aftertaste lingered, the flavor akin to old cigarette ashes. With the car’s heat on the fritz, he could see an argument coming with his new wife — one he hoped to muddle through unscathed.

Mike’s breath frosted in the frigid air, hanging in the cramped confines of his beloved Bug. The front door of the apartment slammed closed, and snow cascaded off the overhang. A handsome woman brushed flakes from her brown hair.

The passenger door creaked open and boomed shut. His wife, Briana, shivered. “Ugh. It’s freezing outside.” She turned toward him. “No heat?”

Mike gave his car enough rein to back out. He shrugged. “Sorry.”

A huff escaped his wife’s lips. “You promised to fix the problem.”

The old motor whinnied. Gears squealed. The sleepy old car skittered forward. Mike sipped more coffee, his knees holding the steering wheel in line. “We need a new hose. Patch didn’t work.”

Briana crossed her arms. “This is ridiculous. When are we gonna buy a real car?”

The steering wheel slid through Mike’s gloved fingers. His fretful steed cantered onto the icy asphalt. “You know how much I love my ride.”

“We’re not in school anymore. We need something more reliable.”

The car shifted into high gear, galloping through the fog. “We still have student loans. What if — ”

“Miieeahh.” A high-pitched wail cut through the engine’s rattle.

Briana sat up. Her neck craned, scanning the empty back seat. “Please tell me that’s the leaky hose.”

He shook his head. “I yanked it out last night.”

“Eeeeahh.”

Briana’s eyes went wide. “There it is again. Pull over.”

They crested a hill. The factory where they worked came into view. “We’re almost there.”

A glare. “Stop the damn car.”

Mike dropped the VW out of gear, letting it coast toward the shoulder. Icy slush squished and popped under the tires. “What now?”

The passenger door flew open. An icy blast threatened to blow the thin metal slab off its hinges. “There’s something wrong with the car.”

“Miieeeahh.”

Mike tilted his head, listening to faint rasping noises. What in the world? He opened the driver’s door. Gloved fingers snagged the flashlight under the seat. A cold breeze numbed the exposed skin on his face.

Briana crab-stepped toward the front bumper. “I’ll stand here, where it’s safe. You look in the back.”

Mike rubbed the back of his neck then eased toward the rear wheel well. He dropped to his knees, the slush soaking through his pants. The flashlight’s beam caught a furry dark shape wedged into an inner well. Twin green eyes stared back at him.

He let out a breath he’d been holding. Glad it’s not a raccoon. “Found it.” Mike reached in, grabbed the fuzzy beast by its scruff, and lifted it out.

The eyes blinked. “Eeeahh.”

Briana’s eyebrows rose. “A cat?”

Mike stood. “Kitten. It must’ve crawled up near the engine looking for warmth last night. Cute little thing.”

She stared. “We can’t keep it.”

“Who said I planned to?”

Hands went to hips. A toe tapped. “I know you, Michael O’Brien. You’ve got a soft heart.”

He sighed. “Point made. I married you didn’t I?”

She rolled her eyes. “If we can’t afford a new car, how can we pay for a cat?”

Mike dropped the shivering kitten into a jacket pocket. He rubbed its ears. It purred and settled in. “But — ”

Briana smirked, heading for her passenger door. “Marriage means compromise, right?”

The car’s springs creaked as they settled into its low seats. Ice covered the windows. The engine sputtered.

Mike feathered the accelerator to keep the motor running. “You just love horse trading, don’t you?”

“Yep. Almost as much as I love you. If we keep the cat, then we can afford a new car.”

He looked down. A furry wet head poked out. Oversized ears swiveled back and forth, like two antennae. It stared up into his eyes. The car and cat purred to the same rhythm. “Tough choice.”

A snort. “Who are you kidding? You’re not giving up the cat.”

A sigh. “You’re right. You win.”

Briana smiled. “So what’re you gonna name our new friend?”

Maybe he could salvage something from their spat. He grinned. “That’s easy. Her name is ‘Bug.’”