Bellezza: blue tabby Burmilla queen with brown eyes
Notte: black-and-white bicolor queen with blue eyes
Principessa: ruddy Abyssinian queen with hazel eyes
Zingara: fawn spotted tabby queen with Siamese blue eyes
Splendore: blue point Birman queen with a golden tint on her coat
Credenza: spotted grey tabby queen with a small white spot on her forehead
Tigre: orange mackerel tabby tom with golden eyes
Coraggioso: tortoiseshell tabby tom with one side of his face black-and-white and the other side orange
Formaggio: cream blotched tabby tom with green eyes
Cacciatore: classic brownish-grey tabby tom with blue eyes
Crepuscolo: brown ticked tabby tom with hints of black on his coat
Segreto: blue cream dilute tortoiseshell tom with copper eyes
Chapter One: Bellezza
BELLEZZA LEAPED ONTO a short stone column and began to lick her blue paws daintily. It was a crisp evening in Rome, Italy, and the almost setting sun was glorious against the Temple of Juturna, one of the four temples in the Largo di Torre Argentina. The Burmilla queen was undisturbed and in her happy place. Everything was calm.
That was when Principessa arrived. “Hello, Bellezza,” said the Abyssinian queen. She sat down below the Burmilla cat and started to clean her ruddy legs. They didn't speak or make a noise; just two cats sitting by each other, cleaning themselves.
Bellezza broke the silence with a timid meow. “I remember where I first met Maria. It was here, in this very spot.” Her companion ceased grooming her legs mid-lick. The Burmilla queen had never brought up her owner before—at least, she didn't tend to.
Principessa listened with great curiosity as Bellezza went on. “We were so close, like two grapes on a vine. Every day, she would take me to the fishmonger and let me sniff all the little fishes,” she said with a chuckle.
“One day, I spotted a bird outside. The door was open, and without thinking, I ran outside.” Bellezza remembered. “I was just a kitten, so it was a while before I realized that I was far from home. I couldn't find my way back. A few days later, I was taken in by the other stray cats.”
Then she shook her head, as if she was shaking off those thoughts. “But here I am, and here I stay. The life of a free cat is pleasant, don't you think?” Bellezza smiled. “Come. The gattara should be here any minute now.” She leaped off her perch and sauntered towards the center of the ruin, leaving Principessa lost in her own thoughts.
Chapter Two: Notte
NOTTE COULDN'T BELIEVE her eyes. What were those glowing boxes that the humans seemed to love so dearly? The black-and-white bicolor cat blinked once, then twice, wondering if this was another of her dreams.
Behind her, something put its paw on her. Notte's instincts kicked in and she turned around, hissing fiercely with her fur standing up and her ears laid back. Then she saw that it was only Tigre, an orange-and-black mackerel tabby tom who currently had a shocked expression on his face.
“Oh!” Notte realized. “It's you.”
The shocked look on Tigre's face remained as he said, “Yeahhhhhhhhh. Um, the gattara's going to be at the Temple of Juturna in a few minutes. Aren't you coming?”
Notte smiled. “Of course. Sorry, I was distracted.” Then she paused. “You wouldn't know what those glowing boxes are by any chance, would you?”
“No clue.” Tigre grinned. “Come on. Where there's gattaras, there's food.” He let Notte walk ahead of him and followed her. Luckily, they had been sitting at the higher parts of the ruin. When they were finally at the Temple of Juturna, they spotted Principessa sitting at the bottom of a column. “Principessa!” exclaimed Notte. “Is Bellezza here?”
The ruddy Abyssinian cat looked up from the ground. “Oh. Hi, Notte. Hi, Tigre.” She sighed and looked back down. “Is something wrong, Principessa?” asked Notte.
Tigre stepped back. “I'll give you two some privacy.”
Once he was out of earshot, Notte sat down next to Principessa. “What's going on with you, Principessa?” The Abyssinian didn't make eye contact but did speak.
“Bellezza was talking about her owner. It reminds me of my owner.”
Notte sighed. “You have to put it past you, Principessa. Bellezza rarely utters a word about Maria, and it seems that Splendore and Zingara”—she giggled—“have forgotten about theirs!” Before Notte could say anything else, there was a cry of “Vieni qui, i miei gattini!”
Chapter Three: Principessa
PRINCIPESSA COULDN'T RESIST the grandmotherly cry of the gattara. She went over to where Bellezza was sitting. Cats from what seemed like all of Rome filled the Temple of Juturna as an elderly woman dressed in a tunic and a floral scarf came into view. Her grey hair was coiled into a loose bun and locks of hair had fallen out of the hair net. She walked into the center of the ruin.
“Siediti ancora, deari! Sarete tutti alimentati presto,” said the gattara, giving Bellezza a thorough stroke on the kitty's back. Then she gave Principessa an unexpected kiss on the forehead; in return Principessa rubbed the palm of the gattara's hand with great affection.
The gattara lifted a grocery bag off her shoulder and set it down on the ground by the cats. She opened it up and reached for what seemed like multiple cans of wet kitty food. Principessa was amazed. Only someone like the gattara would give this much care to the Roman strays.
Principessa rubbed against the cans, which smelled like tuna fish and chicken, then rubbed against the gattara. The woman let out an "awwwww" and picked up the Abyssinian queen, holding her up to her face.
“Sei un buon gattara,” smiled the gattara.
Then a cream blotched tabby tom with green eyes put his paw on the gattara's leg.
“Va bene, Formaggio. Adesso mangiamo.” laughed the gattara, setting down the queen.
She peeled the pop-top lid off one of the cans and placed it on the ground. The woman did the same with another and another, and every one of the cats had their own food dish.
Finally, she came to Principessa. The gattara reached inside her grocery bag and brought out a special dish of homemade chicken, fish, and turkey—Principessa's favorite recipe.
“Godetevi il pasto, Principessa. Mio angelo.” the gattara said, running her fingers through the queen's fur. There was no word on Earth for the love they showed each other.
Chapter Four: Zingara
ZINGARA AWOKE FROM her nap with an empty stomach. The gattara's visit to the Torre Argentina the night before had satisfied the fawn spotted tabby yesterday, but today was all about today's food. The gattara wouldn't be back until this evening so Zingara decided to head to La Ciambella and persuade the humans to give her food.
She stood up and did her morning stretch before jumping off her place on the steps of the Temple of Juturna and landing on the ground. Zingara took a right and after that she took a left on Largo di Torre Argentina. Then she took two rights and walked 150 feet and finally arrived at La Ciambella. And there was a woman sitting at a nearby table, with tilapia and a glass of wine.
Zingara could've cared less about the wine, but that tilapia looked delicious. The kitty sauntered over to where the girl was sitting and laid on her back, exposing her belly. She also purred loudly with a happy meow every now and then.
The woman, who had blonde hair and fair skin, noticed Zingara acting cute and said, "Oh, what an adorable kitty!"
The fawn spotted tabby, now having an audience, stopped rolling on her back and stood on her hind legs while sniffing her. The woman clapped her hands and cried, “Bravo!”
Zingara meowed then pawed at the stainless steel table base. “Aw, you're hungry!” said the woman. She picked one of her filets off her plate and placed it in front of the kitty. Zingara, having accomplished her mission, grabbed the tilapia with her teeth and darted off back toward the Torre Argentina.
Once back home and sitting on the steps, Zingara savored her newly earned prize. She consumed it quickly in case anyone tried to take her food. When not a single crumb was left, Zingara licked her lips so that there was no evidence of the fish.
Satisfied with what she had done at La Ciambella, Zingara closed one eye then the other, and went back to sleep.
Chapter Five: Splendore
SPLENDORE STOOD ABOVE Zingara on the steps leading up to the Temple of Juturna, waving her paw in front of the fawn spotted queen's face.
“Zingara...” Splendore said, sounding almost hypnotic. “Zingara, are you awake?”
The blue point Birman knew Zingara like the back of her paw. When they had had an owner, they did everything together, whether it was napping or trying that crazy escape plan that had separated them from their human home. But for these two, as long as they were together, it was home.
“Zingara!” said Splendore, losing her patience and smacking the sleeping kitty's nose. Zingara awoke with a start and exclaimed, “Ow! Why'd you have to do that?”
Splendore, who appeared physically upside-down to Zingara, explained, “Sorry. But the only time you sleep as soundly as you just did is after you've eaten. Tell the truth: what did you eat?”
“Uhhhhhh...” Zingara froze up. She knew that Splendore didn't like it when someone didn't tell her the truth about things. Maybe because the food was already inside her stomach, Zingara could tell Splendore about it without taking any risks?
“I went to La Ciambella and persuaded a tourist to give me fish.” Zingara admitted.
Splendore stared into her eyes for what seemed like a long time until she finally said, “Okay. I believe you. Just one thing.”
“Yeah?” Zingara asked hesitantly.
Splendore asked, “What kind of fish was it?”
Her friend let out a sigh of relief. “Tilapia,” she informed.
The Birman said, "Phooey! Tilapia's my favorite. Too bad I missed it. Maybe you can help me get some breakfast."
“Of course! La Ciambella has much in store for us felines.” Zingara laughed. So the two walked on the same path that Zingara had taken earlier that morning: a right then a left then two rights. And as expected, there was a person about to dig into a yummy platter of chicken. Splendore looked at Zingara and Zingara looked at Splendore. This would be good.
Chapter Six: Credenza
CREDENZA PEEKED OUT from her hiding spot behind a medium-sized silver trashcan. The spotted grey tabby queen looked left then right, and once she knew that it was safe to leave, Credenza turned her head around and said, “Come, Piccolo.”
That was when a little brown tabby with white tuxedo markings emerged from the shadows. He walked over to where his mother was standing and asked, “Where are we going, Mama?”
Credenza rubbed her head against Piccolo's, saying, “We are going to visit the Largo di Torre Argentina, where our fellow cats are. It is time you were introduced to the other strays.”
“Just me?” Piccolo asked, beaming.
Credenza laughed. “No, Piccolo. Your sister will come too. Speaking of your sister...” She walked closer to the trashcan. “Biscotti, come out, dear.”
A few moments went by before another kitten the color of an almond biscotti took a step forward and asked, “Did I come at the right time, Mama? I can go back if I came too early.”
Her mother went behind her and nudged her forward. “You came at the perfect time, la mia piccola stella. As I was telling your brother, I am taking you both to the Largo di Torre Argentina.”
“Come now. We must go before afternoon hits, for that is when the city is at its peak time.” She started to walk away from the trashcan with brave Piccolo behind his mama and Biscotti behind him.
They were passing La Ciambella when all of a sudden, Credenza stopped and froze, causing Piccolo to bump into Credenza and Biscotti to bump into Piccolo.
“Zingara, Splendore, is that you?” the spotted grey queen asked. Two cats, one a blue point Birman and one a fawn spotted tabby, turned around with tiny bits of chicken stuck in their fur and a joyful expression on their faces.
“Credenza!” they exclaimed. “We haven't seen you in a while. How are you? And, aww, are these your kittens?” Splendore asked, her fur touching Biscotti's nose and causing the little kitty to sneeze.
“Yes.” Credenza said. “This is Biscotti, my angel, and this is Piccolo, my freespirit.”
Zingara stepped forward and said, “Hello, Piccolo. Hello, Biscotti.” She looked at the queen. “Where are you taking them?”
Credenza replied, “The Largo di Torre Argentina. I think it would be good for them to mingle with the other strays.”
“We were just heading back there! Shall we join you?” Splendore asked, who had been tickling Biscotti with her whiskers.
“Why, of course!” Credenza said. And so the five cats walked toward the ruin together.
Chapter Seven: Tigre
TIGRE YAWNED AS minutes went by. Will the gattara arrive soon? he wondered, looking left and right. Well, if she does not, Tigre decided, perhaps I will take a little nap. The orange mackerel tabby tom waited a few more moments, and when the gattara did not arrive, he lay down, and closed his golden eyes.
He was just beginning to doze off when he suddenly heard multiple voices all talking at once. Tigre opened his eyes to see Splendore, Zingara, and a spotted grey tabby queen sitting at the steps of the ruin. He was sure that he had seen that grey queen from somewhere, but where?
Finally he said, “Credenza, is that you?”
Credenza laughed. “It is indeed, Tigre.” Two kittens, one a brown tabby with tuxedo markings and one the color of an almond biscotti, jumped out from behind her and started play-fighting each other.
“Are those your...” Tigre asked, coming closer. He sat right in front of the kittens with his head on the ground and his tush in the air in a pounce-like movement to get a better view of the kitties.
“Yes.” Credenza said. “This is Piccolo,” she motioned to the brown tabby, “and this is Biscotti.” Tigre touched the smaller one with his big paw and had it covered with fur the next minute. He licked his paw clean and hoped that he would not cough up a hairball shortly after.
Tigre asked, "When will you move to the Largo di Torre Argentina, if you're planning on that." The queen looked to make sure Biscotti and Piccolo were distracted, then said to Tigre: "We might live among the humans. It's safer for them. I am looking for a gentle Italian woman."
She explained, "The reason I took them here is because I would like for them to meet the gattara, for I want to see how they react to someone with personality traits like hers."
The mackerel tabby nodded, but inside he was confused. Why did Credenza need to leave? He said, "Well, I wish you luck." A thank you was uttered, and then there was silence, except for the sound of the kittens' endless mewing.
Chapter eight: Coraggioso
CORAGGIOSO EYED THE road on which a little brown Yorkshire terrier dog was sniffing the ground. The tortoiseshell tabby tom wasn't exactly what you would call a canine admirer; in fact whenever he saw a dog, he would hiss and yowl fiercely until it was gone.
The Yorkie barked, causing Coraggioso to brace himself for whatever might happen, then resumed sniffing the cobblestone ground.
As the tom watched the dog's every move from his place on a stone column that had been salvaged sometime in history, his companion Tigre noticed him sitting in a way that made him look bigger and went over to where the tortoiseshell was perched.
"Coraggioso?" Tigre asked. The other cat immediately turned his head around to see who was speaking, then he continued watching the puppy.
"What are you looking at?" the orange mackerel tabby asked. He jumped onto the also-salvaged column beside him.
"That, my friend." Coraggioso said, motioning toward the road. Tigre followed Coraggioso's eyes and saw the Yorkshire terrier. "Another one of the world's troublemakers."
Tigre sighed. "Does this really matter? The gattara will be here soon." Coraggioso noticed a slight choke in his voice when he mentioned the gattara.
"Yes, it does." Coraggioso said, changing his focus to the Yorkie's owner, who was texting on her phone and paying no attention whatsoever to the dog, the leash loose in her fist. "I do hope she doesn't let go by any chance," the tortie said.
Tigre yawned. "I see no point in watching dogs and their glowing box-addicted owners. I'm going to take my nap." He leaped off the column, leaving Coraggioso alone.
That was when a little blackbird flew off the Mediterranean roof of a store and landed a few feet away from the Yorkie. The dog barked and ran in the direction of the bird, yanking the leash out of the teenage girl's hand.
She looked up from her phone, gasped, and said while running after the dog, "Fou Fou, come back!"
Coraggioso grinned, and lept off the column when they were both out of sight. He sauntered over to where Tigre was snoozing, curled up, and closed his eyes. Within a few minutes he was purring in his sleep, dreaming of hunting birds successfully.
Chapter nine: Formaggio
FORMAGGIO'S PAW WAS the only part of him that was visible from the balcony in the fifth floor of a cream Roman apartment on the Via Condotti. The cream blotched tabby tom had used the balconies below this one to climb up to here, because Formaggio was a risk-taker.
He managed to get his other paw on the wooden top of the balcony and used his core strength to lift his body up. Once Formaggio was completely at the top, he saw that the door to the apartment bedroom was open. A white bed with a tan tufted headboard sat against a neutral blue room, and a sparkly diamond bracelet had been placed atop a dark grey nightstand with a lamp that had a cream shade and a glass sphere that held the lamp shade.
That bracelet, Formaggio thought, looks perfect for me. He jumped off the railing and landed on the cream carpeted floor of the bedroom. Silently, he crept forward until the bracelet was in close proximity to him. He lifted up his paw but couldn't reach the bracelet. "There must be a way," the mischievous tabby said to himself.
Aha—the bed. Formaggio leaped onto the bed and went to the top right corner, then he stuck his paw out and tried again to grab the bracelet. And again, he couldn't reach by an inch. But he wanted that jewerly badly, so Formaggio stretched his paw out further. Still, it didn't reach.
I must have that bracelet, he grumbled.
One more time, Formaggio stretched his paw as far as it could go. Just a little more...and...there! His paw knocked the bracelet onto the ground; Formaggio was about to go down and retrieve the little bijou when suddenly a pretty Italian woman with wavy, almost black locks of hair falling down her back and olive skin walked into the room.
"What?" said the woman in a natural Italian accent. Formaggio didn't waste any time and darted away, the diamond bracelet held tightly in his mouth. The woman chased him to the balcony, yet she just barely missed him. The kitty leaped onto the balcony below this one and repeated the cycle with each one, reaching the bottom of the apartment the same moment the woman opened the entry doors of the building with both hands.
She saw Formaggio and ran after him, across streets and past buildings, pushing past the tourists and locals that had been snapping pictures and shopping at Gucci. The cream blotched cat tried to lose her, but to no avail. She just kept coming. Formaggio turned corners and made sharp lefts and rights until the Largo di Torre Argentina came into view.
He could see the gattara nearing the ruin and decided to go faster. In the nick of time, Formaggio slid underneath the gattara's legs, and didn't turn around to see the two women bump into each other.
Meanwhile, Bellezza was just walking over to the middle of the ruin just as the Italian woman was running after Formaggio. The woman stopped suddenly and paused.
Chapter Ten: Cacciatore
CACCIATORE WATCHED WITH great intent as Bellezza and the Italian woman that had followed Formaggio into the Largo di Torre Argentina stared at each other. The classic brownish-grey tabby tom knew that Bellezza had lost her owner when she was very young. Could this really be happening?
"Maria?" asked Bellezza in the same breath that the woman said, "Bellezza?"
The Burmilla queen, who seemed to not yet believe that this was truly the woman she had spent her kitten years with, circled the person standing before her. The Italian woman laughed and picked up the blue tabby queen.
"Oh, Bellezza!" cried the woman. "How I missed you. You're so grown up, mio angelo dal cielo."
And she buried her face in Bellezza's fur with those words. The Burmilla mewed like a kitten; Bellezza rubbed her head against Maria's cheek.
"Maria..." Bellezza said. "You're here. You're really here."
Splendore and Zingara rested their heads on one another and said, "Aww."
A few feet away from the Birman and the tabby, Principessa smiled. Bellezza had found her owner. That was something you didn't see every day: a stray cat in the prime of her life being reunited with her long-lost woman.
Maria looked at Formaggio. "So, can I have my bracelet back?" The cream blotched tabby pushed the diamond bracelet forward.
"Meow." he said happily.
Bellezza looked at Formaggio. “Perhaps stealing jewelry and whatnot might be a good thing in some cases. Thank you, Formaggio.”
All the while, Cacciatore had been putting together the scattered puzzle pieces in his mind. Suddenly he said to Principessa, "Principessa! I think the gattara might be your owner!"
The ruddy Abyssinian queen turned her head to the side. "You really think so?"
For some unknown reason the gattara bent down at the cats' eye level and said, “Vieni qui, Principessa. Il mio gattino selvaggio.”
The queen shrugged. "I guess you're right, Cacciatore!" she said, bounding toward the gattara with so much speed that she nearly knocked down her newly-found owner.
“Oh, mio gatta. La mia piccola scappatrice.” Then she looked directly into Principessa's eyes. "My free cat."
Notte, who was sitting among the other cats, said, "Who knew? The gattara speaks English."
Cacciatore smiled. This was a happy scene. This evening couldn't get any better—or could it?
Chapter Eleven: Crepuscolo
CREPUSCOLO HAD BEEN watching the reuniting of the stray cats and their owners until he saw an woman walking by the Largo di Torre Argentina. She looked Italian, but there was only one way to find out.
The brown ticked tabby tom got off the outer edge of the ruin and walked straight up to the woman.
“Nyow! Nyow!” he meowed, rubbing against the woman's olive-colored legs. She looked down and mused, “Oh! What an adorable gatto. Ciao!”
Crepuscolo let out another meow and began to saunter into the ruin. He turned his head around and moved it in a “come” motion before continuing to saunter.
The elderly woman followed him into the Largo di Torre Argentina and observed the other strays just sitting around. She wondered why then realized that Crepuscolo was way ahead of her, so she walked faster.
Eventually Crepuscolo came to Credenza and her kittens. He rubbed his side against her, trying to bring attention to the grey tabby queen, which confused her.
"What are you doing?" she asked him, looking around to see what he might be up to.
Crepuscolo was watching the woman, whom he realized had similar facial features as the gattara. “I am finding a home for you and your kittens. Now play along!”
The woman came forward, and immediately her focus went from Crepuscolo to Credenza. “My! What a bellissimo gatta! So beautiful!" Then she noticed the queen's kittens. "Oh, and are these your gattini?" She rubbed each of their heads. "I might take you home with me. How does that sound, amore?”
Credenza gave a purr of approval. She looked at Crepuscolo and said, "Thank you so much. For everything. It really matters to me."
The brown ticked tabby smiled. "It matters to me, too."
Biscotti and Piccolo gasped, their mouths open and their eyes wide. "You mean...we get to live with the nice lady?"
Their mother smiled. "Yes, we get to live with the nice lady." She winked at Crepuscolo, and he winked back.
Meanwhile, Credenza and her kittens' new owner went over to the gattara and Maria. "Did you find your cuori?”
Maria and the gattara smiled. “We did.” they said, Bellezza in Maria's arms and Principessa in the gattara's.
Principessa exchanged a glance at Bellezza. “Thank you for taking care of me for all these years.” Bellezza smiled. Nothing was said, but it was felt—deep down inside the heart.
Chapter Twelve: Segreto
SEGRETO SAT ON the brown woven doormat that was placed at the front of a little Mediterranean cottage with stone walls. The blue cream dilute tortoiseshell tom pawed at the door, and after a few moments, an Italian woman with flowing brown hair opened the door.
“Why, hello, Segreto!” said the woman. “I am glad you came. Come, come; your friends are inside.”
Once past the door, Segreto found himself in the living room of the house, which had a sand upholstered sofa and a golden cocktail table. Sitting on the sofa were Maria and the gattara, while Principessa, Bellezza, Credenza, and her kittens lay on the woven sand carpet, rolling on their backs and taking to each other. Then Principessa saw him and said, “Segreto! You're here!” She went closer.
Segreto smiled. “I suppose I am.” he joked. The Abyssinian queen giggled and turned to watch the group just as Biscotti pounced onto Piccolo.
The tom said, “It is so convenient that your owners are friends.”
“It really is.” Principessa said as Bellezza walked up to them.
“Hello, Segreto!” Bellezza said. “I am delighted you are finally here.”
Segreto chuckled. “Yes, I'm afraid Tigre begged if he could come with me and wouldn't let go of my leg.” The three laughed and sauntered over to where Credenza was sitting.
The spotted grey tabby queen sensed the cats nearing her and said, “Hi, Segreto!”
Segreto said hello, then asked, “How has your third week with Ilene been?”
“Amazing. I do not have to worry about the kittens getting lost, and Ilene is such a sweet person.”
“Ah, those are the best.” Segreto mused. The he changed the subject. “Biscotti seems to have grown braver.”
Credenza said, “Yes, in fact she now plans surprise attacks on Piccolo that he does not expect. Perhaps the change in her environment has made her step outside her comfort zone.”
“It may be so.”
Suddenly there were a scratch at the door and Credenza's owner stood up to see who it was. In a few minutes Splendore and Zingara entered the room and said, “We've come to join the party!”
Biscotti and Piccolo ran over to see the new arrivals and tripped on each other. Segreto, Bellezza, Principessa, and Credenza laughed at their antics.
So it went—a room of laughter, fun, and conversation, the very thing a person might find among the free cats of Italy.