About 15 years ago, when I accidentally took a semester off of school, I went to the pet store to buy fish food for a little finned wonder my brother had bequeathed to me when he left home.

It was October, and we were in the middle of yet another Indian summer here in SoCal. I recall walking into the store and, although I knew full well where the fish supplies were kept, taking a spin around the perimeter since the place was completely empty — save for the clerk at the front.

When I got to the very back, there was a cage of five, maybe six kittens. They were tiny, black, tumbling all over each other and mewing quietly as I approached. My heart melted.

As I was oohing and aahing over them, the clerk at the front shuffled back my way. I was enamored with the little balls of fur, and he knew it.

“You know,” he said, “Either you buy ’em or someone else takes ’em and kills ’em. That’s what people do on Halloween.”

Seriously? Sold.

I ended up buying only one — the only pet ever purchased, as most of them in our family have been rescues or hand-me-downs — but I made sure to choose carefully. The one getting trampled by his siblings because he was the runt was my pick, and today — 15 years later — Tayo is living the life.

I’d recently finished reading a book, and I named him after the main character who was a dark-haired Native American warrior. Over the years, he’s lived up to his name, kicking tail and swatting paws with the best of them on our block. But despite his bruiser status, every Halloween I keep him inside while adults watch over the trick-or-treaters who wander the neighborhood. I hear the clerk’s words in my head each Halloween, and I’m quite protective of my Tay, or “Babe” as I sometimes call him. He’s only got a few years left in him and, since he’s come this far, I’ll see to it that he sticks around for the rest of them.

Tonight, a mere hour and a half-ish away from the official start of Halloween, I am thankful for that little ball of fur who has grown into such a rad companion over the years. I’m thankful he’s been lucky, safe and I’m thankful for the years left in him still.

Happy early Halloween, y’all.

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