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David and Sarah shook hands with their daughter’s English teacher and heaved themselves out of the uncomfortable, bright orange plastic chairs. They had now spoken to all their daughter’s teachers, and were on their way out past walls covered in poems, paintings and essays when Sarah spotted her daughter’s handwriting.

“Oh, look, that’s one of Issy’s,” she said, dragging her husband across.

He read the title of the poem out loud. “My Cat Is Amazing.”

Sarah smiled as they read the poem together quietly. “Well, you have to admit, she’s come along in leaps and bounds since she got Pierre.”

David shook his head. “Still say that’s a daft name for a cat. But I suppose you’re right, the responsibility has done her good.”

The teachers had all agreed. This term, starting around the time she got Pierre, Issy had made spectacular progress. French, English, Maths, Science- in every subject she had shown significant improvement.

They drove home, and while David put the car away, Sarah crept up the stairs to check on Issy. She heard voices from behind the little girl’s bedroom door, and frowned. She should be asleep by now, and who could she possibly be talking to? One voice was Issy’s but the other sounded rather masculine.

She tapped on the door as she opened it. Issy was sitting on the bed with her cat and some of her textbooks.

“Did I hear voices? You shouldn’t still be up.”

Issy smiled. “Hi mum. I was just practising my French, we have a conversation test tomorrow. I’ll go to bed soon, I promise.”

Her mother frowned. “I thought I heard another voice…”

Issy coughed and put on a deep voice. “Bonjour!”

Her mother looked at her and raised one eyebrow.

“I was putting on a voice for the other side of the conversation,” the little girl said. “It’s easier than reading it silently then saying your bit out loud. It makes more sense. How did parents’ evening go?”

Her mother folded her arms. “Your teachers are all quite impressed. You mean you’re just sitting there talking French at your cat? Poor thing must be sick of it by now.”

Issy stroked Pierre. “I think he likes it,” she said.

“Meow,” said Pierre.

Issy’s mother laughed. “Aww, it’s almost like he knows that we’re talking about him. Well, don’t stay up too late. Sleep is just as important as practice.”

She left and closed the door. Issy gave Pierre a hard look.

“Meow? Did you really just say meow?”

Pierre seemed to shrug. “She didn’t notice,” he said.

Issy rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe you didn’t hear her coming up the stairs,” she said. “She nearly caught us, you know.”

Pierre stretched out a paw. “Well, I was too busy listening to your dreadful accent,” he drawled. “Now, I’ll have you speaking proper French if it takes all night. Shall we try again, from the beginning? Bonjour. Je m’appelle Pierre. Comment t’appelle tu?”

Issy sighed and replied, “Bonjour. Je m’appelle Issy.”

© Kari Fay