“Cat Person” is told from the third-person perspective of Margot, a twenty-year-old college student in Michigan. The story opens as Margot is working her shift at the concession stand of a movie theater that shows art films when Robert, a man somewhat older than Margot, buys popcorn and Red Vines. At her previous job as a barista, Margot learned that flirting earned bigger tips, and now she flirts with Robert about how no one buys Red Vines while she checks him out and finds him cute, though a bit heavy for her preferences. He seems not to notice her flirtation and leaves the stand, yet he returns on the next Wednesday and buys Red Vines again. This time, he compliments her, and after the movie, he nicknames her “concession-stand girl” and asks for her phone number. To her surprise, she gives it to him.

As the next weeks pass, Margot and Robert exchange humorous texts that arise from the initial Red Vines conversation, and Margot has to work to keep up with the clever exchanges. She also becomes aware of a pattern: if she takes several hours to respond to a text, Robert’s next text is terse and unfunny. She has to get their little text game going again herself. On occasion, a day or two without texts passes till Margot finds something funny to send Robert. They don’t learn anything about each other personally from this exchange, but Margot enjoys it and thinks of it as a kind of dance.

One evening Margot texts while studying and complains that she’s hungry but the dining halls are closed. Robert says that he’ll buy her some Red Vines, and when she realizes that he’s serious, she meets him at a nearby convenience store. He buys snacks and a novelty cigarette lighter, and they leave the store. Margot notices that Robert is a little dorky and always stands slumped, but she still thinks of him as cute. When she thanks him for buying these things for her, he kisses her on the forehead, making her feel delicate and treasured, and then sends her back to her dorm to study. Margot likes the “sparkly” feeling he gives her.

Over the semester break, which Margot spends at her parents’ home, she and Robert continue to text and begin to include details about their lives. They fall into a routine of texting, and whenever Robert breaks the routine, Margot worries. Robert reports that he has two cats and, much as they did with the Red Vines, they create texted stories of romance and intrigue around these cats and a cat Margot had as a girl. When her stepfather asks whom Margot is texting so often, she overstates her relationship with Robert—perhaps playfully—and then texts him that her parents are asking about them. He texts an emoji with hearts in return.