Authors: Anne Warren Smith
Tails of Spring Break
who brought us the original “Muffin.”
N THE LAST DAY
of school before spring vacation, it sounded like almost every kid in my fourth grade class was getting away from Oregon. They were going places where the sun was shining. Places like Disneyland and San Diego. Even Hawaii!
Just before recess, Ms. Morgan, my most favorite teacher ever, made a huge mistake. “Surely a few of you will stay in town for vacation, and that’s nice, too,” she said. “Who’s staying here? Let’s see your hands.”
I raised my hand and looked around. I might have known. My hand was the only one.
“Anyone else?” Ms. Morgan asked, looking sorry she’d brought it up. “Anyone besides Katie?”
No one moved.
I thunked my forehead down on my desk. Just then, the recess bell rang.
My best friend, Sierra, patted my shoulder. “Too bad you raised your hand,” she said.
“My Country ’Tis of Thee,” someone sang. In perfect pitch. Of course, it was Claire Plummer. She’d been PERFECT AT EVERYTHING since second grade. She’d been singing patriotic songs a hundred times a day. She and her dad were going to Washington, D.C. for spring vacation. She’d told everyone she expected to meet the President.
I leaped up and grabbed Sierra’s arm. “Let me out of here.” We rushed across the room, away from Claire and her song. “I’m sick to death of hearing about Washington, D.C.,” I leaned on the window sill and stared out at a wet schoolyard. Cars moved past, their lights on, their wipers going. A lone biker pedaled hunched over, dressed from head to toe in yellow rain gear.
Claire was right behind us. “Our nation’s capital is on the east coast,” she said. “Want to see it on the globe?”
“Sierra’s going to Hawaii,” I said. “Nicer than what you’re doing.”
“The worst is what you’re doing,” Claire said. “Staying in rainy old Oregon.”
“Excuse us,” I said. Sierra and I pushed past Claire and went out to the water fountain in the hall.
“No wonder nobody likes Claire Plummer,” Sierra said. “Maybe someday, she’ll move to a house that isn’t across the street from you.”
“Maybe someday, my dad won’t make me walk to school with her.” I held the lever down and let Sierra drink. “He thinks it’s safer to walk in pairs.” He also thought Claire and I had stuff in common because we didn’t have mothers at home. Claire’s mom had died when we were in second grade. Mine had already left home by then because she wanted to be a famous Country and Western singer.
“I wish you could come with us to Hawaii.” Sierra wiped water from her chin with the cuff of her red blouse. “It would be loads more fun.”
“I’ll be stuck here,” I said. “Rusting.”
“Mom almost decided not to go,” Sierra said. “We’re so worried about China Cat.”
“I thought there was a cat motel,” I said.
“There is.” Sierra jammed her hands into her jumper pockets. “Motel La Paws. They don’t really want her. They said she yowled last year. The whole time.”
“Poor China,” I said. “She didn’t know anybody at Motel La Paws. She was lonely.”
“Mom told them she doesn’t yowl anymore,” Sierra said. “So they said okay. But we know she’s going to hate it.”
I thought about China’s soft fur, mostly yellow, with white streaks. I loved the way she twitched her ears and tipped her head when you talked to her. “Wow!” I said. “I’m getting a great idea.”
Sierra held up both hands. “No, Katie. Please. No great ideas.”
I tugged Sierra down the hall. “We have to use the phone in the office, right now.”
Sierra shook her arm away. “Sometimes, your great ideas turn out bad.”
“You’ll like this one,” I said. “You don’t need a cat motel. China can stay at my house while you’re gone.” I skipped ahead of Sierra. Maybe this vacation would be fun, after all. “At my house,” I said, “she won’t be lonely. China loves me. She lets me pat her from her nose to the tip of her tail.”
“Hold it.” Sierra skidded to a stop. “You know how to pat her, but you don’t know how to take care of her.”
“I’ve had pets.” I pulled on Sierra’s hand. “Remember my inchworm?”
“It dried up,” Sierra said.
“Not right away,” I said. “Come on.”
She shook her head and followed me into the office.
“Sierra has to call her mother, please,” I told Betty, the secretary. “It’s about spring break.”
Sierra put her hands behind her back.
“Haven’t we been best friends forever?” I asked. “Since day care?”
She nodded slowly.
“Every time I come to your house,” I said, “China rubs against me and purrs.”
“She does like you,” Sierra said. She pulled the phone toward her and dialed. By the time she hung up, she was smiling.
“Mom thinks you can do it,” she said. “She’s calling your dad to make sure. She said she’d pay you.”
“Five dollars a day. For being a pet sitter.”
“Oh my gosh,” I said. “Really? Like a real job?” I danced out of the office and down the hall. “I’ll be a great pet sitter,” I called back to Sierra. “This is the beginning of something big.”
Sierra ran after me. “Slow down,” she said.
“The world is full of lonely animals,” I told her, “especially at vacation time when their people go away. I’ll start with cats and move on to dogs. Horses. Canaries. Lions and tigers.”
Sierra shook her head. “You are out of control.”
“I’m going to be the most wonderful pet sitter,” I said. “Someday, you’ll see my commercials on TV.” I waved an imaginary sign over my head. What would it say?
CALL KATIE JORDAN
YOUR LONELY PET’S BEST FRIEND
HEN I GOT HOME
from school, my four-year-old brother met me at the door. “Yippee,” Tyler yelled. “We get to have a cat.” He bounced away on his kangaroo ball, his red hair flopping up and down as he went. “Yippee! Yippee!”
“Cats are sensitive animals,” I said. “You can’t be yelling like that around China Cat.”
He bounced back to me. “Can I play with her?” he asked. He made his voice a tiny bit softer.
“Most of the time, I’ll be playing with her,” I told him. “They’re going to pay me. It’s a real job.”
Dad came down the hall from the room that was his home office. “I told Sierra’s mother we could do it,” he said. “But then, I got sort of worried. Is it a nice cat?”
“China lets you rub her tummy,” I said. “You’re going to love her.”
“Yippee!” Tyler shouted. And then, he clapped his hand over his mouth. “Yippee,” he whispered through his hand. “I can be very quiet.”
Dad grinned and tucked Tyler’s tee shirt into his corduroys. “That’ll be a nice change,” he said.
A while later, Sierra and her family came to the door. Under their rain jackets, they were dressed for Hawaii in shorts and tee shirts.
“Thanks for doing this, Katie,” Mrs. Dymond said. She cuddled China in her arms. China stretched and purred.
“All right!” Tyler yelled. “A BIG cat – super!”
China’s eyes got round. She stared at Tyler.
“Oh, oh,” Tyler said. “Whisper.”
“We brought everything she needs,” Mrs. Dymond said. “Her litter box—she never goes outside, you know. And her food and her bed.” Mr. Dymond came in carrying China’s wicker bed. He set it down and fluffed China’s soft, green pillows.
China Cat looked at her bed. Her eyes grew bigger. Her tail stiffened. All at once, she hissed. With one fast strike, she raked her claws across Mrs. Dymond’s hand. Mrs. Dymond shrieked.
China landed on the floor. Her fur formed jagged spikes along her humped back. She looked like a yellow Halloween cat.
I grabbed Sierra’s hand.
China sniffed at the front door. Then she turned and stalked down the hall, her tail stiff and angry.
Mrs. Dymond dabbed at her hand with a tissue. “She knows we’re leaving her. She’s very upset.”
Sierra ran with me down the hall just as China swished into Tyler’s room and under his bed. We lay on our stomachs and stared. Two yellow slitted eyes stared back. China growled.
“I didn’t know cats growled,” I said. “That’s creepy.”
“She only growls when she hates something,” Sierra said. “Maybe she heard about your inchworm.”
“We have to leave,” Mr. Dymond called. “Airplanes don’t wait.”
Sierra started to cry. “My poor kitty,” she wailed.
“NOW,” Mr. Dymond called.
Sierra stood up and rubbed her hands against her red cheeks.
“I’ll play with her,” I told her. “I’ll make her stop feeling lonely.”
Sierra shook her head. “I don’t know if you can.” She ran down the hall.
“You’ll see,” I said as I ran after her. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”
Sierra and her mother scooted out the door. Sierra looked back at me just before she got into the car. “Try as hard as you can,” she called.
After they drove away, I closed the door and sagged against it. I looked at Dad and Tyler.
“She’s usually sweet,” I said. “I’ve never seen her like this. Never.”
They stared at me. Dad shook his head.
We went down the hall to Tyler’s room, knelt down, and looked under his bed.
“Why is she there?” Tyler asked. “I keep stuff under my bed.”
“I see,” Dad said. “What a mess.” He piled little racecars against the wall and leaned forward.
“Hi, China,” he said. He held his hand out.
“Hiss,” China said.
Dad pulled his hand back. He stood up.
“Maybe food will help,” I said.
Dad brought a bowl of cat food to Tyler’s room. When he slid it under the bed, China glared at him. She hissed again.
“Now, it smells in here,” Tyler said. He held his nose. “My room smells like a fish.”
“Your room always smells like something,” I told him.
“Eat your nice dinner,” Tyler said. China didn’t move. Her slitted eyes didn’t change.
“I need to get back to work,” Dad said. His voice sounded worried again. He went down the hall to his office.
“This cat isn’t any fun,” Tyler said after a while. He frowned at me.
“How am I going to make her feel better,” I asked, “if she won’t come out?”
Tyler sat up. “Are they really going to pay you money?”
I nodded. “I’m going to buy an artist’s box. I saw one at the store. It has pastels, and watercolors, and beautiful gel pens.” I had figured I’d share my artist’s box with Sierra. I shivered. If taking care of China didn’t work out, Sierra might stop being my friend.
ATURDAY MORNING AT BREAKFAST
, Tyler mashed his cereal into brown mush. “I’m tired.” He yawned and put his head on the table next to his dish.
“Me, too,” Dad said. He blinked at the front page of the newspaper. “In the middle of the night, a little boy climbed into bed with me.”
“The cat did those noises,” Tyler said, “all night long. Like this.” He growled a low creepy sound. “Grrrrrr.”
“Pretty good,” Dad said. “You almost sound like her.”
“China’s getting used to us,” I said. “I know this cat. Pretty soon she’ll be purring around, asking us to pat her.”