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Authors: Carol Weston

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BOOK: Ava and Taco Cat
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12/31
an hour later
Dear Diary,

Nostril Ring Lady escorted us upstairs, past the barking dogs, and into the cat rooms. Then the short lady with the long braid came in and said, “I remember you girls!” I asked if our cat was still there, and she winked and said, “He's been asking about you.” She was carrying a cage with a
kindle
of kittens.

Dad and Pip and I stayed in the room with the older cats, and at first, I didn't see Taco anywhere. I looked and looked, but…no Taco. What if she was wrong? What if someone
had
adopted my yellow tabby? We kept searching and searching.

Suddenly I noticed a cage on the floor in the corner. And there he was! I saw his green eyes and taco-colored fur and jagged ear and white leg and little zigzag. He was looking right at me! It was like he was
waiting
—just
waiting
—for me to recognize him. Our eyes met and my heart melted!

I sat on the floor, put my face near his cage, reached in, and tried to pet him with my fingertips. He seemed nervous and was still skinny, but not as skinny as when I first saw him.

“Dad,” I said. “I found him! He neeeeeeds us.” I reminded Dad for the quintillionth time that Taco was all I wanted for my birthday—and that my birthday was
tomorrow
.

Pip said, “Dad, let's just do it. Let's get him!”

“We have to talk to Mom,” Dad said, which meant he was at least considering it. Then he looked into Taco's big sad eyes and whispered, “Buddy, this might be your lucky day.”

Ava, Full of Hope

12/31
4:25 p.m.
in our car
Dear Diary,

Believe it or not, we are in the car outside Dr. Gross's clinic waiting for Mom! She's getting off early because it's New Year's Eve. When she walks out, Dad and Pip and I are going to surprise her and drive her straight to the rescue center!

In my almost eleven years in Misty Oaks, I'd never once been to the rescue center, but this will be my
second
time today and my
third
time this week!

Dad said not to get our hopes up, but of course our hopes are up. Mine are sky-high! They are as high as Mount Everest, which Maybelle once said is over 29,000 feet high and the highest mountain in the world.

While we sat in the car, Dad told us that Mom is the only person in Dr. Gross's practice who doesn't have a pet. I knew that Dr. Gross has a dog named Cowboy, and the front desk lady and her partner have three cats (one has just one eye), and one of the technicians has a ferret, and another has a canary, but I did not know that
everybody
has a pet except Mom.

Right now, Pip and I are in the backseat, and while I'm writing, Pip is illustrating my H poem:

H is for hammerhead shark.

The great hammerhead shark is a scary beast.

If it saw you at sea, it would think: What a feast!

It is almost 4:30 p.m.

In seven and a half hours, at midnight, I will be eleven.

In one hour, will I have a cat?

Gotta go! Here comes Mom!!

Ava with Fingers Crossed

New Year's Eve Night
Dear Diary,

Mom said yes!!!

I have a cat!!!

His name is Taco!!!

Ava

1/1
my birth
day
night
Dear Diary,

Last night, I woke up and it was pitch black outside. I wasn't sure if the glittery Times Square ball had or hadn't dropped, or if it was or wasn't my birthday. Was it a new year? Was I a new age: 11 on 1/1?

All I knew for sure was that Taco was 100 percent
mine
!

I have a pet cat!!!

We brought him home in a cat carrier, but Mom said we had to keep him in the bathroom the first night. That didn't seem very welcoming, but Mom said that when a cat is not “accustomed to a new environment,” it's best to take things slowly, and that Taco would feel safest in a “small, confined space.” I was so glad we'd actually adopted him—and bought canned food and pet bowls and kitty litter—that I didn't object.

Right before I went upstairs, I told Taco that he was the best birthday present in the whole wide world. He still seemed scared (skittish?), so I didn't pick him up, but I petted him and told him I'd be back first thing in the morning.

Well, this morning, he was curled up on the bathmat. He'd eaten some food and used his litter box and even covered his P-O-O-P with sand, which cats do. Mom said these were all “good signs.” She showed me how to scoop out his dried doodies and shake off the sand and flush the P-O-O-P down the toilet. I told Pip it reminded me of the game we used to play by Nana Ethel's creek called “Panning for Gold.” Pip said I was crazy, but I knew she remembered Panning for Gold as well as I did. (I like that we have a lot of the same memories.)

Anyway, Mom and Dad had said they'd take me and my friends out for pizza for my birthday, but I didn't want to leave Taco alone that long. So I called Maybelle and Bea and Carmen and Lucia and invited them to come here instead.

Bea and Ben had just gotten back from vacation, and she said she'd be right over. She's two years older than me, but we became friends last fall. That's when she and I came up with the five Pip Pointers to help Pip shake off her shyness.

Well, everyone got to meet my new cat—but not in the way I was hoping.

I'd pictured Taco taking turns climbing onto their laps, purring and kneading. Kneading is what cats do when they press their little paws against you one at a time, left and right, right and left. Mom said that newborn kittens knead and purr when they nurse because that's how they tell their mother to stay still. Grown cats knead and purr mostly when they are relaxed and happy.

Taco did not knead or purr at all.

What happened was this: We all stood by the bathroom door. Bea and Pip were on tiptoe, Maybelle and I were in the middle, and the twins were crouching down (dressed in matching yellow). The plan was for me to open the door a crack so everyone could peek at Taco, asleep on the bathmat. I did—but Taco dashed out! He made a beeline (cat line?) for the sofa! And he's been hiding underneath it ever since!

All anyone saw was a flash of fur!

Before I could stop them, Carmen and Lucia raced after him and got on their stomachs and started groping under the sofa. Not only did Taco
not
come out, he
hissed
at them! He even grumble-growled! It was a strange, low, unhappy sound.

Mom said we needed to let him get comfortable on his own terms. She also said that adult cats don't meow to other cats, they meow only to people, usually to “ask for food or water or space.”

Well, we let Taco have some space while I opened birthday presents. Maybelle gave me a rainbow-colored beaded bracelet that she'd made just for me. The twins gave me a gold picture frame (which I like) and a fuzzy pink jewelry box (which I don't). Bea gave me a book of funny cat photographs from her parents' shop. Pip gave me a scarf. And everyone sang, “Happy Birthday!” and ate pizza and cake.

Now that I'm eleven, I wonder if I seem a lot older than the twins, who are in fourth grade. I also wonder if I seem a lot younger than Bea and Pip, who are in seventh. Am I growing up at the right speed?

I can hardly believe I'm eleven. I won't be a palindrome age again until I'm twenty-two!

Ava Wren, Birthday Girl

1/2 (which looks like one-half
but means January 2)
Saturday 11:30 a.m.
Dear Diary,

This morning Pip and I were playing Battleship. I was trying to locate her submarine and said, “B-7?”

She said, “BELIEVE.”

I said, “BEWARE!”

She said, “BEHOLD!”

I said, “BEHAVE!”

She said, “BEEHIVE!”

We both laughed, and she said, “Ava, come with me to Bates Books.”

I said I wanted to stay with Taco. But Pip pleaded—and even offered me a pack of bubblemint gum. I knew she was hoping to run into Ben since Bea and Ben's parents own the bookstore and Pip hadn't seen him since vacation started. Finally I said okay—if we made it quick.

We bundled up and off we went, but Ben wasn't there and neither was Bea. Their fluffy orange and white cat, Meow Meow, was, and he rubbed against us, his tail high in the air. He is as sweet as a…Creamsicle!

Guess who else was there? Chuck! He looked different because he'd gotten a haircut and maybe gotten a little taller since last week? (Is that possible?) He also had a Band-Aid under his chin—the tan kind, not the cartoon character kind.

Mrs. Bates was helping him find a book about a boxer. She's good at helping kids pick out books. When Chuck saw me, he came over, so Mrs. Bates started helping Pip instead. She was telling her about some “new YA paperbacks.” YA stands for young adult. (Confession: I don't think of Pip as a Young Adult. I think of her as a Big Kid.)

Well, I told Chuck about our new cat, and he told me a joke:

Question: Why did ten cats jump off a bridge?

Answer: They were copycats.

He expected me to laugh, but I said, “That's not funny. That's sad.” I was picturing a soggy bunch of forlorn felines.

He said, “Ava, it's a
joke
, and besides, cats have nine lives!”

I rolled my eyes, and he asked what I was going to buy. I said, “A pen,” and he helped me pick out a striped pen covered in orange and black velvety cloth with a tiger's head.

“What's a cat's favorite color?” he asked.

“What?”

“Purrrrple!”

This time I did laugh, and I also poked him in the ribs and he poked me back. I asked what happened to his chin (he tripped), and then he said he had to go because his mom was waiting for him.

Pip was still “browsing,” so I found a coffee table book about cats in paintings and took it to an alcove with giant pillows. The origami snowflakes I'd made for Mrs. Bates last month were still on the walls. Meow Meow came and stretched out by my feet, and even though I wanted to check on Taco Cat, I felt happy with Meow Meow, waiting for Pip and looking at colorful cats.

I've liked Bates Books since I was little, even before Bea and Ben switched into our middle school.

It's true that I like short books, not long books, and that I am not an “avid reader” like Pip. But I really like bookstores—especially cozy ones with fluffy cats.

If I ever had to be stuck—stranded!—overnight somewhere and I could pick where, I would definitely pick a cozy bookstore.

I could see how a kid might
think
she'd want to spend the night in a candy store, but that would get boring and you'd end up with a stomachache. A rescue center might sound fun, but that would get noisy and you'd feel sorry for the animals. And a zoo or an amusement park would definitely get creepy at night.

But a bookshop, if you kept all the lights on, could be nice.

And you wouldn't get bored. Even if you were locked in for
hours
! Plus, if you got lonely at night, you could read
Goodnight
Moon
or
Owl
Moon
or
Many
Moons
or
Kitten's First Full Moon
or any bedtime book, even one without a moon or a cat. And if you got tired of reading, you could look at pop-up books and coffee table books.

I started thinking about words on screens versus words in books. Like, with texting or Facebook, you can read what people are thinking
right
that
very
second
. But with books, you can read what people took
ages
to think about. Some authors take years and years to write a book that a reader can gobble up in hours, which, for the reader, is a very good deal.

Paintings are like that too. An artist works on them for a long time, but you can enjoy them in a short time.

Anyway, even though I was enjoying looking at cat paintings with Meow Meow, after a while I wanted to check on my own cat, so I showed Pip my favorite pages then said, “Let's go.”

Pip said okay, and she bought two books and I bought my pen and we went home.

Guess what? We hadn't missed a thing because Taco hadn't come out from under the sofa!

He still hasn't!

Dad said we need to be patient. Mom said you can't rush a cat.

Since Dad had told Pip and me about writers and cats, I told Dad and Mom about artists and cats, and the book I'd been looking at. I said that Goya painted spooky cats, and Picasso painted pointy cats, and Renoir and Cassatt painted soft, cuddly cats. I also said, “If Pip drew Taco, it would be a drawing of a sofa.” Everybody laughed.

Ava, Amusing

1/2
Saturday night
Dear Diary,

Maybelle invited me over after lunch, but I was positive Taco was going to come out and I didn't want to miss the big moment, so I said I couldn't. What I didn't know was that Taco was planning to spend the
whole
entire
afternoon
under the sofa!

At night, when we're asleep, he creeps out and eats and uses the litter box. But during the day, all he does is hide. I've been getting on the floor and lifting the flap of the sofa to check on him. It's like lifting a curtain, except there's no show.

At least he doesn't hiss or grumble or growl. He just stares. And sometimes backs away.

I want Taco to be happy, but I wish he'd hurry up about it!

Ava, Impatient

BOOK: Ava and Taco Cat
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