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Authors: Carol Weston

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BOOK: Ava and Taco Cat
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1/8
10:01 p.m.
Dear Diary,

You know how they say to think outside the box? Taco
pooped
outside the box.

And it was my fault!

We were watching TV and I used the downstairs bathroom. Afterward, I shut the door behind me and completely forgot that we're supposed to leave it open so Taco can go in and out and use his litter box whenever he wants. Just now I remembered that I'd closed that bathroom door
hours
ago! I went down to open the door but…too late! There were two little poops right next to the door. Cat scat! (Scat is a fancy way to say P-O-O-P—or poo or doo or dung or manure or feces or excrement.)

Poor Taco! He'd obviously tried to be a good boy! He could have pooped
anywhere
. And cats prefer to bury their P-O-O-P and not leave it out in the open for everyone to see.

I got a bunch of toilet paper, picked up the poops, dropped them into the toilet, and flushed.

I'm glad Taco didn't pee outside the box. That would have been way harder to clean up.

Cleaning up the P-O-O-P was surprisingly easy—not that I want to go into the pooper-scooper business.

Here's what I've been thinking: Most dogs are trainable and protective and loyal and friendly and fun to take on walks (which is good). But when you take your dog on a walk, you have to take a plastic bag with you and deal with the doody (not good). You're expected to just
stand
there while your dog is crouching and straining as though it's nothing. And neither you, nor your dog, are supposed to act embarrassed even though you're in public. If your dog has diarrhea, you're still supposed to clean it up. And if there's no garbage can in sight, well, you're supposed to just carry the P-O-O-P (or diarrhea!) around in your plastic bag until you find one.

Yuck!!

I think cats are more dignified—but then, I'm more of a cat person than a dog person.

Ava, Cat
Person
Kid

P.S. I was brushing my teeth and left the water running. Taco jumped up, stuck his head under the faucet, and starting lapping at the water. It was cute. But it was
not
dignified!

P.P.S. I'll admit that if a stranger wanted to break into your house, a dog might be a handier pet than a cat. Like, there are
watchdogs
, but no
watchcats
. A dog might also be handier if you accidentally spilled food on the floor.

1/9
Saturday N-O-O-N
Dear Diary,

Dad made a big Irish breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, and scones.

I asked Maybelle to come over, but she had “stuff to do.” She said I should come over Monday after school.

Monday feels far away, but I said, “Okay,” and decided that that's when I'd ask her what Zara has been saying about me.

Mom just took clean clothes out of the dryer to fold, and when the laundry pile was all toasty warm, Taco hopped on top and settled in with his legs tucked under him. He looked like a hen sitting on eggs and seemed pleased with himself.

Mom and I smiled as if we were sharing an inside joke. I was glad Mom didn't shoo Taco away or make a remark about cat fur on clean clothes. She even turned to Taco and said in a sing-songy voice I'd never heard before, “Are you finally making yourself at home? Yes, you are. Yes, you are.”

It was sweet, to tell you the truth.

Ava and Taco at Home

1/10
Dear Diary,

Dad and I were making Sunday sundaes, and I told him I wished Taco would jump on my bed and snuggle with me and purr.

Dad said, “Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day.”

I was about to ask, “How many days was it built in?” but instead said, “He's had
ten
days!”

“And he
is
warming up to us,” Dad pointed out. We both looked at Taco. He'd found a patch of sunshine on the kitchen floor and was grooming himself: licking his five-toed paws and “brushing” his mismatched ears.

He might have sensed that we were talking about him because he lifted his head and looked right at me.

“Who's a good boy?” I said and got on the floor and puckered up as if to give him a kiss. He sniffed my lips and sneezed a little cat sneeze. That made Dad laugh—and
that
made Taco scamper off.

Since Maybelle was (supposedly) busy, Pip and I texted Bea to see if she wanted to come over. She texted, “Can Ben come too?” Pip liked that idea, so we texted back, “Sure.”

Now Bea and Ben are
both
about to walk in. Pip is nervous, I can tell. She just put on lip gloss. Lip gloss! Next thing you know, she'll be wearing eyeliner! Or cologne!

She has also been cleaning her room. She said she's almost done.

I said “almost” is an unusual word because all its letters are in alphabetical order.

I also said that my initials are in alphabetical order and hers aren't.

She said, “Who cares?” I said that if my first name were her
middle
name, she'd be Pip Ava Wren and her initials would be P. A. W.—like “paw.” She rolled her eyes as if she had way more important things to think about—like brushing her hair and getting ready for you-know-who.

A. E. W.

1/10
Sunday night
Dear Diary,

There wasn't enough snow to make snowmen, so Pip, Ben, Bea, and I made snowkids. Pip and Ben kept making happy faces at each other, and their gloves kept touching. Well, Pip and Ben's snowboy turned out way cuter than Bea's and my snowgirl. Pip can draw
and
sculpt! At the last minute, I said they should give their snowboy freckles, so they dotted him with Apple Jacks. Unfortunately, the “freckles” looked like chicken pox. (Fortunately, no one blamed me.)

Back inside, we all made hot chocolate and ate peanuts. (We aren't allowed to have peanuts in school, so we always stock up at home.) Pip showed Bea and Ben
Alphabet
Fish
—because she's proud of it and we're up to “P is for porcupine fish.” We also talked about Meow Meow, Taco Cat, and even long-lost Goldy Lox. It was fun talking to an eighth-grade boy.

Ben told us a joke he'd heard:

Question: What's the difference between a dog and a cat?

Answer: When a dog has a wonderful master who feeds him and grooms him and cleans up after him, the dog thinks, “He must be God!” But when a cat has a wonderful master who feeds him and grooms him and cleans up after him, the cat thinks, “I must be God!”

We laughed, and then Pip went to play a computer game in the living room.

Bea and I went to the kitchen, and I put my hot chocolate cup in the sink and said, “Bea, can I ask you for advice?” Bea is the only person I know who wants to be an advice columnist when she grows up.

“If it's about Taco,” she said, “I don't have any Pet Pointers. I know some cute cat videos though. And we stock tons of cat books at the shop because Americans own, like, a hundred million cats.”

“It's not about Taco,” I said, a lump in my throat. “You know that new fifth-grade girl, Zara?” Bea listened, and I told her that Maybelle was always busy with Zara, and that Zara had asked Chuck about me, and now things were awkward between us.

“I think you and Maybelle will always be friends,” Bea said reassuringly. “And with Chuck, maybe if you try to act the way you used to, things will go back to how they were.” I didn't say anything, so she added, “It might feel forced at first, but no one ever died of awkwardness.”

I nodded, remembering when she'd told Pip that no one ever died of awkwardness. Who knew
I'd
be asking Bea for advice months later?

Taco Cat pitter-pattered in and rubbed against our shins. I think he was actually inviting us to pet him.

“You know what Taco likes?” I said. “To be brushed.”

I got out his brush, and Bea and I took turns brushing him.

“Meow Meow loves when we brush him. He purrs up a storm.”

“Taco never purrs,” I said.

“Really?” Bea looked surprised.

“Well, not yet anyway. He's very independent. Even for a cat.”

“Meow Meow is the opposite. She's very affectionate—but a little needy sometimes.” Bea smiled. “We don't mind though.”

I didn't think I'd mind either. (I mean
I'm
a little needy sometimes!)

Ava, Whose Cat Does Not Purr

P.S. Is having a cat that doesn't purr like having a dog that doesn't wag its tail? Will he ever purr? And will he ever realize that I don't even want to be his master—just his
friend
?

P.P.S. Bea and I went to Dad's computer, and she showed me an amazing video of a cat playing Jenga. I think the cat was gifted or something.”

1/11 (palindrome date)
in bed
Dear Diary,

After school, I went to Maybelle's—just me. It started out fun. We made popcorn (P-O-P-P-O-P-P-O-P) and played Slow Down/Speed Up. It's the game when one person starts doing something, whether it's jumping jacks or juggling marshmallows, and the other says, “Slow down!” or “Speed up!” The person has to do whatever she's doing really slowwwwly or lightning fast. When Carmen or Lucia play it with us, they say,
“¡Más lento!”
or
“¡Más rápido!”
And in the summer, we sometimes go outside and do slow and fast cartwheels.

Today, I was happy to be playing with just Maybelle (and not Zara). We started making necklaces with her beads, but after a while, I couldn't hold in my questions anymore. So I asked straight out: “Did Zara say anything about me, like, behind my back?”

Maybelle looked guilty and as if she didn't know if she should answer.

Which was an answer right there.

“What did she say?” I pressed.

Maybelle folded her legs up and put her chin on her knee. I could tell she didn't want to report their conversations, but maybe I was sort of cornering her.

She sighed, and we both looked at our beads instead of at each other. “She thinks,” Maybelle finally began in a quiet voice, “that you're kind of a teachers' pet.”

My mouth flopped open. Even though that may not be untrue (which is a double negative), it was
not
what I expected to hear.

Still, I decided I could live with that. I mean, it's a fact that Mrs. Lemons likes me. And I like her back. But for what it's worth, not
all
teachers think I'm special. I annoy Miss Hamshire. She acts like I'm bad at math on purpose.

Well, it turned out that Maybelle wasn't done! While I was contemplating Zara's first complaint, Maybelle came up with a second.

“Zara also says that your primary topic of conversation is your cat.”

That
made me mad! Of course I talk a lot about Taco Cat! I was desperate for a cat, then I got one, and we've had him only eleven days! What does Zara expect me to talk about? Carpet cleaners? Climate change?

I was trying to decide whether to defend myself when Maybelle said that Zara also wonders why I haven't let her meet Taco yet.

What?!?

“I haven't
stopped
her from meeting him,” I said.

“She says you've never once invited her over even though she helped make the paper mice.”

I wanted to shout, “Oh puh-lease! Zara doesn't have the right to jump feetfirst into my whole life!” But I didn't. I just mumbled, “She can meet him.”

“Now?” Maybelle asked, which made
me
feel sort of cornered.

I shrugged and said, “I guess.” Then I wished I hadn't, because suddenly Maybelle was speed-dialing Zara and inviting her to hang out at my house! Next thing you know, Maybelle's mom was driving Maybelle and me to my house and picking up Zara on the way as though that had been the plan all along! I couldn't believe it!!

Even Dad looked surprised when he opened the door and there we were, all three of us. We walked in and searched all over for Taco and finally found him sleeping in the corner of Mom's closet, by the slippers.

Zara said he was handsome.

I said that cats spend most of the day sleeping—about eighteen hours.

Maybelle said, “That's three-fourths of the day! Humans sleep only one-third of the day.” That was a very Maybelle thing to say. (She can do fractions in her head.)

Zara said that sloths sleep even more. “They sleep more than any other animal in the animal kingdom.”

Zara had brought a ping-pong ball for Taco to play with, and he chased it around and even let her pet him. At first, I thought Taco was being a traitor. But I told myself not to feel that way. The problem though, is that it's hard not to feel whatever you're feeling, even when you try to talk yourself out of it.

Taco wanted to keep playing, and he pressed his little white zigzag against Zara's shin. She laughed and said, “He's giving me a head butt!” For a second, I thought she was calling my cat a butthead! Then I realized that this was in
my
head.

Anyway, Maybelle said that in 1963, France sent the first cat ever into outer space. “Her name was Felicette.”

“Really?” I said.

“Oui,”
Maybelle said. “A lot of animals went into space. Dogs, monkeys, mice, turtles, even newts and fruit flies.”

“Newts?” Zara and I said at the exact same time.

She gave me a little smile so I went ahead and gave her a little smile back, which was nice of me. Then we both said “Jinx” at the same time.

“Did the cat live?” I asked Maybelle.

Maybelle said the cat went up for fifteen minutes and “came back famous.”

Zara said, “Cool.” She was petting Taco and he was letting her. “What a good cat,” she said. I appreciated her appreciation, even though I was glad Taco did not choose that moment to purr. But then Zara said something I did
not
appreciate. She said, “I wonder who he used to belong to.”

“What do you mean?” I said. Obviously, I think of Taco as
mine
, not as some hand-me-down stray.

“I mean, did you look for Lost Cat signs?”

“No…” I said and wondered whether we should have.

“My stepfather once had a dog that got lost,” Zara continued. “But it had tags, and we put up signs, and the person who found him gave him back.”

“Taco didn't have tags and we didn't see any signs,” I stated in a way that I hoped made it clear that this conversation was over.

Soon Maybelle and Zara left, and I felt irritated that Zara had come over at all. I hugged Taco close and was glad that he was mine, and that he's Taco
Wren
—not Taco Smith or Taco Jones or even Taco Bell!

Ava Elle Wren, Owner of Taco Cat Wren

P.S. Dinner was a revolting concoction of kale, quinoa, and mushrooms. Ugh! Why can't we have Taco Tuesdays instead of Meatless Mondays?

BOOK: Ava and Taco Cat
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