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Authors: Carol Weston

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BOOK: Ava and Taco Cat
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1/12
barely awake
Dear Diary,

I had the scariest dream!

A gigantic elephant was trying to barge into my room. I locked the door, but the elephant started getting in anyway. I was really scared and didn't know where to hide, and I hoped it would not get in and trample or squash me!

When I woke up, I thought: What the heck was that about? Had I read something scary before bed? Was my nightmare inspired by an Aesop fable about elephants?

But no, I hadn't. And I doubt Aesop wrote about elephants in ancient Greece.

I doubt Basho wrote about elephants in ancient Japan either.

My mind was all over the place, and then I remembered the expression “an elephant in the room,” which means the upsetting thing no one is talking about.

Right now what's upsetting me is what Zara said about Lost Cat signs. I have to admit: it didn't even occur to me to look for Lost Cat signs—let alone round up my friends to make Found Cat signs. And even if I
had
made Found Cat signs, I probably wouldn't have posted them in plain sight. I would have posted them in closets and behind doors!

Should I talk to Mom or Dad about this?

I wish Zara had kept her mouth zipped!

Ava, Angry

1/13
bedtime
Dear Diary,

Question: What if someone out there
is
looking for Taco Cat?

I don't even want to think about that.

I could think about Chuck, but he and I haven't said a word to each other in six days.

I could think about Maybelle because she's coming over again tomorrow. But what if Zara thinks she's invited? She isn't!

Sometimes I wish I could just turn off my brain.

Ava, Agitated

1/14
4:11
Dear Diary,

Maybelle came over, and Dad built us a fire in the fireplace while we made banana milk. That's when we put bananas and ice cream and ice in a blender. (Taco hates when we use the blender.) We also made a snack of banana slices topped with dabs of chunky peanut butter. (Dad and Mom both bought bananas so we have way too many.) Anyway, Maybelle and I took off our shoes and warmed our toes by the fire, and I decided to tell her that I'd been worrying.

“About what?”

“About what Zara said about Lost Cat signs and also”—my voice caught—“about Zara wanting to steal you away.” I looked into the fire, which was crackly and smoky-smelling and yellow-orange with a little blue and purple too. Then I looked at Maybelle and added softly, “I don't want you to dump me.”

“Ava, I would never dump you,” Maybelle said. She sounded a teeny tiny bit annoyed. “And I didn't get mad last fall when you started spending time with Bea.”

“True,” I said, feeling embarrassed and bite-size.

“Besides, didn't you once tell me that Bea said people can't
steal
friends, they can only
make
friends?”

“Yes,” I admitted, impressed that Maybelle remembered.

“Zara is new,” she continued, “and it seemed like she could use a friend. And you weren't around much because you had just gotten Taco.”

I nodded, trying to be understanding, but I still wished Zara hadn't zeroed in on
my
BFF. “Doesn't Zara ever get on your nerves?” I asked. “She says really random things.”

“Everyone says random things,” Maybelle said, and it occurred to me that while Zara can be insensitive, maybe I can be
over
sensitive. “And you don't have to like her just because I like her.”

“I don't
hate
her…” I said quietly. “But I like when it's just us.”

Taco Cat came padding over and I reached down to pet him. Instead of running away, he stayed still. I went to get his brush, and Maybelle and I took turns brushing him and brushing him.

You are
not
going to believe what happened next!

Brace yourself because this is BIG!

Taco Cat was lying there, letting us brush him by the fire for like, three minutes, and then, out of the blue, I heard a rhythmic sound, a soft gentle
rumble
bumble
rumble
bumble
. It was coming from
him
! He was purring!

And purring!!

And purring!!!

He remembered that he had a little purring motor inside him, and he turned it on!

Maybelle and I kept brushing him, and we kept looking at each other and smiling.

“It's the first time he's ever purred!” I whispered. “I'm glad you're here with me.”

“Me too,” she whispered back. “You think purring is how cats say, ‘I feel happy'?”

“Or ‘I feel safe'?” I said.

“Or ‘Thank you'?” she said.

“Or ‘I love you'?” We kept brushing and brushing, and Taco kept purring and purring. “My mom said cats also communicate by blinking. It's their way of blowing a kiss.”

“Don't some cats communicate by killing mice and birds and leaving them on doorsteps as tokens of affection?”

“Do they?” I asked, horrified.

“Maybe not in winter,” Maybelle said.

Taco kept purring away, and I hoped he would never bring me a dead mouse or chickadee valentine.

“Some big cats purr too,” I said. “Lions and tigers roar, but cheetahs and pumas purr.”

“Zara's pet guinea pig used to purr,” Maybelle said.

We kept listening to Taco Cat's
rumble
bumble
rumble
bumble
, and I was glad that Maybelle was
here
to
hear
it (homonym alert), even if she did bring up Zara.

It's funny how some big events really are newsworthy. Like when rockets go into space, or athletes beat world records, or presidents get elected.

But some big events are kind of small. Like when your cat comes out in the open or finally purrs. Or when a shy person opens up like a flower bud. Or when two best friends clear the air.

Later, as Maybelle was putting on her winter coat to go home, she said, “Ava, Zara is my new friend, but you're my old friend and my best friend. And that's a much bigger deal.”

Ava, A #1

1/15
before school
Dear Diary,

I'm glad Maybelle and I talked yesterday. And maybe Zara really did need a friend. Like Taco did. And maybe Maybelle needed someone to talk to about bras and growing-up stuff, especially since she doesn't have a sister and it's possible that I have been a teeny tiny itty bitty eensy weensy bit cat-consumed.

Zara doesn't have sisters or brothers either. She never even talks about her parents—just her grandparents.

I am trying to be mature about everything—which is not particularly easy. (Maturity may not be my strong suit.)

By the way, Pip got jealous that Taco purred for Maybelle, and not her, so I told her that next time Taco settles under a lamp or by the fire or in a spot of sunshine, she should tiptoe over and brush him softly. (Usually, Pip and Taco play runaround games. She chases him around the living room or they play a game we call Bat and Bite. It's when Pip jiggles a ribbon and Taco bats it and bites it!)

Last night, I let Pip feed Taco. We'd gone to the Great Wall for dinner (the squid came with tentacles, yuck!), and when we came home, I forgot to feed Taco. It was the first time that ever happened! Well, he rubbed my shins and also gently bit my ankle to remind me, but by then I was upstairs and about to get in bed, so I told Pip she could feed him. Pip was happy, and this morning, she told me that when Taco heard her open the bag, he came running!

Here are three sounds Taco loves:

1. A can of cat food being opened

2. A bag of cat food being shaken

3. A bag of cat treats coming out of the R-E-W-A-R-D-D-R-A-W-E-R

Here are four sounds Taco hates:

1. Dad grinding coffee

2. Mom using her hair dryer

3. Me using the blender

4. Mom or Dad vacuuming

Ava, Aware and Observant

P.S. We got fortune cookies after dinner. Pip's said, “You have a yearning for perfection.” Mine said… well, I'll tape it here:

Declare peace every day.

1/15
after school
Dear Diary,

In the library, Mr. Ramirez said he liked my cat and moon haiku, and that when Jerry Valentino comes to our school in ten days, a reporter from the town newspaper, the
Misty
Oaks
Monitor
, is going to “cover” the workshop.

“Cover?”

“Write about it,” he explained, then added, “Zara said you and your sister have been working on a picture book called
Something
Fishy
.”


Alphabet
Fish
,” I corrected, only half-surprised that Zara had blabbed about—and retitled—our book.

But for once, maybe it was good that Zara had meddled, because I blurted, “Do you think Mr. Valentino could
critique
it?” I'd never used that word, but it was a bonus word on today's spelling test. It means to “evaluate or read critically.”

“Maybe…” Mr. Ramirez said, taken aback. “Is it short?”

That was funny because that's always the first thing I want to know about a book. “It's mostly pictures,” I said.

“I don't see why not,” he said. “It wouldn't be fair to ask him to read a student novel, but a short book, sure.”

“We haven't quite finished.”

“Can you have it ready by next Friday?”

“Yes,” I said even though I didn't know how Pip would react to a deadline.

“Don't sacrifice quality for speed,” he cautioned.

“We won't,” I said. And then, even though I haven't been all that into
Alphabet
Fish
lately, I started daydreaming. I was giving the book to Mr. Ramirez, who was giving it to Mr. Valentino, who was giving it to an agent, who was giving it to an editor, who was giving it to a publisher, who was giving it to the factory people who turn floppy pages into hardcover books, who were giving it to librarians and bookstore owners and reviewers and bloggers who were all telling regular readers about it. In my mind, our ABC book was on its way to being a bestseller! In my mind, Pip and I were about to be a world-famous writer-artist sister duo!

I tried to remind myself of the Aesop moral: “Don't count your chickens before they are hatched.” But it was hard not to start counting. In fact, I started picturing a basket of eggs and a half dozen baby chicks hatching out of shells, their tiny beaks first,
peep
peep
peep
,
cheep
cheep
cheep
.

One two three

four five six…

Chick chick chick

chicks chicks chicks…

Ava Ignoring Aesop

1/15
bedtime
Dear Diary,

I told Pip that Mr. Ramirez said he would give our book to Jerry. I even mentioned that we might turn into a world-famous author-illustrator team.

“Dream on, Ava,” Pip said, but I bet she has been daydreaming too. She once told me that while she would
not
want to be famous, she
would
like to be an artist.

I handed her:

Q is for queen triggerfish.

The queen triggerfish is big and bright;

It changes colors and sleeps at night.

Then I casually mentioned that we had to finish by next Friday.

“What??!” Pip said, her voice rising. “Ava, we still have ten letters to go!” She was freaking out, but I think she was also getting extra inspired because next thing you know, she was drawing an elaborate border of shiny golden crowns for the Q page and telling me to get to work on “rainbow trout.”

I am now going to bed. I'm going to leave my door wide open in case Taco Cat decides to visit. Lately, when Pip and I have been writing or drawing, he'll plunk himself on top of our picture book as if asking to be petted—or maybe saying, “I dare you to make me move.”

Pip says it's annoying. Me, I never mind putting down my pen and picking up my cat. I love that he's becoming more affectionate!

Ava, Affectionate

P.S. Chuck and I have gone over a week without talking. Bea said I should try to act normal with him, but how can I when we haven't been sitting next to each other? Is he avoiding me? (Or does he…
miss
me a little too?) I can't believe Zara caused so much trouble with one stupid question! Arrrggghh!

1/16
Saturday N-O-O-N
Dear Diary,

Here are my latest poems:

S is for seahorse.

With a kangaroo's pouch and a horse's head,

The dad carries the babies and makes sure they're fed.

and

T is for trumpetfish.

The slow trumpetfish is straight as a stick,

Hiding in branches is its very best trick.

Speaking of hiding, Taco Cat isn't hiding as much as he used to—except when he finds a bag or box or wants to take a catnap. It seems like he'd rather keep us company than keep his distance. When we watch a movie on TV, for instance, he'll sit near us, almost as if he's watching too.

Sometimes he even follows us into the bathroom. (This morning I heard Pip say, “Taco, get out! I need privacy!”)

When Mom or Dad drives into our garage, or Pip comes home from art class, Taco pricks up his ears and goes trotting over to the back door to say a quiet hello.

He doesn't like when we play Boggle though. When anyone shakes the letters, he takes off. So that's another sound he abhors. (And “abhors,” which means “hates,” is another six-letter word with all its letters in alphabetical order.)

Personally, I think Taco can't really change his inner nature, which is that he is a bit of a scaredy-cat.

I wonder if Zara can't change her inner nature either, which is that she's a bit of a blabbermouth.

I once read an Aesop fable about how it's hard to hide your inner nature. It's called “The Cat and the Maiden,” and it goes like this:

The
gods
were
arguing
about
whether
a
living
creature
can
change
its
nature. Jupiter, the king of the gods, said yes, but Venus, the goddess of love, said no. To prove his point, Jupiter turned a cat into a beautiful maiden. A man fell madly in love with her and proposed. At the wedding, Jupiter said to Venus, “Look how lovely she is. Who would have thought that she used to be a cat?” Venus said, “Watch this!” and tossed a squeaky mouse into her path. No sooner did the bride see it, than she pounced upon it. The groom was horrified! And Venus said to Jupiter, “See? You can't change who you are.”

Well, not to argue with Aesop or anything, but I don't agree that you are who you are. Maybe in
some
ways. But not in all ways. I mean, I think people and cats
can
change a little bit, if they want to and they try.

Like, Pip and Taco are both a lot less timid than they used to be. Right now, Pip is at Isabel's, and Pip never used to go to other kids' houses. As for Taco, maybe he will always seem aloof and like he's planning his escape. But he is settling down a bit and trusting us. And I'll say this: his ready-to-run personality makes his “cat cuddles” extra sweet. >^. .^<

Ava, Not Aloof

BOOK: Ava and Taco Cat
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