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Authors: Ann M. Martin

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BOOK: Staying Together
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Olivia heard nothing more until, after a number of clicks, Flora said, “Hello?”

“Hi, it's me. What is going
on
over there?”

It was Flora's turn to sigh. “Just … nothing.”

“It doesn't sound like nothing,” replied Olivia. “But listen, I called because Nikki is on her way over and we thought it would be a good day for a Saturday adventure, but Ruby says she won't go if you go, and we're not leaving you out.”

“Well, I won't go if Ruby goes.”

“What? Are you kidding me?”

“No.”

“You won't go if Ruby goes, and Ruby won't go if you go.”

“Correct.”

“But it isn't a proper adventure unless all four of us go.”

“I'm sorry, Olivia. I don't know what to say.”

“Olivia!” called her mother from downstairs. “Nikki's here!”

“Okay, thanks!” Olivia called back. She considered inviting Flora over, but she was feeling irritated with her friend, so instead she simply said, “Got to go. Bye.” And hung up the phone.

“Nikki!” she exclaimed a few moments later when Nikki flopped into Olivia's armchair. “You won't believe this. Flora and Ruby are still mad at each other, and Ruby won't go on an adventure if Flora goes, and Flora won't go if Ruby goes. So the adventure is off.”

Nikki's face fell. “What is wrong with them? What's the fight about anyway? Do you know?”

Olivia shook her head. “They won't tell me. But it must be bad. They're barely talking to each other.”

“What are we going to do?”

Olivia picked at a bit of fluff on her bedspread. “I don't know. I guess we can only see Flora when Ruby isn't around and vice versa.”

Nikki nodded dismally. “You have to admit that it isn't very pleasant when they're together.”

“But I don't want things to change!”

“Oh, they'll get over it. How long do you think their fight can go on?”

“It's gone on pretty long already.”

“Well, look. We don't have to let it wreck our day. Why don't you call Flora back and just ask her if she wants to go to the movies with us?”

“But we can't leave Ruby out of a Saturday adventure.”

“Then we won't call it a Saturday adventure.”

“Nikki. Ruby's not stupid. She'll know what we're doing. And she'll think we're choosing Flora over her.”

Nikki, who had been sitting up straight, attempting to stretch her spine and therefore increase her height, slumped back in the chair. “I know. You're right.”

“This is terrible.”

“Yeah. Okay, then why don't we talk to Flora about it?”

“Because … do you really want to get involved with whatever's going on?”

“Well, no.”

“Neither do I.”

“So what are we going to do?”

“I guess you and I could go to the movies by ourselves.”

“That's not what I meant!” exclaimed Nikki. “I meant, what are we going to do about you and me and Flora and Ruby?”

“I don't know.”

“I don't know, either.”

Olivia sighed. The day had been ruined.

How was it, Nikki wondered, that a fight between two
other
people could make
her
feel so dreary? But she did feel dreary (Olivia did, too) and it was all because of Flora and Ruby. Everything was wrong. On Saturday, Nikki and Olivia had finally left Olivia's house and ventured into town, where they had each ordered a slice at College Pizza (not as a Saturday adventure but simply as a sad, second-place lunch). Flora had walked by on her way to Needle and Thread, seen them through the window, rushed inside, and slid into their booth.

“Why didn't you tell me you were coming here?” she had asked.

Flora had looked hurt in a way that instantly made Nikki feel cross, and she'd almost replied, “We don't have to tell you everything we do,” but luckily had thought better of it.

Across the table, Olivia had shrugged her shoulders. “We didn't want to have a Saturday adventure and leave either you or Ruby out, so …” Her voice had trailed off.

“But this isn't a Saturday adventure.”

“No. But you guys knew we were trying to plan one,” Nikki had told Flora. “We thought if we asked you to come to lunch with us, then Ruby would feel hurt.” She'd glanced at Olivia, who had said nothing further, and then at Flora, who had stared at the table. After a long embarrassing silence, Flora had said she'd promised to help Min with the quilts and had left College Pizza, looking tragic.

School the following week wasn't any better. Flora was glum, and the one time Nikki mentioned Ruby's name, Flora said, “So you're taking
her
side?”

“A, all I said was that the fight must be hard on Ruby,” Nikki replied hotly, “and B, I don't know what the fight is about, so how could I possibly be taking
anybody's
side?”

Flora shrugged.

When school ended that day, Nikki couldn't wait to escape to Sheltering Arms. It was her afternoon to volunteer there, and she felt a wave of relief wash over her as the van from the shelter pulled up in front of Camden Falls Central and Harriet waved to her from the driver's seat.

Nikki waved back and slid in next to Harriet, who was practically a full-time volunteer at the shelter. “Thank you for picking me up,” Nikki said. “Next week Mr. Pennington is going to drive me.”

“No problem,” Harriet replied. “It's been a busy day. I've been driving around all afternoon anyway.”

“Making deliveries?” asked Nikki, and Harriet nodded.

Sheltering Arms supplied chow to people who could no longer afford to buy food for their cats and dogs. Nikki noted that the number of people who had applied for help had risen steadily in the past few months.

“Any new dogs come in this week?” Nikki wanted to know.

Harriet glanced at her. “You mean a dog that would be right for Mr. Pennington? No. Several new ones did come in, but four are large, two need a lot of rehabilitation, and the seventh is a mama with a litter of puppies. But don't worry. You know the perfect dog will come along eventually.”

Nikki began each of her afternoons at Sheltering Arms in the same way. First she checked in with a young man named Bill, who was the volunteer coordinator, to find out what needed to be done.

“Just the usual today,” Bill said with a smile.

“The usual” meant first checking the cages of the dogs that had been deemed adoptable, visiting with the dogs, cleaning up any messes, and refilling water bowls. After that, Nikki would enter the cat room, which was an enormous space inhabited by dozens of cats roaming freely in a feline-friendly environment. The room was full of climbing apparatuses, kitty condos, sleeping perches, blankets, beds, and toys. Again, Nikki would clean up messes, fill water bowls, and generally tidy things up. Often there were visitors in the cat room, people wanting to adopt, and Nikki and the other volunteers would talk with them and try to steer them toward the right cat for their family. When she left the cat room, she would set out for her favorite part of the afternoon — playing with the dogs outside in their runs.

Nikki and an adult volunteer left Bill and opened a door marked
DOGS
(which Flora once said looked like an entrance that was
for
dogs, not one that was
to
dogs). On the other side of the door were the cages for the friendly, adoptable dogs. Nikki had been pleased, the first time she'd toured Sheltering Arms, to find that the cages were more like small rooms. Some were even furnished with a couch or a chair. And each had a large, comfy dog bed, clean bowls, and a number of toys. Nikki started at one end of the room and worked her way up and down the row.

“Hi, Mystery,” she said, reading the notice that had been posted on the door to the first cage.

Mystery, a large, very furry dog who looked like she might be part collie, greeted Nikki with a woof and planted her front feet on the ground, rump raised. She was ready to play.

“Okay,” Nikki said, laughing, and started a game of tug-of-war with one of Mystery's rubber toys. Eventually, Mystery lost the game. She rolled over on her back and gazed soulfully at Nikki. “Belly rub?” asked Nikki, and obligingly patted Mystery's belly.

She moved on to the next cage, where she found a dog who looked like a mix of so many breeds that Nikki thought his name should be Mystery, too. However, when he had arrived at Sheltering Arms, he had been given the name Sparky.

“Hello, boy!” exclaimed Nikki.

Sparky tipped his tail at her, but he was in the middle of a nap, so Nikki patted him and left him alone.

Up and down the row she went, patting, talking, and playing with the dogs and chatting with other volunteers. Every dog was glad to see her, and by the time she walked back through the
DOGS
door, she realized that her dark mood had lifted.

She was working her way around the cat room again, rinsing off toys, sweeping up fur, and entertaining a pair of kittens who wanted to play with her dust broom, when Harriet entered, her arms loaded with bags of chow.

“What's the matter?” Nikki asked her. “Is something wrong?”

Harriet's face was grim. She set the bags down, then sat on the floor. Immediately, a cat climbed into her lap. She sighed, stroking the cat's back. “We just got a call.”

Nikki could feel the bleakness return. She loved the shelter, but sometimes working there was sad, and the words
We just got a call
spoken in Harriet's dismal tone of voice never meant anything good.

“Dog or cat?” asked Nikki.

“Cat. Actually, a stray mama cat and three kittens.”

“Are they sick?”

Harriet shook her head. “No. But a woman called to say that she's discovered the cats in her neighborhood and thinks someone is abusing the mother. The kittens are well hidden — smart mama — but when the mama goes out looking for food, someone keeps, well, torturing her. The cat is covered in scars and burn marks.”

Nikki felt her stomach turn over, although it wasn't the first time she'd heard such a story. “So what's going to happen?” she asked.

“We're sending someone over to the woman's house right away to help her trap the mother cat. The woman knows where the babies are. The mother is wary, as you can imagine, but if we can lure her into one of the humane traps, then we'll bring her and the babies here right away. I don't imagine that will happen until tomorrow, though.”

Nikki nodded. She felt like crying but didn't want to do that in front of Harriet. If you worked in a shelter you had to develop a thick skin. She brightened. “So the next time I come here we'll have more kittens!”

Harriet smiled at her. “Yes. And maybe you can help us work with the mother. It will take a long time to win her trust after what she's been through.”

At the end of the afternoon, Harriet dropped Nikki off at her house. “See you next week,” she called as she turned her car around.

Nikki gave her an over-the-shoulder wave and let Paw-Paw out into the yard. “You're lucky, boy,” she told him. “You don't have to worry about where your next meal is coming from or whether you'll find a safe place to sleep.”

Paw-Paw gave Nikki a doggie grin and followed her back into the house.

Nikki checked her watch. Her mother and Mae wouldn't be home for another half hour and they were bringing dinner with them, which meant that Nikki had time to start her homework. She sat at the kitchen table with her books stacked in front of her, stared at them for a while, and then picked up the phone.

“Olivia?” she said. “Hi, it's me. Listen, I've been thinking. We have to come up with a plan to end the fight between Flora and Ruby.” She heard a muffled groan. “What, you don't want it to end?”

“Of course I want it to end,” replied Olivia. “I just don't want to interfere. And I thought you didn't, either. You said so yourself.”

“Yeah, but that was on Saturday. I thought maybe the fight would be over by now.”

“I did, too. But look, if we get caught in the middle, that's just going to make things worse. They might get mad at us. Then they'd be mad at us, mad at each other …”

“Huh,” said Nikki. “Maybe. But I think we can fix things without getting caught in the middle. For one thing, we
still
don't know what the fight is about, so it's impossible for us to take sides.”

“I have a bad feeling about this,” said Olivia.

“Well, just go along with me for a minute. What if … what if you and I plan another Saturday adventure, only we don't call it that. And then we invite Flora and Ruby — separately — to wherever our adventure is going to take place.” Nikki paused, thinking.

“You mean so neither of them knows the other one has been invited?” asked Olivia.

“Exactly. And since they aren't talking to each other,” Nikki continued, feeling inspired, “they won't find out that they've
both
been invited.”

BOOK: Staying Together
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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