“It’s a girl,” Dad confirmed, first thing after Jerrianna plopped KittyKat onto his lap. “Probably going to have kittens. That’s why they ditched her. With a cat this size, she’ll have a dozen kittens! Maine Coon, I’m thinking! Bet they don’t even have a baby, never mind one that’s allergic to cats! Kai Cei, why’d you leave the car unlocked? They could’ve taken your stereo or the car!”
“Car was locked. Windows were partly down.” Jerri told him.
“Kai Cei! What’s the point in locking the car if—”
“Ah, nothing happens in Northfield, Kurt.”
“Famous last words, my sweet! Someday, you’re going to be walking! It’s a fair hike home from Northfield Super!”
Mom shrugged. “Probably need the exercise.”
Dad snorted. “Yeah, any skinnier and you’ll be the Invisible Woman! That’s not the point. So, what’s the plan here? You putting in the ad that’s finding this giant feline a new home?”
“We’re keeping her,” Jerrianna informed him. “Mom said!”
Dad looked up at Mom. “I don’t think she did,” he decided after studying her Nothing Look. “Bet she wants to as bad as you do, though!”
Mom laughed. “Think you’re smart, don’t you?”
He gave KittyKat to Jerrianna and stood up. “Yeah, I think I am!” He kissed her a quick kiss and then surprised us all. “Keep her. She’s just what you need, Kai Cei, when I’m not here!”
“Well, I doubt she’ll help me clean house and deal with kids!”
“No, but she’ll keep you company once the house is clean and the kids are in bed!” He watched KittyKat wash Jerri’s ear. “Got to find her a different name though. Can’t live in the same house with anything named KittyKat!”
Right away, Bigfoot, Fluffy, Honey, Snowshoes, Mallet, and a ton of other names like that popped out of our mouths. Mom and I kind of liked Snowshoes best. Dad liked Mallet. Jerrianna wasn’t crazy about any of them to permanently attach it to our new pet.
“I know!” she cried all at once. “How about Snowshoe Mal?”
“There we go!” Mom gave it her ready approval. “Snowshoe Mal . . . Sounds like a decent compromise to me!”
Jerrianna, sitting on the floor beside Dad’s chair, lifted the cat up by its armpits and brought it close enough to kiss it on the furry part of its nose. “Snowshoe Mal. That’s you! Malley for short.”
Malley softly batted Jerri’s cheek with one big paw.
“Works for me,” Dad said, reaching down to rub the spot between Malley’s ears. “What do you think, Snowshoe Mal? Will it work for you?”
Malley butted Dad’s hand with her head and gave a purring meow up at him. Then, she suddenly scrambled out of Jerri’s grasp, leaping over into his arms, all happy, like she knew she’d won him over and didn’t have to worry about anything, anymore.
Dad looked up at Mom with a cheeky grin. “Yep, works for her, too! Snowshoe Mal it is—Malley for short!”
Jerrianna stood up and took Malley away from him. “Now let’s see if she lives up to her name of Mallet. That’s what Mal and Malley stand for. Mom, come on—see what you can teach her!”
“Let’s you and I just start playing, Jerri. See if she’ll get the idea.”
Get the idea? Man, she caught the idea square in those dinner plate paws of hers! First, she watched them play with wide owl eyes, an intense concentration plainly in them. Then, her tail started lashing faster and faster. She hunched up for the pounce, her gaze sharper and keener than before.
So quick did she move for it, she took us all by surprise.
Jerrianna bounced up and down on her tiptoes. “Whoa! I guess she learns fast! You almost let that one get by you, Mom! I’ll stay here to retrieve the puck for her—that is, if you can get it past her!” She flipped her long dark red hair over her shoulder, her blue-green eyes sparkling with eager enthusiasm.
I have eyes that color too. Doubt they sparkle like that, though. Too much of a Doom Dork, Jerri’s always teasing. It’s just that I like to be more careful about stuff, that’s all. Even now, I didn’t get all excited over Malley’s talent.
Cats chase things. Didn’t make them an expert at air hockey!
Dad popped some popcorn and poured us all some soda. He and I started a game of Golf so we could follow their game too. Concentration isn’t something you need a lot of to play Golf with cards.
Mom and Malley played for almost an hour. You’d think Mom’s arms would be falling off by then, but she just drank a lot of lemonade, popped a handful of popcorn in her face every so often and kept playing.
Mom’s pretty good with either hand. Jerri can use both hands equally well, too. Like mom like daughter, I guess. Dad’s a righty, and me, I’m left handed totally. Couldn’t use my right hand if someone offered me a gazillion dollars and a pony! I’d sure try, though!
Malley seemed to be like Mom and Jerri—able to use whichever paw she felt like. Sometimes she ran all over the table after the puck, but pretty soon she seemed to get the idea she had her own side to defend. Mom started slow, just doing straight shots, then she started adding bank shots, combination shots, and finally drifts.
Malley didn’t get quite as hypnotized by those as I did. Mom’s skill at keeping a drift going in perfect rhythm was awesome. Nobody in Northfield could master even the side to side never mind the diamond drift. Malley didn’t care about all that.
When Mom finally chose to go for it, she was ready. Her paw whipped out to sling the puck back at Mom before Mom had a chance to draw back and cover her goal. The puck slid sweetly into the pocket. They were tied now. I started betting on Malley to win.
“Boy, Mom, she’s gonna make you sweat!” I said, forgetting I didn’t want to let on I thought Malley was as good as she was.
“That’s for sure. This is great!” Mom said with happy satisfaction as she slid the puck back onto the table. “I finally have someone who can challenge me—but not wimp if I score!” She faked a play which succeeded in distracting Malley, and then she hit a left wall under bank shot. Game point—but for once she’d actually had to work for her win.
“Be better if you had a full-sized table,” Dad observed. “Wonder if Coop would let you bring her to the alley sometime. There a no pet law for bowling alleys?”
“Probably is. We need our own table,” Jerrianna stated. “It would fit here in the basement!”
“Yeah, and who’s paying for it?” Mom demanded. “They don’t give ‘em away, you know.”
“Never know what Coop’s going to find at those auctions he goes to,” Dad told her. “He could come up with something. Got one for Micky, didn’t he?”
“Uh-huh,” Mom replied, pretty much like she didn’t ever expect such a miracle to happen for us. “Even if he did, I’ve only been to a couple of matches, Kurt. Just to watch. Playing against Tim and Jinny—you’re the one who arranged for that. You and the kids. Running around bragging about me like you were there to promote me or something. Can’t believe you’d want me to make this a priority in my life—in our lives! If I did, we’d both be away from home more often than I’d like! Kurt—”
“I know that, Kaice. Just seems a shame that you’re so good at this and it’s all wasted in little bitty Northfield! You beat ‘em both! I know the matches were informal but you could be top in the women’s division in no time! The men’s too, for that matter! It wasn’t pretty to see Tim cry!”
She laughed. “How quick you were to offer him your handkerchief! You gloated enough for all of us!”
“Yes! That’s it!” shouted Jerrianna, jumping up and down in her excitement. “That’s how we fix Ralph Henry!”
“Ow! Man! My ears!” I clapped my hands over them.
“Calm down, Jer,” Dad told her. “You fixing to send poor Ralph Henry out on the tourney circuit with your mother?” He knew about Ralph Henry, for we told him about meeting him at the store. But he hadn’t met him formally, yet, like Mom had.
“No! Have one right here in our basement!” She ran over and plopped down on the floor beside Dad’s chair. “See, we invite everyone in our class to come, and we let Ralph Henry win! And then—”
“Oh, that’ll help,” I remarked mockingly. “Letting him win will put him right in his place. Be a model of humbleness forever after!”
Jerrianna bounced up and down on her knees. “No, listen! How humble could he be if he got beat by a cat?”
No one said a thing. Just looked at her like she’d landed on Earth from an Unknown Planet Far, Far, Far, oho, WAY Far Away!
Playing against a cat for fun was one thing. Staking your future on it in the small town you’ve lived in all your life was another. Only an airhead would think up something like this. If Ralph Henry won the tournament, we’d have to pack our duffel bags and head south. Deep, deep south. As in, leave the country for South American jungles south!
And even that probably wouldn’t be good enough!
Jerrianna wasn’t daunted one teensy smidgen by our skeptical silence. “It could work!” she insisted. “At least it’s a plan that doesn’t use methods of pain and agony—or mysterious disappearances or space ships.”
“Well,” acknowledged Mom, “that’s true. Jeoffrey’s ideas tend to get a bit dramatic and gruesome.” She favored me with a look of mild reproof.
“He can’t help it,” explained Jerrianna earnestly. “Doom Dorks think like that!”
“I am not a Doom Dork!”
“He said emphatically between his teeth,” Jerrianna said as if she was writing one of her stories. “You are. All you ever see is how things will go wrong or the faults of someone. You never notice anyone has a good side or that things might turn out better than you think. And you never see that you could be the one to turn a bad situation around if you wanted to do it.”
“Yeah?” I countered. “Well, I’m not noticing your good side right now, either!”
“Well, you’re just an idiot,” she said, brushing my remark aside like so much cat litter. Used at that. “It’d be fun! Some of the other kids have table top sets and a few have the bigger ones like we have. We could see if they could bring them so it’d go faster. Come on, Mom! It’d be a great competition!”
“Where’s the competition if we have to let Ralph Henry win, Jerri,” I pointed out. “Not any, if you ask me!”
“It’s so he can lose to Malley!”
“Malley hasn’t lost to Mom, yet. Mom’s still King—Queen of Air Hockey. She should be the one to play him. He wants to play her, anyway.”
“No, think of it! What would make you feel more like a slug? Getting beaten by someone’s mom or their cat? I’m telling you, this poor, unwanted, abandoned kitty was sent to us for a reason! This reason! I say we don’t waste the chance and those gigantic paws!”
The whole cat was huge, but I retorted, wrinkling my nose at both Jerri and Malley, “You’ve been watching too many Disney movies! Not gonna happen that way. It’s a stupid plan! Mine is better!”
Just for the record though, I wouldn’t want to be humiliated either way. But that’s me. We’re talking Ralph Henry here. Who knew what really would humiliate him? I didn’t think anything could.
Just get me those boxes and that rocket ship!
“Forget the rocket ship, Jeoffrey,” Mom recommended, for I’d impulsively spoken out loud. “As for your plan, Jerrianna, it might work, it might not. We’ve had Malley for just a few hours. What if she doesn’t play the way she played tonight? You’d be taking a big chance depending on her for this.”
“Well, we’ll hold you in reserve! Come on, can’t we try it? At least we’d have some fun with our friends. That’s worth it.”
“Sure-er-er,” I replied sarcastically. “We’ll have lots of friends when they find out our plan depends on a cat! They’ll tar us and feather us and run us out of town on a skateboard tied to the back of a school bus!”
“Oh, don’t listen to him! He never has faith in anything—especially himself! Please, Dad!” Jerrianna pleaded. Propping her elbows on his knees, she folded her hands and gazed imploringly up at him. “Please, please can we do it? We won’t wreck the house or anything. We’ll stay right down here! Promise!”
“Mmmm,” he said guardedly. “How many kids are we talking here? Five, six?”
“Twenty—twenty-four!” stated Mom more realistically.
“Twenty-four? Kai Cei, we’d be crazy to agree to this! Twenty-four wacky silly ten-year-olds scrambling all over the place? Malley’d probably hide under somebody’s bed until it was over! No cat likes that much rowdiness in its home!”
Very true! Always a hitch in the plan! Not that it would’ve worked in the first place. So, I didn’t mind he’d found one.
Jerrianna wouldn’t give up. “No, look how friendly she’s been! Rachel’s new kitten hid in her closet behind her boots for two weeks after they brought her home from the shelter. But Malley’s gone to all of us without acting weird or anything. Please, Dad—Mo-om, can we?”
“She hasn’t come to me!” I returned with resentment.
“But she hasn’t run off and hid someplace, has she? She’s used to people more, it looks like to me. I bet she lived with those other people all her life, but then when they had their baby they just dumped her. She’ll be fine! Please, please, please, Momma, can we do it? I’ll make all the snacks, and I’ll clean down here, and—and everything!”
“Let’s talk about it a little more,” said Mom. “If we do it, I want to know we’ll have control over things. We have the room, probably, but twenty-four kids crammed all at once in our basement is a lot of kids to have to look after.”
Jerrianna hopped up and danced over to Mom, gesturing excitedly with her hands as she continued her determined persuasion. “We have a bathroom right down here and we have a mini kitchen. We’re all set! No one has to go upstairs for anything! We’ll be good, I promise!”
“Where have I heard that before?” Dad asked, pretending to think hard on it. “Maybe not those exact words but so very similar!”
“Us. We said things like it to our parents a thousand times and more when we were kids,” answered Mom.
“Didn’t always get us anyplace, either!”
“Oh, no, not always! Often enough, though,” Mom recalled.
“In your house, maybe! You saying we should grant her wish for this?” Dad turned up his last card as he spoke. A king. He made a face at it. He had twenty points showing. I had three.
I won! Finally, at last, about time, WON!
I whooped my joy, bouncing in my seat, pumping my arms like a pro and grinning arrogantly at Dad. He just smiled.
“One game, partner, don’t make you a champ! Best three out of five!” he informed me. He looked at Mom who hadn’t answered his question yet. “Well?”
“Well, I think we should talk about it more,” Mom said, practicing a diamond drift. It had the kind of rhythmic sound to it that could almost put me to sleep. “Make a plan that won’t leave us in chaos! Maybe some of the kids’ parents could help out. In any event, I shouldn’t be the Deliverer of Justice. I really don’t think it’d accomplish your goal—and it isn’t honestly fair.”
“Mom, it’d be okay! Nobody’d mind!”
Dad didn’t know quite how to feel about it. “Jerri, quit hopping around like that. You’re making me nervous! We’ll talk about it. No promises yet, okay? Now sit down here so we can all play a round of Golf before you have to go to bed!”
“Okay!” She plopped into her seat. “Then I’m going to go write out my plan!”
She writes everything down. She wants to be a writer someday. Mom says she’s already one. If you write you’re a writer—even if you don’t get money for it. Jerri wants to get paid. I’m not saying this because I’m her twin or anything but she writes good stories. I’m the hero in lots of them.
It’s the only time I’m not a Doom Dork.
“Make sure Malley reads it!” Mom told her half jokingly.
If I thought it would’ve helped, I’d’ve read it to her myself!
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