Authors: Laurie Halse Anderson
Most of the time I am a happy person, but there are a few things that I absolutely hate: lima beans, bullies, and moving. When I was a kid, I learned how to choke down lima beans (because my mother thought they were good for me) and how to stand up to bullies. But because of my father's job, we had to move every couple of years.
It was AWFUL.
The worst part was having to make new friends in school. I was a shy kid and meeting new people did not come easily to me. I always said exactly the wrong thing and felt like people were laughing at me. (They weren't!) That's why I identify so much with Jules in this book. She's struggling with the move and a new school and a busy family. But she finds comfort in animals, like so many of us. The question is, can she find a way to mend fences with Maggie and become a Vet Volunteer?
Laurie Halse Anderson
Collect All the Vet Volunteers Books
Fight for Life
Fear of Falling
Time to Fly
End of the Race
Published by the Penguin Group
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Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in the United States of America by Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, 2012
Copyright Â© Laurie Halse Anderson, 2012
Title page photo copyright Â© 2011, Bob Krasner
All rights reserved
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Puffin Books ISBN 978-1-101-56694-7
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For Lynn Hazen
he tabby cat with black, gray, and white stripes is hanging out near the Dumpster behind our store again. I've seen him every day since we moved here a week ago. It's getting late and I promised Mom I'd help with dinner, but I want to see if the cat's okay. Yesterday, he had a tear in his left ear, but he was too jittery to let me look at it closely or to clean it.
“Hey there, kitty,” I say. “How's your ear? Still no tags or collar?”
“Meow,” he says. He watches me, but keeps his distance, his ring-striped tail twitching from side to side. Aside from no collar or tag, and his ear, which looks like it's healing okay, he doesn't look like a stray. His coat is short, thick, and shiny, and he looks well fed. In fact, he's more chubby than sleek. Each day he comes a little closer to me and the water dish I set out for him, and twice he's let me pet him. I've been changing the water daily. Maybe today he'll let me pet him again and check his ear more closely.
“Meow?” he says again, this time a question.
“Yes, you can trust me,” I say.
He tilts his head, and his green eyes stare right at me.
My twin brother, Josh, says I have a sixth senseâAnimal Sense.
“I won't hurt you.”
The tabby is still skittish, but he's so cute. I love his markingsâgray, black, and white stripes, with two thicker black lines in his fur on the top of his head between his ears, forming what looks like a little M. He has more furry black V's accenting his eyes, and lots of fuzzy whiteness around his chin and neck. According to a cat website I found, he's a domestic shorthair brown mackerel tabby. But there is nothing common about him. His eyes and markings are so expressive. He's beautiful.
I kneel down a few feet behind the water dish and stay still. He finally approaches. He sniffs the water, laps at it, and then he walks closer to me. I slowly lean forward, pausing before my hand reaches him. He sniffs it, and then rubs his furry forehead against my fingers. His slightly wet white whiskers tickle me as he tilts his head one way then another against my hand.
“Meow,” he says again as I pet him, first his back, then his head, around his ears, including the ear with the little notch in it, and finally the warm, soft spot under his white chin until I feel and hear the vibration of his purr. Cats like me.
I miss petting the cats and kittens at the animal shelter back in Pittsburgh. This one reminds me of Moonshine, the orange tabby at the shelter. He was always a bit cautious, too. Before we moved here I volunteered there two days a week, helping clean up after the animals, washing their water and food dishes, petting and playing with the cats and kittens mostly, but sometimes the dogs and puppies, too. I helped get the animals socialized and friendly around people so they would have a better chance of being adopted.
“Where do you live?” I ask the tabby. “Do you have a home?”
He looks up at me as if he's about to tell me something important.
As soon as we get the hardware store Mom and Dad bought all set up and open for business, I really want to volunteer at the shelter here in Ambler, too. I even got a recommendation letter from my supervisor back in Pittsburgh like Dad suggested. When the Ambler shelter sees my letter, I'm sure they'll let me volunteer.
The cat's purr gets louder and louder.
And I was excited to see that there's a veterinary clinic two blocks down the street. Maybe I'll make a copy of my letter to show the vets there, too. If I'm going to be a veterinarian someday, I have to get more experience, especially since we've never had any family pets of our own. Mom promised that we could finally get a pet once we'd settled in, but now she acts like it's the last thing on her mind.
Mom doesn't understand how much I love animals, how good I am with them, and how being around animals makes me less nervous. But Dad gets it. He's an animal lover, too. He loves to see them, pet them, and he talks to them, just like me. Mom is a worrier. She worries about germs, safety, and how expensive a pet might be. And she never seems to relax around animals or enjoy petting them like Dad and I do.
The tabby comes closer and circles me, leaning his body against my ankles and legs, then comes back around to my hands for more petting.
“I'd sure like to keep you,” I say to him. “But you look like you already have a home. Still, you should be wearing a collar and a tag with your name and your owner's phone number on it.” He's close to me again, purring and content.
The back door to the store creaks open and bangs against the wall, startling the cat and me. “Hey, Jules,” Josh calls, “are you out here collecting strays again?” The cat sprints off across the back parking lot, out of sight.
“Josh!” I say. “You scared him away.”
“Sorry,” he says.
I look past the parking lot, hoping the tabby will come back, but he's gone. I hope his ear heals okay.
“Mom needs you upstairs,” Josh says. “I'm helping Dad in the store. And Mom says we have to get ready for school tomorrow. I'm exhausted. So much for spring break!”
Josh is right. Spring break hasn't been a vacation this year. Sometimes, like right now, Josh and I think exactly alike. We have a six-year-old sister, Sophie, too, but Sophie and I rarely think alike. It must be because Josh and I are twins.
“The store's looking good, isn't it?” Josh asks.
“I guess so,” I say.
I was excited when Mom and Dad bought the old boarded-up hardware store in Ambler. They renamed it Wrenches & Roses. Mom wants to add a bunch of gardening supplies and gift items to sell.
“Guess so? I know so,” Josh says. “That sign you helped Dad build and paint looks great. The store still needs a lot of fixing up, but it's coming along.”
Dad and I are handy with tools. Josh, not so much. He prefers to draw. Sophie draws, too. I like to build.
“I'm excited,” Josh adds. “You should be, too.”
“I'm excited about the store,” I say. “I'm just not thrilled with the first day of school tomorrow. Or meeting new kids.”
“It'll be fine,” Josh says.
“I hope so.” I shrug. “I'll be right in.”
Josh heads in, and I hear him tromping up the stairs. Our apartment is above the store, and there's a huge basement below the store full of who knows what. Josh and I tried to explore down there the first day, but it was not on Mom's to-do list.
I look once more to see if the tabby is coming back. Nope. So I go inside, past the basement door, and head upstairs. Dad says the basement needs a lot of work so it's strictly “off limits” for now, though he promised we could add a family workshop down there someday, where he could teach some do-it-yourself workshops about gardening techniques and home repairs for local families. There's a lot of room down there. And as he always says about everything, “There are so many possibilities.”
Nothing is settled. Not in the basement, not in the store, and especially not in our apartment. There are boxes and packing materials everywhere.
“Jules, wash up and help me set the table,” Mom says.
Sophie is in the living room, stacking empty boxes, open side out, one on top of the other. She makes a game of putting her stuffed animals in the boxes, talking to them as she goes. Poor kid. We need a real animal around here.
“Looking forward to going to school tomorrow?” Mom asks me.
“No, not really,” I say.
I half expect Mom to start in again on her never-ending You're-in-Seventh-Grade-Now-Julia-So-Be-Sure-to-Stay-Organized-with-Your-Schoolwork speech, but instead she sighs and goes back to making dinner. She can't think of anything to say and neither can I. If I start telling her how I feel, I won't be able to stop. Plus, I don't think she is interested in how I feel.
“Get a good night's rest, Jules,” Mom says. “It's easier to start fresh when you've had a good night's sleep.”
“Okay,” I say.
“And don't forget to smile,” she says. “It's a lot easier to meet new friends when you smile.”
Mom makes it sound so easy. Why did she think moving to Ambler in March was such a great idea? If we had stayed in Pittsburgh for spring break, I could have worked the whole week at the shelter. Instead, Josh and I have been stuck packing, unpacking, and helping to set up Wrenches & Roses. The store opens in just two weeks.
Now spring break is over. Finished. Gone forever. And so are my Pittsburgh friends and the cats and dogs at the shelter there. I was getting good grades in my middle school back in Pittsburgh. School was fun, but that's because I knew everybody and everybody knew me.
After Mom and Dad both lost their jobs, they found the hardware store for sale. Since they had always dreamed of owning a small business, they said we couldn't pass up this opportunity, and I get that. But now Josh and I have to start all over again in a new school in a new town with only three months of the school year left. I won't know any of the kids, and they'll all have their own friends picked out alreadyâugh!
At least Josh will be with me tomorrow. I may be good with animals, but I am not very good at making friends. Josh usually helps with that, telling jokes, breaking the ice, introducing us, and answering all the twin questions. And there are always twin questions, usually really dumb questions like, “Are you identical twins?” Duh, hello, I'm a girl, he's a boy, so how could we be identical? Twins, yes. Identical, no. Josh always responds in a friendly way, explaining the difference between identical and fraternal twins.
Talking about being twins makes me nervous. Plus, most girls who ask about us being twins are just trying to get to know Josh, not me. I realize that I'm downright dreading starting at a new middle school. It's stressing me out. Whenever I felt stressed out back in Pittsburgh, I'd just pet the cats and dogs at the shelter, and that always calmed me down. But I haven't had a pet connection in two weeks, aside from the stray tabby in the alley, and he barely let me pet him.
I wish I could run away like the stray tabby, only I'd run all the way back to our old home and my old school and all my old friends.