Never follow a cat. It’ll lead you to bad luck.
That’s what our last yaya used to tell us, back before she packed her bags and quit, and Dad declared I was old enough to take care of the Demolition Crew, a.k.a. my younger brothers and later their friends, by myself. It was one of the many things Ate Leah said to keep us from wandering off. Especially Ziggy. My baby brother was cute and sweet-natured and all, but apparently born with erratic teleportation abilities. The twins, on the other hand, were easy enough to locate when they did wander off. All you had to do was follow the crashing noises and/or the sound of screaming.
I was different, though. I wasn’t the kind of kid who went off on her own and caused trouble. Whenever I did wander off, it was to chase down my brothers and their friends and clean up whatever mess they’d gotten into. I was everything my brothers weren’t—well-behaved, obedient and reliable. I had to be, if I wanted the moral authority to enforce the rules and keep my brothers in line. Dante, in particular, was a loud-mouthed brat who liked to argue until he ran out of breath and pretend he was the boss, second only to Mama and Dad, just because he happens to be the oldest boy. Never mind that he’s the oldest boy by a grand total of nine minutes, and that I’m older than him by a good two years. Daniel was quieter, though not by much, and only because he preferred to observe his opponent first so he could ferret out any weaknesses before transmitting this information as ammunition to Dante. I swear, if the twins ever decide to open up a law firm, our family would be wallowing in riches. Needless to say, if there was one person in the world who couldn’t afford to have chinks in their armor, it was the Demolition Crew’s nanny/tutor/cook/housekeeper/older sister. In a word, me.
Having spent my early years in the care of a succession of yayas who never lasted for more than a year and a half, I became used to the constant scoldings, pleadings, threats and cries of frustration. It was like white noise in the background, the static in the soundtrack of my childhood. But Ate Leah’s admonition about following cats stood out because of how odd it was. None of the other yayas ever said anything like that. And why cats? How did she know they would lead to bad luck? What had cats ever done to her, anyway?
For a while, I puzzled endlessly over that. But I never tried to test it out. It was just some weird thing told to us to make us behave, that’s all. Besides, better be safe than sorry, right?
Then one night, the year I turned seventeen, about a month and a half before my last day in high school, I looked out the window above the kitchen sink and met a pair of green eyes staring straight at me. The small calico cat sat on the window ledge as if it belonged there, and the sight of the heart-shaped yellow patch on its—on her white breast sent a shock through me.
She blinked, her tail twitching. The knife dropped from my hand and clattered onto the chopping board, sending garlic cloves bouncing off. She meowed, the soft sound like a question, like a dare. Then she stood and jumped off into the darkness.
And I followed. I ran out of there without a thought in my head except to find that cat.
Well, no, not exactly. One other thought slid into my mind and lodged there like an ice-cold splinter: So how much bad luck will I get from following this cat?
Especially since the cat in question is most definitely dead?