I ended up running out into the street altogether. I got as far as a couple of blocks away before I realized there was no sign of my quarry anywhere. Finally, I stopped underneath a street light and bent over gasping for breath, sucking in a mouthful of hair in the process. A tricycle rumbled past, followed by yowling as a couple of cats erupted from behind a garbage can on the opposite corner and chased each other down the street. As expected, neither of them was a small calico cat with a yellow heart on its chest and no business prowling around our house—or anywhere else, for that matter.
What the heck was I thinking? I scolded myself. So it was a cat, big deal. There were about a hundred cats in our neighborhood, and who knew how many calico ones. And it was dark. It was the easiest thing in the world to mistake one cat for another.
And to confuse a living cat with a dead one? Just plain nuts. The last time I’d seen Mustard was four years ago, and that was before I shoveled dirt over her poor, broken body, then said a prayer for the eternal repose of her soul. That had been a rather strange day—me standing over the small, sad grave underneath the butterfly tree at far side of the park, the ground around me carpeted wth pink and purple flowers, the air silvery with rain so fine it was more like mist…
And Markus standing beside me, holding his own shovel in a death-grip, his shoulders stiff with the tears he absolutely refused to shed.
A really strange day.
Huffing with annoyance, I straightened, scraping my hair back and redoing my ponytail into a bun as I made my way back home. Obviously, Mustard had some distant relations living here, and one of them had gotten it into its head to try and spook me. Honestly, this had been a complete waste of time. Alarm shot through me when I realized I’d run out of the house before I could straighten up the dining table. All my school books, notes and stuff were still lying there, since I’d just finished studying and had only begun preparations for dinner.
Then again—I checked my watch—I still had enough time. Ziggy would be coming home from our aunt’s place, where he sometimes helped out at their T-shirt printing business, in about a quarter of an hour, hopefully without any of his friends in tow. Ditto for the twins, who had practice sessions at their dojo. Markus, too, who was likely taking a girl out on an after-school date, as was his usual practice. Later, Arianne and Shelly would drop by for a group study session with the boys, as Daniel informed me earlier. No surprise there. The three boys and two girls had been fast friends since grade school, which meant they were in and out of our place often enough. And that accounted for the Demolition Crew.
As for Dad…I sighed as I entered our gate, which I’d carelessly left open in my rush to chase after imaginary cats. Dad, who was constantly on the look-out for new business ideas—despite the fact that he had zero talent for business and even less money sense—had announced that he was meeting a potential partner over dinner tonight. Which meant he’d be back in the wee hours of the morning, so forget having a family dinner with him again.
I shook my head. As if anything would come out of this new scheme of his, if it was even that at—
I froze. Markus was standing beside the dining table, where my things were still scattered across the surface. His own backpack was already sitting in the chair he usually sat in when he was over, and he was over so much of the time he was practically my fourth brother. He must have come in while I was running around in the streets. But what sent a wave of icy horror crashing over me was the sheet of note paper in his hand, which he was reading intently, an indecipherable expression on his face.
That paper on which I’d written a list of goals. Very personal goals. Very embarrassing goals. It was, in short, a list that was never meant to be seen by any living creature other than myself.
And Markus was reading it. My brothers’ best buddy, partner-in-crime, and one of our school’s most notorious players…that Markus.
I made a strangled noise, which caused him to look up. As our eyes met, that was when I realized Ate Leah had been right about cats all along.