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Dylan’s sorry, sad secret
There had been an explosion of gerbils.
wallop kind of explosion; a ‘population explosion’, that’s what Mum called it.
Basically, that meant that loads of gerbils had been handed in to the Paws For Thought Animal Rescue Centre where she worked, and they’d all had heaps of babies.
There’d been so many litters of gerbils born that they’d run out of space to keep them all. Which was why we had a cage full of gerbils plonked on our kitchen worktop right now.
“How many babies are there, Mrs Kidd?” asked my bestest friend Soph.
“Six in this litter,” Mum replied.
“How old are they?” asked Fee, peering at the snuffly, pink blobs in the straw.
Fee is my other bestest friend. Soph and Fee came round after school today to work on the poems our teacher asked us to write. Instead, we were staring at the newest foster pets in our house.
’Cause of Mum’s job, we often have foster pets here, and some of them end up becoming proper pets, like Dibbles the not-very-pretty-but-totally-adorable dog did not so long ago.
“They’re only a few hours old,” I told Fee. “They were born this morning, weren’t they, Mum?”
“Yes, Indie, that’s right. Oh dear … it is worrying,” Mum sighed.
“Why’s it worrying?” asked Dylan.
Dylan is my step-brother. He hadn’t come round to write poems; he’d come round to hang out with Dibbles and our other dogs, Kenneth (the Scottie) and George (the greyhound), since he’s not allowed pets at his house.
“Well, Dylan, it’s worrying because it’s going to be very hard to find homes for all these little guys!” Mum said.
Mum was so caught up in worrying that she’d totally forgotten she’d scrunched her hair into a (sort of) bun and
(sort of) fixed it in place with a pencil – a pencil with a green-haired, rubber gonk on the end.
“Right, I must make a note of the gerbils’ feeding rota!” she mumbled, heading out of the kitchen. “Now, where did I leave my pencil…?”
“Oooh, Indie – those babies are just the cutest thing!” cooed Soph, once Mum had left the room.
“Yes, I know,” I said, thinking that Soph was so close to the cage that her breath must have felt like a warm breeze to the gerbil babies.
“Urgh! Are you kidding?” Fee laughed. “They look like slugs with noses!”
“Oh, yeah, Fee? Well, you look more like a slug with a nose than they do!” Soph burst out.
“I do not!”
“Yes, you do!” Soph insisted with a big cheeky grin. “Then again … you look more like a slug in a wig!”
Fee did a big gasp then, pretending to be hurt, though she wasn’t really.
“If I look like a slug in a wig, Sophie Musyoka, then you look like a … a … a daddy long legs in a hoodie!”
Now that they’d both started to get silly, I wasn’t sure what they’d come up with next – something dumb about me being like a bluebottle with bunches, maybe?
But then a car horn went honk! outside, waking our cat Smudge up from her snoozles for a whole nanosecond.
“That’ll be my dad,” said Soph, as Smudge’s eyelids started drooping and she carried on with her snooozles in the laundry basket. “Want a lift, Fee?”
“Def’nitely,” said Fee, handing Soph’s school bag to her.
And with a wave and a wiggle of fingers, they were both gone.
“Indie, is it hygenic to have those gerbils in the kitchen?” asked Dylan all of a sudden, his eyes fixed on the cage.
Trust Dylan to think about stuff that no other boy of nine would think about. Other boys of nine might want to know when the baby gerbils would open their eyes, or what baby-gerbil poo looks like, or if it would be all right to feed them Quavers, but not Dylan.
“Course it’s hygenic – this bit of the kitchen isn’t where we cook or anything!” I said, while I quickly elbowed a plate of half-finished toast under a newspaper.
“How come they do that thing?”
“How come who do what thing?” I asked, thrown by Dylan’s new direction in our conversation.
“Soph and Fee. How can they be horrible to each other, when they’re supposed to be friends?”
“But that’s what friends do, isn’t it?” I said with a shrug, scratching Dibbles’ head as he nuzzled up and started licking my knee (he’s a dog of very little brain). “Friends can just have a laugh and tease each other. It doesn’t mean anything! Don’t you do that with your bestest friends?”
“I don’t really have any bestest friends.”
When Dylan said that, I felt as stunned as if Dibbles had dropped a certificate in my lap, showing he was a qualified helicopter pilot.
“But what about at school, Dylan – you’ve got to have friends at school!”
“Not really. I mean, I talk to people and stuff, but I don’t have bestest friends – not like you and Soph and Fee.”
Urgh, that made me feel sorry and sad and kind of
wobbly around the edges. “Can you show me how to get friends, Indie?” Double urgh – I felt as sorry
as a blackcurrant jelly now! “Of course I’ll help you get some friends!”
Suddenly, I wanted to give Dylan a hug, but
a) Dibbles was in the way, and
b) I thought I might frighten Dylan.
He’s not a hugging kind of boy.
But huggable or not, I knew I’d do everything I could to help my ace little (step) brother get a friend.
“It’s not a proper word, y’know, Indie.”
“Huh? What isn’t?”
“‘Bestest’,” said Dylan, blinking wide-eyed at me. “You’re just meant to say ‘best friend’, ’cause ‘bestest’ isn’t a proper word.”
Sometimes, Dylan could be hard work.
But whatever, I guess I was still determined to help him get himself a best(est) friend.
Even if he drove me mad while I was doing it.
From the Trade Paperback edition.