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Lucy Out of BoundsFaithgirlz! / A Lucy Novel
By Nancy Rue
ZONDERKIDZCopyright © 2012 Nancy Rue
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhy J.J. Is My Best Friend Even Though He's a Boy and Boys Are Mostly Absurd Little Creeps
Lucy stuck her pen through the rubber band in her ponytail and looked at her cat Marmalade, curled up in the rocking chair. He blinked back out of his orange face as if he'd heard what she wrote and was very much offended.
"I'm not talking about you, silly," she said to him. "You're a Cat-Boy. That's different from a Human-Boy." She grunted. "If you can call most boys human."
Untangling her pen from its blonde perching place—and wondering how it got into a snarl just sitting there for seven seconds—she went back to the J.J. list.
~ He lives across the street so we can send signals to each other if one of us is grounded. Usually it's him. Only, today it's me.
~ He doesn't think it's lame to ride bikes.
~ He loves soccer as much as I do, and he doesn't care that I'm better than him. We both want to be professionals someday.
Marmalade yawned—loud—and licked his cat-lips. "Okay, okay," Lucy said. "I'm getting to the important stuff."
~ He doesn't feel my back to see if I'm wearing a bra and think it's funny — like SOME boys do. Ickety-ick.
She scowled. The last time Aunt Karen visited from El Paso, she kept talking about how it was time for Lucy to get a bra. Had Mom worn one when she was only eleven years old? That probably wasn't something Lucy could ask Dad without dying of embarrassment. She squeezed her pen and went back to the page.
~ If I'm kicking stones and J.J. asks me what's wrong and I say I don't want to talk about it, he says okay and we go kick a soccer ball instead.
~ He never looks at me like I'm from Planet Weird. Which some people do. Like Mora when I say I'm never wearing a bra. Ever.
~ When J.J. gets me in trouble, he always tells my dad it was his fault. Except for this last time. Because I wouldn't let him, because J.J. would have gotten in way more trouble than me, so I took the blame, which is why I'm grounded for a whole day.
Lucy dropped the pen and shook her hand, letting her fingers flap against each other. That was a lot of writing. Inez, her weekday nanny, always said Lucy's lists were her way of praying, so even though she might be hand-crippled for life, she did feel better.
Marmalade obviously did too, because he was now curled in a ball like a tangerine, breathing his very plump self up and down in the middle. Sleep-wheezing sounds were also coming from the half-open toy chest, where Lollipop, Lucy's round, black kitty was snoozing.
It must be incredibly boring being cats. Feeling better seemed to make them want to lick their hairy paws and go to sleep. It made Lucy want to bounce out the door and get a soccer game going, or ride her bike in the desert with J.J., or at the very least go check out whatever her dad was clanging around in the kitchen.
But you couldn't do any of those things when you were grounded. At least the March wind had stopped beating against the house and the long shadows were making stripes on her blue walls. That meant the day of groundation was almost over, and tomorrow she could start fresh.
Lucy carefully nestled the Book of Lists on her pillow and got to her knees on the bed, propping her chin against the tile windowsill to gaze out at Granada Street. It was a sleepy Saturday, except for the sound of the hammers a block over on Tularosa Street where workers were turning the old, falling-apart hotel into a restaurant.
The cottonwood trees that lined her street were letting loose a swirl of white fibers, and between those and the new spring leaves, she couldn't see J.J.'s house as well as she could in winter. It was impossible to tell if he was sending her any shadow signals with a flashlight from behind the sheet covering his upstairs window. J.J. making a bunny with his fingers meant, "I'm hopping on over." Devil's horns meant, "Januarie"—that was his sister—"is driving me nuts."
Dad's clanging in the kitchen stopped in a too-fast way. Marmalade uncurled like a popping spring and stood on the seat of the rocker with every orange hair standing up on end. Marmalade never moved that quickly unless there was food involved.
Lucy scrambled across the bed and got to her door, yelling, "Dad?"—at the very same moment her father said, "Luce?"
She sailed across the wide hallway—not bothering to ride the yellow Navajo rug on the tile the way she usually did—and almost collided with Dad in the kitchen doorway. His hands were spread out to either side in their "Now, Lucy, calm down" sign. But his face looked about as calm as a cat in a kitty-carrier. His triangle nose and squared-off chin formed white, frightened angles that made Lucy's mouth go dry.
"What's going on, Dad?"
"I'm not sure. I need your eyes."
He tilted his salt-and-pepper-crew-cut head toward the back door. "I heard something I didn't like in the yard. I don't want you to go out there."
"Because I think it's some kind of wild cat."
"In our yard?"
Dad rubbed his palm up and down her arm. "I'm probably overreacting, but let's check it out."
Lucy lunged for the door.
"Window, Luce," Dad said.
She dragged a chair to the sink and climbed up on it. Her father had been blind for four years, and she still couldn't figure out how he knew absolutely everything she was doing—or was going to do—before she even did it. J.J. couldn't either. He thought she could get away with a whole lot more than she ever did.
Leaning across the sink, Lucy slid the Christmas cactus aside on the windowsill so she could support herself with her hands. The backyard was already a puzzle of shadows, and at first, she didn't see anything unusual except—
"Uh-oh," she said.
"Looks like Artemis got into the garbage again. That bag that had that disgusting Thai food Aunt Karen brought is all over the place." She started to pull away from the window. "I'll go out and pick it up."
"Keep looking," Dad said. "I closed the cans with those big bungee cords. Artemis couldn't have gotten them undone."
Lucy didn't remind Dad that Artemis, their hunter cat, was practically Terminator Kitty when really nasty trash was involved. She got one knee up on the sink and peered past the red-checked curtains again.
"The bungee is still on the lid," she reported. "She ripped into the side of the trash can."
"Well, there's a big ol' hole there."
"Do you see claw marks?"
Lucy pressed her forehead on the glass, and a chill wormed its way up her back. Right where the gray plastic had been ripped away, thick gashes scrawled down the can as if someone had made them with a big nail.
"Yeah," she said. "And they aren't Artemis's. Or Marmalade's—or Lolli's—or Mudge's—"
"It's a good thing we only have four cats," Dad said, "or we could be here for days." The dry, Dad-calm was back in his voice. "You keep watching. I'm calling Sheriff Navarra."
Lucy pulled her other knee up and settled into the sink. It was a good thing she'd done all the dishes and wiped everything dry in an attempt to get out of groundation, although that never worked on Dad.
From this position, Lucy could survey the whole yard, which fanned out from the big Mexican elder tree in the middle to the fence surrounding the house like a row of straight gray teeth. The umbrella was still down on the table on the patio, and the chairs leaned with their faces against the house, waiting for enough spring in the air so she and Dad could come out and sit in them. The gate on the side sagged as always beneath its fringe of cautious wisteria vine just coming into bloom—the same kind of plant that covered the toolshed and had started to creep up the dead tree by the back fence.
"Whatever it was, it's gone now," Lucy said.
Dad closed his cell phone against his chest and dropped it into his pocket. Two fierce lines formed between his eyebrows. "That's a definite bummer."
"The sheriff's on his way. He's going to think we're imagining things. Okay—be like the kitties. Look for movement. Up high—not on the ground."
Lucy pulled her eyes to the top of the fence, the roof of the toolshed, the rickety arch over the gate. Nothing moved. Not until she went back to the dead tree, where a shadow was passing over it.
"What?" Dad said.
"I think I saw something—"
Lucy froze and let Dad tilt his head and listen. People said a blind man didn't really have a better sense of hearing than anyone else, but Dad could practically hear a cobweb fluttering in a corner.
"Do you see Artemis?" he said.
Lucy searched the top of the fence again, where Artemis Hamm normally inched, tightrope-walker style, when she was stalking a mouse or a quail who was just trying to keep her kids in tow. No sign of Artemis.
And then Lucy heard what Dad must have heard: the low growl of their huntress feline, the kind she made when some other cat was trying to horn in on the prey she'd done all the work to catch.
"Under the dead tree." Dad put both hands on her shoulders. "Is Artemis down there?"
Lucy saw her cat's mottled coat, the one that looked like God couldn't make up his mind on what kind of cat he wanted Artemis Hamm to be. She crouched at the bottom of the dead tree, staring up as if it had come to life.
Because it had. Lucy gasped as she watched one paw and then another, each the size of Artemis's head, creep its way down the spongy bark, smothering its woodpecker holes, until pointed, tufted, devilish ears came into view.
"It's a bobcat!" Lucy said. "Dad—he's going after Artemis!"
Dad let go of Lucy's shoulders, and she scrambled down from the sink—but not before he got his hand up.
"You stay in this house, and I mean it," he said.
"He'll get Artemis!"
"He'll get you too. I'm calling Sheriff Navarra again—"
The rest of whatever he was going to say was lost in a screech so horrible even Dad looked bolted to the floor. Lucy hoisted herself back up onto the sink and flattened her face against the window. The big cat was almost to the ground, but there was no helpless Artemis flailing in his mouth.
There was only J.J., facing the animal with a shovel in his hand and a smear of sheer horror across his face.
Chapter TwoEven in the dusk, Lucy could see J.J.'s almost-too-blue eyes, sharp as hatchets on his narrow face. Shags of dark hair fell over his brows, but J.J. didn't shake them off like he usually did. He didn't move a lanky muscle. He just stood frozen with the shovel.
The bobcat seemed to be in the same state, as if it were carved into the bark of the dead tree. Lucy couldn't see Artemis anywhere, but the big cat apparently didn't care. Its eyes were fixed on J.J., unscared and hungry.
"Da-ad?" Lucy said in a voice she could hardly hear herself.
But Dad was already on his cell phone again.
"J.J.'s out there," she whispered.
"Sheriff—Ted Rooney again—listen, we're seeing this thing now—"
Lucy didn't want to call to him any louder. What if the bobcat got freaked out and jumped J.J. and—But the cat didn't look at all put off by the human who faced him. Even as Lucy watched, frozen herself, it took one soft step, and then another, right at him.
"Lucy, what do you see now? I need to tell the sheriff—"
"It's going for J.J.!" Lucy hissed.
The bobcat moved closer, as if he were enjoying scaring the spit out of the boy. Although the shovel jittered in J.J.'s hands, he didn't back up. There was no place to go except against the toolshed, where he would be cornered.
"It's doing what?" Dad said. "J.J.'s out there?"
The cat lowered itself until its belly dragged the ground, and it set another paw in front of it. Lucy looked wildly around the kitchen for something—anything—and her eyes lit on the one item that was always there.
"Lucy—what's going on?"
Lucy scrambled from the sink and snatched her soccer ball from its net bag on the hook by the back entrance. With her father still firing frantic questions, Lucy flung open the door and set the ball on the back porch. With all her soccer might, she smacked it with a perfect push pass. The ball drove across the yard and landed squarely in front of the bobcat.
The long tufts of hair startled in the big cat's ears, and for an instant, its spotted lips lifted and revealed four long, pointed teeth. In the same instant, J.J. came to life and waved the shovel. The bobcat backed down onto its haunches and sprang up the dead tree. As Lucy watched, heart hammering in her ears, the cat made a silken climb and disappeared over the back fence.
The shovel thudded to the ground, and J.J. tossed his hair back to peer across the yard at Lucy.
"Score," he said.
And then he ran for the back porch, probably faster than Lucy had ever seen him move before—and she'd seen him do some pretty impressive sprints down the soccer field.
"Lucy." Dad's voice shook. "What is going on?"
"Got him, Dad. He's outta here."
"I'm good." J.J. turned sideways in that skinny way that made him hard to see and slipped past Lucy and her father. As he looked over their heads out into the dark, his ice-blue eyes weren't as cool as Lucy knew he was trying to act. His Adam's apple was going up and down.
Dad, on the other hand, wasn't even trying to be calm. "What in the world just happened?"
"The cat was gonna get J.J., so I—"
"She just about nailed it right in the head with the soccer ball—"
"One at a time."
J.J. shrugged and, as always, let Lucy tell the story. When she was done, Dad's lips pressed together in a tight white line. This was a definite oops situation.
"I tried to tell you, Dad, but you were on the phone," she said.
"Didn't I say not to go outside?"
"Yeah, but J.J. was cornered."
"And you could have been too. This is not okay, Lucy, and—"
The sound of a car skidding onto the gravel at the side of the house whipped all three of their heads toward the window. J.J. leaped to it like he was escaping from a firing squad. The way Dad's eyebrows shot up made Lucy decide to stay where she was.
"It's the sheriff." J.J.'s eyes went wild again. "I think I gotta go home."
"I think you gotta stay here," Dad said. "You're not in trouble, J.J."
Lucy was pretty sure she was—again—so she was grateful when Sheriff Navarra tapped on the glass on the back door.
"I will get it," Dad said. "You two wait right here. And I do mean here."
"The sheriff came through the yard?" J.J. muttered as Dad stepped out onto the back porch. "There's a wild cat on the loose, and he walks right in?"
"I bet he doesn't believe it was really out there," Lucy muttered back. "You know, 'cause my dad can't see."
J.J. grunted. "Your dad sees everything."
Lucy peeked out the window in the door and wondered if Dad now "saw" Sheriff Navarra parking his beefy hands on his hips and cocking one bushy eyebrow like he was about to hear a whopper. The hair on the back of Lucy's neck bristled under her ponytail.
The two men talked outside while Lucy and J.J. pressed their ears against the door's window. When the sheriff started down the steps, Dad inched the door open and practically knocked them both down.
"Come on," Dad said, "but stay behind me."
They stepped out into what was now a starless, black night. The sheriff was striding across the yard, leaving Dad to make his own way. Lucy held out her arm to him, and he curled his fingers around it. She could feel how sweaty they were, even through her sleeve.
By the time they got to the dead tree, the sheriff was already shining his flashlight on long gouges that striped its side.
"Those weren't there before," Lucy informed him.
"You have, what, nine or ten cats?" Sheriff Navarra's dark eyes glittered, the way his son Gabe's did when he was about to put Lucy in her girl-place.
"We have four," Lucy said. "And none of them have claws big enough to do that."
She didn't do what she would have done to Gabe: smack him with a soccer ball first chance she got. She did scoop up her ball, which was lying near her feet, and prop it against her hip.
"Let's have a look," Dad said, and ran his hand up and down the old tree, letting his fingers sink into the gouge marks. He whistled under his breath.
Excerpted from Lucy Out of Bounds by Nancy Rue Copyright © 2012 by Nancy Rue. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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