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1 - Rodents of Hawaii
Manly Stanley the centipede, our class pet, looked out at us from inside a jar on our teacher Mr. Purdy's desk. He was frowning and pounding fifty of his one hundred legs on the glass. I knew what he was thinking: why were we _drawing pictures of things that would love to eat him?
Hey! he seemed to shout. What's going on out there? Let me see!
Julio, Rubin, Willy, and I were crowded around my desk working on a science poster. Our project was called Rodents of Hawaii.
We'd drawn pictures of a mouse, a rat, a guinea pig, and a gerbil. We wanted to put a hamster and a mongoose in there, too, but Mr. Purdy said hamsters were illegal in the islands. They could bring in diseases. And a mongoose is a carnivore, not a rodent.
We were stumped.
Manly Stanley raced up onto his rock and stretched his neck for a better look. "Hey, Manly," I said. "
You know of any more rodents we can draw?"
Julio snorted. "He should. Rodents love centipedes."
Manly Stanley cringed and scurried down into the shadows.
"Look, Julio. You scared him."
I tapped on the glass. "Don't worry, Manly, I'll protect you."
"Come on, guys," Rubin said. "We're wasting time."
I poked my chin with my black Sharpie. "Are moles rodents?"
"Yeah, moles!" Julio said.
"You got moles here?" Willy asked. He was from California and knew lots of stuff we didn't. "I haven't seen any."
"I got a mole in my armpit," Rubin said. "Want to see it?"
Willy laughed.Me and Julio looked at Rubin like, Are you for real? Rubin put up his hands.
"I'm just saying."
Mr. Purdy walked by and glanced down at our poster. "Great work, boys. Keep _going."
We looked up and grinned. "We will, Mr. Purdy. But we can't think of any more rodents."
Mr. Purdy pinched his jaw. "Well now. Let's see. Why don't you think of yourself as a cat? What rodents might you see if you were hunting in the weeds?"
"Yeah-yeah," Julio said. "Be a cat. That's good, Mr. Purdy, thanks."
Mr. Purdy winked and moved on.
Rubin bent close and mumbled, "Just don't be a black cat, or else we might get bad luck."
Julio scoffed. "Then I'm a black one, _Rubin. Just for you."
"Black, yellow, green, or purple," I said. "Mr. Purdy had a good idea. So pretend you're a cat. What do you see?"
Rubin snapped his fingers. "A mouse."
"We already have a mouse," I said.
"We can have two."
Julio elbowed Rubin away from the table. "You're not helping, Rubin. Go breathe your dead squid breath on Shayla or something."
Mr. Purdy was leaning over Maya's desk, helping her. He looked at us over his shoulder.
Julio pointed at Rubin and started to say something.
I grabbed his arm. "Don't, Julio, you're going to get us in trouble."
Mr. Purdy gave us his raised-eyebrow look. He had been in the army and could really do that good, even better than Mrs. Leonard, the principal. "Is there a problem over there, boys?"
I gave Mr. Purdy my best smile. "No, Mr. Purdy. No problem. Right, Julio?" I banged Julio's arm.
"Just kidding," Julio said, white teeth gleaming.
Mr. Purdy nodded and turned back to Maya.
Rubin leaned close and tapped the table with his finger. "See what I mean? You just mention black cats and you got trouble. You got to watch out. Believe it, or don't."
And I didn't.
Too bad...because Rubin was right.
2 - Zippy
After school I rode my bike home with Willy and Julio.
Usually I had to walk with my little sister, Darci. But she had a cough that morning and was over at Mrs. Nakashima's house while Mom was at work.
We rode straight up, with our arms hanging loose at our sides. It was so hot even the mynah birds were looking for shade.
When we cruised around the corner onto our street, I slammed on my brakes.
Julio nearly fell off his bike trying to keep from crashing into me.
Willy swerved and sailed into somebody's hedge.
"Why'd you stop?" Julio spat.
I dipped my head toward Maya's cat, sprawled in the middle of the street.
Julio looked at me like, Are you nuts? "You caused a wreck because of Maya's cat?"
Willy yanked himself and his bike out of the hedge and studied the scratches on his arms.
"Sorry," I said.
Willy waved it off. "I'm okay."
Julio stared at me.
"What?" I said. "It's a black cat."
"It was black yesterday, too. And last month and last year. So what?"
"Well, Rubin said-"
Julio threw up his hands. "Not Rubin again."
Willy held his front tire between his legs and straightened out his handlebars. "They must be bad luck. Look how we crashed."
"That was Calvin," Julio spat. "Not the cat!"
I chewed on my thumbnail and considered the furry black mass lying in the middle of the road. His name was Zippy, but zippy he wasn't. He was lazy as a slug. Not very smart, either, because any cat that lounges in the middle of the street is looking to get run over by a car.
"You're right," I said, trying to shake Rubin's warning out of my head. "It's just superstition."
We got back on our bikes and coasted toward Zippy, circling him twice. Zippy stretched, his claws flashing out like knife blades.
Julio stopped and studied Zippy. "You are the laziest cat I've ever seen in my life, no question."
I got off my bike and kicked down the stand. "Come on, Zip." I scooped him up. "You stay out here in the street, some car's going to flatten you."
Zippy purred in my arms. I bet he weighed like a hundred pounds. "You should be out in the jungle chasing down the rodents of Hawaii."
Zippy gave me a lazy blink.
I set him down in the shade of a plumeria tree in Maya's yard. The grass was warm and soft, way better than the street. "I just don't want to see you get squashed, okay?"
Zippy gave me dirty looks.
I laughed. "You're something, Zipster."
"Laters!" Julio called from the street, heading home.
Willy jumped on his bike. "Me too."
I waved and turned back to Zippy. "Don't you give me bad luck, now. I did this for your own good. You listening to me, Zip?"
I scratched under his chin and left when he started purring again. I had no idea what a bad listener Zippy was.
From the Hardcover edition.