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Authors: Ellen Miles

Domino

BOOK: Domino
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KITTY CORNER
DOMINO
ELLEN
MILES

With special thanks to my
           kitty expert Kristin Earhart,
       
for all her help.

CHAPTER ONE

Michael Battelli squinted into the brightness. Drifts of white snow covered every sidewalk, every branch of every tree, every car parked along the street, every roof of every building. The sky was blue now, after the storm, and the winter sun was shining. The whole world was bright and white. Michael could barely see, but he wasn’t about to let that stop him. “Come on!” he yelled to his sister, Mia, and her friend Carmen. “We have to hurry.”

The wind was calm. The snow was fresh. It was a perfect day for sledding.

The Battellis’ brownstone apartment was only two blocks from Kellogg Park, where there were baseball diamonds, playgrounds, and horseback
riding paths. But today, Michael cared only about its long, steep sledding hills. If they got there late, the park would be too crowded.

“Can’t you guys go any faster?” Michael glanced over his shoulder. Mia was just a few steps behind him, but Carmen was further back. What was taking so long? Michael had offered to watch the girls while Dad finished shoveling the front steps at home. At the time it had seemed like a good way to get out of helping. Now he wasn’t so sure. Sometimes being a big brother was such a pain. He wanted to be flying down a hill on his sled, but now he had to babysit.

At least Mia was pretty cool for a little sister. She was smart and funny and kind of obsessed with cats … in a good way. Their family had even started fostering cats — taking care of each kitty until they could find it a forever home — because of her. Someday Michael and Mia might even get a cat or kitten of their own, but so far their parents didn’t think the family was ready for that.

Michael pushed back the cuff of his jacket and looked at his watch. His best friend Jackson was on the hill waiting for him, and they were missing prime sledding time.

“Give her a second,” Mia said when she joined Michael. “Carmen’s not used to keeping up with a speedy big brother.”

Michael raised his eyebrows. “Who says
you
keep up?”

Mia scowled and fake-punched his arm.

“You need a break?” Michael asked when Carmen caught up. She was a slowpoke, but she was okay. Carmen was in his guitar class at the rec center. She could play pretty well for her age.

“No, I’m fine.”

“We’re almost there. The best hills are on the other side of this drift.” Michael motioned with his glove.

“I know,” Carmen said, setting off again.

Michael rolled his eyes. Why were third graders such know-it-alls?

He kicked his boots into the crunchy layer on top of the snow and climbed up the slope. In just a couple of steps, he passed Mia and Carmen. When he reached the crest of the hill, he recognized a red ski cap. “Jackson!” Michael yelled. Jackson was in the same fifth-grade class as Michael, but more importantly, they were on the same after-school basketball team at the rec center. Michael led the team in assists, and Jackson was their best shooter.

Jackson turned around. He grinned and pumped his fist when he saw Michael. “Dude, it’s about time.”

“I had to wait for Mia and her friend.” Michael motioned to the girls, who were struggling up the back side of the hill.

“No problem. Let’s go over to the steep side and race. There’s no way you can beat me. My sled’s wicked fast.”

“Nah.” Michael shook his head. “I have to stay
on the baby hill with these two till my dad finishes shoveling and gets here.”

Jackson snorted. “Excuses, excuses. You’re just afraid I’ll beat you.” He shook his head. “What’s the big deal? Not wearing your lucky striped socks? Can’t you do
anything
without them?”

Michael sighed. Jackson always had to bring up those socks. Just because Michael wore them for every basketball game — and whenever he wanted a little extra luck — didn’t mean he had to have them on all the time. He wished he’d never mentioned the stupid socks to Jackson.

“Push me, Michael!” Mia and Carmen had made it to the top of the hill. Mia plopped on her red saucer and sat waiting, waving a mittened hand at Michael.

“And me!” Carmen plopped down belly-first on her sled, too.

Michael looked at Jackson and shrugged. Then he knelt down to give Mia a light shove. Her
happy squeal faded as her sled zipped down the snowy path. Michael scooted over, pushed Carmen, and then stood up.

“See?” Jackson said over his shoulder. “They’re fine. They’re totally safe here on the kiddie slope. You gotta check out the other side. Super steep. And icy. I made it all the way to that tree.” Jackson pointed a red fleece glove at a tall, bare oak at the bottom of the steeper hill nearby.

Michael judged the distance. He could make it past that tree, maybe even out to the path, but he had told Dad that he’d watch Mia and Carmen. “Maybe in a little while.”

“Come on. My mom can watch them. Right, Mom?” Jackson yelled. “Can you watch Mia and Carmen?”

Michael turned around to see Mrs. DeVries wave at him from where she stood with a bunch of other parents. “No problem, Michael. I’ll keep an eye on them. I’m here to watch Ben, anyway.” Michael scanned the hill and saw Ben DeVries in
a red hat that matched his big brother’s. He was racing Mia up the hill.

“Thanks, Mrs. DeVries,” Michael called.

“You boys have fun.” She waved again.

Jackson slapped Michael on the shoulder as they headed to the steep side of the hill. “There’s no way you’ll get past that tree. Not without your lucky striped socks.”

“You wanna bet?” Michael said. After a quick look at the track down the icy slope, he gripped his sled’s handles and ran, flopping down onto his sled at just the right moment. His stomach slammed against the sled as it hit the ground. Chunks of cold snow prickled his cheeks. Michael zipped down the hill, gaining speed as he neared a group of pine trees. He held his breath and steered away from their snow-covered trunks. The big oak was only ten feet away, and he still had lots of speed. He’d show Jackson!

Just as Michael was about to pass the oak, he saw something flash by on his left side. Something
dark … and fluffy? It couldn’t be what he thought it was. There was no way. Glancing back, he dragged his feet by mistake, lost his balance, and skidded out. His knee jammed into the ground as icy snow worked its way down inside his collar. He struggled to sit up so he could get a better look at the dark thing he’d seen.

“I can beat that!” Jackson yelled from the top of the hill. Michael saw him throw himself onto his sled.

“No, wait!” Michael cried. But it was too late. Jackson was already speeding down the hill. Michael’s heart was beating fast. He had to hurry, because now he was sure.

Pointed ears.

Long whiskers.

A twitching tail.

The dark thing he had passed was a kitten.

CHAPTER TWO

“Jackson, stop!” Michael yelled, but it was no use. His friend was going way too fast to be able to hear him. Michael struggled to stand up, slipping and sliding on an icy patch of snow. He had to get to the kitten. Jackson’s sled was heading straight for it.

Michael scrambled as quickly as he could. Now he could hear the runners of Jackson’s sled whine as it zipped down the hill.

“Watch out!” Jackson yelled.

Michael had lost sight of the kitten. Desperately, he scanned the drifts of snow. A dark blur caught his eye and he reached out to grab at it. “Gotcha!” he cried. But just as he scooped the kitten up, Jackson’s sled slammed into his legs, and both of them keeled over into the snow.

“What are you doing?” Jackson wiped a wet crust of snow from his face. “Are you okay, man?”

Michael lay on his back, cradling the kitten against his chest. He lifted his head to take a good look. The kitten trembled in his arms. Wow, was he cute! He was a tuxedo cat, mostly black except for a long blaze of white fur that shot up between his eyes and patches of white under his chin and on his furry belly. Tiny snowflakes stuck to his long white whiskers. He stared right back at Michael and blinked his bright green eyes.

Thanks for picking me up. The white stuff on the ground is so cold. I don’t know where it came from, but it sure makes it hard for a kitten to get around. I’m freezing!

“I’m fine,” Michael said as he sat up. “I was just trying to catch this little guy. You almost ran him
over.” He put the cat on his shoulder, and the kitten sniffed at his ear with a chilly pink nose.

“What’s a kitten doing out here?” Jackson asked, shuffling through the snow on his knees to get a better look.

“Who knows? I’m just glad I saw him before someone bashed into him.”

“He’s cute,” Jackson said. “But if you’re going to use him as an excuse for losing our bet, forget it. I would have beat you if you hadn’t cut me off.” Jackson stood up. “I’m going again.” He grabbed his sled and headed up the hill.

The kitten sniffed at Michael’s ear again. “That tickles!” Michael said with a laugh. Then he realized that the kitten was still trembling. “Let’s warm you up.” Michael quickly tucked the kitten inside his down jacket, pulling up his zipper so only the kitten’s head stuck out. He scanned the top of the hill for Mia. Maybe Jackson wasn’t much of a cat person, but Mia would be thrilled to see the kitten. “My sister is going to go crazy
when she sees you.” Michael bit off his right glove and reached inside his jacket to pet the kitten. He scratched under the kitten’s chin. His fur was damp with melted snow. “Hey, what’s this?” Michael’s hand caught on something hard and rough as the kitten snuggled deeper inside his jacket.

He peeked inside his jacket. “What are you doing with a collar, little guy?” Michael felt a pang of disappointment. Somewhere, deep inside, he had already let himself wonder if this kitten might become part of his family. But now — now he knew that the kitten probably belonged to someone else.

“Kitty! Kitty!” Michael’s thoughts were interrupted by happy shouts. He looked up to see Mia and Carmen charging through the snow toward him.

“Oh, my gosh! Jackson told us! Where’s the kitten?” Mia panted, out of breath.

Michael held the kitten a little closer. “He’s right here. In my jacket.”

Mia stood on her tiptoes to peek in. She reached up with two snowy purple mittens. “Let me hold him,” she begged.

Carmen joined them. “Oh, he’s adorable. Can I hold him, too?”

Michael looked from his sister to her friend. Of course they both wanted to hold the kitten. He could feel a gentle rumble as he scratched the kitten on his throat. The little guy was purring! The kitten started to lick the tiny pink pads on his front paw.

I like it in here. It’s warm, and this boy seems nice. I’m sure he won’t put me back in the cold white stuff. I feel safe.

Michael looked down at the kitten and hugged him close again, feeling a sudden sense of
responsibility. He had rescued this kitten, so it was his job to take care of him — and to find his real family, if he had one.

“He’s pretty cold now. I think I should keep him in my coat. You guys can hold him when we get home,” Michael said. Mia and Carmen both sighed impatiently.

“Let’s go now!” Carmen said.

“We have to wait for Dad. He’ll be here soon. Why don’t you two go down the hill a few more times?”

Mia and Carmen didn’t seem as excited about sledding now that the kitten was around, but they trudged up the hill. Michael followed them, holding the kitten with one hand and dragging his sled with the other. It wasn’t easy to keep his balance. “We’ll get you home soon. Don’t worry,” Michael told the kitten.

Jackson was waiting at the top of the hill. “Your dad’s here. He’s talking to my mom. Give him the
cat and we can go down at the same time. It’ll be awesome.”

Michael looked at his dad, who smiled and waved.

“I don’t know, Jackson. I think I should take the kitten home. He’s pretty cold,” Michael said. “But I can come out tomorrow.”

Jackson’s shoulders slumped. “Really, dude?”

“Yeah,” Michael said. “Besides, I have to start on my rocket model. My report’s this Thursday.” Their class was doing a unit on space exploration. Mr. Pollack had scheduled library time last week for research, and this week everyone had to give oral reports. Michael dreaded the idea of talking in front of his class for five whole minutes. His words always got all jumbled. To make things worse, his report was scheduled for the very first day.

“At least you’ll get it over with,” Jackson said, as if he knew what Michael was thinking. “See you tomorrow. Deal?”

“Deal.” They bumped fists, and then Michael headed over to Dad. Mia and Carmen were with him, jabbering about the kitten.

“He’s so sweet, Dad. Wait till you see him.” Mia’s smile was as bright as the sun on the snow. “I get to hold him at home. He must be cold. Come on!” Mia cried. She and Carmen started running toward the park entrance.

“So, where is the castaway?” Dad put a hand on Michael’s shoulder.

“In here.” Michael pointed toward the kitten with his chin. The kitten reached up and pawed the tie on Michael’s knit hat. “Hey, stop that.” Michael laughed.

Dad laughed, too. “I guess I better call Mom and let her know we’re coming.” He pulled out his phone. “It’s been a while since we’ve fostered a kitten. I just hope your sister remembers what fostering is all about.”

Michael looked ahead to where Mia was waiting for Carmen at the bottom of the hill. She gave
Michael a big two-armed wave. His sister loved fostering cats, but Michael knew she was really hoping that someday they could keep one for their very own. Michael sighed, remembering the collar around the kitten’s neck. He had a feeling that this kitten would not be the one.

BOOK: Domino
12.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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