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Authors: Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Cat Running (9 page)

BOOK: Cat Running
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“I’m not afraid to race anybody,” Cat yelled at him. “I just don’t feel like it. And it’s none of your business anyway, Hank Belton.” Cat could feel her face getting hot and she knew her voice was screechy, but she didn’t care. Marching right up to where Hank was standing at the edge of the blacktop, she stood on her tiptoes so she could yell right into his face.

“I know what your trouble is, Hank Belton. Everybody knows what’s getting your goat. You’re just mad ’cause you can’t beat me. That’s it, isn’t it? You just hate being beaten by a girl.”

Hank’s pale lumpy face went shiny red and he raised his hand as if he might be going to take a sock at Cat. Raised his hand, clenched his fist, and—Just at that minute a ball whizzed by and then something came crashing into Cat and Hank, too, almost knocking them both down. It was Zane Perkins.

“Hey, sorry ’bout that.” Zane was talking to Hank, hanging on to his arm and kind of brushing him off as if he might have gotten him dirty or something. “I was jist tryin’ to catch that there ball. Warn’t looking where I was going, I guess. You ain’t hurt, are you?”

Cat regained her balance and, with her hands on her hips, glared at Zane. He didn’t even seem to know that he’d run into her too.

Janet came over then and whispered something in Cat’s ear. “He threw that ball on purpose and then ran after it. I think he was just trying to run into you, or maybe Hank,” Janet said. She thought for a minute and then added, “You know what I think? I think he might have been trying to keep Hank from hitting you.”

Cat rubbed her ribs, which had been whacked by somebody’s bony elbow in the collision. “So? He’d rather hit me himself, I guess,” she said. Zane went right on talking to Hank—talking and apologizing and not even looking at Cat. So Cat ignored him back, and went on ignoring him every chance she got. And not just him but all the rest of the other dumb kids who kept suggesting that she and Zane ought to have a race to prove who was the champion of Brownwood School. As if an Okie who wouldn’t be here after the grape harvest ended could be counted as a real Brownwood School student.

It was on Thursday afternoon that Cat began to suspect that Sammy was still coming to the grotto after all. On that day, like all the others, Marianne was just the way Cat had left her—or maybe not. Cat wasn’t entirely sure but it seemed like the blanket was folded a little bit differently. So before she left that day she set a trap. She tucked a very small leaf into a fold of the blanket right under Marianne’s chin so that the leaf would fall out if anyone moved the blanket. And when she came back the next day the leaf was gone. Marianne’s dress wasn’t dirty or messy, and her yellow curls were still neat and crisp—but she had definitely been played with. Played with and then sneakily put back in the crib just the way she’d been before. Well, Cat Kinsey could be sneaky too.

SIXTEEN

I
T TOOK QUITE A
bit of thought to come up with a really good plan, but by Friday morning Cat had it all worked out. Unfortunately, to make it work right she might have to tell a lie, or something pretty close to it. However, if everything happened
just
the way she had it planned, it wouldn’t have to be a complete lie, in which case it would be only a little bit sinful.

She went to school as usual that morning, but during the first recess she gave up her turn on the bars, which was practically unheard of for Cat Kinsey. And during lunch hour she didn’t even go out to the playground. Instead she just moped around in the classroom, picking up books and putting them down, and staring out the window. “You go ahead,” she told Janet, who’d come back in to look for her. “I think I’ll just stay in the room and read or something.”

“Come on, Cat,” Janet said. “Look. I’ve got gum.” Miss Albright didn’t allow gum in the classroom, but it was all right on the playground if you remembered to park it somewhere before you came in.

Cat almost weakened. It was spearmint, her favorite. “I’ll take some for later,” she said, taking two sticks out of the pack. “I don’t feel very good right now.”

“You don’t?” Janet peered at Cat with narrowed eyes and then nodded knowingly. She felt Cat’s forehead with the back of her hand and asked her to stick out her tongue. Cat sighed and rolled her eyes. She knew that Janet was planning to be a nurse someday, but she sure could be a pest when she started acting like she thought she already was one.

“Come on, Cat. Stick out your tongue,” Janet went on nagging, so Cat stuck it out, all right, but not the way you’re supposed to when a doctor is looking at it.

Sure enough, it didn’t take Janet five minutes to go tell Miss Albright that Cat was sick. Cat had known she would. Janet was a great one for telling teachers everything that came into her head. It worked out just the way Cat had hoped it would. All she had to do was nod her head when Miss Albright asked her if she was sick, which made it only half a lie, since she didn’t actually have to say any of the words herself.

“Perhaps I should call your family doctor,” Miss Albright said. “It’s Dr. Wilson, isn’t it? Do you want me to call Dr. Wilson?”

Dr. Wilson had been the Kinseys’ doctor since Cat was born, and he was a friend of the family too. Not quite as close a friend as he had been before he voted to keep Reverend Booker at Community Church, but he was still the family doctor. Cat definitely didn’t want to see him at the moment.

“I think my mother had better decide if I need to see Dr. Wilson,” she said quickly.

“Would you like to just go on home, then?” Miss Albright asked.

Cat sighed and said she did. Which wasn’t a lie at all.

She started off, back to the cloakroom first and then down the hall, at a slow, sickly walk. But as soon as she was out of sight she began to run. Just before she climbed over the fence to Burk’s apple orchard she stopped long enough to take a stick of gum out of her sweater pocket and pop it into her mouth before she took off again at top speed. Out across the orchard and on up the hill that led to Three Sisters’ Ridge and the shortcut home. And when she got there she didn’t even have to go inside, since Mama wouldn’t be expecting her for more than two hours. Instead she hid her books and lunch pail under a bush and went on running.

Just like before, Cat knew as soon as she crawled out of the tunnel that someone was there. And just like before it felt like second sight would have told her, even if there hadn’t been any other clues. As if the grotto was so much her own personal, private place that there would always be a kind of angry shiver in the air if an intruder had been there.

The angry shiver was there, all right, but this time the other clue was simply the cottage door. It was standing a little bit open and she distinctly remembered closing it firmly the last time she was there. Getting slowly and quietly to her feet, she stood still for a moment getting ready, breathing hard and clenching her teeth and fists. This time she was really going to scare that dumb little Okie so much she’d never, ever come back again. Silently rehearsing all the awful scary things she was going to yell, she tiptoed up to the cottage window.

Just like before Sammy was sitting on the ground near the doll crib, but this time she was holding Marianne out in front of her, making the doll stand on its feet. And talking. Talking and talking. Cat couldn’t quite make out the words, but whatever she was telling Marianne-Lillybelle, it was quite a long story. As she talked she tipped her head from side to side, smiled, frowned, and once or twice even laughed out loud. Once in a while she’d stop talking briefly, nodding and cocking her head as if she were listening. Then she would be off again, chattering away like a mockingbird.

Cat didn’t want to be fascinated—or even interested. She was, though, because, for one thing, watching the fluttery-eyed smiles and frowns, she couldn’t imagine how, even for a minute, she’d taken Sammy to be a boy, just because of dirty overalls and a boy’s haircut. And for another thing she found that the small, big-eyed face, and the dimple—most especially the dimple—were definitely putting her in mind of somebody. Somebody who—and then she knew. Shirley Temple! And when Cat slammed open the door Sammy’s round-eyed frightened stare was a lot like Shirley Temple too.

“All right,” Cat said in a tone of voice that didn’t come out quite as threatening as she’d meant it to be. “I thought you promised never to come back here again. You broke your promise. Didn’t you?”

Sammy had jumped to her feet, still holding Marianne out in front of her. Her chin was trembling and tears were beginning to ooze out of her eyes.

“Now stop that,” Cat said quickly. “You don’t have to do that again. I’m not—I’m not going to hurt you, so you can just stop it. Stop that crying this minute.”

Sammy seemed to be trying, sniffing and blinking and swallowing hard—and then sobbing again. Trying to get her mind on something besides bawling, Cat said hastily, “What were you talking about? Just now to Marianne? I saw you from the window. What were you saying to her?”

Sammy swallowed, looked down at the doll and then up at Cat. “I was jist tellin’ Lillybelle about how it’s goin’ to be onced we get back to Texas. I was tellin’ her ’bout our house—and ’bout the chickens and the pigs.”

It was working. As Sammy got into her story her tears and sobs disappeared as if by magic. “And ’bout the baby jackrabbit Zane caught for me. The littlest ol’ rabbit, no bigger than nothin’—when I got him, anyways. I was telling her how we’d git us another baby rabbit like Hoppy, onced we get back to Texas and—” She stopped suddenly and stared at Cat with widening eyes. “I didn’t mean it when I tole her I was goin’ to take her with me. I was jist playin’ like. I was jist playin’ like she was goin’ back to Texas with me.”

It looked to Cat as if Sammy was building up to another good crying spell if something didn’t happen. Taking her hand Cat pulled her back to the ledge and lifted her up onto it. Then she scooted up beside her. Still clinging to Marianne-Lillybelle, Sammy stared at Cat, big eyed.

“So,” Cat said in a friendly-chat tone of voice, “I want to hear about your house in Texas. Why don’t you tell me all about it? I don’t know much about Texas except that Austin is the capital. Did you live anywhere near the city of Austin?”

Sammy stared at her, blinked hard several times, and stared some more. Cat folded her hands and put a patiently waiting expression on her face. But Sammy went on staring—at Cat’s mouth.

“What are you staring at?” Cat asked finally.

Sammy swallowed hard, leaned forward, and peered into Cat’s face. “You got some chewin’ gum?” she asked.

Cat, who had forgotten about the gum, took it out of her mouth and looked at it. “Yeah,” she said. “Spearmint. Spearmint’s my favorite.”

Sammy was staring at the gum. “Do you swaller it when you’re done chewin’?”

“No. Of course not. If you swallow gum it makes a lump in your stomach and stays there forever. And when the lump gets too big you die. That’s what some kids say, anyway.”

Sammy nodded. “I know,” she said. “Could I have yours, then—when you’re done chewin’ it?”

Cat was horrified. “Ugh,” she said. She was about to start in on how unsanitary it was to chew other people’s used gum when she remembered the other stick. Taking it out of her sweater pocket she handed it to Sammy.

It was a long time before they got back to the subject under discussion because it took Sammy practically forever to unwrap the stick of gum—without tearing the wrappers even a little—and then to bite off little tiny pieces, chewing slowly and solemnly between each bite. Cat had to repeat the question about the city of Austin three times before she got her mind far enough off the gum to answer.

Then she shook her head. “No. Not Austin,” she said. “I never heerd tell ’bout no Austin.”

“Where
did
you live, then?”

Sammy tipped her head thoughtfully. “On the farm,” she said. “On my pa’s farm.”

“Okay,” Cat said patiently. “You lived on your pa’s farm. And when you went to town, where was that?”

The light dawned. “Ohhh!” she said. “Perryton. Town was Perryton. We used to ride to Perryton in the Studebaker. Sometimes we’d all git in the Studebaker and Pa would drive us up to Perryton to buy things.”

Cat was impressed. “Oh, yeah? My brother says Studebakers are swell cars. Better than Model T’s, anyways. Do your folks still have the Studebaker?”

Sammy nodded. “Course we do. Roddy and Spence sleeps in the backseat and Zane sleeps in front. Zane gets to sleep in the front seat all by hisself.”

Cat was puzzled, picturing long, lanky Zane stretched out across the front seat while ... “But how can your pa drive when Zane is sleeping in the front seat?” she asked.

Sammy seemed surprised that Cat didn’t understand. “Oh, Pa don’t drive the Studebaker no more,” she said. “The drivin’ part busted. But the sleepin’ part’s jist fine.”

Cat was still mulling over that interesting bit of information when Sammy asked, “You want I should tell you ’bout our house—back in Texas?”

“Sure,” Cat said. “Tell me about it.”

Sammy’s chin went up and her eyes got a faraway look. “It had a big ol’ kitchen with a great big black stove—and two bedrooms and ’nother room jist for sittin’ in. And out front there was this here great big stoop with a rockin’ chair where Grandpa used to sit—afore he died. And there was a tree out front, too, and flowers by the fence. Lots of pretty flowers—till the dust started comin’, anyways.”

“The dust?” Cat asked.

Sammy’s eyes went faraway again but now they seemed wide, not with dreams, but with memories of something strange and awful. She took a long, shuddery breath before she nodded slowly and whispered, “Dust.”

Cat was just about to ask Sammy to tell her more about the dust when a voice said, “Thought I’d find y’all here. Both of y’all.”

And there he was, standing in the doorway. Zane Perkins.

SEVENTEEN

Z
ANE WAS WEARING THE
outgrown overalls again. The ones with the faded blue and white stripes and big holes in both knees. He was barefoot as usual and, also as usual, one side of his wide mouth was curled up in a smile that looked a lot like a sneer. Cat and Sammy were still sitting side by side on the rock shelf, and for the longest time Zane just stood there in the doorway staring at them with that mocking grin spread across one side of his face. Finally he nodded his head slowly, rolling out his lower lip like someone thinking,
Yeah, I got it.
Then he said, “Guess you two little gals been playing doll babies, huh?”

BOOK: Cat Running
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