Name: Sarah Laurenson
Genre: Middle Grade
THIRTEEN BLACK CATS UNDER A LADDER
Marcus knocked my breakfast off the counter. I grabbed for the bowl, but it slipped through my fingers and shattered on the cement floor. Little yellow balls of puffed corn bounced off the broken pieces of bright green ceramic. His laugh echoed off the vaulted ceiling. Great. Nothing to eat and an early start to the madness. At least my cereal was sans milk.
“You’re next, Sasha.” He snaked his black wooden cane back across the kitchen island and jabbed the salt shaker towards me.
So not playing this curse game. I stuck out my tongue. “Careful or I’ll break your other leg.”
“Hah! It’s your leg in danger. You’re running out of time, little pre-teen.”
“Marcus Willbee, you are deranged.”
“Don’t call me that.” His lower lip pushed out beyond his wispy moustache. The salt shaker wobbled. He whimpered. The cane clattered on the counter.
Begging on street corners had seriously mushed his brain.
I grabbed the broom and dustpan to sweep up the mess before Mom could come down and add her bit to the insanity.
“You were clumsy,” I said. “The curse doesn’t exist.”
The plate pieces screeched across the cement. Shivers slid down my back.
“The curse is real,” he said.
I could tell he was still pouting. “No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is.”
Finally. A hint of the older brother I knew and loved to argue with. Maybe there was hope for us. The bowl shards and corn puffs tumbled into the trash can.
“What’s that!” Mom shrieked.
Too late. I dropped the broom and scampered out of range.
She yanked her long brown ponytail as she flipped the lid on the trash. “Milk? Spilt milk!” She whipped around. “Did you cry? Cry!” She caught her breath. “Wait. Is it don’t cry?” Mom’s head jerked from Marcus, to the trash, and then to me. “Which is it? Cry? Don’t cry? Tell me!”
Silence fell in the wake of the hard wooden cane bashing against the hollow island. Marcus knew how to command attention. “It’s salt.”
Mom yanked on her hair. “Salt? Who ever heard of crying over spilt salt?”
He lowered his head and looked at us through his bushy eyebrows. “She must spill salt. Neither milk nor crying are involved.”
Mom snatched out a chair and plopped down. “Salt. Not milk. No crying.” Then she started rocking. “My fault. All my fault.” She dropped her head into her hands; her shoulders shook. The wailing would start soon.
“Morning. What’s for breakf… Whoa.” Dad stopped short in the doorway. His ice blue eyes bulged under his hairless eyebrows. He ran one hand over his bald head. His gaze darted around the room and finally landed on the wall with the bird song clock. “Is that the time? Golf with a client. See you tonight.”
“Dad!” My hand reached out for him, but it was too late. He was the fastest escape artist I knew.
The clock’s minute hand reached twelve. The little bird popped out and spoke my family’s language. Cuckoo, indeed. Time to make my escape.
I took the stairs two at a time and locked my door. The only curse I could see was a distinct lack of sanity. I shoved myself under the bed and yanked on the box up against the wall. The velcro gave off a nice ripping sound. Nothing but a direct assault would dislodge that box.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and let it out slowly as I opened my box of treasures. The photo of me at one-day-old went beside similar photos of Marcus, Mom and Dad. Next I pulled out the copy of my birth certificate with the suspiciously crooked words. And last came the magnifying glass. There must be a chance I was adopted.
Tifani waved the brown bag over her head. I waved back if only to get her to stop shaking up my breakfast. We plopped down on our book bags by the Rahway River. Wet grass, but no wet jeans – this time. I grabbed the brown bag and ripped it open. “Thanks. I’m starving.”
“Figured you would be ever since I got your text last night.” She blew her blond bangs out of her eyes. “Your family is… Well.”
“You can say it. They’re nuts.”
She giggled. “You know me. I don’t like to say anything bad about people.”
I bit deep into the PB&J sandwich. “Mmph fmpump.”
Her blue eyes stared at me. “What?” Her thin lips twitched.
I swallowed hard and licked my lips. “Dead people. I thought it was not saying bad things about the dead.”
“Oh that. Nope. Just anybody.”
“How about Jeffrey?”
She smacked my shoulder. “No fair. He deserves every bit of bad in the world.”
“That’s only because he’s your little brother. I’ll trade you.”
“Jeffrey for Marcus?” Her eyes glazed over.
“Oh come on. Are you still?”
She skimmed her fingers over the wet grass. “Marcus was nice to me.”
“Once.” I threw my hands in the air. A glob of jelly flew off the bread. “One nice thing does not mean you love him forever.”
“It was a very nice thing.”
I shoved the sandwich in my mouth and grunted. She was right. But having a crush on Marcus? Tifani was so much better than that.
“I know he doesn’t like me like that,” she said.
“He doesn’t like anybody like that. He’s too busy feeling sorry for himself.”
“That’s not his fault.”
“Maybe.” The chatter behind us was growing. I glanced at my watch. We had a few more minutes. “If he didn’t believe in the curse, he wouldn’t have broken his leg.”
She grabbed my arm. “Is that true?”
I shrugged. “I’d rather believe in not believing. Much better than trying to figure out the stupid cure.”
“But what if there really is a curse? What if not believing isn’t enough?”
Good questions. “Dunno. Guess I’ll get a designer cane.”
She squeezed my shoulder. “I’d rather you didn’t get hurt.”
“Hey!” A male voice cracked behind us as a rock splashed into the water. “You and your girlfriend gonna kiss or what?”
I twisted around. “Shut up, Raul.”
Raul laughed. Peter and Steve slapped him on the back. Then they stood there.
“Oh, all right. We’re coming.” I jumped up and grabbed my wet book bag off the ground.
She glanced at the boys. “Young love.”
I followed her gaze. “What? Raul? Yuck!”
I smiled. “Okay. Maybe. But only maybe. And what about you? Peter? Steve?”
“Oh never mind. I know. Gallant knight Marcus who rescues young damsels from dastardly gangs of ne’er-do-wells.”
“Sasha. It was a very nice thing. And the consequences…”
“Are not your fault. I told you. The curse doesn’t exist.”