Chapter 1: Skateboard Slump • CHAPTER 1 • SKATEBOARD SLUMP
I sharpen my colored pencils into perfect points and arrange them in rainbow order, just like I do every Saturday morning. That way, they are always ready when I need them.
I’m working at the kitchen table so that my baby brother, Carlos, who is rolling toy trucks on the floor with Papi, doesn’t disturb me. You can’t be too careful with Carlos around. I’ve found his tiny teeth marks on my school supplies before!
Right as I am about to place parakeet green next to lemon yellow, my big sister stomps past and bumps into my shoulder. She knocks my hand into the box of colored pencils and sends them tumbling to the floor.
“Coco!” I yell. She has never appreciated the importance of a good organization system. But that doesn’t mean she can ruin mine. “Watch out!”
“Sorry, Cat,” Coco says. She is carrying her skateboard and sets it down to help me pick up the pencils. At first, I try to keep them all in rainbow order. But then Carlos comes crawling toward us, drool dribbling off his bottom lip. I scramble to collect the rest of them as quickly as I can.
“What’s the rush, Coco?” Papi asks as he scoops Carlos back onto his lap. Mami won’t be back from her shift at the nursing home until dinnertime.
Coco puts the candy-apple-red pencil next to the midnight-blue one, nowhere near where it belongs. “Can I go out skateboarding?” she asks.
She is already wearing her helmet and pads, and her old flannel shirt is balled up under her arm. It’s going to be a wrinkled mess when she puts it on.
“Have you made your bed?” Papi asks.
“Of course!” Coco replies.
“Ha!” I bark.
Coco’s idea of making the bed is piling her pajamas, sheets, and blanket on top of it in a lumpy heap. I should know. I have to share a room with her.
But Papi seems convinced. “Have fun,” he says. “Be careful.”
I take the red pencil out of the box and put it back where it’s supposed to be—next to tangerine orange. “Wait up,” I say. “Give me a minute to put the rest of these pencils away, and I’ll come too.”
Coco has been helping me learn to skateboard. Since all my chores are finished—including some that Mami and Papi didn’t even think of—I can go with her to learn some new tricks.
“No!” Coco says.
“No?” I repeat. Coco doesn’t always let me borrow her board, but she’s never said I couldn’t come with her to skate.
“I really need to concentrate this time,” she says. “I need to be alone.”
I turn to Papi. “Por favor. Pleeeeeeeease,” I say, begging in two languages.
It doesn’t work.
“Sorry, Kitty-Cat,” Papi says. “Sounds like Coco needs her space.”
Being called “Kitty-Cat” is pretty annoying. I’ve asked my parents about a zillion times to start using my real name, Catalina. But even more annoying is not getting to go out with Coco. I grab the pencil box and storm upstairs to our room.
Not that I plan to stay there.
As soon as I hear Coco’s skateboard rattle down the sidewalk, I go to my closet. I pick out my favorite sweatshirt. It’s gray with kitten ears sewn onto the hood. My tía abuela—her name is Catalina Castañeda too—sewed it for me. Normally I wouldn’t wear it. Like I keep telling my Mami and Papi, I’m getting too old for all the kitten stuff. But today the sweatshirt is exactly what I need.
I creep back down the stairs, tiptoe through the hall, and sneak out the side door.
Then, flattening myself against the house so that no one can see, I put on the sweatshirt. I zip it up to my chin. I pull the hood over my head. A shiver runs up my spine. I check my reflection in one of the windows. A gray cat blinks back at me. I am incognito.
Tía Abuela didn’t make the sweatshirt with a regular needle and thread. She used a special sewing kit with the power to create magical disguises. Better yet, she passed the magic on to me!
I trot down the street to find Coco. She might have said I couldn’t watch her skateboard, but she didn’t say anything about a cat watching.
I find Coco at the end of the block. She must really not want anyone to see her.
I can understand why. She’s wearing her flannel, but it’s way too short, and her elbow pokes out of a hole in the sleeve. I shudder. I wouldn’t want to be seen in that thing either.
Then again, Coco doesn’t care very much about what anyone else thinks of her clothes. Something else must be bothering her. I step closer and stop to watch under the shade of a blue mailbox.
Coco tightens her helmet. She wipes her palms against her shorts and takes off.
I recognize this move. It’s her signature trick, the Coco-kick. She steps down onto the back of the board and launches it into the air. Next she’s supposed to flick the board with her toe so it spins underneath her. Instead she kicks it off to the side and lands on her knees.
She tries an easier trick, one she has landed millions of times. But she just keeps crashing.
“What’s going on?” I ask. Only, I’m still incognito and it comes out like a curious purr. Coco lifts her head off the sidewalk where she’s still sprawled.
“I was hoping nobody saw that,” she said. “But you won’t tell, will you?” She sits up and scoots closer to me. “You seem familiar. Have I seen you before?”
I skitter backward.
Coco shakes her head and unbuckles her helmet. “I need to land the Coco-kick for the Skate Spectacular,” she says. “It has to be perfect. But I can’t seem to get anything right. I might as well go home.”