The Purr-fect Scoop
CHAPTER ONE A SECRET BETWEEN SISTERS
I knew it had to be there somewhere! I just had to find it. I tied my long, brown hair into a ponytail to get it out of my way, and then I began searching slowly but surely, room by room, throughout the house.
My first stop was our clean but messy bright yellow kitchen, where I circled the cluttered table, sifted carefully through the pile of newspapers and magazines for recycling, and roamed around the packed countertops and the jumbly kitchen island and even into the little closet with the washer and dryer, but no luck. I was desperate. I’d borrowed a comic book from my friend Cecelia, and I had to give it back to her at our comic book club meeting after school on Monday. That gave me only two days
to find it. I had no clue where it could be.
My abuela said that the key to finding things was that you had to really look, even in places where you thought you’d already checked or places where you couldn’t even imagine the thing being.
I went all through the living/dining room area, lifting sofa cushions, flipping through all the colorful needlepoint throw pillows my dad had made, peeking behind the bright watercolors of birds my mom did for fun, looking underneath the box lid of the half-done jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table. Nothing! I wandered into my parents’ home office, but it was so immaculate that I could see at a glance that the comic book wasn’t on either of their back-to-back desktops or the low chest that held copies of their research and patients’ files. The only place where my parents were neat was in their offices, both at home and at work. I couldn’t really criticize them for messiness, though; I was messy and disorganized too. We all always thought we’d get back to a project, or find some time to clean up later, or organize our things, and then we would get busy and forget about it and never clean up.
Upstairs I went into my parents’ bedroom, where
their bed was still unmade and clothing was strewn across chairbacks and the small love seat by the window. A large oil painting of Cuban storefronts, by my dad’s dad, hung proudly above my mom’s dresser. She loved that picture, but my dad didn’t. Both of their families had come to America when they were babies, and while my mom was dying to go back for a visit, my dad said he never would. He didn’t even like to talk about Cuba.
I sighed. No sign of the comic book in their room, or in their bathroom—thank goodness, because all their towels were damp and heaped in a pile. If the comic had been there, it would surely have been ruined. I knew it wasn’t in my room because that was what had started this whole search. That left only one more possibility: my twin sister’s room.
Unfortunately, Isabel’s room was currently off-limits to me.
Isa’s door was closed tightly, something she’d taken to doing since school had started this year. I wouldn’t have been surprised if the door was locked. She’d left earlier that afternoon, but I wasn’t sure when she was going to return, and I dared not enter
without her permission or I’d face her wrath.
I stood on the landing outside her door, my arms folded, my foot tapping in place as I thought. Finally I decided.
I put my hand on her doorknob.
Did I dare open the door?
Slowly, slowly, I turned the handle, my hand shaking a little. The door was not locked, it turned out, and the handle turned easily.
My eyes strained for a glimpse of a room I hadn’t seen inside in more than six weeks. And then . . . BANG! The back door slammed downstairs!
I pulled Isabel’s door closed, released the handle, and scurried back to my room, where I flung myself onto my bed, trying to look natural.
“Hello?” I called. I assumed it was Isa because my parents had returned to their clinic after our big Saturday lunch, as usual.
There was no reply, only the sound of firm footsteps stomping across the floor below and then heading up the stairs.
“Isa?” I called.
Suddenly she was at my door. “Were you just in my room?” she demanded.
“What? Me? No! Seriously? Jeez!” How on earth had she known?
Isabel was carrying a big brown box. It had holes cut all around it, and something inside was making noise.
“What’s in the box?” I asked.
She hesitated and then turned on her heel and went to her room without answering me.
I waited a second, and then, intrigued, I stood to follow her. She opened her door, flipped on the lights with her elbow, and crossed the room to her desk. I was right behind her, and it surprised me that she didn’t slam the door in my face like she usually would have. I stayed in the doorway anyway, just to be safe.
Isabel and I were technically identical twins, but no one mixed us up anymore. When we were little, our mom would dress us in similar (never identical) outfits. I always had everything in pink and Isa in purple, even our bedrooms. If I got a doll with a red dress, Isa would get the exact same one but in a blue dress. All through the previous year we had been really identical. But over the last few months, especially since school had started, we’d grown to be very different. We weren’t as close as
we used to be. Things were really different now.
Isabel had changed her style—from preppy cute to wearing all-black clothes and changing her hairstyle constantly: dyeing it blue, putting it in cornrows, and then wearing her most recent rocker chick mullet. Meanwhile, my hair was still long and brown and wavy, and I wore bright and flowing clothes, kind of hippyish. You’d have to look pretty carefully to see that we were twins.
Isabel placed the box carefully on her desk, turned on her gooseneck lamp, and peeked inside the box’s flaps.
“What is it?” I said, getting more curious by the minute.
Isabel turned and looked at me, considering me for a minute. Then with a little smile on her face, she said, “Come see.”
I crossed the room, swiveling my head from side to side to look at all the redecorating she’d done in the previous few weeks. Unlike my room and most of the rest of the house, Isa’s room was as neat as a pin. But she’d covered her purple walls completely with rock band posters and photos cut out of magazines—race cars, futuristic skyscrapers, weird
artwork. My eyes were spinning like pinwheels, trying to quickly take it all in during the quick journey to her desk.
I peered over her shoulder, not knowing what to expect. When I spied the box’s contents, I gasped and reared back.
“Whoa!” I said. “That’s a snake!”
Isabel smiled more widely and reached her hands into the box.
“Careful! It might bite you!” I said, clutching my hand to my chest. Despite being the child of two veterinarians, I was not a snake person.
But apparently Isabel now was.
“It’s a corn snake. Corn snakes don’t bite,” she said confidently.
She pulled her hands out of the box, and in them sat an orange striped snake, coiled neatly into a pile of snakiness.
“OMG. What is that disgusting thing doing here?” I said, jumping backward about four feet.
Isabel’s smile faded into its new usual scowl, and she turned her back on me, cradling the snake. “It lives here now,” she said quietly but with a hint of pride in her voice. “With me. I adopted it.”
I realized I’d just made a major blunder when I’d called the snake disgusting. I knew I had to apologize or this would escalate into a huge fight, like all our disagreements lately, and I needed Isa’s help to find the comic book. She was the only good finder in the family, and the odds were high that the book was in her room, anyway. While her back was turned to me, I scanned every surface, but I didn’t see it; not that that meant anything. If Isa had the comic, it would be neatly alphabetized and filed away on her bookcase.
I sighed. “I’m sorry, Isa. It just scared me. I’m . . . I’m just not really a snake person.”
“Well, I am. Just because we’re identical doesn’t mean we’re identical!”
I put my hands up in surrender. “Jeez, sorry. I never thought we were.”
“Look, just don’t tell Mom and Dad, okay? I really want it, and, well, you know how they are about pets. . . .”
Our parents had laid down the law about pets a long time before. They were willing to foster animals briefly, and we had done so many times over the years. (Our most recent foster had been a tiny, adorable shih tzu called Gizmo whom my friend Amber had wound
up adopting.) But despite the many, many times that Isa and I had begged to keep the fostered animals, our parents had always maintained that we did not need any permanent pets at home. They said that it was too much work for them to take care of animals all day at their clinic and then come home and do it again at night. In a moment of weakness my mom had once admitted that she’d made the rule early on because our dad was such a softie that our house would have looked like Noah’s ark if she’d let him start keeping animals.
“Do you really think you can have a secret pet? That seems like a bad idea,” I said.
Isabel’s eyes were huge and earnest. “Please, Sisi? Please let it be our secret?”
Sisi! Isabel hadn’t called me “Sisi” in ages. I melted. “I guess. I think it’s a bad idea, but I won’t say anything. At least not for now.”
Isabel released a long breath she must have been holding for a while. “Thank you.”
Just then the doorbell rang downstairs. Isabel looked at me, alarmed, but then her face changed as she seemed to realize who it was.
“Could you go get the door for me? It’s Francie—the girl I’m adopting the snake from. She has the tank
and all the gear and stuff. I need to stay up here with the snake, just in case Mom and Dad randomly come home. I don’t want them to see Naga.”
I raised my eyebrows, which were thick and dark and made quite a statement when I used them like that.
“Please, Sierra? Answer the door?” Isabel begged, her own dark eyebrows knit together on her forehead.
This was practically the longest conversation we’d had in weeks, and I liked having Isabel need my help. Plus, if she felt like she owed me one, she’d probably help me look for my comic book.
“Okay,” I said, and I dashed downstairs.
I opened the door to find a redheaded girl I recognized from the grade above me at school.
“Hi,” I said.
The girl looked at me in confusion. I don’t think I look that much like Isabel anymore, but I guess I do. When people see me for the first time, they still sometimes do a double take. I smiled. “I’m Sierra, Isabel’s twin. She sent me down because she’s busy with the . . . ah . . . snake . . . upstairs.” I whispered the word “snake” as if my parents had listening devices everywhere.
“Oh! Hi. I’m Francie. Okay, so this is the gear for Naga.” In her arms were a big fish tank with a lamp and some other electrical equipment, plus a little bowl, a small cavelike shelter, and more.
“Ooh!” I said, spying a white Chinese take-out container in the tank. “Does Naga eat Chinese food?”
Francie looked perplexed, and then she laughed. “No! Those are frozen baby mice. That’s what she likes to eat! Mice cream! Mice-icles!”
Oh no. I actually almost gagged. “O-kaaaay.”
Francie looked at me seriously. “Corn snakes are constrictors—they like to wrap around their prey and strangle it, then eat it. Pretty soon Naga will have to be fed small live animals. . . .”
I felt weak. I think my jaw must’ve dropped open, because Francie was suddenly eager to leave.
She thrust the gear into my arms. “Thanks so much for taking her. My parents just did not want a snake in the house, but they were really happy to hear she was coming to live with two vets.”
“Right,” I said. But the vets don’t know it yet, I added silently. “Well, thanks. Come back and visit anytime!”
Francie turned and walked down the path, waving as she went. She couldn’t get away fast enough. I
think she was relieved to be done with the snake. Or maybe she was just glad to be rid of the frozen baby mice. She practically skipped down the sidewalk.
“Hmmm,” I said, closing the front door with my foot. “I bet we won’t see her again.” I held the tank away from me at arm’s length. If I caught even one whiff of the “mice-icles,” I would surely be sick.
Upstairs Isabel startled when I came in.
“It’s just me. Relax,” I said. I put the gear down on her bed. “Um, do you know what this critter eats?”
Isabel smiled. “Yup.”
I shuddered. “Are you going to keep them in the freezer, like, with all of our food?”
She nodded. “Uh-huh.”
I sighed. “It’s a good thing our parents are so messy. They’ll never notice.”
“I know. But they might notice the tank. I’m going to work to get this all set up before they come home. It’s going in my closet.”
In the closet. Well, at least that was good. That meant there would be at least two doors between me and the snake.
“Well, at least Mom and Dad are extra busy right now. That should buy you some time this afternoon,”
I said. Our parents were in the middle of renovating one of their examining rooms and their lab area. Though they usually worked seven days a week, things right then were crazier than ever, with the renovations going on after clinic hours, making their days really long.
“Mm-hmm,” agreed Isabel.
She put Naga back into the cardboard box, carefully closed it, and weighed down the top with a heavy book. Then she came over to the bed to assess what Francie had brought. I hovered in the doorway, unsure if I should stay or go. Isabel never hung out with me or my friends anymore, and her new friends were all kinds of weird: either punk and a little scary-looking or soccer-maniac boys from her all-boy travel team. She and I used to have so many little secrets and rituals. We were Team P, the Perez sisters. Sisters for life, we would always say. Then we’d do a fist bump and pulse our hands away like jellyfish. But that had all dried up lately. Team P was on a permanent vacation.
I was enjoying feeling close again for the moment, so I tried to stretch it out. “Remember when we really wanted to keep that German shepherd puppy?” I said.
Isabel smiled wistfully. “Roman. He was so handsome.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, remembering how much we’d loved snuggling with him on the sofa in front of the TV. “But he did have that peeing problem. . . .”
Isabel laughed—a quick, short laugh, but still a laugh. “And when he peed on Mom and Dad’s bed, they finally said they’d found him a new family! Funny timing, right?”
“I wish we had a pet,” I said with a sigh.
“Well, now we do!” cheered Isabel.
“Humph. A snake’s not really a pet. I’ve always wanted something furry to snuggle with.”
“I think a snake’s a pet. I’ll snuggle with Naga,” said Isabel defiantly.
“Right. Sorry,” I agreed, thinking, Whatever! Things were starting to get a little dicey, so I figured I’d better strike while I still could. “Any chance you’d help me look for a comic book I lost? It’s called Ms. Marvelous.”
Without even looking up, Isabel jerked her thumb at her bookcase. “Bottom shelf. Under the letter M for ‘Marvelous.’ Sorry. I saw it in the living room and thought Mom had gotten it for me.”
Bingo! I went to her shelf and pulled it right out. While I was there, I noticed lots of books I’d never seen before.
“Hey! When did you get all into graphic novels?” I asked, fanning them out and showing them to Isabel.
Isabel shrugged. “I don’t know. My friends are into them.”
“Yuck!” I said, turning the pages.
Isabel got annoyed then. “You know what? Just . . . Can you just leave? I don’t need you in here being all goody-two-shoes and judging my stuff. Okay? We’re not the same person anymore. So just skedaddle! Get out!” Isabel grabbed all the books from my hands. “Shoo!”
I raised my hands in the air in surrender. “Sor-ry!” I said, grabbing my friend’s comic book and leaving the room. “And I’m not a Goody Two-shoes!”
“Ha!” was the reply before the door slammed shut behind me.
I found myself standing alone again in the upstairs hall, but at least this time I had the comic book in my hand. Mission accomplished.