Middle grade excerpt from Maile’s Big Move: The Purrfect Pets
Sometimes change creeps up, but for Maile, change was happening at a confusing, overwhelming rate.
She lobbed the T-shirt in her hand in the direction of her moving boxes, catching the corner of one. Lately everyone’s time in her family had been filled with preparation for the big move. She could not think of a worse way to be spending summer vacation. She slumped on her bed, taking a break from packing up her clothes.
Truthfully, she’d much rather be outside, enjoying what passed for June in San Francisco, which was cold as usual. Maybe she could have been out getting shakes one last time at Ghiradelli’s with Laci and Taylor, piling in behind the tourists. Or else walking the few blocks over to Alamo Square with Lenny. She never got tired of seeing the picturesque pastel houses across the street. Or —
“Maile, are you packing?” called her mother from downstairs. “It’s awfully quiet.”
“Yes!” said Maile, stretching out on her bed and studying the ceiling.
“A little,” she said more softly.
Some kids might be excited by the idea of moving, but Maile wasn’t one of them. It was fine to go somewhere, as long as you could come back. It had been exactly two weeks since her parents had had The Talk with her to confirm that they were indeed moving. Not to Sausalito. Not to San Jose. Not to any other nearby cities in California. But instead to Honolulu, Hawaii — hundreds, no thousands, of miles away.
Maile thought her family couldn’t have picked a worse time to move, but her parents thought summer was an ideal time to relocate because it was in between grades.
Maile knew that summers were best spent outside free of school — in the neighborhood she knew so well. But did anyone ask a ten-year-old for their ideas on big changes?
Not even Maile answered her own question. She already knew the answer.
As it was, there was barely time to do anything lately other than finish up her family’s daily growing to-do list. Mother had been marking the days left before the move in a calendar. Maile idly wondered when that would be packed up, too, and shipped with most of their other possessions to her grandparents’ place on Oahu, where they would live until they found a place of their own.
Her stomach tied itself in knots at the thought of moving in with Grandpa and Tutu. Correction: Grandpa, Tutu and Napoleon. Double correction: Her stomach was knotting up because of Tutu and Napoleon, not Grandpa.
Maile heard the rattling of utensils downstairs in the kitchen, a signal that her mother was getting a start on dinner. Mother would pack up anything to do with the kitchen last. The kitchen was where Maile’s mother spent most of her free time when she was in a good mood — as did her father, actually — and because the family still needed silverware and dishes for meals.
One of Maile’s cats, Wolf, peeked over the side of her bed before jumping on it. He gazed at her with that serious expression he often wore. He cocked his head, studying her as if to ask “are you OK?”
Merlin, her other boy cat, ambled in and flopped on the floor in front of her boxes. A mere ten seconds later or so, he hopped into one and poked his head through her discarded T-shirt, inspecting it.
Unlike Wolf, Merlin had few concerns. Even today, Merlin was in a playful mood. The black-and-white cat pulled his face back out of Maile’s T-shirt and knocked it down with a paw. Then he settled on top of the shirt.
Maile pulled at the T-shirt out from from underneath Merlin, and he clamped down harder on the shirt, enjoying the one-sided game of tug.
She dragged the box with Merlin in it next to her bed. She picked up the surprised cat with one hand before pulling him in close like a football with the other.
“You really have no idea what’s going to happen, huh?” Maile asked him, and the cat responded with a loud purr. Wolf crept closer on her pillow toward them and settled in.
None of Maile’s pets — Merlin, Wolf, Bella and Lenny — had any idea of the changes in store. Her parents were excited to relocate — but Maile was less than thrilled. She didn’t mind putting off thinking about the move, though that wouldn’t really make a difference. She knew because she already had tried to change her parents’ minds. Tons of times. She had been at work on a plan ever since they first told her they wanted to move — three short yet very long months ago.
She had been so sure that the their home would take a few months to sell. Years even, if she was lucky. But she wasn’t.
“In San Francisco, a lot of things move fast,” her mother had warned her. “We might have only a month or two left in our house.”
But even she had been wrong. Their home had sold even faster than that. Maile was still dumbfounded. Maybe her parents would have dropped the idea if the house had never sold.
But Maile still had a couple more strategies to go.
And tomorrow, she’d get started on plan H. Or at least it seemed like she was that far along in the alphabet.
Merlin licked her cheek.
“Well, how about that?” said her father. “Pretty good. Huh?”
He and Maile stepped off the trolley and out onto the street corner. It was hard to tell for sure who had been tourist and who had been local on the crowded wooden cable car, one of several that criss-crossed the many hilly streets of San Francisco every day.
But it was probably safe to say that most had been tourists as who else would want to spend their whole day waiting for one? The lines to board the cable cars located around the city were often long. But today she and her father were visiting as many iconic places as possible in San Francisco, acting as tourists themselves in their city. The plan was to show her parents — one or both — that they loved San Francisco, if they weren’t going to listen to reason. And since Maile’s mom wanted to spend the morning visiting some friends, the plan was to work on Dad alone.
Today she and her father were using the cable cars to explore San Francisco. So far they had explored sights such as Nob Hill, strolled through Fisherman’s Wharf and walked the Golden Gate Bridge. Lenny would have loved that one.
She pictured the dog hanging over the side of a cable car, with the wind ruffling his coat.
“This was a good suggestion to play tourist in our own city, Maile,” Dad was saying. “Look at the city with fresh eyes before we leave.”
Maile nodded. That wasn’t quite the response she was hoping for. She wanted her dad to be thunderstruck, and so overcome with weepy emotion that he would loudly exclaim “I get it now! We can’t move! There’s too many good things going on here.”
Maybe what she wanted was a miracle.
“Do you want to get some pizza?” he asked instead. “I could use a bite.”
Maile nodded again, and her father led the way into a pizza place a few doors down that she wasn’t familiar with.
“Grab a table, OK?” Her father said.
Maile nodded once more, slipping in a cracked red leatherette seat at a table for four at the front of the small restaurant, which was nearly empty midday.
This didn’t seem to be her parents’ usual kind of spot: an old-looking neighborhood spot that had charm in its own homey sort of way. Not unless the place served pizza with corn or asparagus or something else like that. It wouldn’t be the first time. She looked around her, but the old black-and-white photographs on the red brick walls gave nothing away.
Her father arrived with what looked like two slices of pepperoni pizza and a couple of drinks that resembled sodas. Maile looked from the food to her father with both suspicion and surprise. Normally her parents were such foodies.
“This was one of the places that I used to go to in college,” her dad said with a shake of his head. “Memories.”
She looked at him again — perhaps he was feeling more sentimental than she thought.
They quietly chewed away at their pizza — which was indeed just ordinary cheese and pepperoni slices. Maile decided to broach the topic once more. Today, she decided to start with food.
Remain calm, she told herself.
“Remember when we went to dinner at Zuni and you left your wallet at home, Dad?” she asked.
Zuni Café was a swanky restaurant on Market Street where the family went on special occasions.
“Yes, thanks, Maile,” said her dad in between bites. “I do remember. Thankfully, your mother brought hers — even if it was her birthday.”
“She’s going to miss chef Danko’s restaurant, too. Maybe we should go there. And maybe Zuni’s again. One more time for old time’s sake? Maybe we can hit other spots, too, before we leave.”
While Maile was perfectly content to eat bologna sandwiches every day — much to her mother’s horror — if gourmet restaurants were what it took, then she would make the sacrifice, as her parents loved dining out in San Francisco and gourmet food in general.
“Maybe. If we have time,” said Maile’s dad. “I know — let’s visit Chef Mavro’s after we get settled in at my mom and dad’s. You’ve never been there, Maile. It’s this great place in Honolulu. Maybe we can make it a surprise for your mother.”
Maile struck restaurants off her mental list of “things to talk about.” This was not the direction she had wanted the conversation to take.
“Have you really thought this through about moving?” Maile asked. “I don’t know. Hawaii just seems so far away.”
“Yes, of course we have,” he said. “Yes, we definitely have.”
“Doesn’t it seem kind of sudden?” she said.
“Oh, no,” answered her dad. “We’ve been thinking about this for about a year. We just didn’t want to tell you before we were certain.”
“You didn’t tell me?” Maile squeaked. “Why wouldn’t you tell me? You’ve lived here for so long, and I’ve always lived here! I was born here!”
Maile quickly clamped down on what she was about to say next, and switched to another strategy on her list: Reminding her parents how much they loved their neighbors in San Francisco, like Mrs. Manez and Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald, their next-door neighbors on either side.
“But, well, we have such good friends here, like Mrs. Manez and Mr. and Mrs. Fitzgerald,” said Maile, avoiding mentioning her own friends, so she didn’t sound like some sort of pouty kid. “They’re like family! We’ve been to all their events and they’ve been to all of ours.”
“Mrs. Manez has been there for every single one of your milestones,” said Dad. “No doubt. She visited you and your mother in the hospital when you were born. She’s been to all your birthday parties.”
Maile smiled with relief. Maybe it was OK to her mention her own friends.
“Taylor and Taylor have been to all my birthday parties, too,” added Maile. “I might not make friends like that in Hawaii.”
“Maile, our neighbors — and your friends — have been to so many of our special occasions,” he said carefully. “We’re lucky to know so many great people here, and the ones you are closest to will remain forever in your hearts.”
Maile’s smile stiffened on her face. That didn’t even sound like something her dad would usually say. It sounded like her mother, who was more formal and flowery.
That would mean that her parents had been talking a lot. And they, as one, had an answer for everything.
Maile tried one last approach.
“What does Tutu think of all this?”
Her father looked back at her.
“We’ll be having another conversation with your grandmother very soon,” said Dad. “For now, let’s just enjoy today.”
He fiddled with his napkin.
“But we’re probably going to be staying at your grandparents’ house for a while,” he said, getting more serious. “So we have to make Tutu feel especially comfortable. It’s her house — Tutu and Grandpa’s — and it’s very hard to find rental properties in Hawaii that accept pets.”
Maile looked up as some new people, talking and laughing, walked through the door. She looked away.
“Ready to go home?” her dad asked.
She shrugged. “Sure.”
It was still their home for a little while longer — at least for the rest of the month.
“Can we pick up some sourdough at Boudin since we’re down here? And can we also make a stop off in Chinatown, Dad?” she asked. ‘There’s something I want to get.”
“Sure, maybe we should pick up some chocolate for Grandpa, too,” Dad said. “He has quite the sweet tooth, you know. Well, you, me and your grandpa have one. Just don’t get any food on Tutu’s couch. In fact, better not to eat in the living room or the family room at all.”
Maile’s shoulders slumped.
“And, yeah, we have time today. Pretty soon we’re going to be too busy to do anything but finish packing.”