No reply came. Tentatively, Cody stepped forward. He thought of something Blake had said in youth group earlier in the week: âSometimes, fear is Godâs microphone.â
Okay, Lord , he confessed. Iâm hearing you, loud and clear. Iâm sorry I didnât bounce outta here a long time ago. But since Iâm here, please donât let this stubborn, silent thing in front of me be a ghost. Especially not the ghost of Gabe Weitz.
He took a step backward, keeping his eyes fixed in front of him.
He laughed in spite of himself, as the scene came into focus. The sensation reminded of him when he used to watch Wheel of Fortune with his mom, and, suddenly, his mind would fill in the missing letters of a phrase or name.
It was his fatherâs bathrobe. It hung from the back of the closet door on a temporary hanger that slid over the doorâs top. Cody usually found the robe wadded up on the bathroom floor or slung across an arm of the downstairs couch, but, obviously, the impending domestication was compelling Luke Martin to clean up his act. The closet door opened outward, so it was parallel to the wall when open all the way.
Cody rubbed the center of his forehead, chuckling again when he realized that his punch had caused the door to rebound off the wall, nearly putting a canyon down his skull . At least it missed my nose, he thought. I already have five and a half zits; thatâs about all the imperfection my face can take at the moment. Anyway, big ups to you, Cody Martin. Youâre the first guy to beat upâhimself!
Cody felt his smile vanish when he heard more stirring from the bathroom. And his heart, which had only recently slowed enough so that he could feel each individual beat, accelerated again until his chest practically vibrated with a rapid-fire drum solo so fierce that he couldnât tell where one heartbeat ended and the next began. I canât believe , he scolded himself, that I forgot about the other burglarâwho I guess is the only burglar. But thatâs more than enough!
He moved briskly to the doorway, risking one glance over his shoulder before he planned to descend all nine stairs with one bound and sprint all the way toâsomewhere loud and bright and very, very public.
Thatâs when he saw Miss Ella leap from the bathroom sink across the threshold of the bathroom.
âOh, Miss Ella,â he said, his voice quivering. âY-youâre behind all of this? Youâre gonna pay, big-time.â
Miss Ella, who must have been patrolling the vanity in the bathroom, meowed and trotted toward Cody. Her purring intensified as she made figure eights through his legs, rubbing her lean body against his ankles.
âYou scroungy feline,â he said, with mock disgust. âYou almost gave me a heart attackânot to mention almost making it necessary for me to change my underwear! Thatâs the thanks I get for letting you come over and hang with me?â
Codyâs dad was severely allergic to cats, as well as ragweed, pollen, dust mites, and so on. Whenever Codyâs mom had completed medical forms for her husband, she replied âPretty much everythingâ to questions about âknown allergies.â
So she and the then-sixth-grade Cody had conspired to covertly âadoptâ Miss Ella, a midsize cat with a sleek gray coat, as a surrogate pet. Miss Ellaâs rightful owners, the Workmans down the street, didnât seem to pay much attention to her. They must have seen her lounging on the Martin porch or following Cody when he went to the mailbox, but they never came over and accused the Martins of trying to win their catâs affection and loyalty.
Miss Ella wasnât allowed in the Martin house. If Codyâs dad had ever found cat hair on the couch, the game would have been up, and Miss Ella would be formally and finally banned from the premises. Occasionally, she managed to squirt between Codyâs legs
Ursula K. Le Guin, Laozi, Jerome P. Seaton