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No Words: Chapter 14


I wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened.

All I knew for certain was that Will Price had called me smart. Smart, complicated, and beautiful, as well.

People say all sorts of nice things they don’t mean, of course, because they want something from you, or simply to be polite.

This didn’t feel like that, though. It had felt genuine.

More than that, it had felt good. Will had apologized to me again, but this time it was on record, in front of witnesses. Witnesses who could actually hear him—all five hundred of them, even if they may not have understood what he was actually referring to.

He’d admitted he wasn’t perfect. He’d made a mistake, and he was hoping to grow and learn from it, like a character in one of my books.

One of my excellent books.

Of course, he still hadn’t told me why he’d said something so profoundly stupid (and mean) to that reporter. But that didn’t make me feel any less like dashing from the auditorium the second our panel was over and running outside to yell, “Wheeeee!”

But of course I couldn’t do that, because while I wrote children’s books for a living, I was a grown adult, and there was one more panel and two speakers to go, plus our group signing, before the festival broke for lunch.

So instead I whispered, “Is Sophie all right?” as Bernadette and I walked from the stage together after our panel finished.

“She’s fine.” Bernadette beamed. “Didn’t even need stitches, just a bandage and strict orders not to play Horsies in the dining room until the floors are sanded.”

“Great.” The audience was still applauding us as we returned to our seats—or perhaps applauding Garrett and Kellyjean, the next authors coming up to the stage.

“How did it go with him while I was gone?” she asked, nodding back at Will, who was still onstage. He had to moderate the next panel, after all.

“Oh, fine, fine,” I said. I wasn’t going to squeal, “He called me smart! And complicated! And beautiful! And said he likes my books!” because that would be absurd. Instead, I said, “Listen, I need to make a quick call of my own. I’ll be back in a few minutes. All right?”

Bernadette looked surprised. “Of course! Is it your dad? Is everything okay?”

“Everything’s great. I’ll explain later.”

I hurried up the aisle as the houselights, which had come up in order for us to find our way down the stage stairs, and Kellyjean and Garrett their way up, descended again. In the sudden dimness, however, instead of heading for the glow of the Exit sign, I found a vacant seat tucked in the last row, then sank into it. There, I switched on my cell phone, holding it low so that it wouldn’t disturb anyone.

Then, as Will did his best to moderate Kellyjean and Garrett’s continuing argument about the morality of young people using dark magic, I checked my messages.

Still nothing from Rosie.

But, as I sat there in the darkness wondering what could possibly have happened to Will to have made him change so much since I’d last seen him, something came over me, and I began to type. Words began pouring out of me.

And not just any words, either. The words to Kitty Katz #27, which I realized in that moment had to be about Kitty’s breakup with her longtime boyfriend, Rex Canine.

This was going to be explosive. Rex was a fan favorite—readers adored that he was the star player on Cat Central High School’s basketball team while also always being there for Kitty, no matter what jam she happened to find herself in with all those kittens she cared for on weekends to make money to buy the latest designer duds she loved so much (and to save to pay for tuition at Cat Community College, of course, where she intended to major in criminal justice).

But let’s face it: Rex was boring. So boring.

This was partly my fault, because I’d been writing him that way for twenty-six books—well, twenty-one, since he hadn’t shown up until book six, when Kitty’s best friend, Felicity, tried out for Cat Central’s cheerleading squad, and suddenly Kitty began going to all the school’s games to support her.

Now seemed like the perfect time to move a secondary character up into the spotlight: Raul Wolf, Kitty’s biggest rival. Editor of Cat Central High’s school paper, Raul was always beating Kitty at the things she loved: debate, spelling, the science fair. And he could be pretty arrogant about it, too.

But what if all this time that arrogance had been hiding a sensitive side that Kitty never knew existed? Plus a dark secret she’d discover while puppy sitting for Raul’s newly adopted baby sister, Mittens!

Suddenly Kitty is spending a lot of time with Raul Wolf, a boy she’s never liked . . . until now. Because now that she’s learned Raul’s secret, Kitty is feeling emotions she’d never thought possible for a dog she’s only ever considered her archenemy.

But what is Raul’s secret? And what’s drawing Kitty to him? Could it be that beneath that arrogant lupine surface beats the warm, passionate heart of a—

“Jo.”

I screamed and nearly dropped my phone, on which I’d been typing frantically with my thumbs. “What?”

But it was only Bernadette standing at the end of the aisle by my seat. I was shocked to see that the houselights were back up and that everyone was filing out of the auditorium behind her, all wearing amused looks on their faces at the way I’d reacted to Bernadette calling my name.

“What’s happening?” I looked around and saw that the stage was empty. Will was nowhere to be seen, and neither were Garrett or Kellyjean. “Is there a fire?”

“No, silly. The panels are over for the day.” Bernadette was laughing at me. “It’s time for the book signings.”

I was stunned. I looked down at my phone and realized that not only had two hours gone by, but I’d written ten pages.

Single spaced. With my thumbs. Without any M&M’s.

“Oh my God. Sorry. Let me just get my—”

Bernadette held out her hand. “Your bag? I have it here. Come on. Everyone wants to get the signings over with so they can go out on Will’s boat. We’re supposed to have lunch on it, remember?”

Still feeling dazed, I rose from my seat and hurried toward her. “Sorry,” I mumbled. “I was just—”

“On a call, I know.” Bernadette continued to look amused. “What on earth were you doing way back here?”

“Actually,” I said as we filed out with the last of the audience, “I was writing.”

“Writing to whom? Your agent? Did she get back to you with the details about you-know-who?”

“No, I mean really writing. I was working on Kitty number twenty-seven.”

Bernadette spun on me, the smile on her face going from wry to delighted. “No way! But I thought you were hopelessly blocked on that one.”

“I thought so, too. But something just . . . came to me. It’s the weirdest thing.”

“Can you tell me what? Or is it too soon?”

Bernadette and I were both superstitious about discussing story ideas too soon. Sometimes, simply by mentioning it out loud, a narrative could feel already “told,” and then the drive to write it down could be lost forever.

“I think it’s too soon,” I told her. “But I feel like it’s a keeper. I have no idea why, but suddenly, I’m unblocked.”

“Oh, I think I know why.”

“You do?”

“Yeah. Kellyjean told me all about it.”

We’d exited the building and were walking down the library’s front steps toward the parking lot, where the signing tents were set up. But now I stopped dead in my tracks.

“Oh, I’m sure she did.” Kellyjean had the biggest mouth. “Listen, I can assure you that I still don’t believe in magic. That thing last night with the wishing was only because I had a little too much to drink.”

Bernadette looked perplexed. “What are you talking about? Kellyjean didn’t mention anything about wishing. All she told me was what Will said to you at our panel, before I got there, about your books being good, and you being beautiful. She thinks you better watch out.” Bernadette reached out to tap me teasingly on the shoulder. “She really is convinced he’s in love with you.”

I felt my cheeks growing hot, and not because we were in Florida and it was so warm outside.

“Kellyjean doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” I said.

Bernadette looked confused. “Why? Did he not say those things?”

“Well, yeah, he said them, but not because he’s in love with me.” I had to dodge some little kids who were running around with balloons, their faces painted to look like sharks and angelfish. “I don’t know what’s going on with him. He seems to have the biggest case of Foot-in-Mouth Disease on the planet. One minute he’s saying something super mean, and the next, he’s saying something super nice. Honestly I think the only reason he says the nice things is because he has to, since he’s hosting this thing.”

“Oh, Jo, why do you always have to be so negative?” Bernadette asked. “I get that you’re a tough New Yorker, but just for once could you let yourself entertain the idea that a man—a man with an actual job—might admire you?”

I rolled my eyes. “You mean why can’t I be more like Kitty Katz, who takes every bad situation and turns it into a pawsitive? Because I’m not Kitty Katz, I’m only her creator. I want to be more like her, really, I do. But she’s fictional. No real person can be that purr-fectly imperfect.”

“Nobody’s asking you to be purr-fect. But you could try being open-minded.”

I sighed. The enormous banyan trees that sprawled across the yard mostly blocked our view of the signing tents, but I could see that quite a lot of people were gathering around them. I figured they were heading toward their cars to leave. Although Little Bridge seemed lovely, and it was nice so many people had packed into the auditorium to listen to us speak, it was unlikely many of them would buy books. That’s the way book festivals worked. Authors were an oddity at which people loved to come out and gawk. Only a few cared enough to sample the product they were selling.

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll be open-minded. Will Price admires me. He admires me so much, he—”

Bernadette held up a warning hand. “Don’t. Don’t start that again. He said he was sorry. Maybe he really did have a bad day that morning at Novel Con. It could happen to anyone. Maybe—”

But I never did get to hear what Bernadette thought might have happened to make Will say such awful things about my books, because at that moment we cleared the trees and saw that the hordes of people in the parking lot weren’t heading toward their cars at all. They were crowding instead outside the author tents. . . .

No, not crowding. Lining up.

“Holy cattails,” I said, once again freezing in my tracks. “Are all these people here for—?”

“There you are!” Chloe came running toward us, breathless in her little red-and-white dance shirt and shorts. “I’ve been looking everywhere for both of you! Are you ready for the signing? Do you need bottled water or anything? Because there are a ton of people waiting, and it would be great if we could get you seated and started, because we’ve got a conch chowder lunch lined up for all the paid attendees over by the lighthouse, and we really want to get them over there before the chowder gets cold.”

Bernadette and I exchanged shocked glances. What?

Maybe I really should start being a little more pawsitive after all.


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