Shelly stared at herself in the mirror. She was alone in the bedroom she shared with her older sisters, Tempest and Gale. That almost never happened, so Shelly was enjoying it.
Mom poked her head into the room.“Are you ready?” she asked. “Your sisters are still out with Dad. If you hurry, we can eat breakfast together!”
“I’m trying,” Shelly replied.
“Hurry up,” Mom said.
Shelly grinned. With three kittens in the family, she was constantly sharing with her sisters. They shared a room. They shared toys. And they pretty much always had to share time with Mom and Dad. But today, Shelly had a chance to hang out with her mother with no other purrmaid around.
Unfortunately, Shelly never got ready quickly. She was too picky about the way she looked. She liked having every strand of her white fur in place and every outfit purr-fectly planned. Today, she chose a golden top to go with her starfish clip and her favorite bracelet.
When Shelly twirled her paw, the bracelet sparkled in the light. It always brought a smile to her face. It was beautiful, and it matched the ones her best friends, Angel and Coral, wore.
The girls’ friendship bracelets had the same three charms: a golden seashell, a gold coin, and a lavender pearl. The pearls were the newest additions to their bracelets. They were gifts from the Catfish Club after they all worked on an art project together.
The bracelets looked alike, but Shelly, Angel, and Coral were as different as purrmaids could be! Coral was an orange kitten. She was the careful one in their group. Shelly never had to worry about getting her paws too dirty when Coral was in charge. Angel was a black-and-white kitten. She liked to dive headfirst into every adventure. She was fine stretching a rule or two as long as that led to excitement or winning! Shelly liked some rules—but only if she was the one who made them! She didn’t always want to admit it, but Shelly liked getting her way. Together, the three of them made a paw-some team.
When Shelly was finally ready, she heard dishes clinking. “I think I took too long,” she grumbled. When she swam into the kitchen, her sisters were already at the table. Tempest was sitting on one side of Mom, and Gale was on the other. “I wanted to be next to Mom!” Shelly whined.
“I did, too,” Dad said. He gave Shelly a quick kiss on the forehead.
Mom pointed to a spot by Gale. “There’s room for you there, Shelly,” she purred.
Shelly scowled, but she moved next to her sister.
Dad held up a plate of scrambled tuna eggs. “I made your favorite, Shelly,” he said. Both of Shelly’s parents were chefs, but Dad’s breakfasts were always fin-tastic. Shelly heard her tummy rumbling. She couldn’t wait to eat!
Dad handed the plate to Tempest. She took a big helping of eggs. Mom only scooped a little bit onto her plate. But after Gale took her share, there was hardly any left! “The plate is almost empty,” Shelly complained. “You guys took it all!”
“Come on, sis,” Gale said. “We weren’t taking. You were sharing!”
“And like Mom and Dad always say, sharing is caring!” Tempest laughed.
Shelly sighed. She loved her family, but it was hard to have to share everything. It would be nice to have more things that are just mine, she thought.
Shelly was still frowning as she swam to Leondra’s Square to meet Coral and Angel. But as soon as she saw them, her frown turned upside down. Her best
friends always made everything better. “Hello!” she shouted.
Coral spotted Shelly and yelled, “Come on! We’re going to be late!”
Shelly laughed. Coral always worried about being on time. They went through the same routine every morning. Even though they’d never missed the school bell.
“We’re not going to be late,” Shelly said. “Don’t worry.”
“Let’s just hurry,” Coral answered.
The girls raced toward sea school. Usually, they swam straight down Canal Street from Leondra’s Square to the school doors. But today, something made Shelly stop.
“What are you doing?” Coral asked. “We can’t stop!”
Shelly shushed her. “Look at that!” she hissed.
There were two wonderful places on Canal Street. Kittentail Cove Library was on the north side of the street. A fenced-off garden of corals and sea grass called Meow Meadow was on the south side. Shelly pointed at something inside the garden.
Purrmaids often went to Meow Meadow to enjoy the peace and quiet. But today, it was too noisy for anyone to relax. Some purrmaids were fixing the gazebo using planks of driftwood and
panels of sea glass. They wore hats that said CASPIAN CONSTRUCTION. It was Mr. Caspian and his construction crew.
Shelly wasn’t looking at Mr. Caspian. She pointed to a purrmaid in the garden. Her rainbow fur was familiar.
“It’s Ms. Harbor!” Angel shouted.
The gold and silver rings in Ms. Harbor’s ears and tail glittered as she swam around. A long silver chain hung from one paw.
“It looks like she’s searching for something,” Shelly said. “Let’s go see if we can do anything for her.”
As the girls got closer to their teacher, Shelly spied a flash of something light
brown hiding in a seaweed hedge.
“What are you doing, Ms. Harbor?” Coral asked.
Ms. Harbor spun around quickly. “Oh, girls,” she gasped. “You surprised me!”
"We’re sorry,” Angel said. “We just came over to help.”
Ms. Harbor smiled. “I could use some extra paws!” She pointed to the seaweed hedge. “I was trying to bring something special to class today,” she explained, “but he got away!”
Shelly leaned in for a closer look. “It’s a sea horse!” she exclaimed.
“He’s adorable,” Angel purred.
“I found him this morning when I came to the garden to exercise,” Ms. Harbor explained. “He was all by himself, and he looked so cute! I made a collar out of an earring and turned one of my necklaces into a leash.” She held out the chain. “But as soon as I got the collar on him, he darted away. He’s been hiding in this seaweed ever since. What do you think would make him come out?”
Since Shelly’s parents were chefs, she knew food could make things better. Maybe he’s hungry, she thought. She remembered that she had shrimp salad in her lunch bag.
“If we’re lucky,” Shelly said, “sea horses like shrimp.” She slowly moved toward the sea horse and held out the shrimp salad. Then she hovered as still as she could.
The sea horse poked his head out from his hiding place. He sniffed at the food. Then he swam to the shrimp salad and began to eat.
“Quickly!” Shelly whispered. “The leash!”
Ms. Harbor carefully attached the leash to the sea horse’s collar. “Paw-some job!” she declared. “Thank you, Shelly!”
“Is he your pet?” Angel asked.
Ms. Harbor grinned. “Actually, he is going to be our classroom pet.”
“I’ve always wanted a pet!” Shelly exclaimed.
“Well,” said Ms. Harbor, “now we all have a pet to share.” She paused and looked directly at Shelly. “I think Shelly has earned the right to host our pet on his first night with us!”
Copyright © 2018 by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.