Cages, p.1
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       Cages, p.1

           Peg Kehret
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Cages


  Caught!

  Kit held her breath, wondering if the woman would notice that the bracelet was missing. She didn’t.

  Kit tried to act casual. “I’d better go,” she said to Marcia.

  “See you at rehearsal,” Marcia said.

  Over my dead body, Kit thought, but she forced a smile before she turned and walked away.

  As she rode up the escalator, she kept her hand in her pocket, fingering the bracelet.

  A new thought hit her. What if the store had secret cameras hidden? Panicky, she scrutinized the ceiling and the walls above each sales counter. She saw nothing that resembled a camera.

  Kit felt hot. She needed to get out of the mall. She didn’t want to call attention to herself by running but she walked quickly, as if she were late for an appointment.

  As she stepped out into the main corridor of the mall, someone touched her elbow.

  The woman held a small black folder toward Kit. She flipped the folder open.

  There was a badge inside.

  “I’m with store security.”

  “Kit’s determination to free herself from the cages of . . . jealousy and ultimately, the secret of her crime make her an appealing protagonist.”

  —School Library Journal

  ALSO BY PEG KEHRET

  Earthquake Terror

  I’m Not Who You Think I Am

  Nightmare Mountain

  Searching for Candlestick Park

  Cages

  PEG KEHRET

  PUFFIN BOOKS

  Published by the Penguin Group

  Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers,

  345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

  Penguin Books Ltd, 27 Wrights Lane, London W8 5TZ, England

  Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia

  Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2

  Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182–190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

  Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England

  First published in the United States of America by Cobblehill Books,

  an affiliate of Dutton Children’s Books,

  a division of Penguin Books USA Inc., 1991

  Published by Puffin Books,

  a member of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2001

  Copyright © Peg Kehret, 1991

  All rights reserved

  THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE COBBLEHILL EDITION AS FOLLOWS:

  Kehret, Peg.

  Cages / by Peg Kehret.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  Summary: After losing an acting role and fighting with her alcoholic stepfather, Kit is arrested for shoplifting and ordered to work, as a part of her sentence, at an animal shelter.

  ISBN: 978-1-101-66152-9

  [1. Shoplifting—fiction. 2. Family problems—Fiction. 3. Animals—Treatment—Fiction.]

  I. Title.

  PZ7.K2518Cag 1991 [Fic]—dc20 90-21230 CIP AC

  Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  This book is dedicated to the pets

  who have given me so much pleasure:

  SKIPPY, B.J., STOMPY, TIGER, NUSHIE, KITTY, T.J., SANDY,

  MAX, SAM, PEPPER, GEORGE, MARTHA, DOLLY,

  AND DAISY

  And to The Humane Society & S.P.C.A.

  of Seattle/King County

  for providing love and preventing cruelty

  Table of Contents

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  CHAPTER 14

  CHAPTER 15

  CHAPTER 16

  CHAPTER 17

  About the Author

  IT was almost over. Kit Hathaway glanced at her notecards, but her hands shook so badly that she couldn’t read her own writing.

  This was her last and most important speech of the year, the one that would determine her final grade, although that wasn’t why she was nervous. It was her topic. Of all the subjects in the world, why did she have to get this one for her final speech?

  Her closing statement rushed out. “If you’re caught shoplifting,” she said, “your parents are notified, and the police come, and the juvenile court decides your punishment. It’s stupid to take such a chance.”

  She nodded to Miss Fenton, indicating that she was finished. At last. Feeling drained of energy, she started back to her seat.

  Before she got there, a boy in the back of the room said, “That’s a bunch of bull.”

  Kit stopped.

  “Do you wish to challenge this speech, Arthur?” Miss Fenton said.

  “Yes,” he said. “Yes, I challenge it. Hardly anybody gets caught. Not if they’re careful. I know lots of guys who take stuff all the time and not one of them has ever been busted.”

  Kit hesitated. Her classmates watched her, alert, awaiting her response. If she didn’t defend her position, it was an automatic drop of one full grade. But how could she prove her point without divulging her secret?

  None of the other kids knew. Not even her best friend, Tracy. And Kit intended to keep it that way.

  “A buddy of mine takes a candy bar from the Ben Franklin store every day after school,” Arthur said. “Every day. He’s done it since we were in kindergarten and he’s never been caught once.”

  Kit glared at Arthur. Why couldn’t he keep his big mouth shut? He’s probably the one who swipes a candy bar every day, not his buddy.

  “Kit?” Miss Fenton said.

  Kit’s throat felt tight.

  A new voice spoke up. This time, it was Arthur’s buddy, Phil. “Arthur’s right,” he said. “Lots of kids shoplift and hardly anyone ever gets caught. Even if you do, they let you off easy the first time. You don’t have to go to jail or anything.”

  Kit clenched her teeth. What was this, National Gang-Up-on-Kit Week? Was everybody in the whole class going to try to raise their grade by challenging Kit’s speech?

  They made it sound so simple. Nothing to it. Just walk into the Ben Franklin, day after day, and help yourself to a candy bar. No problem.

  Only it didn’t always work that way.

  Arthur’s voice grew louder. “Kit quoted a bunch of statistics,” he said, “but statistics aren’t real life. I’ve had experience and I say Kit’s wrong.”

  Kit felt someone nudge her in the ribs. Turning, she saw that she was standing beside Tracy’s desk. Tracy held a note-card so Kit could see what it said. “BRILLIANT SPEAKER STUNS CLASS WITH STATISTICS; HECKLERS SILENCED FOREVER.”

  Months earlier, Kit and Tracy had gone into fits of laughter at the supermarket, over the headlines of a tabloid newspaper. “Four-year-old Gives Birth to Lizard,” it had said, and, “Embalmed Body Rises from Grave to Accuse Ex-husband of Murder!!”

  Ever since, Kit and Tracy had written exaggerated headlines for each other and joked about their future careers as Sharon Shocker and Harriet Headline, raunchy reporters.

  Kit smiled weakly at Tracy. Tracy put the sign down and nodded encouragingly. Kit knew Tracy wanted her to defend her speech. Meet Arthur’s challenge. Put him in his place.

  Oh, Tracy, she thought. You don’t know what you’re asking of me.

  She
could do it, if she wanted to. She could prove that she was right. She could zap Arthur with information that would stun him into silence.

  All she had to do was tell the class what had happened to her. Tell them about the fear and the guilt and the lies. Tell them about the shame and the tears.

  I can’t do it, Kit thought. I don’t want them to know. Not now. Not ever.

  Tracy nudged her again and whispered, “Do it.”

  Kit felt trapped. If she defended her speech, everyone would know her secret. If she sat down now, what would she say to Tracy? How could she explain?

  Miss Fenton spoke quietly. “Do you want to defend your speech, Kit? This minute is passing.”

  It was, Kit knew, a line from the play. “. . . while we’re talking right now, this minute is passing.”

  This minute is passing. The quote swept Kit back in time, back to the day when the cast list was posted.

  The day her life was changed forever.

  The day her secret began.

  ON the day the cast list was posted, Kit had been too excited to eat breakfast. Although she knew the list would not be there until classes ended, she left early for school.

  “Don’t get your hopes up too high,” her mother warned. “Sometimes the things we look forward to the most turn out to be the biggest disappointments.”

  Kit didn’t answer. She had a chance. Not just for a small part, a chance for the lead. Frankie.

  Kit knew she was being considered for the part. Why else would Miss Fenton ask her to read Frankie’s lines more than once?

  In her mind, Kit saw the program: “The Drama Department of Kennedy School presents The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers, starring Kit Hathaway as Frankie.”

  Kit could already see herself on stage, could hear the audience laugh when she spoke Frankie’s lines: “Oh, I am so worried about being tall. I’m twelve and five-sixths years old and already five feet five and three-fourths inches tall. If I keep on growing like this until I’m twenty-one, I figure I will be nearly ten feet tall.”

  Kit was five feet five and three-fourths inches tall. Exactly. She thought it was a good omen. Of course, she was already fourteen, but her brown hair was long and when she braided it, she looked younger. For once, she was glad she had a thin, boyish figure. With the right clothes, she could easily pass for “twelve and five-sixths.”

  She could almost hear the standing ovation.

  If she got the part of Frankie and did a good job with it, she might even get the Ninth Grade Scholarship. It was awarded at the end of the school year on the basis of scholarship and extracurricular activities. Kit’s grades were high enough to qualify but she wasn’t inclined to join clubs. She liked books better than crowds and felt shy with people she didn’t know well. She and Tracy cheered at all the school football and volleyball games but spectators don’t win scholarships. You have to participate.

  She knew she had to earn a scholarship if she hoped to attend college. Wayne wouldn’t pay any tuition, that was certain. Her stepfather thought college was a waste of time.

  “Why do you need a degree?” he had asked, the first time Kit mentioned college. “What do you want to do?”

  Kit admitted that she didn’t know yet what field she wanted to enter.

  “Why spend four years paying to go to school,” he said, “when you could work those four years and have someone pay you?”

  One thing at a time, Kit thought. College is three years away. Get the part of Frankie first, then worry about the scholarship.

  If she got the part, she planned to surprise Miss Fenton by knowing her lines quickly. She had already memorized the whole first act. For days, she and Tracy had quoted lines to each other, working them into their conversation whenever possible and waiting to see if the other person caught on.

  Kit’s favorite line was, “I feel just exactly like somebody has peeled all the skin off me.” So far, she had not been able to fit that one into any conversation.

  “Let’s make a deal,” Tracy said, on the day that the cast list was to be posted. “If one of us gets a part and the other doesn’t, the one who doesn’t will help backstage. That way, we both work on the play, no matter what.”

  “Agreed,” Kit said. She hoped Tracy would get a part but she knew Tracy would have just as much fun helping with props or costumes. Tracy was like that. She could accept whatever happened and be happy. Kit’s mother often suggested that Kit should be more like Tracy.

  As soon as the final bell rang, signaling the end of sixth period, Kit and Tracy hurried to the school’s auditorium. There was already a crowd of people around the list, jostling each other impatiently and craning their necks, trying to see which names were on it.

  Kit felt a knot in the pit of her stomach. Please, she thought. Please, please let me be Frankie. I know I can do it. All I need is a chance to prove it.

  At the front of the crowd, someone shrieked, “I got it! I got Janice!” Congratulations from the shrieker’s friends mingled with groans of disappointment from other would-be actresses who had read for the part of Janice.

  At last, Kit was close enough to read the list. The names of the characters were on the left side of the paper. Opposite each, on the right side, was the name of the student who would be playing that role.

  Kit’s eyes skimmed quickly down the right-hand list, looking for Kit Hathaway. Almost at the bottom, she spotted Tracy Shelburn.

  Tracy saw it at the same time. “I got a part,” Tracy said. She sounded amazed. “Look, Kit. I’m going to be Doris.”

  Kit didn’t answer right away. She was reading the list again, hoping she’d made a mistake the first time.

  There was no mistake. Her name wasn’t there.

  She forced herself to smile at Tracy. “Congratulations,” she said. “You’ll be a great Doris.”

  “It isn’t a very big part,” Tracy said. “I’ll have plenty of time to be backstage with you.”

  Kit looked one more time at the list. She had to know who got the part she’d wanted.

  “Oh, no,” Kit said. She whispered to Tracy, “Marcia Homer’s going to be Frankie.”

  Tracy groaned, rolling her eyes. “Miss Fenton must be temporarily insane,” she said.

  “I can’t stand it,” Kit said. “Anybody but her.”

  Because their last names both started with H, Kit and Marcia were often assigned seats beside each other. Marcia’s father gave her twenty dollars for every A she got on her report card and Marcia never failed to tell Kit about it. Once, when Marcia got five As, her father actually gave her a one-hundred-dollar bill. Still, it wasn’t Marcia’s money that bothered Kit, it was her constant chatter about herself. Yak yak yak. Me, me, me. Endlessly. How could Miss Fenton have chosen Marcia to play the part of Frankie?

  Kit turned away in disgust. She no longer wanted to help backstage. She didn’t want anything to do with The Member of the Wedding.

  “Come on,” Tracy said, as she tugged on Kit’s sleeve. “Let’s go to the meeting.”

  Reluctantly, Kit followed Tracy down the hall to Miss Fenton’s classroom, where all cast members and anyone who wanted to work on the production crew were supposed to meet. She wished she had not agreed to Tracy’s deal. All she wanted to do was go home. She needed to be alone for awhile.

  When they got to the meeting, Marcia was already there. Kit managed to avoid looking at her but it was impossible not to hear her.

  “I am absolutely thrilled to death,” Marcia gushed. “I never dreamed I’d get the lead. I mean, I wanted it, of course—didn’t we all?—but I just never thought I’d really be the one to actually get it. I called my parents right away and they’re absolutely thrilled to death, too.”

  I hope she forgets her lines on opening night, Kit thought. I hope she falls on her face and makes a fool of herself.

  She handed Tracy a note. “DRAMA COACH FLINGS ACTRESS OFF CLIFF AFTER FIRST REHEARSAL.”

  Moments later, the note came back. Tracy had added: “M
ILLIONS CHEER.”

  When Miss Fenton asked for volunteers for the various production committees, Kit did not raise her hand. She couldn’t stand to think of working backstage and listening to Marcia say Frankie’s lines every day. On the other hand, she had made a pact with Tracy and she didn’t want to let Tracy down. It wasn’t Tracy’s fault that Miss Fenton cast Marcia in the lead role. Finally, Kit agreed to make posters and put them up. She could do that at home, where she didn’t have to listen to Marcia.

  “Do you want me to bring you some studio photos of myself for the posters?” Marcia asked.

  “That won’t be necessary,” Miss Fenton said. “Any photos we use for advertising will be taken during rehearsals.”

  And, Kit thought, the ones I use will not be of you, Motormouth. She would ask the photographer to shoot the scene where Doris appears. Why not give Tracy the glory?

  As they left the meeting, Tracy said, “I’ll give you my candy opinion. Marcia will drive us all nuts before this is over.”

  “Candy opinion” was a phrase from the play but this time, Kit didn’t respond. The game of quoting lines wasn’t fun anymore. Not now. Losing the role of Frankie, especially to Marcia Homer, hurt too much.

  “Do something nice for yourself when you get home,” Tracy said, as they left the school. “It would be a good night for the Triple-B Treatment.”

  For the first time since she’d read the list of cast members, Kit smiled. Leave it to Tracy to suggest the one thing in the world that would make her feel better.

  “See you tomorrow,” Tracy said.

  “I’m glad you got a part,” Kit said.

  She was glad for Tracy but as she walked home, her own disappointment stuck in her throat. She’d tried so hard and she felt she’d read the lines as well as she was capable of reading them. That’s what hurt the most. She’d given it her best shot and her best wasn’t good enough. There was no standing ovation in her future now; there was only the thankless task of making posters.

  Well, there was no point crying about it. Maybe she’d take Tracy’s advice. Treat herself to the Triple-B. She opened her purse and looked to see if she had enough money to buy a bag of chocolate stars.

 
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