(Scroll down to read an excerpt.)
Must Love Dogs: Who Let the Cats In?, Book 5 of the bestseller-turned-movie-turned-series by New York Times bestselling author Claire Cook is out in the world!
Sarah and John are buying Sarah’s family house, and they’re hoping their relationship will survive it. Sarah’s dad is part of the deal, and so is the litter of kittens they’ve discovered under the front porch. Finding a contractor isn’t as easy as they thought it would be, one of the parents at Bayberry Preschool is driving Sarah crazy, and a big nor’easter is barreling toward town.
“Must Love Dogs has already been a major motion picture, and now New York Times bestselling author Claire Cook’s hilarious and heartwarming series is begging to hit the screen again as a miniseries or a sitcom.”-Nancy Carty Lepri, New York Journal of Books
“Reading about how life goes for this wacky marvelously lovable family becomes addictive.”-Pamela Kramer, Examiner
Excerpted from Must Love Dogs: Who Let the Cats In? (#5)
Copyright © 2016 Claire Cook. All rights reserved.
“In three years I’ll be ten and I’ll be your babysitter,” five-year-old Millicent said from our designated class bench.
“In three years I’ll be twentieth and I’ll be your babysitter,” five-year-old Violet, who was sitting next to Millicent, said.
“No.” Millicent crossed her arms over her chest. “Way.”
“Yes.” Violet crossed her arms over her chest. “Way.”
“Ah, to be twentieth again,” my teaching assistant Polly whispered. “Or even twentyish.”
“No thank you,” I whispered back. “I’m barely functional at fortiethish.”
Another school day was about to bite the dust. The full-day students were arranged on our wooden dismissal benches, which were backless, low to the ground, and surrounded by a thick layer of sustainably harvested pea stone. The teachers and assistants were taking turns watching the students and escorting them to their cars as they arrived.
At the start of every school year, parents were given strips of white poster board. They were instructed to print their child/children’s names in big block letters, and then to lean the sign up against the passenger side of the windshield at pickup time to move things along.
Dismissal was orderly, ritualized, even soothing. The message being that if you have a plan, if you follow the rules, if you take things one step at a time, it all works out.
Now I just had to figure out how to apply that to the rest of my life.
I wrapped my autumn-weight sweater a little tighter and glanced up at the sky. When my mother was alive, one of her favorite old Irish sayings, passed down from her great-grandmother, or maybe it was my great-grandmother, was I believe in the sun when it’s not shining. It was a lovely sentiment, but I had to admit that sometimes I had a hard time believing in the sun even when it was shining.
If I were a poet, I might think the sky was the hue of ocean-splashed denim right now. Or maybe, like Thoreau, I might imagine a bluebird carrying the sky on its back. If I were Jimi Hendrix, I might hallucinate some purple haze and break into a little Excuse me while I kiss the sky.
But I was none of the above. I was a teacher at Bayberry Preschool. And I had to admit that on this particular November day, the sky looked pretty damn gray to me.
The line of vehicles inched forward from the main road, where an inevitable backlog always caused a minor traffic jam. This had resulted in the town of Marshbury installing a yellow blinking traffic light a few years ago, which probably made the members of some committee feel better, but did absolutely nothing to help the traffic situation.
The pickup line snaked its way up the long entrance drive to the school. SUVs and minivans and sedans and hybrids. Plus a surprising number of sports cars driven by parents who were apparently still in denial about the fact that they were parents now. The vehicles crept past a totem pole made of brightly colored clay fish and a row of painted plywood cutouts of teddy bears.
The front three cars pulled into three generously sized fluorescent paint-outlined pickup/dropoff spots, just across from the row of boxwood sheared in the shape of ducks that edged the walkway to the Cape Cod shingled building.
Kate Stone, my bitch of a boss and the founding owner of Bayberry Preschool, adjusted her boysenberry batik tunic and squinted at the first car in line. The name on the poster board was written in cramped, illegible cursive tucked into one corner.
“Wolverine,” my bitch of a boss yelled. Wolfie’s teacher walked him over to his car.
The nanny driving the next vehicle dropped her sign and then jumped the curb slightly as she bent over to retrieve it. The sign in the car behind hers looked like it had been professionally designed, complete with custom fonts and a caricature of a preschool boy with a halo over his head.
I yawned. The sun dropped a little lower. Five-year-old Gulliver hurled himself backward off our classroom bench. He imitated a bomb, or perhaps a small vehicle exploding as he hit the bed of pea stones, backpack first.
Polly caught my eye, silently asking whether or not she should click into rescue mode.
I did a swift scan for blood and/or signs of concussion, then shook my head in a quick, almost imperceptible no. If Gulliver, weighted down by his backpack like a turtle flipped over on its shell, had to figure out how to get up on his own, he’d be far less likely to fling himself off the bench again.
“Kevin Junior and Nicole Junior,” my bitch of a boss yelled.
I crouched down and pretended to tie one shoe. Since my shoes didn’t have any laces, this may or may not have been one of my smoother moves.
Lorna, one of my favorite teaching colleagues and partners in crime, grabbed my former husband’s twins by their hands and headed for his car.
“Any love letters you want me to pass along?” Lorna whispered as they passed me.
“Ha,” I said. I was witty like that.
“Why one human being is attracted to another is one of the great mysteries of the world,” my father had once said to me.
The truth was I couldn’t even remember being attracted to my wasband. My ex. Kevin. What the hell I’d been doing married to him, for ten years no less, was the real mystery. He’d finally left me for another woman, Nikki, aka Nicole Senior, chatty as hell and ten years younger than me, and already pregnant with twins. Not only were my ex and his replacement wife narcissistic enough to name one twin after each of them, but they’d enrolled them both at Bayberry and had even had the nerve to request me as their teacher.
I’d dodged the placement, and the twins had been relocated to Lorna’s class. The situation had gone from awkward to slightly less awkward, and without any encouragement on my part, Nikki Senior had even sold my house for me. But that didn’t mean I wanted to spend one more millisecond dealing with my wasband and his new tribe than I had to.
When I looked up from fake tying my shoe, Kevin had rolled down the passenger window to give me a big wave.
I fought an unteacherly urge to flash him my most expressive finger.
As their benches emptied of preschoolers, teachers and assistants strolled back inside to wrap things up for the day.
For the third time this week, Polly and I were the last teachers standing. And it was only Wednesday. Kate Stone headed back to her office. Gulliver, our final remaining student, hurled himself backward off the bench again.
Polly and I ignored him. I gestured to an empty bench, out of Gulliver’s earshot, but close enough to keep an eye on him.
“Seat?” I said.
Polly shook her head. “Nah, I’m always afraid I’ll get butt splinters if I sit on those things.”
I considered this. “If that were a possibility, wouldn’t the kids get butt splinters, too?”
“Not necessarily. The kids are a lot lighter.”
“Hmm,” I said. “I have to admit that in the planning of these benches, it’s highly unlikely that the teachers were taken into consideration. But you might as well get used to it—teachers’ butts are always on the line anyway, so basically they’re expendable.”
Polly grinned and squatted low to sit on the bench. I plopped down beside her. We talked through our plans for the next day, moved on to chatting about our lives.
The late afternoon sun broke through some clouds, lighting up the freckles that danced across Polly’s nose and cheeks. When she ran her fingers through her auburn hair, strands of gray twinkled in a quick burst of sunlight.
I pulled my sweater a little tighter, tried to remember where I’d stashed my coats.
“So,” Polly said, “basically you and your boyfriend and his dog are homeless, you’ve all moved in with your dad, and now you’ve got to figure out what to do about a litter of kittens under the porch. Wow, that’s a lot, Sarah.”
“Look who’s talking,” I said.
Polly rested one hand on her stomach. Her eyes teared up.
“Sorry.” I started to put a hand on her shoulder, pulled it back.
Polly sniffed, shook her head. “No, I’m fine. It’s just these stupid hormones. I cry at everything now. Sad songs on the radio. Dead worms on the sidewalk after it rains. Elimination rounds on The Voice.”
I put my hand on her shoulder after all, just for a moment. I’d hired Polly right before the start of the school year, when Kate Stone pulled a last minute switcheroo. She’d sent June, the assistant I’d worked my fingers to the bone to train, off to work with Ethan, the new teacher, resident school hunk, and my bitch of a boss’s godson.
Polly had been a total train wreck at the interview. She had absolutely no experience with preschools, or even children. But my heart went out to her because she’d left her husband, moved across the country to Marshbury, and found a tiny winter rental on the beach. She was trying to figure out what the next chapter of her life might be, and whether or not it would include having a child by herself.
So against my better judgment, as well as the objections of my boss, I chose Polly instead of a more qualified applicant. And she’d ended up being a great assistant.
Except for the fact that it turned out Polly was already pregnant and wouldn’t quite make it to the end of the school year before her baby was born.
Gulliver maneuvered himself up to his feet and came over to sit on the bench with us.
I picked a piece of dried leaf out of his hair, pointed at a low cloud drifting across the sky. “I see a fluffy cat with a long tail and pointy ears.”
Gulliver pointed up at another cloud. “I see a big monster jumping on a little monster.”
“Holy Rorschach test,” Polly said. She pointed. “I see a boat sailing back and forth across the water, rocking me to sleep.”
Eventually a shiny platinum convertible came speeding up the driveway, straddled two pickup spots, stopped. Wordlessly, I stood and reached out a hand to Gulliver. I steered him over to the convertible.
As I opened the passenger door, Gulliver’s mother was touching up her lipstick in the rearview mirror with one freshly manicured hand.
“Stop being last,” Gulliver yelled as he hurled his backpack into the car.
“Well said,” I said.
His mother flipped her hair, which was highlighted the exact same color as her convertible, out of her face. She checked her Fitbit.
“Did you dismiss them early today?” she said.
“What?” I said.