From the beloved author of the MR. TERUPT and PERFECT SCORE series comes this stand-alone middle-grade novel about a girl who is dealing with the tragic loss of her best friend, and the dog that helps her forge new friendships and find happiness once again.
Twelve-year-old Thea and her family are moving to a new town for a fresh start--her parents' bright idea. To Thea, it feels like running away. She lost her best friend, Charlie, in a tragic accident, and in the painful aftermath, she has gone mute. Her two younger sisters, however, are excited about moving, especially after their dad promises that the family will get a rescue puppy. This doesn't change Thea's mind, though, until Jack-Jack bounds into her life and makes it clear that he is no ordinary dog. As she bonds with Jack-Jack, and as the dog's mischievous ways steer her toward someone she can confide in, Thea opens up to the possibility of new friendships and forgiveness, and comes to believe in what cannot be fully explained.
An Excerpt fromWhat Comes Next
Sparky was our first family dog, but really he was Mom and Dad’s dog. They had him well before me, so by the time I was ready to run, good ol’ Spark was already beginning to slow down. And by the time my sisters joined us--Livvy first and then Abby--he had slowed down considerably.
Sparky was a faithful companion, as loyal a dog as you’ll ever find, so he hung on for quite a while. I remember how he would struggle up our stairs every night so that he could sleep by Dad’s bedside--and when I say struggle, I mean struggle. It got to the point where Spark started dribbling pee and dropping turds when he made the climb--it was that bad. That was when Dad started carrying him up the two flights.
It wasn’t long after that when we had to say goodbye. I was eight and my sisters were four and three when his time finally came to an end. That was a hard day--but not my worst. Mom and Dad were especially sad, but they smiled through their tears as we stood by Sparky’s fresh gravesite and took turns recalling favorite memories of our beloved dog.
“I’ll never forget the day Spark grabbed Thea’s dirty diaper,” Dad mused. “Boy, was it a messy one. And ripe. I must’ve used thirty wipes trying to clean your butt,” he said to me. “Sparky snatched that thing when I wasn’t looking. Your mother and I tried, but we couldn’t stop him. He streaked past us and raced down the hall.”
“And jumped right in the middle of our bed,” Mom finished.
My sisters and I giggled. It didn’t matter that we’d heard that one a hundred times before. The poopy-diaper-makes-poopy-bed story was a classic in our house.
“Or how about the time he got into the closet and scarfed down all the Halloween candy I had hidden,” Mom continued.
Dad groaned. “He’s lucky it didn’t kill him. You can still see the stain on our living room carpet from the chocolate mud puddle that dummyhead threw up. It just poured out of him.”
“Yucky,” Abby said.
Mom and Dad shook their heads and laughed. My sisters didn’t know any better, so those funny stories had them asking for another puppy before we’d even finished putting Sparky to rest. Silently, I was hoping for the same thing, so I didn’t shush them.
It took a while--almost four years to be exact, and a lot had happened and changed by then--but eventually we got our wish. Only problem was, I didn’t care anymore. After something terrible happens, you stop caring about dogs and everything else.
My First Fish
I was better at observing and sketching and writing in my journal, but I gave in to Charlie’s persistent requests and held his fishing pole like he’d shown me, line in my left hand and rod in my right.
“Now pull back and let it rip,” Charlie said, stepping out of the way.
I think he was more excited than me--his best friend was finally giving this a try. I did what he said, but when I threw it forward nothing happened. My line didn’t go anywhere.
“Tree fish!” Charlie cheered.
I turned and looked. My lure had caught on a leaf behind me. “Ugh,” I groaned.
“Don’t worry. It happens to the best of us,” Charlie said, walking over and getting it unhooked for me. “Reel up the slack and give it another try, but watch out for the trees,” he teased.
“You could’ve warned me about that the first time.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just be careful. That’s one of my best spinners you’re using.”
I set my feet, took aim, and let it rip. My line flew out over the creek and fell into the water.
“Good,” Charlie exclaimed. “Now reel. That’s what makes the spinner do its thing. Nice and easy. And don’t stop.”
I kept reeling, silently hoping, barely breathing, until I had the lure back in. “Nothing,” I grumbled.
“That’s all right. Do it again,” Charlie said. “If you can get your lure to land closer to those rocks, you’ll get a fish.”
“How do you know?” I challenged. I may have asked that question, but only because I was growing frustrated and not because I doubted Charlie. He was amazing at fishing. I’d seen him catch hundreds.
“I told you, that’s one of my best lures,” he replied. “And that’s where the fish like to hang out. So get it out there.”
I gritted my teeth and threw another cast. Harder this time. I watched my lure sail out over the water, coming down just behind those rocks. I started reeling. And then--wham!
“Oh!” I squealed.
“Lift the rod tip,” Charlie instructed. “And keep reeling.”
“Oh!” I cried louder. I could feel the fish fighting.
“Keep it steady,” Charlie yelled. He waded into the water, net in hand. I continued bringing the line in and then Charlie bent and scooped my fish--my first fish!
I scrambled down the bank and rocks to get a closer look.
“It’s a rainbow trout,” Charlie said. “A nice one.”
I gazed at the fish, admiring its silver scales and flashes of color. It was actually quite pretty, a beautiful piece of nature that I wanted to sketch and maybe write about later. “Is it okay?” I asked, worried.
“Yup. It’s fine. Let’s take a picture and then you can release it.”
Charlie pulled the hook from my fish’s mouth because I didn’t want to do that part, and then I snapped a selfie of us posing with my fish. When we got done with that, Charlie showed me how to hold the fish so that I could place it back into the water.
I knelt and stuck my hands into Clover Creek. A second later my fish kicked and swam away. I straightened and looked at Charlie. “Yay!” I cheered, hugging him. “That was incredible!”
He smiled big. “You’re a real fisherwoman now.”
That first fish of mine . . . was also my last.
I won’t keep you in suspense. Charlie died. He died right in front of me.
The accident happened during our spring vacation, the same day that Charlie helped me catch my first fish, and even though I hadn’t uttered a word since, my parents had me returning to sixth grade a couple of weeks later, hoping that might help. It didn’t.
I entered the building and was immediately surrounded by stares and whispers. I kept my head down and pressed forward, but by the time I reached my locker I was struggling to breathe, and when I heard the hushed voices behind me, “There she is,” and, “Poor Charlie,” that was when everything went black.
Mom had to come and get me. Clearly, I wasn’t ready for school. After that Mom moved her nursing shift to evenings so that she and I could homeschool during the day while Dad was teaching. My parents didn’t make me go back to sixth grade for the remainder of the year, but they did sign me up with Know-Nothing Diana--a wretched grief counselor. Apparently, talking about a traumatic experience is part of the healing process, but I still hadn’t said a word and I was most definitely not ready to talk about it with a stranger. Sadly, Know-Nothing Diana couldn’t get that through her thick skull.
I would sit in her office--mute--and she would plow ahead asking me the same questions that I never answered at every one of our sessions. I couldn’t tell if she was stubborn or stupid--or both. I decided on the latter when I heard her giving my parents her list of do’s and don’ts, while also assuring them we were making progress. There was no telling how long this would’ve continued had that dingbat never crossed the line.
“You know, Thea, if you don’t start talking soon, people will start filling in the silence for you, saying things like you pushed Charlie or that you tripped him,” she warned. “Did you? Is that why you won’t talk?”
How could she? I bolted from her office and didn’t stop until I was in the parking lot. I had to get away. I needed air.
I don’t know what that evil witch tried telling my parents after that, but that was the end of my sessions with Know-Nothing Diana. Mom and Dad had seen enough. It was time they took matters into their own hands. Together, they decided we needed a change--we were moving.