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My Surprise Next Door
Author: Stephanie Street

1

 

 

Taggish

 

 

“She gets on my nerves,” I vented to my best friend, Braden White. Since baseball season started the next day, and the weather had turned nice, I did my venting on the baseball diamond.

Gripping the baseball bat in my hands, I waited for Braden to wind up and pitch. As usual, the ball had speed but no direction. I nicked it with the tip of my bat. Braden was a crap pitcher.

“Mara? Again?” Braden’s head fell back as he groaned. I’d been venting a lot over the last ten months since I moved in next door to the girl who’d become my nemesis. I’d known Mara a long time--we’d gone to the same school all our lives--but I’d learned a lot more since we’d become neighbors. “What did she do this time?”

“Same old. It’s like living next door to a grouchy old woman.” I lifted the bat over my shoulder, and Braden wound up again. It wasn’t a better pitch, but I hit the ball out into right field, anyway.

“Nice.” Braden took another ball out of the bucket at his feet. He tossed it into the air and spun to catch it behind his back. “Dude, you gotta get her off your back once and for all.”

“Don’t you think I’ve tried? It’s like she spies out her window waiting for me to screw up so she can jump down my throat. You gonna pitch that thing or not?” It was therapeutic smashing a baseball.

Braden pitched his version of a curveball. In a game it would have been a ball, but I went for it anyway. Pop-up foul. Braden and I both watched the ball sail through the air and almost land in the bleachers.

“Talking isn’t working,” Braden said. “You’ve got to do something.” He pitched again, this time well outside the strike zone.

Giving up, I tossed the bat down and picked up my glove. “Next time, we’re bringing Jimmy.” Jimmy Alston, our varsity pitcher.

Braden made a face. He hated it when I bagged on his pitching, but the guy had eyes, didn’t he? He hadn’t pitched a ball worth hitting all morning. I shagged a couple of missed balls, making a pile at my feet. I threw him one. He caught it easily and tossed it back. We could always practice catching. I threw a high ball, and Braden raced back, his glove high above his head. The ball slapped against the leather, and I remembered what Braden had said.

“Do something, like what?” At this point, I’d do whatever it took to get my nosy, bossy neighbor off my back.

Braden threw the ball, then shrugged. “I don’t know. Teach her a lesson.”

Teach her a lesson?

“I don’t want to be mean.” I held onto the ball since I’d never been good at multitasking, and Braden might have a point worth considering. Talking to Mara about butting out of my business obviously hadn’t worked.

Braden broke into my thoughts. “You don’t have to be mean. Just ruffle her up a bit.”

Ruffle her up a bit. But how?

“Dude, forget your neighbor.” Braden had had enough of listening to me vent. “Practice starts tomorrow. Get your head in the game.”

I got my head in the game, but I didn’t forget about my neighbor. For the rest of the day, I mulled over the possibilities, but by evening still hadn’t come up with a plan.

“Tag, take out the trash, will you?” Dad called out from his recliner. We’d just finished a gourmet meal of frozen burritos and tortilla chips—our bachelor pad specialty. We’d been watching a basketball game, but it was halftime. I’d taken advantage of the break to switch my laundry.

“Sure, Dad.” I slammed the dryer door shut and pressed the button to start it before turning to the overflowing garbage can in the utility room off the kitchen. We weren’t pigs, but things had taken a definite dive since Mom died two years ago. She would have made sure I’d taken the trash out before sitting down to watch the game with Dad, and instead of frozen burritos in the microwave, she would have made a roast in the crock-pot and mashed potatoes. Probably with a vegetable, too. I couldn’t remember the last time we’d cooked a vegetable.

I tied the plastic drawstrings and slung the garbage bag over my shoulder. Once outside, I tossed the bag into the bin. Then I remembered the garbage pick up would come in the morning, so I rolled the bin out to the curb, making sure to line it up correctly—something Mara had berated me for after I’d left it crooked a couple of times. I never realized it was such a big deal, but according to my neighbor, the garbage truck driver has to get out of the truck to straighten it so the machine will pick it up, and it’s rude to make him waste his time.

“Do you always have to move like a bulldozer?”

The sound of her voice immediately got my back up. “Do you always have to stick your nose in my business?”

She stood framed in an open second-story window of the house next door, a paintbrush in hand. When we first moved in, and I realized Mara lived next door, I’d been mildly interested. With dark brown hair and brilliant green eyes, she was pretty. Her tall, slim body made me look twice since I was so tall myself, and I liked her heart-shaped face and golden skin. I thought it might be fun to flirt a little.

That was before I got to know her. Now, I was irritated that she was kind of hot and smelled nice. A girl like her should be ugly and smell like mothballs.

Just to annoy her, I picked up one of the many basketballs that had rolled up against the side of the house during the pick-up games the guys and I would play now and then. I was the only one with a hoop, so I had a collection going. I dribbled several times before shooting.

Thump, thump, clang.

Mara hated it when I played basketball in the driveway. She didn’t have to say anything for me to know—the sound of her window slamming shut every time was enough.

Thump, thump, thump, thump. I aimed and shot. Nothing but net. I should have missed on purpose, so it made more noise. Childish, but I didn’t care.

Mara’s window slid shut, making me grin.

Braden was right. Somehow, I had to get my neighbor off my back.

I spent the next few minutes shooting around just to annoy her when it hit me. I knew just how to get back at perfect little Mara.

 

“Detention,” I said to Braden the next day as we walked together to baseball practice.

“Huh?” he glanced at me, alarmed. Detention wasn’t the end of the world, but it meant missing practice. “You have detention? What for?”

I shook my head. “No. I don’t have detention. Mara.” It was perfect.

Braden squinted his eyes like he hadn’t heard me correctly. “Mara has detention? Mara Cronk, your neighbor? Why would she have detention?” He knew as well as I did, Mara never got in trouble for anything.

“She wouldn’t, you idiot. That’s why I have to make sure she gets one.” It wasn’t just perfect—it was brilliant. And if that didn’t get Mara to leave me alone, nothing would.

“How in the world are you going to do it?” Braden and I skirted around a corner toward the administration offices. The locker rooms were on the other side.

I shrugged. “I have no idea, but think about it. What better way to get Miss High-and-Mighty off my back than to take her down a peg?” I could already see her expression in my mind. But how to do it?

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