Jack moved in exactly two weeks before the first day of school. He moved into the biggest house in the neighborhood, the one that had been put of for sale four weeks before and was finally being sold and occupied.
Minnie and I were shooting baskets in my driveway when a huge U-haul pulled into the drive two houses down. It was one of those bigger ones, you know. It could hold a few mini elephants if it wanted to. Minnie held the ball while we peered over my mom’s car to watch a man in his forties jump out from the driver’s seat and wave to the van now making its way towards him.
“So, that’s the new family, eh?” Minnie said in her thick British accent. (She and her mom moved into my neighborhood a few years ago from England. I never got tired of her voice.) “I thought that the house was going to rot before someone moved into it.”
“Yeah,” I said, taking the ball from her and swishing the ball into the hoop. “I wonder if they have anyone our age...”
“Who knows?” Minnie said. “But it better be a girl. We can’t have anymore boys locking up this neighborhood.”
“Yeah,” I said again. This was practically my trademark response and Minnie frequently badgered me on saying something other than that.
“Jackie, boy, I told ya it would be worth it!”
Minnie and I looked around. The young man who had been driving the U-haul had his arm around a boy around our own age. He had black, very untidy hair, and wore a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt. How he could wear jeans in this hot weather, I had no idea. It was at least 97 degrees for goodness sake!
“And look, they’ve got such pretty girls here, too.” The man said. He turned and waved at Minnie and me. We waved back out of courtesy and as I shot another point for myself I distinctly heard the boy (Jack, I believe his name was…his dad called him ‘Jackie’, which could mean that his real name was Jack.) say, “Dad, honestly, you are so embarrassing.”
I chuckled, causing myself to miss the basket. It ricocheted off the brick between the garage doors, shot over my head and into the street, right into our new neighbor’s yard. My face growing red from the prospect of retrieving it, I checked the street for cars and crossed the pavement.
“Sorry about that,” I mumbled to the man who was beginning to carry things into their garage. “Over shot it.”
“Oh, that’s perfectly all right!” The man boomed. Now that I was closer, I saw that he had chestnut hair and warm brown eyes. He also wore jeans and a white t-shirt that had a red stain on the right shoulder. Looked like a ketchup stain. The man dropped the box onto the ground and moved closer, sticking out his hand. “I’m Mr. Derek Champlain. It is quite a pleasure to meet you.”
“Ah, a girl with manners, I like it!” Mr. Champlain said, pumping my hand up and down frantically.
A young woman with long black hair and sparkling blue eyes appeared by Mr. Champlain’s side. She was a severely tall, taller than her husband, but was graceful and nicely proportioned. She smiled at me. “Hello, I’m Sandra Champlain. It’s nice to meet you!”
“I’m Jenna Fitzgerald, ma’am.” I said politely.
“Jack!” Mrs. Champlain called over her shoulder. “Come here and meet our neighbor. Oh, put that box down, we’ll get it. Good-looking girls will do you some good.”
I blushed scarlet but was saved as Minnie appeared by my shoulder, smiling. “Hi, I’m Minnie Walsh. I live next door to Jenna, so I’m your neighbor as well.” She said.
As she finished her sentence, (and got a hand shake from Mister and Missus Champlain) Jack, I assumed, made his appearance. I could see immediately that he took after his mother. He had unruly black hair that could be seen from the sky and blue eyes that seemed very light in the sunshine. I felt my stomach flutter and smiled a little at him.
“Jack, you ‘hang-out’ with these lovely and charming girls while your mother and I bring some of the big stuff into the house. Your brother should be here soon, he can help.” Mr. Champlain said. “May he join the two of you?”
“Sure,” Minnie said at once. “Come on, we’re just playing a friendly game of basketball.” As we walked back across the street, Minnie asked Jack, “How can you survive in those things?” She gestured to his jeans.
“Oh,” Jack said uncomfortably. “Well, we moved here from up north and it’s pretty chilly up there even in the summertime.”
“Um, northern part of Maine,” he said. “And it can get pretty cold up there so…yeah.”
I smiled at him, hoping to make him a little more comfortable, and tossed him the ball. He caught it easily and I noticed that he had good reflexes. He bounced it a few times before shooting it. It went right into the hoop with a satisfying swish.
The three of us turned and saw Luke Carmichael, Michael Winston, and Thomas Anderson. It had been Luke who had spoken. He was a year older than I was; already in high school. All three of them were jerks. They lived down the street from Minnie and me. I squinted at him.
“Oh, are we still going on a surname basis, Jenna?” Luke said at me. I glared at him. “Oh, what a shame.” He came straight up to me. I stood my ground. I wasn’t scared of him because I knew full well that he’d never hit a girl. He looked over at Jack. “Who’s this?”
“I’m Jack Champlain.” Jack said. He was holding the ball under his arm and was staring at the three boys. I hoped that he wouldn’t cross over to their side. I was lucky to have Minnie as a best friend. Jack seemed like a good guy. “Who are you?”
“Luke Carmichael,” Luke said. “These are my buds: Thomas Anderson and Michael Winston.”
“I’d love to say that it was a pleasure meeting you,” Jack said. “But I’d be lying.”
A smile burst on my face. What a comeback! I knew I was going to like this guy. Of course, he just placed himself on Luke’s Radar. In other words, he now had to endure taunts like I did. Minnie had a little trouble containing her laughter. She giggled a little. Luke didn’t take kindly to that. “Shut up, British Scum!” He snapped at her.
Minnie took that personally, as I knew she would. She charged at Luke. “Whoa, Minnie, stop!” I said, grabbing her around the waist and stop her from punching the living daylights out of Luke. If she wouldn’t get in trouble, I’d let her do it but considering that her mother would never let her see the light of day again if she fought someone, I held her back. I planted my feet and pulled. Minnie stood, breathing heavily, beside me. I kept a firm grip on her arm should she try for Luke again.
“Off my property, Carmichael.” I said to them.
Luke and his friends, still laughing, backed off, shooting insults over their shoulders as they headed back down the street.
“Freaking bastards,” Minnie muttered. “I’m glad that not all Americans are like that.”
“Is that why you moved?” I asked. I knew that I was being nosy but I was curious. “Gang trouble?”
Jack shrugged, clearly not answering the question.
“Well, that was a nice comeback.” I said to him. “I could never have come up with something like that. Even if it was simple…”
He shot perfectly once more. I smiled and saw that Minnie was as well. Sweet relief.
Jack ran around the driveway, his arms over his head, a huge grin on his face. He spun around. He had just played a one-on-one game with Minnie and had won by a landslide. He whooped several more times while Minnie and I exchanged glances. Typical Jack.
“You were lucky,” Minnie said, pushing the ball into his stomach.
“Since I’m such a good friend, I’ll let you keep thinking that.” Jack said, still grinning.
I scoffed, punched Jack on the shoulder, and rolled my eyes.
“Hey, you three, time for lunch!” My mother called from inside the house. “Hurry up!”
“Race ya there!” I said, running towards the house. I leaped up the stairs, laughing at the other’s protests. “I won!” I slapped the table, jumping up onto a stool and taking the glass of Kool-Aid my mother handed me. “Sorry you two, but you can’t compete with the master.”
“Oh, really, Jenna?” Jack said, entering the kitchen after Minnie, slightly out of breath. “Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?”
I scoffed and turned in my seat to get a good look at Jack. “Are you challenging me?” I asked.
“Wow,” Minnie said sarcastically. “For a master, she sure is dumb.”
Jack laughed and even my own mother giggled a little. I rolled my eyes.
“Yes, I am challenging you, oh powerful one.” Jack said, taking a seat. “I bet you to a race. Ten bucks says I can beat you.”
I considered. I only had twenty-five dollars until next month. But I was not going to let this slide. I was the master at running, and Jack should be enlightened to my skill. “Okay, let’s do it later though, because I’m hungry. Tomorrow, five o’clock, right before dinner. The winner gets treated to ice cream.” I said.
We shook hands to make it final.