My eyes stayed glued to our family-room window as I stared outside and waited for a big truck to roll by. Mom had told us we were getting new neighbors today, and I couldn’t wait to meet them. Ever since the house next door had sold, I had prayed they would have a boy my age to play with. Yes, I had three brothers and a sister, but my oldest brother, Drake, was always studying or with his debate team. According to him, he would be president one day and live in the White House. As for the others, Dane was busy learning to play golf, Josh was a toddler, and Gretchen was only a baby.
The deep rumble of a truck’s engine made my heart race. Finally! A white-and-orange semi pulled up in front. “They’re here!” With Gretchen perched on her hip, my mother came to stand beside me. “Look, Mom.” I pointed toward the massive truck and the minivan that parked behind it. “Do you see any boys?” My head swiveled back and forth as I tried to catch a glimpse.
“Sweetie, remember, they might not have children, and if they do, they might not have sons.” My smile faltered. Then she added, “There’s nothing wrong with playing with a girl.”
I could feel my entire face crinkle. “Yuck, Mom.” A huff of air escaped me. Sadly, the vast oak tree in their yard blocked any chance I had of seeing who was getting out of the van.
“Jack, let the neighbors get settled a bit. I just made brownies for them. When they’ve cooled, you can bring them next door.” I sprang up so fast, my feet almost popped out of my sneakers, causing me to stumble. “And tie your shoes before you fall.”
Four Scooby-Doo episodes later, the moving truck left. I hustled across the sidewalk and up their driveway with a plate of brownies in hand, my high-tops tightly tied. After saying a silent prayer, I rang the doorbell, and when it swung open, I no longer cared that a girl lived there.
Wide greenish-brown eyes stared back at me, and I almost dropped the plate onto her porch. Light-brown ponytails stuck out from the sides of her head, and her smile rendered me speechless. She was a little shorter than I was and had three tiny freckles on her nose. She wore jeans, a pink-and-white-striped T-shirt that said Girl Power in silver sparkles, and pink sneakers that matched her shirt. And she smelled like strawberries. How did she do that? “Hi, I’m April.” Her sweet voice broke my stupor. “What’s your name?”
Before I could say anything, a woman walked up behind her. “April, who’s your friend?”
Both stared at me. “Um… hi, I’m Jack Prescott.” My head cocked to the right. “I live next door.” I stretched my arms out, handing her the plate of brownies. “These are from my mother.”
“Thank you.” The woman smiled. “I’m Mrs. Johnson, April’s mom.”
I stuck my hand out just like my father had taught me to do when I met someone new. Mrs. Johnson shook it and smiled. “Well, aren’t you a polite young man. It’s very nice to meet you.” Before she turned to walk away, she said, “Please tell your mother we said thank you for the brownies. They look delicious.”
April and I stood staring at each other. I shoved my hands into my jean pockets and kicked an imaginary pebble on their porch, while April twisted one of her ponytails around her finger and asked, “How old are you?”
“Seven and a half.”
“Me too. Well, I’m seven. Do you have any sisters?” she asked in a sugary voice.
“Yes, one, but she’s just a baby. Her name is Gretchen. I have three brothers too.”
Her lips turned down before saying, “Oh.”
Apparently, she felt the same way about playing with boys as I did about playing with girls. “Do you have any brothers?” She looked at her feet and shook her head. Then my mom’s words popped into my mind. There’s nothing wrong with playing with a girl.
“I have a jungle gym in my backyard. Wanna play with me?” I asked.
When she looked up, the biggest smile splayed across her face, and a wave of happiness washed over me. If the kids on my basketball team knew I wanted to play with a girl, they’d be sure to pick on me… until they saw her.
That was the day I decided to keep April all to myself. • • • The volume of her giggle changed with each push of the swing. Standing behind her, I couldn’t help but laugh when her pink-sneakered feet fluttered in the air. The harder I pushed, the higher she went—and the more her laugh made me smile. April’s ponytails swung freely from the sides of her head. Each time she came toward me, she’d let out a little squeal. “Jack, you’re pushing me so high!” Rather than her voice being panicked, it was full of joy. She straightened her legs right before she jumped off, landed on two feet, and thrust her arms in the air like an Olympic gymnast waiting for her score.
With both hands up and my fingers spread wide, I shouted, “Ten!”
“Yay! Your turn. You do something,” April said, clapping her hands.
I glanced around my backyard, not sure what to do. The slide was too easy, she had just performed on the swings, and the teeter-totter wasn’t a one-person event, which left one thing… the monkey bars. Those ten bars scared me. My older brother, Drake, could cruise across them, as could my younger brother Dane. It wasn’t that I couldn’t, I just didn’t get across each time.
“Ooh! I can’t do these,” April confessed, looking up at the bright-green metal bars. “Can you?”
“Sometimes.” I couldn’t lie. Plus, my parents always told us that honesty was the best policy. I could hear myself swallow right before I placed my foot on the side ladder and climbed up so I could reach the first bar. My right hand gripped it, my body angled forward, and April ran to the opposite end.
“You can do it! You can do it!” April chanted over and over, shaking her fists as if they were pom-poms. She stood at the end, beaming at me.
I bit my lower lip, narrowed my eyes, and focused on the next bar as my body hung from my right hand. My legs swung and propelled me with enough force to grab the next bar with my left hand. Right… left… right… left. Only a couple more to go. April continued to cheer, and when I looked up and saw her smile, something tripped up inside of me. I lost my grip and crashed to the ground, landing on my butt.
Embarrassment flooded my insides. My heart raced, my butt hurt, and my seven-year-old ego was bruised. How dumb to fall in front of a girl… and not just any girl, but the prettiest girl I had ever met. I popped up as quick as I could. Maybe she didn’t see me fall.
“Are you okay?” She saw me fall.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I stood and brushed the freshly cut blades of grass off my pants. “Just slipped, that’s all.”
“You almost did it. I never get that far. You’re so strong.” April beamed as if I had made it all the way across. She lifted her hand in the air. “High-five!”
Our hands smacked together, and a funny feeling ran through me. It almost made me wonder if what boys said about cooties was right—even though my mom said they didn’t exist. For the longest time, Dane didn’t want to touch Gretchen because girls had cooties. Drake would laugh at him, but maybe Dane was right. April must have felt it too because she stared at her hand as if seeing it for the first time.
“Um…” I kicked my leg back and forth just like I had done on her porch. “Want some lemonade or something?” “I should probably go home. I’m sure my mom is getting dinner ready.”
“Okay.” We walked back toward her house and stood at the side of her driveway. “So, I guess I’ll see you later?”
April smiled. “Thanks for playing with me today. I don’t have any friends in Virginia. All of mine are in Idaho.”
“I’ll be your friend. Want to play again tomorrow?”
April nodded and hugged me. I’d never hugged a girl I wasn’t related to before. Just like when we smacked palms during our high five, a weird feeling zipped through my body. I squeezed a bit tighter right before letting her go.
“See ya later.” April ran up her porch steps and waved at me before disappearing into her house.
Feeling weird but happy, I hurried into my house and called out for my mom. She greeted me with a smile. “Did you have fun?”
I nodded. “Mom, are you sure cooties aren’t real?”
She let out a laugh and ruffled my hair. “Yes, I’m positive.”
~April~ I had never had a boy for a best friend, but Jack was different. He didn’t tease me for watching Tiny Toon Adventures, like some of the boys in my old neighborhood had. He didn’t tug on my ponytails until I wanted to cry, and he didn’t treat me like I was going to break. Everything about the boy next door brought a smile to my face.
Jack and I sat on his porch waiting for the mail carrier to come by. We had heard classroom assignments were going to be sent, and I couldn’t wait to see if we were going to have the same teacher.
“I hope we’re in the same class,” I said, gnawing on the side of my thumb. “What if we aren’t? I don’t know anyone.”
“As long as we don’t have Mr. Kirch, it will be fine. He’s super mean. Drake had him and told me he yelled a lot. If he didn’t like my older brother, who’s usually the teacher’s pet, he isn’t going to like me. All I hope is that Dane gets him one day, because he even got in trouble in preschool.”
I couldn’t help but giggle. Dane was adorable and was always getting put in time-out by his mom. The last time, it was because he hit a golf ball off the carpet and it broke a few pictures on the way out the closed window. All I remember was Mrs. Prescott’s stern voice when she said, “Dane, what have I told you about playing golf in the house?” When Dane shrugged, Mrs. Prescott added, “If you don’t remember, you can go to your room until you do.” With his head hanging low, Dane had said “Yes, ma’am” and shuffled off.
The roar of a truck engine sounded, and Jack and I popped up, waiting to see the white van with the blue and red stripes. But when we heard a song start to play, Jack ran into the house. I didn’t understand why until I saw a picture of an ice cream cone on the side of the van.
His front door slammed behind him as he ran toward the road. “Come on, April!” Jack waved his arms in the air and began jumping up and down. It looked like he was doing jumping jacks… I suppose he was.
Jack bought each of us an ice cream sandwich, and no sooner did the van pull away than we saw the mail carrier. My heart thumped so hard even ice cream was hard to swallow. Once we had our letters in hand, we went back to his porch.
He handed me his sandwich and tore his envelope open. “Yes!” Jack made a fist, bent his arm, and pulled it toward him. “I got Miss Stevens! Now your turn.”
Just like he had, I handed him my ice cream and ripped open my envelope, but I didn’t unfold the letter right away. All I could do was stare at it.
“What’s the matter?”
“Want me to do it for you?” Jack offered with a smile. At my nod, we swapped the ice creams he was holding for my letter. The way he grinned told me all I needed to know, but I still asked, “Did I get Miss Stevens?”
“Yup!” We tried to high-five, but our hands were full. Instead, we finished our ice cream before it melted.
Everything about being Jack Prescott’s friend made life better. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a good life, because I did, but ever since the day he had come to my house two months ago, the sun had seemed brighter. I asked my mom if that could happen, if the color of the sun could suddenly change, but instead of answering, she hugged me. Grown-ups were weird.