Chapter no 11

My Life with the Walter Boys

The next two weeks passed quickly, the days blending together. But today was different. When I got home from school, I went straight for the kitchen, which had been transformed into a bakery since we left this morning. Mrs. Walter was pulling a pan of cookies out of the oven—I had been able to smell them from the front porch—and four whole sheets of warm, gooey goodness were already waiting on silver cooling racks.

“Hi, Jackie,” she said, scooping a few cookies up with a spatula. “How was your day?”

“It was good,” I answered automatically. “Those smell amazing. What’s the occasion?”

“Thanks, honey.” She placed half a dozen cookies on a plate. “It’s the twins’ turn to bring a snack to their soccer game tomorrow. Speaking of the twins, can you go find them for me? I haven’t seen them in hours.”

“Sure,” I said. “Which ones?”

“Oh!” Mrs. Walter laughed. “Zack and Benny. Here, take these with you.”

She handed me the plate, and I made my way to the monsters’ room, glad that I had a peace offering. As soon as I reached the top of the stairs, Zack poked his head out the door.

“Are those chocolate chip?” he asked me.

“Yup,” I said, holding the plate over my head and out of reach. I was amazed he hadn’t smelled them before now—the entire house smelled like cookies. “Before I give you any, I need to know where Benny is.”

“In here,” Zack said, grabbing my free hand and tugging me inside his room. “He’s here with Parker. Guys, Jackie has cookies!”

In a matter of seconds, both boys and Parker were circling around my legs, demanding baked goods, and I felt like a swimmer swept out into open water.

“Okay, okay!” I said, laughing nervously.

After grabbing a cookie to make sure I got one, I set the plate down and backed away for my own safety. They inhaled everything within minutes, and I was almost surprised they didn’t eat the plate.

“So, Jackie,” Parker said, licking her fingers clean. “Do you know how to play Mario Kart, or are you too girly to like video games?”

The twins were already gone, probably off to beg their mom for more, and I decided this was the perfect opportunity to get to know Parker better. Since I’d moved in, Parker had made it obvious that she didn’t like me. She was always making comments about how girly I was, as if that was some kind of crime, and one time she purposely spilled Kool-Aid on my favorite skirt. If only I could find some common ground between us, I might be able to connect with her. I didn’t know much about being an older sister, but I always loved when Lucy let me win at games.

“I think I can handle it,” I told her, plopping down in one of the beanbags. “But I want a controller without chocolate on it.”

While she was setting up our race, Parker took the time to explain the game to me, pointing out which button did what. Later, when Bowser sped over the finish line just ahead of Princess Peach, Parker punched her hand into the air. “Yes!” she shouted, jumping up in excitement. “I win again!”

“Wow, you’re too good at this,” I told her, trying to hold back a smile. “Not really,” Parker said as she rolled her eyes at me. “I just don’t drive

like a girl.”

“Parker?” Alex asked, sticking his head in the room. When he spotted her, he said, “There you are. Mom wants you downstairs.”

“Fine,” she responded, tossing her controller on the floor. “I was getting bored with kicking butt anyway.”

We both watched her go, and after she slammed the door shut, Alex turned to me. “Hey, Jackie,” he said. “What are you doing in here?”

“Trying to bond,” I sighed, twisting the game cord around my finger. “Something I’m evidently not very good at. I don’t think she likes me.”

Alex considered this as he came into the room. “It’s not that she doesn’t like you,” he said, sitting down next to me. “I just think she isn’t used to having another girl in the house.”

“You’d think she’d be excited,” I said, sinking back into the beanbag in disappointment. “After having to put up with so many boys her whole life, I expected that she’d want to spend some decent girl time.”

“If you haven’t noticed, Parker isn’t really a girly girl.” He picked up the controller his sister had tossed to the floor and wiped away a chocolate smear.

I shot him a look. “I realize that, but I want her to like me. We’re kind of outnumbered around here.”

“Well, that’s never going to change, no matter how close you two get,” he said. “Just let it go. She’ll get used to you eventually.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“How about we play a quick race and you show me what you got?” “All right,” I told him, sitting back up. “But don’t go easy on me.”

“I would never,” he said, twirling the controller in his hand. “I want to beat you fair and square.”

“Good luck,” I told him, as we both chose our characters.

“Don’t need it.” His forehead was scrunched up as he focused on the TV.

The game started again to the sound of twirls and bangs, and unlike last time, my kart was the first to cross the finish line.

Alex chucked his controller. “Unbelievable!” he yelled. I winked at him. “Told you you’d need some luck.”

He narrowed his eyes, suspicious of my newfound racing skills, and asked, “Go again?”

“If you want to lose a second time.”

“You’re so going down,” he said, a determined look on his face.

Unfortunately for Alex, I was the champion of Mario Kart. For the next thirty minutes, I beat him using every single character. It was too easy— Lucy had been obsessed with the game when we were kids, and we spent every day after school racing.

“You know, I was just letting Parker win to be nice,” I told him, when he finally gave up.

“I realize that,” he said, his pride damaged. “You’re not allowed to tell anyone.”

“Says who?”

“Me. That’s confidential information.” “Does it matter that much?”

“You don’t understand,” he tried to explain. “I’m the king of video games. Nobody beats me, not ever.” Alex shook his head in disbelief.

“You’ve been dethroned,” I said, wiggling my eyebrows at him. “And I did it all with Princess Peach.”

As if in a daze, he shook his head and looked up at me. For a second I thought he was mad, but then he said, “You know you’re adorable, right?” Then, he clamped his hand over his mouth as he realized what he’d said.

I smiled. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Alex was blushing now, and he looked away, his lips mashed together in a small line, clearly upset with himself. I thought he was going to leave, but then he took a deep breath and did something I never expected him to—he kissed me.

It started out slow and gentle, his lips soft. It took me a moment to react, but when I did, I wrapped my arms around him and wove my fingers into his blond hair. I could hear my pulse roaring in my ears—I was kissing Alex! I’d never thought about kissing him before because he’d always seemed like just a friend, but there was a warm feeling in my chest that bloomed, twisting its way down my arms and legs like a vine, indicating otherwise.

Sammy had told me horror stories about kissing. She referred to one ex-boyfriend as the Snake. He liked to flick his tongue out like a whip, jabbing

her repeatedly in the mouth when they made out. Then there was the fling who was so sloppy, she said, that it was like making out with an overripe pear. Since then, I was terrified of my first real kiss. What if whomever I was kissing thought something bad like that about me? But now, in the moment, those thought melted away. Alex’s lips against mine, his hand cupping my face, felt good.

He pulled away to look at me, and I saw that his blue eyes were filled with doubt. I offered him a reassuring smile, and a cheesy grin crept onto his face before he pulled me into another kiss. This one was less careful, more eager. Looping his arm around my back, he pushed me down into the beanbag and pressed his body to mine.

“Hey, Jackie?” Cole asked, opening the door, “Parker said you were in here—”

Alex leaped away from me, but Cole still stopped to gape at us. For a moment, nobody said anything.

Then Alex scrambled to his feet. “I can leave if you two need to talk,” he said, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment.

“Don’t bother,” Cole said flatly. “You two are clearly busy.” He looked at me one last time before slamming the door.


Breakfast the next morning was interesting, to say the least. Cole glowered at me over his cereal bowl, making it difficult for me to concentrate on spreading jam on my toast. I dropped the knife to the floor, and a glob of strawberry goo splattered on the linoleum.

“You okay, Jackie?” Nathan asked, bumping his hip against me to get my attention. We were standing next to each other at the counter, me with my breakfast, and him with a brown paper bag he was packing for lunch.

“Yeah, just a bit tired.” That was a lie, but I wasn’t going to tell him the truth with Cole listening. The fact was, I was wired. Last night, I hadn’t been able to sleep at all, yet I felt like I had chugged a whole pack of Alex’s Kickstarts. I couldn’t stop thinking about my kiss with him, and what it

would mean for our friendship. What if Alex suddenly got weird and didn’t want to hang out with me anymore? I didn’t want to lose him as a friend, not to mention that seeing him every day around the house would be awkward. Our spur-of-the-moment make-out session was suddenly starting to feel like a bad thing.

“Okay, just make sure you don’t forget that after school my mom is picking us up.”

“What?” I asked, looking up sharply. “Why?”

He glanced at Cole before quickly looking back to me and whispering, “Birthday shopping, remember?”


After what happened the previous night, I’d completely forgotten that tomorrow was Cole and Danny’s birthday, and I needed to get them both a present. But as we left for school, I had a feeling that Cole didn’t want anything except for me to keep my distance. Normally he made a point of offering me a ride with Nick, and in turn, I always said no. But today he shoved past me as everyone made their way out the front door, not even bothering to look in my direction. He was gone before I could even move off the porch steps, Nick’s black Porsche snaking down the driveway.

All day long during class, I tried to think of something good to get him, something that would fix the problem between us. But in all honesty, what could I possibly buy that said, “Sorry you saw me kissing your brother”? The more I thought about it, the more upset I got. Cole had no right to be mad with me. It wasn’t like we were dating.

Besides, I convinced myself as I emerged into the sunlight after my final class period, I didn’t have time to deal with Cole. Something was definitely going on between Alex and me. We didn’t talk about it in anatomy because I was too nervous, but he offered me a huge smile when I walked into class. Hopefully that meant things hadn’t changed between us, and we could forget about the whole kissing thing and just go back to being friends. Then I could pretend it had never happened.

“Hi, kids,” Katherine said, rolling down the window as I walked up to the van. Looking over my shoulder, I saw that Alex, Nathan, and Lee were right behind me, backpacks slung over their shoulders.

“Shotty!” Lee called, pushing me out of the way as he yanked open the front door and hopped inside.

“That was rude, Lee,” Katherine told him, but her nephew wasn’t listening. Lee was already fiddling with the radio, flipping through the stations until he found something he liked.

“It’s okay,” I assured Katherine, and slid open the back door. “I’m fine sitting wherever.”

Alex and I ended up in the middle seats, while Nathan took the far back. Like usual, Isaac was a no-show. Once we were all buckled in, Katherine pulled out of the school parking lot, turning in the direction of the highway. It was a fifteen-minute drive to the mall, and as everyone piled out after parking, Katherine gave us some instructions.

“Remember, kids, Zack and Benny have a soccer game tonight so we have to be quick. Everyone needs to be back here in half an hour with your gifts or you’re walking home. And please,” she said, sighing, “no inappropriate presents this year.”

Lee was gone before Katherine even finished speaking, and Alex hurried off so he had time to stop at his favorite video-game store after picking out his brothers’ gifts. Not knowing the layout of the mall and still clueless about what to get Cole, I followed along with Nathan.

“In here,” he said, strolling into an electronics store. He led me through the rows of TVs, computers, and other gadgets with purpose, as if he knew exactly where he was going. He did. We came to a stop in front of a sleek, voice-controlled radio.

“Cole’s been eyeing this all year,” Nathan said. “He wants to install it in the car he’s been restoring.” He turned over the price tag. “Dang. I was hoping this would go on sale since the new version came out.”

“How about we go in on it together?” I suggested.

“Jackie, I can’t even pay for half of this,” he said. “Besides, I still have to get something for Danny.”

“Don’t worry about it, Nathan,” I said, thinking of the credit card in my wallet. “Just pay for what you can.”

He shook his head. “I can’t do that, Jackie. That’s not fair.”

“I have more than enough,” I told him. When he still didn’t look convinced, I added, “Besides, you’re totally helping me out. I had no clue what to get for Cole when we got here today. I can’t take all the credit.”

“Are you sure?” he said, glancing back down at the price tag. Grabbing the box off the shelf, I nodded my head. “Absolutely.”


The next morning, someone knocked on my door before my alarm went off. “Come in!” I called, sitting up in bed.

“Morning, Jackie,” Nathan said, stepping inside. In his hands was the present we’d bought for Cole, already wrapped up in blue wrapping paper.

“Morning, Nathan, what’s up?” I asked.

“I just came to tell you that I’m not running this morning. My mom always makes blueberry pancakes when it’s someone’s birthday, and we watch them open their presents.”

“Presents in the morning?” I asked, jumping out of bed.

“Yeah,” he said with a frown. “Still don’t have something ready for Danny?”

Yesterday, after we purchased the sound system for Cole, Nathan bought Danny the first season of his favorite crime show, The Blood Trails, which I recognized from the nights we both couldn’t sleep. But the gift that I wanted to get for Danny was something I couldn’t buy at the mall, and I had planned on arranging it after school.

“No,” I told him, throwing open my closet. “Is there a printer somewhere that I can use?”

“Sure, there’s one in my room,” Nathan told me. “See you at breakfast.”

I rushed about the room changing out of my pajamas and packing my bag for school. Then I turned on my computer and waited for it to wake up. Once it had, I pulled out my credit card and bought Danny’s gift before rushing to Nathan’s room to print it out. There wasn’t time to make a birthday card and I didn’t have a gift bag, so I folded the piece of paper in half and headed down to the kitchen.

“Good morning, Jackie,” Katherine greeted me as I came in. She was standing at the stove flipping pancakes and directing George on how to squeeze fresh orange juice. By the looks of it, he was successful at getting more juice on the counter than in the pitcher.

“Morning,” I said back.

Danny and Cole were already sitting at the table, a pile of presents in front of them. Standing right next to them were Zack and Benny, fingers itching to tear open the gifts.

“Happy birthday, guys,” I said offering them both a smile.

“Thanks, Jackie,” Danny said and grinned at me for the first time ever.

Cole merely nodded his head.

Mostly everyone was already sitting at the kitchen table except for Jack and Jordan who were setting up their camera so they could film the opening of presents. I was surprised to see Will leaning against the counter and even more surprised to see a girl standing in his arms, her head resting against his chest.

I sat down next to Nathan as Katherine brought a huge plate of bacon to the table. “Is that Haley?” I whispered in his ear, looking over at the girl who had black hair and big, round eyes.

“Yeah, Will’s fiancée. They go to school together.”

“That’s what I thought,” I said. Since moving in with the Walters, I had heard lots of talk about the upcoming wedding.

Once everyone was stuffed to the brim with Katherine’s wonderful cooking, the boys started unwrapping their gifts. Cole went first, and when he got to Nathan’s and my present, he looked up in amazement.

“You got this for me?” he asked Nathan in shock. “I’ve been wanting it for ages.”

“Jackie and I got it,” Nathan said, correcting Cole. “You’re welcome.” Hearing my name, Cole hesitated, but then he nodded his head at me.


“No problem,” I said.

Then it was Danny’s turn. He unwrapped all the boxes, which turned out to be mostly clothes, except for the homemade coupon for one free wet willy, courtesy of Jack and Jordan.

“What’s a wet willy?” I asked as most of the guys laughed at the joke I’d clearly missed.

Jack’s lips curled up into an evil smile. “Let me show you.” He stuck his finger in his mouth and then, as quick as lightning, stuck it in my ear.

“Oh God, gross!” I complained, shoving Jack away from me.

All the guys laughed as Katherine scolded her son and I tried to get Jack’s spit out of my abused ear.

“Wet willy,” Isaac said, grinning at me. “A prank where a finger moistened with spit is inserted into an unsuspecting victim’s ear, accompanied by a twist.”

“That’s disgusting,” I said. Then I handed over Danny’s gift, still cringing. “I promise that I didn’t get you something as awful as that.”

“Jackie, you didn’t need to get me anything,” he said, but he took the folded piece of paper anyway. He opened it, and I kept my mouth shut as his eyes slid over the words.

“Are you serious?” Danny asked when he finally looked up at me. I nodded. “Totally.”

“Wow,” Danny said, shaking his head in amazement. “Thank you so much, Jackie.”

“What is it?” Cole demanded and pulled the sheet of paper out of Danny’s hand. When he read it, his mouth dropped open. “Whoa.”

“Let’s see,” Isaac said, grabbing it away from Cole. Then, “A plane ticket?” he asked, looking up at me.

“Well, not exactly. It’s a voucher for a plane ticket. Danny said he likes the city, and he’s never been to New York, so I figured he could come with me when I go home for a visit this summer. You know, maybe go to a few Broadway shows.”

Katherine gasped in surprise. “Jackie, honey,” she said, clucking her tongue, “that’s too much money to spend on a birthday present.”

“Mom,” Danny said, giving her a look. “Really, it’s not a problem,” I told her.

“Are you sure?” she asked, but she knew that the money wasn’t an issue. I nodded my head and noticed that everyone was staring at me. “What?”

I asked.

“My birthday’s tomorrow,” Isaac responded. “Liar,” Jack accused, crossing his arms.

Isaac elbowed his cousin but grinned. “I never lie, and you best get me something good. No slimy spit finger in my ear, okay?”

“Maybe we can arrange for some bleach to end up in your shampoo,” Jordan said. “I always thought you’d look good as a blond.”

“Boys,” Katherine cut in, giving her sons a warning glare.

“Hey, Jackie?” someone said, pulling on my sleeve. I looked down to see Benny staring up at me.

“Yeah?” I asked.

“Can you get me a puppy for my birthday?” he asked. Everyone laughed.


“That was such a cool present,” Alex told me when we were sitting in anatomy.

“Thanks,” I said quietly.

The ride to school had been slightly uncomfortable. For once in his life, Danny couldn’t shut up. He wouldn’t stop talking about how awesome his present was, and everyone seemed jealous of him. I was starting to think that maybe the ticket had been too much after all.

“Truthfully,” Alex whispered excitedly, “besides the Xbox we all got for Christmas last year, that was best thing anyone has ever gotten.”

“Really?” I asked, feeling even guiltier. I didn’t want Mrs. Walter to be mad at me for getting her son a better gift then she could afford.

Alex nodded his head. “Flying to New York is going to be so fun.” I finally giggled. “What’s so fun about flying?”

“I don’t know,” Alex said, grinning at me. “I always thought it would be fun.”

My smile dropped. “You’ve never been on a plane before?” “Nope.”

“Don’t you guys ever go on vacation?” I asked.

“Yeah, we go camping all the time. Oh, and last year my parents saved up enough money to go to Florida for their twenty-first anniversary, but they drove down.”

At the moment, I felt unbelievably spoiled. Back home in New York, when it got really cold, my mother would take me to Miami for the weekend to soak up some sun. I never even considered Florida a vacation.

“Why? Where did your family go on vacation?” Alex asked me.

For a second I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to tell Alex that I had been all over Europe, South America, and even China.

“Oh, you know, just around,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“Oh, come on. Tell me,” Alex said and elbowed me in the side. When I didn’t answer, he frowned. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I guess I just feel awkward. I didn’t know this was going to be such a big deal. Everyone seemed kind of jealous.” And I don’t know how to act around you anymore, I wanted to add, but I kept my mouth shut.

“Jackie,” Alex responded, staring at me seriously, “what you did for Danny was thoughtful, and sure, some people are probably jealous, but that’s not a bad thing.”

“You sure?” I asked, looking up at him.

“Yup,” he said. “It also means that I expect something cool for Christmas.”

I laughed. “And what would that be?”

“Just a Darth Vader helmet, dual signature edition.” “What’s that?”

“Nerd shit,” he said with a laugh. “And only one of the most expensive pieces of Star Wars memorabilia in the world.”

“Well, it sounds like you’ll have to be awfully nice to me.” “How about I start by taking you somewhere fun tonight?”

My heart almost burst from my chest. He didn’t mean like on a date, did he? “Where?” I finally asked him, not bothering to meet his eyes. Instead, I concentrated on my anatomy notebook, flipping to a blank page and writing the date in the right-hand corner.

He paused at this. “I know someone who’s having a party tonight,” Alex said, trying to sound casual. “We should go together.” When he saw the hesitation on my face, he added, “You know, as friends.”

I thought that hearing those last few words would help me relax around him, but when my stomach dipped, I realized that maybe that wasn’t what I wanted after all. What if I just needed to give Alex a chance?

I was about to say yes, that I would go with him, but there was something about the way he was avoiding my gaze that made me suspicious. “Whose party is it?” I said instead.

“Mary’s,” he said in a rush. “But I thought that if you told me what she said, we could work everything out.”

I shook my head. “Sorry, Alex, but no.” Maybe I needed to stop thinking of all the bad things that would happen if there was something more between Alex and me, maybe I needed to give him a chance, but I wouldn’t do it at her party. Not after what she’d said, how she’d hurt me. There was nothing Alex could do to get me to go.

“Please, Jackie? I don’t get why you’re making such a big deal out of this.”

“If I tell you what she said, will you drop the subject?” I snapped. “Of course,” he said eagerly.

“She shoved my family’s death in my face.”

“What? Why would she do that?”

“To hurt me,” I said, “because I’m friends with you.”

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