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Authors: Carolyn Mackler

Best Friend Next Door

BOOK: Best Friend Next Door
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To my son Miles, whose name scrambles to spell
smile
(perfect) and
limes
(yum) and
miels
(the plural of
honey
in French).

Contents

Title Page

Dedication

One: Hannah

Two: Emme

Three: Hannah

Four: Emme

Five: Hannah

Six: Emme

Seven: Hannah

Eight: Emme

Nine: Hannah

Ten: Emme

Eleven: Hannah

Twelve: Emme

Thirteen: Hannah

Fourteen: Emme

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Copyright

M
y name is Hannah Strafel. Hannah is a palindrome, which means it’s the same backward and forward. Strafel spelled backward is Lefarts, which sounds French. As in
Le Farts
. Unless the French have another word for fart, which they probably do. I’ve never looked that up.

If I were going to look up any word in French right now, it would be
terrible
. Right now, my life is terrible in every single language. For one, my best friend, Sophie, just moved to Ottawa. That’s a city in Canada, almost three hundred miles from western New York. I’m sure she’s making tons of new friends there and will soon forget I exist. Sophie and I lived next door to each other on Centennial Avenue since we were toddlers. I can’t imagine life without her.

Reason two that things are terrible: Sophie’s house wasn’t empty six hours when a real estate agent teetered across the lawn in her spiky heels and hooked a
SOLD
!!! pendant under the
FOR SALE
sign. I bet she
SOLD
!!! it to old people who hate kids. Or murderers. Or worse, a family full of girls who will take over Sophie’s room at the top of the stairs and paint her walls pink and have slumber parties on Sophie’s floor, where we used to roll out
our
sleeping bags.

“Hannah?” my stepmom, Margo, calls from the kitchen. “Are you almost done?”

I’m sitting on the side porch. I was supposed to be shucking a bowl of corn, but I’ve been watching a man move boxes into Sophie’s house instead. Another man is wheeling furniture up the driveway on a cart. They arrived a little while ago. At first I thought they were the new neighbors until I saw that their van said
MOVING ASSOCIATES.

“Are you almost finished with the corn?” Margo says. “Dad just got home from the store and we want to talk with you.”

“Coming,” I say. Even though I’ve only shucked three ears, I’ve strewn corn silk all over the porch. I brush it into the trash bag that Margo gave me. “I’m not done, though.”

“Bring it inside!” my dad calls from the kitchen. “We can help.”

I stand up, holding the heavy bowl in my arms. Margo must have put twenty ears of corn in here. I’m strong, though. I’ve been on the Dolphins swim team since third grade. Freestyle is my best stroke. Everyone says I have muscular arms. That’s the plus side. The downside is that my short sandy hair is greenish from the past month of swim camp. Margo says she’s getting me a new shampoo because my Ultra Swim shampoo isn’t working.

“Hey, Hannah,” my dad says. He unclips his bike helmet and washes his hands at the sink.

Margo is at the table, slicing tomatoes. There are hot dogs and veggie burgers defrosting on the counter. We’re having a barbecue in our backyard tonight. Uncle Peter is coming over and a few of my dad’s friends and some people Margo knows from her book group. If Sophie still lived here, her family would be invited, but she’s probably having a barbecue with her new friends in Canada.

And then there’s reason number three: Fifth grade starts in two weeks. I went online this morning and found out I have Mr. Bryce. I’ve never had a guy teacher before. I bet he’s the strictest teacher at Greeley Elementary. I bet he yells if you’re late and only lets you drink water once a day.

“I got you a peanut butter cookie at Crumbles,” my dad says, taking the corn from me and setting it on the table. He gestures to a small white paper bag. “Just save it until after lunch, okay?”

Peanut butter is my all-time, hands-down favorite food. Even so, my heart races with suspicion. Something about how my parents are both grinning makes me think they’re going to tell me awful news. I’m being a worrier, but that’s the way I am. It’s
who
I am. Just like how I swim competitively and my birthday is on New Year’s Day and I’m the only kid in Greeley who hates pizza.

Sure enough, my dad grabs an ear of corn, tugs off the husk, and says, “There’s something big that we want to share with you.”

“We’re going to be telling people tonight,” Margo adds, shifting her smile to my dad, “but we wanted you to know first.”

Hang on! Maybe they’re going to tell me that we’re moving, too. Please let it be Canada. I’ve always liked the maple-leaf flag. I will learn to love massive amounts of snow. I will get over my fear of ice-skating.

“The thing is,” my dad says, “we’re having a baby.”

My stomach flips over. Actually, it’s more like a triple somersault. Margo reaches across the table and touches my hand.

I yank my fingers away. “I thought you didn’t want more kids.”

Margo is forty-two and my dad is forty-seven. Not like it’s any of my business, but isn’t that too old to be having a
baby
? Also, she and my dad are always saying how, now that I’m older, we can start traveling and doing cool things. Not to mention that Margo is in the process of adopting me. Margo has been my stepmom since I was one. Before that, it was just my dad and me. I never even knew my real mother. They’ve already done all the paperwork for the adoption and talked to lawyers. After the adoption goes through, our true family was going to be the three of us. Not the FOUR of us.

“Honey,” Margo says gently, “we were hoping you’d be excited.”

“Can you believe you’re going to be a sister?” my dad asks.

“No,” I snap. I’ve been an only child for almost eleven years. “Please don’t call me a sister. I’ll be a former only child.”

My dad laughs. He doesn’t get that I’m not kidding.

“You’ll get used to it,” he says. “You’ll have plenty of time to adjust by February.”

February? That’s only six months away. I happen to know it takes nine months for a baby to come out. That means they haven’t been telling me the truth for three whole months.

Margo tips her head to one side. “I’m a little more than three months pregnant, if that’s what you’re wondering. We wanted to make sure everything was okay before we told you.”

“We didn’t want you to worry,” my dad adds.

This can’t be happening.

“What about the Bahamas?” I ask. My dad, Margo, and I have been talking about going to a tropical island this winter. Supposedly it’s a swimmer’s paradise because the ocean is crystal clear. It was going to be the biggest deal of my life. Every school break we either stay in Greeley or go to Pennsylvania to visit Margo’s parents. All of last year, we were watching plane ticket prices. I suddenly realize they didn’t mention the tropical trip all summer. I should have suspected something.

“The Bahamas can’t happen this February,” my dad says, reaching over to tousle my hair. “Don’t worry, Hannah. We’ll make it up to you.”

I dodge my dad. There are a million things I want to say, like
maybe you could have consulted with me before ruining my life?
Or
how could you drop this baby bomb so soon after Sophie left?
Instead I mutter, “I am
not
okay with this.” Then I grab my cookie off the counter and shove through the door.

As soon as I reach the porch, I look across our side yard at Sophie’s house and smudge the tears from my eyes. If Sophie were still here, I’d run next door, go up to her room, flop onto her bed, and have a serious cry. Because I know what’s really going on. I’ve been a fine stand-in kid for my dad and Margo, but now they want a real child of their own.

A silver car slows in front of Sophie’s house. The blinker is flashing. As the car steers into her driveway, I notice it’s towing a U-Haul trailer. Not a good sign. I clench the cookie bag in my hand and hold my breath.

A tall woman emerges from the driver’s side and stretches her arms over her head. A shorter woman with blond hair and big sunglasses opens the passenger door.
So far, so good.
But then the back door opens and a smallish girl steps out. She’s barefoot and really tan, especially her arms. Her hair is short and sandy, almost exactly like mine. And the weirdest thing is that she’s wearing the same blue tie-dye tank top that I am. Margo got it for me at Old Navy last week.

As the two women walk toward the front door, the girl stands there looking around. It’s almost like she’s searching for something, except the street is deserted. The only sound is a baby down the block wailing.
Ugh.
I don’t want to think about babies.

“Hey,” the girl says. “I guess you’re the girl that the real estate agent told my moms about. You’re thirty-seven Centennial Avenue, right?”

I bite at my thumbnail. I hadn’t realized she could see me up here on the porch. I hadn’t realized that high-heeled real estate agent was using
me
to sell Sophie’s house. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have helped Sophie make her bed and straighten her room before every showing.

“Hey,” I say. For some reason, I start down our steps. I totally shouldn’t. I should leave it at
hey
and go back into my house. But I’m sure my dad and Margo will pounce on me and want to talk about my
feelings
about having a baby the moment I go inside.

In other words, I’m stuck.

“We just moved here,” the girl says, coming across the driveway and into my side yard.

As she gets closer, I can see that she has a constellation of freckles across her nose and her toenails are all painted different shades of blue.

“Nice shirt, by the way,” she says to me.

I wish I’d worn my yellow T-shirt. Or the green striped one. Anything but the exact same blue tie-dye tank top.

“What’s your name?” the girl asks.

“Hannah,” I say.

She laughs and shakes her head. I stare her down like
Okay … what’s the big joke?
Sophie used to say I have a killer stare when I’m mad.

“Sorry, it’s just funny because my name is Emme, with an ‘e’ at the end. We’re both palindromes. That means it’s spelled—”

“I know what a palindrome is,” I snap.

Emme shrugs. “What grade are you going into?”

“Fifth,” I say. From her size, I’m guessing she’s going into fourth or maybe even third. “Greeley Elementary. I’m ten.”

“Me too!” she says. “At least I think that’s the name of the school.”

I squeeze the paper bag tight in my hand and feel the peanut butter cookie inside breaking into pieces. There are four different fifth-grade classes at Greeley Elementary, which means there’s a good chance Emme won’t be in mine. But she probably will be, with the way things are going.

“Do you know who your teacher is yet?” I ask.

Emme shakes her head. “This all happened fast. We just found out a few weeks ago that we were moving for sure. Actually,
I
just found out. They’d been planning it for a while.”

She says it like she wants me to feel sorry for her. Well, I don’t. She can’t just move into my best friend’s house and expect me to welcome her with a hug.

“Everyone thinks I’m younger,” Emme says, “but I turn eleven on New Year’s Day.”

“No way.” This can’t be happening. “No. Way.”

“What?”

“That’s my birthday, too,” I say quietly. “New Year’s Day.”

“For real?”

I nod. This is all getting a little weird.

Emme starts giggling. “Mom J!” she shouts. “Mom C! You won’t believe it! The girl next door has my birthday!”

Her
birthday?

As the two women come out of the house, it dawns on me: Emme has two moms and I don’t even have one to call my own. I feel an angry itch inside at the unevenness—the
unfairness
—of this.

“I’m Julia,” the short blond woman says, waving at me. “It’s nice to meet you. You two have the same shirt on! And you’re a New Year’s baby? Do you know what time you were born?”

I shake my head.

“Not exactly
baby
,” Emme says.

“I’m Claire,” says the tall woman. “I’m so glad Emme’s already made a friend next door.”

Not exactly
friend
! I glance at Emme. Her cheeks are flushed and she’s staring at her feet. For a second, I feel bad for her the way her mom said we’re friends.

As soon as the moms head back into the house, I blurt out, “Do you like peanut butter?” I know that’s random, but I’m hoping to find a few more ways that Emme’s different from me. Ideally, she will be allergic to nuts. Not bad allergic, like Marley from school, who has to carry an EpiPen wherever she goes. But just allergic enough to leave me with my peanut butter obsession.

BOOK: Best Friend Next Door
4.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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