It wasn’t just a snowball. It was a dirty slushball. And it hit me on the ear. Slush oozed under my fuzzy pink scarf and down my shirt. I screamed and yanked the slushy scarf off my neck.
Jimmy Torbell laughed.
I glared at him while I used the dry end of the scarf to clean the icky slush off the side of my face and neck. “I hate you, Jimmy Torbell. You’re such a jerk.”
Jimmy stuck his tongue out, which was so very juvenile. “I know you are, but what am I?”
I stomped my foot, but I knew better than to answer his taunts. His chappy red hands were reaching for more slush. I ran.
“You run like a girl,” he yelled.
I turned around to inform him that I was a girl but he hit me in the mouth with another slushball before I could speak. Gross. I spit the slushball out. My mother taught me that every girl is a princess and that I should be a proper lady, but princesses and ladies don’t get hit in the mouth with a slushball. I ran at him and hit him in the chest with my head. He fell on the pile of snow between our driveways. I was cramming snow in his face when my brother, Matt, dragged me off and carried me inside, kicking and screaming.
My mother was disappointed in me. But Jimmy always threw slushballs and I’d had enough. They were cold and filthy and my favorite scarf was too dirty to wear to school.
“Megan, what possessed you to tackle Jimmy and mash snow in his face?” Mom asked. It sounded like a bad thing, the way she put it.
“He hit me in the ear and in the mouth with a slushball,” I told my wet socks.
“Jimmy is having a rough time right now.”
I rolled my eyes. “I know. I know. His dad lost his job. They have to move. Blah, blah, blah. That doesn’t give him an excuse to be mean. Plus he gets to move in with his grandparents which might as well be heaven.”
Mom closed her eyes. I could tell she was counting because her lips twitched. “You are older than Jimmy.”
“By a year. I was teaching him a lesson,” I said. “If he doesn’t learn it from me, he’ll learn it from someone even older. And bigger.” I almost added meaner, but I didn’t want to push my luck.
“The Torbells are moving the day after Christmas,” Mom said. “Please try to be a good neighbor until then. This move is hard for them.”
I couldn’t help but smile. Having the Torbells move was the best Christmas present ever. But I knew better than to say that out loud. Then I felt a tiny twinge of guilt. Jimmy’s little sister, Sam, was a sweet kid. I couldn’t help but feel bad for her. She would never escape Jimmy.
“I’ll be as good a neighbor as he is,” I said. And that was when I knew I’d gone too far. Mom had that look in her eyes, that lifting of the brow, that slight raise on the left side of her mouth. She had an idea.
“That is a wonderful suggestion,” Mom said, smiling sweetly. Oh gag.
“Uh,” I said.
“I want you to do some nice deeds for Jimmy. Show him what it’s like to be a good neighbor.”
I didn’t roll my eyes, as much as I wanted to. “Fine. I won’t push him in the snow.”
Mom smiled. I hate that smile—sweet and deadly. “I’ll be basing your Christmas on your nice deeds.”
My jaw dropped. She couldn’t be serious. But I’ve seen that look in her eyes before. She’s not one for idol threats. I had to find a way out of this mess fast—a way that didn’t involve me being nice to Jimmy. “But you finished Christmas shopping last month.”
“I can still return presents.”
“But that’s not fair. Christmas is only two days away.” I couldn’t possibly bring myself to be nice to Jimmy by then. It takes weeks to forgive a slushball—and Jimmy threw two at me in one day! I still hadn’t forgiven him for the time he hit me on the way to school and I had a dirty coat all day.
Mom shrugged. “Life isn’t fair.”
I hate it when she says that.
Mom explained her plan to Dad during dinner. Dad liked the idea. I didn’t expect him to take my side, especially when Mom made orange fudge for dessert. I can’t compete with fudge. The best I can do is open a package of Oreos.
“We should do something nice for the whole family,” Dad said.
Matt groaned. “Why bother? They’re moving.”
I ducked, just in case Mom started spewing lightning, which would have been pretty cool, especially since it was aimed at Matt and not me.
“What did you say?” Mom asked.
Matt froze. I could almost hear the gears in his head click while he searched for a way to smooth over his previous statement. I smeared mashed potatoes all over my plate so it would look like I ate some while everyone glared at him.
“Come on,” Matt said. “The twerp threw a slushball at my little sister. He had it coming. He’s had it coming for a while. I was about ready to plant his face in some snow.”
“He has a point,” Dad said. “She was standing up for herself.”
“When will you learn that violence only begets violence?” Mom asked.
Matt and I looked at each other and shrugged. Sometimes Mom speaks a language of her own. Usually we just smile and nod but this time was different. She was either going to cry or yell at us. I didn’t want either so I said the first soothing thing that came to my mind.
“We could bring them some orange fudge.”
Matt kicked me under the table. I shrugged and jerked my head toward Mom. He made a face at the table before turning angelic and agreeing with me. “Good idea, Megan.”
Mom’s lip quivered, but she managed to hold it together. “Finally, you get it!”
“You aren’t going to take it all over, are you?” Dad asked. Mom glared at him and Dad raised his hands in surrender. “I’m kidding. I’ll get a plate.”
“I’ll help,” I said.
Mom put her hand on my shoulder so I couldn’t stand. “You can finish eating your mashed potatoes while we get the plate ready.”
I choked down my potatoes and washed the nasty texture away with a glass of milk while everyone else gathered coats, scarves, and our precious fudge. I craned my head to see if there was any fudge left. The pan looked pretty empty. At least some of it would go to Sam.
“Mom,” I said as we trudged down our driveway.
“Could you show me how to make orange fudge?”
Mom laughed and I knew my Christmas was safe, which was a good thing since giving up my fudge was about as nice as I could manage.
“Sure,” Mom said. “I can teach you how to make fudge when we get home. I’m sure your Dad will be relieved.”
Mom rang the doorbell and sang Jingle Bells. Dad joined in. Matt and I stood behind them and hoped no one would see us.
Jimmy’s mom opened the door and Mom handed her the plate of fudge. Jimmy stuck his head out from behind a box in the living room and stuck his tongue out at us. I smiled as sweetly as my lips would allow. If I reacted now, I might be stuck doing nice things for the twerp until Christmas. The adults started talking about moving trucks and packing so Matt and I went home.
The day after Christmas, I went outside to watch the movers load the moving van. Sam ran over to me to show off her new doll. I bent over to give her a hug. “I’m going to miss you.”
Sam hugged me back. “I’ll miss you. The fudge was yummy, but Jimmy ate most of it.” She stuck her lip out in a cute little pout.
I stood up and something white flew through the air and hit me in the stomach, right where my head had just been. Jimmy laughed.
“Stop it, Jimmy,” I yelled. I pulled my hand inside my sleeve to wipe the slush off my coat. But he hadn’t thrown a slushball. It was just a snowball. And it wasn’t even dirty.
I can’t say I was sad when the moving truck pulled away. But I can’t help but wonder if Mom was right. Did Jimmy switch to snow because I did something nice? There was a puddle of dirty slush next to the pile of snow and this time Jimmy picked the snow.