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Just a Few Steps Away

From the author of You Make Me Happy.

Jennifer Bailey is eighteen, but she’s never been with a guy. Ever! She’s never even been kissed. So when some new neighbors move in next door, of course Jennifer is the first to notice Jake, the hot nineteen-year-old son. It doesn’t help that they can perfectly see into each other’s rooms!

Age Rating: 16+

 

Just a Few Steps Away by Julia Mar is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

Waking up, I immediately knew something was wrong. There wasn’t the usual silence that’s always present in our neighborhood: I could hear my parents pacing downstairs.

I got out from under the covers and put on a white cardigan before stepping out of my room. I walked out, immediately hearing the whispers my parents were sharing between themselves.

I reached them in the living room, where my mother was holding her face in her hands. My dad looked up at me. His expression saddened.

“Mom? Dad?” I asked. “What’s going on?”

My mother stood up. She walked up to me and hugged me tightly, and my dad followed. I hugged them back, even though I had no idea what was happening.

“Jennifer…” my mother started but choked. I looked at my dad, worried. “What happened?”

“Jenny…” my dad said. “Mrs. Evans passed away last night.”

I stared at him in shock, unable to believe what had been said to me. Mrs. Evans was dead. The woman who practically raised me was dead.

“What?” I asked, even though I had heard him perfectly.

“I’m sorry, pumpkin,” my father told me, hugging me tightly. I buried my face into his chest, releasing the tears that I was trying hard not to show.

“Mrs. Evans was our neighbor. I’ve known her my whole life, especially since she was the one who took care of me most of the time. My parents are both very busy people, so when I was little I would often go to Mrs. Evans’ house to hang out. I considered her like my grandmother.

She was a sweet woman. She always had a smile on her face, and her cooking was just amazing.” The crowd chuckled. I kept talking. “When I think of my childhood, I think of her. I think of all the moments we’ve shared. Most of them are good memories, some of them are sad, but I know that I’ll always cherish every single image that I have of her. She’s always had a special place in my heart, and she always will. I love you, Louise. Rest in peace.”

The crowd started clapping politely as I stepped down from the podium. I wiped away my tears and walked towards my parents.

“You did amazingly, sweetie,” my mother told me. “She would’ve been proud of you.”

“Thanks, mom.” I looked over at my sister, who was looking at her phone, as usual. I gave her a little nudge. “Summer, show some respect.”

Summer rolled her eyes at me. “I didn’t even know the woman. I’ve seen her, like, once.”

“You’ve seen her more than once,” I complained. “In any case, it’s not polite to look at your phone. Especially during a funeral.”

“Whatever.”

I sighed and listened to the next person giving their speech, ignoring Summer’s tapping on the screen, and tried to concentrate on Louise’s passing. I was going to miss her.

She was a very important part of my life, and I didn’t know how it would turn out without her. Fortunately, it would turn out pretty well.

The day the funeral, we had to drive to Mrs. Evans’ lawyer. He called us into his office. “Thank you for coming. Take a seat.”

When we were all seated, he started speaking. “First of all, I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve been Louise’s lawyer for a long time, and I can safely say that she was one of the best clients I’ve ever had.”

“Thank you,” my mother said.

“So, you’re all here today because Louise wanted to give each of you something special. You were a very important part of her life, and even though she didn’t connect as much with some of you,” he glanced at Summer, “she always loved you.” He pulled out a sheet of paper from his desk drawer. “Her will.”

He took a deep breath before reading. “I, Louise Sarah Evans, being of sound mind and body do hereby declare that this document is my last will and testament. In executing this document, I hereby declare that: I am not currently married. I have no children now living, nor have I any children who died and left issue.”

He looked up at our faces. “To Summer Bailey, I leave all of my makeup and jewelry. She was always the prettiest girl in the neighborhood, and I hope she’ll appreciate this gift.”

He paused. “To Mrs. and Mr. Bailey, I leave half of my wealth. The other half will be given to a charity of the Bailey family’s choosing. I also give them my secret chocolate chip cookie recipe. The kids always loved those cookies, and I hope they’ll remember me every time they take a bite.”

My mother gasped. “Half of her wealth?”

The lawyer nodded. “Yes. She didn’t have any relatives and you were the closest thing to a family she had.”

My mother still looked shocked, but she didn’t say anything, so he kept reading. “To Jennifer Bailey, I leave Mr. Bear. She used to love that toy, and I hope that it’ll remind her of the good times. I also leave her a letter, that my executor will give her directly.” The lawyer pulled out an envelope and handed it to me.

I’ll be honest, I was hoping for a bit more. I mean, my sister, whom she barely knew, got probably hundreds of dollars’ worth of jewelry, while I got an old doll.

I hoped the letter would at least give me an explanation.

“Mrs. Evans also says that the Bailey family can take whatever they want from her home. The rest will be given away or thrown away.”

After he had read everything, the lawyer stood up. “Again, I’m sorry for your loss.”

We were about to leave when he exclaimed. “Oh wait! I almost forgot,” he said. “Mrs. Evans already had a family that wanted to buy her house. I already called them and told them about Louise’s passing, and I just wanted to warn you that they’ll probably arrive next week or so.”

“Just a week?” my mother asked.

“Yes,” he answered simply, without giving an explanation.

Great. So not only did my fake grandmother died, but now some family will move in as if nobody lived there before. Right then and there, I promised myself not to be friends with them.

When we got home, I ignored my family and locked myself in my room. I held the letter in my hands for a long time, staring at the inscription To Jennifer.

Tears immediately started stinging my eyes, but I held them back.

I wanted to open the letter, but I was afraid. What if she gives me something worse than a doll? What if she tells me a bad secret? What if – ?

I didn’t even know what to think. I was scared, but I knew I had to open it. I knew I had to read it.

I took a deep breath, closing my eyes, and opened the letter.

 

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2

Dear Jennifer,

I know what you must be thinking: why the hell did she leave me a doll? Well, I can answer two ways.

One, it’s a souvenir. I hope that you’ll remember me, and I hope that you’ll remember the great times we had together.

I could tell you stories of your childhood forever, but sadly I ran out of time.

Two, it’s for money. I didn’t want to advertise it in front of your whole family, but Mr. Bear has a pocket in his back.

If you open it (you’ll have to be careful, Mr. Bear has a backaches) you’ll find some money I left you. After all, I left your sister and your parents some expensive stuff.

It’s not much, it isn’t nearly enough to cover even half of your college fee, but it’s something to keep in your pocket. I recommend you buy lots and lots of cute clothes and shoes with it.

But here’s what I really wanted to give you was another gift. My lawyer has probably told you already, but you’ll have new neighbors in a while.

Well, I’ve known this family for a long time, and they have a son who I think would be perfect for you.

He’s handsome, charming, smart, funny – of course, the last time I saw him was three years ago, but that’s not the point.

I always thought that you were a beautiful, talented, amazing girl, and I never understood why you were single. Here’s your chance.

It may not seem like much of a gift but trust me: once you realize how perfect this young man is for you, you’ll cherish it forever.

You’re welcome.

I love you so much, Jenny. You were like the daughter I never had, the granddaughter I never had. You were my whole world, Jenny, and I’ll always have you in my heart.

I’ll never forget you, Jennifer Bailey.

Louise Evans

***

Tears were streaming down my face, and I hugged the letter to my chest. “I’ll never forget you either, Louise Evans,” I sobbed loudly. I wiped my face and blew my nose.

I didn’t have Mr. Bear with me, and the lawyer said he would come tomorrow morning to open up the house for us, so, for now, I could only focus on the fact that Louise set me up with a boy.

The comedy of the situation made me smile: Mrs. Evans was always a sneaky person.

She would often hide little gifts for me around her house. She would prepare treasure hunts for me, with amazing rewards at the end.

She would hide behind the door to scare me or tickle me until I laughed. One of my favorite games was talking to each other through a cup phone.

Since my bedroom window and Louise’s guest room window were facing each other, we would talk from one house to the other. It was fun.

So, because of her silliness, I wasn’t all that surprised by this little project of hers.

At the same time, though, I was kind of nervous. I’m not a good talker, especially when it comes to boys. And especially when they’re attractiveboys. I just get all clammed up and start stuttering.

But why did I care? I’ve never had the need to be with someone, and that need still hasn’t appeared.

I was in no rush to be in a relationship, so I could just ignore this new neighbor and avoid any contact with him. Easy peasy.

I reread the letter and started crying again. Can you blame me?

***

The next day, the lawyer arrived and opened Mrs. Evans’ house for us. I walked upstairs and headed for my room.

It was the guest room, but every time I had come, I would spend most of my time in that room, so I started calling it mine. On the bed, right where it always has been, was Mr. Bear.

Tears immediately started stinging my eyes, but I held them back and picked the toy up. I hugged it to my chest and sobbed.

I took a bag from the kitchen before going back to my room – no, not my room; not anymore – and taking everything that brought back memories. I filled that bag with pictures, toys, souvenirs, pens.

By the time I was done, my bag was bursting, and the room looked like it had been robbed.

I got another bag and went to Mrs. Evans’ room. It didn’t bring back happy memories as the other room did. Being in this room, I remembered Louise lying under the covers, coughing.

I would bring her cups of tea, or read her stories, or watch a movie with her. One of her favorite things to do was reading letters her late husband had written her throughout the years.

I had to read them to her, and once in a while, I would see her wipe her eyes. It was a heartwarming image that I would never forget.

Even though the room wasn’t my favorite, there were still some things that I would have liked to keep, like her books, or her letters. I put it all in the bag.

Half an hour later, after walking around her house and picking out memories, I went back to my house and emptied everything on the floor of my bedroom.

I started stacking her books on my shelves, I put her letters in my drawer, I sorted everything out.

Finally, I took out Mr. Bear and looked him in the eyes. I took a deep breath before turning him around and pressing his back, trying to feel an opening of some sort.

Finally, I found a strap and I pulled it. Out came a huge envelope, and I gasped.

I opened the envelope and pulled out a wad of cash. I started counting.

When I was done, my eyes were so big they probably looked like planets. My mouth was hanging open as I still stared at the money. Ten thousand. Ten freakingthousand bucks.

What the hell was going through her head? She couldn’t give me ten grand! That was way too much!

Not knowing what else to do, I put all that money in my piggy bank and hid it in the usual place, the secret pocket under the dresser. I thought it was better not to tell my parents about it.

They would take the money and use it to redo the kitchen or something.

***

In the next few days, from my bedroom window, I could see workers going in and out of Mrs. Evans’ house, bringing out the sofa, the chairs, the table, and everything that we didn’t want.

By the end of the week, the house was empty, and in a few minutes, the new family would arrive.

 

Read the full uncensored books on the Galatea iOS app!

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